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The light was so bright... Not so surprising after all; the laser beam had generated something akin to nuclear fusion. It hurt. How could it still hurt when the shock wave had already burnt him into subatomic particles?

“Captain Andor? Can you hear me?”

He blinked as a dark silhouette blocked the light.

“Can you hear me?” the mechanical voice repeated.

“Y... yes?”

The world slowly came into focus. A 2-1B unit was leaning over him, peeling something off his forehead. He was lying on a bed, someone had even put a pillow under his head and around him he could hear the rattle of medical instruments and the distant rumble of engines. A ship. He was on a ship.

“Where...?” he croaked.

The droid put some bandages away before turning back to Cassian.

“Aboard a medical frigate, on our way to Iego. For the moment.”

His mind was immediately flowed with questions: why had they left Yavin IV? Where was his team? How was he still alive and probably in one piece?

“What is the last thing your remember, Captain?” the droid inquired.

He tried to put words on pictures. His tumble down the archives tower? No, after that... shooting Krennic... the elevator... Jyn holding him close on the beach... her slim fingers tight around his in the transport...

“Jyn? Where's Jyn Erso?”

The droid did not answer, busy checking some wound or another.

“Where is she?”

He was still calling for her when the 2-1B injected him with a dose of anesthetic.

Cassian woke again in the same place, the same sounds ringing in his ears. He tried to sit but the ever-present droid pushed him back on the bed.

“You should not try to move too much, Captain. Your spine was damaged during your fall and standing or sitting too soon could undo the treatment currently performed.”

With a groan, he let his head hit the pillow and closed his eyes. He hated being forced into inactivity, as this was not the first time he had to spend several days in the medbay. It made him feel useless, disqualified as a field agent somehow.

This time, however, he did not lack for visitors.

* *

The first one was a young man, no more than twenty, with messy blond hair, kind blue eyes and a skin tanned by a whole life spent outside, who introduced himself as Luke Skywalker, from Tatooine, and freshly-recruited pilot.

Being a newbie had apparently not prevented him from taking the shot of the century at the Death Star. When Cassian pointed this out, the boy shrugged.

“I was not exactly alone, up there,” he said. “And my father was a Jedi, or so I was told, so there may be something to that as well...”

He did not like being under the spotlights any more than Cassian himself but soon he proved friendly enough and he kept the Captain busy with tales of his dustball of a homeworld. Cassian enjoyed that, mostly how the little scavengers named Jawas would strip a crashed ship in less than a day or the way their language had escaped the understanding of all linguists that had tried to decipher it.

“Have you met the others?” Cassian asked, once. “The rest of my team?”

“Only Jyn Erso,” Luke replied, “right before she left Yavin IV. A shame, that. She looked like someone really efficient, and not one to mince her words.”

“She... left? What do you mean, she left? They sent her on another mission, even if she's been injured on Scarif?”

Skywalker looked a bit embarrassed.

“No, I mean... she left the Alliance. Picked her bag and went... somewhere in the Outer Rim.”

Cassian blinked several times.

“Did Draven kick her out?” he growled.

The younger man shook his head.

“I’m not sure. But I'd say she kicked herself out, in a way. She refused to take a commission, packed a bag and left, right after the medic told her you would make a full recovery. I suppose some people are not made for a structure like the Alliance. And she was probably fed up with people giving her weird looks because her dad worked on the Death Star, as well.”

Cassian closed his eyes for a moment, letting out an exasperated sigh. The irrational aspect of that kind of behavior always baffled him. How could anyone blame Jyn for her father's work when she had been left behind at eight and had never seen the man again, save for some precious minutes right before he died? Probably because it was easy for those who had not done anything to destroy the battle station Galen had created. That, or grieving people were not completely logical and looked for the most convenient target.

“Do you?” he asked, and Luke raised an eyebrow. “Blame her, I mean?”

“Certainly not! Wedge Antilles is well on his way to become my best friend here, and he was an Imperial deserter!” Luke protested. “One of my old mates went to the Academy before joining you guys and I almost got there as well. It's not like we have any say on who our parents and relations can be, right?”

Cassian snorted lightly. There was still a certain naivete to Skywalker but at least, he was an honest and kind soul. Those were not so common in the Alliance any more.

Skywalker left moments later, when the medical droid told them sternly that “Captain Andor needed his rest”, leaving Cassian to brood a bit more.

* *

He did not see anyone for a day after that, then Senator Mothma herself paid him a visit. Good. She would be able to give him all the answers Skywalker and the medics seemed to ignore.

“Captain Andor,” she greeted with a warm smile.

“Begging your pardon, ma'am, if I don't get up, but medic's orders... you know how it goes...” he said, wincing at his weak attempt of a joke.

His boss took her time seating on a chair and arranging the folds of her long grey robes.

“I suppose you have already heard all the good things, so I'm afraid I'm the messenger for bad news.”

He tried to remain calm, waiting for the ax to fall. Mon Mothma delicately cleared her throat before delivering the butcher's bill. It matched even Cassian's worst nightmares, and then some.

“Counting Jyn Erso, the pilots who survived the crash of their fighters and yourself, we rescued fourteen people from the surface of Scarif right before the shock wave reached the base. You owe your survival to Hera Syndulla and her Ghost; I suspect the odds don't even exist anymore for them.”

A fleeting smile, then she went on:

“Miss Erso was the only member of your original team to survive, though not without injuries. The others were unfortunately killed during the battle, and could not be retrieved.”

Cassian gritted his teeth against the angry denial that was crawling up his throat.

“Princess Organa managed to send the plans to one of her father's friends before being captured, and she was fortunately rescued by the same people that brought us the blueprints of the Death Star. But we could not...”

She hesitated and he saw her long, slim fingers twitch on the fabric of her robes.

“They fired the weapon once more before we could destroy it, using its full power.”

“Where?” he croaked, dreading the answer.

“Alderaan.”

The word hit him harder than the metal beams that had struck him during his fall in the archive tower on Scarif. It was too huge, it could not be true... They could not have turned a Core world into an asteroids field...

“How many...?” he whispered.

“We don't know exactly. Billions. Bail is dead. We're still trying to reach our contacts, see if some of them were off-world when it happened.”

Her speech was unusually stilted, mechanical. Cassian could not say another word. She rose from the chair, looking as if the weight of the galaxy was resting on her shoulders alone, and left him alone with his nightmares and regrets.

He had known, somehow, that the rest of his team had not made it. Had known, even as he was retrieving the archive, that K-2SO would not greet him when he climbed down from the platform. That Bodhi had probably been killed when their transport was destroyed by a grenade. That Chirrut and Baze were in the middle of a literal firestorm.
How could he have let them go without telling them that he had been very proud, and very lucky, to have them by his side?

And Jyn Erso was probably already on the other side of the galaxy.

He felt as if the battle on Scarif had taken more from him in some hours than the previous twenty years of his life.

Everybody leaves...

Chapter Text

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.

Cassian snorted.

“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...”

“Yes, please.”

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.

Chapter Text

Jyn was released from the medbay a week later, equipped with a crutch and several medications. Surprisingly enough, she did not try to skip treatment and took the medic's orders very seriously.

“I imagine Chirrut's ghost whacking me on the head with his staff each time I want to drop the drugs in the garbage chute,” she told Cassian when he commented on it. “It's very efficient.”

“Good thing he never did it for real, because the rest of the team would have gotten a permanent indentation on their skulls,” Cassian muttered.

The gods knew they would have deserved it, K-2 included. Correction: K-2 more than anyone else.

“Should have checked Baze's,” Jyn chuckled.

They fell silent for a moment, then:

“Kriff, I miss them so much,” she admitted.

“I know.”

The ship was already crowded so no one really paid any mind when she settled in Cassian's room on board, as his former roommate had been dispatched to another unit. He made sure she did not have to strain herself and helped her practice the physical therapy the medic had prescribed. Sometimes she told him he was doing too much, but Cassian had never been someone to do things by halves and he wanted Jyn to recover as much as possible without a hitch. She felt somewhat privileged to be one of the very few, if not the only one, who could see this side of him. It was amazing that more than two decades of civil war had not eradicated all kindness in him.

* *

Soon the rest of the crew and passengers treated them as an official couple and thankfully, no one made fun of them. The pilots and technicians already had their hands full with Leia Organa and Han Solo, anyway. These two should set a holodrama with all their bickering, and sell it on the Net. The Alliance's coffers would be full within three months, Jyn thought. Sometimes it was amusing, sometimes truly embarrassing, if not irritating.

Luke Skywalker tried to calm things down as often as possible between his two friends but even all his diplomacy could not keep them from arguing again and again, much to the amusement of Solo’s Wookie copilot. Cassian could not help but feel some sympathy for the young Commander, as he was so regularly caught between anvil and hammer.

“Luke and Wedge are truly decent guys, even when not on the field. I wish Bodhi could have met them, they would have made him feel at home,” he commented one evening, as Jyn and he were preparing their weapons for another mission. “I'm glad we have them on board.”

“And yet you can't stand Han Solo,” Jyn completed with a smirk.

Cassian pursed his lips.

“You know as well as I do that he joined for the money...”

“... and that he stayed for the princess', ahem, silhouette. Yeah. I know. Even a blind bantha could tell you that,” she chuckled.

She put the gas canister back into her favorite blaster, a gift from the Rogue One squadron.

“Plus, you don't like him putting on the charm with me, even if it's just to annoy Organa,” she added with a grin that Cassian would have described as purely evil.

She enjoyed teasing him like that far too much and he felt he was becoming perhaps a little bit too lenient. But he also knew that Jyn regularly needed a little reminder that she was loved and valued and would not be left behind again. He was more than happy to provide it.

As for the princess... The two women did not cross path very often and Cassian suspected they purposefully avoided each other. He knew that, in spite of her preference for discretion, Jyn was not particularly pleased to see Organa raised on a pedestal and celebrated as the new heroin of the Alliance for (quoted from Jyn herself) “getting caught, losing the plans and being rescued by a smuggler and a farmboy, when we did all the hard work.”

He was surprised to learn that, in fact, they had known each other for almost a decade.

“Well, knowing's maybe a strong word, but Bail Organa often brought her to meetings with Saw. At that time, I thought she looked more like a lovely doll than a real girl...” Jyn explained. “Not a single hair out of place, perfect white dress, well-fed, very good manners and all that... I'll say she's competent, she gains us supporters, but she always looks too clean for the job she's doing.”

Cassian shrugged.

“Hey, someone has to play poster boy... or girl. I know she does not particularly like it either, and even less since some of our politicians have been trying to play the 'sorrow for Alderaan' card far too many times.”

Jyn nodded somberly.

“Steelpeckers,” she grumbled.

“Yeah. She does a number on them each time she gets the opportunity.”

“I can totally second that.”

They put the weapons down, cleaning and checking done for the day. Cassian stretched his arms and back with a yawn.

“Time to sleep,” he mumbled.

She vaguely muttered an agreement and soon they were nestled under the blankets, Jyn somehow trying to hide herself against Cassian's side.

On the following morning, Jyn was awaken by Cassian's insistent tapping on her shoulder.

“What?” she asked.

He pointed to his lap.

“I suggest you get up, or I'm going to have a problem...”

Jyn rose very slowly, deliberately grinding onto him as she did, smirking when she heard an exasperated groan. She also took her sweet time to dress, chuckling as Cassian muttered a long string of curses, calling her a foul temptress among other things. She did not take it seriously, of course. He just loved being tempted. And she had made it her new mission to make him smile and laugh as often as possible, to show him he was valued for more than his work.

* *

As they spent most of their evenings and nights together, they learned their respective geographies, the grain of skin, all the ridges and bumps bones made under the flesh… Cassian had been a little bit self-conscious at first, given the amount of injuries he had received on the field, but Jyn was quick to reassure him. She had her own collection of scars, burns on her legs from Scarif and remains of emergency surgeries performed while she was still working with Saw. She was very keen on finding all his most sensitive spots, however, and trying to determine whether he was ticklish or not had become a scientific study. Not that he minded.

It took them some time to initiate anything more intimate, and they made slow progress. Cassian was worried because of Jyn’s last stay in jail, while Jyn did not want him to believe he was somehow forced to do anything. She had been told by some of his fellow informants that playing the happily married man had been part of his job as a spy, sex included, and sometimes he had difficulties separating his work on the field from his free time with her.

They managed nonetheless and after several weeks of sharing a bed, kisses and caresses in the dark, they finally spent one night making love, fumbling like teenagers at first, and then much more enthusiastically, which certainly did not improve the quality of their neighbors’ sleep. Particularly not when they repeated the performance at least twice or three times a week.

Jyn soon decided she would never tire of it. Cassian was absolutely adorable when he looked at her with an almost shy smile, as if he could not quite believe his luck.

Unfortunately, they were not on holidays and work always found its way to them. Part of the Alliance had settled on a remote, icy planet named Hoth, but Mothma and Draven had remained with the main bulk of the fleet, overseeing the integration of several Mon Calamari cruisers. They had also hired one of their captains to replace Admiral Raddus. Gial Ackbar was about as grumpy as his predecessor, but his military experience from the Clone Wars was extremely useful, and the few times he crossed paths with Cassian and Jyn, he greeted them with courtesy.

Their most frequent contact among the officers, though, was a newcomer named Crix Madine. A former Imperial officer (another deserter, again), he had a list of useful codes, names and tips longer than his arm, that the duo, among others, was tasked to check – or destroy, whenever it was an ammunition dump, after taking everything they could embark first. The Alliance could not neglect any source of fresh supplies. In spite of his initial distrust, Draven seemed to appreciate Madine enough, and as all his leads bore encouraging results, he quickly became a permanent member of the high command.

Things were looking rather good, when they received news of a calamitous battle that had happened on Hoth.

The squadrons there had barely settled when a probe droid had discovered their generators and managed to send its report back to the Empire before they could destroy it. According to one of the survivors, Vader himself had come with his personal fleet. Perhaps half the soldiers and pilots had managed to escape. Solo, Organa and Skywalker were all unaccounted for. Cassian kept his fingers crossed for them. He heard some rumors that Mothma’s son Jobin was among the dead, but so far no one had been able to confirm it. The thought left a bitter taste in his mouth; he wished he could do something, anything, to help her, but what could you do for a parent who had lost a child? At night he would not let go of Jyn and each morning he would find her fingers entwined with his.

* *

They spent five months wandering from one Rim system to another before Organa came back, with Luke and a Mr Lando Calrissian but without Solo. Skywalker had been injured, they heard, his right hand cut right below the wrist by something that had cauterized the wound on the spot. From the Princess’ account of the events, the young man had faced and fought Vader himself, and met the wrong end of his lightsaber. Though, the fact he had escaped with his life, when so many Alliance soldiers had died at Vader’s hand, was no small feat.

He had been promptly equipped with a prosthetic and had immediately begun therapy, but nonetheless something had changed in him. The easy smiles had vanished and a deep sadness had settled over him, but he never talked about it. He did admit, however, that he had met an old Jedi master during the five months he had been missing. The name Yoda meant nothing for Cassian, but Jyn remembered Saw mentioning someone by that name, who had led clone troops during the war before vanishing during the great purge. If Skywalker had found someone to teach him the ways of the Force, all the better. Though sometimes Cassian could not help thinking that a little chat with Baze and Chirrut would have been good for the younger man. Offering a different perspective, that sort of thing… The fact that the two Guardians had a real, if not a bit twisted, sense of humor would also have helped with his current depression.

They all forgot about it when some of their Bothan spies informed the Alliance that the Empire had been building a new battle station orbiting around Endor.

Chapter Text

The discovery of this second Death Star had sent Jyn in a foul mood, and that was a nice euphemism. The training she put the new recruits through had become more vicious and she had begun to withdraw from her usual company, some days avoiding Cassian as well.

One evening he found her in one of the training rooms, repeatedly sending a ball bouncing against the opposite wall and catching it as it came back. The noise it made as it hit the metal was… annoying, to put it mildly. Cassian waited a long moment for her to notice him, but she did not. Or she was deliberately ignoring him. Rolling his eyes, he stepped into the room, right in the path of the little ball, which bounced harmlessly against his boots before rolling away.

“What are you doing?” he demanded. “You’re terrorizing the newbies and each time I want to speak with you, I feel like I’m hitting a duracrete wall.”

“Wash, rinse, repeat,” she muttered.

“What?”

“We didn’t make enough of an impression last time, if they’re building a new Death Star,” Jyn clarified, still not looking at him. “Feels like my father and all our team died for nothing.”
Cassian sighed.

“The order came from Palpatine himself, to be sure,” he told her. “Don’t expect someone like that to think or act rationally. The sheer number of officers and their families he executed for just rumors of treason… it would sicken the dead themselves.”

He sat by her side and finally, she turned towards him, her eyes lined with dark half-circles and her face pale from the lack of sleep.

“You don’t feel like we did all of that for nothing?”

“Never,” he replied fervently. “We saved lives through our actions, and if we have to do it again… then so be it. We cannot stop now. This war is the most dreadful thing that could happen to the galaxy, but the consequences of defeat would be even worse.”

The look she gave him was clearly unconvinced but he knew she would fight nonetheless. Fighting was all they had ever done. The real test would be, if they survived, to adapt to normal life, or rather, to see if they were still able to perform such a feat.

* *

The following weeks were a flurry of activity, and the very full schedule everyone had been given inevitably led to exhaustion and mistakes. Such mistakes led in turn to, at best, mechanical incidents that could be repaired easily, and at worst to failed missions and the capture of several agents. And one of those unfortunate agents was General Draven himself. He had not checked the account nor the timetable of one of his informants, as he used to do, and had been sold out by the person in question. He had swallowed the poison pill every intelligence staff had on them before the ISB could interrogate him, keeping the Alliance secrets safe, but the blow was hard nonetheless. Madine and Rieekan had to replace him on the spot, having a hard time to convince some members of Draven’s network that they were just as competent or trustworthy. In other words, a complete nightmare.

Jyn had mixed feelings about Draven’s death. On a professional level, he would be missed, that was certain, and his mantra of ‘constant vigilance’ had become the default mentality of his whole service, even when off duty, but from a more personal point of view, she could not feel any kind of regret or mourning for the man. He had never completely warmed up to her – the feeling was mutual – and she suspected he had not completely forgiven the way she had gone behind his back to launch the Rogue One operation.

Months passed this way, and private matters had to take a back seat, except for some unplanned pregnancies and births. There was a part of the medbay reserved to expecting women and young mothers and that was how Jyn met Shara Bey during a check-up. Jyn was reading the results of her examination with the medic when a woman approached them with a baby perched on her hip, and waited until they were done, trying to calm the whimpering child clutching at her shirt.

“Lieutenant Bey,” the medic greeted her. “I assume you’re coming for little Poe?”

She nodded, Jyn noticing blueish marks under her eyes.

“I suspect he’s teething… he hasn’t slept for the last three days, and neither did I,” she confessed with a grimace. “Kes will bring him to his grandparents soon, but I’d like him to be healthy before he makes such a long trip.”

“Of course, of course… You know Sergeant Erso, I presume?”

“I have heard of Rogue One team, but I had yet to meet any of them. Very pleased to meet you,” she added, extending her free hand, that Jyn shook immediately.

“It’s mutual. From the uniform, I take that you’re a pilot?”

Shara nodded with a grin.

“Flying is my life… along with this one and his father.”

Jyn smiled and waved her hand at the baby while Shara sat him on the examination table. He had his mother’s curly black hair and wide brown eyes that looked at Jyn with curiosity… but she was soon forgotten when the medic began to check his mouth, prompting an indignant wail. With a last goodbye, Jyn took her leave, going back to her bunk with something akin to longing. The idea of a child remained at the back of her mind but she refused to consider it more seriously before the end of the war, if she survived that long.

* *

Within two months, they had received all the data they needed, or so they hoped. The new Death Star, once finished, would be larger than the original, but so far the building was barely half-done, hence the decision to destroy it as fast as possible, before the metal monster was fully operational. Surprising absolutely no one, Jyn and Cassian were among the first to volunteer when the high command formed a commando to attack the field generator that protected the station. Shara’s husband Kes Dameron was right behind them, along with a bearded, white-haired veteran that Cassian identified as one of the former clone soldiers once used by the Republic. The older man confirmed, introducing himself as Commander Rex.

“Was he stationed on Fest?” Jyn inquired.

“Not to my knowledge. It’s just as well… but it’s still weird. I spent my childhood throwing stones at men that looked just like him.”

“Keep your reflexes in check if we’re part of the same team.”

* *

While the Alliance was busy recruiting a group, Organa and Skywalker had not remained inactive. Their new associate Calrissian had located Solo on Tatooine, locked up in Jabba the Hutt’s palace from what Jyn could gather, and the duo had gone to try and free him. Incredibly, they managed to do just that, and the Princess came back to Home One with her smuggler and his copilot, though Luke had left them on the way, mentioning a visit to an old friend of his. Cassian presumed that he had gone to see his old Jedi master again.

He was pleasantly surprised by Solo’s change in behavior. There was no more talk of leaving the Alliance when he had enough money. The man worked hard to prepare his own group for Endor, calling in favors from old ‘trading’ partners to obtain explosives, fuel and ammunition for a reasonable price.

For his part, Cassian was busy compiling the intelligence the Alliance received from their agents. The Death Star was protected by a squadron of Star Destroyers, they heard. The Empire was ‘recruiting’ more workers from all the Rim to finish the construction faster. Vader was supervising the building of the station. Perhaps the Emperor himself… It was difficult to sort the valuable information from half-cooked theories concocted in cantinas. He spent most of his time in a makeshift office with Generals Madine and Rieekan and a whole crowd of agents that came and went with datachips, holopads, sometimes pieces of flimsi… As Jyn was equally busy training recruits, they barely had time for each other, falling asleep the minute their heads touched the pillows.

* *

Three months after Organa’s return from Tatooine, the whole high command of the Alliance gathered in orbit above Sullust for one last meeting before the attack on the Death Star. Their entire fleet was present, with several brand-new Mon Calamari cruisers, brought there straight out of the shipyards. Their crews were a mix of newbies and veterans that worked relatively well together for their everyday duties, and Cassian kept his fingers crossed so that it would be the same during a battle.

Chapter Text

“If you die stupidly, I’ll feed your body to a bantha!”

Standing in the middle of the hangar, Shara Bey was taking leave of her husband with some interesting threats.

“You don’t have a bantha,” Kes replied placidly.

“I’ll find one just for you,” she retorted, then turned towards Jyn and Cassian. “Could you please prevent him from doing anything rash?”

They exchanged a glance. They would probably be too busy watching each other to keep an eye on Kes at the same time.

“And who’s going to prevent you from doing something silly up there?” Kes asked his wife in turn, suddenly more serious. “You’re certainly not the last to jump into the fray!”

Jyn rolled her eyes.

“Let them sort their domestic problems,” she told Cassian. “It’s probably best not to be caught into the crossfire.”

He smiled under his mustache and went to discuss the plan one last time with the rest of the team. Solo was talking to his old friend Calrissian under the Falcon, and Luke, freshly back from Dagobah, would not leave Wedge before their shuttle took off, but the rest of the group was available for another revision. Endor was a forest moon, covered in thick stretches of giant trees, and apart from the Imperial troops, there were some sentients living in small villages here and there. The Alliance had no idea about the relations they had with the Empire; caution dictated that those natives should be avoided, if possible.

They embarked at the end of that last meeting for a three-days trip to Endor. The newest reports had confirmed the presence of Palpatine himself on the Death Star so delaying was out of the question. If they could get rid of the dictator, it would not, of course, mean the immediate end of his regime, but the blow would shake the Empire enough to give them an excellent opportunity to overthrow it. It could generate a generalized uprising in the Rim, Cassian calculated, though the Core would take longer to convince.

* *

The atmosphere in the shuttle was tense, though no one wanted to show how much they were stressed. If people took pills to alleviate their nausea and soothe their nerves, they did it when the others were not looking.

At last they emerged into normal space above Endor, discovering the superstructures of the Death Star orbiting around the forest world, along with the massive shape of a super Star Destroyer.

“That was unexpected,” old Rex muttered. “But with a ship that size, it seems very likely that the Emperor is indeed supervising the operations.”

“How many fighters on board?” Jyn inquired.

“Several thousands,” another commando replied. “Don’t know the exact number, but I’d rather not have them racing after us.”

In the cockpit, Luke did not fare much better. He had been more withdrawn than usual since he had come back from Dagobah and even Wedge Antilles could not completely reach him. The rest of the company felt very uncomfortable when he announced out of the blue that Vader was stationed on the giant battleship looming in front of them. Jyn shivered, hoping he was wrong. She had heard reports from survivors of Hoth and Raddus’ fleet, and should the Sith be indeed present, their mission would be doomed from the beginning.

Even Solo was rather nervous when he transmitted the identification code the Alliance had paid a small fortune. His copilot was shifting on his seat, clearly willing to fly the hell out of the system.

After several minutes, the control on the Star destroyer allowed them to carry on, sending them landing coordinates that would naturally be completely ignored. Solo used the high metallic content in the giant trees to mask the shuttle’s radar signature and simulate a crash. Hopefully, the Imperials would not rush to rescue their staff and they would be far away from the transport when it was discovered.

They landed in a small clearing without a hitch, Solo smiling in satisfaction. His stay in the carbonite had not impaired his ability to fly.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please hurry up!” he called. “The boys in white will be there soon and we don’t want to cross their path right now!”

The commandos picked their equipment and the bags of explosives, leaving the clearing in a single line while Chewbacca and Solo cut some branches to hastily camouflage the shuttle. There was no clear path to their location so the ship should not be easy to find but one could not rule out a too curious stormtrooper.

After about one hour of walking through a tick undergrowth, they decided to split the group in two. This way, if one unit got caught into a skirmish with the Imperials, the other could still fulfill the mission. Solo, Organa and Skywalker went one way, Jyn and Cassian another, with a rendezvous scheduled two days later on a ledge over the generator.

* *

The night was peaceful, only disturbed by the calls of some nocturnal animals. The group had set several tents under a copse of huge red-barked trees and ate their rations cold, as no light nor fire had been allowed. The weather was thankfully mild and they slept on a dry ground. The following morning did not bring any unwanted visitor, though from the prints in a nearby pool of mud, a little bipedal someone had approached their camp before disappearing back into the forest. This led many members of the group to feel as if they were being watched as they progressed under the trees.

At the head of the line, Kes stopped now and then to check the direction they were heading to, making some corrections. It was mid-afternoon when he suddenly signaled them to get down and stay silent. Soon they heard the buzzing sound of motojets engines, growing closer.

A pair of scouts passed by their position, thankfully too fast to notice them, driving back to the generator and the compound surrounding it.

“I’m seriously tempted to knock one out and borrow his armor to infiltrate their base,” Kes muttered, “but we would need to question the guy to get his access codes and know if he has good friends there and such… Too bad we don’t have enough time for that. Someone inside would really help.”

“We’ll have to improvise,” Rex said with a shrug. “So far, it did us good, right?”

There were some nods in the group but no one really felt like joking, or betting on their chances of success. Since communications had been completely cut, they could only hope that Organa’s team had been as lucky as them on their way to the generator. Else, they would have to operate with about two thirds of the original group, with no assurance it would be enough as they had no estimation of the number of soldiers guarding the base. In a few more hours, it would be done. Waiting was, as usual, the hardest part.

* *

The following morning brought a thin mist over the forest and they used its cover to reach the ledge over the generator. They did not have to wait too long before Organa, Solo and their own group joined them… without Skywalker.

“Where’s Luke?” was Jyn’s immediate reaction.

“Taking care of Jedi stuff,” Solo replied darkly.

No one insisted.

“So,” Rex said. “How d’you suggest we get into that thing? Looks heavily guarded this way.”

“Well...”

Before Solo could explain what he had in mind, however, a small furry creature that they had not noticed until then began chirping a long sentence to Organa’s protocol droid, that translated roughly as ‘There is another, smaller entrance on the other side of the valley.’

Cassian smirked.

“Now that’s something I like. Where did you find those little guys?” he asked Solo as they rose to follow their little friend.

“Rather the other way round,” the man countered, casting a glance at Chewbacca, who emitted the Wookie equivalent of a false nonchalant whistle. “For a moment I though they were going to roast me for dinner… Seriously, they were going to! But Luke used a bit of his magic to convince them that C-3PO was truly a god, as they had first believed. They became much nicer after that. And as it happens, they’re not too fond of having the Empire digging into their sacred grounds.”

“What a surprise...”

“Long story short, they offered us a guide, and to help us during battle.”

“Not sure what slingshots can do against blasters,” Kes commented, “but it’s a nice thought anyway.”

They fell silent on that last comment, reaching the bottom of the valley about ten minutes later. After another half-hour of trekking among ferns and roots, they reached the other side where, indeed, they found a small bunker guarded by four troopers.

“That should be easy,” Solo whispered.

“Just one is enough to raise an alarm,” Organa reminded him.

“Right. So, Andor, you… what is it, Golden Rod?”

“I’m afraid our friend left us too quickly.”

“Oh kriff...” Jyn muttered as they all watched their guide approach the bunker then climb onto one of the motojets, fumbling with the controls.

The guards noticed his stunt almost at once, but as they ran towards the intruder, he finally found the right lever and promptly raced between the trees. The guards jumped onto the remaining motojets, leaving one very dejected colleague behind.

Solo was grinning.

“Not so bad for a teddy bear! It only leaves one of them.”

Soon after, the guard was neutralized and the commandos entered the bunker, making short work of the few guards and officers inside.

“It’s me, or this is too easy?” Jyn whispered to Cassian. “Scarif was definitely not that smooth...”

“No, you’re -”

Then several things happened at once. Their comlinks beeped, signaling the fleet had emerged in real space over Endor. An officer appeared from a lateral corridor, blaster in hand and yelling at them to surrender. Solo sent him flying by throwing a bag of explosives at his head before a squad of stormtroopers barged into the room, shooting two commandos and rounding up the rest of the group. They were brutally led outside, where a disheartening vision greeted them.

Their whole team had been taken captive, kneeling on the ground with their hands on their heads, surrounded by squadrons of stormtroopers and walkers. They had walked right into a bloody trap. Cassian was so floored by this turn of events he barely reacted when a trooper took his weapon before pushing him roughly towards the others. Jyn and Organa were equally fuming and Chewbacca looked ready to tear somebody’s arms out. The last men were dragged into the clearing when a loud voice called out:

“Hello! Are you looking for us?”

Everyone looked in disbelief as C-3PO waved at the Imperials, his golden plates probably making him the easiest target on the planet.

“The Hell?” Kes muttered.

They watched in mute horror as the soldiers ran towards the droid, a feeling that soon made way for astonishment then glee when the troopers were felled by a volley of arrows and an army of natives emerged from the bushes. They had excellent aim – more than some stormtroopers anyway – and managed not to shoot any Alliance soldier during the fist fight that followed as the former prisoners took their weapons back from their captors. After that, it was a more balanced matter, but still not working in their favor.

The Imperial battalions scattered in the woods to root all the little creatures out, offering some opportunities for ambushes and traps, but their firepower remained too strong, though Rebels and Ewoks alike took some good shots at them. Jyn saw one of the walkers felled by an avalanche of tree trunks that destabilized it. The crew was immediately slaughtered.
Not enough. There are too many of them. And I’d bet my crystal they prepared the same kind of trap for the fleet up there.

She ran and ducked under fallen trees now and then to avoid blaster shots, firing back every time she saw something white pass by her… Embers from burnt trees were raining on her back and she had to stop several times to put them out. She quickly lost any notion of time. She did not know where Cassian could be. It might have been hours before she heard Solo’s voice, yelling at the top of his lungs:

“Take cover! TAKE COVER!”

Though she was rather far from the bunker itself, she instinctively obeyed, right as the building exploded in a high burst of orange flames, sending sparks and bits of half-molten metal flying everywhere. People began stomping on them to stop the fire from spreading while the destruction reached the giant antenna conveying the energy for the shield.

Watching the gigantic fireworks, the commandos began to cheer, while their Ewok allies emitted a high ululating sound. Jyn let herself fall on the moss-covered ground, exhausted. And this time, I didn’t even take a shot. I’m improving.

She remained there for a moment, the breeze causing the ferns to tickle her cheeks and nose. If not for the smell of smoke and burnt metal, the place would be so peaceful… And she was so kriffing tired. Another wave of cheers reached her and looking at the sky, she saw something akin to a mini supernova illuminating the place where the Death Star had resided. So that’s how they look when they blow up. Lovely.

“Hey, Erso? Still with us?” Kes’ voice asked above her head.

“No, I’m dead.”

“Fine, I’m going to notify Cassian at once,” he deadpanned.

She shot up to her feet, earning a chuckle from Dameron. Rolling her eyes, she followed him through the woods, carcasses of walkers lying here and there, their fuel still burning, and bodies… more bodies than she cared to count.

“Rex managed to cheat death,” Kes commented. “Again. Can’t believe the old guy’s been in there since the very beginning.”

“He certainly deserves his retirement. How is Cassian?”
“Dunno,” he admitted. “Last I saw him, he was doing fine. I just hope...”
“I’m sure Shara is fine as well,” she told him with a smile.
“Yeah...”

They found Cassian propped against a tree, his left leg bandaged under the knee, arguing through C-3PO with the Ewok tribe’s healer, who apparently wanted to take a look at his wound, while the Captain absolutely refused to let the healer touch him. He finally convinced the other to leave and the droid trotted away as well, his translations indispensable to his comrades. Cassian’s eyes wandered and settled on Jyn and Kes walking towards him. A satisfied smile, an expression that was not seen often on his austere face, graced his lips.

Jyn sat on the ground besides him while Kes went in search of a long-range comlink.

“The chief medic will be very cross with you,” she whispered, before kissing gently the corner of his mouth.

“Right now, I can’t even care,” he replied, pulling her close.

But as she rested in his embrace, she could not help thinking that she was now left with nothing to do. Her purpose had gone into dust with the Death Star. What would she do now?

Chapter Text

Between the fires that must be put out and the numerous wounded soldiers to treat, the afternoon passed quickly and night fell before anyone realized how late it was. Jyn’ back was sore, she could barely lift her arms and her legs would stop cooperating soon as well, so she gladly accepted the offer to go and rest in the Ewok village where Organa and her group had been detained, then welcomed on the previous night.

Though ‘rest’ might not have been the proper word to describe what the Ewoks and the Alliance staff had in mind. There were food and drinks stored in one of the thatch and wood huts and some music could be heard drifting from one of the platforms. She would hardly get any sleep this night, it seemed. Jyn put a smile on her face and greeted her comrades one after the other, several pilots having landed near the village to join the festivities. Organa and Solo were already on the central platform with their droids and Chewbacca, the Princess with a bandage around her left arm. They were casting quick glances to the woods underneath from time to time and Jyn realized they were waiting for Luke to arrive. She wondered what kind of ‘Jedi stuff’ he had dealt with.

Cassian and Kes were sitting against the wall of a hut, a bottle between them, though they did not seem to be drinking from it.

“What’s that?” she asked as she joined them.

“Local berry wine,” Kes replied. “Wouldn’t try to export it. It’s more sugar than anything.”

“Indeed,” she confirmed a minute later after tasting the thick, purple beverage. “You could spread it on bread for a toast.”

Cassian nodded tiredly.

“Hey, look!”

Luke emerged from the forest with red-rimmed eyes but standing straighter than before the battle. A thick plume of smoke was rising from between the trees. Cassian, knowing he had come back straight from the Death Star with the corpse of Vader, assumed he had cremated what remained of the man. Himself was not certain the Emperor’s mad dog deserved the dignity of such a funeral, but he would not fancy seeing the corpse desecrated either.

As soon as he caught sight of him, Wedge elbowed his way through the crowd, calling for Luke, and the minute he found his wingman, he engulfed him into a tight embrace, refusing to let him go. Cassian smiled as he watched them, then clumsily rose on one leg to go and find a place where he could rest more comfortably. Jyn followed him and another commando helpfully pointed them to an empty hut where sleeping bags had been set. Not ideal with Cassian’s injured leg, but still better than sitting on crude planks. Outside the music was growing louder, people singing along with it, and more often than not, off-tune. Despite the small fire burning in its stone-coated pit, Jyn was shivering and wrapped herself in the furs that served as blankets.

“What is it, estrella?” Cassian asked from behind her back.

“How long will it take to completely wipe the Empire out?” she said instead of replying.

He shrugged.

“Hard to tell. Months, at least. Several years, probably.”

“Have you ever wondered what you would do after that?”

He shook his head.

“I was already busy with not being killed at every turn of the streets, so I must admit that I’ve never really thought about it. Surviving this long was… unlikely. Then I received some… extra motivation.”

“I don’t know what to do with myself,” Jyn confessed after a moment of silence. “I don’t know how to build things. I don’t know what will keep the nightmares away. I know nothing.”

Cassian would have wanted to tell her she was wrong, but how could he sound convincing when he thought roughly the same about himself?

As the feast went on outside, they remained in the hut, pretending to be too exhausted to join the others, unable to sleep.

They caught some short hours of sleep around dawn, when the rest of the crowd had finally gone to bed, before waking at their usual time, so ingrained into their routine they did not need an alarm clock any more.

The wooden platforms outside were almost completely deserted except for the random soldier or Ewok who had not found a place to doze off inside. The only person awake at this early hour was a Mon Calamari navigator that looked, from what Jyn knew of his species, rather disturbed.

“I hope we won’t tarry too long here,” he told them in way of greetings. “Those little bears creep me out.”

“They’re rather friendly,” Cassian objected.

The Mon Calamari gave him an incredulous look.

“They had several stormtroopers for dinner. I’d rather not join them.”

* *

Perhaps the navigator’s comment had made its way to the high command, but they did not stay on Endor much longer. By the end of the week, the carcasses of the Star destroyers in orbit had been scavenged and cut into manageable parts, some of them falling to burn into the atmosphere. The rest would probably be sold to scrap merchants; the Alliance needed money now more than ever. The news of the Emperor’s death would reach the Core sooner or later and it would be the perfect time to recruit. Much to Cassian’s distress, Jyn signed in for a set of missions that would send her into Imperial territory… without him to guard her back.

“Why did you accept those?” he asked. “Not that I’m ordering you to stay or… whatever. But you could use some rest.”

“I can’t. As long as I’m busy with something that requires my complete attention, I don’t have nightmares. They won’t come back.”

“Who won’t come back?”

“The inmates… from… after Scarif,” she confessed. “If I’m working hard enough, if I’m in the middle of a fight, I don’t hear them. It’s just some kind of background noise that’s drowned among the rest. But when I stop…”

“What can I do?” he asked, feeling suddenly helpless.

“Don’t hold me back. I have no death wish, I just need to find… something to do. Something really taxing so I’m too tired to think by the end of the day.”

He nodded silently, wishing he could find anything that fit the description without risking her life on a daily basis.

* *

During the following weeks, they barely saw each other. Cassian was back to his spying duties, making regular trips to the Core, while Jyn had joined Kes Dameron and his Pathfinders for several attacks against Imperial troops. He had barely returned from Corellia when he heard news of a battle in the Rim that had uncovered probably the most hellish plan to come from Palpatine’s twisted mind.

Operation Cinder was supposed to destroy at least a dozen planets across the galaxy, Naboo among them. Calrissian had led a fleet to the late Emperor’s homeworld right in time to prevent the incineration of its surface, along with the death of thousands of civilians. The Queen, Princess Organa and Shara Bey had escaped death by a matter of minutes. When Shara came back, Dameron had a long discussion with her, resulting in their joint retirement, supported by Solo and Calrissian.

Jyn felt rather envious as she watched them leave for Yavin. They had something, or rather someone, to return to after hard days on the battlefield, one peaceful place and a little boy waiting for them. She had made friends, she had Cassian… but they were still part of the Alliance, still neck-deep into the war. There was nothing for her out of the fight. Or did Saw convince her of that? She did not know any more.

She was not the only one, she was sure of that. There were thousands, no, millions of families out there that had been torn apart and consumed by the conflict, husbands, wives and children waiting for news of a loved one who would never come back. And the war was not done yet. They had only faced about a quarter of the Imperial fleet at Endor and there were still countless troops in hundreds of systems. Not all would surrender…

* *

In spite of the ongoing fighting, there were some significant political changes, even in the Core. The Alliance had gotten a foothold there in the Hosnian System and from Hosnia Prime had set to Chandrila, which had become the temporary capitol of the New Republic, proclaimed just six months after the fall of Palpatine. Mon Mothma refused to waste any time to reform the Imperial institutions and set to rewrite a complete constitution. She picked for her staff several agents that were currently unemployed, Cassian among them. The new Head of State took pity on him and also included Jyn into her work group. It did give the young woman something to focus on, though it was not, Cassian could tell, exactly what she needed. Jyn had never been cut to spend her days buried in lengthy reports and listening to equally long complaints, but she remained more patient and even smiling than he had expected. She was also noticeably less withdrawn than right after Endor and they even resumed their late-evening talks, something Cassian had missed for the past few weeks.

“Did you hear the news?” he asked one night after they had come back from dinner.

“Yeah,” Jyn replied, lazily stretching on the bed. “Solo and Organa, getting married. If we're invited, I hope there's some proper drinks.”

Cassian smirked and she added:

“There's no way I'm going to make it through a traditional Alderaanian wedding sober. I can still remember my mother making jokes about how long and talkative they could be.”

This time a short burst of laughter escaped his lips and Jyn counted this as another tiny victory.

“I don't think she will submit him to such an ordeal, nor does she have the patience to do so,” he pointed out. “They will probably use a shortened, more modern version of the vows.”

“Why are they tying the knot, anyway?” she wondered. “There's a kid on the way, or what?”

Cassian shrugged, then sat down on the bed.

“Don't think so, but well... they don't have much in common. Besides the war, I mean.”

Jyn thought about it for a moment before wondering,

“Are we not the same?”

“Allow me to disagree, estrella. We have, unfortunately, similar backgrounds, we spent a lot of time on the field together, and we did not suddenly begin to sleep together after three years of rows and sarcasm.”

“Yeah. We somehow managed to get all that at the same time,” Jyn snickered. “Except for the kid.”

“And that's a problem?”

“I don't really want one child of my own. Rather...”

“Yes?” he prompted when she trailed off.

“It’s something that I’ve got on my mind for a while. There are so many orphans, on both sides. I’ve read piles and piles of reports about orphanages being overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. It’s not like they’re at fault for anything so… I'd like to help some of them, give them a home...”

He nodded, understanding her reasons. It would be just a drop in an ocean, but better this than nothing, and they could rope some of their friends into this project, perhaps. It was a shame that Chirrut could not be there with them; he would have certainly been a wonderful teacher.

“I like the idea. We’ll certainly be very busy with running such a place but… yeah, sounds good. We'll have to discuss it with the high command, though. Perhaps they won't consider this a priority,” Cassian pointed out.

“First, we have to find a quiet place. A safe planet, far from the front lines.”

“Of course.”

“And you're going to help me.”

“What? Like...right now?”

“After breakfast sounds right. Mon Mothma should be available.”

With the chaos generated by their victory, their leader had become almost unreachable, even for her closest collaborators, extremely busy as she was contacting this governor and that planetary council to gather more allies, funds and support before the Alliance tried to push into the Core. It was almost as if she had just been elected Chancellor.

She still managed to find some minutes for them, though from the bags under her eyes and the steaming pot of caf on her desk, she had not slept for at least the last two days. Nonetheless, she patiently listened to Jyn and when the young woman had exposed her newest idea, she took some minutes to ponder it before switching on a galactic map.

“Have you any idea where you could build your… let’s say safe house?”

“Not on an industrial world, that’s a given,” Jyn replied immediately, “nor one that has recently been affected by a battle. Not an aquatic world either. Apart from that… I didn’t make a list.”

Mon Mothma allowed herself a smile.

“Lothal is too damaged… Lah’mu too far away...”

“And there are too many toxic components in the ground,” Jyn added. “We don’t want our wards to develop any illness.”

“Rishi’s climate is not ideal for children either… Hmm… either Dantooine or Takodana could do. They are mostly covered by different types of forests and while Dantooine hosted one of our bases, it would take time and money – that we don’t have – to make it inhabitable again.”

“And Takodana?” Cassian inquired.

“There’s someone living there that can be labeled as a friend and would certainly be very glad to help you with your project. Her name is Maz Kanata.”

Cassian’s eyebrows shot up.

“Isn’t she, err… some kind of pirate?”

“Indeed. She has been residing on Takodana for about a century and would be very useful, for instance in procuring any item you would need for your safe house. Smugglers and fellow pirates sometimes pay a call to her, ahem, castle, but she would not welcome anyone wishing harm to young children.”

They exchanged a glance and nodded. They had a trip to Takodana to plan.

Chapter Text

Jyn decided she liked Takodana almost the minute she set foot on the planet. They had landed near Maz Kanata’s domain, in a region covered in woods and numerous lakes and streams brimming with fishes, with a mild weather and right now, a soft breeze cooling the air. Had they not been on a mission, she would have gladly considered the place for some well-deserved holidays. But for now, they had to meet and negotiate with the local boss. Mon Mothma had told Jyn that Maz had retired from piracy a long time ago, even before the Empire was created, and was more a sort of wise adviser and philosopher than anything else, though the old lady could bargain as harshly as any smuggler.

The castle mentioned during the briefing had been built on the shore of a lake and cut a rather impressive figure with its towers and curtain walls. Wide stairs led to an arched entrance opening on a courtyard decorated with dozens of flags and banners… and a statue of a short-legged non-human with a large head and beady eyes, and at least half a dozen necklaces hanging on her chest.

“That’s Maz,” Cassian pointed out, nodding to the statue.

“I wonder about the size of her ego...” Jyn mumbled as they crossed the courtyard towards the main doors.

They were on a lucky day: few people loitered inside, perhaps eight or ten sentients of various species sitting around a game of cards or a cup of… probably something alcoholic. Jyn quickly scanned the room, searching for anyone remotely looking like the sculpture outside. She had just forgotten that stone portraits did not take color into account, so she was quite surprised when she discovered that Maz Kanata a) was orange and b) barely reached Jyn’s waist.

“Welcome to my humble dwelling, young lady,” Maz greeted. “I assume that this fetching fellow over there is your companion?”

“Yes… yes he is,” Jyn stammered. “I do hope we’re not disturbing you.”

“Nonsense! I’m over a thousand, but seeing new faces never gets old! Now tell me, what can an ancient woman like me do for you?”

Her extravagant manners brought a smile on Cassian’s face, before he grew serious again.

“As you can guess, we are not here for a drink, but for business. The Alliance may need your help, not to smuggle anything, but rather to bring relief to war orphans.”

Maz’ eyes widened behind her glasses.

“Well… I was certainly not expecting that. Come on, take a seat and I’ll bring some tea. A dry throat never leads to profitable discussions.”

Jyn had to grant her that, the tea was excellent, as well as the tiny cakes that came with it.

“So, explain your project, will you?”

“We… would like to open a safe house of sorts, that could host children and adolescents that were either orphaned or abandoned during the war. Among all the planets that were not affected by the conflict, this one seemed the most promising. No pollution, no spatioport of poor reputation, a peaceful environment… Unless you have a better suggestion, of course,” Jyn replied.

“I wouldn’t mind children visiting from time to time. But you will have to start almost from scratch,” Maz warned them. The closest we have to a suitable house needs heavy repairs.”

“And that’s where we would need your help. You know that the Alliance is a bit short on funds, so if you could… arrange something with your friends and clients, we would be immensely grateful.”

Maz nodded, a smile deepening the crinkles around her eyes, and Jyn let out a little breath of relief.

“I can do that,” the tiny woman assured. “I can even rope some of my most trusted friends into helping you repair the house.”

Cassian was not expecting such generosity and he thanked her with genuine gratitude. Of course the old pirate would ask for something in return, but he had a feeling that her price would be moderate, this time.

Maz invited them to stay for a few days, so she could call in some favors and Mon Mothma granted them a short leave to evaluate the state of the house and begin the most urgent repairs.

The place was not as damaged as they had feared first. It might have been abandoned a decade prior, perhaps, but the walls and basement were sounds, the roof only had a handful of tiles missing and the stairs supported their weight without creaking. However, the pipes and drains would have to be replaced, and the plumbing needed a serious revision. Then they would have to buy paint for the inside walls, new furniture, and everything children could require. Surprisingly, the kitchenware was both intact and complete, with some ustensils that belonged in high-class establishments. According to Maz, the unfortunate owner had tried to create a hotel for wealthy hikers but he had failed to attract enough clients and had been forced to sell the place to Maz in order to repay his debts. The planet was probably too far from the main space lines to receive many – legal – visitors, Maz lamenting the fact she had missed a beautiful opportunity to get more clients for her inn/bar/concert room (insert any other description you can imagine).

“You any good with house building?” Cassian asked Jyn as she stared at the house with an almost hungry expression.

“Everything electric. I’m also good with dusting. You?”

“I can move some furniture around. I can also paint.”

She did not reply, as she began drawing a quick map of the place, already considering where they would live and where the children would be settled. Cassian thought, with a thank to the Force and every single deity he knew, that she had finally found a task demanding enough that her nightmares would leave her alone.

* *

Cassian went back to Chandrila alone, which did not really surprise Mon Monthma. She had always known that Jyn was definitely not cut for a desk job. When the Captain showed her their newest acquisition, her first question was ‘How much?’ Cassian gave her a rough estimation of the cost of repairs and new furniture, and calculated that, with a team of about a dozen people, they could have completely refurbished the place within three months.

“Given the size of the building, I don’t think we could take more than thirty children,” he concluded, “but we hope they won’t remain there permanently and that they will either be adopted or taken back by relatives.”

“It’s a start. If your experiment works, perhaps it will prompt others to imitate you.”

That might have been wishful thinking, but one could only hope.

Cassian came back to Takodana with more workers than he had expected. News of Jyn’s pet project had spread and many people had volunteered to help. Cassian had to borrow a small shuttle to take this unexpected work team back with him but the smile on Jyn’s face when she saw all of them was worth spending some hours haggling with the Supply Office.

They started with the gutters and roof on the following day, Maz bringing some acquaintances of her own to give them a hand. Jyn wanted to have something sturdy above her head before they began working inside, though some of the least experienced workers went into the rooms of the first floor to scrub the old paint of the wall and clean the slabs in the kitchen. Cassian had to admit the place was spotless after they were done with it.

The roof was finished after five days of continuous work, as they had discovered that some of the slates covering it were more damaged than estimated, and should be replaced.

By the end of their first week, they had gathered a considerable amount of bruises and blisters, not to mention several accidents involving thumbs and hammers, but the repairs progressed as scheduled and soon they were able to stay into the house rather than under tents, and clean the rubble and old, rotten furniture that still cluttered the rooms. There were also discussions regarding the decoration of the children's bedrooms and dormitories, and Cassian was surprised to see how much of themselves his colleagues could project into it. Some of them had been parted from their own family for years now and craved for any semblance of normality.

Maz paid them regular visits, curious to see how they would transform the house... and also to check that her funds and supplies were used as agreed and not channeled to the Alliance troops instead. Somehow, Cassian did not want to know what kind of hell the old pirate could raise if they tried to trick her. There were some rumors that she was Force-sensitive, after all.

For several weeks they were more or less cut from the rest of the world, a welcome reprieve from the horrors they had all witnessed. The war was still going on outside the Takodana system but its noise did not reach them there. One could almost believe peace had already been achieved.

And then one day, as they were almost done with the repairs and were now looking for enough beds, chairs and tables for about thirty children, they received the news they had all been hoping for.

One last battle to end the war, over the desert world of Jakku, the Empire’s last stand broken and defeated, after two decades of struggle. Cassian could scarcely believe it. Suddenly he understood Jyn’s anxiety better: he had known nothing but battlefields and the life of a spy for most of his life; how was he going to adapt to a normal existence? He would have to evaluate his skills in order to find what could apply to a civilian life, unlearn some of the most dangerous reflexes he had accumulated over the years… The prospect made him dizzy, as if he was going to lose a part of his identity now that the Alliance had won. Perhaps Jyn was right, and he should immerse himself into an equally demanding task to avoid over-thinking his situation too much.

* *

He got to test this hypothesis soon after, when the Alliance delivered on Takodana their first share of orphans, a dozen children from four to eleven years old. Maz insisted to be present when they arrived, to let them know their new home was not completely isolated in the middle of nowhere.

They arrived during an afternoon with small travel bags, huddled together and casting quick, nervous glances around them. Cassian did his best to smile and look non-threatening, though he could feel a lump in his throat when he welcomed them, as they uncomfortably reminded him of himself around the same age. Seeing his uniform, the children seem to consider he was somewhat trustworthy and they replied shyly to his greeting, some of the oldest kids even reaching to shake his hand.

“What’s going to happen to us?” a girl asked, apparently chosen by the others to be their representative. “How long will we remain here?”

“Until we can contact your closest relatives, or a family wishing to adopt you,” Cassian explained. “Meanwhile you will live here as normally as possible: you will eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, have some lessons, play around the house… There’s no military presence on Takodana so you will be safe here.”

“And if stormtroopers attack the planet?” the same girl demanded.

Cassian sighed.

“All the adults here have a lot of experience fighting troopers,” he admitted, “unfortunately. We’ll do our best to keep all of you alive, healthy, and safe.”

“That will do,” she concluded with a firm nod.

They followed him inside, where Jyn and three members of the Alliance that had chosen to remain as assistants greeted them.

“You want to see your rooms first, or we visit the house?” Jyn asked.

A chorus of “Rooms!” answered her and she signaled them to climb the stairs, turning to send a smile and a quick eye roll to Cassian as she went after them. Soon he heard her voice drifting from upstairs, warning the children off the adults’ bedrooms, commenting on the landscape they could see from their windows, and the echoes of a quarrel between two children who wanted the same room. Cassian felt a smile slowly stretch his lips. It would not be easy, his old demons would still be lurking in the shadows, but he knew he was going to enjoy this.

Chapter Text

During the following weeks, they gathered more children, until they had twenty-six lodgers in the house. Most of them were well-behaved and listened to directions but you always had one or two kids, usually among the oldest, that refused to obey any instruction, even for their own safety, and claimed none of the adults could understand what they had gone through. Cassian was seriously torn between the wish to shake them a bit and his own desire for privacy. He doubted that his most stubborn wards would ever care about their guardians’ sad stories, anyway. Jyn, however, proved less patient than him and when their oldest boy, about fourteen years old, snapped at them one more time that ‘no one knew what he had done to survive’, she exploded almost as fiercely as her father’s creation.

“Perhaps if you talked to us, we would know, and we could help! And now, you stop acting as if you were the only victim of this war! People here were already at it when you were not even a spark in your parents’ eyes, so don’t treat us as if we’re all idiots with not an inkling about what happens on occupied planets, thank you very much!

The boy had probably expected to be scolded by a taller and bigger adult, and the surprise left him speechless for a moment. He made himself scarce for two days before offering his apologies, much to Jyn’s satisfaction.

“Are you sure that yelling was the only solution?” Cassian inquired after that.

“Yes. You taught me that a difficult life was not an excuse for being an asshole, remember?”

He conceded the point, though Jyn had rectified some of his opinions as well along the years.

* *

They received an unexpected visitor in the person of Luke Skywalker some weeks later. The younger man looked much better than the last time they had seen him, and had found a new occupation as well.

“Looking for old Jedi archives, you say? You want to restart the Order?” Jyn asked.

Something like that,” he said. “Force-sensitives, particularly of a high level, need to learn at least the basics about the Force, so they don’t trigger a catastrophe each time they use their abilities. I found some relics of the old Temple on Coruscant, but I suspect that Palpatine may have just kept some pieces as trophies, and burnt the rest.”

“So you’re on a quest to find more?” Cassian wondered with a half-smile.

“I’m afraid so. I’ll try to teach what I learned along the way. None of your little wards is Force-sensitive, by the way.”

“And thank all the gods for that,” Jyn groaned. “It’s hard enough as it is. You’ve already found a potential student?”

“Well, perhaps when my nephew is old enough… if he’s interested...” Luke confessed, smiling brightly.

“Told you there was a kid on the way,” Jyn muttered to Cassian, almost causing him to facepalm, much to Luke’s amusement.

He remained there for the rest of the day, discussing with their assistants and taking notes, possibly with a future academy in mind. He made them both promise to contact him should one of their wards ever start lifting stones or levitating in the garden.

“You can levitate with the Force?”

Cassian could scarcely believe it.

“Sometimes.”

“Yeah. Right. That would have been useful when we tried to pick the archives on Scarif… When you come back, stay a bit longer. I’d like to tell you some things about the Guardians of the Whills on Jedha. That could maybe give you some ideas for your school… when you open it.”

“That would be an honor.”

* *

They had barely gotten used to dealing with their little tribe of children that Mon Mothma summoned them again for another mission.

“If you still have room in your little haven,” she said, “there are some children that require your attention on Arkanis. The planet finally surrendered, after months of siege, and many were left behind or lost in the chaos that followed.”

Cassian made a quick calculation.

“We can take five more, perhaps. But we'll need another caretaker to help us.”

“I'll make sure that you have the staff you need,” the former senator assured. “Children ranging from three to fourteen,” she added, “not necessarily orphaned, but separated from their parents. Some of them would not stay indefinitely with you.”

Jyn nodded with assurance.

“It's all right. I'd be glad to see them all back with their family, no matter which side they fought for.”

Mothma smiled warmly. Their relationship had spectacularly improved after Jyn had joined the Alliance for good; Cassian sometimes wondered if their leader was not overcompensating for the idiots who still resented Jyn’s presence because of her father.

* *

They arrived above Arkanis to find the planet still surrounded by a massive blockade. Several Mon Calamari cruisers were looming above the rainy planet and squadrons of fighters came and went to and from the surface. Jyn put her waterproof coat on as their shuttle started the descent towards the city of Scaparus, as she had heard the place was just barely less damp than Eadu.

As she found out when they landed, it was a slight exaggeration. A continuous drizzle was falling from a low, grey sky, but it had nothing to do with the downpour and thunderstorm they had faced during the raid on Eadu. Still, combined with the rather chilly temperature, the effect was rather unpleasant. A speeder was waiting for them, the driver explaining the situation as they left the city, heading towards the local academy.

“One for officers,” the man said. “Old Brendol Hux was training the new generation of Imperial captains here. We’ve heard plenty of things about his methods, you know. Something about the weaker kids being… weeded out, so to speak. So don’t be surprised if some of the children are a bit… weird.”

Child soldiers… Well, this at least, Cassian knew like the back of his hand.

The academy was a sprawling, yet austere building located at the foot of a mountain range, surrounded by thick woods. Cassian grimaced as his boots nearly remained stuck into the mud. He heard Jyn grumbling at his side, trying to wrap her coat tighter around herself to avoid being drenched. She was the first one inside, almost running to the main hall.

Two Alliance soldiers were waiting there and greeted her politely when she presented her accreditation.

“This way, ma’am,” one of them said, pointing to a door on their right. “We kept them all together so far. They won’t fight. Well, I think so, they didn’t do anything funny since we brought them.”

Jyn nodded, walking resolutely towards the door, the same way she would go into mission briefings.

With a little shock, she found herself facing what looked like a sea of children, boys and girls, with blond, or brown, or black hair, even a little spot of orange in the back of the crowd. Taking a deep breath, Jyn took a step forward and greeted them. Some kept their head down, refusing to look at her, others replied shyly, not knowing what to do with her. They could not ignore that she was serving in the Alliance, not with the coat and more or less formal uniform she wore under it. Finally, one of the oldest boys gathered his courage and asked:

“Who are you? And why are you here, ma’am?”

“My name is Jyn Erso. I used to be an operative for the Alliance, and I retired from active duty several months ago. I am currently working on a safe house for orphans and abandoned children along with my partner Captain Andor. You will all be transported to another facility, since this one is too damaged to support a continued occupation. Several spots are still free in my safe house, should you wish to live there until either your family is found or another is willing to adopt you.”

“Where is it?” another child, a brown-haired girl with a hook nose, inquired.

“It’s on Takodana. Lots of lakes and forests and far from the Core and the Colonies.”

“How many of us could go with you?” a third child questioned.

“No more than five,” Jyn admitted. “There are already twenty-six children hosted there.”

They were treating this very matter-of-factly, more like adults than teenagers. She felt as if she was looking at herself in a time mirror, transported some ten years prior. As she pondered that, the children began talking among themselves, trying to decide who would go or not.

“You can think about it while our medic examines you,” she suggested.

They nodded almost as one, then calmly followed here outside, towards the infirmary. Cassian joined them on their way there, hoping he did not look too much like a mother duck with her ducklings following obediently. They lined up against a wall, waiting for the medic to call them. Jyn and Cassian left the room, leaving the medical team to do their job.

“They’re so… silent,” she commented. “It’s rather uncanny.”

“Imperial discipline,” he said. “Though I must admit it has its uses. So far, they’ve cooperated remarkably well. But I suspect the oldest ones would be able to start a fight, provided they’ve been brainwashed enough.”

“If their headmaster was training them to kill their weaker schoolmates… rather likely,” she agreed grimly.

* *

They spent the following hours exploring the academy, or what was left of it after the siege and fighting. The stores were almost completely depleted. The kids had probably not seen a full meal for days, if not weeks. They interrupted the visit when Cassian’s comlink biped, signaling the medical team was done with the examinations.

Back in the medbay, the chief medic signed her report and handed it to Cassian. He let a long sigh out. He had known it would not be easy, but not to that extent. All the children suffered from undernourishment after the siege, and the former pupils of the Academy showed various symptoms of mistreatment and high levels of stress, even the youngest. The medic mentioned sprains, bruises, broken bones, that were compatible with her suspicions of generalized abuse. Getting them to trust the adults now in charge would be tricky, at best.

As they turned towards the children, five of them broke from the group and stood in front of them in a perfect line.

“We discussed with the others, and we would like to come with you,” the hook-nosed girl from before told them. “Also,” she added, “you’ll want to take this one as well, else no one’s going to get him away,” pointing to a small, red-haired boy sitting by himself on a cot.

“Who is he?” Jyn asked.

“Armitage Hux. The Commandant’s bastard.”

“Uh?”

“Old Hux got him on a kitchen girl. We haven’t seen her for weeks, so we suppose she’s dead or she ran away. The Commandant certainly did.”

They exchanged a glance. Of course they were going to take him.

The boy did not protest when Jyn took him by the hand; he just stared at her with large, blue-green eyes, the color somewhat similar to her own. He went meekly enough, but she could see how tense he was. And he was, what? Five at most?

They left quickly after that, their six wards pressing their faces against the transparasteel of the viewports as soon as the shuttle left the atmosphere.

* *

Once they reached the house on Takodana, Cassian gathered all the other children and the adult staff in the main hall and stood on the stairs for a short speech.

“We’ve just come back from Arkanis with six new wards. As you know, this planet was an Imperial bastion, so yes, those are, or rather were, the children of Imperial officers and soldiers. This is to warn you, all of you, that the first hint of bullying or discrimination against them will get the culprit kicked out of this house faster than they can say ‘Jabba’. If you don’t like these rules, now is the right time to signal it. Nothing? Good. The rules are now fully effective.”

He hopped down from the stairs and nodded to Jyn.

“Nice speech,” she said. “Let’s hope it will be enough. I’d rather not sent any of them away.”

“Me neither. But unfortunately, bigots come in every size and age, so...”

His threats seemed to work, however, as the six children they had picked on Arkanis settled in the community without apparent difficulties.

* *

If inside the walls things progressed relatively smoothly, in the outside world all was not a bed of roses. They had to find private funds for their safe house (Jyn refused to call it an orphanage) as the Senate had other, most urgent things to consider (the fact they hosted orphans from Imperial worlds had yet to become public knowledge, though). Cassian was pleased, however, when Mon Mothma was one of the first to make a donation. Organa sent credits as well, though she had her hands full with the relocation of her compatriots who had escaped the destruction of their homeworld.

Some parents, having heard about their association, came looking for their children. Republicans or Imperials, Cassian thought, they all had the same expression on their faces when they stood on the doorstep: nervous, hopeful, tired. Most left empty-handed and heart-broken, the probability of finding their child among the two dozens Jyn and Cassian hosted almost non-existent. Whatever their political opinions, it always pained Cassian to watch them go with their hopes dashed, mourning the loss of their family

One case in particular made the former Captain both furious and saddened: the thin, red-haired boy they had picked on Arkanis, who remained in their care, day after day, though it was well-known that his father was still alive and free.

“Why don't we keep him?” Jyn suggested one morning at breakfast. “You know, like… More permanently?”

Cassian raised an eyebrow; he had not been expecting that.

“You never mentioned adoption before, but... we could at least give it a try. Chosen families didn't turn out that bad for us both, right? So it could work for him as well.”

“Let's ask the little guy what he thinks about it, fine?”

As usual, Armitage was reading under his favorite tree when they found him. If left to his own device, the child would probably do nothing but read everything he could reach, and then ask for more.

“Hello there. Can we have a little chat?”

The boy nodded, observing them warily. They both sat on the grass, not too close so they would not prompt him to move away.

“We have some news for you, dear,” Jyn announced.

“Someone is coming to take me?” he asked hopefully.

His tentative smile immediately waned when Jyn shook her head.

“So you're going to send me away because you can’t afford to keep me,” he assumed.

The two adults exchanged a worried glance and Cassian hurried to explain as the child began to rise from the ground to leave.

“No, no, no, niño, that's not what we meant. In fact, it's the opposite.”

Little Armitage raised an eyebrow, something he had probably copied from his father and looked at Cassian as if to say 'Well, prove it now.'

“In truth,” Jyn went on, “we wanted to ask you if you would like to remain here, not as a ward, but with us as your... well, your new parents.”

The child remained silent for a long moment, observing them alternatively, obviously waiting for the moment they would start laughing and say 'Big joke!'. Since the other shoe did not drop, he seemed to accept that they were completely serious about their offer.

“You want me to stay?” he asked nonetheless.

“Of course we do! We would not suggest it otherwise!”

“Oh...”

The boy blinked several times, his eyes watering quickly. He was trying not to cry in front of the adults but his resolve vanished soon and tears began rolling on his pale cheeks. Instinctively, Cassian hugged the child to his chest, rocking him gently as Jyn patted his hair and back, telling him over and over that everything was all right, that they would take care of him for as long as he needed it, that he would never have to leave again…

They managed to calm him after a while and carried him back to his bedroom, his small hands still clutching Cassian’s jacket. The former spy felt a knot in his chest as well as a strange warmth spreading through him, not able to decided between crying and laughing, but with his boy in his arms and Jyn by his side, for the first time in a long while, he felt at peace.

Chapter Text

Almost two years had passed since Armitage had joined Jyn and Cassian’s little family. They had seen children come and go, but the flow was slowing progressively, as the galaxy recovered from its wounds. The boy was recovering nicely as well. He had put some weight on, grew steadily and had become much more trusting and open towards adults. Maz Kanata had a lot to do with his new-found confidence, truth be told, as the old lady often brought him to her ‘castle’, telling him stories and legends, even some Jedi lore, teaching him new languages and introducing him to the least disreputable of her guests. Being naturally curious, Armitage had loved the experience and had become a well-liked and regular presence at Maz’s. He spent a good deal of time there when his parents were called off-world as well and though he knew better than to tell them, some of Maz’s clients had taught him a thing or two about eavesdropping or picking locks. One had even promised to show him how to create a makeshift flare and melt bars from a window.

* *

It was autumn on Takodana and Armitage had just turned eight. Jyn was very pleased to see how confident he had grown, and how precocious he was. She had not brought him to the medic for a test yet, but she suspected the boy was high-potential. Cassian would be pleased to hear about their son’s progress and good grades when he came back from the capitol (currently on Brentaal).

But Cassian was probably too pissed off to care much when he entered the house, fuming and cursing the Senate in very colorful ways that were absolutely not meant for underage ears.

“Cassian,” Jyn chimed in. “Go to the kitchen and we’ll discuss this. I’m sure the kids already know a fair share of swear words, but no need to add to their collection.”

“Fine, fine,” he relented and followed her into said kitchen, where a saucepan of soup was simmering gently on the stove.

The smell was appetizing enough that Cassian calmed down a bit, though he still had a lot of anger in store to vent. Jyn sat on a stool and patiently listened to him as he explained how Mon Mothma had been double-crossed by her own political party – and one had to get up very early in order to double-cross the former senator of Chandrila.

“So, basically they went behind her back while she was in the hospital and reduced the Chancellor's powers using a rather flimsy argument from some retired officer from Corellia who wasn't even at Endor, who complained that she was getting too 'authoritarian'?” Jyn summed up. “Well, when you looked back to what happened on Yavin, you can't exactly blame her for that...”

“And regarding the management of the galaxy in general, let me tell you, they truly learned nothing,” Cassian spat. “It's: the Core, the Core, and always the Core. The way they're going, they'll find themselves with another Separatist crisis within the next two decades!”

Jyn let him rant for a while, not noticing a small orange head poking from the kitchen door, then:

“I hanged a punching ball in the basement, if you want,” she announced.

“You’re a blessing.”

“Now, that’s a first,” she commented, raising an eyebrow.

This exchange had not escaped Armitage’s ears, and later in the evening, he asked innocently (he had become very good at looking innocent and sincere) why Cassian would not call Jyn a blessing before. Seeing the embarrassed look on the adults’ faces counted as a victory, though he had waited until the other children and the staff had retired for the night to ask.

“Well,” Jyn began, “when we first met...”

“We can’t say it was love at first sight,” Cassian completed.

“In fact, we would have started a fistfight if his pet assassin droid had not knocked me flat on my back the second I crossed his path.”

Armitage’s eyes widened. That was new !

“You had an assassin droid?! How come?”

“I… found him during a previous mission and since he was too much of an asset to let him go, I… reprogrammed him.”

“With the unfortunate side effect that good ol’ K2 had no filters left between his programs and his vocoder...” Jyn added with a smirk.

“Yeah, yeah… I fu- I messed it, okay?” Cassian finally conceded, looking exasperated, much to his son’s amusement. “Back to the story, we quarreled about every five seconds during our trip to the Alliance base on Yavin. Then, when we left for a mission on Jedha, she stole my blaster… and went through my bag as well. And she argued non-stop with K2 during the whole trip.”

“You’re exaggerating. I also took a nap during that trip.”

By then, the boy was chuckling, something that did not happen so often.

“And then what?”

“It’s not a funny tale, sweetling,” Jyn warned him.

“I guessed as much; it was war. But I really want to know. My… birth mother never told me stories. Yours are great because they’re true.”

* *

Things took another turn on the following year, though this time it was not a happy event. One afternoon Cassian received an emergency call from Wedge, asking for help.

“I'm really sorry to bother you, but there's been an accident during training. Shara is dead.”

It took Cassian a moment to process the news. Shara Bey had fought in so many battles that it seemed ludicrous, unbelievable, that she could have died in a simple training session.

“What... what can we do?” he stammered.

“Getting to that,” Wedge replied in a tired voice. “Can you keep an eye on Poe for some days? Just the time to get Kes back on his feet, else he's going to do something stupid.”

“Yes. Yes, of course. I'll tell Jyn and we'll prepare a room. Sure thing.”

Jyn was just as floored as he felt, but she did not waste time in helping him set one of their unoccupied bedrooms for Poe. Soon Armitage poked his head inside, wondering if his parents had found another ward.

“Not as usual,” Cassian explained. “The boy just lost his mother, and his father is… not well. So he’ll stay for a few weeks at most, until everything is… relatively back to normal at home.”

Armitage nodded gravely.

“How old is he?”

“Two years younger than you, so barely eight,” Jyn replied.

“That should be all right,” he assured. “That will be fun, playing big brother. You think he could come to Maz’s castle with me?”

“Well, why not? Same rules as usual, of course.”

Armitage rolled his eyes as unsubtly as he could, but he nodded anyway. The ‘usual rules’ were: no card games, not accepting anything from strangers, and going straight to Maz in case he was in trouble. One was never too careful when dealing with smugglers and pirates though to be honest, most of them would not even dream of harming a child. There was still, thankfully, some kind of honor code in the profession and Maz screened her clients carefully now that there were children and teenagers nearby.

Little Poe arrived four days later, clutching Wedge’s hand as if his life depended on it. Jyn had not seen him since that day in the medbay and his resemblance to his mother was uncanny. He had her hair, her nose, and she suspected his smile would be similar, if they were lucky enough to see it.

“Hello, Poe,” she greeted him warmly. “I’m Jyn Erso. You may have heard of me and my partner Cassian; we worked with your parents for a while.”

The boy nodded wordlessly, considering her as if he did not know what to make of her. Wedge gently patted his head.

“Come on, little guy. Don’t you want to see the lovely room that’s been set for you?”

Poe gave another hesitant nod and began walking towards the house. Wedge made sure he was far enough before asking:

“The other kids won’t be a problem?”

“I don’t think so. We have fewer of them now, just a dozen, and they know they must behave properly and bullying is not tolerated. Our son has already shown an interest in taking care of Poe, mind you.”

“Your son?” Wedge repeated.

“Ah, right, we didn’t mention him in our last messages. We kind of… adopted one of our little refugees from Arkanis.”

A smile appeared on Wedge’s weathered face.

“Big hearts, both of you, and in the right place as well. It’s just as good if he has another kid helping him around. He lacks interaction with children his age, I must say.”

“Noted. You’ll give Luke a kiss for me, right?”

“Yeah. As soon as he’s back from his last trip. He found some students for that school of his. Five, so far. They seem to enjoy levitating rocks quite a lot, from what I saw.”

“The potential for pranks is unlimited,” Cassian commented as he emerged from the house to shake hands with Wedge.

“Don’t jinx it, will you?” Wedge groused.

He remained for dinner and stayed the night at their insistence, so that Poe would not feel too abandoned. Their wards came to introduce themselves right before dinner and Poe seemed to ligthen up a bit, politely answering questions and inquiring about what they usually did during the day. The poor boy still looked ready to cry when Antilles took his leave on the following morning. That was when Armitage decided to step in and become a ‘mentor’ for Poe. He made him visit the whole house, the vegetables garden, the pond, showed him the track to Maz’s castle…

At first glance one could think the boys shared similar fates: about the same age, a dead mother, being sent away for a while... But that superficial analysis would miss the fact that for Poe, the absence of his mother was balanced by the devotion his father showed him, or the fact that Kes had never raised a hand against his son in a decade.

When they were done with their lessons, the little pond behind the house became their favorite refuge, where they could invent epic stories and talk about exploring the stars. Sometimes, though, they brought up more serious topics. Their missing relatives, for instance

“I miss her,” Poe admitted, tossing another pebble into the pond, much to the irritation of the local frogs. “D'you miss your parents?” he asked.

“Not really,” Armitage replied honestly. “My mother took the Commandant's money for birthing me, and the Commandant hit me every time I did something he thought wrong. He thought that often.”

“Oh...”

Poe shuffled closer, his small hand reaching to pat Armitage's head. The red-haired boy startled, then grumpily allowed Poe to go on.

* *

Armitage was sorely disappointed when Poe went back home on Yavin, even though the Holonet provided a way to stay in contact. He was glad, nonetheless, that his new friend could go back home, to a father who would take care of him.

The following months saw many exchanges of mails and pictures. The flow slowed a bit after that, but the boys kept writing each other regularly.

Months turned into years and Armitage’s twelfth birthday had come and gone when his parents announced an unexpected event.

“There will be a celebration of the armistice on Caamas within two weeks,” Jyn told him, not exactly pleased but still interested.

“We’re invited to the ceremony. And this time, young man, you’ll be coming as well,” Cassian announced. “You’re old enough for a trip to the Core.”

Armitage cheered and immediately ran to his room to prepare his travel bag. An official travel to the Core meant he would probably see Poe again. Jyn and Cassian could only chuckle, seeing him in such a hurry.

The trip itself was quite uneventful. Thankfully they would not go to Coruscant, as Jyn did not particularly wish to set foot on it again. She had left the capitol planet when she was about six and even then, had felt somehow the pressure on her parents’ shoulders, the strained smiles as they talked to Krennic, the lies repeated over and over. She could do without a reminder. Krennic was still a recurrent apparition in her nightmares, after all.

* *

The three of them were hosted, like most of the guests, in a rather luxurious residence overlooking a lush garden, supported by a terrace strong enough to allow the presence of trees and several ornamental ponds. The beds were wonderfully comfortable and the room service, just perfect, but it was so far from what Jyn and Cassian were used to that they felt a bit ill-at-ease. Armitage, however, was absolutely delighted and they had to stop him from jumping and bouncing on his mattress, much to his consequent grumbling.

He forgot it on the following day, when his parents took him to the first part of the ceremony in another garden, larger and filled with sculptures he did not recognize. Some, as he could read on the panels describing them, had been picked from Imperial dignitaries’ collections, which did not sit so well with him. But even at twelve, he knew better than to say it aloud. And anyway, he had just spotted Poe, and nothing could top that.

The other boy was glad to see him and did not waste time in telling him everything about the garden and the remembrance service that would be taking place there. And of course, he could not miss the opportunity to introduce his friend to his heroes, namely his father and the Organa-Solos. Armitage felt slightly intimidated by Kes’ large stature and his piercing dark eyes, but the man greeted him kindly, glad to meet his son’s friend and grateful for everything the red-haired boy had done for Poe.

Then there were Leia Organa and Han Solo.

After all the wild tales he had heard from both sides, Armitage did not really know what to expect from the famous heroes of the Alliance. Not the relatively-normal couple he discovered, certainly. He had thought Princess Organa would be taller, for instance, or that her husband would be more at ease in public – the man gave the impression that he wanted to be very far from the ceremony, preferably in his ship with his copilot. Nonetheless, Captain Solo smiled just as charmingly as his wife, winking to Armitage and promising to tell him some amusing anecdotes about Jyn and Cassian.

“No blackmail material, Han,” the Princess gently chided him. “Ben, why don’t you say hello to Poe and Armitage?”

Said Ben Organa-Solo slowly emerged from behind his mother’s skirts. The least you could say was that, so far he had not inherited his parents’ charm and charisma. His face was pale, spattered with tiny moles, his nose too long for his still round face and his ears too big for his head. Armitage bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. It would have been awfully rude to laugh at the boy because of features he had no control over, but the fact that the son of two great heroes of the Civil War looked like a TIE-fighter made human was bloody hilarious.

As if he had heard that thought, Ben stared angrily at the older boy, his face turning an interesting shade of red. Armitage thought it wiser to take his leave, thanking the adults for their kind welcome, and promptly going back to his parents.

“Ben Solo is weird,” he stated as they took their seats for the Chancellor’s speech.

“His uncle told us he’s Force-sensitive,” Cassian pointed out, “so he must be a bit overwhelmed in such a crowd.”

“He can read minds!?” Armitage exclaimed.

“No idea, but it’s possible,” Jyn conceded.

The boy frowned and cast a quick glance to the main tribune where Ben was sitting with his parents and former Chancellor Mon Mothma, whose hair, once almost as noticeable as Armitage’s, had turned completely grey.

The kid looked proud, reveling in the admiration people felt for his parents as if he deserved it as well. Armitage scoffed and decided not to think about him any more.

* *

It was easier said than done, though, since all the guests’ children were often set together, particularly during meals, in order to ‘reinforce ties’ between the numerous systems in the Republic. Armitage rather enjoyed the idea, as he got the opportunity to meet several interesting kids from worlds he had barely heard of. He did not like, however, spending more time in Ben’s vicinity.

The brown-haired boy never missed an opportunity to show off his abilities, apparently certain it earned him respect and admiration. Most children found it interesting at first, then annoying when he repeated the same trick over and over, and finally creepy when he began to read some of their thoughts and repeat them aloud. Over the course of one week of ceremonies, Ben progressively found himself isolated, Poe being one of the very few who stayed around, probably more because his parents were always by the Organa-Solos’ side than anything else.

Ben seemed to equally loathe and covet him, going from one attitude to another in quick succession. But whatever his feelings, he had apparently decided that he was the only one allowed to have them regarding Poe, as possessive of the older boy as he was of his favorite toys, something that only grew stronger after the guests had all left the capitol and Ben was mostly left to his own devices.

When Poe finally realized what was going on, several months later, the usually polite boy told Ben to fuck off in front of both Kes and Han, and refused to have anything more to do with the younger child, while the Organa-Solos had a lengthy discussion with their son. That did not make him love either Poe or Armitage any better. His uncle spoke of taking him as a student in his school, which led, if Poe was to be believed, to a shouting match between Ben and both his parents.

“I hope Pa will let me come to Takodana for the next holidays. Or you can come to Yavin. I really don’t want to go back in the Core if I have to entertain Mister ‘I’m-better-than-you-cause-I-have-the-Force’. Talk to your parents about it, right?”

“Of course. I’d really like to visit your dad’s farm, anyway.”

Armitage received his parents’ authorization easily enough, provided that he called them regularly. He was impatient to get on a new adventure, and one that would be far more pleasant than his first stay in the Core.

Chapter Text

Six years had passed since those wonderful holidays on Yavin IV. Armitage had enjoyed every minute of it, even if he was not exactly used to the local warm and moist climate. He had spent a whole month with Poe and Kes, learning more than he had expected about farming in general and growing fruits in particular, and tinkering with the family’s speeders, the most interesting thing he had found – not that he would have told Kes he did not care much about fruits and trees; he was not suicidal. For once, he had been completely carefree and even allowed himself to do some things he would have considered useless and silly before his arrival on Takodana.

The boys had seen each other again on the following year, but after that had been forced to remain apart, relying solely on Holonet message, as Poe was sent to school in another system and Armitage alternated between correspondence lessons and stays on Dentaal for his studies.

Though he would soon turn nineteen and had all the required grades to attend it, university seemed so far away... He was not particularly fond of leaving Takodana for such a long time, but he knew he would get better opportunities in the Core. Nothing changed in that regard. His parents did not want to see him go for so long either, but had resigned themselves. At least this time, Armitage was not taken away by a hostile force, but was going by his own free will. It did not prevent them from discreetly shedding some tears when their son finally left for the Core with two bags of clothes, a handful of holobooks and a promise to call them at least once a week.

* *

The first month was a nightmare. Armitage was not used to being surrounded by so many people at the same time. Maz’s castle felt tiny compared to the buildings where he was attending his lessons. And he could not find silence anywhere; there was always a low rumble of noise everywhere he went, footsteps in the distance or conversations in the corridors. He also understood quickly that he would not make many friends there. Those who took their studies seriously were often far too busy to have time for extracurricular activities, and those who ‘took it easy’ gave the young man a sudden wish to discover whether the ‘perfect murder’ could be performed in real life or not.

His new pet peeve, however, was a particular cast of young, wealthy people who held very uninformed opinions about the Civil War and what should have been done to restore the galaxy to its former (legendary) splendor.

Eleventh-hour freedom fighters and Holonet warriors were the worst, he found out, the most zealous in demanding sanctions and exclusions from the comfort of their houses when they had never done anything to solve the original problem when the time had been right. He quickly learned to use his parents’ names rather than Hux, as his biological father was a known figure from the last months of the war, and not particularly popular.

After the first trimester, Armitage could assure his parents that he was properly acclimatized to his new life in the city. He dwelled in a small room within the walls of the university, with just a bed, a table, a chair and some shelves, and the tiniest refresher he had ever used. He could not add much in terms of personal belongings or little gadgets that would make him feel more at home, but he had managed to find a place for a potted plant from the forest around the house on Takodana and a little bird in carved wood, a gift from one of Maz’s clients. His holobooks and clothes took most of the available space and he could hardly invite someone in, even when he was partnered with another student for a project. Usually they would work in the library or, when the weather allowed it, in the lovely and very quiet gardens that surrounded the buildings. Armitage’s favorite place was a huge, gnarled tree growing near a pond where the biology students frequently released their superfluous frogs – as long as you avoided the pond during mating season, it was a perfectly peaceful and relaxing location.

Something Armitage had not considered was the opportunity to gather rumors and little bits of knowledge. As a joke, his father had asked him to send home three pieces of news each week that he had not known previously, but Armitage had taken it very seriously. One of the first things he learned via online gossip was that Ben Organa-Solo did not live in the Core anymore. The boy had been shipped off to his uncle, and the various comments on the news wondered what could have prompted his parents to do so. Armitage dropped the matter quickly enough. The boy had been nothing but a nuisance the very few times he had seen him and he had better things to do than to think about his whereabouts. Getting top grades, for instance. Both his parents had been forced to cut their own education short, but they would certainly not allow him to slack. His grandfather had been a most successful engineer, after all (even if his top project was a giant battle station that could go into hyperspace and blow up whole planets, let’s not talk about it, thank you very much). Sometimes Armitage thought he would have liked to meet Galen Erso, do his homework with him, hear his voice… The man was nothing more than a distant memory, a longing in Jyn’s voice and a deep regret in Cassian’s eyes. There were some parts of the story that, even now, they would rather keep to themselves.

* *

Armitage had been studying for almost a year when the first troubles began to arise. He had been registered under his foster parents’ names and some fellow students had gotten curious about him, having heard about Jyn and Cassian’s missions (or some vague, abridged version of them) from their own parents. They began to question soon where Armitage came from and how he had been adopted – since his features made his lack of biological connections with his parents rather obvious. He said as little as he could, but could not avoid mentioning Arkanis. Immediately unpleasant questioning began to flow: who were his real parents, and what was he doing there in the Core, and what were his plans for the future? As if someone adopted at five years old could have had a whole plot schemed so much in advance… Most of it stopped almost as fast as it had begun, but one student, the son of some senator, would not relent and even had the gal to write a message to Princess Organa herself. The reply, however, was not the one he had expected.

The lady came to visit in person, requesting to discuss the matter with the superintendent and his two students. Armitage’s accuser was already glowing with pride and as soon as he got the opportunity, he launched into a tirade about the children of Imperial officers and civil servants lurking in the shadows of the Republic.

Organa cut the speech with a sharp “I disagree.”

She turned towards the boy with a sickly sweet smile.

“First, none of them were born when Alderaan was destroyed, so you can't hold them accountable for it and second, bullying them will never make up for your parents twiddling their thumbs during the whole war.”

Armitage would have clapped, had they not been in public. But from that moment on, Leia Organa had his undisputed loyalty.

* *

For months after this episode – which for some reason had leaked in the university in spite of the superintendent’s promise to keep silent – Armitage was left mostly alone by his peers. He never forgot to write his parents but did not try to widen his small circles of friends and relations. His work was everything.

That did not mean the rest of the world had forgotten him, however. He was extremely surprised when Master Skywalker called him, with many apologies for borrowing his com number from his parents. Armitage did not mind, though. He had met the man once or twice as a child and had kept fond memories of him, his epic stories and his kind, warm voice.

Luke was once again on a quest, it seemed. He had caught some rumors regarding the Imperial facilities on Jakku and something about Project Harvester, which led him to contact Armitage for more details about it, hopefully.

The young man was sorry to disappoint him.

“I know my father took all his notes on that project when he left Arkanis. The recovery team the Alliance sent there found nothing about it. So we can assume that he was planning to start again, provided he found someone wealthy enough to fund him.”

“Did you hear anything about Admiral Rae Sloane?” Luke asked.

Armitage shook his head.

“Not since I was... well, about five. She came once to Arkanis and I remember she didn't get along so well with my father. I can't picture her helping him, at least not with that kind of 'research'.”

The older man nodded.

“But had he found another patron, he would have carried on and developed his experiments?”

“Very likely, yes.”

“I see... Thank you for your time.”

“You’re welcome. Good luck with your school, Master Luke.”

“Oh, please, don’t call me that! I get it more than enough from my students, and it makes me feel nine hundred years old!” the Jedi mock-complained, before wishing all sorts of good things to Armitage for the remainder of his time in university.

* *

If wishes were money, Armitage would probably be one of the richest men in the galaxy right now, and never have to worry about his future. Unfortunately, less than a year away from his mastery in sciences and technology, he was left with close to nothing. The superintendent who had supported him during his first year had resigned and been replaced by a more politically inclined person, one who did not take very kindly to ‘Imperial spawn’ mixing with good republican children. Armitage had hoped the first incident and Organa’s interference would have calmed the ‘patriots’ operating among the students but for once in his life he had proven far too optimistic.

And so there he was, on a shuttle back home with his books and clothes, and not much more. He felt so ashamed of his failure to properly integrate in society that he was briefly tempted to take another transport and never go back to Takodana. His parents had done their best for him and he could not even repay their efforts and kindness… Then again, if he vanished without warning, they would turn the galaxy upside down to find him. Better face them first, and then disappear.

He landed near Maz’s lair, as usual, and walked towards the house. It was only Cassian and Jyn now. All their wards had left for another home along the years.

When he arrived, Armitage noticed that his mother’s speeder was not at its usual place. Jyn was probably gone to the nearest station to trade some of her vegetables against power cells or other supplies.

“Hello, Papa,” he called as he entered. “I’m home.”

His father emerged from his workshop, smiling. The smile vanished when he noticed Armitage’s grim expression.

“What happened?” Cassian asked, worried by the way his son's shoulders slouched and the fact he would not meet his eyes.

“Some overzealous prick slipped my birth father's name to the teachers during class and launched a procedure to have me expelled from the university for causing ‘unrest’ when I denied having contact with him. Complete success. I've been kicked out and my appeal was not even registered. Apparently, human beings are not even allowed to lodge a formal complain. Not to mention Imperial officers’ children.”

He was not so surprised, though. His foster father still got bullshit for hailing from a Separatist world, after all, even more than forty years after the facts. As if the Core-worlders had not done their own share of betrayals…

“I’m sorry,” he went on. “You did everything for me… and I botched it.”

“Oh, niño, don’t blame yourself. I saw your grades. Your work was more than fine.”

“What am I going to do, now?” Armitage groaned. “What kind of job can I get without a mastery? Not one that will bring me very far, anyway.”

Cassian interrupted his rant by a hug, something that did not, even after all this time, happen so often. Armitage was tall enough now that his father’s head rested on his shoulder. A curious sight indeed.

“First, take some rest,” Cassian advised. “You can stay here for a while, and we’ll devise something with your mother. You’re not useless, son. Never believe that.”

Armitage slumped in his father’s embrace, allowing Cassian to plant a quick, soft kiss on his forehead. The younger man smiled.

“Perhaps it’s time I followed the family tradition more closely. Spying cannot be as dangerous now as it was in your time.”

Cassian considered him with something akin to resignation.

“I have a very bad feeling about this.”