She sees the great white shark first as a shape in the water, gliding in heartstopping silence toward and under her tiny boat. She freezes, pure instinct, even as her brain reminds her that this is not an unusual sight. Jyn Erso has lived all her life by the ocean, on that rocky mountainous shred of an island, the very tip of an underwater crag. She’s seen more than a few sharks trawling through, tiny weirdly adorable ones and great big awful ones with scars and ripped fins and faintly smiling mouths. But in the recent years of total solitude, the sight makes her blood go cold.
It circles her boat under the grey cloudy sky and rippling silver waters. Signalling its awareness of her somehow with its dark round eye and wide tipping mouth, a silent sinister presence. She watches, mesmerised. Terrified. With a bored grace, it flicks its dark edged tail and arrows off, fading into the murky distance. Only then does she start to breathe again, feeling a little foolish because she should be better than this.
When it returns a few days later, she starts to wonder if it’s hunting, looking for a new feeding ground. That night she takes down her father’s journals, leafs through them by the wavering lantern light for his notes on migration patterns. And yes, it is that time of year when the great white sharks swim long distances through open ocean to feed and pup, the same invisible paths under changing skies. She’s never seen those ocean maps. Her father had a long time ago, before they came here to this isolated point in the world. All she has now are the fragments of his knowledge, glimpses of bigger patterns, writings of oceans she’s never seen, oceans she wonders about sometimes.
Then one night on the black sand beach, waiting for moonrise, she sees the shark come out of the water. A terrifying lunge and the great grey white shape is on the shore, snarling red mouth open, gasping for breath. Frozen in the shadows, she stares. It’ll take her arm off if she approaches. There’s no possible way she could help.
So she sits and keeps vigil as it slowly dies out of the water. A great ungainly thing, struggling to breathe in a desperation she feels, a creature trapped in the wrong element. Minutes, an hour, this death watch.
As the hooked moon rises from the horizon, the shark goes still.
The skin splits at the sharpest point of the great triangular head and starts to peel away, grey and raw. It cowls around the emerging bloodied flesh of a man, a fine pale man with red gasping mouth and glimmering eyes. The skin drapes grey and low around his hips as he braces his arms on the black sand, shoulders gleaming, his lower body now long and black grey, lashing a forked tail against the white waves.
He is a beautiful monstrous impossibility. A creature out of legend. He laughs, a dark glittering sound full of irony and joy. Too human and unnervingly inhuman at the same time. He bends his dark silver head and pillows his chin on his folded arms, enjoying the moonlight breezes, the soft froth washing in around his finned tail.
She watches him unaware in the dim roar of the ocean, mesmerised, her emotions moving between amazement and acceptance of this new weird world. The minutes slip past, become the better part of an hour. It feels like a while, half dreaming half hyperaware. And eventually she watches as he turns himself, as he drags his long body back down the sand, something flickering down his spine, all shimmering pale flesh and silver grey in the moonlight. He disappears into the waves, and she sees the shark fin appear further out towards the horizon.
She tells no one. Who would she tell? Maybe Bodhi when he steers his little boat around the curve of the bay the next morning, chattering to her as they carry fuel and foodstuffs up to her rickety shack between the ragged palms on the side of the hill. But something keeps her quiet.
She’s known Bodhi all her life, the nervous energetic boy who practically adopted her father as his own. But he belongs to the mainland, to the village with its stone church and suspicious looks. And she forever feels a marooned creature out here with nothing but the sea and sky breaking against the rocks. He tells her that his mother wants her to come for dinner tonight, that it’s been too long since she’s shared a meal with them. Jyn agrees, grateful for this much.
Three days out of the week, she fishes around the island and takes her catch to the wharf market. She hardly leaves the little dinghy, managing a smile at the regular fishmongers and cooks who buy from her and talk to her with varying degrees of warmth and distrust. Sometimes Bodhi comes out on the water with her, and they set their lines and nets in companionable silence.
He tells her that Cassian has returned from whatever distant war he went to fight. The three of them had grown up together but whereas Bodhi stayed to learn from her father and support his own mother, Cassian had gone off to chase his dreams of idealism and glory. She knows without saying that sooner or later, Cassian will come to see her, and she’ll discover how much he’s been broken by the war.
What’s he going to see of her? The same sullen voiceless girl with her nets and oyster shells. The girl with the brilliant parents who were taken too soon. She has changed in one way since he left. There is a tattoo now on the back on her neck, half hidden by her hair tied messily, half under the cowled dark top. A jagged line of black birds soaring up to nowhere.
She had her mother do it the day she realised she would never leave the hut by the sea.
She didn’t tell her mother this.
Most nights now she hides in the shadows of the black sand beach and watches the waves. As the season turns, he spends more and more time out of the water. He’s always alone, it takes her a very long time to wonder if there are more creatures like him, where they go. Maybe they all have their own private refuges, maybe this is his.
Sometimes on the clear nights, he lies on his back and gazes up at the midnight blue skies crowded with stars, a galaxy spiralling in light above them. She wonders what patterns he sees up there, if they’re the same ones her father taught her, or whether they’re entirely different. What are the stories his kind tell about the stars?
And then one night she watches as he drags himself onto the rocks and sheds all of his skin. He naps in the moonlight, a beautiful pale man glimmering mysterious texture on his spine, darkness creeping up his limbs. His white grey skin is spread beneath him, and she remembers the tales her mother told her.
But they were tales of women, of young girls taken from the sea, deceived and captured by lonely men. Tales that said more about guilty male conscience and female domestication and subjugation, about male terror of female rage. She takes down her mother’s books and reads late into the night by the light of the oil lantern, falling asleep in her bed with the pages open across her. Her dreams are full of splitting bodies and spilling viscera, blood and skin and sharp white teeth.
One evening as the sun sets fire to the ocean, she kneels by the tide coming in. And she summons up the grief of cold empty nights, of touch-starved skin, the silence of an old hut by the sea. Seven tears into the gold waters like the books said, and she goes back to sit on the wet sand, watching.
The sun sinks below the curving horizon, the waters go darkest blue. The breeze rushes through the palm trees up the mountain behind her.
And still she waits. Wonders.
The fin appears in the cold moonlight, lazily arrowing through the tide as if he has all the time in the world, as if she’s just one more pathetic abandoned seawife. She goes out into the breaking surf, heart thumping, malevolence churning inside.
He rises out of the waves, a noble head and gleaming white torso, his muscled lower body thrashing steady below. His eyes are very dark and perfectly shaped, they glitter like a storm on the sea.
“Hello,” she says breathlessly.
He doesn’t speak. One broad hand moves out towards her, over the broken liquid surface, his eyes deep and intent on her.
She backs away. “Not here. I can’t -- not out here.”
He stays in the rush and roar as she stumbles back to the shore. The air seems warm now, a strange heat rising from the land, colliding in a haze with the chill coming off the ocean. She turns and gazes back at him. Of course he doesn’t trust her, he has no reason to at all.
On the beach, she takes in a breath and slips out of her clothes. She has a slim taut body, small breasts with deep pink nipples, and far too many scars to count. The moonlight catches her skin, black sand at her feet, the dark green trees of the island behind her.
She is not his kind, and maybe that’s enough.
He lowers his chin, staring at her.
And then he walks out of the waves, a tall nude man with gleaming silver white skin and short silver hair. At first she thinks the night sea drags at him but then she realises it’s black ink that slides down one arm and up the other calf. Black ink in patterns but she’s distracted almost immediately.
The grey skin trails long and heavy from his hand. She pretends not to look at it, focuses her wide eyes only on him. And sees how his male ego likes it. He smirks a little at her, drops the skin like a spill of oil on the black sand. Not careless. Confident. So very secure in his power.
She catches her breath when he touches her waist. His fingers are webbed and cool, sharp curving nails like black claws. She remembers suddenly his other shape, that he is a predator, and the thought sends flame through her blood. On a gasp, she lifts her face. His mouth tastes like seawater, his lips finely cut and oddly warm. There’s heat off his skin as she touches his chest, uncertain. Her mind is distracted, jagged half-formed thoughts, startled by her own curiosity, her own response to the way he touches her.
He’s not tender but he handles her with a certain care, the prurient fascination of one species encountering another in such intimacy. He strokes the back of both hands up over her ribs, his head bent as they both watch. The oceans roars but she hears her own gasp when he thumbs her nipples, shocked at the force of her desire. Her hands clutching his forearms, she kisses him again, pulls him down to where her clothes are strewn on the sand.
It’s been so long, so long since someone touched her. And now to have this, this carnal honesty, this most intimate of contact. Her desperation breaks on his skin, splinters in the heat of his mouth, the careful way he bites at her lips and bites down her throat to the slope of her shoulder. She moans, writhing against him until he covers her body with his, presses her down on the beach. Warm human skin, but then strange cool scales on his sides slipping under her eager fingertips. She wants to taste him all over, she feels like she might break through her own skin, scatter in so much fragmented need.
But then he moves between her thighs, and she closes her hand around his hardened cock. Scales against her palm, she wonders what his flesh there tastes like. He’s big, he may hurt her, still she’s so slippery with desire, whimpering shamelessly as she lifts her heels, guiding him into her. He’s been silent all this while, and now when her cunt closes wet and warm around him, he groans, a rough needy sound that thrills her.
But then she remembers, a moment of cold lucidity through the heat lust. She rolls them, pushes him down and rides him, hands braced on his white chest, her unbound hair slipping fine and flicking against her spine. He gasps so beautifully up at her, red mouth and glittering eyes, his broad hands clasping her moving hips. She rides him hard, pleasure like fire under her skin bare to the sea air and the night skies. He comes into her, eyes shut, throat arching, and she grabs the dagger hidden among her clothes, and slices into the side of his neck.
If she has to kill him, she will. She could sell the skin and the carcass to some travelling sideshow.
But hopefully she’s calculated just the right amount of toxin on the blade, enough to incapacitate but not kill him. It takes swift effect, poison in a flesh wound. His nails tear along her sides, a long rattling gasp as his eyes roll back in his head and he passes out.
She may well have killed him. This she doesn’t wait to ascertain. She grabs up his discarded skin and runs naked across the black sand into the mountain jungle she knows so well, up and up to the spot only she knows. The hole is dug, the oiled cloth ready. Her heart pounding in her chest, she wraps his skin and buries it deep, replaces the earth with her bare scrabbling hands, all the while expecting a snarl of teeth and nails, a fury born of ocean and other worlds.
But there is nothing.
When she returns to the beach, he is still unconscious but alive. She dresses, then drags him with slow laborious determination and not much care up the slope to her hut.
It’s starting to look as if she’s succeeded. She knows that from now on she cannot ever let her guard down.
He slips in and out of consciousness for about a day, his skin getting so pallid and cold in her narrow bed. Cursing herself for not having prepared better, she carries buckets of seawater up from the beach to fill a wooden tub, and tips him into it. He’s too tall, his legs drape out, but his breathing slowly eases, the colour returning to his soaked flesh. She looks at him lying there in the seawater and cracked sunlight, looks at him with a possessive curiosity.
This unearthly thing she owns now.
This long male creature with pale freckled skin and tiny brown lashes, his profile bold and handsome, his hair short and dark silver with wet. The black ink is a perfect curve at his shoulder and then spills down his arm, solid darkness until it melts at his elbow into long looping filaments and deep pink unnameable flowers on creamy skin. On his other foot, the ink begins as a disarray of letters and symbols that coalesce into solid black up the whole contour of his calf, and disintegrates once more along his white thigh into a language she can’t read. As he curls half on his side in the tub, she sees now the texture along his spine. It’s a fine translucent fringe that flutters blue and grey in the water as he breathes, so thin and tearable. Black claws, webbed fingers, that shimmer of blue grey scales down his sides, cheekbones like blades. He is such a dizzyingly strange thing she thinks she may never get used to the sight.
When his eyes drift open, hazy blue, she’s standing by the tub with dagger in hand. The blade is clean now but he doesn’t know that. He focuses on it, his eyes go very clear and cold. Rage, instant understanding. He hisses at her with his red wound of a mouth and vicious white teeth.
She must not forget what he is. A predator that will rip her to shreds at the quickest scent of blood.
She doesn’t speak to him, doesn’t try to explain herself, what could she possibly say? Maybe she’s already a little ashamed of herself, but it’s done now. She sets her stubborn jaw and moves across the hut to the ice box, deliberately turning her back on him. Under her clothes, her sides still sting from where he cut her.
But the attack doesn’t come. When she glances over her shoulder, he’s slumped in the tub, unconscious once more.
She leaves to go fishing, alone on the waters, her mind circling him in her hut. It’s a long tedious chore, she’s too distracted to make a decent catch.
At the wharf, Bodhi shares a meal with her and sympathises about the unsettled weather. She had barely noticed. A couple of monks from the church agree with him, one burly and gruff, the other fine and blue eyed blind. They’re talking about the natural world, how everything is bound together by one living soul.
“Anima mundi,” she says without thinking.
The blind monk turns his face to her, listening with interest.
“That’s what my mother called it,” she mumbles. “A world soul that binds all living creatures together, transcending -- transcending --”
“Language and species,” completes the monk, something like curiosity in his tone.
“Eh? Bordering on heresy,” says his companion, dashing crumbs from his impressive beard.
“No, Baze, it isn’t. We are all God’s creatures --”
“Are we?” she interrupts, astonishing them all. “Not all living creatures have souls, surely.”
“Ahh, here we go,” Baze murmurs.
“Ignore him,” the blind monk advises her. “It’s true all living creatures have souls. But there’s a multiplicity of difference between an animal soul, a plant soul, and that of a human. We have rational souls, they do not. They have material souls, theirs perish with their bodies. Our souls are eternal.”
“But not incorruptible,” she mutters, tearing at her bread.
“Unfortunately not,” he replies dryly.
“What would that mean then for a creature that’s half animal, half human? As a hypothetical,” she adds, seeing their expressions. These three men surveying her with varying degrees of astonishment and indulgence.
The blind monk smiles slightly, considering his words. “Interesting proposition. I would say -- what do you think, Baze? I would say,” he goes on, not waiting for a response, “that it would be up to that poor creature to choose the improvement of its human soul --”
“Reaching for redemption,” adds Baze, nodding.
“Yes, that’s right. The kingdom of God is attainable for all creatures with a soul --”
“A human soul,” Bodhi murmurs, catching her eye with humour.
“Yes, exactly. We are all striving towards divine perfection. There is no reason a creature half human half animal cannot choose to nurture its potential for perfection. You might even say it must, a moral obligation placed upon it by its Creator, to strive to make Him proud.” He inclines his head towards her. “Incorruptibility, as you said.”
She thinks about her corrupted soul as she makes her way back. How simple the monk makes it all sound, all the turmoil and need of an emotional life reduced to a code of ethics. Her mother would probably agree with him, she was always so fierce and calm in her beliefs, in her own sense of self.
Jyn is not nearly that certain about anything.
When she opens the door to the hut, he is lying in the tub, head tipped back. Surrounded by complete chaos. She understands without being told. He’s searched the entire hut while she’s been gone, and destroyed everything possible in his rage and frustration. The sheets are shredded across the overturned mattress, crockery smashed, her father’s journals and mother’s books strewn across the floor, pages torn out.
“You should have known better,” she says, closing the door. “I’m not so foolish as to keep it here.”
She’s not sure he understands her language. But he lifts his head, fixing her with an icy beautiful blue gaze. His contempt sears off him, burns in the way he regards her. She’s not as troubled by this as she could be.
The next week or so is a time of wariness. He doesn’t speak to her, his silence traumatised and sullen, watching her from the tub and then pretending to ignore her. The nick on his throat takes a while to heal, scabbing over and then scarring faintly. He worries it, his eyes seething resentment. She restores the hut to some order, dampening her rage at his destruction of her parents’ books, understanding despite herself.
At first, he refuses to eat. The bread and clams she puts on a tin plate stay untouched. But when she returns from a day’s work, there’s one less fish in the ice box, and he pretends to sleep in the fetid water, a little more colour to his skin. She feels him watching her as she moves around the hut, a tingle of awareness on the back of her neck. He’s changed the scent of her home. When before it was slight musty, now there’s salt and cool on the air. She hears him in the night, breathing and sloshing in the water.
“Come along,” she says to him one morning. “Out of the tub. You can’t stay in it forever.”
His expressive eyes go very sardonic up at her, his mouth curling.
“Yes, I know,” she replies. “But you’re not confined to this hut. If you need to go down to the water, to the beach, you can.”
His brows hook up, surprised. Yes, what’s to stop him from swimming away, back to his kind, back to the depths of the ocean? She smiles faintly down at him, and his expression turns ugly with understanding.
He will never go far. Not as long as his skin is somewhere on the island.
So he spends a couple of hours every day lying in the shallows, long pale limbs, grief in all his shapes. The first time she sits on the beach and watches him. But nothing else breaks the waves, it’s just the two of them in the vast empty world of black sand and white surf and blue curving sky. He gets to his feet, a tall naked man with silver hair gleaming in the sunlight, and gazes out at the horizon with such longing she has to consciously harden her heart against the sight.
She brings him clothes from the village, rough dark trousers and a loose white shirt. He absolutely refuses shoes even though she can tell it hurts him to walk. That first night it hadn’t been evident but now she sees how every step makes his face flinch, how his fingers curl into his palm, white lines around his fine mouth. So she visits the tailor and the cobbler in the village, talks to them about her painful foot condition.
A few days later, she presents him with a pair of soft homespun and leather shoes. Wordless by the firelight in the hut. He looks at them from under his brows, his mouth sullen and thin. There are the faintest creases on his face now, like his skin is starting to dry out and age.
She waits, breathing steadily, denying that this means much to her.
And he turns his head away, lies back down to the pallet that he sleeps on now. This rejection doesn’t surprise her, she’d do the same in his situation. She leaves the shoes.
The next day there’s black sand on their edges. And in the week after, when she’s out on the water, she sees him emerge from the hut to disappear between the vivid green of the palms up the side of the mountain.
She has climbed every inch of this island, knows every tree and rock. He will never find where she’s buried his skin.
She calls him Orson. It’s a grand arrogant name she read in her mother’s books as a child, stories of a military man who was killed by the very thing he created. She likes the way it feels in her mouth, how he sneers and refuses to acknowledge it.
Over the course of so many evenings, she falls into a habit of talking to him as she cooks and does her chores, reading to him from the books she curls up with at bedtime. The firelight flickers across the dark wooden walls, throwing shapes and shadows around her word pictures. From her bed, she can see him curled on his side on his pallet, half naked, the fine blue grey fringe trembling all the way down his spine into the low trousers. He doesn’t like the fire but he’s too stubborn to move closer. So he lies there and shivers, a wilful male creature.
One evening she watches from the door of the hut as he walks with some pain down to the shore. The moon hangs low and golden and huge over the ocean, terrifyingly near. And as they both watch, the black sky starts to eat at it. Spreading like ink at first, and then moving in ominous silence across the golden white shape, swallowing it into dark. The sounds of the jungle have gone silent, like all the natural world holds its breath and watches, afraid, afraid the moon will not come back.
This, she thinks vaguely, is how the stories were born. All those tales across so many cultures, of gods and goddesses devouring the sun and moon, animal and human deities, tales told by people to explain the world around them. Tales her mother told her.
Her gaze drifts down to where he stands tall and silent, watching the skies. What story is he telling himself now? How much she wants him to tell her, share those stories with her.
When there is the barest sliver of light remaining, the shadow moon starts to glow. Not white, but a golden reddish tinge that suffuses the whole, and thrills her skin with fear and so much uncanny arousal.
A blood moon hanging low and full over the frightened world.
Below, he wades into the glimmering waters, washed red and pale gold. And the waves start to roil, breaking with rising forms, heads and fins and tails. His kin come to take him home.
She runs without thinking, panic hurtling her down the slope and over the black sand. He belongs to her, he can’t go back, the sea can’t have him back. She screams desperation on the reddish weird air, and he turns in the water, looking back at her. She has no words, she screams her longing, her deafening devouring loneliness.
And he comes to her in rage, remembering that he cannot leave her. Kisses her with his lethal mouth, and digs his nails into her face. He’s going to scar her so much, she knows this, and welcomes it with a sense of rightness, a sense of penance. He’ll tear her to pieces if she touches him, but she touches him anyway.
She leads him up the slope to the hut and, inside, sheds her clothes before him. Once more, once again, with all the bloodied darkness around them.
He stares at her with so much anger and turmoil in those dark blue eyes, his breathing rapid. She gasps a little when he tips her face up with his big hands, cruel tipped and scaled on the heels of his palms. He bites at her mouth, kisses her with blood and spit and brine, and she hauls herself up against him, unleashed.
The first time was the wonder of unfamiliarity. This time is too much knowing. This time they kiss and tear at each other with all the rage of a short damaging history.
She topples them onto her bed, whimpering into the sharp red of his mouth. A frenzy has taken hold of him, it’s the same desperation of need, of realising they’re locked together in this. He grabs her hair and pulls her head back, bites down her body in points of blood and broken skin, seizing tender nipple and soft breast. Until his dangerous mouth finds her cunt, and she twists up against his wet flicking tongue with loud keening cries. He holds her thighs down, stronger and bigger than she is, claws digging into her taut muscle, and sucks at her most intimate flesh until she’s clutching at her own breasts, writhing and pleading for his cock.
He kisses her with her own briny sweetness on his lips, on the tongue he runs into her mouth. Dark blue eyes, hateful and needy, this uncanny handsome creature who wants her as much as he loathes her, and she’ll take it all, she’ll take whatever she can have. His webbed fingers fasten on the back of her head, push her down to where she finds blue grey shimmer scale on his cock, tasting salt and male flesh. He tastes like her and oddly not. She swallows the length of him, choking a little. Feels him shake and groan, his broad blunt hands clutching her head, feels his cock pulse in her mouth, warm and scaled and leaking wet down her throat.
He pulls her off him and flips her over, pushes her down til she’s smothered in the rumpled bed. On her hands and knees, she knows what to expect and cries out, a savage joy, when he drives his cock into her. Holding onto the ragged mended sheets, sobbing pleasure, as he grasps her hips and fucks her hard in the weird reddened dark. Isn’t this what she wanted? This fury of ocean and flesh, this predator bound to her by treachery and their unexpected roaring lust. This creature of rage and intelligence, fucking her merciless with his perfect strange body until she’s coming and coming in the most poisonous awful beauty.
The blood moonlight spills in through the cracks of the hut walls, pools across her bed, across their naked exhausted bodies.
Things change slowly after that night, like the world really is made anew but reveals itself in stealthy cautious ways. He still won’t speak to her, she still feels his anger simmering like violence always under his skin, seething behind his lovely blue eyes. But he sleeps in her bed now, wrapping his long cool body around her with all its textures of skin and scale, his arm with its black ink slung across her waist. And they hurt each other with moans and kisses, in the taste and thrust, flesh into flesh, bound in the same sea-wrought spell.
Every day he spends his few hours lying in the blue shallows, and comes back to fuck her brutal in their narrow hard bed. Her skin heals and scars and is torn again by his jagged teeth. She keeps count of these new scars, deeply proud of them, gleeful of the fact that she survives him every time.
His nipples are the same dusky pink of the flowers trailing down his arm, sensitive enough that he gasps and arches when she closes her teeth on them. She pushes him down on her bed and runs her tongue all down the looping filaments of ink like seavines, tracing their shapes as he watches.
His broad hands are always a little bit cruel on her, never letting her forget. There are times when moving around the cramped hut, he grabs the back of her neck and shoves her over the kitchen table. He drags her trousers down and spreads her open, eating at her cunt and ass until she’s digging her nails into the worn wooden surface, her cries loud and shameless in the hut, reamed with pleasure.
Some mornings she wakes to the tips of his fingers slipping between her thighs. Like he’s watched her sleep as the sunshine peeks through the walls, looked at her bare scarred body, and touches her, touches her until the sensation draws her out of her dreams. He’s not aggressive then, it’s all leashed back, an implacable concentration on his rumpled face. He strokes into the wet soft folds of her cunt, sunlight dappling their bodies, the distant murmur of the ocean and bird calls, her own little sighs as her thighs spread and he teases her wetter and wetter, deeper and deeper. Claw on clit, flicking and flicking until she’s coming in soft screams, and he watches her splinter apart in his arms.
He could deny her this. She would if it was her. But that never seems to occur to him, she knows the desire runs hot in his blood too.
When he’s in the tub, she reaches into the saltwater and kisses his mouth as she takes hold of his cock. Loving the way he pushes into her hand, the way he arches his throat and kisses her back with hunger. She cradles his jaw with one hand, tender and possessive, and works his wet cock with the other. Until he pulls her into the tub and strips her clothes off, his touch callous and confident because he knows she won’t deny him either.
His mouth is sharp and always, always drawing blood. Every kiss stained and metallic.
She learns all the tastes and intimate colours of his flesh. How he shivers when she runs her tongue along the blue grey scales, his cock hardening despite himself. How he gasps when she licks along the base of the long fluttering membrane along his spine. If she strokes just right with her hot wet tongue, lets her nipples scrape the skin of his back, if she breathes just right on the fine translucent fringe, he moans and comes in splurts of white.
His hair is growing longer and shaggier, dark brown and silver grey. She likes it so much, how she can run her fingers into it when they kiss. His skin is creasing deeper with every passing day, but she tells herself this is just natural, this is a life lived out of the ocean, a human life lived on the sunny shore.
Every night they sleep together, she dreams of swimming deep under the waves, of her body twisting green and glittery, vents opening up in her neck to breathe. She dreams night after night, and wonders if they really are her dreams or his.
One moonless night, she wades into the shallows around the eastern side of the island. The sky is bright with stars above, the tide low and warm around her bare legs, cast net at the ready. The ocean roars some distance away, the jungle chirrups and rustles close by, but she focuses on the flick of her wrist and the sinking of mesh into the clear waters on black sand.
This is the perfect time of the year for prawning. It’s one of her most favourite things to do, the peace and grace of nocturnal activity, and the deliciousness on the shore afterwards, trudging back to the hut with wadded up net and a tin pail of long flicking prawns, happily damp.
She’s not sure when she becomes aware of his presence but she makes no sign, hauling the net in great armfuls until the wriggling mass comes free of the rippling waters. Quietly content, she wades ashore and tips her catch out onto the oiled cloth spread across the bank. By the covered lantern, he sits on the black sand and watches the prawns spill out. She almost gives him an instruction but holds it back, knowing his contrary nature by now.
By the time she’s cast out the net for the second time, he’s picking the prawns off the cloth, putting them one by one into the tin bucket. The lantern throws faint golden light up onto the serious contours of his face, catches the brightness of his hair curving above his brow. Her mouth soft, she returns her attention to the twitching net. This is happiness, isn’t it? This is what she wanted, someone to share the quiet blue night.
They eat on the bank, teeth crunching into thin shell spilling brine and delicate flesh. He eats them raw, of course. In the starlight, his expression relaxes as he looks at each curving shape between his blunt fingers, a certain easy humour in his handsome face. She watches as he tears into the fragile bodies with his pointed white teeth, a thrill of horror curling down her spine.
A few he deveins with one sharp black claw, and tosses them to land beside her thigh. “Thank you,” she says with faint astonishment, seeing how his face tightens in response.
The sea breeze is cool now, rushing through the palm fronds and down the thronged side of the mountain. When she prepares the small fire, he watches from a careful distance. The steaming pot draws him closer, especially when she hooks out a cooked prawn and eats it with unconcealed delight. Without agenda, she offers him the next one. There’s a moment of visible struggle on his face, but clearly the eager boy in him wins.
She watches as he sniffs at the prawn changed in colour and texture, grins when he bites into it. His expression is one of fierce concentration, like this new experience requires all his focused intellect and deep criticism.
“Well?” she prompts, unable to resist.
He doesn’t say anything. Instead, he scoots closer and peers into the bubbling pot.
“Careful.” She touches his wrist without thinking, afraid he’ll scald himself on the rising steam, and immediately curses herself because he recoils from her as much as the heat, and retreats to further away on the oiled cloth.
It’s one thing to touch him when he wants her, it’s another thing entirely when he has that wall of coldness between them.
They eat for a while in an easing silence bound by the sounds of the ocean and jungle. Her thoughts circle out, across the waves, back around them. Looking at the sleek curve of the sea flesh in her hand, she grins. “I wonder if prawns have souls.”
His head turns a little, she can feel the sardonic glance he sends her. It makes the thought even funnier, laugher bubbling up inside her. “I was talking with the monks -- they said --”
She looks at him then, remembering. This half human half animal creature with his half eternal half material soul. His eyes are very dark blue and quizzical, the starlight catching the slope of his cheekbone and the ends of his lashes. “Do you have a soul?” she blurts out. “Is that something your people believe in?”
His mouth twists, a soundless huff of a laugh.
“What?” she persists, more curious than annoyed.
But he’s smiling now, thoughtful and subtle, as he cleans another prawn. So she tells him what the monks said, about how he is to better his human aspect if he has any chance at eternal life. And she can hear the arrogance of what she’s saying, sees how unimpressed he is, the cool disdain in his expressive face.
“My mother believed,” she tells him. “But my father -- I don’t think his science allowed for that. He humoured her on it, when she would talk about the anima mundi, about the duty we owe the natural world, how we must remember our place in the order of natural things.”
He raises his intense eyes to her, a silent awful reminder that pierces her through. What about the duty she owes him? How has she violated the natural order with her abduction of him?
She looks down at her smeared and reeking hands. “I’m not even sure I have a soul.”
He watches as she gets to her feet and goes back into the water, casting out one last time. They amble back in the cool night, the net draped over his shoulder while she carries the tin pail of prawns.
He still refuses to speak.
Over the next few days, she sees his curiosity when she cooks. Before, he would retreat to the other side of the hut when she set the flame alight. Now, he hovers closer and closer. Until one evening she casually lights the fire and leaves the fish, saying she forgot to check if the boat was moored properly.
She doesn’t go far. Just outside the door, she listens. And smells it when the fish starts to roast. She doesn’t say anything as she returns, but he has this crooked little smile on his face and watches when she eats what he cooked. He’s so pleased with himself he starts to forget his anger in all the learning and mastering of skills she supposes he’s only ever seen from a distance.
He overcomes his fear of fire enough that he takes charge of all the cooking. Scraps of fish, and oysters and clams, prawns and crayfish. She’s quite happy to relinquish this task, and brings him seasonings from the village, braced for him to reject them entirely. But this wilful male creature proves to be equally curious.
With a sort of scientific meticulousness, he tries out each new substance, groups them in some system she can’t work out, and begins to combine them. She watches with a wry smile, thinking how her father would approve of such methodology, knowing she could point out the usual mixtures. But it’s far more interesting to see how he arrives at the same or different combinations.
A good husband, she thinks with irony. The tales spoke of lonely men who stole those young girls from the sea because they were supposed to make good wives and mothers. And here is this male creature she’s stolen from the ocean who cooks for her and fucks her breathless in the deep blue night. Does he know he’s turning himself into a good husband?
Eventually, the cooking isn’t enough to occupy him. As he grows ever more restless, she feels him watching her with a frown when she mends nets. She doesn’t say anything, but the next day he’s gotten to them before she has, hunched over with her mother’s handwrought tool, trying to mimic what he saw. She never offers her help because he would never accept, so she lets him figure it out on his own.
There’s a formidable mind behind that handsome weathering face. It makes her wonder about his other life. Was he like her in that other world, a loner moving on the edges of society? Or was he someone esteemed, an achiever with that mind and determination? Did she take someone used to being in control and shackle him in servitude?
She spends an afternoon licking the unfamiliar letters up his thigh, wanting so much to hear them spoken, learn his language. He watches her through his lashes, a dark blue intelligence she can’t access, and fondles her breasts. He doesn’t always touch her with cruelty, she notices these tiny fleeting moments. When after the conflagration of desire, he leans his forehead against the smooth skin of her back, his textured hands relaxing on her. Sometimes it feels like he touches her with a kind of possession, that male arrogance focusing on her, claiming her in return. It pleases her on some deep level, makes her kiss him softer and sweeter.
One day, one day he might kiss her back the same way.
But until then, he pulls away. Most times after they fuck, he turns his back on her. It doesn’t matter that she wakes the next morning in his arms, his face buried in the silky tangle of her hair. He pulls away then too, leaving her bed for the blue and black of the ocean shallows.
Cassian arrives with Bodhi one morning. She’s right, the war has changed him. There’s a wall behind his eyes now. He’s brought darkness back with him, and it repels her. She doesn’t know him anymore.
Orson is mending nets outside the hut when they walk up the slope. He’s quite unfazed by them, gives each man a quick blue thoroughly appraising look, and goes right back to what he was doing. They regard him with a careful curiosity, ask him questions that she fields with a brittle laugh. When she sees Bodhi staring at the webbed fingers moving deftly across the little section of net, she starts to herd them back down to the beach.
As she’s seeing them off, she makes an offhand remark about how Orson’s deformities have rendered him silent and unfriendly. And of course it works. Bodhi’s ready compassion melts away any suspicion. He promises to come back with more clothes and shoes fit for a man. Cassian makes no promises, and she watches with relief until the boat disappears around the curve of the bay.
She only feels a little guilty about the lies she tells to keep him.
His indifference to visitors does give her an idea. “Would you,” she asks that evening as they’re clearing away after a meal, “like to see the village?”
He glances up at her, that alert intelligent light in his eyes.
“The markets will be on, that might be interesting.” She doesn’t need to mention spices or condiments, the realisation is already flickering across his tapered face.
He steps into the boat with that coldness wrapped about him once more. Keenly aware of the waters around them, that he could be stolen away from her, she stays tensed all the way through the bay to the wharf. There’s a shadow in the blue depths, then two, three more following them, a silent menacing formation of six black shapes following the boat.
His mouth curls, his eyes very cool bright blue. She grips the hilt of the knife strapped around her thigh.
She will kill to keep him. The knowledge is hard in her chest, unquestioned and certain.
But the waves stay unbroken as they moor the boat and make their way ashore. The black shapes sink out of sight, and he scans the cacophonic mess of the docks with a tiny muscle flicking beside his mouth. Without thinking, she takes his hand, only a little shocked now by the difference.
“It’s all right,” she says. “Come along.”
The village is small enough that any newcomer is noticed. There are the usual suspicious looks, the slight startlement at seeing her in company. His hand slips from hers. She realises that when he puts them in the pockets of the dark trousers, he looks like any other ragged fisherman moving in the crowd.
The dogs bark at him, making her panic. But he controls his flinch with an effort, white lines appearing around his mouth as he moves to her other side. She places a hand on the rough white fabric of his sleeve, offering mute comfort.
Bodhi’s mother greets them with a wide smile, the same artless joy as her son. “Thank you for the spices,” Jyn says. “My friend -- Orson --” she indicates him, wondering if he’ll reject the name.
But he’s already inspecting the colourful array of heaped powders, looking a little dazed and happy at such a visual feast. Bodhi’s mother sees this, smiling her approval as she points and names each spice to him. He won’t speak to her either but pays close attention, his eyes flicking from her face to powder and back again, clear and blue.
“He doesn’t talk much,” Jyn explains, trying not to sound anxious. Bodhi’s mother waves this off, dimpling as she chatters on at Orson. Jyn can see him soaking up all this new information, his curiosity when he points to the more granulated spices, and the intense concentration as he tastes what he’s given.
They leave the stall with a few tiny packages and a promise to come for dinner soon. There are children running around the markets in the usual mess of noise and laughter. Families eating at the food stalls, arguing and chiding each other across the cobblestones. She sees him staring at them, the sad blue curves of his eyes. It moves like a shock through her, maybe he already has a family below the waves, maybe she’s stolen a father and a husband.
“Did -- do you … have family?” she asks, pain in her chest.
In the crowd of people and colour, his mouth curls into a sneer as he looks at her, and he turns away.
That pain in her chest hardens once more.
She shows him around the village, all the old shops and places of human industry. He stands back from the smithy, his eyes flaring intense at the red spitting blaze of the forge, flinching just a little at the deafening ring of metal hitting hot metal. She watches him in these moments, documenting all his discoveries.
At the bookshop, he peers up at the written sign and then into the dirty glass at the atlas laid open on display. She takes him in to have a closer look at the maps of oceans and lands. He scowls a little but then pores over them, that intelligence sharpening his gaze. And she sees when he smooths his fingers across the letters like she smoothed hers across his.
When they return to the island hut, she takes down her parents’ books and gives them to him. “I can help you understand them,” she says, “I can read them to you, if you like.”
Before, she had read to him for her own pleasure, and he had lain on the pallet with his back to her, refusing to listen. Now they lie in her bed, and he looks from her face to the page as she moves her fingertip along each word, reading to him for his own knowledge. His arrogance recedes in these times, overtaken by curiosity, by absorption and understanding. He wants to know every word, moves her hand back to the ones she automatically skips, like chapter headings or page numbers.
Like the name scrawled on the flyleaf of a journal.
“Galen Erso,” she says with a slight catch in her throat.
His eyes narrow, his chin tilting. Quizzical.
“My father,” she explains. The lantern light flickers across the ragged walls, across them lying clothed for once in bed. It’s an oddly comfortable intimacy, she loves so much that he hasn’t pulled away yet, that it hasn’t even occurred to him to do so. His body is warm in his borrowed clothes, the scent of cool seawater off his skin, the warmth of his hair against hers.
So she tells him quietly of the man her father was, tall and gentle and always half-absorbed in his cerebral science. Her mother was the botanist, with whom she climbed every inch of this island, identifying all the plants and trees, how the black soil was born of fire in the midst of so much water.
With her father, she would take long walks along the fringe of the island, and learn about the little creatures in the rockpools and shallows. They would sail out on the open waters, charting the stars, watching the dolphins and whales in their migratory seasons.
Her father was taken by a great white, blood in the water, nothing but a mandible and a femur washed up on shore.
She tells him this with steady voice and steady gaze.
Something flickers across his face, a kind of malevolent knowledge.
“And my mother,” she says. “My mother died a year later of a broken heart.”
Her gaze moves unbidden around the hut, all the damaged and shabby relics of a family, of a life riven. “This is why I can never leave,” she says softly. “If I leave, who will remember them?”
He stares at her, his eyes troubled and soft mouth turning down. But he says nothing, his hand lying beside hers on the open journal. Finely webbed and black clawed, the skin tanning now.
Wordless, he turns the page. And she reads aloud.
She goes up the mountain to visit where her mother is buried with the fragments of her father. The clouds have been lowering dark over the ocean all day, the air humid and stickier the deeper into the jungle she goes. She sits at the grave marker for a long while, remembering. His skin is buried a distance away from here, undisturbed. Her remembering slides into a fashioning of a future.
Here on the island, they could live out the rest of their days. It’s not an easy life, that’s true, but it’s easier with two pairs of hands. And in time, maybe there’ll be more.
She’s been careful this far, using the tiny sponges soaked with vinegar, because it’s too soon and they’re too isolated to risk losing her life in childbirth. But one day? Maybe one day.
The skies burst open, pouring down hard. Undisturbed, she stays in the rain, summoning the peace of her mother, thinking what it must have been like for Lyra Erso to follow her husband to this lonely point in the world. What it must have been like to have a child out here where help is a boat ride away. Her mother was a strong athletic woman who trained her smaller finer daughter in the same ways. Her mother survived so much only to be annihilated by a grieving heart. And now Jyn lays a hand on the soaked dark earth, feeling the corruption of her thieving soul, feeling that maybe her parents would understand despite their fierce moral code.
The ground shakes, there’s a sudden roar and crash through the jungle, a terrified uproar of birds flying from the canopy. She darts into a crouch, knife at the ready, scanning the trees and bushes through the blurring rain. But the danger isn’t a predator, it’s the island itself.
The deluge has caused a landslide, a mess of rocks and mud and broken trees blocking her way down the mountain. With a sigh, Jyn sits crosslegged on the muddy path. There’s no point trying to negotiate such an unsteady landscape in this torrential downpour. This has happened before, it will happen again, and the best thing to do is wait out the rain.
As she glances around for some place to take shelter, she thinks of Orson in the warm dry of the hut. He’ll be cooking something for dinner, probably with her mother’s book of tales beside him. The firelight glinting the silver in his hair, absorbed into the warm black ink of his arm. The rain may stop in an hour, may last until the morning. When she trudges back into the hut, he’ll look unconcerned at her and go back to what he’s doing.
Huddled in the protection of a rocky overhang as the rain pounds the mud and trees, Jyn thinks again about that conversation with the monks on the wharf. Her parents wouldn’t agree with them … would they? They taught her about animal and plant, but surely it wasn’t a matter of separation, it was learning in order to co-exist, to live side by side.
Maybe the classifications they taught her were arbitrary. Where would he fit into their scientific typology?
They, like the monks, would prefer the human in him over the animal. And maybe she’s doing the same, cultivating his humanity in the mould of what she’s been taught. But it upsets her to remember the monks’ words, remembering how it felt to say the same words to him. How it smelt of rank arrogance, humans inventing constructs of humanity, systems of classification to separate one from the other, preferring one to the other, offering eternal life to one but not the other, all at the expense of comforting themselves with superiority and salvation.
She is no better, she knows this. Putting her longing and desire above his freedom. No better than all the selfish men in the tales.
It’s one thing to admit this to herself. It’s another thing entirely to act on it, to let him go. Her heart won’t allow it, every fibre of her being screams protest. She cannot live on this island alone, in that hut, in that bed. Now that she’s tasted his skin and kissed his mouth. Now that he’s left so many marks on her, a thousand little cuts of need and fury.
As the rain splashes down from the dark grey skies, Jyn pushes up the cuff of her long sleeve to where his sharp white teeth have scarred her.
If she lets him go, this will be all she has left of him.
When the deluge finally eases, the sun has gone down and the skies are clearing to stars. Mud-splattered and exhausted, she trudges out of the jungle, wanting nothing more than to wash herself clean and sleep for several hours.
The sound reaches her as she comes through the palm trees lining the beach. It’s an unearthly shriek of despair, makes her skin go cold with horror even before she sees him. The man with the ragged silver hair, wandering the shore, calling hoarse and wordless for her.
She realises then. It’s not that he won’t speak to her.
“I’m here,” she calls out, breathless with understanding. He whirls around and comes to her, his eyes wild and dark, desperation in the way he seizes her. “It’s all right,” she murmurs, touching his face, and kisses him.
They can speak with kisses and hands, with their naked bodies. In the wooden tub with the firelight wavering shadows on the walls, he sifts his webbed hands through her long dark hair. Tangled limbs, mouths finding each other, his fingers shake slightly as he touches her all over like he discovers and rediscovers her, like he memorises her contours and curves. She feels the fear going through him, it renders him so vulnerable that she turns to put her arms around him and hold him close. Making silent promises she knows she can’t keep because the sea steals people away from each other. He presses his forehead to hers, his breathing shaky, the black claws resting on her hips.
There’s a weird intense light in his blue eyes when they go to bed, after she’s taken him into her with soft cries, after he’s shuddered and clung to her. That intensity is trained on her, uncanny and so human too. She touches his red weird mouth with her fingertips, feeling him watch her unblinking, so close they feel intertwined. Maybe this desire has gone soul deep now, transcending constructs of species and humanity.
He starts to mend all the things around the hut that he had broken. Some fixes are better than others. But she feels the way he cares for her now, how the anger has dulled into an aching bittersweet melancholy. She sees the way he looks at her now, the soft hot blue of his eyes. He stays close to her, and somehow she knows it’s not necessarily because he’s waiting for that moment of betrayal, of finding where she’s hidden his skin. He stays close to her now because the distance between them has dissolved, a tacit acknowledgement of this need like a silent scream.
On the open ocean, the black shadows follow the boat. And he leans over the edge, trails a webbed hand in the water until a long silver shape swims in from the side. She has just enough time to see the sly curve to his fine mouth before there’s a flurry of spray, and he arcs the whole fish into the wildly rocking boat. His claws are hooked into the long thrashing sturgeon, that smile tips wide as he rips it all along its underside, spilling fluid and entrails. He grins up at her, and she laughs shakily in response.
He’s a beautiful predator in her boat and in her bed, and she feels it in the pale hours of the morning when he slowly moves her hair aside and kisses the birds on the back of her shoulder. One by one, his thoughts spiralling some pattern she can’t follow, that same lethal mouth placing tiny kisses on the small black shapes. Broken tenderness as she pretends to sleep and he pretends not to know she’s awake.
Bodhi visits them with more clothes and spices from his mother. He watches Orson mend the nets, and in his own unaffected way, offers help and advice. From the hut window, she sees when the two men work together, silver hair gleaming by the dark fine hair tied back. Bodhi chatters and tells his stories and little jokes, not in the least disturbed by Orson’s silence. She wonders at that until Bodhi delivers a particularly triumphant final line to a joke, and Orson flings his head back on a wide soundless laugh. Sunshine in his bright blue eyes, all the freckles and creases of his lively face.
His laugh eviscerates her.
Maybe she doesn’t have Bodhi’s capacity for joy. It would feel cruel now to joke with him when she knows he can’t speak back to her. But she can share other things with him.
“Show me,” she says gently one night when they’re lying on the black sand, looking up at the skies swirling with stars. “Show me the pictures you see.”
He lifts his hand with a reluctant sort of grace. Traces new constellations for her, connecting the points of light on deepest blue. Nameless yet but she recognises some of the shapes, sea creatures and landforms. After a while, he takes her hand and helps her draw them across the night sky. It makes her want to cry, a glimpse of another language, like the letters on his skin, like the words he can’t speak to her, agonisingly out of reach. Overwhelmed, she brings his hand to her mouth and kisses the fine webbed membrane.
He’s watching her, unguarded in this moment, a sensitive intelligence. And when she leans in to kiss the red wound of his mouth, he brushes the back of his hand against her cheek. It’s a deliberate tender caress, unconcealed, making her heart stutter with surprise. They make a slow aching love on the glittering black sand, deep breathstealing kisses and dragging touches. She cries out as he sinks into her, knowing he watches her face. And when he buries his mouth against her throat, she cradles the back of his head, moving to meet his rhythm in the fragmented sand as the skies swirl beyond him and the ocean rushes in and the words slip from her throat. “I love you, don’t leave me.”
He hears them, looks at her with those deep blue eyes like a storm on the sea. There’s grief in all the lines and creases of his face, in the way he brings both hands to frame her features. And she thinks she hallucinates love in the slow heat of his soft weird mouth on hers, love in the way he kisses her long and speaking.
This time of year, she gets bored with the open ocean, preferring instead to augment her catch with a bit of rock fishing. The surf is a little high today but she’s done this plenty of times, and anyway the thrill is part of the experience. Watching the swells come in and when to step carefully back on the wet rocks, away from the crashing surf. She has her favourite spot where the cracks in the shelf fit her shod feet, where she knows the exact handholds and shelter from the blast of white water.
He shakes his head when she offers him a rod, a slight frown between his brows as he sits on the rocks further back from the edge. She can feel his concern, the delicious sensation of him watching as she casts out. It’s a perfect hot day, blue sky arching over with tiny wisps of cloud, deep blue waves moving against the glittering black sand. She’s so very happy, feeling the days stretch out before them, a good beautiful life full of possibility.
The fish leap to her baited hook, wrasse and cod and the odd conger eel. He brings the wooden pail over, and sits beside it, looking impressed as the squirming catch rise to the rim. She grins at him, her blood silvery with adrenaline. The breeze stirs his messy hair, blowing fine curls against his lean cheek.
“Are you sure you --”
The world goes white, the breath slammed out of her, her body taken and flung into the air, dashed against the jagged rocks with sickening impact, rebounding into the blue waves chopping like knives. She knows even as she struggles to the surface that something is terribly wrong, her insides feel all wrong. There’s blood on his forehead as he finds her in the waves, the fear livid in his face. His arm hooked around her torso, they swim to the shallows. Blood streaming vivid in the water, she knows even as she falls to her hands and knees on the wet black sand. He makes this awful distressed sound when he sees, when he realises. Her belly is ripped open, insides spilling out, disemboweled by the ocean.
His hands are on her face, his eyes desperate, he’s trying to say something to her but he can’t, the red mouth with its white teeth soundless and anguished. And she knows it’s too late. Even if he took the boat, even if he tried to get help.
She will bleed out before he returns. And he’ll be left alone on this shred of an island, riven from his skin.
The knowledge is stark in his grieving blue eyes. It’s a perfect hot day, the blue sky arching beyond his silver brown hair, the breeze rich with salt and blood. There’s the tiniest sliver of a ghost moon floating far above them. She touches his face, red on his soft mouth, and tells him where his skin is buried.
He goes very still, and then vanishes from her sight.
Jyn Erso closes her eyes as the tiny waves trickle around her, his face the last thing in her mind. Her nightmares rise up and return, swallow her in green and blue and an endless cold darkness, the touch of cold unfamiliar uncanny hands dragging her, dragging her down.
This is her hell, her deserved punishment.
She wakes in a bed that is not her own. The ceiling is cool white plaster, the sound of village life filtering through the open window. She struggles up, pushing back the sheets in the afternoon sunlight and pulling up the dark unfamiliar top. There is a long jagged scar across the entire breadth of her abdomen, like a hideous red smile.
Bodhi rushes to her bedside, his thin sweet face wreathed in smiles. His mother appears at the doorway, there’s a lot of fussing and delight. Cassian is summoned, smiles at her with his serious dark eyes. Jyn is made to eat, told to drink a concoction for her own good, instructed to rest, that she cannot be too strenuous too soon. She has very little energy to protest, still feeling the brunt of the wave upon her.
A day passes in sleep and food and unsettled dreams of the ocean roar. Eventually her impatience outweighs her exhaustion. In the early evening, she joins Bodhi and Cassian in the small living room. They’re still fussing, insist on helping her to an easychair while Bodhi’s mother rattles away in the kitchen. The smell of luscious food drifts through the warm air.
“I’m fine,” she grumbles, fending off their hands. “I just -- I need to know.”
“What?” Bodhi asks, wide-eyed.
“He brought you here,” Cassian says flatly. “He said you’d been swept off the rocks, but he managed to get to you.”
“Where is he?” she demands and then stares, all her skin going cold in her clothes. “He … said?” she asks hoarsely. “What did he say?”
That’s not what she wants to know. She wants to know what he sounded like. His voice. A voice she has never heard, that she’s wondered so often in the privacy of her heart and head, longing to hear.
Cassian frowns at her, not understanding. “Nothing much. He --” a gesture towards her concealed scar, and she touches it through her top, suddenly remembering her nightmares.
Through the living room window, the moon sails behind clouds in the dark sky. It is not the shape it should be.
“How,” she asks with a sudden hollow strangeness, “how long have I been here?”
Two weeks. He took her somewhere and looked after her for two weeks, healed her and brought her here. To Bodhi and his mother and Cassian. To the village.
She tries to imagine it. Did he walk out of the ocean, tall and inked and naked with her in his arms, up onto the wharf as all the villagers gasped and stared? Or did he stow his skin carefully somewhere before he put the human clothes back on and placed her in the boat?
“You haven’t seen him since?” she asks, already knowing.
“No,” Bodhi replies. “Why, Jyn? Where --”
She moves her hand in a small distracted gesture, standing up with a wince from the soft chair. “I have to go home.”
“You could stay here, you know,” Cassian says, and there’s an undercurrent of meaning to his voice, pulling her attention to him.
There’s a whole other life in his expression, in the serious eyes and the soft face concealing hardness. A home on the mainland, settling into village life, into a community. A hearth and a warm bed, children and growing old together, keeping their darkness at bay.
That life unrolls before her, a defined path of earth in sunshine.
She gives him a tiny smile. “I have to go home.”
The hut is silent. The island desolate. The ocean seems empty. She walks that night on the black sand, head bent, the surf roaring high, white froth curling around her bare toes. The tales said seven years. Once contact is made, it’s seven years before they can return. And if their skin is stolen and recovered, they never come back. Not unless --
She touches her belly, wondering but already knowing. There will be no children to bring him back to these waters.
She stares for a long time at the dark sea. The moon floats silent above, through the turbulent skies of grey and violet blue. And the longer she watches, she starts to see how the moonlight forms a path across the moving waters, a shimmering defined road all the way to the horizon.
So she walks into the ocean. The waves rise, she walks until the sand falls away from below her feet, and then she swims. Following the breaking and reforming line of light, trying to keep her gaze fixed on the black curve at the edge of the world. The currents pull at her clothes, the tide pushes her back, her own breath fights her, this body struggling to live despite her will. She goes under once, twice, her lungs exploding with pain, limbs flailing in the shades of blue.
They say next to disembowelment, drowning is the worst way to die.
The third time she doesn’t come up again. Her body ceases to fight, she sinks deeper and deeper, bubbles trailing to the surface. She thinks she sees the birds flutter free from her neck and shoulders, sees their tiny black shapes arrow up, leaving her, leaving her. This pain will end soon, this tearing awful agony of breath, of struggling to live. Floating in endless blue, her vision starts to go, this brain dying slowly.
And then she’s caught. Broad blunt hands, fierce glittering eyes, and his snarling red mouth before it fastens to hers. He kisses her for what seems like an eternity, her body limp in his embrace, the long sleek shape of his tail coiling around her.
He kisses the breath back into her. Slowly and then suddenly she finds herself kissing him back, her arms twining around his neck, her heart thundering with joy.
“Hello,” she thinks, running her fingers into his hair, indescribably happy once more.
He pulls back a little, his mouth quirking, all the shapes of his face so precious and familiar to her.
“Hello,” she hears in her head, shocking her to the core. His voice is rich and callous and oddly tender. It is exactly how he should sound, and she knows she’s staring at him with wide completely breathless adoration. There’s that same intense light in his eyes as he grins back, and then he’s propelling them to the surface.
Midnight stars splashing around them, cool air on her wet face, she catches his upper arms with both hands, seized by an urgency and then a sudden shyness. But she needs to know. “What’s your name?”
He moves in close to her, gleaming wet shoulders and silver hair flicked by the sea breeze, so much humour in the curve of his mouth and pretty eyes. “Krennic.”
They smile faintly at each other. He will always be Orson to her.
“And you,” he adds, wrath firing in his dark blue eyes, “are an inconvenient inconsiderate thoughtless selfish fucken fool, what the fuck were you thinking? How could you -- why do you think I -- what is the fucken point of me saving your worthless aggravating human life --”
This tirade continues all the way to the shallows and onto the beach, the words spilling out of him, passionate spitting fury. He swears with a copious vicious fluency, using phrases she doesn’t even understand but the intent is quite clear. He’s so beautiful in his incandescent anger that she lets him rant on, unable to stop looking at him, unable to stop smiling at how much he says now, how he simply cannot stop raging at her.
Eventually he sighs, and kisses her.
“Are you done?” she teases against his mouth.
“No.” He scowls down at her but there’s the lovely irresistible humour in his eyes, the joy she had longed for, that draws her like sun on the ocean.
Swirling her fingertips around the pink of his nipples, she considers. “May I ask you a few questions? For --” she casts her wide eyes up at him “-- for scientific purposes, you understand.”
“Oh yes?” he replies, very droll. “Interrogating the other species for your own edification?”
“And humankind,” she reminds him.
“Of course.” He tugs at the hem of her drenched top, inching it up so he can slide his hand under along her bare skin. “Proceed.”
“Where do you live?”
He dips his head and licks her cheek, a long wet stripe from jaw to the crest of her cheekbone, making her gasp and laugh.
“Deep,” he tells her, his hand finding the tender curve of her breast. “Much deeper than you humans can go, much further than you know, where we can’t be found. Where -- take this off.”
Her top cast aside, she twines her fingers through his hair as he sucks on her nipples and makes these happy little grunts. His mouth soft and a little crooked, he tells her, “That’s why we change form, see, to suit the pressure.” The finned tail flicks beyond the line of his shoulders, a certain smug tilt to his smile. “Some of us have many different forms and travel far. Some of us never change and never come up from the depths.”
“Are you --” She runs her tongue over the looping seavines on his arm, delighted at how he moans and kisses her neck in response. “Are you someone special?” She lifts his head and kisses him deep, sucking on his tongue, on the cool ocean taste of him. “Are you someone important down there?”
His eyes gleam sardonic. “Like a prince?”
She blushes, grinning back. “Maybe. Are you?”
He actually rolls his eyes, with such magnificent scorn she wants to laugh. “We are absolutely not a monarchy. We are what you would call a republic. And I am,” he informs her, “what you would call second in command. So yes --” He moves back a little, twisting to look out at the shining waves. “-- I have authority.”
The black shapes break the moonlit surface, a phalanx of six sleek killer whales. He looks distractedly at them. “They could have slain you so many times.”
“Why didn’t they?” she asks, her voice quiet.
He looks sideways at her, faint surprise in the elegant contours of his face. His skin is perfect once more, sleek and gleaming. “Because I didn’t want them to.”
As she smiles slow at him, her heart pulsing warm in her chest, he scowls at her again. “Why I don’t bloody know! The chaos you caused! My whole -- everything could have -- I command a fucken army, for fucksake! Do you even realise -- there could have been war! A -- no, you don’t care, do you?”
“I care!” she protests, stung by this accusation. “I just didn’t know …” She reaches out, wanting his weight on her once more, he’s too far away. “And anyway, I only wanted you. For myself.”
He smoulders a little at that, the hot dark blue of his eyes and his mouth sulky ripe. He rolls his body back onto hers, and they kiss for a long increasingly breathless time. Hands roaming on skin and scale, she very carefully runs her fingertips along the length of that fine blue grey flutter down his spine. It makes him shudder and push his tongue into her mouth, hungrier, his teeth tearing a little familiar blood across their lips.
Until he lifts his head and says with a frown, “I don’t know, you know?”
His hair tufts short and silver above the swoop of his brow. But there’s something dark and troubled in the blue of his eyes. “Whether I caused that wave. Consciously or not. I may have,” he says abruptly. “But I don’t know for sure.”
“It doesn’t matter.” And she means it. Maybe he did, he had every reason. But here in his arms, able to press her lips against his cool skin, against the dark red heat of his mouth, she doesn’t care about anything else. Everything she wants is right here.
“And yes,” he says abruptly at one point, lifting his head. “Yes, we do believe in the soul. You have no idea how frustrating it was not to be able to -- I wanted -- but yes.” His smile is very tender and entirely focused on her. “The ocean lives in me, I hear it, it hears me. Your mother was right. The moon, the tides, the souls of all living creatures, we are all linked together. And I do not --” he bends his face to hers, his eyes glinting mischief “-- do not need to better my human soul for any chance at any imagined salvation when I have all the happiness I need right here.”
She smiles, warm all over, and kisses him. “I like that very much,” she tells him softly.
“Mmm, I thought you might.”
“But you don’t, do you?” she murmurs as he strokes his tongue below her jaw.
“Have a family down there.”
He lifts his head and regards her with what she is starting to recognise as his very lethal sense of humour. “I have sisters. And cousins. Nieces and nephews. We’re a very big clan. Aunts. Uncles. Great aunts. I have a grand uncle who has spent the last seventy years as what you would call a blobby little octopus, you know the kind with the pointy little ears?” He puts his hands up to the sides of his head, poking his fingers out. “We call them --”
“Stop it,” she wails, pushing at him. “You know what I mean!”
He grins, wicked lovely, rubbing his nose against hers. “No,” he tells her, his voice warm. “There is just me. And my thousand cousins.”
“And your little octopus uncle,” she grumbles, stroking his beloved face.
“Yes, that’s right. Now,” he asks severely, “do you have any more questions? For your scientific project.”
“No,” she admits, beaming soft at him.
They make love on the black sand beach as the waves skim delicate white froth around them. She whimpers into his fierce mouth, so unbearably aroused by the feel of him in this form. When she wraps her bare legs around the writhing muscular shape of his lower body, he mutters against her and starts to change.
“No, don’t --” She stops him, blushing. “I want to --”
“Ah,” he murmurs, his smile tipping with lewd understanding. She decides to ignore this implication.
Instead, she touches him with wonder and so much strange arousal, feeling the wild elemental magic of him and her and this bleak island night. The black ink and pink flowers on the white skin she has known and tasted, the tiny pink nipples and deep slanted lines of his collarbones that she licks and whispers how beautiful he is. He says her name, his hands hungry and roaming like he hasn’t touched her for so long, like he’s missed the shapes and silks of her. His mouth keeps catching hers, wet and hot, little shared breaths of desire and sensation as she strokes along the blue grey scales that grow darker and richer, coalescing below his abdomen.
He shows her how to slip her hand across to find the hidden fold and ease out his cock shimmering blue green scaled and familiar. She takes him into her mouth, the taste she knows, sucks him long and hard as he moans and spread her thighs, dips his claws into her cunt, teasing her open and slippery ready for him.
He moans even louder now he has his voice back, every soft sensual gasp thrilling her, making her pulse wetter and sweeter for what she does to him, how he reacts to her. On the glittering beach under the blue skies and swirling stars, he fucks her with a murderous sort of grace, a relentless perfect rhythm of ocean and storm. Dark blue eyes glittering and gasping, flesh in flesh. She comes loud and arching, clings to him, her face hidden against his shoulder, the words spilling from her half muffled. “Don’t leave me, don’t leave me.”
After he comes into her, shuddering and fervent, he cradles her face in his big gentle hands. “I won’t,” he murmurs and kisses her cheek, her brow, the corner of her eye, her mouth. “I won’t leave you. I can’t.”
He presses his forehead against hers, his chest moving in a deep heavy sigh. “I won’t leave you,” he says again, lifting his head to look very seriously at her. “But you have a choice to make. A choice,” he says with an edge, “you never gave me.”
She watches him, hands wrapped around his wrists, unafraid to hear this.
“You have two options,” he says, his eyes intent. “Stay here, on the land, in the life you know.” He pauses, the gravity of a momentous decision flickering across his face. “Or come down to the depths with me and I’ll change you into one of us.”
Her breath moves silent through her. She thinks of a life lived on the shore, of watching him come out of the waves, stealing moments of time with him, never truly together. She thinks about the hut and her parents, the decision they made to be together in isolation, choosing each other over the world.
She carries them with her always, in her heart and in her breath, informing every decision she makes. How simple and enormous that realisation is. She feels it, a release of breath, letting go of the fear that’s been holding her in place all these years.
There’s anxiety in his expression now, the vulnerable way he watches her. And she remembers. “One last question,” she says softly.
“Why did you come back? You’re not supposed to — you’re not allowed, surely? The rules say —“
His eyes flash. “Fuck the rules!”
She laughs, the sound unfamiliar and somehow so right after all this time, all the horror and angst transforming into this. Joy.
Orson lowers his face. “Well?”
Jyn touches his mouth. “Make me yours.”
She chooses him over the world.