When Jyn woke from her first real sleep after Scarif, there was no beeping of the life-saving medical equipment. The hum of the bacta tanks that had soothed her into sleep in the medbay of Yavin IV had been replaced with something of a lower pitch that vibrated through her bones.
There was a draught at her back that made her shiver, and as she clawed back to consciousness she dazedly thought of Lahmu and the chill that would seep into the house if the fire was not lit in winter. Her brain felt heavy and liquid, her tongue dry and swollen. Drugged, she thought as she opened her eyes to double vision.
This was not the medical bay on Yavin IV, where she had fallen asleep.
There was no Cassian, lying too still and pale in the bed across from her. There was no bed at all, instead she lay on a thin blanket that didn’t keep the chill from the floor from her aching bones. There was the cold, grey durasteel of the inside of a ship just big enough for one, and behind her a small cockpit.
Jyn’s throat closed and her legs shook beneath her as she rose and stumbled towards the pilot’s chair. Her heart beat so hard she could feel it all the way down to her stomach and her vision pulsed in time with it. Through the viewport ahead of her there was nothing but space - cold and black and lonely.
“No no no no no...” she muttered to herself, her breath heaving in short bursts and tears stinging her eyes as she punched at the buttons on the navigation console, desperate to get a sense of where she was. But Jyn had always been pragmatic, and through her panic the tired voice of Lianna Hallik spoke as cold as ice: they’ve left you. He’s left you. Did you really expect a happy ending? Jyn sobbed, and it was as if the memories and feelings from Lahmu and the bunker and Wobani and Scarif washed over her all at once.
Jyn Erso was alone again.
Cassian became aware of the edges of himself as he resurfaced from sedation. His body was dead weight, numb and aching all at once and too heavy and sluggish to respond as he tried to flex his fingers and toes. His back felt wrong - there was an unnatural itch under his skin, cold metal pressed into him from the inside out. Memory filtered through in flashes, like a knife slashing through fabric, revealing a picture beneath. A tower. The fall. The man in white. K-2SO. Jyn. Jyn in his arms, on a beach, with death on the horizon.
Her sweet smile, on the shuttle to Scarif. Her hand clinging to his as they were flown to safety after, her eyes and her soft voice pleading with him to stay with me the last thing he remembered before everything had gone dark.
Cassian’s heart began to race as he fought to open his eyes, his body slow to react to his commands and it was too dark and something started to beep faster and faster and he choked on his own breath. He heard voices - droid and human - and when his eyelids finally responded and opened, and he blinked away the dryness and blurred vision he recognised the med bay of Yavin IV and the rebel doctor and a medical droid who spoke:
“Captain Andor, if you do not calm down we will be forced to sedate you. Your injuries - “
“Where’s Jyn?” Cassian’s throat was as dry as Jedha, his voice barely a whisper. This wasn’t right, she should be here - he tried to surge up in the bed, to force his battered body to move, but the droid held him down.
“Captain Andor, there’s no one here. Please lie down.”
“Where is Jyn Erso?” Cassian fought for breath, fought to push the droid and the doctor away, and every movement was agony. As something sharp jabbed into the side of his neck, and warmth bloomed down his chest and up into his brain, he turned his head and saw a bed beside his own just before his vision turned to black.
Jyn lost track of how long she sat in the pilot’s seat, staring into the endless darkness ahead of her.
She hadn’t cried so hard even when Saw left her, and she didn’t think she had any tears left. A sickening numbness now filled her, as if her insides had been scooped out and replaced with dead space. The hurt had been too much, and something inside her had shut down from the overwhelm. She had never been much of a pilot but she could identify the basic controls. All she had to do was use the navigation display to find a nearby planet. Instead she sat and waited, and waited. She thought of how long it would take for the fuel cells to run dry, for the life support systems to expire, wondered if that would happen before she ran out of the water and protein bars she had found in the hold. She reached one hand for the crystal around her neck. and closed her eyes. The rock was warm in her hand, it’s curves and edges a familiar comfort.
Kyber. The temples, the Guardians of the Whills. Jedha, and Bodhi.
Trade that necklace for a glimpse into your future.
Do I still have one? she thought.
Yes, Chirrut responded as clearly as if he were standing right beside her. The Force protected you and Captain Andor, Jyn. Don’t let the sacrifices of others be in vain.
Jyn’s eyes shot open, and she dropped the crystal as if she had been scalded. She looked around, sure that someone would be standing over her - she could feel eyes on her back - and of course, saw nothing in the tiny hold. She held her head in her hands and took long deep breaths, until the navigational computer beeped a proximity alert. With a sigh she looked at the screen, squinted her tired eyes, and read the aurebesh writing.
Oh, she thought, you’re kidding me.
Had the Alliance sent her this direction on purpose?
Or had they just launched her into the stars with a prayer (or a curse)?
She still had a blaster at least (a blaster, some credits, thrown into a small rucksack without care - how kind of the Alliance to equip her before abandoning her). She calmed her thoughts and focused on her senses just as Saw had taught her to do when her nightmares used to wake her. She thought of a calming ocean and salt spray on her face, of the comfortable silence of a family gathered around a hearth. Her heart rate settled and her hands stopped shaking. She had survived alone before, she would survive alone again, and not give in to the foolish dreams of a future she had allowed herself over the last few days.
It hurt too much to think of Cassian and the home she thought she had finally found.
Cassian Andor bore the weight of every day of the last six months on his shoulders like a concrete shroud. He felt slow and dazed by the reality of time, a shadow struggling to keep up with the rest of the galaxy. Fulcrum had become a ghost who wandered the galaxy finding intel for the Rebellion, he existed to those who knew his real identity only in dead drops and coded messages. He hadn’t been able to stand staying still, staying on base, not since Scarif. Too many familiar faces looking at him in awe or pity, too many people wondering why he wasn’t happy to be alive when they had lost so many. They didn't realise that he still had to live with all the things he had done, that his ghosts still followed him despite the victory, and that Jyn Erso had cracked the shutters around his heart and without her fire he felt like it would turn to ice.
He should have died on Scarif, he thought. It would have been a better and more noble death than he ever had thought likely for himself. Instead he was back to where he was before Jyn Erso lit up his life briefly: a soldier who would die alone and unnoticed, probably to a blaster shot in some filthy dark corner of nowhere. Maybe here, on Coruscant, that would finally happen. Maybe even tonight, right in this filthy little cantina full of off-duty Imperial employees. The place was too scummy and cheap for officers – you would have to go a few levels up to see someone with a rank – and instead was filled with techs and nobodies. This was where someone like Bodhi Rook would have come for a drink between cargos, and Cassian felt a shiver of sadness, the ghost of the pilot at his back.
Cassian glanced around the bar without raising his head. Asha had insisted on meeting here. Sometimes, the best hiding place was right under the enemy's nose. Paranoia tickled at the back of his brain that maybe she had turned on him and that at any moment Stormtroopers would burst in and drag him off in shackles and he would finally have to take a lullaby. But of course, Asha didn’t know who he really was, and Cassian was confident enough in the lies he had sold her over the years to be certain that she had her own doubts. To her, he was a mercenary who dealt in information. The secrets she had sold him over the years would be enough for her to join in him shackles if she tried to turn him in. The brothel owner was clever, perhaps too clever by far, to risk her own skin.
He smelt her perfume in the air before he felt her hand on his shoulder.
“Darling Jeron,” she purred as she slid in beside him and rested her thigh along his. Big blue eyes peeked at him from under the ornate scarves she wrapped herself in, hiding her body from those who hadn’t paid for the privilege of seeing it. “It has been far too long. I thought maybe you were dead.” Asha leaned back a little, appraising him in the low light. “Looking at you, I wasn't far wrong.”
“It’s a big galaxy, but everywhere leads back to Corsucant in the end.” He looked just beyond her shoulder, and spotted the large man who had arrived at the bar just after her. He was tall, and broad, and the dark skin of his face and hands was mottled with scars. His gaze kept drifting over to where Cassian sat, and he wasn't subtle in the way he scanned the room. It seemed Asha had brought her own protection.
“Don't worry about Stack," Asha said as she nodded her head towards where Cassian was looking. "These streets aren't safe for a lady like me to be alone. And what has lead you back to me this time?”
“Someone’s been causing trouble up above. Three bombings at various Imperial facilities in the last three weeks.”
“What would I know about any of that?” Asha shrugged and one of her shawls slipped, revealing a bare pale shoulder and the strap of a silken red dress. If one were to look at her in the dim light from the other side of the bar, she would look young and untouched. Up close, Cassian could see the streaks in her pale make-up, how it caked in the lines around her eyes and mouth. She looked at him through long lashes, aiming for innocent and missing. He felt the gaze of the predominantly male clientele focus in their direction.
Cassian’s hand found her thigh under the table and pressed a credit chip against her leg, letting her feel the weight and outline of it. Asha tutted, before sliding her hand over his and turning it so she could place her palm against his and sliding the credit chip away. “I’m sure some of your clients have let something slip to you and your girls.”
“Why would some reckless terrorist make you want to walk straight into hell?"
He leaned towards her. "Someone who can cause so much trouble in the heart of Coruscant is definitely interesting."
"I’ll bet,” Asha leaned in close until her lips were against Cassian’s ear. He felt nothing as her hand slid from his knee to his thigh and her breath was warm against his neck. “They value their privacy, and my loyalty.”
“As much as you value credits, no matter the source?” Across from them, Cassian could see Stack tense, his shoulders rising.
Her other arm rested on the back of the booth, and she curled her fingers around the nape of his neck. “Maybe they’re a friend, Jeron.”
“I’m a friend too, aren’t I?”
Asha purred in his ear. “Are you? It’s so hard to tell these days… the galaxy is officially at war now after all. People are showing their true colours."
“Have I betrayed you before?"
She laughed, low and throaty. "No one has betrayed me until one day they do."
"All I want is a meeting."
Asha shrugged and nuzzled her nose to his neck. Her other hand squeezed his thigh. "It will have to be on their terms."
"I can take care of myself."
"Maybe not, with this one." She leaned back, and held his gaze, and Cassian felt himself being measured in her mind. “I’ll let them pick the time and the place.”
Asha draped herself across him and whispered in his ear. He listened. Her musky perfume clung to his clothes for hours, and even when he stripped and showered he could smell her on him.
Stack climbed the creaking steps with slow caution. He had already announced himself, knowing too well that Aria would have a blaster hole in the head of any intruder before they could draw breath. His knees ached and he cursed the girl for choosing the highest room in the building in which to hide. He supposed it was furthest away from the noise of Asha's girls as they worked, and from the prying eyes of the clients who might think Aria herself was for sale. I am too old, he thought, for running around with criminals and climbing ladders. But Asha paid him a decent wage for making sure her girls were safe, and they all greeted him with a smile and a warm bed whenever he wanted. Aria seemed content to do her share of security work with her little attic room as her only reward.
Aria didn’t look up when his head popped through the attic door. Her face was fixed into a scowl as she tapped at the datapad on her lap. He had seen her smile only once, without her knowledge, and it had been a sweet and fleeting thing. Her few belongings remained packed in a battered duffle bag beside her nest of blankets, ready to run at a moment’s notice. Stack was old and wise enough to recognise a wounded and wild animal when he saw one and had handled her with caution from a safe distance since they had met a few months ago.
“Asha sent me up to get you,” he groaned as he pulled himself through the attic entrance, hauling himself up by his arms from the top step of the ladder. “Kriffing hell.”
“Oh?” Her gaze never left her datapad.
“Someone’s sniffing around looking for you.”
“Imperial?” Aria raised an eyebrow and finally looked at him.
Stack shook his head and crossed his legs under him, knees screaming at the movement. “She thinks Alliance. An old reliable contact, she says, he’s never formally professed any allegiance but he’s definitely not on the Empire’s side. I didn't like the look of him. Shady. Scruffy. But the boss trusts him.”
Aria’s frown deepened. “If they’re Alliance I’m not interested.”
“He could help with what you’ve been doing,” Stack waved a hand towards her. “Looks like you need it.”
Aria jabbed at her datapad and growled when it beeped at her. “I’m doing fine without their help, thank you.”
“Could have fooled me. What is that, anyway?”
Aria sighed, and Stack could see her picking her words in her mind. She was careful with them, didn’t waste any single word, and her pause made him realise he was being let in on something important to her. “There was someone here, last night. He paid for a night with Tova. I bumped into him as he was leaving, and he was a right nerfherder about it and well...” she waved the datapad, “This was sticking right out of his bag. Turns out, I pickpocketed an Imperial officer.”
Stack groaned. “As only you could. Dare I even ask what’s on it?”
She scowled in response. “I can’t get past the last layer of encryption.”
“Then maybe talk to this guy. Who knows, either they’ll help you or you’ll help them.”
She snorted and pushed a lock of brown hair behind her ear. “Everyone needs you until they get what they want, then you're disposable.” She was too bitter for someone so young, he thought. Had he not seen worse in the Clone Wars, Stack would have been saddened by it.
“Look, forget about who he might be working for, maybe it would just be good to have another contact. Someone to trade intel with. Get what you want from them before they can get anything from you. Once you get that datapad decrypted you might need a wider network on your side. You don't have to be alone, kid.”
Aria looked at him and her jaw tightened, and her eyes sparkled. He knew he had hit a nerve. This tiny woman, young enough to be his daughter, had swept him up in her firebrand campaign of terror against the Empire in the heart of their capitol city the day she saved him from being mugged and left for dead. She had damaged the Empire’s resources and now stolen their precious data.
"You know that favour you owe me?”
Stack groaned. Her saving his life was coming back to haunt him. "What are you planning?"
"Agree to meet him, on my behalf. Somewhere public. Get him to talk."
"And where will you be?"
She shrugged. "I won't be far. I'll have your back. I just want to get a look at this rebel before I tell him to kriff off and leave me alone."
Cassian dressed in a grey shirt that wouldn't look out of place on an off-duty officer on the upper levels, under a leather jacket that hid an array of blasters, knives, lockpicks and scramblers. He slicked his hair back and trimmed his beard down to stubble. In the mirror of his rented room, Cassian saw an empty shell, his eyes dark and haunted. He scrubbed his hand over his face and turned away from his reflection. He had rented the room in the hopes of getting some rest, but sleep had not come for him on the thin bed. He sent a coded message to Kay to let him know that he was going to meet an informant. Another day gone, another night begun. How many more would he endure before he was able to have peace?
The open plaza buzzed with activity. Miles below the highest level, there was no natural light and the air was stale – just barely safe to breathe. A few levels lower, and no human would be able to survive without filters. Cassian slipped through the crowds, wearing a scarf to protect himself from the worst of the toxins with the added bonus of hiding his face. The amount of people made the meeting place a smart choice - the Imps normally didn’t bother patrolling this far down and there were enough criminals and gangsters around to deter anyone from causing a scene on their territory. Cassian watched a Gran, its middle eye missing, meander through the crowd alongside a stall and pick the pockets of three people. Noise burst from a nearby cantina as the door opened, and was muffled again when it closed. With a tilt of his head he eyed the alleyway alongside it and slipped into the semi-darkness. He waited in the shadows and counted his breaths until he heard heavy, uneven footsteps.
Whatever Cassian had been expecting when he met Asha’s contact, it wasn’t the man standing in front of him. Stack, as she had called him, had a stiff soldier’s gait. The Clone Wars, Cassian assumed because of his age, though he supposed Stack could have been part of any skirmish on any planet. This was not a man who had slipped like a ghost past Imperial security and planted a bomb in the foyer of the Imperial Naval Academy without so much as being picked up on camera. Cassian's mood darkened further, but he tucked that part of himself away in a corner of his mind to deal with later.
“You got your meeting,” he said gruffly. “Now what do you want?”
“I want to talk to the person behind the bombings.” Cassian shrugged as if none of this mattered.“We both know that wasn’t you.”
“Consider me a messenger. Who are you, exactly?”
Cassian smiled. It tasted like ashes. “I’m looking for allies. Anyone willing to do what your ‘friend’ has done, is someone I want to speak to.”
“They have no love for the Alliance, if that’s what you’re hoping.”
“But no love for the Empire either, isn’t that enough? We’re at war, officially."
"We always were, unofficially. It took the destruction of a planet for anyone to notice."
"Some of us have been fighting for much longer than that." Cassian replied earnestly, openly, because this old war-dog was cynical and hardened. He was in no mood to play games and he could see that threats wouldn’t get him anywhere. “We need whatever we can get.”
Stack grunted. “I appreciate your honesty. But my friend already made up their mind: If it’s money you’re offering, there are plenty of people 'round here who have greater need. And they don’t want your help.”
“They think they can take down the Empire themselves?”
Stack snorted. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. I respect anyone who stands up against the Imp bastards, but this is a dead end for you, rebel. Your resources would be better served elsewhere.”
Cassian nodded. Exhaustion gnawed at his bones. Recruitment had been hard enough when the Empire's destructive power was unknown, but since the Death Star (since Scarif, since her) people were more difficult to sway to the light. Fear was a more powerful motivator than pride and honour, it seemed. For every person horrified into action, ten seemed to be terrified into ignorance. How nice to have the choice to run and hide and protect yourself, he thought. "Tell your friend that I can provide whatever additional resources they need. I'm not asking them to pledge allegiance to the rebellion. Here," he pulled a small comm from his pocket, same as the one he had given to Asha, and passed it to the man who took it between his thick thumb and forefinger and raised an eyebrow at Cassian. "It's clean. I'll be on planet for a few more days if they change their mind."
"You're wasting your time," Stack said as he pocketed the comm. "But I'll do what I can." With a curt nod, he turned and walked away out of the alley.
Cassian counted a few breaths before following him.
Stack had a limp, but he still moved with the authority of a soldier through the hordes on the plaza. Cassian adjusted his scarf over his face and slipped through the masses, keeping his distance while zig-zagging his way along. They moved from the plaza, and Cassian trailed him down a crowded and poorly lit walkway that led to the shuttle that transported inhabitants between levels. To Cassian's surprise, Stack feigned interest in the shuttle for a long moment before he doubled-back away from the train, forcing Cassian to slip into the doorway of a store to stay out of sight as Stack passed. As they made their way back through the main plaza and turned left through a gap between two abandoned buildings, something prickled in the back of his mind. He narrowed his focus while keeping his eyes on the target ahead - beyond his own footsteps, beyond the noise of the beggars and cantinas and fights behind him - and focused on a movement that echoed his own.
He was being followed, too. And as they moved further away from the crowds, on and on between buildings with little lighting in the alleyways, anxiety gnawed at Cassian's gut. Turning back wasn't an option. He was caught in the middle, with prey ahead and a hunter behind him. He calculated the odds quickly, as Stack turned a corner ahead. Hiding wasn't an option, but feigning ignorance was. He knelt as if fixing the closure on his boot, but slipped his hand into his jacket to grip his blaster. He listened, heard the gentle footsteps of whoever was creeping along behind him. They were good, to keep so quiet even without the crowd to drown them out. He quietened his thoughts, let his senses do the work, and when they were close enough he spun, around and up with his blaster out to clock them.
But he missed as they ducked low and drove a shoulder up into his gut. Stars flashed behind his eyes as all breath was driven from him. They were small and fast, and up close in the low light it was impossible to get a read on them and get his blaster in the right place. He dropped down to sweep at their ankles but his assailant reacted quicker than he expected and dropped something hard down onto the meat of the tendons of his shoulder. Cassian growled, got lucky and caught their wrist, intending to use his extra size and weight against them but she - he was sure it was a she, with the sharp gasps he heard - only let him get one good hit in before she had his hold turned on him and her arm was free again.
Slammed into the wall, a baton against his neck choked the air from him and as his vision cleared he recognised the green eyes glaring up at him, the rest of the face hidden behind a scarf.
"Jyn?" he gasped as much from shock as from the baton crushing his throat.
She pulled his scarf down, and hesitated before she adjusted her own. Her lips were parted and her eyes were wide and wet and the pressure on his throat eased just enough for him to breathe, which made little difference given how his heart was racing. He wanted to grab her and hold her close and never let her go, to fall to his knees in front of her. He devoured her appearance - messy bangs still growing out and separated in the middle, her hair now in a long braid that rested on one shoulder, her jacket black and battered leather like his own. Smudged kohl made her eyes stand out, stardust against the darkness.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, her body pressed close against his. It was a twisted reenactment of a moment he re-lived every night in his dreams: the elevator on Scarif, her body along his, her arm around his neck, her gaze dropping from his eyes to his mouth, the pain in his broken body the only thing stopping him from surging forward and pressing his lips to hers. There was no embrace, no longing, this time.
“Looking for you,” Cassian stared at her, dazed, her green eyes locked on his as he spoke, and for the briefest moment she looked soft and vulnerable. “I just didn’t realise it was you I was chasing.”
"Aria," Stack called from behind them. "Need help?"
The son of a nerf herder had led him right here for Jyn to ambush him. At least, Cassian thought, he now knew who was really behind the bombings.
"I'm fine, Stack, thank you." With a growl Jyn pushed away and the distance felt too much like a loss. "You were looking for me?"
“Yes,” Cassian stood still, convinced that the wrong movement would cause her to pounce. Her shoulders were high and tight, and her hands curled and uncurled at her sides when she stowed her batons. “I heard about someone brazen enough to go right for the Empire’s heart here in the city. I could only have hoped that it would be you.”
She turned her head away and didn’t look at him when she spoke. “Leave, Cassian. This was a mistake”
“We need you, Jyn.” I need you.
Her eyes widened - was it anger? Shock? He couldn’t tell, but it was Stack who responded and stepped closer. "You heard her. She said to leave."
Jyn - Aria, her mother was from Aria Prime, oh Jyn - took a deep breath and looked away from Cassian. "No, Stack, it's fine. I'm sorry to have dragged you into this."
Stack eyed Cassian, like a protective father judging if a suitor was worthy. It was much like the look Saw had given him briefly when Jedha had started to crumble. "That's us even, girl. You know where your friends are if you need us."
Jyn smiled softly, and Cassian couldn't look at anything else. "I know. Thank you."
Stack nodded,then turned and limped back up the long alley towards the plaza. Jyn and Cassian were alone. The distant noise of the city faded into nothing. Silence felt like a wall between them. In the brief time they had spent together words had been unnecessary in the heat of the battle and now it felt like the lack of them would rip his guts out.
"Is it true? You didn't know it was me you were looking for?"
He shook his head. "I'm recruiting, Jyn. I listen for rumours and follow leads all over the galaxy."
"Recruiting? For the Alliance?" she spat the word as if it were poison. "You're still doing their dirty work, after nearly killing yourself for them, and for what?"
Anger flared in his chest and was quickly doused by guilt, because Jyn had every right to be angry. "Jyn, I don't know what happened on Yavin. If you tell me it wasn't your choice to leave, I’ll believe you, because I've spent the last six months thinking that you wanted to stay."
That seemed to catch her short, and her next retort died in her throat as her comm buzzed with static and Stack's voice rumbled. "Raid on the plaza. They're checking scandocs. Get home safe."
"'Troopers," she breathed. "Why are they even down here?"
They both glanced towards the plaza. Cassian measured their options. Take their chances and walk out there, and show their docs and hope for the best, or run. The other end of the alley was a dead end, as far as he could see. "Do you have scandocs? Good enough to pass?"
Jyn nodded, and he could see her hesitate before she spoke. "Cassian, I have something on me that I can’t get caught with." She held his gaze, as if imploring him to understand.
The red laser point of a blaster sight flashed down the alleyway just ahead of them. A fierce protectiveness roared in Cassian's chest at the thought of the Imperials subduing her. No, he had just found her after thinking he never would again. "I'm with you," he said, and meant it.
Jyn threw herself towards Cassian and pressed him to the wall. His breath stuttered and all he could focus on for a blinding moment was the feel of her entire body pressed against him and her face buried against his neck. He caught on quickly as footsteps approached, wrapping his arms around her and supporting her as she pressed up onto her tiptoes. Just a normal couple, having a moment alone. He reverted his focus from the woman in his arms to the pair of ‘troopers that were now only a few feet away from them. He curled his fingers into Jyn’s lower back, pressed his lips to her neck, feigning obliviousness to the soldiers.
“You two, step away from the wall with your hands up.”
Jyn's hand slipped around to his lower back, under his jacket, stopping when it reached the blaster hidden in his belt. She kept her hand there, even as they stepped out from the wall and separated.
"Hey, we weren't causing any trouble, we were just looking for some privacy, ok?" Cassian said with a smile plastered on his face. He shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands in front of him. Jyn was still pressed in close, her hand pushing the solid weight of the blaster and silencer against his spine as it shifted in her grip. He grimaced at the press of metal on metal with only skin between.
"Hands up, I said." The 'troopers stepped closer, the one on Jyn's side gestured with his rifle. "And we'll need to see some ID."
In the blink of an eye Jyn shot one trooper who fell to the ground in a loud clatter of armour, and before he hit the ground Cassian had disarmed the other and used the butt of their rifle to land the soldier unconscious on top of his colleague. He reached and grabbed their comms, dropping them to the ground to crush them under his heel, before helping Jyn drag the bodies further down the alleyway. Jyn knelt and planted something small and round at the mouth of the alley as they exited as casually as possible, scarves back over their faces. "Smoke bomb," she shrugged when he looked at her. "In five minutes, it'll buy us a distraction."
Cassian followed Jyn, not wanting to let her out of his sight and trusting that she knew the streets better. The crowds in the plaza now seemed louder than ever. Some screamed and shouted as Stormtroopers arrested them, others fought back, and the rest seemed resigned to get it over with as they stood with their scandocs out. 'Troopers waved people past, telling them to go home and get out of the way. Jyn weaved through the chaos ahead of him, dodging the attention of 'troopers by floating on the edge of the groups of the most disruptive inhabitants. Cassian counted down in his head as they moved, preparing himself for the distraction, and just as it was about to go off, Jyn reached back and grabbed his wrist and pulled him forward sharply.
A sudden bang shook the plaza, followed quickly by screams and shouts of shock. The air filled with thick, white smoke. Jyn pulled him along among the stampede of fleeing locals. Chaos erupted as anyone seeking to escape the Imperials took advantage of the distraction. Stormtroopers shouted, their comms beeped and buzzed, as they tried to control the crowd. Off they ran, Jyn's hand still clamped tight around Cassian's wrist, far from the plaza. Jyn took him on twists and turns through the abandoned and dead areas of the level, before they emerged close to the shuttle that transported people between levels. He followed as they slipped on board, faces still covered, and his stomach dropped as the shuttle shifted. Together they stood, pressed close against each other by the crowd. He angled himself so that his back was to the security camera, and blocked Jyn from it's view. She glared at him, her heavy breathing making her scarf rise and fall over her mouth. Her eyes were more beautiful than he remembered. He longed to see her smile again, the way she had before Scarif. That smile was what told him she had wanted to stay, the memory of it made him want to scream out at everyone who tried to tell him she had chosen to leave the home he had offered her.
The shuttle rattled, breaking the spell. Jyn stepped back further away from him and turned away. He could see her face reflected in the plexiglass window as the lights of Coruscant raced by in neon blurs. Giving comfort wasn’t something Cassian was experienced with. He longed to step up close to her, pull her against him and bury his face in her hair, but her walls were up and the wrong move would only push her further away. The shuttle came to a stop, and the swarm of passengers pushed them along on to the platform. They stood, and waited for people to disappear off into the city.
When they were finally alone on the darkened platform, Jyn turned to him again. She pulled her scarf down, revealing her mouth. “I could have left you behind, but I want answers.”
“I don’t know if I have the answers that you want, Jyn.”
“Try.” Her eyes shimmered in the neon lights of the shuttle station sign.
Cassian felt six months worth of things he had wanted to say crowding in his throat. There were strangers all around them and he hoped his confessions wouldn't be heard. “Jyn, I... I woke up in the medbay, and you were gone. No one would tell me what had happened, if you were even alive. I mean, I knew you were alive, because I remember you being on the shuttle from Scarif-“ the words choked him I remember you holding me and praying for me to stay alive, I remember your lips on my forehead, my cheek, the tears in your eyes - “-and then we were being evacuated, because the Death Star was in orbit.”
“That was before- I was already gone by then.” Her knuckles whitened where she gripped her upper arms. “I had to hear about it all in rumours, here.” There was a bitter edge to her voice, a hardness, because of all people in the universe she deserved to see the battle station burn.
“Draven came to see me when I was on one of the evac shuttles. The plans were lost at first, temporarily. And then Alderaan was destroyed. He said that was when a shuttle went missing from the dock with stolen clearance codes. He said that the Council had declared you a war criminal, that you had lied about the whole thing and run off to tell the Empire where to find us.” Nausea rolled up Cassian’s throat even saying the words. “And then they found the plans, and the weakness was exactly where your father said it would be. Suddenly the Council didn’t want to talk about you anymore, he said. Your name would be wiped from the history books.”
Jyn stayed silent, her whole body locked with tension, and tears pooled in her eyes. Causing her pain was like being stabbed in the gut.
“Did you ever believe them?” Her voice was small, wind through grass.
“Not for a second,” Cassian leaned forward as if afraid she would run or attack if he moved too quickly, but aching to have her trust. “Even when Draven was calling me a fool for following you to Scarif, even when they all tried to convince the entire Alliance that you had run away because you were a criminal and wouldn’t change.” His heart pounded, deafening him. His world narrowed to her, so close he could reach out and touch her, but instead he curled his hands into fists. “We were meant to die on Scarif, Jyn. I was holding you in my arms and ready to die and it was the best death I ever could have imagined for myself. To think that you had just walked away after everything you risked.... if I believed that then I would never have hope again.”
Her jaw shifted as she bit the inside of her cheek, and her eyes shone as she stared back at him. But then Jyn looked away from him and sniffed, breaking the connection, and her voice was small but sure when she spoke. “What do you want from me?”
Nothing and everything, Cassian thought. “You’ve caused a lot of trouble.”
“It’s what I do best, isn’t it?”
“Jyn, we can work together –“
“I don’t want to work for anyone, Cassian. I just want to be left alone.”
“Fine. But what about me?”
“What about you? You still work for them.”
Cassian sighed as he found the right words. “I work for them to serve a cause, Jyn. You showed me that.”
A wave of exhaustion hit Cassian. The last time he had been this open with someone was when he was standing in front of this same woman in a hangar on Yavin IV, offering his life to her cause. He let his shoulders slump. If his being there hurt her, then he would walk away. He swallowed hard. "Jyn, I - if this is what you want, I'll go. I'm sorry."
She measured him with a heavy gaze, before she reached into her satchel and pulled out a datapad. She handed it to him with her chin tilted up in a defiant challenge as he approached. "This is what I didn’t want the ‘troopers to catch me with. I stole it last night, from an Imp who was a client at Asha's. I saw a chance and I took it."
The hacked datapad glared as strings of green code flashed along the screen. Cassian couldn't help but be impressed with the depth of security, and how far Jyn had managed to get.
“I’ve gotten this far on my own. But I can’t get past their kriffing last level of encryption.”
“I know someone who can.” Quietly, he added. “Do you trust me?”
“If you give me a reason not to, I’ll kill you.”
“I would deserve it.”
"Who did you have in mind?"
"K-2SO," Cassian said, and saw Jyn's eyes widen.
“Where are you taking me?” Jyn asked as they avoided another security patrol. They were several levels up and over from where they had found each other. Higher up meant more Imperials in general, but up here they didn't seem interested in anything more doing their rounds and guarding the route to the spaceport. The chance of being searched was low as long as they blended in.
“To K-2,” Cassian replied as he glanced around, looking for all the galaxy like a man out for a stroll in the country air.
“We’re heading towards the Auresh space port, you never said anything about leaving the planet.”
“We won’t have to, he's on my ship.”
Jyn stopped walking and stood her ground, chewing over his words in her mind. Cassian stopped alongside her and held out his hands in a gesture of peace.
“I’m not taking you away anywhere, not if you don’t want me to. We just need to get to the ship, this data is too sensitive to send wirelessly.”
Jyn eyed him. There he was, asking for her trust again. “Ok,” she sighed. “Ok. But there’s a better route with fewer cameras.”
She stole glances at him when she could as they walked, catching his sharp profile, how his watchful eyes didn't miss a thing as she led him along a back alley route to the shuttle station that would bring them to the port. As they squeezed through the crowds onto the busy shuttlepod, he put his hand on her lower back and Jyn felt warmth radiate from that spot all over. There was no need for their faces to be covered as the air was better up here, but Jyn wished she could pull her scarf back over her face to hide her blush as they were pressed close in the crowd. She had spent six months trying not to think of him - to forget how he had always came back for her, the sad longing in his dark eyes, the solid security of his body against her as they waited for death in each other's arms. But over and over he had slipped into her thoughts like the spy that he was, not just in memory but in her fantasies of what could have been. Every time she caught herself in a daydream of a life spent with Cassian the anger in her chest would burn brighter and her heart would fracture further. Pressed close to him now and with her head filled with the scent and feel of him, every dream she had had came rushing back unbidden.
The shuttle came to a sudden stop, jolting her against him and shocking her from her thoughts. He grabbed her by the waist, and she looked up into his eyes. Cassian smiled and ducked his head as a flush coloured his cheeks, and Jyn hated how her heart pounded. She stepped off the transport ahead of him and tried not to wish he would put his hand on her back again.
The Auresh space port was buzzing with activity, which meant there were enough people to blend in with. To their left, private security officers were in the middle of breaking up a scuffle amongst some spice heads, a welcome distraction. The ship was where Cassian had said it would be, but that did nothing to settle Jyn’s nerves as she stepped aboard the small freighter. There was little to stop him locking the doors and taking off, unless he had a measure in place against the blaster she would press against his skull if he tried. The ship itself was almost as basic as the U-wing that had taken them to Jedha, though the hold was broken up into rooms she assumed to be living areas. She didn't see a 7-feet tall Imperial droid, and her hackles rose. Something dropped like a stone in her gut - was this the betrayal she had been waiting for?
“Kay, wake up, we have company.” Cassian banged twice on the bulkhead before he slipped into the pilot's chair and pressed buttons on the console. Lights flickered into life in strips around the walls and the ship began to hum. Jyn glanced around, expecting to see the droid emerge from some hiding place (and to hear his massive footsteps before he came into view), but instead she jumped out of her skin when he spoke as if right beside her.
“Cassian,” Kay spoke, and it seemed to come from all around her. He sounded more droid-like than before, yet still somehow humanly disapproving. Lights blinked on the console. “Oh. You’ve found Jyn Erso.”
Cassian must have noted her surprise as he watched her. “I had a backup of Kay’s files made just before Scarif, but couldn’t find a chassis for him.” He shrugged. “I figured this was better than nothing.”
“Kay," she breathed, "you’re a ship?”
“I am the ship’s intelligence and chief navigator. It’s very boring, flying through hyperspace. I miss being a droid. I have weaponry now, but Cassian has yet to let me use it.”
“It’s good to...it’s good to hear you, Kay.” Jyn's head spun, thinking of the last time she had seen the droid as she had handed him her blaster. Cassian hadn't been entirely alone this whole time after all and she was glad of it.
“Shouldn’t you be dead? The odds say that you should be dead, closely followed by incarcerated.”
Jyn chewed her cheek to keep a smile at bay. New body, same programming. "You did say my behaviour was unexpected."
“Kay, I have a job for you - Jyn has come into possession-“
“Stolen, you mean.”
“Jyn has a personal datapad taken from an Imperial officer. She can’t slice through the last layer of biometric security. We need your help.”
“Of course you do, you're only human.” Kay practically sighed. “Connect it and I'll do it for you.”
Cassian looked at Jyn expectantly, but she suddenly felt unsure again. As if reading her mind, in that damned way he always did, Cassian spoke softly.
“Jyn, if you want help, it’s here. I promised, remember? This encryption needs a droid.”
She met his eyes, and briefly considered that this was all a lie. He was a spy, wasn't he? But he was also here and alive and wasn't that something she had wanted so badly? She handed him the datapad, and though his expression didn't seem to change the lines around his eyes crinkled slightly as their fingers brushed against each other. Jyn watched as Cassian connected the datapad for Kay to read. The silence lay heavy on Jyn's chest. Cassian's face was unreadable, his body still and relaxed.
"I will attempt to reverse the encryptions. Please do not interrupt me."
Jyn squeezed her hands into fists at the thought of being stuck on the ship - she hadn't been near one since she landed on Coruscant, as the memories of waking up on that drifting shuttle made her break out in cold sweats. She stepped away from Cassian and ran her hands over the bulkhead as she took in the surroundings. She could see a fresher, and sleeping quarters, and a small galley. "Have you been living on this ship since Yavin?"
Cassian didn't answer immediately, but she heard him shift in the pilot's chair. "More or less."
"At least you had company," she said around the sadness that tightened her throat. "So this is your life now?"
"I haven't been on base much since I was cleared to return to duty. I didn't want to..." he paused, and Jyn wrapped her arms around herself, staring at the floor. "I knew someone there could have been responsible for sending you away. I couldn't stand being there, knowing I might be right beside whoever gave that order, sharing barracks with whoever put you on that shuttle."
Jyn's throat ached with the pressure of words she wanted to say but couldn't, and she squeezed her arms tighter. How had he come back for her yet again, even if it was unintentional?
"Do you know the first place I went when I was released?" Cassian asked, but Jyn could only shake her head even though she knew he couldn't see her. "I tried to go back to Yavin IV. I wanted to see what was left, if any security footage was still intact, any clue of where you might be... but the Imperials were still there. I couldn't get near the planet, and it was suicidal to even get as close as I did. But I needed to know."
Jyn turned to look at him. She could see his face in profile where he sat, and she thought of the medbay on Yavin. She had stared at him then where he lay in the bed after long and gruelling surgery to fix his broken back, longing for a flicker of life and to see those warm brown eyes again. She had studied his profile - the crooked nose, the sharp jaw, the long lashes resting against his cheek. She studied him again now, and saw the same handsome face burdened with even greater sadness than when they had first met. He turned his head to her, and he wasn't hiding anything anymore. If he is fooling me, then let me be fooled, she thought, because all I see is my own pain reflected back at me.
Kay interrupted the heavy silence. "I have completed the decryption process. You're welcome. The datapad is registered to a Major Loreth Harter, and the tagging of his data entries indicate he is based on a Star Destroyer."
Cassian held the datapad up and Jyn leaned over the back of the pilot's chair to see the screen that had lit up. She read over Cassian's shoulder as he scrolled through the documents.
"This is good, Jyn," Cassian exhaled heavily. "This is really good. There’s minutes of board meetings, contacts, correspondence - how did you even get your hands on this?"
“I was helping Asha out with security - it's how I made a few credits when I first landed here. This guy came in, uniform half stuffed in a bag, stick up his ass, upset the girl he hired, too." Jyn shrugged, and Cassian smiled at her which sent her heart racing. "He was sloppy and the datapad was too easy to lift."
They read on, flicking through various files and folders before settling on a document marked ‘Highly Confidential’. After reading for a few moments, Cassian swore under his breath in an alien language. "They're planning on building a new weapons facility in the Outer Rim... they have 'identified an suitable area on an occupied planet with adequate resources and available labour. Minimal resistance is expected due to the small unarmed population, and the inhabitants do not have the capability of space travel. Privacy would be guaranteed.'"
"Slaves," Jyn sighed, bile in her throat. "They're going to invade a defenseless planet, and turn the inhabitants into cheap labour."
Cassian grunted. "And leave a ruined planet in their wake. '...expect output of armed vessels to increase by 25% within the first year, bypassing the need for third-party contractors who can then be bought out, increasing profits...output will eventually grow to include smaller weaponry and armour until the Empire stands completely self-sufficient...'"
Jyn read the next words aloud, even as her chest hollowed out at the sound of them. "'...the center will also include improved laboratory facilities with a renewed interest in kyber energy... to replace the loss of the facility on Eadu." Her head spun and she closed her eyes at the memories of torrential rain, of I have so much to tell you. “How do we stop this?”
“Kay, does the planet designation mean anything to you?” Cassian asked, as he scrolled through the document, his eyes scanning back and forth. The planet was only ever referred to as Location 2.187x.
“No, it is likely a codename. I can find no further references to it on the datapad. Without accurate descriptions or coordinates, there are hundreds of possible targets within the galaxy.”
Anger bubbled in Jyn’s blood, making her skin hot. “We need to find out where they’re targeting and stop them.” ‘We’ slipped out so easily, without thought, that it wasn’t until Cassian turned sharply to look at her that Jyn realised just what she had said.
“Kay, can you dig up anything else on this Major Loreth Harter?”
“Cassian, you should not be getting involved. Your objective is to recruit informants.”
“My objective, Kay, is to fight the Empire.” He looked straight at Jyn and her stomach flipped. “That is, if you want me to help?”
Jyn almost laughed at the bubble of joy that grew in her chest, and her happiness turned to fear. How quickly she had fallen for him again, and broken all her promises of the last six months. Her joy soured as she thought of what it would feel like to lose it all again, and Cassian must have noticed because his expression turned from hopeful to achingly blank. “You can help,” she said, her throat dry. “But it won’t mean... it doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s just a job.”
“You’re mad, both of you.” Kay mumbled, and the lights dimmed. "Tell me you at least have a plan."
"Harter might go back to Asha’s to look for this. We should go speak to our mutual friend." Cassian turned away from her and disconnected the datapad.
"I'm not sure how much of a friend she is if she sold me out to you." There was no anger to her words. Asha had trusted the right man, no matter Jyn’s feelings on the Alliance.
"She doesn't sell any one out, unless they've given her a good reason. She's an old contact, she's done a lot for the rebellion whether she knows it or not. It probably says a lot that she trusted you enough to tell me about you."
Jyn deflated at the realisation that she may have jeopardised Asha, who had given her a roof over her head and a job as security when she had arrived on Coruscant, angry and defeated. “Let’s hope I haven’t got her into any trouble, then. She’s been... kind to me. I owe her.”
Cassian nodded. “Let’s go then. If Harter has any brains he'll be back at the brothel before the night is over.”
What should have been a glorious visit to Coruscant had turned into a nightmare for Loreth Harter. It had started beautifully. He hadn't touched base in the capitol in so long that he had barely been able to contain the energy singing under his skin as he stripped from his uniform into civilian clothing on the transport and slipped off into the night. Months and months spent on a Star Destroyer with only other humans for company, he felt like a man dying of thirst on his way to a waterfall. He had overpaid a taxi to take him to the underworld, to this alien brothel he had heard so much about in rumours and whispers, sure that the extra credits would cover his trail.
What was there to be nervous about? After all, it was other officers who had told him about this place, even if it was only in whispers after several drinks - Asha’s was not a place to be talked about during daylight hours, no matter how many officers made it an open secret of their taste for non-human company. It was perfectly fine to spend the night with an alien and pay for pleasure, as long as you didn't dare to bring them into your home or treat them as an equal. As the taxi dropped him off Harter had cast anxious glances around the alleyways to make sure no one he knew was nearby. Sweat had dripped down his back in cold rivulets collecting at the base of his spine. He was going to have a wild night with a torgruta girl, or maybe a devaronian, or both if the price was right. He was going to do the things he had been dreaming of for months.
That first night had ended up being everything he had dreamed of and more. The torgruta girl he had ended up with had been worth every credit. Even as he left he was planning his next visit, and as many more as he could fit in during his stay on Coruscant. He walked out the door on air and more alive than ever, renewed and full of vigour and ready to focus on the launch of the newest weapons research project that would bring more glory to the Empire. Even the sour-faced human female he bumped into on the way out - the security guard that he had noticed on the way in, though he didn't think a female of that size could be much of a threat to anyone - hadn't been able to ruin his good mood.
Twenty-four hours later, he found himself tied to a chair in that same brothel, breathing through his nose in an attempt not to gag on the dry dusty fabric shoved in his mouth, with an aching head and what felt like blood drying on his scalp and neck. His hands throbbed from the tight bindings around his wrists. The room was dark and contained a single mattress and various blankets and soft-looking scarves on the floor. The only light was an orange-shaded lamp above the bed that made everything look like embers.
He just wanted his datapad back, that was all. The information on it could be a lot of use in the wrong hands, he thought as his stomach rolled. His blood had turned to ice when he had realised it was missing, right in the middle of a meeting, and he had been a wreck of nerves and nausea for the rest of the day once he remembered the last place he had seen it. Next thing he knew, he was back here pushing the brothel owner up against the wall with a blaster pressed to her gut, and then something very heavy and hard had hit him on the head and everything went dark.
He groaned, and the room spun. Tomorrow night he was supposed to be in a room full of some of the Empire's highest serving officers to witness the unveiling of the plan for the newest weapons and research facility. Mugged, that was it. He would say he was mugged, now that he had a head injury to back that up. No, I'll still be punished for carelessness, he thought as his breath caught in his throat in panic, there's no way out of here, no way my career isn't over.
The door to the room creaked open and in walked the brothel owner with a large, older man. She had been feisty and surprisingly strong when he had wrestled her against the wall, and her long painted nails had left stinging claw marks in Harter's forearms.
"He's awake," said the big man. "What do we do with him?"
"Kriff," she cursed under her breath. "I can't just let him leave, Stack. He's a kriffing Imp and we've assaulted him and tied him up, we'll be dead within a day if he gets out of here."
"What was I supposed to do, just let him attack you? Ask him for ID?" The man named Stack waved Harter's scandocs in front of him, and he realised his pockets had been raided.
"I don't know!" She threw her arms up and Harter felt the weight of her gaze as she measured him, deciding if he was worthy of life or death. "We can't just let him out of here alive."
Harter whined, and gagged on the dry cloth in his mouth. They both looked at him.
Stack shrugged. "I know someone who can get him down below level 50, no questions asked. Chances of him getting back up alive are pretty much zero, especially without weapons or credits."
Harter shivered and his heart pounded hard enough to make his vision shift. There was no natural light that far down, just the scum the galaxy had left to rot. Being thrown out of an airlock on a Star Destroyer would be a kinder and quicker death, and if his superiors found out that he had lost a datapad full of Imperial secrets, that would be his fate. He whined again, wanting to bargain. The woman reached forward and pulled the gag out, her sharp nails scratching his cheek in the process. His tongue felt like sand and he coughed on the dryness.
"Please," he croaked, "Give me what I want and I'll walk out of here, no questions asked, no repercussions."
"And just what is it that you want so badly that you were going to shoot me for it?" The woman asked, her dark hair falling in front of her face.
"A datapad, that's all. It went missing when I was here last night. The girl I was with must have it, or it fell out of my bag. If I get that back you will never see me again and there'll be no trouble." He meant it, too. Leaving here without the datapad would be the end of his career.
The woman rolled her eyes, but Stack slumped his shoulders and sighed.
"Asha, a word outside?"
With that, they left the room, and Harter trembled.
"There's been a reduction in Imperial comms traffic," Kay announced as Jyn and Cassian were getting ready to leave the ship. "It should now be safe to return to the lower levels, providing Jyn Erso does not cause trouble."
Jyn rolled her eyes, but secretly she was thrilled with the teasing, and was even more so when Cassian flashed a small smile at her in response. Asha and Stack, for all their good intentions, had never quite been able to make her feel as wanted, had never quite been able to crack her shell in the way this man and his droid had in the space of a few days spent together all those months ago.
"There seemed to be a large number of arrests for minor infringements," Kay continued. "Normally Imperial troops do not interfere in the underworld. It is an aberration for them to suddenly start."
"It's a show of force, Kay," Jyn said, "Someone - me - attacked them, here on their territory by planting bombs right under their noses. They're worried that others will have the same idea. They think that by reminding the underworld who's in charge it'll put a stop to any insurgencies."
"Does it concern you that others might be hurt because of your actions?"
"Kay!" Cassian scolded as he placed the datapad into a smuggling compartment under a floor panel.
Jyn touched Cassian's arm. "Always. I've taken every precaution to ensure that no civilians would be hurt in any of my attacks. But if the Empire are going to lash out like this in retaliation, then it isn't worth it. I'll find another way to fight."
"So when we leave you here you will not continue to plant bombs in Imperial buildings?"
Jyn's blood turned to ice. When we leave. She looked at Cassian as he stood up. He glanced over at the controls, as if he wasn't quite used to not having K-2SO's looming droid chassis next to him, before he looked at her. There was something unguarded in his eyes that seemed to echo her own thoughts - what happens next? She watched the movement of his throat as he swallowed, thought he was about to say something, and stepped in to save him from having to make promises he couldn't keep.
"Let's get this job over with first." She tore her eyes away from his face before she had to witness his reaction. "We should go."
She stalked out through the hatch and down the ramp, and part of her hoped she would get to beat some Stormtroopers to distract her from the conflicting emotions in her gut.
The streets were mostly clear of any Imperial presence but Jyn and Cassian still stuck to the shadows and alleys until they reached the brothel. They were a level up from where they had met earlier that night, but it still counted as the underworld as far as the civilised society was concerned. Jyn watched as Cassian slipped through the crowds like a loth cat, quiet and fluid.
How can someone so magnetic slip past these people's notice? Jyn slowed as they reached Asha's parlour– a tall, thin building wedged tight between dozens of others in various states of decay. There was a window display on each side of the door and each was lit in pink lights. Normally the displays were occupied by girls lazing around in their delicate underwear, looking bored until a customer walked by at which point they would flutter their lashes and pull provocative poses. But something wasn't quite right. Jyn’s hackles raised. The windows were empty, and the music that normally filtered from the reception to drown out the activities in the adjoining rooms couldn't be heard. Jyn's heart fluttered in a panic - Asha's was normally busy at this time of night, with herself or Stack keeping a watchful eye for troublemakers and thieves. She tugged on Cassian's sleeve and gave him a warning look. He nodded, and took point behind her as she scanned her pass to open the front door.
She stepped in and found a blaster pointed in her face. Behind her, Cassian drew his like lightning.
"Kriff, Stack." Jyn held her hands up. "It's me. Stand down."
The two men holstered their weapons, as Stack eyed Cassian cautiously. "I was about to comm you. We've got trouble."
"We have something for you." Asha beckoned from the hallway, her voice stern.
Jyn's chest tightened further. She felt Cassian at her back as they followed Asha to one of the back rooms, furthest from the reception area. There, tied to a chair in the middle of the room, was a sweaty looking man Jyn now knew to be Major Loreth Harter. He was pale and his mouth was stuffed with fabric. He looked considerably less pleased with himself than he had the night before when Jyn had bumped into him as he had left. She couldn't enjoy the moment, however, because the guilt of putting Asha into danger soured her stomach.
“What happened?” said Cassian.
“This fool came in and pointed a blaster at me, before Stack got him under control. Says he's looking for a lost datapad,” Asha crossed her arms. “Of course, you wouldn’t know anything about that.”
Jyn stepped towards her. “The less you know, the better. I’m sorry you’ve been dragged into this.”
“It's a little late for that. I gave you somewhere to stay, Aria. I don't appreciate my generosity being thrown back at me.”
Jyn’s throat closed over with regret, she had never meant to hurt Asha who had been nothing but kind and helpful even when Jyn had been closed off and cold. "I’m sorry. It's worth it, Asha, I promise. The information is going to save so many people, and I swear I won't let anything happen to you or this place."
Asha arched an eyebrow. "How worth it?"
Jyn glanced at Harter and she felt revulsion. So much would rest on getting him to talk, on destroying his loyalty to the Empire. "If we can get what we need from him," she nodded towards the Imperial, "we can potentially save a planet from enslavement."
Asha glanced between them all, her arms crossed, before her gaze settled on Cassian. "Is that true, Jeron?"
He stepped up beside Jyn. "It's true. This guy is sitting on something big, we just need him to name the planet. We can take him away from here right now if that's what you want, find a way to take him through the streets to somewhere neutral."
Asha rolled her eyes, shared a long knowing look with Stack, and then sighed. "If it's really worth it, you can keep him here until you get what you want. I sent all the girls home tonight, but I really can't afford to lose any more business - at the start of the day shift I'll open my doors again. Keep the noise down and don't make a mess you can't clean up." She stepped in close to Cassian and jabbed a finger at his chest. "You owe me big time for this one, Jeron. It's one thing to give you information but this is in my home. I need Imperial business - they pay well for privacy to protect their reputations. Better than what you've paid for intel."
"He's tried to bargain already," Stack spoke up, and Jyn saw as Harter's eyes shot to him. "Said if we give him the datapad he'll walk right out of here and never look back." He snorted loudly. "As if we'd believe that."
Harter's eyes went wide, and Jyn leaned forward to pull the gag from his mouth. He hacked and coughed until his face was red. His voice was rough when he spoke, distorting his crisp Core accent. "No, I swear, I won't tell anyone. I just need that datapad back with the guarantee that the information on it is still secure." He looked wildly between them all. "I will pay, whatever the price I will pay it, I can get you anything you want."
"The information is worth more to us than credits." said Jyn. "And you're not leaving here until we get what we want. You know what will happen to you if your bosses find out that you were the source of a leak like this."
As if he had slipped on a mask, Harter's face changed from pleading and desperate to stony certainty. "I'm not the only one with access to the information on that datapad."
"But your name is on that particular datapad," Cassian stepped in close, a safe presence at Jyn's side. "It wouldn't take much to make them aware of which of their loyal subjects was so careless with Imperial secrets."
Harter's face betrayed his emotions as they changed - palpable fear as he swallowed hard, desperation as his eyes darted around each person in the room in hopes of sympathy, before his brow creased and he scowled. "If I'm dead either way, then I'll die loyal to the Empire," he spat at the ground, though it wasn't much. "You'll get nothing from me."
Beside her, Cassian's expression turned from serious to downright dark and she could see the spy, the assassin, take the place of the man she was growing to know. It made her shiver when he growled. "We're not giving you an option."
An hour later, and Harter wasn't talking. Despite his weak and pasty appearance, he was holding out on giving them any more information. His loyalty would have been admirable, Jyn thought, were it not to such a disgusting cause. Asha and Stack had left them to it while they cleaned up the mess Harter had made in the lobby and readied the parlour for tomorrow's day shift.
Harter seemed sure that he was dead either way and Jyn couldn’t deny the possibility. Without a guarantee of his safety, Harter had no reason to speak. Cassian had assumed the guise he wore the first time she had lain eyes on him - cool, disinterested, as if none of this really mattered. His control fascinated her. Her own emotions seemed to always overpower her, to flare to life like a dying star destroying anything around it. As Harter alternated between stubborn silence and crude insults, Jyn's chest grew tighter and her skin burned with the frustration. Cassian meanwhile remained stony and still.
"Look, we can get you out of here alive if that's the only option," Cassian spoke casually, as if to a friend. "Drop you off on a planet somewhere, give you a few credits to start a new life - make it so that the Empire won't even know where to start looking for you."
"And live my life as a traitor? Hole up on some planet somewhere, powerless? Do you know what they say about traitors? How they are remembered? I refuse to be marked down in history as- as another worthless Erso."
The world went white. Jyn lunged forward, and grabbed Harter's shirt with both hands, hauled him up, and pushed him hard back against the wall. The chair clattered across the room and Harter wheezed, his hot breath on her face turning into a laugh which only fuelled her anger further.
"Aria," Cassian gripped Jyn, one hand on her arm and the other on her hip. "Let's take a break."
Jyn's focus narrowed to where Cassian touched her, and the buzzing of anger in her ears started to fade into the background. Harter was scowling at her, but under his bravado she could see him swallow thickly. She shoved him away, and he tumbled to the ground with a loud grunt and cursed her loudly. Cassian was right behind her when she stormed out of the room and thumped the door control with her fist. Harter disappeared behind the closed door, still lying on his side.
They stood in silence, inches apart, as Jyn gathered her thoughts. "Sorry," she muttered, not daring to look at his face. "I don't have the patience for this, not like you."
"It's not easy. And if he knows he can get to you, he'll keep trying."
Jyn crossed her arms and huffed out a breath. The words she wanted to say were heavy and difficult to push out. "Saw never... I know how he got what he wanted, the methods he used to get people to talk, and he always tried to hide it from me. I suppose I just never learned how to get something without taking it."
She looked up at Cassian and saw no pity, just a softness to his eyes. But it faded too quickly, like a shooting star, and his expression turned dark.
"I may have to use Saw's methods to get the information."
"Cassian, no." Jyn reached out and touched his arm in a pleading grip. "We'll keep pushing him, keep trying."
He shook his head. "He's ready to die and we can't offer him anything else. He doesn’t think we have anything more to use against him. He might not be afraid of death, but pain can do things to a man. Just... let me be alone with him and I’ll do what needs to be done. I don’t want you to be a part of it.”
“I don’t need you to protect me from these things, Cassian. I’ve seen worse.” I've lived worse, I've been in Imperial prisons and you are not like those men, Cassian, she thought. Are you truly capable of something like that?
“It's not that, Jyn, I know you can handle yourself," He placed his hand on her shoulder and she shivered as his thumb brushed lightly up and down on the skin of her neck. "I don’t want you to see me. Not like this.”
That was more humanity and regret than she had ever witnessed from anyone she had ever considered cruel. Her eyes searched his face, seeing beyond any stoicism he could muster. When she spoke, her voice was soft, hinting at curiosity more than accusation. “Is this what you meant before Scarif? When you said there were things you had done that you wanted to forget?”
“I’ve done much worse for the cause.” He couldn’t look at her in that moment, so Jyn slid her hand up from his arm, to his chest, to his face and waited for him to meet her gaze. In that moment, he wore his shame openly and Jyn felt warm at the trust he was giving her.
“You’re a better man than you think, Cassian.” She said as she stroked her thumb over his jaw and felt a thrill at the sensation of his stubble on her skin. Absolution wasn’t hers to give, she knew, but understanding was. He looked surprised by what she had said, his eyes widening for a brief moment before softening.
"If we get what we want, what will you do?" Cassian spoke in a low voice as if afraid of the words. Jyn felt caught short and winded. I can't I can't I can't, her mind said, an instinctive reaction bred into her by too many losses. She swallowed hard and looked at the ground, curled her fingers against his cheek as his rested on her neck.
"You'll have to bring all this back to the Alliance, won't you? And hope that they act on it?" Her stomach churned. She dropped her hand from his face and let it rest on his chest because she wanted to both run away from this conversation and never stop touching him at the same time. She felt his voice as it rumbled under her hand and wondered how it would feel to have him below or above her, pressed so close that only skin and bone separated them.
"Yes," his hand trembled where it rested against her as he took a shaky breath. "Come with me, Jyn. We can face them together, get answers."
Jyn's gut lurched at the thought. Run, her instincts said, be alone, be safe. Her heart pounded, and if she looked at him she knew she would fall apart. She leaned into the press of his hand against her face for a brief moment, relishing the contact and locking the memory of it away behind the walls around her heart. Then she curled and uncurled her fingers in the fabric of his shirt before stepping away, breaking all points of contact between them. She wrapped her arms around herself and felt the air between them change. "I can't." Her voice was quiet but even despite her turmoil. Cassian's hand dropped to his side. She expected coldness from him, so used was she to pushing people away until they gave up. But there was still warmth to his voice when he spoke.
"If he has to be pushed, let me be the one to do it." He turned, and pressed his hand to the door control. "Let me save you from this, at least."
Warning: this chapter includes scenes of torture (not particularly graphic)
Somewhere, a few hundred levels up from where they were, the sun would soon be rising over the heart of the Empire. It made no difference down here, Cassian mused, when had these people last seen sunlight and breathed fresh air? It was fitting for his mood, which threatened to pull him down into despair if he didn't focus on the task at hand.
Harter stood in the corner, slumped against the wall as much as he dared considering Cassian wouldn't allow him to sit. His legs shook, trying to keep himself upright with just one good knee. His hands were a mess, still cuffed in front of him with broken fingers on his left and missing three finger nails on his right. His nose still bled from the first strike of Cassian's fist. He was pale and shaking, his clothes and hair damp with sweat and tears and blood. His bravado had faded with each new injury, and slowly his loyalty gave way to a desperation to survive, to make the pain stop. Cassian stayed quiet, letting Harter whimper and pant until he heard what he wanted to hear.
"Please... please. Just let me live." Harter's balance wavered and he slumped further down the wall until he was in a heap.
"It doesn't work that way," Cassian remained still, arms crossed and face neutral, his emotions tucked deep under a layer of thick ice forged through years of loss and hurt. "You have to give me what I want."
"I can't," Harter whined, useless hands curled in front of him. "I can't tell you what you want to know."
Cassian stepped closer and the Imperial flinched. "I've told you the options. You can live as a traitor, or die as one. The pain stops when you tell me."
"I don't know which planet it is! They never told me, I don't know anything!"
Cassian pulled a blade from his belt and Harter yelped. He knelt at Harter's side, his breathing calm and even. He tapped the blade against Harter's cheek, before letting its sharp point rest beneath his right eye.
"Lies. You're a high-ranking officer involved in the project, do you expect me to believe you honestly don't know which planet is being targeted?" Cassian pushed the blade lightly, not enough to break the skin but enough for Harter to feel the sharpness of it's edge just under his eyeball.
"I don't know, I swear! I can't give you what you want!"
"You're lying," Cassian pressed a little harder, and a small fleck of blood appeared.
"There's a leak!"
"A security leak, in the department," Harter panted and trembled, his line of sight flickering back and forth between Cassian and the blade held just under his eye. "Not everyone on the project has full clearance. The-the logistics and design? That I know. But early on in the project, suddenly everything changed, and a few people who had been working on it disappeared. There were rumours that it was one of the researchers aides, that he'd been caught downloading files from the server. I heard a few different stories and none of them ended well. He's dead, and so is his commanding officer." Harter swallowed hard, panting for breath as he rushed the words out. Cassian paused, hand still on the knife. Had there been rebel intelligence agents right here on Coruscant? It wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. He wasn't always privy to the movements of other agents, unless a mission required it.
"If you are lying to me-" Cassian wiggled the blade, nicking the skin and Harter cried out.
"I'm not, I swear, I don't know anything more than that! Overnight, everything changed, and clearance became need to know. The location was redacted once it was chosen. But..." he sobbed, and held his shaking hands out almost as if begging, "It's all being unveiled tomorrow night, at an event in the Fallen Memorial Hall. And the project is being launched immediately afterwards. That's all I know, I swear. You have my datapad, don't you? Y-you'll find an invite to the launch on there, I promise."
Cassian considered it a moment. He was skilled enough at reading people to know when they were faking it - Harter was pale and trembling, and every shiver made the knife move just a little, just enough to scratch across his skin again. Every whimper he made was like a needle in Cassian's skull, and he knew he was close to reaching his own limit as his stomach rolled.
"Please," Harter croaked, trembling violently. "Is that enough?"
Without a reply, Cassian pulled the blade away from Harter's face, pocketed it, and left the room, locking the door behind him. Harter would have to be dealt with in the morning, until then he could nurse his wounds and suffer with his own imagination.
Cassian didn't want Jyn to see him like this, with blood on his hands and death on his mind. His self-loathing felt like a layer of grime on his skin. He found an empty room in which to sit in silence and comm Kay. He needed to find out if another agent had been working on Coruscant and if the poor bastard's cover had been blown. He spoke into the comms in codewords that would be nonsense to anyone else who heard them and barely noticed Kay's acknowledgement, before asking him to raid the datapad again for information about the launch. His legs shook and gave way, forcing him to sit on the edge of the bed. There was a cold sweat breaking under his shirt, tingling against the metal in his spine. He felt dizzy and nauseated as he came back to himself, as he became Cassian again, as the things he had just done replayed in his mind. It was harder every time to shake it off. Scarif was meant to have been his atonement - a justification of the bad he had done, or at least a sacrifice to appease his ghosts - and yet here he was, still committing the same atrocities and his soul was as black as ever.
His breath got stuck in his chest, as if he were being crushed by a great weight, and panic crept in as if he were drowning. He didn't even notice Jyn until she was sitting beside him on the edge of the bed, saying his name in a whisper. With great effort Cassian took a few deep breaths to steady himself so that she wouldn't see him in this state. He didn't want to admit how much their earlier conversation had added to his mood, or how it had fuelled the anger he had unleashed on Harter. When this was over, would they see each other again? Yet her presence was calming, and he matched his breathing to hers.
"He doesn't know," Cassian snorted. "After all of that, he doesn't have clearance, because there was a leak in the department. Kay's going to find out from base if there was one of ours here - whoever it was must have been discovered."
"And do you believe him?"
"Yes." He had seen enough interrogations and spilled enough blood to know when someone was telling the truth.
"That's good enough for me," Jyn said and pressed her side against his. The weight of her was grounding, comforting, and more than he deserved. "So what next?"
"The plans are being unveiled tomorrow night, at the Fallen Memorial Hall, and the intel has to be acted on within the day." He raised his hands to rub at his face, but when he remembered the blood he dropped them again and let them lie uselessly in his lap. "If Kay confirms that we don't have anyone still on the inside then I have to go undercover - I have an identity that should work, but it will take some preparation." The thought of wearing Imperial grey and becoming Arlo Willix again made his stomach turn and he took a breath in through his nose to ease the sudden nausea.
Jyn seemed to consider that and her brow creased, and horror filled him as he recognised the look of determination on her face. "I'm going with you. We'll find a way."
"Jyn, no - you're not going undercover with me."
"Cassian, I- " her hands curled and uncurled in her lap, mirroring his own. "I don't know if I can go back to the Alliance, but as long as I'm here I want to see this through to the end. You don't have to do this alone."
Their eyes met. How rare it was for him to look at someone and see kindness. With Jyn, he thought, maybe he wasn't the monster he believed himself to be. I don't want to be alone, he thought, but I don't know if I'm capable of anything else. She reached across and gently placed her hand on his wrist, seemingly uncaring of the blood still drying there. She was closer than before, leaning into him. He looked at her eyes, at her lips, his heart pounding - "Jyn, I-"
"Well?" Asha stood at the door, arms crossed. "Can we get rid of the Imp yet?"
Jyn leaned away from him, and Cassian felt the loss of her closeness. "I think he's told us what he knows," Cassian said, hands folded together. "Do you still have his ID? His belongings?"
Asha raised an eyebrow, looking more playful than angry which was never a good sign. "For those, you pay extra."
Jyn rose to her feet, furious. "Really, Asha?"
"Don't start with me, Aria. I've lost a whole night's business, not to mention having a blaster pointed at me - your boyfriend should know by now that my loyalty has a price."
"It's fine," Cassian stood beside Jyn, placed his hand on her lower back to calm her and noted how she relaxed at his touch. He was exhausted, and lacked the good humour it normally took to barter with Asha when she was feeling mercenary. "Whatever you want, Asha. We have what we need."
"Good. I want him gone in the morning. And it's best if you both go, too." she opened her arms wide in apology. "This is too much attention under my own roof, Aria, I'm sorry. I'll help you both where I can but I have to think about my own safety, and my girls'. Take the old speeder if you need it, you can pay for that too."
Cassian felt the tension creep back into Jyn's spine and saw her shoulders sag as Asha turned and left the room. Another home, lost.
"I'm sorry, Jyn."
She shook her head. "Don't be. She's right, I've put her in enough danger." Her voice was strained, but she turned to him and gave him a sad smile. "How long has it been since you slept?"
Cassian shrugged. "Well, or at all?"
Jyn chuckled and there was fondness in her expression. What did she really see when she looked at him? She wasn't naive or innocent. He knew she hadn't lied when she had said she had seen so much worse. But how could she look at someone who did the things he did and still have hope in her eyes?
"Come on," she said, grabbing his wrist. "We need rest before we even think about doing something as stupid as walking into an Imperial party."
He wanted to argue but he knew she was right. Interrogating Harter had used what little energy had left, and even thinking of all the strings he would have to pull and whispers he would have to send out in order to get Willix - and now, Jyn too - a last-minute invite to this gala had his head spinning. He knew when his body had him beaten, and that his current mental state was not ideal for something that required so much careful planning. So he let Jyn tug him along through the building, up the narrow winding staircases.
She let go of his wrist as they reached a ladder a few floors up, one that seemed to lead right up into the roof. He followed her as she climbed and watched as she hauled herself over the edge and waved her hand in the darkness, triggering a light up above. There wasn't much to the little room - a pile of blankets on a mattress in the middle, a skylight, and what he assumed to be a 'fresher walled off in the corner.
Jyn stood under the skylight. Once, Cassian thought as he pulled himself up into the room, you would have been able to see the sky through the window, but Coruscant had been built so high that all one could see now were artificial neon lights from the surrounding level and above. Jyn deserved the stars, he thought.
“It’s not much, but the ‘fresher works, even if the water's cold,” her hands curled and flexed at her sides,and she nodded towards his bloodied hands. Her nervousness was endearing. “You can stay here if you want.”
Cassian found that he wanted that, very much, and swallowed hard. He watched as she shrugged off her jacket and removed her hidden array of weapons, lining them neatly beside the blankets. He took his time doing the same when Jyn disappeared into the fresher. His hands shook as he checked his blaster before setting it within easy reach. Was he being presumptuous to assume this was where she wanted him? There was nowhere else to sleep in the room, and he hoped she wasn't giving up her own bed just for him. But then she stepped back out into the room with her hair hanging in loose curls around her face, looking even smaller in her socked feet, and he knew he wasn't misreading her invitation.
The trust she was showing him floored him. He still had blood on his hands and clothes from torturing a man, and yet she had treated him with kindness, put away her weapons, and brought him to her private space. She still wanted to be near him, to fall asleep in the same room, the same bed, and that made his head spin. His heart pounded hard in his chest, in his ears, and when he closed his eyes all he could see was Harter's sobbing, twisted face. He heard the crack of bone, the tearing of nails, louder in his memory than they had been in reality. He didn't deserve her kindness.
"Jyn, I - " he reached for his weapons with still shaking hands, and got to his feet. "I should go. I've brought you enough trouble."
"No, Cassian," she reached for him and her hand pulled back at the last second, before she steeled herself and tried again. Her touch on his arm eased his trembling. She seemed to reach deep down inside herself for the right words. "Stay. You're- it feels like you're the only person in the whole galaxy who knows me."
Stars, he knew what that confession must have cost her, because he felt it too. There was no one who had seen the real him since the day he lost his family, until her - until he welcomed her home, until he held her tight as they waited for death. He couldn't bring himself to deny her request when he knew how difficult it was for her to voice what she felt. He nodded mutely because he didn't trust himself to speak, and stepped past her into the fresher. He held his hands under the cold water for as long as he could stand, until the blood was gone - to anyone but him. In the broken and dirty mirror, he saw the face of man older than his actual years - lines around tired eyes and cheekbones prominent from too many missed meals. He wiped at the dust on the mirror and wondered how Jyn could see beyond all of that. When he looked at her, he still saw the beautiful young woman who burned like the sun despite all her losses and her anger. Maybe it wasn't so crazy that she could see the real him, too. He took a deep breath and stepped back out into the room, where Jyn lay beneath the blankets with the lights dimmed. He tugged off his boots and jacket and slipped in beside her, his body aching to rest.
They lay in silence, face to face, her knees knocking against his as she shifted to find the right spot. Her breathing was soft and close, a caress against his cheek. Sleep wouldn’t come, but neither would the words he wanted to say. So he waited for her, afraid that he would shatter the fragile thing between them if he said the wrong thing. It was her that broke the tension between them. Jyn reached out tentatively as if she were going to touch a fire, and let her fingertips slide gently along the line of his jaw as she had done earlier. His eyelids half closed, but still he watched her, what he could make out of her form in the dim light.
"I thought I would never see you again," her voice was barely a whisper, a secret in the dark. “I wanted to be so angry with you. I tried to convince myself that you had known all along what they would do to me.”
“Never, Jyn,” he carefully wrapped his fingers around her hand, holding it in place against his cheek and savouring the touch. Would he have cared about what happened to her in the after, when they had first met, when he had orders to kill her father? He thinks he would have, by the time he found himself staring at Galen through his scope and felt sick to his stomach at the thought of pulling the trigger. He would have told her, on the way to Scarif, or in the elevator, if we make it out of here they will throw you away, let’s run away instead, together. “I never knew.”
There was silence for a long moment, and he realised she was holding her breath when she sighed heavily. “I believe you. It was just easier to hate you than to miss you.”
I missed you too, Jyn, how could I have missed you when I barely knew you? I missed what we could have been, he thinks. Out loud he said, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Jyn said nothing more, made no challenge to that statement no matter how much just gently pulled their joined hands to rest between them without letting go. They both lay awake for a long time, but once her breathing evened out and she slipped into sleep, he followed her, as he always would.
Jyn woke to the low timbre of Cassian's voice and thought she was dreaming – how many times had she dreamt she could hear him? But then he was interrupted by the tinny sound of K-2SO's new voice through the comm that Cassian held, and her eyes shot open as her memory returned in full. She felt more rested than she had in months, if not years. It felt good to not be alone, even if it might not last. She shoved the thoughts of the future away down into the dark cave where they should have stayed in the first place when he had said Welcome Home all those months ago.
"Thanks, Kay. I'll be in touch." Cassian pushed away from where he was leaning against the wall under the skylight and pocketed the comm. She caught the flicker of anger that passed across his face, and his brow was creased. He was less pale than the night before, when she had wanted to put her arms around him and protect him from all the bad in the galaxy. She knew how much it had cost him to let her see him that way, and hoped he understood what it cost her to ask him to stay. An unfamiliar sort of embarrassment made the tips of her ears go hot.
"Bad news?" Jyn asked as she untangled her legs from the blankets. She knelt in the nest and fixed her hair back into place, feeling Cassian's eyes on her as she reworked her braid.
"There was an Intelligence agent here, undercover as an aide to Moff Finus in Research and Military Development," he looked away from her. "Communication went dark a month ago."
"I don't even know who it was. Maybe I never knew him. For us, it means things are going to be even harder. Without someone on the inside, we're definitely going to have to get into this party." His hair was beautifully mussed from sleep and Jyn tried to ignore how much it made her want to touch it. He reached out his hand to help her up and Jyn's heart fluttered. She bit back a grin - unsuccessfully, judging by how Cassian's own mouth turned up in a smile - and took his hand and let him pull her to her feet until she was flush against him. He still held her hand in his, and the flex of his fingers asked a question: is this alright? Jyn squeezed back, overwhelmed by his closeness and warmth. It was unfair how much she wanted him as she looked from his eyes to his lips and back again. Want warred with fear, and she looked away from him as memories of all who had left her before flashed in her mind. Cassian squeezed her hand one last time before letting go, and she missed his touch instantly.
"Tell me more about this alias of yours." She stepped away and holstered her blasters and knives, and shoved her feet into her boots. Focus, she told herself, there's so much more at stake here than your feelings. Haven't you learned yet that what you want for yourself doesn't matter?
"Arlo Willix, secretary and aide in General Marken's financial research department," he grimaced. "I lived as him for six months."
The thought of Cassian living among the Imperials for so long left a sour taste in Jyn's mouth. "How could you stand it?"
Cassian smiled without humour, and Jyn realised that this was just another way in which the war had asked too much of him. "It needed to be done,” he said, as if it were really that simple. “Marken thinks Willix is on secondment to R&D, who think he's on loan to Recruitment, and so on - he still exists, even if no one has actually seen him. He's just buried deep in Imperial bureaucracy and paperwork."
Jyn couldn't help but be impressed with how much work would have gone into building and maintaining an identity like that, even if she was disappointed that the Alliance would ask someone to risk not just their life but their sanity to live among the enemy. “So you can make him appear tonight, no questions asked?”
He hesitated. “It’s not quite so simple. I’m going to meet with someone who can help with a trail to at least have him arriving officially on planet. After that, we just have to hope no one asks too many questions.”
"You don't have to do this, Jyn. Like I said, I don't want you to get hurt."
Jyn prickled at the mixed feelings he generated in her. "I don't need you to save me, Cassian. I can take care of myself." Immediately her anger turned to guilt for seeming ungrateful, making her stomach roll. "Besides, you deserve to have someone watching your back, too."
He smiled, and looked up at her through his lashes which she found terribly endearing. "There's no one else I would rather have."
Jyn's cheeks flushed and felt hot as his eyes met hers. She imagined closing the distance between them again, but then Cassian looked away, shaking his head as if to rid himself of a dream.
"If this is the type of Imperial event I've seen before, then it's not impossible that Willix would be permitted to bring a partner. And I’ll need you to set up some scan docs for us both.”
Jyn crossed her arms. “What makes you think I can do that?”
He smiled shyly. “You were arrested for forging Imperial documents, weren’t you?”
She had forgotten just how much he knew about her before they had even met. “And I got caught.”
“But your work was good, from what I heard. I'm going to have to get started - I have contacts I'll need to meet with and we don't have much time."
"Asha wants Harter gone," Jyn's mood darkened. "If Stack can help me, we can at least get him out of here alive." She would have to say goodbye to the people she knew here. Yet again, she would move on to another life, leaving others with memories of someone wearing the skin of Jyn Erso.
"I'm sorry you have to leave here, Jyn."
She shrugged. "Hardly the first time. I'll find somewhere else." His eyes were on her again, hopeful, and she was terrified. "What else can I do?"
"You'll need something to wear."
"Will your contacts be able to find an Imperial uniform in my size?"
He smirked at her. "I'll be the one in a uniform. You'll be in a dress."
The look on her face must have been comical, because Cassian's cheeks went red as his smirk turned into a full grin. He was lucky to have been so adorable, she thought, because otherwise she would have thrown something at him as he moved towards the ladder.
"You said you could bring a partner - so you get to be an officer, and I'm what? An escort? An Imperial wife?" Jyn hoped she didn't sound accusing, she was just horrified at the idea of dressing up as a genteel, upper class lady and filled with fear at the thought of ruining everything.
"Escort, probably, otherwise you would be on Willix's record. I'm sorry, but it's the only way I can think of right now." His gaze was soft. "Trust me, you'll be fine."
Jyn exhaled heavily as Cassian disappeared down the ladder. At least one of them had faith in her.
Harter was where he had been left the night before. He was slumped in the corner, his broken and bloody hands cradled in his lap and his face a mask of blood and bruises. Her heart ached at the thought of Cassian doing this - someone whose soul seemed to break each time he was asked to draw blood, someone with hands so gentle when they touched her. She saw only a glimmer of disgust on his face as they walked into the room, before his expression turned blank as Harter slowly opened his eyes to look at them.
Harter was where he had been left the night before. He was slumped in the corner, his broken and bloody hands cradled in his lap and his face a mask of blood and bruises. Her heart ached at the thought of Cassian doing this - someone whose soul seemed to break each time he was asked to draw blood, someone with hands so gentle when they touched her. She saw only a brief flash of disgust on his face as they walked into the room, before his expression turned blank as Harter slowly opened his eyes to look at them.
Harter's expression was no longer defiant, or pained, or terrified - it was just blank. His eyes were glassy and ringed by dark circles and dried blood crusted around his nostrils. He looked utterly defeated, and Jyn supposed he had realised that the life he knew was now over completely. He could never go back to the safety of the Empire, not without being seen as a total failure and likely executed for the embarrassment and danger caused.
"Back for more?" Harter croaked. "I still have a few fingers left for you to break, but I don't know what more I can trade for them."
"I doubt you have much more of use to us," Cassian knelt down before the Imperial. "We have your ID, passes, and your datapad - that should be plenty of secrets, yes?"
Harter, with tears in his eyes as he stared at the wall behind Cassian, snorted. "So now you're going to kill me?"
"Is that what you want?" Jyn asked, curious. "Is a life outside of the Empire worse than death?"
"What else is there? Freedom? Security? I had all of that, and if rebel scum like you would stop this war then the entire galaxy would feel that way too."
Jyn felt sick. Sympathy warred with rage within her. She knew they were all human - every time she brought a Stormtrooper down with baton or blaster she knew she was taking a life. But they chose their path. They chose to follow orders. And her father and Bodhi and countless other defectors hadn’t let fear stop them from knowing the difference between right and wrong. "Why not fight for something else?"
"Why would I fight against what's good and right?"
"What about the people on the planet involved in your little plan? The people who are going to be forced from their homes into slavery, their planet raped and ruined?" Jyn clenched her hands tight in fists at her sides, her cheeks hot. "What about people who have lost everything?"
"Sacrifices have to be made for the glory of the Empire," Harter looked between them both as if they were mad for not understanding the premise. "In another generation there will be peace and freedom for all, and those at the bottom will be proud to work for the Empire, like I was. No matter where you leave me, I’ll find my way back to them. They'll kill me, and I'll deserve it, but I'll make sure they burn this place to the ground first."
Cassian dropped his head, and Jyn's stomach twisted, because there would be no turning Harter to their cause. He had betrayed the Empire, and had nothing more left to lose. He would claw his way back from wherever they dumped him on Coruscant, and Asha would be the one at risk because Jyn and Cassian would be long gone by then.
A man with nothing to lose is the most dangerous of all, Saw's voice whispered in her head. She couldn't bear the thought of Cassian taking a life, he had done more than enough. She turned and Cassian followed her from the room, and could see from the seriousness of his expression that he was aware of the change in their options.
"I'll take him, in the speeder, to the ship. It's safer to know where he is, and we might need more from him,” he said.
“If he turns on you-“
“Then I’ll take care of myself. Kay will watch over him until we- until it's time to leave the planet." He reached into the pocket of his jacket. “Here, take my comm, I have another on the ship. I’ll contact you once I have a plan.”
Their hands met, and neither of them pulled away, holding the comm between their tangled fingers.
“I am coming back, I promise," he said, as his thumb softly ran over the back of her hand. "I'll see you tonight."
Jyn nodded, feeling the tightness in her chest ease. He had always come back for her, even here on Coruscant after six months apart. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Find something to wear, and set up some ID. If you need somewhere safe, go to Kay.”
She nodded, and his hand slipped from hers.
Jyn watched from the window as Cassian bundled Harter into the back of the speeder and gripped her kyber crystal in hopes that she wasn't seeing him for the last time. Enough, she thought as the kyber burned in her palm, I can't let what Cassian put himself through last night be for nothing. If I'm walking into an Imperial building, I'm going to be prepared. She climbed back up to her little attic room, and gathered what few things she owned - some spare clothing, small tools and bomb components. Her eyes drifted to the nest of blankets and she thought of how safe she had felt last night, with Cassian so warm and close. Before falling asleep she had fought within herself - she wanted to move closer but was so afraid, not that he wouldn't want it, she was sure that he did, she was afraid of how much she wanted it too.
Downstairs, the parlour was starting to come alive again as Asha's girls arrived for the day shift and customers began to trickle in. Asha herself was in full swing as hostess - her voice was high and steady as she greeted guests and instructed the girls, as if nothing at all had happened. Jyn briefly considered using the distraction to slip into Asha’s own room in hopes of finding something to wear, but given that she was taller and thinner than Jyn it likely would be a waste of time. And she couldn’t bring herself to steal from a friend any more than she could bring herself to ask for another favour. It would be easier to just walk away, to let go of the notion that this was any kind of home. Yet again it was the people she would miss and not the place. With her bag of possessions over her shoulder, she headed for the back door, only to be stopped by the last person she wanted to see.
"Can you really trust this guy?" Stack asked, as he stood by the door. He wasn’t blocking it, but she wouldn't be able to leave without saying goodbye.
Jyn shrugged. "We went through something, together. Something we shouldn't have walked away from."
"And that's enough to make you get involved in all of this?" he gestured down the hall to where Harter had been.
"I was already involved," she stepped past him out into the stuffy air of Coruscant.
"And if you get the name of this planet, then what? You and him going to stop the Empire singlehanded?"
Jyn chewed her lip to hold her tongue. They would need help from the Alliance, she had known that from the beginning - they needed an army, to be able to at least evacuate the planet if not prevent the invasion. Saying it out loud left a bitter taste in her mouth. "We'll get help from the rebels."
Stack snorted. "You've changed your tune. I've never heard you say anything good about them."
"And you won't," Jyn's chest was tight with annoyance, but Stack didn't deserve to have her frustrations taken out on him. "And if they won't help, we'll find another way."
To Jyn's surprise, Stack placed his hands on her shoulders and turned her to face him. "This doesn't have to be your fight, girl."
"Yes it does. It's always been mine. And his. People like us can't do anything but fight."
Stack squeezed her shoulders and exhaled. "You might be right about that."
Jyn couldn't bring herself to look at him, not when she thought her emotions would get the better of her. "The less you know about what's planned the better. And Asha wants me gone, anyway." She stepped away from him, needing space to breathe. "I won't be back here after tonight."
Stack shook his head. "She's just pissed off, you know whose side she's on. Give her time."
"No, she's right. It's time I moved on." People like me weren't made to stay still, she thought, even when all I want is somewhere I belong.
A reply got caught in Jyn's throat. She didn't want to face the Alliance, or even work for them, but would she risk losing Cassian a second time after they defied the odds to find each other again. What did she know about love, anyway? The door of her cave closed again. "I'll...I'll see you around, yeah?"
She didn't look back when she walked away.
Harter behaved himself on the journey to the spaceport - cuffed and bound in the back of the speeder, he didn't have much of a choice. For all his new bravado, he seemed genuinely frightened of what Cassian might do to him if he tried to draw attention or make an escape. Cassian didn't exactly feel proud about it, but he was also glad of it as he dumped the speeder just outside the port. Harter was wrapped in a blanket to hide his cuffs and injured hands, and Cassian walked with a blaster pressed against the Imperial's spine. Cassian's mouth went dry as they passed some 'troopers, and he pressed the blaster a little harder just in case. A fire fight would get them both killed. Cassian breathed slowly and steadily as the approached the ship to keep his heart from pounding. Harter took a good long look at the soldiers, but his lip trembled and he marched on.
As soon as they were up the ramp, the lights came on instantly and Kay began his inevitable lecture.
"It's happened, you've finally gone insane."
"Don't start, Kay," he prodded Harter in the back towards the fresher - a kindness Imperial captors certainly didn't show, but he knew there was nothing in there of any use for injury or escape and it was as good a place as any to leave him for now. "Disable this door. Did you reach Xu?"
"A meeting has been arranged at the usual place, one hour from now. He will expect payment up front. What exactly is the sudden rush about?"
"I need to unfreeze Willix for tonight," he knelt at the smuggling panel where he had hidden Harter's datapad. "Jyn and I are going undercover."
"Jyn?" Kay practically yelled - he couldn't quite modulate the tone or pitch of his voice the way he could in his droid chassis, but he had quickly mastered volume control. "You're taking her undercover?"
Cassian couldn't get a response in before Kay started again.
"She's not a member of rebel intelligence, not to mention the fact that she is extremely reckless and impulsive. Your safety could be compromised by her very presence."
"She was fine at Scarif. She knows what's at stake. We don't have to be there long," he sighed as he started to scour the datapad for anything useful for tonight. Finding what he needed, he rose to his feet again and grabbed a small duffle from the storage locker outside the bunk. He pulled away the compartment at the back of the locker, and there hung a uniform in Imperial grey. Cassian's palms sweated - he hadn't worn one of these since Scarif, where he had felt ill and overheated as he and Jyn and Kay walked through the halls, surrounded, where all it would have taken was once real glance at them and their IDs to ruin everything, and all they had to keep them going was hope - he shook his head and brought himself back to the present. This was different. They had a plan albeit not fully formed just yet, and they didn't even have to steal anything. He didn't know how to tell Kay that he finally felt alive after spending the last six months feeling like he had died on Scarif, and that finding Jyn again was the reason for that. He pulled out the uniform and folded it carefully in half and in half again before placing it in the duffle, ensuring that he should have everything he needed if he couldn't get back to the ship.
The former droid blew out a sigh, which was really just a gust of air through the heating vents. "Don't listen to me then. I'll just wait here, and if you don't come back I'm throwing the Imperial out the airlock on my way back to base."
"Behave yourself, Kay," Cassian stuffed the datapad under his jacket. "If I'm not back, take him to the base so they can process him. If Jyn and I -" he stopped, caught himself, because Jyn didn't want to come with him, and he didn't want to leave her, "The intel will need to be sent ASAP, and you'll need to leave orbit to guarantee security. You might have to leave without me if I can't get back here."
"I do not like that plan, Cassian."
Cassian sighed. He didn't like it either. "I know, Kay. But it's not about what we want." He softly knocked against the bulkhead with his fist, just as he had used to do to the droid's chassis, and stepped out the door. "Be safe, Kay."
He marched off, on a mission to become someone he didn't want to be.
There might be a delay in chapter 8, as I'm out of the country for 2 weeks!
Jyn and Cassian go undercover to find out where the Empire is targeting in their next project.
Better (extremely) late than never!
I was on holidays and then life got in the way, sorry! Also I struggled with the action in this scene but the good thing is I've learned a lot from it (well, that's a win in my book)
We're getting close to the end!
Jyn hadn’t worn a dress since her childhood on Coruscant, and even then she had hated them, preferring the freedom of tunics and leggings that allowed her to run and climb without getting into trouble. Back then fancy dresses had meant boring dinners and parties with Imperials, where the Man in White would pat her too roughly on the head and her mother and father would always fight afterwards when they thought she was sleeping. She had never thought she would wear one again.
She wanted to crawl out of her skin. The hem of the green silken dress brushed the ground, but she couldn't bring herself to wear anything other than simple flat shoes she had stolen. The neckline of the dress was too low for comfort, showing a few pale scars along her collarbone, the rest of her history hidden by sheer sleeves. Her leggings felt bulky underneath the skirt but the fabric was too light, and she had felt naked without them. Besides, she needed somewhere to hide her lock picks, just in case. Her hair hung loose in curls, remnants of her braid, because she didn’t know what else to do with it. The mirror in the fresher of her cheap, by-the-hour room was dirty and cracked, and too high for her to get a good look at her full outfit. She had already spent longer than she cared to standing in front of the mirror trying to make herself look like one of Asha's girls. She smudged kohl around her eyes, more than usual as if it would hide who she really was. With a heavy sigh she accepted that looking less than perfect was probably only adding to her cover. Tonight she was a young escort with a work history that could be traced back to Asha’s parlour, excited about being paid to spend an evening in the company of a handsome officer at a luxurious Imperial event.
The signal scrambler felt heavy and cold against her ribs where it was hidden under the loose bodice. She hoped it would work. The smaller versions were meant for a shorter range but she had made some adjustments so that it would cover the whole of the Memorial Hall once activated - without drawing attention to themselves or destroying the hall, this was their best option for slowing down the launch of the fleet and the beginning of the project. She didn’t want to fail this mission. She had conned people, and pretended to be someone she wasn't, she had walked right into an Imperial stronghold on Scarif. A quick appearance at an Imperial party should have been easy in comparison. At least her forged documents were impeccable.
“Aria,” Cassian’s voice, scratchy and distorted, came through on her comm where it lay on the counter below the mirror. “I’m leaving now. Are you ready?”
Hearing him soothed her nerves. Jyn had hoped they would have been able to reconvene before going to the party but the day had disappeared and there hadn’t been time. Stilted, coded talks on the comms had been all they could manage, and each time they had talked she had to reassure herself that it wouldn't be the last.
“As I’ll ever be,” she grumbled under her breath. “See you there, Lieutenant.”
She didn’t check the mirror again. It was too late to do anything. Cassian - Lieutenant Willix - would be waiting for her at the Imperial lounge near the Memorial Hall, and she refused to let him down.
The Imperial uniform felt like it was made of gravel, scratching against his skin, and it took Cassian a considerable effort to not break out in a cold sweat as he walked into the bar full of officers. I am Arlo Willix, he reminded himself, I belong here. His network of whisperers had told him that this was the most popular spot where all the officers met before an event these days, but Cassian couldn't see the appeal. The lounge was covered floor to ceiling in black and red velvet, and the top of the bar and all the tables were polished, sparkling granite. There was no accounting for the taste of Imperials. He ordered a drink and leaned against the bar, the burning in his spine a tell-tale sign that he had overdid it today - a day of running from one informant to another and of waiting in Xu's cramped office while he created a digital trail of Arlo Willix's recent manoeuvres through various departments of the Imperial war machine. The grouchy Toydarian took his time, insisting that perfection can't be rushed and isn't this why you keep coming back to me, rebel? Cassian hadn’t been able to argue.
The tiredness, the pain, it all melted away when he saw Jyn come through the door.
Her dress was the same green as her eyes, and her loose hair was swept over one shoulder exposing the beautiful pale skin of her neck. She looked around the room for him, her lips turned down in a scowl that was so Jyn and in contrast to her delicate outfit that his heart fluttered at the sight. When her eyes met his her frown faded and he could see her taking a deep breath. A knot in his chest eased. He had been so afraid that she wouldn’t come, that she would run away and disappear into the galaxy rather than risk having anything to do with him or the Alliance.
“Will I pass for an Imperial escort?” she asked as he was pulled into her orbit. She returned his gaze with challenge.
“You’ll be drawing a lot of attention, for someone undercover,” he muttered the words into her ear and felt a thrill when he saw the hairs rise on the back of her neck and her mouth turn up into a smile. “Do you have everything you need?”
Whether she was playing the part or just revealing more of the real Jyn, he didn’t know, but she slid her hand up his chest and around the back of his neck. “You’d be surprised what I have hidden under this dress.”
His cheeks went hot and he smirked. Something bright and sharp grew around his heart. "There are private taxis running from here to the Memorial Hall. Asha's speeder is hidden nearby just in case. They'll check our invites when we arrive," he kept close enough to whisper. “Are you ready?”
She nodded, and slipped her arm through his. “I’m with you. All the way.”
Taking on the Empire didn’t feel so bad all of a sudden.
The security guards on the door of the Memorial Hall were dressed in stiff black uniforms rather than the plastoid of Stormtroopers, but Cassian was certain they were of the same rank as the footsoldiers who were patrolling the perimeter of the building. They carried themselves as if they were still wearing the bulky armour, and their matching close-cut hairstyles stood out from the styles of the officers. As he and Jyn climbed out of the private taxi, he took a moment to look out over the city. Other buildings still towered above him, but he could see a glimpse of the sky and longed to be among the stars with Jyn safe by his side.
He had no reason to feel nervous as they approached the guards. He didn't expect anyone to look too hard at either of them as long as they didn't draw too much attention - his own cover should have been solid enough to keep any immediate focus off of Jyn - but they needed as much luck as they could get. If their subterfuge was uncovered, there would be nowhere to run. Kay had done some digging on the Memorial Hall and it's layout while Cassian had been busy throughout the day, but he still wished they could have been more prepared.
"Name, sir?" the guard asked.
"Lieutenant Arlo Willix." He handed over his invite that had been manipulated and printed from Harter's datapad, and Willix's ID, and kept his voice natural even as he fought against his own accent. He could tame his Festian pronunciation just enough to be acceptable within an organisation that had nothing but disdain for anything beyond the Core Worlds, but had never managed to completely mimic Coruscanti. Willix, therefore, hailed from a small yet loyal planet just beyond the Core. He sighed and feigned impatience as the 'trooper scanned his list again and looked back and forth between it and the ID.
"I'm sorry sir, but your name isn't on the list."
"I'm representing Moff Horen and the Financial Services department," he huffed and let his voice drop to a growl. "Maybe you should contact the Moff directly so that he can explain to you just how busy he is that he had to send me in his place, I'm sure he would be thrilled to be disturbed because of your ineptitude." Moff Horen was famous in Imperial circles for never leaving the comfortable fortress of his own offices where he preferred to bury himself in figures and accounts, keeping a close eye on every credit. Cassian had gambled on his name being on the invite list for an event like this.
The 'trooper swallowed and cleared his throat. "Of course not, sir, it must just be a mistake on our end. And your plus one?"
Jyn pulled her scandocs from the bodice of her dress. They looked flawless as he had expected, and the guard scanned them without issue. She caught Cassian's eye and smiled bright, under the guise of a woman excited about going to a glamorous party, and the guard stepped aside to let them pass. They entered the foyer which led straight into the main hall, where dozens of Imperial officers milled about looking far more pleased with themselves than they had any right to, with wives like polished ornaments on their arms. Some danced in the centre of the hall, others stood in circles around the edges or floated from group to group. Everything was red and black and shined to a high gloss, even the walls seemed to be like polished night sky. Reflections rippled along every surface, distorting Cassian’s vision as he tried to assess the room and reconcile it with his mental map. To their left, large doors led to a room filled with long tables covered in fine red tablecloths. To their right, another room with a plaque that declared it 'The Tarkin Gallery' was sealed off with a red velvet rope. A small band played in the corner of the room, adding to the din of conversation and laughter. Cassian’s every nerve was lit up and he felt hyper aware of every noise and movement and he had to force himself to focus on exit strategies and potential threats. Having Jyn with him made it all seem that little bit easier, as if he could take down the entire system from this room as long as she was by his side. He knew at that moment that his time as an undercover agent was likely over, because he couldn't imagine being able to face this alone.
He realised that Jyn had frozen, and when he followed her gaze she was staring up at an enormous bronze globe suspended from the ceiling over the dance floor. It was a statue of the Death Star, captured in menacing and unforgiving detail. Every view port and weapon and exhaust was carved into the metal, and in it's stillness it was as imposing as the real thing. She looked at him with her eyes wide and her jaw locked. He recognised panic as much as fear and he felt the same terror claw at his insides.
"Hey, it's ok," he whispered. "Be angry later, but we need to focus." With his hand on her back, he felt her exhale shakily and her shoulders loosened. With one last glance at the monument to the project that had taken everything from her, she nodded and slipped her arm into his again. He at least was used to this, to having to walk among these people and have everything he hated and fought against shoved in his face.
"No going back, right?" she muttered as he led her along.
"As long as we keep our heads down, we'll be fine," he leaned in to her as they circled the edge of the room. "Can't be any worse than Scarif, right?"
Jyn glared at him, but it was without heat, and her fingers dug into his bicep. "Let's hope not. So, we wait to find out where their target is, comm Kay, plant the scrambler and then just walk out?”
“That’s the plan,” he scanned the room, careful to keep his features relaxed. He scanned the room again from their new vantage point. He watched the couples dance together – some swaying slowly, laughing and talking, while others performed formal choreography, parting and twirling and coming back together again. “We’re going to be here for a while.”
Jyn looked around the room. “Well, we had best stay out of the way, I don't particularly want to have to make small talk with these people,” she looked up at him, with a smile like starlight as if they were somewhere else instead of surrounded by the enemy. “Dance with me?”
Cassian’s heart skipped a beat in surprise at the unexpected joy that made his cheeks flush hot. He followed her out onto the floor and held her close, his hands on her waist, hers around his neck. They swayed to the music, something slow and soft that repeated itself over and over. He wondered if Jyn had ever danced before, if she had ever wanted to. Around them, glasses clinked, and leather boots creaked and squeaked on the floor. Men and women laughed around them as if they weren’t part of the regime that had destroyed so many lives. Cassian took a deep breath and curled his fingers into the small of Jyn’s back and breathed her in as she rested her head against his chest. He focused all of his senses on her and found that his heart rate slowed and his thoughts stopped racing. They moved together in silence for a long time, the intimacy of their postures a protection from the people around them.
“I don’t know how you could stand being among these people for so long,” Jyn whispered against his neck and he shivered. “I feel sick just being in this room. And when tonight is over they'll go home to their families and sleep happily.”
“I know. It’s always tempting to want to do more – to sabotage, to steal,” he sighed, and pressed his lips to her hair to hide his words, and because he wanted to. “I spent six months living with them. It would have been so easy just to plant a bomb and bring down a building or a Star Destroyer. And I thought about it every day. But I had to think of the long game, no matter what it cost me.”
“You have more self-control than I do,” He felt her chuckle against him, and it sounded dry and humourless. “If Saw could see me now… he would think I was a fool for being so close to them and not even having a blaster. I suppose that’s why I attacked them the way I did.”
“Why attack at all?” he couldn’t help but ask, and she raised her head to look at him. “Why risk getting caught again?”
“Because I don’t know how to do anything else, and… I was so angry. I’ve always been angry, but just before Scarif I thought, this is it, I’ve found where I’m meant to be, and then-” Jyn looked away from him, eyes shining. “I lost that, too.”
“It’s not lost,” he said around the tightness in his throat. “There’s still a home for you.”
“With the Alliance, or with you?”
Cassian was struck in that moment by how much he loved her. He hadn’t given a name to it before - to the physical attraction, the want, the loneliness and the mirror of himself that he saw in her. Losing her six months ago had made him realise that she was the missing piece of himself. She looked up at him with wide eyes, waiting for his response, but all he could do was surge forward and kiss her and hope that she understood what he wanted to say with his actions. He knew he couldn't make her any promises in that moment and would rather have died than lie to her.
She froze for the briefest moment before sighing into him and he could feel her press up on her tiptoes and lean her weight into him. The room around them faded away and he knew it was foolish to get so distracted when they were right in the middle of an Imperial party but he had dreamed of this moment for so many months, and he knew this first kiss might be the last. He wanted to be her home. Time stopped as he held her, as her mouth opened beneath his. It took every ounce of his self-restraint to not pull her even closer, or to grab her and run out of there and away from all of this.
The music faded, and the guests applauded. A bell rang out, and a voice announced over the PA that the presentation was about to begin. Jyn lowered back down from her tip toes, and Cassian kept his hold on her. Her eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed pink and her lips red from kissing. The crowds around them began to move from the dancefloor towards the Tarkin Gallery. Cassian didn’t know where to begin with what he wanted to say to her, but she smiled softly as she returned his gaze. Hope fluttered in his heart for the first time in a long time. She whispered his name, and then -
“Willix!” A heavy hand clapped hard on his shoulder and he pulled away from Jyn, heart pounding and hand going for the blaster that wasn't there. A red, round face beamed at him and Cassian searched his memory for a name to go with the man. He was tall but wide, his bald head pink and shining under the lights.
“General Lynar, it's a pleasure to see you again.” It was anything but. Willix had worked with Lynar and endured the general's unique views on the recruitment of soldiers within the Imperial Navy - 'cannon fodder' had been one of the more favourable terms he used for them.
“You up and left Recruitment rather suddenly, Willix. One day your work order was changed and off you went without a trace,” the general patted hard on Cassian's shoulder again before leaning in to whisper conspiratorially. "We were taking bets on whether or not you had been executed for treason."
“Nothing quite so dramatic, sir. Who am I to argue with an order? I'm aide to Moff Horen now, in Finance."
"And no matter where you go you can't escape these bloody things, eh? They're making even more of a show of it than usual, must be desperate to get morale..." Lynar's voice faded, and he was no longer looking at Willix, but rather he stared at Jyn who had blanched. Her eyes were wide, and her body had tensed
“And who is your lovely friend?” Lynar stepped towards her, hand outstretched in greeting and smile slowly fading as his brow creased.
“This is Aria,” Cassian placed his arm protectively around her, resting his hand on Jyn's shoulder and pressing his thumb into her muscle to ease whatever had forced this sudden panic into her expression. He saw her throat move as she swallowed and met Lynar's hand with her own. "A local girl, she's my guest for the evening."
“Really? You’re very familiar. I feel like I’ve met you somewhere else.”
"I've been on Coruscant all my life, sir," her voice didn't waver even as the general kissed her knuckles. "But this isn't my first Imperial party. Perhaps we've met at another event."
Lynar eyed her, his mouth now a thin line. Cassian's instincts told him that this was it, it was over, something had gone terribly wrong and he wasn't sure what. But then the General blinked and shook his head. "Hmm. That must be it," he looked over at a woman who called his name - his wife presumably, "Excuse me." He nodded his head at Willix, and then gave Jyn another long look, before turning away.
As soon as the general's back was turned Jyn grabbed Cassian’s hand and pulled him along to the other side of the crowd. She slipped her arms up around his neck, once again creating the bubble of intimacy that was supposed to discourage interruptions.
“When I was arrested,” she whispered, and he leaned down close to her, “the assault that got me sent to Wobani?”
Cassian’s insides turned to ice. “Him?”
She nodded. “Broke his nose. He saw me, too, got a good look at me when I was in binders, even made a few unpleasant comments.”
He exhaled. “He hasn’t placed you, not yet. All the more reason for us to be quick.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come.”
Cassian shook his head. There was no way she could have known, and he wanted to tell her as much, but before he could respond they were being ushered along into the gallery.
The guests gasped and exclaimed among themselves as they took in the sights of the presentation. The room was the same glossy black and red as the reception room, but more darkly lit to allow a number of holograms to be visible above plinths spread throughout the space. Paintings of fallen heroes - men responsible for the slaughtering of innocents and the enslavement of worlds - lined the walls. With Jyn’s hand in his, Cassian followed the flow of the crowd as they took in each of the holographic displays.
The first of the displays showed a rendering of the factory and research facilities that would be built once the planet was ready. Cassian felt sick. It was more like a small city than a simple manufacturing installation. How many people would be displaced or enslaved, how much land destroyed to build it? Facts and figures scrolled around the images on repeat, explaining the current Imperial expenditure on weapons and ship-building and the percentage owned by other parties. The uncomfortable truth for the Empire was that arms dealers worked for the highest bidders and not necessarily for any political ideals. The war could be won by whoever amassed the most funding and resources. There was no risk at all of the Alliance coming close to the Empire's wealth, and this new facility would widen that gap further. He and Jyn wandered together, following the flow of the guests, and he committed as much of the intel as he could to memory to fill in any gaps on the project from Harter's datapad. He listened as officers gave their opinions on what would work and what wouldn't, how this was going to erase the shadow of the Death Star, how this was the future and it should have happened much sooner.
Jyn tugged on his hand, and he followed her to the final display. It was a star chart. The planets glowed above them in three dimensions, labelled in Aurebesh. In the centre of it all, their target pulsed in blue light. Aquis II, the small moon of an inhospitable planet. Not far above Aquis II lay Fest. Cassian knew the system immediately, the constellations were carved on his heart, and wanted he to scream at them, no, not again, not another invasion. He swallowed it down, felt the nausea turn into steel resolve to stop this from happening. He felt eyes on him and looked around the room. Lynar was looking in their direction, so Cassian gave him a casual nod and the general looked away. This needed to be over soon, before Lynar remembered Jyn. Before he could speak to her, a voice cut in from the centre of the room and all the guests turned their attention there. Admiral Nelis introduced himself as the innovator of this project, and gave a small bow as the guests applauded politely.
"Esteemed guests, it is my honour to inform you that tonight, with you all as witness, I will give the order to launch the fleet that will begin securing the planet. Please - allow the servers to freshen your glasses, and at 2100 the next era in naval armoury and research shall be born!"
"Let's get out of here," Jyn whispered as the speaker droned on about the background of the project. "We have what we need."
Cassian swallowed past the dryness in his throat, and nodded. 2100 gave them less than ten minutes to message Kay and then scramble the comms. A door behind them opened, and servers dressed in black came out carrying trays of champagne. With the attention of the crowd elsewhere, he and Jyn slipped through the door hand in hand, and if anyone saw Cassian hoped that they looked like two lovers sneaking off for some privacy.
They passed the kitchen on the left, and the corridor stretched on ahead, coloured in the same black and red glossiness with only dim spotlights on the ceiling above. There was a door at the opposite end of the corridor marked 'Storage'. There was nowhere to hide the scrambler in the corridor itself. Cassian ran through possible scenarios and their outcomes in his head. A dead end wasn't ideal. The nearest exit would probably be through the kitchen but being trapped at the end of a narrow corridor would make getting there nearly impossible if anything went wrong. They would have to be quick.
Jyn, reading his mind in that strange way of hers, tried the door to the storage closet. The access panel buzzed and flashed red, and she puffed out her cheeks in frustration. "Give me a minute."
Cassian uncovered the comm under his sleeve as Jyn began to fiddle with the panel. Before he could speak, the door behind them opened and the corridor briefly filled with the hum of noise from the gallery as the servers returned with empty trays. Jyn pulled Cassian against her and he leaned one hand against the wall and buried his face in her neck to complete the illusion.
"Kay?" he muttered into his wrist where his hand tangled in the softness of Jyn's hair. Behind them, the corridor returned to silence and the kitchen door slid shut. Jyn pulled up the hem of her dress and plucked a long, thin silver lock pick from the waistband of her leggings. Cassian pushed away from the wall as Jyn turned back to the access panel.
The former droid's voice crackled through bad reception. "There you are. I thought maybe your partner had gotten you killed."
Jyn rolled her eyes, but didn't stop in her work.
"Kay, the target is Aquiis II, copy?"
"Affirmative. I will temporarily leave orbit in order to transmit the message securely."
“Good. This building is going silent. Then meet us at the rendezvous point.”
Cassian shut off the comm just as the door to the storage closet whooshed open. It was full of overflow of equipment from the kitchen - pans and boxes and tablecloths folded neatly, all stacked on shelves that covered all of the walls. There was barely enough room for them both in the small closet. Jyn reached down into her bodice and pulled out the signal jammer. She used the lockpick to press into a tiny hole on it's side, and it came to life with a beep.
"Now we just have to hope they don't find it too soon," she said, turning to Cassian as she raised on her tiptoes to place it on the top shelf.
"Wait," he took the scrambler from her and simply stretched his arm up to the top of the shelf, prompting Jyn to roll her eyes as he tucked it as far back as he could reach.
"Let's hope that whoever searches here is my height," she smiled playfully. He wanted to see that expression on her face every day for as long as he lived.
He shrugged. "We might be so lucky," They were pressed so close in the small room that he almost forgot where they were. He wanted to lean into her and kiss her again. But her eyes widened as they heard the door to the corridor open and footsteps approached. She threw her arms around his neck and pulled him down to her, her lips bruising against his. It was nothing like the sweetness of before, but he hoped that was because their first kiss had been for real and not for show. He pressed her up against the shelves, hands gripping her hips. The footsteps didn't stop at the kitchen but rather grew closer and closer.
"Willix," a voice growled from behind, "Step away, now."
Cassian turned his head to see Lynar aiming a blaster at them from the doorway. Kriff, he thought, at least he wasn't confronting them out in the open, or with backup. He snapped to attention while trying to shield Jyn.
"General, we got carried away - we didn't mean any disrespect to the event."
"Shut up! You-" he waved the blaster at Jyn - "I know you, I knew I had seen you before and I remember who you are!"
"Sir, there must be some mistake," Cassian stepped into the line of fire. "Her background checked out."
"She's a criminal! I don't know how she got here but last time I saw her she was being dragged off to Wobani. It's lucky I recognised her or stars only knows what she would have done!"
Cassian turned to look at Jyn and hoped that she could read him. "Is this true?" He backed away from her, acting as if she were a wild animal ready to pounce.
"Of course not, darling, he has me confused with someone else. I've never been arrested." Jyn maintained a small smile that was more like a feral lothcat than the bright sweetness of her regular smile, and shrugged her shoulders. "I have my scandocs here, if you would like to see them?" She motioned to reach into her bodice.
"Don't move," the general waved the blaster at Jyn and she froze. "You’re lucky I came along, Willix.”
Cassian stepped beside the general, behind the aim of his blaster. “Is she dangerous?”
The general growled. “As violent as they come, the filthy little rebel.” With his other hand he patted Cassian on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Willix. You're not the first to be fooled by a pretty face. I'll put in a good word for you and you'll get off with a warning. In the meantime I'm going to get security to come and put this one back in binders where she belongs."
Jyn gave up the pretense to play along. “Scared I’ll break your nose again?”
“A big mouth, for a little girl. You’ll not be so brave once you're on your way to Wobani. Hallick, wasn't it?”
Jyn scowled. The use of the name seemed to irk her more than anything else.
Lynar used his free hand to press the comm on his collar, and his round red face screwed up in discomfort when the only response was high-pitched feedback. "What the-"
Cassian took advantage of the confusion to hit a heavy blow to the soft inside of the general's elbow on his outstretched arm, causing the blaster to fall to the ground. Jyn lunged and grabbed it, as Cassian wrapped his arms around the general's neck from behind and covered his mouth to muffle any noise. As Lynar fell to his knees, Jyn aimed the blaster at his head. "One word, and I shoot." she growled. Lynar made a choked noise through what little breathing space he had, his face redder than ever. "Alive or dead?"
Cassian met her gaze. They could kill him, either with the blaster or quietly. But Lynar made the decision for them by passing out with a choked off sigh before slumping heavily, dead weight in Cassian's arms.
"Lucky for him," Jyn muttered. She looked at Cassian, then at the floor. "I'm sorry for this."
"Don't be," he said as he shoved the heavy general further into the storage closet. "At least he was foolish enough to try and corner you without 'troopers."
Jyn grunted as she helped pull the man's legs further into the room. "Typical Imperial brute, thinks he's too good for backup. Probably thought there'd be a reward in it for him and didn't want to share." Together they knelt and raided his pockets for anything useful - ID, passkeys, and Jyn pocketed his comms. "Nice work, by the way." Her cheeks turned red when Cassian met her gaze, and he thought from the hot flush that ran through him that his were probably glowing too. They rose, and Cassian slipped the general's blaster under his jacket.
"Let's get out of here," Jyn said, reaching up to straighten his collar. "I've had enough fun for one evening."
She reset the access panel as they left, leaving General Lynar unconscious and locked in the dark.
They kept their pace slow and casual as they made their way back through the gallery. Cassian caught a knowing look from a fellow officer, one that said 'I see you sneaking back into the room with glowing cheeks and messy hair', and in response he pulled Jyn a little closer, and raised her hand to kiss her knuckles as they walked. Admiral Nelis still stood in the centre of the room among a circle of guests, and called out that the countdown was almost complete. Together everyone in the room started to count down from ten out loud, but Cassian and Jyn didn't stick around to see what happened. Time had been bought, that was all that mattered for now. They walked out through the foyer, past the monument of the Death Star, and walked out into the night.
Together they slipped into a car that would take them back to the bar. Hand in hand in the backseat, they smiled at each other.
The private car dropped them back to the Imperial lounge, and from there they walked the few blocks along the streets, arm in arm and smiling in case anyone was paying them attention. Only when they were out of sight of the lounge did Jyn feel her shoulders relax, but her training told her not to let her guard down completely just yet. Cassian's warmth next to her was a pleasant distraction, though not one she could afford as she listened for the heavy footsteps of Stormtroopers behind them or the blare of an alarm. Among the crowds outside the high-end bars and restaurants it would be easy for them to be followed, and she caught Cassian's casual glances around them as his sharp eyes took everything in.
They turned a corner towards a block of luxurious apartments, and Cassian tugged on her arm and steered them into the darkness of the alleyways used mostly by the service staff so that their scruffiness and lack of power could not be seen by the inhabitants. Hidden in the shadows close to the dumpsters was Asha's beaten up old speeder. Cassian stripped off his grey jacket and untucked his shirt. He looked himself again, rogueish and scruffy and handsome. He ran his hands over his face and through his hair before his eyes finally met hers again. Jyn shivered in the cool night air and wrapped her arms around herself, the sheer fabric of her sleeves and low-cut of her neckline unable to give her much protection. Something heavy hung in the air between them - unsaid words and the weight of hidden feelings.
He had kissed her, and she had let him because she had wanted it so badly. For the briefest moment on that dancefloor surrounded by Imperials, she had been able to pretend she was somewhere else with him. Her heart had pounded so hard in her chest and throat that she had been sure he could have felt it against his hands and mouth. She had been kissed before but never like that, never like she was more than just a warm body. All the kisses she knew had been about taking from her, not giving. She could still feel the sting of his stubble on her cheeks and neck from when she had pulled him against her in the storage room. The adrenaline of the mission began to fade as they stood in silence beside the speeder. They were high up, many levels above where she had spent the last few months hiding in the dark. The stars were visible above them, and as they sparkled and tempted her with freedom, her mind was made up.
"Where do you want to go?" his voice was low, a whisper between the two of them even though no one was near to hear them.
Jyn pushed the words through her tight throat. She had never been good at asking for something she wanted, because she had lost everything that had ever mattered. What she wanted had never been the galaxy's priority. "I'm coming with you."
Cassian's eyes widened, and when he smiled it was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen - a shooting star on Lahmu on a cold winter night, something that made her stomach flip and her heart flutter. It faded too quickly. He was smart enough to realise that leaving Coruscant with him wasn’t the same as offering to stay with him, even if it was what her foolish heart wanted.
"Are you sure?"
"There's nothing here for me anymore. And when Lynar wakes up I'll guess that a warrant is going out for Lianna Hallick." She took a deep breath and swallowed hard. "I want... I deserve to know what happened on Yavin. Every time I try to run away from my past it comes back. I don't want to run anymore."
His smile flashed again briefly, before his comm buzzed and crackled with K-2S0's voice.
"Message delivered. Approaching rendezvous."
"Copy that, Kay, we'll be there," he turned his gaze on her again. "Do you have anything you need to pick up?"
Jyn shook her head. The clothes and weapons she hadn’t been able to take to the party were hidden outside the room she had rented earlier, but there was nothing that couldn't be replaced. Her mother's crystal was tucked away under her dress, and that had been her only constant since she was eight years old. "No, I have everything I need here."
With a guarded smile and a nod Cassian reached into the back of the speeder and pulled out the battered leather jacket he had been wearing when they had first ran into each other here on Coruscant. Smiling and grateful, she took it from him and slipped it on, her heart bursting at the warmth and heaviness of it around her. Together they climbed into the speeder and left the Imperials far behind them as they went to meet K-2S0 at the rendezvous point.
By the time they reached the port where Kay was waiting for them, Jyn was itching to leave the planet. As time ticked on she knew there was a greater chance of the Imperials not only coming after her and Cassian, but also beginning their plan to invade Aquiis II. An hour had passed and she hoped that was enough time for the Alliance to get a head start.
K-2S0's voice greeted them as they entered the small ship. "Imperial security communications are increasing. Warrants have been released for Willix and Liana Hallick, and it’s only a matter of time before they shut down traffic. I suggest haste."
"Yes, Kay, we're leaving right now," Cassian sealed the bay door behind them. He nodded towards the fresher. “Harter?”
“He has been quiet. When he would not stop shouting, I threatened him with the airlock. He settled down quickly after that.”
Jyn’s hands fumbled with the safety belt as she tried to strap herself into the co-pilot’s seat, the too-long sleeves of Cassian’s jacket and the floating fabric of her skirt getting in her way. She longed to be rid of the dress.
"Has there been any response from Command?" Cassian asked as he strapped himself into the pilot’s seat.
"They are commencing evacuation of the planet," the ship rumbled around them as Kay fired up the engines.
"Evacuation? So they're losing their home anyway?" Jyn’s heart sank, before her disappointment ignited into rage. Visions of the council room on Yavin IV flashed into her mind.
She looked to Cassian, who sighed and shook his head as he flicked switches on the console from the pilot's seat.
"A lot of powerful allies were lost when the war became official."
"A lot of cowards ran away, you mean?"
"Something like that," He looked towards her, and as the ship lifted into the air he reached out to press his hand over hers. "It's better than nothing. They’ll survive because of you, Jyn."
Jyn's anger faded beneath his gaze and his grounding touch. "You're right. They'll get out of there alive and free, at least."
"Between Harter and the datapad and what we picked up at the party, there’ll be enough to come up with some sort of plan for the future.”
If they act on any of it, Jyn thought. Scarif was still a bitter taste on her tongue, and she wondered if the council members who refused to act were as haunted by the ghosts of those who died there as she was.
"Are you ready to leave here?" Cassian asked her, voice soft, as the ship tilted upward.
"More than you know," she couldn't help how her lips curved up at the edges, even as her stomach fluttered with uncertainty. She would face Alliance Command and play her part in saving Aquiis II, and she would find out who had banished her from Yavin IV. And then... she didn’t know what was next. Jyn closed her eyes and savoured the familiar rush of adrenaline as they shot towards the stars, leaving Coruscant behind them.
Safe out of orbit, Kay made the jump to lightspeed as soon as it was possible. Jyn knew that her face would be plastered all over Coruscant and through the entire Imperial network. She was sure that the Imperials would be confused - after all, they hadn’t stolen anything, or caused any damage (other than to General Lynar).
“I’m sorry that Willix was burned,” she said to Cassian, breaking the uncomfortable silence that had fallen between them.
He waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t be. I’m happy to never have to be him again.”
“Doesn’t the Rebellion need undercover agents like him?”
“They do, but... You need to be detached, to go into deep cover. To have nothing waiting for you on the other side, nothing to lose. I don’t feel like that anymore.”
He didn’t look at her as he said it, but Jyn could see the pink flush to his cheeks and her breath caught.
Before she could think of a response, there was shouting from behind them. Harter was yelling for attention, demanding to be let out of the fresher. “Our guest is getting restless,” Cassian unbuckled himself and rose, turning to open a concealed cabinet from which he pulled two blasters. He tossed one to Jyn. The weight and familiarity of it felt good after being so naked and unarmed at the party. She undid her belt and followed Cassian towards the ‘fresher. He nodded for her to take the lead, as he stood point just at her shoulder.
“Kay, open the door,” she asked, blaster pointed ahead. The door slid open. Harter was kneeling on the floor, his face clean of blood and his cuts and bruises bright against his pale skin. His shirt was soaked, the blood now a pale pink.
“It’s about time,” Harter mumbled, his voice dry.
“Get up,” Jyn ordered. She was in no mood for dealing with another Imperial. “Where else can he go?”
“The galley,” Cassian replied. “You heard her - on your feet.”
Harter rose, his legs trembling, but to his credit his face never betrayed him as he wobbled. He pushed back his shoulders and stretched his neck. Jyn trailed her blaster on him as she stepped out of his way. Cassian had her back, she knew, and nothing Harter could do would shake her courage. The Imperial stiffly made his way to the galley, where Jyn instructed him to sit on the cold, metal floor. With Cassian aiming this blaster behind them, Harter’s cuffs were undone just long enough to wrap his arms around the base of the table which was welded to the the floor.
Cassian reached into the cupboard and pulled out a small ration pack which he tossed in the direction of the Major. It landed in Harter’s lap. Such a small act of kindness for someone who wouldn’t show the same, Jyn thought, said so much about Cassian. Harter looked confused.
“No more noise,” Cassian said as he dimmed the lights in the galley. “You’re going to be here for a while.”
“And Kay wasn’t kidding about the airlock,” Jyn added before they left the room.
Cassian stopped in front of her, and opened the door to his bunk. The room was barely the size of a cupboard with only a narrow bed and nightstand. He knelt down and pulled out a spare shirt from a bag under the bed. He rose and shrugged as he handed it to her. “I don’t have much in the way of spare clothes with me,” he said, “but I know you probably don’t want to land anywhere in that dress.”
Jyn grinned, and took the shirt gratefully. “It’s perfect, thank you.”
She stepped into the fresher to peel off the dress. It felt like shedding a skin that didn’t belong to her, leaving her in leggings and underwear. The heavy kohl around her eyes washed away as she stood beneath the sonic, and she combed her fingers through her tangled hair and wished she could pin it out of the way. She tied the cord of her necklace around her neck where it belonged and savoured it’s familiar weight and warmth against her chest. She pulled on Cassian’s shirt which hung down past her hips, and when she came back into the cockpit she caught his mouth hanging open as he looked at her for the briefest moment. She took the seat across from him, and he smiled at her. His eyes crinkled, a dimple appeared, and she couldn’t help but smile back at him. She could get addicted to how he made her stomach flip.
"It's late," he said, turning away from her, his hands flexing and closing nervously around the arms of the chair. "You can take the bunk, if you want to sleep. I can stay out here."
Jyn rolled her eyes. She remembered the fragile state he had been in after Scarif. "I'm not kicking you out of your own bed, Cassian. Besides, how is your back these days?"
He smiled and shook his head at her concern. "I have more metal parts than I'd like, but I'll survive a night in the pilot's chair."
"As much as I am loathe to admit it, Jyn Erso is correct to question your health, Cassian." Kay's voice joined the conversation. "You sleep poorly as it is, which worsens both your pain and your mental state, both have which have been the worst they have ever been since -"
"Enough, Kay." Cassian's ears burned red and he rubbed at his tired eyes. Jyn chuckled, but what Kay said concerned her.
"You're outnumbered, Captain," she teased. "Get some rest. Kay will keep me out of trouble."
Cassian relented. He looked exhausted, and the opportunity to lie flat must have been too tempting. He raised his hands in defeat, and gave her a half-hearted glare as he rose.
“Jyn," Kay spoke when Cassian had gone. "Cassian would not appreciate me telling you this-"
"And that's not going to stop you, right?"
"Of course not. I have monitored changes in Cassian's well-being since Scarif. He has been more... resigned. Almost droid-like. He has nightmares, even more so than before.”
Jyn sighed, and scrubbed at her face. “He deserves so much better, Kay.”
“Prior to departing for Scarif, right before I made my back-ups, he requested that I take care of you. To prioritise your well-being above that of the mission if he were no longer able to. As I have no memory of what happened on Scarif, I can only assume that I fulfilled that request right up until my termination. Correct?”
“Yes, Kay. You did, very much so.”
“For Cassian to have valued your well-being above the mission means that he must have seen something of higher value in your survival.”
Jyn couldn't find her voice and discomfort clawed at her chest. She wasn't valuable, not to anyone, she couldn't bring anything but pain. Kay continued regardless.
"I therefore believe your presence will be beneficial to his well-being. I request that you stay permanently."
"It's not that simple, Kay."
"Why? I was under the impression that humans preferred company. You form romantic bonds. You live in groups. You procreate. If you clearly benefit each other simply by co-existing, why would you not make every effort to do so? Why would you choose to live apart when it causes anguish? But what do I know. I'm just a ship." The lights in the cockpit dimmed, leaving only the illumination of hyperspace. “You should sleep.”
Jyn sat in silence for some time after, with her feet on the console and Kay’s words echoing in her head. Ahead, space stretched into bright blue lines as they jumped lightyears across the galaxy. Kay made it sound so easy, as if fear and hurt and abandonment didn’t taint her every good memory. She took every option and analysed it as if it were a battle strategy, weighing up the benefits versus the likelihood of further heartache. The hypnotic stretch of stars and the white noise of the ship lulled her into sleep in the co-pilot’s chair.
She dreamed. She dreamed of Wobani, except instead of a murderous cellmate she woke up alone on the hard cot with the pipe above her leaking cold water in fat drops onto her forehead. Ice filled her veins and she jumped up from the cot to look out through the bars, but instead of the vast prison she saw nothingness, just a black, empty, silent void. Her thunderous heartbeat was the only noise in the silence, even as she banged her fist against the bars there was nothing, and she opened her mouth to shout, to scream, but couldn’t hear the noise even as her throat turned raw. Panicked, she turned back around and saw that the room was no longer a cell, but the shuttle that had taken her away from Yavin IV. Outside the view screen ahead was the same empty blackness she had seen through the bars - no stars, no planets, just nothingness. Cold sweat broke out on her back and forehead, and she banged on the walls, screaming silently with tears running down her face. She woke up to the sound of her own panting breath, shivering as the cold recycled air of the ship met the sweat that covered her. She had felt so alone in the dream, like the last living soul in the universe. Her stomach rolled with nausea as the feelings lingered. It had been the cave all over again. She bit back a sob and squeezed her eyes shut to calm her breath.
She moved towards Cassian’s bunk and didn’t stop to think about what she was doing, just keyed open the door and slipped into the darkness. He shot straight up in bed, with a blaster in his hand, his outline barely visible from the light outside in the hallway.
“Jyn?” He lowered the blaster, and rubbed at his eyes with his other hand. “Are you alright?”
“Couldn’t sleep,” she lied. Fear gripped her briefly and she found herself frozen in the doorway. But Jyn Erso had always been one for taking a deep breath and charging on ahead, so she slipped into the tiny room, her knees instantly connecting with the edge of the bed, and kicked off her shoes as she climbed into Cassian’s lap. She felt his breath catch, felt him twist to put the blaster on the bedside shelf, before his trembling hands came to rest on her arms.
“Jyn, what is it?” His voice was scratchy from sleep and laced with worry.
Jyn felt for his face in the dark, and cradled his jaw in her hands, running her thumbs over the sharp stubble there before pressing her lips softly to his. His body was tight with tension beneath her and she was shivering with nerves.
“I want my home back,” she whispered against his lips. “I want you.”
She heard him swallow, and his hands soothed up her arms and gently held her face before he pulled her towards him. Her trembling calmed at the feel of his forehead pressed against hers, at the sound of their breathing in time with each other.
His silence was too much for her. “I don’t know if I can stay with the Alliance, I don’t know if I can trust them-”
“Then we’ll leave together,” he said, before pressing his lips to hers again. “If they make me choose, I won’t even hesitate.”
Her heart burst with joy and panic, and she kissed him deeply. The cave, Wobani, the shuttle - in her head she saw them all with open doors bathing them with light and air. As she let herself be pulled down onto the bunk in Cassian’s embrace, Jyn knew that her days of darkness and rage were over.
Jyn woke all at once, suddenly aware of the unfamiliar circumstances of her night's sleep. Cassian, she reminded herself to calm her natural defensive instincts, you're with Cassian and you're safe and it's ok to let your guard down. He was spooning her from behind, solid, holding her in place on the narrow bed. His thumb drew soft, ticklish circles on her belly where her shirt had ridden up. His breath was warm on the back of her neck. This kind of softness was so foreign to her as an adult, and she had only briefly experienced it as a child. Nerves and exhaustion had prevented them from anything more than gentle kisses and whispered confessions until they had fallen asleep together.
She rolled to her back to look at him, her movements ungraceful in the narrow space. The cabin was dimly lit with yellow automatic lighting indicating the end of the sleep cycle, a design of some ships to ensure their passengers didn't lose all sense of time. It wiped out every line on Cassian's face and made his brown eyes look black as he stared at her. Her cheeks grew hot in embarrassment and she felt ridiculous because of it. After everything she had been through, waking up next to him with the memory of baring her heart felt like the most daunting thing she had ever done. From the slightly sheepish smile he gave her, she realised Cassian probably felt the same.
“You ok?” He asked in a soft voice, one that she doubted he had used much in his life. She nodded. It struck her both how little they knew each other and how little that mattered. They had seen each other at their worst, which bred a special sort of intimacy especially in war. She was sure that he was made to fill the parts of her that were missing and to smooth her broken edges, and just maybe he was the reward for the life she had lived and the losses she had endured. She hoped, as she looked at his sweet face, that she could be the same for him.
“This is new, for me,” she breathed quietly in the small space between them. “I don’t know how to -I don’t know what to do.”
“Me neither,” he sighed and one side of his mouth lifted in a smile that made him look boyish. “We’ll figure it out together. We’re a good team.”
Jyn felt her worry ease and she couldn’t help but mimic his expression, and reached out to trace his lips with her fingertips before leaning in closer to him. “Yeah, we are.”
She wanted to kiss him, and so she did. It started out as a soft press of lips, much like the other kisses they had shared over the past day as they tested the waters. Something in Jyn's belly began to burn as a fuse was lit. She rolled to her side, pressed front to front with Cassian and his warmth made her tremble. Their legs tangled and Jyn's heart jackhammered with a war of nerves and want. She opened her mouth beneath his and gasped at the electric shock that ran down her spine right to her toes as his tongue touched hers. He clutched her tighter in response and the entire galaxy narrowed down to the sensation of her blood running hot in her veins - until Kay's voice echoed from above them.
"Excuse me for overriding your privacy protocol, Cassian, but we are dropping out of hyperspace."
They parted, breathing heavily. Jyn felt hot all over and she could feel Cassian's heart pounding beneath her hands. He swallowed hard before answering.
"Thanks, Kay," he took a moment where he looked into Jyn's eyes as if trying to read her mind and brushed her hair back from her face. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
"I should be asking you that - I don't want you to have to choose between me and them."
He smiled, but there was a sadness to it. "I know what I want. And besides, we don't need them to fight the Empire - look what we've done so far without them, Jyn."
She nodded, and pressed her lips to his one more time.
Jyn stepped out of the docking bay and onto Home One. Her nerves tingled in anticipation, as if she were about to walk into battle. The massive ship seemed too new and shiny for the Alliance, and she wondered who their generous benefactor had been. Where the temple on Yavin IV had all been dark and damp, everything on Home One was white and clean and bright. Uniformed soldiers and techs moved through the hallways and gathered in groups in rooms. She felt as if all eyes were on her. It was a ridiculous thought, she told herself. No one who had gotten a good look at her on Yavin IV was still alive. She wished she had her own clothes, but all she had was her leggings and flimsy flat shoes, and Cassian's shirt. He had at least found a holster for her thigh, and it was the only thing that stopped her feeling naked. It was more likely that they were looking at Cassian, the rarely-seen spy, or at Harter, the Imperial in a bloody shirt.
As he prodded Harter ahead of them, Cassian turned and looked at her. He didn't smile or reach out his hand, but instead said everything with his eyes, with a look that reminded her of every promise he had made when they had been alone in his cabin. As guards took Harter from their care, Jyn squared her shoulders and walked forward to match Cassian's stride. She refused to show weakness here, but her guts felt like a nest of baby sarlaacs. They came to a stop at the entrance to a corridor that was guarded by two officers. Cassian gave his name and rank, introduced Jyn, and waited as one of the guards muttered into his comms followed by a scratchy response that made Cassian tense.
“Just you, Captain. General Draven’s orders.”
"Wait here," Cassian took her hand and squeezed. “I have to give my report first. Draven won’t allow you in the room until that’s done.”
Jyn snorted. “He’s paranoid, then?”
“It keeps him alive,” he rubbed his thumb over her palm. “It won’t take long.”
Jyn watched him disappear into a room at the end of the corridor. She felt the eyes of the guards on her. Cassian had said her name, and she wondered if it meant anything to them. She walked away from them and stopped at a window, still feeling their eyes on her back as she looked out into the stars.
"You're something of a legend around here." A woman’s voice spoke from behind Jyn, and she turned to look at her. It was a young woman close to herself in height and age, with thick brown hair bound in braids that were pinned to her scalp. The woman's slight smirk and big brown eyes gave away nothing as she looked Jyn over. Jyn felt as if she should know her.
"You don't remember me? It was a long time ago when we first met. I'm Leia."
Oh, Jyn thought as realisation hit her, we've met. Leia was no longer the dressed up doll that Jyn remembered from Saw's heated meetings with Bail Organa and the others at rebel council meetings. They had peered at each other over tables in secret outposts, eyeing each other curiously. Jyn remembered wanting to reach out and touch her because she had only seen princesses in her story books on Lahmu. She was smaller than Jyn yet somehow bigger all at once, her practical white jumpsuit gleaming and pristine, her posture straight.
Something else hit Jyn too - Alderaan, Leia was princess of Alderaan, a planet that no longer existed because of Galen Erso. Jyn felt deeply uncomfortable - guilty, angry, defiant because it wasn't her.
"So he found you, then? Good. I've known Cassian for a long time," Leia looked sad. "The last time he left here I was sure he would never come back."
"He still might leave. I don't want him to make that choice, but once we find how I ended up drugged on a shuttle in the middle of nowhere he'll make up his mind."
Leia nodded. Her gaze was intense, yet Jyn felt no threat from her. It was a little like looking into a mirror. “And if you don’t get any answers?”
Jyn chewed her cheek. She hadn’t really taken the time to consider what would happen if she didn’t find out what had happened six months ago. “I suppose if I thought it was safe - that if I wasn’t going to be ‘attacked’ again... then I would stay and fight.”
Leia sighed. “We did investigate. That time was... chaotic to say the least. If it was some sort of retaliation for Alderaan, well, I never would have sanctioned anything like this,” Leia stepped closer and uncrossed her arms. “When I heard about your role in all of this, I never felt any sort of anger towards you. In fact I was sad that I would never get to meet the woman who stole the plans.” She shook her head and waved her hand to catch her train of thought. “Look, if the order to space you came from Command, then it’s being kept from me too. And if it was just a couple of angry pilots or soldiers who were acting out of grief, well... all we can do is hope that it doesn’t happen again. We have plenty of Imperial defectors in our ranks and they still have to put up with more shit than they should have to every time some hot head wants to let off steam about the Empire.”
“So you’re saying I should just stick around and wait for someone to stab me in the back?”
Leia shrugged. “Is that so different to life out there? We owe you. The kriffing galaxy owes you. I can give you my personal guarantee that if anyone disagrees with your being here, they will be the ones that get spaced.”
Jyn felt overwhelmed by a warmth that spread outwards from the centre of her chest like a supernova. It was as if she had known Leia her whole life, and it made it easy for her to speak honestly. “I didn’t want to leave.”
“Our door is still open,” Leia’s smile was warm and bright. “I’ve got your back.”
There was a hiss of comms static, followed by one of the guards clearing his throat before speaking. “General Organa, they’re waiting for you.”
Leia nodded at the guard before turning back to Jyn. She tilted her head towards the direction of the meeting room. “You coming?”
She inhaled and kept her expression neutral as she followed the princess to face the waiting audience.
Draven sat, his face a blank mask just like the first time they had met. This is where Cassian learned it from, she thought. Mon Mothma was angelic as always. Her serene smile was a distraction from her power, her strength. Jyn wasn't fooled, because she knew now exactly who called the shots and who controlled the council. They sat at the opposite side of the table from Cassian, and Jyn took a seat beside him.
"Jyn," Mothma's voice was as gentle as ever, "it's good to see you."
“This is a meeting for Alliance personnel only, General.” Draven said.
“I invited her. And we’re going to settle this once and for all. It doesn’t have to leave this room, but I want assurances that what happened to Jyn Erso was not the result of any order from Command.” Leia stood at the end of the table, between the two parties.
Mothma spoke first. “Jyn, I give you my word that what happened to you was not sanctioned by any member of Command. Your presence would have been greatly valued here. I had hoped you would stay with us.”
Draven’s expression didn’t change as he spoke. “I would have been a fool to not recognise you for the asset you are, Erso. Someone with your skills and contacts would be invaluable to our effort, as Captain Andor’s report has shown.” He spread his hands flat on the white table in front of him. “Many lives were lost in the battle of Yavin IV, and in the countless battles since then. Whoever decided to target you may well already be dead.”
“And that’s it?” Cassian asked, and Draven’s eyebrow raised at what must have been a rare act of defiance. “Whoever it was could still be out there.”
“And if they are discovered they shall be dealt with. Until then... we need all available personnel. There will be times when emotions run high. We will make it clear that any act of aggression or sabotage against a fellow member of the Alliance army will be dealt with seriously.”
Cassian scoffed, but Jyn reached out and placed her hand on his forearm. “It’s ok, Cassian. I believe them.”
His brow furrowed as he looked at her. “Jyn?”
“I’m not happy that it was allowed to happen, but... I understand. I understand that the name Erso makes me a target for both sides,” she glanced at Leia who nodded, and Jyn wondered where the woman got that strength of character from to hear that name without exploding in rage. “But me - us - leaving here won’t change that.”
“Jyn, we would happily have you among our ranks,” Leia said, and both Mothma and Draven nodded. “You’ve given more than enough to us already. The least we can do is give you a home.”
Jyn looked up at Cassian and smiled. It took him a moment to return it, but once he did she felt the tension leave him. In the end her anger at what had happened six months ago seemed unimportant, because somehow she had found her way back regardless, and there were people who were willing to have her fight by their side. Suddenly she felt a great deal of pity for anyone who would dare try the same thing again. If she was honest with herself, her anger had started to fade the moment he had come back into her life. As long as he was with her, she was home.
Draven cleared his throat and tented his fingers. “I can’t deny that you get results, Erso, or that your... partnership with Captain Andor hasn’t benefitted the cause. Both Scarif and the Aquiis II intel are proof of that.”
“Are you offering me a job, General?”
Draven’s blank expression briefly flickered with a scowl. “There’s a place for you in Intelligence, if you want it. And if Captain Andor is happy to have you as a partner, then the two of you will be responsible for digging up more on this Aquiis II situation.”
Beside her, Cassian smiled. “Yes, sir.”
“Welcome to the Alliance, Captain Erso,” said Mothma as she rose from her seat. “May the Force be with you both.”
Jyn couldn’t help but smile as she climbed on board Cassian’s ship after him. It was just like the first time all over again. She was dressed in new fatigues and carried a duffle bag full of spares and blasters. As they buckled up in their seats, Cassian looked over to her, a small smile on his face. She could get addicted to seeing him happy.
“You know, we could really do with a bigger ship... and a bigger cabin.” Her cheeks burned as she said the words out loud, which was ridiculous given what they had gotten up to in their officers quarters the night before. Continuing that particular new aspect of their relationship would be impossible in the tiny narrow bunk.
“I beg your pardon?” K-2S0 spluttered, and his take off failed, causing the ship to shake. Cassian just raised an eyebrow.
“I might know a guy who knows a guy who trades in rare droids... ever been to Bespin?” Jyn’s fingers curled around the armrests of her seat and her toes tapped. Happy energy coursed through her body.
Cassian’s smile grew, as bright and beautiful as a star. “Kay, set course for Bespin. Let’s get you back into a body so we can upgrade this ship.”
“Oh all right. But I want a blaster.” His next attempt at take-off was successful, and they slipped away from Home One on their first official mission for Alliance Intelligence.
Jyn smiled, and Cassian rolled his eyes. “I think you’ve proved you can handle one, Kay,” she said. “I’ll even steal a nice one for you.”