Krennic stands before them all and Cassian can tell even before he opens his mouth that the news is bad. All anyone would have to do is look him in the eye to see it, but as soon as he opens his mouth gasps arise in each and every one of his scientists throats. The noises drown Krennic’s words in a sea of despair and loathing, but Cassian still hears the important bits. A Rebel attack on a needed convoy of supplies for the ever-expanding work of Project Celestial Power. Many are dead, including several engineers who worked closely with the scientists back here on Imperial Center. Krennic lingers on how many precious Quadanium steel plates have been lost, destroyed or taken by the Rebels, a boon for them no matter the outcome. The Empire is hurt either way.
Only Cassian remains unmoved, his hands clasped behind his back, and it’s to Cassian that Krennic continues to speak, voice twisted by inexpertly controlled rage. The others already murmur amongst themselves, trading rumors they’ve invented on the spot that will, within the hour, grow far beyond their true proportions in the mouths of people who didn’t attend this briefing. A few cry and a few more grasp one another about the shoulders to comfort and be comforted. In their hurt, they don’t care about Krennic’s anger, his determination.
Cassian does. Because he has to.
“Our Loyalty Officer will be investigating this tragedy, of course,” Krennic concludes. It is, per protocol, standard procedure when sabotage and betrayal are distinct possibilities, but Cassian senses Krennic’s relief all the same. This is your mess now, he doesn’t say. Congratulations. “You all will, I am certain, afford him every courtesy as he works to bring the culprit who is responsible to justice.”
Krennic’s scientists and goons still once Krennic mentions him. Their preference has always been to pretend Cassian doesn’t exist and Cassian has never minded that tendency. His only role is to snitch on them as far as they’re concerned. It is the same for every loyalty officer that has ever stepped into the role. But Cassian knows better than most people how to be hated and ignored. It doesn’t bother him. In fact, it works to his advantage.
“Back to work,” Krennic says after a long pause. “We still have deadlines to meet.”
Dismissed, Cassian pushes through the throng of stunned researchers, strides down the empty hallway to the bathrooms. No one will be there now, not when there’s so much still to discuss back in the labs, so he feels safe enough throwing open the door and stepping inside. He nearly slips on the polished floor and then lands on his knees before a toilet bowl anyway when he realizes the nausea roiling in his gut won’t settle with a mere splash of cold water from the sink.
This is new and unwelcome and he can’t stop himself from holding tight to the cool brushed metal anyway.
Spitting bile, his ears filling with the sound of hacking dry heaves, he doesn’t hear the door open again. Doesn’t hear anything until a body leans with a thump against the stall, until the heel of a boot kicks at the foot of the partition. “Did you eat something that disagrees with you, Captain Andor?” Krennic asks, conversational, pleasant except for that anger he can’t shake. It is almost a kindness that he is willing to hold out this lifeline to Cassian. That he would offer it at all speaks to the regard with which he holds Cassian, a development Cassian never expected and never particularly wanted.
“No,” Cassian admits, because ferreting out the truth is his business and he can’t bring himself to put even one more lie out into the universe. Not right now. “But you know that already, I think.”
Krennic’s hand is cool and dry on the back of his overheated neck. It serves as a touchstone, something else to focus on besides… “Doctor Erwah was part of that convoy, weren’t they?” He remembers them talking about the new shipment of Quadanium before leaving and remembered even better how excited they were to get their hands on so much of it. And though he hadn’t understood Erwah’s excitability, their optimism, he’d liked them all the same.
“Killed, I’m afraid,” Krennic answers, unvarnished, unemotional. He masters his anger somewhere between the first word he speaks now and the last. For Cassian’s benefit, maybe. “They were so young.”
“Twenty.” A genius by every measure and so full of life. All they’d wanted to do was research clean energy, believe in Palpatine’s most humanitarian of smokescreens. It wasn’t their fault they didn’t know what they’d really signed up for. Cassian hopes somewhere in all this Galen Erso and his team really will make the breakthrough Krennic has promised them all they’re working on. Someone, at least, might benefit from it years down the line. His stomach turns again at the thought.
He wishes he could be ignorant of the truth. The truth is, there might not be anyone left to enjoy anything once this is done.
“These things happen,” Krennic says. “The Rebels will keep doing this until they win or we defeat them for good. We’re working to ensure the latter. The Doctor Erwahs of the galaxy won’t have to die once we have.”
Cassian’s gorge rises in his throat. He can’t quite swallow around the acid that comes along with it and has to spit again. The taste lingers on his tongue. “Do you really believe that?”
“No.” He pauses, his hand shifting slightly, fingers curling around the side of Cassian’s neck. “But it’s what we have to believe, isn’t it? Otherwise what’s the point of all this?” There is a hint of superiority in his voice, pride. So many people believe Krennic to be a slippery son of a bitch, ambitious and mouthy and determined to climb to the upper echelons. The truth is much simpler for him in a lot of ways.
He just really fucking loves this Death Star of his. And he’ll do whatever he has to in order to complete it. If that requires selling it to others as a protective device, he will.
In fact, he has. On numerous occasions.
Cassian draws in a deep breath. It’s easier when he reminds himself that he’s not the only one fooling himself here. Covering Krennic’s hand with his own, he closes his eyes and reminds himself that one day this will be over for the both of them. On that day, Krennic will probably hate him. Might very well kill him. But they’ll be free of this.
“It bothers you that much?” Krennic pulls Cassian to his feet, turns him around, stares him right in the eyes and seems to look into the very heart of him. And even so, he continues to miss the obvious. There is guilt writ in every inch of Cassian’s skin. It burns itself into his bones and pools in his marrow and flows throughout his bloodstream. “The Rebels kill Imperial citizens every day.”
“I’m fine,” Cassian says, scraping the words together as best he can from the raw mess he’s made of his throat. “I don’t know why it…” He can’t look Krennic in the eye, even as Krennic’s hands seem to reach everywhere for him, his hands slipping across his chest and up to settle on his shoulders. “It’s just been a long day, I think.”
“It’s been a long war.” His thumb brushes over the line of Cassian’s collar, touches the soft stretch of skin over Cassian’s pulse, back and forth, ponderous. “It gets to everyone eventually.”
They’re almost sweet, Krennic’s attentions. Like he really wants Cassian to understand, to feel better, to be distracted.
This isn’t something they do often, for good reason, and it’s nothing Cassian wants to admit to doing or wanting at all. Krennic’s an asshole, after all, and even though Cassian is technically outside his chain of command, he’s still got rank on Cassian. But it’s a stupid weakness he fell into years ago—under similar circumstances he doesn’t let himself remember. The same guilt that threatened to destroy him then clings to him now, clings to their every encounter. But instead of hating Krennic’s touch and himself for wanting it, he finds it comforting.
What Krennic gets out of it is almost entirely lost on Cassian, a fact Cassian won’t look at too closely for fear of what he’ll see. Possibly it’s as simple as wanting to have a loyalty officer in his pocket, foolish as that thought is. Or perhaps it’s more complicated than that, a dangerous proposition even under better circumstances, and something Cassian could use if he’d let himself confront it.
But this thing between them balances on the edge of a knife blade. Push too far one way and Cassian would be the one to lash out. Too far in the other direction and it would be Krennic lashing out.
It only works because their destruction is mutually assured. And they’ve gotten good at holding their equilibrium.
Until now anyway.
Cassian reaches for the utility belt wrapped around Krennic’s waist, unfastens the buckles and pulls it free. Clattering to the floor, it curls around their feet as Cassian pulls Krennic’s trousers open. A better man than Krennic might have stopped him. A better man than Cassian might not have done it at all.
He pulls Krennic into the stall and turns them sideways, yanking it shut for the modicum of privacy such a gesture provides, like it wouldn’t be immediately obvious what was happening in here and who it was happening to. Cassian might have had some anonymity, but the white cape just barely kissing the back of Krennic’s heels would be a dead giveaway. Even the white of his uniform in and of itself would speak to the truth of it.
Let it never be said Krennic’s not as self-destructive as the rest of them when it comes down to it. Because though he keeps his mouth shut, his fingers press more deeply into the painfully tight cords of Cassian’s neck, all the encouragement Cassian needs to press closer and slip his hand into Krennic’s trousers.
Cassian feels nothing except relief to have something to focus on other than Krennic’s words, his blasé acceptance that it’s Rebels who kill Imperial citizens. Sure, Rebels kill Imperial citizens all the time. Hard-working people who’d had no choice but to continue on when the Emperor seized power and are unlucky enough to live in the shadow of that power. Cassian knows a thing or two about that. If not for the accident of where he was born, would he have ever ended up here of his own volition? Who knows?
Cassian certainly doesn’t.
Closing his eyes, Cassian presses his forehead against Krennic’s shoulder and focuses entirely on the feel of Krennic in his hand, the heat of him, and the minute shifts in Krennic’s breathing as Cassian brings him closer and closer to completion. Krennic’s hands settle low on Cassian’s back, pulls him as close as he can get, shoves his knee between Cassian’s legs.
He forgets sometimes that Krennic enjoys the danger he puts himself in, that he likes to push envelopes just for the hell of it.
“Do you ever have any fun with this, Cassian?” he asks, so low as to be almost inaudible even with Krennic’s lips against the shell of his ear. Cassian shudders, sparks of reluctant, sluggish pleasure crackling up the length of his spine. Biting at Krennic’s shoulder to keep from crying out, he shakes his head. There’s nothing fun about any of this. And if he could, he’d put an end to it. Maybe with a blaster bolt between Krennic’s eyes.
It’s a dream he’s had so many times that sometimes he can see the marks of char on Krennic’s forehead as he speaks, brain matter spilling from the precise hole left by the rifle he left behind when he took this assignment.
And then he thinks about Krennic finally being dead and knows he’d miss the bastard, hate himself all the more for putting down the one man in this whole organization who plays the game and hates it just as much as Cassian does. He just manages a little better, puts a vicious smile on his lips and poisoned words in his mouth for kicks. He overrides his own ambitions to slum it with a loyalty officer who could turn him in at a moment’s notice.
As Krennic forces him to feel something other than loathing, Cassian knows he’ll never be as loyal to the Rebellion as he should be.
He might not find the culprits responsible for leaking the whereabouts of that convoy—culprit, rather, and already found at that, no need to go looking—but he won’t give Krennic over to Rebel Intelligence either, a crown jewel if ever there was one. He imagines the boon his capture would be. It would put the Death Star project back years. Cassian would be a hero.
He wouldn’t have to kill any more Doctor Elwahs for the cause.
But Krennic would end up killed, too, eventually, when he proved himself no longer of use to Draven and the others. And Cassian can’t abide that. He knows the reason why about as well as he knows his own heart, which is to say: not at all.
As Krennic shifts again, pushes Cassian over the edge, Cassian can’t feel as guilty about that as he should.
When Krennic comes, too, he knows that’s maybe the worst part of all.