The question of the sleeping arrangements is only set aside for the time it takes to fill their bellies. Too much to hope, that she’d forget it altogether. They’ve moved closer to the fire, and one another, as they ate, and finally Jyn wipes her fingers on her skirt and says firmly “Well. Our best chance of a proper rest is if we share warmth.” She looks up abruptly into his eyes. A forthright stare, but no anger in it, just the determination to say what she must.
Cassian sighs. He can’t deny the truth of that simple need for sleep, however much his mind is crumbling at the thought of her proximity; of that physicality, and that trust. “So how can I best make room for you?” That came out all sorts of odd, but they’ve enough of a way of understanding one another now that he lets himself hope she’ll grasp the impulse behind the clumsy words. “It’s cramped, I don’t want to crowd you.”
“There’s room.” Jyn’s voice is firm, and oddly relieved; it touches him to the quick to realise she must have been bracing herself for an argument. “You get in first and I’ll fit round you. It’ll work, you’ll see.”
“It’ll be crowded,” he flounders. The thought of being close to her again shames and delights him, makes him shake inwardly and lose the track of his thought.
“Sharing warmth, remember? Crowded is the whole idea.” Her smile is shy, unsure if humour fits this moment, but it reaches her eyes. “We have done it before, after all.”
“I was a wolf.”
“And yet you didn’t bite me.”
Deliriously good and awful, the visions that phrase conjures, visions that he must dismiss at once because Oh God, does she even realise the edge her words have, the thoughts they conjure? Her quiet voice, so matter-of-fact. Cassian clears his throat, meets her eyes again, is horribly aware of blushing; and sees there’s a colour to her cheeks also, and a twitch of a smile on her lips. Oh Jyn, oh my dear, are you actually teasing me?
A sudden rush of affection makes him daring, and he says quickly “I’ll try to not bite you again tonight then.”
A long gaze; the firelit eyes he knows are sea-green, holding his unwavering. Eyes deep as that green sea’s wildest currents. But the quirk of a smile comes and goes again before she looks down, and she says in a murmur “I’m sure you’ll behave impeccably.”
And now on that thought, he must get down and crawl into the little shelter, and wait for her to join him. He forces himself to breathe steadily, and to focus on the hard ground under his hands and knees, the cold scattering of boughs she’s flung down for a bed. Cold, prickly, rustling. Practical. Not a bed for love.
Don’t, don’t, don’t think like that, Captain, don’t be such a fool as to ever think she would want you like that. Even if she did, you are not fit to be anyone’s lover, half-creature as you are. And how could what we have between us, all built on need and fear, be the beginning for love? Don’t think like that, fool, let it go.
There’s more space than last night, he can see that now he’s inside. The benefit of a shelter she had enough time to build, and daylight to work by. He presses himself against the rock face to give her as much room as he can, leaving her the outer side, nearer to the fire, and the whole of the blanket.
He can just make out the glow of the fire through the rough wall of pine, and the blur of movement as Jyn rakes back the hot ashes with a stick and lifts the second fish down from where it’s been smoking gently all evening.
Ah, the fish was good; he can be pleased with himself for that at least. He licks his lips, savouring the rich taste and the residue of oil lingering on them. Good hot food makes so many things easier to bear; and they’ll make their next day’s walk on full bellies too, with leftovers from tonight and a whole second fish besides.
There’s a crackling and rustling by his feet and he shifts, trying to press further back into the cliff face as Jyn crawls in beside him. She pulls the two bags in after her, and then a bundle wrapped in pine, that gives off lingering heat and a strong smell of hot-smoked salmon, that she wedges between their feet.
“Here.” She’s passing him the knapsack, he recognises the shape and the feel of hessian in the darkness. “Pillow for you.”
“Thank you.” His voice is barely a whisper. She’s so close that his human nostrils can pick out the salty musk of her perspiration, even over the odour of fish. Every movement she makes sends a current through him.
She rests her own head on the leather satchel and hauls the blanket up over them both.
He pushes it off, tries to tuck it round her without putting his hands anywhere he shouldn’t. “I’m fine.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Her hand comes back, batting his aside, dragging the fabric over him again.
“Jyn, please –“
“Don’t be stupid,” she repeats. They’re fumbling at one another, fingers tangling and pulling away, almost fighting over the blanket for a moment, and “Cassian, stop it! Don’t be stupid. We’re sharing warmth, it doesn’t work if we don’t share.”
Her voice is almost in his chest now; her arms are bunched up over her bosom, he can feel the back of her hands against his. The brush of cold skin that smells of woodsmoke.
“Cassian, please. We need to be warm so we can both get some sleep.”
“I know. It’s just –“
“I’m not used to this either.” He can feel her breath as she lets out a sharp sigh of frustration. “None of it. Not this, not – trusting you, having someone to trust. Talking to someone, sharing anything. It’s been a long time. And not – not used to this. Closeness. But –“ The hesitant words jam outright and he feels her fidget, almost touching him but still holding her body rigidly apart.
Well, just about as rigid as he is. Because if I ever dare to touch you, I won’t know how to stop.
“It’s practical,” he finishes for her.
“Yes. Practical, yes. And it helps me. Knowing you trust me this close.”
His heart rips open, bleeds, cries. Knowing he trusts her?
“The last few days have been hard,” Jyn says, pushing on with words in the darkness. “I’ve lost everything. I’m trying to – accept this. What I’ve done, what I’ve become. Trying to stop fighting it. I was terrified. Now I’m – numb? Baffled? I don’t know what to say, how to describe this feeling. But I’m doing things I swore I would never do. Going back to a man I swore I’d never speak to again, a place I swore I’d never see again. All my world has – fallen. It’s – nothing is in my control anymore. Nothing is safe. So - knowing you’re here, you’re still with me –“
The intimacy of darkness seems to have freed her speech, it comes in little runs and starts, like the water rushing down in the rapids, where he dived, this afternoon.
“I don’t know what will happen when we reach Red Crag. I’m sure that Saw is there, the nearer we get the more clear that feels. But he – he may be angry. Probably will be. I don’t want to be more afraid of him than the enemy but I know him. I know what he can do.”
Cassian wishes for a moment that he was a real wolf, to look at this man she so dreads meeting again and be able to snarl with all the power of a heart entirely savage.
“You won’t be alone,” he promises her hoarsely.
“I know. And it means so much, to know that.”
And to know that my presence will help you means so much to me. Thanks to you I am a soldier again, and can guard someone who deserves my protection. I would shed blood for every hurt done to you if I could.
It’s been a long time since there was anyone in Cassian’s life who even knew his name, much less cared that he was with them. “We’ll be able to watch one another’s backs,” he promises. It isn’t much, but it’s the one help he can give, both as wolf and man.
Jyn shifts in the dark, moving awkwardly as she tries to get comfortable. Her knee bumps one of his and pulls away, and she mutters “Sorry…” and the whole lean-to shakes for a second as her retreating heel strikes one of the branches of the roof.
For all her confidence, there really isn’t enough room for them, unless they permit themselves to touch one another. No-one can sleep well if they have to be motionless as a lump of rock all night. And for all Jyn’s determined insistence that not to share the bed is stupid, she’s as shy as him now that it’s real, and they are lying here in such close proximity.
Cassian fumbles into the narrow space between their bodies and touches a hand. Cold fingers, curled on the bed of pine. “It’s alright. You’re right, it’s practical. We need to sleep.” And because there really is no other choice and he must be as certain as she is if he is to reassure her enough to let herself rest, “May I warm your hands?”
“If you’ll let me do the same.”
Her face is hidden in the shadows but he can hear her smile. Equal or nothing, as always. She sounds almost mischievous. Her voice is inexpressibly comforting, and he’s smiling too as he says “You may. It’s a fair bargain.”
They squirm and shift themselves, adjusting and wriggling; fingers tangling, and arms, then legs. It is warm under the fabric, and warmer still, rapidly, when at last they are pressed close together. He has one of his arms around her shoulders, holding her close, and their free hands lie interlocked, resting on his bosom. Jyn sighs and relaxes into him, all the tension easing from her, her cheek against his shoulder. Her ribs move, breathing in, soft and fragile, indomitable. Warmth on his skin as she exhales. The hands he’s dreamed of enfolding, the body he’s wanted to touch for so many weeks. Inescapable now.
Inescapable; but for all that he mustn’t let himself think about it. Have you no shame, Captain? She’s lying in your arms, in absolute trust. Think about something, anything, but not this.
There’s been very little time, the last few days, to think about anything at all but the immediate, the now and its shocks, and how to survive it. All the rest, the curse, and the mystery of her promise to help, the past and all his great burden of guilt, oath-breaker that he is; all that has been driven clear from his mind by the plain need to stay alive right now, and to protect Jyn who is his survival. The shame of a post abandoned three years ago is nothing in comparison.
If he were to leave her now, to fulfil that old oath or die in attempting it, as he used to dream of doing and hate himself for lacking the nerve to try; if he were to do that it would be another promise broken, the one that has saved him. It may have been given in silence, unacknowledged, but it’s a pledge just as sacred as the first, and would be broken as unjustly, if he leaves her.
Best not to think too much about that either, then. There’ll be nothing left of you save the things you’re ashamed of, at this rate.
Jyn wriggles again in their cocoon of warmth; she sniffs and sighs, and a current of air flutters over his left hand wrapped around hers.
“Are you awake, Jyn?”
“May I ask you something?”
“What happened to the chickens?”
The faint soft breath breaks up into a happy jolt of laughter, and she says “You noticed that?”
“My sweet ladies. I couldn’t leave them to the foxes. I sent them to Yarrow and Sania.”
“Did you use –“ he isn’t sure what to call it – “use the power in your crystal?”
“No. Heavens, no. Just a little moving charm.” Jyn is shaking her head and there’s a pause before she goes on in a low voice. “I did wonder if I could. But in the end I didn’t try. It scares me, Cassian. And it tempts me. It’s like a wound, one that hasn’t scarred yet, and I’m fighting myself not to pick at the scab. I don’t want to but I do, because I want to know…”
“And that’s why you’re going to Saw.”
Her head brushes the side of his hand as she nods. “I don’t want to but – he’s my only chance of learning anything about this. So I hate it, but - yes, I’m going back to him.”
“You’re certain he’s there?” It seems strange, even for her, to be so aware of someone she hasn’t spoken to in years. But she’s nodding again.
“I’m more and more sure he is. It was always his main base. The old monastery makes a good headquarters, just the kind of place to hunker down for the winter.” Breath on his skin again, making him shiver as Jyn sighs. “It’s going to be strange. When I listen for him, in the Force, he feels – frayed, somehow. Raw. He was always a cold man, but - he’s changed.”
“How long is it since you left him?”
“Five years. Almost six, now. And he can probably feel me reaching for him, feel me coming. He’ll wonder why. Wonder who the hell I think I am, to return now.” Her voice is growing tight, momentarily bitter. It’s all he can do not to reach up and stroke her hair, to soothe her like a child. Like as not she’d kick him if he tried. Which would at least distract her from fretting over her memories of the war-mage. But his undercarriage is worryingly close to her knees already and he’d prefer not to provoke her.
“I’m sorry he was so harsh,” he says. “You were just a kid.”
There’s a silence, and Jyn sighs again and suddenly turns her face in, against their linked hands. For a moment her cheek rests right on his fingers; there’s a dampness on her skin and a catch in her voice as she says “Oh no, it’s not that. He loved me like a father. He always said so. That was what made it so hard.”
Cassian can hear the hiss of breath escaping him; if he were wolf right now, it would be a snarl. All words are completely out of his reach for a moment, and in that moment he feels her shake, and gasp in air, and master herself. Her breathing steadies once more and her grip on his hand relaxes.
“I’m sorry,” he manages to get out. Wishing he had something more soothing to say, a kindly murmur, words of support instead of this anger.
“Not your fault.” Jyn’s voice is soft again and he marvels at the strength of will with which she contains her feelings time after time. Already it’s hard to believe that only two days ago he saw her weeping and broken. She’s packed it away, with all her other memories of pain.
“I know it’s not,” he says “but just the same. I’m sorry you had to live like that. I – I know what it’s like to lose everything. My family were – they all died. I was six years old.” Her sharp inhalation is silent, but unmistakable. He goes on quickly. “But when I was adopted, after, the things I was told were – were completely coherent, after that. No-one told me they loved me, and then hurt me.”
No-one told me they loved me at all. But I mustn’t say that. This isn’t about me.
He hopes she can grasp the undernotes, that he won’t have to go into much more detail. The memories are sharp knives in his mind even now, and he doubts his own self-control is the equal of hers.
A sudden thought, and he adds quickly “Jyn, when we get there – it would be a good idea if it was daylight.”
“How so? He won’t know you’re – ah.”
“Exactly. From everything you’ve told me, everything I’ve ever heard about him – it might be useful to have an edge. An ally he can’t see.”
There’s a shadow of a smile back in Jyn’s voice as she says “He’ll think I’ve tamed a wolf. He’ll respect that.”
“Good. He should. Respect you.”
“But it will mean we have to spend the nights together.” Once again she can’t have imagined the effect her words will have. Cassian closes his eyes for a moment, words vanishing from his mind. Just – just – breathe, Captain, just breathe...
He fights back the urge to hug her more tightly when she goes on. “It’s a good idea. You’re pretty scary when you snarl.” That smile-tone again, carefully controlled as though she’s trying not to chuckle out loud. He squeezes her hand, shoves down the urge to wrap himself round her.
“It’s all noise, you know that. I’m not much of a fighter when I’m a wolf. I’m not much of a wolf altogether.”
“Don’t rate yourself so lightly. How you’ve managed to survive and not go insane from this life I cannot begin to imagine.” There’s an abrupt shift in her weight and she’s lifting herself up. If there were enough light to see, she’d be looking down at him now. “May I ask you something now?”
“Ask me? – yes, of course.”
“Your nose – is it alright?”
The cut. The cock-pheasant he tried to pounce on, that rounded on him shrieking and pecking and with spurs lashing, refusing to die, fighting him off. Not much of a wolf, truly. “I’m fine. It’s just a scratch.”
“Ah, yes, I’ve said that myself before now. Right before getting an infection that took weeks to heal.” Once again there’s that unmistakable quiver of amusement in the body pressed against his, and this time he has to chuckle too. Oh, they are too alike sometimes.
But “Truly, Jyn, I’m fine. It did sting at first but I think the stream washed it clean.”
“Let me take a look in the morning?”
“Of course.” Perhaps she has some of that herbal ointment in her pack.
“Or –“ Jyn fidgets, and he feels her breath moving as she wriggles closer, peering in the dark. “I could use a charm on it. Just to help it heal, you know. Though then I’d need to touch it, so – you might not want –“
“We’re touching one another already.” And what a shameful delight that is. So close, her breath on his face now, her hands flat on his breast.
“So? May I?”
Jyn’s fingers brush the side of his jaw and hesitantly move, passing the corner of his lips, the flare of one nostril, to come to rest where the scratch throbs, hot and sore under her touch. She begins to murmur, a string of barely-formed words, musical and ghostly; words in a language he knows only from her spellcasting, broken and sweet.
There’s a tingling, an ache with a sharp edge, under her touch. He can almost feel the bloody little scrape beginning to scab over. It’s a pin-prickling, a scintillating of nerves.
Not just there, but all over. Jyn is touching his face, leaning in close to him, one thigh falling between his as she braces her body weight. He could howl with the sudden wild shock of it, with the pleasure of his vulnerability, the thrill of her tenderness. He jerks uncomfortably, pulling his hips away before she can notice (please, God, please let it be before she notices) his growing arousal. Gives an awkward grunt and says “I can feel it working, that’s good, thank you, you’re helping a lot.”
“Glad to.” But she shifts away quickly, squirms back into her former position. Cassian disciplines his breathing, focusses on the cold night air outside the blanket, the chill beneath their shared heat. Anything but the dear weight of Jyn’s head settling back on his shoulder, the warmth of her hand wrapping round his again.
How can it be so happy, to be caught like this, here, alone with her? They’re homeless and on the run, sleeping on a bare hillside, on a cold night in late autumn, pretending they aren’t sharing one blanket like lovers. Because it’s practical. No other reason but that. He’ll be a wolf again in a couple of hours. She’ll have to go on doing all the work he should be sharing with her. They are in real danger, together only because some twist of fate brought them both to the same clearing in the forest two months ago. There’s nothing adventurous or exciting, or romantic, about any of this, it’s ridiculous to find anything remotely like happiness in such straits.
Yet steady behind all his thoughts and fears is a current of joy, fast and bright as the stream he dived into today. Neither of them is alone anymore, and they will not be again. He will not leave her now; and she has stuck with him.
“Get some sleep, Jyn,” he tells her gently.
“You too, eh? Another long day ahead.”
“Yes.” And then because he can’t resist trying to get one more word from her, one more sound with a grin in it “And you were right. About the bedding – the sleeping arrangements.”
“Course I was.” She wriggles, and is just a fraction closer. Comfortable with him, friendly, unselfconscious. Her voice almost laughing again, so that he smiles in the dark as he holds her.
There’s a long silence before he hears her whisper “Goodnight, Cassian.”