The rebellion is going badly.
Mon knows it; she knows how badly, down to three decimal places. Every morning she wakes to a new quantification of defeat: the number of fighters lost, of sectors surrendered, of supply chains cut and resources squandered in the ongoing war of attrition between the Alliance and the Empire. A handful of renegades whose ideological differences seem to run deeper than is resolvable by any external threat — at least the Senate went on recess every so often, she thinks, headache prickling at the back of her eyes. She is learning to distinguish the subtle gradations of failure, creeping ever closer to the point where none of it will matter and no collection of fractions will ever come close enough to victory to matter; no single strategic gamble will put them over the top; the rebellion will flare up one last time and then be snuffed out by the encroaching dark.
“Senator.” Someone at the door: she looks up from the strategy terminal. “We’re bringing her in.”
Mon doesn’t need to ask Cassian who he means. “Thank you,” she says. “Do you think she’ll cooperate?”
He stands feet a little ways apart, hands behind his back. “She put a dent in Melshi’s skull that would take a day to beat out from the inside.”
“How promising.” She looks at him. “So you think we have a chance.”
“I think you may as well ask me the same question of a sewer rancor,” Cassian says.
Mon inclines her head. “So you like her, then.”
“Senator,” Cassian says, long-suffering, and she relents.
“All right,” she says. “Thank you.”
Cassian relaxes at that, posture slipping for the first time since he addressed her.
Mon looks at him for a moment. “At ease,” she adds, as he seems otherwise likely to stand on ceremony until he collapses of fatigue. “Wobani labor camp isn’t a particularly prestigious origin, I understand.”
“Petty criminals,” Cassian says, and comes to stand by her, hands still behind his back. “She may have outdone her past charges in the course of attempting to escape.”
“And you’re all right?”
Cassian looks at Mon as if she has broken, mid-sentence, into an unfamiliar generation of binary. “I’m fine,” he says.
“Good.” She looks away, hands planted on the edge of the terminal. The light shines through her fingertips, the color of a roseate flame. “Will you have time to rest before the general and Senator Organa arrive?” He shrugs, and Mon looks at him sharply. “I need you at your best,” she says.
“I’m always at my best,” Cassian says, on apparent reflex, and amends himself after a moment: “I’ll perform to standard.”
“I didn’t ask if you would perform to standard,” Mon says. “Go. Use my chambers. I’ll have someone fetch you when the general is here.”
Cassian gives her a long, level look. “Is that an order?”
“I have no place in the chain of command.” A lie: both of them know that Mon outranks General Draven in all but title, and that her deference in matters of military strategy is itself a strategic manuever. “In any case, your time is your own.”
Another lie: his time belongs to the rebellion, and is hers by syllogism. “Early,” Cassian says, after a moment. “As soon as the general is on his way.”
“You’ll have sufficient notice,” Mon says. He nods, and stands up straight once more.
“Senator,” he says.
She sighs. “Captain.”
Mon watches him go. Cassian has the stride of a man used to shoving through crowds without attracting attention, a street-urchin skill which undoubtedly served him well on the frontier moons where he made his name and must have made him unremarkable after the fall of the Republic, just one more — and one of the youngest — in a long line of separatists left suddenly directionless, gravity pulled out from under them.
She had first met him on Dantooine, in the first awful confused days amidst the rubble of their plans and hopes for unification, the end of a war that had reached its conclusion with a sort of unbelievable cascade of one unthinkable outcome after another. Mon had prepared for the possibility, of course, in the abstract detached way of somebody who thought the unthinkable would never come to pass; she still found herself disoriented by the totality of defeat, looking out across the steppes for what felt like parsecs, as the few loyalist senators still in possession of their travel privileges did their best to recruit from the remnants of insurrectionist cells and sympathetic military insurgents. After abandoning one base after the next to discovery and destruction, Dantooine had looked like an oasis amongst the stars, not unlike her own homeworld when seen through the blurry double lens of nostalgia and uncertainty.
Standing on the terrace, Mon could almost mistake the bruise-purple grasses for a sea, an endless wine-dark swell breaking only at the horizon, where hills rose like distant islands. There was a scraping noise, from a direction that she couldn’t quite place, and then a hand over the edge of the terrace, followed shortly by an elbow and then a collection of angles held together by what looked like cold-weather gear — unseasonable even for the altitude — and what Mon saw first was in fact his eyes, his flatness of them and the opacity of his stare. He scrambled past her and was gone.
Then the sound of footsteps, and what seemed to be an entire squadron in pursuit. “Did you see anybody?” one demanded. “Separatist brat, I swear, he tore through half my things looking for my security pass.”
Mon took a step back. Size was on her side, as was training. She blinked and gave the soldier her best expression of faint surprise and confusion. “I’m afraid not,” she said. “I haven’t seen anybody up here. Did you need it?”
“The security pass,” she said. “What did you need it for? I can probably get you clearance, if it’s urgent.”
She stopped listening after that, noted the shuffle of feet and the improvisation of half-hearted excuses, and when the terrace was clear again she turned back to the horizon.
There was a faint thump behind her, and then the quiet rustle of worn-in clothing. “Liar,” a small voice said, and Mon turned.
“Yes,” she said. “Security passes aren’t issued to recruits.” He looked at her. “He lied,” Mon said, “so I thought it best to return the favor. What did you take?” Silence. “Never mind.”
The blaster that he pulled from his jacket was a tiny snub-nosed horror, built from salvage and meant to inflict maximum damage with minimum discrimination. Mon held very still. “Who are you?” he said.
“Mon Mothma,” she said. “Senator, as long as that counts for anything.”
“You,” he said, and seemed taken aback for the first time. “You’re young.”
Mon smiled, a reflex that had taken years to learn. “I suppose so,” she said. “How old are you?” Silence again. She tried a different tack. “What should I call you, when I need that?” She nodded at the blaster.
He tilted his head very slowly, like something wild doing the complex calculus of trust, and came up with an apparent sum. “Cassian,” he said. “Cassian Andor.”
She nodded. “Don’t let them catch you with that.”
He looked from her to the blaster, and back again. “I’ll be careful,” he said, and gave her one last look before scrambling away.
From Dantooine to Yavin, a long twenty years, made doubly long by loss and attrition; the first time Cassian was captured, he had been ten, on a supply run that had no reason to venture into enemy space. Mon received the reports of its loss as she would any other, new numbers to factor out of their few successes, and then she had turned to Draven, still sufficiently rattled by the restructuring of his entire attack force to fold when given a direct order. “Buy them back,” she said.
He looked at her, astounded. “Excuse me?”
Mon met his gaze. “Buy them back,” she said. “We have an excess of funds, and a severe lack of reliable smugglers. Can you replace them?”
“No,” Draven said, looking no less aghast.
“Then buy them back,” Mon said, and considered with equal abstractness the possiblities: Kessel, Kerev Doi, Zygerria; none of them seemed particularly appealing. Construction and mining were both industries designed to subjugate the spirit, Mon suspected, even before slave labor was introduced to the equation. How much would a human laborer cost? She supposed she would find out when Draven threw it in her face at the next Council meeting, and that he would never let her forget it.
He hadn’t then, and every time a ship was captured for years to come — with supplies, sources, information and weapons — Draven had turned to her and waited. Mon had always asked the same thing: could he replace what had been lost?
Sometimes the answer had been yes; weapons were hardly in short supply. Sometimes it had been no, given the scarcity of good information and credible sources. After another four years of scrutiny, Draven had finally let the subject drop. Four years of saying yes, buy them back or no, leave them. Four years of looking at every decision as if it might make or break the rebellion, removing herself from each judgment with the skill and bloodlessness of a master surgeon, and four years of making sure she never grew any more removed from the gravity of her decisions; by the end of it, Mon thought she might simply turn sideways and slip out of the world one day, so skilled was she at navigating its many moving parts.
Instead of strategy, she concerned herself with information, like a translator learning to think in a foreign language rather than transliterate it a word at a time. If she only knew enough, she could see every possibility; she could see if there was any way for them to win.
A year after that, Cassian went messing.
Mon, trying to quantify his loss like any other, was disquieted by how easy it was. He was a soldier; he was a decent smuggler, an above-average shot, and an unnervingly good liar. Not once in the time she had known him had Mon seen him get caught in an lie, no matter how blatant. Cassian had a certain gift for evasion, as if he was perpetually frictionless, impossible to pin down.
If he was gone, he was gone. No amount of searching would turn him up, and no incentive would bring him back. Mon had no idea what she could even offer: promotion? Doubtful, as Cassian still viewed his superiors with the same impersonal distrust he had shown her that first day on Dantooine. Their forces were more organized now, sprawling out beyond the steppes into the grassland, the rolling hills that Mon had once seen on the distant horizon. Freedom, perhaps, although Cassian didn’t seem to consider it an option. Mon had seen slaves and prisoners freed, and watched the slow progression of their wonder, but Cassian had looked lost when she glanced to him. Not simply as if he didn’t understand, but as if he lacked the foundation to even begin, and knew it was something he should want; Cassian had looked as if he had no idea where to start.
Not freedom, then, which Cassian would only see as another obligation; perhaps all Mothma could offer him was more of that, then. More weight to bear, more to keep him from sleeping at night: if Cassian only knew how to want a heavier burden, then perhaps it would be a kindness to provide it.
A month crept by, and then another. After a week of thought, Mon relegated his loss to the back of her mind, the place where she only went at night when the wind sighed through the grasses and prickled at the edge of her awareness like chaff. After three months of waiting, she considered having his name struck from the rolls.
She woke in the middle of the night not long afterwards, with no idea what had roused her, and there he was on the terrace: dark-eyed as ever, but his hair brushed over the collar of his tunic and there was a new angle to his nose, the faint crookedness of a healed break. Mon slid the door open and joined him, barefoot, beneath the fading stars. The first moon was high, nearing its apex, as the second crept up from the horizon; Cassian sat at the near edge, legs hanging over, and didn’t look up until she was quite close.
Mon had spent some time thinking about this: what she would say, what she would ask, whether she would demand an explanation or simply let the silence between them speak for her. In the end, she did none of them. When she was within a few steps of him, Cassian moved, reached inside his jacket — and Mon didn’t flinch, but it was a near thing. She remembered the look in his eyes from all those years ago, the hardness of his gaze, not weakened but tempered by time and fate. Moonlight ran off what he held, and bleached the color from her hand when she reached out to take it from him.
“What is this?” she said, her first words to him after a quarter-year of wakefulness and abstract worry, and it all came crashing down on her at once. Mon was furious, briefly, and pushed it aside in favor of — in quick succession — worry and then gladness, worst of all, and then she thought: How will I explain this to the Council?
“Information,” Cassian said. “From Coruscant.” Mon looked at what she held a little more closely: it looked like a data card, although not for any reader she recognized. His voice was quiet and level. “Shipping routes, patrol routes, supply chains. They change every six months. These should be good for another three.”
“Three months gone, then,” Mon said, and sat carefully at the edge of the terrace. “I take it you have a source.”
Cassian sat beside her, one knee pulled up to his chest as if to shield himself. “It took longer than I thought.”
She looked out across the moons-washed plain. “Why didn’t you tell the Council?”
“You wouldn’t have said yes,” Cassian said. “And you wouldn’t have let me go alone.”
“It might not have taken three months if you hadn’t,” Mon pointed out.
“It would have gotten all of us killed.” He nodded at the data card. “You didn’t need me here.”
For the first time, Mon struggled to keep her voice level. “You couldn’t know that.”
“I could,” he said. “You have pilots. You have troopers. You didn’t have information.”
“And that’s what you want to do?” she said, turning to look at him, too quick to avoid. “That’s how you want to be useful.”
“You can replace pilots,” Cassian said, and his voice was low and fervent and awful. “You can replace troopers. You can’t replace a spy.”
“You can disavow him,” Mon said, and he shrugged.
“Only in terms of means,” she said, and looked away. “The ends turn out much the same.”
They sat in silence for a while after that, side by side, as Bannakon rose on the horizon ringed by moons. The optics were particularly good or the planet particularly bright; Mon raised a hand to shield her eyes, but Cassian didn’t turn away.
“I’ll speak to the Council,” she said finally, getting to her feet. The grass was shimmering with dew, and she could feel it in the air, clinging to the seams of her robe. “But, Cassian?” He looked up at her, eyes wide, and Mon thought that she might not be able to bear giving him what he wanted so badly; she might not be able to bear the knowledge that she was arming him with his own chosen death. “Never do that again,” she said, and he nodded. “You answer to me, and I’ll hear you out every time, but if you ever do that again I will have no use for you. Do you understand?”
He nodded, a quick jerk of his chin: a soldier’s nod. “I understand.”
“Good,” Mon said, data card digging into her closed fist. “You aren’t spending the night on my terrace.”
He nodded, and was gone so quickly that Mon took a helpless step towards the edge before she could stop herself, meaning to see if she could spot him.
She never could, that night or any after; at sixteen, he was the best untrained spy in the rebellion. At seventeen, he was captured by an Empire patrol that strayed from its patrol route, and spent two weeks being intermittently tortured by bored troopers for information. Without access to Imperial interrogators, and loath to hand their entertainment over to more official channels, the troopers could only do a limited amount of damage; still, when Cassian found his way back to them — on a stolen escape raft with damaged navigational systems — through the apparent combination of stubbornness and sheer luck, Mon was braced for the worst. Two weeks could be a small eternity in the best of conditions.
When she met him on the landing pad, Cassian almost fell out of the ship — barely bigger than an internal transport — but caught himself at the last moment, one hand on the heat shielding. “Senator,” he said, and held out a data card with blood-crusted fingers.
Mon took it from him. “Welcome home,” she said, and only then did he go down in a crumpled heap.
She read the medical report, later: the livid swelling around his eye had concealed a fracture; two of his fingers had been badly set and required straightening; one floating rib had been damaged too many times to heal out of place, a mixed blessing considering the havoc it had wreaked on his soft tissue. It had been a miracle he made it back, let alone standing, the medics told her. What was he made of, durasteel?
Stubbornness, Mon didn’t say, and the nuclear knowledge that only Cassian could do the work he did as well as he did.
He spent three days in the medical center, and refused to stay there any longer once his bones had knitted to the point of functionality. Mon, against her better judgment, didn’t force the issue; she needed every asset she could get.
The rebellion was going badly.
Not long after that, Mon stopped sleeping. The experience was not a new one; during particularly stressful campaigns, under pressure from the rest of the Council to pursue more militaristic strategies, she had previously succumbed to insomnia, and spent miserable nights staring at reports until her eyes felt scratchy and her head ached so badly the pain faded into a dull endless thud.
When she could no longer read, she took to walking the paths between compounds, and when she grew tired of walking she returned to reading, and somewhere between the two she usually drifted into an unsatisfying sort of daze. Mon wondered if Draven ever spend his nights like this, kept in interminable suspended animation, or if Cassian ever resorted — as she did — to counting the cracks on the ceiling and the stars in the sky. Bail Organa, she knew, spent his restless evenings maintaining his list of contacts. Perhaps she should do the same, Mon thought, careful of her step on the sandy earth; perhaps she should spend her nights organizing and reorganizing her data by arbitrary categories to try and shake some new insight from it, a desperate gambler trying to win favor from a loaded set of chance cubes.
There was a rustle overhead, and she looked up: Cassian looked back at her, boots swinging. Mon stared at him until he swung himself from the edge of the roof, and then until his feet touched solid ground. “How long have you been there?” she said.
He shrugged. “Not long.”
“Tonight?” she said, and he just looked at her; better not to ask, then. “You can’t sleep.” It was not a question.
“I sleep just fine,” Cassian said, and Mon felt queasy for a reason it took her a moment to identify. She wondered sometimes if he knew what it was like to live in a time of peace, to lay down arms and stop looking over his shoulder and sleeping with one eye open; she wondered if he would know how to, and what would happen to him if that ever came to pass.
“I don’t,” she said, and he almost smiled at that. Not quite, though; Mon didn’t think she had ever seen him smile as if he meant it, except perhaps at that droid of his, another machine built for war and repurposed by the enemy.
“And you do,” Mon says. He nodded. “I’m perfectly safe, you know. There’s no need for you to lose sleep on my behalf.”
Cassian shrugged. “I like it,” he said. “It’s quiet.”
“If I ordered you back to the barracks,” Mon said, as an experiment, and she could almost see his hackles come up. “All right. If I went back to my quarters?” He said nothing. Mon opened her mouth to ask if he would spend the night on her roof, and closed it again; some answers she did not want. “I have reports to read,” she said instead. “You’re welcome to sit with me.”
He followed her without a word, and sat in silence for an hour as she read, and then another. The light in Mon’s quarters was low, set for sensitive eyes and the headaches that she suffered from more and more as the number of nights she spent without sleep crept upwards, and finally she set down her datapad and turned to him. “I don’t suppose you want to read me the rest of these.”
“If it keeps you awake, then no,” Cassian said, looking barely conscious himself.
“I don’t appreciate being held hostage by your sleep needs,” Mon said, but crossed the room to sit beside him. “You can’t mitigate my insomnia by inflicting it upon yourself as well.”
He didn’t reply. “Stop reading,” he said, listing a little to the side, and Mon knew she shouldn’t, but it was so easy to imagine running a hand through his hair, taking him by the nape of the neck and telling him not to be stupid, not to martyr himself over such a small thing when there would be so many chances in future anyway.
She lifted her hand and hesitated, and Cassian looked at her as if he was braced for the blow to fall, and Mon knew then that no matter what, he was ruined for peacetime; he was ruined for anything but the work, even as it ate him alive, made him so foreign that — for all his contacts and connections — he would always be alone.
Such a small thing, and one that might give both of them a little comfort: Mon exhaled and stopped hesitating and buried her hand in his hair, slid it down to hold the nape of his neck in a firm grip, and suddenly he was there in the room with her. Where he had previously been a mystery, an implacable frictionless object, he suddenly became real and solid and warm.
Mon could feel her pulse in her fingertips and the weight of his body beneath her palm, and the heat of his body grounded her in her own, and it would be so easy to pull a little — like so — and lean in a little — like so — and then it would be, what, a moment at most, she thought. A moment of humanity, more than she had afforded herself in a long time, and more than perhaps he had ever known: just one, for all their long years at war, couldn’t possibly hurt.
But it could. For want of a moment, for want of a single decision, battles were lost, and for want of a battle a war could be lost, and it was under cover of a war that the Republic had fallen, and Mon knew better. Cassian might not, but his job was not to know better; his job was to let Mon know for him, and he did it so well. The least she could do was meet the same standard that she set for him.
She could sit, though; one hand in his hair and the other open in her lap, collecting starlight. She could let him do his best to carry the burden of her disquiet for both of them. She could help him accomplish the end that he had come to her asking for years ago, and that she had granted him.
The rebellion has always gone badly.
“Senator,” the general says, and Mon turns.
“You’re early,” she says, and nods to a passing technician. “Fetch Andor. My chambers.”
She still doesn’t sleep well. She still offers no explanations, and brooks no questions. She still walks, although Yavin is less amenable to midnight strolling, given the humidity and the uncertain terrain, and still does so unaccompanied and yet not alone.
“So,” Draven says, as if she needs to be warned of his impending opinion. “The girl. Saw Gerrera. Do you think they’ll make it?”
“I don’t know,” she says. A ruckus in the hallway heralds Cassian’s arrival, and Mon allows herself a small smile. “I think they’ll try.”
“That’s worth something, I suppose,” he says.
Mon nods. The weather is turning, somehow, a certain vitality in the air that puts her in mind of new life, green shoots, the bright clarity of blossom wine. She straightens, lifts her chin. Outside, the honest sunlight; inside, strategic twilight, and her silent second shadow the sole intermediary, a second signal in the empty dark — Mon smiles, and says: “It’s almost spring.”