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Like Creatures in the Wind

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“You stay with the shuttle,” Cassian Andor tells the short 12-year-old at his side. “Make sure we’re not being watched. Don’t go any further than a hundred feet from it. If you notice anything send a signal to my comm, okay?”

Nell Merasska nods, blinking her huge cerulean eyes at him and pulls her dark green hood a bit lower over her head. The last sun of Astiri is setting and the violet second moon is already high in the sky, making Nell’s pale golden hair sparkle with rainbows. “Okay, Andor. I’ll be here.”

“Good. Whatever than absolute, hundred-percent nothing you let us know, alright? I’m leaving you the blaster only because I’m superstitious.” It’s just her fourth mission and first without supervision of the Rebel intelligence head trainer Tac Felswoop. Cassian won’t dare bringing Nell too much out in the open - his job is to get her used to being in the field, work on her nerves and get her to keep her cools about, not yet have her actively participate in tasking. That’s what he has Rast Kanu with him today. Not to mention that with the oncoming night, the boy’s partly Chiss heritage-brought night vision would come in very handy in observing the routine of the guards of the Empire rhydonium warehouse.

Nell rolls her eyes at him and clicks the offered weapon onto her belt. “I’m not five, Andor, and you’re not my mother.”

“And thank the stars for that,” Cassian says and pats her on the shoulder. “Ready, Rast?”

“Ready, big boss,” Rast replies with a smirk (despite being almost two full years younger than Cassian he’s easily got half a foot in height and ten pounds in bone mass on him) and wraps his scarf tighter around his throat. The wind is getting up, bringing warmth from the valley underneath them and hissing in the leaves around. The noise will cover their steps in the dry grass.

***

They lie on the hard, dried-out ground, breathing iron-rich dust and pollens but not able to afford even the singlest cough to clear their throats. Rast’s eyes never leave the compound. He’s looking for any movement of the guards, the way the rotating headlights on the guard towers meet and illuminate the buildings. Where the blind spots are. Where is the entry and exit points for vehicles to come in and what controls they go through. How long it takes the guards to walk their patrol and how often they change. If their gear is any different from the previous patrols. What species they are. Rast only uses the binoculars hidden under his shirt a few times since the reflection of light on the lenses could give them away, so he’s straining his foton-sensitive eyes as much as possible. He can’t break his concentration as any lack of coverage could cause a disaster for the mission planned in the next few weeks - steal the rhydonium, put explosives in, and blow the facility to Force come. The Rebellion desperately needs the fuel and losing such amounts as those stored here will be a big blow for the Empire as well.

What they do is this: Rast keeps looking intently on the facility, his blinking only few and far between, and anything he spots he passes in a low whisper to Cassian, who is lying side-to-side next to him and marks Rast’s every word down in rushed letters and minimalistic sketches.

They are stiff and cold after lying without a twitch for hours. There is an active mine field that begins just behind their feet and ends at the bushes where they hid their ship and Nell. Coming here, Rast was the one to lead the way, as his sharp red eyes detected disturbances within the soil that, along with a silenced detector, meant safe pass even in the deepening darkness. Now, with the suns already painting the sky in pastel on the horizon they have to get to their ship, lay low for the 15-hour-long daylight cycle and repeat their night observation. And then again, and again, to see if there is any change in routine.

“How long?” Rast asks in a raspy tone, trying to stretch his muscles without really changing position.

“Thirteen hours,” Cassian answers after checking his chronometer. “Should be enough time.”

“If you jam their reception first and then take them out, yeah.” Cassian is scheduled to be a part of the team to infiltrate the base; he’s been a skilled saboteur ever since the Rebellion first taught him to handle explosives, shortly after they picked him up at age of 6. Even ten years later he still retains the same slight build and loose joints that allow him to crawl up spaces that adult human would not fit into while carrying payload. Rast is a little bit envious of the older boy’s place in the lineup, but knows that his time will come as well. Also, there is absolutely no way in the galaxy he would allow himself to be put and sealed into an empty rhydonium crate for hours, shoved around like bag of bantha kriff into enemy territory, no way at all, thank you very much. Let Andor deal with that kriff if he wants to while Rast gets some well-deserved rest and maybe even a warm meal into his stomach.

“Right,” Cassian nods absent-mindedly, folding the sheets of notes into his parka’s inner pocket. Then he hoists himself up on his arms and toes and folds into a crouch, hiding from view of the guard towers without shifting his feet, mindful of the mines hiding possibly just a step away. Rast moves up as well, his spine popping loudly.

“Do you want to go first?” Cassian whispers, eyeing the trail of their footprints that will guarantee their safe return back to the shuttle.

Rast frowns at the bright white and yellow globes just appearing above the goal of their trek and shakes his head. “With the suns shining into my eyes like that I can’t see kriff. Better if you go first and shade a bit, eh?”

“If you say so,” Andor mutters and sets himself a bit lower, ready to dash out. “Can we?”

“Go.”

The smaller boy leaps forward, moving as fast as he dares without straying off the trail. They have to get back to their shuttle and hide before it is truly light (and dawn, just as dusk, is a matter of minutes during summer on Astiri) so they won’t get noticed, but any weight on the buried landmines could set them off and the repercussions would be disastrous. Behind himself, Cassian can hear Rast’s footfalls, heavier than his own and not as precise.

(Tac Felswoop would always joke during training that Cassian was almost wasted as a spy, that his legs and grace were that of a dancer and wits of a reputable strategist. “The galaxy is an ocean of possibilities for people like you, my boy,” the aging Togruta would say. “You could be anyone, anything you could think of. And in this job you will be. Just not that way.”)

He’s almost completely uncoiled from his crouch when he hears the pattern of Rast’s gait change, followed by a silent, yet heartfelt curse and before he even has the chance to turn around he’s knocked down by a detonation going off just behind his back. Luck has it that he’s thrown mostly forward and lands on a low bush that breaks his fall. Stunned, Cassian blinks several time, waiting for the loud thumping of his pulse fade from his ears and neck where it beats violently against his collar. His vision clears after a few second and he turns around, putting tiptoes into the two nearest footprints he can find, and runs to where he sees something move by the trail thirty or so feet behind.

If his stomach weren’t so completely empty Cassian would have surely vomited all over the shredded, blood-flooded pieces of Rast’s left knee before his feet even halted. The calf of that leg calf is nowhere to be found, as is anything that should be located bellow his right hipbone. His arms, flailing around in a still mute shock, his torso and even his face are littered with blackened dots and his charred, smoking clothes begin to seep red from just about everywhere . There’s so much of it, flowing and gushing, all over Rast and into Cassian’s face and the older boy feels himself beginning to panic despite himself. He has killed people before (his first kill was when he was just days shy of 11, discovered in a sewer with a timed bomb in his hand, the soldier grabbed him by the arm and tried to drag him to the outpost and Cassian sneaked his other hand around, took the man’s blaster and shot him in the heart and then ran away) but that was always the enemy or neat job with a blaster or a knife; he has administered first aid before too but never like this, there was never so much blood and bone shards sticking from hot, vibrant red pieces of muscle. The smell of copper and iron is overwhelming and Cassian gags despite there being nothing for him to cough up.

The eerie silence lasts a second or two more, right before Rast opens his confused, scarlet eyes and catches sight of his twisted, tattered hands. As if seeing the destruction is the sudden signal for all his nerves to light up at once the boy emits the loudest, most terrifying screech Cassian has ever heard in his life and it goes on and on, the ruins of Rast’s lower body jerking seemingly on their own. And as on cue the air fills with deafening honking that makes the ground shake underneath them.

Cassian curses under his breath. The alarm at the warehouse means they have realized there to be intruders and will search for them; Rast’s screaming will lead them like a beacon to their position and they’re too close to their shuttle for it to go unnoticed. And Rast is still wailing, tears are running down his cheeks and in his agony he’s beating blindly around with arms.


He can’t carry him to the shuttle. He doesn’t have time; the observation has been revealed, the enemy knows about them. They are coming  - Cassian can almost feel them, taste them in the air - and he must avoid capture at all cost. Especially with the intel still on him, safely tucked in his jacket.

(He would talk if interrogated; he knows it. He has been trained to withstand great pain by having great pain inflicted on him, over and over again, yet he knows his breaking point and it isn’t as high as he’d like it to be. There are several suicide pills in the shuttle and one sewn into his trouser waist and three of them under his own skin, put into places where he could bite them out if necessary. The poison in them makes for a quick, if gruesome death.)

The problem stays: they have to abandon mission and leave the planet immediately and Cassian cannot carry Rast back. He wouldn’t even be able to lift him, not with the growth spurt hitting the younger boy so early but taking its damned time with Cassian, not with how weakened by malnutrition he already is, and not when he needs to be off planet in minutes . That leaves him with only one choice, the sooner the better.

Rast is yelling words between the howls, something like “lost balance” and “oh Force” and “ hurts so much ” as his voice breaks and the sad shipwreck of his palm catches Cassian’s sleeve, and out of choices about the proper method Cassian puts his hand on Rast’s chin and the other on his neck to give it as forceful a yank as he can manage, hoping to break the vertebrae and put Rast out of this torture. Only nothing gives, Rast’s bones being too strong to snap and the red of his eyes find Cassian’s brown in a horrified grimace.

“What are you doing?!” Rast rasps out. He knows, though, and knows why, he just can’t seem to actually believe it.

“I’m so sorry,” Cassian whispers, aghast of himself. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry...

“Come on!” Rast yells again, aiming and punching Cassian in the eye. “Come on, you bastard…!”

And not knowing what is it that Rast actually urges him to do ( come on, pick me up, carry me to the shuttle, get me to base, get me some kriffing help, or is it come on, kill me, save yourself, save the mission, get out of here ), Cassian shifts both his hands onto the dying boy’s throat and pushes down with all his weight, the body under him spasming all anew, and he doesn’t stop before the shrieks are finally silent, the arms unmoving, the pulse that was beating into his arms faded into nothingness and he realizes that the only thing he can hear are the alarm from the base and his own fitful sobs.

Only then does Cassian get up to his feet as if in trance, takes three deep breaths that taste like copper and forces the tremors running up and down his body away. His arms burn and his hands curl into themselves in cramps - the sheer strength he had to expend to strangle another being has shocked him. He needs to forcefully flatten his palms and shake off the fire underneath. Then he presses the distress button on his comm, signaling to Nell to abandon plans and get the shuttle flight-ready, and runs the remaining distance to her with all the speed he can muster.

***

Rays of orange sunlight strike the bushes around and illuminate the grey hunk of the shuttle. Cassian is too exhausted to look around and doesn’t think of taking a detour from the other side of the clearing to shake off any pursuers that are surely on his tail already. He’s wary when he doesn’t see or hear Nell anywhere. He couldn’t call her to tell her what happened out of fear of the safety of the line being compromised. A distress call is all she should need to get ready. The shuttle should be running and ready to take off, so why are the engines still off and the girl -

And then he sees her.

She’s lying on her back about three dozen feet from the shuttle, twitching as blood pours out from her slit throat. She’s clasping one hand around the gaping would, probably trying to stop the bleeding but having realized the futility of her efforts she lets it fall limply. Her lips are a geyser of red bubbles from where her perforated trachea seeps in the blood. She lies, accepting the nearing end almost calmly. Cassian can see that it will not come for her yet - the superficial blood vessels have been nicked and she will either drown or bleed to death, there’s nothing she or Cassian can do about that at this point, not without the emergency gear that they don’t have , but the internal carotids are still supplying her brain with so far enough blood to keep her awake and aware. Whoever did this to her did it to incapacitate her without regard to the misery they have put the poor girl into. They didn’t even have the decency to cut deeper and kill her quickly.

She must have heard him coming for her angelic face shifts slowly to him. Her eyes are the colour of the morning sky above Fest (one of the only things he remembers of his homeworld) and she attempts to fix up a smile that looks equal parts an apology and absolution. She tries for words but instead she only draws more blood and starts choking even more.The hand on her throat shakes as she weakly points it onto their shuttle.

Cassian follows her indication and only now notices that the cargo hold is halfway open. Coming closer to the vehicle he can hear low voices, two at least, and noises of someone rummaging through the cockpit.

Kriff, they only had that one blaster that is no longer on Nell’s belt.

Cassian creeps forward till he’s flush with the cargo hold and eyes it's door. The ramp is lowered enough for him to reach and climb up on it, all he needs is to jump up a bit. He loses his jacket and kicks off his shoes to muffle any noises, gets ready and - there, despite muscles screaming in fatigue he finds himself balancing on the top of the door. The loophole there is just big enough for him to squeeze through. He does so without a sound and hides in the darkness that still lingers in the hulk of the ship.

(He’s always been very quiet, very good at getting around people without them noticing him at all. “He’ll live long,” Talc would say about him when General Draven came asking about new operatives in preliminary training. “This one has it in him what it takes to survive in our art. Unless that good old heart of his gets him first.”

A week after that his preliminary training ended, he became Draven’s direct charge and full training began.)

Cassian finds himself inside the shuttle with two unsuspecting human males. He can see one clearly, a large man about twice Cassian's age and three times his weight at least. By clothes and demeanour not a soldier, more likely a smuggler or a thief who saw a seemingly empty ship and decided to help himself to it. His right sleeve is red with young blood and the young Rebel can see the handle of a sleek knife on the man’s belt. He cannot see the other man and cannot understand the language they are speaking (sounds a bit like Iskalonian but he never gathered more of that language than “fry”) but none of that matters now. He has the man who murdered Nell, and he has a tactical position over them. They don’t know about him yet.

There’s a heavy wrench lying on a piece of cloth (Rast was fixing one of the cargo shelves on the way and messed up the entire thing with grease). Cassian takes it into his hand, careful not to clink on anything, and with four steps he finds himself within his arm’s length behind the man who slit Nell’s throat. Wild rage overtakes all with a battle cry he doesn’t know he possessed Cassian lifts the wrench as high as his arms allow and swings it crashing into the man’s head.

The man must have sensed something because he moves a fraction aside. The wrench hits him in the shoulder instead of the skull, but the sounds of cracking bones are difficult to overhear as it is. The man lets out a surprised yelp as he’s knocked down to his knees. One arm shoots up to cover his head, the other palming for the knife. He’s screaming something at the other one and looks about to tackle Cassian onto the floor. Which is why it must be not allowed - Cassian knows well that acting fast is his only way of overpowering them, because the other man, now that he casts him a glance, is about the same type as the first and is pointing Nell’s blaster at the young rebel’s head. He’s beginning to laugh - clearly he thinks that such a scrawny kid with nothing but a simple tool, one nearly as heavy as the boy himself, is going to be the easiest target of the day.

Cassian jumps at him and within seconds the blaster lies on the ground in sparking shards. The man is holding his smashed hand to his chest and howling. The other one, though, is quick with his knife and Cassian feels it piercing the skin of his right flank from ribs to the hip. He’s surprised to note that the pain he expects to blossom simply doesn’t arrive, unable to fight its way through the adrenaline high he’s currently running on. Turning around, a fist collides with his left cheek and nearly throws him off balance, but he’s quick to repay it with two good hits with the wrench, one in the offending elbow and the other in the man’s face. The ugly face seizes up as Nell’s killer falls down onto the wall incapacitated, the knife rolling onto the metal floor with a loud ringing sound. Cassian screams, and adds a few more hits, holding the tool in both hands. And more. Only when bright red mash is slicking his fingers does Cassian realize that the man is dead and the insides of his head are now seeping into his Rebel-issued military boots.

There’s a hiss of hydraulic somewhere to his side and Cassian looks up to see that the second man has fully opened the cargo ramp and is bolting from the shuttle. He’s not running too fast, not with the mangled hand pressed to his chest, but is fast enough that he might escape. The wrench is Cassian’s arm is heavy and his arms ache. He lets the tool fall onto the floor; it lands with a thud and stays unnaturally still. He will never catch up on that man now, but…

The knife feels almost weightless, nothing of it bounding it down but the burden of his blood and underneath that, Nell’s, still staining the blade and the hilt. Cassian clenches it firmly in not-very-steady-anymore grip and suddenly, he’s running the length of the hull, out on the hard, heavy ground, and his right arm twists in backswing. He throws the knife halfway to the sky and watches it glide in an elegant arch and then it’s sticking hilt out from between the escaping man’s shoulder. He’s not dead; Cassian can see him twitching. Will probably survive with swift professional care. Cassian cannot bring himself to care.

Instead, he trots to where Nell is struggling to breathe and brings more and more blood into her lungs  and gurgling out through her lips with every inhale. The red stain around her neck has grown considerably but she is still quite lucid. Shocked, Cassian realizes that no more time than a minute must have passed since the moment he crept into the shuttle. It felt like hours.

He feels so incredibly tired and old as he kneels down next to Nell and gathers her body into his arms. Her skin is cold, much more on her hands than on her face, all the warmth having escaped her form. Warmth is red, and red seeps into the dried-out ground around them, into their clothes, into their skin. Cassian’s skin is darker than hers, so much more to gold and bronze. She looks like the ghost she will become any minute now.

Her wide, knowing eyes seek out his and there is no uncertainty. She is calm, accepting, wiser than anyone Cassian has ever met (and probably will ever meet). Seeing her agony and the grace with which she is handling herself he tries to mimic her but can’t, he cannot stop himself from breaking in tears as her small, ice-cold hand seeks out his and holds. Presses more, and despair breaks through her demeanor at last. Her lips curve into a grimace but her eyes stay trained firmly on his.

This time, Cassian knows what it means. Knowing it makes it no easier to bear, though.

Another mighty sob tears itself out of his throat and he leans over her, pressing his trembling lips to her forehead and her hair. “I’m so sorry,” he whispers uselessly and brokenly, on and on, and her hand around his wrist presses once, as if to say accepted , or it’s okay , or all will be fine . All of that is lies. Her fingers comb weakly through his hair, catching on the knots.

(She’s always pulled his hair whenever she had a chance and when he grew it to his shoulders she would steal and hide his rubber band, just because she could. She would teach other kids in their training houses to it too, knowing that it drove him up the wall.)

”We’ll never forget,” is what he breathes into her ear, and then his hands find her jaw and the nape of her neck, just as they did first with Rast. Only this time the delicate, brittle bones stand no chance to his determination to stop her suffering right now. He yanks to the side, rotating, and there’s a loud pop as the atlas breaks free of both the skull and the axis. Nell  gives one last full-body twitch and her eyelids slide a bit closer.

Cassian sits there with his fingers on her pulse point for eternity, checking, waiting for something - maybe for her neck sewing itself closed, her heart picking up a rhythm again, for her to wipe the blood of her face, smile at him as brightly as she always did and announce that she’ll beat him in the next game of cards. Only nothing happens, and her heart stays silent.

Cassian gets up slowly, not knowing what to do. He was supposed to bring Nell and Rast back to base in five days, alive and in one piece. Then it occurs to him.

He cannot bring Rast home. No one would wait there for him, anyway - neither of them had any living family, which is why they were picked for saboteur training while they still had most of their milk teeth. And he wouldn’t want anyone to see the way Rast ended, no - it is enough that he will have to see Rast in his last moments for the rest of his own life. But Nell - Nell has a mother and a couple of siblings on the base, Cassian remembers. He would run into them from time to time. He can do that for them, for her - he will not allow the Empire to get their hands on the body of Nell Merasska.

First he drags the body of her murderer out of the shuttle and cleans the worst of the gore from the console (the cloth on which the killer wrench laid before - both he throws away) and then picks Nell up, carrying her to the shuttle as if she should disappear with any sudden movement. He lays her down on the cargo floor, fixing her broken neck into a more natural position. Types in the coordinates of the home base in a haste (he’s running out of time and he knows it, he needs to get out immediately before the Empire can track his ship down), shoots up into the clouds and punches the hyper drive switch the moment his shuttle reaches orbit.

The flight to the base takes almost seven hours. The entire time Cassian Andor sits on the floor of the cargo bay, carefully washing blood and filth from Nell’s skin and hair so that her poor mother would not have to.

***

The shuttle lands with a rattle and keeps sitting on the tarmac. General Davits Draven has been clapping his foot on the floor nervously since the vehicle entered orbit and reported to land. Something had to go terribly wrong with the mission for Andor to be back after the first night out of a whole week. Seeing that nothing is happening on the pilot’s side, Draven walks to the control panel of the cargo ramp and manually sets it down.

The ramp lowers, and the general's eyes settle on the pale, lifeless body of Nell Merasska, gently tucked onto one of the benches lining the sides of the cargo hold. Her hands are piled neatly on her midsection and someone obviously made a valiant effort to wipe blood from all over her (though nothing could have salvaged her clothes), close the gaping breach of her throat with a piece of common fabric thread and fix her so the shattering of her nape is less apparent. There's nothing he can do for her now except to alert responsible personnel and somehow let her mother know.

He walks further into the shuttle and enters the cockpit to find no traces of Rast Kanu whatsoever and Cassian Andor sitting at the controls, covered in so much blood it could hardly be of one person, wide-eyed staring ahead and unresponsive to anything going around him.

Things are really, really bad.

“Flight cadet.”

The boy does not react. The grip on the controls is turning his fingers white under all those layers of rusty red.

“Cadet Andor. Cassian.”

He reaches out a hand and sets it on the young agent's back. His well-meaning, comforting gesture works as if a bolt of electricity has struck Andor; he jumps in the seat, nearly screaming in his haste to get away from whatever is touching him and trips over the armrests, falling into a heap on the floor and kicking till his back hits the wall.

For several seconds Draven can only stare, speechless.

He has known Cassian Andor for ten years. Been there when his cadet pulled the child from the rubble of his house back on Fest, burned down by Imperials with the boy and his recently widowed mother locked inside because she dared to publicly criticise the newly proclaimed Emperor. She hid her son in the basement and tried to kick out the door, but the roof collapsed on her. Even then the little boy seemed fearless when facing a group of strange adults just hours after being orphaned and nearly killed. Draven had watched him, both on the way to the base and after, seeing a great potential. He kept track on him during the years that young Andor spent with other children the Rebels took in. Made it known to higher places what he believed they had right under their nose, and had the boy started training in sabotage. Saw him being better at it than most and picked him into intelligence training. Draven had spent years testing the boy, subjecting him to procedures anyone not in their field would consider torture, honing his skills, putting him under unbearable duress to see how he reacted and what it took for him to stop being able to perform tasks. Point being, even beaten repeatedly, drugged and hallucinating, Cassian Andor never recoiled in fright before.

What the hell happened on Astiri?

“Easy there, Cadet,” the general says as nonthreatening as he can muster and slowly raises his hands in the air. A pair of skittish eyes follows them and Draven recalls how to handle an alarmed mission target. Get to their eye level, right.

Kneeling down makes the boy wince, but some coherence seems to have broken through the haze. He looks around himself, gradually showing more recognition of his surroundings. It takes him uncomfortably long to notice his commander being present, and even that is only after Draven puts a hand on his arm. The ways in which such lapse of attention is unlike Andor are frightening.

“Come on, son,” Draven says in a low tone, “what happened?”

“I…” the boy blinks several times and attempts to sit up straighter, then seems to forget himself momentarily. His hands starts seeking under his jacket and pulls out a stack of papers, which is probably the only thing in this shuttle that is not covered in blood.

Typical Andor - protects the intel above all else and always sees it delivered.

Draven perfunctory looks at the notes. “Thank you, Cadet. Now tell me what happened during your mission. Who killed Merasska?”

Cassian pales visibly under all that blood. “They… two, ambushed her, robbed the shuttle, they…”

Draven can just paint the picture. “They slit her throat?”

Andor nods, on the verge of hyperventilation. Draven sighs. He’s never seen his charge so miserable. “They snapped her neck too?”

This time the boy shakes his head almost reluctantly. His face contorts into a look of absolute despair and suddenly Draven knows why. “You did,” he says softly, without any judgement in his voice. “To stop the pain. Am I right?”

Cassian doesn't make any outward gesture of agreement, but the way his dark, velvet brown eyes go red and glassy is agreement enough. Which explains the amounts of blood all over him.

“And the attackers? Disposed of?”

“Yes…”

Draven places his palm on Cassian's cheek, not minding the flakes of dried blood there. “You did good, son. Do you understand? I wish you wouldn't have to, but you did good. Cassian.”

The picture of all world's misery lifts his eyes to his. It's hard to hold that raw gaze. The general wonders for a fleeing second if he's getting too soft for his work, that he would never coddle any of his other agents (and under normal circumstances, not even Cassian) like this, that he cannot afford to be soft with them. But kriff that, the boy is only sixteen years old. He’s not ready to work alone on the whole scale yet. He should have had someone older, more hardened, less feeling with him the first time he killed one of his own.

(The little voice in his head that says, he’s going to be a much better agent now, he’ll be desentitized and will not question commands, Draven forcefully slams down. For once, his best agent must be treated with care, not hardness.)

“Where is Kanu?” Draven asks, even though in the pit of his stomach he already knows the answer.

The boy looks somewhere over the older man’s shoulder in reminiscence. As the general watches his eyes fill with utter horror and his already ashen skin takes a sickly green shade. “He… he stepped… on a landmine,” he says in a faint whisper.

Oh, sweet flying fuckballs .

“Was he captured? Tell me, son.”

Andor's colour turns just a shade lighter than Draven's uniform as he shakes his head. “There was so much blood…”

Press on his shoulder, pat his cheek slightly. “Did you - did you end it, too?”

Draven has barely enough time to twist aside as the boy lurches to the ground, his thin body spasming and arms not really holding up his weight as he throws up nothing but acids. Draven sneaks an arm around his waist when he sees Cassian's arms about to give up the battle and only now notices the long gash going a good foot in length along Andor's back. Sees that under the cut layers of fabric the skin is red and inflamed.

With one hand preventing the young agent from falling onto the floor covered in gore and sick, Draven reaches his other to his belt, takes out his commlink and dials the medbay frequency.

“General Draven requesting immediate medical assistance in bay 6. Repeat, situation requiring immediate medical assistance in bay 6. Send the best one you have, I’ll settle for no less.” He puts the commlink back as soon as a droid affirms that a medical professional is on their way. He puts his hands under Andor's arms and gently hoists him up - “come on, son, let’s get out of here” - and slowly leads him out of the shuttle to a bunch of empty cargo crates near the wall of the hangar.

Cassian is mumbling something, nearly inaudible and with a thicker accent than he normally sports. Draven leans in further to hear him saying, “I got the intel, I got the intel, I got the intel…”

“You did well, son,” Draven says quietly and runs his fingers lightly through the boy's long, matted hair. “You’ve been good. I’m proud of you.”

“I got the intel, I got the intel…”

Gradually, Cassian shifts his chant into Festian, repeating the same phrase over and over until Draven deposits him to crumble on the crates. Then his eyes fix into nothingness, his voice dies out and he stops registering his surroundings altogether.