Like any reasonable six-year-old, Cassian despises going to church.
When Mamá calls for him just before one of their weekly excursions, he grumpily abandons his toy X-wing models and trudges over to her bedroom, where she's dabbing perfume behind her ears and on the insides of her wrists.
She smiles warmly as he comes in, kneeling down to fasten the buttons of his starched white shirt. "Mijo, why do you look so sad?"
"'Cause I don't wanna go," he whines. Why does he has to spend his Taungsday mornings cooped up in a stuffy room listening to a weird old man chant for three hours, when his friends are free to do whatever they want? "It's so unfair— why do we have to go all the time?"
Mamá's smile doesn't waver. She reaches for the pendant around her neck and places it in his hand. "Because God protects the faithful. You might not realize it, but He's always listening, watching over those who believe. You're one of them, aren't you?"
Cassian nods his head hurriedly. Mamá ruffles his hair, and leans forward to brush a kiss to his forehead. "Mijo, I will not always be there, but God— He is always with you, as long as you remain faithful. Always remember this."
When the stormtroopers come for them, he wonders if it's because of him. If because of his doubt, God stopped protecting them, and so TIE-fighters came to firebomb his village, to claim his planet, and the rebels were too late, met only by ash and the charred bones of a city.
If he's why Mamá and Papá and all of his brothers and sisters are dead, eyes blown wide, crushed by falling debris, and if he's still alive as some sort of cruel punishment from God, condemned to the closest thing he's ever known to hell.
Someone kicks down the door, shines a beam of light around the room. "Hello? Can anyone hear me?" a woman calls out.
"Give it up," a man says gruffly, joining her. "There's no way anyone survived —"
Cassian sputters, and the man curses under his breath. "Well, kriff."
(When they carry him away, the last thing he sees before passing out is the glint of his mother's necklace, a relic of the god who betrayed her.)
He grows up without faith— there's no church on the rebel base anyways, and no time to waste on fanciful notions like religion when they have to fight tooth and nail just to stay alive, when they can only place their faith in what they see with their own eyes.
Weaned on the practicality of war, Cassian begins to resent his parents' foolishness; they had spent their entire lives staring at the sky with wide-eyed devotion, blindly faithful, worshipping a god who did not save them.
Where was this god exactly, when the Empire vanquished planet after planet, city after city? Kidnapped and tortured and murdered? Tore children away from their families and molded them into their dutiful slaves?
If He really was so merciful, so kind, so good, then how could He let those things happen?
All Cassian can trust are the people who he knows are fighting against the Empire, who dash around the control rooms and hangars, who infiltrate bases and fly bombing runs, who return bruised and battered, clawing their way closer to victory. Risking everything for the preservation of freedom, for what they believed in.
Heroes he can reach out and touch, solid and tangible, and know won't slip through his fingers.
He vows to become one someday.
They start training him early; he starts out doing odd jobs, patching up soldiers with the droids in the medbay, mopping the 'fresher floors, serving caf and army rations in the mess hall. By twelve, he's adept in hand to hand combat, can assemble a blaster in less than thirty seconds, and can pilot almost every ship in the hangar; by fourteen, he's singled out for his quick thinking, his ability to slip in and out without a trace, and starts training in espionage and subterfuge, tailing the rebellion's most skilled spies.
By sixteen, he's Sergeant Andor on his first mission, killing his first stormtrooper.
As he lays in the medbay, the hand that's clutching a bacta patch to his thigh shakes uncontrollably, and he can't stop replaying the moment in his mind, how he'd so unflinchingly pulled the trigger, muscle memory from endless hours of training.
But this wasn't a red dot in the center of a target: this was a person. A person he had killed. Blood on his hands.
They took everything from you, he reminds himself. He would've shot if you hadn't.
(The more he tells himself, the more it feels like enough.)
Time and time again, he proves his undying devotion to the Alliance, and quickly gains a reputation as the guy who will fly the most treacherous supply runs, gather intel from the seediest cantinas, cut deals with the most dangerous characters in the galaxy— and follow every single order without complaint.
Some stare at him in awe, and others shake their heads, call him a crazy son of a bitch. Others still are terrified at what he's capable of— an extremist, they call him, too cold-blooded for his own good.
But he pays them no mind. Someone needs to do the rebellion's dirty work, the jobs the high-minded turn their noses up at, and he's perfectly happy to do so. It earns him the respect and trust of his superiors, who beam at him during every commendation ceremony, proclaiming him a hero of the Alliance.
With each medal that piles up in his closet, each new wound and scar across his body, he feels himself pulled deeper and deeper into the cause that has been his entire life since he was six years old, unable to make room for much else.
Not for lack of trying, though: he falls in love with a pilot named Maya, and they fall together and apart countless times, stuck in each other's orbits.
Even as her weight against him tethers him back to the ground, he can't help but drift away. He cannot fall asleep beside her without seeing brilliant flashes of blaster fire behind his eyelids, wakes up in the middle of the night possessed by a frantic idea, a solution to a problem he's been puzzling out, a new battle schematic he just has to put to paper.
A pawn of the machine that threatens to consume him whole.
"Cas, go to sleep," Maya urges him, trying to tug him back down with her. "It can wait until morning."
He's so tempted to listen to her, but then he remembers the lives that are lost each moment he takes to rest — families like his, slaughtered— and shakes his head, presses a kiss to her forehead. "Just one minute, darling."
It gets so bad that his commanding officer practically has to force him to take time off. That it's impossible to fathom his future with her, beyond the rebellion, beyond the war that threw them together to begin with.
Then, two years later—
"What do you mean you're leaving?" Cassian demands, jumping to his feet in his disbelief.
"My father, he's sick, and my mother's too weak to do everything all by herself— I need to go home and help take care of him," she tells him firmly, looking him in the eye, the picture of steely calm. "My CO's already approved my request. I'm going to be discharged in two weeks."
He throws his hands up in the air. "This is ridiculous! Do you know what you're giving up?"
She ignores him, grits her teeth, and keeps talking. "I haven't seen my parents in almost a year. A year. If I stay, who knows when I'll get to see them again? If my father dies and I'm not there with him, I won't be able to live with myself. I have to go back."
"Maya, people are dying. Think about all the good you can still do. You believe in this cause, don't you?"
"God, Cas, of course I do! You think any of us would do half the things we do if we didn't think it meant something?" She tugs him back down to sit beside her. "It's just—I can't give everything up for this. It can't...be my whole life."
They sit there together, holding each other in silence, and she does not ask him to go with her.
When she tries to pull away, Cassian only clings on tighter. "I love you."
"I know," Maya sighs, cradling his head to her chest. "But think about, Cas: you'd never really be able to choose me. If it came between me and the rebellion, you'd pick the rebellion each time."
Cassian does not deny it. He may be many things, but liar is not one of them.
"You must think I'm so pathetic," he mumbles.
She tilts his chin up, smoothes over the ridge of his cheekbone. "No: just stupidly, stupidly brave."
When Cassian bids her farewell in the landing bay, he wishes her a safe journey, says he hopes for her father's speedy recovery.
He does not say, I wish I could have a life with you. I wish I was the sort of person who could leave this all behind.
So he stays with the rebellion, and more or less does not doubt the cause he has bled and killed for; his ideals are just barely enough to justify everything he's done, if he doesn't dwell on the subject for too long.
Not that that's much of a problem. With no family, no girlfriend, not many he cares for beyond as a comrade (or co-pilot droid), he doesn't have anything to lose— so he fights without any reservations, recruits their most powerful allies, too much occupying his headspace to let any misgivings creep in at the edges.
Until Senator Osenan is taken prisoner, and they're so horribly shortstaffed, and they need Cassian to stage a rescue operation.
Of course, he accepts, and K-2SO tags along with him. "Why are they sending us? This is far from our expertise."
Cassian sets their course for the Imperial base. "Something about blending in. You're an Imperial droid, remember?"
"They couldn't have partnered me with someone else?"
Leave it to him to find the mouthiest droid in the galaxy. "No one else could put up with your crap."
K-2 seems to concede to that point, and miraculously, shuts up for the rest of the journey. When they arrive, Cassian puts on a stormtrooper uniform, and they manage to sneak into the base without much trouble; it's bizarrely low security for a prison, which should raise a dozen red flags, but for the moment, he's relieved.
He and K-2 split up to look for the cell, and when Cassian rounds the corner of a hallway, he comes face to face stormtrooper.
Face to chest, actually— this one's rather short.
The stormtrooper straightens up, raises a hand up in a shaky salute, and says in a tremulous voice, "Apologies, sir. I was assigned to patrol duty today— I should have been watching where I was going—"
A child, Cassian realizes with a start, no older than eleven or twelve. It would explain the height, the clumsiness, the low security— the base is a prison and a stormtrooper training facility. Where the Empire brainwashes children and conditions them into mindless zombies.
He wants nothing more than to find all of the kids and put them on his ship and get out of there, but he's here on a mission.
"At ease, soldier," Cassian says, as sternly as he can manage. "I'll forgive it this time."
The child breathes an audible sigh of relief. "So you're not going to report me?"
"Not if you can help me out," Cassian says. "I've been sent from another base to retrieve a prisoner— Senator Osenan. Perhaps you could direct me to his cell?"
A bit too polite for a 'trooper, but the kid doesn't seem to notice, practically tripping over himself to be useful. "Yes, sir! It's on lower level three. Would you like me to escort you?"
He takes Cassian to the cell, waits expectantly for him to open it. Cassian clears his throat. "You're dismissed, 'trooper. Return to your post and wait for further instructions."
The kid salutes him and goes scurrying off back where they came. Cassian counts thirty seconds, before comming K-2. "I've found the cell. Get the ship ready and stand by— we'll be there shortly."
He fires his blaster at the keypad and wrenches the cell door open. The senator stares blankly at him, looking terribly frail and gaunt.
Cassian takes his helmet off. "Senator, I'm Lieutenant Andor of the Rebellion— we're here to bring you home."
Osenan only nods, and Cassian helps him to his feet, reaches over to handcuff his hands behind his back. "My apologies, sir— part of the cover" He pulls his helmet back on and guides them back to the first level.
Much to his chagrin, the kid stormtrooper comes running over the second Cassian and Osenan step out of the elevator. "Is there any other way I can be of assistance, sir?"
Cassian tries to shove past him. "No, I can get it from here—"
"NJ-3256!" An adult stormtrooper steps into view. "What are you doing with this prisoner?"
He's not sure if even he can talk his way out of this one.
The kid gestures to Cassian. "He has orders to retrieve the prisoner."
The stormtrooper turns his head towards Cassian. "I haven't heard about any orders. What's your designation, 'trooper?"
"RY-9588," he says quickly, hoping that he's somehow given a plausible answer.
No such luck. "That's impossible, the RY squadron was wiped out years—"
He shoves Osenan behind him and fires, the stormtrooper collapsing to the floor. He turns, and the kid is pointing his blaster at him, reaching to comm for backup—
So Cassian shoots.
The Empire is quick to disseminate propaganda— they call the rebels cold-blooded killers, disparage them for the slaughter of an innocent noncombatant.
Incredibly, none of this makes him feel worse than he already does.
Cassian's already lost track of how many lives he's taken, many without guilt, but this feels monumentally different. The stormtrooper was a child, probably the same age his sister had been when the Empire blew her up.
So how is he any different from the force they've been fighting against? How can he say that he's not the villain here?
He'd joined the rebellion to protect innocent lives, told himself that all these years, he'd been fighting for freedom. And yet—
(The night he gets back, he drinks himself into a stupor, drinks and drinks to burn away the memories he'd rather forget.)
When Cassian sees the temple on Jedha, he can't help but scoff— it's in complete ruins, ravaged for the kyber crystals within, its protectors left to wander aimlessly through the city. The last remnant of the Jedi, a reminder of how easily a faith had crumbled, how nothing can ever truly be sacred.
Galen Erso is within firing range, but Cassian is unable to pull the trigger.
He's never disobeyed orders before and doesn't entirely understand why he's doing it now, but he thinks it might have something to do with Jyn's face swimming in his vision, her words echoing in his head.
Trust goes both ways, she'd said.
It's the first time he's ever wanted to keep it.
When he volunteers to fight at Scarif, he puts his trust in Jyn's ironclad resolve, her bold, unshakeable courage.
But it's not just that: it's K-2's unflinching honesty, Bodhi's wide-eyed idealism, Chirrut's bone-deep devotion, Baze's unwavering loyalty. It is in all of this that Cassian places his faith.
On the journey, he watches Jyn cup her hands around the kyber crystal around her neck, press her lips to its smooth surface.
When he'd first met her, he thought she was the same as him— cynical, disillusioned, alone.
But seeing her now, he knows that she has never once lost her faith.
They stumble down to the beach together, Cassian clinging onto her like a lifeline. His knees soon buckle into the sand, unable to hold the ache of his broken ribs and blaster wounds any longer, and Jyn falls down with him.
Her steady weight against him, he gazes at the horizon, the supernova rushing closer and closer, swallowing the sky whole. It's beautiful, he thinks, comforted by the knowledge that at long last, they can stop running. They don't have to be afraid anymore.
Cassian turns to look at her; she seems at peace, the white hot light reflected in her eyes. Wordlessly, they fall against each other, his head coming to rest on her shoulder, the warmth of her enough to make him feel alive.
(As the heat closes in, he thinks he's found something to believe in.)