This is the ending, quite un beta-ed and not edited quite well. But, I most likely will not be active for a while (or maybe I will... who knows?) so here it is.
Hope you've enjoyed the journey.
She jerks awake.
Vaguely, she hears screaming. It takes her a moment to recognize her own.
She curses, clamping her mouth onto her hand, biting whatever sound off. She could have exposed them-she must have, because of her idiocy.
"Jyn. Jyn, look at me."
She doesn't realize her eyes have closed. She starts to shake. Even now, she fears him leaving her. Emotional liability, that's what she is. Leading their kids headfirst into danger? It's impossible to do, no matter what her father says is at stake. Jim would choose the others over her.
It's what Saw did, because she was vulnerable. Because of her stupidity. Why shouldn't Jim?
She should leave. Go to Scarif and Krennic instead.
"Jyn, Jyn, stop, please."
She opens her eyes and stares into sky blue. "Cassian?"
She blinks, struggling to remember her dream or the name or anything. "I don't know." Her vision starts to clear, bit by bit, and it reveals Jim shaking her, holding her in his arms.
"I don't know," she repeats, and Jim's concern radiates from himself. The other kids stand near the doorway of the cabin, huddled together. Some have tears in their eyes, and she feels her heart burst. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking, I-"
"What happened, Jyn?" Jim grits his teeth, his concern quickly transforming into frustrated anger. She knows Jim-he wants the truth, nothing else. But she doesn't know: all she remembers is a warm hand, a presence so familiar and fulfilling, and a name. Cassian.
Kay walks stiffly to her side. "Would you like to shut up? It would be greatly appreciated by us all and would minimize the chances of getting shot."
"Jyn," Jim growls, waiting for an answer. She puts her palm on his arm and accepts the criticism, the honesty. "I know, Kay. I'm sorry."
Kay sniffs his nose upward in a mechanical, swift movement. "I advise, Captain, that we move along before we are heard."
Jim shifts from a vulnerable expression of concern and frustration to a closed off mask of JT. A killer. There are times (especially these) that she hates him. "Alright. Let's go."
He offers her his hand and pulls her up firmly-she's happy he doesn't treat her like fragile glass. But that's all: he turns around, and she is struck with the fear of him leaving her, of another abandonment-
"Wait." He stops. "Jim, what about my father? Scarif?"
He turns his head slightly in her direction, but he won't dare catch her eye. He stares at the ground, back straight but shoulders burdened with this grand invisible weight. "You know we can't possibly do that."
"No, we can't. Some of us can, but not all of us."
"And the others? You know this is suicide."
"Yes," she begins, tears in her eyes, teeth grinding so fiercely she feels them chip away at each other-Saw's sacrifice to bring her this, her father's deception against the governor. "And then? If not? We have a chance now to act against them; we have a chance to live. If we don't take this, we die anyway. We are all barely surviving-if we succeed, we can live again. This is our chance to make a real difference."
"We can't just knock on their front door, Jyn! We need a plan, we need arms, we need people-not starved children."
"We've done it before, haven't we? All we need to do is-"
Jim's eyes are wild and his mouth is open in biting anger. "We've raided towns with few guards at the towers. Not an entire military compound guarding the only source of contact to the outside world."
"As I was saying, we don't need to raid the town-all we need to do is infiltrate it, get inside the compound, send a message, and get out. No harm done if they don't notice us." She's desperate. Jyn knows this is a stretch, that what their father has requested of them is not simple at all. But it's all she can propose to Jim. She can only hope he understands.
Jim closes his eyes, letting them flutter in exhaustion, the only crack in his mask. (It isn't the only crack, but it is the one he lets slip from his grasp in the moment, drowning in the desperation in her eyes.) "Jyn. I can't risk any lives for this. Not even ours."
(She thinks she glimpses at the lies beneath his eyes, in the feigned indifference and firm decision making, in the helplessness he feels for them both. He is just an expert in hiding these damn emotions beneath a mask-his uncle is proof of it.)
"And," he begins, the brightness of his blue a fading light, "You don't even know if your father is telling the truth, if he's been compelled to say these things. This could be a trap."
Compelled-tortured. She can't seem to swallow the fear this time, to compartmentalize it into herself and control her emotions. Her hands shake and Jim ignores it.
Logic. Emotions. In thirteen years, Jyn has battled between the two, as all men have. For now, she flexes her quivering hand, the one Jim has released, and curls it into a fist, hard and flaming at the world. At Jim. At herself, at Saw, at her father, at Kodos (Krennic?). But Jim is right, to a certain degree: they cannot possibly take the tower because they lack the manpower to do so. However, they can alert Starfleet, send a message, a plea to the outside world. One of them can. With the name Cassian at the back of her mind, she swallows her pride and concedes for the moment, choosing logic to dictate where she will make her escape and achieve this colossal task her father has set before her-on her own.
The first town they come across next, she knows what to do. It only takes them two days to find one: a desolate, tattered collection of tanned stone houses, splattered with blood and death. (She thinks it reeks of him, the governor, the despicable coward obsessed with eugenics.)
They pair up and enter the different houses, planning to reconvene in the center square (where the decaying bodies lay) and present their scarce findings.
Ever since Alex died, Jyn had always elected to go alone. Today, Jim joins her, shoulder to shoulder, as if begging for forgiveness. His touch sends a rush of electrical shock and longing hidden in the shiver of her spine. She breathes, acknowledging him, but not speaking-she thinks she hasn't spoken since the day of her dream, when she woke and she learned the name Cassian.
They enter the first house on the corner, stolen phasers ready in their hands. The wallpapers are plain but for the fact that blood has tainted the yellow hue of the background; the insides are ransacked of life and water and food. It seems hopeless, but she and Jim scavenge it anyway. It's what they are: the detritivores of the society, the ones who scrape the dead of the dead and use it for their survival. It's what they have become.
She steps inside the kitchen, sweeping her phaser across her sight. Jim does the same, and approaches the door of what seems to be the pantry, motioning at her to follow him in. She is a few steps behind him when he swings open the door, and a blur of blue and black crashes atop them, scattering their phasers away from their reach. Their weight nearly crushes Jyn, and she scrambles from the bottom of the pile, pushing them out of her way, crawling across the floor.
There's a boy on top of Jim, wrestling him to the ground, his knees on Jim's back, his elbows on his arms, hands pushing Jim's face onto the jolting coolness of the hardwood floor. There's a knife in his hand, curved at the edge and silver at the handle-it's poised to attack Jim's vulnerable neck.
There's no time to think. Her hands are on his neck before she does, and she throws her body into his, letting the boy break her fall. She's on him, her body covering his, arms and knees over his back, keeping him down; she hears him snarl in response and he attempts to throw her body back. He arches, and she is unprepared for a bucking, kicking animal (she should have been-it's what she would have done) with a weapon in his hand. One moment she is on the culprit she is trying to subdue, the next, she's flying toward the yellow-red wallpaper, back banging against it and jolting her spine with a groan.
She slides down, and as her vision clears of the black dots of pain and confusion, she sees Jim rise up, fists ready for battle. The other boy turns toward them-her sitting, catching her stolen breath from the impact, and Jim in front of her body, knees bent forward in a threat-and they finally have a full view of his face.
She chokes back a scream, gasping in shock. The boy is old-perhaps as old as them-and in place of his left eye is a gaping hole of infection, blood, and nerve fibers, dangling out of his socket in crimson fingers, reaching down to caress his cheek-what's left of it. From the boy's left temple to the bottom of his chin, his face is charcoal and infected, burnt skin. The mass of red flesh clump around the dark splotches of his burns. Her heart twists, but she cannot her eyes, captivated with disgust and fascination.
She can see Jim's face from the corner if her eye, morphing into one of pity and bitterness. Their guest, it seem, appreciates none of their sentiments: he growls in response, grumbling at them in a lowly, savage manner, hand clenching the small blade so desperately his knuckles are white with tension. "Don't look at me!"
A boy turned into a monster-Jim's eyes speak more than he can bear; she can see recognition in his eyes, the resemblance between the boy's physical scars and JT's psychological marks. Jyn can see him turning from defensive to approachable, from warrior to leader (though often they're the same trait). Jim raises his hands and straightens his spine, bearing the title of captain perfectly. "We aren't here to hurt you, but we need to be sure you won't hurt us."
The scoff he receives brings her back to her own, back to a black, claustrophobic cave with damp dirt beneath her fingers, clumping into her hair, and a warm hand on her shoulder (Cassian, she thinks; No, Jim, she corrects). "Why should I believe you?" the boy asks, his voice grating and harsh. Jim tilts his head and steps closer, prompting the boy to yell, "Don't come any closer," his voice almost breaking with exhaustion and trepidation.
"Tom?" Jim asks, and she isn't sure whether she stands for the fear in his voice, for how it shivers in the air, for how he even knows the teenager, or for how close he is to a boy whose maimed face expresses not only his pain and bitterness, but his danger. There are so many crimes a man pushed to desperation can commit to survive another day. They should know. "Tom Leighton?"
In less than a moment from hearing his name, Tom lifts his blade up against the light streaming in a beam from the narrow window beside the kitchen doorway, pointing its curve towards Jim. "How the hell do you know my name? Answer carefully, ya bastard. I know how to throw these things." He seems to ignore how afraid he sounds, projecting the facade of fearlessness and stubborn danger through his body language: his body is turned sideways, and aside from the knife he holds, his leg is thrust forward and ready to leap, the left side of his face the only side shown in his stance, painting a menacing picture.
But they're just children. And it wasn't supposed to be this way. (Save the dream...Save Tarsus IV…)
(How, Saw?, she asks the ghost behind her. How, Mama?, she asks her beaming crystal.)
(She receives no answer.)
"It's me, Tom. Jim." He inches forward, as if the blade beckoned him into the light illuminated the silver glint of threat. "Jim Kirk-don't you remember me?"
She hovers behind them, observing two friends meet after a period of grief, destruction, and genocide-a period that still continues even during and after the reunion. But it's then she truly believes in Jim's dedication for others, in his love not only for his skill of self-hatred and condemnation, but for his friends.
She hears Tom gasp and lower his blade only slightly, turning his face to look at Jim with his one good eye; she sees his eye shifting and struggling to take his presence in, blinking back tears of hope and confusion. As recognition brightens his eyes, Tom drops the blade, burning and marking his palm with its imprint from clutching the weapon too powerfully. The boy quivers with guilt and agony and hopelessness and burden, and Jim catches him as he falls to his knees, sobbing into his neck, dried blood scraping against it. "They killed them, Jim. They killed them all. He killed them all-my brothers, my family-everyone-just gone."
She watches, Jim a rock of comfort for the storm of water flooding from Tom's grief, chipping away at him and his sanity, destroying him slowly until she sees a silver sliver of a tear glinting against the dying light from the narrow shaft leak from the corner of the rock's eye.
For Tom, she can see this in his eye: he will never rest until he personally murders Kodos the Executioner, a murderous, hazel flame lit solely for the death of the governor.
She waits until night, observing Tom with Vulcan senses. The darkness falls, and they huddle in a cave, the little ones asleep. It's her watch. Jim closes his eyes, but she knows he's never asleep-at the most, he rests lightly in a fitful dream, but never a deep slumber. She crawls cautiously away, proud of her abilities of agile, silent movement. Tom's eye is closed, chest heaving in and out, trapped in a nightmare. She can see the restlessness of his eye beneath the eyelid, shifting and searching in the dark. She can only imagine what he sees. What he remembers.
She can only wish that she does-a flash of blue and the warmth of a blinding, piercing heat enveloping her. She blinks it away and puts a hand on Tom's mouth, muffling his jerking protests and covering his snarls. He's about to lunge when she touches her finger to her lips and slowly withdraws her palm from his mouth. He seems angry, annoyed, distrusting. She would be too, she realizes.
Jyn gestures the boy outside, where the stars have illuminated the sky in constellations of explorations and the unknown. She steers clear away from Jim's prone body in his light sleep. Tom notices her aversion and stiffens beside her, suspicious of any motivation-any beside the Captain's.
"Well? What do you want?" he whispers, but the tone is equivalent to a beast on the verge of explosion.
"Scarif," Jyn says, refusing to submit to his fierceness. "Where is it?"
Recognition and fear flashes in the hazel of his eye, shifting the colors and mixing in the reluctance. "Why? Why would anyone want to go back there?"
"So you came from there?" she demands, ignoring the desperation and quivering volume of Tom's voice. "Tell me how to get there. Now."
Tom is shaking his head, his entire body rejecting her request, and he's repeating himself over and over, "No, I won't go back, I won't … I escaped him, no, no…"
She nearly groans, disgruntled, biting her split lip. "Tom, this is a matter of whether any of us survive this. Survive him. You have to tell me." Her father's sacrifice, Saw's death, the weapon raging across the planet, destroying everything in its path-if Tom does not show her the way, they lose everything. She loses everyone (even Jim).
"You don't understand," Tom seems to plead; for what, she has no idea-there is nothing she can give him, spare him for his trouble. She has no leverage to make him tell her, and she hasn't yet threatened him. Yet-the boy's grievances are pushing her patience. "He has a weapon, something that can kill the planet. He's already wiped off half of this forsaken rock; can you imagine what he'll do if he finds us?"
"Can you imagine what he'll do if we do not stand up to him? If we don't fight back? We can do it, without him knowing: infiltrating Scarif is more than phasers and soldiers."
"You don't understand," Tom repeats, shaking his head once more, fervently begging Jyn not to pursue this. "How do you think this happened to me?"
Tom gestures to his face and she feels her insides chill and halt its endless, meticulous churning. "He did this for sport. For punishment. For a lesson. Scarif is where it all began, where they all are-the first ones chosen to live. It's where Kodos is, where the prisoners are kept to keep order, where all the weapons are kept and developed. He said they were looking for a way to plant more crops, to grow more food-he's a damn liar-they all are-they're gonna find us and kill us all, don't you see? Don't you see?"
"What are you doing?"
Jim. Awake and filled to the brim with disbelief and betrayal. "Jyn?" he questions, and she can hear him grind his teeth in a rage.
"I'm leaving to Scarif," she answers, chin up in rebellion, ready for his rebuke. Green clashes with blue, a war fought in mind and word. "With or without you. Tom here is about to tell me how to get there."
The mentioned boy only says no, replays the negative multiple times to emphasize his adamant position. "Scarif means absolute death-a slow, monitored death, no matter who you are. I'd recommend dying the quicker way. It's easier like that."
"Listen to me, Jyn; we don't have the luxury to fight, to risk everyone's lives like this. We don't have the time, the resources, the information."
"He has the information. It doesn't matter-time is running out for us either way. We have to take a stand, now."
Jyn turns to Tom. She knows exactly how to manipulate him, to persuade him into taking her. It is only logical-the boy cherishes his family and despises Kodos more than anyone. "Think of your brothers, Tom. Your parents. Would they want you to run away?"
Tom shakes in her grasp, her hands firmly square upon his shoulders. "They told me to, wouldn't they want me to live?"
"You're not living, are you? We're all dying slowly, Tom. You must take us there-to the lion's den. It is only logical, if you want Kodos to be punished for all the wrong he's committed. Don't you?"
Beside her, Jim grinds his teeth. "She's right, Tom."
Jyn muffles her sound of shock, desperately relieved Jim has conceded. She could not have handled them not talking, or her leaving him in the dark, to find her father when he could never find his.
Tom, on the other hand, doesn't bother muffling his sob, shifting his eye from Jyn to Jim in a frantic manner. "Alright, I can take you to Scarif. But I won't step one foot inside it-I can't-he'll see me right away, I'll jeopardize your entire mission."
Jim nods understandingly and she releases the boy's thin shoulders, sharpened with starvation and torture. "Thank you, Tom," she tells the boy, breath heavy in the twilight, exhausted with effort.
Jim doesn't look at her as he leads Tom back into the cave, leaving her struggling to catch her tears in the soft light of Tarsus IV's moon, fists clenched in preparation for what they are proposing: war.
A confrontation with Jim is inevitable. As soon as he exits the opening of the small den, she is waiting for him by the fire, not wanting to prolong the wait, the simmering of distrust. Trust certainly does go both ways, and what she was attempting to do tonight betrayed him.
"You went behind my back," Jim starts. He attempts to hide the pain behind his eyes, the utter betrayal he feels, but she sees beyond the freezing ice of his glare.
"Jim," she begins, not knowing what she will say-beg for forgiveness? Fight back with the same amount of hostility?
"No," he growls. "You damn hypocrite, how dare you?"
"Hypocrite?" she rallies back, flames licking around her finger, warming her bitterness (if only it melted ice).
"What were you going to do? Go alone?" He's hurt, so, so hurt; she should have expected this from the boy whose father died, whose mother left him to be off-planet for years on end, whose uncle broke him until he nearly drove a car off a cliff, whose brother abandoned him for adventure and freedom, something he has searched for what it seems like centuries. (You had no right to leave us alone! rings in her mind like a bell tolling for her death.)
"I would have, yes. You left me no choice." (It's a half-lie, she knows; if she had gone to Jim, they would have agreed on a compromise-it's just the captain in him that directs them toward peace.) He sounds so condescending she burns, the yellow fire famished, devouring her fingertips.
"No choice? There's always a choice. I just agreed for us to go to Scarif. You could have talked to me, told me your plan-" (He seems to think she's incapable, that she's an invalid-why is she trusting him, again?) He doesn't understand any of her actions, her words; he doesn't understand the uselessness, the emptiness she feels.
"You would have said no! I need my father, Jim. You don't know what that feels like!"
The air stills around them, tension so palpable it settles around her tongue and wafts into her nostrils, the scent almost as heavy as the stench of rotting corpses. She realizes her mistake immediately, hand pushing at her lips. She wishes she could swallow the words in the atmosphere, trade them for truths instead of the ignorance she spewed, but it's too late. "Jim-"
He turns away from her abruptly, a sudden, sharp movement that speaks more than she can bear. "Jim, I didn't-" (But whoever she's turned him into, the boy in front of her isn't Jim anymore-his name is JT, a savage, ruthless leader of a band of children descending in the midst of the murders of four thousand colonists.)
"Leave at dawn. Tom will lead you to Scarif. I'll lead the kids in the opposite direction."
(Why is she trusting him?)
(Because he is the only one who has not left her yet.)
"Stardust. Stardust." Someone shaking her awake. Her hair in two dangling braids. "It's time to go, now, Jyn."
Remember, Jyn; everything I do, I do to protect you.
Brown eyes melting, shifting, shaping into some affection of curiosity and intrigue. (Cassian.)
Somewhere, the Kyber crystal burns with equal emotion, with a hint of bitterness and judgement.
I've been in this fight since I was six years old!
Well, then you're no better than a stormtrooper.
Dripping tears or rainwater, the foul stench of sweat and blood, draining away the heartbeat beneath her fingers-the callused hand pulls her away again, and it is black night and black day and no hope.
Rebellions are built on hope!
-escaping her lips, but she means none of it and yet she believes all of it. She only needs her father's revenge to be fulfilled, for her father to be avenged-Papa…
Jyn, look at you…
Rigid hands, slimy with blood and rain, holding her cheeks in his palms…
I have so much to tell you.
She wakes, startled and yet relieved. Her mouth shapes the word Papa and she knows, by the understanding in Jim's eyes that her instincts are correct. The blue has melted into a watery yet firm gaze that makes her whisper his name in anguish and worry at the tension between them. She can't-not again-she can't be alone again. (Then the red plomeek soup will drown her in the brown fields of death.) "I shouldn't have-"
"I know." (He does know. This is Jim, the selfless captain who loves so deeply and so broadly that his soul is immeasurably expansive and captivating, the boy who can inspire such fellowship in children simply by expressing and fulfilling his will. The lost boy whose father died and brought his mother down with him, on Earth but a living hell.) "I'm sorry, too, for the record."
A sad smirk on the corners of his mouth, quirking softly at the edges, tells her it's alright. His knees are on the ground and his arms are both sides of her, his face leaning into hers, torso twisted to accommodate his view from her left. She doesn't deserve him, she thinks, despite all he's done as JT. He thinks he's irredeemable, that he is guilty for every loss, but it's impossible to think that way-she is just as responsible as he is. (A little Orion girl with ginger hair, laugh bubbling into her ears.)
Without thinking, she places her hand on his cheek, smoothing down the rough edges of his thinning blond hair, shaking the dirt out. "I am more sorry than you, Captain. After all, it is only logical that you would understand." She sounds like her mother, she realizes as Jim's smile deepen and his eyes grow lighter, relieved of a burden, if only for a moment. (She wonders if this is-was how her mother felt when she drawled in a Vulcan tone with her father.)
She's never trusted anyone like this before. (She doubts she ever will.)
"Besides...if you're really going to do this, I want to help," Jim confesses, eyes so fierce and fixated that she has to swallow to answer. They've both done things they're ashamed, that they never want to confront; everything, they did to survive-for their kids, for themselves. It would be foolish to not take this risk, to not stand against a murderer; it would be foolish to die in the dust, only for the Force to send them somewhere else less deserving.
"Are you with me?" she asks, mouth leaning close as she whispers next to his cheek.
"All the way," he says, as if the answer was obvious from the start. (As if he would never leave her.)
"Good," she whispers, and he drops back down on the ground with a thud, his arm still around her as they fall asleep, eyes closed and bodies warm next to the dying fire.
The next morning, Jim is gone. The ground next to her is cold. (It reminds her of Saw, of how he left after warming her to sleep, of how she was left in dust and ashes, and of how she forced herself to become a phoenix, rising from nothing and becoming a monstrous, flying beast.)
There's no shortage of panic bubbling inside her, but she suppresses it, forcing herself to stand up. She whirls around at the sight of a pointed ear to find Kay staring her down, hands on his hips. "Kay."
"I'll be there for you, Jyn," he says sincerely without preamble. She's almost impressed. "The captain said I had to." (Cassian said you had to, she says in her mind; she pushes the hallucinations-delusions-dreams? Signs from the Force?-aside.)
To this, she raises an eyebrow, nearly charmed with Kay's tricks. "Alright, then, Kay. Thanks."
He doesn't hear her word of gratitude-he's already walking off to where the others have assembled with morning berries they picked the day before.
"He means you're welcome," a clear voice rings in her left ear, a hand held in front of her, offering her two berries, dried and measly, but still oddly satisfying as she greets them into her mouth with a smile. (Satisfying, then the hunger churns once more and she feels as if she will never be satisfied, not with flesh, ever again.)
She thanks Jim, turning around and observing his boyish grin (tinged with just a hint of sorrow), and allows herself to smile back. In moments like these, moments where famine and murder and slaughter are overshadowed, though only barely, with a sense of unity in their small family and the actions of love as they stand and eat together, no matter how scarce food is or malnourished they are, it is easy to forget the past, the present, and the future, and live and love as they are.
But then, they go. Jim tells all of them their plans, that they need to break into Scarif before they all die, before Kodos kills them all. He warns them of the danger, of how death is inevitable; he offers them to chance to leave before they reach the lion's den. None of them do-not even Bodhi, who stares defiantly in the face of Jim's grim stance, pouting his lips.
They march to their death, barefoot and dying and broken, whether completely shattered or cracked at the edges; they march together. It is what family does.
Scarif is a land of mystery and intrigue: barbed wire lines the compound, hidden within the heart of the forest. When Tom catches sight of the compound, he pales and his face reddens with exertion as he tries to breathe. Jim catches his outstretched arm and muffles his screams, whispering in his ear to stop the panic.
It's no use. There's a rustle in the woods around them and Jim is forced to order Kay to pinch the bundle of nerves in Tom's shoulder. He drops like a rock, the last emotion in his eye before he goes down an expression of an intense mixture of bitterness and terror.
Jyn is closest to the soft sound of leaves hitting flesh: Jim leads with Tom in the front, and she is assigned to guard their backs; when the nose of a phaser appears in the desert plant beside her, she slams the butt of it into the opponent's neck, awarded by a soft grunt of protest and several gags, the soldier attempting to breathe. Kay quickly approaches to finish the job, and another falls prey to the ruthless Vulcan pinch.
The sixteen of them watch through large hanging leaves from the forest around them with wonder at the electrical fence that separates them from both death and freedom-the citadel rises higher than the tallest tree, as Tom had promised with a map of what he remembers, and the other grey buildings are stoutly made compared to it. The communications tower has an elevator that will transport them to the top level, where the antenna that is able to send messages is located. While she, Jim, and Kay send a distress signal to Starfleet, or whatever ship around them, the others will lead a diversion with Chirrut and Baze at the center of it.
Jim takes her wrist, startling her at his cold touch and his thin, wiry fingers, strong to the touch. (It reminds her of Saw's grip as he lay dying before he burst into flames.) He nods at her, and to the others, he looks fearless, determined (like JT). To her, he's anything but: the fact that he feels the need to touch her, to feel her beating pulse in the veins of her wrist screams at her that he is nervous, terrified, and uncertain. She maneuvers her hand until their fingers meet and their hands fold together, and squeezes. She feels so, so close to her father, as if she can hear the breath from his lips running across her neck as they embrace and he calls her Stardust and she can feel the roughness of his beard, the stubbles sharp against her cheek as he tells her he loves her. A sudden twinge in her heart tells her that Galen Erso is already dead; a second wonders what it is like to be Jim, without a father, constantly living under the dark, heavy shadow of his legacy.
She turns back, clenching the phaser she retrieved from the unconscious guard. She feels compelled to say something, because Jim or no Jim, she is the one who led them to their deaths today, who led them to fight against an evil Empire which has killed and slaughtered innocents to exert their power in order to "save" the meaningful ones, the ones who deserve to live. But that's horrible, inhumane. No life is worth more than another. Life is worth everything and nothing in the span of however many years you are granted; it is a priceless artifact people kill for and die for.
Words spill out of her mouth, overflowing with hope (Rebellions are built on hope!) and love (something they needed to be reminded about in the slaughterhouse they now all live in, in the impossible task they are about to make possible). "Saw Gerrera used to say one fighter with a sharp stick and nothing left to lose can take the day. They have no idea we're coming. They have no reason to expect us. If we make it to the ground, we'll take the next chance. And the next. On and on until we win… or the chances are spent."
She's close to tears now-they're only thirteen, they're only children, and they're ready to make war with a powerful enemy they have been struggling to run away from since a fateful day months ago, killing their families and friends and their innocence. But this-this was inevitable. (Death always is, no matter what life you live and no matter what world you live in. Jyn Erso, she feels in the heavy weight of her soul, has known that across all the lives the Force has propelled her to.)
She feels Jim's hand in hers for the entirety of her words, a presence so welcomed by her that she cherishes the weight of his hand clenching hers, though it nearly breaks it with his force. When she closes her mouth, lips dry from emotion, shocked at the sheer power of the fourteen faces before her, at the strength of their unity as they all fight tears of fear and exhaustion, she drops Jim's hand like it scorches her skin, and moves forward.
She can hear Jim vaguely give directions to Melshi (the young warrior, responsible for overcharging many phasers during their rebellion's countless raids) and Pao (Melshi's partner-in-crime) to ensure the efficiency of the distraction and the extraction of the people living inside the wire cage, but she blocks the words out as she sits, arms around her knees, deep in thought. She shifts her focus entirely on her father-nervousness bubbling inside of her, thoughts of murder and torture floating on an endless loop, her father's words compelling her to save them all when all she wants is to save him. (I have so much to tell you.)
A hand on her shoulder-she looks up into Baze's harsh face, grim yet hopeful eyes encouraging her. "Good luck, Cie cie."
(There was a day, weeks ago, when Chirrut tripped across a stray tree root when they were running away. Baze had panicked, and she was the one who carried him miles and miles away from Kodos's men. They both expressed their gratitude by teaching her a bit of Mandarin.)
Her mouth twitches at the corners into a smile in return for his kindness and Chirrut appears beside her, hand at hers, clutching the Kyber crystal once again. He whispers his prayer in her ear before they walk away, ready to start their diversion.
Little Bodhi resides in Baze's arms, yelling, "Go!" excitedly (or perhaps nervously) as Baze bounces him energetically, a pure grin on his face. The other children-Melshi, Pao, Helen, Poe, Thelev, Mila, Rini, Shora, Vani, T'Leia, Stelor-follow them, battle-ready and yet so thin, malnourished, and terrified of what lies beyond. She is so proud of them, their purity brightening the hell on Tarsus IV.
A hand outstretched to her-one look, and she knows it's Jim. She takes it, allowing him to help her up, and stands alongside the Captain and the robotic Vulcan. Chin up, she remembers the stubborn face she placed as a mask when she met the governor long ago (just before they dragged her father away and shot her mother with a phaser), and uses it again, fists clenched and ready for a fight (no matter what the cost-her sanity, her guilt, her life; the list goes on).
She turns to Jim to see he has also adopted the mask he always wears: the seemingly impenetrable facade of the Captain. Kay is, as usual, as expressionless as ever to the non-Vulcan eye; to her, she sees the cracks of fear and apprehension written in the arch of his eyebrows and the corners of his lips.
"Let's go," Jim says, and they march, as they have been for the length of their adventures, toward their deaths.
A sight to marvel at: three children crawling, barefoot in the mud, toward a deadly fence. One of them, with startling blue eyes, uses a blade to cut through the metal carefully, purple sparks dancing across the broken wire, threatening the usefulness of his hands.
Another just beside it: thirteen children running across the field of yellow and blood, feet cracked and callused and some bleeding freely, dirt smeared across their faces as if they were one with the planet itself, one with Tarsus IV in all its former glory; they run toward the fence, stopping just a few feet away, and throw whatever they can with it. One leaves an overcharged phaser with practiced ease (a weapon available only by theft), and the cycle repeats at another part of the wire.
Observing these moments, Jyn smiles, and for the first time since her mother died, feels freedom like nothing before through rebellion and defiance, in the name of something good and right and honorable. (She's always wanted to play hero, and for the moment, she forgets about the blood on her hands when she did not know whether it was from her or Saw or the people she has slaughtered to survive, just like Kodos-Krennic himself.)
It doesn't take long for the wire to break free, revealing a circular hole through the fence for them to crawl through. Jim signals them in: Kay goes first, phaser at the ready; she follows, and Jim crawls through last, guarding the back.
Scarif seems deserted, desolate, though it is a city of itself. There are dirt roads and grey houses, more resembling prisons than homes, in neatly stacked rows, with the roads crossing between them in perfect lines. Towering above them all is the citadel: a grey hawk watching over its prey, waiting for one of the people below to fall and be deemed unworthy. Then it would eat and reap its reward. Its high stories reach into the sky in a large spike, where a large satellite dish resides, along with a communications center connected via a thin metallic bridge. The building contains workers who know of Kodos's intentions and somehow, in a twisted view, support him, as well as data files, piling atop one another. None record the famine, the fungus that destroyed her green fields, or the genocide-this is enough to enflame her rage.
They stand, observing the obstacle above them blocked only by a dirt road and fifty feet of dead, barren land, infected with an organism far beyond Kodos's imagination and intellect.
Kay clears his throat, and with his hands behind his back in perfect posture, says, "There is a ninety-seven point six percent chance of failure."
Jyn nearly groans, but covers it with a fierce smile. "What is the statistical likelihood of me shooting you in the face?"
Jim snorts and replies for Kay, "Zero percent."
She scoffs at the same time Kay says, "How did you know, Captain?"
"They won't be expecting us-the others have set fire to all sides of the fence, so they won't know where to go," she interrupts. "Their men will be dispersed. Let's go."
This time, Jim leads them as she guards their backs, all three of them swaying their phasers left and right, set to stun. The yellow grass tickles at her ankles, but the bottom of her feet feel nothing. The pain of walking barefoot across scorching rocks and sharp roots have numbed her nerves; the sensation, once aching and back-breaking, has long been gone for her and Jim, who she suspects has been blind to the pain for longer than her. The mud mixes with sweat between her toes and cakes her foot, and the dirt road, as they run across it, brings dust into her eyes. She shakes her head, clearing up her vision and letting her hair run wildly across her forehead.
They reach the door of the back entrance with ease, most guards at the front or near the fence-they can hear the commotion and phaser blasts, screams in every direction. According to Tom's map, he escaped through the back in the night with a blade he stole from one of the guards, with the elevator adjacent to it. Jyn touches the black steel of the locked door; she finds it's cold to the touch in the midst of the harsh summer. There's a holopad next to it, the blue light of the screen shining in Kay's face as he reflects it. "This requires a handprint from authorized personnel in order to gain entry," he advises, to which Jim grimly nods. He motions to Jyn to walk around to the other side to search for a guard to use, both hands on his phaser as he rounds the corner of the citadel.
She follows and-she sees him. The familiar stance of her father, spine straight and at attention, hands folded in front of him, shoulders broad. He wears a grey jumpsuit, like the one in the hologram, and he looks relatively unharmed. But his head is down and his arms look like he will fall apart soon, as if the heaviness of the weapon he's helped create is poured onto him, weighing him down with its tremendous potential.
There are scientists around him, but he steps forward to the man standing above them all, head high, hands folded behind his back, furious and a murderous glint in his eyes.
She has only seen him once in her life, but once was enough-the white billowing cape behind him, Kodos (Krennic, she hisses desperately with the arsenal of names from her dreams floating in her mind) screams in her father's face, "Well? It was you, wasn't it?"
"It was me. They have nothing to do with it. Spare them." The field is quiet, and the group is at least hundreds of meters away, but she can still hear their screams of protest as her father begs for mercy, but Kodos orders his soldiers behind him to fire into the line of scientists, staining their red coats with blood from the phaser fire. She gasps, and she moves to run, but Jim holds her back, arms around her torso; he fiercely whispers, "Jyn, don't, you cannot engage, you'll ruin the entire mission. Do you understand?"
Her father balls his fists up, and he screams in agony and guilt, "Kodos, you'll never win. This planet will fall as you will, and it'll be gone to ashes because of you!"
"Is the weapon complete? Will it start the process of succession?" She's struggling against Jim's grip, nearly yelling, "Papa!", but Jim muffles the movement and her screams. She knows it's foolish, and she nearly sags into Jim's grasp because of the futility of it all, but she wants to see her father again, so she stands instead, elbowing Jim in the ribs and standing her ground, waiting for the right time to move in and save her father as she and Jim observe the interaction from the wall of the citadel.
"Yes, but you will never be able to yield it and control it to stop its destruction! You must not use it," her father pleads.
Then she sees Kodos's wretched, crooked smile and she knows something is wrong-that something will go wrong. His hand twitches, and he reaches behind his back. (No-she sees everything all at once, from her mother's dying body to Saw's infected wound-) She can't sit still any longer; she runs toward them and yells, "Papa!" but it's too late-the phaser appears and a shot pierces through his chest and Galen Erso falls to the yellow-red ground.
She hears screaming. (It's her own, as usual.)
Her feet are moving, but she is somewhere else, somewhere on a wet tarmac with fire around her, almost scorching her with its flames, crawling to the body of her father.
She doesn't see Kodos-Krennic-approach her, but she feels the heat of an explosion near her right side, ahead of her, bringing her to the present. Kodos flinches away, nearly killed by the flames, but is pulled away by his underling. "Sir, you have to leave-the citadel is the safest point of Scarif." His eyes are on hers as he leaves the crime scene, scared more for his own life than a stray, dirty girl who looks hollow and weak with tears racing down her cheeks.
She doesn't care. Cannot possibly care. She maneuvers around the flame, turning back around to check on Jim: he's breathing heavily and he's lost a phaser-the explosion was his, then, from overcharging it.
She reaches her father, struggling to breathe, mouth overrun with blood. "Papa, Papa, it's me, Jyn," she sobs as she kneels down on him, hand on his wound (but it's no use).
His eyes wander, flitting across the vast wasteland of despair until they land on her, and it's as if he smiles despite gurgling on crimson blood. "Jyn...Stardust."
"I've seen your message," she tells him desperately, willing him to stay alive. "The hologram, I've seen it."
"You and your friends...you must…" He can barely speak, so she finishes his sentence for him.
"Yes, yes, we will. We'll get help. We all will."
His hand reaches her cheek as he whispers, "I've so much to tell you."
Something breaks when his hand falls, when his eyes close, when his heart stops bleeding below her hands and the blood never halts its flow. Something does, and it all comes rushing forward-
Stardust….everything I do, I do to protect you, remember that.
(Two braids dangling from her head, a green field and a lost stormtrooper toy, and-)
You'll never win!
(But Mama falls to the floor and she has to run, run, run until where she needs to hide; but where's Papa? They took him, they-)
My child. Come. We have a long ride ahead of us.
(Saw leaves her in a bunker with nothing but a blaster when she's sixteen. She moves on, but never heals the aching pain of abandonment in her heart.)
I like to think he's dead. It's easier that way.
(Captain Cassian Andor, a man fueled by Rebellion and the almighty cause, all too knowing of the morals he has betrayed, self-deprecating, protective, lonely...he looks at her with disdain written in his eyes, with such condescending nature that she hates him when she first sees him.)
I've never had the luxury of political opinions.
(Kay is a reprogrammed droid, but the voice remains the same in its tacit disapproval. How charming.)
They call it the Death Star; there is no better name for it.
(A planet-killer borne of her father's mind. A weapon crafted to kill and exert the Empire's power. Her father speaks to her in a hologram, from far, far away; it breaks the walls she's fought hard to build and rebuild.)
Save the Rebellion...Save the dream. Go!
(In every variant of her life, Saw leaves and dies after giving her Galen Erso; this time, it is in a desert bunker as fire ravages and destroys him. There is nothing left of Saw Gerrera-nothing but the ruins of a holy city, the ashes of his legacy.)
Jyn, we have to go; Jyn!
(Always, always, the warm hand pulling her away to save her before grief swallows her up in its entirety...Cassian.)
Jyn, Stardust...I've so much to tell you.
(The rainy platform, the scent of death and blood, Papa on the tarmac-)
"Jyn, Jyn, we have to go, now! He's gone, Jyn, come on!"
"No, no, I won't leave him-Cassian, I won't leave him, not again-"
"Cassian? Jyn, it's Jim. Jyn, come on, Jyn…"
Jim. Jim's hands are around her elbow, pulling her upwards as she staggers along. Kay is ahead of them, dragging the body of a dead scientist towards the door-she feels bile rise around her throat when she realizes she's grateful they didn't use her father's body. There's salty tears and sweat running into her mouth, and she sobs with exhaustion.
Papa is dead, just like before-somewhere, sometime, before, with someone named Cassian; though there is no Cassian here, she feels as though he never left her side. Instead, Jim is; he's shouting in her face, and his palms hold her cheeks, and she can't hear what he's saying over the roaring of her veins.
A hard slap wakes her into reality- "You're going into shock," Jim yells. "Jyn, we have to do this. For him."
For Papa. Galen Erso dies again and again, but the mission must also be completed over and over. Jyn nods, raising her hand to clench Jim's. Her eyes are red with grief, but she swallows the pain down and, with her other hand, holds the crystal lovingly in her grasp.
Both her parents are gone, one with the Force. The crystal is heated with the presence of not only her mother, but her father as well.
"I am one with the Force, the Force is with me," she whispers, closing her eyes. She can almost see her mother's ears tinted green as her father embraces her in the Force; she can almost see the red plomeek soup-colored fields restore itself to the jade of her eyes; she can almost see her parents smile as they walk away from her.
When she breaks away from her reverie and into the stricken land of sorrow about her, she is ready to fight: while Mama and Papa have found peace, she has not, and fury enrages her to persevere until what they must do is finished.
Green clashes with blue, and instead of pity, she finds determination, sorrow, and her own fiery resentment.
Tom was right-the elevator is next to the back door; he did, however, fail to mention the large warehouse-like area of the citadel and the hundreds of members scattered across the building, examining test tubes and chemicals, dressed in white lab coats. Her jaw drops at the sight and her eyes sweep the room (is this her father's legacy-a deadly weapon designed to restore the colony's soil through its death?), until the first worker spots them and yells an angry, "Hey!"
"Come on!" Jim growls, grabbing her arm and dragging her along, Kay running to the elevator on her right side.
Shots blast out from the opposite direction, nearly grazing Kay's shoulder, she sees from the corner of her eye. "I have a bad feeling about-" he begins to yell, but in a moment of frustration, she and Jim both fire back, "Quiet, Kay!"
They reach the elevator and she slams her fist down onto the tallest level, jamming the close button for more times than necessary. Kay and Jim fire back at their enemies, guards too young to be evil aiming at their heads and hearts; the majority miss-one grazes her ankle and leaves a burning sensation as she screams in anguish (what did her father feel as the blast bore into his body?), her only solace the button on the panel to close the elevator as the doors slowly seal their voyage to the floor below the roof, where the satellite is.
She pushes her hand into her mouth to bite the groans back, sagging against the cool metal of the lift. When she feels Jim's hand on her shoulder (she hears a distant, "Are you alright?"), she waves him off. "I'm fine, I'm fine." (She's not: an understatement.)
Blinking back tears, she breathes in a hiss of agony and straightens her spine, standing at attention, phaser ready. (For Papa, she tells herself, and Mama; she clutches the talisman around her neck, blood stained and yet still a comfort to her.)
At the top level, no one waits for them yet-they had a head start, but there are three other elevators close to arriving. A computer panel sits in the center of the hallway, and three closed hallways line the wall behind it. "Opening the entry to the roof now," Kay announces, heading toward the panel, clipping his phaser onto his belt.
(Tom had warned them of the level of security the citadel had; Kay replied that he had the best hacking skills in the world. She had raised an eyebrow at his confidence and turned to Jim for assurance at the mere teenager's claims. He shrugged and asked Kay, "Alright, so can you make doors open and lock them?"
Kay scoffed. "I can do much more than that, Captain.")
She and Jim hear a lock disengage within seconds of Kay typing on the panel and the middle hallway open to reveal a large ladder heading to the roof. She doesn't wait; she runs and begins the climb upward. Jim follows her closely behind.
She hears a ring, and when she turns back from the fifth rung she's already set her foot on, the second elevator opens. "Kay!"
The Vulcan has ducked behind the panel, but his hands are still typing so rapidly she can barely track the movement. "Go!" he pleads them. "Climb, keep going!"
"Kay, no!" Jim shouts, and he jumps down from the rung he's on, phaser blasting at the soldiers that have arrived-but the doors to the hallway begin closing, obstructing his aim.
"I'm locking the door," Kay replies, weak as green blood smears across the panel, hitting the final command with his right hand as his injured left fires his weapon blindly.
Jyn holds onto the rung, hands slick with sweat and heart beating with remorse-had she not held them both up, Kay would be alright. But there are phaser wounds across his arm and in his shoulder.
The boy who hated her, but quickly became her little brother collapses on the floor, his blood slipping from the corner of his mouth. "Goodbye," he mouths, and one of the soldiers round the corner of the panel.
They cannot see anything else as the left and right doors slowly meet except for the man aiming his phaser at the middle of Kay's forehead and firing. The silence that follows is more deafening than the shot.
For a moment, everything is still. Jim stands defeated in front of the closed doors, shoulders heavy from the loss of his-their friend. When he turns around, his eyes are crimson colored and dull; she can barely maintain their gaze, a gaze so startling and agonized she can see herself reflected in them. Her arm, holding onto the rung above her, begins to cramp and tighten, and she forces herself to order both of them, "We have to keep going."
"I know," Jim says. "Set your phaser to kill." Without question, she obeys, and they continue upward.
The trip is silent, but it is anything but uncomfortable. It is a silence of shared misery and guilt; it is a silence of remembrance. They both know the others-many of the children they protected are now dead outside the citadel as their distraction. It is their responsibility to give the deaths worth.
She's near to the top, only a few rungs away from the latch to the roof, when she hears the doors slide open-she can barely stifle her gasp of panic. Jim is below her. She cannot let what happened to Kay and her father-she cannot lose Jim.
Jyn violently extracts her phaser from its clip, pointing it downwards and shooting, making sure her shots don't hit Jim, who fires into the crowd of soldiers below them. Three fall; four more at their hands.
Then only two are left, until-a white cape flutters into view, and the grey-white hair from her nightmares, the arrogant stance she witnessed murder her father appears. Resentment fires through her phaser and she shouts a battle cry into the air.
"Keep going! Jyn, keep going!"
They're climbing in the data vault; falling would kill them, and that is not an option. He takes heavy fire below her, and she tries to fight back, but he tells her to go on without him.
If no one survives, then the mission would surely fail. She has to go on without Cassian.
Jyn squeezes her eyes shut as she finds the next rung, and the next, and the next; Jim covers for her, shooting with impeccable aim at their enemies. Her hand reaches the latch, turning the lock; all she needs is to push it open-
A shriek of pain-it's hideous, horrible, stabbing her heart-it's Jim.
She turns to see him fall with a sickening crunch-
Brown eyes wide with shock before his spine cracks on the metal bridge; the body lands on an unnatural angle, blaster clattering beside him. His eyes, the ones that could penetrate through her masks and hit her where the most pain resulted, are closed.
Cassian-and Jim-are one and the same. The culprit is the same villain that pulled the trigger to end her father's life-Krennic is the only one standing below her.
She can't remember what happens next in the other world, in her other life, but her heart bursts with anguish as she tells herself to keep going. You have to leave them. Her lip quivers as she lets blazing tears fall down the ladder, but for them, for all of them, Jyn pushes open the hatch, the phaser blasts never piercing her as she pulls herself up into the hot air of Scarif.
On the roof, she can hear the shouts of panic below, yet some of them are sobs of freedom. Her other friends-for all she knows, they may be dead, as well, but the victory below tells her they have freed the ones living in Krennic's camps. It is up to her: this, this is her father's legacy-the man who fought to send a message to Starfleet in order to save a planet from destruction.
She doesn't understand half of what she is doing; she only remembers what Kay instructed the two of them to do in the possibility he did not make it to the top. Her fingers tap the keyboard to type the message to Starfleet, explaining briefly that a famine, a genocide, and a dictator have taken over the planet, begging for help. When she pushes the button to end this horror, a metallic voice instructs, "Reset antenna alignment." She groans in frustration; she can hear a clock subtracting the time she has left until Krennic reaches the roof.
Her ankle wound festers, emerald flowing from her veins spilling across the metal bridge as she drags it across toward the satellite. Her hands flutter across the panel attached to the large dish, finding the correct instrument to align it-a few moments later, she registers, "Antenna realigned. Ready to transmit."
Jyn's vision begins to fade, and she stumbles and limps across the bridge once more to reach the communications center, memory flitting back to the time Kay had a phaser wound on his ankle, leading them to their first raid. Her hand starts to fall to press the button that will alert all of Starfleet and any ship around them of the death around her, when a voice shrieks, "Stop!"
She turns and sees Krennic standing, hand outstretched with a phaser pointed at her-set to kill.
"You," he spits with spite; he quivers with animosity.
"Me," she returns with matching amounts of emotion. "Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen and Lyra. And you've lost. You'll never win."
"Now where have I heard that before?" he says, baring his teeth. Everyone, even dictators, turn into animals in their most desperate hours: for Krennic, his power, his control of this planet is threatened by mere children who will send a message to destroy everything he has done. "I suspected Galen was hiding something. And now, you lose everything. This building is set to explode with my weapon. Everyone will die-except for me. I lose nothing but time."
Jyn wants to laugh in his face-the others would have evacuated Krennic's prisoners if they were successful. Her, on the other hand… she will be with her family. And Cassian-Jim.
It'll be alright-she can't help but feel fear as his finger twitches and he is about to press and end her life-
A phaser blast, but she doesn't fall; she flinches at the sound, and looks up as the man who killed her family falls to the floor.
She almost sobs with relief and joy and surprise-Jim. No, Cassian. He leans on the edge of the communications center, breath heavy and back uneven, but his eyes-the blue of his eyes have been replaced with a knowing, dark amber that stares at her with memory.
"Jyn," he pants as she slams her hand down and fulfills their mission. "Jyn, I remember."
He collapses, dropping the phaser onto the platform, into her arms. "I know, Cassian."
They will die here. Together. (Again, a voice whispers in her ear-but she doesn't remember that far. Not yet-she doesn't think the universe can handle the absence of one James Tiberius Kirk.)
As she holds him up, she catches sight of the body on the bridge, dirt and blood and burns destroying the purity of the cape. When she lunges to finish the job-just in case-he holds her back from destroying herself, as he always does. "Hey, leave it. Leave it, Jyn. Let's go."
Even now, memories come back to her, as he asks, "Do you think anyone's listening?"
And she answers, "Someone has to be."
As they ride down the elevator, eyes locked onto each other's, breaths mixing, mouths close together, she remembers knowing her death was near, that this would end no other way.
When they stumble onto the dirt road meters away from the back door and fall to their knees in the empty, quiet town, freed by the other children, she remembers holding each other in an explosion from a weapon her father created, dying as he whispers her name like no other ever did or would.
The boy in front of her takes her hand and looks into her eyes, and she knows his memories plague him, as well. "Your father would have been proud of you, Jyn."
She's shaking her head, because this is not the way it should be-this is not the way it should end. There is a reason why Jyn was born as Jyn Erso, but Cassian was born as James Tiberius Kirk. There has to be-Jim is needed: Jim, the one whose uncle locked him in the barn when he was younger, belt wounds and bruises atop hay; the one who rarely saw his mother, who died when she saw his face, a reminder of her dead husband; the one who has a horrendous case of a hero complex, forced to remember how his father died to save 800 people as his one act as captain. Because maybe Cassian's soul is the same as Jim's, but their lives must be different as the Force wills it. Because maybe Jyn Erso is destined to die saving others in a moment of peace and redemption for all the lives she's taken to survive, and Cassian Andor deserves a life far longer than hers for all the lives he sacrificed for a cause.
All is as the Force wills it, Chirrut once said (she isn't sure in which life, but she remembers glassy eyes that shimmered with amusement as he said it, and is sure it is Chirrut).
"No, no, I can't allow this to happen." He looks at her, curious, confused; she rips the Kyber crystal from her hands, cradling it for the last time.
Her planet quakes and moves, and they turn to see the citadel in flames, the fire racing towards them in its madness. It's almost beautiful, the orange-red inflaming the dying purple sunset behind the wreckage of the building, lighting the sky for the approaching spacecrafts. She prays to the Force that she is right, that she is doing the right thing, and pushes her hope into Jim's chest, willing him to forget his past life as Cassian Andor and continue on as James Kirk. It fits perfectly, the crystal's brilliance igniting within him, restoring his eyes to the sky blue of Tarsus IV's skies and cocooning him from the fire around them, which, in its gorgeous brilliance, waves against him like an ocean against sand, like the beach where they died together-and now only one of them will.
As her father's weapon engulfs her, enveloping her in burning torment, she sobs, "Goodbye, Cassian," to unhearing ears, and becomes one with the Force.
Jim wakes in a hospital two weeks after the destruction of Scarif. He is one of the nine that survive that have seen Kodos's face, among which are Kev and Tom. Bodhi died in a stray explosion; Chirrut and Baze were shot together in an open field near the citadel. Kay, of course, he remembers, died for him, to enable him to broadcast the message of the events transpired on Tarsus IV.
When he comes to consciousness, his limbs are weak and his vision is hazed with pain and drugs; Starfleet asks the kids who he is, trapped in the middle of the citadel's explosion, miraculously surviving the blast and the subsequent fire with minimal burns but a broken back and a phaser wound on his side.
They find that JT-their outdated, unprepared technology does not allow them to fully determine who the teenager is-was their leader, defending them and gathering food for them throughout Kodos the Executioner's reign (including killing to protect the kids, claiming them as his own).
Jim doesn't want to stay long. While he was asleep, the nurses tell him his kids were separated and given new identities, hidden throughout the universe, across the stars where he can always see them, but never meet them.
Staying away, being isolated from all of them, will protect them from the press, from Kodos's followers, from Kodos himself-the burnt body is barely proof of his death. Jim's gut is rarely wrong; though it isn't logical, as Kay would criticize, he knows something is missing-not only Kodos's body, or himself brought to trial, but someone else entirely whose memory he has misplaced.
He heals, but there is nowhere to go. They wouldn't dare release the star Kelvin baby survived the Tarsus IV massacre, that Starfleet could not protect George Kelvin's baby although he has served and given so much to their organization.
His mother doesn't answer the hologram they give her, or the messages they leave her. There's no one at home he wants to go back to, and Sam-he knows is somewhere no one knows, where no one can ever find him ever again.
When the Starfleet doctors discharge him and confuse themselves over where to place him, he sneaks out on a cargo ship. He doesn't know where he's headed, but he knows he won't fill the gaping, hemorrhaging emptiness in his chest inside Starfleet's cage, where all they care of is his father's legacy and his mother's service and nothing of the scars he's earned in Riverside, Iowa.
He's drawn to the half-Vulcan, but he doesn't know why. He knows it has something to do with the way he drawls on in that insufferable tone, yet shows more emotion than a simple man in his own way. It has something to do with when he was thirteen, when the world was a hellish flame, licking at his insides as they churned in empty circles. It has something to do with someone-he doesn't remember who, and he never asks why, keeping that planet tucked inside and away, his heart burning and his eyes strikingly sea-blue.
They find Kodos in a Shakespearean troupe, mask upon mask upon mask. His name is "Anton Karidian", but that doesn't fool him or the deep hatred sinking into his stomach, reopening the twenty-year-long wound he's never healed, the hole he has yet to fill.
The criminal acts as if he has never seen Kirk before, has never shot him in the back and let him fall forty feet to break his back; Jim likes to think he's ignoring the psychosomatic pain in his shoulder where he shot Kodos before he triumphed over the man, just as a phantom ghosts over his back, where the fall snapped his spine and the blaster wound burned because of the fire. Even when he tests him to see if his breath falters from rereading the scripted execution statement he's heard over and over again in his nightmares, Kodos plays the fool; Jim is more than happy to play the knight who slays the dragon.
Before JT overpowers Captain Kirk (he can still hear Kay's Vulcan tone droning on in his ear, just as Spock does), his First Officer and Chief Medical Officer advise him in his ready room, keeping him in check, as they always do.
(He doesn't know what he would do without Bones and Spock, keeping his twenty-year-old secret between the three of them, but they have done nothing to ease the feeling-the knowledge that he is missing something, something from that planet he has locked away in the deepest corners of his memory, behind the strongest walls of his heart.)
Things escalate, and then he's furious because seven of his remaining nine are dead because of a distraught, deranged daughter of a madman escaping his past in search of redemption, and he is in no forgiving mood, but he's even more filled with animosity for the girl because her father will never stand trial and be brought to chains for the horrors he's committed. Tom dies while he is visiting the grown man, the eye still haunted for life, albeit a short one (though it could have ended much sooner, he consoles himself; years of spending time with Bones as a brother by choice has taught him not to be as self-deprecating as he once was, but habits are habits).
Kev, stationed in his own ship, almost falls thanks to Lenore; he is eternally grateful to Bones for saving the last of his survivors. It is only the two of them, now, and Kev only remembers the ordeal in bits and pieces.
He feels more alone than ever, staring at the stars which were once scattered with his kids from the Observation Deck. The hollowness, it seems, never fades away.
That night, he wakes by screaming, feeling unnatural in a bed, in a room and not stationed outside a place of shelter for the younger ones who follow him like little ducklings. He wonders how he traveled from the Observation Deck to the Captain's Quarters when his wandering eyes land on Bones, snoring in a chair beside his bed, fingers on his wrist, taking his pulse.
It seems its spike alerts his oldest friend-one of the only ones who has stayed with him through it all, through every secret (especially this one)-jerks awake, the permanent facade of a scowl overshadowed by the concern in his eyes. "Jim? Go back to sleep," the Southern accent thick with exhaustion and weariness.
He doesn't question his presence or his uncharacteristic gentleness, because he knows Bones and Bones knows him and Tarsus and all the things before and after. But he does fall asleep while mumbling, "Still feels empty."
Before he slips away, Bones squeezes his hand and whispers, "That's alright, kid. It'll get better eventually. With all of us."
But, for once, Bones is wrong about him-usually, he can read him like an open book, can see how insane he is for breaking regulation after regulation. This will never go away because it has nothing to do with Kodos or what happened or the wounds that haunt him though they don't exist. It's something that's disappeared, something that should be with him, or someone.
Jim can't figure it out, puzzling him for years and decades and a century, but for now, he loses to the abyss of unconsciousness, thankful Bones is there to keep the nightmares at bay.
Much, much later, the Nexus is peaceful and calm. There is nothing to do except to be, content and fulfilled and joyful. It's something he never thought he'd ever be.
The swirl of colors glares and fades and intensifies under his gaze, as if teasing him of his wondrous life he has left. To explore the unknown and discover strange new worlds-what a life he has lived.
It's over, now. The Nexus, he supposes, begs him to remain. To be. To only be.
Somehow, he does not agree with its sentiments.
He blinks, startled. He knows this name. He knows that voice.
He turns toward it, and there is a woman with striking green eyes of freedom and dreams, long brown hair tied in a bun, but loose strands tickle his cheeks as she stands close to him. A wave of familiarity and love washes over him.
When he opens his mouth to ask her who she is, she shushes him and places a palm over his heart.
He gasps as whiteness gorges over them, blinding and frightening and glorious all in one. He sees the whiteness of her smile, her reverence. When he feels her slender, cool finger tap his forehead gently, he stumbles backward at the rush that fills him completely and threatens to consume him in its power-
-and he remembers. He remembers everything and all things, and
"Jyn," he breathes out, relieved and amazed at the wonders of the Force. For Cassian, the life he has lived as Kirk exceeds all others, but he knows the gaping wound he has felt for years is a result of the woman who stands before him. Jyn Erso's and Cassian Andor's souls are bound together, by death, by circumstance, by sorrow, by love, by the Force. There is no other way-where one goes, the other follows.
Blue clashes with green, as always, melting into a warm embrace.
The Kyber crystal floats freely between them, hanging from her neck once again.
"Are you with me?"
He smiles. "All the way."
There's a sense of peace as the explosion engulfs her, in the locked embrace she and Cassian share, the need for touch as death invites them fulfilled. There's also a sense of excitement for what lies beyond, for what she does not know and cannot know until this next moment-
But somehow they know the past, the present, and the future. Somehow they know the lives they were destined and the lives they will live out in the distant future. Somehow they know that wherever they go, Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso will find each other, despite the death around them-or perhaps because of the death around them, engulfing them in its grief and misery and troubles.
As they whisper Chirrut's prayer and wrap their arms around each other, they are content to follow wherever the Force takes them. There is, after all, no other way to meet again.
Yes, I know, that's not where Kirk dies. But, in this AU, Picard does not meet Kirk and he does not die with him.
Let me know what you think!~~ Until next time, fandom.