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Star Wars Rogue One fic: Reconstruction (1/3)

December 27th, 2017 (09:10 pm)
calm

feeling: calm

Title: Reconstruction

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

A/N: This is a fix-it. Probably implausible but so be it. This is actually written as two fics, but thematically they need to be linked together for coherency. Therefore, the Prologue has a distinct tone that is separate from Parts One and Two. Normally I don’t like that kind of tonal shift (and POV variance), but I think if you read it with the understanding of how they work together, it shouldn’t be too bad. This is unbeta’ed and fills my exhaustion square for hc_bingo.

Summary: If anyone could ask Rogue One what they thought of that, the audacity of hope, it’s pretty clear what they would say. They’d tell you that it’s a cause worth dying for. More than that, they’d want you to understand it’s one worth living for, too.

PROLOGUE
PART ONE
PART TWO



-o-

“I know what I’m talking about,” Jyn tells him, pressing her palm to his face as she cradles him. They’ve gone as far as they can, and it’s not far enough. By this point, his adrenaline is flagging and the blood loss is starting to accumulate. On the ground, his body is listing badly to the side even as she tries to keep him upright. She squeezes hard enough it hurts with every word she speaks. “Trust me when I say it’s better off if it ends like this.”

He draws a shuddering breath and blinks heavily. He’s failing now, his consciousness ebbing faster than he can pick its slack back up. His eyes want to close, but Cassian won’t let them. It’s the smallest victory, but for some reason, he needs it almost as much as he needs her comfort. “Like...this?”

The words fall like lead off his tongue, and he wonders if he has any right to question anything. Not that the question isn’t valid, but that he doesn’t get to be the one who asks it. Not him. Not with the things he’s done; the things. Cassian forgets nothing.

Something in her countenance wavers, and he’s reminded that for all that she’s gone through in this galaxy, she’s still as much a victim as anything else. It’s easier to see her like that, someone he has to save. Cassian breaks people into several simple categories: allies, enemies, innocents and convenients. Jyn has been all three to him.

He’s not sure what she is not, at the end.

“Yes,” she says, but her words are like air, enough to keep his heart beating for one more moment. “There are worse things than dying.”

The finality of the proclamation is harder than anything else. Cassian’s never believed he would live forever, but there have been times he thought death was simply beyond him. There are times he wishes he’d died, but that’s not the kind of luck that Cassian’s has.

Cassian’s luck is to use up all his chances, to spend all his favors and end up in the arms of the girl who’s meant more to him than anyone else while the world ends.

He closes his eyes, leaning against her.

Funny, the way the world ends. A bright, consuming light. He feels it, starting to blow across his skin.

Somehow, to him, it feels like hope.

-o-

The eulogy is short for Cassian; shorter still for the rest. There’s not much to say that matters; not much to say that does it justice. They don’t really know, after all, what happened on the surface. They don’t have to know the things they all endured before the fight was finally over.

That’s the nature of the job.

That’s the price of the cause.

People will talk of heroics and sacrifice. They don’t talk of compromises and lost dreams. They elucidate virtue and promise while ignoring the doubt and pain.

Cassian is a man of the shadows, after all. Jyn is the daughter of a traitor. Bodhi is the catalyst, and no one knows why Baze or Chirrut is there at all.

Their eulogy is the fall of the Empire, still echoing into the vast reaches of the galaxy.

And beyond.

-o-

Bodhi Rook is sweating, and all he can think is how much easier it is to do this kind of thing when you’re wearing a helmet. That’s silly, maybe but the Empire knows a little thing or two about indoctrinating people. They know that if everyone looks the same, then it’s easier to feel like part of the group.

It’s easier to follow orders, no matter what.

Bodhi would be lying if he said he didn’t have second thoughts. Even now, with the grenade clanking to the ground close by, he thinks how much safer he’d be in the cockpit of a TIE-fighter. It hadn’t been a terrible life, but conscience is a pesky thing.

He’d known there was something better for him to do.

In his mind, it had seemed quite spectacular.

Now, the battle raging over head, he’s not so sure. Bodhi wanted to make the world a better place, after all, but he’d wanted to live in that better world.


It’s a cause he’s willing to die for, but Bodhi’s fought too hard, survived too much, betrayed too many things to stop now.

He takes a breath, finds his feet and starts to run. Scrambling, he scoops up the grenade, flinging it as far as he can across the interior of the ship while diving toward the entrance at the same time. He hits the ramp hard, rolling head over heels down the catwalk as the grenade finally detonates.

The force of the explosion is surprisingly strong, and he finds himself flying again. He’s airborne for a split second before landing in a jumble on the sand. Dazed, he takes a moment to get his bearings. Everything hurts, but it occurs to him, in the most awesome way, that he’s alive.

That’s a little unexpected.

Blinking a few times, he sees the battle still raging overhead. Struggling, he gets to his feet and looks back at the smoking hull of his ship. That ship had been the escape route, a rather essential part of the plan.

But Bodhi’s pretty used to working off the cuff by now.

Cradling his damaged limbs close, he tries to limp to cover, looking for the nearest thing he could fly. He wipes blood, which has mixed with blood and started to trickle into his eyes, away from his face.

Scratch the helmet, then. If Bodhi’s going to do this, he’s going to do it with his eyes wide open.

And no looking back.

-o-

That’s the thing about hope, though. The thing about stories, too. They become what we want them to become, we create them to fit a narrative that helps us make sense of the impossible. Hope is its own thing by necessity.

You might think that’s because reality is always more unpalatable.

But sometimes it’s just less climactic, less necessary. Sometimes it’s safer.

Sometimes it’s all in the choice you make, the ones you can’t undo.

The ones in the final seconds of a desperate mission.

The ones before the world explodes.

Those are the choices that defy hope. Those are the realities that make a narrative that matters, not to the galaxy, but to each and every person in it.

-o-

It seems wrong, to shoot at a blind man. To be fair, Chirrut is being a bit of a difficulty. In the end, the attempted murder is not something he will hold against them.

This matters, he decides, when he hits the beach.

His breath leaves him and he stares up in shock. He can’t see anything, but somehow he sees everything. A thousand moments, infinite possibilities -- all reduce to one, fading heartbeat.

The attempted murder is nothing, in the big picture. Chirrut is not innocent in this, and they do not have to wear his blood.

But for the rest.

For all their destruction, for the innocents they attacked without provocation.

Those are the things that Chirrut cannot absolve.

He is a man who does not rebel by nature. His fight is not for a singular cause. He fights for the light, for the good, for the way of the Force, which cuts a narrow path in a wide, wide galaxy.

This must be the way it’s meant to be, he decides, letting out a shaky breath.

I am with the Force, and the Force is with me.

It’s been his mantra in life, but as death approaches, his mind latches onto something else.

“Baze,” he says, because that’s the last thing that matters now.

The first thing that matters for what is to come.

You can trust in the Force a lot better, after all, when the person you trust most is right by your side.

-o-

Hope is also a fickle thing. It can flourish in the face of adversity but withers and dies when it is embraced too widely. That’s why people look for saviors.

But it’s also why they’ll follow martyrs.

Remember the cost, is the rallying cry.

Even if not one of those people really knows what that means.

-o-

Baze, honestly, doesn’t have a lot of patience with the Force. After all, the Force is a difficult concept, no matter how freely monks and the Jedi talk about it. It’s not that he doesn’t believe the stories; it’s just that he lives in a reality where a high powered blaster will do more damage than an abstract concept any day of the week.

The Force hasn’t saved anyone. The Force didn’t stop the annihilation of whole planets. It didn’t even stop desecration to its own damn temples. If the Force is so all powerful, then Baze wants to know what the hell it’s doing.

Yet, he never left the temple.

He never looked to fight a war.

He never sought to achieve anything greater than himself.

All he’d done, since long before this started, was follow Chirrut.

Because he doesn’t trust the Force, but he certainly trusts Chirrut.

As far as Baze is concerned, when he takes the first step out onto the battlefield, is that it’s close enough.

The blasts burn across his body. The force seer into his skin. He feels nothing, though, except the weight of Chirrut as he lifts him up and holds him close.

Chirrut -- damn him -- has the audacity to smile. “About damn time.”

“Shut up,” Baze says, and he’s not smiling and he’s certainly not crying as he hoists Chirrut up. There’s a small gasp of pain, but no comeback for once. Across the horizon, he sees a ship flying unusually low -- right at them. It’s not the one they left, but Baze will trust his gut on this one. “While I get you out of here.”

-o-

It probably starts with Princess Leia, and honestly, no one can blame her. She barely escaped with her life on that mission, and it’s her desperate message that resounded across the galaxy and awakened something stronger than anyone could have imagined. She’s the one who was captured, who watched her home get blown up, who escaped with a handsome smuggler and kissed her brother before being adopted by small furry creatures on a backwater moon.

She’s the one that led the fight for years and years and years. She’s the one who watched her son go to the darkside and buried her husband before sending off one last hope to the brother who ran away. This time, she doesn’t send a hologram. This time, she sends a girl and a lightsaber.

“Help me, Luke Skywalker,” is the message all the same. “You’re my only hope.”

There’s no way she could know the names of everyone who worked in her service. There’s no way she could see faces with every loss the rebellion endured. There’s no way.

It’s like she doesn’t know the truth herself about some of these things.

About the people who died on ???.

About the people who lived.

-o-

K2 is made of metal and plastic. His intelligence is programmed into his circuits, and what organic beings think of as personality is merely the way his programming has run under stress and tweaking. He has no heart; he has no brain; he has no rights.

No one buries him. No one mourns him.

When they find his mangled parts in the wreckage finally, he’s thrown into a salvage bin. Some of his parts are lost; others are sold for scrap. It takes someone with a very peculiar intention to purposefully buy an old Empire droid.

Cassian would have understood, though.

The thing beating in your chest, that’s not the thing that gives you heart. That’s not what makes you human.

Maybe that’s why Cassian loved him as much as he did.

Between the two of them, K2 was always the more human one.

-o-

When the Empire falls, it’s not a simple thing. It’s messy, and it’s complicated and surrender doesn’t happen all at once, if at all. There are still enough vestiges of the Empire to rebuild. Hope from the ashes, if you will.

According to the Empire, the blame lies with traitors like Galen Erso, who betrayed the Empire that had given him so much throughout his career. It’s a pity, they say, that Galen was soured by an illegitimate daughter, who poisoned his mind with rebel lies. Galen died for her, it’s said, and she was lost on ??? with her body never retrieved.

It’s said with vengeance, words dripping with retribution that it’s good they died. It’s good that no one from Rogue One survived because if they had lived, if a single one had survived, the Empire would have stopped at nothing to enact justice. Their families, friends, associates, loved ones. Anyone who had shown them kindness. They would have been cut off, arrested, stripped of status, class and title and probably executed. As it is, Bodhi Rook’s family is summarily taken in for questioning, one by one by one, until no one comes back out.

There’s no punished that does it justice, after all. No justice as far as Rogue One is concerned.

Traitors and martyrs have more in common than you think, and heroes and villains are two sides of the same coin.

What you say about Rogue One has a lot to say about you.

Funny, it’s still a matter of perspective.

-o-

Jyn’s spent her life just trying to survive. That’s what she does. Against the odds. When everyone around her dies. Jyn fights tooth and nail for her next breath.

On ???, maybe she realizes that all the battles she’s fought are already won. Maybe she realizes that the things she’s really fighting are the things she’ll never actually beat. Maybe, just maybe, she’s accepted that survival is not the same thing as living.

That’s what makes it okay, probably. For the lifetime she spent surviving, she’s willing to trade it for this last mission where she’s finally lived.

Even if it means that it’s time to die.

She drags Cassian to the beach, and feels him falter against her. It’s all she can do to lower him to the ground, and she can see the toll of the blood loss in his eyes. She doesn’t mind dying as much as she thought she might, but the thought of taking him down with her rankles more than it probably should.

For once, this isn’t about her. She made this whole mission about her, her small corner of a galactic affair, and she’s willfully ignored the consequences of those actions. But Cassian’s blood is on her hands, and she pulls him closer to her in desperation.

“I know what I’m talking about,” she explains haltingly. There light is growing in the distance; she can see it reflected in the dimness of Cassian’s eyes. She squeezes him hard enough to hurt, because she wants him to understand what she’s saying now. “Trust me when I say it’s better off if it ends like this.”

He’s slowing down considerably, and she watches as his brown eyes blink slowly. He’s slipping away, right through her fingers, and it’s like watching her father die all over again.

That’s silly, of course. She barely knew her father, and he willingly died for a cause he believed in. He was a man of principle, more than she could have ever possibly understood.

“Like...this?” Cassian asks, eyes dull with confusion.

And Cassian is a spy. Cassian is mostly a stranger who barely trusted her with a blaster. Cassian and her father both took more lives than they had the right to, but all with the best of intentions.

It’s not only good people who do good things. It’s not merely bad people who do bad things. Light and dark; good and evil; some might have you believe the galaxy exists in extremes and opposites.

But it’s not so simple.

It’s never simple.

“Yes,” she says, and she feels her heart swelling in her chest. The light is growing now, and she sees the debris flying in the distance across the water. Her heart skips a beat, and she tries to believe, if not for herself, then for him. “There are worse things than dying.”

He knows that, better than Jyn probably understands. They all have stories, and Jyn suddenly wishes she’d taken the time to know how his started.

No matter, she tells herself, drawing him close. His head fits against the crook of her neck, and she breathes in his scent.

She knows how his ends.

On a beach, in the exploding light, when the weight of one man in her arms feels like a thousand.

She wants to say she’s sorry, but she’s not sure to who. She wants to say it’s okay, but she’s told enough lies in her life. She wants to say she’s here, she knows, she understands, but he already knows.

He closes his eyes, and she looks up for the both of them.

Somehow, she finds herself smiling.

Because in front of the shockwave, cutting so low that there’s a buzz of water in its wake, is a ship coming straight at them. It slows at the beach, the back opening as it hovers above the sand. Baze stands in the doorway, waving at them expectantly.

Hope, as it turns out, really is a beautiful thing.

-o-

For all that goes into this story, it’s not really the story that matters. Honestly, it’s an addendum. A footnote to the real story.

A footnote to a holo-message.

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

When people tell this story, they don’t talk about Cassian Andor or his faithful droid. No one really knows who Baze Malbus or Chirrut Imwe are. Bodhi Rook is memorialized as one of the critical turncoats who brought the Empire to its knees, and Jyn Erso is talked about as her father’s daughter, as though her lifetime of suffering had been part of the plan.

Rebellions are built on hope, after all.

That’s what you want people to remember, more than anything else.

Not the names of the people who died for that hope.

Never them.

“You’re my only hope.”

-o-

This is how the story ends.

Except this is also how it begins.

-o-

In truth, Cassian doesn’t expect to wake up.

It’s not the first time he’s been in a tight scrape before, and he’s been shot, beaten, strung up and summarily tortured, given his line of work. There is not a lot of love lost for spies, and Cassian can’t deny that he’s deserved most of the scars he’s gotten over the years. He’s always sort of counted on the fact that one mission he’ll be too slow on the draw, and he’ll be the body left to rot in an unmarked grave or cut up into pieces in a backwater alley.

Comparatively, he’d considered obliteration not a bad way to go.

Had he realized that the option of surviving was still on the table, well…

A wave of pain washes over him, and he feels nausea turn in his stomach. In an instant, he is keenly aware that “survival” seems to be barely applicable. He feels horrible.

“Easy. We worked rather hard in getting you off that rock, so I’d hate to see you go and mess it up now.”

He knows that voice.

Confused, he tilts his head, craning it weakly to look up at the figure that is perched, seemingly by his bedside. If he didn’t know better, he’d say it looked like a vigil.

But Cassian is not a man who warrants vigils.

And Jyn Erso is hardly the kind of woman to sit through them.

Except, here they are.

With effort, he wets his lips. His dry throat is scratchy, and his chapped lips stick together. He winces as he tries to work his voice, which feels like it’s been rusted out like a blaster left too long in the rain.

“What…” he starts, and he can’t finish. He forces himself to swallow, trying to rally a breath to speak. “What happened?”

Jyn, damn her, looks vaguely amused at his hardship. “You mean before or after I saved your life?” she asks wryly.

“Hey!” squawks a voice from nearby. “We. We saved him.”

Cassian manages to move his eyes, focusing on the slight framed man behind Jyn. It’s the pilot, Bodhi.

“We nothing,” Baze grunts from his position another bed away. “We were all as good as dead back that if not for our pilot.”

“And the Force,” Chirrut chimes in from the other side of Cassian. At Cassian’s dumbfounded look, Chirrut smiles. “Without the Force on our side, I’m sure we all would have perished.”

“Should have, too,” Jyn says with a shake of her head. She sits back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest. “Odds being what they were, we really shouldn’t be here.”

“Well, two seconds in another direction, and we wouldn’t have,” Bodhi says. He gestures to his head, which is bandaged. His hands are bandaged, too. “I barely jumped free of our ship before that grenade blew it to pieces, and then I stole another one and flew it out with serious burns. Good thing it was burns, too. Killed the nerve endings or I probably couldn’t have handled the pain.”

“Yeah,” Cassian comments, brows knitted together. “Good thing.”

“Which is why we must take stock of the Force,” Chirrut says, and he sounds more upbeat than he should given how terrible he looks. Although his voice sounds imperviously chipper as always, it’s clear the man can’t hardly move on the bed next to Cassian. “That sort of timing is not a coincidence.”

Coincidence. What the hell kind of thing is coincidence anyway. Cassian’s never had much care for it, at least not beyond the kind he can capitalize on. He’s never thought of life as anything more than a string of events, pushed together with intent. He’s never believed that this is a life he was meant to have, just that it is the one he’s stuck living.

But maybe there’s something to this.

Maybe there’s something to these people.

Cassian lets out a breath, and looks down at him. He’s wearing a hospital robe, and he can feel the bandages over his body. He vaguely remembers the shot that felled him, and the feeling of his own blood soaking through his clothes. “I’m really not dead?”

“You want to be?” Baze asks gruffly.

“No,” Cassian replies, a little stilted. He shakes his head. “I just...thought it was inevitable.” He looks back at them with a bleak shrug of his shoulders. “A fitting end.”

Baze looks away, and Bodhi fiddles with his fingers. It’s never clear what the hell Chirrut is doing.

Jyn, though -- she smiles. “It was a close thing,” she tells him, a little more gently than he expects. It’s not her way of saying sorry; it’s not her way of saying I told you so. But it’s something more than all that, something simpler. It’s the first time he’s heard her speak without regrets.

“Honestly,” Chirrut says with an overly dramatic sigh. “I don’t think it was so bad.”

“You were unconscious for a week,” Baze snaps. “For two days, they told me not to expect much.”

“And yet, here I am,” Chirrut beams.

“You can’t even see yourself,” Baze deadpans in reply.

“Well, fine,” Chirrut says. “What about you? They said you were shot 12 times, at least. The blast marks started to blend together.”

“I’m not stupid enough to go into battle without armor,” Baze grunts.

“You all looked horrible when I picked you up,” Bodhi reminds them.

“And the contest is silly,” Jyn says with a light reprimand. “Besides, if anyone wins, it’s Cassian. They kept you bacta.”

Cassian makes a face.

Jyn nods earnestly. “For ten days.”

Cassian groans. “Ten days?

Jyn managed to look sorry without being sorry at all. “Something about you losing almost two thirds of your blood supply.”

That’s really nothing Cassian wants to hear.

At all.

He closes his eyes, and tries to steady his breathing. He needs something calming. Something familiar.

Startled, he opens his eyes. “K2,” he says, glancing around. “Where’s K2?”

This time, everyone looks away -- even Jyn. When she glances back at him, she looks as sorry as she feels. “He was in the building,” she explains with a vague gesture. “It had already been demolished by the time we got you on board, and the shock wave was coming so fast that we could feel it, and--”

She falters.

No one else will look up just yet.

She wets her lips. “I’m sorry,” she tells him. “He didn’t make it.”

At first, the news hardly makes sense. Cassian has worked with many people during his time with the Rebellion, but none of them had lasted. That’s what happens, Cassian figures, when you start looking at people as assets and not, well, people.

K2 had made more sense than that. He hadn’t been human; his place at Cassian’s side had been clear from the start.

And somehow, over the years, he’d become more real than any of the others. More real than Cassian himself, he often thought.

For Cassian to survive, fragile flesh and blood, and K2 to fall?

It wasn’t right.

“We’ll go back,” Jyn says.

Cassian looks back at her, unsure of what to say.

She nods, fully resolved. “As soon as you’re out of here -- we’ll all go back,” she says, glancing toward the others. Bodhi nods readily, and Chirrut looks like this has been his idea all along. Baze rolls his eyes, but there’s nothing to deny. Jyn smiles. “We’ll find him in the scraps, pick him out circuit by circuit. We’ll get him back. Rogue One will come out of this together.”

The way she speaks; the way she is. It’s no wonder she brought the rebellion to its tipping point by sheer virtue of her passion alone. In a world where Cassian takes more than he gives, he laid it all on the line for her.

“But,” he says, breathing heavily for a moment. The tears that burn in his eyes won’t be shed yet. “The Rebellion…”

They don’t look away from him this time. No, they look to each other. Cassian’s a spy; he knows how to read human behavior. He knows when there’s a secret, and he knows when it’s one that he needs to hear.

Just like this, he realizes that they haven’t told him the hardest part yet.

It’s not that they almost died.

It’s not that K2 didn’t make it.

“What?” Cassian demands. He’s never been a man of stature, but he’s pretty sure his diminutive appearance in a healing bed where he can’t even sit up straight doesn’t do him any favors. “What is it?”

“About the Rebellion,” Jyn starts, chewing on the inside of her lip.

Weak as he his, Cassian musters up the courage for this. He perks up, lifting his head just barely at the pillow to try staring her down.

If it’s entirely ineffective, no one tells him. They’re too busy trying to figure out the best way to say whatever it is they’re hiding.

“That’s complicated,” Bodhi admits.

“That’s over,” Baze grunts.

“It is the will of the Force,” Chirrut adds.

Most of the time, Cassian is able to put two and two together pretty well. Maybe it’s the blood loss, maybe it’s the bacta between his ears, but he hasn’t got a clue. “What happened?” he says again. “I mean, we got off Scarif. The plans got off before us. We won, didn’t we?”

“We did,” Jyn assures him.

“Completely,” Bodhi agrees.

“Beyond expectation,” Chirrut confirms.

“Even ours,” Baze says.

“So shouldn’t the Rebellion be galvanized?” Cassian presses.

“They are,” Jyn tells him. “There’s already talk of using the intelligence we got off Scarif to make a run at this Death Star. Mon Mothma came by herself to thank us, and the information we gleaned was enough to reunite the Rebellion. It’s stronger than ever, and it’s going to succeed.”

She’s telling him good news.

But she looks like she’s telling him the worst news.

Cassian shakes his head. “So shouldn’t we be there?” he asks. He looks around again, realizing that he doesn’t recognize this place. He’s been to all Rebel strongholds, some that aren’t even acknowledged. But this place -- it’s privately run. It’s not theirs.

“Cassian,” Jyn says.

The sound of his name on her tongue stops him.

She sighs. “The Rebellion is stronger than ever,” she clarifies, eyes on him. “But we’re not a part of it anymore.”

Given that he’s just come back to consciousness after serious injury, it is probably no surprise that he’s a little slow on the uptake. All the same, her words are almost impossible for him to comprehend. “What?”

Bodhi sighs, sounding regretful. “It wasn’t our decision, trust me,” he says. “I was ready to fight again -- after all that I’d gone through, I wanted to be part of the Rebellion -- but the Rebellion leaders, they thought it would be wisest if we didn’t rejoin the effort. The risk to our families and associates within the Empire are already...significant.”

“Besides,” Baze interjects gruffly. “Everyone thought we were dead already. The planet is in rubble; the Empire was in chaos. We weren’t found until nearly a full day later, and we had to confirm fifteen times who we were.”

“It is an inspiring alternative, isn’t it?” Chirrut asks, almost fondly. “Heroes die alone, but martyrs -- they live forever.”

There are many things they are not telling him, and Cassian is dazed and confused, but he’s still a trained intelligence operative with twenty years of experience in the field. The fact that the Empire believes them to be dead does have certain advantages, and it limits the Empire’s ability to direct an attack. He’s quite certain that if Bodhi has any immediate family, they’ve already been collected of and disposed of, but if he’s a dead traitor, then there’s less need to hunt down everyone who’s ever shown him kindness or shelter. Moreover, the value of a win is just as important symbolically as it is strategically. They were success in obtaining the plans to the Death Star, which gives the Rebellion the critical intelligence needed to mount a continuing offensive. If other fighters understood the personal cost by which those plans were obtained, they will have the necessary motivation to inspire their fighters to do the impossible.

Still.

Cassian swallows hard, his stomach turning heavily. “So we just..,” he starts, but he’s not sure what he wants to say. He’s not sure what answer he wishes to actually hear. “Walk away?”

The words sound so foreign to him, and in truth, they do not make any sense. Cassian has walked away from many things, many people, many possession. He is not a man of sentimentality. He is not a man of affection. He has no personal ties; he maintains no relations. And yet, the idea of walking away...of leaving the Rebellion. After everything he’s done; everything he’s given.

It’s hard to say, when he thinks about it plainly, what bothers him more. The idea that he does not deserve the reprieve or the reality that he would not know what to do with the opportunity if it were thrust upon him.

“If we want,” Jyn says, her smile small. She hesitates, her fingers inching toward his arm. She doesn’t quite touch him, but her eyes meet his. “But I think it’s safe to say that your days as a spy are over. If we took any mission within range of the Empire -- any of us -- we’d be ID’d immediately. We’re burned, plain and simple.”

There’s a finality to that he should have seen coming. If they are regarded as heroes for the Rebellion, they will be enemy number one for the Empire. Even with their presumptive deaths, there’s no doubt that their names and faces have been plastered in the propaganda throughout every planet in the Empire. He imagines there are instructions given to Imperial officers at every level, detailing every aspect of Rogue One.

Hell, it’s entirely possible that they have obtained DNA samples, giving Imperial squadrons the ability to scan for their biosigns.

The best spy is the one that no one knows about.

After what they did on Scarif?

They’re famous now.

Which leads to only one, inevitable conclusion.

“It’s over,” he says, the realization settling over him. “It’s really over.”

Dumbfounded as he is over this conclusion, the others look almost worried. Anxiously, they glance at one another, and it leaves Cassian with only one response.

He laughs. A short huff of a chuckle pulls against his still-healing skin. He can feel it, the fresh sensation across his chest and torso. Weak though he may be, it’s heartening, and he laughs again.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time,” he tells them, the grin spreading wide across his face. “A very long time.”

“It’s not that simple,” Jyn says cautiously. “We have to cut all ties with the Rebellion, too. Our actual whereabouts are to be top secrets -- we can’t damage the official story -- which means we’ll be living under the radar on backwater planets. It’s not a paradise, trust me. You no longer get the luxury of your past.”

“My past?” he asks, almost incredulous now. Jyn’s hand is close to his, and he reaches out, folding her fingers under his own. “I’m done with my past. I think it’s time for the future.”

That’s all there is, in the end. One mission, twenty years, a lifetime. And that’s all there is. There are many ways to die, Cassian knows. Some of them are possible while you are still breathing.

All he needs is one chance to live, however.

Bodhi beams, and Baze lifts his chin. Chirrut nods his head like he’s known this all along.

Jyn, though -- Jyn’s fingers curl back.

That’s why endings are always beginnings.

And it still feels like hope.

-o-

Afterward, the story spread like wildfire. In two weeks, the Rebellion gains more momentum than it had cultivated in two decades. It’s a story of sacrifice, after all. It’s a story about doing the right thing, even when you had no promise of success.

Mostly, though, it’s a story of hope.

You can shoot it. You can blow it up. You can eradicate it off the face of a planet or turn a planet into rubble.

But hope lives on.

If anyone could ask Rogue One what they thought of that, the audacity of hope, it’s pretty clear what they would say. They’d tell you that it’s a cause worth dying for.

More than that, they’d want you to understand it’s one worth living for, too.