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Occasions of Giving

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“That’s pretty.” Cassian says it unthinkingly, part of the cover as they move through the market like a couple of traders killing time. It’s true, though, he realizes. Jyn’s holding a long bolt of cloth speculatively, a deeper green than the scarf draped over her hair. The colour is more vivid than her usual wear, and it’s —maybe her eyes look different. She frowns.

           “Too bright,” she says, “it would stand out.” But she runs her fingers along the fabric again, and doesn’t put it down. It looks soft. Jyn moves towards the cheap mirror tacked to a corner post of the stall. Cassian shifts closer to her shoulder, at an angle, as if he wants a better look. It gives him a clearer view of the busy market lane.

           “I don’t know. You wear that, it’d be the only thing people remember. The girl with the pretty green scarf.” Cassian doesn’t really believe that. Her face isn’t easy to forget. But he wants her to have it, suddenly. Wants to convince her. He’s not sure why.

Jyn huffs, glaring up at him on reflex. There’s a hint of humour around her mouth.

           “What, I take it off, and suddenly I’m forgettable? Thanks.” She scowls at her reflection, holding the fabric up next to her face.

He lets himself smile at her openly; just a man teasing a shipmate, like he’s known her for years instead of months.

           “I’ll get it for you,” he offers. He’s saying a lot of things he hasn’t thought through today. It happens, around Jyn.

           “No, I don’t need it,” she says, all scorn covering doubt.

           “So?” Cassian shrugs, “we’re shopping, aren’t we? We should buy something. Wouldn’t want to waste a trip.” He’s cheating a bit, reminding her of their cover. It’s an obvious bit of manipulation, and she rolls her eyes, already starting to put the cloth down. “It’ll be a present.”

He wasn’t expecting that to make Jyn pause, but she does, looking at him doubtfully. She’s a good liar, and reliable, but she’s not as comfortable as he is taking on a role for long. Jyn likes things straightforward. She’s changed her name before, many times. But she was always playing whichever version of herself kept Jyn Erso hidden and safe. Now he can see her watching him, trying to figure out how she’s supposed to react. Wary. Reminding her of the cover was definitely a mistake.

           “We could get something for Bodhi too,” he says, mostly for something to say. He isn’t expecting it to work, but all at once she’s relaxing, hackles smoothing.

           “Like a present,” she says, like she’s looking for confirmation. The humour’s back in the lines around her eyes. She passes the cloth over to the stall-keeper, and Cassian buys her the scarf.

He’s a little taken aback at how seriously Jyn takes their new mission. Rather than the aimless wandering they’d been doing before, suddenly she’s pushing her way through the crowd of sentients with purpose. This is more like his usual shopping with Jyn.

She leads him to the eastern corner of the market, brimming with repurposed tech stalls, resale vendors with droid parts and old household equipment. She and Baze have appointed themselves quartermasters. They scour wherever they find themselves for bargains, keeping the ship supplied. Cassian’s used now to quietly following along behind them and nodding skeptically whenever they require it. Sometimes while they haggle he suggests looking elsewhere at Jyn’s signal, and gets an approving nod if they reach a price that satisfies.

Jyn appraises each stall quickly, slipping into smaller spaces between sentients to get closer to the long tables covered with components. He fidgets with a holographic Dejarik board — broken — while he waits.

           “Junk,” she reports, easing her way back to him. One of the stall-keepers shouts something rude after her. The next booth is more promising, closed off by a heavy curtain on two sides, with a truly bizarre range of objects.

Jyn zeroes in on a set of tools in a case unlike anything he’s ever seen. It’s sitting next to a refinished casino credit game. Someone’s attached a mop to an internal generator, for some reason. He picks up a carved game-piece, part of a game he’s seen floating around rebel bases before, but normally holographic. He likes the weight of it. Jyn rejects the tool case, shrugging regretfully.

           “Too much,” she says. It’s still several moments before she leads them out.

Cassian follows her, the scarf dangling from his fingertips in a small bag. It’s strange to have his hands occupied, but his blaster is secure beneath his jacket, and the heaviness of his rifle is a reassuring weight in his pack. They still have almost two hours to kill.

They end up back in the textiles, by a leather stall a few vendors down from where he bought the scarf. Cassian’s been watching the market-goers, second-nature to note exits and mark threats, but he’s been watching Jyn too. Hard not to, sometimes. Especially when she’s determined. Somehow getting the right thing for Bodhi has earned every bit of her attention. It’s unexpected.

She’s frowning at a mess of gloves, asking the clothier about the animal they’re made from, some local ungulate related to nerfs. Jyn doesn’t turn when he lets himself drift closer to stand at her back. The gloves look a bit like the ones she’s wearing, some fingerless, some whole. Her fingers hover over one pair after another while she bites her lip.

           “I think this is the first time I’ve ever bought anyone a present,” she says quietly. Cassian’s not sure it’s for him. After a moment, she settles on a pair, and hands them to Cassian, so he has to take a hasty step back from her as she moves to face him.

           “They’re soft,” Jyn says. Although it’s noisy in the market, and her tone is hushed, he hears her just fine. “They wouldn’t hurt his hands.” He’s not sure what she wants from him, so Cassian just nods. He’s trying to remember when he’s ever gotten someone a gift that wasn’t part of some assignment.

           “I used to stand Melshi drinks,” he says, and wants to kick himself for the non-sequitur.

           “What?” Jyn says, baffled. For all they’re standing so close, that feeling he gets sometimes, like she’s the only person near him, is gone. He makes himself smile like he’s joking.

           “I used to stand Melshi drinks,” he repeats. “Not sure that counts as a present.”

She stares at him for a moment; she can pin him in place so easily. Then she smiles ruefully.

           “Day of firsts,” she says, and releases him, turning away to pass her credits over. When Jyn looks back at him she’s still smiling, faint and small. “We should get something for Baze and Chirrut too.”

They cycle through the market again, sticking close in the crowd. A group of farmers have claimed the whole southern area, and the smells are overpowering. Jyn pauses at a stand run by a B’Trillan woman, whose whiskers quiver and twitch when Jyn leans in close. The table’s surrounded with jars, most that reach up to Cassian’s thigh, and covered with smaller versions of the same. Some of them make his nose itch.

Jyn comes away with a small mortar and pestle and a bagful of dried purplish leaves he’s seen Baze brew in the evening. She holds it up to show Cassian with a badly suppressed air of triumph. She must have gotten a good price.

           “For Baze,” Jyn says. “He said he couldn’t find any on Barison, so. I know he needs it,” she adds, defensive.

           “That’s good,” Cassian says, and takes it from her. They buy Chirrut a whole basket of candied boffafruit and a tart, smoky tea that cuts the incredible sweetness of the desert. Knowing Chirrut, they will maybe last a week. Jyn swings the bag a bit as she walks.

There’s about an hour to go and Cassian’s getting antsy. The Imperial chancery is close, looming up over the marketplace from a street beyond the southern edge. If something’s gone wrong with the others, now would be the time they’d hear. Shopping with purpose was a welcome distraction, but now with nothing to focus on he’s impatient. Having a team to worry about has changed the way he feels about waiting.

Jyn tugs on his elbow, pulling him towards another stall.

           “You’re not looking,” she complains.

           “Sorry. Shouldn’t we start moving—” He jerks his head towards the chancery. It’s too early, he knows, for a quick in-and-out; the longer they’re in position, the more chance they’ll get picked up. Jyn knows it too, and ignores him.

           “We’re not done,” Jyn says. “We still have to get your present.” She says it like a challenge. Then she steps back into the flow of the crowd, forcing him to hurry to keep up.

           “I don’t need a present,” he calls, unaccountably nervous. He doesn’t know if he’ll be disappointed if she listens to him or not.

Jyn gives him a look. The kind she gives Bodhi when she knows he’s cheating at cards —like she can see everything he’s trying to pull, but she’s not going to say anything anyway. More often than not she’s bluffing. Odds are good if Bodhi’s got cards, he’s found a way to cheat, and he’s not about to be caught.

           “None of us did, that’s the point,” Jyn throws back at him. “Come on, we have time.”

Cassian’s not sure he wants to watch Jyn think about what he might like. He doesn’t know what she imagines him to be.

Trailing her through the market, knowing she’s looking for something for him, it’s — it's like being watched through a rangefinder. Evaluated. It makes the back of his neck burn.

But Jyn moves from stand to stand with that same intensity as she did for the others, mostly ignoring him. She rejects a canister of chava drink they’ve still got plenty of on-board, offers him a pair of knives for inspection, and moves on.

Slowly, he stops bracing himself for the heat of her eyes on him; the weight of her assessment. The tension in his belly begins to ease, until the knot that’s left is mostly for what’s coming at the chancery. Cassian finds himself keeping close by so he can nod along, or offer some small evaluation over her shoulder. Beneath his worry for Bodhi and Chirrut, he might be enjoying himself.

Closer to the spice merchants, there’s a table tucked to the side that advertises itself as industrial cooking wares. It features several blades the length of his forearm, and what looks like a Wookie sword. A stone-faced Setorian woman sits behind it with her chin on her palm, bored. With enough credits, there’s bound to be another type of merchandise ready to be pulled out from under the table. The chancery’s the largest symbol of Imperial power on all of Feldwes, and there are black-market weapons being traded a block away. Cassian’s absurdly gratified. The tighter the Empire exerts its hold in the Outer Rim, the more its inhabitants find ways to defy it.

           “I’d get you a blaster,” Jyn tosses at him, like she can sense his satisfaction, “but there’s a weapons ban around here, so….”

           It’s not a bad idea, considering he knows exactly where she’s strapped one of his only other blasters as a hold-out. Still, better not to draw attention to themselves.

They’ve fallen into an easy rhythm as they get back onto the main path heading north. The chancery looms at their backs; there’s maybe half an hour to go before they can reasonably move.

Something in him goes still and cold when they wander back towards the droids, but Jyn barely pauses. She ignores the droid-yard, and instead leads him back to the stall with the toolkit. It’s still there, though the vibro-mop is inexplicably sold. Jyn heads for the game-board, fingers hovering over the pieces he’d been toying with earlier. She looks at him expectantly.

           “So what is it?” she asks. Cassian’s caught off-guard. That happens around Jyn too.

           “Just a game.”

Jyn’s running her fingers down the back of one of the pieces. They’re well-made — smooth and solid. When she puts it down, he picks it up.

           “How do you play? I’ve never seen it,” she says.

           “It’s a strategy game. You make alliances, fight for territory. I played it with K2, a few times.” The look Jyn sends him is sharp, and honest. Cassian’s grateful when she doesn’t say anything about it. “It doesn’t work very well with two people. You need more.”

He’s glad to have the game-pieces to study. They really are astonishingly well-made, as detailed as any holo-projection he’s seen.

Jyn nods.

           “Well, we have more people. Can you play with five?”

The vendor pipes in, explaining you can play with up to eight, detailing the rules. She’s working hard to make a sale, but Jyn barely acknowledges her. He can feel her eyes on him. There’s a tiny crack running along the base of the figure. He can feel it, but he can't see it. It gives him something to focus on. The vendor moves away, put out.

           “Do you want it?” Jyn asks. She’s looking at him like a puzzle she’s solved.

           “You really don’t need to buy me anything.” He tries to smile, shaking his head.

           “I know,” she says. “I didn’t need a scarf either.” Reasonable. Like they’re settling terms. Like she’s prepared to argue.

           “That’s not…” He can’t explain it.

           “Fair’s fair,” she says, and that’s not what he wants. It’s not a transaction. He shakes his head, starts rearranging the game pieces.

           “That’s not it. You don’t owe me anything.” He can’t look at her.

           “No,” Jyn says levelly, agreeing, “But you got to buy me a scarf. And I want to buy you something.” Cassian doesn’t understand his own hesitation. He doesn’t know why he started this. He trusts her with his life, but he can’t tell her when he wants something? Jyn keeps pushing.

           “Come on, Cassian, I don’t wanna miss out.” It’s an attempt at teasing, maybe. A lightness still unfamiliar to them both, not quite natural. She hesitates, starts to say something else. He finishes the thought anyway. She’s never had anyone to buy presents for either.

He nods and tries to ignore her hand on his arm; how quickly she moves back from the impulsive touch.

           “I like it,” he says, “we should get it.” Jyn smiles up at him. When he meets her eyes, he’s helpless to do anything but smile back.

He can’t tell if she’s admiring or mocking when she shakes her head at him.

           “Of course you’d pick something that’s really for everyone,” she says, and calls the vendor back over. She puts the game in the bag with her scarf and Bodhi’s gloves.

***

Cassian’s jittery, impatient, while they wait for Chirrut’s signal. It takes another 20 minutes of wandering the market; long enough he assumes something’s gone wrong. He’s flipping through contingency plans, rescues, when his comlink buzzes a sequence of five. To anyone else it sounds like static. To them, it means it’s time to move.

Jyn sheds the air of casual unconcern she’s been wearing like a coat, alert and focused as she tilts her chin up to him. Waiting for his nod. She’s ready for a fight, always. It’s the truest thing he knows about her.

They move towards the southern exit together, steady and purposeful. Satisfied customers. When they reach the main thoroughfare, just outside the market, they separate. Jyn walks east towards the far side of the square, her bag swinging off one shoulder.

Cassian heads west. They’ve been on Feldwes for three days, preparing. His access card gets him into the offices and up the stairs to the roof with no problems. He drops the bag with Jyn’s scarf next to his gear, pulls open his pack and starts assembling his rifle. He has a clear view to the main entrance of the chancery.

Across from him, he knows Jyn is finding her own spot on the roof, ready to cover the opposing entry from the marketplace. Imperial arrogance means the square is a bottleneck, the only way in through the market. Everything funnels towards the chancery.

He takes easy, regular breaths, settling himself. It takes a few minutes before he spots Baze through his rangefinder. The square is crowded, though not as busy as the market, full of spacers and labourers who have business with the Imperial records office. Baze doesn’t stand out. He looks smaller without his armour. Respectable. His hair has been carefully braided into the neat plaits of Feldwen businessmen everywhere, a process Chirrut greatly enjoyed.

Cassian watches him stride across the square and enter the building. Unremarkable, but Cassian’s eye doesn’t stray from him until he’s out of sight. The ID Chirrut and Bodhi spent most of the afternoon acquiring must work, because security stays quiet. Then he waits.

He’s waited on rooftops before, but this is different. Cassian’s not waiting for a target, but for a friend. He forces himself to breath normally. The stormtroopers in the square follow regular patrols. He’d spent two days with Bodhi confirming the mission intel that mapped their routines. Cassian occupies himself with squinting at one death’s head after another; track, target, exhale, move on to the next.

He checks the entrance every two minutes, though it’s only been ten since Baze went in. He won’t let himself worry until it’s been 40.

Well before that, Baze pauses on the steps out of the chancery, as if he’s enjoying the mild afternoon light. Cassian breathes out. He won’t relax. Missions go smooth, sometimes, but not often.

He tracks Baze out of the square, waits, then pushes himself back from the ledge. He disassembles his rifle mechanically, waiting for the pattern of static that confirms the rendezvous point with Bodhi (point A, the one that means nothing’s gone wrong so far). When it comes, he scoops Jyn’s scarf up and is gone.

***

It takes another two hours to get off-planet, a delay that Bodhi insists is necessary if they want to avoid attention. It still makes Cassian want to pace with frustration. Their quick in-and-out feels awfully slow. Instead, he sits calmly in the control room while Bodhi talks with one of Feldwes’ planetary comptrollers and Jyn and Baze sort through the gear in the back.

They move gradually up the queue for lift-off. He entertains himself reviewing the truly massive amount of data Baze has just stolen out from under the Empire’s nose. Bodhi only relaxes once they’re in hyperspace, shoulders hitting his seatback as he exhales.

           “Well, that was awful,” he says. “Why do they always want to chat?”

           “It’s a mystery.” Cassian claps him on the shoulder. “You were great.” Bodhi smiles back. He’s still shaking with adrenaline.

           “We get what we came for?”

Cassian scrolls through the lists of Imperial supply routes, requisition codes, industrial processing plants - hundreds of files on the Empire’s shaky infrastructure all along the Ardan Cross, and into the Fessen Run. The Rebellion can hit their munitions supply chain, can steal materials, ships — can feed themselves. It’s a good start. If they’re smart, Rebel Intelligence can keep it going for months before the Imperials figure out they’ve been compromised.

           “We did,” he tells Bodhi.

Bodhi lets his head drop back and flexes his hands. The scarring makes them stiff sometimes, and he’s taken to repeating his exercises to help himself calm. But he’s steady when he looks at Cassian, centered and confident.

           “Guess I’ll tell the others then.” He points a finger at Cassian, mock-stern. “Don’t touch the controls.”

The encryption process is tedious and long —longer without a droid. They’ll pass the package on to three separate cells operating in the Fessen system, and one to Command. Each requires a different key. He gets it started, and writes a brief report.

When he slides down the ladder from the cockpit, he can already hear the others. Down the passageway, the small ships’ mess is lit up loud and full.

Jyn’s sitting with her hands on both knees, leaning into Chirrut’s side and looking pleased. He’s touching the green scarf admiringly. Cassian pauses and grips the top of the doorway with both hands, lets himself lean into the light and the noise.

Baze is next to Chirrut on the bench, grumbling about doing all the work.

           “While you went shopping!” Chirrut laughs at Baze’s outrage, and Jyn bites down on her smile. She looks happy to be teased most days, and still a little shy about it. There’s a familiar pile of bags dumped in the center of their little table, but Jyn’s made no move towards it. So Cassian does.

Halfway through opening the first bag, he realizes he has no idea how to begin this. Suddenly Jyn’s hesitation feels sensible. In the market, the idea had seemed only natural; now it feels strange.

           “At least we got you something too.” He tries to say it like an apology, like appreciation; he realizes that’s what it is only after he says it. Gratitude sits strangely in his mouth. He hands Baze the little gift and hopes to all powers in the universe he’s not blushing. Chirrut is grinning at him.

Baze is more gracious. He takes the mortar and pestle gently, and exclaims over the root tea.

           “Jyn found it,” Cassian offers. It’s strange to speak for her, but she’s gone quiet, and he wants Baze to know. It’s important.

           “Cassian made me,” she scowls, and the tips of her ears are pink.

           “I ran out before Barison,” Baze says, “thank you.” He reaches across Chirrut to pat her hand.

Jyn jerks a shoulder, dismissive. She doesn’t look at Cassian, or the bag, or anything except her own hands on her knees. Retreating into her default blank-faced hostility. But she grabs Baze’s hand for a moment and squeezes before she lets go. Cassian wants to run from the quiet. He hadn’t meant to bring this heaviness into their space. He’d wanted to make them happy.

Bodhi saves them.

           “What, Baze gets a present for walking into a building? I flew the ship! What else is in there?” He’s smiling at Jyn, grabbing the bags from Cassian’s hand and rifling through them. He pulls the boffafruit tray out first. Cassian thankfully retreats, leaning back into the counter along the bulkhead.

           “That’s for Chirrut,” Jyn says, glaring at Bodhi a little. Reviving.

           “What is it? Baze?” Chirrut is already asking, reaching out a hand. Baze laughs.

           “Boffafruit skewers. Too many boffafruit skewers. I’ll have to help you.”

           “Not a chance!” Chirrut says. “I know my limits.”

           “You really don’t,” Baze says, already unwrapping a skewer and handing it to Chirrut. “I’ll brew the tea.”

           “There’s tea too? Jyn, you’re spoiling us. Thank you.”

Jyn’s inched forward to the table, peering into a bag.

           “Those one’s are for you,” she says. Bodhi’s gloves are wrapped in layers of parcel paper, and he takes them out gently. He’s not teasing any longer. Cassian wonders who he’s remembering when he pauses with the papers open on his lap.

Bodhi hums appreciatively pulling the gloves on. They leave the tips of his fingers free.

           “They’re really soft.” He says it quietly, but his voice is steady.

           “That’s what I said,” Jyn says, a little proud. Bodhi reaches out, shakes her by the wrist a little.

           “Thanks, Jyn.” She bobs her head, smiling her closed-mouth smile.

           “Yeah, well…”

Baze sets a few cups out, and puts their little teapot down to steep next to the shopping bags. He nods approvingly when Jyn volunteers the price she’d pulled off for the mortar and pestle, settling into their usual post-shopping routine.

Cassian would be happy enough to sink into the low murmur of their voices; to sit apart and watch from the edges in the way that’s begun to feel familiar. Different from his solitary evenings with K2, but not.

Only Bodhi’s investigating the last bag, pulling apart the box that holds Cassian’s gift, and that feeling of exposure is back. Like there’s a target painted at his throat. He’s not used to being himself with so many people. Every instinct tells him to find shadow; to stay unseen.

He should have left the report; given himself a reason to retreat. Instead he watches Bodhi pull each piece out of the box, quietly describing them to Chirrut, who holds each one briefly before he sets them on the table.

           “Cassian picked that one,” Jyn says, like she can tell he can’t say anything. “So we can all play.“ That’s not it, he wants to say. She makes him sound unselfish. As if sitting in the warmth of the mess with them all, playing a pointless game, isn’t the most self-indulgent luxury.

The green scarf is twisted in Jyn’s lap, wrapped around one hand, and he wanted the game for the same reason he wanted her to have the scarf. Just to have something he wanted.

Jyn’s still watching him from across the mess, her eyes crinkling with the suggestion of a smile, while Bodhi and Baze bicker amicably about setting up the board. He swallows when she doesn’t look away. He doesn’t want her to.

           “I’m on Bodhi’s team,” Chirrut declares, which Baze instantly protests.

           “You both cheat! You can’t be on the same team.” Bodhi makes an offended noise.

           “I’ve never even played this before! I’m not going to cheat.”

           “Yeah, he’ll need a few rounds to figure out how first,” Jyn smirks. Bodhi ducks his head, a little smug.

When she grins at Cassian, inviting, he gives in. He should be doing something productive. But he wants to be here sitting with his crew in the light. He can spare the Rebellion a few moments.