“This one’s for you,” came Jyn’s muffled voice. “I’m done with it.”
He looked around from the desk to his bed, where Jyn lay on her front with her face buried in the pillow dejectedly. One arm stuck out straight toward him, waving a data pad. He raised an eyebrow and leant over to take it from her. “What’s up?”
“Three across,” was the fuzzy response. “It doesn’t make sense.” Jyn flung herself round onto her back with a sigh and folded her arms. “I’ve done all the ones that look like anagrams. I think that one’s one of the fudgy ones you’re good at.” She rolled her head to stare at him. “Also, it’s about prison.”
Cassian nodded at her in mock sobriety and looked down. “‘Imply –’ this one?” She nodded, and he went on. “‘Imply convict gets half time inside’. Eight letters.” He frowned and chewed the stylus.
Jyn flipped onto her side, propping herself up on an elbow. “I thought it could be “intimate” and it fits but it doesn’t make sense.”
Cassian’s frown deepened, then he took the stylus from his mouth with a sigh of enlightenment. “No, no, you’re right,” he told her. “That works. Not intimate, intimate. Imply.”
“What?” Jyn was staring. “That’s not a word.”
He looked round at her, hesitant. “I’m pretty sure it is. Sort of, ‘he intimated that she should take her boots off’.”
Jyn span onto her back again and glared at the ceiling. “Well, no wonder I couldn’t get it,” she muttered. “I didn’t know that was a word.”
“Except you did get it,” he said, putting in the answer. “And it wasn’t an anagram. You’re getting good at this.”
Jyn made a noise of grudging acknowledgement, pretending not to be pleased, and Cassian suppressed a smile. He turned to look at her, lying on her back on his bed, hair dull brown and messy across his pillow, eyes closed in a scowl that failed to disguise her pride.
He felt a warm effervescence in his stomach, and quickly set her data pad aside and went back to studying briefing notes on his own.
A moment passed.
“Get your kriffing boots off my bed.”
Crosswords relaxed Cassian. He’d discovered them eight years ago, while on an assignment that had been termed “deep cover”. In fact, it had mostly entailed months of waiting around, with nothing to exercise his mind save tinkering with the domestic droid’s code parameters to prevent it from refusing him more whisky beyond a certain point.
There had been, however, physical exercise, in the form of a series of pretty girls about whom he cared little enough not to keep at arm’s length. It had been from one of these that he had learned the basics of crossword solving, and found his creativity and intuition gave him an immediate knack for it. Shortly thereafter the dalliances became fewer, as, to a lesser extent, did the whisky.
It had been on a long flight across the galaxy, not long after they had met and all that had followed, that Jyn had found him puzzling over a crossword on one of the cabins on the transport. She’d knocked at his door and stuck her head around.
“Kay says we should be landing in half a day, standard,” she’d said, hovering uncertainly.
Cassian was sitting on the side of his bunk, and he looked up at her, setting the puzzle aside. “Ok, good.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt –”
“No, no, it’s just a puzzle, it’s nothing important.”
There had been a nervous, confused pause, until he found himself saying, “Crossword. Do you like them?”
She’d shaken her head from the doorway, blinking. “I’ve never tried one.”
“Would you – I’m stuck on one. Want to help?”
She’d edged inside and sat beside him, curious and cautious.
It had taken him a while to realise that she thought him cleverer than her, and better than her, and that – their battle having been fought – she was only ever unsure of herself with him. He would have found the notion laughable, that someone like her could think such a thing of anyone, and of him of all people, had it not rendered a strange new distance between them that he struggled to bridge.
But her interest as he explained the answers he’d got so far was evident. Her wariness began to slide away, and he swallowed hard when, peering closer at the screen, she nudged her shoulder against his arm.
“So this one I’m stuck on, I think, is an anagram,” he said. “Because the word ‘drunkenly’ in the clue, that’s like the others I told you, ‘about’ and ‘broken’ and so on, usually means the letters have all gone wandering around. But I’m rubbish at them. They’re too…” he waved his hand around.
“Spatial,” she supplied in a murmur, pressing against him again as she read the clue carefully.
Spatial. His mouth almost fell open at the revelation. That was it. They were. No wonder he struggled with them. His mind worked in lists and hypotheses; information and possibilities and threats and codes blossoming endlessly in crystalline fractals. It was a world of data, not diagrams.
“‘Prime ails drunkenly to find the ruler’s men.’ Nine letters.” She looked up at him, and he hoped she didn’t notice he’d been staring at her. “So it’s an anagram of ‘prime ails’?”
“Exactly. I think so. And we know the third letter’s P because I’ve got ‘planets’ branching off there.”
“And it means the rule… oh.” She smiled at him, the first real and unmeasured smile she’d given him since the top of the comms tower. It was beautiful. “You really got stuck? ‘Imperials’.”
As soon as she said it, it was as though the letters glowed and staggered back to where they should be in his mind. It looked so obvious, all of a sudden. He felt himself lighting up, reflecting the rays of her smile.
“Force, thank you!” He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and squeezed. “That’s been annoying me for ages. You’re quick at these!”
“I think you’re just slow,” she’d said, and then she’d laughed, and it hadn’t felt strange to hold her beside him, and she hadn’t moved away.
“You’re probably right,” he’d said, laughing too, and pointed her to the next gap in the puzzle.
The engineer’s daughter solved problems like fixing circuits; she saw what needed to go where and made it happen. Cassian had thought he could admire her no more, but each time he set his unfinished crossword aside, habit resigning him to incompleteness, she would pick it up and gently untangle the last few clues.
She was untangling, too. Over the weeks, when they had the chance to spend time together, the easy proximity of their first days began to return, but somehow new. It was a closeness not born necessity; not of sheltering against one other in crumbling, blast-riddled alleys or in shining, hissing archive vaults, but of drawing near in quiet accord.
“- Jyn, I haven’t finished – ‘About time, gait can act as dam –’ alright, it’s yours – ‘act as damage limitation’.”
They were camping out by a lake in the Mid Rim when she kissed him for the first time. They’d spent the afternoon waiting for an informant who had shown up late and told them things they already knew, and the trip was wasted, but there was no getting home until the next day now.
Jyn had started chucking rocks as far into the lake as she could to ease her frustration. Cassian had sat watching her dejectedly for a while, seeing the lake darken and yellow as the sun began to sink. Finally, he stood, and went over to her, scooping up a few flat pebbles on his way.
“Throw again,” he’d said.
She’d looked around at him in confusion, but obliged with a good throw far into the water.
With a deft flick of the wrist, he sent a pebble skipping across the surface. It sailed right past the centre of her sunk rock’s rippling grave.
“Ahh… Missed.” He smiled down at her. “Let me try again. Give me another target.”
So many times, he almost managed it, but always with a skip too many or too few, and the two of them would throw their hands up with a cry of amused dismay each time. He still hadn’t quite managed it by the time it was too dark to go on, but the game had calmed their tempers no end. Finally, they gave in and crawled into their tent, shuffled into their sleeping bags, and lay listening to the chanting of the planet’s strange nightbirds.
Jyn wriggled closer, his arm underneath her, and peered up at the glowing data pad his other hand held overhead.
“Ok, how about this one,” he said, turning to her and noting for a second how the blue light of the screen edged her features in cyan. “Endless contemplation notwithstanding. Seven letters. Blank-herf-blank-blank-grek-blank-blank.”
“That’s it? ‘Endless contemplation notwithstanding’?”
“You’ve got it already, haven’t you.”
He quirked an eyebrow, and she rolled her eyes. “Fine… let me think…”
“Sure,” he said, wrapping the arm underneath her around her a little more tightly. “Give it all the thought you need…”
She eyed him suspiciously at the emphasis. “All the thought I need? Was that a clue?”
His mouth twisted as he tried to suppress a smile and looked back at the screen.
“Fine, thought, thought… endless con- oh! Endless! Though! It’s ‘though’, isn’t it! Is it?”
The grin spread wide across his face as he chuckled, and he flicked the pad off, shutting them into darkness.
“How long did it take you?” came her voice.
“Doesn’t matter,” he answered, confirming her suspicions.
The lake lapped gently against the shingle nearby.
“You’re amazing, Cassian.” Her voice had changed; it came softly, and it seemed to hum, backed by the harmonic chanting of the nightbirds. He felt her weight lift off his arm and heard the rustle of her sleeping bag as she moved.
Then her lips touched his chin, and she gave a nervous little laugh. “Missed.”
His hands found her face in the darkness and drew her up, and their mouths met, warm and sweet, while the birds chanted on across the lake.
It had been a long, unproductive day. Cassian was still awaiting his next posting, restless, listless and underslept.
Jyn had only been scheduled to run half a day of training; at lunchtime she had found him in his quarters, pushing his hand distractedly through his hair as he studied his pad.
“Puzzle time?” she’d said brightly, throwing herself onto his bed.
His tired face had unfolded into a wide smile, and he’d set his pad aside as he watched her wriggle herself deeper into the mattress, the blanket rucking up around her hips and ankles. Her hair was still a little stuck to her forehead and neck from the morning’s exertions, her cheeks flushed.
“I love you,” he’d told her, not for the first time, but more suddenly and more softly than he’d meant to.
She’d reached out her hands, beckoning him across, and when he was near enough she had taken his wrists and pulled him down beside her.
“I love you too,” she’d said, and slipped her arms around him, tucking her head under his chin and turning to kiss the hairline on his throat.
He’d pulled her closer, and kissed the top of her head in return. He’d wondered how life had become so easy when the world was still so hard.
“No puzzle then,” she’d mumbled into his neck, her smile tickling him gently, and with the tangy scent of her sweat enveloping him and the soft texture of her clothes beneath his hands, he’d drifted to sleep.
Cassian woke, hours later, to find her still curled around him, chin on his shoulder, staring vacantly across the room; she clearly hadn’t realised he’d woken. He continued lying still for a moment, just enjoying the warm, slightly stale contentment that always seemed to follow day-sleep. Then he prodded her hip, producing a surprised yelp from her, which turned into a shriek of laughter as he threw her onto her back with a grin.
“You’re awake!” she giggled up at him.
“Have you not slept at all this whole time?”
Jyn sighed melodramatically. “A little bit, I suppose… to pass the time… alone… trapped in your arms… too soft-hearted to wake you-” She yelped again as he punched her arm playfully.
“Oh, poor you, ever the prisoner.”
She feigned a wounded look and shoved him. “Cassian! Again with the prison jokes, mi chico?”
He darted his head down to plant a quick kiss on her forehead before scrambling quickly away to the foot of the bed and sitting up against the wall.
Jyn sighed peacefully up at the ceiling for a moment, then rolled over and got up, heading for the fresher. “Food, please.”
After dinner, he’d offered her wine, and she’d declined. She never drank when it was just the two of them. He’d nodded and downed his water quickly, pouring himself another before he even got around to bringing hers over.
Jyn frowned at him. “Cassian, what’s up?”
He almost dropped his glass. “Nothing,” he said, over-brightly. “Nothing.”
He turned to face her, his smile perfect and composed, but his face pale. “Nothing’s wrong,” he told her almost convincingly, and finally brought her glass across. “I’m just a bit edgy… still no posting. That’s all. I’ll calm down.”
“Alright,” she said slowly, taking her water from him and eyeing him closely.
“Let’s do a puzzle!” His suggestion was slightly too loud, and he downed the second glass of water.
Jyn took a sip of her own. “Yeah, let’s.” She regarded him with suspicion. “You definitely need to unwind your springs a bit, my love.”
He laughed, a little high-pitched, and brought the data pad over. “I – I made one up.” He swallowed. “Would you mind having a go? I quite – I could do with seeing if it works alright.”
“You made one up?” Jyn beamed at him. “Cassian, that’s amazing! Yes, of course!” She tugged him down and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. He seemed to ease a little as she sank into his side.
She scanned through the clues. “These are mostly anagram ones.”
He rested his chin on her head. “Well, it’s for you.”
“You made these?”
“It’s taken weeks,” he admitted.
Some of the clues stumped her for a little while, most she sailed through, and the later it got, the more he seemed to shift uncomfortably beside her. She resolved not to let him sleep during the day again, if this was what happened. Finally, she reached the last clue.
“Ok, here we go. Last one.” She grinned up at him. “It’s good, Cassian!”
He cupped her chin for a moment and lifted her face. She smiled as they kissed, and then turned back to the last clue.
“Ok, right. ‘Ahead of myself, broken one who dies for a cause, losing time. What he asks you.’ Former self-portrait, mi amor?”
He didn’t laugh. His arm around her was curiously tense.
“Two words, five and two.” She hummed. “So ‘losing time’ is…” She froze.
Cassian dared himself to look down at her. The data pad was shaking in her hands. He felt sick.
Suddenly the puzzle was on the floor, and her wet cheek was next to his, and “Yes,” whispered in his ear, over and over. “Yes, of course I will.”