morganstuart: (My Best)
[personal profile] morganstuart
Title: My Best Invisible Boy
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: Cassian Andor gave his life for the Rebellion while on Scarif. He gave his life to the Rebellion twenty years earlier.
Author's Note: This takes place before and after the events depicted in the film Rogue One.
Warnings (Highlight to Read): Depictions of warfare, injuries, and the aftermath of torture, non-explicit mention of off-screen violence and the possibility of underage sex



Chapter 1: You Could Go Under Cover/Make Your Great Escape


Celebration consumed Massassi Station like hungry fire.

Even cooler heads who could not mistake winning a battle for winning a war knew that the destruction of the Death Star represented a crucial turning point in this struggle. The galaxy now had proof that the Empire was not invulnerable. Once-silent sympathizers would dare to become vocal supporters of the Alliance; the ranks of the rebels would swell with new recruits.

One laughter and song-drenched night of drinking and coupling and affirming life, of cheering a princess and farmboy and smuggler and Wookie and each other, certainly could be justified – especially now, while the Empire reeled from this blow.

General Draven didn’t begrudge the others their festivity.

But that didn’t mean he felt like taking part.

Only a skeleton staff remained at critical posts. His footfalls echoed in corridors that were usually active with personnel, day or night.

This was the best time for it. He didn’t need an audience.

The short row of lockers sank back into the ancient stone of a hallway that led to guest quarters. Intelligence operatives rarely received permanent barracks assignments; they were in the field most of the time. They passed their brief stays at the base in the impersonal comfort of temporary rooms. An individual locker was the only show of permanence their would-be Massassi home provided.

After setting the empty box at his feet, Draven stared at one locker for several moments before overriding its security code and opening its door.

So very few things, and most of them single-minded in their practicality. Small tools. Spare socks. A battered transponder awaiting repair. A tube of the eye drops favored by human pilots to combat the strain of long flights.

A lone piece of candied bofa fruit by itself on the shelf, still wrapped.

No threads left to dangle, no mess for others to clean up. An extraordinary agent to the last. Undercover even here.

Draven forced a deep breath. The sound was overloud in the vacant space.

“I’m sorry, Cassian,” he said.


***TWENTY YEARS AGO***


Draven woke remembering she was there, reaching for her. But he was alone in his bed.

He found her wrapped in his shirt and staring out his viewport, a mug of steaming caf cradled between her hands.

“Kivren?”

They had kept things casual between them. It made sense in a time of war, when uncertainty and upheaval seemed to be the only constants in the galaxy. Considering that one of them was military intelligence and the other a civilian pilot, and they rarely found three days together in every sixty, it seemed wise simply to enjoy the connection they had without the complication of added expectations.

At least, that’s what Draven understood Kivren Bo’s position to be. If he were foolish enough to want more, he wasn’t going to compound his folly by saying so.

Her focus remained on the stars. “I can’t get Carida out of my head.”

He rubbed at sleep-blurred eyes and frowned at her reference to the Colonies world. Why now?

Months had passed since that unfortunate incident, and even then it was more footnote than headline.

He held his tongue, giving her time to say more. After a pause she did.

“You do see the problem, right? Not that long ago we lived in a Republic that had no standing army. We’ve gone a long way in the other direction in a very short time.” She turned to face him, brown eyes bloodshot with lack of sleep. “If citizens who are protesting the increased militarism of the Republic are killed – by Republic blasters in Republic hands – then that sort of makes their case for them, doesn’t it?”

“What happened at the Carida military academy was tragic,” he said. Even to his own ears, those words sounded hackneyed and hollow. “But we’re at war, Kivren. We don’t have the luxury of forgetting that. Talk of demilitarization must wait until there’s peace. Then –”

“Then what?” she asked. “Do you really think the giant war machine of the Republic will just dismantle itself? That all the power concentrated on Coruscant will just” – she detached a hand from her mug and made a shooing gesture – “trickle back to the civilians on their homeworlds?”

For several heartbeats they stood there, frozen in frustrated silence. She was hitting a bit close to home, given the nature of Draven’s work. Not that he was an ideologue. He was a most practical man. And practically speaking, he knew this debate could go on and on in circles until they were both ill with it.

Before he could formulate a reply with any chance of making things better instead of worse, Kivren shook her head. “No, I don’t want this. I don’t want to fight with you.” She deflated before his eyes, sinking into the modest standard-issue sofa, tucking her legs under her.

Wordlessly he refilled her caf and poured a mug for himself, and then he settled next to her. Something had pulled her from his bed, and it wasn’t abstract politics. He was willing to wait until she was ready to talk.

“I was just there,” she said at last.

“Carida?” This was news.

“It was a one-off gig between regular runs. You know me: the more of the galaxy I can see, the better. I like to get boots on the ground and explore at each stop. Of course the war has made that a lot more difficult.”

And dangerous, Draven added to himself.

Kivren blew across the surface of her drink to cool it. Her gaze grew distant as she fell into memory.

“There was this boy.

“He was throwing rocks at a line of Republic walkers moving up the central lane of the capital. Not laughing and running away, as if he’d been dared to do it by friends. No, deadly serious. Committed. Rock after rock, like he was fighting his own private war.

“He was all knees and elbows: a little undersized and a lot underfed. I thought he’s just a baby and then I saw his eyes: huge and dark and so sad. He had the eyes of an old man – one who’s outlived everyone he’s ever known.”

The story seemed to catch in her chest. She shifted and cleared her throat.

“The street cleared when the walkers showed up, so the boy and I were practically alone. After a time I pulled a ration bar out of my pack and offered it to him.

“He needed it – he was practically vibrating with need – but he didn’t move. Instead he asked, ‘What do you want for it?’ He wasn’t some feral, raging child. He spoke softly, warily, as rational as any adult, with a voice like... well, like music.

“I could tell he wouldn’t trust me if I said I didn’t want anything from him, so I said,
‘I’d like some information.’”

“‘Whose side are you on?’ he asked.

“I told him I was new to the planet, and I didn’t have a side. I just wanted to understand what I was seeing. Why was he throwing rocks at the walkers?

“He said, ‘I want them to go. I want them to know we don’t want them here. We just want to be free. We want to live our lives and not be killed.’ He couldn’t have been seven years old.”

At her glance, Draven shook his head mutely. What could he possibly say?

“I asked him if his parents agreed with the rock throwing. He said his mother had been with the Force since he was a baby, and his father – Papa, he called him – had been killed earlier that year.”

“And then, then, he said, ‘It’s not safe on the streets at night. Be careful. Leave if you can.’ I asked him what he did when it got dark, and he said, ‘I hide until morning.’ I must’ve looked horrified, because he said, ‘I’m good at hiding.’ Not bragging, just… reassuring me.

“I tossed him the ration bar. I doubted he’d ever come close enough to take it from me. He thanked me first, and then he inhaled it.”

She applied herself to her caf once again, blinking hard.

After some moments, she added, “He asked me where I was from, and I told him I was a pilot, and so I was from many different places. He changed like that.” She snapped her fingers. “His eyes lit up. You could see the intelligence and the curiosity in them. He seemed genuinely happy to learn that we both liked ships and droids and space.

“And then a group of clone troopers came out of one of the state houses, and the next moment he was gone. Nowhere to be found. That remarkable gift of a boy.”

Half-turning to face him fully, Kivren continued. “When I got back to the ship, I accessed the reports of deaths on Carida this year. One of the protesters killed at the demonstration at the military academy was the mirror image of that little boy, if you added another twenty-five or thirty years. Same dark hair and soulful eyes. Same intent expression.”

She rested a warm hand on his knee. “I know you care. I know you’re doing your damnedest for the galaxy, which is a lot more than I can say for myself. I know that. But right now, what you’re doing, what everybody’s doing, it isn’t good enough. I’m going to keep waking up in the night and imagining that little boy, hiding somewhere in the dark, until… I don’t know what. Some kind of change happens. Somehow.”

Draven could only digest this; he had no useful reply, and to her credit, Kivren didn’t seem to expect one. He just held her until the morning refused to be denied, and then they parted, Draven for his office and Kivren for her ship.

She didn’t return to him again. He confirmed she was alive and unharmed, and then he taught himself to let her go. The galaxy soon shattered around him – the Republic transformed into Empire, the Jedi exterminated – and there was no time for anything else, anything for himself, even if he had known how to ask for it.

Kivren proved to be right about the giant war machine of the Republic.

She also proved to be right about the remarkable boy.

It took Draven two years to connect the pieces. After his defection to the Rebellion, he had set himself to intensive research, flagging potential recruits for the unglamorous but desperately necessary work of Alliance intelligence. He was reviewing a file he had opened some time earlier on a former member of an insurrectionist cell turned anarchist activist in the Outer Rim, a gifted child with a penchant for dismantling advanced combat machinery with little more than sticks and stones, when Kivren’s story resurfaced in his mind with all the impact of point-blank blaster fire.

Seconds later a search confirmed that the dark-haired, dark-eyed protestor killed at the Carida military academy was Edrian Andor.

Kivren hadn’t exaggerated, either: young Cassian was the living image of his late father.

Draven added a note to the boy’s file and moved it to the top of his queue for immediate action.

If he had been the idealistic or romantic sort, the kind who sought deeper meaning in random coincidence or nursed a secret belief in destiny, he might have wondered if this was what they meant when the starry-eyed echoed weighty phrases such as “the will of the Force.”

But Draven was a most practical man. And he had work to do.


***SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO***


“You already know everything that’s happened in my life,” the boy said, measuring Draven. Not hostile, not scared, merely trying to understand. “Now you want to know what makes me tick. You want to know if I’m bad. Or broken.”

An efficient definition of a psych eval if ever Draven had heard one.

“Well, are you?” Draven wasn’t known for his delicacy. Besides, the boy’s forthrightness begged to be returned in kind.

As they walked side by side, pacing back and forth in the rubble beside Draven’s hastily-camouflaged ship, the boy mimicked Draven’s body language, back straight and hands clasped behind him. He was still mostly knees and elbows and dark, dark eyes.

The boy’s answer apparently required time. Draven got the impression that prosecution and defense were presenting complicated arguments behind the boy’s somber expression.

“I try not to be,” came the decision at last, simply put.

Draven considered this. “I think you’ve answered both concerns, then,” he said, “because I suspect that’s the best any of us can do.”

This made an impact.

The boy halted and lifted his chin, meeting Draven’s scrutiny. “With or without you, I’m fighting the Empire. That’s the right thing to do. But if you’ll take me with you, sir, I’ll fight your way.”

Draven was accustomed to shouldering great responsibility, but upon hearing those words, he abruptly felt the strain of it.

He leaned forward, closing some of the distance between their heights. “You and I, we’ll do what we do not because we enjoy it, but because someone has to do it, and we know we can.”
When the boy nodded, Draven knew they understood each other.

He extended his hand. “Welcome to the Alliance to Restore the Republic, Mr. Andor.”

***


Draven had his speech chosen, his rebukes planned: The Kid, as young Andor had been dubbed, was neither a pet nor a mascot. He had earned his place at this dubious excuse for a work-in-progress base, and no one should forget it. The boy had a great deal to learn from the specialists assembled here, but no small amount to teach them in return.

Take him seriously: Draven would hammer that point home.

The tirade turned out to be wholly unnecessary.

By the time the pilots and slicers, intelligence operatives and munitions experts paused to consider the smallest satellite thriving in their orbits, The Kid was already a fixture, as accepted – and, indeed, as relied upon – as the lights at their ceilings and locks on their doors.

Draven allowed himself a moment of satisfaction one night, witnessing The Kid sitting shoulder to shoulder with seven comrades around a table in the mess hall. When Andor ducked his head to blush and giggle at some ribald joke, Draven felt an undeniable surge of relief that the boy still could do both, after all he had seen and done in his brief life.

The relief passed quickly. Draven could read the writing on the wall, and he could render a competent translation: in five years, more than half of the rebels at that table would be dead, and The Kid would be a fourteen-year-old veteran agent with a laugh like strangled tears.

There was nothing Draven could do to stop what was coming. He could only make certain the side he had chosen was equipped to the best of his ability. He could only sell them all, himself included, as dearly as possible.

In their own individual ways, Draven thought, each of the rebels accepted this.

Even Andor.

Especially Andor.


Chapter 2: Won’t It All Fade Away/If I’m Only Made Out of Clay


***ELEVEN YEARS AGO***


“I need you to keep talking, Lieutenant.”

“Right… m’sorry…” Anyone with training could hear the evidence of shouts and screams in that shredded voice, the proof of internal injury and fading strength in those shallow, wheezing breaths.

“Nothing to be sorry about.” Only someone who knew Captain Hera Syndulla could detect the sharp bite of urgency beneath the calm flow of her words. “But I think you’re concussed, and I know some of your ribs are broken, and you’ve had Force-knows-how-much electricity run through you: I don’t think now’s the time for a nap. Here, wait, let’s get another blanket on you.”

As the Twi’lek moved about her cabin, the sounds of her motions echoed in the confined space of the modified VCX-100 light freighter.

“It doesn’t matter what you say,” she continued. “I’ve been recording this for Colonel Draven, like you asked, and you’ve already made a thorough preliminary report. As soon as we’re within range for encrypted data transfer, I’ll send the file to him. For now, just talk. Anything on your mind. Free associate. Tell a joke.”

In other words, Draven need not listen to the rest of the recording. He already had the facts.

Alone in his office, he let the audio play.

“Like… y’rdroid.” That from Andor.

“Chopper? Okay, maybe that is a joke. He’s not exactly what I’d call a charmer. He’s more of an acquired taste.”

Electronic hoots and warbles flooded the tape.

“He likes you, though,” Syndulla said with a chuckle. “He says you know how to make an entrance.”

“Nakedan’ bleedin’an’ semiconsciousssss?” Andor was faint and slurring badly now.

“I’m sure our reputation precedes us, but believe it or not, that’s not just another day on the Ghost.”

A truncated hiss, likely an attempt at a laugh.

“Seriously though, Chopper and I have been through a lot together. We keep each other company. I don’t need to tell you it can be lonely, doing what we do.”

Draven strained to hear a muted grunt of agreement.

“The rebel movement is coming together, but Alliance intelligence? We’re the ones who don’t get invited to the party – we can’t be, thanks to the nature of our work.” Comradely empathy filled her every syllable, and not for the first time, Draven thanked powers he didn’t believe in that Syndulla was the operative closest to the scene when Andor’s distress signal came.

“Oweyou… one.”

“I think this counts as half extraction, half self-rescue. That was pretty ingenious, how you got out your message. In fact, I’m going to steal that little maneuver for my own bag of tricks, so I’m calling us even.”

“ThoughtIwasn’t…”

Syndulla seemed to be waiting for more, but the rasping fragment hung in the air, unfinished.

After a time, she said, “I can see why: that was a near thing. Too close.

“And it was the Imperials’ mistake, leaving you alive,” she added, and something fierce blazed up in the fire of her tone. “That error is going to come back and bite the Empire where it hurts, Lieutenant. I can feel it.”

The ship’s sensors interrupted.

“Right, we’re within range,” she said, once again all business. “I’m going to send this recording ahead of us to Colonel Draven, so he’ll be up to speed by the time we get to base medical. I’m going forward now… No. No, wait.”

The transmission grew garbled, the sounds confused. Crossing his arms in front of his chest, Draven held his breath, concentrating.

“Stay with me, Lieutenant Andor.” A high, faint sound of pain. “Muscle spasms come with the territory after electroprod torture. Hold on. You don’t want to send a rib through your lung now. We’re almost there. Breathe. Steady. Breathe. This will pass.” After several beats, “Come on, Lieutenant. Breathe.”

Abruptly the audio went dead.

***


“I thought I’d find you here.” Draven parked himself beside Syndulla where she leaned against the wall facing the monitor of Andor’s room.

“That wasn’t the most professional report ever, sir,” she said, raising her cup of Tarine tea in salute, “but it seemed to calm the lieutenant and give him focus, letting him recount what had happened. My first priority was keeping him conscious.” Her features twisted in a grimace. “I think he was concerned he wouldn’t make it to a proper debriefing. And given the hemorrhaging…”

“I’ve been thoroughly debriefed by medical. He’s going to recover. You did very well, Captain.”

She shrugged off the praise. “I know I’m stating the obvious, but he did well. This phase of his mission went to hell in a spectacular fashion, and he found a way to turn it around, get the intel anyway, and save another operative’s work in the process. Then he faced interrogation to keep his cover intact and, half-dead, engineered his own rescue.” She wiggled a green finger. “Don’t think I’m not taking notes.”

“My recruits are impressive, if I do say so myself.” They shared half-smiles of satisfaction, devoid of joy. Then they fell into silence, both of them studying the pale face on the monitor.

“While I’ve been waiting, I read as much on his early background as my clearance would allow,” Syndulla continued after a time. “I’m glad our paths crossed, even if I could’ve wished for better circumstances.” She gave her tea a penetrating look. “He’s very young.”

“Not so very much younger than you.” Draven let his breath go in a gust. The next words hollowed him out: “And young is how Colonel Daniyek likes them.”

Syndulla turned on him, green eyes huge, lekku stirring with distress.

“Easy, Captain. Andor knew. Of course he knew. He had a choice. He elected to accept the assignment.”

Colonel.” The word was anguish.

“Getting agents in the door isn’t the same as prostituting them, Captain.” Yes, that line came easily enough. Draven had repeated it to himself more times than he could count. “If Daniyek were close enough to touch—”

“—he’d be close enough to kill,” Syndulla said. “And somehow that’s better, making the boy an assassin.”

“Lieutenant Andor is already an assassin, Captain Syndulla. And a saboteur and a spy, not unlike yourself.” The face he showed her was mild. After all, if she were less invested, less committed, Andor might well be dead right now. “You know better than many that the Empire doesn’t pull its punches. Neither can we. If we see an avenue open to attack the enemy, we use it.”

Making a wordless sound of distress, Syndulla slumped back against the wall and closed her eyes.

“Andor believes in our cause more than anything. That sustains him.”

Her disposable tea cup crumpled in her hand. Without looking, Syndulla tossed it into the mouth of the trash receptacle on the wall. “I wasn’t questioning him. Or his commitment. Or his courage. I’ve seen ample proof of what he’s made of.”

“You can’t tell me you’ve never leveraged the fact you’re a beautiful Twi’lek female on behalf of your field work, either, because I know better.”

The unfairness of those last words left a bitter taste in Draven’s mouth. On his way here he had extended Syndulla’s authorized clearance to cover this operation in progress, because saving Andor had required it, and now she was one of the very few who could act as a sounding board about it. That wasn’t a license to ask her for absolution. For that matter, he couldn’t quite put his finger on why he felt the need to do so in the first place.
They were at war. No one would thank him for using half measures.

“I can’t imagine,” she said, eyes still closed, “what it’s like to be you.” After a beat, “Sir.”

Folding his arms, Draven said, “Some days are better than others.”

Her lips quirked. Eventually she righted herself to stand by his side once again.

“May I ask you a question, Colonel?” Syndulla was subdued now, considerable restraints firmly in place.

“Yes, of course.”

“In all the times you’ve given him a choice, has Lieutenant Andor ever turned down an assignment? Even once?”

Of course not, he thought automatically.

She didn’t pause for a reply. “I’m due for takeoff in thirty, sir. I know he’s not awake, but I’d still like to say goodbye, if I may. Emergency extractions make fast friends.”

“I’ll intercept any overzealous med droids,” he said, gesturing to Andor’s door.

Her question rattled around in his skull as he watched the tableau unfold on the monitor.

Captain Syndulla sat in the chair beside Andor’s bed, taking one of the lieutenant’s hands in her own. For several minutes she simply regarded him. Her green eyes shone. Then, leaning forward, she spoke.

Draven read her words from her lips: “Your father would have been proud of you.”


***EIGHT YEARS AGO***


“You wanted to see me, General?”

“At ease, Captain.” Draven set his datapad aside and ran a hand over his face, trying to encourage his mental gears to change. When he focused on Andor, he wanted his complete attention to be on the young man.

He took a swallow of caf and grimaced when he found it to be cold. Setting his mug down where he’d found it on his desk, he was vaguely aware of the fact he’d likely reenact the same scene in mere minutes.

Now, Andor.

From Draven’s perspective, the captain looked in need of a shave and haircut, a weekend’s worth of generous meals, and a week’s worth of quality sleep. In short, the same as usual.

No clue to the mystery at hand.

Those dark eyes were on him, alert and questioning.

“Your last mission was a great success, Captain, even by your high standards. You didn’t disable the plant so much as dismantle it; if the Empire means it to open, it must be rebuilt first. And of course, removing the lieutenant governor’s man, Stayten, from the equation – you made a neat job of that – renders rebuilding unlikely, if not impossible.
Well done.”

Andor nodded once in acknowledgment. They both knew this summary of recent events was a deviation from the norm. Draven’s practicality was his hallmark, and his preferred operating procedure in the aftermath of a mission involved picking up the pieces, burying the dead, and then getting on with things.

Draven cleared his throat.

“I’ve seen your requisition for supplies.” Andor’s eyes slid from Draven’s to focus on the empty wall beside him.

“Everything is in order, save for one request,” Draven continued.

He paused, but Andor did not return his gaze.

“One of the many things I appreciate about you, Captain – I have for years now – is that I can give you the outcomes I need and trust you’ll work out how to accomplish them on your own. Your subsequent report will then tell me what I need to know, and only what I need to know, without extraneous details.

“But in this case, you haven’t told me what I need to know.”

Nothing.

Draven allowed himself a bracing breath.

“I need to know what happened out there to leave you in need of a replacement for your suicide pill.”

A furrowed line etched itself between Andor’s brows, making him appear both absurdly young and unspeakably tired at the same time.

“It’s protocol that you don’t touch that pill unless you intend to use it,” Draven soldiered on, ever more aware of how off balance he felt and deeply resenting it. “I’ve tried to read between the lines of your report, and I can’t find anything to explain why you did.

“I know you’re under tremendous pressure, but look, son—” Draven choked on his own unintentional choice of words, pulling himself up short.

Andor blinked in surprise, still frowning at the wall.

“I’m sorry,” Draven said after a beat, studying his half-empty mug. “That was inappropriate. I didn’t mean—”

“No. No, it’s okay, General,” Andor voice came as a hushed and hurried whisper. “It’s fine.” Softer still, “Please. It’s not what you think, sir.”

Several seconds passed.

Draven pointed to the chair across from his desk. “Then sit and report, damn it.”

“Yes, sir.”

Andor sat, straightened himself, and after a pause he began without preamble, still speaking as if he didn’t want to be overheard, but steady for all that. “I report only what is relevant to the mission’s outcome, sir. As you said.”

“And?”

“On this last assignment, the detonations went off just as planned. The explosions fed on the combustibles already in the plant. Their combined force was… significant. Each took down a weight-bearing structure, triggering further collapse.”

Draven nodded.

“I waited and watched until I was satisfied. I was preparing to melt away, disappear into the city, when I heard a cry.

“There was a temporary trash receptacle at the back of the property. I checked it before I set the detonators. Maybe its metal shielded her heat signature from my scan when I made my final once-around the building before lighting it up. Or maybe her heat signature was so faint it didn’t register on my binocs. But she was there: a little Rhodian girl. She must’ve been sifting through the garbage, looking for food or clothes.”

He ran his hand through his hair. “The explosions had torn her apart. She was still alive. In agony.”

Draven held to his composed expression while Andor fought to do the same.

“She was beyond help, but I had to do something. I could’ve slit her throat, or shot her with my blaster, or broken her neck with my bare hands. But I’d already done enough violence to her, sir. And she’d already known enough fear in her life.”

Expressive hands gestured in the air, punctuating Andor’s earnest words. “To a child, a pill represents medicine. It means healing. It means hope. You understand? I knew she’d see I was trying to help her. And she did.”

His animation left him. He hands fell limply to rest on his thighs.

“And then she was gone. And I left her there with the trash.”

Draven began to search for the applicable stock phrases, but the young man continued. “I know her life, weighed against the thousands we saved by destroying that plant, is considered acceptable collateral damage. I know I had to make my escape or compromise the entire mission. This isn’t the first time innocents have been caught in the crossfire, and it won’t be the last. All I can do is live with that and try to do better next time. I know all of this, sir, and I’ll deal with it.”

Andor leaned forward, and Draven found himself mirroring the movement.

“But she mattered, sir.”

Here was the half-starved boy who had found the strength to throw stones at walkers.

For a moment, Draven could not speak. And then, “You’re quite right, Captain. She did.”

Andor nodded again, a curt jerk of his head, and Draven regained his equilibrium once more.

“As you said, I don’t usually include details like this in my report,” the young man added, repeating himself. Of course there had been other events such as this. Of course.

Only the Force knew what Andor withheld from the record and shouldered alone after any given assignment. And the Force and Draven didn’t speak.

“I’m sorry for burdening you with this. I didn’t think how it would look from your perspective. The pill.”

Draven waved the words away.

“I know I ignored protocol,” the young man continued, “and I’ll accept the consequences.”

Putting his palms on his desk, Draven pushed himself back an arm’s length, as if this change in position could provide helpful perspective. Unfortunately the galaxy appeared every bit as flawed from this altered vantage point.

“Captain Andor, you already live with more consequences than any sane person should. Keep trusting your instincts; I do.”

Draven pointed toward the door. “Your requisition is approved. And this conversation is over.”

As Andor reached the threshold, Draven added, “Your next assignment isn’t immediately time sensitive. Take a personal week, if you want it, before you head out.”

The dark eyes widened with something like alarm. “Thanks, but if it’s all the same to you, sir, I’d rather get on with it.” He gave grim, tight shrug. “I prefer to stay busy.”

Draven blinked, understanding.

“As do I, Captain. As do I.” He refocused on the controlled chaos at his desk, rolling his neck to stretch aching muscle. “I’ll have your prep materials to you tonight and you’ll be cleared to leave first thing tomorrow.”


Chapter 3: Then Only Those Who Can See You/Will Be Better Off Because They Can


***FIVE YEARS AGO***


Draven found Andor sprawled on the deck of his U-wing, surrounded by tools and droid parts, nimble fingers fast at work inside a carboplast-composite cranium.

“Don’t get up, Captain,” he said, before Andor even registered his presence. “I must say, I didn’t believe the rumors. But here you are.” Draven sighed. “What the hell are you doing?”

Glancing up with a quick, grease-streaked grin, Andor returned his focus to his work. “I’m using my down time between assignments to release stress and improve hand-eye coordination, the better to serve the Alliance.”

Draven was unmoved.

“No? Okay. My wise mentor and superior officer always taught me that ‘need to know’ works both ways.” Shifting some of the droid innards, he popped a small hand tool between his teeth and spoke around it, tool dangling like a death stick at his jaw. “Are you certain you need to know? After all, technically speaking, I am equipping myself for future missions in a manner that costs your division absolutely nothing. I am, for all intents and purposes, recycling trash.”

Draven cocked his head, studying the man before him. Perhaps, he thought, this was Andor happy.

“You do know that we have professional, full-time slicers here,” Draven countered. “None of them has ever successfully reformatted an Arakyd Industries KX-series security droid.”

“I know, sir. Some of them tutored me when I was younger.” He reclaimed the tool from between his teeth and shrugged. “And they never managed it, because they never really wanted it to happen. I do.”

“And why is that, exactly?”

Setting aside the K-2 unit’s head, Andor nodded with the air of an actor preparing for his cue. Clearly, he had rehearsed this.

Unfolding a finger for each of his points, he said, “He could prove invaluable on undercover assignments – he can scan and access Imperial communications frequencies, for example, and he knows the specs of more than forty Imperial ships, and his presence would lend instant legitimacy to any operational alias – and he’ll also be a great help in the day-to-day business of other missions: as a co-pilot, as a transport for heavy gear, as a stand-by for emergency extraction, as—”

“Enough!” Draven raised his hands in surrender. “Clearly you’ve given this some thought. But do the benefits outweigh the potential risks?”

“I’ll accept those risks.”

“I’m serious: this isn’t the kind of pet you want turning on you. Before it goes anywhere, you’ll have to satisfy Major Harinar that it won’t revert to type and kill you in your sleep.”

The twinkle in Andor’s eyes belied his solemn expression. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“And seeing an Imperial security droid walking the halls of the base will make a number of personnel uncomfortable. Consider stamping ‘I belong to Master Andor’ on its chest plating in bright paint, so everyone knows exactly who to blame.”

“I won’t let him disrupt anything,” the young man promised. “How often am I on base? I can tell him to lie low those rare times when I am.”

As he tapped a finger on a section of the KX’s exoskeleton, Andor’s voice went soft, almost wistful, as if he were sharing a secret. “And he’s going to call me Cassian. Not Master. Not Captain Andor. Not Joreth Sward or Willix or Aach or any of my other aliases.”

He aimed for another grin, but the effect was more poignant than cheerful. “I need to hear my real name before I forget what it is.”

With a thoughtful glance, he asked, “You understand, don’t you, General?”

Draven treated the question as rhetorical.

“You can chalk it up to morale,” Andor continued, still more serious than moments before. “I want someone to talk to on my missions other than myself. Who better as a partner than a fellow rescue? We can be creatures of the Rebellion together.” Andor gave the shoulder of the KX-unit a friendly pat.

Draven pursed his lips and then said, “Spoken like a romantic, Andor.”

“I don’t know about that, but it gives me hope, imagining a different life for this droid, trying to make it happen. It feels like another blow against the Empire.” Andor rubbed at his nose, spreading grease from his fingers, and then ran his hand through his hair. “And if not – well, it is my time off, sir.”

Who could argue with that? And when had Andor last accepted an offer of a few day’s rest? If this was what it took, Draven would abandon his half-hearted resistance.

“Believe it or not, I had cause to seek you out beyond the desire to verify this” – Draven waved his hand at the pieces of the KX unit – “dubious experiment. I have an opening in the Albarrio sector for a new Fulcrum.”

Andor sat straighter, alight with interest.

“Fulcrums are classified, of course, but I know that you know both Ahsoka Tano and Hera Syndulla serve in such a capacity. It just so happens that your name was the one each gave me when I asked for a recommendation. You were my first thought, as well.” It pleased Draven, seeing this news work on the young man. “Your duties wouldn’t be full time, of course; this would be in addition to other assignments.”

“Recruitment? Yes, sir. You know I want this. Thank you.” Draven waved him down before Andor could rise.

“Congratulations, then. If you succeed with your project here, you can consider this” – he jerked a chin at the dismembered droid – “your first recruit to the Alliance.” Draven tried on a brief smile of his own.

“Give K-2 a chance, sir. Maybe he’ll win you over.”

“I won’t hold my breath.” Draven sobered. “Captain, as Fulcrum, you’ll be shepherding people into this movement to do dangerous work. I know you’ve served during difficult times, but darker days are ahead, and we are going to need all of your resourcefulness, and practicality, and” – he glanced at the KX parts despite himself – “hope before we see light. I am once again putting my trust in you.”

Andor gave him a nod like a salute. “I understand. I won’t let you down. Thank you, sir.”

Five years later, that was how Draven would remember Andor: grease-stained and disheveled and for some minutes almost content, buried to the wrist in the artificial brains of his soon-to-be friend, a child’s hurts and a soldier’s burdens and a believer’s commitment written plainly on his face.

Thanking Draven for the opportunity to do more.


***PRESENT DAY***


The celebration no doubt continued throughout the base. Draven had set the box with Andor’s personal effects on the desk in his personal quarters and retreated to his standard-issue sofa. He brought with him a companion he rarely invited, for fear that it might make itself too welcome for too long: a bottle of Corellian whiskey. Only tonight, he told himself.
He felt far too much. And Draven was a most practical man: he knew the bottle contained a simple and efficient anesthetic.

Tomorrow he would sort pride from pain and get on with the business at hand. He would do his damnedest to finish what Andor had started.

And to learn what Andor had yet to teach him.

A good intelligence officer never stopped analyzing the data. Draven knew Andor had stolen victory from tragedy, somehow discerning when to lead and when to follow and how to unite five unlike humans and a reprogrammed droid, mostly strangers to each other, into a seamless strike team. He had known which of his fellow Alliance agents was, like he was, in need of redemption more than survival. He had far known more than Draven ever had shown him, and now Draven was prepared to be the student of the young man he had known so well – and hardly known at all.

Draven’s door chime sounded.

Not an emergency, not an official communiqué: a personal summons. He couldn’t recall when – no, if – anyone besides himself had ever been in his quarters on Massassi Station. And as for the hour, nighttime was bleeding into early morning.

Still fully uniformed, Draven answered the door.

He blinked, trying to interpret what he saw. The human was slender, slight, in off-duty trousers and a plain shirt. Not one of his agents. A boy?

“Most people see only the white robes, not the Chandrillan woman,” Mon Mothma said. “Put on a pair of pants and I might as well be in full-body armor and helmet, for all that anyone recognizes me.”

“Ah,” Draven said.

“The hour is obscene, General, but I couldn’t sleep, and it occurred to me… well. Many lives were lost on and above Scarif and in the attack on the Death Star, and we have many brave souls to remember and celebrate. But.”

She bowed her head for a moment, as if she might find more words at her feet.

“But it occurred to me that you lost someone of special import.”

She looked up, and a tentative hand reached out to him and hovered in the air near his upper arm. He stared at her fingers.

“You raised Captain Andor, General. You saw him through everything he gave – and gave up – for the rebel cause. I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. I just wanted to check on you. I wanted you to know that… that we honor his heroism and his sacrifice, and we will remember his example. Most importantly, I wanted you to know that you’re not alone in your grief.”

Draven swallowed.

“That’s all. I’ll just say goodnight, shall I? Or good morning, rather. I just… just wanted you to know everyone is thinking about you.” She began to retreat with the same grace with which she did everything else. “Your family here is thinking about you.”

“Please,” he said. A distress call.

“What?” She took a step forward again. “What can I do for you?”

She did touch him this time, a quick press of cool fingers to his cheek. Her fingertips came back wet, he saw, and that was strange, because Draven never wept. He could not afford the luxury of tears.

But he had resolved to learn what Andor had yet to teach him. The boy who had wanted to be free. Who had wanted them all to be free.

Mon Mothma watched him, warmth in her shining eyes.

“Senator, you can help me drink a toast to Captain Andor, or two, and then you can take the bottle with you.” Draven stopped, corrected himself. “Cassian. His name was Cassian.

“And I’m Davits. Please, call me Davits.”



Capt. Andor is one of the most capable agents within Rebel Intelligence. He is a valuable fighter on the battlefield, able to handle missions ranging from reconnaissance and infiltration to assassination and sabotage… Capt. Andor has worked with the rebels since he was a child. It is no exaggeration to say that we are his family. He is absolutely loyal to the rebel cause and will do whatever he must to achieve our goals.
– Gen. Draven to Commander Mothma, Rogue One: Rebel Dossier

I have never doubted Capt. Andor’s abilities or his dedication to the rebel movement. He is truly one of our best and brightest… I am concerned about him, however. I understand that for our rebel movement to survive, brave men and women must do terrible things that we’d rather not talk about. But what happens to those men and women afterward?... If we succeed and overthrow the Empire, what kind of life will someone like Capt. Andor have?
– Mon Mothma to Gen. Draven, Rogue One: Rebel Dossier

THE END


Vital Stats: This story was complete in January 2017.

Both the title and story are inspired by the lyrics of “Invisible Boy” by Tori Amos from the album Unrepentant Geraldines.

Credits:

Re: “Twenty Years Ago”: Details about the death of Cassian’s father and Cassian’s early years in the Outer Rim come from Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide. Both the name Edrian for Cassian’s father and the character of Kivren Bo are original to this story.

Re: “Eleven Years Ago”: Hera Syndulla, Chopper, and the Ghost come from Star Wars: Rebels. (Chopper also appears in Rogue One, and General Syndulla is paged the film, as well.) Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide notes that Cassian knew “from experience the efficacy of Imperial interrogation.”

Re: “Eight Years Ago”: Cassian’s “lullabye” suicide pill is featured in Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide.

Re: “Five Years Ago”: Major Harinar is identified in Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide as the Alliance Intelligence officer in charge of captured Imperial technologies. Ahsoka Tano, who first appeared in Star Wars: Clone Wars, was identified as one of the Fulcrum operatives in Star Wars: Rebels.

If you like, you may read my "Up the Alleyway" as the Cassian-and-K-2 missing scene in this story.

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"To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty."
- H.P. Lovecraft, 1921

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