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Thunder and Scars

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Rejorhaa'ir kaysh taylir akaanir . Torian’s final words had been the only thing louder than the pounding of her own heart. She remembered the look of defeat in his eyes, the cry of pain and deafening crack that ended it all. Rage had colored Fynta’s actions after that, allowing Valkorion to feed on her anger until everything was a blur. In the end, she stood over Vaylin’s body. Broken, the same as Torian.

Fynta knew Torian’s whispered request hadn’t been meant for her. Eventually, she’d have to face Noara, the woman who had made Torian a new man. The selfish part of Fynta hoped that the yet to be counted Jedi had joined her lover in the Manda, that Fynta wouldn’t be forced to look into those young, innocent eyes and admit her failings.

Torian had always been steadfast, and he didn’t dishonor himself in those final moments. The Mandalorian knew the end was coming, and faced it without fear. Fynta had heard only regret in his voice when she chose to protect Vette, though she’d been too distracted at the time to understand where it stemmed from. Not until that moment on the balcony, when he’d stared into death’s eyes.

A wave of nausea stole Fynta’s stomach, and she bent forward with hands on her knees to keep from vomiting.

Fynta was no stranger to death. She’d lost family and friends, but Torian’s death sat wrong with her. Maybe because it could have been avoided, that her choice had sealed his fate. Fynta racked her mind for another alternative; anything that she could have done differently. Maybe Yuun could have covered the distance to Vette, while Fynta headed for Torian. What if—

“I’m not afraid to die. Just didn’t think I’d go out like this.” Fynta realized that he hadn’t been talking about himself, but that he thought he’d die at Noara’s side. That they’d spend their last moments together. She wondered if Torian had tried her holo, if he’d been able to reach her.

The sequence of events played out of order: Torian on the holo, firing over a barricade. The Mandalorian on his knees as Vaylin’s prisoner. The Mad Empress pinning him to the wall while he struggled for freedom... Over and over until Fynta felt dizzy. Ever word echoed back from the past. “Don’t let me die in vain.”

Fynta rubbed her eyes. Had he? Technically, Vaylin was gone, the battle won, but there was still so much that the Alliance didn’t understand about the way she’d—exploded with Force energy.

“Breathe.”

Fynta glanced over her shoulder to see Aric at her back. His gaze remained on the people milling about the hangar, while a warm hand settled over Fynta’s spine. She followed her husband’s advice and took several deep breaths. It wouldn’t do for the others to see her like this, to know that their commander was as weak as they were. She was supposed to be above reproach, to stand by her decisions. If only it wasn’t so damn hard.

“Better?” Aric asked, casting a side glance in Fynta’s direction while not quite looking at her. She nodded, straightening to stand firm again. The moment was over, and it was time to get back to work.

“So many lost,” Fynta breathed. She looked at Aric, seeking answers to questions that she didn’t even understand. “Is it over?”

Before Aric could comment, a soldier approached bearing a grim expression. “We’ve begun moving the dead into the hangar.” He swallowed, eyes fixed on a far point. “They won’t fit anywhere else.”

Fynta swore, then rubbed her temples. “Good work, Sergeant. Dismissed.” While the soldier retreated, Fynta sighed and typed in Theron’s frequency.

The spy answered in the middle of shouting orders before turning his frown on Fynta. “A little busy here.”

Fynta returned his scowl. “Whatever you’re doing, delegate it to someone else. I need your help finding the survivors.” A thought occurred a moment later, and Fynta snagged the roster from a passing Jedi. Skimming it quickly, her gut knotting with the implications a second before she made another call. The large, bald man answered on the first ring. “Cormac, I’ve got a special job for you.” Noara hadn’t been listed among the names of the returning warriors, and Fynta cursed her earlier thoughts about the Jedi joining Torian in the afterlife. It had been a fleeting thought, not an actual request of the Force.

Handing the device to Aric, Fynta started for their room to retrieve her rifle. “We need to find Noara,” Fynta called over her shoulder before he could inquire. Surely, between the three of them, someone would root her out.

Hours later, Fynta and Theron parted ways, having only accounted for a small percentage of those still missing in action. “They’ll turn up,” Theron said in a less hostile tone from earlier. Fynta gave a half hearted nod before returning to the task of sorting through the mess Vaylin’s forces had left behind.

Noara was tired and in pain when she limped through the Alliance base hours after the fighting had stopped. The battle against Vaylin’s forces had been brutal, taking them by surprise while the Gravestone was in dry dock and Fynta offworld. Noara hadn’t been ready for a fight, being only equipped with her lightsabers. No battle stims, no med pack, and no comm.

Having been separated from the other Alliance members, Noara found herself alone. Whether it was because she rushed recklessly into the fray like Torian always complained, or because they had been killed, she didn’t know. Noara’s only indication that the battle had ended was the literal crack she felt in the Force; not to mention, the decline in explosions and blaster fire.

Of course, Noara had managed to avoid getting wounded by Skytroopers and Knights, only to injure her ankle when she misjudged the distance across a ravine that she didn’t want to circle around. Noara had no intention of telling anyone the details of how she got hurt, that was a secret she planned to take to her grave. Hiking back through the wilderness on a bum leg made for slow going.

No one paid the Jedi much attention as she limped into the base. Techs, soldiers, and civilians rush about, far more occupied with the tasks of managing the fallout from Vaylin’s attack. People often underestimated how much there was to do after a battle. Instantaneous victory celebrations only happened on holovids. There was the injured to be tended to, the dead to identify, and collateral damage to deal with.

As soon as Noara could get her ankle seen to, she would join the recovery efforts,  but something far more important took priority in the meantime. Noara needed to find Torian. See him. Know that he was alright.

Normally, Noara could get a general sense of her lover’s presence if they were in the same area, but a steadily growing migraine made it hard to concentrate. It blossomed into life when the Force had broken around her mind and was quickly reaching unbearable. She desperately needed a painkiller and a kolto shot for her ankle, but not before she found him.

The bulk of activity seemed to be centered around the hanger, so Noara made that her destination. Torian liked to be in the thick of things, if he was in the base, that was where she would find him.

Noara was almost to the hanger entrance when a literal mountain of a man blocked her path. While Balic Cormac might tower over most people, he completely dwarfed Noara.

“Balic,” she said with a smile. The soldier had been one of Noara’s fondest friends since the day they met. Relief flooded her system with the knowledge that he was still alive. “I’m glad to see you’re okay.”

Balic nodded, not quite meeting Noara’s eyes. “Yeah I’m good. Been looking for you actually, you weren’t answering your comm.”

"Yeah,” the Jedi sighed. “I forgot to grab it this morning, didn’t have time to come back before the fighting started.”

As Noara stepped to the side to go around Balic, he moved with her. Noara frowned at the man blocking her way again. “What are you doing, Balic?”

“I was looking for you,” he repeated, dark eyebrows pulling together when he noticed the way she favored her leg. “You’re hurt. We should get you to a medic.”

Noara shook her head, “it’s not that bad, I’ll go after I see Torian.”

“Listen, Noara-doll,” the man tried again, resting a meaty hand on her shoulder. Balic bit the inside of his cheek to keep his voice from trembling. He needed to get Noara out of the public eye, somewhere away from gawking crowds so that he could break the news gently. “We really need to get that looked at first.”

“And I will,” Noara emphasized. “As soon as I see Torian.” She waved a hand whimsically. “You know he’ll fuss at me until I give in. Don’t worry, a trip to the medbay is undoubtedly in my future.” Her laughter died when she noticed how strangely Cormac was looking at her.

“What’s wrong?” Noara asked before a horrible moment of realization slammed into her hard enough to steal her breath. There was only one thing that would make Balic look at her like that. Only one thing she could think of that would spur him into preventing her from looking for Torian after a battle.

“No,” Noara whispered, and then repeated in a firmer tone when Balic didn’t deny her unspoken assumption.

“I’m sorry, Noara,” Cormac answered before pulling her into a comforting hug. Balic gave the best hugs, it was one of her favorite things about him. A Balic Cormac hug had never failed to raise her spirits; now, all it did was confirm her fear.

“Don’t say that because… because it can’t…,” Noara protested brokenly against the soldier’s broad chest before putting up her hands to push him away. “Let go of me, I have to see him.”

Cormac let her escape the safety of his arms, but made no move to let her pass. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea right now, you need to see a medic. Later, when he’s cleaned up would be better.”

Noara stared at her friend for a long moment, breathing hard and trembling slightly before whispering, “I have to see him.” She swallowed audibly and straightened her shoulders. “Move Balic, or I will move you.”

For a second, Noara thought she was going to have to make good on her threat. Then, Balic sighed and moved to the side. Noara did her best to remain strong, head held high, as she limped past her friend. The speed with which she traversed the rest of the base made her ankle scream, but it was the paralyzing pain in her chest that nearly drove her to her knees.

The hangar was so full of people that Noara had to stop just inside the doorway. She looked both ways, then saw two corpsman carrying a litter toward the far side of the room. The man on the litter wasn’t moving; it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that Noara would find her quarry if she followed.

Every step Noara took felt heavier than the last, causing her limp to become more pronounced. Fear had never gripped her like this before. There was a massive difference between being told something, and seeing it oneself. Part of Noara wanted to run, to pretend that Torian had just gone away, but that would be a poor way to honor a man of his strength.

Torian had given Noara something she had never imagined was missing from her life. He had shown her that love wasn’t something to be feared, but rather celebrated. His gentle support had changed Noara in ways she couldn't have predicted, making his loss unfathomable.

Noara wasn’t sure she knew how to live without it anymore.  

It was the armor Noara saw first, that familiar black beskar'gam sticking out from the gray and whites worn by most of the troopers in the Alliance. She stopped short, taking in a scene that would be seared into her mind until her dying day.

Torian rested on a mat, unnaturally still with his head tilted awkwardly to one side. His eyes were closed, and Noara wasn’t sure if she was grateful for that, or if she wanted to see their color one last time even if their light was gone.

Fynta ran both hands down her face. This whole thing had turned into a fierfeking mess. She glanced up when movement distracted her from the swirling thoughts that had darkened her mood. Fynta expected it to be another body being brought in, and braced herself to identify the remains. All courage fled when her gaze fell on first Cormac, then the small presence that he shadowed.

Noara didn’t appear to see Fynta as she moved with mechanical precision towards her Mandalorian lover. Fynta wondered if the Jedi knew that Torian had died by her command, that she’d chosen to rescue the weaker Twi’lek, believing that there would be time to reach him once Vette was secure.

Noara’s attention was focused solely on Torian, oblivious to everything around her as she approached his body. The Jedi had managed to keep some measure of control over herself until she was right next to him. Whatever strength that allowed her to stand dissolved, sending Noara crashing to her knees with a strangled gasp.

Her hand shaking, Noara reached out to Torian only to hesitate before her fingers touched his cheek. His skin was cool when she finally mustered the courage, and that broke her control. Noara sobbed and fell forward, her tears slicking the beskar.

The sight was too much. Swallowing her dread, Fynta started to offer support to the woman she hoped to still call friend after this was over. However, Fynta held her tongue at the subtle gesture from Cormac. She reflected on the fear of those long hours when Aric had gone dark on Zakuul. But, her husband had come home.

Meeting Cormac’s eyes, a silent understanding past between old friends, and Fynta stepped away to allow Noara the privacy to grieve. Knowing that she’d eventually have to face the truth and throw herself at the mercy of a heart-broken Jedi.

With her face pressed against Torian’s chest, Noara traced his features over and over again with her fingers. She focused on the scars above his cheeks, the edge of his jaw, the shape of his lips; committing each curve and line to memory. She didn’t want to forget a single thing.

“Oh Torian,” Noara gasped when she could form the words, her voice barely audible because there was no one there to listen. Noara could have screamed it, and Torian, the only one who mattered, still wouldn’t have heard her. “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I should have been there, I should have been with you. I’m sorry my love, I’m so sorry.”

Cormac dabbed at his eyes with a finger and thumb. Damn, he hated this part. If that had been Elara, he’d have been a blubbering mess on the floor. Yet here this woman, no older than a youngling herself, still managed to show poise even while her world fell apart. Worse, Noara had become like a little sister. One that he’d encouraged to pursue an equally young Mandalorian boy because he’d liked Torian. Knew he’d treat her right.

A soldier cleared his throat, startling Cormac from his misery. “We need to move the body, sir.” The man gave a polite nod towards Noara. Balic nodded and took a deep breath.

Noara had no consciousness of what was going on around her while she draped over Torian’s body. She’d lost herself in memorizing his face when gentle hands pulled her upright. Noara didn’t react as she was guided away from Torian until two corpsmen lifted the litter. Then, she jolted back to awareness.

Noara tried to step forward, but the hands on her shoulders held her in place.“Where are you taking him?” She gasped, throat hoarse from crying.

“They turned a lower room into a morgue until there is time to take care of everyone.” Distantly, Noara recognized Balic’s voice. The man had a heart the size of a rancor, and Noara was sure she looked far too pathetic for him to have left her alone.

“Oh. I can see him again?” Noara paused to take a shaky breath, then shook her head. “I’m not ready.”

Probably not, but it was such a simple request that Cormac would make it happen. Everyone found closure it in different ways. “Of course.” He forced a smile into his voice, anything to erase that dead look in Noara’s eyes. “But, now you need a medic.”

Letting Cormac guide her away, Noara limped along in silence until he couldn’t take the thought of her being in even more pain. He scooped the little Jedi into his arms, held her close, and walked away from the horror that had become her life.

Noara let her head fall heavily against Balic’s chest, too drained and sore to protest. If given the choice, she wanted to stay wherever Torian was, even if that meant sitting in a cold morgue filled with her friends and allies. Silence persisted; she didn’t have in it her to argue with the man anymore. Noara could almost hear Torian echoing Cormac’s insistence that she needed to see a medic, he had escorted her to one often enough to know her stubbornness.

The realization that Torian would never sigh in frustration at her again renewed Noara’s tears When Cormac tightened his hold, offering whatever support he could, Noara wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face against his shoulder. It wasn’t the arms she wanted holding her, but right now she would take whatever she could get.

Chapter Text

Hours later, still a little woozy from painkillers offered by the medic for her still tender ankle, Noara found herself sitting on the base’s main landing. This was where it had happened, she’d learned upon mustering the courage to ask. Once the medics had released her and Balic recalled to his duties, Noara had sought out the place of Torian’s death. She sat on the edge with feet hanging above the deep valley without a single coherent thought in her mind.

It was late and the view of the stars from here was beautiful, though Noara didn’t appreciate it as much as she usually would. She was tired, in every way possible, but didn’t think she could face their bedroom. Not tonight. Noara and Torian hadn’t shared it long, they hadn’t even known each other very long, but almost from the moment they met, the Jedi’s life had been firmly sectioned into two parts: Before Torian and After Torian.

Now, there was a third part.

Without Torian.

Noara wasn’t ready for that, wasn’t sure she ever would be. For now, it was enough to delay walking into their room and knowing the love of her life wouldn’t be there. That soon, Torian’s pillow wouldn’t smell like him anymore. That someday she would have to pack up the few items he kept in there and move on. This war was over after all.

Noara had lost everything when the Jedi yielded the war against Zakuul. the Order fractured, depriving her of the only place she'd ever belonged. Noara felt like everything she was had ceased to matter, like she was lost in an endless haze of uncertainty that had no end.

Finding a new home in the Alliance - friends like Fynta, the Commander she admired so much for always being so strong, and Balic, who was always upfront and sincere about what he was feeling, finding Torian - had felt like being brought back to life.

Noara once thought she had an understanding of what love was, comprehended what it meant to say you loved someone. She had been taught it meant placing someone before all other things in your life, including  duty or right and wrong. More importantly, above the Code, and while in some ways it was those things, the sensations she experienced with Torian was so much more.

Love was having someone know you, all the way to your core, and accept you despite your flaws. Love was trusting someone not just to watch your back, but with your soul - with the secrets and weaknesses that could utterly destroy you in the wrong hands - and never fearing you’d made a mistake.

Love was wanting nothing more than to spend every day learning all you could about someone, because you could never grow bored of it, could never know enough.

And now, Noara knew that love could also feel like dying, except without end, no relief, in sight. She loved Torian, more than she could ever have imagined, and knowing that he was gone was the worst pain Noara had ever felt.

Going back to their room, seeing Torian’s things and smelling his scent, would only remind Noara that he was gone. That just like with the Order, something she had belonged to was ripped out from under her feet, leaving her alone and directionless.

Instead of facing that, Noara sat alone in the cold, staring up at stars that didn’t look as beautiful as they had the night before, and wondering why people fell in love if it hurt this much. In her numb state of awareness, the Jedi didn’t hear the footsteps of someone else asking the same questions, but for wholly different reasons.

Sleep wasn’t happening. Fynta had waited until Aric’s nightmare’s passed, then slipped from their bed to roam the compound. The night crew was accustomed to her late night walks and generally left her in peace. That suited the commander fine, she didn’t want to discuss the fact that too many places were soaking in blood removing solvents. She doubted they did, either.

An undeniable force drew Fynta to the landing where they’d faced Vaylin only hours earlier. It was the last place she wanted to go, but her feet carried her there anyway. It wasn’t until Fynta rounded the corner that she understood why.

A small figure settled on the edge, back hunched, and feet dangling over the side. Fynta stopped mid-stride and almost turned the other way, until the unwanted inner voice demanded that she face the woman whose life her actions had altered forever. Fynta remembered the day Noara had stumbled into their small Alliance. The Jedi hadn’t been shy, but there was a certain lacking in the girl’s spirit. Of course, it had been Cormac who spotted her first. He found the Force more interesting than Fynta, and took it upon himself to meet all of their new recruits, especially the ones traveling solo. After that, Noara had simply become a part of the group, and Torian, by extension.

The thought of the young Mandalorian chief made Fynta wince. He’d been a good kid, though not as rambunxious as she’d come to expect from her peers. Still, Torian hadn’t cared that Fynta was tainted by her Republic service, nor that she’d married a Cathar. He saw her as a warrior first, and his loyalty had never faltered. Fynta would make sure that he was honored by Mandalorian and aruetii alike. By the whole damn galaxy.

Squaring her shoulders, Fynta approached the Jedi, being sure to scuff a boot out of habit so as not to startle her friend. When Noara didn’t acknowledge Fynta’s presence, she cleared her throat. “This seat taken?”

Without waiting for a response, Fynta slid her legs over the edge of the balcony. She was osik at these sort of things, but as the commander of the Alliance, and more importantly, Noara’s friend, it had to be done. “He died a warrior,” Fynta began, watching the Jedi out of the corner of her eye. She should tell Noara about Torian’s final request, that he wanted Noara to fight on, but the words stuck in her throat.

When Noara winced, Fynta softened her tone. “I know that might not mean much, you and Torian didn’t have near as much time together as I’d hoped, but as a Mandalorian, there is no greater death than one in battle.”

Only the distant howl of a forest creature answered Fynta’s declaration, and she risked another glance at Noara. The Jedi looked as lost as the day she’d joined. Though, she may not fully comprehend it at the moment, Fynta knew that, while the ache would never cease, it would dull over time. Of course, Fynta had no intention of saying such a thing out loud; of depreciating the pain that Noara felt over her lover’s loss. It was better to let the woman grieve in a way befitting her, which reminded Fynta of her own experience on the topic.

“You know, I’d feel a lot better if you punched or yelled at me,” Fynta said, leaning further out over the precipice to gaze into the blackness under her feet. It was dark enough that she couldn’t even see the valley floor anymore. When Noara didn’t answer, Fynta looked up to see the horrified expression on the Jedi’s face and actually laughed. “Yeah, I guess that wouldn’t be very Jedi of you, would it?”

Noara shook her head, and Fynta leaned back on her hands. She’s finally gotten a response, it was progress. “It probably doesn’t help, but I know what you’re going through.” Fynta paused, then reconsidered. “Well, maybe not. I’d be lost without Aric. I did lose my sister on Yavin, and until we connected with the Mandalorians on Darvannis, I thought my brother was dead, too. My parents have been gone for years.”

Fynta sighed and propped naked elbows on her knees. “I have no doubt that you’ve seen death before, but given what little I know of Jedi traditions, I’m going to assume it’s never this personal. As one warrior to another, I’ll help you through this in whatever way that I can.”

“How do you make the pain stop?” Noara asked, her voice ragged and barely above a whisper.

Fynta rubbed both hands down her face and repositioned herself on the precarious perch yet again. She’d never been good at sitting still after something so devastating. Again, Torian’s final request itched at the back of her mind. But, how did she say it? How did Fynta tell the woman who looked so frail, that her lover’s last words were to be strong?

“We seek mirjahaal,” Fynta finally answered. Torian would want Noara to understand his culture, Fynta was sure of it, having married an aruetti herself. There was little doubt in her mind that Torian would have made this little Jedi his bride one day. Hell, though only a decade older, Fynta would have gladly adopted the woman herself. Even with with the galaxy falling apart around her, the Jedi still exuded life.

“Loosely translated,” Fynta continued. “It means peace of mind, but it’s so much more. Battle is our meditation, it’s what we’re trained to do from the same age that you were trained to use the Force.” Fynta tucked cold hands beneath her knees swung her legs. “The physical strain breaks down walls and frees emotions, it lets us be angry, excited,” Fynta paused to glance at Noara, “heart broken. But, the goal is always mirjahaal. And, don’t ever forget him.”

“I won’t forget him,” Noara said firmly, eyes fixed on the other woman with tangible determination. “I love him Fynta, his death doesn’t change that.” She looked back up toward the stars and the moon, just starting to rise on the horizon, before taking a trembling breath. “Jedi teachings are all I know, and they are useless to me now. If I had followed them I wouldn’t have become attached to him in the first place, but I did, and I don’t regret it.”

Noara’s shoulders hunched again. “Did you know, they don’t condone mourning, or even missing the dead?”

Fynta pulled a face, grimacing at the dark treeline. “Shab, no wonder the Sith are kicking your collective asses.” She couldn’t fathom a life so devoid of, well, life.

Noara laughed hollowly. “There is no death, there is the Force, and we should rejoice for those who become one with it,” she recited, the words having the feel of monotony to them before changing to her normal speech. “That’s what a proper Jedi would tell me. Attachments, like friendship and love, and the fear of losing them are paths to darkside.” Fynta’s heart raced at the mere thought of what Noara described. Her family was everything, loyalty and trust garnered from years of watching one another’s back. Fynta would happily die for any in her aliit, and felt confident in the knowledge that her love was returned.

Noara lowered her head to glance into the abyss below their dangling feet before turning to Fynta. “I wasn’t afraid of losing Torian, it never crossed my mind as a possibility, but I can’t… I can’t imagine being anything other than heartsick that he is gone.”

Placing a hand on Noara’s shoulder, Fynta released a mirthless laugh. “Welcome to the darkside, kid.”

Sighing, Noara turned her attention back to the shadows. “I don’t know how to do this, Fynta.”

“You never get good at it,” Fynta replied, placing her hand back in her lap. “But, we’re your family now, and we won’t leave you to face it alone. Torian was a good man, a strong warrior. You both deserved better.”

It was now or never. Fynta inhaled deeply, but nothing could prepare her for this moment. “There is more.” Noara tensed, and Fynta began to second guess herself. No, if it had been Aric, she’d need that parting sentiment to ground her. Fynta would want to know that his thoughts were on her, that she somehow eased his passing even without being there.

“Torian spoke before—” Strange, Fynta had never had trouble discussing death. Something about Noara made her want to ease the blow, to take away as much pain as she could. Unfortunately, Mandalorians didn’t shirk from that emotion, they embraced it, so Fynta didn’t know how to make this work. So, she avoided it. “He said, rejorhaa'ir kaysh taylir akaanir. Do you recognize any of those words?”

Noara shook her head, and Fynta saw moisture glisten in the corner of the Jedi’s eye. She bit the inside of her cheek hard enough to draw blood before translating. “It means, tell her to keep fighting.” Fynta looked away when a single tear rolled down Noara’s cheek. “Those words were meant for you, Noara. No one else. His last thought was of you.”

The Jedi sobbed, covering her mouth to muffle the sound. Fighting. Torian wanted her to keep fighting. Noara knew he didn’t just mean in battle, they had often talked about how lost she felt before coming the the Alliance. “You let your spark go out,” he’d say, smiling at the pun on her name. “You should burn like the stars and always fight to keep that fire alive.” Torian said that sort of thing often, comparing her pale blue eyes to starlight, or asking if she had a lighter when they needed a fire started. He’d laughed when he heard her name the first time and lived to tease her about it after Noara confided that she chose the name for herself when she was fourteen because it sounded cool.

In Torian’s final moments he’d been thinking about Noara, worrying about how his death could affect her. She looked back to the stars and they seemed a little brighter than before. Whether from the tears in her eyes, or the message Torian left, she didn’t know. Noara had to swallow and clear her throat twice before she could speak. “Teach me those words?”

Fynta nodded and repeated the words that had been in the back of her mind since she’d first heard them. The Jedi parroted them back, impressive in the ease of each pronunciation. Torian had told Fynta that they worked on her Mando’a often, but she had rarely seen the results in action.

The words were repeated several times before her voice trailed off. Fynta looked up, worried Noara might have started crying again, and not knowing she would handle that. Instead, the commander found her friend staring up at the stars.

Fynta considered leaving the Jedi in peace. Maybe, if she went back inside, Noara would follow. Then again, the woman might wish to be left alone. Or… Fynta looked out over the abyss again, then cut her eyes at Noara. No, the Jedi had never struck Fynta as the sort to follow her lover to the grave. The thought reminded her of a tradition that Torian would have wanted Noara to know.

“I’d like to teach you a saying,” Fynta began. “It’s a private matter, something to repeat in the darkest hours; to help you remember as time goes on.” She knew that, in this moment, it felt like that pain would never cease. That Torian would remain at the forefront of her every waking hour. Yet, Fynta understood that in five, ten years, memories would fade, and priorities would shift to accommodate a new galaxy.

Fynta waited until she had Noara’s full attention, pale blue eyes slowly found her, though they looked dull and far away. “Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum.” The words held a bitter taste in Fynta’s mouth. She’d recited them with Verin nearly every day in honor of their parents, then added Cinlat’s name, later. Perhaps teaching them to Noara would help Fynta atone for her negligence during the five years in carbonite “Did Torian ever mention it?”

Noara’s brow furrowed as she tried to remember if he had ever spoken those words. Torian had been an astute teacher, and while Noara picked the language up easily, Fynta’s words held little meaning.

“No,” Noara admitted after a time, audibly swallowing past the lump in her throat. She hadn’t realized before that moment she was unlikely to ever master Torian’s native language, something she knew was important to him. “I don’t think he did. I recognize some of the words, but what does it mean?”

I'm still alive, but you are dead. I remember you, so you are eternal,” Fynta quoted in a grave tone that Noara rarely saw the boisterous woman use. “The only way our souls survive is through the Manda, through the memories we leave behind. It’s why our aliit is so important.”

Noara’s expression was mingled horror, confusion, and fear. These traditions were so thoroughly ingrained in Fynta, that she realized too late what a tremendous burden she’d just laid at her friend’s feet. It had been too much, too soon, and she cursed her lack of tact.

A fresh wave of guilt threatened to shake Fynta’s calm facade. In truth, she felt the Jedi’s anguish even without a connection to the Force. Sensing that her continued presence might hinder Noara’s grieving process, Fynta decided to retire. There was one last bit to discuss, knowing that should Noara truly need comfort, there were people better suited for the task than herself.

“Cormac has commandeered a private room below.” The big man had taken to sleeping in the barracks, claiming that he had no use for a personal room until his wife and son arrived. “He’s available day or night if you need company.” Fynta pushed to her feet, studying the night sky again simply to avoid seeing the pain in Noara’s slumped posture. “When you’re ready, I’ll summon the clans, and we’ll give Torian the funeral he deserves.”

Fynta wandered the dark halls until they circled back around to her quarters. Silence greeted her, a blessed change from the agonized cries of wounded or those left behind. Leaving a trail of clothes from the door that she’d pick up later, Fynta slid into bed and tried not to feel guilty when Aric’s arms encircled her. She felt emotionally exhausted, but refused to be comforted by her husband’s embrace. Not when a friend had just lost so much.

It was impossible not to put herself in Noara’s shoes. Fynta’s chest constricted at the thought of watching Aric die like that. Or worse, being the last to find out. Verin had missed Cinlat’s final moment, but Fynta had been there to help him through the initial stage of grief. Noara didn’t mourn the same way, though. Fynta had no idea how to dry the Jedi’s tears, or help Noara understand where her life would go from here.

“How bad?” Aric asked, his breath tickling Fynta’s ear. She hadn’t realized that he was awake.

Fynta sighed and turned in Aric’s grasp so that she could face him. “I don’t know what to do. She’s heartbroken, but it goes a lot deeper than that.” 

Aric’s hand rubbed Fynta’s arm, his eyes glowing in the dim light from the computer monitor. “We do whatever we need to.” Jorgan kissed her nose when Fynta rolled her eyes. “And, we get Cormac involved.” 

This time, Fynta chuckled. “Yeah. Balic is our secret weapon.” 

Aric toyed with a strand of Fynta’s hair, his voice taking on a sad note. “He got me through those years that I thought you were dead.” 

Guilt no longer played a part in Fynta’s reaction. She rolled Aric onto his back to straddle his hips before crushing her mouth to his. He received her eagerly, hands tangling in her hair. This was their way, to lose themselves in one another until the pain faded.

That option wasn’t available to Noara, but Fynta wouldn’t give up. None of the members of her aliit were strangers to loss, and each grieved differently. It would take time, but eventually, they would find Noara’s outlet. Neither she, Aric, or Balic would give up on their friend. No matter what, they would see Noara through this storm.

 

Chapter Text

Noara opened her eyes and smiled at Torian lying in bed next to her. He was still asleep and only briefly stirred when she rested a hand against his warm cheek. Without opening his eyes, Torian pulled Noara closer, arm slung around her waist, and buried his nose in her hair. She went happily, tightening her hold as her head rested against his chest.

Noara had a vague recollection of being upset, a worry gnawing at the back of her mind telling her something was wrong. She dismissed it as a phantom pain. How could anything be wrong when she was here with him?

The steady, strong rhythm of Torian’s heart acted like a lullaby, slowly soothing Noara’s worries as she started to drift back to sleep.

Then, the rhythm stopped. Noara couldn’t breathe as she realized how cold Torian was. His body felt like ice in her arms. She leaned back to look at his face, gasping at the slack expression and unnatural angle of his neck.

Noara woke with a strangled cry, and it took several, long minutes of trying to take deep breaths between sobs before she realized where she was. The landing was empty, and while it was still dark, the moon had moved a great deal since Fynta had departed.

Noara had no idea how much time it took for the moon to cross Odessen’s sky, or if the goosebumps on her skin were from the night chill or that nightmare. Pulling her knees to her chest, Noara wrapped her arms around them in an attempt to warm up a little bit. 

Noara was reasonable enough, even in her current state of emotional distress, to know she couldn’t stay on the landing all night. She had come because it was the last place Torian had been alive, where his last breaths were taken, the last beats of his heart– It hadn’t been the comfort she’d hope for, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave once she was here. 

The pain was too fresh to return to their – her – room, and while before Noara had been desperate to be alone, she didn’t want to be on her own anymore. Not after that dream. 

Staring at her knees, Noara took a few moments to decide what to do before she remembered Fynta’s departing offer. Cormac had commandeered a private room, that he was available to keep her company, that he wanted to. Despite her sadness she smiled at the thought of him. 

While Torian had been dearer to Noara’s heart than anyone else in her life, Cormac was almost as close. The man was like the brother she’d always wanted, welcoming Noara to their group on Odessen, and always looking out for her. 

And to think, all Noara had to do was throw the big man across the training room with the Force one time, and he was hooked. If only everyone was so easily pleased. 

Part of Noara felt guilty about the idea of going to Balic, expecting him to help her deal with all this mess. Surely, the soldier must have other things to do, other friends to spend time with – like the crew that was his family in all the ways that mattered. Or sleeping after what had been a long and trying day for everyone. 

But, would it be worse to leave Cormac there waiting for her? To waste the time he had set aside just for Noara, something few people had done in the past? And if she did, where else could she go?

Noara felt terrible about it either way, but the idea of leaving her friend hanging, maybe even worrying, was too much. She had to at least make sure he wasn’t waiting up in vain. Noara’s body was stiff when she stood, needing a stretch before she felt comfortable walking. 

Fynta had left Noara with directions to where she could find Balic, and thanked the Force they were simple, because the Jedi still found the lower parts of the base to be a bit of a maze. 

Soon Noara stood on the other side of a closed door, hand raised to knock. She hesitated. What should she say? Noara had meant it when she’d admitted to Fynta about not knowing how this was supposed to work. 

Did Balic expect Noara to cry? Because she would probably do that again soon. Or maybe to talk, confide in him how scared Noara was of being alone? How she didn’t know what she was supposed to do tomorrow, or the next day, for the rest of her life without Torian.

Once her life had felt so simple; the path laid out at Noara’s feet by her masters was one she was prepared to travel. When she came to the Alliance, it was a last-ditch effort to find something like that again, somewhere to belong. With Torian she had. They had never talked about the future in specifics, no conversations of marriage or children, but part of Noara  always assumed that was where her life was going. 

Now, that dream was gone forever. 

Noara’s eyes filled with tears at the thought, it hadn’t occurred to her quite that bluntly yet. She’d never be a mother, something she hadn’t thought she wanted enough to cry over, but apparently, she did. Whether she was mourning the children they would never have, or just the missed opportunity, Noara didn’t know. 

Wiping the tears from her face, Noara took a steadying breath and forced herself to calm down. Before her nerve could waver, she knocked.

The door opened quickly, revealing a small room Noara could see for a brief moment before the doorway was blocked by Cormac. He took one look at her, noticing the redness of her eyes and smiled gently. “Hey there, Noara-doll, couldn’t sleep?”

Noara shifted her weight from side to side uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, I didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Balic swept Noara into a hug, his arms encircling her smaller form. “Don’t apologize, I didn’t wrangle this five-star suite just for myself. Bet that room of yours feels mighty big tonight.”

“Something like that,” she said, nodding against his shoulder.

“That’s okay,” Balic continued, rubbing large hands up and down her arms when he noticed how cold she was. “Bloody hell, you’re like ice. Where have you been?”

“On the landing, I must have fallen asleep after Fynta spoke to me.”

Cormac pulled back with an uncharacteristic scowl. It wasn’t meant as a chastisement, more to signal his concern. “Noara that was hours ago! Get in here and let’s warm you up.” He pulled her into the room, hitting the door controls to close it behind them, and ushered her to the couch  pushed against the back wall. Before Noara could sit, Balic wrapped a blanket that had been sitting on the couch around her.

Cormac brushed the Jedi’s hair away from her face, noting that her usually neat ponytail and smooth bangs were frazzled. The poor girl’s lips had gone blue, and her skin looked deathly pale next his. “How about something hot to drink, cocoa? Tea?”

“Tea,” Noara answered softly as she cuddled deeper into the blanket, “I’d like some tea.”

“Girl after my own heart,” Cormac laughed. As he moved away to make the tea, Noara pulled her feet up and leaned into the corner of the couch. With the warmth of the blanket wrapped tightly around her, and the sounds of Cormac moving around the little kitchenette in the corner of the room, she almost felt normal again. Like nothing terrible had happened. Noara knew it wasn’t true, but she appreciated the moment of normalcy.

Noara didn’t recognize the type when Cormac handed her a large mug of steaming, amber tea. She lifted the cup to breathe in the citrus scent.

“It’s behot shig,” Cormac commented as he sat down next to Noara with his own cup. When she shot him a confused look, he explained further, “it’s a Mando tea, supposed to soothe the stomach, but I’ve always found it to be relaxing.”

Noara smiled. “Mandalorian tea, huh? You really enjoy all that Mando culture stuff, don’t you?”

“Too right,” Balic nodded before bumping her gently with his shoulder, then offering a conspiratorial wink. “I know you do, too.”

“Guilty.” Noara took a careful sip of the hot tea. “There is something fascinating about it. It seems so complicated from the outside, but the more you learn, the simpler and more reasonable everything they believe feels.” And, it was Torian’s culture, that was enough to make her want to know everything about it.

Cormac blew the steam off of his drink before touching it lightly to his lips. “It’s a hell of a lot better than what I grew up with, for sure,” he answered with a laugh before gesturing at her tea. “Drink up, and then maybe you can get some real sleep.”

Noara shook her head. Just the thought of sleep made the fear she felt in her dream swell back up, she couldn’t handle at the moment.  “Not again. Not now,” she pleaded softly.

Balic frowned, seeing the fear in her eyes. “Did you have a nightmare Noara-doll?” When she nodded, he reached over to touch her hand. “It’s okay. I’m not going anywhere.”

“That’s not true.” Noara’s outburst, even as subdued as it was, surprised her as much as it seemed to him.

“How do you figure that?” Cormac certainly had nowhere better to be. Apart from construction and guard duty, Fynta had ordered everyone to stand down while they sorted through the dead and wounded. Neither of which Cormac was qualified to help with. His presence was best served here, chasing away the cold for his little, broken-hearted Jedi.

Noara leaned her head against the couch back and looked at him with sad eyes. “You have a family Balic, you can’t spend all your time babying me, and I have no idea how long I’m going to be a mess. Now that Zakuul is dealt with, you have people waiting for you.” She sighed, setting her tea cup on the table next to the couch, and pushing the blanket off her shoulders to stand up. “I’m sorry. This was a mistake. I’ll go.”

“Now, hold on.” Noara had only made it a few steps before Balic grabbed her arm and pulled her to a stop. “What is this nonsense? Where I come from, we don’t leave family to grieve alone. Force knows Fynta and Jorgan have picked my ass up off the floor more than once.”

Noara stared up at her friend with wide eyes, stunned beyond words. Fynta had said something similar, that they were her family. It wasn’t that Noara didn’t believe the other woman; she knew Fynta had a way of claiming people as her own, but it was such an alien concept that she would need time to accept it - or even grasp what they meant.

Cormac sighed with sudden understanding and leaned down to meet the Jedi eye level, gripping both of her slim shoulders with his hands. “Noara, you don’t really think we are just going to leave you, do you?”

Noara looked away, studying the floor between their feet. Balic felt her shaking under his hands. She mumbled something he couldn’t hear. He lifted her head with two fingers under her chin, forcing her to look at him.

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” she repeated miserably.

“What do you mean?” The Alliance was filled with orphans and rabble who felt that they had nothing left to lose, but Noara had always been so full of joy that Cormac never once considered that she’d been abandoned too.

“My parents didn’t want me, and when the Order fell apart, everyone I knew disappeared.” The words poured out of Noara in a sudden rush that she couldn’t quell. “I don’t see how this will be different. We were here to fight a war; the war is over. Everyone else has homes to go back to. Everyone leaves eventually.”

Balic smiled, giving Noara a brotherly shake. “And, when we do, you will come with us.”

Noara frowned. “I will?”

“Of course.” Cormac left out the part about being fugitives from the Republic, and that he had no clue where that would take them. But, Cormac knew Elara would accept their little Jedi the way everyone all had. They’d find room for her, somewhere.

“You’re basically my little sister now, and as long as you want it, my house is yours.” Balic straightened, tucking his thumbs into the waistband of his sleep pants. “Besides, you need to meet your nephew.”

Noara’s eyes started to water, and she  covered her mouth with both hands. Noara didn’t know what to say It felt like one thing to call her ‘family’, another to give her a familiar title. Sister. Aunt. Those were heavy words that meant something.

Cormac pulled Noara into another hug, rubbing his hand up and down her back as she cried. “I can’t believe you thought we would leave you behind, Noara,” he said with a laugh. “You’re stuck with us.” Balic moved Noara back to the couch, stopping to grab the blanket and wrap around her again.

Once Noara was settled, Cormac passed the tea back to her. “I want you to focus on deep breaths.” He brushed the bangs out of her eyes again. “There’s no shame in being sad. I won’t tell anyone.” Cormac had never felt like less of a soldier for crying. He knew better than to keep those emotions bottled up, and pitied the ones who struggled to let down their guard even amongst family.

Noara took the cup gratefully, looking over with a watery smile as he sat down next to her. “Thanks Balic, really.” She took a sip of her tea, then asked quietly, “where is home for you?”

“It was once Alderaan, that’s where I grew up.” Balic flopped one arm over the back of the couch. “I had something of a family there: job, respect, and a brother, too.” He took a sip of tea to cover his own sadness before the smile returned when the mug lowered. “When I joined Havoc Squad, the Thunderclap became home, now the place doesn’t matter so much as the people. Elara and Tayl are my home, all my family is. Aric and Fynta, and you.” He offered a salute with the cup, ruffling her hair with his free hand. “You guys are my home.”

Noara frowned, setting her tea down on the table and pulled her legs up to her chest again. She arranged the blanket over herself, so the only visible part of her body was her head, and shivered. The cold hadn’t bothered Noara since coming inside, but now it was like the only thing she could feel was how cold she was. Noara hugged her legs tighter and laid her head on one knee so she could look at Balic.

“I’ve never had a home,” Noara said softly. “The temple isn’t really the same thing you know? It’s just a place I used to live. Torian showed me what it could mean, having a ‘home.’ We were going to make one, he was going to be my home.” Her voice caught, and Cormac wrapped an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close.

“Deep breaths remember,” Balic reminded kindly. “Take some deep breaths, Noara-doll.” She closed her eyes tightly and obeyed.

It was several minutes that they sat like that, Cormac holding Noara, rubbing his hand up and down her arm while she tried to focus on breathing. When Noara felt ready to speak again, she lifted her head to perched her chin on the same knee, and stared at the opposite wall instead of looking at Balic.

“What do you do,” Noara asked, “when home is a person who isn't here anymore?”

Cormac’s hold tightened. He didn’t have the right answer. He was pretty sure none existed, so he fell back on the thing that had brought him back to life. “You live a life that would make him proud, Noara-doll.” Balic propped his chin on top of Noara’s head and sighed. “We make our boy proud.”

Noara leaned into the hug. “Make him proud? I’d like to think he'd be proud of me. Would he be disappointed in me for falling apart like I am?”

“Of course not, he’d understand. Torian would know how hard this is for you, and that you are doing the best you can.” Cormac leaned back and smiled at her when she looked up at him. “Torian loved you, anyone could see it. You could never disappoint him.”

Noara smiled and sniffed, but the tears didn’t fall. “Thank you.” She took a deep breath and shook her head before speaking again. “I’d love to think about anything other than today. Please tell me about Tayl?”

Cormac’s face lit up at the opportunity to brag on his kid. Reaching for his datapad, the big man leaned back and propped an arm on the back of the sofa again in an invitation for Noara to lean in should she desire. He crossed one leg to prop the device up and opened a pictures program.

“He’ll be six soon,” Cormac beamed as he tapped on the screen to call up an image of the three of them. “We took this just before heading out here.”

Noara didn’t miss the longing his Balic’s voice. She studied his family, noting the small, blonde woman at his side that could only be the wife he spoke of so fondly. Then, her gaze fell to the boy with a thick mop of black hair and his mother’s light grey eyes. She glanced up at the large, bald man at her side, smiling at the fact that she’d never realized what his hair color was. “He looks like you.”

Cormac snorted. “Bless him. He got his mother’s smarts, thankfully.” He swiped to another image, this one older than the last. “The boy’s already in grade school, showing them how it’s done.” The next photo showed Tayl in the arms of a Nautolan girl only a few years older, her white teeth flashing in a mischievous grin that Tayl mirrored.

A low chuckled rumbled through Cormac’s chest. “That’s Shillet. Havoc Squad sort of adopted her a while back.” A touch of sadness entered his eyes at the mention of his former squad. Balic pushed it aside when he glanced down at Noara, his smile reminiscent of the ones the younglings wore. “You’ll like her. For having never met Fynta, Shillet shares a lot of her qualities. Mainly, being able to exasperate Jorgan.”

Balic droned on about his family, and all the things that Noara could expect when they arrived on Odessen. It wasn’t until her head lolled against his shoulder that Cormac realized she’d finally dozed off. In sleep, Noara looked even younger, frail as she huddled in a blanket that would barely cover his legs.

Cormac had always been fascinated by the Force, and by extension, the Jedi he’d met who wielded it. But he’d never thought much about what kind of life they lived. Despite all they had been through, as close as they were, Noara was still scared that this hodge podge of a family would just leave her when everything was said and done. 

Not that Balic blamed her. With a Spice-head for a mom, he knew the sting of abandonment all too well. Cormac wondered if Noara’s feelings about her parents were true, or if they’d wept when the Jedi came for their daughter. Did they still think about her, or had they moved on with life, content that their little girl had moved on to better things. One thing Balic knew for certain was that there wasn’t a force, mystical or not, in the whole galaxy that could make him give up his son. 

Tugging up the blanket that had slipped off Noara’s shoulder, Cormac smiled down at her. It might take some time, but he was going to prove to their little Jedi that he wouldn’t give up on her either.

A sad smile crept across Cormac’s features at the memory of the day he confronted Torian about his intentions towards Noara. Balic had filled the hallway, blocking the Mandalorian’s retreat, and put on his most severe scowl. Cormac didn’t remember exactly what he’d threatened Torian with, but the man’s response would never leave him. Torian had simply chuckled. “You’re late,” he’d said with a good natured pat on Cormac’s bicep. “The commander already threatened to have my gett’se for earrings. Her Cathar didn’t say much, but the rifle in his hand was convincing enough.”

Cormac had nodded, though inside, he was dying with laughter. Outwardly, he maintained the scary, big brother facade. “We take care of our own, here.”

Torian’s expression had turned serious then. “I won’t hurt her. You have my word.”

Balic sighed and looked down at the little Jedi nestled against him. I know you didn’t mean to, Torian, but you broke the only promise that mattered

Chapter Text

When Noara blinked the sleep from her eyes several hours later, Cormac was perched on a stool at the kitchenette counter with a steaming cup of tea in front of him as he scrolled through his datapad. She sat up, pushing off the extra blanket he must have covered her with sometime in the night and stretched the tight muscles in her back.

The movement caught Cormac’s attention, and he set his pad down to look at Noara with a bright grin. “Morning sunshine.” When she didn’t respond except to frown, he got up and crossed the room to kneel down in front of her, “Noara? You okay?”

Noara sighed as her shoulders sagged. “Not sure. Was sorta hoping I’d wake up and yesterday would just be a bad dream.” She looked up at Cormac with wide, teary eyes, “it wasn’t, was it? It really happened, he’s gone.” Her voice broke on the last word and she buried her face in her hands.

Cormac pulled her into a hug and rubbed her back gently. It broke his heart every time her sobs used another shudder to to pass through her. “I wish I could say it wasn’t true Noara-doll, I really do.”

Noara clung to Balic’s broad shoulders, crying for several minutes before managing to calm down enough for him to pull away. He wiped the tears off her face with a large hand before brushing her bangs away from her eyes. “Want some tea? Still some in the pot, or I can make you some caff.”

Noara’s stomach roiled at the idea of caff. Torian had always made the perfect cup. It should be him offering to make her some first thing in the morning. “Tea,” she replied softly. “please.” It was the safer option.

Cormac nodded, patting her head gently, before moving back to the kitchenette to pour her a cup. With a nod of thanks,  Noara raised it to her nose to inhale the fragrant scent before looking up at him, “you stayed.”

“I did,” Balic answered, though the surprise in Noara’s voice made his heart hurt. Despite his promise, she had expected him to leave once she fell asleep. “Said I would,” he added with a smile.

Noara smiled back, though her’s was smaller and dimmer than usual. “Thank you, Balic.”

“Of course, I am glad you woke, though,” he said, grimacing before continuing. Cormac wasn’t sure how she was going to react to being left alone, even if it was only for a little while. “My shift is coming up, but really hated the idea of leavin’, or having to wake you when you still needed the sleep.”

Noara was quiet for a moment, staring into her tea before meeting Balic’s concerned gaze. “I’ll be okay if you need to go.” She frowned and looked away, trying to remember where her own datapad was. “Probably should check when my next shift is actually,” she said, setting down her mug and starting to untangle her legs from the blankets to stand.

Cormac stopped Noara with a hand on her shoulder. “Noara-doll no one expects you to work today. Not while you are dealing with all of this, and anyone who does will have to answer to me and Fynta.” He straightened with a smile. “Take your time.”

Noara stared up at Balic uncomprehendingly, trying to imagine what she could possibly do if she didn’t have any duties. How could she possibly keep herself from drowning in the pain in her chest without a distraction. “But I don't know what to do,” she gasped, “how to deal with this. I know I’m sad, and that sad doesn’t even come close to describing how empty I feel. I’m numb Balic, is there something wrong with me?"

"No, nothing's wrong with you," Cormac said gently. "That’s normal, it's what happens when you are grieving for someone you cared so much about. You have to be numb at least some of the time, because feeling the way you did when it hit you constantly would drive anyone crazy. It’s your body telling you to rest while you can.”

“So it will come back? The pain?" Noara asked, her voice breaking with panic.

Cormac nodded, unsure what to say. How do you tell a woman who looks one harsh word away from falling apart, that the pain of a lost love is going to linger? That the healing process was just starting, and even when she was truly okay again, things would never be the same?

If Noara minded Balic’s silence, she didn’t show it. Instead the Jedi curled back into the blankets to hide in the folds of brightly colored fabric. "Are you sure you will be alright on your own for a bit? I'm sure Fynta can get someone to cover me," Cormac offered. He was tempted to find a second anyway. The idea of Noara sitting here alone all day bothered him. If she wanted him to stay, he would find a way to make it happen. 

"Yeah," Noara mumbled from within her shelter before peeking out at him, "I need a shower, and maybe I can read for a bit, anything to distract myself, you know?"

"Yeah I get that." Cormac said, watching for any sign that Noara was just putting up a brave front. "Promise you'll call if you need me?"

"I will." Noara wasn't sure which she meant, that she would call him, or that she would need him. Both were bound to be true.

Satisfied with Noara’s promise, Cormac squeezed her shoulder gently before grabbing his datapad and leaving the room. When the door closed, Noara sighed and leaned her head back against the couch to stare at the ceiling. She still felt numb. A sort of emptiness that didn’t exactly hurt, but threatened to if she moved too quickly. As if anything might trigger those overwhelming emotions again.

Noara lost a lot of time that way, long enough that Cormac stopped by to bring her food - little of which she was able to eat - and encourage her to sleep some more. Sleep didn't come easy, and when it did, Noara was haunted by grief.

In some dreams Torian would be alive, then suddenly not, like the one she had when she fell asleep outside. In others, Noara saw him die in various and increasingly distressing ways. She wasn't unaccustomed to death, she'd seen and caused plenty of it in her lifetime. More than she thought anyone ever should. Still, the ways her mind conjured to end Torian's life and torment her were shocking.

Noara knew Cormac could tell when he checked in on her, he was good about it. Every few hours he would pop in to see her, and when she woke up crying and shaking after a particularly terrible dream he was there, coaxing her awake even as he pulled her into his arms.

Balic never asked what Noara dreamed about, and for that, she was profoundly grateful. Noara wasn't ready to voice the things she was seeing, if she ever would be.

Sometime after Cormac had brought her lunch, Fynta had stopped by to check in on her, too. The commander looked as tired as Noara, making the Jedi feel guilty for not doing anything to help with the fallout of the battle. When she mentioned it, the older woman waved it off.

“We got this,” Fynta said, plopping down on the couch next to her. “You take all the time you need.”

Noara sat up straighter and turned slightly to face Fynta. “I’m sure you didn’t stop by just to tell me to take the day off, Cormac already took care of that.”

“True,” Fynta smiled before her expression turned serious. “I came to tell you that I talked to Shae. Both to fill her in on what happened and arrange Torian’s funeral.” Fynta winced when Noara’s face fell at the mention of the funeral, but she didn’t know how else to say it to spare the young woman any more pain. Maybe it was best to just get it over with and deal with the fallout?

"Before we go through with it, I need to prepare you." Noara cast her friend a sideways glance, not sure how to take Fynta's hesitance. The commander heaved a sigh and scooted to the edge of the cushion. "Mandalorian funerals aren't like anything you've experienced before. They are loud, boisterous times of celebration. You won't see tears or somber silence. We drink, cheer, discharge weapons, and often time piss off the neighbors."

Fynta cleared her throat. "There will be a fire, uh, a pyre, more like. It means--"

Noara took pity on her friend when Fynta's words faltered. "I understand," she whispered. "I can't keep his body, and I'm familiar with a funeral pyre, if maybe not all the rest."

Fynta nodded, then hesitantly took Noara's hand. "I just want you to be prepared for everything." The older woman offered a squeeze. "No more surprises."

“I appreciate that.” Noara forced out a small smile before it fell into a frown, “after that last one, I don’t think I can take many more.”

Fynta stayed a while longer, filling Noara in on what was going on around the base, before she had to leave to see her the seemingly endless list of tasks. Fynta felt better after seeing for herself that the Jedi wasn’t completely falling to pieces. Cormac had told her that he didn’t think she had moved all morning, and the idea of Noara alone and in pain had haunted her thoughts throughout the day.

It was the desperate need to be clean that finally spurred Noara to leave the sanctuary of her private room a few hours after Fynta left. While there was a shower in the room Noara was staying in, all her clothing was still in her room. She still wore the clothing from the day of the battle, and while he was nice enough not to say anything, Noara was sure that Cormac had noticed.

The trek to her and Torian’s room felt longer than ever before. Realistically, Noara knew very few of the people she passed were paying attention, but she felt like they could tell, like they knew something had changed in her. The tightness in Noara’s chest was drowned out by a swell of both relief and anguish when she finally reached the door.

Stepping into her room was a surreal experience. The last time she’d been in this room, it had been full of life. The chair Torian had sat in while he tended his armor was still pushed away from the table, one of the rags he used left next to the bottle of oil. It looked like he had just gotten up, like he could walk out of the fresher or in the front door at any moment. Right now, their room gave lie to the terrible reality that had taken place.

Noara leaned back against the door and glared at the bottle of oil. She knew it was useless to be angry, it wouldn’t change anything or make her feel better, but she was suddenly furious. Seeing people around the base going on with their lives, being in a room that looked completely normal, made her want to scream. To reach out to the Force and throw that damn bottle against the wall. She could do it, trash the entire room in a fit of rage without even moving from the doorway.

She wasn’t going to do it. Noara had a lifetime’s practice wrangling the temper most people doubted she had, but for a moment found comfort in the anger. “It's not fair,” she ground out, giving voice to her rage. “I've lived for so long with nothing, I just wanted this one thing.”

Noara balled her hands into fists and again forced down the urge to lash out. “Why couldn’t I have this one thing?” she asked, knowing there was no one to answer. That there wasn’t an answer. At least, not one she would like.

Noara’s masters’ would tell her this was the will of the Force, that it was simply time for Torian to rejoin it. That everything, even this, happened for a reason and it was futile to be angry about it. Noara was glad none of them were here to say so, to make her feel like the Force didn’t want her to be happy, because that was all Torian’s death had accomplished.

There was no comfort in the idea that he was one with the Force. Not when it meant he wasn’t here with her anymore. He had become the light in Noara’s life, and now that he was gone, she felt like she deserved to be angry. Right now, feeling anything other than the agony of her grief for Torian, or the emptiness that dominated every other moment, was a welcome change.

Despite that, Noara forced herself to calm down. Closing her eyes and taking several deep breaths, she started counting as high as she could in Mando’a to give herself something to focus on. Noara stumbled on sixty and she opened her eyes again. It still hurt to see their room, where she was able to pinpoint each item that belonged to her lover.

It had never occurred to Noara how impersonal their room was. There were no pictures, no personal items - she had nothing of his that meant anything to hold on to. Just a used bottle of armor oil, his toiletries in the fresher, mundane things everyone owned. The only thing worth holding on to were the few shirts in the closet that she stole to sleep in. Their baggy fit had always brought a smile to Torian’s face. At least they were tangible.

Crossing the room Noara went to the closet and pulled one out. Holding it to her face, she  breathed him in. Before the tears she could feel gathering in her eyes spilled, she hurried into the fresher. If Noara was going to break down, at least that way she could pretend the moisture on her face was just the shower.

After her shower, Noara took her time in the fresher. She dried her hair and debated reapplying her makeup. It had been a dreadful mess before washing her face, and Noara knew it was going to be messed up again. The outburst in the shower had drained her, so it would probably be a while before another one racked her, but it would come. She turned the jar of makeup over in her hands a few times before setting it back down.

It’ll just be a mess later, Noara reasoned as she left the fresher in search of clothes. She’d pulled on Torian’s shirt when she got out of the shower but as much as she didn’t want to change, Noara knew she couldn’t walk around the base in it.

It was definitely coming back to the other room with her, though.

Noara exited the fresher and headed straight back to the closet to collect her own clothing. Being in their room, getting dressed after a shower, was too close to an echo of the last time she had seen Torian, and the memory weighed heavily on her. She needed out of there before she broke down again.

By habit, Noara reached for one of the crop tops she usually wore, a pink and brown one that Torian had grudgingly admitted to liking, even if he still wanted her to cover up more for protection. Remembering the way he sighed when she put it on before heading into the field made Noara hesitate. Instead, she grabbed the long sleeved purple shirt she had for more casual outings. Her wardrobe left Torian endlessly frustrated He never understood why she wore more clothing for a night at the cantina than she did into battle.

Noara was just deciding to forgo the green and white wrap that went over the top when she noticed a flashing light out of the corner of her eye. Turning, she spotted her comm device, still sitting on the nightstand on her side of the bed where she had forgotten it. It was the light on the side flashing, the one that said she had a new message.

Noara reached for the comm with trembling hands.  It would be from Torian, she knew it. Instead of hitting the button that would play the message, she pulled up the call log to confirm her fear.

“Fierfek.” The Mando’a slipped out as Noara struggled to hold one to the comm when Torian’s name appeared. He’d called her, sometime between her leaving that morning, and when he was taken away forever. It would be his voice on the other end of that blinking light. He wanted to talk to her and she hadn’t been there for him.

Noara clutched the comm to her chest, unable to imagine what was on it. She both desperately wanted to hear it now, and never listen to it because hearing Torian’s last words to her felt so… final. It was the last time she would ever hear his voice.

Suddenly, Noara was overcome with the need to see her lover. From her talk with Fynta earlier, she knew the funeral would take place as soon as the clans arrived, and the time she had spent with Torian in the hangar wasn’t enough. The idea that that was the last time she would see him before having to say goodbye made it hard to breathe.

Before the wave of panic overwhelmed her, Noara punched Cormac’s frequency into her comm. He answered on the second ring, a small image of his large frame appearing in front of her. From the concern on his face, she knew he could tell she was upset.

“Hey, Noara-doll,” Balic said with a gentle smile. He must have noticed her clean face, she rarely went without her makeup, but he was tactful enough not to comment on it.

“I’m sorry to bother you but I, ah…” Noara trailed off as she mentally prepared herself. “I need to know where the morgue is.”

Cormac’s smile faltered. “Are you sure?”

“I need to,” Noara answered. “I have to see him before, well before the funeral.”

Balic offered a grim nod. “I understand. I’ll come with you.”

Noara shook her head, “thanks, but I want to say goodbye.” Her voice cracked on the last word, and she had to clear her throat to keep from breaking into tears again. There would be time to cry later.

When she could speak again, Noara met Cormac’s eyes. “This is something I need to do alone.”

Chapter Text

 

Noara didn’t know how she would feel walking into the makeshift morgue, but the almost numb sense of calm that settled over her wasn’t it. Cormac had told Noara this was a normal part of the grieving process, that she’d have moments where she almost felt normal. Noara couldn’t help but feel guilty for not being more upset as she pulled a chair next to the table where Torian’s body lay. Noara had cried more in the last few days than she had in her entire life - and was sure she would cry at his funeral - but the tears didn’t come now.

For a long time Noara stared at Torian, her hand laid on the curve of his chest piece above his heart. Even if Torian was alive, Noara wouldn’t have been able to feel the beat of his heart against her hand through the armor, so she could pretend nothing was wrong. He was asleep, that’s all.

Fynta had told Noara a little about what to expect at a Mandalorian funeral when she started making the arrangements. The pyre seemed to be the only thing it shared with Jedi tradition. Noara had met cultures that disposed of their dead in various ways, burials in space, water, earth, bodies processed into new materials or even just disintegrated, but this was something she understood.

Torian had been a force of nature in life, cleansing her the way a fire remade a forest - clearing out the dead and diseased bits while leaving fresh soil ready for new growth. Fire was the only appropriate way to honor such a man.

Noara’s hand tensed against the chilled iron, fingers pressing down hard enough to turn her knuckles white. She didn't want to say goodbye. Noara had rarely allowed herself to be selfish, but right now, she desperately wanted to be. If there was a way to bring Torian back, even if Noara lost her soul to the Dark Side, she wasn't confident that she could resist the temptation.

That feeling was what the Jedi Council warned against, Noara was sure of it. Nothing had tested her alignment to the light like losing Torian so suddenly.

Noara sighed, reminding herself that even Valkorion didn't have the ability to bring back the dead. Neither side of the Force could help her. Forcing her hand to relax, Noara leaned forward to rest her head against Torian’s shoulder.

Torian’s armor still smelled of the oil he used to care for it, and Noara smiled at the memories that stirred. He had been tending to his gear the last time she’d seen him alive. Steadily, Noara’s eyes grew heavier as hours of shedding tears took their toll. One last time, Noara drifted into a restless sleep with Torian’s scent surrounding her.

Torian was sitting at the small table in their room while he worked on his armor when Noara exited the shower. She didn't quite understand his maintenance routine, but he held to it religiously. Noara couldn't tally how many times she had watched him scrub at the beskar, before oiling it to a shine, not everyday, perhaps, but often enough to feel like it.

Noara, of course, had no armor to maintain, preferring light cloth garments that made it easy to move quickly. Their fighting styles were about as different as could be; her recklessly charging into melee range, opposed to Torian’s well aimed blaster fire from a distance.

Aside from her need for mobility, Noara wasn't too proud to admit that she was biased against wearing a metal shell. Armor was something a soldier wore, someone expecting violence, someone not opposed to it. That just wasn't her. While Noara wouldn’t hesitate to defend against evil, her Jedi teachings encouraged her to seek a more peaceful path first.

Torian looked up with a smiled. “That’s a good look for you,” he teased, mischief in his eyes as he scanned the smooth expanse of skin not hidden by her towel.

“You would think that,” Noara shot back playfully, reaching for the fold at the top of the towel holding it in place. “but I'd wager you liked this look better.”

No sooner had the towel hit the floor, than Torian was on his feet and across the room pulling her naked body into his arms. “That's not fair, you know I can't stop halfway through cleaning my armor.”

“I know,” Noara said with a laugh and laid her head against his shoulder. His arms around her was one of her favorite experiences in the whole universe. Especially when he wasn't wearing his armor. Noara didn't mind the cold hugs, the first Torian had ever given her was in his armor, but at the time, she'd had so few hugs in her lifetime that it hadn't felt strange at all.

It never occurred to her that their clothing would, or could, make a difference until the first time he had hugged her without it. Then, without any clothing between them; just his skin against hers.

It had made all the difference in the galaxy.

Noara smiled and leaned her head back to look at Torian, pushing up with her toes to try and close the distance between them. He met her half way, pressing warm lips against hers in a firm, but chaste kiss. When Torian pulled back, he pressed a second one against Noara’s forehead before stepping away.

Torian returned to his armor as Noara watched him, trying not to frown. She’d known he would turn away to finish his task, that there were things that nothing could pry her from. That didn’t erase the sting she felt.

Shaking her head to dismiss the feeling - it was hardly fair to be upset with him for something Noara knew she was guilty of - she reached for the pile of clothing previously set out and started to get dressed.

Instead of immediately going back to work as Noara expected, Torian laid his hand on one of the armored plates that protected his thighs. “I wish you'd let me get you armor,” he sighed, fixing her with a serious stare.

Noara fastened her pants before looking over her bare shoulder with a weary grimace. “Torian, we've talked about this.”

“I know it’s just…” Torian  broke off with a frown before pushing away from the table. Noara couldn’t help but notice his smooth gait as he approached her again. “I worry about you, and as long as you are fighting on the front lines of this war, I am going to worry about you getting hurt.”

Torian reached for Noara, running his fingers across her torso to trace the lean lines of muscle on her abdomen, the curve of her waist and around to her lower back. Noara shivered at the close attention Torian paid to the several light scars she had collected over the years across her torso. “It wouldn't take much for a wound here to be fatal, and I’m not saying you aren’t able to defend yourself, but even the best warriors have an off day.”

Noara looked away, unable to meet Torian’s gaze. She wasn’t used to someone worrying about her like this. The Order didn’t treat it’s members as if they were expendable, but every Jedi knew they were likely to die in the field. Death caught up to everyone eventually.

No one had ever expressed fear that Noara might not survive the next fight like Torian did, and she never knew how to react to it.

Laying his hands on her face, Torian turned Noara’s face to make her look at him. “Don’t want to lose you,” he said softly. “I waited a long time for you. Now that you are in my life, I want as much time as we can get. Is that selfish?”

Noara shook her head. She didn't think that was selfish at all. Torian was older, had lived a longer life before they met, but Noara could understand his sentiment. She didn’t want to live another day without him. Didn’t want to go back to what her life had been before.

Nothing could have prepared Noara for how joining the Alliance that she had only heard rumors of would change her life. Along the way, she’d had to compromise on many things, things that once defined her identity. Noara had let herself become attached to the people around her, processing and expressing her emotions instead of repressing them as she’d been taught. The Jedi Code was all but forgotten.

Those compromises had made Noara into someone different, someone new. She didn’t know a word for it, she held no title, no position that defined her life, but she was happy. Noara had found a place where she belonged. For the first time, she could say she felt loved.

To keep that feeling, there was little Noara was not willing to do, but this one line she didn’t want to cross. She wouldn’t become a soldier. Noara knew she was being stubborn, but that stance against mindless violence was important to her.

Noara  had been taught to value peace over all things, to be an agent of it in every action, since she was a child. Logically, Noara knew soldiers did more than fight wars. They protected people, assisted with recovery from natural disasters across the galaxy and countless other things. When she looked at those around her who practically lived in their armor, something not just Torian did, but also Fynta, Aric, and Cormac, Noara didn’t see them as instruments of violence and death. They were good people, even if she knew Fynta would scowl at her for saying so, and Torian would argue that being honorable and ‘good’ were two different things. Noara had never told them, but they were larger than life heroes to her, always so strong; always brave. They never wavered when things got difficult.

Noara knew that there were no better people for her to be around, no better examples as she came into her own for the second time; first as Jedi, now as something new. But, the idea of putting on armor herself? Of donning the guise of a soldier? Noara couldn’t bare it.

War had defined Noara’s life since leaving her temple home as a teenager. Her choices in clothing were far from traditional Jedi wear, though not quite outlandish - she’d seen plenty of Jedi in more revealing outfits, and the idea of Torian’s reaction if she dressed like them was a constant source of amusement - but it was what she found  comfortable. Something safe from her old life while everything else remained in a constant state of change around her.

Most importantly Noara looked like herself when her reflection stared back.Not a soldier; not a stranger wearing her face. Noara needed that at the moment, even if she knew how happy it would make Torian if she gave in.

Looking back at her lover, Noara noticed the naked concern in his eyes and felt guilty for making him worry so much. Reaching up, she curled her hand around the back of his neck, carding her fingers through his hair.

“I don’t want to lose you either Torian,” she whispered. “I’ve never felt like I belonged somewhere the way I do with you. I don’t think I understood what ‘home’ meant until I found it with you.”

Torian smiled, leaning forward to touch her forehead with his, “you won’t lose me, we belong together. When this is over, we’ll make a proper home.”

Noara closed her eyes and took a shaky breath. Torian didn’t talk about their future much - He was more focused on the present- but she loved knowing that their futures would be be entwined. “I like that plan.”

Pulling away again, Torian brushed Noara’s damp bangs away from her eyes. “It’s still a no about the armor, isn’t it?” He managed to sound amused, but she could still see the worry in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, I know it would set your mind at ease, but I can’t.”

“Can’t blame me for trying,” Torian sighed before eyeing Noara’s half naked body with a sly smile. “What if I told you I found the idea of you in armor very sexy?”

Noara laughed, “I might answer differently if it’s a set strictly for the bedroom.”

“I’ll have to remember that. If I wasn’t in the middle of something...” Torian’s voice trailed off.

“You can make it up to me tonight, when you’re done and I can have you all to myself,” Noara teased, shivering when Torian ran his hand along her spine.

“Deal.” Torian gave Noara another quick kiss before stepping away to return to the table.

Noara watched Torian start working again with a smile on her face before picking up her shirt and pulling it on. They fell into a companionable silence as she finished getting ready for the day while he worked. When Noara was done, face painted and hair pulled up in her usual ponytail, she draped herself over Torian’s shoulders and hugged him from behind. “You know I love you right? And that I’ve quite literally never said that to anyone else in my entire life?”

Torian laughed, “Cyar'ika, I love you too, but you say that to your caf every morning.”

“You got me, but only when you make my caf,” Noara replied with a kiss to his cheek. “And since you didn’t make any this morning, I’m off to the cantina.” She pushed off his shoulders and made her way over to the door.

“Tomorrow morning,” Torian called after her. “I promise!”

Noara jolted upright to find tears staining her cheeks. The smell of caf clung to the edge of her senses and made her stomach roll. She hadn’t been able to stomach the stuff since that morning. It just didn’t taste the same anymore. As much as Noara tried not to think about that morning, when she’d denied her lover the now trival seeming acceptance of armor to protect her. She found herself dwelling on it more and more as the funeral plans progressed. Noara should have just said yes. She’d happily wear a full set of armor, helmet included - claustrophobia be damned - to have him back.  

In everything Fynta had told Noara about Mandalorian funerals, she’d never mentioned what happened to the deceased’s armor. Noara hadn’t thought much about it before, but now, with those familiar, cold plates beneath her fingers,  she wanted it. A piece at least, maybe two. Something solid and physical to hold as a reminder that he was real.

Noara took Torian’s hand into hers, wrapping trembling fingers around his lifeless ones and had to bite her bottom lip to keep from sobbing. It was so unnatural for Torian  to remain static instead of grasping hers in return. Having his gloves to keep would be a wonderful reminder of the times those fingers had wrapped around hers. Torian was wearing them the first time he had brushed Noara’s bangs back to see her eyes, the first time he had pulled her out of danger. Even the first time he tilted her chin back for a kiss.

Noara didn’t know if anyone would protest her keeping a part of Torian’s armor. She wasn’t Torian’s widow, and they hadn’t been together long - perhaps not long enough to deserve such a precious keepsake.

No, as much as Noara wanted them, Torian’s gloves were too noticeable to risk taking. It would hurt far more to have  them taken away, than not have them at all. Like losing him all over again.

Torian’s bracers however, those were covered. Noara could take them and no one would know.

Biting her trembling lower lip, Noara started carefully removing Torian’s glove. It took a little work to get the piece off, and she froze when her finger came in contact with his bare hand. In the armor, the only parts of Torian exposed was his face and neck. Noara hadn’t expected his hand to be so cold.

When Noara freed Torian’s hand from the glove, she grasped it between both of hers. Bracing her elbows on the table, Noara leaned her forehead against their joined hands. “I really wanted to make a home with you, I wanted-” her voice caught in her throat. Noara looked up at the ceiling, pressing their hands to her chest. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I’ll make you proud. I’m not terribly proud of what I’m doing right now, I just need something solid to keep, something I can feel to remember you by.”

Noara took a deep breath when she finished talking before looking back down and starting to unfasten his bracer. Once it was off, she set it to the side and worked on getting his hand back into the glove - a much harder process than removing it had been. When Noara was done, she examined the bracer by turning it over in her hands. She ran her fingers over it, grounding herself in the cold, solid feel of it in her hands. This was something she could cling to.

Noara held the armor for a moment longer before setting it down. She stood and circled the table to repeat the process on the other side. When Noara was done, it wasn’t obvious anything was missing, and she knew that needed to be enough. Still, her eyes kept being drawn to the pauldron she had rested her head against. It was still wet from her tears, the moisture making the surface shiny in the rooms lighting.

Before Noara could talk herself out of it, she was setting Torian’s bracers down and detaching the pauldron from his chest piece. She’d never worn armor, but he had taught her how the plates went together. At the time, it had been to make it easier for Noara to assist in undressing him for more carnal pursuits. She never could have imagined this, but was grateful that she didn't have to fight with the latches to break it down.

Noara set the pauldrons carefully next to Torian’s bracers, then turned to look down at his face. Leaning over to look at him more closely, she brushed Torian’s hair off his forehead. With feather light touches, Noara ran her fingers along the contours of his face. She started at his hairline, following the curve of his nose, down to the line of his jaw, over his scars, lips, his eyebrows. She ended at Torian’s sideburns and the small patch of hair on his chin. This was Noara’s last chance, the final time that she would be able to see his face. Mandalorians had already started arriving at the base, and Noara knew that once the final clan landed, they would hold the funeral, and then Torian’s body would be gone. He would be gone.

“I love you,” Noara whispered. “Only you, always you.”

Noara pressed a kiss to Torian’s forehead as her eyes started to water again. Brushing her fingers through his hair, her composure wavered, and Noara knew that she needed to leave to avoid breaking down here again. She’d been lucky to be alone for the duration of her visit so far. Touching his cheek a final time, Noara turned away from him, gathered up the pieces of his armor she had removed and, after a final lingering look at the man she loved with all her heart, rushed from the makeshift morgue.

Chapter Text

“Commander!”

Fynta groaned as she turned towards yet another person needing her attention. She’d signed documents, written letters of condolences, and sat in planning meetings until her eyes burned. All Fynta wanted in that moment was a hot meal, maybe bed, definitely a shower.

“What’s the—” Fynta paused when she realized that the solemn faced man was one of those tasked with identifying and prepping the dead. Guilt colored her cheeks as Fynta cleared her throat. “Sorry, vod. What can I do for you?”

This man had been tasked with the fallen Mandalorians, to see that his fellows were treated according to custom. He had a much worse job than administrative work. Some of the dead were the impromptu coroners’ friends, personal comrades who they’d lived alongside for months. In this man’s case, possibly family. It put everything in perspective, and Fynta lost her appetite.

“I didn’t think looting would be a problem on the base,” the man growled through clenched teeth. “However, one of the—” he paused, searching for the right words, then changed them completely. “A few articles have come up missing from the morgue.”

“Fierfek,” Fynta spat, stomping towards the converted cold room. “Who is it?”

The man jogged to catch up, then matched Fynta’s pace. Dark bags beneath his eyes gave truth to lost sleep and hours of emotionally grueling work. When he spoke, the man’s voice was steady. “Only one that we can tell so far. Torian Cadera.”

“Shabuir ni skana'din.” Fynta cursed, earning a cautious look from her companion. She wouldn’t apologize, and doubted the man expected one. “What did they take?”

“Bracers, maybe a couple of plates. I noticed that the pauldron was missing, and came to find you when I realized others were too.” The man paused, but Fynta knew more was coming. “Beskar is valuable stuff, and in short supply. Do you think someone plans to turn a profit?”

Fynta’s snarl would have made Aric proud. “They better hope that I don’t get my hands on them.” How was she supposed to explain this to Noara. That someone had desecrated her lover for credits. As Fynta walked, countless possible ways  to keep Noara from finding out crossed her mind. The Jedi already had so much to deal with, and Fynta would be damned if she added anything else. “Do you have a roster of who all visited the morgue?”

The man grew quiet, Fynta would even hazard uncomfortable. For the longest time, only the clank of armor filled their silence. Eventually, he sighed. “That’s the thing, sir. Only family members have been admitted. A couple of exiles, and one Jedi.”

Fynta stopped cold, then turned slowly to face him. “Jedi Master Noara Starspark?”

The man blinked. “How did you know?”

Fynta patted the man’s shoulder. “Head on back, vod. I’ll handle Cadera’s armor.” He started to protest, then thought better of it. Dipping his head in aquiance, the man responded the traditional farewell in Mando’a before leaving Fynta with her thoughts.

Taking a deep breath, Fynta turned on her heel to seek out a woman who hadn’t recovered as much as she’d thought. It didn’t take long to check all of Noara’s hideouts, and Fynta finally located the Jedi in the room that Cormac had set aside for her. Torian’s bracers and pauldron sat on the counter while Noara stood across the room, staring at them as if the armor might bite her.

Fynta knocked on the still open door, then entered when Noara whimpered. She stood beside the Jedi for a moment before crossing the room to run her fingers over the cold beskar. Noara sucked in a ragged breath the moment Fynta’s fingers touched them. “You nearly gave me a heart attack. I thought some chakaar had looted our boy.”

“I’m sorry,” Noara answered in a small voice. Fynta faced the woman, one of Torian’s bracers clutched in her hand. She closed the distance and held it out in offering.

The Jedi’s fingers closed slowly around the armor, then pulled it to her chest and tucked her chin, eyes closed. “Don’t apologize,” Fynta said softly. “These belong to you now.” Noara lifted her gaze, bright, blue eyes shining with tears that refused to fall. Fynta knew what it meant to cry herself dry, yet still feel the urge. “What did you plan to do with them?”

“I don’t know,” Noara answered, laughing hallowly. “That’s a terrible answer isn’t it?” She gestured at the room around them. “You know I’ve been staying here, but I had to go back to our room. I didn’t want to. I know Balic said if there was anything I needed to just ask, but I wasn't going to ask him to bring me clean underwear.”

Noara smiled, a bit of the old humor Fynta remembered shining in her eyes. “Seeing if he would blush about it would have been funny, though.”

Shaking her head, Noara started pacing. Fynta watched, knowing better than to get in the way on a woman working through her grief. “I didn’t mean to stay long,” the Jedi began. “Plan was to go in, get what I needed, and get out. But once I was there, all I could do was notice every item that was his.”

Noara stopped with her back to Fynta and hugged the empty bracer against her chest. “Neither of us have a great deal of stuff, I don’t own much and this wasn’t home for him, he only had the things he needed. Stuff to clean his armor, a razor, aftershave, a few shirts he’d let me sleep in.”

Noara squeezed her eyes shut to banish the memories she was too weak to handle at the moment. “There was nothing personal, nothing real. I don't even own a picture of him.” she turned to face Fynta and stepped closer to look up at her, fingers still clutching the bracer against her chest. “I know it was probably wrong to take without asking, but I needed something solid, something important of his to hold onto.” With a small sigh, Noara finally looked at the armor in her hands. “I hadn’t thought about what I’d do past that; if they fit, I guess I could wear the bracers , but his arms are a lot bigger than mine.”

Fynta gently pried the bracer from Noara’s hands and unclipped the latch. The Jedi had begun rambling, filling the space with words because she couldn’t find anything else. Taking Noara’s hand, Fynta slid the beskar over her forearm, then fastened it. “Hmm.” Fynta spun it, eyeing the way the armor hung on Noara’s thin wrist. “We’ll need to rework it.”

“What do you mean?” Noara watched Fynta bend forward for a closer look, then scowled when the commander started to mutter random numbers.

“Beskar’gam is meant to be shaped, passed down to future generations piece by piece.” Fynta’s answer was flippant, attention clearly more focused on the task before her. “Yeah, I think that we can make this work.”

Noara’s arm hung between them even after Fynta released it. “I don’t understand.”

Straightening, Fynta grinned at her young friend. “How would you like to answer Torian’s last wish?”


The first few hours of Torian’s funeral were some of the longest of Noara’s life. It was little more than a drawn out haze of pain as she tried hold it together while surrounded by the strangers that had made up Torian’s life. It was one thing to collapse and weep openly in front of the people she knew and trusted, but Noara was acutely aware that was not the way Mandalorians mourned. She knew some of Torian’s vod hadn’t approved of his relationship with an outsider, and her being a Jedi only added fuel to their animosity. She refused to shame him in these last moments.

At first, Noara stayed as close to Fynta as possible. She was the one who had arranged the funeral, who had made sure Noara would be included despite being the farthest from a Mandalorian one could be. But, as the festivities drug on, the older woman was herded away.

Noara knew that Fynta hadn’t meant to leave her alone next the to pyre, that she might not have noticed Cormac getting pulled into the good natured brawling hours ago, and Aricstaying close to his wife. Noara had to remember that this was a day of mourning for everyone - not just her - and that the brawls and blustorious tales being told all around her were how people like Fynta processed grief.

Noara couldn’t fault the woman for participating in her culture.

Lingering next to the pyre, Noara stared into the flames and tried to decide if she could still make out part of Torian’s body, or if the blaze had consumed him entirely. Eventually, she knew it was time to find somewhere to sit when the trembling in her limbs threatened to make her stumble. Looking around, Noara couldn’t see anyone that she knew - there were so few people here she did - but through the sea of armor she did spy a cluster of empty tables and nearby keg of ale.

Figuring that drowning her sorrows was a good plan as any, Noara made her way over to the keg, filled two mugs to save time, and collapsed at the closest table. It was oddly nostalgic, sitting off to the side with alcohol in hand and watching a Mandalorian party. The day she met Torian ended that way, two practical strangers tucked away in the corner talking about everything and anything. The draw they felt toward one another made them both desperate to know everything.

They had talked, often times laughing as they drank together that night, almost until the sun rose. Noara had barely made it to bed in time to get a few hours of rest before being called to fight again.

There had been a fire that night too, and if Noara didn’t think too hard about what the purpose of tonight’s was, she could pretend to live that night over. Like, if she looked up to the seat across from her Torian would be there, smiling and laughing, asking what kind of tricks her ‘magic’ could do, and thoroughly stealing her heart. Noara didn’t look up, but kept her attention focused on the ale in front of her. It wasn’t the right drink, and that ruined the illusion. She couldn’t bare the weight of her grief sober anymore, so it would have to do.

Noara finally lifted her head to stare into the fire. She proffered her cup to the fire in a private toast. “Here’s to you Torian,” Noara whispered, despite no one being close enough to eavesdrop, “until we meet again. Ni kar'tayli gar darasuum.”

Fynta watched the merriment around her with mixed emotions. Aay'han—that bittersweet moment of mourning and joy—accompanied by copious amounts of food, outrageous war stories, and alcohol. This felt right. It was how a warrior such as Torian Cadera should be sent into the afterlife, surrounded by the cheers of his friends and loved ones.

Torian’s funeral began to wind down near sunrise. The pyre had long since burned out, leaving glowing coals that drifted over the Odessen wilds. The wind stirred the ashes, leaving a trail of floating embers that mingled with the pale light of dawn. Someone let out a shout, and another took it up until a chorus of war cries and clashing beskar rang through the base.

They’d sent Torian’s soul into the Manda with robust celebration. No one had even mentioned there being a Cathar present, but Fynta had caught Khomo glaring a time or two. Shae must have issued a lot of threats to make sure that everyone behaved.

The sun’s rays flashed on someone’s armor, reminding Fynta that she hadn’t seen Noara in nearly an hour. Tuning her present conversation out, Fynta cast about for the young Jedi, cursing herself for losing sight of her.

“Over there,” Aric whispered, then jerked his head towards an outcropping of tables.

Fynta cringed at Noara’s despondent posture, then looked around for Cormac. As if sensing her, the big man made eye contact, stood on his toes to see where Fynta motioned, then nodded. “I’ll be there in a minute,” Fynta said, giving Aric a nudge towards the tables. She needed to grab a few things before joining them.

Balic reached Noara a few steps before Jorgan and slid onto the bench beside her. He’d just slipped an arm around her shoulders when the Cathar perched on the opposite side. “You don’t mind if we sit, do you Noara-doll?” Cormac glanced at Jorgan, who’s expression mirrored his own concern.

Noara responded by wiping the tears from her face and leaning into Cormac’s side. He’d hoped that the customs Noara witnessed tonight didn’t make her feel as though Torian had been disrespected. Balic remembered Cinlat’s funeral, which had been attended by a much smaller gathering, and the shock of seeing so much reckless abandon and laughter at what he’d been taught should be a solemn affair.

Fynta plopped four mugs on the table, drawing everyone’s attention. “Drink up, you’ll feel better.” She ignored the several empty ales already stacked in front of Noara and shoved the fresh drink into her hand.

Aric sipped first, then sputtered, while Cormac drank freely. It was Noara that Fynta watched, and she saw the moment that the woman recognized the brew. “This is─”

Fynta nodded. “Tihaar. Torian told me about that night on Darvannis. We were impressed with the amount you drank and still managed to fight the next morning while other warriors stumbled through.” Raising her glass, Fynta proposed a toast. “You once drank this with a man who would become your family. It’s only right to share it with those who will have your back in his absence. If you’ll have us, I officially extend an invitation into our small, ragtag aliit.”

Noara looked up at Fynta with wide eyes, trying to sort through the many emotions those words elicited in her. Nostalgia and love as she remembered the night she met Torian; the grief that was starting to feel like an old friend; hope that things could get better, and affection for the people sitting around her.

Noara sniffed back tears. “Really, you mean that? I mean, of course. Please.”

Cormac’s hold tightened even as he lifted his mug in salute. Before draining her own, Fynta leaned over the table to place her hand over Noara’s heart. “Ni kyr'tayl gai sa'vod.” She smiled, settled back onto the bench, and tipped the potent alcohol down her throat. “Now, it’s official.”

“Cheers,” Cormac offered before doing the same, then blinked and shook his head. “So, what did you say, I only recognized ‘vod’.”

“It’s a twist on our adoption vow.” Fynta grinned across at Noara, then felt her heart skip a beat at the hope on the girl’s face. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want me as a mom, I’d be terrible at it, but maybe not so bad as a sister.”

Cormac’s eyes narrowed as he slowly lowered the tankard onto the table. “I don’t remember you ever doing that with me.” He leaned closer to Noara, feigning a whisper. “I think she likes you better.”

Fynta’s grin widened. “You adopted me, Cormac. I had no say in the matter.”

The big man guffawed. “Too right, boss. I beat you to our little Jedi, too,” he added, giving Noara a playful squeeze.

“There are two aspects of the Resol’nare that you need to work on,” Fynta continued, pinning Noara with a stern gaze. “Wearing the armor, which we’ve already discussed, and speaking the language.” A strange light entered the Jedi’s eyes, and Fynta wondered if she’d stumbled upon another sensitive topic. Regardless, Fynta knew how important it would be in the long run. “Torian would want you to know.”

“Just don’t learn from Fynta,” Verin stated from over Cormac’s shoulder. “She’ll have you saying things that would have made the alor himself blush.”

Fynta huffed and slapped at her brother’s hand when he ruffled her bangs. Verin ignored Fynta’s protests and leaned over the table to place his hand over Noara’s. “Torian was a good man, and never hid his love for you. Take that in peace, because I’ve known the man a long time, and never saw him act like such a fool in the presence of a woman.”

Noara nodded, placing her free hand over Verin’s and giving it a grateful squeeze. “Thank you.”

Verin slid into the seat next to Fynta and gave her a pointed nod. “Come on guys,” the commander said, upending the last of her drink. “Let’s round up the stragglers and find beds for everyone.”

Jorgan and Cormac rose with Fynta, but not before Balic gave his little Jedi another hug. When they were alone, Verin slouched further into his seat. The two sat in silence until Verin took a breath. “I know how you feel, right now.” The Mandalorian twisted his mug, staring into its contents. “It was right around seven years ago that I lost my wife.”

“I--” Noara glanced away. “I didn’t know that you were married before.”

Verin lifted his hand to forestall Noara’s sympathies. “Cinlat died a warrior’s death, but that didn’t make it any easier to sleep at night.” He looked toward where his current wife and newborn had vanished hours ago to rest. “Doesn’t keep me from rolling over in the middle of the night expecting to see white hair, instead of black.”

Verin finally took a sip from his now warm beer. It didn’t matter; the emotions he’d tasted tonight were stronger than any brew in the known galaxy. When Verin looked back at Noara, his humor had fled. “When Torian dragged my shebs out of the gutter, I was lost. No clan, no direction, and no wife. When Cinlat died, I lost everything that grounded me in this life. He whipped me into shape, got me back on my feet.”

Leaning forward, Verin forced a sad smiled. “So, allow me to return the favor to a man who gave me my life back. You’ve got a new family here, with Fynta and the rest. Who knows, one day, you might find love again.” He squeezed Noara’s hand when she started to deny it. “That’s our way. Maybe it isn’t yours, only time will tell.” Force knew, Verin didn’t envy Jorgan’s plight. Keshal had given Verin more than he had thought possible after losing Cinlat; children, a clan--life.

“If you ever need anything,” Verin continued, pulling his focus back on Noara. “Call me. Even if the next leader of Clan Cadera won’t recognize your importance, we’ve got you back.”

With a heavy sigh, Verin patted Noara’s hand again. Looking into those young, sad eyes made him feel old and tired. “The road ahead of you is hard, vod’ika.

Noara had to brush fresh tears away from her eyes before she could respond. “Thank you, Verin, that means more to me than I know how to say.” Then, she frowned. “Vod’ika? Is that ‘little comrade’?”

Verin laughed. “Close. ‘Little sister’. Fynta just adopted you into her family, that makes you mine too. Just wait until Keshal finds out.”

To stop herself from staring at him, Verin took another drink of her tihaar, unable to stop herself from smiling at the familiar taste. She was feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything, and while she had been surprised by Fynta’s actions, Verin’s easy acceptance struck a deep chord in her. Family, siblings, these were bonds Noara had never known. Hearing him call her vod’ika, Fynta’s invitation to join their aliit, knowing what it meant ,was like a sudden light in a darkness that had threatened to consume Noara since the battle.

Verin was right, of course, that it was going to be a hard road, but it was comforting to know she didn’t have to do it alone. Noara set her drink down and looked up, “how do you say big brother?”

“Ori'vod. It’s big sister too.” Verin covered a yawn with his hand, then drained the rest of his drink.

“I like that,” Noara decided with a smile. “The idea of having big brothers and a sister.”

Verin winked, his normally casual demeanor slipping back into place. “And, I like the idea of a little sister who isn't as much of a pain as Fynta.”

Noara smiled and stifled a yawn of her own before reaching for her drink again. Verin stopped her with a hand on her’s. “Maybe it’s time to head to bed. It’s been a long night.”

Past Verin, Noara could see the morning sun rising in the sky and sighed, “you’re probably right ori’vod.” She stood, too quickly, and wavered a little bit before putting her hand on the table to steady herself.

“Alright c’mon,” Verin said, getting to his feet and rounding the table to help Noara. He took her by the arm and guided her away from the table. “Let your big brother walk you to your room.” Noara rolled her eyes at him, she had just stood too quickly and could make it on her own, but let him lead anyway.

If the last several days had taught Noara anything, it was that leaning on the people around her wasn’t weakness; it was strength.

Fynta watched her brother escort Noara from the funeral. Of all of them, he was the best suited to see her through the night. Verin had watched his wife’s body burn and scatter to the wind. He was also the prime example of someone who had learned how to move on. Torian wouldn’t want Noara to mourn him forever.

“Think she’ll be alright?” Aric asked, offering Fynta another mug of Tihaar.

“Eventually,” Fynta answered with a nod of appreciation. She’d lost count of how much she’d drank, but that was the purpose of this night. Getting sloshed and celebrating a great warrior.

Unfortunately, grief tended to keep her sober. Fynta sighed. “She’s so shabbing young.”

Aric’s arms slid around Fynta’s waist. “Not much younger than us when I lost you.”

Fynta winced. She hadn’t considered all the memories this funeral might dredge up for Aric. He’d buried her once, too. According to slips from Cormac, those had been hard years. Tilting her head to kiss the bottom of Aric’s chin, Fynta leaned against her husband’s chest. “But, we’re here now. That’s gotta count for something, right?”

“Didn’t feel like it at the time,” Aric breathed so quietly that Fynta almost couldn’t make it out.

Fynta turned in Aric ’s arms and set the drink down on a table. “Why don’t we call it a night too?” His mood was slipping fast. Fynta knew that she needed to get her husband away from the funeral to avoid triggering more unpleasant memories from their time apart.

Aric nodded, and Fynta waved Cormac over to wish him a good night. Or day, as it was. The big man’s expression when he looked at Jorgan informed Fynta that he already understood. “You two old farts turning in?” He asked with mock cheer. Fynta smacked his shoulder playfully, and Aric harrumphed.

“Hey boss,” Balic caught Fynta’s arm as she passed and lowered his voice. “I think I’m going to stay out a little later, just to make sure that she’s alright.”

There was no need to explain who she was, and Fynta rubbed the top of Cormac’s head. “Do whatever you gotta do. I’ll make sure your name doesn’t come up in the duty roster tomorrow.” Balic nodded his thanks before melting back into the crowd, and Fynta tugged at Aric’s hand. “Come on, Riduur. We old farts need our sleep.”

Chapter Text

Cormac waited until the compound settled to sneak out of the barracks. He didn’t want anyone getting the wrong idea, but he couldn’t sleep when a friend was in need. Noara shouldn’t be left alone after the night she had, even though Verin had assured them all that she was properly inebriated when he left her. In Cormac’s experience, that’s when people needed a friend the most. Even if it was just to let them drool on him in their sleep.

The hallway was dark when Balic rapped on the door. He didn’t want wake Noara on the off chance that she had managed to fall asleep, but his gut told him that wasn’t the case. Sure enough, the door slid open while Balic’s knuckles were still poised in the air.

Noara’s eyes were bloodshot, and Balic could see fresh moisture on her cheeks. Offering a sympathetic smile, Cormac lifted a thermos. “I brought some tea.” He shook it, liquid sloshing around the cylinder. “I made too much and couldn’t let it go to waste.” Cormac offered a pleading smile. “Want some?”

Noara tried to smile, a fast quirk of her lips that was gone as quick as it came. “Tea sounds wonderful,” she rasped, voice rough from crying, and stepped away from the door to let him in.

When Cormac entered the brightly lit room, he could tell that she hadn’t even gotten into bed. The sheets were undisturbed, but the couch had a small nest of blankets on it. Balic had been right, Noara shouldn't be alone right now.

The clattering of dishes drew Cormac’s attention to where Noara stood by the room’s kitchenette looking for cups. “Oh Noara-doll,” he sighed, setting the thermos down on the table to place his hands on her shoulders. “I’ll take care of that, come sit.”

Cormac directed Noara back to the couch while examining her clothing. Instead of what she’d worn to the funeral, the Jedi was in a dark, oversized shirt that resembled a dress on her small frame. “What’s that you’re wearing?”

Noara attempted another smile, with slightly more success than before, as she rewrapped herself in the blankets on the couch. “It’s Torian’s,” she mumbled. “One of the shirts he let me steal to sleep in. He always grumbled about me taking his clothes, but never asked for it back.”

Cormac retrieved two cups from the kitchenette, poured tea into each, then turned back to look at the woman. The large shirt and blanket piled around her made Noara look like a child wrapped up for a nap. There was nothing child-like about the pain in her eyes, though. Noara hadn’t been an innocent child when they met, but now some of that vibrance that had made him feel so protective was gone. Balic smiled to hide the turn of his thoughts, “you look comfy.”

Cormac handed one of the cups to Noara, and she nodded. “Yeah, it still smells like his aftershave.” She took a drink of her tea, then pinned Balic with a knowing glare. “I know you didn’t make too much.” Her features softened. “You didn’t need a ruse to come check on me.”

Rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly, Cormac grimaced. “That obvious?”

Noara nodded, “just a bit. But that’s okay, I’ve never had so many people care about me. Careful though, I might get used to this.”

“You better,” Cormac teased as he sat next to Noara and threw an arm around her shoulders. “That isn’t going to stop anytime soon. How you holding up?”

Noara leaned into Balic’s side, grateful for his warmth. When Verin had offered to walk Noara back to her room, she could have directed him to the temporary one,but had led him to the room she shared with Torian. Noara had convinced herself that she needed to stay in there tonight. That she couldn’t keep avoiding it. It felt like she was running away from the memories in their room, hiding from Torian himself, and Noara didn’t want to do that.

Now that Torian was truly gone, Noara wanted him closer than ever. She just hadn’t expected it to be so hard. Cormac gave her shoulders a little shake when she didn’t answer, and Noara shrugged against his side. “I’m here, that’s about best I can do right now.”

“That’s okay,” Balic replied , rubbing Noara’s head and mussing her hair. “No one is asking any more of you.”

Noara nodded and turned her attention back to her drink. They passed some time like that, Noara cuddled against Cormac’s side as they drank their tea. When she finished, Noara set the cup aside and settled back into her blanket so that only her face was uncovered. “I’m scared, Balic,” Noara admitted quietly. “What if I can’t do this? What if I can’t make him proud, or keep fighting? What if I can’t remember him?”

“What are you talking about?” Cormac asked, even though he had a pretty good guess. Balic knew what it meant to feel lost, like she had no idea what to do, or where to go next. But, Cormac also knew that Noara’s questions weren’t as broad as she was implying. There was something specific the Jedi wanted an answer to.

“Fynta said their souls survive through the memories they leave behind.” Noara looked up, tears forming in her eyes, but not falling. “What if someday I can’t remember his face? His voice? I don't want to forget him Balic, not the tiniest little thing.”

“You won't forget him,” Cormac assured, giving Noara’s shoulders a squeeze for emphasis. “There may come a day when you can’t recall every detail perfectly, that’s natural, but you will remember the important things. The things that made Torian the man he was; the things that made him the man you love; the way he loved you.”

“You think that is good enough? For the Manda thing?” That was what Noara really worried about. She was taught that everyone just becomes one with the Force, and that didn’t rely on the living. The idea that Torian’s soul’s survival depended on her memory was a scary one. Even if logically Noara knew there were more people to remember Torian than she knew, it felt like it should be her doing it, that she owed him that, and she was terrified of messing it up.

“Yeah, I do,” Cormac answered, his normally pleasant smile turning. “And, I get it too. I was with Verin’s wife when she died, did you know that?” Noara shook her head while Cormac stared at his tea. “For months, I wondered if there was a way I could have saved her. When Fynta finally knocked some sense into me, I decided that I’d make sure her soul lived on.”

Cormac grimaced. “It was hell. I constantly worried that I’d forget to recite the prayer, or that I’d get distracted and her soul would vanish.”

Cormac wiped away the tear that formed in the corner of Noara’s eye. “Something Verin said stuck with me, though. Their faces will fade, but the way we feel about them never will. It’s that love, the total acceptance, that keeps them alive.” It had been so long since that conversation, that Balic had nearly forgotten about it. “I don’t think that you’ll ever forget the way you feel about Torian, and someday, hopefully a long time from now, I believe you’ll see him again.”

Noara frowned. “A long time from now?” The idea of living for years and years without Torian made her feel so tired suddenly. Noara didn’t know if she had it in her to do that.

“Yeah, you can’t leave us anytime soon,” Cormac said. “Not until you have lots of stories to tell him. Torian will want to know everything.” His arm tightened around Noara. “I’m sure you don't know what to do, but you’re going to be okay. It might not feel like that now, I know, but you aren’t facing this alone. You have all of us here with you. And, when that day comes, he’s gonna be so proud of you.”

Noara pulled away and looked at Cormac before shifting up onto her knees to hug around his neck easier. She held tightly, knowing that she couldn’t hurt him without using the Force to amplify her strength, and he hugged her back. “Thank you,” Noara mumbled  into his shoulder. “For everything. You’ve been so good to me and you don’t have to.” She sat back on her heels when Cormac protested to met his gaze. “No you don’t. No one else is here in the middle of the night to check on me, and that’s okay, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel obligated to do that. You came because you care, and that means so much to me. Thank you for being here.”

Cormac laid a large hand on Noara’s shoulder and squeezed it lightly, “anything for you Noara-doll. You look so tired, have you slept at all?”

Noara shook her head. “Sleeping has been hard lately; nightmares. I used to have them when I was younger and I managed okay, but without caf to keep me up it’s harder.” Cormac tried not to frown, she had told him about Torian’s promise to make her caf and how she hadn’t be able to stomach it since. He didn’t know how long that would be an issue for her, but Noara used to drink several cups a day. It was well known that talking to Noara before her morning brew was all but useless.

“Why don’t you lie down for a bit,” Balic suggested, and when Noara tensed, he added, “if you have a nightmare, I’ll wake you up.”

“You’ll stay?”

Cormac grinned. “I told you, didn’t I? I’m not going anywhere.”

Noara smiled at her friend’s words. Last time Cormac had said that, she hadn’t believed him.This time, Noara didn’t doubt him for a moment. If Balic Cormac told her he wasn’t going anywhere, that he would be here if she needed him; he would be.

“Okay,” Noara breathed, “I can try and sleep.” She looked around the room before reaching out toward the bed in the corner and pulling one of the pillows to herself. Cormac smiled at her casual use of the Force, he was always amazed by even the littlest things she could do with it.

Cormac watched as Noara set the pillow against the couch’s armrest and laid down so her feet where near his thigh. “Do you want the light off?”

“No,” Noara replied too quickly. “If I have a nightmare I want it to be light when I wake up.”

Reaching over to pat Noara’s knee under the blanket, Cormac nodded. “Okay, lights on. Get some rest Noara-doll. I’ll be here.”

Noara tucked her head down near the top of the blanket and after fidgeting for a few minutes, settled down. It didn’t take long for her breathing to even out, and Cormac realized he didn’t know how much, if at all, she had slept since passing out on his shoulder a few days ago. He was going to need to pay more attention to that.

For now Balic would stand guard against the nightmares plaguing his young friend, and maybe one day, watch Noara rebuild her life.


The next morning, after assuring Balic that she would be alright on her own for a while, Noara sat on the floor in front of the couch turning the comm over and over in her hands. She was both desperate and terrified to hear what the device contained. The last time she heard Torian’s voice, he was promising her caff she’d never get, and his last words had been for her, but not spoken to her.

Whatever was on this message, was for Noara alone. That terrified her. It could be a heartfelt farewell, or something mundane like telling her he wouldn’t make their dinner plans. Noara’s worst fear was that it was a misscall, that Torian might have accidentally activated his comm and it would just be a mess of noise.

There was only one way to know for sure, and Noara could watch it over and over. She needed that right now. The funeral had been an anchor, she knew what was coming and what was expected of her while it loomed in the future, but now was the truly difficult part.

Noara was at the start of the hard road Verin had warned her about, and she didn’t know how to take that first step. What Noara did know was that holding on to this message, and the fears it stirred in her, would only hold her back.  

Taylir akaanir . Those were Torian’s last words to her. Keep fighting . He wanted her to be brave and not let his death define her.

Decided, Noara set the comm on the table in front of her and pressed the play button. A small holo of Torian appeared above the device. Noara wasn’t ready to see him looking so… alive. She hit the button again almost immediately, pausing it to stare at him. Picking  up the comm, Noara held it near her face so she could see him as clearly as possible.

Torian was frowning, but his eyes were open and Noara could see the life in them. She’d missed his eyes so much, and for the first time she was angry that holos were monochromatic. She wanted to see him in living color. The holo wasn’t the right blue, that deep blue that reminded her of the ocean back on Naboo. Those eyes had looked at her with so much love in them; and never would again.

Noara wiped the tears off her face and took a deep breath. “You can do this,” she chided herself. “You owe him this.” Pressing the button again, she sucked in a breath when his clear voice filled the room.

“Noara.” Torian smiled tenderly, though it looked forced and didn’t reach his eyes. “Not gonna to lie to you, things look grim. In case, I need you to know you were worth the wait even if our time is up.” Torian’s smile turned genuine even while he ignored the blaster fire behind him. “Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum cyar'ika.”

The words were barely out of Torian’s mouth when his head snapped toward a sound the comm didn’t pick up, then the holo blinked out of existence.

“That’s it?” Noara gasped, fresh tears running down her face. “No, no, that can’t be it. That’s not enough. Please, Torian, I need more.” Noara hugged the comm to her chest as his words started to sink in.

Torian had known . Even before Vaylin had captured him - one of the few details Noara had about what had happened - Torian knew that he was going to die. And he had tried to call her, to hear her voice one last time.

When Torian reached out to her for comfort, knowing what was about to happen, Noara wasn’t there to give him what he needed. She wasn’t there to tell Torian that she wasn’t ready to lose him yet, to tell him how much she loved him.

The one time Torian had truly needed Noara, she’d let him down. The realization made her nauseous, forcing her to rush to the fresher to expel the meager contents of her stomach. When Noara was done, she rinsed her mouth and returned to the main room to retrieve her comm. Perching on the edge of the couch, she played the message again. Now that Noara knew what to expect, she focused on Torian’s words, on how he smiled during his whispered Mando’a proclamation of love. She paused it at that moment.

Ni kar'tayl gar darasuum cyar’ika . It wasn’t the first time Torian had used those words, far from it, and Noara had no doubt of its meaning.

Torian had them to Noara the night he confessed the depth of his feelings for her. She smiled at the memory. It had happened in this very room. In fact, Noara was sitting in the same spot now when he knelt down in front of her, took her hand in his, and placed it over his chest. “I know you here Noara,” he’d said, after she asked how that was different from the Basic sentiment of love. “ Forever in my heart. ” To a Mandalorian it was a far more meaningful confession than “I love you” could ever be. Noara thought she had understood why, but with what she’d learned recently - how their souls were sustained after death by the memories of those they left behind - she hadn’t even an inkling of what he was telling her.

“I won’t forget you Torian, I promise your soul is safe with me,” Noara vowed, addressing the small holo of her lover in her hand. Remembering Balic’s words from the night before, Noara realized she hadn’t said the prayer Fynta had taught her a single time. After focusing her thoughts for a moment, Noara was able to remember the words she should have said daily. “Ni su'cuyi, gar kyr'adyc, ni partayli, gar darasuum. Torian Cadera, my love.”

Noara leaned back into the couch, holding the comm carefully - with a message scarcely half a minute long, it had become the the most precious thing she owned - and lost herself in the small image of her lover. The sight of Torian in his armor, the same armor that sat on a table near her door until Fynta worked out the logistics of her plans, was a familiar and welcome one. Still, there was something bothering her. It took her some time to work out what was agitating her.

Noara didn’t know what had happened to his rifle. A weapon was a warrior’s life, that was as true with his rifle as it was of her lightsabers, and not knowing what had happened to something he valued so much didn’t sit well with her. Noara pushed up from the couch, hooking the comm on to her belt, and set out to rectify the situation.

Chapter Text

Jorgan crossed the small firing range toward the armory in the back. He’d run low on blaster lubricant and thought to take stock of what the Alliance had on hand. The Cathar paused at the muffled huff of annoyance from the back of the room. Reversing course, Jorgan rounded the corner to find Noara hunched over the worktable with an array of tools, bottles, and what looked to be the firing pin for an assault cannon, scattered around her.

Aric watched in silence, arms crossed, while the Jedi stared at her collection. When Noara reached for a screwdriver, Jorgan moved in. “Need some help?”

Noara blinked at Jorgan, then frowned at what he now realized was Torian’s rifle. His gut tightened at the implications of a Jedi sitting in the armory with her dead lover’s weapon. Softening his tone, Jorgan slid onto the bench beside her and pointed to a simple rod with a black handle. “Use that to release the pin.”

While Noara followed Jorgan’s instruction, he cleared away the clutter from their workstation and put the assault cannon part back where it belonged. That left them with a couple of rags, a bar for the barrel, and only two bottles, one oil, and the other included a solvent to help break down the grime.

As expected, Torian’s rifle showed signs of frequent cleanings and expert care. Jorgan focused instead on teaching Noara how to disassemble the weapon, and the importance of moderation when it came to lubricant. Though it was difficult, Aric forced himself to instruct, instead of simply taking over the task himself. Over time, Noara began to understand the terms, and her fingers moved with more certainty.

Together, Cathar and Jedi sought out even the smallest particles in the most hard to reach places. It wasn’t until the rag retained its color after passing through the barrel that Noara sat back with a sigh and declared the job done.

“Good job, rookie,” Jorgan said with a gentle nudge of his shoulder. “Now, you have to put it back together.” A little of Noara’s color drained, but she set to the task without complaint.

Once the rifle was in one piece again, Noara faced Jorgan. “Thank you Aric. I know how much Torian would hate his rifle being left in that state,” she whispered. smiling fondly as she ran her fingers across the stock. “He always was so adamant about the importance of proper weapon maintenance.”

Jorgan leaned back and folded his arms. He studied Noara, so young and broken, yet doing her best to keep Torian’s memory alive any way she could. It reminded him a lot of his first years after Fynta had gone missing. Aric had looked for distraction to keep his mind off of the empty bed that awaited him every night. An idea struck him.

“You know,” the Cathar began. “A weapon like that degrades without use. Blasters are tools meant to be used, or their component break down.” Noara sighed as she caressed the notched surface. “I could teach you to shoot it, if you want.”

It was a simple solution, and somehow, the knowledge that Fynta had kept the Verpine that Jorgan had built for her even while they were apart warmed him. He had to believe that Torian would feel the same if he could see Noara caring for his rifle.

“Torian used to say he’d teach me to shoot someday, when things calmed down,” Noara answered, remembering the night he had learned that she didn’t know how to shoot. Torian sputtered as if she’d called him an uteekov. Looking up from the rifle, she smiled at Aric. “I’d really appreciate that. I think he would too.”

Jorgan nodded and began clearing the mess away, leaving Noara at the table to study the weapon she’d just learned. He had his back to the Jedi when she spoke again, voice so soft that he might not have heard it with human ears. “There are a lot of things I should have done differently.”

Cautiously, Jorgan glanced over his shoulder to read Noara’s mood. Her frown had resumed, fingers wrapped so tightly around the rifle barrel that Jorgan doubted even he could have pried them off.

As if sensing his gaze, Noara looked up with a sharp move of her head, eyes burning with anger; guilt. “I should have done this all sooner,” she said. “Torian never asked for much, all I had to do was wear stupid armor.”

Jorgan eased closer, sensing that he had been included in a conversation that wasn’t actually meant for him. Noara stood, placing the rifle back on the table, and wrapped thin arms around herself. Her glare firmly fixed on the floor, Noara began again. “That was the last thing we talked about, you know? Another disagreement about my attire in battle.” Her eyes were wide when they found Jorgan. “All I had to do was say yes. What if that’s why he died, because he was too distracted. What if—”

Aric closed the space and drew Noara into a hug. Physical touch wasn’t something the Cathar was normally comfortable with, but he understood Noara’s emotions. Five years of thinking his own wife dead had offered plenty of times for ‘what-ifs’ and self blame. He’d veered wildly from anger at Fynta for not retreating back to the Thunderclap, to self hatred for being too slow to realize they were cut off. It had taken years to understand the circumstances had played out as they would, and there was nothing he could have done to save her.

Noara trembled in Jorgan’s arms, and he took a slow breath. “It wouldn’t have changed anything,” he finally managed. Even having his wife back, Aric felt fear so powerful that it nearly choked him every time she left the base. Now, not even Odessen was a safe haven.

“But—”

Jorgan pulled back to look down at Noara. He saw all of the fear, blame, and misery that had given him sleepless nights for years. Nothing he told her would ease those emotions, Aric just hoped that they didn’t eventually snuff out Noara’s spirit. That she didn’t grow bitter like he had.

“Torian was a soldier.” Jorgan had heard enough from Fynta about the ongoing argument about armor. It was one of the things she’d found entertaining, often commenting that she was glad not to be in Torian’s shoes. “He lived by a set of rules different from yours. On some level, he understood that he’d never change your mind, but couldn’t stop himself from trying.”

Jorgan remembered a moment months back when Torian joined he and Cormac for drinks. The younger man had added his grievances to the conversation when Jorgan grumbled about Fynta’s newest bruised rib. “At least Fynta’s wearing proper armor when she charges in,” Torian had groused. “Noara’s one step up from naked.”

“Yeah, but she’s got the Force,” Cormac added, signaling for another beer. “That’s gotta mean something.”

Torian sighed and ran a hand over his face. “It does, but imagine how much safer she’d be if she covered up?” All three men nodded in agreement before Cormac proposed a toast to the infuriating women in their life. He’d neglected to speak on how Elara factored into that.

Aric’s heart clenched at the sight of a single tear gathering in the corner of Noara’s eye. “Torian loved you,” he continued, using the pad of his thumb to wipe the moisture away when it finally escaped. “He wasn’t thinking about some argument in those final moments, but about the last time he held you in his arms. The last kiss you shared.” Jorgan sighed, stepping away from her to finish cleaning up. “Take it from someone who knows.”

Noara stared up at Aric for a moment, her mind racing. It wasn’t a secret that Fynta had been missing, assumed dead, for almost six years, but she had never thought about how that must have affected the Cathar in front of her. He was usually so serious, and grumpy, but Noara had seen the way he looked at Fynta when she left on a mission without him. She should have realized that even if he wasn’t as open about his affection as someone like Balic, that didn’t mean he felt things any less strongly.

“Thank you Aric, I really hope you’re right,” Noara said, before laying her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry you had to go through this too, I wouldn't wish it on anyone.” Noara took a shaky breath and smiled. “I’m so glad you got her back. It’s good to know not every tragedy has to be permanent.”

Before Aric could respond, Noara’s face took on the look of a woman lost. She paced away from him, hands on hips. “There is so much I don’t know, that I don’t understand.” With her back toward him, Noara buried her face in her hands. “I can’t even bring myself to ask Fynta if he suffered.”

Unbidden, the images of Torian’s final moments came to mind. He’d been trapped on that damn cliff, unable to do anything aside from watch while his wife challenged the single most powerful woman in the galaxy. Torian had been on his knees, face bruised, and the unmistakable red ring around his throat that came from being repeatedly Force choked. Aric had fired at Vaylin’s head, hoping the distraction was enough to get off the shot. The woman hadn’t even flinched, and Aric’s bolt had gone wide. It deflected off of whatever shield surrounded her to strike the balcony at Torian’s knee. The Cathar hadn’t tried again for fear of making matters worse.

“She broke his neck,” Aric answered, his voice hollow. “There are more painful ways to go.” It wasn’t a lie, but how could he look into those innocent, blue eyes and tell Noara the man she loved had been tortured before Vaylin killed him?

Noara nodded before turning to look up at Aric again. “At least I won’t forget his voice.” She pulled the comm from her belt and stroked it lovingly. “He left me a message before--” Noara broke off and shook her head.

Aric stepped closer and folded her fingers over the device. “Protect that. There is nothing more important that the last words of someone you love.” He still had the message Fynta had sent him before Marr’s ship was destroyed. It was simple text, a reminder of her love and the plea to be remembered. To have had Fynta’s voice on a recording would have been a balm during those years when the small details began to slip his mind.

Jorgan cleared his throat, suddenly awkward in his transparency. Noara nodded, hooking the comm back on her belt before turning her head to look at her lover’s rifle. “I don’t think I’m up to a shooting lesson today, and I know you have things to do yourself. You weren't just passing by when you found me, right?” Her gaze moved back to Aric and she smiled. “I can’t thank you enough for helping me with this. Will you let me know when you have time to teach me?”

“Sure thing rookie,” Jorgan nodded, knowing he would make time for Noara whenever she was ready. This was something he was good at, training soldiers, and it was something he could do for both her and Torian. He’d liked the Mandalorian, more than some others he had met, and this was a way he could honor him. “Tomorrow morning, if you’re up for it.”

“Yeah, yeah that sounds good,” Noara agreed, picking up the rifle with reverence. “I can meet you there.”

Jorgan clapped the Jedi on the shoulder as she passed him, “be careful with that until then, don’t want you getting hurt.”

“I will.” Noara smiled and nodded before leaving the armory. She had a really good feeling about this, being able to care for Torian’s rifle herself, and now learning how to use it. Balic had told Noara that she should try and make him proud of her, and that gave her something to focus on. A path to follow. She was going to live a life Torian would be proud of, and this was a good place to start.


Nearly two weeks had passed since Torian’s funeral. Fynta had delegated her tasks for the day, and had set off in search of the Jedi who plagued her every waking thought. In casual conversation, Aric had mentioned finding Noara in the armory and her desire to learn how to shoot a blaster rifle. The one Torian carried was a high caliber, and no doubt left the thin woman with aching shoulders come morning. Perhaps there was a way for Noara to muffle the recoil with the Force, but that was well out of Fynta’s field of expertise.

As hoped, Fynta found Noara in the training room running through her katas. She wore her standard gear of a halter and pants. Fynta smiled at the memory of eavesdropping on one of Noara and Torian’s arguments about her battle attire and how it served for little more than to keep her decent in public.

Rapping on the door, Fynta grinned when the Jedi looked her way. “I’ve got a surprise for you, vod’ika.” She’d taken to calling her sister in Mando’a after Cormac let slip that Noara feared abandonment. It was the only way that Fynta knew how to solidify their bond.

Noara hung  her lightsabers back on her belt and crossed the room to grab a towel. She eyed Fynta while wiping the sweat off her arms and neck. “Should I be worried, ori'vod?”

“When I’m involved, probably.” Fynta clapped the Jedi on the shoulder and frowned at the sweat on her hand. She pulled the towel away from Noara to wipe her hand off. “How about you go take a shower, then meet me in the armory.

“That’s solid advice, on both counts,” Noara laughed. “Alright, I’ll bite. Give me, fifteen minutes?”

Later than Noara had planned, she found Fynta in the armory. Her sister was waiting for her, leaned against a table and tapping her foot impatiently. Noara stopped just inside the doorway and smiled at how easily that thought had come to her. Sister.

It’d been a bit weird at first, the idea clunky and strange in Noara’s mind, but the more time went by, the more natural it felt. She had a sister, and brothers, a proper aliit. There was still a hole in Noara’s life where Torian should be. His absence was a ragged, painful wound to her heart, but it didn’t feel so devastating knowing that she wasn’t alone.  

“Hey,” Noara said, stepping fully into the room and drawing the older woman’s attention. “I’ve come to collect my surprise.”

Fynta grinned and pushed off the table, grabbing Noara by the wrist and pulling her toward the back of the armory. Along the back wall of the room were several small changing stalls, and Noara was surprised to find herself being pulled into one.

“What are you up to Fynta?” Noara asked as she was maneuvered to stand in front of one of the fitting rooms.

Fynta laughed and gave Noara a push forward. “Open the door and see for yourself vod’ika.”

Noara smiled and shook her head, deciding it was best to just go along with whatever Fynta wanted her to do. She opened the door and gasped. On a small table at the back of the room were several pieces of armor. Very familiar armor.

It was Torian’s, reformed to fit Noara’s body but still in the same style as before. Dark plates, slightly lighter than she remembered, with a thick line of orange instead of gold down the center of the chest. Noara stepped into the room and ran her fingers reverently along the edge of the plate. “I thought,” she whispered, her voice thick with emotion, “I thought it would take longer.” She was so absorbed in the armor that for a long moment all she could do was stare at it.

It had taken a lot of bribery and promises, but Shae Vizla had finally released her prized beskar smith into Fynta’s service. Together, they had reshaped Torian’s breastplate, bracers, and leg plates. Noara had chosen to keep the pauldron to herself, finding it too cumbersome for her style of fighting. Not only would Noara have a memento of her lover’s, but she could finally pacify his greatest fear. It was sweet perfection.

“Okay, here’s how it works.” Fynta laughed at Noara’s vacant expression. She stepped into the fitting room behind Noara and shut the door. “First, you need to strip.”

“What?” Noara sputtered, cheeks flushing and tearing her eyes away from the armor to look at the other woman.

Completely unabashed that she’d just demanded that the normally shy Jedi to disrobe, Fynta waved her hand. “Come on, I’ll even close my eyes if it makes you feel better.”

Noara’s eyes sparked, and before Fynta could conjure another teasing remark, the Jedi ripped her shirt over her head and tossed it at Fynta’s face. She caught the garment, paused, then burst into laughter. “Well done.”

Moving forward, Fynta held up a lightweight material that looked far too small to fit either of the women present. Thanks to Torian, Noara knew kute when she saw it, and how much the material stretched from watching him work with it. “You’ll need to wear this underneath to protect your skin from the metal.”

Fynta waited while Noara pulled it over her head, then frowned at herself in the mirror. “Yeah,” Fynta agreed with the Jedi’s unspoken complaint. “It’s heavier than what you’re used to, but you’ll be grateful to have it.”

“Sure,” Noara answered, voice filled with doubt. She stretched and twisted around experimentally, feeling the weight of the kute hindering her movements. Constant training and fighting had kept Noara physically fit, but it was going to take some work to get accustomed to this weight - and she wasn't even wearing the armor yet.

Fynta picked up the two halves of Torian’s reworked chest piece and held them out. “See the seals? They’re designed to be nearly invisible once assembled.” She lifted them in offering. “Let’s see how you do.”

Noara gave Fynta a droll look when she took the beskar. “I’m a bit more intimately familiar with these seals than you are.”

“True.” Fynta grinned. “But, taking them off someone else is a lot different that putting them on yourself.”

True to her word, it took less than an hour for Noara to master the full set of armor by herself. Shae’s smith had made a masterful fit, making Noara look almost like a proper mando, except for the lightsabers that snapped into the modified belt.

Fynta stood back to admire the new armor. She’d chosen to honor the Mandalorian tradition of letting the colors speak for her; grey for mourning. The pieces fit well, molding the Jedi’s style with sturdy beskar to protect her middle. Each plate connected to the other in seamless beauty, leading to lightweight pants and boots that Noara favored for speed.

Pacing a slow circle around the younger woman, Fynta nodded. “I think you do Torian proud.”

Noara studied her reflection carefully, taking in the way the armor hugged her body protectively and unable to avoid the obvious metaphor. She’d been scared that she would react badly, reverting to the same mindset that led to all of her discussions with Torian. However, instead of the stranger Noara expected to see in the mirror, she saw herself, a different and new version, but it was still her.

Noara swallowed down the guilt that maybe she would have felt the same if she hadn’t been so stubborn with Torian, and focused instead on Fynta’s words. This would have made him proud, and Noara could almost imagine his grin if he were here to see it. Running her fingers along the orange line in the center of the chestplate, Noara asked, “why are the colors different?”

“Armor colors have meaning in our culture. Torian chose black and gold for justice and vengeance. That isn’t you, vod’ika.” Fynta reached out and tap the colors on Noara’s chestplate, “gray is used to mourn a lost love and orange is shereshoy , lust for life. Mourning is a long process, one that sticks with you, but I don’t want you to lose sight of the life you still have. That’s what his message meant, right?”

The Jedi nodded, looking away to dry her face. “Yeah, that was his message,” she admitted before smiling at her reflection. “These colors were a good call.”

Noara’s shoulders lifted, and though the agony of loss still swirled behind those blue eyes, Fynta also saw a renewed determination. The commander offered a mischievous grin, looking around to ensure no one would overhear before lowering her voice. “What do you say we take that new armor for a test run?”


Of course, Fynta hadn’t expected Noara to be afraid of heights, but the slow, fearsome smile that spread across the Jedi’s face as they stared up the mountain took Fynta by surprise. Narrowing her eyes in suspicion, Fynta crossed her arms. “Have you already climbed this one?”

Noara shook her head, eyes glued to the rock face. “Nope, but I can’t wait.”

“Whoa there little monkey-lizard,” Cormac chided, tugging Noara back by her shoulder plate. The woman cast a playful glare over her shoulder that Cormac ignored. “This isn’t a trounce around the local trails. That’s a sheer cliff face, and we’re free climbing. Don’t forget to show the planet its due respect.”

Both women stared at Cormac in silence, Fynta leaning forward a little to see him around Noara. Cormac threw his hands up. “Hey, one of us had to say it.” A smile that rivaled Noara’s morphed his expression from careful soldier into giddy little boy. Clapping his hands, Cormac started for the mountain. “Let’s go.”

“Last one to the top is a rotten ganza egg!” Noara darted ahead, pushing with one foot off a boulder near the base of the cliff to leap up several feet. She caught herself on the rocks, finding a hand hold to hang from, as Cormac and Fynta reached the base.

“Hey, no fancy Force stuff,” Cormac called after her, “doesn't count as a win if you cheat.”

Noara, hanging on to the cliff with one arm, leaned back and looked down at Balic with a cheeky grin. “You didn’t think it was cheating when I helped you win that contest with Pierce.”

“That was,” Cormac grunted while starting his own ascent up the rock face, “completely different.”

Fynta had started her climb in silence, quickly catching up to where Noara was perched to banter with Cormac. She offered a knowing smirk. “Cheat all you want, but if you don’t get going, I’m going to win.” It was best for Noara to proceed like she normally would in order to understand how to move with the armor. That meant using the Force.

Turning her attention back to the summit, Noara started after the commander. She had done her fair share of climbing before; cliffs where easy to find on Naboo growing up. Along with her crechemates, Noara used to spend free afternoons cliff jumping into the ocean, then scaling the rocks back to the top to go again.

However, doing that in a bathing suit was a lot different than in the new armor and kute Noara now wore. Every movement demanded more effort than she was used to, but Noara didn’t feel weighed down so much as the added weight was comforting. She huffed with the added effort and loved every moment of it.

Fynta was the first to reach the precipice, pulling herself over the edge and looking down to watch the others finish their climb. Cormac had hung back, his excitement for the activity and competitive streak taking a back seat to his constant concern for Noara. He knew she could make a climb like this, but with the added weight of the armor, both physical and emotional, he wanted eyes on her just in case. Balic grinned like a fool when Noara reached the top, and he could see Fynta helping her scramble over the edge.

When Cormac reached the top, Fynta was there to offer a hand to him too. Once he was standing, the soldier looked around to see that Noara had moved several feet away. She stared  out over the valley below them, her back turned to her companions.

Balic moved to join Noara, but Fynta stopped him with a hand on his arm. Cormac looked down to see her shake her head. “Give her a moment,” Fynta murmured. “She needs to work through some things.”

Noara wrapped thin arms around her torso, fingers gripping the edges of armor that hugged her body. She felt a confusing mix of exhilaration from having made the climb, combined with the fresh wave of grief when she looked out at the view. Nestled amid the the wilds of Odessen was the base, all of it the battlefield that took Torian away from her. Noara closed her eyes and took a steadying breath, moving her hand to press against the beskar above her heart.

Speaking under her breath, so the wind carried her words away, Noara recited the remembrance prayer. She hadn’t forgotten it once since the morning after Torian’s funeral. Time had done little to dull the pain of his loss, but saying the prayer helped in the same way that listening to his message before going to sleep did. It reminded Noara that Torian was real, that all of this was real, the good memories as well as the pain.

Hearing the murmured conversation behind her, Noara knew that she was starting to worry Fynta and Balic. A swell of affection tightened her chest. Her family - the one she finally belonged to and the one that would never give her up the way her blood one had - was the real reason Noara was able to continue on. She turned to find both watching her and smiled.

“I want to say something,” Noara started before stepping closer to stand in front of them. “Just, ‘thank you’ could never be enough. You’ve gone so far above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I know that both of you have claimed me as family, and I need you to know it goes both ways. You’re more my family than anyone related to me by blood could ever be.” Noara paused and took a shaky breath. “I’ve only said this to Torian before, and my caf, but, I love you guys.”

The words were barely out of Noara’s mouth before Cormac swept her up into a hug. “Love you too, Noara-doll,” he whispered, giving her a tight squeeze and smiling at the feel of armor under his hands. While Balic had never voiced his thoughts on the matter, he had always supported Torian’s assertion that she needed proper kit.

Fynta crossed her arms and smirked at the way Cormac wrapped around Noara. The woman nearly vanished beneath a mound of armor, and Fynta wondered when Noara would start gasping. “Alright.” Fynta smacked her friend’s arm. “Let her go. She’s my favorite Jedi, I’d like to keep her around a while longer.”

Balic snorted, released Noara, then snagged her into another hug just to spite Fynta. The commander rolled her eyes at the cheeky expression on his face when he pretended not to be looking at her. When Cormac leaned back again, Fynta swatted his hind plate before turning her attention to Noara. “I’ll never ask you to take up the Resol'nare, but anytime you want to learn more about Torian’s heritage, just ask. Oh.” Fynta reached into the pocket on her shoulder to produce a piece of flimsi. “This is Verin’s frequency. He said that he pledged Clan Cadera to your service, and threatened all manner of embarrassing stories if I didn’t pass it along to you.”

Noara smiled at the numbers printed on the paper. They were nothing special, just marks that could lead to a conversation, but they meant everything. “I’ll be sure to let him know it was received.”

“Could you hold off a couple of days?” Cormac interrupted, leaning over Noara’s shoulder to squint at the scribbled writing. “I kind of want to hear these stories.”

Fynta’s eyes narrowed even as her lips quirked. “You know, a Force push from this angle, and--” she cut off, eyeing the sheer drop at Cormac’s back.

Balic crossed his arms, undaunted. “You wouldn’t dare. My wife scares the osik out of you, and guess who would have to explain to her how I fell to my death?” Fynta muttered, and Cormac winked at Norara. “Besides, our vod’ika wouldn’t do that. She likes me better.”

Noara laughed, a single tear sliding from her eye. It wasn’t from sadness, or even happiness. There wasn’t an emotion that properly conveyed how it felt to miss Torian so bitterly, but find it in herself to laugh with the people who still made life worth living. Everyday Noara felt Torian’s absence like a dagger to the heart, yet in the company of playful threats and harmless bickering, she felt somehow--home. Aay'han , that was what Fynta had called it. That bittersweet moment where the pressure in her chest eased just enough to allow Noara the freedom to smile. She hadn’t reached that ever elusive peace of mind that Fynta had mention that night on the docks, but this somehow felt like a step closer.

Looking out over the horizon, Noara smiled. I'll be alright, Torian, and I won’t have to face it alone.