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Unexpected Paths

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They don't muster him out when he gets hurt, after his seat tumbles just the wrong way after ejecting from an X-Wing that's going from a shiny whole to a million shattering pieces, one of which slices through his suit and his skin and his bone with equal ease. The wave of adrenaline which swamps him keeps his heart beating while he hangs there in zero g waiting to be rescued, and his suit closes down around the wound, which keeps him actually alive, and not even all that frozen, it turns out. It's quick enough that he can even be convincing when he tells people it didn't hurt, that he almost couldn't feel it at first.

He gets a dunking in bacta, not even remotely the worst injured, and comes out of it minus part of his leg but otherwise in one piece. He's wholly truthful when he tells everyone then that he's actually pretty okay. The docs try him out with a prosthetic—many species do just fine with them, and he wouldn't even be the first Twi'lek he knows to have an artificial limb. He wouldn't even be the first in their part of the service.

Turns out he falls into the small percentage of people who don't regain full use of a prosthetic limb, even after all the best treatment from doctors and technicians alike. Ninety-five percent is good, it's great, even, but it's not enough to be allowed back into a cockpit again, not now that the Republic is truly a Republic, with resources and regulations about their military forces, not a Rebellion so desperate for bodies that they'll take anyone and everyone desperate enough to have joined them.

They do shift him to a desk job, still with the squadron—which helps more than he might want to admit—and that's it; Nawar'aven the pilot is done, and now it's time to figure out what else he's going to do with his life.

It's all a bonus really, he figures; when he could've been free-floating atoms in space after that squint took him out of the battle, everything that follows is another one over on the Empire, another moment to hit back for everything they've done to him, to his people, to the clients he tried to help as a lawyer and the people he tried to protect as a member of the Alliance.

That conviction helps him stay even-keeled, and pleases the Two-Onebees when they make their regular checks in on his health, mental and physical, but it doesn't provide much guidance in what else to fill his time with. Despite how much Wedge and the other squadron leaders groan about it, paperwork doesn't quite build up fast enough to fill more than his steady hours, and when the squad are off-planet or on assignment, he stays behind more often than not.

So he's not quite floundering, but he's more than ready for a diversion by the time that his friend Kemara—a Quarren counselor who he'd worked with a few times in the Coruscant court system—invites him to her wife's hockey game. He's watched it on the holos before, vaguely knew that Coruscant was one of the planets with plenty of teams, though it had never totally grabbed him. He'd always joked that smashball would be his sport, if it wasn't less vicious than practicing the law.

But then they get to their seats and the players come onto the ice and they're—this is not the hockey he's used to seeing on the holos.

They're on hoversleds, and some of the players—men and women, he sees, after a closer look, and ranging from the humanoid to the decidedly not—are also like him, missing limbs. There's a Sullustan with an arm prosthetic and nothing below the knee, and a Selonian who's somehow got her tail tucked inside the sled out of harm's way who cheerfully banters with the officials, and calls insults to the opposing team in Basic and Mandaban in equal measures.

There's a few players with their knees bent and tucked in close, who would appear otherwise unharmed, but something about the way they move makes him pretty sure that while they're lightning quick on the ice, they're probably using different adaptive devices off it. He gets by okay with his prosthetic, and most people would never know it to look at him, but he's not yet been comfortable enough with it to do more than the minimum.

This, though. This he could do.

* * *

It doesn't take much persuasion—any at all, really—to get to talking to the coach and some of the players afterward. Nawara would've gone down to wait outside the locker rooms, underneath the bleachers they'd been sitting on, no difficulty to find them given the source of most of the post-game noise drifting through the doors, as does the reek of the sweat of a dozen different species, but he plays a hunch and is proven right when most of them turn up at the bar by the rink after enough time to clean off and change. Apparently the post-game social is a long-standing tradition.

He sinks a few beers with them, chats easily, and when he expresses interest in trying it out he gets more than a couple of offers to let him have a go with their equipment, see how he likes it. Danora has a spare sled—she's been doing this for a while, she says with a grin—and so she and Nawara make plans to meet up the next time there's ice time free. Kemara is only a little smug that they've piqued Nawara's interest so successfully, but not so much so that Nawara pauses for more than a couple of seconds before agreeing both that he'll be back and that he's happy to buy a round of drinks for the team. That decision is equally popular with all of them.

When he does first strap into the hoversled, it's harder than Nawara quite expects. He hasn't had to pick up a new skill in a while, and his arms and hips are both aching afterward, despite the amount of time he still puts in at the gym regularly—but it's fun. He realizes quickly he'll certainly need to get a helmet actually designed to hold his braintails properly; TIE interceptor pilot helmets were more comfortable than the borrowed one, but Coruscant is well-equipped with merchants eager to fabricate and sell such items.

Even so, it's enough fun that he decides to take the leap and throw himself into it all the way, investing time and credits into getting the right equipment and practicing as much as he can, till the ice feels just as comfortable as the courtroom did—and only a little more likely to leave him feeling bruised afterward.

In less time than he quite expects he moves from just training—with the odd social game with other newbies just as wobbly and unpracticed—to getting roped into playing a proper game, joining their rec league. The Wrenville Rogues—Nawara certainly can't dispute the name, although the crest gets a raised eyebrow from Janson the first time he sees it—are the top team in their division, and while Nawara doesn't get a whole lot of ice time to start, he gets enough.

He turns out to be good at killing penalties, playing defense more than anything else. It's good fun, tearing around the ice at top speed, taking out the opposition, pushing himself in ways he hasn't done since entering pilot training. Or, possibly more accurately, since first signing on for a squadron led by Wedge Antilles.

And then he takes a faceoff when they're playing the Bespin Bandits, against a cute, bubbly human woman whose blond ponytail spills down her back, tucked half-under her helmet. He meets her hazel eyes and then, well.

Then Nawara's breathless for an entirely different reason.

* * *

The Bandits absolutely wipe the floor with them, the kind of 7-1 blowout loss that Nawara associates more with kids teams, or social teams promoted well past their ability. The Rogues win more than they lose, and they usually win with a couple goals margin, enough to feel safe in the outcome, but the Bandits play them out of their respective jocks—or whatever the women's equivalent is, Nawara never really liked to ask—and by the time the final buzzer goes, he's not the only one who's out of breath and needs to take a moment before shaking hands and thanking their volunteer officials.

"Good game," he says, to the cute blonde woman who beat him at three out of five draws, and managed to steal the puck away from him twice.

"Thanks, you too," she says, grinning back at him just as much as she had done when they were fighting for the puck.

"You coming to Flarestar after?" he asks, not sure if it's obvious he means her and not just the rest of her team.

Generally everyone winds up at Flarestar after games; it's familiar and close and half the staff play on one social team or another, even though a couple of them are able-bodied. They also pour generously and are as happy to put hockey—sled, null or water—on the bar holoscreens as they are smashball or podracing, so that helps, too.

"You bet," she says, and holds out her hand to shake his. "I'm Rhysati."

"Nawar'aven," he says. "Nawara is also fine."

"No kidding," she says, with an appreciative look that makes it very clear she's flirting with him.

"Please allow me to buy you a drink," Nawara says, the words coming out more formal than he would usually be in this situation. Perhaps there are some things he does still get nervous about.

"Any time," Rhysati says, before following her teammates back to the other changing room, and it may not be the fastest that Nawara has ever scrubbed down and dressed—several years of missions all across the Outer Rim probably take that record—but he's ready and waiting at Flarestar by the time she gets there, with drinks in hand.

Nawara leaves Flarestar later that day with the beginnings of a faint lomin-ale hangover, a hickey on the side of his throat, and Rhysati's comconsole code.

It's maybe not quite where he expected his life to take him, but he's more than happy to be there.