She is watching him, he knows, but he refuses to turn and look at her. He doesn't deserve her attention; he doesn't deserve anyone's attention. He is good at many things, most of which involve killing sentient beings possessed of the knowledge that they are in mortal danger. Killing sentients who are trying their best to kill him. Killing the sentients that had massacred his squadron. Allowing her into his life would be nothing but a distraction he cannot permit.
Myn Donos takes a long sip of his chilled fruit drink - no alcohol, he's on duty, after all - and studies the mirror mounted on the wall facing the bar where he sits. Not a good idea, he thinks as through the reflection Falynn Sandskimmer's intense eyes bore into his own. Her light hair is swept away from her face, and her severe clothing accentuates her slender form and thin face. Sighing, he looks away, then glances to his left when she approaches him from that direction.
"This seat taken?" Falynn asks, gesturing toward the high stool in question.
He considers telling her that it is, telling her to go and find someone worth her while, but decides against it. "No," he says.
Sitting, Falynn waves the bartender over and tells him to pour her another fruit fizz. While she waits, she watches Myn - he can feel her eyes on him, both warm and calculating. Self-consciously, he runs a hand through his dark hair. He wants her to go away, but he can't quite find the words to tell her that.
"I learned a lot in the sim today," she says, trying to start a casual conversation, the kind that should flow easily between squadronmates. "Of course, not as much as I learned the day I raced Antilles."
Myn almost smiles, but he catches himself in time. He recalls her impertinent words to Commander Wedge Antilles, her implication that the squadron leader was old and therefore losing his edge. The following race through treacherous canyons - Falynn against Wedge, young against old, relatively inexperienced against battle-hardened - had ended in a decisive victory for Antilles. He had to believe Falynn benefited from the incident.
"Who did you fly against?" he asks, not really interested but unwilling to ignore her.
"Grinder and I paired up with Ton and Face. We took one of the Imp scenarios with a ridiculous number of TIEs, ignored all mission parameters, and tried to work together to space as many fighters as we could. Face and Ton experimented with some interesting tactics, but I didn't get to see all of them. I was extravehicular after only fifteen minutes. Grinder should have been watching my tail, but he wasn't." She smiles ruefully. "Then again, I should have been watching his. That's what the sims are for, though. To help you work through those problems."
With a casual nod, Myn agrees with her assessment of the purpose of simulation. But the only problem is, when pilots die in real life, they're dead for good. He changes the subject. "What do you think of the squadron so far?"
"I like it here," she tells him frankly. "I feel like the people around me want to be here and are willing to devote their lives to something greater than themselves." Shrugging, she continues, "It gives me something to aspire to."
Once, it might have done the same for Myn. Now, he just rubs a tired hand over his face and says, "It's great you can find a cause worth living for." The words come out wrong, but he doesn't care enough to retract them.
"You can't?" she asks. Funny, it sounds to Myn like she doesn't believe him.
"Only a cause worth dying for," he says. When her eyebrows come together in a frown, he adds, "But that's pretty much the same thing."
"No, it's not," says Falynn. "It's not the same thing at all. You die when you make mistakes. You live for the times you make the right decisions."
Now he's annoyed at her for puncturing his bubble of self-assuredness. "I fight," he says. "I kill." The words stick in his throat, but he forces them through anyway. "That's all I'm good for." He looks away.
She catches his chin in her hand and forces him to look back at her. "Don't sell yourself short, Myn."
"I'm not," he says, and knows that he's speaking the truth. "I can't lead, because when I lead, my people die. I can't follow, because every time something unexpected happens, it reminds me of that day, and of the Talons who never made it home, and of the eleven letters I had to write to the next of kin, informing them of my loss." She tries to interrupt him, but he won't let her. "I don't wear my bloodstripes anymore, even though I earned them. Mostly because they seem like a joke now. The whole galaxy's a joke, and nobody's laughing." Some circuit trips in his brain, warning him that he's said too much, and he stops, closes his mouth, jerks his head free of her grip.
"You can wallow in your self-pity all you want," Falynn says, "but there are people here - not just me, but any one of your squadronmates - who would be happy to listen to you if you want to talk. You think you're the only person who's ever been hurt?"
Her words seem out-of-place somehow. Myn doesn't want to think about it. "I know I'm not the only person," he says. "Eleven families went through this after my holo arrived at their homes. Eleven sets of people suddenly knew what it was like to lose someone important. Eleven completely separate networks of relatives now have nothing left of their sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and husbands and wives but inexpensive plaques that the New Republic sends to the families of deceased." He turns the word over in his head. Deceased. So clinical. He decides to change it. "Except they're not deceased, Falynn, they're dead. They're never going to come home again."
"I know they're dead." Falynn looks at him, her eyes deeply troubled. "Sometimes I wonder if you're alive."
He's wondered that himself on occasion, and set it aside for later. It's not worth spending time determining whether the spark of humanity left in him should be fed or left to die. Somehow, he's already made the choice, and he has chosen to acknowledge that his life is worth nothing. His mind rebels at the thought that whatever fueled him for the first part of his life is now being left to wither as he pushes on, but he ignores it. As he is ignoring Falynn. Idly, he wonders if she's his conscience.
"A squadron's a part of you," he says. "It's like you're equal parts of a greater machine. Nothing functions with eleven out of twelve parts missing."
"Not many machines function with any of their parts missing," Falynn counters, "but most stop and wait until someone fixes them. They don't grind on until they're beyond repair. They also don't try to shoot the first mechanic who comes near them."
"I'm a person, Falynn, not a machine."
"There are those who might think otherwise, considering the way you've been acting recently."
"But I don't have time to wait for someone to come along and fix me. I have to keep grinding and hope that sooner or later I have some wonderful moment of enlightenment in which I transcend my lowly existence and understand the ways of the galaxy." He's aware that he's being sarcastic and probably hurting the woman beside him, but he's too hurt himself to feel any remorse. "Excuse me," he says, leaving his drink on the bar and swinging his legs down from the stool. "I have somewhere to be."
Falynn sucks in a breath, bites her lip, and remains silent.
With a stinging in the back of his eyes and an odd sweet taste on his tongue, Myn leaves the room.
Myn trails his hand along the wall as he walks, the cold metal keeping him anchored in the present. He is aware of the footsteps behind him, but he's not sure enough of his balance to turn and see who is following him. It doesn't really matter to the majority of his consciousness. Still, the parts of his mind that belong to the military want to know. Listening carefully, he tries to guess.
The steps are light, quick - female? - and careful not to approach him, as if wary of his mood. Understandable, he thinks, knowing that the Wraiths all saw him lunge at Kell with every intention of killing the larger man. He scared himself then, frightened some inner part of himself that objected to the senselessness of it. He had completely lost control, and the idea that he might lose it again worries him.
It must be Falynn behind him, he thinks. She's the most logical choice. She's been trying to get to know him, and he's been pushing her away, but she always comes back. For some reason, she always comes back. She is, he realizes, the only person standing between him and the endless circles of a mental breakdown.
He regards himself from a somewhat removed perspective. Outwardly, he has changed little - he's a little greyer, maybe, and his eyes are a little more wary, his mouth a little less apt to smile - but he is not unrecognizable. The mess that is his brain, however, is a tangled web of contradictions that he is only beginning to understand. That's an improvement, he taunts himself. Now you're beginning to understand? Understand what? Understand that you're unfit for a career in the military? Unfit for a life with normal people? Grimacing, he shuts the voice away in a corner of his mind. He is well acquainted with the voice's tendencies toward severe criticism and is disinclined to listen at the moment.
Soon, he reaches his room, palms the door open, and takes a step toward the familiar confines of the austere space. It is then that he remembers the person behind him. He turns to tell her that he will be fine, but she speaks first.
"I'm sorry we did that to you, Myn, but we didn't see any other way. You were in a tailspin and it didn't look like you were going to pull out." Yes, it's Falynn's voice, and it is full of sympathy and remorse. She steps forward, away from the shadows that cling to the wall, and smiles hesitantly. "No hard feelings?"
He takes a moment to think before responding. He won't pretend that what the squadron did didn't hurt him, but he can finally see himself from their point of view, see what a pitiful figure he must have appeared. Though he suspects he will not be able to spend downtime with the other pilots without some modicum of misgiving, he knows with all his heart that he can entrust his life to them during a battle. He tries a tiny half-smile. "Not many."
Falynn grins back; she is beautiful when she smiles, Myn notices. When she speaks, she sounds relieved. "Well, at least you're telling the truth. Get some sleep. Antilles wants to see us early tomorrow morning." Silently, she turns to leave.
"Wait," Myn says, sending a hand out to follow her in a short and arrested gesture. Falynn turns back to him, but he has no coherent intentions and does not know what to say. He moves toward her, wondering what it is that makes him want her to stay. Something is warning him not to let her go, but the cynical voice is back, this time informing him that he has not the slightest idea what to do now that he has succumbed to his impulse. Just like normal. Myn locks it away forcefully, closing his eyes and gritting his teeth together with the effort. Shut up.
"Myn?" Falynn is beside him, her hand on his arm. "Are you all right?" He can hear the compassion in her voice, but he doesn't know how to tell her that he appreciates it.
"I'm fine," he mutters, blinking rapidly. "I'll be fine in a minute."
She touches his forehead and Myn lowers his eyelids at the gentle brush of her cool fingers. "You feel a little feverish. Are you sure you don't want to go see Ton?"
The thought of seeing the squadron's doctor brings him sharply into the present. "I'm fine," he says, this time with conviction. He is suddenly conscious of Falynn's presence beside him, the fact that her eyes, wide with concern, are locked on his own. At the same moment, she becomes aware of her position and backs away, wiping her hands on her flightsuit and looking past him, down the hallway.
"Then I'll see you-"
"-Falynn, I..." He knows he can't let her leave, not like this, not when she's helped him so much, supported him through what must have seemed an interminable downward spiral. Before he quite knows what he's doing, he takes a step toward her, pulls her into his arms, and kisses her.
She stiffens in surprise at his touch, her fingers curling against his chest, then relaxes as she begins to respond. Her arms come up around his neck, and her lips open beneath his, tender and sweet and inviting. In a moment, she breaks away, breathing deeply, and he rests his forehead on hers, closing his eyes as the memory of their kiss washes over him. For a long while, they are silent. Myn opens his eyes, explores her face with a gentle finger as her hands toy with his hair. "Thank you," he whispers at last. "I didn't deserve that."
"Didn't deserve what, the kiss or everything else?" Although Falynn jokes, her voice is far from steady.
"I didn't deserve any of it. The kiss or anything else."
"Nonsense." Falynn shakes her head, then adds, "Would it help if I told you I've wanted to do that for a long time?"
"What, kiss me or force me out of my universe and into everyone else's?"
She smiles at that. "Both."
He kisses her again, this time softly, quickly. "Thank you."
"You've already said that."
"I mean it."
"I'm sure you do." Falynn backs away slightly; unconsciously, he follows. "Get some sleep, Myn. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
He nods, releases her, and turns toward his door, the taste of their kiss still lingering on his lips. Entering his room, he closes the door, then stops to listen as Falynn's steps echo down the hallway, away from his room.
Commander Antilles has talked to him; Tyria has talked to him; even Face has taken time from his day to come and express his sympathies. Still, all Myn can feel is the dull ache that has been his companion for the last few days.
He sits cross-legged on the roof of the hangar - illegally, as he's not supposed to have access to the area - and watches the last rays of sun disappear over the horizon. It's not really a sunset, but the character of the light changes from natural to artificial. It's never truly dark on Coruscant.
Falynn is dead, gone. And though he knows he didn't love her - didn't have time to find out whether he might have - Myn still mourns her passing. He recalls her smile, the way her eyes crinkled when she grinned at him, the graceful way she moved, the deadly way she fought. He recalls the way his stomach twisted when he learned that she had fallen from a hangar roof and knocked herself unconscious on the permacrete below. He recalls the way she looked at him when she woke up after that fall, affection shining in her eyes and a tiny, bemused smile on her face.
She was, he thinks, beautiful in a way few other women ever could be. He knows he is lucky to have had the time he did. There had been a silent understanding between them: no one is immortal - live for the moments you have. Something about these nearly tangible memories of her allows him to continue his daily existence without the depression that characterized his life after the loss of Talon Squadron. He comprehends that pain is one of the truths of life.
Falynn would have liked that idea, he thinks. But she would have found a way to make it more eloquent. Strangely, thinking of her does not bring a fresh wash of hurt; it works to soothe him. The memory of her quick eyes and quicker tongue does not haunt him; it is pleasant and comforting. Though Myn has lost someone dear to him, he has not lost the memory of his times with her. There is something deeper about his loss now, something more personal, and Myn realizes that that's exactly what Falynn's death is: personal. He can no longer visualize the face of his Talon Squadron second-in-command, but Falynn's face is fresh in his mind.
He wonders if there's a difference between deaths that affect him as a person and those that affect him as a member of the New Republic military. As a squadron commander, he still feels that he failed the members of Talon Squadron who were so brutally massacred in so preventable an incident. But as a human, as a man with all his faults and insecurities, he knows that he is not responsible for their deaths. He could perhaps have played a part in preventing them, he was witness to them, but they are ultimately not his fault.
No tears escape his eyes; he has already cried.
Earlier that day, he brought his rifle into the sniping practice range, firing at progressively smaller targets until the heat overloaded the delicate wiring and the laser shut itself off. And then he sat, as much as one can sit in a zero-gravity, zero-atmosphere room, and wept, his tears floating from his eyes and forming perfect spheres that splashed against the inside of his faceplate in beautiful silvery fountains. His anger spent, he could not contain the pain that threatened to overcome him. He could not contain it, but for the first time in his life, he could express it.
Later, he went to talk to Janson. Janson, who could find something amusing in the most desperate situation; Janson, who was seldom seen without a merry smile. But in the dark secluded room where Myn had chosen to meet his fellow officer, Janson had smiled only once, and it was a sad smile, utterly lacking any of the lighthearted cheer that usually supported it. It was the smile of a hardened war veteran, a man who had lost and would lose again, and Myn knew that Janson had been the right choice.
They talked for a long time, about nothing in particular. Janson told Myn that he had always wanted to be a pilot, and that it turned out that he was even better at shooting than flying. Myn replied that he had always wanted to fly a private passenger liner - something about the idea that he would have so many people trusting him without thinking fascinated him. Janson had looked up at that, surprised for a moment, then thoughtful. Finally, he had nodded in agreement. Trust, he said, had an addictive quality that could not be explained to his satisfaction.
The two pilots never talked directly about Falynn's death, but Myn had a feeling that Janson knew he was Myn's support. Janson was careful to steer the conversation around discussions of interpersonal relationships. Though Myn and Falynn had kept their relationship relatively private, Janson and a few others in the squadron had noticed the sudden attraction between them, drawn appropriate conclusions, and silently approved. She had been good for him, and the rest of the squadron had recognized the quality of the match and wisely stood apart.
Almost an hour later, Myn had glanced at his chrono, noticed with some surprise the time, and told Janson that he had somewhere to be. It was only partially a lie - he had promised himself that he would watch the sunset, which would take place in less than a half-hour. As he left the room, Janson palmed the door open for him, nodded a farewell, and said, "I hope you find her." Whether he meant Falynn - who Myn would never find again - or someone else, Myn did not know. Puzzling over this, he had walked away from the other man.
He sits cross-legged on the roof of the hangar - illegally, as he's not supposed to have access to the area - and watches the lights come on in his sector of Coruscant. He wonders if Falynn would have liked the synthetic beauty of it. But she's gone, he thinks, his thoughts breaking into his memories, and I won't ever get to ask her or see her again and I don't know what to do but I'm not going to panic no matter how much I want to because she wouldn't want me to. She'd tell me to stand here and take it. She'd say that I've been through worse and come out the better for it. But she'd understand that it hurts just the same.
It is ultimately the realization that she would understand that allows him to think through his grief. That and the sudden knowledge that she would want him to continue. She had not taken time from her short years to help him without expecting some sort of return on the investment. She had forced him to be a man that she could respect and perhaps even love. To return to his state of abject misery would be to betray all that she worked for.
If he knows one thing for an absolute certainty, he knows he will not disappoint her.
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