Hopping on one foot, the zeltron pushed her other foot through the leg of the jeans before fumbling with the button. Another knock, louder than the first, echoed through the entryway.
“I’ll be right there!” She yelled, grabbing her wallet from the table next to the door.
She opened it to find a squat nautolan looking rather irritated.
“Hey man, sorry about the wait. How much do I owe you?”
“It was taken care of when ordered.” He stated plainly.
A blush rose to her cheeks, tinting them a deep red. Though he always insisted on paying, it still made her feel a bit guilty.
“Right.” She muttered.
The nautolan handed over the bags that were filled to the brink with styrofoam containers. She offered him an apologetic smile before closing the door once more and carrying the feast to the living room. Placing the paper sacks on the coffee table, she began moving the food into various piles on the table. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ryv make an appearance from the hallway.
“Are we feeding an army?” She asked teasingly.
“I mean,” he began, a broad smile plastered on his face. He pulled a t-shirt over head while moving to take a seat beside her on the couch. “This’ll be the last time I can order takeout for awhile. I’m not expecting the local Hutta Burgers and Taco Hutts to be open over on Ziost with an army overhead.”
With one hand, he set a plate down in front of the both of them, while the other snatched up a pile of napkins and set them down between the pair. “You were the one who couldn’t decide on what you wanted. So, I get to order everything.”
The mention of the forthcoming conflict casted a shadow over the otherwise pleasant evening. Ripley’s eyes remained on her plate. Her fork drug the noodles from one side to the other. It was only days until she was to be shipped out ahead of the main forces, sent to gather information for SIA. She had initially objected to the mission, but had no grounds to stand on. Feeling guilty about leaving your friends to risk their lives by leading the charge wasn’t a solid reason to tell IVI no. She offered half a smile, but couldn’t bring herself to look at him.
“Ha, you’re right. I’ll probably be eating skewered sewer rats soon enough. Guess I should take advantage of this fine cuisine.” Her tone was light, almost joking. Anyone who didn’t know her likely wouldn’t have picked up the bitterness laced in.
Her reaction reminded him of how different he felt than the others when it came to the fight. Some called him a warmonger. It wasn’t far off. Ryv excelled on a battlefield, it's where he proved himself time and time again. Fighting for his life felt natural. Friends like Loske and Maynard understood that better than anyone else. Ripley was different, and looking at her then, he regretted his poorly thought out joke immediately.
“You know, babe, I can feel what you’re feeling,” Ryv tugged open a pizza box and pulled out two slices of extra-cheese pizza, layered with pepperoni and bacon. He slapped it down beside a pile of noodles and rice. “I’m an empath. It's kinda my thing.”
Her gaze finally found him, cobalt eyes probing. Her lips curled downwards into a frown as she took him in. She did want to talk about it, but she couldn’t even begin to form words. Her head was a hurricane, a steady cyclone of intense emotion. Wordlessly, she set her plate down and strutted to the kitchen, grabbing a beer from the fridge. The picture of Ryv with a few of the other Jedi that hung from a magnet caught her eye as the door swung shut. She studied it for a moment, grimacing. Finally, she made her way back to join him on the couch. A deep sigh escaped her chest as she reclined her head.
“I just don’t know what to say about it, dude. I know they need me elsewhere, but it doesn’t feel right leaving you all to lay your lives on the line while I’m doing something as useless as hacking.” Another sigh, this one longer. “And then there’s just the anxiety of it all. Who will I see again? How long will I be away? How much longer does this war wage on, especially when it seems like we’re barely making a dent?”
Her head rose into a shake while her hands fumbled with opening the can.
“Hey, you don’t have to know what to say,” he said, reaching out for the drink in her hands. He slipped one hand around hers and cracked open the drink with the other. “Most people don’t know what to say when put in your shoes. You just gotta remember every part of what we do is important. Whether we’re on the front line, storming the gates, or behind enemy lines, feeding info back to the Alliance. Without you, my life would be a helluva lot harder.”
Without a drink of his own, Ryv hopped up and made his way into the kitchen. Given he wasn’t one to drink alcohol, he snagged a canister of sprite and returned to the couch.
“Don’t feel guilty about what you can’t control. Just do the best you can,” he unscrewed the cap of his drink and set it down beside his plate. “You can’t let yourself think about all that stuff, Ripley. It won’t help while you’re out there. I want as many of us to return home as possible, but there will be thousands more relying on me to be there, in the moment, to lead them. Those intrusive thoughts aren’t good for anything.”
He lifted a slice from his plate and sunk his teeth into the greasy mess. “Mmm, mm, mmm, that’s good stuff,” he finished chewing and swallowed. “You want a bite of this, beautiful?”
The zeltron chuckled at the euphoric experience eating seemed to be for him. His goofy demeanor took her mind off things, if only for a moment. She pulled her blue tresses back with her free hand as she leaned into his offer. The cheese pulled away as she did, leading her to laugh again while she wiped the strands from her chin. A moment of silence fell over the pair as they ate, and she considered his words.
“You’re right,” She began hesitantly. “But I can’t seem to stop it, Ryv. All those feelings are so strong, all the time. I’m not like you. I can’t just lock it away and put duty first, as much as it sucks. I loathe feeling like this, and I know… I know what can happen, especially while we’re dealing with the Sith. The one I met on Korriban was weird, but the others can twist those emotions, use them against me. Yet I still can’t get a handle on it.”
Her head fell in disappointment.
“Not only am I a mess, I’m a fething liability.”
“For starters, let’s set this down,” he slipped the beer from her hands and placed it atop the table. “I dunno if I’d go that far. You managed to get through Korriban. That isn’t something a liability would be able to do. Besides, you were selected for this specific assignment because you’re the best option available to us. Think about it, Ripley. Allyson is a flight risk, Zaavik is… troubled, he needs proper guidance. It might sound arrogant, but I don’t make mistakes on these sorts of things. If I didn’t know you could do it, I wouldn’t ask it of you.”
He shifted in his seat, moving to face her, rather than towards the table full of food. “The Jedi of old, the dusty people in robes who believed a Jedi had to smother their emotions? They were wrong. It isn’t about packing up your fears, anger, hate, whatever it is you’re feeling. It's about accepting them as a part of who you are, and learning to love yourself anyway. Fear won’t go away, no matter how many fights you get in. Bravery isn’t about getting to a point where you aren’t afraid anymore. It’s recognizing those fears for what they are, then pushing on through it.”
“By letting these emotions, the ones that hurt you, also control you, you’re setting yourself up to fail before you’ve even begun the fight,” Ryv gently dabbed at her chin with a napkin, wiping away a small patch grease. “Lean on me. It's okay. Lean on the others, too. Loske would never turn you away, neither would Auteme or Maynard. The NJO, as fucked up as we are, are a family.”
Ripley smiled weakly at the caring gesture. Her master had taught her in training that numbness wasn’t the way as the Jedi had thought for so many years, but it seemed to be an option between feeling everything and feeling nothing at all. Her arm raised to rest her hand on his cheek, pink fingers gently brushing back and forth. She wanted to let herself do that. Rely on him, rely on their fellows. Yet something seemed to pull her back every time, dragging her back into the dark recesses of her mind. As hard as it was, it was easier to be alone than to fight that instinct. Pulling away, she turned to face the table once more and picked up her plate.