Written with the help of the lovely Ryv Ryv .

The countdown was excruciating.

Korriban. To be headed there, the home of the Sith -- it was no wonder the Jedi on this mission were nervous; afraid. Fear was the path to the dark side and they were headed straight to its heart.

Everyone had their way of coping. Some spent time with their sabers, even though last-minute practice would likely be useless. Especially useless for Auteme. She had no saber nor any skill in it. A few meditated, searching for a calm before the storm. Out of luck again. Even the beginnings of the meld were difficult to handle for those who had not experienced it; perhaps, though, the meditation would give them just enough control to find themselves when they needed it most.

And then there were those who searched for the comfort of others.

“Hey, Ryv.” She stopped in the hallway. For a brief moment they were alone. “Are you ready?”

What a terrible question to ask.

As she approached from the opposite end of the hall, he popped out his earbuds and stood. Whatever he listened to continued on without him.

“Uhh, that’s a tough one,” he laughed. “I don’t get nervous before big fights anymore. Haven’t in awhile.”

Ryv looked her in the eyes as he spoke. He could see something there, something that needed to be known, but wasn’t quite ready to be said. It wasn’t a surprise. People yearned to be heard on a normal day. What could she be feeling so close to Korriban of all places? Fear? Excitement? How could he help her in this moment? There were far too many questions to ask, and even less time for her to answer.

“I’d say I’m ready, yeah. Not everyday are you sent in to eliminate not one, but two Dark Lords of the Sith,” he chuckled, his amber eyes still so full of mirth and energy. “What about you, Auteme? Are you ready?”

That wasn’t what he wanted to ask. And none of it was what he wanted to say.

It was just so close -- so close she could taste it, feel the wind and the sand and the heat. The fear, the adrenaline; the thrill, almost. She couldn’t stop thinking about what they were about to do but she forced herself to focus on Ryv. Find the flow, be present.

What he said seemed to be true. Of the various nervous presences around he was the exception; holding a calm like death in the face of the danger ahead. If she’d accompanied him to all those battlefields she might’ve been the same. For the moment she anchored herself beside him and steadied her breathing.

“No, I don’t think I’m all that ready,” she said. “I- are you actually fighting two Dark Lords?”

For a moment she wondered who they were, though that soon gave way to a mental tangent about how much the Sith had changed. Few enough betrayals among their order, and now there were Dark Lords willing to give up the title…

“I’m afraid. This is… dangerous, just so dangerous, and I know I’ve risked my life before but never like this. Never… on the attack, I guess. It’s new. I don’t know if I’m ready.

“Do you think you can… win? Survive?”

“You know, I guess that depends on your definition of victory, Auteme,” he crossed his arms. “You’re right in saying this is dangerous. Might be the craziest thing the New Jedi Order has ever tried. I’m confident, win or lose, we’ll strike a blow against the Sith that’ll let folks like the NIO or GA get ahead in the war.”

He wanted to reach out, take her hand, and tell her everything was going to be okay. In his heart, it felt right. But she wasn’t the same kid anymore.

“Truth be told, I hope you’re never ready for this sorta thing,” he reached up and massaged the back of his neck. “I lost something of myself to this fight. Not sure what, but I know it's probably not coming back. I don’t want that for you. Might not matter what I want anymore, I guess, I just t-think that people, well, you know, people like you are meant to shine b-brighter than guys like me. I’ve always said that.”

Ryv’s hand twitched and drifted out halfway between them before he let it fall away. The stuttering embarrassed him enough.

“You’re meant for greater things than fighting this war.”

She nodded. A part of her wished for that flat reassurance, that no matter what happened things were going to be okay, but they’d both grown and changed. For a brief moment she saw how much. She was bright; shining, almost. Far from the fighter’s resolve, the pure determination that Ryv had to keep fighting. That was why he wasn’t afraid today. That was why they could never be alike.

But the one thing that hadn’t changed was his eyes. The way he could see things, find what was admirable in others. It seemed they’d both been in need of a little reassurance.

“Ryv, I want you to promise me,” she said, taking his hand and holding it in both of hers. “Promise me you’ll survive. You’ll live. I know how much you’ve committed to this and I’d never tell you to stop fighting for what’s right, but I know there’s a place for you when it ends. I know we can’t see it right now but it’s there.

“Promise me.” Promises were so hard to keep.

When was the last time he felt this close to someone else?

“Auteme, I-” he struggled to form the words his heart screamed at him to say again. “Before I make this promise, you gotta answer one question for me, alright?”

His other hand joined hers as he stared deep into her eyes.

“What matters more to you, right here, right now? Victory by any means necessary, or a defeat that sees me come home?”

“A defeat.” There was no hesitation; it was barely a question in her mind and she knew he knew the same.

“Then I’ll come home.”

And she knew he would. She let go and instead pulled him into a hug, melting into the meld and just being content. She knew he’d be alright -- and since he knew that, too, he’d be able to focus on doing what he needed to do.

In his war against the Sith, Ryv feared he’d lose it all. He’d already sacrificed so much to this cause, championed by those who came before him. Everyday was a battle since losing his hand, both physically and mentally. He feared touch and struggled to trust. But when he felt her arms slide around his body, something just clicked. It wasn’t just a promise that would bring him home. It was her. And for a moment, she’d feel a loving warmth blossom from deep within him. It spread outward, so close to finding others.

He just wasn’t ready for them to know him so intimately. Ryv slammed that door shut and allowed himself one last luxury. A final glimpse into her gentle, green eyes.

For now, she would be enough.

Just like it used to be.