Love and Loss
1 minute later
2 months, 1 week BBY
The question proceeded from half-asleep lips, their owner slowly pressing himself to his feet as the world around him blurred and spun. His footing was unsteady for the first few seconds, the dizziness subsiding after about ten. Five seconds after that, he had enough presence of mind to check himself for injuries. After twenty seconds of this, he checked his surroundings and found himself standing in the post-detonation squalor of a bridge collapse. Specifically, he thought, a plasma bridge.
His eyes widened. The plasma bridge! Xel was still on it! Ice-blue eyes flashed over his immediate surroundings, looking desperately for a distinctive armored body and finding only panicked soldiers and the medics and commanders trying to calm them. In a flurried series of frantic movements, he sprinted to the edge of the blackened cliff, eyes peering into the infinite white below and lungs heaving several times as his knees gave out. A few rapid blinks preceded a firm closing of the eyes.
Alen stretched out to the Force, opening his bond with Xel fully and nearly fainting in relief when he felt life on the other end. There was little more, though, and he correctly assumed that meant he was unconscious. A dull hum reached his ears, and he looked up to see the Ghost descending from the snow-thickened clouds. The ship landed twenty feet from the heart of the body-strewn mess, its exit ramp opening to spit out four of its crew.
Kanan went straight to the medics, immediately applying his Force talents to healing the wounded. Zeb and Ezra went to Garth, who was coordinating search and rescue efforts, though how much searching was necessary on a bloody cliffside Alen couldn't tell. Sabine, armed with a bacta injector and a heavy cloak to cover her sleeveless arms, found the shell-shocked Jedi Padawan and held his arms, gently shaking him to get his attention. Alen stared at her, seeing her head and shoulders move with the telltale signs of speaking, but hearing nothing but dull hums.
The Jedi shook his head gingerly, feeling a sharp pain behind his eyes and on his forehead. His hand went up to brush against the trouble spot, and he grimaced when it came away bloody. His hearing still wasn't working properly. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and focused hard in the Force for a few seconds, his hearing sharpening piece by piece until he could begin to perceive words.
"Alen? Alen, can you hear me? How many fingers am I holding up?"
His eyes opened, and he stared at her before saying, "You're…not?"
A relieved sigh left her body. "Okay. You're standing, and your vision's okay. Can you walk all right?"
Alen took a few tentative steps, moving at a fast walk for a second or two before facing her. "Think so."
"Okay…we'll get you taken care of in a bit, but there are more critical issues right now."
He blinked rapidly a few times, nodding. A sharp intake of breath was heard as his previous thoughts returned. "Sabine," he said sharply, stopping her as she started to turn away. "Xel…he was on the bridge when it blew."
"He's alive. I know he's alive, and his uh…signal is strong, if a little dull."
"We'll get him back," she assured, one hand on his shoulder. "Once the situation here is under control, we'll take the Phantom and get down there."
Alen nodded stiffly, taking a few more breaths before following in her wake. If his own self-repair was any indication, he could be of use to the medics. Before focusing completely on his work, Alen sent a telepathic message over their bond.
"Hang on, Xel. Help is coming. Just hold on."
"Just hold on."
The words were like a whisper in a raging gale…probably because they were. Nonetheless, they still reached the mind of their intended target with the effect of waking him up from an uneasy and impact-caused slumber. Dark blue eyes fluttered open, the lids blinking several times to clear away white crystals settled on their lashes. When several more crystals fell into the eyes, they shut, and a sigh proceeded from the body attached. With a long, pained groan, Xel started to sit up, but stopped a second later when he felt a light pressure on his chest.
His head looked down, eyes squinting for a few seconds before his right hand brushed over a large lump sitting on his chestplate. When several dozen streaks of red pierced the white haze, memories came flooding back. The bridge…it was sabotaged. Destroyed. I was on it when it happened. He looked down at the red again. So was Linn. He brought two fingers to her neck, a sensor built into his glove picking up a strong pulse and sending it to his fingers through the hardened fibers of the crushgaunt. A sigh of relief left his throat, which, he was starting to realize, was raw from the extreme cold.
Another groan left his lips as he sat up again, gently pushing Linn off him and onto her back, even her light weight leaving a deep imprint in the equally deep snow. A few more blinks and a look around later, Xel spotted several dozen bodies, all in various states of visible damage, as well as the mobile control center of the plasma bridge. The center was only twenty feet away, so when he stood and waited until his legs felt stable enough, he picked Linn up in a cradle carry, holding her smaller body close to his chest. The armored Mando made his way to the structure with steady steps, only once feeling a bit woozy, and toward the end of his walk.
With another groan, he used his boot to power up an overturned repulsor chair, causing it to hover, then laid Linn's unconscious body in it, leaning on his knees and breathing heavily. A look at the interior of the structure revealed it had toppled onto one side during the fall, its door flying wide open but still hanging on its hinges. Taking one last look at Linn's rising and falling chest, he pulled an emergency blanket from a medkit on the "ceiling" and wrapped her in it, then stepped out the sideways door and closed it behind him.
A few taps of his ear revealed that his earpiece comlink had fallen out. A Mando'a curse came from his vocals when he pulled his comlink from his belt and found it crushed. A quick check verified that his weapons were still intact, everything from the Blackjack to his lightsaber, (not that the latter surprised him, considering it was beskar). There was only one more chance for communication, and he reached out over his bond with Alen only to come up against a virtual brick wall. Osik.
That didn't make any sense, though. Alen had just contacted him a few minutes ago…right? The fog over his mind created by a combination of exhaustion, extreme cold, and a nearly half-mile fall resulted in his dismissing of the subject and moving onto matters of pure survival. A glint of sunlight reflected into his eyes as he took another step into the storm, and he turned to see a sight that nearly brought tears to his eyes. Ten seconds later, a beskar helmet went over his rugged features, and as the armor's climate-control system powered on, he thanked the Manda that it was still working.
He hadn't realize how numb his face was until heat started to return to it, melting a few scattered ice crystals that dripped into the neck of his bodysuit. Taking a quick look around for survivors, he stretched out with the Force and tagged only two: Linn and himself. He returned to the control center with stronger steps, some strength beginning to return with the heat his suit was providing. As he sat in another repulsor chair and tapped the side of his helmet, he had the armor do a quick diagnostic to see what was still working.
The jetpack was gone, that much was clear. Some kind of internal wiring issue—no surprise there. His grappling hook's launch mechanism was functional, but the reel was having some problems. A cursory check of the winch mechanism revealed some metal debris stuck in the opening. A Force Pull was enough to unjam it, and a quick test revealed full functionality. A quick mental check reviewed the rest of the diagnostic. Climate control systems active, magnetic boots functional, crushgaunt internal sensors online, vital monitors running.
Linn shifted to his left with a small groan, but stayed unconscious.
Dart launchers are operable…wrist rocket launchers not so much. No surprise there. The rocket launchers had complex circuitry built in for target acquisition and lock assistance, since missiles were notoriously hard to aim. Helmet heads-up display is fully functional…obviously. Another glance at Linn revealed signs of waking. Communications are down…for now. The red-head was finally starting to move, her eyes fluttering open as gently as possible as she put a hand in front of her face.
A cursory glance by those green eyes brought them focusing on Xel's t-visor. The man himself hovered his chair over to her.
"Are you all right?"
Linn glanced around her body, patting herself down for injuries before raising a hand to her forehead and wincing when her fingertips touched an angry purple blot. "More or less. Might have a concussion, though."
"Probably from your forehead hitting my armor on impact."
Her eyebrows shot up. "Impact?" Green eyes widened in realization. "Oh stars…the bridge. We fell." She looked away, silent for a while as horror filled her. "Xel, was my brother—"
"He wasn't on it when it blew. It was just us, a few technicians, soldiers, and about a dozen Imperial prisoners." He waited a moment before adding, "Everyone but us is dead."
Her pained eyes met his through the visor as she gulped and nodded slowly. She hadn't been expecting otherwise, but that didn't make the loss any less keen. "Is there, uh…is there anyone coming?"
Xel cocked his head sideways, reaching out with the Force again but again getting nothing. He huffed. "I heard my brother's voice in my head right before I woke up, so I guess he's putting something together…"
"I haven't been able to contact him since. It's like something's blocking me. Either that or he's closed the bond for the moment, though why he would do that I don't know."
She nodded again, just as slowly as before, and slumped back into her seat, eyes glistening slightly. A quiet sigh left Xel as he looked at her state. She was deeply empathic, easily as much so as Alen, if not more. And she was too damned nice. Cynical? A little. Had a rough side? Sure, who didn't? But what really separated her from the rest of the rebel population, both their brothers included, was that she cared—so—kriffing—much. About everyone. Even the stormtroopers she'd had to kill left a sad look in her eyes.
She's too soft, he thought with no judgement. Xel didn't think he'd appreciate her any other way.
"So what do we do now?"
The sudden question snapped Caden from his reverie. "We stay put. Whatever rebels survived the blast will come looking for us eventually, and I don't fancy a long hike through this weather, even with my armor." Though the reason for that was the relatively poorly-equipped young woman in front of him.
Linn nodded slowly, once again deferring to his judgement. A strange yet familiar look entered her eyes as she looked at him, a small smile coming to her face. She laid a hand on his arm, eyes locking with his. "Thank you," she said softly.
He cocked his head. "For?"
A small chuckle left her lips. "For trusting me? For being my friend? For saving my life? Twice?" Her head cocked. "Actually, a hell of a lot more than that." She shrugged and crossed her arms. "Pick one."
The smile she was giving him was doing strange things to Xel's gut. He had only seen it on one other person, and only a select few times. Pushing the slightly uncomfortable feeling aside, he turned sideways to look out a lopsided window. The sight that greeted him sent alarm through his system.
"Can you walk?" Xel asked sharply, voice tight.
Linn immediately straightened. "I think so, why?"
"Because we need to move. Now." Caden got to his feet, crouching down immediately as Linn did the same. "Hold my hand."
She gave him that strange look again.
"The last thing we need is to get separated in this squall," he explained, expending effort to keep his voice even, outstretching his open hand.
"Oh," she said softly, putting her smaller gloved hand in his.
Xel turned back toward the closed door and started moving toward it, gently nudging it open as quietly as possible, then stepping out a few feet. When no one started shooting, he motioned Linn forward with his free hand and fell into a slow, crouched jog, his red-haired companion in tow. The three snowtroopers he'd glimpsed a small distance away were fast approaching, but not fast enough to stop them from ducking through a crevice in the side of the mountain.
Nevertheless, the whine of several blasters discharging reached Xel's ears, and the Mando quickly yanked Linn in front of him, putting himself between her and the incoming fire. None of the shots came anywhere close, since there was a wall of rock and ice between them and the attackers a moment later, the pair climbing one boulder after the next as an icy wind blew through the six-foot-wide crevice. They only managed to rise twenty feet before they ran out of handholds, Xel tugging Linn up to his level and holding her body close to his as she shivered violently.
"Here," he said hurriedly but calmly, reaching to the back of his belt and pulling something from a hardcase.
Linn did a double-take as he threw it around her narrow shoulders, the Mandalorian shoulder cloak managing to cover most of her less insulated areas. Xel pulled one of the pins from her hair, sticking it through the insulating fabric and keeping it folded around her shoulders. She nodded her thanks even as he turned around, his movements rapid and focused as he ignited his lightsaber, the snap-hiss of the sapphire blade even louder in the veritable echo chamber they were in.
Five seconds later, a hole had been drilled through the thick ice barring their path, allowing them to duck into a system of caves so dark, their hand-holding was the only way Linn could navigate without going straight into a wall. Xel was doing much better with his helmet's night vision, navigating with some difficulty the maze that was the inside of the mountain. Inevitably, he heard the rapid echoes of pursuing steps and tightened his jaw, picking up the pace and half-dragging Linn along.
When he stretched out with the Force, he found many more signatures than he'd previously assumed, over a dozen, in hot pursuit. His teeth gritted hard, free hand tightening around the grip of his blaster. His Force connection reached in other directions, to Alen, Ezra, Kanan, to anyone who could hear, but he was either too far or too emotional, because nothing came back. Mild hyperventilation hit him as he wondered at it. I've faced far, far worse odds before, so what the hell…
He blinked once, hard, as he felt the appendage holding onto his right hand for dear life. Oh. His grip tightened slightly around hers as he kept up the pace, both of them practically sprinting toward what Xel hoped was the exit.
Alen's eyes snapped open as his hands rose from a previously serious wound on a shrapnel victim. His bond with Xel opened completely, and he mentally recoiled when he felt the near-panic from his brother's end.
"Xel?" he sent.
"Where the hell have you been, vod?!"
Alen winced at his tone. "The explosion didn't just take out the bridge emitters, it took out most everything within a fifteen-foot radius of them. I've been helping to treat the victims."
"Well, we need you now!"
The Jedi's brows furrowed. "Wait, we?"
"Linn's here too. I caught her when we were falling. She's okay…for now."
Alen sighed in relief and looked over at Eran, who was staring numbly at the ground, seated halfway in a medevac vehicle. "That's great news. Where are you?"
"Right now? In a kriffing cave somewhere below you. We've got a dozen bucketheads in pursuit and no end in sight."
"Okay. Okay, just…keep moving. I'll find you. Somehow."
"Hurry, vod. I don't know how long we can keep running."
Alen looked back toward Eran, but the rebel was long gone, the transport having already taken off back to base. Pursing his lips, he ran toward the Ghost crew on the ground, tapping Kanan on the shoulder. "I just got contact from Xel. He's with Linn, but they're in trouble. We can't wait any longer. Gotta look for them now."
The Jedi Knight nodded once, turning his attention back to the man he was treating. His hands pressed against an open wound and sealed it with a scab mere seconds later. Kanan looked pale and tired when he got to his feet, but was still going when he gave Alen a nod and waved Zeb to come with them. A landspeeder was procured from Garth after a bit of yelling on his part and liberal usage of the Force to change his mind. Kanan raised an eyebrow at Alen's blatant abuse of power, but said nothing. He understood the boy's willingness to bend the rules for family.
Barely a minute later, they all mounted into the procured vehicle, Kanan driving while Alen kept the front passenger seat and Zeb covered them from the back with his bo rifle. The Lasat was scanning the snow for any threats, his keen eyes more than trustworthy behind the barrel of his blaster.
"Where are we headed?" Kanan asked, eyebrows furrowed under his winterized hood in concentration.
Alen closed his eyes and reached out over the bond. "Not sure…the link's kinda fuzzy. Strange. That's never happened before."
"What do you think it means?"
Ice-blue eyes opened as he pointed toward a snow-covered hill off to the right. "Don't know." His expression went grim. "Nothing good."
5 minutes later
In hindsight, manually throwing a high-explosive missile into the middle of a crossfire may not have been the best of ideas, considering the density of flying plasma, but hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Xel and Linn had just managed to exit the cave system when a squad of snowtroopers ambushed them from behind. Several glancing shots hit his armor after he put himself between them and the girl, more than a few of his own returned as they retreated. The troopers retreated behind the cover of the cave walls when Xel had opened up in an automatic burst, putting themselves squarely under the cave's entry.
He'd looked up and ruefully mused that it'd be great to have his rocket launchers right about then before remembering that he still had the rockets themselves. At that point, he'd cracked open his left gauntlet, yanked a missile from its loading track, and chucked it at the archway like a grenade. Of course, that was the exact moment the squad decided to open fire again, which means their gunfire detonated it just as it hit the halfway mark. Both sides were peppered with molten shrapnel and melted snow, but Xel took the worst of it, several barbs sticking in his bodysuit and leaving shallow cuts.
He hissed in pain as he withdrew behind a snow bank, Linn already having taken cover and kept her head down during the firefight. Xel returned fire on the recovering soldiers when she spotted his injuries.
"Xel, your shoulder!"
"It's nothing," he said genuinely. He'd dueled Darth Vader, wrestled with Purge Troopers, and nearly beaten a fellow Mandalorian to death—with his mind. A few metal scraps weren't gonna take him down. Another salvo emitted from his assault pistols before he noticed Linn's profound lack of weapon. "Here," he said, handing her his off-hand blaster while drawing his lightsaber with the now-empty hand.
Linn jumped on the opportunity to counterattack, exchanging fire with the incoming Imperials and keeping them relatively suppressed. That is, until fire started coming from another source. Red plasma crisscrossed the space between them as another two squads of snowtroopers sprinted toward their position, their white forms blending almost perfectly with the storm. On instinct, Linn fired in the direction of a plasma blast and was rewarded with a pained yell. Xel tapped her shoulder in approval, then yanked it as he pulled her away from a shot that would've left her head a smoking ruin.
"We need to move, now!"
Riilos nodded rapidly and clambered to her feet, sprinting in time with his long strides as they fled. Maybe I should've repainted the armor, Xel thought with a snarl. He shoved Linn behind an icy boulder as he followed her behind it, barely seeing the cliff drop just ten feet further. As he looked from his cover toward the incoming snowtroopers, about twenty or so, all told, he noticed another crevice on his right, one that would lead away from the battle and, if his instincts were correct, toward help.
He could feel his brother's signature fast approaching, but not fast enough. His teeth gritted as another plasma round smacked the boulder, reaching out with the Force and trying to reach his brother. Instead, he got a slightly foggy picture of him sitting in a landspeeder with two others, their features indistinguishable.
"Vod, you need to get here now."
He tried to send as much emotion as possible to transmit a Force-powered beacon to his brother, but in the heat of their battle, which was steadily heating up, he couldn't be sure of his success, and there was no audible response from Alen. Instead, he turned to Linn.
"Linn, you need to go. When I say, go through that crevice and keep going."
"What?" she asked, her expression shocked. "I'm not leaving you here!"
"Don't argue with me!" he growled, shifting his lightsaber to his right hand. "Just go! I'll get their attention!"
Without another word, Caden stepped from cover and ignited his saber, the dark blue blade barely visible in its white backdrop, but enough so that most of the incoming fire was directed completely at him. One bolt after another was swatted out of the air as he took a step forward, away from the boulder. The sound of one of his blasters firing from behind set his teeth on edge, and his momentary distraction allowed one bolt to slip past his guard. It hadn't been heading for his body, though, so he dismissed it.
That is, until his mind registered the feminine yelp of pain that followed it.
Xel's eyes widened to their max as he reflected two shots into their sources on instinct, then thumbed the blade off and withdrew behind cover. "Where is it?" he asked in a near-panic, hands drifting over her body to look for the injury. "Linn, where were you hit?" When she didn't respond, he looked up to her eyes and felt all the breath rush from his lungs at once. His helmet hit the snow-covered ground a second later.
"No," he breathed. "No-no-no-no…" One gloved hand lifted to her cheek, stroking it gently, then falling to her chest when her left hand guided his to the injury. "No," he whimpered brokenly, eyes staring at the blackened spot on the left side of her chest—right over her heart. Xel reluctantly stretched out with the Force to feel her life slowly ebbing away. "No…"
Not again, not again…
His head tilted down, chin hitting his chestplate as his entire body slumped in crippling grief. His jaw hung open in a silent wail, shoulder shaking violently as tears streaked down his cheeks. A gentle touch tipped his chin back up, and his eyes followed to lock onto hers. A breath left his lungs when he saw that same strange, affectionate expression on her face and in her eyes, a smile on her face even as she died in his arms. What happened next was so completely shocking that he couldn't help but stare at her for a few seconds after.
She kissed him. Full, on the lips, ever so gently. Gently pulled his head closer and planted her mouth on his. It lasted only a second, only a moment of agonizing contact…but it was enough. His Force senses activated almost the same way they had with Maila for the past weeks, and he felt every scrap of protectiveness, admiration, and pent-up emotion she'd been harboring for him for months. Belatedly, a small, insignificant part of his mind wondered how he'd missed it.
The rest could only focus on the way those feelings ended when her lips left his, suddenly and abruptly. When he opened his eyes again, in the Force and his body, then he knew that she was dead. A vise grip tightened around his chest, around his heart, so painfully he felt it would explode from the pressure. His right hand drifted from her wound to her pale cheek, gently stroking it as his left closed her eyes, then fell limp against his lap.
The hand stroking her face kept going, ever-so-gently, the appendage cupping her soft, delicate features, still smiling, even in death. It stilled when his features twisted in grief, the fingers biting into her skin slightly as his entire body began to tense. His head bowed, eyes staring into the blood-stained snow that melted with his falling tears. His shoulders shook violently, arms and legs following. His lips twitched repeatedly, oscillating from one state to another before something snapped inside him.
A familiar spark sent his upper lip curling into a snarl and his entire frame vibrating as rage consumed his insides, setting everything that wasn't already hardened to stone ablaze. Slowly, menacingly, his head rose again, eyes locking onto Linn's closed ones as his face just stopped feeling the cold. His eyes smoldered and hands loosened as they fell to his sides, two metal cylinders finding their way into his grasp as the Force flooded his consciousness with the approaching presences of twenty-plus stormtroopers.
And then he let the devil out.
An animalistic, inhuman roar came from one side of the boulder as two distinct snap-hisses split the air. The snowtrooper who came in first immediately began sputtering and choking as two beams of energy skewered him, then withdrew before decapitating both him and the man immediately behind him. They batted away a half-dozen bolts of plasma, their owner sending an expression so rageful and inhuman, they actually froze. It lasted barely a second, but it was enough.
Xel let loose another roar as the Force stormed through him and he leapt into the middle of twenty stormtroopers that didn't realize they were already dead.
Alen's eyes shut tightly, every fiber of his being focused on finding the source of the complete emotional upheaval that had finally cleared the fog and slammed into his consciousness. The orbs snapped open a moment later. No. "That way," he said sharply, pointing to a cliffside in the distance on their left.
Barely a minute had passed when they reached it, but it was the longest minute of Alen's life. He was the first to leap off the speeder when the sounds of blaster fire reached his ears, legs carrying him toward the source with Force-powered steps. When he cleared the edge of a particularly large snow bank, he froze completely, his jaw falling completely limp.
Strewn about like confetti from a cheap firework were the white-clad bodies of snowtroopers—or, what was left of them. Blackened heads, hands, arms, and legs were just as populous on the snow-covered ground as intact corpses, if not more so. Two more blaster shots rang out, and Alen immediately snapped his attention to them. No…Force no.
There was his brother, yanking Telia's blade from the chest of a trooper as his own blade deflected the incoming rounds, then moved so fast Alen could barely see it. Xel dashed toward the trooper in two Force-powered strides, one saber slashing his E-11 in two, the other taking both his hands off at the wrist. He shrieked with pain as he backed up into a large, round boulder, pleading incoherently as Xel stalked toward him, inexorable.
He let out a long, blood-curdling scream when both blades went into opposite sides of his lower torso, his body slowly lifted off the ground as both hilts kept him pressed against the rock. Alen's stomach did a sharp flip when Xel slashed both his blades sideways, toward each other in opposite directions. The bisected corpse fell to the ground with identical thumps as Xel just stood there, sabers held at his sides, staring at what was left with the corpse. Alen could only see his back, but he thought he had a pretty good idea of what was on his face: the rage, the scowl, the insanely burning eyes.
He couldn't have been more wrong.
The moment Xel turned, Alen saw his dark blue eyes, once so full of life and vibrancy, once full of happiness, now dead and dull, staring back at him as from a cadaver. His face was utterly impassive, no registry of emotion whatsoever. Only the continued rise and fall of his chest and his feeling in the Force could tell him his brother was still alive, because to the naked eye, he looked like a dead man walking. That feeling, though, was what worried him most.
It was the old familiar black hole—or the beginnings of one.
"Xel?" he asked quietly, taking a step toward him.
The Mando tightened the grip around his sabers, eyes narrowing slightly.
Alen froze in place, feeling the unease in the two sentients that had just arrived behind him, and raised one hand calmingly. "Easy, brother. I'm here. You're safe. It's okay."
Xel just continued to stare at him for a few moments, jaw clenching briefly. "It's really not," he replied in a broken whisper, barely audible over the ice-tinged gale.
His lightsabers deactivated a second later and returned to his belt as he marched toward the round boulder that still bore traces of the last snowtrooper's execution. When Alen followed him to the other side, his gut wrenched painfully. There lay Linn Riilos, peaceful and beautiful and lifeless.
"Oh Force," he breathed. "Xel…I'm so sorry."
He looked over at the boy in question and didn't see a boy. He saw a man, hardened by war, embittered by loss, angered by his own helplessness. The tumult inside him was plain for anyone to see, Force-user or otherwise, his tears both anger and grief-driven. Alen didn't add anything else, but when Kanan and Zeb arrived, the latter cursed in his home language and the former lowered his head respectfully.
"I'll get her body on the landspeeder," Zeb said somberly, stopped by a black-gloved hand on his arm, the grip tight and restrictive.
Instead, Xel crouched down and picked her up in a cradle carry, stalking silently over to the speeder, two Jedi and a Lasat forming a protective wedge around him. He was silent when he seated himself in the back, silent as he gently stroked Linn's lifeless face, silent during the entire uneventful trip back to base, silent during Alen's rough explanation of what he thought happened, which was surprisingly spot-on. When the Jedi looked over at him for confirmation, he just nodded, helmet tucked under his arm since Zeb handed it back to him.
He'd laid Linn's body in the morgue of the med center, hand brushing hair out of her face and crossing her hands over her stomach, then been pulled straight over to Commander Tobin, who listened with a carefully schooled mask as Alen outlined the botched takeover. Xel stayed completely silent throughout the whole hour it took for all this to complete, then strode off the moment Tobin dismissed them.
Alen stared at his retreating brother with half-lidded eyes, then turned back to Tobin. "I should check on my brother. He's…taking this hard."
Hile nodded gravely, dismissing the go look for Xel. It wasn't a difficult task. Whatever fog had existed over their bond before was gone, so all of Caden's grief, rage, and hatred, both internal and external, acted as a homing beacon for Alen. He found him in a materials warehouse that was quickly abandoned when its former tenants saw the incoming Mandalorian. The moment Alen stepped through the door, he became aware of a loud metal clang, turning a corner to see and hear Xel flipping a heavy metal table ten feet away, following with several downward blows to an empty metal crate that left fist-shaped dents behind.
He was practically wailing at the top of his lungs at this point, the sound heart-wrenching to Alen's ears as he watched his brother's complete emotional breakdown. He never let himself grieve for her. He never let her go. And now he's feeling all of it. About twenty seconds after his entry, Xel stopped breaking things—and probably his hands as well—and just slumped against a duracrete wall, his arms curled around his bent knees as he rocked back and forth, silent sobs racking his frame. He seemed so much smaller, no longer the stoic, imposing Mando most were used to seeing, now every bit the young child he was supposed to be.
There was nothing left in the tank but pain, and Alen knew it. So he strode over to the younger man and crouched down in front of him, not saying a word but unraveling his tense arms and pulling him into a tight embrace as his broken sobs were finally given a voice. Xel's armored limbs clenched around Alen's midsection painfully, but he could take it. If all the injuries he received from this necessary action were some bruises, it was the least he could do. After all, physical injuries were the easiest to heal.
When he seemed to calm a bit, the shaking reduced to semi-docile vibrations, Alen spoke softly. "I'm so sorry, Xel. I…I know she was special to you."
Another sob shook Xel's body before he answered in a broken whisper. "No, she wasn't."
Alen drew back a bit and stared at his downcast, reddened eyes in confusion.
Xel looked up, meeting his brother's inquisitive expression with one of misery. "But she could've been."
The Jedi pursed his lips and nodded in understanding, sympathy flooding his expression as he pulled his brother close again. "Xel—"
"Don't tell me it's all right," he rasped. "Or that it's gonna be all right. It's not." His arms tightened. "Nothing will ever be right again," he exhaled.
"I wasn't going to say that," Alen said softly. "Just that I'm here." He shifted a little to hold him closer. "I'm always here for you, vod."
Xel nodded into his dampened shoulder, body shaking again as the tears continued to fall.
Alen just held him.