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As Jacqueline Rees glanced into her daughter’s room, she took quick mental note of any toys or furniture not bolted down. It was a tired routine and she found more unsecured objects than she liked, especially given the earlier tantrum and lingering charged feelings in the air. With a wince, she entered anyway, tamping down any open uneasiness on her face. A normal child was quick to hone in on chinks in the parental armor, a Force-sensitive one was even more keen.

Vanessa sobbed on her bed, a pillow curled against her face. In spite being left to her tears for a half hour, they continued without signs of abating. Making no attempt to hide her entry, Jacqueline crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed. The child noted her, reddened eyes glaring between strands of hair fallen over her face.

“Hey,” Jacqueline said gently, a hand reaching for Vanessa back. “We’re overdue for another talk.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Vanessa said immediately, defensively. She tugged the pillow closer and shied from Jacqueline’s touch.

Jacqueline withdrew her hand. “Well, no. Not in the last thirty minutes, But we’re gonna talk about what happened in here, and Halo.”

This renewed Vanessa’s tears and sparked a growing resentment on her face. “He talked to me! He did it first! Halo is hurting and we’re not helping him! He’s gone and nobody is helping him!”

“I’m helping,” Jacqueline said quietly.

“No, you’re not! You can’t talk to Halo! You can’t hear him. You can’t hear him because you’re not like me or Dad or Halo or Lydia!” Her face red, Vanessa threw her words like barbs.

“I wish I could talk to him,” Jacqueline replied, her voice tired, plain and laid bare.

The admission undercut some of Vanessa’s fury. Wiping her eyes with her sleeve, her nose raw, she sniffed at her mother: “Mommy, maybe if you try…”

With a strained smile, Jacqueline shrugged a shoulder. “Doesn’t work that way, kiddo. You know it well as I do. S’just how it is.”

Vanessa quieted. A weighted silence hung between them. Hugging the soaked pillow close, Vanessa broke the air first. “Mommy, I don’t want Halo to die.” Her small voice choked, barely able to form the final word.

“Me too, kiddo.” Opening her arms, Jacqueline tucked her daughter against her. The child gave in, curling against her chest. Tears ran anew.

“I don’t want Halo to go away like Dad,” Vanessa sobbed against Jacqueline’s chest.

Inhaling slowly, running a soothing hand down Vanessa’s hair, Jacqueline nodded. Her eyes betrayed no tears, her jaw set against the threat of any tide. “Me too, kiddo.”

They held each other, Vanessa releasing one last torrent until all was left was dry sobs. The sobs gave way to hiccups and finally stifled sniffs. Jacqueline held her through the storm, partly wrapped in her own thoughts, but with also a wary eye on their surroundings and whether the child’s outbursts inspired furniture to move. Everything lay still, standing in their proper place. Whatever power the child wielded earlier in the hour was spent for now.

Stroking her hair, Jacqueline took a deep breath. “I know why you want to talk to Halo. And you’re very brave. Just know we’re trying to protect you, kiddo. And I know you’re getting tired of that, s’why you started training when I wasn’t looking,” cupping Vanessa’s chin, she lifted the child’s gaze to meet hers. “Kiddo, I had a hard life. Was shooting a blaster before I was five. S’why I didn’t want you to train yet. But you’re too brave for that, aren’t you?”

Vanessa nodded, a hand grabbing Jacqueline’s.

“I’m proud of you, kiddo. You can train, and I’m not mad at you. But when it comes to talking to Halo, it’s dangerous. It’s dangerous until he comes home. And we will bring him home. S’why we’re here, why I’m working all the time. I want him back as much as you do,” catching Vanessa’s stubborn gaze, Jacqueline smirked. “Though apparently you want him back pretty badly.”

This inspired a short-lived giggle but a solemn look quickly returned. Recent losses snatched away most of Vanessa’s easy smiles and laughs. The sunniest days of childhood seemed behind her. Something clutched at Jacqueline’s chest with this thought. Holding her daughter in her arms just now, under these circumstances, was yet another first, a first of many delayed maternal moments after five years on the run. She inwardly skipped a thank you to the man responsible, a man whose grave had yet to be dug.

“Mom, do you love Halo?”

“Yeah, kiddo. Try as I might, still like the guy a whole bunch. Even when he runs off and gets caught.”

“Mommy, do you want to marry Halo? Halo told me once. He told me he wanted to marry you and showed me Lydia’s ring,” tugging at a chain on her neck, Vanessa pulled the ring into view. It was a glittering, multi-diamond piece of jewelry, undoubtedly chosen by Brembal as both a symbol and to impress. He was a man who lived for such grand gestures, yet they were far from as hollow as most material gifts traditionally were.

“Still have that ring?” Jacqueline teased. She noted the wear of the chain and to get Vanessa another. What was an incidental gift was now a precious heirloom of two souls passed on. She also had the thought that had it not been for the ring, or rather the reason for it, none of them would be here. Curling her hands around it, she smiled at Vanessa.

“Keep taking good care of it. Brembal gave that to Lydia when they were young. Not young like you, more like Halo and me,” Jacqueline winced, realizing she stumbled back onto the topic she so easily sidestepped.

“So you want to marry Halo?” Vanessa latched on and made a leap in child logic. There was also a tinge of hope to her voice.

“Yeah,” Jacqueline sighed, shrugging a shoulder. “Y’know, if he asks. Or maybe I’ll drag him to court and marry him, myself. Either way, first thing is to get him back. And you can help by training — and not talking to Halo through the Force. Okay? Everyone’s gotta focus, we all got our part. I need you to be brave and do your part, okay?”

Biting her lip, Vanessa nodded with a familiar fierceness to her eyes. Jacqueline recognized a small child she knew decades ago, one with a blaster too large for her hands and dirt smudged on her face.

“Good,” kissing her atop the head, Jacqueline rose from the bed. “Rule’s still no play and dessert after that tantrum, deal’s a deal. But I’ll bring your favorite toy in here because you’re ready to help me. That good?”

“That’s good, Mommy,” Vanessa nodded, pulling her pillow close. “You’ll get my Manka cat?” Brembal’s first gift to her, nearly a year ago. The stuffed cat wore the wear of a toy loved for five years.

“Yep, that’s the one. Back in a bit. Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you, Mommy.”

Author Ari
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