Part 3 – A Lonely Alliance
Every day for over a week, Noris fought his restlessness by disappearing for at least a couple hours each day, and whenever he returned, he managed to have with him a sack of provisions. He always brought back some combination of water, rations, clothing, or medical supplies. When he was present, he helped take care of the injured until those who were hurt no longer needed any assistance. At that time, he would just sit quietly and observe the small world he had been forced to live within.
Breanne had recovered rather quickly, as her injury was minor compared to many of the others who had been within harm's way. She decided against using the cot she was given and had offered it to others who needed the place to rest more. The medically-trained people who ran this survivor camp had cleaned her wound appropriately and sealed it with adhesives that would ensure her scarring would be minimal.
Unlike Noris, who was very much experienced with helping the injured, Breanne stayed her distance away from the down-trodden survivors. She could do little more than observe around her and reflect on her pampered existence. She was so far removed from this kind of experience that she felt she was nothing more than an obstacle hovering in the way of everyone who had adapted to their predicament.
When one of the survivors finally put his plumbing skills to good use and managed to get the water working again in the physical education building they were using, a wave of relief flooded through the people. Having the ability to finally take a shower once more had revived many of the survivors, and after a couple days, some of them had adapted to this new way of life, finding a routine that allowed them to use the facilities for their normal habits.
For the last eight days, Breanne had emotionally lived outside of the shelter and those within it, as she could not relate to these average citizens. Noris was the only person who dared to give her consistent attention, and in doing so, they had often found themselves migrating to the outdoors, where the air cleared away the sadness and the hopelessness that lived within the walls. Sometimes they just sat in the open field, finding what little grass was left between the depressions that had been created by the turbolasers from the bombarding ships. A couple times, they had found themselves sitting on opposite sides of each other around one of the few trees still standing. Often on those nights they had debated their tenets and creeds and found no common ground, other than the survival they both shared in the past few days and the fact that they were the same in their opposing ways.
Tonight, however, Breanne chose to sit against the tree trunk, and Noris had chosen to lie on the ground on her left, so that he could provide her with appropriate personal space and look upwards into the vastness of the sky they all shared. In the dim light, he had noticed that she was wearing a non-descript combination of a light-orange tunic with brown pants. Despite the lack of adornments on her clothes, they were still a bright contrast to the dull, tan tunic and pants he had chosen from the stockpile of clothes he had been retrieving during his excursions in the destroyed city.
At this point, Noris had decided that he was done debating their philosophies, and he had concluded that Breanne had broken as far as she would in her Templar knowledge. The time had come to move on and find other topics of discussion because they both realized that they were tired of discussing the same never-ending debate.
"These past days have been a new experience for you, haven't they, Breanne?" Noris asked, as his eyes mindlessly wandered the stars above through the missing top of the tree. More than half of the branches were destroyed in the bombardment, and the destruction was strewn around the ground with branches and leaves long past their burning.
"Is it so obvious?" she questioned, not quite knowing which way this conversation would go. It seemed every time they talked, he had a way of taking her off-guard and spinning her thoughts in ways that she had never considered before. She felt she was always on the defensive, but for what exactly, she didn't know anymore. He made her question the very beliefs that she had been born into and raised to follow, and no one had ever done that before.
"You've remained separated from these innocent people while you have been living amongst them," he answered. "I can almost sense that you've never had your home destroyed, your possessions taken, or your loved ones harmed."
"You sound as if you have," Breanne replied, catching the way his blue eyes shone in the distance.
She wondered if maybe he wasn't looking quite so mindlessly, but he actually had a destination for his eyes. And, a brief spark of curiosity found its way into her thoughts as for what exactly he had experienced in his life, but she forced it away. As soon as they were free from the lockdown, they were going their separate ways, and she would never think of him or the way he made her question her beliefs again.
"You are right. It's not my first time in a survivor camp," Noris told her, keeping his vigilance on the stars. "There's always someone somewhere who wants some kind of power or financial gain, and it is innocent people like the ones in the shelter behind us who suffer for it."
Breanne again saw the truth in his words. She wondered how she had managed to stay so blind her entire life that she knew nothing of the true nature of the galaxy. Had Jaksen merely protected her too much or did he purposefully manipulate her so that she would never understand the life beyond her own world?
"I was born into nobility, and hold the title of countess," she quietly admitted to Noris, never certain why she talked to him as easily as she did, but relieved to have him with her to discuss the things for which she had no one else to understand. "My husband is not only a high-ranked Templar, but he is of noble bearing as well."
Nodding silently, Noris shifted his eyes around the sky above. "You were right to keep that knowledge to yourself. There is no aristocracy on this world, and advertising your status could bring unnecessary tensions."
Breanne decided she had nothing to offer to what he had said, and she opted to remain silent, keeping her noble breeding a secret between the two of them. She, instead, took a long moment to just look at the stars above. With the city still in lockdown and with the CIS in orbit, repair crews had not yet been issued approval to start a rebuilding effort, and the stars above them were the brightest she had ever seen, anywhere, without any artificial lights to dull their shine. She knew her husband and sons were somewhere out in that vast sprinkling of white dots, but she would not know where to even begin looking. There were so many stars and planets littering the sky above her that they all blended, and she could not discern one dot from the next.
"You also miss your loved ones," Noris said, as he continued to stay in his relaxed position against that welcoming patch of grass that covered the ground in front of the tree.
He had cleared away the debris days ago from this space, and he had enclosed it with the destroyed branches to give them a hidden spot where they were free from curious eyes and prying ears. None of the survivors needed to know about a Templar or an Assassin in their midst, and neither he nor Breanne needed to spend their time explaining ancient Orders and Brotherhoods that lived hidden in the galaxy to survivors who had other worries on their minds.
"How can you tell?" she asked, keeping her knees curled with her arms over them. She realized now that he could read her so clearly, despite how days ago she had been certain she had maintained her emotional walls.
"There is a sadness in your eyes that has you looking for home when you glance upwards."
While Breanne had fallen vulnerable to Noris, she also hated that she had allowed herself to be so transparent to him. Somehow, Noris was able to see her in a way that even her own husband no longer could, and it left her both sad for the man she had married and scared because a total stranger was able to see what the man who was supposed to be closest to her could not.
"I have a family, and I miss them," she admitted, "I have four sons who are long gone to their training."
"Are you lonely in your life?" he asked suddenly.
Breanne didn't like the question, despite how innocently it had been posed, and she started to gather her feet beneath her. However, Noris was faster as he rolled onto his side and took hold of her arm. It stopped her, and she felt her pulse racing, much as it had for so many of these days that they had been trapped together on Bevin. But, she pushed it aside, as she had every other time it started, and instead she got her thoughts back to his question.
Breanne was not lonely during the years she courted Jaksen, and they had a wonderful marriage. She doubted she would have willingly shared in the production of four sons with her husband if they were less than smitten. She just hated that the Templars had taken her family and separated them with duties. She longed again for those early days of her marriage when she and Jaksen were together and sharing a relationship based on emotions they both shared. Now, they seemed more of a business partnership than a loving companionship.
"That is not a question you have the right to ask," Breanne told Noris coldly and pulled her arm from his touch.
Noris relented his hold, but he stayed on his side, allowing his eyes to study her profile. He found the simple outlines gave her a sophistication and a curvature in her face that was pleasing in its classical lines. He was aware how Breanne had begun to question her Templar doctrines behind her hazel eyes, and that this experience had shown her the other side of her Templar comforts in a way that a simple discussion never could.
Breanne reconsidered her coldness towards Noris for a moment, as he did not deserve her anger when he had done nothing to deserve it. She had seen how much progress the two of them had made in the long days they had spent together in an effort to understand each other, and she only hoped she wouldn't regret turning his questions back to him.
"What about you, Noris? Are you lonely?"
He felt the emotional ache suddenly at her inquiry, but instead of closing down, he decided to use it to give her a sense of just how much alike they could be, despite their vastly different beliefs. "Eternally."
Not expecting such an answer, Breanne unfolded her arms from around her legs and shifted her position to study this very unusual Assassin. She thought he would have simply left his answer as vague as the ones she gave him, but when he saw he had her attention, he explained what he meant.
"I was married once, very long ago," Noris said, as his eyes turned again to the stars above and sought a life that he was never meant to have. "We had a daughter – Kaelyn – but she died unexpectedly and without any explanation before she was three months old. My wife was neither Assassin nor Templar, and she had led me to believe that she would stand beside me no matter what. But, Kaelyn's death had affected her and changed her, as she could not release her grief, and she blamed me for losing our daughter. She accused me of allowing fate to take our daughter from us as retribution for the lives I had extinguished in my duties to the Brotherhood. My wife no longer saw me as a partner or a protector, and she left, fearing that more death would follow her if she stayed."
Breanne shifted her eyes from Noris and the pain in his blue eyes that he had suppressed for so long. Instead, she brought her attention out to the darkness that fell beyond their little shelter of tree branches. Her thoughts were once again spinning at how vulnerable he made her feel and how easily he revealed himself to her.
"Your arm is healing well," Noris told her, changing the subject, as he sensed that no matter how much he told Breanne, she would still never be receptive to letting go of the war that would not end between her Order and his Brotherhood.
He could also see that there was a fine line between his awareness of the emotional ache within her and not pushing those reflections on her without insulting her. She was a strong woman, but so hollow inside that the wrong approach would shatter her into a cold and unforgiving enemy.
Bringing in a quiet breath, Breanne shifted her gaze to him, feeling a sadness for the grief she saw he continued to carry. "I should have thanked you for taking care of me. I am grateful that you didn't leave me there to suffer."
Noris sat up and turned to face her, his words giving her a truth he was certain she had never considered. "Just because our Orders are at war, it does not mean that we, as individuals, need to be. I wrestled for a long time with the thought of leaving my Brotherhood, and I had finally decided that I want to live the rest of my life in peace. I've lost so much that I am done with taking it from others."
Breanne caught something honest and sincere in his blue irises, and it was yet another strike she felt against the Templar armor she once wore so faithfully. She thought of Jaksen and how he was so strong in the doctrines, his beliefs unbending. He was so faithful that he had convinced her to send her sons – her children – away when they each turned of age to learn. He promised her that they would be taught by the best Templars he knew, and they would be strong to carry on the traditions and the need to bring the galaxy where it needed to be. She had not seen any of her sons since the day each of them left, and she ached to be a mother to them, guiding them with patience and compassion. Even her marriage had grown stale while her husband attended to business more than he did to her. She wondered suddenly if being a Templar was worth it.
"I am lonely as well, Noris," she admitted quietly, as her head lowered in a shame she had never acknowledged before. She did not fully understand why she had told this Assassin her darkest secret, but the words continued to fall from her lips. "I have been since the day each of my sons were sent away, and it has only increased every day thereafter."
Noris dared to reach out, and he glided his fingers along her hand, catching it in a gentle grasp. He heard her sharply inhale a breath and felt the way she trembled under his fingers. He moved just a little bit closer to her, the only light that glowed around them coming from the stars and the two moons above them. When her eyes raised to him, he saw very clearly the glint of want and need in her hazel irises, and it was a hunger she had hidden beneath her coldness.
Breanne felt the wash of heat and cold rush over her, his touch releasing a shiver that did not come from the night air. She saw a layer of warmth in his blue eyes, a caring that he had learned to bury and keep concealed. She swallowed down the dryness in her throat that had come on suddenly as his heated fingers curled over hers, tickling her palm and the back of her hand in a maddening way. Her heart raced, and she thought of her sons, lost to her in the galaxy. She reminded herself that she was married to Jaksen, and he did not deserve to be betrayed by the lonely woman inside of her – the lonely woman who had emotionally connected to the lonely man who sat before her.
The warmth of Noris' breath near Breanne's lips jolted through her, and the arguments within her head only grew louder. She realized that she was staring into those blue irises of his, and there was a calm in them that stirred emotions within her that she had not known for a long time. She brought her hand to his chest to push him back, as she knew such thoughts were a corruption to the vows she had given to Jaksen. She couldn't help but think that this man was nothing but an antagonist who was tempting her away from her vows and her commitments to her husband, her sons, and her Templars, and he would care nothing for the consequences she would endure.
Just as she was about to tell Noris to forget whatever seduction he was trying, she felt a flush of heat pressing to her hand, and she felt the raised line of a scar beneath her fingertips. Once more Breanne felt a shallow breath escape her lips at the warmth of his skin, realizing that in her attempt to push him away, her fingers were drawn to what lie beneath the untied laces of his tunic. While her fingers had continued their curious roaming, Breanne found her fingertips trace that scar along his chest. Her quiet gasp echoed softly on the night air as she came to her senses, only to find that her lips were brushing maddeningly close upon his. She didn't understand why her efforts to end this temptation only brought her closer to falling off the edge of a cliff for which there was no returning.
Noris saw how much Breanne was torn, and he would neither move forward nor walk away. He was keenly aware that she was a woman who craved attention and compassion and had been denied both, but he also was mindful about how she was loyal and faithful. The promises she made to another man held her from the moment that waited patiently before her, and he had decided that it was Breanne's choice as to whether she wanted to know the compassion he could let her experience or if she would remain faithful and be left questioning the opportunity that hung before her tonight.
Fighting his own hunger for her touch, he would not have expected such a moment to happen between them nearly two weeks ago when he was the prisoner she had curiously wanted to interrogate in her own way. Now, she sat before him with hazel eyes that he would gladly get lost within if it would allow her to see the Templars for the power-hungry fools that they were. He prepared himself for Breanne's senses to recover at any moment, and for her to toss him away in disgust, blaming him for tempting her and seducing her.
Noris breathed lightly, carefully, utilizing all his skill to make no motions that would betray the need he felt from Breanne's touch. The heat of her hand on him had caused his heart to race, and the tender brushstroke of her fingertips over the scar near his heart was comparable to an artist's brush painting gracefully. He had thoughts and words he could say to persuade her in either direction, but he held them, knowing that the battle within her did not need his influence. Even to say her name would send her one way or the other, and her decision was not his to command.
Breanne was consumed now with the gentle kindness in this man's eyes, and it was unlike anything she had ever seen before. She saw that he had his experiences with loss, pain, longing, and love. He had felt joy and had been betrayed. He was a survivor who fought for something more than just himself, and despite what he no longer had in his life, he sought to find more than what he had already known. What he had told her about leaving his Brotherhood was a truth so real, she could read it clearly in his blue eyes. A trembling wave of realization had come over Breanne at that, and despite the protests she had moments ago, they had grown silent. Somehow in the quiet stillness of the night, she had made a decision that did not come lightly.
She closed her eyes and breathed in the moment, quickly moving forward slightly, not allowing her conscience a chance to catch up with her decision. In her next inhale, the heat of Noris' lips were against hers, and Breanne was aware of how the trembling she had felt earlier had intensified under their kiss. Instinctively, she pressed to him with a want and a longing she had only ever reserved for Jaksen, and with that thought, Breanne felt the rush of the moment crash around her.
She ripped her hand from Noris' encasing fingers and set it next to her other hand upon his chest, and against some part of her that begged her not to, she pushed him back to break the seal of their lips. She lowered her head and sucked in a breath, confused as to why she would possibly feel a hunger for more and yearn desperately for his touch. Breanne chewed on her bottom lip, tasting the remnants of the ration bars that they were provided for dinner earlier and found the nutty flavor gave her a craving for his lips that she had never imagined she would know. She reminded herself about Jaksen but he felt so faded from her that this moment was all she could see.
Noris forced down his disappointment, realizing that whatever this infection was between them that they shared was the most confusing thing he had ever known. Eight days ago, Breanne Wynsridge was ready to see him killed for no other reason than he was an Assassin and she a Templar. Now, they were caught in a perverse attraction that should not exist – and it was beyond their involvement in the perpetual war between the Assassins and Templars – it should not exist because she was committed to another man. It should not matter whether she was unhappy and lonely in that arrangement, he had no right to invade her life in such ways. Yet, as she was unable to release her hands from his chest, he did not have the strength to reject her, as he knew he should.
Finally raising her eyes to Noris, Breanne swallowed hard as she somehow was finally able to let go of everything about her that was a Templar, a wife, and a mother. As she studied the kindness in Noris' blue eyes, she had decided that for one night, she would just be a free woman, one who could make her own choices and live in the freedom that the night gave her.
Aware of her fingers curling around the material of Noris' tunic, Breanne pulled him to her, feeling his lips yield once again to hers. After a few moments, his rough, warm hand found purchase on her face, and he cupped her cheek gently. Breanne felt fueled by his touch, and she did not resist as his other hand slipped around her back, and he slowly fell backwards onto the ground. Clutching to his tunic, she shifted with him, letting his movements guide her as she eased herself forward and settled onto him.
The darkness of night and the blockade Noris had made from the broken tree branches had kept them concealed from everything around them. In the time that they spent together, they were no longer on opposite sides of a war that had raged for eons. For one long moment in time, their loneliness was satiated, and they held onto the unique connection they shared, certain it was something that neither would ever know again. However, the one thing neither expected was that, while they would forever be separated after this night, their connection in this moment would one day entangle them once again to the choices they had made.