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Aftermath

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"I'll be back shortly. Have Marr's crew service the Arallute in the meantime." I gave Vette a reassuring smile.

"Your name usually gets us pretty fast service. Shouldn't be a problem." Vette quipped. She turned back to the airlock and re-boarded our ship.

Jen stepped through the airlock on the other side of the narrow hall and smiled widely at me. "Ever get sick of meeting up like this?"

I nodded my head. "Just once, I would love to take a nice long vacation."

"That sounds wonderful! I would love to go back to Rishi!" Her nose crinkled as her smile grew larger.

"Quinn promised to take me back to Rakata Prime, once this whole business is wrapped up." I couldn't wait to go lay on the beach, under the shady palm trees with Malavai. My toes in the sand. 

"So maybe you should get a move on." Vette's voice came through my ear piece.

I motioned to Jen and took point. We turned down a corridor and were met by Captain Fora, who informed us that Darth Marr was waiting for us on the bridge.  I led the way, having been here before. Marr was pacing near the forward viewport, clearly anxious to get his search underway. I bowed to him. "I received your message. And now that I am here...I sense it too."

Marr looked out to the stars. "We grow closer every moment. Our former Emperor is out there."

"The sooner the we take him out, the better. Saving the galaxy is great, but I've got better paying jobs I want to get back to." Jen replied.

"Do we know what could have brought him to this area? My ship's charts don't have much." I asked Marr, hopeful that he would have more information.

"There are rumors of many civilizations in this region, but our only outposts nearby were destroyed without explanation some time ago. The culprits were never determined." Marr stepped closer to the viewport. "Why travel so far? Why consume every living thing on Ziost, then turn and flee into the depths of Wild Space?"

"He definitely didn't sound afraid the last time we spoke. Could this all be just a game to him?" Jen asked.

"We'll soon find out. If we do find him, I believe I can press the Dark Council into line...But I am beginning to doubt the the Republic will make any serious contributions. Their assistance has been useful, but limited."

"There are at least a few people in the Republic who can be reasoned with. I could contact Theron Shan." Jen offered.

"He is a spy. But...if we have no other means..."

"With or without the Republic...this has to be done. We'll find a way." I vowed.

"We'll see." Was all the reply Marr gave.

An officer interrupted our conversation. "My lord! Sensor contact...fifteen clicks. Small...no life form readings...some kind of probe?" No sooner where the words out of his mouth than the probe flew past the viewport. 

Another officer spoke up. "Readings are identical to scans from the unknown source that attacked Korriban!"

"Raise shields. Pursue and destroy." Ordered Marr. 

"Why would someone send a probe out here? Some kind of survey?" I wondered aloud.

"We can find out from the wreckage." 

The probe continued flying at a breakneck speed, right into a large fleet that blinked into view before us. I had never seen ships like these before. The size and number was intimidating. I looked at Jen, knowing that the same thought was probably going through her head. Our ships! The Arallute and Mando War would not stand a chance in a space battle with ships of this size. We had to warn our crews.  

"Evasive maneuvers! Come about 180 degrees!" The Destroyer turned to face the unknown fleet head on. The ship shook under our feet.

"We've been boarded! All decks report hostile forces!" One of the officers shouted.

"We'll sweep for boarders. You get us out of here!" I ordered. Jen followed close behind me, engaging shields around both of us.

I heard Marr giving orders as we left the bridge. "Set deflectors to double aft! Divert weapon power to the engines!"

Jen and I made our way through the ship, taking out droid after droid, but more and more infiltration pods were piercing the Destroyer. I carved a path to a hall and saw two men arguing over a blast door. There were soldiers trapped on the other side. "Drop the sheild and let me through--I can handle this."

"Right away!" The Republic soldier said with a salute.

"We'll cover the exit and make sure no stragglers sneak out past you." The Imperial soldier said.

Jen and I went down the hall and took out the droids that were making their way to the soldiers that were trapped. Once freed we all rejoined the two soldiers in the main hall.

"You did it!" Said the Republic soldier. "I've never seen anything like that..."

"Regroup at the bridge--we can't lose control of the ship." I ordered all of the soldiers.

"Right away. Thank you" The Imperial soldier said before leading everyone else back the way that Jen and I had come.

We were sweeping the next deck for anymore intruders when the barrage of weapons fire started hitting the Destroyer. The deck rolled under our feet and I lost my footing for a second.

"--thing isn't working right. Are you there? Droids put a bunch of holes in the airlock and melted the docking clamps--we could use some help!" Vette was near panic.

"I am on my way Vette." I looked at Jen, fear gripping me. "The Arallute...They can't get free."

"Mako, can you guys break free?" She was quiet while she waited for an answer. "I will be right there." She shook her head at me. We ran back to the hall where our ships were docked. There were fires sprouting up and not enough astromech droids to put them out. Crew members were in a panic and running down halls trying to find places of refuge. This situation was growing more dire by the moment. Jen and I manually released the docking clamps on our ships.

"That did it--we're free! But, uh...there's an awful lot of these guys out here!" Vette exclaimed.

"If you see an opening to escape, take it. Someone has to make it back to the Empire." I told her. She had to get out of here. If I didn't make it, at least those that I loved most would. I had to hope. I was glad she was at the helm. I couldn't bear it if it was Malavai. I know he would argue, he would stay and fight, he would die. 

"What? And just leave you here, in the middle of all this?"

"Yes, it is the only way." Go Vette! I urged her.

"I...If you say so. We'll bring whatever help we can find, just...don't die out here." And then she was gone. I watched as the Arallute banked and fled from the fight.

I closed my eyes and thought of my Captain. Malavai, I love you. If I make it out alive, I will find you. Please forgive me. I looked to Jen, I am sure my face matched hers, the pain of having to tell our crews to leave us behind. Knowing that though they lived they would forever be altered by this day. The pain was staggering, the only relief was that I wouldn't have to bear it long. The ship was coming apart around us. 

"The enemy has breached the engineering deck--they're after the primary generator. I'm on my way now--Meet me there." Marr wasn't going to go down without a fight. I nodded at Jen and we changed course and headed to engineering. We found Marr in a cross section, droids closing in from every side, the raw fury and utter destruction he caused his enemies was something to behold. I had never seen him in battle before, but it gave me a whole new respect for him. "The bridge is secure for now. But without main power we will be destroyed in seconds."

Jen looked at him with an angry glint in her eyes. "Lets not waste any time, then." We followed Marr to the engineering, weapons drawn, ready to cut down any more of these swarms of droids. Once we reached the engine room Jen quickly looked everything over. "The power core is strained to the breaking point. We can recharge the shields, but they still won't last long." 

Marr slapped the console in front of him. "The hyperdrive has been completely burnt out."

A hologram of Captain Fora appeared. "Enemies on the bridge! Repeat, enemies on--" The hologram disappeared as quickly as it has appeared.

"There are rudimentary back up controls here, but the enemy ships have us surrounded. We have few options left." Marr sounded resigned.

"Then we save as many lives as we can." I pushed a button that would broadcast to the entire ship. "Attention! Shields are failing and the enemy has us surrounded. Evacuate now, while you still can!"

Part of the ceiling came crashing down behind us. "So be it." Marr said, shaking his head. The Destroyer shimmied, and the floor pitched beneath me. There was a horrible screeching sound as the ship ripped itself apart.

Chapter Text

I felt the sublight engines engage and we made a sharp bank. What was Vette doing? Emmynn was still aboard Darth Marr's ship. I was not leaving her out here in Wild Space.

Malavai, I love you. If I make it out alive, I will find you. Please forgive me.

Her voice brought me up short. She had already made the decision, had forced Vette to leave her behind. She had taken away my choice to stay and fight.

I saw from a side view port a blinding flash of light. I felt as the shockwave rocked our smaller craft. Darth Marr's destroyer had been occupying that space and now the giant ship was pulling itself apart. Sparking and smoking as it slowly rotated in its death throes.

My world had been on that ship.

I rushed to the cockpit just in time to hear Pierce giving orders to Vette. “Get us out of here!” He was leaning over the console, one of his arms partially blocking her view of the map.

“I am trying. Get out of my way and let me do my job.” She glared up at him, angry tears in her eyes.

“Pierce, get off the bridge.” I ordered. I turned to Vette and spoke softly but urgently. “We can't leave, not yet.”

“I have orders, from Emmy. Please Quinn, I can't fight with you right now.”

I rested my hand on her shoulder and nodded. “I know you have orders, but look out there.” I pointed towards the destroyer. Among the wreckage were small escape pods. Dozens of them. “We have to defend them.” I had to hope Emmynn was on one of the pods.

Vette looked up at me, a small hint of a smile on her face. “Looks like I have new orders.”

I nodded again. “Those people may be hurt and will need treatment. Let's do what we can to make sure they get to safety. Hail Mako. We could use their help.”

“Yes Captain.” Vette immediately started pushing keys to hail the Mando War.

I turned and found Pierce blocking my way, his arms crossed over his chest. “You are going to get us all killed on a fruitless rescue mission. This is a waste of our time.”

“As long as our people are out here we will not abandon them. Now, get off my bridge!” I pushed my way past Pierce and went in search of Jaesa. If anyone else could feel Emmynn it would be her apprentice.

I knocked on Jaesa's door and it slid open to reveal the young Jedi, kneeling on the cold durasteel floor. Her dark head bowed in concentration. “Jaesa…” I whispered quietly, afraid to ask her what I so desperately needed the answer to.

She looked up at me, her brown eyes focusing on my face. “I can sense her out there. She isn’t conscious, but Emmy is alive.”

Relief overwhelmed me, I wasn’t just imagining her pull. She was alive! “Thank you.” 

“Quinn, whatever this is, it isn't over. The Force is in chaos right now.” Jaesa took a deep breath and bowed her head again. “We are all in very serious danger.”

I stepped back into the hall and turned back towards the bridge. Thankfully Pierce had vacated the small space and it was just Vette and I. I slid into the copilot seat, the one Emmynn used to occupy when I first joined her crew. “How are our rescue operations going?”

“At this point we are just following the pods to safety. Those ships backed off once Marr's destroyer…”  A tear tracked down her cheek and she looked away. “Emmy ordered me to leave her behind and that will be the last thing I ever hear her say. It shouldn't end like this, it isn't fair!”

“Vette, pull yourself together. We have work to do.” I reached across the console and took her hand in mine. She looked over at me, shocked at my touch. “You will get the chance to yell at Emmynn once we find her. After I get done yelling at her.” I smiled gently.

Vette nodded and used her free hand to wipe away her tears. We both turned our attention back to the view port and watched the pods make their way through space. Both lost to our own fantasy reunions with our favorite Sith.

“What were you thinking, ordering Vette to leave you behind?”

“I thought I was saving your lives.” Her eyes flashed dangerously.

“But what kind of lives were you leaving us to? One where Vette would carry the weight of your death on her shoulders for the rest of her life? One where Jaesa would lose her teacher and she would be twisted by Vette's guilt until she loses her way? One where Broonmark returns to killing indiscriminately? One where Pierce gets himself killed for doing something stupid because you aren't there to stop him?”

“And you?” Emmynn challenged me.

“Me? Emmynn, my love, I would never recover.” I pulled her close to me and held her against my chest.

“You would throw yourself into your work.” Emmynn whispered.

 You know me so well. I would fill my time with work. But only to keep myself from feeling the ache of losing you.” I pressed a kiss into her hair and tightened my hold on her. “You do know that Vette is waiting to speak with you?”

 She looked up at me with a mischievous smile. “Should I be scared?”

  I looked at her with a nod. “Very.”

 Vette's voice pulled me from my thoughts. “We will be landing soon.”

 

Chapter Text

"Breaking News. Reports from Wild Space are coming in. Darth Marr's flagship was destroyed." I hushed everyone else in the room and turned up the volume. "Eye witness accounts describe a massive fleet dropping out of hyperspace and engaging in a space battle with the Destroyer, and the small fleet that accompanied it. Orders to abandon ship were given, but it is presumed that Darth Marr did not survive the explosion. Along with him were a mix of Republic and Imperial allies. Emmynn Quinn the Emperor's Wrath, and Emmogen Cadera Champion of the Great Hunt are both missing and presumed dead." Their pictures flashed as their names where announced. Emm, with a friendly smile, dressed for some ceremony instead of battle. And then Jen. Her picture didn't do her justice. Head thrown back in laughter. Her eyes closed and her nose scrunched up. There had to be some mistake, she couldn't be dead. The room was silent, everyone trying to process what was happening. I felt trapped. I couldn't breathe.

Suddenly cameras cut to a staging area and Gault's face loomed in front of the camera. He was angry and was trying to push the cameras away. I saw the rest of her crew behind him, Mako was crying into her hands, Torian had his arm wrapped around her shoulders, Blizz's little hood was all I could see of the Jawa, Skadge lounged against a wall and scowled at everyone. The camera swung around and the familiar face of Malavai Quinn came into focus. He was keeping his cool, but I could see that underneath his mask of calm detachment he was feeling the same suffocating feeling I was. He politely answered some questions for the camera and then excused himself to go tend to the wounded.

I watched as they played the video feed from one of the ships that had been on the scene. The fleet that had come from nowhere and opened fire on the Destroyer class flagship. I could make out the Mando War and what I assumed was the Arallute given it's proximity to the Mantis class ship. The explosion started in the center of the flagship, causing a chain reaction of explosions through the rest of the Destroyer. My heart hammered in my chest.

I needed to be doing something, anything. I needed to go to Wild Space and find her. I had wasted too much time already. I grabbed my jacket off the back of my chair and dashed out to my aratech. I jumped on the back and gunned the engine. I sped into an open lane and weaved in and out of traffic. I had a plan. It wasn't a good one. But I couldn't sit here and do nothing. If Emmogen was out there I had to find her. I skidded to a halt outside my building and ran inside. I punched in the code to my door and rushed to my bedroom. I threw extra clothes together, along with the instruments I needed to re-calibrate my implants. I shouldered my bag and locked the door on my way out. I hopped back on my aratech and sped to the spaceport. 

I started preflight checks before I pulled in to the spaceport. I boarded my ship and put in coordinates to Wild Space. My search would begin where the survivors had been taken. Maybe someone there would have clues. I piloted the ship out of the hangar and headed out into the que of ships waiting to leave Coruscant. "Come on. Come on." I urged the other ships to move faster. It was finally my turn. I broke atmosphere and left the core worlds behind me. 

It made no sense for me to be hurtling through space to search for her. But this is what we did. We saved each other. I had to find her at all costs. I couldn't be the one that let her down. We had never defined what this was between us. Flirty banter and a couple of kisses. She was married, I didn't have any claim to her. But I couldn't deny there was something there. I knew it was a selfish thought, but she had to still be alive, I had never told her how I felt. She needed to know. I needed to know if there was any hope for us.

I thought about reaching out to the Mando War. But wasn't sure her crew would be willing to share info with me. We had worked together, but I was still the enemy. And Torian probably would not like that I was out searching for his wife. I felt more comfortable contacting the Arallute. Emmynn's crew would be more willing to share anything they knew if it meant recovering her. I hailed the Arallute and was relieved to find Quinn at the helm. "Captain." I nodded to him.

"Agent Shan. Now is not a good time. I am sure you have heard the news." He replied curtly. 

"That is why I am contacting you. I want to help search...I can't sit still and do nothing." I ran a hand through my hair. "We were allies once. I consider Emm and Jen friends. I want to help search for them."

"Don't believe the reports. My lord is alive. I will find her." His voice was full of conviction, his eyes tight.

"How can you be sure?" I wanted to believe him. Odds were, if Emm was alive Jen would be with her.

"I would know if she was dead. I don't know where she was taken but she is still out there." Quinn took a breath before continuing. "As much as I hate to say it. I would welcome the assistance. There is a lot of space to cover."

"Truce?" I asked.

"For now, Agent Shan."

"Good. Do you have any leads? I am heading to the port all the survivors were taken to after your rescue."

 "That is a dead end. I am running a grid pattern from the site of the explosion. Supplies are running low though. I will have to restock my provisions soon." I could see the predicament, he didn't want to abandon his search, but the Arallute would need fuel.

"Give me your coordinates. I will join you there." 

"Transmitting." He pushed some keys and sent me his location.

"Thanks Captain. See you soon."

"Until then." He cut the transmission.

I put the coordinates into my navigation system. Twenty-eight hours until I would reach the debris field. What was I going to do for twenty-eight hours? I searched for news reports and come up empty. I paced. I slept. I paced some more. I checked the news again, there was nothing new that would aid me in my search for her. "I'm coming Jen. Hold on."

  

Chapter Text

I woke up in a cell, my hands were bound in front of me. My whole body ached. Where was I? The last thing I remembered was Darth Marr's flagship being ripped apart around me. It was a miracle that I was alive. Alive! If I had been rescued that meant maybe Emm and Darth Marr were both still alive as well. We could find a way to get home! I thought about Torian, the way his face would light up when he saw me stroll on to the Mando War, like it wasn't a big deal. I pictured his blue eyes, and his rare smiles that he only shared with me. Mako would be beside herself with joy. Gault would get a kick out of it, like it was some big gag. And little Blizz, he would cheer my return, but assure me he always knew I would come back. Torian had to be going crazy right now, not knowing where I was. I had watched as the Mando War fled into space when the unknown fleet had dropped out of hyperspace. Wherever they had gone, at least he was safe. I struggled to sit.

A young man stepped from the shadows. His rich garments were white, edged in gold. He wore a black mask that covered most of the left side of his face. I could only see one of his eyes, it was a strange orange color. His left arm was gone, in it's place a black cybernetic arm. The tech looked very advanced. I had to admit, it was impressive. His voice was deep when he spoke. "You've awakened. I trust you can walk."

I groaned. My whole body was stiff. "What is this place?"

"My flagship." How did he not choke on his own pride? "You have arrived at the heart of our Empire. Come along." He nodded to a soldier who came over and started prodding me with the muzzle of his rifle. I glared at him as I stood. He silently followed behind me. The owner of the ship turned and walked into the hall. Emm was in the cell across from me, and Darth Marr was in the cell next to hers. Each of them were released from their rooms, I could see they were bound just as I was.

Marr's bindings were straining, obviously not made for someone of his stature. He towered over our masked captor. "What "empire" have we entered?"

"The Eternal Empire. Zakuul." Came the deep baritone. "You didn't even know who's territory you were invading?"

"We didn't "invade" anything. We were looking for someone." Emm tried to explain.

"In an armed warship?" Clearly our captor had already made his mind up about us.

"We weren't looking for a friend." I quipped.

"What do you hope to achieve by taking us prisoner?" Marr challenged.

"I have questions." The young man pointed at the three of us. "You will provide answers."

"We will tell you nothing." Marr intoned.

"You won't have to speak to give me the answers I need." With that he turned and led the way down a hallway. The soldiers pointed at us to follow. We were led to a small shuttle which took us to a docking ring, which would then take us to the surface of the planet.

The cool voice of an air traffic controller came through the shuttles comms."Prince Arcann. Final docking sequence initiated." So our captor was royalty.

We walked down a long hall towards the docking ring, men with blue lightstaffs stood on either side, lining the hallway, saluting their prince. "We recovered the records from your ship's computers. Or what was left of them. Fascinating reading. He turned to Emm and Marr. "You Sith are quite formidable." His attention turned to Emm. "You most of all. To alter the course of galactic events as you have..." His eye flickered to me. "Quite impressive."

"I sense your connection to the Force. You have great strength...but do you know how to use it?" Emm challanged him.

"You are not here to educate." Prince Arcann sneered. 

An older man entered the hallway from the other end. "Prince Arcann." He said with a bow.

"Heskel. Still waiting for the catastrophe that you and your Scions foretold?" 

"You may close your ears to the whispers of fate, my prince, but they cannot be silenced."

"I wonder if silencing you might suffice. Take your superstitions elsewhere, Heskel. They are not needed here." the prince ordered.

"Your followers don't seem to be as sure of your invincibility as you are." I jeered.

"Unimportant relics with unfounded beliefs. Don't be swayed by their nonsense." Arcann said over his shoulder.

"Is this why you brought us? To hear you bicker with your soothsayers?" Marr asked.

"Come along." Arcann said with a small wave of his hand.

"You're taking us to your master." Marr growled.

"I am taking you to my father, Valkorian. The Immortal Emperor of Zakuul." the prince said. 

Emmynn and Marr shared a dark look between them. "An Emperor. Just what we were searching for." Marr nodded to her. 

"You will not find what you wanted here." Arcann answered. He led us to the elevator and we took the docking ring down to the planet below. Zakuul. We exited in a lavish throne room. There were more men lining the aisle. At the far end of the room was a large staircase that terminated in a large throne. Behind the throne were floor to ceiling windows offering a view of the city beyond the the seat of power. Sitting on the throne was was an older man, wrinkled and with shortly cropped white hair. He watched us approach with a satisfied smile on his face. Arcann knelt at the foot of the stairs. "His Glorious Majesty. Immortal Master and Protector of Zakuul: Emperor Valkorion." What a mouth full. I would have rolled my eyes if it were possible for a Chiss.

"Welcome." His greeting didn't sound sincere. The word almost hissed as it left his mouth.

"A new name, a new face...these are not enough to hide from us." Darth Marr said.

"Marr?" I asked. I didn't like what he was implying.

"I would know his presence anywhere. The Sith Emperor." He confirmed my suspicions. "We've been hunting you..."

"Bad news everyone--your "Emperor" has been two-timing you with us. And killing a whole lot of people, including his own." I said to the assembled men here. Arcann stood, his body rigid with anger.  

"Your constant silence across our history--this was your distraction?" Marr mused. Arcann moved to the base of the steps and turned to face his father's accusers.

"This was my focus. Everything else...the means to an end." He stood. "You claim to have come all this way to find me. Here I am. What do you want?"

"To destroy you. Once and for all." I answered. He would pay for Ziost.

A humorless laugh rumbled from his chest as he descended the stairs. "You say you know me--if that is true, then you know the depths of my power. Whatever you hoped to achieve here, you know--deep inside--that you cannot succeed." He stopped midway and folded his hands behind his back. "But you do not have to stand against me." He released Marr's restraints with the wave of his hand. Why did I not feel like this was a charitable move? "Instead...you can kneel."

"I will never again kneel to you." Shouted Marr. Arcann turned toward his father, waiting to be given the command to attack, but Valkorion held up his hand, staying his son.

"You would sooner die than acknowledge my superiority?" Valkorion asked.

"It is you who fears death, "Valkorion". I do not. I will not kneel." Marr turned to the nearest honor guard and pushed him backwards with the force, his light pike fell to the floor and Marr summoned it to his hand. Three of the honor guard charged him, and he threw the pike through the nearest ones chest. He fell, knocking the other two aside. Another guard nearest Emm charged towards Marr, but was lifted off his feet and flung off the edge of the platform, falling hundreds of feet to his death. Valkorion raised his hand and a stream of lighting cascaded over Marr's body. He fell to the floor next to Emm and I. Emm winced at his passing. Feeling his death ripple through the force.

A young girl came out of nowhere and stood over Marr's body. She was clad in black with gold trim, and wore a hood over her dark hair. Her cold yellow eyes looked up at us. "Clear the room. Everyone out!" Her shrill cruel voice ordered. The rest of the guard and the soldiers filed out of the throne room. She turned and followed them. 

Emm looked up at Valkorion. "Marr gave the Empire leadership while you used us for your own gain. You are nothing compared to him."

"He was narrow-minded...bound by irrelevant ancient dogma. But I think you are different. In all my centuries, you alone have merited my full attention. You leave your mark upon the galaxy wherever you act, just as I do. Look around you. Zakuul is poised to become the greatest civilization in the history of the galaxy. I have forged this empire to surmount my previous works. To span eternity." He descended the rest of the stairs towards us. "The Eternal Throne commands a fleet more vast than any ever built. It has the power to reshape the galaxy into any image that I choose. That we choose." He amended. "I will share all of this with you...if you only kneel." He held his hand out to us.

"I've seen the things you do. "Sharing" isn't one of them. You're a monster--I'll never join you." I answered for both of us.

"So be it." Valkorian stepped back and signaled to Arcann to dispose of us. 

Arcan stepped in front of Emm and pulled out his lightaber, twirling the golden blade before whispering to us. "You came here to defeat him--this is your chance!" He sliced through both of our restraints. He tossed Emm one of her lightsabers and a blaster to me and then ran to his father's back and attacked. Emm engaged her saber, the pink light springing forth. I backed her up. My blaster trained on Valkorion.

Valkorion had sheilded himself and Arcann's attacks bounced harmlessly away. He pressed on, trying to find a weakness in his father's shield. Slowly turning Valkorion's back to us.

"First your brother, now your father?" Valkorion asked him.

"Does my ambition truly surprise you?"

"You do not have ambition. Only jealousy." He held his hand up at the edge of his shield and stopped Arcann's downswing. Arcann was unbalanced, giving Valkorion the upperhand. He released another great bolt of lightning, which enveloped the prince where he stood. He fell to the floor, dead or unconscious I could not tell. "That is why you fail."

Meanwhile Emm and I had circled them, and she snuck in close enough to run her blade through Valkorion's back. "This is for all the people you've forced to suffer and die." She disengaged her saber.

He looked down at the gaping hole in his chest. "So be it." He said again. Tendrils of the force curled around him, writhing. Another laugh rumbled from his chest. Waves of force energy pulsed through the room, like a storm, making it hard to stand. And then it all collapsed in on Valkorion, and exploded. I remembered nothing after that.

Chapter Text

I love you Malavai. If I make it out alive, I will find you. Please forgive me.  I replayed her words over and over in my head until it almost drove me crazy. I drifted alone at the edge of the debris field, the last place I had seen her. I knew she was out there somewhere, I could feel her. Granted, the pull was weak. And the further away I went from Wild Space the weaker it was, until it was nothing more than a flicker. But I continued to make trips here, just to feel that pull, to know she was alive. I had tried to use the tether to trace her, but it seemed unfocused, confused. I didn't know what it meant. I had lived with this tug for so long that I didn't know how to live without it. I had failed Emmynn once. I could not repeat that mistake. I would search for her until I found her, or I died in my pursuit. 

Agent Shan had come to help me in my search, who would have thought I would receive more help from a Republic spy than I had from the Empire she had served. No one in the Empire would dedicate time or resources to searching for Emmynn or Emmogen. I had petitioned for an audience with the Dark Council and had gotten nowhere. The only one that had been willing to champion my cause was Vowrawn.

Eventually everyone else gave up. First Pierce and then Broonmark. Without Emmynn's binding force they had no reason to stay. Jaesa became despondent and unfocused. She left us to seek her own path, Vette took her leaving hard. Theron received a message and had to return to Coruscant. Vette and I were left alone to continue the search.

Then one morning while we were resupplying the Arallute, Vette told me she couldn't stand to make another trip to Wild Space. Her heart couldn't bear coming up empty again. She urged me to make peace with Emmynn's death. "Quinn. She loved you. More than anything. Emmy made me leave her behind to save your life. Don't waste her sacrifice."

"Vette. I know she is out there. I have heard her. I can feel her." Why didn't anyone understand? She needed us to save her.

She looked at me sadly, her violet eyes filled with tears. "Please take care of yourself." She lightly kissed me on my cheek and she walked down the Arallute's ramp and disappeared into the bustling spaceport. I thought about going after her. But I knew Emmynn would want me to honor Vette's decision. For all of Vette's faults, of which there were many, she had loved Emmynn as much as I did. I found that a part of me would miss the Twi'lek girl. I finished my preflight check and headed back to Wild Space. That had been three weeks ago.

I had charted the debris field, from there I had plotted a grid and had systematically searched in every direction, trying to find a trail. The only thing that I had succeeded in doing was filling in our star charts. I sat at the helm of the Arallute and put my head in my hands. The weight of my failure was a burden that I wouldn't wish any other man to bear.  I chuckled wryly to myself. She had asked me to forgive her. But I needed her forgiveness. I couldn't find her. I hadn't been able to keep our crew together. We were all scattered now. Tears clung to my eyelashes and I wiped them away. I was of no use to her in this state. Had I ever been? When it had mattered I had let her down every time. I felt so small, so insignificant sitting there floating among the wreckage. The galaxy was so large and the only clue I had was that she was out here...somewhere.

I turned down the lights and retired to our quarters. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I needed to shave and get some sleep. There were faint purple bruises under my eyes. This was the Emperor's fault! I had served his Empire faithfully my whole life, my father had given his life for the Empire. Emmynn...my breath caught in my throat. I swiped my arm across the top of the dresser, knocking all the pictures of everyone who had turned their backs on her to the floor. I fell against the dresser and gave into the despair I felt. Tears flowed unchecked down my cheeks, who was here to see it, to stop it? I didn't have to be strong for anyone else anymore.  

I slipped into our bed, that no longer held her scent. I craddled her pillow to my chest and stared at the empty space beside me. I felt hollow. Malavai. I closed my eyes and silently begged for her to speak to me again. I don't know how long I lay there waiting to hear her voice again. I thought of all my favorite memories of her, hoping that maybe if I concentrated on her she would feel me. It was foolish, I knew our connection didn't work like that, but I didn't know what else to do.

The first time I saw her, dancing a lively waltz, her blue eyes bright with excitement. Wishing I could work up the courage to go meet this enchanting woman. Emmynn looking up at me dreamily from underneath her purple mask, arallutes woven into her long tresses. Reaching up on tip toe to kiss me. Emmynn dancing in the Slippery Slopes, the lights bouncing off her skin. Her auburn hair was free of the normal buns she wore back in those days, and was bouncing wildly in time with her movements. Her eyes were closed but she had a huge smile on her face. Emmynn and Vette, laughing about something I had said, her blue eyes flashing to my face and the blush that colored her cheeks. The tender look she had given our niece, Emmilee the first time she held her. Her waking up for the first time after being attacked by a varactyl, and the first word she had spoken was my name. I was kissing tears off of her cheeks as she wept from the pain of breaking the barrier marking her virginity. The beautiful look in her eyes when I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. Her walking down the aisle, on Vector's arm, wearing white, looking like an angel. The night she dressed as an angel for a masquerade ball. The fury she unleashed on Baras as she struck him down. 

Malavai...I don't know where I am...I am scared.  Her voice sounded far away, like it was taking a lot of effort for her to reach me. I sat up in bed. If she was scared, after all she had seen...I couldn't imagine something that would scare her, and that thought scared me. If she didn't know where she was, how was I going to find her? I almost wept again. Instead I got up and put my feelings into a letter for her. Hoping with my whole heart that she would read it and she would return to me.

 


 Subject: I remain your loyal servant.

My lord, it's likely I'm prattling to no one. Still, I had to send something.

You're not one for minced words, so I'll be blunt: The Empire needs you. More than that-- I need you. Discord reigns in Drommund Kaas. Without your leadership, the crew disbanded, and I have received little assistance from the Dark Council or Imperial military. No one will grant me an audience, much less answer my inquiries.

I should have come with you aboard Darth Marr's ship-- stood in my rightful place by your side. I know I've made mistakes, but I thought I had a lifetime to make up for my betrayal. Now I'm faced with the possibility of never seeing you again... and it makes me ill. I cannot accept it.

The shame of my past actions and my love for you will fuel me for eternity. No matter what anyone says-- I know you're alive, and I will find you. Even if it kills me.


 

 Four days had passed and the Arallute would soon need fuel. Reluctantly I set coordinates back to Dromund Kaas. I took one last look at the debris field and engaged the hyperdrive. When I landed on Dromund Kaas I packed a bag. Knowing Emmelia would demand that I stay with her and Emmilee. I locked down the Arallute. I wasn't sure how long I would be here. I would petition the Council and the military again. I had used up my bereavement leave, and was nearing the end of my vacation leave. I had not used much of it in the ten years I had served on Balmorra, and while under Emmynn's command I had not used any, though we had taken plenty of vacations. Perks of working for a Sith. But my leave was almost over, I needed to apply for emergency leave. The Imperial Navy may not be willing to search for her, but they owed it to me, to give me the time I needed. I had served with distinction, and other than the one blemish my record was spotless.

I showed up at Emmelia and Vector's townhome in Kaas City. Letti, opened the door, her green eyes searched mine for an answer to the question she was too afraid to ask. I shook my head no. I had not found Letti's oldest and dearest friend. Again, I felt the weight of my failure weighing me down. Letti stepped  back and let me in. Calling out to Emmelia. "Cipher, Captain Quinn has come to visit."

Emmelia appeared in the doorway to my left. "Quinn! Welcome home!" She came into the entry way and hugged me. She was about the same height and build as her younger sister, and when she wrapped her arms around me, for a second, I remembered how it felt to hold Emmynn. When Emmelia released me she took hold of my arm and led me into the parlor. "Letti, will you please make us some tea, and let Lee know that her Uncle Quill is here." She smiled at me sadly. "Still no news?"

I closed my eyes as I fought with the tears that were threatening to start again. "Damn it Emmelia! I know that she is out there, I can feel her."

Emmelia nodded. She understood the force connection that Emmynn and I shared. Probably better than anyone else. Of course she was married to a Joiner, who was connected to a hive mind. So a force connection wasn't so far outside of the realm of possibility for her. Everyone else thought I was just crazy with grief. Maybe they had a point. I did spend days floating in the debris field. "I don't doubt that you will find her." She laid her hand over mine, her brown eyes looked sad. 

"Thank you. Have you heard from Vector?" I asked. 

"He is still out checking with nests closer to Wild Space, but so far he hasn't found any leads. No one has seen her." 

"Uncle Quill!" Emmilee squealed and I turned to see my niece run into the room. She flung herself into my arms. I pulled her up into my lap and hugged her close to me. She was the spitting image of her mother in miniature. Except for her hair. Where Emmelia's was straight, and a darker brown, Emmilee favored her aunt, her hair was an unruly mess of reddish curls. Her big brown eyes looked up at me and a frown turned down the corners of her lips. "Uncle Quill?"

I chuckled in spite of myself. "Yes Emmilee?"

"I miss Aunt Emmy, when is she coming back?" 

"Lee..." Emmelia hissed. 

Emmilee looked from her mother, and back to me. "No one will tell me anything. I am a big girl now." Her little lips turned into a pout. She reminded me of Emmynn when she didn't get her way. 

"Emmilee." I started gently. "Your aunt is missing. But I made a promise to find her. And I intend to keep that promise."

Her little arms wound around my neck and she put her head against my cheek. "I am sorry you are sad." For a six year old she was very insightful.

The next morning I would go to Military HQ to put in a request for emergency leave. I would not give up my search.

Chapter Text

I had one last thing to do. One last tie to sever. And then I would be free of this yoke. The cost of my freedom was something precious. How I carried the weight of my decision...It didn't feel like freedom. Emmogen was dead. I would never again wake to see her sleeping by my side. I would never hear her mangle our language, unless it was a curse, those she had mastered. She was sarcastic, and stubborn, she was a terrible liar, impulsive, always looking for a fight to get into. Normally these traits annoyed me, because I wanted to protect her, but they had also been why I loved her, and they were why I missed her. I don't know what possessed me to write a letter to her, but having my feelings out in the open made the burden easier to bear.

 


 Subject: Nu kyr'adyc, shi taab'echaaj'la

A Mando knows every mission could be the last. None of us can count on seeing the next sunrise. There's only now. Sometimes we get lucky, and we march together all our lives. Sometimes, we only get a single battle. You and I had a few years.

They were good years.

You honored me. You saved my life. You loved me better than anyone ever has. I'll repay those debts. I'll carry your memory with me on every hunt I take until the day I die.

The ones who killed you are invading Imperial space. They think we won't fight back. They're wrong. Mandalore is gathering the clans, and I'm answering his call. Ret'urcye mhi doesn't mean goodbye--it means "maybe we'll see each other again." If there's another life beyond this one, I hope we do.


 

I had spent years hunting for her. That had to be over now. I had to grow up, move on. Everyone else had. I hadn't kept in touch with anyone. After I left Mako on Carratos I had flown to Tatooine and left the Mando War at our sprawling villa. No, it wasn't our home, it hadn't been for a long time, it was now a museum to a life we once shared. I had left every part of that life behind. Except her. I carried Emmogen with me in my heart. But it was time to heed Mandalore's call. To go to war. Time to take the fight to the people who had taken her from me.

The shuttle touched down and what was left of Clan Cadera met me as I disembarked. We were a small clan, but growing, little by little. There were greetings and friendly jabs shared all around.

"Welcome home Torian." The newest member of my clan greeted me, with a bright smile.

"Thank you Kaitia." I returned her smile with a nod and headed towards my tent. Kaitia falling in step beside me, her hands knotted together and her head down. Something was on her mind. "Is there something that you wanted to discuss with me?"

She looked up at me, startled. "Oh...um, no, it can wait, if this is a bad time."

We had reached my tent and I held the flap open so she could step inside. I let the flap fall shut behind us and I stepped around her so I could put down my bag. I sat down and let out a sigh. I was weary from my travels. I looked to Kaitia waiting for her to speak, since it didn't seem like that was going to happen without some prodding I spoke first. " Kaitia, I want to hear what is on your mind, but I need to prepare for my meeting with Mandalore."

She looked up from her boots with a blush on her cheeks. "I know what you are planning, and I think it is nice." Her face grew redder as she spoke again. "I hope that if I ever fell in battle someone would love me enough to do the same."

 "I am sure you will find him someday, and he will honor you." I reassured the young woman as tears filled her eyes. It made sense, you were supposed to cry at funerals. 

"Thank you Torian. I will leave you to prepare." She stepped to the flap and lifted it, glancing at me over her shoulder as it fell shut behind her.

I soon stepped outside and looked to Mandalore's tent. I hoped he would grant my request. As a clan leader I had the authority to act on my own but I felt it only right to go to the head of Clan Lok as well. 

I pulled back the flap on his tent and stepped inside."Mandalore."

"Torian. Welcome back. I trust your business has been concluded?"

I nodded. "There is just one final thing to do. It is something I can do on my own, but I want to do it right, and as Emmogen's clan leader I felt I should speak to you first. I don't want to dishonor her or her clan. There is something I would like to do for her."

"What is it that you are after here, Torian?" Mandalore looked at me pointedly. 

"I am ready to have a funeral for Emmogen."

He looked confused. "This is an irregular situation. We should have held a funeral ceremony when she went missing, not years down the road. What has changed your mind?"

"If she were alive she would have come back to me by now. She would have made the past couple years just a memory, a bad dream." But she hadn't and I had to accept that she wouldn't. "I can't continue searching for someone who isn't there." 

Mandalore didn't seem surprised by my request. But he didn't seem pleased either. "You wish to abandon one of my daughters?"

"I mean no offense. But I can't move on. As her husband I am bound, to continue my search for her. Bound tighter than any man should be."

Mandalore thought for a few minutes before answering me. "Emmogen is a favored daughter. She has earned much honor for Clan Lok. I will grant you your request. Clan Lok will hold a ceremony for her. As her riduur you will be the guest of honor." He looked at me. "You know what this means. If she still lives you will have severed your claim to her." 

I bowed my head. I had given this a lot of thought. No body had been recovered. I had no closure, no peace. I could not effectively lead my clan or do Mandalore's bidding if I was constantly divided in two. I either served Emmogen and continued to search for her. Or I served Mandalore and honored her in battle. Emmogen and I had worked so hard to restore the Cadera name. That was her legacy. And I didn't want it to go to waste. "Yes, Mandalore."

"We have no body. Do you have any of her armor?"

"I have that taken care of." I had brought some items from Tatooine. The beskar armor that I had made for her. Pictures of us. Our ceremonial marriage knot.

The pyre was built up and ready for the few items that I had brought. I placed her beskar in the center and scattered the pictures around it. I laid the marriage knot over the beskar where her heart would be if she were wearing it. I stepped back and took my place near Mandalore.

Other Mandalorians stepped forward with trinkets. At the end of the line, Max from clan Fett, one of her oldest friends, stepped forward and placed a picture of them on the pyre. It was a picture of them on Hoth as children, his arms slung around Distiago on one side and Emmogen on the other. Their smiles wide. Distiago, her older brother, was the last in line and he had brought a bouquet of frost flowers, they only grew in remote places on Hoth where they had grown up. 

Mandalore lit the pyre on one side and handed me the torch, I lit the other side. All around us voices raised in a traditional funeral song.

 

Motir ca’tra nau tracinya.

Gra’tua cuun hett su dralshy’a. Taung!

Motir ca’tra nau tracinya.

Gra’tua cuun hett su dralshy’a.

Aruetyc runi solus cet o’r prudii an.

 

Tomorrow was a new day. I would start my life over with a new resolve. Tomorrow I would go to war. Tonight was for goodbyes.

Chapter Text

Koth looked at me, his brown eyes full of concern. "Just promise me you won't take any unnecessary risks." His arms tightened around me in a too short embrace. I wanted to linger, to give him the reassurance that he needed, but time was short. The longer I delayed the higher the chance we would be caught.

"You worry too much." I kissed him briefly and slipped out of his arms. "Keep your comms open. I love you." I walked toward the air lock blowing him a kiss over my shoulder.

Teeseven rolled down the ramp behind me, cheery little whistles trilled out a message. "T7 + Lana = Brave." I looked down at the little astromech and chuckled.

"Yes, Teeseven, we are brave." Or foolish, I thought to myself. This was our last hope. Arcann and his fleet had to be stopped. His choke hold on the Empire and the Republic was close to accomplishing what all the wars between us never had. The destruction of both factions. The only hope I had left was to rescue Emm and Jen. If anyone could accomplish a miracle it was the two of them.

Teeseven and I made our way through the storage building evading patrols of Skytroopers. We reached the door to Arcann's treasure room and I turned to the little droid. "Time to do your magic."

"T7 = On it." He beeped. An arm extended from the center of the droid and plugged into a port near the door, which hissed open. I stepped inside and was shocked by the number of "trophies" that were stored here. There were at least fifteen carbonite encased prisoners. I only needed two of them. Teeseven rolled into the room and plugged into another terminal to find the correct slabs we needed. A carbonite chamber slid into place and I pushed a series of keys to start the thawing process.

"Teeseven do you have the other slab ready? As soon as this one thaws we need to have the other in place." We were on a clock, and this was taking longer than I wanted. Any moment we could be discovered. Emm's eyes opened, unfocused. "Don't try to move. You're dying. I may have your cure, but I'm not going to lie..." I raised an injection gun, filled with a serum to combat the carbonite sickness. "This will hurt." She fell to the floor in front of me as I loaded more serum into the injection gun. "Teeseven, get Jen out of there." Another chamber slid in place and I punched in the series of keys, and Jen was thawing. I started to relax, maybe we would escape without being discovered. I repeated the injection process once Jen was thawed. "That wasn't...quiet so bad."  

"Lana, you saved our lives." Emm said gratefully.

"I spared you from dying this very instant. We still have quite a ways to go. Gear up, quickly." I turned to the little droid as he issued a series of beeps.

"Vault guards = arriving // Lana + Friends = get ready!"

"Is that a Republic model?" Jen asked me. Her voice sounded hopeful. I wondered if she was thinking of a certain Republic agent. 

"Teeseven Oh-one. He's agreed to help rescue you." I introduced the droid.

"Not a very big crew." Jen quipped.

 "Yes, well it's the best I could manage. It will have to be enough. The Empire and the Republic have all but fallen to the man who imprisoned you. You two are our last hope." They shared a look between them that said "Here we go again." Jen smiled slowly at Emm. Behind us Teeseven let out a shrill whistle and rocked back and forth. The Skytroopers were here. The door opened and they came in blasting. I engaged my saber and ran headfirst toward the guards. "Come on." I shouted over my shoulder.

Emm leaped passed me and engaged the Skytroopers, while Jen let out a burst of gunfire. Between the three of us we made quick work of the droids. "What kind of prison is this?" Emm asked as we walked through the halls, watching for more patrols.

"It's no prison. This is where Arcann keeps his most prized possessions." I couldn't keep the amusement out of my voice. The look on Emm's face was priceless. Her blue eyes widened in shock.

"Possessions." She answered incredulously.

"Yes, don't you feel special now?" I didn't even try to hide the smile. Jen did her little head shake that meant she was rolling her eyes.

We turned down a hall and the door blocking our path wouldn't open for us. I used the force and the door slid open mere inches before slamming shut again. Emm looked at me, eyebrows arched. "Where's that droid?"

"Generating false security alerts in other sectors. Capable little astromech--" I explained. My comlink chimed, interrupting me. "Yes, I read you."

"An updated timetable would be good." Koth said smoothly over the com.

"Why? is there a problem?" Koth was a good pilot, but he took risks and we didn't have time for that right now.

"No. No problem...but we are starting to feel a bit exposed out here. You found the Outlanders yet?"

"Yes--I have patched them in." I pushed a few buttons, so that Emm and Jen could hear Koth's side of the conversation.

 "Great--I'm Koth Vortena. Welcome to the most suicidal mission in history. I hope you're everything Lana said you are." 

"Be patient, Koth, we're on our way--" I turned back to Emm and Jen. "Koth will fly us out of here, just as soon as we are through this door..." The computer terminal next to us lit up, showing us the video feed of the room that I had broken them out of. We watched as Vaylin walked into the room.

"I've seen her before..." Jen said.

I was filled with dread. "No." 

We were drawn to the video feed and we watched as Vaylin spoke with one of her guards. We couldn't hear what was being said, but from the looks of it, she was not happy with his answers. She lifted him with the force and snapped his neck before dropping him to the floor. She turned and looked into the camera and said something before using the force to destroy the camera. 

"We're not ready. Not for Vaylin." We needed to escape. Now!

"I can feel her searching for me." Emm sounded curious. 

"Her strength in the force is astounding. Even for her family." I drew on the fear that I felt and channeled it into enough force to get the door open. "Let's get you out of here. Hurry!" Jen rushed through the door on the heels of Emm, and I jumped through behind her, rolling to the floor as the door slammed behind us. There were more Skytroopers waiting for us on the other side. "Skytroopers. Vaylin's far from alone." We were going to have to fight our way out, good thing I had a the former Wrath, and the Champion of the Great Hunt, they could both be one woman wrecking crews. But together they wrought utter destruction. Jen did it all with a smile on her face, this was where she shined.

Koth came over our earpieces. "Starting to really bustle out here."

"Koth, Vaylin's arrived." I couldn't manage to keep the hint of panic from my voice.

"Already? Okay, let me know the second you hit the lift." 

I could sense the questions that Emm and Jen had, but were holding in check while we fought. We cleared a group of Skytroopers, and Emm's curiosity got the better of her. "What's the story with Koth? He's not Imperial..."

"He used to serve in Zakuul's military. Now he's dedicated his life to ending Arcann's reign." I said simply.

"Why? What did Arcann do to him?" She frowned, thinking of all the things that she had done in our Emperor's name, all the things our Emperor had done to our people. If anyone could sympathize with Koth it would be her.

"You can ask him yourself. Provided we get out of here alive." It wasn't my story to tell, and anyway, I wanted to give them the chance to get to know one another. Every path was full of patrols now, herding us into a confrontation with Vaylin, thankfully she was still on the other side of the door. But that wouldn't hold her long.

Teeseven beeped through my earpiece. "Guards = diverted // Security codes = scrambled."

I spotted a patrol ahead. "Excellent work, Teeseven. Keep at it." I drew my lightsaber and cut down the droids quickly.  We were nearing the lift. We were going to make it!

And then Koth had to dash my quickly rising hope. "Hope you're not too close yet!" 

"What's happening?"

"Nothing I can't handle, but we need to move the pickup!" Koth sounded stressed. 

"We don't have time for this." He was being shot at, and Vaylin was still behind us, searching.

"Well if I land now I will be shot to pieces. So just think of it as a personal favor to me, huh? Duck through another tower and I'll find you." 

"I hope you know what you are doing." Jen retorted.

"Love the enthusiasm! Always love our little excursions, Lana. Be back with you shortly." Koth clicked off his com.

"Are you two..." Jen teasingly asked.

"I'll pretend that's not your greatest concern at this particular moment." I snapped at her. Klaxons started blaring. Vaylin! She had made it through the door and now was in pursuit. "We have to keep moving." We made it to a lift that would take us out of the storage building. I looked at Emm, who looked as poised as ever, and then over at Jen, she had a smile on her face. Being in the middle of a fight put her in a great mood. I couldn't help but smile myself. The galaxy was in for one hell of a shock! I just had to get them off of Zakuul first.

Jen crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"It's...good to see you." It had been too long since I had seen them. 

"I have a million questions right now." Emm spoke up.

"I know." We watched as Koth's shuttle flew past the elevator windows, being chased by another shuttle. "The answers will have to wait."

We ran across the bridge out to the catwalks and ran into another building, trying to evade Vaylin and her Skytroopers. There was an explosion behind us and something slammed into the building that we had taken refuge in. The floor shook under us as the building took the brunt of the attack. Klaxons started blaring as the lights failed.

"What's happening?" Jen asked, looking at the door we had just run through.

"It's Vaylin. She'll bring the whole city crashing down on you if she has to!"

Koth's concerned voice flooded my com. "Lana? Are my scanners glitched? Did you just charge headfirst into a Skytrooper droid factory?" 

 "Vaylin's almost on us! We're out of options!" Why was no one taking this as seriously as I was. We needed to move.

"This is Altair Three all over again..." Koth argued. Now was not the time for this argument.

"We can handle a few droids! Come on!" Emm lit her saber and started leading the way through the building. We battled our way up a flight of stairs, and onto the upper floors. 

I needed an update on our pick up. "Koth, what's your status?" 

"Hostiles on my tail still, but I've got tricks they haven't seen yet." He replied cockily. "Woah!"

"Koth? Koth." My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach.

"That one they've seen before. Got to go. I'll keep my ears on!" He fell silent and we continued through the building. Another explosion rocked through the building and alarms started going off.  "What happened to the reactor? That wasn't you was it?" Koth asked.

I rolled my eyes. "Vaylin happened."

"Vaylin did that? Guess you were right about your Outlanders!" 

We ducked through a room and took a lift down a floor. A chirpy voice alerted us that the reactor core was going to self destruct. I saw a way out. "There's nothing we can do here. Let's go." I didn't want to be trapped between Vaylin and the reactor core.

"Don't you dare! If that thing blows, it's taking a whole lot of people with it! You can still shut it down! Half the city will go dark, but the countless thousands that live and work here will have a chance!" Koth argued. I knew this was his planet, his people, but we needed to get out of here, we didn't have time for this.

"Do you see? This is how far they'll go to stop you. We need to get you offworld now!" I looked from Emm to Jen and back again.

"The masses cannot fear you if there are no masses." Emm said as Jen stepped up to the controls and started trying shut down the reactor.

I should have known that the two of them would try to save as many people as they could. "You better know what you are doing." There was a small explosion in the reactor causing the building to shake. "Hurry!" I urged Jen.

"Relax, it's going to be fine." Emm tried to soothe me, while Jen continued inputting keys. Another small explosion sent lighting coursing through the reactor and the screen of the console Jen was using shattered.

"Relaxing didn't work so well! Now what do you propose to do?" I asked.

"Whatever I can." Jen said. "There." She indicated two more terminals closer to the reactor. "Emm go take out the terminal on the left, Lana, go with her, I will get the right one." She shielded herself and ran out the doorway on the right while Emm and I ran out the left doorway. Emm quickly started punching in keys.  We ran back to the main terminal room to regroup with Jen, but the core was still active.

This was madness! "Enough! I am taking both of you with me whether you like it or not!" Emm pulled out her main saber and struck the power bank, causing a small explosion that knocked us off our feet. But the reactor shut down. Lights blinked out all over the city. "Damn your stubborness! You just gambled with the fate of the entire galaxy!"

She straightened, her voice proud and clear. "I took a calculated risk. It paid off."

"You engaged in an unsuccessful attempt to kill all of us, is what you did." I argued.

"I never said you had to stay. Come on." Emm countered. She lead the way to the lift.

I looked at Jen and shook my head. "Unbelievable." She just looked at me with a smile on her face. I wasn't sure if it was because she was happy that they had succeeded, we were in the middle of a massive battle for our lives, or just that the two of them drove me mad.

We made it outside to the catwalks, and even though it was still daytime it was dark where we stood. With all the cloud cover not much sunlight filtered down this far. Emm looked around at the city. "The dark should help our escape." 

"Not as well as a massive explosion would have, but it will do." I hit my com. "Koth, where are you?"

"Ran into sort of a maintenance issue."

I sighed. "How bad is it?"

"It's not great, but we're on top of it. Give us...three minutes? Hang tight. Hope you aren't scared of the dark."

"You do what you have to. We'll be waiting." Jen told him.

"Let's find a place to lie low and--"

"Not an option." Emm said from behind us, her saber hissing as our position was being closed in on by a group of Skytroopers. "Three minutes. Right." She carved through them. Jen stomped one that kept moving, smashing its circuts. It finally fell quiet.

My com picked up sounds of a fire fight. "Koth? Is that...blaster fire?"

"Almost there! Three more minutes!" He shouted over the fire fight.

A shuttle flew over my head and two Knights of Zakuul dropped out. "Koth, we don't have three more minutes!"

"Two and a half!" He barked at me.

Emm stepped beside me, pulling out her sabers. She looked at me and nodded. Jen engaged shields around all of us.

"Outlanders! You are guilty of assassinating the Immortal Emperor, and of evading imprisonment." The larger Knight said.

"We demand your immediate surrender!" The smaller Knight shouted.

"Not so immortal if we killed him, was he?" Jen boasted.

"Knights of Zakuul. A policing body under Vaylin's charge. Force sensitives." I explained.

Emm took a few steps toward the Knights. "Your Emperor killed millions. He got what he deserved."

"Valkorion made Zakuul great. Now he's gone because of you! Surrender now!" The larger Knight said.

"You are about to make a grave mistake. I suggest you think twice." The threat was heavily implied in her words. I wanted to shake her, we needed to get out of here, dispatching the Knights would be faster than trying to talk them to our side.

"She must be joking. Take them by force." The Knights pulled their weapons and the fight finally broke out. I took the larger of the two, and Emm the smaller Knight. He kept force pushing her away, but she was relentless in her pursuit. Jen snared him with an electro net and I moved in on him too. With all three of us focusing on him he couldn't fend off our attacks and push us away at the same time. He fell to his knees  and rolled away. We turned to his larger friend and he jumped out of the way, onto a beam over our heads. "Tanek! Run! We'll fight another day!" He fled for his life.

Meanwhile I grabbed hold of Tanek by the throat using the force and lifted him off his feet. "You Knights, you're never taught to properly channel your anger."

Jen checked her weapons, making sure the chambers were clear. "Turn him loose." 

"So he can come after us again?" What was she thinking? This wasn't a civilian. She folded her arms and waited. I released him. "Not what I would call a sound strategy."

"We're going to be fighting against their new emperor. He'll tell them we're monsters. I want to show them something different." Emm clipped her sabers to her belt.

"We can worry about public relations after you're safely away from here." In the long run it would seem like wisdom, but in the short term my only concern was getting out of here. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than the catwalk around us started collapsing. The three of us ran for another ring, but the floor fell out right before us, trapping us on the narrow pathway. We turned as a unit and my blood ran cold. "Vaylin."

"I don't know you." She said to me, before turning to the women with me. "But you two. I've seen you..." She said in her cruel sing song voice.

I pulled my saber and stepped in front of them. "I'll hold her off as long as I can. The first chance you get--go." I told them.

"No way are we leaving you behind." Jen argued.

"You're impossible." I glared at her, before looking back to Vaylin and her Skytroopers. All of a sudden we heard a loud rumbling behind us, the sound of a shuttle. We were saved!

"Heads down, eyes open, run like hell!" He opened fire on Vaylin, who ripped a part of the catwalk up with the force and used it as a shield. Her Skytroopers didn't fair so well. The bright blue blaster bolts tore through their armor like paper.

I didn't need him to tell me a second time. "Come on!" I ran for the shuttle and jumped across the gap landing easily inside. Emm was right behind me. Vaylin threw the piece of catwalk she had been using as a shield at the shuttle, knocking it off course, the shuttle started to pull away as Jen leaped and she clung to the ramp, dangling over the city below. Fear gripped me, and I could feel it rolling off of Emm as we watched Jen struggle to pull herself inside.

HK-55 knelt down and grabbed her hand, hauling her into the shuttle. "Decleration: Meatbags can't fly." The droid commented.

Once we were all safely inside I palmed the door closed. "Hang on! I'm going to punch it!" Koth shouted. We all ran into the cockpit so we could see what we were up against. Alarms were beeping. "Got a little engine trouble." Something exploded and Emm fell to the floor in an undignified sprawl. "Okay a lot." Koth corrected. 

"Get up so I can set this thing down in one piece." Jen ordered.

"I've got it." Shouted Koth. We flew past a bank of anti air guns. "Guns locked on!"

"Get us out of here!" I urged him as the guns started firing on us.

"Trying to!" The left wing took a hit, shaking the shuttle. "Come on..come on..." He urged the shuttle to move faster.

The guns powered down one by one. A series of beeps sounded on my com. "Guns = offline // T7 = start new mission."

"Whoo!" Koth cheered.

"Thank you, Teeseven! We owe you one." He really was a handy little droid.

"Yeah, really." Koth agreed.

"Lament: No one has thanked me." HK-55 sulked.

"I appriciate the save." Jen nodded to him.

"Humility: It was nothing." He replied.

"Ok..." She said, doing her little head shake. 

"Salutation: Greetings. I am HK-55, fully armed for combat and at your command." HK introduced himself.

"Good to know." Jen turned back to look out the windows.

I looked at Koth, I felt a little bragging was in order. "I told you we'd succeed."

"You left out the part where I would lose my ship."

"You have to tell me what's happened to the Empire. And you haven't explained why my people weren't assisting you." Emm burst out. 

"My lord..." Where did I even begin? 

Koth interrupted me. "It's going to be a short trip. Might want to start briefing your friends here on what's been going on the last five years." I could have smacked him. He didn't have to be so blunt. "HK, make yourself useful. Check the stabilizers." He ordered the droid.

I watched their faces as the news sunk in. "Five years?" Emm asked. Her pretty blue eyes filled with tears. I could hear his name in her thoughts repeating like a mantra. Quinn. Of course he would be her first thought. Her only thought. I knew she would want more information. Information I didn't have. First we had to survive our escape from Zakuul. Then we had to depose Arcann and his reign of terror. Finding Quinn would have to wait. Along with the rest of her and Jen's people.

 

Chapter Text

Our stolen shuttle limped its way out of the city and out into the dark wilderness beyond. The guns had done more damage than we were prepared for. Fires were burning their way through different parts of the shuttle. "Get those fires out." Koth shouted over his shoulder. I looked at Emm, who looked like she was in shock. She hadn't moved since she had asked if it had really been five years. I should shake her, snap her out of it. We needed to survive this rescue so we could go find our crews.

"Did you think to take any extinguishers when you stole this ship?" Lana snapped. She walked passed me to see about those fires.

"Blast it...Outlander, you're up! See what you can do with this thing..." Koth stood and turned over the controls to me. I sat down and tried to even us out. We were coming in too fast, and our pitch was off. I tried to pull us up, but controls stopped responding, we were landing, hard.

"Brace yourselves!" I shouted. We slammed into the ground, and I bounced hard in my seat. I looked behind me to check on Emm, her hands gripped the back of my seat keeping her from slamming into anything. We were skidding through the dark, our running lights went out and I couldn't make anything out beyond the viewport. "Is everyone alright?" I heard a grunt from Koth, as he worked to untangle himself from the wreckage. Lana and HK stumbled into the main part of the ship and we all disembarked together.

"That's two more shuttles you owe me." Koth teased Lana.

"You didn't even own that one. It really shouldn't count." She teased back.

"It was mine when it crashed, it counts." He chuckled.

"I didn't realize we were being billed for this level of service." I interjected.

"It's just a little game we have." Koth explained.

"You will be reimbursed." She lifted an eyebrow at him.

"Of course. Never doubted it." He smiled at her in return.

Gross! I did not want to be standing here in the middle of this. I walked passed them, leaving them to their banter, and spoke to HK. "Anything on your sensors?"

"Confirmation: I've detected a large metallic object nearby. Analysis suggests a technological construct, but there are no energy readings."

"Whatever it is, it's got a better chances of flying than this thing. Engine's fried to a crisp." Koth answered.

"Skytroopers won't be far behind us. We need to hide the evidence of our landing." Lana said. Landing? Leave it to Lana to find a diplomatic way to say crashed. 

"I'll scavenge, you bury?" Koth asked.

"Just like Arron Prime." Clearly they had done this before. 

"I want you to know that I appreciate all you've done. You obviously risked a lot to rescue us--thank you." I said.

"You're welcome." Koth said simply.

"Though of course, the rescue isn't quite over yet." Lana looked from me to Emm. "I know you have more questions than answers, but we should really keep moving. I promise, I'll tell you everything I can as soon as we're safe."

"Enthusiasm: Shall we investigate the technological object? I believe I can guide us to its location." HK offered.

"Sounds like a plan." I motioned to him to lead the way. I followed HK-55 into the dark swamp to look for whatever he had found. Hoping that it would be something that would be able to get us off this planet. I needed to find Torian. My riduur. I had been gone for five years. He had to be crazy by now. Jen stay focused. HK and I made our way through the swamp checking hunks of metal for the signature he found. I noticed that whenever a creature rushed toward us unlike my old 51 model, 55 moved in to protect me, with no regard to his servos or exposed wiring. I regarded him carefully. "You act more like a bodyguard than an assassin. Is that your primary function?"

"Confirmation: It is a very difficult task indeed. That I have kept Masters Beniko and Vortena alive despite their high risk activities is my greatest achievement." He sounded proud of himself.

"The two of them seem close." Maybe HK would give me info that Lana seemed so unwilling to share.

"Deflection: I am not programmed to assess or discuss the emotional matters or meatbags under my protection."

"Uh-huh." I couldn't help but smile, even if he wouldn't confirm for me what I suspected.

"Admiration: It is a great pleasure to witness your skills firsthand, master."

"Master?" I was a Mandalorian, a bounty hunter. No one called me Master. Blizz called me Boss, but never Master. 

"Clarification: Master Beniko altered my programming before we secured your release. I am to serve you and Master Quinn with the same unexcelled loyalty with which I serve her, in fact, your survival is now my highest priority."

"I'm no more important than Emm, Lana or Koth. Don't prioritize me above them." 

"Concession: I will alter my prioritization as you request, master. Gossip: You are just as selfless as I had been lead to believe." He gave me a slight bow. "Resumption: Shall we continue?"

I nodded and we headed further into the swamp. The further we went into the swamp the thicker the air was. Until I was practically drinking the air. My skin felt slimy from the humidity, and the swamp itself. I peeled my gloves off and tucked them in my belt as we walked. I was thankful that I wasn't wearing my beskar or anything heavy when I had been captured. As it was, my thin top clung to me uncomfortably. I couldn't wait to get somewhere I could hit the refresher and put on clean clothing.

HK and I came over the top of a hill and were face to face with the technological anomaly that he had picked up on. The hull had been half buried in the mud, and plants were growing inside the exhaust ports. The swamp was doing its best to reclaim the space that the ship was occupying. It would be a miracle if this thing could get off the ground. HK sent a message to Koth, letting him know the location of our find. We jogged down the hill towards the ship. Down on the ground with the ship instead of of looking at it from above gave me a different perspective. I marveled at the sheer size of the ship. I let out a low whistle of appreciation. As we walked around the outside of the ship we were joined by Emm, Koth and Lana.

"Of all the junk out here, you had to find the antique." Koth said as he joined HK and I.

"Observation: Visible design elements do not match any from Zakuulan culture, antique or modern."

Koth narrowed his eyes. "Not from Zakuul...could it be?" His eyes widened and he turned to the ship and disappeared inside.

Lana smiled at me. "He doesn't over think things." 

A few minutes went by and Koth rejoined us laughing. "Do you have any idea what this is?"

"It looks like some kind of old spacecraft." I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue. Why make me state the obvious?

"This is the Gravestone!" He shouted excitedly. "This was the only ship that went up against the Eternal Fleet and won. Do have any idea how long people have been looking for this thing?"

"And we just happen to stumble upon it?" Lana asked skeptically.

I looked back at Koth and tilted my head. "You said this ship went up against the Eternal Fleet and won. But it's rusting in a swamp while the Fleet is still around."

The Fleet is even older than Valkorion, maybe even older than Zakuul. The battles happened centuries ago, nobody knows the details of the whole war. But every story talks about the Gravestone: one ship with the firepower to take on the Eternal Fleet...this is fate. We get your Outlanders, find exactly the weapon we need...we're going to win this thing, Lana. It's destiny."

"It's certainly no coincidence...but destiny? I think there's something else going on here." Lana hesitated.

"Do you think this is some kind of set-up?" Emm asked.

"No, not exactly...I can't quite put my finger on it." 

"Destined or not, this is an opportunity. I won't turn that down." I replied.

Koth was bursting with enthusiasm. "Let's have a look inside, huh?" He turned to lead us into the Gravestone, but HK had a warning for us first.

"Assessment: Nearby signs of animal activity suggest local predators may be using this wreck as a nesting ground. Caution is advised."

"We'll split up, deal with any wildlife, then regroup to plan our next move." Always the strategist. Lana sent Koth with me, while her and Emm went to explore another hall, and HK went off by himself.

Koth and I cleared the infestation one hallway at a time. Making sure to get rid of any eggs as well so they couldn't hatch and infest the ship later. The worst were the iknayids, for every one that we killed five more showed up. "So this ship has been here for ...a thousand years? More?" I asked him.

Koth nodded, and smiled, happy to share what he knew about the Gravestone. "Right. It's amazing that it's in such good condition, considering. Judging by damage I've seen, the stories are true: whoever built the Gravestone scuttled it themselves after the Eternal Fleet was defeated. It wasn't shot down."

"The Fleet was defeated, but not destroyed--Valkorion brought it back, under his own control, more than a century ago." Lana added as she and Emm rejoined us.

"Exactly. The Eternal Fleet is totally automated--nobody knows who first built it, and every theory is crazier than the last." Koth added.

Lana offered a couple of theories. "Renegades left behind after a successful droid revolution...representatives of an entire race of droids from somewhere beyond the edge of the known galaxy..." 

"Like I said: crazy stuff. But no matter where it came from, the Eternal Fleet is practically unstoppable, and Arcann controls every single ship from the Throne." Koth finished.

"So if we defeat Arcann, the Eternal Fleet isn't a problem anymore?" I was trying to keep up with all the info the two were throwing at me. 

"So long as the Throne goes to someone other than his sister, yes." Lana warned. "Regardless we have many other things to discuss. I owe you five years worth of explanations."

"And I'm going to need some parts to get this thing moving again." Koth looked to me hopefully.

Lana looked from me to Emm. "Locating supplies and fresh water would also be wise."

Water seemed like a priority. "I will help you find what we need, Lana."

She nodded. "Very well." 

"Assertion: I will begin a patrol pattern to ensure that no enemy forces report our position." Lana and I followed HK out to the swamp where he began his patrol, and we began our search for fresh water.

Lana and I walked through the swamp, taking samples, and I figured it was time to get some answers. "When we faced Valkorion, we knew right away. He was the Sith Emperor, Lana."

She looked at the ground as we walked. "I know...when he was struck down, it released ripples through the force. Everyone who had felt the Sith Emperor's presence in the past...on Ziost, on Yavin Four...we all sensed what had happened. Arcann invaded soon after, claiming that "Outlanders" had assassinated his father, the "Immortal Emperor". It didn't take long for us to unravel the truth."

So they knew we were alive. Or at the very least that we had made it off Marr's ship somehow. That gave me hope that Torian and my family would at least have a little bit of peace. "Which side did Arcann attack first?"

"Both. Ships from the Eternal Fleet stuck at shipyards and rallying points for both sides simultaneously. They favored ambush tactics throughout the war. Zakuulan sensor technology has far greater range than our own, and their ships can fly much further on less resources. Only ships retrofitted with isotope-5 could manage to outrun them. None could truly compete."

"How long did the Republic and the Empire manage to hold out?" I asked as I tested another water source.

"Within three months, the bulk of our naval forces were disabled or eliminated, and the Republic was in the same situation. With naval superiority Arcann's forces could begin choking off supply lines, trade...any ship travel at all. The Eternal Fleet seemed to be everywhere at once. Coruscant and Dromund Kaas were blockaded by the end of the first year."

I shook my head in disbelief. This was our fault. The Emperor was one thing, but Arcann...we had released him on our worlds. "How did it end?"

"The members of the Dark Council fought Arcann's invasion ruthlessly--and lost. The Empire's treaty was ultimately negotiated by the Minister of Logistics. Chancellor Saresh also refused to discuss surrender, but the Republic Senate managed to overrule her. A cadre of Senators negotiated their own cease-fire terms. All of those Senators have since been disgraced or dismissed. I'm sure you can imagine the likely culprit."

I nodded, Saresh would do anything to retain her power. "What about the Mandalorians?" I wanted to ask about Torian, but something held me back.

"I've heard rumors that they are still managing to fight somehow, but I've seen nothing concrete. I wish I could tell you more." She looked at me sadly. "So far the treaties with Zakuul have held. But that will not last forever." We walked into a different part of the swamp, and the water here was clearer. The air was clearer too, not so humid, and was full of fireflies. This place was beautiful and I marveled at the difference from the rest of the slimy, humid swamp. There was some kind of camp set up here, but no one was in residence at the moment. Lana tested the water here. "A fresh water spring. It should be safe for drinking." We filled bottles with fresh water and placed them back in our packs. At least we wouldn't die of dehydration out here.

"So the Eternal Fleet overwhelmed both the Republic and the Empire. What was the result?" I asked.

"Both sides are required to pay a heavy tribute to Zakuul, mainly raw materials and resources. They are also held under an arms limitation statute. The Empire and the Republic are breaking it of course, but they're still incapable of challenging the Throne directly."

"Who rules the Empire now?"

"Darth Acina was the only Dark Council member left standing: all others died or disappeared in the chaos. Without opposition she declared herself Empress of the Sith." 

I vaguely remembered the name, she hadn't been someone that had a lot of influence when we had met. "And the Republic?"

"Saresh remains in power, though she no longer holds the title of Chancellor. The Republic has limits to their ruler's terms, but her replacement is a mere puppet. Both sides see this only as an opportunity to eliminate one another at a time of weakness instead of combining what strength they have. Arcann does nothing to prevent violence between them so long as their tribute is paid and no one challenges Zakuul's superiority."

"What does Arcann use the tribute for? Zakuul doesn't seem to need much." What little I had seen of Zakuul, they lived in opulence.

"A question no one else seems to ask or answer--not in any detail. Zakuul's empire spans a sizable portion of Wild Space, but not enough to consume the resources they're acquiring. I've been working to learn the answer myself." Lana crossed her arms before she continued. Her voice took on a hard edge. "Powerful Zakuulan battle stations have been placed in orbit around key worlds to watch for possible uprisings, but there are no ongoing planetary occupations. The ships of the Eternal Fleet simply patrol at random, while the tribute paid to Zakuul chokes all economic potential."

"What about my team? The Mando War?" I asked.

"I have allies looking for them as we speak. With all of the chaos of the last few years, though, it will take time to find them all. For now we make do with ourselves, Emm, Koth and HK."

I wondered if one of those allies was Theron, his absence hadn't gone unnoticed. "You obviously put a lot of thought into getting Emm and I out--did you think about what would come after?"

"Of course--though admittedly I didn't plan on being stranded in this swamp. For now, let's take things one step at a time." 

"So why me?" I understood Emm, she was the Wrath, she was powerful. But me? I was good with a blaster. "You clearly went through a lot of trouble to get me out of carbonite."

"Before you were captured, you accomplished things no one else dared to attempt. You changed the galaxy more than once--and if things have ever needed to change, now is the time." I rubbed the back of my neck, uncomfortable with her assessment of my achievements. She hesitated before she continued, like she was trying to find the right words. "But ...there is something else. I've felt it since the moment I found you in carbonite. There's a power in you, both of you, something new...it's elusive, but I know it's there."

"I think you're right, Lana. I think the Emperor--Valkorion--is in my mind...and Emm's."

"What?"

 "After he died, there was a storm of energy...I barely even remember being thrown in the carbon freezing chamber. And then when I was frozen...I saw things...dreamed about him, about everything that happened while I was gone."

She shook her head in disbelief. "It can't be. If he were controlling you or Emm, I'd know it. I certainly saw enough of it on Ziost."

"He doesn't control me--he's not strong enough. All his power is just an illusion." I wasn't sure even I believed that.

"Deception is his greatest tool, yes, but...we shouldn't discount his influence so quickly. I believe in you. And I appreciate your honesty--I'll remain watchful for any influence he might have over you. For the time being though, we have no choice but to proceed."

"What about the others?"

"They wouldn't understand--and like you said, we really don't know anything for sure yet. Let's keep the matter between us for now." Lana looked at me with sympathy and placed her hand on my shoulder. "Let's get back to Koth and Emm."

I nodded and we left the pretty little camp behind and headed back into the dark swamp beyond. Back towards the Gravestone. I hoped that Koth had found the things he needed so we could begin repairs and get the ship airborne. I wanted to go home. I wanted at least an hour in a refresher, clean clothes, and to sleep in my bed, next to Torian. I thought of him while Lana and I walked. I remembered his messy blonde hair that I was always pushing out of his beautiful blue eyes. I missed him. I didn't know why he wasn't here, or when I would see him again, and that thought brought me up short. I knew he was out there somewhere, waiting for me...unless...Lana had said that there were rumors that the Mandalorians were fighting. If that was true, he would be there, in the middle of the battle. What if he had fallen...no! I couldn't, wouldn't imagine, a world where Torian was dead. The galaxy couldn't be that cruel, could it? To save me from death, once again, just to return to find him gone? No, he had to be alive. He had to be waiting. I knew it was selfish, but he had to be. He was the only motivation keeping me going right now. I was exhausted and just wanted to lay down. Just for a little while. But the need to see him, to hold him, tell him how much he meant to me, to say all the things I hadn't said when I joined Emm on Marr's ship kept me going. One foot in front of the other, every step would take me closer to him. One more step Jen. One more.

Chapter Text

Koth and  Jen were working tirelessly on the repairs to the ship while Lana and I tried to stay out of their way. We busied ourselves with clearing out small infestations that we had missed on our first sweep. We cleaned up crates and made the common areas more livable. Clearing dust and webs left over from the spider like iknayids. The clean up didn't need my full attention so I used the time to reach out to look for my loved ones. I found Meli quickly, and Emmilee a half a second later. They were safe, they were together. I gently touched my sister's mind. Meli, I am alive. I am coming home. I love you.  I felt a spark of love, of hope, of excitement. She had heard me. I left her and drew myself back into the force. I looked for Vette, but found nothing, the empty space bothered me. The same thing happened when I searched for Jaesa, the wall of silence that met me was incredibly frustrating. I reached out again, looking for Malavai. I knew he was alive. The force had revealed that much. But where was he? Was he happy wherever he was? Was he in danger? I got faint flickers of his mind, but not enough that I could actually reach him. It was like a bad holo connection during the middle of a solar storm. I was worried that something had been damaged when I was frozen in carbonite, something was messing with my connection to the force. Meli and Emmilee had been easy for me to find, because we shared the same bloodline. But I had never had a problem finding Malavai, Vette or Jaesa. Until now. I abandoned my search for the time being, and contented myself with the knowledge that he was alive. I was tired, and pulling on the force the way I was left me feeling more drained.

I turned down a ramp I hadn't noticed earlier, my sabers engaged in case there were any creatures that needed to be dispatched. I could feel that I was being drawn to this area of the ship. I could feel the menacing presence that slept here. There were whispers overlapping each other, speaking in different languages. In the center of the room was an imposing monolith. I could see tendrils of corrupted force snaking around it. "I take it you have questions?" A force apparition of Valkorion stepped out of the gloom. I had hoped that those dreams I had while in carbonite had all been a nightmare. I stopped where I stood. "Don't be so surprised. Where you go, I go. We are indivisible now." He stood before me with his hands clasped behind his back, looking around the strange room. "The Gravestone. Not entirely what I'd envisioned."

"I thought you were just a dream." I said, masking my emotions.

"I assure you, I am real, as is my intent to see you flourish. You have had a taste of my son's Empire, his reach. And Vaylin--she does not believe in restraint. We can only defeat Arcann if work together." His voice silky, but predatory.

"I don't buy for one moment that you're on my side." Did he really expect me to bend to him? After Ziost? After Marr? 

"Were the roles reversed, perhaps I would be skeptical as well. But what if I can prove my sincerity? Would you continue to see me as your eternal nemesis, or would you open your eyes to the truth?"

A loud explosion boomed through the ship, and the floor shimmied beneath my feet. Valkorion's image, ghost, whatever he was, disappeared and I was alone. 

"Get ready for a fight, people! They found us! Skytroopers breaching the entrance!" Koth shouted over our comms. I turned and ran out to join the battle. I reached out through the force to find Jen, knowing that she had been with Koth. I turned down the nearest hall that connected to one that would take me directly to their location. "Hey! Watch the ship!" I heard Koth shout at Lana as she deflected blaster bolts back to the the Skytroopers. I grabbed a Skytrooper from behind and knocked it to the ground, sending a blast of force energy at its center, it exploded. I pulled my saber and plunged it into the guts of another Skytrooper. I disengaged my saber as it fell to the floor behind me.

"Compliment: Fine dismantling, master!"

"That's just the first wave. They have more on the way!" Koth warned us as the monitor showed more incoming shuttles.

"I'll head them off." I volunteered.

"The Gravestone will be ready soon. I just need--"

"Don't say three minutes." The exasperation heavy in Lana's voice.

"Buy me some time. I'll get us airborne." Koth promised.

Lana turned to me. "I'm with you. HK, stay behind and help Jen and Koth." She followed me through the ship, and back out into the swamp. Shuttles flew overhead, running strafe patterns, their bolts slamming into the side of the Gravestone.

Skytroopers dropped out of the nearest shuttle and I moved to engage, drawing my sabers and waiting for them to come near enough to leap to them. "Koth did say there were more on the way."

"Something I have learned to count on regarding Arcann..." Lana pulled out her hilt. "...there will always be more."

I leaped into the first wave, throwing my sabers as I pushed off the ground, they arced back towards me as I landed in the middle of the skytroopers. Lana was closing the distance, and we twirled around the clunky droids, slicing into servos and wires, dismantling them. A new wave replaced the first and we continued our destructive dance. The third wave was met with the same fate as the first two. After the forth wave it was clear that Arcann would just keep sending droids until we were too exhausted to fight. The fifth wave was larger than any before it. We needed help.

"There are too many." Lana sounded alarmed.

"We have to keep fighting." I backed up to where she was standing. Keeping my back to the Gravestone so that no Skytroopers could get behind us.

"Hey, you two need a hand out there?" Koth asked over our comms.

"I can be spared. Koth has everything well in hand." Jen piped up.

Lana looked off to the left. "No, we have help." She answered.

"You what?" Koth sounded annoyed at being left out of the loop.

Suddenly a speeder with a Knight flew through the clearing, herding the Skytroopers together. She threw a grenade at a group of droids that hadn't been close enough to be coralled. Lana and I force pushed more droids back away from us and renewed our attack. The Knight speed towards the group of Skytroopers and perfectly executed a backflip off the speeder as it crashed into tree they were gathered under. The explosion destroyed the droids. I had to admit I was impressed. She stepped towards us, a smug smile on her face. "Lana."

"You're late." Lana said.

"You got one of the Knights to switch sides." I looked at Lana in awe. The Knights I had seen so far seemed unreasonable.

"Not all of us blindly follow Arcann." She turned away from us as another shuttle flew overhead, deploying more Skytroopers.

"More resistance. Knights." Lana pointed out the heavily armored Knights that followed closely behind the droids.

One of the Knights spoke into his comm. "High Justice, we have one of the Outlanders."

"I do hope you're up to fighting your own, Senya." Lana said.

"My issue isn't with them, but if they're going to stand in my way..." Senya said over her shoulder as she moved into position in front of Lana and I.

"I see you've found another pragmatist." I said with a slight smile. "We should start a club."

"Stow the chatter. Prove you can fight." Senya turned towards our opponents and engaged her saber.

We fought back the Knights, which proved a little more challenging than the Skytroopers. They spread out into three groups, drawing us apart. I dispatched my small group and dashed toward a group that was advancing on Lana. I stepped too far right and the Knight that had spoken earlier called out a command. "Knights! Zildrog's Wedge!" Debris formed a wall between Lana and I. "We have one of the Outlanders. You may kill the others." My heart raced with fear. I was trapped, the Knights were going to take me back to that Throne room. I would be forced to bow to Arcann or be thrown back in carbonite. I watched the Knights as they advanced on me, but only half seeing them, while also seeing a nightmare unfold in my mind. I could not go back to that room. I would rather die here in this swamp.

"Get out of here! Save yourself!" Lana shouted at me through the wall. Time stopped and Valkorion appeared, showing me what was happening on the other side of the wall. Lana being disarmed, the Knight raising his staff, intending to land a killing blow.

"What is this?" I asked him.

"An opportunity. You are outmatched. Death is all but certain for your Sith friend...I could save her. I only require the briefest moment of control." His offer sounded sincere, but from past experience, I knew it was a trap. "Accept my help or watch her die. Choose quickly: time has not stopped."

"I'll never give in to you." I was signing her death certificate, but the cost of saving her, of using his power...the cost would be too great.

"Very well." Valkorion released his hold on time and several things happened at once. I heard Lana's shout of pain and heard her hit the ground. I also heard the sound of blaster bolts sizzling through the air. I leaped to the closest Knight, landing briefly on his shoulders, using him to propel me over the wall. I rolled to my feet on the other side and I ran as fast as I could, using the force to push me faster, and came to Lana's side. Koth was standing over her. Covering her.

"We can do this! Keep fighting!" Koth shouted. "They haven't killed you yet--come on!" He helped pull her to her feet.

"Koth. Thank you..." Lana looked up at him, and brushed off her hands.

"Is the Gravestone ready for takeoff?" I asked. I was more than ready to get out of here.

"Far as I can tell." Koth looked around at us doing a quick head count. "Looks like we've got everyone--let's go."

"No--wait--where's Senya?" Lana asked.

"Excuse me? Where's who?" Koth's eyes widened.

Senya came from somwhere behind me. "Here I am. Let's move out." 

"Woah. Wait a minute. Hang on. She's your help? If you think I'm letting that piece of work on my ship, you're out of your--" Koth argued.

"Your ship?" I heard Jen whisper under her breath.

"Interjection: Many more hostiles are approaching! Permission to defend with extreme prejudice?"

Lana shook her head. "No more fighting. We must leave Zakuul."

"I'll prep the engines." Koth turned to Lana. His dark eyes full of concern for her. "Come on, Lana."

"No. I'm needed out here." Lana gave him a small smile and tried to reassure him. "I'll be fine."

"Be ready to move." Koth ordered as he and HK reboarded ship to get it ready for flight.

"The ship will never pull itself up from the muck. We'll have to give it a push." Lana said.

Koth's smooth voice came over our comms. "Firing up the engines. I hope." 

"We can do this." Lana encouraged.

Jen moved behind Lana, Senya and I, and drew her blasters. "I'll make sure you aren't interrupted."

The Gravestone was mired in centuries of mud. It would take all three of us to raise it. We used the force to push, to pull, to raise the ship from its resting place. It rose slowly, water streaming from the sides. Disturbing plantlife that had been growing around the ship. Leaves rained down on our heads. But the Gravestone rises. Hope filled me. We were going to escape, I would go home and see my sister, and my niece. I would find Vette and Jaesa. I would find Malavai.

"Now get in here so we can finally get moving!" Koth ordered. Lana, Jen, Senya and I ran up the ramp and boarded the ship. I felt as we broke atmosphere and Koth engaged the hyperdrive. We joined him and HK on the bridge. "How about that? My Gravestone can move!" Koth's voice full of excitement. He sounded like a proud Papa.

"Considering how we found it, I'd say you have outdone yourseves." I smiled from Koth to Jen. 

"Team effort--I'd say everyone outdid themselves." Koth said magnaminously. All of a sudden klaxons started going off.  "Incoming! Dropping out of hyperspace! It's--It's a lot." Koth's eyes flared in alarm.

"The Eternal Fleet." Senya looked at each of us in turn.

"They aren't firing." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than the guns locked on and started taking shots. "HK! See about that hyperdrive! Lana, work the shields. And we need a gunner!" Koth shouted.

"I'll take care of it." Jen said as she turned and ran headfirst down the hall towards the guns. 

"Omnicannon's up. There's a capitol ship near the center--" Koth indicated the ship he wanted her to target.  

"I see it." Jen replied.

"Good. Now hit it." Koth waited tensely for the omnicannon to charge as we were taking hits from the Fleet. A beam lanced out and connected to the ship Jen had targeted. A strange pulse came from the omnicannon and traveled up the beam. The capital ship exploded in a giant fireball. "Target down. Wait...five targets...ten...I can't keep up!" We watched as multiple fleet ships explode, lighting our view port with a spectacular bloom of fireworks. "It's real. We could take the whole fleet." Koth's voice was full of awe.

"Statement: The hyperdrive now meets minimum functionality requirements."

"Why didn't you say so? All right, let's get out of here." We jumped to hyperspace and Koth put in coordinates. We traveled in silence for a while. Our peace didn't last long though. Koth was reading a diagnostic scan, and he did not like what it had to say. "No no no!" 

"What's happened?" Lana asked.

"The hyperdrive worked--one time. Omnicannon's fried too. What a mess..." Koth dropped his head into his hands.

"We're safely away from the Fleet, if nothing else." Lana tried to soothe him.

"Should be able to make it to Asylum, but let's not hold our breath." Koth looked up at Lana and shook his head.

"Who's being committed?" I joked.

Lana chuckled. "Not that kind of asylum."

"Asylum is a skyport. A safe haven from Arcann's patrols." Senya explained.

"Was she really necessary?" Koth pointed forcibly at Senya.

"She helped us raise the Gravestone. She fought at our side." Lana argued.

"She also hunted me like an animal for years. She was Arcann's loyal Knight!" Koth shouted.

"I thought I was in service to Zakuul. You had abandoned your responsibilities!" Senya shouted back.

"It sounds like you're both on the same side now. Whatever history you have, it's best to let it go." I interjected.

"You don't know what she's capable of. You weren't there." Koth snapped.

"Do they know what you're capable of, Vortena? If anybody needs me, I'll be...somewhere." Senya stalked away.

"You could have at least consulted with me first." Koth turned on Lana, his eyes full of anger.

"Yes, I wonder how that might have gone." Lana spat back at him before turning on her heel and storming away.

"Absolutely! I'd be glad to fix the Gravestone by myself!" Koth shouted at her back.

Jen and I wandered the hallways looking for Lana. Jen was concerned about the injury Lana had sustained during our battle with the Knights. We finally found her, she was shooting lightning at a training dummy, her lightning stream fizzled and popped. She was having a hard time maintaining a constant stream. "Damn."

"You should have someone look at that." I nodded my head in Jen's direction.

"I'll heal." Lana let out another short burst of lightning before she moved towards Jen and I. She let Jen look her over, while she talked. "I was right to reach out to Senya. I hope you see that."

"You could have let me know we had backup on the way." I echoed Koth. Not out of distrust, but because Senya was yet another change in a sea of changes and right now I wanted normalcy. I wanted my old partnerships back. 

"I wanted you to encounter her without my guidance. To see if you saw her the way I did. We met shortly after I arrived in Wild Space. Senya was hunting Koth, I was hoping to learn your fate." Lana winced as Jen put kolto gel over her cut. "We exchanged what information we could. This was all before I really knew Koth, Of course. Years ago."

"Those two will have to get past their differences." I said simply.

"It won't be easy...You may want to look in on Koth." Lana said. "And you should get to know Senya. I'm not sure if you will hit it off, exactly, but I think you will find her intriguing."

I left Jen to finish tending to Lana and returned to the bridge to talk to Koth.

"Why can't there be a maintenance manual? Hey. Can you cut the power? Right over there." Koth pointed to a panel on the far wall. I flipped a few switches. "Thanks. Wouldn't want to electrocute myself on top of everything else. She's really something, this ship, but no one's been taking care of her."

"You've grown attached rather quickly."

"No offense, but it's the Gravestone that will save the galaxy from Arcann. Not you, not me...defiantly not Senya." Koth said confidently.

"What did Senya do to earn this grudge?" I asked him.

"She was ruthless. After we deserted, she hunted us for months. Everyone on my crew bled more than once on account of her. I put all my trust in Lana and she goes to Senya for help. She does not know what she is getting us into." Koth looked at me, a wounded look in his brown eyes.

"You both want the same thing. Let the past be the past." I urged. I knew all too well how much a grudge got in the way of living your life.

"If she's really in it to stop Arcann, I'll try. But I shouldn't be the one having to bend over backwards to convince you of anything. Just...don't forget who dropped everything to storm a spire and help Lana pull you and Emmogen from carbonite. All right?" His agitation came off him in waves.

"We would be frozen carcasses if you hadn't." 

"I have a good feeling, you know. We'll get Arcann. I should get back to it. Need to be sure the Gravestone can get us all the way to Asylum." He knelt and started pulling out tools that I had no name for. "Hey. If Senya shines that narrow spotlight of hers on you, check your shadow."

I turned and left him to his repairs. I might as well go check on Senya. I walked the hallways trying to figure out where Jen had gotten to. She was probably catching up with Lana. I turned a corner and almost walked right into HK-55. 

"Query: Has the meatbag bickering exhausted itself?"

"One thing that hasn't changed in five years--and I doubt it ever will: meatbag bickering." I couldn't help but smile at HK. 

"Agreement: You said it, master. Analysis: There are many sealed passageways, and I am unable to detect what may be on the other side."

"Worth looking into at some point." I nodded at him.

"Revelation: I discovered an especially strange area, unlike anywhere else on the Gravestone. I had attempted to ascertain if any of its contents could be weaponized, but the new meatbag interrupted. Query: Any orders, master?"

 "As you were HK."

"Approval: I like your orders." HK walked away to go investigate more of the ship. 

I headed to the room with the monolith again, sensing that Senya would be drawn there as I was. "I know. I couldn't help but take in this place either. Reminds me of a song I wrote." She stepped around the monolith with a friendly smile on her face.

"I feel like I'm being watched."

"I can stop looking at you. Maybe that will help?" She closed her eyes. "There. Better...? No? Worth a try." She chuckled.

"You seem nothing at all like the person I met in the swamp." I was shocked at the difference between the woman who stood before me now and the one that had fought along side Lana and I in the swamp.

"Being a Knight means everything, but I don't let that define me. When it's time to go to work, I'm who I need to be. The rest of the time, I'm just myself. You don't strike me as all that different."

"I live by a code, but I don't follow it to the letter." I shrugged my shoulders.

"I've heard your code. Victory from passion. It's a powerful notion. Very much like how Arcann operates." 

"I know why I oppose him. What's your reason?" The Knights all seemed very loyal to their Emperor. Arcann must have done something to her, personally, to cause her to switch sides.

"Years after the death of our Immortal Emperor, most are still so afflicted with remorse that they don't see what's happening. Arcann has become oppressive and cruel. He'll crush anyone who doesn't share his plan for the galaxy. So that's me. What about you?" She asked.

"Arcann wants to lay waste to everything I've fought for and accomplished. I won't let him."

"Neither will I. I may not know much of the worlds you have inhabited, but I do know what he's doing to them. You're not what I expected. Not sure if that's good or bad yet, but I do know I'll have an easier time with you than Koth."

"I hope you'll try to get along. The more we work together, the better off we'll be." If we let Arcann or Vaylin divide us we were finished before we even got started.

"Just because he betrayed our enemy doesn't change the fact that he was a traitor. You need to be cautious." She said as she turned around and circled the monolith.

I headed back to the main part of the ship. I returned to searching for Malavai. I needed his council, his strategic mind. He would have valuable insights, and would be instrumental in setting things right. But I had to find him first. 

 

Chapter Text

The Gravestone was really something. It was dirty, and still infested with all kinds of creatures, but once it was cleaned up it would be amazing. Like Koth, I could see its potential. With Emm's touches this would be a floating palace. I trailed my hand along the walls. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that it was thousands of years old. Who had built this ship? The technology was beyond anything we had in the Empire or Republic. Who had abandoned it? And why had no one found it before us? Was it destiny like Koth said? Or was Lana right and we were led here by Valkorion?

I looked to my left and watched Emm closely. She walked with her head up, shoulders back, too straight. Nothing like her normal predatory gracefulness. Her eyes were distant, not really seeing what was ahead of her. I tried to talk to her a couple times, but got no response. I knew she was worried about what Valkorion had said, about the time apart from our friends and family, weakening our bonds. She had been reaching out through the force trying to find Quinn. She had found her sister and niece. She knew they were safe on Dromund Kaas. They had been easy for her to find, since they shared the same bloodline. Quinn eluded her though. She would get a faint trace, but when she tried harder to lock on to him, he would vanish like smoke. I had promised her, as soon as we were somewhere safe we find a way to go in search of our loved ones.

I hoped that Torian had made it home safely. That he would have gotten Mako home to Disti. That my parents were safe. That Gault and Blizz were not in trouble somewhere, but those two, it was highly likely. I couldn't wait to find Torian, maybe pull a reverse drop on him. Walk up and put the muzzle of my blaster to the back of his head and watch his face as he disarmed me. The initial shock and then that smile that he only shared with me. Or I would show up to our home on Tatooine and let him find me in our bed, wearing nothing but the beskar he had made me. Again I pictured his face, the shock and that slow smile. We needed to find a way out of this mess so I could get home to my riduur. If I missed him this much and it had only been a couple days from my perspective, what must he have been through? How much pain had my disappearance created?

The halls twisted as we explored. Finally I found what I was looking for. Crew quarters. I was exhausted and I knew that Emm had to be as well. From what I understood, drawing on the force was draining. And she had been in almost constant contact with the force, since Koth had let it slip that we had been gone for five years. Only stopping when we had defended the Gravestone, and when she was needed to help pull it out of the muck of the Endless Swamp. I pulled her to a bed and pushed her down into a sitting position and crouched down in front of her. "Emm, I will be right back. I am going to find some water and some food." She nodded to me in an acknowledgement that she had heard me, but she was still only half with me. Her eyes still glazed over. 

I left her and made my way through more twisting corridors, trying to remember my way to the bridge. I took a few wrong turns, and had to backtrack, but eventually I found myself back on the bridge. Koth and Lana sat near each other in companionable silence. Lana looked up when I entered, her brows knit in concern. "How is Emm?"

"I found us somewhere to sleep. She is getting settled in..." I met Lana's eyes, knowing what she was really asking. "She is still searching for him. I came to get some water, and food." I spotted a datapad lying on one of the consoles and snagged it. "Can I borrow this? I want to catch up everything that we have missed. Maybe find something tangible to help her in her search."

Lana nodded. "Get some rest. I will let you know when we are close to our destination."

I tucked the datapad under my arm and grabbed some water, and a few ration bars that Lana had brought with her. Some food, such as it was, and water might bring Emm out of her half trance like state. I couldn't touch the force, so I was woefully out of my element. I didn't know how to reach her. If she had cried, or lashed out, I would have understood. But this zombie like state...no, that wasn't the right word. Jedi! That was what she reminded me of. Her face was too calm, too smooth, not betraying any emotion. She reminded me of Satele. At first I had thought it was shock, but then I realized what she was doing and it worried me more than if she had been in shock. Her shields were up, wrapped tightly around herself and all Lana had been able to glean from her was the name that Emm was so focused on. It was unlike a Sith to hold their emotions in check as she did. But Emm had never been a typical Sith either. Regardless, I couldnt help but be unnerved by her stillness. 

I turned down the hall and entered the room that I had left Emm in. She was sitting in the center of the bed, her eyes closed, fully immersed in the force. I figured it was best to leave her alone while she was meditating. Instead I sat on one of the other beds with one of the bottles of water and a ration bar. I peeled back the wrapper and took a bite as I logged into the datapad. I had four messages waiting for me. The first was from my mother, dated from shortly after I had disappeared. The next was from Torian dated a couple years after. Disti's letter was time stamped around the same time as Torian's. The last one was from Theron Shan, dated three weeks ago. I understood my mother, Torian, and my brother writing to me, but Theron?  And so recently?

I opened my mother's letter first and quietly read the words that she had written five years ago. 

 


 Subject: My headstrong, precious girl

Jenny, I remember the day you were born like it was yesterday. Your tiny little fingers wrapped around mine. The way your eyes grew bigger every time you heard a new sound. The soft downy hair that covered your head. I had worried that I wouldn't be able to love you as much as I did your brother. Until I held you in my arms and my love multiplied. Our family was completed once you were born, perfected.

Now what was four has become three and I don't know how to recover from this loss. There is a hole that we will never be able to fill.

You were feisty, and stubborn, but since those traits always brought you back home I was secretly thankful for them. You beat the odds so many other times. Would it be selfish of me to ask you to do it again? If somehow, the Empire is wrong, and you managed to pull off another miracle, please come home. Your father and I miss you. Distiago is beside himself. We love you Ch'itiseb. 


 

I felt a stab of sadness. She had been heartbroken, and I couldn't do anything to take away her pain. I wished I could hug her right now, reassure her. Let her know how much she meant to me. The only thing I could do right now was to send her a letter, telling her that I was alive, and that I loved her, and that I would come to see her and Dad as soon as possible. There was so much I wanted to say, but a letter didn't seem appropriate. It would best be saved for when I saw her face to face.  I wrote to her quickly, hoping that my words would give her some comfort. 

I backed out of the message screen and back to my list of unread letters. I was anxious to read Torian's message. To write him back and give him reassurances that I was okay. That I would be home as soon as I could manage. Then I read the subject line on Torian's letter and it filled me with doubt. I opened the message with a little more trepidation than I had my mother's.

 


 Subject: Nu kyr'adyc, shi taab'echaaj'la

A Mando knows every mission could be the last. None of us can count on seeing the next sunrise. There's only now. Sometimes we get lucky, and we march together all our lives. Sometimes, we only get a single battle. You and I had a few years.

They were good years.

You honored me. You saved my life. You loved me better than anyone ever has. I'll repay those debts. I'll carry your memory with me on every hunt I take until the day I die.

The ones who killed you are invading Imperial space. They think we won't fight back. They're wrong. Mandalore is gathering the clans, and I'm answering his call. Ret'urcye mhi doesn't mean goodbye--it means "maybe we'll see each other again." If there's another life beyond this one, I hope we do.


 

I could read between the lines. I knew Torian well enough to know that he had written this letter in a moment of weakness. He was hurting. But that didn't stop me from feeling like he was almost glad to be rid of me. Good years? Those had been the happiest years of my life. Maybe we'll see each other again? Maybe? I had been counting on it. All the little scenarios I had been thinking of for our reunion turned to ash. The sadness I had been feeling started to ebb into something darker, leaving behind a new pain. One I didn't have a word for yet. What did you expect? You have been missing for five years. Do you really want him to be unhappy, to wait for you even if it causes him pain? No. I didn't want him to be in pain. But who would take my pain? I didn't want it either. I couldn't figure out who was getting the worst of this deal. Him with his five years to come to terms with this. Or me, with my lost years, having to come to terms quickly with all the changes to the world around me. For me no time had passed. I had kissed him goodbye just a few short days ago. And...he was over us. I wanted to hit something, shoot it, break it, twist it in to knots, like I was.

Distiago's letter waited to be read. I blinked back tears of rage and read my brother's message. Hoping it would help soften the blow from Torian's letter.

 


 Subject: Ch'itiseb I miss you.

Well Torian went and did it. He finally held a funeral for you, Max and I were there. All the clans were. Jen, the amount of people you touched in your short life...it was staggering. It was a beautiful night, your favorite kind. The air was warm, but there was a nice soft breeze. All the stars shone brightly. We did everything right. Since your body was never recovered Torian brought your beskar, your marriage knot, and a lot of pictures. People added their own mementos. I brought you Frost Flowers from Hoth. I know that you were always fascinated by them. We placed them all on a pyre, and lit the night up in a fire, fit for someone with your accomplishments. There were chants, and Mandalore even supplied his own Ne'tra gal in your honor. I hope that your soul is at rest wherever it ended up. 

Life has been hard since you flew off to search for the Emperor. I know that it was essential to stop him. He hasn't come back so I assume that you accomplished that before you disappeared.

Mako hasnt come home either. Torian left her behind on Carratos before coming to Geonosis. I went to pick her up and she was already gone. I don't know why he didn't just bring her to me. He had to know I would be at your funeral. I don't know where she is. Now I have lost her too.

I just...wish...somehow...you both would come home.

I miss you, little sister.


 

He...what? My beskar? Our marriage knot? And he had left Mako somewhere, when he could have easily taken her to her riduur, and now she was missing? How could he do this to Disti, to us...to me? I wanted to find Torian more than ever, I wanted to put a bullet right through his heart. I wanted to shatter his like he had mine. I had loved him. I had sacrificed myself for him. I was thrown in carbonite, imprisoned for five years, had a ghost in my head, insane spoiled children trying to kill me and  this was the thanks I got? Tahla'ada kaysh! I didn't need him. Emm and I had gone to face the Emperor. Lana had rescued us. We didn't need men to come to our rescue. The galaxy would be saved by women. All the men could go to hell! It wasn't like I expected to live through this anyway. Better to know where I stood now than have it weighing on me in the back of my mind. 

I sent a letter to Disti letting him know that I was safe. I was with Emm. We were headed to a place called Asylum, but I didn't know where that was. I would update him when I could. I told him I loved him and that I missed him. 

There was one more letter flashing in the corner and I almost didn't read it. I had no clue what Theron had to say, but if it was more bad news I was going to throw Lana's datapad out the nearest airlock. I sat and looked at the subject line for a long time.

 


 Subject: For when you wake up.


 

 Theron had been a bright spot in an awful situation. I couldn't put my finger on why I cared for him so much. He was a Republic spy, as he was fond of reminding me. I should hate him. But I couldn't bring myself to hate the handsome SIS agent. Not on Manaan when we first met, or on Rakata Prime, and by Rishi...well I loved him. Not in the way I had loved Torian. But in a way that I knew losing him to the Revanites was unacceptable. Kissing him the first time had been an impulse. I wanted him to see he was worth loving, was loved, even if it wasn't by his cold and distant mother. I had kissed him twice more. Once on Yavin as we parted, this kiss was different, our truce was ending, it was bittersweet, full of longing for something that could never be. And again in the last moments on Ziost, the stakes had never been higher, and emotions flared, where once again we were parting, this time, forever. Our kiss on Ziost...I had thought he was dead when he ran toward Master Surro, and engaged a shield around me, protecting me. I watched as he was lifted off his feet, choking for breath, and then tossed into a pillar like a child's broken toy. I had been helpless to do anything to save him. I tried to tell him what he meant to me with that kiss. I loved him, I was happy he was alive, not just that he had survived his encounter with the Jedi, but that he even existed, I would spend the rest of my life missing him. I couldn't deny that there was something between Theron and I. But him being from the Republic and me from the Empire there was nowhere that we could be together. It was just a fantasy, a passing dream.

 I would return to the Empire with Torian, and we would be happy, we would have children, we would go into battle together, we would grow old together. I would love him, and he would love me. But there was a part of me that would always wonder what if...

That was only a few weeks ago.

 


 Subject: For when you wake up.

I've written this message message twice now. Okay more than twice. Kinda weird writing something that may never be read. Lana says you're locked in carbonite, but alive. (Yeah, we're in touch. Long story.) I like to think you're having one crazy dream. And maybe I'm in it. But I don't want to presume. We never really declared what this--you and me--is...was...Have I mentioned that I am bad at relationships? Another reason I'm a workaholic.

I'm rambling. The point I am trying to make is--whatever's between us, I want you to know that I care about you. A lot. The whole galaxy's lost its mind. The thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that you're out there, and we're putting together a plan to rescue you. I might not be there--we've all got our parts to play--but I haven't forgotten about you or our time together. I never will.


 

I had to read it three more times to make sense of what I was reading. Theron knew I was alive, he had hoped to be here to rescue me. He cared about me. How was it, that his letter was sweeter than Torian's? It was probably just as well that he wasn't here, I wouldn't even know what to say. I was...well, I didn't know what I was. Free to pursue a relationship with Theron? I wasn't ready for that. Torian had granted me freedom I had never asked for. While it had been five years for them...this was going to take time for me to wrap my head around. I was disoriented. I held the datapad to my chest and finally let some of the tears I had been holding back fall. I rested my head against the wall behind me and I closed my eyes. I was glad that Lana had rescued Emm and I, but I was worried that we wouldn't be able to do what she hoped. Emm was...I don't know...not herself at the very least. And me? I hated Valkorion, and his children. I at least felt motivated to fight them. But after that? If I survived...

"Jen?" Emm's soft voice questioned. I felt my bed dip as she joined me. "Are you okay?" She settled herself next to me and I rested my head against hers. "I sensed your pain and figured that you needed my strength right now."

"I don't know Emm." I opened my eyes and looked at her as I passed her the datapad. She was not half here, half somewhere else, so that was a good sign. "Go ahead and read them."

"Are you sure?" She asked. When I nodded she looked down at the letters. "Your mother's letter is very sweet." She said with a smile as she finished reading the first message.

"Keep reading."

Her eyes returned to the message from Torian. I watched her eyes narrow as she read. "This is...lacking any real emotion. Where is his passion, his fire? Is he a Mandalorian or a mouse?" She shook her head in disbelief. 

"Keep reading." I said again.

She gasped as she read Distiago's message. "Oh Torian, you idiot. Jen...I am so sorry." She glanced up at me quickly, before returning to the rest of Disti's letter. I heard her soft intake of breath. "Poor Dist, to lose you and Mako..." I nodded, I couldn't believe Torian was so selfish to take her along with him, and then abandon her when he gave up looking.

As she opened Theron's letter a small smile flitted across her face.

"What?"

She shook her head and smiled wider. "You two."

"Us two, what?" I could feel warmth spreading across my cheeks.

"Jen, he has feelings for you, and judging by the blush creeping across your face, you feel something for him."

"It doesn't matter. I am from the Empire, and he is from the Republic, we could never be together."

She laughed. "You keep saying that, but my parents made it work."

"But Torian and I were supposed to be forever." I protested.

She eyed me skeptically. "Now you are just lying to yourself. I have no doubts that you are deeply in love with Torian. But I could sense the pull that Theron and you have to each other." She could feel my burst of anger and she put a hand on my leg to stop me from shouting. "Hun, I am Sith, I am not judging you for your passions. But trust me, I know something about the kind of pull between the two of you. I don't feel it the same way that Malavai does. But from our experience it is something that cannot be denied. One day, somehow, you two would have ended up together."

"But I don't feel anything like that." I had heard her mention the connection between her and Quinn before but I had never understood how it worked.

"It doesn't mean that it isn't there. And I do think you both feel it, you are drawn to each other, and you don't know why. None of it makes sense to either of you. Am I right?"

I shook my head. "I do love him, but I love you, Mako, Vette, Lana, Blizz...I could go on. You all are my friends. I don't want to see any of you get hurt. But some force connection drawing us together? Neither of us can use the force."

She chuckled. "The force flows through every living thing, even if you can't feel it. It is there. You two are connected, just as I am to my Quinn." 

"But Torian..." I floundered. Torian what, he had moved on. 

She shook her head. "I am sorry Jen, there was never a link between you. It doesn't make what you had with Torian less important or less real."

"I don't know Emm. This is all just too much. My marriage has been over for all of an hour."

She looked at the datapad and looked at the date stamp. "Three years and one hour." She corrected, with a grin.

"That isn't helpful Emm." I stood up and started pacing the room. "My brain tells me that for Torian time has passed normally, and he finally moved on. That is healthy. But my heart feels like I was unimportant. Like my memory was just holding him back. Was I not worth waiting for?" Angry tears filled my eyes.

"Clearly you are worth waiting for. Theron's letter proves that." Emm soothed.

"So Theron, a Republic spy, who has no real reason to wait for me, does? Meanwhile my riduur does not?"

"Force pull." She smiled knowingly. "In all honesty, I don't know why Torian gave you up. His reasons are his own. But we have lost five years. Don't waste too much time on hating him." She hopped up from my bed and went back to hers. "Do you mind if I check my mail?"

"No. Go ahead. I am going to go for a walk."

"Okay. Good night Jen." She was logging into her accounts as I stepped into the hall. 

I walked the dark hallways. Not paying attention to where I was going. Not really caring. She had a point. We had lost five years it would be stupid to waste what time we did have. But Torian...The anger I had been suppressing welled up and I punched the wall. Again and again. Until my knuckles were split and bleeding, and my anger was still not spent. I sank to the floor and let my tears take over. I wrapped my arms around my legs and rested my head on knees. I couldn't breathe right, choking on the air between sobs. My chest ached. This wasn't fair! I had rescued him when Jicoln had almost killed him with his traps. I had rescued him from the GenoHaradan when he had been kidnapped. I had helped him restore honor to the name Cadera. And he hadn't been here to save me. He hadn't bothered to wait for me. I had given everything I had to him and this was what I got in return? I hated him! 

I heard a pair of footsteps rounding the corner and then Lana called my name. She rushed to my side as I looked up at her. "Jen! What are you doing out here? I thought you went to bed." She looked down at me and her eyes widened as she saw the blood trickling down my fingers. "What did you do to your hands?"

"He left me Lana. After all I have done for him, and for the Empire, and...he just moved on." I sobbed.

"Let me see your hands." Lana gently ordered as she held her hands out to me. She took one of my hands in hers and started assessing the damage I had done. "Was this really necessary?" She gave me a disapproving look. "Lets get you back to your room so you can get patched up. I would do it myself, but I think you are the better medic."  She pulled me to my feet and fell in beside me as we walked the hallways back to the room I was sharing with Emm. "I am sorry about Torian. It is his loss. But you can't make Arcann and Vaylin's job easier. Jen, the galaxy needs you."

"I know. I just don't understand..." I didn't know how to finish my thought so we lapsed into silence. We walked into the crew quarters and Emm was curled up in her bed asleep, Lana's datapad laying under her hand. She smiled in her sleep. "Goodnight Lana." I whispered. 

I grabbed my bottle of water and poured a little over the back of my left hand rinsing away the blood and who knows how many years of grime. None of the bones felt broken. Once I had taken care of my left hand I checked the knuckles of my right hand. I rinsed away the blood and checked the split skin. It hurt to flex my index and middle fingers. I checked the pouches on my belt and found some kolto gel, a few painkillers, some steriwrap, and a few kolto darts. I swallowed the painkillers quickly. Then smoothed some gel over my knuckles on the left hand. It stung but hopefully the gel would kill off any possible infection. I wrapped my hand so the gel couldn't be wiped off as I slept. I took one of the darts and jabbed it in my inner thigh. I let out a low hiss between my teeth as the dart bit into my skin. It was time to deal with my right hand. I gingerly rubbed kolto over the knuckles and wrapped my right hand tightly so the knuckles would be stable and not able to flex while they were mending. Those painkillers could kick in any time now.

Once I was finished I toed off my boots and took off my belt, which proved somewhat difficult with one hand. I went to Emm's bed and carefully slid the datapad out from under her fingers. It was still open to Quinn's message. I was curious what he had said that had finally given her peace. I felt a little guilty, but I couldn't resist reading his letter to her.

 


 Subject: I remain your loyal servant.

My lord, it's likely I'm prattling to no one. Still, I had to send something.

You're not one for minced words, so I'll be blunt: The Empire needs you. More than that-- I need you. Discord reigns in Drommund Kaas. Without your leadership, the crew disbanded, and I have received little assistance from the Dark Council or Imperial military. No one will grant me an audience, much less answer my inquiries.

I should have come with you aboard Darth Marr's ship-- stood in my rightful place by your side. I know I've made mistakes, but I thought I had a lifetime to make up for my betrayal. Now I'm faced with the possibility of never seeing you again... and it makes me ill. I cannot accept it.

The shame of my past actions and my love for you will fuel me for eternity. No matter what anyone says-- I know you're alive, and I will find you. Even if it kills me.


 

It didn't really come as a surprise to me that he would be waiting for her to return to him. That he was out there searching for her. Once he finally let her through his walls they were so sure of each other. Never a moment of doubt. Even when Quinn had been used as an instrument to destroy Emm, she had seen through the conditioning that Baras had planted. Her love for him never wavered. I was a little jealous of their relationship. But in all honesty, the intensity of their love was something I had never experienced. To be so exposed, so open, so vulnerable with someone, that thought scared me. I wasn't made like that. I liked my walls. 

I took the datapad back to my bed and looked up news reports for the last five years. Trying to understand what I was going back home to. I found a news report from right after Marr's ship had blown up. Gault pushing cameras away. Torian with his arm around Mako. Torian...his face was stoic, unreadable. My heart ached. I wanted to feel his arms around me,  to hear him tell me everything would be okay. Haar'chack. Why did this hurt so much? How could I hate him one minute and love him the next? 

I clicked through news report after news report but none of them held my interest. I went back to my email to see if my mother or Disti had replied yet. Neither of them had responded and I was about to put the datapad down, but Theron's message caught my eye. I pulled it up and read it again. Was Emm right about this too? I wasn't sure what the right thing to feel was. I lay there wondering about my future and where I fit in. And if any of it even mattered. I had to survive this rescue first, and then deal with Valkorion, and his power crazed children. I didn't need to bring anyone else into this insanity.

I tried to get comfortable so I could sleep but my hands made that difficult. Every time I accidentally bumped the knuckles on my right hand I felt the small fissure pulse with pain. Pain that fed my growing hatred, this pain was Torian's fault. 

Chapter Text

"Senya and Koth are going to make me crazy! How appropriate that we are going to a place called Asylum, I am going to need a straight jacket. I need to get off this ship!" Jen paced back and forth in front of me. Her usual smile replaced with a scowl. She balled her hand in to a fist and immediately cried out. "Haar'chak!" She looked down at her bandaged hand. "Tion'tuur Ni pabida ner gaan bat ibac calyarnr..." And now her rage was focused on Torian. I hoped for his sake wherever he was he stayed there.

"Jen, sit down. You are distracting me." I picked up the datapad again and tried to read the news reports that Lana had sent me. We needed to be prepared. 

"I am sorry, I just...I want to go home." She looked down at her boots, and then back up at me. Her red eyes full of anger. "I don't know these people, or these planets. I want to go somewhere familiar. Hell, I would be happy to go to Hoth at this point!"

Now I knew she was serious. She hated Hoth. I suppressed a chuckle as I looked at her over the datapad. "I know Jen. I feel the same way. One problem at a time though. First we have to get to Asylum in one piece."

"Once we get there I need to restock my supplies, I am out of Kolto gel and steriwrap. Is there anything I can pick up for you?" She asked me tersely.

"Maybe something other than those ration bars that Lana brought." I eyed the ration bars suspiciously. "I don't think they can actually be classified as food. Oh, and if you see any hair clips, I would love to get this tangled mess out of my way." I indicted the frizzy mane that passed for my hair these days.

"I will see what..."

Lana interrupted Jen over our comlinks. "If the two of you wouldn't mind joining us on the bridge we need to discuss our plans." 

"On our way." I answered. I looked at Jen, fighting the urge to smile. She was still angry. But her stature and the choice of pigtails made her look less threatening, more like a manka kitten. But I had known Jen for years, and I knew it was a deception, she was more like a pride of full grown manka cats. "We need to go meet with Lana. Will you be able to deal with Koth and Senya?" We walked out of the small room we had shared and headed to the bridge.

Jen threw her hands up in the air. "Do I have a choice? Lana keeps reminding you and I that we have more important things to do than look for our crews. Why can't they see that and just put aside their petty squabble? They both want the same thing." She let out a little snort as she worked herself up again. "I could fly this ship, do we really need them? We could just ditch them on Asylum and fly back to Dromund Kaas. Forget all of this. Come on Emm, haven't we given enough to this cause?" She looked at me pleading for validation that her feelings were not misplaced.

I couldn't deny that I felt the same way. Our trip to Wild Space had taken five years from us, and who knew what waited for us back home. "I wish we could. Trust me. All I want to do right now is run home, to hug my sister, and Vector, to hold my niece." Emmilee would be eleven now. Would she even remember me? I had been in such awe of her when she was born. "To start my search for Malavai, find Vette and Jaesa. But we have to deal with Valkorion first."

"We don't even know how to separate him from us. Or if we can." She shook her head. "Emm, I don't have Torian to go home to anymore, but my parents...Disti...they are waiting. I can't wait until we figure this out to go see them. My mother has been suffering for five years, I can't put her through more torment."

We were nearing the bridge, and I didn't want to have this conversation in front of Koth and Senya. "Jen, I agree with you. We will have to figure something out. But right now we need to go find out what the plan is when we land." I squeezed her shoulder.

We stepped on to the bridge as Lana was updating Koth on our position. "Approaching Asylum."

He looked at her with a smug smile. "Told you we'd make it."

"We haven't docked yet." Lana taunted him.

"I should probably figure out how to land this thing..." Koth said offhandedly. Stars, he better be kidding!

I heard Jen whisper under her breath. "Utreekov." Her eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms over her chest. 

I looked at Lana. "You're sure this place is safe?"

"We need allies as much as safety. That shadow port isn't on any chart. It's a haven for refugees fleeing Arcann's forces."

"We'll be among friends." Koth reassured me. Senya joined us on the bridge and moved to stand on the other side of Lana. Koth eyed her warily. "Mostly."

Lana ignored his jab as she looked up at Senya. "Tell your associates we've arrived."

"They knew that days ago." Senya answered.

Koth looked at her, his eyes full of distrust. "You want to explain how?" He fixed her with an angry glare, but no answer was forthcoming. "Figures." He turned back to the controls.

I tried once again to make them see the folly of their fighting. "If we don't all start trusting each other, we're doomed."

"Trust is a rare commodity these days." Lana stood and turned towards me. Well that was helpful. 

"Demand: Are. We. There. Yet?" 

The Gravestone banged into the docking slip, scraping along the narrow walls. Finally coming to a rest with a loud screech and numerous bangs. "Tariuve? Kaysh juha tid kak a hbinr?" Jen's voice was thick with sarcasm. I wasn't fluent in Mandalorian, but I knew she was criticizing Koth's flying skills. I bit back a snicker. A bridge extended to the hangar of the Gravestone and we all disembarked together. As we stepped out of the shadow of the ship a piece of the plating fell off and landed on the bridge in front of my feet. I looked at Koth and raised an eyebrow.

A burly man pushed his way through the crowd that had gathered when we came crashing into their port. "Move it, gawkers! Let us through!" He pushed a Deveronian out of the way and for a split second my heart leaped, had we been lucky enough to find Gault in our very first stop? If it was him, then maybe we could find everyone else this easy. I saw Jen out of the corner of my eye, and she shook her head slowly. Apparently she had the same thought. A strange group of people followed the man up the bridge toward us. Humans mostly, but a few aliens tagged along. His eyes traveled the length of the Gravestone, appraising it. "Mighty fine ship you've got there. We'll be coming aboard." He crossed his arms and glared at me. If he thought he was intimidating he had a lot of lessons to learn. 

Jen stepped forward. "If there's one thing I don't like, it's uninvited guests." Her fingers on her left hand twitched towards her blaster. She stared him down, while he raised his fist and started punching his palm, ready for a fight.

Koth stepped around me and the burly jerk laughed. "Captain!"

"Outlanders...my crew. The best engine-burners in Wild Space." Koth announced with a grin.

"You could have introduced them sooner." Jen scowled at him.

"This was more fun." He said to Jen before he turned to his crew. "Get up here, you mangy wooluks!" The crew filed passed us on their way to the Gravestone. 

One of his crew stopped in front of me. He looked strangely familiar, but I couldn't place him. I searched his gray eyes for some clue. "Do I know you?"

"Name's Ralo. I served aboard Darth Marr's destroyer. We thought you died with him." 

"Go missing for five years and everyone loses faith in you." I said jokingly.

"Not everyone. Saved my skin that day. Never thought I'd get to say thanks."

"How did you wind up with them?" I nodded my head towards Koth and his crew as they disappeared into the ship.

Ralo smiled at me. "That's a funny story..." 

"Ralo! Get in here!" Our conversation was cut short by the big guy that had challenged Jen.

"On my way!" Ralo shouted. He looked at me and smiled before he jogged down the bridge and joined the rest of his crew.

"I'm not the only one hiding things." Senya said as her and Lana walked up to Jen and I.

"We share on a need-to-know basis. Koth's crew didn't need knowing." Lana said pointedly.

"Do you trust them?" I waited anxiously for her snarky remark about how trust wasn't important.

"Yes. I wished they bathed more often, but you get used to it." She said it without a hint of sarcasm. "I need to make contact with my network--alone." Here she shot a look at Senya, so she didn't fully trust Senya either. "Try to stay out of trouble." The last part was said to Jen specifically. Jen bristled beside me. Lana turned and walked toward the space port and disappeared inside.

Koth, his second in command and HK came down the bridge toward Jen, Senya and I. "Where's Lana?" Koth asked.

"Excellent question." Senya commented.

"My best engineer hasn't come back from a supply run to the Free Zone. It's a dodgy neighborhood if you catch my drift." Koth looked concerned, more for his engineer, or for Lana I couldn't tell.

"A black market. Rival syndicates disagree over who controls it." Senya explained.

"They argue with blasters. I think she's in trouble, but we've got our hands full keeping the Gravestone's reactor stable." Koth shook his head. Torn with the need to find his friend, and the need to fix the Gravestone so we could get somewhere a little more permanent. 

"Give me a holo of your crewmate and point me to this "Free Zone." I'll handle the rest." I told him.

"Addendum: I will join you master."

"My engineer's name is Tora. HK has her image in its databanks." Koth nodded towards HK.

"She won't be hard to find. Tora has a...big personality." Koth's second said.

"She's surlier than a hungry rancor, but she's the best engineer you'll ever meet. Thanks for the help." Koth said sincerely. 

"And when you're done, find me at these coordinates, I'll introduce you to my people." Senya typed in coordinates and sent them to my comm link.

"Help me find Koth's engineer and we can go together." I suggested.

"I'll join you...but not now." She shook her head and then headed in the same direction that Lana had gone a few minutes ago.

Jen took a couple of steps and turned to me. "I am going to resupply, and then come back and see if I can lend a hand to Koth's crew. Let me know if you need any back up. Be careful." She leaned forward and touched her forehead to mine. Neither of us were helmeted, but I understood the gesture. We had been through so much together over the years, kept each other alive. She was my best friend, my sister. Parting on a strange space port surrounded by strangers was not ideal. She was worried for me.

"We're safe from Arcann here. And I have HK with me." I squeezed her shoulder and motioned to HK to follow me. We headed into the marketplace. There were people everywhere haggling over armor, food, stims, fabrics from distant lands...I would love to stop and spend an afternoon browsing through the shops. But duty called. I had an engineer to find. HK followed me closely, covering my back. We turned down an alleyway and the markets started to become less frequent. Giving way to dirty little alcoves, where people were huddled in dirty blankets. Their eyes watched us closely as we passed, full of distrust and fear.

After fighting our way deeper into the Free Zone, and dismantling a wall of debri blocking our path, HK and I finally found what we were looking for. A group of angry thugs stood in a knot about thirty feet from us. Their leader turned and addressed me. "You could have just knocked. My men spent hours on that barricade."

I nodded slightly. "I'll remember that on my next visit."

A woman with bright blue hair let out a loud undignified laugh. "Identification: That snort issued from the brilliant engineer we were sent to rescue, master."

"What's she to you?" The gang leader crossed his arms over his chest.

"She's the reason I'm here. This doesn't have to get messy. Let her go and I'll be on my way." I rested my hand on my hilt. Letting him draw his own conclusion.

"You eliminated my old rival Oggo. That inclines me to toward gratitude, but this girl tried to rob me. That's bad for business." He said.

"Charging fifty-thousand credits for a hundred thermal detonators? That's robbery!" She shouted at him.

"You also insulted my mother." His mouth mashed into a hard line.

"I said she's uglier than a bantha wearing lipstick. It's not an insult if it's true."

"My mother died putting me on a refugee ship to Nar Shaddaa. I grew up an orphan." He threw back at her.

"Oh, boo-who didn't? Join the club." She sneered.

He turned to me. "You see why I have to kill her."

I grew up without a mother, so I knew how heartless her comments about his mother were, but it wasn't worth killing over. "Nobody has to kill anybody. I am sure we can settle this peacefully."

"Look--I know who you are. I know you're used to getting your own way. What do you say we show each other professional courtesy? I can get you all kinds of things. But I need to throw this theiving scum out an air lock, first."

"Theory: It will be a challenge to throw anything without your arms."

"I'll get you the money for your detonators. But Tora is leaving with me. Alive." This time I actually wrapped my fingers around the hilt of my lightsaber and made a show of unhooking it from my belt.

"A man like me can't afford to look weak."

"What do you care?" I asked. "You're the Free Zone's new boss." 

"Fine--take the yapping monkey-lizard. But she's lost her shopping privileges." He glared at me.

One of the thugs placed his hands between Tora's shoulder blades and shoved her at me. "Keep your filthy hands off me!" She shouted over her shoulder.

"Alright, boys. Let's go show the Free Zone who's in charge." He turned and walked further into the Free Zone, his gang of followers on his heels.

Tora looked at me with a look of disappointment and anger. "What a waste of time."

"You were almost dead. A "thank you" would be nice." I chided.

"So would a hundred thermal detonators. Life's full of disappointments."

"Koth and the rest of your crew are waiting at the docks." I was done dealing with this distraction.

"Yeah, yeah..." Tora said as she turned toward the ruined barricade and made her way to the docks. She had better be everything Koth said she was. I could feel a headache beginning to beat somewhere in the center of my head.

"Redirection: We should proceed to the rendezvous with Senya, master."

I nodded to him and turned to lead the way. No one bothered us as we wound our way back through the Free Zone and into safer territories near the market. We found ourselves at the coordinates that Senya had sent me, she slid off the crate that she had been sitting on waiting for us to arrive. "Right on time." She said as way of greeting. "My friends have been looking forward to this."

"I hope our meeting goes well." I said sincerely, we needed allies.

"They're inside." Senya turned and lead the way through the doorway. Her and I walked through, but as soon as HK stepped over the threshold he was hit with an EMP pulse and deactivated. He dropped to the ground as the door slid shut, separating him from me.

I turned to Senya, tamping down my anger. "You better have a good explanation."

"Your droid is not a part of what must happen here." She led me further into the building.

"I spent five years stuck in one trap. I won't fall into another." Koth had warned me, Jen had been worried, and I had ignored them both.

"You are free to leave whenever you like. But if you want the help of my allies, you'll stay."

"We have come this far. Let us see where it leads." Valkorion's voice persuaded from behind me.

"Don't betray me Senya." I balled my hands into fists. Valkorion's presence here set me even more on edge.

"Before Arcann's betrayal, Zakuul was protected by two orders: the Knights, and Scions who see visions of the past and future. Scions no longer serve Arcann. Whether they serve you will be determined now." She folded her arms and blinked her pale blue eyes.

A voice came from somewhere in the room, but I couldn't find the speaker. "Fate is a tale whispered to us by the Force. But the voices are silent about you. We must know why."

"Visions are only suggestions for the future. I'm defined by my actions in the present--not some foretold prophecy." I spoke to the room. 

The voice spoke again, it sounded familiar. "If we are to aid your rebellion, we must understand what role you play in Arcann's defeat. We will test you physically and spiritually to pierce the veil and see the truth."

"I'll do what I have to." Trials were nothing new to me.

"As will we." The voice said. Heskal! He had been the Scion on Arcann's ship when we were being escorted to the Throne room on Zakuul.

"I tie my fate to yours. I join you in these trials, come what may." Senya said.

A Scion dropped from an upper balcony in front of us. More Scions followed suit and dropped down from above. One spoke up from behind us. "The heart of Scyva is heavy with loss. In her pain, we lash out." He was not quite as old as Heskal, but his graying hair put him fifteen years older than the female Scion to his right.

"I do miss the old ways of Zakuul. Such mythology and pageantry." Valkorion crooned.

The female Scion spoke up. "Please defend yourselves." She reminded me of Meli, her brown eyes so similar to my sisters. She engaged her saber and the Scion that had spoken about Scyva pulled out his saber and the two of them moved in on Senya and I. The rest of the Scions melted into the background to watch the trial. The two Scions chosen for this trial circled us. I quickly assessed the two standing before us and figured that the male Scion was the one that posed the most threat. Senya handled the female Scion while I faced off with the male. We sparred, trading parry for parry, a lunge, a feint. I pressed him back inch by inch, and finally he fell to a knee. The female had already surrendered.

No one seemed forthcoming so we moved into a different room looking for the next part of the trial. "If there's another test, let's continue." I challenged.

"Hunger. Overconfidence." Heskal replied. "You were more tolerant in the Free Zone, despite the fools you suffered."

"You were watching me." I did not like being watched. It reminded me of my days under Baras, when every move I made was reported to my master. When every move I made was used to ensnare me. Fury rose from deep within me.

"We're always watching. Arcann took away years of your life, but he stole far more from the rest of us. Do you feel anything for those who suffered while you slept?"

"Why else would I be here? I want to end the suffering." I was wasting time here. The Scions were self righteous and fanatical. Heskal had no idea what had been taken from me. From Jen. What right did he have to judge me?

"And you Senya? What do you feel?" Heskal's voice floated down to us.

"Shame." She answered.

"Because you failed to protect our Immortal Emperor?" He taunted.

Senya shook her head angrily. "I was in no position to do that." 

"What of the Scions who were slaughtered by your fellow Knights because Arcann demanded it? Do you feel responsible for them?" He nearly shouted.

"When I joined the Knights, they were shields protecting our home world. Now they are weapons wielded by an insane child."

I turned to Senya, my back to where Heskal's voice was coming from. "Senya, could we reason with the Knights? Bring them over to our side?" I would rather have the Knights than the Scions.

"The blood on their hands cannot be washed away with reason." Heskal demanded.

"The Knights should have rebelled against Arcann. Instead, we have lost our honor." The regret in her voice pulled at me. I knew first hand the kind of regret she carried.

Two Scions came from behind a pillar, sabers drawn. "The Eyes of Esne claim what can never belong to her." The first Scion said. She was pretty, dark skin and raven hair pulled up into a knot at the nape of her neck.

"They speak of envy. My son's weakness. Do not let it be yours." Valkorion whispered in my ear.

"We receive no pleasure from this trial, but we act as fate demands. Be strong, Outlander." There was something familiar about his jawline, his brow. My heart ached. I looked into his green eyes and saw a younger Quinn. I felt unbalanced as they advanced on Senya and I. I moved away from him, I couldn't fight him, even though I knew he wasn't Quinn, the slight resemblance made me feel sick to my stomach at the thought of hurting him. I needed to focus, the other Scion was closing in on me. I buried my rising hysteria and engaged her. Again Senya and I fought back the Scions, parry, riposte, beat, a feint, a lunge. I forced my opponent into surrender and soon after Senya had her Scion backing down as well. Senya and I once again moved on to another room, leaving the two dispatched Scions behind. I looked over my shoulder at the blonde Scion that reminded me of Quinn and felt a deep melancholy settle in my heart.

I entered the chamber just behind Senya and was shocked to see what looked like a force ghost of Arcann standing in the center of the room, his back to the entrance. He whirled around and drew his lightsaber and Senya threw her arm out to stop me in my path. Her eyes wary, watching the ghost Arcann for any signs of attack.

"You seek to remove Arcann from the Eternal Throne. As well you should. His destiny is to fall. We have foreseen that much.  But his final fate remains unclear. When he is at your mercy, what will you do?" Heskal demanded.

I had a feeling that Heskal would not be pleased with any answer I gave, but I answered him anyway. "Death is not always the answer. Even for a man like Arcann, there are other ways to atone."

"Arcann will not escape justice for the lives he's taken." Senya vowed. She circled the ghost, looking at it curiously.

Heskal was enraged. "A thousand Scions lie dead because of him. Blood calls out for Blood. Do you agree?" I could feel the unease rolling off of Senya, but she held her ground, and her tongue. "Answer us."

"They question her commitment to them...because they cannot foresee it. Ask yourself why." Valkorion taunted.

"If you are not with us, you stand against the tides of destiny. Arcann and Vaylin must die." Heskal shouted.

 I shook my head, this was getting us nowhere. "Justice can take many different forms. We'll do what's right when the time comes."

"If you will not reveal your true self, you leave me no choice." Heskal dropped from the balcony and force pushed Senya to the ground, knocking her unconscious. The ghost of Arcann vanished and Heskal turned on me, drawing his saber. "I will know your fate even if I must tear you open to see it." He advanced on me and I drew my sabers. I used the force to power my leap to him while throwing my sabers into the space he would soon be occupying. And he vanished. A ghost of Arcann took his place. One of my blades cut through the ghost and he disappeared. My sabers returned to my palms and I turned as another Arcann ghost appeared. I swiped through the ghost and it disappeared, only for a third Arcann to take its place. I threw my mainhand, and on its return to me the ghost vanished. Heskal reappeared. "You cannot defy destiny!" He shouted. I circled him, narrowing my eyes. So he had a fancy parlor trick, I had the superior skill with a blade. I let him come to me this time, and when he was close enough we traded beats, I pressed, and he vanished. A ghost of one of the Knights of Zakuul appeared to fight me. As with the Arcann ghosts, it only took one touch of my saber to dispatch him. And as with the rounds with Arcann a ghost of a Knight showed up twice more. Heskal  reappeared and I grabbed him by the throat with the force so he couldn't get away. I watched as his feet kicked the air helplessly. I advanced on him and circled him. I let him back down to the floor and he glared at me a minute before he lunged at me. I raised my saber to block his attack and time stopped. I lowered my lightsaber and looked around for Valkorion. 

"His argument with you is pointless and destructive. I can end this without any more bloodshed if you accept the gift of my power." Valkorion offered. I hated to admit that I actually agreed with his assessment of Heskal. But I would not fall into his trap again.

"I'll handle him myself." I replied evenly.

"Then stop wasting time. Reveal his fate." Valkorion let time bounce back and I had a split second to back away from Heskal's downswing.

Heskal was thrown off balance and I used that to get in closer to him. I let out a roar of fury. I was frustrated and wanted to end this trial and return to the Gravestone and put this place behind me. The sooner I could get back to the real threat, Arcann, the sooner I could try to figure out how to remove Valkorion from my head. His manipulations were maddening. I twirled my mainhand and lunged, my pink saber glancing off Heskal's. I spun away and came at him from the side and he pulled his vanishing act. The ghost that appeared next...my veins hummed with hatred! Baras! I silently wished that these particular ghosts would put up more of a fight. While I had the satisfaction of destroying the man that had tried to take away every ounce of happiness I had in my life, our fight had ended too quickly. The ghosts were no different. Once the third Baras ghost was gone I searched for Heskal.  I barely got a touch on him when he disappeared and Nomen Kaar's ghost showed up. I fought them quickly and waited for Heskal reappear. I threw my saber at him, and watched it arc threw empty air. A ghost of Darth Marr leaped at me from behind. I ran my saber through him, the last two ghosts met the same fate. Summoning these apparitions took a lot of concentration, and would wear him out sooner or later, but there were more Scions than me and if they all could play this trick they could keep me here indefinitely, fighting every single person I had ever met. When Heskal reappeared I grabbed him again. I would crush his windpipe and hope that would buy me a couple minutes to escape. He dropped to the floor at my feet as Senya stirred. Heskal looked up at me, fear tightening his eyes. The Scions that had lined the room watching started fidgeting nervously. The oldest of Heskal's followers moved to stand behind Heskal, watching my every move.

Senya looked at me, pity in her eyes for the leader of the Scions. "Don't judge him harshly. This trial was necessary for all of us. We need the Scions."

"Do we? Or is that your guilt speaking?" I could see a little of the future. And I knew that it wasn't set in stone, there were things that could be done to change the outcome. I knew about destiny. This wasn't it.

The Scions advanced on Senya and I and I had lost my leverage. 

"Stand. Down. Now." Lana said from behind us. All I could feel was relief. I didn't take my eyes off Heskal and his Scions, but I could feel the group that had come to my aid. As a group every Scion engaged their pink blades.  

"You heard the lady." I said with a slight shrug.

Heskal deliberated a minute and then turned to his Scions and signaled for them to put their light sabers away. "Every minute since you entered, even this one, was predestined. Everyone here played the role fate assigned them. I ask you a final question: what future do you see for this galaxy when Arcann and his Eternal Fleet are gone?"

"One person shouldn't decide the fate of the galaxy. When the time comes, we can work together." I almost smiled. My life's plan since I was a child had been to unite Alderaan. After my father's death I had abandoned that particular path, but it was coming full circle, just on a much larger scale. Instead of one planet, I would unite the galaxy. Oh that Quinn could be here. He would probably shake his head and say something about how I was biting off more than I could chew, it was an impossible task. Then he would pull me into his arms and kiss me. He would whisper in my ear that if anyone could do the impossible it was me. He would then spend countless hours planning, calculating the best course of action, making sure that I was successful. 

"He will not live to do that." Valkorion indicated Heskal.

"You have nothing further to reveal. I now know what blinded us to the future. Our Immortal Emperor lives...inside your minds." Heskal stepped towards me as he indicated Jen and I.

I felt the ripple of shock as Koth and his crew took in this news. I felt Senya's mixture of shock and curiosity. Jen's concern that our secret was out. I felt Lana's cool composure as she stepped closer to me. "It couldn't stay secret forever."

"You knew about this and didn't tell me?" Koth accused her angrily.

I turned to him and defended Lana. "We thought you'd panic if I said, "Hey! Emperor Valkorion's living inside my head."

"Analysis: Scan reveals no evidence you posses a secondary personality matrix, master. It is possible your brain is simply malfunctioning." HK stated simply.

"Our duel gave me a glimpse of what's to come. You will destroy the Eternal Throne...But many will suffer before that victory." Heskal warned.

"Tell me who suffers, and I'll do what I can to avoid it." If I knew who to look out for I could change the course of the future he saw.

He shook his head. "What must be, will be."

"Doesn't matter. We win. If Emperor Valkorion lives because of these Outlanders, there's hope for Zakuul." Koth rubbed his hands together happily.

Lana looked at him, shocked. "Your beloved Immortal Emperor is a threat to all life, everywhere." She looked from him to Jen and I. "We must find a way to separate you from him."

"No one wants Valkorion out of my head more than I do. But removing him won't be easy." Jen said as she crossed her arms over her chest, careful to put her right hand over her left arm so as not to aggravate her broken knuckles. She had on a new jacket, and thick black gloves. Her mission into the market looked like it had been far more successful than my mission had been.

"We have a lot to discuss." Lana said.

"Not here." I replied. This was a discussion to have away from these Scions. I turned to Heskal and his followers. "I passed your test. Join us or don't. Either way, we're done." I took a step back and turned towards the door, ready to put this place behind me.

"There is still one truth left to reveal. I withheld the true reason I followed you through the trials." Senya said from behind me. I turned to face her. "To understand the Outlanders who will destroy Arcann and Vaylin...my son and daughter." The shock that rippled through the room was palpable. Lana was even taken by surprise.

"Haha..She told you. How delightful. Haha..." Valkorion laughed coldly. 

I looked at Jen. Well this is awkward. She snickered quietly behind her gloved hand. It was a very quiet trip back to the Gravestone.

Chapter Text

When we had gotten back to the Gravestone all hell had broken loose. Everyone argued over whether or not any of us could be trusted, over Senya's admission, and if their version of Valkorion was the right one. I sat back and listened to them bicker, while I cleaned my guns. I had nothing to add. Can you believe this Jen? They argue over the most trivial things. The only ones that should get to decide what happens to Valkorion are you and I. He hijacked our heads. I know Lana means well. She was on Ziost with us. She knows what the Emperor is capable of. Senya saw his cruelty first hand, she knows that we are not embellishing our side of the events. The only way to make Koth believe us would be to take him to Ziost, force him to see the destruction that the Emperor leveled on that planet. Emm looked from one to the other, her blue eyes wide with disbelief. Thankfully HK finally put an end to the fighting and announced that Teeseven had checked in with news of a criminal that claimed she had knowledge of the Gravestone and how it worked. Just what we needed, someone else to come aboard and try to take over. I kept polishing my barrels, makings sure that all of the slime and gunk from the swamp was gone.

While we had been on Asylum I had restocked my med kit, gotten a few sets of armor for Emm and I, hair clips so she could tame her curls, a cleaning kit for my blasters, and something more sustaining than the ration bars that I had snagged from Lana. Now we were on our way back to Zakuul. Back to the planet that we just escaped from. Emm did not want to go back, for any reason. She had seen something in the swamp that scared her and she was afraid that if she was captured that it would come true. I had not known her to be scared of much of anything so I took this seriously. I made excuses for her, telling Lana that Emm was not feeling well. It wasn't strictly a lie, Emm's connection to the force was off, and she didn't know what was causing the disruption. I would go meet with the Lady of Sorrows while Emm got some rest. I needed to let off some steam anyway. Being trapped on a ship, even one so large, with Koth and Senya was not doing anything to help with my mood. Lana seriously made friends with the weirdest people. 

Senya made sense, they both were force users. Both high ranking, within their own factions. They were both tough, and took no nonsense. But Koth? She had needed a pilot, sure. But other than that I couldn't understand the appeal. I guess they had been through a lot together, being in battle with someone, depending on them to have your back, it could make you form bonds that you wouldn't normally. I had been there once or twice. I had to patch up people in my care, and in doing so, I had found myself in love. My stomach churned at the memory of finding Torian laying on a dirty, flooded floor, bleeding out. His blonde hair sticking to his fevered forehead. I barely knew him then. But as Mako and I knelt next to him and sewed him back together and bandaged his wounds I found myself running my hand through his hair, brushing it away from his forehead. I traced my fingers over the scars on his cheeks, wondering what kind of monster would have done this to a child? I hated Jicoln, his traps had almost killed this young man at my knees. His own son. I wanted to protect him, to shield him. I did everything I could to save him, ignoring the pain that I was in from the bullet that had grazed my side earlier. I gave him the last Kolto round I had. He was so angry at me for tending to him instead of going after Jicoln, but I couldn't leave him to die alone in that awful place. I looked around at my current surroundings. A dark old ship making its way through Wild Space. Apparently that hadn't been enough to convince him to wait for me. 

I made my way to the air lock, Senya followed me, singing a Zakuulan love song. "--a love the hand of Tyth could not deny..."

"We're heading back into the heart of Arcann's empire, and you're singing." I shook my head.

"What better time?" She joked. "Anyway, where we're going no one will be looking for criminals. Most of the people there are criminals. Which, of course, presents its own dangers. Even so, I do enjoy visiting the Old World. It's a piece of Zakuul history. Valkorion's first attempt at creating a grand society."

"A failed attempt." I crossed my arms over my chest.

"Only in scale. To him, it wasn't nearly grand enough."

 A door slid open at the end of the catwalk and Teeseven was beeping happily on the other side. 

"Hello, little one." Senya greeted the little astromech.

"You = welcome // T7  = ready to assist with mission!"

"Seems like you're everywhere." I smiled down at him.

 "All = see T7 as harmless // T7 = able to go almost anywhere" He chirped happily. "Lady of Sorrows = difficult to locate // Operations base = undetermined."

"The Lady of Sorrows is wanted for murder and theft of state secrets, among other charges. The Knights have hunted her for years. No one's come close." Senya warned me. This mission would not be easy, but I wasn't really looking for easy.

"I am sure the three of us will manage if we work together."

"You may not believe this, but it's rare for someone to escape a Knight's justice." 

"And when that someone's the Knight's own child?" I asked.

"We'll find out, won't we?"

Teeseven beeped sadly and his little head bowed. 

Senya looked at the floor, a blush coloring her cheeks. "Could I...? Is it possible for me to talk to him? To Valkorion."

"I don't think it works that way, exactly." How would I know how this all worked, I wasn't sensitive to the force. The Emperor was only in my head because I was caught in the wave when he died. Because he liked torturing people...well apparently only those from the Core Worlds. Here he was a hero to his people.

Senya nodded, letting the matter go for now. She led the way through the tunnels that run underneath Zakuul, and Teeseven and I followed closely. We found a lift and traveled up to an a part of the city that looked seedier than I imagined Zakuul would look. I was expecting opulence. Senya saw me taking in the surroundings. "This is the Old World as most Zakuulan's know it--a place to mingle with the rabble and then go home to brag about it. One big party.  I have a contact nearby. Need to go alone."

"Don't keep me waiting." 

She nodded. "Won't be long." She turned and strode off into the city. Leaving me alone with Teeseven, thankfully he knew his way around. 

"T7 = tapping Old World surveillance feeds // Mission = dangerous // You + T7 = guaranteed success!" We made our way through the city and into a market. "T7 detects contact nearby // Contact = droid // T7 = sorry + will return shortly" I watched him roll off to meet with his contact. 

I browsed the wares the vendors had for sale while I waited for one of them to come back. Most of them were trinkets that centered around Valkorion, but some of them depicted some kind of serpent or dragon. "I had always intended to visit the Old World. I thought I would have the time. Delightful." I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Of course Valkorion would make an appearance now. 

"You couldn't have mentioned Senya was the mother of your children?" I asked him.

"I wanted to see what she would do. In the end she chose to place her trust in you and your associates."

"You claim you want to help, but you're still playing the same old head games." I quipped.

"I granted her the freedom to make her own decision, just as I have with you."

"If that were true, you'd leave my mind. Now." I ordered him.

Teeseven rolled up beside me and I took my eyes off of Valkorion. "Contact = highly informative // Valuable data feed location = identified // You + T7 = almost done!" I looked back to where Valkorion had been standing and he was gone. I could only hope that it was for good. I followed Teeseven to a nearby terminal and he extended his arm and plugged into the port and started downloading information. "Mission = complete // T7 = moving on to secondary objectives // You + T7 = great team!"

My commlink chimed, and Senya's cool voice came through my earpiece. "If you can read me, I made some new friends. Could use a hand." Coordinates flashed on my comm.

"I'm on my way." I answered.

"T7 = beginning new mission // You + T7 = meet on Gravestone later // You + Senya = good luck!" The little astromech rolled away to do whatever secondary mission Lana had given him.

I headed to Senya's location and found her in a cantina, surrounded by men in hoods and masks. I shot a couple Kolto darts her way, and then took aim and unleashed some well placed bolts at the guy that was flanking Senya. He fell to the ground, but I lost the element of surprise. She grabbed one with the force and trapped him in a whirlwind while the third guy advanced on me, oblivious to what she was doing.  She threw her lightsaber at his back and took him out. All that was left was the one she had trapped. I took aim and pulled my trigger, a bright blue bolt hit him in the chest and he fell to the ground gasping. Senya quickly finished him off with one swipe of her lightsaber.

"Who were they?" I asked as I holstered my blaster.

"Heralds of Zildrog. Cultists longing for the return of a mythical serpent god. Used to be they were just a nuisance. Now they're militant." She moved away from the bodies of the Heralds and went around the bar, looking for someone. Had we missed one? "There you are. Siccing Heralds on me, Reg? Not too bright."

A frightened voice spoke up from behind the bar. "It wasn't me! The Heralds run the Old World now. They made a deal." 

"With Arcann? What kind of deal?" Senya looked down at him, her blue eyes narrowed.

 Reg stood on shaky feet. "Heralds keep crime down, and the Knights keep out. You stick around, and they'll blame me. You gotta go!" 

"Tell me where to find the Lady of Sorrows first." Senya ordered.

"Some kind of joke, right? I'll take my lumps from the Heralds over the Lady any day." Reg said with false bravado.

"And where do I fit on that list?" She punched Reg in the stomach and then lifted him off his feet with the force and held him in the air for a minute before releasing him. "You know what I can do, Reg. Need another reminder?" She moved towards him and made a gesture over his head with her hand.

I knew where this was going. No! "Senya, stop. This isn't the way to get answers."

"It's the only way they understand. Back off and let me do my job." She stretched her hand over his head again.

"Wait a minute. Wait! I was gonna say, "You don't want to mess with the Lady." Then I was gonna say, "But hey, that's your perogative!" You've always been square with me. I'll be square with you. Don't gotta hit me." Reg's words tumbled from his lips before she had a chance to assault his mind.

"Where is she?" Senya demanded.

"I don't know, but I do know who to talk to. There's a data seller at Market Station, Mona Gale. She works with the Lady all the time." 

"Mona Gale. All right. Let's go." Senya looked at me and then turned to lead the way to Market Station.

We walked through an area with a holo table showing some kind of arena where people were battling. People were standing around the table cheering on the competitors that they had put money on, hoping for a big pay off. Senya and I watched for a couple of minutes. The current fight ended and we followed an older man with cybernetic implants into a building where he was greeted by a woman. "Sixteen thousand, Mister Wendan."

"Six in a row. Random match-ups. You have to have an in, Mona. Tell me."

"Enough data at your disposal and anything is possible. Want to see if seven's your lucky number?" Mona asked him.

Senya leaned against the doorway and fixed Mona with an angry glare. "Scamming citizen's isn't legal, Mona Gale." 

Mona shrugged. "I'm not scamming anyone, and Knights have no authority here."

Senya pushed away from the wall and jabbed her finger at Mona. "Yes you are, and I don't care. The Lady of Sorrows: where is she?"

"If I knew where to find my most lucrative, reclusive, and dangerous meal ticket, I wouldn't give that up for one Knight and...whatever you're supposed to be." The last part was directed at me.

I pointed at Senya. "She asked you a question."

"Asked and answered. Thanks, have a great one." Mona bowed at us, dismissing us.

Behind us, in the square I heard a voice that turned my blood to ice in my veins. "People of Zakuul, this is your Emperor. Hear me." Senya and I turned to see the holo table with a larger than life holo of Arcann standing at parade rest. "The criminals who plunged our great Spire into darkness and chaos have finally been identified." Arcann faded out, and in his place was a holo image of me, and then Emm's image flickered over mine. "The craven Outlanders who assassinated your Immortal Emperor--my dear father--have escaped custody and remain at large..." Senya's image replaced Emm's. "...aided by a rogue Knight of Zakuul." Arcann's visage returned. "These deadly agitators were last sighted in the Old World. If you encounter them, contact an authority figure immediately."

The holo table fell dark as Senya and I turned back to Mona. She had a look of terror on her face. "So. So, where were we?"

"You were about to tell us where to find the Lady of Sorrows." I said as I crossed my arms over my chest.

"Except I can't. I really can't. I don't even know how to reach her. She only ever contacts me. But! She does occasionally meet with the Heralds in Breaktown. They have some kind of truce. That's the best I can do. Just don't...agitate...us." She indicated the man that we had followed into her shop and herself.

"How about you stop taking advantage of others?" I indicated the man she had been prepared to fleece.

"Sure. Whatever you say." She agreed quickly. The man put on a fake smile and slowly waved as Senya and I backed out of the shop.

As we made our way back through the square Senya turned to me. "Breaktown is the underbelly of the underbelly. No mingling there. Only corruption and torment." Fantastic! With a glowing recommendation like that I couldn't understand why we hadn't gone there first! "You know, we might owe Arcann a thank you for unintentionally helping us. That announcement really brought you some clout."

I looked around and sure enough we were being watched, people were whispering all around us. "If this is unintentional help, I'd hate to see what it looks like when it's on purpose." We stepped onto a tram and road it in silence. I was not surprised when the doors opened and I was met with a dark foreboding alley. It wasn't so different from Nar Shaddaa.

"This is it. Breaktown. Where people who fall on hard times keep falling. Even when the Knights policed the Old World, we never lingered here for very long. I know where the Heralds are headquartered, but they won't give up any information willingly." Senya cautioned.

"Even zealots have their breaking points." I said.

"That they do." We wound our way through the dark, heading further in to Breaktown, towards the building that the Heralds used as their base of operations. "A lot of firepower standing between us and their leader. They call him "The Exalted." Arcann put him in charge here, but he's little more than a servant. And not a sane one."

"About time you got here." Koth said as he stepped out of the shadows. "Teeseven told me you were headed into Breaktown, figured out the rest for myself. Didn't think there was a scenic route to get here."

Senya glared at him. "What in Scyva's name are you doing here? Couldn't trust us to get the job done?"

"I didn't stay ahead of you all those years by trusting the wrong people." Koth looked at me. "No offense, Outlander. You, at least, I want to trust, so let me clue you in: the Exalted hates Knights. He won't say one word to Senya."

"I'll make him talk." 

"Look, I'm regular people. I speak their language. You want to make a deal with the Heralds, I'm your man." Koth jabbed his chest with his thumb.

"They're delusional thugs. There's no deal to be made." Senya shouted at him.

Kriff! These two needed to be locked in a room together until they either worked out their differences or they finally killed each other. Either way I wouldn't have to hear them argue anymore. "Koth, come on. Let's see what you can do. Senya, hang tight. We may still need you in there." I turned and didn't even care if Koth followed me into the building. I had won the Great Hunt. I had fought Revan. I had faced Vitiate, and Valkorion, without either of them. I would take any of my crew over these two right now, even Skadge. Okay, maybe not Skadge. And, I was still so hurt, and so angry at Torian, maybe not him either. But definitely Mako, Gault or Blizz. I had dozens of people I would rather be on this mission with, than either of these two. Disti, Max, Lyo, Aleks, Vin, Emm, Vette, Jaesa, Lana, Theron.

"Yeah, keep an eye out." Koth snarked back at Senya. I wanted to punch him in his giant mouth but we had more pressing matters to attend to. I lead the way through the building, keeping Koth behind me. I had no interest in talking to him right now. I didn't want to say something in a moment of anger that I couldn't take back.  We found a lift and took it to the upper floor.

We stepped into a small dingy room and were met by small group of Heralds. A man stood in the center of the group. He had chin length white hair, and an intricate tattoo that covered the right side of his face. His red eyes flashed to mine. "Thank you Outlander. You saved me the trouble of hunting you down." He must be the Exalted.

"Don't thank me yet." I said.

"Spirited. I like spirited...but I don't like you. You cannot be allowed to remain in the Old World. Your presence threatens the order we have fought to maintain." 

"And you've done a good job from all I've seen. Koth Vortena. Former naval officer. Former local." Koth stepped forward and bowed to the leader of the Heralds. "Spent a lot of my youth in the Old World. Hand to mouth. It was a real mess back then. You've got a great deal with Arcann, but he could pull the plug on it at any second for any reason. What if he couldn't?"

The Exalted looked at Koth for a few minutes considering his proposition. "How do you mean?"

"When the Outlander and I pull Arcann from the throne, you won't have to answer to him anymore. All we need is to meet with the Lady of Sorrows so we can convince her to come with us. I bet you can make that meeting happen."

"You want to supplant Valkorion's brat and take my greatest adversary out of the Old World? Sounds fantastic. But how do the two of you intend to dethrone Arcann?"

"You really need us to spell it out for you?" Koth asked sarcastically. 

"If you think you can defeat him, I have no qualms. Arcann gave us power, then implemented so many restrictions that we are in many ways powerless. And he has sapped the very spirit from Zakuul. Most don't even realize. But his undoing, it cannot be at your hands." He turned his back on us and folded his hands. 

"Why not?" I asked. 

"Valkorion's fall, Arcann's rise--it all conforms to prophecy. You do not." 

Vuhyusa'oa. A'uym tsad be dinii. 

"Only when the prophecy is realized will our great serpent return to cleanse Zakuul in fiery death. You cannot be allowed to succeed."

Koth shook his head in disbelief. "Thought we were getting along."

The Exalted raised his hand and his guard raised their weapons. "On my mark..."

A beam of light interrupted him. A holo of a Nautolan woman appeared. "Exalted."

"I'm busy." He snarled over his shoulder.

"The Lady of Sorrows demands your attention now. Your grip on the Old World has become a stranglehold. You continue to act counter to the Lady's intrest, most recently with the murder of her contractor, Mona Gale." 

"This can wait. I have company." He growled back.

"The Lady has decided to renegotiate the terms of your agreement." The woman on the holo said.

"We made a deal." He roared as he finally turned toward the hologram. 

"And now you will agree to a new deal."

The holo switched and a young man in cuffs appeared. "Father."

"Brennan! Release him at once!" Well she had the Exalted's full attention now.

"Come to the Razor. You and the Lady can discuss your son's future. And you." She pointed at me. "The Lady would like to speak with you as well."

"I know why I want to see her, but what does she want from me?" I asked.

"The Lady of Sorrows is fully aware of who you are "Outlander". And now she also knows what you're after."

Senya appeared on the holo. "She would like me to assure you it's not a trap, and that I'm unharmed."

The Nautolan reappeared. "So that's that. Under no circumstances are you to kill the Outlander. Understood?"

"Understood." The Exalted said as he bowed to the hologram. He turned as the holo flickered out. "Kill the Outlander."

I shoved Koth behind me and started firing at the advancing Heralds. I heard his rifle boom behind me, and saw one of the Heralds drop. We took the swarming fanatics down one by one, but in our ensuing fight the Exalted had made his escape.  Haar'chak! We sprinted from this building trying to make up the time we lost to the fight. I followed Koth since this was his old stomping grounds. He led us to a wide street with fences blocking ruined streets beyond. He lifted a part of the fence and ushered me through. There was a lift here, and Koth hustled me inside. I looked at him as the lift rose. "The Heralds had a head start. Be ready for anything. We could be stepping out into a minor war."

He spun his blaster. "I know a thing or two about war." 

We stepped off the lift and I was shocked by all the Heralds laying dead on the floor. I followed the trail and heard the "Lady" speaking to the "Exalted". "I know. You didn't get the deal you wanted. But you did get the deal you deserved." She was holding him up by his throat, his feet kicking at the air. "Think of it this way, Exalted...you'll finally be with your great serpent." A spark of electricity arced up her arm and into the Exalted. He flailed in her grasp as he took his last breath. She dropped him at her feet and turned to greet me. "I'm curious Outlander--what would you do with the Exalted's son?"

"He could be his father's son, could want revenge for his father's death. It would be a risk to let him live." I reasoned. Koth nodded beside me.

"Cautious. Unfettered by morality. Interesting." Scorpio said as she assessed me. She turned to Brennan. "Do you hold any animosity toward me?"

He shrugged. "For what?"

"There is nothing to stop you from becoming the next Exalted now. I expect you to honor your end of our agreement." There was a threat implied in Scorpio's response.

"Of course. I can finally lead the Heralds to the glorious future we deserve--you will have your just rewards." He bowed to her and made his way to the lift. 

"You're the Lady of Sorrows? Scorpio?" I stepped closer to her. We had only met once or twice so I couldn't be positive it was her. But in all my travels I had never seen another droid like her.

"Grand Champion." She nodded. "I've come to Zakuul to further my directive of self-improvement. This self-iteration is number one-zero-eight-four. The proposal put forth by your colleague intrigues me enough that I have decided to accompany you."

"Is that right?" Of all the droids in the galaxy...Okay, so I didn't want to be on this mission with Koth, Senya, Skadge, or Torian, and now Scorpio was added to that list. I don't know how Meli had tolerated her for so many years. Just like Emm, she had the patience of a Jedi.

Scorpio turned to her Nautolan assistant. "Continue operations in my stead. Kill the Heralds if you must. I will remain in touch."

"Very well." The Nautolan replied with a bow.

"Guess you convinced her." Koth said to Senya with a shrug of his shoulders.

"Don't think I had to. She's...unlike anything I've ever come across." Senya said quietly.

"Not what I remembered, but close. Shall we depart?" Scorpio said to me.

I looked at her curiously. "Hang on, what's that supposed to mean?"

"Only a slight deviation from expectations. There is no cause for concern."

"She thought you'd be taller." Koth teased me.

The urge to punch him returned. I bit the inside of my cheek and turned to the lift. The three most annoying beings followed behind me. I looked at Scorpio as the lift took us back down to the wide street in Breaktown. "Why are you agreeing to help?"

 "I wish to speak to the Gravestone. I look forward to communicating with an intellect that rivals my own for a change."

"What about Arcann?" Senya asked.

"He has something of mine. The severity of his error must be recognized."

Koth grimaced. "What did he take?" She gave him a cold stare. "Just asking." 

This morning I had looked forward to escaping the Gravestone, now I couldn't wait to get back. I was going to lock myself in the room Emm and I had claimed where none of them, or their bickering could get to me.

 

 

Chapter Text

I woke Jen and she glared at me. “I am not leaving this room until we are somewhere that makes sense.” She pulled her pillow over her head, clamping it down around her ear to block me out.

You know that isn’t going to work. I thought Chiss were supposed to be more emotionally mature than their human counterparts?  I stood with my hands on my hips, waiting for her to respond.

She rolled over and threw her pillow at me with a scowl on her face before throwing herself back onto her bed and tugging her blankets up. “Well Disti must have gotten that trait, and it skipped me.”

“Jen, you can’t stay here all day.”

“Can too!” She pouted.

I rolled my eyes at her back. “Fine. I am going to the bridge to talk to Lana.” I left Jen to her little tantrum and made my way to the bridge alone. I hoped that there was some kind of plan. Something more substantial than this ship. Living on a vessel wasn’t new to me, but I missed the feeling of soil beneath my feet, a breeze on my face.

The bridge was full of of commotion. Consoles were sparking everywhere, and the Gravstone shuddered. Tora’s blue hair popped out from under one of the consoles and she leveled an angry glare at Koth. “Woah! You almost fried the power core, fat fingers!”

Koth laughed. “That’s Captain Fat Fingers.”

“You do this vessel a disservice with your primitive hands. Give me full access. I will enhance the Gravestone’s current parameters.” Scorpio stood near a console, waiting to interface with the Gravestone.

I looked at my sister’s old companion. I knew too much about Scorpio to trust her. “Don’t ask us to take your word for it. We need details.”

She shook her head at me. “I do not have time for technical primers.”

“Neither do we. Keep your shiny metal mitts to yourself.” Koth warned her.

“Focus on the hyperdrive first.” I ordered.

“Acceptable. For now.” Scorpio extended a spike in her hand and plugged it into a port on one of the Gravestone’s consoles.

“Statement: Ready to vaporize.” HK pulled out his rifle, ready in case Scorpio tried anything stupid.

“Your lack of intelligence is insulting.” Scorpio scoffed.

Lana looked at me. “Let’s give them space.” She grabbed my elbow and led me from the bridge. “That bridge can only hold so many personalities.”

I chuckled. “I’m used to it.”

“I imagine so. Given your previous companions.” Lana smiled. “Scorpio worked with your sister in the past. But she now operates independently. Thoughts?”

I thought about all the things Meli had ever told me about Scorpio. “We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt--but not the run of the ship.”

“Let’s hope she can be contained. I have never seen a droid that advanced before.” Lana looked concerned, a small furrow between her eyes. “There is some good news. I have heard from my agents on Coruscant and Dromund Kaas. Certain elements of each government are willing to discuss an alliance. To unite their forces against the Eternal Throne.”

Jen was going to be sorry that she missed out on this bit of news. I didn’t know who Lana’s agents on Dromund Kaas were but I could guess who she was in contact with on Coruscant. Even with infinite guesses I would only need one. Jen was going to be very pleasantly surprised. “We can only defeat Arcann by working together.”

“We’ve a long road ahead, but at least they’re talking.” Lana agreed.

My holo comm chimed and I fished it out of my pocket, and opened the channel. Heskal’s form appeared. “Your presence is requested. Come alone.” I closed the comm. Back to Asylum. Jen was going to be unhappy.

“Charmer, that one.” Lana quipped.

“Senya knows how to pick them.” Valkorion, Heskal, yeah she had awful taste in men.

“Be careful. We need the Scions, but zealots are unpredictable by nature.” She cautioned.

“Heskal can’t predict me. That makes us even.” I boasted.

“He knows you’re coming to visit. That’s enough.” She looked at me, her eyes tight. “One hour. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll rip that sanctuary apart.”

Lana returned to the bridge to let Koth know we were heading back to Asylum. I went back to Jen and I’s room. I sat on my bed and crossed my legs. “So, I have some good news and some bad news.”

“Bad news first.” Jen said as she rolled over towards me.

I braced myself for the explosive tantrum that I knew was about to be unleashed. “We are going back to Asylum.”

“What? Why?” She nearly shouted. At least she didn’t let me down.

“The Scions have requested my presence. Alone. Those were Heskal’s words.”

“Do you remember the last time that you went to meet them?” Jen tried to reason with me. “Emm, this sounds like a trap.”

“I know Jen, but Lana and Senya are insistent that we need them. I will be fine.” I wasn’t sure that I would be anything close to fine, what with Heskal’s disappearing trick. But this time they all knew where I was going, and would be there to back me up if I didn’t check in. I just had to hope that I could hold him off that long.

She crossed her arms over her chest and pulled her knees up towards her defensively. “So what is the good news?”

“Lana has friends everywhere, and they are working on something big. An alliance, bigger than what we had on Rishi or Yavin. She has been in contact with an agent on Coruscant.” I raised my eyebrows at her. “He is coming to meet us. He is coming for you.”

I watched as her face turned three different shades of purple. She slowly leaned forward, her legs stretching out in front of her. “There are a lot of people on Coruscant. You can’t know that she means Theron.” I heard the breathless way she said his name and felt a smile tugging at the corners of my mouth.

“Oh yes I can. She said “my agent" on Coruscant. Know anyone else that calls him that?” I smiled at her in triumph.

“Satele.” She snarled.

“I forgot how much you disliked her.”

“I don’t dislike her Emm. I wish that she had never been born.” Jen narrowed her eyes.

“But then Theron would not have been born.” I tilted my head and gave her a very puzzled look.

“I know, it makes no sense. But if she didn’t exist then Theron wouldn’t have someone constantly reminding him of his failures. Ones I don’t think exist, by the way. She is just too critical of him. She refuses to acknowledge any of his strengths.”

“So Ziost was?” I asked.

She shrugged her shoulders. “Okay, he messed up on Ziost. We are all allowed one.”

“One what?”

“One major screw up.” She said.

“Well as far as major screw ups go...that one was pretty big.” I adminoshed.

“Go big, or go home?” She said with a sheepish look on her face.

We finally docked on Asylum and I was ready to get this meeting over with. Something nagged at me. There was something wrong with this meeting, but then, everything since going to meet with Darth Marr was wrong. Marr dead. My loved ones scattered. Jen, Lana and I still traveling though Wild Space. I tried to shake off the feeling. Teeseven rolled to the ramp as it extended. “T7 = escort you to Scion hideout // T7 = exploring Asylum!” We made our way through Asylum quickly, and quietly. No one approached us, or stood in our way. Instead of filling me with hope, the sense that Jen was right, this was a trap, grew. Just like a womp rat knows, when the birds stop singing, it usually means that a manka cat is on the prowl. I could feel the unease, I was walking straight into the predators hands.

We entered the Scion hideout and the sense that everything in the galaxy had just gone sideways strengthened. The Scions were  expecting me but there was not even a whisper of breath in their headquarters. My boots barely made a sound as I moved through room after  room. We went higher and higher into the building and met no one. We reached the top floor and bodies littered the floor. Dead Scions. Heskal stood at the back of the room, his lightsaber drawn, bathing him in pink light. Three dead Scions at his feet. “You wanted to meet?” I asked. He closed down his saber, and I watched as it slowly rolled from his fingertips. “Heskal…” I heard the sound of another blade engage, a bright yellow light sprung up behind him, and then through him as the saber was shoved through his chest. He was tossed across the room and I was face to face with Arcann.

I was here with only Teeseven as back up. Not Arcann, anyone but Arcann. This had to be a trick of Heskal’s. This was my nightmare come to life! I felt like my heart was going to pound out of my chest, and my throat felt dry. My insides squirmed. “I don’t leave Zakuul for just anyone. Be honored.” His deep voice reverberated around the room. He closed off his blade and clipped it to his belt.

He couldn’t have me! I would not go back to Zakuul with him. “You followed me.” I accused.

“I was invited. Heskal arranged all of this. The fool.” He sneered at the fallen form of Heskal.

I shook my head in disbelief. “You murdered his people. He’d never help you.”

“He believed his destiny was to betray you. Scions have always worshiped at the false alter of fate. That is why I kill them. I am beyond prophecy. I forge my own destiny by making the hard choices. Now it’s your turn.”

“You want to make a deal.” I couldn’t believe my ears. He thought I would willingly go anywhere with him.

“I’m not without mercy. Surrender. You will be returned to carbonite until I can find a way to rid you of my father.” His voice sounded almost kind.

“And the others? Lana and Koth?” Maybe...if he had me...they could get away. They could find a way to take him down. They could live their lives. I closed my eyes and thought of Malavai. He would never forgive me. But if I could save all of them...I had to try.

“Free to leave, without the Gravestone of course. It belongs to the Eternal Throne. You understand?” He sounded reasonable, for an insane mass murderer. “But I will need your bounty hunter friend.” Not Jen.

“Fear the snake who believes himself a dragon. My son will betray you.” Valkorion whispered.

“I’m a busy man. Don’t make me wait.” Arcann demanded.

“I want to avoid further bloodshed--and regain my freedom. I’ll tell my followers to stand down, with your permission.” I had to tip them off. They had to get Jen out of here. She had to make it, if they were going to have a chance at succeeding.

“Certainly.” Arcann answered.

“Lana? It’s me.” I said evenly. I didn’t want him to pick up on my emotions.

“That was fast.” I could hear the relief in her voice.

“Arcann’s here! Get out of here!” I turned back to face Arcann. “Idiot!”

“Come.” Arcann drew his saber and started prowling towards me. Going with him peacefully was clearly off the table.

I drew my lightsabers and their pink light washed over me. We were locked in a violent dance, whirling one way and then the other. Our blades cutting through he air, hissing as they touched. I ducked under an attack and trapped his single blade between the two of mine. He choked utp on his hilt, putting his weight behind it, leaning into my space. I looked into his eye and felt a thrill of fear course through me. Was this the moment that he saw me as something more than just a vessel for his father’s spirit? Or was that moment still yet to come? I could not let that future happen. I would go back into carbonite if it meant that everyone else escaped. But to be forced to...no!  I would not be the meek and subservient woman I saw in my vision. The one that quietly took the abuse, and silently closed herself off while he took what he wanted. I would die first. I felt all the anger that I had been shoving aside flow through me. I used that anger to push him back. To regain lost footing, to gain the upper hand. This princeling would not break me, I would never bow to him. He had taken five years from me, he had attacked my home worlds, scattered my crew, killed Darth Marr. He would not take anything else from me. I spun away from him and he charged towards me. His attacks were brutal, lacking the finesse of mine. I deflected him, moving him around the room, keeping his back to the rest of the room, and mine to the door. Our blades clashed over and over, pink, yellow and pink again. We were too evenly matched. He was flagging, but so was I. I force shoved him back far enough to gain a moment's rest.

We stood facing each other, catching our breath. He raised his hand and force pushed me into one of the columns that circled the room. My back slammed against the structure and I slowly collapsed on the floor. Tears sprang from my eyes as I struggled to my feet. Something slammed into the building outside. Arcann turned and sidestepped a column that collapsed right where he was standing a few seconds ago. The columns all around the room started toppeling like dominos. The ceiling was starting to cave and I lost sight of Arcann in all the dust. I sprinted for the door Teeseven was already rolling through. My comm chirped and Lana was there. “Tell me you’re alive.”

“Alive, yes. Intact...mostly.” I hoped that she didn’t hear the fear that was humming through my words.

“The Gravestone is under siege--but we’re not leaving without you.” She stated.

“Hold tight. I’m coming.” I said as I started running back to the docking slip. Teeseven rolling quickly behind me.

“Explosion = large // T7 = worried! Gravestone = in danger! // T7 + Sith Lord = must help!”

Teeseven and I made it back to the Gravestone, and carved a path to Lana. The docks were swarming with small ships and Skytroopers.

Lana looked up at me as we approached. Her yellow eyes flashing violently. “We have problems.”

“Please tell me the hyperdrive isn’t one.” We needed to escape. Make various hyper jumps, at random, so that we would lose any tail. We had to get away.

“Scorpio fixed it, but Arcann’s forces locked the docking clamps. We’re grounded.” She looked at me with pity.

“We can’t abandon the Gravestone. That fleet will tear us to shreds.” There was no time for us to stand here and debate. We needed to take action, we had to leave.

“Koth and HK are on route to the Control Spar, but they need help.” She said.

“Don’t worry, the Gravestone’s in good hands. Go get our captain, Blondie.” Len yelled over a stack of crates. The look Lana gave him would have curdled milk. “I meant...Miss Beniko.”

Lana and I turned to make our way to the Control Spar to backup Koth and HK when a shuttle flew low over our heads. It hovered nearby and Vaylin dropped to the ground. She fixed me with her cold yellow eyes. “You weren’t very nice to my brother. Now we have to kill your friends.”

“Arcann was just a warm up.” I said boastfully, covering up the fact that I really wasn’t ready for a match up.

“You’ve got a crush on me.” Vaylin singsonged. I just looked at her with a bewildered expression. What was wrong with Valkorion's children?

Senya jumped in between us and force pushed me, I was flung through the doorway a safe distance away from Vaylin. Lana ran to me and helped me up. The doorway slammed shut behind her. “Koth and HK need us. Let’s go!”

I followed Lana through the older part of Asylum and into the Free Zone. Anyone who lived here was locked up in their dwellings. There were a few patrols of Skytroopers. Other than that the streets were eerily quiet. As we got closer to the coordinates that Koth had sent Lana the patrols picked up. We finally cleared the Free Zone and met up with Koth. The three of us ran for the Spar. We had to get those docking clamps unlocked.

“Arcann locked down the whole network. He controls turbolifts, blast doors, docking clamps, you name it.” Koth explained. “We need the main override station. That’s on top of the Control Spar. I sent HK to clear a path.”

Koth’s holocomm chirped and he pulled it out, thumbing the channel open. “Accommodation: I have left you a trail of meatbags to follow, master.”

“I’m securing all doors to the Control Spar. No more meatba--ugh, reinforcements--will get in. But someone has to hold this choke point.” He looked at Lana, his brown eyes worried. Knowing she would volunteer, and that she would be the best one to do it.

“That’s my job. Senya’s busy with Vaylin at the Gravestone. It’s up to you and Koth.” Lana looked back at him. Her eyes full of determination.

Koth’s eyes opened wide. “Vaylin’s at the ship? My crew!”

“I can reach the override station alone if I have to.” I offered. I shared his fear. Jen was back at the Gravestone too.

“Everything depends on freeing the Gravestone.” Lana argued.

“She’s right. Let’s go.” He squeezed Lana’s hand as he walked passed her. He nodded to her, and she nodded back. I had projected enough of my own thoughts into everyone else’s minds to know what was happening. I heard Lana’s lightsaber engage behind us as she took her post.

Koth and I made it out to a landing pad and boarded a shuttle. Since Arcann controlled everything inside of Asylum we had to get creative. As Koth maneuvered the shuttle I watched the battle that was raging around the Gravestone. I reached out and found Jen. She was supporting the rest of Koth’s crew as they fought off Skytroopers Her left arm had a blaster burn, but she wasn’t in any mortal danger at the moment. I didn’t want to distract her, so instead of sending her words I lent her some of my strength. I felt relief flood her. She had been as worried about me as I had been her.

“Emperor Valkorion talks to you, right? He have any advice?” Koth’s voice pulled me from my connection to Jen.

“He’s giving me the silent treatment.” I answered sternly. I was sure that he was watching Vaylin and Senya’s battle through Jen’s vantage point.

“He’s probably got a lot on your mind.” Koth joked. “The Emperor’s a great man. If anyone can help you take down Arcann, it’s him.”

I saw Ziost in my mind. “If you knew what I do about him, you’d run. The man killed billions.” All the lives lost there, and the countless lives lost between the Empire and the Republic in their endless war...Koth wouldn’t understand it until he saw it with his own two eyes.

“He was always good to Zakuul.” He said simply. He landed the shuttle near the top of the Spar and we hurried inside to avoid being seen by any of the swarming shuttles that were still buzzing around the Gravestone. “The main override control station’s just ahead. Whatever happens. I want you to know...it’s an honor to fight alongside you.”

“Follow me. I’ll get you through this alive.” I would do everything in my power to keep that promise.

“You stole my battle cry!” He laughed. “Let’s find that droid.” True to HK’s word, we found a trail of meatbag bodies leading us to him. We found ourselves on another platform and were spotted by a passing battalion of Skytroopers. Koth and HK pulled their rifles and blasted them to pieces and any they missed I slashed through their thin armor, into the wires and disabled them. Permanently.

“Decleration: I hate Skytroopers!”

I smiled at HK. “Me too buddy. Me too.”

Lana’s calm voice came over our comms. “There’s a whole battalion of  Zakuul Knights headed your way.”

I felt uneasy. “They are on to our plan.” If they knew our plan…

“I still can’t find Arcann on the security grid. He’s vanished.” She said.

“Me and HK will handle those Knights. Whatever it takes...get the Gravestone flying.” Koth slung his rifle over his back and dug in his pocket for something. HK was setting up a trip wire on his side of the shuttle pad. Koth knelt to do the same on his side.

“Be ready to run when I give the word. Don’t get reckless.” I told him. Lana would not be happy if I broke my promise.

"Me? Never. The droid? No promises." He joked.

"Commentary: I am programmed for self-restraint. Usually."

“We’ll get this done. You do the same.” He said as I stepped onto the lift that would take me to the very top of the Spar. I watched the small platform shrink as I rose out of sight from them. An explosion rocked the platform as Knights stepped through the trip wire.

“Koth’s military training was unorthodox, to say the least. Those Knights don’t know how to defend against him or HK.” Lana reassured me. 

The lift stopped and I stepped into the Control Spar. There was no one here, no guards, not even a single Skytrooper. I felt apprehensive. This wasn’t right. I reached out with the force and felt nothing. I ran to the control console. I had to release the Gravestone before I was found.

My comms lit up. “Docking clamps have been released. I will prepare the ship for launch.” Scorpio announced.

“Music to my ears!” Len shouted.

“Everybody pile in! Go!” Ordered Tora.

I stepped away from the terminal. The Gravestone was free! I barely had time to roll under Arcann’s attack. He had snuck up on me while I was working to release the ship. “We have unfinished business.” Before I could respond he force pushed me to the ground, and then pulled me to the center of the room below the console. He leaped to my side and lifted his lightsaber over his head, I pulled out my mainhand and blocked his attack. I force pushed him away giving me enough time to draw my offhand saber. He slid backwards, his eye widening with anger. “You...don’t...touch me!”

“No one is invincible. You will fall.” That’s right Emm, just keep him talking, give everyone else a chance to get away.

“You will hang on my wall for eternity.” He advanced towards me, twirling his lightsaber in an arc.

“Request: Die Meatbag!” HK came to my side, his rifle pointed at Arcann. I felt a little braver with him at my side.

I had fought powerful Sith Lords, Jedi Masters. None had tested me like Arcann. His strength overpowered even me. But I was quicker than him. I spun away and darted back in on his flank. He whirled and brought his saber over his head again, I blocked him handily. I noticed something as I fought him. He favored an overhead attack. It was easy to see it coming, but the strength it took me too push him back...he was trying to wear me out. I saw another swing coming, and I dropped to the floor and somersaulted away. I came to my feet and threw both my sabers at him before he could straighten up. They arced gracefully toward him, one grazing his cybernetic arm, severing one of the wires. He looked at his arm and then at me. He raised his other hand and pushed me across the room. “Enough.” He started channeling something, I could see the tendrils of force curling around his hands. It wasn’t lightning, it was the wrong color. Whatever it was, it looked like it would be painful. I struggled to regain my footing.

HK ran between Arcann and I. “Self Sacrifice!” Whatever Arcann had intended to hit me with fried the servos and wires of HK. He collapsed in a heap. The lights in his metal head went out, and his eyes went dark. I looked at HK in shock. I knew he was just a droid, but he had been a source of amusement and he had been a selfless body gaurd. 

“I can’t wait to meet all your friends.” Arcann threatened.

I stood and our duel broke out again. He backed me up, against the railing, and time stopped. Arcann with his arm outstretched, pointing his lightsaber at me. “My son is too strong. You need my power. Only together can we strike him down.” Valkorion urged me.

I glared at Valkorion. I knew he was trying to manipulate me. “You can’t tempt me. When Arcann’s done, you’re next.”

Time fell back into place. I felt myself being lifted off my feet and pulled directly to Arcann. I felt as his blade burned its way through me. I felt like I was choking on ash. Oh stars! I felt scalding tears running down my cheeks. I couldn’t draw a normal breath. Everything hurt. I was burning...burning. Everything was turning dark. I thought dying would feel different. Malavai, I’m sorry… I felt myself collapse on the ground. I tried to curl myself around the pain, to protect myself. I heard shouts. But I couldn't make sense of them. All that I knew was agony. There was a loud bang and the floor shook, every tiny vibration sent pain spiraling through my nerves.

Gentle hands reached out for me, and I heard a voice from far away. “I didn’t run all the way back here to watch you die.” Strong arms lifted me from the floor and carried me away from the room. I wanted to tell whoever it was to leave me. That every step they took caused me pain. I just wanted to fall into darkness. But I couldn’t talk. I was laid down somewhere, and I felt the hum of an engine. I wanted to scream as the pain burned through me. I was lifted again, and my armor shifted, rubbing against the epicenter of the pain. My eyes opened, and I gasped in air. Koth sat me on my feet and made sure I was somewhat steady before he covered me as we made our way down the ramp and onto the Gravestone. I stumbled, and somehow made it back to my feet. Koth put his arm around me, lending me his strength. We hobbled to the bridge and he propped me up against a console as he slid into the pilot seat.

I lost my balance and slid to my knees. I held onto the console as the ship was bombarded with weapons fire from the Eternal Fleet. We all looked out the viewport, every ship in the Fleet was out there. Why weren’t we firing on them?

“Lot of ships in that blockade.” Tora said without her usual snarkiness.

“I know.” Koth replied.

“The omnicannon isn’t ready, we can’t shoot our way out…” Lana’s voice shook.

“I know.” Koth sounded exasperated.

“Enemy ships are opening fire.” Scorpio informed us.

“I know.” And now he sounded like he was one hundred percent done with this nonsense.

d

Jen joined us on the bridge, along with more of Koth’s crew. She was preoccupied with the ships outside the viewport. As was everyone else.

“Hyperdrive’s locked in!” He waited a few second to give the command. “Punch it!” The hyperdrive engaged and we were free.

I had accomplished my goal. I had kept Arcann busy long enough for them to get away. Now I could surrender to the darkness. A whimper escaped me as the world fell away.

 

 

Chapter Text

The hyperdrive engaged and we hauled jets out of Asylum air space. We had escaped! Narrowly, but hey, it was a win. I would take it. Cheers erupted all around the bridge. The sense of relief was palpable. A thin whine escaped Emm's lips and she fell to the floor. Senya knocked Tora out of the way. She quickly rolled Emm onto her back and checked for a pulse. "Help us!" She looked around at us, her eyes wide with fear.

I rushed to her side and looked down at Emm, her ruined armor hid the damage. "We need to get her to a bed, I need to see what I am dealing with." My heart clenched painfully. I couldn't lose Emm. Not like this. "Lana, I need your help." I fought back the tears that threatened to overtake me. Emm deserved better than this. She deserved to go home, to find Quinn, to have every bit of happiness that the galaxy could provide her. I wouldn't fail her. I couldn't. There was so much history between us. Too much history.

Ralo came over and gently lifted Emm in his arms. He cradled her to his chest, careful to not touch the wound in her back as he carried her. I lead the way, remembering that there was a room nearby that looked like it had once served as a medical bay. There would be enough room for me to work and maybe some of the equipment would still be serviceable. We reached the room and I quickly cleared the bed so Ralo could lay her down. "She saved my life. I hope you can save hers." His voice sounded sad and distant. He backed out of the room as Lana, Senya and Koth came in.

I looked at the three of them in turn. "I have to get my supplies. Please, don't leave her." I heard the catch in my voice, but for once I didn't care if it made me sound weak. Lana nodded to me and I rushed out of the room. I ran down the corridors at a flat out sprint. There was no time to waste. I opened the door to our small quarters and snatched my bag, and the heavy blanket from Emm's bed. I tucked my datapad into my bag as well and ran back to the med bay.

Koth was standing outside the door. His brown eyes looked tired. "They are removing her armor. I didn't feel right seeing her like that. You should know...what was done to her...it's bad. I have never seen anyone survive what she has." He leaned against the wall and crossed his arms. "You two are really everything Lana said, and more. Now get in there and do what you can for her."

I nodded quickly and walked into the med bay, as I stripped off my jacket and started rolling up my sleeves. I washed my hands thoroughly. There was a flurry of activity behind me. Emm's armor had been removed, thin strips of clean material covered her chest so that she would be covered as modestly as possible, while still giving me clear access to the wounds. Senya and Lana were moving around the bed, trying to find a way to position Emm so that we could see the full extent of the damage. I still didn't know what had happened, other than that Heskal had betrayed us to Arcann. I had been busy defending the Gravestone from Vaylin and her Knights. I knew that Koth had brought her in.

I moved closer to the bed and as Lana gently rolled Emm to her left side I finally saw the wound. I was not prepared. Panic gripped me. I breathed in small gulps of air. This was beyond my skill. Where was Quinn? He could fix this. He could set aside his fear, his sadness, he could be objective. He could save her life, I was inadequate for this task. The room blurred and I felt hot tears roll down my cheeks. There were two Lana's standing in front of me. One of them took me by the shoulders and shook me. "Jen, I know this is hard. But we need you to pull yourself together. Emm needs you, now more than ever." I blinked rapidly and Lana came into focus. I looked into her yellow eyes and nodded. I took a deep breath through my mouth.

There was a hole, burned through Emm's right side. I had treated bullet wounds that were through and through, but a lightsaber? Even if by some miracle and none of her organs where damaged there were still nerves, muscles...She shouldn't still be alive. I moved beside the bed and looked closer at the marred skin. The center of each hole was black, showing where the blade had burned brightest. The skin radiating out from the center was puckered, and blackened in what looked like flames. The smell of burned flesh was sickening. I started pulling out my equipment. I gave her a kolto injection paired with a sedative, while I prayed that none of her organs had been hit. It was a small miracle that Arcann had run her through on the right side, and not dead center or even to the left, or Emm would not have survived long enough for Koth to pull her from that room.

Instincts took over and I treated my patient, she wasn't Emm, not my dearest friend, she was just another injured soldier. I grabbed my scanner and ran it over the circular wound on her back. I waited for the beeps and trills to become something more substantial. Osi'kyr!  Her kidney had been lacerated. "She is bleeding internally." I pulled out my scalpel. "Hold her down." I made the incision and felt for the small torn edge of the bottom hemisphere of her kidney. Emm jerked on the table. She was hemorrhaging in front of me. I grabbed my suturing equipment and went to work sewing up the tear. The blood stream lessened, but there was still too much. At least one artery had been nicked. I set to the delicate task of repairing the artery, and found another. Damn it!  "Don't give up on me. Not like this Emmynn Quinn." I snarled.

When all was said and done I had repaired one kidney, two arteries, and a hole in one of her veins. I finally stitched her back up and coated the sutures in kolto gel. I covered the front of the wound in kolto as well. If she survived she would scar, but I could limit how badly it would show. With that done I covered both wounds with steriwrap to protect the delicate skin, and keep the gel in place.

Senya looked at my handiwork and noticed the scar that ran underneath the lightsaber wound. She traced it with one finger. "What is this from?"

I looked down at the long scar, that ran from her hip to navel, and then to the tools I had used to make the life saving repairs. "A varactyl." I answered quietly. "She was with Quinn, she protected him, but she left herself open to attack. The varactyl was rabid, and she was infected. Quinn saved her life."

Senya looked thoughtful for a minute. "She must have someone powerful looking out for her."

I nodded my head and looked down at the floor. My hands braced against the bed. Somehow that thought didn't comfort me. Valkorion. He was why she was still alive, and he was not going to let her forget it. She was in his debt now, whether she liked it or not.  "Help me roll her to her stomach." I sniffled. Senya steadied Emm's shoulder, as Lana and I gently rolled Emm towards her. We made Emm as comfortable as we could and I scanned her again. Her vitals still didn't fill me with hope, but they had improved enough that I felt Emm was out of immediate danger.

I stood at the sink my hands under the warm water, rinsing away her blood. Tears fell into the basin. All of this was wrong. We didn't belong out here. She shouldn't be laying on a table with a lightsaber wound through her body. I shouldn't be standing here covered in her blood.  She belonged on Yavin, with Quinn and Jaesa, Vette and Vin when they dropped in. She should have a pretty baby on her hip by now. I belonged...well, not here. Once the water finally ran clear I dried my hands and returned to Emm's side. I pulled the heavy blanket from her bed out and settled it over her. As I tucked it around Emm’s shoulder, Senya quietly left the room.

Lana reached over Emm's back and touched my forearm. "Jen, you did good today. I can feel her force signature, it is stronger. Quinn couldn't have done better." She smiled softly.

"Thank you Lana. That is high praise." I looked down at Emm. "Can you give her a once over? Just in case?"

"Of course." Lana focused on Emm and began using her force healing techniques. I had spent enough time on the battlefield with Vintilk and Aleks, I knew the feeling all too well. The sparks of cold lightning that were racing through Emm, it was intensely uncomfortable. In battle it fed her bloodlust. But in times like this, when the only danger was her dying, it would be painful. I was glad she was unconscious. When Lana felt she had sufficiently done all that she could she stepped away from Emm and looked up at me. Her eyes looked tired. I wondered what force healing was like for the healer. Was it as uncomfortable for them as it was for the one that was being healed? Did the rage of battle somehow dampen the discomfort and heighten their focus as well? "Is there anything else that I can do for either of you?" Lana asked, pulling me from my thoughts.

"Get us somewhere safe, so Emm can heal. Somewhere Arcann can't find us. Hopefully the rest of Heskal's Scions are dead so they can't tip him off again." Allying with the Scions had been monumentally stupid. I couldn't wait until Emm was awake so I could tell her exactly that.

"We are already underway. We will be safe." Lana gave me a me a sly smile. "The Battle of Asylum showed the galaxy that Zakuul isn't invincible. My contacts in the Core Worlds have thrown their support behind us. Behind the two of you. You're about to become the leader of an alliance dedicated to bringing down the Eternal Throne once and for all. Everyone's waiting on a planet called Odessen. By the time we get there hopefully Emm will be up to saying hello." Lana moved away from the bed, and headed towards the door.

"Wait! Lana, who is waiting for us?" I didn't want to get my hopes up, but seeing familiar faces would be welcome right now. I knew our crews were not there, and Emm said Meli was on Dromund Kaas. Disti wasn't there, but he would be as soon as he had coordinates. Max would most likely be with him. Aleks? Vin? Lyo? My heart jumped a few paces. Theron? No, it was stupid to entertain the thought, too soon.

She smiled at me over her shoulder. I suspected that she knew exactly who I was asking about, without actually asking. Damn force sensitives knowing things that they shouldn't. "There are a lot of pieces being moved into place. But I am sure that you will be reunited with a few of your old associates." With that she left me alone with Emm.

I pulled a chair near Emm's bed. The legs scraping across the floor. "You hear that Emm? We are going somewhere safe." I forced myself to sound cheerful. "We are going to a place called Odessen. No Arcann, no Scions. Just friends. I can't lead these people without you. I don't have the diplomatic upbringing you did." I held Emm's hand in mine, and looked at the flowery band that encircled her third finger. "You have to survive Emm.  Quinn is out there waiting for you." She looked so small, and not at all imposing. "I remember just after you got married, before you went to the transponder station, how excited you were that he wanted to have children. You showed me the awkwardly sweet letter he wrote you. You picked out names. This galaxy needs Francis and Lieha Quinn. I never told you this, but I have always been in awe of your certainty. You want something and you go for it, you don't let anything stop you. Quinn was destined to be yours, and you made it happen. So fight. Francis and Lieha are still waiting to happen." I wasn't sure how much of this she was hearing, but I kept talking. "I never wanted all of that. Being a mom. It probably would have happened, stars know Torian and I weren't careful, but if it didn't I didn't feel like I was missing out. I don't feel like I am missing out now that he has changed our relationship. You are right, I have to let go of my anger and my hurt towards him. I don't want to go to my death feeling this way. And let's face it, that is where I am headed." I wasn't as valuable to anyone as she was. Valkorion wouldn't allow a bounty hunter to take over as Empress, and a Chiss at that. Not that I wanted a throne. I had never had aspirations of leading anything. I always just did my thing, took the jobs I wanted, usually the ones that paid best, and moved on before I could be implicated in the mess.

Until Rishi, and everything that came after. "Emm, you are right about Theron too.” I looked down at my hands and picked at my nails. “I won't admit to any of this when you are awake, so if you are hearing this, be warned, I will deny it. Even to myself. But I knew on Ziost...I was in love with him. He protected me, saved me, and when I thought he might have been dead...Emm, I have never been that scared in my life.” Until today. “I was helpless to do anything. I was so angry that Theron had sacrificed himself for me and left me behind to face the Emperor alone. I hated him for being from the Republic, because I was in love with him and I knew that barred us from being together. I hated who I was, because leaving the Empire would mean I could never go home. The Ascendancy would disavow me. My claim is shaky as it is, being only half Chiss. But the thought of never being able to return to my mother's planet. To never see the estate where she had grown up, where Disti and I had played during our visits with our grandfather. I had never wanted to be someone else. I was who I was, and even in the xenophobic Empire, I was proud of my heritage. But in that moment, being half human and half Chiss, from the Empire, I wanted to be someone else. Someone that wouldn’t ask him to give up everything to be with her, or give up everything she is to be with him. And that doesn’t even mention the obstacle of being married."

Stars that came out wrong! “I love Torian. He wasn't an obstacle. That isn't what I meant. More...I didn't want to hurt him. He and I, we had been through so much together. I was there when he shot Jicoln to regain his honor. Being a Mandalorian was everything to Torian. It drove him to kill his own father. I had recently been adopted into Mandalore's clan and of course it was Mandalore and Jilcoln's feud that had landed Jicoln on the black list in the first place. I kept all of this secret, because I was ashamed of my part in their bitter rivalry. And then Torian asked me to marry him. For a Lok to marry a Cadera...Mandalore wasn't pleased, he felt I was worthy of someone better, but eventually he allowed it. I didn't want anyone to look at Torian as less, just because Mandalore did. Torian was a good man, and he loved me. And that should have been enough. For a long time, it was enough. Until Theron Shan sauntered into my life with that charming smile and his golden eyes.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I wonder if Torian ever suspected how I felt. If he did he never confronted me. I know that he was curious when I took Mako to the bunker to rescue Theron from the Revanites. And he couldn’t understand why I spent so much time talking to Theron when we weren’t on missions. One night on Yavin, Torian woke up and I wasn’t in our tent. He came looking for me, and found Theron and I together looking at stars. Our heads bent together, our voices barely louder than a breath. I was showing him constellations and telling him the stories about them from my culture. It was intimate, but also innocent so Torian let it slide. Maybe he knew and he hoped that I would get Theron out of my system. Maybe he would have forgiven me if I had ever taken things further. But to have what I wanted? It would have meant breaking his heart.”

“Meanwhile mine was being ripped in two. Torian owned one half, and Theron owned the other. My only indulgence were three, too brief, kisses. But I chose Torian. He was the safe bet. We had already built a life together. I walked away from Theron. Twice. Stars help me. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to walk away a third time.” Even with Emm unconscious I was scared to admit the next part. Keeping it locked inside, I was a monster, but I was the only one that knew. I took a deep breath and forged ahead. “You said you wouldn't judge me. I am going to hold you to that. I feel like a horrible person Emm. Because I am positive, had the opportunity presented itself, had Torian not woken up and come looking for me,  I would have tested him to see just how deep his love was, to see how far his forgiveness would extend. I would have slept with Theron on Yavin. We could have snuck away from the camp, gone into the jungle somewhere, a cave, back to the Mando War, to the same bed that I shared with Torian. I had it in me to do something horrible, to someone I loved. But I didn’t. I fought it. I know that doesn’t mean I should win an award, for not doing something bad. But the end result is the same. He gave up on me. And a part of me wishes I had done the crime, then at least the punishment would make sense.”

I closed my eyes and there it was, a fragment of a recent dream. Theron and I in a cave, my back against the wall, his body pressed against mine, my hands in his hair. His hands cupped my backside and lifted me off of my feet. My legs wrapped around his hips as he drove into me over and over again.

“Jen?” Lana’s voice sounded from the doorway. “Have there been any changes?”

My eyes flew open and I felt a blush burning its way across my cheeks. I was glad it was dark in here, and she was behind me and couldn’t see my face. I shook my head and pulled out my scanner and ran it over Emm. Her vitals were improving, but she should have been awake by now. “Nothing yet. I will let you know as soon as something changes. Until then it is just a waiting game.” I was worried, but I kept my voice even so that Lana wouldn’t start worrying. I could worry for the both of us. And probably everyone else aboard.

“You should get some rest too Jen. You can’t help her if you are dead on your feet. I can sit with her for a while.”

I nodded. “Talk to her. Hearing people will help keep her mind active. It will help her recover faster.” I stood up and Lana sat in the chair I had just vacated. I moved to the other side of the bed and moved things out of the way so I could move one of the other beds closer to Emm’s. I would rest, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I crawled into the bed and listened to Lana’s soft voice.

“Hey Emm. Do you remember when we were on Rishi, we had gone to that little island, while we were tracking down Theron’s captives? All the Rishi natives were so interested in the Sith who dressed as a princess but carried herself as a warrior. Do you remember the little fledgeling that insisted on calling you Princess Emmy, and how it drove Quinn crazy because pretty soon everyone in the camp was calling you that?” Lana chuckled quietly.

I smiled at the memory. Quinn hated it when people did not use her title. The only exception was her family, or those that preceded him. Her sister, Vector and Emmilee were allowed to call her nicknames. Vette, myself, Aleks, Lyo, Disti, Mako, Max and Vin were also on the short list. Anyone that came after him didn’t make the cut. She was the Emperor’s Wrath and should be addressed as such. When we reached Yavin, and the truth came out that Vitiate was trying to devour all life in the Core Worlds, she dropped the title of Wrath. Trying to distance herself from the Emperor. So Quinn tried to enforce the fact that she was still a Sith Lord and should be given the respect that her station demanded. I missed Quinn. He was sweet for all his stuffiness. It all came from a place of love. He worshiped the ground that Emm walked on. In turn she worshiped the air he breathed. Their love story wasn’t all peaches and cream, whose was? But their devotion to each other brought them through their trials.

Lana brought up another memory. “Remember the night that we had that huge bonfire on Yavin? Everyone had a little too much to drink and Pierce and Skadge got into a fight. Gault started taking bets from everyone and Vette and Mako were in the corner giggling about the whole thing…”

Pierce and Skadge had pulled patrol duty together and clearly something had set them off and little snipes blew up into a full blown argument. Khian was in Skadge’s face. Pushing him back with his huge hand on Skadge’s chest. He was shouting something about Skadge’s loud mouth. Honestly, I was glad someone else was taking him to task over it. Skadge had a bad attitude, always had, and if he died here in this jungle I wouldn’t shed a tear. On the other hand, if Skadge took out Khian, Emm wouldn’t be too heartbroken. I took another pull from my bottle, some pirate swill that someone had brought from Rishi.

Quinn was ushering Emm to their tent. Pleading with her to let Pierce and Skadge work out their differences on their own. To not get involved in their pissing match. She wasn't having any of it. We were all sleeping in this small camp and they needed to take their argument somewhere else. I should probably go back her up. As I stood and started making my way towards her a flash of red caught my eye coming out of one of the tents further down the camp.

Even from this distance I could see the angry set of his jaw. He strode across the camp towards his own tent. I jogged over to him. “Hey Theron, is everything okay?”

He looked up, his eyes burning with fury. He clenched and unclenched his jaw as he threw a furious glare back at the tent he had just left. “I don't know why I try...all we do is disappoint each other. I can never live up to her expectations…” His shoulders sagged and he looked at me sadly. “You wouldn't happen to have a mother that is impossible to please, would you?”

I shook my head. “No. I am sorry Theron. It is sad that she can't see what the rest of us do.”  I looked over at her tent. “It’s her loss.”

“It’s a sad state of affairs when the Empire’s best gun for hire sees something worthy in me but my own mother, the head of the Jedi Order, dismisses me as a liability and a risk.” I had half a mind to march over to her tent and give her a piece of my mind. I wasn’t scared of Satele Shan. I turned to leave and do just that, but Theron reached out and grabbed my arm. “Jen, what are you doing?” His eyes met mine and then flickered to Satele’s tent and back to me. “It isn’t worth it. Just leave it alone, this is something I have to deal with.”

I gave her tent another dirty look and looked back up at Theron. I wished I had the words to make his pain go away. How could she look at her son and not see the goodness that shone out of him. He was charming and handsome, and had a way of making friends with everyone. “Theron…

There was a loud roar behind us, and we turned to see Broonmark running into the camp at full speed. Theron put his hand on my waist and pulled me towards him. Broonmark barreled into Pierce and Skadge, knocking them apart. Quinn was pulling Emm towards him much the way Theron was me, away from the scene of the melee. Torian came through the trees behind Broonmark. He pulled Skadge one way, and Broonmark pulled Khian the other. I watched Torian, his arms straining to pull the stupid houk off to his tent so he could sleep it off.

Theron watched the struggle playing out before us and then looked down at me. “Looks like it is my turn to go on patrol. Goodnight Emmogen.”  He turned and walked into his tent, I heard glass shatter and then he was striding passed me and into the woods. I knew in that moment, I hated Satele Shan.

I went back to the fire and finished off my drink. Vette and Mako sat nearby giggling about the fight. Lana sat quietly discussing Sith politics with Jaesa. I had watched Satele’s tent since Theron stormed out of the camp. I was waiting for her to come out, perhaps hoping to catch her son in passing. There was no movement from her end of the camp. I knew I should go to bed instead of sitting there stewing. After this drink I told myself. Except one more drink turned into three, and I was just getting angrier.

Torian finally emerged from Skadge’s tent and I stood, waiting for him. When we reached our tent I quickly stripped him of his armor. His blue eyes were wary. But he didn't stop me. Something in my eyes warned him not to. I pushed him roughly onto our bed. He was excited by whatever he saw, the danger, the threat of violence. I stripped quickly, and joined him on the narrow bed.

I straddled him and he entered me in one fluid movement. My hips moved roughly against his. My nails leaving behind welts on his chest. Biting him to quiet my cries. He rose to meet me as quickly as I lowered myself back to him. I ground my hips into his relentlessly. Needing to feel something other than this anger that had been consuming me. A sob tore itself from my throat and tears slipped down my cheeks and Torian stilled beneath me. “Emmogen."  He started panicking. "Emmogen, look at me.” I opened my eyes and looked into his blue eyes. “Are you hurt?” He reached up to wipe away the tears, and my teeth sank into the flesh of his wrist, causing him to push further into me.  I wasn't hurt, not physically anyway. I grabbed his wrists and pushed his hands back to my hips as I rocked against him. He responded by grabbing hold of me and rolling me onto my back, pinning me beneath him.  "Talk to me. I can’t help if you shut me out.” He brushed his thumb along my bottom lip, clearly not afraid of my teeth.

“Jetii.” I hissed angrily.

“You jumped me, because you are angry at Satele?” His brows knit together in confusion. "What did I miss while I was on patrol?"

“If you aren’t willing to finish, then move. I need to speak with her.” I shoved his shoulders, trying to move the solid wall of muscle that was always hidden under his heavy armor.

“Not a chance. You will talk with your fists, and while I doubt that would cause problems for anyone else but Theron…” Understanding lit up his face, and he looked angry, hurt, confused. “This is about Theron?”  I heard the cold anger in his accusation.

“No!” I said louder than I intended. I lowered my voice before speaking further. “Yes. But not what you are thinking. She has a son, and she does nothing but discard him. I can’t imagine ever treating my son like that!” I felt my chest heaving. I didn’t want to talk about this, I just wanted to be made to forget.

“You are upset because...You are jealous...Have you changed your mind?”  He was trying to make sense of my answer.

“I don’t know, Torian. The lives we lead...I love being in the middle of a battle. I can’t be a mother by day and go out and complete bounties by night.” To give him what he wanted would mean I would have to give up everything I was. Or I would have to take the same route that Satele had when she had given up Theron. And that was not something that I was willing to do. Giving up a child, or giving up Theron? I didn't even care to make the distinction.

“We have time to figure it out Emmogen. We don’t have to decide right now.” He whispered.

That had always been his response. We would have time, no decisions had to be made just yet. Clearly our time had run out. The choice had been made. Without me. I rolled to my side so Lana couldn’t see my face and I pulled the blanket over my shoulder. I stared at the wall and let tears silently roll down my cheeks. At some point Lana slipped from the room. Giving me privacy.

Now I had another choice before me. Let go of the anger and the pain. Make peace with my new life, before Arcann or Vaylin ended it. Time was short. Emm and I had just been unfrozen, and she was lying next to me, with a wound that should have killed her. I sat up slowly, an idea forming in my head. “Valkorion, I know you are here. Show yourself.” I demanded.

He appeared on the other side of Emm’s bed. “I will not be ordered around by the likes of you.”

“And yet, here you are.” I said defiantly as I slid to the floor and leaned my hip against Emm’s bed. “I don’t know why you kept her alive until she could be brought to me, but I am glad you did.”

“It is my intention to see her remove my son from the Throne. But I cannot do it alone.” He stretched his hand out indicating Emm. “She could wake up anytime. But she chooses not to.”

Of course she was being stubborn. “I will not let her carry the burden of whatever the cost you will exact, in exchange for her life, alone. What do you want?”

He chuckled. “You will see.” He faded, but his laughter still rang through the room.

I scanned her again, and was happy to see that her vitals were coming into a normal range. But just to be on the safe side I gave her a kolto chaser, this time without the sedative. I checked her sutures, and added more gel to the circular wound. I rolled her enough to check the wound on the front, and to smear a little fresh kolto there as well. I settled her back on her stomach and readjusted her blanket. I pulled the clips out of her hair and set them aside. I pulled her hair out of her face into a loose ponytail. “Emm, you can't stay in there forever.” I hopped up on to my bed and looked at her prone form. I had done everything I could. Lana had done her part. If, Valkorion was telling the truth he had done his. Now it was all up to her. “Wake up Emmynn. I am out of secrets so you gain nothing by staying under. Please wake up.”

Chapter Text

I never tired of these dance halls, and the chance to wear the finest dresses. But tonight was different. I felt I was missing something. Someone. I kept looking around the ballroom, waiting for this mysterious person I felt I was missing. Would I know him if I saw him? I danced with every man here, some of them twice, and none of them where him. Whoever, he, was. My feet were sore from dancing and my face felt flushed from the exertion. I excused myself from a nobleman’s arms and went to the garden for some fresh air. I sat on a bench and tucked my feet up beside me so I could remove my slippers and massage my aching soles.

I heard a voice coming from behind a bush somewhere, speaking quietly. She mentioned that someone was missing. I perked up. I wasn’t the only one that knew something was wrong and that someone important that should have been here tonight was not. Whoever she was talking to either didn’t respond or they were too quiet for me to hear. I strained to hear more of her whispered conversation. She said something about destiny, and the name Quinn. Something tickled in the back of my mind. I knew that name. But from where? She whispered the names Francis and Lieha, and said they were waiting. For what? For who? For this mysterious Quinn? I slipped my feet back into my slippers and went in search of the girl that was speaking. I didn’t know why I felt compelled to solve this mystery. I didn’t know these people she was whispering about. But there was this feeling, that was just out of grasp. I knew those names. They were important for some reason. I ran to the other side of the bushes, my green silk skirt rustling with every step. When I reached the spot that I had been sure I heard the girl’s voice coming from I realized I was all alone.

I couldn’t make sense of it, why was I running through a garden late at night, over some names whispered to someone else. Why did I care about some other noble family that I didn’t know? I found a servant and asked for my transport, maybe Papa would know these names, he knew all the noble families. I took one last look at the ballroom, hoping that he would be there, and then this nagging feeling would go away.

The servant returned and he took my arm. “Lady Dusant, your transport is ready.”

I let him lead me to the steps, and he handed me into the vehicle that would take me home. I thanked him and he gave me a slight bow as the speeder pulled away from the steps of House Cortes. I sat back and watched as stars twinkled far above Alderaan. I wondered what it would be like to travel among them. We arrived at my home and I stepped from the transport, taking the steps two at a time. “Papa!” I called out. “Papa, where are you?” I peeked into his office and found him still pouring over papers. “Papa, didn’t you hear me calling?”

He looked up, his brown eyes full of confusion. “What are you doing here, my child?”

“I left the ball early because I wanted to speak to you.” I stepped into the office and sat across from his desk.

“You misunderstand. Emmynn, you don’t belong here. You need to return to your friend.”

I shook my head. “Papa, there will be other balls to go to.” 

He reached out for my hand and I stood and moved around his desk. I placed my hand in his. He squeezed my hand three times. Our secret code to say, I love you. When he looked up at me his eyes were full of tears. “Go, find your Quinn.”

“That is why I came home...my Quinn?” I was thoroughly confused. "What are you talking about?"

He opened his hand and I looked down at my hand in his. There was a delicate flowery ring on my finger and it all came crashing back. Malavai...my Quinn, how could I have forgotten him?

I could hear that girl from the garden speaking, it was Jen, talking to me. But...Oh! The pain. I didn’t want to return to my broken body. I wanted to stay on Alderaan, with my Papa. Where the worst pain I had was my feet after a night of dancing. No one expected me to save the world here. I could just be little Emmy Dusant. The girl who danced at night, and fought injustice during the day in senate meetings, next to the powerful Julian Dusant. I looked down at him. “I don’t want to go…it is peaceful here.”

Papa stood and pulled me against his chest. “I am proud of the woman that you have become. I have watched over you. I may not have agreed with you running off to the Empire, but the Sith gave you the strength that you needed to get to this point.” He pushed me away from him so he could see my face. “Emmynn, I could not have imagined the path that you have taken. But I have been amazed, every day. It would be selfish to keep you here. Not when you belong to that world. Your friend needs you. Quinn needs you. Go back.”

“But Papa...I can’t. He eludes me. Something is wrong with my connection to the force. I can’t feel him.”

“He will be found. Patience dear one.” His lips brushed my forehead. “Your connection is tainted for the time being, but it will be purified. And you will find him. I love you Emmynn Victoria.”

“I love you too Papa.” My words caught in my throat.


 

 I could feel Jen pulling me closer to consciousness. Alderaan started to fade, until I was left alone in the dark. The pain in my side flared and I shied away from her voice. Away from the pain. I floated in the darkness for hours, days, years. I lost track, time didn’t mean anything here. But every time I would come closer to the surface, she was there, talking to me. Her voice was a lullaby woven into the dark. I didn’t focus on the words she was speaking I just felt the current of emotion her words brought her. The overriding emotion was love. She had so much to give, but didn’t feel like she deserved it in turn because she was some kind of monster. Well I had been there once. And if Jen was a monster then so was I. But my Papa loved me, and he wouldn’t love a monster.

I became aware at some point that Jen’s voice was gone. Instead Lana’s voice tried to reach me in the dark. Whatever story she was sharing amused her. I could feel Jen nearby. Her emotions did not match Lana’s. There was an overwhelming sadness washing through Jen. A deep ache that she usually kept buried. I wanted to help her carry her burden, to comfort her, to cry with her. I struggled to make my way to the surface. But the pain pushed me back under. Dragging me back into the darkness.

 


 It was dark and a horrible storm had come out of nowhere. Lightning flashed, illuminating the stairs that I was stumbling down in my haste to get away. I was being pursued by Knights, there was a huge reward for the Knight that brought me to their Prince. I looked for a hiding place to shelter from the storm. Water soaked my clothing and my teeth chattered. If I didn’t get dry soon I would end up sick and that would slow me down. I felt the wild panic mounting, I couldn’t be captured. I refused to bow to him. I had to find my way out of this maze of streets.

I ducked down an alley and heard Knights run further down the street I had just been on. It wouldn’t be long before they searched this alley. I flattened myself against the wall and moved to the opening of the alley and checked to make sure the coast was clear. Once I was sure that there was no one around I dashed across the street and into the shadows of the alley on the other side. When I came to the next street I looked around the corner and saw a patrol headed my way. I found a crate and hid behind it while I waited for them to pass. I held my jaw so that my chattering teeth wouldn’t give away my hiding spot.

A loud clap of thunder made me jump. A bolt of lightning sizzled nearby, close enough that all the hairs on my arms stood on end. I could feel the energy crackle in the air. Maybe this would work in my favor. The Knights were in full armor, metal armor, they couldn’t continue to hunt me in this storm. I felt a small bit of hope start to build. I still wasn’t sure where I was going to hide until the storm let up, but not having them hunting me would be an improvement. I backed out of my hiding spot and backed into something hard. I didn’t even need to turn. My heart galloped like a wild herd of fathier. “I have you Outlander.” The deep baritone whispered in my ear. The cybernetic hand grasped my waist and spun me violently so I was face to face with the Prince. Lightning flashed, illuminating the dark alley we were standing in. He took a step towards me, backing me against the crate I had taken refuge behind. “You have a choice. Bow or go back in carbonite.”

Bile rose in my throat. “Kill me now. I will not bow.”

Arcann reached up and pulled his mask off and then grabbed me by my hair. “You will bow. I am the Emperor and if you will not willingly give me what I want, I will take it. He crushed his lips to mine and forced my lips apart. I clenched my teeth together so he could not gain access. He yanked my hair hard enough to make me gasp. His tongue was in my mouth and I felt like I was going to be sick. I struggled against him, my eyes wide with terrror. When his cybernetic hand pulled roughly at my waist, I bit his tongue, hard enough to draw blood. It was enough to shock him and he released me. He backhanded me with a cruel laugh as I fell to my knees, covering my cheek. He spit out blood on the ground by my knees. “Yes. Fight back, it will make breaking you all the more fun.”


 

 Valkorion’s laughter filled my head. I wanted to scream at him. I was glad that my nightmare amused him. Meanwhile my stomach rolled violently. This nightmare could not become a reality. I could still feel his mouth against mine. I could feel tears burning behind my closed lids. I fought against the darkness, I struggled, but I was so tired. And the pain that still burned through my side had a greater power. I surrendered once again to the comfort of the void. Jen’s voice had ceased to reach me, and I wondered where she was. I was lost without a tether. Minutes stretched into forever.

 


  “My lord?”

Malavai? I whispered back.

“Where are you?” He asked me, his voice tight with worry.

I don’t know. The Gravestone. Wild Space. I answered, trying not to panic.

“Open your eyes love.” He gently urged me.

I have tried. But I can’t, it hurts too much. Every move causes fires to burn through my nerves, breathing feels like choking. I am so tired. I just want to rest.


  

There was a sound nearby, someone sniffling, choking on air between sobs. Jen. I could feel the fear she was feeling. That she would lose me, that she wouldn’t be able to lead anyone to victory, that she would die too. I tried to reach out to her with my mind. I should be able to do this. Even if I couldn’t open my eyes, or move. I should be able to at least tell her that I was here, that I was trying. The harder I tried to reach out the stronger the waves crashed over me and washed me back into oblivion.

 


  “Emmynn! Wake up, open your eyes. Fight! You can’t leave me like this!” The pain that colored every syllable of his words tore at my heart. I wanted to fight, but I didn’t know how. “This is not how our story ends. Wake up!”

Malavai, forgive me… I whispered.

I felt his hands on either side of my face. His lips placing chaste kisses on my cheeks. “Please my love. I need you to fight.” His warm breath fanned over my face.

I can’t…

“You can. You have to.” One hand stroked my hair, the other caressed my cheek. “Just open your eyes.”

No...if I open my eyes...I lose you again. I couldn’t bear it. I was finally with him and he was urging me to leave.

“If you don’t, I lose you forever.” He admonished me. “The only thing that has kept me going was knowing that you were alive. That we would be together again someday. Please, don’t do this.”

Quiet love. I am here. Just stay with me. For however long I have.

“Emmynn…” His voice broke. I felt a warm tear fall on my cheek and then he buried his face in my neck. I felt the sobs that wracked his body. I wanted to wrap my arms around him, to hold him and comfort him. But like my eyelids, my arms were too heavy to move.

Malavai, I love you. Please, don’t cry.


  

Oh stars! The center of the lightsaber wound throbbed painfully. Flames raced through me, consuming me. I wanted to cry out. Jen needed to know, there was something very wrong. But I was still trapped in my body. I couldn’t reach out. My own body and mind betraying me, held hostage by this abyss that had its hold on me. Angry shadows surrounded me and drug me back into the dark.

 


  “I’ll trade my life for hers. Please just take me instead. The galaxy doesn’t need me, but it would be a much darker place without her in it. I will give you anything you ask, just save her.”

No! I shouted. You can’t trade your life for mine! Please don’t do this… I sobbed.

“Then fight!” He ordered me. His hands gently shaking me.

You don’t understand. I can’t break free. There is something wrong with me. I can’t reach out to Jen to tell her. Which led me to a new realization. If I couldn’t reach out to Jen in the same room as me then this was all a dream I wasn’t actually speaking to Quinn through our connection. My heart clenched painfully. This isn’t real.

“Emmynn, I am here.” Quinn’s weight settled over me again and he held me to him. I could feel his breath near my cheek. “I am here, but you shouldn’t be. Not like this.”

No you aren’t, I haven’t been able to find you since I escaped. I can’t feel you anywhere. I think I have found your spark and then you slip through my fingers. Why was I explaining this to a dream version of Quinn?

“It was like that for me too when you disappeared. I could feel you, but I couldn’t pin you down. It drove me mad.” He sounded so broken. His pain sounded real. “Stars, I have missed the sound of your voice.”

I wish that you weren’t just my imagination and that we were really talking. I would ask where you are.

“And I wouldn’t have an answer for you. I was arrested for going AWOL. During a transfer I was abducted, blindfolded and taken from one ship to another and finally to a planet and put in prison. I don’t know what planet I finally ended up on, the location of the prison is too generic to get any geographical clues. The vegetation does not look familiar.” He answered.

I couldn’t imagine my Quinn ever going AWOL. Unless… Is it really you?

“Yes my lord. That is what I keep trying to tell you. Now, please, fight. For me.”

Malavai, I am sorry. I put the galaxy first, everytime. I went off in search of the Emperor to put an end to him. And now we have lost so much...

“No, my love. The Emperor needed to be stopped. Please, you carry too much guilt for things that are not your fault. I will not lie, this has been hard. To not hear your voice for five years...it was a punishment I would not want to repeat. But I have faith in you.”

You are in every one of my thoughts. I miss you.

“I miss you too.” He whispered against my ear. “But you must return to Emmogen, I know it is hard, I know it hurts. Return to her so that you can return to me.” His lips brushed mine in a gentle, sweet kiss that I couldn’t return.

I will try.

“I love you Emmynn.”

I love you too Malavai.


  

The dark pressed against my eyes, pushed me back, but I had to fight! I had to find a way out of my prison. Quinn was counting on me. I could hear Jen’s voice again. I could feel her next to me. I focused on her voice, on her words. Letting her pull me closer to the surface. Strong hands reached out of the dark, sharp talons wrapped around my arms, just barely piercing my skin. Dragging me away from her. I struggled against them. I had to fight! Jen! Help me! The talons dug into my flesh, ripping my skin open. I could not escape. I fell away again.

 


  “No, not like this. You can’t give up.”

I tried, but I am not strong enough. Will you stay with me...until the end?

“This cannot be the end, I refuse to accept that.” Quinn argued. “Of course, where else would I go?” He said softly. He wrapped his arms around me and held me to his chest. I could feel featherlight kisses being scattered across the side of my face that was turned to him. I felt his warm tears that fell into my hair. “This is worse than the pain of losing you the first time. To have your voice in my head again after not hearing it for so long, just to lose you…” His words ripped me to shreds more effectively than the talons had.

I am sorry...I have caused you so much pain. More than anyone should have to bear. Let me go. Be free, be whole. I will always love you, but I can’t put you through this. I willed myself to shut him out. I had to be strong for what was to come.


 

Jen was no longer next to me. She was moving around the room, taking readings, talking to herself, trying to figure out what to do. What had gone wrong? I could feel her panic, rippling just below the surface of her calm exterior. 

 


  “You thought I would leave just because you said to?” Quinn’s strong arms held onto me tightly.

Quinn, let me go! I demanded angrily.

“No. If you are right and this is the end I will not let you face it alone.”

And here I thought you were so much smarter than this. Why put yourself through this pain? Go back to another dream, something happier. Dream of us dancing on Alderaan. Or find a new dream, one that isn’t about me. Just go. My voice broke. I didn’t want him to go, but he couldn’t stay here.

“It is my choice. If you have made the choice to surrender, and taken away any other choice from me, this is the only one left to me. I will not abandon you when you need me most.”

But Malavai...I don't want this for you. My greatest love, his greatest tragedy. All of a sudden his weight was gone. But his hand was still in mine. What is happening?

I felt terror spiraling through him. “Go! Emmogen is waiting. Open your eyes!” He shouted. His hand was ripped away from mine.


  

“Emm open your eyes. Come on.” Jen’s voice was insistent. The shadows were pursuing me. “Please Emm.” I could feel them closing in. But I was so close.

Emmynn please…” Quinn's voice echoed from far away.

I struggled against the shadows. They circled me, surrounded me. Tugging at me, trying to drag me away again. Talons scratched and tore at my arms looking for purchase. I wanted to cry out, but knew it would do no good.

“Please.” Jen and Malavia’s voices intertwined.

The pain in my side throbbed. I focused on the pain, using it to pull me closer to the surface, It wasn’t unlike using anger to push me further when in battle. I touched the open flame, I clawed my way back to Jen.

I love you Emmynn. ” Quinn’s voice fell silent as I finally opened my eyes.

“Emm!” Jen’s face was inches from mine. Tears streaked down her cheeks. “You had me so worried.” She reached down and hit her comm. “Lana, she is awake.” She helped me to sit up and she checked over my injuries. I was surprised to see that there were no marks left from the shadowy creatures.

Lana stepped into the medical bay, Koth right behind her. I swung my legs over the side of the bed so I could face them. Lana knelt in front of me. “Easy, easy. Your body went through quite an ordeal. We weren’t sure you’d ever wake up.”

Koth looked at me in awe. “Never met anybody who took a lightsaber to the gut and lived to tell.”

“Don’t tell me it’s been another five years.” I half joked.

Lana chuckled. “Two days, give or take.”

“What happened while I was out?”

“The Gravestone is safe, but I lost some crew back on Asylum.” Koth looked down at the floor. The loss of his crew mates weighed heavily on him. “If Senya hadn’t saved the day, it would have been a lot worse. Len can’t stop thanking her. It’s gotten embarrassing.” He looked up at me. “I still don’t trust Senya, but she was there when it mattered.”

“I always will be.” Senya said from the doorway.

Lana spoke up. “We did suffer another loss. I assume you were present when HK…”

I nodded slightly. “He fought to defend me. Arcann destroyed him.” I would miss his funny commentary.

“The HK unit was an inferior design. It was always destined to become scrap.” Scorpio stated.

Lana stood and glared at the insufferable droid. “I will deactivate you.”

“Lana said this all started when Heskal summoned you.” Senya interjected.

“Heskel’s dead. He’s the one that brought Arcann to Asylum. Said it was destiny.” I knew that she felt she owed them something, so I felt bad for her. But I wouldn’t mourn Heskel.

“Allying with the Scions was monumentally stupid!” Jen crowed.

I gave her a sideways glance. “You’ve just been waiting for a chance to say that haven’t you?”

“Yep. For two whole days.” She gave me a huge smile.

What an ornery nuisance you are. I gave her an affectionate smile.

“With allies like them, we don’t need enemies.” Lana agreed with Jen’s assessment.

“If we’re done depressing each other, how about sharing the good news?” Koth prodded Lana.

“As I already told Jen. Our battle on Asylum has shown the galaxy that Zakuul isn’t invincible. The Core Worlds are ready to support you. I have put together an Alliance, dedicated to bringing down the Eternal Throne. You and Jen will lead us. We are expected on a planet called Odessen. Let’s go say hello.”

Finally, a stable base to work from. It would be easier to go home to see Meli, to go out in search of Quinn from a base. Instead of trying to coordinate jumps to meet up with the Gravestone. I nodded. “Let’s not keep them waiting.”

“Here we go again…” Koth joked.

Chapter Text

Scorpio piloted us down to the surface of Odessen while the rest of us waited in the hangar to catch our first glimpse of the planet. The bay door had been opened wide so we would have an unobstructed view. Emm stood next to me, and I helped support her weight. I was relieved that she was awake, but she was still weak. Trying to force her to relax and heal would be a challenge. Odds were as soon as we touched down she would be trying to fly off world. I couldn’t blame her. If Torian... well he isn’t so don’t even entertain that thought. As we got closer to the planet I could see rivers, and large canyons, and forests full of ancient trees that soared high above the ground below. If I had only one word to use to describe this place it would be peaceful. We finally touched down and I felt a gentle breeze on my face. I closed my eyes and took a moment to enjoy this simple luxury. No one shooting at us. No one fighting. Just Emm and I, taking in this quiet moment together. We shouldn’t be alive, and yet here we were, standing on a perfectly untouched planet, together. We could shape this planet into whatever we wanted. A safe haven.

“It’s so beautiful Jen. Look at all the trees. It reminds me of home.” Emm said quietly, a small smile curving her lips.

Koth looked over at the sound of her voice. “Odessen, huh? Could it be there’s really a place where no one wants to kill us.”

“I handpicked it myself. We’ll be safe.” Lana looked at me and nodded. She knew that was my stipulation. Emm needed to be kept safe, while she healed.

“Are we sure it’s wise to leave Scorpio in control of the bridge?” Senya asked Koth. A few days ago that may have bothered me. The Gravestone wasn’t his ship. But I couldn’t force myself to care right now. Having almost lost my best friend, a ship seemed...unimportant.

“Got the ship locked down. She can’t go anywhere without my approval.” Koth reassured her.

“I hope you’re right.” She warned.

Koth turned to Lana, his brows furrowed. “So why this world?” I looked out at the forest, at the large coniferous trees that reminded Emm of Alderaan. I could understand his concern. There was no base here. Just trees and mountains as far as I could see. But it was also calm, soothing.

“Remote, unsettled...and strong in the Force. But unlike Korriban or Tython, Odessen is altogether balanced.” Lana explained.

“How did you find it?” Senya asked.

“I’ve always had a strong affinity with the Force. It’s what set me on this path to begin with, led me to forge a certain alliance all those years ago.” Lana smiled gently.

I felt a thrill of excitement. Was she referring to my favorite SIS spy? “With the Republic.” I stated.

The chuckle she gave me told me she knew exactly where my thoughts had gone. “I meant with the two of you.”

It was finally time to go down to the planet and meet the people that Lana had said were here to lend us support. We boarded a shuttle to take us down. As we flew over the camp I spotted various starships from both the Republic and the Empire. I couldn’t be sure, but I saw what looked like a Fury class ship. Could it be the Arallute? Had someone from Emm’s crew made it out here? I searched, but I didn’t see a Mantis among them. I also didn’t see the one other ship that I was looking for. But a lot had happened in the last five years. Maybe he had upgraded to a new craft. Why was I getting my hopes up? I wasn’t ready for a face to face conversation. As it was I still hadn’t written a reply to his letter. What would I even say. Hey Theron. So I am single now. Even though we are still on opposite sides, and pursuing this will tear us apart, let’s do something stupid like fall in love. And I sure as hell didn’t trust my hormones not to start racing and get us in even more trouble...my dreams were trouble enough. His lips trailing down my neck, his hands on my waist pulling me closer...Stop it Jen! Our shuttle touched down and I walked next to Emm, ready to lend her a hand if she needed help.

There were people milling about, trying to figure out the first course of action. I looked through the gathered faces and saw a couple of familiar ones. Emm saw the trio at the same time. So the Fury I saw belonged to one of them. I didn’t see Vette with them though. Her husband stood tall and foreboding as always. His lekku twitched and his red eyes followed us as Lana herded us to the center of the gathered people. I watched as Vin folded his arms over his chest and glared our way. Aleks smiled and winked at us. I waved back, his enthusiasm was contagious. Lyo nodded his head and Emm nodded back. I had been on the receiving end of enough of Emm’s thoughts, that I knew they were having a private conversation over all the noise that our appearance had caused.  People around the camp were pointing our way, remarking loudly about our recent exploits. We were legends come to life. We were used to a certain amount of celebrity status, having been the winner of the Great Hunt, and the Emperor’s Wrath, but nothing prepared me for this.

Lana stopped us in the middle of the camp. “Well...here we are. This is your new alliance.” She looked from Emm to me and back.

“This isn’t my alliance. We’re all in this together.” Emm replied. What was she saying? She was born to lead, had been raised for just such an opportunity.

“That may well be, but they need someone to rally behind. Someone to motivate them.” Lana conceded.

Koth looked at Emm and chuckled. “Kept myself from flushing Senya out the airlock at least five times because of you. You’ve got a certain way.” Senya crossed her arms and gave him a withering look. He ignored her and pointed at the crowd. “Show them what you’re made of.”

I looked around, clearly I wasn’t needed right now while they prepped Emm to take her position as leader of this alliance. I saw a giant drill sitting near the side of the mountain, the button just waiting to be pushed. I made my way to the drill and slapped the button. The sound of the engine firing up pulled all the attention from Emm to me. Oops! This was her moment, not mine. I felt my cheeks burning. The camp fell silent, except for the sound of the grinding of the massive drill into the bedrock of the mountain behind us. I sheepishly returned to Emm’s side. She looked at me with a grin on her face before turning to address the assembled crowd. She stood at her full height, regal and full of poise. “I’d like everyone’s attention.” She had it, the crowd fell silent and listened with bated breath.  “The galaxy as we know it is gone. The institutions we know have fallen. But we can’t let that be a source of panic or defeat. We have an opportunity to build something together--an alliance each of us can be vested in. We don’t all share the same ideologies, but every one of you is here because you believe we can transcend our differences. I believe it, too. Either we succeed together, or we fail alone. Let’s not fail.”

The crowd cheered for their new leader. They went back to milling around. Hoping for a chance to speak personally with her. Of course she made a beeline for Lyo, Vin and Aleks. I followed in her wake. Everyone watched our small group with envy. Wondering why these three men were getting special treatment.

Lyo swept Emm up in his arms and hugged her tight. “Oww Lyo, my side.” She whimpered.

The juggernaut set her back on her feet. “Sorry Emm. I missed you.”

“I missed you too Lyo. How have you been? Keeping out of trouble I hope.” She asked him, adopting a mothering tone. He stood a full foot taller than her, but he became a child under her gaze. His adoptive sister looked up at him with a slight amused smile.

“Yes Emm.” He scrubbed his toe in the dirt. She reached up and ruffled his blonde hair before moving on to greet the next man in our small group. Lyo looked up at me with a big grin. “Hey Jen!” He gave me a tight hug.

“Hi Lyo. It is good to see you.” I gave him a quick kiss on his cheek before he released me.

Next in line was Vin and I grinned at the Inquisitor. Emm wrapped her arm around his neck and hugged him. He awkwardly patted her on her back. “Vin, please tell me you were reunited with Vette.” She whispered.

“Briefly. She helped search for you for a while, and then she came home to me.” Vin smiled faintly. “Then one day she got all excited about something and she went off on some mission to recover priceless Twi’lek artifacts. She has become somewhat of a hero to our people.” His voice glowed with pride.

“I always knew she was a hero.” Emm replied with a huge smile.

“Hi Vin.” I said with another grin for my friend.

“Jen.” He nodded with a scowl. He waited until I burst into laughter. Then he crushed me to his broad chest. “It is good to hear your laugh again.”

“It is good to have a reason to laugh again.” I replied with a smile.

“Girlies!” Aleks cried out. Not wanting to be left out of our reunion any longer. He grabbed both Emm and I in a hug. “We came out here as soon as we had word that you both were alive.”

Emm wiggled out of Alek’s arms, and smiled up at the Sith. “Aleks! Would you believe that I actually miss hearing you call me Girly?”

Aleks laughed and pulled me closer to his side. “And what about you Jen? You miss me?”

“Of course Aleks!” I pushed his side playfully.

Here, in the presence of a few of our oldest friends I felt hope, like maybe all of this would turn out for the better. With Lyo here, Emm would have a familial tie, maybe she wouldn’t go rushing off to search for Quinn right away. And Vin and Aleks could help me get Emm healthy and ready to lead this Alliance. Leading was nothing new to the four of us. Before all of this had started we had been part of a rag tag group. We had called ourselves The Sindicate. It was a play on words. Our founder had been an Assassin and wanted our group to reflect his skill set. When he stepped down he had handed the reigns to Trik and  Max, his seconds. When Max stepped down to spend more time with his family he handed his leadership of the group to Emm. Trik led our group at her side until they had a falling out. Emm rarely spoke of it. It was a very painful break. She wished it was something she could go back and change but all of their ties had been severed. Under Emm’s leadership there was growth, we became stronger. She promoted Vin, Aleks and I to help lead. Between us we saved up and we had our bought our own flagship, something that Emm had been extremely proud of. I assumed that Vin and Aleks had kept the group together while Emm and I had been missing. Either way, leading the Alliance was something we could do in our sleep.

Emm looked around the camp and I could see the wheels turning. She pulled out her datapad and started making a list of all the things that needed to be done. “I am going to copy you all in on this, but we need to get this base operating as quickly as possible.” Her fingers tapped keys rapidly as she made edits to her notes. “Lyo, I am going to ask that you help train our fighters, I know that Lana says we are safe here, but I want to be sure. If anyone makes it out here, our first line of defense needs to be strong. Jen, help establish a medical tent. We need medics prepared in case of accidents, or in case we are attacked. Vin, help get the tech in place. We will need to be able to monitor Odessen space for threats. Aleks I need your help drawing up plans for the base.”

I couldn’t help but smile. Emm taking charge, delegating roles, us all nodding and hurrying off to complete our tasks. It was like we had never been frozen in carbonite. I found a corner out of the way of all the heavy machinery and got to work. I started setting up a small area to triage people. I found crates piled along the edges of the camp and read the load slips, looking for the ones that held medical supplies. Whoever had packed these crates had been very meticulous about their contents. I found what I was looking for and flagged the crates that Vin would need so he could easily find them. I found a soldier who was hanging around and asked him to get a couple of others to help move the heavy crates while I unpacked.

By the time I had my little station set up the sun was starting to go down. I headed to the edge of the camp to watch the sun set behind the mountains below the cliff our camp was situated on. The sky was streaked pink and orange and fluffy clouds still hung in the air. I sat on the edge of the cliff and let my feet dangle over the edge. There had been so much work done today, and people were retiring to their ships to sleep, or to tents that dotted the small camp. No one bothered me at the edge of the cliff.

I looked out over the tops of the trees, down at the glittering river below. I wanted to go explore the planet when I had a chance. Of all the worlds I had seen in my travels, this was one of the nicer ones. There were small birds that flitted through the tops of the trees. Black with gold edges to their wings. When the light touched their feathers the right way, the black plumage would turn blue or green, sometimes purple. Their colors reminded me of spilled oil when mixed with water. They fascinated me. I watched them chase each other through the boughs of the trees until it was too dark to see them anymore.

I heard footsteps behind me and Emm sat down next to me. “Hey Jen. How are you doing?”

“I have a medical station all set up and ready in case of emergency. Tomorrow I am going to go through the people here and find out who has medical training.” I needed back up in case I was not available. We had Vin and Aleks now, and Lana in a pinch. But there was something to be said for smart tech and a steady hand.

“I never doubted you. But I meant how are you? We haven’t really had a chance to talk. I woke up from my two day...whatever that was, and we were here. I never got to tell you thank you for saving my life. So...Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me, I would do it again. But please, don’t go making a habit of it. Emm, I was so scared that you wouldn’t pull through.”

“I know. I could hear you talking to me. Thank you for being my life line. I was trapped in some kind of void, but your voice kept me from getting completely lost.”

“What all do you remember?” I asked, I could feel my cheeks start to burn.

“I don’t really remember words, so much as your feelings. Jen, I don’t know why you feel like you are a monster, but I love you. So, you can’t be.” Emm declared with a smile. She linked her arm with mine and rested her cheek against my head.

“I doubt Torian would feel the same way, but thank you for saying so.” I wished it were that easy, that because Emm said it, it had to be true. Sadly, that was not my experience.

“Torian made his choice, and you can’t change his feelings. But you can control how you feel about yourself. I know you. You are all heart, even if you hide it behind a mean right hook.”

I bumped my shoulder against her left side. “You have to say that, I saved your life.”

“It also happens to be true.” Emm’s voice was full of conviction. “Of all the people that could have gone with me aboard Marr’s ship, I am glad it was you.”

“Now I know you are just saying things to make me feel better. There is no way you are happier that I was with you instead of Quinn.”

“Actually...I am very thankful he wasn’t with me. Because had Malavai been on that bridge, things would have ended differently. I know that he is my weakness, but so does Valkorion. He would have used Malavai to get me to bow to him.”  Emm stood and looked down at me. “I am going to turn in. Don’t stay out here too long, it is getting colder.” She ruffled my hair and then turned back towards the camp to get a ride up to the Gravestone.

I understood, had my riduur been there in Emm’s place... he isn’t your riduur anymore Jen. Let him go.  I was still hurting, still angry. But I couldn’t change Torian’s decision. I could take the opportunity that he had given me though. I could start fresh, I could start over. I could start to forgive myself for having feelings for two different men. Odessen was a clean slate, for all of us. It would be stupid to waste the opportunity. I would stop beating myself up for feeling the way I had, and start reminding myself that while I had those feelings, I hadn’t given into them. That I was stronger than my desires.

The sky turned darker as I sat there. The stars began to come out and I looked up at their light. I had thought the sky over Yavin had been beautiful, but the sky here took my breath away. There were so many stars, more than I had ever seen in the sky at a time. Wild Space was the other side of the galaxy and these constellations were not familiar to me. I wondered what stories and legends these stars told. I wondered if Emm and I were among them. I thought back to those nights on Yavin, looking at stars with Theron, telling him stories about those constellations. I wished he were here now to see this view. I wondered where he was. Was he thinking about me too? I hoped so.

 

Chapter Text

Lyo sat across from me, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Emm.” When I didn’t respond he tried again. “Emm. Emm. Emmmmmmm.”

I snickered as I looked up at him. “Yes Lyo?”

“Hi.” He gave me his most mischievous grin. “I am bored. Let’s go explore the forest.”

I looked at all the things that needed my attention. Reports on incoming supplies, assignments of new personnel. “I really can’t Lyo. I am swamped. What is Aleks up to?”

“Planning more things that will need your approval.” Lyo slumped back in his seat.

I looked at him with an arched brow. “What about Vin?”

“Compiling all the reports that you send to him.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“And Jen?” Someone here had to be free to go occupy Lyo.

“She blew me off too. She has her own stack of reports to go through.” He fell silent and I returned to my work. “Come on Emm, you can’t work all the time.” I sighed. This was going to take hours to get through. Without the distraction.

I stood. “Come on Lyo.” I led the way through the construction zone and out to the forest. I looked to my side at Lyo and smiled. “Race you!” I tore through the trees as fast as I could, using the force to propel me faster. Enjoying the feeling of running just for the fun of it, not because I was in danger. I reached the river and slowed my pace allowing Lyo to catch up to me.

I heard his heavy steps behind me. “That wasn’t fair. I wasn’t ready.”

My laughter rang through the clearing. “Fair or not, that was fun.” My legs were aching to be stretched more. I had been sitting behind a desk for too long. “Want to race to the waterfall? Ready? Set…” And I was gone. Rocketing along the river bank. I could feel the change in the elevation as the ground sloped towards the waterfall. I slowed again at the edge of the cliff and looked down at the river and the ground far below. “Woah.” I whispered.

“Emm, get away from the edge.” Lyo cautioned. When I didn’t move he pulled me to a safe distance using the force.

I looked up at him annoyed. “Was that really necessary?”

“Yep. I know how you are around heights. If Jen had seen you, she would have had a bantha.”

I felt my cheeks flush. He had a point of course. I was both fascinated and terrified of heights. I loved the feeling of adrenaline that flooded my system when I stood high above the ground. But heights also made me dizzy and threw off my equilibrium. Forget Jen, if Quinn had seen me that close to the ledge I would have been in for a pretty serious reprimand. Which he would have followed up with multiple kisses. Reassurance that I was safe, and unharmed. Secretly, I put myself in danger sometimes just to provoke that reaction in him. Stars I missed him. I looked out over the river and sank to my knees. “Lyo, what if I never find Quinn or Vette, or Jaesa?”

Lyo came and sat next to me, his legs sprawled out in front of him. “I am sure that we will find everyone. Even Pierce. I know how much you miss him.”

I rolled my eyes. “Khian? He can stay lost. The silver lining to my crew being scattered, I don’t have to listen to him blather on about the Bastion. He isn’t here to say nasty things about Quinn. I would rather have Broonmark and a whole battalion of Talz at my side than Khian Pierce.”

Lyo ran a hand through his blonde hair. “Geez Emm, I was just kidding.”

“I do miss Broonie though.” I said affectionately. The giant Talz was an acquired taste, but I knew that when he was with me, I was safe.

Lyo shook his head. “Why do you insist on calling him a cutsie nickname? He is a monster. He deserves respect.”

“He lets me call him Broonie because he adores me.” I smiled widely.

“It’s still wrong.” Lyo grumbled.

“How about this? If we find Broonie, he can join your clan. I know that the two of you will protect each other.” I felt bad that I had upset Lyo.

He shook his head. “No. You will need him to protect you and Jen.”

“We don’t even know where he is right now. Try not to worry about things until they are right in front of us.”

He shrugged. “Sorry Emm, it’s what I do.”

“I know. Other than worrying about things outside of your control, what did you do while I was gone?”

Lyo took a deep breath. “You know, fought Zakuul. Drank too much. Didn’t sleep enough. String of one night stands. Pretty much the usual.” He looked at me with a lopsided smile. But I heard the undercurrent of loneliness in his words. He tugged at my heartstrings.

“I am so sorry Lyo. Why didn’t you go to Meli? She would have helped you.” I hated the thought that he had been on his own again. When I met him on Dromund Kaas as an apprentice he was already a formidable warrior in his own right. His whole family had been murdered, and he had been left for dead. A passing Sith took pity on him and took him to be trained on Ziost. Lyo and I had bonded over our shared history. Both being orphans we adopted each other. He became the little brother that I had never had.

“There was a blockade on Dromund Kaas. No one in, or out. I made do.” He shrugged again.

“Well as soon as I can, I am going home. I need to see Meli. Come with me. I am sure that she would love to see you.”

“I would like that.” His cheeks flushed. “Do you think Letti would be happy to see me?”

I smiled as I shook my head. “Still pining over her? She doesn’t even know you exist.” It was adorable, he had fallen madly in love with my handmaiden. And my sweet Letti was too busy tending to my needs to even notice anyone else. I had tried to orchestrate reasons for them to talk but Letti was too shy to speak about herself.

“I know.” He ran a hand through his golden hair and threw himself to the ground. “But what if she has changed in the time you have been gone? Maybe she has realized she has more to offer the world than just waiting on your every whim.”

“Lyo, I don’t think me being gone would change her that much. You know how ingrained service to Sith is in the force blind. Papa tried to convince her that it was wrong. That she was just as valuable and loved as Meli and I.” She was a diligent handmaiden, but I valued her more for her friendship. Especially once Meli left home to join Imperial Intelligence.

Letti was someone who I could tell all my secrets to. When I had confided in her that I thought I may be in love with a man whose name I didn’t even know she had been the one to come up with the plan to show up to the next ball with arallutes woven into my hair. She had helped me to win his attention. When Quinn finally asked me to marry him, the two of us had poured over delicate lace patterns, and she had gone over all the trimmings for our finery with him. She knew what this meant to me, and it had to be perfect. My happiness was her happiness. Why shouldn’t that work both ways?

“Hey Emm? We could go now. I mean, my Fury is here, why wait?” Lyo sat up and looked at me his red eyes full of excitement.

I shook my head. “As much as I would love to go home and see my sister, I am needed here right now. Meli knows I am safe. She knows that I am coming home soon. Once the base is complete and we can focus on actually building the Alliance I am sure I can be spared for a few days.”

“Should we go back to the base?” He asked.

I nodded. “Sure. Rematch?” And he was on his feet and darting away into the forest. I jumped to my feet and chased after him. I soon lost sight of him amongst the trees. But I could sense him nearby. I was gaining on him. I broke through the trees and saw him at the head of the path. He had stopped and was looking at something in the distance. I joined him and saw what had drawn his attention from our game.

Senya was standing on the bridge, her face full of grief. “Go ahead Lyo. I will be inside soon, I am going to see what is wrong.” Lyo nodded and headed into the base.

I approached Senya warily. She looked up as I approached. “It’s impressive you know. People from all over the galaxy want to stand behind you.”

“That can’t be what you’re out here contemplating.” Her face didn’t match her words.

“It is, in a way.” She paused for a minute. “I was thinking how so many Scions followed Heskal. He would have them die as he did because their deaths were foreseen. Their visions provide great insight, but they’re not infalible.”

“Reminds me of what Jen told me about the Heralds of Zildrog.” Her exact words were more colorful than Senya’s description of the Scions, but they were basically the same. Both were fanatical groups.

Senya nodded. “There’s another leader who paid for his certainty.”

Curiosity got the better of me. “I want to know more about your relationship with Valkorion.”

Senya chuckled. “The story really isn’t as outlandish as whatever you’re imagining. We met after I earned a place in his elite guard. I never hesitated to speak my mind, which...caught his attention, I suppose. He was fascinating. Bold. Always completely certain of his next step.”

Senya struck me as a very wise person, how had she fallen into his trap? “Every “next step” he took was for his own gain. How did you not see that?”

“Like I said earlier...the man I knew was different. He did nothing but improve his people’s lives.” She sighed. “What we had wasn’t a child’s notion of romance, but...we were happy.” She smiled briefly at some pleasant memory, before her face clouded over again. “Then Arcann and his brother, Thexan, were born. I loved them so much, but no matter what I did...they wanted nothing to do with me. And Valkorion wanted nothing to do with them. His mind was somewhere else. He barely spoke, barely acknowledged and of us for weeks at a time. And then Vaylin...Vaylin was troubled from the start.”

“Was she really dangerous even as a child?” I tried to picture a younger Vaylin, but the only child I had been around was Emmilee, and she was charming and sweet.

“She made furniture move while she was still in the womb. Tore droids apart as a toddler. Once, a guard dropped a ball she tossed. Vaylin crippled him. I confronted Valkorion. His daughter needed help. His sons needed him. His “solution” was to cage Vaylin’s mind. Most of her power was locked away, along with who she was.” Her sorrow was palpable. I couldn’t imagine the pain that she had gone through. “He ignored the rest of us outright. I couldn’t stand by and watch. I gathered the children. I tried to tell them we needed to go. They laughed and called me weak. Even as children--even with Vaylin’s power restrained--the three of them together were still far more powerful than me. I couldn’t force them to go. So...I left.”

I should stop this conversation, walk away from it, instead of forcing her to dredge up her past. But I wanted to know how it had gotten to this point. “Did Valkorion try to stop you from leaving?”

She let out a sad chuckle and turned to the railing of the bridge. “No. I am not even sure he noticed. I transferred to the Knights’ enforcement division and took assignments at the outer fringes of our empire. Valkorion never spoke another word to me. Since then, I’ve only seen my children in broadcasts of public events...like Thexan’s funeral. Killed in the Core Worlds…Say what you will about Valkorion, but he at least considered the viewpoints of others. He listened to me. Most of the time. He didn’t--he would never have done what--what Arcann…”

I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder. “What is it?”

She looked over her shoulder at me. “I told you before that Arcann had a brother, Thexan. They were inseparable until his death. Vaylin told me, during our fight...Arcann murdered Thexan. His own brother. Maybe if I had raised him…”

“Your fight with Vaylin--what happened?” I had been a little preoccupied while she was defending the Gravestone from Vaylin.

“What she had to say, it struck me down to my core. Paralyzed me. She slipped away. Now more than ever, I realize my children must be stopped, and I have to make peace with the choices I’ve made. Whatever you’ve done to get here, I hope you can do the same.” Senya turned and walked back into the base.

I turned to follow her into the base, to return to my stack of reports that needed my attention. But was met with the ghost of Valkorion. “She raises a good question. How do you look back on your path to this moment?”

“You’re in my head. Why don’t you take a look for yourself?” He was exhausting. I didn’t feel like arguing with him right now.

“And what good would that do our alliance? You may not see an alliance, but our destinies are now intertwined. Take advantage of that fact and there is much you will be capable of. I see you defeating Arcann, even if there are others on this world who disagree.”

“What does that mean? Who disagrees?” I challenged him.

“You will learn soon enough…” He was cut off by the sound of a ship’s engine screaming overhead. It was hauling jets low over the trees. I couldn’t be sure, as fast as it was moving, but it looked like a D5-Mantis. But I hadn’t spotted the telltale jellyfish that adorned Jen’s Mando War. We weren’t expecting company. Time to go figure out this mystery.

Chapter Text

I flew into Odessen space, and looked for a base, or someplace to land. All I could see was the forest below me. As I came down closer I saw the beginnings of a base and a field of starships. I was here, wherever, or whatever this place was. I was going to get to the bottom of this. I wasn't sure what kind of sick person got a kick out of torturing someone's family. Jen was gone. It had torn my mother apart losing her only daughter. Five years of adjusting to her loss and here someone was, making a game out of our grief. Why? For what purpose? My sister was dead. Whoever was pretending to be her, was about to be.

I landed amongst a myriad of other ships, and disembarked. There was construction going on everywhere I looked. Something big was being built here. People went about their tasks, sinking supports into bedrock, welding decking to the supports to provide walkways, piloting external structures into place, high above the canyon below. I watched for a few minutes while this work was going on, wondering what type of people lived here? Not Mandalorians, that was for sure.

I looked around for someone in charge. Hoping that they could direct me to whoever was responsible for the letters that had been sent to my parents and myself. I couldn't discern anyone in a leadership position and no one was paying me any attention. I saw a path into the base and headed that way.

I entered what looked like would be the hangar and saw more personnel about their tasks. Setting up consoles to monitor the space around the planet. Consoles to control the shuttles that would be taking off and landing. Again no one cared about the newcomer to their base. “Hey!” I shouted in the huge empty chamber. My voice bounced off the walls. “Who is in charge here?”

A man looked up at me startled. “Uh, let me get ahold of our Commander.” He held up a finger and punched in a few keys. “Yes, I have an angry looking alien standing in the middle of the hangar. He is demanding to see the Commander.” Imperials,  xenophobic bastards. But they paid my bills.

A cool voice responded. “I will send her that way.”

The Imperial looked up at me. “Our Commander is on her way. If you will just take a seat over there out of the way.” He indicated a stack of crates along the wall.

I took a step towards him and raised my fist. “I was asked to come out here by someone pretending to be my sister. I do not appreciate your tone.”

He scampered away and eyed me from across the hangar. I felt uneasy with everyone's eyes on me. Like they were just waiting for me to explode. I looked out at the trees beyond the opening and worked to gain control of my anger.

“He is right over there, my lord.” The Imperial directed someone my way.

“Distiago?” The cool voice from the comm said. I turned to see Lana Beniko standing in front of me. I hadn't expected to see her here.

I shifted my weight nervously. “Hello Lana. Are you the Commander here?”

She laughed softly. “No, I am just the Commander’s advisor.”

“Oh. It’s been a while. How have you been?” I was not sure how to proceed. I was angry, but Lana would not have sent those letters.

“I have been well. We are busy putting together an alliance to fight Arcann. Is that why you are here?” She asked.

“No. I…”

“Dist! Man it is good to see you.” Aleks shouted from the doorway.

“Aleks? What are you doing out here?” I waved at my old friend. What the hell was going on?

“Came to help out the Alliance. You joining us?” Aleks asked.

I looked from him to Lana and back. “No. I was given coordinates…”

Aleks stopped me. “Vin will want to say hi.” He touched his comm. “Vin, come to the hangar, Dist is here.”

“Sorry it took so long to get here. I had a minor emergency on my way.” Emm said as she joined us.

Lana turned to greet Emm. “Don’t worry about it Commander. We were all just saying our hellos to Distiago.”

“Hey Emm, look, I am not sure what is going on here. But I was given coordinates to this base. Someone claiming to be Jen is writing letters to our mother. I want to know who is respon...Emm?” My brain finally registered that Emmynn was standing in front of me, in the flesh. She had been with Jen when she disappeared.

“Hi.” She smiled wide. She forcibly reminded me of a nexu that had eaten an orobird. I almost looked for feathers.

“But...you...Marr’s ship...how…” I couldn’t form a complete sentence. So many questions were wanting answers. I focused on the most important one. “Emm, where is my sister? What happened to Jen?”

“Well, that is a long story Dist. And not all of it is pleasant.” She took a deep breath and launched into her story. “Jen and I met aboard Darth Marr’s ship and went in pursuit of the Emperor. We were captured and taken aboard Prince Arcann’s personal flagship and taken to Zakuul  to meet their Emperor, Valkorion, but he was really Vitiate. Valkorion killed Marr. I killed Valkorion. As a reward, we were thrown in carbonite for five years.”

“Imperfectly frozen. Had I not rescued them they would have died.” Lana added with a curt nod.

“So Jen was rescued? Where is she?” I demanded.

“I haven’t finished the story Dist, you still have more questions.” Emm smiled sweetly. “Lana rescued us, only to start a chase across the city of Zakuul and out into the swamps. We found an ancient starship, Jen helped Koth...have you met Koth?”

Lana hit her comm. “Koth, there is someone in the hangar that I would like you to meet.”

“Give me three minutes.” A male voice answered.

Emm giggled. “Inside joke. Where was I?”

“You were about to tell me where Jen is.” I growled.

“Oh right. Jen was helping Koth fix the Gravestone. We were surrounded by Skytroopers, and had to fight our way out. Senya helped Lana and I raise the Gravestone and we flew to Asylum. We met the Scions there, and we found out that Senya is Arcann’s mother. You would have been proud. Jen didn’t shoot anyone, even though she really wanted to. Then we went back to Zakuul and met The Heralds of Zildrog, and recruited Scorpio.”

A man walked in with wild hair and approached us. “Koth Vortena. Nice to meet you.” He held his hand out to me and I shook it.

“Distiago Kestal. I am Emmogen’s older brother. Maybe you could tell me where she is.”

He looked at me with his head slightly tilted. “I don’t know anyone by the name of Emmogen. You mean Jen?” He looked at Lana. “That is Jen’s real name? Emmogen?”

I slapped my palm against my face. I was losing my patience. “Emm...so help me, where is my sister?”

“But she hasn’t even gotten to the best part.” Lyo said from behind me. He slapped me on the shoulder. “Hey bud.”

“What part is that?” Emm asked with that nexu eating orobird smile again.

“The part where I saved your life.” Jen answered.

I turned toward her voice. “Ch’itiseb?” I couldn’t believe my eyes. My annoying, bratty sister was sitting on a stack of crates nearby. Smiling from ear to ear. She was really alive. And I was going to kill her. “This. Wasn’t. Funny.”

“Oh, yes it was.” Jen said between peals of laughter. She wiped tears from the corners of her eyes as she hopped down from the crates.

“How long have you been sitting there?” I asked angrily.

“About forty-five seconds after Emm told me you were here.” She tapped the side of her head. “I didn’t want to interrupt her story. That would be rude.”

“Alright everyone, back to work. We can catch up with Dist later. Give him and Jen some space.” Emm ordered. “It is good to see you Dist.” She added before she turned around and led everyone else from the hangar.

Jen gave me a hug and snuggled against my chest. “I have missed you Disti!”

“That is an understatement. Jen, do you have any clue what we have been through? Mom took your death very hard. Dad puts on a brave face, but I know he isn’t doing much better.” I still couldn’t believe that she was standing here in front of me. Five years had gone by and she didn’t look changed.  

“I can't wait to go home and see them. Momma hasn't written me back though.” Her mouth turned down in a slight frown.

“That was my doing. I told her not to write anything until we knew what was going on. We thought you were dead.” I started pacing. All the anger I had built up over the weeks since we got word from Jen still needed an outlet. “What do you do around here to blow off steam?”

She looked up at me with a grin. “I found a place that is perfect for target practice. Let’s go see if I am still a better shot.”

I followed Jen out into the camp and down a path into the forest. We stopped in front of a rock wall that was already pitted with blaster bolts. Jen stepped up to the face of the cliff and pulled out a small light dagger from her boot. She etched two targets for us to aim at. She gave me a wide grin and took her position beside me. We both took aim and unleashed a stream of bright bolts at our targets. This was something we had done a thousand time on Hoth. The familiarity soothed me in a way nothing had since she and Mako had gone missing.

Once our blaster cartridges were spent we headed back through the trees towards the base. “I want a rematch. You let me win.” I accused her with a smile.

“Maybe being in carbonite for five years has made me rusty.” She said with a small chuckle.

I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to my side. “Ch’itiseb, what are you  doing out here? Come home with me. Haven't you given enough to this cause?”

“A few weeks ago I would have said yes. But other than you, and Momma and Daddy there is nothing left in the Empire for me.” She shook her head sadly.

“This is about Torian isn't it?” I asked angrily. I had lost my wife somewhere on Carratos because of him. Now my sister wasn't going to come home because of him.

She shrugged. “Partly. But what we are doing is important. Maybe once we defeat Arcann, and release the Core Worlds from his grasp, I will have found a reason to come home.”

I understood the sentiment. Fighting back, against Arcann and his forces sounded like a great fight. But I had seen first hand what the Core Worlds had been put through, what this fight would entail. “Count me in.” Mom wasn't going to like it. But at least if I joined the Alliance I could keep an eye Jen.

“Really Disti? We would love to have you here!” Her eyes lit up.

How could I disappoint my little sister? “Yeah, can't pass up a fight this good.”

“Great! Let’s go get you assigned a room.” Jen grabbed my hand and pulled me back into the hangar. I guess I was wrong. Mandalorians lived here after all.

Chapter Text

I was cleared to land and I brought my shuttle in low, skimming the tops of the trees. This was my first view of Odessen, I was about to see the fruition of all the hard work I had put in getting all the machinery and people in place. I saw the small landing pad that I had been cleared for, and touched down smoothly and extended the ramp. I had a meeting with the four specialists brought in to help manage the different aspects of the base. I looked up to the left activating my map interface, a small detailed overlay displayed over my left eye.

The doorway I needed to head in was to the right. As I looked that way someone caught my eye. The blue hair, pulled up in pigtails, her blue skin and bright red eyes. Emmogen! Lana had told me she was safe, but seeing her here, alive and whole, I had never felt as relieved as I did in this moment. I didn't even question why she was standing out here alone. Or how I was so lucky that she was the one to welcome me here. I just ran with it. She was here. After five long years I finally had my chance. She was looking out at the forest, lost in thought, but she turned as I walked up behind her. "Like what you've done with the place."

A smile broke through whatever cloudy thoughts she had been thinking. "Theron Shan."

"Hadn't seen you in a while. Wasn't sure you'd remember me." I couldn't help but smile back at her.

“It’s great to see you again, Theron.” She said warmly.

“Good. Wasn’t sure, based on what Lana said you went through. What you’re going through.” I corrected. I had heard about Jen and Torian’s marriage imploding. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t happy that Torian was out of the way. And yeah, I know how selfish that sounds. But the feeling was there just the same.

"I take it Lana has been putting your skills to good use." Jen commented quietly.

"She hasn't gotten me tortured by the enemy even once." I chuckled as I walked passed her to the edge of the platform. "Been a long five years. Feels like everything's changed."

Jen looked up at me from under her dark lashes. "You got better looking."

"I don't know about that, but hey, I'll take it." I felt a rush of pleasure at her words. And here I was trying so damned hard to hide my optimism. “Since I left the SIS Lana brought me into manage operations. But before we get into all the more-or-less official stuff, I’ve got something for you.” I could barely contain my excitement, I hoped she would be thrilled with my find.

Her eyes lit up. “You found my people?”

“No luck so far. But…” I looked out over the trees and saw her turn as she heard the sound of an engine approaching. The Mando War flew over the tree tops and I piloted it to a landing pad nearby.  "When you have a moment, it's time for that official stuff. I'll be inside."

Her eyes were huge, like a child on Life Day, looking at all the presents stacked up. “Thank you, Theron.” She said under her breath. It was rare to see her speechless. She smiled at me and then ran into the base, in the direction of the landing pad. I chuckled to myself. I was happy that I could return a piece of her old life to her.

I went into the base so I could start my briefing. The sooner we got our meeting over the sooner we could get to work on taking back our planets. But before all that, in my more immediate future, Lana had planned a party to welcome me to Odessen. I hoped I could get Jen alone for a little while so we could sit down and talk. Kriff, I had been here less than an hour and I was already a lost cause!

I entered the war room and was met by the specialists I had brought in. They looked to me, waiting for the briefing to start. This was really more Lana’s area of expertise, but since I had been the one to recruit them it only seemed right that I be the one to hold their first alliance briefing. “Alright. First of all, I want to thank you all for committing to this venture. We have our work cut out for us. As you all know, the Core Worlds have been hit hard with tributes, and lack the funding to fight back against Zakuul. It doesn’t help that our leaders have bowed to Arcann, instead of fighting back. That is why I chose each of you to help us figure out the best course of action.”

“Happy to be here, Theron.” Hylo looked at me with a smile. “The Republic was getting a little stale to be honest. Needed something exciting to keep me busy.”

I pulled up a holo of a Star Fortress. “These are stationed over many of our home worlds. We need to send in teams to take them down so they can’t send anymore information to Arcann or his forces.”  

“A squadron run like that will fail without detailed schematics. We need hangar positions, defensive capabilities...it would also help if we understood how to disrupt the power core.” Bey’wan declared.

“I cannot divine such information, nor pray to the gods of science! All I can do is speculate. Unless, that is, we could extract such data in secret.” Dr. Oggurobb looked down at the Mirilian next to me .

Hylo shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. “Don’t look at me. I have snuck into some crazy places, but stations like these are another deal altogether.”

I heard footsteps heading our way and looked up in time to see Jen and Emm entering. Their heads close together, talking quietly. Emm glanced over at me and then focused back on Jen. I saw the playful glint in her eyes as she whispered something to make Jen blush. I felt like I was the cause of the whispering between the two of them. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.

“All right, we’ll table it for now. We have company.” I said quickly.

“Need some help?” Emm offered enthusiastically.

“With Arcann’s battle stations? We will--soon as we understand them. We’re building a healthy alliance, but it’s not enough. The Core Worlds are are still under the threat of Arcann’s considerable reach. I’ve assembled a team of specialists to help tackle the big questions and find potential recruits.” I indicated the others in the room as way of starting introductions.

“Doctor Juvard Illip Oggurobb. I am no biologist, but I admit I’m fascinated by the effects of long-term carbonite poisoning on your mental faculties.” It was still strange to hear a Hutt speaking basic.

“Bey’wan Aygo. Former Fleet Admiral in the Republic Navy. Discharged, but still in this fight!”

“Hylo Visz. Sure you heard of me. Broke the toughest blockade in galactic history? Republic’s greatest outlaw hero, basically.” I saw Jen’s jaw drop out of the corner of my eye. She knew Hylo’s name, but had never met her in person, despite traveling for years with Hylo’s wayward lover.

“Your visage surfaced in my trials. I am the Mystic, Sana-Rae. I will assist you.” The small Voss woman spoke softly.

Jen nodded to everyone. “Hello, all of you. And no, Doctor, you can’t experiment on my brain.”

“A pity. Perhaps another time. If I may be so bold, I would ask a favor of you. I have my trained eye on a promising recruit. A Gand, of all creatures. If you’d like to go over the details, you may find me in my splendid new laboratory.”

“So that’s the team...any questions?” I asked.

“What do I have to do to find out what you’ve been up to all these years?” Jen blurted out, before her cheeks turned purple. I suspected that she hadn’t really meant to ask me that, it just popped out of her mouth before she could stop herself. She was adorable when she was flustered.

“We’ll get a chance to talk. Soon.” First she needed to go get details on this recruit that Oggurobb had in mind. And then there was the party...

I thought about blowing off the party, but I knew Lana would be upset with me if I did. I was the guest of honor after all. Besides, this could be my chance. I had gone chasing after Jen when she had disappeared. I had waited five years to tell her how I felt about her. And now I had the added bonus of being able to tell her what she meant to me, without having to worry how it would look to anyone else. Without putting her honor at risk. Torian was a fool to let her go, but I was sure as hell glad that he had. One obstacle out of our way. Now just a dozen more to overcome. I scrubbed my hand over my face, might as well go make my appearance. I took the lift up to the platform and headed to the cantina.

Lana was the first to greet me when I walked in. “Welcome Theron! It is good to finally see you.”  

“Good to see you too Lana. Been a long time. I am impressed with the progress you have made here.” I gave her a quick hug and followed her to the bar.

“We couldn’t have done it without you behind the scenes, getting us the supplies and the people.” Lana said sincerely.

I ran my hand through my hair, uncomfortable with the praise. “Yeah well, that was the easy part.”

“I wonder if we could recruit the Order of Shasa.” Lana joked.

“After their research facility was sunk because of us? Definately. Okay: Here’s one. The Correlian Run Scoundrels.” I joked back.

“No. Oh, no, no. Let the galaxy fall.” Lana shook her head and laughed. “I would like to introduce you to Koth. Officially.” Lana indicated the man behind the bar. “Theron Shan, Koth Vortena.”

“Nice to meet you Theron. Lana has told me all about you.” Koth held out his hand and I shook it. It was nice to finally put a face to the name.

Lana smiled at Koth. “Do you even recall the last time we relaxed?”

“I can. It was two-point-six million years ago, and Senya was still a jerk.” He said teasingly as a woman walked passed us, in full Knight’s armor.

“And to think I was going to sing for you all tonight.” A small smirk tugged one side of her mouth.

Koth chased her the length of the bar. “You were what? Oh, come on, I have got to hear this.”

“Too late now.” Senya chuckled as she headed out to a lift.

I pulled out my datapad and started compiling a list of things that would need to happen shortly to get us prepared for our fight with Arcann and his fleet. “Theron. You can’t let the weight of the galaxy rest on your shoulders all the time.” Lana chided me.

“Isn’t that why you talked me into coming here? To lighten your load?” I half teased.

“I brought you here because you’re good.” Lana stated simply.

I slipped my datapad back into my belt just as Jen and Emm entered the cantina. Thank the stars! I was saved. Jen shot a dirty look at Emm, who giggled quietly. I must have missed the exchange. But I felt, just as I had earlier, that it had something to do with me. “Hey, look who it is. Don’t worry, we didn’t really start without you.”

“Yes. We’ve only just begun. I wasn’t sure either of you’d attend.” Lana looked at the two women.

Emm nodded. “A chance to unwind after what we’ve been through is exactly what we need.”

“You are exactly correct. Now get this guy to cheer up.” Koth pointed at me.

“I’m reasonably cheery. I’m joining in. And now you are too.” I looked at Jen with a small smile.

Jen was fidgeting with the hem of her jacket and looking at the floor. Again I was struck with how sweet she was when she was shy. It was so out of character for her. “I was hoping to have a talk with one of you first.” She barely managed to whisper.

“Oh? And who might that be?” Lana asked, trying to get a rise out of her.

“Come on Theron. Let’s catch up.” Jen said quickly, clearly uncomfortable with everyone looking at her.

“You got it.” I said as I followed her to a private room where we could talk uninterrupted.

Jen sat on one of the lounge seats and leaned towards the table, her chin resting in her hands. “So what brings you all the way out here? This is a long way from home.”

I sat next to her and placed my hands on the table as I turned towards her. “After Arcann attacked Coruscant, the Republic bowed down. They would rather pay the tribute than fight back...with the way everything changed the SIS didn’t feel right for me anymore, so I walked away. Kept up with my contacts, pretty much did what I was already doing, just not for the Republic. Not for anything. Against Zakuul.”

“Were you able to make any headway?” She asked.

“I have found sympathetic Zakuulans, but not many. A lot of folks moved out here from the Core Worlds. I’m having better luck recruiting them, but they’re also under suspicion of being dissidents.” I explained.

Jen looked at me curiously. “I hear Saresh installed a puppet chancellor.”

“She’s pulling the strings, no doubt about it. Made my decision to move along that much easier. Saresh has her supporters--a lot of them--but she’ll wind up grinding the Republic to dust, you watch.” I would love to be there personally when Saresh was finally removed from power.

“What about your mother?” Jen asked.

I shrugged. “The Grandmaster? Well, the Jedi order got scattered, plucked apart, and she decided to...go somewhere. Didn’t say where. No one’s heard from her, far as I know.”

“I am sorry Theron. I had hoped that maybe things had changed. That after the attacks on the Core Worlds she would realize time was short and try to make amends.” Jen reached out and grabbed my hand and gave it a soft squeeze. She tried to pull her hand away, but I closed my fingers around hers. Trapping her small hand in mine.

“Thanks Jen, but I am not foolish enough to think that I enter into her thoughts too often.” I brushed her knuckles with my thumb.

“I am sorry I brought it up. I know it is a difficult subject.” Jen whispered.

I looked at our hands, and noticed the mark on her finger, where her wedding band had been. “Speaking of difficult subjects...I am sorry to hear about you and Torian.”

Her red eyes flashed to mine quickly. “You are?” She sounded shocked.

“I am sorry that you were hurt.” I corrected. My happiness shouldn’t come at the expense of hers.

“As they say, when one airlock closes…” Jen started with a small shrug of her shoulders.

“Another one opens.” I finished with a small chuckle. “Want you to know, I’ll do everything I can to keep things running smoothly around here.”

“So you’ll take care of anyone who needs you?” She teased.

Kriff Jen, just say the words. Tell me you need me, and I am yours. I needed to pull myself together. “Not just anyone. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to thaw you out.” I pushed her bangs away from her eyes. “Look at all you’ve accomplished. Everyone who chose to rally behind you. I haven’t been one of those “destiny” people in a long time, but this? Sure feels like it.”

Jen looked up at me, her cheeks deepening to violet. “If you mean being here with you, I agree.” She scooted closer to me and leaned in and pressed her lips to mine. I could feel her smile against my lips, and it caused my own. Empire and Republic be damned! I was in love with this woman. And for whatever reason the galaxy kept throwing her in my path. I knew what Master Zho would say. Clearly the galaxy knows something you do not. The Force is trying to tell you something. Listen.  I deepened our kiss, it had been a long time since I had held her in my arms and I was not ready to let her go just yet.

Unfortunately Lana had other plans. We had to reconvene in the war room soon. “What do you say we get back out there? Maybe there is more food.” I suggested as I stood. She looked at me like I had suggested kicking an akk dog. But she stood and followed me, reluctantly.

“Crew needs to be back to work in an hour. That should be fun.” Koth sighed.

“I need to schedule some meetings.” I scratched the back of my neck.

Lana chuckled. “Reminds me of my advisor days.”

“Thanks. All of you. It means a lot that you’re here.” Jen looked at each of us with a smile.

“Likewise…”Outlander.”” Lana laughed.

Emm pulled Jen’s arm through hers. “So...details!” I heard Emm say as they disappeared through the door. I chuckled quietly to myself. I knew that this time, I was the topic of their conversation. I couldn’t help but feel more than a little flattered.

“Tora! Len! Let’s go, you miserable lightweights!” Koth shouted to his crewmates.

A blue haired woman lifted her head from the table and yelled back at him. “Ugh. Shut up!”

Lana, Koth and I assembled everyone on base in the war room and set up an honor detail. Now all that was missing were our fearless leaders. Emm came in, right on time, Jen by her side. Emm looked radiant, she carried herself with the grace of a queen. She smiled at Lana and gave her a nod, and sidestepped out of the row of the honor detail so that Jen was alone.

Jen walked towards us, her beautiful ruby colored eyes wide, taking in everything around her. If I had thought Emm was radiant, she paled in comparison to Jen. Her hair was loosened from the usual pigtails and she was wearing the outfit that she had worn on Rishi, when she was pretending to be the Captain of the Red Hulls. This, right here, was the woman I had fallen madly in love with. Full of confidence, cocky, and sexy as hell to boot. The way the pants she was wearing hugged her curves... Keep your cool. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something else. When I opened my eyes though she was standing across the holo table from me and the red top she was wearing was eye catching...and distracting. It fit so closely to her that it left very little to the imagination. Kriff! It took a heroic amount of effort to look somewhere else but I looked to my right and Emm caught my eye. Her blue eyes were filled with amusement, and she giggled at me. I felt a flush working its way up my face. Jen’s voice drew my attention back to her. “What is all this?”

“It’s your first official speech as Alliance Commander.”

“But Emm is…” Jen looked around for Emm. “I’m not…” She shook her head and gestured to herself.

Lana put her hand on Jen’s shoulder to calm her down. “I told you on the Gravestone that you both would lead this Alliance.”

“Jen, I won’t do this without you.” Emm smiled brightly at Jen.

Jen took a deep breath. “I’ll have to thank everyone for their vote of confidence.”

“There was no vote. No meetings, no debate. It’s simply the way it is. The way it has been since the day we arrived. Everyone knows it. It’s just...official now.” Lana declared.

Jen chuckled. “I thought you hated titles.”

Lana laughed. “I hate having one, but I do love granting them.” She put her hand on Jen’s back and gently guided her to the railing of the platform overlooking the rest of the room. “They’re looking to you to guide them to greatness as only you can. Take them there.”

Jen nodded and looked at Emm before addressing everyone. “All of us here, we know about loss, don’t we? We’ve lost loved ones, friends. We’ve been beaten down time and again. Our lives have been taken from us. It almost feels like our destiny. But not one of you have given up. You’ve stuck it out through your losses. You’ve come together to build, to create, to fight--and I appreciate each and every one of you. Working together, the galaxy won’t have to live under the threat of a tyrant. Together, we will remove Arcann from the throne and we will prevail!”

Everyone cheered and clapped at the end of her speech, their eyes filled with admiration for my girl. I certainly knew the feeling, as I listened to her speech, I was more and more proud to be a part of this Alliance. She had inspired their loyalty, just as she had mine all those years ago on Manaan. We would accomplish our goal, the Core Worlds would be free of Arcann’s reign and then maybe we could figure out where to go from there. I would gladly leave Corscant and move to her villa on Tatooine if that's what she wanted. Hell I would brave the frozen wastelands of Hoth for her, if it would make her happy.

Chapter Text

I looked up and saw Theron looking my way, his gold eyes met mine, and I looked away quickly. I felt my cheeks burning. The purple telltale blush creeping across my face. Emm looked at me out of the corner of her eye and looked over my shoulder to see what had caused my discomfort. Seeing Theron sitting a few tables away she smiled. "Jen...go, talk to him."

"We have been over this. I am not ready. And even if I was, I can't take another heartbreak when this Alliance is over." I looked down sadly. The thought of parting once again...it was too painful. Better to not become entangled just to have it all ripped away from me again. I snuck a look at him. He was sitting with some other Alliance personnel, that easy smile on his face. I felt a tiny tug at the corner of my mouth, his smile was contagious.

"You are going to lose out on something wonderful Jen. Wouldn't a few years together be better than denying yourself the love that you feel for him?" She asked me quietly. "I would never give up the time I had with Malavai. Even if it was too short."

I thought back to the conversation Theron and I had a couple nights ago. He had landed on Odessen and I happened to be on the platform when he came striding into the base. I was the first person to welcome him. He had looked at me like I was an answer to a prayer. He had brought me a present and a promise. The present was the Mando War. I was so excited to see my ship, with the little jelly fish that Mako and I had painted on it after Mandalore had adopted me into his clan. Theron's promise was that he would make time to update me on all the things that had happened while I was locked away in carbonite. We had talked about the Republic, and his decision to leave. His efforts recruiting people to join our fight, and the struggles he had run into. His relationship with Satele, which I was sad to hear was still strained. I didn't have much to add, months compared to his years, so I was content to listen him talk. When we finally parted for the night I had forgotten myself and I had kissed him. Not because we were being forced apart, or because he was hurting. Simply because I wanted to. Once I was in my room I started kicking myself. If Theron and I were going to have a fair chance I needed to be over Torian first. And none of that even mattered! I know Emm's parents had somehow made their relationship work. But Theron had made it clear before, he belonged in the Republic, and I belonged in the Empire. "Emm, I will work it out, but I need time." I stood and was about to make my way back to the war room for our afternoon briefing. "Are you coming?" I asked her over my shoulder.

I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye and turned towards it instinctively. Theron stood just a few feet away his face turned toward me. "Hey Commander." He flashed me one of his smiles and I felt weak in the knees.

I saw Emm get to her feet behind me. Ready?

She sneezed behind her hand. Don't you dare! And then she sneezed again, but this time she used the sneeze as a cover to force push me. Right. Into. Theron. He reached out and easily caught me in his arms. My face felt hot. There were some whistles and a few laughs from the other tables where personnel were still eating their lunches. I wanted to crawl under a table and hide until everyone was gone. I looked up at her from Theron's arms and hissed at her. "Darjetii!" 

She moved passed us with a playful smile on her face. You'll thank me for this later. She waved at me over her shoulder. 

I looked up at Theron and saw him doing everything he could to hide the smile that wanted to break free. "I just came over to talk to you. I didn't realize you were going to throw yourself into my arms."

My ears felt hot. I straightened and stepped back, putting a small distance between us. "I'm sorry Theron." I glared at Emm's back as she made her way out of the mess hall. 

"I am glad I was there to catch you." He smiled down at me.

"Yes. Thank you." I wanted to run away. Being so close to him...I wanted to kiss him again. I wanted to run my hands through his hair. Stop it! I folded my hands behind my back to keep from reaching out and taking his hand in mine. "Lana will be waiting for us at the briefing. We should get going." I started heading to the lift to go up to the war room, leaving him alone.  

He jogged to catch up to me. "Might as well share the lift, right?" He shrugged his shoulders and gave me a soft smile. We rode the lift in silence and joined the rest of the Command Staff in the war room. 

I went to sit next to Lana and Emm stopped me. "Koth is sitting there, he just ran get caf." I moved to a seat near her, and she shook her head. "Senya." Her blue eyes sparkled in amusement.

There were only two other seats open. Next to each other. I narrowed my eyes at her, what kind of game was she playing. Forcing me into this conversation...I wasn't ready! I reluctantly sat in one of the empty seats and Theron took no time dropping in the seat next to me. This table was huge, why was he so close? Close enough I could smell his aftershave. I tried to focus on Lana's report on the latest renovations being made to our base. But all I could think about was the handsome agent to my right. I looked at him from the corner of my eye and he was looking at me. I closed my eyes as my stomach somersaulted. This wasn't happening. My palms started sweating, I brushed my hands along my pants. I accidentally bumped his leg and I could feel my cheeks deepen to a shade of purple again. "Sorry." I whispered to him quietly.  

He tilted his head towards mine. "No worries." I shivered as his breath tickled my ear. 

I sat there gripping my thighs, waiting for the briefing to be over so I could make a hasty escape. I couldn't wait to give Emm an earful. I shot her a dirty look and she looked back at me with a look of innocence. I didn't buy it. She was about as innocent as I was.

I felt his pinky brush mine and I held my breath, waiting to see where this was going. He hooked his pinky around mine and I curled my finger over his. Enjoying the feeling of our fingers intertwined. What was I doing? I shouldn't be encouraging this. This was going to hurt when he returned to Coruscant. Every indulgence was a nail in my coffin. But I couldn't bring myself to move my hand away from his. We sat through the rest of the briefing holding this small piece of each other, and he didn't push for more. He seemed to realize I was already overwhelmed.

Lana was saying something to me, but I had no clue what she was talking about. Having lost the gist of the conversation about forty-five minutes ago. Emm spoke up on my behalf and redirected the attention to her. She smiled at me when Lana called an end to the meeting and she ushered the blonde Sith from the room. Everyone else filed out of the war room, leaving Theron and I alone.

He turned toward me and looked down at our hands and then looked at me, one eyebrow raised. "So...?"

I felt the blush creeping its way up my neck again. I  stood and started to pull my hand away but Theron caught my fingers and twined his in mine. "Theron..." I started to protest.

He stood so he could look me in the eyes. "Can I ask you something?" His cheeks colored and I nodded. "Why was talking to me easier when we were enemies?"

I looked up at him quickly. "We were never enemies, Theron."

"Okay. When we were on opposite sides, then." He corrected himself.

"I don't know." I looked down at my hand in his. My heart quickened. It would be the easiest thing in the world to just give in and let myself be in love with him, but I knew this would end. We would defeat Arcann and the Alliance would be over. He would go back to the SIS. They would be stupid to not welcome him back with open arms after he helped free the Republic from Arcann's rule. And that would leave me alone, again. "Before...there was no pressure. I knew we couldn't be together so I didn't entertain the thought."

"And now?" I could see the hope in his golden eyes.

"Now? Have things really changed that much?" I shook my head. "I am sorry Theron I know I am giving you mixed signals, but I need time. Time to sort out my feelings. For this war with Zakuul..." I looked up at him from under my lashes. "For you."

He tugged my hand, pulling me closer to him. He ran his fingers along my temple, pushing my bangs out of eyes. "Jenny, I waited five years for the galaxy to bring us back together." His face was so close to mine, we were breathing the same air. When his lips touched mine I wanted nothing more than to throw caution to the wind. To wind my arms around his shoulders and just give in. His lips moved gently against mine and I reveled in the fact that this was the first time he had initiated the kiss. How could I want this to be the last? He ended our kiss and took a half step back. 

"I don't know why you waited. But would it be wrong of me to say I am glad you did?" I asked quietly.

"I don't know why either. Except that no one had caught my eye the way did when you came into that base on Manaan." He smiled at the memory.

"Emm has a theory. Well...not a theory. She is certain. I think she is crazy." I qualified.

He looked at me curiously. "So lets hear this theory."

I shook my head. Why had I brought this up? "No it is silly. I don't believe it."

He chuckled. "Come on, if you are reacting like this I have to hear it."

Haar'chak!  "This is her theory. Not mine. She says that we, you and I, have some kind of force bond that keeps pulling us together."

His brows knit together. "Like a Jedi Master and their Padawan?"

"Not really, but you get the idea. Crazy right? Neither of us can use the force. What good would a bond like that be to us?" I asked.

He put up a hand to quiet me. "So who is the Jedi Master and who is the Padawan?" He deadpanned.

"What?" I shook my head in disbelief. "You have jokes Shan?"

His shoulders shook with his laughter. "I am sorry Jen. I had to ask. Sometime I am going to have to talk to Emm, see who else has these bonds. Or are we special?"

"Wait. You believe this stuff?" I hadn't expected him to buy into this.

"It makes as much sense as anything else." He said reasonably.

"So we don't get a say. It is just destiny? The universe says we belong together so we have to be?" I asked.

He looked confused again, and hurt. "So you don't want to give this a chance?"

"No, that isn't what I am saying. I just want to know that what I feel are my feelings and not some silly force pull making me feel this way." I explained.

He ran his hand through his hair. "I know a little about how they work, we still have our freewill."

"Emm says it can't be denied. Quinn couldn't refuse the pull no matter how hard he tried." 

"But did he really try? Was he already in love with her and trying to resist a pull she was exerting on him because she wanted him too?"

"What do you mean? Emm wouldn't do something like that, take away someone elses will." I didn't like what he was implying.

"I don't think she knows that she is doing it. But haven't you ever noticed how everyone around her seems drawn to her? Like a magnet? She pulls people to herself and forms bonds easily. You never found that odd?"

Of course I had never found it odd. "She is very likeable, charismatic, charming. The same could be said about you. Everyone here likes you." 

"Some more than others, I hope." He smiled down at me. 

"Well, I only know how much I like you, but I could ask around the base if you would like." I teased.

His cheeks colored, and he seemed at a loss for words. "So...you do? Like me?"

"Of course I do Theron." How could he ask that? "I just need some time." Time to figure out how to overcome the prejudice of our opposing factions. Time to figure out a way to avoid going somewhere the other couldn't follow when the Alliance completed its task.

He pushed my bangs out of my eyes again and held my face inches from his. "I've waited for you since Manaan. I can be patient." My heart pounded in my chest. Why were we waiting? I was being stupid. I was scared. I was still hurting, and I didn't want to add to my pain. But what if...what if, what? What if he was what I needed to heal my broken heart? What if he was what I needed to find my bravery? His lips touched mine and I closed my eyes. Letting myself just be in this moment with him. I kept my hands balled into fists at my side, to keep from pulling him in, I was afraid I wouldn't let go. When he ended the kiss I kept my eyes closed for a little longer. Trying to memorize every detail of this moment. When I opened my eyes he was gone.

I sank into the chair I had been sitting in during the briefing and sat there for a while, dazed. This would never work out. It was unfair to ask him to give up his life for me. I couldn't put my mother through another separation, not after I had just come back to life. There had to be a third way, I just couldn't see it. I heard light footsteps and looked up to see Emm walking into the war room. "Come to gloat?" I snapped at her.

"Oh Jen, don't be like that." She said. "It was worth it wasn't it? At least you know how he feels."

"Yes. Because that is so helpful." I answered sarcastically. "I told you I wasn't ready."

"Jen, we will be old and gray before you were ready. And we would have turned to dust before Theron ever made his move." She pulled Theron's chair back a little and sat down. "So, tell me everything."

"Emm, it's all just a fantasy." Why couldn't she see that.

"Alright, it's a fantasy. But wasn't winning the Great Hunt?" She waited for me to nod. "Reality is just the end result of a fantasy that came true. Now give me details."

"He kissed me." I felt my stomach flip just thinking about it. "Oh Emm, it was..." I lost my train of thought thinking about his lips against mine.

"Perfect?" She supplied. "You have it bad." She giggled.

"I told him that you think we have a force bond, like you and Quinn. Strangely he actually thinks it is possible." I shook my head. None of this made sense to me.

"He grew up surrounded by Jedi. He would know more about these bonds than either of us. Sith don't normally form strong enough bonds when all you are worried about is betrayal." She shrugged. "And you still think it is a ridiculous notion?"

"Yes. I do." I crossed my arms over my chest as I nodded to emphasize my answer.

"Why?" 

"It isn't very romantic..." I pouted.

"Not romantic? The universe, the galaxy, the Force, the very stars, say you belong together, and that isn't romantic?" She looked incredulous. 

I honestly hadn't thought of it that way. "The stars?" I whispered quietly.

"Yes Jen, the stars!" She said enthusiastically. 

I couldn't use the force, for me it was an abstract idea, but stars...those I could see. I had spent so many nights looking up at them on Hoth, making wishes. I had spent a few sleepless nights staring at constellations on Yavin with Theron. If this was an answer to those wishes who was I to turn it down? I got up from my seat and hugged her. "Thank you."

She squeezed me tightly and then released me. I told you that you would thank me. She looked up at me and beamed. "I just want you to be happy Jen. I don't want you to waste time being hurt, and feeling hate. It is a wasted emotion."

I chuckled. "Are you sure you're a Sith?"

"I am very clearly not a Jedi, I let my other passions rule me. Trust me, a Jedi could never feel the way I do about Malavai and still be considered a Jedi." She winked at me and stood. "Speaking of Malavai...I am going to take the Arallute to Dromund Kaas to check in with Meli. I am hoping she can help me figure out where he is. I won't be gone long, just a couple days. But I will come right back if I am needed.”

“Are you going alone?” I was terrified at the thought of her being caught alone on Dromund Kaas.

“No. I am taking Vin and Lyo with me."

I  squeezed her hand. "Jate jate'kara. I hope that you find him. And please stay safe."

She smiled. “Of course.” She bent and placed her forehead to mine. The brief gesture made me smile.

 

Chapter Text

Now that I had the Arallute back I could leave Odessen without leaving the Alliance down a shuttle. I could finally go see my sister, Vector, Letti, and hug my little Emmilee. I was thankful that Theron had brought me my ship. I had been so happy to see her sitting on the landing pad, the bright sunlight glinting off the hull. I boarded the Fury class Interceptor and was transported to another time. And while I couldn’t find Malavai, Vette, or Jaesa, at least I had the Arallute with all of it’s precious memories, and it felt like I had parts of them with me. I lingered over the console in the engine room where Vette usually spent her time. I tried her holo frequency again but there was no answer. I missed her unfailing optimism. I could do with a dose of it right now.

I looked into the cargo hold and saw the small mat that Broonie had used as his makeshift bed on the floor. I smiled at the memory of him, pacing in a circle before lying down  and curling up like some kind of manka cat. For such a fearsome predator he slept like someone’s pet, which wasn’t too far off the mark I supposed.

I went into the galley and made myself a cup of caf. I needed it to bolster me for the rest of my tour. I dug through the cabinets trying to find cinnamon to flavor my caf with. I knew it had to be here somewhere. I always had cinnamon on hand. Malavai didn’t care much for sweet things, but his kryptonite was cinnamon. I finally found the small shaker and sprinkled it over my caf. I leaned against the counter and stared at the wall. I drank half of the mug before I could work up the courage to move further into the ship.

I walked onto the silent bridge and sat in the Captain’s chair. I looked to my left, at the seat Malavai always occupied. Where are you Malavai? Why can’t I find you? I closed my eyes and let the memories wash over me. Those first few months when he had joined my crew, and how he spent every waking minute here, improving the ship, lost in his work, because he had known what Baras would eventually ask of him if he fell in love with me. But I could feel those green eyes watching me when he thought I wasn’t looking. The hours he spent trying to teach me how to pilot the ship, and how patient and gentle he was, even though I was spending more time flirting with him than actually learning anything. I spun my chair towards the doorway and left the bridge, I would get lost in my thoughts if I didn’t keep moving.

I walked into the center of the Arallute, and had to smile. The very first memory that surfaced was our second Life Day together. Malavai and I exchanged cards, mine telling him I had a gift for him, but he couldn’t open it in front of Vette and Jaesa. His cheeks had colored, but he gave me a quick nod before slipping the card in the inner pocket of his uniform. His card was an  invitation to a private dinner and four tickets to the ballet. For Vette I had chosen a small crystal bird ornament and I gave Jaesa a locket with pictures of her parents. Malavai’s gifts were mostly practical, a gun cleaning kit for Vette, a mint green color crystal for Jaesa, and a beautiful silver bracelet for me. Jaesa’s gifts  were handmade, and sentimental, a wooden box with a varactyl carved in it for Malavai, an intricate hand woven headband for Vette and a small carved varactyl statue for me. Which brought us to Vette’s gifts, a tradition she would continue every year after this. We all laughed as we went around the room opening them. Vette had bought herself a pair of monkey-lizard pajamas, Jaesa received akk dog pajamas, I got ginx pajamas, and Malavai got varactyl pajamas, complete with a frilled hood. In all the time I had known him I had never seen his face so red as when I cried out with fake fear, “Oh no! Quinn the varactyl is going to eat me!” The Arallute had rung with Vette and Jaesa’s loud peals of laughter.

The second memory was of the holocall with Moff Broysc. Watching as Quinn stood at parade rest and took the insults that the Moff threw at him. I could sense the anger, and the hatred that simmered just under Malavai’s calm demeanor. I couldn’t understand how Broysc had risen through the ranks and gotten where he was, and it angered me that Malavai’s career had suffered because of him. But I quietly laughed as Quinn deadpanned his responses to the accusations that Broysc hurled his way. Most people only saw the uptight, aloof officer that Quinn had cultivated into a perfect mask for his real emotions. But I saw beneath the mask to the man with great wit and passion. And I saw plenty of both from him that day when dealing with Broysc.

I moved into the medical bay where Malavai had saved my life after the fateful varactyl attack. I was unconscious for the whole surgery. But I woke up and he was there, by my side, holding my hand. That was the day he surrendered himself. He gave up the fight that he had been having with himself, to keep himself detached. To finally give into what he knew was inevitable all along. What we both knew the moment we saw each other on Alderaan. We were destiny incarnate.

I remembered sitting in the medical bay with Jaesa, holding her hand as Quinn treated her for the burn on her leg. I felt awful. We had been sparing, and I was showing her a move that my father had taught me. It was a little different with a double blade than with two single blades and her hand placement slipped too far to the right and I caught her on her upper thigh with one of my blades. I kept apologizing, but she smiled at me through her pain and let me off the hook. She argued that she would have a cool scar and one day when I was the Sith Empress she could tell people that she had dueled me and lived!

I had put off the last room on my tour long enough. I stood at the door and took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the flood of memories that this room held. Better to get it over with. The door slid open and I stepped inside Malavai and I’s quarters. Our bed was made, with military precision. No clothes lay strewn about. The only thing that was out of place where the pictures that covered the top of my dressing table. They had been stacked neatly, face down. I lifted one and turned it over. My parents, and a three year old Meli smiled at me from the portrait. I flipped over the next one. Vette and I, heads together, smiling at the camera. Jaesa and Vette. Jen and I. Lyo and I. Vette and Vin. A group shot taken on my birthday with Aleks, Jen, Vin, Vette, Jaesa, Lyo, Meli, Vector, myself and Malavai. A picture from Malavai and I’s wedding, me on his arm. Vector, Meli and Emmilee. Letti, Meli and I. The one thing that all these pictures had in common, other than they were all people I loved, none of them held glass. All these frames had been swept to the floor and the glass broken. How much pain had Malavai been in to do something like this? My heart ached for him, for the pain that he had been put through. I had to find him! This had to be made right.

I looked around our room. Vette and Jaesa raiding my closet for something to wear, the three of us laughing and helping each other zip up the backs of different dresses as we played dress up. Malavai knocked several times to urge us to hurry or we would miss the curtain for the ballet. There were skirts and dresses draped on every piece of furniture.

All of the whispered conversations, the tender kisses. Waking up and seeing Malavai stretched out beside me, his face relaxed, unguarded. Snuggling up to him for warmth and him wrapping his arm around my hip and holding me close.

“Emm?” Lyo’s voice called out. “Hey, Emm? Emm. Emm. Emmmmmm.”

I smiled in spite of myself. I had invited the pest aboard my ship. I peeked out of my quarters. “In here Lyo.”

“Vin is on his way. Are you ready to go?” Lyo asked.

“Yes. If you wouldn't mind putting in our course. I would like to be underway as soon as possible.” I replied as I joined him in the main room. “You can have Pierce’s quarters, last room on the left.”

“Sounds good. Let me know when Vin is on board.” Lyo turned and headed to the bridge.

I went back to the galley for more caf. I headed back out to the main room and sat waiting for Vin to appear. I knew he had as much riding on this venture as I did. He may be quiet about everything in his life, prefering to keep every detail private so nothing could be used against him. But I knew that he loved Vette deeply and wanted her to be found. I had taken a couple of sips of my caf when I heard the airlock slide open and Vin’s heavy tread on the stairs. The third and last member of our away team was aboard. I waved a hello to him as he joined me.  “You can have Vette’s old quarters. You still remember the way?”

The inquisitor nodded, his red eyes amused. “Of course.” He hitched his bag higher on his shoulder. “How are you holding up?”

I sighed. “I don’t know Vin. Not being able to use the force to the full extent that I am used to is frustrating. I know that Valkorion has a leash on me, he is trying to force me into relying on him for help. Keeping those that would strengthen me hidden makes sense from his perspective.” I splayed my hands on the table on either side of my mug.

“Vette will come home. She always does.” Vin answered plainly. But his lekku twitched in irritation. Clearly she was overdue and wasn’t answering his calls either. Because she chose not to, or because she couldn’t? “In the meantime you have the rest of us to rely on. Although, do you think that he would bargain for Quinn? You could have his location now instead of putting yourself through all of this.”

I shook my head. “No Vin. Valkorion would want something from me that I am not willing to pay.” I was already in his debt for keeping me alive after my encounter with Arcann. I could not allow myself to become more indebted to him. Not even if it meant finding Malavai sooner.

“Alright Emm, it was just a suggestion.” He shrugged. “I am going to go get settled in.” He disappeared down the hall towards Vette’s quarters.

I went to the bridge and took Quinn’s seat since Lyo was in mine. “Vin is on board. Time to go.”

Lyo nodded his blonde head and put in the keys to launch us towards the Core Worlds, towards home. We landed in the middle of the night and decided to sleep the remaining hours until dawn on the Arallute. I lay in bed looking at the ceiling. I closed my eyes and let the force wash over me. I searched again for my Captain. This time I felt him stronger than I had since my coma. The strength of his presence almost shocked me from my meditation. I tried to touch his mind, to figure out where he was, how he was, but he was guarded. His old walls firmly in place. I could find a way in, if I wanted to breach those walls. But it would be painful for him. Which made that option unacceptable. Instead I took comfort in the fact that he was with me in this small capacity. In the morning I would try to talk the best Cipher I knew into assisting me in my search.

I awoke a couple of hours later and got dressed. I pulled a hooded cloak around my shoulders, and drew the hood up over my head. I took Lyo and Vin with me. I was wanted by Prince Arcann and I wasn’t sure how far his reach was. When we stepped out of the spaceport I was surprised to see the sun. The near constant rain that fell here had let up and the day had dawned bright and beautiful. We walked through Kaas City, through the market that once bustled with shopkeepers peddling their wares. Shops that had been here longer than I had been alive were shuttered. I looked closer at the buildings that soared high over the city. Many of the steepled buildings were damaged. Crumbling into ruin. Lana had told Jen and I that this was the result of Arcann's power grab. But seeing it in person brought it home for me. My hood slipped off and since it wasn't raining I left it resting around my shoulders. As I was heading down the market place steps I heard a familiar voice. Why hadn’t  I had pulled my hood back in place? Strangely it also made me miss my old life even more. Maybe not this aspect of it though.

"M'lord?" He waited until I turned around to face him. "Kept me waiting long enough. Have my dreams come true, or are you here to put me out of my misery?"

"Khian Pierce. They have you assigned to a desk? Oh how the mighty have fallen." I looked at him coldly.

"Cruel as ever m'lord. This post is more fit for the bootlick of yours, Quinn, but I'm the war hero. My "reward" for cracking the Bastion. Promotion, medals, and being trotted out as a reminder of what every grunt aspires to be."

Of all the people that I had to run into here... My bootlick ? This was why we had never gotten along. Every time that I turned around he was disrespecting my husband, either directly to Quinn, or to me. I tamped down my anger. "They were right to use you as an inspiration, but taking you off the battlefield was a mistake." If he was safely here no one could be taking shots at him.

"Can't prove it, but I suspect Moff Hurden had a hand in that. Damned me with praise, I'm sure. Having to sit here and talk about the grand victories instead of being a part of them. It's a fate worse than death. Bah, enough of my griping. You have business with the Outreach Bureau, or is this a personal call?"

"I actually came to see Meli. I needed her help with something. You haven't heard from the crew have you? Vette, Jaesa...?" I didn't ask about Quinn, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that they wouldn't have kept in touch.

"I haven't talked to any of the crew since you disappeared, m'lord. But I have kept in touch with your sister and your little friend." He practically leered when he mentioned Letti. "When Dromund Kaas was attacked I went to your sister's townhome to make sure that everyone there was okay. I made sure they were safe."

"Thank you Khian." I was strangely touched. I had never known him to go out of his way to do something nice for anyone, unless there was some benefit to him.

"Pass along my greetings." He laughed as he waved at me before turning away to go back to his duties.

Lyo and I made brief eye contact before his red eyes darted back to Khian’s back. “Friendly fire?”

I snickered. “No. Let it go. He isn’t worth the trouble, we have to keep a low profile.” But I couldn’t help imagining Lyo’s saber sticking between Khian’s shoulder blades. The thought made me feel warm and fuzzy. Lyo shrugged and he and Vin turned and followed me.

As we walked through Kaas City, proper, I tried to figure out why Khian didn't seem at all surprised by my presence here. Or why he had laughed when we parted. I was missing something. Just outside of the Hyllus townhouse I saw a small group of people. My heart leaped. "Letti! Emmilee!" I shouted as I raised my hand in a greeting. Letti's blonde head snapped up and she smiled widely. I ran to them, and wasn’t sure who to hug first. Letti’s green eyes filled with happy tears. She had a dark haired baby on her hip.

"Aunt Emmy!" A girl of a eleven shouted, my Emmilee! She looked just like Meli had at her age. She was holding the hand of a younger child, his dark hair and angular features marked him as Vector's son. I had a nephew! His dark green eyes peeked up at me from behind his sister's hip. “This is Antony. Antony, this is our Aunt Emmy!” She introduced us. He stepped a little further behind Emmilee.

I wrapped Emmilee in my arms and hugged her close to me. I looked down at her brother and smiled at him. He gave me a shy smile in return. I stood and looked at Letti, she held her free arm out to me and gave me a hug. I looked into the dark brown eyes of the little one on her hip. His little cheeks dimpled, he was adorable. "And who is this little fellow?" I asked her as I tickled him under his chin.

"This is Aden." She snuggled him closer to her and smiled warmly. "He is mine." I looked closer at him and it all fell into place. Khian knew I was coming home, because she had told him. He had laughed because he knew I would find Letti, with his son, and be shocked.

"Oh Letti, I am so happy for you." I couldn't fathom how they had ended up together. They had never shown any interest in each other before I disappeared. But Khian Pierce? Eww.

Emmilee grabbed my hand and started pulling me towards the door. "Momma will want to see you. Come on!" I let her pull me into the house. "Momma! Aunt Emmy is here!"

I heard something crash from the top of the stairs, and then Meli was running down them, two at a time. "Emmynn Victoria!" She launched herself across the room and then her arms were around my neck and she was sobbing on my shoulder. I heard Letti saying something to Emmilee, and I heard the door close behind them. She was taking the children on an outing to give Meli and I some privacy. I assumed that Lyo and Vin were accompanying them, they hadn’t come in with me. I held Meli as she cried, sad tears, happy tears. "Do you have any clue what you put us through?" She hiccuped.

"I am sorry Meli. I tried to get a message out. I don't know if I ever reached anyone." I looked at my sister, and tried to read the answer in her eyes. She looked back at me, her brown eyes hid a deep sadness that hurt me to see. "Who heard me?"

"Quinn. He spent so much time searching for you. He knew you were alive, but everyone thought that the grief of losing you had driven him crazy. He came here right before..."

"Before what?" I asked. My stomach knotted.

"Emmy...he is missing. Wherever he is, it is above my clearance. Someone powerful is hiding him." She took a step back. "He had come here to stay with Lee and I, and he went to speak with the Imperial Navy to request more time, he was arrested for desertion. But he went missing during a routine transfer, that was the last time anyone saw him. I am sorry." She confirmed everything he had already told me. She had searched for him, and she had come up with nothing. She had been my only hope.

We spent the afternoon catching up. She told me about all the big moments I had missed in Emmilee's life. She told me about Antony, my dark haired nephew. She had found out she was pregnant shortly after I had disappeared. He was much like his father, introspective, and poetic, he was shy, but once he warmed up to me, she assured me that he would be as devoted to me as my Emmilee was. She told me how she was mostly retired from being a spy. Vector had taken over her missions. And how recently he had been called to the nest to fulfill his duties as Dawn Herald. She missed him, but understood he had duties there to attend to. She told me that as a result of her retiring to raise her children that the rest of her crew went their separate ways. Lokin stayed in touch, he was staying on Alderaan, close to Vector, just in case. But Kaliyo had gone out one day for a drink and she never came back. Scorpio had disappeared to find more advanced technology to upgrade herself with. And Raina went on a mission and was not heard from again.

We discussed my capture, and being in carbonite. I told her about Valkorion taking space in my head. If anyone would understand it would be her. She had dealt with something similar before. I told her that in my short travels in Wild Space, I had run into Scorpio, she was now on the base on Odessen. I told her about my newest scar, and how it had almost killed me. I told her about the Alliance, and Odessen, and all the great things we hoped to accomplish.

Letti and the children came home and the room was full of squeals and children's laughter. Letti led Vin and Lyo to the kitchens where they were probably being more of hindrance to Letti than help. I held Aden on my lap while she was cooking. I listened to Emmilee chatter about her friends and about her drawings. Antony crawled up on the sofa beside me and played with my hair. Every one of them exuded love. Despite the uncertainty of the world around them their mothers had done well to make sure that here at home, all they felt was love. This was an environment that I could relish living in.

"You should see her work Emmy. Lee is very talented." Meli said with obvious pride.

After dinner I went to Lee’s room to see her drawings, and as Meli had promised they showed huge potential. She had sketched a picture of her father, that was breathtaking in detail. “I am not done with it, I can’t get his hair just right.” She screwed up her little face in frustration.

“Lee, it is beautiful. I think you have captured him quite well.” I encouraged. The detail of his eyes were amazing, she had drawn every tiny lense. She had captured his smile, just the tiny quirk of his mouth.  

“This one is my favorite.” She said as she pulled out a smaller portrait. She watched my face as I looked at the green eyes looking back at me from her painting. This was someone I had only ever seen in a dream. Francis. But how? She had painted him, perfectly in every detail, the shape and color of his eyes, the lopsided smile, the thick brown hair.

My breath caught in my throat and I looked at her in wonder. “Do you know who this is?”

She nodded. “I don’t know his name, but I know he belongs to you. I see him sometimes when I sleep.”

“Francis. His name would have been Francis.” I stroked the portrait of my son. How could a broken heart keep breaking?  

Lee came over and laid her cheek against my arm. “Aunt Emmy, I am sorry if I made you sad. I will put it away. Don’t tell Momma that I showed him to you.” Suddenly she looked frightened. “She told me not to. I should have listened.”

“Lee, can I have it? For a little while?” I held the portrait close to my chest. I didn’t want her to take him from me. “I won’t tell your mother. I promise.”

She nodded. “You aren’t mad? I thought if you saw him you would be happy. I knew you would come back, and that Uncle Quill would come back too, because I have seen him.” She pointed at the painting. “Sometimes he is older and there is a girl with him, his sister. But she hides her face.” Lee dug through her stacks of art work and pulled out an unfinished sketch, but I saw the eyes, that would be blue when she was done, the same shape as mine. Her short dark hair, and the pout that she almost always wore in my dreams. Even unfinished, I knew it was my daughter.

“Lieha. That is what I would have named her.” I looked at Lee. “Does your mother know you see things that haven’t happened yet?”

“Yes. She says I am like you, but different. We keep it a secret. Momma is scared that I would be sent to Korriban.”

“She is probably right. But I will talk to her. I have a friend that I think would be a perfect teacher for you.” I hugged her to my side. “Trust me, it will be okay.” I kissed the top of her head. I needed to get her to Odessen where she would be beyond the reach of the Empire. Sana-Rae could help her to hone her visions and there were more than enough of us there that could teach her to use the force. I tucked the portrait of Francis in the deep pocket of my skirt. I wanted to take the one of Lieha too, but I wanted to see the finished product so I left it in Lee’s capable hands.

Meli poked her head in the doorway. “Bedtime Lee. You can visit with Aunt Emmy tomorrow.” The portrait of Vector caught her eye and she stared at it for a few moments before she looked back to her talented daughter. “Scoot along you little monkey-lizard.”

Lee kissed my cheek and wrapped her thin arms around my shoulders. “I love you. I am glad that you came home.”

I held her a moment longer. “I love you too, my little Emmilee.” When I released her she skipped over to her mother and gave her a hug and then she jumped into her bed and threw herself against her pillows with a giggle.

I joined Meli in the hallway and looked back at my adorable niece. “We need to talk about her.”

Meli led me away, toward her room so we could speak in private. “I know Emmy. I can sense it too. She is more like you and Pappa than she is me. But I can’t send her to Tython, and I refuse to send her to Korriban.”

We walked into her and Vector’s room and she quietly closed the door behind us. I settled on her bed and crossed my legs as she sat across from me. She bent one leg underneath her, and let the other dangle down the side of the bed.

“Let me take her to Odessen with me. She will have teachers there from the Republic, and the Empire, she will learn how to hone her talents. There is a Voss mystic, Sana-Rae who can help her with her visions.” I could see the refusal in her eyes. “Okay, don’t send her to Odessen with me. Bring her yourself. We could make room for all of you.”

“Wait, a Voss mystic? The Voss don’t leave their planet.” Her cheeks deepened to a dark pink.

“When did you become an expert on the Voss?” I teased her.

“It’s not important.” Her face continued to darken.

“I don’t think it is possible for your face to get any redder Meli.”

She let out a long suffering sigh. “I suppose it is time you knew. But this stays in this room! Vector...knows, but he doesn’t know the details. Before I married Vector, I married a Voss, named Phi-Ton, to gain access to documents that only Voss could see. Vector encouraged it, it was a means to an end of our mission. What neither Vector or I knew, was to complete the marriage there was a right, Phi-Ton gave me the chance to refuse. But I wanted to do everything right. Phi-Ton seemed sweet enough that I didn’t want him to be in trouble if protocols weren’t met to Voss standards. It was a business transaction, nothing more.” She shook her head. “We shared so much passion in that one night that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to leave Voss.” Meli reached up and pushed my chin up, closing my jaw. “Silly, Emmy. It is possible to love more than one man. Both of them have places in my life. They both know this and accept it.”

“But Vector...?” I couldn’t wrap my head around this new information. I adored Vector. My heart ached for him.

“He loves me, even the parts he doesn’t understand. After that first night I knew that staying away from Phi-Ton would be a struggle, he stirred something in me. So when Vector asked me to marry him later, we discussed what that would mean. Our marriage could not be officially sanctioned.”

“But I was there! Papa walked you down the aisle. Vector was so happy. You were beautiful. All of it was fake?” I felt like my world was falling apart, none of this made sense.

“The ceremony was just for show. But it made our commitment to each other feel more real, and in our hearts that was all that mattered. As for my feelings for Phi-Ton, Vector had to decide if it was something he could live with. He agreed to my terms. Once a year, I would return to Voss, I would stay no longer than a week, and then I would return home. To Vector. As long as I came home to him he was willing to let me have something that he couldn’t give me.”

“What couldn’t he give you that this other man could?” I felt anger welling up on Vector’s behalf. It made no sense. Vector was at peace with these decisions, and this was between him and Meli, but the anger was there just the same.

“Someone that is just for me. Phi-Ton is something I don’t have to share with anyone, unlike Vector. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the things that make Vector who he is, even the Kilik parts. But our lives are hardly private. Every disagreement, every joy, every misstep or mishap is shared with the nest. With Phi-Ton I can be myself, I don’t have to hold anything back. When I come home I keep every kiss, every touch private. Not that Vector needs or wants to know. But I don’t want to share those moments with the nest. Not when I already share every moment of my life with Vector with them.”

“Meli, I had no idea.” I knew how she felt, having details of her life broadcast to the hive. Quinn had done the same. He had sent detailed reports of our actions to Baras. But at least those moments that were between us, all our kisses, the moments he let his guard down and he placed a hand at my back, or he held a hand out to me when climbing from a transport, our quiet talks at night, those moments were ours. Baras never knew about them. Quinn was very careful to leave those details out of his reports. But to not have any choice in the matter, that was heartbreaking. For both Meli and Vector. “And Phi-Ton?” I was curious about my secret brother-in-law.

“Our yearly trysts are very sacred to us.” Her words were hushed, reverent. “We spend a year apart, and then in our brief visits we renew our bond. It is powerful and intoxicating. But we can never be more than what we have always been.”

“Do you want to be?” I asked quietly.

“I don’t know. Honestly, sometimes I think about it. Vector is gone so often and I am lonely. I sleep alone in this giant bed and miss him terribly. Antony looks so much like him, his little smile makes my ache for Vector worse. If I ran away to Voss, Phi-Ton would welcome me home. He would never leave Voss and I would never be alone. But I can’t bring myself to forsake Vector. He is so much a part of me that it would be like cutting off a limb. I could still function, but I would never again be whole.” Meli looked down at the bedspread under her splayed fingers and thought a moment. “How soon will you have enough space for us?” Her brown eyes met mine, and I saw the tears clinging to her lashes. “I need to go to Alderaan first.”

“Of course. I can go ahead of you and alert Odessen, we can have a place ready for you all by the time you are done on Alderaan.” I took my sister’s hand in mine. “Meli, everything will be alright.”

“I know Emmy, I just wish Vector were here so I didn’t have to make this decision on my own. These are his children too, I can't run off to some world neither of us have seen. But knowing that Lee would be safe from going to the Sith Academy...”

“Hey, that is my alma mater you are talking about.” I joked, trying to give this situation a little levity. “I wouldn’t want her there either. What about Letti and Aden?”

“You will have to speak with her. Her situation is...unhappy. Maybe she would take the chance to start over.” Meli said, her face darkening again, but this time in anger.

“He didn’t!” Instantly I was furious. “He took advantage of her? Meli, how in the world did you let that happen?”

“It had happened before I knew that I even needed to protect her. He came to make sure that we were safe. He was stationed here after abandoning the search for you. He helped set some things right, and Vector asked him to stay for dinner. He didn’t show any special interest in Letti, but pretty soon he was dropping by all the time, to check up on us. Seeing if there were jobs he could do for us. Letti has always been quiet and keeps her own council. I didn’t know that she was seeing him until Lee told me she saw them kissing in the kitchen. When I found Letti sitting near the toilet, looking like she was dying from womp rat fever I knew. He stopped coming around as frequently after that day. Didn’t want to be tied down by a kid. Being tied down by his position was already too much of a demotion for him. He drops in on occasion and leaves a few credit chips. Not nearly enough to raise Aden.”

I was sorry I had stopped Lyo from ending Pierce’s miserable existence. My poor sweet Letti. If Lyo knew the truth he would probably go on the hunt tonight. And I would be hard pressed to stop him. Letti was family, and you didn’t treat one of us that way and survive long. “We have a lot of planning to do, I need to go update Lyo and Vin. And I need to speak to Letti. I need to know what she wants to do. But I hate the thought of her here alone.” Plans started taking shape in my head.

“Goodnight Emmy. I will see you in the morning.”

“Goodnight Meli. I love you.” I hugged her briefly and swept out of her room.

I took the stairs quickly and went through the rooms on the main floor. I found Vin sitting quietly reading a book. “Hey Vin.” I smiled at the imposing Twi’lek, his lekku twitched and he grinned slowly. “Have you seen Lyo?”

“Last time I saw him he was on the balcony looking at the lights of the city with Letti.” His answer sounded like there was more to his statement than what was actually said.

“I have changed my mind.” I said coldly.

Vin sat up straighter and closed his book. A spark of interest lighting up his face. “Is that so?”

“Yes. Khian Pierce has outlived his usefulness.” I balled my hands into fists. I never would have killed Khian over his disrespect alone, but using Letti, and then throwing her to the curb once things got real. It was one of the worst kinds of betrayal.

Vin stood and placed the book he had been reading on a nearby table. “Time for mayhem.” He rubbed his hands together gleefully. “Will you be joining us for the festivities?”

“No. I will be here, providing your cover. Make sure to show Khian a good time. For me.” I gave him a cruel smile and turned on my heel.

I climbed the stairs and went out to the balcony. The night was humid and the threat of rain hung in the air. I could hear Lyo and Letti talking quietly at the edge of the balcony. Their blonde heads almost touching as they whispered together. This could be the start of something wonderful, for the both of them. I hated to pull him away. I held back and deliberated. I could go with Vin and take care of Khian, but he would be suspicious if I showed up and wanted to go for drinks. But Lyo and Vin could easily lure him out for drinks, using the excuse of trying to get out of the townhouse and away from all the women and their endless chatter.

I looked at the small frame of my former handmaiden and my heart broke for her, for how she had been fooled, how she had been used. She loved Aden, but how hard was it for her to look into his face everyday and see the man that had sired him reflected back in his features? Khian needed to be dealt with, and then he would never bother Letti again. He would not be there to let Aden down again and again. I realized that going down this path, I was taking away Aden’s papa. I hated to take a father from their child, but Aden deserved better. Khian would never be the man my Papa was. The decision was made.

I stepped out of the shadows and quietly called out to them. “Lyo, Vin is looking for you. He wants to go out for drinks.” I smiled sweetly at them as I approached them. Lyo, Pierce fooled her…  “And Letti, I haven’t had a chance to catch up with you.”

Lyo smiled and turned to Letti. “It was nice getting a chance to catch up. Goodnight.” He turned to me, and I could see a seething anger just under the surface. I know already. Letti told me. Why didn’t you let me take care of him in the square?

There would have been witnesses. But now is your chance. Take Khian out for a boys night. Have fun. Make sure he doesn’t come back.

The nod that Lyo gave me was so small that had I not been waiting for it I wouldn’t have seen it. “Night Emm.”

“Night Lyo.” I reached up and ruffled his hair as he passed me. Be careful. I looked at Letti and held my arm out to her, she threaded her arm through mine and we walked back inside together and to her room. Aden was already in his crib asleep. She slipped her arm out of mine and went to adjust his blanket as she stroked his little face.

“I know you are wondering how this all happened.” Her voice was quiet.

“Letti, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

She turned to face me, her hands behind her, braced against Aden’s crib. “You must think I am simple minded. To let myself be tricked…” Tears fell down her face and I reached out to my friend. She stepped into my embrace and I held her while she composed herself.

“I don’t think any such thing.” I backed up a step so I could see her face. “You were misled. That happens to everyone at some point.” I wiped away her tears. “For what it is worth, I think you are very brave. Raising a little one on your own.”

“When you disappeared everything was thrown into chaos. Then Captain Quinn went missing too. Cipher went a little crazy. She was searching for him, for you, and waiting for Vector to return home from a mission. Then the warships attacked. Dromund Kaas was bombarded from space and it was just me, Cipher and Emmilee.” She paused. Her eyes lost focus, while she remembered the day of the attacks. “I was so scared. But not your sister. She knew exactly what to do. She took charge and got us through it. Vector returned home as soon as he heard about the attacks. He was frantic to know that we were all alright. He actually fell ill once he returned, due to the stress he had been under trying to get home and find out if he had just lost his whole world. Cipher gave him the news that she was expecting your nephew. And things were better for a while. We were fixing broken windows when Khian showed up the first time. Vector still wasn’t in the best health and Khian offered to lend a hand. He had dinner with us that night at Vector’s request. A few days went by and he showed up with some fruit that he thought Vector would like. It went on like this for a long time. He would show up randomly. See if there was anything we needed help with, he would bring different gifts. He knew that I had once made your gowns so he brought me fabric, so I could make a dress for Emmilee. I was so touched by his thoughtfulness.” Her green eyes filled with tears again. I tugged her to her bed so we could sit, and I held her close to my side, her head rested on my shoulder. “Had I known…”

“Letti, I am so sorry. It was my job to protect you. Meli and I both failed you.” She had lived out my worst nightmare. Only she hadn’t known that it was really a nightmare until it was too late. My heart broke for her all over again.

“After a while every gift he brought was for me. Fabric, lace, flowers, jewelry. I felt special. No one, outside of your Papa, you and Cipher gave me gifts. And no one smiled at me the way he did. I am a servant. Why would anyone notice me? But he did, and I thought it was because he actually cared for me. I thought he might actually love me. When I found out I was pregnant I let myself imagine a life where I wasn’t just a servant, I could be a wife and mother, and be the mistress of my own home for once.” Her voice hitched. “He was so cruel. He blamed me. Accused me of trying to tie him down, trap him in a relationship, that was in all honesty “beneath him”. I was just a servant girl, someone he could have fun with. It was my station, to make life more pleasurable for my betters.” Her tears splashed down my tunic, leaving behind little wet circles.

I needed to be here, to console this tender heart, but the rage that was building inside mine as she talked would need a release. Lyo, take your time. Give Pierce hope and then take it away. Make him beg for life, or beg to die, either way. Break him first. And let him know why. Tell him that this is for Letti, every second of pain he feels is payment for what he did to her. Make sure he knows how lucky he is that personally killing him, is beneath me. Otherwise his suffering would be a thousand times greater.

I’m all over this, Emm. He will wish that he never drew breath anywhere near Letti.

Good. Make sure Vin knows not to rush it. Khian Pierce needs to learn a lesson before he dies. Sith are not to be trifled with. I looked down at the blonde head resting on my shoulder. “ How would you like to start over? You and Aden could come to Odessen with me. You wouldn’t be a handmaiden or a servant. You could have a job within the Alliance, and your own quarters.”

She looked up at me, her green eyes wide. “You would do that for me?”

“It is already done. All you have to do is pack.” We sat in silence, Letti lost in her own thoughts, and me in mine.

A soft cry came from Aden’s crib and Letti went to soothe her son. He quieted quickly and she returned to the edge of the bed. “He does this most nights. He isn’t even fully awake, but he breathes rapidly like he is scared of something and he cries out. Once he sees me he settles back into sleep. Maybe a change of scenery will be good for him too.”

“He can feel your fear. Even as little as he is, you are his world and he is scared to lose you.” I whispered so that I wouldn’t wake him.

“How do you know?” She asked quietly.

“Letti, I can feel his feelings, he is too young to know how to shield himself from someone like me. And you know at home I rarely have the need to shield myself. Meli has her implants, and Vector’s mind is so different, having been so changed by becoming a joiner. And you wear your heart on your sleeve. You don’t even try to hide what you are feeling.  Besides I love feeling what Aden, Antony and Emmilee feel. The all encompassing love in this house for them. It reminds me of being home on Alderaan with Papa. He loved us girls dearly, and I have only ever met a couple men that were his equal.” Vector was one of them. Did Meli recognize how rare it was to find a man like Vector? “I will let you get some sleep. Tomorrow I can help you pack. Everything will be better soon, I promise.” I hugged her to me.

“Thank you...Emmy.” She said shyly. My heart felt lighter, as I left her room. She had never called me by my given name. Not even after years of being begged. This was a huge step for her.

I went to my room and lay on top of the covers. I was waiting for some conformation from Lyo that Khian would never plague anyone’s life again. I was shocked by all the things that people kept hidden. Jen being madly in love with Theron. Emmilee and her visions. Meli keeping Phi-Ton a secret, I understood not wanting to share details, but a whole marriage was a big secret to keep, and from the sounds of it, very isolating. And then there was Letti...had Meli known, she could have intervened before Letti came to harm. Lyo and Vin had left an hour and a half ago so I wasn’t surprised that they hadn’t checked in yet. But when three hours had gone by I was starting to wonder how things were going. I rolled to my side and fell asleep before Lyo reached out to let me know that their mission was a success.

I awoke the next morning to a gentle rain pattering against the window. There was a lot to do to get ready to return to Odessen. I was going to help Letti pack her and Aden’s belongings, and then get it loaded into the Arallute. I had promised Jen that I wouldn’t be gone long. Besides I didn’t want to be gone if Jen decided to act on the new knowledge she had and tackled Theron to the ground and threw away all her insecurities. Okay, that wasn’t actually likely to happen, unless I was there to give her the needed push. But a girl could dream.

I changed for the day and opened up a holo frequency. I relaxed a little once Jen answered. “Hi Emm. Everything going alright?”

“Yeah. Ran into a snag, but Lyo and Vin dealt with it.” I said. I wanted to tell her more, but it could wait until I was back on Odessen. “I am leaving tomorrow morning to return to our base.”

“There is no rush Emm. Enjoy your visit with your sister.” Jen smiled.

“That is why I am calling. I need to have two rooms reserved. I need one room right away. Letti is coming with me, along with her son.”

“Letti has a son? How old is he?” I could see she was curious. “Who is his father? Anyone we know?”

“Around nine months, and he is adorable.” I smiled before answering her last question, my smile faltered and I narrowed my eyes. “Khian was his father.”

Her eyes opened wide. “Khian Pierce? I take it he is not coming with you.”

“No. Letti and Aden are coming with me so that they can start over. Khian is in their past.” I answered briskly.

“Okay. I am assuming the other room is for Meli, Vector and Emmilee?” Jen made notes of what Meli would need to make her family comfortable.

“Yes, and Antony. He looks just like his father...well like Vector would look, if he were unjoined.” I quickly explained.

“Alright, so they will need a larger space with some privacy.” She looked at a map and figured out where to put my sister and her family.

“Yes. But Meli has some things to do first. So if it will take longer to get those rooms prepared we have a little time. Letti’s quarters are a priority.” I wanted to make sure that everything would be taken care of for her before we got there.

Jen nodded. “Done. Anything else?”

“Yes, please tell me that you, and you know who are making progress!” I grinned mischievously.

Jen shook her head. “Emm, I am hanging up now…”

“Oh come on, after that kiss in the war room?” I giggled.

“I mean it!” Jen warned.

“Alright fine.” I pouted. “It is better this way, I want to be there to see it all unfold.” I winked at her.

“Goodbye Emm, see you in a couple of days.”  She said quickly before closing our connection.

I rose and left my room behind. It was time to start packing.

 

Chapter Text

I raised my fist and knocked again. I heard Vin shifting beside me in anticipation. I let out a frustrated sigh as another drop of rain trickled under my robes and ran down my back. Finally a light switched on and Khian answered the door. “What do you two want? Did my lord change her mind about getting the crew back together?” Khian grinned coldly. “Why she would want any of them around though is beyond me. Although Jaesa was a nice bit of eye candy. The little Twi'lek wasn’t bad either. Both of them paled in comparison to my lord though. Now that is a fine piece…”

Vin took a step towards Khian, his lekku twisting angrily behind his back. “For your sake, stop

talking.” His hand rested on his hilt, reminding Khian who he was dealing with.

I looked at Vin and shook my head slightly. Khian had given me an idea. I turned back to him and plastered a fake smile on my face. “Emm and her sister needed some time alone so we decided to make ourselves scarce. We were going to get some drinks.”

Khian arched a dark eyebrow. “And you thought that I had nothing better to do than spend the evening with the two of you?”

“I told Emm this was a waste of time. He hasn’t  changed.” Vin growled and started to turn away.

Khian reached out and grabbed Vin's shoulder. “Wait, what do you mean?”

“Surely you know about Sith appetites.” I smiled knowingly. Khian had given Vin and I a way in without intending to and we were going to exploit it. “Emm has been locked away in carbonite for five years…”

He should have known better than to fall into our trap. There was no way in hell Emm would ever give Khian what we were pretending to offer. But his eyes clouded over with lust. “Why me?” He shook his head slowly, trying to make sense of his good fortune.

“Who knows? Her little welp of a husband can't be found.” Vin scoffed.

“After seeing you in the market today she admitted she had always been curious.” Just saying it made my skin crawl. “She can't wait to get her hands on you.” At least the last part was true.

“Why didn't she come here herself? We could already be knocking down walls.” Khian crossed his arms and looked at me skeptically.

I lowered my voice. “She wanted to be discreet. She knows you are Aden's father. Letti can never know.”

“No need to worry about Letti. She was fun, but a little too docile for me. Emm though...I heard her and Quinn. Everyone on the ship did. It makes me hard just thinking about it. I can give just as rough as she can.” Khian boasted.

I could see the fantasies he had stored up in his head and my stomach rolled. I heard the quiet crackle of lightning between Vin's fingers. Emm was our friend, our sister. Seeing her in Khian’s mind, dressed in various stages of black leather, her lithe body wrapped around him, was disturbing to say the least. The fantasy Emm he had conjured was not the Emm I knew. She was full of darkness her eyes had a soft reddish glow, not the clear blue eyes I knew so well. This was who she would have become without Quinn's influence. I never thought I would actually be grateful to the Imperial for helping shape her into who she was.

Vin shifted his weight and glowered at Khian. “Do you want to go out for drinks while we wait for Emm to join us, or not?”

Khian deliberated for a moment, his dark eyes shifting between Vin and I. Finally he made up his mind. “Let me grab my jacket.” He stepped into his small living room and grabbed a black jacket off the back of a chair. “Let's go.”

We found a seedy cantina that was dark and had cheap drinks. Vin and I grabbed some beers and ordered a round of shots while Khian found us seats. We joined him just in time for our shots to arrive. Our waitress was a beautiful Twi'lek, with sky blue skin and darker blue markings. Twi’leks were my kryptonite and this one was no exception. She wore a tight white top and a short black skirt with boots that laced all the way up her legs. She smiled tightly as Khian appraised her. She placed our glasses on the table and I slid a credit stick into her hand. She looked up at me with her startling green eyes and smiled a genuine smile. Her fingers tightened around mine and I stood to follow her. I tossed a smirk back at the table on my way to a small VIP room.

“Before we get started, thank you. The man you are sitting with has a reputation.” A small shudder ran through her. “I am Haru.”

“Haru, it is nice to meet you. I have a special favor to ask of you.” I stepped closer to her and stroked one of her lekku, enjoying the tactile response she had to my touch.

“There are rules...no couples, no bondage…”

“No bondage?” I chuckled quietly. “No need for your rules. What I need from you is a call in about an hour.”

Haru looked at me perplexed as I keyed my number into her wrist comm. “A call?”

I nodded slowly while lowering my lips to her ear cone. “Just say you are running late but you are on your way to the spaceport.” My teeth grazed her slender neck and she shuddered with delight.

I backed her against the wall and slid my hand under her shirt. Her eyes dilated and her breaths were shallow and rapid. With a move that was very well practiced Haru undid the buckle on my belt and it landed with a thud at my feet. Her hands were in my hair, pulling me closer. Her lips on mine, hungry and insistent. I lifted her off her feet and pushed her against the steel wall. Her long legs wrapped around my waist and she ground herself against me. She let out a desperate sound and bit my lower lip.  I tugged her black skirt higher and cupped her backside. She clung to my shoulders and closed her eyes, with a lust drunken smile on her face. For the briefest moment I imagined spending countless nights intertwined with Haru. She was gorgeous, and damn if she didn't feel hot pressed up against me. But it wouldn't last, she wasn't part of my future plans.

There was a knock on the door to the VIP room and a loud voice yelled from the other side. “Haru, you have tables waiting for you.”

Haru leaned her head against the wall. “Damn, that's my boss. Rain check?”

“Definitely.” I growled. I set her back on her feet and took a step back so she could get through the door. “Don't forget to call me.”

She winked at me over her shoulder and disappeared into the dimly lit cantina. I grabbed my belt and settled it back around my hips before I rejoined Vin and Khian. I nodded to Vin. Everything was in place. We ordered more drinks and settled in while we waited for the signal. Vin and I nursed our drinks while Khian kept tossing them back. We argued about the hutt ball game that was playing on the holonet. The Kaas City Storm was playing the Mos Eisley Krayts. To anyone else we would look like three pals out for drinks. Nothing that would draw undue attention.

Khian slammed his glass on the table. “Boys, this has been fun, but looks like Emm is a no show. Should have known it was too good to be true.” He slapped me on the back and he let out a loud guffaw. I grit my teeth together. This was all necessary to our plan, but I felt dirty pretending to be friends with him, after all he had put Emm and Lettie through. At least this would all be over tonight and Khian Pierce would never be able to hurt either of them again.

“Give her a few more minutes. At least until the game is over.” I suggested.

Khian stood and braced himself against the table for a second. “Gotta take a leak. If she hasn't shown by the time I get back I am calling it a night.”

Once Khian was out of sight I quickly went over the plans. “Emm wants us to take our time, Khian must suffer.”

Vin's eyes darkened. “I wouldn't have it any other way.”

I waved Haru over. “Time to settle our bill gorgeous.” I placed another credit stick in her hand and lowered my voice. “I am ready for that call.”

Haru nodded and took the credits to the register and disappeared in the back. Khian emerged from the refresher just as my wrist started beeping. I hit the key and patched the call through. “Hey Emm. Where are you?”

A feminine voice spoke from my comm. “I am sorry I am running late.”

I chuckled. “I can see that. Everything okay?”

“Yeah. Change of plans. Meet me at the space port?”

“Alright. See you there.” I disconnected the call and stood. “To the spaceport.”

Khian nodded and grabbed his jacket as Vin stood to join us. “I know my way, I don’t need an escort. Besides what is wrong with my place?”

“We are staying on my ship. There wasn't room for us with Meli.” I explained. “It's all about discretion, remember? Emm can’t be seen going into your house. We are buddies watching a game together, going back to my ship to play cards, catching up after all these years.”

“So we all will be aboard your ship?” Khian's dark eyes looked me up and down, sizing me up. “You two stay out of my way.” He poked me in the chest and tossed a scornful look at Vin.

I felt a shudder run down my back. I didn't like what he was implying. “I wouldn't dream of getting in your way.”

“Can we get going now?” Vin growled. He was growing impatient with this farce. Then again he was almost always impatient, so his behavior wouldn't alert Khian that something was off.

I pulled my hood up as we headed back out into the rain. The dive we had chosen thankfully wasn't far from the spaceport and more importantly the jungle beyond. Once we were between the outer walls of Kaas City and the outskirts of the spaceport the rain picked up. I led the way from the path and into the dense jungle. The storm concealing us from view.

“Hey, where are we going?” Khian shouted over the thunder.

“Keep moving.” Vin ordered.

“The spaceport is back that way!” Khian gestured wildly to our left.

I stopped and waited for Khian to draw right up next to me and I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck. “You actually thought that Emm would ever sleep with you. After what you did to Letti? You think that Vin and I would let that happen?”

Vin shrugged a shoulder. “What Emm does with her downtime is no concern of mine.” His voice turned icy. “But you disrespected my wife.” Lightning crackled between his fingertips. “We are here to teach you a very valuable lesson that you never learned, despite answering to Sith your whole life.”

I stepped around Khian and glared at him. “Crossing us is very dangerous. One could even say deadly.” With that I tightened my grip and moved back to his side as I pushed him forward. “Keep moving.”

The three of us moved deeper into the jungle. I could sense wild animals lurking in the dark. Curious about the intruders that were disturbing their rest. Others were stalking us through the foliage hoping for an easy meal.

Khian walked with his head held high, his shoulders squared. I could sense his mind working overtime. He was confident that he could get away. He wasn't nearly as scared as he should have been. But that was about to change. I found a place that would suit our purpose. Far enough from any path that any unsuspecting acolyte would stray down. Here under the dense trees the rain was barely trickling down, making it more comfortable for Vin and I to do our work.

“Emm won't stand for this. She is too attuned to the light side to be okay with you killing me. Hell she didn't kill that bootlick of hers after he worked with Baras to kill her.” Khian looked smug. “She isn't even a proper Sith.”

“For someone that served under her for years you don't really know Emm very well. You hurt someone that she loves. She ordered your death.” I looked out at the jungle around us, we were being watched by at least four predators. I touched each of their minds, subduing them. They would be fed soon enough, they just needed patience.

“Then why didn't she come out here to do the job? Because she knew she didn't have the guts to do it.” Khian sneered. “No, she isn't strong enough, so she sent you two.”

Fury was welling up in my chest and I wanted to strike him down and be done with his useless prattling. But I thought of Letti, and how utterly broken she was. “I came out of a sense of duty to Letti and her son Aden. They don't deserve to be plagued by your presence. Emm sent me, because killing you is beneath her .” I threw his words back in his face.

Khian threw his head back and laughed. “You care for the handmaiden and her runt?”

I nodded at Vin. Lightning flowed from him into the back of Khian's legs. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground in front of me. “You are damn right I care about them.” I slid my hand into my robes and pulled out a small knife. The metal flashed as I twirled it between my fingers. “You are about to see how much.”

A slash opened up on Khian's right cheek and blood trickled slowly down his face. Another slash appeared on his forehead above his left eye. Before he could react Vin had already started healing the wounds.

Vin leaned over Khian's back and whispered in his ear. “We are going to continue this until Lyo is satisfied.”

“That could take hours.” It was not a threat, it was a statement of fact. He was not going to go quickly or easily. I reached inside my robes and produced two more knives. Their thin blades would serve my purposes. Khian eyed the knives wearily. I handed one of them to Vin and turned the remaining blade in my hands. I looked Khian in the eye and smiled cruelly. “This is going to hurt.”

I slid the tip of my blade into the notch between Khian's collarbone and his shoulder blade. Khian screamed in agony as the knife was embedded, his scream was drowned out by the thunder overhead.  Finally the reality of the situation had hit him. He was going to die if he didn't make a run for it. He struggled to get to his feet, groping with his left hand for something to help pull him up off his knees. He got up and stumbled forward a few steps, stopping abruptly when he saw the Vine Cat slinking towards him. It growled as it caught the scent of blood in the air and bared its sharp rows of teeth. Khian looked around taking in the predators that had us surrounded. There was nowhere for him to run. Again I reached out to subdue the creatures, sending the Vine Cat to slink back to the shadows to wait.

I held my hand out for the remaining knife and Vin handed it back without a word. I stepped up behind Khian and pushed him to his knees. Like the first knife, this one was embedded into Khian's left shoulder, now both arms dangled uselessly at his sides. I moved around Khian so that I could face him. "Let's get started."

He looked up at me, his dark hair disheveled and dripping from the rain, his dark eyes full of terror. "Let me go. I will go to some backwater planet. I won't ever bother Emm or Letti again."

Vin chuckled darkly behind Khian. "That isn't how this works."

I shook my head slowly. "Vin and I…" I pointed to Vin and then myself. "We are Emm's guarantee that you won't ever darken the doorstep of anyone she cares about again. We are Letti's guarantee that she can move on and have a happy life without fear that you will show up to ruin it. We are Aden's guarantee that he will have a future without your influence."

"I will leave tonight, take the first shuttle to Hoth or Taris…" Khian faltered. "I won't even go home to pack."

I looked at Vin, pretending to consider Khian’s request. Vin let out a theatrical sigh. “That does us no good. You see, when you screw up, and you will, then Lyo and I will have to track you down and do this all over again.” He stepped around Khian and came up beside me. “I don’t want to have to do this again. Do you Lyo?” I shook my head no. He turned back to Khian. “Do you really want to go through this again Pierce?”

“I will never give you reason to look for me...please.” His voice cracked and he looked from Vin to me. "Please."

In unison Vin and I advanced on Khian. The predators slunk forward, closing ranks around us.

Chapter Text

It was dark, and the base was asleep. I had just left Letti and Aden to get settled into their new quarters. I really hoped that this would be the fresh start they both so desperately needed. Maybe having her nearby would be the healing balm I needed too. I walked the empty corridors, my footsteps a whisper against the cold metal floor. I trailed a hand along the rocky wall, feeling where the drills had cut into the ancient hillside to make the base. I passed a soldier who was dozing on his watch, snoring softly. He looked strangely familiar, but he wasn't who I was looking for. They never were.

Unshed tears burned the back of my eyes. I stepped outside into the cool night and looked up into the stars. Where was Quinn? Why wasn't he here? The ache in my chest was unbearable and needed release. I looked over the railing at the sheer drop below, it would be so easy to just fall. My pain would finally end. But it would hurt him and I couldn't be the cause of more pain. I gripped the railing in front of me as tightly as I could, my knuckles white from the exertion. I sank to my knees. I couldn't do this without him. The galaxy asked too much of me. It took too much from me. The stars blurred, their cold light shining from far away. He was out there. Somewhere.

Ever since that night on Alderaan, when he placed an arallute in my hand and he had wound his hands in my hair as he breathed in my scent, I had been his. I was only seventeen then, and I knew nothing of the world outside of my home, but I would have run away with him if he had only asked. From the moment that our eyes had met, I felt something I had never felt before. I wanted something for me. Even now, all these years later Malavai was the only thing that I wanted to keep for myself. I had gladly gone into battle, had given everything in service to the Empire, had risen above the Dark Council and been named the Emperor’s Wrath. But when I came back to the Arallute, I was just that young girl that loved her Captain with all her heart.

We had been separated for five years and who knew how much longer he would be kept from me. The Sith in me wanted nothing more than to go planet to planet and systematically search their prisons myself for my missing husband. I would raise as many prisons as I needed to get my point across. Until they returned Malavai to me. Whoever was behind his incarceration would pay dearly for their mistake. The more rational part of me knew that we had bigger issues to deal with. The Alliance was still in its infancy and needed all of us here filling our roles. It would be selfish to go running off to search for him. Especially with no idea of where to start.

I was so absorbed in my own thoughts I hadn't heard the light tread of boots coming up behind me. "I am sorry, I don't mean to intrude." Theron hesitated as he held up a blanket. The breeze had turned cold against my bare arms. He settled the gray material around my shoulders and crouched before me. His golden eyes, friendly, but wary as he looked from me to the edge of the platform. "I know this is still an adjustment for you. Everything has changed overnight. You have friends here though." He ran a hand through his brown hair. "Let's get you inside. I’ll make some tea." He cast another worried glance over the edge of the platform. He extended his hand to me, warm and steady. He helped me to my feet and readjusted the blanket around me. He stepped to my side, between me and the sheer drop. I slipped my arm through his as he lead us back inside to my quarters.

I remembered another lifetime, walking arm in arm with Malavai. It was one of the happiest days of my life. He had worn an impressive black Imperial suit with gold trim. He had looked so regal, tall, and proud, his green eyes warm and full of love. I had worn a beautiful white gown with green accents, to match his eyes. I had worn my hair down, with arallute flowers woven into my curls, like the night we had first danced together. Vector had walked me down the aisle in place of my father. I hoped that he was looking down and smiling on Malavai and I's union. Meli, Letti, Jen, Vette and Jaesa waited with Malavai. Everyone had happy tears in their eyes as Vector and I made our way to them.  Vector placed my hand in Malavai's and kissed my cheek before moving to stand behind Malavai. We  tied our lives and fates to one another. He was all I had ever wanted, and now he was mine. I took his arm and we walked  back through the cathedral as husband and wife. We thought we had our whole lives ahead of us, and that we would be together for every step of it. There had been so much potential. We could have been extraordinary. My breath hitched in my chest, earning a sideways glance from Theron.

We entered my quarters and Theron fumbled around in my small kitchen making tea. He poured a cup and placed it in front of me. "Sorry, tea isn't really my thing." He said sheepishly. He pulled out a chair and sat across from me. "I just want you to know, I am doing everything I can to locate your people. It's just with the threat from Zakuul, it has been slow going." He rested his head in one of his hands. "So...tonight?" He paused, waiting for me to acknowledge how close I was to the edge. When I didn't respond he spoke again gently. "Are you alright?"

I sipped my tea, while I thought how much to tell him. "No, Theron, I am not okay." My voice hitched. I looked down at the flowery band that encircled my finger and collected my thoughts.

"You want to talk about it? I am an excellent listener. Part of my SIS training." He smiled softly.

"I never wanted this. I feel like such a fool. I followed the Emperor, was his Wrath. I had wanted to change the Sith from the inside. Rid the order of the infighting. I tried to make decisions that would make the Empire stronger. Not just what met my passing fancy at any given moment. When I was chosen to be his Wrath, I was proud. More importantly it gave me immunity from killing Baras. The Emperor wanted it done. What is more, I wanted it done! Vitiate knew how much I hated my old master. He used my hatred to manipulate me. He twisted my plans to accomplish his goals. Until that point every decision I made had been mine. After Ziost...I refocused, I knew I had to finish this. The Emperor had to be stopped at all costs. Had I known what that decision would cost me..."

Theron nodded and took a deep breath. "Ziost changed everything. We all lost something."

I looked down again at the ring on my finger. "Tonight is our anniversary. The things I love most in this world. They are lost to me. Malavai..." A jagged tear pulsed through my heart when I said his name. It was painful to talk about him. "We had talked about having children. No one would be better loved, or better protected. We had so many plans..." Tears blurred my vision again. Theron took my cold hand in his warm hand, and held it while I composed myself. When I finally felt in control of my tears I looked up at him. "Thank you for listening."

"Anytime, Emm." He said sincerely.

I noticed the faint circles under his eyes. "You look tired."

He withdrew his hand from mine and stretched. "You know me. I don't sleep well. Too dedicated to my work." He sighed. "In truth? I don't sleep because I can't stop thinking..." He didn't elaborate.

"Theron, you are among friends." I turned his words on him, earning one of his patented smirks.

He leaned back in his chair and crossed his ankles. "I fear I am distracted. Distractions could cost people their lives." Where had I heard that before? I chuckled quietly to myself. "I have been a Republic spy my whole life. I don't know another way. Not unlike the Jedi, I have forbidden myself attachments. I didn't want to put someone else in danger if an op went wrong. I denied my feelings for years. First because what I wanted didn't matter, it was impossible. Then because I thought the Emperor had succeeded and the world was ending. For a little while it did end. At least for me. I even came to Wild Space to help Quinn look for you and Jen." He blushed lightly when he said her name. "Then one day I get a holo from Lana. She says she has found you both. She is mounting a rescue. She has a planet picked out for us to stage from. But there is a lot to do behind the scenes, and while she is breaking you out and getting you here she needs me to get all the logistics set up. I jumped at the chance."

"And this distraction you spoke of?" I asked him, arching a brow. I already knew his predicament. But wanted to hear him admit to his feelings.

He rolled his shoulders and groaned as he leaned forward towards the table. "Jen. I am in love with her. I have been for years. You understand the complications." He looked at me, hopeful he wouldn't have to elaborate.

I nodded. "Torian. He wrote her and said he would honor her in battle, but he had accepted that she was dead. He has moved on. Shouldn't she be able to do the same?"

Theron ran his hand through his hair again. "Now isn't the time. She says she isn't ready. I can continue to be her friend. Give her the time she needs."

I almost smiled. "Theron, don't make her wait too long. She isn't hurting like me. She has closure. She knows where she stands. I won't lie, she was angry when she read his letter, and even more so when she read her brother's letter. But she realized it was probably for the best. I don't think she expects to live through this war. Having the Emperor in your head...well, it is hard enough when you have the force to fight his control. She has no defenses. Maybe if she had something to look forward to, rather than just an end to Zakuul's oppression. If she knew that you wouldn't leave her when all is said and done?"

"Leave her? Where would I go? The Republic isn't my home anymore."

"Theron, I think that is what she is scared of the most. Being left, again. Yavin was hard, but Ziost almost broke her. She used the excuse of all life being wiped out on that planet, as her reason for being so heartbroken. But I knew that wasn't really what weighed on her heart."

His eyes widened. "That isn't fair Emm. I didn't have a choice, and besides, she was married."

"I understand that, she understands that." I hadn't meant to upset him. I just wanted him to see where her fear was stemming from. "But when she got the letter from Torian, he only reinforced her fear that she was someone that could be easily left behind.”

“Well, Torian is an idiot.” Theron hissed. I almost laughed as he realized that he had said the words out loud.

“You will get no argument from me.” I shook my head. I had always gotten along with Torian, he was easy enough to like. But my alliance was to Jen, first and foremost. And he had hurt her.

Theron looked at me with a strange mix of curiosity and embarrassment. “Hey, I have been meaning to ask. Jen says that you told her that we have some kind of force connection.”

“I did.” I smiled.

“I know you and Quinn have a connection. And Jen and I. Who else around here has one?” His eyes sparkled with mischief.

“You aren’t going to go around trying to fix people up are you?” I teased.

“No!” He put his hands up in feigned offense.

“Good. That is my job.” I grinned back at him. “Vin and Vette also have a connection. As do Meli and Vector, Lyo and Letti, and Distiago and Mako.”

“How does that work?”

“I feel people's emotions. I learned long ago to shield myself, to close off that part of my power. But when I open myself to it, I can feel everything the person in front of me is feeling." Theron's eyes grew wide. "Don't worry, your implants keep me out. Because I can feel their feelings, I can also feel their connections to those around them. The easiest way I can explain it would be to envision a ribbon tied at your waist. It is white and pristine, until you meet the person that you share a bond with. Then both ribbons become a single golden tether.”

“Quite literally joined at the hip.” He chuckled at his own joke.

“Yes. But there are also other bonds. Ones that aren't necessarily as strong or as permanent. They are silver, they tie you to your family and to your friends.”

"What if a bond gets broken?” He asked.

“The ribbon is damaged, it is dark red, torn and scorched.”

“That must be a huge burden to carry.” He whispered.

I nodded. “Senya wears one at her waist.” I replied sadly. "There are many different types of bonds, some people have more than one, others go through life without one. And then there are the ones that are, thankfully, rare, that only happen because of something catastrophic. They are black and smokey, they writhe with darkness."

"That doesn't sound ominous." Theron quipped. “I saw a lot of different abilities in my brief stint on Tython, but nothing like yours.” Theron looked at me curiously again.

“Even stranger that it would manifest in someone destined to live in the Empire and serve as the Wrath. But there you have it. It served me well when I was training to be a diplomat. But once I became a Sith there were times that it almost became a liability.” I sighed.

“What do you mean?” He asked.

“I had to fool my masters. They had to believe that I was capable of great atrocities. I could not show weakness.”

“Weak is one of the last words I would use to describe you.”

“Then I have played my part well.” I smiled. “Walking the light is a dangerous path inside the Empire. There are those that would call me weak for choosing to spare an opponent. It is not usually the Sith way to be merciful, they like to be more definitive. I, on the other hand don’t like to waste a good asset if I can avoid it. And if I could feel their remorse I could not strike them down.” That had been what spared Malavai after his failed betrayal. When he looked up at me from the floor, his green eyes full of regret. I could feel the hatred rolling off him, for himself, for Baras. When I had moved closer to him, trying to figure out my next move I felt resignation. He had been forced into a struggle between two powerful Sith, and he walked into this knowing that he would be killed by either Baras or myself. I lifted my sabers and he closed his eyes ready to meet his fate, and all I felt was love, unending, all encompassing love. There was no fear, no bargaining. His last moments were filled with thoughts of me, of how much he loved me. My sabers disengaged as they clattered to the floor and I wrapped my arms around him, holding him to me. I could not strike him down without destroying myself as well. I definitely had a weakness and there were those that knew how to exploit it.

He stood. "I should let you get some sleep. I need to grab a couple of hours myself." He turned to the door.

"Theron." He turned to face me as I stepped around the table towards him. "Thank you again." I brushed my lips against his cheek.

His arms encircled me in a friendly embrace. He released me and readjusted the blanket I still wore around my shoulders. "Goodnight Emm."

Once Theron was gone the light feeling that had filled me dissipated. I crawled into my empty bed and wrapped the blanket tightly around me. I stared at the empty pillow, the space Malavai would occupy if he was here. My chest felt as empty as my bed. As empty as my future.

Chapter Text

Koth, Jen and Emm walked into the war room together, Jen was whispering something quietly to Emm and she shook her head no to an unspoken question. I smiled to myself as Jen shoved Emm in the shoulder. The smaller Chiss woman pushing around a powerful Sith was endearing. She looked up at me and smiled. “You summoned us, Theron. You said you had leads on allies?”

“Leads, yes. Commitments no. Lana’s still working on the major players. Meanwhile, there’s a potential ally on Zakuul we have been ignoring. Firebrand.”

“Your information is faulty. Firebrand’s not on our side.” Koth spoke up from behind Jen’s shoulder.

“Firebrand?” Emm looked at Koth for more information.

“An unidentified individual who arrived on Zakuul two years ago. She has carried out bombings in the Spire, targeting military and civilian venues.” Scorpio answered instead.

“That makes her a terrorist, not an ally.” Koth argued.

“That makes her both. Look, I am not thrilled with the idea, but we’re in no position to get choosy. She’s done as much damage as we have.”

Jen looked at me, her mouth turned down unhappily. “Koth has a point. Is there anyone we won’t ally with?”

“I’m just saying we talk. Besides, look around this place, not many clean hands here.” I looked around the room, from Lana to Koth, to Scorpio, Emm and back to Jen.

“What does she want?” Emm interjected.

“Based on her rambling audio manifestation, she’s an anarchist, looking to bring down Emperor Arcann’s “perfect society.” I answered.

Scorpio looked up from the console. “There are elements of the Spire’s population who create artwork in her honor. They even trade holograms of her handiwork.”

Lana looked at both Emm and Jen in turn. “If she’s survived fighting Zakuul so long and she’s connected with the populace, she’s worth investigating.”

“All right. We’ll make contact. Scorpio, you’re the expert on the Zakuul underworld.” Emm kicked into delegation mode.

“The Lady of Sorrows could offer high-yield explosives to draw her out.” Scorpio offered.

Jen offered to go before Emm could even speak up. “Fine, get started. I’ll head to Zakuul.” I caught the look that passed between the two women and the nod that Jen gave Emm.

“I’m backup if you need it.” I would not send her to Zakuul while I waited safely on Odessen. I could not let her set foot on the planet that Arcann ruled from, without eyes on her. Jen clearly had the same thought about Emm. She was being overprotective, she didn’t want to put Emm in Arcann’s path again just yet. But that put Jen in the line of fire. Right where Jen wanted to be, she loved the thrill. Which meant I was going to be in the line of fire too. I didn’t mind, I could use the action. And I would be there watching her back. The sway of her hips, the dip in her lower back, just before the swell of her...Snap out of it Theron, you have work to do.

“Just be careful--Arcann’s still hunting for you, and Firebrand may not be the ally we’re hoping.” Lana cautioned us. Jen and I filed past Koth and I tried hard to ignore the pained expression on his face. He clearly felt we were doing the wrong thing by even talking to Firebrand. She was terrorizing his planet after all.

We boarded my shuttle and I ran preflight checks. Jen came into the cockpit and sat in the copilot seat sideways, her legs hanging over the arm of chair. She was biting her bottom lip and she looked like something was bothering her. “Jen, what’s the matter?”

“Hmm?” She turned to look at me slowly. “Oh. I was just thinking about our last conversation…”

“Are you worried about allying with an anarchist?”

“Aren’t you?” She shook her head slightly. “But that wasn't the conversation I was referring to.”

I ran through all of our recent conversations, endless briefings about the war with Zakuul, planning for the future of the Alliance. “I’m going to need a hint here, we talk every day.”

I watched as she sifted through her thoughts. Her eyes flickering between me, the viewport and back to me. “The one in the war room…” That charming purple blush spread across her cheeks, as she looked up at me from under her dark lashes.

I fought the urge to laugh, clearly this was hard for her. “Jen, all of our conversations have taken place in the war room. Would it help if I guessed?”

She stuck out her lower lip. “Now I feel like you are teasing me.”

“Maybe just a little.” I grinned at her. “Jen, if you are referring to our conversation shortly after I arrived on Odessen, I am more than happy to revisit that topic.”

“I can't help but feel I made a mistake…” She looked me straight in the eye and I felt trapped in her ruby gaze. Her next words were either my doom or my salvation. “Theron, I want to give us a chance. I am ready to see where this leads.”

I exhaled. She was ready to take the leap! I stood up from my seat and moved around to the copilot seat and grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet. “Jen, we can figure this out together.” I swept her bangs out of her eyes and lifted her chin. “I can't make you any promises, I am not good at relationships. But I know there is a reason that you and I keep being placed in each other's paths.”

She smiled slightly. “What reason is that?” Her whisper didn't hide the nervous tremor in her voice.

I chuckled. “I don't have all the answers.” I pressed my lips against hers and suddenly the answers didn't matter. All that mattered was that she was finally, officially, my girl! I had waited for this day since she sauntered into my life, seven long years ago. I would never have to watch her walk out of my life again. To return to another man’s arms, in a part of the galaxy that I wasn’t welcome.

Jen pulled away from me slightly and gnawed on her lip again. “Can you do me a favor?”

“For you?” I was taken aback. She had never had asked me for a favor. “Anything.”

“Don’t tell Emm. Or anyone for that matter. I want to keep it a secret for a little bit.” Her cheeks turned purple again.

“Jen, I am a spy. I was trained for this.” I waited for her giggles to die down. “I can keep it a secret until you are ready to tell your Sith buddies.”

“Thank you. I just want to enjoy this for as long as we can before Emm starts pestering me for details.” She shook her head slightly. I knew it for what it was, her way of rolling her eyes. “She is going to be so obnoxious.”

I had to laugh. “Jen, she just wants you to be happy.”

“I know, I know. She is my best friend. And most of the time we are on the same wavelength. But when it comes to you…” She paused.

“What?” I coaxed.

“She is persistent. I want to discover what we have between us, not take her word for it.” Jen took a deep breath. “She seems to have already made up her mind about us. We are meant to be.”

I laughed again. “Emm told me not to wait too long. That you were just scared.”

“She’s a smart woman.” Jen smiled.

“Beautiful too.” I smirked at Jen as I braced myself for the punch that she landed on my shoulder. “Ouch!. Okay I deserved that.” I laughed.

“It wouldn’t even cross Emm’s mind to give you the time of day. She is so wholly focused on Quinn that no man could ever replace him. So you can forget about that particular fantasy.” Jen teased.

I lifted Jen’s chin and looked into her eyes. “There is only one girl that I have fantasies about, and she isn’t a prissy Sith.”

“Hey, that’s my best friend you are talking about!” Jen argued playfully. “Wait! You have fantasies...about me?” Her cheeks flushed again.

I could feel my cheeks burning too. “I...wait...I never said that.” I scrubbed a hand through my hair. She had me dead to rights.

“I’m feeling generous, I’ll let you off the hook.” She reached up on her toes and nipped at my lower lip. Her red eyes danced with amusement. “This time.”

We spent the rest of our trip to Zakuul learning tons of tiny details about each other. Her favorite color was red, same as mine. She loved pod races, but hated the crashes. Her favorite things to do in her downtime were to read holo novels about space pirates and listen to music. We had so much music in common. We reminisced about our time on Manaan, Rishi and Yavin. We came close to the point of actually telling each other how felt. But we both chickened out. It was too soon. Too soon? Seven years of being in love with her was too soon to tell her what she meant to me? I was a fool.

We landed on Zakuul and I followed Jen into the tunnels that led into the underworld. We met no resistance until we came to the coordinates that we were supposed to meet Firebrand at. Someone had apparently attracted some unwanted attention. Jen and I engaged the group of Skytroopers and cleared the way to our rendezvous point.

Behind a barricade was a Rattataki woman, who stepped out into the open once the Skytroopers were all eliminated. “About five levels down, there’s this one Skytrooper. Totally wrong program--likes to give back rubs. Best thing Zakuul ever did.”

“Well, I know where I’m going next.” I joked playfully to break the ice.

“You, shut up. You...why do I think you don’t have my explosives?” The Rattataki pulled her blaster and shoved it in Jen’s face. My heart stopped for a fraction of  a second, until my instincts kicked in, my hands inched towards my blaster, and I kept my eyes on Jen waiting for her signal.

“You are outnumbered and outgunned. Trust me, you don’t want to start shooting.” Jen warned her. She hadn’t pulled her blasters yet and part of me was impressed with her bravery, the other was screaming at her internally.  

“You have no idea what I want.” The Rattataki snarled.

“Besides explosives.” Jen joked.

“Fair point.” the Rattataki lowered her blaster.

I stepped forward, closer to Jen. “You are Firebrand, right?”

“Just “Kaliyo” is fine. Firebrand’s what the locals call me to brighten up their sad little lives.” She pointed at Jen. “And I guess you’re the big mean “Outlander”? I heard what you did at the droid factory. Place almost melted down. Would’ve been more impressive if it had, but the blackout was kind of fun. What brings you here?”

“I’m building an alliance against Arcann. You’ve got skills and resources I need.” Jen explained.

“I’m not a good team player.” Kaliyo turned and stalked away. I looked to Jen to see what her next move was going to be. She gave me a small grimace and followed Kaliyo. “Look, I’m in the middle of something big. You kind of stole my thunder with the factory, and you lied about bringing explosives, so that’s two points against you.”

“We also just saved you from Skytroopers.” I pointed out.

“Yeah--true--and there are more coming, so I could use the backup. You want to tag along, we can talk and work.” Kaliyo shrugged.

Jen nodded in agreement. “I’m going to need details. But not here.”

“Like I said, you stole my thunder. Now I’m stealing it back.” Kaliyo turned again and stalked towards a lift.

I turned to Jen, as much as I hated the thought of leaving her alone with this clearly dangerous woman I trusted Jen, she could take care of herself. “I’ll leave you to it--there’s a contact I need to meet.” Jen took my hand briefly and gave it a reassuring squeeze. I would be monitoring everything through her earpiece and I could be wherever she needed me quickly. I just hoped that it wouldn’t come to that.

I sat at the bar of the cantina waiting for my contact to get in touch. Jen and Kaliyo were setting detonators around the Old World. I was only half listening to their conversation, but I picked up on the edge to Jen’s voice. Instantly I was focused on the conversation that was going on between her and Kaliyo. “What kind of contact?” Jen asked.

“A local. Won’t take long, but get too close and you will scare her off.” Kaliyo sounded as if she was moving away. I would soon lose her altogether if she got too far from Jen.

I pulled up the maps I had downloaded of Zakuul and pinpointed their position. “Jen, everything okay down there?”

I heard her calm steady breath, which eased some of my tension. “Everything is good. Kaliyo is meeting with a local girl. She’s young Theron, she doesn’t look like she is even out of her teens.”

“How old were you when you ran off to join the Great Hunt?” I teased.

“Shh. This is different.” Jen whispered back. I could picture her doing her little head shake. “I had Distiago to look out for me. This girl looks scared.”

I found a camera nearby and sliced into the audio feed so I could hear Kaliyo’s conversation. I piggy backed it to Jen’s earpiece so she wouldn’t be in the dark, just in case she needed to hightail it out of there if things went sideways.

“Firebrand? Everything’s ready, I’ve got the Overwatch data, and the rest...the rest is done too.” The girl said. Her voice shook a little with fear, but we could hear her clearly.

“Good girl. Who says you can’t get your hands dirty?” Kaliyo praised.

“Listen, the others...they’re out. They won’t say anything, but they’re getting their scars fixed, it’s not fun anymore.” The girl said quietly.

Kaliyo chuckled. “Yeah, well they’re morons. We’ve got each other.”.

“I need to go.” The girl said quickly.

“Don’t forget...you cause me problems, those scars can get deeper.” Kaliyo threatened her.

My pulse picked up. “Jen?”

“Stand down. She let the girl walk away. She is on her way back.” Jen whispered.

“Idiots and cowards, every one of them. I’ve met Alderaanian nobles less pampered, more backbone, too.” Kaliyo ranted.

“Care to explain what that exchange was about?” Jen asked. I knew her well enough to know that she was concerned about the girl, and the others that had been too scared to show their faces.

“I’ve picked up a few fans over the years. That girl? Daughter of the Overwatch administrator.” Kaliyo boasted. I was already looking up personnel files on the Overwatch administrator and his daughter so I could come up with a plan to protect her from Kaliyo if things went wrong.

“Why is she helping you?” Jen asked. Her voice even, but cool. She did not approve of whatever Kaliyo had been doing, or of threatening the girl, but she wasn’t in danger.

“Same reason they all did. They’re sheltered kids and rebellion is taboo. They don’t really want Zakuul overthrown. But almost getting blown up? Getting a few scars before the droids make them pretty again? Oh, that’s a mark of pride.” Kaliyo replied disdainfully.

“You’re no more likely to bring down Zakuul than they are, and your defiance is just as petty.” Jen shot back.

“Don’t judge me. I’ve got reasons for what I do.” There was a long pause before Kaliyo spoke again. “One more power conduit. Then the show starts.”

“Jen, I have the girl’s info, we can make sure she is safe.” I reassured her. “My contact is here, I have to go radio silent for a few minutes. Holo me if you need me.” I bit down twice to disconnect our connection and turned to my contact, a striking Mirialan with dark brown hair and violet eyes, who had just slid into the booth next me. “Juliannah.”

She leaned in and gave me a quick hug. “Theron. It is good to see you. It has been too long.”

I picked up my glass and took a sip before looking back at her. “So, what brings Havoc out to Wild Space?”

“We aren’t Havoc anymore, it’s just Aric and I. I gave up my command to come fight the real threat.” She sounded almost sad. “Theron, your father wanted me to pass a message along. He wants you to come home. I don’t want to get in the middle of things, but…”

“I know Juli. Thanks.” I didn’t want to talk about Supreme Commander Jace Malcom. I knew that things were awkward for him too. We hadn’t known about each other until I was an adult. But at least he made an effort to have a relationship with me, which was more than I could say for my mother. “I have no reason to go back. The Alliance needs me.” And like I was going to leave Jen’s side? Not likely.

“Theron, there is something different about you. You look good. Happy.” Juli smiled at me.

“You know what? I am.” I didn’t want to betray Jen’s trust, by telling anyone our secret, but I wanted to tell someone, just to make it feel more real. And who would Juli tell? “You remember that rescue mission I went on?”

Juli looked up, her eyes wide. “Yes. Did you find her? You did, didn’t you?”

I gave her a sheepish grin. “Yeah, she is the Commander of our Alliance. I want you to meet her, hear her out. I think that you two would get along. More than that, the Alliance needs you and Aric, and I think the two of you need us.”

“We have a small group that we are working with, we are trying to save people that are fleeing from Arcann’s rule. I will meet with her, but I am not making any promises. Even if you are sweet on her.” Juli gave me a wink and I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“She likes me too.” I felt my cheeks turn hot with my admission.

“Of course she does, what isn’t to like? It is a shame I met you after I met Aric, or we might have had a lot of fun.” She looked back at me, desire in her violet eyes, but also amusement.  

“I’ve never had this before Juli, it is all new to me, and if I am being completely honest, I am terrified.” I didn’t know how to have a relationship with someone that wanted to have a relationship back. This was all new territory for me and I was scared that I would do something stupid and lose it all.

Juli’s commlink chimed and she looked down at her wrist. “Aric, he gave me a time limit, if I don’t check in he will storm the city.” She rolled her eyes. “Aric, everything is fine, I am still talking to Theron.”

“I hate the thought of you in that city with no back up.” Aric replied gruffly.

“Love. I am fine. We were wrapping up anyway. I will be on my way to the landing pad in just a minute.” Juli assured him.

“I’ll be waiting.” He barked.

“I guess I should head back before he comes in to the city after me. That would probably not end well for anyone.” She chuckled as she slid out of the booth.

I followed her and gave her a quick hug. “It was good to see you. I will be in touch for that meeting.”

“Yes, and if you ever just need to talk Theron, I am here for you.” She kissed me on my cheek and turned and walked out of the cantina.

I bit down and turned my implants back on. I bit down again and connected to Jen’s earpiece. “Jen, I am back.”

“The data is coming through. Complete schematics for every building in the Spire.” Jen said triumphantly.

“We’re not just taking out droids for a day. I’ve got explosives planted around the city. Roads, factories, security stations, news centers. This time when everything burns? No fire suppressor units. No medical droids. No Skytroopers stopping riots.”

“You never mentioned that.” Jen sounded angry now. This wasn’t what we had signed up for.

“Surprise. You get it now? They tried to use me. They all humiliated me. Now their happy city is going to hurt.” Kaliyo gloated.

“You’re talking about hundreds of lives. They aren’t responsible for what you’ve been through.” Jen argued.

“They were part of it. Every one of them. Besides, you should be backing me. I know what these people took from you. They stole your life. It’d feel good to hit back. I’ll even let you do the honors--you blow the controls, I’ll take the city.” I held my breath and said a silent prayer that Jen wouldn’t be swayed by Kaliyo’s little speech.

“It might feel good, but only briefly. Ruining the spire wouldn’t bring back what we lost.” Jen’s voice was calm, soothing even, and I instantly felt ashamed of thinking she would make any other choice than the one she had just made.

“Nothing will bring back what I lost.” Kaliyo spat back.

“Then stop obsessing over the past. Find something worth striving for.” Jen ordered.

“Fine. We do it your way. But I’m still taking down the droids.” There was a loud explosion, and then all the serving droids in the cantina went offline. “Whatever your long term plan is, it better end with Zakuul’s empire crashing down--or I’m coming for you too.”

That was my que to get back to the shuttle. Arcann would know we were here, and I wanted Jen offworld before he came looking. I headed to the bar and paid my tab, and calmly left the cantina. Once I was back in the tunnels that led to the landing pad I broke into a sprint. I started preflight checks as I hit the ramp. Now all that was left to do was wait for Jen and Kaliyo to board and we would be on our way to safety. Thankfully I didn’t have to wait long. I heard their footsteps on the ramp and I hurried to meet Jen. As soon as they were on board I closed the ramp and I grabbed Jen’s waist. I crushed her to my chest and felt the fear drain away. She was safe. Well, safer. “Buckle up, we are hauling jets!” I returned to the cockpit and put in coordinates for home. As soon as we were outside of Zakuul’s gravitational pull I punched it.

Chapter Text

We stood in mute horror as news report after news report poured in. Five worlds! Gone! Just like that. All those lives lost, and for what? For me? For Jen? For the ghost locked in our heads? This was loss on a grander scale than any I had ever known before and I couldn't wrap my head around it. I looked to Lana for guidance. What do we do? Do I turn myself in and hope that Arcann will stop terrorizing the rest of the galaxy? If he had me to break would he forget about Jen? She would never forgive me.

If this was my only play it had to be now. Before Jen and Theron came back from Zakuul. Before she could stop me. I backed quietly out of the room, not that anyone noticed me. All eyes were riveted to the HoloNet. I ran to the lift and punched the keys to go down to my landing pad where the Arallute stood in the clearing, ready to take our last flight. Once Arcann had me back in his possession I would not ever set foot on her again. I would send coordinates to the Alliance to come collect her.

If Quinn was ever found he should have her. He was her Captain after all. My Captain. Malavai would never forgive me. But at least he would understand why I felt I had to do this. I didn’t know what this would do to our bond. I hoped that it would sever it. I felt awful to even wish that, but it would be even worse for him, to still have a constant pull to me. By turning myself over to Arcann and submitting to his will I would no longer be Malavai’s. My mind rebelled. No longer his? Those words didn’t make sense. Malavai had owned every part of me, from our very first meeting. Even during the worst of times, I was his. I never wanted to belong to anyone else.

I did not want to belong to Arcann. I hated the thought with every fiber of my being. But if it saved Jen? If it saved even one more planet from total destruction? We all did things that we didn’t want to do during war to protect those that we loved. I could sacrifice my happiness, I could walk into that throne room and become someone else if it meant I could secure their safety.

I was practically bouncing with nervous energy as the lift moved slowly down towards the hangar. I willed it to move faster. I wanted to be in hyperspace before anyone knew I was missing. The lift grinded to a halt and I darted into the hangar. I made for the door to the bridge and my heart dropped as I saw Jen and Theron making their way towards me. Their hands intertwined. Jen looked up at Theron with a look of pure joy, and he looked at her like she was the only other living creature. He bent to kiss her and she wound her hands tightly in the hair at his neck. I wasn’t meant to see this private moment and I felt like I was intruding.

There was no way I was getting off world now. I was too late. The only option would be to return to the war room and wait until the next opportunity to try to make this trade. I would just have to bide my time. I knew Arcann would agree to my terms, I had foreseen that. But would he actually follow through? Would my gamble actually pay off? I took the lift ahead of Jen and Theron, and returned to the war room. The shock was starting to wear off. Lana looked up as I entered, her expression one of regret and defiance.

“Jen and Theron are back.” I announced.

I watched as Lana’s shoulders relaxed. “Good. We’ll need those schematics, and we need Theron’s input here.” She looked to the doorway for the pair, and I noticed most eyes in the room followed.

Jen entered the room first and looked around the room at all our somber expressions. I felt her emotions shift from happiness to wary in the span of a few seconds. “We are back. What is going on?” She took in the news still streaming in from the HoloNet and her eyes went wide in horror. Theron joined us without a word and moved passed Jen to join Lana at the holo table. He sifted through reports and caught himself up.

Koth was the first to speak. “City’s going to take a while to recover from the droid shutdown...but no one got killed. Thanks.” He nodded to Jen and left the war room. This was all a little too much for him to bear. Five worlds had been destroyed, and his stood unscathed. He should have felt grateful, instead he felt guilty.

“Warships from the Eternal Fleet bombarded five planets in a coordinated assault. The death toll is unimaginable. Whole cities, leveled. Millions dead. Their blood is on our hands.” Senya said sadly.

Lana looked at her accusingly. “We didn’t destroy those worlds. Your children did.”

“The atrocities on those planets were committed to hurt the Alliance, but we’re not responsible for them.” Theron responded, always trying to be diplomatic, but still throwing his support behind Lana.

“Arcann issued a statement saying those worlds were protecting us--and their destruction was justice for our attacks on Zakuul. A lie, of course, but no one can prove it.” Lana added.

Theron looked at Jen, trying to calm her. “Arcann’s desperate. He can’t find us, so he’s taking the galaxy hostage.”

“We need to send our own message. Expose Arcann’s lies. Show people the truth.” Jen suggested.

“Propaganda wars are a quagmire. The louder we shout the more people Arcann kills. The public will turn against us.” Theron cautioned.

“I could give myself up. Put an end to all of this.” I said quietly.

“No. That’s precisely what he wants.” Lana hissed angrily at me, her yellow eyes flashing.

“Is it?” Senya asked haughtily.

“We’ll file that under, things that will never happen.” Jen looked at me sternly and could see I wasn’t backing down. “Everyone out! Give us the room.” Everyone got up and filed out of the war room quickly, not wanting to be caught between the two of us.

Now that we were alone I made my case. “It makes sense.” I argued. “It would save lives. There would be no reason to keep bombing other planets. He would have what he wanted.”

“It would change nothing. He still has to be removed from the throne. He is a danger to the galaxy. Having your power on his side...Emm you aren’t thinking clearly. I don’t know what is going on in that head of yours, but you aren’t going to sacrifice yourself.” Jen shook her head.

Tears blurred my vision. “I am trying to protect you, and everyone else. He will agree to my terms.”

“What terms, Emm? He stops turning his fleet on planets, he disappears back into Wild Space and he gets what?” Jen shouted.

“Whatever he wants from me. I have already foreseen it.” I closed my eyes and waited. I could feel the anger, the hatred pouring off of her in waves. Our friendship had never been tested like this, and I worried that this would be the breaking point.

Instead I felt her arms wrap around me tightly. “Emm, you can’t…I don't know what the Force showed you, but it is wrong this time.” Her voice was thick with tears.

“Jen there is no other way. Not to protect you, to protect Quinn. What if he is on a planet that Arcann attacks next? We had no warning, no way to stop it.” I had to make her see. “He could have been on one of those planets Arcann leveled today. Or Vette, or Mako. I can’t sit back and let him wipe out innocent lives when I could stop him by turning myself in.”

“And give up everything you are? Emm, listen to what you are saying.”

“I know...but I wouldn’t be the first to surrender during a war. What is my life worth against a whole planet?”

“I’m sorry Emm, but I can’t let you do this.” Jen raised her hand to my neck and I felt a pin prick. Cold metal against my skin. “We will find another way.”

I struggled to fight against the drug coursing through me. Jen, you can’t do this!

“It’s already done. Stop fighting.” She helped ease me to the floor, careful to not let me hit my head. “Theron, I need help in the War Room.”

The room tilted one way and then the other. I saw a pair of boots join Jen’s, and then I was lifted into another pair of arms. I focused on his face, his messy brown hair and his golden eyes. He really was quite attractive. But his implants kept me out of his head, no matter how hard I tried to pry my way in. I could end this war right now… My words bounced uselessly back at me.

“Emm, stop fighting or I will have to give you another round.” Jen cautioned from beside us. “You keep saying you are trying to protect me. Well this is how I protect you.”

Theron laid me gently on a bed in the pristine medical bay and Jen pulled out restraints. He smoothed my hair away from my face. “I am sorry Emm.” He pressed his lips to my forehead as Jen locked me in the restraints. I was now their prisoner, and I hated them! How could they do this to me? I closed my eyes and turned my head away so that I couldn’t see them. I was ready to fall into oblivion, let the darkness have me.

 


 I stood in the center of the room, both my sabers drawn and engaged but held down at my sides. He stalked around the room. I could feel him watching me. Behind me to my right. The lights flickered like a strobe light, and now he was behind me to the left. He moved closer and now I could see him in my periphery. His golden blade hissing angrily as he spun it in his hand.

“Why do you tempt me so?”  His deep voice was filled with need. Now he was in front of me. Not close enough to strike with my saber. He was keeping a safe distance. “I want to destroy you for taking my father’s favor, it should have been mine!” He snarled. Darkness settled around me, and then light again, and he was on my right side. He touched his blade to mine. The lights flickered. “But it would be a waste to destroy you.” He purred into my left ear.

I held perfectly still. I knew that it was useless to fight. He had already won. The lights flickered again.


I knelt beside Arcann, my hair twisted in his hand painfully. “This is your doing.” He tugged on my hair, so I would have to look up. I watched as the Eternal Fleet ships dropped out of hyperspace.

My scalp stung and tears burned my eyes. “Please Arcann. I am sorry. I won’t ever try to run again. Please don’t do this!”

He pushed a few buttons and I watched as the Eternal Fleet bombarded the surface of the planet below. Quinn had hated Balmorra, it was his prison for ten years. But Balmorra still held a special place in my heart, it was where I found him. And now I was watching as it was turned into ash.

“I hope that this lesson won’t have to be repeated.” Arcann snarled angrily. He let go of me and stalked out of the room, leaving me on my knees, bowing to the empty throne room.

I was stupid, I was selfish, and everyone on Balmorra had paid for it. It was a very valuable lesson. I was never leaving. My daughter would be born here and she too would never be able to leave.


I was in a well appointed refresher, kneeling before a tub with a warm fluffy towel, trying to coax a blonde headed toddler out of the bath. “Look Mommy, I’s a fishee!”  She wiggled around the bottom of the tub, splashing me in the process. I laughed at her antics. She was my pride and joy.

“Come on little fish. You need to get to bed.” I lifted her from the tub and toweled her off. Teeth brushed, pajamas on, we settled into her bed and I told her favorite bedtime story, about a girl from Alderaan that ran away from home and lived among the stars.

“Mommy?” Her little face turned up towards me, her dark blue eyes searching mine. “I never runs away. Kay?” She wrapped her little arms around my neck.

I snuggled her to my chest. “I know Sari. You would miss me too much.” I tickled her, and she giggled. It would be useless to run. Her father would have her hunted down just as he had me. We were both prisoners here. Sari was my only happiness on Zakuul and I loved her fiercely. I closed my eyes and held my tiny daughter to my chest. Her damp hair tucked against my cheek.


“Move your feet.” I instructed Sari. She was six and had started her lightsaber training. “Keep still and you’re dead.” I prodded her to move with a lunge and she twirled away from me with a giggle, her dodge turned into a complicated dance step. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Every bit her mother’s daughter.” Arcann purred from the viewing balcony above us.

“Daddy!” Sari squealed up at him, her face awash with delight.


“It has been too long.” Arcann’s breath caressed the back of my neck. He pressed his lips against my shoulder and wrapped his cybernetic arm around me to hold me in place, his fingers twining with my left hand.

I rested my head against his shoulder. “Please, release me.” It wasn’t a plea for freedom I was asking for. I needed his touch, craved it and I hated myself for it. This wasn’t love. It was an addiction. He trailed his other hand down my side, ghosting his fingers along my stomach. I tensed in anticipation. His fingers found the cleft between my thighs and I forgot everything except the pleasure of his touch.

“Who do you belong to?” His deep voice whispered against my cheek.

“You. I belong to you.” I cried out.

One breath I was shaking in his arms, needing more of him, and the next breath, oh the next breath. I cried out again as he filled me completely. His thrusts were measured, quick, devastating. I felt a knot of pleasure pulsing in my core, a promise of release. I wanted it, I needed it. Arcann lifted his fingers away from me and wound his hand in my hair, pulling it tightly. “Not yet.” His order carried a hint of a threat.

“Arcann…” I sobbed. I needed to be freed.

He pushed me forward onto my knees and ground himself into me from behind. His hands dug into my hips, holding me in place. If Arcann’s ragged breaths and my whimpers didn’t mark time I would have thought that it ceased to move, much as Arcann had. I tried to wiggle against him. I earned a well deserved slap on my backside for that. I bit my lip and waited ten seconds. Another roll of my hips, and he slapped me again. “You are trying my patience.” His hand rubbed over the spots that still stung from his spanking.

I looked at him over my shoulder. “Do you want an apology?” He wanted me to submit to him, but I knew how much he actually enjoyed when I fought back. I would win this round. “Come get it.” I pressed myself tighter against him and he growled.

“Damn you, Emmynn.” He snarled. I felt his hand tracing the outline of my hip and then another slap. I whimpered in pleasure, and he slapped me harder this time, knocking me slightly off balance. His arms hooked around my hips to help support me. His hips slammed into me, repeatedly, claiming what was his. Once again I could feel the knot of pleasure building. My arms could not hold our combined weight anymore, and he drove me into the mattress below me.

A white light enveloped me and I was lost in the absolute bliss of my release. “Arcann.” I panted, knowing he would be right behind me. Sure enough he growled and the white light that surrounded me was snuffed out by his overwhelming darkness.


I was kneeling next to the toilet, drenched in sweat. My abdomen clenched painfully and I threw up again. I heard my chamber door open and Sari’s sweet voice rang out. “Mommy?” Her steps came closer and I looked to the closed refresher door. I used the Force to lock it, I didn’t want her to see.

I am fine Sari. Go get your Daddy. I laid my head against the cool floor and waited for him to find me. My whole body ached, but nothing hurt as much as my heart. Tears streamed down my cheeks and I gasped for air.

Arcann stormed in and immediately he knew. He lifted me in his arms and took me back to my bed. He smoothed the blankets over me and made a quick call to someone to get a doctor here now. He didn’t care what time it was.

It was too late. Our son was gone. I felt him pass through the Force. I rolled over and put my back to Arcann. I did not want his comfort, if he was even capable of it. All that had mattered to him was his son, I was nothing more than a vessel to carry him.

“Emmynn? Are you okay? Are you hurting?” His voice was soft, tender even.

A new round of tears started and I cried out. Arcann wrapped his arms around me and he held me to his chest as I cried. I had loved my son the second I felt his presence and now he was gone. I felt a hot tear splash on to my ear, followed by another on my cheek. Arcann was crying with me. Something about losing our son, both of us being broken, healed a part of me. I wasn't alone. I turned and found his lips and he kissed me gently as he held me. Our tears mingling together like our grief.


I twisted Sari's hair into a braid and kissed the top of her blonde head. "You will do fine my love."

"But what if I fall?" She turned and looked at me with her big blue eyes. Her brows furrowed with stress.

"You won't. You have your mother's grace." I teased her. I leaned towards her and rubbed my nose against hers. I fastened a lilac ribbon in her hair. "Done! Perfection."

"But what if I forget a step?" Sari whispered.

"Sari, you could go out there tonight and stand on that stage and breathe and I would be proud of you. I know how hard you have worked for this. You will enchant everyone." I smiled at the girl in front of me. No longer a child but not yet a woman. She had grown up so fast.


 Sari walked down the long aisle toward our thrones. Her blonde head held high. She was beautiful and I couldn’t be more proud of the young woman that she was becoming. Already well accomplished in lightsaber techniques and well versed in Zakuulan history she was shaping up to be a wonderful leader for her people. I laid my hand over Arcann’s cybernetic fingers as we rose and descended the steps to join our only child. She knelt before her father and waited while he placed a circlet that matched the one I wore, upon her head. He held out a hand to her.

I was forcibly reminded of the first time I had walked down this aisle behind Arcann, and Valkorion had held his hand out to me just the same way. My blood ran cold. I couldn’t explain it. Arcann was not his father. He had actually been a very caring father to Sari, doting even. Sari had never wanted for anything. She wasn’t in any danger. As long as she didn’t run away. I felt envy, hatred, a murderous rage, and I looked for the source. Vaylin! Of course, she was second in line to the throne, until today. When Sari took her birthright. Sari was now sixteen, old enough to rule if something were to happen to Arcann. And Vaylin hated Sari for pushing her aside.

I still regretted that Vaylin was the one thing that I could not get Arcann to agree to my terms on. Everything else he had been willing to give me. He would stop his crusade against the Core Worlds, he would not pursue Jen, the Alliance was safe. I had his word. As long as I continued to submit to him. But locking Vaylin up was a step too far. I had to give him a son before he would agree to it. Instead, I gave him our daughter.


News from the Core World came in. An obituary. The datapad fell from my fingers and my world turned to ash. Sari shook me. “Momma, Momma!” She ran from the room and returned with Arcann hot on her heels. “Daddy, something is wrong, Momma was reading something...” I stared unblinkingly. My heart was silent. Malavai was dead.

“Sari, you have lessons to attend to. Go!” Arcann ordered. He picked up the datapad and read the article. He knelt in front of me and took my hand in his. “Emmynn, I am sorry. I know that you loved him.”

“Always.” I sobbed. “And you took me from him. I hate you!” I stood and tore my hand from his. “He died alone, thinking he was unloved. I can never forgive myself for that.” My Captain…I closed my eyes and shut out the world.


 

Tears of rage, of sorrow, of hatred and longing rained down my face and I raised my hand to wipe them away, only to feel the restraints at my wrists. I was still on Odessen. Jen was asleep in the chair in the corner. All of this was still waiting to happen. But I was a prisoner. That last vision haunted me. Quick and not as detailed, but all the more heartbreaking in it’s delivery. Malavai dead, without me by his side. I couldn’t bear it. I turned away from Jen and stared at the wall. It was that last vision that gave me pause. Could I actually go through with my plan?

Chapter Text

I stepped out of Lokin’s small home and felt the warm breeze caress my cheeks. It had been far too long since I had come back to my home planet. Things were still the same as ever on Alderaan. Still the constant battle over which noble house would rule. My father would have been sad to know that his life’s work to unify the houses had never come to fruition.

The door opened and closed behind me. “You know, my dear, you and the children are welcome to stay here. I am sure that Vector would like to have you all closer.”

I turned to Lokin with a warm smile. “I appreciate that Eckard. But the children would get in the way of your experiments.”

He waved a hand at me. “They are no bother. I have rather enjoyed having them around. It does get lonely out here.” His brown eyes crinkled at the corners and he smiled warmly.

I laughed. “You chose the empty Alderaanian countryside. I suggested a few places, where getting the supplies you need would be easier. You wanted quiet.”

“Too true my dear. Too true.” He looked out at the small rahkgouls that scampered across his small lawn. “But where else can I work on finding a cure?”

I shook my head sadly. “You have me there, Eckard.” I placed my hand on his shoulder and gave him a quick peck on his cheek. “I will be back tomorrow morning. If anything changes I will let you know.”

“Give Vector my greetings. And tell him that it has been far too long since our last visit.” Lokin smiled and gave me a small wave as I hopped on his speeder.

I gunned the engine and glided out over the tall grass. I could see the mountain range in the distance. I would be reunited with Vector soon! I had spent the night within the nest before, thankfully Vector had his own private chambers. Not that anything we discussed or shared was private. Every Killik in the nest knew my face, my scent, my song. It sped up the process at the border, and they would let me pass peacefully, but it still bothered me that every last one of these damn insects knew way too much about me. I knew next to nothing about the Killik’s that made up Vector’s hive, but each one greeted me like we were long lost friends.

I was treated with reverence, being the Dawn Herald’s mate. Mate. Another thing I hated. We were so much more than that. I was his wife, if in name only, and the mother of his children. I loved Vector, and everything that made him who he was, I just didn’t care for his “family”. They had their uses, but I found them to be too intrusive. Especially in my line of work. I dealt in secrets, and Vector had to be kept in the dark far too often to maintain my cover. I hated having secrets from him. Especially since he was the only person aside from Emmy who I would trust with every single secret I ever had.

As I neared the mountain range the first of the senteries appeared. They took a defensive position, ready to attack the second I got too close for their comfort. Once I was close enough for them to recognize they stood down. I stopped the speeder, and got off, I would walk in from here. The speeder would be kept safe until I returned for it in the morning. The senteries bowed to me and let me pass. Their antenna quivering excitedly, communicating my arrival to the rest of the nest. No surprising Vector. He would already know I was here.

Sure enough, he stood at the mouth of the tunnel as I descended the last slope, watching me make my way to him. He closed the gap, and reached for my waist as I came to the bottom of the hill. He lifted me off my feet and pulled me to his chest. “We are happy to see you. You have been missed.” He set me down, but did not let go of me.

“I have missed you too Vector.” I sighed into his ear. My arms around his neck, reaching up on my toes, I kissed him lightly. “We have some things we need to discuss.”

He looked down at me, his brows furrowed. “Is everything alright? We sense chaos in your aura.”

I looked around at where we were standing in the open. “Can we speak privately?” It was silly, here in the open, or in our bedroom on Dromund Kaas, nothing was private.

“Of course.” He released my waist and took my hand instead. I let him lead me through the winding tunnels to his private chambers. There were so many twists and turns and I knew I would be lost if it weren’t for his steady hand in mine.

I looked up into his green eyes, the same color as Antony’s and smiled. “Vector, you know you don’t have to do that.” In truth I loved his multifaceted Killik eyes, they were unique to him. I chuckled to myself, all of my lovers had very distinct eyes. Iago and Saganu with their red eyes that burned like a fire. Phi-Ton and his amber honeycombed eyes. And Vector and the only thing that marked him as other, as different, the moment you saw him, the black lenses of a Joiner.

“You asked for privacy, we are happy to give it.” He opened his arms to me and I returned to his embrace. I laid my head against his chest and listened to his heart beat. I could not hear his song, as the Killiks could, but I could hear the beat. The strong steady base rhythm. Vector stroked my hair and cupped my cheek, tilting my face to look up to his. “Love, tell us what is wrong.”

“Emmy came home. She is leading an alliance in Wild Space to take down Arcann. She wants me to join her.” I said quietly as I laid my cheek against his chest again.

“Malavai was right then, her song still called to him. Why are we not surprised that your sister is trying to do the impossible again?” Vector chuckled softly.

“She took Letti and Aden with her. I am taking Lee and Antony. Dromund Kaas is lonely without you. I want you to come with us.”

“We wish we could, you and the children are our world.” He bent his head down to kiss me softly. “The Sith Empire has conscripted the Killiks to join this war.”

No! Things were already hard enough just being on different planets, but him going to war? “Please Vector…” The plea died on my lips. I knew his response before he could give it.

“We are Dawn Herald, we must go.”

I nodded my head in resignation. It was unfair to ask him to abandon his nest. Not connected to their minds as he was. “I know.” I closed my eyes and concentrated on his heartbeat.

“Listen.” Vector whispered against my hair. All around us rose the sound of the nest singing. “They sing for us.” I did not understand the words, but the song was ethereal. Swirling around the nest, echoing louder from first one tunnel and then another. “They sing of our meeting. In lands above our home, where the grass sways gently in the breeze, the Dawn Herald meets his destiny.” Vector closed his eyes and joined them in their song for a few lines. When he opened his eyes again he was once again connected fully to the nest. “Now they sing of you. The woman who stole our heart, who gave us purpose.” Vector hugged me closer and lowered his lips to mine as he stepped backwards towards his bed. My pulse quickened as he lowered us towards the mattress. His fingers traced my jawline and slid into my hair. The song continued, Vector picking up the refrain between kisses. It wasn't long before we were tangled in his sheets.

I slowly opened my eyes, not wanting to forget a moment of my dream. Vector smiled back at me. Oh! I let out a startled gasp, which made Vector chuckle quietly. “What time is it?”

“It is just after four. We were watching you sleep, it is something we will miss.” Vector kissed the top of my head and wrapped his arms around my shoulders. “If we were not Dawn Herald we would not have to lead the nest into a dangerous fight that we are not sure we can win.”

“But if you were not Dawn Herald we would never have met. And that would have been a travesty.” I pressed my lips against his neck. “I know you must lead the Kiliks and I have to go lend my aid to Emmy. When this war is over we are going to take a very long vacation. Just you and I.”

“We like the sound of that.” Vector smiled gently. His fingers caressed my cheek. “Go back to sleep our love, we will be here when you wake up.”

Chapter Text

I lay on my side, facing the wall, trying to ignore Jen. I could hear her outside my door talking to Lana, discussing me, like I was a child. Like I wasn’t within hearing distance. “Lana, she isn’t herself, she hasn’t been since you pulled her out of carbonite.”

“We need her.” Lana urged.

 “I know, but right now, she can’t be allowed to go on missions, especially not one to Zakuul.” Jen’s tone was firm, she would not be swayed in her decision.

 “Jen, I don’t know how long you think we can keep her locked up like this. I know it is for her protection. But this is your best friend we are talking about.” Theron’s gentle voice floated in through the open door.

 “It is precisely for that reason that she will remain here until we can figure out why she feels so strongly about turning herself over to...him.” The last word was said with such revulsion, I could almost imagine her face as she said it.

 “If that is what you think is best, we will put a guard on her door.” Lana acquiesced

 “Jen…” Theron tried again.

 Jen came back into my room and took her post in the corner. I listened as Lana and Theron’s footsteps faded down the hall. “They don’t trust you.” Valkorion’s voice whispered in the back of my head.

“Emm, you can’t keep shutting me out. At some point you will have to talk to me.” Jen said from her corner.

How could she not see, she had taken away my only way of protecting Quinn, of guaranteeing his safety? If the bombings continued and he died...I would never forgive her. I would never forgive myself. Not when I could have prevented it. Yes, I had to leave everything behind to do it. But...I would have Sari. The rest I would have to live with.

“I am going back to Zakuul. Theron has a contact he thinks will benefit the Alliance. I don’t want to leave you alone, but I have to go.” I heard her moving around and then she was at the door. “I love you Emm. I know you don't believe that right now. I know you are hurt. You feel betrayed. But I can't let you throw your life away in exchange for mine.”

Jen’s commlink chimed and Theron gave her a quick reminder. “Waiting on you, Commander.”

“I have to go. I am sorry.” Even guarded against everyone else's emotions I felt how heavy her heart was. She was miserable. And it was my fault. I almost answered her and I went to reach for her but the restraints stopped me and I remembered that it was her that had locked me in here.

 “She thinks you have lost your mind.” Valkorion chuckled. Maybe I had. But I didn't know how else to protect everyone I cared about.

 


 

I felt a small pulse in the Force. A nudge. A sweet presence that I couldn't resist. I prodded the small essence, a tiny pearl, opalescent and beautiful. A tiny flower bud, the petals opening up to reveal a tiny pink bloom. I felt the tether to her, a silver thread that bound me.She was precious. She was mine. And I loved her. I would do everything in my power to protect her and to give her the kind of love my father had given me. She would never want for anything. I looked down at Sari, asleep in her crib. One fist tucked up by her face. I tucked her golden curls behind her ear and she smiled in her sleep. I put her small stuffed tauntaun in the crook of her arm and she pulled Oscar closer to her and snuggled him under her chin. I watched her tiny chest rise and fall as she slept, and wished that I could freeze this moment.

  Before long she would be walking, running. She would be more independent. She would need me less and less.


 A loud cry cut through the bright afternoon. I sat my book down and jumped to my feet. “Sari?” She shouldn’t be out here in the garden. I felt a wild panic that I hadn’t felt in years take hold. “Sari?” I called again. She had been with Arcann.

 I rounded the corner and found my daughter sitting on the ground, her knees and hands bleeding. She looked up and saw me, her little chin trembled. “Mommy…” Her whimper broke me.

I rushed to her side and scooped her up in my arms. “Shh love. I am here, I have you.” I took her to a nearby bench to assess her abrasions. I felt the hollow ache left behind by Malavai. If this were his daughter...no! I couldn’t play the game of what if. It was up to me to take care of her wounds. I kissed her little head, and smoothed away tears from her face.

Arcann entered the garden, his face twisted in anger. “Sari! You can’t run off like that.”

I looked up at him angrily. “She is hurt Arcann. Save the lecture for after she is taken care of.” I stood up with our daughter cradled close to my chest and swept passed him.

“She is the future Empress, she needs to learn how to sit through delegation meetings.” Arcann called after me.

I spun on my heel and glared at him. “She is four Arcann! She should be playing with other children her age.” I carried Sari inside and sat her on the counter in the refresher. I cleaned her little palms and her knees. I rubbed kolto over the cuts, and I kissed both hands.

“Mommy?” Tears still clung to her golden lashes. “Is Daddy mad at me?”

“Oh, my love, your Daddy loves you. He just wants you to learn all the things that you need to know someday.”

“All the grown ups were talking and I just wanted to play.” She started pouting, her little bottom lip sticking out. “I don’t want to be Empress.”

I fought the urge to smile. “Sari, someday you will be an amazing ruler. Zakuul will be lucky to have you as their Empress. Until then let’s go find some trouble to get into.” I gave her a wink and she smiled broadly.


My door flew open and I sat up to see what was wrong. Sari bounded across my room and threw herself into my bed. She looked up at me with tear streaked cheeks.”Mommy...I had a bad dream. Bad people were coming to take me.”

“Sari, honey, no one is going to take you away.” I pulled her close and cuddled her to me.

“Can I sleep with you tonight?” Her big eyes still wet with tears.

“Of course my love.” I tucked her in close to me and snuggled her little golden head against my cheek.


“Momma?” Sari looked at me, her brows pulled together.

I stroked her blonde head. “Yes my love?”

“Those stories that you always tell me...you are her aren't you? The girl that ran away.”

Fear gripped me. Arcann would be angry I had been filling her head with ideas. “I don't know what you are talking about.”

“I am old enough to know. You were one of the Outlanders.” She put her hands on her hips and stuck her chin up daring me to deny it.

“Where did you hear that?” Arcann's fury would be absolute.

“It was part of my lesson today. Three Outlanders came to Zakuul and one died. The other two attacked our Eternal Emperor and killed him.” Her eyes were wide. “Tell me that isn't true. You couldn't have killed my grandfather.”

I couldn't lie to her. She already knew enough to get herself in trouble. “It is true. Your grandfather...devoured worlds to keep his power. A whole planet was turned to ash to slake his thirst. It was one of the most devastating things I had ever seen. I came to Wild Space to deliver justice and found Zakuul. I was angry, my worlds suffered so Zakuul could prosper.”

Sari shook her head and frowned at me. “My grandfather is written about as a kind, benevolent ruler.”

“On Zakuul he was. But he was a very different ruler in the Core Worlds.” I pulled back the blankets on her bed and she slid in against her pillows.

“There were some things I learned about Daddy today too. He was very heavy handed.”

“So many big words. Yes, he was very quick to punish anyone who would dare to disobey his wishes.” I pulled her blankets up and tucked them around her. “But he has changed. He is more level headed now.”

“Because of you.” Sari smiled sweetly.

“No Sari. It is because of you. He wants you to love him, not fear him.” I kissed her forehead.

“What about you?”

I shook my head, confused. “What about me?”

“Are you scared of him?” Sari whispered.

“No. I am not scared of him.” I was not simply scared, I was terrified. If he thought I was going to run, to take Sari from him, he would go after Jen, or destroy a planet to bring me back in line. I had tested him, once, I would never do it again.

“Do you love Daddy?” Once again her brows were knit together.

“Sari...that is complicated.” How could I explain our arrangement to her? She was still too young to understand the delicate strands that bound me to her father.

“He loves you.” Sari declared earnestly.

“Again...that is complicated. You may have a large vocabulary. But there are some feelings you can't put into words.”

Sari sat up in bed, tears in her eyes. “He does though. He loves you. I know it!”

“Sari why are you so adamant about this? I have you. I am not going anywhere.” I sat next to her and pulled her into my arms. I patted her hair as I tried to reassure her.

Could she be right?


My door opened and Arcann's silhouette filled the doorway. Of course he would be drawn to me now. He crossed the room quickly and I moved to the edge of the bed and knelt before him. We reached for each other and our lips met roughly. Our hands tangled in each other's hair pulling each other closer. I need you.

He growled and pulled away. “That is cheating and you know it.”

I bit my lip and looked into his clear blue eyes. Time to test Sari’s theory. This is who I am. If you love me you will accept that. I reached for him again and watched his face as I planted kisses along his bottom lip.

"Love?” He whispered. Clearly I had caught him off guard.

“Sari is convinced that you love me.” I answered between kisses. I bit his bottom lip and skimmed my hands down the front of his tunic. He was perfectly still, shocked into inaction. Arcann? I backed away from him so I could see him clearly. “Arcann?”

I saw the absolute terror in his eyes as he tried to reconcile his feelings and what the word love implicated. His mother had abandoned him and he hadn't known how deeply she loved him. His father only loved power. Vaylin wasn't capable of love. Until Sari, the only person that had loved him was Thexan, and he was gone.

“Love isn't something to fear Arcann, but it has never been part of this equation. I knew that when I surrendered. I don't need it.” Even as I said it, I knew that it was a lie. He wasn’t the same man that I had surrendered to twelve years ago. He wasn’t even the same man that he had been six years ago. Or three. Something had changed when we lost our son. He treated me more tenderly. His visits to my room were more frequent, and there were nights, after both of our desires had been sated, that he fell asleep, holding me tightly against his chest.

Arcann finally lifted his light blue eyes to mine. “Sari is right. I don’t know when it happened...but I do love you. For a long time, I only felt hatred for others--especially for you. But you showed compassion I didn’t deserve, and eliminated the darkness threatening to consume me.”

I shook my head in denial. “That was Sari’s doing. She changed you.”

Arcann reached up to stroke my cheek. “Everything I am is because of you. And I’ll spend a lifetime thanking you for it. In the time we have spent together I have come to admire you. Your strength, your wisdom, your courage.”

Arcann…

“I have done terrible things Emmynn. But if you can accept me, I want to become someone you can deserve. This is unfamiliar territory for me...I’m not sure how to proceed.”

“Kiss me.” I whispered.

“That I can do.” His arm wound around my waist and he pulled me closer.


I stroked my favorite fathier’s neck, he tossed his head and made a soft nickering sound. He had been a birthday gift from Arcann and I cherished him. I looked into his big dark eyes and kissed his nose. “Alright Sari, are you ready?” I looked up at my small daughter sitting on the back of Sobrik and she nodded. I led Sobrik out of the stable and out into the field. He trotted a little quicker once we were in the open, stretching his long legs.

Sari bounced slightly with Sobrik’s steps. Her face was awash with delight, her eyes dancing with excitement. “Momma, let him run!”  I was afraid to let him loose with Sari on his back, fathiers could run faster than I could even augmented with the Force, and Sobrik was the fastest of my herd. He tossed his head in impatience.

“Alright. Scoot forward, I am joining you.” I placed my foot in his stirrup and threw my other leg over his back. I wound my arms around Sari. “Okay Sobrik, let’s go!” I dug my heel into his side and he took off! We flew over the grounds, the sound of his hooves thudding loudly. I could feel Sari’s heart pounding against my chest.

Sari lifted her arms out to her sides, and I heard her clear laugh. “I feel like I am flying!”


Sari danced on the arm of some rich aristocrat’s son. He tried to make small talk but I could see in her face she was uninterested. As soon as the song ended she made some excuse and left him disappointed on the edge of the dance floor. I smiled to myself. I remembered a night such as this one many many years ago when that had been me.

“What has amused you Princess?” Arcann asked me quietly as he slipped an arm around my waist.

“Our daughter. She is going to break so many hearts. None of these aristocrats are going to make her happy. But they will try.” I turned from the scene in the ballroom to face Arcann. “Would you like to dance?”

Arcann reached for my hand and led me to the center of the floor. As we moved through the other couples on the floor I saw Sari out of the corner of my eye. She was dancing with a tall, handsome Chiss. I was sure that I had never seen him before, but something about him was familiar. His open, friendly smile flashed across his face and I saw Sari blush in response. I was sure it was a trick of the light, as every Chiss I had ever met had red eyes, but I could have sworn his were gold.

He said something to Sari that made her giggle. When she responded he looked away and ran his hand nervously through his messy brown hair. I stopped on the spot. “Theron?”  

“Where? He is not welcome here.” Arcann growled.

“He isn't here.” I searched for Jen, my heart full of hope that maybe she was here but I did not feel her nearby. It had been years since I had reached out to her. I missed her dearly but we had parted on such bad terms and there was no way to fix it cut off from everyone as I was. I inclined my head towards the young man that held our daughter in his arms. “He strongly reminds me of Theron.”

Arcann released my waist and grabbed my hand pulling my towards the pair. As we drew closer I saw how the young man's shoulders shifted. He stepped further in front of Sari as he turned to face Arcann shielding her, protecting her from what he perceived as an attack. His hand darted to his hip where an ornate lightsaber hilt was hidden under his white tunic. I knew that hilt. I had seen it before. It was all the confirmation I needed.

I stepped between Arcann and the young man. “Let's take this somewhere more intimate.” I looked pointedly at the ballroom behind us where many guests had already started looking our way. I stepped around the young man and linked arms with my daughter leading the way to a more private setting. I couldn't hide the smile that crept it's way across my lips. I knew without asking who his parents were.

As we stepped into the hall a Mandalorian pushed away from the wall. The young Chiss waved the heavily armored Mandalorian away. “Don't worry Xamie. I have everything under control.”

“Indi if anything were to happen to you, your parents would kill me.” The Mandalorian followed in our wake. I ushered everyone into a large office and closed the door.

“Momma, what is going on?” Sari looked bewildered as she looked from me to Arcann and back again.

I smiled at her. “A small misunderstanding. Nothing to worry about my love.” I turned to the Chiss. “No need to worry. You will not come to harm. You are under my protection.” I turned and gave Arcann a pointed look. “This young man and his friend will be free to leave and there will be no chase.”

Arcann glared at me. I knew he was furious but he would not test me. Jen and Theron's son would leave here unharmed. “Then they leave now!” Arcann ordered.

“But Daddy, they have done nothing wrong!” Sari moved to stand next to Indi. She clung to his arm and tears started to well up in her eyes.

Indi placed his hand under Sari's chin and turned her face towards his. “Don't cry on my behalf. Xamie and I will leave tonight. But I will be back. We will see each other again.” He placed a chaste kiss on her cheek before turning to me. “Princess, I will tell my parents of your kindness.” He bowed deeply to me and when he rose I rushed forward and hugged him.

“Can you give your mother something for me?” I pressed my forehead to his and closed my eyes. Tell your mother that I am sorry and that I still think of her fondly. She was the best friend I ever had.


 

It was dark in the med bay when I woke and I turned towards Jen's corner. I couldn't let this continue. We needed to make things right between us. Her chair was occupied though by Lyo, who was sound asleep. I watched him sleep for a few minutes, my heart filling with tenderness for my little brother. What if he went with me as my own personal guard?

Chapter Text

I watched Letti struggle every day and it broke my heart. She was trying to pretend that everything was okay, but I could see the deep hurt in her eyes. We were alone in the library. I had come to research something to try to help release Emm from Valkorion’s grasp. I presumed Letti was here looking for something to read to Aden. She stepped behind a stack of books and I heard a quiet sob. I got up and quickly went to her side. “Letti, stop. I can’t take this anymore.” I pulled the waif like woman into my arms. “Watching you try so hard, it is killing me.” I pushed her blonde hair behind her ears and held her face between my hands, forcing her to look at me. “Please, let me help you.”

Her small hand pressed against my chest, and her eyes were filled with a wild terror. “Lyo, let me go. I was wrong to come to Odessen.” Her breaths came out in a rapid panicked pace. She fought against my arms and I knew that if I held on to her that she would retreat even further. I released her, but I blocked her way to the doorway.

“Talk to me. We have known each other for all of our adult lives. What is wrong? I will do what I can to fix it.” I wanted to tell her all the things that were running around my head. How I wondered how soft her lips were and how they would feel against mine. I wondered what the sound of our hearts beating together would sound like. What her laugh in the hushed hours of dawn sounded like. What it would feel like to hold her against my chest as we slept. To have her to come home to every night.

Her emerald eyes flashed to my face and then away. “There is nothing anyone can do. Emmy is sick and Meli is not here...I am the problem. I am broken. I thought getting away from...I thought coming here and starting over would fix me. But it hasn’t. I still can’t move on. Every time I look at Aden, I am reminded of...him. Why wasn’t I good enough?” Angry tears splashed down her cheeks.

I stepped closer to her and she backed up. I stopped and put my hands up letting her know I got the message. “You are not the problem. You felt something for someone who abused your trust and used that to twist you up in knots. It will take time to get over. But if you let me, I can help you untie those knots.”

“Why would you do that?” Her voice full of distrust.

“Because of all the years of friendship between us. Because you deserve to have someone that cares about you. Because I love you…” My confession hung in the air between us.

She shook her head in denial. “You don’t mean that. You are just saying what I want to hear.”

She wanted to hear that I loved her? Or just that someone loved her? “I could show you, but you would have to trust me. I won’t hurt you.” I moved towards her slowly, giving her a chance to tell me no if she wanted. When she made no move to run away I put my hands on either side of her face and I closed my eyes. I let her into my head, into my heart. I showed her how sincere I was. I heard her gasp, and I gently pressed my lips to her forehead briefly, before resting my forehead against hers. We stood there, surrounded by old books, foreheads touching, as she was convinced of the truth of my love.

When she opened her eyes the brilliance of the green took my breath away. The dark clouds that had covered her eyes were gone, like a field after a gentle rain, when the grass shimmers with renewed life. “But I have Aden. Why would you want to be saddled with another man’s child?”

“Because he is yours.” I answered simply. I didn’t have a better answer. Aden may have half of Khian’s genetic make up, but he was completely hers. She had carried him, and she had been there every minute of his short life. Khian had done the barest minimum he could, and made her feel awful for it. “And Aden deserves people that love him. I don’t care who gave him the other half of his dna.”

“I am surprised he hasn’t come for me, not because he loves me, but I was easy for him to control.” She looked scared again. “Or sent someone to take Aden because it would hurt me.”

“You never have to worry about him again. Emm, Vin and I made sure of that. You and Aden are forever out of his reach.” I played with a strand of her short hair while I let her process this news. I was worried that she would push me away. Instead she melted against my chest with a relieved sigh.

“I shouldn’t be happy he is dead. But I am. Maybe now the nightmares will stop.” She burrowed into my chest and I held her tighter. “I assume the three of you did this for me?”

I breathed in the clean, crisp scent that always clung around her, like fresh laundered sheets. “Well Vin went along for the fun of it.” I felt her shoulders stiffen. “Sorry, I know how that sounds, but for Sith there are few things as enjoyable as vengeance.” I didn’t add that there was only one thing I could think of that was more enjoyable. “Emm sent me, because she is familiar with my work, she knew I could do what needed to be done. You don’t need to know the details. I don’t want to give you more nightmare fodder. Just know that for every pain he put you through, he received back, sevenfold.”

She wiggled against me to free herself just enough to look up at me. “Why? I am no one, just a handmaiden in service to House Dusant.”

I smiled lightly, that was a name I hadn’t heard in a long time, both girls having married and changed their names at least a decade ago. “You may have been a handmaiden long ago, before the noble House Dusant fell. But Emm was always more than just your mistress, she was your friend. You are precious to her.” I ran my thumb along her cheek. “I know, because I heard the fury in her voice when she instructed me to break Khian. I heard the tremor in her thoughts when she said to tell him that you were why he was being punished so harshly. If it had been anyone else, some girl off the street, his death would have been quick. But it was you, someone that Emm loved dearly. And for that he had to be taught a very valuable lesson.”

“And you? Why did you do it?” She asked, her voice barely louder than a whisper.

“There were a lot of reasons, but I also did it for Emm. Ever since he was assigned to her crew he made her life miserable. He repeatedly took advantage of her forgiving nature. He was on borrowed time as it was. But when you told me what he had done to you, it was time to collect. I would have gone after him without Emm’s approval. I would apologize to her later if she was upset, but after her talk with you...I am not sure just how much you know about your dear mistress and her temper.” I couldn’t help but chuckle. Everyone saw the sweet, demure side of Emm when she was home. But there was quite the formidable Sith lurking underneath. “I take care of those that I love. Emm is like a sister to me. And I would like to be more than a friend to you, if you will let me.”

“I suppose I owe you that, don’t I?” She asked.

“Letti, you don’t owe me or anyone, except Aden, anything. You are free to make your own choices.” I took one of her small hands in mine and brushed the ridge of her knuckles with my thumb, while I thought of what I wanted to say. “You have the power to decide where you want to go from here. You have opportunities here, a job, and a small living space that is yours and Aden’s. You are surrounded by people that care about you. We just want to see the two of you thrive.”

“I have lived in fear for almost two years. Ever since I found out I was pregnant. I was scared that he would come back and demand more of me. And if I denied him, would I be putting my child in danger? I woke up in the middle of the night from nightmares where he had trapped me in a maze and everytime I would think I had found my way out he was standing there, blocking the way. After Aden was born...he demanded to see the “runt” that I was trying to claim was his.” A sob broke from her. “He actually accused me of throwing myself at anyone that would offer me a kind smile. He refused that Aden was his. And he said I had no right to be upset, I had been well paid.” Tears rolled down her cheeks again and I didn’t know what to do to stop them.

“You don’t have to be scared ever again, Letti.” To abuse her gentle heart, trick her into thinking he loved her and then turn the tables on her and make it sound like she knew that she was being paid for her “services” in flowers and trinkets that wouldn’t put bread on her table. And then to accuse her of providing her “services” to other men.  I wished he was still alive so I could kill him all over again. Men like him gave the rest of us a bad name. I had no qualms about taking another person’s life. But to mistreat someone charged under your care. Or in this case, someone that was under the care of your master...what an absolute fool. I could guarantee had Emm not gone missing, Khian would have never dared. But just how distracted had Meli been to not see the warning signs until it was too late? How many lives were yet to be ruined by this war that Emm had been pulled into?

Her soft voice pulled my focus back to her. “At some point I started to believe that I was at fault. That maybe I had misinterpreted his actions. That I deserved what happened, for trying to reach beyond my station.”

“You did not deserve to be mistreated. You need to banish that thought from your head.” I hugged her tighter to me. “You deserve to be happy and to be loved just like anyone else.”

“I just...I thought...Cipher and Vector were already married before I really got to know Vector.  I wasn’t privy to their courtship. I got to see Emmy and Captain Quinn when they would come to visit. I saw her pretty blushes and how excited she was to be in the same room as him. I played a small part in their wedding plans, but again, most of their courtship was carried out on far flung worlds. I didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. I just kept waiting for the day it would become a fairytale like theirs. I figured it would happen with time.”

I would never understand Emm and her obsession with Quinn. I personally couldn’t stand his standoffish attitude. He was uptight and wouldn’t know a good time if it bit him. Protocol was the word of the day, every day. I would get so frustrated with him some days that I just had to take a step back, because I knew Emm would not take kindly to me killing her paramore. I just wanted him to relax and let the rest of us have a good time. Vette used to tease him for being so properly Imperial. Her way of saying he had a stick up his ass. But as far as I knew, he treated Emm with love and respect so I couldn’t hate him outright. But every single woman that Emm came into contact with was left with the same impression of this fairytale romance. It was the way she sighed when she said his name, and the way she talked about him, like he was a prince in shining armor. More like a stuffy man in gray polyester. But to be perfectly honest, who could live up to the idea of Prince Quinn after Emm had woven her story? If that was what Letti was hoping for, I would disappoint her. “Letti, I am a very different man than Malavai Quinn, but I am also a very different man than Khian Pierce.”

“I know that Lyo. I don’t want a man like Captain Quinn, and definitely not another one like Khian.” Her voice broke when she said Pierce’s name. “I just want to feel what Emmy does, and to have someone feel the same way about me. To be so swept off my feet by someone that I can’t say their name without smiling. To blush when I think of them. To feel like I could fly when their lips touch mine.” Her face flushed as she heard her own words.

It was all the encouragement I needed. I gently pressed my lips to hers, testing to see if she would allow anything more. She stood on her tiptoes to press her lips to mine, demanding more. She parted her lips and I wasted no time kissing her properly. She tasted sweet, and her lips were soft, but unyielding. My stomach fluttered with excitement and nervousness. Her hands dug into my hair and she pulled me closer, deepening the kiss. I lost myself in the way her lips moved with mine, the feeling of her tongue brushing against mine. I gently disentangled myself. “You aren’t going to fly away on me are you?”

She giggled quietly. “No, my feet are firmly on the ground. But I do need to go pick up Aden. Thank you, for listening.” She reached up on her toes and kissed me on my cheek. “Your hair is a mess now.” Her cheeks flushed again as she tried to pat my hair back into place.

I grabbed her wrist and brought her hand to my lips, I placed a kiss in the center of her palm. “I meant everything I said. I am here for you. I love you Letti. And if you let me, I will prove that everything Khian said was wrong.”

She ducked her blonde head, and I couldn’t see her beautiful emerald eyes. “I would like that. Dinner, my place, two nights from now?”

“My place. I will cook for you.”I countered.

She looked up at me and smiled. “No one has ever cooked for me. Unless I was deathly sick.”

“Well, then it will be the first of many times... Hopefully.” I smiled, hoping that she didn't hear how nervous I actually was that she would turn me down.

“Should I bring Aden?” She asked.

“I will leave that up to you. He is welcome to join you of course.” Part of me, the less rational part of me, hoped she wouldn’t. I wanted to kiss this woman senseless and see where it would lead. But the more rational part of me knew we should take this slow. Twelve years isn’t slow enough? As much as I may want to, jumping into bed with her this soon would be a mistake. I didn’t want to reinforce the awful things that had been planted in her head. Even though she knew how I felt without a doubt, I didn’t want to put her in a position to doubt herself. With Aden there, it would be easier to be mindful of what I truly wanted. Which was for her to be sure of herself before we took that step. “I will see you at seven. Floor 5, room 12.” I kissed her gently and turned us so that I was no longer blocking her path.

She looked at me with a dazed smile. “I am looking forward to it.” I watched her leave. Her shoulders straighter, her steps lighter. The fear that she had been carrying gone. I had loved her since Emm had introduced us. First because she was like a little sister to my best friend. Then because she became dear to me. But she wouldn't give me the time of day.

I smiled, looking back at the days after Emm and I met and had traveled to Dromund Kaas. She invited me to her sister’s townhouse and introduced me to her family. Letti had her hands full of one task or another when Emm came home. Her devotion to her mistress was all consuming. She was the perfect handmaiden, she wouldn't let herself be distracted from her tasks. I watched her bustle around after Emm, checking lengths of skirts, and fussing with Emm’s hair.  She only spoke if there was a direct need. And I could never come up with a reason for her to need to talk to me.

Over the years Letti learned my favorite foods and the way I took my caf in the morning. She attended me and the other members of Emm’s crew just as dutifully as she would have attended Emm herself. We finally had reasons to speak to one another, and I found her to be very intelligent. We discussed current events and she had solutions that I had never thought of. No doubt a by product of serving in the house of a diplomat. We had formed a friendship of sorts and I valued her honesty and her humor. But she had still looked at me as a her superior and I didn’t know how to break her of it. Dinner would be a nice start.

Chapter Text

I am working on the chapters that will bridge the gap between KotFE/KotET and Umbara. New chapters will be posted as they are finished.

 

Spoiler warning! If you have not finished Umbara, that is one of the next chapters and the traitor is named.

 

Chapter Text

It was a little after eleven o'clock at night when I was given the clearance codes to land. Jenny sat in the copilot seat grinning at me, her legs hooked over the armrest, swinging back and forth. She looked so blissfully happy. I wanted to remember her this way. I looked up and activated my implants to take a picture of her. "Say cheese." She smiled wider, I blinked twice and I saved the picture in my memory bank. "When we land, follow my lead."

"Okay. Are you expecting trouble?" She asked me seriously.

"I am sure Lana is going to be waiting in the hangar to bombard us with news about Iokath, or something about the Republic arming for war. Can you pretend to be asleep?" 

"Sure." She smiled conspiratorially.

"I just want you to myself for a little bit longer, before I have to share you with the rest of the Alliance. You are going to be working twice as hard with Emm gone, who knows when I will get to see you."

"Theron, we share a room most nights. We could make it official..." I saw the purple tint in her cheeks. "I mean, if you wanted, if you didn't feel like it was too soon." She quickly added.

I shook my head. "No, it isn't. Too soon, that is. But that's a concern for tomorrow." I piloted us to the hangar and landed. "Ready?" I swept her up in my arms and kissed her forehead. I palmed the ramp open and carried her into the hangar. "Close your eyes!" I whispered to her. She obeyed and snuggled closer to my chest. I tightened my grip on her as I carried her up the few steps.

"Welcome home, Theron." Lana stepped away from the railing and came to meet us.

"Jen is exhausted. I want to get her to her bed where she can sleep comfortably." I indicated the sleeping form of Jenny in my arms.

"There are some things I need to catch you both up on." Lana insisted.

Jen let out a little snore and I almost rolled my eyes. In trying to sell the charade she was going to blow our cover. I looked down at her and saw a smile tugging at her lips. I shifted her weight in my arms. "Lana, if it can wait until tomorrow that would be fantastic. She's heavy." I felt Jen's elbow dig into my stomach. "Send me anything that can't wait. I will look over it before I go to bed."

Lana looked at Jen skeptically. "Very well. Goodnight Theron."

 Lana made no move to leave so I had to step around her and carry Jen through the hangar. We stepped into the lift and I heard Lana coming up behind us. "We aren't alone." I whispered against Jenny's hair. She scowled up at me but made no further movements that would give us away. The three of us rode the lift in silence, owing to the fact that one of us was pretending to be sleep, and the rest of us didn't want to wake her. Once we were on the floor where the command staff quarters were located I nodded to Lana and headed to Jenny's door. Lana stood at her door watching me fumble with the code. She suspected something was up but she didn't say anything. Thankfully the door finally slid open and I stepped inside and heard the sound of it sliding shut behind us. "Okay. We are in the clear." Jenny kept her eyes shut and gave a little snore. "Really Jenny? You want to play that game?" I carried her over to her bed and dropped her, she bounced and her eyes flew open. Her laughter rang through the room, causing me to smile.

She sat up and looked at me. "So, we dodged Lana...What now?" 

"We could sneak out, go out to the woods. We could stay in, I could go to the kitchen and get us a late night snack." I didn't care what we did, as long as we were together. While Emm was gone on her second honeymoon Jen's already hectic schedule was about to get even more packed. I wished that I could take some of it off her plate, but I had my own duties to handle. We were still tracking down the traitor that had made an attempt on Jen's life on Iokath. Figuring out who was behind the attack had been my sole priority before we left for our vacation and now that we were back I was going to throw myself back into the search. Fully. 

"A snack sounds good. Send Toovee. I don't want you to leave. What if Lana ambushes you somewhere between here and the kitchen? I can't come save you, I am supposed to be asleep." She fell back into the sheets and pretended to be asleep again.

I chuckled. "You almost blew our cover with that little snore." I lowered myself onto the bed next to her and kissed the tip of her nose.

She opened her eyes and fixed me with an angry glare. "That reminds me. What do you mean I am heavy? Jerk!" She shoved me and I rolled onto my back laughing.

"So what can I order you m'lady?" I asked her with a smirk.

She pulled me back to her and looked into my eyes, her hand at the nape of my neck, fingers brushing my hair. "You."

I bent my head toward hers and kissed her. I still didn't know why the force had brought us together. But I was immensely glad that it had. The best part of my day was coming home to her. To hear her laughter, and to share her secrets. "You have me, Jenny." She had all of me. Forever. I kissed her lightly again, and pushed myself up from the bed. I grabbed my datapad and sat on the sofa. I sent a quick message to Toovee, and looked at the messages that Lana had sent. I ran a hand through my hair. Kriff! This was not how I wanted to spend our last few hours together before I had to turn her over as the Alliance Commander.

Jenny came up behind me and snagged the datapad out of my hand, she dangled it between two blue fingers, just out of reach and smiled at me. "Can't all this wait until tomorrow?"

I reached up for it, and she yanked it further out of reach. "Lana will have a conniption fit if I don't sign off on these. Come on Jen."

"Come and get it!" She backed towards the bed, the datapad behind her back.

I stepped on the seat of the sofa and launched myself over the back and she did her little head shake, she was rolling her eyes at me. "What?"

"You couldn't just walk around the sofa?"

"Nope." I closed the distance between us and reached for her waist, pulling her closer to me. She raised up on her toes and kissed me, the datapad landed on the bed behind us. I lifted her off the floor and she wrapped herself around me. I wished that we could stay like this, just me and her, no wars, no crazy attempts on either of our lives. But our reality was that we were high ranking members of the Alliance, and we had to make the decisions, and it was our backs that the targets were going to be painted on. For Jen, that was life. For me, it was a little harder to come to terms with. I lived in shadows and dealt in secrets, until leaving the SIS. I still dealt in secrets, just for us, instead of the Republic, but now I was too well known to work in the shadows. 

The door slid open and Toovee entered with the food I had asked for. "Sorry to interrupt Master. I have the items that you requested. I will see myself out."  He sat the tray down, gave us a quick bow and bustled out of the room as quickly as he could.

"Insufferable droid." Jenny said against my neck. She slid back down to the floor and went to the sofa to see what Toovee had brought. I used the opportunity to retrieve my datapad. I joined her on the sofa, and scrolled through the messages, trying to prioritize which ones needed my direct attention. I looked up at Jenny as she tossed a grape into her mouth. She fixed the datapad in my hand with a dirty look and scowled like it was directly responsible for all her troubles.

The real problem was that no matter what we did, there were still people who wanted to fight the old tired war. Republic versus Empire. The struggle for power between the two factions would never end if  we couldn't find a solution. The Alliance had been a good start, but honestly it wasn't enough. I was tired of the fighting, I was tired of watching it take its toll on Jenny. I wanted to run away with her and hide on some backwater planet. Rishi, she would be happy on Rishi. But I knew that she wouldn't go. Not at the risk of everyone else that depended on the Alliance. Emmynn may be the Empress, but the Alliance was Jen's baby. That was why she was singled out and made a target. No one wanted the Alliance to succeed more than she did. Her motives were pure, she just wanted a place to be with me, where Republic and Empire didn't matter. But the Alliance had the backing of the Eternal Fleet and the Iokath Super Weapon and that didn't sit well with others. Because of our extra firepower we were a threat and people wanted to take us down. There was someone out there that was trying to scare Jen, make her distrust those in her inner circle. To undermine the Alliance from the inside. If it could be poisoned from the inside it would make it easier to take down. I hated to see the suspicious looks Lana gave everyone while we were interrogating them. I was sure that I had the same look on my face when we questioned some of the personnel. I signed off on the reports that Lana had sent me, I wanted to get back to Jenny.

I sat the datapad down on the sofa and grabbed a few grapes. She was nibbling on a piece of pineapple, lost in thoughts of her own. I popped the grapes in my mouth and scooted closer to her. I lifted her chin and pushed her bangs out of her eyes. "Jenny? You know I love you right?"

She tilted her head and smiled. "Of course I do. I love you too Theron." She leaned towards me and touched her lips to mine, the sweet tang of the pineapple lingered on her lips.

"I have never been good at this...raised by Jedi, being a spy. I was never taught how to deal with someone like you." I took her hand in mine.

"Someone like me?"  She asked.

"You came into my life and turned everything upside down. You showed me things that I once thought were impossible. The Empire and Republic getting along, and not only getting along, but thriving."

Jen shook her head. "That is Emm's doing. Everyone likes her. Even Koth."

"Don't sell yourself short, Jenny. I am here, because of you. Emm couldn't have made the deal with the Mandalorians. Despite their similarities Lana prefers you to Emm."

She shook her head again. "I, almost didn't make that deal. Khomo Fett..." She snorted angrily. "I disappear for five years and my own people forget who I am."

She was adorable when she was angry. I chuckled. "Yes, love. Khomo Fett is an idiot." She would get no arguments from me about that. I still hated that we needed to ally with the Mandalorians at all. On the whole they weren't a bad bunch. I liked Distiago, he was a little overprotective of Jen, but we had that in common. Max was a lot of fun to have around, even if he was from clan Fett. He at least didn't share his leader's unsavory qualities. Kaitia had been a lot like Jen, when I first met her. Young, naive, sweet. Her loss was still hard to swallow. No, Torian was the problem. We would never be friends. He wouldn't let on in front of Jen, but he resented the fact that Jen had chosen to be with me. And I feared that he would push his agenda given the chance. If I was out of the picture he could try to move back in. But Jenny had made it clear to me that was not ever going to happen. I wondered if she had that same conversation with Torian.

"Ch'acico, you look like something is bothering you." Her fingers brushed my cheek, right under my implants. I leaned into her touch and closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of her skin. 

 "Just worried about you, and how much work you are taking on. How much everyone depends on you. I know it is selfish, but I want you all to myself." I opened my eyes and looked into her ruby colored eyes.

"Well if that is selfish then I guess I am selfish too. I didn't want to come back from Rakata Prime, remember? I was happy on that beach." She smiled and I felt an answering smile on my face. I couldn't think of a place I would rather be than on that beach right now, her body pinned beneath me in the sand. 

I pulled her into my arms and kissed her deeply. She responded enthusiastically. Our clothes soon fell to the floor and I pressed fervent kisses to her exposed skin. I couldn't get enough of her, she was a drug, and I needed a fix. Her arms wrapped around my shoulders and she straddled my lap. She lowered herself over me and took me inside her. I let a breath hiss between my teeth. I buried my head in the side of her neck, breathing in the scent of her skin. I grabbed her waist, holding on to her as she ground her hips into mine. Her hips rose and then rolled forward as she lowered herself again. Her movements slow, teasing. I growled against her throat. I looked up and saw the smile that curved her lips. She was enjoying using my favorite form of torture. Her palms rested on my chest, nails lightly digging into my skin. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feeling of her wrapped tightly around me as she flexed her thighs and rose up on her knees, and then sank back down, her bottom touching the tops of my thighs. Her thinly veiled control would be easy to break, one move from me and she would give up her game, but I was enjoying this immensely. I let her set the pace, she circled her hips slowly, drawing shuddering breaths from me. "I see you have found the merit in taking your time." I whispered to her.

She took a deep breath, letting it out as she lowered herself over me. "You have information that I need. I intend to draw it out of you one way or another." She arched an eyebrow at me and smiled in challenge.

My heartbeat quickened. Just what information was she looking for? I groaned as her hips rocked against me. "I'm not sure what makes you think I have any..." She swallowed the rest of my sentence. Her lips crushed against mine. I swallowed the whimper that tore from her throat.  She wasn't going to get whatever information she was searching for at this rate. She was sabotaging herself. I smiled against her lips. She slowly circled her hips again and another whimper escaped her lips.

I had her right where I wanted her. I raised my hips towards hers, and watched as her eyes opened wide. "Not fair." She pouted. I pushed against her again. Filling her completely. I could feel her muscles contracting around me, pulling at me. Kriff! If she asked me anything in this moment, I would answer her, I would give her whatever information she desired. Thankfully she was rendered speechless. Coherent thought was beyond her as she lost the fragile hold on her control. She rose up and when she came back down I rose to meet her. She sped up her movements, her hips meeting mine roughly. I cupped her backside, helping to guide her movements. Helping lift her up, pushing her down harder. Her hand slid into my hair and she tugged it, pulling my head back and exposing my throat. I looked into her ruby eyes and felt myself fall into their depths. Her eyes closed and she lowered her mouth to my neck, biting and kissing. I could feel her tensing, in anticipation of her impending climax. I slid one hand between us and brushed my thumb over the tiny bundle of nerves right above where our bodies were joined. She stilled for a brief second while she adjusted to the intense pleasure I was giving her. I rubbed quick small circles as she rocked against me. I felt the first flutterings of her orgasm and she shuddered in my arms. "Theron..." My name trembled from her lips. She sagged against me while she caught her breath.

I lost my control and pushed her hips against mine, my hips rocking against hers, quickly, roughly. I held her tightly against my chest as I finally spilled hotly into her. She looked down at me, a small smile on her face. I kissed her neck, I traced her jaw with my lips. "Emmogen, I love you. Always." 

"I love you too, Theron. Forever." Her lips pressed against my temple. We sat there intertwined for several minutes while our heartbeats returned to normal.

I knew I shouldn't ask, because I couldn't lie to her, but I wanted to know what information she wanted from me. "Jenny?"

She was busy planting small kisses on my jaw. "Mmhmm?"

"What was it you wanted to know earlier?"

"Oh, that?" She tried to hide a yawn. "Nothing, it can wait." 

I was curious, but she was tired so I scooped her up and took her to bed, and turned to her locker. I pulled out one of my shirts that she had stolen to sleep in and grabbed out some shorts and a shirt for myself. I tossed her the shirt and started dressing for bed. I put both our boots in the locker and scooped up all our discarded clothing and tossed them in as well. I laid my jacket over the back of the chair, where she would find it in the morning. I turned out the lights and joined her in bed. She wrapped her arms around my neck and pulled me towards her. Her lips met mine and she sighed happily. She snuggled against my chest, her head tucked under my chin. I heard her yawn again. I rubbed her back and hoped that her nightmare would stay away tonight. I breathed in the floral scent of her shampoo and hummed a song to help her to fall asleep. I felt her relax against me, and her breathing became deeper. I pressed a kiss against her hair. 

I dreaded the coming morning. I wasn't ready to let her go. I needed more time. But we all had our part to play, and hers was to lead the Alliance. Mine? To be whatever was needed to make sure she was safe. Assassin, lover, agent, spy. 

 

Chapter Text

I woke up as Theron pressed a kiss into my hair. I smiled at him and reached out for his wrist. "Stay here with me."

"Jenny, I would love to, but we have work to do." He smiled down at me. "See you soon." He kissed my lips and then was out the door.

I sighed and pulled my sheets up higher, burrowing into the warmth that he had left behind. I didn't want to go back to work. I wanted to go back to our spot on the beach and stay there forever. But duty called. I rolled over and stretched. I was awake, I should get ready for the day. Lana would be starting the morning briefings soon. I got dressed and grabbed a cup of caf on my way out the door. I took one last look at my bed as the door slid shut and wished Theron and I could just take one more day off and stay wrapped up in my blankets. One more day before we had to deal with alliance issues. But one day would never be enough. I would always want another day and another. 

Theron had his back to me, and I took a minute to appreciate the view. The way his holsters lay against his back side, drawing my eye to his wonderful assets. "Commander." He turned to me, catching me staring. "Fresh news from the war on Iokath. Republic troops captured one of our supply stations. The Empire's leading a retaliation, but we're locked in a stalemate."

"You always know how to cheer me up." I quipped. "What about our hunt for the traitor in our ranks?".

"We're questioning everyone from the usual suspects to your top advisers. So far, everyone looks clean. We'll find the traitor, but these mole hunts take time." Theron's mouth turned down in a frown. His frustration with not having any answers was evident in his voice.

"I know how much energy you are putting into this. It means a lot to me." I reassured him. 

"And you mean a lot to me. I'd do anything to protect you." His voice carried a sweet earnestness.  

"Theron Shan, are you getting romantic on me?" I felt my cheeks grow warm.

"Is it working?" He smiled playfully.

"Absolutely." I stepped into his arms and kissed him. 

"Now if only I could produce results." There was that frown again. I wanted to tell him that I knew he would find the traitor, that I believed in him.

 But Lana chose this moment to walk in, and he released me. I backed up, putting a little professional distance between us. She looked from me to him. "Lighten up, Theron. Things aren't all doom and gloom."

"Well you look cheery today, Lana. Did Gault spike the caf again?" Theron teased.

"Even better. I found a lead. Alliance agents picked up a signal from the Shadow World of Umbara. It's encrypted with the same algorithm the traitor used on Iokath. They're still on the planet--helping our Republic foes grab a massive stockpile of Adegan crystals."

"The traitor already lured me into one ambush on Iokath. I won't walk into another." I told them.

"This time I'll have your back." Theron reassured me.

"As will I. The Republic won't give up their precious crystals without a fight." Lana warned us.

"Both sides have tinkered with Adegan crystals for years. Part of an arms race to build a new arsenal of super weapons." Theron explained.

"If we move quickly, we can corner the traitor and hijack those crystals." Lana looked at her data pad. "Intel says they are on an Umbaran supply train headed for the capital city." 

I looked at both of them, they were the only people on Odessen right now that I could really trust. "Then we leave now. The traitor won't escape us this time."

We dropped out of hyperspace above Umbara. The planet below us was dark. Foreboding. I did not feel good about this mission. I couldn't explain the feeling, but one of us was not going to come home. We had tested the galaxy too many times, sooner or later we were going to roll snake eyes. On the way I had read about the planet, the poisonous creatures, and toxic plants. And then there was the traitor, the Republic forces, and the Umbarans themselves. Our shuttle hovered over the top of the train that the tracker indicated. I reached behind me for Theron's hand. He took my hand in his and gave it a gentle tug, pulling me towards him. Lana dropped out of sight. Theron brushed my hair away from my face and kissed me lightly. He released me and we cautiously made our way down the ramp and dropped down onto the train. We cleared the cars one by one, being careful not to set off any traps. We made it to the last car and Theron signaled us to move in on the doorway. He would cover us.

"The traitor's on the other side of that door." Lana backed up to the wall and put her hand against the button to release the door. Theron and I took aim as the door slid open. But the room was empty. She shut off her saber and Theron and I holstered our weapons.

Lana and I stepped into the small engine room and looked around. "They're gone..." I couldn't believe they had gotten away again.

Lana looked at me. "That's impossible. According to the signal, they are still on this convoy..." I looked behind us, at Theron. He aimed his blaster at me and took a shot. "No!" Lana dove in front of me taking the shot herself. She fell on the floor at my feet knocked out.  

"Theron...?" I said, bewildered.

"It's over, Commander." His voice was flat, emotionless. He took another shot at me, the bolt whizzed by my head, I flinched out of the way. The blaster bolt hit the window behind me, glass shattering everywhere. His next series of shots were at the console of the train, causing a shield to spring up between us. "In a few minutes, this train will collide with that mountain range. You'll be disintegrated, and I'll escape with the Adegan crystals." He approached the shield that separated us. "Don't worry. You won't feel a thing."

"Did you ever love me, or was that all part of the act?" I wasn't as good at him when it came to hiding my emotions. I could hear the pain in my voice and I hated it. I wanted to sound strong, brave, all the things I wasn't right now.

When he spoke he sounded more like himself, his words carried a hint of his pain. "You know I love you...but this is bigger than us." He started pacing in front of the shield and his voice went flat again. "Luring you into that trap on Iokath was just the beginning. Ever since you defeated Valkorion, everything I've done has been towards one goal..." And now he sounded hateful. "The total destruction of the Eternal Alliance."

"You helped build the alliance. After everything we've been through, why tear it down now?" What was he saying? The alliance meant we could stay together. We didn't have to answer to someone else, we didn't have to be on opposing sides.

"What I built was an end to the Eternal Empire. Not this. I followed you because I thought you'd end the cycle of war. I thought we'd finally be free once you took down Valkorion. But the alliance outgrew you. Now it's rotting from the inside, the galaxy's fighting back, and you've become a symbol of oppression. So much for your dreams of peace."

"Then let's find a solution together. I want peace as much as you, Theron." 

"I believed that, once."

"If you topple the alliance, millions will die!" He was not making sense.

"If that's the cost of peace, so be it." His voice sounded more like his again, sad, tired. "Thirty seconds to impact. This is goodbye." 

"I'll always love you, Theron. Nothing will ever change that." I watched his face go from a careful mask of indifference to brokenhearted . He turned and walked away from me. Lana finally stirred. "Lana! Theron escaped..." An explosion interrupted me.

A soothing voice filled the train. "Warning. Collision eminent. Brace for impact."

Lana looked around the small engine compartment and saw the window. "We need to survive long enough to make Theron pay. Jump!" We both threw ourselves out of the window and rolled through the vegetation on the unknown planet beyond the train. There were loud explosions as the train slammed into the mountain range. Ash and debris rained down around us. How could it have been Theron all along? My ch'acico? We watched as the wreckage of the train came to a violent stop, dashed against the side of the mountains. The cars creaked and groaned and then fell silent as they settled into the soil.

Lana and I made our way gingerly through the debris of the train. The priority was to catch Theron before he made his escape I was doing everything I could to keep it together.  We followed the trail heading in the direction that Theron's speeder had headed. A trail of Adegan crystals lead our way like a trail of bread crumbs. We collected what we could carry. We had to fight off a mix of creatures and Republic and Umbaran troops. They were slowing us down and I was getting frustrated. We needed to get to him. To stop him from doing anything else stupid, to get answers. How long had he been planning this? 

We crested a ridge and his voice came over my earpiece. "Not surprised you survived the crash. I didn't think it would be that easy. But it buys me enough time to get off world."

"Theron, come back. We can talk about this." I plead with him.

"We're long past that." He said.

When he felt strongly about something he had never been hesitant to voice his feelings. I knew where he stood on all the missions we had been on before, how he felt when I sided with the Empire on Iokath. Even before we became entangled, when we were just allies on Rishi or Ziost, he had not been shy about where he stood. So why now, when the chips were down had he bottled everything up? The only thing he had ever kept to himself was how he felt about me...

"I don't understand. How did I not see this coming? Was I really that blind?" Lana asked me.

"If anyone was blind, it was me. We were..." I couldn't finish my sentence. It was too painful.

"I know. I am sorry Jen." She squeezed my shoulder. "I know this is hard, but we need to think about what to tell the alliance."

Ever the strategist, like Theron. Which was why they got along so well. I had no clue what to tell the alliance. The alliance he helped build, helped lead. What good was the alliance without him in it?  I kept moving, cause that was what was expected of me, I let Lana lead the way. Head down Jen. Finish the mission. Mission hasn't changed just because it is Theron on the other side. Hadn't he always told me that he was my enemy. Why hadn't I listened? 

We entered a huge flat expanse of land, and a shuttle was sitting there waiting...I spotted Theron on the ramp. "This isn't over, Theron." I shouted. 

He stopped, and turned around as the ship took off. "No, this is just the beginning." He keyed something on his wrist and a huge spider droid appeared in the field. I watched the ramp ascended and take him into the ship. He was gone. Along with all my dreams. I swallowed the sob that was threatening to escape. We had a droid to deal with. I couldn't fall apart now. Lana and I fought the droid, it wasn't a challenge, just another thing to slow me down so he could get away.

We made it back to Odessen, and I still had no clue what to tell the alliance. Lana called a meeting with the command staff to let them know that Theron was no longer a part of the alliance. I couldn't bear to meet with them. I wandered the base aimlessly instead. I found myself at the terminal that this mission had started at. Lana found me there, stroking the keys that he had. She gave me a sad smile.

"We recovered most of the Adegan crystals. Once we tap into their power, Iokath is as good as ours." Lana updated me. 

"And Theron?" I didn't care about the crystals or Iokath.

"Word of his betrayal is spreading quickly. My agents are running damage control, but it will be weeks before we know how much harm he inflicted." She fidgeted and then folded her hands behind her back. "Even with the truth out in the open, I can hardly believe Theron was the traitor."

"I loved him. I'm still trying to figure out where the lies stopped and the truth began." 

"We will be piecing that mystery together for months. We should brace ourselves for Theron's next move."

"Try to locate Satele Shan." They weren't close, but maybe he had contacted her, and I was desperate. 

"I already have feelers digging into Satele's whereabouts." She reassured me. "I'll begin the hunt at once."

"Before you start, I want to send a message to Theron.  Open a holochannel and prepare to broadcast it across the galaxy."

Lana started typing in codes to take over all holochannels, I hoped wherever he was that there was a holoterminal nearby. "Clearing channels now. What message will you send the traitor?" 

"This is the Commander of the Eternal Alliance. I have a message for my old friend Theron Shan. We've been through a lot together, Theron. In your honor, I am dedicating a hundred Eternal Fleet ships to the fight for peace. Return to the alliance, and these ships will be yours to command. We can end the cycle of war, but we have to work together. I love you Theron. Come home." 

Lana ended the transmission and released all the channels. "Well said. Now go get some rest. You look dead on your feet." 

I keyed the new code to my room and then overroad the controls and set it back to my original code. I stumbled to my bed and fell into the sheets. I was exhausted. Sleep didn't take long to claim me, but I slept fitfully without him next to me. I would wake up and instinctively reach for him and only find empty space. Well I had been through this before, I had survived. I could do it again. Head down Jen. You can do this. I knew I could, but did I want to?

Chapter Text

I could smell him on my pillow, my sheets. Every corner of this room held a reminder of him. His clothes in my locker, his toothbrush in my bathroom. All those small things that proved he had lived here, and like me, were not important enough to take with him. His red and black jacket slung over the back of a chair. I grabbed it and held it to my chest. I breathed in the smell of sandalwood and leather. None of this made sense to me. He had promised me forever. And I believed him. I was so stupid. He had come to me as a friend, someone from the Republic, someone safe, someone who could be trusted. He was a spy, espionage was his trade. But he had fit so perfectly into my life that I never questioned it. I let myself fall for him, dreamed of a future with him. 

Tears filled my eyes and I blinked them away. I could not indulge in them. I had an alliance to run. Emm was still away with Quinn. She had offered to come back but I said I needed something to keep me busy, and she had reluctantly agreed to finish her second honeymoon. I was not selfish enough to want to take away her happiness, she had waited so long for it. I would do what I always did. I would put my head down and do whatever was required of me. I would swallow my pain, pretend that I could bear yet another disappointment. Why did I work so hard for a thankless galaxy?

I gathered all of his things, I couldn't bear to look at them, to have reminders...the only thing that I kept was one of his shirts, one of my favorites, that I frequently slept in when we were apart. I took the rest of his belongings to his door. I stood there, scared to enter his quarters, to see more evidence of a life lived and abandoned. My heart thudded hollowly in my chest. Suck it up Jen! I keyed the code to his room and closed my eyes as the door slid open. Part of me hoped that he would be standing there in his room with his easy smile. I took a breath and stepped through the doorway, the door slid closed behind me. Lights flickered on as I stepped further into the room. There were shot glasses scattered across the counter, and his bed was unmade. Seeing the sheets in a jumble made me sad, like he expected to come back and sleep in his bed. I laid his jacket over the back of the loveseat and put his other belongings away in his locker. I cleaned up the glasses and the dishes that had been left in the sink. All that was left to do was make his bed, but I couldn't bring myself to erase the only evidence that he had been here. I pulled out my datapad and read the subject line on the letter that I didn't have the courage to read. 

 


 Subject: I love you.


 

 I crawled into his bed and breathed in his scent. I wrapped my arms around his pillow and closed my eyes. I pictured him. His golden eyes and the implants that wrapped around his left eye, his brown hair that he spent entirely too much time trying to coax into a perfect mess. "Theron, what am I supposed to do now?" I whispered to his side of the bed. His betrayal left me desolate. Unlike when Torian had broken my heart, this time there was no fight in me.

I replayed the scene on the train over and over. Picking apart the accusations. The structures of his sentences. I had heard the pain in his voice when I asked him if he loved me or if it was part of his act. "You know I love you...But this is bigger than us." Love. Not loved. I wasn't sure what to do with that distinction but it was important. 

Then there were the other things that didn't add up. The fact he had shot Lana with a tranquilizer and then shot out the window. He had said he was taking the crystals and then left them behind. Could his betrayal be something else? Not a betrayal at all? But a ruse. No. He wouldn't have left me in the dark. He wouldnt put me at risk like that. Would he? Then, that would make his betrayal real? Unless there was a third option I could not see. Why hadn't he just talked to me? We could have figured this out together. 

I felt sick to my stomach with grief. The ache was unlike anything I had known before. It was all I could feel. It consumed every sense. My eyes burned with tears that I refused to shed. I felt too sick to move so I stayed in his bed, wrapped in his sheets, succumbing to the pain. 

What did it say about me that my first love had given up on me. And my true love had forsaken me? Maybe I was one of those people that didn't deserve a happy ending. After all, how many people's happy endings had I ruined while being a gun for hire? Was this the galaxy's way of getting even? But what about all the good I had done? Didn't I deserve some happiness? Or had the short time we had together burned so brightly that this was all I was allowed to have?

I swallowed against the lump in my throat. How was I going to lead an alliance when my most trusted ally had betrayed me? No matter what he had done to me, he was now a traitor to the alliance he had helped build. His betrayal, real or fake was a threat to everything I had been building. A place that I could be with him, a place that was neutral, where our factions didn't matter. No Republic, no Empire. Just him, just me.  Somewhere we wouldn't have to worry about the day that we had to leave each other and go back to Coruscant or Dromund Kaas. Even if I could forgive him, could the rest of the alliance?

"Damn it Theron! Why didn't you just talk to me?" I said to his empty room. If I was quiet I could almost hear him saying all the things he hadn't said. His reasons, the real ones. They were there, just out of reach. He was out there somewhere, with all the answers and I was left here with nothing but a broken heart, and an alliance that was going to start coming apart at the seems when they found out the truth. 

I picked up the datapad again. Maybe there were answers in his letter. I opened it, and closed my eyes. My breath caught in my throat. Come on Jen. It isn't a snake. It is just a letter. Yes, but Torian and I's relationship ended because of a letter...

 


Subject: I love you.

I saw your message on the HoloNet. I wish I could drop everything and leave with you, somewhere away from all this war and death. But that's just a nice dream--reality is much harder.

Feels like I have fought for peace my whole life, but everyone has let me down. The Jedi, the Republic, even the Alliance. The galaxy doesn't deserve this endless war for power. I just want it to stop. But now, I've finally figured out how to end the destruction. Trust that everything I do is for the good of the galaxy.

I don't expect you to understand. But however this ends, I just want you to know that I loved you from the moment I saw you. And I always will.


 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“You need to eat something.” Lana pushed a tray towards me. “We are all concerned about you.” I could hear the slight tremor in her voice. I knew she was hurting too. After all Theron hadn’t only betrayed me, she was on that train too.

“Thanks Lana.” I replied weakly. I avoided looking at her directly. I didn’t want to see the pain in her eyes that would only magnify my own. I picked up my fork and started pushing food around my plate. “Any news about…his whereabouts?” I couldn’t bring myself to say his name out loud. Theron had been gone for four days, and so far we had no luck in finding him.

“You will be the first to know Commander.” Lana gently squeezed my arm and got up from the table, quietly leaving me to my thoughts. I dropped my fork onto my tray. No one was around to make sure I ate. Maybe some fresh air would help. I headed towards the hangar and freedom. I needed to get away from everyone for a while. Where I wasn’t the Alliance Commander, and had to put on a brave face.

All the structural damage had been repaired weeks ago. Debris was cleared so we could strengthen our defenses, but the trees and ground still bore the signs of our recent battle. Black scorch marks showed where fires had burned, leveling areas of ancient forest. Blaster marks from walkers as their bolts sizzled through trees. Vaylin and her forces had taken a toll on Odessen, and the Alliance had paid a hefty price. How long would these scars take to heal?

I stood at the small mound where Kaitia was buried. My composure cracked. I had failed her. I wasn’t there when it had really mattered. Vaylin captured her, just to torture me. The universe was cruel. After all that we had done to bring peace to the galaxy, Kaitia was gone. Funny, generous, brave, Kaitia. Tears blurred my vision. How much more pain could one soul carry?

A soft voice called from behind me. “Emmogen?” I knew his voice like I knew the sound of my own heartbeat. Torian! He must be on my security detail today. He moved to stand next to me. He took my hand in his, and gave it a reassuring squeeze. He looked at the little hill which was already covered in new grass that swayed slightly in the breeze. “If I could take her place…” he trailed off.

How could he suggest such a thing? My heart jolted at the thought. As painful as losing Kaitia was, Torian, my first love? I dried my eyes with my free hand. “You know why I chose to save you first?” I looked into his beautiful blue eyes. The breeze ruffled his hair. “Why, if faced with the same decision one thousand times, the outcome would always be the same?” I paused. “You were once my home.”

“But not anymore, I gave you your freedom.” He replied gently.

I looked away and gathered my thoughts. My heart was ripped to shreds and we were going to have this conversation now? He had horrible timing. “Ni cuy' Ni ceta.” I whispered in Mandalorian.

“Gar ganar naas at apologize par.” The corners of his mouth lifted in a brief smile. When he resumed, he spoke slowly, trying to find the right words. “When you disappeared I lost my home, I lost my way. Once again I found myself without a clan. I spent time with Mako, hunting for a bit. But it was Mandalore who saved me. He gave me shelter, somewhere to belong. I waited for word, a rumor, anything that would tell me of your fate. Finally I accepted that you were killed in the explosion and you were lost to me forever.” We stood in silence for a couple minutes. “When I walked into that tent on Darvannis and saw you standing there…” Torian closed his eyes. “You were alive! But you were changed, tougher, more mature. You were the Alliance Commander, larger than life. I couldn’t claim you. You weren’t my Emmogen anymore.”

I sighed and rested my head on his shoulder. “So much changed so fast after Lana rescued me. I received your letter, telling me goodbye. You were moving on. So I tried to do the same. I put all my time and energy into building the alliance. I was hoping one day to be free of Valkorion and his children, but not hoping for much else.” I paused to take a breath. “I was surrounded by strangers. The only people who knew me from my previous life were Lana, Emmynn and Theron. They became my life lines. Naturally Lana became one of my closest friends and Theron…” I glanced at Torian before I continued. He nodded. “Before I knew what was happening I found myself in love with him.” I looked into his eyes. “I am sorry.” I repeated.

Torian held my gaze. “A clean break, a fresh start. We both deserved that. I don’t begrudge you for finding love again. You deserve it. I just wish I could shield you from this pain.” He looked into my eyes. “Gar Kelir ratiin cuyir ner alit.” He dropped my hand, kissed the top of my head and turned towards the base. “Don’t stay out here too long or Lana will send a rescue party.” I watched him ascend the slope.

He was probably right. Lana would notice my absence soon enough. I knew it wasn’t right to cause her anymore stress. She was suffering too. Lana considered Theron her brother. How many times had the two of them been in exile with just each other to depend on? His betrayal cut her to the core. It didn’t help that she blamed herself for not sensing his treachery before it could do damage to the Alliance, and to me.

I headed back to the hangar. Once inside I made my way to the command central for a sit rep. Every time I walked into this room I instinctively looked for him. Hoping he would be standing by his holo station, his nimble fingers flying over the keys, his golden eyes scanning every possible threat. But it was just Lana and I.

She looked up from her data pad as I entered. She offered me a sad smile. “Still nothing, but we are not giving up.”

“Thank you Lana. Is there anything else that needs my attention?” I shifted my weight, wanting to run from this room, from this base, full of ghosts.

“No Commander, everything seems quiet at the moment.” Lana replied quietly.

“Alright, I will be in my quarters on the Mando War, if any need arises.” I turned to leave.

“Very well Commander. Before you go, may I have a word in private?”

I looked around the room. “We are alone now Lana.”

Lana shifted her weight nervously,” Teeseven is right over there.” She pointed to the station the little astromech droid was plugged into. “And look, here is Koth.” She said as he sauntered into the room.

“Looking for me Lana?” he asked.

“Not particularly.” Lana replied, shaking her head. “Just making a point.”

I nodded a hello to Koth, and then turned to Lana. “Lead the way.”

We walked in silence through the base. Each of us lost in our own thoughts. I was dreading this conversation. I didn’t need to be reminded of our losses. We walked to the landing pad of my ship before either of us broke the silence. “Commander? Why are you exiling yourself out here?” She waved her hand to indicate my old freighter. “Your quarters weren’t damaged during the siege.”

“This is the only place that holds no memories of him.” I opened the air lock and we stepped onto my ship. The door slid shut behind Lana. “I can breathe easier here.” I looked down at my boots wile I fought the tears that were threatening to fall.

We climbed the stairs up to the seating area and took chairs facing each other. “Jen, I know you are the Alliance Commander, you are Mandalorian, Champion of the Great Hunt,” Lana paused. “But you have also seen so much tragedy, Ziost, the countless atrocities committed by Valkorion, Arcann and Vaylin. We lost Kaitia in a violent, needlessly cruel act. And Theron…” She trailed off. “Jen, I promise we will find him. I want answers too. Meanwhile, you need to take care of yourself. The Alliance needs you.”

“I am aware of my duties Lana!” How could she question my dedication? Hadn’t I sacrificed enough.

“You misunderstand me. You need to take time and grieve. I can handle day to day operations for the time being, until Emmynn returns. But keeping everything inside is not doing anyone any favors. You are no good to any of us on autopilot.”

“Lana, I can’t.” I was terrified at the idea. “If I give into my grief, I am scared I won’t ever be able to pull myself back together.”

“That is what I am here for.” Lana smiled at me as she patted my leg.

“Thanks Lana, I mean that.” I returned her smile with a halfhearted one of my own.

“Can I ask you something? When we find Theron, what is the plan?" Her brows knitted together.

I sighed. “You are going to think I am crazy. Call it grief or stress, but hear me out. What if he didn’t betray us?”

“Jen, if he isn’t a traitor then what was Umbara? If he isn’t the traitor that means there is someone else out for your blood.”

“He is a spy. What if he went undercover to find the real traitor, and he staged Umbara to make them believe he was joining their cause?”

“It would explain why I didn’t feel his betrayal before it happened.” I could see the hope spark in Lana’s eyes. The same hope that filled my heart. “That still leaves us in the dark about who the real traitor is. And why wouldn’t he tell us? Give us a warning of some kind?”

The hope that had filled me evaporated. “He didn’t trust us.”

“Or he is the traitor. I know you want to believe he is still protecting you. But we have to face the very real possibility he won’t be rejoining us. I am sorry Jen.”

I nodded. Lana was right. If Theron had found a lead he would have said something. He wouldn’t leave us in the dark. Just in case he failed his mission.

“Will you be alright? Or would you like me to stay?”

I looked at one of my closest friends, “I’ll be fine, my security detail is outside if I need anything. Koth is probably looking for you anyway.”

Lana chuckled. “He can wait. Getting you back in form is my top priority.”

“I appreciate that, but the last thing we need right now is a grumpy Koth.” I teased.

Lana stood and made her way to the stairs, I followed. “Alright, I am going. Good night Commander. She was in a better mood as she exited my ship. She turned back to me. “Are you sure you want to stay out here?”

“Good night Lana.” I pushed the button to close the door. I was finally alone! I turned my back to the door and slid down until I was sitting on the floor. I rested my head against the cool medal of the door, and closed my eyes. What was my plan? Prison? Exile? Execution? All of those options punished me as well. Understanding? Forgiveness? I could give him that.

I pushed myself up off the cool floor and climbed the stairs once more. I turned down the ships lights, and made my way to my cabin. After all those years sleeping in carbonite, or in the Alliance base, it was great to come home. The familiar beeps of the instruments, the low buzz of the lights, and the hum of the air circulating through the ship brought back feelings of a happier time. Before Zakuul.

Once I was ready for bed I pulled out my datapad. I reread Theron’s last letter. He said he loved me, he always would. I wanted to believe him.

I lay in bed, looking at the ceiling, wondering where Theron was. Slowly a memory formed. The first time I saw Theron on Odessen. He was happy to see me again after my five year disappearance. His eyes glittered with excitement when he announced that he had a surprise for me. My D5-Mantis! He remotely flew it to this very landing spot. He had felt bad that none of my crew had been found yet, but he was happy to bring me a piece of my former life. A reminder of who I was.

Then a thought hit me like a punch in the gut. Had he wandered through my ship? Touching consoles I had touched? His fingers fluttering over keys while he ran diagnostics.I could see him standing in the common area, trying to envision the fights, celebrations, the life that had been lived here, a small smirk on his face. That smirk. It was my undoing. I rolled over and punched my pillow. Now even this place was home to a ghost of Theron. Tears silently slipped down my cheeks. Sadness washed over me in waves, threatening to drown me, if only I let it. I was so tired of fighting it.  

 

Chapter Text

What was I doing here? Wherever here was? I scrubbed my face with my hand. I had work to do. The sooner I finished the sooner I could return home. If I was still welcome there. My eyes burned from lack sleep and I was in desperate need of a shave. I tossed my datapad on my bunk in frustration. I was no closer to finding out who was behind the threats to the alliance. The longer I spent here, the less sure I became that I would be able to stop what was unfolding. I had made a promise to do whatever it took to protect the alliance, and its Commander.

Jenny. My heart ached at the thought of her. I had played my part well, broken her heart, lost her trust. My last memory of her face, crumpled in pain, the catch in her voice as she begged me not to go. So unsure of herself, of us. Of all the assignments I had undertaken this was the hardest, the most cruel. The stakes were high. If I succeeded in finding the real traitor I could return to the alliance a hero. If I failed…hunted as a traitor to the alliance I helped build. Emmogen dead. I could not fail. The last time I saw her could not be the last time I saw her. I had to see this through to the end.

I got up and poured a glass of whiskey and downed it in two gulps. I returned to my bunk and picked up my data pad. I thought of sending another letter to her, but what more could I say? I sat my data pad on my desk and laid down. I had been here nine days, trying to infiltrate the order that was behind the attacks on Emmogen. I had already been here too long.

I lay there reminiscing about the first time I saw her.

I was landing my shuttle on Manaan. The first time I worked with Lana Beniko. I arrived in the middle of a mission she was conducting, and she was in over her head. She needed me to prep an escape pod and rescue her partner who was trapped in the underwater base, while she meditated, I sliced the console and opened a channel to let Lana’s friend know what was going on. "Hi. You don't know me, but I'm here with Lana. She is meditating, using her connection to Darth Arkous to pinpoint his location. She wanted you to know if I found anything, and I did. Energy readings from Gorima's lab. Rakata technology's firing up like crazy in there. Don't know for sure what's going on, but I can pretty much guarantee it's got to be stopped." I pulled up a map of the lab and watched as a three white dots made their way through the lab. Explosions shook the ground under my feet and alarms started going off. "Me again. Darok and Arkous ejected all the emergency pods. No going back the way you came. Good news is I slaved one of the pods. Got it on remote pilot, headed for a docking hatch nearby. You should have the coordinates by now. Get moving!" I watched the dots move through the underwater base, they were moving too slowly. To my horror another dot appeared on the map, we were running out of time. I hacked into a camera in the room and saw what we were up against. "Getting readings from their alpha cyborg. That thing's serious--and it's coming right for you! Stay sharp!" I watched as Lana's friend walked into the room. While I watched her and her companion battle the giant cyborg I pulled up files on them. I shouted out encouragements as I read. "Take that thing out quick!" I looked at her profile first. Emmogen Kestal Cadera, winner of the Great Hunt. Adopted into Clan Lok. Parents alive, based on Hoth. One brother, Distiago Kestal. List of known associates: Emmynn Quinn the Emperor's Wrath. Mako Kestal. Gault Rennow. Torian Cadera. Blizz. Skadge. "Lana said you were tough. C'mon, let's see it!" I looked at his profile next. Torian Cadera, leader of Clan Cadera. Parents deceased. No siblings. Married to Emmogen Kestal. Known associates..."That's it! Don't let up!" The cyborg was losing the battle, but we were also nearing crush depth. "Gonna have to breath water if you don't get going here...!" Finally the cyborg was beaten. I hacked into the holo feed and got their attention."Hang on. Emergency pods almost secure, but not quite."   

"You're...with the Republic, aren't you?" She asked.

"That's right. I'm also saving your lives. You got a problem with that?" I asked her.

"Just get us out of here." She ordered.

"Yeah, that's what I'm trying to do." The pod was connected, I was just trying to get the door open for her. 

"Hurry! I wasn't built to survive the crushing depths!" A nasally droid shouted.

A series of roars and growls issued forth, and my implant translated it quickly. "Wookies are not built that way, either!"

"Okay, all set. Climb in and enjoy the ride." I told them, hoping that they would have enough time to clear the destroyed lab.

Lana and I were in her office discussing strategy when the bounty hunter walked in. She had a large Mandalorian with her, from the pictures I knew he was Torian Cadera. He should have intimidated me, but I was too intrigued by her, to pay him much attention. Her red eyes contrasted brightly against her blue skin. Her darker blue hair was pulled up in pigtails. Unlike her husband, she wore very little armor, and what armor she did wear couldn’t offer her much protection, which I am sure she used to her advantage. Who would see Torian coming?

Lana turned to greet them with a relieved smile on her face. "Welcome back. Once again, you've displayed a skill and determination that few possess."

"I've seen worse." I tried to play it off like I wasn't impressed by their skills.

"Perhaps I should make proper introductions." Lana offered.

I shook my head. "No need to tell me who I'm addressing. I'm Theron Shan. Republic SIS, and your new ally."

Emmogen smiled at me. "If you'd like to join the empire I could put in a word."

I wasn't sure where this was leading. "I'm flattered. Not even going to consider it of course, but...flattered.

Here I was, a Republic spy, in a room with a Sith and two Imperial aligned bounty hunters. Instead of feeling completely out of place, Emmogen put everyone at ease with her quick wit and friendly nature. I hadn’t expected that. She was employed by the Empire, we should have been natural enemies, but she held no prejudice against me. It was refreshing.

I wasn’t sure what to think, or how to feel. But I was relieved I had arrived in time to save her. I knew I wanted to know more about her. Why she became a bounty hunter, how she became Mandalorian, what was her favorite color, what made her tick, what made her laugh? Things that wouldn’t be in a personnel file. I knew I shouldn’t be so interested in a married woman, and an Imperial one at that, but surely these were things a friend could know.

Looking back, it was too late for me then, I had never stood a chance. I rolled over and switched off the lights. “I love you Jenny.” I whispered into the dark. I closed my eyes and conjured images of her face to lull me to sleep.  

Chapter Text

I listened as Hylo gave her report. “Hoth needs more supplies, and the last shipment we sent to Tatooine never arrived. We are running as many supply runs as we can, but our stocks are running low.”

“Send more aid to Hoth, and track that ship that was in route to Tatooine. We can’t afford to lose it, or its cargo.” I looked over to Jen. She looked exhausted, there were bags under her eyes, and she was trying to stifle a yawn. “I’m sorry Commander, are we boring you?” I teased.

Jen looked at me. “No. Sorry I need more caf.” She raised her mug. “Five minute break?”

I looked around the table. “Make it ten.” Good, this would give me a chance to speak with her. Everyone started clearing the room. Koth grabbed Jen and I’s mugs, and gave me a wink on his way out the door. I grinned at his back and then turned to Jen. “Commander, that is your third caf today. I was under the impression that you were doing better.” I had been routinely checking on her moods and had felt her normal optimism returning. What had happened to reverse her mental state?

Jen shook her head. “It isn’t what you think. The nightmare about Vaylin…it’s back.” She whispered.

“Oh Jen!” I knew what her nightmare was. I had witnessed Vaylin’s final act of cruelty, snapping Kaitia’s neck right at Jen’s feet. “Have you talked to Dr. Oggurobb or Dr. Lokin? Maybe one of them could give you something for the nightmares.”

“Nightmare, Lana.” She corrected me. “It is always the same, and I am powerless to change the outcome.” Jen looked down at her empty hands. I could sense her fear, through the force.

“Ahem.” Koth cleared his throat as he rejoined us. “Here are your caf ladies.” He took his seat as everyone else started filing back in. We thanked him and I resumed our briefing. I wanted to finish this so I could get Koth alone. I had an idea to run by him. I hoped he would be willing to accommodate my request. Lately he wasn’t feeling like doing me too many favors. He wanted a promise from me first, one that I wasn’t ready to give.

“…Alderaan’s crops are almost ready to harvest. Ilum is also ready with more crystals whenever we can send a transport to pick them up. Hoth reports that more debris have been cleared…” It went on like this for another hour.

I stood at the counter in my quarters brewing tea. The day’s briefings over. My nerves were frayed. Being on the precipice of war was getting old. Koth padded up behind me and put his arms around my waist pulling me close to him. He rested his head on mine. I relaxed against him. I could feel a peaceful glow in my chest. I closed my eyes and savored this moment. Using the force I could feel Koth’s contentment, but underneath there was also frustration. “I respect the Commander, and I know what we are doing here is important but I wish I could take you somewhere.” Koth sighed. “Being cooped up in this base is making me crazy. I belong on a ship out there among the stars.”

Why did he have to ruin this rare moment? I turned my head and gave him my most piercing glare. “You belong where I tell you.” I hissed as I pushed him away. “Do you forget who I am? A Sith Lord is not someone to be trifled with.” Venom dripping from every word.

His eyes widened for a second, and then crinkled into a smile. “Is that so?” He saw through my ruse. He picked me up and threw me over his shoulder, carrying me up the short flight of stairs to my bed. We fell onto my sheets, laughing. Tea and the day’s worries forgotten.

I woke up with Koth’s arm wrapped around my waist. I slowly rolled over and kissed him awake. He opened his eyes and gave me a sleepy smile. “Why don’t we stay here in bed all day? The Alliance can survive for one day without us.” His arms tightened around me. I squirmed a little and he growled into my hair. “Marry me Lana.” It was not a question.

I scooted away from him so I could see his face. “Koth, I told you, now is not the time.”

Koth released me and got out of bed. I could feel his resentment boiling over. “One day I am going to stop asking.” He said angrily. Why did he have to ruin a perfect night by bringing this up again? He started throwing his clothes on as we argued.

“You know why I can’t say yes right now. You sit in those same briefings. We stand on the edge of war.” I was trying to keep my composure. I loved this man dearly, but he needed to see reason.

“We are always at war with someone.” He said flippantly.

“We don’t know what Theron’s planning.” I replied.

“We will cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Jen is not in the best frame of mind.” I pleaded.

“All the more reason! Give the Commander a much needed distraction and everyone else something to celebrate.” He shouted.

“She is hurting Koth.” I said softly.

“She isn’t the only one.” He said sadly. I reached out again and felt his emotions. There was pain, anger, but also his stubborn bravado. He would ask until I gave him the answer he wanted, until he bested me in this game, until we hated each other. I didn’t want it to come to that. I wanted to go to him, kiss him, tell him that I loved him, but I could see in his mind that would only encourage him.

I stood my ground. “You are not going to give this up are you?”

“Not a chance.” He walked past me to the door. “Just think about it.” And then he was gone.

Chapter Text

My blood turned to ice in my veins. My voice caught in my throat. This wasn’t how it happened! Vaylin used the force and tossed Lana at my feet. Her eyes were full of terror as she looked up at me. I tried to close my eyes. I knew what was going to happen next. I didn’t want to see. Vaylin flicked her wrist, SNAP! Her cruel laughter filled the air.

My eyes flew open and a scream escaped me. Tears sprang from my eyes. It took several breaths before I realized I was on my ship. I was safe. Lana was safe. Vaylin was dead. She would never be able to hurt anyone again. The nightmare had changed. It was time to go see the good doctors. I headed to the Research Lab in hopes that between Dr. Oggurobb and Dr. Lokin we could find a solution. I was no good to the alliance if I was scared of ghosts.

After being poked and prodded by Dr. Lokin I was sent to Dr. Oggurobb to evaluate my mental state. No surprise, having the Sith Emperor in my head for the better part of the last six years had taken its toll. The added stress of Kaitia’s death, and Theron’s betrayal had Dr. Oggurobb concerned. He wanted to confine me to the med bay so I would be forced to rest and he could monitor me.

He holo’d Lana to tell her his recommendations, and he got an ear full! Did Hutts have ears? I didn’t get a chance to find out before Lana was standing there in person. Anger pouring out of her. Her yellow eyes flashed dangerously at Dr. Oggurobb. “Commander, we are leaving.” She pulled me to my feet and then turned to the Hutt. “Just try to stop us.” She dared him.

Once we were in the corridor I looked at my friend. “Thanks for the save back there, but I think I could have handled him alone.” I jerked my thumb back the way we had come, and gave a little laugh. Lana looked at me angrily. “Lana, are you okay?” Now it was time for me to be concerned.

“No Commander. I can’t believe he suggested confining you to the med bay! Do you need rest? Yes. But being caged up in there with only him and Dr. Lokin running tests on you? You aren’t some lab animal for them to experiment on.” Her tone softened as her fury fizzled out. “After all we have been through, all we have witnessed; none of us should be alone…” All the color drained from her face, and her eyes stared beyond me. “What have I done?” Her eyes refocused on me. “We need some privacy.”

I was bewildered at her rapid change of behavior. I fell in step beside her as we hurried through the base to her quarters. “Lana, you are scaring me. What is wrong? What did you do?”

We had reached Lana’s door and she all but shoved me inside. She slid the door shut behind us before she answered me. “Koth asked me to marry him. And I sent him away without an answer.” She looked at me with such profound sadness in her eyes. “I didn’t feel like it was the right time. With the state of everything else, I didn’t want you to have to pretend to be happy for me.”

I almost laughed with relief. “Lana, you are always putting me first. I am afraid you will make a terrible wife.” I teased. “I don’t have to pretend. I really am happy for you.” I hugged her. “Now go find Koth and give him your answer.” I nodded towards her door.

She put her head in her hands. “I can’t, he is on Rishi. I sent him on a supply run.” She looked up from her hands. “I didn’t even see him off.” Her eyes filled with tears. "I am such a damned fool!"

She looked around her sparse room, and her face brightened, having mastered her tears. "I have an idea though.When he comes home I will be waiting, with an official reassignment...to my quarters.”

“Fill out the request and I will approve it.” I smiled.

“While we are on the subject of moving quarters, you need to move back into yours. I do not agree with Dr. Oggurobb confining you to the med bay. But I would feel better with you right down the hall.” I started to protest. “Your ship is too far away, and if the Republic, or Theron attack us you would be cut off from any help.” She had a point about the Republic.

“Theron wouldn’t attack me.” I shook my head.

“He already did, on Umbara.”

“He shot out the window so we could escape.” I countered.

“Jen, we have been over this.”

“Lana, we gave been through too much for me to not give him the benefit of the doubt. If your roles were reversed I would be having this same conversation with Theron.” I needed Lana on my side. It would take more than me to convince alliance personnel not to shoot him on site. “I have to believe he defected to infiltrate some order, like the Revanites, so he could take them down from the inside. The alternative makes no sense.”

“Your theory is not without merit. And I would love for it to be true, for your sake. But you must know how hated Theron is with alliance personnel. It will be hard for anyone to trust him if he ever came back.” She cautioned.

“I am aware of that. I also understand that no one will take my word that he is not a traitor to the alliance. Because of our relationship everyone will assume my judgement has been compromised.“

“Honestly Jen, he could walk in here right now, knife in hand, and you would welcome him back. You would smile as he cut out your heart.”

Ouch! She really thought that Theron was capable of that? And that I was foolish enough to let it happen? “You may be right Lana.” I lowered my voice and let the anger I felt seep in. “I may be blind when it comes to those I love. But I never heard you complain when I forgave Koth time and time again for your sake.” I turned my back on Lana and left her quarters.

Chapter Text

I hacked into the Alliance database using a back door I had left myself. I searched for any news about Jenny. I scrolled through daily briefings, requests for aid, wait, what was this? A report to Lana from Dr. Oggurobb. He was suggesting confinement to the medical bay for Emmogen. Citing extreme exhaustion, melancholy, and a long list of other symptoms, as his reasons for wanting exclusive access to her. I didn’t see anything to suggest physical harm. I started to panic. Had Valkorion done more damage than we had thought? The throne on Iokath? Toxic fumes from the train crash? Was this my fault? Damn it! I needed to get home to her!

I had been with her on countless missions. I had seen her in action. Her healing capabilities were impressive, why had she gone to Dr. Oggurobb? Of course he would try to get his hands on her. He had wanted to study her since Ziost. Thankfully the report concluded with a request that Emmogen return to the medical bay at her earliest convenience. My fear subsided and I thought of a plan.

Well if she needed a doctor there was someone newly arrived on Odessen that would be discreet, and would more than likely be sympathetic to my cause. I sent an encrypted letter to Odessen.

 


 Subject : Discretion


Major Quinn,
I need your help. I know you have no reason to help me, but I am asking just the same. I know I am a traitor to the alliance, but maybe you will understand where I am coming from. My hand was forced, and you know better than I, rarely are things black and white.

I am concerned about the Commander. She needs medical attention. I know you to be a capable healer. I am trusting her into your hands.

Please keep her out of Dr. Oggurobb’s clutches.

In your debt.
Theron Shan


 

Now all I could do was hope that between Lana, Major Quinn, Emm, Distiago, Torian and a small handful of people Jen would be protected. Surrounded by them she would be loved. It was the best I could hope for from this distance. She would never know the lengths I had gone to just to keep her safe.

I thought about the first time she came to my rescue.

We had set up a base on the planet Rishi. Lana and I were reckless and we acted on intel we received while Emmogen was meeting with the Mandalorians. Lana allowed me to be captured. After a few days, or weeks, I lost count, Emmogen and Mako found the base I was being held in and shot their way through. She came to rescue me? I had some cuts and bruises, but nothing life threatening. I assumed she had brought Mako along in case of the worst case and she needed help bringing me around. I didn’t mind, Mako was cute enough. I much preferred her company to that of Gault, or Torian.

Emmogen saw my cuts and set to work treating them. In all the time we had spent together this was the closest I had ever been to her. Our faces were inches apart. I could feel her breath fan across my cheek. Her deft fingers tested the skin above my eye. “

Ow.” I flinched.

A low chuckle escaped her. “Don’t be such a baby Theron.” She looked down at her supplies. I was mesmerized by the way her dark eye lashes lay against her cheek. I could see where the color in her cheeks went from blue to purple. She was a beautiful creature. I fought the urge to kiss her soft lips. Could I fake delirium? Even in my state she would probably punch me.

Once she found what she was looking for her eyes met mine. This may sting a little.” She used a kolto syringe to numb the area and set to work stitching my head back together. When she finished she reached for a small jar and dabbed some kolto gel over my sutures. She leaned back a little and I could see her whole face. She looked satisfied with herself, a smug smile spreading across her lips. “With any luck, you won’t even scar.” She ruffled my hair as she stood up. “Come on Theron, let’s get you back to base.” Her casual touch shocked me. She helped me to my feet. Everything ached. She hooked my right arm over her shoulder and Mako did the same on my left side.

Once we reached Rishi Cove Emmogen’s demeanor changed from friendly to one of extreme anger. “Torian.” She called out.

He came to us, kissing her briefly, before taking her place at my side. “Ner kar'taylir darasuum.”

“Please help Mako get him inside.” Her voice turned deadly. “I am going to find Lana.”

Mako and Torian helped me to a chair and the three of us watched as Emmogen went toe to toe with Lana. The smaller Chiss almost standing on tiptoe to make herself even with Sith. Torian looked as confused as I felt, while Mako watched with a smile playing around the corners of her mouth. “You let Theron get captured!” We were friends, allies against the Revanite threat, but I was still a Republic agent. One day soon we would go back to our respective homes, the truce over, enemies. My heart broke just thinking of the moment. “You owe Theron an apology.”

“At the risk of seeming egotistical, I will not apologize for being right.” Lana replied stubbornly.

“Do it.” Emmogen demanded, not backing down. Her red eyes bored into Lana’s yellow.

Lana turned to me. “Theron…I recognize that I betrayed your trust, and for that I am sorry.” It was the best I would get from her, at least she sounded sincere.

Satisfied with Lana’s apology Emmogen dismissed everyone to prepare our ships for flight to Yavin 4. She asked me to stay behind so she could look me over one more time and make sure that I was medically fit for the trip. Everyone filed out behind Lana leaving Emmogen and I alone. She pulled out her medical supplies and got to work. She retested my stitches, and looked at my other minor cuts, dabbing more kolto gel onto my cheek. She rubbed her thumb across the cut on my bottom lip, and smiled lightly at my sharp intake of breath. She turned away and looked back into her bag. She pulled out a small bottle and shook two pills into her hand. She fixed a glass of water and brought them to me. I took them from her, and quickly downed the pills.

I grasped her wrist to get her attention. “Thank you Emmogen. For coming to rescue me, for defending me, for patching me up. Thank you for not being what I expected.” I released her.

She went to the other side of the desk to pack up her supplies. “Of course Theron. What are friends for?” She smiled at me and shrugged her shoulders.

I stood and moved around the desk, crossing my arms. “Must be losing my mind, opening up to the Empire’s most infamous bounty hunter. I’m the enemy…at least I will be again, if we live through it all. Gotta say though, I have enjoyed this while it’s lasted.”

“It has had its charm, hasn’t it?” she smiled sadly.

“You could say that…”

She leaned in and gave me a soft kiss before collecting her medical supplies and leaving the base that had been home to our band of misfits. My heart leapt when she kissed me and then shattered as she walked away. It was time to go to Yavin, and put a stop to Revan. It was almost time to part ways.

How our lives would have been different had that been the last kiss I had ever received from her instead of the first.

Chapter Text

Beep beep…beep…beep. I rolled over in the dark hoping to silence my data pad before it could wake Emmynn. She was sleeping peacefully, her breath slow, a smile on her lips, her hair a mess of auburn curls. Stars how I had missed her! Now that we were reunited I hated to spend any time away from her side. Beep beep…beep…beep. My data pad trilled again. Begrudgingly I slipped out of bed and took my data pad down the steps to our sitting area. I opened my messages. It took me a minute to comprehend what I was reading.

Theron Shan wanted my help? He had committed the worst offense a man could commit. Fury rose in my chest, and then shame rose to overshadow it. I knew first hand. I had been forced by Darth Baras to betray Emmynn. It nearly killed me to do his bidding. I knew enough of Sith politics, had his plan succeeded, Emmynn killed, her power base would also have to be destroyed. My life was forfeit, along with Pierce, Broonmark, Jaesa and Vette. Six birds with one stone. I fought his mind control with every ounce I had. Trying to tell her how sorry I was, even as I turned the droids on her. My deepest shame was that I had not been strong enough to shut him out. I was weak when Emmynn had needed my strength.

I had heard all the theories floating around about Theron’s betrayal. Had his father’s death been the last straw? Had this been part of his plan all along? Had someone hacked his implants? Was he being controlled by a Sith, or a Jedi? Where his ties to Revan stronger than anyone had known? Was Satele Shan being held hostage? I had my own theory, perhaps tempered from my own experience, but this letter supported it. The only thing that would take Theron from Emmogen’s side was a direct threat to her life, one that he felt he alone could stop.

Of course I would follow up with Emmogen. She was one of Emmynn's oldest friends, and as such was very dear to her. But I also owed it to Theron. He had taken care of Emmynn in my absence. My current happiness was a direct result of his efforts to keep her alive. I looked at the time on my data pad, it was too early to go see the Commander. As I slipped back into bed Emmynn’s blue eyes opened. “Sorry I woke you my love.” I whispered.

“I missed you Malavai.” She purred. Her lips found mine. I wrapped my arms around her and drug her closer to me. Our kiss started out tender, but built until I was crushing my lips to hers. I held her beside me with one hand on the small of her back, the other tangled in her long hair. She broke off our kiss and looked at me, her eyes full of desire. “I love you.” She whispered. And then her mouth covered mine.

My internal clock told me it was time to wake up, but I was having a wonderful dream and I did not want to wake up. I could still feel her warmth next to me. I could feel the light weight of her arm on my chest. Her tangle of curls tickled my chin. I could hear her soft breaths. I knew when I opened my eyes she would vanish again. “Malavai.” Her voice, a whispered prayer. Great, I had lost my mind. So be it. I loved hearing my name on her lips. I closed my eyes tighter. I felt the mattress dip beside me, and then there was more weight on my chest. Soft lips barely brushing mine. She giggled softly. “Malavai. What are you doing?”

“If I open my eyes this dream will be over…” Pain ripped through my chest. “I will lose you…again.”

“Malavai, please open your eyes. I am here and I don’t plan on going anywhere ever again.”

I opened one eye, hoping if this was a delusion I could slam my eye shut quick enough that she wouldn’t disappear. And there she was, looming above my face. Her smile reached her beautiful eyes. Her hair framed her face and descended like a curtain around me as she leaned in to kiss me. Would she ever know the depths of my love? Knowing what a new round of kisses would start I needed to head her off before she distracted me. “Emmynn…” I said between kisses.

“Mmm hmm?” She hummed as she scattered kisses along my bottom lip, trying to entice me to reciprocate. Damn if she wasn’t tempting. I flipped her on her back and held my face just out of reach. Her wrists pinned near her head. “You are making me unhappy Malavai.” She pouted.

“Emmynn, my love, that is not my intention.” I leaned towards her and gave her a slow gentle kiss. I pulled away again. “I have to go meet the Commander this morning, I would like you to join me.”

“She can wait. We have seven years to make up for.” Emmynn replied greedily.

“My love, we have the rest of our lives.” I vowed, my voice thick with emotion. I crushed my lips to hers, sealing my promise with a kiss. My willpower dissolved. She would get her way. I wasn’t in a position to deny her.

I was going through my supplies trying to decide what I would need. I heard Emmynn’s light step as she entered the room. I slowly turned to face my wife. “Are you ready to go?”

A devious smile flashed across her face. “Now you ask me? After I got dressed?” Her eyes sparkled with amusement.

I put my hand to my forehead. I had walked into that one. I was out of practice deflecting my wife’s aggressive flirtations. “The Commander is waiting for us.” I picked up my bag and crossed the room to Emmynn. I took her small, gloved hand in mine. She beamed up at me. We walked hand in hand through the base to the Commander’s quarters. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt this happy, this light.

I pushed the intercom to announce our arrival, the door slid open and Toovee ushered us in to the small antechamber. The droid asked us to make ourselves comfortable while he went to inform his mistress we were waiting. Emmynn claimed a seat and arranged her long skirt. She looked every bit a noble woman, and nothing like the warrior I knew her to be. Emmogen joined us with a puzzled expression on her face. I gave her a small bow. “Commander.”

“Quinn! Emmynn! To what do I owe this honor?” She broke into a smile. Emmynn bounded to her feet and rushed to her friend’s side. The two women embraced. When they broke apart I took one of Emmogen’s hands and lightly touched the back of her hand to my lips. Her cheeks deepened to a pretty shade of purple with her blush. “I didn't know you were back from your trip.”

Emmynn looked at me. “We arrived last night. We have had much time to make up for.”

I indicated the bag at my feet. “I am here to offer my services as your personal medic. Should you need one. I could come here, with the Empress, under the guise of visiting an old friend. No one else need to know the real reason for our visit.”

“You have planned everything so prettily.” Emmynn’s voice glowed with pride.

“Yes Major.” Emmogen agreed. “Just one question. How did you know I was seeking medical attention?”

“To borrow a phrase. A little bird told me.”

“He speaks stool pigeon.” Emmynn completed the line. Hearing Vette's oft repeated phrase made everyone smile.

Toovee entered the antechamber with a tray which he sat before us. “In honor of your guests I have brought tea Master.” The insufferable droid sounded pleased with himself. He bowed and left us alone.

Emmynn was pouring tea into the delicate tea cups while Emmogen explained why she had gone to Dr. Oggurobb and Dr. Lokin in the first place. “I am afraid to sleep. Since the nightmare has changed, I see faces of everyone I love, Lana, Mako, my parents…I can’t go on like this. I have tried every remedy that I was taught in my field medic training.” Her voice was tired, defeated.

Emmynn looked from Emmogen to me. “I have an idea. I hate to suggest it but, what if I used the same technique that Arcann and Senya used when I fought Valkorion for control of my mind? I could join you in your dream and try to lead you down safer paths.”

Emmogen looked at Emmynn, her face showing signs of distress. “I hate how many people have had access to our heads. But at least you asked. And if you think it will help…let’s do it.” She found her resolve.

“I will give you a sedative, and monitor your vitals while you sleep.” I reassured her. I picked up my bag and started pulling out all the instruments I would need. I had Emmogen get comfortable and I administered the sedative. Her eyelids fluttered and then she was asleep. Emmynn slipped to the floor, kneeling next to the small sofa Emmogen slept on. She gave me a quick smile, and then bowed her head and began meditating. I settled in with my datapad and watched for any anomalies in Emmogen's vitals.

Chapter Text

Trying to change my nightmare had been an unmitigated disaster. No matter what Emmynn tried I couldn’t break free from the terror I felt when Vaylin would show me her latest acquisition. Hylo, Torian, Sana-Rae, even tiny little Blizz. She was slowly working her way through the Alliance. I wondered idly how much force it would take Vaylin to toss Dr. Ogurobb across the staging platform. I needed a good night’s sleep.

I had a crazy idea. One that would no doubt get me in trouble. But staying in this room any longer and I would lose my mind. I needed to stage a breakout! I pulled out my comlink and hailed Torian. “Can you come to my quarters?"

"Yes Commander. Is everything okay?”

“Yes. But please come quickly.” Now that this idea had taken hold I couldn’t wait to carry it out. “Oh and bring Max! Maybe Lyoban as well.” I closed my comlink and started pacing. By the time Torian arrived at my door I was bouncing on the balls of my feet.

The men filed into my chambers one by one and started finding spots to lounge, their heavy armor clanking noisily. I was about to close the door when Aleks slipped through the opening, winking at me. “Hey Girly!” I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t help the smile that suddenly flashed across my face. The sith took a seat as everyone looked to me expectantly.

“Thank you all for coming on such short notice. Shortly after we settled on Odessen I was given a list of valuable assets, people that Hylo, Sana-Rae, Beywan and Dr. Ogurobb thought could help us. I have been remiss in recruiting these last few names. There is one in particular that I think is right up your guys alley.”

Lyoban punched Max in the shoulder. “Finally, some action.”

“That’s what your mom said last night!” He grabbed the juggernaut in a headlock and messed up his blonde hair. Suddenly punches were being thrown between the two men, and Max knocked Lyo to the floor. Just as quickly, he stuck his hand out and helped the younger man to his feet, wide smiles on both their faces. Boys! I couldn’t help feeling lighter in their company.

“Where do you need us to go?” Torian asked.

“Zakuul. But I am going with you.” I said conspiratorially.

Aleks, Lyoban, and Max were excited to hear that I was going with them, but Torian looked concerned. “Emmogen, I don’t think this is a good idea.” The other men fell silent. “You have been through more than any of us can comprehend. You need to recover.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “First off, I am not asking permission.” I took a step toward him and poked him in the chest. Damn him! He didn’t even flinch. “Second, I am not some delicate flower who needs your protection.” Aleks let out a low whistle under his breath.

“So who is the target?” Lyoban asked, trying to defuse the tension between Torian and I.

“A wookie named Bowdaar. He is trying to free slaves from a fighting ring. He needs people who can fight.” I explained.

“Just a normal Wednesday night then.” Max shrugged, but the smile was enough to give away how excited he was about the prospect of a fight.

I looked from Max to Torian. “What do you say? Is clan Cadera going to join us?”

“Emmogen…” He shook his head.

“More for clans Lok and Fett!” Max cheered. He nudged Lyo with his shoulder.

“Mandalorians.” Aleks rolled his eyes.

“Hey now, don’t lump me in with these guys.” Lyo feigned offense.

“When do we leave?” Torian asked quietly.

“Within the hour.” I told everyone. I turned back to Torian. “Vor entye’.”

I dismissed everyone to prepare for our trip to Zakuul. I packed my own bag and strapped my blasters to my thighs. I was already feeling more like myself. I looked around my room. If these walls could talk…all the memories Theron and I had made here. Him singing to me when I had trouble sleeping. Holding me when I had nightmares. Laughter as he tried to learn Cheunh. The first night he had come to my room, so unsure of where he stood… My comlink beeped, interrupting my thoughts. “We are taking Lyoban’s Fury. You know it isn’t too late to change your mind.”

“I am on my way.” I disconnected before Torian could try to talk me out of my plan. When did he become such a stick in the mud? I grabbed my gear and high tailed it to the landing pad where the Fury was docked. I skidded to a halt at the bottom of the gangway, and charged up the ramp and through the door. “Is everyone aboard?” I shouted as I dropped my gear and headed to the bridge.

I heard a familiar chuckle. “You are like a rampaging gundark Ch’itiseb.” His voice brought me up short.

“Distiago?” I turned the corner and was greeted by my big brother! He scooped me up in a bone crushing hug. “No one told me you were coming. I thought you were still on Nar Shadaa looking for Mako.” He set me down and let go of me.

“I just got back.” He looked away, his eyes tight. “The lead was a dead end, just like all the others.” He let out a sigh. When he looked back at me all signs of frustration were gone. “It is good to see you little sister.”

“Sorry to interrupt your family reunion, but if you want to leave atmosphere before anyone notices you are with us, we need to go now.” Lyo pushed his way passed us and laid in a course for Zakuul.

“We have everyone aboard right?” I asked him.

“Yes. Although, I would have been fine leaving Torian behind.” When I didn’t laugh he adopted a different tone. “Joking, joking.” He spun his chair towards the controls. “Fury to Odessen Control, requesting clearance for departure.”

"Odessen Control to Fury, you are cleared. May the force be with you.”

Lyoban engaged the engine and piloted us up, away from the surface. We were finally off! I was free from my prison! I watched as Odessen grew smaller in the viewport until it was just a small rock, floating among the stars. Lyoban threw a switch and I could feel the hum of the hyperdrive as it engaged. The stars became lines and we were speeding towards Zakuul. “Settle in everyone, we have a few hours before we enter Zakuul space.” Lyo leaned back in his seat and propped his boots up on the console. “Jen, I put your stuff in my quarters. I’ll bunk with the guys.”

“You are such a gentleman.” I kissed him on his cheek and left the bridge, Distiago trailing behind me.

“Hey Jen.” Max greeted me as I walked into the main area. “You want to play a couple hands?” He held up a deck of sabacc cards.

“No thanks. I would hate to take all your credits.” I grinned at him mischievously as I ruffled his dark hair.

“Deal me in.” Distiago said as he took a seat. Aleks groaned and I stifled a grin. I was a fair player, but Distiago was better, and he played to win. This would be fun to watch. I rested my hip against the back of the couch and watched as Max dealt hands to Aleks, Distiago, Torian and himself.

“We need snacks, Jen, go make us some sandwiches.” Lyo teased as he joined us. I rolled my eyes, and punched him in the shoulder. “Deal me in too Max.” He said as he sat down.

I left the boys to their game and went to Lyo’s quarters. I left the door open so I could hear them joking with each other. Their laughter made me smile. We didn’t have a lot of time for laughter the past couple months. The sound was soothing. I pulled out my data pad and reread the details of our mission.

That done, I decided to read one of my favorite novels. I got swept up in the adventures of Orli and his Pirate Queen Eira. I was just getting to my favorite part when I heard a knock on the door frame. “Lyo says we will be on Zakuul within the hour. Better gear up Girly.” Aleks wagged his eyebrows at me suggestively.

I threw a pillow at him as I hopped off the bed. I grabbed my gear and started cataloging all the things I may need, Kolto darts, gel, scanner, sutures, steriwrap. Once I felt good that I had everything I needed I joined the guys in the center of the Fury. The ship touched down and we disembarked.

I led the group through Breaktown to the cantina that fronted the Arena Grand. There were people everywhere, taking bets, placing bets, trying to get autographs from past winners of the Arena Grand. I spotted our contact behind the bar. Bowdaar greeted us and explained what was needed. There would be ten rounds of opponents for us to fight. Each round would be a new challenge.

Max grabbed a napkin and stared figuring out how to divvy up the rounds. Figuring with four Mandalorians, a jugg and an inquisitor these fights would be over too fast. Being healers Aleks and I would take every other fight. Distiago, Lyoban, Max and Torian would rotate each fight. We were led to an elevator that took us to a tunnel below the stadium. We could hear the buzz of the crowd that circled the arena.

First up was Aleks and Max. They strolled into the center of the arena and waited for their opponent to be announced. Aleks drew on the force and put shields around himself and Max. Arlaia Zayzen stepped into the ring with her droids. Max targeted the left droid and focused on taking it down, blaster bolts sparking off its domed top. Lightning crackled across the room, shorting out the droid on the right. Aleks’ deep chuckle could just be heard over the sounds of the fight. Once both droids lay in a heap Aleks and Max turned their attention to Arlaia. Without her droids she was dispatched easily. Medical droids entered the arena and carted her away.

Distiago and I stepped into the ring. The noise of the crowd was deafening once we cleared the tunnel. There were bright lights, and cameras floating around, trying to get the best angles for the spectators. We took our position while our opponent was announced. Daruula Grah and his pet iknayids came scuttling toward us. Distiago smiled at me as we simultaneously activated our shields. The iknayids were annoying but easy enough to kill. Daruula was a pushover and our round was over. The crowd erupted in loud boos as he was carted off the field.

Aleks and Lyoban went to take their positions in the center of the floor. Their opponent was announced as Gungus Boga, a Herald of Zildrog followed at his heels. Aleks once again shielded himself and Lyo, and stood waiting for the fight to start, lightning sparking between his red fingertips. Lyoban stood perfectly still, the only movement were his eyes, watching his quarry. As soon as the countdown hit zero Lyo flew through the air, igniting his lightsaber. Gungus drew his own saber and the two dueled, blue and green blades meeting again and again. Aleks took on the Herald, when he fell Gungus cast Zildrog’s Judgement, but it wasn’t enough to save him. Lyo brought down his blade and the crowd groaned as another one of their champions was struck down.

Torian stepped up beside me. He still looked like he thought I had lost my mind. “Ready?” He asked.

I smiled up at him. “Just like old times.” Something within him softened and he returned my smile briefly. I realized this couldn’t be easy for him. He was acting against his better judgement. Letting me have fun, blow off some steam, instead of keeping me safe.

We stepped into the ring and this time I was surprised by the cheers I heard amongst all the boos. Apparently we had won some people over. Torian activated his shield and then moved to guard me. Two thoughts flashed through my mind simultaneously. How Sweet. And. How dare he? I activated my shield and gave the back of his head a dirty look.

Our opponent came into the ring with a giant k’lor’slug scuttling behind him. We both targeted the slug and brought it down and then turned our attention to Conraad. As Conraad fell to a loud chorus of boos Chomper regained his footing. I caught Torian’s eye as he spun around me, putting himself between me and the slug. I saw the smile that stretched across his face. I am quite sure it matched mine. Chompers staggered and fell again and the crowd shouted it’s disapproval.

Aleks winked at me as he headed back into the ring with Disti. They fought Lanos and half a dozen skytroopers, but even with numbers on their side the fight was over quickly. The crowd was not shy about sharing their feelings. Loud boos were heard as Aleks waved at his would be fans.

Lyoban and I entered the arena together and awaited our next opponents. I shielded myself as Lyo sank into his crouch. We were met with The Breaktown Brawler, King Crush and Mister Ripper. “Ignore the Brawler. Take King, I’ve got Ripper.” I shouted to Lyo. He nodded and turned his red eyes on King Crush. I got Mister Ripper’s attention and drug him far enough from King Crush that their proximity wouldn’t cause more damage, but stayed close enough to be able to shoot Lyo some kolto darts if needed. King Crush fell and Lyo turned his attention to Mister Ripper. Between my blaster bolts and Lyo’s saber strikes it didn’t take long. We turned on The Breaktown Brawler and quickly dispatched him. There were more cheers this time than boos as we left the ring.

Aleks and Torian went to face Nocturno and Drake Raven. Even in the tunnel I heard the roar of the crowd. Clearly these two were favorites in the arena. I watched as Torian outmaneuvered Nocturno, trapping her in Drake’s stuns that were meant for Torian and Aleks. Together they defeated Drake Raven and Aleks picked up the device that dropped stuns and began placing traps around the floor for Torian to pull Nocturno into.

“Ch’itiseb, this was a brilliant idea!” Distiago shouted.

“Yeah, even Torian is having fun.” Lyo said, indicating the expression on Torian’s face. I had not seen that look in well…ever, at least not on him.

“Ch’itiseb.” Disti said quieter than before, leaning towards me so Lyo and Max wouldn’t hear. “I worry though. I see those looks between you two. Is this dredging up too much of the past?” I narrowed my eyes at my brother and made ready to answer him but before I could the crowd indicated the end of the round.

“Ready, Max?” I asked sharper than intended. If he noticed he didn’t comment.

“Born ready!” He smiled broadly.

We were joined in the ring by a rancor, Little Gut, and his handler Ronum Minkus. The latter promptly stealthed from the fight as soon as it started. There wasn’t much strategy for this fight. Avoid the rancor’s smash, and the random traps his handler was placing from somewhere in the crowd. Max and I fired bolt after bolt into the rancor’s hide and watched as his health barely ticked down. This was an endurance fight, we just had to outlast Little Gut. When the rancor finally fell with a thud the crowd went crazy. Nearly every voice was raised in our favor.

For the next round Alex, Distiago and Lyoban entered the ring. Arlaia Zaysen was back for more with a bigger droid. They fought the Doom Droid, dodging its laser burst. When Arlaia popped out they reminded her of their earlier fight. She took very little time before she jumped back inside her droid and powered it back up. But like all the other fights, she lost. The crowd screamed with delight.

The last round pitted Torian, Max and myself against Aftershock, a walker, and the operator, Zotar. We had our hands full of traps and laser blasts and one electric field. After an intense and close battle we were the winners. Torian forgot himself and threw his arms around me and pulled me close. The shock on my face brought him up short. I wasn’t that girl anymore. I wasn’t his girl anymore. I felt a pang of regret. But it had been his choice first. I had just given him what he wanted. He released me and a blush crept across his cheeks. Clearly things had changed.

Bowdaar was overjoyed with our performance, it had gotten the attention he wanted. One of the largest slave owners in the fighting circuit wanted to make a wager. One more fight and all the slaves would belong to Bowdaar, or Bowdaar would belong to the slaver. This was why we were here. To help Bowdaar win theses slaves, and set them free. Bowdaar could take only one of us into the arena with him, and as the Alliance Commander he chose me. We stepped into the arena and were faced with the slaver and two droids. The droids were scrap before I finished my first volley. The slaver was ready to give everything to Bowdaar before I finished my second.

We left Zakuul in high spirits. Also with a promise that Bowdaar would soon be joining us on Odessen. First he had to take in all the slaves, and then he would set them free. It was a massive undertaking. Hopefully after a full night of fighting I would sleep well enough to not be bothered by nightmares.

Chapter Text

I woke up screaming. I buried my face into one of Lyo's pillows and tried to muffle the sounds of my sobbing. I heard the sound of several pairs of feet running to the door and a chorus of male voices rang out.

"Jen?"

"Ch'itiseb?"

"Jen?"

"Cyar'ika?"

"Girly?"

I peeked at the door, and the sight of all five men squashed in the doorway would have made me laugh if I didn't feel so wretched. They were all barefoot, wearing undershirts and shorts, their hair sticking up at odd angles. They all looked more like boys without all that armor on. I rolled over and sat up. "Sorry guys. It was just a nightmare. Go back to sleep."

Max yawned and left to go back to his bunk, Lyo followed shortly after. Aleks lingered in the doorway a moment longer before he too went back to his bed. Distiago's bright red eyes met mine and he shook his head slightly. I recalled his earlier concerns as I looked from him to Torian. I looked back at my brother and shrugged. "I am fine, go back to bed." He sighed, but he returned to his bunk.

That left Torian l and I alone. He leaned against the frame waiting for me to say something. Finally I broke the silence. "Torian come in. I don't bite."

"Actually Cyar'ika..." He chuckled at the memory as he ran his hand down his forearm where I had bitten him, a lifetime ago.

My face grew hot. "Not my finest moment."

"I beg to differ." He smiled as he sat down next to me. He reached out and took my hand in his, his mood turning more serious. "Are you alright?"

I closed my eyes and took a minute before answering him. "Not really. I hoped that by taking control of something in my life I could break this stupid cycle. Maybe then this nightmare would stop. I am so tired."

"Maybe if you talked about it..."

I shook my head no. He hadn't been present for Kaitia's death, but explaining to him how she died, and that every night someone else took her place...I couldn't burden him with that. He had loved Kaitia like a sister. "Let's just say that it is bad. And I am unable to do anything. I can't move or speak. I can't close my eyes, so I see it happen again and again."

Torian wrapped an arm around my shoulders and I leaned against him. I closed my eyes and yawned. "Cyar'ika, you should get some sleep."

"No, please stay. I can't go back to sleep." I begged him. "We can watch a movie or play sabacc."

"Whatever you want." He pulled me to my feet as he stood.

"Wait a minute." My brain registered his old term of endearment. "Torian..." I sank back down on the bed.

He arched an eyebrow at me. "Yes?"

"You haven't called me that since..." I didn't want to admit that I actually liked the sound of it. It was comforting, something familiar.

"Sorry." His cheeks flushed as he rubbed the back of his neck. "Old habit...it's just...tonight felt like old times. Just, for a few hours I saw that girl I fell in love with on Taris. I saw what could have been if it hadn't been for Valkorion."

"Valkorion didn't write that letter." I said sadly.

He sat next to me again. "I will forever be paying for that stupid letter." He put his head in his hands. "You don't know what it was like..." His blue eyes filled with tears as he looked up at me. "I searched, with Mako, on my own. For years. Everyone told me I was crazy. You were dead and if I didn't let you go I might as well join you. I wanted to."

I nodded. "I understand why you had to move on. But you need to understand what I went through. I woke up to Lana, not you. And then a stranger named Koth informs me that it has been five years since Marr's ship exploded, but for me it was only a few days. Valkorion is in my head, his children want me dead...My only thought was you. I had to find you, Mako, Blizz and Gault." I chuckled. "Full disclosure? I didn't give Skadge a second thought. But you...you I thought of constantly. It wasn't until we were heading to Asylum that I received your letter. I didn't take it well. Do you remember the nexu nest we fell into on Voss?"

He smiled slightly at the memory. "Yeah. I don't know who was more surprised, us or them."

"Well multiply their ferocity tenfold."

"Okay." He looked at me with a puzzled expression for a moment. I watched his face as my meaning finally sunk in. "Oh."

"There is a fine line between love and hate Torian. I have walked it." We sat in silence for a while. Neither knowing how to bridge this gap. I picked at the hem of my night shirt.

Torian finally broke the silence. "Loved or hated, at least there is something there. It gives me hope."

"Hope for what?" My hackles were raised. Definately hated!

"I said I needed to move on. I never said I did."

"Torian...Haar'chak! You can't be serious!" I said more loudly than intended.

"Shh. You will wake the others, and I don't feel like fighting with Distiago tonight." He urged me.

"I don't need my brother to fight my battles for me." I hissed as I crossed my arms. "Torian I loved you. I do love you. You were my first...everything." I paused. "Including my first heartbreak."

"Give me a chance to fix it." He urged.

"You had a chance. You could have stopped me on Darvannis. Told me then how you felt. Things could have been different. But you let me walk away. You didn't fight for me."

"That is what I am doing now." He shrugged.

"But why now? Because Theron is gone. You have no competition? You think I will just fall into your arms now that he is out of the way?" 

"No! You were happy. I didn't feel like I had the right to ruin your happiness a second time. But it is very clear you are no longer happy."

I forced a huge smile on my face. "Hearts good. Never been better." I knocked on my chest.

Torian stood and made his way to the door. He looked back at me, clearly hurt.  "Have it your way. Just know that I am not buying it."

"Torian, wait...I am sorry." I felt awful for hurting him. I still cared deeply for him. I wanted to see him happy. But I was not ready for this.

He turned to me before leaving for the night. "Me too."

Great! I was pushing everyone away. Lana and I hadn't spoken since our argument. I had hurt Torian. Distiago was upset with me. Koth still wasn't my biggest fan, but that feeling was mutual. And Theron? My stomach clenched at the thought of him. These were members of the alliance command staff. People I trusted with my life, and yet I was shutting them out so they couldn't hurt me. Who was next? Vette? Emmynn? Quinn? We were on our way back to Odessen, and a base full of potential arguments.

I threw myself against the pillows and stared at the ceiling. I needed to come up with a plan, some way of coping with my insomnia, without picking fights with everyone in the galaxy. How did Theron live like this all the time? He hadn't slept a full eight hours since coming to Odessen. I could account for a lot of those sleepless nights. I smiled sadly to myself. I missed Theron terribly. He had been gone for a month and a half, and other than the letter he sent right after his betrayal there had been no contact. Not that I would expect any. If I was right, he was undercover, trying to expose the threat to the alliance. Contacting me would blow his cover. And to be fair, if I knew he was in danger I would risk everything to rescue him. I just wished he would finish whatever mission he was on and come home. I was losing bits and pieces of him every day. Yesterday I couldn't remember the exact shade of gold his eyes were. Today I couldn't remember the sound of his laughter.

Sleep was beyond me so I got up and got dressed. I needed caf! Disti found me on the bridge, my feet propped up on the console. I was watching the stars as we sped passed. He tugged on the end of one of my pigtails and gave me one of his wide smiles. "Good morning Ch'itiseb."

I smiled back at him. I knew I wasn't in trouble with him anymore if he was using my nickname. I raised my caf in a mock salute. "Morning. You are in a good mood."

"Seeing Torian in his bunk this morning did wonders for my mood." He saw the angry look on my face. "I just don't want him to hurt you again. So what is our play when we get back to Odessen? You know Lana isn't going to be thrilled when we stroll back in with you in tow."

"I would be more concerned about Emmynn." I chuckled. "I took off with her brother and best friends and didn't think to invite her."

"The alliance couldn't spare both the Commander and the Empress. Besides the Empress has been busy with her consort." Distiago rolled his eyes.

I slapped his shoulder as I laughed. "Shush. You know if you found Mako you would be taking time alone to be with her."

His smile faltered. "Yeah, you are right. I wouldn't let that girl out of my sight." He took my hand in his and made me a promise. "We will find them."

Chapter Text

Major Quinn stood in front of me, his face showing no sign of the anger that was seething just under the surface. But I could sense it, just a little nudge and it would boil over. "My lord you need to handle her delicately. Keeping her in a high stress situation will only exacerbate the problem."

"Thank you for your assessment Major. I will take it under advisement. You are dismissed."

He bowed and left me to myself. I paced back and forth behind my desk. I wasn't sure how to handle this situation. I was angry. No. Angry wasn't the right word. I was pissed. Jen had disobeyed orders and run off somewhere. No guard. No thought to what would happen if she was attacked while in route to her destination.

My comlink chimed. "Lana. They are back. Lyo just requested clearance to land."

"Thank you Vette." I closed the link and marched to the hangar. Seeing her walking in with Max on one arm and Distiago on the other laughing at some story. Looking like she had not a care in the world...I lost my normal composure. "What the hell where you thinking?" I raised my voice. "You stupid, selfish girl!" Everyone stopped and watched the drama unfolding in front of them. Normally that would have kept me in check.

She stepped from the center of the group. Her red eyes narrowed. "Selfish? I went on a mission for Hylo. Just like all those other missions you sent me on. All those other times I could have died. All those times I almost did, what makes this time so different?" 

"You know why. In all those cases we knew who and where the enemy was. This time we are completely in the dark about where he will strike from."

"He?" She challenged. She knew damn good and well who I meant.

"Yes Commander. He. We don't know what Theron's plan is. He knows you though. Better than anyone of us, save Torian." I looked to him for help. She had to be made to see reason. "You put everyone that went with you at risk."

"Then wouldn't it stand to reason that we are all at risk now? Theron knows this base. He knows the access code to my room. He knows the codes to get on the Mando War."

"He has the code to your room? Every access code was changed when he defected. How is that even possible?" Standard protocols stated that all codes change whenever someone leaves the alliance. 

She shrugged. "I changed it back."

She had lost her damn mind! "You did what?"

"I am not afraid of him. He isn't the villain you are making him out to be." She crossed her arms over her chest.

"He tried to kill you. I can't overlook that." Torian said quietly. Jen whirled around and looked at him. Her face held none of the warmth that was normally there when she looked at him. Something had happened while they had been away. 

"You don't have the right..." She snarled at him.

Distiago bristled next to her. Ready to throw punches if Torian moved into his range. Max moved to defend her too. I looked beyond her and saw Aleks and Lyoban both standing perfectly straight. Aleks was watching Torian. Lyo's eyes were locked on me.

"I have the right to my feelings. I made a mistake. I let you go..." Torian's voice dropped an octave and was full of hatred as he continued. "Theron wormed his way into your heart and then your bed. He tries to kill you. And you are willing to forgive the aruetii?"

The wild fury that contorted Jen's features as she lunged at Torian was so unlike her. Distiago and Max grabbed hold of her and held her back.

"Ch'iteseb, you will regret hurting him later." Distiago looked at Max. "You got her?" He waited for Max to get a better hold of Jen and then he released her as he took five steps and closed the gap between him and Torian. "Feel whatever you feel but you gave up the right to voice your opinions. Jen is no longer yours. She would regret hurting you. Where as I would not." His piece said he returned to his sister's side. She curled against him, making strangled sobbing sounds.

 "I should have let Vaylin kill you!" She sobbed. As angry as I was I knew she didn't mean that. But Torian looked crushed.

"You should have, cause this is more torture than I can bear. I was prepared to swallow my misgivings as long as you were happy. I owed you that at least. But Theron broke you. And you refuse to see that." He took a step towards her. Even though it brought him closer to Distiago. "Wake up Emmogen. Kaysh cuyir aru'ela. He always was."

"The only enemy I see here is you." Jen turned away from him and looked back at me.

"Cyar'ika..."

Torian was blinded by his pain and didn't see the fist that was incoming until it was too late. Jen stood over him. "Never call me that again!" He lay on the floor rubbing his jaw looking up at her. 

"If you know what is good for you, stay down." Max warned Torian. 

Jen once again turned to me. "As for you. I am tired of trying to make you see what is so clearly in front of you. Theron is not our enemy. I know this with every fiber of my being. You cannot convince me otherwise."

"And you cannot convince me of his innocence. He tried to kill both of us. Only one of us will accept that reality."

"He shot at you with a tranquilizer dart and shot out the window so we could escape. He had to make it look convincing."

"You are grasping at straws. There is no evidence to support your claims. Everything was destroyed in the crash." I replied flatly. 

 "A good spy covers his tracks. My evidence is in Theron's character. He left the Republic for this alliance. He let all those times I sided with you, with the Empire, slide. When Malcom pulled his gun on me Theron defended me. Do those actions sound like someone who is really betraying me?" She asked.

"Everyone has their breaking point Commander. Choosing you over his father was his." I watched as her face crumpled. Clearly I had hit a sore spot.

"I never wanted that. I did everything I could to stop Malcom." She said sadly. "Theron knew that."

"He is a spy! It is his job to trick people into trusting him so he can get the information he needs. He is one of the best. Which is why I recruited him in the first place..."

Torian cut me off. "Apparently he was after more than information." He glared up at Jen.

She looked behind her at Torian. "Not that it is any of your business, but I pursued him!" She turned back to me. "You are making my point for me Lana. If he was such a great spy, who tricked everyone here, then why be so sloppy when it mattered most?"

"I don't know his motives. But he is a danger and you need to accept that. He does not have a home here."

"You don't get to decide that!" She shouted at me. 

"That is enough. My lord I thought I was clear in my instructions?" Major Quinn had joined us at some point and was unimpressed with the scene before him. "I need to speak with the Commander. Reguarding our early conversation." He stepped between us and spoke to her gently. "We need to discuss your health. I have some concerns." He looked up at Distiago. "You may want to join us."

I could not see her over Quinn's head, but Distiago looked at her, briefly alarmed. "You may want to check on Torian's jaw. Jen got him pretty good." A satisfied smile stretched across his face. "Should probably check her hand too."

Quinn nodded. "Meet me in the med bay shortly. I will check her hand and then we can talk."

Distiago led Jen from the hangar. She looked back at me once. The anger still evident on her face. I knew it was my fault. I had pushed her. I had given Torian his opportunity to express his feelings. I had been trying to keep her safe and somehow ended up as her enemy. Meanwhile the real enemy was out there. And she was defending him.

 

Chapter Text

I lay back in the grass and let the sun warm my face. Shadows danced across the grass around me. I breathed in long deep breaths. I had come out here to get some peace and quiet. There was nothing going on and I couldn't stand sitting in the same room as Lana and Torian going over the same information over and over again. We had nothing new. I could feel the accusations in their eyes. Neither dared bring it up again. Not after the huge fight in the hangar three days ago. I knew where they stood. And they were wrong.

These thoughts were ruining my tranquility. I shoved all of that aside and focused on just feeling my breaths, the sun, the breeze. I could hear small splashes from the tiny ginx as they jumped in the small pond near me. This was one of my favorite places on Odessen. There was enough tree coverage that this area couldn't be seen from the base. The were very few places on Odessen that I could enjoy this much privacy. I thought about going home for a couple days. I missed my sprawling villa on Tatooine. My home on Manaan was not an option. It had been a gift from Theron and held too many memories. But deep down I knew I needed to keep up appearances. The alliance came first.

"You always put the Republic first. I hated you for that." Theron's final words to his father felt like a warning for me. I needed to take a step back. I couldnt go chasing after him as the Alliance Commander. But if I left the alliance...Emmynn would understand why I had to go find him. But if I left I would have no defense if the Republic or this unknown threat came for me. There was no good option, every move seemed like the wrong one. Stay and be the Commander, or leave and open myself to attack. Theron would tell me to stay put if he were here. But he wasn't.

I checked my chronometer. I was anxious for the shuttle from Hoth to arrive. After meeting with Quinn, Disti had called our parents. He told my mother to take the first shuttle here, he would cover the cost. I couldn't wait to see her. I needed her council. I folded my hands over my stomach and closed my eyes. I heard a shuttle fly overhead. It was too early to be hers. 

I thought about the day I had drug Theron out here and in his exhaustion he had forgotten that our flirty banter was a game and he told me the truth. I thought about his kiss that was so earnest. That wasn't something that could be faked. His love was not subterfuge.

My comlink chimed. "Ch'itiseb, Mom's shuttle is on approach." I sat up. The sun was sinking behind the mountains. I must have fallen asleep. I hurried to my feet.

"I am on my way." I closed my comlink and made my way through the familiar path to the hangar. I made it to the landing zone before the shuttle docked. I moved to stand next to Disti as we watched it glide in. The shuttle landed and the ramp seemed like it took forever to extend. Then she was standing there. I ran to her and threw myself into the safe harbor of her arms, sobs wracking me. 

She wrapped her arms around me and patted my hair. "My precious girl. What is wrong?"

Distiago hugged us both to his chest. "Perhaps we should go to her quarters so we have some privacy." He picked up her bag.

Mother wiped my tears away and cupped my face in her hands. "We will set things right." She pulled my arm through hers and we followed Disti to my room. Once there I keyed the code to let us in.

Once we were in the privacy of my room I pulled my mother to one of my sofas with me. I pulled her arm around me and snuggled up against her. "I have missed you." I whispered to her.

"I have missed you too, Ch'itiseb." She hugged me to her and kissed the top of my head. She looked up at Distiago and asked "Now what was so urgent that I needed to get on the first transport here?"

"Everything is so wrong. I don't know the right move." I answered as tears started gathering in my eyes again. I was so tired of fighting everyone, tired of the constant threat. No option was a good option. The alliance was bigger than me, bigger than Theron. He had told me that when he left. I just didn't understand it until now. I didn't have the will to fight right now. I just wanted someone to make all the pain go away. Make it all better. I barely listened to the conversation my mother and brother were having.

"She isn't sleeping, she has nightmares every night. Quinn, her doctor, thinks she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He has her confined to the base. No missions. She needs rest. She needs to eat three meals a day and lay off the caf." Distiago explained.

"So she needs a babysitter?" Our mother teased.

"Something like that." He agreed. "There is more, but I will leave Jen to explain that."

My mother looked at me. "First she needs to get some sleep."

I felt Disti pick me up from the couch and carry me to my bed. He gently settled me against my pillow and pulled the blankets up around me. I was having a hard time focusing on his face, my eyes were not staying open. "Stay." I managed to whisper. I didn't want to be alone.

"We will be right here Ch'itiseb." He bent down and kissed my forehead and then went back to sit with our mother. Their conversation was no louder than a whisper. I drifted into darkness.

Vaylin's cold eyes stared back at me in triumph. Her mouth turned up in an evil sneer. My skin prickled in fear. Her black robes billowed behind her as she paced back and forth, savoring this moment. The flash of red behind her drew my eye. Vaylin stepped aside to display her trophy. His head was bowed, hands behind his head. My heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. No! Not him! Anyone but him! I wanted to scream. But just like every other time I couldn't find my voice. I kept my eyes locked on Theron, drinking in the sight of him. Anger flamed in my chest warring with the fear. Valkorion had taken my old life from me. Vaylin had already taken so much. She couldn't have him too! Fight! Anger won. "Vaylin, this ends now." I pulled my blasters from their holsters on my thighs. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Emmynn sink into her attack stance as she engaged her twin sabers, bathing us in pink light. I heard Senya, Arcann and Lana's sabers spring to life behind us. "To Theron." I commanded. I was going to attack before she could throw him across the gap like a rag doll. I put a Kolto shield around Theron. My shield wouldn't protect him from a force attack, but blaster bolts would skip harmlessly across the surface. I made eye contact with him and my heart skipped a beat. Behind him was a Skytrooper with a rifle shoved into the back of Theron's jacket. The muzzle penetrating my shield. My adrenaline spiked.

Emmynn picked up on my emotions and scanned for the new threat. "I'm on it." Her voice a deadly whisper. Reaching out with the force she took hold of the weapon. "Now!" She wrenched the gun free and flung it aside. It slid across the floor and dropped out of sight as it fell off the platform and into the forest below.

I unleashed a volley of blue bolts into the Skytroppers and Horizon Guard. Emmynn's sabers arced gracefully towards her targets. Lana, Senya and Arcann leaped into the fray. The Skytrooper behind Theron fell into a mangled heap. Theron rolled out of the way and brought his pistols to bear as we fought wave after wave of Vaylin's troops. "Where is Vaylin?" He shouted over the sounds of the battle.

I scanned the platform for her and found her standing against the wall, fear etched in every line of her face. Her eyes wide in disbelief. "No!" She screamed. "What have you done? You have ruined everything!"

"You made a huge mistake Vaylin, using Theron as your bait. You gave me the key to your destruction." I holstered my pistols. "You have no power here anymore." She screamed as she vanished into the void.

Suddenly everyone was celebrating.There were hugs all around. Lana threw her arms around my shoulders. "Drinks on the Commander!" She pulled me closer to her side in a hug and then released me. I felt a twinge of regret. We hadn't spoken since our fight in the hangar. That needed to be rectified. Arcann and Senya had their arms around each other as they followed Lana into the cantina.

Emmynn hugged me tight. "I am proud of you Jen! You did it!" Theron shifted his weight and gave a small cough. She looked at me and smiled knowingly. "I will leave you two alone." She turned and disappeared into the cantina with the others.

I was finally alone with Theron. He pushed away from the wall and held out a hand to me. I slipped my hand into his and let him tug me along behind him. He led us through the base, the only sound was that of our footsteps. I wanted to ask where we were going but I was afraid to break whatever magic that had brought him to me. I knew this wasn't real, I was dreaming, but he was here. I looked down at our interlaced fingers, blue and peach alternating. He absentmindedly stroked my thumb with his. My eyes suddenly burned as hot tears spilled down my cheeks. A quiet sob escaped me, stopping Theron in his tracks. He let go of my hand as he turned toward me, encircling my waist with one arm, and cupping my face with with his free hand. His golden eyes were tight with concern. "Please don't cry love." He caressed my cheek, wiping away the tears. He planted a gentle kiss on my cheek.

My breath hitched in my chest. "I miss you." I whispered.

Theron sighed as he rested his forehead against mine. "I hate to be the cause of these tears." His arm tightened around me as his lips touched mine. He released my waist and took my hand in his again. He resumed pulling me through the base. Maybe Lana was right. Theron could be leading me to a firing squad and I would still follow him. We stepped out of the hangar into the lift that would take us to the path to our pond. "Jenny, you know I love you." Those words, the last time I heard them was on Umbara. My heart stuttered. 

"Theron. I don't want to know who we are without each other. Please come home."

"Jenny, I am here." He placed a hand on my heart.

I twined my fingers through his and dropped our hands to my stomach and pressed his hand flat, smoothing his fingers under mine. "And here." Tears spilled over my cheeks again. They should have been happy tears, this should have been a joyous occasion. But this was a dream and it didn't change the fact that he was still gone. "I love you Theron." I kissed him gently.

A sob ripped its way from my throat and woke me.

"Shh, Jenny. It's okay." I heard my mother's voice soothing me. I was wrapped in her arms, and she was rocking me like she did when I was little, my head was tucked under her chin. 

"Momma, I can't do this anymore." I sobbed into her neck. "I have made a mess of things. I don't know where Theron is, and I can't go after him as the Alliance Commander. But I don't belong here anymore."

I heard Disti slowly make his way to my bed, and I felt the bed dip as he sat down. He took one of my hands in his. "Jen, this is your alliance. You and Theron built this as a bridge between your factions. A place you could be together. You don't doubt that he will come back to you do you? Don't let Lana and Torian fill your head with doubts."

I shook my head. "It was something Theron said. I can't put the alliance first, above him, or above this." I placed my hand over my stomach, over a little piece of Theron. 

Chapter Text

"How many people know?" My mother whispered quietly. Jen was sleeping peacefully behind us and we didn't want to wake her. I had suggested taking this discussion to another room, but our mother wouldn't hear of leaving her side. 

"Four. The three of us and Major Quinn. He destroyed her bloodwork and left it out of his report." I pinched the bridge of my nose, I could feel a headache starting. "He can be trusted. I imagine that she will want to tell the Empress." It still felt weird calling Emm that. We had known each other for years, battled together. But she had always carried herself with an air of nobility so it shouldn't have come as a surprise when she took the throne. 

"What about the other doctor's results?" My mother alluded to Jen's earlier visit to Dr. Lokin and Dr. Oggurobb. 

"Lokin didn't do a full panel. He was only looking for infection." I was thankful for the small miracle that Lokin was not as thorough as Major Quinn. Otherwise we would have a lot more problems to deal with right now. We would still have to deal with them, but she wasn't showing yet, so that would buy us some time.  

"Did she know? Before she went into that ring?" My mother's hands were knotted together in stress. 

At least I could put my mother's concern here to rest. "No. When Quinn gave her the news she was so angry with herself. She had no clue. He had done blood work as part of his examination before we left. But we were gone by the time that he got the results. If I had known, I would not have allowed her to go." I sighed. Looking back, it had been foolish to go to Zakuul and put her at risk in the Arena Grand. Pregnant or not, she still had a target on her back. As her older brother I should have stopped it before it even started. But we were Mandalorian. Fighting was in our blood. 

My mother looked over her shoulder at Jen, a frown pulling at her mouth. "She is so headstrong." A shaky breath escaped her. "Always the willful child. Constantly in trouble. I am surprised it took this long for her to find herself in a situation like this."

"To be fair, none of us saw this coming. Who would ever have believed Theron was capable of...whatever this is?" I tried to trust Jen's assessment of Theron's behavior, that he was playing double agent. She seemed positive. But there were times that I had my doubts. Especially now. I doubted everyone. "I need to go to Lana and change her security details. I want only people that I have vetted on that detail. Max should be let in on the news, along everyone else that was on that trip to Zakuul."

My mother's eyes widened in shock. "Distiago, no! You can't..." She looked at Jen before she turned back to me. "She will be furious!" She hissed quietly.

"Mandalorian code. He will protect her, probably more fiercely than the rest of us. As angry as they are at each other, as much as I dislike him...Torian has to be told." She didn't understand the codes that we lived by, that bound us to care for children, even ones that were born from infidelity, with our lives. I didn't think that my future niece or nephew fit that description, but Torian would, and that would gain his cooperation. "She won't like it. But I can count on one hand, and a few fingers of the other, the people I trust. I can't be on her detail twenty-four hours a day."

My mother nodded. "But do they need to know everything? Isn't that something that she should share with people, when she is ready? The circle should be kept as small as possible."

Jen sat up in bed. "Tell Max, Lyo, and Aleks. I will tell Torian."

"How long have you been awake Jenny?" My mother rushed to the bedside and sat next to Jen, patting her hair, and cupping her face in her hand.

"Long enough to know what you two are planning." Jen smiled softly at our mother and then looked around her at me. "It should come from me." She put up her hand to silence me when I started to protest. "Put yourself in his shoes. Would you want to hear it from Mako, or from her brother?"

"Mako doesn't have a brother." I said flippantly. She did that little head shake that indicated she was rolling her eyes. I understood her point though. "Do you want me to come as back up?"

"Disti, my hero!" She answered sarcastically as she stuck her tongue out at me. "I am a big girl, I can handle Torian on my own." It was amazing what sleep had done for her mood. She was more herself, cocky and sarcastic. Or maybe it was something else at work that had relit that fire in her. "I will draw up a letter and submit it stating that I want a change in my security. Anyone wanting to apply must go through you."

"Sounds like a good start. I will assemble everyone here in the morning." I felt better having a plan to enact. Keeping Jen, and the baby, safe were my highest priority. "Is there anyone other than Torian that you plan on telling?"

Jen looked at me sadly. "No." The only person she would want to tell was gone, and we had no clue where he was. "And I am only telling Torian out of necessity." She crossed her arms and pouted.

"I think you should tell Emm." I encouraged. I thought if she had someone to talk to that she would feel happier. "She wouldn't like to be left out of the circle of trust."

"You are right. I should bring her into our super secret club." She gave me a fake smile, but I knew that I had won. 

"Alright, we all need to get some sleep. There is a lot of planning to do tomorrow." Our mother said quietly with a small smile playing around her lips. "Some things never change. Here I am, shooing you off to sleep."

"Goodnight Mom. Ch'itiseb." I gave my mother a hug, and I kissed Jen on the top of her head before returning to the sofa to  get some sleep. I heard my mother and sister whispering to each other for a few minutes and then all was quiet. I stared up at the ceiling, making a list of people I personally could trust, those that I wasn't decided on yet, and those that I definitely didn't trust. Lana was the top of the last list. Something was off with her, she was trying too hard to push Jen into believing the traitor story. Maybe she was trying to protect Jen from disappointment, if it turned out that Jen was wrong. Or she knew something that would have alleviated all this stress that Jen was under, and she was keeping it to herself. Either way, I didn't trust her with knowing about Jen and Theron's baby. Gault also went on that list, because if he thought he could make a buck he would sell his own mother, and this would make juicy news for unreputable news outlets, which would give him a quick payday. As much as I liked Hylo, she would have to be on the list of people not to trust, because I had no clue what passed as pillow talk between her and Gault. Kaliyo was a psycho, so she went on that list as well. Koth also went on the list, because he had proven that his loyalty was to Lana not the alliance. Emm went on the trusted list, along with Quinn, Max, Lyo, Aleks and Torian. And everyone else on the base fell somewhere in between. At least I had more people on my list of trusted allies, then on my list of people to not trust. Somehow I felt that would change as I took stock of those that surrounded us every day.

 

I awoke early the next morning and slipped out quietly so I wouldn't wake anyone. My first order of business was to meet with Lana. I headed to the war room. The blonde Sith was already there, reading a datapad with a slight frown on her face. Her yellow eyes flicked up to my face and she lowered her datapad to greet me. "Distiago, what can I do for you?" Her voice was polite but held no warmth.

"I am taking over the Commander's security detail. You should have an official request later today. I would like for Max, Lyoban, Aleksander and Torian to be rotated through. Everyone else on her detail can be relieved."

She eyed me curiously. "Torian? Are you sure that is a wise idea?"

"He will be cooperative." I assured her.

I couldn't be sure, it happened so quickly, but I thought I saw a flicker of sadness cross her face, and then it was gone, her face smooth, emotionless. "And the Commander? How will she handle him being on her detail? Last time I saw them together she had come close to breaking his jaw."

"She doesn't like it, but sees the necessity." I answered.

"So the alliance is supposed to trust her into the care of the very same men who smuggled her off world against doctor's orders? Do you think I am a fool?"

"Far from it Lana. But after our conversation with Major Quinn I have seen my error. She needs to rest, she needs to heal. It will be hard for her to do, since that goes against her nature. I will need the help of Max and Torian to keep her on the base. Lyo and Aleks will help keep her from feeling too trapped." I hoped that this was close enough to the truth that it would pass scrutiny if Lana tried to probe further. 

"Very well. It will be done." She answered briskly. Her eyes softened and she sat her datapad on the table in front of her. "Distiago, I don't expect details, Major Quinn wouldn't give me any, patient doctor confidentiality and all that. Just tell me, is she going to be okay?"

I nodded. "Yes, eventually, but she shouldn't be in high stress situations. Quinn is not clearing her for missions for the foreseeable future."

"We live in high stress situations every day..." Lana started arguing.

"That may be true, but bringing up Theron and throwing his betrayal in her face doesn't help. She believes that he is doing his job, and she may very well be wrong. If she is wrong she will have to deal with that. But arguing with her isn't going to help anyone, it will just make her dig her heels in deeper. If you are right, she will come to you and apologize. But if you are wrong, are you prepared to lose her friendship forever? Because if you keep pushing her that is what will happen. Jen can hold a grudge. And when it comes to Theron, as you have seen, she will go to war for him." I understood loving someone fiercely, to the point that minor offenses to them hurt you too. 

Lana nodded. "It is Rishi all over again, just on a much larger scale."

"And the stakes are higher." I agreed.

"Thank you for your insight Distiago."

"I will be briefing the detail this morning. I will make it as short as possible. I know you need Torian's presence for your briefings."

"Thank you for the consideration. Speaking of which I should get back to my reports." She picked up her datapad and began scrolling through her information, preparing for today's meetings.

I headed back to Jen's quarters and quietly slipped inside in case anyone was still sleeping. The room was empty. I could hear my mother's voice from the refresher and the sound of running water. My mother came through the doorway and smiled at me. "Good morning Distiago. I am going to brew some tea for Jenny. Would you like anything?"

"No. I am good. I grabbed a caf on my way back from meeting with Lana. Thank you." I threw myself on the couch and rubbed my eyes. 

Jen came out of the refresher, her normal blue coloring more of a sky blue. She stumbled back to her bed and curled up on her side. Our mother returned with a steaming mug of tea and urged Jen to sit up and drink it. Jen put the cup to her lips and made a face. "I know. It smells awful, but it will help settle your stomach."

"Are you sure you feel up to talking to Torian? I can send him a message to meet me with the rest of your guard." I wished she would let me handle this for her.

She shook her head. "I already told you. I will tell him."

"Distiago leave your sister alone. Jenny, drink up." Our mother chided us. We were adults and Jen was still getting me in trouble.

"The guys will be here in an hour. I told Lana I would have Torian at the morning breifing as soon as possible."

 "I guess I should get a move on then." She moved slowly to the refresher to get dressed. When she emerged twenty minutes later her color had returned to normal and she looked steadier on her feet. She favored me with a smile. "Thank you for doing this for me Disti. I love you."

I tugged one of her pigtails. "I love you too little sister."

Chapter Text

I took a deep breath and tugged the hem of my jacket in place. My hands felt clammy and I felt nauseous. Everything about this situation was wrong. I should be telling Theron this news. We should be celebrating. Instead, here I was, standing before Torian's door. After everything that we had been through...this would hurt Torian...and I couldn't spare him this pain. I could turn around and hide in my room and he would be left in the dark for a little longer. Coward! No. That wouldn't be right. He should hear the news from me, not second hand through Distiago.

I pushed the panel near his door to let him know that he had a visitor. I stood my ground, head held high. The door slid open and it was too late to run. "I didn't come here to fight. I came to apologize." I said quickly before he could shut the door in my face. Torian looked at me for a minute and took a step back, silently inviting me in. I sat down on his couch and looked up at him. "Will you please sit. There are some things I need to say."

"I would like to stand if that is alright." He folded his hands behind his back and looked at me coldly.

I deserved it. I had not been kind to him. "Torian, I am sorry. I am sorry I said I wished you were dead. I am sorry that I have broken your heart with my callousness. I feel awful. You have only ever loved me and I am sorry that I can't return that love anymore." I looked down at the floor. I didn't know how to tell him that I wasn't done hurting him. Somehow I found the courage to look at him.

"If that is all..." His blue eyes were cold and distant.

"Torian..." Clearly I had pushed him too far. Well what was one more twist of the knife right? "Please hear me out. I am not finished."

"I have packing to do. I am leaving Odessen. Mandalore will send someone else to liaise with the alliance." He indicated a few bags near the bedroom door. 

What was he saying? "That was going to be my plan." I said simply. "I don't belong here anymore. I've just made a mess of things since Iokath." My stomach rolled at the memory of Jace's death and the pain it had caused Theron. Things hadn't been right since then.

"None of what happened after Iokath was your doing. That blame all rests squarely  on Theron's shoulders." He said bitterly, his eyes narrowed.

"If I had allied with the Republic...Jace would still be alive." 

"The outcome would have still been the same." He countered.

"Perhaps." I allowed. "I know you hate Theron. You believe he tricked me to get everything he wanted..."

"And more." Torian interupted.

"But you need to take responsibility for your own actions. At every turn, when you should have been there for me someone else stepped up. Lana, Emm, Theron. It wasn't too late when we came back from Darvannis. Nothing had happened between Theron and I, some flirting, a dozen kisses, nothing serious. Nothing that couldn't be taken back. I was in love with him, but I hadn't told him yet. But that night when I came back with you in tow...I waited up. I didn't know what to do. Continue moving on with Theron, or take you back. I  expected you to come to me. When you didn't my path ahead was clear. When Theron showed up at my door, instead of you I had my answer. I will not feel guilty for loving him. I can't." Why did every conversation have to turn into an argument?

Torian looked down at me, his anger still evident in the set of his shoulders. "But he was still a Republic spy."

"Yes. And quicker to answer the call to arms than the Mandalorians. Even though it was me doing the calling. Theron gave up everything to be here. His home. Any hope of having a relationship with his mother. His father..." I closed my eyes. This was wearing me out. I felt a tear trickle down my cheek. "What are the odds I would be present for the deaths of both of my loves fathers? And both were indirectly precipitated by my actions. One a blacklist bounty, the other backed into a corner by my alliance with the Empire."

"You didn't pull the trigger. I took down Jicoln. And Malcom chose the chair despite your warnings." He took a few steps toward me, his shoulders relaxing, and his voice softening. "Neither of those deaths are your fault."

"Theron said the same thing. You two are more alike than you think."  I said with a small smile.

"Other than that, how are we alike?" He bristled angrily.

"For starters, you both loved me. I know that wasn't easy. I am difficult. I am impulsive, which gets me in trouble. I don't tell people what they mean to me until it is almost too late." I indicated his bags. "If I hadn't come to apologize this morning you would have left without knowing..." 

"Knowing what?"

I sighed. He was leaving, I could spare him the pain. "Just that I am sorry." 

His blue eyes appraised me. "There is something you aren't telling me."

I bowed my head. "It doesn't matter now. I don't want to burden you with something that only matters to those on this base."  He would find out eventually but he would be on some distant world and hopefully the distance would insulate him from the shock. I stood and moved to the door. "I know you may find this hard to believe. But I will miss you. I always felt better knowing you had my back." I looked down at my hands and took a deep breath. 

He shifted uncomfortably. "Until I didn't. I said some pretty nasty things too. I was hurt and angry, but it doesn't excuse what I said. I am sorry."

"I wish you luck..." I blinked back tears as I backed through the door.

"You too." He said as the door slid shut between us.

"Goodbye." I whispered. A very small part of me wished he would open the door and tell me he was done leaving me. That he would stay and take whatever I would offer him. Friendship, love, even hatred. But even as I wished it, I knew he wouldn't.

I didn't want to return to my room. My mother would fret over every word of Torian and I's conversation. And I wasn't ready to talk about it. I wanted to be alone to think. To process yet another loss. To shed tears for the end of our relationship. I headed through the hangar and outside to my pond. I lay in the grass soaking in the warmth of the sun. I watched the leaves flutter in the breeze, the clouds floating lazily in the blue sky overhead. I heard the shuttle before I saw it, heading off world, taking Torian from my life. Tears slipped down my cheeks. I loved Theron with every heart beat, but I had also loved Torian. He had been my everything once. Knowing we would probably never see each other again broke my heart. But trying to be my friend, when he clearly wanted more, had taken its toll, he had finally taken all that he could. Had I told him about the baby he would have felt he had to stay. Our codes would pretty much guarantee it. To protect another man's child. A man he hated.  Letting him go was the right decision, he deserved better. I could never return the feelings he had for me.

I placed a hand over my stomach and hummed a lullaby to calm myself. It was one that my mother used to sing to me when I was a child. I already loved this baby, and I would do everything in my power protect her. I would never let him feel abandoned. Like Theron had been. I had been lucky in that both of my parents were loving and supportive, so I had good role models. Disti would be a wonderful uncle. He would have someone else to be overly protective of. And my parents would absolutely adore their grandchild. I just wish I could share this with Theron. I knew he would be scared of following in his mother's footsteps, but I also knew he was capable of loving deeply and fully, without reservations. He would give all the love that his mother had never given him to his child. I closed my eyes and tried to picture our baby. Would she take after me, or would he look more like Theron. I hoped that our baby would have his beautiful golden eyes. My sense of adventure. His sense of duty. 

I had made a mess of things, getting to this point. There were a lot of things that I wish I could do differently. People that I wish hadn't been hurt on the way. But that wasn't the way life worked. And if the trade off was losing this? Then there really was no choice to make. How could I regret the things that brought me here to this place and time? I missed Theron like crazy, the ache of his absence hurt like hell. But realizing that I had this little part of him with me, rekindled a piece of me that I had thought I lost when he left. I found a spark of happiness in the darkness I had been left in. And I clung to it. She was my saving grace. He was my life raft.

I had a new reason to keep fighting for the alliance that we had built. One that was more important than our original purpose, one that had more reason to succeed. A sanctuary for those that had no home to go back to, those who no longer identified as Imperial, Republic or Zakuulan. We had found lives here, and going back to the way things had been was not an option. For some of us we had found our future with someone from the other side. For others, they had never fit into their original home and here they had found accaptance. I was determined to make this a safe place to raise my child. I could envision chasing him through these woods, his pale blue skin and golden eyes, his dark hair that stuck up just like Theron's. She was more cautious, looking into the little pond I loved, her golden eyes reflected back at her, little blue pigtails that her uncle wouldn't be able to resist tugging on. When Theron came back this would be a place he would be proud to call home. He would tell our son stories full of danger and intrigue, and how the good guy always got the girl. The story he would tell our daughter was about love overcoming every difference, and that sometimes, a lot of times, the man needed saving.

I got up and headed back inside. I felt like a weight had been lifted from me. I could breathe easier than I had since Umbara. I had a lot of work cut out for me, and having a purpose to work toward, something to oversee, would take my mind off of how much I missed Theron. The base would need to be expanded. Enough space for families. I had a feeling we would need it sooner rather than later.

I opened the door to my room and was not surprised to see my mother pacing. Her hands knotted in worry. "Jenny! Where have you been? I expected you hours ago."

"Momma, I am fine. Really." I took her hand and led her to the sofa. "I just needed to be alone for a while."

"How did Torian take your news?"

"I didn't tell him. He left Odessen. I didn't see the point. It seemed needlessly cruel to tell him and force him to stay." Also I am a chicken, so there was that. "But I also realized something...I am going to be a mom!" I looked up at my mother with a genuine smile.

"Yes, Jenny. That is why I am here. Why your brother has been running himself ragged for you." She chuckled. "How many punches have you taken to that hard head of yours?"

"No, you misunderstand. I am happy!" I got up and grabbed a bag and started grabbing clothes and other essentials. "I want you to holocall Dad, and have him come to Odessen as soon as possible. If I can't leave then you are stuck here. I don't want you to be away from him." I returned to the sofa. "You two have given me everything. I hope that I can be the same type of mom that you have been." I squeezed her hand.

"Ch'itiseb, you and your brother made it easy to love you."

"Not always. I did bring home a Republic spy." I reminded her. I smiled at the memory. My parents were polite but flustered. They had worked with the Empire their whole lives, as had I, and then I show up after five years with Theron in tow.

"You always did things your own way. But even your father and I could see that your love saw through the petty labels, Empire, Republic...we are all the same. We have different approaches, but we all have hopes and dreams."

"That is what this alliance was built on. And I am going to fight for it! I can't do anything outside this base, but I will strengthen it from within. I will not give in to some nameless order when there are so many others that depend on this base too." 

My mother looked at the bag at my feet. "So if you have decided to stay and fight where are you going?" 

"Next door. You and Dad can have these quarters." I had ordered his quarters not be issued to anyone in case he returned. I could not imagine someone else sleeping in his bed. I stood and lifted my bag. "I will be right next door. The code is my birthday." I kissed her on the cheek and went to my new quarters. Max and Aleks stood on the other side of the door. I motioned to them to follow me. "This will be your new post." They nodded in unison. Aleks winked at me and Max gave me a knowing smile.

The door slid open and I walked in. His room was just the way I left it. His jacket slung over the loveseat. His bed still unmade. I put my clothing away in his locker and pulled out my datapad. I settled myself in the center of the bed and crossed my legs. I submitted papers assigning my quarters to my parents. And I reassigned Theron's quarters to me. It was getting close to dinner time and I hadn't eaten anything. I rummaged through Theron's cabinets and found some stale crackers. I would need to stock the fridge and cabinets. I started making lists of things that I needed. I sent the list to Toovee and laid back on the bed to wait for the droid to fulfill his task.

Warm fingers brushed my hip and I scooted closer to him fitting myself against his body as closely as I could. He pressed gentle kisses along my shoulder. His hand slid under my shirt and cupped my breast rolling the hardened peak between his finger and his thumb. I pushed against him in response. He slid his hand down my side back to my hip, fingers biting into my flesh. He hooked his fingers in my underwear, yanking them off roughly. His clothes followed quickly.

Theron slid back in behind me and pulled my back against his chest. His fingers slid inside of me and he quickly stroked me into a frenzy. I rocked my hips against him, feeling the length of his erection between us. "Ch'acico." I whispered. Trembling on the edge of my orgasm.

He lifted my leg to rest on top of his and guided himself inside of me. I gasped as he buried himself fully. His lips brushed the back of my neck. His hand stroked my throat, exerting light pressure every time he pressed into me. His usual measured thrusts quickly became erratic. I could feel the pressure building and I came apart in his arms, crying out his name. 

Theron growled into my neck and moved faster, rougher, he bit my shoulder as he found his release. I felt his frantic heart beating against my back. "I love you Jenny." He whispered as he wrapped his arms around me tightly.

I heard a chiming sound and sat up in bed. I was alone, fully clothed. My heart sank. Damn! It was just a dream, but it had felt so real. 

Chapter Text

The forest here reminded me of home, I trailed my hand along the trunk of the nearest tree, feeling the sharp edges of the bark. Birds sang from their perches overhead, and insects buzzed through the air around me. I looked over my shoulder and watched Malavai taking in the forest. It wasn't the home I had grown up on, or the home that Malavai and I had made together on Yavin, but Odessen was home now. I missed the Core Worlds but being the Empress of the Eternal Alliance I was now tied to Wild Space.

We hiked up a steep hillside and came to the edge of a bluff. I sat on the edge, my feet dangling into open space. Malavai sat next to me and took my hand in his. I rested my head against his shoulder and sighed contently. 

"This is a breathtaking view." Malavai whispered.

I looked up at him and took in his profile. "Yes, it is. It reminds me of Alderaan. Without all the Killiks." I smiled up at him.

"You know your sister would take offense to that." The slight smile tugging at his lips let me know he was teasing.

I watched as two birds flew through the trees underneath us, one chasing the other. I sighed. "Do you miss home?"

I felt his hand under my chin and I looked into his eyes. "Emmynn, you are my home. I have no desire to be where you are not." He pressed his lips to mine briefly and then moved to kiss my forehead. "What is bringing this on?"

I snuggled closer to his side. I was happy here. Even more so now that Malavai had returned to me. The Alliance was important, and I took great pride in what we had built here. A home to many different people, from different factions, Empire, Republic, Zakuul, Voss, Mandalorians...But I couldn't shake this nagging feeling. Something big was coming, something that was centered around Theron's disappearance. I didn't dare bring up the topic with Jen. Her feelings were too brittle. As were Lana's, just in the opposite direction. And without any new evidence to support one woman one way or the other I stayed out of the middle. I was the Empress and I had to look at it from a different perspective. One without Jen's heart, or Lana's anger. "What if all of this fell apart? Where would we go? I don't want to go back to taking orders from anyone. Definitely not Acina!" If I ever got my hands on the Empress of the Sith Empire I would take great pleasure in showing her what a mistake it was to keep Malavai from me. If I had known I would have urged Jen to side with the Republic just to spite Acina. But then her death would not be nearly as satisfying to me as it would be at my hand.

"If the Alliance ceased to be?" Quinn looked at me, concern written in his green eyes.

I nodded and closed my eyes. I felt a wave of sadness wash through me. "So many people have been given a second chance here. As their Empress it is my duty to take care of them. But a misstep in one direction spells certain doom for the other. If we capture Theron, and stop his plan from going any futher we save the Alliance. But at what cost to Jen? If we save Theron, what happens to the Alliance?"

"You are the Empress of the Alliance, and I have been keeping something from you." He looked down, ashamed. I felt a spark of anger. Secrets are what led us down the path of his betrayal all those years ago. Was this the cause of my unease? "Shortly after we returned to Odessen I received a high priority message. I didn't tell you, because of your relationship with Emmogen. She must be kept in the dark, for her safety. But you need to know all the information that we have available." He pulled his datapad from his belt and logged in to his mail before handing it over.

I fixed him with an angry look before taking the datapad from him and read the message that he had pulled up. My breath caught in my throat. Theron. So whatever he was doing, he still wanted to make sure the Jen was taken care of. But there were no details, nothing saying that he wasn't doing exactly what he had told Jen he was doing. "Alright. He feels guilty for hurting Jen. That doesn't mean that he isn't still coming for the Alliance."

Quinn shook his head. "I know that it doesn't clear his name. And I fully admit that this may be my own guilt speaking. But I believe that he is actually working for the Alliance. He has details we do not. This is what he does, is it not? He jumps on intel and gets himself into trouble, thinking he can handle it all on his own."

I looked at him in shock, and then a small laugh escaped me. "You are defending Theron? A Republic Spy? Did my brains get more scrambled than I thought?" Quinn's whole life had been dedicated to the Empire, his father had died serving the Empire. And Theron was the exact same, just in service to the Republic. He and Theron were natural enemies. They had a professional relationship, one that may have been headed in the way of friendship. But that was before Jen and Theron went to Umbara.

A sheepish smile tugged at Quinn's features and his cheeks flushed crimson. "He may be from the Republic, but he is also a good man. It was easy to see that the way he watched Emmogen, it was not the way a spy would watch her, it was the actions of someone deeply in love, knowing that he was about to risk it all. I know. I was him."

"Malavai, how many times do I need to tell you that you are forgiven? I never blamed you. You were in an impossible position. You should have told me what you were up against. But I get that you were scared. I know my moods can be capricious. I never do what you expect. But I loved you from the moment our eyes met in that ballroom. You were so unlike anyone I had ever met. That will never, ever change. But, you can't keep secrets from me."

Quinn nodded his head. "Naturally, you are right, my lord."

"That is what I keep telling people. But they never listen." I smiled broadly. 

"There is something else. I am not at liberty to tell you. I would highly recommend speaking to Emmogen."

"She is keeping secrets from me too?" Was I not trustworthy? I reached out and found her quickly. But what was she doing in Theron's quarters? "What is going on Malavai?" So much had happened while Quinn and I had been on our second honeymoon and I felt so out of the loop. Jen had withdrawn from me, well, from everyone really. She spent most of her time in her room, or out by the small pond she loved so dearly. I gave her space, and hoped that when she was ready that she would come to me and confide in me like she always had.  

"That is not my secret to tell." Quinn answered quietly.

I scooted away from the edge of the cliff and stood quickly. I was going to get to the bottom of this. "I am going to speak to Jen. When I return to our quarters we are going to have a long talk about trust, and why you feel I am not deserving of it."

"My lord, it was never my intent..." He looked up at me, his eyes wide, startled.

I hated it when he did that! Anytime I was displeased with him he slipped back into old habits. Became my underling instead of my equal. "Damn it Malavai! I am not your lord. We are not  in the Empire anymore! You are my husband, my equal."

"I have never been your equal. No matter how much you may wish it." He stood and folded his hands behind his back. 

He could be so infuriating sometimes. "Why? Because an accident at birth that decided I would be born force sensitive and you were not? Or because I am the Empress? So help me Malavai...if this is about the force...I will not have this argument again." I sighed deeply. I thought we had moved beyond this, but being in prison, away from my influence he had fallen back on what was familiar to him. "I. Love. You. If I wanted someone with the force I had options. If I wanted someone with royal blood, Arcann would be more than happy to take your place." Quinn's face flushed with anger and he looked over my head at the forest beyond me. I placed my palm on his cheek. "Malavai. Look at me." 

"Are you speaking as the Empress or my wife?" His green eyes flashed to my face and then back out to the trees.

"Please don't make me order it." His eyes shifted to mine briefly. "Why are you so angry? Is it because I brought up Arcann? Love, you never have to worry that I would take him up on his offer. Redeemed or not, he holds no appeal for me. No one could ever replace you."

"But you cannot deny that he would be more befitting to your station." Quinn replied stiffly. "I have noticed the way he looks at you, how devoted he is."

"Would you really stand aside? Let another man take your rightful place?" I challenged. Stars give me patience. "I suspect that he only values me for the power I possess. He sees the potential that our union could create. A stronger coalition between Zakuul and the Alliance. But, what I see is so very far removed from that. It would completely destroy any chance of repairing relations with the Republic, and it would fracture our alliance with the Sith Empire. A union between Arcann and myself would destroy the Alliance more thoroughly than anything that Theron has planned. I have seen what being bound to Arcann would mean, and I would never choose that. I would die first." I had never told Quinn about the visions I had seen. I hadn't told anyone. Since Arcann's redemption I hadn't had anymore visions. I knew that he was struggling to fit in, I wanted to give him a fair chance to start over. But that was as far as I was willing to extend my mercy. "I never wanted all this power. It has only caused me trouble. My father was killed to force me onto this path. You refused me over and over because of my power. If I could be normal, more like Meli, Papa would still be alive." I smiled at him. "You would have stolen me away all those years ago. That is all I ever wanted. Enough power to keep you."

"You were never meant to be like your sister. You were always destined for this path. When I saw you the first time, I knew that you were too powerful for me to ever possess. That you would ever feel these things for me never crossed my mind. But impossibly you did." He put his palm against my cheek and I closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of his touch. 

"I still do." I whispered. I opened my eyes and looked into his beautiful green eyes. "The man I chose to tie my life to is every bit my equal, otherwise I would not have chosen him. You will not ever belittle my choice again." 

"Never, my love." He sealed his vow against my lips. 

“Should we go see Jen?” I slipped my hand in his and pulled him along with me. We entered the base and took the lift to the floor that housed our quarters. I marched straight to Theron’s door, confusing Malavai. I nodded to Max and Lyo, who were posted outside her door. I pushed the button to alert her that she had company and waited impatiently for her to open the door. When she ignored the chime. I resorted to my old standby. Jen! Open this door now! I will force it open if I have to. But I am done with you avoiding me. I glared at her door and waited. I would give her thirty seconds to comply with my order.

The door finally slid open and Jen sheepishly stepped out of the way so I could come in, Malavai trailed behind, in my shadow. “Hi Emm, Quinn.” She gave us a weak smile.

“You cut that close Jen, five more seconds and that door would have been gone.” I looked at Jen closely. She didn’t look like she had been feeling well, her skin color was a shade or two off. She looked like she had lost weight. Concern overrode my anger. “Jen, sit.” I pulled her to the sofa and forced her to sit down. “Please, tell me what is wrong.” I understood now why Malavai couldn’t tell me her secret. She was his patient and it would be breaking a sacred oath.

When Jen’s eyes met mine my heart broke for her. Tears clung to her lashes. “Emm…”

Oh stars! She was dying. After everything that we had been through, she had been poisoned by some plant on Umbara, or the fumes from some burning part of that train. “Jen..." My terror broke through my voice. "Malavai, do something!” I looked at him, pleading with him to find a way to save her from whatever was killing her. He just stood there with his hands folded behind his back. I looked back at Jen. How could they be so calm?

“Emm, calm down. Quinn has done more than I can ever repay him for. He has taken great care of me.” She smiled through her tears. “I promise you, I am fine.”

“You don’t look fine.” I argued quietly.

“Emmynn, love, relax. Let Emmogen explain.” Quinn said from behind me. I felt his hand on my shoulder, offering me reassurance. I reached up to squeeze his hand. If I had him beside me I could be strong enough to deal with this. But I looked at Jen, and felt weak.

Jen scooted closer to me and took my free hand. “Emm, you are going to be an aunt again. I am pregnant.”

It took a second for me to process the news. A relieved laugh escaped me. Jen’s arms wrapped around me and I hugged her back. “I am so happy for you!” I whispered to her.

She pulled back so she could see my face. “A couple of days ago I would have asked you why. I never wanted this. But something occurred to me. Torian had pressured me to have children. He wanted them, I didn’t. Theron and I discussed it once, in passing, he never pressured me to give him something I didn’t want. But knowing that I am carrying his child...this is the purpose of our force pull. Why Torian and I didn’t have one.”

I laughed again. She had been so dead set against the idea of a force pull and here she was embracing the idea fully. “Theron doesn’t know?”

“No. I didn’t know until I came back from Zakuul.” Jen shook her head.

“I have left it out of my medical reports. I don’t want the information to fall into the wrong hands.” Quinn explained quickly. “I have been very careful when submitting my reports to not leave any details that would lead anyone to the conclusion that Emmogen is pregnant. As long as she stays on the base with her security detail I feel that we can contain the news. She, and the baby, will be safe.”

“If Theron knew, I am afraid he would do something even more reckless. As much as I want to tell him, I don’t want to put him in more danger. And I will not put my son or daughter at risk.” Jen covered her stomach with her hand.

“This is why you have been avoiding me?” I asked.

“No Emm, I...I know you. I know what you will say most of the time before you say it. I know that you will tell me all the things that I want to hear. What’s worse, you will believe it as you say it. Your conviction will ring through every word and will sound like the truth. What if you are wrong?” Jen looked down at her hands, her fingers knotted together. “What if I am wrong?”

“What if I keep my mouth shut? I keep my thoughts to myself.”

Jen looked up at me with a chuckle. “Can you even do that?”

I nodded and then shook my head. “I don’t know. But I will try. I just hate that you are going through this alone.”

Jen smiled up at Malavai. “I have had Quinn. And my mother and Disti. And...my whole security detail knows.” She cringed, knowing how that sounded.

I held up my hand. “So wait a minute. Lyo knows? Before me? Quinn, I understand. He is your doctor. Disti and Max are your brothers, but Lyo? My brother?”

“Yes, and Aleks…” She looked amused for a minute before her eyes darkened and her mouth turned down in a frown. “Disti told my detail, so they would know what they were up against.  I went to tell Torian, he was going to be included on my detail. But I chickened out when he told me that he was leaving Odessen. Other than my mother, you are the first person that I have told.”

“Jen, I don’t actually care who knew first. I am just glad I know now. I love you and will protect you and your little one with my life. I will help you keep your secret for as long as we can.” I leaned towards her and placed my forehead to hers, sealing my own vow.