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Marr was restless.

It wasn't enough.  It wasn't enough that he had spent a bewitched night in the … intimate company of the most notorious Jedi alive.  Wasn't enough that they had come to their tense entente the morning after.  Six days on and he still couldn't get the ordeal in Lord Gravinia's temple out of his head.  He had put himself through endless martial drills, pored intently over the longest and driest reports, stared impatiently through the holographic scenarios his underlings were always shoving in front of him.  In the face of this distraction, maintaining his customary façade of impassivity was becoming slightly ... troublesome.  

Satele Shan, lifting him from peril, healing him.  Touching him.  Seeing him, in maskless, naked weakness, and responding only with a mercy that stung like venom.  And then their having been drawn into a … prurient trap by a long-dead Lord not fit to carry his cloak.  It was humiliating; the fresh memory still made him want to crush a droid with his mind and hurl it off a precipice.  He had done that once already, this week, and was irritated with himself.  Wasteful.  Less wasteful than a sentient.  But wasteful.  Privately he had always held deep pride at being less susceptible than most Sith to losing control of his anger. 

Damn her!  It was already an open secret (at least among people who mattered) that she wasn't perfectly celibate.  She would face demotion and social censure, at worst.  If his face were known, there would be … irreparable consequences.  His blindness without the cumbersome mask was only the most immediate danger.  Shan might well reason that a personal scandal would be worth the benefit to her Republic when he was deposed, disgraced, and dead.  Would she keep the secret even after this alliance inevitably dissolved?  When she had lowered her mind's defenses to assent to their pact of secrecy, he had sensed no duplicity in her… but that was six days ago, and minds and motives had their tendency to shift.  Even those of Jedi.  Perhaps especially those. 

Satele Shan, tasting of rivers, quivering under his tongue with unrestrained pleasure.  He could barely believe he had not hallucinated it all. 

Had that cursed Gravinia wormed into his head?  He sensed nothing of the wily spirit's presence.  Nothing strong of anyone's, in fact: the small temple he had chosen as his temporary quarters was as silent in the Force as the jungle stone, empty of ancient energies, having been cleansed or never used.  Marr preferred this: the background interference of Yavin's volatile Force presences was thus kept to a minimum, and his sensing was clearer.  So why did these treacherous stirrings continue?  The salacious Sith spirits had gotten their offering.  He had felt them recede back into quiescence.  Here in his refuge, of all places, his mind should be his own to command, attuned nowhere else.  It made very little sense. 

Another unbidden thought: Satele Shan bent before him, bound in lightning, opening to his passion.  With the image a spike of reflexive lust warmed him and made his armor feel suddenly confining.  His imagination was pulled away with the current and he began to visualize other things he might do with her.  The sounds she might make…

No.  This would not do.   

Marr reminded himself sternly of her misdeeds in the Great War and after.  How many Sith had she maimed and killed?  How many of their best?  Malgus after Alderaan had been a different man, half-mad and fatally hubristic.  They'd lost planets because of her: Satele Shan and her arrogant humility.  His face burned behind his newly replaced mask; the old wounds ached.  He should not be desiring this woman, this enemy, on the basis of a flimsy alliance and a night of improbable, incomparable sex.  Really he should not be desiring in this way at all.  He had finished himself with his hands more than once this week, cursing his lack of restraint; he had thought himself far past these atavistic longings.  How was it that he was still plagued by memory: the scent of her, the simple warmth of her skin, the way it had moved against his own…

Satele Shan, bright as a blue-giant star, wet and incandescent around him as his consciousness was obliterated and magnified by the Force.

That was what Marr couldn't tear himself from, in the end: the ascending transcendence soon after they joined that had sent him hurtling past stars, across voids and filaments, back to the atmosphere of Yavin 4, at one with the earth and air, attuned to the presence of everything that lived there and everything that had.  Like dark poison spreading in water he had perceived Vitiate's astral existence amid the petrified soul-wreckage of a thousand Sith sorcerers -- and it had perceived him in turn, in the manner of a bestial hive-mind taking slow and deadly notice of an intruder.  He had raced away from the roiling horror to see Revan turn to stare at him, speaking inaudibly and with urgency to someone else.  With only a turn of his head he had seen Yavin as a Massassi, a ghost, a broad fern leaf, a storm, a patrol surrounded in the forest.  His self had constantly fragmented and reformed and at length he had seen through the eyes of Revan himself, envisioning plots behind plots, mind always fleeing a falseness deep within him…

A battle between strange ships.  A planet of nothing but ash.  The overpowering scent of ozone.

The perspectives had dissolved into each other like dreams as Marr rode atop waves of urgent pleasure, cosmic and invincible, feeling Shan as a binary presence pulsing against him and then as a being coterminous with himself.  When the visions vanished with his release they had done so with the triumphant final flourish of dancers, a blur of changes he could barely understand.  He remembered holding her body to his, both of them spent and sweating, as immediate reality rushed back in… and for the briefest instant he had forgotten who either of them was.

He had emerged from that temple with a thousand fears and questions, and with an uncannily certain sense of the danger that faced their mission.  In the days since, things had… fallen together, in his mind.  They did not bode well.

If the alliance failed here, an unmasking would be the very least of his worries.  Marr was a fearsome warrior and a superlative commander, but there were powers in the galaxy that put his own to shame, and the spirits they sought to defeat here on the jungle moon were among them.  A deep and familiar dread crept over him, the sense of being pulled into endless oblivion by void-black hands.  Death was patiently waiting.  Perhaps even the power of the united fleets would not save them from it here.  Still they had to try.

Playing close to the vest, as always, he hadn't told Shan about the visions.  That would need to be rectified.  She wielded tremendous power, loath though he usually was to admit it, and it would be essential to their efforts.

There, then: a solid, unimpeachable reason to summon her to a private conference.  Whatever might happen between them, past or future, there had to be a way to forge a strategy the wrathful spirits' culminating plots would not break.  He would find his victory.  He always did. 

If it aligned with his own pernicious curiosity … so much the better.

Marr's hands flew over his datapad, resolute with purpose.

Chapter Text

The ruin that served as Marr's field quarters was at a considerable remove from the base of his forces.  A ziggurat of stained stone like nearly all the others, it loomed over the trees in silent threat.  Rather like the man himself.  Satele had told her closest aides of the plan: Force research.  Strategizing.  Intelligence gathering.  Maybe sparring.  For all she knew, that was all that would happen.  Guiltily a part of her hoped their meeting might go otherwise.

With quiet, measured strides she made her way down the narrow footpath hacked through the jungle.  Already the plants of Yavin were reclaiming the trail, despite the heaps of recent cuttings she noticed.  Some of the smaller tree trunks bore what she was sure were saber marks.  Had he done this himself?  It wouldn't surprise her. 

A small squadron of parasitic gnats droned around her, looking for a bite.  Padawans early in their lessons learned a tutaminis cantrip to keep pests at bay, but Satele acknowledged and then merely ignored the creatures.  Better they torment something that can take it. 

The tropical humidity was making her perspire.  She took little notice of it; her body and mind had long been trained to endure any environment a human could possibly survive in (and some they couldn't).  Still, the vaporous air lay thick on the darkening jungle, and as Satele progressed she couldn't help but remember Gravinia's temple, the mists and taunting ghosts and paths that led nowhere.  And… other things.  She hoped the Sith Lord might discuss that temple with her, might negotiate some sort of stabilizing closure to the jarring events of the week before.  She couldn't help feeling disquiet, a fundamental imbalance, whenever she thought of the matter.  Perhaps he had felt likewise.  Perhaps that was why the message yesterday.

 

=====HIGHEST SECRECY=====

TO: GRAND MASTER SATELE SHAN

FROM: DARTH MARR

We must confer.  The threats that face us will require our coordination, in the Force as well as militarily.  I have had visions of this conflict, visions from which we must draw meaning and purpose.  As our cause is, at present, the same, I shall appreciate your professional assistance in this matter.

Come to my quarters at 18:00 tomorrow.  Ready your mind — the ordeal we face is formidable.

======================

 

That had sounded exactly like the usual Marr, except for the fact that the request had been made at all.

Even as her feet propelled her forward she questioned her judgment in coming here.  She knew most of her motivation was selfish, even if she left out the matter of — no, she wouldn't dignify those immoderate urges with the word "attraction".  Curiosity was foremost — after the temple incident, she remembered Marr's stern and decisive request (more like a decree) to speak no more of it.  Yet now this reversal, only a week later.  It was out of the ordinary.  Had the Sith really experienced prophetic visions?  She did want to know, and it did have bearing on this miserable business with Revan and Vitiate. 

Did he mean to capture or kill her?  This was a fine time to be wondering about that again, she thought.  Well, she had her Force senses and her intuition, and none of them told her this was a trap… as dubious as it seemed.  There was also the "comforting" fact that Marr being implicated in her demise would screw the alliance and the mission and, fate forbid, the galaxy beyond.  He would have to be suicidally stupid for that level of sabotage.  She knew he wasn't.  (It would be easier, perhaps, if he were…)

She shivered despite the heat, remembering the hypnotizing bliss of his mouth between her legs, the delirious joy of yielding to him and to the deepest parts of herself, one with her senses —

Satele paused on the path and closed her eyes.  The peace she had made in the temple with her memories of Jace — that remained, that was good.  The desires she had uncovered beyond that, on the other hand… yes, those were a problem.  Calmly she told herself that time and discipline would resolve the issue, as they had for more than thirty years.  The longing for a partner would dissipate harmlessly after a time, like petals at the end of the season, and dissolve away into the wide quiet sea below her Jedi serenity.  Trust in yourself and in the Force.  She breathed evenly, listening to the jungle.  She had a certain respect for Marr.  That, she could admit.  That was healthy.  That could stay.

Not the feel of his broad, methodical hands exploring her body, his low sibilant voice by her ear, his cock slipping inside her, and then out, and then in again —

She repeated the entire Code to herself, twice, a little fast, and remembered something Kao Cen Darach had told her a very long time ago.  You master your affinity with the Force not simply because you are powerful, but because you have a calling.  We put aside the fleeting attachments of life so that others might appreciate them in peace.  Do you see?  Meditate with me, Satele.  Observe your desires.  Face them.  Let them pass.  There is fulfillment, too, in our way.  I know you will find it.

That was after he had caught her in the third-level supply room with another Padawan, both of them teenagers clumsy with hormones and eager to experiment…

Not for the first time, or the five-hundredth, Satele pondered whether she was quite suited for some of the Jedi strictures.  An appetite for passion certainly ran in the family — was, of course, the reason there was a family to run in.  Such as it was.

We all have our weak spots, our challenges.  Accepting that we have weaknesses, and knowing the ones we do: this is what can give us the strength to stand firm in our principles.  That was what she told her own students when they, in turn, struggled with temptations.  Wise words.  Weren't they?

She took a few more silent breaths and then kept walking.

The Imp forces hadn't yet acceded to the request for mutual base access; Satele had had to employ a few tricks to circumvent their nervous patrollers on her way to this lonely path.  They would all know who she was, and most would probably stay their weapons against her — for now — but she reasoned it was far more likely that Marr had set her this evasion as some small test, a confirmation of ability.  How very Sith of him.

Dusk was deepening as she arrived at the temple's floodlit entrance.  A blast door, tightly sealed, had been expertly fitted to the trapezoidal entryway; two formidable, platform-like attack droids stood sentry on either side of it, blistering with weapons.  The moment she entered their perimeter both of them swiveled their multiple gun barrels to train on her.  Reflex tempted her to draw her saber, but discipline kept it at her belt.  She looked up at the droids, one and then the other, for some further sign of acknowledgment.  There was none.  In the Force she felt no sentient presences nearby except him.  I hope he doesn't expect me to start a fight.

"I'm here at the request of Darth Marr," she announced loudly.

The droids remained still, though Satele noticed some of their chassis lights activating in a new pattern.  After a moment a narrow scanning beam swept over her from a cunningly concealed unit above the blast door, limning her figure in glowing green light.  As the guard droids relaxed their weapons she heard a distant mechanical chime, then a closer one, and then a hissing rumble of stone and metal as the entrance opened to admit her.  Beyond in the darkness was … well, she would see, wouldn't she.

Satele centered her mind, set her will, breathed deeply, and stepped over the threshold.

Chapter Text

Satele's eyes adjusted to a large, almost cluttered anteroom that looked like a dormant hub of action. Serving droids, slumped and inactive. A rudimentary comms setup, an empty reception desk.  Holding cells for sentients and beasts, scrubbed and empty.  A medical corner with cabinets of therapeutics, a kolto tank empty of liquid… and a surgical table.  She didn't want to think of what that was for.  Emergency medicine? Stars, I hope so.  Corridors branched off to the sides, but she ignored them in favor of the door facing her on the inner wall, another blast-sealed entryway, slightly smaller.  She stepped carefully past the many furnishings to the far side of the room.  Another green scanner examined her and the blast door split into two diagonal halves to let her pass. Marr's presence was very clear, unmoving; it tugged at the edges of her sensing.  She headed in its direction, taking her time.  There was little hurry.  For the moment, anyway.

The next chamber was a sort of armory/gymnasium, its empty center spacious, with a layer of springy, absorbent flooring material over the native stone.  The periphery boasted a rack of well-used practice weapons, a gun locker, target dummies, and neat arrangements of weights and remotes.  As with the previous area, a thick durasteel blast door barred her passage at the far side.  This was rather impressive (and excessive) for one person's temporary field lodgings; Satele, for her part, counted herself lucky to have a private tent not even a quarter the size of this single room.

Then again, she recalled, Sith Lords of Marr's stature had the wealth, the power, and usually the vanity for an outlay like this temple.  An illustrious master of the Empire deserves every comfort of home, she thought sardonically, recognizing at the same time that she was just a shade envious.  But I know my path and I welcome walking it. 

Even into a Darth's sanctum, in alliance or… more?

Yes.  Most of the time.  She smiled ruefully to herself.  There was more peace to be found in acknowledging weakness than in denying it, after all.

As she waited for the training room's door-scanner to analyze her and grant her entrance, she realized with surprise that the ceiling was artificial, a metal walling-off of one of the skylit chambers so favored by Massassi builders.  Marr was as exacting about his security as with everything else.  Of course.  That would also explain why the air was so stale and dry despite the filter vents she saw.  She wondered if his stronghold on Dromund Kaas was anything like this place.

Next was a — lounge?  No, lobby was really a more appropriate descriptor.  Although clean and functional, there was a hotel-like anonymity to the narrow, austere sitting-room she found here.  Aside from a single powered-down servitor droid and a quartet of angular, unupholstered couches, the only real decorations were a potted native cycad by the entrance and a wall display of a quadrupedal skeleton Satele didn't recognize.  On the left wall this time, rather than the far one, was fitted a narrow door of gleaming metal shrouded in the vibrating glow of a forcefield.  Installed subtly but not invisibly along the ceiling were what Satele recognized as apertures for retractable defense turrets.

More security. 

Marr was very close, she knew.  There was no scanning beam to verify her here, but before she had the time to search elsewhere for sensor gadgetry she heard the whir of a complex mechanism and the silvered door hissed open, its forcefield blinking off with a soft whummm.  There was no other fanfare, no greeting of any kind at all; she scanned the dim beyond with Force-augmented eyes and entered, warily, her hand at her belt-sheath and her thumb on the dualsaber's ignition switch.

This was her destination, the last room, Marr's inner chamber.  It was low-lit, windowless and rectangular.  To Satele's left were a desk, a holocom, several blank monitors, a modest bed, a rack upon which rested most of Marr's armor, and a tiered shelf of meticulously arranged holocrons in their prismatic shapes and colors.  At the opposite end were a kitchenette, a medical cabinet, the presumable entrance to a washroom, and what looked like some sort of sophisticated military safe, a black metal shell covered with officious warnings in severe aurebesh type.  She was taking a thorough measure of things before confronting the man whose presence rang so loudly to her Force perception.

"The weapon is not necessary."

Marr had been meditating on a mat in the near corner, by the desk.  She finally turned to face him, letting her draw hand relax while remaining alert.  They'd met a few times since the Gravinia incident, at conference-table briefings or in passing, but Satele had to admit that it still made her slightly anxious to look at him.  Particularly now, without the fortifying buffer of a crowd around them.  Nonetheless she met his masked gaze with defiant confidence.  Of his emotion she noticed little; as at other times, their powers made them largely closed to each other's sensing.

"As if you wouldn't have brought one."

"I suppose that is fair."  Marr was still, observing her.  He was hooded and masked, though otherwise lightly attired, in the thin cloth under-armor she remembered all too well.  It was an odd contrast.  Satele wished she could see his face.  "So.  You have come."

"Yes, I have," she said, furrowing her brow.  "What is the meaning of this?"

"You received the message."

Satele nodded slowly.

"Then meditate with me."  He gestured to the space across from him on the mat.

She crossed her arms.  "I know you didn't invite me here just to meditate."

"Suit yourself."  He projected a blank calm, and Satele imagined his eyes closing behind the mask.

Fine, then.  If he's going to play coy…

She pulled off her high boots with the alacrity of habit and sat cross-legged opposite the Sith, a good meter of space between them.  Studying the etched metal ovoid of his mask, she touched him lightly with the Force, half from instinct and half from curiosity. 

"I feel that.  You are not meditating."

"And neither are you, if you're speaking up to tell me that."

Marr sounded decidedly… testy"The best way to begin this, for all further purposes, is meditation.  We will discuss thereafter.  Clear your mind and join me."

Satele misliked this vague beginning, but she acquiesced, straightening her back and adopting her customary position, retreating from and into her mind to become a vessel of the Force.  Before she started she wondered, briefly and idly, how Marr and his fellow Sith accomplished this.  As she entered trance she felt him nearby as a star perceives its neighbor: flowing gravity, pulls and repulsions, an anonymous awareness governed only by laws of motion.  The Force in this state could not be analyzed, only experienced; every time Satele emerged from deep meditation she felt fuller of wonder and emptier of knowledge.  A healthy state for a Jedi, as Master Zho would doubtless have said.

Within the Force, out of time, Satele saw the passing evening from far away when she saw it at all, one aspect of the infinite many.  There were refuge and enlightenment both in this stillness empty of thought, and novice Force-users had a tendency to get stuck in trance well past their intentions.  She had long since learned greater discipline, the art of perceiving unconsciously, and was content to remain in the universe until the threads anchoring her to reality felt Marr withdraw back to his immediate surroundings. 

He raised his head and seemed to be looking at her.  "There.  A clearer mind, for us both.  It is wise to attune oneself to the source of one's power, especially when one plans on using it."

She cocked her head at him.  "Using it?  How?"  She continued before he could answer: "And, if I may ask, how is it that you meditate?   Concentrate on whatever you hate and fear?"

"That is the way of it, for many Sith," he responded cagily.  "The technique I practice is a honing of rightful anger, immolating the self in the purity of the emotion."  He gesticulated.  "…Perhaps this is vague."

"No," she said, although she did have a great many more questions.  They can wait, for now.

Marr shifted position, relaxing his stance slightly.  As he moved Satele was reminded anew of how form-fitting his under-suit was.  Although he was Sith and his aging flesh bore the visible depredations of his power, veined and inflamed and grey-pale, his body was defined and dense with muscle and he did cut an impressive figure.  Before the temple incident she would have found all this trivial to ignore. 

He cleared his throat.  "The visions… much of what I saw was impossible to interpret.  But there was meaning enough to sense the treachery and malice Revan and my erstwhile Emperor bear us.  Not simply us on this distant moon, but the multitudes beyond.  They would see planets in cinders, regardless of allegiance.  Moreover they would see life consigned to annihilation."

"I don't see why someone like you wouldn't welcome that."

"I should like to know that my Empire endures beyond my mortal self," he said stonily.  "The void claims us all, in the end — in its time.  Vitiate's goals are a perversion of death, of Sith power, and most damningly of the Empire itself.  His plans must be thwarted.  The line of history shall persist."

"Thank you for your answer, Marr, but with due respect, I believe I already understand the gravity of our situation."  She sensed a momentary wrath from him, like a corona of heat.  It withdrew swiftly.

"That is not all of it.  There is something… wrong, with Revan.  I have felt it.  It may be a weakness we can exploit.  If it can be identified."

Satele kept her expression even and open, her emotions flat as a temple pool.  "That is useful information.  But is there a reason it couldn't have been shared at conference or through secure comms?"

She knew how much Marr liked to wield his pointed silences, and waited patiently until at last he spoke, rising to his feet.  She did likewise, taking a step back toward the door and searching in the Force for threats.  Nothing signaled danger, but she didn't completely know what he was capable of.  At least that's probably mutual.

"Hold," he said, raising an arm.  "I summoned you here to study these visions and would be most displeased were you to dismiss them without complete information."

"Complete information?"

"Permit me to show you.  You may share what I have seen.  Perhaps then you will understand."  He turned his broad palms up in a gesture of conciliation.  "After you may decide as you will."

Satele knew what he meant by that: a targeted transfer of memories, a temporary melding of minds.  It was about as intimate as visiting the rooms of each other's dwellings, in this case; there was little of great secrecy revealed, but a perceptive visitor or a careless host could present unforeseen problems.

"You want me to open my mind?"  She remained incredulous.  "To you."

"As I shall in turn.  In opposition we balance one another.  You will not come to harm."

"I've heard that before."

"And was it wrong?"

She scoffed — Maybe not that one time — but let his comment lie, taking a step forward.  "Let's get this over with."

Marr motioned toward the mat.  "Sit." 

She sat facing him again, wary and watchful.

"Take your mask off," she said abruptly.  Marr exuded sharp and immediate irritation.  He stilled but did not otherwise respond, and Satele's forehead crinkled at his obstinacy even as her voice remained firm and calm.  Sith and their hair triggers.  I wonder how hard it is to hold in the fury, for someone who draws strength from doing the opposite.  "You have more power here than anywhere outside Dromund Kaas or the bridge of your warship.  So concede me this request.  I know you hate it but I didn't exactly enjoy skulking through your guard patrols to meet you in a place where I'm at a serious disadvantage, either.  And I'm not about to touch minds with someone whose face I can't see.  Especially not when —" Oh stars I shouldn't be thinking of — "…not when I've seen it before."

Again he waited long enough that the silence grew heavy and strange.  Satele weathered it patiently, her outward self betraying nothing but tranquility.  After a charged, extended quiet Marr at last raised his hands to his face, fingers manipulating something at his temples.  With a click the mask came free.  He left the hood on, which looked more than a little incongruous with the rest of his brief attire, but Satele knew better than to push the issue.

Though she remembered — all too well — what she'd seen of him in the temple a week ago, the sight of Marr's bare face still unnerved and surprised her.  A wide, uneven band of scar tissue, studded with the interface jacks for his mask, cut across his seared forehead and the rheumy, unfocused remains of his eyes; his aquiline nose, though mostly spared by the blinding wound, had obviously been broken countless times before.  Lesser scars and the furrows of age trailed from his broad, uneven mouth and the purplish discoloration common to powerful Sith had begun to set in.  It was a wrecked and unlovely countenance, if not quite the kind to drive a man to suicide.

About that.  "Marr," she said with gentle humor, "for the record, your face is nowhere near disturbing enough to make someone else want to die."

He bristled.  "Are you quite serious?  That is a rumor.  A partial truth at best.  And hardly relevant at present."  Perhaps she shouldn't have said that.  But she did take a guilty enjoyment in the hasty, haughty way he pronounced things when he was aggravated.  Maybe a little pique will even help his meditation.  "If you intend to trick me into thinking about classified information, you will not find success."  He glowered, as much as his face allowed.  "Let us begin."

Straightening himself into a meditation posture, Marr extended a hand, his palm facing her and his opposite hand bent into some Sith mudra.  She pressed her opposite palm against his and stared at his maskless face as they lowered their minds' guard, haltingly and with suspicion.  Satele imagined a pair of warring cities winching open their gates in reluctant fulfillment of a treaty.  Now they were vulnerable to one another, sharing the surfaces of their thoughts; she imagined a foyer in her mind, clean and spartan, to which she was welcoming her counterpart.  There was a weird heat from Marr as he sank into trance, an agitation that she realized must be his contemplative anger.  Though her face went red with the shared emotion she let it pass over her as she had the warmth of the jungle, and her own mind followed its own familiar paths to higher consciousness, weaving chaos into harmony.

From the perfect emptiness of the trance she felt Marr's mind locked in orbit with her own, his thoughts reaching into memory as he worked to impart to her the visions he had seen.  Satele's perception smoothed and flattened, reflecting, and her consciousness flowed like liquid over the shapes Marr had placed for it.

She rushed up from the propagating cells of an ancient plant to soar above the jungle moon, rising further yet, passing through the burning-sunset storms of Yavin itself until the stars reappeared before her in the endless black.  She was Revan — or was it Vitiate? — and he was watching, watching this, watching everything.  He was pondering something in depth, in abyssal depth, but his own mind was opaque.  At irregular intervals he convulsed, laughing with diabolical vigor.  Was it real?  Was Revan a threat to the plans that were converging even now, the reforging of his spirit into the undying being who deserved the galaxy's subjugation?  Why was the forest burning as her vision shook and whose warships were those flying through her?  A shock of primal pleasure coursed through all of it and as she stared with growing unease at the writhing fragments of Vitiate inching toward each other, she felt an entirely different sense of urgency filling her in opposition, one that pulsed with a familiar, forbidden rhythm, one that she wanted to see to its end…

Revan looked at them again and she sensed his powerful wrath, the centuries spent coveting freedom and revenge.  Joining with his mind she looked forward to the day of his final victory, knew of his certain triumph, and then… faltered, searching for a foreign feeling, unable to complete his thoughts, spiraling into entropy like an incomplete machine.  As Satele's own mind tried to measure the meaning and magnitude of what it saw, as the driving tension expanded to a loudening drumbeat of physical need, her ancestor realized the intrusion and cast her out into stones that floated in a waterfall of nebula-gas before hurtling past the twilight atmosphere of the Yavin moon and through the masonry of a silent temple guarded by droids —

The visions faded and their physical senses resumed primacy.  Even after over a half-century of training Satele still found such transitions jarring.  She realized that she was half out of breath and leaned, for just an instant, against Marr's upraised hand before pulling hers away.  The effects of exertion faded quickly, but that… other feeling remained, the ungratified yearning for ecstasy.  Part of her wanted to reach for Marr, to press her body to his —

She felt her face reddening and hoped, with the furtive little staccato thoughts prudent for an open-but-secretive mind, that he hadn't sensed all of that.  Wary, she raised her defenses again; there was no point in sustaining this dangerous weak point now that its purpose was done.

She was aware of Marr's own disorientation after the sharing, his deep dread of the visions and, yes, a thin but blazing streak of something more carnal.  As usual his outward manner revealed nothing, although she noticed uncomfortably that he was partway erect beneath his leggings.  Their minds both landed on that thought and then bounced instantly away as if scalded. 

Brusquely and slowly he spoke.  "So.  You have seen."

"I see more of what you meant, about Revan.  Something off.  It was almost obvious, it felt like, and then gone."  Satele was careful in her speech, loath to reveal anything further to him of the current running high and fast under her thoughts.

Perhaps Marr sensed it anyway, or had earlier.  "You are troubled.  The… physical effects are to be expected.  I feel them also.  Doubtless you have resisted such trifling passions many a time.  As have I."  He was clipping his r's very pointedly, as if he were orating.

Have you?  "'To be expected'?"

He glanced off to the side, the hood obscuring most of his face as he did so.  "This vision's occurrence was — unusual —"  From his mind she felt a rush of arousal that was swiftly cut off, though not before suggesting quite strongly to her who the catalyst for it was.  She wondered, her face warming, why his thoughts were still open.  Marr cleared his throat, regaining his composure as if he had never faltered: "It appeared to me in Gravinia's temple."

She recognized that name.  "A lot of things appeared in that temple," she said tartly.

"It appeared," he repeated, "while we were… joined."

Little moments of hidden desire like candies snatched from the jar were one thing, but hearing the matter spoken of directly, catching glimpses of Marr's own past and present temptations, made her feel only shame.  Breathe.  There is no passion. 

Oh Satele, you know there is.

There is peace.

Breathe.

Marr went on: "Hence the … extraneous sensations."

There was an awkward pause.

"If this vision is so important and you had it seven days ago, why the wait?" she ventured.  Interviewing a subject, debriefing a soldier: she could do that.  That was a much safer and surer role than whatever the hell else she might be thinking about herself and Marr.

Strangely it was fear she sensed first from him.  Not fear for himself, exactly; a statesman's fear, shot through with fatalism, and along with that a kind of half-realized guilt.  While she pondered its significance his blind eyes bored into her as if he knew her thoughts.  Does he?

"Time was needed to determine the relevance and sensitivity of the information."

Satele knew that wasn't the truth.  "I see."

"You do not believe me.  Very well.  My motives are immaterial.  We must refine the knowledge that the Force has revealed to us."

"What are you getting at?"

"Dispatching personnel to investigate.  Mine and yours.  Investigating further visions."  She sensed more honesty in that.  "I thought perhaps your battle meditation skills could be put to use in coordinating our forces."

"I could … try that," she said cautiously.  "But you easily could have asked some other way, if that's what you wanted me to do.  And what's this about further visions?  You know as well as I that you can't just choose to have those at will.  Even seers can't really control it."

"Be that as it may, it is not unlikely for one of us to experience ... further sensings.  You now have the proper context should this occur."  He was stiff and formal and she felt his thoughts fragmenting and reforming at electric speed.

Satele bowed her head to acknowledge him.  "Thank you.  Let us… discuss these at our next council."  Summoning all the composure she could muster, she rose to her feet just as Marr did.  "I appreciate this opportunity for collaboration."

Before she could turn to leave he caught her by the hand — startled, she didn't immediately writhe away or blast him into the wall but only stared at him, transfixed.  His face was stern as a statue's and his mind was a dam strained to near-bursting.  Silently he released her hand to stroke his fingers, slowly and solemnly, along the soft underside of her forearm.  She held her breath.  From his thoughts, still weirdly unguarded, she felt more wistfulness than desire.  He did say he wasn't used to being touched…  As she remembered this he looked abruptly up at her as if to say something, but after a moment chose silence, releasing her arm and turning away to contemplate his array of holocrons.

"The night patrols employ many more Sith to detect hostiles.  Manage your return route accordingly," he said to the wall.

"Thank you, Marr." 

He made no response and Satele felt his surface thoughts churning in a frantic, indifferentiable whirl.  Best to leave him alone with that, I think.  Before I do anything stupid.

 

She hastened out through the many doors, into the dark and teeming jungle, past the Imperials' territory and then home.

 

 


 

 

Satele lay awake in her tent, ruminating.  What a bizarre meeting that had been.  Marr had to have had an ulterior motive for it —  that much was obvious —  but whether it was sizing up his adversary, sexual attraction, or something yet more insidious was unclear.  She was relieved that she'd been able to resist the stirrings that came over her after receiving the vision, unsettled though she was that Marr seemed to have been facing similar desires. 

How had she sensed those so thoroughly?  Perhaps it had been only a clever snare on the Sith's part, revealing vulnerability to lure her into complacency or an ill-advised attack.  That was the likeliest reason; he was not at all the type to forget his barriers or to pretend at emotional connection. 

Then again, there was another possibility…

Dread sent a cold shiver up her spine as she considered it.  The very idea was unnerving.  But it would have to be tested, and the testing was simple enough.  Satele sat up, exhaled steadily and reached out with the Force, lightly but surely, projecting a message off into the night like the cast of a baitless fishing line.  <If you can hear this, Marr, please acknowledge.>

All was still around her, and she attuned her ears to the calls and chirps of the moon's nocturnal beasts as she listened for the vanishingly slim chance of a reply.  If nothing else, this was a useful exercise for her concentration.  Time crept slowly onward toward morning.  She continued to listen, and likewise continued to hear nothing but the living jungle in answer.

There.  Tested.  Findings negative.  Of course it wasn't as bad as you thought it was, Satele.  Trust yourself.  She relaxed her posture and lay back on her pillow, eager to rest at last.

Suddenly Marr's voice echoed into her mind as clearly as if he were standing beside her, and for just an instant she saw him, seated in his inner chamber with his mask on and a green holocron in one hand.  <Good evening, Grand Master Shan.>

 Force preserve me.  This is not good.

Chapter Text

Marr had not leapt to verify the information, but he had suspected it nonetheless, when his mental wards went weak against her.  It was confirmed with Shan's searching message, which came accompanied, for him, by a grey-dark tableau of her meager tent (and her within it…): there was a bond between them now, however it had come to be, and it would have to be dealt with. 

Yoked by a capricious, fateful Force … with her, of all people.  It was a cruel twist.  He imagined she felt similarly.  Well.  The next time they met he would not have to imagine.

Obviously shocked and distressed, she had ended their telepathy abruptly after his greeting and he had heard nothing else from her in the day since.  Nor had he attempted to contact her; best to let her process this before proceeding in whatever direction revealed itself.  At least he was thus far free of the intrusive vision-fragments he knew to be common in Force bonds, though with their current situation on Yavin it would perhaps be better to have further glimpses to piece together.

Visions.  Shan had seen his vision, and seen through his pretexts; of course she had, he thought.  Nonetheless he had secured her assurance of cooperation, for now.  Moreover he had felt her thoughts after they communed.  Not surprising so much as … intriguing.  Part of him had expected the Jedi to have already repressed any lingering desires; the rest of him was unconscionably pleased to discover that she retained a distinct attraction, however much she might resist acting upon it.

Already he had taken measures to have his Black Cipher convey intelligence to him in static messages only, refusing all calls.  The risk of her forcibly touching his mind while Vowrawn or Logistics pestered him about fleet movements was too great, even if he would notice it.  For now he would absorb the messages piecemeal, peripherally, not in a continuous experience that the Jedi might perceive through him.  Of course the Council would sneer and snipe about this comms limitation for a time, but they could be cowed.  Uninterested though he might be in the throne itself, he was not above alluding to the possibility when it suited his purposes.

Shan must also be compromised in such a way.  He wondered at the extent.  With a touch of envy, he considered that she likely had many more options for delegating her … sensitive responsibilities.  Naturally the Republic was, even at its "best", quite the opposite of truly unified… but what a relief it might be, to watch his back only part of the time instead of every living second.

Weakness, said his conscience.  Weakness to rue the fortifying challenges set before him.  Then again, the internecine coups and betrayals of the Imperial powerful were dangerous to the Empire itself, far more than to his irrelevant comfort.  Without the structure that held them, the Sith were torches in a storm.  To endure unto the ages, to preserve power and existence against a galaxy of enemies -- for these things the State must persist, united in force and focus.  He would rest soon, in a carven tomb the same as the ancients', but their kind would continue to rise and flourish and expire.  It was the cycle, the way of things.  In his weary bones he felt the calling, as always: this cycle, the crucible of strife, was a sacrament not to be profaned by Vitiate's egomania.

Comfort is irrelevant, and to seek it for its own sake is weakness… but health is strength, and a master of legions needs his, does he not?  There were empirical benefits to touch and, despite the abstemious Jedi preachings, to sexual pleasure; it could attenuate passion or stoke it to lethal heights.  His weakening body might be rejuvenated, in some modest sense, by such a medicine.  Though he were bound for the grave he might yet retain a warrior's vigor in his last years.  Perhaps he could even turn her -- unrestrained emotion was more his realm of mastery than hers, after all...

No.  That was an ambitious daydream.  The pragmatic thing was to aim realistically.  This strange… alliance, in tandem with the needs of the Revan operation, could forestall or mitigate Shan's mind-linking while he studied a way to sever or exploit their bond.  Any abetting of her cause would be nullified by the enhancement of his own.  If he acted wisely.

So be it then.  It was decided.  Now to get her to see reason.

There was a command briefing that evening, an hour before sunset.  Shan would be there, albeit with her coterie of Jedi and Republic hangers-on, and likely that wastrel son of hers.  The Sith, for once, he was grateful for; though Nox and Beniko and the Wrath did their fair share of answering back at him, they could be counted on to fall in line with his directives and execute them with minimal oversight.  How tedious it must be to be Shan, smothered by supplicants, beholden to the people instead of the cause.

Marr reclined on the bed, gathering his energy, pacifying his head with shah-tezh problems until sleep swam up from the deep to engulf him.

 


 

A shock of passion tore him from a troubled dream.

He saw her on the cot in her tent, restive with need in the dark hour before dawn; he saw a hand push down her leggings and her legs twisting out of them just enough to open herself to touch.  The lips of her vulva glistened as she stroked them, pressuring with the heel of her palm, sighing at the gentle sensation of her fingers.  Curse this vision, this door between their minds that taunted him with such scenes, this chain that pulled him rapturously and irresistibly along.  Marr reached without thinking to divest himself of his own leggings, his cock already hard and seeping, and touched himself in turn, gripping his shaft with a sure hand as he pulled his foreskin over the head, the repetitive gliding friction building his arousal to ever greater intensity as he trained his perception on her.  His will seemed not his own.

Shan's mind was everywhere but it resolved most often into thoughts of two men.  One he recognized as the now-Supreme Commander of the Republic, both young and old, the young far more vivid, more precise in her memory.  (So. That was who it had been.)  She called up well-cherished remembrances of secretly making love in a tent much like the one she lay in now, passionate and naïve with the broad-chested soldier she had saved and been saved by, times past counting.  The emotion that coursed from her was idea far more than words, the ecstatic rightness of opening and unity.

The other man (furtively, reluctantly, desperately) was him.  Well.  That was no surprise, not now… 

In the back of his mind he wondered what of his own thoughts she was seeing.  There were echoes of Gravinia's temple and of the Sith lovers he had once had but the greater share of his mind was simply following hers, his hand pumping faster as their lust was reflected back at each other, magnifying beyond control.  The motions of Shan's hand on and into herself grew more urgent.  She was trying to focus inward, to keep her fantasies and fulfillment only her own, but the link between them meant glimpses of her mind's eye escaped to him whether she wanted them to or not: the strength of this feeling would not, could not be hidden.  He was excited by this intrusion, but her sense of shame and dismay redounded to him, as closely intent on her as he was, and their combined emotions wrestled in conflict.

A note of defiance sang out from her mind and now she thought of no one at all, propelling her body toward catharsis with pure physicality, straining upward and pulsating against the pressure of her stilled palm.  Her orgasm was sharp and bitter and hit him like a blow.  He flinched sideways in his bed, only then noticing his cold sweat and the semen coating his fingers.

Marr was disgusted with himself.  She felt similarly, it was clear.  It was distinctly not a reaction he enjoyed having amplified by this damned connection. 

Shan's mind flattened out beneath the resolve of her renewed Jedi calm, and he sensed her thoughts drawing backward like liquid through a drain, as far and as fortified as she could get.  The overture of regret he sent to her went unacknowledged.  He did not press the issue; his own mind receded as well, into uncertain shelter.

This cannot end well, he thought blackly, rising to clean himself.