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The Element Of Fire

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Theron starts composing his resignation letter the very night Lana tells him about her suspicions and hints vaguely at the plans she’s making. It’s the first good news in what feels like forever, and he doesn’t even care that it’s from the former Minister of Sith Intelligence and that he hasn’t heard from her in years.

She has to be desperate to call him, or maybe she’s being practical about her resources as always. Theron doesn’t care – however small the chances are that she’ll succeed, it’s better than nothing.

He remembers that feeling of desperate willingness to try anything later, when half their recruits and contacts are people with a price on their head in the Republic, the Empire or both. He smiles and works with them because if there’s one thing working in intelligence has taught him it’s to never be picky about where the information comes from as long as it checks out.

One day just a couple of months before their carefully planned raid on Arcann’s vault they get another recruit, difference being that it’s not someone they approach with careful or not so careful overtures.

No, the Wrath of the Empire shows up without invitation, right to their secret base.

He doesn’t even attempt to play coy. The first thing he says to Lana is, “I need another ship for a two-phase ambush on a Zakuulan patrol three days from now. Arrange it.” Lana makes notes on her datapad and doesn’t question him, either by habit or because she plans to do it later, in private.

The first thing the Wrath says to Theron is, “Agent Shan, I do look forward to working with you.” A completely normal thing to say, except his voice lowers with some emotion Theron can’t quite decipher, and he looks him over with an intrigued expression, like he’s inspecting a specimen at a zoo.

Suffice to say Theron has to remind himself to keep his temper in check a lot after that.

Sure, there are other people on the base who have an interesting time working together – he’s seen a couple of Hylo’s pilots duck behind crates, shuttles and on one memorable occasion Dr. Oggurobb when any of the ex-CorSec Alliance members walk past. Some of the Imps still tense up every time they see a Sith or a Jedi.

He’s pretty sure Wrath does it on purpose, though, and only to Theron. He can feel eyes on himself at all hours of the day. He wouldn’t have lasted a day in his profession if being watched bothered him, so he ignores it easily. There’s also the standing inside his personal space whenever they’re in the same room. It almost amuses Theron – he’s worked with enough military personnel in his life that that kind of intimidation tactic is wasted on him.

Still, there’s something there, a kind of static charge between them that feels like it might explode into a whole lot of messy conflict. Theron would really like to avoid any and all explosions here.

He gets so keyed up after a long shift with the Wrath watching him and commenting on his work, poking holes in his plans, that he talks to Lana about it.

“Are you… asking me to intervene? Talk to Lord Wrath on your behalf?” Lana asks slowly. He can never tell if she’s choosing her words carefully or implying strongly what she thinks of the subject when she does that.

“What? No!” He absolutely does not want anyone to do that. “Just, do you know what his problem with me is?”

Lana blinks slowly, her last cup of caff hours ago, and says, “He doesn’t have a problem with you.” Theron might think she’s fucking with him, but he can see she’s genuinely confused by the question.

“Never mind, it’s been a long day.”

Perfect. So it’s just a weird Sith thing.

The worst part is, sometimes Theron thinks the Sith is almost complimenting him in his own very special Sith way. Like the time he says ‘That was ruthless, Agent Shan’ after Theron slices into an Eternal Empire outpost and tweaks the air filtration and recycling systems just so and makes the whole base blow up. Or ‘I couldn’t agree more’ when Theron suggests skipping the negotiations and using the building plans to just steal a specific shipment from the Cartel warehouses.

Or Theron’s favorite ‘You’re very good at manipulating people’ after Theron gets an impressive amount of information about troop movements from a Zakuulan Knight. And by favorite he means absolutely terrifying and still gives him nightmares.

Wrath sounds unmistakably approving every time, and the thing that makes Theron agonize over it is he likes it. His first reaction is a warm feeling of accomplishment every time the Sith compliments Theron in a way that would be an insult from most people he’s met. It’s like the Sith has figured out Theron’s thing about people liking him and is using it to mess with him. Could be true considering how good, according to Theron’s sources, the Sith himself is at manipulating people. Except he sounds so very sincere. Kriff, he’s definitely successful at messing with Theron’s head.

He only realizes he’s been expecting in the back of his mind that the Jedi Battlemaster leading the Alliance would change things with the Sith in some way, when it doesn’t happen. Or rather, something happens, but Theron still isn’t sure exactly what that something is.

It happens like this – Theron mentions the Wrath of the Empire offhand in one of the first conversations he and the Outlander have after her arrival on Odessen. Probably because he’s a constant thorn in Theron’s side just by existing. He doesn’t know what he expects, but it’s not for her face to brighten almost instantly.

“He’s here? On Odessen?” she asks, breathless, like Theron’s just revealed that actually they’ve managed to smuggle the Jedi council over to Odessen and the whole of Tython as well. The reality of five years having passed seems to have finally hit her in the last few days. It’s been making her slower to smile at even the best of news, so this is a change.

“Uh, yes, he’s around here somewhere. Lana probably knows where.” Theron’s been trying very hard to avoid that information on principle. Lana’s a lot more likely to be able to wrangle everyone even remotely Imperial than an ex-SIS agent with the last name Shan, anyway.

She looks like she’s fighting the urge to go find Lana immediately, so Theron wraps up the conversation and watches her disappear through the door. Who is he to keep a Jedi with the weight of the galaxy on her shoulders away from a Sith that she apparently really wants to meet? Go figure. He’s getting the feeling the Republic records on her are not as thorough as he thought.

He isn’t there for the meeting, so he doesn’t know how that goes down exactly, but when he sees her later in the half finished cantina, the smile is gone and she has the classic posture of someone trying to drink their troubles away. With muja juice, apparently, which is just sad, so Theron joins her at the bar.

“So, the Sith wasn’t all you expected?” Theron reaches for a can of juice to cover his wince. Could have been more diplomatic there. It’s not like she doesn’t have other reasons to drown her sorrows in muja juice. Five years' worth of reasons.

“No, he’s… nice.” Her voice is about as convincing as an honest hutt.

“Uh huh. Not how I’d describe him, but let’s go with that.”

The astromech that’s been following her around beeps from the other side of the bar, “Red Sith = wrong.” It grabs a can in its claw and rolls away.

Wrong sure is a way to describe him, but there are other Sith on the base and she hasn’t reacted to any of them this way.

“I should have known. He is nice, just not who I expected.”

“Who did you expect?” Theron can’t help but ask.

“A friend,” she says and reaches out behind her. Theron looks back confused and sees the astromech roll over and stop abruptly, the can in its claw right where Commander’s hand is. She takes the can, another muja juice, and opens it. “Thanks, Teeseven.”

“Friend Sith = still immortal,” Teeseven beeps. “Friend Sith + Jedi = meet again?” Immortal? Yeah, no, Theron’s ignoring that part, because his sanity can only take so much.

Commander nods and drinks more juice. Theron drinks his own and tries to wrap his mind around the Outlander being the kind of person that has Sith friends. Not that he can judge, with how long he and Lana have been on good terms at this point.

“Why do we even have this stuff? What’s up with that?” Theron asks and studies the generic slogans on the juice can. Teeseven lets out a string of rude beeps, and the Commander tries and fails to muffle her amused snort. “No, I mean it, I’m pretty sure we have all of two flavours of ration bars and still no roof over half the base, but someone put a whole crate of muja juice at the top of the priority requisitions list?”

Commander’s half slumped on the bar and muffling her laughter into her forearm.

“I’m going to use my spy skills to find out who it was and flag their file as suspicious. This is just awful.”

“I think– ” she starts and collapses into giggles again, “I think it was someone from Tython. They used to serve this in the temple all the time.”

“You’re saying it was someone who knew what it tastes like? Yeah, I’m putting all the alert flags on that file. I don’t think the Alliance can stand for this kind of sabotage.”

They look at each other, both trying to keep their faces serious. They only manage for a few moments, though, before Teeseven returns with another can of juice and they both burst into laughter. The silence that follows is more comfortable than it has any right to be, but he’ll take it.

“You still have access to some Republic records, right?”

Some. It’s like you think I’m bad at my job,” Theron says and hopes desperately that what follows won’t be some version of ‘can you find out if your friends killed my friend’. An issue since he’s been working with a bunch of imperials, but not something he expected from a Jedi. This Jedi, especially.

“Could you find out what happened to my padawan? Knight Kira,” Commander says, and Theron breathes a silent sigh of relief.

“Sure, I’ll see what I can find.” He doesn’t have the heart to tell her most of the Jedi died or scattered to the winds. She must know, but for now they can both pretend it isn’t so.

After that he sees her and the Sith in the same room, planning operations, going over reports, and they always seem civil towards each other. They don’t argue about the Force or anything to do with the Republic or the Empire, and she very obviously trusts him to do his part when they’re involved in the same op. It goes a long way towards raising the general morale and no way at all towards helping with Theron’s conflicting emotions about the Wrath.

This mission is definitely not going as smoothly as Theron hoped.

It’s mostly down to bad luck, as far as he can tell, and not any fuckup with the intel or their plan. It’s extremely annoying, because a flaw he could improve on, but bad luck is inevitable, and as today shows, will strike at the worst possible moment.

And Theron. It will always strike Theron.

Theron guesses he has one thing going for him – he’s spent a whole mission with just the Wrath, and it hasn’t been that bad. Not as bad as he had expected, at least. The Wrath is apparently very good at focusing on the mission and ignoring all distractions. He’s barely said three words to Theron that weren’t mission-related all week. Those three words were ‘Kriffing hells, sorry’, when he spilled his ominously red but thankfully only lukewarm drink on Theron’s shirt on their first day of working together. He’s been painfully professional ever since, to the point that Theron is convinced Lana did say something to him.

For some reason even that polite distance grates on Theron’s nerves. Mostly because the weird tension hasn’t disappeared, and it’s been driving Theron crazy trying to figure out why.

Anyway, Wrath is long gone, if he has any sense at all, and Theron’s struggling to figure out his way out fast enough.

The good thing is, Theron already sent all the information over, so the op was a success. Well, mostly a success. Case against it – Theron is inside a cell that he doesn’t think he can get out of. His implants survived the thing that was like no electronet he’s ever seen before, but either the cell is shielded, or something is messing with his ability to connect to any external networks.

He can still access the internal regulators, but he expects his captors to disable them right before they start questioning him.

He’s been attempting to meditate for the last ten minutes since he was well enough to sit up. Unless Zakuul has some advanced interrogation techniques they haven’t heard about, Theron knows his own limits and how long he’ll be able to hold out. Which is to say, he knows he’ll hold out long enough to escape.

Which brings him to the bad thing, or more like, one of the bad things – the whole station is already riddled with Theron’s data spikes and their security systems are sliced to hell and back. On its own that would be a very good thing, but right now it means Theron only has a couple of hours to get out before the place implodes. So far he’s not seeing how that could happen. The place isn’t anywhere near impenetrable, but Theron’s resources are very limited and so is his time.

For a minute he reminisces about the Commander bursting in to rescue him on Rishi, but even that took a whole day to arrange. Now all he has for back up is the Wrath, who while very competent, should by now be off planet with all their stolen intel.

Five more minutes of meditating and trying to recall anything from local building plans that he could use and Theron starts to get lightheaded. It doesn’t feel like a delayed reaction to the energy surge of the net. Something in the ventilation system to make him more likely to talk, maybe? His implants aren’t finding anything to filter, though.

The feeling gets stronger. Another minute and it feels kind of like a storm in his head. Theron draws a sharp breath because that’s actually a description he’s heard before – from Jedi describing the dark side of the force.

Before he has time to think about what it could mean, one of the walls of his cell crumples like a tissue.

“Wow,” he can’t help but say, because wow, that wall was reinforced and thick enough to withstand a direct hit from an anti-air turret. Not that he’s ever calculated how many anti-air turrets it would take to take down a sentry base.

With the cell wide open, he can hear the sounds of nearby explosions and a scream that cuts off suddenly. The volume of skytrooper issue rifle sounds decreases fast until it’s all silent outside. Relatively silent.

“Theron,” is the first thing Wrath says as he steps through the hole where a wall used to be, because of course it is him.

“What are you doing here?” Theron means to sound reproachful but doesn’t quite make it. This whole thing reminds him very much of Rishi, but with more violence. A lot more violence if the blood stains on Wrath’s clothes are anything to go by. He doesn’t get a reply immediately, and the Sith looks like he’s forcing himself to calm down – Theron can see he’s taking deep breaths and slowly unclenching his fists.

“Rescuing you.” Yeah, the reproach definitely comes across judging by the way the storm-like air between them suddenly feels more heavy. “Can you stand?”

Theron tries and has to brace himself against the wall. “I’ll get back to you on that,” he says and rests his head against the wall for a moment. He barely has time to blink when Wrath’s at his side and helping him stand with surprisingly gentle hands on his arm and shoulder.

“I’d love to wait here and watch you,” Wrath pauses meaningfully, and Theron’s not sure what that’s supposed to mean. Then he straightens up and all at once it feels like Wrath’s plastered to his back, the hand that was on his shoulder now around Theron’s chest. He freezes because this is, uh, close. The Wrath releases him and continues, “but we have to go before this place blows up.”

“I didn’t really set it to explode. Just for everyone to get spaced.” And for the ventilation in the inner sections to fill up with an ammonia atmosphere. And for a surge in the electrical system to take out all the controls. Theron was restless on the way to this place with just Wrath for company.

“I did,” the Sith says, and doesn’t that sound damn ominous.

Theron does his best, but he’s still slow enough that the Sith makes some kind of wordless noise that Theron definitely takes as an insult. For once he almost snaps back, but before he can come up with anything, the Sith puts a hand around Theron’s shoulders and then just sweeps his feet from under him.

The move makes Theron dizzy for a second and the next thing he knows he’s being princess carried.

“What the fuck? Put me down.”

Wrath actually growls in response, what the hell. Now that Theron’s up close he can see Wrath’s eyes aren’t just their regular fire red – they’re glowing. Some kind of instinctual fear response makes Theron’s pulse skyrocket. His implants regulate it almost instantly, but a flare of hard to ignore warmth remains somewhere between his ribs and his spine.

“I’m being serious, put me down. We need to–”

“There is nothing alive between here and our ship,” Wrath says through gritted teeth, like he thinks Theron’s the one being incredibly unreasonable here.

Theron opens his mouth to argue and then closes it a moment later when they step into the hangar.

It looks like an explosion has already gone off there. Skytrooper parts are scattered all over, all the ships except Wrath’s are smoking or spitting sparks. There are the bodies of a few Zakuulan Knights on the ground and Theron makes an effort to not look at them too closely. Even the ceiling somehow has a few scorch marks from a lightsaber on it.

It’s an impressive overkill.

Theron decides to take a rain check on the arguing, because kriff, what the hell is he supposed to think here? Obviously Wrath took this very personally. Theron has seen his work on other ops, and while he can’t really be called calm, he’s never done anything like this.

There’s something Theron’s missing in all this. His mind keeps running over all the facts and coming up with nothing.

His distraction means he gets carried all the way to the ship and Wrath only puts him down on the medbay bed. Theron feels cold without those arms around him.

“Start the engines, the coordinates are in the nav comp,” Wrath calls out towards the open door.

“Right away, master! I live to serve you!” The ship droid starts the take-off protocols almost immediately. Wrath busies himself with setting up the medical scanner for Theron without another word. All of this has been surreal and, yeah, deeply confusing.

“So what happened out there?” Theron’s not about to complain that he got rescued, but he also knows very well that he shouldn’t have been.

“They took you,” Wrath growls in his most menacing voice and shoves the medscanner at Theron’s chest. Theron tries to swat it away because he’s perfectly okay by now, but Wrath grabs his wrist, pushes it back down on the bed and holds it there. “Don’t move.”

“I’m not moving, kriff.” It’s a lot of aggression from a guy that’s supposedly concerned about Theron’s health all of a sudden. He’s trying hard to ignore that he maybe likes it. “What was all that in the hangar about? Someone insult your ship?” It’s weak as far as fishing for information goes, but Theron’s a little distracted with an angry Sith leaning over him.

“They. Took. You.”

That’s an answer Theron has no idea what to do with. It doesn’t fit in with anything he knows about Wrath.

Meanwhile the med scanner beeps and after studying at the screen for a few moments the Sith finally looks at Theron’s face. His eyes are still glowing in a way that Theron is sure Jedi have nightmares about.

“That’s some impressive dedication to your team, but–”

Wrath cuts Theron off very effectively by kissing him. It’s sudden and completely out of the blue and deep from the start. Theron kisses back, because, fuck, he doesn’t know. Because it the warmth inside him suddenly expands and because Wrath kisses him like this is not a surprise to him at all. Wrath’s lips are wet and demanding where they slide against Theron’s. It doesn’t take long until Theron’s lightheaded again, for a very different reason this time.

It feels like this is the explosion that Theron’s been expecting all this time, only instead of someone getting force choked (Theron) or shot (probably Theron) it’s this. Events are lining up inside his mind and they’re making a different picture than before. No problem with Theron, Lana said. He feels extremely oblivious.

The ship engines hum as they enter hyperspace.

“Wait–” Theron tries to break the kiss because, “did you transmit all the data to the comm relay?”

Wrath keeps the kiss going until Theron turns his head to the side. He sighs unhappily and says, “We’re on the way back now. Transmit it from Odessen.” He obviously thinks the subject is closed, because he kisses Theron’s neck and then proceeds to leave what feels like an impressive mark.

“Did you seriously endanger the whole op because you wanted to– this?” It’s slightly flattering, okay, more than just slightly if he's being honest, but, “Give me a datapad, I can’t believe you–” Theron tries to sit up with no success.

Wrath once again silences him by moving Theron’s head in a better position and kissing him again. Theron really wants to pretend he makes some kind of effort at stopping him, but that’s not what happens.

The ride back ends up being Theron’s favorite part of this mission.