“I cannot believe you made me pay off the authorities for you again, Skragg,” Xanatos says, annoyed, and slaps the pad into Skragg’s chest as he passes. “This had better be worth that favor you wasted.”
“I didn’t waste it,” Skragg protests, and the heavy clump of his boots follows Xanatos up the ship’s ramp. “Captain Ohnaka ordered me to get these to market, and this is a market.”
“It’s a market because you know I would rather buy whatever useless flotsam you wish to bill me for after my generous rescue of you, rather than allowing you to flood Telos’s underworld with overpriced bantha shite,” Xanatos says precisely, ignoring the pirate who hurries to open the door to the hold for him.
“Never overpriced,” Skragg says, grinning, and steers Xanatos left, towards another door. “Besides, the captain gives you a good deal on what you need, First Citizen.”
“If you insist on using my title as an insult, I may just forget to transfer the required bribe to the Separatist authorities occupying this sector,” Xanatos says poisonously, in no mood to deal with a gaggle of Weequay pirates at three in the morning when he has a meeting at seven. He draws his hood a little further forward, though all of Hondo's pirates know him; the mere idea of the Separatists having eyes on them right now makes his skin crawl. Telos IV is a Separatists planet, nominally, but—Dooku suspects Xanatos, and the whole planet by extension. Keeping the hordes at bay takes everything Xanatos can manage, but—
He almost helped his father destroy Telos once. This doesn’t quite make up for past actions, but it’s something, at the very least.
A big hand catches his shoulder, hauls him around, and Xanatos has a knife out of his sleeve before Skragg can even get him up against the wall, blade locked under Skragg’s chin and ready to cut. Skragg freezes, staring at Xanatos, and Xanatos stares back, perfectly unmoved.
“Unhand me,” he says softly, and Skragg loosens his grip deliberately, steps back.
“If that bribe doesn’t go through, the captain’s going to spread your secrets all across the Confederacy,” Skragg says, and he’s still grinning, but then, Xanatos didn’t expect anything but unreasonableness from one of Hondo’s favorite underlings.
“Yes, but you’ll already have been shot out of the sky by a Separatist cruiser,” Xanatos snaps, and shoves his hand away, re-sheathing the knife. He takes a breath, because Hondo truly is a valuable business partner to have right now, even if the threat of exposure makes Xanatos twitchy. “Your cargo?” he asks curtly.
Skragg grins, practically delighted. “Snatched ‘em off a moon in the Parmic sector,” he says. “Figured they’d fetch a good price somewhere, and then you commed, First Citizen—”
“You commed me,” Xanatos says sharply. “Because you were about to be boarded by a Separatist officer who wouldn’t be bribed with nerf hide.”
Skragg laughs. “Good thing you picked up,” he says, and opens the next door.
Xanatos catches a flicker of sentient thoughts and very deliberately doesn’t curse, but—it’s a near thing. Slavery isn't precisely as illegal under the Confederacy as it is in the Republic, but Xanatos owning slaves will tarnish what reputation he’s managed to cling to, and he can't afford to—
Skragg drags open the final heavy metal door and turns the lights on, then rounds on Xanatos in pale imitation of Hondo at his most excitable and spreads his hands. “Here you go!” he says proudly. “Your merchandise!”
“Skragg—” Xanatos starts, and then a flash of movement entirely distracts him. He lunges, half an instant before a pair of cuffed hands hit Skragg right in the back of his ridiculous hat. He slams shoulder-first into the assailant, and it feels like hitting a brick wall, but Xanatos has sparred with Feemor more than enough times to know how to manage such a thing. Dropping, he fouls the bastard’s legs, hears a cry, and drives his elbow into a stomach. There's a wheeze, and Xanatos twists up, grabs an arm, and slams the captive down onto the decking face-first.
“Jesse!” a voice shouts, and from where he’s been chained up along the wall, a man struggles to rise but can't manage it. Broken leg, Xanatos thinks, though most of his attention is on the man beneath him, frozen with Xanatos’s vibroblade against his jugular.
On the clone beneath him, because of course.
“If you can't even secure your cargo, I'm not certain I should be engaged in business with you,” he informs Skragg, who has the decency to look abashed. There's a rush behind him, and a moment later two Weequay are hauling the clone up, dragging him back towards the others as he struggles. Two others, including the one who yelled for his friend, and Xanatos casts a quick glance over them as he rounds on Skragg.
“Now, sir,” Skragg starts, raising his hands.
“Clones?” Xanatos demands. “You want to sell me clones? Skragg, I am second only to the governor here. And if Count Dooku catches wind of this—”
“It’ll make him happy, won't it?” Skragg asks, and when Xanatos narrows his eyes at the pirate, he smirks. “Means you're settling into things, right?”
Getting into his role as the evil master of Telos and Offworld. The terrible thing is that it will likely work. Dooku knows Xanatos’s taste for handsome men, and he’ll be overjoyed to think that Xanatos would do something so…Dark. Hearing about Xanatos taking three…body servants, or the like, might help solidify Xanatos’s position and keep Dooku from looking any more closely at Xanatos’s operations here.
Xanatos’s stomach turns, but he closes his eyes for a long moment, then takes a breath.
“Fine,” he says curtly. “You’ve made your point. Get two of them offloaded, and my staff will see to their transportation.” When Skragg opens his mouth, looking pleased, Xanatos raises a warning finger. “I will take all three, seeing as I already paid for them. Two go with my staff. The other comes with me as insurance that the others will not escape, because you kidnapped highly trained soldiers, Skragg.”
“They fetch a good price,” Skragg says, grinning. “And there's an endless supply, so no one notices. Good doing business with you, sir.”
Xanatos grits his teeth, then sets his jaw and turns. “That one,” he says, waving a hand at the clone with the broken leg. “Find him a splint and get him upright, I’ll be taking him with me personally.”
“No!” the escapee snarls, lunging forward and almost managing to bring the two Weequay down with him. “No, you hut'uun—”
Jesse, Xanatos thinks, eyeing him. He takes three precise steps across the room, and Jesse sees him coming, struggles harder, but Skragg’s men are strong, for all their flaws. They pin him between them, and Xanatos gives him a smirk, leaning down and tipping his face up with a finger. Jesse’s face contorts into a expression of pure rage, but before he can spit any more insults—or just spit in his face, and Xanatos has had that happen far more than he cares to remember—Xanatos raises a brow.
“Your friend, I assume?” he asks, perfectly polite. “I’ll take very good care of him, Jesse, don’t worry. Assuming, of course, that you can manage to behave yourself. My staff are very skilled. Should anything go wrong, they will alert me immediately, and…well. Should something happen, it would be a tragedy.”
Jesse swallows, jerks his head in a nod. Xanatos can feel the roil of anger and bitter fear around him, and it sets his teeth on edge. He halfway hopes that Jesse and the other clone do manage to escape; that will make this whole thing easier. At the same time, three clones loose on Telos IV won't help keep the public calm, and it might just put several of the Separatist operations in danger. If word gets back to the Republic before Xanatos is ready—
“Very good,” Xanatos says smoothly, and straightens, stepping back. The third clone, the quiet one, is watching him carefully, and Xanatos glances at him, then at the injured one. The undersuit he’s wearing is stiff with dried blood, and Xanatos frowns, but he can't see a sign of bone having pierced skin, and that uniform is tight enough for it to show.
“Splint’s coming,” Skragg says, leaning against the wall and watching Xanatos. Xanatos ignores him pointedly, sending a quick message to his house staff, and then another to his guards to tighten security. A third goes to the squad of guards waiting outside the port, and while they won't be pleased to play prison transport while Xanatos wanders off on his own, they know very well that he can take care of himself. The protection is mostly for show, at the end of things, and so that people will underestimate Xanatos if they do get him one on one. He can most definitely manage a short trip back to his estate by himself.
“If you're going to keep getting caught by the authorities, perhaps consider running spice instead of slaves,” he tells Skragg crossly. “I refuse to have any more to do with this sort of thing, so if you want my continued cooperation, go back to stealing nysillin from poor farmers and leave slave-running to the Hutts.”
Skragg pulls a face, like he can't believe Xanatos has the temerity to order him around, which—they’ve met, and Xanatos answered his comm at one in the morning to talk down a Confederacy captain who thought he was about to arrest a pirate for the first time in his whole career. If anyone deserves to order him around, it’s Xanatos, and beyond that, there's no conceivable universe in which Xanatos wouldn’t.
“I will take this up with Hondo himself,” Xanatos warns. “He owes me multiple favors after I stepped in with that upstart Shadow Collective. Do not test me on this, Skragg.”
“Yes, sir,” Skragg says, a little sullen, but Xanatos will take it. He makes a pleased sound, raising his head as Skragg’s medic troops by with a rough brace, and watches warily as it’s strapped to the clone’s leg. The clone makes an aborted move to help, clearly familiar with the device, before he seems to remember himself and stops short. Xanatos makes a note of potential medical training, then sends a final message and steps forward, waving an expectant hand at Skragg.
Skragg drops three sets of keys into Xanatos’s hands, swipes the credit chip that’s there, and tucks it into the band of his fancy hat. “We’ll get the other two delivered,” he promises, though Xanatos is rather doubtful of the worth of a promise from one of Hondo's men. Hondo certainly has no trouble going back on his word when it suits him. “Want one of my men to help you with that one? For a price, of course.” His grin is full of teeth.
Xanatos snorts, sliding the keys out of sight and into a hidden pocket in the lining of his coat. Jesse, at least, is watching closely, and Xanatos is will to bet he has some sort of extra training, though he’s a little fuzzy on clone trooper ranks and specializations. The potential medic and the quiet one seem rather more overwhelmed, and close to the edge of despair, and—well. Xanatos isn't kind, and can't afford to be, particularly not now, but he can at least secret them away somewhere they aren’t actively being trafficked.
“Up,” he orders, as Skragg’s medic shifts out of the way. The injured clone looks up at him, mouth tight, something furious and grieving in his eyes, and Xanatos raises a brow rather than allow himself any other reaction. “If you prefer, I can allow you to remain with your…friend, and take the quiet one instead—”
“No!” the medic says quickly, even as Jesse makes a sound of dismayed protest. “No, I’ll go with you.”
“Kix—” Jesse starts, harsh.
“No,” Kix says evenly, and levers himself up, shackled hands making him clumsy. “Stay with Tup, I’ll be fine.”
There's a weight to the words, an edge that Xanatos is willing to wager is I’ll just slow down your escape, and he snorts, watching one of the pirates unhook the shackles from the wall. “My security should be outside,” he tells Skragg, and deliberately closes a hand around Kix's elbow, feeling the way he stiffens. “They're fully aware you have already been paid, Captain, so save any attempts at swindling for someone else.”
Skragg chuckles, tipping his hat to Xanatos, and says, “Until next time, First Citizen.”
“Only if it’s after seven at the earliest,” Xanatos shoots back, and ignores Jesse’s renewed struggles as he guides Kix out of the hold. Skragg doesn’t follow, but Xanatos still keeps a wary eye on the pirates he can see as he leads Kix out of the ship and down the ramp. His guards are at the edge of the port, and Xanatos inclines his head to the Twi’lek woman in charge for the night. She nods back, though she doesn’t look entirely happy about it.
“Sir,” she says as Xanatos approaches. Her eyes flicker to Kix, narrowing, and she looks back at Xanatos like she’s questioning his sanity.
“Riz,” Xanatos returns, and doesn’t let his agreement show on his face. “There are two more. A secure room has been set aside for them at the estate, and I would prefer they make it there uninjured. If possible.”
Riz’s expression remains unenthusiastic, but she nods once, brusque. “Yes, sir.”
Xanatos appreciates the lack of questions, the unhesitating agreement. Of course, that’s entirely what he pays her for. Inclining his head, he pushes Kix forward, towards the waiting hovercar, and says, “Kix, was it?”
Each slow, limping step is clearly painful, but Kix's face doesn’t show it, and he keeps his eyes fixed ahead like he’s being led to the gallows. It is, Xanatos allows, an understandable reaction. “Private CT-6116.”
“Kix,” Xanatos decides, because he’s not using a number. He has more class than that. Opening the hovercar’s door, he offers Kix a hand up, then says, “Take the rear-facing seat.”
Kix hesitates, glancing back towards Skragg’s ship. The sight of Jesse and Tup being led out makes him tense, and he turns back towards the hovercar and swallows. Grimly, he reaches out, grips Xanatos’s hand with his cuffed ones, and painfully hauls himself up. There's a ragged sound of pain as he all but collapses into the seat, face gone ashen, and Xanatos silently pulls himself in after him and inputs their destination. Pauses, then sighs faintly, and reaches for the inner pocket of his coat, pulling out the flask of very strong liquor he generally reserves for starting fires, and offers it.
“Have a drink,” he says blandly. “It likely won't help with the pain, but you’ll be too focused on coughing up a lung afterwards to care.”
Kix blinks, looking from the flask to Xanatos, and hesitates for a long moment. Gingerly, he reaches out to take it, and Xanatos unscrews the cap for him and sits back, turning his attention out the window as the hovercar starts to move. There's the sound of a swallow, then a hiss, but surprisingly no wheezing reaction to the strength of the alcohol, and Xanatos can't help but raise a brow, glancing back in surprise.
“You're made of sterner stuff than I thought,” he says, amused.
Kix winces as he takes another swallow, but he hands it back without any more of a reaction. Pauses, watching Xanatos warily for a moment, and then says, “Some clones make their own. Quietly. It’s stronger.”
“Moonshine-crafting? In the lauded ranks of the GAR?” Xanatos raises both brows, exaggerating the reaction, but—he’s a little surprised. He’d not thought the clones were independent enough for that sort of rule-breaking. “I'm impressed. that’s very industrious of you.”
Kix curls his bound hands together in his lap, still stiff and tense and a little pale. He’s staring at Xanatos like Xanatos is about to leap across the gap between the seats and tear out his throat with his bare hands, and Xanatos is mildly offended. He’s wearing a white shirt, and blood stains terribly; he wouldn’t.
“Who are you?” Kix asks quietly, but there's a thread of steel in it. “What do you want with us?”
Xanatos weighs his answers, considers lying, considers refusing to respond. But—if the clones are going to be staying at his estate until he can find some way to ship them to some sort of neutral space, they’ll undoubtedly witness at least some of the activity there, and Xanatos’s identity is easy enough to parse. Laying it out beforehand might not earn Xanatos goodwill, understandably, but it will at least be an attempt at transparency that will hopefully build into believability later.
“My name is Xanatos,” he says. “I am the First Citizen of Telos and the owner of Offworld Mining.” The company name makes Kix stiffen, and Xanatos smiles thinly. “I'm not associated with any of the trade guilds or corporations that run the Confederacy, if that’s your concern. Offworld is self-sufficient and not allied with any outsiders, and I have full ownership of my company.”
It’s even mostly true. Dooku's lackeys and the more persistent members of the Mining Guild have been pressing at the edges, trying to buy up pieces, cut down on Xanatos’s iron control of his company, but Xanatos has managed to fend off all attempt so far. Telos has too many natural resources hidden away beneath sacred sites, and if Xanatos allows competition, they’ll be plundered mercilessly. His father made the attempt, once, pushed Xanatos towards that goal, but—
Well. Xanatos has learned over many, many painful years that anything his father told him was precisely the opposite of what he should do.
“And you use your money to buy slaves,” Kix says, soft, damning.
Xanatos snorts, crossing his legs and sinking back in his seat. “Slavery is illegal on Telos,” he says. “Even beyond the Republic’s previous restrictions on the trade. You and your fellow clones are my prisoners, not my slaves. I have no interest in such things.”
“But you bought us,” Kix says, and those edges are starting to show, razor-sharp beneath the level tone of his voice. “You paid that pirate—”
“I bought Skragg’s merchandise to provide him with a legitimate bill of sale so he wouldn’t be arrested when he was stopped by the Confederacy authorities watching the borders of our system,” Xanatos corrects. “I would have paid even if he were smuggling risqué negligees for Hutts, Private. You are collateral.”
The flicker of hope that rises is almost gutting, given its ferocity and speed. “You—”
“Will not be releasing you,” Xanatos cuts him off ruthlessly, perfectly flat. “As I said. You are my prisoners. I am a loyal member of the Confederacy of Independent Systems, and any soldiers of the GAR that I can remove from service is a boon to my lord Count Dooku's cause.”
Kix's eyes narrow, shoulders going even stiffer, and he says, “Killing us won't—”
Rolling his eyes, Xanatos waves a hand. “I'm not a barbarian,” he says coolly. “I would hardly execute you summarily. You will be treated as guests at my estate, and once Count Dooku wins this war, I will make arrangements for your release.” He pauses, like it’s just occurring to him, and smiles. “Unless, of course, you would like to swear allegiance to me, and through me to the cause of the Confederacy. Loyal soldiers would be welcome, and you would certainly attain a rank higher than private.”
Kix stares at him, stone-faced, and doesn’t say a word.
“Alas,” Xanatos says, bland, and inspects his nails. The dark green paint is starting to chip, and he’s mildly annoyed; he’d thought it would last longer than this. “I see the Republic’s brainwashing has yet to fade. In time, perhaps.”
“At least the Republic doesn’t have pirates kidnap us into slavery and beat us,” Kix says, and if looks could kill, Xanatos would be a smear on the fine upholstery. And—he considers leaving it at that, letting Kix have the moral high ground and the last word, but.
Xanatos is a bastard, and in more ways than one. Letting an opening like that pass untaken is beyond his abilities.
“No,” he drawls, and gives Kix a smirk. “It just buys you, doesn’t pay you as you waste your lives for it, considers you to be beneath the level of sentience, and grants you no rights and no permissions to make your own decisions about your lives. Truly, the superior side in this war.”
“My brothers and I fight so that civilians don’t have to,” Kix snaps. “And we do it so that the Seps stop enslaving whole worlds and wiping out populations whenever they're feeling trigger-happy!”
Xanatos’s knuckles are white in the folds of his coat, carefully kept out of sight. Dooku had threatened that, hadn’t he. Telos IV is a rich world, a popular one, with all the natural resources a conqueror could want, and they're firmly in Separatist space. Dooku had come sweeping in and brought Grievous and his armies with him, and the governor had been ready to crumble, to let Telos be ravaged and destroyed in the name of the Confederacy, but—
Xanatos’s breath slides harshly from his lungs, and he smiles, thin. Snake-like, but he’s a snake wrapped around the roots of this tree, holding it steady, and he refuses to regret that.
“And here you are,” he says, perfectly careless. Turns away, feeling Kix's stare but not reacting to it, and watches the lights of the city fade away around them. The port is already on the edge of it, wide and sprawling, and the lanes of air traffic thin as they get further away, until their hovercar is the only one visible. It’s dak enough that Xanatos can't see the rolling green hills around them, but he knows them by heart, and he closes his eyes, a fraction of his senses trained on Kix and ready to react, but the rest focused outward.
He’s not a Jedi. He failed every test that they put in front of him, too arrogant, too stupid, drunk on his own skill and unable to see reality. But the Force-sense is still there, regardless of his attachment to the Order, and Xanatos supposes that he could be counted a Dark Jedi still, even if he realized his father’s manipulations before he could fully fall. It’s easy enough to sense the ebb and flow of the planet, if he puts his mind to it, if he relaxes and breathes and opens to it.
Telos is quiet. For all the activity on its surface, for all the billions that call it home, it isn't a warzone. It isn't broken and burning and stripped of its valuables, because Xanatos has made the choices he has. He’s kowtowed and bargained and bullied and schemed, and it’s pure possessive fury, but he’s kept his world from falling to the Separatists, even in the name of serving them. Not neutral, because Xanatos doesn’t have that much sway, but—safe. For now.
Dooku will catch wind of this shortly. Someone in Xanatos’s staff, or someone in his circle, is reporting his every move to Dooku, feeding him information on Xanatos’s plans. It doesn’t matter, because Xanatos has always played such things close, kept his own council and followed his own instincts. He can plan for a spy, and it’s easy to know that the spy will pass this on, Xanatos’s purchase of three clones. And—maybe Xanatos can play it off as curiosity, as something he’s curious about, but it means Dooku will think he has some sort of edge over Xanatos, some way to manipulate him.
Xanatos could say they're for experiments. Dooku already knows he’s been investigating Sith and Jedi artefacts alike, though blessedly he hasn’t discovered the vault yet. But—that likely means he’ll have to do some experimenting, and Xanatos is hardly above sacrificing one life for all the lives on Telos, but he wants to be sure it’s necessary first. Maybe he can play at benign experiments, little things, but that won't last forever.
Of course, he could always play into Dooku's expectation of why Xanatos would purchase three handsome men for his own use, but Xanatos is ruthless, not vile. If Dooku wants to assume that, fine, but he refuses to play into it.
A soft chime sounds, and Xanatos opens his eyes, letting the sense of the world as a whole subside with several breathes, until it’s once more held at a safe distance. He sits up, reaching for the door, and drops out even before the hovercar has fully come to a stop, landing on the wide stone walk that curls around the edge of the building. There's no one waiting, but the closest door stands open, and Xanatos steps up to offer Kix a hand.
“Come,” he says impatiently, and Kix's mouth tightens, but he carefully eases up from his seat and grabs the edge of the doorway. Xanatos grips his arm, bracing him as he steps down, and he hops a few feet with a hiss, then steadies.
“Where are you sending Jesse and Tup?” he asks, quiet, like that will hide the edge of anger in it.
“They’ll be along shortly, I'm sure,” Xanatos says dismissively, and pulls him towards the open door. The wash of light is almost painful, and Xanatos pulls his hood forward a little more, grimacing at the thought of how little sleep he’s going to get before his meeting with several of Offworld’s overseers. He was up late last night as well, researching several planet-wide shields rumored to have been used by the Sith in previous empires, but—mentions are few and far between, and Xanatos keeps losing sleep for nothing.
This might turn out to be the same, or worse. Xanatos’s credits are on worse, personally.
Kix looks like he’s about to protest, but after a moment he takes a breath and hobbles forward, leaning on Xanatos even as he tries to keep space between them. “Are you—”
“Oh look, our destination,” Xanatos says, in no mood for more questions, and pushes him through a set of doors that hiss open in front of them. Kix yelps, almost falls, but Xanatos keeps him on his feet long enough to shove him at a biobed. “D3?”
With a faint whir, the med-droid rises on the other side of the bed, lights flickering across her display. She whistles a query at Xanatos who sighs, irritated, but tells Kix, “She wants you on the bed. Up.”
Kix grimaces, but leans back, carefully pulls himself up, and Xanatos catches his splinted leg before it can bump on anything, settles it as Kix steadies himself, and then steps back, folding his arms. “D3, the security bracelets—”
D3 tells him precisely where he can put his security bracelets, and Xanatos only just refrains from rolling his eyes. “Charming, but I refuse to let them roam Telos unchecked, and they won't change the readouts more than you can account for. The bracelets?”
D3 whistles, an aggrieved sound, but tells him his staff left the bracelets on the table by the door. Satisfied, Xanatos goes to collect one, and checks it for flaws in the Force as he brings it back. It’s a sleek little thing, with no breakable parts, and Xanatos makes a pleased noise, opens it, and just as D3 administers a dose of anesthetic, he snaps it shut around Kix's wrist.
“Ow!” Kix says, and jerks away from Xanatos, almost falling off the bed. D3 beeps loudly at him, her version of a screech, and he quickly catches himself, scrambling back upright and jerking his wrist up.
“A monitor,” Xanatos tells him, already turning away. “You’re permitted to go most places within the perimeter of my estate, but that bracelet will activate if you try to cross the boundary. I would advise that you don’t.”
“What?” Kix asks, sounding confused. “But—you're just—”
“I,” Xanatos says over his shoulder, “have a meeting in less than three hours, and if I don’t sleep, I will turn Skragg and all of his crew into the ugliest furniture you’ve ever seen. To spare my decorator that, I am leaving you to your own devices and going to bed.”
The door doesn’t slam behind him as he leaves medical, but only because D3 would throw things at him if he set it to do so, and Xanatos is a bastard of kingly proportions, but he isn't stupid.