When Mical stormed by her on his way back from the cockpit, the Exile knew she had to do something. This was the second time Mical had gone up there and come back looking like a kicked puppy, and she'd been there for the multiple verbal shots the Disciple and a certain scoundrel had fired at each other.
The thing about Atton was, he didn't come talk to you. You had to come talk to him.
It was annoying, at first, but she'd figured it out. Atton wanted to talk to her. He just didn't like being the one to start the conversation.
She made her way up to where their self-appointed pilot was sitting, lounging back in his seat like nothing had happened. She didn't try and read his mind anymore but he was playing Pazaak in his head so forcefully that it felt like his thoughts were beating against her skull.
"Should be." Atton fiddled with the controls. "Why, did that trash compactor tell you something's wrong with the ship?"
"No." She leaned an elbow against the console, looking down at him. "Mical walked past me just now. He seemed pretty frustrated."
"He oughtta be."
She held in her sigh. "What did you say to him?"
"And what's the truth?"
Atton stood up, suddenly very much in her space. And there it was again—that line they'd been towing these past few weeks. It was the line that had wavered when he'd taught her how to play pazaak in her head. She could remember how he'd held her hand, staring into her eyes, whispering that no one could hurt her now. It might have seemed like a strange gesture to others but she understood. It was another way that he could save her. By having her play pazaak, with him, she would be untouched by any who tried to do her harm.
It was a line that few Jedi had dared to cross. But then again, few Jedi had been presented with it. And she was no Jedi. She followed many of their teachings but she was not of their order. Her former Masters had seen to that.
She wanted to see what happened when she stepped over that line.
"The truth is that you don't need simpering sycophants like him."
"Wow, big words there. Careful you don't hurt yourself."
Atton took a step forward, getting even more in her space, backing her up against the console. She was tall, but he had a good couple inches on her, and now it felt like he towered over her. "I told him you like men that are honest. Not people who hide things. And he is hiding something from you. He's got you on a pedestal, acts like everything you do is divine, but he's keeping secrets. A big one. You deserve better."
"Atton…" She could feel the heat radiating from him and she struggled to keep her voice steady. "Are you jealous?"
"What's there to be jealous of?"
Well, it was as much of a straightforward answer as she'd get. "There's nothing between me and Mical. He's like a little brother. I mean, you've seen him, he's an oversized puppy."
Atton gave a short, barking laugh at that. "Yeah, I'll give you that."
"So you admit that you're jealous."
"Are you giving me a reason to be?"
It was such a thin line, after all. So easy to step over, to stomp on until it was obliterated altogether.
"Could I give you a reason not to be?"
His lips were warm, and softer than she'd expected, although dry. His arms came up and braced against the console, bracketing her, and she had to place her hands on his elbows for balance. Everything about him was warm, so warm, like she had been cold and dead and he was breathing life into her, flowing from his mouth into her body, warming her up.
Slowly, without even thinking about it, her hands slid up his arms to wrap around his neck, leaning into him so that their bodies pressed together. He pushed himself off the console and wrapped his arms around her, his hands large enough to span her back. The action made her open her mouth to make a sound and his tongue slid in and oh, this was more than warmth—this was heat, pure fire, making her blood rush and her head spin. It had been months—no, years—since she'd kissed anyone, but the tricks of it came back far more easily than her Force abilities. She could feel Atton's hands tighten at her back, bunching up the fabric of her robe, and she wanted to grin in triumph.
He pulled back just a hair's breadth, and she realized both of their chests were heaving from the lack of air. "Whoa there, sweets." A genuine grin fluttered at the corners of his lips. "You're, uh, a little too good at that."
The thought made heat spiral through her, but she held back. There was too much to do just then—she couldn't let herself become distracted. Although as far as distractions went, Atton was one of the better ones she'd encountered.
"Maybe we'll just pick it up later, then."
She winked and slipped out of his grasp, leaving him gaping at her as she sauntered out of the room.
Her head spun. She'd known that there were hidden depths in Atton. He reminded her of Revan that way sometimes—always joking and laughing, full of energy, but there were deep, deep waters lurking underneath.
She just hadn't known how dark those waters were.
A part of her wanted to recoil, but she shoved that part down. She'd killed plenty of innocents in the Mandalorian Wars. She would never forget the screams of Malachor V—how she had felt them, torn out of her, rather than simply heard them. And how he spoke of the Jedi that had saved him—of that love he'd felt, the kind of love you can have for someone you don't even know—she knew that love. She'd felt it for the refugees in Nar Shaddaa, for Padawans, for innocents in the war. It wasn't romantic love. It was something strange and selfless and painful.
And she knew what it was like to hate being used, to feel trapped by the Force—or in her case, by the Jedi Council.
And the way he was looking at her… she didn't need to read this thoughts to sense his pain.
Bluster all he wanted, but he was scared that she would hate him.
She couldn't hate him.
"I can help protect you." He tried one of his roguish grins, but faltered. "Or at least buy you some time when disaster comes screaming in." He shrugged, downplaying his skills to the last. "I want to learn how to use the Force. I want to learn how to use the Force to help you."
The others had all jumped at the chance to be Jedi. It had practically been the first thing Mical had asked her, and Brianna hadn't been far behind. Bao Dur didn't exactly "jump" for anything but he had come to her shortly after joining up with them. Atton—Atton had been different. She'd thought he'd never come to her.
And there was, of course, the matter of how they felt about each other.
But she couldn't deny him this. Surviving without the Force was fine, but to feel that connection to the universe, to other people be denied it… she'd felt that, and she wouldn't wish it on anyone.
"I will train you in the Force."
His shoulders slumped as he let out a breath of relief. "What must I do? Is there some… some ritual, or…?"
They were sitting on the floor of the cockpit where they'd been playing pazaak when she'd asked him about the Twi'lek's warning. She rose up onto her knees, reaching forward tentatively. Atton stilled, his eyes locking onto hers, as she cupped his face in her hands.
"Close your eyes and open your mind." She was whispering, but she wasn't sure why. This felt sacred and private, as if a spell would be broken if she spoke too loudly. Atton's eyes slid closed, and she did the same.
The Force felt slightly different to everyone, and so she used different descriptions with each of her new Padawans. "You must learn to feel it around you; feel its currents, its eddies."
His skin was warm underneath her fingers. She could feel his mind slowly opening up, like a reluctant flower, warmth blooming in front of her.
"Listen to the echo of your thoughts, your heart—separated from war, separated from hate."
She felt him tremble as he let the anger seep out of him, allowing it to bleed away. She could feel his newfound sense of emptiness, lost without those dark patches of rage to cling to.
Her thumbs brushed over his skin, soothing him. "Think of what you felt when you felt the need to help me, to protect me."
Atton's hands came up to settle at her waist, large and weighted, anchoring her. A tiny huff of breath escaped him, his head falling forward so that their foreheads rested against one another. She was practically in his lap, now, and she could feel his mind so intensely that she wasn't sure where she ended and he began. A new sensation was filling up the empty places within him, the caverns that had once held so much anger—a sensation that most Jedi would have feared.
Warmth flowed over her fingers and she realized that he was crying. She thought that she might have been crying too—she wasn't certain.
"And at last, Atton…" she whispered, "Awaken."
He hauled her all the way into his lap and kissed her, that new emotion within him washing over her, deep and unending.
"Do I have to pick?" Atton grumbled, his face buried into her neck. They were curled up together in the pilot's seat, holodiscs spread out over her lap.
"Yes. Now pay attention."
She outlined again the differences between Jedi Guardians, Sentinels, and Consulars. Bao Dur had chosen Guardian without hesitation, and Mical had said 'Consular' before she'd even finished her explanation. Visas and Brianna had both taken time to consider before making their choices.
Atton was just being contrary.
"Can I change my mind?" He asked.
"Few do. There are many ways of fulfilling your mission in whatever branch of the Jedi Order you choose to pursue."
Atton rested his chin on her shoulder, peering down at the holodiscs. It amazed her how still he could become. She had no doubt that if he didn't want someone to know he was there, they wouldn't.
"Sentinel," he said, his voice quiet and a little hoarse. "I want to be a Jedi Sentinel."
She smiled, and felt the warmth within him brighten.
She could feel Atton practically vibrating the entire way back to the Ebon Hawk. After the ordeal in the Jekk'Jekk Tarr, and then Goto's yacht, and now picking up Mira and meeting with yet another Jedi master and learning what she could—she felt that she should have been exhausted. Yet instead she felt… energized. Restless.
She knew Atton was feeling the same way. He'd burst into the room where Goto was keeping her, Bao Dur and Brianna at his heels, and he'd crushed her to him. She'd instinctively wrapped her arms around him, feeling his heart beat frantically against his ribcage, holding her tight enough to bruise.
"I'm okay," she'd whispered, feeling him shudder. "I'm okay."
Then Bao Dur had coughed and they'd stepped away from each other, cheeks pink.
Now, she could sense that interruption, that incompleteness, between her and Atton. It was like they'd been cut off in the middle of a sentence.
She debriefed everyone on what had happened and reluctantly accepted G0-T0 onto the crew (seeing as she really didn't have much choice in the matter), letting everybody have their say before slipping away to the cockpit.
Atton was punching in the coordinates for Onderon with a little more force than was generally called for. He stood and turned as she entered, noting how she closed and locked the door behind her. She'd quickly learned that Atton valued his privacy, and was more willing to talk to her when they weren't likely to be interrupted.
Everything she'd planned on saying was swept away as he kissed her, his mouth hot and desperate against hers. Touching him was like a drug. One brush of hands, one kiss, was never enough. She'd known the dangers when she'd let herself give in to her feelings but this was nothing short of an addiction.
And she wanted to overdose.
"How'm I supposed to protect you," he asked, his lips setting fire to her neck as they trailed down the skin there, "If you keep running off by yourself?"
"I can take care of myself." She'd been doing it for ten years.
"I know." His hands were slipping underneath her robe, brushing against her skin, and she let him. Let him touch her, let him set her on fire. She was so tired of being cold. "But I want you to let me."
She felt a sudden swoop of disorientation in her stomach as he lifted her up, setting her down on the console. She wrapped her legs around him, feeling the heat spike as he slid his hands over her back, their hips grinding together almost by accident. He kissed along her collarbone, starting to peel away the layers that trapped her. He was burning, the spark to her tinder, and who needed clothes when there was so much heat between them?
He thrust his hips again, more forcefully, and she moaned. Awareness spiked in the back of her mind, a consciousness that was not her own, and her eyes flew open.
"Kreia!" She tried pushing him back. "We can't—she'll know—"
"Play pazaak," Atton whispered, his teeth scraping her earlobe. "Just play pazaak."
Her eyelids fluttered and her fingers speared through his hair, pushing him downward. She wanted his mouth everywhere. She was cold, so cold, and she needed him to warm her up. "F-five… five plus ten…"
"Good," he encouraged, gently pushing off her robe.
She managed to keep it up, adding and subtracting the cards in her head like he'd taught her. She imagined the cards building up like a wall, blocking out everything except for the two of them, a cocoon where there was only his mouth, and his hands, and his body against hers.
His hands stuttered as he found her scars. They weren't many, nothing like the ones carved through her soul, but they caught him off guard.
"Mandalorian Wars," she explained. Stray blasters, clumsy lightsaber forms, explosions… accidents and enemies combined to ensure no one got out of war unscathed.
He shucked out of his jacked and pulled his shirt up over his head, revealing a wealth of thin white and pink lines. "Same," he admitted, gesturing at himself. "And… after."
When he was hunting Jedi. She understood.
She reached out—hesitant at first, merely trailing her fingers along the lines, but then bolder, pressing her palms to his skin and sliding over it, claiming it. She cooled the heat, tempered it, contained it. She wouldn't let him burn himself out.
"You ever done this?" He whispered.
The general assumption was that all Jedi were virgins. And, eighty percent of the time, that assumption held.
"Twice, during the wars." Following the Code on something as simple as this, when your death hovered over you like a cloud, hadn't seemed so important.
Still, it had been at least ten years.
He nodded. "Lean back, sweets."
He lowered her so that she was lying on the console, legs dangling off on either side of him. She ran her hands over him, over every part that she could reach. Taking. Claiming. Feeding the flames.
It was between one breath and the next. One moment they were apart, and then he was sliding in, joining them, making them one. She counted the cards up in her head—add three, minus two, deal the next round—pulling him to her, letting him scatter kisses everywhere. Higher and higher rose the flames, keep out the cold inside of her, no amount of touch ever enough…
He gasped her name, his lips at her jaw, warming her from the inside out, and she shuddered silently, the rush of molten heat engulfing her. She was a sacrifice to the flames.
"That's the constellation of King Adas, ruler of the Sith during the time of the Infinite Empire."
Atton squinted over her shoulder, following where she pointed. They were curled up in the pilot's chair together, his arms around her as she rested in his lap.
They'd taken to retreating to the cockpit when they could. The area was acknowledged as Atton's territory, just as the medbay was Mical's and the maintenance bay was Bao Dur's. Here they were allowed to be alone together, undisturbed. Sometimes they played pazaak. Other times they played pazaak in their heads, while their bodies did other things. It was only a matter of time before Kreia realized what they were up to, but they wanted to stave that off for as long as possible. It didn't help that they couldn't stop touching each other. Their Force bond was growing stronger by the day, and with it the desire to be close. Atton was forever standing behind her, or resting a hand on her shoulder, or leaning in close to whisper in her ear. And she was no better. She had to keep stopping herself from reaching for him, holding his hand or even standing too close to him. It was rare that they got a moment like this to simply sit and be together.
"Where'd you learn all these constellations?"
"Revan liked to take us stargazing." She could remember how the slightly older girl would wake her up in the middle of the night, a finger to her lips, and lead her out of the compound to the hills of Dantooine, where she'd spin stories about the figures that danced up there.
"It's weird to hear you talk about her like that."
She could feel him shrug against her back. "You knew her as a friend. I knew her as the general… and then the Sith Lord."
"We were all generals, back then. Bao Dur still insists on calling me that."
"I know." Atton's arms around her tightened slightly and she leaned further back into him. "We were all different people back then. You probably wouldn't have liked me."
"Who said I like you now?"
"You don't have to say it." He tilted his head around to grin at her.
She shut him up by kissing him.
The Exile took a deep breath, feeling the cool air against her skin. She wasn't normally this daring—that was much more Revan's style. But what good was owning a skimpy dancing outfit if you didn't put it to good use? She'd seen Atton's face when she'd put it on to dance for Vogga, and she was feeling indulgent that night.
She wasn't quite as stealthy as Atton or Visas but she could be quiet when she wanted to. Atton was dozing in the pilot's chair and didn't even realize she was there until she was swinging a leg over his hip, straddling his legs but still standing.
She placed a finger on his lips and let him look. His expression as he took in her attire was priceless. "Like what you see?"
She cut him off again, grabbing him by the wrists before he could touch her. "Nuh-uh. Stop me if I'm wrong but I thought patrons weren't allowed to touch dancers?"
He swallowed, and she could feel him getting himself back under control. She guided his hands to the armrests, resting them there before letting go. She leaned forward, letting him get an eyeful as she placed her lips by his ear. "I know you liked my dancing back on Nar Shaddaa. And I was thinking…" She trailed a hand down his chest, toying with his belt. "Why let such a great outfit go to waste?"
Atton let out a soft groan and she couldn't bite back her grin. He was too easy.
She lowered herself onto him slowly, moving her hips in a figure eight. He stared at her, his eyes dark and glittering with wonder, transfixed by whatever he saw in her face. Her moves mimicked the ones she'd done for the Hutt, but this time they were all designed for contact: her pelvis against his, a brush of her breasts, a whisper of lips to his skin.
"C'mon," he groaned. She could feel him hard underneath her, giving her something to grind against. She angled her hips just right and the length of him plus the friction of the fabric made her seeing stars. "C'mon, let me, let—gotta touch you, please."
She leaned forward and kissed him to shut him up but he took it as an invitation, and suddenly his hands were all over her, sliding up her exposed skin, holding her in place for him to thrust up and oh, there, right there…
Neither of them lasted long, desperate and frantic in their movements. She slumped forward, panting, feeling Atton wince as he undoubtedly realized what a mess of his pants he'd just made.
"You are going to be the death of me," he mumbled.
"I didn't hear you complaining," she replied.
She knew she looked a little wild, her hair disheveled and covered in dirt.
Dead, dead on the floor, blood pooling underneath his body…
"Whoa, sweets, what happened in that tomb?" He stood up. "I gotta admit you look like you just went ten rounds with a rancor."
She'd had to kill him, he wouldn't stop, no matter how much she begged him…
She jumped at him, kissing him, making him stumble backward. "Need to feel you," she chanted. "Need to feel you, you, I couldn't—I tried—"
Lying on the ground, face a mangled mess, tried to touch him, made of air…
She dragged him to the floor, almost ripping his clothes off. She had to touch him, had to feel him everywhere, on top of her, inside of her, make sure he was real.
All the visions haunt her but this one is worst of all. She offers Kreia redemption and so they turn on her, her friends all against her, Atton leading the charge—face twisted, his face so twisted…
She didn't even let him take time to prepare her, simply parting her legs and guiding him in. The sting is welcome, the burn is welcome, all of it is welcome.
She knew Korriban was full of ghosts but ghosts are of the past and he is of the present… bleeding out before her and she cannot even touch him, comfort him in his final moments…
"I'm right here," he gasped out. His thrusts were hard as he caught onto her desperation, unsure and scared as he saw the fear shining in her eyes. "I'm right here, I always will be, I'm not leaving you… promised to keep you safe…"
His body fades away like old ink on parchment but his eyes are last to go—his glassy, cold, lifeless eyes… the fire in them is out.
"S'cold without you," she whispered. "Warm me up, need to feel you, I need to feel warm, the tomb—the tomb was so cold…"
She screamed his name, for once not caring about who might hear, clutching at him with all of her strength.
She was so desperate she forgot to play pazaak in her head. So far gone, she didn't feel Kreia's anger in the back of her mind.
Everyone else was unconscious, but she knew that he wasn't. She could feel him through their bond, sensing his pain. She found him in the cockpit, struggling to stand, clutching at his side as he explained what had happened. Of course only Atton, with his Echani training, would even stand a chance of fighting back agains the Handmaidens.
"They took Brianna too," he confessed.
She shushed him, pressing her hands to the wound. "Let me heal you."
The wounds, although bleeding, weren't as deep as she'd feared. He'd gotten off lucky.
"Why didn't she kill you?"
"Who, Kreia?" Atton replied, allowing her to manhandle him into the cockpit and push his shirt up to better assess the damage. "Because it wasn't the right time."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
He placed his hands over hers. "She manipulates people. She loves you, but that's not going to stop her. She knows you care about us—all of us. If we're going to die, she's going to do it when she wants, in the way that'll most hurt you."
"She won't." The vision in the secret tomb danced in her mind's eye. No. She wouldn't hurt her companions, not for anything. She wouldn't hurt Atton.
Atton brought her hands up to his lips and kissed the knuckles gently. "Let's hurry to Telos, then."
The Ebon Hawk was crashing… again. Only this time Atton knew he couldn't save them from the worst of it.
"Strap in!" He shouted. He caught a glimpse of Mira bracing herself against the wall, her feet firm and her hands gripping the pipe above her head. The bounty hunter-turned-Jedi had told them about her childhood as a Mandalorian, and he'd heard plenty about the infamous Basilisk war droids. He put two and two together.
"Atton!" The Exile was a source of calm, the eye of the hurricane. "Where's Brianna?"
She could deny she was a Jedi all that she wanted, but she cared fiercely for her Padawans. "Behind you."
He waited until she turned, and then he brought his lightsaber hilt—blade sheathed—crashing down on the base of her skull. He caught her as she fell, unconscious, hauling her up into his arms with her head cradled against his chest. Atton sprinted for the cockpit, strapping her down into the pilot's seat. She was going to hate him for this when she eventually woke up.
By then, hopefully Darth Traya—the witch—would be dead. And if the crash was even worse than planned…
Well. At least the last of the Jedi would survive.
Mical's voice came over the intercom. "Atton? Visas? Mira? We're going down! Where's the Master? I've got Brianna in medbay, I was trying to strap us in and she's trapped under a gurney—"
"Your Master is safe here in the cockpit," Atton replied, barely restraining himself from adding spy. "Mira's braced herself. Bao Dur?"
The Ebon Hawk slammed into a rock formation and the sound of twisting, screeching metal assaulted his ears. A second later Visas's screams filled the intercom. "I can't reach! I can't—I'm trying, I can't reach him, the entire mechanical bay is—help, help I can't—I can't reach him—!"
"I'm coming!" He could hear Mira's voice and knew she was moving, could imagine her dodging flying chairs and dishware as she navigated the ship.
"Holy Force she's jumping—" Mical's voice was so alarmed he filled the intercom with static.
Atton kept his death grip on the pilot's chair, gritting his teeth, one arm slung over the Exile's unconscious form. The ground was coming up fast. Whatever Mira was doing, whatever state Bao Dur was in, they had to move quickly.
Force protect her, he thought.
Visas screamed again as the rocks closed in and the ship slammed into unforgiving stone, pitching him forward into blackness.
"Our first stop should be Telos."
Atton turned to see her standing in the doorway of the cockpit. He nodded, punching in the numbers. He'd tried to be lighthearted as they made their way out of Trayus Academy, but although she smiled he could feel something deep inside of her—something deeper than sadness—take root.
"He'd have wanted to be buried there," she went on.
Atton stood. The coordinates could wait.
He opened his arms and she stepped into them, his shirt rapidly becoming soaked with tears. "He was my best friend," she choked.
"I know. He was mine, too."
When he'd come to, he'd picked his way through the damaged ship to find Mical barely conscious but resolutely holding onto a terrified Brianna, and they'd all found Visas, alive by some miracle, hanging half out of what had formally been the maintenance bay. They'd left the Exile safe in the pilot's chair and eventually found Mira, a bit worse for wear but alive, a little ways in. Despite the bounty hunter's death-defying leap out of the Ebon Hawk, she hadn't caught Bao Dur in time. They'd found his broken body a short distance from the ship.
"I feel guilty…" she whispered, "Because—with Sion, he said… I thought you'd died. And then I was thinking, I'm just glad it wasn't you… and Kreia, and how she—" She shook her head, rubbing her face on his shirt. "I didn't want anyone to die."
Atton drew her down, sitting on the floor with his back against the console, cradling her in his lap. "Loved you from the moment I first saw you," he whispered. "Thought you were a dream." He shifted her so that her head was resting on his shoulder. "Meant every word. Tried to pass it off as a joke. Wasn't funny." He rocked her, gently. "I love you."
She tried to laugh but it turned into a sob. "I—"
"Shh. Don't talk. Just rest. I'll be right here, keeping you safe."
That was where Mira found them, hours later, an exhausted and tear-stained Exile asleep in his arms.
Revan ran her hand over the Ebon Hawk's console. "I remember a lot of good times in here." She pointed at the pilot's chair. "You might want to sanitize that before you sit in it."
The Exile managed a rueful smile. "You, too?"
"What do you mean, 'you too'?" Revan turned and looked back at her. "Don't tell me…"
The Exile shrugged. "What can I say. He was a pilot."
Revan laughed. "Don't I know it."
The former Sith Lord gazed at the chair, a far-off look in her eyes. "Why isn't he with you?"
The Exile felt a sob well up and she choked it down. "You said it yourself, Master."
Revan looked at her, eyebrows creased in confusion.
"Where we are going… we cannot take anyone we love."