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           Kira, Daesha, and Scourge walked in silence down the long halls of the Senate.  The guards nodded at them, many of them breaking into grins.  Daesha almost smiled.  It was truly a momentous day.  With their victory, the future seemed limitless.  She could almost imagine an end to this war.   As they reached the entrance to the grand hall, Kira turned to look at her, a small smile slipping onto her face.  Daesha returned it this time.  Kira’s presence in the Force was bright, and her excitement was almost palpable.  Scourge, however, was another matter.  He hadn’t said a word to her since they left the ship.  The whole time they had been walking down the Senate halls, however, she could feel his eyes boring into her back.  His presence in the Force was guarded, his arms were crossed, and his face was carefully neutral.  If he had been anyone else, Daesha would have guessed he were nervous. 

            The doors hissed open suddenly, breaking her out of such thoughts.  They all stepped through the threshold and soon enough were at the podium.  She and Kira climbed the stairs, but Scourge chose to remain a few meters behind.   Daesha inclined her head to Master Satele, waiting for the grandmaster to speak. 

            “You saved our galaxy from destruction.  The Emperor’s death has turned the tide of this war,” Master Satele said.

            “Combined with our victory on Corellia and the damage inflicted on Drommund Kaas, the Sith are in chaos.  It’s glorious,” Admiral Dabrin extrapolated. 

            “For too long, the Republic has feared the Sith Empire.  But this victory has proven that they’re not invincible,” Daesha said.  She felt a faint flair of anger from Scourge but chose to ignore it. 

            “You’ve raised the morale of every Republic soldier from here to Hoth.  For the first time since the war started, we have the upper hand,” the admiral replied.  “For your actions on Corellia, General Var Suthra recommended you all receive the Crescent of Service.  But you’ve earned more than that.  It is my honor to present each of you with the Republic’s highest award, the Cross of Glory.”  Daesha blinked in surprise.  She had known that the Senate would recognize them, but to receive such a prestigious award was an opportunity few received.

            “You will live forever as heroes of the Republic.  Jedi Knight Kira Carsen, Sergeant Fideltin Rusk, T7-01, Doctor Archiban Kimble,” Master Satele said. 

            “Archiban?  Seriously?” Kira snorted, earning a few chuckles from those close enough to hear her.  Even Master Satele smiled. 

            Doc, on the other hand, turned red and touched a hand nervously to his forehead.  “Just call me Doc…please.” 

            Turning back to the ceremony, Master Satele continued, though her eyes narrowed slightly.  “Even you, Lord Scourge.  Though you joined us for selfish reasons, you saved more lives than your own.” 

            Daesha smirked, folding her hands innocently in front of her.  “Scourge will be a Jedi before he knows it.”  Perhaps it was perverse of her, but the sharp flare of irritation she felt from him felt like good payback for his silent treatment. 

            “Do not count on that.  I stay only until I am sure the Emperor left us no surprises,” he retorted. 

            “And then there is you,” Master Satele continued, coming around the podium to stand in front of her.  “How do we even begin to account for the turns your life has taken since you first arrived on Tython?  You embody what every Jedi strives to become.  Your courage, commitment, and leadership have seen us through this dark time.  From this day forth, you are no longer a Jedi Knight.  You are a Jedi Master.” 

            Daesha’s mouth dropped open slightly before a wide smile cracked her face.  “And here I thought you’d never get around to it.”

            “Be mindful of your emotions, Master.  But I appreciate your honest enthusiasm,” Master Satele reprimanded, although it was belayed by the smile on her face.  “These are the moments we strive for, when the hope of victory becomes real.  When we can see peace on the horizon.  May the Force be with us,” she finished, bowing to Daesha and the crowd. 

            As the crowd burst into applause, Daesha bowed again to her.  “Thank you, Master Satele,” she whispered.  “I am truly honored and humbled.” 

            Master Satele placed two fingers under her chin, lifting her head up.  “You will make us proud, Daesha.  Of that I have no doubt,” Satele assured her before walking away to speak with Admiral Dabrin. 

            Kira and Doc hurried over to her.  “If I may?”  Doc asked, smiling broadly.   When Daesha nodded, he pinned the Cross of Glory to her chest, just below her clavicle.  “It looks beautiful, though I could just be seeing what’s underneath.” 

            “Do you really want to play this game, Archiban?” Daesha teased.  “Because I can promise that you’ll lose.”

            Doc’s ears turned red with embarrassment and he looked down at his boots.  “No, no, you win.  I’ll shut up, just don’t – don’t call me that, please,” he pleaded. 

            “I promise,” Daesha responded.  “Congratulations to the both of you, as well.  You’ve more than earned it.”

            “Just as long as that old creep is dead, that’s good enough for me,” Kira sighed.

            “You know, Rusk was talking about going out to celebrate.  Apparently, there’s this new bar called Club Nova.  Some of the other grunts were telling him about it, and it’s supposed to be very nice,” Doc winked. 

            Kira rolled her eyes.  Daesha wrinkled her nose.  “Is ‘bar’ a new code name for ‘strip club’?”   

            “No, this place is totally legit,” Doc promised, holding up his hands.  “Just a place to relax, unwind, and drink all the Nebula Drifters you can handle.  Medic’s honor.” 

            “After that long flight back from Drommund Kaas, that actually sounds perfect,” Kira said.  “I’m in.  What about you?”  

            “Well, if everyone else is going, I guess I’ll tag along.  It’s hard to celebrate by yourself,” Daesha said.  Rusk came over to join them, T7 trailing along behind him. 

            “Are you both coming?” he asked.  Kira and Daesha nodded.  “Good.  At least now, I’ll have someone interesting to talk to.  Archiban here is a little dull when he’s drunk.”  Kira giggled, and Doc’s face turned red again.

            “I’ll see you all there,” he muttered, turning on his heel and stalking away. 

            “Let me see if Scourge wants to come,” Daesha said, turning to see that he was already gone.  She frowned, turning back to Kira and Rusk.

            “Well, apparently he had better things to do,” Kira muttered. 

            “He’s probably going back to the ship,” Daesha said.  “If I hurry, I’m sure I can still catch him.”

            “Why don’t you just comm him?” Rusk asked. 

            “Because I know he’ll just say no.  Maybe if I can talk to him face to face, he’ll actually come,” she sighed. 

            “Daesha, if he wants to be alone, let him be alone,” Kira said.  “Besides, he’s such a killjoy.”

            “I know, Kira, but without his help, I doubt this day ever would have happened.  Whether we like it or not, his help was invaluable.  He deserves to be a part of this celebration,” she said. 

            “Well, when you see him, give him this,” Rusk said, handing her another Cross of Glory.  “He didn’t even stay to accept it.”

            “I will.  And I’ll see both of you shortly, with or without him,” Daesha promised, racing off down the hall.

            She caught up to him three halls down.  Daesha could tell when he felt her approach, since his shoulders stiffened slightly.  Falling into step beside him, neither of them said anything until they were almost at the end of the corridor.  “I have no desire to accompany you to this club,” Scourge finally said, glancing down at her.  “It hardly seems like a productive way to spend an evening.” 

            Daesha glared up at him, understanding why Kira had advised her to leave him alone.  Still, this was the eve of their victory, and she wouldn’t feel right about letting him leave without even trying to stop him.   “You forgot this,” she responded, handing the medal out to him.  Scourge looked down at it for several second before reluctantly taking it from her.  Daesha tried to ignore how incredibly small it looked in his hand.  He tucked it into one of the pouches at his waist, and they continued walking in silence.  “How did you know about the club?  You were gone before Rusk even mentioned it.”

            “I overheard Rusk and Kimble discussing it earlier.  Although I’m surprised every Jedi on Coruscant cannot detect your plans, with how loudly you are projecting anticipation.  It is hardly the type of conduct I would expect from a Jedi Master,” he mocked.  “I thought you had better control than that.”

            “At least as Jedi, we bother to learn control.  With the exception of Praven, I have yet to see a Sith even try controlling their emotions,” Daesha argued. 

            “Praven, indeed,” Scourge scoffed.  “He hardly qualifies as a Sith.  He was taught in the same manner I was, to embrace his anger and feed off the fear of others.  Yet, as a young man, he chose to chase honor instead of increasing his power.  And as a Jedi, he chooses to meditate and follow the dictates of the Council instead of forging his own path.  And to think, this is the life you choose to live and would have me live as well.” 

            Daesha stopped in her tracks, crossing her arms when he turned back to face her.  “Is that what’s really bothering you?  That I choose to hold onto the hope that eventually you might see the error of your ways?  How is that any different from the many, many times you have tried to sway me to the dark side?” 

            Scourge stalked towards her until he was in her space, towering over her.  Daesha mentally cursed, craning her neck back to look up into his face.  “Many things bother me lately, Jedi.  There are still a great number of things that you do not understand.  But understand this:  I helped you defeat the Emperor because I did not wish to see the galaxy annihilated.  It only means that, unlike him, I did not fall to madness.  It does not mean that I am some lost little akk dog that needs your pity!  I have never sought the light.  I will never seek the light.  Once I am sure the Emperor is no longer a direct threat, I will leave.  I neither need nor seek your friendship or that of the others.  You and Kira constantly prattle about the light side, and I have no desire to hear it tonight,” he snarled before stepping back.

            As he started to turn away, Daesha grabbed his arm.  Her temper flared, and his mouth turned up into a smirk.  She was hit by the very strong urge to wipe it off his face.  “You have made your point.  But understand this, Scourge:  your temper and attempts at intimidation won’t change who I am.  Whether you like it or not, you are my ally.  I do consider you my friend, regardless of whether you return it or not.  If you choose to cling to the dark side, I cannot forcefully convert you.  But I will never stop hoping that you will embrace the light.  There is light and dark in everyone, for such is the way of the Force.  You have light inside, whether you choose to admit it or not.”

            He moved quickly, placing a hand under her chin and yanking her up onto the tips of her toes.  “I could say the same of you, Ven.  There is a well of untapped power in you, simply waiting for the day you are brave enough to use it.  You would be so strong,” he murmured. 

            “I already am strong,” Daesha swallowed thickly, finding it hard to breathe in her current position. 

            “Indeed you are,” Scourge chuckled, letting her back down.  “You did well in killing the Emperor.” 

            “Was that a compliment?” she asked, stunned. 

            “Yes, and well earned,” he replied.  “But do not become used to it.”

            “I wouldn’t dream of it,” Daesha responded.  Silence stretched between them before Scourge finally spoke. 

            “I will see you at the ship,” he said, turning away from her and heading down the halls of the Senate. 

         After comming Rusk for the coordinates of Club Nova, Daesha hailed an airtaxi and quickly made her way there.  The club wasn’t far from the Senate, only about a fifteen-minute flight.  She found Kira outside, laughing with one of the bouncers.  Daesha smiled; it had been too long since any of them had laughed.  At her approach, Kira turned, her grin widening if it were possible.  “You’re finally here!” she exclaimed, fighting to be heard over the pounding bass music.  “I take it Mr. Peppy didn’t want to come?”

            “You could say that,” Daesha agreed, deciding it was better not to mention their philosophical…confrontation, for lack of a better term.  “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.”

            “At least you tried,” Kira shrugged before grabbing her hand and leading her into the club.  “Don’t let it ruin tonight; it’s his loss.  Besides, you should see Doc.  He’s already had three Nebula Drifters.  His face is starting to turn red!” 

            As they walked further into Club Nova, Daesha had to strain to hear whatever her friend was saying.  The sound system was pounding the latest popular hit, its electronic hooks and deep bass melding in an almost hypnotic way.  The lights, quickly switching between every color in the electromagnetic spectrum, only added to the club’s ambiance. The dance floor in the middle of the club was packed, the sweating bodies of at least five different species gyrating and swaying together.  Daesha looked away quickly when she caught the intense yellow-green eyes of a tall Cathar.  Luckily, they managed to reach their table at that moment. 

            Rusk nodded in acknowledgment when he saw her, holding up his glass.  Doc took a few seconds longer to acknowledge her, almost spilling his own glass when he raised it.  Kira jumped up on her stool, handing Daesha a shot as she sat down.  Whatever the drink was, it was pink-purple and smelled like turpentine.  Although she hadn’t visited her family since she was fifteen, she remembered very specifically that her mother hadn’t had any tolerance for alcohol.  Her Master before Tython, Caden Coren, had also been very strict with it.  She had never been allowed to drink on missions, and she had only been allowed one glass of Alderaani wine on her eighteenth nameday.  Daesha looked down at it, hesitating when Kira clinked her own glass against it. 

            “Cheers!” Kira said, downing her own shot in a single swallow.  Daesha smiled nervously, taking a tiny sip of her own drink before choking.  She coughed, trying to get rid of the taste.  When she looked up, Kira, Doc, and Rusk were all staring at her in shock. 

            “What?” Daesha asked, setting her glass down. 

            “Hells, beautiful, everyone knows you don’t drink a shot that way,” Doc slurred.  “Not unless you want to have it come right up again.”

            “Have you never had shots before?” Kira asked.

            “My Master never allowed drinking.  At least not until I was of age,” Daesha explained.  “Once that happened, I was transferred to Tython a month later.  Most Jedi frown on heavy drinking during a war.”

            “As well they should.  Alcohol lowers a squad’s battle-readiness by almost thirty percent,” Rusk interjected. 

            “Well, it’s about time you learned, then,” Kira smirked.  “Tonight’s the perfect night to get drunk.  You’d better hurry up, or Doc’s going to beat you.”

            Daesha smiled despite herself.  “I don’t think I’ll be getting drunk.  But if you could teach me how to drink a shot, I’d appreciate it.”

            Kira laughed.  “The expression is ‘take a shot’.  It’s not hard.  You just throw the whole thing to the back of your mouth and swallow before you can think it over.  Just think of it as Doc’s cough syrup.”

            “Like this?” Daesha asked, raising the glass to her lips and tossing it back.  Despite her best try, half of it landed on the middle of her tongue.  She nearly gagged; the taste was even worse than the smell.

            “Don’t spit it out,” Kira instructed quickly.  “Just swallow.” 

            Daesha did as instructed, swallowing the disgusting liquid.  Her throat felt like it was on fire, almost as if she’d ingested lava.  She wheezed, clutching at her throat and gasping for air.  When she spoke, her voice sounded rough.  “How was that?”

            “Good for your first try,” Kira said.  “It just takes more practice.”  With that, she raised a hand, ordering another round.  Although the first shot had been disgusting, Daesha found that the next two went down more easily.  By the third, she couldn’t even taste it anymore.   And although her head felt slightly fuzzy and she was extremely warm, the sensation was not unpleasant. 

            About that time, Daesha felt a warm hand land on her shoulder.  She turned in her chair, hoping to see Scourge’s red gaze.  She imagined that he would glance down at the three small glasses in front of her before smirking again.  Undoubtedly, he would choose that moment to make some brilliantly scornful comment about Jedi and their excessive drinking.  But the eyes looking down at her weren’t red.  They were a bright green, easily reflecting what little light the club had to offer.  Although it took a moment, Daesha recognized the Cathar from earlier.  He smiled down at her, stepping back a pace as she turned around fully.       

            “Madame Jedi, my name is Ronan Duro,” the Cathar said, extending a hand.

            “I’m Daesha Ven.  It’s a pleasure, Ronan,” she replied, shaking his hand. 

            “Daesha Ven…the Tython Hero?” Ronan asked.

            “I suppose you could call me that,” Daesha nodded.  “Is there something I can help you with?”

            “Well, I realize that you’re here with friends, but would you care to dance?” he inquired, glancing between her companions. 

            “That is very generous, Ronan, but I’m afraid-“ Daesha began before Kira cut her off.

            “She would love to, Ronan,” Kira interrupted.  Leaning over, she whispered in Daesha’s ear.  “One dance is not going to break the Jedi Code.  We can be all stuffy and boring the rest of the year.  Tonight, we’re here to celebrate.” 

            Heat flooded her cheeks, and Daesha glanced up at Ronan.  The Cathar was handsome, with an engaging smile and broad shoulders.  It wasn’t as if she were going to take him back to the ship, after all.  Perhaps one dance wouldn’t hurt.  “I’d be honored,” she said, hopping out of her seat and following him to the dance floor. 

    The pounding bass, sharp electronic hooks, and multicolored lights were even more overwhelming on the floor.  Thankfully, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as it had been.  Ronan moved onto the floor first, starting to subtly gyrate his body in time to the music.  His moves weren’t overly lascivious, and for that Daesha was thankful.  She stood awkwardly to the side, watching the other female dancers and trying to discern some pattern to their movements.  Ronan held out a hand, and Daesha stepped closer to him.  She stiffly began swaying her hips, trying to match his pace and rhythm.  After a few moments, he smiled down at her.  “I take it you don’t dance very often?” he asked gently. 

            “Not in several years.  And not well that time,” Daesha laughed. 

            “It’s not hard.  Let me show you,” Ronan offered, turning her back to his front and placing his hands high up on her hips.  He began a simple circular motion, carefully guiding their movements in time to the music.  After that, he dipped his knees slightly, continuing the gyrations he had been doing earlier.  As the tempo increased, he combined the two motions, still holding her loosely.  When the song changed, he released her hips; and Daesha had little trouble following him.  They continued dancing that way for another song, and then Daesha turned to face him.  He was grinning, his pupils wide from the low light and alcohol.  Daesha almost smiled.  Although the dance moves were suggestive, this was actually quite fun.  Ronan began the gyrating motion again, and she matched herself to his rhythm.  The lights chose that moment to flare and then drop dramatically, and Daesha had to fight to keep her orientation.  When the lights finally evened out again, Daesha glanced up at Ronan.  He was watching her intently.  She stopped momentarily, about to inquire if he was alright.  Placing a hand along one side of her face, he leaned down and kissed her lightly on the lips.  Daesha shivered in both delight and revulsion.  His lips were soft and pliant, but the acidic smell of some alcohol was heavy in his breath.  “I just wanted to thank you for the dance.  It’s been a pleasure,” he said quickly. 

            “I thank you,” Daesha smiled, squeezing the hand along her face.  “The pleasure has been all mi-“  A hand on her shoulder cut her off.  She turned to see Rusk glaring at Ronan.  His other hand landed on her other shoulder, and she was pulled back.   “What’s wrong, Sergeant?” she asked.

            Rusk leaned down by her ear.  “You’re needed, Master Jedi,” he said, motioning toward their table with his head.  Daesha glanced back and did a double take.  There, leaning against the table with his arms crossed, was Scourge.  Turning back to Ronan, she smiled and nodded in parting.  Rusk kept a hand on her shoulder until they were at the table, and for that, Daesha was grateful.  The lights made balancing difficult. 

            Scourge said nothing once Daesha walked up to him.  Instead, his gaze went from the three shot glasses to the dance floor.  His perpetual frown only deepened when, Daesha guessed, he spied Ronan.  “Did I interrupt your search for a bedmate, Jedi?” he asked.  The question was spoken softly, but his words carried a lethal weight.  Daesha glared up at him, refusing to dignify the question with a response.  His glare only intensified, and her temper began to rise.  Blast it all to the nine Corellian hells…

            “Why are you here?” Daesha snapped. 

            He studied her a moment before responding.  “Master Shan sent a holomessage.  Apparently, there is some business on Tython that requires your attention.  She requested that we leave no later than noon tomorrow.  I doubted she would enjoy having to retransmit the message while you were recovering from a hangover.  The ship is prepared; we leave tonight.”

            “Since when do you care about my obeying the Council?” Daesha asked, crossing her arms. 

            Scourge’s nostrils flared and he pulled his shoulders back.  “I hardly care.  I was merely relaying a message,” he spat.  Daesha opened her mouth to argue, but Rusk squeezed her shoulder tightly. 

            “We should leave.  Kira and Doc are already on their way back to the ship, and the Jedi Council are not people to keep waiting,” he advised. 

            “It is of course as you say,” Daesha nodded.  Turning back to Scourge, she met his glare with her own.  “Lead the way, Sith.”