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The Stars Themselves

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It’s official: Viri’s had more than enough of Umbara.

“Commander to Gravestone, do you read? Requesting pickup. Sending coordinates.” Viri says wearily into her comlink. “Caution is advised as you approach Umbara. And if you see Theron’s shuttle…be extremely careful.” It makes her cringe to voice the order, and she’d like to tell Koth and Tora that it’s all a joke. As her tired eyes sweep across the battlefield, she realizes just how agonizingly real it is. The remains of the giant spider droid – Theron’s third attempt that day at killing her and Lana –are still smoking and sparking, and the bodies of numerous Republic and Umbaran soldiers lay scattered among the wreckage.

“Copy, Commander. We’re actually very close. ETA fifteen minutes.” Koth pauses. “Will you be alright until then? Are you all okay?”

”We’re fine,” Viri says. “See you soon.” No sooner are the words out of her mouth than she realizes just how much of a lie they are. No, she’s not fine. Neither is Lana. They sit together on an overturned crate, leaning into each other. Mourning. Trying to process what just happened, with little success. When they'd boarded the supply train, Theron Shan had been their ally and friend; before they'd jumped out of the same train, he'd revealed himself as their enemy. Profound sadness. Rage. Concern. Their Force signatures web as they lean into their bond, comforting each other.

Viri closes her eyes and sends a wave of love through the Force, reassuring Lana with her presence. It echoes back to her, making her smile, even through her grief.

“How are you doing, Lana?” she asks quietly. “That stun looked like it hurt.”

"I'll be okay," Lana says. "It didn’t really hurt, it just froze me.” Viri reaches out to stroke her face, to run her fingers across a new bruise on Lana’s cheek. There’s warmth on her skin as Viri heals her, and then tracks her hand across Lana’s neck and shoulders, seeking out the sore spots to assuage with the Force. Lana turns her head, planting a kiss on Viri's wrist.

“Better?” Viri asks.

”Yes, my love.” Lana smiles slightly and gives Viri another kiss. They sit together quietly for a few minutes.

“Did you ever have any contact with Cipher Nine, Lana?” Viri asks, breaking the silence.

”The Intelligence agent? Never directly. She was gone by the time I was in Sith Intelligence. I just heard about her. Why?” Lana’s brow wrinkles.

”Do you remember her deal? She was conditioned. Brainwashed. Had implants she didn’t even know about; that other people in Intelligence were not aware of. Do you think it’s possible that Theron is being controlled the same way?” Viri frowns. “I want to believe he’s not really doing this, Lana.”

“It’s not beyond possibility, I suppose,” Lana agrees. “It would certainly be a more pleasant scenario than what this appears to be on the surface.”

”I’m still not sure how to process this,” Viri admits. “I’m furious. I want to hurt him. Badly. But…I can’t help but feel devastated by the loss. We knew him for a long time.”

”You’re mourning the friend we had,” Lana replies. “I am, too. It is as though he died. And perhaps it’s best to think of it that way.” She grabs Viri’s hand as the shadow of the Gravestone looms overhead, and they start on their journey back to Odessen.

*

As soon as they board the Gravestone, Viri snaps back into Commander mode and requests a group meeting with the crew. ”Please get Bey’wan, Vette, Kaliyo and Aric on the Holo. They need to hear this,” she asks.

When the team is assembled, Viri takes a deep breath. “You may notice that Theron is not with us. That’s because he betrayed the Alliance. I don’t know why, or how, or how long he’s been a traitor. What I do know is that he tried to kill Lana and me, and that he appears to be working with our enemy. We don’t know where he’s gone.”

Viri’s eyes travel from one shocked face to the next. “Those of you on base, I’m going to need you to enact our emergency protocols. We’re going to need to go through everything – every network, every console, every ship – to ensure that they haven’t been compromised by Theron. We’ll need to inform Empress Acina of this development. If, by any chance, he contacts the base, trace the call or email and get as much information as you possibly can.”

Viri paces restlessly and turns to her crew. “Eternal Fleet, defensive stances around Odessen and Iokath. Admit Alliance ships only. Tora and Koth, I’m going to need you to go through this ship with a fine-toothed comb and ensure that it’s neither bugged nor compromised. Tora, I’m also going to ask you to work with the GEMINI captains to rewrite all the security protocols for the Fleet. I know it’s extra work, but…”

”Don’t even,” says Tora. “This is important. We don’t want that creep in our systems. I’ll get to work right now.”

“Thank you, Tora. We’ll need to have a very long meeting when we’re back to base,” Viri concludes. “I’m shocked. But we’ll deal with it.”

”Wow,” says Koth, as he begins to examine the Gravestone’s systems. “I can’t say I saw this coming.”

”I don’t think any of us did,” Viri says, shaking her head. “I met Theron so many years ago. I thought he was a friend. I never could have imagined this.” Lana puts one hand on her shoulder, reassuringly.

”Can I speak for both of us?” Viri asks.

”Of course,” Lana says.

Viri turns back to the group. ”I’m sure there are questions, and we’ll answer them as soon as we can, but I’m going to ask that you allow Lana and me to rest and recover on the way back to Odessen. I’m also going to ask that you don’t ask us about this for the rest of the trip. It’s been a very long and trying day, and we’re going to be spending enough time talking about it later.”

”Understood, Commander,” Tora says quietly. “Take your time. Four hours to Odessen.”

“Commander, I’m going to reach out to some of my contacts and make sure they’re aware of this development,” Lana says. “I’ll join you in a little while.”

Viri nods. “You know where to find me.” She turns and walks away.

*

Lana sits in front of the datapad and bites her lip as she sends an email to Viri. It doesn’t matter that her partner is on the ship with her; it’s still easier, sometimes, to put her thoughts in writing. And she knows very well that Viri keeps her letters; that she tends to read them again and again to comfort herself when they’re apart. She was shocked, once, to discover that Viri had even saved her emails from her days as Darth Arkous’s advisor.

Of course, she has a file of Viri’s emails to her, as well. And they might, just possibly, go back to Viri’s Wrath days. When Viri had been trapped in carbonite, those words had helped Lana keep going.

It’s something they cherish; words to keep close. Lana’s hands fly across the datapad. I will destroy the stars themselves if it means keeping you safe.

*

Viri turns on the shower and lets the warm water caress her head. She leans against the wall and stays there, still as a statue. If only it were possible to wash away the last twelve hours; to reset the day. To return to a time when one of her closest friends had not just tried to kill her.

She’s been through betrayal before; even Revan had noted it. None of the previous traitors had been her friend, however. She runs through the list in her head.

Malavai Quinn? She’d known he was Darth Baras’s spy from the moment he stepped onto her ship, and she’d detested him. She’d watched him as closely as she could, and his betrayal had not been a surprise. And he’d been dealt with; Viri had thrown him into a wall and left him on the Imperial cruiser. At the time, she’d known that if she’d killed him, Baras would have had her arrested for attacking an Imperial officer. So she’d done the next best thing.

Darth Baras? Oh, please. Anyone could have seen that coming. Darth Malgus? That one had been a shock, and Viri still thought it was a pity that he couldn’t have worked on some of his ideas within the Dark Council, perhaps in concert with Darth Marr. Still, she hadn’t shed any tears when she’d needed to defeat him. Severin? Arkous? Not exactly her best buddies. Senya? She'd never trusted the former Knight. This, though. This one hurts. A lot.

Visions of the day's horrors make her shiver, even under the warm water of the shower. It isn’t about the crystals; it isn’t even about the war. It is about Lana, stunned and unable to move, sprawled on the floor of the train car. The terrible image is front and center in her mind. Lana, not getting up for several minutes, but hearing it all, her eyes wide with shock. All Viri had been able to do was drop to the floor herself and cradle Lana in her arms until the stun wore off. And they’d both had to listen as Theron ranted at them.

Viri hates herself. Nobody should have been able to get to Lana. Not without defeating her first.

“Any room for me in there?” Lana’s voice is soft and careful on the other side of the shower door.

”Always.” Viri opens the door and shifts slightly so that Lana can step into the shower stall with her. And before Lana can say anything, Viri turns and wraps her arms around her. The words flow from her in Sith, poignant and laced with pain.

”Lana, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…” Viri chokes on her words and rests her head on Lana’s.

”What are you talking about?!” Lana blinks.

”He shot you,” Viri says. “He shot you right in front of me. You reacted. I didn’t. I was the damn kriffing Empire’s Wrath. I’m the Alliance Commander, Peacekeeper, whatever you want to call me, but I couldn’t stop someone from shooting you.”

”My love, it was a stun,” Lana says, gently. “We’ve both faced far worse than that. I’m fine. I’m right here, aren’t I? He caught us both off-guard.”

What if it wasn’t? What good am I if I can’t save you?”

Lana stares at her, stunned. ”I protect you.

”We save each other,” Viri insists.

”It was I who failed you. We wouldn’t have even been on that train if I hadn’t walked right into his trap.” Neither one of them can say Theron’s name.

”We didn’t know. He fooled everyone, Lana. And you have never – ever- failed me.” She takes Lana’s hands in hers and kisses them, one by one. “Neither of us are perfect. It would be boring if we were. You have always been the one who has been there for me, who truly understands…you protect me from myself, even.” Viri looks deep into Lana’s eyes. “I never knew it was possible to love someone this much.”

”I didn’t, either,” Lana says quietly. “I love you more than I can ever express. It hurts me to feel how much you’re hating yourself right now.”

”As much as it hurts me to feel you blaming yourself,” Viri whispers. “You heal me. I’ll heal you. Do we have a deal?”

”I like that deal,” Lana says softly. The love lashing through their bond is so raw it’s physically painful. They wrap their arms around each other again and let the shower rain down on them.

Viri’s red Force healing meshes with Lana’s purple as the tendrils loop around the couple, blending into a vibrant magenta.

We’re okay. We’re here,” Viri whispers in Sith, as she runs her hands soothingly across Lana’s back.

”We’re together,” Lana says, nuzzling Viri’s chest. She leans back and smiles at Viri, and then picks up the shower gel. Viri closes her eyes as Lana washes her, lathering the soap over every part of her body with gentle hands.

“Your turn,” Viri whispers, and returns the favor. Her hands caress Lana’s skin as they wash her from head to toe. When she’s finished, she hugs Lana to her again.

”We should probably get out of here before we’re completely waterlogged,” Viri says. She turns off the shower and holds her hand out to Lana to help her out of the stall.

Wrapped in towels, they walk out into the main room and silently dry off. Just as silently, they both drop their towels and move toward their bed, burrowing under the covers with wet hair and warm skin.

“We’re together,” Viri repeats. She spoons Lana tightly and laces their fingers. Lana snuggles back as much as she can, smiling as she feels Viri against her back. And there they stay, until the ship reaches Odessen.

There’s no need to talk. To do anything more. They’re together.