Jedi Knight Corellan Halcyon and his former Padawan, the newly-dubbed Jedi Knight Kira Carsen, stepped out of the chambers of the Jedi high council and into the halls of the Temple of Tython, the home and headquarters of the Jedi Order. In the aftermath of the Desolater Crisis, the halls of the Temple were abuzz with idle chatting and whispers from those around them. Some of these were directed at Kira, but most seemed to be pointed towards him. Already, in hushed whispers, they were calling him the 'Hero of Tython', the salutation bestowed on him moments earlier by Satele Shan, the Grand Master of the Jedi Order.
The whispers disturbed Corellan. In part, he knew it was because Kira's role in their victory seemed to be marginalized. But partly it was because in the back of his mind, there existed an ideal that Jedi should be above such gossip and hero-worship. Didn't they all have a collective duty to protect the Order and to defend the Republic, and therefore wasn't everyone's role important? But never mind. That was a problem for another day.
"Well, partner." he turned to Kira with a smile. "We each have three days of leave before we have to get back out there. Did you have plans on how you want to spend your break?"
Kira Carsen turned to Corellan, still practically glowing from her promotion, and from her victory in pushing the Sith Emperor out of her mind. She had overcome so much for them to have reached this point. He could not have been prouder of her. Kira had been raised in the Sith Academy as a Child of the Emperor, those Sith chosen at birth to serve Vitiate, the Emperor of the Sith Empire, and to be his eyes, ears and weapons to command. In effect, they were not only being asked to embrace the dark side, they were being asked to surrender all sense of personal identity. At the age of ten, Kira had broken free of the Emperor's control and had escaped Korriban and the Sith Empire. She had spent eight years growing up a street urchin and thief on Nar Shaddaa, one of the most corrupt and dangerous planets in the galaxy. That she had even survived to be recruited by the Jedi Order was a testament to her wits and skill. Since being assigned as Corellan's Padawan, she had done more than survive, she had thrived. Kira had stood strong through everything the galaxy had thrown at the two young Jedi. Their campaign to stop Darth Angral had been a whirlwind of fighting and investigating across multiple worlds in the span of a few short months. Time and time again, the duo had faced the Sith and their Imperial forces. Time and time again, they had emerged triumphant against impossible odds, culminating in their victory over Angral in orbit over Tython.
Over the course of that time, Corellan had quietly started to appreciate Kira's other qualities during their travels. The young redhead was beautiful, even in the Jedi Robes they both wore over their body armor, a combination of toned athletic build and feminine curves. Her smile made her even more lovely; the scar on her left cheek was the only blemish against her fair skin. The scar didn't bother Corellan. More than anyone else, he knew how Kira had earned it; the kind of life she had led. It somehow made her even more alluring.
He banished the thoughts from his mind. He was a Jedi. Those kinds of attachments were forbidden to him.
"Well, what were you planning to do?" Kira smiled back at him, genuinely interested. The two Jedi had been almost inseparable for a while, now, but they'd spent most of that time chasing down Angral's schemes. Kira had never seen her former master with more than a few short hours of downtime, and she wasn't going to pretend she wasn't curious.
Corellan gestured down the hallway. Here, just outside the council chambers, they were virtually in the middle of the temple, and they were attracting more glances and chatter, overt or otherwise. Best they start walking to minimize that sort of attention.
"Don't get me wrong, Kira." He said. "You are more than welcome to come with me if you wanted. Honestly, I'd like for you to come. But you're a newly-minted Jedi Knight, at the Temple of Tython. More than that, you're a hero. There are probably a hundred opportunities for you to explore right now. Things to learn, masters to talk to. Plus, in three days, we'll have to take off into space again. From what General Var Suthra said, the Sith Empire is on the move again. The galaxy will need more saving."
A new possibility suddenly entered his mind, and he stopped in his tracks, turning to Kira with a guilty look before she could answer him. "I'm sorry, Kira. I think I just assumed you'd be sticking with me after this. That was presumptuous. You're a Jedi Knight, now. You've more than earned the right to ask the council for a new assignment." He swallowed, feeling his throat go dry at the thought. "If you wanted one, I mean."
Kira's blue eyes went wide. "No!" she exclaimed, her eyelids fluttering just a bit. "I mean, of course not." She quickly recovered her composure, her voice dropping low enough that they couldn't be overheard. "I want to stay with you. You and Tee-Seven on the ship, I mean. We make a good team, don't you think?" she looked up into his eyes with an expression he had only seen twice from her before; a fear of abandonment, although this time with something else he couldn't quite identify.
"The best." He smiled broadly, masking his own relief. "We make the best team. And thanks. I just wanted to be sure that this is what you wanted." He quickly started walking again to break up the awkward moment. Movement seemed to be his natural state sometimes; lately he only seemed to relax when he was back on his ship. "Right. Like I was saying, we're going to lift off Tython in three days' time. I honestly have no idea when we might be back here. And you know the kind of pace we set when we're in space... It'll likely be awhile before we get a chance to rest and relax again."
"What I'm planning on doing is not particularly relaxing and is probably not most people's idea of fun. So, I'd hate for you to join me when you'd be better off resting up or learning something new in the Jedi Archives. I know you also have old friends on Tython, as well. You could visit with them, if you wanted."
The glint of curiosity returned to her eyes. "Okay, now I'm hooked." She smiled. "Where exactly are you going?"
He gave her a sheepish smile. He was only a couple of years older than she was, and every so often, his own relative youth showed. "I'm going to put a backpack together and head out into the wilderness for a couple of days. Reconnect with the wilds of Tython, you might say."
Kira just blinked at him in disbelief. "You're kidding me. You're going camping?" she exclaimed. "You've been flying from one end of the galaxy to the other for months, fighting and bleeding and saving people nonstop, barely a moment's rest, and when you finally get a chance for a break, you decide to go camping? That's so… you." She finished, giving him an incredulous smile and a shake of her head.
Corellan shrugged idly. "I have my reasons. If you want to learn them, you can come with me. Otherwise, take care of yourself for the next couple of days, and be ready to return to the ship when I get back."
Kira chuckled as the bait was offered, recognizing it for what it was. Corellan found himself smiling at the familiar, melodious sound. It was somehow comforting. They really had grown close.
"I can't believe I'm saying this." Kira shook her head again with a smile. "Alright, boss. You've got me. When do we leave?"
It had only taken about an hour to make the preparations. Corellan had checked in with their trusty AstroMech droid, Tee-Seven, aboard their ship. The droid had proven to be indispensable in their travels, up to and including the mission to stop Angral aboard the Oppressor. His surprising combat effectiveness and engineering ability were surpassed only by his impressive knowledge of the lore of the Jedi Order and of the greater galaxy at large. But even more than that, he'd become a valued friend to both Corellan and Kira. Tee-Seven had joyously beeped his congratulations to Kira on her ascension to Knighthood, leading Kira to laugh and thank the droid while Corellan simply smiled. The Jedi talked to the AstroMech droid about their plans, informing him that the leave extended to Tee-Seven as well. The Jedi told his friend he should get himself cleaned up and rested. They would all meet back on their ship when it was time to leave.
After that, they headed to the supply room and Corellan quickly ordered backpacks, sleeping bags and supplies for the both of them. Clearly, he had done this sort of thing before.
"No tent?" Kira had asked, taking note of everything as her former master – now senior partner – helped her pack. The younger Jedi had excellent survival instincts, but almost everything she had known had been based on a heavily urbanized environment like Nar Shaddaa.
He shook his head. "The weather report is clear for the next week. And if it's wrong, then we leave ourselves in the hands of the Force." Corellan wasn't going to bring up Kira's mild claustrophobia.
"Nifty." Kira checked the straps on her pack, finally nodding in approval. "Should we head to the speeders?"
He shook his head. "No, we do this the same way the ancient Jedi did. We walk on foot."
"Ugh." Kira groaned, reaching up and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Months of chasing behind you across every major battlefield in the rim, and now we're walking. And on our vacation, too." She sighed, looking up at him with a resigned expression that quickly turned into a smile. "You're trying to make me regret coming with you, aren't you?"
Corellan noted the tremble in her voice and, playing along, managed to give her a faux hurt expression. "Well, not intentionally. But it seems counter-productive to make plans to reconnect with Tython's natural wilderness and then take a speeder to get there. Besides, it's only a few hours away."
Kira just sighed, but gave him a grim smile. "Well, I've followed you this far. Lead on, boss."
Though they were both in peak physical condition, it still took the two Jedi about four hours to hike up into the hills far to the north of the temple, taking them close to nightfall. Eventually, the path he had chosen leveled off, and they began following a narrow river. Along the way, their conversation was relatively sparse. Reflecting on this, this seemed natural to Corellan; the exchanges he and Kira had shared while in the field were likewise usually brief, out of necessity. There were usually people trying to kill them in those periods, and there simply wasn't time for anything else. Even here on the relative safety of Tython, that approach still seemed to hold true.
Except this time there was no mission to distract them from further conversation.
"This is your idea of fun?" Kira huffed as they neared at the end of their journey.
"Well, for one thing, it does remind me of mountain climbing back on Uphrades." Corellan replied, coming to a stop at the edge of the cliff. "For another thing, if the maps are right, the payoff for this trek should be worth it."
"And what payoff is that…. Oh." The breath went out of Kira's voice as she joined Corellan at the cliff's edge. It was nearly a 30 meter drop straight to the bottom, and from this vantage point they could see the wilderness for miles around them. The river they had been following came down from the cliff in a waterfall, forming a lake far below them, with the last few rays of sunshine catching the surface of the water in a sparkle. To the west, the sun was setting behind the trees and mountains. Though both young Jedi had seen incredible things on dozens of worlds, it was by far one of the most spectacular natural sights either of them had ever seen.
Corellan gave Kira a slow grin, watching the sun's retreating light reflect in her eyes. "Well, partner? Was it worth the hike?"
Kira grinned back at him happily. "It'll do, I guess." She finally answered, nonchalant as usual. "You really wanted a site with a view that badly?"
Corellan turned and pointed roughly in the direction from which they had come, directing her to a line of trees about a hundred meters behind them. "That's the marker for the furthest extent of the Temple's monitoring network." He told her. "I checked before we left. The ground surveillance reports no Flesh Raider activity in this area for months, and I doubt this additional buffer will make a difference. Still, we'll setup our portable perimeter beacons. They'll warn us if anything gets close."
Kira nodded, putting her trust in Corellan's instincts for their security. "So, we're also outside the Temple's monitoring." She mused in reflection. "Nifty."
Corellan didn't comment to that, but instead conducted a scan of the water in the nearby river. "The river water is fresh. It should be safe for drinking." He opened his canteen and filled it, then took a sip. After sloshing it around in his mouth, he swallowed in approval. "Not bad."
The duo retreated to a clearing a safe distance from the edge of the cliff and the river, then set to work in setting up their campsite. Corellan used one of his lightsabers to gather firewood from some nearby trees, and they soon had a campfire ready. Kira set out their sleeping bags and secured their supplies before they both setup their perimeter markers. As usual, the two Jedi worked together almost seamlessly.
An hour later, huddled against the campfire and eating their field rations, they were well situated. Kira had already slipped into her sleeping bag while Corellan sat cross-legged, tending the fire with a stick.
"By the way," Kira said, giving her can a withering look as she took another bite. "Not to ruin the trip by complaining too much, but these field rations? Bantha dung. They're even making me miss C2-N2's cooking."
Corellan chuckled at the mention of their ship's much-maligned housekeeping droid as he finished up his own can. "I imagined that would be the case. That's why I packed this." He set the can and his fire tending stick aside and reached into his backpack, pulling out a long, slender device with a control handle. With the press of a button, it extended into a pole, complete with a string and hook.
"You packed a fishing rod." Kira said the words slowly, emphasizing each syllable. She then burst out giggling.
Corellan's eyebrows rose, but he took Kira's reaction in stride. "What? We used to fish all the time on Uphrades. We had to, really. Otherwise the rations from the monthly supply drops and the vegetables from our garden were all we had."
Kira's giggles were turning into laughs now. "You're a galactic hero. You're on your way to becoming the greatest warrior in the Jedi Order… and you're going fishing!"
Corellan continued to take it in stride even as Kira continued to laugh, a small smile on his lips. "Well, let's see if you're still laughing when we're eating fish tomorrow."
Kira finally recovered from her fits of laughter, drying her eyes and smiling over at him even as he put the pole away. "You didn't really come here just to fish, did you?" she asked, glancing up at him through downward lashes.
He gave her a thin smile. "No."
"You remember when you asked me what I would be if the Jedi hadn't taken me in?" Corellan spoke as he idly tended the fire with his stick.
"You told me you were born to be Jedi Knight." Kira remembered, regarding him curiously. The reflection of the fire seemed to dance in her eyes. "And you said that you never could have been anything else."
"Yeah." He nodded. "I'm thinking… you deserved a better response than that."
"Oh, really?" Kira seemed even more interested now. "You were holding out on me, partner?"
"I meant what I said." Corellan answered. "I honestly couldn't imagine being anything else. But there's more to it than that."
"Oh, nifty." Kira was sitting up now, smiling in anticipation. "Spill the goods."
The other Jedi withdrew the stick he had been tending the fire with, making sure the embers were out.
"When I was eight, I was still an initiate on Uphrades at the Jedi enclave there." He began. Kira's eyes flickered at the mention of Corellan's former home, knowing it had been destroyed by Darth Angral. But the senior Knight pressed on without hesitation. His Jedi discipline was serving him well. "The younglings there ranged from seven to about 13. Most of us graduated to Padawan after that, and were reassigned to Jedi knights and masters all over the galaxy."
"There were about a dozen of us at the time." He continued, preparing his bombshell. "I have to tell you, I was by far the weakest Jedi candidate of the group."
"Oh, come on!" Kira exclaimed, in complete disbelief.
"No, it's true." He insisted. "I could barely move a pebble with my mind. And that was after concentrating for almost an hour. Our Masters, Sogotto and Norwan, did the best they could with me, but I was hopeless. Honestly, I could barely recite the Jedi code, much less answer philosophical questions about it when they tested me. The other younglings didn't pick on me or bully me in any way. They were too well trained for that. But they looked on me with a sense of pity that was somehow worse. It looked like there was no chance I'd ever pass my Initiation Trials. Most likely I'd eventually be cast out of the order entirely." He was relieved that he managed to avoid cringing at the memory.
"And I was terrified, Kira. I remember being terrified of not becoming a Jedi. I remember being terrified of failing." He exhaled. "I was full of so much fear. And I don't need to tell you where that path leads."
KIra swallowed and nodded, the oft quoted Jedi lesson coming to the forefront of her mind. Fear was the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Suffering led to the dark side of the force and ultimately the way of the Sith.
"So. What happened?" she asked, her voice quiet.
His thin smile returned and he exhaled at the memory. "Well. They gave me my first training saber."
Kira chuckled again. By the time she had met him, Corellan was already regarded by many as one of the best duelists of his generation of Jedi, and that was before he'd even reached the rank of Jedi Knight. Kira had been with him through nearly every fight since then, and she more than anyone could testify to Corellan's prowess as a warrior.
"Of course. You were born to wield a lightsaber." She mused, still smiling at him.
Corellan briefly considered replying with another quip, more meaningless banter. Truth be told, he was embarrassed by the story. If it were anyone else, he wouldn't have even told them this much. No one outside the old enclave had ever heard this tale. Not even Master Orgus.
Instead, he just smiled faintly, staring into fire while he tended it with his stick.
"I remember the first time they trained us, and of holding the training sabre for the first time. I lined up in the training area like everyone else to practice the forms Master Sagotto was demonstrating for us. And in my mind, I was already expecting to fail. Or, at the very least, I'd lag behind everyone else. I was trying not to think about what would happen when the sparring started. I could imagine poking out my own eye, among other calamities."
"Instead, much to my own surprise, I picked the forms up quickly. They just seemed so natural my body just seemed to respond on its own. Master Sagotto would show us a movement, and I would copy it precisely, almost immediately. Then I learned the combinations. When the sparring finally started, I excelled, for the first time in my training. By the end of the first week, none of the other students were anywhere close to me in skill, even the older ones who'd been training for longer. And it all felt effortless."
"Soon, all my studies became easier. The Force was suddenly there for me. I no longer struggled to move pebbles; now I could move rocks, and even boulders. It seemed like every day, I grew stronger and faster, I could think more clearly, and I devoured knowledge at an impressive rate. Suddenly I was raising my hand to answer questions about the Code and everything else they lectured us on. By the time I was twelve, even Master Sagotto, the former Battle Master of the Jedi Order, couldn't stand against me in a pitched sparring session, and that man was a force of nature, even in his twilight years."
He sighed. "But my point is, you asked me who I'd be if the Jedi hadn't taken me in. The truth of it is, I was too terrified to even imagine what would have happened to me if I hadn't made it."
Kira blinked at this admission. "You know you're the bravest man I've ever met? Seriously? How many times have I've seen you charge into battle outnumbered and without a second thought?"
Corellan smiled at that. "And how many times have you been right behind me?"
She grinned back at him. "That's my job, partner. Besides, I can't let you have all the fun."
"And that's why we get along." He quipped playfully, enjoying the banter. It wasn't the first time he'd said it. "But everything I've told you is true."
She gazed up at him in understanding, clearly touched. "I believe you. And thanks for trusting me with your story."
Corellan smiled. "You've earned it. I know it isn't always easy teaming with someone like me."
"I'll say. Just from fighting beside you, I'm in the best shape of my life." She reached out and padded her shapely hip through the sleeping bag. Corellan's eyes were inadvertently drawn to her movement, before her voice drew his attention back to her. "You know, most Jedi need to take a break in between skirmishes. All that Force usage wears us down. But you… you never seem to get tired. Your natural stamina is off the charts."
"That's another legacy of Master Sagotto's training." He smiled at the remembrance. "The Enclave was basically an island and a small mountain. Mount Bastilla, we called it. It was actually an ancient volcano. As discipline, he'd have us run up the mountain and back down."
"Pretty hard-core." She grinned. "I can't imagine you ever merited many punishments, though."
"You'd be surprised." He exhaled and then smiled up at her. "I could be very… stubborn. I was never defiant, exactly. I just chose to do things the hard way. Sagotto was never the type to simply tell you 'no'. Instead, if you didn't do something to his standards, he'd put you through the paces. I had to run up that mountain every day, sometimes twice."
"You?" she looked at him in disbelief. "Mister Always minds his Jedi Code?"
He chuckled. "It was a long time ago. I was young and too ambitious by far. Looking back now, I was insufferable. Sagotto recognized that, and turned my stubbornness into discipline, both mental and physical. It was very hard. But if he hadn't done it, I wouldn't be what I am." He reflected for a long moment, glancing into the fire again. "I would say Sagotto influenced me more than any master up until Master Orgus Din."
"Orgus meant a lot to you, didn't he?" Kira whispered.
"He did." Corellan admitted, his voice vacant. "It's strange, isn't it? I learned from Master Sagotto for years and I had a string of masters after I left Uphrades. I was Orgus' Padawan for, what, just over a week? He was different from any other Jedi I'd ever met. He taught me about the living force. He was incredibly wise, but so grounded. There's so much I still want to ask him. Almost every day we face challenges that make me think to myself 'What would Master Orgus do?'" he sighed, staring off into the distance. "He was the best Jedi I've ever known. And the best man."
Kira reached over and grasped his forearm, her eyes full of compassion. "I'm sorry."
Corellan looked over to her as if snapped out of a trance. His expression softened in appreciation. "It's okay."
She withdrew her hand. "So how were you ambitious?" Kira asked, clearly looking to break up the awkwardness.
This time, Corellan allowed himself to cringe. "I suppose it was because I wanted to become the greatest warrior in the galaxy. I was a pretty insufferable initiate."
Kira chuckled. "Well, I'd say that ambition worked out for everyone in the end."
"Can I ask you something?" there was a focused curiosity in Kira's blue eyes as they looked up at him.
"You can ask me anything." He smiled, disposing of the remnants of their meal. He meant it, too. He trusted Kira absolutely.
"Why did we avoid the Twi'lek village when we were coming here? We could have stopped there, maybe traded supplies."
"Ah." He nodded somberly, sighing. "Did you hear about what happened there, after you and Master Kiwiks left for Coruscant?"
"Not really." Her brow furrowed. "Just that things were bad for a while there when Bengal Morr was running the Flesh Raiders. I haven't heard of any trouble since then, though." She was clearly still approaching the situation as a potential danger. "Not since you beat Morr."
Corellan nodded. "True enough. I was trying to help them out. They have a new Matriarch, Ranna Tao'Ven. Her mother passed away while all this was going on, and so Ranna became the leader of her people. The Flesh Raiders had planted toxin mines in the Twi'lek crop fields. She begged me to destroy them. It was hard task. I had to resist the toxins and the flesh raiders. But I pulled through. She thanked me afterwards, and I didn't think much of it. Orgus needed me elsewhere, so I didn't stay long."
He reached for his canteen and took a sip. "Sometime later Orgus told me to meet him at the village. They had sent out a distress call. I went there but couldn't find him. When I went to Ranna, she told me they hadn't sent for help. I knew something was wrong. Honest people make poor liars. While I was talking to her, three of her people ambushed me, against her protests."
"Why?" Kira exclaimed. "Why would they do that? You were helping them!"
"Bengal Morr. He had approached the Twi'leks and told them that he would spare them if they captured and turned over Master Orgus and myself. They'd already captured Orgus and given him to Morr. The trio of Twi'lek who ambushed me in the village intended to do the same to me. They hit me with a stun dart in the back, but I woke up hearing Ranna yelling at them. Apparently, she was willing to give up Orgus but not me."
"I managed to de-escalate the situation with the Mind Trick. The other three Twi'leks dropped their weapons and left, and Ranna tearfully confessed everything. She was upset, distraught and remorseful. I eventually forgave her. She told me what I needed to find Bengal Morr, and I managed to save Orgus. After that, I was made a Jedi Knight."
"But that was all later. Back in the village with Ranna, I was beside myself. I was going to ask how she could betray Orgus on the one hand but then try to save me on the other. But when I saw her in pain just from talking about what she'd done, something clicked in my head. I don't know how I didn't notice it before. I felt like a fool. She had developed… feelings for me. That's why she had tried to save me from the others."
Kira started at that. "She went through all that because she had a crush on you?"
He gave a nod of his head, disappointed in himself. "Orgus, the village and the Jedi Order all wound up safe. But if I had read Ranna clearly earlier, I can't help but think I would have wised up to what she and the Twi'leks were planning. Because I missed that, my Master was very nearly killed."
"You know that's ridiculous, right?" Kira answered. "Even if you'd have known about this Ranna, you couldn't have known what Morr would have done or how desperate the Twi'leks would become?"
He sighed. "Rationally, I know you're right. But that's why I avoided the village. The memory of that place, and of Ranna Tao'Ven, is painful. It's not because I resent her; I don't. I later defended her and her people to Master Satele and the Council. It just gets to me that even here on Tython, we find good people who are so scared they'll be abandoned by the Republic and their friends they turn on their own neighbors and do things they'd normally never consider. That's what the Empire has done more than anything, on virtually every world we've visited. The village is a constant reminder of that." He finally reached the end of his tale, falling back into silence and turning his attention back to the fire.
Kira had been listening attentively, and now seemed to be chewing over how to respond to this. She finally smirked, having worked something out. "Well. Everything else aside, that story explains why you didn't seem to notice that Mirialan on Nar Shaddaa."
"What?" Corellan blinked once, recalling the woman Kira was speaking of. "Deera Ulyette, the special liaison from the Senate to the Hutt Cartel." The attractive, green-skinned woman had met Corellan and Kira on Nar Shaddaa, enlisting their help in trying to get the Hutts to side with the Republic against the Sith Empire. He looked over at Kira. "Are you saying she was… interested in me?" he blinked at Kira again, clearly incredulous. "You're not teasing me, are you partner?"
Kira chuckled, her smirk widening in amusement. "Boss, it's a good thing you're a Jedi. If you were anything else, you'd be helpless with women. I swear, she was undressing you with her eyes!"
The other Jedi exhaled slowly. "I'll take your word for it. Alright, partner. From here on out, I'll be in charge of planning the missions. You'll be in charge of… letting me know about this other area where I apparently have a blind spot. Deal?" he reached over and offered her his hand.
"Deal." Kira grinned, accepting his hand in hers and giving it a firm shake. Their eyes met as their skin made contact…
The memory came to the forefront of Corellan's mind unexpectedly. Weeks ago, he and Kira had fought and slain Valis, a Child of the Emperor who was attempting to abduct Kira and bring her back to the Sith Empire and to the Emperor's service. Once they were back in the safety of their ship, a distraught Kira had confessed her past to him. It was the first time she had truly opened up to him. To her credit, she hadn't cried. Indeed, Kira never cried, and considering the hardships she'd endured, he admired her for that. But for the first time since he'd known her, she'd seemed on the verge of tears when she'd talked about the Emperor finding her.
"Now the Emperor knows where I am. The Sith will never stop hunting me." She had lamented.
Up until that point, she had been so fearless in all their travels. She'd been courageous, even enthusiastic in battle. When Ferav, a Sith Inquisitor and apprentice of Darth Angral, had captured her on Ord Martell and forced a hostage confrontation with Corellan, Kira hadn't wavered in the slightest, even with the Sith's lightsaber at her throat. She'd maintained the same carefree, plucky, sarcastic attitude she always had, mocking the Sith and maintaining the presence of mind to tell her Master that Ferav had been ordered not to kill her, so his threats against her could be safely ignored. Corellan and the Sith had fought, and for all the Inquisitor's bravado, and the presence of a trio of Imperial commandos, Ferav had fallen beneath the Jedi's blades. The experience had given him a new appreciation for Kira Carsen's bravery, building on a foundation of trust that had seen the duo accomplish incredible tasks, overcoming every challenge thrown their way.
But now seeing her so distraught after their confrontation with Valis troubled him deeply. He realized in that moment that Kira's greatest fear wasn't of falling in battle or the myriad of other dangers Jedi faced, but the idea of being rejected and abandoned; to be abandoned by the Jedi Order and, by extension, abandoned by Corellan. Above all, she feared falling under the Emperor's control again, and losing her own sense of identity. It made perfect sense, of course, now that he knew her story. Kira's parents had abandoned her to the Sith Academy and the Emperor when she was just a baby. She had spent her adolescence on her own on Nar Shaddaa, surviving only on her wits and the training she'd received back on Korriban. Of course, Kira feared abandonment.
It wasn't right. He immediately wanted to help her. To comfort and reassure her in her darkest hour that he would never abandon her, regardless of what the Sith threw at them.
The words came out of Corellan's mouth instinctively, before he even realized he was speaking. "They'll take you over my dead body."
As soon as the words left his lips, they filled him with a sense of discomfort. Strictly speaking, it wasn't the sort of thing a Jedi was supposed to say to his Padawan. At all. At the very least, the wording was… inappropriate. Very inappropriate. Properly, he could have just said 'I'll protect you' or he could have reminded her that Master Satele had ordered him to do exactly that when she became his Padawan back on Coruscant, and that nothing had changed. That would have been suitable. He hadn't intended the words to mean something more than that, but they had. They meant so much that he had felt an ever so slight and brief shift of his alignment with the force, which was normally so strongly attuned to the light. He had quickly and easily recovered, of course. No real harm done. Even the Jedi Masters hadn't noticed anything amiss. But it had been a new experience for him, that feeling of touching the dark side through one's actions. One more thing he wished that he'd had time to talk over with Master Orgus.
Kira, for her part back in the moment, had blushed and looked downward with an embarrassed smile, even as he felt the waves of relief roll off her. "I'm having a very inappropriate urge to kiss you… but I won't."
Now that response had left him stunned, and not trusting his own voice. Fortunately, the awkward silence was quickly broken up when Kira had declared that she was ready to tell the truth to the Jedi Order. From there, they'd traveled to Tython. She had spoken before the Council about her past, the masters had debated, Corellan had spoken on Kira's behalf, and Grand Master Satele had ultimately ruled that they could continue their mission together.
Neither of them had mentioned that previous exchange aboard the ship ever since...
Back in the present, Kira was looking at him expectantly, curiously. Corellan realized he was still holding her hand. He released it suddenly, mumbling an apology. Kira took her hand back, still smiling but turning her head to the side at the awkwardness, avoiding his gaze. The two Jedi fell into a silence.
The memories of their travels led Corellan to reflect on their final encounter with Angral, leading Corellan to chuckle suddenly, an expression he rarely allowed himself even amongst other Jedi.
"What?" Kira looked up, still smiling with a look of curiosity.
"'I'd rather jump out an airlock naked'." Corellan quoted Kira word-for-word from their confrontation with Darth Angral. The Sith Lord had ordered her to betray Corellan and stand beside Angral as a Child of the Emperor. Instead, even as she fought the Emperor's presence in her mind, she had defied Angral and helped her Master overcome their foe.
Kira's smile quickly changed from one of amusement to one of embarrassed sheepishness as her eyes cast downward. "It was the best comeback I could come up with on short notice." She managed to get the words out as she continued to look downward, avoiding his gaze. Watching her through the light of the fire, it took Corellan a moment to realize that she was blushing.
"Well, it was a good one." The Jedi grinned, and then let the moment pass. His mood turned somber. "Kira." His voice was lower than usual, leading his former Padawan to look up at him, questioningly.
"How much do you remember? I mean from when the Emperor was trying to control you?"
Corellan had resisted asking the question until now. He trusted Kira completely, now more than ever. Even the Council hadn't pressed her on this point when they'd given their report after returning to Tython. But it was gnawing at him, and here, just between the two of them, he sought an answer.
Kira closed her eyes and shivered at the memory. "Everything." She whispered. "It's like remembering a bad dream. No, it's like remembering a nightmare. I was a prisoner inside my own mind. I saw everything he said and did and I was helpless to stop it." She let out a deep breath, and then she opened her blue eyes, looking up at him with an expression approaching adoration. "You challenged the Emperor to a fight. For me."
Corellan looked away with a grin that was probably more boyish than he would have preferred. It was true enough; he'd tried to provoke the Sith Emperor into leaving Kira's mind. It hadn't worked, but Kira had ultimately proved strong enough to force Vitiate from her mind herself. Still, the context Kira presented did make him feel a little foolish. Fortunately, he had a safe answer ready. The same one he ought to have used back on the ship. "Well, it is my job to protect you. When you were still my Padawan, I mean. Master Satele ordered me to back on Coruscant, remember?"
"I remember. After we took down Tarnis and stopped the Planet Prison. That feels like it was a lifetime ago." Kira continued to look at him, her eyes now smoldering. "When I… when HE was fighting you. You were incredible. I've never seen you move that fast. I've never seen anyone move that fast."
It was true enough that Corellan had briefly dueled the Emperor as he possessed Kira. Somehow, the fact that he knew he would not – could not – harm Kira only pushed him to fight more aggressively. The Jedi Knight had disarmed his possessed Padawan, giving Kira the chance she needed to force the Emperor out of her mind with her own sheer willpower.
Back in the present, Corellan regarded Kira silently, fending off another bout of embarrassment. I never fought for so much before. Instead, he banished the stray thought from his mind and decided to break up the awkward silence with a quip. "Well, I had already stood up to Master Kaedan for you." He grinned. "So facing down the Emperor of the Sith wasn't so bad."
Kira blinked once and then exploded in laughter. Master Jaric Kaedan, stoned-faced, unyielding and unbending, held a seat on the Jedi High Council. Weeks before, when Kira's past had been revealed the council, Kaedan had demanded that Kira be imprisoned, claiming she represented 'a threat to our entire order'. Corellan, who at that point had been a Jedi Knight for less than a month, had calmly stood up before the council and declared that he trusted the Padawan with his life. Cooler heads had prevailed, and Kira had been allowed to remain at Corellan's side. Still, the encounter had quietly lingered with them both.
Of course, being Jedi, Kira and Corellan had both been reasonably discreet when they spoke about that council meeting, never specifically mentioning Kaedan by name.
Until just now, that is.
Kira's laughter now had her on her back, clutching her sides and gasping for air as she rolled around in her sleeping bag. Corellan merely smiled contentedly. His former Padawan – his friend and partner – who had been through so much in her young life from being raised in the Sith Academy to surviving the streets of Nar Shaddaa – was happy. That filled him with a warmth that eclipsed any honor Master Satele or General Var Suthra could ever bestow on him.
Kira finally recovered her breath, sitting up in the sleeping bag as she wiped tears from her eyes. "Wow, boss." She chuckled. "You're finally developing a sense of humor." she exhaled. "Nifty. Don't let the Council know, or they'll take back your 'model Jedi' badge."
"Noted, partner." Corellan just nodded. There was no such actual badge, of course. But Master Satele had heaped considerable praise on him, almost to the point of embarrassment.
Kira was still regarding him carefully. It was like she was looking for something within the other Jedi. "But seriously. That was incredibly brave. Heck, it was even heroic."
He smiled back at her, almost beaming. Then he gave her a slight shake of his head. "I had the easier time of it. I just had to defeat his lightsaber. You had to defeat him in your mind. And if we're trading praise, Kira, what you did on the bridge, rejecting the Emperor and declaring that you were a Jedi, and then that flash of light… all of that. I've never been prouder. Ever."
Kira's lips parted and her eyes widened in surprise at the admission. Her blush returned, deeper than before. She looked downward in embarrassment, averting her gaze.
"Blast it, boss." She managed a weak smile, still clearly overwhelmed by her former master's words. "Keep this up and you're going to make me cry. No one wants that." Kira was clearly desperate to change the subject. "So. Why are we really out here? You did promise to tell me."
Corellan smiled again. She'd held off asking the actual question for far longer than he'd have expected. Kira seemed so much happier now that she was free of the Emperor's influence and secured her place in the Order. She even seemed wiser and more patient for the experience. In short, she was at peace, maybe for the first time in her life.
"Do you remember the first thing you ever said to me?" he ducked his head a little, glancing at her.
Kira mulled that over, recalling the first time they had met each other. "You mean that time in the council chambers? I made that crack about your report on that Dark Sider brightening up the room…"
Corellan shook his head. "I meant later on, when we were out in the field in Kaleth. With Master Kiwiks."
"Oh." Realization came to Kira's eyes as she remembered the three Jedi meeting over the body of a slain Flesh Raider months ago.
She and Kiwiks had arrived on the scene just as Corellan, still a Padawan himself at the time, had finished off a group of the rampaging beasts. Kira had quipped to Corellan 'You sure made short work of this bunch. You ever leave survivors?'
Kira Carsen had never been one to embarrass easily. Yet for the third time that night she blushed in embarrassment, her eyes cast downward. "I was just running my mouth, again." She started to apologize. "I told you then I didn't mean anything by it…."
Corellan held up a forestalling hand and smiled. "Kira. It's fine. Honestly." He reached over and gave her hand a comforting squeeze. "I swear I wasn't offended, even back then."
Kira watched her partner closely, regaining her composure. She took a deep breath and exhaled. "So what was it?" she asked quietly.
The Jedi Knight withdrew his hand, returning his attention to the fire.
"You know I'd never even been to Tython before all this started." He began. "I was raised mostly in the Jedi enclave on Uphrades, and after that I spent a few years traveling with a string of masters when I was a Padawan. By the time I got here, I knew I was good with a lightsaber, and that I could handle myself in combat. And after my earlier difficulties I told you about, I had committed myself to the rest of my studies, at least enough to satisfy the masters. Still, something always seemed to get in the way of visiting our homeworld." Here he gestured around them for effect at Tython's wilderness.
"So for years, Tython had been built up in my mind to be an almost mythical place. Here, I would find an even deeper connection to the light side of the force. I would study and debate the philosophy of the Jedi code with wise Masters. I would meet with other young Jedi who were like myself, and hone my skills with the lightsaber beside my future comrades in arms. I would, effectively, complete not just my training, but myself, as a Jedi."
Kira raised an eyebrow, shifting in her sleeping bag. "So… what? It wasn't up to your expectations?"
He reached for his canteen and took a sip of water. His throat had grown parched from this fireside chat. "I stepped off the shuttle on Tython, and literally within five minutes I'm killing Flesh Raiders."
Kira's eyes widened. "You mean the attack on the training grounds."
He nodded. "They told me the Masters were spread too thin to respond. We had initiates and untrained Padawans trying to fend off armed Jedi-hunting monsters from out of a nightmare. It would have been a slaughter, so they sent me. I grabbed my vibroblade and went."
"You drove them back." There was pride in Kira's voice. She was proud to serve under a master as brave and skilled as Corellan was. "Everyone was talking about it afterwards, even the Masters. You saved those kids. You were already a hero, even back then at the beginning."
He gave her a weak smile in acknowledgement of her praise, but he pressed on. "They had taken a Jedi prisoner, so I tracked them to the caves. I managed to free their captive, but I was forced to kill the Dark Jedi who had led the attack before Master Orgus could reach us."
"After that, Orgus took me under his wing. He sent me into the hills. I found Tee-Seven. I fought off the attacks on the village. But mostly… mostly I remember killing the Flesh Raiders. I would hit one of their encampments, maybe to free a prisoner, maybe to claim some artifact that the Raiders were drawing power from… it was all a blur. All of it involved fighting and killing these Raiders. And I don't care how monstrous they look or act, they are sentient. They're people."
"They're evil." Kira countered. She was trying to reason through his words logically. "Whatever the Rakata did to them thousands of years ago, it gave them a taste for killing Jedi, and everyone else for that matter. There's a reason we call them Flesh Raiders."
"True." Corellan agreed. "Those creatures don't respond to anything but force. Like Master Kiwiks said, they follow the Dark Side as much as anything else. I lost count of how many of them I killed. Master Orgus' guidance kept me focused, and later, when we fixed up Tee-Seven and he joined me as a companion that helped as well. But I still felt it every time I killed."
He took another sip of his water. "Since then, well, you've been with me for most of it. I've killed street thugs on Coruscant, Rakghouls on Taris, cyborg mobsters on Nar Shaddaa, Sand People on Tatooine, dissident nobles on Alderaan, and Imperial soldiers and Sith Lords practically everywhere."
He looked up at Kira again. Her blue eyes were locked on him now, with no small amount of concern. But for once, she seemed to be at a loss for words. She was trying to truly understand what he was saying.
"And again, it's all been necessary. Every single death was justified. I know that. I do. They've all been either trying to kill us or trying to stop us from saving everyone else. But it made me think about what you said back here that day with Master Kiwiks. I don't leave many survivors, do i? Most of our enemies simply don't surrender or retreat. And it does wear on me. Before this war is won, I'm going to kill a lot more people. And I'll feel every single death."
"I don't know why, but it seemed very important to me to stop thinking of Tython as just another world where I fought and killed our enemies. And I can't do that back at the Temple, surrounded by people who either revere me for saving them or who question the tactics we use. That's why I decided to come out here. Because I want to feel what other Jedi feel when they come back to Tython. I want to feel like this planet is some kind of home."
He exhaled slowly, then looked up at her again intently. "You understand, with Master Orgus gone, you're the only one I can really talk to about these things."
Kira's eyes widened at the revelation, full of compassion. "You can tell me anything, anything at all. I'm here for you. But if you needed to talk to one of the masters…"
"It wouldn't go well." he shook his head with a sigh. "Look, Master Satele once told me we should reflect on the lives we take. Force knows, I've strived to do that. But if she knew how much it weighs on me, she'd give me a lot more than three days' leave. She'd ground me on Tython and confine me to the temple until the entire council was certain I wasn't at risk of falling to the dark side." He paused. "Or just until they were certain I wasn't at risk of burning out." He exhaled again. "The Jedi Order and the Republic need me – need us – right now. And let's face it – the fighting, the missions, those are the things I'm good at. That's how I can contribute to the Jedi and to the Republic. I'm a warrior, and this is wartime. I don't think any Jedi should be a warrior to the detriment of everything else we are supposed to be, but sometimes it feels like that's my destiny."
He smiled up at her wryly. "Be honest, can you really picture me meditating all day in the temple, dispensing my wisdom to eager young Padawans?"
Kira smiled back at that, but her eyes still looked concerned. "No, you'd be wasted in the Temple. I told you before you weren't like most Jedi, and I meant it. Running with you all over the galaxy… it's like you were born to do this." The younger Jedi thought about the problem for a moment. "Alright, fine, what about Lord Praven, the Pureblooded Sith on Tatooine who abducted Master Kiwiks and tried to activate the Shock Drum? We beat him, and you spared his life. Now he's somewhere here on Tython, learning to be a Jedi. That's a win, right? And Bengel Morr? That Dark Jedi who was behind the Flesh Raiders in the first place? Same thing. He's recovering with the masters' help, thanks to you. He even sent you a message, thanking you. Doesn't that show the kind of good you've done? Doesn't that prove what kind of Jedi you are?"
"Thanks." He smiled at her. She had made a couple of good points. He actually did feel better with her reassurance. "That means a lot, Kira. Really, it does. And maybe you're right. Maybe I am a better Jedi than I give myself credit for. But to me, the most important lesson is this: when I came to Tython, I thought I'd find many Jedi who were like me. Young Jedi who I could talk to and relate to as well as fight beside." He looked back at her with eyes that were full of trust.
"Instead, I only found one."
This time, Kira's face didn't betray her surprise, though a tremor seemed to pass through her body. Her eyes met his dead-on, blue oceans full of emotion. She suddenly hopped out of her sleeping bag in one fluid motion, strode over to where he was sitting in two steps, and then crouched down next to him. He still hadn't moved when Kira reached out, grabbed his face in her hands, leaned in and kissed him.
The touch of her soft lips to his sent an electric thrill through Corellan, causing him to completely forget his Jedi discipline. His body responded before his mind could, reaching up and taking Kira in his arms. His lips and tongue met hers on reflex, tasting her as he gave in to months of built up tension he didn't realize he even had.
Kira suddenly broke the kiss, looking aghast at herself for having so brazenly broken the Jedi rules. "I'm so sorry. I know I shouldn't have done that. I just wanted…"
Corellan interrupted her, grabbing Kira by the shoulders and pulling her into an embrace, kissing her passionately. Kira gave a small shriek and then a murmur of pleasure as she responded in kind, returning the kiss as her arms wrapped around her fellow Jedi's neck.
The emotions had taken months to build up. All that fighting and guarding the others' back against Tarnis, Ferav, Valis, Angral, and everyone else who'd tried and failed to kill them. They'd had the constant pressure of knowing the fates of entire planets were riding on their shoulders. Kira had endured the Emperor's attempts to reclaim her mind and soul as one of his Children, finally freeing herself for good. Corellan had coped with the death of Master Orgus Din, his mentor with whom he had forged a powerful connection in his final days as a Padawan, emerging stronger than ever. They had been there for each other and through it all, and they had come to trust each other completely.
That bond - and the emotions spawned from it - proved to be far more powerful than all the Council prohibitions against attachments could ever hope to be.
Shifting his arms without breaking the kiss, he drew her into his lap, his hands running up and down her back. Her knees shifted until she was straddling him, their bodies pressed against each other.
She unexpectedly broke the kiss again, her eyes burning on him intently. "Hey, Boss?" Kira spoke in a husky whisper as her arms grasped him tightly.
"Mmmm?" Corellan murmured up at her in surprise and concern. Had he done something wrong?
"That job you asked me to do before? That you wanted me to be in charge of?" she broke out into a grin. "I thought I should warn you. I think that cute redhead who used to be your Padawan likes you."
He returned her grin, overcome with relief. "Thanks, partner. Good work."
As the two young Jedi resumed their kiss and the rest of the galaxy melted away, Corellan knew he would never question his connection with Tython ever again.
Author's Notes: This was originally intended to be a stand-alone story, but I've decided to pursue it further. I've also made some edits since I originally posted it. As you can see, Corellan Halcyon is a light-side Jedi Knight, and with one or two exceptions, he has consistently toed the line with the Council. (Obviously, that last part may be changing.)