Alderaan was never as peaceful as it seemed from the air. Captain Quinn and Lord Adiira, temporarily on-planet again on her master’s errands, were sent to assist a minor Thul baron with cease-fire negotiations in one of the endless rounds of internecine warfare that Alderaanians called local politics. And naturally enough for Alderaan, what should have been rebellious officers come to parley turned out to be Force-wielding assassins.
The immediate threat was neutralized, the assassins lying dead in the center of the ballroom. Unfortunately, the baron they’d meant to protect lay there too, in like state. That left regular troops of both factions to evade in their escape; Quinn and Adiira had taken to an alcove, curtained and private, for a few minutes of highly dubious safety. He bandaged her side where repeated blows had riven the armor.
Adiira gritted her teeth as he made sure the deep burn in her side was clean. “Well, Quinn, we certainly danced with the lightning today,” she said wryly.
His aura abruptly flared against Adiira’s senses, bleeding fear and anger and sorrow.
“Quinn, what is it?” she demanded sharply. She scanned the wider room and the alcove in which they hid, but there were no new attackers, nothing to explain the surge of pain she felt from him.
Malavai stared down at the char and blood on his hands. “Do you have no feelings at all? How can you stand it? ” He clenched his fists and bowed his head, turning away from her. “This is why it is forbidden to military personnel to fraternize. I nearly lost you. YOU NEARLY DIED!” His voice, low and harsh, fell to the barest whisper: “..and I couldn’t save you.”
Her quick anger at his first words died to ashes at the last. “Quinn… Malavai,” she said gently. His head came up at the use of his first name. Now that she had his attention, how to phrase what she knew in her bones?
“I do feel it. When we are in a firefight, and I can see that you are outmatched and failing... the anguish is exquisite. And I take it and use it. I turn it outward against our foes. Because all I can do to help you, as you are dying, is to make them die faster.” She shook her head ruefully. “And the terrible thing is that it works, Malavai. I love you. And that love and fear makes me stronger than I’d ever dreamed of being.”
Adiira paused and took a deep breath, facing him forthrightly. “You are strong enough to embrace all the passions of what we are becoming and use them as I do, I know it. Or you are strong enough to turn away from them for your own sake, and I wouldn’t stop you. I’d survive that, if it would be better for you.”
Her courage to say what she must ran dry, and she fell silent and waited for him, closing her eyes like a child in hiding despite her words, not wanting to see it happen if he chose to shut himself off from her. Tears escaped her eyes one by one, running slowly down her cheeks, and she didn’t try to stop them.
It wasn’t long at all before she heard him turn and take a step closer, and then his gentle hand was touching her face, wiping her tears away.
“No,” he said, “I will not cut myself away from my own heart. You are mine and I am yours, forever, Adiira, no matter what befalls us.”
Adiira opened her eyes to see his face close to hers, wearing an expression she’d never seen before, tender and searching, his questioning eyes on her face full of concern for her and, yes, love. Her hand came up to cover his where it rested on her cheek.
“Oh...” she breathed, and then they were in each other’s arms, half-doffed armor be damned. He kissed her tenderly then more deeply, carefully holding her close, mindful of her wounds. She could have stayed there in the circle of his arms forever…
A shout and a rifle shot rang out from not far enough away and they both raised their heads. Malavai rested his forehead on hers and sighed.
“Much as I want to continue this, my love, it seems the baron’s demise has been discovered.”
They quickly re-armored; he helped her ease her damaged cuirass over the bandages.
“My lord, try not to get hit there again.”
She grinned and nodded: “I’ll do my best.”
Malavai jimmied the flimsy lock on the tall windows of the alcove and they slipped out onto the veranda, moving quickly to the limited cover of the hedge maze.
It was strange, lurking in the manicured bushes of the woodland surrounding the estate, sneaking through enemy territory. She was more used to picking out an enemy patrol and leaping into their midst than to locating them only to skirt their fire zone. Malavai guided the two of them on the path of least resistance, helped by the skirmishes between the Baron’s troops and the rebels which drew guards out of position and left gaps in the line where dead men had watched.
They were almost clear, almost to the road. A hundred paces from the Imperial barricades and safety. Sheer bad luck: a twig cracked beneath her boot, a bird fled, and that was enough; a late-coming squad with sharper eyes than most spotted them and opened fire. Stealth was of no use now; she abandoned cover and ignited her lightsabers, blades whirling, deflecting bolts from them both. She leapt as she always had and struck and felt something… give in her side. Red blood quickly soaked the white bandages. One down, two, but there were five… Adiira heard his despairing shout: “NO!” as she crumpled. There was no pain, just an odd lucent joy mixed with sadness. She was glad, so glad to have had the chance to say those words to him; she was sorry, so sorry not to be able to stay longer.
“I love you,” she whispered one last time, as the world dimmed and faded around her.
Something about Adiira’s movement caught his eye as she cut down the second of their attackers. Suddenly uncoordinated, she stumbled, lightsabers flaring and then going out. Malavai watched in openmouthed horror as she crumpled to the ground and lay still. One of the soldiers swiveled, bringing his rifle to bear on that dark head.
“NO!” he roared. Hot terror threatened to overwhelm him and with a fleeting thought to her earlier words he let it come, releasing his careful detachment to this new fury. Time stretched and slowed; he rolled behind cover as he’d seen the agent do a hundred times before and took aim. The gunman’s throat exploded in a shower of blood and his body fell next to her, rifle clattering to the ground. The other two were slow, so slow, bringing their rifles to bear on him as he fired again, killing another, moving steadily closer. He batted the gun aside and slid his vibroknife between armored plates and the last man shuddered and died and Malavai was finally free to gather her up, limbs loose and graceless, head lolling against his shoulder. He picked her up and ran for her life.
Spirit danced pure joy, reveling in the currents and tides of the Force, a garden of bright stars blooming and dying beneath her. One in particular caught her attention, it blazed, coruscated, even as it snuffed the lesser dimmer lights close to it. She drew closer, attracted by something she couldn’t name; found the gossamer cords between her bright being and... his? His, yes. Faint memory returned, brightening as she observed him.
She could feel the need and passion surging along those fine strands now, and with that awareness came material awareness, sight and sound. He picked up the limp body and cradled it; another cord, sturdier but fraying, ran from her to it. She floated above as he ran for the safety of the barricades and laid the body down gently on the ground beyond, kneeling at its side, slicing the armor away, calling out for help. His spirit called to her desperately; she tried to reach him through the tenuous strands but all of his attention was on the body beneath his hands.
“Stay with me, stay with me,” the best-loved voice chanted low, drawing her down the fraying silver cord to reach him. “Oh, love, stay…” It broke on a sob. She was so heavy now. She couldn’t move, couldn’t speak; had to move, had to answer that call. Her fingers twitched, immense effort to move them rewarded with the warm clasp of a hand over hers. “Adiira!” His voice was a caress. “Adiira, stay with me, listen, we’re safe now, help is coming.”
She made another attempt: “yes...” the word was faint but he heard, his hand clenching hard on hers. Consoled, she settled into the broken flesh and merely mortal awareness.
She heard voices over her, low and intense; felt the tug and pull of something on her torso. She was lifted then laid flat then lifted again. Dull pain in her side, a sharp sting in the back of her hand, then a sharp spike of agony as they moved her again. She moaned. The voices got louder; she tried to make sense of them but their meaning slipped away, and so did she, back into the comforting dark.
Adiira came fully aware with a gasp, choking, clear blue liquid spattering from nose and mouth. This couldn’t be the afterlife. No true god would be that sadistic. She was bent over a basin, supportive hands holding her in position, cradling her head. It wasn’t ever a pleasant interlude, coming out of the tank. The medics always suctioned as much of the kolto out of one’s lungs as they could but it always felt like there was still a litre or so of fluid to be expelled. Far too familiar with the routine, she drew in deep rasping breaths, forcing racking coughs to clear the kolto faster.
If she wasn’t lying in a cold grave somewhere where was she? She tensed as she took in more of her surroundings. The tanks against one wall were Imperial make, but the room and other furnishings were far more luxurious than she expected. This certainly wasn’t the stark setting of an Imperial medbay. The brusque efficiencies of the fleet medical service were familiar; comfortable, almost homey. This bay with its strange furnishings was more like some rich noble’s bedroom. Where was she? She tried to gather her scattered wits between bouts of coughing.
“My lord, are you ready to sit back?”
There was Quinn. His voice wasn’t tense: wherever they were they were reasonably safe. Adiira relaxed slightly and nodded. The coughing bouts had slowed; any lingering kolto would have to be absorbed into her lungs. She could look forward to weeks of breathing treatments, but at least she could sit back. The hands supporting her head moved to ease her back against the raised bed. Now she could see the other people in the room. Quinn stood at her left side. On her right, a heavyset stranger in a medic’s white coat grinned at her and patted her hand.
“There you are, milady!” he said jovially. “Right as rain!”
That crystallized her vague surmise; only on Alderaan did they consistently fail to use her proper title. The white-haired doctor patted her hand again. She wondered if he’d pat her head next.
“What happened? Where?” Adiira looked from the doctor to her captain.
“House Thul, my lord. It was the closest medical facility not in enemy hands.” Quinn answered the second question but not the first.
The doctor broke in: “Your man there saved your life! The men on the front lines couldn’t believe it; said he just walked right into the firefight, cool as could be, killed the squad and brought you home, milady.”
She looked over at Quinn, wondering. Mouth tight, he stared into the middle distance.
He turned to her, shutting out the garrulous doctor. “My lord. What you said before... It worked.”
“Well, my boy, whatever it was it was good advice!” The man actually wrung her hand in his enthusiasm. “Milady, you should tell all our boys your secret! We’d roll up these motley rebels then!”
Adiira caught Quinn’s arm with her free hand and gave it a hard squeeze. She really didn’t want the doctor murdered right there and then.
She extracted her other hand from the doctor’s avuncular grasp with a jerk and sat up on the bed, swinging her legs over the edge. Her head swam and she paused to gather her strength. “Captain, we need to get back as soon as possible. Please make the arrangements while I get dressed.”
Quinn nodded agreement and turned to a small cabinet, reaching in to gather up her lightsabers and other gear. Silently, he set the sabers and a small pile of clothing on the foot of the bed. Her cuirass was missing; an Alderaanian tunic topped the pile.
“Milady!” the fool protested, putting a hand on one shoulder and trying to press her back into bed. “You can’t leave now. On your man’s demand we pulled you from the tank at the earliest possible point. I’m your doctor, and I insist on at least a week’s observation before I will let you go.”
She easily resisted his push, slipping past his grasp and standing. Perhaps she’d been too hasty, restraining Quinn before. The tile floor was cold on her bare feet; the thin gown she wore barely served modesty, never mind armor. She didn’t need it, not for this.
“I am a lord of the Sith. Not an Alderaanian lady. You would do well to remember that, Doctor.” The cold menace in her voice penetrated the doctor’s obtuse geniality at last. She went on, watching as he recoiled from the lash in her voice. “I will go where I want, when I want. Do you really choose to stand in my way?”
Flustered and angry because of it, he muttered his excuses and left the room in a rush. She spared a grateful glance at Quinn, standing ready at the foot of the bed, and nodded toward the pile of clothes.
He grinned and moved to lend her an arm to lean on. She was shakier than she liked, now that she wasn’t facing down the doctor. Slowly she donned trousers and tunic, belting her sabers back in their proper place.
“Where’s the chest piece?” she asked, holding onto his arms as she slipped into her boots.
His mouth twisted. “I sent it ahead to the ship and set the droid to repairing it. It was too damaged to wear.”
“Did I get hit that badly?” Her eyes widened.
“No... My lord, I would really prefer to have this conversation aboard the Fury, if you don’t mind.” Quinn fell silent; the conversation was over, at least for now.
She frowned but let him be. They left the room with her leaning on his arm as unobtrusively as she could manage. There was no point in alerting anyone to her actual state of health; they might send big burly men to try to put her back in that bed, and then she’d feel guilty for having to kill them to get home. Again.
Quinn dealt with the paperwork of her release with her standing a little behind him for a change. The charge nurse rattled through a notably succinct post-tank briefing, Quinn nodding as if he hadn’t done this many times before. It was amazing what a little well-placed anger could accomplish, she thought dryly.
Malavai helped his lord (his lover) back to their ship and settled her in her cabin to rest and finish healing. He’d insisted on her early release from the tank; House Thul’s care was good enough for crisis mode, but once she was healed enough to move she would mend better in the safety of the Fury. Under his care. Not that of some useless noble’s asinine physician.
He watched by the bed until she was deeply asleep.
Watching her, he thought back to what she’d revealed in the alcove. That she loved him deeply; that she hoped he loved her. He’d made his decision in that instant, responding to her. Not characteristic, not for him. Or, more likely, had made it long since and merely verbalized it there and then. “I am yours forever,” he’d said. Only to be brutally made aware that ‘forever’ might not be very long at all. Just how did one come to terms with the idea that one’s beloved could be stolen away… was likely to be stolen away… far too soon for comfort?
The roil of emotions that realization brought up was uncomfortable in the extreme. Well, if he had anything to say about it, that moment of ultimate loss would be postponed as far as possible. He left her quarters and went looking for his datapad. Taking it into the lounge, he made himself a cup of coffee and settled in to do some serious research.
The chime of the airlock briefly interrupted his thoughts. Glancing over to the entry, he noted Lieutenant Pierce’s return to the ship and bent again to the screen, studying the offerings of advanced portable diagnostic and healing units.
“I heard you nearly got the lord killed.” Pierce rumbled with his usual tact and understanding.
Malavai looked up at the burly Special Ops soldier standing at the end of the couch, arms folded. “She is resting. Kindly keep your voice down.”
“Word is, she was fighting and you were too late with the healing. What’s the matter, Quinn? Can’t handle her?” Pierce chuckled at his own wit.
The innuendo made Malavai’s hackles rise. The summation, accurate or not, made his vision go red as the horrible instant when he saw her fall replayed itself in memory.
Goaded into an indiscretion, he said: “As if you would have been able to save her. Do you know what she says about you?” He clapped his mouth shut before he could make it worse.
Pierce’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in, looming. “What does she say about me?” he growled.
“Nothing. Drop it, Lieutenant,” Malavai ordered curtly.
“I won’t. If you didn’t fill her ears with lies about me, I’d be in your place right now.” And he made a crude, unmistakable gesture.
One step too far, Malavai thought distantly, as red rage swamped him. He rose smoothly to his feet and latched onto the Lieutenant with a painful come-along hold, force-marching him the few steps to the airlock.
The airlock cycled. With a sudden vicious jerk, Pierce wrenched himself out of the hold. Grabbing Malavai by the jacket, he hurled him bodily down the ramp.
“I’m going to enjoy this,” he snarled.
The force of the throw was staggering. Malavai rolled with it onto the concrete of the landing bay, barely missing the ramp support.
Pierce grinned and leapt from the ramp after him. With a convulsive effort, Malavai eeled out of the way and the other man crashed down where he’d been an instant before. Pierce was back on his feet faster than he’d thought the man could move; Malavai scrambled to regain his own footing.
They circled each other warily. They closed. He lashed out; blood sprayed from Pierce’s lip. The big man roared and struck again. A brutal blow to the ribs staggered Malavai. He had to end this quickly.
Something seemed to be wrong with Pierce’s left shoulder, probably from when he’d pulled himself free from the come-along. Malavai dodged under a headstrike and grabbed for that arm. Leverage worked for him and Pierce slammed into the concrete. He howled in pain and reached right-handed for Malavai’s legs, wrenching him to the ground. Malavai fell hard, no chance to cushion the blow. Pierce raised himself and loomed over him where he lay with the breath knocked out of him.
“Say goodbye, Captain,” he spat as his fist cocked back. That was all the opening Malavai had. He grabbed Pierce by the shoulders and brought his knee up hard between the man’s thighs. Rolling atop the stunned lieutenant, he laced his fingers across the man’s neck. Pierce made to rise; Malavai increased the pressure.
“Move and I break your spine,” he grunted, holding the bigger man in an iron grip. Pierce heaved; Malavai felt ligaments starting to give under his hands. Pierce subsided, the tension leaving his body.
“I yield,” he said, starting to raise his hands and stopping with a hiss of pain.
“Keep your filthy thoughts off Lord Adiira,” Malavai growled. He let go and stood up, swaying. Pierce stayed where he was for a long beat, then painfully levered himself onto his knees.
“You can fight,” he rumbled grudgingly. “No need to bring this up to anyone?”
“None,” Malavai snapped. He made his way back into the ship, leaving Pierce behind.
(Pierce watched the smaller man walk away with narrowed eyes. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, wincing at the pain in his shoulder. Quinn had left him alive; the captain wasn’t infallible after all, but the bastard could fight. Best to use a workaround, then.)
Adiira woke in her own bed, feeling vastly improved for the rest. She got up and belted on a warm hooded robe and went to reclaim her armor. She found it lying in two halves on the workbench. Eyes widening, she fingered the cut straps; every fastening, even the shoulder harness, had been sliced open, and the midsection was dark and stiff with dried blood.
Malavai didn’t let himself start limping until he was out of the lieutenant’s field of vision, and by that time he didn’t need to limp quite so badly. That was cathartic, he thought wryly; his head was much clearer now. Cathartic and painful; he winced as bruised muscles protested, and headed directly to the medbay. At least the incident should silence the lieutenant for a time. And I won, he thought with a certain masculine glee.
Pierce hadn’t followed him in; he’d probably opted for the spaceport infirmary. Malavai had his shirt off and was twisted half-around trying to reach the already dark bruises along his spine when he became aware that Adiira was leaning against the doorway, watching him.
“Quinn,” she said. “Are those from the battle?”
He considered his options and settled for a simple “yes”.
“Why didn’t they patch you up at House Thul?” she asked, coming over and taking the jar of kolto from him. She walked around behind him and started smoothing it into the spots he hadn’t been able to reach, hissing in sympathy at the extent of the dark blotches all along his back and ribs.
“We were far more concerned with your injuries, my lord,” he said, leaning into her touch for comfort. She finished spreading the salve over his back and slid her hands gently over his shoulders before taking them away.
Adiira capped the jar and returned it to the storage locker. Moving around in front of him again, she took his hands.
“About that. You said we’d discuss it when we were home. What happened?”
He frowned and fended off returning memory with cold fact: “I believe that the diagnostic unit failed to detect a small tear of the capsule surrounding your spleen, my lord. When you leapt into the fray, the tear - split. The location of the injury and the torsion of your sword blow caused the rupture to involve the artery, resulting in sudden major blood loss. With your permission, I’d like to upgrade our field medical units...”
Adiira interrupted. “No, I mean what really happened... how did you get me out of there?”
She wasn’t going to let it go, and she had the right to understand, to know what he’d done when he’d seen her... seen her lying there, broken...
To his distress he felt his eyes fill with tears. Her hands tightened on his. Looking down and blinking hard, he said lowly: “I thought you had come close to death earlier. But then, when I saw you fall, I was sure I had lost you forever. And I had to reach you...”
He drew a tremulous breath: “...I let the emotion drive me, Adiira, and it was enough to win you free.”
“You did reach me, you know,” she murmured in a wondering tone.
“I did, yes, and brought you off the field,” he confided. “But when I laid you down you weren’t breathing.” His mouth twisted and he shut his eyes hard, remembering his dismay and terror at that moment.
She stepped closer and freed one hand to brush a lock of hair back from his forehead. “Yes,” she said gently, “that’s when you reached me, and brought me back.”
He opened his eyes in confusion at that and found her looking at him intently: “What do you mean?”
She met his eyes. “I knew I was dying,” she said, and then “shh,” softly, when he shuddered. She went on: “I was dying, then… somehow - it’s hard to remember… I was dancing in all the stars, and I heard you calling me: calling me to stay with you. And I saw you bright and beautiful, and I wanted to come to you more than anything.”
Malavai studied her face, wondering at what she’d said. Her description made him think of the Jedi they’d faced together; at the end, they all said the same thing: “There is no death, there is only the Force.” He hadn’t understood that, had thought it a mere platitude. But if it were real, literal?
The thought that she would continue beyond the body’s death, albeit transformed and beyond his grasp - there was a grain of comfort there. Something to set against the fear of loss. He tucked it away to consider more fully later. The thought that she’d come back for him…
“Oh, Adiira,” he whispered, and drew her into his arms, burying his face in her hair.
“Malavai,” she said softly. Her hands came up to stroke his hair, seeking to sooth and comfort. Her warm body in his arms was an effective anodyne against grim memory, her voice speaking his name was a cherished promise.
He drew back just far enough to see her face. “Am I to be Malavai to you from now on? That would please me greatly.”
She blushed, and her answering smile lit her face like a sunrise: “Yes, Malavai.”