It's been some time, hasn't it? Amazing what the new SW: The Old Republic expansion does to a muse. Theron Shan is now my new muse and lust-object-in-chief. I can't guarantee that Strangers from Distant Lands is ever going to be posted again, but for now, have a spoiler-loaded story thing from SWTOR: Knights of the Fallen Empire.

If I owned any part of the Star Wars franchise, do you really think I'd be writing fanfiction?

SIS agents are not, as a rule, known for being terribly anxious individuals. Paranoid to a fault, perhaps, but certainly not anxious and prone to fits of pacing around the interiors of their small personal shuttles. The flight from his previous (and highly classified) location to Odessen involved far too many hours in hyperspace for his liking. Confined inside the blue tunnel of space, without easy access to the HoloNet to distract him, he was trapped alone with his thoughts, and even Jedi meditation wasn't enough to calm him today.

It wasn't even that he was flying to work for a new rebellious alliance, dedicated to ending the tyranny of the Zakuul Empire and their Eternal Fleet. Nor was it his continued worry over his absent parents- his father was still stuck on Coruscant, trying to subtly hamper Zakuul's conquest, while his mother had gone into exile, one of a few scattered survivors of the Jedi Order. No... his worry stemmed from her.

It had been over five years since the destruction of Ziost. Five years since Darth Marr had launched an allied force of Republic and Imperial troops into the depths of Wild Space, and invited her to come along. Five years since Zakuul invaded in full force, with their news that the ones who had invaded their own Empire had been executed.

And it had been four years since Theron Shan had started to feel hope again.

He'd been unceremoniously dragged back out of administrative leave within twenty-four hours of the Eternal Fleet descending upon the Core Worlds with a vengeance. Apparently, this was enough to forgive and forget his mistakes on Ziost, as far as his respective parents had been concerned, although Chancellor Saresh had never let him live it down. Theron had just learned very quickly to stay out of the manipulative woman's way and focus on his work. Spying on the Empire had always presented its own share of challenges, even after he'd met Lana Beniko on Manaan during the Revanite crisis... but Zakuul was something else entirely. Theron still wasn't sure how he'd survived a few particular run-ins with their agents, and could only count himself lucky that he hadn't ever been on the same planet as Vaylin. The Zakuulian High Justice, sister to Emperor Arcann, wasn't known for mercy.

He'd been the one to pick up on the Zakuul battle cries of "Justice for Valkorion! Vengeance for our fallen Emperor!" The SIS had done further investigating, and realized the death of the former Emperor of Zakuul (none other than Vitiate of Dromund Kaas himself!) was being blamed on two people from the Core Worlds. Darth Marr, the apparent last person to be murdered at Vitiate/Valkorion's hands, received a footnote mention from most of Zakuul's forces, something that Theron suspected would have irked the Sith Lord had he still been alive to witness this.

But the one most publicly blamed for the assassination was her. The Jedi Battlemaster who, when offered a chance at mercy for her joint and unwarranted invasion of Zakuul territory, had stabbed the Emperor in the back. She unfortunately had made that mistake while surrounded by enemies.

Theron had been inside the Heorem Complex, picking up an assignment briefing, when the news had come in of her execution at Zakuul's hands (apparently Arcann had done the deed himself, if the rumours were to be believed). SIS agents were generally prided on having perfect emotional control and being able to perform their tasks without compromising their vulnerabilities or their missions, and Theron was normally quite good at that. But that was a blow he hadn't been ready to receive, and it blindsided him like a droid-powered punch to the gut. He'd sat heavily in the nearest chair, the voices around him fading to dull underwater-sounding noises as his heart caved in within his chest. She was gone... the only woman he had ever felt something like real, true love for. And he'd never even told her, so great a coward and insecure in a relationship was he... and now she was gone, and so was his hope that somehow, Zakuul could be defeated despite all the odds. If she wasn't here to brave a stunt that nobody else could accomplish, what hope did the galaxy have now?

Jace Malcolm had been the first one to get to him; apparently he'd had to visit the Director to discuss a new strategy for SIS agents against Zakuul and the newly-forming Star Fortresses. He'd tried to gently get Theron to go home and grieve for the woman he'd loved and lost, but Theron had no desire to be alone with his thoughts. He'd decided to throw himself headfirst into his work, and swore to himself that he would see justice done for her murder or die trying. Jace had just sadly smiled, murmured "You come by that honestly," and set himself to help his estranged son as best he could.

But not even Theron's dedication to see Zakuul burn for what they'd done could save the Republic, or the Empire. Within a year, Coruscant was suffocating under a blockade of the Eternal Fleet's ships, and the agent was working himself into an early grave. Observant though he was, he didn't see the worry in his father's eyes, or the new lines of grief on Satele's face and the liberal amounts of grey in her hair whenever either of his parents looked at him (and if he did, he counted that up to the near-total destruction of the Republic forces and the Jedi Order). When a contingent of Senators negotiated a treaty with Zakuul to save what was left of the Republic, Theron had stormed out of SIS headquarters, too furious for words even though rationally he knew it was the only option left for the survival of innocent trillions of lives. Satele had eventually tracked him down in the Dealer's Den cantina in the Old Galactic Market (and Theron knew better than to ask how his mother had found him down here, even though it wasn't a regular haunt of his outside of work hours), and quietly plucked the umpteenth bottle of Corellian ale out of her son's hand before leading him out and back to his small apartment, with a strength that belied her sixty years of life. Theron had passed out fairly quickly, but not before hearing Satele tell him "I don't know if or when I'll see you again. The Jedi have all but fallen, and I must leave to aid as I can. We need to rebuild..."

"She could've done it," Theron mumbled, half into his pillow. "She could do anything."

With his eyes closed, he didn't see the pain that flickered through his mother's eyes, and he was too out of it to hear the soft intake of breath at his words. He felt her brush a hand over his mussed-up hair, and some part of him noted that this was the only motherly touch he could ever recall feeling. "... Goodbye, Theron," she'd quietly said, and then Theron's memory faded to black.

When Theron got back to work the next morning, with a pounding headache and worried looks from his father and the Director, he learned that his mother had gone into exile, and so had the majority of the surviving Jedi. That was just the latest addition to his sorrows, and for the next two months existed in a daze. Mechanically, he reported in to SIS, didn't have it in him to grumble about paperwork, and when he was off for the evening, often found himself frequenting the cantinas. It was unhealthy, and he was aware of his father and his coworkers worriedly eyeing him, but it dulled the pain. His mother and the Jedi gone, the Republic a slave to invaders, and the woman he'd loved dead... some days he almost didn't bother getting out of bed in the morning. His thoughts were 'survival' and 'revenge'- survive long enough get justice for her, and after that, he didn't really care.

Three months after the blockade on Coruscant was lifted (around the same time that Dromund Kaas accepted their own terms of surrender to Zakuul), a blonde-haired woman dropped into the seat beside his at the cantina, the shadows of the hood she wore doing very little to hide the glow of her yellow eyes. Theron didn't even have it in him to question just how Lana Beniko had gotten into the heart of what was left of the Republic without being shot on sight. He barely even wanted to look at her- not because he was still a little bit mad about her arrangement of his abduction on Rishi, and the whole catastrophe of Ziost, but because he'd known her at the same time that he'd first come into contact with her, and that was still a painful wound after a year's festering.

Lana didn't bother with pleasantries. She leaned in closer to her one-time rival and whispered the two words that brought a rush of new hope and worry into Theron's shattered heart.

"She's alive."

Lana had never been known for providing false or poor information, and this was no different. Theron wasn't sure how exactly the Sith had managed to find out that Xaja Taerich was still alive, encased in carbonite on Zakuul- she'd mentioned something about a traitor to Zakuul being willing to share information with her. Theron did meet Koth Vortena a couple of times in person, never for very long, and decided that even though he was a Zakuul native, he was still all right. Hell, he would have happily kissed the first person to get Xaja out of captivity. He'd wanted to storm Zakuul immediately to break her out, but Lana had wisely vetoed that idea, pointing out that Theron would be no good to anyone dead. She herself was working on a plan to rescue the Jedi, and had Koth and an HK-55 unit with her, but could use all the planning aid Theron could provide.

Theron himself had been the one to find Xaja's old droid, T7-01. The droid had been leery of working beside a Sith Lord, until Theron had explained the plan to rescue its old master, and then the little astromech had thrown itself into Lana's work with a joy that one might not have expected of a droid. Theron had also dived into his work with the renewed will to live and succeed that puzzled the people around him, seeking the remainder of Xaja's crew and her old ship. But even over the next four years, all he found was the ship, left behind on Tython with no sign of the old crew. That would hurt her when she found out, he knew, and the thought of her in distress made him worry. He wrote her a message, hated and deleted it, wrote it a few more times over, and finally sent it to her old account around the three-year mark, hoping she would be alive and awake to read it one day. Stupid clinging to hope like this, some part of his mind muttered, and yet this hope was all that he had left. If anyone could free the galaxy from Zakuul, it was her... but more than that, he was determined to make up for not being able to help her before. He wanted her back, safe and whole, more than he was willing to admit to even himself. I haven't forgotten about you or our time together. I never will.

So long in carbonite, he thought at the four-and-a-half year mark of her and Darth Marr's disappearances and reported deaths, as he stormed out of SIS headquarters again- this time for good. Saresh was not an individual he wanted to ever see or deal with again, not when she refused to see the greater threat in Zakuul than in the weakened Sith Empire. His father had stopped him in the way out, older and greyer than he had been before the war started, but his hazel eyes were still sharp when he didn't tell Theron to go back to his work for the Republic, but instead to "go and get the sons of bitches who did this." Theron had answered his father's look with a tight, humourless smile, and then left Coruscant within a few hours, rallying to Lana's coordinates to plan their rebellion. Will she remember me? Will she remember anything? His feelings for her hadn't changed, except perhaps to become stronger and more potent with grief and time. Maybe being in stasis for so long had done something to her heart, though…

But it would do no good to fret. For all he knew, she might not survive Lana's rescue effort. And so he threw himself into the best of the galaxy's resources for an alliance of all peoples against Zakuul, fighting to liberate both one Jedi and many planets. Theron Shan had never considered himself to be religious, but he found himself praying to any higher power out there for what he needed the most. Let her live. Let her come home.

Fives years after Xaja's capture, Lana sent the coded transmission from a refugee outpost in Wild Space. Jailbird has made a break for it. Prison didn't agree with her, but she'll live. Her old friends are trying to keep in touch. Theron could have danced around his shuttle (although he didn't. Miot was watching, after all.) at the news. She was alive and free, if now a wanted fugitive from Zakuul! He knew better than to ask Lana for details on Xaja's condition over the holonet, and contented himself with the knowledge that she was in good hands. He might not fully trust Lana after Rishi, but they all knew what was at stake this time. Lana wouldn't let the Jedi fall back into enemy hands.

Miot had given him an odd look, but Theron had shaken his head. "We continue with the mission objectives. Lana will bring Master Taerich to the rendezvous point, but we need to get her allies assembled." That was the task he'd been given, half to keep him from worrying and getting in Lana's way, and he was determined to do it to the best of his ability. When he'd worked for the SIS, he'd fought to make sure everything he did was at a hundred and ten percent of what was expected of him, and for most of the assignments he'd had, he'd succeeded admirably (Ziost being the most painful exemption). But when he was working for her, he was determined to have this be absolutely flawless for her. She deserved nothing less. Even if she never recognized that he was the driving force behind the building alliance.

His recruitment processes of significant leaders through the galaxy was bolstered by the news coming out of Zakuul within the next two days: the Outlander, the one blamed for the death of Emperor Valkorion, had escaped the Eternal Fleet in a legendary starship known as the Gravestone. There were rumours of a rogue Knight, a traitorous Zakuul naval officer, and a Sith Lord aiding the Outlander (and Lana's transmissions confirmed those), but they weren't the focus as far as most people were concerned. Xaja Taerich was now a rallying point for those eager to be free of Zakuul's grip, Imperial and Republic alike... even the neutral forces of the Hutt Cartel and the Voss Mystics sought to gather under her banner.

For the first time in almost five years, Theron was hearing hope in the voices he eavesdropped on. Someone had stood up to Zakuul and survived. The Eternal Empire wasn't as invulnerable as it pretended it was. The oppressors could be broken.

Xaja probably didn't know it, unless Lana had told her, but she had an army building under her. And at least one member of that army would have thrown himself in harm's way for her without complaint.

We ran into some problems. A 'friend' stabbed her in the back, and then Arcann stabbed her in the stomach. She's still alive, but won't be fighting for a while yet. Arcann's likely hurting from that fight, but we lost HK. One week out from the rallying point. Theron had never thought that he could feel as much fear clenching around his heart as he did when he got Lana's encrypted message. The spy sat wearily in a hard chair, desperately wanting to get to her side immediately. But he had a job to do, and abandoning it would do nothing to aid her- and if she was still the same woman she'd been five years ago, it would just make her mad that he'd shirked his duty for a personal matter. Especially if she was that personal matter.

He would go to Voss and try to convince the Mystics of his need for their aid to the growing Alliance. But then he'd return to Odessen, and to hell if Lana came up with new tasks for him to do that would take him away from the planet. And if she came to harm again between now and then…

The planet felt like Tython at a first glance, except with less ancient ruins than the Jedi world. The only structures here were new builds, including a large hangar build into the side of the cliff- the main base of operations for the Alliance. As soon as he stepped out of the shuttle, he was surrounded by the sounds of a military base in full action, and paused for a moment to watch a joint patrol of Republic and Imperial soldiers walking around the compound- and surprisingly, they seemed to be getting along better now than they had on Yavin 4 all that time ago. He could feel far less tension in the air, beyond the normal state-of-alertness that a rebel base operated under at all times. This was a good sign, and something that had to make her life easier-

And then he saw her, walking along the duracrete floor, appearing to be lost in her own thoughts. The thoughtful frown on her face did little to mar her pretty features, and she'd let her long red hair fall down her back instead of tying it up like she had on Rishi and Yavin. She looked to be walking a little bit stiffly, and Theron noted it was probably a lingering result of her last fight with Arcann, which he knew she'd been lucky to survive. Something about the way she walked hinted at deep concerns on her mind- leading a rebel alliance against the Zakuul Empire and being told she'd lost five years of her life would probably age anyone.

Theron still thought she was as beautiful as she had been the first day she'd walked into the meeting with him and Colonel Darok to plan the Korriban invasion.

He wanted to run up, catch her in his arms, and never let her out of his sight again. But he didn't know how she would react to that now (Lana had never mentioned whether she'd asked after him). So he contented himself with creeping up beside her and casually speaking out loud. "Hmmm, I like what you've done with the place."

She jumped and turned to face him, and the smile that appeared on her face erased the furrows on her brow. It was like she'd regained the five years she'd just lost in carbonite. "Theron Shan," she said, with what sounded like the most open delight he'd heard in her voice in… almost ever. Jedi traditionally don't display emotion publicly, and she'd only rarely shed that public mask before.

He smirked. "Hey, wasn't sure if you'd recognize me. I-" And then words failed him as Xaja's arms shot around his torso in a very public hug, her face burying itself into his jacket. Ignoring the whispering he could just hear from the soldiers nearby, he wrapped his arms around her smaller frame, stroking her hair gently. "It's okay. You're safe now. It's all going to be okay…" And it would be okay, now that she was here. She could conquer the galaxy and win if she was so inclined.

"I didn't know if Lana found you or… or if Zakuul had gotten to you or…" Xaja's words were quiet, and directed more to his chest than his face. "Force, I'm glad you're all right."

"I wasn't the one stuck in carbonite for five years or who got in a fight with Arcann. Lana kept me updated on you, but…" Theron gently pulled Xaja back for a moment to look in her eyes- once a vivid green, now dulled to a greyish tone, but still beautiful and vibrant. He smiled, then remembered he had something for her. "By the way, I have a surprise for you."

Those eyes widened. "You found my crew?!" Of course, the remaining four members of her old team would be a high priority for her.

"Not yet," Theron confessed as he reluctantly extricated himself from her arms, not wanting to see the way her shoulders slumped a little bit in worry, "but I think you'll still like this." He tapped the signal button on his wrist comm-link, and smiled as he watched the old, battered Defender rise out of the trees, swooping past the Gravestone. She'd named it the Serenity pretty much as soon as she'd been given it by the Jedi Council, and the few times he'd been aboard it with her, he'd felt the inspiration for the name.

It might not have been what she'd hoped for, but Xaja still smiled in delight as her old ship did its flyby and came down to rest on the landing pad designated for her own personal use. She remained still for a moment after the ship left her range of vision, then turned back around and hugged Theron tightly. "Thank you," she whispered against his shirt. "Thank you, Theron…"

He knew there was a meeting scheduled soon with the other Alliance leaders he'd managed to find, and that everyone was eager to meet the official commander of their rebellion. But right now, he didn't have it in him to let go of the woman he'd mourned and supported and quietly loved for the last five years. Holding her closer to him, he lowered his head and pressed a gentle kiss to her hair. "For you, it was no problem." Anything for you.

It didn't matter that they were two leaders of a rebellion that could get thousands of people hurt or killed before they tore down the tyrant of Zakuul, or that they were still getting stares from the soldiers near enough to observe. As far as Theron Shan was concerned, all was well with his world.