You people are lovely, and so you may have Part Two now!
Also, if Xaja doesn't find a way to crawl out of my computer and kill me dead first, Theron might... (I regret nothing. Nothing, you hear me?!)
Still poor, still fangirling, still don't own Star Wars. Or Theron. Which is a pity...
Major Jorgan had been suitably worried when it was confirmed to him over a secure holo-call that the Commander had vanished without a trace, and Theron was reminded that the Cathar had already endured something similar before with Major Kota. That man had eventually been found alive, but with a terrible case of amnesia that rendered him unfit for duty. And by then, Jorgan had already taken the reigns of Havoc leadership. He agreed that the operation still needed to go ahead while the intel the Alliance had was still relevant, and had his squad mobilized and ready to go.
"Who's going to take her place if she hasn't been found by the time Havoc reaches the frequency emitter?" Koth had muttered under his breath as the Cathar soldier disappeared from the holo table. Apparently his entire hope was placed on Xaja's shoulders, and nobody else would be an adequate substitute for the missing Jedi.
Naturally, Korin and Sorand had exchanged only the briefest of glances before Korin had answered, "We will. Together we're every bit as good as she is alone."
Koth didn't seem entirely convinced, Reanden seemed to be trying to hide his concern at that statement from his son, and Theron felt too sick at the thought of Xaja never coming back and needing to be replaced as the Alliance head by one or both of her brothers to voice an opinion either way.
Kaliyo, naturally, seemed nonchalant about the entire business. "She's a Jedi, ain't she? If she's as good as what I saw on Zakuul, and half as good as what the ex-Cipher over there brags about, she'll be fine."
Theron had glanced over to Reanden at that, and the older agent had shrugged. "Parental prerogative. In this place, I can brag about all my offspring." His voice was falsely light-hearted and easy-going- Theron could see the stoop in his shoulders, and the impressive bags under his hazel eyes. He likely hadn't slept at all after leaving the command centre the night before.
Not, of course, that Theron could judge. He didn't need to look in a mirror to know he looked terrible- Dr. Drellik had taken one look at him and cringed, and Nico had wordlessly handed him a flask of… something that Theron decided he was better off not knowing the detailed contents thereof, but did appreciate the gesture. He was bone-weary, but the images that flashed through his mind when he closed his eyes were worth the sleep deprivation to avoid. Images of Xaja's body, lying motionless and bloody… Arcann making a victory proclamation of her death… the Jedi falling into a ravine or being mauled to death by Odessen's still-mostly-unknown wildlife… Vaylin finding the base and nobody here being able to withstand her without Xaja leading them, not even Sorand… It had been a vision of Xaja in Vaylin's robes with that cruel grin and the yellow lightsaber, striking down at Theron's own chest, that had jolted the spy back into the world of the waking after less than two hours of sleep, choking back bile and feeling a scream building in his throat. It had taken him longer than he cared to confess to slow his breathing down and not throw up, and by that point there was no way in hell he was going back to sleep anyway.
Kaliyo's blue holo-form winked out of sight, and the command centre grew quiet, aside from the sounds of typing and quiet murmuring. It was enough to make Theron start drooping in his seat from fatigue, and if he didn't get up and start moving, he was going to pass out in the command room, and nobody needed to witness that or the nightmares. His body thrummed with nervous energy despite his exhaustion and the need to get out there and find Xaja, whatever it took, hampered only by the logic that said there was nothing he could do with no connection to the Force and him being unable to raise Xaja on a comm channel, no matter what he did to boost or modify the signal. Pushing himself out of his chair, he started pacing the length of the deck, glancing up whenever the lift moved, and continuing his tread when the lift's occupants were neither Xaja nor those with news of her fate and well-being. Thirty paces one way, turn, thirty paces back. Thirty paces one way, turn, thirty paces back. Thirty paces-
Oh, that was how long it took for Lana to start throwing him a glare for distracting her. Good information to know. Theron didn't really care about the Sith's opinion on things, and continued pacing, trying to get his mind off his worry. The Gemini frequency is a solid kilometre below the Spire. Pity Havoc needs to blow it up, because I'd love to see that transmitter. I wonder if she- no, not thinking about her. Where was I? Right, how many levels will Havoc need to get through to reach the transmitter? If that transmitter could be that useful to the Throne so far underground, it could be modified to pick up Xaja's signal, right?- blast it!
"Theron, sit. I'm not above strapping you to a chair so the rest of us can focus," Lana finally snapped.
Normally, Theron would have made a quip about how there was only one pretty woman who was allowed to tie him down to anything and it most certainly wasn't Lana Beniko. Considering the circumstances, though, he only paused in his pacing enough to give the Sith his own masterful glare, a skill he'd learned by osmosis courtesy of Revan- an individual people seemed to keep forgetting he was a direct descendant of. "Go ahead and try it," he growled out.
Lana hadn't been expecting that reply, as her amber eyes widened before narrowing threateningly. She half stood up-
"Get along, both of you," Sorand snapped at both of them, and for a second Theron saw the threatening demeanour that Darth Imperius had demonstrated when he'd felt it prudent. "Theron, if you're going to pace, make it useful and do a status check on the wings. Lana, leave him alone." With that, he turned his attention back to the datapad he was reading and scribbling notes on a sheet of flimsi beside him. Another stack of files to his other side looked like some of the collection that Sana-Re and Xaja had joined efforts to collect- Theron had a suspicion the ex-Sith was madly searching for either information on Force-teleportation or how to find a missing Force-user.
He thought about making a final biting comment at Lana, caught Sorand's warning glare over the datapad (damn Sith for being as attuned to everything as a Jedi), and obediently left the command centre to walk through the entire subterranean levels of the base, checking in on the Alliance leaders and their forces. Sana-Re had not yet uncovered any hints in the Force as to Xaja's fate, despite the best efforts of herself and the strongest Force-users she trusted to maintain discretion on the matter. Dr. Oggurobb assured Theron that while he didn't have anything *yet*, he was working on a new piece of technology that surely would enable him to track movements of sentient beings outside of the base (and when Yuun had recovered from his nocturnal search for Xaja, would Theron mind sending him back to the labs to assist?). Hylo and Admiral Aygo had joined forces, Hylo's best pilots doing low flybys over Odessen's forests, seeking any sign of Xaja- a distress signal, a fire, signs of a catastrophic Force-based fight… Meanwhile, Admiral Aygo had increased patrols around the exterior of the base, and sent a couple more teams of discrete soldiers to search further around the area that Xaja had last been seen. He couldn't help out too much more though, as he was providing support to Major Jorgan's team. Nothing, of course, had been found yet.
None of this is enough. We need to be doing more! Theron scowled as he walked back from Hylo's base of operations, muttering an apology as he nearly tripped over Blizz (who apparently was helping with Dr. Oggurobb's device construction, and accepted Theron's apology with only a mildly-indignant chattering in Jawaese). Should I be joining one of the search teams? But I'm needed for the Gemini operation too, and I can't exactly pass that off to Reanden or Korin given the circumstances. Dammit, Xaja, we need you back here, and not just because we're falling apart without you here. She was the rallying point of the Alliance and the only hope that the rest of the galaxy had of being free from Zakuul's oppression- not even Darth Imperius, Cipher Nine, or Rogun's Bane could match the Hero of Tython's deeds. She was the glue that held the Alliance leaders together, was the only reason some of the Imperial and Republic forces were getting along… and more than that, Theron, for all that he'd been trained to roll with the punches and take a beating, and not foster attachments to the people around him, was falling apart on the inside with her missing and he knew it.
What would you do if she was killed on a battlefield? a little voice in his head asked. She's the Alliance Commander, and the most wanted person in known space where Zakuul's authority is accepted. And she's strong, but she's not invincible. Arcann's already proof enough of that. Even if she does make it home this time, she might not be so lucky again. If you find her body and know there's no miracle that will bring her home again… Theron cringed. His mother had once told him that she'd hidden Theron as a baby from Jace, fearing what his father's reactions would be if any harm ever came to their son. Jace had already indicated that he would enact cold, bloody revenge if harm came to Satele while they'd been together, and she didn't want to take that risk with Theron being the cause of the older man's wrath. Apparently that instinct to avenge loved ones was hereditary; Theron knew deep inside that if Xaja wound up dead as a result of Valkorion or his spawn, he would either lose his mind to grief or make all of Zakuul burn for his loss, and to hell with the little detail that he was just one (highly-skilled) Force-blind spy in a vast galaxy. He'd been well on that route once before Lana had found him and told him her news, and his backup plan had been to drink himself into a coma that he wouldn't awaken from.
How long will you wait this time before you give up hope? That thought made him pause for a moment. Given the vastness of Valkorion's reach, Xaja could be anywhere in the galaxy, and Sorand and Korin's senses were the only indication that the Jedi was still alive. As long as one of them says their bonds to her haven't broken, there's hope that she'll come back. Xaja would never abandon me- or us. However long it takes for her to come home… I'll be waiting for her. Even if it's the rest of my life.
But would Darth Imperius be able to sense the death of Master Taerich? Theron wasn't entirely sure as to the nature of Force-bonds, but he was relatively sure that most people bound in such a way knew exactly when a bond was broken by death, no matter the distance between them. And considering this instance was two powerful Force-users who shared a bond of blood, as well as a bond of affection… Korin might not be the final source of information on Xaja's status, but Sorand would be. So you'd better hope Valkorion doesn't go after him next.
That thought made him hurry his footsteps back to the command centre. Of course, Sorand wasn't in any apparent danger from the Emperor's ghost come back to exact vengeance on a traitorous member of the Dark Council, still in the same position he'd been in earlier, and still looking frustrated by his apparent lack of progress. Noting that there seemed to be nothing significant happening beyond researching clues as to Xaja's fate and prepping for Havoc Squad's mission (and tracking Kaliyo's progress in raising hell to divert attention), Theron reclaimed his abandoned chair and tried reading through his notes on the Gemini frequency again.
Fifteen minutes later, having stared blankly at the same sentence for most of that time without the words making sense, Theron gave up and started pacing again. He got to twenty-three steps on his first pass when Lana raised her head, scowl already in place, and opened her mouth-
"You, exterior patrol check before you wear a hole in the floor. You, ask Nico if he's found any sort of relic in his travels that might help us."
Theron and Lana both seemed to consider protesting until they saw the ominous-looking yellow glow to Darth Imperius's eyes. And then they both hurried off in their respective directions, deciding discretion and intelligence were the better parts of valour.
The rest of the day passed in a similar fashion. And when Theron collapsed into bed alone that evening for the second night in a row, he was no less anxious and frustrated than he had been the night before.
This time, he only lingered on the cold mattress for an hour and a half before dragging himself back up and to the control centre. This time, it was Korin sitting at a desk, some sugar-loaded half-frozen stimulant drink in his hand from the cantina upstairs (and he wordlessly handed Theron one from a box by his feet. Apparently he'd either pulled some strings or simply raided the cantina, and Theron didn't really care which one.). This time, Sorand didn't return from his questing meditations until three in the morning, this time having brought Lana out with him to assist- but by that time, Korin had walked out to the military hangar in hopes that the cool breeze would wake him up, and Theron had finally passed out over a datapad, words still blinking on the screen by his unshaven cheek. '... Force are well-known to us. The trait known as Force Step enables the user to move from one location to another with such speed that they appear to take only a single step. Force Phase is a highly advanced skill that enables the user to move through walls, doors, or other solid surfaces. However, these are not the limits of the Force's abilities: for instance, it was recorded at the Battle of the Maelstrom Prison that Revan himself used the Force to teleport…'
The third day continued in much the same fashion as the first two had- except this time, there was sufficient distraction to take Theron's mind off Xaja's situation with Havoc Squad moving in on their target. Kaliyo's distractions had worked well, and while Jorgan was encountering some resistance, it was far from what it would have been otherwise.
Of course, Jorgan's method of dealing with any enemy units (droid or sentient) was "shoot until they don't move anymore", and apparently there are only so many places one can hide the destroyed chasses of Skytroopers.
Kaliyo was also open on the line, giving a gleeful accounting of her destructive mayhem caused in the Spire, and neither Senya nor Koth approved. "That anarchist should not be a part of this operation! She's already caused too much harm to my people!" Senya shouted, still not happy with Xaja's standing decision to use Firebrand's considerable skills in the operation (which, in her absence, nobody cared to countermand that order).
"Easy, Senya," Koth spoke up, eyes narrowing in thought. "Maybe the Knights will do us a favour and kill her for us."
Theron lifted his head to give both Zakuulians a glare through bleary, heavy eyes that felt like sandpaper. Two nights of little to no sleep and the long-lasting anxiety that had settled over him like a permanent cloud were taking their toll, and trying to keep track of the schematics and security layouts to help Havoc Squad was already difficult enough without the arguments going on over his head.
"As I recall," Reanden retorted before Theron could open his mouth and say something he'd regret later, "the Commander gave Kaliyo a task and she's performing it as requested. Or are you looking to overrule Master Taerich's decision?"
"She's violent and uncontrollable and cares nothing for civilians!" Koth growled.
"She also has her orders to not harm civilians. You forget I've known Kaliyo far longer than you have, Vortena. She'll stay to the limits set."
"Oh really? And who's going to keep her to those limits? The Outlander's gone and she barely listens to you!"
Theron very nearly went for a blaster then (and he could sense Reanden had the same idea) before a voice he'd thought he'd never hear again spoke, with all the sternness of a cracking whip. "That is quite enough. Take your arguments elsewhere; Havoc needs radio silence for the operation."
Over half a dozen people stopped what they were doing and whirled at the unexpected commanding voice. Theron's heart skipped a beat and the first easy breath in three days came as Xaja Taerich limped into the command centre- battered, exhausted, and looking like she could use a shower and possible medical attention, but clearly alive.
Naturally, as soon as one problem was resolved with Xaja limping her own way into the command centre (with such a tale of being kidnapped and beaten by Valkorion and being found by Satele Shan and the ghost of Darth Marr that Theron would have, in any other situation, thought she was making the tale up- especially the bit about his mother being on Odessen and working with Marr's spirit. But Korin was the one in their family known for extravagant tall tales, whereas Xaja generally strove for honesty. "It's such a terrible lie, it must be true," Lana had concluded, and Theron agreed.), more arose. While everyone had been trying to figure out the implications of Valkorion leaving Xaja of his own free will, Havoc Squad had gone ominously silent immediately after Jorgan had alerted the command team to Knights of Zakuul at his location.
Thankfully, Kaliyo had apparently violated orders and was already en route to raise hell herself in parallel to Havoc's route. Xaja had given the go-ahead for Kaliyo to continue with her set course, ignoring the scowls from Koth and Senya, and had continued studiously frowning into space once the alien woman went silent while she shot everything she could find. Only she could return back from an abduction and go immediately back into a leadership role, Theron mused as he continued trying to raise Jorgan's comm signal, watching her out of the corner of his eye as though he feared she would disappear again on him.
Of course, with Theron, Korin, Sorand, and Reanden all positioning themselves near enough to the Jedi that she normally would have been complaining about crowding if she hadn't been so evidently relieved to see them all again, it was unlikely that she could be taken again, even by Valkorion. It never hurt to be paranoid, though.
Eventually, Lana took over the attempts at contacting Havoc Squad from Theron, letting the fatigued spy focus entirely on Xaja. He moved to rest a hand on her lower back, and froze when she winced minutely at the contact. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?" he quietly asked, urgency colouring his words despite his attempts to stay calm. She didn't need him panicking, but if she'd been hurt out there-
Xaja forced herself to smile weakly at Theron and leaned her head against his shoulder. "Not badly. Bruises and scrapes, far as I can tell…"
Theron glanced down at Xaja's hands and lifted one of them for inspection. If the cuts and scrapes on that small area of fair skin were indicative of what the rest of her body was like… "C'mon," he softly said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders (lighter than usual, despite his fierce desire to hold her as tightly as he could and never let her out of his sight again). "Do you need Sana-Re or your brother to Force-heal you?"
The Jedi shook her head. "It's not that bad. I've had a lot worse than this. All I need is a shower..."
"And painkillers. You're wincing every time you move and you're limping off your right leg." Theron gently tugged her into his side, letting her rest her weight against him. "I've got my spare kolto packs in our quarters, and then you can rest."
It said something that Xaja didn't try to talk him out of it, insisting that other people could use that kolto more than she needed it. With a nod to Xaja's father and brothers, and earning an acknowledging gesture in response from all three, Theron led her down the hall to her quarters, shutting the door securely behind them and directing her to the bed. "Okay, in detail, where are you hurting?"
Xaja seemed to hesitate for a moment as she gingerly removed her torn and filthy gauntlets and stained boots (and her one knee was swollen through the fabric of her trousers, as Theron could see now), then seemed to give in, undid her belt, turned around and let her tunic fall off her shoulders, leaving herself only clad in torn trousers and a bra. Despite himself, Theron cringed at the awful masses of bruises decorating her fair back, marring the star-like tattoo on her left shoulder and some of her older combat scars. "Dammit, Xaja- what the hell happened to you?!" the spy demanded as he lightly touched a particularly dark spot under her tattoo, then dived for the kolto packs he kept in the storage locker.
"Told Valkorion where he could take his ideas and what he could do with them, a rusty hydrospanner, and an angry mynock on the way. He didn't like that and threw me against a cliff," Xaja answered, seemingly trying to laugh off the pain, although Theron still saw the wince when he turned around. She sat wearily on the edge of the bed, body hunching as though it would relieve the pain. "Actually… I think he did that twice…"
"Lie down." Theron gently pushed at Xaja's shoulders as he returned to the bed, waiting until the Jedi was face-first against the mattress before he started slowly rubbing kolto into her wounds, pausing only to deftly undo the back of her bra and push her long red hair out of the way. "You should have asked Sorand to heal this. Any internal injuries you suspect? Did he break anything?" One hand left her back to run down her ribcage (as far around her as he could reach with the bed in the way), feeling for anything cracked or out of place.
"Not as far as I can tell, surprisingly." Xaja hissed as Theron's fingers found a sensitive spot on her lower back; the spy gently spread more gel-like kolto over the wound, and the Jedi's tense muscles soon eased. "And Sorand looked exhausted- almost as bad as you." She propped herself up on her elbows and turned to look at Theron, eyebrows furrowed in worry. "Theron… did you rest at all over the last few days?"
Theron paused in his ministrations, staring at the kolto in his lap as though the medical substance would answer Xaja's questions. "... No," he finally admitted.
The agent wearily smirked as he lightly brushed two fingers against Xaja's lips, shushing her. "You know, I used to think there was nothing that could faze me anymore. After the Revanites, Ziost… Zakuul's invasion… I thought I could handle anything. Then you vanished without a trace and…" The emotion that had been building since her disappearance and subsequent return started to overwhelm him, and he fell to his knees beside the bed, hazel eyes searching her grey-green eyes desperately and all attempts at calmness gone. "I couldn't stop pacing. I didn't know where you were or what was happening to you… I couldn't take it. I was falling apart and I don't think I cared who saw it…"
Xaja moved then, and although it couldn't have been comfortable for her, she lunged forward enough to wrap her arms tightly around Theron's neck. The spy buried his face in her tangled hair as he listened to her speak into his ear, for once not really caring that the person hanging onto him for dear life was a beautiful, half-naked Jedi woman. "Theron… I don't know how Valkorion moved me away from where I was or where exactly I landed. I tried calling you as soon as I woke up and realized what had happened, and I don't think I started feeling afraid until I realized I couldn't reach you, or anyone else." She hesitated, and Theron felt her shoulders tremble under his touch. "I… when he was throwing me around during our fight before he left me… I thought he was going to actually kill me out there without anyone to witness it. You know what Jedi believe about death and the Force, and I wasn't afraid for myself… but I got scared when I thought that if I died out there… you would never know what happened to me, and you'd spend too long waiting for me to never come back-"
Theron pulled his face out of Xaja's hair to silence her with the kiss that had been waiting for three days for her to return. "You're the Alliance Commander," he finally breathed out when they pulled apart for air. "You've got a rough fight ahead of you, and… while I'd gladly follow you to Zakuul itself, someday you might vanish again for somewhere I can't follow. Wh- if that day comes-" There was no way he could let himself consider the likelihood of that happening, not after he'd only just gotten her safely back, but he knew the words he spoke were true. "I don't care how long it takes… I'll be here waiting for you." He moved one of his hands to rest over her heart, beating reassuringly under his fingers. "Always." A deep breath, and he spoke the words he'd never been able to get out before, in a low whisper. "I love you, Xaja Taerich."
Jedi weren't supposed to love, or to admit to even having emotions- Theron knew this, being raised as one himself. But that didn't stop Xaja's eyes from tearing up, or the redhaired woman's tightening of her embrace around his shoulders. "I love you, Theron Shan," she murmured back to him, her words erasing a tight knot in Theron's chest that he hadn't even known had been there. "And no matter what happens… I'll always find a way to come back to you. I promise."
Theron smiled at her, trying to keep the hard lump in his throat at bay as he ran his thumb along her cheekbone. "I know," he whispered, blinking away the moisture in his eyes and gently wiping away a tear that had escaped Xaja's eye. If there was anyone who could fulfil that promise, even with the current state of the galaxy, it was the woman he was holding right now. Tilting his head slightly, he pressed another deep and lingering kiss to her lips, savouring the feeling of her molding perfectly against him as she returned the kiss, then grinned when they pulled apart again. "You know, I love you to bits, but you still need a shower…" It was still a strange phrase for him to say, but he liked it when she was the one those words were directed to.
Xaja's eyes lit up as she smirked. "And considering I'm still hurt and will probably need assistance…"
"Plus, y'know… might have missed an injury somewhere. I'll need to check everywhere, to be certain..." Theron's voice dropped to a husky whisper as he pulled back enough to slide one arm under Xaja's knees and carry her into the adjoining refresher, treasuring every moment that she stayed in his arms or pressed against his body.
And when they were finally cuddling in her bed some time later, Xaja's still-damp hair draped over her pillow and her face pressed against the bare skin of Theron's chest over his heart, the spy stayed awake a few minutes after she'd fallen asleep to stare at her, committing every detail of her being to his memory. No matter what it takes, I'll keep you as safe as I can, I promise. And if that means kidnapping you to the Core Worlds and, I don't know, marrying you, then so be it. You mean more to me than you'll ever know...
And there's your fluffy happy ending for this newest chapter!
Next: Xaja apparently (according to the KOTFE preview) delves into the world of crime after her previous stunt as a Rishi pirate. No idea if Theron approves of this or not. Stay tuned!