First off, Knights of the Eternal Throne is amazing. I finished the expansion two days ago and I'm still on a feels-y roller coaster. Damn you, Bioware writers!
Second, I'll resume work again on Last Hope and Outtakes soon. Ish. I might not follow the shenanigans of some of the chapters after 'Visions in the Dark', but I'll get caught up eventually. I wanna write KOTET stuff already dammit! (This fic takes place between the end of KOTFE and the start of KOTET)
Third, if I owned Star Wars, or SWTOR, or Theron Shan, do you really think I'd be writing fanfiction?
Arcann was off the throne, and by all accounts grievously wounded. Senya was gone, having taken Arcann into exile with her away from both Odessen and Zakuul. But the war wasn't over yet- with Vaylin having usurped her brother's throne, with Scorpio at her side (a smarting wound that Agent Reanden was still furious about), Alliance Commander Xaja Taerich was still overseeing a rebellion against the Eternal Empire, and Theron hadn't yet been able to follow through on his promise to kidnap her away to some remote world untouched by the war. Vaylin had been quiet enough for the last couple of weeks, apparently turning all her resources to hunting her mother and brother, but Xaja wasn't taking any chances and was building her own forces in preparation for when the mad Empress turned her attention to the Outlander rebel.
Theron was walking back to the war room, a report in hand from Sana-Re, when he overheard an idle conversation from two Republic commandos guarding the corridor to the laboratory. "I wonder if there's a plan for Winter Fete in a couple of weeks," the first soldier could be heard saying to his partner, unaware of Theron close enough to eavesdrop. The agent stepped unseen into a nook in the wall, out of sight but still able to listen.
The second soldier shrugged. "Dunno, but the Commander seems like the type to be down for a celebration of sorts. Better than the last Jedi I served under. The Barsen'thor walked like he had his head up his-"
"Yeah, I know the type," chuckled the first soldier. "The Commander actually has a sense of humour. But she's so… stressed looking, recently. I'd guess the Fete is the last thing on her mind."
"Same with the rest of the command staff. Aw well, a guy can dream. It'd be nice to do even something, considering we can't go home…"
Theron watched the pair continue on their patrol, a thoughtful frown on his face. He'd forgotten that the Fete was approaching, but now that he recalled it, the holiday coincided with the Wookiees' Life Day celebrations this year, something Bowdarr was excited about. And he was pretty sure there was a similar holiday on the Zakuulan calendar. He wasn't much of a partier, but it could be good for troop morale. After the battle for Odessen, Scorpio's treason, and Senya's traitorous flight with Arcann into the void, giving the soldiers something to get their minds off the war couldn't be a bad idea…
"Yeah, there's a holiday for us too," Koth confirmed. "The Festival of Scyva, celebrates our new year. It's the second most important celebration, after the day of celebrating Valkorion's Ascension to the throne, but I get the feeling that particular holiday won't go over so well here."
"You think?" Korin asked with a raised eyebrow. He was sprawled across a chair in the command room with the rest of the higher-ups, discussing a tentative plan for a Winter Fete/New Year/Life Day/Whatever celebration. Theron had made the suggestion in passing, but it seemed everyone else was on board for the idea already- even Lana, which surprised him more than he was letting on.
Koth rolled his eyes, but wisely ignored the jab. "What kinda traditions you people have? We have feasts, gift giving…"
"Seasonal music…" Reanden volunteered from where he was sitting between his older son and his surviving daughter.
"Kids' legends about an old man with a herd of banthas has pulling a hoversled on people's roofs…" Sorand mused.
"And plenty of family gatherings." Lana concluded. "The Empire has the same thing for the Fete. It could be a good morale booster, even if people won't be able to go home to their families as per tradition."
Theron had nothing to contribute to the conversation beside a sage nod. With spending his first years as a Jedi student, and then bouncing around in foster care until he was old enough to make it on his own, with no family to speak of, he'd never really properly celebrated any holidays, much less Winter Fete. But who was he to rain on this party?
Vette said nothing, but the light in her lavender eyes and the excited vibrating she was dong in her seat (beside a fondly-exasperated-looking Torian) hinted she was more than happy to plan a party for the base. Anything festive seemed to be right up the Twi'lek's alley.
Xaja didn't appear nearly as excited as Vette, but she also didn't look disapproving. The petite Jedi shrugged. "I have no objections. A morale boost will be good for people. As long as you don't drain resources from what we need for the war effort."
"No need to worry your pretty head, Commander," Gault grinned. "I can take care of the monetary concerns. It'll be a Winter Fete to talk about all the way til the next one."
"Ooh, idea!" Vette piped up, bouncing in her seat until Torian placed a hand on her head to keep her seated. "Can we do a gift swap? I know not everyone here's got friends they're close to, but setting up a random-draw thing could be fun!"
"It's a good idea," Torian agreed, earning a beam from the blue buzzing lekku-adorned party planner beside him. "We did something like that on Mandalore when I was an ad'ika sometimes. Everyone gets somethin' and gives somethin' in turn. It was great for uniting the members of a clan."
"Can we do that with our limited access to things for gift ideas to begin with?" Xaja asked, a slight frown creasing her forehead. "Even with the vault heist, we don't have an unlimited budget…"
"Just leave that to me an' Hylo," Korin said with a grin. "We'll figure out somethin'."
"I'll plan the party for the day of the Fete itself!" Vette was already in full-scale planning mode. "Gault knows where to get the good eats from, and I can figure out decorations, and I'll organize the gift swap too! Theron, I'm gonna need a whole list of everyone in the base to make sure everyone gets in on this. And let's see, maybe if I talk to Dr. Oggurobb about…"
Theron tried to open his mouth to say that maybe not everyone wanted to participate in the festivities, but the enthusiastic, beaming expression on Vette's face shut him up. There was no way he was wiping the smile off the face of the Twi'lek that virtually everyone in the base considered to be their honourary little sister, Theron himself included. The agent shrugged, exchanged eye contact with Reanden as though to agree that getting a personnel list would be a two-man effort, then absently frowned as his thoughts started drifting.
He hadn't been part of a Winter Fete celebration since the year before the Revanites- the last five Fetes he'd refused to go to the SIS office party for the Coruscant-stationed agents, half because he'd been grieving for Xaja (although they'd not bothered celebrating it period the year Coruscant had been blockaded by the Eternal Fleet); the year before then he'd been on administrative leave and in too poor a mood to bother celebrating the new year; and then he'd been bullied into attending the one before that by the SIS Director, and only went under protest.
No, he was not as a general rule fond of the Winter Fete gatherings. But this year he had a pseudo-family in the form of the Alliance command staff (not that he would ever admit it to any of them), and a wonderful lover (who also happened to be the most wanted person in the entire galaxy…), and absolutely zero chances of being able to withdraw into his own personal little bubble of antisocial grinch-ness (or so Vette had called him a day or so later when she realized he'd never been fond of the holiday). Maybe it would be even something like the holiday he'd never traditionally experienced growing up.
"... Can you do that, Tee-Seven?"
T7-01 beeped his affirmation and spun his top around excitedly.
"Awesome!" Vette grinned at the astromech, then paused, a mischievous look coming to her eyes. "But before you do that, take the Commander's name off the list. And Theron Shan's, too."
Master Xaja + Agent Shan =/= qualify for gift receiving? T7-01 sounded as confused as a droid could.
"Of course they do! But I'm rigging it so they draw each other's names, see?" Vette sighed at the droid's perplexed beep. "Because it'll be adorable to watch them give each other gifts, that's why! Theron needs to learn how to do this, maybe it'll make him less grumpy. Xaja's done something like this before, right?"
Gift giving =/= Jedi tradition. Master Xaja =/= participated in Winter Fete traditions before.
"The Jedi don't…" Vette stared in shock at T7-01, then shook her head stubbornly. "Well, she's doing it now! You with me on this?"
T7-01 whistled his acquiescence to the Twi'lek's plan.
"Good." Vette grinned, set the astromech to assigning the rest of the base's names to random pairs, took a moment to chase Koth off before he could figure out who'd been assigned to his name (it was Lana), then began the long and tedious task of messaging all the gift recipients.
**Your White Bantha Gift Exchange person is… Commander Taerich! You have two weeks to give your person a gift within the budget range of 500 credits. Good luck, and Happy Winter Fete!
And Theron, no hacking the database to figure out who got your name, or I'll tell Lana!**
**Vette… which Commander Taerich did you assign me to?**
**Sorry, I forgot Agent Reanden had the same rank once. You got Master Xaja! ** *with a happy-faced emoticon that Theron hadn't even known was in the messaging database*
**... Did you rig this on purpose?**
Theron shook his head at Vette's last transmission to him. It would be just like the Twi'lek to assign certain names on purpose. At least she didn't try to rig my name with Lana's… or did she? The idea of being a recipient of a Sith's gift was mildly alarming.
Although not half as alarming as the realization that Theron was going to have to figure out a suitable gift, not only for the Alliance Commander, but for the only woman he'd ever admit to loving. What the hell did one give a Jedi Master whose focus on pragmatism rivaled even Lana's, who had the entire resource of a galactic faction at her fingertips, and who probably only really wanted the one thing Theron couldn't give her, which was a peaceful end to the war (or failing that, Vaylin's head on a platter)?
The agent sighed, then got to his feet, a target for advice already in mind. Vette had said nothing about seeking assistance from other people, right? "Lana?" he called when he reached the war room and saw the Sith's golden head raise lift in his general direction. "I need some help with something."
"She's a Jedi! I don't exactly know how a Jedi's mind works with gift-giving beyond, well… not receiving gifts at all!"
Theron raked a hand through his hair, dislodging his trademark fauxhawk. "But you know more about Winter Fete than I do, right? What's standard protocol for this?"
"I wouldn't use the term 'protocol', but the standards are, well…" Lana shrugged. "For an anonymous exchange, you'd just pick something all-purpose, maybe humourous, and probably get something in return of a like fashion. I don't know how to go about this for someone you're in a relationship with, though."
"Hmmm." Theron eyed Vette's message for a moment, as though the Twi'lek's words would grant him some miraculous insight, then looked back at Lana. "Who'd you get?"
Lana looked cautiously around the war room, then leaned in close to Theron. "Koth," she whispered. "And I've already decided what I'm giving him."
"Yes, but I don't think Xaja would appreciate a bottle of Whyren's Reserve whiskey as much as he would."
"... Good point." Theron scowled to himself, then stood up. "I'll keep thinking about it, maybe I'll have a moment of genius."
"There are other things that could use your brains more than a gift exchange," Lana said. "But in seriousness, good luck."
Theron nodded to the Sith and walked out of the war room, seeking out inspiration. Lana sighed and settled back to her work, but had barely re-opened her datapad before Xaja Taerich herself dropped into the seat that Theron had only just vacated. "Help me, Lana," she said without so much as a by-your-leave. "I have no idea what I'm doing for this gift swap!"
Lana very nearly groaned audibly.
Vette was refusing to lend tips or advice to anyone in the base, Theron included. Torian's ideas were limited to the very essence of practicality, as befitted a Mandalorian warrior. Korin and Sorand had had several ideas themselves, but most of those were terrible gag gifts that would have had Theron sleeping on the couch, if not in his own much-neglected quarters, if he'd dared give those to Xaja. And the less said about Koth's ideas, the better.
Theron frowned absently as he walked through a small market on Dantooine. Officially, he wasn't here at all; unofficially, he was investigating a rumour that a woman matching Senya's description had come through here. That rumour had led nowhere, but now Theron had some time to kill while waiting for his shuttle to be refuelled. His feet had led him to a festive-looking holiday market in the middle of the Khoonda settlement, and now he looked around, absently seeking something worthy of Xaja. Everything here seemed too… garish or gaudy for her, though. Xaja was beautiful in a natural sort of way, and unsuited to having the bright red adornments of Winter Fete on her. She's not big into shiny trinkets, either, he silently mused as he stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets. There was a fine sprinkling of snow on the ground, enough to give a seasonal nip to the air he was breathing in. I could maybe find something on Zakuulan or Jedi history, but that feels boring…
Ignoring a hawker crying his wares (datafiles filled with seasonal music sung by a musician Theron had never even heard of), the spy let his gaze drift to a small table off to the side. The trinkets here weren't noisy, or attention-seeking, and yet Theron felt drawn to them. They looked like small, brightly-coloured rocks that almost glowed under the lanterns…
"Crystals," the elderly woman said as Theron's fingers drifted over one such crystal, the exact shade of green as Xaja's eyes. "Came from one of the caves out by the old Enclave. Folks say that when the Jedi were here, they'd use these crystals for their lightsabers."
"I'm surprised the Zaks haven't tried takin' all of 'em yet," Theron said, throwing his voice to sound like a normal spacer.
"They can't take what they can't find, right?" The woman grinned. "'sides, gettin' past the kinrath spiders is a hidden talent that my family's kept hidden for generations. They're nasty beasties, otherwise."
"Huh." Theron eyed the crystals for a moment longer, then picked up the green one he'd touched earlier. Something in his gut indicated this was a good idea. "Got a lady back home who'd probably love somethin' like this. How much?"
"Ahhh, young love, how beautiful it is to observe," Dr. Oggurobb waxed eloquently as Theron felt his ears turning as red as his favourite jacket. There were only two lab assistants nearby- one of them was snickering at the expression on Theron's face, the other appeared to be sympathetic to the spymaster's plight. "I am honoured that you come to me for assistance with your lady's gift! The Commander will cherish this, I am sure."
"Thanks, Doctor," Theron said, trying will his ears back to their normal colour. "I don't want to take away from any of your research, but-"
"Nonsense! This will be a wonderful chance to display artistic abilities. And you, Agent Shan, have a remarkable taste in such things. Commander Xaja is a lucky woman indeed!" The Hutt slithered over to his workstation. "You say you require a setting for the crystal, and a chain?"
"Yeah, that's it. I'm happy to pay you for your trouble, of course-"
"You will do no such thing! I am delighted to be a part of this process." Dr. Oggurobb took the crystal from Theron and set to work. "This will be completed within the hour."
"I appreciate it, Doctor. Thank you."
And when Theron was presented with the gift an hour later, he had to admit the Hutt had done a marvellous job (who would have thought a technological artist as him would also be proficient as… well, as a classic artist?). The setting surrounding the green crystal shard was a silver alloy that glimmered in the light, a strong yet beautiful material in a delicate pattern around the gem. The fine chain, already proven stronger than it looked, complimented the necklace perfectly. It was something that Theron was nervously excited to see around Xaja's slender neck.
And if he and Dr. Oggurobb had quietly agreed to hide a tracking device inside the casing of the necklace, the memories of Valkorion's abduction of Xaja still fresh in both of their minds… well, what Xaja didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
Vette had outdone herself with the party. The cantina was packed tonight, and Theron could hear laughter and chatter from every corner of the command centre. Republic soldiers, Imperial troopers, renegade smugglers and mercenaries, Mandalorian warriors, and even the odd rogue Zakuul native mingled in the crowd, old rivalries and tensions melting away.
Lana appeared beside Theron, holding a neatly-wrapped box in her hands. "Forget treasure hunting or escape artistry," the Sith commented, looking over in Vette's direction. "She should go into party-planning for a full-time career."
"She'd make a fortune doing it," Theron agreed, watching as the pretty Twi'lek exchanged her gift with Reanden. He wasn't sure if Vette had rigged the results for that match, but decided it didn't really matter when he heard the delighted squeak as she opened the package to reveal what looked like a cultural artifact of some sort. For that reaction, it was probably Twi'lek culture related.
Reanden grinned at the little alien's reaction, then opened his own package and his eyes widened in delight. "You didn't!" he exclaimed, loudly enough for Theron to hear, and surprised Vette by giving her a quick hug before settling down to read the book he'd been given- probably a historical volume of some nature, judging by the reaction.
Lana smiled, craning her neck, then sighed. "Here goes nothing, I suppose. Koth!" she added, raising her voice to get the Zakuulan pilot's attention.
Koth twisted around, seeking Lana, then made his way over, holding something loosely wrapped in his hands and appearing vaguely nervous. Theron shook his head and chuckled to himself. While he didn't see the two of them being anything more than merely good friends, this was still amusing to watch. Some instinct compelled him to turn around, just in time to see red hair and a long dark jacket become visible in the crowd, enough of a glimpse to make his heart race in his chest like every other time he saw his lover.
"Hey, Commander! Come have a drink with us!" A group of troopers (two Imperial commandos, a Republic pilot, and a Twi'lek mercenary) raised their glasses in invitation as Xaja walked by their tables, all with grins and laughter for the pretty flame-haired Jedi.
Xaja smiled at her soldiers and paused in her steps. "Maybe in a bit, gentlemen," she said, shifting a heavy-looking parcel in her hand. "Thanks very much for the offer." She looked away from the table, scanning the crowd before seeing Theron and making her way through the press to him. "Hey, handsome," she said when she finally got to him, the grin she'd offered the soldiers replaced by that one special smile she had for him exclusively.
"Hey yourself." Theron grinned and kissed her forehead, ignoring the whistles from the same table that had invited Xaja to drink with them. The little box in his hand behind his back felt despairingly light and unworthy of her attention or admiration, but it was far too late to change his plans now. "Enjoying yourself?"
"I am! Vette's done a fantastic job with this." Xaja leaned against Theron as she turned to survey the cantina, looking the most relaxed and at-ease she'd been in far too long.
"Yeah, Lana and I were just discussing that she needs a career change immediately, if not sooner." Theron glanced over at the afore-mentioned Sith's delighted exclamation as she admired the heavy-looking book now in her hands, while Koth beside her looked like he'd found a new treasure in the bottle of whiskey he was holding.
Xaja grinned. "I'd be behind that. When this war's over, I'm letting her coordinate a galaxy-wide party." She hesitated for a moment, then looked up at Theron, almost shyly. "I, uh… I have something for you and…"
Theron removed his hand from behind his back, showing the small parcel he may or may not have begged Vette for assistance with the wrapping of. "Vette totally rigged this. I'm sure of it."
Xaja looked to the present, then to the seemingly-oblivious Twi'lek, then back at Theron. "Agreed." She smiled, then glanced around at the crowd. "Uhh… want to move somewhere quieter?"
"Yeah, good idea." Theron's free hand gently pressed against Xaja's lower back as he guided her out to the balcony overseeing the Gravestone. Out here, there were only the few sentries guarding the base (and taking their turns at the party in shifts), and it was easy for the pair to find a quiet corner in the moonlight. "So… who goes first?"
"You, I… I guess," Xaja said, sounding almost nervous as she handed over the package she was carrying. It was heavy, as Theron realized when he took it.
He handed over the small box for her, then curiously removed the paper from his own gift, hazel eyes widening when he realized what she'd given him. "An Aratech reconstruction toolkit?! These are amazing! I… Thank you!"
Xaja seemed relieved by Theron's reaction to the gift and smiled. "Yeah, I saw one while on that run to Lavisar the other week with Korin, and it seemed like something you'd enjoy. I'm glad you like it."
"Like it? I love it!" Theron grinned as he pulled Xaja closer for a kiss. "Now hurry up and open yours before I have a nervous breakdown."
The slender Jedi softly laughed, then started carefully peeling back the paper on the little box. Theron had to fight to keep from fidgeting as the paper fell away, and Xaja looked up at him for a moment before opening the box and gasping. "Theron, this… this is beautiful!" She carefully lifted the pendant of the necklace, then looked up at her spymaster lover. "I don't know what to say!"
Theron felt his shoulders ease with relief at her pleased response. "I got lucky and had some help with building it. But in seriousness, you are a difficult woman to find gifts for, dammit." I mean, I'd give you the entire star system if you asked for it, but...
"I can't make things too easy for you, love." Xaja laughed as she took the necklace out of its box, admiring the way the moonlight glinted off the crystal before she turned her back to Theron and held the pendant up. "Would you…?"
"With pleasure." Handing the new toolkit back to Xaja, Theron carefully took the necklace in his battle-callused hands and gently brushed her hair to the side, exposing her neck. The delicate chain was drawn around her neck, Theron struggling with the tiny clasp for a moment before he'd gotten it secured. The agent pressed a gentle kiss to the Jedi's neck, feeling her pulse race under his lips, before she turned back around so he could admire the result. "It looks perfect on you," he murmured, tracing her cheekbones with his thumbs as he took in the sight before him.
Xaja's fingers lightly traced the metal cradling the crystal, as though committing the feel of the necklace to memory. "I may never take this off," she softly said. "This is the nicest gift anyone's given to me. Thank you, Theron…"
Yeah, please don't ever take this necklace off, that'll defeat the purpose of the tracker inside it… "What, nobody ever give you birthday presents either, love?"
"Well, not really. I mean, Jedi aren't much into birthday celebrations either…"
"... I'm telling Vette, around the same time I tell her when your birthday is."
Xaja laughed, a sound Theron could never get tired of hearing. "Careful, or I'll tell her that your's is in only a month."
Theron groaned, not relishing the idea of being the centre of attention for another party (even if it was a Vette-organized shindig), then paused and eyed Xaja for a moment. "Hmmm, sounds like I might have to take some drastic measures to induce some amnesia."
"Oh? Like what measures?"
"Mmm… it's a very long process, involving a bed, me, and you wearing only that necklace…" Theron smirked as he started walking Xaja backward toward the lift. "I plan on making it last all night."
"Ah, it seems my fate is to be tormented ceaselessly indeed," Xaja dramatically sighed, although the light in her eyes and her smile belied her words. Her hands reached up to thread themselves through Theron's hair as they moved, tracing lines up and down his neck to send shivers down his body.
"By the time I'm done, you won't even remember your own name, much less my birthday," Theron murmured as he kissed her neck, feeling her breath hitch. "The things I do for operational security…"
"And you love every minute of it."
"As much as you love what I do to you."
"As much as I love you."
"And I you."
Out of the corner of her eye, Vette watched the Commander and Agent Shan walk out of the cantina and smirked to herself, then looked back at Reanden. "So, when'd you say their birthdays were?"
"Theron's is in a month, Xaja's is in Elona. But I think Jorgan's is a week after Winter Fete…"
Vette grinned impishly. The poor Cathar would never know what hit him.
And an early Merry Christmas/Happy [insert holiday of choice] to all my lovely readers! If anyone's looking for something to give me, I'll take a method for breaking Theron Shan out of my computer and into my bed... *wink wink* *nudge nudge*