Author's Notes: So, uh, this is a few firsts for me. First fic I've written/posted in maybe five years? First pairing fic, first SWTOR fic, etc. (Theron has broken me, I'm usually a genfic writer!) Takes place during the "Battle for the Stars" questline, which I've always assumed takes place between Chapter IX and X of KotFE. I've avoided using a name for my version of the Knight in this because, uh, long reasons that require more space than I'd like to ramble about in author's notes.
This fic was inspired by my epic inattention to detail while running the shield bunker/Resistance missions, and the fact that there's a quest clickie that allows you to take out the cannons in one hit. I ran about four or five before I realized I was doing everything the hard way. Oops.
The dual suns of Tatooine pounded down on Theron Shan in their unrelenting heat, and not for the first time that day he was regretting going with his standard choice of attire. Red leather jackets were the height of style in the Republic (despite whatever Jonas Balkar said to the contrary), but they certainly weren't desert wear. Besides, his traveling companion hadn't changed from her standard attire, and no one could tell him that the caped armor and those ridiculous shoulder pads weren't just as or even more of a hindrance out here.
He trudged after the Alliance Commander, kicking up sand with each step. It was courser and densely more packed here in the Jundland Wastes, which made their unintentional trek on foot through the deep canyons of the Wound a little easier than it would have in the Dune Sea. The mountains of sand were so fine over there his feet sunk in ankle deep with each step. The last time he'd had to venture out to Outpost Thorazan he'd managed to come away with two boots full of sand for his troubles. Which had somehow gotten into everything he owned. He'd felt the gritty sensation between his toes for weeks.
"If you keep kicking up a dust storm back there, you're likely to attract another band of Sand People," his companion called back to him serenely. How she could sound so blasé was beyond him, and she didn't even look the slightest bit disheveled after their long trek. Here he was sweating buckets, and she looked cool as a cucumber with nary a hair out of place. Theron was not jealous in the slightest, and he was pretty sure she was using some sort of advanced temperature regulating Force mumbo-jumbo technique. (Yes, that was the technical term.) Master Zho had probably skipped teaching that lesson since Theron had failed Force 101.
He stared at her back, trying to figure out if she was even sweating as a warm desert breeze wafted up. It didn't help him in the slightest, and only served to make her cape billow right up into his face. He swatted it away, trying and failing miserably to swallow his frustration. "If we're keeping score, you were the one who decided to take the speeder on a shortcut through their territory and strand us on foot."
"If you'd like to take it up with the Zakuulan walker I was trying to avoid, be my guest." She didn't even glance back as she picked her way across the narrow sandy bridge that stretched over the impossibly deep chasm.
"Oh right, the walker." He fell behind a few steps as he carefully followed. It was a long way down to the bottom, and he'd left his jetpack in his other set of pants. "How'd that work out again?"
"Mhmm, that's what I thought."
"No," she corrected quietly, stopping behind a large outcropping of rocks at the far end of the bridge and indicated the tall building situated on the rocky spire. "We're here."
"Oh." Right. The mission.
It's not that he had forgotten per se, he just found it easy to get distracted when around her. He had gotten used to the hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach during the five years she had been frozen in carbonite, and the light warmth that replaced it was a very different sensation. One he had definitely not grown accustomed to. Being around her again, hell, just him spending so much time with one person in general was a novelty that had yet to wear off. Even if he had to endure long walks in the scorching desert sun just to be at her side.
"There doesn't seem to be any difference from the bunkers on Alderaan and Voss," she said quietly, studying the bunker through a pair of macrobinoculars. "Probably can be taken out the same way too."
"I'm sure Arcann will catch on eventually and make some sort of changes," he muttered, absently running his gloved hand across his forehead to mop away most of the moisture that gathered there. Next visit to Tatooine, he was getting a climate comfort suit of armor or something. Or invent one. Or maybe he'd just stay off this stupid rock in the future.
"All the more reason to take out all of these stations before he can make his move."
With hundreds of stations monitoring hundreds of planets, that was a little bit of a tall order. But who was he to argue? "Whatever you say, Commander."
She pursed her lips, jaw tightening ever so slightly at the mention of the rank, but didn't actually respond aloud. He'd noticed a similar reaction before when he'd used the title, and he wasn't sure if it was in regard to her feelings about being put in charge of the Alliance without consultation, him using the title, or what exactly. He honestly couldn't tell if that was an appropriate subject to even broach. There was a very blurry line drawn between his role as her subordinate and... and... her boyfriend. Was that even the right word? This whole committed relationship thing got far more complicated each day. Personal relationships in general weren't his strong point. The smart thing would have been for him to avoid the whole thing completely, especially with choosing a Jedi Master as a romantic partner.
She stowed away the macro binoculars and glanced back at him, bright blue eyes blazing in determination. A fire lit somewhere deep in his gut, and it took a moment for his breath to catch up with him.
Hell, no one had really accused him of being all that smart anyway.
She quirked a brow. "Are you all right?"
What had ever happened to his unflappable secret agent persona? Theron used to be much better at this sort of thing. He swiped a hand through his hair, likely mussing it with his sweaty glove as he found a particularly interesting outcropping of rock to study. "Yep."
Even though he was doing a marvelous impression of studying the landscape, he could definitely feel her looking him over, trying to discern whether or not he was being truthful. Which of course he wasn't, but he wasn't sure if her deciding he was developing heat stroke was a better excuse than him simply being caught off guard by her just looking at him.
Now that he thought about it for two whole seconds, he was going to claim heat stroke. That was clearly the better choice and a brilliant plan without any flaws whatsoever.
"I'm sorry about the walk," she said softly. "I sometimes forget about the desert suns—"
Okay, except for the part where he was dating the personification of empathy, and her guilt was going to kick his conscience into a vicious cycle of shame unless he cut this whole downward spiral short. And did she just say she forgot about the dual infernos overhead and the hotbox they had walked through?
"But you're flushed."
It was probably a good thing he was surrounded by sand, because he was going to need to fill the metaphorical hole he was digging with something. "What I meant is I was just a little distracted."
"Distracted? What does that have to do with being—"
Her naivety was both utterly charming and an unending well of embarrassment. How was the progress on that hole coming? Oh good, just a few more feet and it'd be able to swallow him up whole. "Never mind. I'm focused again. We should probably call Miot, see if he can give us a hand with those cannons before Leyta and the rest of the Tatooine resistance arrives."
"Has anyone told you that you're a very confusing man?"
"Not since Lana at breakfast this morning."
"I don't think she used the word confusing."
"Confusing, frustrating, same thing."
That seemed to strain some of her infinite well of Jedi calm, and he thought for a moment she was going to actually roll her eyes. Instead she just shook her head and keyed up her comm to their air support. "We've arrived at the shield bunker. Are you in position for the orbital strike? We have another set of cannons that need to be taken out before we can head inside."
Miot's reply came back garbled, and she frowned, glancing back at Theron. "We already took out the Zakuulan transmitter. We should be able to get through."
"Let me check." Theron did a quick read out of the area with his implants, and he returned her frown. "There's a major dust storm picking up over near Anchorhead, it's generating a lot of atmospheric interference."
"Can you get through?"
"Give me a second." The previous awkward moment was forgotten as he concentrated on the task at hand. Slicing tended to focus his attention as he had to follow the intricate pathways of data. In this case, guiding the comm signal from his implants through a series of different relays. The weather on Mos Ila's side of the planet was clearer, so he just had to disguise his transmission a little. "Piggy backing the signal through the old Imperial comms, and—"
"Come again, Commander," Miot's voice filled Theron's ear, his implants easily translating the Sullustese. "You broke up at the end there."
Theron shot the former Battlemaster of the Order a grin. "Got him."
"Good." A bit of the tension in her brow relaxed. "What's the status of the strike?"
He nodded and enabled his side of the comm. "Hey, Miot. How's the weather treating you up there?"
"I'm in space," came the deadpan reply. "There is no weather."
"Brag brag brag," Theron shot back. "Not sure if you got any of the previous transmission, but we're at the shield bunker. We've got a couple of pesky automated defense cannons that could really use your brand of heavy orbital munitions. Think you could help us out?"
"Yes, I'm in position but—" static briefly cut the transmission out, and Theron had to make a few quick adjustments to clean up the signal, "the dust storm is making targeting difficult."
"Of course it is." Theron sighed.
Next to him, his compatriot looked at him quizzically, unable to hear the other side of the conversation. "What?"
"The sandstorm that keeps on giving. It's messing with Miot's targeting systems. My implants can feed the coordinates to his weapons directly, but I'm going to need to get closer."
"Exactly how close are we talking?"
"Oh... line of sight and about a hundred meters. Give or take."
"Those cannons will see us."
"Probably." He shrugged and gave her a grim smile. "Let's hope we can run really fast. Unless you think you can take those cannons out with your lightsabers."
The corner of her mouth quirked up into the slightest of grins as if he had just challenged her, and his focus was momentarily broken as that little ball of warmth in his gut surged again. Damn, he was going to need to work on that. Thankfully his implants were less subject to her unintentional wiles, and the connection to the ship in orbit remained stable.
He cleared his throat, even though she probably hadn't noticed his momentary lapse. "Ready whenever you are."
A slight nod was all he got before she took off towards the bunker, and he had to put on an extra burst of speed just to keep up. As they closed the distance, she waved her arm in a gesture he didn't recognize. A few hundred meters away he realized that the cannons weren't firing. In fact, there was a slight shimmer and waver around her form.
"Did you just—?"
"Quickly, Theron," she said with some effort, "Force stealth is not exactly my strongest skill. I can't hold it long."
He nodded, focusing on feeding the stream of data to the ship's targeting systems. There was a soft beep of acceptance somewhere along the line, letting him know that the revised coordinates had been received. "Done."
"Good," she grunted, "I can't hold this much longer."
"Preparing orbital strike—" Miot began, but then the line cut with a lurch.
"Miot?" he asked, trying to re-establish the connection across the static. "What's wrong?"
"Had to reposition to receive the signal, lost my hiding place. Fighters engaging from the Star Fortress—" more static before the connection reestablished, "—evasive maneuvers."
Theron's attention from the comm signal was pulled away by a heavy exhale. The shimmer around both of their forms fell away, and his companion's shoulders slumped with the expended effort of the Force trick. Theron suddenly felt very exposed.
"The strike?" From the uncertain thread in her voice, she had probably already guessed at the other half of the conversation.
"It's a little... delayed." The two cannons rose up to their full height as they swiveled around to focus on their position.
She pulled both of her lightsabers in a smooth motion, activating them with a hiss.
"We should probably run," he added unnecessarily.
The twin lightsabers went flying, forming a dark purple arc in the air as she used the Force to give her throw extra momentum and guide them to their target. They glanced off the exterior of the cannons with a metallic hum. "Go!"
She didn't need to tell him twice. He pivoted around, making a mad dash back towards the closest thing resembling cover, a large boulder several meters back. Sand and gravel exploded behind him as the cannon missed its target by a few feet. He dove behind his temporary shelter, kicking up more dust as he rolled out of the open, the shriek of the cannon fire echoing across the deep chasms of the Wound.
"That was close," he said in one breath.
When he got no immediate reply, he pulled himself out of his crouch to find that he was talking to himself. His breath caught in his throat as he realized that he was alone. Without thinking he broke cover, wildly searching. When he found her, his hammering heart stopped for a moment as he saw that she had leapt towards the giant death cannons rather than take cover with him. The deep, distinctive thrum of her sabers joined the cacophony as she practically danced around the cannon fire raining down on her. He hadn't been serious earlier about her taking those things on with her lightsabers.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he called to her.
That earned another volley of cannon fire back in his direction, and he had to dive to the side to just avoid being hit. The force of the blast hit the ground next to him, tossing up a mountain of sand and flinging him a few feet further. He didn't have time to tuck into a roll, and belly flopped into the sand, air whooshing out of his lungs. The automated cannon's engines whined as it prepared another volley, and a slightly dazed Theron picked himself up off of the ground. He barely heard the clash of a lightsaber whacking the cannon's nose as he sucked in lungful of air.
"Get back under cover!" She called across the distance, gracefully leaping aside as the first cannon blasted a hole in the spot she had just been standing. Her softer persona had been shunted to the side, leaving in its place the Battlemaster of the Jedi Order—or rather, now the Alliance Commander. This was a battle, and she had just given him an order.
Chest heaving, he dove back under the cover of his boulder with a curse. He couldn't swallow the feeling of helplessness as she gracefully bounded around the raining fire of the cannons. She was in full Jedi mode now, a pure extension of the Living Force. She was moving faster than his eyes could track, the violet blur of her lightsabers the only indication of where she was—or rather had been. The dance continued, the bright flashing colors almost mesmerizing. He watched as the cannons swiveled to and fro, unable to keep up with her.
He wanted to pull out his blasters, provide some cover fire, do something—anything—but he wasn't about to risk accidentally shooting her. He was forced to watch on the sidelines, a familiar tug of powerlessness pulling at him. Even though she was no longer trapped in a block of carbonite, the tearing in his chest was just the same as he had to watch uselessly from the sidelines.
Without so much as a warning, the blur halted. She had stopped, perched just below the main body of the first cannon. Theron felt himself rising, watching in almost slow motion as the second cannon took aim, the angry whine of its engines preparing to fire. There was a loud explosion, metal shrieking as the second cannon obliterated the first. There was nothing left but a smoldering ruin—
—and then he saw her. Several meters away from the destruction, rising from the crouch where she had landed after leaping to safety. Her cape fluttered behind her as she stood to her full height, twin sabers at the ready. For a brief moment, she tossed a look over her shoulder at him. He could just make out a satisfied smirk before she leapt back into the fray.
As his heart started beating again, Theron had a hard time sorting through the myriad of emotions washing over him. The burst of pride for her brilliant maneuvering was just about drowned out by the red tinge of adrenaline that had spiked during the explosion. Both of them were joined with a burst of exasperation brought on by that cocksure smile. And all of the sudden, it hit him that he finally knew how Director Trant must have felt all of those years trying to reign in his wild SIS agent. Theron owed Marcus a drink. Several drinks.
Now only having to dodge one point of fire, the Jedi Knight's attacks on the remaining cannon became more focused. She was less of a blur, but still in constant motion as she spun, the dark violet of her sabers sending up sparks as they clashed with the Zakuulan durasteel shell of the cannon.
So focused on the spectacle before him, Theron almost didn't register the crackle of static in his ear as Miot's comm came back online.
"Enemy fighters taken care of. Initiating orbital strike now—"
The storm in Anchorhead must have been raging on, as static cut through the line even as Theron called out. "No! Wait—!"
The comm had cut out, but the stream of data flowing through his implants let Theron know that the heavy artillery load had already been let loose and was headed towards the cannon—and the Commander—with pinpoint accuracy.
The next second lasted a small eternity, as Theron was transported back to the moment at SIS Headquarters where a data pad slipped from his hand, as he read about the execution of... of... of her. Of two and a half years of smothering grief, followed by another two and a half years of him fighting tooth and nail to be back by her side. He snapped back to the present, the feedback from the weapons system in orbit still transmitting on their progress towards the surface.
Without another thought, he leapt over the boulder, ducking and rolling into a run so he wouldn't lose any momentum. Boots pounded against the sand, as he swerved around the tiny blast craters created by the cannons that could trip him up. His chest heaved, each step bringing him—and the oncoming rain of destruction—closer to the unsuspecting Jedi.
She pirouetted out of the way of another blast from the last cannon, but apparently even with the aid of the Force she was fatiguing, as she didn't move far enough away for the concussive shock to knock her off balance and fling her lightsabers out into the sand. Theron put on a fresh burst of speed, the stream of data from his implants screaming the countdown at him.
Only a few feet away, he dove—and in one motion yanked her surprised form to his chest, and hit the ground in a roll. They tumbled end over end, the whine of the cannon engines preparing to fire drowned out by a sudden deafening roar. The blast of the orbital missiles hitting their target tossed them back in the air, and Theron struggled to hold on to his precious cargo as they hit the ground again hard, rolling a few more feet before they finally came to a stop. A wave of heat blasted over them, and he instinctively curled himself around her as metal debris, sand, and fire rained down around them.
Tiny fragments of metal peppered his hair, and some larger chunks of the former cannon bounced off his jacket. They would probably leave a few bruises, but the thick leather protected his back from getting burned by the superheated metal. It looked like he hadn't overdressed for the occasion after all.
He wasn't sure how long he stayed like that, but eventually a gentle push at his chest broke through the adrenaline haze, and he loosened his death grip around the Jedi's smaller form. Smoke billowed past them as his hands found purchase in the sand, pushing himself up enough so he could look down at her. Some hair had escaped the perfectly pinned ponytail, and a few extra blonde wisps joined the bangs flopping into her eyes. Some sand had gotten trapped in the streaks of sweat near her temples, making it appear that she had gained a few extra freckles in the past few minutes, and there was a slight flush to her cheeks probably due to the heat of the blast.
Other than that, there wasn't anything to indicate that she was any worse for the wear. Thank the Force.
She raised herself up to look over his shoulder at the smoking crater where she had been standing just a few moments before. Her normal Jedi composure dropped as she blanched, letting out a few shaky breaths. His stomach clenched at her reaction, and he had to fight an irrational urge to wrap his arms back around her.
Smoke swirled with sand, drifting lazily past them in puffs, and her gaze drifted from the smoldering wreckage back to rest on Theron. Her blue eyes were wide with shock and another warmer emotion he couldn't quite untangle past the sudden zing in his gut.
It took him a few moments before he finally managed to choke out, "You okay?"
"I'm all right," she said softly. "Are you—?"
"Mildly crispy," he joked.
Her eyes widened in concern, which made his throat constrict a little. It was... going to take him a while to get used to the reciprocal worrying thing.
"I'm fine," he finally said, and she visibly relaxed. At some point in the future, he decided they were also going need to add "sarcasm" to the list of things they needed to work through. Whether it was his timing or her detection of it, he wasn't sure.
"Thank you," she said quietly, looking at him through her bangs with the mix of relief and wonder. His heart skipped a beat for an entirely different reason this time.
He smiled past the sudden lump in his throat, and brushed her hair out of her face with one hand. "Any time."
She let out a shaky breath. "That was..."
"Close, yes." He chuckled nervously. "Too close."
"That wasn't the word I was going to use," she said softly, extricating one of her hands from his possibly still-too-tight grip and ran her fingers along his jaw.
He swallowed, that zing in his gut migrating to a different region altogether. One completely inappropriate for this situation, especially considering he had her sort of pinned to the ground. His voice may have come out a bit gruff as he said, "Which word then?"
"I forget," she murmured. "This is a bit... distracting."
"A little bit."
The way she was looking at him did strange things to his chest. He had a feeling she didn't fully understand her effect on him, but mercifully her hand dropped from his jaw before he wound up embarrassing himself. She brushed off some of the small chunks of metal that had landed on his shoulder. "Do all your missions end like this?"
"With explosions?" He let out a quiet huff of laughter. "Typically."
"What about compromising positions?"
"Oh, those too. But at least this time I've still got my pants."
That drew a surprised bark of laughter, the sound so unlike her usual quiet demeanor it actually startled him. "Do I even want to know?"
He grinned back down at her. "You mean I never told you about the time I got the Cross of Glory?"
"No, and I'm not sure I want to know why yours didn't involve pants." Her eyes sparkled as she added in a teasing tone, "The Republic insisted I be fully clothed when they presented me with mine."
He didn't really feel like correcting her misconception about his medal ceremony, and instead just murmured, "You show me yours, and I'll show you mine."
"Maybe another time."
A brief look of exhaustion passed over her face, the effects of the unexpected battle taking their toll. When she noticed that he was still watching her, and a practiced expression of patience and calm slid back in place. He wanted to say something about her not needing to pretend for him, but those words wouldn't quite form on his tongue. He was out his depth in this whole thing. Wild acts of bravado and humor he could do. Serious discussions on feelings? Not so much.
She let her shoulders drop back to the ground, her bangs flopping back into her face. He absently brushed them back out of her eyes, breath hitching in his chest as the action caused the corners of her mouth to twitch back up into a genuine smile.
She propped herself up on her elbows, eyes crinkling in mirth.
Without warning, she surged forward, and the heat that rushed over him this time had absolutely nothing to do with the twin suns or the scorching sands. He felt himself leaning forward to meet her kiss halfway, but right as her lips started to brush across his, she turned her head to the side. The silky feeling of her lips grazing across his cheek lit the fire in his gut anew, and she leaned in close so she was right next to his ear. If he didn't know his innocent little knight better, he'd say she was doing this on purpose. He shifted uncomfortably, closing his fist around a handful of sand to ground himself as her close proximity made him lose any sense of focus. As well as his certainty of her pure innocence.
"Theron," she whispered softly, hot breath puffing at his ear, "when you do that with your hands..."
Past the dizzying rush in his head, he managed to get out a reply. "Yeah?"
"You keep getting sand in my hair."
As she let out a quiet snicker that tickled his ear, he really couldn't help himself. He lifted up that fist full of sand, and unceremoniously let it fall all over her pretty little head.