She had left the line open, or to be more accurate, Theron hadn't cut it. An audio line and data feed wasn't much, but it helped him feel a little closer to the action despite the distance between them. With the apocalypse about to rain down on them, and the rest of the galaxy to follow shortly thereafter, there hadn't been time for anything close to a proper farewell. There never was with them.
Not that they were going to need it.
She was going to save the day, as she always did, and she always would. And he would watch from afar, as he did these days, heart in his throat, trying to ignore the constant stream of "what if" scenarios as well as his own sense of inadequacy. It wasn't that he resented playing backup to the most amazing woman in the galaxy — old instincts just died hard, and nothing would entirely chase away his need to be on the front lines facing the danger himself.
Even if his talents were better served elsewhere.
He was deep in the bowels of the Iokath mainframe, data streaming through his implants faster than the speed of thought. The whole damn planet was simultaneously a slicer's dream and worst nightmare — endless pathways of nodes and data, each one revealing another tantalizing layer underneath. An endless, beautifully connected abyss that you'd never climb out of if you didn't watch your step.
He was of two minds, the part of him in the mainframe, and his physical tether to the outside world. He was like a particularly annoying gnat, buzzing around the nodes and generally being a digital nuisance and distracting the malevolent presence that Acina had woken up. While he had heard the Commander's affirmative, as soon as she had sat on the throne in the power core facility, the entire network could sense her. Even digitally she shone like a bright beacon, immediately pulling the attention of the dark and angry presence that he had been trying to stall with petty slicer tricks.
Distantly he felt the ground outside his digital view shake violently, breaking his concentration. Both of the juggernauts were still in the system, but he was nearly swept away in the endless stream of data. Carefully he pulled himself back, not sure what else he could do at this point. Everything was in her very capable hands now, and the best way he could help was to stay out the way.
Theron had almost extricated himself from the mainframe entirely when something screamed across his implants — like something in the Iokath systems was crying out in distress. Explosions rocked the ground as the planet was bombarded, nearly drowning out the audio feed from the earpiece as something electronic on the other end sparked and exploded. The grunt of pain was nearly lost to cacophony, but not completely.
It stopped him cold, like a vice tightening around his chest. His attention and concentration on the network was lost, every bit of him focusing on trying to calm the rapid hammering in his chest and he opened his mouth, ready to demand answers. But before he could utter a sound a deep thrum echoed somewhere in the distance before a bright angry beam of light lit up the sky. His implants screamed at him, letting him know that one of the ships in the Eternal Fleet had been hit, just as a familiar voice in his ear gave out the order to open fire.
Theron didn't need his feed from the fleet to tell him that it was executing the command and destruction rained down from above. The sound of it obliterating worlds was something that still haunted his dreams — it was something that he hadn't had to hear since the Alliance had taken the Eternal Throne. It sent a cold chill down his spine all the same, even if he knew the that this time it was in an attempt to save lives. The bombardment was striking a location somewhere off in the distance, but the shockwaves from it still rocked the ground, throwing him from his feet. Through the distant sounds of battery, he could have sworn he heard a bellow of rage, but that was probably just his imagination playing tricks on him.
Theron struggled back to his feet, the ground still rocking with the bombing, barely able to hold on to the datapad in his hand. The bombardment appeared to be working, the power levels from the weapon core dropping rapidly. It looked liked the apocalypse was going to be cancelled. Not that he was complaining.
His relief was short-lived. Just as the rumbles of the bombardment faded, his ears were filled with an angry electronic buzz and a pain-filled scream that froze Theron's blood. It was the second time he'd heard a cry like that from someone sitting on a throne, but the previous time had been from the body laying across the room. There had been no time for him to tend to the fallen Empress, and he had been been desperately trying to look anywhere else but the reminder of what could happen to the next person to sit on a throne. The scream cut off with an electric sizzle as if the comm on the far end shorted out.
Theron was already in motion, distant sounds of destruction fading from his awareness, his focus on one thing only.
"Commander, come in—"
It was useless for him to try and use the comm, if it had shorted out on the other end there was no way she would hear him. But the silence in his ear was deafening, and he needed something to drown out the sound of his boots pounding against the pavement and his heart hammering in his ears. Panic tightened around him like a noose pulling taught.
"Please… please say something…"
He was almost outside before the slightly more logical part of his brain broke through his panicked haze and told him there was no way he'd cross the expanse to the super weapon facility on foot in time. He ignored the tiny pessimistic voice whispering that it was probably already too late, and that the dead silence was an indicator of what waited him at his destination.
The silhouette of the powered down Nova Striker greeted him as soon as he got outside. It didn't occur to him to wonder why it was still there waiting for him, just that the giant walker was possibly the most beautiful thing he had ever seen at that moment in time. Not that he cared about the orange and white color scheme, because of course his father had decked out the Republic's newest pride and joy with the colors of Havoc Squad. He just shot out a line from his grapple without a thought, clambering up into the cockpit and pushing the engines as fast as he could toward the transport to the superweapon facility, blood still pounding in his ears.
The cleaner droids that didn't scatter out of his way met with the foot of the Nova Striker. All of the outside forces — Imperial, Republic, and Alliance alike had taken shelter — but the droids didn't have anything to fear from the superweapon. It was probably not the smartest idea for him to be charging through the open like this before anyone gave an all-clear, but Theron wasn't exactly thinking at the moment.
The walker's engines were starting to send out warning signs of overheating just as the superweapon facility came into view. It stomped on one last droid for good measure before Theron powered it down and slid out of the cockpit. He charged through the entrance, nearly tripping on a piece of the destroyed droid on his way there. Fear was dulling his normally powerful survival instincts, but they managed to kick in long enough for him to take a sweeping look at the large open room of the facility.
It was eerily quiet, the only sound the distant crackling of fire left behind from the fleet's bombardment and the sound of sizzling electronics. He climbed the steps leading up to the control dais two-by-two, quickly taking in the charred overloaded consoles lining the room. The extent of the destruction was too much for a simple malfunction, and looked more like some of his own sabotage work from his SIS days. The inkling of a question started to form, piercing through his haze of panic. Something was off about this whole mess, but that moment of clarity was carried away as soon as he laid eyes on the prone figure crumpled on the floor in front of the throne — and his heart stopped.
He closed the distance between them, sliding the last few feet on his knees as he scooped the small figure from the floor into his arms. Her armor was charred and blackened in spots, and patches of exposed skin showed the boiling and puckering of an electric burn.
"No no no no no," he muttered, stripping off a glove and shakily pressing two fingers to the pulse point on her throat. It was thready and faint, but still there. Relief flooded through his veins as his heart started beating again.
"Why do you keep doing this to me?" he asked hoarsely, arms tightening around her unconscious form, briefly bowing his head so that their foreheads barely touched.
His only reply was her shallow, labored breathing. Theron tried to swallow past the lump in his throat, as the mind-numbing panic receded to a more manageable state of heart-pounding worry. He carefully settled her in his lap, trying not to jostle her too much as he pulled out the emergency stash of kolto he always kept on hand. The burns were fairly serious, but it was hard to tell the extent of the damage with the limited equipment he had on hand. He smeared the kolto across the worst of them as gently as he could, but she still seemed to flinch some as the gel touched the wounds. It would take a few minutes for the anesthetic in the kolto to kick in and relieve some of the pain.
"Sorry," he whispered, "just trying to help."
He didn't expect a reply, but talking seemed to help keep him distracted from the swirl of negative thoughts trying to sneak back in. He didn't have time to indulge those, and instead searched the pockets inside his jacket, finding the sterile bandage pack he kept there. He never carried much in the way of first aid supplies, but was starting to think he needed to fix that. At the rate things were going he needed a rolling medical bay and a lifetime supply of hair dye to cover up the gray hairs this woman was giving him on almost a daily basis.
As gently as possible he finished dressing and bandaging the worst of the wounds he could find, but there was no way to know the extent of her injuries without getting her to a medbay. The closest one he knew of was back at the Alliance camp, granted they had weathered the superweapon attack. He started to key his comm to Lana, when he realized that he had never disconnected the previous signal. He killed the dead connection, before quickly dialing in her frequency, waiting several long moments before hearing a chirp on the other end.
"Theron," Lana answered crisply, "there you are. I've been trying to raise you for fifteen minutes—"
"Sorry," he said brusquely, "I had forgotten to… never mind. I'm here now. I take it you all survived things on your end?"
"We did," she said succinctly, "it appears that the Fleet was successful in disabling the superweapon. I was starting to get worried after I couldn't raise you or the Commander."
"Something happened over here." He brushed his fingers through blonde bangs, digits tangling through the sweat soaked hair. "I can't tell what exactly, but every console has overloaded."
"I didn't realize that you had accompanied her to the facility." There was an undercurrent of accusation to Lana's words.
"I made a side trip after the fireworks stopped," he snapped. "Can you make sure a medbay is on standby?"
Lana's brusque tone quietened. "How bad is it?"
He let the fingers tangling through her bangs rest on the Jedi's forehead, heart lurching at the clammy skin meeting his touch. "I don't know. Bad… I think."
"I can send someone there—"
"It'll be faster for us to come to you," he said firmly. "But we should have a team look this place over with a fine tooth comb. Alliance personnel only."
He didn't want any of Malcom's people touching anything without him or Lana's strict supervision.
"What are you saying?"
"I think you were right earlier," he growled, "someone has been playing us. This isn't what happened with Acina — this is sabotage."
Lana was quiet for a few moments, but when she spoke next her voice was tight and controlled, and those who knew her well could hear the suppressed rage threatening to boil to the surface. "I will have a crew there shortly. Will you need an escort to get the Commander back here safely?"
"I have a ride," he returned tightly. "We'll see you soon."
He cut the line, and let his gaze drop to the unconscious woman in his lap. His slapdash first aid work stood out from her pale face, but it was better than staring at the alternative. Her brow scrunched up, but whether it was in pain or something else he couldn't tell. He pressed his lips together, gently running a hand along her jaw, fingers barely ghosting over where the bandages covered the worst of the burns.
"This is probably going to hurt a little," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
She remained silent, which was to be expected, but he wouldn't have minded one bit if she decided to take that moment to open her eyes and make some remark about him fretting needlessly. Gingerly he adjusted his grip so that he had one arm looped under her knees, cradled her head with the other, and pushed himself to his feet. From the screaming muscles in his lower back, he had a feeling he may have pulled something. That was a problem for his future self, as right now he had enough to worry about with the woman in his arms. The rough movement had apparently jostled her injuries, as she let out a soft cry and attempted to curl in on herself.
"It's okay," he murmured absently, "I've got you."
There was no way she could have heard or understood him, clearly still lost in unconsciousness. But still she quietened, even though he felt another tremor of pain roll through her. Her fingers found the shell of his jacket, gripping it tightly as if it were a lifeline as her face buried into the worn red leather. He felt a twinge somewhere deep inside him, a place she only seemed to be able to find without ever needing to look.
A brief, almost overwhelming urge to press his lips against her head nearly overtook him, but his hold on her was too awkward for him to do much more than to pull her a little tighter against him. He tried to ignore the tight feeling in his chest, as well as the sudden lump in his throat that made it hard to swallow as he carefully made his way towards the stairs.
He wanted to get them out of this damn place as fast as possible, the lingering sizzle of destroyed electronics and her occasional muffled unconscious whimper reminding him how close they had cut it this time. But as he looked at the blackened consoles, an odd shape caught his eye this time. He frowned, shuffling closer so he could peer at the blackened electronics.
He'd only had a short time with the consoles in the throne room with Acina, but even with everything charred beyond repair, he could still see the telltale pentagonal shape of an electronic overload charge. An ugly feeling began to rise up inside of him, starting deep in his gut and climbing to his throat, until that curious tightness from a few moments before was completely overtaken by a nearly uncontrollable rage.
It was awkward, ill-advised, and not one of his brighter ideas, but he swung his precious cargo around, one hand holding her tightly while the other blindly reached towards the console and unceremoniously yanked the device from where it had been planted. He pocketed it, and only the soft whimpers of distress cut through the angry haze that had overtaken him.
He murmured another unheard apology, readjusting his grip until she was safely tucked against his chest again. It didn't chase away his rage, just pushed it below the surface where it simmered as he carefully made his way back down the stairs. The slight weight in his pocket, and the even heavier weight in his arms, reminded him with each step why he needed to hold on to it.
Someone out there was going to answer for this.