After finally getting back to the Alliance basecamp, and reluctantly letting the medics take her from his arms, he'd had to wait.
Theron hated waiting normally—but this kind of waiting? Was the worst.
He'd had to wait on the medics as they made their examination. Wait as he overheard the muttered prognosis of third degree burns and severe nerve damage. Wait as she drifted through unconsciousness, first in a kolto tank, and then later on a medical bed. Wait hour after hour staring at her unmoving form, holding her hand, listening to her nightmare mutterings until he had to move away before his rising anger made him do something crazy and drastic.
So while he waited, he did the only thing that he could do. He worked. Taking apart every bit of evidence he could find. Checking every millimeter of the overload charge with a trained eye, trying to find some clue to who had done this.
The carefully disassembled shards of the charge lay discarded on the work table he'd claimed, as he'd moved on to trying to decrypt the transmission that Lana had discovered. The algorithm was one of the most complex pieces of coding he had ever seen. He would have been impressed if it hadn't been used in an attempt to murder the woman he loved.
"Theron—son—maybe you should get some rest."
He had missed when Jace had made his appearance, bent over a data terminal as he picked apart every single piece of evidence. Theron didn't bother looking up from his station. "Go away, Malcom."
"I understand it's been a trying few days, but you—"
"What are you trying to do?" He finally snapped, taking a moment to swap out programs so that the older man couldn't see what he was looking at. "What's your angle here, Malcom?"
"Theron, I've got no angle, I'm just concerned about you—"
"Oh, you're concerned now?" Theron let every ounce of anger he'd been trying to shove away boil to the surface. Not all of it stemmed from the other man, but at the moment he just didn't care anymore. "Because I seem to remember a certain holocall where you all but called me a terrorist and traitor."
"I was just angry. You were throwing away your career, turning your back on the Republic for this—"
The moment Jace's gaze had cut away from Theron to the unconscious Jedi, something in him snapped. "You leave her out of this!"
"Will you let me finish talking?"
"We were done talking when you disowned me for doing the right thing!"
"I did not disown you. You are still my son—"
"Oh, so good standing with the grand old Republic is a requirement for that? Good to know."
"Damn it, Theron, I'm trying here."
"Don't bother. The only father I had died years ago. In the Vesla system."
The imposing figure of the Republic's Supreme Commander seemed to wilt for a second, like he had been punched in the gut. No more words were exchanged—none were needed—and they silently picked opposite sides of the large room to occupy. A familiar spark of guilt began to rise up, but Theron ignored it. There were more important things than half-hearted reunions that were too little and too late.
So he went back to working. To try and keep his mind off the waiting.
By the time the Alliance's Commander had finally stirred, Theron had finished as much digging as he could into the sabotage from where they were. He was going to need the full resources of the base on Odessen to really get to the bottom of this. Lana had kept an eye on the Alliance Commander during her fitful sleep, and it was only when he heard her talking softly did he realize that the Jedi was finally waking up.
There was a part of him that had wanted to pull the damn woman back into his arms and tell her to never do that to him again, but it was neither the time nor the place. So again he waited, as they cut straight into the business of what had brought them to Iokath. Of who had tried to use her as some sort of sacrificial lamb to their metal god of death. As she defied all common sense and started making preparations to go take on the Apocalypse Machine again. Because of course nearly dying once wasn't enough for her.
He waited as Jace came over to congratulate her, and watched the older man like a hawk. Theron didn't really think that he was the one who had set them up—subterfuge and manipulation weren't really his father's style. He was more the blunt instrument of someone else's political machinations. If he wanted someone dead, the Supreme Commander would just order for them to be blown away from orbit rather than weave some complicated web of intrigue.
He even waited as they planned and discussed next steps — both on disabling the superweapon for good and on Theron and Lana's investigation (that would not include dragging every raw recruit through the mud, thank you Lord-of-Paranoia Beniko). But as she and Lana started to leave to make contact with the Scions, he finally had reached the end of his ability to wait.
Theron grabbed her by the overly ornate gauntlet—unable to completely ignore the char mark on it that set his gut roiling again—and dragged her over to a darkened corner. Lana seemed to take the unspoken hint and hastily made her departure. A gentle hand laid on his made him realize that perhaps he was holding on just a little too tightly.
He just looked at her, trying to figure out even where to begin. Her time immersed in the kolto tank had healed the worst of the burns, but the shiny new patches of skin still stood out in stark contrast. He tried to swallow past the sudden lump in his throat, instead glancing down to where she had taken both of his hands between hers.
"Theron," she said gently, "what's bothering you?"
The real words he wanted to say kept getting stuck behind that damn lump, and rather than try to choke them out he just asked tersely. "You're going to be careful, right?"
"Of course I am," she said quietly. "When am I not?"
He speared her with a look then, as if unable to believe she had actually managed to say that with a straight face. He bit back on that response, because he had already waited long enough, he wasn't about to get derailed now by a pointless argument. "Look, I can't stop you, I know that, and I know that if anyone has a chance at beating this thing it's you."
"I…" the words got stuck again and he dropped his eyes, unable to look past all of the burn and scorch marks left by the explosion that had nearly killed her. Just as soon as they got off this mechanized death trap of a world he'd spend the next week buffing that armor clean. So he'd never have to look at a physical reminder of this again.
One of her hands gently cupped his jaw, tilting his head back up so that he would look at her. She didn't bother to hide her concern, brow wrinkled and lips pursed together. He hated seeing that look on her face, and he hated even more being the cause of it. He swallowed once more, managing to force the lump in his throat down enough to form the proper words, but it still came out as a harsh whisper.
"I almost lost you once today—I can't… seeing you on the floor…"
Her anxious expression softened into something akin to regret as her thumb absently traced his jawline. "I'm sorry I put you through that. You know that wasn't my intention."
"I'm going to find whoever did that," he promised, voice rough, "they're not going to get a second chance."
"You almost died because someone out there is trying to play war games—like the galaxy is some giant game of dejarik! Someone we know! And I didn't—"
"Theron," she said more firmly this time, cutting him off as his voice started to rise in volume, "we're going to find them. Together. We'll find justice for the lives that were lost because of this."
"You were almost one of them."
"But I wasn't," she said quietly, "I'm still here."
"I should have seen this coming," he insisted, "you and Lana kept trying to point it out. If I had listened instead of—"
"You're just one man, Theron," she interrupted, "you can't see everything."
"I should have seen this."
She squeezed his hand gently, pulling his focus back to her eyes. "Do you think that I hold you accountable for any of this?"
"Of course not."
"Then why hold yourself up to an impossible standard?"
Because it wasn't about that. The unquenchable anger in his gut didn't really stem from anything he did or didn't do—it was about what he had almost lost today. Even though it was nearing the two year mark from her rescue from Arcann's carbonite chamber, those five years without her still sometimes seemed like more than a bad memory. Like this was the dream, and that was still the reality. The close calls brought all of that back to the forefront, no matter how much he tried to push them away.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, "you know I'm no good at this sort of thing."
Her eyes crinkled up with a smile that was a mix of both fondness and a hint of wistful reproach before she pulled him into an embrace. He wrapped his arms around her as she leaned in, head tucked under his chin so her hair tickled at his neck. For just a small moment, he let it all fade away—his anger at being manipulated into this situation, his guilt for not seeing it coming, the super weapon that still threatened everyone, even the traitor who had all led them here in the first place—and he just let the feeling of her wash over him. Her warmth and calm had a way of sweeping over him and carrying everything away.
He hated to have the moment end, but when his eye caught the large imposing figure standing at the large window, he realized he couldn't let himself get carried away. Reluctantly he pulled away, hating that just the sight of his father had chased away that elusive, fleeting calm that she brought with her wherever she went.
"You still have to save the galaxy," he said roughly, "don't let me keep you."
Perhaps had this been earlier on in their relationship, she might have taken the invitation to leave. But after all they had been through, she had gotten as good at reading between the lines at him. "I'm sensing there's something else you haven't mentioned."
In his long career as an intelligence agent, Theron had taken particular care to keep as many people at arms length as possible. Some had slipped through the cracks, that was inevitable, but as a general rule someone being able to know him well enough to get a read on him was bad business (not to mention dangerous for his health). He'd only begun to appreciate her flair for it after the whole mess with the Revanites — although generally it was quieter moments, like being pulled away from a data terminal if he lost track of time, or having a muffin shoved in his hand when he forgot to eat.
This was not one of those moments, and he felt a flare of irritation at her reading his tension as plainly as she would a book.
"It's nothing," he said quietly, carefully choosing a spot behind her to stare at. With her it was easier to mask the truth if he didn't have to look her in the eye. But apparently she had gotten wise to that particular tactic, because she tilted her head to the side and caught his gaze square-on.
"Theron." Her voice dropped another level, almost as if she was trying to calm a spooked animal. It might have been insulting if it wasn't so damn effective. "What is it?"
No matter what they did behind closed doors, some things were still inappropriate for him to ask in front of others. The darkened corner offered the semblance of privacy, but the last thing they needed after everything that happened was someone overhearing him questioning the possibly galaxy altering decision she had made earlier. Still, even such propriety seemed to hold less sway over him under the weight of her concerned gaze.
"I shouldn't ask," he whispered so quietly, she probably had to strain to hear, "but I can't help but wonder… why…"
He trailed off, acutely aware of the absurdity of him asking such a personal question so openly. His gaze slipped from hers, briefly catching the tall silhouette of his father by the window before he returned to look at her. It was a small slip, but telling enough in itself. Her eyes widened ever-so-slightly in understanding, and it was her who looked away this time.
"Sorry," he said quickly, "I shouldn't have said anything. You don't need to—"
"No," her voice was still quiet, but she grabbed his hand, fingers slightly curling around his, "I want everyone to be able to express themselves."
"That's not how the chain of command works," he reminded her quietly.
"This is not a dictatorship," she said with a little more conviction, "everyone is allowed to and should have their own opinions."
He gave her fingers a soft squeeze. "That's not what I mean. Sometimes the illusion of an undivided front is better, especially with…"
His thoughts immediately returned to the traitor that had put them all in this situation. Her fingers twitched against his, pulling him back before he started to dwell on those dark thoughts. He looked up to her searching expression and he let out a long breath.
"Ask me," she prompted quietly. "Please."
"Why'd you choose the Republic?" His voice was barely a whisper, hardly audible to even her ears.
"I didn't want to," she said, and when he narrowed an eyebrow, she added, "I didn't want to choose."
"But you did."
"Yes," she swallowed, glancing away, "but it seemed to go against what we were trying to build with the Alliance. Maybe it was arrogant to think we'd be able to bridge the differences between the Empire and Republic and finally find peace when so many had already failed."
"Do you really think that?"
"I don't know," she said quietly, "everything happened so quickly. I haven't had much time to reflect on my decision."
Theron noticed that she hadn't actually answered his question, and instead had deflected with a different answer. He knew exactly where she had learned that sort of tactic, and wondered exactly what other bad habits she had picked up from him. "I always thought you were the more forward thinker out of the two of us."
"That's because you shortchange yourself too much." Her brow furrowed at him ever so slightly in consternation. "But in this case, you are correct. I'm afraid I didn't weigh both sides as carefully as I should have."
"It's obviously not something I'm familiar with, but if you looked to the Force for guidance—"
"Maybe I should have. But I didn't." She pursed her lips together, head shaking ever so slightly as her eyes dropped down to their lightly intertwined fingers. It wasn't often that she was more at a loss for words than him. Her fingers curled around his palm, and slowly she guided it up until his hand rested lightly over her heart. When she lifted her gaze back to look at him, there was a slight shimmer behind her eyes. "I was guided by this."
"You did serve the Republic for—"
"No, I didn't choose them." She pressed his hand to her chest for emphasis, as if willing him to understand.
He sucked in a breath, finding it hard to swallow past the sudden lump in his throat. "You… you didn't have to do that."
"Yes, I did." She sounded like she had never been more sure of anything in her life. "I don't know Malcom as well as you, but… when I did work with him, he didn't always seem very reasonable when it came to the Empire."
Theron nodded mutely.
"I know I should have tried harder to find a way to make peace. Make them find common ground instead of choosing, but…" Her eyes dropped to his hand still held against her beating heart. "I couldn't think. I just kept imagining you being forced into a situation where you'd have to fight him. Where you'd be forced to choose between your father or m…"
She trailed off, not able to finish the sentence. Her fingers loosened from his palm, dropping back down to her side. Instead of letting his hand fall as well, he gently grasped her chin and gave it a soft nudge so she would look back at him. The shimmer in her eyes was still there, and he felt something inside of him break just a little.
"I know that's no way to run anything," she whispered. "A proper Jedi wouldn't make selfish decisions like that."
"That's not the definition of selfish." He forced his suddenly thick tongue to form words.
"I don't think Lana would agree."
"She'll get past it." He threaded his fingers with hers. "We're all in this for the long haul."
"A few years ago, I never thought I'd hear you say that," she admitted quietly.
"Time has a way of changing things."
"It does." An emotion flashed across her expression. Something akin to regret, but more nuanced than that. He couldn't quite put his finger on the right word. "I would like to say that a few years ago I would have thought more, reacted less."
"Were I in the same position, I think I would have made the same decision," she said softly, "for the same reason. He's your father, Theron."
"I don't care."
"Yes, you do," she gave his fingers a squeeze, "or you wouldn't be so angry with him."
His jaw shut with a click and he looked away, glaring silently at the ground. Damn if she wasn't right about that.
"Whatever happened between you two, he's still your family."
He snorted derisively at that, but looked up at her, surprised to see that she was still looking at him with the same soft expression and watery eyes instead of a disapproving gaze at his dismissal of the supposed familial bond between him and Jace.
"It'd be wrong to make you choose between that or me," she said with conviction. "I would never ask that of you."
"You never have to ask." His voice cracked, and he used their intertwined fingers to raise her hand, mimicking her action from before and guiding it to rest on his chest. "I'd follow you to the edge of the galaxy and beyond."
The shimmer finally broke into a trickle down her cheek, but before he could reach up to wipe it away, she crossed the small distance, pressing herself against him and trapping their hands where they lay against his heart. Her lips found his, and the rest of the world faded away as he kissed her like a man dying of thirst who had finally found an oasis.
Had Theron looked up, he might have noticed that the attention of the tall figure at the window had drifted from the expanse of Iokath over to the darkened corner. Just from observing, it would be impossible to tell what lay behind Jace's conflicted, wistful expression. It could have just been due to the strained and nearly broken relationship with his son. Or perhaps he was glimpsing a bit of his own history replaying before his eyes, except with different decisions made this time around.
But Theron didn't notice.
He had already chosen his path in life, and was going to follow it wherever it led.