The Exile

I run. I feel the pounding of my heart and the burn of my muscles.

I feel… pain.

I run with no conscience choice.

Am I running away from something or to something?

I… I can't remember.

I stumble and falter.

In my head a voice arises from the constant roar of the dying planet… Come on, Baby! Move that tight little ass!

My mind latches onto the voice… Who…? I remember… dark hair curling softly… deep brown eyes that sparkle with inner mirth… strong hands… cards? Atton? Where are you?

Here, Doll-face! Here!

I run.

Another voice surfaces from the tangle, this one calm, clipped and mater-of-fact… Take from us, Master. Draw on our power. This voice is followed quickly by a soft, gentle feminine voice… My life for yours, Mistress. Take. And then another feminine voice, this one full of vitality and spunk… Now is not the time to be squeamish, Girlfriend!

I open myself and… take, but it isn't enough. Too late… too late… too late…, my mind whispers as my pace slows to a drunken stumble.

One last voice rises… this one full of anguish and fear… General? Please!

With this added voice and power, I reach down and find their strength and… I run. I run to my friends… my students.

I reach the ship just as the shaking of the planet reaches a feverish pitch. I vault up the closing ramp to the ship… my momentum carrying me up the ramp and around the first bend in the passageway. As the ship surges forward with such a force that the environmentals can't keep up, I am thrown back against the bulkhead. I welcome the pain from my bruised and battered body. The pain keeps me from feeling fully the ripping… the explosion… at the center of my being that seems to be mirroring the ultimate destruction of Malachor V. I can't think of what that means right now. I don't have the strength to delve into my connection with this dead world… what its destruction will mean for me. Suddenly the pain is gone… soothed away by a pure and cooling emotion. Love? Understanding? I search for the originator of this emotion, but am just too exhausted. I exhale into this blessed painlessness.

The environmentals finally adjust for our momentum and I slide bonelessly down the bulkhead to sit on the floor of the craft… my knees bent in front of me. In exhaustion, my head falls forward and rests on my knees. So tired.

"Girl! You look like poo-doo. We need to get you pulled together before you see the guys. And let me tell you… those men all have their Jedi undies in a bundle. I don't know how you've done it…" As she stands over me and rambles on about what she would've done to attract the attentions of so many varied men, I can't help but remember Kreia's predictions for Mira. Death on a unknown planet that wins her nothing… a senseless end to this vivacious young woman with so much potential… so much to give. I close my eyes and allow myself to feel the pain that her death will bring.

"… everyone that is except that Mandalore. Now there is a man's man! I don't mind telling you that I wouldn't mind getting that one out of his armor." I open my eyes and smile faintly at this comment. It is then that I notice the strain around her eyes.

"You don't look so good yourself, Mira."

She stops babbling suddenly and sobers up. "Yeah… well… I was… umm… busy taking care of some unfinished business while you were battling the wicked witch of the Sith. Damn this whole Jedi-mercy thing anyway!" She sighs and then smiles wryly. "Let's just say that I learned that lesson too well and it may come and bite us in the backside before this whole business is said and done."

We consider each other for a moment or two. Mira is obviously uncomfortable still with this level of sharing although she has come a long way from the aloof Bounty Hunter that I met on Nar Shadda.

"I… I am going to get the Disciple, I think. You are going to need a little of his attentions." She laughs breaking the mood that had fallen over us. "Hell! So could I!" She winks and turns to leave, passing Atton in the hallway.

"No need to get Mr. Obvious, Mira. I brought a healing kit," he says. She continues to walk, ignoring him completely. "Mira? Did you hear me? I have a … kit." He looks back in my direction. "I get the feeling that she doesn't like me very much."

"That's because you two are too much a like."

"Ya' think?" He asks, looking back where she has disappeared around the corner. He turns back to me and his brows knit together. "You look like poo-doo, Baby."

I can't help but laugh, but the pain breaks through as I do so. I wince. "Ooo. So, I've been told. Hey? Try not to make me laugh. It hurts when I do."

"Well… there goes more than half of my charming conversation options." He smiles that lopsided grin at me that never before had failed to make my heart flip-flop. He begins to run his hands over my body as best he can while kneeling in front of my still curled up form. All business now, he mutters, "Nothing too seriously hurt."

It is then that he becomes aware of the intimate movements of his strong, dexterous hands. He clears his throat. "Do you think you can stand… perhaps with the help of a strong, handsome Jedi-in-training, Champion Pazzak Player and All-Around Helpful Guy?" Again that smile.

I can't help but smile back and he gently helps me to my feet. My knees buckle under me and I would've fallen, but Atton puts one strong arm down around my waist and the other behind my shoulders. "I've got you, Sweet Thing. Lean on me," he says softly… intimately.

It is then that my mind reaches for his… Use this card to flip the signs… 20… pure Pazzak. The last feels like the most intimate of caresses along my mind. I see his smile widen as his eyes move from my eyes to my lips. I move into him and our lips meet.

The kiss opens his mind fully to mine… I see… myself… in his arms, but it is the past that I see. We are skin to skin… my naked breasts pressed to his bare chest… my head is thrown back in ecstasy… my lips parted… my eyes closed. The scene in his mind changes… swirls. My eyes are open now, but they are not the brown of my eyes. They are a striking blue. My hair… in its no-frills black bob, becomes shining blonde set in intricate braids and twists. Atton's hand at my throat is no longer a lover's caress but is now white knuckled with tension… with power as he grips tighter and tighter.

I break away from him in a gasp at the stunning recognition of what I was seeing… reliving through Atton's eyes. No longer one of the few, intimate encounters that he and I had stolen time for in our journeys together, but the murder of that nameless Jedi that he had told me of. Shocked, I can do nothing but blink up at him as the pain crosses over his face… his eyes tightly closed.

He opens them slowly and smiles sadly. The look on his face breaks my heart.

"It's no use, isn't it?" His voice is no more than a whisper of pain.

I shake my head slowly, still unable to answer, my hands unconsciously rubbing my throat. How many times had he relived this moment while with me? I shudder.

He leans forward, placing his hands… that can be so tender and have been so deadly… on either side of my face and he rests his forehead to mine. "I have a lot of things that I need to work out… before… before I am going to be ready to give of myself as you need… as you deserve, sweetheart." He whispers hoarsely. He gives a short, mirthless laugh. "I really am a fool."

Kreia's words come back to me in a flash… He is a fool… he has nothing for you! She had left out the why. Atton had nothing for me because he had yet to forgive himself for his own past.

We stand there… frozen… silently grieving… for what seems an eternity.

Someone politely clears their throat to announce their presence… the Disciple.

Atton laughs again and whispers in my ear, "I hate to admit, but Junior is a much better choice." He kisses my cheek and then walks away without looking back. He stops as he comes shoulder to shoulder with the Disciple. Without turning his head, he says sadly, "Take care of her, Kid." And then walks away.

The Disciple looks briefly at Atton and back to me. "He doesn't understand, does he?"

I raise my eye brows in question, too tired to play guessing games.

Walking to me with his ever polite smile glued to his face, the Disciple continues, "He doesn't understand… you and me. In his experience all male/female relationships are sexual. He does not understand that the love I feel for you is one founded in respect and admiration. That the ultimate expression of that love does not involve our physical bodies, but rather me passing on the knowledge that you have gifted me with. That is beyond our Mr. Rand. But… you knew that. Just as you knew that the emotion… the love… that has helped you cope with the loss of the part of you that was Malachor V, did not come from either Atton or myself."

"But… but…," I begin, but can't seem to finish.

"Who then?" He smiles softly. "Do you need my help in learning this lesson, Master?" Reaching out his hand he grasps mine in his cool, smooth one. "Just as we used to meditate together, my Master, see our world through my eyes."

We close our eyes and open our minds, just as we used to when meditating, and I see the occupants of the ship with his Force eyes overlaid with my own senses. At all points, our vision crosses and, with small discrepancies, sense the same things from all of our comrades… save one. I can only see the occupant of the main cargo bay with my own senses. The bright glow that I sense there is blank in the Disciple's mind.

"I don't…"

"… understand?" He finishes for me. "Don't you?" With that he smiles widely and gives me a gentle push in the direction of the bay.

As I walk down the halls to the bay, I remember Kreia's predictions for the Disciple and am satisfied. He will serve the Jedi well.

And I wonder again why no one but I could sense the power… the Force… that was our ship's mechanic. Not Kreia… not the Disciple… only me. It seems that he was only for me… for me… for… me.

The Iridonian is bent over his worktable. He is mumbling softly as his arms flex and move… his hands working slowly and deftly. I cock my head to the side and see his little remote spread out on the surface in several charred pieces. Even though I can't hear his words, I can feel that he is speaking in reassuring tones to the little droid, even though it could not hear him.

How many times have I seen him in this exact same position? Wasn't it several months before I actually had seen his face, back when we both served under Revan during the Mandalorian War. I would feel someone's eyes on me… I would feel something that I could never put my finger on… but when I turned around, I would see just this… a horned head bent over a worktable or fiddling in an access panel of a droid. It seemed so silly at the time, but I had kept the tech in my personal command during the whole war, because I just felt that all would be well as long as he was near. I had even flirted outrageously, but he never responded in kind. I sigh. Well… maybe outrageously is a bit of stretch. I wince. Okay… flirting is probably a stretch, too. Though at the time I felt like I was shouting, "Take me now… take me hard, big boy!" every time I held his gaze just a moment longer than was necessary or asked for him by name whenever I needed a tech. I shake my head and admit that even though I was a born leader… commander… I was never good at this whole interpersonal relationship shit. I blow out a breath in embarrassment. If I hadn't found Atton wearing nothing but that smile sitting cross-legged in my bunk playing both hands of Pazzak, I never would have…

"General? You are… well?"

My eyes snap up. He is standing by the worktable, wiping his hands on a rag, his eyes full of concern… and… something else… something more?

I start to say that I feel much like I must look, but stop myself as I notice that I feel… warm… safe. I feel… loved?

I smile. "I am well… now."

I cross the distance between us, watching his eyes closely. I stop in front of him, a hand span between us. It is now or never… take a chance!

My hand reaches out as if on its own. I watch it as my fingers touch the front of his shirt at waist level. I hear his intake of breath and my eyes snap to his. The desire that I see there emboldens me and I smile with this new found power… the power to make a grown man shudder.

My fingers play up along the plain of his taught belly. My palm slides up to rest between the curves of his chest muscles. I can feel his heart beating… fast. I sneak a look up at his face. His eyes are closed… his head tipped slightly back. My hand moves again up and over his shoulder. I caress his bicep and can't help but purr with satisfaction at the strength that I feel there. My hand stops as it comes to the metal cuff of his cybernetic arm. I can feel his eyes on me now. I take a deep breath and move the hand down to touch the glowing blue of his arm. I chuckle on a sigh as I feel the tiny pin-pricks of energy tickle the skin of my palm.

"I had wondered about that," I muse.

I finally bring my hand down to take his. I look up at him and notice that he is still holding his breath. I laugh, drunk with power.

"Breathe… just breathe."

His voice sounds strangled as he gasps, "It isn't as easy as you would think."

I laugh again and then gasp as he reaches his free-hand out to run up my body, mirroring my earlier journey. I watch his callused palm make its way up my body to cup my breast. My eyes widen and then drift closed as his thumb moves slowly back and forth over my nipple.

It is his turn to laugh, low and deep… a sound that I feel low and deep in my body. He moves his hand to take my free hand, but I move it away.

"I can top that." My voice sounds a bit breathy, but I steel myself as I once again place my hand at his waist, but this time I begin to move downward…

He lets out a very un-manly squeak and catches my wondering hand firmly in his much larger one. "You win," he chokes out.

"I do," I say lifting one eyebrow. "Do I get to pick my prize?"

I rise up on my toes and wind my hands behind his neck, pulling him down to my questing lips. We kiss… tasting each other for the first time. It is sweet and I feel close to uncharacteristic tears, though I am not quite sure why.

I rest my head on his chest and sigh, blinking the traitorous tears from my eyes.

Clearing my throat, I ask, "Why didn't you tell me?"

"And order the General to my bed?"

I laugh.

"Bao-Dur?"

"Yes, General?"

"Take me to your bed."

"Yes, General."