Disclaimer: Don't own it, never will, 'nuff said.
Further Disclaimer: This fic is part cut-scene, part KotOR II, and part creative liberty. Events from the game portrayed here are not necessarily in order, nor did some of them ever actually happen and that's entirely intentional. Also, although the Exile in this one is Dane Koren, this fic, is not part of the Resolutions time line. Dane's been with me for so long, I can't imagine writing another Exile, so it had to be her. So no character from Res is going to remember any of this if you ask them. ;)
And lastly, this fic is written for, inspired by, and dedicated to Miss Becky--a great writer and a good friend.
Atton Rand heard the Twi'lek's scream of pain, followed by a thump and a crunch of broken glass. He peered over the wreckage of the table—his shelter from the attack—and glanced quickly around the cantina. It was in shambles. Tables were overturned as its patrons had ducked for cover when the battle ensued. Shattered glass littered the floor as bottles and mugs had exploded with blasterfire. There were stains on the dirty carpet as well, some wine and liquor, some blood. Some his own.
Atton paused a moment to catch his breath. But only a minute. Have to find Dane, have to warn her… He heard movements and shaken whispers as the cantina slowly came back to life. Patrons were emerging from their hiding places and the bartender was beginning to mutter complaints about the damage. Slowly, still-smoking blaster leading, Atton rose carefully from behind the table he had ducked behind to exchange fire with the Twin Suns. The Twi'leks lay in a tangle together across the room, motionless and bloody. Sorry, ladies, he thought. He took an inventory of himself and then decided he wasn't sorry at all.
The table he had taken shelter behind was scorched in a dozen different places and Atton was amazed it had protected him as well as it had. He hadn't escaped unscathed, however—his arm was on fire at the right shoulder where one of the Twi'lek bounty hunters had hit her mark, as was his left shoulder blade. One of the Twin Suns—he didn't know who and it didn't really matter anyway—had struck him with her blaster as he dove for cover behind that table. I've had worse, he thought. Then he took a step and nearly toppled over.
"Dammit!" he swore, glancing down at his leg where a river of blood stained his pants and dripped into his boot. His trousers were shredded and Atton had to waste a few precious moments pulling jagged blades of glass out of his knee. He remembered vaguely that at some point in the battle that had raged all over the cantina—and had, at more than one time, seemed unwinnable—diving onto a nest of shattered glass. But there was no time to worry about it now. He now knew Dane was walking straight into a giant trap and Atton was suddenly filled with a kind of panic for her safety. Why should I bother chasing her down? Why should I care? She's a Jedi, she can take it, Atton thought…and then hurried through the wreckage of the cantina and out into the hall as fast as his injuries would allow.
He limped out of the cantina, leaving the bartender calling after him angrily and the Twin Suns lying on the floor. In his mad rush to find Dane, he hadn't checked to make sure they were dead…
Atton raced out of the Entertainment Promenade and out towards the refugee sector. He nearly became lost in the maze of docks and gray-slab structures that looked entirely the same to him. But this was Nar Shaddaa and Atton wasn't about to get lost on the Smuggler's Moon. And if he did, his knee was leaking blood behind him, leaving a grisly trail he could follow back. Atton got his bearings and found the glowing red and orange neon that marked the entrance to the Jekk'Jekk Tarr bar.
There was no helpful Trandoshan—or anyone else—to warn Atton and so he plunged headlong into short hallway. Dane had gone inside, that was all he knew and, without thinking, he followed after.
The scene before him was starting to become a common one—a wrecked cantina littered with glass and overturned furniture. Only this room was littered with bodies of the dead as well. Lots of bodies. Apparently, Dane had had to fight her way through every scumbucket alien that frequented the joint in order to get to wherever it was she was going. Atton peered hurriedly through the dim room for some sign of her, though the green-tinted air hampered his vision. It smells funny in here too…like rotten things…he thought and then he remembered that Nar Shaddaa catered to the vices and needs of all manner of aliens. He had heard about gas bars where races born of planets with foul and fetid air could come to get a whiff of their homeland's often poisonous atmosphere. Too late, Atton discovered he had stumbled right into one. But instead of turning right around and escaping the noxious fumes, Atton's next thought was that Dane had come in here too.
Images of the Jedi lying on the ground somewhere amidst the bodies of her victims, suffocating on poisoned air, filled Atton's head. He pressed his mouth and nose into the crook of his arm and took a few steps into the room, searching among the bodies for a glint of white-blond hair. His eyes began to water furiously and the hand that gripped his blaster began to shake violently. He dropped the weapon and then dropped to his knees. His right one screamed but the pain came from far away. Apparently I haven't gotten all the glass out, he thought airily. Another thought, this one much colder, spoke up. You've just killed yourself for that woman… for a Jedi. The thought was his last coherent one as Atton's lungs burned and constricted against the onslaught of half a dozen different alien gases.
Atton pitched forward onto the ground, his face smacking the dirty floor with a loud thud. His instinct to survive was frantically urging him to get up and get out, that the door was only a few meters away. Atton raised his head. He was vaguely aware that there was some sort of wetness coming from his mouth, his nose, and—most upsetting—his eyes. He wiped a hand over his face, trying to clear his rapidly dimming vision and saw what he thought might be the door out of the bar. With tremendous effort, Atton hauled himself forward but a shudder wracked him then, bringing with it an amount of pain he hadn't thought one man's body could sustain. An inhuman scream flecked with blood escaped him and curled into the fetal position, his limbs trembling as the poisons of the Jekk'Jekk Tarr worked through him…
Fassa watched with bemused curiosity as a human male, dragging a bloody leg, walked straight in to the Jekk'Jekk Tarr without even a rebreather mask. The Twi'lek waited a moment, anticipating the humor of the man stumbling right back out once he'd gotten a taste of the bar's aromatic atmosphere. One minute passed… then two. Fassa furrowed his brow ridges. He wasn't a particularly heroic Twi'lek, but he wasn't an indifferent one either. He jogged quickly down to the bar's doors, took a deep breath and stepped inside. A minute later he dragged out the body of the human. Fassa hadn't really expected the man to be alive—not after at least five full minutes of breathing Jekk'Jekk Tarr's venomous air—but the human, curled in a rigid ball, twitched every now and then and the Twi'lek was glad his charity had not been for nothing.
"You don't look so good," he told the human in his own tongue, taking in deep gusts of fresh air for himself. "I suppose now I'm going to have to find your friends…can't have you die right here on my dock," and the Twi'lek wandered off, leaving Atton curled on the cold pavement.
The Ebon Hawk
Dane walked wearily down the gangway toward the Ebon Hawk. She knew she should hurry, that she should get off this rock of a moon as quickly as possible, but she was having a hard time mustering the strength. It had taken tremendous amounts of concentration and will to maintain her body without air, using the Force. Kreia had made it sound an easy trick, but after the fighting every last alien in the Jekk'Jekk Tarr, then a mad dash down the maze behind it, more fighting, and then her confrontation with the Quarren Visquis…Dane was just plain worn out. However, when she saw Bao-Dur waiting for her outside the ramp to the Hawk, Dane knew instantly that something was wrong and she found the strength to run.
"What is it? What's wrong?" she demanded, giving the Zabrak a once-over, assessing for injuries. "You've seen battle," she said, noting a blaster scorch across the right side of her friend's neck.
"Yes, General," Bao-Dur replied. "Duros—a small gang of them, but they're gone now. And it is not me that needs tending too," he added, his eyes darkening.
"Who does?" Dane whispered, though somehow she already knew the answer.
"Atton is very bad off, General," Bao-Dur said.
"For fighting a few Duros?" she asked, not wanting to absorb her friend's words entirely.
"No, General. Come, we must hurry," he said and beckoned for her to board the ship. "He wants to say goodbye to you."
Dane's eyes widened in alarm and her heart began to pound dully against her chest. How can this be? He was fine an hour ago when he followed me out to wish me luck. He was fine… Hot tears came to here eyes, and she was taken aback by the ferocity of her emotions. She began to run and the Zabrak followed after, explaining to her what had happened.
"He went into the Jekk'Jekk Tarr?" Dane asked, as they arrived in the main hold of the ship. "Why would he do that? Why…?" The Jedi forced herself to take a deep breath and calm herself. The combination of Atton's condition and her powerful emotions in response was making her frantic. She opened her eyes and saw Bao-Dur smiling gently at her.
"He's in there."
The hallway to the port dormitory was lined with people and droids. Mandalore, Disciple, HK and T3 lined the corridor like solemn sentries. They said nothing to her, though T3 hooted mournfully. Dane, her heart in her throat, heard Atton before she saw him—his tortured gasps for breath ran like a hissing undercurrent below the soothing words of Visas and the cold tones of Kreia. Dane entered the room and the women went silent though the Exile hardly knew they were there. All she could see was Atton.
The pilot lay on one of the cots—or rather, he writhed on one of them. His back arched as spasms wracked his body. His hands clutched and released the bedsheets that were stained with his blood, again and again. Dane's awareness told her that he was trying to suck in air but his lungs were closed and so he only gasped fruitlessly, taking in tiny amounts of the air he needed. But worse than the convulsions, worse than the bloody mess that was his knee, was Atton's face.
Dear god, what happened to my Atton, Dane thought. She had never thought of him a hers before, but she didn't stop to ponder it. All she could see was the twisted visage of the man who was, in life, very handsome.
Atton's face was a sickly shade of yellow. Around his eyes, lips, and nose were mottled green stains where the poison had seeped in. His cheeks were gaunt and shadowed and when he opened his eyes, Dane nearly screamed. His beautiful gray-green eyes were now a clouded yellow streaked with red. She had never seen anyone's eyes as bloodshot as his and she wondered sickly if he were blind.
Dane knelt swiftly beside him and took his hand in hers. She channeled the Force—as much of it as she could—and sent it into Atton's tortured body. Instantly, his spasms relented enough so that only his limbs twitched violently every few moments instead of the sustained convulsions of before. His hyperventilating eased a bit as well and she felt him take a few stronger gasps of air. He moaned pitifully and Dane feared that what she had been able to do was not nearly enough.
Anger like she had not felt in a long time coursed through her and she rounded on Kreia. The old woman was standing off to the side, watching with those hooded, glassy eyes of hers. Visas, who had been tending Atton, stepped lightly out of the room.
"Why didn't you help him?" Dane demanded.
"I did," the old woman replied simply. "You were not here when he was first brought in. You did not see him then, vomiting his own blood and shaking as though his bones would break."
Dane swallowed hard as tears sprung to her eyes. "Is there nothing more we can do? He won't survive this…" she whispered, her eyes straying to Atton suffering on the cot beside her.
"Mind your emotions, girl," Kreia said in that lecturing tone Dane had come to know all too well and one that she thought was terribly out of place just then. "You feel something for the pilot, I know. A stirring in your heart for the fool who ran blindly into a den of poison…because of you. Yes, he was trying to warn you," Kreia said, answering Dane's surprised expression. "I know, I felt him as his shriveled and blackened little heart cried out for you. And he ran after you, to save you like the hero he is," she muttered with obvious sarcasm. "Him? Save you?" she said with derisive laughter that was gone as quickly as it had come. "The result of his attempt is not at all surprising…at least not to me."
Kreia made for the door of the dormitory, her Jedi robes trailing after her. "Mind my words, Exile. Forget any notions of altruism and bravado on his part. He is trying too little, too late to make up for his crimes. He is not capable of love and you are in no position to offer yours to anyone. If you wish to be merciful, end him, and let us find another pilot to fly this ship."
And with those words, Kreia was gone, leaving Dane to stare slack-jawed after her. She did not understand much of what the old woman had said. Blackened and shriveled heart…not capable of love…trying to make up for his crimes…Dane shook her head as though to clear and brushed away the cold, cruel words of her master. She turned to Atton, the Force already called and ready, and then stopped short as she saw he was watching her.
His breath was coming in short, staccato gasps but he was breathing. His eyes, horribly yellow ad streaked with blood found hers and then he raised a shaking hand to touch her face.
"Rest, Atton," Dane whispered, taking the hand that touched her and holding it tightly in both of hers. "I will help you."
"No," Atton croaked, his voice a hoarse and tortured facsimile of what it once was. "You… can't help me," he said between gasps of air. "I am…a…fool…like that old…hag said."
Dane shook her head. "No, you are not. Don't listen to one word of it. Not one, okay?"
Atton smiled weakly and then cried out as a shudder wracked his body. "Get out…" he cried. "Go… I don't…want you to see me…like this. I don't want to die…in front of you."
Dane's eyes filled tears. "You are not going to die," she said, and channeled the Force again. She saw the rigidity of his muscles ease a bit, but his breathing was as labored as ever, and Dane realized he was dying. I can't help him… she thought miserably and her heart ached more than she had thought it would for the loss of her Atton.
"I have to…tell you something," Atton struggled, visibly frustrated at his weakness. "What that hag said…it is true. Crimes…my crimes…"
"No," Dane shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. "She is cruel—"
"Please," Atton pleaded, his hand in hers tightening and his stained eyes boring intently into hers. "I have… to tell you. I won't die…without you knowing. I've kept it from you…for so long. Can't do it …anymore. I won't go…until you know the truth."
Dane ceased to protest. He wanted—he needed to tell her this—and even if it sucked away the last of his energy, she would let him do it. He is seeking peace…she thought once, and then listened as Atton, struggling through pain on every word, began to speak…
Jaq "The Rat" Attarand sat at the bar in the dingy cantina on some backwater, Outer Rim world drinking a whiskey from a filthy glass. His partners, Tor Marbo and Jed Kalbin were out on the hunt. Jaq scoffed and took a swig of his drink. For three days they had searched for the Jedi they were meant to capture and for three days their searching had been fruitless. Both Tor and Jed were of the mindset to stalk every last inch of the gods'-forsaken hunk of rock, blasters in hand, until they found their quarry. Jaq, after the first day, knew it wasn't going to work like that. This Jedi, whoever he or she was, was going to make themselves known to him…if he was patient. Jaq had tried to explain that to his fellows, but, with their orders clear and the wrath of their superior officer looming if they failed, Jed and Tor had ignored him. "The Rat thinks he can sniff out the Jedi on his own," they had taunted.
"Haven't failed yet," Jaq had returned, and it was true. His job was to hunt and kill Jedi—and he was very good at his job.
Only this time, Jaq thought with an impatient grunt as he swigged his whiskey, the mission was to capture, not kill. What is the point in that, he wondered. To his thinking, the only good Jedi was a dead one.
An hour passed and still his companions had not returned. Jaq remained where he was, at the bar, and got drunker and drunker. It wasn't in his best interests to lose control like that, but one night, he thought, wouldn't kill him.
He noticed a woman sitting at the other end of the bar. The cantina was small and dimly lit, but he could see even with his blurry vision getting worse by the minute, that she was beautiful. And she was looking at him intently.
She had thick auburn hair tied loosely at her neck and vibrant green eyes. She wore a battered and dirtied flight suit that marked her as one of the hundreds of spacers that made pit stops at no-name heaps of rock like this one every night. Now Jaq truly wished he wasn't as drunk as he was…his skills with women were sharply honed—sober or not—but it would be much easier for him to end the night with this woman in his bed if he could manage to string two words together without slurring. Or falling over, he thought as he picked up his drink and made to join her on her end of the bar. To his surprise, the woman motioned for him to stay where he was, and she picked up her own drink and came towards him.
"Hi," she said in a tone that was almost self-assured and bold, if not for the tiny undercurrent of hesitation that ran beneath it. She sat down beside him. "This place is usually filled with Trandoshans and Bith…it's nice to see a human face…and a very handsome one at that."
Jaq raised an eyebrow. "Is that a fact?" he said without slurring. The woman's approach had sobered him enough that he was confident he wouldn't make an ass of himself. "And how did you end up here?" he asked. "If I am a welcome sight, you must be a mirage." Easy, now, he scolded himself. Don't lay it on so thick…But the woman didn't seem to mind. She smiled and looked down at the bar, making little circles out of the moisture her drink made on the rough wood.
"It's not important," she said. "Can we go somewhere…and talk?"
Jaq had heard that line—he had used that line himself a hundred times, always, of course, without the intention of doing too much talking at all. But a closer inspection of the woman's face told him she wasn't speaking metaphorically. That didn't bother Jaq either. She would come around. They always did.
"Sure," Jaq said. "What's your name?"
The woman foundered for a moment and then shook her head. "That's not important either. Just…come with me, please?"
Jaq shrugged. Why not? His companions weren't due to return from their fruitless hunt for another couple of hours…Jaq had plenty of time to talk to this woman with her green eyes like emeralds.
"You have a place?" Jaq asked. He couldn't very well take her to his dingy room. Evidence of his mission—weapons, vials of poison and the like were stashed there and although he would never be stupid enough to bring his uniform on a job, he knew the whole room screamed Sith.
"I do," the woman replied. "Come, its.."
Before she could continue, the door to the cantina slid open slowly on rusted grooves and Tor and Jed stormed in. Jaq, somehow, felt their anger and frustration as, once again, their search had turned up nothing. Their eyes found his and they made their way to the bar, their blasters in plain view. They stopped when they saw the woman beside him and she saw them. Tor and Jed eyed her with suspicion and the woman trembled for a brief moment. Then, before he knew what was happening, the woman threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.
The kiss took his breath away—partly because he hadn't been expecting it, and partly because of the lust it awakened in him. He returned it ardently, wrapping his arms around her, entwining his hands in her hair, and working his mouth over hers. She returned the kiss just as passionately, neither of them mindful of the stares and snickers they received form the other patrons—Tor and Jed included. Finally, Jaq pulled away—with effort—his breath coming hard.
"Let's go," he said gruffly, taking the woman by the hand and leading her out of the cantina. Jed and Tor called after him—lewd comments followed by pretended hurt they he would leave them without so much as a word. Jaq didn't hear any of it. All he could think of was the woman's mouth on his, the feel of her body pressed against him, and how fast they could get to wherever she was staying so they could continue what she had started.
"This way," the woman said, and Jaq saw her throw a hurried glance over her shoulder toward the cantina, as though she feared being followed. She led Jaq down an alley that ran between two squalid housing complexes. On the other end, she made to dash out onto the street, but Jaq hauled her back into the shadows for another impassioned kiss. He pressed her against the wall, his hands roaming her body, his mouth drinking her in for he couldn't get enough of her.
"Not yet," she breathed and pushed him back. Reluctantly he followed her out into the street, his heart hammering in his chest and a dull, pleasurable knot of lust building in his groin.
Finally, she took him to a run-down motel on the edge of the settlement, before the buildings of sentient beings gave way to arid, rotting plains. She activated the door to her room and pulled him inside. He reached for her again, but she pushed him away.
"Sit on the bed," she instructed, her voice trembling slightly. Jaq complied, eager to see what she had planned for him. He could feel her own lust, mixed with apprehension and he nearly sighed with contentment. Women like that were his favorite conquests—hesitant but willing, nervous but wanting. He sat down on the edge of her bed in the tiny room that held little else and waited.
The woman made certain the door was locked and then she slowly, with a halting step, approached him.
"I had to do it this way," she murmured, her voice tremulous. "It was the only way to reach you…Your lust…it is strong."
Jaq didn't quite catch her meaning, but he didn't care either. She knelt before him, pressing herself between his legs and looking up at him with those emerald eyes. Her hands ran up and down his thighs and he nearly grabbed her and took her right then and there. But something in the way she was looking at him…something in the way he felt…as though something of great import was about to occur and it had nothing to do with sex.
"You're in great danger," she said, reaching her hands up to touch his face. Those weren't the words he had expected and had he been more sober—and less aroused—he would have reached for his blaster. But there was nothing threatening in the woman's gestures or demeanor. She rose to her feet and pulled him to his. He put his arms around her, leaned to kiss her but she held back. "This is the only way I could think to show one such as you."
"What are you talking about?" he muttered, his hands going to her blouse to undo the ties there. Again she pulled away and he began to get frustrated.
"Ssshh," she admonished softly and laid his hand against her heart. "Close your eyes and listen," she told him. Jaq did so, only because he still had hope that whatever she was doing was eventually going to lead to bed. "You can feel my heart beating against you hand. You can feel the life in me, feel my emotions. It was the same when you kissed me, you felt my need. You have always been able to do this, Jaq Attarand," she said, and he vaguely wondered how she knew his name. "It is life you feel…it is the Force." This last was barely a whisper but Jaq jerked from her as though she had slapped him. He grabbed her wrists and looked into her eyes… and then he knew.
"Jedi…" he snarled, and threw her to the ground. He drew his blaster in one quick motion and aimed at her heart.
"Jaq, please…" she pleaded, though without fear. "You are in great danger. Let me show you…"
"Why did you seek me out?" he demanded. He had found her, the Jedi they had come to hunt, but this was not the way he wanted it. His anger swelled and he would have wasted no more time—certainly he would not have let a Jedi the time to use the Force on him, but this time he hesitated. He wanted to know why she had exposed herself to him like this.
"To warn you," she replied, slowly getting to her feet. "You don't know what is you are doing, Jaq, and your actions will doom yourself as surely as the Jedi you hunt and capture."
"What are you talking about?" Jaq barked. "You don't know anything about me. But you are right, Jedi, you are 'doomed.'"
The woman closed her eyes for a moment, as though steeling herself. Jaq leveled his blaster, waiting to feel the Force in her if she tried to use it…Feel the Force…His hand trembled slightly and his breath caught short. No, he thought. It is not like that. It is instinct only, like how a firaxa smells blood, and nothing more. But doubt crept into his mind and with it, he became angrier.
"Yes," the woman said slowly. "You know what I say is true. You can feel the Force because it is with you, Jaq, and when those you call your friends discover it, you will suffer."
"You lie!" Jaq cried, training the blaster on her again. "The Force is nothing to me. It a tool you Jedi use to manipulate others, and I will hunt down every last one of you until it is nothing more than a bad memory."
"No, not to manipulate," the woman said, as if she hadn't heard the terrible threat. "To teach. To aid others, to—"
"Aid others?" he thundered. "What a crock of shit! Where were the Jedis and their 'aid' when we were being slaughtered by the Mandalorians? Where was the Force then? Not with us, I can tell you. People died…by the millions! Why? Because you Jedi couldn't stop your councils and your speeches and your deliberations long enough to help! And we needed help! But not anymore. No, no," Jaq said, his voice growing dangerously quiet. He had never spoken to a Jedi before, not like this. Not to tell one what misery and pain and horror they had caused by not stopping it. It felt good, this anger. Clean. His hand stopped trembling and he stood straighter. "Now, we don't need your help. Now I know the truth, and I will never be betrayed again."
"But you will, Jaq," she said softly. "You will. The Force is in you. You know that is the truth, if there are any truths left anymore." She sighed softly, as though he was not still holding a blaster aimed at her heart. "I can show you the truth. Make you see that you are in danger…"
"From who?" Jaq asked. "The Sith?" He barked a short laugh. "The Sith showed me the true Force. When action is needed it is taken. When battle comes to your front door, you fight it, you don't turn your back. The Sith have shown me this. Revan has shown me this."
"Revan?" the woman said. "You do not know what she is doing, Jaq. These Jedi you hunt, where do they go? What do you think happens to them after you have completed your task?"
"To her, of course. She breaks them or they die, and that is how it should be."
"Yes, she does. All Jedi, Jaq. All who feel the Force and who are not yet corrupted to the dark side. And those she can not turn, she destroys. But her victims are not only those you hunt. From her own ranks—"
"Those in whom the Force flows…"
"Not me," Jaq said, feeling slightly less sure of himself. " I am no Jedi."
"No, not yet."
He struck her then, hard, across the face. She fell against the room's only small chair and caught herself. Blood trickled from her lip but she paid it no attention. "I can show you. If you can't hear my words, let me… let me show you, Jaq. Please."
"Why? Who am I to some Jedi whore? Why me?"
"Because I have to try," she said simply. "It is my duty."
Perhaps it was the sincerity in her voice, or the way her emerald eyes shone in the dim light of the little room, but something in Jaq felt the truth in her words and suddenly he was afraid.
The woman took a faltering step towards him, and then another. She walked past his blaster, closer, until she was face to face. Lust sparked in him anew at her close proximity and he let the blaster fall from his hands. She laid her own on either side of his face, staring intently into his eyes.
"I will show you," she murmured and laid her lips to his.
The kiss was not one of sex or passion, but of something deeper. Jaq felt something stirring in him, something that went beyond lust…something that had been asleep in him for a long time, and that he had thought was long dead and buried. As she kissed him, he tasted the tang of her blood from where he'd struck her, felt her heart beating against his chest, felt the sheer energy of her. He felt the Force.
Jaq reveled in the ecstasy of it—until the long dormant emotions he had felt stirring in him came awake. Suddenly he saw the death that had been caused by his hands, Jedi after Jedi, and then before that, Mandalorian after Mandalorian. A parade of faces that seemed to have no end. He had been blind to them, but now he saw. Every dying gasp, every cry of agony he had caused and been deaf too, he now heard. Every heart that had stilled under his hand, he could feel. He gasped and drew away from her but she held him close.
"Wh—what are you doing to me?" he whispered.
There were tears in her eyes as she looked up at him, turning them into liquid green pools. "You feel the wounds in the Force when a life is taken in anger. You see now how all life is connected by it and the pain you feel is not guilt for what you have done, but the pain of your own soul crying out to rejoin life and turn aside death. The Force is life, Jaq. It flows within you and you cannot escape it. And one day soon, Revan will learn of it, and you will die."
"No, that's not true," he said, but he knew it was. He had heard of men—commissioned men, not just grunts like himself—who had disappeared from their ranks, suddenly and without warning, never to return. He had heard rumors of what went on in Revan's fortress at the edge of the galaxy, and the stories had always brought a chill to his heart. And so Jaq had decided he would never fail his officers or give them cause to make him disappear—he killed more Jedi than others in his team, each one a brick in the wall to protect him from the Sith. Now, standing with this woman, this Jedi, he saw how very tall and wide and long that wall was…and how it was as thin as paper.
"You see now," the woman said, nodding. She sighed with relief and laid her head on his chest. "Where will you go?"
"I don't know," Jaq said hoarsely. "I can't stop…feeling," he said.
"That is good. It will bring you joy someday, Jaq." She looked up at him and smiled softly. "I love you," she said.
Jaq flinched as though she had slapped him. A rude comment came to his lips, but he didn't say it. Instead, he looked down at her and stroked her cheek. "How?" he asked. "You don't even know me."
"I do, Jaq. Through the Force, I do."
The Force. She is Jedi, he reminded himself and the anger for the Order that had abandoned them during the war came broiling up to the surface to mix with the myriad emotions he was already feeling. He looked at her and she must have seen that anger for she took a step away from him.
"Jaq…" she began, but there came a knock at the door of the little room. Jaq grabbed his blaster off the floor and found himself standing protectively in front of the woman.
"Hey, Jaq, you in there?" came the voice of Tor from the other side, sounding overly friendly. "Sorry to follow ya like this, but it's important."
Jaq exchanged glances with the woman. He felt her fear, but he also felt her willingness. She knew all along how this must end and yet she came forward anyway. Jaq hated her for it, for being so stupid and weak, for making him feel emotions—pain and fear and love and joy—these that he had buried so he could continue with his path. Now he was lost. He could not to back to the Sith, and because of his crimes, he could not go back to the Republic. Where he had been Jaq "the Rat" Atterand and one of the best Jedi killers in the galaxy, he was now no one. Less than no one. He was a murderer. He took a step toward her as the Sith outside began pounding on the door more insistently. She let him near but he could feel her trembling. He touched her cheek and let his hand slide down her jaw, to her chin, down, down until his hand went around her neck. And then he began to squeeze.
His other hand joined the first and he slowly, delicately, crushed the life out of her. He never took his eyes off of her, nor she him as he slowly lowered her to the ground, him on top of her, looking—but for his hands around her neck—like a pair of lovers going to bed.
She clutched at his hands at her throat but her struggles were weak. At last, her struggles ceased altogether and her hands fell away from his. Her eyes became fixed and he watched as the light in them died. And then he felt her…felt her as her spirit passed through him and joined the Force, where it belonged.
The pounding at the door became more insistent and under was the sound of someone trying to slice it. Jaq got to his feet slowly. He was shaking all over and he found tears coursing down his cheeks. He wiped them with the sleeve of his shirt and retrieved his blaster from where it had fallen and aimed it at the door.
The door slid open and Tor and Jed came in, muttering about how the bartender was a Jedi and how they had tracked Jaq here to warn him.
"Ah, I see we weren't needed," Tor said, glancing at the body of the woman on the floor. "Good, I—" Tor never finished his words—Jaq's blaster had burnt a large hole in his chest. Jaq did the same to Jed and the two men crumpled to the ground with twin expressions of shock on their faces. Jaq ran to the door and stopped. He took one last look at the woman lying on the floor and then he went out.
The Ebon Hawk
Dane had laid her forehead on the edge of Atton's bed. Now, as he finished his confession, she raised her tear-streaked face and looked at him. Somehow, he looked better. The pallid tone to his skin had lessened and his gray-green eyes were less yellowed. His breathing was easier as well and Dane was afraid it was because he was at his end.
"I don't expect you to forgive me," he said, his voice still hoarse and raspy. "I haven't forgiven myself…for all that I have done. But I had to tell you…I wanted you to know, Dane, before I died."
Dane nodded. It was overwhelming, all that he had said, but she could not find it in her heart to hate him. The thought of the jovial, wise-cracking pilot murdering Jedis—and enjoying it—was not an easy concept to embrace. But the shadows she saw in him were now exposed to the light and lifted. He sighed and a weak smile came to his wan face.
"I feel…better," he said, "having told you, even if you hate me for it." He looked at her and squeezed the hand that was holding his. "Thanks, sweets—for whatever it's worth."
Dane smiled back. She leaned forward and kissed his damp forehead. "It's over now, Atton. There is nothing to forgive. All you can do now is embrace today and begin here. You know what you once were. It is only if you go back, that I would have cause to hate you, and even then…"Dane smiled shyly.
"I don't have the time you're talking about," he said bitterly.
"I think you do," Dane whispered. She channeled the Force again and this time, it enveloped him completely.
His eyes opened in amazement and he took a clear, healing breath. "How did you…?"
"Not me," Dane said. "You. The Force in you is strong, Atton. It is amazing what one can overcome with it. And how it can be used to help others…the possibilities are infinite."
Atton's eyes were growing heavy but he held her gaze. "Show me. I am ready."
Dane nodded. "I will. Sleep now and when you are well, we will start your training."
Atton smiled lazily as his eyes closed. "Me…, a Jedi," he laughed lightly before drifting off into a deep, healing sleep.
Three days later he joined Dane in the cargo hold. He sat down cross-legged before her and smiled. The pallor of sickness was gone from his features and but for some fading color at his eyes, lips and mouth, one would not have known how close to death he had become.
Dane returned his smile and said, "Let us begin."