An Atton/FemExile Snippit
Note: There is a reference to 'A Lot to Forgive,' the 2nd Atton/FemExile Snippit, but it is not nessecary to read it to enjoy this. Just a heads up.
The hot, dry wind tore at the cloak of her shredded, dirty Norris robe, and the acrid tang of the air slashed at the back of her throat with every breath she dragged into her tired lungs.
So many memories, and all of them unwanted… And some invented encounters, also equally unwanted.
Aelyn Drae, Jedi Exile extraordinaire, tumbled from the secret passageway out of the Sith Lord's tomb and into the gaze of the blazing Korriban sun.
'We'll go, General, if you ask it of us… But there will be losses.'
Oh, and there were…
It was odd; Aelyn thought that things like that, things that allowed you to do things over, even if only in illusions, were supposed to bring one peace. And she had done it right this time- she'd gone ahead, risking herself rather than her men, to take the brunt of whatever the mine field could throw at her, to take the consequences of her lack of technical ability.
And Malek… That calm, suave, seductive rumble of a voice… And oh, she had been seduced, just like all the others… But not this time, not in the illusion that had tried to ensnare her. No, this time she'd fought back… She would still have fought the Mandalorians. But she would have taken Malek out, first, slippery eel that she now saw him to be.
She'd thought herself no different from any other well-meaning Jedi that had slipped away from the Council's control, to battle the Mandalorians. Not until she'd been the only Jedi to escape Malachor- nay, to escape the entire war itself. She'd escaped damaged, broken, but she'd survived. Barely…and it had taken her four years to even begin to heal, but begin to heal she had, making good progress.
Cradling a broken heart as well as a broken arm, slowly regaining enough of her power to heal that arm and wishing it would be enough to heal her bruised heart as well, Aelyn made her way out of the canyon, dragging her feet as she went. Clouds of dust floated upwards behind her, obscuring her vision and giving her line of sight a hazy, misty quality when she glanced back, just once, to the entrance to the secret passage…
She shuddered, her arm at last healed but still sore as she pulled her tattered robe around her tighter, an increasingly habitual movement, it seemed, as she continued on her way, out across the Valley.
She steered clear of the remnants of the excavation site, as well as the few mangled, sun-dried mummified corpses here and there. They reeked of darkness, and right now the mere Force-smell of them made her nauseous, let alone the sight… She glanced over to her right, to the crumbled entrance to Freedom Nadd's tomb, and all at once was quite aware of the heavy presence of his Warblade hooked to her belt, alongside her lightsaber, and wondered again at the wisdom of taking such a legendarily bad-luck item.
Historic value, she told herself. For Mical, if nothing else. She smiled, fleetingly, more of a grimace than anything, as she thought of the delighted smile that would alight the Disciple's face. He really was too adorable, sometimes, for all his properness.
The smile-that-was-more-like-a-grimace faded quickly, as another fading ache assaulted her senses, echoed as her thoughts inevitably thought about the one encounter she wanted most to forget…
All of them.
Aelyn stumbled, and fell against one of the crumbling pillars inscribed with ancient Sith runes, closing her eyes tight against not only the hot, harsh air, but against her own tears, as well. The Ebon Hawk was just ahead. Who knew who was watching? Atton would probably still be in the cockpit, forever re-calibrating, altering trajectories, checking up the astrogation charts… And the cockpit was right up front of the ship, not so far from where she now stood, trying desperately not to collapse from emotional exhaustion.
One hand went to her dirty brow as a sob hitched in the back of her throat. She fought it- oh, how she fought it. Not just the tears, but the memory itself.
No, she begged her own consciousness. No, please, just go away…I need to deal with this later…later…
But it didn't go away.
A Few Hours Ago…
"You're friends are all arrayed against me, Aelyn. Will you stand by this?" Kreia, demanding as always, that Aelyn do something, while she herself simply stood there. Well, if nothing else, whatever was pulling the memory of her friends from her head to make these images was doing an accurate job of it…
"You're all just visions, anyways," Aelyn sighed, exasperated and frustrated. "Doesn't really matter what I do."
Kreia hissed, "So you will do nothing? Apathy is worse than death. Worse, because at least a rotting corpse feeds the worms!"
"Apathy is death, Aelyn," Atton, beside her, warned sagely. Aelyn blinked at him, then closed her eyes, briefly-
Then they attacked.
One by one, tears threatening to blur her vision, she defended herself against them, striking them down with one, two, three, four blows each. It was too easy.
It came down to just him, in the end. She knew it would be like that. In reality, she knew that had this been real, only Kreia would have been left. As skilled as Atton had grown to become in the short amount of time he'd spent under her tutelage, and for all Kreia had never really displayed what she could do with a 'saber, even when they were all in danger, Aelyn knew that if it ever came down to a fight she and Kreia would be hard matched.
Sometime during the fight, his clothes had shifted, once and for all telling her that this was, indeed, an illusion. Bile rose in the back of her throat as she took in his Sith Assassin garb, the black pants, black shirt and gauntlets, the dark grey face cloth pulled down so she could see his far, far too handsome visage.
"Atton," Aelyn sighed, her voice bearing weariness so profound it scared her.
Silent, the Atton-ghost leaped at her, his lightsaber a blur of blood red light. Violet met red, and with a choked sob, Aelyn fought back.
After that, it had been Kreia. More cryptic-ness that she'd been too drained to deal with. But she had. Somehow, she'd forced herself into some semblance of impassiveness, and barreled on through.
Behind her eyelids, hovering at the edge of her mind's eye, was the image of the final blow she'd struck the Atton-ghost…when, for a moment, it had reverted from Sith-Atton to Current-Atton…and that specter's eyes, so like her real Atton's hazel depths, had bored a gnashing, ripping hole in her heart…
'Not real!' She shouted at herself. She hadn't really done that to him… Not the real Atton...
…But you've done it to others… A voice in her own mind whispered, nastily. Atton was right, you know, on Nar Shadaa… Murderer he may be, but you're no better. How many fellow Jedi did you kill? How many Sith have you killed in the past month alone?
Aelyn ground a fist into her temple, squeezing her eyes shut…
Taking a deep breath, wrestling her emotions into some mock-up of order, she shoved away from the tumbling pillar and ambled as lightly as she could the rest of the way to the Ebon Hawk's boarding ramp. Once enveloped by the cooling embrace of the ship's shade and air chilling systems, relief of at least a physical sort was at last hers. Her side gave a twinge when she raised her right arm to raise the ramp, but besides that she felt, at last, almost fully healed.
The Force was, at times, not as burdensome as she sometimes cursed it to be, she thought with a sardonic twist of a smile.
In the cargo hold up ahead, the whizzing of Bao-Dur's floating little droid alerted her to the fact that there was someone in the hold. That little thing never went anywhere without someone, it seemed, normally his maker. But when Aelyn strode forward into the ramshackle cargo hold, she spied an interesting sight- Atton and Bao-Dur rising from a scattered pile of pazaak cards, obviously abandoning their game as soon as they'd heard the ramp raise and the bay doors shut behind her.
"Good to see you made it back in one piece, General," Bao-Dur walked up her, smiling that respectful, gentle smile of his. "We were all worried when Atton told us you made him and Visas return to the ship to wait for you. You should have let them wait for you at the entrance, at least…"
More now than ever, Aelyn was glad she'd made them go back. If they'd been waiting around, she didn't think she could have dealt with seeing Atton so soon after…
She shook herself, even now not quite looking directly at the object of her inner turmoil.
"I'm fine, Bao," she answered instead, flashing a reassuring smile before moving past him, down the twisting maze of corridors to the portside dormitory. Visas was there, as usual, sitting in the middle of the room as if the rest of the galaxy didn't exist… Aelyn envied her that semblance of peace, right then, more than she thought possible. All Visas had to worry about was her Sith-ness…
But then, instantly, Aelyn felt the guilt of her thoughts flood over her, and she leaned against the hatchway for a moment before speaking.
"I'm sorry, Visas, but could I…" She hesitated, not wanting to ask her ally to alter her location simply because Aelyn was having a whiny moment. But Visas stood before she'd even decided whether or not to finish her sentence, turning and smiling gently at the one she had chosen to follow and protect.
"Of course," she answered softly, leaving without Aelyn ever having telling her what she wanted. Aelyn blinked after the burgundy-clad Sith, then let loose a relieved sigh that she hadn't known she'd been holding.
Then, the tears at last unable to be restrained any longer, Aelyn stumbled into the dormitory, shutting the hatch behind her, and collapsing into one of the bunks.
Atton had followed the resident Jedi. The movements came back to him with surprising swiftness and ease. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised. It was like riding a speeder- once you learned, you never forgot.
He came around a curved corner, Visas sliding right by him, throwing the scoundrel a brief glance through the golden lace of her hood before continuing on her way.
It was a closed hatch Atton came to, which surprised him- Aelyn loved her privacy, yes, but she never fully closed her door. She was an open person, like that, at least when it came to those she considered friends…
Guilt stabbed at Atton, somewhere in the vicinity of his heart. He hadn't treated her like much of a friend, back on Nar Shadaa, before they'd come to Korriban to seek out the last of the Jedi before moving on to Dantooine, again. Only along for the ride to try and fulfill the reason that woman, that Jedi, had saved him so long ago…no other reason…don't get attached, I don't like it…Don't want to talk about it, leave me alone…
But this wasn't about him. Not this time. This once, Atton could afford to be selfless. He'd seen the shadows behind her eyes when she'd come aboard, dismissing Bao-Dur's worry like a fly on a wall. Bao-Dur hadn't confronted the things they had. He'd fought, yes, but he'd still been glad about it afterwards. And he hadn't fought against his own…
For Atton and Aelyn, it was different. Far, far different.
He didn't bother knocking, but he was as quiet as he could be when pushing open the old, heavy hatchway door. Silent as a cat, he slipped inside, shutting the hatch behind him, and at last glancing around.
She was curled up on the bunk farthest away from the hatch, her shoes, robes, over-shirt and pants discarded. Her short frame was curled in the universally recognizable position of insecurity- the fetal position. Her hair was in a dusty disarray, her skin marred with dried blood and more dirt. Making a swift decision, Atton padded silently to the bunk, and picked up the tattered remains of her over-shirt. He then went to the wall that had no bunks, and approached a rarely-used panel. Pressing a series of knobs and buttons, a small portion of the wall, at waist height, slid away and out popped a small sink.
He rinsed, scrubbed, and washed the rag of a shirt before finally tearing off a wash-cloth sized square, soaking it, and then, dripping cloth in hand, moving away from the wall and to the bunk that held Aelyn.
Slowly, so as not to wake the sound-asleep exile, Atton ran the cloth over her arms, each finger, the bit of her shoulder that was visible, the side of her throat that was turned to him. Even her feet and her dusty ankles.
He returned to the sink to rinse out the muddy cloth, then returned and repeated the process. Another rise, and again he came back, and this time he dared go somewhere else.
Softly, so very soft, he brought the cloth to the skin of her cheek, gently wiping away the crusted blood from an already healed wound, taking with it the dirt and grime that her sweat had collected.
Sometime during his administrations, the washing became more caressing than washing. With a small, sleepy moan, Aelyn moved her head a bit, into Atton's hand. Smiling a bit, thoroughly amused, Atton simply moved his hand to the newly exposed and still dirty side of her face, and continued the cloth-bath.
Then, all at once, her eyes were suddenly open.
Atton paused. The corners of his mouth flickered in a secret, almost cautious smile before he finished smoothing away the dirt and grime from that side of her face, his eyes never leaving hers- almost daring her to stop him.
"What are you doing?"
"Everyone knows you sleep better when you're clean," Atton replied easily, meaning 'you' as in 'everyone,' not Aelyn specifically. Aelyn gazed up at him for a long, unblinking moment, then sighed and sat up, pinching the bridge of her nose with one hand. Atton tossed the rag across the room, and it landed squarely in the sink with a wet slap.
"You're aims gotten better," Aelyn murmured absently. Atton bristled.
"My aim's always been good!"
"I never said otherwise," Aelyn responded, amusement twisting at the corners of her lips. Atton hunched his shoulders, like a bird ruffling its feathers, and huffed at her. She chuckled a bit, swinging her legs over the edge of the bunk. Dark circles marred the smooth flesh beneath her eyes, eyes that were still shadowed.
"Hey, you okay?" Atton asked. The Exile said nothing for a long moment, gazing at the steel floor and blinking occasionally.
"No," she said after a while. She turned and looked at him, then away. "But I will be. I will be…" She leaned over, placing her elbows on her knees and burying her face in her hands, running those hands through her gnarled hair, then back to her face. Muffled, her voice came through her fingers, a voice tinted with dry amusement, "You know, for being such a damn corrupted place, it sure can drag things from you in a suspiciously un-corrupted form…" She'd said it mostly to herself, he could tell. Still, he felt the need to comment, and did so.
"What kind of things got dragged from you?" He asked, one eyebrow raised. In all the time he'd known this woman, this Exile, he'd rarely known anything to be taken from her that she didn't want taken. She was like a hellish cannok, that way- when she wanted something, she dug in, and held on, and did not let go.
Aelyn was silent for yet another long moment, during which Atton got a lesson in patience. He wanted to help, really he did. He knew she wanted to talk about it, on some level, else she would have kicked him out by now. Politely, as was her habit, but kick she would have.
But she hadn't.
And so he sat, gnashing his teeth while he waiting for the woman to pick her words. He was rewarded in due time, though not as he had expected.
"You," she said plainly, finally. Atton's eyes widened, then he gave one slow, deliberate blink before responding, oh so articulately, "Huh?"
Aelyn gave a dry little laugh despite herself, looking at him with the first hint of twinkle her eye since before Dantooine. In the back of his mind, Atton realized he'd missed that twinkle. Foremost in his mind, though at the moment, was his confusion at her answer.
"Me?" He asked. "What about me?"
Without responding vocally, Aelyn looked down, at Atton's legs. Feeling self conscious all of a sudden, he fought not to fidget as she reached out and laid one hand on his knee, feeling with sensitive fingers the surprisingly soft, but extremely tough and durable brown drexl leather.
Unknown to him, she was recalling the vision of him in Sith blacks. She voiced a question she hadn't known she'd wanted an answer to until she asked the question.
"Did you wear leather, then, too?" She asked, half to herself again. She did that a lot, he noticed, when she wasn't sure of herself. "Most assassins wear ninja-esq gear, I've noticed… But you seem fond of leather, and you never follow rules, now… Did you then? Or did you diverge and wear black leather?"
"I…" Atton swallowed harshly, and decided to swallow his surprise, indignation, defensiveness, and guilt for later, instead answering her as plainly as she'd asked the question. "It depended," he confessed, extremely uncomfortable and desperately trying not to let it show. "I mean, leather's nice, but you didn't see me pulling these damn hot things on while we were on Dxun, did you? I wore one of those Jedi robes for a reason, and not to look my new part."
"Visions," Aelyn said then, changing the subject, yet not. Her voice had the tone of a confession, one she wasn't sure was worthy of embarrassment or not.
Her hand was still on his knee, her thumb still tracing patterns in the worn leather.
"Visions?" Atton echoed, ignoring the tingling sensation from his lower right thigh…
"In the hidden tomb we found, in the Shyrack cave, where I made you and Visas leave me?"
"I encountered…visions. Ghosts. Malek, when he had invaded an evening reunion with some of my old academy classmates." Her lips formed a semblance of a smile. "Talvan was there. If it weren't for the Jedi Code, we might have been something, but… Well, there was the Jedi Code, and we weren't anything." She kept her gaze fixated on her own hand on his leg, as if she needed something unchanging to focus on. "They attacked me, when I tried to fight the vision, tried to fight the reenactment… I won, but…" She paused. "Actually, I don't know if I won. I beat the ghosts, yes, but I think the real purpose of the vision was to unsettle me. And it worked. In a major way."
"You said visions, plural?" Atton prompted when she didn't continue after a moment.
"Dxun." She said simply. At last, she raised her eyes to meet his. "Kreia told you, how my battle began on Dxun? It was my first command. I wasn't a General yet, it was before I was given my own battlestar, before I met Bao-Dur. I was just a captain, then, but… Like now, people who should have followed someone else, or who should have been more loyal to someone else –our Commander, in that case- decided to follow me instead. So when the Commander died… They turned to me, Atton, to decided whether to fall back or to run us all through a minefield, and hope enough of us got through to do some more damage." Bitterness flavored the back of her tongue as well as her words, strongly enough that even Atton tasted and heard it.
"You're awful at demolition," Atton said needlessly. Aelyn scowled.
"We…I lost a lot of good people that day," she sighed.
"Er, well… Everyone dies eventually," he offered awkwardly. What exactly was he supposed to say? But she seemed to get the message of comfort he was trying to convey, and smiled a bit.
"Then there was you," she said, echoing her earlier words. "Not at first… At first it was Kreia, just standing there… Darker than usual. She spoke of choices and confusion, then you…your fake, anyways, came forward. Tried to get me away from her."
"Not so much a fake, then," Atton said dryly. Aelyn continued as if she hadn't heard.
"Then Bao-Dur, then Visas, Mical, the droids… Everyone." She shut her eyes tight. "Accusations, yelling, fighting… Kreia, daring me to choose sides."
"Again, not so much a fake…"
"Then you again. Only you changed. Clothes, anyways." The unhidden meaning behind that last specification was clear, and air suddenly decided to stop making its way into Atton's lungs. His breath hitched at the back of his throat, and he swallowed harshly.
"So that's where the leather question came from," he said. She nodded.
"I don't remember if you wore leather or not… But I remember the black. And the grey. And the red 'saber…"
"Well, that's one thing the tomb got wrong," Atton told her fighting to keep her from hearing how he was choking inside. "I never carried a lightsaber before now."
"I know. I'm guessing a Warblade? One of the double-bladed ones?"
When he started, surprised, at her accurate guess, she smiled ruefully at him.
"In the cockpit, our first flight together," she began to explain. "You asked me if I'd held a single or double bladed lightsaber before being exiled. You didn't hide your pride well enough when you mentioned the increased difficulty in mastering a double-blade."
Atton nodded. "Yeah, well, it's true, isn't it?" Ah, would he ever cease his defensive automatics? She looked away from him again.
"I had to kill you," she said softly. "Your double." She took a deep breath. "Even…even though that double was supposed to be the Sith you…it still…" She swallowed, visibly and audibly. "It was harder than it should have been." She looked at him again. "I managed to kill the others' doubles, easily enough, when they all attacked me." Then to herself, in a deceptively soft voice, "Why was it so hard to kill you?"
Atton met her gaze squarely. "I don't know," he answered honestly, all awkwardness and defensiveness suddenly gone. "Why don't you tell me?"
He'd meant it rhetorically. Honest, he had. But the answer she gave him anyways… Well, who was he to deny her when she was suddenly half in his lap, her hands planted on either side of his face, and that eternally stubborn mouth set against his?
He didn't exactly hesitate, either, when his arms went around her, pulling her against him even as he half fell, half leaned against the wall that the head of the bunk was attached to. She leaned with him, her chest to his, arms and legs suddenly and hopelessly tangled. Atton mentally retracted his frequent desire to die rather than ever have this lethal Jedi attack him, for it surely would be less painful a death by blaster than by her lightsaber. The alteration he made to that desire was to exclude this kind of attack…
As much as he wanted to take her, all of her, into himself, to swallow her, absorb her, possess her, he restrained himself to simply letting her kiss her fill, digging his fingers in her hair and letting that be his single physical claim on her. Right now, what she needed wasn't a forceful, groping, lustful little boy. Right now what she needed was for him to simply be there. And in one of his rare fool-free moments, he knew this.
But when he felt the sudden moisture fall against his face, something inside him cracked. It didn't break, it didn't shatter, but the faintest of hairline fractures in whatever it was, was enough to pull him from the blissful reverie his gorgeous exile had lured him into.
He pulled away, gently, holding her face with one hand, his other hand brushing away strands of burgundy hair.
"Hey," he said softly, pressing his brow to hers, willing her to open those closed eyes as she dragged in breath after breath. "I know."
Then those eyes did open, looking at him oddly. "What?" She asked, her voice quieter than his had been. With an inward sigh, Atton forced himself to swallow his pride and his fear, shifting on the bunk so that he was between her and the wall that ran along the bunk, scooting down so that he wasn't in such a stressful position. Aelyn, surprisingly, went with him, settling against him and laying her head on his chest, still unwilling to let him go. Physically, or theoretically, it seemed- she kept looking at him, silently demanding an explanation to those two odd words. He looked down at her, grinning dryly.
"On Dxun," he started. Her eyes widened, just a bit.
"After all the times I bugged you about what happened there, now you're telling me?" She said, one eyebrow lifting above the other. Atton grimaced, and looked up at the grey metal above them.
"I know Bao-Dur told you about how that Sith Master…offered me things," he chose his words carefully, a new experience for him. Aelyn nodded, her chin pressing against his chest a bit. Combined with the strain he was feeling to get the story out, it almost felt like someone holding a blade's tip to his heart… The thought of a blade's tip reminded him of what he had to tell her, and he braced himself before continuing.
"I told you on Nar Shadaa what I did to Jedi, what I was so good at," he said plainly, focusing on just getting it out. "I guess Sith tombs have a theme- dragging out people's memories and making people relive them. Or at least, taking stuff from their memories to play with them."
"What did Dxun's tomb make you see?" Aelyn asked, already knowing where this was going. He looked down at her, meeting her blue-violet gaze, and gave an answer that echoed her own earlier answer.
"You," he said. "In place of one of the last Jedi I ever broke, before meeting that one Jedi that made me see the Force, and made me feel guilt again." He looked away. "She was one of the ones whose Padawan I killed first, to try and break her through the sheer pain of loosing the Force Bond." He paused. "Shireen. That was the apprentice's name. I still remember it…" He swallowed, his Adam's Apple bobbing.
"It's odd, the things you remember," Aelyn murmured.
"The vision made me watch…myself, my old self, do the things I did to Shireen's Master, do to you."
"Why…why didn't you tell me this?" She asked, as he knew she would.
"Because visions like that always stem from something that's already there," he answered simply.
"And you thought I might suspect you harbored me ill will," she finished for herself. She sighed against him, and he found himself holding her closer, as if afraid her new revelation would, where other things had failed, make her flee from him. That was something he wasn't quite sure he could bear, not after all he'd told her of himself and his past.
Did he regret what he did. In an odd way, no. Did he regret how he'd done it? Yes, if nothing else because only chance had kept Aelyn from being one of those that he'd captured. It had been before she'd been exiled. He could very well have easily captured and tortured here, without ever knowing her…
He wasn't as much of a fool as Kreia thought. As much as he'd like to believe that he'd follow his Aelyn anywhere, anytime, regardless of the circumstances they met under, he knew better. His old self, Jaq the Sith, would have cut her down as easily and thoughtlessly as he'd done to countless other Jedi that had fallen prey to his sadistic means.
And Aelyn knew it as well as he did.
"Thank you," Aelyn spoke up, her voice quiet but nonetheless holding plenty of weight to cut through his angsty inner monologue.
"For what?" He asked, looking down at her burgundy head. She squeezed a bit closer, and he smelled the Korriban sun in her hair.
"For letting me know…that you knew. Knew how I felt."
"Yeah, well…" Here came that awkwardness again. Atton Rand was never awkward. Except with Aelyn Drae. He sighed inwardly.
"I know," he decided on the simple acceptance of her thanks. "And you're welcome."
And so they lay there, exile and scoundrel, in each others arms, wallowing in the unique and terrifying sensation of knowing what it was like to have killed the other.
Geh, probably one of the most angsty pieces I've ever written. Gah, and this from a chick who hates writing angst! . But hey, I have an excuse; the canon from which this Snippit was born is angsty, so it's not entirely of my own making. Small comfort…
So, who's up for some more fluff in the next Atton/Aelyn Snippit? -raises own hand- Any suggestions, anyone? I've got plenty of my own, mind, but I'm open to requests. I'm having soooo much fun with these.