Redemption

Backlash - Redemption

This is a What-if relating to my story Backlash.

It was inspired by PadawanElf and Element, who are both fervent supporters of happy endings, and Butler, the Lightsider. Hope I got that right, guys. The setting is three years after Roj Kell's escape from Coruscant.

They had found refuge on Alderaan and somehow Belana could feel that her companion was more at ease here. Strange as it was, sometimes even that smile of his seemed genuine, not just a mockery of something more. And yet, the events of Coruscant still loomed over both of them like stormclouds bearing the seeds of doom. And Belana Jen knew that her friends would not give her up that easily. But neither would her enemy. No, they would find a way to free her. She still shuddered at the memory of the seduction, her first lesson and what had followed. Three years had passed since she had left the Jedi Temple quite involuntarily. Three years of torment had followed. And yet, the way Roj Kell treated her was not one of brute power, but rather a continuation of the spell he had put on her back in his prison on Coruscant. Belana had no trouble identifying that particular problem. Fact was though, that she saw no way out, even if she had wanted to escape.

"Belana."

His voice was oh so soft, a mild caress and yet so powerful. She turned toward him with a smile on her face, but his pale green eyes bore a distant look, seemingly not noticing her at all.

"Yes, master?"

"Have you ever been to Alderaan before?"

"Yes."

"Then you know the Aldera Memorial Park."

"Yes."

"Good. We will hold the next lesson there."

Belana felt her jaw drop. Was he mad? They could not simply stroll into the park and hope to remain undetected, and he knew that too. No, not mad then. Was he aware that he was giving her an opportunity to betray him and escape for good? Propably. Maybe it was supposed to be a test even. She almost panicked. But then, taking a deep breath, she asked him very calmly:

"May I ask what kind of lesson?"

"Decisiveness and selfassurance," he replied sharply and that ironic smile appeared at the corners of his mouth, teasing her.

You should know your feelings better and control them You have to know what you want. Belana put the stray thoughts aside. He always got to her like that. Always, It was at the same time annoying and humiliating. Still, he was right every time. But how was she supposed to think straight when he was around? She did not have the nerve to examine her feelings toward him, even though that might make things easier. Of course. That was what he wanted. He wanted her to become clear about herself, her teacher and the future. Three years back he had broken her, but apparently a mere puppet was not what he desired. She had to build up her self again and he was surprisingly patient about her progress. No more, it seemed. Why he had chosen Alderaan for this lesson though was beyond her. It was too close to the center, too polpulated for him to hope to remain hidden. The Jedi would no let him escape again.

"Master," she began timidly.

"What is it?"

"Why Alderaan?"

He hesitated for the merest fraction of a second before answering: "Because I feel safe here."

Looking into her deep dark eyes he could see the surprise at his statement easily. Just as easily as he had followed the reasoning that had led her to the question in the first place. But it was true. There was such peace on Alderaan as he had seldomly known. It reminded him of the past and of something he had lost a long time ago. Something that had come back to haunt him over the last three years. When he had bonded with the Force some thousand years ago in a rite of passage for a magician and High Priest, the Cor'dan, he had given up part of himself to become one with the power of life. That awe-inspiring stream of light had flowed through him, had made him an extension of itself, had created a bond that made him virtually immortal. But the Dark Side had tainted that bond when he had met the Dark Lord Exar Kun. In a foolish move Kell had bonded with the Sith, unaware of the fact that it would upset his inner balance in favor of darkness. He had gotten used to this existence and it had appealed to him too, in a way. Yet it had put severe restrictions on him. He could not turn away from the dark, for he would perish for sure, if he had to bear the full strain of the awesome power of the Force again.

It was a dilemma that had brought him many a sleepless night at Belana Jen's side. He had made her his apprentice and lover those three years back, as punishment for her part in his capture and breaking on Coruscant. Back then the Jedi had tried to uncover information on the Sith from him, which had actually been part of his own plan to weaken his brethren. The plan had failed due to two factors: his then apprentice Kha Door had betrayed him to the Jedi and the Light, and Belana Jen had shown him that he was still more human than he would have thought. She loved him in a strange kind of way, a love she did not even want to admit to herself. And her feelings were in the way of her getting back some of her old self, her vigor and strength. He had felt the sweet light fade ever so slowly inside her soul and he had watched it die with pity. At that moment he had known that her presence and company had not left his heart untouched. Deep down in the darkest corner of his heart he knew that he loved her too, but there was no way he could break through the wall seperating him from his own feelings. No way save one.

The Aldera Memorial Park was a miniature exhibit of the planet's beautiful groves and Belana was compelled to simply drop down on the soft gras and feel the earth's moisture underneath her fingertips. But she waited patiently until Kell allowed her to take a seat. They had chosen a clearing that was not so overrun by tourists and afternoon strollers and all around moss-covered trees rose into the blue sky. Avians were patrolling the forest roof and filled the air with their calls and chirps. The former Jedi Master took her place opposite from her companion, her legs crossed and her back straight. He was watching her in amusement, but this time there was no malice hidden there. It was slightly uncomfortable for Belana to share such a seemingly normal moment with her new teacher. So far each and every heart-beat of those three years had been filled with dark magic and powerful feelings, nothing as peaceful as this sunny afternoon in a public park. In fact, Belana had never experienced something like this. As a Jedi she had felt the bonds of duty, and even though they had never chafed she had been well aware of their presence.

In a way she longed for this normalcy. And on the other hand reason told her that she was simply drifting, with no goal within reach. She had long given up trying to gain control over the Sith Lord who had become her master and her plans of escape had turned into nothing more than daydreams. Perhaps she should just let go and accept her fate. When his hand reached out suddenly she flinched back, fearing punishment for her stray thoughts. His palm caressed her face gently and she saw him smile slowly.

"Don't, Belana. This is not what you want."

"What?" she murmured, not understanding. Did he mean her fate becoming his?

"Forget I said anything."

That beautiful voice was incredibly harsh all of a sudden, cutting her open heart and soul. Turning his head away he frowned into the distance and she could see his lips twitch in annoyance. What had she done wrong now? He did not look at her for quite some time and when he finally faced her again his features were as cold as she knew them to be, his eyes as icy as she remembered. He nodded at her and Belana closed her eyes obediently.

Open yourself to the flow, he said inside her head and she fought hard to keep that small opening in her shields to let him watch her progress. Stop. No more. Keep that level up. She did as ordered and waited patiently. After a while she lost track of the time. Suddenly though she could sense his mind slip into hers almost unnoticed, and give a boost to her hold on the Force. Gasping in surprise Belana tried to draw away. This was far too much! But he held her tight. Surrender to the flow, came the master's instruction and Belana gritted her teeth, trying to obey. The ground seemed to open beneath her and then she was falling, falling into the golden light. A dark shadow was racing at her side, but eddies of that golden glow shot through the specter frequently, as if just waiting to break free. Belana stared. Feel the Force, he whispered in her mind and then there was nothing anymore.

Belana slumped forward into his arms and he smiled when he lay her cheek to rest on his right shoulder, cradling her in his protective embrace. She was not used to this, none of the Jedi was, and no Sith either. The first were too cautious, the latter too harsh in their approach. A pity that she was too old to be instructed in the old ways, that she could not be a Cor'dan like himself. Holding her gently he could feel her heart beat against his chest, begging for admittance into his own. But he could not return her feelings, not the way she desired, had hoped for from the very first day of her apprenticeship. They could not get that close, ever.

Breathing in the musky scent of her dark hair he closed his eyes again, focusing on the moment. This is what I want, he thought longingly. Just this, to be, to feel again. Maybe he could resurrect her too, when he returned to the world of the living, and rekindle her flame.

He made his decision then, confident that it was the right choice. There were great risks, true, but he was willing to take them at her side.

"Belana," he whispered into her ear and she stirred in his arms slowly. Raising her head muzzily she looked up into his eyes.

"That was... beautiful."

"Sith magic, Belana. Who would have guessed?" He chuckled at his own private joke, but a smile was tugging at the corners of her mouth too and made his heart leap higher.

"Why did you not teach me that before?" Now there was a hint of betrayal in her tone.

"Because I will not ever do that. You will have to find another way to regain that feeling."

"The Dark Side?"

"Perhaps, yes."

She wrapped her arms around him suddenly, drawing him closer and his breathing nearly stopped. Was she ware of the feelings she had sparked in him? Or were his shields still able to hold her back? He did not know then if that prospect was not more frightening than laying his trust in her hands.

She was still a bit shaky by the time they had reached their quarters above a small shop at the edge of the city. Dropping down on the bed heavily she noticed that he was still standing at the door, practically bristling with anxiety.The light falling through the blind painted a pattern across his face that looked too much like the bars of a prison. Her breath caught in her throat in a sudden premonition of things to come. But she hesitated in warning him. If she told him of her vision they would be forced to leave this magical place. And they would lose the moment. But if they stayed...

"Belana, you will wait for me here. Meditate on the lesson and don't leave the house. Clear?"

She simply nodded and watched the door close behind him. Drawing up her knees to her chin she sighed deeply. Something seemed to have changed. But she could not quite put her finger to it. He seemed strangely thoughtful, not his usual cool and composed self. There was obviously something on his mind. But what?

They were strolling the boulevard slowly, the tarmac still hot from the days' heat and the sun was glorious flame spreading out along the horizon. Tarla took a deep breath and smiled. At her side Gyro could not shed his perpetual frown. She elbowed him in the side playfully and pointed toward the sunset, wanting him to take notice of it. But the Jedi Knight simply shrugged and looked around instead. Suddenly he froze and grabbed Tarla's arm brutally. She was stopped in midstep, startled.

"Kell!" he hissed and shook her excitedly.

"What?" She threw a doubtful glance at the passers-by.

"It was him," he insisted.

"Are you sure?" Tarla frowned into the distance, trying to evaluate the chances of Roj Kell really being on Alderaan.

"Tall, long, black hair, green eyes. It's him. I am certain. Come on, if you don't believe me."

He started dragging her toward the entrance to the public park.

"Are you mad?" Tarla jerked her arm free. "If it is really him I will not try to confront him. And don't even think that I will let you go alone."

"But if he's here..."

"She could be dead by now."

He gave her an odd look: "I would have thought that you would be more enthusiastic about this."

"Maybe I am just afraid of the truth."

Gyro smiled at her roguishly: "Come on. We will keep our distance and besides, it is a good opportunity to test our shields."

"Which didn't help us much the last time either."

"That was three years ago. I am a Knight now and you as good as. And Master Zerkan is in Aldera too. We are safe."

"Noone's safe when that man is around. Don't you remember?"

"I do." His lips compressed in a tight line. "And that is why we must act."

Roj Kell strode through the park purposefully. Keeping an open mind he scanned the surroundings for the presences of other evening strollers and veered off to the right a bit to find a deserted spot deeper in the forest. The shadows of the night were already peeking through the trees, but they could not frighten him. When he had made his choice he had also decided not to tell Belana of his decision. That way he could test her sincerity later on, if he was given the chance. If. With a tiny sigh he stopped and leaned his shoulder against the rough bark of a tall Ontha tree. He could feel the sap pulsing ever so slowly through the trunk, like the heart-beat of the planet. And in a sense it was that too. He could feel it all around. The Force was wrapping him in thick layers of differnt hues and tastes of life in all its variations. And he would give all that up for her. He would. Stroking the tree absentmindedly he raised his head toward the heavens. A long time ago he had made a mistake and now was the time to make it undone. Dropping to his knees he touched the soft grass reverentially and closed his eyes.

"Cor'dan ha undera do'sh unden luz gha motha," he whispered and let his mind follow the echoes, waiting until his thoughts were completely focused.

The bond was intricate and it would take time to gently dislodge the connections from each other. He searched for the weakest points, hoping to start unraveling the web holding them together from there. Touching the flow he dived deeper into the golden stream and followed the bond quickly. Memories whirled across his inner eye, distracting him, and it became harder to keep focused the deeper he let himself get caught in the web. Finally, when he thought that he would suffocate after all, he had reached the core. Roj Kell almost despaired over the task ahead and the consequences. He would be weakened at a time when the power outlet created by the parting would attract any Jedi roaming the system. But that risk had been taken into consideration and examined closely. The outcome would still be worth it.

"Se'ha sh."

When the web's fibers began dissolving gently he could feel each snapped connection lash back into his body and soul without mercy. Gasping, he dug his fingers in the soft earth, as his hands curled into tight fists. "Se'ha sh," he hissed, repeating the words over and over again in his head.

"What is he doing?"

"I have no idea." Tarla was staring hard at the Sith Lord crouching in the distance, trying hard to see or hear anything.

A gasp at her side brought her head around. Gyro was shaking. "Do you feel that?" he asked, his teeth chattering. The apprentice frowned.

"No," she replied calmly and looked back toward Roj Kell.

She flinched when his body jerked upright and his agonised scream rang through the park's peaceful evening silence brutally. Tarla grabbed Gyro's arm and drew him back. Now she knew what the Jedi Knight had sensed beforehand. It was as if the galaxy's belly had been ripped open to reveal the pulsing light of the Force that made up its entrails. A great wound

that was healing again before Tarla had even become fully aware of it. By that time they were both running. Out of breath they rested out in the street, but both were too agitated to stand still. Tarla was hyperventilating and Gyro wrapped an arm around her soothingly, sending calming thoughts toward her.

"No, what if he-" She tried to fend him off weakly.

"I couldn't care less. We will call Master Zerkan at once."

"Gyro. We have to follow him. Maybe Master Jen is here too."

"You were not so eager a few minutes earlier." He was actually smiling. "Let's go."

Panting loudly he was barely able to keep himself upright and unbidden tears were streaming down his face. He had known that this would happen, so why was he crying now? Biting his lower lip hard Roj Kell was fighting the despair relentlessly. He could not feel a thing. Nothing at all. No, that was not true. There was so much, too much. On another level than before, yet so much stronger. But what he had lost... Don't think about it, he scolded himself viciously. You wanted it and you got it. Be grateful. You are still yourself and you will survive this too. He almost laughed at that thought. With a sigh he rolled over to lie on his back and to look up at the night sky. Happiness. For how long had he denied those feelings, kept them hidden in the darkness? Far too long. Blinking his eyes, suddenly suspicious he noticed that his eyesight was blurry, not as sharp as he was used to. But his hearing seemed more acute. Nothing was filtered out. What a strange sensation. Abruptly he pushed himself up on his elbows and rose unsteadily. Time to go.

Belana stared out of the viewport wide-eyed in the vague direction of the incredible power-source that filled the night with a cold light and eerie shadows. She jumped up from her perch on the bed and pressed her face against the window longingly, trying in vain to find that presence she knew all too well. Had the Jedi found him after all? Her heart clenched in dread. But at the same time she was almost grateful. If he was dead her decisions would become so much easier. He did not care for her the way she dreamed of, she knew, and she always suspected that he was even amused at her barely concealed affections. What had she been thinking by falling in love with him? There was no way she could change him.

Leaning against the windowframe she sighed deeply. Then, her limbs feeling leaden with sorrow, she turned away to find her duffle-bag. Perhaps she should really leave. For a last time she looked back, tried to find him again. But there was nothing. He is dead, she told herself. And I am free again. But deep down she was well aware of the fact that the past three years had left their marks on her. And Belana was not at all certain that the Jedi would even consider taking her back. The question was, then, did she even want to return to them? Her heart vehemently denied what logic dictated. Of course the Jedi had more resources and information to draw upon, resources that would make her job that much easier. And she wanted to help, wanted to do something. She had seen the darkness and the light and found that both complemented each other. There was no good without evil. There were no Sith without Jedi. Had not her own teacher told her so? And Roj Kell should know. Making up her mind she left, closing the door behind her. Her place was on Coruscant.

Master Zerkan was so calm as to annoy Tarla with his deliberatly asked questions and soothing words. They had met him at the viceroy's residence where he had been summoned to oversee some trade negotiations and he had not seemed the least surprised at their news. At least he did not show it. He had listened to Gyro's report on how they had discovered the Sith and asked a few sparse questions throughout the follow-up about the strange events in the park. Meanwhile Tarla was practically bouncing up and down in her seat. The viceroy of Alderaan himself had joined them presently and he looked more than a bit concerned. Finally there was someone who recognised how serious a situation this was.

"And this man, is he dangerous?" he asked quietly at last.

Tarla wanted to give a heated reply - hadn't he been listening? - but Gyro put a hand on her forearm to silence her. Master Zerkan turned toward the monarch slowly and nodded.

"Extremely dangerous, your Highness. I would not advise you to send troops against him. We shall handle this."

"Just the three of us?" Tarla yelped, disbelieving. Zerkan raised his eyebrows coolly as he faced her again.

"Yes. I believe that we do not need to engage him here. That would be foolish. Our primary goal should be to determine whether Belana Jen is with him. If she is, and I dearly hope so, we will free her. Just that. No heroics, no confrontation."

"But-"

"Tarla, he only reacts violently toward provocations. Don't you remember?" Gyro sounded too knowing for the young woman's taste. Shaking her dark head she huffed an indignated sigh and crossed her arms in front of her chest.

"And besides, Tarla," Master Zerkan put in, "I doubt that the three of us would survive a battle against him."

"What if he wants to get her back?"

An aide chose exactly that moment to come rushing in, but none of the Jedi even took notice of him. Their eyes were fixed solely on the tall woman who had followed him in and was now standing there at the entrance, a bit timidly. Zerkan rose smoothly, but Tarla felt her jaw drop in astonishment.

"Master!" she exclaimed and rushed over to take Belana in a tight and wholly undignified embrace.

"I asked around for Jedi and people pointed me here. And look who I found."

Belana's voice was full of warmth and joy, but Tarla could easily sense that there was more hidden behind that sorrowful smile. Regret. Loss. Deepest grieving. Looking up into the older woman's dark brown eyes she asked hopefully:

"Is he dead?"

Immediately the Jedi Master's face turned icy cold. She pushed Tarla away almost brutally and moved to sit down on a chair a bit further away from the rest of the group. She held her head high and turned to look out the window. After a while Zerkan walked over to lay his hands on her shoulders.

"Belana. We are grateful for having you returned to us. We are happy. Can't you feel that?"

"Yes," she answered in a hushed whisper and closed her eyes. Tears began streaming down her face quietly. Tarla felt her own cheeks heaten with embarrassment and despair. She dropped down to kneel in front of her former master and tried to find the other woman's gaze. But Belana looked away again.

"Master, I-"

A hand caressed her face absent-mindedly: "I know you didn't mean it that way."

"Good," the apprentice breathed and a smile lit up her features. "But Gyro and I saw him in the park and - "

That caught her attention: "And what?" The tone was cutting and icy cold and somehow it reminded Tarla of a certain Sith Lord when he was annoyed.

"He seemed to be in pain."

"Then you didn't fight him... I thought he was dead."

"You too?"

"I cannot feel him anymore. His presence has vanished. I believed that the Jedi had... killed him."

Zerkan barked a short laugh: "Well, we know that he isn't that easily killed. Can you tell me what he wanted here?"

"A lesson."

It was clear that Belana did not want to get too deep into that particluar topic and Zerkan swallowed the rest of the question quickly. Spreading his hands in a soothing gesture he nodded slowly. It took him some time to come up with a new approach.

"Do you feel allright?"

Belana only looked at him and the pain in her eyes was clear for everyone to see. And Tarla was suffering with her. She had always liked the older woman and she had been overjoyed when she had taken her as apprentice after Roj Kell had killed Tarla's original master. They had been about to form a deeper friendship when Belana had been kidnapped by the Sith upon his escape from Coruscant. What he had done to her then the young apprentice could only guess at. She started stroking Belana's hand gently, trying to make her see that she cared for her. Very much so. The Jedi Master smiled gently.

"Thank you," she whispered. Suddenly her head came up to look at Zerkan: "What are you planning to do now?"

"Get you out of here. At once."

"What about Kell?"

"Well, I do not like letting him get away again, but there is nothing we can do about it."

"No? Tarla said that something happened to him, am I right? He could be injured."

"And vulnerable." That from Gyro. Belana gave him a cool look. The young Jedi Knight was completely sincere: "I say we find him and put an end to this chase."

"You really have been looking for me all that time?"

"Three years," Tarla grinned.

"I am impressed."

He stood in the doorway, disbelieving. Still feeling dizzy there was no way he could muster enough strength to shield himself from his emotions. She was gone. Kell walked into the dimly lit room, so bereft of all life, her smile, her warmth, everything he had cherished over the past months. He dropped down on the bed heavily and buried his head in his hands. Belana, he called, but he knew that she could not hear him anymore. Noone could. There was a way, a bond of trust, that could replace the emptiness the Force had left upon leaving him forever. But that bond was so much harder to achieve than learning the ways of the Jedi. Which was why most of them never went that far. Belana was different. She had not tried to hide her emotions, had never been aloof. On the other hand she was a very intelligent and reasonable woman. A creature of logic like himself. Roj Kell groaned silently. Well, that too would no longer be an option for him. For him it was back to the roots.

He would have to relearn everything the Force had supplied over the past millenia. Including the art of living as a normal human being. When he had made that choice he had relied on the fact that Belana would be there for him and would understand. He had hoped that she could teach him and that in doing so she would find herself again. Too late. Apparently he had been mistaken about her feelings. A sudden frown appeared on his forehead. If she thought that she could escape that easily... He still had his own magic, and a powerful one it was too. There was no way he would let her get away just like that. No way. He turned his head to look out of the viewport, the frown deepening gradually. If he were Belana, where would he go? Whom would he enlist for help? Of course. He smiled coldly. The Jedi. Ah, there was someone who was in for a nasty surprise. They never had met a real Sith magician before. And it was about time they did.

They had given her a room in the upper levels of the palatial residence and Tarla had taken one right beside hers. She had grown really attached to her old master. And Belana found that most endearing. There was someone who finally cared. Contrary to Kell. Snuggling against her pillow she lay awake and stared out of the window toward the fat moon hanging above the city of Aldera. All the peace she had felt after their arrival on this world had been shred into pieces, leaving only loneliness. She missed him. It was a strange feeling, that she should mourn her captor like this. But he still held her heart prisoner. A sudden sound made her blood run cold. She twisted around to look over her shoulder. There was only darkness. Then a shadow fell across her bed, startling her. Whirling back again she saw him stand at the window, silhouetted against the pale light of the moon.

"Master."

He dropped down to his knees in front of her and took her head in his hands gently. But Belana could feel the strength in the sinews and tendons writhing underneath the cold skin of his palms. He could break her neck just like that, if he wanted to. And for a moment she was truly afraid that he would. A furious fire was burning in his pale eyes, one that seemed to illuminate the entire room with an eerie light. His face was fixed in a silent snarl and he was visibly fighting with himself. Belana put her hands on his, holding him tight. He sighed deeply and shook his head. Letting go of her Kell rose again.

"Why did you go?" he asked quietly, his beautiful voice floating through the silent, dark room like the aftermath of a dream. Belana froze. Could it be? That he had ... missed her?

"I thought you were dead."

"Did you now." There was so much pain in his voice that it hurt her too.

"I could not feel your presence anymore. What happened?"

He hesitated and that in itself was surprising. Pondering a thought, thinking something through, all that, yes. But hesitating like that was not like the Roj Kell she had come to know. Propping herself up on her right elbow Belana frowned at him.

"This may be hard for you to understand."

"I don't care. Go on."

"Can you imagine being one with the Force? Being the Force?"

"Not quite." She smiled.

"Well, I was, for a time. Not anymore."

"What?" Belana sat up. "You must be kidding."

"No." And then he told her everything. She listened in astonishment. When he was finished she had pulled her knees up to her chest and hugged them to her tightly. He looked at her calmly, as if he had not just shattered her understanding of the Force.

"You mean ... you were part of the Force?"

"Everything is."

"Yes, but not like this."

"No."

"Cor'dan," she repeated slowly. "The Heart of Darkness. Now I know what you meant."

"Do you?"

"Probably not. And you gave all that up? Why?"Again that slight hesitation. But then he smiled at her hopefully. And she understood. "For me?" He nodded.

"I found that what I had been missing was trust. You gave me yours."

"And now you decided to give me your life in return ..." She reached out to stroke his face gently and all of a sudden the warmth she had felt build up in her heart turned into a roaring fire that burned away all doubt and fear. "Have I told you that I love you?"

"You do not have to. I know you do."

"And what about you?"

"Can't you tell?

"I guess."

He took her hand and kissed it tenderly. "Will you come back then?"

Belana shook her head. "No. I want you to stay with me."

His smile froze instantly. "What?"

She leaned toward him, her lips just short of touching his. "Stay," she whispered. "Stay here."

The frown forming on his forehead eased away under her caresses easily and Belana was certain that this time she would win after all. She still could not believe what he had done for her, what he was risking by coming to her now, but she had to be certain of his sincerity. And she knew him well enough. Despite whatever he had said he was still bent on surviving. Which was why he was here at all and why he had told her his little secret. It was another game he was playing, only this time there was much more at stake than her soul. It was his life that she held in her hands. His most precious possession. Maybe it was cold-hearted to think that way, but Belana had learned a lot during her apprenticeship. And one was to never relinquish control, when it was her who got it for a change. Stroking his neck she kissed his throat gently. He understood, of course. He would not be Roj Kell if he didn't.

"Belana," he began protesting, but she only laughed at him.

"Trust me."

He woke to the unmistakable sound of a lightsaber being ignited. The heat of the blade caressed his left temple and when he opened his eyes the weapon seemed to inch even closer. Kell thought he could smell burnt hair. The room was still dark, but the lightsaber lit the small assembly well enough. Kell remembered the middle-aged Jedi who was standing at the door back from Coruscant. It was not a fond memory. At his side Tarla had taken hold of Belana and the girl's right hand was locked firmly over her former master's mouth to prevent her from screaming out a warning. He frowned at that. Why had he let her persuade him to stay anyway? It had been foolish. But worth it. Fully clothed he had fallen asleep next to her after they had talked for hours and it was astounding that he had managed to keep awake for so long anyway.

The parting had been exhausting and his senses were not fully at their normal height again. Which was why he had never felt the three Jedi come in. In a way it was frustrating, but inevitable too. But he had been aware of the risks beforehand. And he had accepted them fully. So he kept very quiet and tried to look as harmless as possible. Belana was staring at him wide-eyed, silently pleading him to remain sane and safe. He knew what she wanted to say. She had not betrayed him. Smiling at her in reassurance Kell squeezed her fingers still intertwined with his. He had not even felt her take his hand. Their fingertips brushed over each other as Tarla gently pulled Belana out of his reach. For a second he almost forgot the lightsaber, only wanting to dry the tears flowing down her cheeks all of a sudden.

Tarla became aware of her teacher crying and took her hand away, the look in her eyes one of open astonishment. She opened her mouth to speak, but the Jedi Master silenced her with a sharp gesture. Belana straightened fully and looked down at Kell with challenge in her eyes. He smiled at her coldly. Time to play, it would seem. He knew very well what she was thinking. But she was mistaken. He was not tame, he was not nice, he was still the same. No, not the same at all. Moving quickly he slapped the lightsaber away from his face and flung its bearer against the viewport with a well-placed blow. Tarla screamed. Paying her no heed Roj Kell rose abruptly and snatched the handle from the boy's hand. Gyro. The old gang together again. Almost.

"Too bad Master Kulur could not join us," he said acidly as he turned around. As expected Tarla's face darkened at the reference to her first master. He had died at her hands, but at that time Kell had taken over her mind. And she still seemed to blame herself for his death. Good.

"What did you expect?" he continued, laughing at their sullen faces. He did not dare to look at Belana though.

"Listen to me," the older Jedi began and Kell rounded on him immediately.

"What."

"We do not want to kill you."

"No? Why am I not surprised?"

"Well, officially there is still that death sentence..."

"Oh, right. How could I forget about that?"

"It is obvious that you do not have any intention of leaving Belana Jen alone ..." The Jedi waited as if he expected Kell to protest. He didn't. "Maybe we can find a mutual agreement. If you would accompany us to Coruscant I believe-"

"What do you think you are asking."

He found that his tone was too icy even for his ears. But why was he so upset? Because it was true. He wanted to be with her under any circumstances. And he trusted her. But on the other hand he wanted to be free. And returning to Coruscant to die was surely not on his mind. Looking at Belana almost timidly he found her dark eyes unfathomable. She knew what was at stake, didn't she? The question was, would she leave him hanging or would she draw him away from the edge?

"You stayed this night," she said, her voice almost too low to hear. "And I admire your courage because you knew what was at risk and gave it willingly anyway. Now. Will you trust me just a bit longer?"

So she was throwing him a life-line. But he would have to make that decision. A compromise then. But maybe that was the essence of their relationship. A truce. He suppressed a smile, sensing that it would be the worst thing he could do, to give her that ironic smile even though he felt slightly amused at her move. She knew him and she knew that he would decide in any case. Belana walked over to him and lay a hand on his.

"Will you?"

He nodded. "I guess I have no choice."

Seeing right through him she took the lightsaber he was still holding on to and smiled. "Thank you." Stepping forward she placed a quick kiss on his lips. "For your trust."

Kell simply looked at her. Had he made the right decision? He had to admit that he was slightly afraid of things to come, and he was not used to being dependent on someone else's protection. On the other hand he doubted that Belana would lift a finger to help him without his expressive request. No, she would stand back and let him bust his head if he wanted to. Definitely. He shot a glance at the three Jedi who had taken watch over the door nonchalantly. And realized that they were not trying to prevent him from leaving but actually shielding him from the guards assembling outside. His eyes narrowed dangerously. As if he could not handle this on his own! But Belana put a hand on his shoulder when he started walking toward them.

Tarla stared at the couple suspiciously. Maybe she should have seen it earlier in Belana's reactions that something more was going on between these two than she had suspected at first. It had started back on Coruscant already those three years ago and even then she had been afraid for her master. They had all seen that she was falling for the black-haired Sith, and in a way it had been understandable. As the one responsible for breaking the prisoner Belana had been forced to spend more time with him than anyone else. And Tarla was well aware of the fact that he was a handsome man. But she had not forgotten what was lurking beneath that smooth surface. He was poisoning everyone around him, twisted their minds and bent their thoughts to his will so easily that one only realized his games when it was far too late. How could Belana trust him now? Of course, she had spent three years in his company and the young apprentice suspected that Kell had brain-washed her somehow. It would have been an easy feat considering the Jedi Master's feelings for him.

Right now they were staring at each other in a silent contest of wills. Tarla remembered Gyro telling her that Roj Kell reacted only toward hostile provocations. But unfortunately noone could tell what he considered hostile. Sometimes he would be more lenient toward one person and incredibly short-tempered toward another. For example he had been infinitely patient with Belana. Actually Tarla could not recall one single incident where he had outright attacked the Jedi Master. At the moment he looked about ready to explode and the young woman suspected that his chosen target would be the viceroy's security personnel. If Belana could not calm him down ... Tarla jumped when he disengaged from the older woman and pushed past her to stride into the hallway. Her eyes met that of Belana Jen when the Jedi Master turned around, her mouth twisted into a grim line. At Tarla's side Master Zerkan drew an angry breath.

"Lord Kell!" he called and followed the Sith briskly.

Tarla peeked out of the doorway to see what was going on and her eyes opened wide in horror at the sight greeting her there. It was as if time was freezing slowly, and the air seemed to be charged with lead, sending tiny blue sparks crackling along Roj Kell's long, black hair when he whirled back to face Zerkan ever so slowly. His body was trailing an aura of golden light that wrapped his dark-clad form in a yellow sheen. Tarla's mouth dropped open. She had never seen anyone use the Force like that.

"He's not using the Force." Belana's voice was very calm when she joined the young apprentice. Gyro had turned around too and now threw a doubtful glance first at the Jedi Master, then at Kell. "This is true Sith magic."

"It looks ... incredible."

"Just wait and watch," the older woman replied with a smile. Roj Kell was now fully facing Master Zerkan and Tarla could barely bear the tension she felt. If he killed him now ... Her hands clenched into fists at the memory of Master Kulur's death. But then a hand was placed on her shoulder gently, holding her back. "He won't hurt him."

"Are you sure?"

Suddenly a new player entered the arena and Tarla nearly fainted at the viceroy's ignorant bravery when he walked through his troops unconcernedly to confront the taller man. Roj Kell ignored him at first, apparently still in the process of debating authority in this matter with Zerkan. Finally though he looked over his shoulder coolly and raised his eyebrows in a silent question as the magic faded ever so slowly. The viceroy drew himself up straighter and met those pale eyes unafraid.

"Apart from trespassing on private property there are quite a few charges I could bring up against you," he began. Kell stared. "But I will drop those gladly. Master Zerkan." It was incredible how he dismissed the Sith Lord completely. And even more incredible was the amused smile on Roj Kell's lips. "I would ask you to remove this individual from my planet and property." That did it. Tarla closed her eyes in dire anticipation of the outburst to come.

At her side Belana Jen was shaking with silent laughter.

"Viceroy," Kell said and his voice wiped every thought clean off everyone's mind, leaving them disorientated and slightly shocked. The ruler's eyes had glazed over and his mouth was hanging open. "I find your world truly perfect, but it lacks one thing: competent leadership. Which you don't seem to be able to provide. Maybe I would do Alderaan a favor if I did remove you from office permanently. But alas there is someone who would be very unhappy about that. So I shall let you live. For a while." When the last echoes of his words had died away Tarla was finally able to breathe again. She grinned at the viceroy's perplexed expression. Even Master Zerkan seemed to agree with Kell. But before this comedy could turn into hostile action he stepped forward to place himself between the two adversaries.

"Your highness, we will gladly leave and take him with us to Coruscant."

"I will get this to the Senate, you can be certain of that."

"Feel free to do whatever you desire, your majesty. Belana, would you please gather your belongings? I think we should depart as soon as possible. If you agree, Lord Kell?"

"What about my ship?"

"I am sure we can find a way. Now, please. We need to go."

TBC