Done for the KFM Dueling Circle Challenge #16 - Altered States.

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The cantina was raucous, more than usual. Then again, surviving almost certain death was generally something to celebrate, so maybe that was why what felt like half the population of Citadel Station was here, drinking, gambling, and just generally having a good time.

Bao-Dur was the odd man out. Alone, unsmiling, and steadily nursing his drink, there was a large radius of empty space around him at the bar. The barkeep only came near him to get him another drink, and then he scuttled to the other end of the bar and the genial TSF drunks calling for drinks, more drinks.

"Why the long face, Bao-Dur?"

He looks up involuntarily, eyes flicking up and down and up again, finally settling on the speaker's face. His mouth curves into a weak smile.

"Hello, General. How was your meeting with Admiral Onasi?"

"Good," she says, smiling. "That doesn't answer my question, however."

The smile on his face wavers and falls away, replaced by a deep-seated depression. "Oh, I was just thinking about our upcoming destination."

"Upcoming destination?" she questions gently, eyebrow raised, and she slides into the barstool next to him.

"You mean you don't know?" He looks at her cynically, and under his harsh, alien eyes she seems to wilt.

"I know. Just don't want to think about it, I guess."

The Iridonian gestures sharply to the bartender, and he scuttles over with another shot glass and a bottle of whiskey.

"Help yourself," Bao-Dur says, nodding toward the Exile.

"Thanks," she said, surprised, and she pours herself a glass.

They sat there awhile, the only movement coming when one of the figures would pick up the bottle and pour some more whiskey into their glass. The radius of the no-contact bubble around the zabrak expanded to include the human, and people avoided both of them in their melancholy haze.

Unexpectedly, the Exile turned and looked at Bao-Dur with a strange intensity. "We should go, get everything ready so we-"

"Don't worry about it," the tech said waving his hand languidly. The drinks had made him more relaxed, more pliable. "I took care of everything while you were gone."

"Oh?"

"Yeah, I gathered everybody up and sent them out on 'missions'. Uh, I found Mira a station to make grenades and mines, I sent HK out to buy armor and weapons, Mical is scrounging medical supplies, Visas is selling some of the stuff we've found, and Atton is doing what he does best: making money." He waves in the general direction of the pazaak table to make his point.

"And what are you doing?" she questions archly. "Sitting in a cantina drinking while the others do the work."

Bao-Dur chuckles quietly. "I gave my repair plan to T3. He's overseeing the tech crew Lt. Grenn lent to us, making sure they do what I want them to do."

The Exile laughs at this, and Bao-Dur watches her face lift up, her eyes close in mirth. "Oh, Bao-Dur…you should have stayed in the army; you would have done well there."

Bao-Dur snorts, almost spitting out his drink as he laughed loudly. "What's so funny?" the Exile demanded indignantly. "It's true! You like ordering people around, you like making them do stuff! And you're good at it!"

He shakes his head, still convulsing with laughter. "I was a terrible officer. I was always running late, always something wrong with my uniform, always getting into trouble… They were glad to see the back of me, when I left, after."

The Exile just grinned slyly. "I remember more of you, now that I've spent so much time with you. It helps that there aren't as many zabraks in the service…"

Bao-Dur just shakes his head slowly. "You probably remember something really embarrassing, don't you? Figures…"

"Actually," the Exile said, smile still firmly in place, "I remember all the female officers would go crazy over you in your uniform. They all thought you filled it out very well."

Bao-Dur ducked his head, a blush coloring his cheeks. "Is that…a blush? I didn't think you big, tough, Iridonian boys got embarrassed by that sort of thing…"

"Oh, shut up."

"Wait'll I tell Mira about this…"

"Oh, Force…"

For a minute, they just sit there, the blushing man and the gleeful woman, and it's something so normal, something that happens every day on some force-forsaken little world where the people never leave and have friends they have known forever and bonded with over work and school - not people they met in an awful, bloody war, not people they bonded with over shared grief and guilt.

And then a song starts, and the Exile jumps up, laughing. "I like this song – dance with me!" and she grabs Bao-Dur by the arm and starts dragging him to the dance floor. And for a minute, he thinks about it. If he were ten years younger…but no. She's drunk, and so is he, or he wouldn't even be considering this.

"No, no – I'm a terrible dancer, General."

She looks up at him through her eyelashes, oddly…betrayed. "Liar."

And he pulls away from her, looks at her deeply, thoughtfully. "No," he says slowly. "I really can't dance. Two left feet, General."

She looks at him hard, and something about what he said pleases her. "All right. Let's go back to the bar, then."

Bao-Dur just shakes his head. "I don't think so. We've both had enough tonight – we should go back to out quarters." He takes her arm gently and tugs her to the exit, and she leans on him as they walk down the halls of Citadel Station. Even at night, people are moving around, repairing consoles, talking to neighbors, re-opening their shops…its bedlam. The Exile turns her face into Bao-Dur's shoulder and shudders, and in response, he walks faster, pulling her with him.

"Why aren't we going to the Ebon Hawk?" she asks quietly, and he looks at her for a moment before pulling her to another transit shuttle. "The Ebon Hawk is in the middle of repairs, remember? Lt. Grenn was kind enough to give us temporary quarters for a little while, so we're staying there until we leave."

"That makes sense," she says sleepily, and the Iridonian had to suppress a smile at how quickly humans can get drunk. He lost his smile after stumbling around a corner and realizing he wasn't much better. Finally, though, they made it to the quarters, and he stopped in front of the room they'd designated for the females, keying in the code for the room.

Now, is it 9134, or 9582? Neither code worked, and he wracked his brain for the correct one. The Exile muttered something indistinctly, and out of habit, he bent down to hear her better. "Yes, General?"

And then she kissed him.

As kisses go, it wasn't that good. Bao-Dur knew that humans weren't supposed to taste so acid-bitter, and he knew that she was drunk and would regret it. Mostly, though, he knew that it was wrong to do this, and he should stop immediately. When he pushed her away, keeping a grip on her arms, he saw that she had a triumphant grin on her face, cheerful and cocksure.

He suddenly felt tired, and very old. If he was only ten years younger…

"Why'd you stop?" She asked quietly, and he sighed. "You'd regret it in the morning, and so would I. This isn't the time or place to be doing such things, and I'm not the person."

"What do you mean?" she asks curiously, and she tilts her head like the canines on Iridonia do.

"What about Atton, or the Disciple? Both of them are fine men, interested in you…"

She just looks at him as though he doesn't understand. "They aren't what they seem. Nobody is, except you."

He shakes his head firmly. "That just proves my point, General. You're lonely and betrayed, and you want-"

"-to feel like I trust somebody?" She finishes wryly, sardonic twist to her mouth. "It's not like that, but that's all right. This is the wrong time and place, so why don't you be a good little soldier and tuck your poor, ailing commander into bed?"

Bao-Dur just pulls her into the room, stifling laughter at her mercurial changes of mood. Humans…

He pushes her onto the first bed he sees, and she lies there like a limp rag doll. That's good, though – easier for him to get her tucked away. He pulls off her boots and armor, sets them neatly by the bed, and pulls the covers over her, draping them neatly. Then he starts making the bed.

"Hey, I'm still in here, you know! I don't plan on leaving for a while, either…"

"That's what everyone says," the tech observes calmly. "Funny how plans don't work out."

She collapses into a sulking silence, and he finishes tucking the sheets under the bed in silence. "Lights, off," he states, and the room is thrown into darkness, the only light coming from the station streets outside the room window. In the darkness, Bao-Dur is a just a more solid shade of dark, and he bends over the Exile, to the point where she can feel his breath on her face. He just brushes the hair off her face and turns away. "Good night, General."

"Bao-Dur, considering the circumstances, I think you can call me by my given name now."

He just rolls his eyes before stepping through the threshold of the room. "See you in the morning, General." He closes the doors behind him.

In the darkness of the room the men share, he climbs into bed and stares at the ceiling and thinks of Iridonia. He's been missing it lately, more than he has in the previous eight years. He wonders if he should go home – if he survives, that is. His mind goes around in circles and circles, and he falls into a troubled sleep.

In his dreams, a black planet seethes, and in its death throes writhes most horribly. It is unholy, and unconsecrated, and the bodies of the dead lie there unburied.

This is Malachor V, he thinks before waking, but when he does wake up, he doesn't remember. All he knows is the acid-sour taste in his mouth and the pounding headache in his temples. It's the next day, and he shuffles out of bed reluctantly.

At breakfast, the Exile tells them they leave for Malachor V in an hour.