Written for theKFM Dueling Circle Challenge #17: Desires. Unfortunately, I was late from school, and couldn't get it in on time. Oh well...
Follows in chronological order my stories "Undivided Attention" and "Acid Etched", both of which are in my profile. This story is set in a side-universe to them, though. Think of it as an AU to a story that hasn't been written yet?
Somewhere along their journey – he wasn't sure when – the General had gotten herself tattooed. Black and heavy, they curved around her face and ran down her neck into her robes, and Bao-Dur idly wonders where they end.
"You wonder, huh? Well, I wonder the same about yours…"
He's unsurprised to see her in the engine room doorway, but he is surprised at her attire. She's just wearing some loose, casual clothes with her regular boots, and Bao-Dur doesn't think he's ever seen her this underdressed in all the years he's known her. The clean simple lines of her tattoos are visible on her upper arms and on her chest, curling around her shoulders in spirals.
"Nice design," he says casually, and she smirks and steps further into the gloom of the engine room.
"I've shown you mine – are you going to show me yours?"
Bao-Dur just shakes his head slowly, a grin beginning to form. "I'm shy," he says with a straight face, and she laughs aloud.
"Really? Well, I remember a few stories to the contrary, Lieutenant-"
"Hey, you promised to never speak of that again-"
Bao-Dur just sighs and turns back to the port engine. "Wonderful."
With a few quick steps she's standing next to him, head tilted to the side so she can see his face better. Her hair falls around her face, and she irritably brushes it out of the way. "Hey, you. What's going on?"
"Nothing," he says flatly, and turns his attention to the delicate circuit board lying in front of him. She just sighs and kneels next to him. "That's not an answer. I mean it, what's wrong?"
Bao-Dur just ignores her. The crushed circuit board requires all of his attention if the port hyperdrive is going to run again. As he concentrates, he feels the General twisting her way into his head, a cool ribbon of silk behind his eyes and around his temples. He considers pushing back, but there's really no point.
One final adjustment and the jury-rigged circuit board is ready to be inserted and plugged in. A few delicate movements with his left arm and the board is slotted into place. He reaches underneath the drive control with his right hand and flips the switch, and with a sputter, the hyperdrive activates. Bao-Dur leans back and grins in satisfaction. The cool ribbon in his head vibrates happily, and as he stands up, he offers the General his hand.
He really should have known better. One minute, he's standing upright, and the next, he's lying flat on his back with a woman pinning him down through bodyweight and the judicious use of the Force.
"Hey!" he gasps, more startled than anything, and the General just leans against him and says, "Turnabout is fair play, after all…"
"Are you still upset about that?" He asks questioningly. "That was months ago…"
She just laughs at him and moves into a better position to talk to him. Straddling his waist, elbows against his collarbone, her face is only six inches from him, and he can see the smooth detailing of the tattoos around her eyes. Bao-Dur looks down, and notes that underneath her camisole there are a lot of kolto bandages. Her tattoos snake under them, and in places where a bandage has been taken off, he sees the lines are interrupted by clean new skin.
"Enjoying the show, Lieutenant?" she asks teasingly, and he just raises an eyebrow. "You need to redo your tattoos, General. They're all messed up."
She shrugs, and Bao-Dur tries to ignore the emergence of even more new skin. "Why don't you fix yours, then? You haven't redone them since the end of the war, it looks like…"
His body stiffens underneath her, and he wills himself to relax. "It's personal. Religious, too. Not really anything I can talk about." For a minute, he thinks she's going to drop it, to leave him alone, but she just presses down harder on his chest with the Force.
"It's not fair," she says angrily. "It's not fair that you get to push and push on me when I don't want to talk about something, but when I want to talk to you, Force forbid I bring anything up."
Bao-Dur doesn't bother answering – he's too busy struggling to bring air into his compressed chest. I'm way too old to be dealing with this, he thinks, and it's a simple matter for him to reach out in their bond and squeeze. She groans in pain and her hands fly up to her head. The pressure on his chest is gone, and he throws her off him and into a wall.
She snarls in pain and pulls herself to her feet, her eyes narrowed, and if looks could kill, he'd be dead ten times over. He backs away warily and waits for her to calm, and sure enough, a moment later her face is clear of anger and rage. She rubs her face roughly, and her hair falls into her face again.
"Sorry," she says hoarsely, and Bao-Dur just shrugs. He leans against the wall, and she mirrors his movement and stares at him through her hair. They stay like that for a minute, and he remembers other times, other days when she'd gone into the gym and had fought against the other officers for hours, her body becoming just another extension of her anger and hate.
He had understood feeling like that.
"Kreia was always telling me that I need to think my actions through, needed to control myself. So was Vrook, come to think of it," she says, and Bao-Dur knows it's a peace offering.
"She was right, if only about that," he tells her, and through her hair he sees her mouth twist. Her right hand lifts up and tucks some hair behind an ear, and she's glaring at him.
"I hated you when I met you on Telos, you know. I hated how in control you were, and I hated how you seemed to know me, and I hated that I could hear you when nobody else could, not even Kreia," she states matter-of-factly. "I hated Kreia for the same reason."
He raises an eyebrow. "No, you didn't," he says with absolute certainty, and she groans and leans her head against the wall.
"And thus you prove my point," she says tiredly and bends her head downward again. "It was easier to deal with the others. They didn't know anymore than I did…"
"The others are dead," he says, frowning, and he watches as she suddenly gets on her hands and knees and crawls over to him. She turns around and scoots herself back against the wall next to him, and wraps her arms around her legs. The tattoos flex, and he flexes his own shoulders in sympathy.
"Yes, they're dead," she says conversationally, and he listens. "They're dead because they wanted something from me I couldn't give. Atton wanted to save me, and Sion destroyed him; Mira wanted an escape, and Hanharr destroyed her; the Disciple…well, he wanted a teacher, and he got one; and Visas wanted to be saved from herself, and she did. And Kreia wanted my understanding – and I gave it to her, right before I cut her down."
She tucks her hair behind her ear again, and he notes a tendril of her tattoo curling behind her ear. "And then there's you. What do you want, Bao-Dur, and how can I give it to you?" she says bitterly, and he reaches up and grabs her hand in his, stilling her nervous, angry movement.
"You've already given me everything I've wanted," he tells her honestly, and holds her hand even tighter. "In all this, though, I've never heard what you want."
She looks up at him, eyes shadowed, cheeks bisected by her dark tattoos, and gently disentangles her hand from his. "A better world?" she says. "A world in which innocent children can live a life of peace, where good people can survive unmolested by evil men?" Suddenly, she leans forward, and moves his arm aside, hugging him around the chest tightly. She's soft and quiet, and Bao-Dur is uncomfortable without the barrier of armor between them. She tips her head up and breathes into his ear, and a tingle runs down his spine. "I hated you the most, though, when I realized that you'd known all along what I had just learned, standing over Kreia's body. There is no dark side, there is no light side. There's only the rage and pain and love that move me forward."
He touches her cheek, skimming her face and hair. "You're the still the same as you were before, General, the same person. And you didn't answer my question."
She buries her face in his chest, and he feels the vibration of her laughter.
You already know what I want, he hears, and he looks down on her head, feels the pressure of her fists against his ribs.
Gently, he wraps an arm around her and leans back, and the vibration of the engines surround them, there in the heart of the Ebon Hawk.