The sky was dark, threatening, and full of the promise of ruin as I lay sprawled on my back amidst the rubble and debris with my eyes staring blankly upwards. Masonry crumbled and pitched headlong into the abyss that had opened up before me. The heels of my grey grimed boots rested precariously on the lip of the chasm. A large column splintered as the planet heaved its weary bulk, and I was unmindful as a boulder crashed next to me, clipping my shoulder without mercy.
Alongside me lay the body of an old woman, yet I, the victor, felt no joy in her death. I felt as empty as I did when victory was wrought over the Mandalorians, ten years previously.
An arc of blazing light flashed across the sky, spilling green tendrils that writhed and caressed the ruined earth. The smell of ozone and ancient rot competed for my attention, and I turned my head, willing my senses to accept the numbness that slowly seeped through my body.
I am dying. Somehow, it does not matter. My life is irrelevant, and I willingly welcomed the silence that deafened me.
No. It was not silence…it was a roar, one that rose in an unnatural crescendo that matched the planet's wailing pleas for release.
Warm gusts fanned my hair across my face and obscured my view of the sky. I felt a slight impatience rise within me as I tried to raise an arm to brush the errant locks away, but my arm was numb and I did not know if I could lift the dead weight that it had become. I closed my eyes instead-that much I could do.
Dust, dry and acrid, settled across my face; gentle little whispers that coated my flesh. Motes of ash from the very heart of Malachor burnt lazily, and I could smell the sharp scent as they fell smouldering onto my hair.
The blackness beneath my lashes gathered momentum, and I heard the voices of my ancestors calling softly to me. I tried to answer, but the sound was choked in my throat, and all I could utter was a small gasp as I struggled silently for the words that eluded me.
Movement. Beneath me, around me. I could feel the planet's tortured motions and I felt an unbidden sympathy swell in my chest as I measured the shudders that rippled through the dark earth. As I die, Malachor collapses around me.
"General? Are you alright? You look kind of pasty."
"I'm alright. Just concentrate on yourself."
He looked at me apologetically. "No General. There is something bothering you. It's her, isn't it? Kreia."
I glanced at the Zabrak sharply. "What do you mean?"
Bao-Dur grimaced as he turned his head away and stared across at the holomap that dominated the main hold. "What has she told you, about the Jedi…about you?"
"I don't know what you mean, and I would prefer it if you kept your opinions to yourself."
"I mean no harm, General. I fear she has a secret agenda and that she is using you as her pawn…"
I glared, angry about the raw nerve that he had unknowingly touched, and spat, "You know nothing Bao-Dur, and I do not ask for your judgment. Do not speak of matters that you have no comprehension of."
He watched as the small Astromech droid whirred past on its circuit of the ship's narrow corridors. "I am concerned for you, General," he replied, his voice low and quiet. "I may be the only one that understands you. I know what you must be feeling. Malachor is not far off," he reminded me.
Sighing, I turned to him, and laid my hand on his bare arm, his skin soft and warm beneath my fingers. "Forgive me, Bao. I forget…"
His gentle smile caught my heart. "There is nothing to forgive."
Is he on this planet, his mission accomplished? The planet shuddered in response, and I knew that he had completed his side of the bargain. My thoughts started to slip past me in a clouded haze, and I fought against the weariness. For the first time I prayed for something other than my own inadequacies and inaptitude. I prayed that at least he made it.
It was dark and silent as I paced barefoot across the metal floor of the garage, the solitude of the small ship comforting as it plummeted through space to our unwanted destination. The throb of the engines as it slipped through deep space was soothing, and unknowingly tears spilled down my cheeks as I glanced about the darkened room. Soon, I would meet the fate that waited for me, and no amount of peace and quiet would ease me. My nerves felt raw, jagged, and I paced the floor, my feet guiding me unwittingly across towards where a figure stood sheathed in shadows.
The clink of metal on metal woke me from my languished stupor, and I glanced up as the figure moved tentatively towards me, the faint glow of the strip lighting spilling across the familiar tattooed features.
I stood before him, stupidly silent and wishing that I hadn't entered the room. I had thought that he was in the dormitory that he shared with the others, and I regretted the persistence that had gnawed at me, urging me to come here.
Mutely he regarded me, his eyes compassionate, his silence meaningful.
Suddenly I became aware of how stupid I looked, with the tears of self-pity streaming down my face, the hot redness of my cheeks. I glanced away from him, and stared down at the uniform pattern of the metal floor.
I tried to ignore him, but the soft lilt of his voice compelled me. I slowly raised my head and watched as he narrowed the distance between us. Still I found my voice evading me, and I cursed myself for my weakness.
I felt the touch of his hand on my shoulder, the grip firm and strong. A pale blue light shimmered between us, sparkling in intensity as he pulled me to him. I looked up at him, and my emotion gave me away, even as I struggled to push myself away from him. "No, Bao…please."
He only shook his head in response as he resolutely pulled me towards him. I felt the soft fabric of his shirt against my cheek. "Sometimes, General, you have to think of yourself and not others." His arm encircled me, and I could hear the faint crackle of the force field of his damaged arm, as he brushed my hair with his metal hand. "How can you lead us, if you are in doubt?"
"Doubt?" I mouthed the word against his chest, which was now becoming damp with my unbidden tears.
"I will follow you regardless," he replied as if he hadn't heard me. "I followed you once before, and I follow you willingly again."
I raised my head, pushing the hair off my damp forehead with an irritated sweep of one hand. "I do not ask that. Bao-Dur…"
He smiled down at me, his features kind but determined. "You have no choice General. We have discussed what has to be done, and I do this of my own accord. I know the others follow you as I do, and together we will all do what needs to be done."
I pressed my cheek to the reassuring strength of his chest, listening to the thump of his heart, "But I do not want you to risk yourself."
His arm pressed me further into his embrace, and I felt his chin rest against my head. "It is too late for that General," he whispered.
A wind whipped coldly against me, the drafts whirling clouds of dust that stung against my closed lids. I struggled for breath as a vacuum engulfed me, and distantly the sound of muffled voices reached me. I lay there in the dirt of Malachor; used, battered and fervently praying that death would capture me.
Strong hands grasped me tightly about my arms, and I felt myself pulled and tugged, all the while the crackle of emerald lightening blazing around me.
Leave me to die. My mouth gaped open, the words rolling painfully of my cracked and parched tongue. All around me the planet screamed in its death, the finality ripping its way through the Force-dark vented powers that threatened to engulf my fragile mind.
I think I screamed as I was grappled bodily upwards, my face roughly and crudely shoved against the chill metal of the loading ramp. I heard a rough voice say, 'I got her' and I was dragged into the warmth, the pale interior lighting dispelling the dark that chased across my soul.
Let me die, I pleaded as I felt the small freighter wobble precariously on the updrafts of current that rocked the planet below.
"Do you ever tire of calling me General, Bao?" I asked as I gazed up into his dark solemn eyes.
A wan smile toyed about his lips, and he met my gaze unwaveringly. "Never, General."
I slid my arm about his neck, my fingers stroking the back of his neck. "I do have a name, you know."
His eyes sparkled with humour as he pulled me tighter to him, his arm firm against my back. "I know, but maybe I like calling you General."
"Oh be serious. I mean, that was ten years ago. There's no need to call me that anymore-especially since…"
"Humour me," he whispered, the look in his eyes softening.
I ran a finger across his lips, smiling as he playfully nipped my fingertips, "Alright…but don't say I didn't warn you, tech."
He lowered his face to mine, his lips brushing across mine tenderly, "Call it our secret…General."
I smoothed my hand up across the firm tautness of his chest, my palm splayed open as I mentally absorbed the contours of his finely toned body. I felt his hand tilt my face up towards his, his lips soft but demanding on mine, and I gave myself to him as he pressed me further into his kiss, his arms winding themselves about me.
I slipped my hand beneath his shirt, marveling at the perfect sculpture of his physique, and I inwardly smiled at the shudder that ran through him. He pulled away from me, his eyes wide as he tugged the garment from his body, and glancing around the deserted garage, he gently lowered me to the cool ground with him, his body warm and so alive against mine.
I loved him then, as I had done before, but a part of me knew that this was farewell, that this would never happen again. And even as he loved me back, I felt the brittle pain of my heart as it shattered.
I tried to ignore them, but their persistence demanded that I pay heed to them. I slowly opened my eyes, wincing at the bright light of the med lab as it seared my retinas, causing ghostly shapes to swim before me.
"Do you think she will be okay?"
I tried to turn my head towards the soft concerned feminine voice, but I felt strong hands hold me down.
"You must remain still, Exile. You are wounded."
"How bad is it, Mical?" the soft voice enquired.
I struggled and raised my head blindly as I heard the noise of footsteps edge away from me, and I strained my ears to hear their muffled voices.
"It is bad," he replied quietly.
"Do you think she knows?"
There was a soft metallic clink of instruments being laid on a metal tray, "No. I think that she is unaware of the depth of her injuries. That in itself is a blessing, perhaps. But I fear what will happen to her once she is aware of what occurred on the planet's surface."
"I can't believe that he didn't make it," Mira said quietly.
There was a long pause before he replied, "Yes, and I do not know how to tell her. I fear how badly she will react to the news of his death. Her injuries are mortal enough as is."
I turned my head away from them, and faced the far wall, tears seeping and burning down my cheeks. I had lost so much. Beneath us, Malachor V burned defiantly as the small ship sped away into the infinity of deep space.
Many thanks to Vaguely Familiar for the excellent beta-read