A/N: Written for Rian Sage's Challenge from the forums.
To new readers, sorry for the blatant OC usage but I just love that ex-Sithy boy and couldn't help myself. :)
Dedicated to Vanilla Latte. Loves ya!
"She was beautiful, my wife," Jolee Bindo said. "Even when I first met her I thought she was too good for me—too pretty, too smart. I was mostly right in that it turned out I wasn't smart enough to see her fall to the dark side until it was too late. That's the bitch of being a gray. Your tending crops planted in all the different soils, not just one, and it makes it harder to see when someone else's harvest is turning rotten. You know what I mean?"
No answer. Only the whirring buzz of the transports zipping by outside the viewports and the chatter of a hundred different conversations happening in the slow-moving lines around him.
Jolee stopped and looked at his companion. "Are you even listening to me?"
Lirik Thrakill jerked his head around as if coming out of a trance. "Huh? What—yeah, of course. You were talking about….uh, farming. Or something."
Jolee cuffed him on the back of the head.
"Teach you to pay attention to your elders," Jolee grumbled as Lirik rubbed his head, further mussing his already tousled hair. "I won't make any bets, but if you listened once in a while, there's a distinct, outside chance you might learn something."
"Well, speak Basic instead of some convoluted language of agricultural metaphors and maybe I would," Lirik returned.
"Oh ho!" Jolee groused, blowing a breath out of his cheeks. "Pardon me, Professor. I didn't know, in all your Sithy days, you had time to learn such big words."
"Exasperated Interjection," the droid cut in from behind them, "if you haven't noticed, while you two bickering meatbags were busy attempting (pathetically, I might add) to outwit one another, the line has moved a considerable distance forward."
Both Lirik and Jolee turned to see that HK-47 was right—there was quite a good deal of real estate between them and the next sentients ahead of them in line to board the transport. And the sentients behind them in the busy spaceport were beginning to make their displeasure known.
"It's funny," Lirik said, as the trio caught up to the others in line, "how people will get upset over silly things like a gap in the lines. Look, we've caught up and now we're all stopped again. Hurry up and wait." He shook his head. "Ridiculous."
"Well, you never can tell what's going to bother someone and what isn't," Jolee commented. "Those that got a lot to carry around are gonna get peeved when you add the slightest annoyance to their troubles, I reckon. Pretty much like how you annoy me, dragging me on this pointless little jaunt to Yavin IV." The old Jedi's eyes drew dark. "Remind me again why we're going?"
"I told you," Lirik replied, eyeing a pretty young woman in the line beside theirs, "I left something there a long time ago and I want to pick it up."
"Uh huh," Jolee groused, "and the droid? He's coming because why? Because you want to aggravate me into an early grave?"
Lirik turned his blue-eyes gaze to his companion. "Wouldn't be that early, judging by the look…" he said, a smile twitching at the corners of his mouth.
Jolee narrowed his eyes at the younger man, his own smile floating just beneath the surface. "Put me out of my misery then and spare me one more minute of your back-talk. That'd just be fine by me."
"Proud Proclamation," the droid interjected, "Master Thrakill has acquired my use from Admiral Meatbag for security purposes. Isn't that so, Master Thrakill?"
Jolee gaped. "Master Thrakill?" Lirik flashed a smug grin and Jolee rolled his eyes. "Someone shoot me now."
"Sounds…appropriate, doesn't it?" Lirik asked.
"Appropriate my right eye," Jolee snorted. "We only bought three tickets on this transport so I don't know what we're going to do about a seat for that giant ego of yours."
Lirik just snickered and Jolee grumbled some more and the line moved forward. The spaceport was jam-packed with all manner of beings, aliens and humans alike, lining up in the various queues to board their transports. Directly ahead of where Jolee and his two companions waited in line, a huge display mounted high on the wall above the transport personnel revealed the departure and arrival times in yellow neon. A quick glance showed that the transports to Hoth, Degoba, Taris were all delayed, while those to Mustafar, Corellia and Dantooine were all on time. There were hundreds of other planets and moons on the display as well, but Jolee's sharp eyes found Yavin IV. It flashed "on time" at Gate 11. Thank the Force for small favors, he thought sourly.
His eyes wandered around the busy spaceport and landed on a brilliant green male Twi'lek who was being searched almost to the point of intimacy by the security personnel. A triumphant smile lit up Jolee's face for a split-second before he concealed it again and turned to Lirik.
"You brought the droid along for your security, eh?" he demanded, jerking a thumb to the rust-colored hunter-killer unit behind him.
"So let me ask you this: How do you intend to get ole Bucket O' Blasters past the spaceport security? They got new rules and regulations and whatnot. Security's tighter than a Hutt's girdle nowadays." Jolee beamed.
"Thank you for the pleasant visual image," Lirik said dryly, "but if you had taken a moment to use your awesome powers of observation, you would realize that HK-47 is bereft of a weapon that would make him a threat in the eyes of the security here."
Jolee whipped his head around to the droid.
"Unsatisfactory Admission: Master Thrakill has disallowed me the pleasure of handling and/or utilizing any weapon of any kind. Grave Reminder: You're not getting off to a good start with me that way, Master Thrakill."
Jolee scrutinized the droid and saw no weapons of any kind. The old man snorted. "Some security. What the hell you bringing him for if he can't even serve and protect Your Highness?"
Lirik's laughing eyes grew serious and he said in a low voice, "It's not really security, truth be told. More like, HK has some talent in the field of opening secure strongholds that others don't want opened," Lirik flashed a charming grin, "but I do."
Jolee planted one hand on a hip and wagged his finger at the younger man. "Now lookit here, son, I don't want you up to any funny business. The only reason I agreed to come along is because somewhere along the way I seemed to have acquired some brain damage that makes being in your presence actually tolerable." His own voice grew low and he moved closer to Lirik. "But if you're up to no good on Yavin IV…if you've got some leftover baggage from your previous employment, then tell me now. I'll help you, but I won't aid and abet you, you got me?"
The line moved forward and Lirik kept his eyes straight ahead. "You won't ever give up on me, will you?" he marveled in a soft voice.
"Not unless you give me a reason to."
A genuinely pleased—yet very brief—smile flickered over Lirik's handsome face and then he chuckled with extra volume. "Well, that's a relief. Otherwise, I might venture to Yavin IV unsupervised and be forced to pick out the new crystal for your lightsaber all by myself."
Jolee's mouth gaped for a moment but then he turned dubious. "Come again?"
Lirik shook his head and made a 'tsk tsk' sound between his teeth. "See where your suspicions and mistrust and general nastiness has gotten you? Now you've ruined the surprise."
"I hate surprises," Jolee groused. "And speak plain, dammit. What do you mean new crystal for my lightsaber? My own works perfectly fine. Had it for years. Never a day of trouble…"
"Yes, yes, yes," Lirik said hurriedly, watching as Jolee's hand crept toward his weapon, "but change is good and I…wanted to do something nice for you."
Jolee narrowed his eyes. "You did? Why? What you do wrong?"
"Nothing!" Lirik exclaimed, holding his hands up as though Jolee were about to arrest him. "Is it so difficult to believe I want to repay, in some way, all that you have done for me? Really," he scoffed, hurt, "your continued suspicion of me hurts my feelings."
"Uh huh," Jolee said, unmoved. "Then why won't my lightsaber work?"
The put-upon expression on Lirik's face dissolved into one of pure guilt. He sighed. "I broke it. I didn't mean to," he said as Jolee worked his thumb over the ignitor over and over again to no result. "I was just messing around with it the other day—seeing as how I'm not allowed to play with them anymore in front of your friends—when you were busy doing old person things, taking a nap perhaps."
"Eager Observation: It would appear the old meatbag is preparing to do vicious bodily harm to the younger," HK-47 muttered to himself.
"So I happened to take the handle apart," Lirik continued, "and I….dropped the crystal."
"I'm going to kill you," Jolee said, reholstering his now useless weapon. "Messing around? You do remember what a lightsaber is to a Jedi don't you?"
"It was an accident!" Lirik protested, holding his hands up. "But wait until you see the crystals I have to replace it. That's why I want you to come with me to Yavin. You have to pick out the crystal yourself, find one that speaks to you and all that rot. And they're real beauties, too," Lirik cajoled. "You won't be sorry, I promise."
"Too late." Jolee sighed. "And tell me again why we're bringing the droid?"
Lirik shuffled his feet. "The crystals are locked in a safe."
"And I can't remember the combination."
"Oh for the love of—" Jolee jumped as HK-47 suddenly thrust forward one hand, pointed a finger, and a narrow, blue-white flame torched out of it.
Lirik shrugged. "And if that doesn't work…"
HK-47 held up his other hand, pointed a finger, and the metallic phalange begin to spin rapidly.
"Sincere Proclamation: Fear not, wrinkled meatbag, I will have that safe opened by drill or by flame."
"And you'll have a new pretty rock for your lightsaber," Lirik finished. "Sound good?"
"Do you want a real answer?"
"Don't be a grouch, it'll give you ulcers."
"I already have three and they're all named after you," Jolee grumbled.
"Are you going to complain all the way there? Because once you see those crystals, you're going to feel very, very, very bad that you were so rude to me."
"I'm sure," Jolee muttered with a defeated sigh. He looked at HK who was still torching and drilling. "Put those away!"
The line moved forward.
"So I was thinking…" Lirik began.
"Oh yeah?" Jolee muttered. "I thought I smelled smoke."
Lirik ignored him. "And I believe it's an interesting concept, this having of baggage. As in, me being burdened by my past exploits."
"And what's so interesting about it?" Jolee asked.
"It's just a curious expression," Lirik explained. "How one might, given my present, sunshiny circumstances, consider my past a burden that I carry around as one might carry their baggage on a long journey."
"That's deep," Jolee said.
"I'm just saying—"
"I know what you're saying, my boy," Jolee cut in gently. "I'm just giving you a hard time. I don't know why they call it baggage. When I pack a bag to travel, I only put it in the stuff I'm going to need. All the bad stuff, or unpleasantness, or problems or whatever else a person is lugging around…well, all that crap isn't something I'd want to take with me anywhere, if you know what I mean."
"But all that stuff we carry around, it doesn't go away," Lirik said. "It's becomes part of who we are and there's no erasing it."
"True," Jolee said.
"For instance…you being suspicious of my motives for giving you a gift," Lirik said slowly. "My 'baggage' makes it hard for you to trust me at times."
Jolee gaped. "You broke my lightsaber!" he said. "I had every right not to trust you."
"But that's not the point," Lirik said, unperturbed. "In any other circumstance, you would have given me the benefit of the doubt. But because of my added carry-on, so to speak, you have a harder time of it. I don't blame you," Lirik shrugged, "I just think it's interesting."
Jolee was inclined to snort and make a remark, but a quick, surreptitious inspection of Lirik's face showed that the younger man was considering his 'added carry-on' with a deep, reserved eye, and not liking what he was seeing.
"Yes," Jolee said gravely, "I don't envy you your position. I know its hard and you're doing your best."
He went to say more, but suddenly ran out of words.
He and Lirik had always walked a fine line. On one side was their easy banter and comraderie, and the other was something much deeper. Something that others might call 'family' or 'love,' but which neither of them was ready to admit existed, let alone give a name to. Jolee could feel that divide, even if it wasn't sharp and clear in his mind, and steered them adroitly away from the edge of it.
"Anyway," Jolee said loudly, "they shouldn't call it 'baggage' is my point. They should call it something that says, 'this here is a bunch of unpleasant stuff I carry around with me and that you're going to have to put up with if you're going to hang around me for any length.'" Jolee glanced at Lirik, a knowing smile on his lips. "You know, kind of like how I put up with your tremendous arrogance and smart lip."
"And a bit like how I put up with your bad jokes and advancing senility," Lirik said, returning the smile with more than a hint of relief.
"Right," Jolee laughed. He opened his mouth to say more when HK cut in.
"Irritated Interjection: The line has moved, Meatbag Sr. and Jr. It is time for us to acquire the tickets necessary for us to board the transport."
Lirik and Jolee shared their smiles for a half-a-second more and then turned to the front. Neither had any actual baggage to check, as the journey to Yavin was less than twelve hours roundtrip. They approached the security checkpoint where two guards, both wearing khaki-colored uniforms and heavy carbines slung on their shoulders stood inspecting the passengers as they approached. One stern-looking guard's stony face broke into a stiff grimace of alarm at the sight of HK-47 standing with the old man and the younger.
"Oh, no," the guard bellowed. "No assassin droids permitted beyond this point," he said and the volume of his voice brought several other guards running at the word 'assassin.'
Lirik held up his hands in a placating manner. "My good sirs, do not worry yourselves over this droid. He is completely unarmed, I assure you."
"And I assure you, that no droids like'em are allowed on our transports," the guard said. "Didn't you read the sign?"
He gestured with his carbine toward a placard that displayed several objects in black relief, each with a large red circle and slash over them. Jolee recognized all kinds of guns, grenades, sabers, vibroswords and daggers, knives, wrist rockets, shock sticks, lighters, toothpaste, deodorant spray, hand lotion, mouthwash, and hair gel. At the very bottom was a fair rendition of a robotic, flat, insectile head, complete with HK's narrowed yellow visioreceptors.
"Pleased Observation: A striking likeness, to be sure," HK mused.
"You see?" the guard persisted.
"Gee, how could I have missed it," Lirik muttered.
"That's all right, son," Jolee said, patting him on the arm. "We can go another time. Or bring some other tools to get that safe open and leave Chuckles, here at home."
"No," Lirik said, with sudden vehemence. "I want you to have those crystals. I just…" He shook his head, frustrated. "Stupid fracking rule." He kicked aimlessly at the ground and suddenly appeared ten years younger to Jolee. Likely, how he was when he was a little boy. A swift, peculiar pang of…something, filled his heart and the old man suddenly found himself filled with the tremendous urge to make Lirik happy.
"Is there going to be a problem here?" the guard asked, calmer now that he could see he was prevailing in his duties of spaceport security.
Jolee debated trying the tried and true ole Jedi Mind Trick but there were too many guards and the last thing he wanted was a scene. He rubbed his chin, thinking quickly, and overheard another guard ask a traveler, "How many bags are you checking in, today?"
"Well?" their guard asked.
"Well, yourself," Lirik snapped. "So what if he's a hunter-killer unit? He has rights too, doesn't he?"
The guard rolled his eyes. "Um no. Listen—"
"No, it's quite all right," Jolee cut in suddenly. "There will be no trouble here." He turned to Lirik. "Go ahead and take your seat. I'll take HK home and catch up to you."
"What?" Lirik screeched. "There's no time. And besides—"
"Will you shut up for five standard seconds and just do what I say?" Jolee asked harshly, though Lirik could see that his eyes were shining with mischief and more than a little affection.
Lirik nodded slowly. "All right," he said. "Fine."
"Good," Jolee said. "Come on, android," he said to HK. "You're sitting this one out."
"Peeved Acquisence: Very well. It's not as though behaving as a glorified lock-pick is first on my list of approved uses for my talents," the droid muttered as Jolee led him out of sight of the guards. "I have other capabilities, you know."
"Don't I know it," Jolee chuckled. "Don't I know it."
"Where have you been?" Lirik demanded as Jolee boarded the transport twenty minutes later and hefted his luggage into the overhead bin above their seats. "And why the Force are we still persisting in this little charade? I can't get the safe opened without HK, and without the safe being opened, there's no point in going."
"Will you just shut your yap?" Jolee said, taking his seat beside the younger man and strapping on his safety harness. "I've already got a headache from this trip and we haven't even experienced the joys of hyperspace travel yet."
Lirik narrowed his eyes and Jolee, biting back a smile, picked up the in-flight mag-vid and flipped it on. "Look," Lirik continued, "thanks to you insisting that we go on, I got searched by that guard thoroughly enough to wonder if he doesn't at least owe me a dinner. So spill it." Lirik demanded.
Jolee chuckled and kept his eyes on the vid. "Say, I didn't realize you could get a nerf-hide ale cozy for only fifty-one credits! That's a steal."
Jolee cackled and shut off the vid. "Okay, I'll tell you but only because you asked me. You need HK to open that safe so that you can give me some pretty rocks to make up for the one you broke in my lightsaber."
"Actually, they're quiet priceless crystals and I'm giving them to you as a gift because there have been times in my life where you haven't been entirely irritating."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. You've got this baggage leftover from your Sithy days and you're trying to do right by me. Right?"
Lirik shifted in his seat. "Maybe."
"Maybe," Jolee repeated with a snort. Might as well just jump over that great divide and get it over with. He needs it, and maybe I do to.
Jolee clasped Lirik around the back of his neck in his warm, gnarled hand. "Well, maybe I love you, no matter what all you been carrying around." Lirik twitched at the words as though an electric current had passed between them but Jolee held him fast. "Now here is where I sound trite and like something off a holovid, but you're like a son to me. Hell, you are a son to me and like any father, I want to make sure you get what you want when what you want is something good, you hear?"
Lirik only nodded.
Jolee released him and patted him affectionately on the cheek where the long white scar blazed a trail down to his chin. "So there it is. You wanted HK, you got him."
"Where?" Lirik asked, his voice hardly more than a whisper.
A muffled, metallic, saracasm-filled voice sounded from above. "Outraged Admission: Why, safely stowed in the overhead compartment above you, of course!"
Lirik's eyes widened as he gaped above him, while Jolee thumped the bin with the butt of his lightsaber. "Will you shut your yap? You'll ruin the whole thing!" he hissed.
"Wha…How?" Lirik managed to ask.
Jolee beamed triumphantly. "You got baggage, well hell, so do I. But HK…" Jolee chuckled loudly. "HK is baggage."
"I remembered reading an instruction manual about his model once," Jolee said. "Since he's meant for perpetrating all sorts of nasty, dark-sidey business, he can alter his shape to fit uncomfortable-like situations. Situations in which it is better if no one knows that he is what he is."
"You mean, he can turn himself into luggage?" Lirik asked, dryly, his smile wide.
Jolee chucked some more. "He's awfully bendy for a droid, isn't he?"
"Quite," Lirik laughed.
Again, the muffled buzzing came from above them. "Thinly-Veiled Warning: Do not get any ideas, Master Thrakill. This is the first and last time my dignity is so thoroughly abused. Indignant Explanation: Stealth and secrecy are apart of my core protocols so my manufacturer—"
"The manufacturer's retail price on that ale cozy is simply outrageous," Lirik cut in loudly to drown out the droid. In the blink of an eye, he had the in-flight holomag out and flipped on just as a pretty young stewardess approached.
"Can I offer you gentlemen anything to drink later?" she asked, one hand on her slender hip, the other resting on the overhead bin in which resided a hunter-killer droid that had been transformed into the shape of a small valise.
"Er…" Jolee stammered while Lirik turned on his trademark charming grin.
"Yes, please," he said smoothly. "That would be wonderful."
"Sure thing, hon," the young woman purred, keeping her eye's on Lirik as long as possible before moving on.
Jolee, sitting on the aisle seat, turned to watch her go. "If I weren't a year or two younger…" he said and whistled low between his teeth. He sat back in his chair and looked over at Lirik who was watching him with a peculiar expression. "What?"
"I heard what you said earlier about your wife," Lirik said in a quiet voice. "I just…I don't know what to say to things like that. But I heard you, and I just want you to know that I'm so--…" Lirik cleared his throat and let loose a small, nervous laugh that was completely alien to him.
Jolee smiled. "I got you, son. I know you heard." There was a small silence. Okay, so we crossed some lines today, but let's not overdo it. "But I also know it's part of your particular charm to pretend to be a complete moron at times. At least I hope it's pretending."
"It's not a pretense, it's a defense," Lirik said, his cool, smooth demeanor returning on a small sigh of relief. "It's the only way I have to protect myself from your interminable stories," he said as the transport tilted upwards and shot into space. "Otherwise, I'd drift off to sleep."
"Well, don't let me stop you," Jolee groused. "Be the only way I'd get some peace and quiet from your interminable yak."
The pretty stewardess came by with two jumas and after she left with a wink and a promising smile for Lirik, the two men clinked glasses.
"To HK-47," Lirik said.
"Aye," Jolee agreed with a chuckle. "To the droid." And to crossing great divides every once in a while.
"Blatant Warning," HK hissed quietly from above them. "Be careful opening the overhead bin, meatbags. Some contents may have shifted while in flight…" The sound of HK's drill whirred menacingly above them but the men just laughed.
HK subsided into morose silence and Jolee and Lirik enjoyed the rest of the short flight to Yavin IV, a flight that they would both remember for a long time to come.