A/N: This is the prequel to "Lifelines." (It's the 'before' part alluded to in the title. An 'after' part, in the POV of the General, will come later.) If you haven't read "Lifelines", this fic may be slightly confusing with regards to the Exile and her memory loss in the second chapter. Therefore, it is recommended that you read "Lifelines" first but it's not entirely necessary to get the gist of what's happening here.
Many thanks to Bald as Malak for the excellent beta-read.
Lifelines, Before and After: Bao-Dur
One month after the Battle of Malachor V:
When I wake up in the med facility room, it is so white and soft that it feels like I'm lying on a snowy field, blanketed in soft drifts that aren't cold or biting but soft and warm. I blink to clear my blurred vision and then turn my heavy head toward the small dark figure I see on my left.
The General is curled in a chair, legs tucked under, smoking a cigarra. Her eyes are on whatever scene the viewport presents and have a faraway look about them. She's beautiful.
She hears the catch in my throat as I try to speak, and looks at me. She stubs out the cigarra.
"Hi," she says, waving away the remnant smoke lazily.
"Hi." My voice is nothing more than a croak. Pain pulses in numerous parts of my body, but the sight of her, the relief that she had made it off that terrible battlefield, makes that pain seem small and insignificant. "Where am I?"
She unfurls herself from the chair and sits down beside me. I try to reach out to touch her but my arm is too heavy and me too weak. Her eyes meet mine and they are hard and determined.
"You're on Coruscant," she says. "You're in the Republic med facility. You've lost a lot of blood and have had transfusions. Six of them. A blaster bolt ruptured your spleen and they replaced it. You've lost your arm and they're prepping you for a prosthetic. You've had three surgeries for that and you'll have one more." All this she says with military precision—the hard, pummeling words that she used when she wanted to make herself crystal clear. Then her tone softens and she lays her small hand on my chest. "And you're going to live, Bao-Dur."
I see beneath her shining eyes the shadows of a past struggle during which her last statement hadn't been so certain. I glance down at the left side of me. There is no arm, only a stump that is sprouting dozens of wires—wires that are the first stage of preparation for a neuro-prosthetic—and I choke back a wave of grief.
"Hey," the General says, reaching across my torso to take my remaining hand. "Hey. It's okay. It's over. Do you hear me, Bao-Dur? It's over and there's nothing Malachor can take from you anymore. From either of us."
But what of what we have taken? I want to ask. Instead, I nod weakly as my head feels as though it were sinking into the pillow. For now, it is enough that she was here with me and that whatever ghosts Malachor might haunt us with, at least we will face them together. Even the loss of a limb feels like a small penance if she is beside me.
The General smiles softly at my unspoken thoughts and the emotions behind them. "Me too," she whispers. She bends down, wipes away the one tear that escapes me and then kisses me softly on the lips as I sank back into unconsciousness.
When I awake from the final surgery, I have a new arm. It is sleek, silver and black, and designed to resemble an actual arm. The doctors tell me it's too earlier to use it, but I make the fingers twitch anyway.
The General, beside me on the bed, watches.
"Good as new, eh?" she says after the doctors left, med droids in tow.
"No, not quite, but it will do," I reply hoarsely.
She snorts. "That's the latest in state-of-the-art neuro-prosthesis," she says. "You don't know how many Republics I had to frack to get that for you."
I don't laugh and she sighs.
"So, they keep congratulating me on the victory," she says after a moment. "Revan himself wants to meet with me to offer his thanks and give me some medal or award."
"What did you tell him?"
"To shove it up his ass." She smiles dryly. "But it's all right. I said, 'sir'."
I nod absently, thinking only, Medals and honors…Force, the lives we took!
She sighs. "I know," she says, likely using the Force to read my thoughts, "the ridiculousness of getting a medal for…that hasn't escaped me either."
She absently runs her fingers along the contours of my new arm. If it bothers her that it is all alloy and gears and metals, she doesn't show it. She regards it with the same nonchalant glance with which she takes everything else in. There is no hint of repulsion in her gaze. No pity either, and the utter lack of attention she puts on my loss —the complete acceptance she grants me—rouses something in me. Desire, definitely, but also that same devotion and loyalty that she engendered in me on that first day on Dxun. It flares in me again right now, and reveals to me a glimpse of how we are going to save each other now that this war is over.
I want her but it was too soon. My body is so heavy, it is a wonder I can haul it out of bed to make it to the refresher. Sometimes I can't. The four surgeries have taken their toll. How am I going to work? Will I?
She reads my thoughts—both the desire for her and that nagging fear that my usefulness as a tech had worn out its tenure. "Soon," she says with a wink, "on both counts." Then a sigh. "But hurry up, Bao-Dur." She glances around the room. "Hurry…"
The General tells me she wants to avoid any and all post-war attention, but a few days after I'm released from the med facility, she's ordered to attend a ceremony that would honor her and other notable officers of the war.
"It's because of Revan," she says with a sour expression on her face. We are walking through the main hall of the fancy hotel the Republic had rented. "Since he's vanished, everything's changed. This isn't an award ceremony, it's a head count."
I nod but I'm only half-listening. The General is wearing a dress.
"As soon as the formalities are over—the very nanosecond they're over—we're leaving."
I nod again. It is a tight black dress that dips in the front and swirls around her knees. Her hair is swept up, revealing a delicate neck and small ears. We haven't been alone since Dxun…
She glances up at me, smiling coyly. "And then there's that," she purrs, again using the Force to read my thoughts. As we near the banquet hall I hear the sounds of milling guests and tinkling of silverware. The General frowns and tucks her arm deeper into mine. "I won't be able to take it if they're going to congratulate us. Maybe we should just skip the whole thing."
I couldn't have agreed more but I had been taking orders for four years. "I thought it was mandatory. The last thing I want is for us to spend tonight locked in separate cells in the stockade."
"Hmm, good point," she says with a smile that peeks out of the corner of her mouth. "We'll stay for roll call, and then make our escape."
I expect the worst, but it isn't as terrible as I had envisioned. There is no false sense of self-righteousness or arrogance permeating the ceremony, no hint of ignorance or delusion that the cost of triumph had nearly been too high to bear. Fallen heroes were decorated in memoriam for their efforts and sacrifice. No one was forgetting the dead or belittling the cost of victory.
With each speech, and each medal given, I feel the General come to a kind of peace. Perhaps not with what we had done—I don't know if that will ever happen—but with the Republic for whatever role it had played in leading us to the mass shadow generator. Or perhaps she decided to conserve her anger and arguments for those whose abstinence had forced her hand, and not those who had fought side by side with her. She has a Jedi council to face soon.
In the end, the reason for her softening doesn't matter. What does is the expression on her face when she finally turns and looks at me, her eyes heavy and a smile on her lips; and the feel of her hand stroking my thigh under the table through the soft material of my uniform dress pants.
"General," I whisper tightly, brushing her hand aside. Force knows I want her but now is not the time or place. Our desire is too close to the surface, and I feel as though everyone in the room can read it on my face.
"Lieutenant, may I speak to you for a moment outside?" she asks me quietly, but loud enough so that those sharing our table can hear.
My heart starts pounding in my chest and I feel myself nod. She takes me by the hand and leads me through the maze of tables and out of the banquet hall. My memories go swiftly to that first night on Dxun when she had done the same, leading me to her tent.
"They're going to call you to the stage soon," I manage over a lump in my throat as we leave the room and round a corner, placing ourselves out of the sights of the guards.
"I think you're right," she says and swiftly kneels in front of me.
I swallow hard. "Someone will see…" But her hands are fast at the fasteners of my pants, and soon rational thought flees me. I slump against the wall, breathing heavily, dimly conscious that at any moment someone might open their hotel door or round the corner. From far away I hear applause coming from the banquet hall and somehow know they had called her name.
"General," I beg, placing my hands on her shoulders.
She must have heard the sound too, for she puts me back together with the same speed in which she had begun, and takes my hand once again. But instead of heading back to the hall, she pulls me into the nearest turbolift.
As the doors slide shut, I take over. I kiss her hard and touch her everywhere without hesitation. My need surges in me and it's all I can do to keep from tearing her dress off. But not here. Here there are security cameras and the chance of discovery. Not this time. I want her all to myself and face no consequences. The turbolift slows to her floor and we race down the hall to her room.
The moment the door to her suite of rooms slides shut, I have her against the wall and her nimble fingers go to the fasteners of my pants again.
"Before I tear your uniform off, I just wanted to tell you," she gasps as my hands—both real and mechanical—rip her undergarments and seek her skin, "that you looked sexy as hell tonight."
I only nod as she works at my uniform until I'm stripped to the waist. She wraps both legs around me and I then learn that my prosthetic arm is much stronger than my natural arm and I can hold her up without growing tired. Which is fortunate for once we were joined, I don't want to stop. I press against her and lunge over and over again as she kisses me and runs her hands along my horns until I'm blinded by a red haze of lust.
Everything terrible in my life grows distant and vague as I revel in that ecstasy. She calls my name—wonderfully loud—and urges me to move faster, harder, deeper, until she shudders with a ragged sound that is half laughter, half sob. Moments later I follow suit, breathing hard into her hair that had come undone and is now stuck to her cheeks like a delicate black spider web.
Her breath is hot against my ear. "More."
I take her to the bed and remove the remnants of her dress and my clothes. As I kiss her over and over, she trails her fingers down the silvery black contours of my prosthetic as though it were my own flesh and blood. I repay her for it by bringing her to climax again and again until she weakly begs me to stop.
We take the time we'd never dared to take before, and make as much noise as we can bring the other to make. The war is over, we're alive, and no one can forbid us from being together. Some hours later we order room service, and eat and talk and laugh and make love again—gently this time—until the morning comes.
It is the most perfect night of my life…
…and none of it happened.
A tech's talents supposedly lie in all things mechanical and solid. But I needed more if I was going to survive without her and so I delved into the imaginary. I daydreamed an alternate universe in which there was no gaping holes or twisting knives of grief. Whole chapters I created, starting from the very beginning, and I filled each with as much delusional fantasy as possible. The little touches of unpleasantness were added in the wasted hopes that I could trick myself into believing it had been real, since I am nothing if not precise.
But it was all a lie. Every word. It was only the pathetic imaginings of a lonely male who had very little else but empty hours to fill. I wove a tapestry of my deepest needs and shrouded myself in it in order to keep the long sleepless hours of every night from becoming a torture.
Ten years is a long time, so can you blame me? Because what really happened was this…
To be continued…