Once again, sorry for the delay, this time the site logged me out as I was editing, and I lost about 500 words. This chapter is dedicated to my reviewers from chapter 8, No One Special and CaitlynRoe, both of whom left awesome critiques.
To see the Ebon Hawk gliding peacefully through space one would find it hard to imagine that her passengers could be anything less than at peace. Unfortunately, all was not well among her crew, and things seemed to be escalating by the minute...
Mira stalked through the cramped halls of the ship towards the cargo hold, looking for a bit of privacy. She paced the hold, thoroughly frustrated. She still couldn't quite believe she'd gotten herself stuck on this tiny freighter with nothing to do, and no one for company. Jaelyn was an alright girl, but Mira had never gotten along with women as well as she had men. Unfortunately, there was a noted scarcity of those on this force-forsaken heap of junk, and the few there were were definitely below her notice. The only males present and accounted for were Mandalore, Bao-Dur, and Atton. Mandalore was to be avoided at all costs lest he realize her secret, Bao-Dur was boring, and Atton...well, Atton wasn't all that bad at all. He wasn't below her notice in the least, but evidently she was below his. Mira had to admit to herself that she found their pilot very...intriguing, but it was obvious to anyone with eyes that he was completely taken with the Exile, and after that Nar Shadaa Rules Pazaak game...well, she'd see how things shaped up on Dantooine, and until then she planned to...what, exactly? Putting a hand on one hip and running a hand roughly through her unruly red hair, Mira determined that, if only for her amusement, she was not going to avoid Atton, or pretend she wasn't interested. Who knew, maybe he'd get interested in return, and even if not she wouldn't be as bored for a few hours. Maybe she'd start with seeing exactly how much of a threat Jaelyn was likely to be...
Meanwhile, Atton was kicked back in the cockpit, contemplating the Exile with a dreamy grin on his face. He had no idea what had made her stop brushing him off, but no way was he complaining. She spent more and more time in the cockpit lately, and even the fact that he hadn't gotten as much as a peck on the cheek out of it wasn't bothering him. It was only a matter of time. He would wear her down eventually, or at least probably. His task would be a lot easier if that schutta Visas would stop walking in just as Jaelyn seemed about to let down her guard at last. She would look toward Jaelyn with her mouth pursed in a disapproving frown and Jaelyn would start, sit up and look guilty before sticking her chin out and looking mutinous at the rebuke. Whether she agreed with whatever obscure message Visas was sending, it never failed to make her distant again. Atton couldn't for the life of him understand why Visas seemed so against him and Jaelyn getting to know each other more...personally. Maybe it was the Jedi Code? Screw the code, thought Atton belligerently.
The Code was the farthest thing from Visas's thoughts, she was simply worried for her master and friend. She valued Jaelyn's judgement highly, but it seemed to her that the Exile was making a mistake. Jaelyn insisted that Bao-Dur had no feelings for her, but Visas simply knew that he did. The waves of emotion roiling in him when he walked in on Jaelyn and Atton's impromptu strip session had been unmistakable. She suspected that the reason Jaelyn hadn't felt it as well had a direct correlation to the amount of Tarisian ale that she'd imbibed. Visas had unwisely tried to tell Jaelyn about Bao-Dur when she was hungover, and Jaelyn's response had been in the universally understood language of hangover-groan.
"Visas, leave it, okay? I appreciate the moral support, but you didn't see him in that garage. He had even less to say than T3 on a bad day, and called me General every three sentences. Men don't call women they're interested in by their military rank from ten years ago! Can you do any healing on this hangover?"
Visas had left it at that, but hadn't forgotten about it by any means. She disliked the idea of playing matchmaker, but really, things were getting out of hand. She could only hope that Bao-Dur would figure some things out, and soon.
Bao-Dur felt like he had to figure out a lot of things. All because of his slip-up on Goto's yacht, Jaelyn was now avoiding him like he had some sort of contagious disease. She visited the garage only if she absolutely had to, and then only if she was sure he was in another part of the ship. She spent more and more time with Atton, and Bao-Dur was left with the feeling that something wasn't quite adding up. Even if he'd made her uncomfortable back on Nar Shadaa, their subsequent encounters should have been more than enough to put her at ease and restore their old friendship. He sighed, unwillingly coming to the conclusion that she just didn't want to be around him. She obviously much preferred Atton's company to his, and who could wonder? He'd been a fool to think that she could possibly prefer him to a young, handsome and dashing human like Atton. As depressing as this conclusion was, Bao-Dur was determined to look on the brighter side of things, if only for his own mental health. Whether the General spent time with him or not, he was still part of her crew, which was a vast improvement from on opposite sides of the galaxy...he would have to be content with that.
Jaelyn had come to a similar conclusion, but was having a much harder time with it than the naturally composed Bao-Dur. She couldn't keep her mind off of him, and found herself wondering why he was so obviously repelled by her feelings. She wasn't that bad, was she? He'd seemed just fine with being her friend, and hadn't recoiled from holding her as she cried the night Atton had brought Malachor fully to the front of her mind. She knew Bao-Dur had been shocked to see her break down like that, simply because she was normally a cheerful and upbeat person. He couldn't have known that just because she didn't outwardly grieve that she was completely past the memories. She and Bao-Dur merely had different ways of dealing with the grief and self-recrimination that Malachor had left imprinted on their souls.
Bao-Dur hid whatever bitterness he still carried beneath silence and action. Jaelyn had never seen him unoccupied but in sleep, and as a result he would soon run out of repairs to do on this old bucket of bolts. Jaelyn was almost looking forward to the day he ran out of any sort of mechanical work to do, wondering how he would handle idleness. Maybe he'd resort to taking T3 apart and reassembling the poor little guy...
Sobering, Jaelyn took a deep breath and began to really examine her own way of dealing with Malachor for the first time in awhile. Her crew viewed her as a good leader who always made them feel necessary and always kept the situation light. She knew that Mandalore couldn't understand her, and that Kreia consider her contemptibly immature. No one on the crew had seen her after Malachor, and so could never understand.
The weeks after Malachor had been spent in a makeshift Republic hospital ship, lying in a rock-hard bed and staring blindly at the ceiling. She had been unable to silence the screams of the millions in her head, and yet she knew they weren't actually there. Her connection to the Force was gone, and she had never felt more bereft. At the same time she hated herself for her self-pity, hated herself for being alive, and hated herself for being the cause of so much suffering. After weeks of leaving her be, one of the orderlies had tentatively approached her and told her that the Jedi Council had summoned her a week ago, and they could no longer detain her.
Gathering all her strength, Jaelyn had endured the escort to Coruscant with very few memories of the trip, and her first coherent memory after Malachor was of standing before the Jedi Council as they condemned her for events she had already consigned herself to a living hell for. She couldn't bring herself to care that they were exiling her, and she said as little as possible in her own defense. She was utterly detached from the situation until they demanded she relinquish her lightsaber. She had been shocked and frightened at the amount of pure hatred that had welled up in her at that point and, rather than risk losing control she'd stabbed her 'saber into the central pillar and rushed away without a word.
The next five years had been utter hell. She'd drifted across the galaxy, doing odd jobs to keep herself fed, everything from crewing a smuggling vessel to small-time bodyguard work. She'd gained quite a bit of attention fir her skill as a bodyguard, but had been careful to move on before she got any major offers. Slowly, over the years of drifting, Jaelyn had realized that she was simply never going to get over Malachor. She had hoped that over time she would be able to move past it eventually, but she was unable to do so with the gaping hole inside her that the Council had created.
So she'd drifted for five of those ten years, and would have remained that way if it hadn't been for the intervention of two very unexpected friends. Jaelyn had been drowning her sorrows in a backwater cantina in some Force-forsaken Outer Rim planet. She had just left her latest bodyguard gig and was now perfectly resigned to spending her pay on mind-numbing booze until her pay ran out and she needed another job. She was only halfway to becoming completely insensate when she recognized two of the myriad spacers drifting in and out. Broc, she thought, Broc Hart and...Lan something? Lieutenants during the War...She fervently hoped they wouldn't recognize her, but she had no such luck.
As soon as Broc spotted her, crouched at her corner table and trying to look inconspicuous, he shook his companion's shoulder and whispered something. Lan's eyes widened, he nodded, and the two men brought over an extra drink.
"General?" Broc sounded unsure, and Jaelyn wondered how different she looked, she hadn't really thought about it before. Her personal hygiene hadn't lapsed, but she had let her hair grow and was much more careworn. She tried to make her response flippant.
"Greetings, lieutenants. How've you been?" Her tone was a bit too light and had a bite of sarcasm that she hadn't intended, and the men's faces became more concerned. They made smalltalk for a few minutes, discussing their lives since the War.
"General, we heard about the Council exiling you," Broc said with a sympathetic shake of the head. "Did they take you 'saber as well?"
Jaelyn nodded, trying to appear nonchalant. She inquired as to what the two men had been doing since the War, and congratulated them on their own shipping company, specializing in raw materials shipments. They were here on business, loading a shipment of some native ore used on construction. As they were regaling her with tales of their deep space adventures, Lan's wife entered the bar and approached their table.
"Dear, would you come help me pick out some supplies for our trip? I'm afraid I'm not sure what we can afford." Lan readily acquiesced, and Jaelyn found herself alone with Broc, who rolled his eyes as soon as Lan's wife was out of sight.
"I swear, Ria refuses to leave him alone in any 'seedy establishment' for more than five minutes. I get the impression she doesn't trust me, but that couldn't be it..." He grinned. "So, we never discussed what you were doing on this rock."
Jaelyn smiled, although it came off as more of a grimace. "Well, not much of anything, really, just drifting and doing odd jobs as a bodyguard."
Broc looked more concerned, although he tried to hide it. "You don't have a job now, do you?" When Jaelyn reluctantly shook her head he brightened. "Well, nothing easier. You can join our crew. We lost one of our crewmen when we put in, he got a better offer, so we really could use you." When she still looked reluctant, Broc put in, "No, don't answer now, I'll be back tomorrow, same time, same place, and if you want a place on the Eagle, bring your gear and we'll be leaving tomorrow evening. Nice seeing you, General, and I hope you decide to come."
Jaelyn did think long and hard, but in the end it wasn't much of a decision. She had run out of money yet again, she needed a job, and she would have someone to talk to that she was at least familiar with, and she knew from experience how hard long hauls were without that. The next day saw her waiting at the cantina with her vibrosword and blaster, her only possessions.
Over the next months on the Eagle, Jaelyn rediscovered what it meant to have friends, to have someone who understood what you were going through, and she was abjectly grateful. Broc had the scars of Malachor, although they hadn't been enhanced by the Force, and then being ostracized from it, and his way of dealing with it was laughter. Jaelyn had at first been completely puzzled by this, but as they got to know one another he had been increasingly insistent that she try it. He made sure to keep all their conversations light, and slowly Jaelyn had felt the burden lifting from her shoulders. She remembered him saying to her once that 'Yes, I'm in pain, but I don't have to advertise it and make it worse. The less I dwell on it, the less power it has over me.'
Jaelyn had found her burden hard to not dwell on, especially as she had spent the last five years doing exactly that, but over time she found it became easier and easier to deal with her problems by presenting a happy face to the world. That was, at times, made harder by the fact that she couldn't feel like she was really a whole person with the hole inside her where her Force affinity had used to be.
She still wasn't past that hole, even now as she was repairing it. She doubted she would ever forget what ten years without a vital part of herself felt like. She had more sympathy with Bao-Dur because of that; they had both lost a part of them as vital as any could be. Both had suffered as a result, and both were now living with replacements of what had been, and found them not at all the same. Jaelyn had no idea how Bao-Dur had acquired his prosthetic, or how long it had taken, but she thought she understood his feelings on it. If only she understood his feelings on her...
Brushing those thoughts aside as she regularly brushed aside thoughts of Malachor, Jaelyn strode from the dormitory, hoping to find out how long it would take to get to Dantooine. She wanted to get off the ship, the sooner the better.
At his post by the garage workbench, Bao-Dur was in an excellent position to hear every word of Jaelyn and Mira's conversation. Jaelyn had only gotten a few steps out of the dormitory when she was abruptly waylaid by Mira, who was not-so-subtly asking Jaelyn about her relationship with Atton by disguising it a 'girl talk.' As Bao-Dur listened, he grew more and more afraid of the diminutive redhead, who seemed to think relationships consisted of stun-cuffs, with a few Bothan stun sticks for variety. Apparently Jaelyn was as nonplussed as he, because she gave a heartfelt negative when Mira finally asked her outright whether she and Atton had 'hooked up a power coupling.' Although Bao-Dur was ecstatic at that revelation, he couldn't help but wonder where that left him. She wasn't interested in Atton, but he was obviously even lower on her priority list. Sighing, he turned back to the workbench, hoping they would get to Dantooine soon so he could get off the ship, the sooner the better.
Yay, my longest chapter to date! Thank you for reading this far, and as the critical points in the story approach I hope you stay with it. Mical has yet to join us, and he will be yet another dividing factor. And yes, I swear they will get together in the end! Thanks as always to Niobe Asha, DevonF, Rae, Pirate.Rent-Head.Jedi Knight., Toran of Raysed, LeaDeetz, No One Special, and CaitlynRoe. These are all of my reviewers, and if you want your name on next chapter's list I promise all you need to do is review, even if it's a negative one. I'm getting into the part of the story where I'm not even sure what will happen next, and I want each and every person who reads this to shape what comes out. So review. Now. That means YOU. Thank You!