Working Class Hero

Star Wars: The Bergeron Chronicles, Part 1

A fanfic by Sisiutil

Chapter 8

"Caf, black," Kilu said as she handed a mug to Axel and then lowered herself to the co-pilot's seat.

"Hey, thanks," Axel said, mildly surprised as he took the mug from her. He took a tentative sip, and his dark brows rose. "For someone who doesn't drink caf, you brew a pretty good cup of it," he said. "Glad to see you're up and about too. You're leg's not bothering you too much?"

"No more than your back is." Kilu smiled at him, and every time she did that he felt his heart skip a beat. "You're not such a bad field medic, either," she said. "A man of many talents."

"I fly alone most of the time," he said with a shrug. "I have to be self-sufficient."

She nodded in understanding. "How long before we reach Coruscant?" she asked him.

He turned to check the navicomputer. "Four days, six hours, give or take," he replied.

That was all the time he had left to be in her presence. In realspace terms, they'd crossed the border into New Republic space a few hours ago. Every light-year that rolled by took them closer to home and took her further away from him, in a metaphorical sense that would soon become literal. He suppressed a sigh. What had started out as a mere infatuation on his part had grown into something else, and that was just going to make it all the worse when she finally parted ways with him, as she inevitably would. She'd go back to her training as a Jedi--one of those few, precious agents of peace and justice in the galaxy. And he'd go back to hauling cargo from one seedy spaceport to another in his aging bucket of bolts. He smiled and gave his head a shake as he contemplated the utter disparity between their two lives.

"You know, I've been thinking," she said, bringing his attention back to the present. "The Empire obviously knew about my mission, which means..."

"You've got a leak back home somewhere," Axel said. He'd been thinking about the same thing. It was pretty obvious, when one got right down to it.

"Yes," she said, looking bleakly out into the shifting shapes of hyperspace. "I'll have to talk to Master Skywalker about it when I get back. I'm not sure who else I can trust."

You can trust me, Axel thought, but he didn't say it. Instead, he took a deep breath and prepared himself to deliver some more bad news.

"There's something else you might need to discuss with him," Axel said. He turned to look her way and found her watching him expectantly. "It's the reason I came back for you," he told her. An abashed smile appeared on his lips. "Actually, there were several reasons," he admitted, "but the thing is... I was sitting there, about to take off, when I realized something. It was like the Imperials had laid out a red carpet for me. I had T'Lon safely stowed away on board, and they weren't just letting me go, it was like they were inviting me to leave. And I thought... why would they do that?" He stole a look at Kilu again, but she just shook her head. "Because," Axel continued, "they wanted me to leave something behind. So what was I leaving behind?" He slowly raised one hand and pointed his index finger at her. Kilu inhaled sharply as she realized the truth of everything he'd said, especially his conclusion. "They didn't give a womp rat's ass about T'Lon. They wanted you, Kilu." He paused and took a sip from his mug. "Any idea why?"

She sat staring out of the cockpit windows for several moments. Axel waited patiently. Finally she spoke. "Darth Makab made me an offer," she said softly.

"Let me guess," Axel said. "In exchange for your life, all you had to do was switch sides, join the dark side, and become a Sith yourself."

He watched her swallow. "Among other things," Kilu said quietly, "yes."

Axel felt his teeth grinding as he filled in the blanks and realized what those 'other things' would have been. "I guess a Dark Jedi with knowledge of the New Jedi Order would be pretty valuable to the Empire. You turned him down, of course," he said.

"Yes," Kilu said, but then turned to him, her lovely features filled with angst, her eyes shimmering. "But I was so tempted! I didn't want to die, Axel!"

He reached out and placed his hand over hers. This time she didn't pull away. "Under the circumstances, who wouldn't be tempted?" he said to her. "Don't be so hard on yourself."

"You don't understand," she said, her voice still filled with anguish. "It wasn't just my fear of death that tempted me... it was the dark side." She pressed her lips together. "It was there, in him... and it was calling to me..."

"Aren't all Jedi tempted by the dark side of the Force every now and then?" he asked her.

She turned her face away from him and was silent for a very long time. When she spoke again, he had to strain to hear her. "My great aunt was a Jedi," she told him, "back in the Old Republic. And she..." she paused to swallow, "she went over to the dark side. Since then, our family have avoided becoming involved with the Jedi, or the Force..."

"Until now. Until you." Axel said quietly. Kilu nodded. "So does this... susceptibility to the dark side... run in the family?"

"I don't know," she admitted despondently. She exhaled heavily and looked out of the cockpit windows, lost in her own inner turmoil. "I don't want to find out."

"Hey," Axel said, giving her hand a reassuring squeeze, "come on, you faced that temptation, and you won. I saw you. You stared right into the face of the dark side and you spat into it. You're not your evil great aunt. You're Kilu Branon, Jedi. And from what I've seen, I think you're gonna be a damn good one."

She turned to face him again, her features lightening as a smile appeared on her lips. "Thanks for the pep talk, coach," she said.

"Mock me all you want," he told her in a facetiously superior tone, "but you know I'm right." He became serious again. "You kept to the light side. Even in the face of death."

"Even then," she acknowledged quietly, with a nod and a smile.

Her eyes were looking steadily into his, with that same admiring look she'd given him two days ago when he'd helped her back into the ship after the fight. Her hand was still resting beneath his, feeling warm and deceptively soft, belying the strength he knew was there in her body... and in her spirit. Not for the first time, he reminded himself that she'd be gone, out of his life, in just a few days. The sooner he killed off these absurd feelings he was developing for her, the better. He began to pull his hand away. Then, to his surprise, she wrapped her other hand around his and clasped it tighter.

"You know," she said, turning her body in the seat towards him, "when I was lying there... defeated... facing certain death... I only had two regrets." She paused and fixed him with a steady gaze. "They were both about you."

"Oh?" he said, making himself sound as nonchalant as he could manage.

"Uh-huh," she said. "First of all, I regretted the fact that I'd never get a chance to thank you. So, thank you, Axel Bergeron. For everything."

"Aw, shucks, ma'am," Axel said in his best imitation of an arid planet-based, moisture-farming yokel. "It weren't nothin'."

"I disagree," she said, then sat there, smiling at him.

"So, uh," Axel said after a moment's silence, "what was the second big regret?"

She said nothing. Instead, her smile broadened. She rose from the co-pilot's chair and, as Axel watched in stunned silence, she moved herself next to him, then neatly sat down in his lap. She raised her arms and wrapped them both around his neck. Then she leaned forward, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips against his. The kiss was long, and soft, and oh so very sweet. Axel felt his face flush, felt his blood pounding in his ears, but mostly he felt her soft, warm lips pressed against his own, then a teasing flick of her tongue that made him feel like he'd just touched a live wire. He reached up and wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her against him.

After what seemed like an eternity, she broke the kiss and pulled her head back from his just a little. He slowly let out a breath, feeling a slight tremor in his body as he did so. Then he watched as she turned her head just slightly and stared down the corridor. Her eyes narrowed and her brows furrowed ever-so-slightly in an expression that he'd come to realize indicated that she was reaching out with the Force.

"Your other passenger is asleep," she said.

"Uh, yeah," Axel muttered. "That's... not too surprising. Halassians have a sixteen-hour sleep cycle..." he said, wondering where the heck that factoid had come from, especially at a moment like this. I have way too much time on my hands, he thought.

"Good," Kilu said, turning her face back towards his and smiling once again. She glanced at his command console. "Does this crate of yours have an auto-pilot?"

"Of course," he said. "It's, uh, currently engaged..."

"Well then," she said, her voice lowering an octave. She brought one hand around his neck so her fingers could idly play with the little black hairs at the base of his throat. "You don't really need to be up here, do you?"

He swallowed. "Uh, no, I guess not," he said, then looked at her with a puzzled frown on his face. "I thought Jedi... didn't... you know..."

Her slender brows rose. "I don't know what you've been reading about us, and I don't think I want to," she remarked. "Of course we... indulge. Every now and then." She shrugged. "We just aren't supposed to form permanent attachments," she added in a light tone.

Axel's face fell. "Oh," he said. His hands fell away from where they'd been caressing her back, and he looked away from her. "Well. That's convenient," he muttered, equal parts disappointment and a sudden bitterness plainly evident in his voice.

It was her turn to frown at him. She stopped teasing the base of his throat with her fingers and clasped his chin, forcing him to raise his eyes to meet hers.

"Axel," she said, "are you...?"

"Of course I am," he said desolately. "What man wouldn't be?"

"Oh, Axel..." she said with a sympathetic sigh. She leaned forward until her forehead was resting against his. She then raised her lips and kissed his forehead, then looked into his eyes. "I'm sorry. It's... the way it has to be." She caressed his cheek, smiled sadly, and shrugged. "Take it or leave it," she said to him, her tone gentle and sympathetic, but final.

He stared steadily back into her eyes for a long time, wanting to give her the impression that he was thinking it over. But he knew there was only one path for him to follow, even if it eventually led to pain, and he suspected she could sense the decision he'd already made. He wrapped his arms around her strong, slender body and pulled her even tighter against his own. He tilted his face upwards and his lips found hers again. Of course he'd take whatever she was prepared to offer him, for however brief a time. She'd leave and she'd take his heart with her, but he'd just have to deal with it. Until then, he would abandon his caution, his aversion to risk, his plain, ordinary, routine life, and he'd plunge headlong into the enticing combination of comfort and excitement she offered. His father might have had something to say about that, but his father was gone now. He was his own man and would make his own decisions. And he'd live with the consequences.

"Your cabin or mine?" he asked her when he broke the kiss.

"Yours," she said with a grin. "The captain always gets the best quarters, doesn't he?"

As they rose from his chair and moved towards the corridor, Axel stole a glance at the navicomputer's readouts. Four days, five hours and change remained before their arrival on Coruscant. It wasn't much. But it would have to do.

On the Imperial star destroyer Dauntless, orbiting in the shadow of a planetary moon in the B'Tel system, Captain Wurkun Darr approached the ship's guest quarters. A career military man, Darr was slender, his olive-green uniform immaculately crisp, his hair cut severely short. His hair had once been jet black, but was now prematurely grey, something he blamed entirely on the despised rebels and the blows they had inflicted on his beloved Empire. But the Empire would rise again, and Darr would do everything in his power to bring that about. Including dealing with the man who currently resided in his ship's best guest quarters, no matter how... uncomfortable... that man made him feel.

Captain Darr pressed a control on the wall console next to the door. He didn't hear the chime himself, of course, but after a moment's pause, the door slid open.

"Come in," a deep male voice said from within the dimmed light of the luxurious cabin.

"Have you read the report?" Captain Darr asked his guest without preamble as he walked into the room.

"Of course," the man seated upon a couch in the middle of the room responded. He was tall, solidly-built, golden-skinned, and had exactly the sort of jet-black hair Darr himself used to have. Before the dark times. Before the rebellion.

Captain Darr exhaled in a way that clearly expressed his irritation. "Someone will have to pay for this failure," he said. "Whom can we..."

"Failure?" the other man said. "Who said it was a failure?"

Darr blinked in surprise. "With all due respect... the Halassian Foreign Minister is on his way to negotiate with those cursed Republicans, your apprentice is dead, and that young female Jedi is still at large."

The man sitting upon the couch waved one hand dismissively. "All of which does not affect my plans in the slightest. Quite to the contrary, in fact; everything is proceeding exactly as I have foreseen."

"Indeed?" Captain Darr said dubiously. "Perhaps you could care to enlighten me, Mister Vax."

The other man rose from the couch and fixed the Captain with a hard, cold stare that sent a shiver running down the Imperial officer's back.

"Cylus Vax is dead," the other man said. "I am Darth Mostrus now." An amused smile appeared on his face, changing the shape of his first Sith tattoo, a stylized black mark which bisected his upper lip. It was the first of many tattoos, painfully applied, that would eventually cover his entire body. "Vax was killed several days ago on Sessram Prime, a fact to which my once... and future... apprentice will readily attest. At least until I meet her again. As for what I know of the future, Captain," he said, his smile doing nothing to erase the Imperial officer's trepidations, "you must have faith." He paused and froze the Captain in place with a piercing, searching gaze. "You do have faith, don't you Captain? I find a lack of faith in senior officers to be most... disturbing."

Captain Darr swallowed hard. "I have faith. In the Empire. I always have and I always shall."

Darth Mostrus appeared to give that some thought. "It will do," he said, and Darr let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. "Now leave me," Mostrus said and turned away. The Captain was only too happy to comply.

"Ah, my dear Kilu," the Sith said once he was alone, a malicious grin on his lips as he gazed out into the black depths of space through the high, thick windows of his quarters. "I can hardly wait to see the look on your face..."