Part Thirteen - Finale

Back inside the Council chambers, Carth was alone with the Masters and Bastila. He was nervous, to put it plainly; he kept shifting his weight and turning his head toward different locations. Every once in a while, he ran his tongue along his dry bottom lip before shifting again. Vrook grumbled something under his breath, but the other three Masters glared at him. Bastila looked at them all with an expression that requested compassion toward Carth, who no doubt felt completely out of place and more than a little vulnerable. She walked over to him and put a hand on his shoulder as gently as she dared. He didn't flinch as she'd expected. Instead, his head just tilted in her direction, but his sightless gaze was latched onto the Council.

"Why'd you toss her out?" he asked, voice low.

Vandar gazed sympathetically at Carth before glancing at his fellow Masters. Vrook still had that mildly triumphant expression.

"For what we are about to do," Vandar explained, "Lire does not possess enough focus. She is sometimes easily distracted, and in matters such as this, distraction is far from helpful. And she's exhausted, both mentally and physically; we did not misspeak. She would be more harm than good to you."

"You should've told her that," Carth said.

"She didn't give us a chance," Dorak replied. "You must understand that whatever we do is for the good of all involved."

"And she's far too attached to you, Captain," Vrook interjected, arms folded. "She finds it difficult to remain objective when it comes to you. Having her here would hinder this."

Vandar sighed and shook his head; apparently he felt that Vrook should have said nothing that sounded even remotely like that. Even he seemed to think that the seemingly grumpy Master had spoken out of turn.

"Silence, Vrook," he chided calmly. "You must understand that Padawan Dakaar is merely concerned for a friend. There is nothing shameful in that, and you begin to overstep your authority when you imply that there is. Should she let frivolous passions consume her, however . . ."

He trailed off, and Bastila nodded gravely. Carth bit off a sigh; he'd heard all that before. The one Jedi tenet that the Masters attempted to shove repeatedly down the throats of all their pupils was "Attachments lead to the Dark Side." He knew Lire was concerned for him; perhaps he could even go as far as wondering if maybe she cared for him in a stronger way. He knew that, at least, he didn't want to endanger her in his quest for vengeance. He turned his head to the right, sighing thinly; Force, he wished she were there so this wouldn't seem quite like a court martial. Bastila touched his shoulder.

"Be seated, Carth," she instructed. "This won't hurt, I promise. The Masters are quite capable of healing your mind without pain."

"Lire wouldn't have said it like that," Carth thought as he settled on the floor, rolling his shoulders back in nervous anxiety. "She would've told me she'd be gentle."

He thought he'd twitch and fidget his way right down through the floor and into the ground beneath. Force, if only he could keep still . . . ! He heard the more compassionate Masters quietly instruct Bastila to ready his mind and help him enter something of a healing trance. Carth nearly made some sarcastic remark about how a proper dose of anesthetics would be better. For the most part, he was skeptical that these Jedi could heal his damaged eyesight. But the part of him that was being reopened to things such as childlike faith in miracles was almost absolutely certain that something good would come from this. After all, Lire would've been confident that something could be done. Unfortunately, she wasn't exactly there at the time, so he had to build up his own confidence. He just found it difficult to completely trust an organization as standoffish as the Jedi Order.

Bastila touched his arm, and he jumped, though that reflex wasn't purposeful. He simply hadn't heard her moving and silently wished that she'd make at least some sort of noise. She just offered one pat to his arm, and he realized that that was her way of saying "I'm going into your brain; don't get scared, now." Force, how hard it was to stay calm! At least Bastila was gentle; she didn't poke sensitive parts of his mind and didn't go farther than she needed to. Yet his consciousness was continually pressed upon; that had to be the Council in there, too. He nearly spooked because the last time the Council had been inside his mind, Lire had been there as well—and she'd been sending him calming waves. That had made it far more bearable. But then Carth felt an almost tingling sensation behind his eyes, and his stomach turned a somersault. For a split-second, he thought he could decipher the Masters' silhouettes.

Almost could . . . It wouldn't take much more to be able to . . . But then it faded again. The tingling remained and even grew stronger, but there was still darkness.

Back at the Ebon Hawk, Lire was still positively furious and was, therefore, not resting. Instead, she was in the engine room, clad in a ratty old tank top and rather ancient mechanic's coveralls that she'd tugged on like trousers, not even bothering to slip the suspenders over her shoulders and bring the bib up over her chest. Fully aware that evening was rapidly approaching, she was lying on her back with her head up under the hyperdrive, tinkering; in particular, she was mumbling angrily under her breath as she worked, covered in grease almost from head to toe. Every once in a while, the faint clinking of tools would be broken by one loud clank, followed promptly by a Mando'a curse she'd picked up from Canderous. For the most part, however, she was muttering to herself; she was also completely alone, for Mission had sensed her foul mood (if Lire's storming aboard the Hawk had been any clue) and declared that all should just back away slowly from her and leave her alone.

"Think they can throw me out, do they?" she grumbled, tightening a bolt on the hyperdrive's underside. "Think I'm too attached . . . What a load of—"

She broke off abruptly as a loud hissing noise informed her that she'd just hit something sensitive under there. Immediately, coolant sprayed all over the engine room, and Lire got out from underneath the hyperdrive as fast as she could.

"Well, that's just great," she grumbled to herself. "And here I was thinking I was doing so great at avoiding important things. As if my day can't get any worse . . ."

Brows furrowed angrily, she pounded a fist into the floor panel before reaching for a roll of sealant tape; she'd at least make a temporary fix before repairing the break in the coolant line. As she slid back underneath the hyperdrive, tools in hand, she made sure to make a mental note about refilling the coolant reservoir in the drive as soon as possible—definitely before the Hawk's next flight.

Lire peered up into the hyperdrive's "guts" as she wrapped the sealant tape around the broken line, deftly staunching the coolant leak. As she worked at making a more permanent repair, she stopped right in the middle of what she was doing as she suddenly became aware of the inner workings of that hyperdrive. It was so complex: the meandering lengths of wire and connector cable took her breath away. It was almost like a little city, for every electronic piece, every metal fragment, worked together in such a intricate network that it seemed almost impossible that a human could learn how it functioned. Lire just stared at the crisscrossing wires for the longest time, trying to determine all their paths. Her mental focus slid from the Masters and the way they'd asked her to leave and instead was riveted on the inner workings of the hyperdrive. She just lay there on her back, staring up and just looking. It brought her an uncanny sense of calm to have that hyperdrive exposed to her like that. She recognized that feeling as the same sensation she got whenever she upgraded or repaired HK or T3. She always felt so peaceful whenever she worked with droids or engines. And so she just studied the hyperdrive before she resumed working on that broken coolant line.

Switching the valve off, Lire grabbed a wrench and loosened the bolts holding the tubing in place. That broken length would have to go, so she wrested it free and tossed it out from under the hyperdrive. Then she thrust her arm out from under the drive, groping about for the toolkit. When she found it, she dragged it nearer and felt around in it, looking for another bit of tubing. She had come out from under the hyperdrive to trim it somewhat, but when she had done so, she simply dove back underneath to install it. She treated the hyperdrive as a surgeon would treat a patient: gently and with great care and skill. The new coolant line was soon installed, and Lire reminded herself aloud to never again whack it as hard as she had, even if the original blow had been rather accidental.

Time slipped by as Lire worked there beneath the hyperdrive, tightening loose bolts and fixing various things that could eventually become problems. She personally rather liked flying in a ship that was well-maintained, and as far as she was concerned, it was better to fix problems before they became such. "If it ain't broke, fix it before it is" was her motto—if she were ever to have need of a motto. At least she knew that she was saving credits by working on the ship herself; it wasn't as if she were inexperienced, either. Though, sometimes, Carth or T3 would assist her with more complex repairs.

Tightening a nut, Lire started humming to herself; yes, working on the Hawk certainly brought her some measure of peace. Sometimes at night, when she would be lying down to sleep, she'd get the same feeling; it came from hearing the low rumble of the engines and knowing that they were in first-class condition. Lire smiled to herself as something like a wave of pleasure rippled through the ship itself.

"You like bein' worked on, huh, my pretty girl?" she asked, reaching out and stroking the hyperdrive's enclosure. "Makes you feel all nice and well-groomed. Kind of like a manicure for spaceships, huh?"

She wasn't sure if she were imagining it or not, but she thought she felt the ship shake in something of an affirmative nod. She laughed lightly before surveying her work. It seemed as if she were finished for now. Nothing else was loose or malfunctioning; all was nicely repaired and working normally. So Lire slid out from underneath the hyperdrive and put the tools back in the toolkit. As she gathered her legs beneath her and pushed herself up from the floor, she looked herself up and down and realized that she was a complete wreck. She was covered in grease and coolant, she'd garnered a few rips and tears in her tank top, and her hands were almost black from working with the hyperdrive. She frowned; she knew she was in such a state that she'd require at least an hour in the shower to get all this dirt and grime washed off. Lire rubbed her hands on her coverall legs, but that didn't work. Her hands were just as filthy as they had been before. But then her attention was diverted elsewhere.

Someone was racing around the ship like an insane person, shouting her name and almost seeming hysterical. Eventually she realized that the person searching so frantically for her was Carth, and her heart almost skipped a nervous beat; what had happened? Was something wrong? Was someone hurt or sick? She stuck her head out the engine room door and glanced each way down the corridor, and she found Carth darting through the garage and almost back out the ship again.

"Carth!" she called, and he whipped around. "Over here!"

As he jogged straight to her, she realized that she hadn't quite said where "here" was. He was running rather exactly to her; either he had learned superbly how to judge her location by the sound of her voice, or . . . When Carth slowed to a halt in front of her, breathing hard, the first thing Lire noticed was that his eyes seemed so much clearer. Her breath whooshed out of her in a nervously excited rush as he grabbed her hands, a huge, beaming smile cresting on his face.

"Oh, Lire!" he gasped out, wide brown eyes actually darting back and forth across her face. "I—I can . . . Oh, Force! I can see, Lire! I can see!"

Lire's jaw dropped at that revelation, and she thought she saw Bastila entering the ship and wearing a tired yet happy smile—a smile of the kind of satisfaction one would have after doing a good thing for someone else. Lire stared at Carth for a minute before she burst out laughing merrily, and she threw her arms around his neck in a joyful embrace.

"I'm so happy for you!" she cried. "How is it?!"

"It . . . it's indescribable," Carth breathed, releasing her as his eyes roved almost lovingly across the Hawk's walls, taking in every detail now that he could see them for himself once more. "Oh, Lire, the sunset. Oh, Force. All the red and gold . . . And the clouds looked like they were on fire . . . And the courtyard! I didn't know the Jedi grew so many different flowers out there. They were just . . ."

He sighed as he remembered all that he'd just seen and reveled in his restored sight, and Lire thought she might cry—happy tears, of course. He certainly had deserved this gift; she'd have to remember to thank the Jedi Council for their help. She was swiping tears from her eyes with her little finger when Carth turned toward her, eyes searching her face. She mustered up her best smile and offered it, and his response was one corner of his mouth quirking up. Then he reached over and gently touched her hair, her face, her shoulder . . .

"You're a mess," he observed. Lire let out a short bark of laughter.

"Yeah, I know it," she replied. "The underside of the hyperdrive isn't exactly a place for the squeamish."

She started to laugh, but there was something in Carth's eyes that stopped her. He was just gazing at her, looking faintly thoughtful. He touched a bit of her hair again, rubbing it between his fingers almost as if he were again blind and had to learn to recognize things by touch. Then he gingerly felt her face, touching his hands to her chin and jaw, and Lire very nearly melted into a puddle at his feet. Yet she stayed still, simply being as calm as she often was.

"Y'know, it's nice to have a face to put with your voice again," Carth said finally. "I missed that."

"How could you miss this?" Lire asked jokingly as she motioned to her scruffy appearance. "I look like I fell in a vat of engine grease."

"Yeah, and some people look good drenched in grease," Carth replied, eyebrows raised playfully.

"I made the list? Shocking."

"Not all that much."

Lire wasn't quite sure what to do when Carth leaned in close to her and kissed her on the forehead even though she knew she probably didn't have to do a thing. She inhaled deeply; his scent was a combination of his aftershave, leather, and the soap Jolee had used to clean his jacket. His breath was pleasantly warm on her face, and she wouldn't have minded staying just like that for a minute or two. But then she did do something even though she hadn't originally intended to: she grabbed him by the collar and pulled him nearer, kissing him on the lips and telling herself that the Jedi were far too ignorant for their own good in matters of the heart. Emotional attachments weren't things to be avoided like the plague; instead, they were things to be treasured. Lire also wasn't totally convinced that love and other such emotions paved a direct route to the Dark Side.

Lire was pleasantly surprised when Carth returned her kiss, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her tightly despite her grungy state. She pressed a hand to his cheek, gently stroking his stubbly beard, and after a moment, they pulled apart. Carth gazed inquisitively at her for a moment; she just grinned and shrugged. With a faint sigh, he gave her waist a gentle little squeeze before glancing toward the boarding ramp.

"It oughtta be getting close to nightfall," he said, and Lire stifled a yawn with the back of her hand when he wasn't looking. "I'm gonna go out and watch the stars come out—y'know, to make this worthwhile."

He gave her a smile and a playful wink before ambling toward the ramp and, ultimately, the Enclave courtyard to admire the glittering stars as they slowly flickered alight in the purplish black evening sky. Lire watched him go before once again surveying her attire. She glanced back at the ramp a moment later, and an idea popped into her head. Technically, she could go get cleaned up later . . . So she broke into a jog, cutting across the garage to reach the ramp.

"Hey, Flyboy!" she called. "Wait up! I'll come with you!"


A/N: Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing!