Atton had no idea how he had gotten into bed. The last thing he remembered was standing at a hotel bar. Just remembering the cloying smell of juma and cigarra smoke was enough to start his stomach rolling. Groaning queasily, he forced himself to take steady breaths of the perpetually too cool air of the men's dorm. Once he was certain that he wouldn't vomit, he attempted to piece together the fragments of his memory.
Drinking far too much at the bar, something he hadn't done since first clapping eyes on Kreia and realising that he would always have to be on guard around her. Watching Sarai. Attacking, or attempting to attack, a complete stranger. Why had he done that? The answer came quickly; an image of Sarai kissing the stranger's cheek surfaced.
The door slid open and light flooded the room. Atton yanked the covers over his head, silently cursing as the pounding in his head increased. When the pain abated to a bearable level he realised that the door had been closed again and the light was much softer. Two people were carrying out a heated conversation in hushed voices on the opposite bunk. For a long, confused moment he couldn't place one of the voices, but then he recognised it as belonging to the stranger from the hotel.
" – and an old woman who looks like the worst kind of Sith. What are you doing with these people? And, more to the point, what are you doing with a lightsaber?"
"How did you-?" asked Sarai, confused.
"I saw enough Jedi in the war to recognise a hidden lightsaber when I see one," interrupted the man impatiently.
"I thought you of all people would be happy to see me with one again," she said sadly.
"I am, Suki," he said, his voice infinitely more gentle. "You've never seemed right without one, but after…" he trailed off, and Atton imagined him sharing a significant look with Sarai. When he spoke again his voice had dropped to just above a whisper. "Have you told them about what happened?"
"No," said Sarai, her voice quiet but firm.
"Good. Don't. I don't know about the others, but the old woman would use it against you in a heartbeat."
Atton felt an unreasonable stab of annoyance. Even though the man was insulting Kreia, something he would usually wholeheartedly endorse, he insulted the rest of the crew by implication. Atton had been risking his life by Sarai's side ever since Peragus, and he wouldn't have a stranger strolling onto the Ebon Hawk and accusing him of being untrustworthy. It was almost enough to drive him from the bed, but the moment he moved a sickening pain seized his head.
Sarai leaped to their defence. "They're not bad people," she insisted. "They're my friends."
The man let out a sharp bark of laughter that sounded both amused and irritated. "I'm just glad you found Bao again. It's good to know that he's looking after you."
"I can look after myself!" she retorted indignantly.
"Well, when I don't hear from you for two years it comforts me to know that you're not alone," the man whispered furiously.
It was easy to imagine the guilt written on Sarai's face. It was an all too familiar sight. "I'm sorry," she murmured.
He grunted in exasperation. "No, don't apologise." His voice was muffled, as if his hands were covering his face. "I shouldn't have snapped like that. I'm sure you had your reasons for staying away, like you probably have your reasons for travelling with this lot. I'm also sure that after you're done tending to the drunk, you will leave this junk heap of a ship with me and explain everything."
"Deal," said Sarai, a smile in her voice. "But lay off the ship; it's been through a lot."
"I can see that," the man snorted. Heavy footsteps clomped across the room, pausing at the door. "I missed you, kid," he said quietly.
"I missed you, too."
The undeniable affection in Sarai's voice turned Atton's stomach as much as the juma. Thankfully the pain was short. Numbness flooded his body, sending him easily to sleep and into a dream.
His sickness had vanished along with the throbbing pain in his head. He was relaxed, off his guard, which was as close to feeling safe as he ever came. Small waves of coolness washed over his skin. It reminded him strongly of the one time he had been immersed in a kolto tank, only this was far more pleasant. The coolness was emanating from a point of soft pressure on his cheek. Reaching up, he grasped a hand.
His eyes flew open, and he stared up into Sarai's face. Even the soft light couldn't disguise the dark circles under her eyes, nor the way her mouth twisted down into an unhappy frown. It was an improvement on how she had looked when she last appeared in his dreams, but he still wished she looked happier.
He began to bring her hand to his lips but paused. The last time he had touched Sarai in a dream it had ended in her death; he didn't want to witness that again. No, damn it, he thought angrily. I will not let Kreia control me in my sleep, too. He kissed her hand quickly but firmly, smirking to himself at how unusually chaste the gesture was.
When he looked up she was smiling. Feeling more confident, he unfurled her fingers and pressed a kiss into her palm. She laughed softly, happily, and he grinned stupidly back. Despite her newfound smile, the exhaustion in her face remained.
"You look tired," he said.
Her eyebrows shot up, although her smile stayed in place. "You look drunk."
Atton snorted. "You're insulting me in my dreams now?"
Sarai's smile froze and gradually began to vanish. Atton, suddenly fighting heavy eyelids, didn't notice. Closing his eyes, he allowed his head to sink fully back into the pillow, keeping a firm grip on her hand. "Oh," she mumbled. "Right."
"If this is your idea of a nightmare, Kreia, you're losing your touch," he murmured, already half asleep. "The last one was much more terrifying."
Sarai's grip on his hand tightened. "Kreia? Atton, what-?"
But Atton was already asleep.
When Atton woke the next morning, his first act was to clench his eyes shut even tighter, waiting for a splinter of pain to split his head. It didn't come. Neither did the nausea he had expected. There was pain, certainly; a dull ache that throbbed behind his eyes. But that was nothing compared to his usual hangovers. Tentatively, still waiting for the pain to come, he rolled away from the wall and into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
And found himself staring into the face of Sarai's date from the night before.
Now Atton wasn't viewing him through the first blinding rush of jealousy, he was able to see certain similarities that should have been glaringly obvious from the start. The man had the same bright red hair and shade of brown eyes as Sarai. They even had the same sprinkling of freckles across their cheeks.
Atton groaned and buried his face in his hands. His first reaction was relief, far stronger than he would like to admit, that he didn't have more competition. Following hard on relief's heels was burning embarrassment.
"You're related to her, aren't you?"
The man grinned widely. "I'm Seth, her brother."
"And I made an ass out of myself for nothing."
"Well, I wouldn't say nothing," said Seth casually. "You entertained at least a dozen people."
"Frack," muttered Atton.
They lapsed into a long silence, during which Atton could feel Seth's eyes boring into the top of his head. He knew he was being studied, weighed up and evaluated in terms of whether he was a good enough companion for Sarai. Let him look, he thought bitterly. Where had he been the many times his sister's life had been in danger recently?
When Atton eventually looked up he saw that his guess had been right, and Seth was studying him intently. More to break the silence than anything else he said, "I thought Jedi weren't supposed to have family."
"Padawans are… discouraged from having any contact with their family. When they took Sarai they warned us that in all likelihood we would never see her again."
"Yet here you are."
"Here I am," Seth agreed. He spread his hands in an almost helpless gesture. "Sometimes, if luck – or the Force, depending on how you look at things – is on your side, Jedi will find their way back to their families."
"Did you go looking for her?"
"No – well, sort of.
"How did you-?"
Seth interrupted him with a shake of his head. "Find her? A story for another time."
His face didn't give away much. Although his expression was neutral it seemed too rigidly controlled, and Atton somehow knew that it was doubtful he would ever hear that particular story. Something from the night before niggled at his memory. He remembered a quiet conversation between Sarai and Seth, an allusion to something in her past, but the exact words refused to come back to him.
Realising that he had been staring silently for too long, Atton said, "You're sticking around then?"
"After seeing the kind of company Sarai's keeping these days, I don't see that I have a choice." Seth's voice was light, but the hard glint in his eyes betrayed real annoyance.
"Is that a shot at me?"
"Actually, I was talking about the 'reformed' Sith assassin she's taken under her wing, not to mention that scowling old woman. You, I haven't made my mind up about yet."
Atton made a noise that was halfway between a snort and a grunt. "Thanks, I think."
Seth grinned. "I'd hold your thanks until I come to a decision." He rose to his feet and made to leave. "I'll give you some privacy to get dressed. I said I'd check out the merchants with Bao-Dur, anyway."
Atton grunted an acknowledgement, rubbing his heavy eyes.
Almost out of the room, Seth paused and called over his shoulder, "If I were you, I'd apologise to Sarai."
Jerking his head up, Atton opened his mouth to tell him to mind his own business. But he was already gone, the door snapping shut smartly behind him. Adding to his annoyance was the knowledge that Seth was right.
He took his time dressing. Apologies didn't come easily to him, and he knew that he owed Sarai several. For following her to the hotel, spying on her and then trying to pick a fight with her brother. Realising that apologising for assaulting Seth had he been her lover, as Atton originally thought, would have been a hundred times more difficult cheered him up slightly.
The Ebon Hawk seemed deserted when he finally emerged from the room. Seth was presumably searching the refugee sector for a decent merchant with Bao-Dur. Thankfully there was no sign of either Mical or Visas and, unlikely as the scenario was, it brought a smirk to his face to imagine them ensconced in the cantina together. He wasn't stupid enough to hope that Kreia had absented herself; she hadn't left the ship since Dantooine.
After searching every section of the ship and failing to find Sarai, he accepted the inevitable and headed for the room she shared with Kreia. Almost at the door, he heard voices. Kreia's voice, as usual, bitter and mocking. Sarai's voice calm on the surface, but simmering underneath.
Atton backtracked quickly. He had no compunctions about eavesdropping, even when it came to Sarai. The guilt he felt was almost always outweighed by his desire to hear her unedited thoughts. Kreia was a different matter; only an idiot or someone with a death wish would eavesdrop on her. In all likelihood she would sense the intruder's presence, and then – Well, he didn't know what her punishment would be because thus far he hadn't been stupid enough to spy on her, but he imagined it would make his imprisonment on Peragus seem pleasant in comparison.
So he began a quiet retreat to the cockpit. Before he had taken two steps, however, he heard his name. He jerked around, a defence already on his lips, expecting to face a pair of accusatory eyes. There was no one in sight and the conversation in the women's dorm had not ceased. If anything, it had grown more heated.
Kreia's wrath be damned, if they were talking about him he wanted to know what they were saying. Silently approaching the open door, he caught the end of Kreia's sentence.
"- mere paranoia."
"Kreia," began Sarai, and Atton could hear the barely concealed impatience in her voice. "Something Atton said last night gave me the strong impression that he believes you are meddling with his dreams. I came to you for a simple confirmation or denial, but so far all you have given me is evasion after evasion."
His breath caught in his throat. He couldn't remember talking to Sarai last night, let alone about Kreia, but admittedly his memory was hazy. If he had said something about Kreia's control over him, she might reveal something about his past to Sarai. Heart hammering, he tried to think of something, anything¸ to cause a distraction and bring an end to their conversation. His usually quick wits had apparently deserted him. While he desperately tried to think of a plan, he waited in fear for Kreia's response.
When it came, it was full of quiet derision. "How much alcohol had he consumed when he made these claims?"
"You're not answering my que-"
"I have a question for you. Why do you…?" Her question trailed off. When she spoke again, there was an odd mixture of disgust and satisfaction in her voice. "Ah. I see."
A wave of almost overpowering fury hit Atton, so strong that it almost brought him to his knees. He had no idea where it came from, nor did he care. All he was aware of was a terrible, murderous anger, and its target was Kreia. He wanted to kill her. It didn't matter that she would probably put him in stasis or worse the moment he stepped into the room, or that Sarai would jump to her defence. He had already taken a step towards the room when, as suddenly as it had arrived, the anger left.
This time he did fall. Suddenly drained of all energy, he sagged against the wall, groping for support. Through his scattered thoughts, one realisation emerged clearly: the anger had not been his.
"Stay out of their heads, Kreia," said Sarai, her voice so devoid of emotion that it was almost dead. "And never exploit our bond like that again."
Atton realised just in time that footsteps were heading in his direction. Scrambling upright, he hurried away, uncaring of the almost thunderous disturbance his heavy feet made in the quiet ship. He reached the safety of the medbay in time to see Sarai stride down the corridor. He thought he saw a fleeting shadow cross her face, but before he could look more closely she had turned the corner and exited the ship.