A/N: Damn it I am finishing this thing if it kills me.
They were near the entranceway when Visas stopped and threw up her hand. "Wait," she whispered, her voice even more breathless than usual. And, "Darth Nihilus approaches."
"Oh, great, another Sith Lord," Atton growled, drawing out his blasters.
"He isn't here yet," Carra said. She tilted her head, as though listening. "We need to go to Citadel Station," she said again. "I can feel him coming, like—like—"
"A wound in the force," Visas said.
Atton snorted. "Another one?"
Carra shrugged, turning away. "Malachor left echoes," she said. "They linger still."
Mira was glaring at him, a blaze of crimson against his mind. Thank you, Mr. Tactful, she snapped, as they started walking again. Atton's jaw nearly dropped in surprise.
You—you're Force sensitive?
Haven't you figured it out yet? Mira demanded. Nearly everyone on the Hawk is.
The Hawk was picking up communications from Citadel Station as it lifted off; most of them were frantic, uuencoded messages to the Republic, asking for help, and Atton groaned and shouted for Carra.
"We'll have to help," Carra said, as though she would suggest anything else. Atton rolled his eyes.
"I don't know if you've noticed," he said sardonically, "but that's a Sith fleet sitting up there in space and the Republic Navy's on its way. We don't have to do anything."
"They've already started bombardment," Carra said, which was true. "Citadel Station can't hold out under that sort of firepower—there'll be an invasion soon."
Which was also true. Atton scowled anyway. "And you think we can stop the invasion?"
"We can hold them off long enough for the Republic to get there."
"We might die."
Carra sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. "You don't have to go," she said. "You can stay on the ship."
"Damn it, Carra, what sort of general are you?" Atton demanded, but he was punching in the coordinates anyway. "What kind of order is 'you don't have to go'? You'll let me stay behind because I don't feel like going, and maybe get yourself killed over it?"
"I was Revan's general," Carra said. Her hand had gone tightfisted around her lightsaber again. "I didn't give orders. I advised. Revan made the decisions."
"Yeah? Did that make you feel better when all those soldiers died at your advice?"
Carra was silent. Atton felt like kicking himself. He should've kept this mouth shut. "Sorry," he muttered. "I didn't mean it like that."
She didn't answer. He cast her a glance; she wasn't looking at him, or even facing in his general direction. "Let me know when we arrive," she said at last, and walked away.
They had to fight their way through Citadel Station. Lieutenant Grenn was there to meet them after they found the command room, and he was marginally more happy to see them this time than he had the last—but still, it was a close thing, what with Sith troops storming the Citadel and Nihilus looming above them. "Jedi," he said, wiping a streak of dust from his forehead. "We can't hold out much longer."
"I know," Carra said. "The Republic will get here too late."
Useful. Atton rolled his eyes. "We're here," he said shortly. "What do you want him to do?"
Grenn explained. Atton regretted asking.
Hold down the command center, Carra said. Blow up the Harbinger, Carra said.
Nihilus will destroy the Republic ships the moment they come into range, Carra said. I'll take care of him.
"What, alone?" Atton demanded, jogging after her as she went to scout out the hallway. "I'm not even going to ask if you're crazy—"
Carra sighed. "If I ask you to stay behind," she said, "you call me crazy and insist on coming along. If I ask you to come with me, you complain that it isn't your battle and say you want to stay behind. I don't know, Atton. What do you want?"
He wanted her safe. He wanted the Sith Lords dead, and he wanted to be unhaunted, and he wanted the galaxy to leave him alone. He wanted a drink.
At the moment, Atton wanted all sorts of things, and it was unlikely that he was going to get any of them. He scowled. "I always come anyway," he pointed out. "Does it even matter?"
"Yes," Carra said, turning on her heel impatiently. She looked up at him, there in the empty hallway that had merely been an excuse for them to snap at each other, and she said: "I wish you would make up your mind and tell me."
"And I wish," Atton said bitterly, "you would tell me what you were up to. But hey, we all have dreams, right?"
Music, distant and faint. Carra looked away. She wasn't lost anymore, was she? She knew exactly what she was going to do and where she was going to go and just how much she was going to sacrifice; I'm not that sort of Jedi, she had told him, but she was just as ruthless as the rest of them. And perhaps she cared about him, perhaps she was unhappy that she was using him—that she was using them all—but in the end it didn't matter. She would do it anyway.
She had advised Revan full in the knowledge that all her advice would be taken. An order by any other name—
"Let's go," he said abruptly, turning away. "No point in waiting for Nihilus to come to us."
"All right," Carra said. "Let me tell the crew."
"Do you wish me to accompany you?" Visas asked, when they returned to the group.
"What, and stab us in the back the moment your master tells you to?" Atton snorted. "No."
"Atton," Carra said. And, "Please stay here, Visas. The lieutenant needs your help, and we need a force-user to coordinate the teams."
Visas inclined her head. "As you wish."
Atton scowled at her anyway. "If you try anything—"
The building shook under a barrage of artillery fire. "Just go," Mira snapped at him, tossing him two of her spare grenades. "You can complain about it later."
He might be dead later, Atton thought darkly. Not that anyone would care.
Back on the Hawk, Mandalore was manning the turret guns as Atton brought them careening through space towards certain death. Sith gunships were everywhere. He looped around the main force, quick and careful, and on the other side the first of the Republic fleet were dropping out of hyperspace to draw their fire. Carra sat next to him, silent. Up ahead was a gaping emptiness, vast and hungry, and they were flying right into its jaws—
"ETA four minutes," Atton said, instead of, for example, announcing that this was a terrible idea and turning the ship around. Not that anyone would listen to him; he was just the pilot. "Everyone ready?"
"Ready," Mandalore said over the commlink.
Ready, Mical said into his mind, his presence like gleaming-bright glaciers in the dawnlight.
Ready, Visas said from Citadel Station. Atton jumped; he hadn't been expecting her. Frack, she wasn't even on the ship—
"Yes," Carra said.
"Great, great—" He brought the Hawk flaring up. "Hey, uh, not that I'm not grateful or anything, but the Harbinger isn't exactly opening fire on us and we're definitely in range—"
"Pride," Carra said, her fingers brushing across the dashboard before her and her eyes very distant. "He doesn't think we can kill him. A challenge has been issued and he'll answer it."
"Seems like that ridiculous Jedi honor isn't limited to you Jedi, huh?"
"I think," Carra said, "for him it's more a matter of style."
And honor isn't ridiculous, Mical said indignantly. Atton scowled.
Stay out of my conversations, he snapped, and slammed up a wall of—well, not rage, perhaps, but at the very least enough irritation to keep the wannabe-Jedi from trampling merrily through his thoughts. "One minute," Atton announced, powering down the rear engines. "Prepare to board."
Carra went first and Atton trailed after her; they would scout out the ship first and clear resistance, and Mandalore and Mical would follow after to set up the proton charges, and everywhere around them the ship was eerie and silent and always the hunger tugged at the edges of their minds. "What's wrong with him?" Atton asked finally. "I mean, Kreia's a manipulative old schutta and Sion's mostly dead, but what's Nihilus's problem?"
Carra stopped at the edge of a doorway. "He's—empty," she said, frowning a little. "A wound in the force, a hollow sieve—he wants life, and has none of his own, and so he eats others'. I'm not even sure if he's entirely sentient, by now. He's very old. And always hungry."
"Creepy," Atton remarked. "Why aren't we moving?"
"Assassins," Carra said, and went blazing out before him into the next room as a knot of Sith uncloaked themselves.
So the ship wasn't entirely empty after all. He had begun to wonder.
They left corpses behind them, and a clear path for Mandalore to set the charges, and Atton kicked the pieces of a broken Sith lightsaber out of the way as he strode forward. "I guess his style isn't getting in the way of him sending assassins to soften us up first," Atton said acidly.
Carra caught at his sleeve. "You're bleeding."
"Yeah?" He glanced down. He hadn't noticed; it was only a scrape, anyway, and wouldn't even slow him down. "It's fine."
"Atton," Carra said, and there was a discordant jangle of music and absolutely nothing happened. She let go of his arm then, as though she had been burned, and curled her fingers together so tightly her knuckles went white. "I thought—" she said, and stopped. And: "Never mind. Let's go."
So she still couldn't heal. So she still wasn't done with him yet, whatever she wanted him for, and Atton wondered if he trusted her enough to go along with whatever she was planning. He doubted that she would want to hurt him—but then again, she had mourned over Malachor, and she had done it anyway—
"Yeah, not a good idea to keep the Sith Lord waiting," he drawled.
Carra almost smiled.
The Sith Lord was a lot shorter than Atton would have expected.
He was cold, though—freezing cold, like death, like that long corridor back on Korriban where a ghost had appeared—as though he were drawing all the life out of the very air itself. Mist swirled around the edges of his robes as he turned. His face was a mask.
"Nihilus," Carra said, stopping.
A tremor in the air, like growling, like hunger.
"No," Carra said. "She isn't coming. And her name is Visas."
Anger. The shapes of Nihilus's emotions were raw against Atton's mind, but somehow Carra was making sense of them. "I'm here to stop you," she was saying, deadly serious, and her hand was on her lightsaber. "You won't have her. You won't have anyone else—you are a wound in the Force, and it will be closed—"
"Just shoot him," Atton said, violently torn between being irritated that Carra was trying to lecture a Sith Lord—when had that ever worked, anyway?—and being irritated by the content of her speech itself, which sounded like something off a cheesy holovid. Honestly, who took that sort of thing seriously? "Carra, why do you always try to talk to everyone who's trying to kill you? They never listen."
Nihilus turned his mask towards Atton. A scrabbling at the edges of his mind—Atton gritted his teeth and stood his ground, even though something like ice was spreading over him, and it was suddenly a great effort to close his hand around his blaster and bring it up—
—and Carra was suddenly between him and the Sith Lord, her lightsaber blazing violet against the mist, and the cold was falling away like a shadow. Atton was gasping for breath. His blaster was still out, and his lungs hurt, and his head hurt. He fired almost without thinking.
The shot swept over Carra's shoulder and sunk into the depths of Nihilus's robes. Nihilus didn't even flinch. Atton cursed.
"Stop," Carra said again. "Atton, stay out of this."
"The hell I will—"
"A duel," she said, her hand closing down hard on his wrist. "Yes, I accept. Atton, no outside interference—a closed-ring duel, between force-users. Stay out of this."
There was really no arguing with her sometimes. "Fine," Atton muttered, stepping back. But if it looked like she was losing—
A flicker of movement between the folds of the robes; a curling in the mist. Suddenly Nihilus was holding a red-bladed lightsaber in his—his hand? Atton couldn't see.
A thrill of something like anticipation in the air.
And then a flurry of light too fast for his eye to track. Violet and red and violet again—Carra was across the room, panting—Nihilus was sweeping aside as she thrust forward—red and violet—
Frack. He couldn't get a clear shot even if Carra were trying to stay out of his way. Atton scowled deeply. As though blasters could do any damage anyway; Nihilus had seemed fairly unharmed by his first shot. And it was too close for grenades, but not close enough for a lightsaber or a vibrosword unless he stepped into the fight—
He put his hand on his 'saber anyway. No reason to be unprepared.
Lightning crackled in the room. Carra danced out of the way and swung. Her lightsaber left a scorch mark on Nihilus's robe.
Huh, Atton thought. She might win this after all—not that he had ever doubted her, what with Carra being a Jedi and everything—but hey, the sooner this was over, the better.
Singing, like wind through prairie grass, like the vast empty fields of Dantooine—and the hunger was curling away at the edges, the mist disappearing beneath Carra's onslaught, and red-and-violet flashed in the middle of the room but all around them Nihilus was dying. Atton let out a breath.
Another stroke; two; the cold was creeping away, high bright singing was echoing around the room—
And then Nihilus was turning away from Carra with desperate clawing hunger and Atton had only a moment of warning before Nihilus came after him.
He ducked to the side. Another second and he would have been dead; instead he brought up his lightsaber, fast and careless, but Nihilus was moving too slowly now to dodge the blow. It was cold, freezing cold—and the Sith Lord's robes were going to tatters at the edges—
Carra thrust her lightsaber through what might have been Nihilus's heart.
The cold ceased. Atton stumbled backward and fell, landing heavily against a wall. He didn't drop his lightsaber, though, he noted. That was something to be proud of, wasn't it?
Frack, he'd nearly been eaten.
"He attacked you," Carra said. She raised her eyes and looked at him, and the expression on her face was something like bewilderment. "He attacked you—"
Atton let his head drop back against the wall, suddenly exhausted. "Oh, yeah, big surprise," he said sardonically.
"You were expecting him to?"
"He's a Sith Lord, Carra. Did you really expect him to keep his promises?"
Nihilus was a crumpled pile of robes and a mask and the faint echoes of something that was strange and wrong and hungry. Carra stepped around it, carefully, and dropped to her knees on the durasteel floor. Atton closed his eyes. It hurt to breathe, and he was very tired—
Her fingers were on his cheek. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. Give me a moment."
Silence, stretching out between heartbeats; and: "Are you angry with me?" Carra asked, sounding very subdued. "I used you again, I think."
She wasn't even sure anymore? Well, that was a great sign. Eyes still closed, he reached out and looped his arm around her waist—carelessly, as though it didn't matter—and pulled her against him. Her fingers curled in the fabric of his shirt. Her pulse fluttered against his skin, tentative. "Yeah," Atton said. "You did. I'm furious."
He forced his eyes open. Carra was watching him, wide-eyed. "Are you going to take his mask?" Atton asked, nodding toward what was left of Nihilus. "I heard that's traditional."
"No," she said. "He didn't have anything else."
How symbolic. If he had the energy, Atton would've rolled his eyes. "Let's get out of here," he said instead. "Before Mical decides to blow up this ship with us still on it."
EDIT: Thanks to jayJ530 for pointing out various continuity errors. Sorry people! Fixed now, hopefully.