First chapter of Cover, sequel to Freefall and Gravity. Here's hoping you enjoy ...

Disclaimer: Oh, and George Lucas owns Star Wars and is much nicer to the characters than I am. Meanwhile, I am not making any profit from this work of fanfiction.

CHAPTER ONE - SHARDS

A strong hand reached out to help Anakin to his feet, and he looked up, surprised, into Siri Tachi's brilliant blue eyes.

"Master Tachi!" he exclaimed, and coughed up a puff of dust. "I didn't realize you were here."

"Oh, I never miss a good party," Siri said cheerfully. "I dragged Ferus along, too."

Anakin stopped in the act of helping Ryn to her feet, and she scrambled up on her own while Anakin said, "You invited Ferus to your birthday party?"

"I didn't invite anybody," Ryn said. "But I'm glad he's here." She surveyed the damaged room with a critical air. "Although he might have been better off in the Temple, all things considered."

Anakin wanted to say something else, something like but you're my friend, but then Obi-Wan hurried over to them, sidestepping shards of blast-heated metal. Ferus was with him.

"Are you all right?" the Padawan asked them both, and Ryn nodded.

"I'm fine. Anakin took most of the blast." She touched his arm. "You hurt?"

There was a burning in his back that didn't bode well, but it wasn't too bad yet. "It's nothing."

"Don't give me that. Turn around."

Anakin obeyed her reluctantly, unpleasantly aware of the eyes on him, watching to see if he were all right.

Ryn whistled through her teeth. "If this is your nothing, I hope I never see your something." Anakin felt a slight, tugging pressure as she examined the wound with careful fingers. "Transparisteel shard," she said shortly. "Not huge, but buried deep. Nowhere near the spine, which is lucky, but definitely in range of the kidney." She drew back and brushed hair out of her face, smearing blood from her dark, sticky fingers. Looking at the streak of blood, even knowing it was his own, Anakin felt slightly sick.

Ryn's eyes on his face were serious. "I can't remove the shard here without risking more serious damage. You need a trained Healer, and I imagine others do, too. We'll have to call for a med-evac from the Temple."

"I'll be fine in a speeder," Anakin said, and Ryn shook her head.

"No. You need to stay as still as possible. In fact, I want you to do your best not to move at all until Vokara Che gets here." She glanced at Obi-Wan. "Go ahead and make the call. And be sure you tell them we're looking at a shrapnel wound with severe hemorrhaging and possible nerve damage to the lower back."

"That's quite the mouthful," Siri observed as Obi-Wan turned away, digging out his commlink.

"Field medic," Ryn said. "Anakin, I saw that. You have to be still. You are not going to die from this, but if you sustain nerve damage, you will probably lose some mobility. We don't want that."

"No," Anakin agreed. He felt dizzy.

"So hold very still until the med-evac gets here."

"I'm going to go help the Lorethans," Ferus said. "Unless you need me?" He was speaking to both of them, but he kept his eyes on Ryn.

"We're fine," Ryn answered. "I saw some of the Raven Guard head out. Let me know if you find anything interesting."

The tension that always came with Ferus's presence didn't fade as he walked away, following his master. Ryn must have sensed the feeling, because she gave Anakin a look of strained patience.

Anakin started to speak, but Ryn held up a hand to forestall him. "Is this about Ferus?" Anakin stopped, trying to remember exactly what he'd been going to say. "Because if it is," Ryn went on, "I think it's going to have to wait. There are a lot of wounded who need my help." When Anakin still didn't say anything, Ryn sighed. "Look, I'll be back. Just ... stay here and do not move." She raised a finger at him in warning. "I mean it." With a final admonishing look, she turned and melted into the crowd.

~*~*~

Dust hung in the air and transparisteel shards like the one in Anakin's back clanked underfoot. Pieces of wrenched metal, hot from the explosion, littered the floor. Ryn scrambled through the wreckage to the bar, which Ferus was busy turning into a makeshift triage.

Like a good little Jedi, Ryn thought, knowing she ought to be impressed but feeling vaguely exasperated. Anakin must be rubbing off on me.

She found him trying, with more care than skill, to extricate a piece of metal from a young woman's leg.

Ryn brushed him aside, laying her fingers on the torn skin. She blinked away the instantly heightened awareness of the woman's pain and met her eyes. "It's the outer thigh, so you should be all right. Be ready to apply pressure as soon as I've pulled this fellow out, got it?"

The woman nodded, blonde hair falling crazily around a face pinched with pain. Ryn gave a sharp tug and the splinter of shrapnel came free. She tossed it to one side as the woman pressed her hand over the wound.

That job done, Ryn turned her head to meet Ferus's eyes over her shoulder even as she reached for her next patient, a member of the Raven Guard with another shrapnel wound and a burned shoulder and back. "Find me some kind of antiseptic. Hot water would be good, too."

Ferus nodded sharply and disappeared into the back of the diner. Ryn took a look at the piece of metal in the woman's bloody side and grimaced. "Take the med-evac to the Jedi Temple. That's going to bleed when it comes out." She turned her attention to the burn and yelled over the din. "Obi-Wan! ETA on the med-evac?"

"Under twenty minutes," Obi-Wan shouted back, and Ryn flicked a glance at Anakin, still standing where she'd left him, stranded alone in the middle of the rubble.

"Skywalker! You holding still?"

"Yes," Anakin said tightly, just loud enough to be heard, and Ryn flashed him a thumbs-up with one hand as she began to peel back charred fabric with the other.

"Good job!" she yelled at him. "Keep doing that."

Ferus thrust a bottle of something bright blue into her hand. "Will this work?"

Ryn yanked the stopper out with more energy than grace and sniffed. The overpowering scent of 150 proof alcohol rocked her back on her heels. "Hell, yes. Don't tell me Dex serves this rocket fuel?"

Ferus shrugged. "It was in the kitchen." He held up a stack of mostly clean dish towels. "I found these, too."

"Good," Ryn said. "Soak one in alcohol and hand it to me."

They fell into a rhythm together, moving down the line of patients Makesh and Obi-Wan brought them with steady efficiency until the med-evac came whirring in to hover precariously over the narrow pedway outside. Then Ferus began helping the wounded onto the transport, and Ryn, trusting the Temple Healers to manage the task, made her way through the hubbub to Anakin.

She reached up and touched his cheek. "You've looked better."

Anakin's jaw was tight. "It hurts."

"The Healers are here," she said softly, as though he might have missed the commotion their entrance had caused. "It won't be long, now."

"It doesn't make sense," Anakin said, ignoring that. "Why was there only one explosion?"

"I don't know," Ryn said. "I heard Evinne order a chase; maybe the attacker -- or more than one -- was scared away."

"You think it was Ziro's men?"

"It seems likely," Ryn said. "We'll know more when the scouts report in."

Vokara Che stepped up beside her. "Where is the injury?"

Ryn led her around to Anakin's side and pointed. "There."

Vokara's headtails twitched with what Ryn thought might be concern. She laid her fingers on Anakin's back and closed her eyes, probing with the Force. Ryn saw the corners of Anakin's mouth tighten with pain and unadmitted fear, and reached out and gripped his hand in support.

"Over soon," she whispered, and Anakin nodded jerkily.

Vokara Che opened her eyes and focused them on Ryn. "I want to get this out before we try to get him in the transport," she said. Her tone was brisk, but Ryn could feel the worry radiating off of her. A field removal was less than ideal, under the circumstances. "Can you hold him?"

Ryn swallowed hard and stepped up, resting her feet on Anakin's and wrapping her arms around him so that she gripped her wrists across his upper back.

"Look in my eyes," she told him softly.

Somewhere, she could feel Vokara frowning at them, but Ryn pushed that awareness aside and focused on holding Anakin's gaze.

"Can you feel my heartbeat?"

Anakin looked puzzled, but she could feel his concentration narrowing. "Yes."

"Good. Listen to my heartbeat until there is nothing else. Just listen ..." Ryn stopped talking as she felt Anakin close his mind to everything but the steady thud.

Vokara Che must have sensed it, too, because she began the extraction.

Anakin's eyes widened in pain as he struggled to hold his concentration.

Heartbeat, Ryn thought at him, lowering her shields a little to wrap him in her affection like a blanket. Heartbeat, heartbeat...

It worked until the transparisteel scraped through a layer of muscle and Anakin bucked in her arms, the movement restricted by Ryn's unyielding grip.

"Still," Ryn hissed against his throat as her chin thwacked his collarbone. "Not long now."

"One more good tug out to do it," Vokara said.

Ryn locked gazes with Anakin again. "Hear that? Almost over. I want you to wrap your arms around me and squeeze hard, all right?"

Anakin swallowed and wrapped his arms around her much narrower body.

"That's not squeezing."

"When I need to," Anakin muttered indistinctly, and Ryn realized that he had locked his teeth together.

Vokara looked at them doubtfully, but she bent to her task again.

Anakin's grip snapped tight, and his breath came in hard little gasps of agony. Pain burst through their connection, obliterating his obvious efforts at shielding, and Vokara Che straightened, holding the jagged piece of transparisteel.

"All done!" she declared. "Good work, you two." Her headtails twitched. "I've never seen that technique before."

Ryn grinned at her, giddy with relief, her own and Anakin's. "It worked, didn't it?"

"So it did." Vokara glanced out at the rest of the diner. "He needs a pressure bandage. Can you --"

"Got it covered," Ryn said. She looked at the tray of bandages across the room. "Feel like a frivolous use of the Force, Skywalker?"

Vokara rolled her eyes and moved on. The bandages flew into Anakin's grasp and he held them wordlessly while Ryn ripped off what was left of his leather tabard so the bandages could grip tightly.

She sent little waves of healing energy into his tissues as she worked; whether he could tell it or not was hard to say. As she tucked the last end in at his waist, Anakin caught her hand before she could move away.

"It's not your fault," he said quietly, and Ryn cringed. She had thought she'd hidden her guilt better than that, but apparently not.

"Isn't it?" she asked quietly, staring at their entwined fingers, covered in blood. "You came here for me." Her voice broke. "if you hadn't been trying to protect me, you wouldn't have gotten hurt."

"No," Anakin agreed. "But I would probably have been in the group that gave chase, and that would have been dangerous, too." Ryn tugged at her hand, wanting to escape this conversation, but Anakin held on, his grip gentle but as unrelenting as durasteel. "You didn't bring me here. I chose to come. So did everyone else. You can't bear the responsibility for that."

"Responsibility is my job."

Anakin's eyes narrowed, showing a flash of temper he usually reserved for people who weren't her. "The only person you are responsible for is yourself," he told her. "Or does that only apply to other people?"

Ryn remembered standing on a balcony in the Jedi Temple, telling him ... that he wasn't responsible for her choices, that her feelings weren't his fault. You are not responsible for anyone's choices but your own. So here is a choice that's all mine: I'm yours for life, and I'm not asking anything in return. She'd told him that she was responsible for her own pain, that he couldn't stop her loving him, even if it meant she got hurt. She looked up into his blue eyes, warm and earnest and determined. Despite his seriousness, Ryn felt a smile pull up one corner of her mouth at the way he'd turned her words back on her.

"I'll let you have this round," she told him. "But only because you're injured. Now get to the transport."

"Aren't you coming?" Anakin asked, his nerves flashing through for just an instant before he managed to hide them again.

"There won't be room," Ryn said, hating herself for being practical instead of kind. "I'm sure Obi-Wan will follow you back. I'll catch a ride with Master Tachi when we're done here." She spared a dismal look for the rest of the diner and dragged a hand across her forehead again, smearing blood and dust. The place was a mess. And there were so many things she wanted to say to Anakin, but none of them were things she could say here. She coughed to clear her throat of dust and all the words it would be dangerous to say in front of the Jedi. "I'll see you at the Temple," she said instead, and walked away so he couldn't see her cry.