"Ahhh, I was beginning to wonder if you'd changed your mind," Mandalore remarked as Fret, Brianna, and Kreia entered the headquarters of the Mandalorian camp.
"Nah, just got a late start is all," replied Fret. "We still up for a trip to Iziz?"
Mandalore nodded. "I had the shuttle prepped early this morning. We can leave in a few minutes if you're ready."
"Just about. Hey, we opened the weapons cache you mentioned yesterday. There's a lot of stuff in there. What do we owe you for a couple of lightsabers and parts, six rippers, two disintegrators, and four assault rifles?"
Mandalore looked back at the Exile in amusement. "Consider the Jedi stuff your payment for the job. As far as the Mandalorian weapons, go settle up with the quartermaster. Tell Kex I said to give you a 50% discount for being honorable enough to tell me what you took from the cache."
Smiling, Fret nodded. "Thanks, Mandalore. We'll go take care of that real quick and then we'll be ready to go."
Fret and Brianna turned to leave. After a few steps, Fret noticed that Kreia had made no move to follow. "You coming with us?" he inquired.
"These old bones have no desire to walk across this camp only to turn around and walk back," Kreia responded in a curt tone.
The answer made sense, but the stare she was giving Mandalore suggested there was something more going on than he was in the loop on. "Very well," he replied simply, leaving with Brianna.
"Is all in readiness?" Kreia asked Mandalore pointedly.
Mandalore scoffed. "It is, like I promised. Why, you want to back out now?"
"My concern is only for the one you escort to Onderon. Would you do any less for one of your clan?"
"Don't pretend to understand us, old woman. We Mandalorians are a breed apart."
"Ahh, yes. If by 'apart' you mean broken, scattered, and lost, then you are correct."
Mandalore scoffed again. "You've got guts talking to me like that. You think your age or your Jedi whelp will keep you safe against me?"
Kreia shook her head. "No, Mandalore, you are wrong. It is you that I hope will keep him safe. The Echani servant accompanying him is expendable, but he is more important to me than anything. Show the same loyalty you've shown previous masters, even when they abandoned you."
"Why is he so important?"
Kreia answered cryptically. "If you want the answer to that, and to where Revan went after leaving you at the edge of the galaxy, you must keep him safe. He has walked your same path, Mandalore, and I ask that you remember that kinship at the end, even when it seems nothing else remains."
"Jedi and their damned riddles," thought Mandalore cynically. He stalked past Kreia and out the door, heading over to the hangar to perform a final check of the shuttle's systems before departure.
"Fret? What is wrong?" Brianna asked. They were on their way back from paying the quartermaster for the weapons they'd obtained from the cache, and Fret suddenly stopped in the middle of the field with a stern expression.
"I… sensed a very brief disturbance in the Force. It was like a flicker, but it was there."
Brianna hadn't felt anything, but she also knew her command of the Force was far less than his. "Does that mean something bad?"
"I don't know. Keep alert though." He drew his saberstaff and continued walking while holding it deactivated in his left hand. Brianna followed suit.
Kreia's voice came to him through their bond. :: Did you sense the disturbance? ::
:: Yes :: he replied. :: Do you know what it was? ::
:: Our enemy has tracked us here. Our whereabouts must remain a secret, none of them can be allowed to escape. ::
"Brianna!" Fret called out sharply as just then he felt the disturbance return in full force. Spinning around, he saw a pair of Sith assassins that had deactivated their stealth generators and materialized into view behind them. "Kreia says the Sith have tracked us here! We have to eliminate all of them all so they can't report back!" he quickly added. While turning to face their enemies, two more Sith appeared behind their position, effectively surrounding them.
:: Back-to-back! :: Fret commanded Brianna through their Force bond. :: We'll cover each other's backs, keep them all in sight. ::
:: Got it! :: she pushed back to him through their bond, turning so that her back was to Fret's and each of them had a pair of enemies in front of them.
Fret quickly took inventory of them. The Sith were all identical in appearance, roughly six feet tall and cloaked in minimalist black and gray robes. They were wearing black hoods with gray Force masks that removed any sort of individuality in addition to providing resistance against an opponent's Force powers. It was impossible to tell from their appearance or what little sound they made if they were male, female, or something else. Each assassin wielded a black and silver quarterstaff in their black gloved hands. He found it odd that they didn't wield the customary red-bladed lightsabers of the Sith, but there was little time to ponder that at present.
Dozens of Sith assassins began popping up everywhere in the camp. The Mandalorians scrambled into action to meet and repel the threat.
Fret and Brianna moved in harmony, their sum greater than the whole. Their Force bond only enhanced the effects of the battle precognition ability Brianna had taught Fret during their last sparring/training session, they seemed to know exactly what their enemies would do moments before they acted. Fighting in tandem, their own actions constantly complemented each other, whether attacking, defending, or supporting the other. The four Sith assassins went down quickly.
"Let's go help the Mandalorians!" shouted Fret over the din of the battle. The two of them raced across the field, her natural speed making her easily outdistance him. Brianna jumped into the fray, assisting Kelborn, who was holding off a pair of assassins but not able to make much headway on the offensive front.
Fret glanced to the side and saw a Mandalorian a dozen meters away fall after taking a blast of Force lightning from his attacker. Fret collected himself and Force jumped the distance between them, crashing down hard on the unsuspecting Sith, severing an arm in the process before spinning his saberstaff around and separating its torso from its legs. Another assassin stepped up, swinging its staff at Fret. He parried the incoming strike and lashed back with the other blade. The Sith blocked that attack and then attempted to overwhelm Fret's mind with Force Horror. The Exile resisted the mental attack, retaliating with a flurry of sweeps and strikes. The assassin blocked the first three, but the last one slipped through its defenses and scored flesh, the silver saber blade raking angrily across the Sith's right thigh. The wound compromised the assassin's mobility, so rather than continuing to go toe-to-toe with the Jedi Exile, it stepped back and attempted to drain Fret's lifeforce through the Force. The attack partially succeeded, and Fret grunted at feeling himself weakening while his opponent regained strength. The Sith jumped into the air in a twisting staff attack aimed at its opponent's head, but Fret quickly threw out his hand and pushed a Force wave that caught his enemy in mid-air and blew him back several meters. The rough landing hurt and disoriented the Sith, and Fret followed up with a violent storm of lightning that ripped through his opponent and left it critically wounded. Immediately he threw his saberstaff at the assassin, using the Force to impale it and end its life. After recalling his lightsaber, he spun back around, his eyes rapidly scanning for Brianna. She and Kelborn had finished off the two Sith assassins and she had already moved further ahead to engage more of them. She was so focused on the pair in front of her that she didn't recognize that she was about to be hit from behind.
Fret realized he had no chance to warn her with words, so he focused his sight through their bond, forcing the image of what he was seeing through his own eyes into her mind while he sprinted towards her. Just when he thought it didn't work, at the last moment without looking she lifted her saber over her shoulder and behind her back to intercept the incoming strike of her opponent's quarterstaff, then pivoted and executed a back kick that caught the surprised assassin in the stomach. The impact of the kick doubled him over, and from there it took only a simple compact sweep of her saberstaff to remove the head from the body and eliminate the threat. Brianna quickly spun back around to deflect another incoming attack with a saber blade, then gathered her Force energy and threw it out as hard as she could in front of her at the other attacker. The Force push blew back the assassin, knocking it down and away from her long enough for her to focus her attention on the lone remaining Sith in front of her.
Another assassin moved to intercept Fret, who was still closing the gap between himself and Brianna. Making a quick decision, Fret raised a Force shield around Brianna to enhance her defense even further, then used his master level ability to augment his speed through the Force. The assassin nailed Fret while he was in the middle of boosting his speed, the tempered metal reinforced staff connecting violently with and shattering his left elbow. This caused Fret to immediately drop his saberstaff from the left hand he now had no control over. Screaming out in pain involuntarily, Fret still maintained the presence of mind to draw one of his Mandalorian rippers from a pocket holster with his good arm. He rapid fired a series of blasts that tore through the energy shield the Sith wore, bypassing its defenses and scorching its flesh. The Sith was indecisive after the revelation of a Jedi producing a disruptor pistol, and Fret took advantage of this indecisiveness to continue to pump slugs into the Sith's body. It was dead by the time it figured out how to react.
Brianna turned suddenly in alarm, sensing Fret's intense pain through their bond. He'd learned enough from Kreia earlier in their adventures that he unconsciously shielded Brianna from the actual pain, but she knew that he'd been hurt. With renewed determination she aggressively attacked the Sith in front of her, pouring the years of hard training that had honed her edge into the attack. The Sith was highly skilled, but even the darksider was taken aback by the ferocity with which she fought. She drove the assassin back in a furious onslaught, overwhelming its defenses and ending its life. She then turned to face the one she'd Force pushed earlier, it had gotten back up and was beginning to charge. Before she could engage it, however, a massive burst of blaster fire came from the side and shredded the Sith, dropping its lifeless body to the ground. Brianna stole a glance in the direction the blaster fire came from, her eyes briefly widening in surprise as she immediately recognized the armor worn by the wielder of the heavy weapon. It was the battle circle sergeant. He nodded once to her before turning his attention elsewhere on the battle field. Brianna then reached out with the Force to locate Fret. She could still sense he was in pain, and she wanted to get to him right away.
Fret had no time to recover after dispatching the previous enemy, as another Sith assassin bore down on him rapidly. Reholstering his ripper, Fret called his fallen saberstaff to his good hand, reactivating it in time to intercept the incoming attack. Twirling the double-bladed saber one-handed, Fret moved in a blur, still under the effects of his Force speed augment. The Sith didn't know what to make of this particular fighting style, never having seen anything like it. Fret used that confusion to his advantage, using a lot of motion to keep his opponent off-balance and on the defensive. The assassin was so focused on what Fret was doing that it never saw the viridian lightsaber blade coming until it looked down and saw it sticking out of its stomach from behind. Ripping the blade out of the lifeless Sith and letting its body crumple to the ground, Brianna looked at Fret in concern. "What happened?"
Fret's eyes roamed the battle field to make sure there was no immediate threat. Satisfied there was none, he grimaced and deactivated his saber. "My arm… it's broken," he replied, gesturing to his left arm.
"Why did you not use the Force to heal it?" she asked incredulously.
Fret shook his head. "Force heal does a lot of things, but it doesn't set broken bones. I need you to set my elbow first, and then I can use the Force to mend the break and repair the damage around it."
Brianna rolled up the sleeve of his robe, frowning at the purplish-black swollen mass that currently passed for his elbow. "Hold your sleeve up for me," she requested.
She felt him tense up even though she handled his arm as gently as she could while examining it. She needed to get him distracted from what she was doing. "Tell me how you planted those pictures in my head back there, where all of a sudden it was like I was seeing myself through your eyes."
"Oh, that was my ability to dominate minds with the Force, where I can imprint images or commands on someone's mind to see or do what I want them to. You've seen me use it a few times against hostile people."
"Didn't you once say it only works on people with relatively weak minds or that are untrained in resisting it? Does that make me weak-minded?"
Fret chuckled painfully. "Hardly… Normally that's true, but it worked on you because of the level of trust between us. Even though dominating a mind is more typically used to make someone do or see something against their will and the natural reaction is to at least attempt to resist it, your mind accepted it because unconsciously it didn't even occur to you to resist me. It speaks volumes about how much you tru- ARRRGGGHHH!"
Brianna smiled sweetly at Fret, who glowered at her for torqueing his elbow back into place while he was in the middle of his explanation. "Your elbow is set," she said, continuing to smile.
"That was mean…" he said, mock pouting before gathering his Force energies to heal himself. After glowing for several seconds, his elbow looked back to normal. He tested the range of motion, and satisfied with it let his sleeve drop.
Brianna shook her head, maintaining her smile. "No, I did you a favor. I took away the anticipation of the pain that had you all tensed up before. I admit I was curious about the dominate mind thing, but I only asked the question just now to distract you from what I needed to do."
"It was still mean…" he replied, fighting to stifle the giggles.
"Oh?" she asked, poking him in the chest. "How about next time I get HK-47 to set your broken bones for you instead?"
Fret cringed. "Okay, okay... you win. HK would probably just move straight to amputation."
Brianna laughed lightly. "Ready to get back to fighting?"
A short time later, Fret and Brianna deactivated their lightsabers, still standing back-to-back while surrounded by the remnants of eight dead Sith. Their eyes scanned their surroundings, neither of them finding a living enemy in sight. Fret sighed, glad it was over. Turning around, he was surprised at the gleam in her eyes. She was practically vibrating in excitement, her expression and mannerisms akin to a kid hopped up on too much sugar. "What's with you?" he asked, raising an eyebrow curiously.
Brianna beamed back enthusiastically. "That was the single most exhilarating experience of my life! The way we fought together through the Force, fed off of each other, the synergy between our battle precognition abilities, it was all so incredible!" She gestured around them at the piles of robes, all that was left of the Sith, whose bodies dissolved away not long after their life force was cutoff. "The two of us took down all of these Sith... I have never had a battle that felt so… perfect, like everything we did was exactly the right thing, flawless in execution. This must have been how my mother felt fighting alongside my father."
Fret smiled. He didn't have the same love of battle that she had, but he knew his mate was Echani through and through in that regard. And he didn't disagree with her assessment. He could already tell that their naturally complementary abilities combined with the Force bond that seemed to be continually strengthening would make them formidable opponents for anyone. But he did want to reign in her enthusiasm a bit. "It was definitely an amazing experience, but let's be careful not to let our confidence spill over into arrogance. That's a sure way to get us both killed."
Brianna nodded. "Of course, forgive my exuberance. I have just never experienced something like that before."
"Seems trouble follows you on a regular basis!" declared a gruff voice. Fret and Brianna glanced over to see Mandalore approaching them. "I think it's best if we depart for Iziz now. Grab your gear, my men will take care of cleaning up the mess here."
Walking back toward the shuttle, a thought occurred to Fret. "I wonder if Brianna really loves me, or if she just loves the idea of me and her because she sees us as her father and mother, and this is her way of getting back what she lost." He sighed to himself at the thought.
:: How can you even ask such a question? :: she projected angrily through their bond.
:: Wh-what? ::
:: You think I'm using you as a substitute for my father, and putting myself in my mother's role? :: Brianna suddenly felt Fret's side of the bond diminish greatly, and when she glanced over at him she saw a scowl that exceeded her own anger at him at that moment.
:: That thought was not meant for you. I'm sorry, I'd gotten lazy about shielding my thoughts. That's been taken care of. ::
:: But you're not sorry for having the thought in the first place. ::
:: No, I'm not. For your information, just because I wondered that to myself doesn't mean I automatically think it's true. ::
:: So do you? ::
:: Do I what? ::
:: Think I am trying to recreate my parents through us, that I do not really love you beyond my father that I see in you? ::
:: I don't know what to think, I didn't exactly get a chance to sort through it before you pulled it from my head and jumped me about it. All I know is that last night you described your desire to be with me in terms of wanting it to be like your mother fighting alongside your father, and then just a few minutes ago you put your excitement about the battle in terms of how it must have felt for your mother and father. You tell me… what am I supposed to think? ::
His last question was met by silence from her side of the bond. As upset as he was with her at the moment for pulling that private thought from his head and then grilling him on it, Fret couldn't help but feel a bit nervous by her lack of response. He certainly didn't want to run her off, for her to change her mind about their relationship. He did love her, and upset or not he really hoped that his worry was misplaced. Lost in thought, Fret didn't notice the Mandalorian sergeant approach the trio until he began to speak to them.
"Echani Jedi, may I have a moment?" the sergeant asked.
Brianna was still stewing about Fret, but tried to at least put on a cordial expression. "Yes?"
"I… I wish to apologize to you… for my behavior yesterday."
"What is this about?" she asked, confused.
"I insulted your heritage and your worth as a warrior. Seeing you on the field of battle against the Sith, I saw how wrong I was about you. You fought with a tenacity and skill worthy of any Mandalorian, it was an honor to call you an ally."
Handmaiden smiled, nodding. "Thank you for saying so when you did not have to. Perhaps there is more honor in the Mandalorians than I gave you credit for as well."
Mandalore, Fret, and Brianna arrived at the hangar to find Kreia waiting with a maintenance tech. "Is the shuttle ready?" asked Mandalore gruffly.
"Momentarily…" replied the tech, explaining, "A couple of the Sith tried to sabotage it, but they were caught and dealt with before they got far. We're just re-running the diagnostics to make sure she's clean. Should be ready in about ten minutes, sir."
"Good." Turning to his traveling party, Mandalore asked, "You got everything you need?"
Fret nodded. "While he's finishing up, I'm going outside for some fresh air. I'll be back in the ten minutes your tech said it'll take." :: Come with me, please. :: he said to Brianna through their bond in a flat tone. Both of them knew the 'please' part was only a formality, he wasn't asking. The pair walked out of and around the side of the hangar in silence, where Fret motioned for them to sit down on a couple of metal boxes that were against the outside wall.
"I can't function like this, Brianna," Fret began.
Her eyes grew wide, she immediately suspected the worst. "Wh-what do you mean?"
He sighed. "I know I'm going to think or say things at times that upset you. Heck, I've made you mad at me both days here. But I can't have you overreacting and creating an even tenser situation for us and any companions with us."
"So I should just pretend to be happy?" she asked sarcastically.
"Not at all. But you should consider giving me a little more benefit of the doubt, unless you think I'm typically a mean person that wants to make you feel bad."
"Of course I don't think that…"
"Then could you maybe try to understand my point of view, where I'm coming from, before getting angry with me?"
Even though his voice was calm and composed, Brianna could see the hurt in his eyes. She wanted to stay angry at him, but she found herself unable to do so. "I… will try," she answered quietly.
Fret waited a minute for her to say anything else, but when she didn't he continued. "We've only got a few minutes before we have to go back. But we need to finish our earlier discussion. The fact that you caught a thought I didn't intend to be heard is irrelevant at this point. What is relevant is whether or not the sentiment expressed in the thought is true. And it's not something I can answer."
A few moments of silence went by, and Fret noticed that Brianna had begun to cry. His first instinct was to pull her into an embrace and comfort her, but he resisted because he didn't know the context of the tears. He hoped it wasn't that she was about to tell him that what he'd thought was true.
"Fret…" she began, her voice wavering, "you do not understand how much it hurts when you doubt me like that, even if you say you were only wondering it and did not necessarily believe it was true. You mean everything to me, and it wounds me that you cannot see that. Maybe part of me does see parallels between our relationship and my parents. But to suggest that is all I see in you? That would mean you see my side of the relationship as either manipulative or clueless, and I do not know which is worse. Maybe this was a mistake…"
Fret sighed. "From last night up until earlier was as happy as I can ever remember being in my life. I've never been more content or at peace with myself. If you're saying our relationship was a mistake, well… it's the best mistake I ever made."
She tried to laugh softly, but still crying it came out more like hiccups. That caused him to chuckle lightly.
"I love you, Brianna, I really mean that."
"Then why do you doubt me?" she asked quietly.
Fret closed his eyes, trying to think of a way to explain himself without appearing weak. After a minute of silence thinking it over, he decided he didn't care if he was weak in front of her. "I want you to understand that... it isn't you that I have ever doubted. It's me…"
Brianna looked up at him, slightly confused. "What do you mean?"
Fret sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I… I guess… after all these years, after all I've done, after being told so many times how horrible a person I am… I guess I have a hard time convincing myself I'm capable of being loved, especially by an amazing woman like you." He stood up, facing away from her as he looked at the sky. "I guess… I try to find ulterior motives or reasons... that it's only because you look up to me... or you're afraid of hurting my feelings... or I'm somehow manipulating you into it... or you're living your parents' relationship vicariously through us... or whatever else, because… deep down… I can't come to grips with the idea that… that... someone like you could possibly legitimately love me." Fret stuffed his hands in his pockets, continuing to stare off beyond the horizon with a morose expression.
After a couple of moments, he felt Brianna's arms slip through his and wrap themselves tightly around his chest as she pressed her tear-streaked face to his back. "You never have to doubt yourself with me," she whispered hoarsely. "Never" she reiterated for emphasis.
Fret slowly turned around in her grasp until he was embracing her as well. He gently ran his fingers through her silverish white hair while she lay her head on his chest. "Forgive me, Bri, for being such an idiot?" he asked quietly.
Laughing softly in relief and at the cute shortened form of her name he used, she answered, "Of course I do..." before adding, "As long as you understand that you are my idiot, that I love you for you, with no strings attached."
Fret laughed lightly in response. "Thanks, I think I understand that now."
:: Will you be done soon, or do we need to continue to wait on you? :: Kreia asked Fret impatiently and pointedly through their bond.
:: We'll be there in a couple of minutes, we're almost done with what we needed to talk about. ::
:: Mind your feelings, Exile. I sense this relationship is already trying your emotions. Do not allow her to become a weakness. ::
Brianna heard Fret groan slightly and looked up at him. "What is it?" she asked.
"Mother is in my head, telling us we're late and lecturing me on my emotional state."
"That woman really needs to get a life."
Fret laughed along with Brianna, the couple feeling their joint anxiety wash off of them. After wiping her face clean with the front of his robes, Fret bent down and gave her a gentle kiss. Pulling back, they smiled at each other in contentment.
"Come on," said Fret, "Let's go to Onderon…" Grasping hands, they started back towards the hangar, ready to begin the next step of their mission.
AN: The end :-) The angsty stuff in sorting through Fret and Brianna's personal issues was a bit of a compromise. In the game Brianna makes enough comments about her parents' relationship and comparing the Exile to her father that I wanted to at least explore the question of whether or not she was subconsciously projecting the idealized memories of her parents' relationship on to her own feelings for the Exile. Anyway, it's a compromise in that it feels maybe a little rushed to jump into so soon in the new relationship. If I was intending to carry the story forward to Onderon, Korriban, etc. I'd have held that subplot back until a bit later, and also not have introduced and then resolved it so quickly. But I think it works well enough in this context that I think the story is better off having it than if I'd left it out. Originally when I wrote this story I intended to end it right after the scene in chapter 9 where Brianna reveals her name, but after seeing how the rest of 9 and chapter 10 turned out, I'm glad I went ahead and extended it.
Thanks to everyone who read the story, special thanks to those that reviewed, PM'd, added it to favorites, etc. And thanks to the other authors that have written or are in the process of writing stories that indirectly inspired me to take the time to write mine. And of course LucasArts, Obsidian, and BioWare for the source material to work with :-)