Where it all began is where it was all going to end for me.
"Charming," Dr. Vil interrupted my concentration with his dry sarcasm. "Do you bring all your assets here to put them at ease?"
"Commentary is not needed at this time, Doc," I answered quietly, not breaking my gaze on a door a half kilometer away from around a corner. "Do I have to remind you that our goal right now is stealth?"
Standing behind me in the narrow alley we were hiding in, Vil scoffed. "Stealth? There's no one here."
He wasn't wrong. This particular neighborhood in Coruscant's Underlevels was surprisingly vacant for a cityplanet that housed a trillion beings. Filthy, falling apart, just like every other square block, but we were certainly its only occupants. Still, I knew better than to approach the compound belonging to a Paneau covert agent, if it even was one. At this point, I was only going off a hunch, but something told me it was going to pay off. I just didn't know how much longer I could stand the wait.
Anxious, I scratched at the scar slowly healing on my forehead from Dr. Vil's blow. I still suffered with a headache daily, but at least the doc had the decency to heal the crack in my skull that he had caused over a week ago. Not that I didn't deserve it, but he could have at least chosen a less permanent method of injury...
Finally spotting movement ahead, I watched as the door opened and two people stepped out into the street, a man and a young girl, headed our way. Immediately, I knew who they were; my hunch had been correct, and we were in the right place.
"Wait... Is that...?"
I hadn't expected Dr. Vil to spot them. I turned my head back to him, holding my hand up to silence him. It didn't work.
"You didn't tell me - "
I kept my voice quiet but intense to get my point across. "He cannot know we're here."
Finally nodding with understanding, Vil remained silent, watching as the other two continued down the alley and disappeared. Eventually the roar of engines filled the street, and within a few minutes, the familiar Rys'tihn yacht, the Celestia, took off and returned to space. When it quieted, I looked to Vil once more.
"...is it one of them?"
I assumed "them" to mean the Natiyrs and Rys'tihns he knew. I could only sigh in response; he'd find out soon enough.
With her company hopefully gone, I left the alley and slowly made my way toward the door I had been watching. Thankfully Vil kept closely on my heels, and I stayed on high alert for any surprises. I didn't have any choice but to show up unannounced, and I was fairly certain none of them appreciated that.
Surprising me, the door opened just as I reached for it, revealing an older woman who, though somewhat familiar, was already training a blaster on me.
"You," she accused darkly in a Coruscanti accent. "You have a lot of nerve coming here."
Just eager to get it over with, I grumbled right back. "Are you going to threaten to kill me, too? You people need to come up with some new lines."
Her eyes narrowed, but she maintained her aim. "What do you want?"
"I'm here to see Deilia." I could tell the woman was about to play ignorant, so I stopped her before she could start. "Look, I know she's here. She asked for my help, and I'm here to give it."
Though she was about to protest further, she glanced behind me, apparently noticing Dr. Vil for the first time. The realization on her face was somewhat strange to see; she recognized Vil? Without another word, she stepped aside and invited us in, holstering her blaster at her side.
And instantly, I was transported back to Malastare more than three years ago.
The same chill that had frozen my breath in front of my face that last time I had seen Recero alive now threw shards of ice through my veins and left me nearly paralyzed.
In the same state, Deilia lay nearly motionless under a heavy blanket, looking as gaunt and frail as I remembered my sister being. If it wasn't for her short, spiky black hair, I would have thought her an illusion, a perverse memory playing out in front of me again...
She had lifted her head from her pillow to look at me, and blinking myself out of my stupor, I nodded, buying myself time to regain my composure.
"I found Dr. Vil. He's agreed to help you." I motioned him forward. "Dr. Vil, meet Deilia Rys'tihn... Koril's sister."
Of course, there wasn't any expression to read on the Bith's face, but I knew he wasn't expecting to hear that. Though he hesitated a moment before he approached her, the relief in her expression was almost too much for me to take...
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Rys'tihn," Vil greeted her kindly, lowering himself onto one knee to her eye level. "I'm Dr. Gorlin Vil, I hear you've fallen ill..."
Overwhelmed again, I ran a hand through my hair as I walked away, leaving them to talk. Once again, I felt myself itching to run, but I was also fighting the urge with all the willpower I had left. Though the circumstances and reasons were different each time, I had been running my whole life, but Recero had always been the anchor I had come back to. Without her, I had this one last mission, one final debt to repay, and then...what?
Though it had to have been at least ten minutes before I noticed the older woman standing beside me, I had no idea how long she had been there. Her gaze was intense, studying me silently like a puzzle she couldn't fit the pieces together for. I studied her in turn, trying to figure out why she looked so familiar.
"Why?" she asked me simply. It wasn't fair that such a loaded question was so easy for her to ask.
I released a slow breath, answering as basically as I could. "Because I owe her. A life for a life."
The woman searched my face, not believing me. "But you already paid that debt. Her brother is alive today because of you."
I could feel my voice shaking as I looked down. "It's not enough."
Meeting her gaze again, I wasn't expecting to see sympathy in her eyes. "I am familiar with the events of that night on Hoth... What happened to Jaala was not your fault - "
"Have you ever been the reason that someone died?"
While she was somewhat surprised by my darker tone, her sympathy remained. "Yes... Actually, I have."
"Then you know that nothing you do to make up for it changes anything. None of your efforts mean anything."
Silenced for a few long moments, she glanced back at Deilia, softening her voice with a light breath. "It means a great deal to her little boy."
I clenched my jaw hard as our gazes met once more, but an unspoken understanding between us relaxed my anxiety. I didn't even have to say anything as she gave me permission to leave with a slow nod. I took one last look at Dr. Vil with Deilia, and since they were so engrossed in conversation, I was pretty sure they wouldn't notice me as I left, and that was the way I preferred it.
I had fulfilled my promise to my sister, I had gotten Deilia the help she needed, and I was done with anything having to do with Paneau, its inhabitants, and its friends. I returned to the streets of the Underlevels, where I had grown up as an orphan, unsure where my path was taking me next. The only thing I knew was that for the first time in my life...I wasn't running any longer.