Chapter 50 – Right in Front of You

When they got back to the Anchorhead spaceport, Corso hopped off the vehicle and went about unhooking the navcomputer from his rig. "Hey, Captain, can I borrow the speeder? I need to head over to Kyla's quick, since we're just about finished."

Vacy stepped down a bit slower, confusion pulling her brows together. "I - well, sure," she started, feeling something tighten up inside her chest. "But... I mean, what about your stuff?"

Corso's bright grin would normally have been infectious. "Nawh, I'm already packed. Ain't got much anyhow. I'll be back in a jiffy, promise."

Swallowing thickly, she nodded and attempted a smile. "Okay. Well, try to stay out of trouble?"

With a chuckle, he shook his head and rolled his eyes as he hitched his gauntlets to his belt. He stepped up onto the speeder, checking the controls. "That's a bit much comin' from you. I will, though." The engine revved, and he smiled down at her warmly. "I promise."

She waved and then headed up the ramp to the Wonder's airlock, firmly resisting the temptation to look over her shoulder. The quiet hum of the speeder's engine faded into the general hubbub of spaceport noise, but she focused on trying to remember the lock codes, which for some reason were not coming to mind. When she realized she couldn't hear her speeder anymore, she let out a quiet sigh that she assured herself was relief.

The holocomm blinked at her for awhile before chirping when the call was picked up. The electric-blue form of a familiar twi'lek shimmered and then sharpened as the connection was secured. Vacy set the comm on the instrument panel between the dials and smiled back at the image of her friend.

Bel'arria beamed at her. "Hey, if it isn't my favorite Space Ace, Vace!" she joked, eyes sparkling. "It's so good to hear from you. And it looks like you're still all in one piece, too! How are things?"

Vacy settled back into the captain's chair, stretching her legs out as she considered just how to answer that. "Well..."

"Oh my." The Jedi laughed, rubbing a hand at the base of one of her lekku. "Sounds like you've been having adventures again?"

Somehow talking with Arri always seemed to put things into perspective. Vacy found herself smiling a bit more naturally. "You could say that," she replied dryly. "I don't suppose... have you ever met or heard of a Jedi named Nariel Pridence?"

Arri considered for a few moments then shook her head slowly. "Can't say I have. Is there something you need me to find out about her?"

"No, but... she was... well, she was looking for someone... it's kind of a long story." Vacy closed her eyes, but the memory of Nariel's expression, confused and afraid as she clutched at her chest, wouldn't go away.

The twi'lek's expression softened as realization set in. "I see," she murmured. "Well, how can I help out, Vace?"

Vacy smiled her gratitude. "We recovered an artifact of some kind - a Sith holocron, I think she said. And I told her I'd turn it over to the Order. I was hoping maybe you'd know what to do with it?"

"We've got several archives that would be able to keep it safe," Arri replied, nodding easily. Her smile was faintly sad. "Hey," she said softly. "I know I wasn't there, and I didn't see how things went down, but I know you. I know you would've done everything you could have. I promise you, it wasn't your fault."

"Thanks. It's just... it's been pretty rough all around," she admitted.

"Oh?" Arri's eyes narrowed, and one brow-ridge arched. "This wouldn't have anything to do with that handsome fellow who was tagging after you when you were on Coruscant, would it? The one whose heart you darn near broke?"

Vacy could feel stubbornness setting into her jawline. "Yes, well, I guess it got better because he's settling down with someone here on Tatooine. I'm sure they'll be very happy and raise lots of fat, happy babies together." She lifted her shoulders carelessly. "But Risha's got us heading to Nar Shaddaa here in a bit, so... I probably won't see him much, if at all." She smirked. "You know how bad I am at staying in touch."

"That's for certain," Arri replied with a sigh of her own. "Vace, I just really wish you'd been honest with him about how you really felt."

The spacer let out a snort. "Look, I value honesty more than most folks, but in that case, I'm actually being more dishonest if I tell the truth. You know how I am with relationships of that sort... and he wouldn't get it. He'd be building palaces that didn't have any foundation. I can't even imagine how I'd tell him I wanted to move on."

"You can't know that." A voice further away called 'Master?' and the Jedi looked over her shoulder. "Some Jedi get visions of the future, and even those are sketchy. You have no way to know what would have happened if you'd told him, because you didn't do it. Look, I have to go, I've got some... guests... and they don't exactly get along well, and I think my padawan may need some help keeping the peace. I'll meet you on Nar Shaddaa in... I think I can be there in a week?"

"Well, he's happy now, so it's worked out." Vacy grinned. "Sounds like you've had some adventures of your own. You'll have to tell me about them when we get together."

"You bet. Stay out of trouble, okay?" Arri smiled, lifting a hand in farewell.

Vacy blinked, her jaw dropping. "Why does everyone always say that to me?" The twi'lek was still laughing as she closed the connection.

Haggling with the bureaucrats who always tried to add in a few extra line-item expenses was normally frustrating, but Vacy didn't find it nearly as bad as usual. It gave her something to focus on, and beyond that, this time she had Bowdaar with her. Pointing out how much wookiees hated cheaters had a marvelous effect, though Vacy was careful not to abuse it... much.

"Hey Teacup, you about done with that hunk of rusted metal you swore we needed?" she said into the holocomm as she walked back through the spaceport to their airlock [?] . The reply was garbled, and she grumbled to herself before answering. "Hang on, I'll be there in a few." Bowdaar ducked as he entered the lift behind her and she punched in the controls. The machine shuddered and groaned briefly, then hummed downward. "Hate these stupid things," Vacy muttered as she stepped out.

She could hear Risha's voice just ahead and frowned to herself, wondering why the mechanic was outside the Wonder and who she was talking to. But as she ducked under one of the pylons, she saw. Her pace slowed momentarily, then she straightened her spine and pulled on a smile and strode toward them.

The first one to notice as they approached was Kyla, who turned and smiled brightly, eyes sparkling. "Captain!" she called, waving. Her coral lekku swayed behind her as she bounced onto her toes happily.

"Hey there," Vacy said, reaching out to clasp the woman's hand. "You look well. Glad to see that."

"See?" Corso actually winked. "Toldja I'd be back right quick."

Kyla stepped forward, shifting her weight somewhat nervously. "I just - I wanted to come by and say thank you in person," she explained softly. "For... for what you did. I was kind of a mess, and I know I ought to have said thanks, and I honestly don't even remember if I did or not, so I wanted to come by and tell you how much I appreciated it before you left." The words tumbled out almost on top of each other as she tried to explain.

"Don't mind the Captain," Risha interjected with a smirk, one hand on her hip, as Vacy stood in silence. "I believe she's more used to being cursed out than thanked."

"Oh, I would never!" gasped the young woman, eyes wide. "After risking your lives the way you did... and then not just that, but making sure everyone was all right and getting me somewhere safe..." Her lips pulled into a delighted little smile. "Corso even helped me find a job-"

Vacy stretched her smile a bit further as she interrupted. "Yep, he's a great guy. We, uh... well, it sounds like you've got things settled pretty well. So..." She faltered, slightly, then pressed on. "We all wish you the best." But when she turned to Corso, the smile froze in place. "And you said you're already packed. So I guess you're ready to go, then."

"Yeah..." He nodded slowly as he looked back at her. After a moment's hesitation, he reached a hand out toward her. "There's just something I want to show you before we leave."

Oh, stars, you're leaving. You're really leaving. Somehow her hand found its way into his. Tell him you love him, whispered her devil-voice. You can totally re-snare him. But her survivor voice shouted that he'd made his choice and she needed to respect that and somehow they'd moved away from the ship and out into an open area of the hangar.

Corso turned to face her. "Step onto my boots," he said.

She blinked. "What?"

"Step onto my boots," he repeated.

Puzzled, she did as he asked. It startled her for a moment when he wrapped his arms around her, and oh, it was so tempting to stretch up and touch her lips to his (not yours, NOT YOURS!) or even just to nestle close while he held her.

"I've got you," Corso murmured, and she could feel the words rumble in her own chest as easily as she heard them. "Look down."

Vacy let out a squeak - just a small one - when she realized they weren't standing on the floor of the hangar bay any longer.

"Shhh," he chuckled against her. "I promise, I've got you." He let out a soft sigh and leaned his head against hers, which was completely unfair. "Kyla helped me recalibrate the jetpack harness."

Swallowing thickly, Vacy tried to keep her tone light. "She seems real nice."

"She is." He nodded, and the day's stubble scraped her cheek ever so gently. "I think things are going to work out for her." Corso lifted his head, pulling back just enough so that he could look at her. "Even if I ain't here to help it happen."

She looked at him in confusion. Did he really think she was such a stickler for contracts that she wouldn't let him out of his? He hadn't asked, of course. Maybe he'd just assumed she'd say no. Which was totally unfair. He should have-

"I don't love her, Vee."

When she realized her mouth was hanging open, she snapped it shut. Then she realized she probably ought to say something "I... I thought..." Words failed, and she resorted to silent confusion again.

He let out a long, slow sigh, and then he guided the jetpack in a lazy figure-eight through the air, explaining how Kyla had helped him figure out the balance on the rig so that the harness would also be able to carry all the other weapons he liked to have on hand. Just in case, after all. Never hurt to be prepared. They'd just finished up before he returned. "I guess I figured maybe that was what you thought," he concluded, "but - well - you'd throw out these hints, like I was supposed to want to be with her." He fell silent for a moment. "Thought that was what you wanted."

Vacy nestled close, hiding her face against his chest, and kind of lifted her shoulders. "I want you to be happy. I - I do," she said, but she sounded uncertain, even to herself.

"But?" Corso prodded. They slowly lowered, until his feet brushed the floor and with a careful little joggle, he caught his balance before letting go of her.

She stepped back, then looked up at him again and sighed. "I'd miss you an awful lot if you were gone."

He was silent and still for a moment after she said that. Then, he took a soft breath, and kind of swallowed. "I'm right behind ya, Captain. Always will be, long's you're okay with it."

Everything was going to be all right again. Vacy stood still - she felt kind of wobbly for some reason and didn't really trust her knees. Couldn't have him thinking he'd flustered her, though, so she folded her arms and arched a brow at him. "So how about it? You ready to head for the stars again?"

Corso's eyes were shining as he looked at her. "Almost," he said. "Just got one more thing to do."

That puzzled her a little, because she thought he'd mentioned that he was finished. "What's that?"

"This," he whispered, and when he pulled her close she had just enough time to wrap her arms around him and press against him. And then he was holding her jaw in his hands and kissing her right proper, the way she'd been wishing he would for ages. Some part of her was aware of laughter and shouting in the distance, but the rest of her didn't notice and wouldn't have cared anyhow.

Vacy wasn't sure how long it was before they finally took a breath, and for some reason she couldn't seem to stop grinning. "Well, I suppose that was worth delaying takeoff," she murmured softly.

Corso laughed, his eyes sparkling. "C'mon, Captain," he said. "Let's get back to the others. That ship of yours ain't gonna fly itself outta here."

Author's Note: So what started out as a little idea to explain how Corso ended up with Ms. Puffs ("Illegal Jet Pack" in the game) instead of Grabber ("Harpoon Shot") ended up as the longest darn thing I've ever written in my entire darn life!

Things will wrap up happily for Vacy, Corso, Risha, and Bowdaar, but not just yet, because this isn't the end! They don't know it, but there are still more troubles ahead. (Sorry, guys!) I'm really excited about the next section of their adventures, when they finally get to go after the treasure of the infamous pirate Nok Drayen!

Thank you to everyone who's read and reviewed or follow/faved. Your encouragement means more than you can know. A special thanks goes out to Nerica, who has been my unflagging cheerleader when I was at my most frustrated.