A/N: Thanks again for the reviews, private messages, and favorites for this story! I say it every time, but it's true: those things help inspire me to write this story. So thank you! :D I hope this chapter satisfies the Reese requests and some of the Pellaeon requests in part.
WARNING: MATURE CONTENT AHEAD. Not enough to earn an M rating, I hope. But you have been warned. Please proceed with caution. ::fans self!::
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my OCs. Please do not sue. This is purely for fun.
I couldn't find Reese or any of his men after shift change.
After all I had learned on the bridge, after losing control of the painting like I had, I was in serious need of a workout. Stress had wound my shoulders into one big knot, my mind fragmented and unfocused due to that strange woman appearing in my painting. No, not a strange woman, I corrected myself. Admiral Thrawn had named her as Organa Solo. The famed rebel leader and former Alderaanian Princess had somehow forced herself into my head.
Even Tam was at a loss as to how that had happened. Neither one of us has called to her, and unless she was on the top ten decks of this ship, which was absolutely impossible, she was completely out of our combined range. Which meant she had to be incredibly powerful to reach us. But if she was really that powerful, then how had she escaped Master C'Baoth's notice for so long? He'd detected me, and I wasn't even a candle compared to the bonfire that would have been needed to do what she did.
Maybe C'Baoth noticed me so keenly because he was in my head when I'd first tried to push him out? It was a question I would have to answer another time. Right now I didn't want to think about that crazy man, nor the fact that he and Admiral Thrawn had nearly gone into a violent discussion when the Admiral had dismissed me back to my station. C'Baoth had wanted me to stay, to ask questions of the power I'd obviously observed during the Nkllon raid. More than that, he'd wanted me to bask in his glory, falling at his feet in abject worship.
That wasn't going to happen for many reasons, the least of which was the fact that I knew I'd be dead before I ever got near C'Baoth's feet. Admiral Thrawn would have killed me, or would have ordered his bodyguard to do it. Of that, I had little doubt. I had no idea what part I had yet to play in Thrawn's plans, but I knew full well it wasn't at C'Baoth's side—it was at his.
The dreams I had every time I closed my eyes said as much, if I was to believe them prophetic. I was bound to him, as was Reese and Tam. A smidge of guilt wormed its way into my heart. I had yet to tell Tam and Pieterson about the dreams, though mostly because Pieterson was not in them. An uncomfortable feeling rose in me at that, wondering what it meant. Certainly if Tam and I were to rise in rank because of the work we were doing, for why else would someone in a position such as Grand Admiral bother binding us to him, wouldn't it stand to reason that Pieterson would rise with us?
And speaking of Pieterson, telling him about the painting incident after our shift had ended had been a bad idea. He'd practically glowed with joy. Not over Tam and I successfully holding our link for more than a minute, and not over my ability to pull someone else into my gift to block C'Baoth. No, he'd been thrilled that there was another strong force user that opposed the Empire. You would have thought we'd just informed him that he could go home and forget about Imperial service right that minute.
Tam and I had been speechless, shocked at the treason spewing from his lips. Horrified that somehow someone would hear what he was saying and report us as traitors. Pieterson must have forgotten that while he served because he was physically thrown onto the ship during his conscription, Tam and I served because we were informed that our families would suffer if we didn't.
There was no way either of us could be thrilled that the rebellion had a super powerful force user, not if it meant that this war would drag out and our slim chances of ever seeing our families again were cut in half.
And dammit, I still couldn't find Reese or his band of merry bloody men.
Their abrupt absence bothered me to no end. It was odd, considering that one of them always seemed to be lurking around the workout facilities or in the mess hall. Vyns was usually draped around some attractive woman, using that holonet-ready-smile and devastating good looks to charm himself into a bedmate for the night. Colo Kalkins, Reese's second in command, had a weakness for good Correllian whiskey and a big Sabbac pot. He could normally be found in the nearest game, losing as much as he won.
There were always little Sabbac games popping up on the ship. It was absolutely against regulations, of course, just as it was absolutely likely to find even the junior officer staff—and one of the senior officers from time to time—joining in. It was the best worst kept secret on the ship. Command staff and security detail alike turned a blind eye on the games, so long as it didn't get out of hand. Because of that, one of the unwritten rules when serving aboard the Chimaera was "honor one's debts." This basically meant if you lost at one of the Sabbac games, you lost. There was no arbitration or discussion. Throwing a punch or anything else that couldn't be easily contained, thusly bringing security into the matter, could have you receiving nightly beatings for the rest of your tour. The same went for cheaters.
You didn't mess with the Sabbac games. You paid what you owed, and you did it with a gentleman's grace. Or else.
I poked my head into a few, nodded my hellos to the scant people I recognized. Mostly stormtroopers now thanks to Reese's inception into my life. Oddly enough, they were the most open of the people serving on this ship, and I found more allies there than I would have thought. Maybe that was because I was Fleet and they were Army. I wasn't competition for promotions. It was something I'd have to ask Vyns about later.
If I could find the bloody man. The same went for Kann Torre and Dabu Chib, the last two to round out Reese's inner circle of allies.
There was one last place I could check before giving up for the night. Sometimes Reese would linger in a readyroom near the hangar bays, going over the previous mission and preparing a lecture for his men on how they could improve, or what they did extremely well. He was a good leader, I mused, stepping onto the turbolift. If I had what it took to be a stormtrooper, I would have followed him into combat any day of the week. He reminded me a lot of Admiral Thrawn in a way, what with his vicious protectiveness of his men. But likewise he was a lot like Captain Pellaeon, demanding the best from his crew and expecting to get it.
Hard but fair, tough but flexible enough to teach. Good qualities in any man.
The lift doors opened, and my heart skipped a beat. Captain Pellaeon stood at the threshold, eyebrows lifting in surprise before his eyes narrowed in annoyance. I didn't get to step out of his way. He walked right onto the lift, preventing my escape. I had no choice but to back away or force him to push me aside.
The short ride in silence was near unbearable, seeming to last forever. My heart jackhammered away at my ribcage, waiting for the inevitable explosion. The look on his face when he realized I had drawn him into my painting, the righteous rage, still haunted me. He was all calm serenity, though, something I tried desperately to imitate and failed. Until he reached over and keyed for the lift to stop between decks. I got hit with what I'd tried to avoid my entire time on this ship: his hard, cold stare. It brought me up short, had me standing at attention.
"I am not happy with you," Captain Pellaeon said bluntly, clipped regal anger in his tone. "If you ever touch my mind again, I will make you wish I had you executed. Am I understood?"
"Yes, sir," I managed to whisper, standing so painfully at attention that I thought my spine would crack from it.
He let me hold that stance for a long couple of heartbeats before continuing. "The fact that Admiral Thrawn sanctioned that… contact, we'll call it… is the only reason you are still alive right now. I know that you were following orders. Just keep in mind, Crewman, that such excuses as 'following orders' have led many a brilliant officer to ruin. I trust I have made myself clear."
I nodded, trying so hard not to let my distress show on my face. I hadn't wanted to do it, he had to believe that. Part of me prayed that he did. But one learned quickly not to get on their Captain's bad side for any reason, following orders or not. He'd just flat out told me that if I had any hopes of earning further promotions on his ship, I was going to have to step twice as hard and three times as fast to earn his approval.
I was officially on notice as far as he was concerned.
"Good," he said at last, keying the lift to move again. He rolled his shoulders, as if removing knots of his own from the day's activities. The lift doors opened, and he stepped out, turning to face me one last time. "You have real talent, Crewman Idelas, both in your art and for your career. Don't waste either."
The doors closed before I could say a thank you. I programmed the lift for the next available floor, not caring what one it was, just wanting to put some distance between my Captain and the backhanded compliment I thought I had just received. Tears burned at my eyes, tears I refused to let fall. I was quickly running out of allies all because of this Force thing I could do, and it was only a matter of time before I ran out of places to run, too. And then C'Baoth would have me.
"No," I told myself firmly. "Death first. Death before that, even if I have to take my own life."
The lift doors parted again… and I found myself on that empty deck that contained the storage closet Tam, Pieterson and I now used for our clandestine meetings.
And that's where I found Reese, of all places.
His eyes widened in slight astonishment to see me, almost as wide as mine when I stepped out of the lift. He was standing in the hallway, as if in the middle of a random stroll through the ship. His black uniform was in place, rank bar and code cylinders and boots all shining in the subdued lighting. His hands were behind his back, however, and there was a stiffness to his posture that was slightly disquieting. Something was wrong. I didn't have to be Force sensitive to know that.
"Little one," he greeted, just standing there.
Just standing there instead of walking up to me like always, looming above me until I had to crane my neck to meet his eyes. His very presence would invade my personal space, his mingled scent of blaster cleaning fluid and freshly starched uniform and that slightly spicy muskiness that was just him flooding my senses. He would do it on purpose, overwhelm me for the same reason he called me "Little One." Just because it amused him. Just because he could do it. But it was harmless, mostly.
There was nothing harmless in his eyes right then, in the rigid lines of his body.
"Reese," I began softly, taking a step forward. If C'Baoth had infected him like he had the others…
He took a step back, and a smile that was nothing more than the flexing of his lip touched his face. "You should leave now, little one. I am here because I am not fit for civilized company of any kind."
Some of the tightness in my chest eased. That was a pure Reese statement. C'Baoth would have never said anything so humbling nor tolerated such humility in anyone he had reprogrammed.
"Nor am I," I said, surprising myself and taking another step forward. "We're a matched set, then."
He took another step back, retreating from me. Reese… retreating… from me! Wariness slid through that stormy gaze like smoke. Like the first hint that fire was on the way. And still I couldn't back down. I felt the same way I had my first day on duty, when I couldn't keep my mouth shut to save my life. When I had asked Ensign Colclazure for additional lessons in Imperial procedures. It had been a turning point in my life, a crossroads that I had reached and apparently had chosen my path correctly.
I was at one again, one that could mean everything and nothing depending on what I did next.
Reese's retreat had backed him into a wall. Nothing had changed in his posture. He wasn't pressed against that wall as if his life depended on it, or as if he didn't want to be touched by me. He was merely standing against it, hands clasped behind his back. Watching me approach with his predator stare, with the smoke growing thicker in those grey eyes. I started to tremble slightly, and it had nothing to do with fear.
His nostrils flared slightly, as if scenting my trembling and the emotions beneath. Again his stance never changed, but the impression he gave now was of a crouching panther ready to spring.
"You should leave now, little one," he repeated, voice devoid of emotion. "This is your last chance. Go, and be with your little Fleet brethren. Go be safe from the larger things that could eat you."
And I crossed that proverbial line we'd found that day in the mess hall when he'd kissed me, the one he had let me skip back across into this nebulous friendship thing we had. I stood up on tip-toes and kissed him.
His response was swift and violent. The fury of his storm, his internal fire, burst through his control and I found myself slammed hard into the wall he had been leaning against. But his mouth was still on mine, his hands gripping my waist, hiking me upward until I could wrap my legs around his hips. My arms wove around his neck, pulling him closer still until every part of me was touching every part of him. His hands cupped my ass, smashing our pelvises together. His tongue plundered my mouth, his lips pressing mine so hard I could nearly feel his teeth through them. It was brutal and harsh and primal and domineering. And, stars, I needed it.
I needed mindless passion, to forget just for a little while that a madman and an Admiral were currently using me against one another like a favored pawn in their chess game.
And just as swiftly as it had begun, I found myself hurled from his arms. I hit the deck hard enough to lose my breath. Reese had his forehead pressed against the plasteel, one hand balled into a fist, blood running from it where he'd smashed that hand into the wall. His breathing was ragged, heavy, as if he'd just run a thousand miles.
"Go," he snarled, the word barely understandable. "Leave me be, little one."
I couldn't. I knew I should heed him, that I should run and not look back. But the pain in his voice, in his body, that flowed from him in near tangible waves… Something horrible had happened on Nkllon, I realized. Something that shattered his titan-like control, and he was hiding down here in the unused levels until he could regain it.
I should have run. I didn't.
Because he hadn't let me push him away when I needed him. I wasn't about to do the same.
I moved faster than I had even thought I could, reaching for the hand that was bleeding on the wall. His grunt of pain was nearly cathartic as my fingers found those pressure points on his wrist. He was the helpless one for once as I whipped him around and into the very familiar unused storage area. Only when the door was locked and I was standing in front of it, did I let go.
Pieterson had gimmicked that lock, himself. No one knew the code to get out save for the three of us.
That didn't stop him from coming at me, however, slamming his palms on either side of the door jam, pinning me there. "Is this what you want?" he growled softly, pressing his body into mine. "Shall I have you here on this dirty floor, pillage your body and leave you broken? Is that what you want of me, Aria?"
Not three minutes ago, I would have wanted exactly that. But it wasn't lust that peppered his voice, that made him growl my name. It was rage, pure unprocessed raw rage… and anguish. If I said yes, I had no doubt that he'd do to me exactly as he'd just described. And that would be it between us forever more. He'd never glance at me again, never acknowledge my existence. I would be nothing to him.
"No," I said as calmly as I could. "I want to know what happened on Nkllon, Reese. I want to know what has hurt you."
He spun away from me, slamming his fist repeatedly into the wall until I thought one or the other would shatter, a tormented scream that had nothing to do with physical pain tearing from his lungs. "LEAVE!"
I waited for the scream to die down, from my ears to stop ringing from it. And then I crossed over to him and wrapped my arms around his waist, pressed my cheek to his shoulder. And I held him. That was all. Nothing sexual. Nothing soothing or comforting as I somehow knew he would perceive that as a weakness and throw me aside again. I simply held him together physically, anchored his emotions to his skin.
He was as stiff as iron in my arms, fine trembling running through his body. I held on anyway, willing to accept his pain if he threw me again. Ready to take the beating if he needed to doll one out. Not that I wouldn't fight back, of course. But I would let him strike first. I would let him land one solid blow before I returned like for like. If that was what he needed, I would give. I owed him that and so much more.
He did nothing of the sort, standing there with that one hand pressed to the plasteel, eyes fixated on the wall as if it were the only thing holding him to the universe.
When he drew in a shaking breath and slid down to his knees, I followed suit.
"Kalkins is dead," he said at last. "He died on Nkllon. There isn't a body to present to his wife."
My eyes closed tightly, and I held him tighter still. And said nothing. He wasn't addressing me. He was addressing his anger, his rage, and the bone deep sadness that came from losing his best friend and second-in-command. A man he had trained, but had also fought beside, watched his back, shared food and laughter with, and mayhap real friendship outside of war camaraderie.
So he wasn't addressing me. He was acknowledging his loss.
"C'Baoth," he breathed that name like a curse, like he could carve it into his memory like stone. He hung his head, forehead pressing against the wall once more, fighting to dominate his rage. "He lost control in the battle, started going after something other than our objective. Kalkins was still outside the troupe carrier when it happened, ensuring our goals were reached. It was his duty. But it was not his place to die like that. To scream the name "Skywalker" over and over as he moved like a broken puppet into that direct sunlight."
"He died before I could reach him," he said flatly, turning his face to the side, letting me view that chiseled profile. "I know you and the other two are working against him. I want in, Aria. From now on, I am in."
It wasn't a request. His tone brooked no argument. "Okay," I whispered, pressing my cheek back to his shoulder. "Okay."
And then I started to weep, my tears watering the fabric of his uniform. Crying for myself, for him, for Hollinger and Orn and now the new name that was imprinted on my heart: Kalkins. I wept for all the games of Sabbac he'd never play and bottles of whiskey he would never push into my face again. For the laughter on this tongue as I coughed up the harsh liquid and he pounded me relentlessly on the back. For all the victims of C'Baoth's madness, I wept.
I wept because Reese would not, because he could not. Because Kalkin's had died doing his duty. He wouldn't weep for that, he would honor it. So I cried for Kalkin in his stead, too.
The hand that wasn't slammed into the wall reached down to where my hands clasped his waist, closing over my fingers, further melding us together.
I don't know how long we knelt in that unused closet, the hours passing and as forgotten as the empty deck we stood upon. But it was long after my tears were spent, long after his control had returned, that he stirred and took my hand. The lift ride to his quarters was done in silence, the two of us standing apart as officers should, our emotions empty and sore. Not a hair out of place, not a sign of what we shared in that closet showed in any capacity. There was an unspoken agreement between us that nothing that happened there would ever leave it.
I didn't argue when he pulled me into his quarters, didn't say anything when we stripped off our uniforms and both somehow fit into the tiny vibe shower. We cleaned each other in silence, for once that sexual charge between us dormant. He put on his robe and I slid into one of his undershirts, the thing large enough on my frame to drop down to the tops of my thighs. And he pulled me down on top of him on his bed, settling me against him until we both found that comfortable position.
He ordered off the lights. And we slept. And for once I did not dream at all.