A/N: Greetings people, just wanted to say sorry for the long time without an update. Life kind of happened and I was working on a bunch of other personal projects and levelling up alts in ToR and studying abroad among other things, so this fic kind of got shelved for a bit. I was also struggling a bit with this chapter, and I still feel like it's very wordy and kind of boring, and I'm also worried that Tan'shae comes off as a tad mary-sueish in this chapter, but I think it's still in fit condition to be published and I'll just live with it being kind of a sub-par chapter in the story. I promise some cooler, more action-y stuff will happen in later chapters, and no matter how long it takes, I will see this fic through to completion, since I would really like to see it finished. Again, sorry to keep you all waiting, hope you enjoy the new chapter!
The hike up the northern face of the mountain was a tense and quiet one. Neither the Sith lord nor her companion spoke a word for a good hour or so, the only sounds between them being the crunching of their boots across the snowy earth. Tan'shae knew that Malavai was on high-alert, keeping his senses attuned to every little noise or flicker of motion that could pose even the slightest threat to them.
She couldn't actually blame him for being so tense, considering that there was a legitimate threat posed by the guerillas, but she still felt that the Captain should calm down a bit. It wasn't like they'd never faced a guerilla group before, and even if they were aligned with the Republic, they had faced far worse than that before. Not to mention that she had her lightsabers discretely tucked away in the pockets of her hiking pants, so they were more than equipped to handle anything this guerilla squad could possibly throw at them.
And yet Malavai seemed incredibly on-edge ever since he'd gotten the news of the rogue squad roaming the mountains. Tan'shae wondered if the uniforms had anything to do with it. Did it mean they were a specialist group of some kind? Unless she could pry some concrete answers out of him, all she could do was speculate, however frustrating that may be. And then there was that damned security case that Malavai wouldn't let out of his grasp for more than a second, did that have anything to do with the guerillas?
Tan'shae shook her head, sighing in frustration as they took a moment to rest before resuming their ascent. All of this speculating was making her head pound. She gratefully took a canteen from the Captain, taking a long drink off of it as Quinn scanned the tree line for movement. It made the Sith scowl. This vacation wasn't going to do either of them much good if they kept up this cold silence. One way or another, she'd have to get him to loosen up.
"I looked at a map before we set out." She said, finally breaking the silence between them. "By the looks of it, there's a meadow another hour or so north of us. Figure that'd be a good place to set up camp."
To her dismay, Malavai simply nodded, maintaining his silent vigilance, and Tan'shae hung her head with a groan.
"Malavai, please, don't keep up this silent act for the entire trip, alright?" she chuckled out of exasperation, her golden eyes pleading to the Captain. She was met with more heavy silence from his end, and she felt just about ready to scream. It was like Malavai had taken one step forward towards relaxation, only to be knocked three steps backwards. Shoulders dropping slightly in defeat, Tan'shae stood with a small stretch and cocked her head back towards the trail.
"C'mon, let's get moving then."
Maintaining his silence, Malavai followed her closely, hyper-aware of the forest around them. They continued hiking in silence for another five minutes or so, until finally Tan'shae could stand it no longer. They needed some kind of conversation, any kind of conversation.
"So, tell me, what got you into the Imperial Military?" she asked, clenching her fist slightly as he seemed to ignore the question, maintaining a vigilant eye on the treeline. After about five more seconds of silence, Tan'shae was just about ready to give up on trying to get the ornery Captain to speak.
"I was more or less born into it, my Lord."
She almost couldn't believe what she'd just heard, considering that Malavai had been quiet since they set out from the settlement. Glancing over at him, she couldn't help but grin a little, celebrating her small victory.
"Care to elaborate on that, Malavai?" she asked, making Quinn's shoulders drop with a heavy sigh as he was pried for more information. He obviously knew it was an underhanded tactic to keep him talking; after all, he was the best tactician she'd ever seen.
"Well… if you must know, my Lord, my father and my mother were officers in the military whilst I was growing up."
Aaah, that certainly explained it.
"And I take it that meant you were put in exclusive military academies then?"
He nodded quietly from her side, and already Tan'shae could see him beginning to relax, his body language softening significantly. Good, very good. Now if she could just keep him talking…
"Any brothers or sisters?" She cringed slightly when he seemed to tense up at the question, and for a moment she thought she'd make a mistake by asking.
"No, I… I was by myself growing up."
Tan'shae breathed a small sigh of relief when he replied, grateful that she hadn't made the Captain close in on himself again. It was just as well though, as they came to a nearly-sheer rock face in the middle of their path, they wouldn't have been able to talk and climb that monstrosity at the same time, not with all of the gear they were carrying.
Glaring at the obstacle, the Sith lord focused her thoughts, channeling the Force through her veins as she took a sturdy stance to ground herself. From her left, she could hear Malavai shuffling through his equipment, probably trying to find some sort of mountain climbing equipment, but she couldn't pay him any attention at the moment. She pushed all thoughts from her mind, staring intently at the wall of rock, making mental note of every single nook and cranny and ledge that was on it. She shifted on her feet for a few moments, getting a feel for the weight of the equipment on her back, before finally pushing off from the ground in a mighty force-powered leap, which landed her safely on a small ledge.
She cursed under her breath as she fumbled slightly, unused to maneuvering with the extra weight on her back. Still, there was no going back now, her only option now was to press on. She grit her teeth, looking to the rocks above her as she began to leap from ledge to ledge using her training in Ataru-form combat. In spite of her heavy burden of equipment, she leaped with surprising grace and ease, and she was almost to the crest of the rock wall-
When her foot slipped on a patch of snow on her foothold, causing her hand to miss its mark, and Tan'shae cringed hard as she felt herself falling through space, bracing for impact with the frozen ground. A high-pitched whine filled the air and her descent was jarred to a sudden halt as a cable wrapped around her left forearm. Dazed from the sudden change in direction, the Sith took a moment to get her bearings before looking up to the top of the ridge. Malavai had a steady hold on the cable, craning his neck to see over the top of the ridge as he kept one foot planted firmly on the gun that had launched the cable.
"Are you alright, my Lord?" he called to her, and she nodded, gathering herself as she began to pull herself up hand-over-fist towards the Captain and the top of the ridge. When she was within reach, Malavai reached out and grabbed a firm hold of her forearm, hauling her up and over the ledge to the safety of the firm, snowy ground.
Tan'shae pushed herself up on all fours, panting and shaking as the adrenaline buzz wore off. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Malavai kneel down beside her… and it was a good thing her face was already red from climbing, because the hand that was suddenly resting tenderly on her shoulder made even more blood rush to her face.
"I think we should take a small rest, my Lord." He said calmly, and the pale Sith nodded in agreement. Shuffling away from the edge of the cliff, Tan'shae shrugged the heavy pack off of her back, rejoicing in the luxury of a nice, long stretch before flopping backwards into the snow.
"I guess I should have just followed your lead, eh?" she asked with a smirk as Malavai handed her the canteen and a ration bar. She was glad to see him grinning back, even if it was just a slight one.
"It might have saved you some trouble, yes." He replied simply, taking a bite from his own ration bar as he idly scanned the trees, still on alert, but far more unwound than he'd been when they set out. They settled into silence once again, a far more comfortable and relaxed silence than they'd shared earlier in the day. Tan'shae sighed softly, looking at the clouds through the gaps in the treetops as she chewed on her ration bar.
"I bet it was lonely for you growing up, wasn't it?" she finally said, thinking back to their earlier conversation. She couldn't even begin to wrap her head around how structured life in a military family would be, but she did know a thing or two about loneliness.
"Yes… you could say that." Malavai replied simply, taking another bite out of his ration bar as he furrowed his brow, clearly collecting his thoughts. "Mother and Father were usually gone on duty, or filing paperwork, or meeting with their superiors… typical military work that draws one away, I suppose."
Tan'shae nodded quietly, cringing inwardly at the thought of a young Malavai being left alone for most of his life, with no one to talk to or care for him. She knew all too well how that kind of loneliness felt.
"That sounds pretty rough… how'd you manage to cope with it?" her question was met with an honest shrug from the Captain.
"I threw myself into my schoolwork and signed up for a couple of extra-curricular activities after my classes. As long as I had something else to focus on, the loneliness never really got to me." He paused for a moment, taking another bite from his ration bar and chuckling to himself as he chewed. "I suppose nothing's changed much, has it?"
She couldn't help but smile at Malavai's little joke, and she nodded in agreement as she finished off her own ration bar. It was really fantastic to see him starting to unwind a good deal.
"…Since we're on the subject, my Lord... If I may be so bold as to ask… what was your childhood like?"
Every fiber in Tan'shae's body froze as her brain struggled to process what Quinn had just asked her. Had he really just asked her that personal of a question? Surely this was an "inappropriate" question to ask a superior, at least by Quinn's own standards.
"Apologies, my Lord, I didn't mean to ask such a personal question..." the Captain was quick to add when Tan'shae had failed to provide an answer.
"N-no! No, Malavai, it's fine, really, I just…" she flustered slightly, cursing internally as her brain had seemed to turn into a jumbled mass of words and emotions that she couldn't sort into a coherent way. "You… you really want to know?"
She could see the Captain's cheeks begin to flush, and he turned his gaze to the tree line as he calculated a response.
"Well… yes, my Lord. I'm honestly rather curious about it. It's always been a difficult thing for me to grasp that Sith Lords of such power and status as yourself even had childhoods… as absurd as that sounds."
Tan'shae swallowed dryly, her mind still reeling at the fact that the Captain was… actually interested in learning about her past. However, she wasn't sure if she wanted to share some of those memories with her Captain, as simply thinking about them was already starting to make her feel uneasy.
"Well, it… it's a long, complicated story, Malavai…" she said in an attempt to deflect the question as she gathered her gear and stood once again. The Captain followed suit, keeping his steely gaze on her the entire time.
"Forgive me, my Lord, but it hardly seems fair that you insisted I share such information with you, yet you refuse to do the same." He said in a tone that Tan'shae wasn't sure she'd ever heard from him before. He almost sounded hurt. She sighed heavily as they set back up the side of the mountain towards the campsite, trying to suppress the unpleasant memories that were beginning to surface.
"You're right Malavai… but honestly, it is a long and complicated story…" She stopped in her tracks a moment, thinking over her next words very carefully before letting out a defeated sigh and looking up at the Captain. "I'll share it sometime after we've set up camp. If not tonight, then before our break is over. You have my word."
Malavai raised a brow at her, as if he was unsure that she would stick to her promise. He was probably wondering if he could even trust the word of a Sith Lord.
"Very well, whenever you find it convenient then, my Lord."
Tan'shae was a little struck by Malavai's tone. To someone who didn't know him, it would seem neutral enough, but the Sith could tell that he felt hurt by her answer. He probably thought that she wouldn't follow through with her promise, and that he'd been coerced into sharing private information that he wasn't entirely comfortable sharing. She sighed heavily, hiking her supply pack higher up onto her back as they both continued to scale the side of the mountain.