...And Your Enemies Closer
2 minutes later
3 months BBY
A single vertical swing bisected one of several dozen security droids Xel had already gone through tonight. To his left, Sabine was redecorating the laser-mined walls of Tenau's compound, every so often having to duck and weave out of the way of incoming fire Xel couldn't deflect. PT-37 had its rotary cannon going on overdrive, with Alen and Ezra providing a protective wall of light for the slow-moving droid as they blackened the hallways with carbon scoring and burnt oil.
They'd been storming through one hall after the next, trying to find the nexus of the compound or at the very least a terminal that could be used to access this place's schematics. Thus far, no such luck. Apparently, Tenau had planned for every contingency. He knew about Xel's armor and skills, both with the Force and his body, about Alen and his talents with slicing, about Sabine and her penchant for explosives, about Ezra and his slippery nature. The only wild card was PT-37, and even it was having trouble hosing down Tenau's automated security faster than they could pop up.
Xel slashed the arm off a droid that tried to flank the group from a hidden doorway, firing his drawn pistol into two others in the main group. Blasters of a dozen different makes and models fired every second, red, orange, gold, and blue bolts coming from every direction.
"We need to get out of the open!" Sabine yelled over the never-ending din.
Caden pursed his lips and deflected another shot heading for his chest back into the shooter before nodding and pulling Telia's saber from his belt. The green blade ignited even as Alen got his back, PT stepping between Sabine and the incoming fire while slapping another gas cartridge into its cannon and opening up with a continuous stream of fire. Two ignited lightsabers plunged into a wall, cutting in parallel arcs until a circular plug about four feet in diameter was carved into the wall.
A firm kick dislodged it and admitted the group one by one, Ezra the last to duck inside the darkened room beyond. Peetee quickly reached down and grabbed the plug, shoving it back into its hole and holding it there as Ezra and Alen welded it shut with their sabers. The fire coming from the other side of the wall stopped even as the metallic steps of their attackers were heard through several layers of metal.
"They're surrounding us," Ezra remarked.
Xel exchanged a look with his brother before the latter nodded and strode to the center of the room, sabers angled downward.
"What are you two doing?" Sabine asked.
"Making an exit," Alen replied. "There are no cameras in this room, and I didn't spot any heat sensors. That means Tenau is relying on line of sight to track us."
The Jedi gave his brother a nod, and they both plunged their sabers into the floor below, walking in parallel arcs and carving a similar circular hole, albeit much larger than the last one.
"If we drop one floor," Alen explained, "vanish off his radar, we can lose our pursuers, move around more freely."
The hole was finished a second later, and both Force Gripped the cut piece, lifting it from the hole and setting it aside to allow entry. They crouched down in tandem, Sabine activating a floodlight built into her helmet and illuminating duct after duct of ventilation shafts and wiring. At Ezra's dubious look, Alen shrugged and spoke up.
"Look at it this way. There's no way the droids'll be able to follow us down there."
Xel tensed when he finished talking, looking back up at Peetee, who was staring back as blankly as the t-visor that comprised its face. "We can't leave him behind."
Alen blinked rapidly and raised an eyebrow. "Him?"
Caden just turned his head to the ground. "Yeah. Him."
The Jedi looked back at the former Purge Trooper, the droid standing with both hands on its—his rotary cannon, ready for either fight or flight and standing protectively over his master.
"Go," Peetee said after a tense moment. "I will hold them."
"Tee, no," Xel said immediately.
"I can withstand their assault."
"Not indefinitely. I built you well, but not that well."
A bit of agitation seeped into the droid's voice. "Go, Master."
Caden rose to his feet and grabbed the droid's shoulders, shaking him as much as his own body was. "I am not leaving anyone else to die!" The room fell completely silent as Xel's fingers curled around the droid's shoulder plates, his chest heaving with heavy breaths. "You're not doing this, Tee," he said quietly, voice cracking. "I won't allow it." His t-visor leveled against Tee's. "That's an order, vod."
The droid stayed immobile for a few seconds. "Understood."
"Good," Xel said, voice back to normal as he strode back over to the hole, noting how one of the walls was beginning to glow with the telltale light of a plasma torch. "We go to Plan B then."
"I thought this was Plan B," Sabine pointed out.
"Well then it's Plan C!" Ezra shouted in agitation. "With an army of killer droids drilling through that wall, does it really matter right now?"
"We need to carve a path," said Xel, crouching down and ignoring them both. His saber lowered and went to his belt even as his left arm rose and angled toward the weaker sections of the ducts.
"Woah," Alen protested. "Woah, woah, woah, what are you doing?"
"Making an entrance."
Before Alen could protest further, a single wrist rocket shot from Xel's arm, blowing a four-foot hole in the metal below and sending smoke rising into their room.
"Well," Alen started flippantly between coughs, "if he didn't know our plan before, he does now."
"Let's move," Xel ordered, ignoring him as he leapt into the smoking hole.
Ezra and Alen followed next, already coughing hard. Peetee went in second-to-last and Sabine dropped at the end, firing a grappling hook into the side of the cut floor piece on her way down. When she hit the ground, Peetee grabbed the cable and started tugging, dragging the heavy metal over the hole and sealing their path.
"That oughta hold them back," Xel said, checking his weapons. "At least for a while."
"So now what?" Sabine asked.
"Now we find somewhere quiet without cameras, so I can think about our next move." He turned to his brother. "Alen, ideas? I know you can sometimes sense the electronics in droids. Where's our best bet?"
The Jedi closed his eyes and focused in the Force, opening them a second later and pointing down a less damaged hallway. Xel nodded and took point, drawing a blaster and clearing each intersection as the group proceeded forward. He rounded a corner and was about to duck into a room when the ceiling above him shifted. His Force Sense alerted him to danger a split-second before Alen shouted to warn him, and he leapt forward in a dive-roll, narrowly avoiding the vertical ray shield that would've cut him in half.
As it stood, the forcefield now stood between him and the rest of his team. Xel clenched his teeth, barely restraining the urge to slam his fist against the energy barrier. "Go," he ordered. "I'll find a way to get to you." At Alen's hesitation, he actually did slam his fist against the shield. "Go!"
Alen pursed his lips hard. Stubborn-assed, one-tracked… He shook his thoughts away. Xel was rubbing off on him, and not in a good way. "Keep your head down," he ordered his younger brother.
The tension and hardness in his voice told Alen he wouldn't obey that order. "Sure, vod. Just find out what you can about Maila. We need to get her and get the hell out of here."
"Agreed." He nodded to the rest. "Let's go."
They broke off down another hallway, ducking through a door into what looked like a barracks. The lack of personnel or belongings gave it an empty, eerie feel, causing Alen to lead the team further into the base. Another durasteel door slid open and Alen stepped through an instant before another ray shield went up, separating him from the rest of the team.
"Alen!" Ezra shouted through the barrier.
"Keep moving," he responded, "and watch out for more projectors. Tenau's trying to split us up, and it's working. We can't afford to let him reduce our strength."
Ezra nodded slowly.
"I'll try to find a terminal here in the barracks. Stay in radio contact." Alen backed away from the energy field and made his way through the room he was in, proceeding through another door and finding exactly what he was looking for. He tapped his earpiece. "Xel, can you hear me?"
"Here, vod." He sounded strained.
"I found a computer terminal. I'm hacking in now." Alen's fingers flew across the controls, his mind working at Force-assisted speeds as he sliced through one encryption after the next until it cracked wide open. "Gotcha. I'm pulling up a schematic of this place now. Sending it over our comlink."
"Woah," Sabine said a few moments later. "This place is…huge."
"It comprises almost the entire building," said Xel. "No way he got this on his own."
"Imperial assistance?" Ezra asked.
"Yep. That'd be my bet."
Alen narrowed his eyes and tabbed through the schematic's levels until he found a series of small rooms two floors down. "I think I found the cell block. It's two levels below us." Alen accessed the surveillance cameras in that area and hissed when he saw the feeds. "And heavily guarded. You were right. Imp stormtroopers."
"It's a front," Xel said with certainty.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Tenau likes having her around too much to leave her somewhere he can't reach her quickly, without prying eyes."
"And by 'having her around,'" Ezra began, "you mean—"
"Yeah," the young Mando growled. The sounds of a grate being kicked came from his end of the link.
"Xel," Alen began, "what are you doing?"
"Going to the one place he'd keep her. His quarters."
"Brother," he said, raising his voice in alarm, "you've gotta be careful. If Tenau is there, you cannot go in alone. He'll kill you."
"Don't project your own failures onto me," Xel growled.
A stunned silence reigned over the link for several seconds.
"I'm sorry. I…I didn't mean that."
Alen gulped and clenched his teeth. "I know," he said evenly. "You're right, though. I did fail." He tabbed over to the residential levels. "But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.
Xel sighed. "No, it doesn't. I'm sorry. I'm just…I need to get her away from him, no matter what."
"I understand." The Jedi hesitated a moment. "He's not getting away, Xel. Not this time. I promise you that."
The silence lasted about ten seconds. "Understood. Get up here when you can. Caden out."
Alen tapped his earpiece to close the link, exhaling slowly as he cleared his mind of distractions, closing down the terminal with his route already memorized. His feet carried him away toward his objective with a burst of Force Speed.
A final kick dislodged the grate that stood between Xel and a posh, well-furnished apartment. A "window" on his left projected a view of passing clouds in a clear blue sky, a vision impossible on Nar Shaddaa. Caden snarled behind his helmet, making his way forward with both pistols drawn. His dark blue eyes swept over the spiral staircase in front of him, over the red leather couches on his right and the closed doors on both levels. As he made his way up the stairs, he stretched out with the Force, immediately finding a nexus of pain, fear, and broken pride.
Xel homed in on it like a subsonic beacon, legs pumping and taking him through a heavy durasteel door whose frame shattered like cheap carbo-plas against the power of his Force-powered heel kick. Upon taking a second glance at the door, though, he realized it wasn't the frame that broke, but the wall the frame was attached to. Breathing heavily, he cleared the room inch by inch, lowering his pistols when he confirmed he was alone except for that nexus. So as not to startle her, Caden pulled his helmet off and set it on a nearby dresser, turning the corner of the furniture with his hands in plain view.
Xel's blue eyes widened in shock as his mouth dropped open.
She was unrecognizable. Dressed in little more than a corset and a glorified skirt, purplish bruises marring her left cheek, neck, and arms that were curled around her knees, Maila was the embodiment of misery. When she lifted her head ever so slightly as his shadow fell across her shivering form, Xel felt his chest tighten at the foreign expression on her face. Despair. This once-proud, powerful woman had been reduced to little more than a frightened girl.
For the first time in months, Xel felt his lips tremble, felt his arms, legs, his entire being go limp and numb. His knees nearly gave out before he forced them to lock, stiffly taking two steps toward her. When he drew within two feet of the Zeltron, she shivered again and drew back even more into the wall she was pressed up against, tucking her head tight against her knees, trying to disappear, to block out the world.
Xel burned inside, but not with the fire of rage and hatred. He had no more of either left to burn. The heat centered itself on his eyes and face, hot drops falling from his face even as he tried uselessly to hold them back. He wiped the back of his hand over his face, sobbing hard as his legs finally gave way, his armored knees hitting the ground not a foot from Maila's bare feet. Forcing himself to stay upright, Xel reached out slowly, brushing the tips of his gloved fingers against her bare knee even as she shivered at the contact.
"Mail," he whispered brokenly.
His entire face twisted in untold grief as his eyes slammed shut, unable for all his strength to hold back his tears. He gently reached over to her face, nudging her chin up bit by bit until he could see her eyes again—reddened and puffy and dulled by exhaustion and abuse. The fire inside him increased as he closed his eyes and reached out with the Force, seeing and feeling her in a completely different way that he knew would scar his memory. He let it. He wanted the scars, needed to feel her pain, because his touch was not a one-way conduit. In that close contact lay a way to not only understand her pain, but to get her to understand his.
He had to let her know she wasn't alone, and no words could ever say that like this.
His fingers drifted to her temple, his entire palm cupping her head as he leaned forward, touching their foreheads together with such a light contact, he barely felt it. A feather-light touch against his cheek caused a comfortable warmth to wash over him, a small, sad smile coming to his face as he realized she was still in there. The Maila he knew was just buried and wrapped in layer after layer of misery and trauma that he understood might never be fully removed.
And then he felt it.
Dark blue eyes opened, Xel's tender expression morphed into a mask of deadly intent as the fire inside stoked into a world-consuming inferno, his numb legs lighting up in painful intensity as he stood and turned toward the door. One foot fell after the other as he approached the source of that arrogance. An animalistic roar left his throat as he dashed through the demolished wall and tackled Tenau through the rail. The other fully-armored hunter hit the ground jetpack-first, his helmet receiving the worst of the next attack as Xel drove his fist into it head-on again and again.
It took the boy a few seconds to realize he was damaging his hand more than Tenau's helmet, but he could tell the man was dazed, so what the hell? He grabbed the hunter's chestplate, lifting him bodily off the ground and Force Throwing him into one wall after the next, Tenau's jetpack activating to stabilize him as he drew a pistol and fired at Xel repeatedly. Both shots aimed for Xel's head were smacked away with his crushgaunts as he Force Pushed the man into a wall, the surface beginning to crack and crumble under the force of his efforts.
Tenau groaned and grunted under the strain, feeling his entire body begin to be crushed within his armor. A murderous, malevolent smile came to Xel's face as he kept laying it on, his entire body shaking with the rage he was letting loose. He was so focused on ending the other Mando that he didn't notice the other figure enter the room behind him. A Force Blast bowled him off his feet and catapulted him hard into the wall next to Tenau, who dropped to the ground with a stunned Xel a moment later.
"Are you all right, sir?" Xel heard the newcomer ask.
"Fine," Tenau grunted before planting a kick on Xel's midsection, sending him rolling. Both his gloved hands went around Caden's throat as he head-butted him hard, breaking his nose and sending stars spinning through his vision. He tossed the boy aside like a rag doll before drawing another pistol and casually putting two shots in his armored chest.
Xel noted with chagrin that the weapon was another Verpine shattergun, the bruises from the shots' impacts already beginning to ache.
"I'm starting to think this job is more trouble than it's worth," Tenau remarked dryly.
"Believe me, sir," the other figure said, stepping into view, "it'll be worth it."
Xel's dazed eyes widened slightly at the sight of the stately Togruta at Tenau's side, dressed in the garb of an Imperial Royal Guard with the lightsaber pike to match.
"Relieve him of his weapons," Tenau ordered, "then put him with the girl. I'll have to find a new bedroom for tonight."
Tenau stepped closer to Xel, approaching his battered body with relish. "Lights out, di'kut."
His armored fist cut off any comeback.
In a series of events too fast for anyone to track, Alen found himself standing in a turbolift one second, jumping out of that turbolift while falling at extreme speeds, holding onto a girder for dear life, and leaping from one floor to another until he reached the residential level. Deciding to forgo the front-door entrance, he ducked into a ventilation shaft just above where the elevator would stop and crawled his way through twenty feet of ducts before coming to a grate.
Tenau, he thought.
"I just got here, dammit!"
He arched an eyebrow. Someone's short-tempered.
Tenau lowered his voice dangerously, but the Jedi still heard him. "So you want me to move them in the middle of an attack? When those rebel idiots could come out of the vents for all I know?"
Alen almost snickered at the coincidence of that statement, but didn't. One: because it would have given away his position, and two…
His ice-blue eyes narrowed. Them? Stretching out with the Force, he felt his jaw clench hard.
"Fine, but I want double what you posted. Yeah, that's right, double, you useless chakaar! I'll be on the first shuttle out."
Alen's eyes narrowed in anger as he fingered the lightsaber at his belt. Tenau wasn't alone, though, and whoever his companion was had the Force, was strong in it. Based on the Imperial presence downstairs and the target Tenau was trying to catch, he wouldn't have put it past Vader to give the Mandalorian a few Royal Guards. One thing was for sure: he had to wait, bide his time. Track them from the shadows and then spring on them at just the right moment. Let's see if you like how it feels to be the hunted this time around, Tenau.
10 minutes later
Blurry images of shiny gray were all that comprised Xel's vision for the first two seconds of consciousness. On instinct, he let the Force flow through him, clearing away the fog and dulled senses to reveal the fact that he was being dragged through a brightly lit hallway, with no weapons and his hands cuffed behind his back. Shutting his eyes again, he reached out with the Force and brushed against the others there with him—the familiar cool of Imperial stormtroopers, the smug arrogance of his previous opponent, and the fragile psyche of Maila Yar.
Extending his sphere of influence further, Xel mentally groped about for a familiar thread, tugging on it a moment later and getting feelings of reassurance back over the link. He smiled. He has a plan. Good.
"Of course I do," his brother sent back annoyedly.
"Want to let me in on the secret, vod?"
"Not particularly. You're liable to start making changes. Besides, it's not safe for us to be connected like this. Not for as long as it would take."
"Okay. What do you need me to do?"
Xel smirked at the feelings that drifted over the Bond. "Got it."
Blue eyes fluttered open as if he were just regaining consciousness—and he put on a damn good act. Shin kick to the back of one stormtrooper's left leg was followed by a shoulder blow to the one on his left that sent him careening into a wall. A Force Grip brought a blaster to his hands even as he leapt into the air, bound arms swinging under his legs to bring his hands in front of him. Two shots impaled the soldiers that were dragging him, the third going through Tenau's Verp.
The Mando's shoulders slumped as he looked at the ruined weapon. "Really?"
Xel gave him a feral grin and pumped two more shots into his armored chest, knocking him back, before turning the gun's barrel backward and unloading one bolt into his cuffs. With his hands free, the metal around his wrists was bent to the breaking point by his crushgaunts, the loops falling to the ground a moment later. The moment Xel took a step toward Tenau, he found himself shoved against a wall by an invisible hand. The boy snarled and turned his head to see that same Togruta calmly holding him in place with one hand, the other latched onto Maila's arm.
I could rip your little grip apart, you worthless chakaar. But he didn't. Better to make them believe they had the upper hand. Alen's single message over their Force Bondconfirmed this.
"Well done, Xel. We'll take it from here."
Caden nearly arched an eyebrow. "We?" When they stepped through the door at the end of the hallway into a massive hangar, he understood.
The brown-clad form of his brother dropped from a grate just above them, tackling the Togruta and getting his hostage out of his grasp.
"Maila, run!" Alen shouted as he brought his fist into the guard's face hard, his head snapping back toward the ground with such force that one of his horns broke off at the halfway point.
Xel leapt into action as soon as his brother dropped, smacking Tenau's gun away from his brother and causing it to discharge into a far wall. Stormtroopers flooded in from every entrance in pairs, but two entrances were blockaded a second later when explosions went off at the bases of their doorways. Sabine and the rest of the team descended from the hangar's rafters, blasters on overdrive even as one set of hangar doors were blasted open and another ship set down opposite Tenau's, next to a Lambda-class shuttle.
Its entrance ramp lowered, two figures leaping off full-tilt, one toting a lightsaber, the other a bo rifle. Caden grinned as he knife-handed Tenau in the side of his neck, briefly stunning him before getting another head-butt for his troubles. As a bruise started to form on his forehead, Xel stumbled backwards, leaping behind a crate for cover when Tenau opened fire with his remaining pistol, keeping him pinned. Xel shifted his focus to Alen, who was still grappling with the Togruta even as PT-37 and the crew of the Ghost held off the encroaching stormtroopers.
Alen cried out as his arm was twisted in an unnatural direction, nearly dislocated before his brother slammed into the guard shoulder-first. Two distinctive clinks sounded from below, and Xel reached out to grab the fallen lightsabers, falling into a recovery roll and getting his footing as the guard managed to retrieve his saber pike. Both sabers were ignited with a vengeful snap-hiss, the weapons mirroring their owner's fury as he slammed the blades against the Togruta's single red one in a flurry of rage-driven strikes.
Alen was about to join him when he heard Maila cry out sharply, snapping his attention to his back, where Tenau was dragging her toward his ship. He cast his furiously dueling brother a look, one that he evidently felt.
"Go!" Xel roared, locking his blades with the guard's.
The Jedi obeyed, unclipping his own saber and sprinting toward the fleeing Tenau just as he got within forty feet of his ship. His lightsaber blazed to life when he closed the distance to ten feet and rose for a vertical strike that would've taken his right arm off. Instead, the Mando turned at the last second and fired instinctively. The bolt would've gone right through Alen's hand if it hadn't hit his saber instead. As it happened, the weapon flew from his grasp, landing a good six feet behind him.
Alen didn't hesitate. With a furious yell, he leapt full-speed into Tenau's midsection, tackling him away from Maila and onto the ground. He was so intent on getting the Mando's helmet off that he didn't notice the control that slipped into the hunter's hand or the ray shield that separated them from the rest of his backup until Tenau tossed him off and jetpacked into the air. Flames spat from his gauntlets, the heat of the incoming inferno nearly lighting Alen's robes on fire before he could leapt ten feet backward.
A mere wave of the hand was enough to recall his saber, the blade deflecting one shot from his wrist-mounted blaster after the next. Calling on his training, the Padawan deflected a bolt right back into Tenau's chest, disrupting his flight pattern enough for him to Force Grip the man's jetpack and angle its jets downward. The Mando hit the ground in a roll as his blaster went flying, immediately falling into a forward sprint as Alen closed the distance. He pulled a long, electrified vibroblade off his back and activated it as they closed to ten feet, both leaping into their initial strikes.
Electricity crackled around frozen light as the saber and the sword clashed again and again. Tenau shoved Alen's saber aside with a powerful shunt, backhanding him with his armored gauntlet. The Jedi spun with the hit, smacking the heel of his boot into the side of Tenau's leg and bringing him to one knee. A stab that would've gone through his throat was parried and countered with an upward slash, then a rising thrust aimed at Alen's spine. The Makashi practitioner deflected the strike to his right and spun clockwise, putting himself at closer range and elbowing Tenau in the side of the head.
He spun back the other way and ducked as he slashed horizontally, the crackling blade of Tenau's sword sizzling over his head as his lightsaber scored another burn-mark on the man's chestplate. The Mando withdrew a few steps to get his bearings, noting the small gap created by the landed strike, then looking at Alen with a stunned expression on his face.
Alen just smirked nastily. "I've been practicing, hut'uun."
His nostrils flared in anger at the ultimate insult, fingers tightening around the hilt of his blade. "It won't be enough," he growled, leaping backwards and activating his reconfigured jetpack as he fired on Alen once again.
The Jedi calmly deflected one shot after the next, trying to reflect one but unable to since Tenau just kept moving. Finally, he thought he had an opening, and threw his lightsaber right where the Mando was going to be the next second. The twirling blade skated over his left shoulder plate as Tenau angled his body away, missing its mark by mere inches as he raised his gauntlet and fired once—right into Alen's center mass.
The crouching Padawan was bowled over by the force of the shot hitting his concealed armor, but immediately fell into a recovery roll, dodging one shot after the next as he closed the distance. Tenau swung his blade downward as Alen leapt for him, cutting shallowly through the shoulder of his robe and rending a thin layer of flesh below, but still getting tackled out of the air. He hit the ground jetpack-first, Alen laying into his exposed face with a flurry of lightning-fast punches, the last of which impacted with Tenau's armored gauntlet. Yelping in pain, Li-am recoiled just long enough for Tenau to grab his throat and shift their positions, his superior weight keeping Alen under him as he slowly throttled the life out of his younger opponent.
The Jedi clawed and swiped at his face, but Tenau put a stop to his efforts when he laid into Alen with his free armored fist. Three punches in, the boy let the Force flow, let it dull his pain and decrease his need for oxygen. Everything sharpened and time slowed to a crawl as he could literally see the next punch coming. Putting all of his Force power into his young limbs, Alen caught Tenau's gloved fist in his left hand, right hand gripping his choking hand's thumb as both feet planted on his armored chest and pushed—hard.
Something in Tenau's left hand popped as he went flying six feet away, his furious yell indicating his thumb's dislocation. Alen sluggishly regained his footing as blood rushed to his head, spotting his lightsaber some distance away and making a break for it. He was tackled halfway there by Tenau, who put his right forearm on the boy's neck and made to break his windpipe. Alen would have none of it.
Using a technique Sabine taught him, he grabbed Tenau's arm and popped his hips upward, hooking his left leg around the man's head and pivoting in the other direction. By using his arm's place on his neck as a point of leverage, Alen spun him like a pendulum and smacked him onto the duracrete floor back-first. He rolled away and regained his footing as Tenau climbed to his feet.
The Mando exchanged several rapid jabs with the Jedi before getting one through to his face and following it up with a strong right hook. Alen's feet left the ground as his body went horizontal, left boot jamming into Tenau's ribs before his right swung upward to catch him across the jaw, the leg flying past and spinning him so his left side was facing the ground. Alen's left palm served as a balancing point for his tilted cartwheel, and he was facing Tenau again the moment his feet hit the ground.
Jes saw his next flying punch coming and stepped out of the way, bringing a hard right fist into the boy's gut and throwing him to the ground before sprinting for his fallen sword. Alen did the same with his saber, adrenaline running at maximum and propelling his steps until the his fingers closed around the familiar cylinder and thumbed it to life. He spun to face the Mandalorian with a twirl of his saber, eyes widening slightly as he saw he was much closer than anticipated. A malevolent smirk crossed his features in the instant before Tenau's blade fell.
The sword strike fell down and left, from Tenau's point of view, meant to carve a line through Alen's carotid artery right through his rib cage. Instead, the Jedi angled his saber horizontally to his left as he spun counterclockwise, the tip of the electrified blade sizzling past his arm as he completed a 180 degree turn, his blade spinning as well and angling so the tip pointed behind him. The moment the turn completed, a loud sizzle and deep-voiced grunt were heard from behind him, his glowing blue shaft having found the gap created by his previous slash.
A rapid choppy breath was exhaled by Tenau and his sword was dropped as Alen yanked the blade out, stepping forward and spinning in the opposite direction before turning back toward the Mando. His lightsaber was angled diagonally away and down in a two-handed grip as he dashed at Tenau's right, the blade rising to his neck level as Alen ran past. A ringing hiss sounded from behind him before two thumps were heard.
The Jedi just stood there, sword angled out to the side as he took in and released several ragged breaths. When they finally stabilized, he brought the blade back to an upright position close to his body and thumbed it off, clipping it to his belt. He turned and strode past the headless body of Jes Tenau, giving it none of attention as he approached a violently shivering Maila Yar. The Jedi felt the last of his righteous fury drain away as he gently put his hands on her shoulders.
He drew the shivering woman close, wrapping one arm around her shoulders even as he summoned Tenau's control to his free hand and thumbed the ray shield off. Xel sprinted over to them, sending Alen a thankful smile before gathering her up in his arms, her red, bruised ones wrapping gingerly around his neck as he carried her onto the Ghost.Alen followed him, taking Xel's helmet from Sabine and briefly passing his eyes over the piles of dead stormtroopers. He noted the lack of the Imperial shuttle that had been parked there earlier, as well as the lack of a red-robed Togruta.
As he paused on the ramp of the Ghost, though, looking at Maila as Xel whispered comforting words in her ear, he turned his vision back to Tenau's armored corpse. He felt a sense of grim satisfaction flow through him. Jes Tenau was a bounty hunter, a thug, kidnapper, murderer, and rapist. Alen took no pleasure in killing, but there was something truly…hope-inspiring in what he'd just done. For too long, men like him had been allowed to reign over the dark corners of the galaxy, to walk freely, to act freely, without any threat of reprisal. Alen turned his gaze to his lightsaber.
This weapon used to stand for something. He looked back at Tenau. And it will again. A deep breath entered and left his lungs.
At long last…justice is served.
And with that thought, he climbed the ramp and left the complex forever.
2 hours later
The Kandosii'tal, hyperspace
Red eyelids fluttered open, the blue orbs beneath turning to see a tousled sheet of jet-black hair resting on her outstretched legs. Evidently, he felt her wake, because his head was up faster than she could blink, eyes locked onto hers in concern and tenderness.
"There you are," a pleasant female voice said from her left.
Maila turned to see a young woman with fiery red hair, striking green eyes, and the brightest smile she'd seen in months approach her with a datapad.
"We were worried, Ms. Yar." She grinned at Xel. "Well, he was worried more." Her smile dampened a bit when she looked back at her patient, and Maila wondered why. "Anyways. Your injuries aren't particularly severe, but they do merit at least two days' bed rest and a brief bacta soak if we can get it." She typed a few things in her pad. "I've given you some mild painkillers, so you should sleep like a baby when you're ready." The woman looked between Xel and Maila, giving the latter a squeeze on the shoulder. "I'll give you two a minute, but make it brief. She needs rest."
"Thank you, Linn."
Xel's voice sounded more fragile and quiet than Maila had ever heard it. When his eyes returned to hers and he sat at her side, she got a good look at him and understood why. Stang…what has this guy been through? He wasn't even this bad after his mother died…or was he? Xel had always been good at hiding his emotions, whether behind a helmet or a carefully schooled mask. In retrospect, he looked about as emotionally broken as he should have been following his mother's death.
His fingertips, now bare and calloused against her bruised skin, glided over her jaw and cheek, all the way up to her temple, at which point his entire hand cupped her face, larger and harder than it had any business being at his age. She closed her eyes as she leaned her head into the limb. It was hard, yes, rough, absolutely, but so…gentle. These were hands that could caress as easily as they could kill. A shuddering breath left her lips as she leaned forward, pressing her face into the fabric of his shirt.
He kept her close, one hand cupping the back of her head while the other went under her arm, pressing against and caressing her back. They stayed that way, pressed against each other in a caring, protective embrace for far longer than the doctor ordered, but Linn didn't interfere. She just watched as Maila's breathing slowed bit by bit, deepening until Xel was sure she was asleep, then slowly laid her back down on the bed, his hand lingering on her cheek for a while. He leaned down and gently pressed his lips to hers before standing and walking noiselessly out the door.