The hours it took to get the Peripheral Muse to Telos were among the most agonizing in Saz's life. There was a messy field dressing on the mangled remnant of his left arm and a mixture of drugs coursing through his body, with most of the pain-killers from the medical kit having been given to Sheon to ease her passing. The chemical mixture, combined with the loss of blood and maddening pain, sent him into violent narcosis, with Aveyla frantically trying to pilot the ship and comfort him, all while traumatized by the death of her mentor and her frightening brush with the Dark side.
The time was more terrifying than any she had experienced on Nar Shaddaa or Nal Hutta.
Once on the orbiting medical station around Telos, she dragged him from the cockpit, bloody and incoherent, to an unprepared medical staff. Even they had rarely seen such carnage. After the initial confusion, Saz was carted away into the facility, devastated from the trauma.
Although the trip from Vharna had been horrific, the next few hours were pure torture for Aveyla, who collapsed near the black fighter. Despite the staff trying to talk with her, she only wept out of exhaustion, both physical and emotional, and suffered the consequences of her pride. Where she had felt such clarity in her rage, she now felt utter despair. No amount of conditioning or training had prepared her for this level of grief, and she had no technique that would displace her from the pain. It was, instead, something she simply had to endure. It was N4 that communicated all of the proper identification and credit accounts on Saz's behalf, satisfying the initial investigation by the locals with a combination of technical reports and generous amounts of funding. It had been particularly useful programming that Saz had long integrated into the ship's AI, to assist in his often-dubious business dealings.
In time, Aveyla picked herself up from the deck and climbed into the cockpit of the fighter, finding it a sickening display of blood and chemical odors. Still shuddering with sobs, she tried to scrub the blood from the ship, using her already-stained clothing. N4 could not convince her of the futility of that, for instinct had taken over and all she saw was a mess that she could clean.
Out of pity, the staff provided her with clean linens for her efforts.
Some hours later, after the young woman had passed out in the still-fouled cockpit of the fighter, a Bith doctor approached the ship. He climbed the stairs to the cockpit and looked in, obviously unfazed by the sight. There had been enough credits thrown around to keep the local authorities from taking too much attention toward the bloody ship, but he wondered just what had happened to them. In the end, he was not being paid to ask those questions. "Young lady," he said, reaching in and touching her at the shoulder. Aveyla jerked awake, her hands clawed in an instinctive reaction, but appeared just as exhausted as she had been when she passed out. It took a moment for the sights and smells to return her to reality, but she soon looked up to the doctor with tired eyes.
"Your friend is awake. You may go see him," he said, gesturing to the facility.
Aveyla looked in the direction of his hand, and was overcome with fear. Did he even want to see her? Was there anything to say between them? The cowardly part of her wanted to disappear into the station and never face him again, but those ideas were defeated and she looked to the doctor, nodding as she struggled to climb out of the fighter.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
She did not remember much of the facility. There were white halls and blue doors. There were medical droids passing by and empty beds. A strange, sterile musk filled the air. Aveyla was certainly the most unusual thing there, with dried blood and dust still caked on her body. The doctor led her to a large room and opened the door, where she slowly glanced up and found something that carved out her heart.
Saz was standing by the bed, looking out the large window at the planet below. He was clean and dressed in a white jumpsuit, and looked like a part of the hospital. His right arm crossed over his stomach, with his hand holding loosely at his left elbow. Below that elbow, where his other arm should have been, was empty space, capped by a mechanical device that blinked in unison with the equipment near the bed.
Seeing him mutilated made the young woman sway and hold to the doctor for support, her eyes not moving from the missing flesh.
Saz turned and look at her, his hand falling away from his wounded arm. He faced her, as if immortal, and let a soft smile tug at the corner of his lips. The fury she expected had no place in his expression.
"Hi," he said, scratching at the knitting over his shattered nose.
Aveyla did not respond. She just stumbled forward to him, as if she would tear them both down, but regained her balance before him and stared up, her devastated eyes filled with regret. Her lips were moving, as if she was speaking, but no words came out. Instead of words, she dropped her head forward into his chest and sobbed loudly, her hands clenched at her sides and her petite body shuddering in sorrow. This surprised Saz, but he then reached up with his remaining hand and cradled the back of her head. His chin dropped onto her head and he stared past her, not speaking but silently comforting her. Inwardly, she cursed the fact that it should have been her that was comforting him, but she felt weak and vulnerable, and damaged as if it had been a part of her that was torn away, instead of his arm.
All she could do was sob into him, and hope that somehow he would find it in his human heart to forgive her.
Their remaining time on the medical station was marked by procedure. Aveyla had disappeared with the Bith doctor to clean up and get her irrelevant injuries looked at, while Saz was adjusting to the strange sensation of having a synthetic cap attached to his arm. Several times he had moved with the memory of his lost hand, only to find it missing. As fond as he was for technology, he had mixed feelings about looking down to where his arm had once been, only to find blinking lights and metallic surfaces. The doctors had shown him a variety of prosthetics, some just as real as the limb he had lost. They made rudimentary connections to let him see how they would feel, but there was one that Saz was particularly interested in. It was an older model, not even having the same skin tone as the others, but was sheathed in a pale, almost metal-like skin that vaguely resembled the texture of real flesh. It was intended as a replacement for those without the money to buy the perfect ones, but was durable and provided the basic functions needed. Perhaps its most redeeming feature was an open architecture, which would allow for future upgrades and modifications, per application.
Saz picked it without hesitation.
After fitting and tuning, his new hand was operating normally and he was already negotiating with the technician for the schematics, as he already had modifications in mind. He had nearly forced the stubborn Ugnaught to contact the manufacturer when one of the medical staff came in, interrupting them and forcing the technician to leave. Saz snorted, resigned to figuring out the design himself as the woman in white robes turned to him. "Mr. Proulx, there is something I need to speak with you about concerning the cargo in your vessel," she said, handing him a datapad.
"Cargo?" he asked, looking a bit confused. On the pad was information concerning the body of the Devaronian female that had been in the storage pod of the Muse. It had been removed per procedure and was currently stored in the facility's morgue.
"Oh. I can explain that?" he offered dubiously.
A small smile crept over the woman's features. "Due to the generous financing concerning your medical bills, all details concerning your ship have been kept in facility records and not shared with the police. We pride ourselves in keeping our patient's information private," she stated.
"Generous financing, huh? Well, thanks," he sighed in relief, though he wondered just how much this was going to cost him.
"For a further, nominal fee, we can prepare the body for you, taking into account any religious or cultural considerations. Though, it would have been better for you to have brought it in sooner. There was a significant amount of decomposition," she continued, pointing out a group of numbers on the tablet that meant very little to him.
Saz shrugged lightly. "How much could a body decompose in a day?"
The woman appeared confused and checked the data once more. "I'm sorry, but that woman has been dead for over a standard galactic week," she said, once again pointing out some numbers on the display.
In equal amounts of confusion, he looked from her to the tablet, his hand mindlessly running over the place where his severed arm and new prosthetic were joined. The timeframe did not match up. Sheon was found on the dead world of Vharna only a day ago, where she was awake and talking to them. It was inconceivable that she had been dead for a week. The memories of her last moments and the unnatural feeling of that world washed over him and he shivered, only to shake his head and pushed the tablet back towards her.
"The decision isn't mine to make. You'll have to talk with my…my partner. Whatever she wants," he said, dismissing the data. The woman slowly bowed to him and left the room, leaving him to silently stare out the window and cradle the place where his body met the new artificial flesh of his arm.
There were far too many strange things about that world for him to think about.
After a brief period of recovery, Aveyla rode back to the Shed in the storage pod of the fighter, cradling a small urn of ashes from the cremation of Sheon's body. The trip was cold and silent. Saz lethargically piloted the ship and continually scratched at dried blood between the controls that had been missed by the medical facility's extensive decontamination of his ship. The mood from before their mission had suffered a complete upheaval and both of them were stricken with doubts and fears.
Upon landing at the Shed, Aveyla quickly disappeared into her room. It was as if time had reversed itself and they were back to being strangers. Saz mindlessly performed his checklists and diagnostics of the base's systems before securing everything in the hangar and slowly plodding off to his room. Collapsing on his bed and throwing his arm over his face, he privately lamented the loss of his arm in between heavy breathing, before finally falling into a deep and convalescent slumber.
Aveyla was not seen for days, and he did not seek her out. There was simply nothing to say. Then, after Saz had settled into bed one night, his door opened to reveal Aveyla's form, who only lingered for a moment in the light of the corridor before rushing across his room and into his bed sheets. In a desperate attempt for forgiveness, she threw her body at him, silently touching him in all of the ways she had learned in her many years of slavery. He resisted at first, objecting to her aggressive attitude and obvious disregard for any emotion, but she persisted, assailing him with frightened eyes and the single-minded intention of forcing him to experience pleasure in spite all of his pain. Nothing would dissuade her, not his anger or his words.
In the end, he allowed this artificial bargain out of sheer pity for her, and the two became lovers for all of the worst reasons.
Instead of improving their relationship, their physical intimacy worsened it. Weeks of empty passion were populated with silent interludes. The fact that he was a tender lover felt criminal, for even as they felt the throes of pleasure in each other's arms, Aveyla only felt the expectation of a servant, self-imposed by her own heart.
Saz did not know what to do. He had imagined making love to her as something incredible, but he never felt satisfied after having her in his bed. Every night became empty and he resolved to refuse her, only to feel his resolve collapse when she appeared at his door. The madness was in the fact that he genuinely cared for her and had already forgiven her for the loss of his arm, but no amount of words and no amount of flesh could break her from this cycle of self-pity. Resentment began to grow. Her robotic attitude was beginning to bring out the worst parts of him and he would lash out at her, only to be more infuriated when she submissively accepted anything he said. Gone were the days when their playful banter dulled the loneliness of the Shed. Saz passed the time angrily working on modifications to his bionic arm, but even that brought him no pleasure.
The fear and pain of their encounter on Vharna paled in comparison to the disconnect they suffered in its wake.
An intermission to their plight came in the form of a transmission from Utility, signaling Saz to proceed to a designated dead drop and receive a communications packet. It required him to leave the Shed, and he secretly imagined the joy of getting away from the stale environment of the base and once again flying amongst the stars in his ship. He would have simply left her there, but a part of him forced his path to her door, where he looked in and found her wilted and sad.
"Come on," he said, startling her from her trance. He did not tell her where they were going or how long they would be gone, but simply ordered her to come along, secretly hoping it would break them of this terrible gloom. Aveyla followed and climbed into the storage pod without a word, obeying him. He closed it, equally silent.
Landing on Lianna, Saz and Aveyla exited the fighter and prepared themselves for the excursion into public space. Their movements were as mechanical as the pale bionic arm working in place of Saz's left hand, appearing genuine in almost every way, but blatantly false and never accepted as the real thing. Even if it meant becoming a slave again, she would embrace servitude as the easiest way for penance at her sins. She would sever any reliance on her power and forsake everything she had learned, to keep him safe and to hide from the darkness.
Her fear would not lead her to the Dark side again, but take her away from the Force all together.
Aveyla had just started to pull her hood up over her head when Saz suddenly turned on her and grabbed her by the shoulders, making her yelp in surprise. He glared at her, as if reading her heart. "You're not a bad person and you want to smile again," he demanded. Aveyla stared at him, her eyes shifting to the sides to try and discover the source of his outburst. Nothing was apparent and she spoke to him for the first time in nearly a week.
Saz's lips curled sourly. "No? Isn't that how a Jedi Mind Trick works?" he asked rhetorically.
She obviously was not biting and shook her head, though her eyes never fell from his. "I don't…" she began, failing halfway.
Saz sighed. "Look, let's stop this whole holodrama and get back to reality. You see this?" he asked, raising up his mechanical hand between them. She instantly looked away, but he forced her to look, curling the fingers in a wild display. "I don't blame you for this. It was my choice, not yours. You understand?"
Aveyla's eyes squeezed and she bit her bottom lip, shaking her head. "No, it was my fault. If I hadn't…" she began, only to be interrupted by him.
"Nah nah nah, enough whining about it. You're not a kid anymore, Aveyla. Yeah, you went a little loony back there and looked like you were about to go murder every Daunkk in the galaxy, but hey, that sort of thing happens to everyone," he said with a heavy smirk. She could not give in to his poor humor and pressed her eyes shut, continuing to bite down on her lip and deny him. Saz would not give up so easily. "Look, all joking aside, I'm actually kind of proud of you. You have every reason to hate those guys, and anyone would have reacted the way you did. That just proves you do have a heart. No Jedi or Sith can take that from you. The truth is you didn't have to stop with my arm. You could have easily just smushed me too, but you didn't. You stopped," he continued, lifting her chin with his artificial fingers, making her look at him directly.
"Doesn't that mean you can control it? Doesn't that mean there's hope?" he asked.
Aveyla hated him for not letting her be a coward. It was easier to repay him with her body and submit to his every desire. It was easier to not think of the terrible things she did because he was satisfied with that, even knowing that he was not. For him to demand that she face her fears and the destruction she could cause felt unfair, only because she did not feel confident that she could control it. But to hear him speak strongly and hold her when she wanted to run away infected her with some of that strength, and she could feel her chest throbbing for him.
"I'm so sorry, Saz," she sobbed, feeling the familiar sensation of tears burning on her cheeks.
Saz felt relieved in her expression and wiped her cheek with his hand, feeling the salty tears soak into his skin. "Don't worry about it. Besides, do you realize the kinds of things I can do with this baby?" he said playfully of his new arm and she offered a much desired laugh that broke the dark air between them. She still had doubts and fears, but his confidence was contagious and she felt a bit of her own restored. Dropping her forehead into him, she sniffled a few times and renewed her fondness for his smell.
She suddenly did not want him to go anywhere.
"Why don't you stay with the ship while I go take care of something? Then we'll get some lunch and supplies before heading home," he suggested. Although reluctant, she agreed and Saz finally let her go, turning to head into the spaceport and get his dead drop from Utility.
"Saz?" she called after him, making him turn. She appeared to want to say something else, but then sighed and shook her head. "It's nothing."
Strutting backwards, his reply was nothing more than a wave and he disappeared into the outlying docks, leaving her alone with the ship and her thoughts, as she sat with her back against a landing strut with her arms slung over her knees, providing her a platform to press her lips into and try to hide the infatuated smile that was coming to her as she thought of him.
Saz made an unusual bid to the pickup point, not employing his usual methods when dealing with a Utility drop. It still took him nearly an hour to get there, but he was uncharacteristically direct in his path. His mind was elsewhere and his footsteps were lighter. He was glad he had confronted Aveyla about her behavior and that he did it somewhere other than the Shed. It was too comfortable to break her from her melancholy there, so he felt confident he had chosen correctly in bringing her with him. While he knew she had not been freed of her fears, it had been a good first step that would hopefully lead them to a new understanding of each other in conjunction with their already burgeoning intimacy. Sheon's words suddenly seemed meaningful to him and felt more inclined to believe her insight.
Walking into a dark warehouse, he removed his special scanner to find the Utility drop, scanning the area with his thoughts elsewhere. It did not occur to him that the warehouse was particularly empty or that the air was unusual, so his attention was focused on the scanner and the data package that was usually much easier to find.
After a moment, he stopped and furrowed his brow. "Huh, that's strange. I should have picked up something by now," he said, twisting a bit to try and get a better range.
Maybe Utility is getting a bit more creative with their drops.
It was then that he noticed the strange atmosphere in the room and his heart rate jumped. The air was strange and Utility never afforded such a conspicuous aura when dealing with their agents. He knew he had been a little dismissive of their contracts lately, but there was never an account of them taking direct action against a contractor, unless they really deserved it. To his knowledge, he had not done anything to warrant their ill intent. Still, the warehouse was suspicious and he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickling.
His hand darted down to his blaster to draw it, but almost instantly he felt a hand clamp down onto his, keeping it still. At the same time, another hand reached around and clutched him at the throat as a foot kicked him at the back of the knee, dropping him into a prone position. The hands continued to hold him, even as he struggled, until he began to feel a strange sleepiness overcoming him. There was a bite of metal at his neck and the presence of another leaning in close, pressing against his back.
At his ear, he felt a quiver run through him from the sweet breath at his skin, as sultry tones filled the last of his consciousness.
"I'm here for you, Sazzy."
Almost perfectly timed to Saz's expected return, Aveyla rose to her feet to face the figure that walked casually into the warehouse. It was a shock to see Kunmi, but even more due to the fact that something felt wrong. The Twi'lek's posture was defensive, but she had not drawn her shoto. Instead, she stared at the woman until her eyes were drawn down to her hands, where she held something that drew a deep gasp. Kunmi stopped a few paces from her and paraded Saz's cap between her fingers, watching the other carefully before flipping it through the air to her. Aveyla caught it, her mouth hanging open, and looked up to the woman for some kind of explanation.
Kunmi obliged. "He's gone. Probably on a ship halfway to Axxila by now."
"Gone?" she repeated in shock.
"Yep, that's what I said. Taken back by the greedy Empire, who'll do who knows what to him. Not a good day to be Sazzy," Kunmi replied, crossing her arms over her chest.
It took a moment for Aveyla to follow that, before she looked panicked and let her eyes dart around. Before long, she swung around the ladder and climbed up to hang into the cockpit of the fighter. "N4, we need to go!" she cried.
"I am performing system procedures and will require a moment to abort them, Aveyla Rom. Please stand by with the coordinates for your flight plan," the ship reported and was busy making ready to obey her. Aveyla's chaotic mind made it hard for her to concentrate and her jerky movements alluded to her dismay. Her heart was spurring her on to mount a rescue mission, but she realized she had no idea where to look for him.
This realization made her look to Kunmi, who had been casually watching her the entire time. The young woman leapt from the ladder and rushed to her, eyes frantic and voice cracking. "You know who took him? You know where they went?" she asked.
"Yes," the other admitted.
Hope returned to Aveyla's eyes and she grabbed the woman by her arms, feeling that her secret admiration of the Zabrak woman had been well placed. "Great! Tell me the coordinates so I can…"
"No," Kunmi replied tersely.
The simple answer was devastating and Aveyla's jaw shuddered, her eyes trying to search the other for some kind of reasoning behind something so cruel. "What? You have to! This is Saz. Isn't he your friend?" she asked passionately, which drew a wry smile from the woman.
"Friend? I don't keep friends, love. Too dangerous in my business," she replied. There was a level of betrayal in the young woman's eyes that amused her and she wondered how the galaxy looked through them. The idea that she was friendly with any of her toys was amusing, just as the idea of rescuing the man was amusing. She had been monitoring their situation for some time now and knew of the chaos that lingered between them, which had given her the advantage she had been waiting for and emboldened her to move forward.
To Aveyla's surprise, Kunmi grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved her backwards into the ladder, making it chirp across the floor. The bounty hunter was then intimately close to her, pressed against her body as she pinned her against the metal. Her hand was clamping Aveyla's saber-arm against the railing and her other hand was holding her throat firmly. Their faces were only a breath's width apart. "But that's a policy that I'm willing to change. For the right person," she cooed, her lips brushing Aveyla's cheek lightly.
"W-what?" the Twi'lek stuttered, knocked off balance by the assault.
Kunmi laughed softly and slowly dropped her hand from her slender throat, sticking a metal fingernail against the young woman's bare stomach and slowly running it up her skin. "Why not hook up with me? A couple of girls like us could make quite a run. We even have a nice cozy ship here to sail amongst the stars in. We'd make quite the team, you and me," she said, stopping her nail between the Twi'lek's small breasts and enjoying the sensation of her racing heart.
Aveyla was jolted. It had been weeks of emotional torture mottled by empty physical intercourse with Saz, only to have her confidence recover the smallest amount before being assaulted again. It was not as if she was considering the offer, for it was ridiculous to imagine not going after Saz and simply taking his ship for herself. The idea was absurd, so she had trouble understanding why she could not simply dismiss it. It was the torrent of doubt that caused her hesitations, as if she was surrounded by the same vortex of energy that haunted her dreams, echoing the horrific cries of the loved one she harmed.
Her breathing was shaky and she stared at the woman, her body betraying her heart and her eyes looking for the sort of stability that could end her doubt. For a moment, she suspected that the woman could offer her that stability. "Please, I…" she whispered, shaking her head.
Kunmi pressed forward and kissed Aveyla passionately, holding her tightly against the tremors that shook her. The young woman did not resist, but did not return any of the passion and simply wrapped herself in the security of it, if only for a moment.
After kissing her, Kunmi gave her some room and licked her lips, delighted that it had been as sweet as she had always imagined. It was her best offer, and she searched the other for some kind of answer.
Aveyla's head dropped and she was breathing heavily, her fingers to her lips as she fought her internal battles. It was the first time she had experienced such a heartfelt kiss, one not steeped in darkness or forced upon her by servitude. Oddly, she felt thankful to Kunmi for her feelings and the offer she was making her. It was proof that there were people in the galaxy that cared for her, not as a thing, but as a person. Instead of objectifying her, they loved her, and those feelings were conveyed through her touch. It also birthed the realization that there was one person that she wanted to share such a kiss with, and that even the sum of her doubts and fears, compounded with offers and loss, could not sway her from having that moment to hold him in her arms and convey her feelings, just as Kunmi had done.
It showed her that she could finally rely on one thing to provide the safety and strength she needed to obtain the things she wanted and protect the things she loved – herself.
"I'm sorry," Aveyla whispered to her, drawing a sour expression from the Zabrak, but she then slipped her fingers from her lips and looked up to the woman with an expression that surprised her further, if only for its ferocity. "But I'm going to save Saz. Because I..."
For some reason, she could not finish her sentence.
Kunmi's face darkened as her plan fell apart. Just the investment of altering an authentic Utility transmission had cost enough money to purchase a small ship, not to mention the months of tracking them and dealing with the Imperials. She had been certain that she could use the dissension between them to win away the gifted young woman, but just a single glance into her eyes told her that it was a battle that she would not win, and had not won. Not for a long time. "You can't be serious. You're going to stop the damsel in distress routine now and play the knight in shining armor? What's so good about that human anyway?" she complained, taking a few steps back to vent her anger.
"It doesn't matter. I'm going to get him. And you're coming with me," Aveyla said and straightened, giving a commanding presence that struck the bounty hunter.
Maddeningly, it made her want the Twi'lek even more. "Now I know you're joking. You stomp on my proposal and think I'm going to actually help you rescue him from that ship?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes," Aveyla replied, closing the few steps between them and slipping her fingers in the bounty hunter's reluctant hands. Her eyes looked up to her with no room for negotiation and no glimmer of doubt. "Because I need your help, and because I know the good in you. I cannot be yours, but you have a debt to repay to me, for whatever hand you had in Saz's abduction. I don't want to hate you, Kunmi. If you truly care for me, you will do this, because I ask it of you. "
Kunmi twitched. Somehow the situation had gone completely out of control and she felt herself being manipulated by the desires of this young woman, and not in the way she had wanted. Despite this, she could not deny the force of her will and imagined herself swept up in it, as if it were a great river feeding into a large, endless sea. Normally, she would have not even humored her, and the idea was ridiculous, but something inside felt devoted to her and felt her own heart pulled by those eyes. She could not pull away from her grasp.
An immense groan escaped into the hangar.
"Oh gods, women in love are the worst!"