My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 24

"Oh, my head." Carth murmured, barely audible even to himself. Sarah was blatantly using him as a pillow and a heater, tucked in along his side, not a centimeter of clearance between them. She was also snoring in little, wheezy snorts, face tucked up in his chest...and he fought back laughter. His head hurt too much to laugh. He'd wake her up if he laughed, and then he'd have to deal with her hangover as well. Plus, he was certain he'd been snoring as well, and he was certain his put hers to shame.

"You'll live." Ah, yes. Bastila. He opened an eye to stare at her and waited for the lecture. How many sins, how many crimes, had he committed? Fraternization? Check. He outranked Sarah by leaps and bounds. Intoxication? Check. He didn't really remember last night, he'd started off with beers, but was fairly certain he'd strayed into deeper waters somewhere along the way. But the hangover was undeniable proof of his misbehavior. Allowing/ordering a subordinate soldier to risk her life by racing a prototype death machine just days after she'd suffered a severe concussion? Check. Losing the Spire had not been his fault, he could accept that. And if he accepted that, he had to accept that losing her crew was also not his fault. His responsibility, yes, but not his fault. Bastila had given the orders that brought him here. There was no way that a single Hammerhead could have come out on top of that battle...no matter how good her pilot was. But Bastila had the command style of an ensign straight out of the Academy, afraid to admit mistakes, terrified to show chinks, full of blowhard arrogance painted over a scared little girl. He didn't know much, but he knew she was in over her head, and if she'd just admit it, he could help. But no, she was the Jedi. He was just...the guy who drove. To hell with the fact he had almost as many years in uniform as she'd been alive, that was all just useless because he wasn't a force user.

"So. You and her?" And she wasn't going to beat around the bush, either. No play nice with Carth, even if he had just helped rescue her, and had the worst hangover he'd had in years. "You know she has issues?"

Bastila shifted from her side of the mattress, resting a hand on the messy black head curled into him, a protective, gentle motion, and he cringed. That was the worst lecture possible, it hit all of those things he'd been trying to hide from himself. It was one thing to be indulging in fraternization, he could survive the censure if that came to light. His admiral would probably kiss the ground upon hearing it. But to be fraternizing with a woman possibly mentally and physically unable to give him consent, that disturbed him. But if she was that badly off, what in the hell was she doing here? If she was fit for duty...then she should damned well be fit for, well, that. "Her memory is spotty at best, yes."

"I have a strange question for you."

"Shoot." He prodded, closing his eyes and waiting, hiding his eyes under the forearm not wrapped around Sarah.

"Is it good? I mean, are the pair of you good together? I know it's not been long, but..."

Was it good? Too good, sometimes, like in this moment. He felt contented. Companionable. Cared about. Certainly, there was little romance here, but it had been years since he'd felt this whole, this real. He was hung over, he hadn't seen a refresher in three days, and he'd slept on a mattress on a floor. His drunken girlfriend was snoring, and coming perilously close to sleeping with her face in his armpit. He was also in bed with a painfully young Jedi padawan...who'd managed to find Sarah's newer shirt at some point in time and put it on, but he was pretty certain he'd done nothing untoward with her. All in all, he felt stupidly good. "Yeah. He breathed, "I think we're pretty damned good together. Why, is there something else I should know? She's not a young'un."

"No. She's not. How old are you?"

"Thirty eight. She's got to be somewhere around that...?"

Bastila snorted, sitting up. "She's thirty eight. What did she tell you?"

"From what I can get out of her, she was with your strike team to board Revan's flag. She was badly wounded, spent a long time in the hospital. I assume she was put on the Spire so that you could keep an eye on her, although this was a dangerous mission to have brought her along on. I do see how good she is, but..."

"I assure you, Captain Onasi, that her presence on your ship was an imperative. She was integral to the mission."

He growled in disgust, and Sarah shifted irritably at the sound. The mission, the one he'd never understood, but knew it was a failure of utmost proportions. The Spire was still falling out of the sky...in pieces. "What now?" He asked, taking a deep breath. They'd gotten Bastila back, now they had to get the hell off of Taris, all...five of them. And he hated to admit to Bastila that they'd adopted a couple of hangers on in just a week.

"We must leave Taris. This can still be salvaged, Captain."

He eyed her warily...salvaged? They'd lost two hundred in crew, either dead or incommunicado, on this shithole, and that was with running with a pared down crew for the Spire. "One of these days..."

"Maybe." She sighed as if he'd finished. "Perhaps one of these days the Council will indeed share the mission statement with you, Captain. I, however, cannot, and for that, I am sorry."

Of course not. "Hey, sister." He sighed, shifting the boneless heap of flesh adorning his side. Like it or not, they still had things to get done. "Time to share the wonder of your undoubtedly hungover presence with us."

"Fuck you." She responded sleepily, almost pleasantly, squinting and blinking up his chest at him. "You need to shave...your sexy whatever the hell you call it is fuzzing all together."

He regarded her patiently, trying to determine if she was still as drunk as she sounded. When had she stopped drinking last night? Was it before he had, or after? Damned if he could remember...he didn't remember getting here at all. "I know I need to shave. And bathe. And launder my clothes." He was well aware he was a disaster, but at least the usually spotless and prim Bastila was worse off than he was. "Are you still drunk?"

"No."

"Could have fooled me." He finally managed to free his arm from underneath her, cautiously sitting. He was definitely getting too damned old for this... when he had been younger, it would take months on the line to make him feel like this, not a single night of drinking. "Feeling better, or worse?"

"Stiff." She sighed, watching him from between the strands of loose hair hanging in her face. "Thirsty. I'm okay, though." She stood, stretching luxuriously, pulling the already tight fabric of her bike gear taut over her body. He blinked in abject stupidity, knowing that Bastila was watching him, but he just couldn't tear his eyes away from the display. "Okay." She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "One objective down, onto the next."

"Off of Taris." Bastila agreed evenly. "Before..." Her eyes glanced upwards, and Sarah only nodded in answer.

"Before Malak loses patience. Which he will. His inability to catch Bastila will eventually force his hand."

"And he'll bomb Taris the same as he did Telos." Oh, this was a worse horror than that had been...he hadn't seen Telos coming. There had been no time to respond, to react. Those on the world hadn't known it was going to happen. He was going to die in the exact same way that his wife had, that his son had...that his whole world had...just a few years later and a lot farther down the Hydian Way. It was like a full circle, beginning feeding right into ending...fitting in a sick way.

"Carth..." Sarah's voice was deep with warning and concern. "I'm not dead until I'm cold and stiff. And maybe not even then. That goes for you, as well." Her palm on the side of his face was steel, turning his gaze to her eyes. "This is not done." She breathed, stroking his forelock with her other hand. "Not over."

The sheer mountain of confidence and resolve that she hit him with was almost palpable, how could he have doubted? Faltered? When she was right there standing beside him? "Of course not." He murmured, clambering to his feet and looking down at her. He was a fool to doubt her.

"Ahem." Bastila broke the spell with a timely clearing of her throat. "So, we're in agreement. We don't have much time and we do what we must. For ourselves. For the Republic."

Right. Do what he had to do, to make certain another woman he cared about didn't die in a terrible orbital bombardment from the same fleet, the same command staff, that had bombed Telos into a wasteland. He hadn't been able to save Morgana, but that was past. Sarah wasn't. "Absolutely." He agreed firmly, feeling his shattered nerves click back into place. "We need a ship, any ship. I can pilot a bucket if it comes down to that."

"We'll need the fleet codes to get past the blockade far enough to run. The worse the ship we get, the more of a running start we'll need." Sarah picked at one of her fingernails, deep in thought. "It'll be tough."

"Get me a ship. I'm..." Trying too damn hard for his own good. But what did she know? He'd lost the only ship she'd ever seen him pilot...

"The best pilot in the Republic Fleet." It was hardly the sort of support he was expecting from Bastila, of all people. Maybe all of this had knocked some of the jumpy arrogance off of her. "That's why you're on this mission."

Right. Well, it sounded good, at least. "Let's get a move on." He sighed, doing his best to ignore how grungy he was. He'd been there before, it was nothing new, and in the end, it all washed off. "I'll buy you girls breakfast. Or lunch. Or whatever it is." He chuckled, shrugging into his jacket.

"And some clothes." Sarah interjected, and he gazed down at her. She looked damn good, edging towards perfect, in what she was wearing...he was not fool enough to pay to change that... "For Bastila, mister eyeballs. I can make do with this, but all she's going to do is attract more attention. The wrong sort of attention."

"Mister eyeballs, eh? I don't think I've ever been called that one before, sister." He rested a hand on her shoulder, thoughtful. He'd been in combat before, done his fair share of ground pounding before the Republic had realized his true calling was piloting. He'd been in some bad spots, the War had been one after another. But somehow, this was different...and her presence was like a lens, focusing his anxiety into a steely determination. "Food, Sarah. Bastila." He'd like to see Sarah lose the brittle edge of being pushed too far on not enough. And he doubted if Bastila had eaten much the past week, either. He had credits in his pocket, and save the galaxy missions went over best on a full stomach. As if in agreement, his own growled audibly.


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