My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 47

Sarah shed her clothes on the refresher floor, kicking them into the corner. Three days of melting heat, no hygiene and a smelly ronto created a truly fascinating odor that seemed to want to drift behind her as she walked. Sand dribbled from the cast off pile, and she could taste it in her mouth, feel it in her hair. She knew it wasn't the first time that she'd smelled this bad, or worse, but it was never by choice. Especially when she was living closely with a lover. He deserved better than ronto perfume, even if she was too exhausted to do anything more than crash the first moment her ass met the sheets. She could feel the ship lift, her engines catch, and the hint of a swift acceleration as they left Tatooine behind, but it was so skillfully done that the room barely tilted. She smiled slightly, Carth was good. Better than good. She got the water going, flicking her fingers in the stream until it was just the right temperature, and she stepped in with a sigh of relief and delight.

The water plumed tan with dust and sand as it sluiced down her body and was gone in the drain, chased down by bubbles when she attacked the worst of the smell with scented soap and shampoo. She sensed Carth enter the refresher, saw his blurry form outside of the shower door, but he said nothing and didn't open the shower. He simply waited patiently as she washed, rinsed, and repeated until she couldn't smell herself any more.

He stood just outside of the shower, holding a towel spread in his hands,waiting for her to open the door. It was wonderful to be wrapped up in the towel, in his arms, and just stand there.

"I missed you terribly." He murmured, and she bathed in the sound of his voice.

"I don't deserve you."

"Bah. If I think you deserve me, then you deserve me." He wiped her skin down, just slow enough to let her know he was admiring, but not so slow that it was an obvious attempt at seduction. And no, he wasn't really in the mood...he felt almost as tired as she did when she opened up to him slightly.

"Something happen while we were gone?" She asked, and he made a vaguely negative grunt.

"No." He finally stated when she remained stubbornly silent. "I made Mission start the educational program I bought on Ord Mantell. I preplanned our basic route, did a fast inventory to make sure we're not running through supplies too quickly... Make work, really."

"You feel tired." Nothing he was describing should have worn him down even slightly. He'd had his forehead resting on her shoulder, but he lifted it at her words, meeting her gaze in the mirror in front of her. He grimaced slightly, then kissed the line of her shoulder.

"Like I said, Sarah. I missed you terribly. Maybe now that you're back, I can get some real sleep." There was something under his voice, under his gaze...he wasn't quite comfortable with that admission, but he was willing to share it with her anyway.

"Carth, I..." What? Didn't want this? Hardly. The last person she was going to try to fool would be herself. She wanted it, all of it. She couldn't be alone anymore, there simply wasn't enough of her left for that, this whole trip had proved that undeniable fact. The bond with Bastila helped, somewhat, but it always felt so one sided... Bastila seemed to feel her, but she rarely felt Bastila. No, her choice to fill that void, to take that place, was Carth. It was regrettable that she'd pushed it with the Force in the beginning, but that wasn't her fault. He knew it had happened. He forgave her for it. "I think I love you." There. It was out, she'd said it. That was how she preferred things, straight on and out in the open. It was probably too soon, but if she'd had experience with how to work something like this, it was all gone. This was all new, and she was bound to make mistakes.

His eyes widened and his grip on her shoulders tightened, his gaze still locked with hers in the mirror. "Sarah?" He whispered, obviously stunned.

"I think...I love you." Oh, it was bad. She'd just screwed up, massively. But how? He was the one who kept saying he wanted to make more out of this, to see how far it could go. "Carth, I need you to say something here." Now. The more he thought, the more her mind told her he was struggling to come up with a gentle way of letting her down gently. And he was in such a tempest of emotions that she couldn't even begin to read him accurately.

"I know I love you. I don't think I do." He sighed, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and the other around her waist, ignoring the damp towel and her dripping hair. "When we see the other side of this, Sarah, I want to have it all with you. We've just got to get there first."

Yes, that. Dantooine hadn't been truly difficult. Neither had Tatooine. But that all felt like she was being lulled into a false sense of security. And at the end of it all, Korriban. How was that even going to be possible? Revan and Malak had been already been sliding deeply into the dark side when they'd traveled there. Of course they'd been fine. She couldn't take the crew to Korriban, it was simple insanity...

"Hey. That's not the face I'd expect after...oh, hey." He breathed, and she turned in the towel, winding her arms around his neck and hung there, trying to wrap herself up in him. He could chase it all away. He could make it all better, make it all fit together. It was a gift he had. "Sarah, hon, it's going to be okay. We'll figure it out. You're tired. I'm tired. Let's just get some sleep, it'll be better in the morning."

And he was undoubtedly right. She let him shoo her along towards the cabin, dropping the towel on the floor and relaxing into the bed sheets when they arrived. "I'm worried." She admitted, her eyes closed, shadowed by her forearm. He paused slightly, the rustling, shuffling sound of his clothes leaving his body stuttered, then started again. "About Korriban. It's no place to go... Mission, especially. I won't take her. I can't. Bastila, as well." Mission was just a kid, but a kid who was going to grow into something that could be prized for all of the wrong reasons. Taking her to Korriban was insanity, and Bastila was that, times a thousand. Carth was a highly decorated, well known Republic officer. He shouldn't go anywhere near Korriban, either. And as for Sarah, she didn't even know if there was a checklist of 'oh, hell no!' attached to her.

Carth sighed, the weight of the world apparent in that sound, before he rested the flat of his palm against her chest, over her heart, his fingers spread. A moment later, a hard, cool edge touched her skin, cupped by his index finger and thumb and she smelled... alcohol.

"You found it." She smiled, lifting her forearm enough to squint out at him.

"Figured you'd want a drink. Knew I did." He said, resting the tumbler against her skin. "Best I can do right now, Sarah. I wish..."

"You do more than enough, Carth." She sat up, keeping the tumbler upright, and leaned against him. "I wish..." Everything seemed to be just that, a wish. Out of reach.

He turned his head slightly, he could see her out of the corner of his eye, but he never moved to fully face her. "Sarah. Leave Mission out of Korriban, yes. Bastila, certainly. But if you go...I go. Promise me."

"Carth, I can't. You're..."

His jaw locked and his expression darkened. "I'm the one doing the flying, Sarah. The one doing the navigation. Promise me, damn it, or..." He growled. "You're not leaving me behind. Swear it. No matter where this takes you, I go."

"No matter where this takes me, you go. I swear."

"Good." He muttered, mollified, and she stroked his back, her fingers following the ditch of his spine. He picked up the other tumbler sitting on the side table and stared at its contents through the side. "But I agree. We don't take Mission to Korriban. We don't take Bastila. That's just begging for disaster, more than going to Korriban at all does."

"Pulling one over on Bastila will be difficult for me to manage. She reads my mind all too often." And keeping her out was a lesson that her crash retraining course on Dantooine had loudly not addressed.

He rested his hand on her knee and gave it a slight squeeze. He felt far away, thoughtful, almost distant and she regretted putting all of this on him. "We'll figure something out." He promised, taking a long taste of his drink. "Right now, we worry about Kashyyyk."

"Great." While not as desperately unnerving as Korriban, it could still be very problematic. Another Czerka world, one that was more tightly run than that corporation ran Tatooine. And they brought cargo that Czerka would find all too interesting indeed. "We'll have to just not mention we have Zaalbar on board, they'll want us to pay them for him or something." Czerka made a lot of money exporting wookiees for labor slaves, hardly something that sat well with Sarah. But that was just another thing that had to take a back seat until the Republic was more secure than it was at that moment. If the Imperials won, then Czerka would spread unchecked. Hard as it was, what they were doing was too important, too vital, to be sidetracked from. They went to Kashyyyk, got the fragment, and left. That was it.

She leaned against him, letting his presence soothe her, closing her eyes and immersing herself in the rhythmic throbbing that conspired to lull her into a deep sleep... the throbbing of the Hawk's engines, so much a part of the background noise that she usually barely noticed them...and Carth's heartbeat. They sounds matched, overlaid each other, perfectly aligned and she felt her eyelids grow heavy. They both whispered firmly that, at that moment, she was loved and exactly where she was supposed to be.


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