My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 51

Somehow, it had turned into one of those days. It had been bad enough to understand that Bastila was having trouble with Sarah, and then, this. "My name is Carth Onasi. Captain. Republic Navy." He repeated with ponderous precision. Ordinarily, he'd also claim innocence as to any found contraband...he'd searched the ship down to her studs, but he knew he'd been found with what Czerka considered to be 'contraband', and he wasn't going to waste his breath. But their insistence on denying his very identity was beyond frustrating, and he was old enough to where being left on his knees like this ached. Of course, the fact that the two assholes questioning him were standing on his legs didn't help. And he could feel seething, simmering, building rage that seemed somehow disconnected from himself... Sarah. She was supposed to sense things, know things... They were lovers. They'd begun to make commitments to each other. This was to be expected, wasn't it?

Another drop of blood fell from his nostril and he stared at the pattern they'd created between his knees. It certainly wasn't the first time he'd been in this position, but his wild days were behind him. This was...

Mission was carrying on in a loud, piercing, glass cracking babble in a pitch only children and droids could produce. It was an improvement, she'd started this off screaming her head off, and that, combined with Zaalbar's earlier roars had driven Carth's splitting headache into a whole new level. "You just leave him alone!" She shrieked. "I swear, when I get loose, I'm gonna kill you all!"

She sounded less, suddenly, as if he was swaddled in an overwhelming feeling of serenity and peace. Sarah. She was close. She was coming. They would pay for hitting him, pay for scaring Mission. It was a comfort, a threat, a promise.

"Your companion... Amasri, is it?" The voice was calm, almost pleasant...he was the one that Sarah had dealt with before she'd left. And she'd deal with him when she returned.

"Amasri Idarn." He spat out blood, feeling his teeth with his tongue. All present, accounted for, and in the same condition...he must have bitten the side of his cheek. "She's on your databank." He had no clue who Amasri Idarn was...or if that person even existed. All he knew was that had been Sarah's story every time she made contact with Czerka, and it was the story he was sticking to.

"Yes. Until she vanished, eight years ago."

"Lots of us vanished, eight years ago." Carth breathed slowly. Eight years ago...the beginning of the War. That was when he would have become difficult for a civilian interest like Czerka to have kept track of. And there were many who just hadn't popped up again after that. Or were slow to return, it wasn't that far fetched an idea that someone was only now coming up for air. Enough time had passed to numb much of it...

"True. True. True."

"You can just wait and ask her yourself." So very close. It was if the very air itself sang with her proximity, an intoxicating sensation.

"That'll be awhile. Her contract is a fiddly little endeavor...and it could be a fatal one, as well."

Carth focused on the blood in front of him, hearing the threat under the man's words. But if this guy thought it was going to be that easy to get Sarah... he was sorely mistaken. She'd returned to health with a vengeance, and everything he'd heard, and overheard, about her retraining on Dantooine made it pretty obvious that she'd lost little of her edge as a Jedi. She might have forgotten her previous life, but that gift remained intact. The Force loves her. And she loved him.

"Shit. It's the Mando." The man who had his foot wedged in the bend of Carth's left knee, hissed, and Carth smiled. Canderous. And if Canderous was here, then Bastila and Sarah weren't far behind. Unfortunately, Canderous had to catch him in this less than commanding position...he lifted his eyes and stared into Canderous's stony gray eyes.

"Well, that tears that." The older man noted, lifting his elbows in a shrug. "It was a nice thought, though."

Carth barely absorbed the warning sound of an igniting lightsaber right behind him, when the weight on his legs was lifted. A head, relieved of its body, rolled...or was more probably, kicked...beyond him, launched at the Czerka officer who had been doing the questioning.

Canderous's first shot rang out, taking the man holding Mission right between his eyes. "Let the girl go." He stated firmly, and Carth heard Sarah laugh outright at the words. Her hand rested for a split second on his head, before she somersaulted from a standing start, landing hard enough to splinter the decking between Carth and the Czerka officer. Where was Bastila?

"This had better be good." Malice dripped from Sarah's words, and Carth wished it didn't sound so damned welcome. "My ship. My man. My kid. My wookiee." Her face was eerily lit by the lightsaber, and for an odd moment, when she glanced back towards Carth, her eyes seemed to be the wrong color...a muddy, uncertain light brown. "And you do not fuck with what's mine."

"Come on, Carth. Let's get you up on your feet. You have have to be there for her. Bring her out of this." Bastila's voice, soft yet insistent, her grip was strong around his arm and he accepted her help to struggle to his feet, hissing when the pins and needles, the cramps, arced up his thighs.

"Bring her out of this? But she's..." Magnificent. He'd never seen her with a lightsaber in her grip, never seen her dance while standing still, never seen her so intensely, perfectly balanced, so utterly focused. She was lit from within, a torrent of outrage, anger, protectiveness.

"Yes, she's beautiful...until she has to pay for it, Carth. Until we all do. She's channeling the dark side, and she doesn't remember how to fight it. We'll lose her..."

He couldn't lose her, he'd just found her. And he could sense what Bastila was referring to, it hung in the air around Sarah...crackling, unsettled, untamed.

"Please, Carth. I need your help with her."

He froze, his eyes still locked on Sarah, busily staring down the silent Czerka officer. That was the first time that Carth had ever heard Bastila ask for help. He'd hoped she would so many times...and there it was. "Amasri. I'm okay. Mission is..." Furious, but uninjured. He wasn't certain where they'd taken Zaalbar, he could only hope that the wookiee was mostly unharmed as well. It looked as if he'd taken the brunt of it, so far.

That unsettling, muddy gaze hopped to him, but he'd be damned if he was going to back down. Not now that he understood what was going on and what was at risk. It was painful, but he strode towards her, his hands open. "Did you get what we came here for?"

"Yes. And apparently, we got more than we bargained for." Her attention returned to the Czerka officer. "You look like hell warmed over, dear."

He had few doubts of that. He could feel the tight swelling, the burning under his skin, his nose. Things hurt, and they were going to hurt a hundred times worse tomorrow. "Amasri." He repeated slowly, rolling the syllables over his tongue. It was a good name, he liked the sound of it. He probably didn't need to keep up the masquerade, between Sarah and Canderous, they'd already killed at least three Czerka employees. Things had gotten real. But just in case, he'd keep it up. Better that some nebulous 'Amasri Idarn' was on Czerka's hit list than Sarah. "I'll live."

"Oh, I know that. The question is...will he?" She pointed at the Czerka officer with her lightsaber. That one had remained stubbornly silent since the heads had started flying, watchful and cautious. "He's the one who hit you, right?"

"Yeeesssss." Mostly.

"And..." She wrapped the fingers of her off hand around the nape of Carth's neck, burying them deeply into his lengthening hair, the stones of the ring she wore...the ring he'd given her...catching and pulling strands in a slight reminder. "Do you want him to get away with that?"

"I'm willing to let him 'get away with that' if you'll calm down and come back to yourself." No, it was not the light, not his imagination, her eyes were the wrong damned color, murky and washed out. Bastila was right. "He's not worth losing you over. None of this is! We leave here, now. Mission, Canderous, go get Zaalbar. Bastila, get the engines cycling." He fell into command as he had so many times before, now that he was certain of what went where. Sarah was supposed to be in charge, but she was obviously incapacitated at the moment... she'd crashed earlier and was now immersed deeply in a mindset he didn't understand but knew he didn't like. Bastila was nominally next in command, but she'd directly asked for his help. They had what they'd come for, it was time to get the hell out of here. Sarah needed to sleep this off. He needed to tend to his injuries while he could still see to do it. At least Manaan was independently controlled, run by the Selkath, and they had little interest in letting Czerka play in their backyard...and Korriban was a holy place, not a corporate interest. This was probably the last contact that they would have with them on this mission, and Carth was good with that idea. He wanted to go home. He wanted to take Sarah and Bastila home. Find a home for Mission and Zaalbar. And to get there required getting through all of this. "Amasri! We go." It was a tone he'd never used on her before, it was usually reserved for ensigns under his command, quailing under combat for the first time.

"Right, Captain Onasi. We go, as you order. However..." She let go of him, spinning to stalk up to the Czerka officer. "You're right handed, correct?" She asked calmly, eying the datapad that the man carried. "Thought so." She stated before he could even form a reply, spinning the lightsaber in her hand. She caught the datapad in mid air, ignoring the man's severed forearm as it fell to the decking. He screamed, a ragged, harsh shrill that both sickened and satisfied Carth. The man had just lost a limb, the same hand that he'd used to hit Carth, and there was no doubt in Carth's mind that was the point of it. "Fucking asshat." She muttered, returning to Carth's side, her attention locked on her newly procured datapad. "Oh, nice picture of me. I like it." She tilted the screen in Carth's direction, and he blinked. There was no doubt that he was looking at an image of Sarah, minus about a decade.

"Very beautiful." He agreed, truthfully. It lacked a certain edge, it looked like so many before they'd hit the War... she had a purity in it that she had lost somewhere along the way, but it had become tempered with experience. There was a depth in her eyes now that the image lacked, she wasn't the Sarah he knew in it. For better, and for worse.

She snorted, playing with it for a long moment, before raising an eyebrow. "You were cute." She stated, and he snatched the datapad away from her.

He sighed, shaking his head. Czerka had been in business for a long time, and it looked as if they'd been gathering a lot of data...on him, at least. And, difficult as it was to believe now, he'd been a rangy, gangly sort of youth. His adult weight had come later; as a young militia pilot first popping up on Czerka's radar, he'd been all height and no heft, crowned with a mop of red hair. "You are such a liar." He growled, returning it to her. She'd already seen it, the damage was done. What had been seen could not be unseen. Rather like the man curled up on the decking before him...watching Sarah act with such dismissive malice was something Carth could not purge from his memory. It was something he was going to have to come to grips with, and a lesson to be learned. She had a dark streak a parsec wide, and he was going to need to be there to pull her back from the edge, until she could be returned to Coruscant and the Temple.

It was as if she heard him, she tilted her head quizzically towards him. It's okay." He said, squeezing her shoulder. It didn't matter. He still wanted her.

"He hurt you, and made Mission watch..." The start up backwash from the Hawk's engines drowned out her other words, if there had been any. And her words were valid and right, but she'd thrown down enough damage as payment for that. Carth was tired, all he wanted to do was get the hell out of here, everybody safely back on the ship, and try to patch himself up. His headache was still unrelenting, now in melody with his ship's engines cycling up. But he'd have to fly, to take off and do the jump... His show off landing had placed the Hawkin such a position that few could manage a clean take off from it. He'd just have to hang in there, for just a little bit longer. Too damned old for this shit. He was supposed to be on a bridge, overlooking everything...not in the thick of things like this.

"They're going to shoot at us!" He yelled, regretting the need for it, and Sarah gave him a truly Sarah smile in response. Her eyes were still simmering, but the wash of pale brown had drained from them. She held up the datapad, and this time its screen showed security clearances instead of an embarrassing teenaged image of him from Telos, back from when he'd joined the Defense Force. Her wide, unconcerned shrug said it all...she had it under control. He just needed to fly, and he was good at that.

She suddenly galvanized into a blur of motion, lightsaber trailing a glow behind her as she bolted towards where Canderous and Mission had disappeared at, leaving Carth to marvel again at the surreal speed and grace she exhibited. He smiled slightly, before turning to stagger his way towards the Hawk's ramp and making his way through the ship to the cockpit.

"You look a little rough." Bastila noted slowly, changing seats as he appeared. "You up to this? I can try to heal it, but it might put you to sleep..."

And that was a big fat hell no. "When we're in jump, I'll deal with it. Sarah can take care of me then. I put us in this landing profile, I need to be the one to get us out of it."

"I'm sorry..."

"It's fine, Bastila. As long as we got what we came for, and we get everybody off in one piece, we're good." He kept a firm eye on the camera overlooking the ramp, "And there they are." Sarah, bounding along in front, her eyes scanning for threats. An irate, glaring Mission, doing her best to look ominous. A calm Canderous, succeeding at looking ominous. And Zaalbar, looking a little worse for the wear.

"Ramp up, hatch cycling, and..." He punched the engines, scorching the decking of the landing pad as he popped the small freighter up at a steep angle.

"I've got the anti-aircraft quashed for a few minutes." Sarah spoke into the mike next to the ramp. "Run like hell."

"I'm on that, babe." A few minutes was more than he needed, as long as they held on back there. He listened to the engines pitch and sing, felt them resonate, watched the stream of numbers flow across his main screen. A single flash on the jump screen showed green, and he throttled the ship into hyperspace. "Ow." It was as if it had waited, held at bay, for that moment. Bastila's hand landed on his shoulder, but she wasn't the one he wanted. "Leave me alone for a minute."

"Okay." He felt her stand up, push past his chair and she was gone, leaving him alone in the cockpit. He wasn't certain how long they left him there, drifting, but it was more than a few minutes... he'd almost lulled himself to sleep when he sensed Sarah's presence in the cockpit behind him.

"Hey, flyboy." She breathed, the copilot's chair creaking under her weight. "Don't fall asleep here. Morning's going to be a real bitch if you do."

She was undoubtedly correct. He wanted a shower, painkillers, and bed, in that order. And he'd only manage one where he was, but getting up for the rest seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. "Tell me you love me."

"I love you. And I promise to get naked in the shower with you and dab you all over with warm kolto and sing you to sleep."

"How can I refuse an offer like that?"

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