My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 52

He was dead to the world asleep, his head pillowed on her stomach. She smoothed his hair, listening to his liquid snores. Normally he didn't snore, well, not too terribly badly. But he was now, a combination of painkillers and swelling, and his face half buried against her. She had, as promised, stripped to nothing, showered with him, dabbed him all over with warmed kolto, given him a good jolt of a painkiller, and had sung him to sleep. He was feeling absolutely no pain...nor anything else...at all. He was completely, totally relaxed.

She sighed, turning her attention back to the datapad. Amasri Idarn, an empty, echoing name that bore her face. Or a close approximation of it, it had been awhile since she'd looked like that. According to the 'pad, it had been ten years ago. She didn't need the helpful little note that suggested she had dropped out of sight at a time that roughly correlated to the beginning plays in the War. Czerka was brilliant with that deduction.

Carth Onasi...the first record and image of him showed an impossibly young man who barely resembled what he would grow into. "You were a skinny thing, flyboy." She murmured, but he remained far away. "And what's up with the hair?" Flipping through the images, it was obvious that it had steadily darkened as he'd matured, finally settling on its current chestnut brown in his late twenties.

The knock at the door startled her, she'd been so immersed that she hadn't felt Bastila's approach at all. "Come in." Sarah was dressed in night clothes and Carth...well, he was covered.

"I've got the med bay set up, I've been expecting the two of you...oh. I thought I heard you talking." Bastila bit her lower lip, staring at Carth like she expected him to jump up and yell 'Boo!'

"No, I was talking. I don't think he's listening, though. He doesn't need the med bay, he's fine how he is." Tomorrow might be a different matter altogether, but for right then, he was just where he needed to be. "You won't wake him up."

Bastila nodded, sitting on the end of the bed and managed to avoid even coming close to touching Carth, even though he was taking up the majority of the bed. "And you? You're okay?"

Ah, that. Sarah dropped the datapad next to her and frowned. "I feel like I was an idiot and I'm not sure what happened exactly. The whole day seems like a blur." Whole sections were missing, like she had magically appeared in different places, and she had a dull headache clinging to her temples.

"You started to slide on our way to the fragment. You were going to crash, so I tried putting you to sleep for a minute, hoping to break it."

The truth, mostly. That was always the way with Bastila, her words were truthful, but something always rang false. "And then, the interface got inside my head."

"Yes. I think both together, then having this happen..." Bastila waved at Carth, "Cut your resistance to nil. You were weakened, you got angry, outraged, scared and you lost control. But you came back. How is he, really?"

"He's okay, Bastila. Got a little roughed up. I think everything's probably bruised, including his pride." That was easy to say with him peacefully asleep next to her. Earlier, it had not been so. "I...overreacted." It had been like some other part of herself had taken over, clicked into place and had done what it felt needed to be done.

"Probably not. The chances were that those two would have hurt Carth, killed him. Removing them was the safe, expedient action to protect him. They felt no pain."

True. That part had been obvious. Her heart had seized up when she'd gotten her first good look at the scene, and everything screamed that she had to take out the two men holding him down before either one of them had the chance to get a shot off. "I cut a man's arm off."And I don't feel an inkling of remorse.

"You don't remember it, Sarah." Bastila intoned slowly, "But you and Carth share something that touched both of your souls. You both learned to fight from the Mandalorians, who are masters of it. And you both were present for, and survived, Malachor V. You've done a lot worse than cut off an arm. Was it wrong? Possibly. Probably."

Malachor V. I was late...I almost didn't make it in time. But the Swiftsure was there, on time. Karath's ship. Onasi's ship.

"I was there." It was not a question. Bastila was finally giving her information, something.

"You were. He was. You both entered the War early, and stayed for the end. All of our Revanchists went through a hellish war, and at the end of it, the only honor and respect you'd earned was from the enemy and the military. Your own Order turned on you, but you kept on...because you thought you were doing the right thing in spite of it all."

"Why are you telling me this?"

"Why? To put you...the way you fight, the way you react, into some sort of context, Sarah. You're not broken, you're trained. You can't have been through years of combat against the Mandalorians, and not be."

"Would you have come with us?" Bastila was still painfully young, she would have been a teenager when it had all erupted.

Bastila made a soft, pained sound, coming off of the bed. She moved around, wrapping her fingers around Sarah's face and staring into her eyes. "I tried. You told me to stay. You...you said I would need you later, and now I understand. You said they would need me later, and now I understand. But now...now I come with you. All of the way to the end, whatever it takes. Just like during the War, I learned from the best. I learned from you. This has got to be done, and you're the one to get it done. And we're at the point where we can't replace anybody...we can't replace Carth. We can't replace you, me, Mission, Canderous, Zaalbar. This is it, Sarah. And if to keep it intact means cutting off a few arms...please, cut off a few arms. Czerka supports the Sith, anyway."

"Hmmm. How are the others?" She'd been so worried about Carth that his care and feeding had eclipsed the others. Of course, he'd also looked the worst...

"Canderous is fine, of course. Mission is switching between ranting jags and crying jags...she's worried as hell over Carth, and driving Zaalbar crazy. Zaalbar is...well, I don't understand a word he says, but he seems okay. We're kind of just waiting for Mission to run out of steam and fall asleep, but that may take awhile."

"I'm coming. Let me extricate myself here..." Carth murmured unhappily when she slid out from underneath his head, but gave no other protest, giving one deep sigh and remaining motionless. "And Bastila..." The younger woman turned, a quizzical brow raised. "I think you're doing a great job here."

"...Thank you."

Sarah nodded, moving into the interior of the ship. As noted, Canderous was perfectly fine, helmet on the table beside him, foot propped up, leaned back in a chair, rifle in his lap. "I assume he's okay." He said by way of greeting, "Since he's not in the med bay."

"That's a safe assumption." If Carth was bad off, he'd be in the med bay. If he was really bad off, they'd be en route to the nearest Republic Naval base. He was simply bar fight bad off.

"Good." He said, returning his attention to cleaning his rifle.

"Sarah? Sarah!" Mission pelted around the corner, barreling into Sarah, burying her face in Sarah's shoulder. "He's okay, right? Right? Right?"

"Carth's fine, Mission. He's asleep right now. We're all just fine."

***************

Carth woke, feeling anything but 'just fine'. "Ah, shit." He swore, opening...one...of his eyes. Sarah was asleep next to him, curled up tightly, the soles of her feet resting against his hip. He felt every one of his thirty eight years, and thirty eight more as well. Unfortunately, his bladder was taking no pity on him, and he was going to have to stand up.

"Wha'?" She asked sleepily when he finally committed, sitting upright on the edge of his bed and marveling at the thundering throb of his entire body. The game was 'what didn't hurt?' instead of 'what hurts?'. And with this set up, the 'fresher was a pretty decent walk through the ship. His lounge pants were laid out on the foot of the bed and he cautiously crawled into them, hissing and gritting his teeth.

"How long have I been out?" Not long enough, he'd guess, but long enough for everything to start screaming in protest. She sat up, rumpled and sexy as hell, and squinted at the chronometer next to her.

"Eh... Fourteen hours." She shrugged. "Not too bad. So we're about..two days out of Manaan."

"Uh huh." And in two days, he'd look like a real piece of work. Experience told him that. "Manaan is civilized, right?" What he actually knew about it would fit in a caf cup. It produced kolto. That should make it a priority world, but it was independently held and the Republic didn't have a strong presence there. He'd never actually been there before.

She paused, then shook her head and gathered up the supplies she'd opened the day before. "Define...civilized." She said with a shrug. "You can get a good haircut there. You probably won't be mugged, and the Selkath are pretty honest. It's clean and sparkling, nice restaurants, the best seafood in the galaxy. I haven't seen a hutt there, but it will be crawling with Sith. This..." She touched his face, "May actually help. Without it, the chances that you'd be recognized there are high. And the Selkath are not my favorite bunch in the galaxy. You can only sit on the fence so long before your ass goes numb and you fall off. We keep our mouths shut, avoid the Sith, avoid the kolto merchants, get what we came for...and leave."

"I could use a good haircut and the best seafood in the galaxy sounds pretty damn interesting." He stared at the door, gathered his strength, and stood. His progress there, and then on through to the 'fresher was a slow and painful shuffle. The ship was entirely too small for his appearance to go unnoticed, Canderous and Bastila both watched him pass by the lounge. "Yeah, yeah, thanks." He muttered, finally making the private safety of the 'fresher. Sarah slipped in behind him, shutting the door firmly.

"We've all been there." She said, stripping and stepping into the shower. "Do your business and join me."

He sighed, shaking his head, but complied. The sound of the water was enough to force the issue anyway, and he was certain she knew it. "No blood?" She demanded from the shower and he snorted. So that's what she was here for, to check his urine. Great.

"No. No blood. No real cheap shots." No, no blood. No real cheap shots, but he was blotched with lividly dark bruises. Chest, arms, abdomen...the backs of his legs. He didn't even want to see his face. He turned and stepped in with her, leaning into the farthest corner of the shower, forehead against the wall. She stroked his back gently, her hands very warm and soothing.

"Let's see if I can remember how to do this, turn around."

Oh, if she thought he was up to anything even remotely fun, she was sorely deluded. But he obediently turned, closing his eye when she wrapped her fingers around his jaw, the tips resting up on his brows, one of her thumbs against his split lip. He felt suddenly light, giddy, warm, and he sank to his knees, his forehead against her belly. No matter where this takes me...I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

"Feel better?"

"Absolutely." He could open both of his eyes, and the pulling discomfort of the swelling had abated. He still ached, but it wasn't the gnawing center of his being any longer. It had pulled back to the point where there was interest in his current position, and he rested his hands against the swell of her ass, breathing in the scent of her.

"Not going to happen today." She chuckled, finger combing his wet hair into a straight on end disaster. "I want you to take it easy for awhile, flyboy."

"Damn." She was probably right. "So. Seafood?"

"Will I let you buy me some? Of course." She helped him back to his feet. "When we arrive at Manaan. Since we seem to flee afterward, we better do it first."

"Sounds like a plan." He scrubbed his hair, it was getting long. But did it really matter? It wasn't like he was in uniform. It wasn't like he was the Old Man on a Hammerhead's bridge. He was the under-dressed pilot of a tramp freighter. If he let himself go a little, it would only fit. "Do you think I need a haircut?"

"Hell, no." She scrunched her face up. "You're on vacation. Roll with it. I don't cut mine, you don't cut yours. You're free from the Fleet, I'm free from the Order and the hospital, and whatever else I'm supposed to be doing but I don't remember. So we'll lounge around for the next couple of days, hit Manaan, get a couple of all you can eat seafood meals and...find the fragment."

"You make it sound so easy." But she was the one actually out there going to get them, usually he just ship-sat. But then, she hadn't seemed to have much trouble in finding them, why would Manaan be any different?

"I know. And eventually, it won't be. We've been very lucky."

"I know." He pulled her close, folding his arms around her shoulders. He had no illusions, what had happened on Kashyyyk had been a hiccup, nothing more. An unpleasant hiccup, but it hadn't even thrown them off of schedule. He'd been in more danger on the Endar Spire, she'd come much closer to death on Taris. "But you'll get it done. I know that. And then, we'll see where it all takes us."


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