My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 54

The room was shadowed when Sarah slipped into wakefulness, Carth wrapped around her. He would wake up soon on his own, his breathing was light, his sleep fitful. He was warm, comforting, and she felt safe where she was. More than that, he banished the gnawing, growling loneliness, the feeling that she was desperately out of place where she was. When he was there, she was able to focus on the present, the future, without having her obscured past run mocking circles around in her mind.

"Good morning." She said when his breath caught slightly and he shifted. "Well, good evening." It was probably mid to late afternoon, still quite light outside, but the sun had shifted behind the hotel.

"Hmmmmm." He replied, "Plans for tonight? It's...afternoon. Can probably still get some things done if you wanted to. Make the 'shopping trip' look good."

She nodded, wiggling out of his grasp. He was right, the Selkath were sticklers for law and order, and the last thing she needed was to have them put her under any more surveillance than she was already under. And she had no idea how long it was going to take to work out just how she was going to get to that beckoning fragment under the waves.

"You're right. If the passenger thing comes up, refer them to me. I'll make certain we aren't headed in the same direction as any volunteers. I'll give you cash, you know what I told them we were here for. Go buy luxury crap."

"Right. Buy luxury crap. And then, maybe we can have a drink later? To...uh...celebrate? Just the two of us? I'd thought dinner but I still can't eat another bite."

"Sounds wonderful." She said truthfully, pulling a fresh change of clothes out of her bag and dressing...feeling the weight of his eyes on her body. He was most certainly on the mend. He dressed as well, and they stepped out of their room into a silent corridor, and from there, out into the now muted brilliance of the city. "You take that side..." she pointed to the trade corridor running to her right, "And I'll take the other. Buy pretties."

"Certainly." He sighed as if the task she'd just given him was grave, and for him...it might just be.

She was deep in an inspection of a metallic trim heavily inset with off red and dark gray pearls and copper beadings, for some reason it appealed to her deeper than just a need to 'buy pretties' when she realized she'd been so involved with it that she had completely missed the young man in a Republic uniform standing next to her. Stupid. Oblivious. Fool.

"You're the woman traveling with the Mandalorian." He began slowly once he had her attention. "And some other...interesting...looking sorts. I'm Lieutenant Hazen, Republic Army. And you are...?"

"You can call me Sarah." Somehow, she didn't want to share with this one. The very thought of even giving him the name she'd used with Czerka seemed like a bad, bad idea. "And yes, I'm traveling with a Mandalorian."

Don't brush him off...he has what you're looking for.

"But you aren't Mandalorian." Obviously not, so Sarah merely shrugged and went back to running the trim through her fingertips. I want this. No, I need this. I will need this. Later. She motioned to the merchant watching her warily.

"I'll take it all." It was going to be pricey as hell, but damn it, she was out here on this fool's errand, the Enclave could pay her for it...and they were going to. Hadn't she brought back Bastila, intact? And brought back Revan's memories to start this whole thing off? A few meters of trim was a small price to pay indeed. "And...those." Matching buckles, plates and tips...why, she didn't know...and she honestly didn't care. An added bonus was that the purchase seemed to unbalance the young man doing his best to seem like everything was perfectly normal. "I've never claimed to be Mandalorian." She'd never claimed to be anything at all to him or his. With the exception of her time on the Endar Spire, she couldn't remember any of her military past. She should appear as just what she was aiming to look like, an independent freighter captain, possibly a veteran, but possibly not. But she was mostly certainly not Mandalorian.

"We're in the market for a few good people, ones that can be counted on to..." He waved his hand vaguely, "...Keep things to themselves, if you know what I mean. An independent crew could be just what we're looking for."

"I'm listening." Carth would not tolerate this, but everything in her told her that this was what she'd been looking for.

"We've lost contact with an...outpost...of ours. We just need someone to go take a quick look and see what's happened."

You shouldn't have an outpost on Manaan. You've either run into trouble trying to process kolto behind the Selkaths' backs, or you've run into some sort of trouble with the fragment. Each one of them has been in a Builders' temple or complex. Either way, this is where I want to go, and you'll get me down there. Better yet, you'll get me down there in secret.

"I can do that." She agreed slowly, watching the flick of emotions cross his face. He'd been hoping for Canderous, not her, but now that she'd accepted, he was stuck. "Tomorrow morning...and I assume you have a way to get me down there."

"I do. Early tomorrow morning, in bay 6. That way..." He pointed beyond her, towards the farthest corridor leading away from the broad open expanse of the main throughway. "There's only enough room in the skiff for one..."

"That's fine, if I don't come back you really will get the Mandalorian. And he will not be a happy Mando, I promise." Go on. We're done here. I have a date.

"Ah. Right. I guess we're done here, you probably have other things to do..." He backed warily away, confusion evident on his expression. She watched him go until he was well and gone, before returning her attention to the job of spending the Enclave's money. Why it felt so right, she didn't know, but she knew enough to not argue with it. Unlike her earlier visitor, she felt Carth the moment he stepped into her vicinity.

"Who's the pup?" He asked mildly, his gaze locked on where the Republic officer had disappeared at. "He's so new he still still squeaks when he walks."

She chuckled, it was an accurate assessment indeed. "The pup is my way down to the fragment. They've got a problem with an outpost."

"We have outposts on Manaan?" He sounded immediately dubious, and she snorted in answer.

"The Republic shouldn't. Neither should the Sith." But that was whatever it was. She'd find out soon enough, in the morning. "You done spending money?"

"I am. Found a load of..." Uncertainty crossed his features, doubt, and then he shrugged. "The finest shark leather produced. For you. You'll..."

"Need it for something. That feeling seems to be flowing strongly today." She sighed, taking the crate that the shop keep passed to her. She was already aware that Carth had a strand of force awareness flowing through him. He would sire children strong in it, for some reason those who had just a trickle, a faint potential, did the best when paired with a strong force user.

"Yeah, it does." He took the crate from her, yanking slightly when she was slow to give it up. "The leather will be delivered to the Hawk. I'll carry this, we'll stow it, and then...that drink."

She considered arguing the point, after all, he still wasn't a hundred percent, but decided to just let it go. If he felt up to it, well, she'd just have to trust him. "Sounds like a plan."

And it was a fine plan indeed. He chose a small, intimate bar not far from where they'd had lunch...someplace where they didn't stand out. "So." He breathed softly, "Korriban. How do you want to play that?"

Oh, and if she only knew. Her mind was full of what she shouldn't do, but very little of what she should do. On the surface, it was impossible. Beyond foolish, suicide or worse. "I won't take Bastila there. I won't take Mission. We shouldn't even take the Hawk." She shouldn't take him there, either. She shouldn't even take herself there... "I feel like a parent who's snuck away from the kids to have a deep, dark conversation that involves them, but I don't think they have a say in."

He sighed, nodded. "Sarah. Mission is a kid. And Bastila...well, she's worse. Bluntly, if we lost Mission, it wouldn't change a damn thing in the big picture. But if we lose Bastila, we've lost it all..." His attention shifted, his eyes narrowing. "Do you know the guy in the corner? He's watching you."

She crunched the ice in her drink down with a swizzle stick, glancing over Carth's shoulder. She'd chosen to sit with her back to the bar because the view from that mirror was more advantageous than actually facing outwards. Not a young man by any means, and he was most certainly staring at her. He was trying to be subtle, surreptitious, but he was failing. After all, Carth had noticed. But then, Carth was growing more and more watchful as time went on...

"The Sith officer?" She mumbled, dropping her eyes back down to her drink. It was a guess, but even in civvies, that was exactly what he felt like. They all had a certain rigidity that they just couldn't seem to relax out of. A nice looking guy...she wasn't sure what they were fed to give them all that angular regularity, but it seemed to be regulation.

"Is that what he is?" The lines at the corners of Carth's eyes deepened as he scowled. It lifted immediately when she reached across and took his hands, rubbing her thumbs against the back of his hands. She eased them open, pressing a kiss into each of his palms. His answering stare was puzzled but, as she was counting on, it was edged with a sudden interest. "Can you read him?"

She closed her eyes, resting her cheek against his palm. His comforting proximity made the jump off easier, she felt more than safe enough to let go. The man was not an easy read, he masked well, but the overwhelming response was doubt, uncertainty. He thought he knew her. He thought he recognized her, but he rejected that very idea as an impossibility. He utterly refused to believe it.

"That's right." She pushed back. "You don't know me. You've never seen me before. You have no clue who I am."

And, in spite of his strong masking, he crumbled under the weight of the manipulation she'd used against him. As if... she shook her head. No, she didn't know him either. Or she didn't remember him...that was always how it was. But it was like she already had hooks in his soul, like he'd already been bent to her will.

"Pay your bill and leave."

Without a reaction, the man simply stood, dropped credits on the table, and was gone.

"You know, Sarah." Carth said, watching him go. "That will always be disturbing. I will never..."

You'll never be comfortable with it, yes, I know.

"I know, but it's a useful tool. He thought he recognized me, but he wouldn't let himself believe it. No idea why. He was weak, easily influenced. I'm almost disappointed." She held up her empty glass, remaining silent until a full glass replaced it. "As for my plans, I want to leave the Hawk and crew on Nar Shaddaa. It's one of the few places we could find transport to Korriban from, without too many questions. Just you and me." She'd want Canderous to take over the ship then, he was the only one she trusted to do what they needed done. "We send the message to Nar Shaddaa tonight. We keep it to ourselves until...well, after here. I can bolster you to the point where Bastila will not be able to read you. There are a thousand reasons why I would do that to you anyway." There was no way she'd take him onto Korriban without that support. "If you choose to let me." She could probably do it without his consent, but it'd be better done with it. Carth was stubborn enough, had a large enough spark of force sensitivity, was closely enough tied to her that he had a pretty decent chance of putting up a fight against her. For every promise he'd made to her, she'd made equal back to him. She'd given as much as she'd gotten.

He paused, obviously contemplating the request. Good...he wasn't just going to give her an unthinking agreement. But he had to see the value in it, there was no way he'd dodge Bastila without it, much less Sith on a holy world...

"It's got to be done." He said slowly, beginning to pick little balls of fiber off of his cocktail napkin. "I won't make it three feet on Korriban without this, will I? And I promised you, I will be with you through all of this. What do I have to do?"

"Not much. Let me in. Let me work." It shouldn't be difficult, they'd already taken the first steps there. It would just be another stage, another level, in making him into what he needed to be to get this done. And if there was an afterward, it could stand him in good stead later. "Let's go get it done." Now, before Bastila was clued in and tried to become involved.

"Sure." He dropped the napkin, paid the bill and followed her out. It took her a good amount of wandering until she found a quiet, empty terrace over the waves, lit by spangles of starlight and some ambient light from the city. "Do you know what you're doing?" He asked, "I mean..."

"Wary about letting the brain damaged Jedi muck around with your brains?" That only made sense. But the only other Jedi they had access to would be Bastila, and that was wrong on so many levels. What was the point of hiding things from Bastila by giving her access to everything in his head? And everything in his head was nothing she wanted Bastila to touch. He was Sarah's...that intimacy should belong to her alone. "I'll be gentle, I promise."

He snorted outright at her teasing tone. "Fine. What do I do? Stand? Sit? Lie down?"

"Prone is always a safe position. Impossible to fall down from it." She moved up to him, resting her face in that perfect place in his shoulder. This had to be done. And she was the only one to do it. Shying away from it was not an option. He sat, and she followed him down, closing her mind to her surroundings, to everything but him. His breathing, his pulse, the heat he radiated. "Relax. Float. Just..."

Reality fell away. It hadn't even been a challenge, a struggle. It was startling, frightening, too damned easy. Nononono. Get a grip. You're responsible for this, it's so easy because he trustsyou. Be worthy of that trust.

"I'm not worthy of you, Sarah." His voice, in his own head, weighty and sad. That was what he wanted her to take away from this? Now? After he'd given, promised, and proposed? Bullshit. "I saved his life, Sarah. Why? I saved his life...and he repaid me by killing my wife. My son. My world. I loved him like a father... I wish I'd left him to die."

"And I will help you avenge their loss, Carth." She had to keep him calm, in spite of this. "We will destroy him. You know I can. You know I will."

"Yes."

Good. He was quiet now, apparently that was what he needed to know, and she was free to begin laying the foundation to close him off from others. When she was done, no one would be able to break it, no one would be able to read his mind, skim his thoughts...he'd just be a dull blank...not even a void because that would be too obvious. He'd go into this wrapped up and protected by her.

"Tell me when you're ready to get started." He mumbled, and she was yanked back into reality. He hadn't even noticed she'd started, much less that she was finished. But time had passed, at least an hour... She was resting across his chest, her ear against his heart. And she had been that way for quite a while, cheek stuck to his shirt.

"It's done. We've been here for about an hour." She said, sitting up and checking her chronometer. "Or more like an hour and a half. We better send the message to Nar Shaddaa and get back before the crew starts looking for us. I have a busy day tomorrow."


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