My Pillar, My Beacon

Chapter 8

Sarah watched Carth out of the farthest corner of her eye, while acting as if she wasn't at all. For him to have the slightest hope of fitting into the larger set of armor, he'd have to shuck a whole lot more than just his high vis orange deck jacket and sturdy boots. He'd gotten to see pretty much everything she had, and it was only fair that she got a peek as well. She wasn't expecting a male wonder, he was not exactly young any more, and he had been a pilot for years, warming his ass in a chair. That often led to some pretty chunky examples of stick jockeys in her experience. It was obvious that he had not let himself go that badly, had not drowned his sorrows in calories, but as she'd suspected...and expected...he was not a paragon of brutal fitness. He carried enough weight to pad his edges, and she fought a sudden urge to wrap her arms around his waist, rest her forehead between his shoulder blades... He just looked exactly like he should, a perfectly normal man closer to forty than thirty. Why that was so oddly comforting, so oddly refreshing, so appealing, she couldn't even begun to comprehend, but it was.

"Hush, you." He growled, struggling to wiggle into the armor. "I don't want to hear it."

She shrugged, finally tilting her head to give him her blatant attention. Any response she could have come up with would be wrong...mentioning the fact that the dead previous owner of that armor had been close to half his age would only exacerbate his embarrassment. Mentioning the fact that the dead previous owner had been a Sith trooper, and those were held to a strict physical regime, likewise. But there was one thing she could mention that might make life a little easier...

"You haven't released the resizing catches." She stated, not even giving into the thought line of how she knew how to fine tune Sith trooper armor fittings. "Here." It was a fantastic excuse to step within reach of him, to fill her nostrils with his increasingly familiar scent. She hit the protected buttons set deeply into the hip mechanism with her thumbs, feeling the warmth of his skin as she did so. He took a blessedly full breath when the armor relaxed around him...and he gave her a gritty half smile in response.

"Thanks." He muttered, "Certain very important parts of my male anatomy give you their most grateful appreciation."

She rested the palm of her hand against the small of his back, and he jumped like she'd burned him. He spun on her, and his stare was equal parts betrayed discomfort and reluctant interest. That was fine, she could work with reluctance, as long as there was underlying interest. "What?" She asked, and he sighed.

"Look." He breathed, taking a hold of her hand. "You're very, very..." He grimaced, dropping his eyes to her hand. "Nice. I mean, lovely. I mean..." He clenched his jaw, dropping his grip on her. "Ordinarily, I'd be honored. Truly. But I'm just not ready for this...yet."

Yet. She nodded, dropping the thought and picking up the chest piece for the larger armor set and unlocking the catches with grace and practiced ease. She meant only to help settle it correctly on him, but he rested a hand on her shoulder when she turned back to him. "Hey." His voice was just barely above a whisper, his fingers firm. "It's not you."

She gave him the look that comment deserved, and he snorted in amusement. "Yes, yes, I know." He replied, taking the chest piece from her hands. "It's a terrible, terrible phrase, and the vast majority of the time, it's a cop out." He dropped the armor over his head, and stood still as she helped him settle into it. "But I swear, Sarah, it's the truth. Losing my wife... Well, that's something that I'm not nearly over. But I appreciate that you would think that way about me, I really do. Makes me feel good."

She smiled in response, if that was all she accomplished that day, then it would be a better day than most. She left him to figure out the helmet on his own, stepping into the smaller suit and locking it down in a matter of moments. It wasn't the first time she'd worn one of these...or was it? Damned if she knew. Damned if she could remember. All she knew was how it worked, down to the finest of details.

"Dare I ask?" She probably shouldn't, but she did anyway, and he paused. Even though he was now completely and correctly encapsulated in the armor, she could sense the shift in his balance, the tilt of his head as he considered the question.

"I'm from Telos." He finally stated. "She was killed when Malak's fleet bombed it." A longer pause, heavy...but she sensed he wasn't done yet and held on to her silence. "My fleet arrived too late to stop it. At least I got the chance to be there with her...at the end. I got to say goodbye."

Telos. There was the usual flurry in her mind as she tried to remember something, a scattering of information. This was a difficult one, it wanted to run away. If she focused simply on what she wanted, needed, it sometimes worked. When?

Four years. It had been four years since Malak's Sith fleet had bombed Telos into a dead world, a whispery memory of something that had once been beautiful, bountiful. Time enough to mourn. And now, it was time for him to live again. But not today, today they needed to find Bastila, and a way off of Taris. She slammed the heels of her hands together, watching the suit's systems come online. It all looked good. A quick check proved that it hadn't been missed yet, it was still linked into the network. She pinged her location, knowing that silence would be viewed warily, and waved Carth to follow her. The faster they did this, the better.

She strode quickly out of the apartments, dropping into a firm march with him. She'd already scoped out the guarded elevator on her previous scouting trip, and moved straight towards it like she had been on that path a thousand times before. It was easy to break the suit's security codes, easy as breathing, somehow she knew override codes that it accepted without even a momentary pause.

"Wait. Who are you?" The guard, armored exactly as they were, demanded when they approached the elevator. That was fine, Sarah had the answer to that, as well... the suit's internal computer had given over its identity string when it had accepted her override.

"A429dash11." She snapped off, and it came out in the precise cadence of a fine Sith trooper.

"Going down?" There was a wealth of commiseration in the return question, and Sarah gave the slight hand motion that was the equivalent of a nod for someone fully armored up.

"It must be done." All traces of her Outer Rim accent were gone.

"Ah, well. Good luck, then. Be careful though... those gang bangers down there will shoot at anything, including us. We should just gas the whole fucking warren."

And they would, if they only had Bastila. Sarah understood that implicitly. "Thanks for the heads up." Gangs? Gangs that would shoot at Sith patrols? That made them crazy and stupid, indeed. And there was nothing worse than crazy and stupid with a blaster. It didn't matter, though. Bastila was down there, and she was going after her. She had to have Bastila back...

Why?

Interesting question, but again, no time to ponder it.

How could you have to someone back when you don't even remember them in the first place?

No. Not now. Not here. She couldn't be caught, and Carth was depending on her.

Carth.

That was enough to snap her out of the well of confusion that threatened to swallow her up. She wasn't about to drop the ball and just hand over Carth Onasi to the Sith. She owed him her life. He was a decent guy. He hadn't failed her, she wasn't about to fail him.

"No problem." The guard chuckled, and opened the elevator door for them.


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