Title: The Second Fall
Fandom: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Rated: M for sexual content and occasional profanity
Spoilers: Yes, for KotOR I and II
Status: In progress
Summary: Through their memories, the Republic war hero and the redeemed Jedi Knight struggle to reconcile their pasts while grappling with what is–and isn't–meant to be.
In her arms, Revan cradled the dead.
He was but a boy, not more than four years old. Grime coated his flaxen hair; blood streamed from his gashed temple down his cherub-like cheek. She did not know his name, but she clutched him to her breast like he was her own.
For how long she had traveled this endless expanse of desert, her muscles aching with each step as she bore the child's weight, she did not know, either. Storm clouds billowed in the distance, but the rain never came. She tasted the chalky residue of dust as she wet her cracked lips, but they were never quenched.
And this hellish journey was but a scream writhing in the pit of her stomach, never finding release.
Eventually, Revan collapsed, her body wracked with sobs. It was then she felt a presence, a hand caressing her back like a cool wind. Slowly, she lifted her head to see a cloaked woman standing before her, silver-plaited hair framing her half-veiled face.
The woman's mouth did not move, but Revan felt her words probe deep into her conscious.
"Do not be afraid, Padawan. This is where you seize destiny!"
Rinna Luce awoke with a start, bucking her elbow as if to throw off the hand that ghosted her shoulder. Once her eyes registered the familiar darkness of her hotel room, she swore under her breath as she wiped the cold sweat from her matted hairline. A year ago, her memories–Revan's memories–were but a trickle in the back of her mind, but Malak's undoing unlocked the floodgates. Night after night, images of razed worlds and corpses en masse invaded her dreams–was Revan truly responsible for all of it? Was she truly responsible for all of it?
Rinna considered a good night's sleep one where she didn't wake up vomiting.
The dream in the desert felt different, however. It was more lucid than the others, and she wondered if the fact that she'd dreamt it to some degree of frequency meant it held a particular significance. Perhaps it held a key to understanding Revan's past. Or maybe it was simply another means for the Force to inflict eternal torment.
Her stomach churned at the thought that she may have been responsible for the little boy's fate, too.
A glimpse of the time led to more cursing. Rinna had less than fifteen minutes to shower off, get dressed, and hightail her way over to the Grand Hall near the Petrax District on Coruscant where a celebration would commemorate the well-overdue resolution of civil war…and where a certain Republic officer would be formally honored with the title of Admiral.
Carth expected her to be there, though she failed to see the common sense in obliging him. A meeting with the Jedi Council at the Temple had already landed her on Coruscant two days ago, but a semi-public gala didn't make it easy to keep a low profile. She had prepared a number of reasons to decline before he contacted her, but her resolve crumbled when she noticed, even over the poor reception of the vidcall, how his eyes glowed with anticipation as he asked her if she would be accompanying him for the evening. Guess she'd have to save the hair-washing excuse for another occasion.
It wasn't that she didn't look forward to seeing him. Despite how the mission had them practically chained at the ankle for the past twelve months, he had left her with a strange emptiness when they temporarily parted ways. She had grown accustomed to him always poking his nose over her shoulder whenever she perused schematics and formulated plans; always chiming in with a cheesy quip that was guaranteed to earn a groan or two; always holding her close and shielding her from the line of fire. More times than she'd like to admit, she had taken but one step backwards and bumped into him or stumbled over his foot.
She thought she'd welcome the space, but in truth, she just felt…bare without him.
She glanced at the chrono again. Eleven minutes left to convince herself that going out was a better alternative to staying in bed.
She'd be late.
Carth Onasi was partial to the unadorned–and sometimes disheveled–version of Rinna. Over time, he had grown fond of the windswept hair hastily pulled back into a ponytail, the sunburnt cheeks, the smudges of dirt on her chin. He even loved how painfully awkward she had appeared one day when he had coaxed her into putting on a suit of armor that hit her in all the wrong places. She had scowled at him as he tried explaining it was in her interest; there wasn't any way he was going to let her stroll right into the Black Vulkar base without the best protection. Irking her had just been a bonus. She deserved it after the remark about his flight jacket looking like something a rancor had thrown up.
Rinna never batted an eyelash at getting down on her hands and knees and doing the necessary dirty work. She was fiery but never impetuous; outspoken but never thoughtless. Maybe it made her less of a Jedi in the eyes of some, but in all honesty, he thought it made her more sensible than any member of the Order would ever allow oneself to be. It made her…human.
It was for those reasons it almost seemed alien to him to see her in full dress attire that night, bathed in moonlight as she stooped over the balustrade. From the way she flipped her hair that was uncharacteristically let down and fidgeted in her little red number in a manner that most of the gala's attendees would consider unladylike, she was no more comfortable with the idea.
But no less breathtaking.
As her head perked up, she spotted him standing in the archway. He tensed when she started towards him, her gown serving as an effective reminder that she was, indeed, a woman–a woman with hips; a woman with breasts; a woman…
…who tripped over herself mid-stride and let out an oof! as she tumbled onto the polished marble. Despite wincing from secondhand embarrassment, he couldn't resist chuckling. Now that was the Rinna he knew–more graceful in nerf-hide boots than a pair of heels. He set down the two flutes of champagne he had carried out and extended a hand. "I didn't think you'd take falling for me so literally."
She groaned. "Hello to you, too, Carth."
He cracked a smirk as she blew a puff of air into her bangs, recognizing her disgruntled expression as one that had often accompanied any one of her renditions of, "Don't quit your day job, Onasi." Whatever. That line about those Sith punks stealing their lunch credits was pure gold.
As he helped her up, his hand inadvertently slipped along her backside curves…and suddenly found himself forgetting how to swallow. Scratch that–the dress wasn't so much of a reminder as a kriffing taunt. Snatching his hand away, he coughed out some form of an apology and braced himself for a glare, but she merely lifted an eyebrow. "Couldn't wait to take me out to dinner first, could you?"
Blasted woman knew how to recover quickly. Carth, on the other hand… "Ah…I…you're…you look…um…"
"Now would be an appropriate time to throw in one of your ingenious terms of endearment, Flyboy."
Fumbling for the back of his neck, he lifted his peaked navy-issue cap as he swiped a hand through his hair. "I, uh, it's just that…never seen you without…you know, armor. Or robes."
"Have you already forgotten about the incident on Taris? Only one day after we met? It's certainly an impression I'll never forget."
She still referred to it as the "incident." Great. "I thought we established that was an accident…"
"Not to mention that there were quite a few times you caught me in my underwear. None of which were by choice–"
"And I bet it was pure agony for you to flaunt yourself in front of me."
"Right, because despite being imprisoned in force cages and our brains melting out of our ears, the only thought on my mind was not, Oh, god, kill me now! but, Do you think I'm sexy?" She snorted, crossing her arms. "Waiting for death to screw me up the ass isn't my idea of a good time. I don't think death possesses the common courtesy to lube up, either."
Naturally, having an excellent grasp of timing, Carth had just taken a sip from his glass and nearly choked as champagne sputtered from his mouth. He did say she was breathtaking.
"Oh, please. Like that's any worse than some of the other stuff we've said to each other."
He scratched at the stubble under his chin, clearing his throat. "I'm just…ever-impressed with your level of…"
She gave an innocent shrug. "I reserve that kind of tact only for you, Flyboy. And the occasional person that pisses me off."
"Should I feel special or scared?"
A simper sneaked onto her lips as she ambled closer to him. "Well, had you let me finish my sentence earlier, I would've said that I wasn't so scantily clad by choice…at the time." He felt the blood rise, the heat surfacing in his cheeks, as she tilted her head in. "Gorgeous. Beautiful. Any one of those will do right about now."
His mouth dithered into a wry smile of his own. He'd seen that face one too many times before–the slight twitch at the corner of her lips, the sparkle in her eyes that already knew she had him hook and line and only had to wait for the sinker. It only aggravated the itch burrowing its way past his navel that four years, seven months flickered in his brain as a reminder of how long it had been since he had…well, you know. If the fact that he had acted like a bumbling teenager attending his first school dance hadn't already cemented that into reality.
But hell, she made it fun to lose at their little game, predictable as it was. Heh. Maybe he did love the attention after all.
Pursing his lips, he idly swirled his drink. An undone belt and a hitched-up dress fleeted across his thoughts; he suspected it wouldn't take but one nudge towards the coat room–wait, the coat room? Yeah. Real classy. If that was how things were meant to pan out, what had stopped them from slipping into the Hawk's cargo hold and desecrating the sacks of foodstuffs while they had the chance?
With a roll of the eyes, he tugged at his collar as he turned to lean against the balustrade. Force only knew how much he needed the fresh air, anyway. When he met her gaze once more, the coquettish glint mellowed into a gentle grin, and he felt something swell in his chest–by stars, she was beautiful.
No, he mused to himself, savoring another swallow of champagne, the moment they'd finally lie down together had to be perfect. It would be perfect. But for now, he'd change subjects. Just to be on the safe side. "I was beginning to wonder if you'd make it."
He almost heard a popping noise as the smugness in her voice vanished. "I'm sorry I missed the ceremony."
"Believe me, you didn't miss much. I'm just…I'm just glad you came."
A breeze spilled dark wisps of hair across her face, her eyes shifting to the side as she brushed the strands back into place. "Yeah. Me, too."
He furrowed his brow. For the first time, he couldn't interpret her expression. He thought it odd how quickly she had lost interest, instead peering down into her bubbling flute. But maybe she was only pouting because he had taken her toy away.
Holding out his arm for her, he gestured towards the stairs pointing northeast. "Would you like to go for a walk? Those steps lead down to the botanical gardens. Should be pretty this time of year."
She shot him a look that questioned when he had ever cared about plants, but she indulged him.
They wandered along the main pathway in silence, save for Rinna's occasional murmuring as she studied the different species of flora. Carth had to be the one to reengage conversation. "Funny how the war ended only days ago, and already, it seems like a lifetime away."
He watched her trace the turquoise-tipped petals of a night iris, pausing to breathe in the flower's clean, crisp scent. "I have to admit I still can't wrap my head around how far Taris feels. You think it has any chance of being restored someday, if Telos does?"
Telos. Mention of his homeworld still bore a sting. He supposed it always would. "Telos is nothing more than an experiment right now. It didn't suffer half the losses Taris did, and it'll still take years to recover, if at all."
"I think the Republic still has some fighting spirit left."
He felt a squeeze of his arm as he glanced over at her, a subtle smile warming his face. "Yeah. Yeah, it does."
The wind picked up again, carrying the muffled sounds of a classic Molovian piece and the low drone of the mingling guests. "This is quite the party you have going here," she said. "You guys know how to shake things up just as much as the Sith do."
He laughed, elbowing her. "Aw, c'mon, it can't be that bad. At least you don't have some jerk trying to cop a feel the entire night. I'm surprised you didn't lop off his hands in the process."
"Yeah, where were you, Superman?"
"Too busy avoiding projectile vomit."
"Is that what that was? I thought it was just more of your lame dance moves."
"Hey, I didn't hear anyone else complain."
"That's because they were one step from losing consciousness."
"Details. Anyway, I believe it's you I have to thank for such a pleasant evening. One I wouldn't mind blocking from memory."
"Don't tell me you're still jealous I outwitted you, Onasi."
"No." His hand slid down to the small of her back and rested on her hip, pulling her close. "Just jealous I didn't get the first dance."
Ah, Taris. The socioeconomic cesspit.
The Upper City Cantina bustled with more activity that morning than Carth could ever remember on any of his previous trips to the world. It was something he would've expected from the seedy districts of Lower City, but even the nobles saw reason to get a running start on the evening's drinking festivities. Not that he blamed them. The planet-wide Sith occupation was enough to make any person want to drown oneself into a stupor.
He made his way through the foyer, then signaled to Rinna, whose attention had been lured away by a retired pazaak player looking to sell his deck. He put a hand to his forehead and groaned, making a note to keep a close eye on what few credits they had to spare. The woman better not make a habit of stopping for every little thing that piqued her curiosity.
After successfully prying her away (not without receiving an earful of claims as to her gambling expertise), the two of them found a table over in a dimly-lit corner of the cantina where Rinna could fuel up while they discussed logistics. "There's been rumors circling around about Republic escape pods crashing down in the Undercity," he said. "I think it's our best bet to start looking there. Only problem is, the area's swarming with Sith. They probably won't be looking for a couple of grunts like us–not when they're trying to track down Bastila–but we still have to find a way to get past all the guards to even get to the Undercity." He paused for a response, unable to tell if she was nodding to merely humor him or if her head was bobbing to the jaunty tune playing overhead. "Are you even listening?"
She didn't look up as her fork and knife scraped against her plate. "Swarming with Sith; something about Bastila; Undercity; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…got it."
"I don't think you realize just how important this mission is. Even with Revan out of the picture, if Malak finds a way to exploit Bastila's battle meditation–"
"End of the 'verse as we know it. Right."
"Listen, Beautiful, if this is the way it's going to be the entire–"
"One," she sighed, putting down her eating utensils in a very deliberate fashion, "what did I say about the pet names?"
"And two, stay here."
He gawked, mouth slightly ajar, as she eased her way up against the bar next to a gangly dark-haired male. Probably ten years her junior, too. He snorted, observing the giggles and the deft touches of Gangly's arm. Oh, this was rich. Sure, she had no problems flaunting herself in front of other men, but if he let slip the most innocuous comment about anything remotely related to her femininity, it'd be grounds for castration.
Gangly winked as she threw him an impish look before retreating to the table. Carth fought the urge to hurl. "What was that?"
"That, my doubting companion, was the fine art of inviting oneself to a party."
He balked. "Are you crazy? We don't have time to be screwing around!"
"Will you relax, Onasi? Don't worry; you're invited, too. The moron actually thought you were my boyfriend." She made a scoffing noise as she shook her head. "'Course, I told him it wasn't anything serious. A girl's gotta keep her options open, you know."
Was she for real? "No! No party! How can you be thinking of–"
"You're going to make me ruin the surprise, aren't you?" His hands balled into fists when she cut him off–again. "It wasn't that I wasn't listening to you before; I was just eavesdropping on our new friend's plans to get completely tanked with the rest of his Sith cronies tonight. We drop in for a bit, make ourselves comfortable, and once they all have happily drunk themselves into oblivion, we slip out with their uniforms…which will then enable us to sneak past the guards into the Undercity."
"…Oh." He eased back into his chair, staring her down. Damn it, that was actually a pretty good idea. "You didn't say he was Sith."
She pointed her fork at him, causing him to contemplate for a split second just how sharp its tips were. "You're just jealous you didn't think of it. And what was your rank? Command–"
Carth lurched forward in his seat. "Will you keep it down? Maybe someone else has the same idea as you and is listening in on us."
"Well, aren't you just a fun little space ball of paranoia?"
Ignoring her, he folded his arms over his chest and tapped his foot, pretending to fixate his gaze on the people flocking to the viewing room to watch the next dueling match. "By the way, I could have," he muttered. "I would have…but somehow, I don't think he'd warm up to my schoolgirl charm."
She threw him a brief glance before taking another bite, a coy smirk etching onto her face. "Jealous."
"Now if it's not too much to ask, will you finally let me enjoy the first decent meal I've had since…well, who really knows when?"
"Decent" was a stretch, judging by the dubious-looking juices that oozed from her serving of Tarisian mystery meat, but he chose not to put the matter into question. His stomach had been agitated enough for one day; blasted girl was going to give him an ulcer. Sighing, he waved a dismissive hand towards her. "Knock yourself out, Ensign."
Not that they had much use for formalities on such an atypical mission–and with any luck, she'd be out of his hair as soon as they rescued Bastila–but he had a feeling he'd relish pulling rank every opportunity he got. That is, if she ever listened. Presently, she was too preoccupied with polishing off her plate to even make so much as a snub of the nose in his direction.
He squinted at her. "You're going to be more trouble than you're worth, aren't you?"
Rinna seemed to consider her words carefully before responding. That, or she had discovered some foreign entity in her entree. "Would you be disappointed if I wasn't?"
It hadn't even been two hours since she had woken up from that coma and officially "greeted" him with the barrel of his own blaster, barely recalling her own damn name. But strangely, he didn't have an answer for her.
He liked it when she didn't talk.