Several weeks later…
After what had happened on the Matron, it was a mercy that Odan Urr had provided medical treatment before the Zeltron’s ride arrived. No sooner had the covert news reached Keira’s ears than she hijacked a shuttle - and pilot to fly it - and taken it to the mercenary’s otherwise undisclosed location. This necessitated several changes of craft and driver along the way, as well as some rather heated transmissions to the Jedi’s liaison that had contacted her in the first place. Qyreia had used the time wisely, removing all of the scrapes and bruises with the magic of modern medicine, so that when the Seer arrived on the scene, she looked none the worse for wear.
That didn’t make the reunion any less exuberant… or loud.
“What the hell happened?!” Keira’s voice carried through the short distance between them sharply, made all the more percussive when she ran right into the Zeltron, clasping her arms tightly about the red woman’s shoulders. “I only heard bits and pieces from the Jedi,” she said in a worried fusillade of speech. “Something about you and pirates and you were injured but you don’t look injured…”
“I’m okay, Keira, really. I’ve been in worse scraps before.”
“Who did this to you?” The mercenary’s silent expression did not engender a calming effect on the former Quaestor. “Who?!”
“It was Morgan,” Turel said, stepping forward into the conversation. “As far as I can tell, she didn’t know that Miss Arronen was onboard, but spared her the instant that she did know.”
“Then her death will be mercifully swift,” she half-growled, fingers pressing uncomfortably into her lover’s skin.
“If you say so,” the Jedi said with an amused grin and flirtatious wink.
“What was that?”
“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.” He sauntered away with a wave. “It was good meeting you, Qyreia. Let me know when you’re in the neighborhood. We’ll get some drinks.”
“Sounds good,” she called after him, only to be reminded of Keira’s presence by the pressure on her arms. “Ow! What’d I do?”
“You had me worried, and here you are talking about getting druk-faced with some random choobhole!”
All too quickly, Qyreia’s joviality was brought to heel when she was reminded of their argument, even though it had almost been two months since then. “Sorry.”
Seeing the forlorn look on the Zeltron’s face, the half-Umbaran dropped her hostility. “It’s… It’s alright. Let’s just get home. We’re still in danger out here.”
With the experienced ex-smuggler at the helm, the return trip to Aeotheran was much faster than the Force user’s frantic search for the Zeltron. It was also far quieter. After the nerve-touching comments made at the Urrian drop site, both women kept largely to themselves for the duration of the flight. Even when her questions were deflected, Keira didn’t press the issue, noting how Qyreia would recoil at every prying query. Just let it be. She’ll tell you when she’s ready. As much as the Seer told herself that, the wait was no less torturous on her already worry-wracked mind.
What she would not let settle was her burning desire to see the Herald’s head on a platter. Despite all of the reassurance that the female Sorenn had effected no physical harm on Qyreia, the Zeltron’s refusal to talk about what had happened was not just a hurt reaction to Keira’s tone. Something had happened. The Gray Jedi just didn’t know what, and that mystery did nothing to stem her internal rage.
“Coming out of hyperspace,” the mercenary said in flat monotone. “Getting clearance for landing… now.”
“Q… Can we talk for a sec?”
“Sure. Let’s talk.”
“You don’t exactly sound excited by the prospect.”
“Didja want to talk, or get excitement? ‘Cause I’m kinda busy with not making us crash.” The craft hit the atmosphere with a shudder before the inertial dampeners kicked in. No matter how apt the timing, the Seer remained unperturbed.
“What happened with Morgan?”
“I already said that she didn’t do anything to me, and that I didn’t want to talk about it.”
“Well I do want to talk about it. After your little outburst, I’d think you’d want to repair things.”
“Oh yes, because talking like our relationship is your frackin’ hostage is going to make me want to talk so much more.”
“That’s not how I meant it…”
“Well that’s how it sounded.” Breaking through the lower cloud cover and into clear skies, she guided the ship to dock at Myrmidon, the last rays of the sun seeping over the horizon. “You wanna know what happened?” Qyreia said as the landing gear hydraulics locked with a thud. “Everyone on the ship I was guarding was either enslaved or killed. Everyone. Same goes for the other captured ships. I didn’t even manage to kill more’n a half dozen or so before they got a lucky stun shot on me.”
“…So, you’re mad that you didn’t die with the others?” Some sort of survivor’s guilt?
“I’m pissed, okay?! I’m pissed off because I didn’t kill more of the Hutt-humping druk-eaters!” she yelled, slamming her fists on the console. “I couldn’t protect a single kriffing person, and I didn’t even make those damn pirate bastards bleed for it!”
Qyreia’s tone subsided somewhat, taking on a more sober flavor. “I don’t like her. She’s still a karkin’ pirate, but she’s got ulterior motives. That’s part of what pisses me off so damn much. She kills and enslaves by the thousands without batting an eyelash, but then arranges my escape to help her brother and the other Jedi.”
She almost took you from me. That’s reason enough for me to end her. “It may not be much consolation, but I’m glad you’re home and in one piece.”
“I don’t suppose you’d let me wallow away with a bottle of liquor, would you?”
Keira smiled, even chuckled a little, at the request. “How about we start with a carton or two of ice cream and some holovids?”
“I’m feeling like tonight might be a two-carton night,” she said, slumping into the half-breed’s chest. “Maybe three.”
I wish I had your metabolism, Keira thought with a grin. Only a handful of people were milling about the spaceport, it’s vast gray platforms colored a pinkish hue in the twilight that faded out from the horizon, allowing them a quiet and almost romantic walk home. A short stop at a small convenience store brought them their frozen treasures - all some form of chocolate flavor - before continuing on into the quiet dark. It was interesting to look at the city, so sparse of buildings despite the burgeoning population, quietly buzzing within the towering apartments as they passed, lights and sounds from the ground floor shops accentuating the light show from on high. The sun had set by the time they reached their abode, leaving only streetlamps and the bulb over the front door to light their way; a hollow comparison to what they left behind them.
Still, it was home. They couldn’t ask for much more than that.
“I’m gonna put these into the freezer,” Keira said with an amiable peck on her lover’s cheek.
“But I want ice cream nooow.”
“At least let me get the spoons. Sheesh.” She laughed as she made her way to the kitchen, depositing two of the three containers and grabbing a spoon on her way out to the living room.
“Holy fracking Hutt-humping hell!” came Qyreia’s voice, piercing the otherwise quiet night’s silence.
In an instant Keira burst into a sprint, ice cream still in hand while the other menacingly brandished the spoon. “What is it?!”
When the pale woman entered the living room, she saw the Zeltron fallen to the floor, propping herself up on one arm while the other hesitantly hovered over her holstered pistol. Following her lover’s intense gaze, her pale blue eyes met the shadowy figure seated in one of their armchairs. Keira froze, dropping the dessert while the silverware went limp in her hand. The heavy thud did nothing to separate her gaze from the large man whose face remained in shadow, while light from the porch seeped through the window just enough to reveal his arm and torso.
“Wait.” Qyreia looked at her girlfriend, then back at the intruder. “…Atra?!”
The Dark Jedi eyed the nearby lamp and flipped it one with a quirk of his eyebrow. “There. Now that we can all see each other, you might want to pick up your ice cream before it melts all over the carpet.” Keira’s trance was suddenly broken as she glanced down at the carton, swiftly picking it up and setting it aside on a nearby end table. “I must say, getting through Locke’s ‘blockade’ made getting into the system a downright inquisition.”
The couple looked at each other warily before Qyreia finally spoke. “What blockade?”
“My point exactly,” Atra said, leaning forward to size up the Zeltron. “So you’re the girl that my daughter has been talking so much about. Can’t say I’m impressed, but it’s her choice; not mine.” Despite his comment, his gray eyes looked at the mercenary with a smouldering, almost feral hunger.
“Father,” Keira chimed in, breaking his stare, “might I ask what you’re doing here?”
“Just making an unannounced visit. I felt the urge to get out of the house, so to speak, and see what my daughter and her… companion have been up to.”
“That’s ‘girlfriend,’ thank you very much,” Qyreia chided. “I had to do a lot of crazy druk to get this title; I deserve to be called as such.”
“Oh, don’t be so melodramatic,” Keira said, trying her best to hide the excitement she felt at Atra’s visit. “Would you like something to drink, father? Blockade or not, I’m sure you must be thirsty.”
“Corellian ale, if you have any.”
“‘If we have any.’ Qyreia here is a regular aficionado.”
“Is that so?”
“Lived there a few years. Worked the cantinas as a bartender, among other jobs.” Qyreia watched as her lover left the room toward the kitchen, seemingly unaware of the expression on the Zeltron’s face. Hellooo, Coruscant to Keira. Your Praetor-to-the-Voice dad is in our House! You know, the one where I’m part of the Resistance?! Her gaze turned back to the newfound guest. “Alright Atra, what do you want?”
“Why so hostile? I thought Zeltrons were all about hospitality.” His hungry stare returned, somewhat more muted than before, despite the mercenary’s apparent derision toward his comment. “I am here for Keira’s sake, as much as my own. I want to know your intentions with her.”
“My… what? We’re dating. My ‘intent’ is to do so until such time as I fall in love, produce a bunch of crotch-fruit until I hate myself, then wallow away my golden years in sweet bliss and a fair touch of liquor.”
“I heard about your argument with my daughter, merc.” As he spoke, the light seemed to flicker. “While Keira may be a forgiving person, you will find me far less patient with your sarcasm and foul language.”
“And you will find I don’t like intruders in my house acting like they were some honored fracking guest.” She shuffled warily to a seat across from him, hand ever-hovering near her pistol. “So, I’ll ask again: why are you here?”
“I’ve already told you, you foolish whelp. For someone who claims to want to protect Keira, you seem to enjoy swimming through dangerous waters.”
In a flash, Atra’s hand shot forth from the armrest to send an invisible pressure around the Zeltron’s throat, closing off all but a sliver of airflow. “I am getting tired of your disrespect.” His eyes darted down and applied similar restraint to Qyreia’s hand, hardly a twitch away from discharging her pistol. “Look at you. Not even the strength to fight this” he said, watching her trigger finger shaking rigidly against his control. “This is almost sad.”
“Father,” Keira’s voice called from the kitchen, “we seem to be out of Corellian Ale. I’m going to go down the road and pick some up. Anything else you’d like?”
“No thank you, I’ll be quite alright.”
“Okay! I’ll be back in a bit, Q! Love you!”
They both heard the back door slide open, then shut almost as quickly, and Atra’s glare became all the colder. All the more intense. I could let loose with the pheromones and whatnot, and Keira would come running. No… that’d just give Atra more ammunition; more satisfaction for this sick frackin’ game. The lack of air traveling down her windpipe, however, said that if she played this game much longer, it wouldn’t matter much anyway. It was becoming difficult to concentrate, and panic was starting to set in, but she couldn’t even claw at her throat because of his invisible hold on her hands.
“I wonder how long you can hold your breath. Keep fighting and you’ll burn through that oxygen pretty quick.” He listened as Qyreia’s tongue chokingly clicked against the roof of her mouth. “She said she loves you. Do you reciprocate?”
I don’t feel too good. The Zeltron felt nauseous, which only compounded the sickening feeling of impending asphyxiation. Her vision was just beginning to spin, when she felt something soft hit her face. Or did she hit the soft thing? Who cares? …Wait, soft thing?! Coming back to reality, Qyreia realized, in a fit of violent coughing and gasping, that Atra’s hold on her neck had ceased. Trying to move her hands was still impossible, and a glance upward revealed that the Dark Jedi hadn’t moved an inch.
“I was hoping Keira had come back and thrashed you.”
“No such luck, I’m afraid. Now, about my question…”
“Frack your question!”
“You just don’t learn, do you?”
“Shut up and listen,” she yelled just as he was about to reapply the telekinetic hold. “You want me to talk? Then start actin’ like a normal sentient being! You break into my house, start interrogating me, and expect me to be grateful for not killing me?! Frack you! I don’t care if you’re some powerful space-wizard, that doesn’t excuse you from being an egotistical, self-righteous Hutt-humper who wants to displace his family dysfunctions on his cloned-daughter’s girlfriend!”
“Are you done?” he said, sounding almost bored.
“Hardly, schutta. No, I don’t love Keira, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think dearly of her. That doesn’t mean that there is no value I attribute to her. And that sure and fracking kriff doesn’t mean I’m gonna let you bring your insecurities down on my head!”
“You should spend less time looking in the mirror. You’re starting to see yourself in others.”
“Clever. Did you think that up yourself? I guess you have plenty of time, since you keep Keira at arm’s length so much.”
Qyreia looked at her captor with a little more confidence. “Did you think she only talked to you? I’ve seen this woman nekkid. See, what I don’t get is why. She’s always trying to get closer and closer to you and her past, but you always push her away. What is it? It’s not lust - dear god I hope it’s not lust. Fear? Hm… fear of what though? Rejection? Nah, you seem gloomy enough already that rejection wouldn’t affect you.” An expression of realization entered her eyes. “Oooh, you’re scared of losing another daughter, aren’t you?”
“That’s it! That’s why you’re always refusing her invitations!”
“I said enough!” His hand jerked out again, and Qyreia could feel the grip on her throat, but it didn’t choke her as before - only held her in place.
“You know,” she said, taking on a quieter, more serious tone, “if you keep doing this, you both will miss out on the things you want.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Dude, I left my planet. That means friends, family, and even some folks that I loved as much as Keira does me. I may not be a mom - not yet anyway - and I may not be some fancy scholar, but I’m not stupid.”
“Could have fooled me.”
“Listen, druk-licker, we can go back and forth all day with this, and as much as I just love not being able to move my damn neck at all, I would really like to be able to relax. My day has been bad enough without this to compound things.”
“Are you capable of keeping yourself from shooting me?”
“Are you capable of not being a pocket-rocket?” The grip tightened, and she could feel her airway slowly constricting. “Go ahead,” she half-coughed, “see how much I’m willing to talk if you keep doing the same stupid crap.” The Force user at least seemed to be listening. “You play nice, and I’ll play nice. Deal?”
The half-breed, despite Qyreia thinking it impossible, looked less amused than before. As if wonders and miracles were falling from the sky, the telekinetic hold also seemed to vanish before the Zeltron could even register that there had been a change. Holy frack, I can finally use my hands again. In a measured gesture, she slowly drew her hands away from her blast pistol; even unbelting it from her leg and tossing it to the other end of the couch.
“I have more questions.”
“Of course you do,” she said, leaning back into the sofa. “Alright, let’s get it over with.”
“You could take this a little more seriously.” The Zeltron’s unamused expression was cue enough for him to carry on. “Why are you rebelling against the Brotherhood?”
“I’m not fighting the whole damn Brotherhood. Just Pravus and his ilk.”
“Is there a difference?”
“There’s plenty of folks in the organization that don’t slaughter innocent civilians wholesale.”
“And that’s how you justify killing the people that are merely following orders, whether they wish to or not?”
“No one is forcing them to be worthless Sithspit. No matter how you look at it, there is always a choice, and they chose to side with the bad guys. So yeah, that is how I justify it.”
“Some would call you the ‘bad guy’ thanks to this insurrection.”
“Including you?” Atra only glared at her silently. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’”
“You know that I could kill you right now. It would solve at least a few problems for myself and Pravus.”
“Not that you like him any better than I do, if I’m getting the right vibe here.”
“Only I do it without enacting full-scale rebellion.”
“So why not do it? Get it over with, right here and now.” The words caught in Qyreia’s throat as she spoke them. It was her way of trying to act brave when she was already at her limit, and even Atra’s hardened visage broke some of its stony quality on seeing and hearing the faint quiver.
“Because you mean the world to Keira,” he half-lied. Inwardly, they were still going after the same objective, and he recognized that. It didn’t mean he had to divulge that to the Zeltron. “I am not willing to take that away from her so casually.”
Qyreia chuckled. “You know, if things keep going well between us, you’ll be my dad too.” She wiggled her ring finger for emphasis to her meaning.
“Don’t make me reconsider sparing your life.”
“Fiiine. Be a sourpuss.” A silence fell over them for a time before the mercenary looked warily at him again. “You know, while we’re on full disclosure, I still remember you from before the whole fiasco with the Dominion, back when you were Quaestor. Not to sound weird or anything, but I kind of had the hots for you at the time. Kind of ironic that I end up dating your daughter. That Ventus bloodline must be magnetic for me.”
That seemed to elicit enough interest that Atra quirked an eyebrow, only to be quickly replaced to his usual stoic expression. Probably was just wondering when I’d shut up, she thought, accepting the ensuing silence before she heard the faintest hint of a chuckle.
“You’re welcome to sample the more aged wine anytime.”
The grin on the Force user’s face curdled Qyreia’s blood, even if the comment made her face turn a slightly deeper shade of red. “Dude, really?! Do you have any boundaries you won’t cross?” Atra was about to speak, but the Zeltron threw up a warning hand. “Stop. Forget I asked. Don’t wanna know.” But really dude?! I am dating your daughter! Holy kriffin’ fracksticks!
Thankfully for the both of them, the remaining quietude was short-lived when Keira finally returned some minutes later, laden with wine for her, ale for her father, and a bottle of rum for the Zeltron. The look on the Seer’s face said that she was hesitant to even do so, but Qyreia understood the implied trust, saying as much with her own expression. And later, I’m going to keep you awake telling you about how your dad was going to choke me to death in our living room.
Despite the preceding events however, the remainder of the evening passed relatively well. After several drinks, the Zeltron became oddly aware that Atra was downing two drinks to every one of hers. Really? Trying to out-drink a Zeltron? Her gray-blue eyes looked at her lover who, thoroughly flushed in the face, was well beyond noticing such small nuances after so much wine. At least one person here needs to stay sober, she thought, chuckling to herself. For once, she let the challenge, unspoken though it was, go unanswered. Not that she didn’t keep drinking: two livers and a Zeltron’s metabolism offered quite a few rounds before she was more than buzzed.
The male Umbaran was holding his liquor remarkably well too. Better than his daughter who, after several more glasses of wine, passed out on the armchair between the couch and Atra’s seat. Qyreia stood to go get her a blanket, but on returning saw nothing of the woman in the chair. The hell?
A soft, barely audible footfall brought her eyes to the stairwell where she saw the trailing edge of the Inquisitor’s foot. Following like a cat to a mouse, the Zeltron went up the stairs and looked through the doorways until she came upon their shared bedroom, where she found the Juggernaut laying his daughter down and tenderly laying the covers on her. Rather than interrupt, she quietly hugged the wall, lingering in the shadows and watching the display unfold. The pale half-breed’s gold-tinged gray eyes watched his sleeping daughter, absentmindedly noting the rise and fall of her chest as she peacefully dreamt. A look of longing for things long past came over his eyes and, ever so gently, he leaned over to kiss Keira’s forehead.
“Sleep well, Special K,” he murmured softly, lingering for several long moments more before finally rising to leave. He instantly saw Qyreia standing outside, just barely peeking out from behind the door frame. “Did you see what you came for?” he said as he passed by.
A red hand on his arm stopped him. When he turned his head, he could see the Zeltron still looking through the door, a sad, tender expression on her face. “Listen Atra… I know things between us are far from done…”
“I can’t turn a blind eye forever, Privateer Arronen.”
“I know.” He could see the faintest hint of mist in the corner of the woman’s eyes, and she suddenly seemed even smaller than when she was being defiant. “Just… Whatever happens to me, don’t let her be alone. Mercs like me are a dime a dozen. Expendable. You Force users really don’t tend to look at us with any real sense of value, so I have no doubts about my chances of surviving here in the Brotherhood. I can’t turn a blind eye to what’s happening, and I refuse to kowtow to that bastard of a Grandmaster, so if we end up fighting each other, so be it. But no matter what… p-promise me you’ll take care of her.”
“You need to keep that promise yourself.”
Qyreia grabbed at the taller man’s shoulder and shoved him into the wall. “Listen kriffer, I’ve got self-worth. I don’t need you trying to play Philosophopotamus with me to have some sort of personal revelation. Now you promise me right now, or you can start your job of consoling your daughter early.”
“I was trying to be reassuring…”
“There is nothing to promise you that I haven’t already promised myself. Which do you think holds more weight?”
“God dammit Atra,” she hissed so as not to wake Keira, “just say it!”
He let out a sigh that seemed almost annoyed. “No.” He brushed the surprised Zeltron’s hand aside with hardly a change in his expression. “I will see myself out.”
Without another word, he turned and walked silently down the stairs, the only sign of his departure signalled by the soft hiss of the door as it opened and then shut behind him. Qyreia’s eyes stared downcast at the floor, her fists shuddering at her sides as she fought the torrent raging just behind her eyes, unsure what hurt more: her fatalism or her pride. Damn you, Atra. Turning her gaze toward the sleeping girl, she looked on for several moments before silently stepping over the carpet to kneel at the bedside.
“Why’d you have to fall in love with me?” she whispered, taking a pale hand in hers. She gently rubbed the knuckles, thinking of all the other times they had held each other’s hands in the same exact way when tensions were high. “Why’d I have to fall for you too?”
The tears flowed freely. The anguish, Qyreia muted by biting on the mattress.
I love you, Keira.