Carth was sure he'd seen this negligee before. He couldn't quite place it, but every detail rang a bell in his stubbornly vague memory, suggesting a specific incident that his fogged brain simply couldn't dredge up.
Holding up the sartorial confection in examination, he couldn't help but notice the barely-there spaghetti straps, the shimmer of the translucent yellow chiffon, and the suggestively placed insets of pale coral lace. It was also damp, smelling faintly of lilac laundry detergent.
The negligee wasn't the only freshly washed clothing on display. The whole ship was draped in clotheslines pegged with an array of every conceivable article of clothing. The Ebon Hawk's designers, curse their inbred existence, had bestowed upon the ship a washing machine
but no dryer. Space was tight enough without one. Carth had always thought having a 'fresher made up for it, but today he was not feeling especially grateful.
While on Korriban, none of the crew had time to do laundry, and now everyone was playing catch-up. At once. The main hold looked like it had hosted a Sullustan dry-cleaning festival featuring half a planet's worth of laundry. The all-too-efficient washer had made quick work of everyone's dirty wardrobes, and the result was clotheslines and wet clothes up to everyone's eyeballs.
Carth was keeping a running tally of how often he'd walked right into a pair of Canderous' boxers, tripped over Mission's knee-high socks (which seemed to impishly slither out of even the most secure clothespins), or worst of all encountered the damp, flailing embrace of Jolee's bizarre undergarments, which defied all description or sense
yet were unmistakably possessed with a profoundly repellent aura.
But the negligee was something else againa pleasant something else. Fingering the silken fabric, Carth wondered whose it could be. Mission all but slept in her clothes; it was far to frivolous for Bastila; and the nightrobes Juhani wore at least for her illicit nocturnal rendezvous with Dyran were indelibly burned into his brain. That left only one person.
"Hey Canderous? I think I found something of yours."
Slithery rustles sounded as Canderous forged his way through the jungle of wet clothing that occupied the hold. "Good," he growled. "I'm still missing a pair of"
He broke off as he came face to face with Carth, who grinned and tossed the frothy garment. It ended up plastered across Canderous' neck and shoulders.
Canderous peeled it off and regarded it. Clearly, its silky femininity was taking a moment to register. Carth clamped down on a guffaw.
"Excuse me! I believe that is mine!" A familiar feminine voice rang like a bell. An indignant, sanctimonious bell. Bastila bore down on Canderous, bristling at the indignity of seeing her most intimate apparel in the burly hands of a Mandalorian.
Canderous recovered almost instantly. "Of course, ma'am," he said soothingly, giving it an awkward fold and handing it to her like it was a case of precious durindfires. "I found Carth here trying it on. Thought I'd relieve him of it before
well, before anyone saw him, for one thing."
Bastila focused a disbelieving glare on Carth.
"He's joking!" Carth's vehemence sounded much squawkier than he'd meant. How did every situation somehow manage to bite him in the ass?
With a sigh of impatience, Bastila shook out the negligee, made a few quick, neat folds, rolled it up, and tucked it away
well, Carth was too distracted to notice where. He was flashing back to the first time he'd seen the negligee, the mental image blooming into full detail: A shocked Bastila, clad only in the slimmest amount of modesty the negligee provided, standing in the women's dormitories. He'd realized his mistake instantly, but remained transfixed for a few ecstatic seconds longer
till her shriek and her peremptory Force Push had banished him.
Carth became aware he was being stared at. Bastila's gaze remained icy, while Canderous was developing more than a hint of sardonicism. Carth also realized that, while reminiscing, his own gaze had become fixed on Bastila's torso.
"Fond memories?" inquired Canderous evilly.
Carth stammered a bit, desperately trying to salvage the situation. "Yes. I mean, no! Not at all. That is, how could I possibly forget?"
Bastila sniffed. "Perhaps this cold is affecting more than your nether regions."
Before Carth could even begin to rally, she spun on her heel and marched back to the far side of the main hold. Seating herself on a bench next to Juhani, she assumed a meditative pose: eyes closed, upward-facing hands resting on her knees. Her reclaimed negligee huddled across one leg like an obedient pet. To all appearances, she was trying to completely obliterate the world around her.
Not that Carth blamed her in the slightest. If only he could meditate into comfortable oblivion. And he wished that for one simple reason:
It was cold.
Bastila's malicious allusion was not a great exaggeration: Carth was convinced the Ebon Hawk was striving to refrigerate them to death. Apparently living amidst everyone else's wet underwear was not enough of an indignity, and cruel fate had decided to heap further torture on them all.
Carth was not above taking a malicious glee in the fact that at least everyone was afflicted. He was sick to death of Trauma and Humiliation showing up uninvited at his door, and then only having eyes for him. It was like being a Hutt's love-slaveyou never knew when to expect a jerk on your neck chain.
The prevailing cold was yet another misery that could be blamed on the Ebon Hawk's designers: Running the washing machine so relentlessly had caused a short circuit, which in turn overloaded the heating system. The shower of sparks that flooded from the engine room was almost as big as the throngs of gizka fleeing it, squeaking in an unholy verminous chorale.
After that, the temperature had dropped rapidly. The external vacuum leached the heat with ferocious speed, sucking faster than a starving Mynock frolicking around a space station. If Carth hadn't found the emergency cold-weather gear, he was sure he would have frozen to death by nowone body part at a time. awkward
For better or worse, Dyran had ordered everyone into the main hold to conserve warmth. Carth had refrained from making jokes about body heat. The end result was everyone rubbing shoulders with everyone else, huddled together on the benches amidst myriad clotheslines and dripping, draggled laundry.
Carth glanced around. Canderous had gone back to his seat on the bench that already held Dyran, Zaalbar, and Mission. It was now crammed, but with a glance at the other bench, Carth understood the Mandalorian's choice. The other bench hosted Bastila and Juhani, and that meant it was occupied to capacity. No one, least of all Carth, would be exactly comfortable sitting between two Jedi women...especially these particular Jedi women.
Bastila had gotten the worst of it: She'd been showering when the heater failed. Her shriek of livid surprise as the ice-cold water met her skin was one of the most hilarious things Carth had ever heard. Only his survival instinct, which had been recently honed to fighting style, kept him from howling with laughter. He could still see damp strands of hair clinging to her face and neck.
The only absentee was, of course, Jolee. The old man's willful sequestration in the medibay was getting ridiculous. Not for the first time, Carth wished he could hack the lock codes; if there was one thing that old man deserved, it was to be rousted from his haven and subjected to company for a change.
On the other hand, that would mean that Jolee would be out here
with them. Suddenly, Carth lost all desire to take any action. He had a feeling his eardrums and his sanity would thank him for it later in life.
Carth glanced around for someplace to sit. Technically, there was a seat beside Dyran. Well, half a seat. Better than standing around.
Human, Twi'lek and Wookiee eyes blinked at him as he shuffled over and perched next to Dyran, zealously blocking out how surprisingly warm Dyran was at this propinquity. Since Carth's whole left haunch protruded past the end of the bench, he had no trouble concentrating on that inconvenience instead.
He wiggled a bit in a vain quest for comfort. "Dyran, move over a bit, can't you?"
Carth could feel the bench's edge numbing a line along his thigh. "Why not?"
"Hey, if you want to switch places with me and snuggle up next to Zaalbar here, be my guest." Dyran gestured to his left, where the mountainous Wookiee took up a solid two seats. Earlier, some liquid detergent had somehow gotten spilled on Zaalbar's fur. The soap interacted with Zaalbar's natural musk to create a profoundly pungent and bizarre smell
a smell Carth was beginning to appreciate in its rancid entirety.
For a moment there was a bit of fractious silence.
"The droid has to be at least close to fixing the heat, right?" Canderous' tone was about as close to whining as a manly Mandalorian could get.
"Oh come on!" Mission groaned. The Twi'lek was squashed in between Zaalbar and Canderous. Mostly all that showed were her knees, fuzzy-sock-clad lekku, and snapping eyes; the rest of her was obliterated by Zaalbar's fur and Canderous' massive arm. "I thought you Mandos were supposed to be tough! Are you telling us you can't take a little chill!"
The grizzled Mandalorian grunted. "A little cold I can handle. But being stuck in this deep-freezer is something I would've wanted to prepare for." He crossed his bare arms. "This is no honorable test of a Mandalorian warrior
Mission scoffed. "Oh right! And dropping from orbit riding a frakkin' droid is?"
"That, my little vulgar girl, is battle! Not sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting to see who freezes to death first!"
Carth glanced at Bastila, hoping for intervention. But except for her vertical position, she may as well have been in a coma. Carth had heard about Deep Force Meditation, but he'd never believed it. Overwhelming jealousy took hold.
Mission spat out a hank of Wookiee hair. "Hey, you know what? I have a great idea Canderous ol' buddy! How 'bout you go help get the heat turned back on instead of griping your honorable, shrapnel-scarred ass off!"
"Maybe I will!" Canderous shot up off the couch and stalked out toward the engine room.
Carth knew that Mission probably had no idea how accurate her analogy of Canderous' rear end was. Back on Tatooine, after they'd procured the Star Map and gotten themselves completely filthy Canderous had wasted no time showering off all the dirt, bantha droppings, bits of krayt dragon gizzard and whatnot. The problem came after he'd gotten clean. Canderous hadn't wanted to get back into filthy clothes
So he didn't. And Carth had been the unlucky sucker waiting outside the refresher when the Mandalorian came out and at a nonchalantly measured pace strolled casually to the men's dormitories. Completely naked.
On his list of personal traumas, Carth ranked that eternally-imprinted memory only just below walking in on Dyran and Juhani snogging in the cargo hold.
A sudden idea struck Carth. "Hey. Mission."
Her querulous blue face popped out from behind Zaalbar. "Yeah?"
"Maybe you should go with him to make sure he doesn't break anything, or kick T3 again, or something like that." He didn't actually say 'and tell him everything he's doing wrong,' but only out of calculated discretion. He knew Mission couldn't resist a chance to keep bugging Canderous while showing him how better to fiddle with tech.
Her mouth twitched. "Yeah. Sure. Good idea, Carth."
The Republic pilot could have cheered outright as Mission vacated her spot on the bench. Without any urging, Zaalbar moved down half a seat. But then he stopped. The Wookiee pondered the bench for a moment, then lay down, legs dangling over the edge.
Carth and Dyran both heaved a frustrated sigh. Apparently, Dyran shared Carth's hope that Zaalbar would move to the end, removing his odorific body as far from them as possible. But Dyran like Carth recognized the wisdom of not pushing the Wookiee to the side, even a tiny bit. Zaalbar had not yet contributed a Wookiee tantrum to the mission's list of fiascos and dignity-assaulting woes, and everyone wanted to keep it that way.
Aggravated, Dyran and Carth remained at the end of the bench, unwillingly fetched up against each other like besotted Corellian lapworms. Dyran glanced across the room at Juhani, who was staring dully into space beside the catatonic Bastila. He cleared his throat.
Carth replied between huffing into his hands. "Yeah what's on your mind?"
"I was wondering if you could do something for me."
Like a nest of avril hatchlings exploding with urgent feed me shrieking, alarm bells instantly began jangling in Carth's head. "It
on what it is."
Carth knew not to say yes-at-first-look when agreeing to favors for Dyran. He still remembered the time he'd agreed to check up on the Hawk's turret hydraulics: He'd ended up glazed with the black, sticky liquid used in the pumps for the turret tracking system. He knew maintenance was important, but he did not think it was worth having to slither down the hall slimier than a newborn Hutt
or spending the next week listening to Canderous' cracks about lube.
"Well you see, I, uh, have a bit of a problem, a
developing issue, if you know what I mean." At Carth's shrug, Dyran leaned closer and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "It has to do with Juhani."
Carth's mental alarms were now loudly advising "Abandon frakkin' ship!" with extreme prejudice. There was absolutely no way Carth was going to get suckered into explaining to Bastila how Juhani got pregnant. Or whatever this developing issue was.
"Whoa, Dyran! You can just stop right th"
Dyran waved him into silence. "Relax, Onasi, it's not that serious."
"Then I'd sure like to know what you think serious is!" Carth could not believe how blasé Dyran seemed. If he were a Jedi Padawan in love with another Jedi Padawan, and had been secretly busy making little Padawan babies under the nose of a Code-following terror of a woman, Carth would be much more cautious. And terrified.
"Look, I just need your help to straighten things out befo"
"Before what, she gives birth?" Carth realized, from Dyran's widened eyes and Zaalbar's low grumbling "snurf, " that he had been getting shrill. Again.
Dyran opened and shut his mouth a couple times before he could respond. "I
you've got this all wrong, Onasi. Will you just listen to me?"
Carth cleared his throat, mortally embarrassed. He brought his voice back down. Way down. But his wariness remained. "Fine. Okay. Sorry. What is it then?"
Nervously, Dyran flicked his gaze over to Bastila. Carth doubted she had shifted so much as a centimeter; she seemed totally unresponsive to anything and everything going on around her. That was the idea behind meditation, after all. While there was a tiny chance that Bastila could hear them, it was apparently a risk Dyran was willing to take.
He did, however, lower his voice to an infinitesimal whisper. "I don't know what's the matter with her. Juhani. Something's wrong. Back on Korriban it was finethe mission couldn't have been going better. But, I don't know, sometime after we got into the Sith Academy she would barely say two words to me!"
Carth paused, torn between a snicker and sympathy. He chose sympathybut just barely. Dyran obviously had major feelings for Juhani more than just oh-she's-so-hot, though that would be perfectly forgivable. But confined in a ship with a stringently Code-oriented Jedi was not the best place for a developing relationship. Especially not one so fraught with implications. Having Juhani become inexplicably angry at him, just as Dyran had gotten them away from Bastila's inexorable scrutiny, must have been tough. And frustrating. Despite his sympathy, Carth began to grin.
"So anyway," Dyran continued, "I was wondering if you could try to find out what's wrong. I'm hoping she'll be more open to you. AndI mean, you should know, she's totally forgiven you for, uh, everything. Really."
The irony didn't escape Carth in the slightest. Several weeks prior, he'd come to Dyran asking for almost the exact same favor gentle intervention on the feminine front. Only that time, it had been to ask Juhani's mercy and forgiveness for intruding on her and Dyran's stolen moment of strictly forbidden bliss. At least that had finally worked. Carth was not so sanguine about assuming the mantle of arbitrator.
But this was momentous. Dyran needed his help instead of the other way round. He was profoundly tempted to milk this for all it was worth. And why not? Enough with being fortune's whipping boy: It was time for Carth to be on top for a change.
how far would you be willing to go for this little favor, Dyran?"
"Don't try to strong-arm me, Onasi," Dyran warned, with an iron undertone.
But Carth was not to be denied. "If I do this, I want that recording of
" He did not need to elaborate further. Dyran possessed an audio recording of Carth
to a snake that had, thanks to Mission, wound up in his boot. Carth had been trying to worm that recording away from Dyran ever since he'd first seen the datachip twirled between the Jedi's fingers. This opportunity seemed ridiculously perfect.
Desperation was obviously the operative element in Dyran's reasoning at the moment. "Fine, you'll get the frakkin' datachip," he acquiesced, with considerable venom.
"Glad to hear it," Carth said, in a tone identical to Dyran's cadence of victory back when their positions had been reversed. He allowed himself a small, self-satisfied smirk of triumph.
"So get on with it!" Dyran's strained imperiousness cut off Carth's exultation.
"I'm going, I'm going, it's fine," muttered Carth. Rising, he gave his backside a perfunctory rub, trying to banish the frosty numbness left by the bench.ters
But the state of his rear was soon forgotten as his sense of triumph return. He couldn't banish his smirknor did he really want to. The day, despite its veneer of misery, was going amazingly well for him. Sure, it had started off rough with that run-in with Bastila's intimates and Canderous hadn't helped but things were finally brightening. First he'd delicately rid them of Mission in the wake of Canderous' exit, and now he had Dyran eating out of his hand, trying to get him to play negotiator with his Cathar love. Carth was going to win back that datachip, the one thing that would humiliate him beyond all recognition. Things were looking up. How hard could this be?
Juhani looked up at his approach.
"Yes? What is it, Carth?" Her tone was pleasant enough. As always, Carth couldn't for the life of him place that elusive accent in her voice. Dyran found it fascinating, but then, he probably liked every last thing about herbe it her accent, her deep full eyes, her supple skin, her graceful feline neck
her bust line.
"What?" Juhani hissed, golden eyes narrowing in annoyance. Carth realized he'd let his eyes wander down to the area of his musings.
Jerking his gaze back to a more conversational level, Carth cleared his throat. "I hear you've, well, been having a bit of a probl
issues, having issues with Dyran. Of some kind. Er. Anyway, he asked meI mean I'm here on his behalf."
Juhani raised an eyebrow, throwing a quick glance toward the distant Dyran. Carth knew that Dyran was probably irked that Carth had so freely admitted to acting on his behalf. He felt a victorious grin trying to take complete control. This was a good day to be him.
Rising smoothly to her feet, Juhani beckoned him with a tawny hand. Carth obediently followed her to the mouth of the cockpit hallwayout of Bastila's hearing range, but without conspicuously leaving her presence.
In a flash, Juhani seized Carth's orange jacket, dramatically impairing his ability to breathe and pulling him so close their noses almost touched.
Her breath was redolent of spiced Corellian sausage. Right now, that was the angriest smell Carth could think of. "You go tell Dyran," she began, her voice razored with restrained fury, "that his conduct with That Sith Woman was entirely unacceptable for a Jedi." The words "especially for him" remained unspoken, but they were resoundingly communicated.
Juhani released his collar, allowing Carth to back away several steps. He took in a few ragged gulps of air. This was unexpected, and not in a good wayat all. Really, why was Juhani making an issue of something judged "unacceptable conduct" for a Jedi? After all, she'd been cruising the frakkin' outskirts of the Code with that Dyran-snogging she'd been doing, which Carth had the great misfortune to accidentally witness. He had no idea why Juhani was in a snit about this
but he had a feeling he'd find out, along with plenty of details he'd have been more comfortable not knowing.
He speechlessly left, massaging his throat uneasily, and relayed Juhani's message to Dyran.
The neophyte Padawan was surprised at the response delivered by Carth. Sudden comprehension and apprehension bloomed on his face. He grabbed Carth's arm. "Tell her that I said I was sorry for saying that she was just a slave. We needed to get into that academy. I had to make her think that I was another Sith!" He sent Carth stumbling back to Juhani to supply her with these words.
The Cathar was not appeased. "Tell him that he knows that is not what I am talking abouthe was flirting with her!"
Dyran's reaction to this was further disbelief tempered with, well, temper. "That was purely professional! I thought I made my reasons clear! We. Had. To. Get. Into. The. Academy." Dyran punctuated every word with a slight shake of Carth's shoulder. Carth didn't understand why both Jedi seemed to think that they had to accompany their messages with shakes, jabs, or other laying of hands on his person.
Juhani remained unmollified as she declaimed to Carth. "I seem to remember him saying 'Why don't I simply take the room
it could prove beneficial to us both.' "
By now Carth was fervently wishing they would stop using him as a communication line, just talk face to face
so he could get as far from both of them as possible. Sequestering himself in the medical bay with Jolee was starting to sound downright relaxing.
Indignant, but at least not grabbing any of Carth's extremities, Dyran shot Juhani a less-than-affectionate look as he gave Carth his response. "I was referring to the academy! To taking the place of the Sith initiate I killed in the settlement!"
By now, Juhani had eased back into the main hold and now stood just a body-length from where Dyran sat, somewhat obscured by a swathe of hanging laundry. The conversation was taking place in fierce undertones, spoken through teeth clenched against undignified chattering. Carth had long ago abandoned any sense of mastery over the situation, resigning himself to dumbly repeating their communications. It was too cold to argue.
Juhani sniffed. "That would be a rather odd thing to ask while eyeing her bosom, don't you think, Carth?"
"I was not!" hissed Dyran from Zaalbar's far side. The Wookiee bore a long-suffering expression on his woolly face. "And even if I had been, how could you have even seen it? I was facing away from you!"
"Oh! Well," Juhani mock-sighed to Carth. Her arms were folded stiffly and her calf muscles were in knots. "I suppose Dyran has a point. After all, it would be rather challenging for him to ogle her while he was letting her bite his earlobe!"
"Oh right! This from the Cathar who gnaws on my chin whenever the mood hits! Carnivore lovethe greatest thing since marked cards!"
Carth, from a vantage point safely behind Zaalbar, could see that Dyran immediately regretted his words. But regret, as always, was useless.
Juhani glared at him venomously, hurt tears filling her eyes. Before Dyran could say another word, she stormed out of the main hold, surrounded by a seething aura of wounded feelings. Dislodged by the fury of her exit, an array of wet apparel plummeted to the floor with various smek noises.
Dyran clapped a palm to his face and proceeded to curse himself in every language he knew. He didn't even glance over at Bastila, whose eyes were fluttering under her lids as though she was in deep sleep.
Carth didn't know what Dyran planned to do when he ran out of curse words, but he considered himself done with the situation. He'd never bargained to become a sounding board for romantic angst. Carth was not a frakkin' relationship counselor, and carrying whispered snarls back and forth to their intended destinations was not his idea of a good time.
Finishing his self-rebuking rant with a 'and then frak me sideways,' Dyran shot to his feet, eyes sharp with purpose.
"Come on." He grabbed Carth's jacket for the umpteenth time and physically dragged him along in the direction Juhani had gone.
With his peripheral vision, Carth saw Bastila stir at the sound of their hasty exitthe first awareness she'd manifested since first sitting down. Carth stopped resisting Dyran's grip and hurled himself through the last phalanx of hanging laundry. If it was a choice between a possibly explosive lovers' quarrel or an epic, universal dressing-down at the hands of Bastila, he preferred the former. It wouldn't last weeks, for one thing.
While Dyran mounted a frantic search for the doubtlessly seething Juhani, Carth managed to work in some searching of his ownfor his clean clothes. The Ebon Hawk's entire gizka population had taken up residence in the cargo bay, burrowed inside a variety of mostly-dry clothing which they had somehow managed to pull from their lines. Carth hardly blamed them for fleeing the cold, but couldn't suppress a shudder of disgust as he quickly rummaged through the mess, dislodging scores of squeaking amphibians.
Juhani wasn't in the cargo hold. Nor was she in either dormitory, any of the hallways, or the medical bayalthough Dyran had taken Jolee's curt "No" at face value, without insisting on actually entering. As if that were even possible.
At last, outside the engine room, Dyran came to an abrupt halt, shutting his eyes and concentrating. Caught unawares, Carth ran into him at full speed, spilling his collected clothes all over himself. Dyran barely registered the impact; apparently he was using his finely tuned Force perception to locate Juhani. Ten minutes too late, as far as Carth was concerned.
Stifling a growl, Carth picked up his clothes, which comprised several pairs of boxers and five socks. He could have lived without them, but he never took the presence of underclothes for granted. Not since that time he'd been cleaning his blaster collection and asked Canderous for a spare rag. Canderous, who'd been in the middle of cleaning his own massive blaster, was happy to oblige, and Carth had blithely carried ontill he realized that the 'rag' he was using to mop up grease was, in fact, a pair of his own boxers.
Trying to take Canderous to task was even harder when Carth discovered that the son-of-a-schutta was using almost a third of his socks and a generous portion of his underwear as 'maintenance aids'. Carth's initial blinding rage had given way to the realization that, after all, there were worse things Canderous could've been doing with his underwear.
keep telling you it's not going to work! I don't know how I can use fewer syllables trying to explain it!" Mission's voice, cracking at the end, drifted to Carth's ears.
Carth and Dyran were standing outside the engine room, which was a scene of unrestrained chaos: Tools, repair equipment, and various assembled spare parts lay scattered across every flat surfaceeverything covered in a layer of grease. Mission hovered over Canderous with a healthy supply of unwanted advice, while he was wedged underneath one of the engine cylinders.
"Here, read my lips!" The Twi'lek gestured, making exaggerated mouth movements. "You Can't Bypass the primary coil buffer through the auxiliary power cycler! It'll just overload and we'll have to start over, again!"
Canderous pushed himself out, smudged with grease from head to toe. "I think the person who spent the majority of their life fighting with and maintaining their own machinery should be the voice of authority here, " he growled through teeth clenched around a hydrospanner, "not the one who killed time picking pockets and rifling through the latest issue of 'Inventive Curses Weekly.' "
Mission's retort was undoubtedly an exercise in high-pitched vulgarity and ridiculous volume, but Carth found himself overwhelmed with an intense disinterest in involving himself in yet another altercation.
A sound broke from Dyran's lips: a bizarre fusion of 'yes' and 'aha'. Carth didn't have time to decipher the predominant articulation before Dyran once again grabbed him and started swiftly down the hall. But Carth had long since had enough of being hauled around like a piece of Bastila's vast array of luggage.
So he dug in his heels. "I think I've held up my end of the bargain. You go find your deranged Cathar love if you want, but I'm taking myself out of the line of fire."
"You want that datachip? You stick with me." Dyran's voice was curt, but something in his manner hinted at
It occurred to Carth that Juhani had to be far, far angrier at Dyran right now than she had ever been at Carth. This realization stirred a vague sense of male camaraderie, but even more, it inspired an urge to point and laugh in glorious, relieved hilarity over the fact that someone else was suffering for a change.
Out of morbid curiosity and black, black humour, Carth kept following Dyran. "Why is it you so desperately need me around?"
"So I can use you as a human shield."
Carth was reasonably sure Dyran was joking, but he nevertheless took the precaution of hanging back, making a point of letting Dyran precede him. Carth was nobody's meatshield.
Dyran cautiously pressed into the dimly-lit garage, calling Juhani's name softly. The only answer was the low ambient hum of the hyperdrive.
Carth was about to suggest Dyran check the chillbox to make sure Juhani wasn't inhaling the rest of the sausagestill Juhani materialized from a shadow that had seemed insufficient to conceal gizka, much less a Cathar.
Juhani fixed Dyran with a penetrating golden-eyed glower that could have pierced starship hull. She completely ignored Carth, who had backed up a fair bit, apprehension warring with malicious glee at Dyran's nearly tangible trepidation.
Dyran ran a hand over his hair, his usual eloquence conspicuously absent as he groped for words. "Juhani
" he began hesitantly, "We've been through a lot. All of us have."
A voice in Carth's head was screaming "You could say that again!" He kept his teeth clamped down. Any interruption, especially from his jinxed mouth, would detonate the delicate situation into an all-out, no-holds-barred catastrophe. The bad side of these two Jedi was a dank, dark, grim, black hole that he knew too well, and no amount of money or stellar snappy rejoinders could tempt him to risk that horrible state of affairs.
"And I could tell you," Dyran continued, "how sorry I am for losing control back there
" He paused. "But I don't think I'd be able to adequately communicate it."
Carth could tell the Jedi was being sincere. The impudent voice in his head wanted to assure Dyran of the certainty that Juhani's capacity for forgiveness was surely as bountiful as her bosom. Choking a little with restraint, Carth quashed the voice as best he could.
It was Juhani who spoke next. "I
I've been worried about you, Dyran." Her softened expression said she'd already forgiven him, though she hadn't voiced it.
Dyran's eyebrows raised in silent inquiry. If there were a naughty voice in Dyran's head, Carth was sure it was grumbling loudly over how she'd chosen to express that worry.
Juhani went on. "You know that I care for you." At this, it was all Carth could do to refrain from muttering, "Yeah, and it's fracked up my life something awful." "But I was afraid that associating with the Sith was affecting you
I didn't know what to do."
Carth was sure that some mutinous part of his brain was trying to get him killed. He was spending so much energy not saying these things, his mouth might let a laugh past anywaywhich would certainly get him excoriated, if not outright slain. He withdrew further into shadow as Dyran took a step toward the Cathar.
"Juhani, you're one of the strongest women I've ever met. You've kept me strong too." Dyran's voice was low, strong and warm; he sounded like a romance hero. Carth turned a groan of derision into a quiet exhale. "Even in the heart of the Sith tombs, I never once saw you flinch. You, and you alone, are the reason I was able to carry onfurther than I ever thought possible."
Fiercely pinching the bridge of his nose and hoping for a miracle, Carth somehow kept a lid on his hilarity. But his shoulders shook with spasms of suppressed mirth; the temptation to utter his fabricated responses was unbelievable.
Carth heard Dyran softly voice several words in Cathar tongue. They seemed to hit home with Juhani; she broke out in a tearful smile and threw her arms around Dyran, whose breath left his lungs in a whooshwhether from relief, or Juhani's strength, was up for interpretation.
Exactly what Dyran had said, Carth wasn't sure. Judging from his supremely scanty knowledge of Cathar, he'd thought it sounded like something along the lines of either 'love' or 'ass'. But from the way Juhani was now locking lips with Dyran, Carth highly doubted it had been the latter.
Carth congratulated himself. He'd successfully defused a near-fiasco that would have rivaled that time PMS had afflicted the entire feminine faction of the crew. More importantly, he'd gotten through it with most of his dignity intactwhich was definitely a first. He checked his belt buckle, just out of habit.
And, if Dyran and Juhani ever let up with trading saliva, maybe just maybe things could quiet down a bit. At least till the heating system was repaired.
The near-shriek froze all three of them. Ice shot down Carth's spine. There was no mistaking that Talravin accent.
A livid Bastila Shan stormed into the garage, eyes blazing with unholy fire at the sight of the two embracing Jedi.
The other shoe had dropped.
"WELL?" demanded Bastila, shrill with righteous outrage. The other two Jedi quailed but still clung to each other. Carth, nearest to where she stood in the doorway, had the privilege of experiencing the full fury of Bastila's glareas if he were fully as accountable as the illicit lovers.
Seconds seemed to drag into eternity before Carth found his voice. His hand shot out, pointing at Dyran and Juhani, who had still not forsaken their embrace.
"They can explain!"