Posted by : Wendy B Wednesday, 18 July 2012

DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fanfiction for my personal entertainment (and maybe yours). Star Wars: The Old Republic and all related characters and locations are the property of Bioware Inc., based on Star Wars, created by George Lucas. RATING: Grown ups.
Juantha the Hutt’s palace was as gaudy as any other Hutt palace she’d been in. The only difference being the notable lack of rancor at the front door. That didn’t mean Juantha didn’t keep one elsewhere, but Cipher Nine was pleased to not have to deal with such a beast at the moment.

The Gamorrean guard grunted, coming to a halt in front of a set of great arched doors. He waved his blaster towards them and Cipher Nine guessed that the honour of opening them was being left to her. She sighed and gave the oversized heavy metal doors a mighty shove, announcing her arrival to Juantha and his five companions. She took in her surroundings immediately, noting that the two Twi’lek guards were armed with blasters, but the other three, a Chiss male in Imperial trappings, and two Imperial soldiers, had no weapons that she could see.

“Red Blade,” Juantha rumbled in Huttese, “You finally show your ugly face. So to speak.”

It was a joke. One that Juantha loved. Cipher Nine’s Red Blade armour covered her entire body from head to toe. It was a deep gray now, rather than the garish red the previous Red Blade had worn, though she had kept the eponymous weapon. She’d used it to kill him and steal his identity, she felt it only right she keep it in his honour. Besides, it was a lovely blade and the Hutt’s guards had learned that she would never let it out of her sight, no matter how many times they demanded she hand over all of her weapons.

“Oh forgive me your grace,” she said with mock humility and reverence, topped off with an elaborate bow. The electronically distorted voice of a male is what they heard. “I had noooo idea you had company.”

“We were just leaving,” the Chiss said in flawless Huttese. Cipher Nine had been surprised once to find Chiss speaking Huttese, but after Hoth, it no longer surprised her. And she would have expected no less from this particular Chiss.

“Aristocra Saganu! You stay for dinner,” Juantha ordered. The Aristocra bowed and, with a nod to the Red Blade, he and his guards took their leave of the throne room.

***

Cipher Nine had not been in attendance at dinner, having supposedly taken her leave of the palace. She would have appreciated it if Saganu had at least acted surprised to find the Red Blade waiting for him in the darkness of his rooms, but she knew better. He wasn’t at all phased, save for a slight smile lifting the left corner of his lips.

“I had always assumed the Red Blade to be male.”

“Why would you assume differently now?” came the distorted reply.

“Because she’s in my room, likely to prove me correct?”

“As a general rule, I sleep with or kill people who learn my secrets.”

“That sounds ... promising...”

She didn’t respond, taking the time to assess him which resulted in nothing. She still couldn’t understand how he had found her, much less how he had figured out who she was. He watched her quietly for a moment, his red eyes glowing softly in the partially lit room. Then, with a nod, he went about his business as if she were not there, leaving her – though she didn’t want to admit it to herself – utterly confused.

She watched him quietly move around the room, each movement precise, deliberate, yet utterly at ease. He removed his cape and jacket, then took two glasses from the bar and filled them part way before setting them at the small table in the corner of the suite. She smiled behind her mask and took her cue, finally removing her mask as she sat down across from him. He sipped his drink silently, watching her, until she gave up.

“What is it you want?”

“You are the one who came to my room.”

“Don’t play coy. You knew who the Red Blade was and that I would be here. You are a very long way from Hoth, Aristocra.”

“Vacation. I wanted warmer weather and a better view. And better company.”

He ought to be dead. She ought to have discreetly killed him by now as she would anyone who hunted her and learned her identity. Not that it happened often; she was far too careful for that. She would find out who had betrayed her to him and deal with them appropriately, but for now … he ought to be dead.

“Forgive me, Agent,” he said finally, “I do not wish to harm you and I do not wish to play games with you. I meant what I said about you on Hoth. You … impressed me and I have been unable to stop thinking about you. It is as simple as that. As to how I found you, well, I made some inquiries amongst your friends…”

Cipher Nine nodded slowly. “She’ll be dealt with,” she said, but she wasn’t angry. In fact, she was a bit surprised to find herself removing her helmet and running her fingers through her hair. It was sweaty and probably a mess – why did she care about this?

“I consider myself fortunate for never having had cause to wear such heavy armour. I imagine it must be rather uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable. Cumbersome,” she grimaced, “Smelly. I would love nothing more than a nice, hot bath at the moment.”

Saganu chuckled and got up, “That I can arrange.”

He made his way into the bathroom and soon Cipher Nine could hear the water rushing into the very luxurious tub she’d seen earlier in her investigation of his suite. There was a voice somewhere in her head telling her she needed to get the hell out of there, but she was tired of voices in her head giving her instructions. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been able to indulge. “Just this once,” she murmured to herself…

***

There was a knock on the door that interrupted Cipher Nine’s reverie as she luxuriated in the warm suds. She smiled, impressed by the aristocra’s continued show of chivalry. After he had readied the bath, he had excused himself to allow her to undress, returning only at her request for aid with some of the more difficult trappings. Aid that she hadn’t really needed, of course. Now, he brought her a freshly filled glass, which he placed on the edge of the tub. He apologized when he saw her suspicious glance at the drink.

“Ah. Of course,” he said, taking a sip from it himself. “Chiss physiology is no different than yours, as I’m sure you know. I assure you, I am not immune to anything that might harm you as well.”

“I suppose I should apologize for being so mistrustful.”

“Would you mean it?”

"No," she sighed. She studied him for a time and he stood there, silently allowing the study. "I... should go," she said, finally. The disappointment flashed for only a moment, but he nodded and stepped out of the bathroom, closing the door gently behind him. She dressed slowly, hesitantly. He was standing at the window when she exited the bathroom. He didn't turn. "I should go," came the distorted but slightly more confident voice of the Red Blade. He didn't turn. He didn't speak. He didn't stop her. It was better this way.

***

"Oh. Come. On!" exclaimed Kaliyo when Cipher Nine had returned to her X70B-Phantom. "Why do you just assume I'm to blame?"

"Because it's usually true," said Cipher Nine, folding her arms across her chest. "You compromised my identity."

"He's not going to tell anyone. Look. I saw the way you guys looked at each other on Hoth. You need this, Nine. You need someone you can just be yourself with. Relax. Cut loose. You know... get some," she grinned

"I thought you'd made that your job."

"Somehow, I think he can fulfill that role slightly better than I can."

Cipher Nine sighed. "Look. I can't. I understand what you're doing, but. I don't need this. I can't."

Kaliyo gazed at her for a moment, then relented. "Fine. I'm sorry. Are we cool?"

Cipher Nine smiled, "Yes. I won't kill you today."

"Good," said Kaliyo. The mercenary grinned, clapping her hands together and skipping over to a box on her desk. "Then you won't hate me for giving you this."

Cipher Nine glared at the medium-sized box suspiciously. "What is this?"

"I don't know," she said innocently. "It's from him."

***

He waited with his typical infinite Chiss patience. When she arrived 20 minutes late, he was no less calm than when he first arrived an hour early. The dress he’d had delivered to her ship fit perfectly. The delicate lace and trailing ribbons cascaded down her bare back and the softly shimmering silver material matched her hair and contrasted her deep brown skin. She looked beautiful. But it was not Cipher Nine.

The woman took a seat at the bar and, after a moment, he approached her. “She’s not coming,” the woman said, after ordering a drink.

“She has an elaborate way of delivering her messages.”

“I’m not complaining,” she tossed over her shoulder, “She said I could keep the dress and drinks are on you.”

The bartender brought her drink as if on cue and she sipped it, not turning to look at him. He nodded to the Twi’lek behind the bar, who nodded back and went about serving his other customers. She did not invite him to sit with her, and he did not show inclination to do so. Instead, he returned to his table in the corner, a look of mild disappointment on his face.

Cipher Nine watched him for 20 minutes longer from the opposite end of the restaurant, undecided. She knew what she should do – well, she knew what she should have done, but she was already here. Her message could have been delivered without her observation and she would have been far away, free from temptation. Should have, would have, could have. It didn’t matter. She was here. Worse, now she was moving towards him.

She was not the Red Blade tonight, but her face was most certainly one he could not know. She slipped into the empty seat across from him. Annoyance flashed across his face, but it quickly passed, replaced by his usual calm manner. “I’m waiting for someone,” he said quietly.

“You’ve been waiting quite a while. Is she worth it?”

“Yes.”

She stared at him for a long time. He gazed back at her silently. “I should kill you,” she said softly.

“It would, perhaps, solve both of our problems.”

Finally, she let the holographic imaging drop. Others in the restaurant might have noticed the momentary sparkling aura around her as her skin shifted from pale white to deep brown, her hair lengthened and lightened and the short black dress became the soft silver ribbons and lace. He stood then and offered her his hand. She took it and rose, spinning slowly at his lead to allow him full view of his gift. If the other patrons hadn’t noticed her before, they surely would now, especially when he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her in for a deep, wondrous kiss that nearly left her off balance, but for his support.

“I have regretted not doing that when last we met,” he murmured.

***

Come morning, he found her missing from his bed. This he eventually came to expect, if not accept. But he would take what he could; have what little she was willing to give. Their clandestine encounters sometimes happened within weeks, sometimes within days, but each time, she would slip away silently as he slept, each time leaving him to wonder if it would be the last time he would see her.

Then he made the mistake of asking about her past. She disappeared for months. Kaliyo could or would not tell him anything. He tried to convince himself that she was deep undercover and could not risk contacting him. He even considered her death a possibility, but he could not accept that she was simply gone because of him. He could not accept that he had lost her with such a stupid mistake.

***

"This is a weakness," said a cold voice behind her, accompanied by the soft whir of servos.

Cipher Nine continued reviewing the nav charts in the cockpit. "I suppose that finally means the time has come for you to kill me."

"Hmm." Cipher Nine did not have to look to know that SCORPIO's head was cocked slightly in that surprisingly human way that meant the assassin droid was, "Curious."

"Fortunate for me that your curiousity outweighs your desire to see me dead."

"Indeed.I enjoy your enigma. Love is an entirely new dimension. Assuming it will not interfere with the mission, I will continue to observe."

"You are gracious."

"But should it become a hindrance..."

"I will kill him myself, SCORPIO."

"Will you? Hmm..."

***

More months passed. The Chiss base on Hoth had been relocated, but it didn't matter. She found it and made her way through the frozen wastelands, slipping past the security and defenses and marching through the front door without a second glance at the guards. She was wearing standard issue Imperial attire, which might have been enough to give the guards pause, but it was her sheer determination and singular purpose that left them stunned. 

He was standing in the main hub, reviewing schematics and various processes when she entered. He glanced up and for once, he registered surprise at her arrival. 

"You need to leave me alone!" she announced, stopping a few feet away and pointing an accusatory finger at him. 

"It's been months!" he said in a voice that tried to remain calm, but failed. "You came all the way here to tell me that?"

She shook her head and her shoulders drooped in frustration, defeat. "No. That did not come out at all like how I planned on the way here."

He waved away the guards and other staff members, leaving them alone in the big, hollow room with its computers and flashing lights. She suddenly felt very small, but she pressed on. “I had a name once,” she began when she gained control, “A past … but I cannot give it to you.”

“Forgive me,” he said, stepping forward, reaching out to her, “I should not have asked.”

She stepped out of his reach, shaking her head and wrapping her arms around herself. “There is nothing to know; it does not exist. The Jedi speak of sacrifice. Of giving up the lives they know to become what they are, but they can always go back. That is their greatest weakness. An agent cannot risk such weakness. That's why it's taken away. Completely. I had a name, but I have no past and I will have no future. Nothing that can be used against the Empire; against me. I know all there is to know about you, Saganu, but there is nothing to know of me but what you see. I am Cipher Nine and all I can ever give you is right here, right now.”

“I know,” he replied quietly. “It is enough.”

She looked at him for a long time, allowing the truth in his words to finally sink in, releasing her. “You know. You’ve always known.”

***

No amount of thermal equipment and blankets could ever remove the chill entirely from any building on Hoth. His quarters were no different, but she didn’t mind. She watched him sleep for some time, as she’d done many times before, listening to his rhythmic breathing, tracing his features with gentle fingertips. By now, she would have been slipping out of the bed, gathering her carefully placed belongings and vanishing from his life, promising herself that this was the last time because their situation was too much of a risk. Too much of a liability to the Empire, to herself.

Tonight was different. Tonight she had finally come to accept that he truly did understand. It didn’t lessen the danger, but knowing that he accepted the risk meant she no longer had to worry about him for that reason. It meant that he understood why she could never completely trust him. Why she could never be bound to him.

It was enough, save for one thing.

“My name….” she hesitated, “is Illumin … Illumin Dust.”

She kissed him lightly on the forehead and rolled over, resting her head on her pillow.

She felt him shift then and her body tensed. Her right hand wrapped itself around the hilt of her vibroblade under the pillow and her mind screamed at her for being such a fool as his arm snaked around her waist, dragging her backwards into his body and holding her firmly in place.

“I love you, too,” he said, brushing his lips against the back of her neck.

She stared at the ice wall, willing her body to relax and her heart and mind to stop racing. Her fingers released the blade and she let out a held breath. He loosened his hold on her, without letting her go and his fingers entwined themselves in hers. She smiled and sighed softly. She closed her eyes and fell asleep.

WHAT IS THIS?

This is my mindspill. Mostly about comics, books, video games, movies of the science fiction and fantasy leanings. Sometimes recipes and parenting stuff will sneak in, along with a real world rant or two.

I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.

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