blood bag - sauntering_down - Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Series (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: one

Chapter Text

Bogano is nothing like Cal imagined.

Oh, he’s had more than his fair share of rescue fantasies over the past few years – meandering daydreams while his mind went numb severing acceleration conduits from starship drives, stories he told himself as Imperial triumph smothered the galaxy, desperate comforting fairytales between nightmares of blaster fire and putrefaction clogging his nose and mouth – but they treaded the same familiar paths. Surviving Jedi who had disappeared underground to regroup and plan. Someone finding Cal slaving away for his meager salary (always eaten again by the Guild before he saw more than a few credits) and spiriting him away from here. Returning to Coruscant, taking back their home, setting the toppled Republic upright again. Living. Recovering. Thriving.

He never pictured wildly grasping at the Force to save Prauf only to lose him an hour later, or the Inquisitors, or practically being caught midair by an ex-Jedi and her ornery pilot who swooped in out of nowhere to save him. And rebuilding the Order… Cal had wanted to believe there still was an Order. A damaged, diminished Order, perhaps, but Knights and Masters who could take the helm and guide them away from total destruction. Instead, their only chance is a holocron of Force-sensitive children and a Padawan so broken he can’t even meditate without causing property damage.

It’s not all bad, he reminds himself. It’s not bad at all, really. Bogano is so quiet. The overgrown grasses ripple in the wind and boglings chirp and water trickles through underground springs, and Cal, so accustomed to the endless mechanical chorus of the Scrapper Guild, hasn’t heard a single thruster since Greez powered off the Stinger Mantis. He sat down earlier just to listen to the silence and bask in the sunlight for a little while and woke up to BD-1 informing him he’d been muttering in his sleep. Now, he cups his hands around his eyes, looks off towards the horizon. The planet orbits a trinary star system; the closest sun is sinking out of sight, burning the sky pink and orange and red, while the distant twins are hardly more than bright white freckles.

Night on Bogano is no darker than what other planets consider nautical twilight, BD says, and Cal glances down at him. Not too difficult to see, the droid adds, for a Human – bog rats are nocturnal, though, and splox crepuscular, so nighttime exploration is not without its risks.

Cal shakes his head. “Don’t think I’m gonna be doing any of that tonight.” In lieu of his final paycheck, Bracca took a few ribs. That’s half the reason they’re wasting time on Bogano – Cal’s held together with spit and spacetape, and Greez has been practically dismantling his ship to find out why he’s getting pushback from the weapons systems. Cere already grounded them for another day, anyway. It's not all bad. Cal has forgotten how to think like a Jedi, how to let the Force pass through him like a porous clay vessel, guide his movements, bend him to its will. At the moment, he feels bloated with it. Whatever’s wrong with Cal, it’s not been eased by escaping Bracca or finding a reason to be a Jedi again, but maybe he’ll find enlightenment among the nooks and niches of Master Cordova’s workshop. And while he’s reserving his trust until they’ve earned it, Cere and Greez are… okay. Cere seems to like him. She needs him. Once or twice Cal’s caught her looking at him with a strange, veiled expression, and he suspects he’s not what she was truly searching for. An older, less traumatized, more trained Jedi would better serve her purposes. On the other hand, they might be strong enough to refuse. Cal is seventeen years old and his pathetic excuse for a life was just smashed to dust. Cere offered something he didn’t know he wanted until she dangled it in front of him, and he crumbled like a sandcastle even in the face of her remarkably evasive explanation for why she’s no longer a Jedi. He doesn’t trust her yet, but he likes her nonetheless. The Bogano breeze toys with his hair while Cal watches the sunset alongside a little droid who’s been glued to Cal’s side since the moment he fixed BD’s damaged leg. It’s not bad at all. He could get used to this.

Unfortunately, Cal is pretty sure he’s dying.

He doesn’t have any sort of duracrete evidence for that claim – just a hollow discomfort in the pit of his stomach that swelled, sickeningly, the moment Greez shook him awake. Then, Cal had merely been exhausted and sore (bouncing off a hoverbarge ribcage-first wasn’t one of his better ideas) and put it down to nerves. He was stuck on a starship with his so-called rescuers and no escape plan. “Here,” Cere had said before sending him off to the Vault, little hyposprays cascading from her hands to Cal’s, “painkillers. Use what you need.” It was an interesting gesture – he’d not complained of discomfort and she apparently had no concern he might misuse them and swiftly render himself insensate. Cal took one, stashed the rest for later, and went about his business, only slightly bothered by his ribs and back and shoulder.

But the pain wasn’t the problem. As the day wore on, as he felt the faintest ember of hope there might yet be a future for the Jedi, he also began to feel like the unapproved trash he was. Fatigued, dizzy, shaky, nauseated. Cal wasn’t stupid enough to let it show in front of Cere or Greez, but with only BD-1 around to witness any weakness now, he’s slumped against the Mantis’s doors, trying to bully his legs into taking the rest of his weight so he can actually go inside. He feels wrong. Maybe everything’s catching up with him. Or maybe he’s getting sick, which is a terrifying prospect – if Cere and Greez start believing Cal’s too frail to handle this, he’s likely to find himself inhabiting a bogling tunnel for the rest of his days. He can’t let that happen. Cal takes a deep breath and forces his heavy-lidded eyes all the way open.

And then the world falls away and he gets a brief glimpse of the sky spinning above him before his rear hits the floor.

“Kriff!” Greez yelps. Cal blinks, woozy, and sees the Latero’s upside-down face hovering above his – well, the evidence suggests he’s flat on his back. The ship’s deck is cold beneath him. BD’s little feet tap across the metal and then he too thrusts his face into view, mismatched optics boring into Cal’s. “Sorry, kid – didn’t know you were leaning on the hatch -”

The neuron slurry functioning as Cal’s brain at the moment finally electrifies. Greez opened the Mantis’s doors and Cal landed on his ass. Fabulous. “I’m good,” Cal grunts, patting BD before gently pushing him aside so he can sit up. His stomach gives a spacesick wobble. “Little warning next time would be nice, though.”

“Yeah, of course. What were you doing leaning on my hatch, anyway….” Greez mutters, back to grumping in a heartbeat now that he’s assured he didn’t accidentally fracture his new crewmate. He thumps the control panel to close the doors again. “Food’s up. I threw a little something together. And don’t even think about ditching dinner; we could turn you sideways and fit you on a bookshelf.”

Cal looks at him. BD looks at him. Cere, joining them from the co*ckpit, looks at him.

“What?” Greez exclaims, tossing two hands up. “It’s just a saying! You’re skinny! Ah, fine, I guess that one doesn’t translate too well into Basic….”

“I knew what you meant,” Cal offers. “I’ve never heard anyone put it that way before, though.”

Greez sighs, shakes his head, and sulks up to the galley. Cere, utterly failing to suppress a smile, extends a hand to Cal, who only hesitates a second before taking it and heaving himself to his feet. If Cere notices she needs to lend a little strength to that endeavor, or that he can’t conceal a wince, she doesn’t seem to think anything of it. “Okay?” she says once Cal’s standing.

He nods. “Just sore. Don’t fall through the roof of a train car.”

“I’ll do my best to avoid it.” She tilts her head towards the galley. “Let’s not keep Greez waiting….”

Cal trails behind her, waiting for his ears to stop ringing. It’s been years since he had a home-cooked meal. He never had the time or money on Bracca, and he sure didn’t expect it here – the Mantis’s galley storage is flush with the typical complement of spacefarer rations, which incidentally is what Greez distributed for lunch. But the Latero actually put in the effort to throw a little something together, placing a covered pot on the table and whipping the lid off with a grand flourish. “Ta-da!” he proclaims. “Mushroom Surprise!”

Cere, already seated and reaching for her knife, pauses. “Captain, does the word ‘surprise’ have different connotations in Plains Lateron?”

The only thing surprising about this dish is how much black hole pepper Greez added, BD announces.

Greez is too busy flapping his spoon at BD to notice Cal almost falling into the last empty chair at the table. “Hey! You, with the antennae! Quit scanning my food… and relax, Cere, I’m just calling it that because I had six different kinds of mushrooms. You won’t know what you’ll get ‘til you take a bite. Gimme your bowl, kid,” he adds, and Cal slides it across the table while BD retreats. “How much do you want?”

One part of Cal wants to shove his entire face into the pot and inhale, and the rest wants to puke. “Only a little,” he says, hopes nobody finds him rude for putting his elbow on the table to hold up his head because it’s trying to tip off his shoulders. “I’m not that hungry….”

“Yeah, but you gotta eat,” Greez lectures, plopping a hearty ladleful of stew into the bowl. “You’re no good to us if you waste away.”

At least someone’s being upfront about Cal’s role here. A tool to be wielded. He nods at the pot, says, “How much of that did you make?”

“Uh, I didn’t measure, exactly. Enough for us to have leftovers for maybe two more dinners.”

“That whole pot,” Cal says, taking the bowl from Greez, “would be my breakfast, lunch, and dinner for about three weeks on Bracca.”

For a moment, that statement just… hangs there. Greez peers into the stew, fails to notice BD-1 doing the same. Cere’s eyes meet Cal’s and swiftly sweep away. Then Greez says, “Spirits, no wonder we could fit you on a bookshelf,” and starts dishing up some Mushroom Surprise for Cere, too.

The stew is, as Greez claimed, almost entirely mushrooms with some onions and greens for variety. It’s warm and doesn’t taste like it’s been rehydrated. Cal exercises a lot of self-control by not shoveling it in – his stomach’s only reluctantly accepting small, slow spoonfuls and he doesn’t want to throw up Greez’s generosity. Half the bowl disappears very quickly anyway. “It’s really good,” he says when the Latero looks at him hopefully. The words waver, and Cal hastily looks back at his food and blinks until the tears recede. His dumb traitorous body is doing all sorts of stupid crap right now. He sure didn't give it approval to cry. It’s just been so long since he’s had enough to eat.

To distract himself, he takes a drink of his water. Only a room-temperature trickle makes it into his mouth. He emptied the cup already and didn’t even notice. Greez notices, because he says, “There’s more,” through a mouthful of Mushroom Surprise and pushes the pitcher towards Cal, who takes it – and then has to brace himself through a cold flood of adrenaline and fear. He lifts the pitcher high and spins around and sees –

The pitcher slips from his hands and so too does the echo; Cal blinks a few times and realizes he’s been clutching the handle and staring off into space long enough for everyone to start regarding him with concern. “Sorry,” he says quickly, glances at Greez. “Uh… who tried to hit you over the head with this?”

“It’s creepy when you do that,” Greez says instead of answering the question.

“I can’t help it.”

Greez huffs through his nostrils, then slyly grins and says, “You should be asking her, anyway,” and points to Cere with a free hand.

Ooh, storytime, BD says brightly, settling down and focusing both optics on her.

Cal raises his eyebrows at Cere, who looks embarrassed. After a moment, however, she gives a rueful chuckle. “It’d been a difficult night, okay?” she says. “I didn’t hear him coming up behind me, and then he poked me in the back, and – well. I went for the first weapon within reach. Then I realized who he was and stopped. I did not actually try to hit him with it.”

She would’ve smashed Greez’s skull like a cheap jug if she had, Cal thinks, refilling his cup and then draining about half of it in one long draught. She’d been genuinely terrified, willing to do whatever it took to survive… he wishes she had told him why she was no longer a Jedi, but if she doesn’t want to, he’s not going to press. He knows damn well he’s got a good deal here. He fishes another mushroom out of his bowl and his stomach clenches in warning, so Cal lowers the spoon. “Sorry,” he says again, “but I don’t think I can finish this.”

“No big,” Greez says, waving him off. “I’ll pop what’s left in the conservator for tomorrow anyway.”

Cal drinks the rest of his water and stands. His knees almost buckle. He has to grab the edge of the table so he doesn’t fall and neither Cere nor Greez miss it. In fact, one of Cere’s hands shoots up even though Greez is seated between her and Cal, and he wonders if she just instinctively reached to brace him, or if some part of her was prepared to catch him with the Force. “Are you all right?” she asks.

Stars,” Greez says, gawping, “I’ve never seen a Human go that pale before, and you were pretty kriffin’ pale to start with.”

Cal closes his eyes for a second, shakes his head hard, reopens them. His vision’s gone a bit blurred at the corners. He doesn’t need them to care; he’s here for one reason and getting attached is just going to hurt everyone in the end. “I’m fine,” he says, rubbing a hand over his face. “Just really tired, I think. It’s been a long –” day, week, month, “five years.”

He shouldn’t have said that. It sounds too vulnerable. He runs his hand through his hair, too, and then abruptly stops and pulls it away. “Why is my hair all… stiff and clumpy?”

Oh, BD-1 says, a bogling came up while Cal was napping in the grass and started chewing on his hair. He was going to chase it off, but Cal didn’t even twitch, so….

“Oh,” Cal echoes.

“What’s he saying?” Greez asks Cere. She gives him a fast translation and Greez scoffs, stabbing his spoon into a mushroom. “Sure, when the bogling does it, it’s fine, but when I take a quick nibble just to see what it tastes – I’m joking! Stop looking at me like that!”

“I don’t think I want you waking me up anymore,” Cal says. “Uh, is it okay if I use the shower?”

Greez halts the torrent of muttering about how nobody understands his humor long enough to say, “Yeah, go ahead. You really don’t gotta ask, you know.”

Cal shrugs. He’s not about to step on anyone’s toes and jeopardize his position here. He makes it out of the galley without wobbling, and once he’s in the corridor, he can hold onto the wall to guide him to safety in the ‘fresher… where he can hold onto the counter until his legs feel solid and the hot bile licking at the back of his throat karks off. He may not be dying, specifically, but something beyond ‘really tired’ is wrong with him. Will they give him time to recover if he comes down with the flu tomorrow? He can be functional again in two or three days. On Bracca he wouldn’t have even needed (or been allowed) that long. The constant pain and the weight of the entire Jedi Order on his shoulders are weighing him down.

When he can stand up almost straight without collapsing, Cal starts undressing, pausing to contemplate the beautiful black-and-blue canvas of his torso. He’d awoken to a bruise coating his entire left side from armpit to hip; nine or ten hours later and it’s encroaching on his stomach. Prodding it feels like being punched, so he only does that once. He takes another painkiller from his belt, pumps it into his neck, and exhales as the hypo cradles his broken ribs. If he wasn’t so afraid of getting the boot, he’d welcome a bout of flu just so he would have an excuse to fall into bed for the next eighty hours.

The sonic makes the base of his skull ache. Cleans the dirt and blood and bogling spit away, though. He pauses halfway through his shower to throw up in the toilet and then just never bothers going back, hunching over the sink, running cold water into his hands and drinking straight from them. His mouth is leathery, his lips dry and cracked. Spirits, a few hours of sunlight and he’s more dehydrated than the pyub sprout Prauf put on a shelf and forgot about for two years.

Cal gets dressed and drags his sorry carcass back out to the galley. He doesn’t see Greez, at first, but then he spots movement down in the lounge and finds the Latero dabbing at his potolli-weave sofa with a rag and some kind of cleaning fluid. BD-1 is watching this procedure from the table, head tipped to one side. “See,” Greez says, wagging the bottle at BD, “this sofa is specifically spot-treat only. And this stuff works wonders, but eventually it’s gonna bleach the fabric and then I’ll have weird white spots all over the place and people will say, ‘oh, Greez, what’s on your sofa?’ and giggle like immature idiots. We wanna avoid that, okay? So you keep your grimy feet off my couch, and in return, I don’t rev the thrusters while you’re plugged in and blow every circuit in your tiny body. Deal?”

That would not blow his circuits, BD says. He isn’t some fragile entertainment ‘bot built to be gauzy and weightless while dancing. But fine, if it means that much to Greez, he’ll try not to make a mess.

“He said yes,” Cal says when Greez just looks at BD uncomprehendingly. Greez glances up towards Cal, who adds, “Do you mind if I have something else to drink before I go to bed?”

“Okay, Cal, listen,” Greez sighs. “This ain’t a classroom. You don’t gotta raise your hand every single time you need something. You can grab a drink or a snack or use the ‘fresher without asking first.”

Sure, Cal thinks, but how long until he crosses a boundary he never knew about and that permission is revoked? Better to err on the side of caution. Greez is waiting like he expects a response, though, so Cal nods and obediently says, “Okay.”

“Good.” Greez flaps his rag at the galley. “Plenty of water. We also have a ton of cachu juice – got a case of the stuff as a freebie. Bottles are under the counter if you want one….”

Cal’s never had cachu juice before. Maybe the sugar will help him quit being all gauzy and weightless, so he excavates a bottle, cracks the top open, and proceeds to chug the entire thing without pausing. It’s not awful. Little bland. Didn’t cost him two hours in the shipbreaking yard so he can drink something that doesn’t taste like it’s been sitting in a rusted pipe for sixteen decades. When he comes up for air and screws the cap back on the empty bottle, Greez is side-eyeing him. “…you can have another, if you want….”

“Cheers,” Cal says tiredly, takes a second bottle, and heads to the engine room with it. BD patters after him.

After getting BD plugged into the ship’s power supply – if he can get his hands on the materials and finds some free time, Cal ought to build him a proper charging pod so he doesn’t have to worry about Greez being vindictive – Cal splatters into bed, 10% Human and 90% cachu juice, and mushes his face against the pillow. Last time, he thought he’d never fall asleep and was out cold the second he put his head down, so he’s hoping for round two. Sleep should help. Tomorrow he’ll wake up either feeling a lot better or a lot worse; the former will make everybody happy, and the latter will make nobody happy but Cere and Greez can decide right away how much slacking they’ll tolerate.

…or Cal will wake up after three hours because the Force is hugged around him like the parents he hardly remembers, like his crechemaster, like Master Tapal when Cal had nightmares and came to him in tears. He can only cling to the feeling for an instant before it glides away, job done. He’s awake. He’s awake and panting and drenched in sweat. His stomach hurts. Everything hurts. He lifts his head and the engine room tumbles, and Cal bites off a yelp so it doesn’t escape when he tips over the edge of the cot and slams to the deck.

He lays there, flat on his back again and gasping, and time slips by, fleeting, syrupy. He really needs the ‘fresher – who wouldn’t, after so much liquid – but standing up seems an insurmountable task. Forget the flu; that dying hypothesis isn’t looking so far-fetched anymore. He gropes around until his nerveless fingers hit the edge of the cot, uses it to pull himself upright, almost passes out from the effort. “sh*t,” he breathes, closing his eyes and pressing his other hand to them. If any of that juice is still in his stomach, he’ll be seeing it soon. Sick and shivering, Cal gets one knee under him, then the other, and then he’s kneeling. Halfway to his feet. Almost there.

Standing isn’t so bad once he’s finally up, he tells himself. Doesn’t even matter his vision tunnels once he gets to the corridor, since there isn’t much to see there. His parched throat drives him to the galley first. Drinking directly out of the pitcher of water is probably one of those invisible lines Cal’s afraid to cross, but he’s going to fall if he leans over to grab another juice. Nobody needs to know. He leaves the pitcher on the counter, staggers to the lounge, sprawls onto the cold sofa because his legs have had enough.

Lying back down was the best idea he’s had so far, Cal decides after some indeterminable number of minutes. Being horizontal is forcing blood into his sluggish brain. Why did he come all the way out here instead of using the ‘fresher like he’d intended? Why didn’t he knock on a door and tell somebody he thinks he’s dying for real now? Why didn’t he wake BD-1 and ask him to knock on a door and get help? Now he’s on the lounge sofa, grabbing Cere’s datapad to use as a light source while he hikes up his shirt.

The bruising has gotten worse. His stomach, something he does not recall injuring on Bracca, is dark purple and feels strangely taut when he presses on it.

Oh. He is actually, legitimately dying.

Funny how that realization snaps his mind into something resembling clarity. Given the choice, he’d wake Cere rather than Greez, but there’s no getting up – the mere act of breathing is making Cal’s head swim nauseatingly – so he improvises. He cranks the datapad’s volume to max and opens the music player to find the loudest, most obnoxious song on Cere’s playlist… and, in the process, discovers she has the worst taste in the history of the galaxy. She’s got her songs organized by the number of times played, and sitting pretty in the top five is teenage sparkle-bop sensation Dembaline’s very first screeching monstrosity. Sure, the rest of the list is classical and jatz, with the odd danceable warbat trance tune thrown in for flavor, but Cal’s still appalled. He wishes he’d known this about her before he agreed to take the job. Doesn’t get much more obnoxious than Squid Like Me, though, so he queues it up and hits play.

Eyes like pearls on the sides of my head!” Dembaline wails into the quiet Bogano night. “Could you sink me deeper into dread?!

Elsewhere on the Mantis, something goes thump. Greez yells a muffled string of profanity.

I know you’ll never look at me… I know the gills are all you can see….

Cere makes an appearance by the first chorus. She’s not stomping, exactly, but the woman is positively flooding the Force with exasperation as she turns on the light, and she does an impressive job of looming over him with an expression like a thundercloud. He pauses the song. “Cal,” she says tonelessly, “you have ten seconds to explain yourself.”

Cal squints at the datapad for a moment before his fingers lose their grip and it clatters to the deck. “Isn’t Dembaline the one who got in trouble for being really, really racist towards the Quarren?” he wonders.

“Different Dembaline. Three seconds.”

“I think I’m bleeding inside,” Cal says, and pushes up his shirt again so she can see the state of him for herself. The irritation slides off her face. Helpfully, he traces a circle around his side and adds, “Only this much was bruised when I checked at lunchtime.”

Cere wordlessly takes his wrist in one hand and her datapad with the other, watching the chrono, fingertips pressed to his pulse. Cal fights the impulse to close his eyes. “Okay,” she murmurs, and then fills her lungs and shouts, “Greez!”

“I’m coming!” he hollers. He is stomping; Cal hears him come into the galley and pound down the steps, tips his head back to catch the dirty look Greez throws him. “The hell are you two –”

“What’s the nearest population center?” Cere interrupts. “On Voor’leev?”

“Yeah – wait, no, I think Bkkthera’s closer. Why?”

“We need to find a medcenter. Now. Cal’s losing a lot of blood.”

“On my sofa?” Greez says weakly, eyes roving all over Cal’s form like he expects to see a fountain spurting from a severed artery.

Internally,” Cere says. “Probably the entire time we’ve been here, from the look of it. Go, Captain.”

Without further comment, his untied and blindingly magenta bathrobe flapping behind him like a cape, Greez rushes to the co*ckpit. Cal tries to follow the takeoff sequence by sound alone, but quickly gets distracted when BD-1 shoots up onto the back of the sofa and frantically asks what’s wrong with Cal.

“Internal bleed,” Cal says, shuddering. “Cere, we – we gotta be careful. The Empire’s looking for me.”

Cere, shoving a crate onto the end of the couch and heaving Cal’s legs onto it so they’re propped up at an angle, doesn’t flinch. “We’ll have to take that risk.”

They do not have to take that risk. There’s an instant where he could refuse, tell them not to compromise their safety for him, just leave his body for the splox and good luck on the mission, but he lets it slip by and then scolds himself for being so weak. “Why Squid Like Me?” he mumbles as the Mantis lifts off.

Crouching down next to him, checking his pulse again, Cere says, “Will you believe me if I say it’s a secondhand datapad and that was already on there when I bought it?”

“Mm… no.”

She almost smiles. “Fine, it’s terrible, but I’ll admit I find it genuinely catchy.” She reaches up and pushes Cal’s sweaty hair off his forehead like she can’t help herself. “Keep your eyes open or else I’ll make you listen to it. On repeat.”

And then they’ll make him listen to the dance club remix, BD adds. It is, somehow, even worse.

“…torture.” He’s hemorrhaging. Hasn’t he suffered enough already?

Greez, rendered down to a fuzzy mess of grey and magenta that won’t sharpen no matter how hard Cal blinks, comes barreling back into the lounge, so they must be in hyperspace. “Fifteen minutes to jump two systems,” he mutters. “Hate the karkin’ labyrinth of hyperlanes in this sector… what else do you need from me?”

“The medkit,” Cere says. “And a blanket. We should keep him warm.”

A blanket sounds nice. There isn’t one on his cot. Cal stares at the ceiling and does his best to slow his breathing, unsuccessfully. He thinks he can feel it now – his heart thrashing against his busted ribs, trying to suck in enough blood to circulate and pulling up short with every beat. No wonder he’s been so thirsty. Reading his mind, Cere quietly says, “I wish you’d said something.”

“Didn’t know until a few minutes ago.”

“But you didn’t feel well. You should’ve told us.”

Suddenly, I thought you’d be mad and kick me out sounds absurd, so Cal doesn’t reply. BD jumps down (kindly landing on Cal’s thigh rather than his stomach) and pokes him with a foot. Cal forces his drooping eyelids back open. Greez makes his grand return, then, and Cere whips the blanket from his hands and tucks it around Cal. It’s striped red and sky blue and the echo that hits him is more of a feeling than a memory – for a second, he is overwhelmingly secure, like he just drank something warm on a frigid day and the heat courses down his throat and fills his stomach.

Greez sets a box on the table with a grunt. Cal blinks at it blearily. “That a medkit or a suitcase…?”

“Listen, this is a luxury vessel, but most of the stuff on it is military surplus,” Greez says. “It’s cheap on Lateron and I didn’t have a lotta money to sling around after I bought the ship.”

Cere pops the latches and starts rummaging, and Cal makes himself inventory everything she removes so he doesn’t fall asleep. Small bottle with a queasy green holotoon face printed on it. A line of tubing tied to a packet of needles. Box of bacta patches. Shiny silver scissors. “She got a good look at you,” Cal says abruptly. “That Inquisitor.” Cere’s hands go still for the briefest moment. “They’ll be looking for you, too.”

“We’ll be careful,” Cere says. “I’m not too concerned yet. They have no idea where to start looking. The Empire wants you, yes, but specifically the Second Sister wants you. I have a feeling she won’t report more to her superiors than necessary until she has you – she wants the credit for your capture. And I’m sure the intel is being passed around as we speak, but they won’t be splashing your picture up on every holoscreen in the Mid Rim. There’s always the risk the wrong person will see it… the last thing they want is for us survivors to meet up and band together.”

Cal’s eyes are shut again. He almost needs his fingers to open them this time. “You think there are more?”

“I hope so.” She flicks a faint smile at him. “I’ve been right once already.” She finds what she’s looking for, then, because her entire presence in the Force sparks with relief. “Here we go.”

“What –”

“Regenon,” Cere says.

Cal recognizes the name. “That stuff’s not legal anymore,” he murmurs. As far as he knows, only registered clinics and medcenters are permitted to purchase the stimulant – at therapeutic doses, it vastly increases the rate of red blood cell regeneration, but laypeople tend to use it for the spectacular high.

“This kit’s from before that law went into effect,” Greez says on his way back to the co*ckpit. He’s been bouncing back and forth like a rubber ball. “Lucky you, eh?”

“Mm.” It may be too late. His vision is fading in and out. Cere injects him anyway, and the little spurt of adrenaline he gets from the needle piercing his skin is enough for Cal to start struggling upright.

“What are you doing?” Cere says. “You have to lie still.”

“Need the ‘fresher.” He can’t ignore it any longer.

“You’re not going anywhere right now.” And that’s an accurate summary of events – despite his valiant efforts, Cal’s too lightheaded to get up – but he keeps trying regardless, because Cal’s never known when to throw in the towel. Cere puts a hand on his shoulder, pins him to the sofa like a moon moth in a shadowbox. “Stop.”

Cal pushes back, however weakly. He can kiss this mission (and quite possibly his life) goodbye if he pisses on the potolli-weave. “But I need –”

“Cal!” Cere snaps, digging her fingers into his shoulder. “You are bleeding to death! Stop. Moving.” Startled, sapped, Cal lowers his head to the cushion. “I’m sorry,” she continues, more quietly, “I know it’s uncomfortable, but you have to hold still. Greez?”

“We’re going, we’re going!” Greez calls from up front. “Just hang in there, Callie….”

Good grief, they’ve known one another a day and Greez is giving him dumb nicknames. And ‘Cal’ isn’t even short for anything, so it’s a nickname that’s longer than his real name. He’ll put up a fuss later. He’s so thirsty. BD-1 keeps bumping his head against Cal’s shoulder, urging him to stay awake.

“Cal.” Cere’s hand is very warm against his cheek. “Open your eyes. I will play Squid Like Me until it gets stuck in your head.”

“…wasn’t scared to die on Bracca.” The words dribble from his mouth in a soupy slur. “If I did… oh well. But now… don’t wanna.” He has a job to do. People relying on him. A reason to keep living.

“You’re not going to die,” Cere says, shooting for firm, but there’s a faint wobble on die and Cal knows she doesn’t believe it. How much does it even matter to her, really? She won’t mourn Cal Kestis; it’s only the Jedi she’ll miss. He feels awful about it anyway. Cere risked so much to rescue him and here he is, bleeding out on the sofa a mere day later. “Cal, open your eyes.”

It’s not so bad. Master Tapal will be waiting for him.

Consciousness returns in a jigsaw puzzle of sensations. Corners first – Cal’s freezing his butt off, lying on something a little too soft to be the sofa or his cot, and someone nearby is moaning in a way that suggests a bad time rather than a good one. There’s an echo lurking in this bed, something that stings when he reaches for it blindly, so he pulls away. Next come the edges, the clank-clank­ of droid footsteps, a needle beneath his skin, the milky heaviness that accompanies painkillers and anesthetic, nausea, a pounding headache, the fold of a blanket tickling his cheek. He can’t comprehend the entire picture until he finds the big piece that goes smack-dab in the middle, though – right, he was bleeding internally. Cere and Greez were taking him to a medcenter. He must’ve blacked out before they got anywhere, but clearly they did get somewhere, because Cal doesn’t recall the Mantis smelling like bodily fluids and bleach. If it did, Greez would be having conniptions.

Cal gets his eyes halfway open after a couple false starts, and once they adjust to the brightness, he discovers he’s lying on a narrow bed crammed into a corridor alongside a number of other beds, benches, and hoverchairs. The moaner is an elderly Pinurquian sitting across from him, clutching their head and an emesis bin. Clank-clank-clank­ goes a medical droid down the hallway, pushing a Caarite child in a wobbly hoverchair.

Well, it sure isn’t the Grand Republic Medical Facility, but there’s an intravenous bag dumping clear fluid into Cal’s veins and he isn’t dead, so it’ll do. Something warm is pressed to his hair. He cranes his neck to look, sees Cere balanced precariously at the very edge of the bed (there’s nowhere else for her to sit or stand), eyes on a datapad, her thigh touching Cal’s head.

She stayed. Not wise. Cal would’ve expected her to drop him off, perhaps with BD-1 to watch over him, and stay hidden on the Mantis until he was discharged. But maybe she felt a need to protect her interests in person. “…what are you reading?” he whispers.

Cere looks down at him, smiles faintly, sets the datapad aside. “A biography of Sumira Organa.”

One of the previous queens of Alderaan, Cal remembers from his history classes. “Did you ever meet the senator?” That guy is one of the last remaining sane voices in the Senate.

She pauses, as if she needs a moment to follow his addled thought process, then says, “Once.” She tucks the edge of his blanket – the red-and-blue-striped one, he realizes – up under his chin. “How are you feeling?”

“Like crap,” Cal says hoarsely. “But… better crap, now.” He looks at his left arm for a moment, where the off-white medcenter gown has been rolled up to accommodate the IV, and tugs it beneath the blanket. It’s a little warmer under there. He looks at the bag again and says, “No blood?”

“Just fluids, now. You already had two or three transfusions,” Cere says, “but there are few Humans on this planet and they don’t have any Human blood banked. You got Pillar instead.”

Cal’s familiar with the stuff. Hazard, Iron Battalion’s CMO, kept a couple of units of Pillar aboard the Albedo Brave for Cal. The blood substitute can be stored far longer than actual Human blood and the clone troopers couldn’t donate to him in an emergency. “Oh,” he murmurs, closing his eyes for a few moments. He’s awake (he feels awake, which is a nice change), but still exhausted.

“There isn’t much in the way of bacta around here, either. The surgical droids had to go in and patch up your spleen manually.”

Cal reopens his eyes. “Greez and BD?” he asks, real quiet, just in case the wrong ears are aimed in their direction.

“Greez is keeping the engines warm, just in case. BD’s probably still sulking because the medcenter doesn’t allow non-medical droids. You’re going to need a week or two to recover… but they do expect a full recovery. Once they let you go, we’ll head back the way we came and camp out for a bit.” Cal opens his mouth and Cere taps his forehead. “No apologies. It can’t be helped. We’re just glad you’ll be okay.”

“Listen, there’s something I need to know. Before I go anywhere else with you,” Cal says, letting his eyes slide shut again.

“What’s that?” Cere asks casually, like he can’t feel her guard going up. She’s hiding something from him – but he already knew that. He’s ignoring it. At this point Cal’s kind of just hoping it doesn’t explode in his face at the worst possible time.

“Did I pee on Greez’s couch?”

A split-second of silence, and then her amusem*nt spikes bright and she gives a huffing little laugh, pats his shoulder. “No,” she says, “you didn’t. Now get some sleep; next time I can snag a droid I’ll find out how long they plan to keep you.”

Looks like Master Tapal will have to wait. Then again, Cal thinks, he probably isn’t waiting to welcome his failed Padawan back to the Force, so that’s as good a reason as any to sink his teeth into life and hang on until he’s shaken loose. He has work to do. Attributing the gentle touch on his cheek to a figment of his imagination, he nuzzles his face a little deeper into the striped blanket and rests.

Chapter 2: two

Notes:

hello it is i sauntering_down here to yet again milk Cal's trust issues for ANGST. given how Greez wakes Cal up from a sound sleep to talk to him about the tension between him and Cere, it kind of makes me wonder if there was more than one confrontation between Cal’s rescue and that conversation...?

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The first thing Cal does, once he’s shut down the communication with Mari and Greez has put them on the course to Kashyyyk, is crack open a bottle of the cachu juice. It’s grown on him, but even if it hadn’t, he would’ve chugged anything that’d overpower the taste of blood. He bit the hell out of his cheeks and tongue when that karking bounty hunter electrocuted him. Cal tips the bottle almost vertically and gulps the juice down, disregarding the sting of citrus on his ravaged mouth.

“Uh,” Greez says nervously, “you’re not bleeding out again, are you?”

Cere made the mistake of telling Greez thirst can be a sign of blood loss and now the guy gets antsy whenever Cal’s injured and takes more than two sips of water at a time. “No,” Cal says flatly, and – because he’s in a foul mood and wants everyone besides BD-1 to feel the same – hopes his tone conveys I wouldn’t tell you if I was.

Greez flinches. Message received.

The second thing Cal does is retreat to the ‘fresher. The door locks and Greez has said he won’t use the override unless someone’s dying in there, whereas he’ll stroll into the engine room at any time of day or night regardless of how heavily Cal hints he wants to be alone for a while. BD leaps from his back to the rim of the sink, and Cal scoots the medkit out into the open with his foot. Third order of business: grab one of the five-minute tests from the box, jam a couple of swabs down his throat, smear some of the goo he’s started hacking up across the sensors, and let it get to work.

If he has something bacterial, BD says, that test will be useless.

“Yeah, I know,” Cal says, cranking open the tap and splashing water on his face, “but at least we can rule a couple things out.”

He’s sick. He knows it, BD-1 knows it, Cere and Greez would know it if he felt like tolerating their presence long enough to cough. Cal had awoken in the cell on Ordo Eris feeling hot and feverish; now, safe on the Mantis, he’s cold and feverish, so he can’t just chalk it up to whatever drug kept him blissfully unconscious while he was being transported halfway across the kriffing galaxy. He really cannot afford to be sick, but it doesn’t come as a shock. Ever since he got back on his feet post-exsanguination, Cal’s been running himself ragged for weeks on end, eating more than he used to while working for the Guild but sleeping even less, and their last ‘break’ was a few days on Bogano he spent exploring and searching from dawn to dusk because he needs to be better. Stronger. He needs to figure out why the Force is still pushing him away.

It seems like his body has finally decided enough is enough. He’s so run-down his immune system’s started swimming lazy laps in the toilet. He’d bet he picked up something while traipsing around Sorc Tormo’s hideous overcompensation – the place was gross. And on that note, Cal says, “When I’m done here, buddy, I’ll give you a good oil scrub.”

Okay, BD says agreeably. He’s pretty gunked up, but it’ll keep until Cal’s clean and, ideally, medicated.

“Think we’ve got antipyretics, if nothing else….” Honestly, Greez’s medkit has everything. Cal wouldn’t be surprised to find the lost Lengilese civilization in there. A bit lightheaded, he rests his elbows on the edge of the sink, cradles his forehead in his hands. He hasn’t eaten since he set foot on Zeffo, he’s been swaddled in an electro-net, knocked unconscious (he rubs the knot on the back of his head with a wince), and drugged, and then had to make his way through the Haxion Brood’s base and fight in Tormo’s twisted gladiator games. Every here and there his vision fractures into two. He’s kind of impressed he’s still standing. Maybe he’ll grab something to eat after this… provided he can get in and out of the galley without anyone else bothering him.

The test kit beeps to signal it’s finished processing and Cal straightens up so fast he wobbles, then snatches it off the counter and opens it and reads the indicators. Gamorrean Mumps, negative. Idolian fever, negative. Viral bronchitis, negative. Chalactan Respiratory Virus, negative. Candorian Scourge, negative. Bleeding flu and Findris flu, both negative. Dantari flu… positive. “Kriff,” he sighs, looking at the green light.

Well, could be a lot worse. Dantari flu doesn’t tend to linger. If the stars align and he gets five or six solid hours of sleep (and he raids the medkit for everything it has to offer), Cal will probably feel pretty close to normal by the time they reach Kashyyyk. And if not, he can fake it. He puts the kit down, wipes his damp face on a towel, looks at his drawn, bruised reflection, sways on his feet.

BD gives a nervous buzz. Cal is going extremely pale, he says. Maybe he should sit down.

“Yeah,” Cal mutters. He tries to drop the towel on the counter and it flutters to the ground instead. He turns, sways again, and this time loses his balance; instead of grabbing the sink, he throws his hands out to catch himself so he doesn’t smash his face into the deck and only realizes his mistake when the corner of the counter takes a bite from his head.

For a moment, he dangles over the soft, dark allure of unconsciousness. He could faint. It’d be easy and he wouldn’t have to deal with any of this bantha-sh*t for a while. But, reluctantly, he tears himself away from the precipice and blinks the fuzz out of his vision. His nose is about an inch from the deck. Plip. A thick drop of blood falls from his cheek and strikes the metal. Plip. Plip.

Cal’s brain reconnects and he abruptly recognizes that annoying background noise as BD screeching at the top of his vocalizer. Groaning, Cal lowers his forehead onto his arm, reaches up to probe the white-hot streak of pain above his ear, encounters torn skin and a lot of blood. “Cal?!” Cere shouts from the other side of the door. “BD, what’s –”

“Move,” Greez commands, and the next thing Cal hears is the beep-beep-beep of the Latero inputting a code to disengage the lock. Before he can shout he doesn’t want them in here, thank you very much, the door swishes open and Cere says a filthy Dug word Cal hadn’t imagined her knowing.

He just fell, BD says frantically from overhead, he just turned around and fell and hit the countertop –

Cere’s already on her knees next to Cal, grasping his shoulders. “Cal, are you awake? Can you hear me?” she asks, attempting to turn him over.

“I’m fine,” he mutters, closing his eyes, resisting her efforts. “Go away.”

She sighs and relaxes slightly, but keeps trying to flip him like a hotcake, and Cal doesn’t have the energy to hold out for long. Eventually, she rolls him onto his back and Cal blinks up at the ‘fresher light, which is eclipsed a moment later by the giant astronomical object known as Greez’s head. “The heck happened to you, kid?”

“Nothing,” Cal grunts. “Got dizzy. Go away.” He’s feeling hurt and betrayed and it’s a lot easier to process those decidedly un-Jedi-like emotions when he’s not facing the people who inspired them. If they push, he’s going to say something he’ll regret. Later, he and Cere agreed, because they both know the destruction uncontrolled anger can cause… her better than him, it seems.

Was it true what Trilla had said about Cere using the dark side? Trilla has everything to gain by destabilizing the Mantis crew, and yet beneath the obvious manipulation to her words, he’d felt an undercurrent of pain. She’d asked him on Bracca which Jedi died so that he might live. “Go away,” Cal says for a third time.

Determined to ignore his wishes, Cere gets her hands beneath his arms and heaves Cal up to sit him against the bulkhead, his legs folded awkwardly against the sink counter to keep them out of her way. The ‘fresher’s not big enough for four. And Greez doesn’t seem inclined to leave either, bracing two hands on his knees and leaning close. “He’s, uh, he’s bleeding a lot, Cere.” He looks sickened. Greez gets squeamish around blood at the best of times and Cal can feel it dripping down his neck and onto his shoulder.

Cere takes Cal’s chin in hand and turns his head to get a better look at his wound. “Head injuries always bleed a lot,” she says grimly. “In Humans, at least… and this one’s deep.” She scoops up the towel Cal dropped, gives it a sharp flap to dislodge any dust (Cal assumes Greez is offended by the implication), and presses it to the side of Cal’s head until a hiss escapes him. “Sorry, but you are bleeding a lot… and you’re awfully warm,” she adds, eyes narrowing.

Out of the corner of his eye, Cal sees Greez look towards the sink and spot the test kit. “Hey,” Greez begins, reaching for it – but before his fingers make contact, BD comes in at the clutch, kicking it off the counter. Cal lunges, catches the kit after a single bounce, shoves it into his pocket. Greez gawks. “Stars, what’d it say? Don’t tell me you’ve got the Nether Rot….”

“Nothing,” Cal says.

He wants them to know he’s lying, to realize it’s their own fault he can’t trust them anymore. Judging by Cere’s silence as she replaces the towel against Cal’s head, she understands, but Greez misses it this time. “Well, if you’ve got something you could spread to the rest of us, I’d like to know about it,” he says, folding both pairs of arms across his chest.

Cal looks up and stares at Greez until the Latero, looking perturbed, shifts his gaze away for a moment and clears his throat. “I would’ve liked to know I needed to keep my eyes peeled for bounty hunters,” Cal says dully.

One of Greez’s hands rises to rub at the back of his head. “…okay, I guess I deserve that one,” he mutters. “Still. Uh. You sick?”

When Cal stubbornly keeps his mouth shut, BD pipes up. He assessed Cal’s temperature at 38.94º when they reunited, and it probably rose further while he was trying to escape that damp, dank base, he says with a bite to his Binary. Cal approves of his tone. It’s mean, and there’s something rotten and malignant inside him that relishes someone else lashing out on his behalf. Maybe the Force can sense it; maybe that’s why it hunches away from his touch. Maybe Cere saw that part of him and thought they were two of a kind.

“Look at me,” she says. Cal does, and Cere holds up a finger. “Follow my finger,” she instructs, and moves it from side to side, but Cal keeps looking her dead in the eyes until she sighs again and gives up. “What year is it?”

Later, they’d said. It’s later and Cal’s dizzy and shivering on the ‘fresher floor and he doesn’t need to be assessed for a karking concussion. “You lied to me.”

“Cal. What planet are we going to?”

“You were her master,” he says, an accusation and a plea at the same time.

The only sign he’s getting under her skin is a flare of her nostrils before she says, “What did we have for breakfast this morning?”

Cracked in an Imperial torture chair. And they’d wrung everything good out of Trilla, turned her into a monster, and she killed Prauf just for the chance to do to Cal what the Empire did to her – “You were supposed to protect her! With your life, if you had to – that’s what –” His voice cracks. He can’t finish.

Cere’s grip on the towel goes slack and, automatically, Cal reaches up to take it, squeezes it against the side of his head until it throbs. She stands so fast Cal hears something in her legs go pop. “If he’s being this obstinate, he’s probably going to be fine,” she says evenly. “Looks more like he caught the edge of the counter and got cut instead of hitting it straight on.”

“Cere,” Greez begins, but she’s already stepping around him and leaving the room.

Cal is both viciously satisfied and utterly disgusted with himself. And the stupid scared Padawan he buried a long time ago is whimpering I didn’t mean to make her leave, but he strangles it silent, clenching his jaw. His eyes burn. He isn’t going to cry about this, or about anything.

“Here,” Greez says quietly, crouching, “c’mere – give me that.” He gently pries Cal’s fingers loose of the crumpled towel (more red than white, now) and refolds it neatly before applying pressure again. Cal’s hand falls into his lap. BD jumps down from the counter, rests his head on Cal’s shin.

She never would’ve told him had Trilla not forced her hand. Trilla’s about five years older than Cal, perhaps more, so she wouldn’t have been twelve at the time, but… she must’ve been so afraid. When had she learned the truth? Did she know immediately Cere had given her up, or did they let her indulge in some rescue fantasies of her own, just to make it that much more devastating when they told her why no one was coming? Cal thinks that’s what would have broken him, were their positions reversed; he’d always viewed Master Tapal as a paragon of strength and bravery and honor and it’s not hard to imagine Trilla doing the same for her own master.

Master Tapal had died for Cal, but quickly. How much could he have endured in Cere’s position?

The room rocks and Cal gives brief consideration to throwing up in his own lap. Or Greez’s. He might be a tiny bit concussed after all. That bounty hunter did knock him unconscious with a blow to the head. It doesn’t matter – he needs to speak with Tarfful, and neither Cere nor Greez have any right to stop him now. They’re lucky Cal’s doing this for the Jedi Order and not them specifically, or else he’d just cut his losses and run.

He and Greez and BD-1 all sit there for a minute in complete silence before Cal hears footsteps in the corridor. He means to keep his eyes stubbornly on the ground, but he can’t help himself – he looks up, watches as Cere comes back into the ‘fresher, edges around Greez, and steps over Cal’s legs. “Where did you get that?” Greez exclaims, pointing to her hand.

Cere hums and studies the tube she’s holding, settling down on the deck. Cal blinks hard (he’s seeing double again) until the words on the tube come into focus – it’s bacta gel. The pure stuff, not the usual ‘2% bacta, 98% cheap additives’ substance abundant in pharmacies and convenience stores. “My cabin,” Cere says nonchalantly, like nothing happened at all, putting it aside and pawing through the medkit.

“You’ve just… had that all along and never bothered to tell me?! What if there was some kinda emergency and I could’ve used it?”

“Captain, your definition of ‘emergency’ and mine differ greatly,” she says. “Last time you nicked your finger cooking, you carried on so much I genuinely thought you’d cut it off… okay, my hands aren’t steady enough for traditional sutures,” she adds. “I’m going to use the sticky plastoid ones and hope that’s enough. Unfortunately –” she gets up on her knees, takes her clippers from the counter, “that means I’m going to have to shave around the wound.”

Cal shrinks against the bulkhead. “Don’t touch my hair.”

“It’s like pulling teeth getting you to buy some more clothes so you don’t wear the same damn thing every day,” Greez mutters, turning the towel to press the less-saturated side to Cal’s head, “but we threaten your precious hair….”

“If mine was that color, I might be protective of it too,” Cere admits. Both Ceres, wavering, overlapping. He can’t blame it on the potential concussion this time – his vision’s gone watery and Cal bites the inside of his cheek hard, tells himself the welling tears are just from the pain… but they spill over and then he’s sitting there crying on the ‘fresher floor in front of two people he really does not want seeing him cry right now. It isn’t even about the unwanted haircut. He’d finally begun to gather some semblance of stability and security again after having his life upended for the second time, only to find out it was all built on a lie.

Greez’s panic quickens Cal’s heartbeat. “Oh – come on, Callie, it won’t be so bad –”

“Greez,” Cere murmurs. Cal doesn’t look at her, but he guesses she shakes her head, because Greez shuts up. BD wriggles under Cal’s hand, leans against his hip. Cere – accustomed to dealing with ill, bloody, overwrought Padawans, Cal assumes – goes about her business, removing the packet of plastoid sutures from the box and reading the instructions on the back.

He’s being stupid. He’s been stupid – Cal knows better than to trust anyone, and he let down his guard anyway. This is his own fault. Well, it won’t happen again. He spent that first year on Bracca hardening himself against the real world, where he could no longer rely on his master or the other Jedi or anyone (except Prauf, who got killed for it) to help him. He had laid in his bed, sleepless and dry-eyed, and thought the Purge had turned him to steel, to stone. There was nothing left that could hurt him now.

Cere tears a strip off the toilet roll and, without drawing attention to the tears, presses it into Cal’s hand. He sniffles pathetically and scrubs his face, mopping up a bit of blood while he’s at it. Stop crying, he orders himself. It won’t accomplish anything. And all he got was a hard reminder that the galaxy is not kind or gentle; clearly he needed a good kick in the pants, if this is how he’s reacting.

“Cal,” Cere says, putting a hand on his knee. He looks at that instead of meeting her eyes. “I promise I will take as little as possible. Only enough to stick the sutures on; the rest of your hair will probably cover it.”

At least she’s letting him pretend the haircut is what’s upsetting him. He thinks about refusing her ministrations entirely, but then shrugs, which is apparently good enough. “Should I keep doing this?” Greez asks, gesturing to the towel he’s still smushing against Cal’s head. “I’m not sure how much it’s helping.”

“One more minute. As soon as I’m ready, I’ll need you out of the way,” she says. BD climbs straight into Cal’s lap and plants himself there, silently challenging her to shoo him, but Cere doesn’t notice. She gets up to wash her hands thoroughly, nudges Greez, and takes his place, laying out the sutures and her clippers and some antiseptic wipes on a clean towel. “Greez?”

“Still here.”

“Could you grab a blanket quick? This’ll be easier if he’s not shivering.”

Greez pops back in a moment later with the striped blanket. He’d told Cal to hang onto it after he was released from the medcenter, so it’s lived on Cal’s cot ever since. The chills are getting worse and Cal can’t resist, taking it from Greez’s hands and wrapping himself up like an urchin roll. “Just get it over with,” he mutters. He wants to go to bed.

“Luckily, these are less painful than regular sutures,” Cere says, as if Cal cares whether or not it’s going to hurt. She runs her fingers through his hair, almost like a comforting caress, except she’s pulling as much of it out of the way as she can before the clippers buzz and he feels the cold blades kiss his scalp.

It doesn’t take very long. A couple swipes with the clippers, sending bright red strands fluttering to the deck, the sting of antiseptic, and Cere starts sticking the sutures to his scalp. The most uncomfortable part is the throbbing pinch whenever she has to hold the wound shut, but it recedes after a couple of seconds each time as his skin accepts this is the way things will be from now on. “Almost done,” Cere murmurs. “One more… BD, I can’t reach the bacta gel. Can you push it over here?”

BD squirms out of Cal’s arms and gives the tube a good kick, sending it spinning into Cere’s knee. Score, he announces.

“Thank you.” She takes the towel she was using as a tray and cleans as much blood as she can from Cal’s hair, his jaw, his neck. Then she squeezes out a glob of gel, gingerly smears it across the sutured wound. The sickly-sweet scent of the bacta slithers straight down to Cal’s stomach. He fights the urge to heave. “Okay,” Cere says briskly, sitting back on her heels. “Either I need to cover this – which will probably entail a bit more shaving –”

No.”

“Then you need to stay off of it for a while. Sleep on your other side and do not get it wet for the next twenty-four hours.”

They’ll be on Kashyyyk in less than eighteen. Cal will behave until he disembarks and then all bets are off. As Cere begins returning supplies to the medkit, he lightly feels around the goop on his head. She definitely exaggerated about the rest of his hair covering the damage, but she was careful; he can only feel fingerprint-sized patches where his hair was sheared down to bristles above and below the cut. She didn’t need to be so meticulous. He should thank her… but the gratitude sticks in his throat and refuses to budge, and he winds up coughing instead.

Once the ‘fresher is reasonably clean again (Greez will scrub it spotless after they land, no doubt), Cere leaves the bloody towels in the laundry, walks to the door, and then hesitates like she has something else she wants to say. Cal doesn’t look at her. He rubs the edge of the blanket between his fingers and closes his eyes, dragging that faint echo of comfort up from the depths.

She shuts the door when she leaves. BD gives a sad coo and suggests Cal take some medication and go get some sleep – carefully, he emphasizes, so he doesn’t fall again.

“Yeah,” Cal says. He draws his knees up, wraps his arms around them, and wonders how much pain it takes to push a Jedi over the edge.

The words had spun around and around Cal’s head the entire trip back to the MantisI defeated the Ninth Sister, I defeated the Ninth Sister, I took down a karking Inquisitor, she could’ve snapped me in half and then juggled my giblets and I won that fight – but he didn’t really intend to say them. Jedi were supposed to be humble. Besides, it seemed premature to brag when he knew she’d almost certainly survived that fall, and there would probably be a brutal rematch in his future. He didn’t need accolades, and while he’d worked off a lot of his anger on Kashyyyk, he still has… mixed feelings about Cere and her deception.

Yet Cal had sat down at the table and the words spilled out all the same. After everything, he still wants her to be proud of him. Is she? She’d not really reacted, instead launching into that story about her time as a guest of the Empire. Cal has mixed feelings about that, too. Sure, while it’s good to know she tried to keep resisting and didn’t just go ‘well, I’ve had enough torture for today, how about you take my Padawan and I slip outta here?’, it doesn’t change the fact she lied to him and doesn’t seem to be losing sleep over it.

He'd said it was okay. It’s not okay, but it’s not… not okay. It’s complicated.

This doesn’t feel like the best time to go stressing out about the whole mess again. He needs some sleep. The Dantari flu came on fast and pummeled Cal into a pulp; he’d spent the rest of the flight to Kashyyyk shivering beneath his blanket, hacking all sorts of crud into the trash bin next to his cot, half-insensate and convinced someone had been using his head as a cutting board. But, just as he’d hoped, the worst of the storm had blown over by the time they landed, and he could cope with feeling weak and shivery for his first few hours trekking across Kashyyyk. Now he just has a bit of a cough and probably a new scar to remember his bout of flu by.

Yawning, Cal tips his head from side to side until his aching neck cracks, grimaces at the sound. “You good to go, buddy?”

Good to go, BD confirms. His charging pod isn’t finished yet – Cal’s still fiddling with the hookup to keep an unexpected surge from doing any damage to BD’s systems – but he’s snuggled into it nevertheless, clearly delighted to have his own ‘bed’.

Cal can’t help but smile at the sight. “Good night.” While it’s not that late, he suspects he’ll really need to be at his best to take on Dathomir, and the flu wiped him out good. Bedtime for the both of them. Cal shuts off the lights and flops into his cot, heavy-limbed, his belly pleasantly full (to be honest, he would forgive Greez just about anything so long as he keeps cooking), and burrows beneath his blanket.

Then, he dreams.

It’s a recurring nightmare he’s had since the Purge – he’s creeping through the Temple halls like a shadow, trying to avoid the 13th as they march through, searching for survivors. There are never any besides Cal. Barefoot, he leaps from tile to tile, avoiding the puddles of blood and viscera like a twisted game of hopscotch. Sixer and Bold are striding along the corridor ahead of him with their blasters at the ready, but Cal’s so quiet they never hear him. The only sound is the emergency sirens outside. The more awake part of Cal’s brain always wonders at this detail – were there any sirens? Did anybody come to help? Or did they all just close their blinds and turn away from the windows and pretend nothing was happening as their protectors were slaughtered in their own home?

There’s a body in a heap at the top of the stairs. Cal leans over it. Mayre’s cheek is blasted open, but he recognizes her eyes, the pattern of tattoos across the bridge of her nose like freckles. Checking again to be sure the clones have moved on, he takes her by the arms and heaves. He’s sweating by the time he’s dragged her away from her precarious position and into a little niche that used to hold a statue. She’ll be safe in here.

He finds two more of his friends further down the hall. Khari, curled tight around a tiny youngling with the same pearlescent skin and brilliant purple hair (she’d been so delighted to learn her baby sister would someday be a Jedi too), and Dove, who must’ve fallen from the balcony above, judging by the state of him. Cal spots an open floor-level vent around the corner and hides Khari and Pruvi first. Dove is harder – Cal can only haul him a few feet before going back, gathering the sludgy grey spaghetti he’s leaving behind, and tucking it into the shattered cavity of his skull again.

The Force blares and Cal’s head whips around just in time to see Gamma lurch into view. The clone shouts, “Got him, sir!” and raises his blaster, and Cal reaches for his lightsaber… but his fingers close around empty air and Gamma fires and there’s a sharp, tearing pain in Cal’s head –

He jerks awake, gasp turning into a cough. No clones. No Temple halls. Just the Mantis’s drive system monitors glowing gently and the ship itself purring as it courses through hyperspace. Cal shudders, scrubs his hands on his pants like that’ll exfoliate the sensation of Dove’s brains leaking between his fingers. At least it wasn’t the escape pod, he tells himself, rolling onto his side. That nightmare’s been known to render him to a quivering mess if it’s vivid enough….

The pillow is wet beneath his cheek. Wondering if he was crying in his sleep (it happens more often than he’d like), Cal runs his fingertips over the fabric. The clinging liquid is too thick and tacky to be tears – he reaches up and snaps on the light.

“Oh, crap,” he groans, pressing his red-stained hand to the side of his head. Despite all the abuse Cal dealt his body on Kashyyyk, the cut Cere had sutured was healing nicely, but it appears to be bleeding again. The Ninth Sister threw him around and he did a bit of falling, and thrashing in his sleep must’ve been the final straw. Sighing, Cal sits up and swings his legs over the side of the cot.

He hasn’t been asleep that long, because the light in the galley is on, meaning somebody’s still awake. The ‘fresher’s free, however, so Cal closes himself inside and tries to get a good look at his head. He can feel more than see where the wound’s opened up – all the blood’s dribbling from a centimeter-long patch of skin just above his ear. Mentally apologizing to Greez, he grabs a hand towel and presses it to his head. It might clot on its own, this time.

Ten minutes later, he hasn’t stopped bleeding. Plan B – it can’t be that hard to stick a suture or two on his own skin, can it? Cere already did all the work, shaving bits of his hair off, and it’s very obvious he’s missing a few patches but it isn’t actually the worst haircut he’s ever had. He’d taken leave of his senses and let Maghook give him a trim one time. Master Tapal had done his absolute best to mitigate the damage, but the choppy disaster on Cal’s head hadn’t yet grown out when Maghook turned his blaster on his general and the galaxy came crashing to a halt.

The first plastoid suture sticks to itself, then to Cal’s fingers. He tries with a second and manages to get it on his head this time, only to realize he missed the wound entirely. Between the blood coating his scalp and smeared on his hand, the third doesn’t stick at all. There are only two left in the kit after that, so Cal admits defeat. Greez tends not to be much help with this sort of thing and he doesn’t exactly want to bother Cere, so maybe BD-1 can guide him. He opens the ‘fresher door.

Cere blinks at him from the other side, one hand clutching some clothing, the other reaching for the control panel.

“Oh,” Cal says.

“Sorry,” she replies, unnecessarily, taking a couple steps back so he has room to leave.

He hesitates. He doesn’t want to bother Cere, but… she’s right here. “Um,” Cal says, “I could kinda use your help.” Sheepishly, he turns his head and gestures to all the blood.

“What happened?” Cere crowds into the ‘fresher behind him, leaves her clothes on the closed toilet lid, angles Cal’s head towards the light.

“I rolled around too much?” he suggests. “I’m not sure. It was fine when I went to bed.”

She prods and inspects for a moment more, then says, “Well, it’s not too bad, you’ve just got a little of it open, I think… wait. Wait, I put eight sutures on here. You’re missing five of them.”

Oops. “I, uh –” Cal glances at Cere, who lifts her eyebrows while also giving him that concerned look, and feels his face heat up. “I didn’t do it to hurt myself or anything, I swear. I just – I tend to pick at things.” There’s a reason he has so many scars. The sutures began to loosen as he was soaking and sweating on Kashyyyk and, often without even noticing, he’d caught the edges beneath his fingernails and peeled them away millimeter by millimeter.

“Ahh,” Cere says knowingly. “I see. The rest of it’s healing fine, so I think two should do.” He slides the kit towards her, she washes her hands, and then she adds, “Tilt your head towards me a little… that’s good.”

“Were you ever trained as a Healer?”

She actually laughs at that. “Stars, no. I do not have the right temperament. I just picked up a few tricks from the medics in my battalion.”

Trained or not, she’s quick and efficient, sponging the blood off Cal’s head and attaching the first suture with practiced hands. Cal watches her reflection work. If she was telling the truth… she tried to protect her Padawan, and failed. Cal and failure are close friends nowadays; he knows what it’s like to fight and struggle and give everything you can and lose. They’re not so different, Cere and Cal. He couldn’t protect Prauf in the end either.

“She killed my friend,” Cal says without thinking.

Cere’s wiping off her fingers in preparation for the other suture and pauses, looks at him blankly. “What?”

“Tr – the Second Sister.” The more he thinks about her as Trilla, a scared Padawan abandoned by her master and tortured until she embraced the dark side, the more difficult it’ll be to stop her. She’s also an Inquisitor, one who put a lightsaber through Prauf’s chest, who will let the Empire obliterate Cal too if she catches up to him. “She killed my friend on Bracca.” He swallows, clenches his fingers against the edge of the counter. “It’s my fault – if I’d spoken up and just said it was me, I was the Jedi, he’d still be alive.”

“You can’t know that for sure,” Cere says quietly. “If you had, it’s just as likely he and everyone else around would’ve been killed anyway.”

“No,” Cal says. “The other people they pulled off the train – there’s no point in eliminating witnesses when you’re trying to make a statement.”

Cere shakes her head, but she looks terribly sympathetic when she meets his eyes in the mirror. “Bodies make a statement too, Cal.” She lets him chew on that for a minute, placing the second suture, then says, “We cannot change the past. We have to live with the choices we’ve made, even if we think they were the wrong ones.” Water splatters into the sink. Cere sticks her hands beneath the spray, rinsing Cal’s blood off her skin. “Even if we know they were the wrong ones.”

He thinks that’s the closest he’ll get to an apology for lying to him. Would he even be able to accept it if she did? Cal’s crechemaster used to say apologies were worthless without change; for someone who likes to lecture about choices, Cere had a lot of opportunities to come clean and she didn’t until she had no choice. He shouldn’t trust her anymore… he should be pulling away, but he wants to curl closer. He wants to believe she’ll change for the better. If Cere can, after betraying her Padawan, then maybe Cal, who got his master killed, can do the same.

“Okay, you’re done,” Cere finally says, patting the side of Cal’s head with a damp towel. It comes away smudged pink, but he isn’t pouring blood anymore. “Try not to peel these off for a couple of days… or else I might have to shave your hair again.”

Cal cracks a smile. “I will throw your clippers down the hyperspace shunt.” As she turns towards the door, however, something raw and needy washes over him and he blurts, “At least –” before clamping his mouth shut.

Cere looks back. They’ve had their issues, and she may not consider herself a Jedi anymore, but she’s the closest thing Cal has to a master and it’s been so long since anyone was proud of him. Cal takes a breath, looks at the constellation of water drips on the counter, and mumbles, “At least tell me you’re impressed I won against the Ninth Sister.”

When he dares to peek at her out of the corner of his eye, she’s the one smiling wryly. “I am impressed,” she says. “You’ve come a long way since we met.” She steps backwards out of the room and motions for him to move, which reminds Cal she probably wanted to get in here for a reason. “Don’t fall prey to overconfidence, though. It’s brought down greater Jedi than you.”

“Right,” Cal says. Not a Jedi anymore, but she sure sounds like one sometimes. He uses his sleeve to mop up the water on the sink, then leaves the ‘fresher to Cere and goes back to bed.

Notes:

Cal, battered and sick and probably a little concussed and also pissed off: well, i’ve had a sh*t time, but at least i can sleep some more now?
Greez, barging into his room while he’s snoozing: WAKEY WAKEY BUCKO TIME FOR A HEART TO HEART!

ah, Cere. nothing like That Feel when your kid is being SO exasperating you gotta walk away and go to another room for a minute to calm down before you can do what needs to be done.

Chapter 3: three

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

By the time Cal finally reaches the front of the obscenely long queue for the drink shop, the Balosar running it looks like she’s one more stupid request from tearing the stand apart with her bare hands, setting its remains on fire, and jumping up and down on the ashes. “Next,” she says tonelessly as Cal steps up to the counter.

“Sour zherry, no toppings, small,” he recites. He does not spend five minutes hemming and hawing over his options, ask how much more liquid fits in each subsequent size cup, or start arguing over the price, and the poor woman’s relief almost bowls him over. He even gives exact change when she punches his order into the till and extends a hand for payment. The woman looks at the credits, counting them with her eyes, looks back at him, looks at the next wave of tourists (identifiable by the neon shirts emblazoned with Lurania Luxury Travel) who may or may not treat a hapless drink stand attendant like their personal slave. Who buys a carbonated drink and then complains because it's bubbly? If Cal had been some sort of feral child who’d never interacted with another sentient being before, ten minutes in this line would’ve taught him what not to do.

“Just for that,” she says, yanking a cup from the dispenser, “I’m givin’ you a medium.”

“Thanks.” Cal and BD-1 watch her mix sour zherry syrup and water, dump it over ice, and shove a tube into the cup to carbonate it until the drink almost fizzes over. She pops a lid on and hands it to him with a straw. “Thanks,” he says again, because he had manners drilled into him as a youngling. “Uh. Good luck.”

She shoots him a wry look, says, “Have a nice evening,” and he gets out of the way before the horde descends in an unruly mob that apparently never learned how to form a line.

Some people, BD huffs, watching the carnage behind them as Cal heads down the street.

“Seriously.” He thinks everyone should be forced to work a low-wage menial job for a year. That would solve a lot of the galaxy’s problems. Cal (who is one of the galaxy’s problems, as far as the Empire is concerned) sticks the straw into his mouth and takes a sip. It’s properly sour. Best possible flavor, too. He’s going to savor it.

They should start heading back to the Mantis soon, BD says. It’s getting late and this part of the city is not exactly… reputable.

“Once I’m finished with this,” Cal says. BD buzzes disapprovingly. “Look, you know what’ll happen if I go back to the ship now?” he asks, and continues without waiting for an answer. “I will walk through the hatch and Merrin will say, ‘what’s that?’ I’ll say, ‘sour zherry soda’, and she’ll go, ‘I’ve never had that. Can I try it?’ And because I’m nice, I’ll say yes… and if she likes it, I’ve seen the last of it.”

So just don’t give it to her, BD suggests.

“You know as well as I do that never works. Sometimes it’s really obvious most of the Nightsisters were older than her, because she has the ‘annoying younger sibling’ routine down to an art.” BD’s reply sounds skeptical, pointing out Cal himself has no siblings to compare her to, and he says, “No, but I was one of the oldest kids in my Initiate Clan. I know how it is. She’ll wear me down. And this is my favorite flavor.”

BD concedes the point. In exchange, Cal starts wandering back in the general direction of the docking platforms, though he chooses a somewhat roundabout route that’ll take about half an hour on foot, giving him plenty of time to finish his soda. Xami is a bit run-down and perhaps not what BD-1 calls ‘reputable’, but Cal’s seen worse places – lived in one for five years, no less – and some attempts have been made to spruce this area up somewhat. The big sculpture garden a block away just closed for the night (hence the onrush of tourists) and that had been pretty cool to stroll through. It’d featured an accurately-colored replica of the system constructed from tiny chips of drink cans. Cal’s a classic scavenger who likes seeing junk recycled into art.

They’re going the wrong way, BD says a few minutes later.

“No, we’re not,” Cal replies, sensing the old argument resurfacing. He isn’t completely hopeless with directions, despite what the droid would like to believe.

The docking platforms are northwest, BD insists, and they’re walking east.

“We’ll be going northwest in a bit.”

Cal always says that, BD grumbles. And then two hours later they’ve seen the same stalagmite formation six times, but they’re totally not walking in circles….

“We’re – okay, wait.” There’s a display on the corner and Cal makes a beeline for it. “I’ll pull up a map and show you.”

That’s easier said than done. The planet of Respera has only recently and with great reluctance embraced Basic as an official language, and their particular variant of Aurebesh is… perplexing. It’s like someone took all the punctuation from a regular sentence, tossed it in a blender, added a few extras as seasoning, and then turned it on without closing the lid, redistributing the commas and asterisks and accent marks with no rhyme or reason. Cal theoretically understands the jagged apostrophe is a long aurek and the regular one is a short aurek, the double trill with the swirly accent is a soft ‘th’, and the question mark is, appropriately, some sound Cal isn’t capable of producing, but it’s a chore. That’s not even getting into the nigh-unreadable typeface this city splashes everywhere – he’d thought BD was being insensitive when he called it ‘Dementia’, only to be informed that is the actual name of the font.

Luckily, BD-1 has no issues parsing the typographical nightmare on the screen. He tells Cal which inputs to tap and finally a map of Xami blows up before their eyes. “Look, this is us,” Cal says, jabbing a finger at the screen. “We follow this street east until we get to this one here, get on this path called the ‘riverwalk’, and take that all the way to the end, and then it’s just two blocks west to the docking bay. See?”

For the second time that night, BD’s forced to admit Cal is right. He hadn’t noticed that path along the river on the previous map, he says sulkily.

Cal pats him and takes a triumphant pull of his soda. “And now we get to walk by the river! You like rivers. Maybe we’ll find some frogs you can tease.”

That would repair his wounded pride, BD says. So off they go, drifting down the meandering little alley to the next road Cal mentioned, and from there it’s only another minute before they reach a gate with a large sign mounted on it. Cal looks at BD, who translates the words as ‘all pets and children must be leashed beyond this point’. Who puts their child on a leash, the droid wonders.

“Well,” Cal says reasonably, opening the gate, “you don’t want your toddler to drown, right?”

The riverwalk turns out to be a wide, winding street, backed by close-knit buildings on the left and the river on the right, which they both check out immediately. Actually, BD says, peering down towards the water, first your toddler would fall over the edge of the gorge and plunge about seventy feet. Then they would smash into the rocks, then tumble into the river, and then drown, assuming the rocks didn’t get them first.

“You’re not kidding,” Cal mutters. Over time, the thundering river has carved a giant ravine like a scar into Respera’s surface, and for some reason there isn’t a railing or even a bright painted line to indicate where the riverwalk ends and open air begins. The leash requirement makes perfect sense, all of a sudden.

Still, the white noise of the river echoing through the canyon is nice. The only other people in sight are a pair in the distance, arm in arm, heads tipped close together, and a guy trailing behind them, studying some flimsi in his hands. Cal and BD aren’t expected back to the ship quite yet, so they take their time – no frogs for BD, but he keeps close to the cliff edge and watches the whitewater flow, and Cal drinks his soda until there’s nothing left but zherry-stained ice to crunch between his teeth, finding his way by lit windows and blue globes mounted on poles every ten meters and the skyglow.

Just as he’s dropping the empty cup into a trash bin, there’s a piercing spark of terror in the Force, followed by a girl screaming.

Cal’s head snaps up. The ravine curves sharply ahead and the other people he’d noticed have disappeared beyond it, but he’s pretty sure that was one of them. “Come on,” he says to BD, who leaps onto his back, and Cal (who’s been scolded many, many times for leaping before he looks), quickly peers around the corner to see what’s going on.

The reading man has dropped whatever he was holding and grabbed one of the others – a Theelin girl, probably only a teenager – by the fancy sash she’s wearing around her waist. She’s struggling, but he’s stronger; he practically rips her off her feet and into his muscled arms, catching her in a bear hug she can’t escape. “Go!” she shrieks at the second girl, Rodian, frozen by another gate. “Kate, run!”

The Rodian snaps out of it, spins, and charges through the gate. The Theelin girl tries to sink her teeth into the man’s arm. Cal, taking advantage of their distraction, jogs up behind them on silent feet. “Quit it, girlie,” the Human man grunts, clamping a hand on the back of her head and forcing it down at an angle so she can’t bite him – and then jerks around. “Get lost, kid!”

So much for going unnoticed. Cal skids to a stop and holds up his empty hands. He has his lightsaber, stuck horizontally through the belt at his back so his shirt conceals it, but that’s a last resort. There are an awful lot of security cameras in this city and they’ve managed to stay under the radar in the Imperial-aligned system thus far, protecting the fledgling pockets of resistance the Mantis crew is nursing. “I don’t want any trouble,” he says, projecting calm, mostly at the guy as he thoroughly supports the Theelin’s strained attempts to amputate his hand with her teeth. “Come on. It’s a nice night. Just let her go.”

The man’s laugh hisses through his teeth, and he releases her head… only to yank a little holdout blaster from his jacket pocket and press the barrel up beneath her ear. She freezes, wide eyes finding Cal’s. “How about this?” the man says. “You piss off and I don’t blow her brains all over the canyon.”

The girl’s copper skin is bleached a mottled beige with fear, but her voice sounds surprisingly steady when she says, “If it’s money you want, fine. I can get it for you.”

He yanks her backwards a few steps, pushes his nose against her hair. Cal sees her shudder. Whatever he says to her is lost in the rush of the river, but it’s not hard to guess – a couple of girls walking alone on an isolated street? Easy targets. She was probably just the closest. Cal swiftly browses through his bag of magic tricks, thinking fast; they’re way too close to the cliff and he can’t risk anything that might send the girl toppling. Guy’s got a death grip on the blaster and if Cal’s not fast enough on the Force-pull he might manage to hit the trigger. He could slow the man, but he’s not yet mastered precision with that ability and it would probably capture both of them… still, it’d give him time to close the distance and get the Theelin away. “Look,” he says, raising his hands again and gathering the Force to him, “you don’t actually want to do this, pal. It’s not gonna end well for you.”

The guy laughs again. “Sure thing, pretty boy.”

“Aw,” Cal says sweetly, “you think I’m pretty?”

The man’s response devolves into a shout as BD, who’s been sneaking up behind him, abruptly leaps and lands on his shoulders. He twists around wildly, trying to see his attacker, and the Theelin girl takes advantage of his distraction – she goes limp and slips out of his hold, crashing to her knees. Cal’s already running. He pushes with the Force and the man’s thrashing lags. Gets BD, too, but it can’t be helped. Cal leaps over the girl, grabs the guy’s arm, tries to pry the blaster from his hand. His skin brushes the metal and he staggers, for a second – the Theelin is not the first girl this monster has hunted.

Even in slow motion, the man realizes what Cal’s attempting and closes his fingers tighter. He’s strong. Fending off the free hand sluggishly creeping towards his throat, Cal thinks about what Cere’s been teaching him, opens his mouth, preparing to layer the Force over his words and tell the man to sleep – but then he feels the girl scrabbling at his belt. He glances down and she yanks his good knife from its sheath and plunges it into the guy’s foot with all her might.

The man howls in agony. The effect of the Force-induced slowdown is diminishing and he grabs at BD-1, who dodges his fingers, leaps from his shoulders to Cal’s. Cal twists out of the way when the man raises the blaster, thinks screw this, reaches for his lightsaber.

Hey!” Another man comes sprinting down the riverwalk. “What are you doing?! Stop it!”

The guy drops his blaster. “Help me!” he cries. “Help! They’re mugging me!”

“Wait –” Cal begins, but before he can make it clear who is the real victim here, the guy kicks at the Theelin girl, sending her sprawling, seizes Cal by the collar, and gives him a powerful shove… and Cal stumbles one step too far and his stomach lurches as his boots meet empty air.

For one long second, Cal is weightless, tumbling through the air like a scrap of flimsiplast.

Then his arm smacks something and he scrabbles at it wildly, wraps his hands around a jutting rock, gasps as his shoulders nearly pop out of their sockets, and swings above the river by his fingertips. Swearing under his breath, Cal cranes his neck to look down just in time to see BD fire up his boosters and land lightly on a ledge.

“What the hell’s going on?” asks the nervous newcomer from up above.

“Those kids were gonna rob me!” the first guy replies indignantly. The other man says something else Cal can’t hear, and the first adds, “Yeah, got me with a karkin’ knife – thanks –”

“Are you kidding?!” the Theelin girl blurts, shrill with adrenaline and anger. Gritting his teeth, Cal works the toe of his boot into a crack in the wall and boosts himself up, reaches for another handhold. “I’m on a kriffing date! That guy was trying to kidnap me! I don’t even know that boy – he came running when I screamed!”

Nobody’s looking in Cal’s direction when he grasps the edge of the riverwalk and wriggles up onto the street. The first man is crouched, hand hovering over the knife in his foot like he’s afraid to remove it. The second man is inching towards a gate. “Listen,” he says, “I don’t wanna get involved in anything. Everyone just… walk away, and I don’t have to call the police, okay?”

“No, call them!” The girl jolts to her feet, her white stockings torn and stained with the blood seeping from her knees. She points to a little brown bag lying on the ground. “Go ahead. I’ve got a comm. Call them. And then I’ll call my parents, and when they get here, we can –”

The guy yanks the knife from his foot and lunges.

Cal hits him so hard he bowls them both over. They go down in a tangle of limbs and profanity, and Cal feels a hot burst of pain in his thigh as the blade gets wedged between him, but he caught the man off-guard and the Theelin kicks her assailant so hard she probably caves in a couple of his ribs. He shouts. Cal gets a hand up and shoves.

He maybe puts too much into it. The guy goes flying into the air, hits the ground again, and the momentum sends him rolling right over the cliff.

He doesn’t scream, and for a second all Cal can hear is the river thundering, almost as loud as the rush of blood in his ears. The Theelin buckles to her knees, looking stunned and shaky. “Uh,” Cal says, staggering upright and glancing around, “what happened to the other guy…?”

“Ran,” the girl spits. “Wimp.” She crawls to the edge of the riverwalk, gives a choking gasp. “Oh, gods – he hit the rocks –”

A real tragedy, Cal thinks. And then he slumps against the wall of the closest building, slides back down to the ground, and looks at his thigh, where blood pulses from a ragged stab wound with every heartbeat.

Okay. That’s bad.

“Oh,” the girl says again, and Cal spares one glance to see her reaching into the ravine before he presses both hands to his thigh, one over the other, and leans on it as hard as he can. Femoral artery. He has minutes if he’s lucky. “Oh,” she says a third time, and now she’s holding BD-1 in her arms and they’re both staring at Cal’s bloody leg in horror.

“Can I borrow that sash you’ve got?” Cal asks.

She practically drops BD and rips her sash off. “Slimy bastard touched it anyway –” She shoves it at Cal and he removes one hand from the wound, bends his knee just enough to work the length of fabric beneath his thigh, takes both ends and twists and twists until he starts cutting off the circulation to his entire leg. His other hand is already completely coated in blood and it’s puddling on the ground beneath him. “BD,” he says to the droid, who sticks a stim into Cal’s leg without prompting, “I need you to get on my comm and get me Cere, now.”

The girl spins on her heel, runs to grab her bag. “I’m going to call emergency medical,” she says.

He hopes they’re quick. Despite the awkward maneuvering – Cal can’t move his hand for easier access, he’s not getting the tourniquet tight enough as it is – BD contorts enough to activate the commlink in Cal’s wrist cuff and select the correct frequency. “Cal?” Cere says.

“I need your help,” he says. His voice quivers. He’s beginning to feel lightheaded and isn’t sure if that’s the hemorrhage or simply panic.

“I know,” Cere replies, because of course she knows. It’s a Jedi master thing. “I’m coming. Where exactly are you?”

BD pipes up with their location and tells her to hurry. Run. Steal a speeder, if she must. Cal will be unconscious from blood loss very soon.

“I’m coming,” Cere repeats.

Cere is coming for him, Cal tells himself, like a meditation mantra. Or a prayer. She didn’t leave him behind on Bracca, she didn’t leave him on Ordo Eris, she didn’t leave him on Nur, she’s going to show up and help and everything will be okay. He may be a Jedi Knight now, but he still hasn’t shed that childish belief his master can fix everything.

“Deera!”

All three of them look towards a gate further down the street. “Deera!” The Rodian girl comes running back onto the riverwalk, followed by a massive security droid whose armor puts the stormtroopers to shame. Her head swings around wildly, and then she spots the sorry little party huddled by the wall and races over to the Theelin. “Are you okay?! What happened to –”

“I’m fine,” Deera interrupts, stuffing her commlink back into her bag. As the security droid clanks up to them, she adds, “A man grabbed me and tried to drag me off. This guy came to help and got stabbed, but – the man, he tried to get me again and lost his balance and fell over the cliff.”

The droid executes a precise 90º turn and walks to the ravine. Panting, Cal tries to yank the tourniquet tighter, but he can’t do it one-handed and he’s afraid taking pressure off the wound will make the situation worse. “TX-193 to base,” he hears the droid rumble, “body retrieval team required at coordinates 14, 284, 300….”

Cal licks his dry lips. “Hey,” he calls. The droid turns smoothly to face him. “Can you – I can’t pull this tight enough to stop the circulation. Think you could…?”

The security droid hesitates, and Cal expects it to refuse and claim that request falls outside its programming… but it strides over, instead, lowers itself to a crouch, and Cal relinquishes the ends of the sash to its hands. The droid promptly does what Cal cannot, tightening the tourniquet until Cal gasps in pain. “Wait,” Deera says, “you’re hurting him –”

“It’s okay,” Cal says, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “Has to hurt to work properly.” His foot starts going numb inside of a minute, and he’s still conscious after a minute, so clearly something’s going right. The blood welling up between his fingers hasn’t stopped, but it’s not gushing anymore.

A moment later, Cere comes hurtling around the corner. Cal has never been so happy to see her in his life, and he’s been very happy to see her a number of times before. “We keep meeting like this,” he jokes weakly as she drops to her knees next to him, wide-eyed, regarding the pool of blood he’s sitting in with a sick flush of horror that curdles in his belly.

“If I haven’t seen or heard from you in fifteen minutes, I know there’s trouble,” she says. She takes her knife from her belt (that reminds him to grab his before he leaves, if he leaves), adds, “Sorry for being forward,” and starts cutting away the material of his pants to access the wound. There’s a quick breath, a spike of panic when she gets a better look at it. “All right,” Cere says, glancing up to meet Cal’s eyes. “This might hurt. I think – I’m going to reach in and clamp off the artery.”

Cal nods. He pointedly does not watch Cere jam her fingers into the gash on Cal’s thigh and grope around in there, searching for his femoral artery, because he already feels woozy and nauseated. He puts a hand on BD’s head, more for emotional stability than physical (he’s not ready to die), and watches Deera and the Rodian – Kate, he thinks Deera called her. They’ve drawn close together, hand in hand, whispering.

“Got it!” Cere says. “I think – yes – can you let up on that a little?” she asks the security droid, who obligingly loosens the tourniquet. Cal holds his breath, waiting for the blood to spray, and nothing happens. “Good,” Cere mutters, “good.” The wound’s still oozing, but it’s a bad stab now rather than an arterial bleed.

“I am being ordered to return to my headquarters,” the droid says.

Cere nods. “Thanks for the help.” As the droid releases the sash and stands, Cere watches the blood dribble out of Cal’s thigh, then calls, “Could one of you come over here? Just in case we need the tourniquet again?”

Deera hesitates, looking almost as queasy as Cal feels when her eyes find the wound again, but Kate – who barely comes up to her shoulder and is dressed like she’s headed to a wreckpunk concert – takes a deep breath and walks over to sit in the droid’s vacant spot. “Deera said it should be just a few minutes before EMS gets here. Oh, I saw your bodyguard on my way back, by the way,” she informs Deera, picking up the stained sash, an antenna twitching. “Bet he’s looking for you.”

“You have a bodyguard?” Cal says faintly.

“…my father’s the former senator from Thellessa,” Deera admits, stepping closer. “He has enemies. Jav’s supposed to protect me when I go out… especially in the bad part of town.”

“It’s not the location that bothers him so much as the company,” Kate mutters.

Deera’s expression flickers. “He’ll tell my parents who I’m with, if they ask,” she says, glancing at Kate. “They… wouldn’t approve. So –”

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Cal interrupts, “but I’m going to throw up.”

Kate scuttles backwards like a crab. Cal leans as far as Cere will let him and pukes sour zherry all over the pavement (and ewwww, it’s still carbonated). “It’s okay,” Cere says calmly, one hand on his shoulder like this sort of thing happens every day and he isn’t vomiting from blood loss while her fingers are inside his leg. He really enjoyed that soda, too. Would’ve been better off letting Merrin monopolize it. “Cal. You’re hyperventilating. You need to slow your breathing.”

Wiping his mouth on his sleeve smears blood across his face. Gently, Cere tips Cal upright again and presses his back against the wall. He tries to breathe a little more steadily, clutching one of BD’s antennae like a lifeline. Cere’s free hand cups his cheek. “Try to stay awake,” she says. “You’re doing good.”

“Humans bleed so much,” Kate says quietly.

The world tilts and Cal has to close his eyes for a second so he doesn’t throw up again. “Yeah, we do,” he slurs. “We’re just… walking blood bags.”

“Here!” Deera suddenly shouts. Cal opens his eyes to see her waving frenetically at a speeder descending from the sky, its strobing red light flashing across her face. “Right here –”

The speeder lands on the riverwalk and its pilot, a standard 2-1B medical droid, climbs out. “Human male, injury to the thigh, significant bleeding,” it recites, walking over. “I assume this is you?”

Cal nods. “I’ve got the artery pinched off,” Cere says, and the droid kneels next to her, setting down a portable medkit. “He had a tourniquet on before I arrived, but he’s still been bleeding for much too long.”

The droid aims a scanner at Cal’s leg. “The femoral artery is sliced, but not severed,” it reports, studying the display. “Unfortunate, perhaps – were it severed completely, it would have constricted, limiting blood loss.” It puts the scanner away. “I am capable of repairing the damage here and now, but I will require payment first.”

“What,” Cere says flatly.

“It’s fine,” Deera says. She shrugs. “Just how things work around here. Don’t worry, I’ve got it.”

“We can’t ask you –”

“You’re not; I’m offering. Tonight would’ve gone a lot worse for me if he hadn’t been there.” She unearths a credit chit from her bag and drops it in the droid’s hand. “I get one hell of an allowance and my parents don’t usually care how I use it. Just – help him.”

The droid sticks the chit into a datapad. “That seems to be in order.”

“Cool,” Cal breathes. “Can we do this before I pass out…?” He feels like he’s floating. This isn’t the first time he’s almost bled to death, so it’s not even an unfamiliar sensation.

“When I tell you to let go,” the 2-1B instructs Cere, holding a laser, “do so quickly. I will seal the artery and then close the wound.” It hits Cal’s thigh with a hypospray first – some kind of anesthetic, he realizes, because his leg isn’t entirely numb and the deep throb begins to fade. The laser in one hand, something that looks like a blunt pair of scissors in the other, the droid says, “Let go.”

Cere yanks her hand away from Cal’s leg. The droid swoops in, unbothered by the spurt of blood, and sticks the scissors into the gash. Of course, Cal realizes, it’s an actual clamp.

And then he blacks out for a few seconds. More than a few – when he comes back around to Cere tapping his cheek none-too-gently with her hand and demanding he open his eyes, the medical droid is lasering Cal’s thigh shut. “Don’t do that again,” Cere orders, shoulders sagging. She tucks a lock of hair behind Cal’s ear. He needs to cut it. He let his hair grow out once on Bracca, but it was just too annoying to keep up with. “Cal.”

BD headbutts his side. “I’m awake,” Cal mumbles. He can taste sweat on his lips, which is admittedly preferable to zherry soda vomit.

“He will require further medical attention once I am finished,” the 2-1B cautions. “A blood transfusion may be necessary. I can direct you to several respectable facilities, if you would like.”

“We’re over on Jaxis,” Cere says. “We’ll take him back to our ship and fly straight there, keep him close to home.” Her fingers drum against Cal’s cheekbone, drawing his wandering attention. “Stay with me,” she reminds him. “Soon as the droid’s done I’ll see if I can get us a cab.” He opens his mouth. “You are not walking.”

“Oh!” Kate says, bouncing slightly. “If you guys need a lift to the port or something, I can go snag us a nice ride!”

“Kate, this is why I’m not supposed to see you,” Deera says.

“Chill, I’m joking.” The Rodian girl hops to her feet and looks at Cere. “Seriously, my brother lives down the road – I’ll even ask before I borrow his speeder, make Deera happy. But it’s no trouble. I kinda owe you too, right?” She gestures to Deera. “I know she’s posh and all, but I like her.”

“Well – if you don’t mind –” Kate’s already turned and started jogging towards the gate. “Okay,” Cere says, squeezing Cal’s shoulder. “Still awake?”

“Mhm.”

“I am nearly finished,” the medical droid announces, putting down the laser. It tears the backing off a bacta patch and smooths it over the raw, bloodstained, puckered tissue. “There. Your treatment is complete.”

“Thanks,” Cal murmurs. He brings a shaking hand up, rubs his eyes, gets blood in those too. “Ow… Cere, I think you ruined my pants.” He’s just now realizing she hacked a giant hole in the inner thigh. Cal can’t walk around in these – they look like an ad for something he’s not selling.

“I’ll buy you another pair.”

“If you do not need my assistance with anything else,” the droid says, “I must be on my way. Do check into a medcenter within the next few hours.”

“Thank you for the help,” Cere says. Once the 2-1B has packed up its equipment and walked back to its vehicle, she quietly adds, “However much it cost….”

“You don’t wanna know,” Deera advises her.

Within a minute (which Cal spends shivering so hard Cere pulls off her jacket and drapes it across his chest like a blanket), Kate returns in a very sleek, open-topped, gunmetal-blue four-seater. Cal has a feeling speeders aren’t supposed to be back here, seeing as the gates aren’t wide enough to admit anything besides the slimmest of bikes, but she takes a shortcut over a building and parks right in front of them. “Your limo has arrived,” she says brightly, running her hands over the controls. “Gods, I love this thing. It runs like a dream.”

“Sorry about all the blood we’re going to get on the seats,” Cere says, grunting as she tries to heave Cal to his feet. What little blood is left in his body goes straight to the ground; his vision winks out and he just barely clings to consciousness as she practically drags him into the speeder.

“Oh, it’s my brother’s,” Kate says. “I guarantee – ” her voice disappears into the whine that floods Cal’s ears for a few seconds. Then Cere gets him on a seat and props his legs up in her lap and, slowly, his sight and hearing come crawling back. “– think this is less disgusting. Where are you headed?”

Cere gives Kate directions to their docking platform and Cal tips his head against the door, blinking hard until BD’s six optics reduce to two. “Hey, bud,” he whispers weakly.

Don’t ‘hey, bud’ him, BD retorts. Does Cal have some kind of exsanguination fetish? This happens entirely too often.

“I know, I know… Cere?” Cal says. She looks at him, leans closer to hear. “Jaxis?”

“I’m not sure how much I trust the medcenters on this planet,” Cere says in a low voice, nodding to a billboard as Kate takes them back down to street-level – it’s a recruitment ad for the Imperial military. “And Dante did say to drop by if we needed anything….”

“I don’t think this is what he meant.”

“If he can’t help us, he’ll know where we can go for medical attention that won’t draw attention,” she says. “How are you feeling?”

“Nauseous.” And extremely dizzy, and cold, and also thirsty, but mostly he would feel terrible if he puked in Kate’s brother’s speeder when she’s doing them a favor. Even if the thing’s no stranger to disgusting bodily fluids. He shuts his eyes when Kate takes a sharp turn and the sky wheels overhead. “Thanks for… you know. Always patching me up. And sticking your fingers into my leg.”

Please do not make me do that again anytime soon,” Cere says immediately. After a moment, though, she adds, “But I will, if I have to.” She pats his knee. “I always will.”

He smiles at her, blearily, and then focuses on staying conscious for the rest of the ride. It’s mercifully short – perhaps two more minutes before Kate pulls to a stop right next to the Stinger Mantis and whistles. “Nice ship,” she says, twisting around in her seat.

“Yeah,” Cal says, struggling upright. Greez’s baby. He’s going to be so horrified at the amount of blood Cere and Cal are trekking inside.

Deera turns around too, folds her arms on the headrest, leans her chin on them. “Thank you,” she says softly. “Guess I should start carrying a blaster, huh?”

“Or a knife,” Cal says. He wobbles out of the speeder with a lot of help from Cere. “Or… actually, I left my knife back there. You could go steal it….”

“Good idea,” Kate says. “And then I’ll drop you off somewhere nice – like the Dome Theater! Tell Jav you were watching opera or something and that’s why you vanished for four hours.”

“They don’t even show opera there,” Deera says, amused. “Bye, guys.”

“Thanks for the ride,” Cere says, steadying Cal as BD jumps from the speeder door to his back and almost knocks him over. “Let me get him inside before he collapses on me.”

“Shoulda warned Greez ahead of time,” Cal mumbles. One foot in front of the other, up the ramp. Cere’s taking most of his weight, which helps. “He’s gonna… what is that?” he asks, putting in the effort to lift his head. Cere’s punching in the door code, but there’s something else beyond the beeping, something –

“ – that’s why I need a SQUID LIKE ME! Need a SQUID LIKE ME!

Cal looks at Cere. Her mouth contorts like she doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Take me back to the riverwalk and let me bleed to death.”

“No,” Cere says, and heaves him inside.

“Oh, hey guys –” Greez cuts off and his eyes practically triple in size, the datapad in his hand hitting the deck. “Why are you both covered in blood?!” he shrieks.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Cal says, at the same time Cere (loudly) counters, “Why are you playing Squid Like Me at max volume?”

“He lost a bet!” Merrin calls from the galley – Cal sees a blur of red before Cere dumps him on the bench by the holotable, and he wastes no time in making himself horizontal so maybe the universe will stop spinning.

“Thank goodness,” Cere says. “I thought you’d finally snapped.”

“I’m about to,” Greez mutters. “Merrin, please!” he pleads; she finally takes pity on him and shuts the music off, leaving Cal’s ears ringing. But that might just be the blood loss. He’s feeling very close to passing out again. “You didn’t answer my question. Blood?!”

“Not as bad as it looks,” Cal repeats.

“Yes, it is,” Cere corrects. “He’s not in immediate danger, but we need to head to Jaxis and ask Dante about finding him some discreet medical attention. Get moving.”

“All right, all right, hold onto your pants… Callie, you bleed out on my potolli-weave and I’m making Merrin resurrect you just to clean it up,” Greez says as he rushes past.

“I’m not actually bleeding anymore…” Cal says, but everyone ignores him. Greez gets the Mantis fired up and Cere seals the hatch. Cal blinks a moment too long and Merrin’s sitting next to him, covering him with his blanket, and Cere’s checking his pulse like it’s six months ago and his spleen’s leaking into his abdominal cavity. “I’m fine,” he mumbles. “Really.”

“You are never not fine,” Merrin informs him. “Which is why I don’t believe you. You keep shivering.”

Just relax, BD says, nestling against the top of Cal’s head. They’re going to take care of him.

“Yeah,” Cal murmurs, letting his eyes close. “Yeah. You always do.”

Notes:

Respera’s weird Aurebesh courtesy of Microsoft Word, which likes to autocorrect “Cal’s” to “C’l’s” for no reason i’ve ever been able to figure out!

Chapter 4: four

Notes:

ah crud, that shotgun i was aiming at Cal's spleen slipped...

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

“Cal, where are you?”

Cal winces as Merrin’s question bounces off every metal wall of his hiding spot. “Quiet,” he hisses at his commlink. “I can’t reach the volume control right now. I’m in one of the apartment blocks south of the square – the troopers spotted me, they’re practically going over the place with a fine-toothed comb, but I’m pretty well hidden. Not safe to leave yet, though.”

“You need to get back here as soon as possible,” Merrin whispers. “We’ve reached the Mantis safely but Cere is hurt.”

“How bad?”

“Bad.”

Before Cal can start fretting over that, Cere speaks up – “A little positivity, please?” she says, lightly, yet she sounds thready and breathless to Cal’s ears.

“If you insist,” Merrin says, and manages to inject a hint of cheer into her voice when she whispers, “Bad!”

“What happened?” Cal asks, looking upwards at the only sliver of light in sight, wondering how soon he can risk getting out of here without becoming a pincushion. A whole bunch of the stormtroopers on this planet are using slugthrowers. He knows for a fact that’s not regulation, but the Empire gets looser on protocol the further from the Core you get.

Cere gives a staticky sigh. “Trooper got through my guard. Stuck a vibroblade between my ribs – he missed my lung, at least, or else I’d be in real trouble.”

“She is losing too much blood,” Merrin says. “We cannot get it to stop. You need to come back so we can leave.”

Cal closes his eyes, takes a deep breath. “Okay,” he says. “Okay. Any chance of a rooftop pickup…?”

“Sorry, kid,” Greez cuts in ruefully, “but no can do. The whole spaceport’s been shut down. Obviously they bought the fake creds, ‘cause I’m not strapped in a torture chair already, but the moment I fire up the thrusters they’re gonna be all over us. I can get us off-world as long as we’ve got the element of surprise, but you gotta come to me.”

Opening his mouth, Cal pauses at the clang above him and looks up again, and the bright square is promptly shadowed by a familiar rectangular head. The troopers are moving out, BD reports happily. Seems they’ve agreed Cal escaped already and they’re going to search the surrounding area instead.

“Finally,” Cal says with a sigh. “Okay, Greez? Everyone? I’m good to go; I will meet up with you ASAP. Keep a low profile and see what you can do for Cere.”

“Be careful, Cal,” Cere says. “I’ll be fine.”

He doesn’t believe her any more than they believe him when he says it. “Sure,” he says anyway, and the comm line closes.

Now comes the fun part – climbing back up the trash chute he threw himself into when he realized he was about to be cornered. Dropping down might be faster, but not only does it already smell utterly disgusting six floors above the actual trash compactor, he’s not certain he can actually get out that way. Cal grits his teeth and draws his legs up, braces his feet against one side of the chute, and presses his back so hard against the other the pressure keeps him from sliding when he lets go of a tear in the metal. The fingers on his right hand are cut almost to the bone. Nothing compared to Cere’s injury. He awkwardly inches upwards until he reaches the open door where BD’s standing, watching his progress. “Still clear?” Cal grunts, feeling winded. He can’t get a full inhale with his diaphragm so compressed.

Clear, BD confirms.

Cal grasps the edge of the opening, ignoring the pain shooting through his fingers, and wriggles himself through headfirst, flops gracelessly to the stiff carpet. He only allows himself two good breaths to lie there and gather his wits about him. Then he’s up and boosting BD-1 onto his back. “Cere’s hurt,” he reports, looking up and down the long corridor. “We need to get to the Mantis as fast as we can. Best way out of here?”

There’s a junction down the hall to Cal’s left, BD says. That corridor ends in a set of doors that lead to a balcony. Faster than the stairs and safer than an elevator.

“Copy that….” Cal follows BD’s directions, stretching out with the Force before he rounds the corner just to be sure he’s not strolling into a wall of blasters, then thrusting a hand ahead as he runs and blowing the double doors wide open. He slows as he steps onto the rain-splattered balcony, lets the doors swing shut behind him, looks around, looks down. “Hello,” he mutters, dropping into a crouch and peeking through the railing.

In the alleyway beneath the balcony, three white, cog-emblazoned speeder bikes are parked in a neat line. He’s pretty sure he recognizes the model; it’s too recent to be widespread, but they’ve come across a couple recently. The stormtroopers who presumably brought them here have clustered together at the far end of the alley. “New speeders?” Cal murmurs to BD.

Yeah, BD says, very new. Imperial-issue, safe to leave unguarded because they require an Imperial ID to start the thrusters.

“Be a real pity if some droid just happened to have a stolen ID in their databases, huh?” Cal says, grinning a bit.

Truly, BD agrees, and hangs on tight.

The troopers have their backs to Cal, eyes on the growing turbulence in the square, so they don’t notice him dropping out of the sky and landing silently on the speeder at the head of the line. BD plugs into the system while Cal gets himself situated. Four kilometers to the spaceport – Cal had suggested they dock in the craggy, desolate terrain outside the city to avoid a situation exactly like this one, but now he’s glad they didn’t take his advice. That’d be a twenty minute drive and he’s afraid Cere might not have that long.

The stormtroopers finally get a clue upon hearing the thrusters snarl. By then it’s too late; they barely have time to turn around and start to lift their weapons when Cal seizes the handlebars and kicks it into high gear. Only one of them is brave enough to try getting off a shot as he hurtles towards them, and it goes wildly off-course. All three troopers fling themselves out of the way to avoid being bowled over. Cal and BD blaze out of the alley and into the city square.

Bad idea. He should’ve chosen the last speeder and gone backwards. He has to hit the brakes immediately to avoid running down a bunch of civilians. Capital square is heaving with anger, about to boil over; the people are infuriated by the ongoing Imperial occupation they were told would end months ago and a riot’s been brewing since sundown. Normally, the unrest would be welcome – Cal’s crew has been using it as a cover for their own activities – but the stormtroopers are out in full force to suppress any violent demonstrations and there’s hardly space to breathe in the square. Behind him, the other two speeder bikes roar to life.

Up, BD says, and Cal complies automatically, pushing the repulsorlifts as far as they’ll go to take him above the crowds. He won’t get much speed up here, but neither will they, and the locals are crowding in towards the troopers, hampering their progress. He leans low over the handlebars and urges the bike across the square. At least three people throw stuff at him. He ducks at just the right time to avoid a glass bottle to the head. He’s not exactly dressed like a stormtrooper, but that’s not stopping anybody.

“Come on, come on….” Halfway there. He chances a look back and the troopers have taken to the air too. Cal kicks one of the pedals, sends the bike into a barrel roll as the stormtrooper in front aims his blaster and gets off a surprisingly well-aimed shot that would’ve taken him out at the spine. No built-in weapons on these, fortunately. The repulsors whine when he cants to one side, then the other, making it difficult to get a bead on him.

Take the street on the right, BD says, leaning so far he’s practically falling off Cal’s shoulder. It’s emptier and he can put the bike down before the lifts overheat.

“For brand-new speeders,” Cal says, “these are garbage.”

They could do better with spit and spacetape, BD agrees.

He just barely makes it before the repulsorlifts quit on him entirely. They’re flaring red on the monitor; the back end of the bike hits the pavement with a bone-rattling crash and screams down the street, sending up a shower of sparks as Cal guns it. At least the garbage is fast on the ground. Of course, that means the troopers are too, but there are fewer civilians around here – when all three stormtroopers start firing, Cal ignites his lightsaber.

Deflecting blaster bolts aimed at his back while trying to steer a vehicle at the same time is an experience. If BD-1 had manipulators, Cal would let him take the controls. He keeps one hand on the handlebars, trying not to hit pedestrians or anything that’d total his bike, and banks another good shot into a darkened storefront. Thanks to the turmoil, everything’s been closed up early tonight. His shoulder twinges as he swings back wildly, relying on the Force alone to guide his actions. The third trooper, riding on the back of his buddy's vehicle, leaps down and grabs a speeder idling in the road and rejoins the chase. Right, BD calls, that’ll take them closer to the port.

“Gotcha!” He yanks the handlebars and leans and takes a corner poorly, almost takes a trash bin with him. The speeder’s finally quit dragging, though, so he puts a bit of distance between himself and the troopers as they slow down around the same corner. “How much –”

Something lands on the back of the bike. It nearly hits the ground again – Cal turns off his lightsaber and grabs both handles to keep it steady – then stabilizes. “About time!”

“I would like to see you teleport onto a moving vehicle,” Merrin says. “I thought you might need a hand.”

He glances over his shoulder at her, double-takes. “What happened to you?!”

She blinks at him through swollen red eyelids, oblivious to the tears streaming down her face. “A police officer sprayed my face with something that burned badly and made me cough.” Regardless, her bloodshot eyes are beginning to glow green, and she spins around on the seat to face the stormtroopers. “It’s much better since Greez washed my eyes out, but I still cannot see very well.”

“Aim directly in front of you,” Cal says. He hears a fwoom, an explosion, and a scream, glances back again. “Next one’s a little to the left –” Merrin flings another neon green fireball, misses. “Straighter!”

“That may be difficult for me,” she says.

BD cackles. Cal wishes he hadn’t told her the colloquial meaning of that word. “Try anyway! I have to turn again in three – two –”

Fwoom. Boom. “I think the last one is stopping.”

Yeah, BD says, peering past Cal right before they swing another turn, but only because he’s meeting with his backup.

“How much further?” Cal says. BD’s reply is promising, so Cal nods and nudges Merrin with an elbow. “Time to go.”

“After you,” she says, turning to face him. He flicks a switch to put the speeder on autopilot – won’t fool the stormtroopers for long, but they might trail it for a bit longer before they realize – and, as one, all three of them tuck and roll off the bike. Merrin makes it to her feet first, grabs Cal, yanks him up, and they duck down another street. The stormtroopers jet past.

“How’s Cere?” Cal asks as they run towards the spaceport.

“Not good,” Merrin says grimly. Cal speeds up.

The port is terrifyingly quiet. These places are always a cacophony – fuel barges, maintenance droids, repair work, docking managers shouting at people who don’t pay them, ships taking off and landing – but this one’s silent, like it’s holding its breath. They charge into the Mantis’s bay, up the ramp, and Merrin hammers the control panel to open the door.

Greez greets them with two blasters. The second he realizes who’s invading, he chucks them onto the holotable and goes running up to the co*ckpit. “Need someone on the scanners!” he bellows, blitzing through the ship’s startup sequence with practiced hands.

The deck vibrates when the thrusters fire and Cal and Merrin look at one another. “I’ll go,” Merrin says, and rushes to take the copilot’s seat even though she probably can’t see much yet. Maybe that’s why BD-1 follows her. Cal heads for the lounge, where he can see Cere stretched out on the sofa.

For a moment, as he takes her in, Cal fully appreciates what the rest of them have gone through every time Cal’s almost bled out or been stabbed with his lightsaber or got caught too close to an explosion. Cere is a horrible color, eyes closed, taking quick, sharp breaths. Her entire left side from underarm to mid-thigh is painted deep red. He can’t see the wound – she’s clutching a towel to her ribs like her life depends on it. She looks like she’s dying. Cal drops to his knees next to her. “Cere?”

To his relief, her eyes flutter open, focus. “Are we going?” she says faintly.

Cal nods. “Yeah.” He barely noticed the Mantis lifting off, but they must be in the air now – he hears the high whine of the cannons charging, then firing, followed by a distant shuddering explosion. “Definitely going. Hold on.”

She sucks a breath through her nose, swallows. “Cal,” she says, in a funny sort of voice that makes his heart stop.

“You’re gonna be fine,” he says, clamping his hand over hers where it’s clutched to her side, increasing the pressure. She’s not allowed to start apologizing or anything like that. She’s going to be fine. “Just – keep breathing –”

Cal,” she says again, a little more firmly. “I need you to close the wound.”

He blinks. He looks at the sodden towel, where she’s holding it, and almost laughs from giddy panic. “Ruptured Spleen Association, huh?”

“…where can I resign my membership?”

“You can’t,” he says, pressing harder, bracing himself for the hiss of pain. Cere barely makes a sound. “I don’t have one anymore, remember? You have to take my seat.”

You have to do as I told you… close the wound.”

“How?” Cal asks. He looks at the lounge table, where Greez’s tidy, organized medkit has been eviscerated. “I don’t think we have enough sutures – if the wound’s too big, they won’t even work –”

Cere’s gaze flicks to his lightsaber.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Cal says weakly. “That’s… will that work?”

“You tell me,” she murmurs, pointing a finger of her unoccupied hand at Cal’s chest. “It should. I’ve done it before… not to myself. A few troopers. It’ll work.”

He’d survived a lightsaber wound because they typically don’t bleed, he thinks. Instant cauterization. Like that laser the security droid on Respera had used to close Cal’s femoral artery, just on a much, much larger scale. He lost his spleen because it was burned so severely no amount of bacta would restore it.

Cal looks over his shoulder. “Greez?”

“We’re going!” Greez shouts back. “Just gotta get enough space – ah, get out of my kriffin’ way already – to jump!”

“I need Merrin!”

He doesn’t even have to explain. Merrin ditches Greez in a heartbeat, running into the lounge, dropping to her knees and skidding the last meter or so until she almost crashes into the sofa. Ordinarily, Cal would give that an eight out of ten, but right now he just starts unbuckling his wrist cuff and says, “I need you to hold her down. This is probably gonna hurt.”

Merrin doesn’t ask about that, either. She clambers onto the sofa, almost falls right back off when something impacts the Mantis’s shields and the entire ship rocks, kneels with a leg on either side of Cere’s hips, settles her hands on Cere’s shoulders. “We have already given her a painkiller,” she says.

“Good. Here,” Cal says, laying the open cuff in Cere’s free hand. “Might wanna bite down on that.”

“…hope you washed it… recently.”

“Pretend I said yes,” he says, and as she slips the synthleather between her teeth, he peels the towel away from her side and pushes her shirt up. The tear in her side makes Cal’s thigh wound from so long ago look like a papercut. The edges of the cut are a fraying mess, too – vibroblades are favorite weapons of close-quarter fighters for a reason. They’d need three-inch-long plastoid sutures just so they could reach intact skin to stick to.

Cere has a small vertical scar beneath her navel (probably that appendectomy she mentioned once) and a pinkish blotch by her hip that looks like it came from a blaster. This is going to be much worse… if she survives it. Cal inhales, lets the Force steady him, and activates his lightsaber, getting to his feet so he has a good angle. “Ready?”

“Yes,” Merrin says quietly, leaning forwards so most of her weight is on Cere’s shoulders.

Cere can’t speak with the cuff in her teeth. Her eyes meet Cal’s for an instant and there are a thousand emotions in that look – pride and fear and love and resignation – and then she closes them, nods. “Okay,” Cal whispers. He mops up as much blood as possible so he can get a decent grip, squeezes the wound shut one-handed until the edges almost meet, and sets the lightsaber blade against her skin.

Without the Force keeping him centered, Cal would’ve stopped at the noise Cere makes – the sort of guttural scream that sounds like it’s being wrung out of her as she thrashes against Merrin’s hands, instinctively trying to curl away from the burn. Good thing Merrin is strong, because Cere almost lurches out of Cal’s grip entirely. He prays he’s not sending her into some kind of Imperial torture flashback. Mercifully, she passes out a moment later. Cal leaves the lightsaber one second more, sickened by the scent as her flesh cooks, then turns it off.

Cere is still breathing. Her wound looks worse now, but it’s seared shut. Merrin, pale as he’s ever seen her, lets go of Cere’s shoulders, climbs off of her. “Did it work?”

“I… I think so.” She isn’t dead. Yet.

Greez and BD-1 hurtle into the lounge, then, startling Cal – he hadn’t even realized they’d jumped to hyperspace, but Greez wouldn’t be here otherwise. “Nineteen minutes to Tennspeck,” Greez reports shortly, eyes on Cere. “There’s a medcenter there – buddy of mine used it once, they took good care of him – how is she?”

Cal does not say better. He looks at Cere, the blood all over her side, her shirt, her pants, the sofa, her hands, Cal’s hands, and knows they aren’t out of the woods yet. “Not great,” he says, kneeling again. “She’s probably lost way too much blood.” He does not say I don’t know if she’ll make it nineteen more minutes. He begins sifting through the mess on the table and tries to remember what that vial had looked like. “Greez, the Regenon stuff, where is it?”

“The – we don’t have any more,” Greez says. “We only had the one and Cere used it on you.”

f*ck. He keeps digging anyway, uselessly. Enough supplies to stock a small clinic and nothing that will help Cere now. Stimulants, antiemetics, the sutures, gloves –

Cal’s eyes land on a coil of tubing, attached to a packet containing two needles.

He knocks down five other things grabbing the package, almost uses his teeth to tear the plastoid open before thinking better of it. It needs to remain sterile. He grabs the medkit scissors instead. “Wait,” Greez says, stepping closer and laying a hand over Cal’s. “Cal, you can’t.”

“Yeah, I can.”

“No, you can’t!” Greez says, louder; Cal yanks out of his grip, turns away, cuts the packet open. “It’s too dangerous – we gotta believe she’ll hang on long enough –”

“What’s dangerous?” Merrin asks, her eyes darting between the two of them.

“That’s for direct blood transfusions,” Greez says as Cal tries to unwind the tube. “It’s meant for my people – soldiers, technically. We’ve all got the same kinda blood, so we can donate to one another in an emergency. But Humans have whole different types; they can’t donate unless they’re the same kind.” He grabs Cal’s hands and forces him to hold still, and Cal again shakes him off. “Cal. When you were hurt way back on Bogano, Cere said she couldn’t do it because there was only something like a one in four chance you were compatible and she wouldn’t kill you.”

Cal pauses halfway through screwing a needle onto one end of the tube, looks the Latero in the eyes. “Greez, you know I respect you, but you really shouldn’t talk about things you don’t understand.” The needle snaps into place. “I’m a universal donor. It doesn’t matter what type she is; I can give her my blood.”

Something an awful lot like hope dawns on Greez’s face.

“…okay,” he says, letting go of Cal’s wrists. “Okay. Okay – fine, sure, blood transfusion on my sofa. No biggie.”

“Sorry, we can’t risk moving her,” Cal says, starting on the other needle.

“Stars, kid, I don’t care! You guys are worth more than a karking piece of furniture!” Greez takes one of Cere’s hands in two of his, rubs it like he’s trying to warm her up. “Everyone’s bled all over this thing anyway. I keep finding drips of oil and little BD-shaped footprints on the seats,” he adds, giving the droid in question a look. “Merrin puked on here –”

“I am still very sorry,” Merrin says humbly, though they’ve told her a dozen times she doesn’t have to apologize for that. Either it’s just her or Nightsisters in general can’t eat hanava pods, because they’d made her sick without much warning.

“ – Cal peed on it once –”

Cal almost drops the needle. “I did not!”

“Oh yes you did.”

“Cere said –”

“Yeah, she lied to you.” Greez pauses. “‘cause I told her to. You were so skittish back then I figured you’d disappear if you thought we were mad at you. And you were, you know, dying and all, so I got over it quick.”

Well, in that case, they can give Cere all of Cal’s blood, because he’s going to die of humiliation one way or another. As soon as the other needle is securely attached, Cal hands Merrin that end to hold it off the ground while he tries to find the vein in the crook of his arm. It’s harder than medical droids make it look – he’s not sure where exactly to insert the needle and it seems unwise to just stick himself blindly. Doesn’t help that he’s right-handed, but he can’t use that hand because it’s a bloody, lacerated mess.

“Here.” Merrin gives back the tube, takes the needle from his shaking fingers. “Let me.”

“Do you know how?”

“I know how to bleed people for rituals,” she says, which isn’t reassuring, but neither is Cere’s rapid, shallow breathing or continued unconsciousness. Cal watches her while Merrin pierces his skin, then mutters a curse and removes the needle. “Sorry, missed. Everything’s still blurry. I will try again.”

She can try as many times as she needs. Cal doesn’t care.

“There!” Merrin exclaims on the third attempt, and Cal looks back to see blood filling the tube. He swiftly pinches it shut with two fingers so not to waste any, thinks about Cere clamping Cal’s nicked artery with her bare hand while Merrin sinks the other needle into Cere’s elbow. This time, miraculously, she gets it on the first try.

“Uh,” Greez says, sounding a bit dizzy himself, “how do we make sure your blood’s going into her and not the other way around…?”

“Good old-fashioned gravity,” Cal says, and stands. Bracing himself on Greez’s shoulder, he steps up onto the edge of a cushion, over Cere, and sits on the back of the sofa, and then releases the tube. His blood courses through it and spills into Cere’s parched veins. “BD?” BD-1, who’s been sitting by Cere’s feet and observing the proceedings silently, glances up. “How long can we do this?”

BD tips his head, thinking. It typically takes eight to ten minutes to extract 500mL of blood, he says. Approximately 4.75L in the average adult Human male, but Cal only weighs about 55kg, so they’ll assume 4.25L max. Donating more than 600mL will be a risk; they could possibly go slightly longer given the urgency of the situation, but no more than 700mL. He calculates ten to twelve minutes before it’ll be too dangerous for Cal to continue.

“Keep track of time and tell me when to stop,” Cal says, and BD nods.

Then there’s nothing any of them can do except sit and watch as Cal pours his blood into Cere. Merrin is seated on the deck by her head, eyes on her pale face, listening to her breathe. Cal just holds still, stiller than he ever has before in his life in fear he might dislodge the needles otherwise. He isn’t ready to let go of her just yet. There was a time when he would have done so more easily, angry and hurt and untrusting, but… Cere had no obligation to step up and look out for Cal, keep teaching him the ways of the Force even when she herself had pulled away, but she did it regardless. She’s still doing it, nudging her fumbling baby Jedi Knight onto the right path whenever his lack of knowledge and experience leaves him flailing. No, Cal isn’t ready to let go. He will if he must, but… maybe he won’t have to.

For his part, Greez does what he always does when he’s anxious – paces back and forth between the lounge and the co*ckpit, checking the Mantis’s monitors like close vigilance will propel them through hyperspace any faster. “Come on, Cere,” he murmurs at one point, squeezing her shoulder. “You gotta pull through. Don’t make me raise these feral teenagers alone. They’ll outnumber me.”

“I think her heart rate has slowed down,” Merrin ventures cautiously, her fingers on the side of Cere’s neck. “It’s not racing as much anymore.”

“She has more blood,” Cal says. “Her heart doesn’t have to work quite so hard to pump.”

“Good,” Greez says. “Good. You doin’ okay, kid?”

“Yeah.”

It’s been five minutes and fifty-one seconds, BD interjects.

He can keep going. Cal shifts his legs a little bit, careful not to jostle Cere, just so he can keep his own blood flowing instead of puddling in his feet. It’s working, he tells himself. She’ll be fine.

Greez takes another trip to the front, comes back, picks up a couple of medical supplies Cal upended, checks the soil of his plants like he didn’t water them this morning. “Maybe I should grab you some juice or something,” he eventually muses, eyeing Cal. “Keep your blood sugar up. You like the cachu one, right?”

“Yeah.” Cal turns his head to watch Greez take the steps, and the ship keeps turning, tilting like they just lost their stabilizers.

“Whoa!” Greez yelps. “Merrin –”

“I’ve got him,” she says, already on her feet and grasping Cal’s shoulders, pushing him upright again.

“That’s enough,” Greez decides, flapping a hand at BD-1 and reaching for Cal’s arm.

Cal tries to lean back without falling over, tucking the arm with the needle in it against his side, queasy stomach flip-flopping as it compensates for the sudden vertigo. “BD?”

Nine minutes, twelve seconds, says BD, who’s also standing now and watching Cal closely.

“I can keep going. You said at least ten.”

Based on a standard flow rate, BD says, which in practice can vary wildly from Human to Human. If Cal is getting dizzy, they’ve taken too much already.

Greez is shaking his head. “Is he saying no? Doesn’t matter; I’m saying no. Take it out.”

“Not yet.”

“Cal!” Greez seizes Cal’s other hand, holds on tight enough to ache until, reluctantly, Cal meets his eyes. And the Latero looks pretty wrecked – he’s pale too, hair sticking up in weird directions where he’s been tugging at it nervously, bloodstains all over his jacket. Cere’s blood is still on his hands. Probably on the Mantis’s controls, too. He didn’t even bother washing it off yet. “Cere’s my friend. I love her and I want her to be okay, but there’s gotta be a limit! I’m not losing both of you.” He takes a deep breath. “I know you’d give her everything, Callie, but you’ve given her enough.”

“…are we still talking about blood?” Merrin says, sounding almost timid.

Cal closes his eyes. The room spins on.

He fumbles at the needle until it slides out of his arm.

Merrin’s still holding onto Cal, so Greez grabs the end of the tube, raises it to let the last of Cal’s blood drain into Cere. “Carefully,” Merrin instructs, bracing Cal as he stands on wobbling legs; she winds up practically lifting him over Cere, and the second his feet hit the deck she pushes him down to flop on the other side of the couch. He lays back immediately, BD darting out of the way so he can rest his head on Cere’s shins. “Just stay there for a minute.”

“Not a problem,” Cal mumbles, shutting his eyes again. He’s lightheaded and nauseous, but doesn’t feel like he’s going to pass out. And how sad is it that he can tell how much blood he’s down by measuring the severity of his symptoms?

He reopens his eyes when a cold plastoid bottle is pushed into his hands. “Drink,” Greez orders, and unscrews the cap for him. “Great news, Merrin, we’re gonna have so much steak for the next week so I can get some iron into these two… uh, sit up a little first so you don’t choke. You need help?”

“No, I’ve got it…” Cal says. “How’s Cere?”

“Her color looks a little better,” Merrin says after a critical study of Cere’s face. “Pulse is still fast but not as fast, and I don’t think she’s breathing as fast now, either. But she’s not conscious.”

Cal sits up gingerly, takes a few gulps of juice, and then slithers down to the deck, taking Merrin’s spot next to Cere. Her skin is cool when he touches her forehead. “Greez? Can you get my blanket?” The Latero nods and scurries off, comes back with it folded in his arms, tries to hand it to Cal. “No – put it on Cere. We need to keep her warm.”

“I will go get hers in a second,” Greez says impatiently, flapping it at Cal. “You’re shivering too, you know. Bundle up, I’ll be right back….”

As soon as he leaves, Merrin helps Cal pull his striped blanket over Cere. Greez just sighs to see this when he returns, but it gives him an excuse to tuck Cere’s quilt around Cal’s shoulders. The quilt isn’t holding a whole lot of good echoes – Cere has as many nightmares as Cal, if not more – but it carries a part of her in it, and Cal thinks, suddenly, he will have to keep it if she dies.

Greez goes up to the co*ckpit to check their progress for the thirty-seventh time and then calls, “Four minutes! Merrin? I need you to get on the comms. As soon as we revert, I’m gonna take us in. You gotta find the priority frequency and tell ‘em we have a medical emergency on board; I need to know where to land to have a team meet us.”

With one more look at Cere, Merrin does as she’s told. That just leaves Cal and BD, who snuggles into Cal’s blanketed lap, providing as much comfort as he receives. Cal strokes his head like he’s a tooka, watches Cere breathe in and out through parted lips.

Then, slowly, her eyes crack open.

Hey,” Cal whispers, folding his arm on the cushion and resting his chin on it so her face is mere inches from his. He can’t help smiling and BD-1 gives a happy twitter – Cere blinks fuzzily a few times, and she doesn’t seem able to lift her eyelids more than halfway, but after a long moment, her eyes find Cal’s. “About time you woke up. Sit tight; we’re dropping out of hyperspace in a minute and Greez is gonna get you straight to a medcenter.”

Cere blinks again, inhales deeply through her nose, licks her lips, swallows with a grimace. Her voice is a barely-audible rasp when she whispers, “I feel… awful.”

Cal almost laughs. “Yeah, been there. You’re gonna be fine, though.”

“…lightsaber worked?”

“Yup. Let’s not do that one again, okay… we also dumped a couple units of blood into you,” he adds, tapping the spot on his arm Merrin bandaged while he was trying to regain his bearings.

Cere’s eyes flicker to it, back to his face. “Risky.”

Shaking his head, Cal grins wearily. “Nope. O-.” And he’s never been more grateful for it. The corner of her mouth twitches. “You’d better take good care of that blood; I worked hard on it.”

She actually manages a faint smile now. Cere slides her hand over until the backs of her knuckles touch Cal’s cheek. He leans into it, listening to Merrin rapid-fire the details of their situation into the comms while Greez steers the Mantis down to Tennspeck, and shuts his eyes.

“Just evening the score,” Cal tells Cere a few days later, when she’s still somewhat pale and fatigued but doesn’t give Greez conniptions by standing up anymore. “You’ve stopped me from bleeding out at least twice… among other things.”

“Fair enough,” she says, smiling. They’re both quiet for a moment, then, more solemnly, she adds, “Do me a favor in the future and remember you aren’t a blood bank, please.”

“I’m not planning to run around offering my blood to everyone who might need it, Cere.”

She raises her eyebrows. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“Are we gonna have another argument about how I’m too self-sacrificing?”

“No,” Cere says, leaning back on her hands. “I think we’ve retreaded that one enough. And don’t take this as me being ungrateful, because I am very grateful, but the first rule of blood donation is stopping when it begins to negatively affect you, regardless of the recipient’s condition. You cannot provide further aid if you’re unconscious or dead.”

“I know.” Cal looks down at the Mandalorian orange he’s been playing with rather than eating, finally splits the peel with his thumbnail. “I was scared,” he admits. “I was afraid I’d lose you, so….”

After a pause, she says, “You were also missing enough blood to feel it, so I’m sure you weren’t thinking completely rationally. But Cal –”

“I know,” he repeats, dragging his nail around and around the orange so the peel will come off in a spiral. “Not the kinds of emotions I should’ve been acting on.” If Cal had given her too much blood and Cere still hadn’t made it, the crew would’ve been down two members instead of just one. He doesn’t regret the transfusion, but… in hindsight, Greez and BD were right. Cal wonders which of them tattled to Cere. “I’d do it again, though – the normal amount to donate, I guess, instead of… you know. Too much.”

She leans into him so their shoulders touch for a second. “Let’s hope you don’t have to.”

The orange peel detaches perfectly and Cal coils it around his wrist like a bracelet. It smells nice. Greez keeps telling them not to throw the peels out, since he can make some kind of candy from them. “Think it’s safe to go back in yet?”

In reply, Cere reaches up and prods the button to open the Mantis’s doors. They’re both immediately serenaded with the muffled, echoing, motormouthed bridge of Squid Like Me’s reviled dance remix, blasted as loud as BD-1 can manage, along with Merrin laughing and Greez spewing creative threats if BD doesn’t get out of the karking ventilation this instant.

Cere shuts the doors again, plunging them back into relative quiet. “No,” she says unnecessarily. Cal shrugs – it’s cool and breezy out here on the ramp, at least – and offers her a segment of the orange, which she accepts, and together they watch the distant sun melt beneath the horizon.

Notes:

wait a minute, you might be saying, Alex, does this entire fic exist because you rewatched Mad Max: Fury Road and wanted to write a medically-questionable transfusion scene? to which i would indignantly reply… okay, guilty as charged. it just makes perfect sense for Cal to be a universal donor… and for Cere and Greez to discover this and immediately go “oh no, ANOTHER way for this kid to give and give until he has nothing left. LITERALLY IN THIS CASE.”

blood bag - sauntering_down - Star Wars: Jedi: Fallen Order Series (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

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