Rae, forgive me.
Part V: Exile
A familiar voice echoes through the Force. I falter. Mical?
His voice is silenced. At the same time, a searing pain rips through my being, the kind of pain I hoped I would never feel again: that of a bond being severed.
I cry out and stumble backwards, trying not to double over from the pain. My opponent seizes the opportunity to come at me with a downward slash; I block it purely by reflex. My mind is scattered now, my focus gone. I call out blindly through the Force. Mical!
He doesn't answer. I keep calling out to him as I fight, though in my heart I know it's no use. A severed bond can mean only one thing.
By the time I cut down my opponent, my breath is labored from more than exertion, my limbs shaking from more than adrenaline. Deactivating my saber, I stand with my fists clenched and stare at the dead Sith at my feet. Questions claw at me from within.
Why, Mical? I told you to stay on the ship. I
I can feel the ache at the back of my throat that I used to feel right before I cried. I bite my lip savagely, not letting up until the ache goes away. Then I close my eyes and stretch out my senses. My jaw is taut, my will made of steel.
I'll find him—find out what happened to him. Then I'll take him back to the Hawk
. Leaving him here on this planet, even burying him here, is unthinkable.
The dark side clouds everything, making it difficult to see through the Force. I cut through the fog with my force of will as I search for him. The pain of our severed bond throbs in my chest like a gaping wound. Sometimes I think I can feel the warm blood seeping into my robe.
Just when I'm beginning to get desperate, my search turns to the center of the Academy, and I find something. It's an echo, the hollowness that a life leaves behind when it's snuffed out. Malachor rings with millions of these echoes, yet this one has barely started to spread.
The sound that escapes my lips is too weak to be called a sigh. Opening my eyes, I step over the body at my feet and press on toward the echo's source. When a specter of grief touches me, I cut it down ruthlessly.
I will not
let myself feel grief. Not here. Not now.
She knew he had feelings for her. She'd known it since their meeting on Dantooine. And as much as she would've liked to pretend it was mere hero worship or the student-teacher bond, she knew better. She'd seen the signs: the way he looked at her, how eager he was to please her, how concerned he was for her safety.
Now, as she felt his hand cover hers—a gesture that she knew was meant to be more than comforting—she felt no embarrassment. Just regret. The moment she'd hoped to avoid had finally come, and now she would be forced to hurt him.
So she turned and simply looked at him. It only took the space of a heartbeat for him to understand. Swallowing, he broke their gaze and moved his hand away, leaving hers exposed to the cold air.
"It's Atton, isn't it?"
She blinked at him like a mute gizka. For a long moment her mind refused to acknowledge that he'd just mentioned the name "Atton" in this conversation, much less that he'd seen through her every disguise.
Then the moment passed, and her panicked mind blazed through the options.
Could she deny it?
Frame her reply so vaguely that it lessened the impact of the truth?
No—she could do none of those things. She saw it in Mical's eyes; he knew the truth and had already felt its impact. Anything short of frank acknowledgment would only add to the hurt, and she could not do that to him—even if it was dangerous not to do it.
She suppressed a sigh. "Yes. How did you know?"
"I have seen how you look at him, but only when he isn't looking at you. I have also noticed you seem to avoid him and him alone. Tell me, Rae. Are you in love with him?"
"I . . . ."
She hesitated, heart hammering. In earlier days, even as recently as Dantooine, the answer to that question would have been simple, and she would have committed it to Mical freely. But nothing was that simple anymore, and she feared it never would be again.
As she fought for words, suddenly she realized that she
wanted to tell him. She wanted him to know everything, for there was no one else who could help her bear this burden, and she wanted someone. Needed someone.
Exhaustion overtook her then, and as she stood to close the door her movements were heavy.
Visions danced through her head: visions of fatigue, of heartache, of the grueling task she was forced to undertake day after day.
Those moments when she tore her eyes from
his face, only to feel like she'd torn out a part of herself. Those times when she slipped away to one of the dorms to meditate, only to end up stalking around the room, railing in her mind against the fate that the Force had chosen for her.
How it all started in the first place. Those subtle hints from Kreia—frowns, unwelcome interruptions, grandmotherly prying—hints that had grown more heavy-handed with time until, one day, they had become vocal disapproval, and Rae had been reminded of the fate to which she was inescapably chained.
"The galaxy needs you. The Force needs you. But the fool does not need you, nor do you need him. He is a distraction only, and any attachment to him may prove dangerous in ways you cannot comprehend."
"Force's sake, Kreia! I've been in danger since the Mandalorian Wars! Why should it matter to me now?"
"Are you so blinded by your feelings? Our enemies seek to destroy you, and every weakness they uncover will be to their advantage. Do you doubt that they can strip away the outward defenses and expose the heart beneath? The heart is a vulnerable thing. A
dangerous thing. It can endanger missions, imperil galaxies. If you value your feelings above the fate of the galaxy, then I have wasted my time with you."
Incensed, Rae turned to leave, but Kreia stopped her.
"Exile, hear me." Her voice was unusually flat. "Your enemies will show no mercy. If you value the fool's life, you will stay away from him."
Rae stared at her. The witch met her stare evenly, her wrinkled face a statue's. She could have just warned Rae to stay away from strange men, and she would've looked no different.
Or she could have just threatened to be as merciless as their enemies.