Face once again found himself wading through thigh-deep water, and swallowed back the feelings that this somehow managed to reanimate inside him. He’d beat himself up about Ton’s death ever since it had happened, since Ton’s TIE had gone down and blinked out of his sensors. He’d watched Ton fall, and the feeling of helplessness had stayed with him since. That, and the days following had to have been the lowest point of his life -- the life he chose to remember, that is. The other part of his life had been shed with his scar, and once again Face found Phanan responsible for this change.
Face wondered if there was any way of removing tears from your eyes whilst still hacking away at jungle plants, moving and keeping your team-mates unsuspicious. He thought not, and let the few errant salty droplets fall. This isn’t going to work. I can’t live in the past, Face thought. I’ve done it before. The account’s balanced. I have to get on with it.
So why am I still paying it off?
Dia Passik walked directly behind Face, the man she’d grown to know and love since she joined the Wraiths. She noticed something was wrong with him almost immediately as they sighted the jungle stream they had to walk through in order to cover their tracks from Imperials, but she didn’t know exactly what the problem was. That was the problem. "Lead?" she asked, not wanting to even risk calling him Face on a mission, even if it was almost pitch-black and there were no settlements apart from the base they had to do surveillance on, which was still a few metres upstream.
Piggy and Elassar made up the next duo, wading through the river on the other side of the building Face and Dia were circling; Face had put them in the pair as Piggy’s analytical nature complimented Elassar’s superstitions, as well as the Gamorrean keeping his ego in check. Tyria and Kell made up the third group, as Face had learnt it was almost impossible to keep couples apart in team missions which needed teams of only two. After all, he’d look out for Dia’s back and she’d do the same for him -- it was a tried and tested method. The other Wraiths were back at base, with Runt taking care of communications between the teams, and Shalla with him taking notes on what the teams surveyed, making note of it, then relaying this to the remaining newer Wraiths, who hopefully would work together to come up with a plan to infiltrate their intended target, in the least obvious fashion, the Wraith way. With only a half-hour left of surveillance, and no sight of any enemy noticing any members of the team, Dia wondered what was wrong with the commander.
Face jumped slightly. On edge, CO? he asked himself, trying to shake out of his dire mood. It wasn’t going to change things with Phanan, and it certainly wasn’t going to help his current situation. "Dia?" he asked back.
"What’re you thinking about?"
It was a perfectly innocent question, and one Face knew Dia had asked to break the silence and the incredible tension, which had somehow drifted into the once-calm air. Face half-smiled and turned his head around to his Twi’lek companion for a moment, before going back to hacking a path through the overgrown patches over the stream. "Just thinking about the past. Nothing to worry about." He was surprised when his voice came out broken.
&uqot;Garik..." Dia said, warningly.
"Yes?" Face’s voice came back, remodulated to completely normal tones.
"It’s over. Let’s get this done, alright, darling?"
Face grinned somewhat at the pet-name, but it didn’t help the feeling in the pit of his stomach.
"Why have we stopped?"
Face’s throat clenched involuntarily. "Your fault for hiring an incompetent driver," he muttered.
The man shook his head and took a breath. "Never mind." He went back to cutting a passage for the two commandos.
"What was that all about, Face?" Dia’s eyes pleaded with Face from across their quarters, where she was lying on the bed, listening to the music wafting from the stereo on the desk, where Face was attempting to put his mind on something else, writing reports.
"Dia, I really have to do some of this paperwork."
" Paperwork?" Dia questioned, a lekku rising involuntarily, signifying she knew that Face would use any excuse to get out of doing paperwork -- like most men in Starfighter Command, in fact.
Face sighed, and looked up, mint-green eyes staring ahead, not at Dia, rather through her. "I’ve been thinking."
"That’s dangerous," Dia said, the twinkling in her eyes betraying the monotone of her voice. "You should see the doctor about that."
Face seemed to withdraw into himself more, if that were possible, at the word ‘doctor’. Dia wondered at the apparent lack of ability of this man to control his real emotions around her, when he was a trained actor. Maybe he didn’t want to act. Maybe he couldn’t. Dia didn’t know. She couldn’t not be honest to him, but the onetime-actor still held a lot of mysteries in his head, which she hadn’t managed to unlock or solve yet.
"Face?" Dia asked again, getting up and walking over to lean on Face’s chair, a lekku casually resting on his shoulder. "Face, are you alright?"
"It was yesterday," Face said, lifelessly.
"What was?" Dia’s lekku twitched again, this time with slight impatience as well as curiosity and concern.
"Ton’s..." Words failed to continue from Face’s mouth.
The anniversary of Ton’s death?! Dia realised. Yesterday it was exactly one year since he died, wasn’t it?
Dia’s memory took her back to that battle. She’d been new to the squadron, before ‘Captain Seku’ had shot Castin and Face Loran had saved her from herself. From death. At that point he’d still been upset about losing Phanan, and Dia had comforted him by pointing out, quite rightly, that he’d not failed her.
She pulled Face’s chair out from under his desk, thankful that it was one of the ones with wheels on, and pulled him over to the bed.
"What? Wha? Dia!" Face objected to being pulled around.
"Sssh." She sat cross-legged on the bed in front of Face and put her hands on his knees gently. "Face, you didn’t fail anyone. You don’t owe anyone anything. The past is the past. If I think about what you’ve accomplished in your life, especially after Phanan’s death..." Dia paused, as her eyes followed a tear down Face’s once-scarred cheek. "I know he’d be proud, and he’d want you to get on with your life."
Face took a deep breath. He knew what Dia was trying to say to him, he knew the truth in it. Phanan had told him basically the same thing when he’d still lived, but the fact of the matter was he couldn’t let it go. He’d manage to do it for a time, but the death of his friend would still be in the back of his mind. Sense told him it was a year ago -- exactly -- and the memory would fade, but the fact of the matter was, it didn’t. Face could only imagine the number of pilots who had the same images in their minds... Only they’d got through. Why hadn’t he? "Yeah," he replied. "I keep thinking... Thinking I could have changed it. I could have done something, you know, something to save him. He didn’t have to die."
"No-one should have to die," Dia said sadly. "Everyone does, though. Bad and good. We all die."
"I know." Face replied emptily. He knew this and he also knew there were thousands of people in the galaxy who died every day. Bad people who deserved to die -- Palpatine, Isard, Zsinj, Thrawn -- they deserved to die, not the good people. Good people, people better even than Dia or me. Better than, Face thought with twisted amusement, Better than Luke Skywalker, Han Solo or Wedge Antilles. There have got to be. People all over the universe. After the Death Stars, the survivors of Alderaan; they helped the Rebellion even after the loss of their world, their friends, family, everything they knew. They’re better people. On Coruscant, after the Krytos Virus, I bet people helped each other. On Thyferra after Isard, the survivors of a thousand and one wars between worlds... they’re all better than us. They don’t deserve to die. They’re good people. Phanan was a good person. Poor Ton. All he wanted was to help people. He wanted to be one of those people, ‘some kid with a superior intellect whose only aim is to make people better.’ I save people, but I’m not as good as the saved. Don’t deserve to live as much as those who cope with disaster, other people’s disaster. Why wasn’t it me instead of Ton?
"It doesn’t help much, does it?" Dia smiled slightly, morosely.
Face shook his head.
The silence between the two loves was almost corporeal, and Face’s next words cut through it like a vibroblade in an alley-way mugging. "What’s the point?" He asked.
Dia shot him an amused look. "If people didn’t die the galaxy would be overpopulated," she told him.
"No," Face replied. "What’s the point in living?"
Wuh-oh, Dia thought. This doesn’t sound like Face. Where’s the command with an answer to everything? Where’s the confident officer who stopped me from killing myself in my worst hour? Where’s the man who joked about decanting Piggy from the bacta tank? About me tearing off his face? She gave him a stern look. "The point is we need you."
Face looked genuinely shocked. Dia shook her head, braintails leisurely moving in accordance, and pulled the human onto the bed, pinning him underneath her.
"I need you."
Face smiled lopsidedly, making no move to struggle. "’M here."
Dia enveloped him in a passionate embrace, wrapping her arms around his neck in a way that suggested if she loosened her grip he might go the way of that pilot with the superior intellect.
Face broke off their kiss. "Emotional distress as an attractant?"
Dia laughed lightly. "You’re a screw-up, Face."
"You know, you’re right." Face wrapped his arms around her once again, and
pulled her closer still. She’ll do... Even if she doesn’t swoon.
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