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(( Related: [SWTOR] Grounded I (Jacqueline). The following is on my SWTOR smuggler, Captain Jacqueline “Jackie” Rees. ))

Three Days Ago, Tatooine Guest Room

Relenting Vanessa to the guards, Jacqueline watched them take the sleeping child to a waiting shuttle. It lifted away, rising into the dark sky till its engines shrank to the same pinpoint twinkle as the night stars. The captain took her time limping back to the med bay then diverted sharply, heading for the compound�s guest rooms. Pressing her hand against the door panel, it hissed open. Someone inside the bed within rose and peered at her.

�Jackie?� A voice inquired of her silhouette. She didn�t reply. Instead, she limped inside and casting her cane aside, collapsed into the bed, clothes and all. Surrounded by the softness of the sheets, pillowed by the caress of a real mattress, she lay unmoving, feeling the night�s weight slowly lift from her. Familiar hands touched her, a warm body drawing in close.

�Jackie,� Halonan repeated, but from his tone, he didn�t seem to seek an actual reply. Gently, he removed her clothes, his touch not seeking anything more than to relieve her of the grit and sand the cloth absorbed from the day. He drew her in close, his lips coming to hers in a silent greeting. 

�Hi,� she told him, finally speaking aloud. They embraced and she rested against him, breathing in how he smelled, listening to the sound of his own breathing through his chest. His hand came to rest on her bandaged thigh, taking gentle care not to hurt the healing flesh. The longer it rested there, the warmer his touch became. Focusing on that alone, drowning everything else in her mind, Jacqueline amused herself in the comfort of that warmth: A single hand in a single place, yet it lay there as if an anchor. Closing her eyes, she nearly fell away into a deep sleep, but catching the sound of Halonan�s hitched breath, she clamped down on her exhaustion.

Opening her eyes, she looked at him, seeing his eyes fixed on her. �What happened?� She asked him, the pain on his face stark clear. She�d seen those eyes before.

He spoke, and in spite the recent harsh days, the weight on her chest, the scars on her skin, lines on her brow, she listened. As he finished, they drew into each other, not resting until the earliest hours of dawn.

—-

Two Days Ago, Tatooine Hangar Bay

A shuttle waited. Engines primed, it was a standard Lamba-class shuttle, its wings folded atop a peaked head. A mundane sight by most accounts, and yet Jacqueline eyed it like a precipice soon to willingly drop from.

A hand clasped her shoulder. A grin was already primed and ready by the time she looked at Halonan. They stood together in the hanger, her leaning on a crutch and leg still bandaged. He too smiled, but apprehension was still etched on his face. Neither took the parting in any sort of stride. Instead they took as an awkward pair, eyes simultaneously trying to catch the other�s as well as drifting elsewhere, and words stumbling over even the best sentences they could cobble together.

�It�s shift work, just like any other job,� Jacqueline told him. �Besides, still need Kolto injections. I�ll get them here. Means nights on Tatooine till you�re off leave.� 

�Yeah,� Halonan smiled. �I�ll look forward to those nights.�

�Uh-huh,� Jacqueline rolled her eyes, but the it was a mock gesture, almost routine. All humor fading, she cupped a hand to his face. �Sorry. Can�t just leave her up there with him. Ran out of all the excuses I got. He�ll keep her if this keeps up. And she’ll want him to keep her. This is the literal definition of sucks.�

�I know something else that could — �

Halo.�

�Sorry,� he grinned somewhat apologetically, but his teeth still flashed near ear-to-ear. �Kind of� nervous. Couldn�t help it. My father is�� he drifted off. The very subject seemed to bring a mix of anger and pain to his face. �I�m sorry, Jackie.�

�Stop it. I�ll be fine. He won�t kill the mother of �his� kid. Not yet anyway,� she shrugged, grim. Eyeing the shuttle again, its shadow almost loomed over them. �Just a matter of time before he gets tired playing this game. Guess I�ll be up close when he does.� She winked at Halonan. �Whoopie.�

�Jackie,� Halonan swept up her hand, attempting to catch her eyes. �Be careful.�

�That�s my middle name.�

�And your leg?� Jokes were gone from Halonan�s face and tone. It was a new edge to him, one adopted after the academy and weeks on the front. Jacqueline was quick to recognize the years Zakuul had put into Halonan in such a short time.

�Fine. I�ll be mostly careful. And Halo,� Jacqueline met Halonan with her own hardened gaze. �Talk to him. I know it�s not the easiest thing. But after last night, what you said, the old Sith�s been holding out. It�s you. It�s all about you. It�s the cards you�ve been dealt,� she conjured a grin for him. �I know what that�s like. Guess the both of us got to fold or deal.� Adding, she chuckled at herself. �That metaphor sucked — �

Halonan interrupted her with a kiss. �No, it was perfect.�

A blaring tone sounded in the hanger, signaling an immediate departure. Crew moved into positions, others clearing out of the way, not wanting to be caught in the shuttle engine�s wake.

�Yeah, well. Time to go,� Jacqueline flashed a quick smile. �Tonight.�

�Tonight.�

Moments later, with all strapped aboard, shuttle lifted away.

—-

Two Days Ago, the Dreadnaught Shadowstar�s Hanger

�Mom!�

Clearly waiting and eager, Vanessa launched into her mother�s stomach, armed wrapping about her for a hug. It nearly knocked the wind of Jacqueline, though she did her best to manage a smile. The Dreadnaught hanger was massive, dwarfing the curved sandstone walls of Tatooine. The ceiling stretched to immense heights overhead and all seemed defined in harsh, sharp edges and corners. It was the epitome of austere Imperial perfection.

�Hey, kiddo. Remember, Mom�s still getting better,� she patted her leg in demonstration. �You got to give me a different kind of hug in the meantime.� Rustling the child�s hair, Jacqueline gave her a wink. 

The child nodded, reaching to grab Jacqueline�s hand. �Okay, Mom. I won�t give you a hug like that for a little while.� Her excitement then arrived in a wave, rushing over her and speeding up her sentences. �Oh! I get to show you my room. And the bridge, and the room where I train sometimes, and you can also see the hanger, and��

Vanessa continued, clearly thrilled with Jacqueline�s presence aboard the ship. The captain kept up, limping alongside her daughter. Around them was a mixture of the crew and guards, all in stark Imperial garb. The color red was prevalent, a blood-like accent among the dark grays and deep black. Robed Imperial guards framed the entrance out the hanger. They stood like statues, unmoving except for the fabric trim of their robes stirring as Jacqueline, Vanessa, and their escort walked by. Their escort was heavily armed, always an arm�s length away, and were quick to strip Jacqueline of her weapons before allowing Vanessa to enter the hanger. Even her datapad was confiscated. She was, for all intents and purposes, a glorified prisoner in the garb of a contractor.

�Miss Rees, your quarters are this way,� a ship officer approached and saluted them. Jacqueline noted that the gesture was aimed at Vanessa. The child did not seem surprised; the token of respect was clearly not out of the ordinary. �Once you are settled, I will lead you to the engineering deck where you can begin Lord Brembal�s contract.�

�No need for quarters,� grinned Jacqueline. �I�ll get started right away. Lead the way, tight pants.�

�Mom, are you going to make my ship go fast?� Vanessa asked, tugging her hand.

�Yeah,� Jacqueline replied. �She�ll go faster. And it�ll make her safer. Plus,� she added, grinning downward. �I�ll be around more. But — got to work now. That’s how it goes. I�ll see you in a bit. Get your stuff done and when my shift’s up, you get to show me everything.�

�Okay!� Though reluctant at first to part, Vanessa hugged Jacqueline�s sturdy leg then sprinted off. Her own escort split from Jacqueline�s and followed. The captain made a mental note of their numbers, armor, and weapons, then her eyes turned upward. She had the uncanny feeling of being watched. Expecting to see her captor in the window above the hanger, she instead found it empty. She shook her head, chuckling nervously at herself, all the while the officer looking at her with a questioning expression.

�Okay, tight pants. I�m ready,” she told him with a curt nod. “Let�s go see this engine.�

Author Ari
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