A/N: Eternal Stars is Book #3 in a Trilogy. Please consider reading Book #1: Love's Stars, and Book #2: Dark Stars first. I think will be very happy you read them first. Links to Book# 1 and Book #2 can be found in my profile: u/10188505/
1. Lost Stars: Star Wars - Journey to the Force Awakens, and all characters and content within, are the property of Disney Corp. and/or Claudia Gray.
2. The Stars Triology, Love's Stars, Dark Stars, and Eternal Stars, including all original content to include, but not limited to: characters, character names, vehicles, locations, vocabulary/terminology, and artistic/graphic representations of any of the original content are the sole property of C.R. Marks and may not be used in any medium without the written permission of C.R. Marks.
Pikson-Kyrell Residence, Jelucan
"What do you mean you let him go?!" Geth yelled, his voice booming like thunder.
There was no question Piper understood the gravity of the situation. He knew it the moment he allowed Paxson, his former brother in arms who had betrayed them - the General most of all - to disappear into the night. Piper knew the possible consequences. So, as he stood there under the withering glare of the General and his "adopted" brothers, Piper sought the right words to say. The faith the General and his brothers had in him was on the line. If he couldn't somehow make them understand what it was like to be there with Dimps...
For kriff's sake, Piper, don't call him that! Piper silently scolded himself. Using Paxson's nickname would not help matters. It was a term of endearment, after all. These fellas weren't feeling endearing towards Paxson. Nor me, so it seems, Piper thought grimly as he surveyed their expressions one more time.
Make them see it. Don't leave anything out, he told himself. He then took in a deep breath, briefly closed eyes to clear his mind, and thought back to just before everything went wrong. And then, he spoke.
"I was keeping watch as usual. I hadn't taken my eyes off the bedroom window. Not once. Then I heard a noise. I knew something pretty big was approaching my six. I was thinking a Jelucat - maybe even something a little bigger..."
... 4 standard hours ago:
With Nexxu-like speed and balance, Piper flipped over and vaulted up into a kneeling position – his blaster rifle trained on the animal he heard approaching from behind. Piper remained perfectly still, his finger on the trigger.
"Piper, it's me," a voice came from the darkness. "Please don't shoot."
"Dimps?" Piper said, maintaining his position.
"Yes. I'm stepping out and my hands are up. You can scan me for weapons or whatever you need to do. You can even cuff me. I don't care. I just want to talk to you."
Paxson stepped into view and slowly sat on the ground with his hands held above his head. Piper stood fast, his E-11 trained on Paxson's chest. "Slowly – take off your jacket," Piper said. "And don't do anything to make me pull this trigger. I mean it."
Paxson slowly removed his jacket and held his hands out for Piper to cuff him. Piper tossed him the cuffs and Paxson put them on securely, making sure Piper could see him do it. Pipe lowered the barrel slightly and took his finger off the trigger.
"Thanks," Paxson said softly.
"What the kriff, Paxson? You're not supposed to be out here!" Piper winced. 'Er... I mean-"
"Do you think I don't know the General has had me under surveillance since I left the table that night? He had to do it – I understand," Paxson shrugged. "I just… I just needed to talk to someone. About something. About anything. I don't know," Paxson said, his voice cracking.
"Maybe you should have talked to someone the first day you arrived on Jelucan, Paxson? Did you ever think of that?" Piper snapped.
"I wish I had. I wish…" Paxson couldn't get his words out.
As angry as Piper was, his heart still felt something for his old friend. "Vader, Pax? I don't get it." Piper's tone had softened a little.
"Would you have refused to go with Darth Vader if he put his hand on your shoulder? There are a few things I've done that involved choices, and I've made some bad ones – I don't deny it. But I never had a choice when it came to being an apprentice of Darth Vader," Paxson said.
Piper stared as his old friend then took a deep breath. He sat back and laid his rifle in his lap. "Why did Vader pick you?"
Paxson relaxed a little and shrugged. "Does it matter?"
"Yah, Dimps, it does. I'm sitting here with you right now and I'm wondering if you're going to make my rifle go flying out of my hands or force choke me. Just because we didn't talk about it doesn't mean we didn't know exactly what Vader could do," Piper said.
Paxson actually smiled. "I can't do that. It's called telekinesis and Force choking. Trust me, if I could do either I would know it. Vader put me through a lot of pain and misery trying to pry those skills out of me… I can control thoughts in other people's minds… I can't do it if the person is expecting it or if the person is very strong willed. But I can make most people think things, say things…"
"Dream things?" Piper snapped, more as an accusation than a question. Paxson looked away for a moment, then stared directly at Piper and nodded. "Did you ever do that to any of us?" Piper asked with a wary expression.
"No! Never!" Paxson insisted. "After Vader died, I convinced myself I was free. These… abilities… are not gifts. They're a curse. It wasn't until after I was discharged and Nash had his emissary track me down that I was pulled back in," Paxson explained. "That was only a few months ago."
"Would you have done what Windrider asked? Would you have taken Sara and Sila?"
"No." Paxson said without hesitating. "Never."
"Then why didn't you come clean before? It doesn't make sense."
"It doesn't unless you're in my shoes. Every day I told myself I would just keep taking the hurdles as they came. Whatever Nash threw at me I would side step them somehow. It isn't easy to do, let me tell you. That man can tell when you are lying to him. I mean that literally. I had to find ways to do things so that when I gave my reports he wouldn't realize I was not actually doing what he ordered me to do." Paxson rolled his eyes and sighed. "That sounds crazy, I know."
"You said it, brother," Piper chuckled, and then realized he was letting down his guard and frowned.
"So, they told you what I did?" Paxson asked.
"The dreams and stuff? Yah, they mentioned it. That's pretty sick. I'm sorry, but it is. You're really lucky the General didn't put you down before you left that table."
Paxson winced. "Yah, I know. It's ironic, though. I can't even talk to most women. I mean, aside from Elizabeth, I have zero experience with women. Now I'm Paxson, the neighborhood pervert… I would never have laid a hand on Sara. Imagining…you know, imagining about someone you really like is what I did."
"You did more than that, Paxson. We both know it. Sure, we've talked about girls to each other and none of us can say with a straight face we haven't had thoughts, but you shoved your thoughts into her mind."
"She wasn't supposed to ever remember. I would never have done anything that would cause damage or harm to her or her marriage. I just needed to tell Nash that I had done what he asked," Paxson said.
"Then why didn't you just imagine her turning you down?"
"Because she wouldn't have," Paxson said quietly. "What I didn't tell Sara, Geth, and Gan, is that… well, it's a two-way street. If I open the door to someone's mind and make a suggestion, I get their honest response whether they intend for me to or not. I didn't even consider that if I made the suggestion her response would be what it was. I saw it going down a lot of ways – maybe a slap or humiliating rejection – but never that."
"You cannot ever – and I mean never – tell another living soul what you just told me."
"I know. I think I just needed someone to know the truth about my intentions – as flawed and messed up as they are. The first time I had no idea she would pursue anything with me. The second time, well…obviously I knew." Paxson shrugged and looked down.
"I didn't know who Sara was when I first met her. I didn't know she was married, had a baby, and all that. I definitely did not know she was Sarabel Kyrell… Those first hours after we met were the first hours of happiness I'd known since the night Elizabeth left me. I felt hope… As wrong as I was, it doesn't erase the rest of the truth - why I was sent here in the first place. The danger to Sila, Sara, and Dalven is real. My strategy did work - I was able to fool Windrider which was no easy feat."
Piper raised an eyebrow and shook his head.
"It's the truth, Piper. It was scary as kriff to deceive Nash. I told him I propositioned her, she's devoted to Dalven, and she will never leave him. If Nash had pressed the issue or asked me for details, I'd have been forced to lie and he'd have known it. He would have come for Sara and Sila himself. He almost killed Dalven once, and now Dalven is standing between Windrider and his child. It's been very difficult to hold him at bay."
Paxson put his face in his hands and sat there silent for a minute. "You know, I thought it was all over. My plan worked. I was still trapped and couldn't change that, but I did convince Windrider that Sara and Sila were where they needed to be. I am certain he accepted it at the time. Something, and I don't know what it was, changed his mind. For some reason – out of the blue – Windrider calls me and tells me he wants them both and I have to make it happen.
That's when I ran. I knew as long as I was alive I'd be forced to hurt other people. I couldn't find a way out or see an end to it, so I tried to commit suicide. I tried twice. Well, more than twice if you count the number of times I pulled the trigger on two different blasters." Piper couldn't hide his shock at the candid revelation – even more the matter-of-fact way Paxson talked about it.
"The first time I put a blaster pistol to my head it wouldn't fire. I tried a different pistol and it wouldn't fire. Both worked fine if I aimed at anything other than myself. Then I injected enough Spice to kill a Bantha ten times over. I woke up the next morning without the first sign that I had done anything more than overdose on water. Waking up was the most miserable feeling I've ever had, and that says a lot."
"Dimps! Are you crazy? What are you thinking? I don't care how bad it gets. You can't do that again."
Paxson stared at Piper. He felt his throat tighten and tears stinging his eyes. Paxson looked away, but he was too tired and the fight had gone out of him long ago. The tears began to fall and he shook his head side to side while Piper sat speechless. "I wish I could die. It would be better for everyone. I wouldn't be scared all of the time. Vader wouldn't haunt me anymore. The people I've hurt wouldn't have to think about me anymore. It would be so much easier for everyone."
"Vader is haunting you?" Piper asked. The edge to his voice was gone.
Paxson nodded. "Vader won't allow me to kill myself. There's no other explanation. If you had seen what he can do... if you heard what he said about the Force you'd understand." Piper was careful not to register his doubts in his expression. He pulled his new gun cleaning rag out of his pack and tossed it to Paxson. Piper grimaced as Paxson's awkward grab for the cloth reminded him that Paxson was in binders. Before using it to wipe his face, Paxson continued to talk. "Windrider is planning something big, and he's called all of us - the apprentices - to meet. Windrider says Vader will be there to explain it all himself. I can't explain how he will be there - what shape or form he will take. I just know in some measure or way it's true."
"I think," Piper started, then hesitated. He looked at Paxson and then studied his rifle for a moment. He drew in a deep breath and let out a very big sigh, then looked at Paxson and nodded. "I think you need to have another talk with the General."
Paxson immediately shook his head. "He doesn't care about me anymore and I don't blame him. I want to leave them in peace. When I leave Jelucan, I'm going to find a way to make certain Nash never bothers Sara, Sila, Dalven, Ciena, Geth, Thane… or anyone else in their family ever again. That's the only thing I can do - it's the right thing to do"
Piper shook his head. "Dimps-"
"No! I'm serious. I need to leave and let them forget all about me and all of this."
"How are you going to leave? He has you under surveillance. Every minute of every day you're being watched."
Paxson looked at Piper and held his gaze, and it then became clear precisely what Paxson was asking Piper to do.
Piper emphatically shook his head, "No way! I can't do it! The General will never forgive me. I made a promise to him. I can't go back on my word."
"Piper, please. If I don't go, Nash is going to come looking for me. He will come for Sila and Sara!" Paxson argued.
Piper was shaking his head slowly, staring at the ground, when Paxson added, "And he won't be alone when he comes."
Piper's head jerked up in surprise to meet Paxson's sad, resigned expression.
"What do you mean?" Piper demanded, emphasizing each word with an undertone of menace.
"There will be more. More... like me," Paxson said, looking at the ground. "But different, too. They will have abilities - things Vader saw in them that made him want them in the first place. They will have been trained by Vader to identify and hone every Force related skill they possess." Finally, Paxson looked back up and met Piper's gaze. "He will take Sara and Sila – none of you will have a chance. Geth is a strong man, and I know you guys will always have his back. But you don't stand a chance against the Dark side of the Force."
Piper's mind was reeling. If he believed Pax, then what he was saying was probably the only chance for Sila and Sara. The General, and all of the people who tried to stand between Windrider and what he wanted, would probably die. He'd seen so much death and lost so many brothers.
Piper stared in the direction of the Clinic, where his best friend and brother died in surgery after being wounded during Mission Capree. That was the only time Piper had been on Jelucan before now, and seeing that place already had him battling simmering feelings of pain and loss.
Piper had an epiphany. It was long after Mission Capree that Piper had learned Commander Windrider was the reason they were on the mission and on Jelucan. At the time, they believed they were on a search and rescue mission for Captain Ree. The truth was that Windrider was obsessed with Captain Ree - who is now Admiral Kyrell's wife. General Pikson said Commander Windrider attacked the Lieutenant and put him in a coma in order to escape from the Garrote with his Tie Defender. And Paxson was right - Windrider did nearly kill Dalven Kyrell once he made it to Jelucan. Even with the Jedi present, Windrider was able to do major damage before finally being caught.
Now Windrider is obsessed again. This time he isn't alone - he has a posse of Vader's apprentices with unknown powers. He has the element of surprise and personal knowledge of the battlefield.
With those revelations, he saw Paxson's next words in a different light. "At least if I go, I can buy some time while I make a plan and try to solve the problem. There might be a chance I can keep Windrider from ever coming to Jelucan again."
Piper conceded to himself that Paxson was right. But, the General would never agree to let Paxson go. Whether it was because he didn't trust him, or because deep down the General still cared for Paxson in spite of it all and wouldn't agree to send Paxson off on what amounted to a death mission. If left to the General, Paxson wasn't going anywhere.
"Please, Piper," Paxson pleaded. "Let me at least try."
Piper stared at the plush carpet beneath his boots. He could feel the eyes on him, but he couldn't gather the courage to lift his head.
"That's when I decided to... well, I let him go." Piper took a deep breath and let it out, burying his face in his hands. Slowly, he lifted his head.
The expressions on Lem, Stretch, Bull and Steps' faces were all reflections of a similar emotional state; they were in utter and complete shock.
Piper shifted his gaze toward the General and Ganaire. It was hard to look past Ganaire's grief-stricken, frightened, tear streaked face.
Piper straightened his shoulders and faced the General, but before actually allowing himself to process the General's reaction, words were spilling out of his mouth.
"Please, sir. I understand why you're angry. I had no intention of allowing him to go anywhere, and for what it's worth he would have returned to the house if I had insisted. But I heard him out and I tried to listen from your perspective as he presented his case. From a tactical, logistical, and practical perspective it was impossible to ignore Dim-... Paxson's arguments."
Ganaire was now up and moved quickly across the room toward Piper. He tried to brace himself for the sting of her palm - or possibly worse if she opted for her fists.
Instead, Gan fell on her knees and wrapped her arms as far as they would go around his bulky frame. She squeezed with surprising force and stroked the back of his head like his mother did when he was a young boy.
"You poor thing! I'm so sorry, Piper. It's going to be alright. You had to let him try to make it right. It must have broken your heart to hear all of that and not know how to help your brother, but you did the right thing. I know Paxson could see how much you wanted to help him."
Piper was caught between unbearable awkwardness and a desire to return Gan's hug. He glanced around the room and saw the boys were too caught up in their own internal battles to come to terms with what they just learned about Dimps.
"Now you know how I feel," Geth said. Piper looked at the General with apprehension. "Go on, son. Hug her back. We all give in eventually."
Gan didn't immediately release Piper. "Ignore that grouchy old man!" she exclaimed.
Whether it made sense or made no sense Piper couldn't say, but an enormous flood of relief washed over him. He knew he had not lost the General. This probably meant he had not lost his brothers. And in ways he never realized it mattered, he was just as grateful he had not lost Ganaire.
Piper relaxed and breathed a sigh of relief, and he returned Gan's hug. The only hesitation he felt disappeared once he was certain he didn't squeeze too hard. As small as she clesrly was, Piper didn't appreciate how small until she hugged him.
"See what I mean?" the General said.
Gan was now returning to the sofa. Geth leamed forward and the rest of the men took his cue. They were all looking at the General, setting aside their thoughts and emotions only for as long as was necessary to make a sound plan for what comes next. There would be an opportunity to have an honest discussion about Paxson. The General would make sure of this. He always did.
Gan took his hand and squeezed it. "Dalven, Sara, and Sila will be okay. They're strong. The real threat is Nash. Keeping Paxson here virtually ensured we'd be facing another battle on Jelucan – at our home. Paxson leaving is the only chance to stop Nash wherever he is. It's the only chance of keeping the battle away from Sila and Lucy." Gan's gentle, but firm assertion found its way through a kink in Geth's armor.
Geth sighed deeply, then turned to face Piper. "You are confident Paxson is not lurking somewhere nearby waiting to abscond with our son's wife and grandchild?"
"Sir, you trained us to 'make it simple' in the field when faced with complex, but time sensitive situations. I deduced there was a risk to him leaving. However, once I stepped back and put my emotions aside, the tremendous risks associated with keeping him here became unavoidable. Pax did some bad things, but I believe…"
Piper looked around and appeared to brace himself for the pending tirade as he continued, "I believe Paxson would do anything to prevent harm from coming to your family. I believe he has been trying to stand guard between your family and Windrider since he arrived on Jelucan. His actions, on their face, were reprehensible and for many unforgivable. But I've spent a week staring at a broken man, and after many nights with nothing to do but work the problem, I have yet to uncover an alternative course of action that would have given him the ability to fool a human lie detector and leave your family untainted in the process."
There was a short pause, and Lem quietly added, "Me, too." This was followed by nodding and mutterings of agreement from the rest of the men – all of whom would rather lose a limb than lose the favor of their Commander.
"Geth, sweetheart-" Geth pulled Gan into his side, interrupting what he believed would be more persuasion. It wasn't needed.
"Piper – I… I am sorry for my anger. I have..." Geth swallowed hard and Gan tightened her hold on him. "I have difficulty when it comes to thoughts of losing my family."
"Sir, it's oka-"
"No, Piper. It's not okay. Alderaan was an unimaginable loss, and grieving for Claire, Jake, and Malee is normal. Gan has helped me see this. But these other emotions – the fear, anxiety…all of the what if's – they tend to jump out in front and have me stomping around like a blasted Rancor. I end up stomping on the very people closest to me."
Geth extended a hand to Piper and the two men shook. "I apologize. Lem, Stretch, Bull, Steps – I apologize to you as well. I've asked a lot of all of you. Expecting you to ignore our past with Dimps was unfair to you… and, in some ways, to him."
"So, what do we do now?" Lem asked.
Geth took a deep breath. "Let's take a few hours to recalibrate. I need to talk to Gan and Sara. You men put your heads together as well. Let's meet up at 1600 in the hangar and we'll decide where to go from there – as a Unit."
The looks of relief could not be overstated. As the men headed downstairs, Gan and Geth retreated to their private suite.
Geth fluffed some pillows and reclined back on the bed, boots still on his feet. For once, Gan ignored this, choosing instead to curl up next to him still wearing hers as well. Gan's thoughts were on earlier, when Geth was talking to his men. There was a surprisingly touching moment amidst the seriousness when Gan's heart leapt from something Geth said. Our son, Gan remembered him saying.
She lay there tucked in beside Geth and allowed herself to steal a moment of bliss. Geth called Dalven his son - twice, she recalled. At the time he said it, had they not been in the midst of a serious moment, Gan would have embraced Geth and found a memorable way to thank him for the joy he had just given her. Alas, it had not been the right time for that.
Now they were alone in their private space. Gan quietly asked, "Have I told you how much I love you today?"
"As a matter of fact, you have not," Geth replied with feigned incredulity.
Gan was about to indulge him when she had a thought. "I believe I did! It was when you were feeding Lucy breakfast and she spit out her cereal. You scolded her and said, 'Good little girls swallow their food!'." Then you took a bite to show her, squenched up your face, opened your mouth, and scraped the bite off of your tongue onto the table. It was right after that. I said, 'I love you.'." Gan leaned up on her elbow to look down on him and nodded with confidence.
"I concede that you did say that. Though I will be filing a formal dispute for you to include in that journal of yours regarding that gross exaggeration of the events during breakfast. However, the question you posed was, 'Have I told you how much I love you today?' – the operative words being 'how much'," Geth pointed out.
"Ah – I see," Gan acknowledged as she lie there staring at the ceiling.
"Well?" Geth asked, also staring at the ceiling.
"How attached are you to those boots?" Gan asked.
"Huh? These boots here?" Geth raised a leg to remind himself which pair he had on. "They're older, but the fit is just right." There was a brief moment of silence. "Hey, nice try, slicko. Back to the other. How much?"
Gan sighed a deep sigh heavy with feigned exasperation. She turned to look at Geth with her, "Really?" expression. Geth's brow furrowed in confusion for a few seconds, then slowly emerged a look of understanding and a very, very big smile.
A good while later, Geth's boots were somewhere across the room after being hastily flung from his feet. He held Gan as they watched Lucy napping on the HoloScreen.
"That much, huh?" Geth asked, pulling Gan as close to his side as possible and kissing the top of her head.
"Every day, all day, for the rest of our lives."
There was a long period of silence during which they both lie there, Gan snuggled against Geth with her eyes closed. Internally, they were both fighting the same futile battle; first by ignoring, and then by mentally pushing back against the cruel reality that was determined to dominate their attention. Eventually, it would. These were the final minutes they'd spend together before conceding, so they stretched it out as long as they could
And then, without meaning to, Geth glanced at the chrono. He raised his free arm and covered his face with this hand, letting out a long, moaning sigh.
"We have to talk to Sara," Geth mumbled.
Gan buried her face into Geth's side, still pretending she could stay there and let it all pass them by. Geth pulled her closer with his arm that was still firmly wrapped around her tiny frame.
"I know, I know," he said, understanding she was protesting against the end of their special time. Geth stared at the ceiling, and before he spoke he knew his next words would do more than end her protest, but he had to say them. "I think...I think it's time to brief Dalven on everything."
Gan shot up, pulling the covers with her, as she turned and sat on her knees staring at Geth. The look of alarm on her face was like a knife in his chest.
"Need to know. We agreed – it's need to know, right?" she exclaimed, nodding to reinforce the previous agreement.
Geth sat up. He reached out and put his hands on her shoulders, squeezing gently before replying. "He still doesn't need to know all of it. The Force willing, he never will know all of it. You can rely on my men not to breathe a word. But Dalven does need to know Paxson is gone. But he needs to know everything that directly impacts his ability to protect his family. Having Paxson here wasn't Dalven's first choice, and that's even without his knowing...well, you know." Geth grimaced and drew one of his hands back to rub his face. "The logistics have changed. We'll be scattered and..." Gan's expression interrupted Geth's train of thought.
Gan was nodding, her eyes full of sadness, then she looked away. "You're going to go after him, aren't you?" Geth didn't reply. "To help Paxson destroy him, I mean. You're going to find and kill Nash." It really wasn't a question.
Geth responded by gently holding Gan's face in his hands, like the first night they were together, and he kissed her with the same tenderness he did then. He lightly kissed her chin, cheeks, and brushed his lips across her eyelashes as he moved to kiss her forehead.
"Reality be damned," Geth whispered before he moved his lips to hers and kissed her passionately.
This time, they stole the extra time as they needed and a little more, until a different kind of reality came barreling into the room: A happy and lonely Lucy woke up from her nap and began calling to them.