A/N: This is a Death Challenge response. I was challenged to kill Jagged Fel by being burned to death. At first this greatly depressed me, seeing as... well, I adore Jag. But then I decided that killing a character I like would better inspire me, so I guess you'll be the judges of how I did. In any case, I had a lot of fun conceiving of and writing this. Setting: City of Ravelin, Bastion; 60s ABY The Moment that Matters It wasn’t the worst position in which Emperor Jagged Fel had ever found himself; but it was one of the more embarrassing ones. He really should have learned his lesson with Moff Getelles all those years ago. Somehow though, he didn’t think this experience was going to end with an apology and a plan of attack to oust a coup leader. In fact, if he wasn’t much mistaken, he was looking directly at the coup leader. “Admiral Abadin,” he acknowledged pleasantly, even as he fought to clear his mind from the foggy haze threatening to overtake him again. The stiff, upright officer looked mildly surprised at Jag’s calm tone, and then the surprise dissolved into suspicion. “My compliments on your skillfully-executed treachery.” He shook his head, rueful. “To think that all this time I’ve spent searching for the inside source fighting to destabilize the Empire- never did I dream he was so close to the top as my own Fleet Commander.” Abadin’s smile was somewhere between a sneer and a self-congratulating smirk. “If you had, I would be no good at my job and, therefore, useless to the Loyalist movement.” “Ah, the Loyalists…” The admiral’s expression darkened. “We don’t expect someone of your… unique background to understand, Fel.” A scarred brow rose smoothly towards hair that was now equal parts black and grey. Consolidating and ruling the Empire had not been a task without its fair share of stresses and trials. “I suggest you remember that you address your Emperor, Admiral.” “For the moment.” “Is it not the moment that matters?” A steady silence stretched between them, Abadin staring at him like he was trying to discern a mystery, solve a puzzle. Finally, he twitched as though trying to shake an irksome insect from his face, expression settling into cool indifference. “Perhaps it is… Eminence.” He managed to keep his tone just shy of condescending. Jag would not have blamed him, in any case- a man sitting in his own office, in his own chair, wrists attached to the chair arms by two pairs of binders, was hardly in a position to dictate terms by most accounts. But Jagged Fel was not most men. “Now,” he leaned his graying head back and studied his longtime commander with dark and piercing eyes. “In the spirit of the moment, perhaps you might tell me your intentions.” Abadin scowled. “You know what we want- the glory of the old Empire restored, under proper Imperial leadersh-” “Ah,” the Emperor cut him off with a hard smile. “In the spirit of the moment, Eron. Unless you imagine I can snap my fingers and institute a new government in the blink of an eye?” The scowl deepened. “Very well, Emperor Fel. We have prepared a statement for you. You will read it over the HoloNet emergency override channel which I know is accessible from this office, so don’t try to deny it.” “I wouldn’t dream of it; pray tell, what shall I be saying, in this special address to my people?” “You will renounce your throne and place at the head of the Empire; you will rescind the claim of your line to that office, on the grounds that your ascension as Emperor was fraudulent from the beginning. You will announce the immediate disbandment of the so-called Imperial Knights and order them off Bastion.” Jag thought over those terms for a moment. “Is that it?” “For the moment, yes.” “And once I’ve done all of that, a blaster to the head for my efforts?” Abadin’s tone was silky, his smile dangerous. “I don’t see the need for such… unpleasantness, sir. I think a lifelong exile from Imperial Space for yourself, your wife, and your son should do the trick quite nicely.” He was lying, but the admiral surely knew that Jag didn’t believe him. The Loyalist movement had grown too radical, too extreme, to accept a simple banishment. They would call for all of their heads, ‘ere this crisis passed, should Jag agree to those terms. “And if I refuse?” Grey eyes flashed. “Then you risk throwing your Empire into civil war in the quest to establish a legitimate ruler.” “Ah,” Jag murmured sadly. “Then you have my family as well?” He resisted the urge to point out to Abadin that he could not have it both ways- that he could not accuse Jag of being in illegitimate ruler in one sentence, and call it his Empire in the next. “You needn’t fear for their lives, if you comply with demands.” It was a skillful way of avoiding lying. Of course Abadin’s people did not have Jaina and Davin- Jaina was too good for that. No, by now… a glance at the chrono suggested it had only been about a half-hour since Abadin had enacted the plan and taken him hostage… Jaina would be storming the Knights’ headquarters and Davin would be under excessive guard as next-in-line to the throne, should his father not survive. There was no way to be positive of that fact, without having the Force himself. But he had put his complete faith, the lives of his family and the fate of his empire, in the hands of his guard more than a decade ago. And he knew that his director of both security and intelligence for the Imperial Knights would have first seen to the wellbeing of his wife and teenage son, upon learning of the situation… And second, would be furiously demanding from his subordinates explanations as to how they had let this happened. X---X---X---X “How in the name of the nine kriffing Corellian hells did we let this happen?” Everyone within earshot of Kyp Durron’s infuriated demand- and it wasn’t a quiet one- flinched involuntarily. “I want answers!” A throat cleared tentatively, and the one-time Jedi Master, current leader of the entire organization of Imperial Knights, swung his piercing gaze to the yellow-skinned Ansionian major who, until thirty minutes ago, had been head of Emperor Fel’s personal security detail. Thirty minutes ago, he’d been summarily demoted, replaced, and ordered back to report to headquarters. “Well?” “Colonel Durron, I hardly think I need point out that Admiral Abadin has long been considered far above suspicion and has, in fact, been in the same room alone with the Emperor on dozens of occasions while discussing fleet tactics.” Green eyes narrowed to slits. “And I hardly think I need point out that your lapse in judgment has just placed the entire Empire in jeopardy.” The Ansionian bowed his head in contrition- and it was sincere, despite his outward defensiveness- and Durron sighed. “What’s the current situation at the Executive Offices?” “My unit… er, my former unit is holding position at all access points to the floor housing the executive suite; Captain Gre’win is keeping an open comm onsite. The rest of the building has been evacuated. Admiral Abadin’s personal guard-” “The treasonous infiltrators, you mean?” “Ah, yessir… they’ve taken control of the Command Wing and made it abundantly clear that any attempt- physical or… telekinetic- to advance on their position will result in the Emperor’s death.” “Well then I’d say we have a problem, wouldn’t you?” A female Duros lieutenant approached and snapped to attention. “Colonel, there’s another matter that might require your attention…” Durron turned to scowl at her- and then stiffened, sensing the rage of an approaching presence, a hot brand of focused passion and frustration. He headed towards the door of the Tactical Command Salon and intercepted her just as she walked in, grabbing her shoulders and trying to steer her around. “You can’t be here, Jaina.” “I swear to you, Kyp, if you are going to try to treat me as ‘Missus Emperor Fel’ right now…” “You know I respect your skills as a Jedi and your ability to thump me back into last week if you wanted, but right now the only things I can treat you as are the wife of a hostage and a potential target in this conspiracy.” She pursed her lips, eyes tightening in frustration and anger, all of it lying beneath her poorly-veiled concern. “Where’s Davin?” “Still safe in the bunker with his whole guard detail and half of mine.” “You came out here with only half a-!” He stopped and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You should get back to the bunker with your son.” She smiled in mock sweetness. “What, and travel the dangerous streets of Ravelin with only half a guard detail?” Not for the first time in his life, and certainly not for the first time since agreeing to take this job, Kyp Durron inwardly cursed Jaina Solo’s stubbornness and resolve. He’d known her for about fifty years now and was reasonably sure that she was singularly responsible for at least half of the grey hairs on his septuagenarian head. Of course, the other half were divided fairly evenly between her husband and son. “Colonel,” a comm officer called, momentarily distracting him from the problem of what to do with Jaina, “we’re picking up a signal- someone’s activated the emergency address channel, high-priority override codes.” He paused. “Transmitting a standby for an official address in five minutes.” Durron kept his voice cool, professional. “Hypercomm signal code one or two, Ensign?” “Uh… two, sir.” Jaina looked between them, frowning lightly. “Does that matter?” “It does if I want to know which channel to tune to,” he answered her evenly, and she flushed lightly. After a moment of careful consideration and reevaluation, he inclined his head towards her once. “You can stay, but you have to remain in the Operations Center. Deal?” A faint look of suspicion crossed her face, but he kept his impassive and unyielding until she nodded tersely and left the room. Reaching out in the Force to make sure she had gone, he then pulled his presence back almost to nothing and strode quickly to the comm station. “Ensign, prepare to transmit a shadow-code to the Executive building’s internal security network.” Fast fingers typed away at a control console, and the young man, relatively new to the job, if the colonel remembered correctly, glanced up at him with one eye as he leaned over the system. “Is this something to save the Emperor, Colonel?” A silence that was just a few seconds too long stretched between them, before Durron murmured, “Something to save the very Empire as we know and serve it, Ensign.” X---X---X---X Jag watched as Admiral Abadin finished setting up the communications console for his address, adjusting the lighting, tilting the holocam recorder this way and that, trying to decide on the best angle, until Jag coughed lightly. “If I may, Admiral- I usually conduct such addresses standing in front of the large viewport,” he nodded to his right, hands still secured to the chair in which he sat. “Gives the citizens across the Empire the image of stable, accessible leader, with the lights of Ravelin shining right behind me…” Abadin couldn’t help a wry grin. “A little vanity hiding behind that cold exterior, Fel? Emperor Fel,” he corrected, unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice that time. Jag just smiled secretively and sat back, waiting. A subtle change in the background noise, full of air currents and operating machinery, made Abadin start and look around, hand dropping to his blaster holstered at his side. Jag chuckled lightly and cocked his scarred brow. “Jumpy, Eron?” “What was that?” “The… ventilation system kicking on?” Abadin continued to peer about, looking confused and uncertain, and the Emperor smiled pityingly. “Are you certain you’re feeling alright, Admiral? Staging a coup can be such stressful work…” It worked. The treacherous officer whirled back to his one-time lord and pointed a single finger at him. “You, sir, are no true emperor, and you have twisted this Empire into a shadow of what it once was.” “By reaching out to forgotten systems, Admiral? By condemning and ending the practices of slavery in reality, not just in unenforced legal technicalities?” “You are a child of the Chiss and an adopted pet of the Jedi! No more, no less. And now you’ve seeded these… these Knights of yours throughout the Empire, just lying in wait, seeking out the slightest opposition to your falsely established regime…” “Let it out, Eron, don’t hold back for my sake…” The admiral checked himself though and smiled bitterly. “You…” he whispered. “You are… a mockery; your servants a joke. Unable to defend you in your own offices… unable to save your false vision of Imperial glory from one small band of patriots…” “Ah,” Jag chastised, “you are forgetting to stay focused in the moment, Admiral. The game is not yet so far advanced as that.” “No,” he shook his head, almost sadly- regretfully, certainly. “But it is time to prepare you for your address. Can you see the text-screen, from where you are? Or should I-” “Don’t be foolish,” Jag admonished him again, taking on the tone of a disappointed mentor. “To alter routine is to plant suspicion- do you truly wish to give the impression that this address is made under duress? And shall I speak the entire time with my hands bound beneath the desk? You do your future subjects too little credit, if you think they won’t suspect-” “They are not my future subjects!” A hard glint came into Jag’s pale green eyes. “Oh?” he asked softly. “Are you not to assume control, once my office is renounced? A temporary martial command, to be sure, only until the commotion dies down, only until a legitimate leader can be decided upon…” Abadin’s expression was twisting, an almost crazed paranoia seeping into his face. “No, Admiral,” he sighed, “I know nothing of your secret plans; but have you so quickly forgotten your galactic history? Power seized by force is never easily relinquished.” Shaking with anger, blaster at the ready in warning, Abadin crossed to the chair and unlocked the binders; Jag flexed his wrists and rubbed feeling back into his hands. Pointing a trembling finger, the admiral directed him to the open space in front of the viewport, and Jag calmly obeyed the silent order, standing straight and proud in his dark grey uniform. “I don’t think I need mention that if you cross me, you- and your wife and son- die?” “I believe you just did.” “So I did.” Abadin looked him up and down and started to nod his approval, deciding that he looked fit for a proper address to all the peoples across the expanse of the resurgent Empire… and then hesitated, eyes fixed on the empty holster at Jag’s hip. The time was counting down, but he took several seconds to consider, and then retrieved the confiscated blaster from a satchel near the door. With practiced hands, he removed the power pack and handed the butt of the blaster to Jag, who took it with a trace of dry curiosity in his eyes. “You are so keen on appearances, after all,” Abadin nodded mockingly to him. “And I don’t believe I have ever seen you appear unarmed.” “Ah,” Jag nodded, sliding the blaster into the holster. “Of course. Well-thought, Admiral.” Face set, expression giving away nothing, Jag turned to the comm console to peruse the speech that had been prepared for him, inwardly chuckling at the absurdity of it… and keeping every hint of it from his bearing, he congratulated himself on manipulating Abadin exactly where he wanted him. X---X---X---X As the broadcast flashed onto the screen, Colonel Kyp Durron allowed the briefest bout of melancholy before firmly sealing off his emotions and locking them away, both from the Force and, for the moment, from his own mind. He had a duty to perform- and lives to save. “Major Youlus,” he called softly, not even bothering to verbally demote the Ansionian. The officer appeared by his side, yellow skin paler than usual, a mildly waxen tinge about his face. “I want you to comm Captain Gre’win at the Executive Offices and tell him to pull back.” Youlus blinked bulbous mauve eyes in confusion. “Pull… back, sir?” “Out of the building, if they can make it in time.” “In time for-?” “Major! You have your orders.” The Ansionian swallowed audibly and clicked his heels. “Yes, sir.” And he disappeared. The proud visage of Jagged Fel was on every screen in the place, everyone in the room watching with bated breath, waiting for their Emperor, their liege, to speak. X---X---X---X “Citizens of the Empire,” Jag murmured somberly. “I speak to you now at a trying time for us all.” His eyes slid over the top of the cam and met Admiral Abadin’s stoically. “I speak to you tonight, not as your Emperor, but as a simply mortal man… and as a loving husband and father.” That last part wasn’t actually in the script, but Abadin didn’t seem to mind- yet. “And…” he switched a few words around, but kept the meaning essentially the same. “I speak to you now, in this moment, not as an Imperial, but as a Chiss.” Pausing a moment for that to sink in, he drew a deep breath and met the eyes of millions of Imperial citizens unflinchingly. “It is true that I was raised among that proud people; not among you.” He waited a moment as he planned to abandon the prepared speech entirely, wondering how long it would take the riled admiral across the room to register… wondering which of them would get off the shot that counted. It didn’t matter- the effect would be the same. “I learned invaluable lessons, serving the Ascendancy in a military capacity, in a diplomatic one. And one of those lessons comes to mind tonight- that no single life is as important as an institution, as an ideal, as a common goal and vision for a better future. That all must be willing to make that ultimate sacrifice for what they believe is right… and for what they know to be true.” Abadin’s eyes were starting to widen. “And so tonight, I appear before you not as your Emperor- because I have done all I can for you, and for the Empire we all proudly serve. I appear before you not as your Emperor- because by morning, you will call another by that title.” Abadin was already bringing his blaster to bear, but Jag knew he would not fire, would not make a martyr of him on a live broadcast across hundreds of worlds. But what the admiral did not understand was that it was not in his power to decide. Jag swallowed and stared into the red light of the transmitting holocam, willing his son to understand that he was speaking, not just of him, but to him, for him. And as he spoke the last words, voice soft but powerful, he eased his own blaster from the holster on his hip. The blaster carried no power pack; the latent charge was not enough to even spit out one weak shot. But for his purposes, he did not need even that; the residual power left in the barrel housing was good for one spark. “May he rule in a time of perpetual peace and prosperity.” And blaster pointing at the floor, he squeezed the trigger. The world dissolved into fire. X---X---X---X Jaina’s alarm had poured into the Force, magnifying exponentially as Jag continued to speak. When he said his final hail to Davin, her wordless and agonized scream barely preceded the eruption of flame that was visible for only a half-second before the link was severed; but Durron knew that the image would forever be ingrained in his memory, his one-time wingmate standing there proudly one moment, dissolving into a sea of fire the next. The Command Salon had gone utterly silent in shock, as people tried to make sense of what had occurred, tried to make sense of what had gone wrong. Durron just nodded grimly- nothing had gone wrong; the plan had been effective beyond his wildest dreams. Of course, now he’d need to go back to the drawing board for contingencies surrounding coups and hostile takeovers of the Imperial commwaves. This tactic was pretty much a one-shot deal. “Ensign,” he called softly to the shocked young officer at the comm station. “Make sure emergency response is en route to the Executive building; if any of Abadin’s team are still alive, I want them now.” He drew a shuddering breath, felt the fury that was Jaina’s presence approaching once more. “Lieutenant,” he addressed the Duros female, “begin assembling a security protocol for a formal succession ceremony to be held at midnight with as much of the Cabinet and High Moff Council as can be assembled by then- it should be most of them… who are on Bastion, anyway… given the night’s events.” As he spoke, he maneuvered himself closer to the door. “And double Dav… Emperor Fel’s security detail at the bunker.” The room went to work in stunned and saddened silence; it was shattered as Jaina came flying through the door, eyes red, wet, and wild, grief emanating from her in waves. “You… what did you do?” she demanded, even as he took her by the elbow and steered her towards the private conference room in the back. “Damn it, Durron, answer me!” “Not here,” he hissed, pulling her along, wary of the wide-eyed gazes following them, noting the uncontrolled grief of the newly-made widow. It wouldn’t do. Closing the door to the conference room behind them, he hit the security controls to opaque the windows looking out into the work area, and waited until they were in total privacy. “You need to hold yourself together.” He didn’t bother to stop or deflect the smack that hit his cheek, hard. “How… how dare you…? I just watched my husband die, Kyp!” “And I, a friend,” he responded tightly. “Nevertheless, you cannot allow others to see you fall apart. It will make you vulnerable to further attempts against your family, and could call into question your capabilities to serve in the coming weeks, months, and years.” She wiped angrily at hot tears, but frowned. “What are you talking about?” “Davin is fifteen; he will require regent counsel. And while I know you have never been fond of the more… ceremonial elements…” That was an understatement- Jaina had summarily refused the title of ‘Empress’ and had insisted for the past fourteen years that she simply continue to be Master Solo. “Unless he changed his plans for eventualities in recent months, Jag made alternative provisions, should you refuse the role, for me to serve as Davin’s chief advisor. Quite frankly, it would be a waste of my skills, which would be better put to use in continued service here.” Jaina held up a hand and sank heavily into a chair. “I can’t do this now, Kyp.” “You have until midnight to decide.” She stiffened, and then turned a part-suspicious, part-horrified eye on the older man as he settled down in a seat and swiveled to face her. “You’ve already planned that?” she asked softly. “You’ve already thought all of this through and started arrangements for Davin to…?” He was quiet, and she finally reiterated her first question, after coming through the door of the command station. “Kyp Durron, you tell me right now- what did you do?” “My sworn duty to the Empire, Jaina; and my duty to the Emperor, not to the husband, the father, or the friend.” “Signal code one or two,” she repeated in a daze. “What does that even mean? Why would there be two override channels?” He stared at her dully, knowing that she knew the answer, deep down. “Two is a distress signal?” “Yes… and no…” She scowled and her anger began to rise again over the anguish, but he cut her off as she opened her mouth. “It simply meant that he was already dead and knew it, and action should be taken to… minimize the damage. Jag and I have long known that one of the greatest threats the government could face is total takeover of interplanetary communications.” “So you killed him?” “No,” Durron returned sharply. “I enacted a plan we established long ago to ensure that, if someone planned to assassinate the Emperor in his own office, any blaster fired, any lightsaber ignited, would take the assassin out too.” He sighed and put his hand over hers. “Hypercomm two was a code to flood the office with ferrous gas… scentless, harmless, but incredibly flammable- and highly illegal. Jag ignited it himself, which probably means that whatever address they set him up to say would have renounced his claim as Emperor and put you and Davin at risk for the rest of your lives.” She’d already known that too, deep down, but it could hardly abate such a fresh and raw pain as that which coursed through her. “I’m so sorry, Jaina,” he murmured. “How could you do it?” she asked brokenly, tears beginning to stream down her face as her composure slipped once more. He stood and placed a hand on her shoulder. “By remembering the duty I swore to uphold fourteen years ago- a duty to the Empire, first and foremost; duty to the Emperor, second. And if all goes as it should, the two will be one and the same. Jag understood that, knew that he’d done all he could, that he could best serve his people by giving that ultimate sacrifice… “That he could best serve you and your son by it, too.” She was silent in her grief, and the colonel stood and stared sympathetically down at her. “I know it’s difficult to think in these terms,” he murmured quietly, “but what happened tonight will have cost the Loyalist movement dearly; they might never recover to try to challenge your line again.” “Kyp?” she sniffed. “Yes?” “You’re incredibly crass when you’re trying to be consoling.” “I know.” “Thanks anyway.” “I’ll send Davin right in when he gets here.” She nodded dully and, with a last futilely comforting squeeze of her shoulder, he departed the room and went back to work. X---X---X---X Four hours later, standing high above the Hall of Ceremonies in an opaque observation window which gave him the best vantage point to spot likely security breaches, Colonel Durron watched as a fifteen-year-old boy- terrified and devastated, but holding it in well- swore in front of his father’s Cabinet ministers to faithfully serve the Empire, its charter, and its citizens to the absolute limit of his abilities. Even unto death. His mother stood a half-step behind on Davin’s right, and she took her own oaths somberly, stoically… in the manner befitting a Fel. Only one who had known Jaina as long as Durron would recognize the sadness, not just permeating the Force, but lying deep behind her eyes. Under other circumstances- a willing abdication in favor of a younger leader, even a peaceful death in old age- such an event might have been cause for celebration, as the Imperial people recognized and welcomed their new Emperor. Not tonight- not in this minimalist ceremony held in the middle of Ravelin’s night. Not while the Imperial people were at once mourning and honoring their fallen Emperor and his brave sacrifice to preserve what he had worked so hard to build. And as he watched Jaina, sensed her heartache for her martyred husband, for her son who would face far greater trials than he ever should at such a young age… he knew that it would pass. Jagged Fel would go down in the history holos as a unifier, a peacemaker… and as a man determined to see future generations have what the rest of them were denied. Perpetual peace and prosperity. His comlink buzzed in his ear and he reached up to switch it on. “Report.” “Ceremony’s ending. Will there be a public address, or…?” “No,” Durron cut her off immediately. “No, I want Emperor Fel and Master Solo transported straight back to the bunker. Tell Captain Gre’win to assemble a team to do a thorough security sweep of the royal residence; I want a full threat assessment in my hands within eight hours. Neither of them are to set foot back inside until I’ve personally approved the safety protocols.” “Yes, Colonel.” “I’ll be heading back to my office at HQ as soon as we’re done here.” It was going to be a sleepless night. The speeder ride back to the security complex was short, little over a kilometer; his comlink chirped the entire way with updates to the situation- Jaina and Davin safely arrived at the secure bunker, one of the three survivors of Abadin’s team succumbed to his injuries, Captain Gre’win’s commencement of the security analysis of the residence- but mostly, the weary colonel sat back and listened passively, filing away the data for consideration once he reached his office. The Operations Center was nearly empty, due to the late hour. But a few people were present around the clock, monitoring intelligence reports and coordinating threat responses, and they all nodded respectfully at he passed, too immersed in their work to spare a word. That was perfectly fine by Durron, who wanted just a moment alone, just a moment to himself to grieve. That moment came when he reached his office and sat down at his desk. Sitting stiffly, stoically for a long minute, he remembered Jaina’s broken question- How could you do it?- and with a wave of his hand, he sent datacards crashing to the floor, stacks of hard-copy reports on flimsi flying around the room, and a datapad hit the wall to his right with such force that the screen cracked. Silent, shaking sobs overtook his body for another minute, elbow on the desk, head pressed into his hand. And then he drew several deep breaths and composed himself, though there were none present to witness the breakdown. He summoned the fallen items back into a heap in the middle of his desk, to be resorted later, and with a last shake of his head, as though to wave away the feelings and the violent reaction they inspired, he turned his chair forty-five degrees to the computer console and began pulling up schematic reports and intel files that were slowly but surely accumulating in the wake of the night’s attack. Two minutes- that was all he could spare to mourn a fallen friend, a comrade, a leader. And as he began to skim over the initial analyses of the security breach, it was back to work as usual, just as before, the same job in which he had served faithfully every day for fourteen years. He had an Emperor to protect, and an Empire to defend.