Title: The Ossus Excavation and Archaeology Project Author(s): Bel505 (Admiral Byzantium) Timeframe: New Republic Era Characters: Cray Mingla, Luke Skywalker Genre: Angst/Drama/Romance Keywords: Cray Mingla/Nichos Marr Summary: Because Cray deserved better. Notes: This was written for both the First Draft Challenge and the Romantic Quotes Roulette. I got Quote #5 months ago. I wasn't sure what to do with it for the longest time. Then... I had an idea and I wrote it. This is very probably going to require future extensive editing to fit it into the universe of Interregnum, since I have no idea if that universe is going to unfold as I've portrayed it here, but I do intend this to (more or less) occur in that universe. Also, I am 100% happy to receive constructive criticism, either here in the thread or via PM. Sentence structure, overall plot, backstory, anything and everything, go ahead and hit me. Also also I'm going to hit publish now to resist the urge to tinker and correct mistakes. Also, seriously, angst is not usually my thing. The Ossus Excavation and Archaeology Project I love thee with the passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints,--I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life!--and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death. How Do I Love Thee? -- Elizabeth Barrett Browning Negotiator, the nascent Jedi Order’s mobile academy, was in orbit of the ancient world of Ossus. Directly above, the bronzed, scorched and burned world, decimated by supernovae millennia ago that had left the Great Jedi Library below near to ruin and the world that hosted it near to uninhabitable, turned slowly, its cloud networks coruscating with bluish-white light. There was much to find down there, and Negotiator had arrived to dispatch a team of archival and recovery droids which could operate in the remaining low-level radiation without risk, seeking out whatever it was there was left to find. Palpatine had, for whatever reason, left Ossus alone, and as such it remained perhaps the very last refuge of ancient, untainted Jedi knowledge. It was an incredible accomplishment, those droids. Networked together so they formed a single greater whole, able to scan and search with innumerable sensory tools that would be unlikely to harm whatever artifacts, holocrons, or texts they might happen across in their search. Able to power themselves by returning to Ossus’ surface, extending their solar panels and recharging in the sun, and communicate via their stationary Hypercom to the Smugglers’ Alliance’s FTL network in this part of the Outer Rim, so that Negotiator would be informed of any great discoveries during its own explorations of both the galaxy and the Force. It was the product of many years’ work, of effort and error, trial and triumph. It was the product of mastery. And the man who had been most responsible for it, her partner, her lover, her friend, had not lived to see it finished. Cray Mingla shuddered as the tears threatened to take her again. Negotiator was not typical of her class, slightly larger and more luxurious than the typical Mareschal-class Escort Carrier, because she had been built to be the mobile home of the Jedi Order. One of the luxuries that offered was the observatory garden that sat on the highest deck of the ship. Long transparisteel windows surrounded her on every side, curving up into a high, dome ceiling. The room itself was full of greenery, plants and insects and a handful of animals who had accommodated themselves to life aboard Negotiator, all surrounded her. Her gift for the Force had always been strong, and in that moment she could feel the undulation of life and change all around her. The water in the soil that provided sustenance for the uneti saplings that waited for their permanent homes; the tiny, gossamer wings of the bees that cheerfully avoided her; the green leaves of the large Fijisi tree that sat, extended, near the turbolift that would take her to the other parts of the ship. Life surrounded her, the Force surrounded her, energy offering itself freely for her to take, to shape, reform into something new. And none of it had been enough to save Nichos’ life. It had been all they could do to ease his suffering. “It’s all right, Cray,” he had said to her the last time they had been here. “It’s all right. You and I both knew this was coming. We’ve known it for a long time.” He took her face in his hands, and for once the pain was smoothed from his lips and he looked as she remembered him, calm and poised. “We were lucky to have the time we were given, we both know that.” He had kissed her then, and she had cried, as she was crying now. Out the window the engines of the prepared transport, carrying the droids she and Nichos has toiled to build together, flared to life. It streaked downwards, curving through one of those coruscating clouds, shimmering with blue-white light. And then, like Nichos, it too was out of sight. She knew it was landing now, then unloading its droids, dispersing them to begin the hunt, but the only evidence she had of them was the toll they had left on her fingers when she assembled the prototypes, the scars. She looked at those hands, otherwise unblemished, remembering how Nichos’ had curled with agony as his disease progressed, infecting organ after organ, tearing the heart out of her love, until all that was left was the pain. This, today, ought to be a crowning achievement. The University would offer her a doctorate for her accomplishment with the Ossus Excavation and Archaeology Project, if she didn’t have one already. But there was no celebration to be had here, no joy. All around her the Force started to darken, because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair! How dare the universe torment her this way! Why give her happiness at all if it was just going to take it away in the most excruciatingly painful, laboriously elaborate way possible. Why give her the Force if it was just going to use it to demonstrate unambiguously the horror of Nichos’ condition, without also giving her the ability to help him! The darkness relaxed around her. She let it go, and she cried. She didn’t hear the whisper-quiet sound of the turbolift opening, or the light footsteps across the dirt floor of the observatory garden. She did hear Luke Skywalker sit next to her, cross-legged, apparently not minding that he was getting dirt on his Jedi outfit, despite the fact that he no longer wore black. His white and brown robes, were a recent affectation; he had left the brown cloak elsewhere. She sniffled miserably, feeling stupid and weak. “No, don’t,” Luke murmured. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” The words were enough to send her into another burst of tears. She fell against Luke’s shoulder, sobbing, and he wrapped an arm around her, letting her cry. When she had regained the ability to speak, realizing that she was imposing her grief on Luke Skywalker, the galaxy’s noble hero, who surely had better— “No,” Luke said quietly. “I don’t. I have nothing in the galaxy better to be doing than to be here, right now.” He offered her a ghost of a smile. “You’re my student. And even if you weren’t, you’re a being in pain, and you are here, and so am I.” He paused, letting her wipe her eyes. “I’m sure you’ve never cried like this,” she mumbled, tasting the salt on her lips. “You’d be wrong,” Luke said. “After Yavin, when the reality of all that had happened finally sank in, I cried for days. I tried not to, I wanted to look strong for Han and Leia, especially Leia because she’d lost Alderaan and didn’t cry anywhere near as much.” He looked up, watching Ossus turn, the clouds shivering with blue-white bioluminescence. “Chewbacca sat with me. He couldn’t even speak with me then, but he just sat with me and let me cry.” He squeezed her shoulders. “If you want to cry, then you should cry.” Cray sniffled again. “It’s not fair,” she said miserably, for the moment cried out. “It’s not.” Luke took a deep breath. “No,” he agreed softly. “It’s not.” When she didn’t speak again, he didn’t press her; instead, they watched together as Ossus, the center of all her efforts for these past years, all her trials, her life with Nichos and the object of all her goals, slowly turned. “How did you get past it?” she asked. “I’m not sure I did,” Luke said. “In some ways the memory of Beru and Owen grows more vivid each year. What would they be doing today, what would they think of all that has happened. I find myself in quiet moments, wishing they were here; that Aunt Beru and I could make ahrisa again, or Uncle Owen would wake me up before the crack of dawn to get the vaporators operating.” He took a deep breath. “But something Yoda told me once helps me sometimes, at least. All is one, in the Force. The Force is all life, not just all life that is, but all life that was, and all that will be.” Cray nodded, not feeling better. “Why don’t you tell me about him?” And she did. She told him how they met, as students at the Magrody Institute. How they’d shared the same advisor; how she’d found him insufferable at first, because of his tendency towards bravado. How she realized that his bravado was his own way of covering for his insecurities. How he’d convinced her that she was good enough, even as she’d done the same for him. How together they realized that she possessed a Force-gift, and how he’d been the one to convince her to pursue it, despite her initial reluctance. How he’d always known what she was thinking, what she wanted or needed. How his illness had first manifest, subtly at first but rapidly growing worse. How they’d tried droid components to forestall its progression, but even with captured Ssi-ruuvi technology their efforts had only ever been partially successful. How she’d grown more and more desperate to save him until he’d finally taken her aside, held her hands, and told him that he wanted to enjoy his last days as best he could, with her, working on something they both loved. And so they’d finished the Ossus Excavation and Archaeology Project, and then he had died before they could launch it. By hours. Luke listened, quiet and attentive, smiling when she smiled and laughing when she laughed. On occasion, even crying when she cried. It didn’t make her feel better, exactly, but she could feel passion returning and the Force met her passion with its own. “He said he just wished he’d lived long enough to see me become a Jedi,” she said softly. “I think he did,” said Luke. That made her cry again, and Luke let her, and when she had reached the end of her tears once again she thought maybe he was right. When Luke returned to their quarters Mara met him with open arms. He buried his head in her shoulder and she held him. “Will she be okay?” Mara asked. “I think so,” Luke said with a heavy sigh. He drew back, his blue eyes measuring and adoring, his hands sliding around her waist to draw her close. “It will take time and care, but I think so.” His thumb grazed against her cheek. “I love you.” Mara nodded. “You know we live dangerous lives,” he continued seriously. “You more than me,” Mara said, thinking of any number of times he’d taken one risk or another that could have been avoided. “Nichos made sure she knew exactly how he felt,” Luke continued. “I think it’s helping her, now. Knowing just how much he loved her. And that he knew just how much she loved him.” Mara nodded again. Luke leaned in and kissed her gently. “So—” “No, don’t you dare,” she tried to stop him— “So,” he persisted, “I want you to know just how much I love you.” “Skywalker!” He kissed her again, slow and adoring, and she melted into the embrace and kissed him back, cursing him all the way. Damn Jedi and his… but her protests died away as their Force-senses intermingled, letting that which was him and that which was her tightly merge until they were as a single being, inextricable and one, and she knew again just how much he loved her and that forever was not just another word.