Once A Warrior, Part IV Rating: PG

I lift my head, and look up at her, looking deep into those green eyes.

She’s leaning forward, with a smile that suggests she’s still ineffably amused by the way it’s all turned out — even by the simple fact that I’m alive again. But I’m not so dazzled that I can’t see a control and poise to the way she’s holding herself, as well. I try to tell myself that the smile is genuine, that the cool clean poise is just her self-control.

Then again, she’s perceptive, and this full-on warrior mode isn’t something I’ve really seen before. It reminds me of the way we fought when we used to spar together, though, in the months before — the months aboard the Errant Venture, and at Eclipse.

“You knew?” I ask. “All along?”

Her smirk brightens into a smile — cheeks dimpling, corners of her eyes creasing — and she leans back a little. But her gaze never leaves me.

“Corran thought there was something funny about you,” she shrugs. “Mentioned it to me — but I just tucked it away as something to think about it later.” A shrug.

“Didn’t seem important. We were all on Zonama Sekot by then, and the last anyone had seen of you, you’d been on Coruscant, leading Nom Anor’s ersatz Jeedai on a diversionary attack — with, what was it, a glowcane instead of a lightsaber?”

“Reverse psychology,” I shrug. “Last person you’d expect to be a Jedi is a Yuuzhan Vong disguised as one. Guess it worked. Or not ... How long have you known for? Did Corran ... ?”

“No,” she grins. “Corran never figured it out. And like I said, I put it out of my mind — until we ran into you again — here, during the battle.”

“Hey!” I say. “I thought I did okay there!”

“Your body language,” she grins. “I think I’m quite good at reading that sort of thing. There was just something a little too human about you, Anakin.”

“You’d know,” I agree, frowning down at the coals.

“Anakin,” she says, after a moment. “What happened to you?”

I don’t answer, except with silence.

At times like this, I’m grateful that I no longer exist in the Force.

The Yuuzhan Vong believe in pain, and if nothing else, they have the courage of their convictions. Conversion doesn’t just mean persuading you to change your beliefs. It means taking an unwilling infidel, and reducing every fibre of their being to pain, distilling a human life into pure and perfect agony. From their point of view, it makes a certain sort of sense. And it’s surprisingly effective.

A total immersion course in the language of pain.

I should know. I’m fluent now.

Obviously, I speak it with a slight Corellian accent, though. An addiction to the highs, a gourmet’s appreciation of the lows.

How do it describe this to her, though?

I raise my head, look into those green eyes. My gaze is calm, steady. Hers glitters with anticipation. She nods in answer to my unasked question, and assents with a subtle, accepting shift of her façade in the Force.

You ready for this?


Deep breath ...

I close my eyes, remembering.

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