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Out of Darkness

Chapter 10

Beads of sweat glistened off Roug Dann's broad face and trickled down from his nearly non-existent hairline, heading straight for his eyes, which, at the moment, were scrunched in deep concentration. He grunted--obviously distracted by the minor annoyance and more than a little frustrated with whatever he was preoccupied with--and wiped the perspiration off with his sleeve, but from the grimace that remained etched on his face, the action must not have done much good.

"Blast!" he growled. "No good piece of..." He brought down a fist hard on the countertop, and with the other fist, struck the sorry-looking ale dispenser that had been occupying him for the last few minutes. It looked as if it were a mere puff of air away from falling apart completely--if it could even last that long--but Roug didn't seem to care. He continued to pound away at it liberally, as if doing so would somehow make it obey his command at long last. He swore some more under his breath--something in his native tongue that Callista couldn't quite make out from the doorway, although she had a feeling she knew exactly what he was saying even without being able to know the exact words.

She felt Luke's hand cup her shoulder, surprising her for a brief second, and her stomach fluttered at the feel of his breath on her cheek when he leaned in close to whisper in her ear.

"Is he alone?"

He wasn't looking at her; instead his eyes were fixed ahead of them, as they had been for the last few minutes, watching for any passers-by that might happen to notice them standing just outside the otherwise well-hidden side entrance of Roug's cantina.

At the moment, they could ill afford to take any unnecessary chances and get caught.

By now, Rath's abandoned body would have been found in the back alley of the Hall of Records, and word would have undoubtedly spread rapidly throughout the town about the grisly discovery. Even though there had been no witnesses, Callista knew it wouldn't take much for the townsfolk to piece together what must have happened after they left the scene late yesterday afternoon--which meant Luke and Callista would now be hunted fugitives.

As if the stakes had not been high enough.

Finding T'min Fals seemed more critical than ever now, and now they had to do so without getting captured in the process.

A nagging thought clawed at Callista. And what if we're already too late... She squeezed her eyes shut and forced the thought out of her head. She was not about to let herself even entertain that possibility--not after everything they had already gone through to get to this point. And she was not about to say it out loud either, though she knew with certainty that Luke must have had the same thought too at some point.

She peeked inside the cantina once more. "He looks to be alone," she said. "At least, I don't see anybody else in there with him..." Certainly not the behemoth of a Tulderian, she thought, the one who had guarded the place the other night. He seemed nowhere to be found now, much to her relief. Perhaps his services were not needed yet at this early of an hour. Whatever the reason, she was sure grateful for that small miracle.

Roug had now completely disassembled the ale dispenser; its armor and guts were spread across the once bare countertop--a hodge-podge of screws, washers, and assorted bolts. Callista could tell from the steady stream of curses coming from his direction that he didn't exactly have a firm grasp of what he was doing, and in spite of everything, she couldn't resist the urge to let out a laugh.

"Well, he seems rather pre-occupied at the moment," she said, biting a lip to halt her laughter before she turned beside her to Luke. "I'd say this would be the perfect opportunity to go in there and take him by surprise."

"That's the kind of positive thinking I like."

She smiled and said, "Yes, I remembered you like a cheery girl."

He returned her smile, and in his eyes she saw a flash of remembrance--of another time, another place. And he began to sing, "Let's everybody be happy..."

"... Let's everybody be happy..."

She laughed again, as the words of that silly old nursery song she had once sang to him started to come back to her, until the sound of Artoo's insistent warble distracted her, and she reached a hand back to quiet him. "Shh... Easy, Artoo," she whispered, "we don't want to startle him..."

Threepio banged on the little astromech, and followed up with swift reprimand. "Now see what you've done, you little troublemaker," he hissed. "I'm sorry, Mistress Callista, he gets nervous so easily-"

Luke brought his finger to his lips and covered the Threepio's mouth with his other hand. Callista laughed softly at his attempts to calm the agitated protocol droid down, then turned her head towards the direction of the banging noises she heard coming from the inside.

"Now or never, Luke," she said, gently tugging on his arm. "If we wait any longer, someone's bound to show up. Or he might leave..."

He nodded, and she saw him glance one last time at the street that ran across the cantina, then turn to the droids. "You two will need to stay out here," he said, in an almost fatherly tone that made Callista smile--she always did find it endearing that he treated them more like his own children than droids. "And remember, at the first sign of trouble-"

Threepio reassured him with a nod. "Don't worry, Master Luke," he said proudly, "we know what to do."

Luke chuckled and exchanged amused looks with Callista. "I know you do," he said, patting Threepio on the shoulder. "I trust you."

"Be careful, Master Luke, Mistress Callista."

"You too."

Callista stepped into the cantina first and Luke followed close behind. Not wanting to alert Roug to their presence one second sooner than necessary, they proceeded cautiously--and as quietly--as possible, making sure their boots would not make any giveaway taps on the uncarpeted floor. When they reached the counter at last, they pulled back the hoods from their Jedi cloaks with one slow, cautious move.

"Roug..."

The bar owner whipped around in their direction, sending a wrench crashing down on the mountain of bolts. For a few anxious heartbeats, Callista wasn't sure how to read his reaction. It wasn't fear, exactly--in fact, if she didn't know any better, she would have guessed it was more surprise than anything else.

"Don't you two know better than to arrive unannounced like that?" he finally said, letting out a somewhat embarrassed laugh as he reached once again for his discarded tool on the counter. Then, after a swift, almost comical double take, he looked them up and down--no doubt noticing their new attire, Callista thought. He gestured towards their robes and snickered. "What's with the get-up?" he said "You two look like Jedi or something..."

From the corner of her eye she could see Luke remained unperturbed by the comment, even giving the other man a cool grin. This was far from the reaction either of them had expected from Roug, but she knew it would have been suicide to let him throw them off-balance, and so they played along.

Probably best to play this one by ear, she told herself. She sat down at the stool and, following Luke's cue, flashed him a smile. Years of training and practice had taught her to be astute with human behavior; she eyed him carefully as she spoke, trying to gather as many cues as she could from his body language, wondering how much he knew of what happened and when he would choose to say something.

In the absence of the Force, this was all she had left now.

"What makes you say that?"

"The robes, little lady..." He reached across the counter and touched her sleeve to examine it up close, then released it and shook his head in laughter. "For crying out loud you look ridiculous," he said. "It's about a thousand degrees out there if you haven't noticed, and you're in those things! Crazy outlanders..." He rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to the broken dispenser. "So what're you doing here this early, anyway? I'd offer you some of that Corellian ale you're so fond of, but as you can see, it's not exactly available right now."

Callista continued to watch him work behind the counter. He seemed so carefree and jovial right now, but oddly enough, it made her all the more nervous. She looked beside her at Luke. Surely he too must have been wondering, why Roug seemed so at ease with them right now, and why the beleaguered bar owner had yet to mention any strange occurrences from the day before--after all, he seemed to be the very type who would delight in sharing such news with his patrons.

Luke didn't say a word, but then, he didn't have to. She had seen that look on his face before. She had seen him lower his eyes in that same deliberate manner, with his jaw clenched and his hands in fists. And she knew without him saying so that the same cold, dull ache she felt in her core right now throbbed within him too, as an uneasy realization began to set in.

They locked eyes, and Callista read the same thought in his.

Rath was not dead.

Slowly, she turned to the bar. "Roug, listen to me, this is very important..."

He turned around to look at her. "What?" he said. He didn't look concerned at first--more curious than anything else--then slowly comprehension began to dawn on his face. "What's going on with you two? You've been acting strange since you got here-"

"Roug, have you heard anything about something happening yesterday?"

He frowned. "Like what?"

The words felt like steel blades driving into Callista's chest, confirming what she already knew, but didn't want to believe.

She was aware of her opening her mouth to answer him, but somehow her voice sounded detached from her--as if someone else were saying the words. "Like a body that was found near the Hall of Records..."

"A body?" he said, his surprise and slight amusement all too evident. "You two have really overactive imaginations-"

"Are you saying no one has seen anything suspicious since yesterday?"

He leaned over the counter. "That's exactly what I'm saying, Luke. Hey, what is this, anyway? First you come in here asking me about some story from a thousand years ago, and now you're going on and on about some body at the Hall of Records. If you ask me, I think you've both been out in the sun for too long."

The same electricity that had seared under Callista's skin moments before Rath's attack sparked within her once again, her breath began to feel labored. She sensed Luke's eyes on her.

They had to find T'min Fals now. They could not afford to wait any longer.

"Roug, we need your help."

"I told you, Luke, I haven't heard anything about a body-"

Luke shook his head. "That's not what I'm talking about."

Roug made a motion to turn his back on them, but Luke caught his arm before he did. For a moment, Callista wondered if he was going to use the Jedi mind trick on Roug. Time froze for that instant, but at last she saw him release the other man's arm and sit back down.

Roug's adam's apple bobbed up and down. "Look, if this is about that thing you were snooping around about the other night, I already told you, I don't have anything to tell you-"

"But you do know something... don't you?" Callista did not break off her eye contact with him as she spoke. "You know about T'min Fals and all the stories surrounding him..."

"I don't have to tell you a damn thing," he said. "Who do you think you two are, anyway? You come into my cantina and expect me to open up to you-"

"We wouldn't be asking you this if it weren't so important..."

She followed him as he walked down to the other end of the counter. He refused to look at her at first, busying himself by randomly going through the scrap pile in front of him. But she touched his hand and he had no choice but to meet her gaze.

This was it, she thought. For all the marbles...

"There are people in danger," she said softly. "If we don't find out the truth about him--and others like him..." She swallowed hard, unable to let herself finish the thought. "There is so much at stake here."

"You've got that right," he said. "There is a lot at stake--more than you know. You're playing with fire here, kids. So why don't you just turn around and go back to your comfortable little university and forget any of this ever existed-"

"You haven't figured it out yet, have you?" Luke reached a hand down to his belt and unhooked his lightsaber, laying it onto the counter before a stunned Roug. "This isn't some archeological study," he said. "We're not here to do research on ancient legends, Roug. I think you know why we're here. We're here because we know Fals really existed, and he really returned here a thousand years ago to hide from the people hunting him down..."

"You're... You're Jedi..."

Luke nodded. "We never intended to mislead you. I'm sorry that it came to that. We just wanted to get the information as quickly and simply as possible, but things have... things got complicated pretty quick... We need your help. If you know something--anything--about where he is, or who his friends might have been-"

"Denora City."

Silence blanketed the room for a few heartbeats.

"Denora City?"

The bar owner nodded, then slowly came from behind the counter to take a seat next to them. "People around here," he said, "they don't talk much about it. We've all heard the stories, from the time we were kids. There's been a lot of them--they've probably all been exaggerated and it's hard to know what's real and what isn't anymore... Some say he died, but that his spirit went on to haunt the townsfolk over there, some say he found an apprentice to pass on his evil to, and some say he even preserved himself somehow, can you believe it?"

He laughed wearily, as if relieved in some way for having finally unburdened himself with the truth. "The city's all abandoned now. Has been for more generations than anyone can remember--probably not long after T'min Fals went there. But if there's one thing that all of us grew up knowing about this, it's that no one in their right mind would ever even think of going there. There've been some thrill seekers over the years who have gone there to try and bring back proof of the legend. Word is no one's ever made it back."

He got up again and walked back to the gutted shell of an ale dispenser. "That's what they say, anyway," he said, busy once again with the uncooperative machine. "But like I said, things have probably gotten exaggerated over the years..." He paused and looked up at them. "Look, I don't know what's out there. Maybe it's all bunch of nonsense that someone dreamed up a long time ago. But you want some friendly advice? I don't know that I'd take my chances there." He shrugged. "I know you Jedi can take care of yourselves. I mean, I've heard about some of the things you're capable of, but..."

Callista smiled at him--to reassure him, or to thank him, she wasn't sure.

"Well anyway, now you know."

"Thank you," Luke said. "You don't know how much this helps, Roug." He gestured towards Callista and they both got up from their seats.

Roug's voice called out to them from the bar just as they were about to walk out the door.

"Whatever this is that's making you go there--it better be worth it," he said.

They turned around to look at him once more, and he gave them a smile.

"May the Force be with you."


Denora City turned out to be every bit the ghost town that Roug had told them it would be. As Luke had guided the Vision down onto the rocky surface, Callista had peered out the cockpit window, and from that vantage point, she could see nothing that resembled the bustling clusters of structures and narrow streets that had made up Legori City. Even now, standing at the foot of the ramp, she still could not make out any outward signs of life in their surroundings.

It was as if time itself had forsaken this place.

The thin veil of dust began to clear, giving way to the rubble and dirt spread about their immediate vicinity--the only evidence that someone or something had been here once, a long time ago. In the distance, some kilometers away, Callista made out the shapes of still more ruins. Most of what had once been structures seemed to have long since succumbed to age and the torture of the elements, though there were still a few left standing, like a living testimony to the nearly-forgotten past. As she squinted at them, in the glare of the setting sun, she felt a strange mixture of excitement and hope.

Please, she thought, let this all be over soon so we can finally get on with our lives...

There was a chill in the air which took her by surprise, after the suffocating heat of Legori City. She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, wondering in the back of her mind if she was shuddering because of the temperature or some other elusive sensation that had nagged her throughout their flight--but would run away from her each time she pressed to name it.

"Pretty desolate, isn't it?"

She heard Luke come down the ramp and stop right beside her.

"Makes you wonder just how long it's been like this," she murmured, watching the play of rust-colored light as it danced on the heaps of rubble. She turned to him, knowing the same question that had been plaguing her must have been weighing on his, too at the same moment. "You think we've gotten here in time?"

He didn't answer right away, as if listening for the answer in the cool evening breeze--or wherever it was from which the Force whispered to him.

She wished she could hear it too.

"He hasn't been here yet," he finally said.

She knew he was right.

And yet, the uneasy feeling inside of her would not go away. Neither did the unanswered questions.

"It doesn't make sense, Luke," she said. "He must have arrived at Gerridion before we did. Somebody had accessed those files at the archives--somebody had wiped them clean, and it had to have been him... If he's known all this time where T'min Fals is, then... why hasn't he freed him already?"

Luke hook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I wish I did, but... I just don't know..."

He stepped off the plank onto the dirt ground, looking around him again. Callista wondered if, like her, he was looking for some sort of reassurance.

"Master Luke..."

The clanking of Threepio's feet jolted Callista out of her reverie.

"Sir, Master Kyp has contacted you. I believe it is urgent."

Callista's heart pounded against her ribs as she and Luke exchanged a quick glance before heading back into the ship. This can't be good, she thought, though she realized she had no real reason to believe it wasn't.

That is, until she saw Kyp's image form on the holopad. He looked like he hadn't slept in a few days--nor done much of anything else from the looks of his unkempt, unwashed hair and the shadow of dark stubble that lined his usually youthful face.

He looked like hell.

"We've been trying to reach you both for the last two days," he said, shifting slightly in his stance.

"We were staying in town," Luke said. "I'm sorry, we should have tried to contact you earlier, but... our hands were full. "

"Rath was here," Callista said, finishing his thought.

"What?!"

"He was here. I-we fought him, but... he's disappeared. We thought he had been killed, but he's escaped again, and Force only knows where he's gone next..."

Kyp shook his head without looking at her. Then he said, "Well, he won't be coming here."

"Why? What's going on?" Callista said.

"There's nothing here. There's nothing where the other Jedi have gone either-"

Luke straightened and leaned in towards Kyp's holo. "What do you mean there's nothing?"

"I mean we came here for nothing, Master Luke," he said. "If there were ever hiding places somewhere on these planets, then they've been blasted into oblivion by now, because we haven't been able to find anything. There are no blocks of carbonite no hidden chambers, no secret compartments--nothing..."

Luke looked down and let out a barely audible breath.

"None of us have been able to find any evidence of any hidden Sith," Kyp said after some silence. "We've combed this galaxy from one end to the other, and come up empty-handed." Though he didn't look in her direction, Callista felt the sting of his unspoken accusation nonetheless, and what he said next did not surprise her. "I hate to say this, but... maybe this was all some big wild goose chase from the beginning. Maybe we've been following the wrong lead..."

No...

No, he was wrong, she thought. She knew it, with everything inside her. They had been on the right path all along, but she just couldn't prove it. Just couldn't prove it. She was all too aware that she had nothing but her instincts to go on--and no blasted credibility to speak of with any of Luke's students.

As if she hadn't alienated them enough.

She said nothing to Kyp, nor to Luke. She had learned long ago that she would have to pick her battles, and this, she thought, would not be one of them.

Kyp glanced at her, as if sensing her eyes on him. Even now, he couldn't seem to look straight at her, quickly averting her gaze when she raised her eyes. "Some of the Jedi have already started to head back to Yavin," he said, the slight edge in his voice no less evident than it was seconds before. "If these blasted Sith are out there somewhere--some place where we haven't yet looked--then Force only knows how many of them Rath has been able to get to by now. We may have played right into his hands-"

Luke shook his head. "There's something about this, Kyp," he said. "I... I can't explain what you and the others have seen, but... I know there's something to this." He turned beside him to Callista. "You feel it too, don't you? That we're on the right track?"

She felt the arrows of Kyp's stare, could almost hear his thoughts.

You're only fooling yourself and everyone else around you... How long will you keep leading us down the wrong path?

Finally, knowing that she was perhaps risking everything by relying on her intuition, she nodded.

"T'min Fals is still here, Kyp," she said. "I can feel it."

He looked at her as if he wanted to laugh out loud with disbelief. "And even if he is, what about the others? For all we know they could be out there already just biding their time and we're all just sitting ducks. While we've been busy looking for them--and this was a helluva long shot in the first place--they could have already-"

"And if you're right," she cut him off sharply, "if that is what's happened, then I am not about to just stand by if I have even the slightest chance to keep one more from coming back. I am not going to let someone destroy everything you have all worked so hard to build." She looked straight at him, daring him to keep looking at her. Solemnly, she said, "I gave my life once before to keep evil from winning. And I will do it again if I have to."

He stared hard into her eyes, saying nothing. Finally she got up from the co-pilot's seat and headed out of the ship, out into the fast approaching darkness of the long-forgotten city. She sank down to the ground and buried her head in her hands, feeling all of the emotion she had been fighting all this time to keep inside her now wash over her.

Luke came to her a few moments later.

"He was out of line," he said. "I told him that, Callista... He's sorry..." He laughed softly and added, "For what that's worth."

She smiled, her eyes still fixed in the distance. "Maybe he's right," she said, drawing her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "Who am I fooling, Luke? I've been going around, carrying on as if I'm still a Jedi--thinking that because I can run and jump and wield a lightsaber like a Jedi, I can still think like one too. Even without the Force..."

She paused, knowing that if she kept on speaking she would be unable to disguise the tell-tale waver in her voice. "But maybe," she whispered, "maybe I've just been deluding myself all this time..."

"You don't really think that, do you?"

She felt tears welling up in her eyes and she bit her lips to keep them at bay. She had let him in on her grief before, but she was not going to cry now. Not in front of him.

"I don't know," she said. "I think I just wanted so badly to prove I could do this that I almost convinced myself I could..."

He tilted her chin towards him. "Then remember what it felt to believe that," he said. "Remember it and hold on to that with everything you've got. Because once you lose hope, Callie, then there's little point in any of this anymore."

"Luke-"

He shook his head to interrupt her. "Kyp and the others--maybe they don't trust what you're sensing, but I do. I believe you."

"Believing me isn't going to make it any of this any true, Luke."

"Doubting yourself won't make it wrong, either." He sighed and replaced his hand on his knees. "This is all we've got," he said, "and I need you with me. So are you with me?"

She looked up at him, wondering why or how it could be that he had so much faith in her. What was it that was making him take such a big risk with her?

And if he was willing to take it, then who was she to hold them back.

"You bet." She gave him a grateful smile and said, "You've never called me that before, you know."

"What?"

"Callie," she said. "You've never called me Callie before."

He got to his feet and let out his flustered, boyish laugh, suddenly made aware of something he had probably said without much thought. "Haven't I?"

She shook her head and smiled.

"After you left..." There was a noticeable pause after he said the words, as if he suddenly realized how they sounded. "I would dream about you, and... that's what I would call you. Callie. I remembered that it was your nickname... It fits you well."

It was a name that those who had loved her had called her. Her father. Uncle Claine. Even miserable Uncle Dro.

And Geith.

It seemed only fitting that Luke would call her that too.

"You would dream of me?"

He nodded. "Every night."

"After the way I hurt you," she said softly, "I'm surprised you would... that you'd even want to remember me. I wouldn't have blamed you if you had found someone else, Luke..."

He stepped in closer towards her, but stopped short of touching her.

"There could never be anybody else."

She smiled at him. "What was it they would call you?" she said. "The galaxy's most eligible bachelor?"

"Ah yes, that," he said, laughing. "Personally I could have lived with just plain 'Jedi Master' as my title."

"Well, I'm sure there must have been many women who could have..." In her mind, she finished the sentence, taken my place. But even in jest she could not bring herself to say it. "There must have been others-"

"There weren't."

Part of her was surprised at his answer.

"Nor for me."

"Do you actually believe for one moment," he whispered, moving even closer to her, "that someone could have ever replaced you?"

"I didn't know what to believe, Luke."

Slowly, as if afraid she would flinch from his touch, he brought his hand to her face and gently lifted her chin up. "Believe this," he said, "It was always you. Nobody else ever stood a chance--because they weren't you..."

Relief flooded through her--relief that she had meant something to him after all, that she had been as vivid a memory for him as he had been for her.

That despite everything, he had not forgotten what they had been to each other, though their time together had been all-too brief.

"But you left, Callie. You ran away and gave up on us..."

The words came unexpectedly, like the snap of lightning through an unsuspecting sky. There was no way Callista could have prepared herself for what he said. She stepped back from him, disbelieving, like a wounded animal that hadn't seen the ambush coming.

She swallowed hard, and the words cut into her as she spoke them. "That is not fair, Luke," she said, hearing her own voice crack with a rawness she felt in her skin, in her bones.

There was immediate remorse in his eyes--he too must have been taken by surprise by the words that had come out of his mouth--but she couldn't bear to look at him at that moment and turned away from him.

"I didn't mean that, I..."

It took every ounce of her strength not to turn back and face him.

"You are the last person in this universe I would ever want to hurt, Callista--you have to know that... I'm so sorry-"

"I'm sorry too, Luke," she whispered, her back still to him. She knew that if she looked at him now she would lose all sight of what she had sacrificed up till now. "I've had many regrets in my life. And hurting you was the biggest one I've ever had."

She felt his hand on her shoulder, and reluctantly, she turned around to face him.

"I thought you understood," she said. "All this time... I thought you had understood..."

"I did," he said softly. "I... really thought I did..."

But the wound had run too deep. Far deeper than either of them had ever thought.

He stood still for a moment, and she couldn't help but wonder if at this moment he was thinking of their last good-bye on Nam Chorios--the simple gesture he had given her by raising his hand up to her, and the peace that had come with the knowledge that they were doing what they had to do. Then at last, he let out a heavy exhale, as if along with it, he was releasing the truth that he had probably been denying for years.

"Maybe I wanted to be angry at you for leaving," he said. "Maybe I just didn't want to face the possibility that... I had pushed you away. That deep down, you blamed me for all of this."

Inside she cringed, and the sudden memory of those careless words she had spoken six years ago--said in a fog of grief and despair--came to her, stinging all the still-fresh wounds all over again.

"Is that what you thought?" she said. "Is that what you've thought all this time?" She placed a hand on his arm. "Luke, what I said to you... that morning, after we found out I'd lost my powers, I was so lost... I was lost and confused, and I said so many things I wish I could take back-"

"I pushed you so hard to come with me," he said softly. "I wanted to save you from the Eye at any cost... I'm the one that did this to you. I couldn't let you go and because of my selfishness, you lost a part of you that I can't ever give back to you--no matter how much I want to."

"Don't you do that, Luke," she said. "This was my choice. It was my choice to come back and I don't blame you for any of this. Cray knew what it had been like to love someone with your whole being--and to want to defy the universe to be with that person. She gave me a gift that I could never have refused. Even if I had known this would happen."

He opened his mouth to say something, but she placed a finger on his lips to stop him.

"I've asked myself million times over the last six years if I would have done it over again, had I known what it would cost. And the answer is yes. Every time. I wanted a life with you. I wanted to stay with you, more than you'll ever know, but... I was scared..."

She broke free from his hold, realizing that with each moment her resolve was crumbling away.

"Damn it, I'm still scared!" she said, tears threatening to spill at any moment. "How much would both of us have been willing to risk to be together, Luke? With the dark side taunting us?"

She wanted him to give her an answer. Stars, how she wanted to hear him say she was wrong. But his silence told her that he didn't have one.

Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny...

"You dreamed about what would happen, Luke. Can you swear to me that it won't come to pass?"

He was silent for a long time. She felt his hand brush away her hair, his lips on her forehead.

"I love you," he said at last. "I can't give you the guarantee that you want--that you need... But I can love you."

He lay his hands on her shoulders. She didn't shrug them away, but instead let him bring her face up to his as he lowered his head and kissed her lips. "Callie," he whispered, a silent plea for her not to pull away from him now.

She kissed him back.


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