Crix was back on Corellia but in Jedi Robes rather than the clothes he'd managed to take with him from Coruscant. It felt like so long ago that he had fled from the city-planet and headed out into the Galaxy with his friends in search of the Jedi, in search of a purpose that they had yet to discover. Looking back on it, even though he had only been gone for a couple of months, made the whole thing feel like it had happened decades ago, to a person so removed from who he was now that it was like it had happened to an entirely different person.
But it wasn't a different person was it? No, he was the one who had roped them all into the misadventure and he was the one to convince them that he could repair a ship for them to all use together. He might have fixed up the ship but that hardly mattered when he had then left them, with only a group com message by way of explanation.
Of all his friends, he felt the worst about Penny. He had convinced her every step of the way because she had been so cautious, so uncertain, and every step of the way he had convinced her. It was her belief in him that had brought her out from Coruscant and out to Corellia with him and the others. The others? He didn't believe for a second he had any real sway over their thoughts - they all made up their own minds to follow him. But Penny?
He'd led her here and he'd left her here.
Following the twisting, swirling, feeling of the Force in his gut led Crix to one of the offshoots of the Central Corellian Library. It was a titanic building, the sheer scale making it one of the largest buildings he had ever seen before, let alone stepping inside of. Even the great temple at Yavin felt as though it was small when he walked through the racks of holobooks and even physical books.
But he could feel her.
The warmth of her cheek as it flushed from another of his flirty remarks... her twinkling laugh when she was able to relax and just let herself have some fun...
Even his memories of her tied so closely to the Force so that her presence in the Force, to him, was the way those memories of her had made him feel. It was with absolute certainty that he stepped into the aisle. Certainty that the woman resting halfway up a ladder, doing something with the books there, was exactly who he was looking for. As with Willa before her, he knew that he could leave before she could see him, that he could leave her to the life she had managed to make for herself while he had been out there running around looking for his mom.
While he had been achieving their shared dream of reaching the Jedi in the most horrific way imaginable.
But he couldn't just step away.
"Hello Penny - it's been awhile."
Library work wasn't all bad, really. It was quiet. Peaceful, even. Nobody messing around, nobody sneaking off anywhere, very few people hoping to make any sort of trouble involving ships and blaster rifles. Compared to what... the entire last year of her life? It was practically a paradise.
It still made her twitch when she thought about it. How stupid she'd been to run off with the others. Completely wrong. Utterly and without question. She'd flitted off her homeworld in the middle of school, messing up her future for what? A brief bit of planet hopping, living in a rust-bucket with barely any food and... and...
And some very dumb misinterpretations. I will never be that big a sucker for attention again.
Penny was older now. A teeny, tiny bit wiser. She'd let her parents know she was fine, but had been too cowardly to head back yet. Maybe one day. Maybe soon. For now, there was a life on Corellia. The library had taken her on pretty quickly, once she'd shown she was actually pretty good with the filing system and could organise the shit out of an untidy workspace. It paid enough credits to live. Not much of a life, but it was hers.
She was putting some of the older reference books back. The ones that still contained actual hard copies of galactic trade routes and maps. Historical stuff. Humming gently, she slid the heavy cover into the right place as her legs dangled off the ladder. She was vaguely aware of someone coming up to her.
"Sorry, I'll just be a minute," she explained, giving an apologetic smile as she put the last away. "Okay, sorry sir, how can I he-"
Penny blinked as she saw him there. The horns. The handsome face. The weary eyes. Her bottom lip wobbled slightly as she took him in, silently.
It's been a while.
She climbed down to the bottom of the ladder, her eyes never leaving him. Him and his weird robes. She stepped close, looking up at him with her deep, chocolate-brown eyes...
She slapped him. Hard. Right across his left cheek. Her palm stung afterwards, so she knew it'd been a good one. Scorn and fury flashed across her face for a second, all the disappointments of their grand trip written there.
Then, she threw her arms around him and hugged him close, pulling herself into her friend.
"You deserved that," she whispered into his ear, matter-of-factly, inbetween sniffles.
Whatever reaction he had been expecting, Crix was sure that silence was not one of them. She just kind of stopped and very carefully and methodically (very Penny) stepped down from her ladder. He was kind of surprised that she hadn't fallen from the ladder honestly - it looked really not very sturdy but maybe that was just him?
Still, getting a slap round the face that snapped his entire head to one side?
Yeah that was more in line with what he was expecting actually. Working his jaw a little bit, Crix raised his left hand up to his left cheek and just gingerly touched it for a moment before he was suddenly being hugged. It took him a second before he just sighed fondly and wrapped his arms around Penny's shoulders from above.
"... yeah." he admitted quietly, giving her a squeeze in the hug, "Yeah I suppose I did."
He patted her gently on the back.
"I didn't mean to be gone for so long." he admitted quietly, "But... things escalated. Badly."
Understatement was something he was growing rather adept at.
"Can we talk somewhere?"
Penny could tell that something was hurting him. Aside from the slap, obviously. She leaned back a little and looked at him, seeing the change. Still Crix, but more subdued. So much of the bravado taken away.
"Uh yeah... sure." She looked around, checking nobody was watching them. The last thing she needed was to be caught by her boss, sneaking around with some boy in weird robes. "This way. If anyone asks, I'm finding you some holobook on... Zabrak culture." Without thinking, she grabbed his hand and lead him through the shelves.
They twisted and turned, endless collections of old troves and glimmering holobooks, data-stations and archive terminals built into every desk they came across. Penny led him to a closed doorway, flashing her ID chip on the console before it opened. Inside was a small room with a couple of desks, each attached to a small conveyer belt. She sat on one of them, biting her lip as she looked up at him.
"They erm... we put damaged and recovered books in here, send them to the restorers," she explained with a shrug. That wasn't important now. "What's wrong? Did you fin... find your mom?" she asked, eyes going wider as she asked. Oh no. I hope I didn't just... step right onto a landmine.
Books on Zabrak culture? He wasn't sure if he should be amused or offended that she thought he looked like the kind of person who needed to brush up on their own culture. Well... part of his culture anyway. He had gotten the tattoos on his face and he had the horns but he was a half-Zabrak and he enjoyed embracing the human side of himself as well.
Just because he had two hearts didn't mean they didn't beat as one.
"Trying to figure out what the facial tattoos mean or something in your spare time Penny?"
Why was it that he defaulted to teasing her when he was nervous? It had been their dynamic before he left but... that was before he left. There had been changes to the both of them since then that could not be ignored.
He winced visibly at the mention of his mom and felt horrible that the mere mention of his mom, the woman he loved and cherished above all others in the Galaxy, could hurt him like that. If she was aware of herself she would be so hurt to find out that she had caused him pain just by being mentioned, like she was somehow abusing him or something.
Crix sat down heavily in silence for a moment.
"I found her on... on Sullust in a Sith prison." he admitted, running his fingers between his horns, "They... they did things to her... to her head. I don't know what the kark they did but she... she um..."
Come on man.
He needed to be able to at least say it.
"She doesn't... I mean they..." he closed his eyes, "They broke her and now she... she isn't her. In her mind she is... just a shell right now..."
Penny sat and listened quietly. Her eyes stared at his as he mentioned the Sith. The Sith. Like something out of a horror vid come to life.
"You went to a Sith prison!?" she said, not even realising she'd said it aloud. Then he talked about his mom and... and...
Penny remembered Ms. Aran. She'd seen her a couple of times, when she'd been at the HQ with her dad. She'd seemed scary-confident. Totally in charge. The kind of person that Penny admired, even if she could never be like that. On the Holonet and broadcasts, she took the lead. She made the Galaxy safer.
Oh holy... oh no.
She didn't know what to say. She stared dumbly at him, feeling like all the air had been sucked from the room. He was hurting and... she didn't know what she could do. She didn't know if she could ever do anything to make something like that better.
"Crix..." she said finally, blinking quickly. Without another word, Penny stood up again and wrapped him in another hug. A warmer hug, much more tender than the sudden, post-slap attempt earlier. Deep inside herself, Penny could feel a little of the emotion coming from Crix, even if he tried to hide it.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered in his ear as she held him, trying to blink back a couple of tears.
He almost felt as though he could laugh – leave it to Penny to immediately be disapproving of the fact that he had gone to a Sith Prison rather than anything else. Sure, she immediately reacted to the rest of his short explanation as well but the instant urged to lecture him for doing something stupid? Yeah that was the Penny he remembered and it was the Penny he had missed.
Once again his tentative grip on the Force told him that she was horrified and scared and so full of sympathy for him. It was only that last part that gave him the confidence to say that it wasn’t being reflected from his own emotions. During his brief touch against her with the Force he jolted ever so slightly as he felt another Force presence touch his own.
Almost immediately his mind went back to the junkyard, to the Sith who had forced herself into his mind and taken everything she wanted from him with horrific strength. He swallowed thickly and pushed the memories down as he wrapped his arms around Penny.
He clung to her and let the hold they had one each other be what pulled him out of the pit that the memory threatened to send him tumbling down. Instead he leaned down to rest his face in her hair and he breathed in her scent and felt himself relax ever so slightly more.
Still it… more needed to be said. “They found her because… because a Sith found me here, on Corellia, in a junkyard. She tore through all of my memories… saw everything… f-found mom from them.” He closed his eyes tightly, “They found her because of me, Penny. Because I couldn’t protect my own head so I… so I started with the Jedi.”
He leaned away to look her in the eyes, a hand almost reaching her cheek before he thought better of it and slowly, hesitantly, moved the hand away from her soft cheek. “Penny… come with me. Please you’re like me – you have the Force.” He looked into her eyes as he spoke, “They saw what I knew; who I knew. Please Penny I can’t… I can’t have them find you unprepared, undefended.”
Penny cuddled him tight, too driven by the sadness and emotion in both of them to care about it being too embarrassing or strange. She didn't even say anything as he leaned into her hair, which would've been worth a whole complaint, once upon a time.
She listened as he told her what'd happened. The idea that someone could just reach inside your mind and pull anything out about your life scared her silly. Like a total violation. When she looked up into his eyes and his hand moved closer to her cheek, she could almost feel it. Her toes curled slightly in anticipation... but it never came. What he said next was enough to yank her from silly thoughts of boys and cheek-touching.
"Wait... what? No way. I don't have the Force. I'm a... teenager, I'm like, not important at all!" she insisted. The Force was something theoretical, something that only existed in history books and studies about the beliefs of the old Jedi Orders in the Old Republic. It was a subject. A module in her history studies.
"I can't be a Jedi, I'm a bloody librarian!" she said, a little louder now. She turned away from him, leaning forwards as she rested her hands on the table. Closing her eyes as she thought it through. The whole idea seemed utterly ridiculous when Crix'd been talking about his own feeling of the Force, when they'd set off together. Now supposedly she had it too?
"You can't be asking me to run off again with you, Crix. Like, where does it end?"
Can I feel the Force?
Is this just stupid?
Just what was in his head about me that makes him so worried?
Was it just his imagination, or the reflected emotions, but did she seem disappointed that he didn’t cup her cheek in his hand? It could have been reflected emotions from himself… he was rather disappointed in himself for pulling back after all. She had changed but only ever so slightly and he was willing to bet that Penny still blushed when he touched her.
Did she really believe she didn’t have the Force? He frowned ever so slightly before following his instincts… and giving a gentle poke to the middle of her forehead.
“You’re not just some teenager and you’re not just some hot librarian.” He told her with a small smirk that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “You’re Penny Aldor and that makes you more important than you think.”
Nothing about the Force because, well, she knew she had it deep down and it wasn’t up to him to drag that truth to the surface. No, Penny would bring it to the surface without him needing to do anything because lying to herself, lying about herself, was untenable for his friend.
That the Jedi had combat librarians (and wasn’t that a weird thing to know these days) didn’t need to get brought up at all as far as he was concerned.
“Penny I don’t know a lot about the Force but I know enough about the evil of the Sith for a hundred lifetimes. They know about you because they saw you in my mind… and if I know you have the Force, they’ll know it too. They might never come for you, you might be able to get away with never meeting them and, honestly, I wish I could believe that entirely.” He blinked watery eyes, “I could leave you to a life I encouraged you to walk away from… I could be happy knowing you were safe even if you weren’t with me.”
This time he did reach out and cup her cheek in his hand briefly.
“But I can’t pull you along like I did on Coruscant – whatever decision you make, I’ll respect it Penny, no matter what.”
Penny wasn't sure what to believe. Crix'd been making a big deal of being Force 'sensitive' and heading off to the Jedi since... well, since she'd followed him on his stupid adventure. Now supposedly she had it too? If it'd been back then, when they'd been messing around the spaceport without a care in the world, she would've rejected it outright. Now? She wasn't so sure.
Did he just call me hot?She blushed, her cheek burning a bright crimson.
There was actual fear in his voice and tears in his eyes. Enough to get her more worried than she had been before. She'd been on Coruscant. She'd seen what the Sith had done to Ranger HQ. And she knew what they'd do to people like her if they found her. She didn't trust that she'd be safe. She didn't believe that this was for her, some strange half-life buried in the back of a library on a planet she hated.
When Crix touched Penny's cheek, she couldn't resist. For the second time in her life, she acted impulsively.
She looked into his eyes as he spoke, spoke about respect and her decision... and she kissed him. It was only quick. Barely a connection before she came to her senses about what she was doing and pulled back. Her eyes full of surprise in herself.
"I... I... I... I'm so sorry ohmygoodness what the hell am I doing... I'm really sorry I didn't mean... I just..." she said, words spilling out of her mouth desperately.
Crix wasn't even really aware that he had called Penny hot - he was kind of just speaking without a filter. Usually when he spoke without a filter it was because he was making jokes and enjoying some light flirting but, well, those days felt like they were years behind him. He knew they weren't and he knew he was still that same person but there were extras now and those extras weighed heavily.
Didn't change who he was underneath the weight, just meant he was going to need to get better at managing it.
Being back around Willa and Penny was nice - it gave him a sense of what it was like before Sullust. Before the big pit in his stomach had grown and grown until he felt himself sinking into it. But talking to them? Holding Penny's cheek and waiting to see how she blushed?
Made him feel like he could be the guy from before Sullust again and wait... wait she wasn't blushing she was...
He blinked a few times as Penny pulled back from her quick kiss like his lips had burned her or something. Raising an eyebrow, Crix watched as she immediately panicked and sprang away from him like he was a Wookiee she'd just beaten as cards or something.
"... it's been quite awhile since my last girlfriend but I didn't think my lips tasted that bad?" he joked lightly, a more open and honest grin replacing his earlier, serious, frown, "If you're worried about your lips or if you need lip balm or something? No worries there. They felt quite soft but, ah..."
He chuckled a little bit, leaning back in his seat a little bit as he enjoyed the lighthearted moment.
"We could test it again if you'd like?"
Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, I kissed Crix, this is bad, really really bad.
Penny breathed quick as she waited for the reaction. The scrunching of his face. A flash of anger. Or worse, the sad little look of disappointment and the oncoming I'm just not into girls like you.
Oh, is he even interested in...?
But then he spoke and Penny laughed. Actually laughed, deep and sweet, filling the small room as she looked at cocky, jokey face. "Oh yeah... it's only because I forgot my lip balm, you total jerk." She pushed his chest playfully, smiling a lot more now. Her cheeks were still glowing red, but there was a sweetness and happiness to her smile now. More of a twinkle in her eyes, even in the darker circumstances.
"I'll come with you. If you want. To the Jedi place, that is. No promises, but maybe they've got some books I can read," she suggested quietly, stepping back in close to him. "And, y'know, it's scientific method to test things multiple times. You've got to be sure of your results, I guess."
Smiling at her own terrible nerd-joke, Penny leaned in and kissed Crix again. Softer. Sweeter. Slightly more tender, slightly less fretful.
She wasn't so far gone into her own head that she didn't find the ability to laugh at his bad jokes which was good. Penny might be smart but there wasn't any need to over-think it in terms of what they were to each other. He rather liked the kiss after all and a part of him kind of wanted another one but he didn't think she would be up for that.
Didn't want to scare her off when she was showing signs of such explosive confidence. He grinned a little bit, placing his hand atop hers when she pushed at his chest.
"Oh I didn't say it was just that..." he smirked a little bit, "Just didn't expect you to finally acknowledge our chemistry in such a forward manner!"
He could have carried on teasing her but, again, he didn't want her to stop feeling like she could do this kind of thing again in the future. Still, he smiled down at her as she spoke more. She was telling him precisely what he wanted to hear and he would freely admit that the idea of her learning to be a Jedi to defend herself and master the Force within her put some fears to rest.
Crix hadn't realized just how many of those fears he had been carrying around until they were quietened.
Without realizing what he was doing, Crix read where he thought the room was going and wrapped an arm around her lower back as she stepped in closer to him once again. He grinned wide as she leaned in and this time he was less... passive than he had been before. This time he kissed her back, his hand on her lower back rubbing it gently before he broke the kiss.
"Nothing scientific about it Penny... it's all gut instinct. You have to feel..." he kissed her just to the side of her lips, "... don't think."
Pulling back slightly, he removed his hand and winked at her.
"So... do you need to give your two weeks notice or something?"
It was working out. She kissed him again and he kissed back! He didn't run off or give her a look. Though his chemistry jokes were approaching actual, physical pain. His arms curled round her back, rubbing her there and... she just melted into him. It felt like her legs had turned to jelly.
The grey, cold and dour last few months disappeared into nothing. Everything seemed a little brighter now. Everything heightened, everything feeling tingly and full of goosebumps.
It wasn't a feeling that Penny was used to, that's for sure.
"It's all your fault, you're a bad influence. Sneaking me out of school, making me run off to strange planets," she teased, smirking playfully at him. It was her own fault, following him like that. But she'd always had that crush, smouldering quietly beneath al those layers of book-learning, politeness and general over-thinking.
"No, I don't think so. I mean, I guess if I'm leaving I don't need the credits for rent. Though I really should go pack up some stuff, I started a new collection of classic li..." she started to say, thinking things over, but then looked at Crix again.
"Orrrr I can just go and say I'm leaving and arrange this all later. I'm just gonna go and tell them. Wait for me by the doors?" she asked, leaving the pile of books by the side. They were someone else's problem now.
With that, Penny left to tell the front desk. It wasn't a long conversation. A couple of glares about not giving notice and this wouldn't have anything to do with the boy that just walked in, would it? After a little muttering and mothering by the senior staff, they parted ways and Penny made her way to the front doors, bag over her shoulder. Starting to blush again as she saw him there and literally could not believe this day had turned out this way.
"So uh... what's it like with the Jedi? Do they have a big, fancy building thing like they used to have on Coruscant? Where do we even need to go?"
All his fault? Well Crix wasn’t going to pretend that he had planned, well, pretty much any of his actions rather well but it seemed something good came out of it. Penny with a bit more confidence but with that edge of shyness still there? That right there was hot. If Enby or Willa were around he would make a joke involving his horns but he didn’t think Penny would appreciate his absolutely awful puns like they would.
He placed a hand on his chest, pretending to be offended for all of ten seconds before he grinned. “Me? Well I suppose I kind of am.”He agreed with a wink, “Get the impression you don’t mind a lil’ bit of a corrupting influence in your life, Pen.”
This was the kind of thing Crix enjoyed before his life got complicated; flirting and enjoying himself with someone who wanted him back. There was a little voice in the back of his mind that kept reminding him that this was probably a lot more serious than anything he had ever ‘had fun doing’ in the past but he squashed it for now.
He was living in the moment, not the future or the past.
Case in point?
He gave Penny’s backside a quick swat with the flat of his hand when she tried to walk past him, smirking and giving her another wink before heading out to the front entrance to the library while she… resigned? Was that the right term? Whatever, he stood around waiting for her outside while she quit and when she showed up he grinned. “Pen you’re gonna love it.” He assured her with a wave of his hand, “For real? Place is older than dirt – got history coming out the ears all over the place. The library there is like a cavern, swear down.”
Crix held out a hand for her to take. “Come on Pen – I’ve got a pilot droid and an astromech so you don’t need to worry about me flying. Promise!”
Her whole life had become a strange, new mix of exciting things since she'd run off with Crix and his friends. Case in point, getting touched like that. Which was majorly embarrassing and kinda fun all at once in a way that Penny couldn't really describe. At least, not using proper words. More like a half-melted Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah of surprise.
He held out his hand for her as they stood outside the library. Penny looked up at him as she took it, her soft, pale hand slipping into his. It felt really nice.
"For real? A proper library? That's great!" Books, books, more books. She couldn't imagine the kind of ancient tomes the Jedi'd be holding in secret. Maybe that was enough incentive to go train with them? They'd have so much knowledge locked away, all these secrets and perspectives of history from their own records and...
Did he just say cavern?
"A cavern, really? For the books?" she asked, imagining a dank cave, dripping with moisture and mushrooms that grew out of those precious books. Enough to give her the shivers.
Still, it wasn't all bad news. Crix wouldn't be flying.
"Oh. I didn't think you were a bad pilot, technically..." she obviously lied, blushed hard again as she looked at him. Trying to hold it as much as possible before she giggled.
"Okay, so you kinda are. Sorry. You look hot doing it, though."
Leave it to Penny to feel more excited about the prospect of a library and books she hadn't read than the Force. Crix himself might not be the best with the Force but he still knew enough to know it was capable of some really incredible stuff. What could books have to match that level of awesome? Whatever it was, Penny seemed to know all about it so Crix was happy to just let her keep it all to herself.
He'd do what most people did and only go to the library when the holonet failed him.
"It's cavern-like." he told her with a laugh, shaking his head, "Like the ceilings are huge and all that? It's part of an ancient temple so... well apparently ancient temple builders don't like small rooms."
Or central heating - so many temporary heaters set up in rooms all over.
Crix guided her along to the spaceport with a playful scowl as she tried to not mock his piloting skills... and then mocked his piloting skills with a depressingly accurate summation of said piloting skills. Or lack thereof really. Still, he couldn't help but roll his eyes a little bit even with his grin.
"Yeah well luckily for you, the Jedi gave me a shuttle that Scooter and Lancer could fly - I basically just help input where to go." he admitted sheepishly, "You bringing anything with you? I ah... didn't expect you to be so light on luggage?"