Title: Changing Tides II: Serenity
Category: Jania/Jag (Sequel to Devotion)
The Yuuzhan Vong war lasted from 25 A.B.Y. till 30 A.B.Y., coming to a dramatic end during the Battle of Naboo. Seriously weakened by a Jedi strike to regain Yavin Four the previous year, the Yuuzhan Vong were defeated by Alliance forces. Supreme Overlord Shimmra was killed in battle at the hands of a Jedi strike team led by Luke Skywalker and Jaina Solo Fel. Upon his death, the surviving Yuuzhan Vong surrendered, convinced that Jaina Solo Fel was indeed their Trickster Goddess Yun-Harla. The high priest Harrar submitted all of the Yuuzhan Vong technology to the Alliance for further studying, and was placed in charge of the remaining Vong forces. Harrar withdrew them back to their own galaxy, after signing a treaty that vowed they would never again set foot in the known galaxy without explicit permission from the Alliance.
The Alliance remains functional, though each of the three governments operates separately in their own territory. Leia Organa Solo was elected temporary Chancellor of State at the end of the war, but stepped down after a year's term and appointed Kyrie Elyasian as the new Chancellor of the New Republic. Elyasian has held the office ever since.
The Jedi Order has flourished, despite anti-Jedi sentiment from the still existent Peace Brigade. Determined to have the Jedi removed from the Republic, the organization has evolved into a terrorist group, and warrants for the arrest of any Peace Brigader discovered have been issued.
The Jedi Council made their headquarters on Naboo, after they were offered the city of Theed as a base for Jedi operations. From here Luke Skywalker's Council presides over all Jedi matters, while Master Solusar runs the Jedi praxeum established there.
The famed Twin Suns Squadron, now entirely consisting of Jedi, remains one of the most feared fighter squadrons in the galaxy, led by Colonel Jaina Solo Fel. Her husband, Colonel Jagged Fel, formerly of the Chiss military, replaced Gavin Darklighter as the commander of the legendary Rogue Squadron upon Darklighter's retirement.
Jacen Solo, brother of Jaina Solo Fel, married the former Queen Mother of Hapes Tenel Ka, after her father Isolder remarried, letting Tenel Ka step down and relinquish the throne to Isolder's new wife. Queen Mother Nira Cor'lani has worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between the Republic and the Hapes Consortium, leaving Tenel Ka free to pursue her life as a Jedi.
Around 33 A.B.Y., the Republic began to have serious problems with a separatist movement known as the Revolutionaries. Their leader has yet to be identified, nor their goals, but they are believed to be the financial backing for the Peace Brigade's exploits. Chancellor Elyasian has begun military preparations for the impending battle that the Jedi have foreseen, but for now the Revolutionaries are keeping their faces hidden.
Luke Skywalker has sent out Jedi on fact-finding missions to gather more information on the Revolutionaries, many of which have returned with little or no findings. Fearing the interference of the dark side, Luke Skywalker had asked Twin Suns Squadron, now trained as a full force strike team as well as a fighter squadron, to investigate disturbances in the Outer Rim...
34 A.B.Y; Coruscant
"What was that?" Colonel Jag Fel asked, turning to face his wife. She had her back to him, and was hunched over their bed, hurriedly shoving clothing into her missions bag. She was dressed in Jedi robes, and from the moment he had entered their quarters, he had known she would be leaving.
"Naboo," she repeated, not looking up. "Uncle Luke needs me to come to Naboo."
"I heard that," Jag replied. "Why?"
"Problems in the Outer Rim," Jaina replied. She lifted her eyes, giving him a significant look. "Force problems."
Jag nodded, used to his wife running off to save the Jedi Order. He understood it was more than just her duty, it was her life. As a Jedi, and more importantly, as a Skywalker, the Force burned in her veins, so strong and true that she could not refuse its call. He had known that when he married her, but it still didn't make it any easier to watch her head off into certain danger.
"The entire squadron is going?" Jag asked, trying to keep his concern out of his voice, but Jaina knew. She always knew. Jag suspected that she didn't even need the Force to read him anymore.
She glanced up at him as she stuffed a blaster into her bag. "Yes."
Jag nodded, relieved that it would not be Jaina and Kyp running off to save the galaxy on their own again. His wife and Durron tended to find ways to get into trouble even when it seemed impossible to do so. "Any idea how long you'll be gone?"
Jaina gave him an apologetic look. "No," she shook her head. "It could be just a few weeks, or it could be a few months."
Jag sighed, returning his gaze to the landscape outside of their transparisteel. Jaina stopped packing and moved up behind him, her steps so lithe and graceful that he barely noticed until she slid her arms around his waist and pressed her cheek to his back. They stood like that for a long moment, just savoring the feel of touching one another, then Jag turned to face her, not breaking her embrace. He drew her to his chest, resting his head on hers as he had done so often over the years, and kissed her hair gently. "Be careful," he whispered.
She didn't lift her face, but he knew she was smiling. "Aren't I always?"
Jag snorted. "Try this time. Okay? For me?"
"Okay," was all she said.
"I assume you'll be visiting the children at the praxeum before you head out?" Jag asked, though he already knew the answer.
Jaina nodded. "I was hoping to spend a day or two with them before Uncle Luke needs us to head out. It's been three months since we were last there."
Jag understood the pain in her voice. It was difficult, having your children so far away, even though it was necessary. Five year old Anakin and four year old Padme were both brilliantly strong in the Force, and had started their Jedi training when they were very young. Although they only stayed at the praxeum on Naboo for six months out of the year, two semesters that lasted three months each, Jag found that he missed them terribly.
"They'll be coming home soon," he reminded her. "And we'll have a full half year with them before they have to go back."
"I know," Jaina said. "And I know Uncle Luke and Jacen both keep a close eye on them. It's just hard, being so far away all the time."
Jag didn't reply. He knew that he was the reason they were so far away from their children, even if Jaina never said it. Her squadron was made up entirely of Jedi, it would be easier on them if they were to relocate to Naboo. It was his squadron, Rogue Squadron, that kept them on Coruscant.
Jag had spoken to his uncle Wedge, the man who had formed Rogue Squadron all those years ago, about whether or not he should propose a new base of operations for Rogue Squadron, mainly Naboo.
Wedge had told him that it was his call. Rogue Squadron had been based off Coruscant before, Jag needed to decide whether or not Rogue Squadron could function so far from the Core Worlds.
Jag didn't think it could.
Sighing, he kissed his wife on the cheek. "I wish I could go with you," he said. "I want to see Anakin and Padme so badly."
"I know," Jaina replied. "And so do they. They're smart kids, understanding, too. They don't blame you for having to work so much."
But do they blame me for having to live so far away? Jag wondered, not for the first time. The last time they had been home, Anakin had asked him why he couldn't come live on Naboo, with the rest of the Jedi and Jaina's family. Jag had explained that his squadron was needed on Coruscant, but even though his son had nodded and let it go, Jag had a feeling that Anakin didn't quite believe it.
It was hard, raising a son who could read your thoughts and know what you're feeling. Even more so when your son was mischievous, intelligent and capable of just about anything. Anakin and Padme were always up to something it seemed, and from the holos Jacen sent, it seemed that the two of them and Ben caused him no end of grief.
I imagine his own son has something to do with it, as well, Jag thought with a snort. Jacen and Tenel Ka had married shortly before Padme was born, and their son Owen was at the age Jaina referred to as the "terrible threes". Jag had not seen his nephew for a long while, but the last time he had Owen had been up to his waist in trouble.
"I'll be sure to tell the children that you love them," Jaina promised. "They'll be looking forward to coming for a visit. The last holo I got from Tahiri said that Anakin kept asking her how many days were left until we came to get them."
"I don't think he likes Coruscant," Jag said. "Neither does Padme."
Jaina rolled her eyes. "Can you blame them? They're children. Jedi children. This whole planet is one big city. Besides, I'm not that fond of it myself."
"I know," Jag said, kissing her gently. "I'm sorry."
Jaina shrugged. "We both have duties. It's not like you chose to be based so far away from our children."
"But you'd be happier on Naboo," Jag concluded wearily.
Jaina gave him a sharp look. "I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to," Jag retorted. "I know how much you love Naboo. I know how much you miss your family and friends. I know you want to be closer to the Jedi."
Jaina shook her head. "What I want is for my husband to actually listen to what I say, not make inferences about what I don't say." She lifted her chin, her brandy brown eyes burning into his. "If I was unhappy here, I would tell you. I'm not so supportive that I would just keep my mouth shut."
"Do you ever keep your mouth shut?" Jag asked, cocking his head wryly.
Jaina gave an exasperated groan and glared at him. "I'm going to say this once, and if it doesn't get through that thick skull of yours, I'm going to use the Force to wipe your mind of every stupid thought in it until all you can think about is how I'm always right."
Jag had to smother the urge to snicker at the threat, but he gave a nod to show he was listening.
"I. Am. Happy. Where. Ever. You. Are." Jaina said in the slow, deliberate tone she used with their children, and with her squadron when she was trying to humiliate them.
"I know that," Jag replied. "I'm sorry if I upset you. I just feel like you would be happier on Naboo."
Jaina gave him an appraising look. "I think you're the one who'd be happier there, that's why we keep having this discussion." She reached onto the bed, grabbed her bag, and swung it over her shoulder. She gave him a long, hard look, her eyes challenging him to disagree.
He didn't. Instead, he drew her to him and pressed his lips onto hers in a passionate goodbye. He felt her arms encircle his neck, and heard a thud as her bag hit the ground. They stayed like that for a long moment, everything else forgotten. Jag could have stayed in her arms forever, but he knew that they both had places to be.
They drew apart and he smiled down at her beautiful face. "I love you," he said softly.
She smiled that smile that made his heart skip a beat, even after all these years. "I know," she said. "I love you, too, Jagged."
He touched her cheek, his hand trembling. "I have to go," he said softly. "My uncle needs me for the meeting with Admiral Pellaeon."
"I know," she said quietly. "I'll be gone when you're finished."
Instead of replying, he kissed her again, tender and sweet. "I'll miss you."
"I'll miss you, too, Flyboy," she said with a shaky smile.
Jag hugged her tightly, clinging to her as if he might never see her again, which, in their line of work, was always a possibility. He smelled her hair one last time, memorizing the scent, running his fingers through her long, thick mane. "Give my love to the children," he said.
She nodded. "I will."
He kissed her once more, a slow, deliberate, intense kiss, one that would have to sustain both of them for their time apart, however long it ended up being this time.
Then he touched her cheek tenderly, and kissed her hand. Without a word, he slipped back out of their quarters, leaving her to finish her preparations.
He didn't want to say goodbye, nor did he want to be there when she left.
"Jagged?" her voice called out.
He turned to see her poking her head out of the door. "Yes?" he asked.
"I'll make sure I speak to Kyp about him telling the Rogues to call you 'Jaggy'," she promised with a smirk.
Jag pressed his lips together to keep from smiling. "See that you do that."
Jaina laughed, the most beautiful sound Jag had ever heard. "I will. Although, you did bring it on yourself by letting Sharr and Piggy join Rogue Squadron."
"My uncle thought it was a good idea," Jag reminded her. "So did Gavin."
Jaina smirked. "Jag, dear, think about that for a minute, would you? The former commanders of Rogue Squadron thought you should bring in two of the most notorious Wraiths and try to calm them down? If they thought it was possible, why didn't they do it themselves?"
"Oh, they're not so bad," Jag retorted with a smirk. "They like me after the last commander they had. She was so bossy. Actually made them address her as Great One. Can you imagine that?"
He ducked to avoid the pillow she chucked at his head, and headed for the his meeting, still laughing when he got there.
bay outside of the Jedi pavilion was bustling with activity. With the Peace
Brigade and the Revolutionaries making trouble, there were plenty of Jedi
coming and going on missions. At any time of day one could walk into the hangar
and find someone arriving or departing Theed.
Today, however, someone was arriving.
And not just any someone, but Jaina Solo Fel, Luke Skywalker's niece, and, more importantly, Kyp Durron's closest friend.
It had been only a month since Kyp had seen Jaina, when he and the rest of Twin Suns Squadron had reported back to Naboo to give the Council a report of their findings at Belkadan, but Kyp was eager to see her again. Jaina was the closest thing to a family that Kyp had, and he could easily say that she was the most important person in the galaxy to him.
That and her two children.
"Where is she?" Five year-old Anakin Fel demanded for what seemed like the thousandth time. "Uncle Kyp, when is she gonna get here?"
Kyp smiled down at the boy. Though he was not truly the boy's uncle, Jaina had given him the honorary title when Anakin was only a baby, making him the first of her children's hold-fathers. Anakin had his mother's dark brown hair, but his pale green eyes were those of his father, Colonel Jag Fel. "Soon, Anakin. Be patient."
"Don't wanna be patient," Anakin said, crossing his little arms over his little chest. "Wanna see Mama."
Kyp gave Tahiri Veila an exasperated look and the blond Jedi knelt beside Anakin, placing a hand on his arm. "Your mother is on her way, little one. But you must be patient, for her sake. And for your sister. Padme looks up to you. Show her how to be patient, okay?"
Anakin glanced at his four year-old sister, who stood beside Tahiri, blinking her bright green eyes from under her dark bangs. Her hair had been pulled back in a braid, and Kyp thought she looked like an exact copy of Jaina Solo as a child, except for with her father's eyes.
"Okay," Anakin agreed, lifting his chin.
Kyp smiled to himself. Anakin could be a handful at times, he had too much of his mother in him, but he was fiercely loyal and protective of his sister, and was always willing to behave if one told him it would be good for Padme.
"Is Papa coming?" Padme asked softly.
Tahiri squeezed the little girl's hand. "No, sweetheart. Your papa has a lot of important work to do right now back home."
"This is home," Anakin insisted stubbornly.
Tahiri looked at Kyp, uncertain what to say. Kyp placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "No, kid. Home is where ever your family is."
Anakin blinked up at him, a confused look on his face. "Family is here," he said. "You, Auntie Tahiri."
Kyp smirked at that. The kid didn't understand yet why people snickered when he called Tahiri "Auntie" instead of Aunt, but he would one day. And then he'd probably keep calling her that to annoy her.
"Uncle Jacen, Aunt Tenel, Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara are all here, too," Anakin said. "Gramma and Granpa are here, too. This where my family is."
Kid has a point there, Kyp thought with a groan. This would all be much easier if Jag and Jaina lived on Naboo, too.
"And we make up part of your home," Luke Skywalker's voice said from behind him, and Kyp turned to see him walking towards them, with Mara and Ben in tow. "But your mother and father are your most important family."
"Then why they not here?" Padme asked, cocking her head sideways inquisitively.
"Because they are both very important people," Luke said, smiling at his great-niece. "And a lot of people need their help. Your parents are helping other people right now, but you'll see them soon."
"Not Papa," Anakin said sullenly. "Papa's too busy to come."
"In body, maybe," Luke agreed. "But he's with you in spirit."
"Look!" Ben cried, pointing at the sky. His gray eyes were wide with excitement. "Jaya's coming!"
Although he was seven years old, Ben Skywalker still called Jaina by the nickname her brothers had given her as children. He seemed to like it, and it made Jaina smile, so no one bothered pointing out that he was more than capable of calling her by her full name.
Kyp followed the little boy's hand to see a familiar ship approaching. The sleek, almost reflective hull of the Starfire glistened in the sunlight as it made it's decent, and the children all gave cries of delight. The Corellian battle cruiser touched down with a fluid grace that could only mean Jaina was piloting, and Kyp felt his heart leap at the prospect of seeing his partner again.
The engines died out with a low hum, and Kyp had to place a restraining hand on Anakin's shoulder to keep him from running to the ship. The boy squirmed even more as the landing ramp began to descend, and Kyp saw Mara grab onto Ben's arm as the boy tried to run to greet Jaina.
Kyp found he could no longer hold onto Anakin, though, as soon as Jaina appeared at the top of the ramp. The boy broke away from him so fast that it left Kyp startled. "Mama!" Anakin cried, running towards her.
Jaina's eyes lit up and she rushed down the ramp to catch her son in her arms. She scooped him up, hugging him close, and opening her other arm just as Padme rushed to join her brother. Jaina stood, bother her children in her arms, kissing them both on the head, and walked towards the group gathered, smiling brightly.
"Hello, Jaina," Luke said, a broad grin lighting his face.
"Hi, Uncle Luke," Jaina replied. She gently lowered her children to the ground and embraced her uncle. "It's so good to see."
Mara pulled her niece to her and hugged her tightly. "Jaina, I'm glad you're here."
Jaina laughed, a light, airy sound. "I'm glad I'm here, too, Aunt Mara. It's been too long since I've been on Naboo. I've missed you all so much." She smiled down at Ben, her eyes twinkling. "Hello, Ben. Did you miss me?"
Ben nodded eagerly, holding out his arms for a hug. "I missed you lots. Mom said you'd come back soon, but it wasn't soon enough."
Jaina squeezed him tightly. "I know, kid. I'll try not to be gone so long next time, okay?"
Ben nodded, smiling.
Jaina stood and reached for Tahiri, pulling her friend into a warm embrace. "Tahiri, you look more beautiful every time I see you!"
Tahiri laughed. "Me? We need to get you a holomirror!"
It was true, though, Tahiri Veila was a very beautiful woman. At twenty-two, she was thin, blond and incredibly attractive, but her heart had always, and would always, belong to Anakin Solo. It didn't matter that he had been dead nearly seven years, there would never be anyone else for Tahiri.
At least she's doing better, Kyp thought to himself. Over the years, Tahiri had begun to heal, but it had been the birth of Jaina's son, named for her fallen brother, that had truly helped Tahiri find herself again. The little boy was so much like Anakin was, and he had taken such a strong liking to Tahiri when he was only a baby, that he had slowly breathed life back into the young woman.
Kyp wondered sometimes if the boy didn't understand what Tahiri was feeling. Sometimes it seemed like he did. Jaina had been telling him stories about Anakin all his life, and he knew how much his mother still missed him. He had even told Kyp once that the only times he had seen his mother or Tahiri cry were when they were thinking about Anakin Solo.
And at last Jaina turned to Kyp. Her dark eyes were bright and she flashed him her trademark smile, launching herself into his arms, and burying her face against his chest. "Kyp!" she cried.
Kyp smiled, enfolding her in a fierce hug. "Hello, Jaina. I missed you."
She smiled up at him. "Good. Otherwise I was going to have to replace you with Zekk for this mission."
Even though he knew she was only kidding, he growled slightly. "Not on your life."
Laughing, Jaina hugged him tighter. "Oh, I've missed you."
Kyp kissed her cheek. "Good. Otherwise I was going to have to replace you with Tahiri."
"Ha," Tahiri scoffed. "I'd end up killing you within the first week."
Jaina grinned up at Kyp. "Or she'd talk you to death." She winked at Tahiri. "Where are my parents and Jacen?" Her voice was light and teasing. "The last holo I got from him was filled with complaints about how much trouble Anakin was giving him, I expected him to be here ready to give me more grief."
Jaina winked down at her children, and Kyp rolled his eyes. It was common knowledge that Jacen's own son caused more trouble than Ben, Anakin and Padme put together. Or at least, got into more trouble. Kyp had a sneaky suspicion that the three children before him didn't get caught doing half the things they did.
"Probably in the temple trying to get Owen cleaned up," Mara said with a smirk. "He got into a puddle of mud earlier and it's stuck to him like swamp grass."
Jaina snickered. "Sounds like his father."
Luke chuckled. "That I happen to agree with entirely." He started down the corridor for the temple. "I'll let you greet everyone, and notify the Council that you've arrived. We'd like to see you as soon as possible to discuss the mission we're sending you on."
Kyp snorted. As a member of the Council, he already knew the plan. It had been his idea for Twin Suns to undertake it instead of one of the ground strike teams. They were the best pilots, and this mission was going to entail some fancy flying just to pull it off.
Not that he was worried. It was being led by one of the best pilots in the galaxy. If anyone could do this and do it right, it was Jaina Solo Fel.
The cunning gleam in her eyes confirmed that opinion.
"Let's go then," Jaina said, lifting Padme into her arms and taking Anakin and Ben both by the hand. All three kids grinned at her happily, and Kyp couldn't help but smile.
Maybe they'll behave themselves better while she's here, he thought.
But seeing that same cunning gleam in the eyes of the children, Kyp doubted that would be the case.
understand your concern, Colonel Fel," General Marxus said.
Jag clenched his teeth. How could you, you arrogant piece of Sithslime? he thought angrily. You don't have children. You don't have a wife. Much less a wife and children who are Jedi. Powerful Jedi.
"I think what General Marxus means," Wedge said evenly. "Is that we understand how badly you want to find a way to stop these attacks on the Jedi."
Jag could believe that his uncle understood. Wedge had two daughters of his own, even if they were practically adults now. Syal was nineteen, and little Myri was just about to turn sixteen. Wedge had gone through trials when they were children, though none as dangerous as this, Jag was willing to bet.
"The Revolutionaries need to be stopped," General Harger, the cool demeanored Chiss Jag had once respected, said coldly. "The Peace Brigade can wait. The government is more important than the Jedi. Let them fend for themselves for now."
Jag felt his temper rise dangerously high, and he had to bite his tongue so hard it blead to keep from throttling the Chiss. "You are playing a political game, General. I am not."
Harger gave him a disapproving look. "You were once a Chiss commander, Jagged Fel. You should know that the Chiss must look out for what is in their best interests first and foremost. Our duty is the most important thing, not personal sentiments." A sneer crossed his lips. "Then again, you did seem to forget that rather quickly once that Jedi sorceress waltzed into the room."
Jag clenched his teeth, his body just about shaking with fury. "Say what you like about me, Harger, but leave my wife out of this. She has done nothing to deserve your scorn, and is not even present to defend herself. If you wish, when she returns to Coruscant, I can arrange a meeting for you to sit down and discuss your opinions with her. I would suggest that you bring a blaster, since my wife never leaves her ligthsaber behind."
Harger's eyes flashed and he opened his mouth to snarl a reply, when Colonel Celchu intervened. "The point, gentlemen, is just this. The Republic has already decided to oppose the Revolutionaries, as well as the Peace Brigade. Chancellor Elyasian has moved for the Chiss and the Remnant to support this decision, but she has made it quite clear that we intend to stop them by ourselves if we must."
Harger glared at Tycho, his eyes cool and dark. "The Chiss will lend support to the elimination of the Revolutionaries. After they have been taken care of, then we will extend our aid to dealing with the Peace Brigade, but not until then."
"That is your decision to make," Wedge said calmly. He glanced at Jag, then said, "But as you can see, emotions are running high in the Republic. The Jedi are an important part of our way of life. Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa Solo have both been instrumental in the founding of the Republic, as the new generation of Jedi have been in the preservation of it. The Jedi won the Yuuzhan Vong war, make no mistake on that. It would be heartless for us to turn our backs on them after they did so much, risked so much, for us."
"That is the opinion of the Remnant, as well," Admiral Pellean said, speaking for the first time. "We are indebted to the Jedi. It is the least we can do to repay that debt by helping to put a stop to the Peace Brigade."
Jag's heart soared at hearing that. Even if the Chiss flat-out refused to help fight the Peace Brigade, the Remnant still had enough strength to sufficiently help the Republic finish off the band of anti-Jedi terrorists.
"The Republic welcomes your support in this matter, Admiral," General Marxus said evenly, looking to Harger expectantly.
He may have agreed to help fight the Peace Brigade, Jag thought, watching Marxus. But he doesn't want to. He's only going along with what his superiors decide.
Still, with the Republic in complete agreement to move forward on the matter, and with the Remnant offering their support, the Peace Brigade was not going to find it so easy to wreak havoc on the Jedi.
Apparently his uncle realized this, because the grim set of his mouth relaxed. It was unnoticeable to most, but Jag knew Wedge's facial expressions almost as well as Tycho. Years of working with his uncle had taught him to watch him carefully, and now Jag had memorized most of the man's mannerisms.
Right then, the set of Wedge Antilles' face told Jag that they were going to play hardball. "General Harger," he said slowly. "You realize, of course, that the Jedi are not part of the Republic. They are allies, friends. We cannot tell them when to help and who to help. They repay their debts, but only to those who have shown them the same kindness."
In other words, Jag translated with a smirk. Don't expect Skywalker to send Jedi to help the Chiss next time you have a problem if you won't spare a few troops to help the Jedi.
Harger's face twitched, and Jag was pleased to see the message had gotten through. "May I ask, General Antilles, if the Jedi are in such dire need of military help, why are they not present? Why have they not sent a representative to this meeting?" He narrowed his eyes at Jag coolly. "Or is Colonel Fel that representative?"
"I represent Rogue Squadron, General," Jag replied. "Not the Jedi. Not even my wife. Jaina is more than capable of representing herself, but she is elsewhere on Jedi business, trying to uncover the head of the Revolutionaries."
Harger made a dismissive sound, suggesting what he thought about Jaina's abilities to do so, and Jag clenched his teeth. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tycho stiffen, and saw his uncle make a fist under the desk.
"You seem to underestimate Colonel Solo Fel, General," Wedge said evenly. "She defeated Lord Shimmra, she manipulated the Yuuzhan Vong into hailing her as their goddess, and she has planned more successful strikes against the Vong than any other commanding officer, including everyone gathered in this room."
Silence hung over the conference room like a vibroblade about to drop from the ceiling. Finally, Admiral Pellean spoke. "General Harger, I have had the pleasure of meeting many brilliant and talented pilots and commanders in my career, Colonel Fel here being one of them."
Jag felt a blush of pride creep onto his cheeks at the compliment, but he managed to keep a straight face.
"However, Jaina Solo Fel has continued to amaze me and go beyond what I had assumed possible. She is an astounding pilot, a skilled commander, and, from what I have seen, a very powerful Jedi Knight," Pellean said. "I have every confidence in her and in her abilities, as I'm, sure General Antilles does."
Admiral Pellean could not have known how much those words meant to Jag. That someone Jag had looked up to all his career, someone who was both a brilliant tactician and an adept commander, someone who was not even with the Republic, saw his wife's true potential and did not seek to diminish it.
"Perhaps," Harger said after a pause. "I was rash with my opinion. Colonel Solo Fel has proven to be a proficient commander in the past. Perhaps she will prove to be so again."
Jag hardly thought that proficient was the right word to describe what Jaina had accomplished, but he wisely kept his mouth shut and let his uncle do the talking.
"I believe you will be pleasantly surprised," Wedge said calmly. "Now, gentlemen, there is a small matter of where to send our forces to investigate and put a stop to the Revolutionaries' attacks. It seems to me that our best chance would be to deploy small groups of squadrons to do preliminary scouting, and as soon as they report in a find, we move on it before the Revolutionaries can change locations."
Jag's interest perked up at the words "small squadrons", and given the glance his uncle had given him, Jag was certain that Rogue Squadron would be one of those small squadrons sent out to investigate. Good, he thought. It will give me something to do while Jaina is out fighting. It will help me keep my mind off of her and the children.
"Colonel Fel?" Tycho asked, drawing Jag's gaze to the older man. "When can Rogue Squadron be ready to deploy?"
"Within the next two standard hours, sir," Jag replied. "My men just need time to pack, check out their fighters, and then we're ready to ship out."
Right after I send word to Jaina, Jag added silently.
"Very good," Wedge said, nodding. "You are dismissed, then, Colonel."
Jag stood and bowed to his uncle. "Thank you, sir."
"And Jagged?" Wedge called as Jag reached the door. Jag looked over his shoulder at him curiously. Wedge flashed him a small smile. "Be sure to tell Jaina and Luke I said hello."
Jag nodded and slid out the door. He wasn't surprised Wedge knew he was going to call. He was, however, surprised to find Colonel Celchu had slipped out into the hallway behind him. "Colonel," he said in surprise.
Tycho smiled. "I am to give you your mission. Your uncle didn't want me to do so in front of Harger and Pellean."
"I see," Jag said. "And what is our objective?"
"To escort the Lusankya back to Coruscant," Tycho replied. The Revolutionaries have been active in the Minos Cluster, and we need for you to go to Bespin and bring her home."
Bespin, Jag mused to himself. What in the Sith's name is the Lusankya doing there?
But that was not something he needed to know. If the need arose, he would be informed, but for now, it was not his concern. Aloud, he said, "As you wish, sir. Rogue Squadron will see the Lusankya safely back to Coruscant."
Tycho nodded. "I know that, Colonel." He gave Jag a sharp salute, which Jag returned wholeheartedly. "Good luck, Colonel," Tycho said.
"Thank you, sir," Jag replied. "But if there's one thing I've learned being married to Jaina Solo, it's that there's a whole lot more to it than luck."
let me get that for you," Jacen said, reaching onto the top shelf and
pulling down a stack of plates.
Jaina smiled at her twin brother. "Thank you, Jacen."
He grinned. "No problem." He studied her appraisingly, a slight smirk creeping onto his lips. "You know, for my twin you sure are short."
Jaina smacked him playfully. "And for my twin you sure are..." she trailed off, looking for the right word.
"Patient?" Jacen suggestive with a grin. "Calm? Good tempered?"
Jaina narrowed her eyes at him. "I was thinking more along the lines of dumb."
Jacen rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, Sis." He kissed her cheek, then took the plates into the other room and began to set them out on the table.
"Thank you, Jacen," their mother called from the kitchen, where she and Tenel Ka were gathering the platters of roasted nerf sausage and smoked nerf steak. The aroma wafted through the house, and Jaina felt her stomach growl hungrily.
"Hungry, honey?" her father said, coming up behind her with Owen in his arms. "That smells great, sweetheart," he called to his wife.
"I didn't cook it, Han," Leia replied.
Han winked at Jaina. "I can tell. Like I said, it smells great."
Jaina smiled, shaking her head. For as long as she could remember, her parents had been teasing one another. It was sort of nice and reassuring to see that it had not changed over the years. "Mom's cooking isn't that bad."
Han raised an eyebrow. "Why do you think we always had a food processor or chef droid around?"
Jaina rolled her eyes. It was true that her mother had never cooked very often, but it was not because she couldn't cook. Leia had just always been busy with politics, or they were racing around the galaxy solving one crisis after another.
"Jaina, honey, can you help me with this?" Leia called, balancing a heavy tray on one hand.
Jaina hurried over and took it from her mother, carrying it over to the table.
"Thank you, honey," Leia smiled at her. She touched a hand to Jaina's cheek. "It's so nice to have you here."
Jaina smiled. "It's nice to be here."
"Don't wanna!" Anakin's voice carried through the hall.
"Anakin, you have to wash up for dinner!" Tahiri's voice replied sharply.
"Don't wanna!" Anakin protested.
"Me, too!" Padme cried.
Jaina groaned, throwing her mother an exasperated glance. "I'll be right back."
"Dinner will be ready when you get back," Leia told her.
Jaina followed the sounds of protest to the refresher unit at the end of the hall. She stuck her head in the door and cleared her throat loudly. All three looked up at her, startled. "Anakin, Padme, wash up for dinner," she ordered. "Listen to Tahiri."
"Yes, ma'am," Padme said softly, holding out her hands to Tahiri to help her reach the running water. Tahiri smiled at Jaina, then focused on getting the little girl's hands clean.
"But Mama," Anakin whined.
"Anakin," Jaina said sharply.
Anakin sighed, grumbling under his breath. He stepped over to the water bath and stuck his hands under the faucet.
Satisfied, Jaina leaned against the wall while they finished up. She missed this, this sense of family and togetherness. She missed having her children home with her, to argue with, to play with, to just be with. She missed her parents and Jacen and Tahiri and Kyp. She missed her Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara. She missed being part of a family, and the daily struggles and joys that came with it.
"Mama?" Anakin asked softly.
Jaina looked down to see her son looking up at her, his pale green eyes wide with concern. Realization hit Jaina like a hammer, she had been broadcasting without knowing it. She smiled down at her children, both of whom were looking worried. "I'm alright," she told them. "I was just thinking about how much I miss you both when we're apart."
"Then why don't you move here?" Anakin asked, but it was a question this time, not a demand.
"Your father can't move away from Coruscant yet," Jaina told him. "But we want to. Your father and I want to be with you all the time. It's just complicated."
"S'okay, Mama," Padme said, taking her hand in her little one. "You here now."
Jaina smiled. "Yes. I am." She scooped Padme up into her arms, balancing her on her hip, and took Anakin by the hand. "And there's nowhere I'd rather be."
Anakin grinned. "Me neither."
"Dinner's ready!" Leia called.
"Come on, you guys," Jaina said. "Let's go eat before Granpa eats all of the nerf steak, okay?"
"Then we'd better hurry," Tahiri said dryly.
The four of them walked back into the dinning room to find everyone else seated already. Luke and Mara had arrived, with Ben sitting in between them, and Kyp sat beside Jacen, with four empty seats to his right.
"You're on time," Jaina commented wryly.
"Someone said food, I came running," Kyp replied with a grin. He looked at Anakin and Padme. "Did you two remember to wash up?"
"Yes," Anakin said, rolling his eyes.
"Good," Kyp said. "Wouldn't want you to get dirt all over my food, kid."
He'd make a good father, Jaina thought to herself, somewhat saddened that Kyp had never married. She saw how good he was with her kids, and how much they adored him, and it was sort of sad knowing he wasn't going to have any of his own.
Then again, 'the future is always in motion', Jaina reminded herself. There was no telling what the future held for Kyp. Although Jaina was determined to make sure it was nothing but good things.
"Mom, can I sit next to Anakin?" Ben asked Mara.
"Not tonight, Ben," Mara replied.
"Jaina is only here for tonight, Ben," Luke said firmly, but in a gentle voice. "Let her sit beside her children tonight, okay? You can sit next to Padme and Anakin tomorrow night."
Ben sighed dramatically. "Fine."
I miss this, too, Jaina sighed to herself. I miss having everyone together for dinner and being just a few minutes away.
"Where is the Council sending you, Jaina?" Tenel Ka asked.
Jaina looked up at her sister-in-law. "We're going to go undercover on Ord Mantel first to scout for information on the Revolutionaries. See if we can't uncover who their leader is."
"Ord Mantel?" Jacen groaned. "Another planet I don't plan on visiting again anytime soon."
"You just be careful out there," Han said sternly. "Ord Mantel isn't a place for a nice kid like you, Jedi or not. I don't want to have to come out there and ring someone's neck for hurting my little girl."
Jaina smirked. "Dad, I'm hardly a little girl anymore. I have a little girl of my own now."
"Me," Padme said with a grin.
Jaina chuckled. "Yes, you, Padme." She looked back at her father. "Don't worry. I've got all our disguises planned out, and we're going to split into groups once we get there. Between the cosmetics I borrowed from Mom and Tionne, and our Force disguises, I don't think even you would recognize us, Dad."
Han scoffed. "I doubt that," he muttered, but he did look more at ease.
"Cosmetics?" Kyp asked skeptically.
Jaina grinned. "Color crawlers, some costumes Mara and I rigged up, and some synthetic facial hair for some of the younger boys. Nothing too drastic."
"Color crawlers?" Kyp asked. "Oh Force, don't you even think about dying my hair pink or something."
"Purple!" Padme cried. "Do your hair purple, Uncle Kyp!"
Jaina laughed at the mental image of Kyp Durron, Jedi Master, with pink and purple hair. Apparently the others thought about it, too, because they all started to snicker and chuckle. "I was thinking of making you have light brown hair," Jaina admitted. "Danni found a bunch of synthetic eye lens, so you can take your pick of eye colors."
"I guess brown is better than pink," Kyp said. He eyed her cunningly. "Can I pick your hair color?"
Jaina hesitated, reaching out with the Force to see if he was up to something sneaky. He wasn't, he just wanted to make her into a blond. "Sure," she said, shrugging. "But I have to warn you, I'm not going to act like a blond just because you dye my hair."
"No need," Kyp retorted. "You already act like one."
Jaina opened her mouth to make a reply, when Threepio placed a metallic hand on her shoulder. "Mistress Jaina, Master Jagged is on the holo-comm for you. He says it's urgent."
Jag's on the screen? Jaina thought, her heart leaping with surprise. Some part of her wondered what was wrong if he was calling on an urgent matter, but the rest of her was so eager to hear her husband's voice and see his face that she ignored the worried voice in the back of her mind.
"Excuse me," Jaina said to her family, standing.
"Can we talk to Papa?" Anakin asked. "Please, Mama? Please?"
"We'll behave all day," Padme promised.
Is that possible? Jaina smirked. "Alright," she told them. "Just let me speak to him first. When I'm done I'll call you two in, okay?"
Both children nodded, eager smiles on their faces. Jaina patted their arms, then hurried to the comm-center in the back of the house. She made her way over to one of the consoles, where a red light was flashing. She slid her hand over the access pad and Jag's face leapt onto the screen.
"Jag," Jaina said, though it came out a breath.
Jag smiled, his pale eyes bright. "Hello, Jaina. I see you made it to Naboo in one piece."
"Amazing, isn't it?" Jaina asked dryly.
"I'd say so," Jag replied. "How are the children?"
"Eager to speak to you once we're done," Jaina answered. "They're both excited to hear from you. They actually promised to behave for a full day if they could talk to you."
Jag let out a soft whistle. "A full day? I think I've reached a higher demand status than you, sweetheart."
Jaina snorted. "That's because I'm here, dummy."
Jag smiled. "Well, then, if the kids are waiting, I'll make this quick. Uncle Wedge is sending Rogue Squadron to Bespin to escort the Lusankya back to Coruscant. We're deploying in an hour."
Jaina let out a hiss of surprise. It had been comforting to think that while she was out on her mission, Jag would be safe on Coruscant, but now he had a mission of his own. "Is there trouble in that area?" she asked.
"Reports of it," Jag responded. "It's only an escort mission, no real danger, but I wanted to let you know where I would be."
Jaina nodded. "Thank you. I appreciate that."
"Do you know where you're headed yet?" Jag asked.
"To Ord Mantel," Jaina replied. She saw Jag wince slightly and gave him a small smile. "Don't worry, we're going undercover. We're just going to poke around a bit for information."
"Knowing you, you'll do a bit more than poke around," Jag accused gently.
Jaina grinned. "You know me too well."
"I can never know you too well," Jag replied with a smile. "I miss you."
Jaina felt her heart constrict tightly. "I miss you, too, Jag. Be careful, will you?"
"Who, me?" Jag raised an eyebrow. "I think it's you we have to worry about. I tend to be the rational one, remember?"
"Hey, I can be rational," Jaina protested. "Just not very often."
Jag chuckled, the deep, rich sound that Jaina adored carrying across the signal loud and clear. "I love you, Jaina."
"I love you, too, Jag," she said. "Let me get the kids." She reached out with the Force and gave both children a mental summons. She heard chairs crash into one another and tiny feet padding down the hall quickly. She smiled as Anakin burst into the room, Padme a stride behind him.
"Papa!" Anakin cried, his eyes going wide.
"Papa!" Padme echoed, grinning happily.
"Hello, children," Jag said with a grin. "Anakin, I think you've shot up another inch since I saw you last! And Padme, you look even prettier than your mother!"
"Thanks, Papa!" Anakin grinned.
"Mama's much prettier," Padme said with a blsuh.
Jaina smiled to herself, listening to her children talk eagerly with their father, their faces lit with smiles and waving their hands excitedly. Jag was smiling and laughing and Jaina relaxed into one of the hoverchairs, settling back to watch her family.
She couldn't wait until this mission was over, so that she could take the children back with her to Coruscant, and the four of them could be together again.
Lead to Bespin Ground Control," Jag said into his comm-unit. "This is
Colonel Jagged Fel, arriving under orders from General Antilles to see
There was a burst of static, then the operator came back, "Copy that, Colonel Fel. You have been cleared to enter atmosphere. An escort fighter will meet you at sky break and lead you back to base."
"Copy," Jag said, then switched back to his squadron's private frequency. "Rogues, we have permission to enter atmosphere. Keep your eyes and ears open. They're sending us an escort fighter to take us to base."
"Acknowledged, Rogue Leader," Voort "Piggy" SaBring replied, his mechanical voice deep and coarse.
"We copy, Jaggy," Sharr Latt called.
Although Jag made a point of groaning at the nickname over the comm-link, it secretly sort of ut him at ease. Hearing it, like having Piggy and Sharr flying with him, reminded him of the old days during the Vong war, when they were all flying under Jaina's command in Twin Suns Squadron.
But the Vong war was over, and Twin Suns was now an all Jedi squadron. Jaina had been promoted to Colonel during the last year of the war, but she had worked it out with Wedge and Tycho that she was a reserve only for the Republic, her first priority being the Jedi. Not that there had ever been a conflict with that, Twin Suns was willing to take orders from General Antilles, and Jaina was a trusted and well-respected commander. Her step outside of the official service only meant that she could refuse an order on the grounds that it went against the Jedi Council's wishes, and that she could put the wishes of the Jedi before those of the Republic.
It worked well that way. Jaina still got to play an active role in the Republic military, but she didn't have to worry about where to divide her loyalties. She was a Jedi first and foremost, and the Republic understood that.
Sometimes Jag wished it was the other way around. not very often, but every once and a while. When the pressure started getting to him, when he didn't get to see her for months at a time, when she was constantly running off to go on one Jedi mission after another. Every once and a while, it got to him, and Jag found himself wishing that she was commanding Rogue Squadron instead of him, and that he was just her husband flying as her wingmate again.
Sighing, Jag shook his head clear of all thoughts about Jaina. He couldn't afford to think about her right then. Thoughts of her were distracting, they led to thoughts of his children, which led to an empty feeling deep in his chest. He hated not being with Anakin and Padme. He absolutely hated it. He never talked about it with Jaina, but she knew anyway. It was even harder for her, not being there every minute of every day.
Regardless of what she said, Jag knew that Jaina was unhappy with their living arrangement. She never said a word, but Jag could see it in her eyes. She wanted to live on Naboo.
And the difficult thing was, so did Jag.
But it seemed impossible, given Rogue Squadron's necessity to be near the capitol. Jag envied his brother and sister, neither of them had a spouse or children to be separated from. Wik was twenty-four and not looking to settle down yet, and as a Major in the Chiss military he wasn't exactly in an ideal situation to meet anyone. As for Zena, she was only twenty-two and still searching for the man that she deemed worthy to marry. Jag figured by the time she found him, his children would be grown up.
Still, Jag wouldn't have taken it back for anything. He loved his children, adored them, was constantly amazed and impressed with them. Both Anakin and Padme were strong in the Force, and their training was progressing quickly. Luke had even commented that they both had a solid mastery of their Force skills so far. Little Anakin was always surprising and pleasing him with new skills and talents, and their son was already proving to be quite ingenious. And when Jag looked at Padme, he saw his wife looking back at him. Every time she smiled or laughed, Jag knew how Han Solo must have felt when he and Jaina eloped. Already Jag was determined that no man was ever going to be good enough for his daughter.
"Now entering atmosphere," Piggy's mechanical voice jolted Jag out of his thoughts.
"I've got an incoming friendly coming in at starboard," Garit Hunter said. "He's hailing us as our escort."
"Patch him through to me," Jag ordered. When his clawcraft display lit up, announcing that the incoming call had been successfully redirected to him, Jag asked, "This is Colonel Jagged Fel of Rogue Squadron."
"I know who you are," a familiar voice chuckled.
The hair on the back of Jag's neck began to tingle, as he wracked his brain for the source of the familiar voice. "And who, may I ask, are you?" Jag retorted.
There was a pause, then the pilot of the incoming Y-wing, for Jag could now see it clearly out his viewport, replied, "I think you'll have to ask your wife about that, Fel."
Jag's eyebrows raised. His wife? "I take it you have met Jaina?" he asked evenly, trying to keep his voice even.
"Met her? Yeah, you could say that," the pilot snickered.
"She called you an arrogant monkey-lizard," Piggy hissed, raspy laughter shaking over the comm-link. "She was right."
Jag's jaw dropped. "Janson?" he groaned.
"Nice to see you, too, Fel," Wes Janson called dryly.
"It's not too late for us to pretend we thought he was an ugly and shoot him down," Sharr commented sarcastically.
"What are you doing here, Captain Janson?" Jag asked, recovering from his shock.If my uncle knew he was here and didn't see fit to warn me, he thought through gritted teeth.
"Commander Latik needed an experienced fighter pilot to help train the squadrons he has here," Wes replied. "I'm experienced."
"Can't argue with that," Piggy muttered.
"I can try," Sharr retorted.
"You were training pilots?" Jag asked Wes, ignoring Sharr and Piggy. "What for?"
"To help you on your escort mission," Wes answered. "After that, they're sticking with the Lusankya for while. To provide backup support."
Backup support? Jag wondered. Does Wes know something I don't?
"I was supposed to pick the best pilot to fly with you back to Coruscant to meet with General Antilles," Wes went on. "But none of them can outfly me."
Jag groaned again. "Does that mean you're flying with us back to Coruscant?"
"Nope," Wes replied with a tone that suggested he was smirking. "One half of the team has to stay here. I elected to stay here and keep training the kids. But my partner-in-crime has graciously agreed to accompany you."
"Partner-in-crime?" Jag asked, not liking the sound of that.
"Oh by the Force," Piggy moaned. "Don't tell me it's..."
"Yep," Wes said, and now Jag was sure he was smirking.
"No," Piggy groaned.
"At least it's not Janson," Sharr said with a sigh.
Jag, feeling more than a little confused now, demanded, "Who the Sith are you talking about?"
Another blip appeared on his display board and Jag turned his head to see another Y-wing approaching. "That would be me, sir," an amused voice replied.
"Don't 'sir' him," Wes scoffed. "He's half your age."
"Some of us actually respect our superiors, Janson," the newcomer retorted dryly.
"Not when you're old enough to be your superior's father," Wes shot back.
"Excuse me," Jag said, fighting to keep a calm voice. "Would you mind telling me who I'm listening to insult Captain Janson? Not that I mind, it happens to be a favorite pastime of mine, but I would like to know whom I am speaking to."
"I call him nerf herder," Wes called. "But you can call him Hobbie."
on out of there, Jaina!" Kyp Durron called, knocking lightly on the door
to the 'fresher unit of the Sky Bandit. "I want to see how you look."
"No way," Jaina's muffled voice came back through the door.
"Oh, come on," Kyp said. "It can't be that bad."
"It is," Jaina replied. "There's no way I'm coming out like this."
Kyp sighed and turned to look at the other members of Twin Suns. He would not have recognized any of them if he hadn't known it was them. Particularly Valin Horn. The twenty year old Jedi's black hair had been turned a golden yellow by the color crawlers and he wore synthetic eye lens that made his normally brown eyes blue. The boy was dressed in fighting pants, a tight fitting shirt and a black vest. He looked every bit the smuggler Jaina wanted him to play.
"Jaina, come one," Valin pleaded. "You did this to me. At least let me see what you look like."
"You look fine," Jaina called. "I don't."
Kyp ran a hand through his hair, which was now a wheat brown. "Jaina, you knew you were going to have to wear this when we left. Now come out of there before I open this door myself!"
"Fine," Jaina snapped. "But I swear if one of you laugh, I'm going to give you all Sithspawned duties for a month!"
Kyp rolled his eyes, now a light brown color. "We aren't going to laugh, Jaina. Now come out."
The door slid open and Jaina stepped out.
Or what had once been Jaina. Kyp had to pinch his arm to remind himself who he was looking at. Jaina's dark hair had been dyed a light blond, two shades lighter than Valin's, and her eyes were now an icy blue. Kyp did not fail to notice that she looked strikingly like Luke Skywalker.
She looked like a completely different woman. The biggest difference, though, was the clothes. Instead of Jedi robes or a flightsuit, or even fighting pants and a tank top, Jaina wore a sleeveless black bodysuit that hugged her curves like a second skin and a pair of black boots that came up to her knees and gave her an added inch in height. The black nerf leather jacket she had thrown on top only added to the overall affect.
Needless to say, she looked incredible. Kyp had to metally remind himself that this was Jaina he was gawking at.
"What?" Jaina demanded, glaring around the room, and only then did Kyp realize he wasn't the only one staring. All of the pilots, particularly the males, seemed glued to Jaina.
"You look like a new woman," Nianne Teratt said softly. Kyp thought she looked like a new woman, as well. Her once red hair was now brown, although she had kept her eyes their natural icy blue color. "I can't believe that's really you."
"Me neither," Merik Ramstrum murmured.
"Don't any of you laugh," Jaina warned sharply.
"I think laughing is the farthest thing from their minds, Jaina," Octa Ramis snickered.
Jaina blinked in confusion, then her eyes widened and her cheeks flushed in realization. "Hey, I'm a married woman," she said, smacking Merik playfully.
"Yeah," Valin said. "Don't look at my wife."
Kyp grinned to himself. Since it was not safe for them to use their real names, and since they would never get any information that way, they had not only changed their appearances, but identities. Since Valin was close to Jaina's age, only five years younger, he was going to play her husband, and Kyp was going to be Jaina's brother. Remembering how Jaina had snickered and said he could play her father, Kyp was suddenly very grateful that she had not chosen to dye his hair gray.
I wonder what Jag would think about the kid who used to have a crush on Jaina being her pretend husband, Kyp mused silently. For as long as Kyp could remember Valin Horn had had a crush on Jaina Solo as a kid. Although Kyp knew he was passed that now, he was even dating Wedge Antilles' oldest daughter from what Jaina had told him, he still found it rather cute that Valin and Jaina were playing marriage together.
Don't let Jaina hear you say that, Kyp reminded himself with a snicker.
"She's only been your wife for, what, five minutes?" Merik drawled, his spiky black hair bristling as he shook his head. To Kyp he looked nothing like the Merik he knew. His shocking white hair was gone and his intense black eyes were now green. He looked more like Kyp than Kyp did at the moment.
Imara Cobak groaned. "Do I really have to pretend to be related to him?" she asked, fingering her short cropped brown hair. She, too, had opted to keep her naturally blue eyes, but there was no trace that she had ever had bland hair.
"You know you're secretly jealous that we can't pretend to be married, too," Merik told her, winking at her.
Hajima chuckled. "I don't think Jaina would be so cruel to Imara."
"I don't know," Kyp said, shooting Jaina a wry look. "Jaina can be pretty sneaky."
Jaina raised an eyebrow at him. "Jaina? Who's Jaina? I'm Arwyn."
Valin grinned and walked to stand next to Jaina. "I guess that makes me Letien."
Tam-Azur-Jamin shook his long black hair. His blond hair was completely gone, and his brown eyes now a shade darker. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I guess my name is Breynan."
Jaina nodded, and turned expectantly to the rest of the pilots. Hajima pushed her long white hair away from her dark face, and narrowed her now blue eyes. "I am Orana Munlar."
She looks pretty with white hair, Kyp thought to himself. Hajima had naturally black hair and eyes, that made her appear slender and mysterious, but the long white locks brought out the smoothness of her dark complexion.
"Cimarine Albenat," Imara said. She jerked her elbow at Merik. "This is my brother Kindar."
"Good," Jaina nodded. She turned to face Octa, whose black hair was now a reddish brown. "Octa?"
"Leiloni," Octa replied coolly, batting her brown eyes. "The name is Leiloni."
Jaina grinned, then looked at Chane Margrey, whose dark hair and eyes were both now a brownish tint. "Chane? Nianne?"
Chane stood and draped an arm around his girlfriend. "We're Sahn and Jezlyn, the newlywed smugglers."
"Thiss one iss glad that I have no hair to color," Tesar Sebatyne hissed. "I will go by the name Corsov, in honor of Krasov."
Jaina smiled brightly, and Kyp remembered that the Hara sisters had been among those to fall on Myrkyr. "I think Krasov would be honored. Alema?"
The Twi'lek woman twitched her lekku anxiously. "I am now Beanca, for my mother."
What do you know, a voice in the back of Kyp's mind snickered. She has emotion after all. He silenced himself immediately, feeling ashamed for thinking such things about a fellow Jedi, but from the sense he got of the others in the Force, he wasn't the only one surprised.
"Alright then," Jaina said, settling down in one of the chairs. "We've all got out aliases worked out, we know who's going with who, and we know what roles we're playing. So let's all just sit back and relax for a bit."
Kyp shook his head and dropped into the chair opposite her. "You know, the Bandit's not that bad a ship. Your uncle was right to let us take it."
Jaina shrugged. "The Starfire could be linked back to me, and that would ruin everything. Aunt Mara went through a lot of trouble getting an extra unmarked ship to serve as an undercover vessel for Jedi missions. If we'd brought the Starfire, our cover would be blown."
Kyp didn't miss the aggravation in her voice. Jaina loved her ship, as much as her father loved the Falcon, and she would much rather have been on her own ship. Still, Jaina was right, the Starfire was too noticeable, with its flashy curves and sleek edges. Someone would check it out, and they would find out it was registered to Jaina Solo, and their covers would be gone in an instant.
"I just want to get in, get our information and get out," Nianne said. "I hate Ord Mantel."
"So do I," Hajima said, shooting her a sympathetic glance.
"No way," Merik said. "We've got to play a few hands of sabaac before we leave. No one knows we're Jedi. This has some serious potential for-"
"For what, Ramstrum?" Jaina asked evenly, raising an eyebrow challengingly.
"For us to demonstrate Jedi self-control and stay clear of the casinos," Merik replied, somewhat more dully.
"Exactly," Jaina said, smirking.
Kyp rolled his eyes. You are too much sometimes, he told her. Wait until your son starts to play sabaac. Wait until he looses your money at sabaac.
My son is never going to loose at sabaac, Jaina scoffed in reply. He's a Jedi, and a Solo. And Jag's not half bad at sabaac either, you know.
I wouldn't know, Kyp retorted. The only time I ever played with him, his wife cheated and ruined the game.
A sharp kick to his shin made Kyp yelp in surprise. He glared at Jaina. "What was that for?" he demanded.
"For cheating every time you play sabaac against non-Jedi," Jaina said with fake sweetness. "I figured they never get to kick you, so I would."
"We're coming up on the hyperspace coordinates," Tam announced. "Jaina? Do you want to take us in for a landing?"
Jaina stood and hurried into the cockpit and settled down in the pilot's seat across form Tam. "Hold on back there," she warned. "Dropping out of hyperspace now."
"Ord Mantel, here we come," Chane said with a wry smile. "This should be fun."
Jaina laughed from the cockpit. "We're hoping to avoid any 'fun' for now, Chane. I'd like to get in, get our information, and get out without getting into any fights."
"Is that possible for you?" Tam asked dryly.
"No," Kyp answered. "It's not."
Valin tossed Tam an extra blaster. "Better load up, Tam. You're going to need all the firepower you can get."
Tam raised an eyebrow. "Me? You're the one who's going with Jaina."
Valin blinked, then stuck out his hand. "On second thought, you have plenty of weapons. Give that one back to me."
me the nerf salt, will you, Jaggy?"
Jag glared at Sharr Latt, but complied and handed him the salt. Wes shook his head, chuckling. "Still can't get them to stop calling you that, can you, kid?"
"Not yet," Jag replied. "I'm thinking more drastic measures may be in order. Is it legal to kill a subordinate for driving you crazy?"
Wes shrugged. "It is if you plead insanity."
"Which works out nicely for you," Sharr said, clapping Jag on the shoulder. "You already are insane."
"Working with you is enough to drive anyone insane, Latt," Piggy grumbled, taking a large bite of nerf steak. "Believe me, I know."
"How did you get stuck with that nickname?" Hobbie asked Jag.
Wes saw Jag's lips twitch slightly. "My wife made it my call sign, but it was Ben Skywalker who gave it to me in the first place."
"Skywalkers for you," Wes muttered wryly. "Always making everything difficult."
Hobbie gave him an amused look. "You just be glad Luke's not here to hear you say that. He might start regretting all those times he's saved your life."
"I don't know about Skywalker," Sharr said. "But I already do."
Wes glared at the former Wraith. "I'm sure that Jaina feels the same way about you, Latt."
"Me?" Sharr scoffed. "Never. Her Greatness loves me."
Jag snorted and exchanged a dry look with Piggy, whose rumbling laughter shook the table lightly. Wes cocked an eyebrow at Sharr. "Somehow, I think they beg to differ."
Hobbie leaned forward towards Jag. "How is your wife doing?" he asked. "I haven't seen Jaina in a year. Not since she and Luke showed up out here to drop off Wes."
Although Jag Fel was good at keeping his expression neutral, Wes knew what he was thinking. Jaina knew Wes was here and didn't warn me? A smile broke his face. "Such a pleasant ride out here, too. Stuck in a ship with two Jedi, who both meditate and talk to one another in their heads the whole trip. I swear I tripped so many times on the way here, I think Luke and Jaina did something to me."
"I wish they'd do something about him," Piggy stage muttered.
"Maybe you're just a klutz?" Hobbie suggested dryly. "Ever think of that, Wes?"
Wes waved a hand. "Ask her when you get home, Fel. I guarantee you she'll admit it. She and Luke were messing with me on that trip."
Jag smiled faintly. "Sadly, Jaina will not be home for me to ask. She is away on Jedi business right now."
Wes raised an eyebrow. "Jedi business? Luke send her out somewhere?"
Jag hesitated, glancing around to see if anyone in the mess hall was listening, then nodded. "Twin Suns is on a scouting mission to uncover the identity of the Revolutionaries' leader. They are executing an undercover operation on Ord Mantel."
Wes whistled. He had been to Ord Mantel once or twice, and it was not the kind of place he would want his wife going. Then again, his wife wasn't a Jedi and a Solo. That and the fact that he didn't have a wife.
Jag nodded in agreement. "They are only looking for information, then they're leaving. I don't know where they'll be headed next, but anywhere is better than Ord Mantel."
"Unless they end up on Kessel," Sharr volunteered. "They'd be thrown in the mines for sure, the way Jaina causes trouble."
Everyone at the table shot him a dark look.
"What?" he said, grumbling as he went back to eating his food.
"I'm sure they'll be fine," Hobbie said. "Jaina is capable of getting out of trouble, even if she doesn't seem to be able to stay out of it."
That can be said about her entire family, Wes thought. She was cursed. Leia and Luke get themselves into more trouble than anyone I know.
Except for maybe Jaina.
"I know," Jag said, smiling weakly. "I'm just eager to get back to Coruscant so I can go to Naboo and pick up the kids."
Wes glanced at Hobbie, questioning whether or not to tell him. Hobbie gave a slight nod and Wes sighed. He turned back to Jag, frowning. "Look, kid, maybe that's not such a good idea right now. Bringing the kids to Coruscant. They're safer on Naboo with Luke."
"Safer?" Jag asked, placing his utensil back on his plate. "What do you mean safer?"
"Why do you think the Lusankya's been out here getting repairs?" Hobbie asked evenly. "The technicians have been modifying its weaponry."
Jag narrowed his eyes sharply. "Why would we need to do that, unless we were..." his voice trailed off and his pale green eyes went wide.
"Exactly, kid," Wes nodded. "The military is keeping it under wraps right now, mainly to keep people from panicking. But we're going to war against the Revolutionaries. Full, all out war."
"But if we need the Lusankya, "Jag said slowly. "Then that would mean that the Revolutionaries have incredible firepower at their disposal."
"They do," Hobbie replied. "Our scouts uncovered a whole warehouse of weapons on an asteroid out in the Corporate Sector. The asteroid base has been destroyed, but our Intelligence agents say that what we destroyed wasn't even a third of the arsenal they have."
"Which means there's got to be other bases," Piggy said. "Do we have scouts out looking for them? Have we started scanning the asteroid fields?"
"Yes," Wes responded grimly. "We found a small ammunitions base in the Alderaan field, but it wasn't anything significant."
"Alderaan?" Jag asked. "Sithspawn. I bet Jaina and Leia are furious."
"Leia, yes," Wes said. "Jaina doesn't know. Tycho only told Leia because Leia is from Alderaan. Luke sent some Jedi to get rid of the base, real quiet like. I doubt Jaina's been told about it yet."
"There are still other bases out there," Hobbie said. "Larger ones, with more firepower. We just don't know where yet."
"And if we don't find them and destroy them before the Revolutionaries launch an extreme attack..." Wes said, letting that hang in the air.
"We'll be in serious trouble," Sharr finished grimly.
Wes nodded. "Very serious trouble."
Jag frowned, deep in thought. "Maybe I should go to Naboo. I could visit with the children instead of bringing them back to Coruscant, and I could meet with Master Skywalker about setting up scouting expeditions that incorporate the Jedi with the military. We might have a better chance of finding the other bases in time if we work together."
"True," Hobbie agreed. "But we have to consider that the Jedi have their own problems right now. Luke needs his Jedi out trying to uproot the Peace Brigade."
"I know," Jag said quietly, his jaw hardening. "There was another attack last week. On Gyndine. Two more Jedi were killed."
Stang, Wes thought. How is it they keep managing to kill Jedi? That was, of course, exactly the problem, no one knew yet. The Jedi Council was weary, unable to tell for certain if the dark presence they felt in the Force was the cause of so many Jedi deaths, but Luke had a feeling it was. And Luke's feelings were good enough for Wes.
"Did Jaina know them?" Hobbie asked, a worried frown on his thin face.
Jag shook his head. "Not personally, no. But it's left her uneasy, angry. She takes any threat against the Jedi as a threat against her, and she's impatient to find out who's killing them and put a stop to it."
"She never was very patient," Sharr commented dryly.
"No," Jag agreed with a small smile. "Patience is not one of Jaina's strong points, Jedi or not."
"Regardless of how he may appear," Wes said. "Luke never was very patient, either."
Hobbie snorted. "He's a Jedi Master now, Wes. He can make himself look patient even when he's not feeling patient."
"Wish I could do that," Wes said with a crooked smile. "Imagine how impressed Wedge would be with me if he thought I'd finally learned patience."
"He'd start sounding the alarm that Hoth had melted," Hobbie snickered.
Wes ignored his old friend, focusing instead on the young Colonel in front of him. "Maybe we should push our departure time up a bit. That way we can reach Coruscant sooner, and Colonel Fel can ask for permission to meet with Master Skywalker."
Hobbie nodded, catching on to Wes' thinking. "I agree. I'll go notify Commander Latik of the change in schedule."
"I should go alert the rest of Rogue Squadron," Jag said, standing. "Point me in the direction of the nearest cantina or casino."
Wes smiled, remembering the old days when he was with the Rogues. "Hobbie will show you to the Wild Wampa. That's where the Rogues always end up. Doesn't matter what generation of pilots it is, somehow they always find their way there."
"No wonder," Sharr said. "It's supposed to be one of the wildest cantina's on Bespin."
Jag smiled, shaking his head. "That's where our boys are then." He gave them a respectful nod. "Captain Janson, Sharr, Piggy."
Wes watched Jag follow Hobbie from the mess hall, then turned to the two former Wraiths sitting before him. "What's it like to fly with him?"
"Contrary to what you may think," Piggy said. "We all enjoy Colonel Fel's presence and leadership. He has loosened up quite a bit since he married Jaina Solo."
"I miss that girl," Sharr said, shaking his head sadly. "Bossiest commanding officer I ever had, but still the best looking."
Wes grinned. I have to agree with that, he thought.
"I believe Janson would agree with you," Piggy snickered. "Even if she did turn down his courtship rituals."
Wes scoffed. "It was only because she was already attached to Fel. No woman can resist me."
"Yeah," Sharr drawled. "That's it."
"Somehow I think Jaina would beg to differ," Piggy replied gruffly.
"Yeah," Sharr said. "Her brother, too. Now what was it he called you, Janson?"
"Old," Piggy supplied. "He called him old."
"No respect among the youth any more," Wes groaned. "No respect at all."
"Don't feel bad, Wes," Sharr said, clapping him on the arm. "It's not just the youth who you don't get respect from. None of us respect you, either."
Jacen looked up from his meditating to see Tenel Ka standing in the doorway of the training room. "Hi," he said, flashing her a lopsided grin. "I was wondering where you disappeared to earlier."
"I went to see Cilghal," Tenel Ka said quietly, making her way over to the corner where he sat. She dropped down to sit next to him silently.
"Cilghal?" Jacen asked worriedly. "Is there something wrong? Are you sick?"
Tenel Ka shook her head. "There is nothing wrong, Jacen. I have felt odd these past few days and wanted to have Cilghal or Tekli look me over. Since Tekli is away tending to the injured refugees from the Revolutionaries last attack, Cilghal was kind enough to see me."
"And?" Jacen asked, frowning in concern. Tenel Ka rarely felt the need to have a regular check up, much less request a healer to examine her. "What did she find?"
Tenel Ka turned her face to his, her cool granite eyes shinning with quiet warmth. "I am pregnant, Jacen," she said softly.
Jacen blinked in shock. Pregnant? Again? I always wanted Owen to have siblings, he thought with a smile. "You're sure?" he asked her.
Tenel Ka nodded. "I am certain."
Jacen grinned. "That's wonderful!" he cried. "Owen gets a baby brother or sister! Oh, he'll be so glad. Remember how jealous he used to be that Anakin and Padme had one another to play with? Now there will be an even number of kids in this house."
"Actually, there will not," Tenel Ka said, her lips twitching in amusement. "There will be three now instead of one."
"Twins?" Jacen asked, now even more shocked. "We're having twins?"
Tenel Ka nodded. "Yes. We are having twins."
I wonder if my family is just jinxed with twins, Jacen mused to himself. "Well, I guess when Jaina didn't have twins, I should have known we would," he said. "I mean, Mom and Uncle Luke are twins, but only Mom has twins herself, so of course I'd be the twin to have twins."
"Perhaps," Tenel Ka smiled. "Now if our daughter has twins, we will know that you have figured out the pattern of genetic distribution among the Skywalker line."
Jacen laughed. "Whatever you say, Tenel." He leaned his head down and kissed her gently on the lips. "I can't wait to tell Owen."
Tenel Ka chuckled. "He will be almost as eager as you, I predict."
"Yeah," Jacen agreed with a lopsided grin. "And Mom and Dad will be thrilled to have another grandchild. Dad told Jaina at dinner that she and Jag should consider having a third child. I think he was secretly disappointed when she said that two was more than enough for them."
"Your father likes children," Tenel Ka agreed. "I think that our son and Jaina's son both remind him of Anakin as a child. Since your brother is no longer with us, your father feels like Owen and Anakin, particularly Anakin, are the closest thing he can get to having his son back."
Jacen nodded, his mood sombering. When Jaina had given birth to Anakin, it had broken Jacen's heart that his brother could not be there to witness it. It hurt sometimes, to watch his son play with Jaina's children, imagining the phantom kids who should be among them, part Tahiri and part Anakin, but never could be.
"You're right, of course," Jacen said. He smiled at her, pushing all thoughts of Anakin and the life he had been denied out of his head. "You usually are."
Tenel Ka patted his arm affectionately. "That is only because you are usually wrong," she said with a slight smile.
Jacen shook his head, smiling. "Come on," he said, standing and offering her his hand.
Tenel Ka raised an eyebrow up at him, then pushed herself to her feet with her own hands, ignoring his outstretched one. Jacen grinned, as he tended to do, whenever he saw her use her prosthetic arm. After years of refusing to have one attached after a lightsaber accident had severed her left arm at the elbow, Tenel Ka had finally come to accept that allowing a prosthetic one to be attached was not a sign of personal weakness, but of strength. Her prosthetic arm functioned as well as the real one, so much so that people who did not know she had a prosthetic thought it was real.
"Where are we going?" Tenel Ka asked, taking his hand in hers and intertwining their fingers.
"To find Owen," Jacen grinned. "I want to tell him he gets two baby siblings! Either he's going to think that's the best news he's ever heard, or he's learned that two of them means twice as much mess and trouble."
"If they are anything like you and your sister," Tenel Ka smirked. "Then they will definitely be twice the trouble. Maybe more so."
"Hey, come on, we weren't that bad," Jacen protested.
"Correct," Tenel Ka replied. "You were not. You still are."
Jacen rolled his eyes as they started for their house. "I'm not the one running off and getting into trouble. Jaina's the one who insists on being partners with Kyp Durron."
"Jaina does have a reputation for finding danger," Tenel Ka agreed. "Let us hope that skill is not one she passes on to Padme and Anakin."
Jacen snorted. "If they're anything like their namesakes, I'd say they'll have no trouble finding dangerous situations to get involved in."
"Let us just be glad they are still young, yes?" Tenel Ka smiled. "They have a few years ahead of them before we have to start worrying about bounty hunters and crime syndicates."
"And crazy anti-human organizations," Jacen added with a wistful grin. "Those were the days."
"Those were the days we were being kidnapped by Dark Jedi, fighting to protect the Academy, trying to save the human race from extinction, and foiling Czenthros' plans," Tenel Ka corrected.
Jacen laughed. "Don't you miss those days?"
Tenel Ka eyed him appraisingly. "I think you are missing a large section of your brain."
That made Jacen laugh even harder. "And to think I used to worry you'd never develop a sense of humor."
"Oh, I had one, Jacen, my friend," Tenel Ka replied, grinning at him wickedly. "It was your jokes that were the problem. They were not funny at all."
Jacen feigned shock. "None of them? Not even the one about which side of the wampa is the furriest?"
"None of them," Tenel Ka replied gravely. "I am thankful that you seem to have abandoned your joking ways. I do not think I could have stood to hear that awful joke one more time."
Jacen opened his mouth to reply, when Owen cried out to them. They turned to see Tahiri walking towards them, their son in her arms.
"Owen!" Jacen grinned.
"Papa!" Owen cried happily. "Momma!"
"Hello, my son," Tenel Ka smiled, taking a squirming Owen from Tahiri's arms. "How was your lesson today?"
Owen made a face. "Bored," he said.
Jacen laughed. "I remember thinking the same thing about the lessons Mom used to give us."
"Momma, guess what?" Owen asked excitedly. "Guess!"
Tenel Ka smiled in amusement. "What is it, Owen?"
"Which side of wampa is furriest?" Owen asked, grinning expectantly.
Tenel Ka exchanged a dark look with Jacen. "This is your fault, you know."
Jacen just laughed.
was not a planet for sightseeing.
The planets itself was bland, average, with mountains, forests and swamps dotting the landscape. Along the equilateral line, however, was a vein of spaceports, famous for their no-questions-asked policy.
Which was exactly what they needed.
The bustling metropolis around them was made up of blocky prefab buildings with large flat rooftops and extended balconies. The balconies, Jaina had explained, were designed to let a small personal craft to launch secretly in the dead of night.
Smugglers, Valin thought to himself. Well, if we're pretending to be smugglers, I guess this is the place to be.
Jaina glanced at him and smiled, and Valin wondered if he had been broadcasting without realizing it. He gave Jaina a rueful smile, and she winked at him before turning her attention back to what Kyp was saying.
Valin felt his cheeks flush slightly. He liked Jaina, she was a great commander and a good friend. His first crush had been on her, and even though he no longer harbored any romantic feelings for Jaina, he still thought she was incredible. She was smart and beautiful, brave and daring, and she always cared about him and his opinions.
Even with her hair turned blond by the color crawlers, with her brown eyes now an icy blue, Valin thought Jaina looked amazing. She reminded him of his own girlfriend Syal Antilles, who had inherited her mother's long dark blond hair and blue eyes, only older and with a bit of Han Solo, Princess Leia and Master Skywalker mixed together.
Syal adored Jaina, which made Valin happy. He knew that some women were threatened by their boyfriend or husband flying under such an attractive commander, but Syal had never had any problems with it. She even teased him mercilessly about the mynock sized crush he used to have on her cousin's wife. If there was one downside to being with Syal it was that he didn't have to worry about anyone telling her stories about all the embarrassing childhood events, she had been there to witness them herself.
Valin's father and Syal's father had been shocked when their children suddenly had a new interest in one another, but Valin thought his mother and Iella had known all along what would happen. And they're not even Jedi, he thought with a smirk. Their mothers made no secret about the fact that they were thrilled to see their children together, and Syal's father, General Antilles, had even joked once that if Valin and Syal ever got married, they would have successfully tied all of the major families together in one gigantic web. Just imagine the family reunions we'd have, Valin's father had snickered. The Solos, the Fels, the Skywalkers, the Antilles and the Horns, all in one room. Our family tree would be longer than the Corellian Run.
In truth Valin thought he was still too young for them to talk about marriage, he was only twenty and Syal was only nineteen. They had only been seeing one another for about two years, with scattered visits in between Valin's missions and Syal's schooling. But that hadn't deterred his mother. She and Iella had snickered and reminded them that Jaina and Jag had gotten married when they were that age.
Valin felt a flicker of sadness well up inside of him at being so far away from Syal, but he quickly dampened it out. Now was not the time to be distracted by longing. Besides, he wasn't the only one missing someone. Jaina had to miss Jag even more. He was, after all, her husband.
And so are you, a voice in the back of his head reminded him. At least in theory for now. So play your part.
"Arwyn?" he asked, hesitancy creeping into his voice.
Jaina turned to look at him. "Yes, Letien?"
"I could really go for a drink," Valin said, trying to look cocky. He flashed her his own version of Han Solo's trademark smile. "Why don't we head into one of the pubs? Race and I can get ourselves some whiskey while you partake in some aggressive negotiations."
Jaina rolled her eyes but grinned at him. "You boys and your alcohol." She linked arms with Valin and batted her eyelashes up at him, in a manner that was inevitably fetching. "Lead the way, sweetheart," she drawled.
Valin couldn't help but smile at the "sweetheart" part. It was all he could do not to laugh.
"You're buying, Let," Kyp said. "I gave the last of my credits to my Sithspawned greedy little sister here." He nudged Jaina with his arm, a playful scowl on his face.
"I needed to get spare parts for the Bandit," Jaina snapped, in character. "Unless you wanted to do the repairs yourself, Race."
Kyp raised his hands in surrender. "I'll pass. No one does repairs better than Arwyn Sunflare."
Jaina smirked, and Valin wondered if it was at Kyp's performance or the surname. At first Valin had not seen the significance of it, but then it had occurred to him that it was a spinoff of her mother-in-law's stage name, Wynssa Starflare.
Jag will find that amusing, Valin told himself, filing it away in his memory to share that with Jag the next time he saw him.
"Stang straight," Jaina nodded curtly.
Kyp led the way to a seedy looking cantina across the block and gestured Jaina forward. "Ladies first and all that stuff," he said dryly.
"She's no lady," Valin smirked. "She's my wife."
Jaina smacked him lightly on the chest. "Hey, you're not exactly a gentlemen yourself, sweetheart."
Valin just grinned as Jaina led them to the bar in the back of the cantina. A couple of heads turned as they entered, mostly to see who had come in, but no one paid them much attention, save the men drooling over Jaina. Real husband or not, Valin thought in annoyance. I'm tempted to use the Force to make them avert their eyes.
Deciding it would still be in character for him to do so, Valin stepped closer to Jaina, looping an arm around her waist and pulling her closer to him, away from prying eyes. Jaina blinked, startled, then smiled knowingly and gave him a light kiss on the cheek in gratitude.
"What can I get you?" the bartender, a grizzly human male, asked, draping his towel over his shoulder and eyeing them appraisingly.
"Two flasks of your finest whiskey," Jaina said without hesitation. "Corellian if you have it. And a nudge in the right direction to find some information."
Valin was surprised that she was so outright about what they really wanted, but the bartender didn't seem bothered by it. He turned away from the counter and went to get their drinks. Jaina settled back on one of the barstools, turning to face the cantina crowd, resting her arms on the counter and crossing her legs.
As she scanned the crowd with laser intense eyes, Valin shifted uncomfortably. He didn't like the way some, most, of the males in the bar were looking at Jaina. From the glare in his eyes, neither did Kyp.
Should we do something? Valin asked him.
You're the husband, Kyp retorted. If she was really your wife, would you do something?
That was an easy answer, and a very obvious one, too. Valin turned and glared at the spectators, using the full weight of the Force to make his gaze seem even more dangerous and challenging. He was pleased, and proud, to see most of the men go back to their drinks and shady business deals and card games. One or two bold ones continued to watch Jaina lustfully, but as soon as Valin drew back his vest to rest his hand on the blaster at his hip, they, too, averted their eyes.
Impressive, Jaina told him, with a mental wink.
Valin felt his chest puff up at the praise. He heard the clink of glass and turned to find the bartender placing two flasks full of amber liquid before them. "Here's your drinks," he said in a raspy voice. He looked at Jaina. "As for your information, there's only one place to get solid trails 'round here. You gotta go see Lady Andris."
As in andris spice? Valin wondered silently.
"Can you tell me where to find her?" Jaina asked, and Valin heard the infliction of the Force in her words.
"Back room," the bartender answered. "You'll know her when you see her. She'll be the one who looks ready to take your head off at any moment."
"Thank you," Jaina said, flipping a coin onto the bar.
"Gotta warn you, though," the bartender said, pocketing the credits. "Don't try any funny business with her, or you'll wind up loosing an arm before you can blink."
Valin snorted. The idea of a woman getting the better of three Jedi Knights, one of whom was a Jedi Master, was ridiculous.
Jaina must have thought so, too, but she nodded gravely. "We wouldn't dream of trying anything. Thank you for your help." Tossing a pointed look at Valin and Kyp, she started for the back of the bar. Picking up their drinks, the two men followed her, glaring at anyone daring enough to glance up as Jaina walked by.
Jaina led the way to a door, with the words "Private: Enter at your own risk" engraved on the nameplate.
"Thinks highly of herself, this Lady Andris," Kyp commented wryly. "Doesn't she?"
Valin nodded. "Seems that way."
Jaina knocked on the door, and a cool, sharp, but decidedly feminine, voice called out, "What do you want?"
"Information," Jaina replied. "We were told you were the one to see."
"My kind of information doesn't come cheap," the woman snickered.
"We can pay you whatever you ask," Jaina said. Although Valin knew that this was not the case. If the woman would not agree to the price Jaina offered, Kyp would merely wave his hand and make it be enough.
The door slid open and Jaina shot Valin a smirk, grabbed his hand, and walked into the small office. It was dimly lit by one of two specterlights in the corner, adding a mysterious shroud to the dangerous vibe the room gave off. Surprisingly, though, Valin did not sense any danger from the woman herself.
Yet, he reminded himself.
The woman had her back to them, standing and staring out the transparisteel. Long dark hair hung down her back to mid thigh, startling streaks of honey blond weaving their way through her thick mane of disheveled hair. She was dressed in a pair of brown fighting pants and a jade colored formfitting sleeveless top.
She turned to face them and Valin blinked, shocked at how alluring she was. Her face was narrow, her almond shaped eyes dark and confident. A patterned leather band wrapped around her forehead, keeping her wild hair out of her face.
Valin found his attention divided between staring at her, and at the tattoo on her right shoulder, a detailed image of a piranha beetle.
Jaina let out a dry laugh of amazement. "I don't believe it," she said, shaking her head, a smile crawling onto her face. "Anja Gallandro."
Antilles looked up as his nephew strolled into his office, looking weary,
annoyed and frustrated.
Oh Force, Wedge thought. I just hope I'm not the reason. He had already dealt with Syal and Myri that day, both of whom were upset about something or other. Wedge didn't really know. Between all the whining and complaining, he had caught the words "Valin" and "bored" from Syal, and "stupid" and "tutor" from Myri. From what he gathered, Syal found her classes at the university boring and missed Valin, while Myri was just fed up with her tutor.
"I would have thought you would be home by now," Jag commented, glancing at the chrono on the wall. "It's late. The girls will be asleep by the time you get home."
"I know," Wedge replied dryly. "That's why I'm still here."
A slight smirk tugged at Jag's lips. "Yes, Aunt Iella did mention something abut the girls giving you a bit of grief today."
"A bit?" Wedge scoffed. "More like a storm of it. Good luck when Padme hits her teenage years, Jagged. You're going to need it."
Now Jag did smirk. "I have no doubt. She is not only a girl, but a Jedi, too, remember? I have little doubt that she will be the death of me."
"That or the boy who secretly marries her behind your back," Wedge said with a wink. "I'm glad to see you got back safely. There were no problems on the trip back to Coruscant?"
Jag shook his head. "No, sir. I think one would have to be pretty arrogant to attack a Star Destroyer with Rogue Squadron and two of Bespin's finest squadrons on hand."
"Not to mention stupid," Wedge agreed.
"Speaking of stupid," Jag said, glaring at him. "Wes Janson sends his regards."
Wedge grinned. "Does he now?"
Jag shot him a dirty look. "Don't even try to pretend that you weren't aware of his presence on Bespin," he said. "I know you knew he was there."
Wedge shrugged, smiling. "It slipped my mind. My apologies."
Jag nodded. "You're forgiven. Besides, Jaina knew, too, and she didn't warn me, either." He smiled faintly. "So I figure if I forgive her, I have to forgive you, too."
"Thank you," Wedge said.
"You might not thank me after what I have to say next," Jag smirked. "I brought someone back to see you. An old Rogue of your, I believe."
Wedge studied him through narrowed eyes. "If you brought Wes back with you so he could drive me crazy..."
Jag shook his head, amused. "I could not have tolerated him for the journey back. I believe you will find his presence much more pleasant than Captain Janson's."
Before Wedge could ask who it was, a familiar figure stepped into the office. The man was older, about Wedge's age, with a wiry frame and ash blond hair. His features were sharp and narrow, lines around his eyes and mouth, but Wedge would have known him anywhere.
"Hobbie!" he cried in surprise.
Hobbie grinned. "Pleasure to see you again, sir."
Wedge gestured for Jag to shut the door and stood to embrace his old friend. "How are you? What have you been up to? Were you out on Bespin with Wes?"
"I'm fine," Hobbie answered with a grin. "I've been training a bunch of kids to fly, and yes, I was out on Bespin with Wes. Unfortunately."
Wedge laughed, gesturing his friend to sit down. "I can sympathize, I assure you." He opened his bottom drawer and lifted out a bottle of Corellian whiskey and sat it on the desk, reaching back into he drawer for the glasses he kept there.
Jag frowned, peering at the bottle. "Isn't that the whiskey Jaina gave me for our anniversary?" he asked.
Wedge grinned. "You're not supposed to keep alcohol in your office, Colonel. Dereliction of duty. I had to confiscate it."
Jag snorted. "Gavin always kept some in his office, and so did you and Tycho."
Wedge raised an eyebrow. "How do you know that?"
Jag smirked. "Jaina told me."
I knew we shouldn't have opened our alcohol drawer with Jaina in the room back when she joined the Rogues, Wedge thought with a groan. He pulled out a third glass and handed it to Jag.
Jag grinned and poured himself some of the whiskey. "Thank you," he said.
"You're a sneaky little Colonel, aren't you?" Hobbie laughed.
"Yes," Wedge agreed. "He is. Very sneaky."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Jag waved a hand dismissively. He took a sip of the amber liquid, then frowned, looking back at Wedge. "I wanted to speak to you about going to Naboo."
Wedge sighed. "Jag, I don't think it's a good idea for the kids to come back to Coruscant right now. There's just too much going on, too much dangerous stuff."
"I agree," Jag said.
Wedge blinked in surprise. "You do?"
Jag nodded. "That is why I wish to go there. I want to visit with Anakin and Padme for a day or two, just so they don't forget what I look like. I would also like to speak to the Jedi Council while I'm there. I think that if we allied our scouting teams with theirs, we could find and destroy the Revolutionaries weaponry bases much quicker and more efficiently."
Wedge glanced at Hobbie, offering a glass of whiskey. "I take it Wes told him about the bases we've discovered already?"
Hobbie nodded, taking the whiskey from him. "Our squadrons all know, so we felt Jag needed to, as well. So that he could make informed decisions."
"I was going to tell him when he returned, anyway," Wedge replied. He shot Jag an apologetic glance. "I would have told you before I sent you, but the last meeting we had was with the Remnant and the Chiss present. I didn't want to divulge anything in front of them."
Jag nodded. "I understand. I am not offended, if that's what you're worried about. I would have done the same thing in your position."
"Glad to hear that," Wedge responded. He sipped his whiskey. "I think that you should go to Naboo," he said after a long moment. "You haven't seen your children in a while, and I know I've been keeping you busy. It would do you some good to visit them."
"Thank you," Jag said, sounding relieved. "Anakin has been upset with me lately, since we've been ferrying them back and forth between Coruscant and Naboo. Jaina said he was eager to see me, I don't want to upset him further by not seeing him for another month or two."
Wedge nodded, biting his lip thoughtfully. He understood Jag's dilemma. Having your children so far away, especially at such a young age and for such long periods of time, was disheartening. Add that to Anakin's growing discontent with his father's job keeping his parents so far away, and it was enough to make any father feel frustrated.
"Have you spoken to Jaina about some of the things he's aid to you?" Wedge asked evenly. He took great pride and pleasure in the fact that his nephew considered him close enough to discuss personal issues with him, and he wanted to help in any way he could.
Jag sighed. "No. Not yet. If she gets involved, he''ll definitely stop making those comments, but it won't keep him from feeling the way he does, and that's what really bothers me."
"I know," Wedge said, shaking his head. He recalled some of the conversations between Jag and Anakin that Jag had relayed to him, and he felt bad for Jag. Anakin wasn't being mean or spiteful, he was just voicing his opinion and expressing how he felt, but that didn't make it any less painful. The last time Anakin and Jag had argued about their living arrangements, Anakin had actually declared that if Jag loved him and Padme, he would want to live with them, but since he didn't he must not love them.
Wedge knew Anakin didn't believe that. He knew, just by being around the boy, that Anakin knew how much his father loved him. And Anakin adored his father, too, but a five year old boy could say hurtful things when he was hurting, just like anyone else.
"I don't think Jaina needs to get involved," Jag said. "This is already painful for her. She hated being separated from her parents when she was a child, and she resented it for most of her teenage years. She wants to be with them, but she doesn't say so because she doesn't want to hurt me."
"She wants to move to Naboo?" Hobbie asked quietly.
Jag nodded. "She hasn't said so, but I know my wife. She wants to live among the Jedi so we can have the children in our house all the time. She feels like she hasn't been a real mother to them with them so far away."
"Maybe she's not the only one who feels like they're failing in their parenting duties," Hobbie offered gently. "It seems to me that you feel like you haven't been a good enough father to Anakin and Padme, and that's why you get defensive when Anakin calls you on it. Because you're scared that you aren't being a good father, and you're terrified your children will resent you for it when they're older."
Wedge looked at Hobbie in surprise. Not many people would dare to try and play psychologist with Jag Fel, even those who knew him well. And Hobbie had only met him on Bespin. Wedge almost expected Jag to become defensive and get offended, but when he didn't, Wedge realized just how tired Jag really was.
"You're right," Jag said wearily.
"Then why don't you move to Naboo?" Hobbie asked.
"I can't abandon my station," Jag protested. "Rogue Squadron can't function as well if we're based so far away from the capital."
"You never know unless you try," Hobbie replied. "And if it doesn't work out, at least Anakin would know that you tried. He probably doesn't think you're making any effort at all. Kids don't see the fine print, only the bold letters."
Jag looked thoughtful, his brow furrowed in concentration.
Wedge raised an eyebrow at Hobbie. "When did you become such an expert on children, Hobbie? You don't have any kids, and I don't remember you ever having spent much time around them."
Hobbie shook his head. "I haven't." A grin lit his face. "But I have, however, spent a lot of time around Wes. And there's no one who knows more about acting like a five year old than Wes."
tugged at his sister's hand. "Come on, Padme," he said. "Hurry
up before someone sees us, okay?"
Padme glared up at him from beneath dark bangs. "I am hurrying, Ankin!" she said, inflicting his nickname with annoyance. "I just got shorter legs than you do, that's all!"
Anakin sighed, knowing she was right. A year older, he was able to run quicker because he had longer legs, and Padme was trying, he knew that. He also knew he should be more patient with her. She was doing her best to keep up, and he didn't want to leave her behind. He liked having her around, she was a lot of fun.
"Just be glad we didn't bring Owen, then," Ben grinned. "His legs are even shorter. There's no way he could keep up with us."
Anakin nodded at his cousin. At seven, Ben was a little taller than Anakin, but they were best friends, so that didn't matter. Owen, however, was only three, and he could barely pad along fast enough to keep them in sight. For what they were doing, they needed to all stick together and move as fast as possible.
"My foot hurts, Anakin," Padme said softly.
Anakin frowned. She had banged her foot on one of the marble pillars when they were playing tag that morning, but she had not complained about it until then. "I'm sorry, Pady," he said, squeezing her hand. "Do you want to go back? We can if you want to."
Anakin didn't want to go back. He wanted to play in the meadow. But if Padme's foot really hurt that bad, then he wanted to take her to get it looked at. Aunt Tahiri would make it better for her.
"No," Padme shook her head. "Wanna go with you and Ben to the meadow. Don't wanna go back. It's nice outside."
Anakin smiled. It was nice out, but he had a suspicion that the real reason Padme wanted to keep going was because she knew that they did. "Okay," he said. "If you want to play in the meadow, we'll play in the meadow."
He glanced at Ben expectantly. Ben turned back to face him. "It's all clear," Ben told him. "I didn't see anyone around."
Anakin didn't need to ask which kind of seeing he meant. All three of them were strong in the Force, and they always used both sets of sight to look at their surroundings. If Ben said it was okay to go, then it was okay to go.
"On three, then," Anakin said, tightening his hold on Padme's hand. Ben took her other hand in his, grinning down at her. "One ... two..."
"Three!" Padme cried softly, knowing to keep her voice down so no one heard them.
The three of them took off for the tree line ahead, running as fast as their little legs would carry them. They sprinted across the rocks and darted forward into the forest. They came to a stop, ducking behind a large tree trunk, and listening carefully to see if anyone had seen them.
They were not supposed to go to the meadow by themselves. They were not supposed to do a lot of things they did. Uncle Jacen said it was too dangerous to go to the meadow alone, but Anakin thought he was just being an adult. Adults never let you have any fun.
"I think we're okay," Ben said after a long moment of silence. He grinned at them, his golden copper hair glistening in the sunlight. "Let's go catch flutterbugs."
Flutterbugs were winged bugs that came in all sorts of pretty colors. They were hard to catch, but not for them. They could use their powers to calm them down enough to let them hold them. The challenge for Ben and Anakin was in getting them to trust them, Padme was content to just hold them and star at the colorful designs on their wings.
They went to the meadow to chase flutterbugs a lot, but no one knew that. They weren't supposed to use their powers without one of the adults present, although Uncle Luke said they could use them to soothe animals when they were playing, so they knew they were allowed to catch the flutterbugs that way, but they weren't allowed to use their powers for anything but small things like that unless one of the Jedi adults said it was okay.
Luckily, one of the adults was always willing to work with them on their Force skills, so it wasn't hard to find someone to watch whenever they wanted to use their powers. Uncle Jacen, Gramma, Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara helped them with their lessons, and Master Kam, Master Tionne and Zekk were always teaching them new skills in their classes. Even Uncle Kyp and Mama found time to work with them on their powers when they were home.
Anakin couldn't wait till Mama came back from her mission. He wanted to show her all the new things he'd learned. She was always so happy to see what he was learning, and she would teach him new games to play with the Force. Papa liked to watch, too, and was impressed with how quickly Anakin and Padme both mastered their lessons, but Papa wasn't home very often. His job kept him gone for long periods of time, and even when they visited him on Coruscant, he was busy most of the time.
Anakin knew his Papa wanted to spend more time with him, he could tell with his powers, but he couldn't figure out why his Papa didn't. If he really wanted to, couldn't he just find a way to do it then? Master Kam was always telling him that if you set your mind to something, you could find a way to do it.
Anakin just didn't understand grown ups sometimes.
"I wanna purple one this time!" Padme cried. "You caught me a green one last time, Ben. Can you get me a purple one now?"
Ben smiled down at Anakin's sister. "Sure, Pady," he promised. "I'll try my best, okay?"
Padme shook her head. "'Do or do not, there's no try'," she said with a grin.
Anakin couldn't help but beam proudly at his sister. "You've been listening to Master Tionne's lessons, Padme."
Padme nodded. "And Uncle Luke. He likes to use that when I say I can't do anything."
"Something," Ben corrected gently. "When you can't do something."
Padme cocked her head sideways, as if trying to figure out the difference, then shrugged. "Something," she said, agreeing with him, which she usually did.
I hope no one knows we're not going to class, Anakin thought. He didn't want to get into trouble with his Uncle Luke, but as long as they didn't stay too long, they would be back in time for their afternoon class and no one would know that they had snuck off to the meadow.
"Hey, Padme, wanna race?" Anakin asked his sister. "We'll give you a head start."
Padme narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "You aren't trying to get rid of me so you can talk are you?" she asked.
Anakin blinked, amazed as always at his sister's ability to sense what was going on around her. "I just want to ask Ben something," he promised. "Go ahead and find a purple flutterbug and we'll catch it for you, okay?"
Padme nodded. "'Kay." She hurried on ahead, and Anakin smiled as he heard her cries of delight as she ran into the meadow swarming with flutterbugs.
Ben looked at him expectantly. "What is it?"
"We need to be quick," Anakin said. "Zekk will know if we aren't there when class starts. And he'll tell your Papa."
"Right," Ben said, his eyes widening slightly at the prospect of his father finding out what they had been doing. "Okay. We go catch Padme her purple flutterbug, then we'll both catch one for ourselves, and then we'll head back."
"Good," Anakin said. "Let's try to be-"
Padme's cry spliced the air, and it was not a happy one. Anakin and Ben lurched forward, their hearts pounding and their minds whirling in terror. "Padme!" Anakin shouted. "Padme!"
They burst into the meadow to find Padme running towards them, her braid flying out behind her. "Bad men!" she yelled frantically. "Bad men!"
Behind her were several adults dressed in green, and in their hands were blasters pointed at his sister. Anakin reached out to try to nudge the blasters, but felt a sharp pain in the back of his neck, and everything went fuzzy.
Ben cried out, and he heard a thud beside him. He tried to call to his sister, but found he didn't have the strength.
He heard Padme cry out his name, and felt his knees hit the ground, and then everything went dark.
smiled in amusement as Anja blinked in surprise. The older woman studied her in
confusion, and Jaina remembered that she had her disguise on still.
"Do I know you?" Anja asked guardedly.
Jaina smiled. "Something like that." She looked back at the open door and waved her fingers slightly, using the Force to slide the door shut.
Anja let out a hiss of surprise. "Jedi," she murmured. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Were you at the Academy when I stayed there for a while?"
"She stayed at the Academy?" Valin asked, and Jaina did not miss the annoyance that Anja had not stayed there while he was a student.
"Yes," Jaina replied. "She did." She met Anja's probing gaze and smirked. "So, Anja, whatever happened to that position Lando gave you?"
Anja's face twitched in confusion, then her eyes, which were already amazingly wide, got even wider. "Jaina?" she gasped.
Jaina laughed. "In the flesh." Touching her blond hair, she amended ruefully, "Sort of anyway."
Anja threw her arms around her and drew her into a hug, which Jaina returned fiercely. "What did you do to your hair?" Anja demanded.
"Undercover," Jaina said. "Like it?"
Anja wrinkled her nose. "I like it brown better. You look nothing like Jaina Solo."
"Exactly what I was going for," Jaina replied with a smile.
"You're on a Jedi mission?" Anja asked. "Or is this a military mission?"
Jaina blinked in surprise. "How did you know that?"
Anja laughed. "I may not have been in contact with you in a few years, Jaina, but I do get the HoloNet. I know all about you joining Rogue Squadron when you turned sixteen, and all about you leading Twin Suns squadron in the Vong war and after." Her expression falter and Jaina sensed sadness well up in the older woman. "I heard about Anakin, too," she said softly. "I'm sorry."
Jaina cringed inwardly, the empty place in her heart that belonged to her brother throbbing, but she forced a smile. "Thank you. That means a lot."
And it did. Especially since things had been so rocky with Anja when they first met. It was nice to see that even after all these years the woman had not forgotten all that they had been through together.
Jaina's eyes widened. "Lady Andris?" she demanded. "Anja, you aren't back on andris spice again, are you?"
Anja snorted. "No. Don't worry about that. I chose the name because it sounds shady, and it reminds me what my mistakes have cost me."
Jaina nodded, relieved. "Good. I was worried for a moment."
Anja smiled. "Thank you. But there's no need to." She looked past her at Valin and Kyp. "And who are these two? Don't tell me one of them is really Raynar or Zekk in disguise."
Jaina laughed. "No. The one on the left is Kyp Durron." Anja's eyes went wide, and Jaina snickered to herself. I take it she's heard of you, she thought to Kyp dryly. "And this," she gestured at Valin. "Is Valin Horn."
Anja nodded at them both. "Pleased to meet you." She glanced at Jaina curiously. "Where are Jacen and Zekk and the others?"
"On Naboo," Jaina replied. "The Jedi base is there now."
"How is everyone?" Anja asked, gesturing for them to all sit down. "I hear Tenel Ka and Jacen got married."
Jaina nodded, smiling. "You heard right. They have a son, named Owen."
Anja smiled back at her, and Jaina could tell that the woman was quite pleased to hear that. "And you?" she asked. "I seem to recall something about you eloping at nineteen?" She raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
Jaina smiled ruefully. "Jag and I have two children. A daughter named Padme and a son named Anakin."
"Jaina, that's wonderful," Anja said softly, her eyes bright. She reached across the desk and squeezed Jaina's hand. "I'm so glad for you."
"You should come to Naboo sometime," Jaina told her. "I'd love for you to meet Jag and see the kids, and I'm sure the others would love to see you, too."
Anja nodded, an eager smile on her pretty face. "I think I will. I'd like to see everyone again sometime. It's been so long."
"It really has," Jaina agreed.
Kyp cleared his throat, jolting both women out of their conversation. "Sorry to interrupt, Jaina," he said. "But we are on a mission and we do have information to gather. The sooner we get this mission over with, the sooner Anja can come to visit Naboo and you women can sit around and do your nails all day while you gossip your little hearts out."
Jaina glared at him. "Sit around and do our nails?" she echoed.
"Gossip our little hearts out?" Anja asked, scowling.
"Kyp," Valin said. "Shut up before they kill us both."
Kyp opened his mouth to reply, then, wisely, shut it. Jaina nodded smugly, then turned back to Anja. "As my partner so tactfully put it, we need information."
Anja nodded, all business. "Of course," she replied, leaning forward. "I take it you want whatever I have on the Revolutionaries?"
"You sure you aren't a Jedi?" Jaina teased with a smile. She bit her lip, suddenly frustrated. The plan had been to use the Force to sway their information dealer into accepting a minimal price, but she didn't feel right doing that to Anja. "We can pay you whatever we have on us, and get the rest to you later if it's not enough."
Anja waved her off. "No need. It's on the house."
Jaina frowned. "Anja, you don't have to do this because we're friends."
Anja scoffed. "I'm not. You're the one-thousandth customer. You get a free deal."
Jaina didn't need the Force to know she was lying, but she was touched by Anja's generosity, so she nodded. "Uh huh," she said, smirking slightly.
Anja winked at her, then straightened up. "I've got a lot of little stuff on them, not anything drastic. Is there anything in particular you're looking for?"
"Weapons base," Kyp replied. "The big one."
Anja's brow furrowed in concentration. "Let me think a minute." After a long pause, she reached into her drawer and pulled out a flimsiplast and slid it towards Jaina. "I don't know if it's a weapons base or not, but my sources say there's a fairly large compound out there, with some definite ties to the Revolutionaries."
Jaina pocketed the data pad. "It's worth a look or two."
"I've got coordinates for a few small bases that I know have weaponry in them," Anja said, producing three more flimsies from her desk. She handed them to Jaina. "I think they might help some. I hope that they do."
Jaina slipped them into her pocket with the other flimsy. "I'm sure we can use them." She smiled at Anja. "Thank you. I know how much free information can cost you in this business."
Anja shrugged. "It's not that much. And I don't like the Revolutionaries any more than I like the Peace Brigade."
"I hate those guys," Kyp muttered darkly.
Me too, Jaina thought. She stood and extended her hand to Anja. "It was great to see you again, Anja. I hope you'll take me up on that offer to come visit us on Naboo sometime soon."
Anja squeezed her hand. "I will. You can count on it." She pulled Jaina into a hug. "Tell your brother and Zekk I said hello, will ya?"
Jaina nodded. "I will. And thank you again, Anja. You may have just helped save the Jedi."
"Don't be too sure," Anja said dejectedly. "The large base they found isn't anywhere around here, and we don't know for sure if it's even still in use."
"We can check it out after we send the coordinates for the weapons bases to my uncle," Jaina replied. "You don't know the exact location of the larger base, do you?"
Anja shook her head. "It's in uncharted territory."
Jaina frowned. "Where at?"
"The Unknown Regions."
The telepathic cry came from Padme Fel, echoing furiously in Jacen Solo's head.
He leapt to his feet, knocking over the table in front of him and spilling his drink across the floor. Without hesitating, or thinking, he shoved off from the table and broke into a run across the pavilion, ignoring Tenel Ka's cries of surprise and the questions being shouted at him as he ran past the other Jedi in the courtyard.
He didn't know where he was going, but the Force was screaming in his veins, urging him toward an unknown destination. His heart was pounding madly in his chest, his breath burned his throat.
He pushed himself as hard as his body could stand, and then pushed himself harder. He had to move faster. He had to.
Something was wrong with Padme.
He didn't know what, but he knew she there was something wrong. Her terrified scream for help had come so suddenly and so sharply, only to be silenced immediately and darkness left in its wake. Jacen knew she was in trouble.
He also knew that Ben and Anakin were with her. Somehow she had managed to convey that much clearly with her short plea for help before slipping unconscious. He knew she was still alive, that much he was certain of. If she had been killed he would have felt it. Regardless of even ysalamari, he would feel it if she died.
Just because she's alive now doesn't mean she'll stay that way, a voice in the back of his head reminded him, but he silenced the grim truth, unwilling to accept it, or even hear it.
He sprinted through the trees, weaving in and out of their gnarled branches and leaping over fallen logs. He heard the pounding of feet behind him and didn't need the Force to know that his uncle Luke and Mara were right behind him.
Jacen couldn't breathe, he was so frightened. His niece and nephew and his cousin were in danger, terrible danger. He didn't know what had happened, but he knew it was something horrible.
For Padme to have screamed like that... Jacen said to himself, but could not bring himself to finish the terrifying thought. Padme would be okay. Anakin would be okay. Ben would be okay. They had to be. How could he tell Jaina something had happened to her children?
The forest narrowed and the sunlight streaming through the trees exploded into a wave of bright light as Jacen burst form the forest and into the meadow.
He didn't know why he had come there, only that the Force had guided him.
He ran towards the center of the meadow where a brown cloth lay limp on the grass. He knew before he got to it that it was a Jedi robe, a very small Jedi robe for a very small Jedi person.
As he drew closer, he recognized it as Padme's. It was torn and there was blood on the sleeve, suggesting that there had been a struggle between the little girl and their attackers.
"Oh Force," Luke murmured, his voice startling Jacen.
Jacen looked up at his uncle, his face grim. "Uncle Luke," he said weakly. He tried to find words, but none would come to him. he saw realization in Luke's eyes, and the most frightened look Jacen could ever remember seeing in his uncle's eyes.
Mara pushed past Luke and frantically scanned the meadow, her flaming red hair whipping around her face. "Ben!" she shouted desperately. "Ben! Anakin! Padme! Answer me!" Her face contorted in anguish. "Ben!"
Jacen swallowed, a lump rising up in his throat, so tight he found he could not breathe. "Aunt Mara..." he said hoarsely.
Mara turned to him, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her eyes were red-rimmed and full of a pain so deep Jacen could only imagine what it was be like. It wasn't hard, if someone had done this to his son Owen...
"They took them," she said, her voice breaking. She whirled to her husband, her eyes frantic and pleading. "Luke, they took our son!"
Luke nodded, his face a weary mask to conceal his agony. "I know, Mara," he said, opening his arms to embrace her. He rested his head on hers, and Jacen felt their pain blur together through the Force into a blindingly intense storm.
Looking away, Jacen felt his own eyes stinging with tears. He felt helpless, angry, devastated and filled with a terrible sorrow. Is this how Uncle Luke felt all those times we were kidnapped? he wondered with a shudder of anguish.
Another thought, much more bleak and terrifying, shattered his restraint and causing tears to slide down his cheeks. What am I going to tell Jaina? How do I tell my sister her children are gone?
"Who...?" Mara demanded, her voice shaking. "Who would do such a thing?"
Jacen clutched Padme's robe to his chest, his tears spilling onto the sandy colored cloth. Through the haze of tears, he saw a flash of green, and blinked, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. He shook out Padme's robe and a piece of cloth fluttered to the ground, landing at his feet in the trampled grass.
He stared down at the torn piece of green cloth, his blood thawing with a blazing fury. He reached down and picked up the cloth between his fingers, his hands trembling with anger. He fingered the cloth for a moment, making sure it was what he thought it was, then clenched it angrily in his fist.
He looked up at his uncle, who was comforting Mara, his own eyes red with unshed tears. "Uncle Luke," Jacen said, his voice cracking with rage.
Luke raised his head and Jacen held out the piece of cloth for him to inspect. Luke looked down at it and Jacen saw his mask slip away, a cold fury flickering across his face.
"What is it?" Mara croaked, turning her tear-streaked face to look at Jacen. She saw the fabric and her green eyes went wide with unbridled hatred.
Jacen felt a chill go through him, and realized, with a start, that it was from Mara. Her lips twisted into a fierce scowl, one that made Jacen fully appreciate the reputation she had built when she was the Emperor's Hand.
Mara grabbed the cloth from his hand and shredded it with a shriek of fury.
"I've had enough of them!" she screamed. "I've had enough! It's time for us to finish them, Luke! It's time for us to take the fight to them and start hurting them!"
She whirled, her eyes a tortured inferno of grief and rage, like nothing Jacen had ever known.
"I want the Peace Brigade finished if I have to tear the breath out of every one of them with my bare hands!" she snarled.
"I agree with you," Luke said, his voice more cold than Jacen would have ever imagined possible. "It's time for us to finish this."
He glared at the fallen pieces of shredded Peace Brigade uniform, then raised his icy gaze to the sky overhead.
"Once and for all."
sent, Goddess," Kyp called from the copilot's seat.
Jaina nodded in relief. "Thank you, Kyp. I appreciate that. Did you encrypt it?"
Kyp scoffed. "Did I marry you and Jag without your father's permission? Of course I encrypted it. I used the Council's private code. No one except for Kam, Streen, Tresina, Cilghal, Corran, Kenth or your aunt or uncle will be able to read that message. I promise."
"I trust you," Jaina assured him. "If you say no one else can read it, no one else can read it."
"Well," Kyp admitted. "Maybe you could. But only because you could probably snatch the code right out of my head."
"How do you know I haven't done that already?" Jaina demanded wryly.
"I'm the Jedi Master here, remember?" Kyp shot back. "Besides, our link is so open I'd know right away, because you'd be basking in the glory of outsmarting me."
"I wasn't aware I had to try to do that," Jaina retorted.
"I wasn't aware anyone had to try to do that," Valin Horn snickered.
Jaina grinned to herself, laughing silently at the look of indignation on Kyp's face. Just as Kyp was about to reply, Jaina cut in. "Alright boys, that's enough. If you're that desperate to continue this conversation, do it in your heads. Some of us would like to just sit back and enjoy the view."
Silence fell over the cockpit, and Jaina heard Alema let out a relieved sigh from behind her. "Thank the Force you shut him up, Jaina," she called. "I was afraid I was going to have to shoot down one of our own."
"That would be a blessing if it was Durron," Octa snickered.
Can I please shoot her? Kyp drawled wryly.
Jaina smiled despite herself. No. We'd be short a pilot then. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not be flying around blind in the Unknown Regions with less than a full team.
Kyp gave a mental sigh. Why do you always have to be rational when I want to have fun? And why can't you be rational any other time?
Kyp? Jaina said.
Jaina leaned back in her seat, relaxing for a moment. Her squadron, aboard the Sky Bandit, was drifting through space in the Unknown Regions, scouting out the empty range of stars and scattered planets for signs of civilization.
So far they had found nothing.
Glancing once more at the green planet below, a jungle terrain, she assumed, Jaina sighed, closing her eyes wearily. She had not expected to see Anja on Ord Mantel, although it did not escape her as ironic that that was where she had first met her all those years ago. She hoped that Anja would make it to Naboo sometime soon. The others would love to see her again, and she really did want to introduce her to Jag and the kids.
A small smile touched Jaina's lips at the thought of seeing her children and Jag together again. It had been a while. Even longer still that they had all been together on Naboo.
Jag had been right when he said that Jaina would be happier on Naboo. She would be. She missed being close to her family, to her children, to Kyp. She missed being at the center of Jedi life and activity.
But she would never ask Jag to make the kind of sacrifice she knew moving to Naboo would entail for him. She had too much respect for him and for what he did, and for what that meant to him. He had left the Chiss for her, joined the Republic for her, risked his father's wrath over and over to be with her. He had made so many sacrifices for their marriage, she could make this one.
It was hard, though, being away from her children, especially when she knew that all she had to so was ask and Jag would agree to move. He loved her that much. Which was why she never said aloud that she would be happier on Naboo, which is why she never asked.
She knew that if she did...
A sharp cry sliced through Jaina's thoughts, dim and faint, but scared.
Padme?! Jaina thought in panic.
She reached out for her daughter, only to find her in a deep sleep. Frowning, Jaina drew back her touch.
She must be having a nightmare, she thought with a pang of guilt for not being there to console her daughter. At least Anakin is there. He'll wake up and comfort her.
She was about to say something to Kyp about it, when the display board lit up and the alarms began to shriek wildly.
Jaina lurched forward, scanning the display frantically. "Sithspawn!" she cursed.
"What?" Kyp demanded, looking over his shoulder. His face went pale. "Oh Sith!"
"What's wrong?" Tam's voice called.
"We've got company," Kyp replied grimly. "And they're targeting us with visan torps."
A dozen curses filled the ship, and Jaina felt a surge of apprehension and fear from her squadron. "Hey, could you guys knock that off?" she snapped. "It'll only get us killed."
Instantly a door slammed shut on the emotions of her pilots, and Jaina relaxed a little. Not much, but a little.
She checked the display again, and saw Valin had gotten their shields up to thirty percent. She also noticed that the incoming battle cruiser now had a target lock on them.
"Strap in," she ordered sharply. "Now."
She heard them scrambling to buckle their crash webbing, even as she gripped the throttle tightly, pumping it as hard as she could. She threw the Bandit into a snap roll, then pumped the throttle to maximum, kicking the rudder to the right, then hard left, turning the ship into a brutal one-eighty.
She heard groans as she pulled another sharp turn that brought them out straight with a hard jolt. She vectored away from the battle cruiser at full throttle, straining the Bandit in a grueling seventy-five degree angle.
She knew the g's were pressing the others back into their seats, but Jaina barely noticed. She gritted her teeth, focusing on nothing except the battle cruiser before her.
She would have missed it entirely, if the Force hadn't screamed a warning. A second battle cruiser, and then a third, emerging from thin air.
"Cloaking shield!" Kyp shouted angrily.
But why didn't we feel those ships here? Jaina demanded, not able to risk loosing focus by speaking out loud.
I don't know, Kyp replied grimly. And I'm afraid to find out.
If she hadn't been fighting to outmaneuver three battle cruisers, fighting to save all their lives, Jaina might have made a joke about the mighty Kyp Durron being afraid.
However, since she was fighting for their lives, she figured she could let the opportunity slide, just this once.
She pulled back on the stick, lifting the Bandit's nose, then shoved it forward, dropping into a sudden inverted loop. She broke into a tight snap roll, kicked into a desperate fishtail, and fired wildly with the cannons, even thought she knew they would have little affect on a battle cruiser.
She had to try, though, didn't she?
She jerked the ship into a barrel roll, coming around hard on starboard side. She felt the shot before it hit them, and tried with one last desperate attempt at a climb to avoid it, but the missiles fired were target seekers.
They never stood a chance.
"Brace!" Jaina shouted a warning a second before the ship shook wildly. The lights flickered and alarms screeched incessantly. "What's our shield status?" she demanded.
"Down to nearly eight percent," Valin replied with a quiet desolation in his voice.
Jaina clenched her jaws tightly, her arms straining furiously. She cut a turn away from the battle cruiser that had fired on them, but the second and third had closed in on her, and the Bandit was boxed in.
Fire poured into the shields, and Jaina felt a wave of dread wash through her as one of the drives started to sputter, and one bank of attitude jest shut down.
"They're targeting!" Kyp cried, his voice starting to betray some of his panic.
Out of the corner of Jaina's eye, she saw that the planet was coming up at them fast. The Bandit was going down, and going down fast.
And the ironic thing was, it was probably that that would save their lives.
Throwing all her weight against the stick, Jaina shoved the Bandit into a kamikaze dive for the planet below.
The battle cruisers had definitely not been expecting that, and two of the cruisers struck one another with their high powered missiles.
The explosion rocked the Bandit, but Jaina held it as steady as she could, which was saying something given how the ship lurched and trembled as it breached atmosphere at an alarming speed.
Jaina felt her companion's terror, felt them wondering if she had decided crashing to death was better than letting their enemies blow them up, felt them wishing they had said goodbye to their loved ones and to their friends.
Jaina shut it out, shut all of them out, even Kyp.
She had to concentrate, had to do this perfectly, because one tiny slip would cost them all their lives.
I just hope I can do this, she thought grimly. If I can't we're all going to die a lot sooner than we'd been planning.
She pulled back on the stick, fighting desperately to level the ship out enough to prevent crashing nosefirst into the jungle that was rushing up at them. Her arms strained, her heart pounded furiously, every cell in her body screamed with effort.
The green canopy loomed below her, and just as it seemed they would crash directly into it, the Bandit leveled off just barely, skimming the trees. They were still going down, and hard, but it was enough to keep them from turning into a massive fireball.
The Bandit slammed into the ground, shaking Jaina's very bones upon impact. The ship whined in protest, barely holding together, and skidded across the dirt and vines, metal screeching as it was torn off, and sparks flying wildly throughout the ship.
Her passengers elicited screams of terror as the approached a cliff ahead, still tearing up the jungle and their ship at a deadly speed.
Making a quick decision, Jaina threw back her crash webbing. "Out!" she shouted at her squadron. "We have to jump for it!"
She heard the others unbuckle quickly and heard the familiar hiss of a lightsaber carving a hole in the side of the hull. Jaina did not move from her seat, straining at the controls to buy her friends time to escape.
"Go!" she ordered, and she heard thuds and yelps of pain as bodies launched themselves out of the ship.
"Jaina," Kyp said, and Jaina risked a glance over her shoulder to see he was the only one still aboard, hesitating at the makeshift door.
"Go!" she shouted at him.
"Not without you!" Kyp screamed over the roar of the devastation they were causing.
Damn you, Kyp, Jaina cursed to herself. Drawing the Force to herself, she reached and shoved him as hard as she could. She was satisfied to see him fly out of the ship, and ignored his scream of anger.
Turning back to the controls, Jaina was horrified to find the cliff was just before her. She slapped her hand on the autopilot, not that it would do much good, but it might keep the ship steady for a few seconds. Until it went over the cliff.
She just hoped it was enough time.
Leaping out of her seat, Jaina vaulted over the chair and stumbled towards the hole, the rocking and shaking of the ship making her dizzy. She grabbed onto the edge of the jagged hole, ignoring the searing pain as it sliced open her palm, and glanced down at the blur of jungle and rocks rushing by.
Taking a deep breath, she threw herself out of the ship, diving into a roll, and slamming into the ground so hard all the Jedi training in the galaxy could not have kept her body from screaming in agony. She tumbled, rocks slamming into her back and legs, and desperately tried to grab onto something for leverage as she rolled towards the cliff.
She caught onto a thick root that peeked above the soil, and wrapped her fingers around it, clinging to it as if her life depended on it.
Which it did.
Her arms were yanked hard, and she felt her shoulders strain in ways not natural for the human body, but she came to a stop.
Behind her, there was a loud crash and the sounds of a terrible explosion. She felt the heat form the fireball lapping hungrily at her legs and back, but she did not dare look behind her too see how close the flames were leaping.
"Jaina!" she heard Kyp screaming. "Jaina?"
"Here!" she managed to yell, her voice sounding raspy and broken even to her own ears.
She spotted a figure running towards her, covered in dirt and mud. "Jaina!" Kyp cried, dropping to his knees and reached a hand towards her.
A hand down to her.
Only then did Jaina realize she was on a slope, a very steep and downward slope.
She let Kyp haul her up to his level, and collapsed against his chest, feeling his body shaking with silent sobs, and buried her face in his chest.
After a long moment, she turned her head to inspect her surroundings, and gasped in shock.
The root she had grabbed onto was literally an inch in front of the cliff, beyond it a hundred meter drop to the rocky ravine below, where the remains of the Bandit blazed in a cloud of fire and smoke.
She had been hanging over the edge of the cliff, and had been too disoriented from her tumble to even realize it.
If that root had failed to hold her till Kyp came, or if she had grabbed it with one less finger, she would have fallen to her death.
Exhausted and utterly amazed to be alive, Jaina hid her face in Kyp's shoulder and cried with relief.
Jag Fel sat
with his head in his hands, too tired to yell, to weary to cry.
He had come to expect strange welcomings when he visited the Jedi base, but nothing could have prepared him for the welcome he had received when he arrived that morning.
Anakin and Padme were gone.
Jacen, Tahiri and Tenel Ka had been waiting for him when he touched down. When he saw the grim looks on their faces, saw the redness around their eyes, he had frozen in place, terrified that something had happened to Jaina.
That something could have happened to Anakin and Padme had never even crossed his mind.
Naboo was a safe planet, hard to get clearance onto. It was even harder to gain admittance to Theed, now that the Jedi had relocated there. There was no place safer for the children than on Naboo.
And yet someone had taken them.
It did not seem real to Jag, did not seem possible, even with Padme's robe clutched in his hands, now stained with tears. It did not seem possible for his children to be gone. he half expected them to poke their heads out from behind one of the tapestries any moment now and declare how ingenious they were for eluding the grownups for so long.
But they didn't, and they wouldn't.
And every minute that he sat there, consumed by grief, Jag felt another shred of hope slide away into darkness.
He felt responsible, even though some part of his mind knew that was ridiculous. He had not been there, and yet that was precisely why he blamed himself.
If he had only come sooner, or if he had only been living on Naboo, the kids would not have been off alone in the woods. He could have gone with them, or gotten them to do something else with him, and the Peace Brigade would never have had the nerve to even try to lay a hand on his children.
And yet they had been on Naboo, in Theed, which led Jag to wonder if they wouldn't have waited until another opportunity presented itself. It also made him wonder how the Sith they got into the Jedi pavilion in the first place.
Jag would have protected them, not just Anakin and Padme but Ben, too. He loved the Skywalker boy as if Ben was one of his own, and he would have laid down his life to keep the three of them safe.
And yet not even Luke and Jacen had been able to keep the children safe this time. And Jag knew that there was no one more capable of protecting his children than Luke Skywalker, save maybe Jaina herself.
Jaina, Jag thought with despair.
No one had been able to raise her or any of the other Twin Suns pilots in their comm-links, but Corran assured him that they probably just still had them off from their undercover operation. Jag was uneasy, though, about Jaina not even knowing their children were missing.
Jag knew that Jaina would be devastated, and some part of him wished they could find the kids and bring them home safely before Jaina was in contact with them and had to be told. He did not want to inflict that kind of pain on her.
And yet he knew if she wasn't there to help, if she didn't even know until it was over, Jaina would be horrified.
He wanted her to come home, and he wanted the two of them to go after the children together.
But she wasn't reachable, not yet anyway, and Jag had plenty of people ready to launch a full out search to the farthest corners of the galaxy.
Han Solo was livid. Angry, terrified and seething with pain. The three were a deadly combination, especially in Han Solo. Jag knew his father-in-law was as impatient to start looking as he was, regardless of what Luke and Wedge had to say.
Jag's uncle had been in constant communication with Luke ever since the Jedi Master had called Coruscant to notify Jag, only to be told he was already en route there. Luke had told Wedge about the attacks, and Wedge had already told Luke that the Republic military would do whatever he needed it to do to get the children back.
Jag appreciated that, he really did, and he appreciated that the Jedi were already rallying on Naboo to strike at the Peace Brigade, he even appreciated that Master Skywalker had the clarity of mind that Jag did not, to realize they could help the kids more by waiting to make their move until the received word from the kidnappers.
The Jedi knew what they wanted, though, and so did Jag. They wanted Luke to disband the Jedi, which was something he could not do. And even if he did officially disband the Order, it would not put an end to the existence of the Jedi. The Peace Brigaders weren't thinking clearly when they stole the children, this much Jag knew.
Especially not if they know Mara Jade, Jag thought bitterly. He had not seen Mara since his arrival, except for a few minutes when she and Luke came to see him and to let him know that his children were just as important to them as their son, and that they would do everything they could to rescue the three children.
Jag had never seen such venomous fire in a woman's eyes before as he had in Mara Jade's. He almost pitied the kidnappers.
Luke's eyes had been the opposite of Mara's, cold instead of blazing, but the fury there, though better concealed, was no less fierce.
Again Jag almost pitied the kidnappers. But then he'd imagine Padme's tears streaming down her cheeks and Anakin's terrified eyes and he found himself hoping Luke and Mara chopped the Peace Brigaders into a thousand tiny pieces with their lightsabers.
And then he would shoot every single piece of every single Peace Brigader until there was nothing left except those Sithspawned patches of theirs, and then he would burn them all.
Jag had never felt such a furious hatred before, not even for those who had threatened Jaina's life. The cold and unyielding rage that swelled just beneath the surface was stronger than any he had ever known.
Someone had taken his children. His daughter and his son. Padme and Anakin Fel.
And if Jag had to blow up an entire planet to do it, he was going to make sure that the people who did this to him paid.
Jacen glanced at him uneasily, and for a moment Jag was worried he was going to say something about such thoughts being of the dark side, but his brother-in-law remained silent. Studying Jacen curiously, Jag was surprised, and oddly relieved, to see tears of anger in his eyes. Jacen looked ready to burst with fury, and that was saying something for a Jedi, especially for this Jedi.
Jag looked around the room, taking in the silent, tense mood of the Solo's large home. Leia and Han sat with Tenel Ka in the back corner, all cradling Owen gratefully. Luke and Mara sat in the other corner, their heads leaning back against the wall, eyes closed, and faces twisted into expressions between exhaustion and anger.
I wish Jaina was here, Jag thought with a sigh.
The door to the room flew open, and for one ridiculous moment Jag thought his wish had come true, but it was not Jaina who hurried into the room, but Kam Solusar.
The Jedi Master glanced at Jag, his gaze sorrowful and devastated, and Jag felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He watched as Kam hurried over to Luke and Mara, whispered something in thier ears, and saw, with alarm, Luke and Mara sit up quickly, their eyes wide in horror.
All three of them glanced at Leia and Han, then Jacen, and, finally, Jag. As Luke's pain filled gaze settled on him, Jag felt his heart stop beating.
Everything was in slow motion as Luke stood and slowly walked towards him, his stride, if possible, even more weary and defeated than before.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jag saw Mara rush out of the room, and saw Kam move to the Solos, gesturing Jacen to join his parents.
Luke came to a halt a few feet in front of Jag, looking down at him with sad eyes. Jag felt his breath catch in his throat, and his hands began to shake uncontrollably.
Not the children, he thought with desperation. By the Force, please, not my children.
"The Council just received a transmission from Twin Suns Squadron," Luke said quietly, his eyes glistening. "It was sent several hours ago."
Jag couldn't find his breath to ask what they had reported, so he just blinked up at Luke expectantly.
"The Council tried to send a transmission back," Luke went on slowly. "But the signal has been destroyed."
Jag swallowed, his entire body suddenly going cold. "What..." he rasped out. "What are you saying?"
Luke placed a hand on Jag's shoulder. "I think she's still alive, Jag. I haven't felt her die, even though there's great distance between us and her right now. They were somewhere in the Unknown Regions when it happened."
Jag barely registered that Jaina had been in the Unknown Regions, his home territory. His mouth was as dry as the Tatooine deserts, and his eyes were stinging with tears. He could not take anymore. He couldn't.
He had already lost his children. If Jaina was gone, too...
"What happened?" Jag asked hoarsely.
"We lost our trace signal to the ship," Luke replied gently. He gazed at Jag with haunted blue eyes. "The Sky Bandit has been destroyed."
Jag felt his entire strength crumble under those words, and a strange choking sound escaped his lips.
Jaina ... he thought in anguish.
your heads, ladies," Tam-Azur-Jamin said, holding back a heavy overhead
branch with the Force sot hat the others could get through the mass of gnarled
vines and trees that twisted all around them.
"Thank you, Tam," Nianne said, ducking under a tangle of vines.
"Such a gentleman," Octa said, shooting Kyp a dark look. "As opposed to some Jedi we know."
Kyp opened his mouth to say something and found he couldn't. As in physically could not speak.
For a moment his mind whirled in confusion, shock and panic, until he calmed down enough to reach out with the Force and feel that Jaina was keeping him from responding. He glared at her. Let go, he ordered her.
No, Jaina replied calmly. We're in a bad situation here, Kyp. We're trapped on a planet in the Unknown Regions with no way off, and I don't want any petty fighting going on among us.
Then talk to her, not me! Kyp cried indignantly. I've tried to be nice to her. But that woman...
Though Jaina didn't reply, Kyp got the distinct impression she was rolling her eyes at him.
Kyp sighed, and focused on their surroundings. They were deep in the jungle, working their way through the intricate web of foliage around them. Kyp had no idea where they were headed and, through their Force bond, he knew Jaina didn't either. She just wanted to get as far away from the site of the wreck as possible.
Kyp knew that there was logic to that. The battle cruisers they were ambushed by in space might send scouts down to make sure they were finished, and they didn't need to be anywhere around the ship when the scouts showed up. They would think that all passengers on the Bandit had been killed once they saw the horrible wreck at the bottom of the ravine.
That was the other reason Jaina wanted to put some distance between them and the cliff. She did not want to think about how close she had come to plummeting to her death. Neither did Kyp.
When she had thrown him out of the ship, he had fallen hard and gotten bruises and scrapes, but nothing serious. Nothing compared to the wound he had felt tearing through his heart when he saw the Bandit go over the edge.
It was the happiest moment of his life when he saw Jaina clutching onto that root. He had pulled her up and held her desperately, crying with relief, and thanking the Force he had not lost her. He didn't know what he would do if he lost her. How cold he go on if he lost the only family he had in the galaxy?
You wouldn't have lived long anyway, he told himself. Jag and Jacen would probably have killed you out of frustration and grief.
And he would have welcomed it.
Over the years Jaina and he had silently come up with terms of their partnership. The most important one was that it was till death. To Kyp it seemed fitting that if Jaina was killed, he should die with her. One last stand as a team.
Hopefully that stand doesn't come for a long, long time, he thought. Jaina has a husband and two children to take care of.
Kyp loved Jaina's children. Anakin was always eager to impress him, and the little boy had never failed to do so yet. Padme liked to crawl up into his lap and drape her little arms around his neck and listen to him tell stories about the adventures he'd had as a Jedi. They were always happy to see him, and they never forgot to send him a present on his lifeday.
It wasn't the same as having his own children, but it was enough.
"I'm never going to a jungle planet again," Hajima said, panting hard as they weaved through the maze of foliage. The ground was wet and marshy, making it hard to walk, even with the Force. They were using their Force energy to follow a hidden path through the trees, but they could do nothing about the heavy dirt tugging at their boots. The humidity didn't help, and the heat beating down on them from the scorching sun only made Kyp more aware of the fact that they had no water.
"I'm never going to any planet in the Unknown Regions again," Chane grunted.
"I think I have to agree with you on that," Alema said, sweat trickling down her face. "I think I'll stay clear of the Unknown Regions all together."
"Wise plan," Imara replied hoarsely.
The entire squadron was back together again. They had all survived their dives from the raging Bandit, and had regrouped at the cliff, all relieved to see one another alive and whole. They had been even more relieved to see Jaina alive, for they had all feared the worst when they heard the explosion.
Jaina had shaken it off, not choosing to share how close she had come to dying, but Kyp could not just shake it off. He had never been so terrified in his entire life, and they were still stuck on this planet with no food, no water, no ship.
And they might be stuck there forever.
No one knew where they were, no one knew what had happened, and Kyp had a horrible feeling they might die there, and no one would ever know. There friends and families would never have any idea what had really happened to them.
It was a morbid thought, and a maddening one, so Kyp pushed it aside, burying it in the back of his mind. It wouldn't do them any good to think like that, and it wouldn't do Jaina any good to pick up on such negative thoughts when she was trying to find a way for them to survive.
She already did that once, Kyp thought with a smile. He had been sure they were dead when the battle cruisers took out the shields, but Jaina had been determined and had pulled off the most amazing emergency landing Kyp had ever heard of. He would have to make sure to tell Han about it if they made it back.
When we make it back, Jaina said sharply. We have to make it back. I promised Jag and the children that we would.
Kyp glanced at her, saw the fierce determination in her eyes, the same that had been burning when she brought the Bandit in for a crash landing, and knew that she was right. They would find a way off this planet.
"I ssmell ssomething," Tesar hissed softly, his tail perking up in the air. He raised his head and sniffed the air carefully.
Jaina motioned for everyone to stop and waited, watching Tesar patiently, and Kyp felt her reaching out with her own senses to probe the jungle around them.
Tesar's eyes widened and his mouth opened hungrily. "I ssmell food," he hissed. "Ssomeone is cooking meat."
"Which means we're not alone on this planet," Octa said. "Maybe they have a ship we can use or at least a communications device to call for help."
"I just want some of whatever they're cooking," Valin groaned, licking his lips. "I could eat an entire mynock by myself."
"Let's go check it out, then," Hajima said, her eyes wistful.
Kyp looked at Jaina expectantly. She shrugged. "We need to find out where we are, and Octa's right, they might be able to help us." She waved at Tesar. "Lead the way, Tesar. We'll follow your nose."
Tesar took off a brisk pace through the jungle, his nose raised in the air. Kyp followed, with Octa matching him pace for pace as if it was a race to see who could get there first. Behind him, he was aware of the others running along at a more relaxed pace, and could hear Valin and Tam discussing all the types of cuisine they could go for right then.
Kyp plowed on after Tesar, with Octa at his heels. He was oddly pleased to know that he could outdistance her at any time if he chose to.
I have a bad feeling about this all the sudden, Jaina called tensely.
As soon as she said that, so did he. Me, too.
Up ahead, Tesar came to a sudden and stiff halt. "I do not think that thesse oness will offer the kind of help we wissh," he hissed softly.
Kyp darted up behind him and peered over his shoulder.
Ahead was a massive military compound, swarming with soldiers. From the design of the warehouse, it was very obvious what was stored there was not military personnel, but a complete high powered weaponry arsenal.
The soldiers were wearing dark green uniforms, but Kyp didn't need to see them to know who they were. He would have known from the seal on the side of the warehouse.
Or from the large anti-Jedi logo that he had come to know as the signature of the Revolutionaries.
He felt Jaina come up beside him, and heard her hiss of surprise as she took in the scene before them. He glanced over his shoulder at her, and gave her a grim smile.
"Well, looks like we found that weapons base after all, Goddess," he said.
Skywalker awoke to the sound of soft crying.
Blinking, he opened his eyes and saw Padme huddled beside him, her face buried in her brother's shoulder. Anakin was hugging her tightly, rocking back and forth, using the Force to whisper silent reassurances to her.
What happened? Ben thought, wincing as his head exploded in pain.
The last thing he remembered was playing in the meadow. Padme had screamed, and they had started running, and the air had been coarse with fear, but after that everything was still dark and fuzzy.
He groaned and sat up, drawing the attention of his cousins. Padme's eyes went wide and she squirmed out of Anakin's embrace to throw herself at Ben, sobbing and clutching him desperately. Ben draped an arm around her gently, hugging her. "What's wrong, Pady?" he asked.
"Bad men, Ben," she sobbed. "Bad men take us."
Take us? Ben blinked. He looked at Anakin over her head, raising an eyebrow inquisitively.
"Peace Brigade," Anakin replied quietly, his eyes red and shimmering with unshed tears. "They..." he trailed off, unable to say anything more.
He didn't need to, though. Ben remembered men chasing Padme, remembered green uniforms and the sounds of blaster fire, and the darkness, Padme's scream echoing in his mind.
"They kidnapped us?" Ben asked. "From the meadow?"
Anakin nodded sadly.
Ben was in shock. How could the Peace Brigade have gotten onto Naboo, much less into Theed? The Jedi would have felt them, wouldn't they? At least Dad should have, Ben muttered silently. But he didn't, or he would have stopped them.
"They came in while you were asleep," Anakin said, jolting Ben out of his revere.
"They did?" Ben asked. "Why? What did they want?"
"They brought stuff for Padme's cut," Anakin replied.
Cut? Ben hadn't seen a cut. He felt a prick of fear in the back of his neck. "She's hurt?" he asked. "Where at?"
"Pady, show Ben your cut, okay?" Anakin asked her.
Padme disengaged herself from Ben's arms, and rolled up the sleeve on her left arm. Ben distractedly noticed that she had lost her robe. A bacta strip wrapped around her slender lower arm, and Ben could see the outline of a long gash on her skin.
"How did you get this?" Ben asked her worriedly.
She swallowed. "The bad men hurt you, and I tried to help you, and-"
Ben stiffened. "Tried to help how, Padme?" he asked, sharper than he'd intended to. Padme winced and he felt his expression soften. He placed a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, Pady. I'm just tired and scared. I didn't mean to snap at you, okay?"
Padme nodded. "'Kay."
"Can you tell me how you tried to help us?" Ben asked, gently this time. "You didn't use your powers, did you?"
Padme shifted uneasily. "Only a little," she said softly. Ben cringed mentally. "I built the barrier around you," she said hurriedly. "Like Uncle Luke showed me. He said I could do it if it was important."
Ben nodded, relieved that she hadn't done anything too extreme. "Yes, he did. And it was important. Very important. Thank you for trying to protect me and Anakin. That was very brave."
Padme beamed up at him. "The bad men tried to touch you, but they couldn't, cause of my barrier. The mean man said I was doing it and they tried to grab me. I yelled and yelled and the mean man got mad, and he was so mean to me, and he hurt me, Ben. He hurt me."
"And her powers sort of lit up the air around us," Anakin added. "I saw a bright light before I fell asleep."
Ben felt a wave of anger wash over him. They had not only kidnapped them, but they had hurt Padme. She was just a little girl, only four years old, and they had hurt her. His cousin. They had hurt his cousin.
Just wait until Jaya finds out, he thought to himself with cold satisfaction. Jaina would come for them, he knew that, and maybe Jag, too. And he was certain that his parents were already searching for him. They would find them, and they would deal with the Peace Brigade. Especially his mother. If there was one thing Ben knew about his mother, it was that it wasn't a smart idea to make her angry. And nothing made her angrier than when people hurt her family.
Ben almost felt sorry for his kidnappers. They had no idea what a powerful force they had unleashed on themselves.
And Ben was sure that his mother would not be the only one out for blood. He wouldn't be at all surprised if his Uncle Han and Aunt Leia came along, too. Everyone knew Han Solo was a nasty person to have as an enemy, but Ben knew that his Aunt Leia could be even worse. She was, after all, a Jedi.
Maybe they'll bring the Falcon, Ben thought. And we can all ride home together. Uncle Han promised he'd teach me how to fly it sometime.
He reached out with the Force for his mother, calling to her as loud as he could, but he hit a wall of some kind, some obstruction limiting his perceptions to the are he was enclosed in. He could not extend himself beyond the walls of his prison.
Of course they'd have ysalamari, Ben thought with a sigh. We are Jedi, even if we're just kids. And after what Padme did in the meadow, they're probably afraid of us.
Which was not necessarily a bad thing.
"They said they was going to hurt Mama if we didn't behave," Padme sniffled, her eyes brimming with a new set of tears. "They can't hurt Mama, can they?"
Ben hesitated, not wanting to give her false hope, but he found that he didn't believe anyone could beat Jaina. Who cares if I am a little biased? he asked himself. It's what I believe, and it's what Padme and Anakin need to hear.
"Your Mama will be fine," he promised. "She's out on a mission, remember? I bet those dumb Peace Brigaders don't have a clue where she is. And as soon as she finds out they've taken us, she's going to be very upset with them, and we know what a bad idea it is to upset your Mama, don't we?"
Padme nodded. "Mama don't like bad men."
"No," Ben agreed. "None of us do."
Padme frowned, her lip trembling. "But what about Papa? What if they try to hurt him?"
"Papa's still on Coruscant," Anakin muttered dully, bitterness mixed with the fear in his voice.
Ben squeezed Padme's hand. "Don't worry about your Papa. He'll go to Naboo and Uncle Jacen and Gramma and Granpa, and my Mom and Dad will be there with him. The Jedi will protect him."
"They didn't protect us," Anakin grumbled.
Ben shot him a dark look, but he was aware that Anakin did not say it out of spite or annoyance, but out of fear. Looking back at Padme, he squeezed her hand again. "Your Mama and Papa will be fine. And so will we."
"Promise," he said firmly.
It amazed him how that was always enough for Padme. If Ben or Anakin said it would be okay, then it would. She never doubted them, trusted them to keep her safe, and that trust filled Ben with a warmth brighter than the twin suns of Tatooine.
Ben glanced around the gray room they were being kept in, which was completely bare except for a pile of blankets and ration bars in the opposite corner. He stood and walked over to them, picking them up and carrying them back to where Padme and Anakin waited.
He dropped the blankets at their feet, then handed them both a rations bar. He kept one for himself, then placed the extras off to the side since they didn't know how long they would have to last.
Padme wrinkled her nose at the bar in her hand. "This yucky," she said.
Ben rolled his eyes. She hadn't even opened it yet. "Just try to eat it, okay, Pady? It's all we have and I know you're hungry."
Padme shook her head. "Not that hungry."
"I am, though," Anakin said. "And I can't eat unless you do."
Padme sighed, but began to unwrap her bar. She took a large bite, and made a face of disgust, but Ben was pleased to see she kept eating.
He opened his and took a bite, nearly gagging at the stale taste. Padme was right, these were horrible. She must have used her powers to check, Ben realized. They weren't supposed to use their powers without permission, but this was only a small thing, and he didn't think his Dad would mind.
Anakin ate his first bite, and his entire little body grimaced, but he took another bite, and then another. They didn't have anything else to eat, and they needed to keep their strength up.
Padme was done first, and she curled up with her head on Anakin's lap, closing her eyes. Her face was pale with exhaustion, and Ben thought she was asleep before she even laid down. He reached over and grabbed one of the blankets, gently wrapping it around her.
He leaned back against the wall, watching her sleep, and wondered if he looked that serene while he slept. Padme looked calm now, which was not a word Ben would ever use to describe wither of Jaina's children. Padme was always full of energy and Anakin craved excitement as much as Ben did. The three of them would sneak off on their own little adventures all the time.
And look what happened this time we did that, he thought to himself.
"Ben?" Anakin asked softly.
Ben looked over at him, and noticed that there were tears in his eyes. "Yes, Anakin?" he asked.
"Do you think Mama is alright?" Anakin asked quietly.
"I'm sure of it," Ben replied. "Your Mama is strong. No one's going to get the best of her, I promise."
"I hope not," Anakin said weakly.
Ben squeezed his shoulder. "Don't worry. Your Mama is smarter than any old Peace Brigader. She'll probably be able to rescue us by herself they're so stupid."
"You think so?" Anakin asked hopefully.
No, Ben admitted to himself. Out loud, he laughed. "Of course. And don't you worry about her out on her mission, okay? I bet you she's doing everything she can to stay far, far away from any Peace Brigaders."
stared at the compound before her, swarming with Peace Brigade soldiers.
"We need to get closer," she hissed at her team.
"Closer?" Chane asked. "I was thinking more along the lines of farther away."
"You know Jaina," Merik whispered wryly. "She's got a daily quota of 'totally insane, crazy things to do to get your squadron killed' to fill."
"I'm all for it if you're the one who gets killed," Kyp muttered.
"Me, too," Octa growled, shooting Merik a dark look.
Kyp blinked in surprise. Did we just agree on something? he asked himself in shock. And even more shocking was that she had opted for Merik to be killed instead of him, as he would have expected from her.
Maybe you two are finally starting to connect on a level other than being obnoxious brats, Jaina snickered in his mind.
Kyp glared at her. Cute, Jaina. Cute.
I thought so, she replied smugly, then turned her attention back to the base ahead of them, and he felt alarm prick through her. "Hey, where did those guards go?" she hissed.
Kyp blinked and looked over her head. As far as he could see, the soldiers were still going about their business.
"They're still there," Imara whispered. "Are your eyes okay, Jaina? Maybe you hurt them in the crash. The Peace Brigaders are still there."
"Not them," Jaina whispered tersely. Kyp saw every muscle in her well-toned body tense. "There were a group of them right in front of that skiff, and now they're gone."
"I saw them, too," Valin said quietly. "They were looking at some sort of scanner."
Kyp stiffened. A scanner? Could they have... No, he told himself, shaking his head. There's no way a scanner could have picked up our presence. We're Jedi, we're shielding. No machine could have pinpointed our location.
"Thiss one hass a bad feeling about thiss," Tesar hisses just behind Kyp's ear.
"It's a trap," Alema said, anger and panic seething in her voice. "They know we're here."
"How?" Hajima demanded. "How could they possibly know we're here, Alema? You're not thinking clearly."
"I think Alema is right," Nianne said softly, fear in her voice.
Kyp felt a presence behind them and turned to find a legion of Peace Brigaders standing behind them. Before he could even comprehend that they had managed to sneak up on Jedi, on a whole group of Jedi, Jaina was flipping over his head, lightsaber drawn and slicing through the first guard.
Kyp called his own blade to life in his hand and lunged forward, the others just a second behind him. he swung his lightsaber downward to slice through a blaster, then flicked it up to deflect a shot aimed at his face.
"Throw it!" one of the soldiers shouted. "Throw the stang thing, Jerison!"
Jerison, a shorter man who was in the center of the group, well hidden from the Jedi's lightsabers, made a grunting sound, then chucked something round at the Jedi. Kyp dodged it, and it hit the ground with a thud.
It was a gray sphere, and as Kyp peered closer to examine it, it popped open and red mist began to seep out of it. Kyp jumped back in surprise, and a thick red cloud expanded around them, engulfing the Jedi and the Peace Brigaders. Since none of the Peace Brigaders had on breath masks, and since they weren't worried about breathing in the mist, Kyp decided it wasn't toxic.
They're probably hoping it will distract us, he thought with a snicker. They think we won't be able to fight in this mist.
They didn't know much about Jedi.
The other Jedi coughed, and Kyp found that he, too, was coughing as the vile smoke burned his nostrils and scorched his throat. He felt hot and dizzy, his head was spinning, and everything felt heavy and awkward all of the sudden.
What was that stuff? he thought to Jaina.
Only then did he realize he could not feel Jaina. In fact, he could not feel anything.
The Force was gone.
"Ysalamari," Jaina rasped. "It's some kind of ysalamri gas!"
The Peace Brigaders were laughing and blaster bolts whizzed through the cloud of smoke, barely missing the Jedi. "Give up now and we'll let you live," Jerison sneered.
Sure you will, Kyp thought bitterly. And the Yuuzhan Vong were as harmless as bantha cubs.
"Run!" Jaina coughed, her voice sounding scratched and rough. "That's an order! Run!"
Kyp didn't need to be told twice. Even without their Force bond, he knew Jaina well enough to know she understood they couldn't win an outright fight at that moment, and she was ordering a retreat in order to save their lives.
He couldn't see much, only blurs and shapes, but he knew there was a Jedi beside him, a human female from the curves of her body, and he grabbed her by the arm, determined to keep together. "Hold your breath!" he shouted.
"Durron?" she coughed. "That you?"
Great, Kyp thought. I have to end up grabbing Octa. Why couldn't I have grabbed Jaina? Or even Hajima or Imara? Stang, even Nianne would be better than Octa. At least they don't bite my head off every time I open my mouth.
"It's me," Kyp rasped, dragging her towards the line of trees ahead. He was stumbling and running and coughing and panting all at once. He couldn't think clearly, everything was strange and hard. All he could focus on was the jungle ahead and getting to it.
He heard pounding footsteps behind them and could only hope it was the other Jedi and not the Peace Brigade. If it was, they were dead.
"Keep running," Tam's voice called hoarsely. "Just keep running!"
At least some of the others got away, too, Kyp thought. And the more that manage to stay together, the better.
He only hope Jaina had gotten away. He was tempted to turn back and make sure she had, but he had others with him. Octa was coughing violently and he could tell she was struggling to keep going. He was supporting her weight as best he could as they ran.
Besides, Jaina had been the one to give the order to retreat. Kyp knew that she would not have stayed behind, she would have run, and run as far and fast as she could. He had to believe that she had made it, and had to hope that she was not alone, that she, too, had found some of the others to flee with.
And he had to trust her to stay alive.
But that didn't make him worry any less.
They ran and kept running for a long time. Kyp didn't know how long, or how far, they'd ran for, but when Octa cried out that she couldn't run any farther, they had finally stopped and collapsed to the ground, gasping and panting for air.
Kyp glanced around at the group with him, doing a mental check of who had ended up with him. Octa and Tam were both choking in air desperately, and Chane and Imara were laying sprawled on the dirt, both looking too exhausted to move.
Five, Kyp thought, a lump rising in his throat. Five of us got away. What about the other seven?
What about Jaina?
"Is this how Force blind people feel?" Chane groaned.
"If it is I feel sorry for them," Tam said, his breath coming out short and labored.
"What was that stuff?" Imara asked. "Some kind of ysalamari mist? It completely knocked the Force away from me."
"From all of us," Kyp replied grimly. "I think we figured out how the Peace Brigade has been getting the jump on so many Jedi. That stuff makes us more vulnerable than a bantha in a rancor pit."
"Why hasn't it worn off?" Octa asked hoarsely. She struggled to sit up, failed, and Kyp offered her his hand. Later, when he could think clearly, he would be surprised that she had taken it gratefully, and leaned against him for support. "We're out of range of the Peace Brigade. So why can't we feel the Force?"
Kyp frowned. She was right. They were definitely far enough form the base now that the effects should have worn off, but they hadn't. While he no longer felt sick, he still couldn't feel the Force. It was like being blind, deaf, and half paralyzed all at once.
"They must have made some kind of gas using ysalamri in it," Imara rasped. "Somehow they managed to alter it enough that it would stay in our systems."
"But for how long?" Tam asked. "I mean, it's not permanent, right? It can't be."
No one answered, and even thought he could not feel the Force, Kyp knew that they were all scared that it might be. He swallowed hard, refusing to think that way. "No, it can't be," he said. "When we get back to Naboo, we'll have to warn Master Skywalker about this, though. Maybe we can get a sample for Cilghal to study. She might be able to come up with a cure, or some kind of immunization."
"That doesn't really help us now, though," Chane said.
"No," Imara agreed. "It doesn't. But it will help others in the future, and that is what matters."
"So what now?" Tam asked. "What do we do? We don't have any idea where the others are, if they've been captured or killed. We don't know where we are, we don't have the Force, and we're stranded on a planet overrun by Peace Brigade and Revolutionaries. This is just not our Sithspawned day."
"The others are okay," Kyp said. "They ran, too, I'm sure of that. They probably just got separated form us in the smoke. I don't think the Peace Brigade could have caught up to them if they took off the way we did."
"You can't feel Jaina at all, can you?" Octa asked softly.
Kyp shook his head. "No," he said quietly. "I can't."
And it's more painful than I ever imagined, he added silently. He wondered if this was how it felt for Jaina when she had been cut off from Jacen after Myrkyr. It couldn't be half as painful, because he knew she wasn't dead, or hoped anyway, and he was only her partner, not her twin. But if the empty, hollowness he was feeling was half as bad as what Jaina had felt, he wasn't sure he could have tolerated what she went through.
"I hope she's okay," Octa said quietly.
"Me, too," Kyp said softly.
Silence hung over them for a long moment, then Imara said, "I'm sure they're all fine. They're probably sitting around just like we are, trying to plan their next move."
"What is our next move?" Chane asked.
Kyp shrugged. "Survive, first of all. After that, we should try to find some kind of shelter and food. It would probably be a good idea for us to start looking around for the others some, and trying to find our way back to the base."
"Back to it?" Tam asked in surprise.
Kyp nodded grimly. "We need a shuttle to get off this Sithspawned planet, and I doubt we're going to find one anywhere else. Besides, if I know Jaina, she'll be thinking that same thing. The others will probably start making their way towards the base in the morning, after they all get some rest. We should do the same."
"Kyp's right," Octa said, and Kyp managed to keep the shock off his face. "We have two main objectives right now. Survive, and find a way off this planet. The others will have the same goal in mind, so we'll just have to trust that they'll find a way to join us. We can't waste time and energy out searching the jungle for them when they could be anywhere."
As much as Kyp hated to admit it, what she said was true. It would be a waste to spend their time searching for the others, and it wasn't worth the risk. Not even for Jaina.
If you don't survive, Jaina, Kyp thought at her, even though he knew she could not hear him. I swear I will never forgive you. Or myself.
"So what's first?" Chane asked. "Food or shelter?"
Kyp's stomach growled and Octa laughed. "I'd say Kyp's voting for food."
She has a nice laugh, Kyp thought to himself. When Octa flashed him a smile, he decided she had a nice smile, too. She should do both more often.
"Let's find food first," Kyp agreed. "Then we'll figure out something for shelter." He stood and glanced up at the sky overhead. It was already growing dark, which meant nightfall was fats approaching. They needed to find food and build some kind of dwelling to last the night soon.
The others stood as well, Octa with a little bit of trouble. Kyp helped her to her feet, and she gave him a grateful smile, which, for reasons he could not understand, made him smile back at her.
There was a faint howling off in the distance, and the hair on the back of Kyp's neck stood on end. He felt Octa squeeze his arm worriedly. The others looked around nervously, the tension thick enough to be cut with a vibroblade.
"It's nowhere near here," Kyp promised, although for all he knew it could have been only a few meters away. "Don't worry about it. Worry about food instead."
Everyone seemed to relax some at his reassurance. Everyone except for Kyp. He really had no idea where the noise had come from, any more than he did what had made it. All he knew was that they were without the Force, lost in the middle of the jungle on a strange planet they knew nothing about. All sorts of creatures could be lurking in the foliage around them, just waiting to make them their supper.
Kyp swallowed hard, then started forward, looking around for some kind of berries or fruit, or anything that was even remotely edible.
He only hoped that the others were safe, especially Jaina. He hoped they had managed to escape, to find shelter and food. But most of all he hoped that whatever had made that howling sound had been nowhere near them.
Let's just hope nothing stumbles across us, either, he thought grimly. I don't think we want to become a meal for some pack of hungry, ravenous beasts.
The howl echoed again, this time sounding louder, and Octa tightened her grip on Kyp's arm. Part of him was wondering why it felt so nice to have her clutching him so close to her, but the rest of him was too distracted to worry about that.
The howling was getting closer.
Much, much closer.
Solo's eyes snapped open and he let out a hiss of air.
Jaina? he called desperately. Jaina?
Had he imagined her voice? He had been asleep, maybe he had only dreamed it.
He shook his head. No, he had not imagined it. Jaina had cried out to him, and somehow, despite the distance between them, he had heard her.
He felt his wife stir beside him and turned her head to him, blinking. "Jacen, my love?" she asked, her voice groggy. "What is it?"
"I felt Jaina," Jacen replied quietly.
Tenel Ka sat up quickly. "She is alright, then? You can feel her?"
"I felt her," Jacen said. "I can't feel her anymore. There was a surge of her presence, and then it was cut off, like someone switched off a light."
He felt Tenel Ka stiffen in worry. "She is not..."
"Dead?" Jacen asked. He shook his head. "No. She's not dead. Just in trouble." He met her gray gaze steadily. "I think she's surrounded by ysalamari. That's the only thing I can think of. I know she's alive, it wasn't her death that I felt, more like a surge of surprise and anger, and then nothing."
Tenel Ka took his hand in hers. "I am certain Jaina will be fine, my love. She is quite resilient."
Jacen smiled weakly. "Yeah, I know." He sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I think I should go speak to Jag. He needs to know Jaina is definitely alive, and I want to talk to Uncle Luke about this."
Tenel Ka nodded. "I think that is a good idea." She climbed out of bed, her teal slip clinging to her body in an alluring manner. Had Jacen not been distracted, he would have forgotten where he was planning on going. "I will check on Owen. Just to be certain he is alright."
Jacen nodded. He knew that Tenel Ka had felt uneasy about her son's safety ever since his niece and nephew had been kidnapped. He understood that fear, for he felt it, too, but he knew that Owen was safe among the Jedi. And no one would get past Tenel Ka, no matter what.
He slid on a white shirt over his sleep pants, and went to the 'fresher to splash water on his face. As soon as he was fully awake, he slipped out of the apartment and headed for the suite of rooms that belonged to his sister and her husband.
He knocked on the door softly and Jag's voice called out, "Come in."
Jacen was not surprised to find Jag awake. He knew his brother-in-law had not been sleeping well since Anakin and Padme's kidnapping, he had felt his restlessness through the Force, and he suspected Jag had not slept at all since word of Jaina's accident.
He was, however, surprised to find Corran Horn sitting in the living area, leaning forward in one of the hoverchairs and talking to Jag eagerly.
Jag and Corran looked up at him. "Jacen," Jag said, smiling. "I'm glad you're here."
Jacen blinked in surprise. Jag was smiling? Had he already heard that Jaina was alive? That seemed the only explanation, but Jacen couldn't figure out how he would have known.
"I felt Valin," Corran said, answering his unasked question. "I felt him clearly, and Jaina was with him. I got just enough to know they were both alive and okay when my connection to him cut off." He raised an eyebrow. "I take it you felt the same thing with Jaina?"
Jacen nodded. "I think there's ysalamari nearby. That's the only explanation I can think of that would explain the way they snapped out."
Corran pressed his lips together grimly. "That's what I think, too. They’re cut off from the Force, but definitely alive.”
“Which is good enough for me,” Jag said. Jacen studied him for a moment, pleased to see that his coloring had started to return to normal, and, even with the dark circles under his eyes, he looked happier than Jacen had seen him in days.
“They’re in trouble, though,” Jacen said, biting his lip. “Jaina, at least.”
“What else in new?” Jag asked with a weak smile.
Jacen snorted in agreement. “I wish we had an idea of where they might be. I couldn’t locate her, but I got that she was very, very far away.”
“The Unknown Regions,” Jag said without hesitation. “That’s where their signal cut off. Jaina must have found a way to touch down on one of the planets nearby before the ship exploded.”
Jacen gave him a dubious look. “They might have been captured.”
Jag shook his head. “Not Jaina. She’s too good a pilot to have let their ship be taken. If it was destroyed, it was after she and the others had abandoned it.”
Jag sounded so sure of it that Jacen couldn’t find it in himself to argue. He hoped Jag was right. He wanted to believe he was.
“So now what?” Corran asked. “Do we send people out to look for them? Luke’s already committed those Jedi not on missions right now to finding the kids. And the military won’t give us aid to find a Jedi strike team, no matter how badly they may want to. They can’t afford to with all the problems the Revolutionaries are causing. There’s no way Chancellor Elyasian can give an order to assist us. It would be political suicide. The Senate would go space happy.”
“Couldn’t your uncle do something?” Jacen asked Jag.
Jag shook his head. “No. He has already pressed the extent of his authority with maters dealing with the Revolutionaries.”
“And with the coordinates of those smaller weaponry bases Jaina sent us,” Corran added. “Wedge is going to have his hands full.”
“What about Rogue Squadron?” Jacen asked Jag.
Jag hesitated, his eyes flickering. Jacen felt turmoil rise up in his brother-in-law, even though his face remained passive. “I have yet to decide where we will be most useful. Out searching for Jaina, or out searching for the children.”
Jacen winced, regretting his words. Jag had to have been torn, unsure of who he needed to rescue, his wife or his children. Jacen knew Jag loved his children, he didn’t need the Force to see how fiercely devoted he was to them. But he also loved Jaina, loved her enough to risk his life, his soul, to keep her from harm.
Who would I save, Jacen wondered sullenly, if it came down to it? Tenel Ka or Owen?
He didn’t know. He only hoped he never had to be in the position to make that decision.
The position Jag was in now.
Corran picked up on Jacen’s realization and shot him a dark look of agreement. Then he turned back to Jag and squeezed the pilot’s hand. “Jaina is a survivor, Jag. Always has been, always will be. It’s in her blood. If anyone can get out of this mess she’s in, it’s her. Whatever you decide, just make sure it’s the decision Jaina would make.”
What would Jaina do? Jacen wondered. Go after Jag or Anakin and Padme?
It was an easy answer. As heartbreaking as leaving Jag to fend for himself would be, as much as it would kill her, she would go after their children.
Jacen didn’t know what he wanted Jag to do.
“I’ll go speak with the Council,” Corran said, standing. “Perhaps something has been found about the children.”
Jag nodded silently.
Jacen smiled at Corran as he passed. Thank you, he called with the Force.
Corran nodded, then slipped out of the apartment, leaving Jacen alone with Jag.
Jag didn’t seem to notice he was even there. He sat still, staring at his hands as if they could give him an answer to the horrible choice before him. His face was rigid, his jaw set tightly, and his eyes burned with a sorrow that Jacen could neither comprehend nor understand.
Jacen felt sorry for Jag. The decision before him was an agonizing one, one Jacen did not know if he could make. If he chose to go after the children, he would be abandoning Jaina, but if he went after Jaina, he would be forsaking Anakin and Padme.
Either choice would bring great pain to the dark haired pilot.
“Jacen?” Jag asked quietly, not looking up.
Jacen swallowed. “Yes?”
“Would you mind leaving?” Jag asked gently. “I’d like to be alone for a while.”
Jacen nodded. “Of course. I’ll go see if my uncle has anything new to report.”
“Thank you,” Jag said.
Jacen let himself out of the apartment, pausing for a moment just outside the door.
May the Force be with you, Jag, he prayed silently. And with Jaina and the children, where ever they are.
Jag Fel had
faced many tough decisions in his life, but none as hard as the one before him
What do I do? he thought desperately. Who do I save?
Jag had never dreamed he would be forced to choose between his children and Jaina. His children and his career, yes, his children and Coruscant, definitely, but his children and his wife? Never.
Even though Jag was not a Jedi, he knew that Jacen understood the dilemma he was facing. He wished he knew what Jacen thought he should do, but at the same time he did not want anyone else making this decision for him.
He asked himself what Jaina would do, but that was all too easy an answer. Jaina would choose the children. She would torture herself with guilt and sorrow, she would hate herself forever for leaving him, but she would choose the children over him.
And that was exactly how Jag would want it.
But he could not bring himself to leave Jaina. He had loved her forever, it seemed, and he could not imagine going on without her. How could he, when she was the fire that breathed life into his very being?
He knew what Jaina would have him do. He knew what she would ask of him, if she could speak to him at that moment. She would say that it was a terrible thing that he had to choose between her and the kids, but she was an adult, they were only children. She had lived twenty-five years, they no more than five. They were two lives, she only one. She was only his wife, and as much as he loved her, they were his children. Their children. The most precious creation from the very love that he shared with her.
She would tell him to let her die before abandoning the children.
He knew that, knew it with all of his heart, and yet he could not bring himself to make that decision.
Jaina was more than just his wife, she was his heart, his soul. There was no life without Jaina.
And yet Padme and Anakin were his children. Jaina's children. They depended on him, looked up to him, trusted him to keep them safe and make all their problems go away. They had faith in him when he didn't have faith in himself. Anakin wanted to be like him, it was obvious from the way his son would run around the house on Coruscant with Jag's TIE helmet on his head, pretending to be a fighter pilot. Padme believed that there was nothing he couldn't fix, she ran to him when she was scared or hurt and knew he would move the planets and stars to make her smile.
Anakin had his mother's spirit, her cocky smile. Padme looked like a green eyed, miniature copy of Jaina. They weren't Jaina's children, they were more than that. They were Jaina. They were her hopes and dreams, her strength and weakness, all rolled into one.
Jag knew what he had to do.
He hated it, hated himself for it, but he knew it was the right thing to do.
He walked over to the comm-unit in the back of the living area, and swiped his ID card, his heart heavy in his chest. A moment later, Piggy's face appeared on screen. The Gammorean looked didn't look surprised to see him, and Jag saw a flash of pity and sadness flicker across his face.
So they knew, then. Not just about the children, but about Jaina, too.
"Colonel Fel," Piggy said.
"Piggy, I need you to gather the squadron," Jag said. "We're going after my children."
Piggy nodded. "As ordered, sir." He hesitated, then asked, "Any news about the Goddess?"
Jag swallowed hard. "No. She's alive, but I don't know for how long. As soon as my kids are safe, we're going to find her, too. If it's not too late."
"I hope it's not, sir," Piggy said quietly. "The squadron is ready and willing. We've been expecting your call. We can reach Naboo within a standard day."
"Thank you," Jag said. "I will see you then."
He cut the transmission, feeling wearier than he could ever remember feeling.
It was done. He had made his decision.
He would go after the children, and Jaina would have to fend for herself. If he could save Anakin and Padme, and if Jaina was still alive by then, he would return the kids to Naboo and he would go after her alone. He would not stop searching until he found her, even if he had to rip apart the stars themselves to find her. He would scour every corner of the Unknown Regions until she was back in his arms.
He straightened suddenly, as the words rang in his mind. The Unknown Regions.
He slid his ID through the comm-unit again, this time typing in the data for Nirauan. His father's face leapt onto the screen after a long pause, this one taking longer than the connection to Coruscant had, given the distance between Naboo and Nirauan.
"Jagged," his father said, his eyes holding surprise. "I haven't heard from you in a while. Are you-"
"I do not have time for this, Father," Jag cut him off. "Padme and Anakin have been kidnapped."
Soontir Fel's eyes went wide in shock, and Jag saw a cold anger settle in his father's dark eyes. "Who?" he demanded.
"The Peace Brigade," Jag answered.
Soontir scowled, and Jag remembered how much his father detested them after the encounter on Mon Calamari years ago, when Jaina had been taken after Peace Brigaders had attacked her while on an outing with Soontir and his family.
"I will send troops to Naboo at once," Soontir said, his voice gruff with barely checked anger. "We'll help you find the children and destroy the Peace Brigade, regardless of what Harger wants."
Jag shook his head. "I appreciate that, but I must decline." Seeing the surprise on his father's face, he explained. "I need something else from you, something that is just as important, but something that I cannot do myself." He felt his breath catch in his throat, but he forced the words out. "Jaina is missing. Her ship was destroyed somewhere in the Unknown Regions, but she is still alive. The Jedi have felt that. She's somewhere with ysalamari, so they can't get a lock on her location, and that means she's without the Force."
Jag watched a range of emotions play across his father's face. Fear, worry, anger, sadness. Finally the Baron spoke. "I am sorry to hear about Jaina."
"Thank you," Jag said hoarsely.
"You wish for me to send out squadrons to search for her?" Soontir asked.
Jag nodded. "Please."
"Of course," Soontir said. "I will go after her myself, and I'll take the best pilots I have. We'll find Jaina. Don't worry about that. You just concentrate on finding the children."
"I will," Jag said, a new wave of determination washing over him now that he knew Jaina would not be forsaken. "And Father? I can't tell you how much this means to me that you're willing to go behind Harger's back and find her for me."
"You don't have to tell me how much it means," Soontir replied. "I can see it in your eyes." A slight smirk crossed his lips. "Besides, I hate Harger. I can't think of anything I'd rather do than rattle his skull around a little."
Jag smiled despite himself. "That would be an unforgettable sight."
Soontir chuckled. "It would, wouldn't it?" His jaw set grimly, and his dark eyes flashed with a cold fury. "Vape a Peace Brigader for me, son. And then vape another one."
Jag's gaze was just as deadly as he nodded. "I intend to, Father," he replied coldly. "I intend to."
Jaina called, panic barely concealed in her voice. "Valin, where did you
Valin stuck his head around one of the massive tree trunks. "I'm right here, Jaina."
Jaina blushed slightly. "Sorry. It's weird not being able to feel you with the Force. I keep thinking you wandered off."
Valin shrugged. "Don't feel bad. I've been looking over my shoulder every couple of minutes to be sure you're still there."
Jaina laughed. "I'm hard to loose."
"I'm glad," Valin said. "And I'm glad you're here with me."
Jaina grinned. "You mean so you aren't the only one lost in the jungle, wandering around without food or water, suffering from exhaustion and hunger, surrounded by Force knows what, with Peace Brigaders searching for us, and no way off this Sithspawned planet?"
Valin nodded. "Yep. Exactly."
"Okay, good," Jaina replied. "Just checking."
They started walking again, and Valin felt his stomach growling. He instinctively reached out with the Force to calm his hunger, only to remember that he could not feel the Force. he sighed in frustration.
"I keep doing that, too," Jaina told him, catching on to what he was trying to do. "We'd make horrible bantha scouts, huh?"
Valin snorted. "My grandfather was a bantha scout, and he probably couldn't get himself off this planet."
"Yeah, well, my grandfather was an evil Sith Lord," Jaina shot back dryly. "And somehow I don't think even he could find a way out of this mess."
Valin thought she was probably right.
Jaina's stomach rumbled this time and she shook her head. "I'm so hungry I could eat that mynock you were drooling about earlier."
"I'm so hungry I'd eat a Hutt," Valin replied.
"Eeew," Jaina wrinkled her nose. She gave him a playful shove. "That's just Sith, Valin."
Valin shot her a wry grin. "When you're hungry, you're hungry. Besides, you know us men. We think with our stomachs, not our heads."
"That's definitely true of most of the men I know," Jaina snickered.
She ducked under a low hanging branch, and Valin saw the toe of her boot catch on an unearthed root. She stumbled, going down, but he darted to her side and caught her by the arm. He steadied her against him, shooting her a wry smile. "Not quite as graceful as I remembered you being, Jaina. I think bearing children has slowed you down."
He got another playful smack for his comment, but Jaina's eyes were bright with amusement. "At least I have an excuse, Horn."
"Hey, I have one, too," Valin protested.
Jaina raised an eyebrow challengingly. "Really now?"
"You try having Syal Antilles for a girlfriend," Valin shot back with a smirk.
Jaina chuckled. "Syal has the kind of natural grace my mother does. She makes it look easy."
Valin frowned. "You're graceful, too."
"Not in the same way," Jaina replied. "I'm graceful when I fight, when I run, when I fly. The rest of the time I'm just confident and bold. My mother, and Syal, too, have a regal grace about them. It's there all the time, but it shines through in the simple moments instead of in battle, you know?"
The scary thing was, Valin did know. Syal moved with simple, gently movements. She was quiet, but spoke with firm conviction. She had a way with words, and with people, that Valin could never have. He supposed she was a lot like Jaina's mother.
He just hoped she didn't decide to be a politician.
"Uh oh," Jaina murmured, drawing Valin's attention away from his thoughts. He turned to see her staring up at the sky, a frown on her face.
"What?" he asked. "What is it?"
She nodded at the sky. "Storm clouds," she answered. Valin looked up and was startled to see she was right. Thick, dark clouds were billowing overhead, and in the distance he heard a low rumbling that sounded like thunder. "Looks like we're in for a storm."
"Another thing to add to the list of things that have gone wrong on this mission," Valin muttered. "Now we're going to get soaked."
Jaina grimaced. "Great."
Valin looked her over carefully, judging the thickness of her clothes. The fighting pants she wore had been ripped and torn, both knees were open to the elements, and one strap of her tank top had been broken. He seriously doubted they would offer much protection from the rain. Although it was hot and humid in the jungle during the day, he knew, from his lessons and from living on Yavin Four, that once the sun went down, the temperature would, too, especially if it began to rain.
Glancing down at his own tattered pants and shirt, he realized that they were both going to be very, very cold during the night.
"Hypothermia, here we come," he muttered darkly.
Jaina shot him a weak smile. "Better than being killed by the Peace Brigade if you ask me. I'd rather let the planet kill me than give them the pleasure."
Valin nodded his agreement. "Still, I'd rather not die of hypothermia if it's okay with you. I'd feel rather pathetic after surviving the Yuuzhan Vong war if all it took to kill me was a little rain."
Jaina's smile brightened slightly. "You have a point there. Imagine what people would say about us."
"Jaina Solo Fel, hero of the Yuuzhan Vong war, and Valin Horn, daring Jedi Knight, whom not even Lord Shimmra could destroy, defeated by the cruelest enemy of all. Mother Nature."
Jaina laughed, and Valin found himself laughing with her. It wasn't even funny, not really, but they were so tired and hungry, so tense with worry and fear, that they could not help it. Jaina had to lean against him to keep from collapsing, her tiny body shaking harder than his.
When they finally managed to pull themselves together, Jaina grinned up at him. "I'm glad you're with me, Valin. And not so I'm not the only one stuck in this mess. You're a good friend, and you make excellent company."
"So I've been told," Valin replied, grinning back at her.
There was a loud clap of thunder overhead and before they could react, rain began to pour down on them, angry, furious torrents of water slapping their faces and soaking them within seconds. Jaina let out a yelp and Valin looked over at her, and burst out laughing.
She was soaked to the bone, her clothes sticking to her like a second skin, and her hair was plastered against her face. "You look like a drowned Wookie," he laughed.
Jaina glared at him. "You don't look much better yourself, Horn. If I didn't know better, I'd say you were a wet pitten."
Valin snorted. "I'm much cuter than a pitten. Maybe a wet farren, but a pitten? No way."
Jaina grinned and Valin shook his head in amazement. Even soaked from head to toe, covered in dirt and grime, she somehow still looked beautiful. If she could bottle her secret she could make a fortune selling it at those spas Mom and Iella go to.
But as he looked closer, he realized that Jaina was still shaking, and it was not from laughing.
Sithspawn! he cursed to himself. I was only joking when I said we'd die from hypothermia!
"We need to find shelter," he said. "And now. You're going to freeze to death."
Jaina shot him an incredulous look. "I'm fine. I can handle a little cold. I've survived weeks on Hoth before, remember?"
"I know," Valin retorted. "I was there. But we don't have the Force this time, Jaina. And it's not going to take a Hoth storm to kill us."
Jaina's face paled, but whether it was from the realization or the cold Valin wasn't sure. "Let's find shelter," she agreed.
They stalked through the thick foliage for what seemed like forever, until, finally, Valin spotted a hill with an overhang. It was a small dwelling, probably not big enough for two men, but maybe he and Jaina could squeeze into it. He had a wiry build, and she was a slender woman.
"There," he said, pointing. His teeth were chattering and his hand shaking as he gestured at the tiny enclave.
Jaina followed his finger and nodded, water dripping down her face and rivers of it cascading down her hair. "R-right behind y-you," she said through clattering teeth.
Valin grabbed her cold hand, and trudged through the water pooling on the ground. He dragged her over to the hill and knelt beside the opening. It was going to be a tight fit, but it would do.
"In," he said, gesturing at the opening.
Jaina hesitated, then knelt down and lowered herself into the hole, pushing herself as far back as she could to make room for him.
Now Valin was the one to hesitate. It was going to be even tighter than he'd thought. The only way they were both fitting under there was if they practically slept on top of one another.
Valin frowned. Maybe he should just sit under one of the trees.
"What are you waiting f-for?" Jaina demanded. "Get in h-here."
Valin hesitated. "Jaina, there's not room for t-two of us."
Jaina glared at him. "Valin Horn, I am your c-commanding officer. If I say t-there's room, then b-by the Force there's room. Now unless you w-want to f-freeze to d-death, get your Sithspawned t-tail in here t-this instant!"
She said it with the usual fire and snap, but somehow it just wasn't as powerful when she was shaking like a skeleton leaf and stammering every couple of words. Valin smothered a grin. "Yes, ma'am."
He lowered himself in next to her, carefully and gently, and tried to find a way to lay down beside her instead of on top of her.
I wish Kyp was the one with her instead of me, Valin thought. This wouldn't be nearly as awkward if it was him having to share a makeshift bed with her.
"C'mere," Jaina said, grabbing him by the shirt and pulling him down. She shifted to the side so he could lay flat on the ground on his back, then positioned herself against his side, her head resting on his chest.
Valin wondered if she could feel how fast his heart was beating.
"Somehow I d-don't think Jag would like this t-too much," he said with a forced smirk. Or Syal, he added silently.
"Yeah, well, they can b-both just deal with it," Jaina said. Seeing his surprise, she said, "No, I can't h-hear your thoughts, b-but I know you, V-valin Horn. You're w-worrying about w-what my husband and your g-girlfriend would think if they h-happened by and s-saw us like this."
Valin shrugged, or tried to anyway, but there wasn't even enough room for him to do that.
"Well, they aren't g-going to happen by," Jaina said. "And even if they did, it w-would be obvious t-that we're trying to survive here. We're g-going to d-die of hypothermia unless we cons-serve heat, and the b-best way to do that is w-with body heat."
Valin felt a blush creep onto his cheeks. "I guess you're r-right."
"Stang right I am, I'm the commanding officer here," Jaina replied. "Now g-give me a hug or something, cause I'm c-colder than an ic-cicle here."
Valin smiled and draped his arms around her tiny body. She was still shaking, rather violently he noticed with concern, and he could feel her body trembling against his.
She's going to freeze, he thought with alarm.
Determined not to let that happen, he tightened his grip on her, pressing against her as tight as he could, trapping the warmth of the enclave between himself and the back wall so that she was as warm as possible.
"T-thanks," she rasped. "You're getting a prom-motion when we get home."
If we get home, Valin thought grimly.
Aloud, he said, "Could you m-make me a Colonel? I've always w-wanted to be able t-to order around my old man."
"I'd l-like to s-see t-that," Jaina chattered.
"Don't t-talk, okay?" Valin said softly. "We should try to c-conserve our energy."
Jaina nodded. "'Kay," she said weakly.
Valin felt her warm breath on his neck, but even that felt cool in the dark, damp little cave they'd crammed themselves into. After a few moments of eerie silence, Valin felt Jaina's breath even out and he realized she was asleep.
Thank the Force, Valin thought. Maybe sleep would help her. I just wish she could go into a healing trance.
Still, sleep could also be a bad thing, he remembered that from one of Kam's lessons back at the Academy. So Valin stayed awake, despite how exhausted he was, and kept an eye on her. If she stopped breathing or if her body got too cold, he would wake her up, he would do whatever he had to do to keep her alive.
He was not going to let Jaina die.
So he kept a silent and watchful vigil over her, while the angry storm howled outside, plunging the world around them into darkness.
Skywalker felt like he was back in the Rebellion again.
He was seated beside one of the Jedi computer technicians, who was busy trying to track down any and all shuttles that had departed Naboo on the day of the kidnapping. On the other side of Kiko Starkk sat Mara and Jacen. Though the three of them were not computer people, Luke knew that they were more than capable of the job.
Besides, it gave them something to do to take their minds off of the anger they felt towards the Peace Brigade.
Luke looked up to see one of the younger Jedi, Harm Lien, if Luke's memory served him correctly. "Yes?" he asked.
Harm shifted uneasily. "There's a message for you that just came over the comm-unit. Do you want to take it here or in your private chambers?"
Luke glanced around the room, noting that it was deserted except for Corran Horn and Jag Fel, who were talking quietly in the corner. Corran had offered to fly with Rogue Squadron in the rescue mission, and they were going over tactics that Jag's pilots used.
"I'll take it here," Luke answered.
"I'll have it relayed," Harm said. "It's holo-coded."
Mara frowned. "I haven't heard of anyone using holo-coding since the war ended." She shot Luke a sharp look. "The Peace Brigade?" she asked.
Luke nodded. "Possibly." He pushed back his chair. There was an open space between the terminals. The holo would play there.
The air rippled, then smoothed into a see-through wall.
"It's coming from a long distance away," Harm commented.
Luke felt a wave of uneasiness wash through him. He glanced at the others and noticed their jaws were clenched. They felt it, too. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Corran and Jag walking towards him, frowns on their faces.
The ripples shifted and a human face appeared in the air. It was a man, with red hair and a red beard, a brawny set to his face, and cold gray eyes that spoke of death and horrors long ago endured.
"Luke Skywalker," the man sneered. "The Jedi Master of Jedi Masters."
Luke clenched his jaw. "I am he," he said evenly.
There was a long pause, and Harm whispered something about the transmission coming from somewhere very far away from Naboo.
"I think you know who I am," the man replied.
"Peace Brigade," Luke said calmly, though he felt anything but.
The man nodded. "You may call me Dirk, Skywalker."
"Alright, Dirk," Luke said. "Why have you contacted me?"
"To deliver a message," Dirk said, a smug smirk tugging at his lips.
The image flickered and was replaced by one that sent a rush of ice through Luke's veins. Behind him, he heard Mara growl, Jacen gasp, and Jag make an angry noise he couldn't even begin to define.
On screen was an image of the children. Ben sat in the corner, with Padme and Anakin huddled against him, a blanket wrapped around all three. As far as Luke could see they were all unhurt, but Padme had a bacta strip on her arm.
Jag saw it, too, and stepped forward, his fists clenched at his sides angrily. "What did you do to my daughter?" he demanded.
The image wavered, and Dirk appeared back on screen. "That was an unfortunate accident, Colonel Fel. I assure you. The solider who caused the ... accident was reprimanded." A cruel smile lit his pale face. "However, there will be more unfortunate accidents unless you do two very simple things, Skywalker."
"And what is that?" Luke asked, although he already knew.
"First, you are to disband the Jedi Order," Dirk said. "Second, you are to order all Jedi to stand down and lay down their weapons. They are to surrender to the Peace Brigade at once."
"That's ridiculous," Mara snapped. "He can't make them do that."
"He can, Mara Jade," Dirk said coldly. "Or your son will be the first to die."
Luke felt Mara's anger explode in a blur of icy hatred, pounding madly to get loose. Luke was afraid she was going to pull out her lightsaber and slice right through the comm-unit, but she didn't. Her entire body was shaking with rage, though, and Luke could almost feel the dark side beckoning to her.
That cooled his own fury about a hundred degrees. Mara, love, he whispered with the Force. Your anger.
He threatened our son, Skywalker! Mara snarled back. Your son!
I know, Luke said gently. And I also know he won't kill him. At least not yet. We'll come up with a plan to rescue him, but I need you to stay calm so we can do that.
He felt Mara reign in her anger and the room returned to its normal temperature.
"If I refuse to disband the Jedi, you will kill the children," Luke said. "Do I understand you correctly?"
"You do," Dirk grinned wickedly.
"And if I still refused?" Luke asked. "What then?"
He felt Jag's shock, Jacen's confusion, but blocked it all out. Dirk frowned, confused and surprised. "You would refuse?" he said coldly. "At the life of your son and the Fel children?"
"I haven't made any decision yet, Dirk," Luke said coolly. "I am merely learning my options."
"Then I will destroy the Jedi," Dirk sneered.
"Aren't you already doing that?" Luke asked.
Dirk scowled. "You will not sacrifice your son, Skywalker, any more than Colonel Fel will sacrifice his. You and I both know that you will do as I say. You will not condemn the children to death."
No, Luke thought. I won't. "How do I know you won't kill them anyway?" he asked. "I have no reason to believe you'll let them live if I do disband the Jedi."
"You'll just have to take that chance then, won't you, Skywalker?" Dirk snapped. "If you don't disband the Jedi within one standard week, I will start killing the children. For every day after that that you have not met my terms, I will kill another child."
"And when you run out of children, Dirk?" Luke demanded. "When all three are dead and you have no leverage to hold over us? What then?"
Dirk scowled and shifted his gaze over Luke's shoulder. "Colonel Fel, these are your children, too. He is willing to sacrifice your children. Will you allow him to do this?"
Luke felt Jag's cold fury raging beneath his calm exterior. His Chiss military training paid off as well as Luke's Jedi techniques in this situation. "I am not a Jedi. I have no influence over Jedi matters, nor over Master Skywalker."
Dirk's lips twitched in a cruel manner. "Then perhaps your children will die first, Colonel. Which one would you like for it to be? Your son? Or your daughter?"
"You will not kill my children," Jag stated, his tone frosty and dark, razor sharp and just as deadly. "Or the Chiss Empire will hunt you down and see to it that you die the most excruciating death imaginable. And I assure you, the Chiss have torture practices that even the Yuuzhan Vong would find cruel. If you lay one hand on either of my children, or on Ben Skywalker, I will not hesitate to demonstrate some of them on you myself."
Through the Force, Luke sensed that Jag wasn't bluffing in the slightest. If the children were harmed, Dirk would quickly find himself on the recieving end of the young Colonel's anger.
"Where is your wife, Colonel?" Dirk sneered. "I'm surprised that Jaina Solo has not threatened to show me the wrath of a goddess by now. Maybe she has something more frightening to add to your moving speech."
Despite his bold words, Luke sensed an uneasiness in Dirk, one that was a result of Jag's threat. "My wife is busy plotting which method of execution would best befit you," Jag snapped coldly, his eyes glossy with a raging gleam. "But I would love to pass along a message to her for you. I'm certain hearing from you would help give her some ... creative ideas."
Luke felt another flinch of concern from Dirk and smiled inwardly. Ah, so he's afraid of Jaina, too. I suppose he has reason to be.
"If not I can gladly help her out," Mara snarled. "Serving as the Emperor's Hand, you sort of pick up some interesting methods of torture. I'm sure Jaina and I could come up with some very intriguing possibilities."
Dirk's face remained calm, but the spike of fear that shot through him was evident to everyone in the room, even Jag, who was not Force sensitive. "You have one week, Skywalker. Then the girl dies."
The transmission cut out sharply, and Dirk's image was gone.
"Padme," Jag rasped, his face pale.
Luke placed a hand on his shoulder. "We won't let him hurt her. I promise you. We are going to find them, and we are going to see to it that the Peace Brigade never bothers anyone again."
Jag gave a curt nod of agreement.
"Master Skywalker," Kiko called from his position leaning over the computer. "I have a confirmed tracking on that transmission."
Luke felt a surge of hope swell up in him. "Where did it come from?"
"Almania," Kiko replied.
Luke froze. Almania? It didn't seem possible. "Are you certain?" he asked.
Kiko nodded. "Yes, Master. Positive."
"Luke?" Mara asked, concerned. "What is it? What's wrong with Almania?"
Before Luke could answer, the door flew open and Leia and Han hurried in. "We heard there was a transmission," Leia said, glancing at Jacen, and Luke realized her son had called to her. "Did you get a trace on it?"
"Yes, ma'am," Kiko said. "It came from Almania. A planet in the-"
"I know where it is," Leia cut him off, her eyes meeting Luke's searchingly. Luke didn't need the Force to know she was remembering when he had crashed his sabotaged X-wing there, and was taken captive by a former student named Dolph, who was masquerading as a man named Kueller who tired to take over the New Republic by threatening to kill Leia's family.
Luke had survived the ordeal only because Leia had come to recuse him, and Han to rescue her. Luke did not like to recall how close he had come to sacrificing himself as Obi-Wan had, and he knew that Leia liked remembering it even less.
"What is it with this planet?" Mara demanded, sensing the unspoken connection between the Skywalker twins.
"A former student of mine named Dolph took me hostage and tried to get Leia to disband the Republic and hand over the power to him," Luke answered.
"You were probably too young to remember, Jacen," Leia said. "But he threatened you children, so I had you sent back to Anoth for safety."
"I think I remember," Jacen frowned. "Wasn't his name Kewller or something?"
"Kueller," Han replied coldly. "It was a year before Thrackran kidnapped you kids."
"Do you know how to get there?" Mara and Jag demanded at the same time.
Leia nodded. "Yes. We do."
Jag whirled on his heel, yanking out his comm-link and barking out orders to Rogue Squadron. Mara shot Luke a cool smile. "I'll prep the Shadow."
"We're coming, too," Leia said.
Han nodded. "I'll have the Falcon up and ready to go whenever you're ready to leave."
"I'm coming along, too," Jacen said. "And Tahiri won't stay behind even if you order her to. So that's two more on the Falcon."
Luke turned to Corran. "You're in charge while we're gone. I'll try to keep in contact with you, just in case. If you hear anything from Baron Fel, or from anyone on Jaina's team, contact me right away, alright?"
Corran nodded. "You just worry about getting those kids back. I'll take care of everything else."
"And I'll take care of Dirk," Mara sneered.
Luke had no doubt about that.
strolled into her father's office, and was surprised to find her brother Wik
"Hello, Wik," she said, kissing him on the cheek, since she had not seen him in several months. "You've grown taller."
He had, and more handsome, too. He was starting to grow a goatee on his chin, and he looked like a younger, and blonder, version of their father all of the sudden.
Maybe he always has, Zena thought. And I just never noticed it before.
"Hello, Zena," Wik said, kissing her on both cheeks gently. "You look lovely, as always."
"Hello, Father," Zena said, content with a nod in greeting since she saw him nearly every day.
Soontir Fel nodded, a grim set to his handsome face. "Thank you both for coming. I have serious news that concerns both of you, as well as your mother. I have already notified her, but I wanted to tell you both in person."
For a horrible moment Zena thought he was going to say Jagged was dead, that he had somehow been killed in the line of duty.
Zena gritted her teeth, as if to keep the words from reaching her ears. She did not want to hear she ad lost another sibling.
She could not hear it.
Her father must have seen this, for he gave her a gentle look. "No one has been killed," he assured her. "Yet."
Zena nodded, relief crashing down on her. "What's happened, then?"
Soontir sighed, looking weary and haggard. "Jagged called. Anakin and Padme have been kidnapped by the Peace Brigade."
Cold terror seized Zena's entire body. Not the children. Oh Sith, not the children!
"Are they alright?" Wik demanded, his jaw clenched.
Soontir nodded. "As far as we know. The Republic and the Jedi are sending out troops to recover them as we speak."
"But we're going to join them, right?" Wik asked sharply. "We're not going to just sit back and watch, are we?"
"No," Soontir replied. "We are not. But we are also not going after the children."
Zena blinked in confusion. Wik's jaw dropped in shock. "What?" her brother demanded angrily. "What the Sith are we doing, then?"
"I offered to help in the search for the children," Soontir said calmly, his eyes narrowed. "But Jagged asked me to do something else. Something much more important."
More important than his children? Zena thought incredulously. What could possibly be more important to Jagged than his children?
And realization hit her full in the face, like a harsh Hoth wind. "Jaina," she said softly. "Jaina's in trouble."
Soontir nodded. "She was on a mission with her squadron in the Unknown Regions when their ship's signal was destroyed. The Bandit was blown up, but the Jedi say that Jaina is still alive. Her team in believed to have survived as well. They just don't know where they are."
"But they're in the Unknown Regions," Zena said.
"And we're going to find them," Wik said with a grim sternness. "My squadron can be ready to deploy within a standard hour, sir."
"Mine is ready to go now," Zena said, ignoring the annoyed glance Wik shot her.
Why does he always think I'm trying to compete with him? she thought with a groan.
"Wait for your brother," Soontir said. "I'll join you both at the hangar in an hour."
Zena started in surprise. "You're going to fly with us?" she asked.
Her father met her gaze evenly. "Jaina is my daughter-in-law. I do not take kindly to people trying to kill my family." He allowed one corner of his mouth to lift in a smirk. "Besides, I think I need to teach you two a thing or two about flying."
Wik scoffed. "Of course."
Soontir ignored him. "I won't be piloting a fighter, though. Someone to fly a transport to ferry these Jedi off whatever planet Jaina managed to touch down on. I don't think you want all of your pilots to cram a Jedi into their cockpits, now do you?"
Zena blushed slightly. "I hadn't thought of that," she admitted.
"No doubt," Soontir replied. "Luckily I had."
"Should I have my pilots carry extra ammo?" Wik asked, his entire body tense with an eagerness that Zena could relate to. The sooner they got Jaina out of this mess, the better they would all feel.
"Yes," Soontir replied. "And extra med-kits, as well. The Jedi have reason to believe that there is ysalamari on this planet. The Jedi may be hurt."
They're without the Force, Zena thought in horror. She remembered asking Jaina what it was like for her to be near ysalamari, and her sister-in-law had replied that it was like being deaf, blind and awkward.
Zena did not like to think how easily it would be for Jaina to be killed with ysalamari present.
"Which means there's Peace Brigade around," Wik concluded.
Soontir nodded. "Most likely. So I think it would be wise for us to be prepared for a battle to win custody of the Jedi."
"You think they've been captured?" Zena asked worriedly.
"Jaina, no," Soontir replied. He fixed her and Wik both with a grim stare. "But if one of her pilots was captured, I think we all know she would surrender before letting them kill one of her men."
Zena once again felt hatred for the people who had ambushed them all those years ago, who had used the Fels as hostages to get Jaina to surrender. Once they had Jaina, they had planned to kill them anyway, and would have, had Kyp Durron and a group of other Jedi not shown up.
Zena felt a little better knowing Kyp was with Jaina. The Jedi Master would give his life for her in a heartbeat, and Zena feared that he might have to.
"There are so many planets where she could be," Zena said. "How are we ever going to find her? It would take forever to search them all!"
"Which is why we are starting immediately," Soontir said. "We will figure out what planet Jaina is on, and we'll get there in time to rescue the Jedi."
"And if we arrive only to find Jaina is already dead?" Wik asked quietly.
Soontir's eyes glazed over with a cold fury. "Then we make certain that not a single one of those Peace Brigaders makes it off of that planet alive. Do you understand me?"
Zena nodded, a blazing rage billowing up inside of her. "Yes, Father."
"Perfectly," Wik said, his voice deadlier than a rancor's claw. "I understand you perfectly."
a feminine voice called. "Merik, wake up!"
Merik groaned, rolling over. "Go away, baby."
Giggling jolted him out of his sleep and opened his eyes, surprised to see Nianne leaning over him. Behind her, Hajima was smirking. "Somehow," she drawled. "I don't think Chane would appreciate you calling his girlfriend 'baby', Merik."
Merik rolled his eyes, pushing to his feet. He blinked around groggily. The cave they had managed to hide out in during the night was still dark, but rays of sunlight were streaming in through the opening ahead. The floor was dry, thankfully, and Merik found he actually felt well rested.
"Sleep well?" Nianne asked.
Merik nodded. "Surprisingly, yes. You?"
Nianne shrugged. "I was worried about Chane. I don't sleep well when I'm worried."
"I'm sure he's fine," Hajima said, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Chane is a resourceful man, and he is most likely with the others. They probably found another cave or some other type of shelter to hide in from the storm."
"I hope so," Merik replied. "That was a nasty downpour. Lasted all night. I feel sorry for anyone, or anything, that was caught in it."
"I just hope that the others are all okay," Hajima said quietly. "Without the Force we are vulnerable, and we have no way of knowing if the others are even still alive."
"I'm sure they are," Merik said, forcing a smile. "After all, look at all the times Jaina should have been dead but lived to boss me around. I'm sure they're all huddled together somewhere, plotting some crazy, kamikaze mission."
"Knowing Jaina," Hajima smiled weakly. "That's probably true."
Merik glanced around, frowning. "Hey, where did Alema and Tesar go?"
There was a thud outside the cave and Tesar stuck his head in. "Thiss one hass brought breakfast," he hissed.
Merik's stomach growled ravenously, and he bounded out of the cave, temporarily blinded as his eyes readjusted to the bright sunlight. He could smell meat cooking, but he didn't see any fire.
"What is that?" Hajima asked.
Merik turned to see Alema leaning over some kind of small rodent-liked animal, her lightsaber carving and cooking the flesh at the same time. He felt a lump of bile rise up in his throat, but forced it back down. This was all they had to eat. If he wanted to survive, he'd eat it.
"I don't know," Alema admitted, glancing up at them. "It was fast, though, and hard to catch. Tesar had to sprint just to keep up with it."
And I thought Barbels were supposed to be fast, Merik snickered to himself.
"We have to ... to eat that?" Nianne asked, sounding like she might faint.
"You don't have to do anything," Alema replied. "But this is the only meal you're going to get today, so I would suggest that you hold your nose and eat it."
"I'm so hungry I'll eat anything," Merik said, his mouth watering as the aroma wafted into his nose. "Even whatever the Sith that is."
"Then you can be the first to try it," Alema said, holding out a piece of brown meat to him, a slight smirk on her face.
Merik swallowed hard, and slowly took the meat form her. He stared down at it for a long moment, swearing that when they got back to Naboo he was going to go on a strict diet of nothing except nerf steak cooked so well it was black.
"'Do or do not, there iss no try'," Tesar said, his hissing sounding suspiciously like laughter.
He's right, Merik told himself. Just do it and get it over with.
Closing his eyes, he took a bite out of the meat in his hand, ignoring the way it oozed in his mouth. He swallowed, forcing the rough meat down his throat, and opened his eyes in surprise. "Wow," he said hoarsely.
"How is it?" Hajima asked.
"Is it terrible?" Nianne added weakly.
"It tastes like mynock," Merik replied with a slight smile. "Mynock cooked with a lightsaber, but mynock."
Tesar made a hungry growl and tore himself off a large piece, swallowing it whole. He licked his lips, his reptilian eyes flashing. "Thiss one likess the taste of thiss."
Alema and Hajima exchanged a glance, then shrugged and tore off their own pieces. "Here goes nothing," Hajima muttered, opening her mouth and dropping in the piece of meat. Her eyes widened in surprise. "Hey, it does taste like mynock."
"Really?" Nianne asked, and Merik heard her stomach growl.
He tore off another two pieces, popping one in his mouth and handing the other to her. "Time to find out for yourself."
Nianne hesitated, then slowly placed the meat on her tongue. Merik watched her face contort in disgust, then relax as she swallowed. "Not bad," she admitted, still looking ill at what they were eating, no matter how it tasted.
They sat around eating until they were full, and Tesar carried the carcass off into the jungle to leave it for other predators who would be searching for a meal. Merik figured that was a good thing, since it would keep them from being something's next meal.
"What's our plan?" Hajima asked once Tesar had rejoined them. "We can't just sit around playing bantha scouts all day."
"I always wanted to be a bantha scout," Merik said. "They have those neat little uniforms with those cool patches and they-"
"Merik?" Alema said, her voice dripping with fake sweetness. "Fantasize about your misplaced youth later. Right now we have to find a way off this stang planet, and that's not something bantha scouts could help us with!"
"What do you think the others will do?" Nianne asked. "We should probably try to find them. Then we can work on escaping together."
Unless the others have been captured, Merik thought grimly. Or killed.
"They'll probably head back towards the base," Alema said. "Which is what we should do, too."
Merik eyed her cautiously. Did she really think the others would go back, or was she just out for some payback, eager to cause some damage to the Peace Brigade?
Hajima must have wondered, too, because she said softly, "Just remember we don't have the Force, Alema. If they find us, we're sitting farrens."
Alema's lekku twitched. "We are still Jedi, even when we cannot touch the Force."
"Yess," Tesar hissed. "But we are outnumbered sso greatly that it would be foolissh to russh in and let oursselves be captured or killed."
Alema glared at him, then sighed in acceptance. "You are correct, Tesar. I was not thinking clearly. It would be foolish to attack when we are vulnerable."
Thank the Force she seems to respect Tesar more than she respects me, Merik thought with relief. Then again, sometimes I think she doesn't respect me at all.
"So what do we do then?" Nianne asked quietly.
"We find the others," Hajima replied firmly. "And then we let Jaina decide what to do from there. She's our commander, after all. Let her decide."
If Jaina's still alive to make that decision, Merik muttered silently. Or any decision for that matter.
"I hope she's okay," Nianne said softly.
"Of course she is!" Alema scoffed. "Jaina has survived more impossible situations than all of us put together. She's constantly getting herself into trouble, and constantly getting herself back out." Her eyes blazed indignantly, but Merik did not miss the fear there. "Just watch, we'll find the others and Jaina will be there waiting for us, looking bored to tears."
"She'll probably want to know what took us so long," Merik added, plastering a fake smile on his face. "I bet she and Kyp have already found us a way off this planet, and are just sitting around with the Peace Brigaders they stole it form waiting on them hand and foot, just waiting for us to stumble by so that we can go home."
"Thiss one hopess sso," Tesar hissed. "Jaina Solo iss a friend. I have known her many yearss. I would like to know her for many more."
You and me both, Merik thought.
"Let's get started, then," Hajima said, standing. "We have no idea how far we are from the base, but you should be able to find our way back, right, Alema?"
Merik was suddenly grateful to have the Twi'lek along. Twi'leks had an uncanny sense of direction, and Alema had sharpened hers incredibly over the years. She could probably lead them back to the base blindfolded.
Although the idea of going back was even scarier when you added that to the mix.
"Yes," Alema said. "Follow me."
Merik groaned. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
for she had long since decided to drop the Organa when she dropped out of
office, smiled as the image of Chancellor Elyasian flickered to life on the Falcon's
Kyrie Elyasian was a pretty woman, with a simple, elegant grace that came naturally and easily. She had fine, narrow features, amber brown eyes that seemed warm and yet challenging at the same time, and shoulder length hair that was a rainbow of blond and brown, different shades of both streaking through her hair.
Kyrie had been a Senator during the Yuuzhan Vong war, but once her planet of Teyr had fallen to the Vong, she had fled to Mon Calamari and had taken an active role in the Resistance. In that time, Leia had come to know the woman quite well, and now considered her among her closest friends.
When Leia had been elected to serve as Chancellor, she had made it clear that she would only serve until she felt the galaxy's balance had been restored. She had appointed Kyrie her successor at that time, giving the younger woman a year to prepare for running the reestablished government. That year had paid off, and Kyrie had been running things so smoothly that the majority of the Senate actually supported her.
If that had ever been the case when I was Chief of State, Leia thought with a smile, Borsk would have died of shock.
"Hello, Leia," Kyrie said, her informality signaling to Leia that this call was on a private, secure line.
"Hello, Kyrie. Thank you for taking my call," Leia replied with a smile.
"I'd not refuse a message from the Princess who saved the galaxy," Kyrie said with an amused smirk. "What would people think?"
Leia chuckled. "I'm glad to see things are running smoothly on Coruscant, at least."
Kyrie's face turned serious immediately. "Have you heard any word on Jaina, yet?" she asked, her tone sympathetic and understanding. Her own daughter was seventeen, and Leia could well imagine the trouble she found to get into. Jaina had been the same way at seventeen, only her trouble had always managed to be more dangerous than not.
"No," Leia said quietly. "The Force is being blocked around her. Luke meditated for a while, and he's certain that it's ysalamari, although he felt there was something different about it."
"I'm sure that General Baron Fel will find her," Kyrie said. "He'll search as long as it takes. He is a very persistent man."
"I'll say," Leia heard Han mutter wryly form the cockpit. "A persistent pain in the-"
"I agree," Leia said hurriedly, drowning out Han's comment. "I'm sure that Jaina will be fine. She is her father's daughter, after all." She smirked, knowing Han was listening. "You just can't get rid of either of them."
"Not a chance, sweetheart," he drawled. "We Solos are impossible to lose."
Kyrie smiled. "In this case, I think that is a relief to know. I look forward to seeing Jaina upon her return to Coruscant."
"I'll be sure to tell her to come see you," Leia promised.
"Now," Kyrie said, leaning forward. "I have come to understand that this Dirk has threatened the children's lives if the Jedi are not disbanded."
Leia nodded grimly. "Yes. He has."
"And I trust Luke believes that your strike team can rescue them?" Kyrie asked.
We have to, Leia thought. They're depending on us. I know what it's like for Jag, and for Luke and Mara. I remember how painful it was to have the children taken from me. I found a way to save Jaina and her brothers then, I'll find a way to save her children now.
"Yes," she replied. "Luke, Mara, Jacen, Tahiri and I are all Jedi. Jag has trained his pilots for ground combat, as well as aerial battle. And Han is ... well, Han Solo. Between the seventeen of us, we should be able to rescue the children and cause a bit of damage to the Peace Brigade base on Almania."
"If only we knew where their main weapons base was," Kyrie said. "We could destroy it before they declare war on us."
Leia nodded grimly. "I know. Hopefully, though, we'll be able to get the location out of one of the soliders on Almania. As soon as we do, I'll send word to you so you can deploy the fleet to destroy it immediately."
"No need," Kyrie shook her head. "The fleet is going to be waiting for you in hyperspace just outside of Almania. Our Intel reports suggest that they have a strong defense force on Almania. I'm going to have the fleet knock their base out of this galaxy and into the next one."
Leia blinked in surprise. The move Kyrie was making was a bold one, and a risky one, at that. However, it felt right to Leia, and she knew the Force would not steer her wrong. "What about us?" she asked. "We'll be on planet trying to rescue the children."
Kyrie nodded. "I know. That is why the fleet is going to stay in hyperspace until you reach orbit. Once they're certain that you are all clear, they'll make the transition to real space and engage the Peace Brigade forces that will try to detain you."
Leia frowned. "How are they going to know if we're all off planet? The Falcon and the Shadow might both make it off, but what if one or two of the Rogue Squadron pilots are lagging behind? They might get caught in the crossfire."
"Colonel Fel knows the deployment code," Kyrie assured her. "The fleet will not drop out of hyperspace until he gives them the proper code."
"So we'd better make sure the kid makes it off Almania then, huh?" Han said wryly.
Leia rolled her eyes. Of course they would make sure Jag got off the planet. He was a part of their family, a very loved and respected part of their family, and everyone liked him. Leia could not have picked a better husband for her daughter, nor a better father for her grandchildren.
And whether Han wants to admit it or not, she thought with a smirk. Neither could he.
"You better make sure whoever you stick in command of this fleet knows the right password," Han said. "Cause I am not going to be happy if some idiot nerf herder vapes my son-in-law, you hear me, Kyrie?"
Kyrie smiled. "I assure you, Han, you don't need to worry about that. The officer in command of the fleet would blow up his own ship before vaping his nephew."
Han blinked. "You mean?"
Kyrie nodded. "General Antilles has agreed to command the assault fleet."
Leia saw a gleam enter Han's eye. "Well, then, we might just have a chance in hell to get this done right."
Wedge Antilles looked up from the datapad on his desk to see his daughter Syal standing in the doorway of his office. For a moment he almost thought she was Iella, but her features were much too young to be her mother's, even if they were almost identical.
Iella Wessiri had been the most beautiful woman Wedge had ever seen when he first met her all those years ago. With her slender, trim form, her long, golden blond hair and her brilliant blue eyes. He had fallen in love with her at first sight.
Now it seemed Syal had inherited her mother's beauty, and Myri, too, now that Wedge thought about it, but Myri was still young. Still just a child.
Syal was a woman.
"Hey, sweetheart," Wedge smiled, standing and pushing aside his datapad. He walked around the desk to embrace his daughter. "What brings you here?"
Syal hugged him tightly. "I had a break between examinations for schooling. I heard about Padme and Anakin."
Wedge tightened his hold on his child instinctively, even though he knew she was in no danger. "I'm sorry. I should have called you, but I didn't want to distract you from your studies."
Syal nodded that she understood. "You're going after them, right?" she asked. "Mom said that you were."
"Yes," Wedge replied. "Jag and the Solos and Skywalkers are already under way. The Peace Brigade contacted Luke and they traced the transmission to Almania."
"I read something about that in my books at school," Syal said, a thoughtful look on her face. "Luke was held captive there, and Mon Motha sent you and Leia after him. She was going to denounce you as rogues if you failed."
Once again Wedge was astounded at how much his oldest daughter absorbed form her books. He had never been much of a scholar, neither had Iella or anyone on her side of the family. Wedge and his sister had discussed it, but they could not remember anyone in their family ever being an intellectual of the sort that Syal was becoming.
"Right," Wedge said. He gave her a crooked smile. "Don't worry about your cousins. We're going to get them back safe and sound."
"I know," Syal replied. "But those Peace Brigaders..." She clenched her fists angrily. "They make me so mad. Padme and Anakin and Ben must be so scared! How dare they steal children?! Especially Jaina and Jag's children?!"
"Just wait until Jag gets a hold of them," Wedge told her. "There's going to be hell to pay."
That's an understatement, he thought to himself.
Syal smiled coolly. "Good. They deserve it."
Wedge was inclined to agree with her.
Studying her face, though, he saw tension and fear. It was in the set of her jaw, the grimness in her eyes. He had seen the same look on Iella's face too many times, and he knew what it meant.
"Sy," he said softly. "What else is bothering you? Why did you really come to see me?"
Syal bit her lip and was silent for a long moment. When she spoke her voice was faint and weak. "I'm worried about Valin," she admitted quietly.
Mixed feelings settled inside of Wedge. He was pleased that his daughter and Valin Horn were dating, but at the same time it was hard to see his little girl growing up, and he had never known so much that she was an adult as he did right then.
"I'm sure he'll be okay, sweetie," he said.
Syal shook her head, her face pale. "You don't know that, Daddy, don't pretend that you do. Even Corran doesn't know for sure whether or not Valin is going to be alright, and he's a Jedi."
Wedge knew she was right, but he could not bring himself to think like that. Once he did, he would be plagued by doubts and fears. Fears for Valin, fears for Jaina, fears for Jag and the kids if anything happened to Jaina. He hated not being able to do anything about that situation, but he knew that he could do something about this one.
"Your Uncle Soontir is going to search for them," Wedge told Syal. "He'll tear apart every corner of the Unknown Regions to find them if he has to. You know he won't rest until he finds Jaina."
Syal nodded miserably. "I know. But what if Valin's not with Jaina?" She grimaced. "I feel like such a brat for thinking that way. I love Jaina, I really do. She's smart and funny and pretty and brave and she treats me like an adult. She makes Jag happy and she's absolutely wonderful. And here I am worrying about whether or not Valin will be okay, and I'm acting like Jaina's not out there in just as much danger."
"Sy, honey," Wedge placed a hand on her shoulder. "It doesn't make you a bad person to worry about your boyfriend. It makes you human. And I know you're just as worried about Jaina as you are about Valin, but Jaina seems more capable and indestructible to you. You've grown up idolizing her and following all the amazing things she did in the Yuuzhan Vong war. In some aspects Jaina is much older than you or Valin, even if you were only born a few years later. It's natural to be more concerned for Valin's safety than hers."
Syal looked relieved, and Wedge realized that she had been beating herself up inside for putting Valin before Jaina. He was glad she knew that she wasn't being selfish by doing that.
"I'm just scared," Syal said softly.
Wedge frowned. "Scared of what, honey?"
"Sacred that Jaina might die," Syal answered hoarsely. "Scared that Anakin and Padme might be hurt. I'm scared that Jag might not make it back from Almania. I'm even scared that you might not make it back."
Wedge felt a lump rise up in his throat. All the things he worried about, the things he was trying not to think of, were making his daughter suffer, too.
"But most of all," Syal said, her eyes quivering with tears. "I'm afraid..." she swallowed and tears slid down her cheeks. "I'm afraid I'll never get to tell Valin that I love him."
Wedge's heart fell to his stomach. His little girl was in love. She was grown up and in love with a boy, a man, really, that she wanted to spend her life with. That was hard enough for a father to deal with, but then there was the fact that the man his daughter loved might not be coming back alive.
Wedge opened his mouth to tell her it would be okay, but the words caught in his throat. Instead, he slid his arms around her and held her close, rocking her back and forth.
"He knows, Sy," he whispered in her ear. "He knows, and he loves you, too."
"What if I never see him again, Daddy?" Syal sobbed into his shoulder.
Wedge didn't have an answer. There wasn't one, really.
Not when there was no way to know if Valin would come home alive.
So he just held her, and prayed, for her sake, that Valin came home at all.
awoke when a drop of water hit him square in the face.
He blinked, jerking his head in surprise. Everything was a green blur, but as his vision cleared, he realized two things.
One, he was surrounded by huge leaves. Two, he was about ten meters off of the ground.
For a moment Kyp was bewildered, as anyone who woke up in a tree would be. Then the events of the previous night came rushing back. He remembered the storm coming, and remembered Chane spotting the large cluster of massive trees with huge, fan shaped leaves that could offer them shelter from the rain.
Kyp, Tam and Chane had shimmied up the trees and then helped Octa and Imara climb up into the highest bows of the trees. The thick canopy of leaves overhead kept them dry, but they had climbed as high as they could go because of the ravenous predators roaming the ground below.
The growls had lasted long into the night, and Kyp had been grateful to be high above their heads.
He could almost see Jaina snickering, could almost hear her wry voice saying, The mighty Kyp Durron had to hide up a tree? He could almost feel her beside him, even though he knew that was not possible.
Then he realized that there was someone beside him.
Someone feminine with dark hair. It took Kyp a long moment to realize it was Octa. The rain had washed out the red dye from her hair, and she was sleeping peacefully against his shoulder.
Kyp stared at her for a moment. She really was beautiful. He'd never really noticed before, but she was. Her high cheek bones and pale skin were a drastic contrast to her short, jet black hair and her brilliant blue eyes. Kyp had never seen her features look so serene.
His arm felt numb and he looked over to see Octa's weight pinning it against the tree. Careful not to wake her, he shifted so his arm was freed. Octa stirred, pressing her cheek against his chest, and snuggling closer to him.
Kyp's heart was pounding. It was impossible not to notice the proximity between their bodies, and Octa wasn't helping any by pressing against him like she was. Kyp was just grateful that they were without the Force, because the way Octa usually reacted to anything involving him, she was likely to wake up, see the position they were in, turn to the dark side and fry him with Force lighting.
Kyp was surprised to find that that bothered him. The way Octa treated him in general bothered him. He didn't know why, it never had before. Or maybe it had and he had just accepted it, learned to ignore it.
Durron, he told himself. You're an idiot.
Octa whimpered in her sleep and Kyp instinctively reached out a hand to caress her cheek gently, and she relaxed against him. As soon as he realized what he'd done, Kyp yanked his hand away in shock. But he didn't want to. In fact, he liked his hand where it had been. In fact, he liked the position he was in. In fact-
Kyp shook his head. No, he told himself. Not happening. No Sithing way is that happening.
A voice in the back of his head, one that sounded annoyingly like Jaina, snickered, Yes, it is.
"No," he muttered darkly. "It's not."
"What's not?" Octa asked sleepily.
Kyp jumped, startled. I really miss the Force, he thought with a groan. He turned his head to look as her, and was surprised to find she was still curled up against him, blinking groggily. "Nothing," he said. "Don't worry about it."
Octa shrugged and yawned, stretching her arms and rolling over.
Kyp caught her just before she fell out of the tree.
"We're in a tree," Octa said, her eyes wide in shock.
Kyp nodded. "Remember? The storm? We came up here to stay dry and to sleep out of reach of whatever was making those howls last night."
Octa blinked, then nodded. "Now I do." She glanced over the side of the branch and her face paled. "Oh, that would have hurt."
Kyp grinned as she leaned back against him. "I imagine it would have."
Octa shuddered and pressed closer to him. "I don't like heights," she confessed quietly.
"Really?" Kyp asked, surprised. "I would never have guessed. I didn't think you were scared of anything."
Octa shrugged. "Everyone's scared of something."
"True," Kyp agreed. "Jaina has an extreme dislike for knaars."
Octa was quiet for a long moment, and Kyp got the feeling she wanted to say something, but wasn't exactly sure how to do it tactfully.
Since when has she ever worried about tact? he thought. Especially with me?
"Whatever you want to say," he said gently. "Just go ahead and say it. I'm not going to get offended."
Octa hesitated, biting her lip, then said, "Are you in love with Jaina?"
Kyp nearly fell out of the tree in shock. "What?" he cried incredulously. "No. Absolutely not. Not even if Hoth melted." He snorted. "Am I in love with Jaina? What kind of question is that?"
Octa shifted uneasily. "I don't know. You just seem to love her."
"I do love her," Kyp replied. "But I'm not in love with her. Jaina is my partner, my friend. My best friend. I don't look at her like that."
At least, I haven't in a long time, he amended to himself.
"So there's nothing romantic between you two at all?" Octa asked dubiously.
"Not in the slightest," Kyp said firmly. "Jaina is like a sister, almost. She's my other half, but not in any romantic sense." He saw something akin to relief flicker across her face, and realized he wasn't the only one unable to shield things without the Force. "I don't have a girlfriend," he added, although he had no idea why.
Octa shot him a wry smile. "Well, I can see why. Not many women would stand for their boyfriend to have a bond that intense with another woman."
Kyp felt his pulse quicken. "Would you?" he asked. He felt his face redden. "I mean, if your boyfriend had a bond like that with another female Jedi?"
He noticed Octa's cheeks flush slightly, and she looked down at the ground below. "I would, if I knew that he wasn't in love with her."
Kyp's heart hammered in his chest, and he felt his hands grow sweaty, something that had not happened to him in all the years that he had been a Jedi. Without the Force, though, he was just a normal guy, and Octa was just a normal girl, and before he knew it they were just leaning in to kiss one another.
Their lips were a centimeter apart when Tam's voice cut through the air. "Hey, are you guys awake up there?"
Kyp and Octa both jerked their heads away from one another, their faces red. Kyp leaned over the side of the branch to see Tam, Chane and Imara standing at the bottom of the tree. Thank the Force they can't see us from down there, he thought.
"Yes," he called down. "We'll be right down!"
"Hurry up," Imara yelled dryly. "I'm starving."
Kyp glanced back at Octa and was surprised to see her watching him, a rueful shyness in her eyes. He offered her his hand, which she took without hesitation, and began to climb down the tree, going slow so that he could help her along.
When they reached the bottom, Chane gave them a wry smile. "Good morning. I hope you two enjoyed your beauty sleep."
Kyp flashed him a crooked grin. "Looks like you could use a little more, Margrey."
Octa snickered, and Kyp felt warmth creep through him.
Tam rolled his eyes. "Come on, we need to find Jaina and the others. My guess is they'll be heading back towards the base."
Kyp nodded. "Probably. Those shuttles are the only way off this planet, so that's where we need to go. Maybe we'll meet up with the others on the way. If not, we'll have to steal a shuttle and go after them."
"And then get as far away from this Sithspawned planet as we can," Octa added. She shuddered slightly. "And hopefully away from the ysalamari gas affects."
Kyp nodded grimly. He only hoped that the affects wore off soon. They were vulnerable out here without the Force. Glancing at Octa, he murmured to himself, And not just to the Peace Brigade.
"Let's go," Tam said, starting through the jungle.
"Do you have any idea which way to go?" Imara demanded.
Tam shot her a confident smile. "Of course. I was a bantha scout, you know."
Octa groaned. "We're doomed."
Kyp winked at her. "I think you're right."
To his delight, she smiled brightly at him, and linked her arm through his. "Well, then, if we're doomed, I'd better keep an eye on you, just to make sure you go down with me."
She winked back at him and Kyp grinned.
Maybe it wasn't so bad grabbing her arm after all, the voice in his head snickered.
Shut up, Kyp thought happily.
Tahiri Veila turned to see Han Solo watching her. The man might very well have been her father-in-law by now, had Anakin not been killed almost eight years ago. It still hurt for Tahiri, it probably always would. She had accepted that. For her there would never be anyone else. Anakin Solo would forever be the only man she ever loved.
She saw him in his father sometimes. And in Jacen. It didn't hurt anymore, though, to see a glimpse of the man he might have become. Anakin was part of the Force, and one day she would join him.
"Yes?" she asked.
Han tossed her an extra blaster. "Just in case," he said, flashing her a lopsided smile.
A few years ago, Tahiri might have argued that she didn't need it, that she had her lightsaber, but she understood it was more about reassuring Han than any necessity on her part. Han and Leia Solo had taken her into their family, and though she was not a replacement for Anakin, he could never be replaced for any of them, her presence as part of their family did ease a little of the emptiness they felt. In her they saw a part of Anakin living on.
"Thank you," Tahiri said, holstering it in her belt. "Always nice to have a blaster at your side."
Han grinned. "Now you sound like a Solo, kid."
"Don't insult her, Han," Luke Skywalker called from the other side of the trees.
The strike team had managed to touch down on Almania undetected, and was busy preparing to sneak into the base. Jag, Luke, Piggy and Sharr were busy dividing up routes and objectives off to the side, while Jacen and Leia made sure that all of the Rogue Squadron pilots had plenty of ammo on them, and at least two blasters a piece.
The heavy artillery was being distributed by Han.
Tahiri recognized all of the weapons, most of them had been used on the strike mission to Myrkyr all those years ago. Since then, Tahiri had made a point of learning how to operate each and every one of them, just in case.
Blaster rifles, thermal detonators, grenades, flechette mines, and vibro-axes were being strapped onto the Rogue Squadron pilots, and Tahiri could not imagine what they would do with so many weapons. But she had the Force, the greatest weapon of all, and she supposed they were merely trying to even out the score a little.
Besides, she thought. Who knows what we're going to run into in there. The better armed they are, the better the chances we get the kids out safely and all get out alive.
"Alright," Luke said. "Everyone, listen up."
Tahiri squeezed past the Solos, shooting Jacen a grateful smile as he stepped aside to let her pass. While Han and Leia had made Tahiri a surrogate daughter, Jacen and Jaina had openly accepted her as a surrogate sister. Tahiri knew that Jaina knew she and Anakin would have gotten married if things had been different. She didn't know whether Jacen understood that, but he did seem to understand that Anakin would want him to care for Tahiri as best as he could, so Jacen did just that.
"We'll be splitting into three groups," Luke said, his voice quiet but confident, the Force carrying it to everyone's ears. "Colonel Fel will be leading one group, I'll be leading the second, and Han will have the third and final team."
Tahiri already knew what her assignment was, she was a Jedi after all. She had helped plan during their hyperspace jump with Luke and Mara. Still, she listened intently in case any changes had been made.
"Leia, Mara and I will retrieve the children," Luke said, which made sense to Tahiri. They were the three strongest Jedi present, and Ben was Luke and Mara's son.
"Make sure you beat Dirk with that lightsaber for me, Mara," Jag called.
Mara nodded, a feral smile on her lips. "Oh, I will, Jagged. Make no mistake about that."
Tahiri smirked. Poor Dirk. Much pain and suffering I see in your future. She snickered, unable to feel even remotely sorry for him. He had taken Anakin and Padme, he had taken Ben. He deserved whatever form of torture Mara had in store for him.
I'd say he deserved worse, Jacen said wryly, picking up on her thoughts. But I can't thing of anything that would be than Aunt Mara's wrath.
I don't think there is, Tahiri replied. Except for maybe Jaina's anger.
Not a chance, Mara cut in with a mental smirk. I taught that girl everything she knows.
Actually, dear, Luke corrected with a snicker. I was her teacher before you.
And I'm her mother, Leia snapped lightly. She gets her grit from me.
How space happy have they all gone? Tahiri asked Jacen. They're arguing over who taught Jaina to have a temper. Isn't that one of the things that Master Skywalker tries not to teach us?
A satisfying silence filled her mind as the others withdrew ruefully, tossing smirks in her direction.
"Jag's group is going to consist of Piggy, Sharr and Tahiri," Luke went on, as if nothing had happened. "Jag's in charge, but Tahiri is your Jedi. Listen to her, trust her. She may very well end up saving your life."
"We know how to listen to Jedi," Piggy grunted. "Even if they aren't the Great One."
"This one's much cuter than the Goddess," Sharr said, winking at Tahiri.
Tahiri grinned. The Yuuzhan Vong war had been over almost five years, and the two former Wraiths still insisted on calling Jaina by her Yun-Harla nicknames. Piggy said it was a term of endearment, Sharr said it was too much fun to quit. Jaina said it was all a conspiracy to drive her crazy.
Tahiri thought Jaina was probably right.
"Your job is to gain control of the security bridge," Luke continued as though he had not heard the interruption. "As soon as you do that, Tahiri will contact me, Mara or Leia, and we'll move in for the children."
"That leaves you boys with me and the kid," Han said, grinning cockily at Rogue Squadron and draping an arm around his son's shoulders.
"Dad," Jacen said. "I'm hardly a kid anymore. I have kids of my own already."
"You'll always be kids to me," Han grinned. "All of you. You, Jaina, Kyp-"
"Han Solo, don't you even add my name to that list," Luke said. "I may be young compared to an old man like you, but I'm hardly a kid."
Jag made an exasperated sound, but Tahiri saw amusement in his eyes as he turned towards his squadron. "Your objective is to secure the perimeter. Take prisoners if they surrender, otherwise, shoot to kill. That's what they'll be doing."
"What, you thought they'd invite us in for whiskey and nerf chips, kid?" Han snickered.
Jag ignored him. "My father-in-law is not to be shot at, no matter how many annoying comments he makes, or how aggravating he becomes. However, I have heard that carbon freezing does wonders for shutting him up."
Tahiri couldn't help but laugh at the wicked look Jag shot Han as he turned to gather up his equipment, and the look on Han's face was priceless.
"Alright, boys," Leia said, rolling her eyes. "That's enough. We have children to save, remember? Your children, Jag, and your grandchildren, Han."
That sombered both men immediately. Han clasped Jag's hand in his. "We'll keep any more of them from getting in to bother you, you just worry about securing that bridge and getting rid of that ysalamari."
Jag nodded. "I will. Luke and Leia will see to the children. We'll leave Mara to deal with Dirk."
Mara grinned and held her lightsaber in her hand, tapping the hilt against her palm eagerly. "Come out, come out, where ever you are, Dirk!" she called with icy sweetness that made several of the Rogue Squadron pilots shiver.
Dirk had better start running, Tahiri thought to Jacen with a snicker. He's got something worse than the Death Star, Darth Vader and the Emperor put together on his tail.
Jacen shot her a wry look across the field.
Stang straight, he said. My Aunt Mara.
coughed violently, and she stumbled through the thick overgrowth of the jungle
floor. She would have fallen, had Valin not caught her by the arm and steadied
her until her coughing fit passed.
"You okay?" he asked, looking at her worriedly.
Jaina nodded. "I'm fine."
Valin frowned. "Are you sure?"
Jaina could net help but smile. It was nice to know that he cared about her, that he was concerned about her. "I've just got a little cold, that's all."
"Yeah," Valin said, sniffling. "Me, too, I think."
Jaina knew that she was sick, probably more sick than a normal cold would make her. She had slept in wet clothes in the cold all night long, and had woken up coughing, burning up and dizzier than a spinning Hutt. But she didn't tell Valin that. There was nothing he could do, and it would only make him worry even more.
"I guess we Jedi take for granted that we don't get sick like most people do," Jaina said with a rueful smile. "Without the Force, we're vulnerable to all the things they are."
"I'm really beginning to hate my life," Valin said wryly, sneezing halfway through the words. "Or rather, I'm beginning to hate this planet."
"You and me both," Jaina replied. She took a deep breath, then glanced at Valin. "Let's start walking again. I feel better, and we aren't too far from the base."
Valin raised an eyebrow skeptically. "Are you sure? The entire jungle looks exactly the same to me. How can you tell?"
"Women's intuition," Jaina said with a wink.
"Ah," Valin said. "My mother speaks very highly of that. She claims it's more powerful than the Force itself."
Jaina chuckled. "Don't let my uncle hear you say that. He'll think you need a few more years at the Academy."
"No thank you," Valin snorted. "I did my time."
They walked in silence for the rest of the way since they were close to the base and didn't want to chance that any Peace Brigade soldiers would happen by and hear them. Jaina ran a hand through her loose hair as they trudged on. The rain had washed most of the dye out, but her hair was still a few shades lighter than its normal dark brown. Golden streaks made the top layer seem brighter, the sun glistening on carmel strands.
Valin's hair was completely black again, since he had less hair it had been easier to wash out all of the dye. They had both taken out their colored lenses on the Sky Bandit, so Jaina felt like Jaina Solo again, instead of Arwyn Sunflare. She only wished she had clothes befitting Jaina Solo.
Her tight, black fighting pants were shredded at the knees, with slashed and tears scattered across the material, and her black tank top was missing a strap. She was sore, bruised and scarped all over, and her skin felt clammy and hot.
I used to love the jungle on Yavin Four, she thought with a sigh. But this wasn't Yavin Four, it was some nameless planet in the Unknown Regions, and she didn't have the Force here like she did on Yavin Four. Besides, she reminded herself. Yavin Four doesn't have a jungle anymore really. Everything is still growing back.
Jaina knew that her uncle, Tionne and Kam made the trip twice a year to Yavin Four, to check on the progress of the regrowth, and to help it along a little with the Force. The Jedi planned to relocated the Academy back to Yavin Four once it was stable again, and Jaina couldn't wait for that day to come. She had been among the Jedi who had fought for the jungle moon, and she would never forget the emotion in her uncle's voice when she commed him on Mon Calamari to tell him they had retaken Yavin Four. It had been a surge of hope for the Jedi, one that had given them strength to keep fighting.
One day Yavin Four would house the Jedi Academy again, but for now it served as a memorial. The Yuuzhan Vong had not destroyed the temple, much to Leia and Luke's relief. The temple had been their shelter during the Rebellion, and for them, and the other Rebellion survivors, it held a place of great importance in their hearts. Now, though, the temple served a much more important cause.
A reminder to the Jedi that they were not invincible, a reminder of how near they had come to extinction. And a reminder of just what victory had cost them.
Jaina had been to Yavin Four only once since the day they had reclaimed it. She had gone back to the temple, to the room that had once been Anakin's, to sit and meditate in the dark, her brother's presence so near and yet so far at the same time.
Being there, in the room that held so many memories for her brother, Jaina had found her peace. She still mourned her fallen brother, but she had finally been able to lay him to rest, to trust in the Force and what it had in store for him, for all of them.
I sure wish you were here now, Little Brother, Jaina thought. You always were good at impossible puzzles. You could find a way out of this mess in no time.
But Anakin wasn't there, and Jaina would have to solve this puzzle on her own.
She only hoped the solution she had come up with would work. If it didn't, it would cost her and Valin their lives.
Ahead of her, Valin came to a sudden stop. He turned, his finger at his lips, and then held up two fingers, gesturing beyond him.
Jaina peered past him, leaning on his shoulder so she didn't loose her balance, and let out a satisfied hiss of surprise at what she saw.
Two Peace Brigade soldiers, a man and a woman, relatively close to their age, were walking towards the base, their backs to them.
Maybe the Force is with us even if we can't feel it, Jaina thought with a smile.
She looked at Valin, nodded, and gave him a thumbs up to go. They both tensed, readying their muscles, unhooking their lightsabers silently. Taking a deep breath, Jaina took a silent, stealthy step closer. She felt Valin do the same, and, even without the Force, they made their move at the same time.
Leaping at the Peace Brigaders from behind, they ignited their lightsabers and swung at their necks.
It was over before the Peace Brigaders even got their hands onto their weapons.
Jaina panted, feeling the affect of using a lightsaber without the finesse of the Force. It had been a sloppy strike, one that could have failed easily, had the Peace Brigaders been better trained. She felt slightly guilty for attacking them with their backs turned, but there had been no other choice. They might not have succeeded had the soldiers drawn their weapons, and if the soldiers had gotten to their comm-links, everything would have been ruined. Jaina's plan was depending on the element of surprise.
And it had been necessary to kill the soldiers instead of just rendering them unconscious, because if they came to and found their way back to base, the Peace Brigade would know that there were Jedi among them, and the plan would be useless.
Jaina hesitated, then reminded herself that this woman had chosen to join the Peace Brigade, she had chosen to pursue the extermination of the Jedi and their very way of life.
Sighing, Jaina removed the Peace Brigade uniform from the dead woman, aware of Valin doing the same to the male solider. Thankfully, lightsabers made clean, cauterized cuts, so there was no blood on the uniforms, no sign of any struggle at all.
Jaina pulled her boots through the pant legs of the green jumpsuit, then tugged it on over her clothes, wincing a little as she moved her bruised ribs too much. She clipped the Peace Brigade comm-link at her belt, and slid on the woman's blaster holster. Satisfied that she looked like a Peace Brigade solider, she turned to inspect Valin.
He was holding his lightsaber in his hand, blade extinguished, a worried look on his face. There was pain in his eyes, pain that Jaina understood all too well.
"We'll have to come back for them," she told him. "Find a safe hiding place for them for now, and once we've done what we came to do, we'll pick them up again."
Valin nodded, but there was uneasiness in his face as he looked around for a hiding spot. "What about over there?" he asked.
Jaina followed his gaze to a large, dying tree with its roots protruding from the ground. Beneath the roots was a small opening, big enough for their lightsabers, and small enough to keep them from being seen.
"That'll do," Jaina said. She held out her hand to him. "Give me yours."
Valin hesitated, then placed the hilt in her hand. Jaina walked over to the tree, knelt down, and placed the two lightsabers as far back as she could. Content that no one would be able to spot them, she stood and walked back to Valin.
"Let's go," she said quietly, forcing herself to ignore the hollowness she felt at leaving her weapon behind. Her lightsaber was like an arm or leg, an appendage of herself. She felt incomplete without it. But she knew that they had to leave them behind, if they were discovered with lightsabers on them, the Peace Brigade would know they were Jedi.
Jaina started walking, and Valin fell into step beside her. They walked through the jungle, and emerged in the clearing that held the base. Glancing to her left, Jaina saw the spot where they had been ambushed with the ysalamari gas, and she felt another pang of worry go through her.
Were the others okay? Were they out in the jungle somewhere, or had they been captured? Were they even alive? And, the more selfish part of her wanted to know what had happened to Kyp.
Durron,you better not be dead, she thought at him, tears stinging her eyes. If you are by the Force I'll...
She didn't know what she would do. She didn't want to know. Jaina couldn't imagine living without Kyp any more than she could living without Jacen or Jag.
Valin tensed as they drew near the entrance to the base. He glanced at her, nervously, and she flashed him a quick, cocky smile. He relaxed a little, and waggled his eyebrows as they approached the guards.
The guards stepped aside and let them enter, and Jaina forced down a wave of uneasiness as they entered the heart of enemy territory, virtually unarmed.
Jaina had never felt more vulnerable.
Well, she thought grimly. Here goes nothing.
was awaken by the sound of the door sliding open.
He blinked, sitting open groggily, and saw one of the Peace Brigade men placing something in the corner. Anakin tried to see what it was, but he was too weak, too dizzy and too tired to tell. Part of him wondered why when he had just woken up from a long nap, but everything was all fuzzy and wrong.
The man glanced at him, a cold smile on his face, then slipped back out of the room.
Anakin felt feverish, his head was spinning, and he thought he might collapse as he struggled to his feet. He stumbled over to the corner and came to an unsteady halt before some kind of metal wire cage.
Inside was the reason he felt sick.
Great, he thought. Now it's in our room instead of just in the base.
Behind him he heard Ben moan and he turned, somewhat wobbly, to see his cousin kneeling on the floor, holding his head. "I feel like someone dropped a starship on my head," Ben groaned, his voice weary.
"Almost," Anakin said, finding it hard to think clearly. "They brought in the ysalamari."
Ben crawled over to him, blinking. "Why?" he asked.
Anakin shrugged. "Don't know."
Ben's eyes went wide. "Our parents. Maybe they came and the Peace Brigade knows and they don't want our parents to find us. Now they can't fight if they come here. Don't you think?"
Suddenly Anakin did think, and he thought Ben was right. The Peace Brigade had made a point of keeping the ysalamari close enough to them to block the Force, but far enough that it would not make them sick. They didn't want to deal with sick children.
But suddenly they do? he asked himself.
"Yeah," he answered. "You're right."
Ben nodded, and just about fell over because of it. He steadied himself, blinking heavily. "We gotta get rid of it," he said. "Gotta get rid of it before Mom and Dad get here."
Anakin had the sense not to nod after seeing Ben do it, so he said, "Yeah." He wanted to say more, but he couldn't think clearly. He felt like he was wading through mud, or trapped underwater. Nothing felt right, and it was all because of the lizard in the cage before him. "How?" he asked.
Ben frowned. "Don't know," he said. "Can't think."
"Me, too," Anakin replied.
A soft cry of pain and fear made them both spin so fast they stumbled into one another. Padme was trying to stand, blinking, tears streaking down her cheeks. "It hurts," she said. "My head. I hurt. Everything hurts."
"It's the ysalamari," Ben told her gently. "It's in here."
Padme scowled. "Get it out," she said.
"We can't," Anakin told her.
Padme's green eyes darkened. "Get it out, get it out, get it out!"
"Pady," Ben cried. "We just told you, we can't get it out of here."
Padme ignored him, ignored them both, and dragged herself gracelessly over to the cage. She wrung her little fingers through the wire cage, shaking it with all her strength. "Get out, get out!" she yelled at the lizard, then turned to glare at them. "Help me!"
"Pady, we can't-"
"Help me get him out," she cried angrily.
And suddenly Anakin realized what she was talking about. Ben must have, too, because he grabbed onto the cage from the opposite side at the same time as Anakin. "On three," Ben said, sweat trickling down his forehead. "One ... two ... three!"
On three all three children tugged. Hard.
Anakin felt his arm straining, felt like he was going to break his arms off of his body, and let out a cry of pain. Tears welled up in his eyes, and he was about to scream when he heard a loud snap and felt the resistance against his arms give way.
He fell back, almost hitting his head on the floor. He groaned, lifting himself up on unsturdy elbows to see Padme and Ben both struggling to stand, their movements slow and clumsy.
The cage lay broken on the floor, and the ysalamari was scurrying towards the door frantically. "Get it!" Anakin choked out.
Padme, smacking her hand down so fast Anakin was impressed, caught the lizard by the tail. Her face contorted in a horrible expression and she looked like she was about to faint, but she did not let go of the ysalamari.
Ben trudged over to her, raised his foot somewhat clumsily, then brought it down hard.
The blanket around Anakin's mind fell away and he suddenly felt as if someone had switched on a bright light. For a moment he was blind, overwhelmed, but then the Force settled in him again, and he found that he was normal again.
"It worked!" he cried excitedly.
Ben nodded, a grin on his face. He helped Padme to her feet, smiling proudly at her. "That was a good catch, Pady. Thanks."
Padme rubbed her eyes, looking a little dazed. She dried the streaks of tears from her cheeks, then smiled. "All better."
Anakin laughed. "Good."
Padme turned to look at him, and he felt her reach out and touch his mind gently with the Force, just to reassure herself that everything was okay. He brushed her back, and smiled as a broad grin lit her pretty face.
"Ani!" she cried, running to him and throwing her arms around him. Anakin hugged her back, so relieved to feel her through the Force that it brought tears to his eyes.
"I knew it!" Ben cried, ecstatic.
Anakin turned to look at him. "What is it?" he asked.
Ben grinned triumphantly. "My Mom and Dad are here! I felt them, and they felt me! They're coming to rescue us!"
Anakin blinked in astonishment, then reached out with the Force. Tentatively, he searched for the presences of his family, and let out a small gasp as his Uncle Luke and Gramma Leia brushed him with the Force.
We're coming for you, Uncle Luke promised. Just hold on.
Don't be scared, Gramma Leia said. Everything's going to be alright now.
Stretching out a bit farther, Anakin found Aunt Mara with Uncle Luke and Gramma Leia. Aunt Tahiri and Uncle Jacen were there, too, but farther away. Anakin reached out, calling for his mother, but he couldn't find her.
She wasn't there.
She wasn't anywhere.
Anakin's lip started to tremble. Mama? he thought desperately. Mama, where are you?
There was no answer. Anakin couldn't feel his Mama anymore. He could feel everyone else, but he could not feel her.
And nothing had ever terrified him more.
"Papa's here!" Padme cried, squealing happily. "Papa! Papa!"
Anakin frowned, reaching out for his other parent, and was surprised to find Padme was right. Their Papa was here, along with Granpa Han, and he was angry. Very angry. But he was also scared. For Anakin, and for Padme.
Anakin wished he could reach out to his Papa, to tell him he was okay, but his Papa was not a Jedi. Anakin could sense him, because he shone so brightly in the Force, but his Papa could not sense him.
That was okay, though. Anakin could wait. He could wait until he got to hug his Papa again, and cry into his shoulder, and ask him what was wrong with Mama.
But first they had to find him.
"We gotta get out of here," Anakin said.
Ben nodded. "Yeah. We gotta find our parents and get away from here."
"Mama not here," Padme said softly, and Anakin saw tears welling in her eyes. "Mama not anywhere!"
Ben frowned. "What are you talking about Pad-" his voice broke off and his face paled slightly. Anakin didn't need to ask to know he had reached out for his Mama and felt the same blank spot that Anakin and Padme had.
"Mama," Padme sniffled, looking on the verge of tears.
Ben snapped out of his shock and placed a hand on her shoulder. "She's fine, Pady. She's probably just near some of the ysalamari or something. Remember how no one could feel us when it was near us? That's why we can't feel her. So don't cry, okay?"
Padme sniffled. "'Kay."
Ben looked at Anakin. "She's fine," he said again, but somehow Anakin didn't think that he believed it.
"Okay," Anakin said dully.
Ben walked over to the door and peered at it curiously. He reached up a hand to press the touch pad, but nothing happened. "It's locked," he reportedly with a sigh.
Anakin pushed past him and pressed his hand against the pad. He closed his eyes and reached out with his powers to look at the inside of it. He found the locking mechanism and gave it a nudge. The door slid open and Anakin grinned in delight.
Ben shot him a dirty look. "Show off," he muttered, winking at him. "Padme, come here. Hold Anakin's hand, okay? Don't let go of it, no matter what, until we find the adults. Understand?"
Padme nodded. "'Kay, Ben." She took Anakin's hand in hers and clutched it tightly. "Stay right with Anakin. Won't get lost, Ben, promise."
Anakin smiled despite himself. His Mama was always telling Padme to hold his hand so she didn't get lost. Well, he didn't want her to get lost, so he was glad that Padme was going to stay with him. It was hard sometimes, having a little sister to worry about. Especially one who got herself into as much trouble as Padme did.
"I know you won't," Ben grinned at her. He glanced down the hallway. "Okay, it's all clear. Let's go. And try to be quiet, okay? We don't wanna get caught again."
Anakin sure didn't. He wanted to find his Papa, he wanted to go home.
He wanted his Mama.
"Okay," Anakin whispered, squeezing Padme's hand.
Ben smiled at him, then started down the corridor, waving for Anakin to follow.
Anakin squeezed Padme's hand once more, then took off after Ben, Padme in tow.
I hope Papa's nearby, he thought.
A hollow feeling in his tummy stirred at the thought of his parents. He swallowed hard, remembering the cold blank spot where his Mama should have been.
And Anakin ran faster.
drew to a sudden stop in front of them, and without the Force to warn them, the
others all ran into her, almost knocking her off her feet.
She glared at them, and they at her, and Nianne Terrat groaned, rubbing her head where it had collided with Tesar's rough scales.
"I apologizze," Tesar hissed, looking at her. "Without the Force thiss one iss clumssy."
"We all are," Imara said gently. "Alema, try to be more careful next time, okay? I know you didn't do it on purpose, but we can't sense what you're going to do without the Force. Let's try not to trip each other again."
"Why did you stop anyway?" Merik asked.
Alema nodded ahead of them. "There is someone coming. Several someones from the way they're moving, and they had something with them."
"Something?" Nianne asked, swallowing.
"I don't like the sound of that," Imara said nervously.
"Neither do I," Alema replied. "Tesar, can you smell them? How many are there?"
"And more importantly, what do they have with them?" Merik added.
Tesar raised his nose into the air, his nostrils flaring against the slight wind. "There are three guards coming this way," he said. "They have some sort of ... creature with them."
"Creature?" Imara echoed, her face going pale. "What kind of creature?"
"One with sharp claws and very big teeth," Merik said, his voice sounding strange. Nianne heard a soft growl and felt the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Slowly, she turned to look past Merik, and her blood ran cold at what she saw.
The three Peace Brigaders stood behind them, cold, smug smiles on their faces.
At their heels were three reptilian predators with brown, rusty looking scales and cold, primeval yellow eyes. They stood upright, on their hind legs, which had fearsome looking claws on the ends, and their arms were tensed, razor sharp claws outstretched, ready to slice flesh from flesh. Their mouths were full of hideously large and powerful fangs, and they snapped their jaws at the Jedi hungrily.
"Oh Sith..." Imara gasped, her voice catching in terror.
"They're called torikks," one of the Peace Brigaders sneered. "They're flesh eaters, as I'm sure you've noticed."
"Run," Alema said, her voice tight with fear. "Run, now!"
Nianne didn't need to be told twice. She turned and broke into a sprint, the others doing the same around her. Behind her she heard the Peace Brigaders laugh and heard the horrible sounds of claws scraping the ground as the torikks took up chase.
Oh Sith, Nianne thought, terror coursing through her veins. Oh Sith, oh Sith, oh Sith!
Her heart was pounding furiously, so loud that she could not hear anything else except the horrifying screeches of the bloodthirsty predators behind her and the pounding of feet around her.
If they had been able to touch the Force, the torikks would have been no problem. Five Jedi against three simple minded beats? It would be an easy victory for the Jedi Knights.
But without the Force they were easy prey.
Nianne hated being anything's prey.
I think I'd rather die at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong than be ripped apart by one of those things, Nianne thought grimly. And that was saying something, indeed.
Tesar and Alema were in the lead, being the most agile runners, and Nianne envied Tesar's Barbel speed.
As if he knew she was thinking of him, Tesar turned his head towards her. "We musst ssplit up," he hissed. "It will be harder for them to catch uss, and we have a better chance of killing them one at a time."
Nianne knew he was right, but she had a horrible fear of trying to kill one of the monsters behind her. She wasn't sure it was possible given the situation.
"Right," Alema said. "We'll spilt up in three groups, they'll divide to chase us."
"Thiss one will go alone," Tesar hissed. "Alema, take Imara, Merik, take Nianne."
"We'll break left," Alema replied.
"We've got right," Merik added.
"Sstay closse," Tesar warned. "We musst watch one another'ss backss."
Nianne nodded her agreement. She felt Merik grab her hand, heard him say, "Break!" and was tugged hard to the side.
A torikk rushed past her, plowing through the spot where she had just stood.
There was an echoing snap-hiss as lightsabers flickered on, and Nianne somehow managed to ignite hers and get it in her hand before the torikk who had run past her turned back. Merik stepped close to her, holding his scarlet blade out in front of them both. She brought her own pale yellow blade up behind his, swallowing hard.
You are a Jedi, she reminded her self firmly. Even without the Force, you are a Jedi. A Jedi knows no fear.
Well, this one did.
Beside her, Merik planted his feet firmly on the rough ground. The slavering torikk was not at all intimidated by their lightsabers, and leaped forward, snapping its powerful jaws. Nianne jumped sideways, and Merik dove to the ground, gracelessly rolling to his feet.
As the torikk untangled itself from the vines it had run into, Nianne risked a glance at the others. Alema and Imara were to her left, lightsabers raised high. They were ducking and slashing, but their thrusts were clumsy and awkward without the Force. Somehow, though, they managed to avoid the gnashing teeth and gnarled claws.
Tesar was jumping nimbly, his Barbel grace giving him equal footing with the torikks. His lightsaber moved slow and uncomfortably in his hands, but he was darting in and out of the creature's reach, and Nianne was thrilled to see his blade sever one of the torikks forearms.
"Nianne!" Merik shouted a warning.
Nianne whirled to find the torikk lunging for her. She tried to bring her lightsaber up, but it was heavy and ungainly, and her movements too slow.
Some detached part of her mind wished she had gotten to tell Chane she loved him one more time, for it seemed her life was about to come to a brutally painful end.
And then Merik was there, his lightsaber sweeping out in a blazing swath of crimson to cleave the monster's head clean off its shoulders, and the body slumped to the ground at Nianne's feet, still writhing ravenously.
Nianne couldn't breathe for a long moment, staring in horror at the beast before her. She raised her eyes to Merik's pale, weary face and opened her mouth to thank him, but he waved her off. "You'd have done the same for me, and you know it. Don't even bother."
A loud roar of agony filled the air and they whirled in time to see Tesar sever the legs out from under his torikk, knocking the creature to the ground. He pounced on it, driving his blade into the throat, and the screeching growl cut off sharply as the torikk's eyes glazed over.
As disgusted as Nianne was, she was impressed.
Tesar didn't seem to be, though, and he leapt immediately to help Alema and Imara, who were hacking furiously at the remaining torikk as he snapped at their flesh, cornering them against one of the trees. Nianne and Merik broke into a run towards them, but skidded to a halt as the Force suddenly rushed back into their veins, blindsiding both of them.
Apparently it came back to the others, or at least to Alema, because she swung forward with sudden grace, tearing open the torikk's rib cage. It fell, screeching and thrashing. Tesar plunged his blade into its throat as he had done with his, dispatching the last of their attackers.
Alema was panting hard, and Imara looked ready to faint her skin had gotten so pale. "Thanks, Tesar," Imara said quietly.
"Thiss one wass honored to," Tesar replied dismissively.
"The Force is back," Alema said, her voice betraying sweet relief.
"The affects of the ysalamari gas must have worn off," Imara replied shakily. "I still can't feel it, so I guess it wears off at different rates in different species."
"I feel it," Nianne said, shaking her head.
"So do I," Merik added. "So it must not be a species thing. It must just wear off differently for each individual."
"Thiss one regretss to say that he doess not have accesss to the Force yet," Tesar hissed, a decidedly dejected tone to his voice.
"It'll come back," Merik assured him. "It shouldn't be too much longer if three of us can already tap into it again."
"Right," Imara said, nodding. "It's only a matter of time."
"We need to find the others," Nianne said. "As soon as they can touch the Force again, it'll be easy."
Alema nodded. "Let's go." She started to switch off her lightsaber, then hesitated. She drew her finger away from the switch, deciding to leave it on.
Nianne raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
"Just in case," Alema said grimly.
Nianne followed her gaze to the dead torikks and shivered. Just in case, she agreed silently.
they know we're here?" Jacen Solo asked his father.
Blaster bolts whizzed past his head, and Han Solo glared at his son. "I think it's safe to assume they do, kid."
"I don't know," Jacen said calmly. "They're doing some horrible shooting to be aiming for targets."
"Jacen, son," Han said wryly. "Not everyone in the galaxy can have Jedi accuracy like you. These idiots are trying to kill you. They aren't likely to succeed, but they are trying. Give them a break."
Jacen grinned despite himself. "Whatever you say, Dad."
"Solo," Captain Blackwing rolled his eyes. "And Solo. Could you two save the witty banter until after we live through this?"
"Hey, Fel put me in charge here, not you," Han shot back. "I'll make as many comments as I want to, seeing as how you can't shoot me and I don't see any carbonite stash around here."
"Sir, do I have to live through this then?" Dowen called dryly.
Han scowled. "Yes, you do."
Jacen stifled a laugh as his father turned and opened fire on the Peace Brigaders shooting at them. Jacen himself was not fighting, not yet. He was saving his energy for the right moment, listening to the Force guide him and trusting it to tell him when to enter this battle.
His father and the nine members of Rogue Squadron present were pressed up against the side of the building, locked in a shootout with a horde of Peace Brigaders across the way. They probably could have snuck farther into the base before being seen, but they had not bothered to conceal their presence. In fact, they had purposely drawn as much attention to themselves as they could.
That was the plan.
While Jag's team infiltrated the base security bridge and took control of the base, while his uncle, his aunt and his mother went after the children, Jacen and his group had one very simple job to do.
Act as bait, and survive.
So Jacen's team was making as much noise, being as obvious as possible, to make it known that they were there. While the Peace Brigaders swarmed to their location to stop them, it was giving the other two teams time to slip into the base and carry out their objectives.
Probably shouldn't let Jaina hear you calling her children objectives, he advised himself.
Jacen was trying not to show it, but he was worried about his sister. Very worried. He knew she wasn't dead, he would have known if she had been killed, but the ysalamari near her and the distance between them was running interference. He hated not being able to touch his twin's mind, not being able to sense if she was hurt or not.
His only reassurance was that she was not alone. Her squadron, or most of it anyway, was with her. And more importantly, Kyp was with her. At first it had been awkward for Jacen, to come back from Yuuzhan Vong captivity to find that Jaina had developed such a strong and unyielding bond with someone else, but as time passed it became easier to accept. Kyp wasn't taking his sister away from him, he was only giving her the friendship Jacen could not. In many ways, Kyp had assumed Anakin's role as Jacen's partner in caring for and protecting Jaina, even though Kyp would never replace their little brother. Nor would Kyp ever want to. No one could replace Anakin. He was just too ... well, just too irreplaceable.
"We need to secure the perimeter to the annex," Blackwing said, glancing at Jacen. "Was Skywalker right? Is that where the kids are?"
Jacen closed his eyes, reaching out to the annex. He sensed Tahiri and Jag inside, making their way towards the security bridge, passed over them, and continued extending himself through the annex. His team was going to secure the annex regardless of whether or not the kids were there, Jag's team needed them to prevent anyone from getting in so they could do their job, and Luke needed them to prevent anyone from getting out so he could do his.
Jacen blinked in surprise as he found the children. Somehow, they had gotten themselves free. And not just from the ysalamari bubble, but from their cell. He gaped in astonishment.
"What?" Han asked, noticing his expression. "What is it?"
"The kids escaped," Jacen said in disbelief. "They broke free of their cell and are moving towards Jag and Tahiri right now. They're using the Force. They got free."
Han grinned cockily. "Don't act so surprised, kid. I seem to recall you kids doing that a few times yourself. Amazed your Mom and Uncle Luke, that's for sure. Me, I knew you kids were going to be impressive. You were Solos after all."
Jacen stretched out to his mother. The kids are free, he told her. They're headed towards Jag and Tahiri now.
We know, Leia replied. Luke told them to go that way. We're going to find Dirk.
The best way to kill the Peace Brigade is to sever its head? Jacen asked.
Stang straight, Mara replied. That and I just feel like ripping his head off. But your theory sounds better. Can you tell that to your uncle?
Jacen tilted his head to the side distractedly, and a blaster bolt sailed right past. His father ignored him, as if nothing had happened, but Blackwing blinked, surprised.
Excuse me, Jacen, Mara said. I think I've found the man I want to have a little ... discussion with.
Good luck, Dirk, Jacen snickered. You're going to need it.
"Do we secure the annex still?" Blackwing asked.
Jacen glanced his way. "Yes. The kids are en route to Colonel Fel as we speak."
Blackwing nodded. "Then let's get that perimeter set up now."
"Excellent idea," Han drawled as blaster fire poured down on them. He shot back twice, then grinned at Jacen. "Let's go, son."
"I suppose you want to just waltz in there with your blaster and shoot them all single handed?" Blackwing snorted.
Han rolled his eyes. "I've got a secret weapon."
Blackwing looked dubious. "Oh yeah? What's that?"
Han jerked his blaster at Jacen. "My son."
Before Blackwing could reply, Han stood and stepped aside, letting Jacen slip past. Jacen called his lightsaber into his hand and prepared to step out into the open.
"Hey, son?" Han called. Jacen turned to look at his father inquisitively. Han flashed him a lopsided smile. "Give 'em hell, kid."
Jacen grinned. "I will, Dad. I will."
Igniting his green blade as he emerged from behind the wall, Jacen smirked in satisfaction as the Peace Brigaders' eyes widened in fear. Guess my reputation precedes me after all, he thought. Now is it my reputation as a Solo, as a Skywalker or as a Jedi?
It was probably a little of all three, just like Jacen.
His blade came up unconsciously to deflect the shots aimed at his head, and Jacen began to make his way closer to the barricade of soldiers, turning back each shot that came close to him, and letting those that missed continue on their way to hit the wall behind him.
When he was certain he was close enough, he leapt onto the roof of the building, ignoring the startled gasps from both Rogue Squadron and Peace Brigade as he cleared the three story jump easily. Extending his hand down towards the Peace Brigaders, Jacen focused his mind on their blasters, weaving a Force net around them, and gave a hard tug.
The weapons flew out of their hands and up into his reach. Jacen deposited them on the rooftop, then flipped back down to the ground, landing in the center of the courtyard. He heard his father give the signal and saw the Rogue Squadron pilots move along the side of the quad, their weapons aimed at the Peace Brigade soldiers.
Confident that Rogue Squadron would lock down the perimeter, Jacen kept his attention on the men before him, who were fidgeting anxiously. He knew some of them were going to attack him, but he didn't want to kill those who were ready to surrender. Death would be quick and painless. He would much rather they spend their lives in prison.
Or the Kessel mines, he added to himself with a snicker.
They had stolen the children, after all. Jacen wouldn't have minded at all if all of them attacked, so that he could work out some of his frustrations.
But he had a feeling the New Republic might like to take some of them alive, if only to get the locations of the other bases out of them.
"Anyone who doesn't want to be killed should surrender now," he said in a loud voice, using the Force to inflict his words with a deadly calm he knew was unnerving. "You will be allowed to live, and handed over to the New Republic."
"We don't surrender to Jedi," one of the Peace Brigaders sneered. "Besides, if you kill us, the Jedi brats die, too."
Jacen tried to keep calm, he really did. But he was tired, and he was angry, and he was worried about the children, and the fury he had been struggling to smother out since the kidnapping roared up inside of him.
His father knew somehow, and called out, "Hey, kid. I won't tell your uncle if you don't!"
A cold smile crept onto Jacen's face. "Tell him if you like, Dad. It's not going to stop me one way or another." He took a menacing step forward, his lightsaber ticking form side to side. "If you plan to surrender, I suggest you lay down and cover your heads. Now."
More than half of the soldiers scrambled to the floor, but Jacen was pleased to see that the rude man who had threatened his niece, his nephew and his cousin was not one of them. The man drew an extra blaster from his coat and aimed at Jacen.
As he easily deflected the shot, Jacen smiled coldly. He shot first, Uncle Luke. So this isn't aggression. It's a defensive assault.
down," Kyp advised his group. "Keep low to the ground and out of
"That would be a good idea, huh, Durron?" Octa said wryly.
He grinned over his shoulder at her. "Only if we want to stay alive."
"I don't know about you two," Tam hissed quietly. "But I'd like to survive. So could you shut up and talk about how Kyp actually had a good idea later?"
Kyp shot him a dark look, then turned back to what they were doing, which was crawling along the outer wall of the base, hidden behind the brush. It was uncomfortable, and more than a little degrading, to be crawling around on their hands and knees, but given the situation, Kyp imagined it was better than the alternative.
At least Jaina's not here to see this, he thought to himself. But in truth he wished Jaina was there. He was worried about her, and he wanted nothing more than to see her healthy and whole again, to have her in front of him and to be able to see for himself that she was alright.
He was worried about the others missing, too, but not as much as for Jaina. He didn't care if that was selfish, none of them meant as much to him as Jaina. No one did.
But maybe someone could come close one day, a voice in the back of his mind said, and he glanced back again at Octa, his cheeks flushing when she smiled at him. She noticed, and smiled even more.
Kyp really needed to get the Force back.
As they drew near the docking field, Kyp came to a halt. In the center of the field was a shuttle that looked big enough to seat all twelve Jedi, and big enough to have a med-bay if any of the others were hurt.
That's our ship, then, he told himself.
The other pressed close behind him, and he was extremely aware of the fact that Octa was pressed against him and her breath spilled across his cheek as she asked, "Do you see a ship that we can use?"
Focus, Durron, he ordered silently. And not on her!
"Use, yes," he replied, not turning to look at her for fear she would see his thoughts expressed on his face. "As for whether or not we can take it, I don't know. It's pretty well guarded."
And it was. There were at least six armed guards patrolling the field, all carrying high powered long blasters.
For the millionth time that day, Kyp wished he had access to the Force. It would have made this easy. They could have snuck aboard a transport and stolen it before the Peace Brigaders even realized they were there.
He was about to say something, when Octa's voice rang out in his mind. He really is handsome, isn't he?
Kyp blinked, startled. He turned to look at her and grinned. "Thank you," he said.
Octa's eyes went wide. "I didn't say anything."
And suddenly Kyp could feel everything around him. He could feel the vegetation growing in the jungle, he could feel the Peace Brigaders nearby, and he could feel the other Jedi with him.
But only some of the Jedi.
Now it was Kyp's eyes that went wide. "The Force is back," he said softly, breathing it in and letting it run through him like water, seeping into every corner of his being, filling him with its warmth and light.
He felt Octa touch him through the Force, and was surprised at how easily he could hear her thoughts. I can see again, she cried happily. Really see. With the Force.
I know, he thought back, flashing her a mental grin. Me, too.
"I don't feel anything," Hajima said, frowning.
Chane shrugged. "Me neither."
Kyp glanced at Tam, who had his eyes closed and was taking long, slow breaths. "I have it," Tam said without opening his eyes.
"Maybe the gas wears off at different speeds," Octa said. "Kyp and I got hit with it before you two did, so maybe that's why it wore off on us first."
"Sounds logical," Chane replied evenly, but Kyp could tell he was slightly disappointed that the Force had returned to the others and not him.
"Well," Kyp said, grinning at the others. "This certainly makes stealing a ship much easier."
"I'll say," Octa smiled. "We might not even have to draw our weapons if you can exert enough mental persuasion over them, Kyp."
Kyp nodded grimly. "I can try, but I'm not making any guarantees. If this doesn't work, I need you and Tam to be ready to intervene."
"Don't worry, Durron," Tam said, clapping him on the shoulder. "We won't let you get hurt." He smirked slightly. "Not too badly, anyway."
"Thanks," Kyp said dryly.
Octa placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'll help you. I'm not very good at mind wiping, but I can convince one or two of them that they never saw us."
Through their Force bond, which was suddenly much stronger and clearer than it had ever been before, Kyp could tell that she believed him more than capable of doing it by himself, but she wanted to help him.
"Okay," he told her. "You can help. Follow me, and be careful."
"I will if you will," Octa replied, pushing to her feet behind him and giving his hand a warm squeeze before starting off.
I should die of shock, Kyp thought as he crept towards the Peace Brigaders
Yeah, well, if you die you won't get to give me that kiss that Tam interrupted, Octa called.
Kyp jerked his head towards her in surprise, but she had her back to him, silently making her way up behind one of the guards on his left. Even though he couldn't see her face, Kyp had a feeling she was smiling.
Is that an offer? he called.
Her amused smile flickered in his mind. Maybe. Right now concentrate on what you're doing, Durron, or we won't survive long enough for you to find out.
Yes, ma'am, Kyp thought back with a slight smirk. He reached out with the Force, luring the first guard to turn his way. Before the guard could even react to seeing him, Kyp sent a thick fog into the man's head, You see nothing, he ordered, his words dripping with the full weight of the Force. We were never here.
The guard stared at him blankly, and Kyp allowed himself a small smile of satisfaction. He did the same to the other four guards, being careful not to muddle any other memories. When he was done, he turned to see how Octa was doing.
She waved her hand slightly and he heard the guard mutter, "You were never here."
Octa reached out and grabbed something off the guards' jumpsuit, then turned to face him, grinning. Easy enough, she thought, holding up one of the spheres of ysalamari gas.
Don't jinx it, he warned. But nice work, anyway.
She grinned. Thank you.
You're welcome, Kyp replied, then turned to face Tam. Get the others and get onto the ship, now.
He saw Tam tap Chane and Hajima on the shoulder, gesture towards the shuttle, and the three of them stood, hurrying across the field and up the ramp into the ship. Kyp waited for Octa to reach him, then started up the ramp together.
They met up with the others inside, and Kyp sank into one of the seats, Octa slipping into the one beside him. "I am so ready to go home," she moaned.
Kyp shot her a smile. "We'll leave as soon as we find the others."
"Why don't we call to them with the Force?" Tam suggested.
"Worth a shot," Kyp said. "I'll try for Jaina."
Closing his eyes, he reached inward first, finding the part of him that was Jaina, and then started down the link between them, calling her name. Jaina? Jaina, you there? Can you hear me?
But there was no answer, and Kyp slammed into a black hole where Jaina should have been.
Sighing, he shook his head. "No good," he said. "Jaina's still contaminated with the ysalamari gas. I can't get anything from her."
"I'm not getting anything from Tesar or Imara," Tam reported. "And Valin's still out, too."
"Try Alema," Octa suggested. "She's so hot tempered she could force the Force back into herself."
Kyp smiled at the wording, then reached out for the Twi'lek woman. Alema? Alema, where are you?
Durron? her voice came back, edgy and surprised, but relieved, too. Is that you?
No, Kyp drawled. It's Darth Vader.
Aloud, he announced, "I've got Alema." Everyone relaxed a little at that.
Funny, Durron. Funny, Alema retorted. Can Jaina use the Force yet? I think I'd rather talk to her.
Kyp tensed. You mean she's not with you?
A shiver of fear, or perhaps forewarning, crept through Kyp's mind. Was Jaina alone? Captured? Killed?
Who's with you? Kyp asked Alema. I've got Chane, Tam, Octa and Hajima.
Tesar, Imara, Nianne and Merik are with me, Alema replied.
That leaves Valin with Jaina, then, Kyp said grimly. Either that or they're both alone.
I cannot reach either of them through the Force, Alema said.
Kyp pressed his lips together. I know. Neither can we.
Silence hung between them for a moment, and Kyp could sense anxiety and concern from the Twi'lek woman.
Where are you? he asked.
About a hundred meters from the base, Alema replied. Where are you?
Kyp smirked. On a shuttle we've commandeered. We're in the docking field. Come to us, we'll be watching for you.
Then what? Alema asked.
Then we find Jaina, Kyp replied.
Yes, Kyp agreed. And Valin.
Baron Soontir Fel checked the display board of the Chiss frigate he was flying.
He would have been more comfortable in a clawcraft, or even an X-wing, but he
knew that he was needed to fly the shuttle. It was going to take some great
flying to rescue twelve Jedi from within enemy territory, and Soontir just
didn't trust anyone else to do it right.
Not when his daughter-in-law's life was at stake.
Soontir loved Jaina, he had no problem admitting that. He had liked her from the very moment he first met her, at a Rogue Squadron party thrown for her and Jag, celebrating their marriage.
Soontir smiled to himself slightly. That had also been the very moment he found out that they had eloped and gotten married in secret. At first Soontir had been angry and disappointed in Jag, but he had quickly come to see that marrying Jaina was the best thing that had ever happened to his son. She was perfect for him, complementing and completing him in a way that constantly amazed Soontir.
Jaina was a good wife to Jagged, and a good mother to Anakin and Padme. She somehow managed to balance her duties between the Jedi, the Republic and her family, and she always made time for her children.
Soontir was not looking forward to telling her that her children had been kidnapped. He could not imagine how horrible she would feel, being so far away and not even knowing. He was certain that Jag would rescue the kids, nothing short of a hundred Death Stars could keep him from finding them, and even then Soontir thought his son could probably find a way around them.
Soontir was just glad he and Syal had never had to deal with people kidnapping their children. Jaina probably wouldn't be that surprised, from what Soontir understood people had always been trying to kidnap her and her brothers as children, and they had succeeded on more than one occasion.
Maybe it's that Solo blood, Soontir thought in amusement. Han never could keep out of trouble, and now he's passed that on to his children and their children.
It was for Jaina that Soontir worried now. There had been so much fear in Jagged's voice when he had called, so much sadness and despair. Soontir had not gotten the specifics of what the Jedi believed the situation was, but he had gotten enough. Jaina was without the Force, crashed on a planet overrun by Peace Brigaders, and no one knew if she had been seriously hurt in the crash. Just because she had been alive when Jag called, didn't mean she still was.
For all Soontir knew, his daughter-in-law was already dead.
It was a terrible thought, one that brought sadness and regret, but Soontir had to accept that it was a possibility.
"Father?" Zena's voice came across the comm-link with a burst of static.
"Yes?" Soontir replied.
"My scanners are picking up a large vessel just outside of Corbos' orbit," Zena called. "It appears to be a battle cruiser, sir."
Soontir frowned. What was a battle cruiser doing out in the middle of the desolated Corbin Sector? None of the planets in the area were populated, not to Soontir's knowledge, anyway.
"Could that have been what knocked Jaina's ship out of space, sir?" Wik's voice filled the shuttle cockpit. "It looks big enough."
"I suppose it could have been," Soontir agreed. "It certainly looks suspicious for a battle cruiser to be hovering around Corbos for no reason."
"Maybe Jaina is down there, sir," Wik suggested.
Soontir paused for a moment to consider that. Corbos was a jungle world with plenty of oxygen and an average gravitic pull. It was definitely habitable. And the presence of the battle cruiser suggested that there might be Peace Brigader on planet.
Which means Jaina might be down there, too, Soontir thought.
"Perhaps," Soontir replied. "I think we should check it out then. Major, bring your squadron with me. We're going planetside to investigate. Captain, remain in orbit. If that battle cruiser so much as moves, I want you to hit it so hard the commander sees a super nova before his ship explodes. Understood?"
"Understood, sir," Zena replied, an eager edge to her voice.
Be careful, Zena, Soontir thought silently, but he did not dare say it over the comm-link. It would only distract her, and Soontir Fel was not a man to openly express his feelings. Jag never had been growing up, but Jaina had changed that in him. Maybe she'd changed that a little in Soontir, too.
"Keep your eyes open, Captain," he advised his daughter. "I expect to come back and still see a full and complete phalanx. Understood?"
"Understood," Zena replied gently. "Father."
Soontir smiled slightly, then turned the frigate towards the planet, with Wik's squadron taking up formation around him, Wik's clawcraft just to his left, close enough that Soontir could see his son's profile through the cockpit.
"Watch for any signs of a shipwreck," Soontir told him. "I doubt Jaina would have stayed near the wreck, but it will give us a general area to start looking."
"Maybe we should be looking for a base, too, sir?" Wik asked. "The Peace Brigade must have a base here, so Jaina might have snuck near it, or been captured."
"I doubt she's been captured," Soontir replied. "But you're right, Major. We should keep an eye open for any signs of civilization."
His display board lit up and Soontir glanced out of the cockpit to see the battle cruiser turning towards them, weapons warming up quickly.
"Captain," Soontir called to Zena. "I think that-"
"Already on it, sir," Zena replied shortly. "Engaging now."
Flashes of red shot across space, and Soontir watched for a moment as the squadron of twelve clawcrafts, each piloted by an elite Chiss pilot, swarmed over the battle cruiser, unloading wave upon wave of laser fire.
Satisfied, Soontir turned his attention back to the green planet looming before him.
I hope you're down there, Jaina, he thought. And I hope you're alive.
Veila stepped over the guards slumped unconscious on the floor, a small smirk
of satisfaction creeping onto her lips.
"That was interesting," Sharr Latt said form behind her.
Ignoring him, Tahiri led the way into the security bridge. It had been all too easy to get in. With most of the guards rushing outside to engage Jacen Solo, there weren't many left inside, and those who remained were weak minded. A simple wave of her hand and Tahiri had them all piled on top of one another in the middle of the hallway.
She came to a halt in the center of the computer line room and turned to face the others. "Okay, my job is done. Piggy, get on those computers and do whatever it is you do."
"You heard Auntie Tahiri," Sharr snickered.
Tahiri glared at him. "Don't do anything Kell ever tells you to do, Latt. I can't kill him because his wife is a Jedi. You, on the other hand..."
Sharr raised his hands in surrender. "Point taken."
"If only it was that easy for us non-Force users to shut him up," Jag Fel drawled. "I have to settle for pointing my blaster at his head."
"And even that doesn't work all the time," Piggy grunted, moving to the main computer. His chubby fingers began to fly across the display board, moving so fast Tahiri had no idea what he was doing. Not that she would have known even if she could see. Computers weren't really her strong point.
"What are you doing?" she asked, moving to his side and peering over his shoulder curiously.
"I am lowering the base's defenses so that it will be easier for the fleet to destroy it," Piggy answered without slowing. "I am also shutting down the security system so that Master Skywalker can sneak up on the Peace Brigade leader-"
"Dirk," Jag interjected coldly.
"-without having the security alarms warn him of their approach," Piggy finished. He glanced at her. "I have also asked the computer to do a BioScan to pinpoint the location of any other ysalamari they might have in storage so that we can destroy it."
Tahiri liked that idea. "You'll have to destroy it, not me," she said. "I'm not inclined to make myself sick by going near one of those things unless I have to."
"I wouldn't want you to," Jag said. "We'll take care of them."
Tahiri flashed him a grateful smile. "Thank you."
He grinned. "Think nothing of it. Jaina would have my hide if I had you expose yourself to ysalamari unnecessarily. She hates them. I think she's the secret leader of the 'Jedi For the Extermination of Ysalamari' movement."
Tahiri snorted. It was true, though, Jaina did hate the Force blocking creatures. But she wasn't the only one. Even though Jedi were supposed to respect all life, Tahiri didn't know of a single Jedi who would be terribly upset if all of the ysalamari were wiped out.
Even though Jag's comment was made in jest, Tahiri sensed the underlying concern and fear behind it. He was worried about his wife, and, to tell the truth, so was Tahiri. She knew how hard it was to be without the Force, and just being around ysalamari made a Jedi sick. That mixed with the fact that she was more than likely in the midst of Peace Brigaders, armed Peace Brigaders, made Tahiri uneasy about Jaina's safety.
She was about to say something reassuring when she felt three familiar presences coming towards her. She reached out with the Force, just to be sure, and her eyes widened in shock.
Jag noticed and his jaw went tight. "What?" he asked. "What is it?"
Tahiri blinked in surprise. "The children," she said in awe. She hurried past him and darted out the open door, looking from side to side as if she expected them to run into view at any moment. Jag followed her, his tension so thick it was like a black of durasteel.
They're close, Tahiri thought. So very, very close. Almost as if...
Tahiri and Jag both whirled to see Anakin, Padme and Ben running towards them, their little legs moving as fast as they could. Jag's relief filled Tahiri's senses like a heatstorm, burning so fiercely that it was overwhelming.
Jag broke into a run, scooping his children into his arms and holding them to him fiercely. He buried his face in Padme's loose hair and Anakin's little shoulders. Tahiri could feel that he could not bear to let them go, for fear they would vanish.
Ben ran to Tahiri, throwing his arms around her waist. "Tahiri!" he cried. "Oh, Tahiri! Am I glad to see you! Where's my Mom and Dad?"
Tahiri hugged him tightly, tears of relief stinging her eyes. "I'm glad to see you, too. They went to go take care of something. They'll be here soon."
"Papa, I was so scared!" Padme cried. "The mean men hurt me, Papa! They made my arm hurt, and they were mean to me!"
"They brought that mean ysalamari into the room, too!" Anakin cried, his arms wrapped tightly around his father's neck. "But Ben killed it."
Tahiri looked down at Ben. "Is that how you escaped?"
Ben nodded. "We broke the cage and Padme caught it. I stepped on it. Then Anakin figured out how to unlock the door. My Dad said for us to come find you."
"I'm glad," Jag said, his voice thick with emotion. Tahiri could see tears sliding down his cheeks.
"Papa, why are you crying?" Anakin asked.
"Don't cry, Papa, we okay," Padme said. "See?" She planted a big kiss on his cheek. "Now you all better, too."
"Thank you, angel," Jag said, kissing her hair. He kissed Anakin's head, then hers, then Anakin's again. "I was so worried about you both."
"We okay," Padme said again. She turned her head and caught sight of Tahiri. "Auntie Tahiri! Auntie Tahiri!"
Both children squirmed out of Jag's arms and threw themselves at her, clinging to her legs tightly. Tahiri bent to hug them, and saw Jag embrace Ben out of the corner of her eye, heard him asking if he was alright and then return to hugging him.
"Auntie Tahiri!" Anakin cried, hugging her. "I felt you! I felt you!"
"Me, too!" Padme insisted. "I felt you, too!"
"Oh, I missed you," Tahiri said, kissing both children on the cheek. "You have no idea how worried everyone has been about you."
"Hey, it's the kids!" Sharr cried in amazement, stepping out into the hallway.
"Mr. Piggy!" Padme cried in delight, running to Piggy and staring up at him with wide eyes. "Hello, Mr. Piggy."
Tahiri turned her head away, trying no to laugh, and found herself face to face with a pair of intense green eyes. She started in surprise, noticing the seriousness in them. "What is it, Anakin?" she asked.
"Where's Mama? Anakin demanded, looking around in confusion, his little brow furrowed worriedly and his eyes dark.
Tahiri exchanged a look with Jag as he approached and took Anakin's hand in his. "Mama is still out on her mission," Jag said carefully. "She doesn't know you were missing yet. We haven't been able to tell her. She'll be so glad that you're okay, though."
Padme hurried back over to her father, tugging at his hand. "We can't feel Mama, Papa! It's all icky inside where Mama was!"
"Mama's not anywhere," Anakin added, looking near tears. "Can't find her!"
Jag looked up at Tahiri helplessly, his eyes filled with pain and grief. Tahiri stepped forward and knelt before the children, pulling Ben to stand beside them. His own fear was coming off of him in waves, even though he was trying hard to shield it from Padme and Anakin.
"Your Mama is out fighting some very bad people right now," Tahiri said gently. "The same kind of people who stole you form us."
"Peace Brigade," Anakin muttered coldly.
Tahiri winced at the slight thirst for vengeance she felt in him, but decided to put it aside for now. "Yes, she's fighting the Peace Brigade. They're doing the same with the ysalamari to her that they did to you. That's why we can't feel her. They want us to be scared, but we can't let them scare us, okay? We have to be brave, so we can help your Mama. Can you do that for me? can you be brave to help your Mama?"
Anakin nodded solemnly. "Yes, Aunt Tahiri."
"For Mama," Padme added softly.
Tahiri glanced at Ben inquisitively. "Ben?"
"Yes," he answered in a soft, dejected voice.
He knows that there's more to it than that, Tahiri realized. He knows we're not telling them everything, and he knows that it's much more serious than we'd like them to believe.
"Good," she said, squeezing his shoulder. "Thank you."
Anakin, little Anakin who had been so angry with Jag recently, threw his arms back around his father's neck and buried his face in his father's shoulder. "Papa, I missed you!"
Tahiri didn't need the Force to see how much those words meant to Jag. It was in his eyes. "I missed you, too, son," Jag whispered, his voice choked with emotion. "I missed you so much." He reached out and drew Padme into the embrace. "I missed you both so very much."
"Love you, Papa," Anakin said softly.
"Me, too," Padme said.
Jag smiled shakily. "And I love you both. More than anything in the whole galaxy."
"The whole galaxy?" Anakin echoed.
Jag nodded. "The whole galaxy."
"Wow," Anakin replied in amazement.
Tahiri smiled. It was a beautiful sight. Jag and the children had been reunited, and their family was back together again. She would have said it was a perfect moment, except there was one thing missing.
Tahiri only hoped that Jaina got to be part of this scene again.
Please don't be dead, Jaina, she thought weakly. They need you. Jag needs you. The kids need you. Jacen needs you.
Tahiri needed her.
She'll be fine, Tahiri promised herself. She has to be. She's Jaina.
Smiling, Tahiri leaned against the wall and watched with amazement as Jag and the children hugged and kissed each other, crying out happily.
It really was beautiful, after all.
are completely out of your mind!"
Jaina shot Valin a wicked grin. "I know, isn't it fun?"
Valin groaned, shaking his head. "Pass me that proton grenade, will you?" he asked, holding out his hand. Since he was taller than Jaina, he was stuck securing the explosives to the ceiling. Part of him was nervous, he didn't want to set off the grenade by accident and kill them both, but he figured Jaina had to know what she was doing.
Jaina handed him the last one, and he placed it on the ceiling, setting the timer for five minutes. "You're sure that's how long we have till the first one goes?" he asked Jaina.
"Positive," she replied calmly. "Now hurry, we have to get to their hangar and set up the flechette mines. I want their fleet wiped out."
"Right," Valin replied, nodding grimly. During their undercover search of the base, they had discovered two major strong points that posed threats to the New Republic. One was the huge stock room full of proton torpedoes, concussion missiles, and laser cannons, which they had just set detonators around. The other was the vast hangar filled with battle cruisers, fighters, and something that looked too much like a Super Star Destroyer to be anything good.
They were on their way to destroy that now.
Valin followed Jaina out of the corridor, glancing around to be sure no one had seen them. Most of the Peace Brigaders were outside of the base, for what reason Valin didn't know, but he was grateful that they were. It made their job easier, and it meant they would kill less people when the explosives went off.
"This way," Jaina hissed urgently, hurrying down the hallway. Valin kept pace with her as she led him through the twisting corridors, making sharp turns and quickening their pace with each new hall they emerged into. Valin was about to ask her if she was sure she knew where they were going when the large durasteel doors to the hangar swam into view ahead of them.
Valin glanced at Jaina once more, judging whether or not she was thinking clearly. He couldn't help wondering if she was still feverish from their night in the freezing rain, because what she had in mind was nothing sort of insane.
"Get those concussion grenades out," Jaina said, not taking her eyes off of the hangar ahead. She pulled what looked like flechette mines from her pack, and Valin felt a wave of uneasiness swell up in him as he unpacked his concussion grenades.
Jaina pulled her blaster from her belt and checked the energy level. Valin did the same, understanding what she intended to do once they got inside.
Jaina glanced at him. "Ready?" she asked.
Valin nodded. Jaina flashed him a cocky smile, then strolled towards the hangar, with him following quickly at her heels. They swung the doors open, striding into the hangar boldly. As Valin had hoped, there weren't many people inside, and those that were proved to be easy targets for their blasters. As soon as the last soldier went down, Jaina holstered her blaster and scanned the hangar, her eyes sharp and full of fire.
"There," she said, pointing to the support beam to his right. "That's the weak spot. Plant two concussion grenades there, and two on the same spot on the opposite wall. That should bring down the hangar easily enough."
Valin eyed her suspiciously. "And what are those for?" he asked, nodding at the flechette mines in her hands.
Jaina met his gaze with cool eyes. "Those ships are going to be harder to destroy. These are much harder at destruction."
"There's also no timer on those," Valin observed evenly.
Jaina's face remained expressionless. "I know. I'll set the detonator to 'motion'. As soon as your concussion grenades go off, the flechette mines will, too."
Valin stared at her hard. "Jaina, there's only a three-second delay on those things. As soon as we move an inch, they're going to blow."
"No, they won't," Jaina said calmly. "Go set your grenades, Valin. We have two minutes until the other grenades go off."
Valin opened his mouth to protest, but she glared at him fiercely. Sighing, he walked over to the point Jaina had specified and secured the grenades to the wall, setting the timers for two minutes. He hurried to the other side of the hangar and did the same, calculating ten seconds off for the time it took him to move from one wall to the other.
When he was done, he turned back to see Jaina securing the last of her flechette mines on the largest of the battle cruisers. She didn't take her hand off of the mine, but she turned to look at him, a strange look on her face, and Valin felt his heart stop unexplainably.
And then he saw her eyes, and he knew.
"No!" he said sharply. "Jaina, no!"
"Valin," she began quietly. "It's-"
"No!" Valin snapped. "Jaina, you are not sacrificing yourself to blow up this hangar!"
"We have to destroy these ships," Jaina said calmly. "We have to, Valin. You can see what's around you, you know what this means. They're not preparing to go to war on the New Republic, they're ready to go to war!"
"We can come back," Valin insisted, panic rising in his chest. "We can escape and come back with New Republic forces and they can destroy the base."
"They'll just change locations the minute we get off planet," Jaina argued. "And then we'll never find their base again until it's too late. Until they attack."
"Jaina, you can't do this!" Valin cried.
"Someone has to," Jaina replied, shrugging.
"Then let me!" Valin demanded.
"You?" Jaina cried incredulously. "Oh, no, Valin Horn. Don't you even think about it! Your father would kill me if I let you do this!"
"And your husband will kill me!" Valin cried. "Please, Jaina, listen to me," he pleaded desperately. "You have a husband! You have children! They need you!"
"Your parents need you," Jaina shot back. "And what about Syal? You think she can take having you killed? Valin, be rational!"
"Look who's talking?!" Valin yelled. "You're acting crazy, Jaina! Destroying the base isn't worth your life!"
Jaina's expression turned as cold as ice. "Valin Horn, as your commanding officer, I am giving you a direct order to leave this hangar immediately."
"No," Valin said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Jaina raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"
"I said no," Valin replied. "If you stay, I stay. I'm not going anywhere."
"If you stay, I stay," Valin said firmly.
Jaina's face flickered with pain. "Valin, you don't have to do this," she said quietly.
"Yes," Valin said. "I do. I'm not letting you die alone. Besides, if I leave you here, I won't get off this planet alive. Once Kyp gets a hold of me, I'd be better off handing myself over to the Yuuzhan Vong."
Jaina stared at him hard, and he stared back. He wasn't leaving her, not after all they had been through together. If she was serious about this, if it was truly the only way, then he would stay behind with her. He knew she would never go through with it with him there unless it really was the only option, and the haunted, resigned look in her eyes told him it was.
Valin Horn found he was not scared to die. He had always wondered if he would be, when the time came and he was looking death straight in the eye, but he had no fear. Only acceptance. If this was what they had to do, then this was what they had to do.
He stepped up beside Jaina, placing his hand over hers and bringing his dark gaze to bore into hers. "If you die," he whispered intensely. "I die."
Tears welled up in Jaina's eyes, and Valin wished he could feel the Force to know what she was thinking. She was touched that he was willing to die for her, to die with her, but he knew she didn't want him to die, didn't want either of them to die.
"Do you think Jag will be alright?" she asked softly, her voice catching on her husband's name.
"I hope so," Valin replied hoarsely. "Syal's going to need him."
"At least our parents have each other," Jaina said quietly. "And the Jedi."
"And the Jedi," Valin agreed weakly.
Jaina smiled shakily at him. "You're the bravest man I know, Valin Horn. And I'm honored to have you beside me."
Valin smiled back at her. "Maybe we'll get to see Anakin, you think?"
From the wistful flicker in her eyes, he knew she hoped so. For the first time, Valin saw no pain in her eyes when she thought of her brother, and he understood why. There was no reason to fell pain. They would be joining Anakin soon enough.
Can we still become one with the Force even if we can't feel it when we die? Valin thought, panic rising at the horrible thought that they might not be able to. But Master Skywalker always said they were Jedi, even without the Force. That had to count for something, right? And maybe the ysalamari would wear off once they died, and they could leave their bodies behind and-
Force this is morbid, Valin scolded himself. Think peaceful thoughts, Valin. At least you won't leave a body behind.
He did not want the other Jedi to come and find his body, find Jaina's body. It would be bad enough that they would know they died, they shouldn't have to see what was left behind.
"Ready?" Jaina asked softly, tears sliding down her cheeks. It broke Valin's heart to know that this was the last thing either of them would ever do.
"Wait," Valin said. He leaned forward and kissed her quickly on the lips. Seeing her surprise, he grinned, his cheeks red. "I swore to Sannah when we were at the Academy that I'd do that one day if it was the last thing I ever did. I figured I might as well make sure the last thing I ever did was something nice."
Jaina smiled, her lips trembling. "Thank you," she said.
"For what?" Valin asked.
"For making the last thing I ever do nice, too," Jaina said softly. She closed her eyes. "I love you, Jagged," she whispered across time and space. "Give my love to the children."
I love you, Syal, Valin thought sadly. I'll always love you.
Jaina took her hand off of the mine, and there was a loud beep as it armed itself, three lights flashing on the top.
And suddenly the Force rushed back into Valin's senses, filling him with strength and power that he had taken for granted all of his life.
The Force screamed at him to run, and he did not hesitate.
He could not feel Jaina through the Force, so he grabbed her by the arm, yanking her behind him, and sprinted for the hangar transparisteel.
The first light blinked out.
Valin used the Force to shatter the transparisteel.
The second light went out.
He tried to throw Jaina with the Force, but couldn't, and had to resign himself to pulling her along with him. He leaped through the opening, dimly aware of the third and final light going out, and then the entire world erupted in flash and fire.
He drew the Force to him as they hit the ground, and a flash of forewarning hit him like a heat storm. He turned, trying to get out of the way in time, but the shards of metal were flying down on him, like a shower of durasteel spikes.
His eyes widened as one plunged straight at his chest.
And then a blur of brown and black hit him, knocking him aside, and Valin's head slammed into a tree. He struggled to his feet, his vision blurry, but he couldn't see what was happening.
Not that he needed his eyes to know what had happened.
He could feel Jaina through the Force now, the Force was back for her, too.
And he could tell, before his eyes focused on her limp body, that the metal spike intended for him had pierced her stomach fatally.
Force or no Force, Jaina was dying.
stood behind Piggy SaBring, watching with interest as the Gammorean ran through
files on the Peace Brigade computer, transferring a list of the other bases
into a datacard.
"This is great," Jag said. "General Antilles can definitely use this. It's valuable information."
"Do you think that Rogue Squadron will be sent out to destroy any of the bases?" Piggy asked. "I would enjoy blowing up one or two of these facilities."
"Kell could do the job by himself," Jag said, smiling.
"But then we wouldn't get to have any fun," Sharr drawled from the corner where he sat, feet propped up on one of the display consoles.
"You scare me with your ideas of fun, Latt," Jag said, shooting him an amused glance over his shoulder.
"I do what I can," Sharr said with a grin. "I think-"
A chorus of screams pierced the air, cutting off his words. Jag felt his heart stop in his chest. "Padme!" he cried, running for the door. "Anakin!"
He dashed down the hallway, skidding to a stop outside of the room where the kids were playing. He raced into the room, his heart pounding, and came to a horrified halt.
Ben, Anakin and Padme were all rigid in place, their faces pale and eyes wide in terror, screaming the most agonizing scream Jag had ever heard.
"Anakin! Padme!" he cried, grabbing their arms. "What is it? What's wrong?" he pleaded desperately. "Oh Force, what's happening?"
"Mama!" Anakin howled, tears pouring down his cheeks. "Mama!"
"Jaya!" Ben wailed, clawing at his robes furiously. "Jaya, Jaya!"
Jag's blood ran colder than a Hoth ice floe. Jaina. They were screaming because of Jaina. Something was happening to Jaina.
"Mama!" Padme screamed, pounding her little fists on the floor so hard she would have bruises. "Mama, Mama, don't go! Mama!"
Jag knew he should comfort them, knew they needed him to, but he couldn't. He couldn't do anything. He was frozen in place, in time, in fear.
Jaina, he thought desperately. Please don't leave me. Please don't die! I need you! Oh Force, I need you! I can't live without you!
Dimly he was aware of Tahiri rushing into the room, tears flying off her cheeks, kneeling before the children and taking them all into her arms. Jag staggered back, finding the wall and sliding down to the ground, his face pale and his hands shaking.
Jaina was dying.
He didn't need anyone to tell him that. He knew. He knew from the agonized screams of his children, from the tears spilling forth form Tahiri's eyes, knew from some precognitive voice in the back of his head that had been screaming at him since her ship had been destroyed.
His wife was dying, millions of light-years away, and there wasn't a stang thing he could do about it.
After all that they had survived, after all that she had survived, Jag found it impossible to believe that Jaina could be killed. Not when she had managed to survive so many times when she should have been killed. Not when she was a Jedi.
Not when she was his wife.
Jaina. Beautiful, brave, bold Jaina. She was breathtaking. She was intoxicating.
Jag had loved her from the moment he laid eyes on her, so many years ago at Ithor. He had flown under her command, given up his Chiss phalanx, risked his father's wrath, just to be with her. To Jag it had always seemed like he had never paid a high enough price for such a gift.
He found suddenly that he couldn't breathe. His lungs refused to work, and he thought that maybe he was dying. He had to be, how could he live without Jaina? She was all that supported him, all that sustained him. She was not his wife, she was his breath, his blood, his spirit. Without her, how could he go on?
Jag had never loved her as much as he did at that very moment, at the moment he knew he was loosing her. His body was shutting down, his agony so fierce and so unyielding that it ate away at his very being. He could not live without Jaina. He just couldn't.
Suddenly he could remember every detail, every memory, and he clung to them furiously, as if holding them to him would somehow keep her alive. He remembered the way her dark eyes shone with that wild fire, the way her hair would curl slightly if she didn't brush it after she showered. He remembered the way she favored one side of her mouth over the other when she smirked, the way her body seemed perfectly contoured for his.
Her smile. Her laugh. Her morning voice.
The intensity with which she flew, fought, loved.
The way she kissed him.
Jag felt his restraint falter, and his head fell into his lap, and his body shook with sobs. Jaina ... he thought in anguish. Jaina, please! I can't live without you! I can't!
"Jag?" Tahiri's weak voice asked.
Jag raised a tear streaked face to look at her. She was pale and shaking, but her tears had stopped. jag was dully aware that the three children were all asleep on the floor, and some part of his mind wondered what Tahiri had done to put them to sleep. Behind her, he saw Sharr and Piggy watching him worriedly. They must have followed him into the room when the kids screamed.
Jag couldn't speak, there was no strength left in his voice, no strength left in him period.
"She's not dead yet," Tahiri said softly. "Valin is with her. They have the Force back."
They have the Force back.
Those words echoed in Jag's head for a long, agonizing silence before the meaning finally seeped in. They had the Force. Jaina was a Jedi, with other Jedi around her. They could use the Force to heal themselves, maybe even to save Jaina.
That tiny shred of hope gave Jag a fresh wave of strength. He pushed to his feet and grabbed Padme into his arms, calling for Sharr to grab Anakin and Tahiri to get Ben. Not waiting to see if they had listened, Jag darted out into the hallway and broke into a run towards the base doors.
They had to get to their ships. Now.
If they did, maybe they could get there, somehow, and save her. Maybe they could meet Kyp and the others half way and Luke and Jacen could help heal her. Maybe they could do something, anything, so that she might live.
Jag would trade his life for hers if that's what it took.
He heard the pounding of feet behind him and knew the others were coming.
Jag ran faster, as if his life depended on it.
Jaina's very well might.
Hold on, Jaina, he thought desperately. Hold on, love, I'm coming. I won't let you die. I promise. Just hold on. Please, Jaina, don't die on me now. Just hold on a little longer.
Jag only hoped that she could.
had wanted to kill a lot of people in her life. She'd even wanted to kill her
husband once upon a time. But she had never wanted to kill anyone as much as
she wanted to kill the man before her now.
"H-how did you get in here?" Dirk demanded. "The security alarms should have-"
"Have been turned off," Luke finished, a slight smugness to his words. "Really, did you think we were going to just waltz in past the monitors so you would know we were coming?"
"We're Jedi," Mara said, ticking her lightsaber from side to side. "Not stupid."
Dirk's fear was radiating off of him in pulses, and it made Mara smile. Good, she thought. You should be scared, you slimy piece of Hutt drool.
"If you touch me, your kid dies," Dirk warned sharply. "I'll have my men kill him! And the Fel kids, too!"
That's what you think, Mara snickered to herself.
"The children have already been removed from the base," Luke said, using the eerily clam voice that only Luke Skywalker could use. "They are out of your reach, so I'm afraid you'll have to try again."
"Guards!" Dirk shouted. "Guards!"
Leia pressed the touch pad and the door slid open, spilling the bodies of two guards into the office. "I'm afraid that they're unavailable right now."
Dirk's face paled slightly. He reached under his desk, his hand slamming on the emergency button again and again, but nothing happened. "Blast it!" he cursed. "Where the hell are they?"
"Busy," Luke said calmly. "My nephew was kind enough to stage a diversion. He's beating all of your men single handed, by the way. You really should have given them defense against lightsaber training if you were going to kidnap Jedi children."
Mara stepped closer to Dirk, a cold scowl on her lips. "Do you know who I was before I became a Jedi, Dirk? I was a little thing called the Emperor's Hand. Just a small, one person, deadly killing machine that could rip your heart out of your chest and kill you in about a hundred different ways, each more painful than the last."
Dirk's swallow was so loud it was audible.
"Now, maybe you forgot that when you stole my son," Mara said, her blade still moving side to side, passing the hilt from hand to hand. "Maybe you thought I had gotten soft in my age. Maybe you thought that you were some kind of genius who could outwit the Skywalkers." She brought the lightsaber to a stop, pointing it at him. "Maybe you just had a death wish."
"Please don't kill me!" Dirk said frantically. "Please, I'll do anything!"
"You'll die is what you'll do," Mara sneered.
Realizing he would get no mercy from Mara, Dirk turned to Luke. "Master Skywalker, please. Please, don't-"
Luke silenced him with a cold glare and a shake of his head.
Swallowing, Dirk looked to Leia. "Princess, Princess, please. What would your father think? What would Bail Organa think if you killed me?"
Mara saw Leia's face harden, saw her eyes darken in a way that reminded her of Luke, and yet of someone she had never met. "My father was Darth Vader, Dirk," she said with a cold smirk. "Somehow I imagine that he would have no problem with this. In fact, I'm certain that he'd have a few suggestions for Mara on what to do with you. He always was good at that sort of thing."
Dirk was trembling in fear now, the realization that he was not going to be shown mercy finally sinking in.
Mara flashed him the most feral smile she could. "Yes, well, Vader went soft in the end. Luckily for us, I haven't." She took another step closer, bringing the tip of her blade to rest close to his throat. "Isn't that right, Dirk?"
She wasn't killing him out of hate, despite the fact that she did hate him. If there was one thing the Yuuzhan Vong war had taught the Jedi, it was how to detach themselves form their emotions in battle. How to kill someone that you hated without giving in to that hate.
Mara was grateful for that training, because she felt a lot of hate for the man before her.
"You should have just gone back with the Vong," Mara sneered. "They would have shown you more mercy than I'm-"
Her voice trailed off as her connection with her niece flared and strengthened suddenly. After so long not being able to feel Jaina, it was a relief to be able to touch her again, but the pain that flooded through the Force was like a Hoth blizzard. Fierce, hideous, and wildly out of control.
Mara gasped, just about dropping her lightsaber. Her chest constricted painfully, her lungs stopped working, her head pounded as if someone was beating her with a slab of durasteel. Everything was pain, and pain was everything.
Mara screamed furiously, thrashing wildly, the agony so intense she could not breathe.
She was dimly aware of Leia sinking to the floor in shock, inaudible noises escaping her lips, of Luke staggering into the wall, breathing hard and gasping Jaina's name.
Mara reached out for her niece, but found her in a dark place. Unconsciousness or...?
Then she felt the presence with her and she felt a ray of hope. Valin! she screamed as loud as she could, trying to be heard across the distance between them. Valin, save her! Help is on the way! Soontir Fel is on his way! Just hold on, Jaina! Save her, Valin, please!
She sensed Valin trying to do just that, sensed him frantically doing whatever he could to keep Jaina alive, felt him wondering where Kyp was.
Kyp! Mara roared. Kyp Durron, wherever you are, save Jaina!
There was no answer, but Mara had the feeling that he was somewhere near Jaina, shocked, frozen, but trying to come to terms with what was happening.
Mara prayed he could, for Jaina's life might be in his hands.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Dirk trying to slip something out of his jacket. Mara shrieked, her agony and pain over Jaina fueling her movements with a strength and speed she did not posses, and launched herself at him, her lightsaber swinging down to slice through the blaster he had aimed at Leia, then cutting upward to slice through his neck.
His body slumped under the desk and Mara stared at it for a long moment, then kicked his head to come to rest beside his body.
"That wasn't necessary, Mara," Luke rasped out, clutching his side.
"I know," Mara said with a flat voice. "But it sure as hell was fun."
She turned to find Luke helping a shaking Leia to her feet, whispering soft reassurance with the Force, murmuring in her ear, kissing her cheek. Mara was struck, as she often was, by the pure intensity between Jedi twins.
"Jag and Tahiri have the kids," Luke said hoarsely. "They're heading for the ships now. We need to go."
"Are we going after Jaina?" Mara asked, noticing that her own hands were shaking.
Luke nodded. "Yes." He offered his arm to his sister, as if to carry some of her pain as well as her weight, but Leia waved him off, her eyes now a steady gleam. She ignited her lightsaber and glanced at Mara.
"Let's go," she said coolly. "Feel free to slice through anything that moves."
Without another word, Leia turned and swept out of the room, her ruby blade bathing the hallway in a deep, red glow.
Mara saw Luke ignite his own blade, a cold look of determination in his eyes, and then he, too started down the hall, blade raised to strike anything that happened into their path.
Mara grinned as she took off after them.
Now for some real fun, she thought.
things could confuse Octa Ramis, but Kyp Durron was one of them.
She glanced over at him, where he sat talking to Alema Rar, comparing notes on how their two groups had fared since they had been forced to spilt up. He appeared at ease and relaxed, but Octa could sense that he was neither. He was worried about Jaina, and, to Octa's delight, he was thinking about her.
At the start of the Yuuzhan Vong war, Octa had been one of Kyp's supporters, and she had even been close to his apprentice Miko Reglia. Around the time of Anakin Solo's death, though, Octa had come to realize that Kyp was wrong. About a lot of things, but particularly about the direction the Jedi should take. He had been leading her close to the dark side without even realizing it.
After Hapes, he had begun to change. It had been difficult to grasp why, but Jaina Solo had been the reason. Now Octa fully understood what had changed for Kyp. He saw that he was letting Jaina make the same mistakes he once made, and he couldn't allow her to do that. In trying to save Jaina, he had saved himself.
Still, things had been tense at best between Octa and Kyp, even after all these years. So why, suddenly, had things changed?
Octa didn't know, but she knew something had changed.
Kyp had almost kissed her. And she had wanted him to.
She didn't know what would have happened had Tam not interrupted them, but she wanted to find out.
Something had changed between them during their time without the Force. They been forced to expose their true feelings, and they had managed to get along fine. As if that hadn't been amazing enough, there was now a bond between them in the Force. She had noticed it as soon as the ysalamri had worn off.
Sometimes Octa wondered if the Force didn't have a cruel sense of humor.
She could no longer deny it, the Force wouldn't let her.
She was in love with Kyp Durron.
If Daesharra'cor was here now, she thought with a mental shake of her head. She would probably die of shock.
Or perhaps not. Daeshara'cor had always been annoyingly perceptive. She probably would have noticed long before Octa ever did.
Octa felt Kyp watching her and turned, flashing him a smile. His green eyes brightened, and her cheeks flushed. He opened his mouth to say something, when a fearsome explosion tore through the jungle outside, shaking the ship wildly and throwing them all to the floor.
"Sithspit!" Merik cursed, his head slamming into the floor.
"What the Sith was that?!" Chane demanded, helping Nianne to her feet.
"The base just exploded," Tam cried in disbelief, staring out the viewport. "The hangar, too. Force, that's got to be the biggest explosion I've ever seen!"
"What caused it?" Imara asked.
"Thiss one ssupectss it wass Jaina," Tesar hissed.
"I have a feeling you're right," Kyp said through clenched teeth. "Tesar, open the hatch. I'm going to go out there and-"
His voice trailed off suddenly and his face went as white as the surface of Hoth. And then he began to scream.
It was a soul wrenching scream, one that echoed through the ship, ricocheting off the walls and bouncing back twice as loud. Kyp sunk to his knees, tearing at his tattered clothes wildly, tears streaming down his face, thrashing as if he was in great agony.
And then it hit Octa through their tentative Force bond, all the fear, the pain, the grief, the guilt, and the inconsolable emptiness. All accompanied by one clear, agonized thought.
Octa staggered back, overwhelmed by Kyp's pain, and felt strong hands steady her before she hit the floor. She reached out with the Force and severed her link to Kyp, panting hard and feeling sicker than she had ever felt before.
"What is it?" Merik cried. "What's happening to him?"
It was Alema who answered, her voice unusually weak. "Jaina was in that blast," she said. Her skin had faded at least three shades paler. "Jaina's dying."
Merik's eyes widened, and he looked at Tesar, as if hoping he would disagree, but the Barbel had his head pressed against the wall, his tail drooped mournfully.
"Oh Sith," Hajima moaned.
Octa swallowed, blinking back tears, and threw herself at Kyp, struggling to keep him still so he didn't hurt himself. "Kyp! Kyp, can you find her? If you can find her we can try to save her!"
But Kyp wasn't there, not really. He was shell-shocked, reeling in Jaina's pain as if it was his own, and he was shaking so violently that Octa feared he might pass out.
Sithspit! she cursed, tears stinging her eyes. Jaina! Jaina, can you hear me?
There was no answer, but Octa felt a familiar presence, one full of terror and grief, nearby.
Valin! she screamed through the Force. Valin, are you with Jaina?
Octa? he called weakly. Yes. Yes, I've got her... her...I have her.
We're in a shuttle in the docking field, Octa told him. Bring her here. We've got a med-bay onboard, we can try to-
Can't get there, Valin replied grimly. There's a fire raging out here, and the rubble has blocked us off from that side of the base. The Peace Brigade has us surrounded.
Octa felt a cold terror seize her. Not only was Jaina going to die, but Valin was, too.
I have to go, Valin said, his tone oddly detached. They're here.
Octa sank to the floor, her face pale and her hands trembling. "What is it?" Nianne asked weakly, tears staining her pretty face. "Octa?"
Octa raised her face to the others, her voice catching in her throat. "Valin... Valin says that there's no way for them to get here, or us to get there. There's a fire, and the explosion cut them off from us." She swallowed back a sob. "And the Peace Brigade found him."
She heard moans of despair from the others, felt their grief through the Force, but nothing, nothing, shone through as bright as Kyp's anguish. He had stopped screaming, but wasn't moving. His entire body was shaking, and his eyes were wide and bloodshot and he looked like he was dying right along with Jaina.
For a terrifying moment Octa wondered if that was possible.
"Jaina..." he rasped. "Jaina..." He turned his face toward Octa. "Get..." he choked out shakily. "Get Jaina."
Octa hesitated, remembering what Valin had said, then nodded. "We will." She looked over her shoulder. "Tam, Tesar! Get this hunk of metal in the air! We'll try to circle around and pick them up!"
"Right," Tam replied hoarsely.
The engines whined and the ship swayed as the two Jedi hurriedly lifted off from the ground.
Immediately the sounds of laser fire filled the air and the ship shuddered fiercely. "They've got ground lasers!" Chane cried.
"And fighters are lifting off from the ground," Imara reported grimly.
"We don't have much shielding," Tam said weakly. "We can't take this kind of fire. Our shields are only at four percent."
"Thiss one regretss to ssay that we can not do any good for Valin or Jaina," Tesar hissed. "There iss nothing we can do."
There was silence for a long moment as the harsh reality of his words sunk in. They could not get there. They would be shut down if they tried. Their only choice was to go now while they could.
They had to leave Jaina and Valin behind.
They had no choice.
"It is best that we loose only two instead of twelve," Hajima said softly.
"Best thing," Chane echoed weakly.
"It is what Jaina would want us to do," Alema whispered.
"Even Valin said there was no way," Imara said, her voice breaking.
"Do it," Octa said hoarsely, her chest tight. "We don't have any other choice."
"It iss for the besst," Tesar said quietly.
The ship turned course, raising its nose toward the sky, and Octa felt tears well up in her eyes. This time she did not force them back, though.
She looked at Kyp's ashen face. He was still too devested to realize what was going on around him, but when he did, he would be destroyed. It would destroy him. Jaina's death would.
"I'm sorry," Octa said, tears sliding down her cheeks. She touched a hand to Kyp's face, and her turned his eyes toward her. "I'm so sorry. We had no choice."
was impressed, and that was saying something.
Of course, he was sort of biased. It was his son he was impressed with.
Jacen had never been the daring, brash fighter Anakin had been, nor had he ever been the graceful, instinctive swordsmen that Jaina was. Jacen wielded a lightsaber not like it was an extension of himself, but like he was an extension of it.
Jacen moved so quick and with such precision in every stroke of his green blade that it was hard to follow visually. But Han had spent years watching Luke and Leia, and then the children, fighting with lightsabers, and he knew how to watch. The key was not to try and focus on what Jacen was doing, but on what was happening around him.
And what was happening was Peace Brigaders were falling right and left.
Han had to admit, his son was lethal.
Of course he is, Han scoffed to himself. He's a Solo.
Jacen flipped through the air, over the heads of the Peace Brigaders, his blade swinging low-
And he crashed into the ground, hard.
For a moment Han thought the Peace Brigaders had produced ysalamari, then he heard his son scream, and, in that inaudible yell of pain, Han heard him say one name.
Han's heart stopped. No, he thought. No, not Jaina. Not my little girl. I've already had Anakin taken from me, I can't loose Jaina, too!
He broke into a run, yelling over his shoulder to Blackwing, "Cover my boy!"
"Yes, sir!" Blackwing replied, and blaster fire volleyed into the crowd of Peace Brigaders. Han ran to his son's side, dropping to his knees and shaking him by the shoulders.
"Jacen!" he cried. "Jacen, what is it? What's happened to Jaina?"
"She's hurt," Jacen rasped, his entire body convulsing in shivers. "She's hurt so bad. So bad... so very, very bad...."
Han's heart dropped to his stomach. "Is she alive?"
Jacen nodded, rocking back and forth. "Alive.... for now....alive."
There was a pounding of feet and shouting and Han looked over his shoulder to see Luke, Leia and Mara running towards him from one direction, Jag, Tahiri, Piggy and Sharr, the kids in their arms, running from another.
Han watched, eyes wide, as Leia and Mara plunged into the battle, lightsabers swinging wildly. Han had a new appreciation for how deadly his wife was as she flipped over the head of one of the soldiers, letting Mara move in for the kill, and landed behind another, slicing down through his knees and then through his throat.
Stang, he thought. She's more Skywalker than anyone gives her credit for.
Jag ran towards him, shouldering a sleeping Padme into his arms. "Jaina's hurt!" he cried. "We have to go, and we have to go now!"
Luke sliced down three soldiers near him, glanced their way, and saw his son in Tahiri's arms. "Ben!" he cried, running to their side. He lifted Ben into his arms, hugging him fiercely. The little boy blinked, waking up.
"Dad?" he asked groggily.
"Take him," Sharr said to Tahiri, slipping Anakin into her arms, then turning to run after Jag and Piggy.
"Rogues!" Jag yelled. "Finish them off and get to your ships! We have a Goddess to save!"
"Go on!" Leia shouted at him. "Get your pilots to their fighters! Mara and I will handle this!"
Han had no doubt about that. Leia's hair had come loose and it whirled around her as she twisted, slashed, danced around the battle. Her movements were graceful and lithe, and he pitied anyone foolish enough to assume she was too old to fight.
As she slashed through another Peace Brigader, Han caught sight of the fire in her eyes, and he finally understood where Jaina got it. Anakin Skywalker had passed his fire on to his daughter, and Leia had passed it on to hers.
Han helped Jacen to his feet and gave him a push towards the docking field. "Get to the Falcon!" he ordered. "You, too, Tahiri! Get the kids inside!"
Tahiri nodded, and took Padme from him, running after Jacen's stumbling form with both children in her arms.
"I'll get the Shadow ready," Luke said grimly. He glanced at his sister and wife. "Make sure they don't overdo it."
Han nodded and watched Luke run off in the direction of their ships.
When there were no Peace Brigaders left standing, Han called off the two women. "Let's go. We've got to find Jaina."
They nodded, their faces pale, and the three of them took off for the Falcon. Mara hurried to her ship, and Han skipped over the preflight check, bringing the engines to life at once. He waited only until he heard the Shadow's thruster whine, then he took off and punched it towards the atmosphere.
His display board showed the Jade Shadow just behind him, and twelve smaller blips that he knew to be Rogue Squadron just ahead.
As they broke into space, Han heard Jag's voice saying, "Omega three-two-goddess-sun-rogue-ace. I repeat, Omega three-two-goddess-sun-rogue-ace. You are clear to blow that base to dust, General Antilles!"
"Thank you, Colonel," Wedge's voice came back. "I trust you're going to assist us?"
"Negative," Jag replied. "Her Greatness needs assistance."
There was a pause, then Wedge, sounding sorrowful, said, "Understood, Colonel. I wish you luck. May the Force be with you."
"It always is," Jag replied. "Let's just hope it's enough."
Han gritted his teeth. It Sithing better be!
And the Millenium Falcon, the Jade Shadow, and Rogue Squadron jumped into hyperspace.
crouched over Jaina's lifeless body, his heart pounding wildly. He reached out
with the Force, just to be sure that she was unconscious, then clasped his
hands around the spike protruding from her stomach, and pulled as hard as he
It came out with a sickening wet sound, and so did even more blood.
Sithspit! Valin thought. He swallowed hard, then placed his palm against the gaping wound, applying pressure like he had been taught at the Academy. Jaina's blood continued to seep through his fingers, so he used the Force to slow the blood flow.
She needed medical help. She needed a bacta tank. And she needed it now.
Valin could feel her presence dimming, could feel the Force blazing inside of her, her life slowly slipping away. He knew there was no death, only the Force, but he didn't want her to go. He couldn't bear it.
But there wasn't much he could do about that.
Especially not with the Peace Brigaders approaching, blaster rifles aimed at them.
The first shot fired, and Valin took it full in the chest, jolting slightly at the impact. But he was Corran Horn's son, and a blaster wasn't going to be enough to stop him.
He focused on the energy he had absorbed, and thrust out his hand, launching it back at the Peace Brigader who had fired, catching him in the chest and sending him flying. For a moment the Peace Brigaders stared in amazed horror at him, then they all opened fire at the same time.
Valin had to draw on all of the strength the Force could offer him to withstand so many bolts at once, but he did, and he managed to redirect about half of them back at their shooters.
Smoke from the blasters billowed around them, and blood red shots of energy whizzed by, like a torrent of fire raining down on him. Valin continued to get in the way of any aimed at Jaina, determined to protect her with his life if necessary.
As she had done for him.
He kept it up for what seemed like forever, taking out one Peace brigade soldier after another, but more kept coming, from where he didn't know. He could feel his body growing tired and weak, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer.
He was going to have to take the fight to them.
And that meant leaving Jaina's side.
Leaving her vulnerable to the blaster fire erupting around them.
Only one chance, he told himself. You know what you have to do.
He stretched out his hands, focusing on the two lightsabers hidden under the dying tree nearby. He absorbed more blaster bolts, not bothering to aim as he redirected the energy. He called the two lightsabers into his hands, Jaina's to his left, his own to his right. In one fluid motion, he ignited both blades, violet and blue light playing across his face, and rose to his feet, crossing the blades before him as he positioned himself between the Peace Brigade and Jaina.
May the Force be with you, Valin, he heard Octa Ramis' sad voice in his head, accompanied by the mental image of a shuttle taking off.
They're gone, Valin thought grimly. We're on our own.
He half expected Jaina to make a wry comment about that being the way she liked it, but, of course, she didn't.
The Peace Brigaders opened fire, and Valin flicked the two blades from side to side, deflecting almost every shot, and those that went wide sailed past harmlessly.
Sweat beaded sown Valin's face and he forced down fear, not for himself, but for Jaina. He had inherited his father's unique skill to absorb energy, he could survive a few blaster hits. Jaina, on the other hand, could not, and in the condition she was in, one shot could mean instant death.
The thought spurred Valin on, quickening the deft movements of his wrists as he sunk into the Force, letting it guide him and trusting it not to let him down. Not to let Jaina down.
She's a Skywalker, he thought. The Force won't let a Skywalker die.
But it had let Anakin die, hadn't it?
The thought of his fallen friend filled Valin with a new reserve. He would not let Jaina die. He would not let Leia and Han Solo loose another child.
Dividing his focus, Valin continued to deflect the blaster bolts while he reached out around Jaina and wove a barrier around her. It would take more energy than he could really afford to spare to shield her, but he didn't have any other choice.
They were going to die, anyway, so what did it matter?
The ground shook suddenly, and Valin felt a shadow creep into his mind. Oh Sith, he thought. That can't be good.
The ground continued to tremble, and the trees ahead parted with a violent snap. Valin saw a flash of metallic through the jungle, and his heart plummeted to his feet as he saw what the Peace Brigade had brought to deal with him.
Three land crawlers with turbo laser cannons fixed on top lumbered toward him, each step causing more trees to crash into the ground and sending more debris flying at his face.
They came to a halt ten meters away, their laser cannons swinging around to target him.
Well, he thought. This really is it after all.
Valin raised his chin defiantly, drawing himself up to full height, and holding both lightsabers in high guard.
They would do little good, there wasn't much he could do against the turbo laser cannons, not with his energy as drained as it was. The laser cannons would make quick work of him, and then of Jaina, but Valin stood tall, stood proud.
If he had to die, he was going to go down fighting.
The laser cannons glowed as they prepared to fire, and Valin felt a calm acceptance wash over him. He had done his best, but it was time. He felt the Force flow through him, around him, in him, as it was with Jaina.
He was grateful Jaina was unconscious, so she would not suffer.
Goodbye, Father, he thought across space. I tried.
The cannons whined as they took aim, and Valin could see the ball of lethal energy billowing up inside of them.
He grabbed onto the Force as tight as he could, throwing himself into it without abandon. He was a Jedi, like his father, and his great-grandfather.
I am a Jedi, he told himself. There is no death, only the Force.
The cannons roared and Valin steeled himself for the fiery impact.
But it never came.
Laser fire streamed down from the sky at the last minute, pouring into the land crawlers in a furious torrent.
Valin jerked his head up to see a squadron of clawcrafts shoot by overhead, lasers flashing.
Baron Fel had arrived.
dropped the frigate he was piloting down through the trees, following the
sounds of laser fire ahead. He could see his son's squadron engaging enemy
ground troops, and his sensors showed a group of enemy fighters heading back to
the fight, coming from the atmosphere.
None of that even registered, though, once he saw the lightsabers blazing ahead.
He took the frigate in for a landing, coming down near the young man who wielded both blades. As he settled the ship down, Soontir saw the boy bend over and pick up something.
And then Soontir's heart shattered into a thousand pieces.
It was Jaina.
And she was covered in blood.
Soontir slammed a hand down on the ramp extension button, then leapt from his seat and ran to the hatch just as the young man came running into the ship, Jaina's limp body in his arms.
Up close she looked even worse. Her clothes were stained with dirt and ash, soaked with crimson blood. Her hair was matted down against her scalp, and Soontir saw a streak of red spiraling through her dark tresses. Her skin was as pale as an albino Twi'lek, her lips dry and cracked, her face sunken and hollow.
There was hardly any life left in her at all.
"Sithspawn!" Soontir cursed.
"Help me get her onto one of the bunks!" the young man cried.
Soontir took Jaina's light form into his arms, not caring if he was getting blood on his uniform or not. He carried her to the back of the ship and gently lowered her onto the med-bunk. He stared down at her for a long moment, touching a hand to her face.
It was the face of a ghost.
"She needs medical help!" the boy cried anxiously. "Now!"
"You're a Jedi," Soontir said. "can't you do anything?"
The boy hesitated. "I can try. I'm not a healer, and I don't have a strong bond with her like Kyp does, but I can try my best."
Soontir resisted the urge to smash his head into the bunk wall and demand he do better than that. "That is all I ask," he said.
"We need Kyp," the boy said grimly. "I can help for a bit, but we need Kyp. Kyp or Jacen or someone!"
"Where is Durron?" Soontir asked.
The boy's face fell. "Gone," he answered quietly. "They're all gone."
Soontir's pulse quickened. "Dead?" he asked, fearful of the answer. If Kyp Durron was truly the only one who could save Jaina....
"No," the boy shook his head. "We were cut off when the explosion happened."
"Explosion?" Soontir questioned sharply.
The boy forced a sad smile. "You're looking at the main weapons base for the Revolutionaries. Or what's left of it. Jaina decided it was in her way. So we removed it."
Soontir let out a hiss of air. The rubble outside suggested the base had been quite large, and the destruction hinted that whatever Jaina had used to blow up the base had more than gotten the job done.
Why am I not surprised? he thought grimly. She's even crazier than her father.
Soontir still found it hard to believe that was possible.
"The others managed to get a shuttle," the boy explained. "They tried to get to us, but they couldn't. They had to save themselves."
Soontir clenched his teeth angrily. "Kyp Durron abandoned Jaina?" he demanded.
The boy shook his head. "I don't think so. I don't even think he knew they left. Kyp and Jaina are bonded almost as closely as Jaina and Jacen. Kyp's got to be reeling in shock. He might not even be conscious."
Soontir felt his last stray of hope uncoil and fall to the floor. Jaina needed medical help immediately, but the nearest med-center was on Nirauan. Looking at her pale, bloody face, he knew she would not survive the trip. And if Kyp Durron wasn't even conscious, wasn't even on planet, there was nothing anyone could do for her.
Not even Soontir could help her now.
General Baron Fel had never felt more helpless than at that moment, as he watched his daughter-in-law slip away.
"I can try to heal her some," the boy said weakly. He glanced hopefully at Soontir. "I don't suppose you happen to have any medical training?"
Soontir shook his head. "No. But I know someone who does." He hurried back to the cockpit and switched on the comm-link. "Wik? Wik, do you copy?"
His son knew it was serious, for Soontir Fel had never called any of his children by their first name over the comm-waves before. "I copy, Father," Wik's voice came back, sounding tense and worried. "What is it?"
"Jaina's on board," Soontir told him. "But she's in need of emergency medical attention. I need for you to dock your clawcraft in the frigate and do what you can. Turn your squadron over to your second-in-command. When we reach orbit, he can hand over command to your sister."
There was a pause as Wik hesitated, judging the severity of the situation. Soontir knew his son hated relinquishing his command, no matter how temporary, but Wik gave an affirmative reply, and his clawcraft began to turn towards them.
Satisfied, Soontir rushed back to the med-bay. He found the boy sitting beside Jaina, stroking her cheek with his hand, his eyes closed and his brow furrowed in concentration. Not wanting to disturb him, Soontir remained silent, studying the young man before him.
He looked familiar. Not familiar as in someone he had ever met, but familiar as in her resembled someone who Soontir had met before. The hair was darker, and the eyes a different color, but the man in front of him reminded him of a young Corran Horn.
This must be Valin, Soontir realized. He remembered Jaina talking about the young pilot's skills, joking that he could outfly his father. I just hope he knows what he's doing.
Outside the jungle shook with laser fire and explosions. Bright bursts of light shot across the sky, ending in a wave of destruction. At least Wik's squadron is having fun, Soontir thought.
He wanted to join them.
His body was so tense, so much grief and fear winded inside of him, that he needed to get behind the laser cannons of the frigate and start blasting things. Anything.
There was a whine of engines and a few moments later a pilot ran into the med-bay, yanking off the infamous TIE fighter helmet to reveal his youngest son. Wik's face went pale as he saw Jaina, saw the blood covering her and Valin, and he dropped the helmet with a loud thud.
"Stang!" Wik cursed, rushing forward. He began to tear away Jaina's jumpsuit to get to the black layer of clothes underneath, then pried Jaina's shirt off of her and tossed it into the corner. It landed with a wet, soaked sound, and blood began to pool on the floor.
Wik placed his hands on the wound, his eyes searching rapidly. He glanced curiously at Valin for just a moment, then went back to what he was doing. He looked up at his father, eyes wide. "She needs a bacta tank. Now. I can try to slow the bleeding, but there's not much I can do. I'm not a doctor, and this isn't a med-center."
"Can she make it?" Soontir asked, swallowing past the lump in his throat.
Wik hesitated. "By all means, she should be dead already. I can't prove it, I'm no Jedi, but I assume this kid" he said, nodding at Valin. "Is the one keeping her alive right now."
"Can he keep her alive long enough to get to Nirauan?" Soontir demanded.
Wik's eyes darkened and he suddenly looked much frailer than Soontir had ever seen him. "No. We have to get her somewhere closer. Much closer."
Soontir heard the silent confession in those words. If they didn't get Jaina to a med-center, and soon, she would die.
A cold anger washed over Soontir, and he clenched his teeth furiously. "Do what you can," he ordered his son. "This is your sister-in-law's live at stake. I don't want to have to tell Jagged we couldn't save her."
"Neither do I," Wik replied softly.
For a moment father and son stared at one another, declaring their love for the woman laying on the med-bunk. Soontir nodded, looking away. "Take care of her, son," he said.
Wik nodded. "I will, Father."
Soontir spared one last glance at Jaina, and the young man trying so desperately to keep her with them, his heart constricting tightly.
Don't die, Jaina, he pleaded silently. Please don't die.
A single tear escaped from his eye and he batted it away, turning and strolling back into the cockpit, each step filling him with a new and stronger thirst for revenge.
Clenching his jaw, Soontir slid into the pilot's seat and fired up the engines. He glanced down at the pilot's weapons control panel, a gleam shinning in his eye. He would have less accuracy with the lasers if he was trying to fly them out of there at the same time.
But he didn't really care about accuracy.
Grasping the gun stick in his hand, Soontir switched on the targeting scope and let the laser cannons heat up.
A cold smile touched his face, and he let all of the icy rage burning inside of him swell to the surface.
He swung the laser cannon and took aim, blasting one of the Peace brigade fighters into shrapnel. He didn't bother to celebrate, the one kill did nothing to ease the grief roaring in his chest.
He took aim again and fired.
And again. And again and again and again.
He continued to blast the Peace Brigaders into dust, weapons firing so fast and so strong that he stopped caring about targets and worried only about destruction. They had killed his daughter-in-law
It was time they learned that it was a very, very bad idea to make Baron Fel angry.
was darkness behind her and light ahead.
Jaina tried to move towards the light, towards the bright, warm point that her soul longed for, but there was something holding her back, something keeping her from steeping into the white beyond.
She struggled as hard as she could to get loose, but the hold would not loosen.
Calling on all of her strength, she shoved the darkness away from her, and stumbled forward towards the light.
Almost there, she told herself. Just a little further.
And then there was a figure standing before her, standing between her and the light.
"Jaina," the figure said sadly.
"Anakin!" Jaina cried, throwing her arms around her little brother. She could feel him, she could touch him, she could feel his hands caressing her cheeks, his lips kissing her hair.
"Oh Jaina," he murmured. "Jaina, Jaina, how I've missed you!"
"Anakin, is it really you?" Jaina asked.
He nodded. "It's me. Oh Jaina, there's so much I want to say to you and so little time."
Jaina frowned. Why would there be little time?
"You have to go back," Anakin told her. "You have to go back through the darkness."
Jaina's eyes widened. "What? No!"
"Jaina, you have to," Anakin insisted. "It's not your time, yet. You have to go back."
"No," Jaina said, shaking her head. Tears welled up in her eyes. "No, Anakin, please. I don't want to. I want to stay here, with you."
Anakin smiled sorrowfully. "I know, Jaya. I know. I want that, too. One day." He touched her lips with a finger to silence any argument. "You have a husband, Jaina. You have children. You have Mom and Dad and Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara. You have Tahiri and Jacen. You have Kyp. They need you. They all need you."
"What about me?" Jaina demanded, tears sliding down her cheeks. "What about what I need? I need you, Anakin! I don't want to leave you again!"
"You have to," Anakin said softly.
"No!" Jaina cried, hugging him fiercely. "No! Anakin, please don't make me leave! Please!"
"Jaina, please..." Anakin pleaded, his voice hoarse. "Please don't do this to me. This is hard enough as it is."
"Let me talk to her," a new voice said, something akin to Uncle Luke's, but deeper.
Jaina raised her head to see a young man who looked a great deal like her brother, except with blond hair and none of the Solo features. He was tall and wiry, about her age, with a roguish set to his jaw and reckless good looks. She saw a bit of her uncle in him, and a bit of her mother, too.
And she saw herself. Around the eyes mostly. He had intense eyes.
"Anakin Skywalker," she said quietly.
He smiled at her. "Hello, Jaina."
Jaina stared at him for a long moment, not knowing what to say. Here was a man long dead, a man who had died much older than he appeared now.
The man who would become Darth Vader.
He smiled at her, and she decided he had a nice smile. "Sort of odd, isn't it? Not only meeting your dead grandfather, but finding out he looks younger than you."
"Why do you look younger than me?" Jaina managed to ask.
Skywalker shrugged. "This is how I was before I turned to the dark side. This is how Obi-Wan remembered me, this is how Padme remembered me. This is who I was before I became Darth Vader."
Jaina nodded, unable to find words.
He looked at appraisingly for a moment, then smiled. "I wanted to appear to you many times," he told her. "Particularly when you were dealing with the darkness inside of yourself. The distance between our worlds was too great for me to do so, though." He flashed a crooked smirk. "Guess all that Chosen One business doesn't come with any special perks, huh?"
"Is this a dream, then?" Jaina asked.
"No," her brother said sadly. "It's not a dream."
"Then how can you still appear to me?" Jaina asked.
"You're dying, Jaina," Anakin replied softly. "You took a spike through the stomach, and you're dying."
Jaina blinked in amazement. She didn't feel like she was dying.
"Valin is trying to save you," Anakin explained. "He's using the Force to keep you breathing, to keep your heart pumping."
"He cares for you," Skywalker observed. "A great deal."
Jaina nodded. "Yes, I know."
"You must fight, Jaina," Skywalker said. "For Valin. For Jag, for your children. For your brother and your parents and your uncle and aunt. For Kyp Durron. For everyone who is depending on you. You must not die. Not yet."
"Too tired," Jaina protested weakly. "Not strong enough to fight."
And it was true. She could feel herself being pulled towards the light, could feel herself drifting closer and closer to the point of no return.
She turned her back on the light, trembling as she gazed upon the darkness she had to reenter. She took a step forward, and then another and another. But each step got harder and harder, and the light was trying to pull her back now instead of the darkness, and she was too tired to fight it. Too weak to resist.
"Then I'll give you strength," Anakin said, taking her hand in his. His blue eyes were full of determination and love.
"And so will I," Skywalker said, taking her other hand.
Jaina looked up at him searchingly, and found what she was looking for. Strength, fire, unwavering resolve. And love. Fierce and unyielding love. The love of a grandfather for his only granddaughter.
"We'll help you," Skywalker said gently, smiling slightly. "We'll give you the strength to make it through."
And they would, she knew that.
With their help she would break through it to the other side.
She had to.
She focused all of her strength, all of their strength, on the tiny pinpoint of light beyond the darkness, and she began to walk towards it. She felt heavy, weak, but she would not quit.
Her children needed her. Jag needed her.
He could not live without her. He had told her that once, and she knew with Jedi certainty that it was true.
That thought gave her a sudden burst of strength and she slammed herself into the light, bright white heat exploding behind her eyes, and suddenly her body was screaming in agony.
Her eyes opened, for just a moment, and she saw a figure leaning over her.
"Jag?" she rasped.
The figure jumped in surprise, knocking over something nearby. His face swam into view and hands touched her cheek tenderly. "No," he said. "It's me, Wik."
Wik. Her brother-in-law.
"What...?" she choked out, unable to find the strength to speak. She glanced beyond him and saw Valin collapsed on her legs, his hand still clutching hers.
He had been the one bringing her back.
"Valin..." she gasped, trying to reach out a hand to him.
But she was too weak, and it hurt too much, and the darkness was tugging on her again. She tired to fight it, she really did, but it was just too strong.
Her fingertips grazed Valin's cheek as she slid back into the darkness.
And it overwhelmed her.
was in a cold, dark place.
Darkness swirled around him, winds howling in his ears, his blood running colder than an ice floe.
He could not hear, he could not speak, he could not move.
He was aware of someone touching him, of people crying, but he was too far away and he couldn't find his way back to them.
He didn't want to.
Jaina was dying.
He wanted to die with her.
For a moment Kyp was paralyzed, disbelieving what he was hearing. Who he was hearing. But then the voice called his name again, and it was distinctively Anakin Solo.
Anakin? he gasped.
There's still time, Kyp, Anakin's voice echoed. You can still save her.
How? Kyp demanded.
By loving her.
What do you mean? Kyp demanded, but there was no answer.
Anakin was gone.
Had he ever even been there? Or had it been Kyp's imagination?
But imagination or not, if it meant he could still save Jaina, he was going to listen.
Slowly, Kyp focused on the world around him again. Everything blurred into a swirl of colors, but finally his vision settled and he found himself in the shuttle with the other Jedi.
Chane was rocking Nianne on the floor nearby. Imara and Hajima were hugging Merik tightly. Alema was staring at the hull of the ship as if it could give her answers.
And Octa was clutching him fiercely, her face buried in his chest.
Kyp touched a trembling hand to her hair and she looked up, her eyes red and puffy. Her face was pale, and he could sense sorrow in her over Jaina's dilemma, but there was something else, too. Something akin to guilt.
And that's when Kyp realized that they were hitting the planet's atmosphere.
And Jaina was not with them.
He jumped to his feet so fast he knocked Octa over, and he felt bad for that, but he couldn't worry about her right then. Not yet.
He ran to the cockpit, ignoring Octa's cries for him to stop, and threw open the door. Tesar and Tam raised weary, haggard faces and he knew. He knew.
They had left her.
"Turn back!" he demanded.
"Kyp, we can't-"
"Turn back!" he shouted, rage coursing through him so furiously he could almost feel the dark power rising up inside of him. He was dangerously close to the dark side, and he didn't care. He was not going to loose Jaina. He would do whatever it took to save her.
Whatever it took.
"We can't get back to the ground!" Tam shouted back. "There's no way we can touch down and get her, Durron!"
Kyp reached out to Jaina with the Force, this time prepared for the torrent of anguish it hit him with. He found her, found her spirit dangerously close to fleeing her body, and extended his perceptions around her.
She was in a ship.
And... Kyp blinked in astonishment. Baron Fel?
Valin! he shouted. Valin, I need for you to get Fel to dock with us! I need to get onboard that frigate!
Kyp? Valin rasped, sounding shaken and weak.
Yes. I'm coming to save her, Kyp promised. But I need you to get Fel to let me onboard.
Okay. Right. Okay. There was a long pause, then Valin came back, He said he sees your ship. We're coming up alongside you. He'll slip into docking position as soon as we make orbit.
"They're on a frigate headed this way," Kyp told Tam. "Baron Fel is here. I don't know how or why, but I bet Jag has something to do with it. Valin's got Jaina. They're going to dock with us and I'm going over there!"
"We're in the middle of a dogfight up here, Durron!" Tam snapped, gesturing out the viewport to the battle cruiser engaging a clawcraft squadron. "There's no way we can-"
"Do it," Kyp said coldly, imbuing his voice with the mental image of Force lightning flickering around him. "Or I'll take us to Fel myself."
Tam stared at him for a long moment, then cursed and turned the shuttle back towards the planet. Through the viewport Kyp saw a frigate approaching.
"That's them," he said.
"Thiss one must know if you are ssure?" Tesar hissed.
Kyp glared at him. "I'm sure."
"Very well then," Tesar said. "Preparing to dock."
Kyp ran back to the ship's hatch, bracing himself on the hull as the two ships collided with a tremble. There was a loud hiss and the sound of hatches fusing together, and then the door slid open, revealing the Chiss frigate.
Soontir Fel was in the cockpit. "Get in here, Durron!" he demanded angrily.
Kyp didn't need to be told twice. He ran across the threshold and into the frigate, looking around wildly.
"Back of the ship," Soontir said. "The med-bunk."
Kyp nodded and took off for the med-bay, following the mental summons of Valin Horn. He found the room easily, and Jag's brother Wik was waiting at the door. "She woke up for a moment, but then we lost her again. Valin's managed to keep her alive with the Force, but unless there's something else you can do..."
Kyp brushed past him, not bothering to answer.
Valin was leaning over Jaina, holding her hand, but when he saw Kyp he stood hurriedly and made room for the Jedi Master to take his spot. Kyp did so quickly, stumbling over to Jaina and nearly collapsing on her.
Her face was so pale it was like looking at a corpse. Her cheeks were sunken and frail, and her clothes were bloodstained and wet. Wik and Valin had managed to slow the blood flow, he could sense that without removing the bandage they had wrapped around her stomach, but she was still weak.
She was still dying.
"I grabbed onto her life signature with the Force," Valin explained hoarsely. "But it was so hard, I don't think it will work."
"Valin, you need to rest," Octa's voice filled Kyp's ears, and he wondered, distantly, when she had followed him. "Go into a healing trance."
"Not yet," Valin croaked. "Not until Jaina's al-"
There was a thud and Kyp glanced over his shoulder to see Valin laying on the floor in a heap. Octa frowned, wincing. "Whoops. Guess I should have caught him after I did that."
Kyp turned his attention back to Jaina, letting Octa and Wik move Valin to the other med-bunk. He placed a hand on her cheek, focusing his energy on her.
Jaina? he pleaded. Jaina, come back to me. Stay with me. Please.
He felt a flicker from her presence, almost as if she heard him, and he grasped that flicker desperately, trying to hold onto it, to her, with all of his might.
But she was slipping away, falling through his grasp, and he could not hold onto her.
Jaina! he screamed. Jaina, please!
Love her, Kyp, Anakin's voice whispered. Let go of yourself and become her. Forsake all things except for her, and you can save her.
Kyp wanted to scream, wanted to demand Anakin stop being so stang cryptic and just tell him what to do, but he knew that was not the way the Force worked. This was a test, a test for him and a test for Jaina. If he failed, if they failed, they would both suffer the consequences, and they would suffer them together.
It hit him then, like an epiphany. The answer, the only answer.
He felt Octa take his other hand in hers, squeezing it and willing her strength into him. He gave her a grateful brush, drawing her strength into him. Her power filled his veins, stung his nostrils, and gave him the burst of energy he needed for what he was about to undertake.
He gave her one last brush with the Force, a loving caress that spoke the words he had not found the time to say, the words their interrupted kiss had been meant to express, then severed his bond with her.
He didn't want to risk her life, too.
He took a deep, cleansing breath of the Force, then reached out for Jaina's presence and grabbed hold again.
This time he did not try to pull her back, did not try to keep her from falling into the light he could feel tugging on her.
Instead, he reached out for his own presence in the Force and tied it to Jaina's, weaving their very life forces together, joining them as one life, one spirit, one breath of the Force.
Maybe his presence could keep her alive.
If not, at least they would die together.
Her pain became his, his terror hers, and their struggle for survival was shared evenly.
If she slipped into the light, Kyp would be carried down with her. If she died, so would he. And that was exactly how Kyp wanted it.
Partners, he thought with a small, grim smile. You said it was until one or both of us dies, Jaina, but it's not. It's longer than that. It's forever. We're partners, you and I. If this is what the Force means for you, then it's what it means for me as well.
Her voice, her touch on his mind, was the most beautiful thing he had ever experienced.
Yes, Jaina, he said weakly. It's me.
What are you doing here?
I'm here to be with you, Kyp replied. Whatever happens, I'm with you. Forever.
Forever, Jaina repeated faintly.
And then darkness consumed them both.
Wik Fel sat
with his head in his hands, wearier than he had ever felt in his entire life.
His sister-in-law was dying, and there was nothing he could do to help her.
He didn't want her to die. He liked Jaina, a lot. She was someone Wik would have wanted to be friends with even if his brother had not married her. She was fun to be around, and she wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Wik liked that. It was one of the things he liked best about Jaina Solo.
That and the determined spark that glistened dangerously in her eyes. Jag had a spark like that, too, and Wik was pleased to see that Jag had found someone to share his life with who could share in that determined fire, as well.
Jag would be devastated if Jaina died. The thought scared Wik, badly. He didn't know what Jag would do, but he knew it wouldn't be pleasant. He would survive, somehow, for the children, but he would have lost his reason for living, for being. Jaina Solo was the fire in Jag's blood, the breath in his lungs. Wik could only imagine what it would be like to loose something that powerful.
And then there were the children. Wik still didn't understand all of this Jedi stuff, didn't fully comprehend what it was like to feel the ones you loved through the Force, but he understood one thing clear enough; they would feel her die.
Wik remembered the stories Jag had told him about how deeply Anakin's death had tormented Jaina. She herself had even told him once what it was like to feel her brother die. It was like my cells were being ripped apart. Every fiber of my being was in agony. Every strand of the Force within me was screaming.
Would it be like that for Anakin and Padme? Or would it be worse, since this was not their sibling, but their mother?
It was a horrible image Wik had in his head, what Jaina's death could do to her children.
The dark side was only one of the terrifying possibilities they could face.
He hoped they wouldn't have to face any.
Wik glanced back again at the scene before him, terror and awe swirling inside of him. Kyp Durron lay with his head on Jaina's chest, one hand cupping her cheek, the other intertwined with the female Jedi's slender hand. She sat on the floor, her eyes closed, leaning against his legs.
Kyp's eyes were closed, too, and Wik could tell he was not conscious. Part of him worried that he had blacked out, and wanted to shake him awake to continue helping Jaina, but every time he thought about it, Octa would glare at him and tell him to stay back. He is helping her, she had assured him at least a dozen times. He's helping her in the only way anyone can now. If you wake him up, or separate them, Jaina will die, and Kyp will die with her.
From what Wik had gathered, Kyp Durron had somehow spliced his own life with Jaina's, creating some sort of life support system that drew on his own life force to support hers. If Jaina died, Kyp would die, too.
It amazed Wik to see such fierce loyalty, that Kyp would throw his own life in with Jaina's, on the small chance that he might save her, with an even bigger chance that he couldn't. In which case they would both die.
Wik didn't understand the relationship between Jaina and Kyp, and he didn't pretend to. Jag said it was too complicated to explain, that it was a Force thing. Wik did know one thing, though, Kyp Durron was a big part of Jaina Solo's life, and he of hers. In all the years that Wik had known Jaina, Kyp had never been far away, and that was how Jaina and Jag both wanted it. Jaina and Kyp were family, Jag and Kyp friends. Good friends. Though insignificant next to the loss of Jaina, the pain of Kyp's death would be fierce and unyielding.
Wik wasn't sure his brother could take it.
Sighing, he stood and walked out of the med-bay, heading for the cockpit. He heard his father conversing over the comm-link with his sister, who was following in her clawcraft with the rest of her squadron. They had destroyed the battle cruiser hovering outside of Corbos' orbit and were now en route to Nirauan, with Octa determined that Kyp could hold out till then, and that if he couldn't, no bacta tank was going to be able to save them.
His father looked up as he entered the cockpit and dropped wearily into the copilot's seat. "How is she?"
Wik gave him a haggard stare and his father winced, taking the answer from his expression, and looked away. Wik sighed, rubbing his forehead in exhaustion. "Octa seems optimistic," he said at last. "She won't let me get near either of them, so I have to take her word that it's working."
"She's a Jedi," Soontir replied. "She knows best given the situation."
"I certainly hope so," Wik said. "I don't think that-"
A shrill beep from the comm-unit cut him off, and Soontir leaned forward, his brow furrowed. His eyes went wide, and he glanced at Wik in surprise. "It's Jagged."
Wik swallowed, his heart suddenly stopping. What were they going to say to him? What were they going to say when he asked them how Jaina was?
Soontir switched on the comm-link. "Hello, Jagged."
"Did you find her?" Jag asked without preamble, his voice tense and hoarse.
Soontir and Wik exchanged nervous glances. "Yes," Soontir replied. "She's onboard now."
Jag's sigh of relief was audible, even with the distance between them. "How is she?" he asked. "Is she...?"
"Kyp is with her now," Wik answered. "And two other Jedi. Octa and Valin."
"The other Jedi?" Jag asked anxiously.
"Alive," Wik assured him. "They stole a shuttle and are somewhere behind us. The phalanxes are flying escort for them."
"Thank the Force," Jag murmured. "How was she hurt? Do you know? Did Valin tell you?"
Wik glanced at his father inquisitively. He hadn't heard the story yet. Soontir raised his chin, a proud look creeping into his eyes. "They discovered the main weapons base," he told them both. "Jaina destroyed it."
Jag let out a sharp hiss of air, and Wik could almost hear his throat tightening. "Is she..." he swallowed. "How does it look, Wik?"
Wik licked his lips. "Not good," he admitted. "She should be dead by now. She would be, if it wasn't for Valin and Kyp. Valin kept her heart beating, and then Kyp did this ... this thing with the Force."
"What thing?" Jag asked, his voice high and faint.
"He tied himself to Jaina," Wik answered quietly. "Octa says his life is all that's keeping Jaina from dying right now."
There was a long silence, through which Wik could hear muffled breaths of despair coming form his brother. "Where are you taking them?" Jag asked finally, his voice breaking.
"Nirauan," Soontir replied. "The med-center there is one of the best, as you know, and Octa assures us that it won't matter at all if-"
"If Kyp fails," Jag finished. "Yes, I know."
"We're doing all we can, Jagged," Soontir promised gently.
"But will it be enough?" Jag asked grimly.
Neither man answered.
"I will relay the message to meet at Nirauan to the Solos and the Skywalkers," Jag said, his voice raspy. "We will be there when you arrive."
"Understood, Jagged," Soontir replied evenly.
"And Wik?" Jag asked, his tone much quieter, almost a whisper. Wik could hear the tremble in his voice. "Take care of my wife for me."
Wik swallowed hard. "I'll do my best, Jagged," he promised.
"I know you will," Jagged said weakly. "But if..." his voice broke off in a choked sob. There was a pause of tortured grief, then Jag tried again. "If it's too late ... kiss her goodbye for me."
Tears sting Wik's eyes, but he did not bother to wipe them away. "I will."
"Thank you," Jag said, cutting the transmission.
Wik glanced at his father, and was surprised to see tears slipping down the Baron's cheek. His father did not look away from his gaze, but met it head on, a thousand words passing between them in their silence.
Tearing away his gaze, Wik stood and headed back towards the med-bay.
He needed to be there, just in case he had to fulfill his promise to Jag.
stood rigidly as he watched the two ships touch down beside one another on the
The smaller ship was a battered looking Corellian shuttle, but it was the Chiss frigate that held his attention.
Jaina was on that ship.
Beside him, Jacen felt the others tense. His mother and father stood with Luke and Mara, holding the children back. They didn't want them to see Jaina, not like this.
Tahiri and Jag stood beside him, their fear and worry radiating off of them in waves. Jacen knew it was taking all of Jag's strength not to run right up to the frigate and tear open the ship with his bare hands.
It was hard for Jacen to resist doing it, too.
The shuttle emptied out first, ten weary, haggard Jedi stumbling out onto the floor. Jacen expected them to hurry over to Luke, but they didn't. They stayed right where they were, eyes riveted on the Chiss frigate.
Finally the ramp began to lower, and Jacen saw a figure standing at the top, with something in his arms. As the hatch slid open, he realized two things. One, it was Kyp Durron standing there. Two, it was Jaina in his arms.
Even from a distance, Jacen could see the blood.
More terrifying, though, was that his sister was only a few meters away and he could barely feel her through the Force.
Her or Kyp.
Jag let out a choked sob and hurried towards them, trying to take Jaina into his own arms but Kyp waved him back, stumbling weakly to Jacen's side. He grabbed him by the hand and started dragging him into the base with Jag running at their side, his hands cradling Jaina's pale face and his tears falling onto her lips.
"What are you doing?" Jacen demanded.
"Saving Jaina's life," Kyp rasped, sounding near death himself. "Jacen, I wound my life force with hers. It's keeping her alive. I need you to join with us and heal her."
"What about you?" Jag asked weakly, without looking up. "You need healing, too."
"If Jacen heals her, he heals me," Kyp said hoarsely. He looked at Jacen sharply. "Just do it."
Jacen felt a sharp tug at him through the Force, and realized, in surprise, that Kyp had pulled him into the link with Jaina.
Jaina?! Jacen cried.
Do you see what I've been doing? Kyp asked.
Jacen looked. He did see. Kyp had taken each individual strand of his life signature and woven it with Jaina's, fusing their lives into one whisper of the Force.
Yes, he replied.
Good. Now do the same with yours.
Jacen didn't hesitate. He grasped the life energy before him and began to mold his with it, blending their three life essences together.
"Get a med-bunk ready," Jacen gasped out to Jag. "Get one and put two chair beside it! Now!"
Jag hesitated, obviously not wanting to leave Jaina's side. "Do it, Fel!" Kyp snapped. "Or she'll die!"
Jag's face paled even more and he nodded, hurrying ahead to prepare the med-bay. Jacen found it hard to keep running, and he could tell Kyp did, too. They were both being drained by the link they'd established with Jaina, and they both needed to sit down. Soon.
"I did this ... unconscious ... the whole way here," Kyp choked out as they ran. "Couldn't stay conscious, it was so hard."
"I'm impressed you can even stand," Jacen said faintly. "My body feels like it's dying."
Kyp forced a wry smile. "That's because it is, Solo."
Oh, yeah, Jacen thought grimly. Right.
They stumbled into the med-center to find Jag ordering around the staff, frantically clearing out a med-room for the Jedi and what they were about to do. Kyp hurried over to the bunk and slid Jaina onto it, letting Jag step up beside him and kiss Jaina's cheeks, her forehead, squeeze her hand and caress her hair, tears falling onto her pale skin.
"I need you out, Fel," Kyp said after a long moment.
Jag raised furious eyes. "What?" he demanded. "I'm not leaving her!"
"Dammit, Fel, you have to!" Kyp snapped. "No one can be in here but me and Jacen! Not if you want us to save her!"
Jag looked ready to punch him, but he swallowed hard, nodding. "I'll be outside." He glared at Kyp. "Don't let her die. Find a way, Kyp. Don't you let her die."
"If she does," Kyp rasped. "I'm going with her."
Jag didn't seem to understand that Kyp was not expressing a desire, but a fact. He nodded and kissed Jaina on the forehead once more, then strolled to the door. He paused there, glancing back at them. "You have my wife in your hands. I can't live without her."
Without another word, he stepped out of the room and the door slid shut behind him.
Jacen and Kyp exchanged a grim look, then sunk themselves into the hoverchairs Jag had pulled up alongside the bed. Jacen felt Kyp sink into the link with Jaina, then took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and did the same.
Jaina? he called.
Jace... she rasped, her voice much fainter this time.
Sithspawn! Kyp cursed. She's slipping!
And Kyp was right. Jacen could see it. The already dim light that was his twin was growing dimmer, flickering between life and death.
Jaina, hold on! Jacen shouted. Jaina, please!
It's too much for her, Kyp replied sorrowfully. His tone turned grim and steady. Severe the tie with us, Jacen. Let us go.
No! Jacen cried.
Jacen, we're going to die! Let it be two instead of three! You have a wife and a son!
And twins, Jacen added softly. Tenel Ka is pregnant.
Oh Jace... Jaina gasped weakly.
Go, Jacen, Kyp demanded. Cut yourself loose. Jag is going to need you. Anakin and Padme are going to need you. Your parents need you. They're going to loose one child today. Don't make them loose two.
Go, Jace, Jaina rasped. Take care of my children.
Jacen was silent for a long moment. His wife did need him, and so did his son, so did the twins. His duty was to them before all others, wasn't that the vow he had taken when he married Tenel Ka?
But he could not leave his sister. Not his twin, not Jaina. Not after he had left Anakin.
I'm staying, he said firmly.
No, he silenced any argument. I'm staying. Jaina is my twin. I'm not leaving her.
He couldn't be sure, but he got the impression his sister was crying.
He felt like crying, too.
The light ahead was sucking them toward it, and Jacen found it hard to resist. Hard to want to resist. The light was warm and soft, dazzling and serene. It was the Force itself, calling them home. And Jacen was ready to answer it.
No, Jacen, his brother's voice said sharply. Don't.
Jacen heisted, uncertain. Anakin?
Don't stop fighting, Jacen, Anakin said. Your time has yet to come. If you go to the light, you will die, and so will Jaina.
What can I do? Jacen asked desperately. The light was so warm, so inviting, it was hard to ignore it's soft call.
Heal Jaina, Anakin answered.
I'm not a healer, Jacen protested.
You once said you weren't a warrior, either, Anakin rebutted. Heal her, Jacen. The Force has need of you still.
Then why is it tempting me? Jacen demanded. Why is it luring me towards it?
It's not, Anakin answered. The Jedi come from the Force, Jacen. It is only natural for a Jedi to long to be one with the Force again. This is your home, Jacen, but it is not time for you to return to it yet.
What do I do? Jacen asked.
Heal Jaina's Force strands, Anakin replied. Heal her in the Force and you heal her body.
A healing trance? Jacen asked, realization hitting him. Can I take us all into the same trance? Is it possible?
All things are possible with the Force, Jacen.
It was not Anakin's voice he heard this time, but Vergere's. He could almost see her gentle, birdlike features swimming before him, could almost feel her next to him.
You are a Jedi, Jacen Solo, she said. Like you mother and her father before her. The Force is strong in your blood. You are the heirs to the Force, you and your sister, grandchildren of the Chosen One. There is nothing the Force will deny you if you ask the right questions.
What does that mean? Jacen demanded. There was no answer. Vergere? Anakin?
But they were gone, and he was alone.
No, not alone.
He reached out for his sister and Kyp, found them both unconscious, sliding towards that light, the point of no return.
No! he cried, throwing the Force out to grasp them to him. No! We aren't done yet! We aren't finished! We are Jedi, we have not finished serving yet!
The light continued to pull, dragging them down toward it.
We are Jedi! he shouted desperately. We are the Force!
The white light let go of them, and another light erupted behind him, this one harsh and bright, a yellowish color. It opened up beneath them, pulling them under.
A blur filled Jacen's vision, and then the light engulfed him, and there was nothing except the Force.
Jacen allowed himself a small smile before loosing conciousness.
He'd done it.
He'd pulled them all into a healing trance.
And now it was up to the Force to save them.
glanced at the door to the med-room for what seemed like the millionth time.
Inside Jaina Solo Fel was hanging over the edge of death, Kyp Durron and Jacen Solo desperately trying to keep her alive.
Master Skywalker had gone into the room not long ago, but he had not allowed anyone else in, and he had not come out since.
The suspense was killing Valin, almost as much as the guilt.
Jaina had saved his life when she knocked him aside after the explosion. She had taken a spike through the stomach that had been meant for him. If she died because of it, Valin would never forgive himself.
He had tried to save her, he really had. He had exerted the very last of his energy keeping her body alive until Kyp had shown up. If Octa hadn't knocked him into a healing trance, Valin probably would have kept feeding her his energy until he fell into a coma.
He was a little annoyed at being forced to wait in the lobby. He had been the one to keep her alive first, and he wanted to be in there, doing it still. He supposed that was why Octa had not pulled him out of the healing trance she had forced upon him until after Kyp and Jacen had locked themselves in the med-room, to keep him from making himself even sicker.
That didn't make him any less upset with her, though. Neither did knowing that Jacen and Kyp were bonding their lives with Jaina's. He had been willing to die with her in the hangar, he was still willing to do it now.
He was still no longer linked with Jaina, but their bond still flowed openly. He could feel her slipping closer and closer towards the Force, towards the balance between life and death, and there was nothing he could do to help her.
He kept whispering loving words to her through the Force, with no way of knowing whether or not she heard him, but he liked to think she did. He liked to think that hearing his voice helped her focus on what she was fighting to live for.
And he hoped that she knew he loved her.
Not in the way he loved Syal, of course, but more in the way he loved Jysella. Jaina was the closest thing he had to an older sister, and he long since gotten over the boyhood crush he'd harbored for her and come to appreciate and care for her as a friend. A good friend.
Her willingness to sacrifice her own life to save his attested to the fact that she felt the same way about him.
Valin had already told everyone the story of what happened at the base while they waited. He had been sure to inflict all the pride he felt over Jaina's decision to blow up the base into his voice, and his voice had been choked with emotion as he told them about their near sacrifice in the hangar. it was telling them about Jaina's wound that was the hardest, though. Facing her parents and her uncle and her husband and in-laws, and telling them that she was dying so that he might live.
He had been afraid they would blame him, particularly Jag, but they had assured him that they didn't. They understood that he had not asked Jaina to save him, and every one of them understood that it was merely instinct that had led Jaina to her potential demise. The instinct to save a friend.
Valin glanced over at Jag Fel, his throat constricting tightly.
Jag was leaning back in his chair, his head resting against the wall, his eyes closed and his face pale and drawn. Anakin and Padme were curled up against him, Padme resting in his lap, and Anakin snuggled up under one of Jag's arms. Both children were asleep, and it was almost a touching scene. If their anxiety and fear had not been tangible in the Force.
Valin swallowed hard. "Jag?" he asked quietly.
Jag raised his head, blinking at him. "Yes, Valin?" he asked, his voice weary and tired.
"I'm sorry about Jaina," Valin said softly. "I wish I could take it back. I wish I could trade places with her, so it was me in there instead of her. I'm sorry. It's all my fault."
"No, Valin," Jag shook his head. "It's not your fault." He sighed. "Jaina always makes her own decisions. She makes them for her own reasons and she defends them with all the fury of a wild rancor." He raised his pale green gaze to meet Valin's. "Jaina would not regret saving your life, Valin. And neither do I."
Valin swallowed back the lump that rose in his throat. Jag had no idea how much that meant to him, how badly he needed to hear that Jag did not blame him, did not hate that it wasn't Valin laying in there instead.
"I'll be honest with you," Jag said, shifting his weight to sit up straight, careful not to stir the children. "If it had been up to me, I would have chosen differently. If I had to choose between you and Jaina, I'd choose Jaina. That's not because of you, it's because she's my wife. I'd choose Jaina over anyone. Even my own father."
Valin nodded that he understood. And he did. If it had been Syal, he knew that he would have saved her before worrying about anyone else, even Jaina. And if Jag had been there, too, Jaina would have gone after him first. That was just the way things worked. You put the person that you loved first and foremost.
Jag studied him for a moment, and Valin felt him appraising him. "You love my cousin Syal, don't you?" he asked.
Valin nodded. "Very much so."
"Then you do understand," Jag said with a weak smile. "You know what it would be like if it was Syal laying in there."
"I can imagine," Valin said quietly. "And just imagining is more painful than anything I have ever experienced, even torture at the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong."
"Yes," Jag agreed softly. "It is." He glanced down at his daughter, stroking her hair with his fingers. "I love Jaina with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with every breath and every thought. When we're apart it's like I'm missing part of myself. When we're together, it's like every fiber of my being is alive and on fire. I think I loved her from the moment I first laid eyes on her." He looked up at Valin inquisitively. "Was it like that for you?"
"Uh, not exactly," Valin replied.
Jag shook his head. "Of course not. I forgot, you knew Syal as children. When did you first realize that you were in love with her?"
"One day I just looked at her," Valin replied. "And it was like I was seeing a whole different girl." He frowned. "No, not a different girl. The same one who I had always known, just in a different light all of the sudden." He raised an eyebrow. "Does that make any sense to you?"
Jag smiled faintly. "Yes. I think it does." He glanced back down at Padme's sleeping form, asking, "Do you know what Jaina told me once? She told me that she thought I was grim and condescending. And then, one day, she looked at me again and suddenly everything was different. The Queen Mother had me disposed of, and Jaina felt me. Through the Force. A bond had grown between us unnoticed, and it was blazing like nothing she had ever known. It was at that moment she realized she was in love with me."
Valin was silent, unsure what to say, and sensing that Jag didn't really want him to say anything. This was time for Jag to grieve, to deal with the possibility of loosing his wife forever without breaking down.
"You were probably too young to remember back then," Jag said. "But when Jaina and I first got married, we were constantly being torn apart by the war. Constantly throwing ourselves at the Vong, never knowing when one of us might not make it back. Jaina, in particular, was always in danger, and we were always so worried that sooner or later the Vong would catch up to one of us. But they didn't. We survived, together. And we've survived so much since then, Jaina, Anakin, Padme and I." He sighed. "I guess I had started to think that nothing could touch Jaina. Not my Jaina, not Her Greatness herself."
"I always thought she was kind of indestructible," Valin said. "I believed that nothing could ever beat Jaina, because I didn't want it to." He flashed Jag a weak smile. "I had a crush on her for years, you know."
The corner of Jag's mouth twitched in a smile. "I know," he said. "It was kind of obvious."
Valin laughed slightly at the gentle rebuke. "I suppose it was. Man, you'd think with all the Jedi around, someone would have told me that."
Jag actually chuckled. "I suspect that they somewhat enjoyed watching you pine away for her. I've noticed you Jedi have twisted senses of humor."
"Indeed we do," Valin agreed with a grin. "Indeed we do."
They sat in silence for a long moment, Valin studying his hands and Jag studying Padme's little face. Then Jag said, "It's funny, but ever since the children felt Jaina dying, I've been able to suddenly recall a thousand tiny details that I love about her. Simple, every day details that would never stick out in my mind if someone asked me what I loved about my wife."
"Like what?" Valin asked quietly.
Jag didn't look up. "The way she likes to stay at home and curl up on the couch to watch holodramas. The way she looks when she wears my shirts." He traced his fingers across Padme's cheek distractedly, his eyes glossy and far away. "The way she looks up at me in the morning. The way her head always fits perfectly on my shoulder. But most of all, the way she says my name."
Valin felt tears stinging at his eyes, but he did not wipe them away. Whether they were for Jaina, for Jag, for their love, he didn't know. He only knew that they had purpose, and he could not bring himself to wipe that purpose away.
Valin was about to say something when he felt a familiar presence approaching the med-center at a full run. He blinked in astonishment. Syal?!
The door flew open and his girlfriend launched herself at him, throwing her arms around his neck and burying her face in his chest.
"Uncle Wedge!" Jag cried in surprise, carefully moving the children to stand and greet his uncle. "What are you doing here?"
"We came as soon as your mother called," Wedge replied.
"Syal," Valin said, his throat constricting with emotion.
She raised shimmering blue eyes to study him. "I knew you weren't dead," she said, her voice an excited whisper. "I knew you would make it!"
Valin wondered if anyone had told her how close to not making it he had come. Through the Force he knew they hadn't, and he vowed to make sure she understood just what Jaina had done for him later. But for now, he just wanted to hold her.
"Uncle," Jag said, his voice sounding strange. "I'd like to talk to you about something privately."
As Jag led Wedge off to one of the side conference rooms, Valin probed him quickly with the Force. Jag had not been trying to buy them private time, but he had thought they might like it. He really did need to speak to Wedge, but he felt Syal and Valin might appreciate it if they talked in the other room.
He would have to thank him later.
Valin raised a hand to stroke Syal's cheek, memorizing the curves of her face. "Syal," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I love you so much."
"I love you, too," Syal said, tears spilling onto her cheeks. "So much."
Valin kissed her, long and hard and full on the mouth, letting her love fill every corner of his being, making him whole again.
He love this woman, Force, did he love her. She was so beautiful, so gentle, so precious and beloved. He could not imagine life without her, and Jaina's emergency had forced him to think about that possibility. He saw how unbearable it was for Jag to watch the woman he loved slip away, and Valin could not begin to understand how he had managed to hold together this long.
On the outside, at least. Jag's anguish and despair sang through the Force like a shot across water, reverberating around him. But he had managed to stay strong so far, for his children.
Valin could well imagine what it would be like to loose his wife, because he could imagine loosing Syal. And he wanted Syal to be his wife.
"Sy," he said softly, catching her eye. He swallowed hard, tracing her jawbone with his thumb. "Sy, will you marry me?"
He heard her sharp intake of breath, felt her shock, and then he was swept away by the love and happiness pouring out of her as she threw her arms around his neck again and pulled him down for a long, passionate kiss.
When they pulled apart, Valin panted for air, raising an eyebrow wryly. "So was that a yes?"
Instead of answering, she kissed him again.
Skywalker was tired.
He was tired of all the fighting, all the killing, all the war and death.
He had lost many friends over the years, far too many. Biggs, Obi-Wan, all the other members of the Rebellion who gave their lives for peace. So many students had died serving the Force. He had even nearly lost Mara to a Yuuzhan Vong disease. He had lost Anakin at Myrkyr.
He did not want to loose anyone else.
He had come into the med-room after he felt them slide into a healing trance, a feat he could only assume Jacen had done. Jacen had always been gifted with healing trances, whether he knew it or not.
Luke could feel Kyp and Jacen drawing strength into them from the Force. They would be alright. It was Jaina who Luke worried for. Looking at her through the Force, he saw that all the once vibrant swirls he knew as his niece were now dim and jagged.
Her wound was healing, he didn't need to lift away the bandages to know that. He could feel it in the Force, her body mending itself as best it could. She would need a few dips in a bacta tank before she was completely healed, but that was only if she survived until then.
She had lost a lot of blood. It was all over Valin Horn and Kyp Durron.
Luke was grateful to Valin for all he had done. He was grateful to Kyp. But he could not express that until he knew whether or not Jaina would live.
It was really uncertain whether or not she would. Just because the wound had begun to heal, did not mean the rest of her had. There were some things that no healing could fix. Psychological things, spiritual things. If the Force truly intended for Jaina Solo to die there, then she would. Nothing could stop that.
Luke knew that, as a Jedi Master he accepted it, but gazing at his niece's pale, lifeless face, he wished with all of his heart that it wasn't true.
All they could now was wait. Wait and see if she woke up. If she did, then she would live. But if she didn't...
Luke had helped raise Jaina and her brothers. They were a small but loving and loyal family, the legacy of Anakin and Padme Skywalker's love. Their family continued to grow slowly, through Jaina and Jacen's children, just as one day Ben would produce another Skywalker. The Jedi were Luke's family, but his flesh and blood was his life. He would have given his life ten times over for any one of them, and he knew they would do the same for him.
But he could not give his life for Jaina, just as he had not been able to for Anakin.
Maybe that's why it hurt so much, being helpless to save her. It was Anakin all over again.
Luke had sent her on that mission. If he hadn't, she would not be laying on the med-bunk in front of him. But if he hadn't, the Revolutionaries base would never have been destroyed, just as the voxyn would never have been destroyed had he not sent Anakin to Myrkyr.
Luke sighed, shaking his head. Sometimes being Luke Skywalker, head of the Jedi Order was just too much.
He glanced over at Kyp Durron and Jacen Solo, both of whom were in a deep sleep in the two chairs next to Jaina's bed. Luke himself sat on the edge of her med-bunk, one hand resting lightly on her arm. Kyp was slouched in his hoverchair, his dark hair messy and sprawled in his eyes. He looked weary and pale, and Luke was proud of what the younger Jedi Master had done. Kyp had put his own life on the line for Jaina's, and that only showed just how deeply attuned the two were through the Force.
In the years since Jaina and Kyp had first become partners, Luke had had the pleasure of watching Kyp grow and mature in a way that had nothing to do with his age. Kyp had outgrown his selfishness and had abandoned the arrogance that he had once worn like a cape around him. Kyp had turned into a powerful, respected Jedi. The kind of Jedi that Luke could be proud of.
He was proud of Jacen, too. Jacen, who had overcome his pacifism and taken up arms against the Vong, who had been taught the ways of the Old Order before any other New Order Jedi. Jacen had grown into a powerful, wise man, and it made Luke flush with pride to see that he had retained his philosophical beliefs even after the war. They were different now, yes, but he believed in them no less, and that was something Luke admired greatly.
Sometimes Luke wondered what kind of man Anakin would have grown into, especially when he saw the beautiful, but sad, woman Tahiri had become. Anakin would have been a strong and powerful Jedi, brave and noble, but slightly reckless and brash, as well. Very much like his sister was.
Or his grandfather, Luke thought with a sad smile.
He had many times wondered what his father would think. Of the New Order he had established, of the way he had trained the Solo children, of how he and Leia had turned out. Of Mara and Ben.
Sometimes Luke thought Anakin Skywalker was watching him. It was a happy thought. Maybe Padme Skywalker was watching with him.
Luke felt something brush his hand, and he jolted in surprised, turning back to the med-bunk. What he saw made his heart soar.
Jaina's eyes were open, barely, and her fingertips were resting on his hand lightly. She forced a terribly weak smile. "Uncle Luke…" she rasped out, her voice hoarse and broken.
Tears stung Luke's eyes as he leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "Jaina," he said, his tears falling onto her lips. "You have no idea how good it is to see you awake."
"I could actually use a nap," Jaina replied, her weak voice wry.
Luke smiled. "I'm sure you could. We'll get you into a bacta tank soon. How are you feeling?"
"Alive," Jaina said simply.
"Well, given the circumstances, that's certainly saying something, now isn't it?" Luke replied with a wry smile.
Jaina's lips twitched in amusement, then settled into a relaxed line. "What happened?" she asked. "Where am I?"
"Nirauan," Luke told her. "Valin kept you alive, and Kyp and Jacen healed you."
Jaina nodded. "I remember that much." She glanced over at the sleeping forms beside her bed and smiled faintly. "Is Valin alright?"
"He's fine," Luke promised. "A little anxious, a little guilty, and a lot worried. He'll be glad to know you're awake. He feels responsible."
"Stupid kid," Jaina muttered. "I'll have to knock some sense into him later."
Luke hid an amused smile. "I'm sure you will." He squeezed her hand tightly. "You gave us all quite a scare, Jaina."
"Sorry about that," she rasped.
"I'm just glad you're okay," Luke replied.
"How did I get to Nirauan?" Jaina asked weakly.
"Baron Fel came for you," Luke answered. "When we lost your signal in the Unknown Regions, Jag asked him to look for you."
Luke decided he would let Jag tell her why Jag had not gone looking for her himself. She was still tired and weak, and he didn't think hearing that she had missed her children's kidnapping and then rescue would be the best thing right then.
There was a stirring in the Force and they both looked back to see Kyp Durron open his eyes, blinking. Luke watched with a smile as Kyp saw Jaina and his eyes went wide in shock and relief. "Jaina!" he cried.
"Hello, Kyp," Jaina said with a smile.
Kyp shook Jacen by the shoulder. "Jacen, Jacen, wake up!"
Jacen stirred groggily. "Let me have another minute, Tenel," he murmured.
Jaina giggled and Kyp scowled, thumping Jacen behind the ear. Jacen jumped, startled, and glared at Kyp, rubbing his ear. Before he could yell at Kyp, Kyp nodded at Jaina, and Jacen turned, his own eyes mirroring the unique shape Kyp's had taken a moment ago.
"Jaina!" Jacen cried.
"Jacen!" Jaina said, mocking his tone, a wry smirk on her lips.
Luke had the foresight to step aside as the two men jumped form their chairs, throwing themselves at Jaina. His niece disappeared in a shower of hugs and kisses and gasps of amazement and tears of relief.
Finally, laughing hoarsely, Jaina said, "Guys, I can't breathe!"
Kyp and Jacen drew back, grinning ruefully. Luke chuckled, shaking his head. "You three really do amaze me. I don't know how you managed this."
Jacen's eyes took on a bright look, and he glanced from Jaina to Luke excitedly. "Anakin spoke to me," he said. "He told me to go into a healing trance. I would never have been able to pull it off if he hadn't told me to, or if Kyp hadn't been linked to Jaina already."
Kyp blinked, a strange look on his face. "He spoke to me, too," he said. "He gave me the idea to link with her, to tie my life to hers."
Well, Anakin, Luke thought with a smile. The hero yet again.
"I have you both beat," Jaina said with a faint but triumphant smile. "I not only got to see him and touch him, but I got to see and touch two Anakins."
She gave Luke a meaningful look and Realization swept over him. "My father?" he asked softly.
Jaina nodded, her eyes bright. "He's proud of you, Uncle Luke. So very proud of you and Mom and me and Jace, even little Ben and the kids."
Luke felt longing stir up in him. Would his father appear to him if he were dying? Certainly he would when Luke died. Maybe his mother and Anakin Solo would, too.
Perhaps even old Ben will be there waiting, Luke thought, a sad smile touching his lips.
"I should tell Jag you're awake," Kyp said suddenly. "He's going to kill me for not coming to get him the minute you opened your eyes!"
Jaina smiled. "I won't tell if you don't."
Luke watched his niece lean back against the pillow Jacen set behind her back, and he smiled, a real, content smile this time.
His family was whole, after all. Even with Anakin's death, he was not truly gone. He was still with them, the way Anakin Skywalker was.
And someday, they would all be together again.
And what a reunion that would be.
Anakin Fel murmured suddenly, sitting up straight.
Jag glanced down at his son in concern, his throat constricting tightly. "Anakin?" he asked. "What is it?"
Before his son could answer, the door to the med-room slid open and Kyp Durron stuck his head out. Jag barely had time to let out a sigh of relief at seeing the Jedi Master alive, when Kyp said the two words Jag would never forget.
"Mama!" Anakin cried, jumping off of the bench, Padme right behind him. They ran into the room so quickly Jag was barely standing by the time they vanished. He heard squeals of delight and could even hear Jaina's raspy voice coming from the room.
Jag hurried into the room, with his family, Jaina's family and the other Jedi swarming in after him. He came to a halt just inside the door, as his eyes fell on Jaina. She was still pale and weak looking, but she was sitting up against a pillow, with Jacen supporting her with his free arm, and Anakin and Padme jumping onto her lap.
"Mama! Mama!" Padme shrieked, throwing her arms around Jaina's neck. "Mama, you better!"
"Mama!" Anakin cried, burying his face in Jaina's hair. "Mama, I missed you. I missed you so much, Mama!"
"Oh my darlings," Jaina said, kissing both children and hugging them close. "Oh, Anakin, Padme, let me look at you." She held them at arms length, tears sliding down her cheeks. "Oh, I love you both so much."
"Love you, too, Mama," Anakin said, clutching her fiercely.
"Lots and lots," Padme agreed. She hugged her again. "Glad you all better inside, Mama."
"I'm glad, too," Jaina said. She raised a smiling face to look at him, her face pale and haggard, but her eyes vibrant with the fire that only her eyes could posses. "And I think your father is glad, as well."
Jag swallowed hard, tears welling up in his eyes. "More than you'll ever know," he replied, walking over to the bed. He reached out trembling hands to touch her cheek, as if he feared she would vanish at his touch. When his fingers brushed real, solid skin, he found her couldn't hold back the tears any longer. "I love you," he choked out, a sob breaking the end of his words. He pressed his forehead to hers, tears streaming down his face, his shaking hands caressing her skin. "I love you so much."
He kissed her, and her lips were wet and salty from his tears, but it was the sweetest kiss he had ever experienced. One kiss and he felt whole again, complete.
The look in her eyes told him that she felt the exact same way.
"Papa," Anakin said, tugging at Jag's sleeve. "Papa, now why are you crying?"
"He keeps doing that, Mama," Padme told Jaina, her eyes wide. "Is he sick?"
Jag couldn't help smiling. "No, angel," he replied. "I'm not sick."
"Then why are you crying?" Anakin demanded, his little brow furrowed in confusion.
"No more bad men, Papa," Padme promised. "No more bad men to take us."
If possible, Jaina's face went even paler. "Take you?" she echoed, her eyes wide and her breath catching in her throat. "What do you mean take you?"
Anakin turned to her, his little face solemn. "Peace Brigaders took us from Naboo. Papa and Uncle Luke and Aunt Tahiri came to get us."
"And Gramma and Granpa and Uncle Jacen and Aunt Mara," Padme added happily. Her eyes lit up. "Oh, and Mr. Piggy came, too!"
Jaina's hands were trembling as she stroked her children's hair. "I didn't know. I'm so sorry, darlings. I didn't know." Her voice was hoarse and strained, almost breaking with each word, the guilt in her heart evident in her tears. "If I had known, I would have come for you myself."
"Know that, Mama," Padme said, frowning in confusion. "Now you crying! Why you all keep doing that?"
"I make it better!" Anakin declared, crawling up to give his mother a kiss on the cheek. "There!" he cried, sitting back expectantly.
Jaina smiled weakly. "Thank you, Anakin, that's much better." Over his head she gave Jag a serious look, one that meant she wanted to hear the story later, and she wanted it in great detail. He nodded, agreeing to relay it to her later in private.
"Jaya!" Ben cried, struggling against his mother's restraining hand. He had been patiently waiting while Jag and the children were reunited with Jaina, but apparently he was tired of waiting. "Mom, let go!"
"It's okay, Aunt Mara," Jaina promised, opening her arms to hug her cousin as he broke free and hurried to her side, throwing his arms around her carefully. "Hey there, Ben. How you doing?"
Ben shrugged. "I got kidnapped, too, so I guess I'm doing better than I was." He looked at her with serious eyes. "I'm sorry you got hurt, Jaya. And I'm glad you're okay."
"Thanks, kid," Jaina grinned down at him. "I'm glad I'm okay, too."
"So are the rest of us," Mara said. She, Han, Leia and Tahiri rushed forward, taking turns hugging and kissing Jaina, marveling at her recovery.
"Oh, Jaina," Leia said, hugging her tightly. "I was so scared that I was going to loose you, too."
For a moment Jag was struck by how very much Jaina looked like her mother as the two women embraced again. "Anakin came to me," Jaina said. "He came to me and so did Grandfather. They gave me strength."
Leia pulled back, her eyes shimmering with tears. "I'm sure they're both very happy to see you alive," she said hoarsely.
Jaina nodded. "He's proud of you, Mom," she said, so softly Jag had to strain to hear her. "He wanted you to know that."
"Well, I would certainly hope so," Leia said with a shaky smile. "The former Chief-of-State, a fully trained Jedi at last."
"That last one is probably the one he prefers," Han said dryly. "Not that you can blame him. Politicians."
"I agree," Jag said, shooting Leia a soft glance to show her that she did not fit that category in his mind.
Leia chuckled and stepped aside, squeezing Jaina's hand. She went not to her husband, but to her brother, sliding her arms around his waist and leaning her head on his shoulder.
"Got yourself into trouble yet again, huh, Jaina?" Tahiri asked with a grin.
Jaina grinned back. "You know me. I'm a regular trouble magnet."
"You have no idea how glad we are to see you, Boss Lady," Merik said from the corner where the Twin Suns pilots stood.
"Yeah?" Jaina smirked. "You won't be so glad to see me when we get back into those sims."
"Oh, I think we can handle you," Merik retorted with a grin. "While you and Valin were enjoying blowing up that base, we were being chased by flesh eating monsters!"
"Don't remind me," Nianne Terrat shuddered.
"I'm beginning to think we had it easy," Octa Ramis said.
It was then that Jag noticed how close the woman was standing to Kyp. Narrowing his eyes, he noticed that their hands were intertwined, hidden behind the med-table. He glanced at Jaina to see if she had noticed, and she raised an eyebrow, her eyes sparkling with a wicked gleam.
Apparently she had.
At least now we can get him back for all the teasing he did when we were dating, Jag thought, a satisfied smirk tugging at his lips.
"It iss good to ssee you well, Jaina," Tesar hissed.
"It really is," Alema said softly.
Jaina smiled. "I don't even want to hear about the fun you all had, do I?"
Tesar's hissing sounded suspiciously like laughter. "No, thiss one thinkss you do not."
Jaina laughed, wincing slightly. She touched a hand to her side, then looked up, her eyes scanning the room. "Where's Valin?"
"I'm here," Valin said, stepping out from behind the Solos.
"Get over here," Jaina ordered, grabbing his hand as soon as he was close enough. She squeezed it hard, her eyes boring into his. "If I hear one word of guilt, see one look that even hints that you're even thinking guilty thoughts, I am going to hit you so hard you'll be in a bacta tank for a week! Do you hear me?"
Valin smiled weakly. "I hear you."
"Good." Jaina pulled her down into a hug. "Thank you for saving my life, Valin."
"Thank you for saving mine," Valin replied, flashing her a wry smile. "Even if it was your crazy, insane plan that nearly got us both killed."
"Hey, I'm a Solo, what do you expect?" Jaina grinned.
"I've been waiting for her to use that as an excuse," Wedge said.
"Wedge!" Jaina cried, surprise evident in her eyes. "What are you doing here?"
"You know me," Wedge grinned. "I go where the trouble is. That means I just have to follow you."
"I found the base, by the way," Jaina drawled. "I suppose you could send out your people to take care of it, but I don't think I left anything for them to destroy. Kell would be disappointed."
"Either that or he'd be very proud of you," Tahiri said wryly.
Jaina chuckled hoarsely. "I suppose he would. The job Valin and I did on..." she trailed off, frowning. "Where the Sith were we anyway?"
Before Jag could answer, his father stepped forward. "Corbos," Soontir replied. "A particularly aggressive jungle planet."
"Aggressive?" Tam-Azur-Jamin echoed incredulously. "That may be the biggest understatement in the galaxy."
Soontir smiled slightly. "So I have gathered." He smiled affectionately at Jaina. "I'm glad you are alright, Jaina."
"Thank you, Soontir," Jaina smiled. "And thanks for coming after me."
"Hey, we helped, too, you know," Wik said.
Jaina grinned. "I think I recall something about that. Something about calling you Jag."
Wik chuckled. "You were a little out of it at the time."
"I should hope so," Jag retorted. "I'm much too handsome for you to be mistaken for me."
This drew snorts and snickers from most people gathered, even little Ben. Padme looked up at him, her pale green eyes wide, her dark lashes fluttering. "I think you the most handsome Papa there is."
The women in the room moaned about how precious she was, but Jag just placed a hand on his daughter's shoulder. "Tell that to your mother for me. I keep trying to convince her, and she just doesn't seem to get how lucky she is."
Jaina snorted, rolling her eyes. "Whatever you say, dear."
Jag's mother and sister, along with Syal Antilles hurried forward to hug Jaina and gush over how amazing it was to see her again, and Jag wondered when he would get any privacy with his wife. Master Skywalker must have picked up on his thoughts, because Luke cleared his throat.
"I think Jaina needs to get into a bacta tank, just to be safe," he said evenly. "Why don't we all go find a restaurant to eat at? I'm sure Soontir can recommend something."
"No, no," Syal Fel said, shaking her head. "Come back to our house. I'll make something for us all, no need to spend good credits when you can get a home cooked meal."
"Corellian?" Han asked.
Syal winked at him. "Of course."
"Good old fashioned Corellian food," Han sighed. "Maybe I should have married a Corellian woman, what do you think, Luke?"
"I think a princess like her and a guy like you were made for each other," Luke replied with a grin. This was apparently very funny to Leia, Han and Wedge, but Jag couldn't even begin to fathom why.
"Let's go then," Syal said smiling.
"Wait," Jag said. Everyone turned to look at him, including Jaina. "I have something I want to say first." He turned to look at Valin and Kyp. "I want to thank you both for what you did for my wife. I know you'll say there's no need to thank you, but I want to. And Jacen, I'd thank you, but I don't think a Vong army could have kept you from helping Jaina."
"Maybe two Vong armies," Jacen replied with a smirk. He jerked suddenly, rubbing his shin and glared at Jaina. "Force kicking, Jaina? How old are we? Four?"
Before Jaina could reply, Jag reached for her hand, taking Anakin's little hand as well. "I have an announcement to make that will mean some big changes for us, for everyone."
"Don't tell me you're having twins, too, Fel," Han drawled sarcastically.
Jag smiled. "No, but I imagine I'll be seeing more of Jedi twins." He gazed directly at Jaina, met her probing stare openly. "I've decided to put in for Rogue Squadron to be transferred to Naboo."
Jaina blinked, surprised. "Do you mean that?"
"Of course he does," Wedge replied, holding up a flimsiplast. "I've got the approved orders right here. Rogue Squadron has three weeks left on Coruscant, then they're off to Naboo."
"Does this mean you're gonna live with us?" Anakin asked softly.
Jag knelt beside his son. "Yes, Ani, that means I'm going to live with you."
Anakin threw his arms around his neck, burying his face in Jag's shoulder. It wasn't until Jag felt wetness on his flightsuit that he realized Anakin was crying. Jag raised a hand to stroke his son's hair softly, his eyes locked with Jaina's.
She smiled, happier than he had seen her in a long time.
Jag felt happier, too.
Anakin's little body shook with happy sobs, and Jag held him close, savoring the feel of his son in his arms.
"Great," Padme groaned. "Now he's doing it!"
Fel took a deep breath, breathing in the familiar fresh air around her. She
gazed out at the brilliant city before her for a moment, truly appreciating
that this was her permanent home now. The city of Theed was soft in appearance,
the complete opposite of Coruscant. There were no towering metallic skyscrapers
here, only elegant stone buildings with rounded rooftops and delicate, natural
hues. Vines cascaded over everything, crawling along the sides of buildings and
outlining the walkway before them, adding a sense of natural beauty.
Adding a sense of comfort.
Jaina had loved Naboo from the moment they first landed there during the later part of the Yuuzhan Vong war, but the city of Theed, the city were her grandmother had ruled as Queen for much of her young adult life, held a special place in Jaina's heart.
She felt like she had come home whenever she stepped out of her ship.
And this time she had.
She felt Jag come down the ramp behind her, sliding his arms around her waist. "I'll never stop being amazed by the beauty before me."
Jaina nodded. "I know what you mean," she said. "The air always smells like flowers here, and the sounds of the waterfalls can be heard from anywhere in the city."
"Theed is beautiful," Jag agreed, his voice husky in her ear. "But it wasn't Theed I was talking about."
Once Jaina would have blushed at such a comment, but now she merely raised her face to the side to bestow upon him a bright eyed smile that conveyed all the love and adoration she felt for him. "I happen to think Theed is prettier."
"Nothing in the galaxy could ever be," Jag protested softly, leaning his head down to kiss her gently.
The old familiar soaring sensation swept over her, intensified by the roaring waterfalls in the distance. Jaina felt lightheaded, dizzy, as she often did when her husband kissed her. It was amazing to her that he could still have that affect on her after all these years, after all the kisses they'd shared. It was the look he gave her, though, the one he had given her when they first met on the Tafanda Bay all those years ago, that could still make her blush. The way his pale green eyes raked her over, longing and desire welling up inside of him.
That could always make her blush.
Jaina and Jag pulled apart and glanced back at the ramp of the Sunfire. When her family had returned to Naboo, Wik and Zena had gone with them, and had piloted Jaina's ship back to Nirauan so that when she went home, after two weeks of bacta treatments and recuperation, Jag could fly her home on her own ship. She had been slightly annoyed that he had not let her fly, it was her ship after all, but she understood his reasoning.
"Yes, Anakin?" Jaina asked.
Her son trudged down the ramp, his little brown Jedi robe swirling around his tunic. Jaina's breath caught in her throat for two reasons. One, he looked so very much like her brother that she almost expected him to call her Jaya instead of Mama. And two, she saw a glimmering of the Jedi he would become one day. Tall, strong, brave and powerful. And more than a little reckless.
Perhaps it comes with the name, she thought, a sad tinge to the smile on her face.
"I'm hungry," Anakin said. "Can we eat when we get home?"
Jaina smiled. "Of course, Ani. I'll make something for you to eat when we get back to the house, alright?"
"Me, too?" Padme asked, scurrying past her brother and down the ramp, her dark bangs flapping over her eyes and her braid flying out behind her. She wore Jedi robes, too, but of a lighter color, just a shade darker than the sandy colored tunic she wore, a startling contrast to her dark hair.
"Yes, Pady," Jag said with a smile. "You, too."
Jaina let Jag secure the ship in the Jedi docking bay, his clawcraft in the berth next to it. He had let Jacen fly it from Coruscant, something Jaina still could not believe he had done. When he had asked Jacen to move most of their stuff from the Coruscant apartment to Naboo, Jaina had thought that he meant only the things they needed to make the Naboo suites their home and Coruscant their business quarters. She had not expected for Jag to let Jacen fly his beloved clawcraft, he never let anyone fly it except for Jaina on occasion, and she had be extra nice to him for that privilege. Jag had not wanted to leave her side, though, not even to retrieve his fighter, and Jaina was touched by the fact that he had deemed being with her while she recovered more important than his cherished clawcraft.
"Ready to go?" he asked her.
Jaina smiled. "Definitely. I'm looking forward to a nice, peaceful evening at home."
Jag chuckled. "Sweetheart, with you, there's no such thing as peaceful."
Jaina detected something behind those words, an amusement of some kind, and rolled her eyes. Jag had gotten better at shielding his emotions, he'd had to living with Jedi, but she doubted he would ever be able to conceal them entirely. Not from her anyway.
The perks of being a Skywalker, she thought with a smirk.
Jag led the way back to their apartment, and some part of Jaina wondered where everyone was. It was a nice day outside, perfect for classes or lightsaber sparring, but the pavilion was empty and she saw no one out on the practice field.
Odd, she thought distantly.
"I get it!" Anakin cried, running ahead to the door.
"No, me!" Padme yelled, taking off after him.
"Do it together!" Jag called.
"Yes, Papa," they chorused, reaching up to hit the touch pad, but neither of them could quite reach it. Jaina was about to tell them she'd get it, when she saw Anakin grab Padme's hand and concentrate. Jaina felt a whisper of the Force from her children, and the door slid open.
The Force is strong in them, she thought with a surge of pride. Just like it is in Jacen and I. In all of the Skywalkers.
The children disappeared inside, giggling, and Jaina felt something tugging at the back of her mind, her Jedi senses tingling. She broke away from Jag and hurried after her kids, uncertain what it was the Force was telling her.
She rushed into the dark living area and the lights flashed on.
"Surprise!" a chorus of voices shouted.
Jaina blinked, surprised, at the grinning faces before her. She spotted many of her Jedi friends, including those in Twin Suns, among the crowd of family and friends. "What..." she asked.
"Welcome home, Sis," Jacen said, rushing forward to enfold her in a hug.
"You shielded their presences," Jaina accused.
Jacen smiled. "Guilty as charged."
"How else can one sneak up on a Jedi?" Jag asked.
Jaina turned and glared at him lightly. "You knew," she accused with narrowed eyes.
Jag just smiled innocently. So that's what was so amusing, Jaina thought.
That and Fel's piloting skills.
Jaina stifled a laugh, casting a smirk in Kyp's direction. He winked at her from where he sat talking to Octa Ramis. Jaina felt a stir of emotions in him, directed at Octa, and for a moment she panicked. Would Kyp replace her with Octa? Now that he apparently had someone he loved, a Jedi nonetheless, would their bond be forgotten?
She shook away such thoughts. Kyp loved her, not the way he might love Octa, but in a way that was unbreakable, irrevocable, eternal. She would always be his family, no matter how much things changed.
It was those changes that scared Jaina, though.
We need to talk later, she told him, giving him a meaningful glance at Octa. I don't like you holding out on me, mortal, she added dryly.
Kyp's wry smile flashed behind her eyes. As you command, Your Greatness.
Before Jaina could reply, the crowd of guests surged forward, and she was caught up in a wave of hugs and smiles and kisses. Her parents hugged her, followed suit by her aunt and uncle. Kam and Tionne both kissed her cheek, and Corran and Ganner seemed to be having a contest of who could hug her the tightest.
She went through the same with the non-Jedi guests. Iella and Wedge were there with their girls, and Mirax and Booster Terrik. Lando and Tendra both gave her extravagant hugs, and Lando added his customary kiss on the hand, winking at her from below dark eyebrows. Gavin Darklighter was there, along with several of the other retired Rogues. Wes and Hobbie were already at the bar, but they managed to tear themselves away long enough to welcome her home, then returned to their partying. Kell Tainer was there, which didn't surprise Jaina in the least. Ever since Tyria had decided to settle on Naboo with their son, Kell had been spending almost all of his time there. Face had come, too, and was pushed off of Jaina by a terribly relieved looking Danni Quee, who hugged Jaina tightly, her blond hair looking longer than Jaina could ever remember seeing it.
Her friends from the Academy hung back, allowing her a moment to catch her breath and relax. She hurried over to them, letting Lowie lift her into a joyful Wookie embrace. "I missed you, too, Lowie!" she laughed, hugging him fiercely. As soon as he put her down, she went to Tenel Ka and hugged her sister-in-law. "Twins," she said, grinning. "We're going to have to kill Jacen when you go into labor this time."
Tenel Ka's lips twitched into a smile. "This is a fact."
"I'm telling you," Jacen groaned. "It's not my fault. It's in my blood."
"Sure it is, Jacen," Tahiri scoffed. "Then why didn't Jaina have twins? You two share identical blood."
"Because she's the girl twin," Jacen replied.
"Please do not ask him," Tenel Ka said, her gray eyes bright. "He will launch into his new theory on genetic dispersion among the Skywalker family and I have heard it too many times already."
"Like all of his jokes," Zekk said.
Jaina turned to smile at him and blinked in surprise at the woman sitting beside him. "Anja?"
Anja Gallandro grinned at her, standing and embracing her warmly. "Hey, kid." She pulled back, her eyes twinkling. "I thought I told you to be careful?"
"Slight change in plans," Jaina replied ruefully. "What are you doing here?"
Anja shrugged. "You told me to come, so I did. Right after you left Ord Mantel."
"She's been good company while you all were off getting into trouble," Zekk said with a grin. "For me, and Tenel Ka."
Jaina felt a tug of the Force that suggested Anja had been more company for Zekk than Tenel Ka, as it had been when she had stayed at the Academy, but this time Jaina felt no jealousy. She reached out with the Force, probing Zekk gently, and a smile crept onto her face.
You owe me those fifty credits, Durron, she called.
What? Don't tell me Zekk found a girl?!
Afraid so, Jaina replied. She smiled at her friends, leaning in to hug Zekk warmly. "I know your secret," she whispered in his ear.
"I know you do," he whispered back. "And if you tell anyone I'll kill you."
Jaina laughed, swatting him gently. "I'm sure."
She turned to see Valin standing behind her and smiled brightly at him. "Hey, there, Hero, how you doing?"
Valin flushed at the nickname she'd given him, and smiled weakly. "I'm doing fine." He shifted uncomfortably. "Uh, Jaina, could I talk to you in private for a moment?"
Sensing that he was nervous about something, not to mention a little anxious and worried, Jaina nodded. "Of course." She excused herself from her friends and led Valin back into the meeting room, shutting the door behind them. She motioned for him to sit and he did, choosing the hoverchair across from her. "What is it?" she asked, biting her lip in concern.
Valin felt her concern and gave her a slight brush, assuring her nothing was wrong. She relaxed, leaning forward in her chair eagerly. "I feel sort of bad asking this," he said. "This is a party for you, after all, but everyone is here already and it seems like as good a time as any."
"For what?" Jaina asked.
"For Syal and I to make an announcement," Valin answered, his dark gaze boring into hers.
Their time on Corbos had developed a strong bond between them, not as strong as the one she shared with Kyp, but stronger than most, and Jaina felt his emotions and thoughts very clearly. Her eyes widened slightly, and for a moment she was shocked, but then a broad smile lit her face and she jumped from her chair, throwing her arms around him. "Valin, that's wonderful! Oh, I'm so happy for you! For both of you!"
"Thanks," Valin said, grinning. "Does this mean you don't mind if we announce it now?"
"Of course you can announce it!" Jaina cried. "Your father is going to kill you, though, you know."
"I'm more worried about General Antilles," Valin replied.
Jaina winked at him. "Since you're part of the family now, I'll see if I can't charm you into his good graces."
"Thanks, Jaina," Valin said gratefully. "I appreciate this. We both do."
Jaina felt Jag's presence approaching and the door slid open, her husband sticking his head in the room. "Everything okay?" he asked.
Jaina nodded. "Valin asked Syal to marry him.
Jag didn't seem at all surprised as he strolled over and clapped Valin on the back. "Welcome to the family, then, Valin."
"He's going to announce it in a few minutes," Jaina added with a grin.
Jag frowned. "Wedge is out there."
Valin nodded, looking nervous. "I know."
"Here," Jag handed him the blaster kept hidden behind the desk. "You might need this."
"Oh, stop that," Jaina scoffed, taking the blaster and placing it back in its hiding place. "Wedge isn't going to shoot you."
"How do you know?" Valin asked.
"Because I took away his blaster with the Force just now," Jaina replied calmly. Both men stared at her. "What?" she demanded. "That's Alderaanian carpet out there!"
Valin groaned. "I should get this over with."
"Try to look happier about it when you make the announcement," Jag suggested.
They returned to the party, and Valin wandered off to find Syal. Jaina linked her arms around Jag's neck, pulling his head down for a kiss.
When they broke apart, Jag smiled. "What was that for?" he asked.
"For facing my father after we eloped," Jaina said with a grin.
Jag chuckled. "I was just thinking how lucky Valin is he only proposed to her, instead of married her in secret."
Jaina winked at him, then led him back into the center of the room. She cleared her throat once, but no one seemed to hear her. Scowling, she did it again, this time using the Force to amplify it so loud it rang in her ears.
Heads jerked up and people whirled in surprise, some holding their ears and glaring at her.
She smiled innocently. "I'd like to thank all of you for showing up in my house, eating my food and drinking my whiskey-yes, I did see you sneak that out of Jag's stash, Wes."
"Busted," Wes muttered.
"Janson," Jag said. "I'll deal with you later."
"And I'd like to thank you all for being so concerned about me," Jaina went on as if there had been no interruption. "I appreciate it. It's nice to know I have so many people who care about me." She ignored the dramatic "Awww" that came from the crowd, one that could only have come from Kell. "I'd like to thank Valin Horn, though, because if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be standing here today."
"Hey, I helped, too, you know!" Kyp called wryly.
"What was that, Durron?" Ganner snickered. "You need help?"
"If it wasn't for Valin, I wouldn't have been alive for you to link with, Kyp," Jaina replied, grinning at Valin. She took the glass of brandy Jag offered to her and raised it in the air. "To Valin, my hero."
Valin blushed as the crowd cheered, and his eyes met Jaina's. You do it, he pleaded. You announce it.
Are you sure? Jaina asked.
Valin glanced at Wedge, then back at her. Positive.
"And I'd also like to congratulate Valin," Jaina said. "And Syal Antilles, as well. I hope I'm invited to the wedding."
For a long moment there was silence, then Iella and Mirax began to gush excitedly, hugging their children wildly. The other women began to call out congratulations, and the men patted Valin on the back proudly.
Corran and Wedge exchanged wide eyed glances.
"This is all your fault," they both said at the same time.
"Oh grow up," Han said, rolling his eyes. "At least your kids invited you to the wedding."
flowed through him.
Flowed through the rich shrubs surrounding him, through the flower laced vines that spiraled around the stone bench he sat on, through the birds chirping in the distance.
Deep in meditation, Kyp Durron was as aware of every ripple of every grass blade as he was of the the presence headed his way.
It was a familiar presence, one both soothing and welcome, so Kyp did not end his meditation. He listened to the Force for several long moments, the gently withdrew and opened his eyes. "Hello, Jaina."
Jaina Solo Fel smiled weakly. "Hi," she said softly, uneasiness spilling across their Force bond.
That got Kyp's attention, for it had been years since Jaina had last been uneasy in his presence. "What's wrong?" he asked worriedly.
"I'm not entirely sure," Jaina replied, sighing. She entered the circular meditation garden that Kyp had chosen and dropped down onto the stone bench across from him. The meditation gardens had been Jacen Solo's idea, and Kyp had to admit, it was a great idea. A dozen little corners of the pavilion had been closed off by a crescent of lush shrubs, concealing those within for privacy and quiet. The stone bench circled around the inside of the garden, and Kyp estimated about six people could meditate in one at the same time, the open space in the center giving them plenty of leg room.
"You seem troubled by something," Kyp said, leaning forward. "Tell me what's bothering you."
Jaina was silent for a long moment, and Kyp didn't press her. He knew she would talk, that was why she had sought him out.
He took a moment to study her, both visually and through the Force. She looked beautiful, as always, with her long, dark locks flowing loose down her back, veiling her slender shoulders. Her dark eyes were dim, heavy with worry. Her presence was clouded, as if a terrible weight had been placed upon her.
Kyp was getting worried.
"As I recall," Jaina said evenly. "You and Octa Ramis weren't quite as close as you seem to be now when I last saw you."
The understatement of a lifetime, Kyp thought. We went from practically hating one another to ... whatever it is we have now.
"No," Kyp agreed. "We weren't."
"What changed?" Jaina asked.
Kyp shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe me, maybe her. Maybe nothing changed, maybe we just saw what had been in front of us all along."
"Maybe things were just clearer suddenly without the Force," Jaina suggested softly.
Kyp felt something behind those words, some sorrowful longing that he couldn't quite place. "Maybe," he replied. "Or maybe it was just easier to deny it when we had the Force to help hide what we were feeling."
Even from ourselves, he added silently.
"Octa's very pretty," Jaina said, staring down at her hands as if searching for an answer there.
"Yes," Kyp nodded in agreement. "She is."
Jaina was silent for a long moment, and Kyp tried to read her through the Force, but she was a whirl of dark emotions, sadness, fear and resentfulness, emotions he could not logically explain. "I feel so selfish," she said quietly, looking down. "I feel like a complete brat for even thinking this."
Kyp frowned in concern. "What is it?" he asked.
"I just..." Jaina trailed off, shaking her head. "It's nothing," she said, standing up. "It's nothing that you need to worry about. I'm sorry I bothered you."
"Nothing I need to worry about?" Kyp echoed incredulously. "Jaina, anything that has you this upset is something I need to worry about!"
"It's just me being selfish," Jaina said dismissively. "Can we just forget it, please?"
"No!" Kyp said sharply, rising to his feet and catching her by the elbow as she tried to leave the meditation garden. "We can't just forget it, Jaina. What's wrong?"
"Leave me alone, Kyp!" she cried, using the Force to shove him away from her. "You wouldn't understand!"
"I've heard that before," Kyp retorted angrily. "And I always have found a way to understand you. Even when you were pregnant! Force, Jaina, I was the only one who could understand you, and I'm not even a woman!"
"I can't talk about this!" Jaina cried, her voice hoarse. "Not with you!"
Those words were like a punch in the stomach, for never in all their years of partnership had she ever said such a thing. He had always been the one person that she could talk to about anything. And suddenly something was seriously bothering her and she couldn't even talk to him about it?
"Why not?" he demanded sharply. "I'm sure you could talk to Jacen about it!"
"Jacen is my brother!" Jaina snapped. "You're not!"
Those words stung even more than the last, a hollow, cold pain erupting in Kyp's chest like a burst of ice. "That hasn't ever mattered before!" he shouted.
"Well, maybe it does now!" Jaina shot back, tears stinging her fiery eyes.
"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" Kyp exploded. "Jaina, what the Sith is wrong with you? Why can't you just talk to me about this?!"
"Because it's about you!" Jaina yelled, tears streaming down her cheeks. "You and Octa and how in love you two are and how she's going to be the one you love most and you're going to forget all about me!"
Kyp's sharp remark caught in his throat as her words sunk in. His anger faded, vanishing as quickly as it had come, and in its place rose startled understanding. He blinked at her in shock, not knowing what to say. She thought he was going to stop caring for her just because he started caring for Octa, too?
"How can you say that?" he rasped in disbelief, his voice cracking.
"It's true!" Jaina half-yelled, half-sobbed. "You're going to fall in love with her and you won't need me anymore."
Kyp grabbed her by the shoulders, his hands digging into her shoulders so tightly some part of him feared she would have bruises. "I will always need you, Jaina. Always. You're the most important person in the world to me, you know that!"
"Not anymore," Jaina said, her eyes red and her cheeks soaked. "Octa's going to be the one you love most now."
Kyp stared at her in astonishment. How could she even think that was possible, that he could ever love anyone more than he loved her? It just wasn't possible. "Jaina," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "I could never love anyone more than I love you. You and your children, stang, even Jag, mean everything to me!"
"You love her," Jaina said hoarsely. "You're going to replace me."
"I could never replace you!" Kyp cried sharply, his green eyes flashing inches from her face. "Never. You are the most important thing in the galaxy to me, Jaina. Nothing- no one -can ever change that. We're partners, till we die and for whatever comes after that. Nothing can take that away."
Jaina looked at him with quaking eyes and trembling lips. "Do you mean that?" she asked quietly, her voice sounding ready to break at any moment.
Kyp met her gaze steadily. "With all of my heart," he promised, caressing her cheek with his fingers. "Just because I fall in love with someone, doesn't mean I'll love you any less. Just like you loving Jag has nothing to do with you loving me."
"But she's a Jedi," Jaina whispered weakly. "You'll have a Force bond with her."
"No Force bond could ever be stronger than the one you and I share," Kyp assured her. "We've beaten Yuuzhan Vong with it, we've foiled the Peace Brigade with it." He favored her with a crooked smile. "And now we've even managed to cheat death with it."
A faint smile crept onto Jaina's lips. "We do make a pretty amazing team, don't we?" she asked weakly.
Kyp grinned. "Are you kidding? We could take on your Uncle Luke and Mara."
That won a snort and a real smile from Jaina. She shook her head in amusement. "I'm not so sure we'd want to. Aunt Mara can be a pretty sore loser."
"So I've heard," Kyp replied with a smirk. He pressed his forehead to hers, his thumbs stroking her cheeks dry. "I love you, Jaina. Never doubt that."
"I don't," she replied, throwing her arms around him and burying her face in his shoulder. "And I love you, too, Kyp."
They held the embrace for a long moment, his head resting on hers. When Jaina pulled back, her eyes were bright. "I should probably go," she told him. "I told Valin I'd be around to make sure Wedge didn't kill him."
Kyp grinned. "Then you'd better go. I saw Wedge cleaning his blaster this morning."
Jaina laughed, and Kyp luxuriated in the familiar sound. "Guess I'd better go rescue him, then, huh?" she asked. She turned to go, then whirled around and drew him into another fierce hug. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I was wrong."
She pulled back, grinning, and disappeared out of the garden.
Did a Solo just admit to being wrong? Kyp thought wryly. Oh, Force, I guess that means Hoth has melted and Jacen's turned to the dark side.
"I think Hoth will melt before Jacen Solo falls prey to the dark side," Octa's voice came from behind him.
Kyp turned, startled to see her. "I didn't feel you approach," he said.
"I came looking for you and you were talking to Jaina," Octa replied. "I didn't want to bother you, so I shielded."
"Oh," Kyp replied. He was unsure what to say, because he was unsure how much she had heard. He knew he was going to have to talk to her about Jaina eventually, he just hadn't expected it to be now, or under the current circumstances.
Before he could gather his thoughts on how to begin, Octa spoke. "Look," she said gently. "I know you and Jaina have something incredible, something that I can't even come close to. I know she's always going to be an important part of your life, and of your heart. And I'm okay with that."
Kyp shot her a dubious look, raising an eyebrow.
Octa smiled slightly. "Really, I am. I meant what I said on Corbos. I can accept your bond with her, I can appreciate it, I can even be grateful for it, but there's one thing I have to know first." She swallowed, her eyes searching his as she leaned closer to him. "Do you love me?"
Kyp's heart leapt in his throat. "Yes," he said softly. "I love you."
Octa's eyes shone brightly. She tilted her head sideways so that her breath spilled across his lips. "Then that's all that matters to me," she whispered, her lips grazing his.
Kyp cupped her chin in his hand gently. "I still owe you a kiss," he said huskily.
Her lips curved into a smiled. "Yes, you do," she agreed.
Kyp brought his head down and captured her lips in a slow, soft kiss. He closed his eyes, the sensation overwhelming him, and the entire galaxy seemed to fade away around them.
Hey, knock it off, Jaina's voice filled his mind, sounding something between amused and annoyed. I can feel you all the way over here. Your passion is about to make me nauseous.
Kyp shot her a mental smirk. Good. Now you know how I felt on your wedding night.
The dais of the Jedi temple's Grand Hall was draped with a simple white cloth bearing the silver crest of the New Jedi Order. White banners with the same symbol hung from the hall's awnings, fluttering ever so slightly.
The hall was crowded with family and friends, and row upon row of Jedi filled the groom's side of the room. The front section was filled with friends of the Horn and Antilles families, friends who also happened to be close friends and relatives of Jaina Solo Fel's.
Funny how we seem to join more of the prominent families together each generation, she mused to herself. Next thing you know Myri will marry one of Gavin's boys.
Myri Antilles was dressed in a soft pink dress that made her appear more grown up than Jaina had ever seen her. The sixteen year old girl was becoming a beautiful young woman, and Jaina had a feeling Wedge would have to go through this whole mess again sometime soon.
Myri was, of course, one of Syal's attendants, along with her cousin Zena Fel, who wore a dress identical to Myri's. The pale pink was pretty against Zena's wheat blond hair, setting off the golden hue to her streaks. Syal's last attendant was ten year old Jysella Horn, who wore her tan dress robes, her black tresses spilling down her back.
Jaina glanced over for the hundredth time at her own two children, both of whom were dressed in dress robes the same color as Jysella's. Jaina had been touched when Valin and Syal asked her children to be the official ring bearer and flower girl, and Anakin and Padme had done their jobs perfectly. They were even standing quietly off to the side with Jysella, Zena and Myri, as if they understood the importance of the event unfolding before them.
At the front of the hall, Valin Horn and Syal Antilles were kneeling on the dais steps, holding hands in between them. Valin looked handsome and noble in his black Jedi robes, but it was Syal who held Jaina's attention. She wore a flowing, but simple white gown, with her golden hair woven into a crown of braids atop her head, a veil of Kuati lace affixed to her crown. Her makeup was done in the Corellian fashion, simple but enhancing, making all of her features more lovely than words. Jaina thought she looked beautiful.
So, apparently, did Valin. Through their Force bond, Jaina could feel the elation welling inside of the young man. He was brimming with a happiness so bright that it was contagious, and Jaina could not help but smile.
Standing before the young lovers were Wedge Antilles and Corran Horn, the co-officiators of the ceremony. Since Valin was a Jedi, the ceremony was incorporating some of the Jedi bonding ceremony into the traditional wedding General Antilles was conducting. Kam and Kyp had both given Corran their advice on what Jedi rituals to blend in, both of them having performed at least one Jedi bonding ceremony. Jaina's uncle had offered his opinion, too, stemming from the beautiful ceremony he had conducted for Jacen and Tenel Ka.
Wedge was dressed in his finest military uniform, while Corran was dressed in black Jedi dress robes, the exact copy of his son's.
Jaina thought they both looked extremely distinguished.
Isn't that just another way of saying they look old? Kyp asked wryly in her mind.
Look who's talking about looking old, Jaina retorted lightly, not bothering to look at him. Kyp and Octa sat in the row behind her and Jag, and she knew that he was giving her a wry smirk. I think I saw a gray hair on your head the other day.
If it's there, Kyp replied dryly. I'm sure you were the cause of it.
Don't you two have any respect for weddings? Jacen asked sarcastically. I'll bet you did this all through my wedding, too.
No, Kyp smirked. I slept through yours.
Hush, Jaina told him. Watch the pretty ceremony.
She closed off his wry comment, focusing her attention back on the vows being said.
"Syal Antilles," Wedge said, his voice thick with emotion. "Do you freely bind yourself to Valin Horn, to be his companion and his partner, to respect him and his bond with the Force, and to honor and love him for all the days of your life?"
"I do," Syal said softly, and Jaina could relate tot he tears of happiness welling up in her eyes. She had felt the same way at her own wedding to Jag.
"And do you, Valin Horn," Wedge said, turning to Valin. "Promise to be Syal's lover and friend, her strength and support, her comfort and strength, for all your mortal days?"
Valin's presence soared with happiness. "I do," he answered steadily.
Corran motioned for Valin and Syal to place the two crystals they held together, and he placed his hands over them, using the Force to mold them into one. He held the newly formed crystal out for all to see, his eyes gazing proudly at his son. "This crystal represents the vows you have made to one another. Vows that, like this stone, cannot be broken. May the Force be with you both, and in your new life together. May it guide you through the hard times, sustain you through the trials you will face, and give you all the happiness that we gathered here wish upon you."
Wedge exchanged a beaming look with Corran, then smiled at his daughter and her husband. "By the power invested in me by the New Republic, I now pronounce you man and wife." He winked at Valin. "I suppose I have to let you kiss the bride."
Jaina felt a wave of blissful memories wash over her as she watched Valin and Syal enjoy their first kiss as husband and wife, memories of her own wedding to Jag, of that first, wonderful kiss as Jaina Fel.
"What are you thinking?" Jag asked softly, leaning closer to her.
"Syal's beautiful," Jaina replied quietly.
"She is," Jag agreed, his breath tickling her ear. "I've only ever seen a prettier bride once. Six years ago, in a secluded meditation room inside a military base on Mon Calamari."
"I agreed to marry you six years ago, dummy," Jaina whispered dryly. "You don't have to sweet talk me anymore."
"I don't know about that," Jag whispered back. "I think it's always nice to have bonus points with your wife, especially when she wields a lightsaber the way you do."
Jaina glanced over at him, found him watching her with those intense pale green eyes, and felt her heart flutter. This was the man who had ignored the New Republic Chief of State to introduce himself to her, the man who had infuriated her on Hapes, who had loved her on Borleias. The man who had come back from the Unknown Regions the minute she was in danger, the man who had married her in a private Jedi ceremony, the man who had given up his home and his phalanx to be with her.
The man who had fathered her children and vowed to spend the rest of his life loving her and letting her love him.
"I love you," she whispered, gazing into his warm eyes.
Jag smiled slightly, just the corner of his mouth, the smile he reserved only for her. "I know," he said. His eyes raked her over in a manner that made Jaina blush. "And I love you, Jaina Solo Fel."
Jaina smiled. "That so?"
Jag leaned his head closer. "Yes," he replied softly, his lips hovering near hers. "That's so."
Their lips were just brushing one another's when someone cleared their throat. Startled, Jaina looked up to see Kyp standing there, arms crossed and face contorted in amusement. "If you're done now, I think we should join the others at the reception."
Jaina looked around the hall, surprised to find it was empty. Guess we were a little distracted, she thought ruefully.
"I'd say you were a lot distracted," Kyp drawled. "Now come on, if we don't get there soon, Wedge and Corran will drink all of the Corellian whiskey and there won't be any left for me and Jag."
"Where are the kids?" Jaina asked.
"Jacen and Tenel Ka took them on ahead," Kyp replied, leading them through the hall and towards the reception room. "They were excited about the twins."
Jaina smiled. "Tenel is really showing now, isn't she?"
"You never showed that much," Jag commented.
Jaina shot him a dry look. "I never carried twins for eight months, either, sweetheart."
"What do you think of the names she and Jacen picked out?" Kyp asked.
"I like Ryen," Jaina replied. "It's Alderaanian, so that meant a lot to Mom."
"Where did they get Reyna from?" Jag asked, opening the door before either Jedi could do it with the Force.
Jaina favored him with a grateful look as she entered the room. "I think Tenel Ka said it was a Hapan name. One of her great-great grandaunts or someone. One of the few women in her family that wasn't corrupted by power and greed."
"So there have been, what, two Queen Mothers who weren't evil, conniving, power mad dictators in the entire history of the Hapes Consortium?" Jag asked dryly.
Jaina rolled her eyes. "Three. Nira is a good ruler. That's the reason Tenel Ka felt comfortable relinquishing the throne to her."
"There you three are!" Wedge called, strolling over to them with a bottle of whiskey and three glasses in hand. He handed a glass to Kyp and one to Jag, shooting Jaina an apologetic glance. "Sorry, Jaina, I didn't know if you'd want any."
Jaina smiled. "I'm fine, thank you. I'm going to see if I can't find myself some of that Nubian wine I saw Ganner trying to hide earlier."
"Good luck," Kyp called. "You know how Ganner is about Nubian wine. He's probably got it hidden in a ysalamari bubble."
Jaina chuckled, kissing Jag on the cheek, and started off in search of Ganner. Behind her, she heard Jag ask, "What are we drinking to?"
"To me surviving my daughter's wedding," Wedge replied.
"And just think," Jag retorted. "You get the pleasure of experiencing this all over again in a few years."
Jaina shook her head, smiling. She spotted Ganner at one of the buffet tables, speaking to Alema Rar, and she spotted a bottle of Nubian wine sticking out of his robes. Of course he'd hide it on him, she thought to herself. No one would ever think to look there.
Jaina snuck up behind him, using the Force to shield her presence, and caught Alema's gaze. The Twi'lek did not react to seeing her, but Jaina could sense a mental question from the woman. She relayed the image of the wine Ganner was holding out form them, and Alema's lekku twitched.
Nice distraction, Jaina thought to her, reaching her out to call the bottle slowly into her hand. As soon as she curled her fingers around it, she shot Alema a meaningful look and retreated to one of the other buffet tables and began to pour two glasses.
She felt Alema join her a moment later and handed the Twi'lek woman the second glass. She raised hers, smirking. "Success," she said, and they clinked the glasses together.
"Hey," Tahiri called in surprise. "Is that Nubian wine?"
Jaina grinned. "Fresh from Ganner's secret stash." She passed it to Tahiri. "Here you go. Enjoy."
Tahiri glanced at Ganner, and her lips curled into a wicked smirk. "Oh, I will."
Jaina smiled, then headed back to her husband, who was still talking to Wedge and Kyp about the wedding. As she drew near, Jaina was amused to hear him saying that he felt bad for Wedge, having another daughter who would have suitors coming around soon enough.
He seems to forget his own daughter will one day, too, Jaina called to Kyp.
Kyp waggled an eyebrow at her. I think he plans to scare any boys away from Padme. He's been practicing his "I can get my hands on carbonite faster than you can scream" speech.
Jaina hid a smile behind her wine glass as Jag turned to smile at her, feeling her approach. Wedge saw her and smirked. "Jaina, tell your husband here that he'd better watch what he says. He has a daughter, too, and I might just have to rub it in his face when his little girl brings home a male friend and a nice little ring."
"That's a long time away," Jag retorted. "You'll be too old to remember this conversation by then."
Wedge opened his mouth to reply, when Padme's voice cut him off. "Papa, Papa!" she cried, running towards them, her loose curls flopping around her face. As she came to a halt, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright, Jaina had a glimmering of the future, of a young woman with delicate features and a glowing strength about her.
"What is it, angel?" Jag asked, smiling broadly.
Padme pulled a bouquet of flowers out from behind her back. "I caught the pretty flowers!"
Jaina couldn't help laughing at Jag's suddenly pale face.
Wedge smirked. "You were saying, Jagged?"
found his wife out in the center of the meadow where the children had vanished
from months earlier.
She was sitting with her legs crossed, and hovering ever so slightly off the ground, her eyes closed in concentration. She was wearing a pair of black fighting pants and a loose, long sleeved burgundy shirt that he recognized as his own, her long, dark hair gathered into a thick braid that hung down her back.
For a moment Jag was taken aback at how serene, how peaceful she looked.
Peaceful was definitely not a word one usually used in the same sentence as the name Jaina Solo.
Looking past her, Jag saw the children sitting in positions mimicking their mother's, eyes closed and both sitting flat on the ground, too young to levitate themselves yet.
"Hello, Jagged," Jaina said without opening her eyes. "I see you got my message."
Jag had long since learned to expect his wife to know when he was present, but it still struck him as slightly impressive. The Chiss were trained to move as stealthily as Corellian sand panthers, and Jag had been trained among them. He prided himself on being able to move discreetly, but he never could manage to surprise Jaina.
"Yes," he replied. "I did. Kyp told me as soon as the Rogues returned to Theed."
"I take it he told you about my newest mission?" she asked.
Jag shook his head. "Only that the two of you had one separate from Twin Suns."
"We're going to Yavin Four," Jaina said, giving him a meaningful look. "To decide how much longer it will be before we can begin excavating to rebuild the Academy there."
Jag was torn in what reaction to show. Part of him was happy, thrilled. He understood how much Yavin Four meant to Jaina, to all of the Jedi, and he wanted them to have it back. The other part of him worried that it would mean Padme and Anakin would be training on the jungle moon instead of there in Theed.
Jaina gave him a sympathetic smile. "In the old days, Jedi children were taken away from their parents as infants. We should be thankful that's not the case anymore."
Jag was grateful that Master Skywalker had not adopted many of the Old ways, and not just because of the children. If the Jedi followed the rules of the Old Order, Jag could never have married Jaina, and he would have missed out on the most amazing experience in the galaxy.
Jaina's lips twitched, and he knew he'd been broadcasting his emotions louder than he had thought. He turned to look at the kids. "How have they been doing?" he asked.
Jaina smiled brightly. "They're improving more every day."
Jag nodded, studying the children. Neither had so much as blinked since his appearance, and he wondered just what the point of this Jedi exercise was.
Jaina chuckled softly. "I used to wonder the same thing when my mother made us do this lesson on Coruscant."
"And just what is it supposed to teach them?" Jag asked curiously.
"Why don't you ask them?" Jaina said with a small smile. She glanced over at the children. "Alright, you two, that's enough for now."
Anakin and Padme sat up immediately, grass clinging to their robes. Jag had a suspicion that they had done more than just meditate in the meadow today. He opened his mouth to greet them, but Jaina held up a hand to tell him to wait.
"Anakin," she said, turning to their son. "What did you learn?"
Anakin got a thoughtful look on his face. "The meadow grass feels it when we walk on it, but it doesn't hurt it."
Jaina nodded, a proud gleam in her dark eyes. "The Force is in all living things." She glanced at their daughter. "Padme? What about you?"
Padme's brow furrowed in concentration. "The grass is aware of us," she said softly. "It knows we're here and that we're nice people, but it doesn't care about us."
"It isn't concerned with us," Jaina corrected in a tone that made it clear she was still praising Padme. "However, as Jedi, we must be concerned with all living things, no matter how small. Understand?"
Both children nodded solemnly, and Jag was yet again struck by their ability to understand such serious concepts at such a young age.
"Good," Jaina smiled. "Ani, Pady, say hello to your father."
"Papa!" Padme shouted, her eyes lighting up as she jumped to her feet and hurried over to hug him around the waist.
Anakin scampered over at a much more reserved pace, but his eyes were no less ecstatic to see his father. He hugged Jag tightly, grinning up at him. "Mama said you'd take us to the Lake Country tomorrow since she has a mission and Uncle Jacen has to go to the sandy place."
Jag raised an eyebrow at Jaina inquisitively. "Jacen's going to Tatooine," she explained. "He and Tahiri are going to investigate the disappearance of one of Danni's Force sensitive scientists. Uncle Luke thinks that she might have been killed because she was a Jedi trainee."
Jag nodded grimly. "We have new enemies afoot it seems."
Jaina flashed him a wry grin. "Well, at least we know it's not the Revolutionaries. They'll be out of business for quite some time after the assault Wedge's fleet gave them."
"Not to mention the rather large explosion you and Valin caused," Jag retorted. "Kell said you tell you thank you for stealing his thunder by the way."
Jaina laughed. "I'm sure he would have done better. I nearly got myself killed, he would have walked away with not even a scratch."
"He is the demolitions expert," Jag pointed out, swallowing the lump that rose in his throat when she had mentioned that she had almost died. He had come so close to loosing her, and he never wanted to go through that again.
"Papa! Mama!" Padme cried. "Watch me! Watch me!"
Jag turned to see her reaching out a hand towards one of the flutterbugs, a bright red one, and he was about to tell her not to bother, that they were impossible to catch, when the flutterbug landed right on her little hand.
"I saw, honey," Jaina called with a smile. "That was very good, Pady."
"I can do better!" Anakin cried.
"No, you can't!" Padme said.
"Yes, I can!" Anakin replied. "Watch!"
Jag peered at his son curiously as his face went blank in relaxation, but he didn't see any of the flutterbugs whizzing by overhead so much as slow in their chaotic pattern. He wondered if maybe Anakin just wasn't as good at this particular exercise, when he saw a red starkiller rose float up from the grass and hover over to Jaina, somewhat wobbly.
Jaina's eyes brightened and she extended her hand, using the Force to call the flower the rest of the way to her. She smelled the flower, and shot Anakin a broad smile. "Thank you, Anakin. That was very sweet of you."
"I'm sweet, too!" Padme protested.
Jaina grinned. "Yes, sweetheart, you are." She opened her arms and both children ran to her, hugging her tightly. Jag caught the children's gaze and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. They knew what he meant, whether that was because of the Force or not he didn't know, but they knew.
Anakin and Padme startled tickling Jaina just as Jag tackled her form behind, and soon they were all caught up in a four-way tickle fight, rolling around in the soft grass.
When they finally stopped several minutes later, they were disheveled looking, and Jaina had grass in her hair. "You've got lovely hair today, Jaina," he told her with a grin.
She brushed it off her head and used the Force to shower him with it. She grinned back at him. "So do you, sweetheart."
Jag pulled her closer to him, drawing her head onto his chest and stretching out in the grass. Padme snuggled up against his side, and Anakin curled up beside Jaina, both closing their eyes.
They both need a nap, Jag thought. Stifling a yawn, he amended, I could go for one, too.
He glanced over at Jaina to find her watching him, her dark eyes soft and full of all the love and warmth he could ever desire. He leaned over and kissed her forehead, making her smile, then settled back in the meadow with his wife and children in his arms and closed his eyes.
For the first time in what felt like years, all was right in the universe.