"What in the Shadowlands is THIS contraption?" Jolee blustered. Carth glanced over his shoulder briefly and chuckled. Jolee was studying the walker with deep consternation. It was wrapped with ribbons and a large bow.
"That is a gag-gift from Mission and Dustil… I hope," Carth said, returning his attention to the mirror as he focused on trying to straighten his tie.
"Hmmph!" he grumped. "Kids these days, no respect for the elderly." At Jolee's grousing, Carth's posture slumped forward, then stiffened to rigid attention.
"I'm forty today, not four hundred! For crying out loud!" Carth groaned back. "And it isn't just the kids; Canderous gave me those reading glasses…" he said absently, pointing behind him towards the absurdly over-sized goggles resting on the dresser. "Like he's one to talk!" Carth fidgeted some more at his tie with trembling hands. Scowling at his handiwork, he ripped it off and started over. "Whose idea was this anyway?" he growled.
"Revan's," Jolee said plainly. "And you agreed because you decided this would be more than just your birthday dinner." Jolee watched Carth continue to wrestle with his formal attire. "So, gonna make an honest woman outta her?"
"Heh, is that even possible?" Carth said lightly as he undid the tie for the fifth time.
"Ooh…" Jolee laughed. "I'm gonna tell her that!"
"Please don't… I'd like to see 41," Carth joked back. Jolee's snickering trailed away.
"You're not backing out, are you son? Time's a-wasting; take it from an old man who knows," Jolee said seriously. The sadness in his voice was palpable. Carth forgot his tie and turned to face the old Jedi.
"Tell me, Jolee, why didn't you ever remarry?"
"I wasn't supposed to be married in the first place… wasn't about to make the same mistake twice," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"Oh, so now being married was a mistake?" Carth asked arching an eyebrow.
"Don't sass me boy," Jolee warned, then sighed heavily. "Never met anyone else. Not that I was looking…"
"Hiding on Kashyyyk for 20 years was a good place not to look," Carth returned.
"Wasn't looking for Nayama either; she found me," Jolee said with a slight smile at the memory. "When she left me, I knew there wouldn't be another," he whispered as the smile slid from his lips and the edge returned to his eyes.
"I know… I thought the same thing when Morgana died," Carth breathed. "But then…" The thought hung there as Carth turned back to the mirror. He frowned at the wearied and worried reflection staring back at him.
"She found you," Jolee finished after the silence stretched for too long. Carth nodded silently. "Well, you can't hide anymore then, son; when they find you, you have to go through with it."
"Maybe now isn't the right time…" Carth answered, gathering a false sense of certainty. "I mean, she has been organizing this for weeks for me, I don't want to mess up her plans…"
"You'll be messing up more than that if you don't follow this through."
"Don't start that up with me; you nag like an old woman," Carth growled half-seriously.
"And people wonder how I managed for so long alone in the Shadowlands? No smart talk back; that in and of itself was worth it!"
"And no temptation to betray your wife's memory…" Carth answered flatly. This time, he jerked the tie from his neck and angrily threw it away. He released a deep, heavy sigh and leaned forward, his head bumping into the mirror.
"Ya know, this reminds me of a story," Jolee began. Carth righted himself quickly, his eyes scanning the room for the discarded tie. He grabbed at it and hastily worked it around the collar of his dress shirt. Jolee laughed. "But I am not going to tell you about it and waste my breath… Force knows how much I have left, I need to save it for myself."
Carth relaxed his efforts with the unruly accessory. "Well, I'd say so far that's the best gift I've gotten today!" he chuckled, grateful for the change in topic. "Better than that damn thing from the kids by a long shot…"
"I did get ya a present," Jolee said as he looked at the walker again, his face wrinkled with amused disapproval.
"Not you too! So, what will it be? Geriatric meal supplements? Hair dye?" Carth asked defensively as he ran his fingers through the few silver strands that had recently appeared near his temple. He jokingly blamed them on Revan; he smiled at the remembrance of the exchange, then flushed slightly and grinned as he recalled what they ended up doing as a result of the teasing. Suddenly, the hair stood on the back of his neck. Before he could turn around, the voice sang in his ears. Hey, hero. The words were too familiar, the voice one he thought he would never hear again outside his dreams. His heart lurched as his stomach flipped. He spun quickly; his legs nearly gave way under him at the sight. "Morry?" he asked shakily. Before him was the translucent form of Morgana, bathed in a shimmering blue aura.
"Happy birthday, sweetheart," she smiled at him.
"H-how…?" was all he could stutter.
"You've made some interesting friends," she grinned, motioning to Jolee. Carth looked over to see the old man kneeling in meditation, his eyes closed in concentration. "He's been working with me for months; I wanted to reach out to Dustil, but he isn't disciplined enough," she sighed. "I've been trying for so long to get back to you."
"Morry, I don't know what to say," Carth stammered as his shock dissolved into regret. He had actually thought of this moment, dreamed of it, planned out what he would say to her. He would tell her how much he loved her, how much he missed her. But all those carefully crafted words fled his mind as the reality of her presence settled on him and an old guilt returned. "I'm so sorry…" he pleaded, his eyes glistening with gathering tears. "I wasn't there in time…"
"Shhh… that wasn't your fault, I never blamed you, but I watched you blame yourself. You don't know how much that hurt," she said with a mixture of anger and remorse. "What you have done since… Telos…"
Panic flooded Carth. "Morgana, I'm sorry, I never should have… especially with her…" he whispered, his head down, his gaze at his shoes. Shame blazed in his cheeks, pain knotted his heart. How many times could he possibly hurt her and betray her? Death wasn't enough, there was this further indignity…
"Carth, that isn't what I meant," Morgana explained quickly. "What you became… that soulless shell, bent on revenge; a man filled with nothing but hate and spite. You weren't the man I loved, the man I married. I saw you throwing your life away, because of me. I couldn't stand it," she whimpered. "Then she entered your life…"
"The one who…" Carth whispered, his eyes still staring at her feet. How many nights had he laid awake, wishing to see her again? But now that he had the chance, he couldn't face her.
"Who killed me? No, Carth, you know it wasn't her. I've seen you go back and forth over this, heard your reasons and excuses on both sides of the debate. She did not order the strike, she did not even want Telos targeted. You know that."
"But she made the Sith…"
"By that logic then you blame the Jedi for not training her enough? The Mandalorians for the war that caused her to fall? Her parents for conceiving her? Her grandparents for begetting the parents? How far back should the blame be placed?" she sighed with deep exasperation. "Carth, it was my time to go. I hated to see you placing me on a pedestal, using me as an excuse for your actions, vowing to get back at those who caused my death. I was so relieved when she came into your life," Morgana continued. "And you just about screwed it up, you stupid nerf-herder!" she said petulantly, her hands firmly on her hips. Carth now looked up in surprise; the sight that greeted him was one he knew all too well: her angry stance, pursed lips, hair flipped over one shoulder with an annoyed shake of her head. How he hated to see it before; it signaled the start of yet another fight. But now, it made him smile.
"Glad I haven't lost my touch," he said with a sheepish grin.
"I knew she would save you; and you were to save her… not me," she added softly.
"No, don't say that!" Carth cried out, regret in his eyes. "I should have saved you, I should have realized… I was supposed to protect you…"
"You can be really dense when you want to be, can't you, hero?" she teased. "If I survived, if I had been around, would you have been on that ship? Would you have met her, crashed on Taris, been assigned to that mission… found our son, saved him, saved the galaxy from the Star Forge?" Her image flickered and started to fade. Carth looked quickly to Jolee: sweat was beading on his forehead, strain quivering through his body. "He can't keep me here much longer, the toll is too great," she answered to Carth's startled expression. "So listen to me: I want you to be happy, sweetheart; honor my memory by being the best man possible. And you're at your best as a husband and father," she smiled.
"I love you," he whispered to her vanishing image. She smiled back, her lips silently mouthing the words I know. Carth stared at the empty space she left behind.
Jolee slumped forward with a groan; Carth rushed to him and helped him up. "Easy there, old man," he said guiding him back into a chair. "Thanks, Jolee… that was a helluva thing you just did… why didn't you tell me?" Carth couldn't tell if he were more annoyed at not knowing or grateful.
"And ruin the surprise?" Jolee chuckled.
"That was damn risky, Jolee, are you alright?"
"Being old doesn't mean useless, or feeble. I'm fine," he said waving him off. He mopped the sweat from his brow and took a deep centering breath. He studied Carth. "So?" he asked.
"So?" Carth answered as he finished a perfect knot on his tie. "Hurry up, this hero needs to save the damsel, and time's a-wasting," he smiled as he strode confidently through the door.