Disclaimer: George Lucas and Lucasfilms owns all rights to the characters, the galaxy far, far away and the Force… I just dabble in his playground.
Is it her fault or mine?
The tempter or the tempted, who sins most?
-Shakespeare's Measure for Measure
It had been many years since Kyp Durron last felt this exhausted.
It wasn't just physical, but mental and emotional, as well, perhaps even spiritual. His squadron was gone, all of his pilots dead save for Octa Ramis, who had returned to the Jedi base after making it clear she would not fly with him again. The past few months had been draining for the Jedi Order as a whole, but in the last week, things had gotten downright desolate.
A team of young Jedi Knights, several of them that he was fond of, had allowed themselves to be captured by the Yuuzhan Vong in order to get access to the voxyn cloning labs on the worldship over Myrkr. They had succeeded in their mission to destroy the voxyn queen and eliminate the cloning labs, a heroic deed which may have very well saved the entire Jedi Order, but it had come at a great price.
Less than half of the strike team had survived, and among the fallen was Anakin Solo, the Order's brightest star, along with his older brother Jacen, whom Kyp was less fond of.
Han and Leia Solo were distraught over the loss of their youngest child, but Leia was refusing to accept that Jacen was dead, claiming that she knew he was still alive. It pained Kyp to see the regal princess in such denial, but he supposed it was understandable, she had suffered too much too quickly, feeling the deaths of two of her children in one day must have been too much to bear.
And on top of that, her only daughter had begun to slide dangerously towards the dark side.
That was, perhaps, what unsettled him the most, for Jaina had always struck him as one of the most pragmatic of all the Jedi. As the granddaughter of Darth Vader, she was remarkably strong in the Force, like the rest of her family, but her real strength, in Kyp's opinion, had always had more to do with being Jaina than being a Jedi.
But he understood better than anyone what the loss of a brother could do, and with both Jacen and Anakin gone, it wasn't surprising that Jaina had fallen into despair.
"Let me know when you get a lock on her, Zero," he called to his astromech as the stars fell into place around them. He barely acknowledged the reply that scrolled across his console, though, as his thoughts began to wander to the startling events that had led him to undertake this risky mission.
He had, for some unexplainable reason, felt Jacen Solo's death through the Force, while he had not felt Anakin's. In fact, he had not even known that the youngest Solo was dead until he offered his condolences on the loss of their son to Han and Leia, only to realize too late that Han did not yet know about Jacen. While it was clear that Luke and Mara had felt Jacen's passing just as strongly as Kyp had, probably even more so given the closeness they shared with their nephew, they had both warned him off from breaking Leia out of her denial and he had agreed to their less-than-pleasant request.
After all, he'd caused the Skywalker family enough pain over the years, he certainly didn't want to add to it now, when Leia was in her darkest hour.
So when the Hapan officials approached them with the news that a Yuuzhan Vong frigate analog had been detected that was reportedly being piloted by none other than Lieutenant Jaina Solo and in need of an escort planetside, Kyp had volunteered his services.
Leia had been a bit skeptical, but she'd been aware of the fact that there was no one else on Hapes more capable of getting an enemy ship down than him, save for Luke Skywalker himself, but Luke and Mara were busy trying to find a ship of their own in order to meet with Lando Calrissian, who currently had young Ben in his care. While she would have undoubtedly felt better had it been Luke going up after her daughter, Leia couldn't ask him to delay going for Ben, especially not when she knew all too well the terror of losing a child, and so the former Chief-of-State had just asked Kyp to get Jaina back safely.
And I will, Kyp vowed, lips pressed together in determination. No matter what.
Because what he'd said to Leia had been true, whether it was a half-truth or not. Protecting Jaina was important to him because of the debt he owed her family, but there was more to it than that. Han's only daughter was a woman in her own right now, a woman that he had, results and his own justifications aside, intentionally wronged and mislead.
And while he didn't regret the destruction of that seedling worldship, Kyp could admit that he regretted using Jaina the way he had. The weeks that they had spent together preparing for Sernpidal had allowed a connection to grow between them, unnoticed and perhaps even unwanted, at least to some degree, and he felt something rather akin to shame for the pain he had caused her by lying to her the way he had.
His display console beeped as Zero alerted him to the presence of a ship in the distance, one that was unmistakably Yuuzhan Vong in origin. The rock-hard coral hull looked battered, as if it had flown through the very heart of a fierce space battle, and while he couldn't sense the ship itself, he could sense the tired, aching presences of the young Jedi aboard.
"What the kriff is that attached to it?" Kyp muttered, eyeing what looked like half of a mangled ship melted into the side of the frigate. The light on his console flashed with an answer from Zero-One, and he glanced down in surprise. "Huh," he grunted, in mild surprise. "Guess they ran into pirates on the way. It doesn't matter, let's go say hello, huh?"
Turning the nose of his X-wing in the frigate's direction, he reached out with the Force, directing his senses towards the Jedi aboard. A cloud of sadness hung around the Vong frigate, the space around it almost pulsing with the grief and pain of its occupants, and his mouth went a little dry as the full understanding of just what this group of Jedi, of children, must have suffered in order to achieve their goal of destroying the voxyn.
It had been a crazy, suicidal plan from the start, and once he had realized that the kids had not, as it had appeared, been captured against their will, Kyp had begun to wonder just when Luke lost his mind, because no sane man would send his niece and nephews, his children, into such a fate. But Luke had done just that, albeit warily and with endless anxiety, because he had known, just as Anakin and Jaina and, apparently, Jacen had, that there could be no victory, and no future, for the Jedi unless the voxyn were eliminated.
Crazy, the whole lot of them, Kyp thought, half in disgust and half in awe. Whatever else he might have had to say about Luke Skywalker, no one could ever deny that the revered Jedi Master had nerves of steel- whenever he actually got around to doing anything, that was.
Those nerves of steel must have been genetic, because Leia certainly had them, and so did her children.
After all, any other pilot, even a Jedi, would have balked at the thought of flying an enemy ship with enemies on both sides, the Yuuzhan Vong pursuing and the Republic forces having no way to know that they were firing on an ally instead of an enemy, but Jaina had done just that, and after escaping a worldship crawling with Yuuzhan Vong aboard a stolen frigate at that.
Sometimes that girl never ceased to amaze him.
Of course, other times she never ceased to infuriate him, and it seemed that now was going to be one of those times.
"This is Lieutenant Jaina Solo of Rogue Squadron aboard the Yuuzhan Vong frigate Trickster," her familiar voice crackled over the comm-link, filling his cockpit and his Force-senses, her stormy presence now burning at the forefront of those aboard her ship. "This ship is under New Republic control. There are no Yuuzhan Vong aboard. Repeat, this is not an enemy ship. Hold your fire."
"Relax, Trickster," Kyp called back, imbuing his words with a gentle suggestion through the Force. "I'm here to see you safely down."
Even across the distance between them, he felt Jaina's shock at just who had come to her rescue, and then her anger spiked, iciness creeping into her voice. "Kyp Durron," she spat his name like it was acid. "You might as well turn right back around now. I wouldn't follow you out of an ocean if I was drowning."
Despite himself, Kyp grinned faintly, although he wasn't entirely sure why.
"Hear me out before you open fire," he implored wryly. "Your parents are on Hapes, in the refugee center. I told the princess I'd bring you back. Now, you could send me back to Leia empty-handed, but we all know what path a vindictive spirit might take you."
His dark humor clearly hadn't been appreciated.
"Don't use my parents in another one of your tricks," Jaina practically growled. "If they're even on Hapes at all."
Exasperated, Kyp rolled his eyes. "If you'd reach out with the Force, Jaina," he pointed out bluntly. "You'd know the answer to that for yourself."
There was a long moment of silence on the other end, and he could feel that Jaina was, begrudgingly, doing just that, but he bit back the smug comment that was on the tip of his tongue, deciding that right now probably wasn't the best time to be pressing her anger. The sense he was getting of her through the Force was unsettling at best, her once vibrant spirit had become hardened and bitter, a cold, merciless storm gathering within her.
He didn't have time to ponder that further, though, because Jaina sighed across the comm-link.
"Fine," she said, sounding like she'd rather be submitting herself to Yuuzhan Vong torture, again, rather than accepting help from him. "Lead us down, Durron, but I'm warning you, you try anything and I won't hesitate to blast you out of the sky."
That statement didn't sit well with the Jedi accompanying her, that much Kyp was certain of, but he shrugged it off, having heard worse over the years, including from her shortly after Sernpidal.
"Don't worry, Sticks," he replied, enjoying the way she bristled at his use of her Rogue Squadron call-sign. "Stick close to me and I'll watch your back."
"Yeah, well," Jaina shot back scathingly. "If you're sure you want me that close, Durron, you'd do well to watch your own back while you're watching mine."
Knowing full well that she wasn't joking, and that there was a good chance she was perfectly capable of carrying out such a veiled warning given her current state of mind, Kyp still smirked to himself. "That's not a problem," he assured her lightly. "I'm very good at watching my own back, as you've reminded me on more than one occasion."
"You certainly are," Jaina said bitterly.
Ignoring her remark, Kyp pulled his X-wing up alongside the frigate. "The Hapan officials know that we're coming down, but they can't guarantee that you won't be shot at if some of their pilots are startled at the sight of an enemy ship. Obviously, we can't fire back, so you'll just have to dodge the laser fire."
"Maybe the Force will bless me and you'll get hit by accident," Jaina hissed, and again he felt the unease from those with her aboard the frigate.
"Doubtful," Kyp responded dryly. "The Force seems to have taken a holiday as of late."
There was a slight pause, the animosity tangible.
"I hate you."
"Yeah, yeah," Kyp grunted as they started the journey back towards Hapes. "Like I've never heard that one before."
Despite his dismissive words, hearing that come from Jaina, of all people, did something strange to his stomach. It wasn't all that different from the feeling he'd had after she slapped him for Sernpidal, only now it was more intense, and it was tinged with some unnamed threat that stirred shadowy fears somewhere deep inside of him.
This, he was certain, was not going to be easy.