Zekk and Jaina stood at the bottom of the Lightning Rod's ramp. She just looked at him, brandy-brown eyes pleading with him to stay, not to leave her alone again. Neither of them knew what to say, but it didn't matter: words were clumsy, and they were long past needing them.
"I have to go, Jaya," Zekk said. "I don't want to, but we both know I have to."
She dropped her gaze to the deck plates, smiling weakly. "I know."
As much as Jaina tried to shield her emotions, Zekk could sense that she was on the verge of tears, and it was all he could do not to cry with her. He stepped closer and cupped her face in his palm, gently lifting her chin until she was looking up at him.
"Don't cry, love. You know I'll have to come back to rescue you at least once."
Jaina smiled for real this time, that lopsided grin that could light up a room, and her eyes swung up to lock with his.
"You always do."
She was so close now that he could feel the heat coming off her in waves and smell the faint odor of engine grease that clung to her flightsuit. She was not making it any easier to say goodbye, and space her, she knew exactly what she was doing. All his feelings for her blazed up like a solar flare and refused to be ignored. He suddenly had a very clear mental image of what Jaina wanted him to do, and he wanted the same thing. She slipped her arms around his shoulders.
"You won't see me for months," Jaina said slyly, and her eyes danced. "Don't you want something to remember me by?"
Zekk just grinned back at her and reached out to trace the outline of her jaw with his fingertips. "I would have remembered you anyway." His other hand slid down to the small of her back, and as he pulled her closer, Jaina melted against him. She tilted her head up to receive his kiss, and he leaned in until her lips were mere centimeters from his, the air hanging heavy with their anticipation . . .
. . . until they were interrupted by a loud banging from across the hangar. Zekk jumped back from Jaina, startled, and they both put a hand on their lightsabers. Pushing back his disappointment until later, Zekk cast out in the Force to look for attackers. He could feel Jaina next to him, alert and more than a little irritated, but he could also sense . . . Lowie? The Wookiee hadn't been here a moment ago. Zekk turned to Jaina in confusion, only to see her and everything else around him fade out of focus.
He found himself lying flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling. The ceiling of his room at the Jedi Academy. The pounding continued, and Zekk could still sense Lowie. Then it clicked. Zekk really was in his room. He had been dreaming, and Lowie was at his door trying to wake him up. As Zekk reluctantly fought his way back to consciousness, he realized that he had overslept. He was supposed to be prepping the Lightning Rod with Lowie right now, he needed to take off in less than an hour, and he hadn't even told Jaina he was leaving yet. To say that the real thing probably wouldn't measure up to the dream would be an understatement. Still groggy, Zekk let out a groan and stared hopelessly up at the ceiling.
Oh, kriff. This is going to be a long day.
A few minutes later, Zekk hurried down the corridors of the Jedi Academy, mind racing. It was still early, but not so early that Jaina might not be awake and preparing to leave as well. The twins were going back home to their family on Coruscant, and Jaina assumed that Zekk was coming with them to see Peckhum. Zekk hadn't corrected that assumption yet, and while he certainly intended to, he didn't want to do it now. Jaina would be furious enough with him as it was, and if she found him before he told her, it would be even worse. So he could hardly be blamed for having sent Lowie ahead of him as a lookout. Unfortunately for Zekk, he had forgotten to keep a lookout himself.
He spun to find Jaina, arms crossed firmly over her chest, flightsuit rumpled, brandy hair sticking out in all directions. She had obviously just gotten out of bed—Did she sense something earlier? he wondered—and he had the oddest urge to—
"I said, are you going somewhere?"
Zekk shifted uncomfortably while she continued to stare him down, but his emerald eyes swung up to meet hers. "Yes. Lowie and I have to get the Lightning Rod ready to go. I'm not going to Coruscant, Jaina. At least not right now."
She looked as hurt as if he'd hit her. "But why? And since when does Lowie help you with your ship and not me?"
"I . . . I just need some time to think. We're supposed to be Jedi now, Jaina. I want to make sure I do it right this time. And as for the Rod, I didn't want to put you through another long goodbye." I didn't want to put either of us through it.
"That's ridiculous, Zekk, and you know it! You're going to be a great Jedi; you've already proved that, and Lowie isn't nearly as good with the Lightning Rod as I am! If I don't check her over, who'll make sure you'll be safe?" She stopped, realizing that she'd said more than she intended, but it was too late. She clenched her hands into fists and stood tense with anger and hurt. Zekk had seen her like this before, so he tried the remedy that had worked last time: a hug. Jaina didn't fight as he drew her against him, and as he wrapped her up in his arms, he could feel her trembling.
"This is something I have to do, Jaina. I don't know how to explain it."
"You always do this, Zekk. You always leave. What are you running from? Why can't you just stay for once? It doesn't make any sense." She almost laughed, but it came out as a small hiccupping sound. "You don't make any sense."
He half-smiled into her hair. "I'll make sense when I come back."
She pulled away slightly. "You promise?"
"You've never broken a promise." Her voice was steadier now, but a single telltale tear streaked its way down her cheek. He reached out and gently wiped it away.
"No, I haven't," he replied solemnly. "And I'm not going to start now."
She let him go, reluctantly, and Zekk knew that no matter how long he was gone, he'd never be able to get the memory of her pressed against him out of his head. She was still flushed with emotion, and he thought she'd never looked more beautiful. She grinned bravely at him as she worked her way back into the safety of their friendship.
"Then I'll take your word for it. But just be careful; I can't always be there to rescue you, you know."
He smiled at her teasing; it was their tradition, and no parting would be complete without it now. "I think it's my turn to do the rescuing, but I'll try not to inconvenience you too much."
The corners of her mouth quirked upward, and her eyes sparkled back at him. "Well then, what are we waiting for? May the Force be with you, Zekk."
"And with you, Jaina." Tell her, you idiot, tell her before you go and you could save yourself the trouble…
She nodded and turned to go, and he did the same, but he could sense her loneliness and concern for him as they walked away from each other. Zekk was sure that she could feel his confusion and determination as well; his shields were of little use at moments like this, but even if they hadn't been slipping, he and Jaina knew each other too well to keep up any charade for long. What she was feeling gave him hope, but was it anything more than she would feel for an old friend? He certainly had some decisions to make, and soon.
Lowie was standing outside the Rod when Zekk entered the hangar, where he was greeted by the clipped preciseness of Em Teedee. "Master Lowbacca is delighted to tell you that the Lightning Rod is in excellent order and ready for departure, Master Zekk!"
"Thanks, Lowie. I really appreciate this—"
Lowie chuffed an amused reply and pounded Zekk on the back, and though Em Teedee issued his usual flowery translation, Zekk knew the actual meaning was closer to "Don't mention it."
"Still, thank you. I'll see you when I get back, Lowie. I've got to get going." Before I change my mind, he added in silent desperation, and clambered into his ship. He could hear Lowie's bellowing farewell as he fired up the engines.
After three days in space, Zekk had replayed Jaina's goodbye in his mind countless times. He had wanted more than anything to tell her how he felt, to not dance the endless waltz of uncertainty with her one more time, but what he wanted most was also what he feared the most, and so he had kept silent like always. He cursed himself for his lack of courage, but part of him wondered how he could even think he had the right to feel this way about Jaina. He had betrayed her, he had tried to kill her, and now he thought he could just walk up to her and say he loved her? She deserved someone who hadn't already put her through hell, who wasn't tainted and scarred. Someone better than he was.
Stop it! This isn't doing anyone any good. Zekk forcefully shook his head to stop himself from descending into yet another useless cycle of self-torture. He knew from experience that if he let himself, he could go on like this for days without coming to any sort of resolution. He sighed and stretched out in the pilot's seat, resting his long legs on the instrument console, and leaned his head against the wall. There wasn't much left on board that could distract him. All the major mechanical repairs had been taken care of by Lowie, and while Zekk had brought a lightsaber remote with him, he had already practiced with it for several hours this morning in a fit of nervous energy. Now exhausted from his mental wrangling, Zekk slouched lower in his chair and found he could barely keep his eyes open. I'll just rest for a few minutes, he thought as he let sleep take him.
"Wake up!" piped a high, giggling girl-voice. "Wake up!"
Zekk opened his eyes to find his daughter perched cross-legged on his chest, her green-brown eyes regarding him with eager impatience. "Daddy, you said you'd take me an' Beven to the holographic zoo today! I want to see the singing animals!"
Zekk chuckled gently and sat up, pulling Brenna into a hug. "I did say that, didn't I, Princess?" He set her down on the floor and tousled her curly brandy hair. "Go find your brother, then, and get your coat. Your mother will kill me if I take you out without it."
"Now why would I want to do that, vent crawler?" He felt Jaina enter their apartment before he heard her, and he stood up to meet her just in time to see her almost trip over Brenna as the little girl shot off toward her brother's room. Jaina regained her balance and then grinned at him. "She's excited. Are you taking her to the zoo?"
He grinned back. "I guess so, since she wouldn't let me sleep."
Jaina set down the bags she was carrying and gave Zekk her best pouting look. "Can I come too?"
"I suppose. If you must." Zekk's tone was grudging, but his eyes were bright with mischief.
Jaina closed the small distance between them and punched him in the shoulder. "Is that any way to treat your wife on your seventh wedding anniversary?"
"Oh, I haven't forgotten what day it is. I have it all planned out. Jacen and Tenel Ka already said they'd watch the twins tonight so that you and I can be alone."
She slid her arms around his waist and looked up at him with mock seriousness. "Really? And just what would that entail?"
He grinned roguishly at her. "Oh, I don't know. You'll just have to wait and see." She smiled and leaned into him contentedly, and as he put his arms around her and held her, Zekk wondered how in the universe he had ever gotten this lucky.
Is the Force trying to tell me something? Zekk questioned as he gazed out the viewport. Dreams about Jaina were nothing new, but normally he remembered them only vaguely, if at all, and they had never seemed so real before. He doubted they were anything more than a product of his own loneliness, but still. Something about them seemed special.
He straightened as an idea occurred to him. It was definitely a long shot, but if the dreams actually were some sort of Force vision, he knew one other person who might be having them too. Zekk turned and strode purposefully toward the comm unit. It was time to get a second opinion.
He quickly punched in the code for the Solos' apartment from memory and settled back to wait. After a minute of rerouting, he was greeted by a very sleepy Jacen. Zekk felt a pang of guilt. I should have remembered to check the Coruscant time before I called.
"Sorry I woke you, Jacen."
"Don't worry about it," Jacen managed. His eyes were still blurry from sleep, and his brown hair was wild as usual. "What's going on?"
"I, uh, have kind of an unusual question."
Jacen grew a little more alert as his natural curiosity kicked in. "Sounds interesting. What is it?"
"Have you been having dreams about Tenel Ka lately? I mean, really strong ones, and more often than normal?"
Shock registered on Jacen's face; he was fully awake now. "I . . . well, yeah, but I thought they were just because I missed her. Let me guess. You've been having the same kind of dreams about my sister?"
Zekk colored slightly. "Yeah. And I know it sounds crazy, but they seemed special somehow. I thought . . . well, I think they might be Force visions and not just dreams. And I thought that if they were, you might be having them too."
Comprehension flickered across Jacen's face, and something akin to peace glowed in his brandy eyes. "I think you may be right. It would explain a lot. I actually haven't even been able to sleep or meditate well lately."
"I haven't either." Zekk felt hope blossom inside him at the thought that maybe, just this once, one of his dreams might come true, but part of him was still unconvinced. "Jacen, do you think we're just imagining this because we want it to be true so much?"
Jacen looked thoughtful. "I don't think so. We both have enough training to know the difference between the Force and a fantasy. But even if we are imagining it, do you think it really matters in the end? Either you love my sister or you don't. Either I love Tenel Ka or I don't. Maybe . . . maybe this is our chance to do something about it before we lose the opportunity."
"Maybe so. Jacen?"
"I hear Hapes is lovely this time of year."
Jacen grinned good-humoredly at his friend. "Coruscant's not so bad either."
Zekk's eyes twinkled. "I might have to check that out for myself."
"Well, I'm sorry I won't be here to greet you, but I'm feeling a little cramped. A trip off-world might do me some good."
A look of understanding passed between the two, and they both knew they had made their decision.
"May the Force be with you, Jacen."
"And with you." Jacen's eyes gleamed with mischief. "You'll probably need it. Oh, and there is one more thing I forgot to mention."
Zekk's brows drew together in concern at Jacen's somber tone. "What is it?"
"If you marry Jaina, what last name will your kids have?"
Jacen just laughed and shut off the connection. Zekk chuckled softly to himself and set a course for Coruscant. He slept better that night than he had in years.
The next morning, the glittering ball of light that was Coruscant swelled in the Lightning Rod's viewports as Zekk again punched the Solos' code into the comm unit. This time he was greeted by the elder Solo twin, who was grinning broadly and practically vibrating with happiness.
"Zekk, you'll never guess what happened. Jacen left for Hapes a few hours ago. He's finally going to tell Tenel Ka how he feels about her!"
Zekk laughed. "So I heard. I talked to Jacen last night."
"Oh." She looked disappointed, but only briefly. "I still can't believe it. He is my brother, so I probably shouldn't be so surprised, but I . . . Force, Zekk, I wasn't sure Jacen would ever find the courage to do that." She stared off into the distance for a moment—almost wistfully, Zekk thought, but Jaina recovered too quickly for him to be sure.
"So what's going on with you?" she asked. "Have you explored the galaxy yet?"
"Not quite. I'd thought I'd settle for rediscovering Coruscant."
Unadulterated joy lit up Jaina's face. "You're coming back?"
"I was in the neighborhood, and the Rod could use a few more repairs, as always." He cocked an off-black eyebrow at her. "They say Coruscant has some of the best mechanics anywhere. I thought I'd see if one of them wanted to help me."
Jaina smiled conspiratorially. "It might take some convincing, but I'm pretty sure I can find someone to help you out."
Zekk's eyebrow rose higher. "See you in an hour?"
She grinned warmly. "Wouldn't miss it."
"Thanks, Jaina." No longer able to maintain the illusion of calm, he keyed the comm before she had time to respond and tried—unsuccessfully—to keep from breaking into a cold sweat. One hour . . . oh Force, please don't let me mess this up.
Jaina arrived slightly less than an hour later, an hour that was undoubtedly the longest one Zekk had ever experienced. She bounded in, hugged him, and then immediately attacked the hyperdrive. It didn't really need maintenance, but it was always the first thing Jaina checked. Zekk assumed it was a quirk she'd picked up from her father, and it always made him smile.
As he watched Jaina work, he noticed that she seemed unusually subdued. Normally, she was never happier than when she was doing something mechanical. He could only think of one thing serious enough to take the joy out of her favorite activity.
"You're still thinking about Jacen, aren't you?"
Jaina's hand tightened on her hydrospanner, and she pasted on a smile as she glanced up from her work. "Of course I am. I'm very happy for him."
Zekk chose to ignore the obvious dodge. "I know you are, but that's not what's really going on. What's wrong, Jaina?"
She blinked and turned her attention back to her task as a delicate blush crept up her cheeks. "Nothing's wrong, really. I just feel a little left out. I mean, Tenel Ka's going to accept him, of course, and then things won't be the same anymore. He'll probably run off to Hapes, and they'll have each other, and I'll . . . and we . . . never mind," she finished lamely.
She seemed so dejected that he forgot his nervousness and reached out to touch her cheek. "You'll still have me." He felt a shiver run through her, and he could have sworn he saw longing in her eyes before she dropped her head and gently pulled away.
"We'll always be friends, won't we, Zekk?" It should have been a hopeful question, he thought, but instead it carried the weariness of resignation.
And finally, he understood what was bothering her. It shouldn't be possible, but somehow he was sure that it was. He felt resolve flow into him, and he wasn't afraid of her reaction anymore. "Actually, I was hoping we could be more."
Her brandy eyes grew huge, and she dropped the hydrospanner. "You what?"
"I was hoping we could be more than friends. That's why I left, and that's why I came back. I love you, Jaina. I've loved you for a long time."
"Oh." She stayed frozen for a moment, and then grinned radiantly at him—her old grin, the one he remembered from their childhood and from his dreams. "Well, then. What are we waiting for?"
Relief and joy and gratitude and a thousand other emotions flooded his heart as he reached out to caress her cheek wonderingly. "Good question." He could feel the love she felt for him wash over him, just as his washed over her, and as he put his arms around her and kissed her, he saw it all: the decades of life together, the children, the happiness, the heartache, the friendship, and the love. Overwhelmed, he buried his face in the curve of her shoulder. She stroked his dark hair tenderly.
For the first time, Zekk realized that he was crying, but he just smiled. "Nothing, Jaina. Nothing at all." He kissed her again, she slipped her slender arms around his shoulders, and as they both lost themselves in each other, he could only think one thing.
I guess some dreams really do come true.