A soft, peaceful woman's hum beckoned him out of his slumber, but he had to shift his attention briefly, unsure if he were still alive. The sound was so sweet, so pure, but the more he focused, he heard familiar quiet, rhythmic beeping underneath the humming. He was still being closely monitored; every heartbeat, every breath, even his brain activity was being recorded by a dozen machines behind him. He was free of the deadly, agonizing virus the Huxnel had infected him with, but he still faced a long and intense recovery. All of that dissipated, though, as Elena's serene, melodic hum again penetrated his thoughts and soothed his distressed mind.
As Koril Rys'tihn forced his heavy eyes open, he found himself lying on a comfortable, semi-reclined bed in a dim room aboard his family's luxury yacht, the Celestia. As he looked across the room out the small viewport, he could see stars streaking past in a blur against the vast darkness of space, indicating they had made the jump to hyperspace. They had left Agamar, the backwater Outer Rim world where he had been treated, but his sluggish mind struggled to process much else. The longer he looked about, though, the more he recognized the room as his personal bedroom, his home away from home...
While the gentle humming continued, he watched as his fiancée, Jedi Knight Elena-May Lyran, sat beside him with their newborn son Derek asleep in her arms. Looking up from the infant, she smiled wanly at him, but he could only meet her gaze with weak eyes, completely devoid of the strength to return it. He had no idea how long he had been sleeping or how long they had been traveling, and even though she looked anxious to answer the obvious questions in his tired expression, he began first.
"How is he?" Koril managed to ask, his voice coarse and dry. Her smile broadened as she looked down at Derek, gently stroking his warm red cheek with her finger.
"He's fine, Koril," she answered softly with a reassuring tone. Derek stirred briefly, making a small grunt before returning to sleep as Elena raised her gaze to meet Koril's again. "We just finished breakfast." Her smile faded, though, as she searched his eyes, worry defeating her expression. "How are you feeling?"
Koril avoided answering her as long as possible, transfixed on his son's small face. Like everything else that had happened to him since he had woken up from his coma, it still hadn't sunken in that he was a father. He hadn't been there with Elena when Derek was born, and he didn't even have the energy to reach a hand out to touch his son, let alone hold him. He had no way to feel connected to the newborn, or to anyone else, for that matter...
"The same," he finally answered her weakly. Other than somehow finding the strength to force air out of his lungs hard enough to make his vocal chords work so he could be heard as he talked, he couldn't feel any difference in his condition. He still felt nearly as lifeless as he had when he had woken up back on Agamar, and he briefly wondered how much closer to death he could feel. He at least wasn't in pain any longer, so he was thankful for that, but he had no will to live, no desire to survive. What upset him more, though, was the thought that he didn't have the strength to care that he was giving up. The fight in him was long gone.
Elena seemed to pick up on his troubled thoughts, though, as she softened her expression and leaned closer to him, still carefully cradling Derek against her. She reached across Koril and lightly brushed her cool fingers down the side of his face, settling her hand at the base of his neck. Her expression momentarily looked hurt, but she corrected it quickly, focusing on his eyes.
"We left Agamar a few days ago. Rech's kept you sleeping to help you recover some strength on your own. He's more concerned about you than he lets on, so we're making a stop before we get to Paneau." Just as she quieted, the Celestia's engines slowed dramatically as they left hyperspace, resuming a casual speed. As Koril returned his attention to the viewport behind Elena, he immediately noticed a flurry of space traffic flying about them. He could think of only one place they'd go where they would encounter that kind of volume...
"Coruscant," he breathed as he looked back at her. She nodded, giving him a small smile, but it faded as he continued feebly. "I just want to go home..."
"I know, I do, too, but Koril, they have the best doctors and the most advanced technologies in the galaxy here. They can help you."
Closing his eyes, he gently shook his head, though he figured someone had to be as close to him as Elena was to see it. She responded quickly, cupping her palm on his jaw to lightly turn his head toward her, softly running her thumb over his dry lips.
"It'll be okay," she soothed quietly. "Derek and I will be right there with you. You won't be alone anymore." She paused briefly, and even though he still had his eyes closed, he could hear the smile in her voice. "We might even see a few familiar faces once we land."
Looking up at her again, he met her sparkling emerald gaze, unsure what she meant. She was still smiling as she continued with reserved excitement. "When we sent word home that we would be stopping on Coruscant briefly, we got a couple of...eager responses that said they would meet us here." She leaned even further over him, subduing her expression and her voice, as well. "The Paneau are very anxious to get their High Commander back."
Sighing lightly, Koril closed his eyes once more, silently hoping there wouldn't be a large, noisy crowd awaiting him. The last thing he wanted was for everyone he knew to see him as he was, weak and desolate. It was hard enough allowing Elena to see him so defeated.
A long silence hung between them as he watched Elena more fully recognize his depression. He knew it hurt her; he could see the disappointment on her face, along with an intense desire to help him. He didn't know how she could, though, and a strange sense of dread took hold of him as he felt the Celestia rock gently with a soft landing. Elena's eyes lit up again as she sat back from him, making sure Derek was still secure in her arms. She looked up at Koril and smiled wanly, gripping his hand tightly.
"A medical team will be coming aboard shortly, and they're going to work quickly. Rech and Mand are leaving for the Jedi Temple, but they should be in momentarily to say goodbye. I'm going to go speak with Consul Neludu about our arrangements here and hopefully she'll have some Royal Guards to spare to post in the medical center with you." Pausing briefly, she reached her hand up to lightly caress his bony cheek. "You'll be in good hands. These doctors will take good care of you. I'll be back as soon as possible, I promise."
Feeling worse the longer he held her gaze, he closed his eyes, turning his head away from her touch. She was the last person he had ever wanted to hurt, but he wanted to give in to the sleepy haze that was quickly descending upon him. It numbed his thoughts, and even though he could hear the soft cries of his infant son beside him, he couldn't fight it any longer. A calm darkness took him over, putting his mind at peace as it hadn't been for months.
Shh, Elena soothed her son as she gently rocked him in her arms, leaving Koril sleeping in the bedroom behind her. I know, I'm sorry, I got upset. Your father worries me so much...
Though she knew Derek couldn't understand her at all, sharing her concerns with him eased her anxiety somewhat. He still seemed to respond, though, calming as she continued to direct quiet thoughts to him through the Force.
He'll be okay, though. He just needs to get better, then he'll be himself. He'll recover.
Her reassurances to Derek were more for her own sake than his, she realized, but they still helped his tiny mind, as though he were merely pacified by her presence and her attention to him. She kept him wrapped up in a protective Force shield, a barrier between him and any kind of thought or feeling that might damage his small, frail mind. He was so sensitive to the changes in her mood, why would someone with dark thoughts nearby be any different?
While making her way through the Celestia's hallways, she met Rech and Mand who were heading back to talk to Koril before they left. When the two saw the expression on Elena's face, they stopped immediately, alarmed, but she corrected it and shook her head calmly.
"I put him into a light sleep," she told her friends. "He's...distressed." She struggled to keep the shakiness out of her voice, but Rech and Mand both looked sympathetic. Mand reached a hand out to her, rubbing her arm supportively.
"Once the doctors start treating him, he'll get into a better state of mind."
Elena nodded, expressing her thanks for Mand's encouragement, but her own expression changed little. Seeing movement out the Celestia's main viewport, Elena watched as a group of medics approached from the nearby medical center. They carried several cases and bags of equipment between them, and they towed along a repulsorbed, as well. At least they were prepared.
"They're here," she said as both Rech and Mand looked back to follow her line of vision. Mand exchanged a concerned glance with Rech before she returned to Elena, her expression grim.
"Are you sure you don't want me to stay with him? We didn't exactly make friends the last time we were here..."
Elena shook her head, doing her best to shut out the memories of their fateful stay on the city-planet eight months ago. Her duel with Dark Jedi, the death of Master Noor, the confrontation at Tarthos Industries... If Koril hadn't been in such dire need of serious medical attention, she would've been content to drop off Rech and Mand and leave Coruscant far behind. As with her friends, there were too many painful memories associated with the overcrowded, unwelcoming city. Even the presence of the Jedi Order there at the old Temple did little to assuage her anxiety, and she was sure that her friends felt the same.
Still, Elena forced a small, tired smile, attempting to allay Mand's concern. "He'll be okay. I won't be long at the Consulate."
Though Mand looked as though she were going to protest, she remained quiet, and once more, Elena feigned composure. "You two should get going. You don't want to keep Master Rylka waiting, believe me."
Again glancing at each other, Rech and Mand eventually nodded, stepping closer in turns to hug Elena gently. She still had Derek in her arms, and even though the movement woke him, he remained quiet, looking all about. Mand smiled warmly at him, lightly tracing a finger down the side of his face. He followed her hand with his bright green eyes, even reaching his tiny fingers out to hers. Mand held his hand carefully, still smiling at him as she spoke softly.
"You take good care of your mom, okay?"
Derek seemed to grunt quietly in agreement, and Elena had to finally give into a genuine smile. Mand hugged her again, releasing the boy's hand after a moment. Both she and Rech looked reluctant to leave Elena, but as Kaydee, the Rys'tihn Family chrome-plated protocol droid, approached from the Celestia's lowered ramp, they stepped back, tightly holding each other's hand.
"Mistress Elena," Kaydee addressed her cordially, "Dr. Vreaa Onalo and her colleagues are here to tend to Master Koril. They request your permission to board and to begin their preliminary assessments."
Elena nodded quickly. "Let them in, Kaydee."
Kaydee had little more than turned around when a flurry of people climbed aboard. Most of them were dressed in pristine white uniforms and carried medical equipment at their sides, but surprising her, a handful of Paneau Royal Guards also accompanied the medics onto the ship. Armed and clad in their dark uniforms worn only on foreign planets, they all bowed respectfully to her, though their gazes immediately locked on Derek in her arms.
Knowing that they needed to leave, Elena smiled wanly while Rech and Mand each gave her a soft pat on the shoulder as they passed and left the Celestia quietly. Elena was about to address the small crowd assembled before her when Dr. Onalo finally stepped to the front with a relaxed but confident expression on her face. She was a slight Cerean with graying brown hair gracefully covering her tall, tapering head. Her movements were slow but fluid, and she spoke with purpose as she stood before Elena.
"It is an honor to speak with you in person, Miss Lyran," Dr. Onalo began with her elegant Coruscanti accent. "My staff and I are so very eager to serve you Jedi. Please, direct us to where we are needed so we may begin our work."
Elena nodded and led the team of medics through the Celestia's cabin to Koril's room, stepping back to let them inside. She could only briefly watch them as they began their assessment of Koril, as they completely surrounded him and worked quickly, setting up monitors of their own beside him. She heard a Royal Guard step up behind her, and after a moment, she turned to meet a familiar face.
"M'lady, I'm Captain--"
"Aurin Jax," she finished for him with a smile. "I remember. You greeted me when I returned to Paneau a few months ago."
Captain Jax's expression faltered just briefly, and hers did, too, as she realized what he remembered of their exchange. She had been in the middle of a transmission with him, returning to Paneau after a two month absence, when she was shot down over the planet by a pair of Huxnel fighters. She knew it was something he wouldn't soon forget.
"Yes, M'lady," he answered after a brief hesitation. "I'm here to escort you to the Consulate. The rest of these guards will accompany and protect the High Commander in the medical center, while a few will remain behind to guard the ship. Is there anything you need to take with you that I may help you with?"
Elena had to smile in spite of herself. It had taken her months to almost get used to being treated as a soon-to-be member of one of Paneau's Royal Families, and being away from it for so long while searching for Koril left her no longer immune to it. Though Koril was young for his position as the High Commander, the Head of Paneau's Security Forces, it seemed as though anyone she encountered from the Royal Guard or the Royal Navy had the utmost respect for him, and they always passed on that respect to her. She figured it would be another few months before she'd get used to it again.
Nodding, she indicated a bag and a small infant carrier on the floor beside the cockpit. "That's all I need for now." Capt. Jax immediately stooped down to pick them up, tugging the bag's strap over his shoulder and gripping the carrier in his other hand. Though she briefly debated it in her mind, she decided on keeping her son in her arms to protect him, and as she nodded and looked back up at Capt. Jax, she noticed him intently watching the newborn.
"Derek Aalon Rys'tihn," she told him quietly with a smile. Jax nodded, smiling, too, as he looked him over.
"Nice to meet you, little one. I hope you're not holocam shy, because you're about to become more famous than King Verojec himself."
Confused, Elena furrowed her brows as Jax looked up. "What do you mean?"
Capt. Jax looked taken aback. "I beg your pardon, M'lady, but...he's one of the most highly anticipated births in...well, in a very long time. I don't know that the Royal Families have ever been down to just one surviving member before. It's an unprecedented situation, and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the face of this new generation. He has already brought the Paneau a renewed sense of hope, and they're eagerly awaiting his introduction." He paused briefly, examining the anxious expression on her face. "But don't worry, M'lady. Your Royal Guards are very proficient at, ah...keeping the media at bay."
As Elena looked back up at the captain and saw his kind grin, she relaxed a little, realizing he was right. Even through everything that Koril had endured in the past year, his injuries, his recoveries, his rise to the teenaged King Verojec's most trusted advisor, she had barely even noticed media intrusion. She had seen a few holocam droids hovering around the boundaries of the Rys'tihn Manor grounds occasionally, but they had never dared to venture further. Though curious how they managed to keep the droids away, she withheld her questions for later.
Glancing back behind her at the medics still working furiously around Koril, she sighed and watched them briefly before returning to Capt. Jax, looking over to Kaydee in the cabin. The talkative protocol droid had drummed up a friendly conversation with one of the Royal Guards who had taken up post beside her, doing her best to ignore the playful whistling banter from the purple-paneled astromech Eewon behind her. After Elena got her attention by waving at her, Kaydee politely excused herself, and knowing his place, Eewon stayed with the guard, dutifully tending to the ship in their absence.
"We should get going," she said with a tinge of sadness in her voice. Jax nodded and waited for the droid to join them before leading them down the Celestia's ramp to a small Paneau shuttle that awaited them, prepared to take them to Paneau's Consulate nearby.