Disclaimer: It's George Lucas' sand box. I'm simply borrowing time.

Title: Even in Death

Author: Jade-Max

Timeframe: Post Swarm War AU

Summary: Even death can't break some bonds... Jain returns to Zekk – but not as he expects her to be

Borrowed Time

"Get them to safety!"

"I'm not leaving without you!"

Her tone was as hard as the kiss she planted on his lips. "I'll find you, Zekk. Go! Tenel Ka's in no shape to face him and Allana mustn't fall into his hands. Not now, not yet."

"I'll come back for you."

Her smile was lightning quick, almost sad. "You won't have to." And with that she was gone.

-- Several Weeks Later --

Zekk.

His brow puckered, her voice sliding in and out of his barely conscious mind as he lay shivering. He moaned, feeling the pounding behind his temples increasing with the beat of his heart; the effect she'd always had on him. His hands lifted, slowly, achingly slowly, to grasp his head as he struggled to keep his breathing even. The shivers and shakes rattled his teeth, but he didn't dare clench them for fear of the blinding pain that would assault his head. A high fever mixed with lack of medical supplies had left him incapacitated for more than a day.

And now he was hearing things.

Zekk.

He moaned again, tightening his eyes against the insistent call. She wasn't real, she wasn't here. She was dead. Dead because he'd been unable to save her just once more. Dead because her brother had been intent on taking Allana from Tenel Ka. Dead because she'd given her life to let the Royal family get away.

It had been a noble sacrifice, but in vain. Three months later, Tenel Ka was dead, Allana was under her father's tutelage and he... well, he was sick with a fever from some Force forsaken planet where he'd tracked Jacen and Allana only to find he was days late. Jacen and Allana had left, and behind them was a nasty surprise for their pursuer.

And so, pain wracked, fever burning through his system and covered in a thin layer of cold sweat, Zekk had managed to crawl back to his ship and get them into orbit before collapsing from the pain. Delirium was swift to descend, making the walls appear as if they were closing in, and he had learned quickly to keep his eyes closed.

The consequence was a semi-aware state in which he hallucinated. At least, he thought they were hallucinations. He'd seen Peckhum as he was before the wasting disease had killed him the year before. He'd seen his parents, moments before the mud slide that had changed his life forever. He'd seen his friends, back at the academy.

And he'd seen Jaina. Jaina. His heart squeezed painfully. He'd seen her in her many manifestations. Child-like imp, challenging him to rise above his circumstances, avenging angel, rescuing him from himself on Yavin IV and friend and companion, finally lover when the residuals of the Dark Nest fiasco had fallen away. He'd cried so often in the last day he wasn't sure if he could cry anymore.

But through all of his dreams and visions, no one spoke.

Now, a day into the burning pain, he was hearing her voice.

Zekk!

"Go'way." He heard himself respond despite his best efforts not to. She wasn't real; she couldn't be here. He understood about Force Ghosts, but Jaina had never manifested and in the three months since her death, he'd lost hope that she would. At least, that she would be with him.

I can't go away.

"S'easy." His mumbles were barely coherent. But then, he was talking to himself so what did he care?

Not so easy, vent crawler. You're in rough shape and the ship can't fly itself.

"Kin'too." He rolled away from the voice. "She'smart"

Her familiar laughter was like a balm to his aching heart. Even though he knew, rationally, that there was no way she was there, that she was just a figment of his imagination, it was reassuring. Reassuring to know that he wasn't completely alone, even as it was disturbing to think he might finally have gone mad. Mad from the silence, mad from the fever; mad from the loneliness.

Zekk, you need to get up.

"Lemme die in peaze." Her responding chuckle was almost loud enough in his mind to be real. He cracked one eye. "S'not funny."

She stood before him, wearing the same skin-tight pants and loose shirt she'd adopted in recent years, her hair tied back in a loose, messy pony tail. It was the same thing she'd been wearing when she was killed. Her hands were on her hips as she watched him, a grin on her face, though there was a sad tilt to it. There was also a whitish-blue tint he couldn't place. "You're not going to die, Zekk."

He snorted and the pounding in his brain picked up a notch and his amusement returned to pain once more. "Feels like it."

She moved towards him, coming to sit beside his bunk. She was weightless as she sat, the sheets and mattress moving not at all, as if she weren't really there. But then, he told himself silently, she's not really here; I'm just dreaming.

She shook her head sadly. "You're not dreaming either, lover boy. I'm really here. I'm dead, remember?"

"Hard to forget." Was it just him, or was the ache in his head easing?

"I suppose it would be since you're intent on tracking down my killer. Don't kill him, Zekk."

"What?" Now he knew he was dreaming.

"Don't kill him. Jacen's no longer himself."

His headache was definitely beginning to recede; only now he was hearing crazy talk. "You tried to kill him; if it really is you."

"I went to buy Tenel Ka and Allana time." Her correction was gentle. "I told you before I went to get them to safety. I never expected to best, him, Zekk. Jacen is far stronger than I ever was."

"You went to die." The knowledge sank in with difficulty. Now he knew he was hearing crazy talk.

Her nod did nothing to reassure him. "I went to give Tenel Ka the chance to get away. To try and hide Allana from her father; to try and give Jacen the opportunity I have you. I had to try."

Was it her presence that was making his illness fade? The will to live rekindled by his realistic hallucination? He didn't know but suddenly he was extremely thirsty. He reached for her but she moved away. "Why?"

"Because he's my brother." She stopped part way across the room. "Just like when you were taken by the shadow academy. I had to try."

His throat closed. Slowly, the delirium was passing, as if something connected with her proximity was affecting his health, and he opened his eyes all the way, looking at her. Really looking at her and trying to sense her through the Force.

She spread her arms wide. "I'm here; I promise."

He nodded slowly as he was able to pick up on her signature. Faint, almost intangible, but there. She really was there. A Force Ghost. He dashed for the 'fresher, barely making it in time to be sick.

"I'm that unwelcome?"

He coughed over the bowl, closing his eyes for a moment, feeling the tremors of his fever continuing, despite having dwindled. "No." He spat before colleting the glass on the edge of his sink and pouring himself a small mouthful. He rinsed his mouth out before drawing another glass, noting how shaky he was after a day spent in deep fever. He stayed where he was on the ground, returning his gaze the her ghost where it lounged against the door frame. "You're not unwelcome. I'd just given up hope of ever having you pay me a visit."

"I've only be dead three months. It takes time to learn how to manifest a corporeal form you know."

His smile was faint. "I'll take your word for it. I'm sorry I let you down."

"You haven't." Her response was almost automatic. "I mean that, actually. Allana's last Life Day a month ago was the pivotal point. Tenel Ka's death is regrettable - even if I now have company - but Allana is the piece that can possibly sway her father."

"But I let her be taken. I couldn't stop him from killing Tenel Ka."

Jaina sighed. "Zekk, some things happen because it's time. Tenel Ka didn't fight him."

"But-"

She held up her hand. "Let me finish. Tenel Ka never fought Jacen. She refused to join him and help him raise their daughter the way he wanted to. She refused, Zekk. In that refusal, she also implanted an image of herself in Allana that she'll try to emulate. Yes, Allana watched her father kill her mother, but she also heard the whole conversation. She won't want you to kill Jacen any more than I do."

"But-" He stopped, rubbing his throbbing temples. His headache was definitely receding, but he was still having trouble understanding what exactly she was saying. "Does that mean I shouldn't be chasing him?"

She chuckled. "No. You're doing exactly as you should. I'm sorry I can't be there with you."

"Me too." He bowed his head for a moment. "But you're here now."

"I can't stay." The regret in her tone was an almost physical thing. "I want to, Zekk. More than anything, but my time has come. Your path leads away from me. Allana's got to be your only concern."

"She has been."

"No." Jaina shook her head sadly, crouching in front of him. "Revenge has. I know, remember?" She tapped her temple, unnecessarily reminding him of the bond they'd shared in life. A bond they'd never really broken - until her death. "You've got to let me go."

"I don't know how."

"You'll learn. You're the only one who can best Jacen, the only Jedi strong enough." She pushed to her feet and walked away, stopping in the doorway to look back at him. It was the same, hard, but regretful look she'd had when she'd departed to fight her brother. "I'll be around if you need me, vent crawler. Just stay out of my brother's cultured bacteria farms would you? You may be match for him Force-wise, but you're no match for his hobbies."

He nodded weakly. She stated to fade from view as he watched. "Jaya?"

She stopped fading, looking at him curiously. He hadn't called her by that nickname in years.

"You found me after all."

"I promised, I would."

He took a deep breath. "I love you."

"I know. Goodbye Zekk."

She faded from view completely, her Force presence disappearing from around him, but the calming and healing effects stayed. He closed his eyes, his throat working with difficulty as he fought to keep the sting of tears behind his eyes from his face. Slowly, ever so slowly, he pulled himself together and opened his eyes again, focused on his objectives. First he had to get healthy, then he had to find Allana.

"Good bye, Jaya." His whisper was lost in the ambient noise of the ship but somehow he knew she heard him.

fin