Title: "More Than a Candle"
Characters: Jacen Solo, Ben Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade Skywalker, Vestara Khai
Timeframe: 43 ABY
Genre:Drama, Character Study, AU
Summary: It has been two years since Jacen Solo left the Galactic Alliance to join his sister's newly founded Imperial Knights. Sixteen-year-old Ben Skywalker, feeling scorned and betrayed by his former master's hasty departure, has hardly spoken to his cousin since.
When Imperial Knights begin falling prey to a mysterious illness, Jacen contacts his Uncle Luke for assistance. The Skywalker family, along with the reclusive Jacen and his determined apprentice, embark on a treacherous journey into the Maw to face the dark being Jacen encountered on his sojourn across the galaxy many years ago.
But deep inside Jacen's heart lies a secret he has never revealed—the true reason for his abandonment of the Jedi. And in facing the darkness that lies within the Maw, he must also confront the darkness inside himself.
A/N: This story spawned from the idea of writing a Skywalker family fic. While trying to think of an idea, Jacen Solo kept popping into my mind and telling me he wanted to play, too. This universe is a weird hybrid of canon and alternate, where some events of the Dark Nest Trilogy and Legacy of the Force occurred, the main exceptions being Jacen becoming a father and turning to the Dark Side. And of course, Vestara is not a Sith.
Thank you to George Lucas for everything and Matt Stover for the quote: The dark is generous, and it is patient, and it always wins, but at the heart of its strength lies weakness-one lone candle is enough to hold it back. Love is more than a candle.
Jacen Solo was not happy.
To be fair, he hadn't been happy very often during the past two years, ever since his arrival on Bastion. Sure, he had his moments of contentment, such as when he spent a rare evening with Jaina and Jag or when one of the students finally caught on to a new Force skill.
But things had never been the same since he left Coruscant, and of course Jacen was much too stubborn to confide in anyone the reason for his perpetual disquiet.
With a sigh, Jacen picked up the comm and sent a message to his sister, asking her to come see him in his office.
He had just finished speaking to his uncle, and it had not been a pleasant conversation. Young Imperial Knights had been falling ill to a mysterious illness in which they believed that everyone around them were impersonators who had killed and taken the places of all the "real" people. It was troubling to say the least. Jacen hadn't wanted to ask for Luke's assistance, but the situation had forced his hand. He knew what was causing the Knights to go crazy, and was humble enough to know that he could not face it on his own.
But he still wasn't happy, especially since Luke had insisted on bringing Mara and Ben along. Jacen understood why, and was more than glad for Mara's competent assistance. Ben, on the other hand, would be a complication—a big complication, and not just because he had once spent so much time at Shelter.
Jacen had no idea what to say to his old apprentice.
The door chime rang and Jaina entered. She took a seat on one of the chairs facing Jacen's desk and stretched, rubbing her swollen belly. "What's the problem, little brother?"
Despite his unease, Jacen smiled. Jaina still insisted on calling him "little brother" even though she was only a few minutes older. Well, he couldn't really blame her.
"I figured out why the Knights have fallen ill."
Jaina leaned forward. "That's good news, Jacen! Why do you look so sullen?"
"Because it's not going to be easy to fix, Jaya. I'm not even sure if we can."
"What do you mean?"
"I realized something—all the Knights affected spent time at Shelter during the Yuuzhan Vong war."
Jaina gasped. "Ben!"
Jacen put out a hand, cutting her off before she could get upset. Jag would kill him if he got Jaina's blood pressure up again. "He's fine. I just got off the comm with Uncle Luke. We suspect that Ben's withdrawal from the Force has somehow protected him from this illness. And the Masters Solusar were too in tune with the Force to be affected."
"So what's causing it?"
Jacen paused for a moment, thinking back to his journey into the Maw many years ago and his encounter with the being called Abeloth. He'd been young and curious then, eager to learn all the secrets of the Force and conceited enough to believe that was possible. Then he'd found Abeloth, a being so powerful it was truly frightening, and she'd offered him everything. But somehow Jacen managed to see the truth and no longer had any desire to learn any more secrets of the Force. Believing that Abeloth was trapped safely in the Maw, he returned home, never to speak of the encounter.
But now he had no choice because if his suspicions were right, Abeloth had finally escaped and was wreaking havoc among the young beings who had once lived in the Maw. Luke confirmed Jacen's theory when he said that some of their Jedi, including the Horn children, had fallen ill as well.
Jacen told Jaina everything, not pausing for a second, fearing that she would say he was stupid, or just imagining things. But once he finished she said nothing of the sort. She merely nodded and said, "So when are we leaving?"
"We are not going anywhere," Jacen said, looking pointedly at her stomach. He'd correctly predicted that his twin would insist on going with him, and he had no intentions of letting her.
Jaina rolled her eyes. "I'm pregnant, Jacen, not an invalid."
"Still not letting you."
"Let's see you stop me." Her hand reached for her lightsaber.
Now Jacen was the one to roll his eyes. "Seriously, Jaina, you're staying here. Jag would kill me if you came along. Then Kyp would revive me so he could stab me with his lightsaber."
Jaina laughed. "And then Dad would dig up your body and shoot you."
"Probably. So you'll stay?"
"Fine," Jaina huffed, sounding like a teenager again. "But I would like to remind you that Aunt Mara fought a war while she was pregnant and ill."
"Yes Jaina, you remind me of that every day. But someone needs to stay here and keep watch over the students while I'm gone."
"You mean keep watch over Kyp."
Jacen grinned. "That, too. Besides, Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara are coming along. I'm sure we'll be fine."
"That's good," Jaina said. She glanced down for a moment. "What about Ben?"
"How'd you figure it out?" Jacen sighed.
Jaina glowered at him. "Seriously, Jace?"
"I guess it is kind of hard to keep things from you," he admitted. If she only realized just how much he actually was able to keep hidden from her… "But yeah, they're bringing him along. Insisted he might have some good insight. Plus he's close to Knighthood. I guess Luke doesn't want to leave him alone right now."
"Interesting concept," Jaina muttered.
Jacen looked up sharply. "Don't go there, Jaina."
"Alright, alright. But you are going to talk to him during this journey, right?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"Please. You've barely said three words to each other in the past two years."
"I've tried, Jaina. He doesn't want anything to do with me."
"Oh really? How many times have you actually seen him since you left?"
"I dunno. Whenever we have family stuff."
Jaina shook her head. "You forget—you always manage to get out of those. Say you're busy training or meditating or some other bantha shavit. The few times you couldn't escape, the two of you spent the entire evening on the opposite sides of the room. It's disgraceful, Jacen."
"What am I supposed to do?"
"He's your cousin! He was your apprentice! He practically worshipped you. It's wrong that you two have grown so far apart."
"I know, Jaina. I just don't know what I did to make him hate me so much."
"He doesn't hate you, Jacen. And maybe if you asked him, he'd tell you."
Jaina rolled her eyes. "Whatever. At least Uncle Luke will be there to play mediator."
"Yeah, that should be fun," Jacen muttered.
The door chimed again. Jacen reached out with the Force and felt that his apprentice was on the other side. "Come," he called.
A young woman, approximately sixteen years old with brown hair, peeked her head in the door. "You asked to see me, Master Solo?"
"Yes, Vestara. Please, have a seat."
"I'll leave you two alone," Jaina said, pushing herself up from her chair. "Bloah. That's getting more difficult."
"I thought you insisted could do anything while you were pregnant, Jaya?"
"Oh shut up."
"Greetings, Master Solo Fel," Vestara Khai, Jacen's apprentice, said respectfully.
"Hello, Vestara." Jaina threw a last glance over her shoulder. "Talk to you later, little brother."
Jacen suppressed a grimace. Jaina loved to do things like that in front of the students. She said it kept him grounded.
Thankfully, Vestara either didn't notice or decided not to mention Jaina's nickname. Jacen wasn't surprised. Vestara was a very respectful apprentice, hardly ever stepping out of line. Then again, she never seemed to have much fun around her fellow students, either. She was supremely dedicated and would do anything to become a respected Imperial Knight. It was that dedication that had drawn Jacen to her and urged him to take her on as an apprentice.
Still, he sometimes worried that Vestara had nothing of a normal adolescence.
"Is there a problem, Master Solo? Have I done something wrong?"
"No, Vestara, not at all. You really shouldn't jump to that conclusion whenever I ask to see you."
She bowed her head. "I apologize."
Jacen nearly groaned. "Vestara, I asked to speak with you because I need to go away for awhile, and I'm not sure when I will return. In the meantime, I would like you to continue your exercises with my sister."
"Of course, Master Solo. May I ask where you are going?"
"Nowhere you would have heard of, Vestara."
Jacen turned around to gather up some datapads from the shelf behind him. "I'd like for you to study these while I'm gone—"
He stopped short when he turned around. Vestara was out of her chair, staring at him intently. "Let me go with you, Master."
"Absolutely not, Vestara."
"I sense that you are embarking on an important mission. You are my master. I should accompany you."
"It will be very dangerous."
"Am I not able to take care of myself?" Vestara demanded. She glowered at him, looking so much like his mother and aunt and sister and every other woman he'd known in his life.
"You are, Vestara. I've never doubted your abilities. But this is a very unusual situation. I'm not sure it's the right place for someone so young."
"If it's so dangerous, you shouldn't go alone, Master."
"I won't be alone. My aunt and uncle will be accompanying me."
"I see. And their son?"
…Dammit. She had caught him. Jacen wondered why he had thought to take on such an intelligent apprentice.
Of course, she jumped on his hesitation immediately. "He is accompanying his parents, isn't he?"
"Unfortunately, he is, and I'll have you know that I don't think it's a good idea at all. He's too young." Jacen paused. "Just like you."
"But Grand Master Skywalker insisted he go, because his son is his apprentice, correct?"
Jacen sighed. "That is correct, Vestara."
She sat down, a victorious look on her face. "Well then, your apprentice should accompany you as well."
"Vestara, this will be extremely dangerous. This being we're facing isn't like the typical opponents you've fought before. I'm not even sure if we can win."
"All the more reason for another Knight to come along with you."
"Apprentice, you mean."
Vestara looked down, crestfallen. "Yes. Apprentice."
Jacen sat silently for several moments. Vestara had a point—if Ben was going along, it might be good for Vestara to go as well. They might work well together, and plus it would be a way to break the tension during the journey. Perhaps it would be a way to show Vestara that she could be a dedicated Imperial Knight and still be a normal teenage girl.
Vestara scrutinized him, waiting pointedly for an answer. Jacen leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. "If you come along, you must do exactly as I say at all times. Is that clear?"
She practically shot up in her chair. "Yes, Master Solo!"
"Alright. Go pack your things. We'll be meeting the Skywalkers on Klatooine and traveling into the Maw onboard their ship."
"Thank you, Master Solo! I won't disappoint you, I promise." With that, Vestara bowed and practically bounced out of the room. Jacen had never seen her so upbeat. It was a nice change, he couldn't help but think.
Jacen spent the next several hours finishing up some paperwork and preparing for his mission. When he could no longer delay it any longer, he made his way to his quarters and got ready for bed in silence. Before he drifted off to sleep, Jacen had a flash of the horrible vision that had struck him two years ago, just before his move to Bastion. Just as with his encounter with Abeloth, he had never told anyone of the vision, fearing people's reactions.
Now, Jacen realized that he wouldn't be able to hide forever.