Jacen finally woke up several hours later in the Jade Shadow's medbay, confused and disoriented and with absolutely no recollection of the past several days' events. But as soon as Ben came in to check on him, it all came rushing back—the visions, the arguments with Ben, the fight with Abeloth. How Abeloth had come so close to making Jacen's visions become reality...
How he had resisted her at the last minute.
Jacen grimaced and brought up his hand, blocking his face against the light. Ben immediately lowered the level of luminescence and took a seat next to the medibunk. "Hey. You all right?" he asked.
"Yeah. Just…my head hurts. How did I get here?" The last thing Jacen remembered was kneeling in the ruins, surrounded by Ben and Vestara.
"Dad put you in a trance. You seemed pretty out of it, and we wanted to get out of there quickly, so…"
Jacen nodded. "Right. What happened to Abeloth?"
Ben glanced to one of the other medibunks. There was something lying on top of it, covered with a shroud. Realizing what it was, Jacen scurried to the opposite side of his bunk. "Gah!" he yelled.
"Oops, sorry," Ben said, grimacing. "Should've warned you about that."
"Dead, as far as we can tell—unless she manages to grow another head. We're bringing her back to the Temple, just in case, to examine her. Dad's worried that we might not have seen the last of her, but for now, it seems like we're out of the woods."
"That's good." Jacen looked down at his hands. "Um…did he say anything about…?"
"Callista? No, Dad said he couldn't sense her while we were fighting. I guess she managed to escape Abeloth after all."
"That's good. I mean, I know she was…"
Ben shrugged. "No, it's all right. I'm glad she's all right, too."
Jacen glanced around the room. "So where's everyone else?"
"Dad's in a healing trance. Mom and Vestara are in the cockpit, yapping away like old pals."
Jacen chuckled. "I thought those two would get along well."
"Yeah, when I left them Mom was telling Vestara all about the best vibroblades on and off the market."
"Why am I not surprised?"
They both laughed, then fell into an awkward silence. Jacen kept glancing over at the shrouded figure—the being that had almost caused him to embrace his visions and allow his aunt to be killed.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Jacen glanced up, not at all surprised by his cousin's question. His first instinct was to avoid talking about what had happened. It was too awkward to discuss.
But then he realized that avoiding the conversation was what got him into this mess to begin with. This was his cousin—his family. As hard as it was…he owed him that much.
He owed them all.
Jacen let out a heavy sigh and pushed himself up to a sitting position. "I guess I should. But I want to talk to everyone. You all deserve to hear it."
Ben nodded. "I'll go get them."
Awhile later, after Luke had been awakened from his healing trance, the party of five sat around the table in the galley while Jacen Solo finally revealed the truth surrounding his decision to leave the Jedi Order. He told them everything—the visions that started when he first met Abeloth in the Maw; how he returned and tried to live a normal life, helping at the Academy and visiting Zonoma Sekot and Danni Quee; how the visions reappeared, causing him to run away again; his dark behavior during the Killik crisis, and how it caused Tenel Ka to break off their engagement; his secret meetings with the Dark Lady Lumiya at the start of the last war; how the visions deepened, until Jacen realized he had to do something to make them stop—to keep them from coming true.
The worst part was staring at his aunt's face while describing the vision of her murder. He couldn't dare look at Ben while telling the story. It was too hard.
But his family did not reject him, or look at him like he was a Sith. For the first time in a very long time, Jacen felt like he was understood.
And he felt like an idiot for holding it inside for so long. His uncle had his own dalliances with the Dark Side. His aunt had lived with it for the first part of her life. Of course they would understand.
And Ben…surprisingly, Ben did not look angry, not as he'd been when Jacen had announced his decision to leave. Instead he looked sad, and Jacen understood why. He was wondering what might have been if Jacen had just been honest about his feelings.
Jacen knew that those thoughts would plague him throughout the rest of his life, but he tried not to dwell on them. This was a new start, and he was going to take it.
Finally Luke and Mara left the galley, giving some poor excuse about needing sleep, and Vestara headed off to her room as well, leaving Ben and Jacen alone for the first time in several years. Former master and apprentice regarded each other tentatively.
"I'm sorry," Jacen whispered.
Ben shrugged. "It's okay. I understand. I just…I wish you would've told me."
"I know. I know, it was just…so hard, Ben. It was so hard to look you in the eye after seeing what I'd done to your mother. Not just your mother, but my own aunt—the woman who'd saved my life when I was just a baby. She cared for me my entire life, even when she wasn't with Luke yet…and I killed her in cold blood. Just like a Sith."
"But you didn't, Jacen. You didn't do those things."
"I know, but…seeing myself doing all those things...you have no idea how that affected me. How it scared me. It made me feel…wrong."
"Well, you sure had a funny way of trying to act 'right'."
Jacen chuckled, remembering all the things people used to say about his disposition. "I sure acted like a big jerk, huh?"
"Yup. Still…I wish you would've told me."
"Because I would've told you the same thing I want to tell you now: that you're Jacen Solo, my cousin—and a good person. And you would never do those things. You'd never turn to the Dark Side, you know why? Because you chose not to. You could've done so at any time since you saw those visions, but you didn't, because you love us and you couldn't do those things. That's what I would have told you, if you hadn't been so kriffing stupid."
Jacen grinned. "I guess I deserved that."
"Ya think?" But Ben grinned too, and two years of animosity suddenly seemed to melt away.
"I really am sorry about the way I left. It wasn't fair to you," Jacen whispered.
"I know. But now…now I finally understand. And I guess I can't be too mad."
"Yeah, I mean…Dad got to finish my training. And I got to meet Vestara…" Ben trailed off awkwardly and shrugged.
Jacen patted Ben on the shoulder. "You guys make a good pair."
"Yeah…well…maybe. Anyway, um…when we got back to the ship Dad told me that I'd done well on the mission, and when we get back he's going to recommend to the Council that I'm promoted to Knight."
"That's great, Ben!"
"Yeah. So um, I'm sure your mom will want to plan some big party in my honor…and…and I'd really like for you to be there."
Ben nodded. "Yeah. We haven't had a big family thing in awhile. It'll be fun, you know—one last party before Jaina's little hellion comes along and ruins everything."
Jacen laughed. "Don't remind me. I'm probably going to have to train that child, if he can ever be pried out of the cockpit, that is."
Ben laughed, too. "Yeah. And, um…you know…if Vestara comes with you…that'll be all right, too."
"I think she'd like that."
"Good." Ben shifted in his chair. "I should probably leave you alone now and let you get some sleep."
"No, I'm fine," Jacen protested. "I like the company."
"All right. It's just kind of awkward, talking to you again…"
Jacen looked down sadly. "Yeah."
"But it's nice. I missed it."
Jacen looked up and met Ben's gaze. "Me, too."
The two cousins sat silently for a few moments, then Ben got a mischievous look on his face, one Jacen remembered fondly from years of training sessions. "Hey, Jacen, I was wondering—do you know any good Daala jokes?"
Jacen grinned. "Please, there's nothing the Empire likes more than a good Daala joke. You know why Palpatine never cloned Daala?"
"Because not even Palpatine was cruel enough to subject the galaxy to two Daalas."
There was silence for a moment...and then, there was nothing but laughter.
Several days later the Skywalkers sat alone in the Jade Shadow's galley, silently eating dinner. Mara had expected that Ben would be sullen after leaving Vestara, but instead he was in a better mood than he'd been in a long time. Mara smiled, glad that Ben and Jacen had finally reconciled. They truly made a good pair.
It was difficult for Mara to hear the truth about Jacen's visions, and she tried her best not to think about what would have happened if they'd come true, but she couldn't help it. The thought of leaving Ben without a mother…it tore at her heart. But in the end, it didn't matter, because Jacen had made sure that the visions didn't come true. For that, Mara could only be grateful.
Toward the end of the meal, Ben stood up. "I'm still hungry. Do you want anything else to eat?"
Mara met Luke's gaze and shrugged. "Sure, I could go for some dessert," he said.
"You can always go for some dessert," she teased.
"Ew, gross!" Ben groaned.
Mara rolled her eyes. "I was referring to the fact that your father has a voracious appetite, Ben."
"That's not helping, Mom."
Luke raised an eyebrow. "What's the matter, Ben? You sure seem to have a rather one-track mind right now. Could that be the result of spending several days around a certain female apprentice?"
"Oh, blast it. I've lost my appetite. You guys eat 'dessert' by yourselves."
Ben left the galley in a huff. Mara was laughing so hard that she couldn't even be mad at him for not cleaning up his dishes. She merely shook her head and took his plate to be cleaned, then came back to the table with the aforementioned dessert.
"Mmm," Luke commented. "Looks good."
"It should, I made it myself," Mara replied, taking a spoonful of cake and putting it up to Luke's mouth.
He leaned back to peer at it. "You did?"
Mara's eyes narrowed. "Yes. I did. Is there a problem?"
"No, no problem!" Luke opened his mouth and Mara placed the cake on his tongue. Luke's eyes closed and he grimaced a bit…but then he smiled. "Stang, Mara! This is good!"
"You sound surprised, Skywalker."
"Well, no offense…but you aren't the best cook in the galaxy."
Mara slapped him and took her own bite of the cake. "Hey," she exclaimed, eyes widening, "this really is good!"
Luke laughed. "Surprised?"
"Shut up." She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his. After a few moments he pulled away, eyes sparkling.
"So, uh…you still hungry for dessert?"
Mara groaned. "Eat the cake first. It took a long time to make."
Luke pouted but ate the rest of the dessert greedily. It was only a few minutes until the cake had been devoured. Luke put down his spoon and smiled. "See? I work fast."
"As a matter of fact, I seem to remember you working very slow."
Luke snorted. "Well, that wasn't entirely my fault. You're the one who kept insisting that you couldn't stand me all those years."
"Point," Mara sighed. "Well, it's a good thing that Ben isn't taking after you in that department, judging by the kiss he gave Vestara."
Luke nearly shot out of his chair. "Wait a minute—Ben kissed Vestara?"
"Yeah, you didn't see them?"
"No, when did it happen?"
"Right before we left Klatooine. He pulled her behind the ramp and planted one right on her lips."
"He did? Well if he was hiding, how did you see it?"
"Luke." She gave him a withering look. "I was a spy, remember?"
Luke shook his head, but kept grinning. "Way to go, Ben!" Mara smacked him. "What!" he protested. "It's just kissing."
"Yeah, and I guess I should be glad that he's not as slow as you were if I want to have grandkids sometime this century. And speaking of that, you really need to have a talk with him soon. Like tomorrow."
"We've already had that talk, Mara."
"Well have another one."
Luke huffed. "Fine. But now," he continued, trailing his fingers down Mara's arm, "can we please get back to dessert?"
"But the cake's already finished."
Luke tried to look mad, but he couldn't. He lifted Mara up from the table and carried her to their stateroom, drowning out her protests with kisses the entire time.
That night, all was right in the Skywalker household.