A Destiny Altered
Always in motion, the future is, the past, impossible to change. Be mindful of the present
Anakin Solo knew he was in trouble, knew that Myrkr would most likely be his grave. His insides burned with every breath he took. The stitches applied by Tekli, tearing once more as he rushed to help a fallen member of his team. He clenched his fist as he struggled to maintain control of both the dwindling members of the strike force and his own pain. With nearly half his team dead, the voxyn queen still beyond their reach, and an entire battalion of Yuuzhan Vong warriors surrounding them, he could list on one hand the number of positive things about the mission. Namely, the fact that his siblings were alive, Tahiri was still alive, as was Lowie, and Tenel Ka.
For now, he thought morbidly.
The entire mission was fast turning out to be a disaster. Scratch that, it started out as a disaster and had now degraded into whatever was worse.
Then again, he mused, oblivious to the explosion caused by a nearby Yuuzhan Vong magma spitter, the analysts had predicted a not so favorable success rate to begin with. With statistics such as a ninety percent casualty rate and a less than fifty percent success rate…it was hard not to get rid of his 'negatude'. The fact that a member of his team had given her life just to make the success rate as high as it was left a bitter taste in his mouth.
Whatever possessed him to think that he could pull this off? Though he didn't see eye to eye with his older brother, Jacen, it was times like this when Anakin wondered if Jacen had been right all along.
Another explosion, and the ground shook. His own ragged breathing loud to his ears.
Not so favorable odds indeed. Where was a Corellian when you needed one?
Through the Force-Meld he felt a surge of panic and quickly spun around towards the source. Despite the flare of pain that erupted from the action, the sight of Tahiri flying through the air from a magma blast temporarily numbed his mind. By the time he managed to shake himself and start towards her, she was already up and heading towards them.
"Magma spitters! We're cut off."
He could feel her concern for him, but they both knew little could be done. "Tekli?"
He followed Tahiri's gesture, and swallowed. Another member of his strike team was down. There was no way he would lose any more people. Not while he was the leader.
"Take him…" Anakin inhaled sharply, a hand instinctively reaching for his wound, but his other motioned towards the unconscious Barabel. "Take him and go. You may need to cut your way out."
Anakin immediately felt a wave of incredulity and disbelief at his words. "'You'? I'm not going—"
"Do it!" Anakin almost snarled, the combination of the pain in his side and the stress of the situation making him sound more forceful than he actually intended. "You need…to help Tekli. I'll be along."
Another flare of agony drowned out whatever Tekli was saying, but from Tahiri's reaction, the Chadra-Fan seemed to realize what he had planned. He saw a tear threaten to leave Tahiri's eye, and tried to smile reassuringly. In his state, he didn't trust what might leak through if he tried to comfort her through the Force. Not that he ever had much success in hiding his feelings from her anyways.
Tahiri's knowing, stricken gaze nearly made him change his mind, and he reflexively bent down as she stretched up to kiss him. But just before their lips met, she suddenly pulled back and started to shake her head. As she opened her mouth to speak, a massive explosion nearby caused the ground beneath them to tremble violently.
Whether or not that was the cause, she staggered into Anakin.
She barely had time to register his arms around her when she suddenly realized that she was kissing him. Or rather, he was kissing her. The wordless cry of surprise died on her lips as she simply closed her eyes and returned the kiss with everything she had.
Anakin felt Tahiri relax against him, molding herself to his body as he temporarily let all of his barriers drop. He knew that this would be the last chance they would have together. His dying would hurt her, yes, but at the same time, he would be saving her and everyone else.
Yet, he couldn't ignore the turmoil within himself as he held her in his arms. As if sensing it, Tahiri only pressed herself harder against him, her hands reaching up to hold his face as they had done during their first kiss. Their Force bond flared in the meld, feelings intense, raw, uninhibited by the chaos around them.
The other Force-sensitives in the region felt only heart-wrenching pain for the two, realizing what could have been, and knowing what was going to be.
Anakin had no idea how long the kiss lasted. It felt like an eternity to him, and he was grateful to the Force for giving him this one last opportunity. He focused on her, on his feelings for the smaller teen in his arms, the feel of her dry lips pressed against his. The way she fit so perfectly against him. The warmth of her body through the, thin, singed clothing they both wore. He reached a hand up to caress her check, his heart thudding loudly in his chest. It was then that realization struck him like blaster fire.
He truly loved her. He truly did. Be it as both a best friend and something much more. With that epiphany, he renewed his resolve. He would give anything, even his life, to see that she made it off this planet. He closed his own eyes, suddenly regretting that the Force was going to separate them so soon. So soon, when they still had so much to discover with each other.
Slowly, they parted, Tahiri's eyes half-lidded as she gazed up at him. One of her hands still cupped his cheek, while a single tear escaped, unchecked, down her cheek. "You have to come back, Anakin. I….I…just come back."
Anakin offered the best Solo-smile he could manage, her own feelings pulsating loudly in the Force. "I'll see you soon, then, yeah?"
"Yeah," Tahiri repeated hoarsely, letting her hand fall to her side as she stepped back. "May the Force be with you."
Committing every detail of the beautiful young woman in front of him to memory, Anakin nodded and took a step back as well. Before his strength completely failed him, he turned away and limped towards the doorway. From the magma spitters to the hoard of warriors swarming the area, Anakin briefly wondered if the Force had a sense of humor. His first kiss was on an airless space-station, and his last was in a crumbling grotto on a war-torn, Sith-incarnate planet. Behind him, he could feel Tahiri smile sadly and knew that their minds were linked.
Closing his eyes, he gently nudged her out of his head, least he lose his resolve. What he had planned was becoming a lot harder to commit to. Yet, he sighed, he had to do it or everyone would die. And they would die because he had tried to be someone he wasn't, a hero.
Exhaling shakily and not looking back, Anakin began to run the fastest he could manage.
His lambent pulsed, informing him of a warrior to his left. Anakin ducked under the amphistaff, tearing the last of his stitches as he did. The warrior renewed his attack, only to promptly lose both arms, then its head. A magma missile erupted behind him, spraying the air with superheated debris.
Anakin continued forward.
Another warrior, more pain as the butt of an amphistaff slammed into his side. Anakin just barely managed to raise his blaster in time, dropping the warrior a split second before a follow-up attack would have skewered him. Rising, Anakin vomited up blood, giving thanks to both his siblings as he felt them reach out and reinforce his failing strength.
The rest of the battle passed him in a dizzying blur. He vaguely recalled shouting about an imposter, with the hope that the others had heard him, but even that seemed like a long while ago. Warriors were pouring in from everywhere, and Anakin could do little to stem the tide.
The burn of amphistaff venom
He sliced into one warrior, dodging another. His blaster was knocked from his hand after ending the life of a heavily-scarred squad leader. An amphistaff scored another hit, but he didn't feel it. The Force was now coursing through his body like never before.
He could hear his sister scream his name, see the voxyn queen escaping. He could do little but call out through the Force. Another amphistaff pierced him, and Anakin felled another warrior.
A longblaster sounded.
His heart beat loudly in his ears.
More Yuuzhan Vong surrounded him. He had to get clear. Had to clear the way for the others. His body continued to burn with the Force, a glowing nimbus in the flaming battlefield.
He could see the tissue sample Nom Anor was trying to salvage.
Heartbeats….his brother and sisters crying as they looked on with wide eyes.
The roar of a warrior as the scarred fighter scored another hit on the infamous Jeedai.
Distant screams, yells, deafening roar of a blaster.
Anakin held up the detonator in his hand so the others could see it. Thirty seconds.The whine of the detonator as he armed it was oddly loud as the Force whipped around him. Take her Jacen. Tell Tahiri I love her.
"Tell me yourself, you big, stupid gundark!"
Anakin's blue eyes widened at the sound of her voice and looked over his shoulder. Tahiri was there, behind him, her green eyes chlorine ice as she focused on the warriors in front of her. She was, however, not without wounds of her own. In fact, the Force was likewise swirling around her, streaming from the various amphistaff-inflicted injuries on her body. The detonator in his hand began to count down.
"Well? Throw it, or do you want to blow the both of us up?" Tahiri yelled, slipping beneath three amphistaffs and jamming her blue saber under the armor of one of the assailants. Seeing Anakin's stunned expression, Tahiri rolled her eyes and held out her own hand. The Force sent the about-to-detonate explosive flying from his grip and into the middle of the voxyn tissue samples. Nom Anor dove out of the way, and a split second later, the detonator went off.
The explosion rippled in the background, framing the golden-haired teen. Tahiri offered him a faint grin as another amphistaff scored a hit, her body fast reaching its own burnout point. You don't let a girl know you love her and expect her to just watch you die afterwards.
Anakin closed his eyes, a myriad of emotions rushing through him. When they shared that kiss, their barriers had been down completely. Neither had any secrets from each other, each could see what the other was thinking. His feelings for her had been at the forefront of his thoughts, and she no doubt felt every iota. She must have wracked both their brains for some way to save him, to help him. When no way presented itself, she decided to choose the next best option. Anakin opened his eyes and managed a faint, sad smile. Together then, huh?
Of course together, how else? Tahiri sent back, the glow of Force energy slowly consuming her as well.
The two closed their eyes and their bond, now no longer restricted by the confines of their bodies, ignited in a blinding brilliance. A wave of Force erupted out from the two of them, leveling the warriors closest to them, and the two became whirling dealers of death. Their very life-forces seem to merge, neither weaker than the other. Memories of when they were children flashed through their minds, plummeting from great heights but each trusting the other to slow their own fall.
Just as they had done so on Yavin Four, on Yavin Eight, on Tatooine, and on Vjun, the two fought at the other's side. Bodies piled up around them, their feet gliding across the blood-slickened ground, their own wounds no longer registering. Time stretched on and on. Still they fought.
Together. The word echoed in the Force for all to hear. Both were in complete sync with the other, blue and purple blades slicing away the darkness around them.
Long when their individual presences in the Force should have gone out, the two swirled around. The Force burning away amphistaff venom, repairing wounds, enhancing their every movement. They jointly held out their hands, and a wave of Force energy ripped the ground apart beneath the feet of their attackers. Another gesture and handfuls of warriors were sent flying high into the air. The two were glowing, their faces showing nothing but peaceful acceptance as they fought for those they cared for.
Together, they were stronger than the sum of their parts.
Even then, the power they wielded was not infinite. The glow around the two began to dissipate, but still they moved. Together, protecting the other as best as their dying bodies would let them. Panting heavily, they both exchanged one last wry grin.
Any regrets, Solo?
Only that we didn't have longer
Can't have everything
True, doesn't hurt to wish though
The two forced the last of their energies into their tired arms and raised their lightsabers once more. The glow of the flames behind them kept their blood-splattered, weary forms illuminated. The two were a frightening sight to those who viewed them. The Force had healed their wounds as they had received them, leaving them bloodied, but unblemished as they stood atop a mountain of dead warriors, staring down those still remaining. The warriors below seemed almost afraid to approach, as if they were in the presence of a greater power. With a crackling laughter, Tahiri called out to these warriors goadingly.
"Tchurokk! Nikk'o Yun-Ne'Shel kash Yun-Shuno, tor'dak prat yam kalhnaz tur zhaelor."
Behold, we are Yun-Ne'Shel and Yun-Shuno, attack us if you deny this truth.
Initially, the warriors all stared up at the glowing Jedi, waiting for someone else to make the first move. But as Anakin and Tahiri's presence in the Force gradually disappeared, so too did the golden nimbus that surrounded them. Their strength leaving them, the two began to sag. The slight slump in the two Jedi's posture was all the warriors needed. With a victorious battle cry, they charged up the mountain of their dead comrades.
A longblaster screeched, and the first warrior up the pile tumbled back downwards, headless. More blaster fire followed, quickly accompanied by a flying blade of vibrant light. The thrown lightsaber buried itself in the skull of a heavily scarred warrior, before flying back to its owner. As one, the Yuuzhan Vong whirled to face the new threat. As one, they were promptly cut down.
Anakin watched with an odd detachment as his sister, tears streaming from her eyes, recklessly charged into the outstretched amphistaffs. Her intention shone brightly in the Force, she was not going to lose her little brother.
Zekk was right behind her, obviously having chased after her just to keep her from being killed. Tenel Ka, Tesar Sebatyne, Alema Rar, Lowbacca all plunged into the fray only a split second later, routing what was left of the already stunned Yuuzhan Vong warriors. What had been a skillfully planned ambushed quickly devolved into a free-for-all brawl. And through it all, Anakin looked on, impassively. It wasn't that he didn't care, it was just that he could feel the Force tugging on both himself and Tahiri, urging them to leave their bodies. Both were now lying on the top of the mountain of corpses, their vision swimming as they heard and saw everything through a heavy veil of darkness.
Then, new strength coursed through both himself and Tahiri. The team's Chadra-Fan healer was crouched between both his own fallen form and Tahiri's, her hands working at rapid speeds, her Force presence infusing them as she worked.
"I need more assistance!" Tekli called out. "I can repair what's left of the damage to their bodies, but they're rapidly becoming one with the Force!"
A curse. Anakin saw Zekk cover Jaina as she leaped to the top of the pile of bodies. His eyes fluttered close. His sister's heavy breathing was oddly loud to his ears. Why was she still here when he had told her to go? Hadn't anyone listened to him?
Anxiously, Jaina crouched down next to the healer. "What do I need to do?"
"Send your strength into either Anakin or Tahiri," Tekli said quickly, sewing up another wound. "Their bond is using whatever energy they receive to keep both of them alive, and because of that, they need twice the energy to stay living. I simply don't have enough."
A razor bug hissed through the air, but the snap hiss of Jaina's lightsaber vaporized it before it made impact.
"Sorry, that one got by me!"
Tears still flowing unchecked, Jaina knelt between to two fallen Jedi. Tightly gripping one of Anakin's icy cold hands in one hand, and one of Tahiri's blood-crusted hands in the other, Jaina began to pour everything she had into their fading life forces. She wouldn't fail them. She couldn't. Panting fearfully, she tuned out the world around her, trying to will Anakin and Tahiri back to health.
As if responding to her resolve, they both stirred.
"Jaina?" Anakin murmured, confused.
"I'm not losing you, little brother," Jaina whispered hoarsely looking onto the two. "And don't think you're not important either, Tahiri. The both of you have to live…please. I need both of you to live."
As she said those words, a small light shone from both Anakin and Tahiri. Their chests began to resume a normal rise and fall pattern, and their hands reflexively squeezed Jaina's in turn.
"The queen?" Anakin murmured.
Jaina rolled her eyes. "Always about the mission. That's what got you into this state in the first place, idiot. Jacen and Ganner are on it, now shut up and let Tekli and I heal the two of you."
Anakin weakly nodded, then, to Jaina's alarm, his eyes fluttered shut and his Force presence dimmed considerably. Seconds later, Tahiri's presence followed.
"Anakin? Tahiri?" Jaina whispered in wide-eyed panic. She ignored the beads of sweat that rolled down her forehead as she tightly grasped both Tahiri and Anakin's hands and began to call on whatever strength she had in reserve. "Come on! Don't do this to me! Don't do this, you two!"
The holographic projections of Borleias, complete with possible hyperspace routes to and from the Yuuzhan Vong staging ground, and Coruscant filled the dimmed war room of the Eclipse. Surrounding the projection were the best tacticians and strategists the Jedi had to offer.
"We've already ruled out an attack on the Eclipse," Kenth Hamner, the official liaison between the Jedi and New Republic, motioned. "At least an attack in the near future. Even if they did have the ships to spare, they'd need at least a standard year to get from Borleias to here."
"The question still remains then," Kam Solusar, with his wife at his side, spoke up. "Where is that fleet going to go?"
Corran Horn minimized the Borleias map and brought up the map of Coruscant. In addition to the image of the planet, the holographic projection also revealed small clusters of comets within the planet's system. "Coruscant is the most likely target."
Luke looked the Kenth. "The uncharted asteroids orbiting with the OboRins?"
"We're aware of them," Kenth said. "We can take them out any time."
Ever since Corran had discovered that the Yuuzhan Vong employed space rock as cover, no one doubted that these comets were anything else other than reconnaissance vessels. The sheer number sitting in-system was indicative enough of a large scale invasion. One didn't send nor need several dozen scouts for a minor attack.
"We already know that they have been pulling their forces from battlefronts across the galaxy," Mara added. "If they're willing to lose ground in whatever offensive they're planning, Coruscant is a worthy target."
"Not only would they be striking a political and strategic blow, morale would definitely suffer if Coruscant falls," Corran nodded.
"This is it then," Luke pushed away from the projector, then, when his connection to his nephew flared to new heights, froze. Inhaling sharply, Luke suddenly saw a Yuuzhan Vong warrior charging past a tangle of burning vines. A purple blade, swirling amidst a golden light in a dark place. He could feel that his nephew was focused, though regretful. Calm, yet tinged with sadness. In harmony with the Force and himself and…
Distantly, Luke heard Tionne emit a small cry, a hand flying to her mouth. Kam quickly gathered his wife into a protective hug, as if trying to shield her from what they were feeling, what they believed would soon come. Though they were not Tahiri's biological parents, they had always been close to their former student, likening her to an adoptive daughter. It also didn't hurt that whenever Tahiri was with Anakin, her presence in the Force became amplified. But now, now her presence was disappearing completely.
The powerful tremor in the Force had started off strong, with both Anakin and Tahiri fighting fiercely at each other's side, glowing brightly and in sync with each other and the Force. But then, their presences gradually began to fade, weakening until they were almost distant echoes. Tionne closed her silver eyes, fresh tears escaping as she bit her lower lip and clung to Kam. Luke, for his part, simply turned away from the others, his hands shaking.
He knew that Saba Sebatyne had felt the death of the Hara sisters, and that others too had perished. The exact identity of the fallen was not known by Luke, but it was clear from the growing absence in the Force that the mission on Myrkr was exacting its toll on the younger Jedi. Luke inhaled sharply and closed his eyes. Now the team was losing Anakin and, if Kam and Tionne's reaction was anything to go by, Tahiri as well. What was worse, in Luke's mind, was that he had sent them all.
"Luke?" He was vaguely aware as Mara took his hand, brushing her shoulder against his in support. But he focused his attention instead on Jacen and Jaina. Jacen was eerily calm, his worry pushed to the back of his mind as he continued onwards. It was almost as if he had accepted his brother's sacrifice and was trying to make the most of it. More alarming was Jaina, whose own Force presence had flared incandescently. For a brief moment of fear, Luke was afraid that the strike team was losing her too. When Luke realized what she was trying to do, his shoulders slumped and he bowed his head. He could only hope that it wouldn't end as he feared. Being so far from them, unable to help them, it was all he could do.
"Master Skywalker?" Corran asked, his voice subdued, as if he realized what was happening.
Luke steeled himself for the inevitable, doing his best to cut his connections with everyone so his emotional overflow wouldn't affect them. Yet, the end he feared, never came. Blue eyes wide in wonder, Luke took in several gasps of relief. He could feel his youngest nephew, just barely clinging to life. A fragile wisp in the overall flow of the Force.
Exhaling loud, shaky breaths, Luke uncurled his fists and bowed his head, tears swimming in his eyes. Jaina had somehow succeeded. Anakin was alive. Albeit, barely present in the Force, but still there. Luke vented his pent up fear, guilt, and frustration by pounding the holo-projector with one hand, earning shouts of alarm and surprise from the others in the room.
Mara likewise seemed to slump in relief, leaning against Luke for a moment before smiling tiredly at the others, all of whom were anxiously awaiting an explanation.
"It's Anakin," Mara said, her smile surprising the others.
"Anakin?" Corran said, unsure what exactly had just occurred. If Mara was smiling, the news couldn't be bad, could it?
Mara nodded. "That little brat and Tahiri decided to give us old people a heart-attack."
"It seems to be what he and Tahiri are best at," Kam agreed, sounding stronger than he looked as he rubbed Tionne's back. The white-haired historian could only press her head against Kam's chest, weakly laughing as she wiped away her tears.
As the tension in the room subsided, and everyone let out chuckles of relief, Corran looked back to Luke. "Master Skywalker, what should we do now?"
He closed his eyes and drawing on Mara's presence to help steady himself. With his heart returning to its normal rate, Luke looked to his expectant audience. "We need to prepare our battle wings and coordinate defensive plans with Admiral Sovv. If the Yuuzhan Vong hit us with everything they have at Borleias, then we should probably focus on evacuating Coruscant."
"That's going to be impossible," Kenth said with a shake of his head. "There are billions of people there, so evacuation just isn't feasible. Not to mention it's the seat of our political and military councils. Just mentioning the word will make Chief of State Fey'lya think that we have already given the planet up for loss."
"We're going to have to make it happen anyways," Mara said. "Luke is right. With our own fleets stretched thin, it will be equally impossible to get enough ships in place before the Vong strike."
Kenth's lips thinned, but he nodded. "I'll see what I can do. But no promises."
"That's all we can ask."
"I've got a bad feeling about this," Jacen murmured, glancing behind him at Ganner as they crawled through a Yuuzhan Vong-made tunnel. He could feel the voxyn queen not far ahead, but from what the creature was perceiving, there were also others close by. But apart from the warriors and shapers at its side, Jacen could feel another disturbance. What it was, however, he couldn't quite pinpoint it.
"We're on a planet full of Vong, chasing after a creature created to kill Jedi, and we have absolutely no idea where we're going. What's there to feel good about it?" Ganner said wryly. "Speaking of which, are we getting any closer?"
Jacen closed his eyes. The queen's agitation from being moved, the fear that it was being hunted, and its reaction to his Force probe was all Jacen needed. "Another couple meters straight, than a left."
"And your brother?"
Jacen allowed himself to chuckle, and he could feel Ganner's confusion. "He's alive, somehow."
Ganner whistled, then made a face as his hand slid across some type of gooey organic material. "Takes a lot to kill one of you Solos, doesn't it?"
"No," Jacen shook his head and sighed. "Anakin just got lucky. One of these days, that luck's going to run out and he's going to get himself, or others, killed."
"We made it this far with him as the leader," Ganner pointed out.
"Not all of us."
"Come on, Jacen," Ganner said. "We all knew that this was likely going to be a suicide mission. As cool as your brother is, he isn't all knowing."
Jacen shook his head. "Please tell him that next time. It was his heroics that have split the group."
"And you not wanting your brother to die doesn't have anything to do with the fact that you ordered your sister to save him?"
"Apart from that, if he died, Jaina would have been distracted. That distraction would have gotten more of us killed. At least, this way, she has a purpose and we can still get the mission done. It was the best choice available for everyone."
"You know, that sounds a lot like what Anakin would have said," Ganner commented mildly. "You two are more alike than you think."
"Apparently," Jacen conceded, unwilling to argue in their situation. He pulled out his lightsaber and cut away the membrane at their feet. The door opened quickly, and the two Jedi dropped through the opening. "The queen is nearby."
"Yes, she is."
Both Jedi spun to see the bird-like Vergere emerge from the shadows of the room.
"What?" Ganner blinked, his lightsaber still active.
Jacen held out a staying hand as he deactivated his own blade. "If she wanted to hurt us, she would have already done so."
"Indeed," Vergere's head bobbed. "If you wish, I can lead you to the queen."
"Why should we trust you?" Ganner asked with raised eyebrows. "You don't exactly keep the best of company."
"You can always try to find your own way of course." Vergere shrugged and began to walk to another membrane-door. "But this is the breeding grounds. One wrong step and you will find yourself confronted by voxyn, or worse."
Ganner blinked. "There are worse things here than voxyn?"
"I just said so, did I not?"
"Enough," Jacen said sharply. "If you want to lead us to the queen, do so already. Ganner and I still need to secure a way off this place for the others, and we don't have much time."
"How fortunate is it then that the queen and your way off are in the same place?" Vergere said, chortling. "I assume that you two Jedi aren't opposed to spilling a little more blood?"
Both men gave each other questioning looks, before nodding. "If this is some sort of trap…" Jacen let the threat hang.
"You'll kill me, of course. I have no intention of getting on the wrong side of two Jedi such as yourselves."
Jacen nodded once more to Ganner, who reluctantly shut off his lightsaber. With a snap-hiss, the room was plunged into darkness once more.
The two traveled in near-darkness through a series of corridors and rooms, their elevation gradually rising. Just when Jacen began to doubt the trust he had placed on the odd Fosh creature, they paused at one final door.
"Jacen Solo, you can feel her, can you not?"
Jacen exhaled and reached out with the Force. "Yeah, she's out there."
"Are you prepared to sacrifice everything to destroy her?"
"It's what we came here to do," Jacen nodded again.
"Then, for whatever it is worth, may the Force be with the two of you." Vergere pressed another pad by the doorway, and it silently slid open.
A sliver of blue light from Myrkr's sun blazed out from behind Myrkr's rising disks. The pale sapphire light, splintered and distorted by the million columns of the serpentine room, drew out long, murky shadows against the wall and floor. The far air-lock door was open, the much smaller silhouettes of Yuuzhan Vong dwarfed by the towering columns around them. Between the warriors, however, both Jedi could see the voxyn queen. The three Force-users quickly pressed themselves behind the nearest columns, chancing glances at the distant group.
"The queen is there," Vergere motioned unnecessarily, her voice barely a whisper. "And the vessel you will need is over there." She motioned to a side door in the room. It was open, and through it, they could see two warriors guarding a medium-sized Yuuzhan Vong vessel. The door itself was still far away from the queen and those protecting her.
"That group is coming this way," Ganner murmured, a hand drifting back to his lightsaber. "They're probably heading for the ship."
"There are only eight guards in the group. Another two by the ship," Vergere commented mildly. "What will you do, Jacen Solo?"
Jacen reached out to the mind of the voxyn queen. He could already feel its agitation and it took little effort on his part to push it over the edge. He filled its mind with fear and suspicion and the creature lashed out in an instant. Its barbed tail swung around and slammed into the nearest warrior's face. Two others rushed forward and were suddenly covered in corrosive acid. Immediately, the shaper in the group barked orders to the others, and Jacen withdrew from the queen's mind as the warriors gripped its restraints. This did not stop a fourth warrior from succumbing to his wounds.
"Only four left," Vergere said, bowing her head in respect. "Good job."
Jacen ignored the odd creature, not proud nor sickened by his manipulation of the voxyn queen. He really had no desire to kill her, yet if he didn't, the sacrifices of the others would have been for naught. The remaining warriors and the creature's handlers regained some semblance of order and continued forward, leaving the fallen where they lay.
"Think you can take the two by the ship and start it up?"
"You have the queen?"
"What about this one?" Ganner motioned to Vergere.
"She'll stay with me," Jacen replied. "If I miss this chance, I'll need her to guide me through this building."
Vergere tilted her head to the side. "As you wish."
Ganner stared at Jacen long and hard. Finally, the older Jedi nodded. "You really are like your brother."
Jacen closed his eyes. "Let's hope I have his luck, then."
Ganner burst into action and sprinted towards the docked vessel, drawing the attention and the alarm of the Yuuzhan Vong. Several guttural cries were emitted, and the air was suddenly saturated with thud bugs. The deadly projectiles tore away chunks of the organic columns in the room, embedding themselves in the wall or ground. Ganner continued his sprint, activating his lightsaber only when he passed the threshold of the side door. The two warriors were on him, but one was immediately sliced across the midsection and crumpled. The other lashed out with his amphistaff, but Ganner rolled to the side and scored a glancing blow.
In the meantime, Jacen traversed the greater distance across the room. He emerged from the shadows in time to see the shaper's eyes widen in surprise. Before Jacen's lightsaber landed, however, the surviving warriors rushed to the shaper's aid.
"Jeedai!" One cursed, thrusting his amphistaff forward.
Another warrior swept the organic weapon at Jacen's head, but the Jedi had already leaped back into the shadows. The warriors quickly formed a protective screen in front of the voxyn queen and where they last saw Jacen. They didn't expect, however, the queen to once again lash out. Unprotected, two warriors fell before they even realized what had hit them. The remaining warriors and shaper spun around, only to hear the dreaded hiss of a lightsaber.
Despite Ganner and Jacen's early success, the alarm had been sounded. Warriors began streaming in from many different entryways, their sapphire-lit forms swarming towards the lone lightsaber.
"Ganner, take off!" Jacen yelled, ending the life of the shaper. "Take off, get everyone else out of here!"
More warriors, some heading for the ship.
Jacen released the breath he had been holding as the ship shot away from its berth. Once it was gone, Jacen knelt by the voxyn queen. Sending calming thoughts, he held out a hand.
"Forgive me," Jacen murmured. In one quick motion, he ended the creature's life. He set a thermal detonator and placed it into its lifeless mouth. Using the force to push the creature high into the air, he waited the longest three seconds of his life. One. Two. Three. A fiery explosion engulfed the body, completely obliterating it and any possible chance of recovering a tissue sample.
Once his job was done, Jacen deactivated his lightsaber and placed it on the ground. He sat down behind it, releasing a deep breath and running his mind through several calming techniques. He had done it, and Ganner would now save the others. He had completed what he had set out to do. But, unlike Anakin, he was not stupid enough to go out fighting. He had won his battle, now he would pay his price. He could hear the pounding footsteps of the approaching warriors.
Out of curiosity, he glanced towards Vergere. She had always been a mystery. Why had she helped him? What would she do now? But when he saw her, he felt a small amount of shock race through him.
"Yes," Vergere said softly, a feathery hand lightly caressing Jacen's cheek. "I am crying for you, Jacen."
Though the remaining members of the strike team were recovered by Ganner's stolen Yuuzhan Vong frigate, the Jedi were not home free just yet. When the Jedi had boarded, Jacen's absence had been glaringly obvious. Ganner had managed to hold off the questions until he had safely hidden the ship at the bottom of a deep gorge. But upon revealing what had transpired, already frayed nerves were pushed to their breaking point.
"You left him?" Jaina yelled, her eyes flashing dangerously as she slammed Ganner against the far cabin wall.
"He told me to!" Ganner managed to get out. Talking with a forearm to one's throat was a challenge, even for a Jedi of Ganner's caliber. "I saw it from above, Nom Anor was surrounding you guys again! If I hadn't gone, none of us would have a ride off this planet!"
"But you left him!" Jaina hissed, only releasing Ganner when Zekk put a restraining hand on her shoulder. She instead turned on him. "Don't touch me, Zekk!"
Jaina's glare silenced him. "We're going back!"
"Even if we do go back, it's doubtful if Jacen will still be there!" Zekk argued. "Besides, Anakin and Tahiri are in critical condition, and we have an entire Vong fleet searching for us!"
"Anakin and Tahiri can survive the five minutes it will take to rescue Jacen," Jaina clenched her jaw stubbornly. "Do you really think I'll abandon my twin to the Vong!"
"Jaina, I too agree with Ganner and Zekk," Tenel Ka's voice cut into the argument, drawing everyone's attention. "Jacen would not want us to waste his sacrifice by dying as well."
"Stay out of this, Tenel Ka!" Jaina snapped. "I don't need to hear the opinion of someone who has the emotional depth of a ronto."
With a speed that surprised both Ganner and Zekk, Tenel Ka stepped around the chairs in the cockpit and stood toe-to-toe with Jaina. The motion was so fast that the two men thought, for one ridiculous moment, that she would slap Jaina. Instead, Tenel Ka pinned Jaina under a glare so fierce, that Jaina eventually swallowed and looked away.
When she did so, Tenel Ka spoke. "He may not be my brother, but I care greatly for Jacen, Jaina. If we did not have other responsibilities, I would be the first to assist you in his rescue. But this is not the time, nor the place. You will see him again, that is a fact."
Tenel Ka's gaze contained only understanding as she held out her good hand disarmingly. Jaina replied to Tenel Ka's words by silently moving to the nearest bulkhead and resting against it. The exhausted brown-haired Jedi slid down into a seated position, her knees pulled to her chest and head bowed. Neither said another word, and silence filled the ship. In another place, another time, the silence might have been uncomfortable, but Tenel Ka's words were neither accusatory nor biting. Even Jaina's hostility began to fade as she got over the initial shock.
She knew that if they went after Jacen they'd be jeopardizing everything. Yet, Jaina couldn't help but feel that she had traded one brother for another. If she and the others had gone with Jacen when Anakin and Tahiri were buying them the much needed time…she shut off that line of thought. Anakin and Tahiri would have died. She was as sure of that. Jaina absently reached through the Force for her twin, Jacen was still alive. He still lived. It was that one fact that kept a spark of hope glowing within her.
"I'm sorry," Jaina finally allowed.
"We are all worried," Tenel Ka nodded once, then turned to the two men. "Friend Zekk, are you capable of piloting this ship?"
Zekk gave the helm a once-over, then slid into the pilot's chair. "It looks like a standard set-up. If Ganner could fly it, I should have no problem."
Ganner made a face. "Hey, nearly crashing the ship isn't as bad as actually crashing it! I got us here in one piece, didn't I?"
"If I recall, it was a crash landing," Tenel Ka raised an eyebrow.
"The ground came out of nowhere."
"Yes, even the ground is plotting against you," Zekk said dryly. Then, with more confidence than before, he looked towards Jaina. "I can pilot this bucket."
"We still have the little issue of a Yuuzhan Vong battle fleet orbiting this place," Ganner pointed out, taking the co-pilot chair. "Where are we going to go from here?"
"Anakin and Tahiri both need bacta treatment, so it has to be somewhere with a medical facility. "Zekk began a pre-flight sequence.
"That narrows down the field," Ganner responded to Jaina. "Coruscant then?"
"The Hapes Cluster is closer," Tenel Ka voiced. "They also have capable enough defenses."
"Yeah…but we're in a Vong ship," Zekk motioned to the control nodule in front of him. "We fly in, we might become victims of those defenses."
"We will deal with that problem when we get to it," Jaina finally spoke, getting to her feet. "But we should start heading there anyways. The sooner we get Anakin and Tahiri to a medical center, the better."
"The Hapes Cluster it is," Zekk sighed, starting up the ship again.
Jaina moved to Ganner's chair. "Get out."
"We're about to blast our way through who knows how many Vong ships. Do you really want to be driving a ship you just barely managed to get off the ground?"
"So," Zekk managed with a ghost of a smirk. "I guess you're my co-pilot again, Solo."
Despite everything, Jaina also smiled faintly. "I guess so. Let's burn fuel and kick some Vong butt."
After conquering the galaxy star by star, the Yuuzhan Vong were now washing upon the heart of the New Republic in an unrelenting tide. The skies above Coruscant burned with flame, the air choked with smoke, as Yuuzhan Vong drop fleets rained down. The hardy, shell-like pods smashed through buildings, tearing great gouges in the durasteel, leaving only red-hot trails in their wake. To the terror of its residents, the planet was bathed in darkness from the destruction of the mirror stations. The only sources of light were from the planetary defense stations, as beams of red and green light filled the air. In the far distance, an occasional vessel erupted in balls of flame, its skeleton visible until the fire had burned out in the vacuum of space.
But there were more ships in the air, far more than the planet's turbolasers could destroy. Waves of coralskippers and skiffs flew at low altitudes, pinpointing weapon batteries and obliterating them with volleys of lethal plasma. These fighters were soon met by a swarm of New Republic craft, though it was obvious that the defenders were overmatched and outnumbered. One by one, these fighters also erupted into spouts of flame, debris raining down onto the city below. Other weapon stations were overwhelmed as the landed warriors stormed the crew, killing all without mercy. Buildings that had the fortune to be shielded, lasted the first, and maybe the second attacks before crumbling under the relentless onslaught of the invaders. As the amount of fire from the surface began to dwindle, larger landing craft began to descend.
Standing speechless in the open cannon turret atop Fey'lya's office, Leia looked on. There was a strange beauty in the meteoric fall of the drop fleets, a primal rhythm to the pulsing of the turbolasers. Magma and plasma rained down on the planet indiscriminately, giving everything a deep red hue. Coruscant was burning, dying, right before her eyes. Leia felt a pair of arms wrap around her waist, and she looked over her shoulder wanly.
"The end of the world," Han quipped, a helmet, equipped with a military comlink, in his grasp. "Who would have thought we'd live to see it?"
"They'll be other worlds, Han." Leia made no effort to put on the helmet as the devastation reflected off her brown irises. "Besides, we still have something much more important."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"Our children, Han," Leia shook her head. She found it odd, though a world was burning in front of her, she was comforted by the fact that all of her children were still alive. That one, brief moment, when Anakin had stood out in the Force like a super nova had nearly shut her mind down in fear. But when he had come through, Leia found herself looking at the galaxy through a new perspective. Finally, she reached for the helmet her husband was holding and began to put it on. "We may have lost this world, but there'll always be others. There was after Alderaan. Our children, however, nothing will ever be able to replace them."
Han's expression softened. "You got that right, Princess. Are you sure Anakin's…?"
"He's alive," Leia whispered. "That's really all that matters, doesn't it?"
Han gave Leia his usual, crooked smile. "Yeah, that kid will pull through. He has your stubbornness after all."
"Says the man who refuses to trade in the Falcon for a more advanced ship," Leia couldn't help but smile at Han's affronted expression.
Any further conversation was cut off as General Rieekan's voice crackled over the comlink. "All units, open fire."
Across the planet, turbolaser batteries that had been hidden in the darkness suddenly blared to life. Han squeezed the trigger of the turret before him, and the air filled with a deafening crackle of discharging actuators. The deadly red jewel lanced up into the air and took the first lander by surprise, punching straight through the middle of the vessel, splitting it in two. Bodies fell out the opening as both halves of the craft spun apart in different directions. But with the element of surprise now spent, shielding crews onboard the other crafts made shooting them down much more difficult. Han and Leia stitched their fire in different directions, taking down as many as they could. But it was not enough. Still coralskippers and airskiffs filled the sky, soon accompanied by blast boulders. A group of them joined together in formation and began to barrel down on Fey'lya's office.
It was at that moment that the doors to the turbolift opened, and Borsk Fey'lya, accompanied by two Orbital Defense soldiers, strode in. The pair were so much alike that they could even have passed as twins. Just thinking that thought, Leia once again thanked the Force for keeping her children alive. Her introspection, however, caused her to realize something else about both soldiers.
"Han," Leia said lightly, her fingers absently tapping her lightsaber.
Before Han could reply, Fey'lya called out. "Leia, you have a comm-message. Feel free to use my desk."
Leia ignored him. "Han!"
"A little busy here!" Han called out, attempting to take down a blastboulder.
"We have friends with us," Leia stressed.
Han finally looked to Leia, and she turned, using her body to shield her lightsaber from view of the newcomers. Eyes widening in understanding, Han swiftly drew his blaster. The two Orbital Defense soldiers, who had not even made their way across the room, were felled in a hail of blaster fire.
"Have you lost your minds!" Fey'lya cried out. His jaw snapped shut, however, when the ooglith masquers peeled away from the faces of the corpses. "In my own office!"
"Now would be a good time to destroy those data towers, Chief of State," Leia said.
Fey'lya eyes flashed, but any reply was cut off when the wall beside him erupted in a storm of flame and shrapnel. The Chief of State was lifted off the ground by the force of the blast and slammed into the opposite wall with a sickening crunch as a blast boulder broke through. The ship didn't withdraw, but instead forced its weapons into the newly made hole and opened fire. Whatever plans or schemes Fey'lya had been saving, however he had planned to go out, ended right then and there.
Both Leia and Han dove behind Fey'lya's desk as a plasma missile flew out of the ship and impacted with an eardrum-shattering roar. Gouts of flame filled the office, superheating the air and blowing a hole through the opposite wall. In a split second, Borsk Fey'lya, seasoned politician and the Chief of State of the New Republic, ceased to exist.
"We've just got word, people!" The captain's voice strained as he struggled to compete with the roaring of the turbolaser battery. "The Chief of State's office has just been hit, but this is no time to worry about politicians. We have a second wave coming through, so snap to it!"
Luke felt the entire turret housing rumble, making the captain's words unnecessary. The bright sheet of flames crackling down from above was evidence enough that this wave would be larger than the first. An attack that had already destroyed most of Coruscant's turrets. What Luke was alarmed by, however, was the first part of the captain's announcement.
"Han and Leia will make it," Mara said firmly, not needing to sense Luke's thoughts. "We'll feel it if anything happens to them."
"That's if they can make it through this wave."
"That's if we can make it through this wave," Mara pointed out. "The first one was to soften us up. It looks like they're serious this time around."
Despite Mara's attempt to put up a strong front, he could feel her uncertainty towards their only child, they mirrored his own. They had left Ben with Leia and Han, and the Force only knew how the two would make it out of this chaos. Luke did not even want to consider a negative outcome. He had already come too close to one as it was with his nephew. Mara, though she disliked having to rely on anyone else, was oddly upbeat about the situation. Her confidence in Leia and Han bolstered his own, and, in the end, he simply decided to trust his sister and the Force.
Normally, when one has a near-death experience, one would expect something out of the ordinary to occur. Maybe a meeting with deceased ancestors, a trip down memory lane, an out-of-body experience, or at least something to use in a conversation. Something along the lines of, 'So I nearly died, but I at least got to meet Mr. Famous So-and-So.' This expectation is only increased when one is a Jedi. Not so with Anakin Solo. He currently found himself in a grey void, simply floating, body-less and unaware of where he was.
Great, I really must have screwed up in a past life. Not only can I not die when I plan to, I can't even have a normal near-death experience.
What'd you expect, Hero Boy? A parade of departed Jedi Masters coming to scold you for doing something so stupid? That's my job.
No, I'm a talking bantha!
That'd be an improvement.
When we wake up, I am so kicking you.
For what? That was tame by comparison!
The kick is for you running off and doing that…that stupid, heroic, solo act of yours.
Very nice, did it take a while for you to come up with that?
What?Despite not having any corporeal body, or even seeing her, Anakin could easily imagine her glare.
Were you really going to sacrifice…never mind, I know the answer already. Throughout the entire mission, you never ever thought about yourself. Your pain, your frustration with yourself every time we lost members of the strike team, I felt it all even when you were trying to block me out.
Anakin flinched at the biting tone in her voice.
I saw you analyzing our situation again and again, constantly blaming yourself. Even when you were badly injured, all you thought about was completing the mission and getting the rest of us out of there. Keeping up that insane pace, not even stopping for a moment's rest. In fact, to anyone else, it was like you were doing your best togetyourself killed. Funny, isn't it? Good thing I know you better than that.
You big dummy! Did you even stop to think about what would happen after you died?
Of course! Anakin protested.Though, like the rest of my plans this mission, that didn't work out either. You and the others would have gotten away, killed the queen, flown off and ended the war.
And then what?
After the war?
Anakin wasn't sure what Tahiri was trying to tell him. Well, after the war, I guess you and the others would live long, happy lives. Or at least I would hope they are long and happy.
Anakin, do you really see me capable of living a long happy life if you're not in it?
In answer to his question, there was a distinctly exasperated sigh.I don't know if you still haven't realized it yet, but you're probably the only person that actually cares what happens to me. My only family. Although, judging by your little bit of heroics, you occasionally have lapses in memory.
That's not true, Kam and Tionne care for you too, and my family…
Your family only lets me hang around because of you, Anakin. If you're gone, they won't really have a reason to look after me. Besides pity of course.There was no accusatory or bitterness in her voice. It was as if Tahiri was simply stating facts. I'm 'Vong Girl,' remember? The orphan from Tatooine, the one who really only has one best friend in the entire galaxy. I've had enough traumatic experiences to last me a lifetime, and I don't want to add 'losing you' to that list if I can help it. If anyone has any chance of understanding me, it's you, not Kam, or Tionne, or anyone else, no matter how nice they might be. You've been my only family since we first met, remember?
Like I could forget, Anakin replied softly. The image of a nine year old, barefooted Tahiri flashed through his mind.
So now that you know that. Tell me, Anakin, as strong as our bond is, what exactly would I have felt if I had just let you do what you had planned? If I had let you die for all of us, how would that have mademefeel?
Tahiri… Though Anakin did not have any physical form he was aware of, he still closed his eyes. In the world they were in, her feelings were coming in loud and clear over their bond. She was deliberately opening herself up to the pain and fear that had consumed her in her mad dash to catch up.
Fear that she wouldn't reach him in time, regret that she never told him her true feelings.
Physical pain just from the very idea of losing him.
Terror and desperation unlike any she had experienced before.
Heart clenching, breathing short, nothing else but a dark, loneliness.
That's just what I felt when I thought I was going to lose you.Tahiri sent in a soft rebuke. I would rather be Shaped again, than endure the pain your death would have caused me. The Yuuzhan Vong made me able to absorb and use my pain, but even then, I have my limits.
Anakin felt a shudder travel across their bond, and he absently reached out towards her general direction in an effort to comfort her. He knew how badly her Shaping had affected her. How she was still suffering from the after-effects of whatever the shapers had done.
He would often find himself lying awake in bed for hours at a time as Tahiri's pain and nightmares bled over. When she would awake, she would spend whatever was left of the night mentally chatting with him, brushing her mind with his as she rebuilt her emotional barriers. There were also the more serious moments, when she would sort through her memories and feelings. For the most part, she would use her own strength to get through it.
There were a few occasions, however, when she actually needed to rely on his own power, in addition to hers, to get past a particularly painful memory. The closeness they shared never really alarmed Anakin. To him, it was a natural thing, something that had existed ever since they had first met. As they grew older, they only became closer.
He couldn't help but smile as he recalled that kiss on the airless space station. It seemed so long ago. Yet, it paled in comparison to his most recent kiss. One where neither had been afraid to hide their emotions from the other.
When we shared that kiss…Tahiri trailed off. The atmosphere between the two of them changed. Her embarrassment, tinged with a hint of wonder, came through their bond. When we shared that kiss, did you really mean it…what you were feeling?
You were in my head.
But still…a scarred up girl like me, how could you… Tahiri trailed off again, but for a different reason this time. Anakin was firmly recalling the kiss and every bit of emotion that had passed through them in that moment in eternity. Oh.
Would now be a good time to tell you that really I love you, Tahiri?
Great, wait until we're practically dead to tell me you love me. You really, really need to work on your timing, Solo.Despite her words, Tahiri's warmth and happiness infused every aspect of Anakin's being.
I'll get right on it.
You do that. Now I believe you were going to tell me something.
Anakin chuckled softly and smiled his lopsided grin. I love you, Tahiri
Love you too.
That's a relief.
I really don't really know why I love you, though.
You'll live…or…you better.
When we get out of wherever this is, we're going to have to talk about this, you know.
Let me guess, you're not the type of girl who confesses her love on her death bed?
Knew you'd understand. Now, where are we anyways and what's with all this greyness? We're not dead, are we? I mean we're still talking and stuff, right, so how can we be dead?
You're just realizing this now? We've been in this place since…oh, a while.
More important things were on my mind.
It's kinda feeling warm and mushy, hard to think, and it's all your fault.
You did say you love me.
Anakin chuckled softly. I did, didn't I?
Tahiri went quiet for a moment. Any regrets?
None,Anakin replied firmly.
Good, now that we got that settled, since you avoided my question, I take it you don't know where we are either?
You're here too, aren't you?
It seems like it.
Jaina sat back in the pilot's chair, of Nom Anor's personal craft, exhausted physically and mentally. The escape from Myrkr had been harrowing. Without Tahiri, they had had no access to the ship's weaponry or sensors. As such, they had been forced to rely on both her and Zekk's piloting skills to get through an entire fleet of Vong vessel, while visually confirming everything and dealing with an extremely reluctant ship.
Though normally piloted by a cognition hood, a ship the size of Nom Anor's personal vessel also had a rudimentary yoke, which responded to the touch and pressure of the user. It had taken some trial and error to get the hang of the ship's workings. But of it weren't for this 'manual' control, they never would have made it off planet.
Needless to say, their ship didn't survive the encounter wholly intact. After somehow jumping to lightspeed, Lowbacca reported that the ship was repairing itself, but at a very slow rate. They would be lucky if it even held up until they reached Hapes.
Hapes, and hopefully safety.
Jaina closed her eyes as her mind whirled with various thoughts. As tired as she was, she just couldn't bring herself to go to sleep. Not with everything that had just happened within the past few days. She knew that she should be feeling something about the Jedi who had died on the mission, Jedi with whom she had only been smiling and conversing with barely a week ago. But for some reason, she didn't. She had lost friends before, Anni Capstan and Chewbacca to name a few, but never before has she been so unnerved, so scared over nearly losing someone. She had abandoned one brother and nearly lost another.
That thought alone caused her heart to skip a beat.
Seeing Anakin charge into the heart of the Yuuzhan Vong formation, sacrificing himself so they could live, had paralyzed her with fear. To heck with the 'he was becoming One with the Force' business, Jaina thought to herself. No matter how you put it, dead was dead. The thought circled in her mind like an unwanted mynok.
She had nearly lost her little brother. She was supposed to be the one to protect him, not the other way around. Jaina felt a twinge of guilt. If it hadn't been for Tahiri, Anakin wouldn't be with them now. Jaina would rather have a battered Tahiri, near death, than no brother. She was eternally grateful that the younger teen's feelings for Anakin had caused her to do something so…Solo-like.
Anakin and Tahiri. Jaina felt some part of her tired mind jolt as if hit by the energy from an overloaded power coupling. The very idea was strange, yet, in many ways, it made sense. It just seemed, right, perfect, that the two were together.
She had heard from Tekli how Anakin and Tahiri had shared that final kiss. How, as soon as Tesar had awoken, the young blond girl had sprinted after Anakin as if her very existence depended on it. She knew the two were best friends, fast becoming something more, and she shuddered to think what would happen if that kiss hadn't been shared. If the two hadn't been given that push to be together one final time so that their relationship could change once more. Without a doubt, it was that kiss that had convinced Tahiri to abandon any sense of self-preservation and charge after Anakin.
Jaina clearly recalled the mixture of terror, but also relief, when she saw Tahiri rushing to Anakin's side. Though it had been obvious that both were most likely going to die, the fact that they were doing so together, had given Jaina a strange feeling of comfort.
"You need me to take over?" Zekk's voice startled Jaina.
"Could use someone to help keep me awake," Jaina shrugged.
"You could probably use some sleep more," Zekk replied dryly, sliding into the co-pilot seat.
"Can't," Jaina said simply.
Zekk glanced at her. "Jaina."
"How's Anakin and Tahiri?"
Recognizing her desire to switch the conversation away from her, Zekk sighed. "They're still holding on, somehow. Tekli put the both of them in some type of Force healing coma a while ago, so they'll both be out of it for some time. Alema and Tesar are currently with them while Tekli is getting some rest."
Jaina took the news in stride. "That's good."
"We're still on course for Hapes?"
"We'll get there in another day."
An uneasy silence filled the cockpit.
"I've talked with Ganner," Zekk ventured.
"Good for you."
"Look Zekk, you and the others have made it clear. I can't do anything for Jacen. What I will do, however, is to make damned sure that Anakin and Tahiri live. So don't mention it again, clear?"
"Clear," Zekk said. He could clearly feel the fear she was trying to bottle up and knew that nothing good would occur should the worst happen. An awkward silence stretched through the cockpit. He and Jaina had used to be so close, but with the war the distance between them seemed to have increased exponentially.
"Is it a bad thing?" Jaina began in a voice so small that Zekk nearly missed it.
"Is it a bad thing that I'm relieved that it was Jacen who was taken and not Anakin?"
Zekk, startled by her question, quickly searched for an answer. "Of course not, Jaina. Anakin is your little brother after all."
Jaina swallowed. "No, I'm not relieved because of that."
"It's like this," Jaina murmured, her hair cascading around her face as she hung her head. "For the past two years, I've listened to Anakin and Jacen debate the role of Jedi and our relationship to the Force."
Zekk opened his mouth to respond, but Jaina quickly shook her head to silence him. "Anakin is just beginning to figure it out. After he rescued Tahiri on Yavin Four, I sensed something different about him. He learned something there, something the rest of us don't know but should. So I'm relieved not only because he is my brother, but because whatever he had learned won't end with him. He has always been different. Special."
Jaina unconsciously reached out through the Force for her twin, before quickly abandoning her attempt. The last thing she wanted to do was feel any of his pain. "Jacen…he's just Jacen, my twin. My brother. You saw him this mission, he was always second guessing Anakin, obsessing over his motives and methods. Jacen tried to make Anakin question everything he believed in because he didn't agree with him. You saw what happened every time that happened. It tore the group apart, bit by bit. People died because even Anakin began to lose faith in himself. Jacen fears the dark side to such an extent that he would rather the Jedi quibble about the how's and whys of their actions than actually doing something about it. At least Anakin was willing to do something in this war."
Zekk was about to respond, when he felt stray bits of emotion come across their bond. Incredulous at what he was sensing, he turned his full attention to Jaina. "You blame Jacen for Anakin's injuries?"
Jaina was too tired to even try to keep her feelings and memories from leaking to her childhood acquaintance. "A little."
"You can't blame yourself for Anakin's condition any more than you can blame you can blame Jacen." Zekk protested. "Sure Jacen may have caused Anakin to doubt himself, but Jacen did so to keep Anakin from making any rash decisions. To make sure that Anakin wasn't going to sacrifice everything, even his own morals, for the sake of the mission. It was Anakin's own recklessness that nearly got him killed. His own confidence in himself that caused the mission to dissolve as fast as it did. I'm not saying Anakin is at fault for everything, but had he taken the time to think about his actions, the mission may have turned out better."
Jaina's brandy brown eyes held no warmth as they met Zekk's, letting the other know that he was fast losing whatever friendship they might have still had. "He nearly died because the rest of us were too thickheaded too see that he was suffering the most out of all of us. Anakin was injured because he was trying to protect me. His situation deteriorated because he was trying to keep the rest of us alive; and he almost died because he was trying to redeem himself in Jacen's eyes, his big brother. For Sith's sake, he thought it would make the situation better if he gave his life so that all of us could get away! Anakin believed, just as you do, that he was responsible for getting us into this mess, and that it was he who needed to get us out of it. The fact that we all thought the same just goes to show how stupid we really are!
You even said it yourself, he was the leader, it was hismission, hisresponsibility to get us off that planet. Never once did we stop to think that he was something more than the ideal figurehead everyone's trying to make him out to be. It took me, seeing him rush into that crowd of Vong, to remind me of one painful fact. He's just a seventeen year old kid. A kid everyone in this galaxy has decided to look to because they can't solve their own kriffing problems!"
Zekk answered in subdued tones, hanging his head sadly as he felt the raw emotion now pouring from Jaina's non-existent mental barriers. "As much as you think that, Jaina, you won't be able to change anyone else's minds. Sure his near death may have reminded everyone here that he's only human, but do you really think anyone else will care? You already know it, don't you? That the minute we return to New Republic space, he'll be treated as a hero once more. Never mind that he nearly died and that we've lost several good friends in the process.
All the politicians, even the older Jedi, will see Anakin as nothing more than a pawn to advance their own plans. At the same time though, you know as well as I do that Anakin's own thoughts and feelings on the matter will be ignored. Borsk Fey'lya will probably even pin a medal to Anakin's jumpsuit while Anakin's still floating in bacta. Even Jacen will become a hero. The spin-machines will turn his capture into some heroic sacrifice on par with the actions of Anakin and Tahiri. The others who died will be given a token ceremony and then forgotten. As far as anyone will be concerned, this mission was a great success. Not only were the mission objectives accomplished, but the galaxy gets two of the three Solo's back again."
Jaina's head was bowed and she remained silent, so Zekk continued. "Once all that occurs, do you really expect to see the younger Jedi treat Anakin the same? They barely know Anakin, but here is he, marching us into a suicide mission and bringing us back out. Anakin's fast becoming a symbol for the Jedi Order, their hope. He hasto be better than the average Jedi. He hasto think about the consequences of his actions. You heard Master Horn last time, half the older Jedi already see him succeeding Master Skywalker as the next Jedi Grandmaster, the others don't even plan to protest it should that time come. It doesn't matter that Anakin is only a seventeen year old kid at heart, because he's going to have to grow up a whole lot faster. After this mission, he'll be facing responsibilities that would destroy people much greater than him."
"He won't be the only one facing those responsibilities," Jaina murmured, her fists clenching as she, even though she hated to do so, conceded Zekk's point. "If I know her like I think I do, Tahiri will be there at his side all the way. I will be too. All of us who truly know him, trust and love him, we'll be right there with him. If there is such thing as destiny, then I believe that Anakin was destined to reshape this Order, to give it something that they lost a very long time ago. I'll be damned if I let my brother try something as crazy as this without me."
Jaina's message was clear as starred down her childhood friend. He would either be helping her protect Anakin, or walk a different path that practically guaranteed the ending of whatever relationship they had left.
Her face was impassive as Zekk took a deep breath. "We may not always see eye to eye on things, Jaina, and I know that we haven't exactly been the closest of friends recently. Even then, I still consider Anakin my friend. His survival shows that, no matter what the galaxy will throw at us, at the very least we'll still be able to trust in the Force, right?"
At his words, Jaina couldn't help but feel a small amount of disappointment. He was as good as saying that there were limits to how far he was willing to go for them. Then again, even though he hadn't said anything she didn't already know, Jaina was once again reminded of how different their opinions had become. Zekk's cautiousness of the dark side mirrored Jacen's. She still hadn't forgotten that he, along with Jacen, had been among those who had voted against going after the voxyn queen. Unwilling to continue the conversation for fear of revealing just how different their views had become, Jaina stood.
"You know, I think I'll go into a healing trance after all. We still have a while until Hapes, anyways."
Zekk watched her retreating form with some amount of trepidation, but also a hint of nostalgia. The war really was changing Jaina, shaping her into someone he could no longer recognize. He clearly remembered the fun times they had as youth, going up against bounty hunters and the random criminal organization.
It had been Jaina who had been willing to risk her life to redeem him. Jaina who had pulled him back into the light side. But now, now he didn't quite know what to think. She wasn't falling to the dark side, that much he was sure. Her brothers were too important to her for that. She put a strong front to everyone now, but deep down, Zekk knew that some remnant of the hopeful teen who had saved him, survived. It wasn't that she didn't care, but that she cared too much.
Jaina may have recognized the pressures everyone was placing on Anakin, but Zekk wondered if she recognized the pressures she was placing on herself. This was on top of the fame she already had by being a child of Han and Leia Solo, a Jedi, and one of the best, youngest pilots in Rogue Squadron. Though Jaina wanted to watch out for her younger brother, who was watching out for her? It was as if she stopped caring about what would happen to herself.
Zekk shuddered as a Force vision momentarily flashed through his mind. That was it. Jaina was slowly turning herself into a weapon. If Anakin was to be the Jedi Order's heart, than Jaina was turning into its sword. Hardening, sharpening herself to protect those she cared for. But weapons were not indestructible, and Zekk swore to himself to be there for her when the time came. When the Sword of the Jedi finally broke.
A/N: Welcome to the beginning of a very long ride. This AU story will follow aspects of the EU canon from the New Jedi Order series with many plot twists and tweaks to the story arcs. A sequel is in the works as well, covering post-NJO era, to be posted in the far future.
7/7/12: Edited for minor grammar, spelling and wording errors. As of this edit, I am currently half way through my version of Final Prophecy.