Disclaimer: It's George's sandbox; I'm simply destroying the sandcastles - but the OCs mentioned within [Tana, Jarid, Layne, Gidden, Kalen, Allana, Kym, Sayl, Scruffy, Jana, etc] are mine.
Genre: Angst, Romance, Family - a little of everything
Characters: Gidden, Layne, Tana, J/TK, Jarid, Kalen, Allana, Kym and Sayl (OCs)
Summary: Gidden returns home to Hapes and his family after a five year absence to find things have changed in a way he'd not anticipated - especially with his favorite "sister" Tana.
Note: Sequel piece to Djo-Solo Family Values and Companion piece to "Layne's Diary"
"Surely a strong, handsome, intelligent man such as yourself can appreciate the value I bring to such a union. I would be an asset to the monarchy, your highness."
Gidden ignored the woman who was so distastefully flaunting and throwing herself at him, trying to get his attention, as he passed through the streets towards the Fountain Palace. He'd landed with the rest of the people on his transport in the public docking bay and now wished he'd had the presence of mind to bring his ship. Even if I had, he thought sourly, I wouldn't have been able to; his mission hadn't allowed for that kind of luxury.
His gait was even, almost rolling, as his slightly uneven legs covered the ground in large strides. He wanted a shower, a shave, a haircut and two days worth of sleep before he even considered informing his parents that Layne would take over as Chume'Da. He'd sent her a message, over a year ago, asking if she'd be willing. Not only was she willing, said her response, but excited to step into the role. A role Gidden had never felt comfortable playing and one he would be relieved to shed.
But, until his parents were informed, these wretched, grasping women would continue to throw themselves at him. Not that he hadn't had his share of female companionship over the years since his absence from the Palace, or used his position to obtain one; he simply wasn't interested in settling down yet. And so, determined, he ignored them. His Jedi robes, thankfully, kept most of them away. Even with his parent's reforms, the people of Hapes still held many suspicions of the Jedi.
Suspicions that weren't easily overcome.
His smile was wry as he picked up his pace, breaking into a jog as he rounded the last corners towards the Palace. His curly blonde hair, long locks that flowed down to his shoulders, bounced as he ran. He stopped just outside the gate and paused. His gaze took in the sweeping, majestic structure of the Palace with familiar, loving strokes.
Home. He was home.
His gaze dropped to the court yard and a smile split his face. The young child before him was the spitting image of his Grandmother Leia - except for her blonde hair. "Allana?"
The cherub face adopted a wide grin and she pushed to her feet, darting towards the gate. He stepped into the yard without giving the guard a second thought and dropped to his knees as Allana propelled herself into his arms. "Gidden! You're home, you're home!"
He laughed at her exuberant display. "I missed you too, kiddo. How come you're playing in the front court yard?"
Allana pulled back, making a face. "Tana doesn't let me play in her garden anymore. She said Kalen and me only know how to destroy her flowers."
"Her garden?" Gidden echoed the words incredulously. "Since when is the garden hers?"
Allana's tone dropped and her voice settled into a conspiratorial whisper. "After she came home and got thrown out of the Jedi school!"
Gidden froze, as if he'd been slapped. Tana? His sweet Tana had been thrown out of the Jedi Academy; the place of tolerance, understanding and knowledge. Was it possible? He pushed the thought away, burying it deep, and made a mental note to speak with Tana when he got the chance. Her side of the story would be interesting indeed.
He tweaked one of Allana's braids. "So when do you and Kalen get shipped off to take Jedi school?"
"I don't wanna be a Jedi." She placed her hands on her hips and struck a pose. "I wanna be an acter... actral..." she fumbled over the word, her nose wrinkling in concentration before she gave up and simply beamed proudly. "A holo star."
Gidden chuckled softly. "And you'll be a good one, I bet." He swung her into his arms and up, so she was sitting on his shoulders, giggling madly. "Shall we go see who else is around?"
Allana didn't have time to do much else than voice an excited shriek as Gidden took off at a jog toward the palace. Allana dug her hands into his curly blonde mane, grasping fist-fulls tightly as she hung on. Her laughter traveled ahead of them, announcing their presence and drawing tolerant, welcoming smiles from the staff.
Gidden headed straight for the main audience chamber, knowing it was the time of day for grievances to be heard and council to be sought. Today, however, he was going to intrude; he hadn't seen some member of his family, the triplets in particular, for over five years. The doors ahead of him crashed open with a bang, loud enough to draw every disapproving eye in the place. Tenel Ka, Jacen and a young woman who had to be Layne - the spitting image of her mother - arranged on the dais at the front of the room, looked up as one at the rude interruption.
And stared in surprise.
Layne recovered first, a smile lighting her face as she rose from her chair to greet Gidden with a perfect curtsey. "Brother. Welcome home, Chume'Da."
"Clear the court!"
"Wait." Gidden help up his hand, smiling faintly as he contradicted his father's command. He swung Allana to the ground, keeping one hand in hers. Layne had given him the perfect lead in; he wasn't about to waste it in favor of waiting a day or two. "I am Chume'Da no longer. In the traditions of the Hapan people, I ask that they look upon my sister, Layne, as the true Chume'Da; if she accepts..." He bowed to her, pleased with the smile that lit her face.
Layne curtsied. "I accept."
A surprised hush settled over the room and Tenel Ka was the one to break it. "A new Chume'Da; a new heir. You will make Hapes proud, daughter."
"Thank you, mother. I live to serve."
"Clear the court." Jacen repeated the order and slowly the room was cleared.
Allana tugged her hand free of Gidden's and darted off to find whatever entertainment she could elsewhere, bored of the officious proceedings that so absorbed her elder siblings. Layne descended the dais, her movements graceful, and Gidden watched her proudly. He crossed the room to meet her half way and swept her into a hug.
Layne returned it. "Gidden, it is good to see you."
"And you, Layne." He let her go, dropping a brotherly kiss on her cheek. "You're looking lovely."
"She takes after her mother." Jacen's pride was unmistakable. "Welcome home, son."
"Thanks Dad." Gidden hugged his father and then turned to Tenel Ka. "Mother. You're looking as beautiful as always. Ageless."
Tenel Ka arched an eyebrow at him. "Flattery, my son?"
He grinned. "I've learned a few things in my time away. It's good to see you, mother."
She pulled him into a tight hug. "You have been gone far too long. You have been missed."
"It's certainly good to be home." Gidden's admission was tempered with amusement. "Allana tells me Tana's claimed the inner garden?"
Layne huffed, her gray eyes sparkling with displeasure and annoyance. "Tana has been nothing but trouble since you left, Gidden."
"Layne." Tenel Ka's tone held a cautionary note.
Gidden looked from one parent to the other, concern clouding his features. "Is she in trouble?"
"Not in the way you're thinking." Jacen slung an arm around Gidden's shoulders. "But I think that's for her to tell. For now, let's get you cleaned up, shall we? A good meal, a solid night's sleep - and you look like you need that more than anything - and you'll feel a million times better."
Gidden stamped down his concern for Tana and instead focused on the things his father spoke about. Once he was rested he would find her and find out just what exactly everyone was hinting at. A surge of anticipation hit as he acknowledged that, of all his siblings and family, Tana was the one he'd missed the most.
Gidden checked his angular face once more in the mirror. His hair was still long, now tamed into a pony tail at the nape of his neck. His features were narrow, but not un-handsome. It was next to impossible for a native Hapan son to lack beauty, and he was self-aware enough to acknowledge he was a good looking man. He'd trained hard to overcome the natural flaws in his person.
His legs, once several inches mismatched, had grown into their length enough to barely matter. Both were toned, the shorter not the hindrance it had once been. His form was lithe, rather than muscular, possessing a wiry strength that was only hinted in the tone of his muscles. His face was long, but proportioned, with brown eyes that radiated laughter and sometimes matched the color of honey. His nose was straight, despite the bump indicating it had been broken sometime in the past, and centered. His facial hair was almost non-existent, more due to the color than the lack there-of. It lent his face an open and honest quality that darker characters couldn't possess.
He smiled at his reflection before turning, shrugging out of his dressing robe to hang it on a nearby peg and heading towards his bed. His parents had been happy to see him, but insisted he sleep himself out before he was obligated to tell the tales of where he'd been. Not that he minded, but before he could sleep, before he could even think of submitting to the exhaustion that plagued his mind, he yearned to see Tana. Worry had crept in as everyone was spoken about on the way to his room - except her. Almost as if they were deliberately avoiding the subject. His father's unenthusiastic, "Tana's doing fine." hadn't reassured him one bit.
He settled on his bunk, running one hand through his hair as his gaze went to the window. The problem was that no one knew where she was. Not his parents, not Kalen, or Allana and none of the guards had seen her. Despite her antics and being thrown out of the academy, she was adept at hiding from her family.
From everyone but him. And while he wanted to see her; almost needed to see her, he knew doing so half-asleep and without his full wits about him might prove disastrous. Especially since he'd been given the impression she wanted nothing to do with him. His eyes closed-
-and popped open just as quickly, propelling himself off the bed with frustration.
He collected his shirt from the floor and shrugged into it. He didn't bother lacing it up, leaving it loose about the collar, as he slipped his feet into his well-worn sandals. He paused only to sit on the bed to ensure they were fastened tightly before silently exiting his room. His parents couldn't tell him, wouldn't tell him, how Tana was doing and now his mind was conjuring images of things that he had trouble believing she'd do. Even Allana, for as talkative as she was, knew only so much. He cast a look left and then right before picking his path. No one would be able to tell him how she was doing; we would just have to find out for himself.
His steps were silent, he headed for the heart of the Palace and the garden it protected. The evening sounds of the Palace, familiar yet alien after such a long absence, filtered around him. The sound of children laughing, somewhere in the distance, the changing of the guard as the sun set, the echo of battle as he passed the hallways where the bodyguards of the royal family lived and trained. All of it familiar, but somehow, alien.
He carried on, passing more corridors before finally coming to the center. He paused outside the main door leading into the garden, apprehension suddenly making his gut tighten. Would she be glad to have him home again, or upset that it was only temporary like the last time? He took a deep breath and pushed the door open.
The setting sun illuminated the changes in the garden; it was no longer green.
At least, he couldn't see much green. There were brilliant hues of purples, pinks, oranges and vibrant yellows all soaking up the last remaining rays and reflecting the light back towards the walls. The symphony of color was almost blinding, but somehow soothing, all at the same time. He took a moment to focus his vision, amazed at the change; the growth in the shielded garden.
There was no wind in the garden, no breeze to carry his voice. Tana didn't appear and so he tried again, louder, using the Force to propel his voice through the twists and turns of this inner sanctuary. "Tana?"
The trees on the east side of the garden rustled for a moment before falling silent, as if recognizing the name of their mistress. Gidden felt a sense of unease slither up his spine as he stepped hesitantly in the direction of that movement. He suddenly wished he'd brought his lightsaber. The trees were slow to distinguish themselves, as if masked by some unseen Force, and only when he approached to within ten feet of them did the entrance and pathway between them become visible.
The hair on the back of his neck rose. "Tana? It's Gidden, can you hear me? Are you there?"
There was no response, not even a rustle of branches this time. He ducked into the opening between the trees, careful of his head. The inside was deliberately shaped, twisted and moved to give the illusion of comfort. He whistled softly, wondering how long it had taken her to "convince" the Trees to grow in certain ways. He ran gentle fingertips over the smooth surface to his left, at waist height, four tree stumps positioned around it. Perfection.
"You're not wanted here."
He whirled, reaching for his lightsaber and belatedly realizing he'd left it in his room as he came face to face with... nothing. There was no one behind him, no one stalking him. He was looking at a tree trunk. His face reddened. "Tana, it's Gidden; I'd like to talk to you."
"You're not wanted here."
His hands curled into fists as he refused to be baited a second time. "I've been worried about you; you've always been my favorite sister."
"You're no brother of mine."
The words were laced with pain, but held more substance than the spine chilling whisper that had told him to be gone. He turned, slowly, giving her the chance to hide if she so chose and he had little doubt she could. She'd created a sanctuary in the middle of the Palace that suited her tastes; apparently his sister had become something of a hermit.
He finally spied her, sitting in the tree boughs not three feet from him and back to his right. She was dressed in a pair of dark brown leggings and a long shirt, belted around her waist that hung to her knees. Both colors were drab, fitting in well with the shadows of the garden at dusk. It was her face that drew the most attention. Her eyes reflected the barest of light and were the same shades as the shadows while her hair matched the trunks in her garden.
Where Layne had been the spitting, beautiful image of their mother, Tana's features had refined, but had not gained beauty in the classic sense. Her hair was cut short, shaggy, and hung around her face, as if to hide it. Her face was too narrow to be cherubic, and too long to be considered elegant. She wore no makeup, no artificial assistants. She was simply Tana. Plain-Jane Tana. He met her gaze, wondering why she seemed angry with him.
"Not your brother? Did I do something wrong?"
She stretched her legs over the edge of the branch on which she was sitting, letting them dangle. "You came home." She dropped nimbly to the ground, crouching to absorb her weight before gaining her full height. And height she had. Where Layne was more the size of their Grandmother Leia, Tana had the height of the Dathomirian clans. She was almost at eyes level with him when she stood straight and he was no short man.
He stared at her in shock, unable to believe that this hurt and angry young woman was the same sweet sister he'd left behind. "Tana?"
She paused and he saw a shudder run through her frame, though he didn't have a clue as to why. What had come over her? He tried again when she didn't answer, heartened by the pause in her step. "Tana, are you alright?"
She laughed once, a harsh, grating sound that held no mirth. "Alright?" She turned to face him. "Alright? Am I alright? No, Gidden, I'm not alright." She side stepped him as he moved towards her, swinging back into the boughs of the trees. "I haven't been alright in a long, long time."
And then she was gone, disappearing into the trees as effectively as the shadow guards disappeared into shadows. Gidden stretched out with the Force, searching for her, and found nothing.
Gidden woke in a cold sweat, his dream receding slowly back into the depths of his consciousness. The last thing he remembered before hitting the pillow was the impression that Tana didn't want to see him. He rubbed his temples, wondering what the Force was trying to tell him with that kind of dream – or if it had just been a manifestation of what he was dreading to find when he finally did locate Tana. He hoped the later, for Tana couldn't possibly have turned into something and someone so jaded in the short years he'd been gone.
He threw off his covers, his bare feet hitting the ground soundlessly, and moved to the window overlooking the inner garden. He braced one arm on the wall, looking out over the green sea he remembered so vividly from his youth. He sighed, using his free hand to rub his face again, watching as the moonlight played over the trees, casting long shadows across the ground.
He was worried about Tana.
Was there any truth to Allana's comments? Had she really been expelled from the Jedi Academy? He hoped not, but if she was here and Jarid still taking his studies, it was the grimmer of the possibilities. If she had been, why? And what had she been doing with her time, beyond the garden, since? He didn't know. A pang of regret clutched his heart. He'd managed to keep up with Layne, Jarid and his parents, even Allana and Kalen sent the occasional message, but his letters to Tana never received an answer and so he knew pitifully little about what and who she'd become.
Was she still the soft, sweet urchin he remembered in his dreams? In his normal dreams? He doubted it, and smiled wryly at himself for thinking it. Tana would be the same age as Layne; seventeen. If Layne was any indication, Palace life agreed with those that lived it. But Tana had never been princess material. She'd never had the attention to listen to the lessons and learn as Layne had. She'd been more interested, far more curious about everything else. What had Grandpa Han called her? A tinkerer?
He sighed, shaking his head. He knew precious little about the young woman Tana would have become, so little he couldn't even venture a guess. He'd spent hours between missions, during transit while responding to his family's correspondence, wondering what he'd done wrong. What had happened between him and Tana to create the rift he hadn't been able to breech from a distance? Was she still hurt he'd chosen to leave on that last, long assignment despite her pleas? It had taken every piece of strength to remain firm in the face of her tears and he'd regretted having left that way ever since.
A figure suddenly darted through the shadows below, catching his eye, pausing every once in a while to look back towards the windows. As if looking for predators or not wanting to be seen. Gidden tucked himself in closer to the side of the window, watching with curiosity as the figure moved from plant to plant. It stopped periodically, doing something he couldn't make out. After several long, tense minutes, the figure slowly withdrew.
An intruder? In the Palace? Unlikely. But who in the Palace would skulk around in the middle of the night like a thief?
He checked the shadows through the garden carefully, but saw no further sign of the cloaked figure. He stepped onto the balcony, searching with both the Force and sight, and caught a glimmer of someone attempting to mask themselves. Someone not doing a very good job of it. The night was warm and he didn't think twice about dropping over the rail in nothing more than his sleeping shorts, rolling as he hit the ground to absorb the impact.
He came to his feet silently, remaining in a crouch, and cast his senses outward. The garden was full of life, but not human life, and slowly, one by one, he filtered out the creatures. Patience, he told himself silently. Good things come to those who wait. Slowly the presence of the garden faded, those lives that were not human moved from his thoughts. And then, the muted presence of the half-concealed individual made itself known.
He focused on it, trying to move beyond that barrier, to see who it was behind the masking. And stopped. Could this inept individual be Tana? If it was, she would never forgive him for not finding her face to face before searching her Force patterns. He grimaced, pulling away mentally, but keeping the contact open so that he might be led to it. Even if the individual wasn't Tana, he didn't want to scare them. He approached cautiously, aware that the cloaked figure could be an intruder of some kind, despite the unlikely event. He rounded one corner carefully, peeking quickly to ensure he wasn't seen, and then froze.
There, in front of him, was the cloak. Discarded haphazardly on the ground, it had a jagged rip through one side. He knelt beside it, looking about carefully before examining the damage. It appeared to have been torn, recently, as if the person wearing it had been in some kind of struggle. He left the cloak where it lay, continuing on, feeling the presence of the person he hunted becoming closer, more tangible as he closed the distance.
A dull thud and a whimper somewhere ahead of him brought him to full speed, no longer caring for secrecy. Urgency pushed him; he'd felt a momentary spike of fear and then nothing. He crossed into the east side of the garden, passing foliage strange scents he couldn't place and didn't have time to try. He vaulted over one particularly high hedge and came down in a crouch.
Right in the middle of five men and the smaller form of a woman silhouetted in the moonlight, pinned against the ground. The men were dressed roughly, the muted earth tones of their clothing camouflaging them well. They smelled of Earth, sweat and anticipation. One of the men held the woman's hands together over her head, two others her legs and the last two were bickering in low voiced about what to do with her.
Gidden could hear the crude suggestions they were making easily as he stood straight. "You should let her go."
"Hey! Who's that?"
Gidden didn't budge from where he stood in the shadows, careful to keep all five of them in view, and didn't answer. He wasn't about to give these men the pleasure of knowing that their former Chume'Da, and a Prince of Hapes, was being so reckless. Instead he reached out to the Force and added suggestion to his words. He'd never been able to do much with telekinetic powers; but his ability to influence people, even reluctant people, had been highly developed and practiced. He brought all of his experience to bear, reaching out to three of the individuals, implanting the suggestion, making it seem like their own. "You should let her go."
"We should let her go."
"What'd we capture her for anyway, we should really let her go."
The one holding her arms began to do just that, Gidden's influence bearing down hard on his fragile mind.
"You idiots, he's a Jedi!" The obvious leader clapped the man holding the woman's hands to the ground on the back of the head. "Don't let him mind control you; think for yourselves!"
Gidden focused on the leader. The man was spiteful; this woman had done something to hurt him and he didn't want to, wouldn't, listen to the suggestion to let her go. Instead he tried another tactic. "The guards are coming."
"The guard! You said they couldn't bring them down on us!"
"He'll bring the guard down on us for sure!"
"Run you fools!" The leader hissed the command.
"What a'bout the woman?"
"Leave her." Gidden's command was soft. "Or we will pursue."
They did just that, not realizing that the Jedi they so feared held no weapon and was dressed in little more than sleep shorts. The sound of running feet was clearly audible, and Gidden marked each of the men mentally. He would know who they were if he encountered them again, light or no light. He went to the woman's side, crouching low, and brushed her hair from her face.
It remained in shadow, but from what he could see she wasn't pretty. Her nose was snubbed, her lips thin and her face plain - for the classic sense - but a stirring of memory had him frowning. He'd seen her before; where? He carefully checked her for injuries and she stirred at his touch, her head turning into his hand trustingly as she whispered his name. His gut clenched as he lifted her in his arms, careful of her head, for he could see a bruise forming on her temple. She knew him, knew his touch, but he didn't recognize her.
He moved into the nearest moonbeam and tilted her face.
He just about dropped her as recognition struck full force. "Tana." He whispered her name, urgently, crouching as he cradled her in his arms, gently stroking her hair. "Tana, my sweet, sweet Tana. What have they done to you?"
Her head shifted, but her eyes still didn't open, and Gidden took a minute to pull himself together. He could feel himself beginning to shake as he realized what he'd stepped in to stop. What would have happened if he hadn't been there. But why? Why had they attacked her and who were they? He took a deep breath. Whoever they were, he'd recognize them if he saw them again, for now he had get her out of there.
He focused, pulling the Force about him like a cloak, and stood once more, heading for his room, his little sister cradled in his arms.