Title: Zounds! Entasis!

Author: pronker

Rating: M

Era: Leia is sixteen.

Disclaimer: George Lucas owns Star Wars and all its characters and settings; I am playing with them by writing fanfiction for no profit whatsoever, but a lot of fun. I am not Lucas.

Summary: A Princess has many friends.

A/N This is an intertrilogy series in its second and final part, following "Male Gaze", "Aphrodisiac", "Getting To Entasis", "Novel Entasis", "Upright Entasis" and "Xenogamy Entasis." The first part consisted of "Song of Myself" and "Spring Fever." Each part is standalone; any plot point question cheerfully answered. Events in this finale reflect the YA series "Rebel Force" by Alex Wheeler, a six book series that Wookieepedia has not yet interpolated into the Leia Organa Solo entry as of August 2012. To summarize, Ferus Olin joined the Rebellion; readers of Jude Watson's Jedi Quest series and The Last of the Jedi series will recognize characters that Wheeler borrowed for her series. Writing for a franchise must be fun like that.

IOIOIOIOIO

"Bail, the Park is off to a good start." Ferus felt uncommonly cheerful this morning. Luncheon would soon be served.

"Yes, it was a spectacular beginning, wasn't it? The light display, the gathering of bards and artists, the silencing of all music as we simply listened to the wind in the zaela trees ... I approve."

Zaela trees, um ... "Everything is online. It is a fine tribute to Her Highness."

Bail kept his eyes on Poonelo, who ran for no apparent reason from the comm station to the tea cart to behind the nearest pillar in the broad reception room. Poonelo's tail twitched in full view of the two men as he waited to ambush the next interesting thing to pass by. "You and she have a better rapport."

"Leia has matured. I don't know what else to say."

Poonelo pounced on Bail's robe of state. Ferus picked up the pittin, plucking at the hair it left behind on Bail's elegant attire.

"Never mind, Ferus." Bail slapped the end of a finger on the pittin's nose, Poonelo hissed at him, and the two men looked at each other. "Why would she give it a canoid's name?"

Ferus shrugged by way of answer. Leia's pittin was a handful. He gave it a final pat that was almost a swat as he replaced it gently on the floor. Poonelo snarled in his direction and ran off towards the kitchen.

"I like you, Breha liked you." Bail ran his thumb around his wedding band. Now Ferus saw how thin the band had worn, and realized that Bail would wear it until his death, touching it to attain calm, for remembrance that His Serene Highness, Prince Bail Organa, First Chairman and Viceroy of Alderaan, was more than his title, had been a beloved husband, and that a great deal of his serenity had fled forever when his wife died.

"It's appreciated. I like you, too." Basic sentiment, something that Fess glossed over but that Ferus knew how to communicate well, with Jedi honesty. Bail swept him into an embrace while Ferus clapped his back, and then Ferus got a great surprise.

"Leia has been good for you."

Ferus backed out of the embrace, eyes wide. "Bail - "

"She has. And I am pleased for you and for her." Bail clasped his hands behind his back, turning to the vista. "She has spread herself thin with her work and ambitions. She needs to play more. And to learn how to be alone. That, my friend, is something that Madame Vesta does not instruct her girls in, but I think a Jedi might."

"She, she will be safe with me. I will protect her always." What would the Negotiator say? "I would die for the Princess." No, stupid, he would not say that! Obi-Wan never had to deal with this, Ferus was certain. Never having royalty as a lover, it was unthinkable that Obi-Wan had such a conversation in his entire life.

Bail turned back to Ferus, eyes piercing. "Such drama, Ferus! Let's hope this situation shall never happen, yet I thank you for considering it." As Bail always did when the conversation turned serious, Ferus saw that Bail thought of his wife. It was as if she were standing beside him. "I don't know how Breha would have taken this situation. Women are different."

"They plan more, I think?"

"They have to. Circumstances can sweep them away into lives they never thought they would get into. It is more difficult than we and they think to change them." The dinner chime sounded loud in the antechamber. "Ah, let's see what awaits us. I told Chef to surprise the family, and you, my friend, are family when you are here."

Ferus kept pace with Bail as they strolled to the dining pavilion, set for four on the balcony, pennants streaming from the highest rooftop of the palace. When bubblezap and nerf burgers appeared before him on plasticine plates, it was another surprise. That Poonelo was on hand to steal scraps was no surprise.

IOIOIOIOIO

At the interlude that was to be their last, Ferus bent under Leia's dominance as a seed-heavy field of lumigrass bowed under a thundersprite's relentless downpour. With his newfound strength in the Force, he played with her underneath the sheets in her sleeping chamber, suggesting this and that in an offhand manner and servile tones, as if just now thinking it. He Sensed her blush as if it were his own when he locked the door and lowered the lights to quarter power. She whispered that he should wait to touch her; he was amused to obey his Princess. He followed her directions, keeping Fess' expression interested in the extreme, but grinning inside at her unwitting portrayal of a more sophisticated bedroom scenario. He knew himself indulgent and patronizing and if she felt it, she didn't let on. She was to the manor born, a turn on he didn't know that he had until now. "I live to grovel," he said to himself, tracing her waist from the tantalizing scoop of her navel to the small of her back when she gave permission. She twisted away from the tickle, breaking the mood with a giggle. He laughed with her. "But I love it," he said aloud.

"You may put your thing in me now," Leia whispered finally.

Ferus did. "Calyx. Anther. Sideroxylon." He groaned. "Propagule."

Leia's eyes rolled up. "Sepals."

Afterwards, they discarded all roles, breathing in and out and nothing more. Some minutes later, Ferus directed their conversation as they lay braided together. "So this is good, and knowing how to be alone is good, too."

"Neena says that as well. I miss her."

"She is following her dream in studying music offplanet as you will follow your dream." Able to move again, Ferus carded his fingers through her sable fall of hair, imagining placing a t'iil blossom in it. "Silya would advise the same."

Leia pulled the sheet up to her neck. "Sometimes I don't like doing this. It's like you can see right through me." She was not yet at ease with pillow talk, Ferus surmised.

"That's what I meant. Being alone " - Ferus thought back to a Jedi conundrum in a Temple classroom, decades earlier - " is how we are born and how we die. One of life's ironies is that we sentients are together in our aloneness." Ferus dreamt of Siri last night, and of the ritual of First Braiding. Her voice trembled in his dream as it had not in reality, when he had been an impossibly young eleven Standard, feeling his new Master's hands shaping his braid, tying off his Knight's tail and chucking him under the chin afterwards. It was a ritual lost to the mists of time and he would have to make his own ritual.

"Leia," he said, "hold still." He wrapped her hair around one fist and pulled her closer. She offered her cheek for a chaste kiss, but afterwards she drew back, all imperious majesty and he bowed his head, acknowledging the differences in their stations in life. Their bond had no name, nor needed one, and the Force whispered that he had done a good deed. He disentangled his hand and they rose as one.

"What are you looking for?"

"The tie to my robes, have you seen it?"

"Here. Poonelo had it."

Ferus took the soggy, shredded tie in two fingers. "Thanks. Here's your hair ribbon." We've crossed a line. We're domestic. Ferus turned his back to dress and so did Leia. Some avians twittered cheerily outside the window, swooping down to snatch insects mid-air, coating the morning with birdsong. It reminded Ferus that Alderaan was the opposite of Tatooine, in that Alderaan's temperate clime was the opposite of Obi-Wan's realm of stark heat, bitter night chills filled with roaming nomads who were predators of the unwary, sentient or not. "Obi-Wan, I am enjoying my life to a fuller extent," he addressed the Jedi Master who was stroking his beard before his mind's eye, "according to your counsel."

"I'll see you tonight, Leia?" he found himself asking.

Leia looked uncommonly thoughtful, when she usually looked relaxed or even somnolent after they had played together. "You will."

IOIOIOIOIO

"My Dear Fess," tapped Leia, "I have something important to tell you. Please meet me at the twenty-third gate to the palace at tenth hour." Girn's farewell a blip on her mental scanner screen archive from a week ago, she hit 'send' and returned to updating her journal with what she wanted to record of the good Senator's final words.

I said 'thank you for your instruction, Senator' and Girn said that I was 'vibrant' and 'radiant' and that I would have a career and a family. I don't know why he said this last part because I never mentioned anything of the sort. Did he see Father with my aunts and gather that I come from a close-knit group of Royals? Did he notice Father's wedding band and surmise that I will marry, too? I don't want to marry anyone right now, much less start a family. I remembered the last time we were together on top of the gaming table and when I couldn't stop myself from feeling the plush material of his shirt, he pulled my hand away and pointed it upward. 'Remember the plaster rosette?' he asked. Well, of course I did! Then he let go of me and was quiet. I did not know what he was getting at and told him so. He said that, quote, you are beautiful like the rosette, and as hard, but that is all right with me. I shall follow your career with great interest. When my bill passes, come around to the Montferd Casino. I'll give you four thousand decicreds to gamble with, unquote. I said maybe I would. He said that I wore stylish clothes as if I had inherited the grace to display them and if I got tired of the Senate and wanted to `START AN ESCORT SERVICE'! for his casinos that he would stake me in the venture. I never noticed before, but he has an enlarged pore at the tip of his nose. I stepped back to get out of his reach and said goodbye. He said goodbye at the exact same time and it was sort of funny so I started to laugh but he did not laugh so I didn't either and I left on the first transport home. I'll keep him on my padd but not on speedcomm. I think he just likes pretty things, and YOUNG things. Maybe he thinks youth is catching? Now with him and Fess being older than I am, that makes me think that next time I'll go for the same age as me, or younger. Or maybe something different. I am still confused and need to think, Journal, so this is goodbye for now.

Leia saved her entry, masking it from her friends. Now it was time to accomplish the same leavetaking with Fess, and then she could concentrate on her career. Personal development could wait. When Fess met her in two hours, the rendezvous was not going to take place like when they met four days ago by the thirty-seventh gate at ninth hour. That night, the words of parting were on her lips, but then he showed up with candy. We played around with it and the next thing I knew, I was like a droid, not particularly wanting sex but moving this way, gesturing that way and then we were rolling together like tumblebunnies here on this bed. I wish I were a Praci. Praci did not have these slightly ridiculous experiences in their lives. Praci budded into more smiling Praci and were among the nicest beings anyone could ever hope to meet. Adrift in a reverie, Leia plucked Poonelo from his nap and pressed the creature to her cheek. The interlude before last with Fess had not gone to her wishes, either. There had been a niggling sense of belonging to him, tied to him in an obscure manner. Well, those feelings would fade with time. It had taken over four hours with Girn, and surely with Fess, the duration would be shorter? She knew him well enough to trust his conduct in a breakup.

She put Poonelo down and nibbled on a thumbnail. It would happen, and by this time tomorrow, she would be free to regroup. She would gather strength right now and in two hours, she would break up with Fess and be ready for real love, years down the road. That would happen, too. It would be easy.

Leia hummed and then broke into song. "Just slip out the back, Zakk, make a new plan, Yan - " Poonelo made his rumbling sound again, batting at her padd. "Not now."

"Mrrrrr."

"I said no."

"Mrrrrrrrrrr."

"Oh, all right."

Leia juggled her padd and her pittin. Fess wouldn't be hurt, would he? They didn't need to discuss much, and if he wanted her to sleep on things before deciding, she would say no. I've had enough practice. I know I don't like being on top, because from the bottom I can concentrate on his moves and not on mine since I already know about mine. I do like to talk during sex, and I like to cuddle afterwards. Girn and Fess were both good at that. She scrolled down to Galaxapolitan.

217 Ways To -

The annunciator panel buzzed. Leia looked up. The saffron light strobed, so it was no emergency, only caution. "Leia, it's me. I was in the conference suite talking to your father and got your comm. My commlink is keyed to a special vibration for your comms. Is anything the matter?"

Fess' concern leaked through the door, as welcome as a mynock in the punchbowl at a debutante's ball. "This is unexpected," Leia said to the grille as she fastened her coldsuit to the highest point of its collar. She put Poonelo on the floor and the padd on her nightstand before letting Fess in.

Poonelo jumped back up immediately.

Fess made for the bed and sat down. Poonelo rowred at him, flexing his claws. Leia made herself sit calmly. "A special vibration? Yes, that is like you." This would not be easy now. She shifted away from him, using Poonelo as a fluffy buffer. "You are early."

"Yes."

Uh-oh. He had a 'ready-to-defend-you' look about him, as impenetrable as a bauta mask for Carnevale. It disappeared as if through a gigantic effort of will and he grinned widely. "That's a good quality, right?"

"Mmmmm." I'm offbalance, and you have ruined my plans.

He looked her up and down. "Going out?"

"I was ready to."

"Well, that suit will keep you warm. It is chilly." He wanted her to keep warm, as if she were two Standard.

"Yes."

It seemed to sink in that he had done something wrong. "Leia, if you need to be alone for some reason, I can leave. I do understand needing solitude. There is no substitute for it."

He was going to be nice, and she wasn't. She took a deep breath. "Fess, you have been good to me. You are a nice man." First step. Check. "I needed tutoring and you were there for me." Now she wanted to cup his cheek. Wrong! "My career is starting well and I owe you a great deal."

"But."

"But you were right, I do want solitude. I want to think, and learn more about politics and less about what you and I have been doing."

"I said that I would leave." She had neglected to shutter her window and now she could discern a flurry of snowflakes through the night sky. Was that why she felt so cold?

"Not just for tonight. Please understand. I want us to remain cordial through this, even if - "

"It's over."

"Yes."

She had never seen this expression on his face before. "Are you going back to Toric?"

"What? No. I'm through with him." She scrubbed at her forehead, where an errant tendril had escaped a braid. It brushed against her skin each time she moved. She would have corrected the dishevelment if he had waited two hours. But no, he felt enough at ease with her to invite himself over and not wait until she had summoned his presence as she had prepared for. She would not get rankled over this, she would not. The unexpected could and would be dealt with. She had been an intern, was going to be an aide, and then a Senator.

"Good. He was unworthy of you." Fess added in a nastier tone, "And he has horrible taste in clothing and jewelry."

Keep your private things private. Leia shrugged. "I never said he didn't, but he didn't need to have my and your taste when I first left home. I've learned that a handsome face counts for something, and that attractiveness is the sum total of inside and outside qualities and I feel stupid saying these things to you about looks when what really counts is how someone makes me feel, and you and he made me feel like an adult. So thanks."

"All right, so he wasn't totally useless. And I suppose he piloted you all right to Coruscant and introduced you all around. You were curious and you took what was offered to you, all well and good, but Leia, now you're back home for good after three months. How does that feel?"

Here it comes. "Busy. I'm preparing to run for Senator when I am eighteen, because Father says that thirty years of service is enough and he will step down then. Father wants me to attend the University this next session, Winter will attend with me, and my weapons training with Giles will take up more of my time. There won't be the leisure to visit Princess Park, or to have visitors here. Fess, I'm not seeing anyone, not Raal and not you." She touched his hand as it reached to smooth her hair.

There was a shock from static electricity.

"Eek!"

"Oh!"

"Mrrrrooowwwwrr!"

Fess gave a nervous giggle. "Have you been petting your pittin a lot?"

Leia couldn't help giggling herself. "He's such a needy creature! I like him and he likes me, but he is difficult to handle. Sometimes it takes Father to put him in his place." This was more like it, the Fess who she had known all her life. She could trust him to keep a secret, too. She ducked her head. "My aunts and even Father think I should be presented at Imperial Court to start the search for a groom for me when I accompany him back to the Senate next week." At his look, she added, "Don't worry! I'm not marrying anyone for a long, long time. I'm simply agreeing because it's good politics." She snorted. "It's not like anything will happen this decade."

Some moments passed before he spoke. "You're right. You're much too busy to continue seeing me. I'll go now."

Poonelo scrabbled at the end of the tie to Fess' robes. He jerked it away from the hooked claws, they stuck into the material, and Poonelo went flying upwards. His hind claws churned for purchase, scoring the back of Leia's hand as she reached for her pet. The claws ripped into Fess' forefinger, too.

"Poonelo!" Leia made a grab for him as did Fess, and their heads knocked. Leia laughed as she squatted to pick up her pittin but when she rose to her feet, she took a step back from the ire which she saw on Fess' face. No, this would not go well at all.

IOIOIOIOIO

"I don't know who I am anymore," thought Ferus as he glowered at his Princess. "Am I Ferus, Jedi, or Fess, slacker?" He saw Leia back away from him and supposed he looked like a stern Jedi Master, her Master. You've turned into the prettiest girl I've ever seen. Even Master Yoda would say so. Obi-Wan had not ever said if Yoda lived, and even now, with his enhanced Force connection, Ferus was unsure if a Force-rending death such as Yoda's would register in his meditations. Ferus yearned for Yoda's advice even more than Obi-Wan's, because he was certain that asking about revealing secrets would remind Obi-Wan of Anakin's secrets, making him relive those painful revelations.

Ferus and Roan had avoided keeping secrets, beginning after Roan's knowledge of Ferus' former Jedi status.

Roan had been open, and clean.

"Maybe Anakin's secrets became that thing that he and his Master never talked about, like my guardianship of Leia. Maybe I should tell her right now," Ferus mused, staring at Leia with rapt fascination, seeing her revealed as the sexual being that she truly was. Sixteens are very sharp and smart and hard, like adega shards that have not yet been shaped into functioning lightsaber crystals. I must handle her with care.

Ferus brushed his hand over his stomach. Leia had bitten him six days ago when he had tutored her in a basic lovemaking skill, not intentionally, he was certain, but he had not self-healed the dusky mark. He saw the omission now as a sigil of hubris. Was arrogance in being her lover overcoming his Jedi self-effacement? He gathered any pride he had in knowing her so intimately and threw it into the Force, unsure whether the Force would accept it. But he had to release it. "I have become a Master," he thought. "I must let her go to truly claim the title."

The pride was gone. Now all that was left was anger.

Then Leia was looking up at him, her small stature making her seem even younger than she was. She sounded uncertain as she stroked Poonelo. "Professor Horada thinks that I am ready for more challenges. Don't you think so?"

Horada was fine. Ferus approved of the galactic history curriculum that Leia had absorbed under the man's tutelage, and it was not as if Padawans never received instruction from Masters other than their own.

Ferus had to come up with something to say and blurted, "You know that the Jedi did not kill each other in power struggles when the Empire began. You know they weren't criminals, either, so good for Horada." He felt pity for Leia, as parentless, in a way, as he was. He had tried to be what the Force showed him that Leia needed, as exemplary in his role as Bail and Breha in their roles as adoptive parents. The vision of months ago tickled his mind. This relationship with her was what the Force had pointed him to, no matter how it began. I don't know what to call it, but our connection is unbreakable. "I was not her first," Ferus thought as Leia continued to look concerned at his silence, "and I will not be her last, but I will always want the best for her."

It was like what Roan had said long ago. "First time? Not as important as the second, third, or fourth time." Arm curled around Ferus' pillow, he'd pointed lazily to his cousin's holo on their mantel, filled with what could have been a Galactic Enquirer's holopic of a large, happy family, each smiling child a head taller than the next. "Or the thirtieth. Anyone can experiment, my Jedi friend. It's steadiness of purpose that makes a life."

Leia's adamant tones broke into his reverie as he stared at her framed Alderaani Certificate of Adulthood. "Fess, I want to be alone. I need to study."

She was ending the interview. You've studied me and used me. Now you want to put me back on the shelf. "Not before I tell you something." He tamped down the feeling that this situation was getting out of control.

There it was, the haughty look that was not as attractive as it used to be. "You were my tutor. You know the advantage of keeping regular study hours. This is my time to study."

"I came too early tonight. I realize that now. You have been planning this speech for some time, right? And I upset your schedule."

Leia stroked Poonelo more and more roughly until the little animal leaped away. "Fess, I - well, so what? Father came up with these plans for me, I agreed, Winter agreed to go to school with me, for kriff's sake. What is wrong with those plans?" She must have been getting hot and flustered, because she undid her coldsuit's slide fastener to below the gap between her breasts.

"Stop that." Ferus' finger stung from the scratches and he used the Force to ease the pain.

"Stop what?"

"Stop treating me like I'm not here, like I'm not a man." He gestured at her exposure, but she left the garment as it was after a defiant look, even though now he could see the gooseflesh rising over her collarbone.

She put her hands on her hips. "This can't continue. We can't continue, because I, I, just don't want to." Leia looked every centimeter the protegee of Madame Vesta. Her nostrils flared. "I gave you the treasure of my regard and this is how you treat me when I choose to move on?"

"Move on? You mean move away. From me." All right, that was unfair and petulant and some other qualities that did not bear close examination. He was unable to stop the flow of words. It was most un-Masterly. "I take it back. You are ready to move on. And so am I." Except for his mission. Damn, it was going to be next to impossible to safeguard her. He should have safeguarded her from himself. He could have simply said, "No, Princess, thank you for the offer of yourself, but no." Would she have approached Horada, or Durane?

IOIOIOIOIO

Leia had followed her holomags' advice. She had kept calm when she wanted to throw something. "If this is the power that we have over men, Winter, why isn't this strategy working?" she asked her oh-so-knowledgeable friend. In her mind's eye, the silent figure of Winter remained cool as a summer on Hoth. Leia yearned for her mother more than ever. "Why isn't he simply leaving, like I want him to?"

He's puffy and old, but that doesn't count for much. Leia had discovered something in the internship: in the far, far future, she had it in her to want a family that included children. She wanted to have a career, too. During the all night sessions over this bit of legislation or that, the running around that Girn had required of her, and even the lengthy evenings spent in the Vorzydiaks' company, she had uncovered new energy inside her. Girn had expected nightly favors from her, too, and they two had progressed to the point of camaraderie that allowed her to relax and say no when she was not in the mood. It did not happen often. I want it all. This is what is in me. I come on from strength.

She stared at the drying blood on the back of her hand. Her hair disarrayed, her royal blood out where everyone could see it, she felt exposed and uncomfortable in her own sleeping chamber, in her own palace. She should have gone to that little bistro with him and done this. Her mouth turned down. "This is going to take more than four hours to get over," she thought. "This is going to take four days." I don't think of romance so much anymore, only sex. Whatever else comes after that, whatever friendship or meeting of the minds, is pure beneficence. She dashed the back of her hand across the dangling strand of hair on her forehead, smearing the injured skin, making the blood flow again.

Hurting and mad, Leia picked up her padd, pretending to open a study file. To the hells with Fess! Why did he make me think about this? And now he and I share ... aaargh. I can never unfeel what he's like inside me and outside me and maybe there's no difference. I did not want to know that about myself. Fess was so kriffing good at being a mirror, making anyone he talked to believe their own words, especially politicians, who spun the truth into that which would help others. Even if it seemed that Fess had been honest with her when their intimate relationship began, she could have been mistaken. "And the more powerful the person, someone like me," she thought, "the more he would be likely to pour it on, the false confidence, the oozing empathy that was as empty as his head and maybe his heart." She put down her padd. I don't need a prop. He'll leave when I tell him to.

Poonelo ran under the bed.

IOIOIOIOIO

"I liked you better as an ideal," thought Ferus, "when Obi-Wan first assigned me your protection. When I lived alone in my lodge, pretending to study grasses, you were the Princess on the hill. Then I moved into Town and got to know you." He clenched his fists and when Leia looked too stunned to be perplexed, he said, "Sometimes, Leia, I don't like you. You are your father's daughter."

"What?"

Erm, I was thinking of Anakin and his awful fate of loving too much. "Never mind. I'm going. You made your point, Your Highness. You set forth your theme, developed it and now the debate is over." He had to say these words. The Force demanded it. Whether or not they sprang from his bruised ego did not matter. Besides, the deed was done. There was a bond between them as in his vision of months ago. They had known each other inside and out and would always remember it. She is feeling the affects of our bond's stress. She is shivering.

I am not.

He spied Poonelo's quivering tail protruding from the ruffled bedskirt. Poor creature, empathic as any pet is to its owner, Poonelo did not understand words, but he did understand riotous emotions. Ferus, you are a man accustomed to facing unpleasant truths after you have made them unpleasant. Leave, leave, leave.

IOIOIOIOIO

If Leia had felt cold inside before, now she felt absolutely frigid. She refastened her coldsuit, fingers trembling. Something inside her that had been given a life shriveled to a thin, brittle thread. I want to be alone. I want to be left alone. Leia fought the chill, feeling lonely and empowered. Girn had not given her this troubling emotion. The sense of being tied to Fess continued and she could not help comparing the two men. Girn had been good for her career, but why had she wanted to start something up with Fess? Because she was used to having sex? Because he was available? Because he was younger than Giles or Professor Horada? Because he was familiar? Oh, oh, oh. That was it. Fess was familiar since childhood and the parameters of her feelings for him so well-known that she would never scale the heights of passion with him, never fall in love with him. All that would be left afterwards were memories of how he had made her body respond. He had been a slow lover and that had been what she needed. Raal would not have taken the time with her to explain what he was doing, to coax whimpers out of her, because Raal would have been too young and hurried, as her holomags propounded. Fess had been nice, and if she and he were not having this head butting session right now, she would have told him so again. Why, why could Fess not concede that he was good, but that she was finished with him?

A thought turned her chills into a hot flush. He accomplished much as a youth, as I am doing. He became the slimy suck-up that he is now. Will I do the same? No, that was impossible. She had a stronger character than that.

IOIOIOIO

Ferus had more to say. "You need to have compassion for common people and that's what will bring your true heart to life."

He'd done it now. He could see all her manners burn to ash. "That means more than giving them charity," he added.

Leia's face held fury. "Get out."

He dug himself in deeper into the bonfire, writhing in the flames. "This is an important thing in life and I would not be your friend if I did not tell you - "

"I said shut up and get out."

As appropriate a way as any to end things. There never was a good enough reason to break up with someone, but this came close. "I'm leaving you, Princess."

He could hear her eyes roll as he walked out the door.

IOIOIOIOIO

IOIOIOIOIO

Ferus filled his days with other duties, among them his botany tutoring with Madame Vesta's fresh crop of students, the shiny girlish faces a hazy nebula after Leia's morning star. On Leia's increasingly infrequent visits home, she slid her gaze away from his; she no longer needed him for validation as an adult or for pleasure, either. She avoided being alone with him. In Winter's opaque regard there was no curiosity and when Bail asked him what was going on, he answered, "Bad breakup," and Bail returned to his work.

He filled his nights with following her via Bail's updates about her University years and then he cheered on her senatorial career, posting squibs of her holonet appearances to his padd. He scoured each clip for men who gazed at her in that certain fashion he could spot a klick away, but none appeared. What sort of life is she living? Have I spoiled her for others? I can't have been that good. Galactic Enquirer reported no late night shenanigans, and all his slicing ability turned up no wild trysts or clandestine activities. She's good and getting better at hiding her activities. I'd like to think that I had something to do with it. I simply don't want her hiding them from me.The figurative mark of the virgin on her forehead must be eliminated after two lovers, he grumped to himself, when three years passed and she did not date anyone else, either. Young men her age danced gavottes with her, chatted and went their way. Leia's ease with their wooing, as impersonal as a clinician's, made Ferus think. She warmed to no one. Will she ever have what I had with Roan? Her armor chills me.

When Bail had stepped down as Senator, it was not to the ease of retirement, but to greater effort furthering the fledgling Rebellion. Bail's time was not his own, for himself or for friendship and the scene that would remain with Ferus all his life was his last look at Bail, the man's back hunched over his desk with Poonelo perched like a gargoyle on one shoulder. Ferus had accepted Bail's mission of determining Leia's whereabouts after the destruction of the consular ship, Ferus' assurances to his friend that his daughter still lived notwithstanding.

And then Alderaan was gone, a heartstopping event as jarring to Ferus as his drop back into realspace outside Delaya. A dread riptide in the Force, the Death Star washed away multitudes and Ferus' home in the hills and most of all, his friend Bail Prestor Organa.

IOIOIOIOIO

And that was that until he saw Leia again when they met on Delaya. He'd tracked rumors of her activities, Sensed her ambivalence at starting a new relationship, tasted her tears at Alderaan's death. When he learned that she had encountered Vader, he knew she had not shed them in front of the Dark Lord.

"How are you?" Laylay.

Seeing him again disgusted her so much that it curled her lip and she could hardly reply. At that point, Ferus was glad that their bond, such as it was, lacked the clarity of a Master and Padawan bond. So much acidity would have curdled his breakfast.

As much as he considered her sensitivities, he did not need for her to reciprocate his joy at seeing her, and that was a good thing. In their encounters, she wavered between impatience, blank incomprehension and grudging acceptance of his sorceror's ways. He noticed the manner in which Solo bent to her will, when he noticed the man at all. Luke occupied his thoughts more, because the twins' synergy grew incrementally the longer that they were together until it warmed the Force around them. When Obi-Wan still forbade Ferus' own revelation to the boy as a Jedi, it nearly didn't matter anymore. The galaxy was heading to a better place.

Joining the Rebellion had been as natural as making love or dying. Meeting Lune Divinian again, or Div as he called himself, seeing the hardened man which the sweet young boy had become, brought memories back in a painful rush. Trever, Clive, Astri, Dex, Garen, Solace, Ry-Gaul and many others strode, posed, and spoke in his dreams. Ferus had not expected to have the words to talk Div into joining the Rebellion, but it had happened anyway. Living and working together on Yavin Four, Ferus became accustomed to Div's harshness and he stood like a rock against the waves of acrimony that would overwhelm a lesser man. When the young mercenary pilot proved incapable of listening to Ferus' concerns when came the awful time of Leia, Luke, and Han's disappearance during a covert mission, Ferus found his stance as a rock crumbling around the edges.

IOIOIOIOIO

The door slammed shut as Div's sour words of parting rang in his ears. It was nighttime on Yavin Four, but Ferus' bunk was far from a window where he might look out to see a star or hear a night bird. Ferus turned his face to the wall. When the door opened again, he rolled over, cranky and prepared to shoo away any more gloomy predictions from the one who used to be named for a lambent moon.

Obi-Wan entered the room and got right to business, as usual. "Ferus, there are things that I can teach you, ways to retain one's individuality when entering the Force. I mentioned the Ways of the Whills the last time we spoke."

Ferus would take what he could get. "Only because I took your advice to heart and believed in myself more. I asked how it happened that you could appear to me."

"You pushed me into revealing secrets."

"Revenge is not the way of the Jedi, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, sir. You're not going to make me into a spirit tied to a Force nexus, are you? Because I really, really do not want another assignment - "

"I am not going to make you into anything. You are going to make you into whatever you wish, and I shall teach you the skills to begin that Master Qui-Gon taught me when I was ready. Now listen."

Through the Force pelted instructions. "That is what I will have to take inside me? It's too big!"

"I edited the Shaman's body of knowledge. Qui-Gon rambled so when he gave it to me, I had to."

"I don't think I can do this."

"You must, if you wish to survive to help Laylay."

Ferus blinked slowly. Obi-Wan appeared to have lost his translucence. "This is a dream, isn't it."

A wave of amusement. "It is. It is also your key to immortality."

A wave of uncertainty. "I ... don't want to be like you. I ... believe it is enough for me to remain unseen by the living, when the time comes. Please understand."

"You must do what you feel is right, of course. You could change your mind down this unworldly road." A shimmer of sadness. "Do I frighten you, Ferus?"

"No. But you might others, and I'd rather not take the chance for myself. I've taken enough chances." It was time to say this, in a dream, where life was softer and smudged around the edges. "I was never her Master, not really. It was vanity. I see that now. When I told her my real name all these months ago, she did not react." He ventured further. "Our bond is as strong as ever. Damn it, I wish it would show me where she is, but all it shows me is that she lives and that I shall help her at some crux of her life." An observer would have seen a middle-aged man tossing and turning in a troubled sleep. "It doesn't even say whether I will be alive at the time. The bond hurts sometimes. I accept that." An observer would have heard a deep sigh. "I think that I am unique to the Order."

Obi-Wan's firm hand patted Ferus' blanketed shoulder. Somehow it was always easier to heal others' pain rather than one's own, Ferus reflected. "No more Order. Nice, isn't it?"

Ferus gaped. A Councilmember said this? "You don't mean it."

"I mean that the Force is larger than the Order was. I will come to the end of my interacting with the living at some point, possibly soon."

"Soon."

Obi-Wan's sly smile soothed Ferus' nerves. "Years, Ferus. Long enough for, well, some things necessary to occur before then. But come now, Padawan Olin, you used to absorb your Temple lessons by osmosis. I always liked that about you." Obi-Wan's voice swelled, filling Ferus' dream world. "Open your mind."

IOIOIOIOIO

And then, Vader killed him on Sixela's moon.

IOIOIOIOIO

Ferus heard Vader's boots tread heavily away down the corridor. Everything was all right. Leia and Luke and the rest of their comrades would escape the Dark Lord's cold fury. He had stalled Anakin long enough.

Obi-Wan tugged Ferus' ear and Ferus could hear the Force. "Ferus Olin, listen to me. This is the last and most important lesson I have to give to you."

The Force that beckoned to Ferus bent to the Jedi Master's will. Ferus listened, even as he ached to hold Roan, who was appearing more and more solid behind Obi-Wan. "Will I appear as you do?" he Sent, amazed that he could. On second thought, it might not be bad to be seen. Leia was a stubborn sort and might need to see to believe.

"My Master kept some teachings of the Shaman of the Whills to himself," Obi-Wan spouted in irritated tones. "When I beheld Qui-Gon on Mortis, he appeared solid, not a sparkling phantom. I begged him and begged him - never mind."

As far as Ferus could tell, he had mere seconds left of life. Out of habit, he opened his mouth to ask Obi-Wan to hurry, but all he heard was a rattle.

"Obi-Wan -"

Ferus could no longer see.

"That man, I swear to the Force -"

"Obi-Wan!"

Obi-Wan harrumphed, such a familiar sound that Ferus' pierced chest ached even more. "Our Laylay will not see you, Feri-Wan. But she will hear you inside her, as soft as a mother's favorite warning, and you will touch her will with yours, just like you did under the sheets in her own palace sleeping chamber years ago."

Cryptic even now, Master Obi-Wan Kenobi, sir? "Erm, so you know about that - go on -"

"Fix on a love that you had in life, and if that love lives still, it shall be your anchor to the living galaxy."

Obi-Wan's authority ringing in his ears, old friends parading solemn-faced before him, Ferus considered his choices, though there really was only one. If Roan still lived, or his smaller loves, Trever and Lune - ah, Lune, or Div, as you called yourself in your bitter last years of life, you have beaten me by mere hours to join the Force - they would have come before Leia's place, because his Princess' choices perplexed him. "How can a person be inside another person with lovingkindness as I was with her," he wondered, "and not understand that same person?"

Fess understood Leia. Ferus mourned Fess while the man that he had constructed died, a useless person, really, but not without value as a being, a very, very human being.

The present moment rushed in. Ferus had loved Roan to distraction, and when distraction ended, he still loved him. Leia, he loved as a rising bright star whose light enabled him to find his way to a deeper Force connection and whose youth spurred him to greater effort to enjoy his life. She had been as powerful as a supercharged Tosche Station power converter; she would remain special to him and to the galaxy at large, but Roan held his heart.

Obi-Wan and Roan had left, sidestepping to another part of the netherworld as easily as if they stood on a slideway. Then the real Leia, the bountifully alive Leia, the beautiful Leia, appeared at his side and held his hand. He could neither see her nor hear her. Her aura was the color of viridian moss.

Ferus chose Leia.

As his own breathing gurgled to a stop, the Force showed Ferus scenes in rapid succession: Leia and Toric, Leia and himself, Leia and who knew how many others for comfort during the Rebellion, Leia and Han together forever in a tumultuous relationship, Luke spurred to greatness by a mate with red-gold hair, and a girl in desperate battle, flying with half-blind eyes in a sortie to thwart a galaxy-wide threat from misshapen monsters. There followed some confusion, a great deal of static and a flash of nova-like heat. When he was himself again and could think of more than Roan's arms around him, Ferus realized that his last mind touch had been to convince Leia to allow his body to have a proper Jedi pyre. She and Han and Luke, comrades all, would have borne his corpse up the ramp of their ship and done something or other with it. Perhaps Han would have remembered hearing of Jedi funerals. But no, an incinerated moon was more than enough to satisfy Jedi ritual. Ferus went to his rest justified.

IOIOIOIOIO

The rattle of chains disturbed Ferus' repose. Alarmed, he slid away to where Leia needed him.

From Obi-Wan's whisperings in Ferus' dreams, Ferus was less a Force-spirit than a Force-will-o'-the-wisp, a subtle blue-shift in the radiation spectrum. No effort expended, he appeared on Tatooine, nondescript center of many galaxy-shaking events. Shaking his head at the inevitability of his destination, Ferus glided past a dark-haired woman who he Sensed was desperate to board the sail barge. He foresaw that she would be thwarted in her desire by a hard-faced woman who blocked her way, obviously a security guard for Jabba. He compared the desperate one's see-through garb to his vision of Leia's barely-there garments from seven years ago.

Leia's costume was sexier.

Hours passed in the real galaxy, milliseconds passed in his. He came back to himself with a jolt. He passed through the bulkhead of the Ubrikkian Luxury sail barge into the throne room of a Hutt, as dark and dank as a slug's vessel ought to be. Shadows fell here and there. Outside there was some commotion, but Leia commanded his regard.

On a dais reclined his Princess. Her gilded apparel gleaming in the gloom, he saw that her face was thinner and her figure every man's dream. She was not cowed, she would never be cowed, but she was in great distress as she twisted away from Jabba's loathsome kiss, her strength in the Force shrouded. If she had been his Padawan - no. He would not think about that. Leia was as lithe as the little eight year-old girl who had skinned down the tree outside her palace window to discover the forbidden night world of Aldera's market place. Ferus paused to admire her youth and determination as she rounded on her captor, slapping the heavy chain around his corpulent neck.

It was a powerful spectacle in the wilderness of the Dune Sea. Intent on ending Jabba's threat to herself, her loved ones, and anyone else who needed protecting, Leia could not possibly see him other than a lighter patch of shadow. Her brow furrowed, her biceps bulged, she grunted in physical extremity as much as she had that day under the zaela tree. The deck heaved beneath the feet of the living, but Ferus stood serene and balanced, willing his strength into her, consummating their bond as the Force demanded. Jabba thrashed that vermiform tail of his to work up momentum to escape. She's faltering! No! At last there was a snap! and Ferus' Force connection with Leia flared as it was needed - not my need but Leia's, or are they the same? - and then Jabba's tail quivered, rattling like a vine snake's as he choked. Leia persevered and the Hutt died, a gluttonous spark of evil extinguished by the strength of a young Princess and an ethereal Jedi made of Light.

Then came explosions and the wild skittering feet of a Kowakian monkey-lizard.

On his way back to his vision of Roan, Ferus imagined playfully pushing the line that Luke and Leia dangled from, as if they were two years old and cavorting on recreation equipment. As the twins swung over the dizzying height to the skiff and the rest of their lives, he realized that his connection with Leia was not the only one and that Luke claimed her and so did Han. No doubt Qui-Gon Jinn would have formed a lesson about this, but Ferus did not want to think about that subject, either, and in death no one could tell him to. At Jinn's exalted level of knowledge of the Way of the Whills, Qui-Gon soared far away from Ferus in the Force, whose level of intermittent consciousness suited him.

Ferus had become comfortably numb.

IOIOIOIOIO

IOIOIOIOIO

"Baby, when will you be back?"

The Chief of State of the New Republic smeared more foundation across a laugh line on its way to becoming a wrinkle. She muted the solferino lights that framed her mirror to a more flattering soft rose. "You realize how these things go, Han. I don't know myself how long the speeches will last." She twirled her lovelock into a more pleasing design, liking its softness against her neck, admiring its smooth plaiting. "It will not look good if the Chief of State ducks out too early."

From their bedroom came a hmmmph and two thumps that Leia recognized as Han removing his boots. "I'll wait up."

He would be sleeping when she returned. "It's all right - "

"Nah, I want to. Besides, you need to decompress after that kind of affair and you and I both know the best way."

Yes. Yes, she did. "Certainly then, why not?"

"Don't go getting all enthusiastic on me."

I will not coddle you. This took more handling, but that was a small chore. She was finished primping for the event to which her fresh-from-internship junior aide would escort her. She waved at the lights as she rose and they faded as slowly as they were programmed to. Fifteen steps across qashmel carpeting took her into their bedroom.

"Shove over."

"You look pretty."

Leia laughed. "Mess me up and I'll murder you."

"I don't doubt it. Mmmm, smell nice, too."

"Thank you."

"Feel nice."

"Again, thanks."

"Did you hear something? Was that one of the kids?"

"I think it was Jacen's latest pet. It scampers around after Jacen goes to sleep."

Leia draped Han's arm around herself as she settled lightly onto her pillow. It wouldn't do to appear disheveled at this latest banquet. Her scruffy rebel days were long behind her, though her staff at the time had arranged for their Princess to appear neat if not actually starchy when she was within range of their care. She thought of all the rough-and-tumble episodes of that era in her life and shivered a little.

"I'm glad I still have that effect on you, lady."

"Always." They laughed at themselves.

"Mmmmm. That's good to hear. How about this, do you still like this, too?"

"No, Han, I don't have time to start anything. Wait until later."

Han desisted. "All right, all right." He twisted to look at her. "What's the name of your latest boyfriend, or should I say aide?"

"Jonne Troz. He's from Noor, he's pleasant enough, and I don't think he'll go far as a diplomat. He's too much like you."

"I can be nice. Diplomatic, too."

There it was again. He wasn't going to be hurt about Jonne, was he? It didn't mean anything. It never did.

"Occasionally ... maybe ... when you're not acting like a scoundrel ... " See, Mothers, I can love a nice man, but not too nice a one.

"Hmmmmm."

"Stop! Now you've pulled it loose! And Narita's gone for the day and I'll have to fix it myself, oh let me up." Leia rolled off the bed and nearly tripped over Han's boots. "Kick them underneath next time, dear."

Chuckling because this mishap could not compare to others she had weathered, Leia pulled out the vanity chair, the lights coming up once more. Back to Square, um, Two. To her surprise, Han did not follow her back to the dressing room. Leia replaited and tucked and pinned and the lovelock was restored to propriety. After several minutes, a snore rumbled its way into her hearing. From down the hall issued more scampers and squeaks from the pet libreg and Jaina's door whisked open as Jaina assayed a sortie on the late-night kitchen coldbox again. Before there was a commotion from Jacen or the baby, Leia had to go.

She did not want to be late to the party. She winked at the mirror and left.

IOIOIOIOIO

The End.

IOIOIOIOIO

IOIOIOIOIO

There is no pain you are receding

A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.

You are only coming through in waves.

Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying.

When I was a child

I caught a fleeting glimpse

Out of the corner of my eye.

I turned to look but it was gone

I cannot put my finger on it now

The child is grown,

The dream is gone.

- Roger Waters and David Gilmour of Pink Floyd.::.