Jaina Solo grunted against the force of her entire body hitting a cold metal floor. Pain ripped through her like fire, as whatever they had shot her up with earlier in the transport shuttle had seemed to slow her mind, but magnified physical sensations a thousand fold. Interesting stuff, she'd thought, up until now.
As Jaina pried herself off the floor with shaking arms, one of the white-armored stormtroopers gave her another brutal whack in the small of her back with the butt of his rifle, just for good measure. She dropped immediately back to the floor, not managing to catch herself in time to keep her face from taking the brunt of the impact. When she picked herself up this time, blood dripped from her nose onto the formerly clean floor, and she felt something hot and metallic seeping into her mouth. As she lifted her head – an excruciatingly slow movement – tall, black, polished leather boots met her gaze. Even from just the footwear alone, she knew who was standing over her. She'd felt his presence in the minds of the stormtroopers and the pilots of the shuttle, didn't have to guess who was responsible for ensuring she was taken alive. In a great deal of pain, but unforgivingly alive.
"Hello, lover." His voice came down from above her like some kind of twisted judge towering over the wretched defendant from his podium. Which, she supposed, in a way, he was. A clean white cloth fell and landed in front of Jaina. "Clean yourself up. You look terrible."
Jaina let loose a slurred string of words she'd only ever heard her father say around his friend Lando when she was a child (never, ever would he have uttered them around her mother), and then only because he'd had no idea Jaina was listening. After describing to Zekk in detail what he could eat before he painfully expired, she sucked up a wad of bloody saliva and spit it onto his shoe with more coordination than she'd imagined she could have about now. She looked up at Zekk and saw what she was pretty sure was a look of genuine surprise before his emerald eyes hardened back to cold glass. He glared at her under his dark eyebrows.
"I was about to tell my guards there was no need to treat you so inhumanely," he said. "Maybe I was wrong."
"Let them go," Jaina replied, very purposefully ignoring Zekk's handkerchief and wiping her nose on the sleeve of her grimey jumpsuit. "Maybe we'll both get lucky and they'll just kill me and get this whole ridiculous opera over with." She regretted the words as soon as they left her bloodied mouth.
Zekk grinned, pulling his pale lips apart to show even whiter teeth. She could tell he was now enjoying this tremendously. "Oh, no. Why would I ever allow them to do something like that?" He leaned down over her, looking directly into her eyes.
Jaina glared up at him, another hundred terribly graphic suggestions she'd like to give him chasing each other through her head. But suddenly all the rage, the terrible dark anger swelling in her chest just couldn't overpower how tired she was of all of this. So instead she said nothing, and held his stare without flinching.
Again she watched Zekk's face falter, his nostrils flaring. Only for a brief moment, but it was there. He'd come to pick a fight, and she'd be damned if she was going to give it to him now. Be damned if she'd ever give him anything again. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see his fist clenching and unclenching around the hilt of his lightsaber; could feel him calculating in his head the odds that if he drew and ignited it, that he would be unable to stop himself from just outright slaughtering her right here.
"Fine," he finally said, drawing himself back up to tower over her. "I'd try to get comfortable if you I were you. You're going to be in here for a long time, Jaina . . . if you're lucky." She snorted. He fixed her with one last livid glare, then turned abruptly on his heel and strode out of the cell, his white-clad goons following suit. A thick metal door whooshed shut behind them.
Sighing so heavily it felt like she was deflating, Jaina propped herself up into a seated position, and slid her stiff, aching body over to lean against the cold wall. She was shaking now as the drugs wore off, and her head throbbed. Plus, now her nose hurt. She wiped the underside of her nose with the back of her wrist and was only mildly interested in the fact that the bleeding had stopped.
Her next breath came out jerkily, and before she knew what she was doing, she was hyperventilating; heaving great, dry, silent sobs at the ceiling of the prison cell. A year's worth of hating first herself, then Zekk more and more poured out of her lungs in the form of ragged breaths in a span of about thirty seconds. But it didn't stop, and Jaina eventually shut her eyes and collapsed against the wall, a small part of her hoping that her Force sense wasn't so dulled by the sobbing that she'd miss any security cameras in the cell. She could not let Zekk see her like this.
"Hey there," a voice drifted quietly to Jaina from behind her. She drew in three more rough gasps as she looked towards the voice. There were no lights in the cell, save for the narrow stream filtering in from a small, thick-glassed window in the door. She couldn't see him, but the voice was so familiar . . . . "Hey, don't cry, please." She heard a shuffling in the blackness, and the presence she hadn't previously noticed was there suddenly overtook her. "Miss Jaina Solo, is that you?"
"Yes, ma'am," the old voice replied. "And gods all powerful, it is good to see a familiar face." He sounded tired, older. Older even than he's been the last time she'd seen him, years ago.
Jaina let out a quivering breath and allowed herself a small smile. It hurt. She'd forgotten about the split lip. "It would be if I could see your face," she said. "Come over here."
She heard the elderly man climbing unsteadily to his feet and he shuffled into the dim light so she could see him, then squatted down again next to her. He looked frail, sick. Dead. She'd thought he was dead yesterday. "I had no idea you were still alive."
He chuckled weakly. "I've been around." The chuckle turned into a thick, throaty cough. "Well, here, mostly. Feels like forever."
"I thought he'd have killed you, too," she spoke just above a whisper.
"You mean Zekk?" Peckhum sounded genuinely surprised. "Course not! What do you mean, 'too'?" His old mouth, nearly lipless with age, drew into a think line. "Who has he -? I mean, did he . . . somebody close to him?"
Jaina chewed her lower lip, thinking carefully before she spoke. "Jacen, most recently." She was quiet for a long minute, but Peckhum didn't speak, so she continued. "My mother and father are gone, too. In an attack he led. But I guess after my uncle's death, it felt like only a matter of time. It took so much out of them. And Tenel Ka. When Hapes wouldn't cede control of its planets." She swallowed hard, her mouth suddenly almost waxy. "I think my brother might still be – well, Anakin was always . . . but I haven't heard from him in almost two years. Force knows where he could be."
The silence that stretched out between the two captives then felt like it went on for light years. Eventually, in an awkward gesture, Peckhum put a bony arm around Jaina's shoulder and squeezed it gingerly. Her eyes burned with tears, and she rested her head on his jagged shoulder. It was the most affection she could remember the old spacer ever showing her – or anyone else for that matter. He tentatively wrapped his other arm around her, completing the hug, not mentioning the hot wetness seeping into his shirt sleeve. Jaina and Peckhum had not been close. They hadn't shared anything but Zekk in their old lives. Still didn't, really. Now, though, Jaina found herself more glad to see him than anyone else in the galaxy.
Several hours later, Peckhum and Jaina sat against opposite walls of the cell again, talking back and forth in quiet, careful tones. Peckhum told her stories about what he'd heard and seen in his time in the Imperial prison, a time whose precise length eluded him at this point. Jaina replied with non-specific tales of being on the run from the ever-increasing Imperial forces since the destruction of the Jedi Praxeum on Yavin more than half a decade ago. Only Peckhum spoke about Zekk.
"How do you think it is that he ended up putting us in here together?" Peckhum asked after one of many long silences between them.
Jaina pulled one corner of her mouth up in half a humorless grin. "Proof he has truly lost his mind, I'd guess." She dropped the smile.
Peckhum tilted his head back to rest against the metal wall. Even from what little Jaina could see of him in the shadows, it looked like the movement hurt him. She wondered again how long he'd been here, and how truly close the old man was to death. Probably a lot closer than he'd admit to her, she guessed. "I don't know," he mused, his voice rough. "Maybe proof that some part of the old Zekk is still in there. Some part that wanted to do us a kindness. If I remember back to when they first brought me here, this ship is huge. Certainly can't be lackin' for cells. Even for the Empire."
Jaina flinched as if hit. "No," she said, her voice barely audible. "I don't think so."
Peckhum's head swiveled on his thin neck and he looked at her in such a way that she almost wondered if he wasn't just a little Force-sensitive. His old grey eyes traced her expression thoughtfully in the darkness. "No," he repeated her words. Then he was silent again for a long time; Jaina could feel him carefully constructing a question in his mind.
"I caught Zekk's comment to you earlier." Jaina closed her eyes as he spoke. Hello, lover . . . . "Now, I loved that boy like a son, but I know he's changed. He killed the boy I raised, the same as he's killed a lot of other people. That's been a hard thing to sit here and live with." There were long pauses between his sentances. "But if he's hurt you, Jaina – like that – why I'll never-"
"I really thought he'd come back," she cut him off, her voice quivering just slightly. She pulled in a sharp breath to steady her words. "I thought he'd really left the order and the Empire and had come to find me – to find us, me and Jacen. I guess my instincts . . . my senses were dull, or exhausted. Or his ability to hide his mind had really become that good." She was staring at her hands, twisting the fingers of one in the grip of the other. "I believed him for weeks after he found us. Months, even. Let myself be happy." She spat the word. "But he eventually messed it up. His defenses slipped one day, and I could feel what he was planning. Who he still was. We knew he was planning to lead the Empire right to us. Jacen decided to stay and fight. I ran when he fell. I couldn't let Zekk find out that I-" Her words stuck in her throat and she swallowed them back down.
She felt Peckhum watching her. She lifted her head to meet his eyes in the dark and set her jaw. "After that, I went to Tatooine to have an abortion."