Kyp would never forget the moments in the snow.
By chance it seemed more romantic fiction than happy coincidence that snow enveloped the more important moments of their life together. He had stolen their first kiss after a breathtakingly tense battle had reunited them over Csilla.
At a winter festival five months later, he had danced with her on a balcony of the rebuilt Star Fighter Command center and whispered that he loved her. Her lips had trembled with something more than cold when she pressed the same words against his lips.
Two years later, Kyp had the temerity to say something even more important to her. He had bullied the pilots out of the squadron's mess hall for the night, arranging an appropriately extravagant meal that didn't include a single ration bar, set lorna blossoms in the center of the table, and had a bottle of Alderaanian champagne ready.
He wasn't sure if they would use it to celebrate, but if things didn't go as planned, he could at least use it to dull the pain with a drunken stupor.
He hadn't even thought about the weather.
Everything had been perfect, from the bruallki to the chocolate cake he had ordered for dessert, to the same red dress that she had worn at a certain reception on Hapes not too many years before.
The blasted difficult thing about romance was that you could never time it. There was no way to say what the perfect moment to ask someone to become a permanent part of your life would be. There was no military protocol or Jedi code that suggested how to tell someone you want your children to call her "Mama."
When the snow had started to fall, however, Kyp had taken it as a sign and asked her to take a walk with him.
The Command center had been redesigned compassionately to give pilots some unaccustomed comforts. In an unusual burst of inspiration and compassion, the planners had located the site next to public gardens, which gave the pilots excuses to relax. Perhaps they had also considered the number of intra-squadron marriages Fleet-wide and decided to encourage the romantic side of the Rogues with a more romantic setting than a hangar.
The two of them had shared several romantic encounters at a bench near the Corellian orchids, and had made it their prearranged meeting place any time they had to unite on this side of civilization.
The orchids were nearly covered by the time they arrived at the bench, but he managed to uncover the one that he had chosen that morning without suffering frostbite.
In the center of the orchid, Kyp had left the first permanent symbol of their love.
Jaina had stared at the circle of gold, turning it in her fingers to let the fading light sparkle over the emeraude as a smile blossomed like the orchid over her face.
"I should have known that you and the weather gods had an understanding," his beloved quipped.
He brushed the side of her neck with a teasing kiss. "You should know better than to think that I pay attention to anyone but my Goddess," he rejoined easily.
Her skin warmed with a blush beneath his lips. "Silly me," she conceded. "So, while the weather's cooperating, do you have something to say about..."
"Marry me," Kyp interrupted, pleading against her earlobe.
He let his eyes drift closed and he turned his head, resting his chin at the top of her shoulder while her breathing quickened slightly. His eyes drifted closed while he tried to memorize every thought, every sensation of this moment.
Her hand caressed his jaw, bringing him out of his reverie. He turned, kissing the palm just below the ring now adorning her finger.
"I'll take that as a yes?"
Jaina had responded with a more appropriately placed kiss.
Kyp and the future Mrs. Durron had married six weeks later when the last storm of the season blew through the capitol and gifted them with wind far too cold for the holoshills to intrude on their next perfect moment.
She had jokingly suggested that they honeymoon on Hoth so that the luck of the weather would get them started on their family, but they'd both decided on a week's excursion to Hapes instead.
Two months later, however, duty called them off-world to a training post on Corellia. Chance let them arrive as autumn was closing and winter was beginning to flirt with the streets of Coronet City.
They commanded two separate units of trainees, but delighted or dismayed their charges with the ways they'd arrange schedules and exercises to 'bump into' each other.
Some days, however, they wouldn't manage even a simulation together and would have to resort to merrymaking after their children went to bed.
On one such night, she had ambushed him with a well-aimed snowball. He had managed to get thoroughly soaked before he could even hit her squarely in the face with a well-aimed snowball of his own.
"You Hutt-slime," Jaina had shrieked indignantly. "Is that the way you treat the woman carrying your child?"
Kyp had been too stunned to respond, even when another snowball hit him hard in the stomach.
After she had overcome the paralysis that her laughter had caused, she had approached cautiously and wrapped herself around him from the left side. He normally didn't enjoy torturing her, but he had to have his own form of revenge for this particular ambush, so he remained motionless and unresponsive. It did the trick, making her squirm and draw away to study him with a great deal of trepidation.
"It's not that bad news, Master Durron," she had teased. "Is it?"
Papa Durron had turned slightly, pulling her into a proper embrace before shoving a handful of snow down her back.
"Perfect weather for perfect joy," he had replied.
It was now six years and a daughter later and she sent him a message during the morning briefing asking to meet him for lunch.
Rael was still at school when Jaina arrived at his office, which was probably a good thing for the both of them.
Kyp had finally taken command of an entire wing a year ago, since it would give him more opportunity to stay near home, but it had the unforeseen disadvantage of keeping him out late to chaperone on occasion.
Normally, it didn't seem to grate on either their relationship or her health, but an inexplicable weariness had settled over Jaina in the last month. She seemed constantly exhausted, yet he would wake up in the middle of the night to find her gone.
"Headaches," she dismissed his concern easily. "They just wake me up early and get better during the day. It's nothing to worry about."
Today, it didn't seem like "nothing to worry about." In fact, it looked as though something was worrying her beyond measure.
So, instead of inviting her to sit, he'd offered his arm and suggested they pick up something to eat on the way to their bench.
Jaina's head shook slightly, but her eyes squeezed shut with the effort as if the simple, slight motion had thrown her entire universe off-balance.
"I don't think I can make it that far today," she admitted.
She had not spoken since arriving at his office, since she'd coordinated her arrival with a call from General Farlander, so he hadn't heard the dry rasping of her voice and the slight slurring of her speech.
Immediately, the overprotective side of him steered her to a chair and she didn't even argue or tease him about the need for only one mother in the family.
Something was seriously wrong.
"Come on," he coaxed. "I'll call a transport and see you home. The wing can wait for a day or two."
She looked about to shake her head again, too exhausted to manage speech, but then thought better of it.
"I can't talk to you about this there," she protested. "I need this moment to..."
She swallowed with obvious difficulty before forcing her eyelids open. She was obviously attempting to focus on him, but her gaze kept deviating slightly.
"It will taint the only place I can call a refuge," she explained.
It was becoming just as hard for him to swallow or keep his eyes open, but he understood well enough that it was important to her. His hand rose to caress her cheek and that simple contact seemed to give her the added strength which would bring her focus back.
"I take it, then," Kyp murmured, "that you're not here to tell me that your upset stomach has something to do with a son we can name after me?"
Her gaze drifted to the flowers plainly visible outside his window. "Wrong weather, flyboy," she returned.
Terrified to taint this place as well, his own haven, Kyp retrieved his jacket.
"I'll carry you," he offered desperately. "It will set a good example for the young lovers around here."
She nodded resignedly, but the effort of raising her arms to wrap around his shoulders proved to require too much, so he slid an arm beneath her knees, then braced her back against his arm as he lifted her from the chair.
"Don't worry," he whispered. "I won't let go."
You'll have to, his mind spat matter-of-factly.
It was to her relief, probably, that they passed no one on the way to the park except the same guard who had been covering the midday shift since they got married.
This crisis was too personal to expose just yet.
He cradled her against his chest as they stretched along the length of the bench and she nestled into the curve of his neck, much as Rael did after being awakened by nightmares.
"It's called a meningioma," she said at last, arms dangling on either side of his torso instead of embracing him.
"A cancer." His mouth formed the words before his brain caught up.
She nodded slightly. "A brain tumor," she corrected quietly.
"But they've caught it early," he surmised. "You've only been showing mild symptoms..."
Another weak shake of the head. "Retaran says that this type grows quite large before any symptoms start to manifest."
His right arm braced against her back as his left hand began stroking her hair, an instinctively paternal gesture that he hadn't used since she'd lost her father to a minor civil war on Dutari III.
She groaned slightly. "I'm dying, Durron. I need you to tell me everything will be fine, not treat me like Rael."
I haven't lied to you in four years. I don't know if I can believe that I wouldn't be lying if I said that.
His silence went unpunished, however, because she was thinking the same thing.
"Treatment options?" he queried.
"Surgery," she assured him. "It's too large to eliminate without damaging additional brain tissue, but they can at least reduce its size, then introduce radiation treatments..."
She broke off the sentence abruptly with a shake of the head. "Sorry, you probably wanted to know about the immediate future."
"No," Kyp assured her. "I need to know what we'll be facing."
I need to be assured that there will be some kind of future. Or at least one that will involve me, you, and a few more tiny terrors.
"Six months if nothing works, more if the treatment is somewhat successful. If everything goes wrong..."
Her chest heaved weakly against his. "I could be gone before the next winter comes again."
He couldn't fathom that, couldn't think of another snowfall without her.
"Well, then I'll trust that Fate is not so cruel..."
"Fate's always been cruel," she countered with a slight laugh. "I just want it to ignore us for a few months. Think we can manage that?"
I can't promise that.
I'm sorry, Goddess, I just don't know how to make this better.
"I'll make the necessary arrangements."
There were good days, when she would not need much medication and small things would bring her joy. Rael was too young to understand the gravity of the situation, but she understood the need every person had to find daily joy, so she'd bring that joy to wherever her Mama was at that moment. It was often in the small things like a drawing she'd made or a joke that the neighbor's youngest son had told her. Sometimes, it was simply an enthusiastically sloppy kiss goodnight.
The bad days were more frequent and varied in topic and severity - like the day that she awoke to find that some of her hair remained behind on the pillow, or when the seizures had started in earnest and Retaran had forbidden her to hold her first niece without assistance.
Some days were deceptive, starting out with a clear morning and the medication dispensed out of habit rather than a persistent need. By the evening, Fate would have forgotten the truce and would drive her into a frenzy of anger or pain. She would have memory lapses, not recognizing him through the haze of her agony or reverting to the young woman who had left a lasting impression on his face and heart after Sernpidal.
Sometimes, the behavioral alterations didn't manifest themselves in anger or vulnerability, but they would break her nonetheless. She would live from injection to injection, sobbing wretchedly within his embrace until it was safe to ease her pain once more. Sometimes, the two states were combined and she'd thrash, railing at him for withholding relief before collapsing in despair.
The Force was all but useless, despite his best efforts and even the intervention of others. It could bring temporary relief or ease her back into the mind of the woman he'd fallen in love with, but nothing was permanent except for her deterioration.
Rael's maternal grandmother arrived in her typical flurry of activity, chewing someone out on the comlink while juggling several bags and leaning on the door chime at the same time.
She seemed to have forgotten what the button did, since she was using it to brace herself as she talked to some diplomat and hardly noticed her son-in-law glowering at her until he reached out and bodily removed her from the offending device.
The apartment fell silent and Leia actually allowed a mortified blush to darken her cheeks. Signing off quickly, she mouthed the word "sorry" before pushing past him.
"Shh," he chided with a slight grin. "My baby's sleeping."
"My baby has the tendency to sleep through anything," she countered, "including Senate sessions. And I can imagine that she's not feeling up to doing much more than that with her medication."
She didn't have to use the Force to know that the blast of pain that lanced through her gut was not from her alone.
"It's been getting worse," he countered. "She's been resisting the need for pain meds because she feels like they're taking her control away from her, but it's a no-win situation."
He glanced over his shoulder to hide the tears of frustration, but knew that she wouldn't be fooled by the gesture.
"This morning, I let her scream at me for a few minutes because she fell asleep and thought that I'd sedated her instead of letting her body take over."
There was no need to excuse the action by expressing how she was not herself, because there was no need to remind either of them of that fact.
"Speaking of which," she interrupted his thoughts without waiting for him to respond, "when is she due at the medcenter for the next round of..."
"She's not," he said gruffly before reaching out to take a few of her bags.
Instead, she let them slide from her arms and they fell to the floor unnoticed as she finally turned the exchange to physical comforts. He wasn't sure whether she was comforting him or the other way around, but he enfolded her in a tight embrace nonetheless.
Rael had confessed to being relieved that Mama would be staying home from the medcenter more often because she didn't like Retaran or the room Mama stayed in. Jaina had smiled slightly and said that she was relieved because they could have more playtime together.
Papa couldn't bring himself to be glad that they'd sent Mama home to die two days ago, but he said nothing to either of them.
Rael had been blessed with Force-blindness, though she often seemed to belie that, so he could at least keep that a secret from her.
Jaina, in secret, shared the sentiment.
"It's spread," he finally explained. "They found a tumor of a different kind simply because it began interfering with her vital functions."
She managed to choke the words "Such as..." past the tightness in her throat.
"They have her on a respirator for half a day at a time," he said bluntly. "Mostly in the mornings when it's worse. Jaina hates it almost as much as Rael, but her brain won't let her breathe sometimes and we can't chance..."
"I understand," she cut him off, prying herself free from the embrace.
A moment later, Jaina called indistinctly from the converted bedroom, explaining his mother-in-law's reason for breaking off the gesture.
Rael was with her Uncle Jacen for the day, due back at any moment, but he didn't want to interrupt this reunion for anything.
He knew Leia to be too diplomatic to stare and too strong to weep, so he could expect her to fuss over absolutely everything. He crossed to the doorway and leaned against the doorjamb, simply observing.
It was the third hour of the day without the respirator, so talking was more of a chore and consciousness a painful effort, but Jaina was nothing if not stubbornly determined to conquer those minor setbacks.
"It's not that bad," Leia teased as the caress of her hand extended past where the hairline had once been. "The boys on Duro thought you were quite a catch with this hairstyle."
"I only care about one," she mumbled. "It's probably good that the Force doesn't touch me much any more or I'd realize what he really thinks of my new look."
"Of course not," Kyp called. "You know that no Durron has the gift of subtlety. What you see is..."
"What you suffer," she completed his latest aphorism with a slight smile. "Yeah, I remember."
The last thing he heard before he left them alone was, "At least one of you doesn't have a receding hairline."
Jaina, as expected, took her mother's aid to be an excuse for him to pull longer hours with the squadron. She bullied him into accepting his first out-of-sector mission at four and a half months, and a training stint of two weeks at six months and two weeks.
She would not let his life stand still while she lost her own.
He hated himself for each hour spent away. He tried not to notice how she wasted away, but the list of things that she was too weak to do grew longer with every passing week and every absence.
There was, of course, no correlation between his presence and her ability to remain mobile, but he blamed himself nonetheless.
At seven months, therefore, he put the squadron in the hands of a Raltiirian Captain and stepped back to Executive Officer so he could spend more time taking care of his family.
It was painstaking work just to make her occasionally comfortable, but worth every moment.
"I never get to do anything romantic for you," he lamented two weeks later.
It was one of Jaina's more cooperative days when she took the injection of undiluted corephem before breakfast without argument, so she simply smiled slightly at the complaint.
Now, her goodwill was evident because she was allowing him to bathe her. She hadn't even bothered to start a waterfight, which meant she was in an especially good mood.
"Come on," she teased. "You see me naked all the time and you think you're lacking romance?"
His hand lifted her damp one to his lips to kiss the spot beneath her ring in the familiar gesture, but he saved the smile for when she could see how much he appreciated her attempt at humor.
"Good point," he conceded, "but there are no candlelit dinners, no romantic getaways. Your doctor chews me out every time I bring you flowers..."
"Bah," she rasped in disgust. "You know that has never been what mattered most."
"It's what I wish I could give you," he retorted. "Six daily doses of narcotics just aren't as effective as gestures of affection."
"No," she agreed as he let her hand lower to rest on her sunken abdomen, "but there are times like this. There's every time you hold me until I can fall asleep, when you spoon-feed me like you used to do with Rael..."
"Though she was much more cooperative when the transport's coming in for docking," he reminded. "You just think you're too grown-up to listen to me."
"That's nothing new," she laughed. "I've been telling you that since a sixteen-year-old you started babysitting a two-year-old me. Some things never change."
Eager to stop her teasing, he brushed a sud from the edge of her eye, then leaned in to brush her lips with a kiss.
"That's the way I like it," he assured her.
Her hand rose halfway to his cheek before the pain cut her off, so he bent to her touch instead, always willing to meet her halfway in love.
"I think," she informed him so quietly that he almost had to read her lips to understand her, "that I've felt more love now than ever before."
"I haven't been very good, then."
"No," she snapped. "You've been better than I ever deserved, but I've been too wrapped up in the ordinary life to realize why."
They'd kept up the habit of writing notes to each other: flimsiplast records of messages taken or pediatrician's appointments after school.
Some of his favorites, however, had been ones that she left for no reason at all other than to remind him that she had her own romantic side that extended beyond a tune-up on his X-wing.
Love you for all the weird things you eat for breakfast.
Love you for the bedtime stories you tell your girls.
Love you forever for that smile.
Too often, the conversations had been one-sided.
Tonight, however, he chose to send her something of his own.
It was her night for a bedtime story with Rael. He had left Rael curled against her side, already dressed for bed, her black curls spilling free of their restraints. Jaina insisted on being propped up for the event, so she could watch every reaction, every unrestrained laugh and broad grin. Rael was only too happy to indulge her.
He could hear them both laughing hysterically at an ongoing story of nerfherders and a captive Princess. There were few things so beautiful as their matching giggles, so he left the door open, letting it inspire what his heart meant to say.
Tonight, it's been eight months since you told me that you had six months left...
"I don't think your pilots are fooled."
It was fortunate that regulations indicated that they keep their helmets on for sim exercises, since the sound of Mrs. Durron nearly gave him a concussion as it was.
He yanked off his helmet, then ducked back and turned a genuine scowl on her.
"You shouldn't be out of bed, much less on an inspection tour of my squadron."
"Yes," she sighed, leaning forward with an adorable, if strained pout, "but I was having a bad day and Mama thought I might want to come out and play."
"And you know she can't be argued with," Leia reminded him.
"So what do you think I'm trying to fool them with?"
She nodded slightly towards the score readouts. "You're trying to let them win," she guessed. "It's the only reason that they'd be thrashing you that badly."
"And if they're simply getting better?" he rejoined.
"Oh," she said as if surprised, "hadn't thought of that."
"Imp," he snorted. "What kind of bad day?"
Her tone left no room for question or argument, simply acceptance.
He quelled his anxiety instinct and bent to cover her pout with a kiss. "Well, you have perfect timing," he grinned. "I was about to send the children home to do their lessons."
"What a good Papa," she lauded.
He left five minutes later to find Leia gone and Jaina folding and refolding the piece of flimsiplast that he'd left on her table while she slept.
"I gave her the rest of the day off," she explained. "As long as you're free, I need some time..."
"You don't have to explain," he insisted. "Are you up for a trip to the bench?"
She nodded, chin lowered to her chest. "I was hoping you'd say that."
Like any good father or lover, he worried about the chill that was settling over the region and made sure she was tucked neatly beneath the blanket before venturing into the park. She smirked at him slightly, wanting to chastise him for being such a worrywart, but didn't bother.
It was something of a small miracle that they never had to evict intruders from their bench. It always stood patiently waiting for them to visit and always seemed to be able to accommodate them perfectly. Even Rael had room to snuggle up.
Today, however, it seemed oversized. Jaina was dwarfed by it, but she didn't seem to mind. She simply rested against him, her back aligned with his sternum so that he felt every vertebra along his midline and every shift of her shoulder blade or ribcage was evident to him.
"The snow will begin soon," she predicted.
"As it always does--too early and too often," he agreed.
"No," she corrected. "I've always loved the snow."
"I figured that," he murmured. "You always wait for the snow to let important things happen."
"Of course," she said, as if it should be perfectly obvious why. "Snow changes the face and perception of everything, just like the moments that we've shared in it."
It was something he had felt as well, but never as deeply, and could not have ever explained it so well.
"So, you got my letter," he began lamely.
Her ear darkened in a blush as she handed it back to him. "In a manner of speaking, flyboy. I don't have good enough eyesight to make it past the first line."
Her tone was not flippant, but close to desperation and fully laced with frustration at her persistent weakness. The letter was perhaps a page long, written in his broad scrawl that she joked was less refined than Rael's, but it was beyond her capabilities to decipher.
It was a far cry from the girl who had spent half of their vacations in the local datacard archives looking for something to capture her interest.
"I'll read it," he murmured in her ear. "These are things I've been meaning to say as it is."
The top of her head fit perfectly beneath his chin, so he was able to wrap his arms around her tiny waist and read over her. Her hands guided them closer as if she was afraid he'd let her slip through his grasp.
Don't worry about that, Goddess. Not yet.
Tonight, it's been eight months since you told me that you had six months left..."
"I remember," she confessed. "I've been counting the days even more than you."
"You told me a few minutes later that we'd have to leave it at that if nothing worked and things have always seemed to go wrong, but you have been too strong to let figures determine your life. You survived what killed three hundred sixty five trillion, so it is not surprising that you could outlast what I didn't dare to hope for.
"For the last two months, however, I've been wondering how many more minutes or hours I have left. I wonder if I have enough time for one more kiss or if I'll lose you while telling you about one of Lieutenant Branig's pranks.
"I'm trying to let you go gently, but instead find it hard not to cling tighter. What am I supposed to do without you?"
His voice failed him at that point as well as his strength, so she burrowed herself deeper in his embrace, letting the weight of her be the greatest comfort that she could provide. His left arm braced lightly against her stomach and she didn't complain, so he left it there as their tears fell.
"How am I supposed to teach Rael about stubbornness? How will she learn what love should be if you're not there to show her? I don't know if I've learned it well enough to make up for your absence."
Her stomach expanded and contracted slightly in an imitation of a laugh. "I don't think you'll ever have to worry about not being stubborn enough," she observed.
"She's too much like me already," he continued, "but I'm afraid of looking at her twenty years from now when I have to let some other man take over her happily-ever-afters and not being able to recognize what you left with her."
"My fear too," was her mumbled confession.
"But then, I'll remember that what he loves her for will be the same kindness, humor and beauty that made me fall in love with you. I just don't want to see it end with her.
"I feel like I've already lost you, but I don't know where to begin to find you again. Maybe you've been a long time in passing to the afterlife so that when I went looking for things later down the road, I'd have these last months as well as the good years to sustain me.
"Your most humble acolyte, your love, your lover.
Her breathing had slowed until the moment when he finished reading and a part of him yearned for feedback, for assurance that she agreed or understood.
But he knew she'd heard enough.
And as the first snow of the season began to blanket the world minutes later, her passing changed the face of his universe again.
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