It was the flowers of this place that first struck you, the gentle and translucent flowers that waved in the sea, moved by an invisible current. You touched the barrier between the air and the water, and could almost feel the cold of the water, but you draw back, because you?re only human, and the sea is beyond your reach.
You try not to let that bother you. You act normal around Luke, watching your hosts with careful suspicion, noting exits and possible lines of fire. He is not fooled, but these days this pretending is only a game between the two of you, one that comforts you and one he is willing to follow, because you, at times, play his.
The hosts are gracious and welcoming, utterly strange and friendly. They change colors in response to your mood; black and purple, when they greet you, blue and yellow when they greet Luke. They are used to the sea, and drift to silent currents like the flowers, but can move in the emptiness of air, though it is uncomfortable for them. You sense all of this, the Force a constant. They step through the barrier and become what they are, creatures within the sea. You feel the press of the water in a way few can, and Luke glances at you, feeling the same. You realize this is why they asked this of you both; you can feel when the New Republic diplomats cannot. They could only witness. You and Luke can feel.
You wonder what this ceremony will be like.
They lead you into a bubble of air, and leave you alone. The bubble moves with the current, drifting off into the sea seemingly aimlessly, and you twitch. Luke smiles at you, then presses his hand against the surface of the bubble, almost breaching it, almost going forth into the water outside. But he stops at the last moment, and you look at him uneasily. He takes your hand, warm and so totally unlike water, and you squeeze back, smiling.
The bubble comes to a gentle stop, in a forest of waving flowers. It is not quite dark in the water ? there being less of a line between light and dark, and more of a murkiness. Luke sits on the bottom of the bubble, and you join him, your thigh pressed against his, holding his hand, and you stare up into the abyss.
You hear Luke?s breathing slow as he falls into a meditation trance of sorts, and you wryly acknowledge that he always seems to know what to do in situations like this. You calm yourself, let the Force reach into you, and let yourself feel.
You watch as the sea around you changes. The flowers curl up in themselves, and begin to die. You gasp as they wither and blacken, fading to the background, and Luke?s grip on your hand tightens. You feel his sense of loss.
The aliens fall from nowhere, from the murkiness above. They change color rapidly, shifting from one to another so quickly it is as if they are no color at all. It is all so horribly strange, and you feel uncomfortable.
They settle beside you on the ocean floor. Their bodies shift and transform, like being one thing and becoming another is nothing at all, a simple task. You realize the bubble is smaller, but sense no danger. You can see it getting smaller and smaller, and which makes you ill at ease, but the Force soothes you, reassures you, and Luke is warm and real and not like water by your side. His touch on your mind is sure and unrelenting, and you let him in. It is somehow important in this moment to do this, to have him and you be one.
The aliens fold in on themselves, then fold out.
The bubble is pressed against your skin, and you feel the press of the water.
They fold out into flowers. Gentle and translucent, and utterly vulnerable.
As you are. You feel the cold of the sea, and you can?t feel Luke?s warmth anymore. You have been separated, but he?s still there, in your mind. You are still connected through the Force, and with a thousand flowers unfolding around you, you don?t feel alone at all. You can dance underwater. It can fill all the empty spaces around and in you, making you whole, and you can dance ? dance breathlessly, beautifully, all concerns carelessly let go, sunken.
We share our weakness, we share our strength with you. That is what they say to you.
They are vulnerable, and so are Luke and you. They will spend another hundred years living on the ocean floor, connected to each other and separate, because they are only flowers, and yet more ? aware, breathing, thinking and feeling. You suddenly realize this is a divide you are familiar with; one you are presented with every day, in the vacuum of space, in how your duties and Luke?s separate the two of you. There is a break you cannot pass, but you somehow do, because there is the miracle of the Force. They feel it, and so do you.
Still connected. Still connected, and they hold your life ? and Luke?s life ? in their hands, the bubble so near to your skin, to his skin, to the cold pressing on the warmth of his body. This is a secret they have trusted you with, the nature of their lives, and briefly, you wonder, a secret you will be forced to keep?
You reach for the Force, and it tells you to trust. You trust.
They trust you.
Agreement reached. That is what they say. The New Republic and the Aerini people are as one, separated by a divide, and nothing at all.
The bubble of air is suddenly big again, and you can feel Luke. He?s warm, his skin is dry, and you press up against him. He?s breathing into your hair, a little harder than he should be. He?s suddenly there more than ever, as strongly as that day on Nirauan, and there is no divide.
When you return to tiny outpost of air on the bottom of the sea, and the New Republic diplomats look at you anxiously, Luke just smiles lazily, and it is you who reassures them that they have ratified the treaty. That the strange creatures of this planet are satisfied, though you do not say it is because they know you and Luke now, as you know them. They trust the Force, their own unique connection to it, and so do you.
Luke touches your skin like it?s precious, and the diplomats look merely confused, and you wonder how few see the divide ? how many see the connection.
No matter, you think, as Luke kisses you, and it?s perfectly real.
Original cover design by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2005 TheForce.Net LLC.