Beyond the wide windows, dawn was just cresting the snow-capped mountains far in the distance. Outside it was cold, a bitter wind ripping across the frozen lake ? an exquisite arctic beauty that reminded him of his old home on Csilla. Nothing seemed willing to brave the frigid weather; not even a single cairoka bird danced in the gloriously clear skies.
Inside, though, the sitting room was toasty warm. Jag let himself sink deeper into the plush chair, relishing its form-fitting comfort. He could sit here all day. Not that he wanted to ? but he was more than capable of it, should the need arise. Which, of course, it wouldn't. Probably. But they were technically on vacation today, so it was possible. If unlikely.
Toggling the images on the datapad screen, he compared every last detail of the two sets of schematics. Each had its advantages and disadvantages; neither was clearly superior. He hadn't expected that. He was about to reach a decision ? one, it seemed, he couldn't make wrong ? when he caught a slight movement in his peripheral vision.
Jag looked up to see Jaina emerging from the open archway to the bedroom, pacing barefoot toward him. Draped in a red shimmersilk wrap, her hair hopelessly tousled, slumber still tugging at her eyelids, the sight of her took his breath away.
"I thought you went back to sleep."
She shrugged. "Didn't work." She reached him, and perched herself on the thickly cushioned arm of his chair. "Whatcha doin'?"
He turned the datapad screen away from her. "Research."
She raised a brow. "What kind of surprise?"
He laughed. "If I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise."
"Oh, all right." Sometimes being unable to deny her anything made life very difficult. "Our first anniversary is in a few months, so don't ask any more if you know what's good for you. That kind of surprise."
"Ah." She grinned. "You're buying us a ship, aren't you?"
"Well kriff," he said. "There goes the suspense."
She laughed, and put a consoling hand on his shoulder. "So are you gonna show me or what?"
With a defeated sigh, he did. The CEC racing skiff was faster and more maneuverable for when they just wanted to let loose with their piloting, but the KDY sport yacht was more comfortable for extended trips away from home. They really couldn't go wrong with either one.
"They look great," Jaina said when he finished. She tried to hide it, but Jag could see the truth in the upturned corners of her mouth ? she was impressed. Still, there was something in her eyes?
She glanced down. "There's no but."
"Okay. What's the however?"
She bit her lip. Releasing a sigh, Jaina met his gaze. "However, there's?not a lot of room for a family."
"Oh, right." Jag smiled. "I know. But we have a couple years before we need to worry about that. So we might as well get something like this in the meantime."
He put his hand atop hers. "What's wrong, Jay?"
She shook her head, then looked past him into the snowswept panorama. "Nothing."
"I don't believe you."
She shook her head again. "Nothing's wrong."
"All right. Let me rephrase." He took his hand off hers, and used a fingertip to redirect her chin until she was looking into his eyes again. "What aren't you telling me?"
"I?" She started to look away again, but caught herself and held his gaze. "What if it was sooner than a couple years?"
Reflexively, Jag inhaled a sharp breath. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
Her lips moved, but no words came. She tipped her head.
"Are you?I mean, how-?"
"It's too early for a test." A quick smirk crossed her lips. "Not that I have one with me anyway. But I just?know."
"In the Force."
"No. Well, maybe. Possibly. Sort of. I just?feel different."
"You mean, right now? From this morning?"
Her face flushed, and she giggled. "I may have amazing Jedi perceptions, but I'm not that good."
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed her knuckles. "I beg to differ."
"That's not what I'm talking about, Jagged Fel, and you know it." With her free hand, she slugged his shoulder. Then she got that pensive, distant Jedi look. "You remember that night last week? When I told you it felt like the entire rotation of the galaxy had shifted?"
He chuckled. "How could I forget?"
"I think it was then."
"Oh. Oh." Abruptly he grinned. "Well, that's a relief."
"A relief?" He wasn't sure he'd ever seen her more befuddled. "Why?"
"Takes the pressure off having to replicate it all by myself. Because, to be honest, I had no idea what I'd done differently. But it turns out I'm not responsible after all."
Jaina rolled her eyes. "Yes, I can see why that's such a relief, then."
Suddenly, explosively, Jag realized he'd never been more in love with her. "If you say that's what it was, then I don't need any medical droid to tell me it's real," he said, sliding his fingers over the side of her neck, drawing her down to him. He paused when their noses were almost touching. "I trust you."
He kissed her. Tenderly for a moment, then claiming her lips with his, trying to show her how happy he was, trying to banish all those fears and doubts that shadowed her eyes. He didn't stop until she whimpered. When their lips parted they both gasped, gulping air.
"I guess you're not upset," she finally said.
"Upset? Why would I be upset?" He released her neck and lifted the datapad in both hands. "Look, I've got the perfect ship for us already picked out." His fingers tapped on the device, searching for the correct file. What had he titled it? For once, he couldn't remember. Where could it have gone? "Blast it. I know it's here somewhere. Just give me a ?"
Her small hand closed over his. "Jag?"
He looked up, startled. "Hmm?"
"Jag," she repeated, her eyes wet. Only then did he realize her hand was trembling. "Did you really have a ship picked out? For us, for a family?"
He blinked, confused. "Of course. For months now."
A tear trickled down her cheek. "Really?"
"Really." He tossed the datapad aside. "But I'll find it later."
She nodded, causing another tear to escape her other eye. She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I don't know why I'm crying."
Without a word he took her hands in his and eased her down into his lap. Jaina tucked up her legs against her chest, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, and curled herself into him. Her face came to rest on his shoulder, her eyes never leaving his. He kissed her forehead.
"I love you, Jaina," he said softly.
"I?" She swallowed hard. Her tears were flowing freely now. "I love you, too."
"This is the happiest moment of my life."
She nodded into him. There was unconditional trust in her eyes, a profound acceptance of the deep truth of his words. The Force, and her heart, had told her. "You're not disappointed we won't get to buy one of those racing skiffs?"
"What if I liked the sport yacht better?"
She giggled. "It would have been the racing skiff, flyboy."
"I see." He kissed her once, gently, on the lips. "Jaina, I'm not disappointed. I'm the furthest thing from disappointed. This is?wonderful."
"Positive." He poured his heart into her wet brown eyes. "I would do anything for you, for our baby. I'd fly aging cargo haulers that can barely make lightspeed, much less anything past it, if that's what you needed."
Her eyes widened. "I would never ask you to do that."
He kissed her forehead again. "I know. But I would. Without any regrets."
She closed her eyes, and two last tears slipped through. "I don't deserve you."
"Too bad," Jag said. "You're stuck with me. Forever."
Her eyes opened, and she smiled. "You promise?"
She hugged him a little bit tighter. "Sorry I ruined your surprise."
"That's all right," he said. "Yours was much, much better."
Ambling hand in hand, Jaina and Jag stuck close to the wall. The lodge's receiving area was a grand space, built entirely of transparisteel to provide a three-hundred-sixty panorama of the mountain range. Jaina couldn't help but stare at the jutting peaks and their marked contrast with the expansive barren ice lake.
An insistent tug reminded her to keep up. The plan was to avoid the central part of the lobby, with all its bustling activity and numerous beings, in the hopes of slipping past unseen. She picked up her step, reluctantly realizing she would have to enjoy the frozen landscape from beyond the lodge's warmth. They ducked into the anteroom. A firm arm pulled Jaina into Jag's embrace and he kissed her lips quickly.
He stepped back and flipped up the hood of her parka. "You first. If anyone is recognizable ?"
"Blasterbolts! That looks like Ambassador Fel!"
Jag's eyes shot wide, then narrowed to steely determination. With a deft hand, he secured Jaina's hood before turning to face the trio of adolescent boys who had spotted him. They faltered in their tracks at the imposing sight he presented ? militarily erect, shoulders squared, strong? Still, personally Jaina rather enjoyed the backside view. Despite her wicked, beaming smile, she kept her face low and shadowed.
"Boys." One word from Jag and the three young humans snapped to attention like Academy recruits. "Is there something I can do for you?"
"Are?are you really him?" the shortest one asked.
"Possibly. Or perhaps I am merely an uncanny doppelganger."
"You're famous!" the middle one proclaimed. "Can we get a holocapture?"
The tallest boy adjusted his feet like he had itching powder in his pants. He moved just far enough--"That's Jaina Solo," he whispered, not very subtly.
Ducking her head further, Jaina glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed. Fortunately, the squeals and flurry of feet were limited to the two other boys. While Jag's aura demanded distance, being a Jedi seemed to give people an open invitation to touch her. Sometimes it felt like every galactic citizen believed she belonged to them. Even Jag's demeanor couldn't deter the encroaching boys, though.
"Is it really?"
"Holy gundarks, wait 'til I tell Nana."
"Can we see your lightsaber?"
Jaina prepared to send the boys a mental nudge--one part calming, the other part a reminder about the notion of personal space, namely hers. That usually did the trick.
"Is this any way to treat a lady?" Jag's voice was low, not audible beyond a meter, but there was no mistaking the commanding tone. The boys froze--until Jag stepped in front of Jaina, so close his back nearly brushed the front of her parka. Suddenly they couldn't get out of his way fast enough.
"Jag." Jaina let soothing waves carry along with her voice. Their adoring trio eased, but Jag remained tense and menacing on every level. She reached out, gently placing a hand on his elbow. He didn't relax visibly, though, until she stepped around to his side. "Hello, boys. Would you like to--"
"Get a hot chocolate?" Jag finished. "On me."
Despite her curious stare, he fished a few creds from his pocket. Unable to resist the gleaming, metallic temptation, the middle boy snatched the coins and ran off. The other two hesitated, giving Jaina and Jag a final once-over before scurrying in their companion's wake.
"That went well."
Jag ignored her and went about securing the hood of his parka. "You ready?"
Not waiting for an answer, he dashed out the lodge's front doors with Jaina in tow. His long strides made it difficult for her to keep up. "What just happened back there?"
"We're on vacation. I was trying to avoid interruptions. Bribes usually do the trick."
"They're just kids, Jag."
"Ours will be better mannered."
He didn't stop marching until they'd arrived at the activities pavilion on the lake's edge. She studied the excursion list, then said, "I'm not sure that was the best way to diffuse the situation."
His icy green eyes snapped toward her. "Is this our first disagreement on how to raise kids?"
She was about to say, More like, I'm the one who's used to dealing with kids who think Jedi are cool, then thought better of it. Instead she shrugged. "I would have let them take the holocapture."
Inhaling slowly, Jag closed his eyes. They had warmed considerably when he opened them again. "I'll take it under advisement. So?What looks good?"
"I dunno. Hoverskiing?"
"Too many bumps, I think."
Jaina's eyes darted back to the list, studying it furiously. She wasn't afraid to do any of them. On a normal day, these would be far tamer than what she normally liked to do--something with a danger threshold approaching the thickest furballs she'd ever survived. Yet after this morning, after seeing what Jag had been about to buy for their anniversary, after being forced to accept the budding life that had been whispering at the back of her subconscious for days, everything was different.
A warm hand reached out, and Jag's fingers wove between hers. "How about option number three?"
Jaina glowered. "Not if it's back-to-the-room."
He looked positively grim. Disappointed.
"I'll go stircrazy if we just lay around for another day. Don't get me wrong, I loved brunch in bed and the footrub. I mean, you know you give the best footrubs in the galaxy." He opened his mouth to make a suggestion, but Jaina kept right on talking. "I'm pregnant, you know. Not an invalid."
"Honestly, I feel fine. Great, even. In fact, I'll have you know I've felt spectacular ever since that very moment."
"I was going to say, how about we just take a walk?"
"Oh." She hesitated, chagrined at her outburst. Was it possible her hormones were already playing tricks on her? She considered begging for forgiveness, then settled on a less humiliating apology. "With a footrub at the end?"
"Of course," he said with a sly wink.
Jaina patted her flat belly. "Sounds about our speed."
"I heard a porter mention--" Jag scanned the area, seeming to look for observers but really doing a very poor job of pretending he hadn't noticed her gesture--"there is a nature trail with some great wildlife nearby."
Jaina pointed to a marker partially obscured by drifting snow. "I think that's it."
"Ah, yes. Shall we?"
In companionable silence they started down the trail. A hovering boardwalk wound along the frozen marshes. They spotted a snow pika dive into a hole, and watched a skulking arctic tuuyt dog hunt some unseen prey, before coming upon another marker, roughly in line with a white nesting bird.
She read it aloud. "Cairoka bird. Native to Alderaan. Habitat was restricted to the arctic regions. Genetic material donated from the Imperial Archives in 2 ABY produced four viable females and two males. The female cairoka successfully nested--"
When she glanced up, Jag's warm lips met hers. Her world went from cold to hot as his warm embrace enveloped her body. He left her breathless, her cheek nestled into his parka.
"You're going to be a good mother. You don't have to be scared."
"I'm not scared."
"Good thing. Because I am."
"Well, there's a first time for everything." She reached out to him through the Force, but didn't find any sensation of true fear. Only anticipation and excitement, a man who had been hoping--preparing--for this eventuality for a long time. Stretching deeper into the currents of the Force, past, present, and future, she touched a distinct point in time, one Jag actually did dread. "My dad?"
"He is Han Solo, you realize. He's been known to gun people down."
"You've got to be kidding me. He's my dad, and you're a Fel. He let you make me a Fel."
"I'm afraid that doesn't help my cause. Agreeing to our marriage is entirely different from accepting what you and I do in said marriage."
She threw her head back. "Come on. He won't kill you."
"Actually, I'm envisioning much worse."
"Carry your blaster, then." Jaina wrapped her arms around his waist. "Just be sure you set it to stun."
"And when, exactly, will I be needing this blaster?"
"When should we tell everyone?" He nodded, and she shrugged. "Not yet. I want to see a healer first. Then it would be nice to get used to the idea."
"What about Jacen? Don't you need to say something in case he detects?it."
"He won't. My brother is about as smart as they come, but he's also too introspective and, in his own way, remarkably na?ve. Even if he felt something, he wouldn't know what it was unless there was some gaudy flashing nightclub sign on my belly." Jaina opened up her twin bond for a moment and listened with her heart. Jacen touched her back; he was happy, and then was gone. "Besides, I think he's pretty well distracted on Zonama Sekot or something. Hopefully Tahiri stops by once or twice to make sure he remembers to eat."
The cairoka bird shifted in her nest and squawked. Apparently their visit was up. Jag unwrapped Jaina's arms and rubbed her frozen fingers within his own. "Done?"
"Yeah, done," she chattered, suddenly realizing how cold it was.
They were almost back to the lodge when an idea struck her. "The family holiday on Chandrila. That's when we'll tell them."
"Tell them what? That I kidnapped you, filled your aunt's ship with ysalmiri, then gutted it, all in a bout of red ale induced stupidity?"
Jaina laughed. "That's probably marginally less likely to get you killed."
"Thanks. That really cheers me up."
"I don't get it, Jag. You're afraid of telling my father that I'm pregnant, but really you should be worried about telling Mara what you did to the Shadow."
"Nope." He shook his head. "She gave us permission. She's got enough sense to know that if you hand over a ship to a Corellian ?
"Correction. My brother is only half Corellian."
"Technicalities. She took the risk; all bets were off. Besides, Mara is a woman; she'd understand the sacrifice for love."
"If you say so. But if you ever do something like that to our ship?"
Jag held his palms up in mock surrender. "Don't forget, I'm still paying off Karrde for the repairs to the last ship you tried to separate prematurely from a docking ring."
A smart remark was forming on her tongue when screeches of delight pealed through the winter air. "You see them! That's Jaina and Jagged Fel!" At the base of the trail, seven children stumbled and skipped over the uneven snow.
Jag heaved a sigh. "I'm going to have to bribe them all with hot chocolate now if I want to be left alone with my wife."
"Yes, you are, dear."
"If I had just let them take the holocapture, they would be too busy showing it to their friends instead of hunting us down."
"For someone who claims to be a diplomat, it's taking you an awfully long time to get the hang of this."
He held up a palm in greeting, trying to encourage the rowdy bunch to slow their approach. "I understated it. You're going to be a great mother."
She reached to hold his free hand between both of hers. "Try not to be too protective."
Then the couple was encircled by a swarm of exuberant children.
"Okay," Jag said firmly. "One holocap."
The children halted their antics, and the tall boy blurted out, "Really?"
"Yes, on one condition." Jag maintained his commanding stance. "You also take a picture of just the two of us, and leave a copy for us with the concierge."
"I don't know how to do that," the small boy holding the holorecorder said.
Jaina smiled. "It's okay. I do."
The posing took barely more than a minute, and it took even less time for Jaina to show the boy how to transfer the holocapture when he returned to the lodge. The children were gracious, and finally retreated with effusive, heartfelt thanks.
When the silence returned, Jag said softly, "Hopefully he'll hang onto that holocap. It'll be worth something someday."
"You mean it isn't already?" She hugged him. "The one of just us is something I will treasure now."
"Yes. Someday we can show our baby the moment we found out about?it."
She chuckled. "Maybe you are a diplomat after all. Don't think I haven't noticed you're going to great lengths not to reveal what you really want."
"I want a healthy baby ?" He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "? with twelve fingers and eleven toes."
"Good thing I get your humor." Crossing her arms, Jaina canted her head. "Which is it?"
"Not going there. Chiss doctrine, first rule of engagement: Avoid lose-lose situations." He shook his head to emphasize the point.
"Do you really think I'm going to get mad over something like that?"
"You're you, and pregnant to boot."
"Oh, come on, flyboy." She batted her eyes, and put out her lower lip.
"Not a chance. You're not going to get me to say whether I want Option One or Option Two. I'll leave that to the Force."
"Spoilsport." She grinned. "Fine. How about Option Number Three?"
Original cover by oldjedinurse. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.