~ If I should die before I wake, then Force forbid I should die before your eyes... ~
His body twisted, first to the left and then to the right, and with it his pace slowed slightly. The blaster bolts glided past him, barely missing his sweat-soaked form. His breath came in short gasps, his mind barely managing to accomplish the task of running and breathing at the same time. Not only was he mentally tired, he was even worse physically. His legs were exhausted and a cold ache settled into his muscles. He had used the Force to hide himself from his attackers, and once they had passed him, he had moved in the opposite direction, but he knew that it was only a matter of time before they located him.
He once thought he could never run this hard or this fast, but he'd now proved himself wrong. His boots hit the dirt, each step occurring in a matter of milliseconds. The rough old boots he wore did not adapt easily to the landscape of this planet, and for that reason they were slowing him down. It was not only the desert terrain that seemed to be affecting his senses, but also the climate.
His face was saturated with sweat, signifying the brute strength and raw effort of his actions. Small, insignificant drops of sweat fell down both sides of his face. The drops would eventually continue on after reaching the end of his jaw line, dripping to the ground and mixing in with the dry orange dirt.
He was constantly trying to maintain a steady pace, but wasn't quite able to. Even considering he was a Jedi, he would never be able to escape from them. He already knew that running was useless. Any type of escape was useless. Well, unless he could get to the ship in time--before they lifted off.
He'd told them to go. He'd ordered them to escape once he had first discovered that their enemies occupied this planet also. But they had refused to go and leave him there. It was a foolish emotion, that of loyalty. It was an emotion that would ultimately cost the lives of not only the crew aboard the vessel, but also the life of his soul mate.
His soul mate...
His shoulders slumped at the thought of her. He had promised her only a few hours ago that he would come back safe and sound, like he always did. What would become of his promise after his death? Would she ever forgive him for leaving her alone in this war-ridden universe? He'd asked himself this several times, and each time, the Force responded with the same answer.
Though he was stubborn, and he would not allow himself to believe the answer that the Force provided him with. It was the only bad aspect of being soul mates--if he died, Tahiri would eventually die along with him. Could a person perish because of a broken heart? He shook his head, a large groan escaping from his lips. No, he knew Tahiri was so much stronger than that. She would continue on, to battle whatever forces of evil appeared. But how could the severing of their bond not tear her apart? She would be forever tormented in her dreams with memories of their times together. Whether or not he wished her to see them, he couldn't prevent them. He could hardly believe what he was saying. He tried to ignore the conflict of emotions he was experiencing. No matter how long he thought about it, he always came to the same conclusion; that she would eventually die because of him.
It was the side effect of a significant other's crossover into the Force. The dreams, the echoes of the past, the whispering of his callings through the Force would drive her to the Dark Side, and maybe eventually to her grave. That was if she wasn't going to die right now, for her love, loyalty, and devotion.
He would have gotten down on his knees and begged her to go, if that meant that she would obey. But she would have stayed. He could almost imagine her standing on the bridge--her eyes unwilling to shed tears, her posture stiff, and with eyes that could kill the deceased Emperor Palpatine with just an icy glare.
She had always been strong, even when staring up into the face of danger. Heck, she had laughed in danger's face on more than one occasion. That's what he liked about her: her spirit. She fit in exactly with the rest of his family, all of whom carried the same attitude and outlook on life. He could hardly wait to take her as his wife and then, officially, she could carry his surname.
He could not even fathom leaving her. He had known her ever since he was a young boy. They'd been through a lot together, and he, for one, wouldn't let a routine scout trip to a Mid Rim planet be the end of him. A memory interrupted his thoughts. It was one of Tahiri and that amazing laugh she possessed. The laugh he wished he could memorize forever.
She would forever doubt his confidence in emergency situations. He was always trying to be the strong one, the one that would lead them into battle. He could try and pull the whole Jedi calm technique over other peoples' eyes, with his emotionless face and his deadly, elusive eyes, but she always discovered what he was feeling inside.
She'd had that ability for as long as he could remember. It was a gift, or perhaps, in his opinion, a curse. She was perfect for him in every way. There were not many people in the galaxy he could really connect with, but fortunately, she was one of them.
They'd never expected to fall in love. One day they were just friends and the next they were in a relationship. It happened almost overnight. From the first time he felt her lips on his own, he knew it was fate. The feeling of completeness he felt deep inside that was stirred by the kiss, was like nothing he had ever experienced before. He knew almost instantly that was the feeling of love.
Now, that love had blossomed over time. He was not a child anymore--neither was Tahiri. They were past the childish crushes, the silent glances in the other's direction and the flirtatious giggles. This relationship they'd built was stronger than anything he had ever felt. He could almost feel her emotions--there were times that he could almost mistake her emotions for being his own. He worshipped every breath she breathed and every step she walked.
But now what frightened him was that he might never see her smile, her laugh, or the twinkle in her eyes whenever he uttered her three favorite words. This planet he was on was supposed to be a safe haven for the Jedi and Republic citizens alike. Obviously, he'd discovered that it wasn't. Somehow, the Yuuzhan Vong were here, and they had taken the planet as their own. The New Republic was unaware that the Yuuzhan Vong were even in this sector.
Because of that lack of information, he was now running for his life--across a desert, no less. He was almost sure that at any moment he would be able to see the ship on the distant horizon. Though he silently wished that the ship had already left and had escaped unharmed. His life was nothing compared to hers. Only now could he really understand his uncle's wise words that had told of one's true love.
He'd always admired his uncle. Not for what title he held, but for his calm and collected attitude. He always repeated to his students that there were no coincidences when dealing with Force. He was right, as always. Everything happened for a reason.
He was so engrossed in his thoughts, that he had almost forgotten how rocky the ground beneath him really was. It was not the sharp, rocky surface under his feet that brought him out of his daydream, but instead it was the slight twinge of nausea that filled his senses. His vision blurred and he stumbled slightly, his foot catching on a nearby rock. His head spun in circles, causing him to feel dizzy almost immediately. He grunted in disapproval, his knees collapsing under him, causing him to fall unceremoniously to the ground. Particles of dirt sprayed everywhere, covering his form. A pale orange color painted his upper body, almost like a second skin.
Burying his face in the ground, he let a long groan escape from his lips. He forced himself to shift his body, until he was face up on his back. He inwardly winced as he noticed a small pool of blood mark the spot to his left, where he had first collapsed. He opened his mouth in a vain attempt to utter words that could in some way represent his confusion, but he failed and the only thing he was able to do was stare in horror at the pool of blood.
He remembered receiving a sharp pain in his side, not long ago, but he hadn't thought twice about it. Obviously, he'd been too busy running to even think that he'd sustained any wounds. Probing his hand down the right side of his body, he came into contact with something warm and slippery. He shivered, his hand reaching further in to dig at his wound, trying to identify how deep it actually was. He felt his hip spasm in result of his efforts.
Gritting his teeth, he applied pressure to the wound, hoping to stop the flow of blood. He breathed in deeply, pushing back the distinct feeling of nausea. He could neither deny nor accept it, but he was in trouble--serious trouble. He could barely move, but he couldn't give up. He tried to push himself to his feet, but the pain had finally caught up with him and wouldn't be ignored. He found himself unable to stand up. The only comfort was that he could perhaps die before the Yuuzhan Vong finally found him.
Never would he be willingly handed into their custody; he wouldn't allow that. He hoped that she, his soul mate, had gotten away in time. He had hoped that she had left him on this desert wasteland to die alone, and that she had already escaped into hyperspace. But now it was clear that she hadn't, for he still had their bond to clutch to before his demise, and her end of the bond continued to tug on his end, reminding him that she was still in his vicinity.
He concentrated, his thoughts drifting away from his injury to her. He was trying to communicate with her, wanted to warn her about the Vong heading this way. But he didn't want to warn her of them so he could save his own skin--he wanted to warn her that she shouldn't bravely endeavour to prepare a rescue mission.
Tahiri... he whispered into the Force, desperately hoping for a response.
Anakin, Tahiri replied, her voice filled with concern.
Don't come, he commanded, attempting to voice his tone in a stern manner that would most definitely draw Tahiri away from coming. But he failed miserably, when another wave of nausea hit him full on.
What's wrong, Anakin? You're in pain! He heard Tahiri shout in his mind, her worry evident through their bond.
Anakin clutched at his side, begging the nausea for release. The Yuuzhan Vong are here... they are... taking over the whole planet.
They shot you, didn't they? Tahiri asked, waiting a few seconds for his calm, yet painful reply. After a few seconds, she realized that she may never receive one.
Anakin? Anakin? Anakin!!! Tahiri shouted, her pain etching across their bond.
She'd lost him. Foolishly, she'd let him go. She needed him now more than ever--he couldn't just leave her like this. No, she would not let him--no matter what he told her to do--she was going to rescue him, and that was final. She never could bear being alone when she was younger, and even though she'd matured greatly, she'd never gotten over that fear.
To be alone is darkness, and with darkness comes depression.
~ I welcome your continuous passion for our love ~
Tahiri's emotions were riding high; she felt the bond weaken between her and Anakin. She could tell he was getting weaker with every passing second and if she didn't track him down soon, he would never have a chance. He mentioned the Yuuzhan Vong. That could mean only one thing.
They were after him.
Trying to hunt him down, to either kill him or turn him over to their warmaster, once they'd gotten the information they were after.
Anakin Solo, her lover, was out there. All alone. Laying in some stinking hot dirt patch, covered in blood. Tahiri winced, quickly beginning to pace up and down the cabin again. She clutched her arms around her shoulders, encasing herself in the protective gesture. She recklessly tried time and time again to feel Anakin through the Force.
The only answer she received was a blurry vision. It was of Anakin, there was no doubt of that. Not only was he soaked with blood from his leaking wound, he was also covered with a bright orange substance, which Tahiri assumed was dirt. The sun was beating down on him, frying him like it would fry a bantha steak.
He had his eyes closed and his head lifted up towards the sun. For a mere second, Tahiri almost thought he was basking in its rays. Her eyes were everywhere, examining him, yet he failed to notice her ministrations. That was until Tahiri's gaze rested on his lips, which were at the moment trying to form words. She held her breath, her hand clutching at her chest.
Tahiri, never forget what we had...
Tahiri stiffened, tried to hold back a sob, but eventually could only unleash the tears that had been threatening her eyes. She was pouring her soul out into their bond--he must have felt it, but obviously couldn't respond. He was too far gone, and the Force would take him soon, into the dreamland where life's petty endearments meant nothing. The vision faded, leaving only the cold, metal walls of the bridge to replace her love.
Her tears continued, as she refused to accept what the Force had shown her. He meant everything to her. He was all she had left. How could they take him away? A loud cry escaped from her lips, alerting the bridge officers of her distress. One of them, a middle-aged woman, approached Tahiri, her arms outstretched preparing to embrace Tahiri, if needed.
Tahiri eagerly launched herself into the woman's arms, savoring the embrace. She buried her head into the crook of the woman's shoulder, her quiet sobs erupting into a large fit of cries.
"Why... why... did they have to take him? I can still save him... I know I can," Tahiri said in between her sobs.
The woman stroked Tahiri's hair with her left hand, quietly shushing the young girl. Tahiri grabbed the woman tighter, as her body shook from the strain of her cries.
She tried to stop her tears from coming, but failed. Many of the warm drops had fallen onto the woman's collar, but the woman didn't seem bothered by them.
"Let it all out, sweetie, it shall do no good to hold it in," the woman's soft voice drifted through the air.
"He's my soul mate... my only love," Tahiri replied, closing her eyes to prevent more tears from landing on the woman's tunic.
"I'm sure you'll find another..." the woman replied. Her intention had been to calm the younger woman, but the result was exactly the opposite of what she'd expected.
"I won't find love a second time! Anakin's my soul mate, how can you think to say I could love anyone else? I know that there have been other Jedi who have found love a second time, but nobody could replace him. Never in a billion years," Tahiri growled, her anger getting the better of her. The woman was about to respond but a large shriek interrupted her.
Tahiri's jaw slumped; her voice had never been that high-pitched before. While she'd experienced Anakin's feelings through the Force, none had been quite so horrendous and certainly hadn't caused her body to spasm, like it was doing now. In some way he was showing her where he was, and the only way to do that was for her to experience his pain also.
Tahiri's head flew back, so now that her gaze rested on the bridge's ceiling. Then quietly, she whispered, "I know where he is."
~ You were in my dreams and my thoughts, way before we discovered love ~
It felt like forever since he'd first collapsed in a heap on the ground. Nevertheless, he knew that it had likely been only five minutes at the most. The nausea and dizziness hit him wave after wave, blurring his vision, and making him sick to his stomach whenever he tried to move. He expected to see one of the Vong soldiers spotting him and roughly picking him up to take him back to a shaper.
He still didn't hear the footsteps that would suggest they had found him. What would they do with his body if he died? He could not even imagine what they'd do with it. Undoubtedly his body would be returned to the New Republic's willing hands. It would be the quickest and easiest way for the Vong to announce that they'd killed one of the legendary Solos, which in turn would decrease Republic morale.
After all, if the Jedi couldn't survive--who could? The Yuuzhan Vong had always wanted either a member of the Solo/Skywalker clan or the galaxy--either one would look good on a silver platter.
But now, Tahiri was on her way to save him. She was sometimes so predictable in her actions, and likewise with her emotions. Over their bond, he could feel her pain at his injury and the sorrow at the thought of losing him. He thought of the wedding, which might now never happen. His vivid fantasies of that the day when she'd walk down the aisle in a pure white dress were banished from his thoughts. It was useless to dwell on what was never to be.
They would be united through the Force after their deaths. What more could they ask for? They only had to think of this as a short separation for the time being and not what it really was. He lay quietly, now more than ever. His limbs were determined to insist that he not move, so he lay there in silence, listening to the sounds of an almost dead planet.
He pressed his hand harder into the wound, but the blood continued to flow out, staining his hand in the process. He sighed, filling his lungs with much needed air even as another wave of nausea hit him. He almost thought that he was imagining things when he heard the hum of a ship. But to his surprise it was no delusion; the ship that had
transported them here was barely a few hundred meters away from him.
He blinked furiously in an attempt to keep his eyelids open. He had no chance of survival, and he knew it. Even if they put him in a bacta tank immediately, there was no way it could completely heal him. He knew that he was going to die and, for once, he accepted it. He just hoped Tahiri would do the same.
~ I have loved you for eternity and now it's time to let go... ~
It wasn't long until the ship touched down before Tahiri was able to lower the landing ramp and run towards Anakin's limp form. They'd spotted him almost immediately on the viewscreen with Tahiri's help and then the only action that came to her and the crew alike, was to gasp. Tahiri's shock only mounted when she stole a glance to look at the emotion on his face.
She'd expected to see him in shock, but now she recognized the emotion as serenity... he was at complete peace with himself.
How could he do this to her? He was leaving her and all he could think to do was accept it, and not fight death? This is was crazy--he was crazy. Tahiri fell to her knees beside Anakin, her eyes searching out his. Anakin's warm blood stained her tracksuit, and that not only made her cry out in fear of his departure, but in pity.
Reaching down, she caressed Anakin's cheek softly, applying as much love to the gesture as she could. His eyes fluttered open instantly as if in response to her touch, his orbs locking with her own. As she gazed into his eyes, she saw so much love, so many emotions that, unbeknownst to her, she had stirred within him. She knew their love was strong enough to last all time, but Anakin was trying to make it even stronger. He wanted it to last even through death.
Was that even possible?
A tear slid down Tahiri's cheek. It promptly landed on Anakin's forehead. Tahiri let out a large breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Her hand moved in swift strokes across her love's cheekbone, but she soon found her fingers sneaking over to his lips. She gasped as Anakin sweetly kissed the tips of her fingers. With each finger he kissed, his gaze softened.
She let an incoherent moan escape from her lips, and with her other hand she clamped her mouth shut. She unwillingly began to sob, realizing that Anakin had let go of her tiny fingers. Instead she traced down his chest with her index finger, surprisingly producing a small groan from him. She lifted her head up and her eyes skipped down to rest for a second on his wound.
"So how does it look?" Anakin croaked out, his mouth dry from running.
"Oh, not that bad," she responded optimistically. "A few bacta patches and you'll be your cheery old self again."
"That's comforting to know," he countered, coughing several times after his reply.
Tahiri, distressed by the cough, reached up to rest her hand on his forehead. She winced as she noted that he was coughing up blood, yet she could not look away from him.
"So what's the verdict, Doc? Think I'll live?" Anakin said, in a teasing reply to her reaction, giving her his best effort at the traditional Solo smirk that she craved to see.
"Well, I do recommend Jedi Veila's relaxation techniques. I can tell you that they're the closest thing to bliss in this sector," she shyly commented.
Silence filled the air, as neither was willing to start up another conversation. The tension that accompanied the silence was immense. Anakin could only stare up at Tahiri's face, and Tahiri could only stare back, meanwhile stroking his forehead. Their love and devotion was so strong between them, that neither even felt the need for words.
But still, something had to be said, in place of the desert's silence.
"You know I'm going to die, Tahiri." More tears streamed down her cheeks.
"No! No, you're going to be fine!"
Anakin shook his head, wincing at the pain the motion caused. "You know I'm going to die, Tahiri. Listen to me. I don't want my death to be in vain. Promise me you'll continue to fight the Yuuzhan Vong. Promise me!"
He knew she didn't want to promise; that would be accepting his death.
Another sob escaped. "I promise. But you're not going to die! You can't die! You're a hero, no matter how you wish to deny it--something the galaxy hasn't seen for a long time... the people need you. I need you!"
Anakin's hand slowly made its way up to Tahiri's face to wipe each tear away. She could tell it was painful for him, but he proceeded to do it nonetheless.
"No, you're the one who is the hero. I did nothing but stand beside you. One day, Tahiri, you will prove me right. You said it yourself, just yesterday. I'm always right," Anakin whispered between coughs.
His hand, which had been covering his mouth while he'd coughed, now had little tiny patches of blood printed over it. He only nodded, taking notice of his hand.
"What would I truly ever do without you?" he continued. "I'll... be leaving behind the single greatest gift that ever entered my life."
"Anakin -- please, we have to get you to the ship! Come on, I'll help you!" Tahiri frantically tried to get him to move, but Anakin was too weak. He lightly grabbed her wrist, and she froze.
"Anakin..." she whispered, but his fingers on her lips silenced her.
"It's too late, Tahiri," he said softly. "No more words can ever hope to express our true emotions. We know how we feel about each other, let us just leave it at that."
With the passing of that last statement Anakin's hand reached around to grab the back of Tahiri's neck, pulling her down toward him for a quick kiss.
Their lips touched softly and both of them felt the sadness of losing one another inside the depths of their souls. Their kisses had always been breathtaking, and once ended neither had the energy to speak, though somehow this was different. There would be no more fairytale kisses and this was ultimately the last expression of their love. Anakin moved slightly, tracing her lips with his own in an effort to burn the memory of their touch into his mind. If he was to give himself over to the Force, he at least wanted to remember.
For all that would remain would be their empty shells, after this kiss diminished. They were imparting their last amounts of love, passion and everything thought possible into their one last embrace. Never again... never again... would it be like this, nor would it be as vivid as this. There was no other fish in the sea for Tahiri, and there was no other woman for Anakin. They were bonded at a young age by friendship and they would die bonded by love.
They were ultimately soul mates, meant for each other and nobody else. The Force had planned it so, the path of destiny had allowed it to be so, and now they were saying goodbye to each other. Anakin broke the kiss, gasping for air, choking several times. He clutched his side harder, the movement of his sudden choking resulted in a sharp pain running up his left side.
He groaned, tilting his head backwards, to stare up into Tahiri's unbridled eyes. He knew it was time. The Force had given them time to have their last goodbye and now his departure was severely overdue.
"I...love...you...Tahiri. Our love...is... endless, it... stretches... across... death...and... never dies." Anakin paused to clutch his wound even tighter. His pain was overtaking his senses, but somehow before that happened he was able to exclaim three last words.
"I love you too, Anakin," Tahiri replied.
Anakin smiled one last time upon hearing those words, before the hand that had been hovering over Tahiri's cheek went limp, abruptly falling to the ground. Tahiri cried out, clutching Anakin's head, and quickly placing in it on her lap. The tears rolled down her cheeks like waves, forcing her to bend down closer to Anakin's lifeless form.
Her tears traveled down her face and jaw line before dripping down onto Anakin's nose. She sobbed, bringing her boiling hot forehead to rest on Anakin's mildly cool one, mimicking an old gesture of endearment. Just when she thought she'd get lost in her tears and emotions, her heart urged her to speak the unspoken words that had been dancing around in reply to Anakin's sincerest promise.
"See you soon, my love."
Author's Notes: A big bundle of thanks goes out to my three beta-readers, boushh2187, Qwi_Xux and Mar. Thank you for those hours of working with this fic, when indeed you should be asleep. Now I understand why a warm bed is so inviting.
Original cover design by Rachelle Porter. HTML formatting copyright 2001 TheForce.Net LLC.