In a post-Rebirth AU, Lieutenant Jaina Solo finds herself with a bounty on her head and in hiding, so her commanding officer, Gavin Darklighter, sends someone to protect her- Colonel Jag Fel and Spike Squadron.
"Space. Cold. Empty."
I once read a holonovel that opened that way. Actually, I read that opening line and decided it wasn't worth my time. Whoever wrote that had obviously never seen space.
Space is never empty, and it can be warm and inviting, as long as you're in the comfort of an X-wing cockpit. Even Uncle Luke agrees with that.
This was by no means the first time I'd looked out into space before and marveled at how different it is each day. This time, the space around the Errant Venture was littered with the remains of a Chiss clawcraft. Colonel Jagged Fel's squadron had shown up, looking for me. Even now, Fel has absolutely no tact, so when he told the landing bay of the Imp Star Deuce that his squadron had been sent from Coruscant to find me, someone had opened fire.
The Chiss whose fighter had been blown up had gone EV just in time. Fel had personally seen him to the medical ward. Those Jedi hunches, as Aunt Mara likes to call them, told me that he would come back to find me.
I was right. About half a standard hour later, I heard his voice as he strolled into the room.
"Well, if it isn't Jaina Solo."
I turned, somewhat reluctantly. "Good afternoon, Colonel." He was dressed in black, as usual, but unlike the two times before when I had seen him, he was smiling. "Something amusing?"
"It's nice to see you again." He paused, like he wasn't sure if he really wanted to say anymore. "I heard about your accident. When you didn't get called back, I thought your eyesight might have been permanently damaged."
"No, my eyes are fine," I replied. "There have been... other reasons for me to stay away from Rogue Squadron."
"Surely you do not succumb to the politics of this?" There was scorn in his voice, but not directed at me.
"Colonel, there's a bounty on my head. It was as much for my own protection as it was for political reasons." I smiled at him. "Plus, I get to be around my family now, especially my cousin."
He walked closer to me and smiled again. "Little children are a joy to be around. I'm glad you're getting to know your cousin early."
"Ben's a darling," I answered. "Of course, Anakin and Tahiri monopolize him. I hardly get to hold him."
"Who is Tahiri?"
"One of the Jedi students. They were with Corran Horn on Yag'Dhul. She's been his best friend for years, but I think they may have gotten a little... closer, shall we say, when they were there."
"This bothers you." It was a statement, not a question.
Defensiveness flashed up around me. It took me a while to figure out why. He was right, and the realization annoyed me in many ways. Apparently, my emotions were completely out of control, and he could tell. And there was the fact that he realized before I did that Anakin's new relationship with Tahiri bothered me.
"Yeah, I guess it does," I replied, lowering my defenses. "I mean, Anakin's my little brother. He's not supposed to have a serious girlfriend before I've had a serious boyfriend."
Fel raised his eyebrows slightly at this. I could tell that he wasn't expecting me to be that open about it. I was very glad when he changed the subject. "Well," he answered, "I hope they don't monopolize your cousin so much that I don't get to see him while I'm here."
The statement jarred something in the back of my mind. "Come to think of it, Colonel, I don't know why you're here. Or how you found us."
"I told the communications officer the truth. I came here to see you."
That statement could have entirely too many meanings. "So General Antilles just let you take your squadron out to find me?"
"Hardly. Uncle Wedge sent me to find you. My new mission is to protect you."
My jaw dropped. "I need a squadron of Chiss to protect me? When did that happen?"
"This is political again." The disdain in his voice was clear. "The bounty on your head has increased since the Sernpidal incident. Colonel Darklighter would prefer not to lose you to bounty hunters, so he requested that my uncle send someone to keep you alive."
"So naturally he thought of you."
"Naturally," Fel replied, not with cockiness, but sincerity. "Chiss squadrons are expected to be able to fight in all circumstances, in or out of a clawcraft. We are the right group for the job."
This news was definitely surprising. I knew from my aunt and uncle's run-in with Coruscant's security force, that Rogue Squadron's commander wanted the Jedi protected. I just didn't realize how far he was willing to go with this.
The colonel continued. "And as for finding you, you left Colonel Darklighter with the encryption for the Errant Venture so he could locate you. He gave that to me to make matters simpler."
I nodded, somewhat surprised by this news. I hadn't expected Colonel Darklighter to divulge my location, but I supposed that he knew what was best.
"And I have two requests of you," Fel stated.
"First, you do not leave this ship without me. I'd prefer it if you didn't go wandering around this ship without me or one of my men."
"Second, call me Jag. I have a feeling that I'm not going to like being called 'Colonel' all the time by my charge."
I glared at him. I knew he was kidding, but it was still kind of irritating to know that a general and a colonel thought I was incapable of watching my own back. He smiled in return.
"In the meantime, some of my squadron members have found Booster Terrik's simulators and want a match. Would you care to join us?"
I hesitated. "I don't have a wing."
"Don't worry your pretty head about it. I'll gladly fly your wing anytime."
Jag and I had won the sim, and we were eating dinner with my brothers and Tahiri before I realized the double meaning in that statement.
Kyp had actually had the nerve to contact me since Sernpidal. He'd tried to apologize without actually taking any blame, and he'd also renewed that request for me to be his apprentice. That, of course, was impossible. I'd already resumed training with Mara. The end of the message made me sick to my stomach every time I thought about it.
"I hope you can forgive me, Jaina. Our friendship has meant too much to both of us for it to die because of such a little disagreement. Please contact me, Jaina. I will be very hurt if you don't." Yeah, right, Kyp. You'll be hurting, one way or another, because you won't like what I have to say. I glanced up at the chronometer. Close enough to morning. Thinking of Kyp was not a good way to work up an appetite. As the cuisine aboard the Errant Venture was actually pretty good for ship fare, I wanted to be able to take advantage of the opportunity to eat well. I decided to get up and wash my hair.
Booster Terrik didn't do anything the normal way, including 'fresher setups. Instead of having large, mass 'freshers like they had on ships like the Ralroost or at Rogue Squadron headquarters, he had put individual 'freshers every twenty meters in the section of the ship devoted to living quarters. It was kind of nice to be able to have a 'fresher entirely to yourself, but it wasn't what any of us in the military were used to.
When I got out of the 'fresher, it was still really early in the morning, so I just wrapped up in a towel and headed off to the comfort of my stateroom. At least, I would have, if I hadn't walked straight into a man coming around the corner.
He backed away, very startled. As I sputtered out an apology, he kept staring at me. I was very annoyed, cold, and wet.
And then I realized that my towel was barely keeping me decent. As I grabbed at the towel, trying to keep it closed, something clicked.
The man was Jag. And he wasn't wearing a shirt.
So we stood in the corridor for a while, half-naked and staring at each other. Jag's uniform had always seemed more like skin than clothing. To see him out of full uniform was slightly disconcerting, yet, at the same time, he looked completely natural displaying his upper body.
The look on his face told me that he was thinking essentially the same thing about me. I suddenly felt very hot, despite my lack of clothing, and I ran off to my stateroom before he could say anything.
After a while, Jacen said casually, "I had a nice talk with Jag Fel last night."
After nearly choking on the food I was swallowing, I asked, "Really? What did you talk about?"
"You, of course." Jacen smiled at me with our father's trademark grin. "He seems to respect you quite a bit." I didn't answer, so he continued. "In fact, he seems to respect you for a lot more than just being a Jedi and one of the best pilots in the galaxy."
"What gives you that impression?"
"Questions he asked. And not entirely about you. About Mom and Dad too."
By this time I was practically attacking my plate with my knife. "Did it ever occur to you, brother dear, that he might just be curious?" I asked in a voice that was a little too defensive.
"Yeah, but not after the first hour or so."
That was it. I met my twin's eyes, which looked so happy to have something to torture me with, and replied scathingly, "Jacen, stop it. I hardly know Jag. There's nothing going on between us."
Instead of replying, he looked past me and called, "Hello, Jag!"
I wasn't about to fall for that one. I didn't turn around, but I reached out in the Force and touched Jag's bright, luminous presence. I should have known that Jacen wouldnt try to fool another Jedi. Surprisingly, Jag seemed a little less confident than normal, tinged with the same uncertainty that I felt.
However, his voice betrayed nothing. "Good morning, Jacen," he replied. "Good morning, Jaina."
I stiffened as he placed his hands on my shoulders. He leaned down and began to whisper so softly that Jacen probably couldn't hear.
"Jaina, I don't want you wandering around the ship when no one else is awake. You're too valuable to be at that kind of risk. Is that clear?"
I nodded. As he walked away, Jacen stared at me incredulously. "What was that about?"
I glared at him. "None of your business," I snapped, leaving to find Aunt Mara.
I found her in the forward visual triangulation room, which we were using for training purposes. Because it was just a big, empty room, it was great for lightsaber practice. There wasn't much that could be broken in the room. Lightsaber practice seemed to be the goal today. Mara had the practice droid running.
"Hi, Jaina," she called as I walked in the room. "Ready for some action?"
"Hi, Aunt Mara. Is Ben doing any better?" I replied.
"Immensely. He's still a little sniffly, but Luke is being overprotective enough for both of us. I do have a responsibility to you as well, so Luke's taking care of Ben this morning." She turned around and looked at me. "Now, are you ready for some action?"
"Of course," I answered, drawing my new lightsaber.
"You seem to be a little distracted about something. Care to talk about it?" she asked, eyeing me closely with a protective air that she'd developed in the month or so since her son's birth.
"No," I said shortly. "Do you want to see my blade?"
"Ooh, yes," she replied, smiling. With that smile, she became Mara Jade again, the former Emperor's Hand, who loved the sight of any new weapon.
I handed my lightsaber over to her. She handled it with the delicacy that most people used with fine jewelry, taking in every subtlety of the weapon. After examining it for about five minutes, she ignited the blade.
The crystal I had used was perfectly pure and flawless, and the blade it produced was a shimmering white. Mara's eyes widened when she saw it. "White," she breathed. "Not a hint of blue or silver...white. Jaina, you found a rare stone."
"Actually, Mirax found it," I answered. "She heard I was building a new lightsaber, so she found a whole bunch of crystals."
"Jaina, do you know the advantage of a pure white blade like this?"
"It's harder for an opponent to see."
"True, but in theory, you could split this blade."
"How?" That was the craziest thing I'd ever heard.
"If you were to cut through something like transparisteel-or better, real glass-just right, the blade would split like a prism into seven different beams, in the colors of the rainbow." She turned it off and handed it back to me. "Of course, it's just a theory. That would take some incredibly unlikely circumstances."
I stood with my lightsaber in one hand, as if weighing it. I hadn't thought about blade color when I chose the stone. I had picked it up, and it just felt right to use that crystal. I had expected it to be silver like Corran's, though.
Mara switched the practice droid to ready. She looked over at me questioningly, and I nodded, re-igniting my lightsaber. She turned it on.
I don't remember much of the practice round. I think the droid burned me a few times, but I was so deep into combat mode that I didn't notice the pain. I was actually surprised that I did as well as I did. It had been a while since I'd last practiced. I fell back into the groove of the droid pretty easily, blocking shot after shot.
It didn't seem like it had been that long when the droid shut itself off to prevent overheating of either me or it. I saw Mara smile, and I shut the blade off.
As I pushed my shoulder-length hair, now dripping, out of my face, I heard a voice behind me say, "Why did it shut itself off?"
I spun around and saw Jag standing at the door. I'd been so focused on the droid that I hadn't noticed his arrival. I wondered how long he'd been standing there watching me.
Mara answered for me. "The droid automatically turns itself off after half an hour. Safety precaution." Turning to me, she said, "I'm impressed, Jaina. Keep it up."
She packed the droid back into the crate. "What?" I asked. "Aren't we doing more?"
"Sorry, kid, but I have to check on Ben. Besides, the droid doesn't like to work more than once a day." Seeing my disappointment, she said, "I'd like to try your blade sometime. You've used an interesting design on it, and you know what a sucker I am for weaponry."
I smiled. "Any time, Aunt Mara."
As she left, she said, "I'll meet you two for lunch, okay?" At that, she left me alone with Jag.
Suddenly exhausted, I collapsed to the floor. Jag laughed. "I thought you wanted more."
"I did, but I stopped for too long," I replied as he sat down next to me.
"So you built your own lightsaber?" he asked.
"Yes. That's one of the milestones in completing Jedi training. Both my brothers built lightsabers just after I joined Rogue Squadron."
"Is this going to turn into another of those 'my younger brother isn't supposed to do something before I do' conversations?"
"I hope not. Jacen and Anakin have both done a lot of stuff before me. We could be here all day."
We both laughed. I continued, "I'm sure you know the feeling though. You have younger siblings too."
"Yes," he replied, his mood darkening somewhat. "There are a lot of things that younger siblings aren't supposed to do before you."
I paused for a minute. "Do you want to talk about this, Jag?"
"I never dreamed that my sister would die before me." His voice was quiet, and he didn't look at me. "I never dreamed, when she went out in my place, that she wouldn't come back."
I didn't know what to say. I'd never heard him talk about his family like this. I was torn between wanting to hug him and wanting to leave before things got too depressing.
"Kyria was my best friend. She saved my life once, and I repaid her by letting her go off in my place and get killed. I don't see any way that she could have died not hating me."
Oh, boy. He sounds just like my dad. I took a deep breath. "You can't blame yourself. She made her own choices. You're not responsible, and you can't change the past."
He looked up at me suddenly. "You sound like you have all the answers suddenly."
"Remember Sernpidal?" I asked. He nodded, and I continued. "Dad and Anakin were there, with Chewbacca. Chewie had a life debt to Dad, because Dad rescued him when he was a slave. Chewie stayed on the planet so Dad and Anakin could get out. Both Dad and Anakin tried to blame themselves for Chewie dying when the moon crashed into the planet." I felt my throat choking up, but I had to continue.
"But there was nothing they could do about it. The fact was, Chewie made his choice. If Dad or Anakin had forced him to do something else, that would have been like putting him in slavery again. That would have taken away a sentient being's right to make his own choices. That's worse than death, Jag. That's a living death."
He looked up at me. "I suppose you're right." After a long pause, he smiled. "Your hair is all wet again."
I felt my face going very warm again. "Jag, I'm really sorry about that..."
"I didn't ask for an apology, Jaina. Did you think I wanted one?"
"Well, I- I did walk into you and then walk off without saying a word."
"Wrong on two counts. You did try to apologize before you realized it was me, and then you ran, not walked."
I knew that I was about as red as I could possibly get. Why did he have that effect on me? I broke eye contact and pretended to be very interested in my lightsaber.
"Jaina, Mara was right. You do seem a little distracted. What's bothering you?"
"Beside the fact that you saw me half-naked this morning?"
"You were half-naked? I didn't notice," he answered in an innocent voice.
I pointed the lightsaber at him. "Watch it with the sarcasm, buddy."
He held his hands up. "Hey, don't shoot. Or in this case, impale." I backed off, clipping the lightsaber back to my belt. "So, beside your walk back from the 'fresher, what's bothering you?"
I took a deep breath. "Do you remember Kyp Durron?"
"Vaguely, yes. I heard about how he lied to you to get military help to blow up the worldship."
"Well, during that whole trip, he was flirting with me, baiting me. He called me one of his more attractive acquaintances, said that I was a lot like him, which is flattery, in his opinion."
"But not in yours."
"Not anymore. He even asked me to become his apprentice."
"But you're training with you aunt."
"That's what I told him. After the Sernpidal thing, I told him off and said I'd never help him again. But he had the gall to contact me once I got here." I noticed that Jag was stroking the handle of his blaster. "He tried to apologize, tried to smooth things over and pretend nothing had ever happened." I shuddered. "I can't stand that Hutt slime."
The way he was silently caressing his blaster bothered me. "Jag," I began, "you don't have to get angry about this. He'll stop pestering me eventually. And it's not like you're my brother or my boyfriend. It's not your job to get angry about this."
"On the contrary, Jaina, my uncle didn't specify the realm of my protection. If I feel like it, I can extend that to include harassment and stalking from selfish, immature, spineless Jedi Masters who are so desperate that they chase after girls half their age-"
"It's all true."
"I don't care if it's true," I replied hotly. "If my uncle heard you say that, he'd make you leave."
"No, sorry. My uncle outranks your uncle."
I rolled my eyes. "When we met, you talked like you were old enough to be my father. Now you sound like an adolescent."
"When we met, you sounded like an adolescent. Now you're talking like you're old enough to be my mother." He smiled. "Interesting reversal here." He stood and extended his hand to me. "I'm taking you to your stateroom, and then I'll escort you to the 'fresher so you can wash your hair again. Then I believe we have a lunch date with your aunt."
I took his hand, and he pulled me to my feet. We stood there for a second, and I sensed some reluctance from him as he let go of my hand. I felt the same way about letting go of his.
When we finished, Mara asked, "Jag, would you like to meet my son?"
"I would be honored, Mara," he replied, his voice rather formal. We rose and headed to the Skywalker suite.
Luke was holding Ben when we came into the living room The baby was about three months old, and already showing signs of precociousness. He could hold his head up for pretty long periods of time, and he seemed to have better eyesight than most infants. He already recognized his parents, me and my family, the Horns, Cilghal, and Tahiri. He'd also developed the most adorable laugh.
When I came within a few feet of him, Ben turned, saw me, and reached a tiny hand in my direction. I held out my hands, and he squirmed, trying to get to me. I took him from Uncle Luke and kissed him on the cheek. He giggled.
Luke saw Jag standing behind me and extended a hand to him. "I think we've met before. You're Baron Fel's son, Jagged, right?"
"Yes, sir," Jag replied, shaking Luke's hand. "Please call me Jag, though. Only my mother calls me Jagged these days."
My uncle laughed lightly. "I know the feeling. My wife still calls me Skywalker, and no one has called me that since I left Rogue Squadron."
Mara spoke up. "You still call me Jade, husband mine, and that doesn't even officially apply anymore."
"True," Luke replied. "So, Jag, how is you family doing? Still out on Nirauan?"
Jag frowned slightly. "How did you know where my family lives? Not even Uncle Wedge knows where they are."
"Seven years ago Mara and I were out there-"
"No, Luke," Mara cut in. "I went out there, managed to get myself knocked unconscious, and Luke came out to rescue me."
Luke smiled wryly. "Something like that. Anyway, we were out there looking for the Hand of Thrawn."
"You found us?" Jag replied, truly surprised.
"They were looking for Mara, actually, so it wasn't quite that hard. However, we saw your father while we were out there."
"Really? He never told me."
"That doesn't surprise me. You would have been, what, thirteen at the time?"
"Something like that. That's still a little surprising. I joined Spike Squadron when I was thirteen. Normally those kinds of things are announced to the military."
"I'm sure that Baron Fel had his reasons. He normally does."
Jag laughed at that. "Well, to answer your question, yes, my family is still on Nirauan, and doing quite well." I still sensed that note of sorrow in him, probably about his two deceased siblings. "My mother and my younger brother and sister might come to Coruscant soon, to see Uncle Wedge."
"That's nice to hear," Mara answered. She turned her attention to me and said, "Jaina, are you going to keep Ben to yourself, or are you going to let your flyboy see him?"
I know I started to blush a little at the comment, but I managed to chase that away before it became too noticeable. "Do you want to hold him, Jag?"
"In a minute." He stood very close behind me and touched Ben's cheek. I turned my head to watch him. "Hello, Ben," he said in a tone unlike any I had heard from him before. The baby, who was looking over my shoulder at him, reached a hand up and batted Jag's nose. His other hand had a death grip on a fistful of my hair, so Jag gently pried his fingers open.
I glanced over at Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara. They were smiling at each other oddly. I knew that look; I'd gotten it from Jacen that morning. I decided then that people would say and think what they liked, but their comments didn't have to affect me at all. I could just ignore it.
Jag took Ben out of my arms at that point. "It's best to get the child used to you before you try to hold him," he said, almost condescendingly.
"You seem to know an awful lot about kids all of the sudden," I replied.
"My brother is five. I remember him as a baby quite well."
As I watched Jag with my cousin, it struck me that this was something he wanted- a life outside of a cockpit. I'd seen a new side of him earlier, and I realized that he was deeply committed to his family. More than that, he wanted a family of his own.
Having a family of my own wasn't something I'd considered much. I was only eighteen, and the more pressing matter now was staying alive. That was why Jag was here, to keep me alive. But what if he's here for more than that? I thought.
I started to blush again, and I looked away from Jag and Ben. Aunt Mara caught my eye and said a little louder than usual, "Jaina, why don't you show Luke your new blade?"
I unclipped my lightsaber from my belt and handed it to my uncle, who was almost as appreciative as Mara had been of it. In the meantime, Mara looked over at me with a smile that was both teasing and sympathetic. She amazed me; after a childhood as unusual as they get, she still understood everything.
She walked over and hugged me. When she broke away, I stared at her, narrowing my eyes. "What?" I asked.
"It's just been a while since I hugged you, that's all," she replied quietly.
We heard Uncle Luke ignite my lightsaber. He shut it off quickly and handed it back to me. "Well, done, Jaina," he stated.
I clipped it back to my belt. "Thank you, Master," I said.
Jag spoke up again. "Master?"
"Yes, he is one of my Jedi Masters," I replied, facing him again. "Occasionally the situation calls for slightly more formality than family ties require. Surely you have been in such a situation with your father."
"Yes, I have, but remember, society on Nirauan is so drastically different that I have no idea what anyone in the New Republic does." His voice was somber, but his eyes were full of mirth.
We all laughed at this. Ben took that opportunity to try to put his hand in Jag's mouth. I walked back over to him, and he gave Ben back to me. The baby seemed to be looking for something. "He's probably hungry, Jaina," Mara said. "Here, give him to me."
My aunt took him off to some bedroom in the suite. As she left, a com call came on the speakercom in from the landing bay for Uncle Luke.
"Master Skywalker," the communications officer said, "the Millennium Falcon has just landed. Ambassador Organa Solo said she will meet you in your suite."
"Thank you," Luke replied.
Jag moved toward the door. "I'll let you meet your family, Jaina."
"Oh, no, you don't," I replied, grabbing his arm. "Stick around. Meet my dad."
He looked almost nervous at the prospect.
I felt more than saw his glare as I walked over to my parents. "Welcome back," I greeted. "You didn't tell me you were going somewhere. Where'd you go, Hoth?"
Mom hugged me. "No, sarcastic child of mine. Bespin, actually. Lando's trying to set up shop there again, and he and Tendra asked us to visit him for a few days. Besides," she added, pulling away and holding me at arm's length, "when we left you were busy becoming one with your lightsaber. I take it you're done with it?"
I nodded. "Mara likes it, too."
Dad interjected, "You can't get much higher praise than that, Jaina."
Uncle Luke laughed. "He's right, you know."
Dad seemed to notice Luke for the first time. "Hey, kid, how's it going?" he greeted. "Getting lots of sleep these days?"
My uncle rolled his eyes, and then a half-smile crept on his face. "I'm sure you and Leia would love to take Ben for a few days."
"Sorry, Luke. I served my time already."
"Dad!" I cried.
"Jaina," he explained, "one of these days you'll learn that the last six weeks of pregnancy are to prepare you for the first six weeks of having a baby in the house. You won't sleep, and if you're lucky, your husband won't either." Before I could enter a rebuttal, he looked around and said, "Hey, wait a minute. Where are Mara and the Skycrawler?"
"The Skycrawler?" Mom repeated incredulously.
"Well, he can't be a Skywalker yet," Dad joked, throwing a grin at her.
"He can't crawl yet either."
Dad waved off her comment. "Technicalities."
"Mara's feeding Ben at the moment," Luke stated. "Then, with any luck, he'll take a nap."
"Don't count on it, kid," Dad replied, clapping Uncle Luke on the back. He gestured to Jag. "So who is this kid?"
I could sense Jag's nervousness increasing incrementally. "Dad," I began, "this is Colonel Jag Fel of Spike Squadron."
Jag stepped forward and offered his hand. "It's good to meet you, General Solo."
Dad blinked a couple of times before shaking Jag's hand. "Wow, someone remembers I was a general. Are you related to Baron Fel? You look like him."
"He's my father, sir."
Dad looked over at me. "Is he with you?"
Jag answered for me. "Sir, I was assigned here by General Antilles and Colonel Darklighter to protect you daughter."
"My daughter is a Jedi. Since when does she need a bodyguard?"
"I didn't make that decision, sir."
"You can drop the 'sir' business already. Makes you sound like you're courting my daughter."
"Han!" Mom cried.
"It's all true," he replied sheepishly.
"I don't care if it's true, Mom replied. Jag and I exchanged amused looks, recognizing the similarity to the conversation we'd had that morning. Mom addressed Jag. "Please, call us Leia and Han. There's no need for formalities here."
"All right." I could tell that he was fighting down the urge to call her "Ambassador" or some other title.
Dad spoke up again. "Well, your parents are Corellian, so that makes you Corellian, despite your birthplace. I guess that means you can pretend to be the bodyguard for my daughter."
"Dad!" As I protested, I saw Uncle Luke turn around and heard him stifle a laugh.
It's no use, I thought. They're never going to leave me alone about him.
We'd been in there a long time when Dad and Jag showed up. Anakin and Tahiri were practically asleep by then. Dad and Jag took the booth behind us.
The waiter droid approached and asked, "What can I get you, gentlemen?"
"The best Corellian whiskey Booster Terrik can muster," Dad answered, predictably.
"The same," Jag said.
The droid returned with their drinks a few minutes later, and Dad asked, "So what are we drinking to, kid?"
I winced as Dad called him that. Jag's sense in the Force betrayed nothing. "To old friends, who haven't really left us."
I heard the glasses clink. After a pause, Dad stated, "Jaina told you about Chewie."
I suspect Jag nodded.
Dad continued, "All three of my children are Jedi, but I don't think that they, even with the Force, could understand what I went through. I doubt you could either."
"On the contrary, sir-"
"Han." Jag hesitated. "About two months before I took command of Spike Squadron, I was on leave for a few weeks. My sister and I went hiking in the mountains one day. Somehow I lost my balance, slid down a slope, and broke my leg. If it hadn't been for her, I would have died that night in the cold.
"A few days later, there was some fighting going on. I could have flown even with a broken leg, but my sister insisted on going out in my place."
A heavy silence fell. I heard the soft thud of an empty glass hitting the table. Dad said, "I take it she never came home."
"There wasn't enough left of her for a burial." Jag's voice seemed oddly choked, but he continued. "The point is that I know how horrible it can be when someone dies in your place, how impossible it is to deal with...
"But your daughter said something to me that was remarkably insightful. She said that to take away a sentient being's right to make his own decisions is to relegate a person to a living death. Kyria made her own decisions, and so did Chewbacca.
"That got me thinking some more. I realized that Kyria made that choice out of love. It was, in a way, a gift. To wish I could change the past is a slight against her."
Silence fell again, and I could sense Jag becoming more comfortable with my dad, and Dad relaxing a little about Jag. It could have been the alcohol, but I doubted it.
A chirp from a comlink broke the silence. "Solo," Dad said. After a pause, he said, "Don't touch anything. I'll be right there." He stood. "I hate to cut this short, but the landing bay claims there's something wrong with the Falcon. I like Booster, but I don't trust those clowns he hired."
Jag laughed as Dad hurried away. After a minute or two, he said, "Jaina."
I jumped at the sound of my name. "What is it, Jag?"
"I didn't see you, but I thought you were there." He stood and turned to face us. "The four of you look tired. Do you mind if I break things up and escort Jaina back to her room?"
Jacen smiled at me, that stupid smile he used to irritate me. I glared back at him, but I got up and left with Jag anyway.
At the end of the day I ran another round with the practice droid. I didn't miss a shot that time. Mara was beyond speech when the droid shut itself off. Surprisingly, I wasn't exhausted, but I was in need of a shower.
Not wanting to repeat the previous morning's experience, I took clean clothes with me. Arriving at the first available 'fresher, I stripped down and stepped into a hot shower.
I was rinsing soap out of my hair when I sensed Jag enter the 'fresher. What does he think he's doing? He called, "Jaina?"
I turned the water off. "What do you need, Jag?"
Suddenly he threw the shower curtain open. "Jag!" I screamed, grabbing a towel and throwing it around my body. "Have you no sense?!?"
"Apparently not," he answered distantly, staring at what, moments before, had been bare flesh.
"Is this going to be the running joke of our relationship?" I demanded, calming down a little.
"Not unless we get married or something." He was still staring at me.
Thoroughly exasperated, I asked, "What are you doing here, Jag?"
He tore his eyes away from me. "We have a situation brewing. We may need you in a cockpit."
We stood there for a minute. "What are you waiting for?" he asked. "Hurry up."
"Can you leave so I can put clothes on?"
"Oh. Sure," he replied, blushing a little. He turned crisply and left.
If he walks in on me one more time... I sighed as I dried myself off and put on a black jumpsuit. Figuring I didn't have the time to dry my hair, I headed off to the landing bay with it wet.
Corran Horn looked up at my wet head as I entered. "Did we interrupt something, Jaina?"
Ignoring him, I asked, "What's the situation?"
One of Booster's men answered, "Two squadrons incoming. We tried to hail them, but their leader refuses to divulge his identity or intent."
Jag looked over at my uncle. "Master Skywalker, what do you think? Peace Brigade?"
After a moment, Uncle Luke answered, "It's possible, but I doubt it."
Jag ran a hand through his short black hair. "All right. Spike Squadron," he said, addressing the Chiss around him, "get to your clawcraft. We're meeting them halfway."
Another of Booster's men protested as the Chiss ran off. "But sir, that's two-to-one odds."
Jag glared at the man. "Odds are for wimps."
I smiled at that. He is Corellian. Jag turned and followed his pilots, but stopped abruptly and faced me. "Jaina, I'm short a pilot. Fly my wing?"
In response I ran after him. I was at my X-wing first, and I was halfway up the ladder to my cockpit when he called, "Jaina."
I swung around, holding on to the ladder with one hand and one foot. He was standing at the foot of the ladder. "What?"
"Forget about it. It was an accident."
He caught my free hand. "Be careful out there, okay?"
"When am I not?" I asked, a little surprised by the intensity in those pale green eyes.
"This time make an effort." Before I could reply, He kissed the palm of my hand and ran off to his clawcraft.
Considerably confused, I climbed into the cockpit.
Within minutes we were headed toward the incoming squadrons, mostly X-wings. Jag continued attempts to contact the leader. As we closed the distance, Jag hailed me privately. "Jaina, he wants to talk to you. Hail him on this frequency. I want to eavesdrop."
"Sure." I hailed the mystery pilot and stated, "This is Lieutenant Jaina Solo, Rogue Squadron, New Republic Armed Forces. State you identity and purpose if you wish to proceed."
"So lovely to hear your voice again, Jaina. Did I ever tell you that you'd be a natural commander?"
Anger rushed up in me at the arrogant sound. I switched back to an open frequency so that the rest of the squadron and those on the Errant Venture could hear.
"Spike Lead, we can head back now. It's just Kyp Durron."
"Did I ever tell you that you look wonderful in black, Jaina?"
"Tell your opinions to someone who cares, Kyp. Flattery will get you nowhere with me," I replied, walking away from him.
He followed me. "I get the impression that you're ignoring me."
I stopped and faced him. "Brilliant, Kyp. Now if you can tell me why I'm ignoring you, I'll understand how you became a Jedi Master."
"So harsh, Jaina. You really should learn to harness that anger."
"Shut up, Kyp. I'm not becoming your apprentice."
I saw Jag coming around Kyp. "Is something wrong, Jaina?" he asked.
"You could say that," I replied, not taking my eyes off Kyp.
"Who's this?" Kyp demanded.
"I am Colonel Jagged Fel, commander of Spike Squadron and liaison of the Chiss government to the New Republic," Jag answered in his most commanding tone. "You would be Kyp Durron."
"What's he doing with you, Jaina?"
I let Jag answer. "General Antilles and Colonel Darklighter assigned my squadron here to protect Lieutenant Solo from potential bounty hunters."
"You can't take care of yourself, Jaina? I knew you needed to finish your training."
At that point Uncle Luke appeared, which was fortunate, because it was taking all my strength in the Force to hold back a torrent of choice Corellian words I'd accidentally learned from my father and from Rogue Squadron. My uncle prevented Jag and I from speaking. "Welcome, Kyp. Can we help you in some way?" Luke's voice seemed a little cold.
Kyp reluctantly turned his attention away from me. Jag took advantage of the opportunity and, putting an arm around my shoulders, led me out of the landing bay.
As Jag and I were getting ready to leave, Kyp sauntered over to our table, wearing that ridiculously saccharine smile. "Good morning, Jaina," he greeted brightly.
"What do you want, Kyp?" I snapped.
"Your aunt tells me that your skill with a blade have increased rapidly."
"I'd like to see some proof."
"A Jedi Master's word isn't good enough for you?"
Kyp sneered, probably at the reminder that Mara had become a Master in far less time than he had. Though she'd spent longer in training to become a Knight, reaching the level of Master had taken her practically no time at all. "I'd like to see it for myself. What would you say to a practice duel?"
"In an hour, then. Where should we meet?"
"The forward visual triangulation room."
"I'll be waiting."
Kyp walked off. Jag reached across the table and took my hand. "Are you sure this is wise?"
"It feels right, Jag."
"Can you beat him?"
"I have no idea."
When he arrived, Kyp dropped his billowing Jedi Master's robes from his shoulders and let his grinning lackey pick up after him. It was disgusting, really, the way he paraded himself as the next Luke Skywalker. However, I pushed my irritation away, focusing on the duel ahead.
Kyp ignited his blade first. It was a violet blade, which would be hard to see in a dark room. But this room was bright, and he was wearing tan. It would show up pretty easily.
Mine, on the other hand, wouldn't. When I ignited it, I saw a moment of worry on his face. The room was bright, and I was dressed in white that day. He would have to rely less on his eyes than I would.
"Jaina, I thought you had a violet blade," he began conversationally.
"I did. It was destroyed in that accident that nearly cost me my eyesight."
"You chose a good crystal. White is a fitting color for you."
"I didn't choose it. It chose me. And yesterday black was a good color for me."
"So it is. I must admit, you make many colors attractive."
I saw that Jag had walked around to the other side, and was now standing with his arms crossed and his eyes narrowed. He almost looked angry. "Enough with the chit chat. Shall we begin?"
"I was about to suggest that myself," Kyp replied.
He attacked quickly, lunging low. I blocked him easily and began a slow circle around him. I was shocked by his sudden moves. The point of a practice duel is to force the other person to prevent damage. He seemed bent on causing damage.
I immediately sensed a surge of anger within him, but it did not recede. Strangely, his anger seemed to be directed at me, and I could not understand how a Jedi Master could get so out of control of his emotions. He was attacking with anger as well, with heavy swings that forced me to spend all my time blocking.
He swung high at my head, a difficult blow to block. I ducked, extending my blade above my head to block it. He pulled up and lunged low again, as if to cut off my feet. I backed out of that one, preferring to bat his blade away with a simple parry.
And on and on it went. He, being the more aggressive in the match, began tiring much faster than I. At one point he switched his grip to have his left hand higher than his right, and then he suddenly let go of his lightsaber with his left hand, leaving only his right hand close to the base of the handle.
I couldn't understand a move like that. By moving his hand there, he closed the distance from his hand to the center of rotation on the blade and increased the amount of force he had to use. The time I had spent studying torque in physics classes told me that this was pretty stupid. What was he doing?
Oh, well. It's an advantage to me. As he lunged at me again, I jumped to the left and brought my blade crashing down. It met no resistance and the tip hit the floor.
The nanoseconds seemed to stretch like time before the event horizon of a black hole. I looked up at Kyp and saw a look of complete horror on his face. Then I looked down and saw why.
His blade had extinguished. He hadn't turned it off. I had cut through the end of it. Half of his lightsaber fell to the floor with a loud clank.
I extinguished my blade and sank to my knees. At that point, time started back to its normal speed, and I heard applause from the small crowd that had witnessed the match. Jag ran up behind me and cried, "Jaina! Are you all right?"
Out of breath, I nodded as I pushed hair out of my face. I looked up at Kyp again. He still had that look of horror on his face. Then I sensed a darkness rising within him as the horror receded. He bowed to me. "I concede, Jaina. You are indeed a master swordswoman."
I couldn't answer. Kyp collected the pieces of his lightsaber and left, the man holding his robe following. Jag hugged me as soon as Kyp was gone, then helped me to my feet.
Mara approached as I stood. "Well done, Jaina."
Still a little breathless, I answered, "Thank you, Master."
She turned her attention to Jag. "Do you mind taking the day off? I'd like to spend some quality time with my niece."
Jag nodded and said to me, "I'll see you later, Jaina."
I followed Mara from the practice room to her suite. Luke was there with the baby. Mara picked up Ben as I collapsed onto a sofa.
"What's with her?" Luke asked.
"She just beat Kyp Durron in a practice duel."
Luke whistled appreciatively. "Disarmed him?"
"More like cut his lightsaber in half. You should have seen it. That look on Kyp's face was priceless." She paused. "I'd like you to go talk to Kyp."
"First of all, he seemed very angry throughout the match, and someone needs to talk to that boy. Second, I need to talk with my niece."
I sensed my uncle searching for something with the Force. After a while he said, "All right." At that he left.
Mara sat in a recliner across the caf table from me, still holding Ben. After a long silence she said, "Jaina, I want you to be completely honest with me."
"When am I not?" I asked, staring at her curiously.
She sighed. "I'd like to know what's going on between you and Jag."
That was a surprise. "Nothing."
She arched an eyebrow. "Are you sure about that?"
"We're friends. That's all."
"Jaina, I'm probably not the best person to talk with you about this. We all know that my life at your age was hardly what you could call normal. But we are friends, and this is something that's probably easier to talk about with a friend than, say, your mother."
She took a deep breath. "I've seen the way Jag looks at you. I was close to twenty years older than you when I saw that look directed at me, but it's exactly the same.
"Jag's in love with you."
I didn't answer. I couldn't answer. Jag- in love with me? It seemed like some cruel joke was being played on me. He can't be. We haven't really known each other for more than a week. There are too many differences, too many things to go wrong... this can't be true. I felt as if I were in a ship caught in a tractor beam and the pilot was trying to break free. This couldn't be happening. It wasn't at all what I wanted.
Yet at the same time, it was exactly what I wanted.
I looked up at Aunt Mara again. She took the glance as a cue to continue. "You're both still very young by your years, though not by your life experiences. I think you're both capable of making intelligent, rational decisions. I have to warn you, there will be sacrifices ahead, regardless of the path you choose. Keep your head, Jaina, but don't be afraid to lose your heart."
That left me one option. I needed to talk to Jacen. He would tease me unmercifully, but he was just being my brother. That came with the territory. But when things got too confusing for me, my best course of action was usually to talk to my brother. My twin knew me better than anyone else, sometimes better than I knew myself.
I found him in the landing bay, sitting on the boarding ramp of the Shadow Lurker, the Jade Shadow's sister ship. Technically the gift of Talon Karrde to one Ben Skywalker, the ship was nearly identical to Mara's ship, only much smaller. From what I could sense from him, he was waiting for me.
"Causing trouble, Jacen?"
He had that goofy grin of our father's down perfectly. "Apparently I'm causing so much trouble that Uncle Luke wants me out of the picture."
It was good to hear him joke around like that. "Taking the Lurker out for a joyride?"
"I wish. You haven't seen her yet, have you?"
I shook my head. "No, I haven't gotten around to it."
"Come aboard," he said, standing. "She's a beautiful piece of work."
I followed him to the bridge. He was right, but that wasn't a surprise. Jacen had very good taste in ships.
We sat in front of the controls in silence for a while. Jacen was studying the panels in front of him, so I asked, "Jacen, are you going somewhere?"
"Yeah," he answered, his voice tinted with resignation. "Uncle Luke's sending me out to Aleria."
"Aleria. Some little backwater planet out past Bakura."
"Is there a reason?"
"Their monarchy was overthrown about a week ago. The king and queen were executed, but the princess has been granted asylum with us. I suppose they think that's pretty close to a death sentence."
"Mmm," I answered noncommittally. After a pause, I said, "Well, you're going to have a cozy ride back. I'm sure you'll have fun."
Jacen's eyes narrowed. "I don't know about that. For all I know this princess is three years old and I'll be baby-sitting all the way back."
I shook my head, letting my hair brush my shoulders. "No, if that were the case, Uncle Luke would send Anakin."
He laughed at that. After a bit, he tilted his head to the side and said, "You know, Jaina, your hair has grown back curly. Well, not really curly, but kind of wavy-"
"I know. I do look in the mirror occasionally. And I like it this way."
"Jag likes it too."
I blushed at that, not bothering to mask it. "Jacen, I want to talk to you about that"
"I've been wanting to talk to you too. I have to tell you, it hurts a little to see this, but it's just because you're starting a relationship alone, and it's one that could potentially hurt you a lot. I want to protect you, but I can't."
I was almost surprised by his candor. "Then you're okay with this?"
"Yeah," he replied, nodding. "This is the right step for you. I can feel it. And I'm glad it's Jag. I like him."
We stood and embraced. "I love you, Jacen."
"I love you too, Jaina."
I looked up at him, wondering when it was that he'd gotten taller than me. "How much time do you have?"
"Almost none. I was just waiting to talk to you."
"Oh. I was going to ask you to join me in a cup of caf, but in that case, you should go."
"Go have a cup with Jag," he replied, grinning.
I shoved him playfully. "Go rescue your princess."
I tried to shake off the feeling and half-succeeded. Turning to leave, I saw Jag enter.
He stopped suddenly, looking out across the ships. "Wait a minute. Where's the Shadow Lurker?"
"Jacen took her out."
"Why?" Apparently he knew where Aleria was.
"Uncle Luke had a mission for him."
"Oh." Jag looked at me. "Corran and I are getting together a sim. Do you want to join us?"
"No, not really, Jag." Seeing his disappointment, I added, "I want to be alone somewhere. I think I'm going up to the triangulation room to meditate."
His green eyes bored into mine. "You spent most of the day in meditation."
"I know, but I still need this."
He sighed. "You know I don't like leaving you alone."
"You know very well that I can't meditate around you." Especially when it's you I'm meditating about. "All right. I'll take you up there." We headed off.
When we were halfway there, Jag said, "Let me see your comlink." I handed it to him, and he turned the speaker volume to minimum, the microphone volume to maximum, and the frequency to his own. "I want you to keep it set this way. That way, if you're alone and something happens, you can contact me quickly without tipping anyone off."
We had arrived at the room by that point. As he handed my comlink back to me, I said, "Jag, you are getting so paranoid and overprotective."
He faced me. "I hardly think so, Jaina. I've never failed to complete an assignment before. I don't intend to start with this one. Besides, I-" He hesitated, as if he were unsure of what to say. "I care about you. I happen to care about you a lot. I don't want to lose you to some bounty hunter."
Jag's in love with you. Aunt Mara's words suddenly came to mind. Before I could reply, he said, "I know that I don't have the ability to use the Force, but sometimes normal people have intuition too. I have a feeling about this. Something is rotten in this situation. You've got the second-highest bounty in history on your head, and no one has tried to collect it yet. No, someone is waiting until you're alone and vulnerable."
I looked down and wondered when he'd taken my hand in his. It didn't feel like it had happened that way. It felt more like we were actually holding hands. Jag seemed to have noticed it for the first time too, and he gave my hand a gentle squeeze.
"I'm willing to let you do this, but it's just because I can tell you're distracted and need this time alone. If I can tell that a Jedi is distracted, something is really wrong." He opened the door for me. "I want you to hail me when you're ready to leave. I'll come back and escort you."
"Thank you, Jag."
"No problem." He hesitated again. He was as confused about this relationship as I was. Then suddenly, he kissed my cheek. I stared up at him for a while, not knowing what to say. In a voice that sounded a little unnatural, he said, "I hope you can get things sorted out." At that, he released my hand and walked off.
I was so deep in meditation that I didn't notice when someone entered the triangulation room. He could have been standing there for an hour before he said, "Returning to the scene of the crime, I see."
I spun around. "What are you doing here, Kyp?" Everything in me was screaming a warning. Subtly, I used the Force to turn on my comlink.
"I came here to see you, Jaina." Kyp smiled. The look made me feel sick. The darkness I had sensed in him earlier was still there, and growing stronger. "You bested me this morning. Not many have ever done that. I wanted to know how it felt to beat a Jedi Master."
He's lying. "Exhausting," I replied, stalling for time. "But I only beat you because you made a mistake."
"How true. It's a mistake I won't make again, I assure you. But had we been in real combat, you would have taken my head off."
"You don't know that."
"If you didn't kill me, I would have killed you. That's the way the game is played, my dear." He was coming closer, and I backed up to keep a good distance between us.
"'My dear'? Don't you think you're assuming a little too much there, Kyp?" Where is Jag? What in the galaxy is taking him so long?!? "I don't think so," he drawled, coming ever closer. "It's time you seriously considered becoming my apprentice. I still could teach you a great deal."
"I defeated you cleanly this morning. Isn't that enough for you?" I tried not to panic as I felt my back hit a wall. Okay, I just fell for the oldest trick in the database. And my lightsaber is in my stateroom. This is perfect. Where is Jag?! "No, I don't think so." He was right in front of me, blocking my view of the door. I started running through my options. The only viable one I had involved sheer strength. Kyp, being larger and more powerful than me, would be difficult to overcome. I was a little surprised when Kyp reached in his robes for something. He doesn't have a lightsaber anymore. What is he doing? Before I could see what he was reaching for, he was violently jerked around. Jag! He'd heard the hail and finally showed up. Well, I guess it hasn't been that long since I hailed him. With Kyp distracted, Jag landed a right hook squarely on Kyp's jaw. I heard the sound of a bone cracking.
I sensed sheer wrath in Jag. Apparently breaking Kyp's jaw wasn't enough for him. He started shoving Kyp into the bulkheads. He was going too far; I didn't want him to kill Kyp.
"Jag! Stop it! Stop it!" I screamed. He stopped suddenly and let Kyp, now unconscious, slide down the wall to the floor, a trail of blood following his head. "What do you think you're doing?"
His voice was calm, incongruous with his sense in the Force. "I'm going to break every bone in his body, dunk him in bacta, and break them all over again."
"Jag, we don't know what he was trying to do. He had reached into his robes for something."
Jag crouched down beside the unconscious body and said, "He's holding an injector... the label says it's some kind of sedative, a really strong one."
He looked up at me in concern and stood. I was too shocked to say anything more than, "Why?"
He took me into his arms and held me so tightly that I could barely breath. "I don't know, Jaina. I can't imagine why he would do this. But it won't happen again. I will protect you, even if I have to die to keep you safe."
I began to wonder what life would be worth if he died to keep me alive.
"Jaina," Luke began, "would you by chance know why Kyp was just found in the triangulation room unconscious and with a broken jaw?"
"Care to explain that?"
"Not really, but I suppose you're not going to move from that spot until I tell you," I replied, sitting up. "Kyp attacked me."
There was a long silence. Corran broke it. "I beg your pardon?"
"Well, I guess you can't call it an attack. He didn't actually touch me. He tried to sedate me. I have no idea why."
Luke's eyes narrowed. "Jaina, did you do that to Kyp?"
"No, sir, I did," Jag stated. "She hailed my comlick frequency and I heard their conversation. I knew where she was, so I came to stop Kyp."
Another heavy silence fell. Uncle Luke closed his eyes and looked like he was trying to make a very difficult decision. Corran broke the silence again. "Master, why would Kyp try to sedate her?"
"I have no idea, Corran. She hasn't done anything to him, besides truncate his lightsaber. Jaina, do you know?"
I took a deep breath. I had ideas, of course, but nothing definite. "No, Master. But..."
"I sensed a lot of anger in him in our match this morning. Afterward I sensed something very dark in him."
"That's not good," Corran said.
Uncle Luke rubbed his temples. "Right now, they've got him heavily sedated. Jag did a lot of damage to him."
"Good," Jag interrupted, putting his arm around my shoulders.
Luke gave Jag a very nasty look. "This is not a good thing. Kyp's faction of the Jedi may leave us permanently because of this."
Jag muttered something so low that I couldn't understand it, but it sounded like, "Politics."
Luke continued. "Corran, I'd like you to contact Talon Karrde and find out about obtaining some ysalamiri. I'm going to be with Kyp when he wakes up, but we may have to incarcerate him for a while, and ysalamiri would be the way to do that. Jag, I want you to take Jaina to her room. From now on, she is not left unguarded."
"Yes, sir," Jag answered. He liked that kind of order. It was what he'd wanted to do all along.
Corran and Luke left, and Jag and I left for my stateroom soon after. He stood outside my room as I changed into my pajamas. When he came back in, I could tell that he was hurting from this, because he had left me alone and vulnerable. He cupped my face in his hands and kissed my forehead. "I'm so sorry."
I pressed my fingers to his lips. "Don't apologize. It's not your fault. He would have found a way." As I spoke, a tear trickled down my cheek. A look of pain crossed his face, and as the tears increased, he hugged me again.
We stood there for a long time, till I didn't have any tears left. When I pulled away, he said, "I have assigned two of my men to stand guard here tonight. Is that all right?"
"Do you want me to stay with you until you go to sleep?"
I tried to speak that time, but words wouldn't come. I nodded again.
I climbed into bed, and Jag sat beside me, holding my hand, until I drifted into the unconscious bliss of dreamless sleep.
Like my uncle, Jag wasn't leaving anything to chance. If he wasn't with me personally, two of the Chiss in his squadron were. Reluctantly, he allowed that they could stand guard outside the room as long as I was alone or with someone Jag trusted.
Booster Terrik was livid about the incident. When Corran told him what had happened, he immediately kicked out all of Kyp's followers. I could tell that he wanted to follow Jag's lead and slam him into the bulkheads a few dozen times and then space him, but he refrained from voicing that desire, probably because he knew that Jag had nearly killed Kyp himself, and I had stopped him.
Jacen contacted Uncle Luke four days later and reported that they were on their way back. Things hadn't gone quite as smoothly as one would have expected, but he didn't elaborate. All he said was that they were in good physical condition, and the princess was holding up pretty well emotionally.
I didn't get to talk with him, but Uncle Luke told him what had happened. Jacen already knew that something traumatic had happened to me, so it wasn't a complete shock for him, but the fact that Kyp was the culprit surprised him. I suspect that he really wanted to join Booster and beat the living daylights out of Kyp, though. I had a feeling that I was going to have a tough time restraining those three angry men.
The night before Jacen was scheduled to arrive I spent most of the evening alone, watching a romantic comedy on the HoloNet in one of the lounges. At the moment when the main characters were about to kiss, Jag walked in the room and said, "Surely you're not watching this trash, Jaina?" He sat down beside me, put his arm around my shoulders, and suddenly plucked the control from my hand.
"Hey, I was watching that," I protested as he began flipping through the channels. "Jag, you're going too fast. You can't see what's on."
"Sure I can," he replied. Stopping at a channel, he said, "Hey, it's the Corellia system ruhk'tahnh finals."
"No. We are not watching some stupid sporting event."
Jag acted hurt, holding the control as far away from me as possible. "How can you say that, Jaina? It's ruhk'tahnh. Surely you can appreciate the skill and strategy involved-"
"Don't make me use the Force, Jag."
He glared at me, but changed the channel back to the holodrama I was watching. "Eww, they're still kissing."
"You're just jealous."
"Fine." He changed it back to the ruhk'tahnh game.
"Jag, you are one of the most irritating people I know," I stated, glaring back at him.
He looked down at me. "It's good to know I rank highly with you somehow."
He turned the HoloNet display off and tossed the control to the side, never breaking eye contact. His left hand now free, he stroked my cheek lovingly. I knew what was coming as his hand slid down to my neck. I closed my eyes, and he kissed me.
"Colonel, the land- oh."
I pulled away abruptly at the sound of that voice. I know I blushed as Jag turned, unembarrassed, to address the Chiss who'd walked into the room. "Yes, Captain?"
"Colonel, the landing bay is asking for you. There's a ship incoming. The pilot wants to see you."
"Did they by chance tell you who the pilot is?"
"General Wedge Antilles."
"I will be there shortly. Dismissed, Captain."
The Chiss saluted and left the room.
Jag looked back at me and laughed. "I'm sorry about that. I should have dismissed them when I came. Though I have to wonder why they didn't hail my comlink... Oh well. Do you want to come with me?"
"Sure," I replied. As we walked out of the room, the two Chiss followed us. Jag took my hand in his as we headed to the landing bay.
The general came off the ship alone, and Jag and I walked over to greet him. He hugged Jag, and then me, which was a little surprising.
"How are you doing, Jaina? Jag told me what happened."
I shot a glance at Jag. "I'm all right, sir."
He rolled his eyes. "Call me Wedge, Jaina. On board the Errant Venture no one is military."
Wedge turned his attention back to Jag. "I think I've brought some people you'd like to see."
As if on cue, a woman who didn't look too much older than Mom, and two small children came down the boarding ramp. The two children ran to us, crying, "Jag! Jag!"
Jag met them, dropped to his knees, and hugged them both. I looked over at Wedge, and we smiled. Once the children let go of him, Jag stood and hugged his mother.
Wedge and I walked over to them. Jag turned to me and said, "Jaina, this is my mother. Mother, this is Jaina Solo."
I shook her hand, and she laughed. "My son forgets that I do actually have a name. Please, call me Syal. And these are my children, Danae and Jaremye," she added, gesturing to the children clinging to Jag.
Little Jaremye, who was five, pointed up at me and said, "Jag, is she a Jedi?"
Jag looked down at his brother. "Why don't you ask her?"
The boy turned to me. "Are you a Jedi?"
I smiled. "What makes you think that?"
"You've got a lightsaber."
"Yes, I'm a Jedi," I replied, nodding, "and I'm a pilot too."
"Jaina's a pilot with Rogue Squadron," Wedge added. The boy's eyes grew wide. He knew about Rogue Squadron.
The girl, who looked to be about seven, asked, "If you're a Jedi, are you a better pilot than my brother?"
I laughed. "No one is as good as your brother, Danae. Though we all try very hard," I added, throwing a glance at Wedge.
"I wouldn't go that far, Jaina. I have shot him out a few times," the general replied.
Syal smiled at me and said, "Wedge told me that my son has been serving as your bodyguard. I hope he's been doing a good job in that capacity."
I decided it was time to embarrass Jag. "Well, aside from being a little overzealous and walking in on me while I was in the shower, and just following me around everywhere and annoying me a little, he's been doing a pretty good job."
Jag narrowed his eyes as Syal and Wedge laughed. "You like me and you know it."
"I happen to like nice men, who knock before entering a 'fresher."
He put his arm around my waist. "You like me because I'm an Imperial. There haven't been enough of those in your life."
I rolled my eyes as Syal and Wedge exchanged that look I had become so familiar with. I found I no longer minded. After all, not ten minutes before, Jag had kissed me.
"Syal, you look tired," Wedge said, changing subjects. "Why don't we get some of Booster's people to take you and the kids to your suite?"
"All right. Jaina, will you join us?"
I shook my head. "Not tonight. I really need to get some sleep. I'm sorry."
She smiled. "That's quite all right, dear. I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to get to know each other before my trip here is over."
Jag cleared his throat. "Jaina, I'll escort you to your stateroom. Mother, I'll meet you at your suite in a few minutes." He leaned down and kissed his mother on the cheek before leaving with me.
Not long before we arrived at my room, I said, "Your siblings are adorable."
"I think so most of the time, though I've heard Danae can be a handful." He smiled. "I think she'll really like you, though. She likes people who are tough like you are, but you should be able to show her that a girl can be tough and not be a tomboy."
"Who says I'm not a tomboy?" I asked as we came to my door.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied casually. He cupped my face with his hands and kissed me, taking his time. "Good night, Jaina."
"Good night, Jag." As I turned around and opened the door, I say my father coming down the corridor. He'd seen us.
I'll let Jag deal with him.
"Really?" I replied, trying to sound innocent. "What did you discuss?"
"Various degrees of blaster burns and ancient forms of torture."
"I had no idea you were interested in that."
"I'm not," he answered through clenched teeth. "I believe the point he was trying to get across to me was that he has ideas about dealing with me if I hurt you in any way."
"Hmm, I'll have to have a chat with him about threatening you," I replied as I reached for the frill syrup.
Jag grabbed my hand. "Listen, he wants to talk to us this morning before your brother arrives."
I looked up at him calmly. "Then I think we should figure out exactly what's going on so we have something to say."
"All right, you start."
"You seem to be the one initiating all emotional expression here."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Well, you're the one who's instigating all contact."
"You didn't seem to mind. In fact, I think you rather enjoyed it."
I smiled wryly. "That may be. However, you're the one who seems to be the best at beginning these conversations, so you get to start."
"All right," he sighed. "I guess the best way of saying this is that I'm ready to take this relationship to the next level. We've gotten as far as we can as just friends, and I want to take this up a notch. Jaina, I've never felt this way about anyone before. I'm not sure if you're the love of my life, but I want to find out." He glanced at me uncertainly. "Does that make sense?"
I smiled at him. "I couldn't say it better."
He smiled in relief. "I think we know what to say to your father."
I narrowed my eyes. "It's going to be interesting when we have to talk to your father."
His face remained placid, but I saw a muscle in his neck twitch. "Yes, that will be interesting."
"Jaina, Jag, we need to talk," Dad announced.
"I told her already, sir," Jag replied.
"My name is Han. It's like I said the first time you called me that. Sounds like you're courting my daughter."
"Maybe that's what I want to sound like," Jag fired back, holding my hand a little tighter.
Dad was definitely taken aback by that. "Oh really? Jaina, what do you have to say about this?"
I used the Force to calm myself, something that annoyed my dad. He liked to see emotion. "I don't have a problem with it. He's being respectful. You're just being overprotective."
"You're my daughter. I have that right," Dad replied. "I'm going to let this happen, but only because I respect Jag. But if I here one more 'sir' out of you-"
"What are you going to do, Dad? Use one of those ancient forms of torture?" I interrupted.
Dad backed off. "Jaina, I don't want to see you get hurt."
"I'm not going to hurt her, si- Han," Jag said quietly. "I happen to care for her a lot. The last thing in the galaxy I want is for her to be hurt in any way. You can trust me."
"Man, this is hard," Dad began. "Somehow I don't think it will be as difficult with Jacen and Anakin."
"No, it probably won't," I replied. "But you can't hold on to me forever, Dad. You'll always be my father, and I'll always love you, but you'll have to let go sometime."
"I know, kid," Dad answered. "I know."
He hugged me fiercely, and I sensed that he had been through quite an ordeal. "It's good to see you again," he whispered.
I pulled away and looked up at him. "I take it Aleria wasn't an inviting place?"
"No, not really," he replied. "You and Jag are officially an item, I take it."
"You could say that," I answered, smiling.
Jag came up behind us and shook Jacen's hand. "It's good to see you again, Jacen."
"It's fantastic to see all of you here, Jag."
"Didn't have a good time?"
"Not particularly, but that's a story that can wait for another time," Jacen replied. "Oh, you have to meet Nadia."
At that point the princess, about my age, walked down the boarding ramp to us. She was dressed in white, showing off an exquisite figure. Her pale skin sharply contrasted with her dark hair and eyes. I glanced at Jag, and I could tell that he thought she was quite pretty.
"This must be your sister, Jacen," the princess said, her voice low in volume and pitch.
"Yes. Nadia, this is my sister, Jaina. Jaina, this is Nadia Montaigne."
I shook the offered hand. "It's good to meet you, Your Highness."
She shook her head. "Nadia. The government of which I was princess no longer exists. I am simply Nadia."
I smiled. "You're going to love our mom."
Jacen cleared his throat. "Nadia, this is Colonel Jag Fel of Spike Squadron."
Jag bowed sharply, in the same way he had bowed to me when we met on Ithor. "Welcome to the Errant Venture, Nadia."
She nodded regally. While no longer officially a princess, she certainly hadn't dropped the demeanor. She glanced over at me and smiled. Jacen had obviously told her about Jag and me.
I saw Booster approaching with Mom and Mirax. "Well, it looks like the welcoming committee is on its way. We'll help you get settled into your stateroom, and then we can go to lunch, where you can tell us all about the idiotic things that Jacen did on this trip. How does that sound?"
"That sounds wonderful," Nadia replied as Jacen glared at me. "We have an... interesting story to tell."
He and Nadia told us what had happened to them on Aleria, but I got the impression that they weren't telling us everything. Jacen wasn't the same person when he came back. While he was still my twin brother, still the same core, he seemed to have given up his philosophies and his ideas of becoming one with the Force. I wondered if Nadia had had anything to do with it.
He was a lot calmer about Kyp than I expected him to be. He actually thought that it was time for me to visit Kyp and talk to him about what had happened. We spoke with Uncle Luke about it, and he agreed to go with us to the medical ward.
Walking into the room where they were keeping Kyp in isolation, I expected the void of ysalamiri, but the Force still flowed freely through me. I looked over at my uncle, but he looked as confused as I.
Cilghal approached us and said, "Master Skywalker, you have come at a good time. Kyp will be waking up soon."
"Cilghal, the ysalamiri?" Uncle Luke asked.
"They are unnecessary now," she replied. "Come, look at this."
She led us to a holo display and brought up a scan of Kyp's head. "As you can see, there was a lot of damage done here. There was, in fact, some irreversible damage done to his brain.
"As you know, I have been studying brain activity in the Jedi. The area of his brain which was damaged beyond repair is the area used to access the Force. He cannot harm anyone. The ysalamiri are no longer needed."
Silence fell, and no one spoke until Kyp, across the room, woke up. Uncle Luke walked over to him immediately, and Jacen and I heard Kyp say faintly, "Master Skywalker..."
Luke looked up at me and gestured for me to come. "Kyp, you need to explain yourself. Not to me, not to the Jedi, but to Jaina. You need to tell her why you tried to harm her."
I approached cautiously. Kyp glanced at me and quickly looked away. His voice was hoarse as he spoke. "I was contacted by the Peace Brigade. They told me that if I gave them one Jedi alive, they would stop hunting the Jedi."
I could sense that Uncle Luke was livid. "So, instead of sacrificing yourself, so that you would be remembered for all time that you gave your life to save the Jedi, you took the coward's road and tried to sell one of your own," he replied.
"Yes," Kyp answered. "I was wrong, and I hope Jaina can forgive me. If you wish, Master, I can give myself up to the Peace Brigade. I deserve a far greater punishment."
Luke stood. "We will discuss this again, without Jacen and Jaina present." He walked away, and Jacen, Cilghal, and I followed him into a corridor.
"Cilghal, does he know that he can't use the Force?" I asked as the door slid shut.
"No," she replied. "We're waiting until he's stronger before we tell him."
"So he can attack me or Jag?" I asked incredulously.
"No, Jaina, we are concerned that in his current state, he might try to kill himself if he finds out. When he is more mentally stable, we will tell him. For now, he thinks that he is under the influence of ysalamiri."
I nodded. "Uncle Luke, what are we going to do about him?"
He rubbed his temples. "I don't know, Jaina. I don't know."
"Ben was sick most of the night, so I was up all night," she replied. "In the meantime, I had a lot of time to think, and I spent a lot of that time thinking about you."
I stood in silence, so she continued. "Jaina, you have excelled more than I could have imagined in the last three months. You've grown so much since the time I took you as my apprentice, and even your time in Rogue Squadron has aided your growth in the Force. You have truly become a Jedi Knight."
I was shocked. But Aunt Mara, there's so much more I dont know yet. How can you say that I've finished- "Jaina, I can take you no farther down this path," she interrupted gently. "You must take what you know now and let that guide you. The rest of this journey is yours to lead, and I must help another."
She nodded. "Jacen did a good job of teaching her the basics while they were on Aleria, and she learned what she needed from him. But he is too young to train her, and too much in love with her to train her. She needs another Master."
I nodded, then tried to speak. "Aunt Mara, I- I really don't know what to say, except to thank you for everything."
Ben still in her arms, she stepped forward and hugged me. "Thank you, Jaina. You have taught me a great deal as well. You will become a great Jedi yourself, if you keep in the light. That's all I ask from you now, all I can ask. Stay in the light, Jaina."
"Jaina, you finally beat him. Nice job," he said.
"Uncle, she may have shot me out, but she didn't do it without dying herself. You're being a little lax with praise," Jag responded.
"Anyone who can kill you is better than practically everyone else. She deserves that praise," Wedge replied, smiling. "But I do need to discuss some business with you."
He cleared his throat. "Colonel Fel, you and your command have been recalled to Coruscant. Lieutenant Solo, your leave is officially terminated two standard days from now."
"What?" Jag and I said in unison.
"Do I need to repeat myself?" Wedge asked.
Jag answered before I could. "What about the threat to Jaina's life?"
"Oh, Spike Squadron will remain with Rogue Squadron for quite some time. Jaina will be safe," Wedge answered. Turning to me, he continued, "As your training has been completed, Lieutenant Solo, there is no longer a reason for you to be here instead of with Rogue Squadron."
Clearing his throat, he continued, "Mara, Mirax, and Leia are currently packing your belongings. You should probably help them at some point, Lieutenant."
I nodded, then saluted. "Yes, sir."
Jag reached me before Colonel Darklighter and the others. Not surprisingly, he hugged me. Then, as the two squadrons we represented gathered around, he kissed me, far more passionately than he ever had before.
At some point I realized that a stunned silence had fallen on the hangar, to be followed by wild cheering. Has everyone been thinking that we're perfect for each other? Colonel Darklighter coughed suspiciously. Jag took the hint and let go of me. I turned, somewhat flushed, to my commander, and saluted. "Lieutenant Solo reporting for duty, sir."
He saluted in return. "Welcome back, Captain."
"Yes, you've been promoted. I hope you don't mind."
"You'll need to have your insignia on your uniforms updated, but that shouldn't take you long." He smiled and narrowed his eyes. "I see that General Antilles' secondary mission assignment for Colonel Fel was accomplished."
"What secondary mission assignment?" Jag asked.
"I did ask that he send someone to protect Jaina, but when he said he was sending you, I practically begged him to send Wraith Squadron, or better yet, a commando unit. But he insisted on you. He said there were three reasons. First, you would be able to do the job. Second, sending you would be easier, since you're in his command. And third, he was setting the two of you up."
The pilots gathered around burst into laughter. Jag began to protest in disbelief. As he tried to talk, I reached up and kissed him softly.
Colonel Darklighter laughed. "Jaina, you learn quickly. My wife took years to learn that that's the best way to shut me up."
Jag glared at him, and then looked down at me. I knew what he was thinking. We'd just fallen completely for a joke, but what did it matter? It would be a great story to tell our children.
Cover design by Mar17swgirl.. HTML formatting copyright 2001 TheForce.Net LLC.