Foundations and Factions 5
I landed in Kor Vella with the minimum of hassle. It was easy enough to pretend to be just another transport ship heading back to the Core, after all my papers were in perfect order and Corellia had not officially joined the New republic and was, to the best of my knowledge, still following Imperial Law. Once I cleared through planetary customs, paid the landing and docking fee and got the ship’s papers sorted out I made my way to the starport lounge. I ordered a Corellian ale, then found a dark, quiet wall-side booth and sat down to watch the holo-screen that was playing mindless music vids on the far wall. I was a little early so I had some time to relax. It was mid day local planet time and it was raining outside. Corellia was a beautiful world by most human standards, with a temperate climate and varied landscapes ranging from large wild mountain ranges, forests and grassy flatlands to sandy beaches which edged wide bodies of fresh water.
Kor Vella was a small city that sat on the hillside which over looked wide flat grasslands, there was a branch of most governmental office here but the main place of commerce and the primary destination for most travellers was Coronet, the capitol. The starport had been built at the foot of these hills and seemed sleepy and quiet more because of its location than lack of traffic. Enough off-worlders passed through Kor Vella that no one would really notice me and because it was, more often than not, a transit star port, one person sitting alone waiting for someone was not out of the ordinary.
I nursed my ale which was disgusting so drinking it slowly wasn’t hard to do. The message I had sent Uncle Vahlek had been short and cryptic. I wasn’t even sure it had reached him but since the only way to find that out was to show up at the designated meeting point I had come anyway. Thrawn had not been happy about it but he had no better ideas. When I had left early in the morning, Nirauan time, due to something that had come up at the last moment which required his attention he had not been at the docking bay to see me leave. Just as well in the end, long drawn out goodbyes were not our thing and even less so given the current circumstances we lived in. He had made his feelings for me plain enough the night before and I much preferred his method of showing me how he felt in the privacy of the bedroom to than stiff and formal farewells in a public area.
I smiled at the memories thinking about him brought up and toyed with my pendant. His way of communicating, without actually speaking, never ceased to astonish me. His hands became words, his lips became expressions and his body had spoken entire paragraphs telling me how he felt. Together, it seemed to me, we wrote entire books on the art of physical communication.
“Do you know how beautiful you truly are?” He had whispered in my ear as his fingertips trailed over the skin of my belly. I had shivered under his caress; goose bumps had rippled across my flesh the wake of his touch. Warmth had flooded through me making me whimper for more. It had made him smile, knowing his touch could reduce me to the role of supplicant whispering his name with a need so intense it threatened to swallow me whole.
When I had had enough of his games I had wrapped my legs around him and pulled him to me, feeling the shape of him mould to me, become a part of me, gasping at the wonder and sheer pleasure such a simple act could bring. He had made it last, despite my urging, ignoring my pleas in favour of the rules he made up as we went along, using his weight, his strength and his often astonishing stamina to play for time. He knew me too well but this worked both ways, after many years I now knew him as well. I had dug my nails into his back leaving dark indents, like little crescent moons in his beautiful blue skin, marking him as mine through pain and pleasure, smiling at the moan of need that escaped from the back of his throat. In the bedroom, in our bed we shed the masks we wore day in day out in front of everyone else on the base. Only here could we share openly and I could not love him more for this stolen time, these precious moments, where I was allowed to see into his soul with no holds barred. With our hearts pounding against our chests, breast to breast we reached that place where time seemed to stop, where a universe imploded and the pleasure so intense it was almost painful. Then that moment sprang forward and swept through us both like a raging storm, leaving us panting and exhausted in its wake. Wrapped around each other, speechless and languid we finished what we had begun with kiss and caress, his fingers tracing ice across the heat of my flushed skin.
In the quiet of the aftermath we had talked about the journey I would take the next day. Originally I had wanted to travel in Dantassi guise but he had talked me out of that saying it was unusual for the Bone Traders to be seen so far into the Core so the disguise would actually call more attention to me than draw it away. Still, I had packed my Dantassi clothes anyway; everything was on the ship just in case I’d need it, hidden away in case some one actually could bypass my security to get in and toss the ship. In the end it seemed pointless to travel in disguise. After an fairly extensive and interesting search of the New Republic’s most wanted lists I discovered much to both my chagrin and relief that I was a nobody, considered just another of the palace public servants and utterly unimportant in the over all galactic scope of things. While a part of me was a little perturbed that I didn’t even warrant a mention in the end I was glad. It made travelling a whole lot easier when one was not on the list of the Republic’s most wanted. I wondered what any of the CorSec patrols I had passed by on my way out the Starport would think if they had known who I had worked with. It seemed surreal to me that Lord Vader was dead and that Coruscant loomed under the shadow of invasion by the very forces his own son was a part of.
I sighed, shaking myself out of the reverie of memory. “Be careful.” Thrawn had murmured in my ear just as we were falling asleep. “I don’t want to have to come chasing after you.”
I had only nodded and burrowed into the warmth of his body to fall asleep. When I woke he was already gone, on duty and working.
I sipped at the ale which was bitter and too warm for my tastes then pulled the news flimsies I had bought at the small tourist shop out of my bag to read the latest gossip and news. I had been away from the core for long enough that I didn’t recognize half the names in the scuttlebutt section and the news of the Fall of Borleias was either too old or the government had censored it because there was no real mention of it in any thing I read. The only thing that really caught my eye was a small news blurb about random pockets of strange illnesses showing up on Coruscant being blamed on rebel terrorism or faulty water processing depending on what news agency was doing the reporting. It was a peculiar sort of virus though as it only seemed to target aliens because so far no human had been struck down with it. For some reason these stories made the skin prickle and my stomach knot but I shrugged the sensations off and went on reading.
Mostly the gossip seemed to center itself around the general antics of Luke Skywalker and his sister Princess Leia Organa as well as that of Han Solo which made me smile. Leia Organa was unknown to me but Luke had been a whiney Tatooine farm boy that his friends had once nicknamed Wormie. His friend, Han, had been an Imperial Academy dropout turned smuggler. Now, according to the flimsies, the three of them were the heroes of the Galaxy, running around doing great deeds.
I wondered if Lord Vader had known that he had also had a daughter. I also wondered if that would have made any difference to how things had eventually turned out in the end. I doubted it, sometimes fate just did what it wanted to and you had to make do with the hand you got dealt. In spite of the fact that the New Republic consisted of many people and species, it was Leia Organa who seemed to be the most prominent figure head of the new government, although she didn’t exactly rule it was her everyone seemed to turn to for answers. I stared at the holo image of her embedded in the flimsy and sighed. I couldn’t see any family resemblance to Luke but I had seen images of her mother and she was definitely Padme’s daughter. I wasn’t too sure what side of the family Luke took after though; in the images of him he looked haunted and worried, as though the entire fate of the whole galaxy rested solely upon his shoulders. The last of the jedi, the reporter had called him and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Maybe that he was the last of the jedi but he wasn’t the only Force user around. I wondered how he planned to start a new movement of jedi knights and set them up as the galactic peace keepers, as was mentioned in the article I read. I wasn’t sure how this was possible seeing as how he was supposed to be the only one around and I sure as hell wasn’t about to apply for membership. That sounded an awful lot like indoctrination for my tastes. While I did not believe everything the Emperor had told me about the Old Jedi ways I knew for sure that some of it had been based on truth. I had my birth mother’s diaries, and I did not want to lead the same sort of life she had led, running around the galaxy doing the bidding of some noble minded council forsaking any chance of a life of my own. I wondered what Luke would do if I were to go to him and tell him I was the daughter of a jedi and a clone, that I had been trained to use my force powers by his dad and the Emperor. My guess was it would scare him silly and he’d brand me as some sort of a Dark Side heretic and have me shot on sight. That thought made me laugh out loud.
“Now just what is so funny?” A voice from behind me said softly in my ear, making me jump, just a little.
“Zte’sa! I wasn’t sure you got my message. You’re earlier than I thought.” I said folding the flimsy away, not turning around to look at him.
“You let your guard down. I thought you had been taught better than that.” Uncle Vahlek chided softly.
I just shrugged to hide the fact that he was right. “I knew who you were.” I lied as I got up to face him and then after a staring at him for a second, I flung my arms around him. He hesitated for a moment then returned my embrace, but I could feel his uncertainty.
He pulled back from my hug, holding me by my shoulders at arms length and looked at me as though he were trying to place the memory of the face he knew with the one he was actually staring at. “You look well, a little thinner than I remember, but well.” He said after a bit.
“You sound surprised.”
“Well, the information we got was that you had almost died at Endor then you essentially vanished off the radar for over two years. I am wondering if you are who you say you are.” He said coolly.
I sighed. “When I was small you gave me a toy fambaa. I named it Boo. It still sits in my bedroom in the Mos Eisley house on Tatooine on a shelf next to a box which holds things that belonged to my mother, the woman who raised me, not the one who gave birth to me. While we still lived in the house near Bestine, the doll got torn one day, when I tripped and fell, running with it in my hand coming to see you when you returned to visit from some trip you had taken. I cried so hard that everyone thought it was because I had scraped my left knee but really it was because Boo was hurt. You carried me and Boo into the house and while my mother took care of my bloody knee you sewed up Boo for me and the stitches look like little exes. There are five of them.” I said.
For a moment he stared at my face, searching my eyes for signs of deceit and then, when he could not find anything to make him think I was a spy or worse, he relaxed. “We missed you Lei'lei. Everyone has been so very worried.” He said pulling me back into another hug, one that was bone crushing and genuine. I breathed in his scent deeply. He smelled of sand and wind.
“I sent news and letters.” I protested, my voice muffled in the folds of his coat.
“Visiting would have been better.” He scolded, letting me push back from him.
“Well there were reasons for not doing that!”
He backed down a little. “Yes, there were and your Admiral friend explained them to your father but still, you should have come home.”
I looked at my flat, warm disgusting ale on the table. How was it that no matter how old I got my Uncle could always make me feel like a four year old. “Well, it was complicated.” I finally said which made his lips twitch, just a little.
“Well, if there is time perhaps you can uncomplicated it for me.” He said in a tone of voice I knew only too well.
“Well, if you feel like taking a little trip to Coruscant with me, I am sure there’d be time enough.”
My uncle raised both his eyebrows and gave me a look which said “Are you out of your mind?”
“I have to go back.”
“What are you playing at Lei'lei?” he hissed.
I glanced around. The starport cantina was starting to fill up, it was evening now and people were getting off work, stopping in for a drink before shuttling home. “I have a friend I need to visit.” I said by way of explanation.
Uncle Vahlek looked around and assessed the room, then returned his gaze to me. “When was the last time you ate?” He asked suddenly changing the subject.
“This morning, by planet-side time.”
“Well then, I guess we should order some food because if I recall you are a terrible cook and I know a place not too far from here where they make great food. It’s quiet and we can catch up.” He said and before I could protest he had all but dragged me by the arm to the ticket terminal and before I knew it we were shuttling out to a nearby city I had never been to before.
Pax was more of a small town than a city and was nestled between the foot hills of the Bra’d’orian Mountains and the river Rye’sa. My uncle had occasionally spoken about this place, he had worked here for a while at one point in his life, but it was not a popular spot on the destination map of most tourists. Like most small towns it had a few shops, some pretty houses, a med center, its own shuttleport and a town hall but the majority of the people here commuted to work elsewhere on the planet. My father would have called it a sleeper town, a place for those who didn’t want to live in the hustle and bustle of big city life; I probably would have called it boring.
It was still raining when we stepped off the shuttle. My uncle tugged my arm and we walked swiftly to the local watering hole, a little cantina called the laughing Svelt. It was homey and quiet inside and more importantly warm and dry. We shed our wet coats and I followed as Uncle Vahlek made a direct line for what I guessed was his favourite table.
“Sit, I’ll go order us some food and something to drink.” He said and before I could protest he had vanished to the bar. When he came back he was holding two drinks that did not resemble the horrid ale I had been nursing at the Star port bar. “Selnia, the cook here, makes a wonderful meat pie, so I ordered that as it is on the menu today.” He pushed a glass at me and I sniffed at it suspiciously. “Forvish Ale, try it. Much better than that swill you were trying not to drink in Kor vella.”
I did as he suggested and was pleasantly surprised at the slightly sweet taste the cold ale had. “Much better.”
He nodded. “Aye, most Corellians will never admit it but Corellian ale is not exactly the best of beers in the galaxy.” He sipped his own drink and then settled back in his chair, looking at me. “You’ve changed, Lei'lei, you look…grown up.”
“It’s been a while since you saw me last, that was bound to happen.” I said gently.
That earned me a look. “Well, like I said, you should have come home sooner.”
I sighed. “I couldn’t.” I said. “I thought that Thrawn told you all why.”
“The messages we got were simple and without detail. The first one which arrived about a month after the battle of Endor essentially said you had been injured badly, that you were alive but in critical condition. The second one said that you were still recovering but were unable to be moved. The third message said that you were well but were being transferred to a safe place for rehabilitation. After that the only news we got were the small and, I might add, cryptic letters from you along with the very occasional update from your friend, the Admiral.”
I made a face and drew a very deep breath and then as plainly as I could I told my Uncle everything that had happened from my meeting with the Emperor until I woke up in the med lab on Nirauan. It seemed surreal to talk about it, to place it in some sort of context with a coherent time line. I had lost many months in the coma and speaking of it just made that seem all the more bizarre. When I was done my uncle just stared at me, his eerie pale green eyes searching into my soul for answers to questions that I wasn’t sure he’d ask out loud.
“We never knew how bad it really was. If I had known I would have come out there and so would your father no matter what the danger or what your friend said.”
“I think that was why he never told you. He was so angry with me and so many other things were going on. The medlab were I was recovering is in a place that is secret, almost no one knows about it. He was not going to risk that even for me.” As I said these words I knew it was only partly the truth. Thrawn would have told them if I had been dying, I was sure of that. He had other reasons for his secrecy, I just hadn’t quite figured them out yet.
“Perhaps.” Uncle Vahlek said quietly then he shook his head, “Honestly, Lei'lei, you are sometimes remarkably stupid though. What ever possessed you to go charging off into unknown space alone?” Uncle Vahlek snapped then bit back on his obvious anger.
“I wasn’t thinking clearly at the time. Now I just don’t know what I was thinking.” I said wearily, this was a question I could not answer to anyone’s satisfaction, not even my own and I was getting tired of it cropping up every time I spoke with someone.
Uncle Vahlek made a face but backed down. I suppose he knew a thing of two about spur of the moment actions that had long lasting consequences. “So where did he send you to heal then?”
“With the Dantassi on Hjal.”
Uncle Vahlek smiled a little. “Your enclave?”
“Yes.” I said. “I spent a long time recovering there and learning under a master Jhal’kai. What had happened to me, what the Emperor had done….” I shook my head. The horror of Palpatine’s plan for me and my awful force talents still made me shiver with fear. “Healing was a painful, difficult process, Zte’sa and I couldn’t have done it on Tatooine, not with the warrant Isard had out for my arrest, not with worrying that at any moment the Empire I had worked for and been loyal to would break down my door to drag me off to a detention Center just because of who I had worked for.. Thrawn was right to send me with Navaari. There was no other place for me to go. I found peace on Hjal.”
He looked at me steadily for a moment, then gave me a curt nod and looked away. He understood these things, I was certain of it. “So, are you and your Admiral still together as a couple?” He asked carefully.
I couldn’t help my smile. The flash of memory from the night before and thinking about the bonding ceremony on Hjal made me miss Thrawn as well as the Dantassi. “Yes, despite my idiocy, he is my chosen bond mate and I am his.” I said looking into my uncle’s eyes so he would get the full impact of my words.
“Bound? Officially?” He asked in surprise.
I shook my head. “As official as it will ever get without difficult clan legalities getting in the way. It’s complicated.”
“With you, everything is complicated.” He said, shaking his head. “Did you just pledge to each other then, privately?”
I shook my head and told him about what Thrawn had done and then how I had answered him after the fact.
“I have not heard of that being done in many years.” He said softly, more to himself.
I was taken aback. “You know about this?”
“Lei'lei, you are not the only one who has experienced other cultures besides human.” He reached out to pat my cheek. “He makes you happy?” He asked steering the topic away from him and the barrage of question I suddenly wanted to ask.
I nodded. “I suppose papa will want him to marry me properly?”
“Marry you properly? Lei'lei what in sarlacc’s name do you think he did?” My uncle chuckled. “That he bound to you in a public ceremony will suit your father well enough.” His pale green eyes bored into mine. When I didn’t get the message he shook his head ever so slightly. “Foolish child, you don’t need papers and officiates to make a binding true. Marriage, in the way you think of it, is just a contract to protect rights and property. In some cultures you would have been considered wed the moment he bedded you.” He said with a gentle expression I didn’t quite understand. “As I recall, the Pen’nai Da’ataith is an old and powerful rite in Dantassi lore but I have never heard of it beng used to bind a ‘traeth before now. Your admiral is a very clever man to have pulled off what he did with you and the Dantassi. He must love you very much to have done things this way.” He spoke thoughtfully, considering his words with care.
“Perhaps.” I said with a shrug that I hoped came across as offhanded.
“Or perhaps that should be rephrased; he loves you enough to put up with you for life.”
I made a face. “Well, I think that works both ways Zte’sa.” It occurred to me that Thrawn was not exactly the easiest man in the galaxy to cleave to permanently either.
“Aye, so it does.” He replied thoughtfully.
We were quiet for a moment, stopping to sip the ale and it seemed strange to me that I would feel as though I had to reacquaint myself with someone that I had known my whole life, but I had hurt him, hurt my whole family by staying away for so long, by almost dying and not giving them a chance to say goodbye. Navaari had told me that I would pay for the error in judgement I had made for a long time because it had such far reaching emotional consequences. Up until now I had not really believed him. When I couldn’t stand the silence any more I broke it. “Have you heard anything from Jyrki at all?”
If my question surprised him he did not show it. “No, but I did not expect to. For quite some time we thought you had died at Endor. I assumed he thought the same if he did not also fight in that battle and die himself. If he thinks that you are dead, he has no reason to come near me or your family.”
I nodded. I had not heard anything from or about Jyrki since before I left Coruscant, before the battle of Endor but I couldn’t say it made me sad. “I don’t think he was at Endor, at least not in the middle of the battle and I don’t think he’s dead at all.”
“What makes you so certain?”
“I would have felt it if he had died, I am certain of that.”
My uncle simple stared at me with raised eyebrows for a moment then nodded gruffly, if he had anything more to say on the subject it was interrupted by the arrival of our food. It was surprisingly good and we ate, for the most part, in silence. After finishing our supper which included a very nice desert, we shuttled back into Kor Vella Spaceport and boarded my ship without any hindrance or problems. As I started the engines, my uncle strapped himself into the co pilot’s seat without a word. Once we had cleared Corellia’s atmosphere and headed out towards the Corellian Run hyperspace route he turned to look at me. It was an expression I had long come to associate with patient lectures and being told off.
“So, Lei'lei, why don’t I go make us some tea and when you’ve set the auto pilot you can come back and join me and perhaps explain what I am doing here and why we are headed to Coruscant?”
I just looked at him and nodded. Tea sounded good but conversation didn’t. He wasn’t going to like what I was going to tell him, and he would like it even less when he learned why I was doing it. Still, I was grateful he was with me and I had missed him and the rest of my family more than words could actually express. When I was done giving him the jist of my plans and he was done telling me how stupid and rash I was for attempting this I would nag him for news from home. One of these days I hoped I could go back and spend a well earned holiday on Tatooine, though I was certain most of it would be spent either explaining and apologising for what had happened or filling Bel in on all my romantic stories. At least, I thought ruefully, as I set the auto pilot she would be happy for me because that was one part of the story that was mostly a happy end and Bel loved happy endings.