Fandom: Star Wars: Expanded Universe, Young Jedi Knights, New Jedi Order, Dark Nest Trilogy & Legacy of the Force
Characters: Tenel Ka, Jacen Solo/Darth Caedus
Word Count: 3925
Date Finished: May 25, 2011
Author's Notes: I remember it being difficult to go back to YJK Jacen, NJO Jacen and even Dark Nest Jacen when D-BAG JACEN CAEDUS has been at the forefront of most of the things I'd written before that. But no worries, Caedus shows up in this too. And he is... well... kind of a d-bag.
The boy in the clearing below was talking to something. Whether it was himself or something she could not see, Tenel Ka sat perched on a thick branch above him, narrowing her eyes and watching. His left side was towards her and she could see his hands wringing and fumbling around with something. There was a cage at his feet. She could hear his low chuckles punctuated by a squeak here and there as whatever he was holding shifted in his grasp.
Leaning forward, she dropped from her perch and landed in the soft dirt to the left of Jacen Solo. He didn't seem surprised that she was suddenly there and she figured he had already picked up on her presence through the Force.
"What do you have?" Her voice carried over the sounds of the lush jungle around them: the chirps of feathered creatures, the rustling of branches and leaves around them and the soft breeze that broke the heat and humidity of midday.
He turned to her and thrust his hands out.
"This is Professor Stubbin." There was a barely visible thing squirming in and around his hands and fingers.
"Ah, aha. One of the crystal snakes."
He nodded excitedly and stepped closer to her, closing the distance between them and holding the creature up in front of their faces. "Wanna touch him?"
Tenel Ka's lips thinned as she stared at the snake. She didn't mind creatures - she really couldn't with a friend like Jacen around - but they were never really something she actively toyed with. One side of her family trained rancors. She knew how dangerous wild beasts could be.
Jacen had that expression on though. The expectant, wide-eyed one he put on when he was excited and holding his breath. The one he always had when something was about to happen.
Tilting her head slightly, Tenel Ka reached up with her right hand and stroked the snake's back with two fingers. It's skin was smooth and surprisingly dry. She expected something slimy. When she pulled her hand back, her gaze returned to focus on Jacen.
"Totally amazing, right?!"
With a slow nod, she dropped her hand back by her side. "Interesting."
He pulled his arms back and brought his hands up to his neck, where Professor Stubbin instantly slithered from his fingers and into the collar of his jumpsuit. As he looked above him, shielding his eyes from the sun that filtered through the trees overhead, the ends of his hair brushed against the crystal snake, which bristled against the back of his neck. "Guess we should head back. Break is almost over."
He flashed her a grin and turned back to the east, in the direction of the temple, and began to trek across the deep brown soil and brush.
"Jacen," Tenel Ka began to follow him, leaning down and scooping the cage up he had left behind. She slowed from a jog to a walk as she caught up with him and held the item out.
"Oh, thanks!" He took the cage from her, their hands brushing and fingers almost getting tangled up as he tried to take hold of the handle. "Almost forgot."
"Just because you like to keep your animals out everywhere doesn't mean your Uncle likes it. Or any of the others in the temple."
"You don't mind it, do you?" He turned his head towards her as they walked.
She glanced over to him. Professor Stubbin was perched on his head now, nestled in the boy's shaggy mop. The little guy seemed to be gnawing on a lock of Jacen's hair.
Looking away from him to hide the smile that threatened to break her lips, she shrugged. "Not particularly. It is always nice to see that there are still people who care for the well-being of others."
"Mmm. Don't lie. You think my hobby is completely dashing."
"If you did not have that defenseless snake on your head I would push you right now."
Jacen Solo raised his hand and rattled the cage in triumph. "Professor Stubbin saves the day!"
His Uncle Luke had told him that an old friend of his had wandered outside and that he should go out and say hello. Jacen didn't have to ask who it was, he could sense her out there. Her presence was strong and confident, just like it had always been. He hadn't seen her in a while. The last time had been right before he was taken to Yuuzhan'tar. He had only been back for a few months or so and now everyone was gathered together for the Jedi Knighting Ceremony.
Perfect time to say hello to an old friend, right?
His sister had informed him that this old friend of his was now the Queen Mother of Hapes. He had know that from the holonews, but it still shocked him a little every single time he heard it.
Jacen followed her signature out behind the main building, figuring since she was a big, popular figure now that she would be surrounded by guards and politicians and people attempting to get a word in with her.
Across the grass and down by the small lake, out of earshot and almost out of sight of the others milling around the building, sat a woman on a bench. All he could make out at that moment, as he stepped slowly towards the water, was a halo of copper hair and stretches of deep blue fabric. He approached the bench and inhaled deeply, preparing to say some clever aside about leaving a Queen Mother out here all alone.
The sly grin on his face softened as she turned to look up at him and anything he was planning on saying quickly left his head.
Her lips were a deep red and her eyes were ringed in gray. A diadem of gold sat in her hair. She looked fairly different since the last time he had seen her. She looked like a Queen Mother now. She also had on the saddest expression he had ever witnessed her wearing.
"Hi." He said again.
The corners of her lips upturned in a half-hearted smile. "Good to see you again." After she spoke, her head slowly shifted back to face the water ahead of her, her eyes tracing the paths of the translucent fish darting back and forth.
Jacen felt his heart drop. Had she been like this since taking over for her mother? Noticing where her attention seemed to be (as absent as it was), he leaned forward and peered into the water. Kato fish. He was familiar with them.
"They don't bite. They won't mind if you stick your feet in." Jacen sat himself on the bench beside her. "Of course, you'd have to sit on the ground to do that and you don't want... to..."
As he was speaking, Tenel Ka had stood from the bench and kicked her heels off, planting herself directly onto the soil and dipping her feet into the clear water.
"...mess up your... dress."
Her head swiveled towards him as he finished, eyebrows raised. "And you think I care about this or any of the dresses in that monstrosity of a wardrobe back on Hapes?"
"Not particularly." He grinned.
Watching her gently swirl her feet around in the water, he nodded slowly as the Kato fish playfully circled her ankles and brushed across her toes, just like he expected them to. In an instant, without really thinking about it and with no regard to his dress uniform, Jacen slid off of the bench to the ground beside her, unbuckling his boots.
He slid his feet in the water and pressed his left shoulder to her right. They said nothing as they stared out across the lake. The light from the three moons reflected dimly off the water ahead of them and Jacen had shut his eyes to enjoy the moment when he felt a splash of water on his face.
"Hey!" He exclaimed, whipping his head towards the Queen Mother. She was absently staring at to the water.
"I thought--" Jacen stopped, when he got another face full of water.
"You thought I did that?" She was looking down into the water now, where the Kato fish playfully darted around their feet. "Why would I do that?"
"I--" he was cut off again with more water. This time though, it had been her. "I don't know. Why would you do that?" Finally opening his eyes, he peered over to her, trying to keep his lips thinned.
Her shoulders lifted in a nonchalant shrug. "Maybe for not contacting me when you got back."
"I was scared," he instantly responded. He hadn't thought of the consequences of those words until after they were said.
"You're the Queen Mother of the Hapes Consortium now. You were too important to talk to me." Jacen reached down into the water and flicked the drops from his fingertips towards her cheek.
Tenel Ka cupped her hand in the water and scooped a handful out, splashing it across his face. He returned it and soon the two of them were sitting on the edge of the lake slinging water back and forth. The light from the moons caught each drop and their voices echoed out across the shimmering surface ahead of them.
There was a pause as the Queen Mother fixed one of the straps on her dress and Jacen took his shoulder away from where it was pressed to hers to turn towards her. He was startled at how close to her he had absently shifted and again, his words left him before his mind could approve of them first.
"I missed you," he whispered.
Her head turned slowly, her eyes trailing from the Kato fish up to his gaze.
He expected no answer from her as he was a little shocked at himself for letting those words escape. The shock only grew though when he actually heard a response.
"I missed you too. I'm glad you are alright."
Jacen could feel a shiver pass through him as her breath skated across his ear and down his neck.
She pushed him away as they both felt someone approaching from the building behind them. Lucky for them it hadn't been one of her guards.
"Hey, you two. The ceremony is gonna start in--" Han Solo stopped behind the bench, his words cut off by the fact that his son and the Queen Mother of Hapes were seated in the dirt, splashing lake water on each other. He could see water spots and dirt smears on both Jacen's dress uniform and Tenel Ka's gown and he actually had to stifle a laugh.
They were looking up at him with wide eyes, like they had been caught stealing sweets from a group of younglings. He hadn't seen them like that since they were younger. Before this damn war had started.
"You two have ten minutes to clean up before the ceremony." He hid his crooked grin behind a hand and turned, heading back up to the main building.
Jacen instantly began brushing dirt from the front of her gown, his hands shifting over her stomach and side. He was almost frantic, rubbing at water stains and licking his fingers to attempt vicious battles with the more stubborn of the dirt spots.
He continued to furiously clean, apologizing profusely.
"Jacen." Her right hand grabbed his chin and pulled his face up to hers. "Calm down."
He gulped as he stared into her eyes, briefly wondering what her guards would do to him when she returned indoors with a stained gown. Those Hapan guards had always frightened him a little.
Tenel Ka took her fingers from his chin and gently brushed a trail of water from his cheek.
"You look beautiful," he muttered.
With a sound he hadn't heard from her in years - a genuine laugh - the Queen Mother stood up and picked up her shoes, giving him one last glance behind her shoulder before heading back up to the main building.
Skip the ceremony and stay here. Skip the ceremony. Stay here.
The thought passed through his mind and he knew he shouldn't have felt surprised at all when the woman ahead of him picked up on it.
"No, Jacen. We have to go."
With a scoff, he stood up, grabbed his boots and jogged across the grass to catch up with her.
There was a noise that roused her from her sleep. She didn't know what it was at first, but as she sat awake in bed, her gray eyes meeting with the open balcony doors and her ears catching it once more, Tenel Ka quickly figured it out.
There was a soft whistling -- a low sort of cooing in a string of different notes. It was followed by a quiet whisper. "Come on, it's okay. I won't hurt you."
Sliding out of bed, the Queen Mother felt the warm air from the outside hit her skin and she grabbed the sheet she had been tangled in, wrapping it around her and holding the edge up under her left arm. She kicked the excess out of her path and wandered carefully to the open doors, slowly leaning around them to peer onto the balcony.
Jacen Solo was seated at the small table outside, leaning on the back two legs of an ornate chair with his bare feet propped along the balcony railing. There was a small bird perched on his right pointer finger, mere standard inches from his face and the two seemed to be singing to each other. He whistled softly to it and it would chirp back. She watched it step down his finger and lean forward, then press its beak to his nose where it began to gnaw playfully at his skin.
"Hey, stop that," he chuckled.
Reaching forward, Jacen placed his hand on the table and let the bird hop off. The little ball of feathers inched forward, towards the middle of the table where a shimmering pool of rain water had gathered in the indentation in the center. It jumped in and began to carefully bathe itself. He took that moment to turn his head to the Queen Mother. She knew that he had known of her presence the whole time she had been standing there watching him.
"Evening, Your Highness."
Tilting her head slightly, she could see that he was clothed in his gray jumpsuit, the upper half off and the sleeves tied haphazardly around his waist. That was the jumpsuit that had been on the floor of her quarters when they had fallen asleep curled up next to each other earlier that night while a storm raged on outside. His boots, shorts and shirt were still inside, strewn about on the carpet. Her nightgown was somewhere in there too.
She didn't respond. She felt like she did - like she had said something - but she just stood there, her right arm crossed over her chest and her hand resting on her left shoulder. Her gaze was locked on him, on his jawline and his neck, where the ends of his hair danced against his skin from the cool breeze that was leftover from the storm.
Taking his feet from the railing and gently setting the chair back on four legs, Jacen straightened his back and ducked slightly so his eyes met hers. "You alright?"
Tenel Ka could faintly sense his worry. In her head it sounded something like, Does she regret it? What have I done?
He stood up and began to move across the balcony towards her, his bare feet slapping against the stone.
Before he got to her, she blurted, "So you only stayed here for the fleet, yes?"
He laughed and it was a loud, deep sound. She could feel his sudden relief in waves. Motioning for him to keep it quiet in case some obnoxious suitor or nosy relative was in the garden below, she felt herself tense up. He waved his hands and covered his grin before herding her back into her quarters, trying not to step on the silk of the sheet that was trailing behind her.
Jacen was going to close the balcony door behind him but he quickly forgot about it as he grabbed the sheet around her, keeping her from moving any farther from him. Pulling her towards him, he let his arms snake around her and fed a flood of his emotions through their bond.
"Of course not." His voice lowered. "I mean, originally, yeah. I thought I was going to visit and ask you for your help, but when you invited me to stay over, I..."
His eyes glazed over momentarily as his fingers absently toyed with the ends of her long copper hair at the small of her back.
"I hesitated at first. I wasn't sure what your motive was."
"Motive?" She wiggled slightly in his grasp, enough to shift her right hand out from between them to deliver a playful slap to his bare shoulder. Her fingers quickly went back to the sheet around her to hold it up. "I had no motive besides the fact that--"
"You actually wanted me to stay here. With you."
She nodded slowly.
"I know, I realized that when we were eating dinner together. I could sense it." He leaned forward and kissed the tip of her nose. "When I realized that, I knew I wasn't just getting my hopes up. I felt the same way... I just didn't want to put my emotions behind it, only to find out that you were using me for something."
He could see the way she narrowed her eyes at him and he knew exactly what she was thinking.
"Not that you would use me for anything, Your Majesty! Although, I should be making the same look at you then since you apparently thought the same thing." He narrowed his eyes in a mocking fashion, only to be met with a suddenly struggling Queen Mother, who easily broke from his arms and backed away slowly, trying to keep her lips thinned. The more he narrowed his eyes and twisted his expression though, the more she began to grin.
He reached out and grabbed her again, getting a handful of silk the first time before clinging to an arm and reeling her in the second. He wasted no time in pressing his lips to hers and instantly felt her tugging at the sleeves of the jumpsuit tied around his waist. She got them apart in no time and he was already pulling the sheet from her body and wrapping them both in it, halfheartedly kicking the balcony door halfway shut as she pulled him back down on the over sized bed for the second time that evening.
Back out on the balcony, the rain had started again.
He was walking beside her, a tall man dressed in all black, from his gloves to his jumpsuit to his boots. His hands, while not clasped behind his back, were swatting at the insects floating lazily around the gardens that came too close to him.
"You understand I'm doing this for Allana, right? For all three of us?"
"Really, Jacen? Us?"
Silence. She could feel him stewing as he paced next to her.
They approached the stone base of a large statue of Tenel Ka's mother, which was erected after her death, and Tenel Ka stopped and turned back to look at him. He was slowing to stop beside her, but was distracted by a buzzing around his face. Within seconds, he shot his hand out, smashing his palm against the stone of the statue. The buzzing had ceased. He scraped his hand down the stone and removed it. What was left of the insect that had been close to his face was now a streak along the gray surface.
Tenel Ka felt her breath catch in her throat and she quickly tried to calm herself down, her mind almost in shock at what she had just witnessed. She reached out, some part of her mind hoping that her touch would calm him down. Her fingers rested on his forearm and she lowered her voice.
"How is this helping us?" She didn't want to get into the specifics of this. He knew what this was. The killing, the torturing, the arrests. She didn't need to hear about. it. She could feel it.
In the span of only a few moments, Jacen had moved both of them. He shifted quickly, using his body to herd her back against the statue. The hand that had been resting on his forearm was now clutched around it, nails digging through the jumpsuit sleeve and into the flesh below.
"Do you not trust me, Your Majesty?"
The stone of the statues base met with her back, the cold seeping through her dress and into her skin. His arms shot out to either side of her, gloved hands pressed against the statue on either side of her, caging her in.
Tenel Ka looked away from him, to her left where what was left of the insect was smeared across the gray stone. It had been a black insect, but the stain was a sick mix of black, yellow and a muted green. She couldn't tear her gaze away from it and somewhere in the haze she was swimming in, she could feel him pushing his body against hers and running bared teeth along her right earlobe. He whispered something useless that she couldn't make out and she narrowed her eyes.
That insect had been alive and flitting around mere moments ago.
As his lips hungrily met with the skin of her neck and in between his vocal attempts at getting her to see it his way, her eyes lethargically pulled themselves from the remains of the insect up to the Palace, looming on the rocks above Jacen's mess of brown hair. She could feel her chest rise and fall against his.
If she hadn't been stuck in that extravagant prison all these years, could she have kept this from happening?
Would she have been sneaking into the gardens with Jacen Solo, grabbing playfully at him and tasting his lips against hers instead of standing here, a shell of her former self, trapped against a statue of her dead mother by this thing?
But it was too late for those sorts of thoughts now. The boy that had been in that clearing below fiddling with a crystal snake all those years ago was locked away inside of Jacen forever. Whatever key had the ability to let him out had been lost.
With an almost violent shove, Tenel Ka pushed him away and looked into his eyes. She said nothing. She just brushed past him and after giving the remains of the insect one last glance, she headed back up towards the Palace. Her eyes were unable to hide the hint of sorrow she felt.
Tenel Ka knew his gaze was locked on her back as she moved away from him. He wasn't following her, no, not at all. But she could feel his sudden flare of emotions like he was right next to her. There was a faint wave of grief and sadness, and following behind it was a wall of rage. Somewhere behind that wall was Jacen Solo.
She knew now though, that the wall was unbreakable. He was a prisoner, just like her.