The Birthday Gift
This story takes place more or less immediately following the previous story, making this the sixth part of Hobbie's Saga. Thank you again, Shanon, for letting me borrow a character from your fanfic, Junior. It seems reasonable to me that the Rogues' kids would be friends.
How does a father, who loves his wife and children more than life itself, explain to his daughter that she was named for someone he loved just as much half a lifetime ago?
Read on ...
"Have you told your folks about the dreams you've been having?"
Two girls were sitting on the floor of a rather untypical girl's bedroom, decorated in typical girls' colors, but festooned with numerous very good illustrations of X-wing and other starfighters. The older girl, a twelve year old dark-haired, dark-eyed soon-to-be beauty, looked up from the paper upon which she had been drawing yet another X-wing fighter.
The younger girl, nine years old, fair-haired and green-eyed with very delicate features, looked back at her friend. "What am I supposed to tell them, Gunnar? A pretty redheaded lady with eyes the same color as mine has been smiling at me in my dreams, but hasn't said anything? They'll think I'm crazy."
"Nia, if you don't figure out why you're having these dreams, you'll go crazy."
"Okay, okay. I'll tell them. Then you can come visit me in the psych ward at the Medcenter."
Gunnar laughed. "Nah, we'll probably end up being roommates. If I ever get up the courage to tell my dad that I want to be a fighter pilot, he'll lock me up."
Nia Klivian smiled at her friend. "Not him. You can wrap him around your little finger."
Both girls laughed.
Hobbie and Sela Klivian sat in the comfortable silence of quiet companionship listening to soft music. She was tucked under his arm, their children were safe and asleep in their beds. They'd had a harrowing experience only a few days before, almost losing their son, but Nia's surprising gift had saved him. All was right with the world. Or so he thought.
"Derek, have you noticed that Nia has been quieter than usual lately?" Sela asked sitting up to look at him, but reaching up to keep his hand on her shoulder.
"She's always been quiet. It's kind of hard to tell, but I think she's been looking tireder than usual and she doesn't seem to want to eat much. Maybe she's getting sick. Do you want me to take her to the Medcenter and have her checked out?"
"I thought about that, but I don't think she's sick. I think what happened with Serren is bothering her though..."
Just then, they heard a door down the hall open and shut, quickly, and the subject of their conversation slowly padded into the living room in her slippers and sleeping gown.
"Mom, Dad. Can I talk to you for a minute?"
Hobbie took his hand from Sela's shoulder and reached out to take his daughter's hand. "Of course you can, Sweetheart."
The girl smiled at her parents and sat down on the table in front of them. "I've been having an odd dream for the last several nights. It started after Serren's accident. It's the same dream over and over again, but I don't know why."
Sela sat up straight to look at her. "Tell us about the dream."
Nia dropped her eyes for a moment and then looked back up. "It isn't scary or weird or anything. It's just the same thing over and over again. It's this pretty redheaded lady. She smiles at me. But tonight, she actually spoke to me, but it was all in riddles. It's like she wants to tell me something, but I can't figure it all out. Oh, and her eyes are exactly the same color as mine. Somehow that seems to be very important, but I just don't get it."
Hobbie and Sela were both startled. They turned to look at each other wide-eyed, but said nothing.
Seeing the looks on her parents' faces, Nia quickly spoke again. "I've never seen this lady in real life. I remember everything you've told me about talking to strangers and I've never met this lady."
Hearing the worry in their daughter's voice, they knew they had to reassure her, especially in light of what they had found out after Serren's accident. Silently they communicated their agreement and prepared to tell her what her dream meant.
"It's all right, Darling," Sela said reaching out to smooth her daughter's hair. "We know you would never talk to or go anywhere with someone you don't know. You don't know this redheaded lady, at least consciously, but Daddy and I do."
Now Nia felt even more confused. "How can you know someone that I've only dreamed about? She isn't even real."
Hobbie looked at his daughter and into the past. "She was real, Sweetheart. She was very real. You were named for her."
Today the girls were sitting in Nia's room on her pillow and stuffed animal strewn bed.
"So, did you tell your folks about your dreams?"
Nia was staring at the bracelet she wore on her wrist. "Yes, I told them."
"And?" Gunnar prompted.
Nia looked back up at her friend. "And they told me who she was."
In spite of the three year age difference between them, Gunnar Janson and Nia Klivian were very close friends. Nia had always seemed to be older than she was and she was definitely the more serious of the two, but they had shared many confidences for as long as they could remember. That wasn't really surprising considering that their parents were best friends. Nia's odd dreams were only the latest problem they had tried to puzzle out together. And she hadn't even tried to tell Gunnar about what had happened with Serren yet.
Gunnar took a deep breath. "How could they know somebody who's only a dream?"
"But she's not a dream, Gunni," Nia told her.
Gunnar smiled at the nickname Nia had called her by. Nia was the only one she let get away with calling her that, but she was not going to get distracted by their usual banter over the name. "What do you mean, 'she's not a dream'?"
"She was a real person. Mom and Dad knew her. Your dad knew her too."
Gunnar's eyes widened in surprise. "My dad?" She shook her head to attempt to clear the confusion she felt. "Wait a minute. You said 'was'?"
"Yes. She's dead. She was killed in the Battle of Endor."
"The Battle of Endor? Nia, that was twenty five years ago! All right, Kid; this is a story I want to hear. Spill it."
"You're right. It is some story. Okay, this is what Mom and Dad told me..."
Sela took her daughter's free hand and smiled. "We were going to tell you this when you were old enough to understand it, but we keep forgetting how much you do understand."
Hobbie smiled and squeezed her hand too. "Your mother was exactly the same way when she was a child. I should have seen this coming."
Nia was confused. She had no idea what her parents were talking about.
"Sweetheart, you know that your mother is quite a bit younger than me."
"But we've never told you how we actually met. I've known her since she was five years old."
"Yes. Rogue Squadron was sent along as escort for a medical rescue mission to rescue a refugee village and an Alliance base on Atrivis. There was a bad outbreak of Bilbringi Fever and we just barely made it in time to get them the medical help they needed. The nurse who spotted your mother standing in the door of the little hut she and Grandma were living in was named Nia Ponsed."
Nia's eyes were wide. "And you named me for her? But why is that such a big secret? I've heard her name before; not very often, but I have heard it."
"It's not a secret, Darling," Sela said. "It's just that we didn't want you to be confused."
"You didn't want me to be confused?" The young girl's brow furrowed. "I'm confused now."
"Sweetheart, you know I love your mother and you and Serren more than anything, but before the mission to Atrivis, I didn't even know her."
Sela smiled at Hobbie's discomfiture. "Darling, go easy on Daddy. He feels awkward enough talking with me about your namesake. Derek, I'll tell her and you can make comments or corrections as needed," she said.
Looking back at their daughter, Sela began. "Nia Ponsed was a nurse assigned to the Alliance's medical frigate. She met Daddy after he had been very seriously injured in the withdrawal from Hoth. They began to get to know each other then, but his squadron was sent to Atrivis for a few months of advanced training. When they returned to the Fleet, Wedge Antilles accidentally carried back a case of Bilbringi Fever. Daddy and Nia started to grow closer while she helped take care of Wedge, and then the squadron and the medical team were sent back as soon as he was able to tell them about our little group of refugees. We were hiding from Imperial raiders, but had inadvertently found ourselves near an Alliance base. The commander of the base discovered us and was bringing us food and supplies until he could make arrangements to get us away from there. When Wedge found out what he was doing, he helped bring the supplies and wound up picking up his case of Bilbringi Fever."
Sela paused for a moment and Hobbie took over the story. "Wedge collapsed right after we got back to the fleet so he couldn't tell us about the village until he regained consciousness. But as soon as he did, Princess Leia ordered a medical rescue mission to return to Atrivis immediately and sent us along to protect them and escort the refugees when they were resettled. Nia volunteered to go along on the mission and I couldn't talk her out of it."
"But Daddy, why would you want to talk her out of it? She was a nurse, right?"
Hobbie found it difficult, even after all these years, to talk about his feelings at the time, but Sela knew him better than almost anyone and she answered. "He was in love with her. It was a very dangerous mission, and he didn't want anything to happen to her. Anyway, they got back to Atrivis as quickly as they could and came looking for us."
Sela's eyes misted over. "A lot of people died, but a lot more including Grandma and me, were rescued. Nia spotted me standing in the door of our hut, and Daddy found Grandma inside very sick with the Fever. If it weren't for them, I wouldn't be here. While we waited for the grownups to recover from the Fever, the rescue team made friends with a lot of the children. Something very special happened there at Atrivis, and many of those friendships have lasted to this day. You've met those two pilots that pop in to visit the Jansons whenever they're here on Coruscant? Those two and their two younger brothers were also among the children rescued. We were so scared, but they made us feel so safe."
She looked back at her husband and smiled as her thoughts went back to Atrivis. "I can't tell you why it happened, but the instant I met Nia and your dad, I felt as if I'd known them forever. I knew that I was safe with them and permanently attached myself to both of them." Her expression was one of remembered amusement. "I imagine that I tended to get in the way when they would rather have been alone, but they never made me feel unwanted. I never had a sister or brother, but in Nia I had the most wonderful "adopted" older sister I could ever have wished for. I could tell her anything or ask her anything, and I usually did."
She paused again and Hobbie took up the story once more. "Mom is right about all of that except that bit about us rather wanting to be alone. Making friends with the children we had rescued was actually a blessing for the whole rescue team. Somehow, at least for a little while, the Rebellion sort of faded away or didn't touch us there. We were able to -- oh I don't know -- recharge our power cells? We could just kick back and have fun playing games or going swimming or walking along the beach looking for seashells, although we did do our patrols and spend time getting the refugees ready for resettlement. Of course, it didn't last. The Empire found us and we had to fight off a pretty nasty attack. Princess Leia and Wedge saved my tail that time."
"Yes, Honey. Ask Uncle Wes about it sometime. He tells it a lot better than I do," Hobbie said smiling.
"Fast forward several months," Sela said. "Now it's just before the Battle of Endor. Daddy and Nia were very much in love."
"How did you know that, Mom?" Nia asked looking at her mother quizzically.
She smiled. "Because I asked. After we were resettled, I used to write to Daddy and Nia all the time, and they always wrote back. I still have all their letters."
Hobbie did a double-take at his wife, but said nothing.
"I could tell they were very much in love, and, being the romantic little girl I was, I could see no reason for them not to so I wrote to Nia and asked her if she and Daddy were going to get married. I had written pretty much the same thing to Daddy, not in so many words, but he had understood what I was asking."
"That's right. Your mom's letter that arrived shortly before the Battle of Endor made me realize that I wanted to marry Nia and spend the rest of my life with her. I was going to propose to her right after the battle was over, but that never happened because she was killed."
Hobbie's face became very still as he looked back to that tragic chapter in his life.
Nia's eyes had filled with tears as she listened to her father. She stood up from the low table she'd been sitting on and leaned down to hug him tightly. "Oh, Daddy..."
Hobbie returned her hug and kissed her cheek. "It's all right, Sweetheart. Here. Sit down here."
Sela had moved over so that Nia could sit between them on the couch.
"It was a horrible thing to have happened, and your mom and I will never, ever forget her, but if it hadn't happened, I wouldn't have you; or your mother, or your brother."
"I don't understand, Daddy."
"For the longest time, I didn't understand it either, Sweetheart. I was completely shattered by her death. I never wanted to be hurt like that again so I told myself that if I didn't let myself care about anyone, even my friends, I couldn't be hurt. I was never so wrong about anything in my life."
He looked over at his incredibly beautiful wife, whose eyes brimmed with tears. "I had written to Mom and Grandma to tell them about Nia, because I knew how much they loved her and they had a right to know what had happened. But that was going to be the last letter I ever wrote to them. I was going to cut myself off from them too, but neither of them were going to let me do it."
Looking down at his beautiful little girl, he paused to caress her cheek. "For a month after Nia died, I was an absolute monster. I shouted at people to leave me alone and did everything I could to push them away. You can ask Uncle Wes about that too. He had to put up with the worst of it."
Nia's eyes widened. She could not imagine her father behaving like a monster.
"Then when we got back from another mission, a package had arrived from your mother. She was only six years old, but she lit into me in that letter and I've never forgotten it."
"Daddy's being too hard on himself, Darling," Sela said. "All I did was tell him that no matter how much he thought he wanted to stop caring about people, he couldn't. I knew from the letter he had written, and from how crushed I felt over Nia's death, how much he was hurting, and I wished with every bit of strength that I had that I could make his hurt go away."
Now, their daughter's eyes brimmed with tears as well.
"No, I'm not being too hard on myself." Hobbie reached across Nia to squeeze Sela's hand. "But I do know one thing. If it hadn't been for that letter your mother sent back to me, I doubt if I'd be here now. She made me realize that I couldn't cut myself off from everyone. I needed my friends to help me accept what had happened and let them help me learn to live with it when I didn't much feel like going on living without her."
He lifted his daughter's hand and kissed it, and then still holding her hand, pointed across the room at the display shelf. "Do you see that pink and white seashell?"
"Mom sent it to me after Nia died. We had found it when the three of us were together on Atrivis. Part of learning to live with Nia's tragic loss was learning not to dwell on it, but to remember the happiness we had together. Mom sent me that seashell to help me remember, and I can't tell you how many times just looking at it kept me from sinking into despair."
Sela picked up the thread of the story again. "Darling, your daddy was still hurting a lot from Nia's death. Everyone who knew her was, but they all learned to go on without her presence in their lives, even Daddy, although it was hardest for him. For me and Grandma and Daddy, I think her memory became like a kind of guiding and protecting spirit. Whenever I was upset or confused, I would ask myself "what would Nia have told me?" and it always worked out."
"For me, it was a little different," Hobbie said. "Thinking back now, I have a feeling that she somehow knew that we would never be able to have our life together, although she certainly never had a death wish. After she was killed, her presence just stayed with me, although I couldn't always sense it. I think she knew, more so than I did, that there could never be anyone else for me except your mother. She stayed with me until your mother and I could be together, but by then I had been friends with Grandma and Mom for so long, I didn't recognize it when I fell in love with her." He smiled remembering. "Just ask Aunt Jehri how dense your daddy was."
Sela laughed softly. "Daddy wasn't dense, Sweetheart, just a little slow."
Nia smiled. "So, you named me for her because after she died she became sort of a guardian spirit for both of you?"
Sela and Hobbie both smiled and nodded. "That, and when you were born, you looked at us with her eyes. How could we name you anything else?" Hobbie said kissing his little girl on the forehead.
"But why have I been having dreams about her? I didn't know anything about her until now."
Hobbie and Sela looked at each other silently asking and answering the same question and Hobbie nodded. "Well, Sweetheart, we think it's because you know more about her than you realize. You've heard various references to her from us and from our friends and things began to click into place. Also, you just had your ninth birthday. I think, and Mom agrees with me, that your namesake was telling you and us that you were old enough to understand how you came to be named." He looked into his daughter's green eyes and his memory conjured up an image of his first love to overshadow her face for a moment. "What happened with Serren at the Medcenter the other night may also have something to do with this too," he added quietly.
Sela stood up. "Wait here, Darling. We have something for you." She went into her bedroom and returned a moment later holding something in her hand. She sat back down next to Nia and held it out to her. It was a fine gold bracelet with a small gold charm on it. "This is yours now."
Nia's eyes widened as she took it. "It's beautiful."
"Daddy gave it to Nia for her birthday a month before she was killed. He sent it to me as a remembrance of her, and now we think you should have it."
"Here. Let me put it on for you," Hobbie said taking the bracelet and putting it on his daughter's wrist. "Think of it as a birthday gift from an aunt who died before you were born. I think she would like that."
"Oh, Mom! Dad! Thank you. I'll never have another gift that means as much to me as this bracelet and the story of how I got my name," she said giving them both a big hug. "I wish I'd known her."
"Now that you know who she was, you can ask all the questions you want. Grandma, Uncle Wes, Wedge, Tycho, Doctor Telsan and his wife, and even that reprobate, Tarrin, can tell you about her, Sweetheart," Hobbie said smiling. "And Doc T's wife, Jenan, was Nia's best friend. She could tell you a lot."
There was so much more to what Hobbie and Sela could tell their daughter about her namesake, but they were still trying to absorb things that they had only recently found out about themselves. There would be time for that in the future.
"Sweetheart, would you like to see some holos of Nia?" Sela asked.
The little girl's eyes opened wide in surprise. "You have holos of her? Oh yes, I want to see them."
This time Hobbie stood up and walked across the room to pull them out of a drawer. "Here you are," he said handing them to her and sitting down again to put an arm around her.
Nia looked through the holos, her eyes widening with each new image. "This is exactly what she looked like in my dream!"
Nia looked up to see her friend's reaction to the story she'd just told, and smiled.
Gunnar's eyes were like saucers and glistening with tears just barely held in check. "Nia, I never knew any of this. I had no idea. Oh, poor Uncle Hobbie. I never understood why even when Span and I were having so much fun with him he still seemed sad until your mom came to stay with us."
She looked over at Nia's nightstand and noticed a small holo that hadn't been there before. It was a very pretty redheaded, green eyed girl in an Alliance medical corps uniform. "Is that her?" she asked looking back up at her friend.
Nia reached over to pick up the holo and look at it before handing it to her friend. "Yes. My very own guardian angel."
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