Monsters of the Id
Sometimes it's hard to get along with your siblings, especially when you're having to deal with the changes and other difficulties that being a teenager brings. Jacen had one very talented twin sister who had proved herself to be an excellent pilot, and one younger brother whose continuing exploits were earning him heroic status. Although he loved them both, and was proud of them, there were sometimes moments when he felt the pressure of living in such exalted company, especially since he had begun to question his own role as a Jedi. The ongoing battle with the Yuuzhan Vong left him little time to work things out, for more and more often Luke and the older Jedi were having to rely on the younger ones to take on the mantle of responsibility. In the growing atmosphere of uncertainty and frustration, with Jedi now being hunted by not only the Peace Brigade, but by vicious creatures called voxyn, Jacen struggles with his identity and his own personal monsters.
Jacen swung his door open disconsolately and, half-slamming it shut, threw himself down on his bed. He glared up at the matte beige ceiling for a few minutes, then stood up again, tore off his vac suit, kicked off his boots and toppled back down, giving the ceiling another malevolent stare. There were times, he thought, when having siblings was definitely a bad thing, and this was one of them. He had been in a good mood until two minutes ago. Now he could feel the familiar stirrings of dissatisfaction and the acid taste of jealousy, and all because of what he'd witnessed in Anakin's room. Normally, Anakin's relationship with Tahiri didn't affect him; normally he could say with all honesty that he was glad Anakin had found the special someone with whom he was probably going to spend the rest of his life. But occasionally Anakin's annoying ability to fall on his feet, to always seem like he was in some way smiled on by Fate, rankled. And at those times Jacen could definitely feel the Dark Side whispering to him.
He'd wanted to check up whether his brother had received his earlier message to go and give Cilghal a hand with some mathematical stuff the next morning, so he'd knocked on his door. There was no immediate response, and he was just about to look for him elsewhere when he heard Anakin call out for him to come in.
They were standing in the middle of the floor, arms draped around one another and almost contriving to look casual. It was meant to look like an innocent goodnight cuddle; Jacen wasn't fooled, but he was surprised. He had stood there taking in their slightly flushed expressions Tahiri's being no doubt a result of close contact with Anakin's six o'clock shadow and noticing that Anakin managed to remain strategically concealed by her body. Usually his brother was pretty good at holding thoughts and feelings close, but this time even his well-honed defences were inadequate to the task. Jacen could sense passion wafting around the room as if it was something tangible, and the mild sense of shock returned. He was taken unaware that their relationship had developed into something so serious, and taken aback at the depth of their emotion. He was accustomed to feeling it coming from Luke and Mara, and Corran and Mirax, and even occasionally from his own parents but from Anakin and Tahiri? That had floored him for a moment.
His sensible side commended them for their maturity. After all, they could have been all silly and giggly about it, and flaunted their feelings in front of their peers. In fact, other than the fond looks they threw each other and the fact they were always together, nobody could accuse them of being anything other than discreet. There was another little voice, however, that was taunting him. Yet another example of Anakin pre-empting you it murmured. All the times you've thought you've had the advantage over him, only to find he's either level-pegging or already ahead. Jacen exhaled in exasperation. It was true. Case in point puberty. Anakin in his precocious way had started developing early, so they had ended up going through it together. Shaving Anakin's beard already grew faster and more evenly than his. Height he may have still had a couple of inches on Anakin in that department, but he knew only too well from a recent visit to his brother's room just after he'd emerged from the shower, that Anakin made up that difference elsewhere. And now it looked like Anakin already had an active sex-life on the go, while Jacen's still resided in the depths of his imagination. It sounded whingy, it sounded pathetic, and he hated himself for saying it, but it just wasn't fair.
He supposed they should all in fact be grateful that Anakin so obviously adored Tahiri. What sort of mayhem could he cause if he was unattached? As it was, the other young females seemed to home in on him as if he had some sort of transmitter attached. The sight of Anakin prowling around his room searching for a set of clean clothes, towel slung carelessly around his neck and sculpted muscles glistening with residual shower water, came back to his mind like an unwelcome guest. Much as Jacen hated to admit it, Anakin reminded him of the pictures of the ancient Alderaanian mythical heroes he used to admire in the picture books his mother had read them when they were little. He was beginning to develop the aura of someone who could satisfy a whole harem before breakfast, and still have enough raw energy to fight an army of Vong. Jacen's commonsense voice told him that such a comparison was ludicrous but the Dark Side one whispered its disagreement.
Further unwelcome images popped into his head. He could visualise his brother effortlessly lifting Tahiri and walking over with her to his bed. He shook them away. He hadn't taken much notice of Tahiri when she was a kid; in fact, other than acknowledging she was Anakin's best friend, he had hardly noticed her at all. After Anakin had rescued her from Yavin 4 and brought her first to the Errant Venture, and then to Eclipse, however, his perception of her had changed. He couldn't help noticing how pretty she was, how lithe. Even with those scars on her forehead, she stood out in a crowd; in fact, they almost added to her mystique, making her seem almost exotic. Was it that he fancied her, or was it because Anakin's love for her made her seem out of reach and therefore desirable? Having become forbidden territory, so to speak, had she also become a challenge? Or was the real problem that he was jealous of Anakin?
He pondered this for a while. He couldn't recall actually feeling envious of Anakin when they were kids. Annoyed, sometimes; frustrated, definitely. But this sense of disgruntlement, or whatever it was, appeared to be a recent development. The first time he remembered noticing it was a couple of years ago, when they were still living on Coruscant. He had watched Anakin walking down one of the long corridors in the old palace, being stared at covertly, or sometimes openly ogled, by various clusters of women, and even by a few men. It was the first time he had taken the time to actually look at Anakin with an objective, non-brotherly eye, and the view startled him. He suddenly saw his brother as others saw him: vital, compact, good-looking, moving with the ease of gait of a warrior, yet at the same time exuding an aura of danger, and above all totally unaware of the effect he was creating.
Thinking it possible that he might just be seeing a typical crowd reaction to any of the Jedi or to any Solo, Jacen had taken time to observe the public's reaction to the others. Kyp received the occasional glance, as did he, Jaina and his parents, but usually this took the form of a respectful nod or acknowledging smile. He had found that realisation irritating. After all, he too was a Solo with some of the same Corellian attributes as Anakin, and it wasn't as if he was unattractive. He was solid, moreso than his brother, and strong, and nice-looking in his own way. Tenel Ka assured him he had beautiful eyes soft and warm she had said once. His hair was a thick, you might even say a rich, brown and, unlike Anakin's, was usually reasonably tidy. Pretty Danni Quee hadn't been averse to him, had even implied she might have been interested had he been older. Had she just been humouring him? He wasn't sure. There were lots of things he was no longer sure about, and the less sure he became, the more he noticed Anakin's certitude, and the more it bothered him.
He hadn't had much time to think seriously about love or romance. He had enjoyed the odd fantasy about some of the more attractive actresses in the HoloNet dramas, but he assumed that was normal for someone his age. In many ways he, Jaina and Anakin were at a disadvantage relative to other teenagers, because a large part of their lives had been taken up with adult concerns politics, fighting, and in his case trying to sort out his philosophical stance about the Force. He had a kind of relationship with Tenel Ka, well more of a friendship really he thought. Maybe if the two of them had been thrown together as spectacularly as Anakin and Tahiri had, their friendship might also have blossomed into something deeper. But there again, he wasn't sure about that either. What did he really feel for her now what do I feel about anything?
He sat up on the edge of his bunk and sighed. He hated getting into moods like this. Once upon a time the easy solution would have been to go and find Anakin and provoke him into an argument, preferably one involving lightsabers easy therapy, especially as Anakin had always been only too willing to participate. Now was obviously not the time or place to go and try that idea out. He considered getting a drink, and seeing if any of the others were around. But that would have entailed walking past Anakin's room, and he didn't trust himself to not try and use his Force senses as he passed. What he could imagine was disturbing enough, he didn't want any Force-based confirmation.
What would it feel like, he wondered, to disentangle Tahiri's sweet, slender body from her clothes, to fondle her perfect breasts and feel the little bud-like nipples he had seen thrusting through her tunic top a few minutes before rubbing against his own chest. He imagined caressing her and having her wrap those lovely long legs around him. He heard himself murmuring the playful obscenities that lovers at the height of passion might exchange. He trembled. He stood up angrily. This is ridiculous, he thought. There's enough going on with the Yuuzhan Vong to cause me enough torment, I don't need to start adding anything extra into the equation.
He considered putting himself into a Jedi meditation trance to calm himself down and put things back in perspective, but the annoying little voice piped up again, suggesting that he really didn't want a different perspective, and that in fact he was right to feel disgruntled, and that his life was intrinsically unfair. No he thought, calmly breathing in and out, I'm not giving in to this. He sat back down, methodically removed the short-sleeved top and light weave pants he wore under his vac suit, and slipped into bed. Jealousy, negativity, whatever it is I'm feeling, is of the Dark Side, and I will not let it take over. He closed his eyes and let his breathing fall into the rhythmic pattern that usually preceded sleep.
Tired as he was, his eyes grew heavy but sleep eluded him. Instead, his mind kept wandering back down the passage, stopping at Anakin's door, interpreting in graphic form what he might have heard or sensed had he been eavesdropping. Tahiri really was growing into an exceptional beauty, and there was something terribly alluring about her preference for bare feet. Somehow it made her seem like a sort of child of nature freespirited, unconventional. He could imagine her swimming in a stream, emerging like a goddess with water streaming down her and seductively highlighting her soft curves. He sighed. He imagined reaching out for her, pulling her against him, lowering her on to the soft turf and slowly kissing every inch of her body, tasting the fragrance of the delicate Chad Orchid perfume that Anakin had bought her for her birthday, and with which he had come to associate her. He wanted to be Anakin, and know the feeling of pleasuring her and being pleasured, of having that intimate connection that only lovers can. He wanted to possess her, but knew at the same time he never could. Suddenly the ache was unbearable. This is sick, he thought. I don't fancy her.
But she's beautiful, murmured the voice, and so like Danni.
"No!" The vehemence in his voice surprised him, mainly because he had uttered the statement out loud.
Liar, the voice from the Dark goaded him. She looks exactly like Danni same hair, same eyes, same delectable body.
"I don't want her or Danni, and I'm not jealous," he announced firmly to the annoying presence lurking in the depths of his mind. "I wish Anakin well. I'm glad he's happy." He threw back the covers and slipped his vac suit back on, ignoring the fact that he was wearing only his undershorts. "And what is more I am going to get a drink."
He swung the door open and stalked determinedly down the passage, concentrating on the words of a song he had heard Raynar playing on the voder in his room earlier that day. It was by some group who did the sort of semi-out-of-tune moaning that the other young Jedi called music, although Jacen had picked up a vaguely coherent melody in this one.
"Walking in the shadows, hard to find the line, teetering in the balance, faltering all the time ... "
By the sixth repetition he was safely in the next corridor and halfway to the room that served as a type of lounge. He had just begun to congratulate himself on arriving there without any more troubling thoughts when he noticed that the room already had an occupant. Sithspit he thought.
"Hi Jacen," said Alema, stretching lugubriously, and then recurling herself like a sinuous whisperkit into the corner chair. "Unusual to see you around so late."
"Yeah," he replied, avoiding anything that might resemble an encouragement to begin a conversation.
"Having trouble sleeping?"
"Yeah," he grunted, fiddling with the button on the drink dispenser.
"It's this heat," she complained, standing up and moving over to lean against a nearby chair. "It's so steamy. I keep having fantasies of swimming in a nice cool stream."
Jacen almost dropped the beaker of ice-cold water he'd just filled. For one awful moment he wondered if she'd been prying into his fantasies. No, he thought sensibly, I'm just being paranoid.
"Sounds nice," he replied.
"Of course," she continued. "There are some of us who don't mind it steamy, if you get my meaning?"
Jacen turned to face her and noticed a faint knowing smirk turning her full lips up slightly. Her pale blue eyes travelled slowly down his body and then stopped. Jacen groaned inwardly as he suddenly realised to his horror that the effect of his recent erotic thoughts was still announcing itself very prominently, and, unlike Anakin, he had no convenient body to hide behind. She returned her gaze to his face, and one eyebrow arched in amusement.
"Wow!" she smiled. "Nice to be so appreciated!" She stepped forward until she was almost up against him, and then reached past his left side to place her disposable beaker in the chute beside the dispenser. Before she moved away she let her body briefly brush against his. "If you need a hand with anything," she murmured, "don't hesitate to let me know."
Jacen gripped the back of the nearby chair and stood for a while, seething with a combination of anger and humiliation and, even more worrying, a self-destructive desire to call her bluff. Gradually however he managed to calm himself sufficiently to make the trip back to his room. He climbed back into bed, and tried to fill his mind with positive images: memories of happy scenes from his childhood, and some of the more pleasant adventures he and Jaina had had with their friends at the Academy. Slowly this antidote began to work, softening the edge of his frustration and angst. Gradually his eyelids drooped, and he fell asleep.
A pleasant breeze brought with it the faint scent of flowers, and he was aware of the sound of a stream gurgling quietly somewhere in the background.
Just a dream, the Dark voice assured him, and in his unconscious state he felt himself reaching out to the girl lying beside him.
Tahiri he mumbled, or was it Danni? Things often got muddled in dreams.
Dreams don't harm anyone, soothed the voice. You can do as you wish in your dreams, be who you want. No responsibility, no recriminations, no need to feel guilty.
Jacen sighed. It was such a relief to be free from the constant evaluating he'd been subjecting himself to for the past couple of years, and he gratefully submitted to his unconscious. His hand moved up to touch her hair, but before it could reach, she took it in hers and placed it against her lips.
He ran his fingers slowly down her chin, her neck and down to her breast, caressing the nipple and feeling it harden and beckon to him. He suckled at it playfully, and the taste and feel aroused a hunger in him that was almost overwhelming. Greedy for more of her, he took her breast in his mouth and massaged the nipple with his tongue until he heard her half sigh, half gasp and guide his head to her other breast. He could feel her body responding to his ministrations, and he let her guide his head down to her belly, running his tongue down her soft, warm skin until he reached her navel. She thrust against him more urgently, and he could feel the tension increasing within him, too. He grasped her by the hips and positioned himself so that he could move around her playfully for a moment, at the same time exploring her mouth with his tongue. For a moment he felt all powerful and in control, and he revelled in his own strength, enjoying the fact that he could hold her against him with one hand, leaving the other free to continue exploring the wonders of her body.
"You're so beautiful, Tahiri," he murmured breathlessly, or did he say Danni? He wasn't even completely sure he had spoken maybe he'd just thought it. It didn't matter anyway; all that did matter was underneath him, moving with him, clasping herself against him. Overcome by the demand for release, he could no longer hold back, and he suddenly discovered why people talked about lovemaking as the ultimate means of becoming one. As she thrust herself against him and her legs tightened around him so her grip was almost painful, the wave hit him and tumbled his senses into an ecstasy he had no words to describe. When the ripples finally abated, and he became aware of her again, he could hear her laboured breathing matching his own.
He released his hold on her a little, and kissed her passionately but without the frenzied desperation of a few minutes before. Never before had he felt so fulfilled, or so satisfied. He slid over so he could lie with her pressed beside him, and then as is often the case with dreams, the scene simply dissolved. He slept deeply, and woke in the morning an hour later than usual, but feeling unusually well-rested.
Euphoria, he thought as he walked into the room that was functioning as their canteen. It was the only word he could conjure up to describe his mood. For the first time in many months he felt light-hearted, and almost able to put some of his doubts and fears on the back burner for a while. He looked around to see who else was there. Tekli and Cilghal were sitting in one corner engrossed in what looked like a serious discussion, and there were a few clusters of young Jedi still eating.
"Jacen," Ganner greeted him, and pulled a chair from a nearby table over to fit beside his. "Come to feed the inner man I see."
Jacen grinned. "Sounds good."
"Yeah, well don't get too optimistic. Someone forgot to order more thakitillo, so we're down to rationing. Two spoonsful per serving bulked out with what looks like soggy cushion-stuffing."
"Yum," Jacen said wryly. "In that case I think I'll just get some juice." He filled himself a beaker of something purple from the dispenser, and settled down beside Ganner.
"A bit disturbing all this voxyn business," Ganner said, a little darkly.
Jacen nodded as he swallowed. "More than just a bit," he replied. Across the room he noticed Alema staring at him, and he noted with a sense of triumph that he could stare back at her without feeling the least trace of embarrassment. It was amazing how something as silly as a dream could make such a difference to his perspective. Normally he would have castigated himself for days for first working himself into such a state as he had been in the night before, and second for letting his guard down sufficiently to let someone else see him so ruffled. Now he could simply accept his behaviour as human weakness, something everyone suffered from occasionally.
It's stupid really, he thought. If that dream had been a daydream, I'd be self-analysing like crazy. Somehow the fact it was a dream made his desire acceptable. He remembered watching a holo-documentary once about dreaming, and how it was the body's way of ridding itself of frustrations and unwanted thoughts or memories. Maybe I should dream more often.
"I hope Cilghal can come up with some answers soon," he heard Ganner say. He caught Alema's eye again. She was polishing a small, pink gaya on the top she was wearing under her open vac suit. She held it up to her mouth and slowly licked around the narrow end of the bulbous-shaped fruit, and then plunged it into her mouth so that a little pale pink juice ran down her chin. She chewed slowly, swallowed and smiled at him knowingly.
Jacen frowned. What in the name of the Sith is she playing at? he wondered. "I'm sure she will," he assured the dark-headed man beside him. "If anyone can solve this particular problem, it's Cilghal."
"Hmm, what have you been sniffing and where can I get some," Ganner grinned. "Or has Cilghal told you something the rest of us don't know yet."
Alema picked up a long pastry finger and dipped it into the pottle of vege-extract she was holding in her other hand. She licked the end daintily, then poked it into the pottle again several times before putting it in her mouth again. Her eyes never left his, and he could see the sly teasing expression in them. Suddenly he felt a jolt as if someone had plunged him into carbonite, and his blood froze in his veins.
"No!" he gasped.
"Easy!" said Ganner. "I may look old, but I've still got my hearing you know."
"Sorry!" Jacen managed to smile weakly.
"Are you OK?" Ganner looked concerned. "You've gone as pale as a ghost."
Jacen took a quick calming breath, and stood up slowly, hoping that the floor was still in the same place it had been when he came in. "I'm fine. Just remembered something I was meant to do. Catch you later." Somehow he managed to get to his room, although he had no memory of actually walking there. The events of his dream played through endlessly in his head: the breeze, the stream, Tahiri, Danni, someone ... It couldn't have been real, it couldn't and yet ...
Could Alema have read his thoughts when he was in the lounge with her? Had she tapped into his unconscious somehow and crept into his room and into his bed, or had she simply sensed his dream and decided to play psychological games with him? He knew which of those alternatives he would prefer.
Surely he would have known if she was there? He would have felt her lekku wouldn't he? But then he remembered that when he reached out to stroke her hair, she or the girl in his dream had caught his hand before he could touch it. And then, this morning she had been wearing a bandana, with her lekku coiled above it. Had she worn that to taunt him too? The thought of her actually being there ... his stomach convulsed, and he almost missed making it to the refresher in time.
He collapsed on his bunk. How could this happen to him? This morning he had felt so good, so totally content and at ease with himself. Now all his old doubts had returned supplemented with new ones, not the least of which were associated with his lack of sexual experience. He couldn't remember too many details, but he had the distinct impression that things had happened fairly quickly. Would Alema, if she had actually been there, taunt him for his lack of expertise, or lack of staying power? Again he found himself thinking about Anakin no doubt those were things his brother would have well under control by now. Then the childishness of such negative thoughts hit him and he felt guilty and so ... unclean. It was almost too much. It was too much. He curled up into a ball and let the tears flow.
It was after lunch before he could work up the courage to leave his room. He'd meditated, and managed to arm himself with some sort of protection against Alema's smugness. The thought that perhaps now she'd got what she obviously craved comforted him a little. To an extent he blamed himself, for if he hadn't given into his fantasies in the first place, none of this would have happened. But niggling at the back of his mind was the feeling that the Force had betrayed him. Here he was, genuinely trying to do the right thing and to use the Force properly, yet all he got in return was increasing doubt, and now jealousy and guilt as well. It would be nice to think that Alema would feel remorse for tricking him, but he knew that was unlikely. In fact none of the other young Jedi seemed to be capable of any decent self-analysis. Did Jaina really weigh up what she did in her role as pilot in terms of how it affected the Force? And what about Anakin on Yavin 4, when he hid his Jedi identity and killed a number of Yuuzhan Vong on what was basically a personal crusade? It seemed to Jacen that if anyone deserved to feel at peace with the Force it was him, but at the moment all he felt was tormented.
He survived that day, and meditated again into the small hours of the morning so as not to run the risk of any more erotic thoughts or dreams. Over the next week he achieved a kind of equilibrium, mainly by keeping to a rigorous schedule of work and meditation. Occasionally, however, the Dark voice would remind him of his failure, and how annoying it was that the others seemed to suffer so few qualms. Why can't they endure some guilt and jealousy occasionally? The question continued to plague him on and off for some time. It was still bothering him occasionally weeks later, after they had left the relative safety of Eclipse on Anakin's mission to destroy the voxyn.
"Now is no time for jealousy, Tahiri," he said as the petite blonde girl began to raise Alema's inert body above the surface of the water. A moment before, it had slipped under, while Tahiri was objecting to Anakin's request that she take Alema, and therefore herself too, away from danger.
Tahiri gazed up at Jacen, her green eyes filled with a mixture of anger and confusion. Jealous? she thought. What in the name of the Emperor is he on about? Surely he of all people should be able to tell that I'm just sick to death of being pandered to just because I'm the youngest. She studied his face for a moment and frowned. Something very unJacen-like had flickered across it briefly a strange look of satisfaction that was almost smug.
"I'm not jealous," she snapped, "I just don't like being sent off like some child." She studied his expression again briefly before raising the unconscious Twi'lek and preparing to move her to safety, noting the supercilious look he gave her in return. Very odd, she thought, but at that point she had no time to give it any more thought. She had promised Anakin she would carry out his orders even if she disagreed with them, and she intended to honour that promise, although that didn't prevent her from letting him know she was unhappy about it. She didn't want him to try and protect her. She had been in so many dangerous situations with him before, and they had always managed to escape somehow. And anyway, she'd told him once before that there was no other person she'd want to be standing beside when death finally caught up with them.
After Tahiri had gone, Jacen felt a moment of self-recrimination. He had known she wasn't acting out of jealousy, and that she was simply tired of people using her relative youth against her. Of course she wanted to be with Anakin; she had just been venting out of frustration. He submerged the guilt under a flood of relief and an almost vindictive sense of satisfaction. He actually felt quite pleased to be able to impose some of his own jealousy on one of the others, and to make them have to try and justify themselves. It was nice to see them squirm and feel outraged for a change, and it felt good to look like the one who was occupying the moral high ground.
Never mind, he assured himself. I'll be able to apologise to her later. He hesitated for a moment, wondering whether that was such good advice. Anakin had brought him along to maintain the Force meld amongst the group, and leaving Tahiri to simmer, and indulging his own sense of vengeance were acts more likely to achieve the opposite result. Again his familiar companions of uncertainty and doubt assailed him. He watched Tahiri as she motioned to Lomi and Tekli and guided Alema's body away from the dangers of the swamp, and up the canyon. He sensed that she was annoyed, but the overwhelming feeling he received from her was concern for Anakin, and he could feel her reaching out to his brother. Unable to be physically beside him, she simply connected with him telepathically.
Jacen almost began to follow her, but the Barabels suddenly appeared in his peripheral vision, and the reality of their situation came back with a frightening urgency. He would have to sort out his personal problems later; for the moment the most important thing was to find the voxyn. Jacen activated his lightsaber and was just forcing his thoughts back to the job in hand, when the explosion of a concussion grenade sent waves of swamp water against his legs.
The next opportunity he had to talk to Tahiri, he was fighting additional feelings of guilt, this time at tricking the voxyn into attacking the Yuuzhan Vong. When he spoke to her again, his own problems were the least thing on his mind. But later, much later, they returned to haunt him.
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