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It was a blindness the adults in his life had, an ambivalence and an omission. They didn't see who he really was, only who he appeared to be. Even his mom and Uncle Luke, who had the Force to help them.
Aunt Mara probably understood she had never really been a child, either but even she was blinkered by her relationship with Uncle Luke; she had to take his feelings into account, as well as her own.
Anakin Solo sighed, leaning back against the padded back of his seat, frowning. The slightest misstep in his hyperjump coordinates or his clearance-codes could see him permanently grounded on Coruscant or worse, trapped in deep space, under fire from New Republic forces. He breathed in, feeling the clean, freshly-scrubbed air from the X-wing's tank fill his lungs, feeling the slight rise in the Force that came with every breath.
It didn't help.
Punching keys on the dashboard pad, he tracked back over his thoughts.
He'd let Chewie down at Sernpidal. He'd let everyone down at Centerpoint. And no-one seemed to understand. Certainly not his big brother. Not his Dad, not his Mom, not even his uncle, the Jedi Master.
Well, almost no-one. Aunt Mara understood, even if Uncle Luke didn't.
But she had to take his feelings into account, as well as her own.
What's that supposed to mean? he asked himself, frowning slightly as he turned over the phrase in his mind, not liking its implications. Not liking what it said. His feelings, as well as her own.
He tried to make some sort of more comfortable sense of it, but his train of thought had shunted to a stubborn halt. He tried to tell himself that it didn't mean anything, that it wasn't true.
His feelings, as well as her own?
His thoughts implied that Aunt Mara had feelings which her relationship with Uncle Luke were preventing her from addressing. Feelings that, by implication, involved him, and the fact she understood him like no-one else did.
That, at least, was the implication.
Feelings for him?
Don't go there, he told himself, clenching the X-wing's joystick, feeling a quiver of frustration tremble through him. Memories flashed in his mind. Images. Don't. Let it go, Anakin. The taste of her on his tongue, the touch of her against his body. Like fire. Like a dream. It doesn't didn't mean anything. It was just ...
The memories were real. It was definitely something. Animal attraction? An unspoken recognition of some inner symmetry between them, hidden by outward appearances? Displaced maternal affection gone horribly wrong? Or simply red-blooded lust?
Those feelings existed, whatever you wanted to call them. Perhaps they didn't even have a name. But they existed. Oh yes, they existed and they'd proved that to each other in the most primitive, physical way possible.
Sex. He'd had sex. With Aunt Mara.
And that had to mean something didn't it?
He snorted, a parody of a grin appearing on his face. He told himself that he was being stupid. It was hardly the behaviour expected of a Jedi. Apart from anything else, it had been clumsy, messy, and embarrassing. Apart from anything else, she was married to Uncle Luke. What they'd done was wrong.
But he couldn't believe that not really. It was the only thing that was keeping him sane. After Chewie's death, after the mess he'd made at Centerpoint, it had been the only time when he'd felt that anyone understood him and now, he wasn't even sure about that any more.
It couldn't be healthy that was the only thing that he had left to hold onto, the only thing that was holding him together.
But he didn't have anything else.
It couldn't be healthy. It was wrong. But he didn't have anything else.
No. What was wrong was the way that Aunt Mara could pretend that nothing had happened, carrying on with Uncle Luke just like before, carrying on treating him like a kid, with only the occasional teasing flash of contact her eyes, her smile to express the thoughts simmering beneath her outward calm. What was wrong was that Mara was entirely comfortable with her own feelings, and with the way she edited them to take Uncle Luke into account leaving Anakin out in the cold.
And then, lurking underneath that thought, he found the angry collateral to her feelings for him, and to her calm, effortless control of her emotions.
She had to take his feelings into account, as well as her own regardless of the fact she was married to Uncle Luke. His feelings for her. Feelings that didn't care a flick for the consequences. Feelings he needed to share with her.
He leered. There was a euphemism, if ever there was one.
And on a totally different level his feelings for their unborn child.
Their child. His child.
He shivered, beset by an unsettling combination of awe and terror the same feelings that had seized him earlier that day when he finally realised what was going on.
When Mara had finally let the truth slip out.
They had been walking across the vast plaza in front of the Senate Dome, walking in step together through the thinned-out afternoon crowds. Him and Mara, Mara and him a Jedi Master and her Apprentice, wearing their hooded brown mantles, tan tunics and leather boots, lightsabers at their belts. Heading from the great ziggurat of the Palace to the Jedi headquarters for another meeting that would do nothing to heal the fractures and paralysis which afflicted the Order.
"Something's bothering you, Anakin," she had said, like it was nothing in particular.
"Uhh," he'd answered, not meeting her gaze. He hated the way she smiled at him, the power it implied. She knew full well what was bothering him. "You're looking ... healthier, Aunt Mara. I can see it in the Force. You're glowing."
"Don't you 'Aunt Mara' me, Anakin Solo," she laughed back. "It's 'Master Jedi Jade Skywalker' while we're with the others or 'Master Skywalker', if that's too much of a mouthful. I won't have the others thinking that you get special perks because I'm 'Aunt Mara' to you and your brother and sister."
"It's better than 'Mistress', Mara," he countered, flashing his eyes sideways at her. They both grinned at that, though the grins hardly matched. He was slightly amazed that he'd had the guts to say it, and she was amused as much by him as by what he'd said. "I mean it, though. Is the disease ...?"
"The disease is still there, Anakin," she shrugged. "But they say it's in remission. It's not that ... just forget about it."
"There's something you're not telling me."
"There are some things sixteen-year-old Jedi Apprentices aren't supposed to know."
"What's that supposed to mean? I'm not a kid you of all people should know that."
"When you say things like that," she countered, "it's painfully obvious that you are."
"Defensive," he noted, as the doors of the Jedi headquarters slid open ahead of them. "I thought we'd agreed agreed about what happened. Nothing long-term. No harm done."
"No harm," she nodded, with that odd smile again. "No harm done."
He'd frowned at that, and fell silent. Was she implying some sort of connection between him and her new-found health? Was it possible ...?
The doors slid shut behind them, and they moved across the marble-floored foyer to the waiting turbolifts. As she'd taught him to, his eyes flickered left and right, calmly surveying the crowds. He wondered if she noticed.
Thankfully, there was plenty to do to take his mind off her. The foyer was, as usual, busy with a mingled crowd of sentients, ranging from the familiar, through the clichéd, to the truly unique. The doorkeeper droid behind its desk in front of them. Two Twi'lek girls ducking out of the Caf-2-Go on the right, lekku twitching in some sort of curiosity as they caught sight of him and Mara. And an Aing-Tii monk standing silently in the corner on the left, sensory tongues twitching as it he? contemplated a small tree set in a ceramic pot beside the door of the Kathol Embassy.
The building a tall tower of dark metal and smoked glass on the left-hand edge of the Senate Plaza had originally been owned by the Jedi under the Old Republic. Those members of the Order who dealt directly with the Senate and the Palace needed a more convenient and approachable base than their majestic headquarters several hundred miles away. Converted by the Empire to house a shopping mall, a HoloScreen auditorium, and a shelter for the homeless, the building had been handed back to Uncle Luke by the New Republic, and with some help from Leia and Lando, he'd turned over the space to people who needed it more than he did.
The beggar-hostel was allowed to continue its operation, joined by a variety of carefully-vetted veterans' organizations, boutique concessions, government-contract companies, and voluntary groups, enjoying the most reasonable rents in downtown Coruscant. Most of the credits Luke made off them were diverted back to help other noble causes.
The top floors badly damaged in one of the battles for control of the planet during the Civil War, back before he was born had lain vacant until a few years earlier, when the growing number of Jedi Knights had made some sort of permanent Coruscant headquarters desirable and given them the manpower to put the bombed-out levels into some sort of order without outside help. It was a practical, sensible arrangement. The Jedi, through their own quiet efforts, created a space for themselves, as unobtrusively as possible, and they gave what they could to help those who needed help again, as unobtrusively as possible.
He wondered why so many of the Jedi seemed so stuffy when anyone mentioned it, so uneasy with something that seemed so unproblematic. It made perfect sense to him.
Then he remembered that moving the Jedi back into the building had been Mara's idea, at around the time Uncle Luke asked her to marry him. Until then, Luke's apartment in the Palace had doubled as an informal base for any Jedi who happened to be on Coruscant. But Mara had been adamant that she wasn't sharing her husband's quarters with anyone else, on even a semi-permanent basis. He'd been eight or nine at the time, and he remembered the adults discussing it. He hadn't really understood he'd been more of a child then than he was now, he supposed. But he'd thought it was very funny, all the same.
His eyes flickered back to her face.
He wondered what she meant.
No harm done?
"So there's some sort of benefit come out of it?" he asked, odd hopes welling inside him. The turbolift doors slid softly open in front of him, "Something good, right?"
"Don't get your hopes up, Solo," she smiled, as they stepped through and the lift-car began to move off upwards. "You were fun once. Just once, kid. Find someone your own age. But I do owe you a sort of thanks."
"Uhh, okay," he nodded. "Thanks, I guess. What for?"
"What do you think," she smiled, rubbing her belly almost unselfconsciously. She leaned back against the curving wall, stretching contentedly. Basking in her own well-being, her smile growing bigger and bigger by the moment. "After seven years of trying, Luke and I are finally going to have our first child."
She smiled. As she finally teased the realisation out of him, his eyes went wide in shock. And she laughed.
"No," he had whispered, looking at her in horror. His hand shot out to punch the control plate, the heel of his palm hammering the hold key. He stared at her, eyes dropping from her face to the slight swell of her stomach, the taut, suggestive curve implicit in the fall of her tunic. "It's my child, isn't it? My son? I'm its ... his ... father ...?!"
She just smiled back. He stumbled backwards.
Oh no ... oh, no! This can't be happening! He looked around the lift car in near-panic, as if trying to find the ejector switch to bail out of his life. How do I stop? How do I go back? Oh, sithkriffer, not again ...
She laughed again, and he looked back at her, answering her laughter with a flash of anger and suddenly, her laughter was gone, her expression changing from one of joyous, sympathetic amusement to something hostile and dangerous.
"Be very careful, Anakin," she warned him. "You've been smart this far ..."
"You can't deny it, Mara," he hissed, his brows furrowing, his own expression growing intense. Broody. In another context, the whole thing might have seemed funny. But it was deadly serious. This was his kid they were talking about. "This my child we're talking about, and you can't change that. My son, and I'll be as good a father to him as ..."
"It's my child we're talking about, Anakin," she cut in, stepping away, drawing herself a little taller, wrapping her arms across her torso fierce, protective anger in her voice. "Don't you dare do anything to harm him ..."
"I wouldn't," he whispered, clenching his fists and staring at the ground. "I mean, I know. I wouldn't hurt Uncle Luke. I wouldn't hurt you. Stars, Mara I'm going to be a dad ..."
"No, Anakin," she whispered back. "No, you're not. Your role in this is has been purely biological. If anything. It's over. I don't know what I was thinking I've tried to explain it a hundred ways. Vergere's tears, my hormonal chrono, survivor's guilt, some sort of madness ... but what we did once is past, and did not happen. Could not have happened. This is my son mine and Luke's. He's going to be the father of this child. He is the father of this child."
"Okay," he mumbled. But you know that isn't true.
He stepped back, stung, and they had looked at each other in silence, neither of them really sure what they believed any more. What was there to say?
She pressed the hold key again, and the lift resumed its journey upwards. Seconds later, the doors slid open, and they stepped out into the corridor, smiling politely at the small group of Jedi waiting to take the lift back down.
Then, they were alone again, turning along the straight corridor that led to the auditorium, clearsteel viewports looking out over the city to their right. It was a long corridor.
"Come on, Anakin," she laughed, breaking the silence. "You're sixteen. No son of mine is going to grow up knowing that he might owe his existence to his mom cheating on her husband with her sixteen-year-old nephew. Not least when he's the greatest living hero in the Galaxy, and she really, authentically loves him. Sorry, kid."
He bunched his jaw, slouched slightly, and said nothing.
"It's hard," she went on, "but I can sympathise in a way. I don't know that I want to know that you might be the father of my son but quite apart from that, even if you were, there's no way you have what it takes to be a real father ..."
"What does it take?" he asked, wheeling towards her suddenly, backing her against the clearsteel viewports, glancing to either side as he did so, to make sure they were alone in the corridor. Just like she'd taught him. Grinning. They had a moment alone all the time he needed. "What does it take?"
"More than that," she hissed, sliding away from him along the wall, and fixing him with an icy glare. He glared back, daring her to lose her cool, daring her to break eye-contact. Instead, she laughed, and grabbed hold of him, wrapping her fingers round the throat of his shirt.
"I could wrap you round my little finger, Anakin Solo," she whispered, pulling him towards her. "I could teach you a few tricks, show you a real good time" she leaned in close, lips slightly parted. Then she stepped back, braced against the glass behind her, and pushed him away towards the other wall smiling, mocking,. Laughing at him "Yeah, kid you'd like that, wouldn't you. Grow up. I could also break your kriffing neck if you were stupid enough to jeopardize my marriage, or my son's future."
"Yeah?" he asked, leaning forwards, as though to kiss her in turn. He wasn't laughing. His eyes locked with hers. "That might be harder than you think."
Just to prove the point, he kissed her again. Clumsy, stupid, hard, angry. But for five seconds, none of that mattered.
Then, having proved his point, he stood back, and licked his lips.
In answer, she just glared at him, drawing the back of her hand slowly across her mouth, wiping away the taste of him.
"Stang, Solo," she hissed. "Get out of my sight."
"Solo?" he asked, chuckling softly at her. She grimaced as though a part of her wanted to smile. Another part of her was starting to hate him. "I like that."
A wary silence. Deadlock. They looked at each other.
"Someone's coming," she whispered, and they stood back, adjusting their cloaks and continued back along the corridor, as though nothing had happened. Master and Apprentice again. The doors slid open. Luke was waiting for them.
"We'll finish this later," she promised him.
"I know," he chuckled. "Mistress."
It struck him, sitting there in the X-wing's cockpit, waiting for the clearance codes to come through, that perhaps there was no real difference between them. He tapped a code into the system. It was just the roles they were supposed to play, roles defined by conventions and assumptions. What was expected, what was appropriate. Glyphs rolled up on the screen.
A Jedi Master was supposed to act with a maturity earned by a rich and varied experience of life. A married woman was supposed to be loyal to her husband. A woman in her forties wasn't supposed to have sex with a teenager well, maybe on Kuat, that last one was allowed. In fact, now he came to think about it ...
But even on Kuat, a sixteen-year-old kid wasn't supposed to do or think much except what he was told.
It was all just lies. They were just the same. She was just expected to act different. He was just expected to act different.
But he ... couldn't.
Aunt Mara was a very good actress and he knew that all the more certainly because he'd seen her slip out of character, twice now. He wondered if Uncle Luke ever had.
And he wasn't a child. He was another human being, every bit as real and adult and important as she was. He was the father of her unborn son. She was carrying his child.
He clamped down that thought, hard, burying the implications. A sudden image flashed into his head, and he saw the three of them him, Mara, and their son in the forward hold aboard the Falcon. Like a family. He imagined the three of them making a future for themselves.
He had no idea what sort of Galaxy it would be, except that the three of them would be together, and that would be all that would matter. He saw Mara growing old, their son growing up.
He saw himself at fifty, grey-haired like his father. He saw her, older, but no less beautiful. Their son, a grown man in his turn.
For a moment, his hand hovered above the release switch for the cockpit canopy. He had an urge to leap out of his X-wing, run to her, and convince her to run away with him to find somewhere where they could be together.
She wouldn't go. He laughed at the idea. She couldn't leave Uncle Luke. She couldn't break his heart. He had seen the smiles and glances they exchanged when they though no-one was looking. He'd felt their bond sing through the Force.
What Aunt Mara and Uncle Luke shared was deeper, stronger and truer than any relationship he could ever hope to have with her. It didn't make their own mutual feelings any less real, and it didn't couldn't take away the fact that he was the father of her child.
What it meant was that he couldn't come between them. That would break Mara's heart, as well as Uncle Luke's. And she would fight like a tiger to defend her son's life, her happiness with Luke and Luke's own happiness with her.
But he could win. He could make her his. With an awful certainty and a painful tightness in his chest he knew that if he set his mind to it, he could take Mara away from Uncle Luke. He saw a verandah overlooking a lake, shaded by trees. He saw her blush, smiling beneath her veil as he slipped a wedding band onto her slim finger, covering the slightly paler skin where Uncle Luke's ring had been.
He imagined the headlines that would make, and smiled.
Then he imagined how Uncle Luke would take it sad acceptance, and a lonely attempt to understand. That made it worse. He imagined Jacen's anger and righteous indignation, his Mom's torn emotions, his Dad's unconvincing outrage. Jaina's amazed acceptance of the fact she was going to be an aunt herself.
Corran Horn's green jealousy.
He laughed. Imagining it was fun. It helped ease the anger.
It didn't make it right. Mara and him could make it work in spite of the taboos they'd break, in spite of the difference in ages but she'd always have a sadness in her, a sense of loss and shame, a quiet longing for Luke, and for what she'd have given up for him and their son.
So it's my heart that gets broken instead? he wondered, shaking off the sense of injustice. What had happened between him and Mara had been far more than he'd ever had any right to hope for. He grinned, and suspected that it made him look like his father. That twist of Corellian danger in him which had caught her attention.
And he'd had his fun. He couldn't deny that he'd enjoyed it excruciatingly embarrassing though it had been for most of the twenty frantic, fumbling minutes that it took. He flushed, and grinned. He'd known a brief moment of quiet triumph, a brief, shameless moment when he could forget who he was, and what he'd done. And so could she.
His smile grew broader.
But in the long-run, if it came to the choice between his own happiness and hers, he knew which he'd choose, even before he had to factor in Uncle Luke's feelings, or anything else. He wouldn't be so selfish as to deny his Uncle the happiness and hope he'd seen in him since he'd discovered that Mara was pregnant to tear him and Mara apart would just be stupid.
But he was getting good at that. At doing stupid things.
He'd already taken away the illusion that what Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara shared meant anything in practice. Aunt Mara had always been so sophisticated and assured, so unobtainable, so adult. She'd become the centrepiece of his hormone-driven adolescent fantasies without even realising it or at least, without letting on she knew. Perhaps not even letting on to herself.
Perhaps Jedi even teenage ones weren't supposed to have adolescent fantasies.
In the end, she'd turned out to be as stupid and clumsy and needy as him. The pride and confidence and control were just a mask for her weaknesses just like his own attempts to copy his father's Corellian swagger and the heroic posturing of the older Jedi Knights. In the quiet moments when he lay awake at night, he sometimes felt a burning shame for being so naively imitative. Now, instead, he wondered why it irritated her so much when he acted like that. How different was it from what anyone else did really except for the fact that he was just sixteen?
That was probably it, all over again. He was just a kid.
But, when their minds kissed and their bodies touched, neither of them could deny that underlying similarity. And they'd shared a moment of transcendental bliss. A hormone-driven illusion of happiness, perhaps, but it had felt good.
He felt the pain in his chest again, and the same shadowy fear he felt on starless nights, when the Force whispered to him out of the darkness the recurring dream in which he wore the durasteel mask and sky-black cloak that had belonged to his grandfather, Darth Vader. The danger that the Jedi defined as the Dark Side of the Force was very real. The option of using power to get his own way. The pain it caused. The indifference to suffering that came with it.
That much he was still sure of. Nothing else made sense. He'd got Chewie killed, and his hesitation at Centerpoint had got a lot more people killed. Caring hurt a lot more than he felt it ought to. All he had to hold onto was the memory of the fleeting sense of release and rightness that he'd experienced with Mara in the storage-room at NRI. That, and the absurd fact he'd got her pregnant, which sent little tingles of joy right through him until he remembered that she was trying to freeze him out of their son's life. Perhaps Mara could control her feelings but that didn't make it right.
All he had to go on was the sense that he couldn't solve anything by kicking around on Coruscant with Mara and Uncle Luke to say nothing of his brother, who might have a point sometimes maybe but was so blind to what was going on around him that it was hard not to laugh.
And then, there was Tahiri. His oldest friend his only friend, he sometimes felt. Tahiri, who was in danger. Tahiri, who was on Yavin 4. Where Uncle Luke had told him not to go.
Uncle Luke, who had no idea what was going on, any more than Jacen or any of the rest of them.
He laughed again. It was, he realised, absurdly funny.
Perhaps part of the problem was that he couldn't laugh. Not to their faces. Somehow, everyone seemed to have had a humour bypass since the Yuuzhan Vong started invading the Galaxy.
He laughed again.
And he'd got Aunt Mara pregnant. Aunt Mara, who was supposed to be a Jedi Master, a loyal wife, a grown woman just like he was supposed to be a sixteen-year-old kid. He'd discovered how absurd the whole thing was.
But his feelings, and her feelings, and Uncle Luke, could never add up to anything that would make any sort of sense. Or rather, her, and her husband, and her son made sense. He was the absurd element in that tableau. Her nephew.
And it was probably his fault. No, definitely his fault. How many men had lusted after Aunt Mara? Talon Karrde, Kyle Katarn and Lando Calrissian, he knew for sure grown men, all of them.
And how many was she expecting a son by?
Two? his own voice mocked him.
Yeah, that was the problem. The numbers didn't add up.
So he was subtracting himself from the equation? That was a euphemistic way of putting it perhaps a little childish.
So he was running away from the mess he'd got himself into? Silently, he admitted to himself that he very probably was. Everything else he'd done getting Chewie killed, failing to fire Centerpoint, the moments of clumsiness and overconfidence that had punctuated his life for as long as he could remember all that paled into insignificance beside what he'd done.
He'd gone and got Aunt Mara pregnant.
He was going to have a son.
His child. Mara's child.
He was sixteen, she was married to Uncle Luke. He was a fumbling kid, and she was a Jedi Master.
She had to take his feelings into account, as well as her own.
Perhaps the truth was that she didn't have to the same mechanism that had allowed them to become lovers enabled her to ignore the fact that she was as attracted to him as he was to her.
That didn't make it less real, though. She could turn to Uncle Luke to distract herself from the naked truth. He didn't have that luxury.
He breathed out, a slow, hot whisper. The tension in his chest eased ever so slightly.
That didn't help, either.
Well, he wasn't the child everyone thought he was. He was going to have a kid of his own. He had been however briefly, however absurdly, however incompetently the lover the most beautiful woman in the Galaxy.
He was going to be the father of her son.
No, he was no child. He was his own man. A Jedi Knight. And he was going to go to Yavin 4, to rescue Tahiri Veila.
Why? Because Tahiri was his friend a girl with whom he shared a bond in the Force that felt a little like what Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara shared, but who he could see only as a person. Someone who his feelings for were simple, ordinary and timeless.
Someone who was in grave danger.
So he was running away from the mess he'd got himself into? Very probably. But he was also running to Tahiri because she was in danger, and because the purity and clarity of their Force-bond presented a real contrast with the mess he'd gotten himself into with Aunt Mara. Because it was easier for them all this way.
Because, maybe, Tahiri could understand him without saying anything. Without having to have sex with him.
So he was running away. He was disobeying orders. He wasn't sure why, except that it made sense in ways he couldn't explain. He, at least, could take his own feelings into account.
He could find a solution to the problem, in a way that none of the so-called 'adults' seemed able to.
He just had.
And if that made Mara angry? If that made Uncle Luke angry? Because they couldn't understand what he was doing, or because they knew all too well, but just wouldn't admit it to themselves? Because he knew better than them?
He laughed. He was starting to sound like Jacen.
Another reason for him to run away, then.
And if that made them angry?
Hang on, Tahiri. I'm coming for you ...
Well, there would be anger.
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