I thought I'd better warn you. This story contains spoilers for Conquest, Rebirth, and Star by Star, so if you don't want to find out what happened in those books, please don't read this. It also presupposes a certain familiarity with the Young Jedi Knights series, although you should still be able to understand the story without that knowledge. It elaborates a scene early in Dark Journey, and is basically my tribute to one of the more interesting characters in the NJO books for whom I was beginning to develop a huge soft spot.
"So you see, Anakin, your mission succeeded. Between all of us, we killed the voxyn, destroyed all the tissue samples so the Yuuzhan Vong can't clone any more of them, and we stole Nom Anor's ship. That's where you are now, lying on a stretcher while Jaina gets us back to somewhere safe - if there is such a place any more. I just wish ... I just wish you were here, too. I mean I know you're here sorta ... in the way you always will be, but ... it's not the same. It'll never be the same now. Not for me. I feel like ... part of me is gone. I guess it is."
"Jaina isn't in very good shape which worries me -- and I'm not talking physically, coz none of us are without some sort of problem in that area. What I mean is that I'm worried about her anger. It's so strong at the moment you can just about see it flaming round her. I think she's a little angry at me, partly coz I'm not much help with these stupid injuries, and partly coz she feels she's lost more than me. She thinks 'Anakin was my brother. All Tahiri's lost is a friend.' I wish I could tell her, explain what there is -- was -- no, is -- between you and me, but I don't think I could put it into words myself. Don't laugh -- I know you're saying that if I can't put it into words, then nobody could. So -- I talk a lot. So -- you don't. That's one of the things that have always made us such good partners, the fact that we complement each other."
"But getting back to the point, Anakin, I am worried about Jaina, so I'm trying very hard to be strong. I know how griefstricken you'd be if she turned to the Dark Side -- that's one of the things you gave up your life to prevent. She will come to understand that, I know she will, she just doesn't understand the Force as well as you. But just for a while I'm going to keep an eye on her, and keep my grief to myself. You can help me. You can help me remember all the special times we've had, all the adventures. If I keep those in my head for a while, I can be strong. And one good thing, Anakin, even if the Yuuzhan Vong do capture me again, in the Force we'll always be together. That's one thing they can never change or take away."
I reached over and laid my hand over his, the one I'd draped across his chest to make it look like he did when he was asleep. "So many memories. We may be young but we have so many memories," I whispered. I closed my eyes and let the last six years wash over me. I remembered the first time I'd seen him in the Grand Audience Chamber of the old temple on Yavin 4, just after we'd both arrived to start our Jedi training. Anakin -- my first and best friend. Even then he was popping up in my dreams -- the very night after we met, in fact. It was kinda nice to learn that the next night I popped up in his, even though the dreams we were having were scary. The dreams led to our first adventure in the Temple of the Woolamander, when we found both Master Ikrit and the Golden Globe full of imprisoned spirits of Massassi children.
At first I used to think he didn't talk much because he was shy, but I soon learned that that wasn't the case at all. When Anakin had something to say, he could talk quite a lot, in fact for a while after he rescued me from the Yuuzhan Vong shapers I couldn't keep him quiet. But most of that talking was him encouraging me and trying to help me get over it. That was Anakin to the tee really: talk if you've got something worth saying, or if what you say's going to help someone, otherwise keep quiet. Of course, a lot of his silence was because he was thinking or working things out, and he did a lot of that. He's the cleverest person I know, that's for sure -- a fact, as Tenel Ka is always saying.
It's a fact, too, that I always wanted to compete with him so I could be stronger or cleverer or faster. Actually, I think I could run faster, but in everything else Anakin was streets ahead of me. The nice thing was that when we worked together on something, our combined power was much greater than the simple sum of our abilities. That's what makes looking into the future so hard. But I'm not going to think about that now, coz if I do I think I'll just want to follow him, and that won't help Jaina and the others. For Anakin's sake I've got to get through this, otherwise his death will have been pointless.
I raised myself up so I could look down on his face. Sweet stars! He looks so peaceful! What I wouldn't give for one more of those lopsided smiles he used to throw me, especially just before he said something funny, or did something outrageously reckless or impossible. What I wouldn't give for another kiss ... I wish now that I'd given him the kiss I intended to give him before he left Tekli and me at the cloning grashal. I thought by not kissing him I could force destiny to return him to me. I guess destiny's too big to be controlled like that. But he knew why I did it, and I know he didn't kiss me because he wanted me to think he'd be OK. We knew each other so well.
Even so, sometimes he could surprise me -- like the first time he did actually kiss me. I think he surprised himself, too. After all, the situation wasn't exactly what you'd call romantic -- stuck together, freezing, in a locker on an airless space station. But the lack of romance didn't matter, coz the kiss was inevitable. Looking back, I think it had been building up ever since he rescued me on Yavin 4, maybe ever since the day we first met and decided to be friends. I can still feel his fingers finding my face as we sat pressed against one another in the dark. He stroked my hair off the horrible scar the shapers had left on my forehead, and then I felt his lips as they touched mine for the first time. I jumped in surprise which almost put him off, but then I took his face in my hands to reassure him, and we kissed properly. It was kinda weird to start with, but once you got used to it, it was nice. It got a bit nicer each time. I guess kissing's something you have to learn together.
After that, we began to be more aware of each other physically. I couldn't help noticing how tall he'd grown -- I think even his father was a bit taken back by that, too. He must have shot up all of a sudden, coz when he left Yavin 4 when I was nearly thirteen, he wasn't all that much taller than me. When he came back to help us fight the Yuuzhan Vong just over a year later, he was way bigger. He'd gotten really broad across the chest too, and when we used to sit at night in his room at Eclipse I found it hard to ignore the way the muscles at the tops of his arms would flex when he moved his arms, especially when he wore the old ex-military singlet top that he'd often wear when he was tinkering with some bit of machinery -- Anakin's idea of relaxation.
That's what he was doing the night that I'll cherish the most, fixing something -- a power unit I think from one of the food preparation units. Ideally we were meant to wear our vac suits most of the time, coz the place was newly constructed, and no-one was completely sure about the integrity of some of the sealing on the tunnels. But it used to get so hot that when we were in our rooms most of us wore as little as possible, and just kept our vac suits nearby. Anakin had been so busy fiddling with the unit that he had, typically, forgotten to eat, so I'd brought him a snack from one of the functioning prep units and had settled on the end of his bunk to feed him. Kinda weird -- but a regular scene for us: Mr Absentminded Professor fixing machines, while his trusty assistant broke food bars in half for him, or fed him segments of whatever fresh fruit Master Skywalker had managed to bring in for us.
"One piece left," I said, holding up a segment of crisp yellow manjafruit. "Want it?"
"There -- finished," said Anakin. "Now maybe we'll be able to get something a bit more exciting than protein bars and soup."
"Ever the optimist aren't you? Did you hear what I said a minute ago?"
I rolled my eyes, and then for some reason that escapes me, I stuck the piece of fruit in my mouth and grinned at him. "One piece left -- wanna share it?"
He grinned back. "Sure," and he leaned over and bit the piece off so that the juice ran down both our chins.
"Serves you right," he chuckled, swallowed his half of the fruit, and then leaned over again and kissed me.
"Nice -- but a bit prickly," I said.
"Yeah, sorry about that. This shaving thing's a pain. I used to be able to get away with once a week, but now if I don't do it every day I start to look like Lowie."
"But Anakin, you don't do it every day."
"I know. That's the problem -- I keep forgetting," he grinned. "Too much other stuff to remember."
"Yeah? Like what?"
"Like, um ... remembering to do this every few hours," he kissed me again.
"Oh. So you have to force yourself to remember to do that too?"
He set the unit he'd been fixing on the ledge that served as a bench, and then swivelled back to sit cross-legged on the bunk.
"Not force," he grinned again. "I just have to factor it into the equation."
"I see -- aleph equals 500 besh, kiss Tahiri, subtract the log of 4.6, kiss Tahiri."
"Yeah -- that's it. Divide by the cube root of 631, kiss Tahiri." He leaned over to me.
"Yeah, getting used to it though."
"This growing up thing sort of, um, sneaks up on you, doesn't it?" He brushed a fruit pip off my chin.
I sighed. "Yeah, though I think it crept up on you a bit faster than it crept up on me."
"Really? I thought it was more the other way around."
"Not from my point of view. One minute you were Anakin the best friend and machine geek, and then all of a sudden you were ... ," I couldn't think of an adequate description. The skimpy singlet top, bare arms, tousled hair and ice blue eyes seemed to be conspiring to befuddle me.
"Anakin, the prickly machine geek," he offered.
"Yeah," I chuckled. "That's the one."
"Well, that may be your take on it, but mine's like one minute you were Tahiri the best friend and terminal verbal diarrhoeia patient, and the next you were, um, Tahiri the best friend with, um ..."
"Yeah," he reached over and pushed some of my hair behind my right ear. He swallowed. "Can't seem to quite put it into words."
"It's um ... Is it me or has it suddenly got really hot in here?"
"It's not you, and it hasn't."
"That's what I thought." As he lifted my chin and leaned over to me again, I reached out for him. It was quite a while before we disconnected.
"Do you think this shaking is normal?" Anakin asked.
"Dunno. I guess. Just don't tell me to clear my mind and go into a hibernation trance like you did after you kissed me for the first time."
"Don't worry. The only way my mouth seems to like working at the moment is when it's connected to yours."
My hands had slipped down from his waist to his thighs. He placed his hands over mine. We were so close that he only had to lean down a fraction to nuzzle my nose with his. Then we stared into each other's eyes. I could feel what he was feeling in the Force, and I expect the same went for him. When you're that much in touch with each other, you don't need words to say "I love you", you just know.
Somehow we got each other out of our clothes without too many hitches, except for when he couldn't fathom out my bra fastener.
"For a guy who's good with machines," I whispered, "you seem to be all thumbs."
"Don't fluster me," he chuckled, although a bit breathlessly, "I'm just thinking ahead to the next step."
"Haven't got a clue -- was sort of hoping you might be able to help."
"Anakin, you're the only guy I've ever done this with."
"Well that's nice to know, Tahiri, but it may mean the first time is a bit of a fumbly affair."
"Does that matter?"
"No." He'd managed to heave the unwanted clothes off his bed, and then slipped in beside me and took me in his arms. He felt warm and smooth, and as his arms wrapped around me I could feel the strength he'd built up over several years of fighting. It struck me then, as I think it struck his father just before we left on the mission to kill the voxyn, that Anakin was as much a man at seventeen and a half as others were at 30. "Well, not for me anyway. If you have any complaints, we'll factor in time for further practice later."
"Sounds OK to me ... Mmmm."
"So far, so good," he grinned.
"Oooh," I giggled. "Tickly."
"You OK?" he murmured what I think was a few minutes later, but time had ceased to exist.
He chuckled quietly. "I think I've finally found a way to stop you talking."
"Yeah," I smiled, and slid my arm around his neck to pull him closer as he bent to kiss me again. Until that moment I never knew how overwhelming desire could be.
"Mmmm. You're so lovely, Tahiri. You're so soft."
"You're not," I whispered making him smile again. We were both trembling. "Oooh."
Anakin made a noise somewhere between a sigh and a grunt.
"Oooh -- oooh, that is nice."
"Ssshh!" he was half laughing, half panting.
We lay tangled together for a while, luxuriating in the newness of it all and trying to get our breath back.
"Vaping meteors," he said eventually.
I looked up at his face and giggled. "You're all sweaty."
"I'm all sweaty?" he grinned.
"Golly. Hope nobody heard all that."
"Well, if they did, that's their problem. People who eavesdrop, get what they deserve."
I propped myself up on my elbow and looked down at him, and smoothed his damp hair back off his forehead. "Is this going to change things do you think?"
"Other than turning me into a sex maniac, no I don't think so," he said teasingly and pulled me back against his chest. "This is just the next step we were meant to take."
"You're always so sure about stuff, Anakin."
"No that's not true. But there are a few things I am sure about and this is top of the list." He chuckled. "We'll just have to work on cutting down the noise level."
"Yeah." I giggled. We were both silent for a while, thinking. "You know, every important thing that's happened to me -- you've been there too."
"Yeah. I guess that's destiny's way of saying that we were meant to be together."
"Remember when we found Master Ikrit?"
"Yeah. And when you went back to Tatooine to visit your tribe?"
"And when we helped Lyric meta ... metamorphosize?" It came out half in a yawn.
Anakin yawned too. "Mmmm. Good sleep tonic," he mumbled. "Have to tell Cilghal."
"Probably not one of your more brilliant ideas - I don't think she has a sense of humour - 'specially not your sense of humour."
"True. Bad idea. Mind you few people do."
"That's the price you pay for being weird."
"Been weird all my life - no point in changing now. Anyway", he nuzzled my forehead with his chin, "you seem to like me."
I smiled. "Don't flatter yourself, Solo."
He chuckled and gave me an affectionate squeeze and another kiss, a long slow, warm, tasty one. I began to feel myself drifting off.
"You comfy?" he mumbled after a while.
"I love you." I can't remember if I heard it or sensed it. When I awoke several hours later, he was fast asleep, looking as peaceful as he does now.
What sort of power must he have had to fight a battle like the one he fought and then fall so gracefully, so much at one with the Force? Often when he held me I could feel that power, as if it was latent in him waiting like a spring about to uncoil. I remember once overhearing his mother and Master Skywalker talking about him back at the Jedi Academy not long after we both started training there. She was saying that she thought Anakin was special, but that he seemed to walk to the beat of a drum that nobody else knew existed, let alone heard. I think that drum was the Force in its purest, lightest essence. I also think that if we win this war with the Yuuzhan Vong, then in years to come Anakin will be one of the great heroes. I wonder if anyone will spare a thought for those of us who loved then lost him?
As for me -- I'm not afraid of what the future brings -- although at the moment, my heart feels as though it's been ripped from my body. Whichever way I'm heading, whether it be life or death, it'll just be another step that I'll be meant to take.
Next: Early Days Yet
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