Maybe I'm biased, Ree, or maybe it's the candle-light but I think you eat beautifully.
I watch, smiling slightly, as you twirl your retzbni round the foodstick, agile fingers working quickly on the shaft. You lift your arm, and draw the little cocoon of meat and noodles towards your mouth, and I see the tendons flex beneath the sugar-gold smoothness of your skin, subtleties of shade and strength dancing together in the candlelight.
My smirk becomes a grin, and in reply, you look straight at me. Gold flecks glint in your eyes, like danger. My gaze flickers, taking in the low neckline of your dress the informal, raw-silk style that's this season's latest thing and the unkempt halo of your hair.
I look back at you.
You flash a grin of evident, animal satisfaction pop the mouthful between your teeth, and chew.
A meal for two at Yuza Bre isn't the sort of thing that Uncle Luke likes to find in a Jedi's expenses. It's not the sort of place that the guardians of peace and justice are expected to spend an off-duty evening. But thankfully, I'm not a Jedi any more, and the High Commission has a healthy expense account and more importantly, I can still persuade you to misbehave in public with me, occasionally.
You glance at me, across the table not exactly reading my mind, but sensing some nuance in this evening's mood, and liking it.
"What do you think they'd say on the gossip-feeds?" I ask, grinning openly at you now. "You and me, I mean."
"They probably wouldn't even notice, Kun," you tease me, with a wiggle of your hips. Are you sliding off your sandals under the table, Ree? "After all, you're the Ambassador, and I'm our people's Jedi Watchman. The fact that we're having this dinner to discuss the situation ..." as you speak, you reach out with one leg, and your bare toes dance up my shin like shivers of pleasure "Well, I don't think it means anything, do you?"
You wink, and my grin grows even brighter.
"Dummy," you laugh, shaking your head. "They kill you, strip you of the Force, butcher what's left of you into the body of a Yuuzhan Vong killer, and mess-up your mind to match my own but you still haven't changed." You lower your voice, and mouth my real name. "Anakin."
"You bring out the best in me," I suggest, sawing a strip off my steak and popping it into my mouth. For the next few heartbeats, we simply savour the flavours of the moment. "You still take your shoes off for me."
You smile silently, and your toes slide down my shin again, until your heel rests comfortably on the top of my foot.
"What would Master Skywalker say?" you blush. Now you are reading my mind.
"About you having a personal life?" I ask. "Or about the fact I'm still alive?"
"There's a difference?" you ask. An eyebrow arches with savage elegance.
"Of course," I nod. My hand reaches across the table, closing around yours. For a moment, the Galaxy seems very still. There's only the slight part of your lips, the catch of a breath in my throat, the shared knowledge in our locked eyes.
"I shouldn't enjoy betraying the Jedi so much," you say. A wry shake of your head, blonde curls bouncing. "And nor should you."
"We're not betraying," I say. It's an old game, like foreplay for treason. "Just using unconventional means to keep stuff right."
You pull a face, and then your expression settles serious. A nod to the slim maitre d' in his sarong, hovering attentively half-way to the windows, and the security field flickers on around the table.
"Corellia was the mess we expected," you begin. "They were waiting for us and for the Second Fleet. Whatever you did seems to have saved Centerpoint." A wry twist of the lip, "Jacen wasn't very happy. Ben seemed ... proud, in a way, but distant."
I shrug diffidently, and lean back in my seat. I'm not entirely proud of what I did, and I don't want to go into details not even with you, unless you press me.
Slowly, I saw another strip off my steak.
"And now the Fleet has backed itself up against a bulkhead at Tralus," I comment, sighing slightly. I lift my head again, and look at you. There's a sadness in your eyes.
"I don't want to talk about this," you say, shaking your head.
Another nod to the watchful maitre d', and the sound-field comes back up. You catch my eye, and smile with one side of your mouth. I nod in answer.
We both understand.
We eat in silence, punctuated by quick skirmishes of conversation and the gentle, proprietorial manoeuvres of your feet around my ankles. The meal is excellent, though, and by the time the sorbet and warm water comes around, the silence has grown playful, as we swap smiles and friendly looks.
We stand and leave, quick and simple in the Yuuzhan Vong way. I see that you've abandoned your sandals under the table, and my eyebrows lift in a lopsided question.
"You're a bad influence on me, Ambassador," you tease, adjusting one shoulder of your dress in a way that shows just how easy it is to slip out of. "Making me take my clothes off in public places."
I shake my head, then laugh. "Practicing non-Force methods of manipulation, Jedi Veila?"
"It's a game for two," you shrug, as you pluck your poncho from one of the spines of the holdfern, and wrap it round your shoulders. A glance asks me to keep my distance you're an independent woman, in the Yuuzhan Vong way, and you don't take favours from a potential mate.
I nod in acknowledgement, to hide my grin.
"Not even from me?" I ask, my voice poised easily somewhere between mockery and bafflement.
You shake your head, and walk out barefoot into the rain, and night, and noise.
Outside the door, there's the usual small crowd of sludgenews hacks and celebrity-hunters, kept back by a couple of brawny ex-warriors. They're stalking more fashionable lizardhounds than you and me, but there's a flash as the holocam lenses turn towards us, and the sounds of the city are suddenly punctuated by a scattering of familiar catcalls.
I stare at the crowd, dumb and surprised, drizzle dancing lightly on my face. Part of me wonders if tonight's the night someone will finally recognize Anakin Solo's face behind the scars and badly-broken nose.
I hide my lopsided smile, as best I can.
I look at you, and see you grin drawing out a different smile, like a dagger from its sheathe.
"Kun," you say, sliding one arm around my waist, offering a dangerously innocent grin up at me. "Let's give the HoloNet something worthwhile to report, shall we?"
As I turn into your embrace, your other arm goes up to my shoulder, clasping down hard. You stand up on tip-toes, eyes fluttering closed as your lips reach for mine. For an answer, I bow my head to you in obeisance, sliding closer into your arms.
As we meet, I can hear a distant aww of surprise run through the cynical metropolitan crowd. Even with my eyes shut, I can feel the brush of focusing lasers, the snapdragon flicker of lens-flashes to ensure that the moment is perfectly-lit for the audience.
But that's just my wired-in combat sensitivity. I'm as lost in the moment as you are.
* * * * *
We've explored a lot of unusual venues together over the past decade torture dens, castaway rafts, deserted asteroids, and more than a couple of war-zones. We've lost ourselves and found each other among ten thousand Kind and Joiners in a Killik mating dance, and we've lain together, cut and crippled, on the narrow deck of a damaged escape-pod, tumbling away into the silent night.
But there are few places more intimate in the Galaxy than the plush back seat of an ambassadorial flyer, with the viewports tinted the same icy black as the bodywork, and the privacy fields activated on full-spectrum block.
The night-time traffic is slow amid the uptown towers, the rain creating a cooling cocoon around the car, a heady balance with the electric summer heat. Through the shaded glass, the lights are distant blurred, mysterious.
In the darkness, you rear above me, knees around my hips, hands pressed down together on my chest. My hands grip your elbows, and we exult.
As the traffic eases, and the flyer draws close to the tower where the Ambassador has his discrete private penthouse, we disentangle, and adjust our clothes again, into an approximation of decorum.
"Can I tempt you upstairs for a nightcap, Jedi Veila?" I ask, still grinning. "There are some details of the proposed resettlement in Laaik we could go over ..."
"I've already misbehaved enough for Master Skywalker to throw me back out of the Order twice over tonight," you answer, something solemn and in your voice and eyes. "You know that I'd love to, though ..."
"Uncle Luke doesn't want to irritate an Alliance member-state by throwing out our only Jedi Knight again," I smirk. "Besides, even if he did, you'd always be welcome with us." My hands clasp yours. "With me."
I can see that you're considering the words your face shows quiet consideration, weighing duty and thoughtful desire. There's nothing to stop the two of us from making our relationship more public but you'd see it as a betrayal if you became more formally attached to Kunra Jamaane.
It's me you love Anakin Solo. Not the person everyone else thinks I am. And I can see your point. Kinda, I think.
Still, I have a few ideas still to try.
"And there's something I want you to see just you and me."
I look, seeing your wavering. My grin grows big and lazy.
"Dummy," you hiss. For a moment, you look as if you might hit me, but then you shake your head. You know I'd enjoy it too much. We both would.
We might not leave the car for another half-hour that way.
"Come on, Ree. You know you want to. Just a little sip of choca. And, a surprise."
You feign a groan or at least, I think it's fake.
"Your surprises, Kun," you say, jabbing my chest. "If there's any doubt that's really you inside that lump of ugly, dummy, I only need to look at the way you behave."
"Hey, I try," I protest.
"You do," you nod, laughing at my reaction then leaning forward for a chaste kiss on my cheek. "And I love you for it."
The flyer slows, and we slide apart, watching through the windows like children as the parapet of the tower draws close. Black yorik coral, like battlements.
Gateway Keep stands on the edge of the city, looking out across the wilderness and the Western Sea. The rest of the district is still being rebuilt the ranks of towers stand as black sentinels in the darkness behind us, construction cranes slanted sharp across their shoulders.
We step out onto the rooftop, and the flyer curves away towards the parking level leaving us alone, with the stars shining brilliant around us in the dark.
The night wind ripples your dress, like the long grass on the plains of Jamaane'tar, or the southern ocean on Zonama Sekot. You look like a living thing.
My eyes drift to your back, bare between the sashes of your dress; your naked heels shadow-dusky beneath the circling hemline of your robe.
And then you see it. You stop, stiffen your shoulders beneath the shawl, and give a little shriek of disbelief.
I grin, and step towards you, wrapping my arm around you.
Ahead of us, a small tree stands against the glass-and-metal fašade of the penthouse a squat trunk, with tough, rough-barked branches thrusting out through the supple trellis of the surrounding lambent vines. Small golden flowers bud amid the dark green leaves, their colour splendid even in the starlight.
"That's a japor bush," you say, looking at me with a sort of bemused realisation lighting up your face. "The snippet I gave you." You laugh, a cheerful, unladylike snort, as you wrap a hug around my shoulders. "You're supposed to give it to a lover, or keep it as a gift not grow it!"
"A little Yuuzhan Vong rooting powder in the home vivarium," I whisper. "It reminds me of you."
"You're saying I'm like a semidesert shrub?" you ask, teasing me with your smile. "Dry, prickly and stunted?"
"Tough, strong, and from Tatooine," I answer, sticking my tongue out. "Hardy. Tenacious. You put down roots in the craziest of places helped along sometimes by a little Yuuzhan Vong magic, and you flower beautifully ... even if you keep to yourself, most of the time. That's one of the things I like most about you."
"I didn't always used to be like this, though. There's just not many people I trust these days ... 'cept you, dummy. And only because I loved you even before you died."
You tease my nose with a playful kiss, but when you drop back to your heels, there's still uncertainty in your eyes.
I grin again, and grip your shoulders.
"How long have we been married for, Ree?" I ask.
"Long enough, dummy," you say, wrapping your arms around my middle, and folding your head against my chest.
For a moment, I remember the ceremony on Tatooine, the droning music of your stepfather's singing voice, and the cramped dome of the wedding urtya, alone beneath the stars.
You seem still and silent in my arms.
"Long enough to know that life isn't easy," you say.
I comb my fingers through your tangled hair, and smile out at the stars. Same stars, same Galaxy.
"I'm happy," I say. "You don't seem unhappy."
"Dummy," you sigh. "I'm still a Jedi. The Galaxy is broken, and it's a lot bigger than you and me."
"We do what we can to fix it," I say. "To fix each other. Don't we?"
Your only answer is a silence but it's a silence of wordless contentment, and it's more than enough.
I can feel the warmth of your smile against my heart, and I know we'll stay with each other now, until the dawn.
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