The Talk: Part 1
This is my response to the latest TFN Anahiri challenge, which is to write a story using this idea: need for discretion.
It is a "missing scene" type story, although perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a "missing scenes" type story, as it slots into Star by Star in three places. The first section fits in between chapters 12 and 13 just after Han and Leia (and Lando and Tendra) return to Eclipse after the assassination attempt on Fey'lya, and before the meeting where the strike team plan is hatched. At this point, as you may recall, Corran and Mirax are still missing, and Kam and Tionne are with the Jedi children on Booster's Errant Venture. (A shame because I had planned to include them in the story, so I've had to give Lando Corran's part, and managed to get around the absence of Kam and Tionne by alternate means.)
The second and third sections fit in after chapter 13 and take place on the Lady Luck, on the journey to deliver the young knights into the hands of the Yuuzhan Vong. The final section follows on from chapter 14, the chapter in which Lando provokes the argument amongst the strike team members on the Lady Luck. This last section is a kind of rewrite of a "missing chapter" story I wrote way back in 2002 which is posted here. I've wanted to do a non-R version of that story for a while and decided that this challenge was the ideal opportunity. So instead of hot and steamy I'm now going for sweet and seemly. ;)
So here goes.
Leia couldn't sleep. It was annoying because she actually felt exhausted, a result of the lingering physical effects of the tussle they had had with a group of Yuuzhan Vong assassins on Coruscant along with the strain of having to deal with Borsk Fey'lya again. That was always taxing, mainly because it left her with a sense of overwhelming despondency, not to mention a mish-mash of other emotions that ran the gamut from failure to betrayal. She didn't think she would ever be able to rid herself of the feeling that somehow she was responsible for the current state of the New Republic, and she had spent many a sleepless night trying to isolate the moment when the freedom and decency she had fought so hard for had devolved into a culture of back-stabbing and personal aggrandisement.
Sometimes it was so disheartening it made her weep. Sometimes in her darker moments she could almost believe that the Yuuzhan Vong were a punishment.
But what was troubling her this particular night was nothing to do with politics or the dire situation into which they had all fallen. It was something that, relatively speaking, when pitted against the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, seemed almost ridiculously insignificant, and yet here she was lying in her bed beside her snoring husband worrying herself into another set of wrinkles and probably a few more grey hairs. It was her youngest son Anakin who was at the heart of this angst: Anakin and his longstanding friendship with Tahiri although it seemed that friendship was no longer the correct word to describe whatever it was that was going on between the two of them.
And again she felt a gnawing sense of failure at the fact that she had missed the moment when that situation had changed. One minute they were kids conjuring up all manner of harebrained schemes for getting into as much trouble as it was humanly possible to get into, and the next they were a young couple sharing secret glances, whispering and wandering round Eclipse like a pair of conjoined twins. It was simultaneously sweet and frightening, inspiring hope for the future while completely unsettling the present.
When had he grown into this young man who reminded her, achingly so at times, of Han as he was when she first him? When had little barefoot Tahiri turned into this beautiful poised young woman?
Was she really this old?
But she knew that wasn't what was niggling at her insides like a silk-snake hatchling. Personal vanity had never been a major factor in her thinking about herself; if anything she saw her own shortcomings only too clearly. No, it was the feeling that her son was slipping away, moving into the world of relationships and responsibilities, of love and commitment and all that that entailed. And it worried her to think that she hadn't really prepared him for it at all, neither she nor Han had. It had just happened. And there was some slightly panicked part of her that wanted to feel it still had some say in his life, some control over his choices some input be it ever so small. Whether this was normal mother behaviour or not, she wasn't sure, but she knew it would continue to bother her until she did something about it.
So she did the only logical thing she could do when faced with such a situation: she thrust her elbow forcefully into Han's ribs.
Age may have dulled some of her husband's reflexes, but his reaction to sudden and unexpected stimuli was still impressive.
"Huh ... wha" He was already sitting bolt upright and reaching for the blaster he kept on the floor beside the bed.
"It's okay. It was me. Please don't shoot me I'm the only one around here who's willing to put up with you." She had to admit to a certain glib satisfaction at the droll tone she managed to conjure up to deliver the response. She was sure Han would have appreciated it, too, if his synapses had been a little less confused by their rude awakening.
He groaned and sank back into the warm furrow his body had carved in the mattress. "Was I snoring again?"
"No, you were sleeping like a baby."
Her amusement vanished, and she felt the faint escalation of pressure behind her eyes, which meant she was frowning. A baby. The word crash-landed her dead centre into the target zone of what was troubling her.
Han yawned and rubbed his eyes. "I see. Well, that's terrible. I can see why that would make you want to attack me."
"I didn't attack you. I just needed to wake you up quickly."
"It worked," he yawned again, and turned to peer at her blearily. "Was there a reason, or was it just a spur of the moment impulse?"
Leia stared back at him for a moment. The night darkness in their room would have been total if not for the moon-glow plug clipped to one corner of the ceiling part of a shipment that Lando had brought with him and had convinced the engineers to install in the sleeping quarters. The faint bluish shadows the device created interpreted the topography of his face in subtle shades of wry humour and bitter experience. It brought it home to her with sudden clarity how much the two of them had been through, and the toll it had taken. Not that they had suffered any more than any other of their friends but it wasn't often that the impact of the past twenty years could be seen exposed in such stark relief.
She sighed. "A bit of both I guess. I figured that sleep deprivation might be more palatable if we shared it."
"Sleep deprivation," he slurred, appeared to try and think and then grunted. "What's stopping you sleeping?"
Leia took a deep breath and opened her mouth, and then shut it again, exhaling slowly. "Lots of things," she replied after a long pause in which she trialed a number of possible starting points. "But mainly Anakin."
Han groaned and extricated his hand from the sheet so he could rub away the tightness that had suddenly contorted his brow into a wave of furrows. "I have tried to put that right," he murmured. "It's just going to take time, that's all."
Leia turned on her side, and reached over to squeeze his arm. "I know. I wasn't meaning that." The terrible consequences of Chewie's death still carried a certain resonance that rose to the surface from time to time, and probably always would. And Han would no doubt be the last to forgive himself for the pain and guilt he had inflicted on his youngest son. "I'm talking about Anakin and Tahiri." She emphasized the last name.
Han's fingers stopped massaging his forehead but remained poised as if frozen. Then finally he shook his head. "Okay ... you've just lost me."
"I'm worried about Anakin and Tahiri, Han the fact they're ... well they're not just little kids who happen to be friends any more are they? They're what you might call an item."
Even in the semi-darkness, she saw Han's eyebrows shoot up to become lost in his sleep-tousled hair.
"An item?" he chuckled.
"Well, whatever you call it then. It's hard to know. If I say ‘in love' it doesn't sound right, although I'm sure they might think they are. Which is what worries me. When did you last talk to him about ... sex?"
Han was very still for a moment; it was hard to tell if he was stunned or simply bemused. Eventually he swiveled his head so he could look at her. "Let me get this right. You've been lying awake all night worrying about those two having sex?"
"Not exactly having sex as such, more just worried that they might be thinking about it and maybe it's time to have some input into the situation before it gets out of hand. I mean, you know what Anakin's like if he feels it's the right thing to do, he'll do it, and because he no longer sees himself as a child, he'll regard it as perfectly normal and natural."
Han breathed in deeply, exhaled, and wondered how he could respond without either having his blaster used on him or being thrown out of the marital bed, thereby depriving himself of the very normal and natural, and enjoyable, activity they were discussing.
"I've got to say this, Leia. I can't help but feel relieved it's Tahiri we're talking about here rather than Alema. I don't trust that girl as far as I could throw her."
"You don't honestly think Anakin would see anything in her, surely?"
Han shrugged. "Depends if we're just talking about sex or about relationships in general."
Leia sat up and glared down at him. "Of course, I forgot I'm talking to a man here."
Han sat up beside her. "Look," he said. "If you're really this worried I'll have a chat with him, okay? I'm not blind I have noticed the way he and Tahiri get around together you know."
"It's more than that," Leia caught his eye. "It's the body language."
Han grimaced. "Now you're beginning to sound like Corran. He had a ‘chat' with me after they all came back from Yag'Dhul about that."
"Well there you are," Leia plumped up her pillows, and settled back folding her arms and looking troubled. "Everyone else is noticing it as well. You can't just let it ride even if you do seem to think that it's just boys being boys."
"I never said that!" Han said defensively, lying down on his side so he could see her face.
"Okay let's imagine that it's not Anakin we're talking about, but Jaina at the same age."
"That's not fair," Han bristled.
"Of course it isn't, but I think it's relevant, especially as we aren't just talking about Anakin we're talking about Tahiri. We have a responsibility for her wellbeing, too."
Han huffed in frustration. "I've said I'll talk to him. And it's not like I haven't talked to him in the past, you know. I've filled both him and Jacen in on the details and the pitfalls."
"Yes," replied Leia dryly. "I had a chat to Anakin after you had ‘the talk' with him."
"You checked up on me?" scowled Han.
"No. I was simply showing some solidarity," she said. "Just letting him know that he was free to ask questions if he wanted."
"Well, according to Anakin the talk involved the two of you watching a holodoc on reconditioning YT1300 sub-light engines. So I'm not sure quite how that translates into the topic of love, sex and relationships."
"Actually, I picked that programme for the very good reason that it does in fact have a lot to say about sex. I think I showed him pretty conclusively that anyone can have the know-how and the right equipment, but what makes it worthwhile is when you bring it all together because you love the lady concerned. And I tell you, Leia, you should have seen that engine when they were finished with it. It was a work of art." He grinned, almost triumphantly. "I'm sure he got the point the kid loves solving puzzles after all. He probably just didn't want to have to put into words."
Leia rolled her eyes. "Oh boy!"
"And," Han added, waggling his finger to further reinforce his point, "you did tell me to be discreet."
"Yes, and I did mean discreet, not totally obscure." She studied her husband for a moment, shaking her head mentally. Who knows, maybe Anakin had got the message. But if Han had tried the same method with Jacen, they were in deep poodoo. No wonder the boy was confused.
She sighed no doubt that was another hurdle awaiting them. "Just, please talk to him, and I'll talk to Tahiri. Only forget about the discretion, just make sure he understands the facts, okay?"
"Sure." Han held out both hands in a gesture of concurrence. "Anything else you want to discuss now that we're both wide awake."
"I'm actually quite tired," she yawned. "I think I might be able to get some sleep now." She reached over and patted his arm. "Thanks."
Then she caught his toothy grin.
"No!" she said, rounding the vowel so that there was no potential for mishearing or misunderstanding.
The grin widened and became a chuckle. "Well, it'd be kind of on-topic you've got to admit. And it does make you sleep well."
"Thank you for your concern for my welfare. Goodnight." She closed her eyes and wiggled her head and shoulders into a comfortable position on the pillows punctuating the end to the conversation with a slight exhale that might have been intended as a comfortable sigh.
He snorted, more to himself than anything, and settled back so he could study her face, the bluish glow making her seem almost ethereal a spirit from a land that championed beauty and courage and everything that was good and true. What he'd ever done to deserve such a woman was a mystery. Why she stayed with him was equally mysterious, especially after how he'd treated her ... how he'd treated them all after Chewie ...
He realized he was biting his lip.
He turned, carefully so as not to disturb Leia, and stared up at the ceiling aware vaguely of the way that the shell-like pattern cast by the glow morphed through various shades from pale blue to indigo. Under different circumstances that effect might have been soothing, but not so tonight when he was being confronted yet again with the repercussions of his self-confessedly stupid method of grieving. A few years ago talking with Anakin would have been easy, but so many things had changed and now he found the energy required to negotiate his way through the trail of emotional baggage that lay strewn haphazardly between them was sometimes greater than he could muster. There were times when their exchanges flowed like a lazy river on a sunny day; and then there were times when a misplaced word or phrase would slip into the current, churning it up and sending it coursing away downhill in separate channels.
But Leia was right. The boy was turning into a man faster than they both expected and a very independent, single-minded man, too. He would make every effort to find an excuse to have a chat with him as soon as he could. He would just have to wait and pick the right moment.
And with that thought he felt his eyelids begin to droop, but his sleep was disturbed with fitful images of past mistakes contorted and juxtaposed in nonsensical, dream-typical fashion with events he'd always regarded as successes. He awoke feeling jaded and in no mood for anything that required more than a simple one-syllable response, and eventually retreated to the one place where all that was needed to solve a problem was the right-sized hydrospanner the cockpit of the Falcon.
By evening he was feeling more like himself, and the relay board for the hyperspace motivator was looking a lot tidier thanks to his need for mechanical therapy. The next day, he decided, he would find Anakin and talk to him, and then he would report to Leia even if he had to reinterpret the encounter a little to put her mind at ease. But the next day brought a development that wiped all thoughts about cosy little father-son chats from his mind, and it wasn't until about ten days later on the eve of Anakin's departure with the rest of his strike team on the Lady Luck that he thought about it again. And snorted ruefully. As far as he was concerned the kid could have all the sex he wanted if it would stop him heading away on this damn fool mission.
He just hoped they'd get a chance to sort it all out when he got back.
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