The Talk: Part 3
Rating: PG

Lando didn't like to admit to himself that the purposeful stride with which he had left his and Tendra's stateroom had become increasingly less purposeful the closer he approached the room he had given to Anakin. In actual fact, it had begun to dawn on him that his optimistic claim about how chatting with the boy fell within the realm of the known was a slight misrepresentation of the truth. No, let's be brutally honest, he thought, it's more of a complete misrepresentation! He didn't know a thing about how to address the awkward subject of sex with teenagers, and even though he had a kind of semi-uncle type relationship with Han and Leia's three children, that connection had become increasingly less interactive over the last two years thanks to the intrusion of the Yuuzhan Vong.

But the problem was that now he had, somewhat stupidly, committed himself to the task of ensuring that Anakin was behaving responsibly in his budding relationship with Tahiri, he knew he couldn't back out — not without looking like a coward anyway. He was just beginning to wonder if loss of face really would be such a bad thing when with a start he realised his feet had stopped walking, and he was staring at the door to Anakin's cabin. He also realized that this was the point at which he was meant to raise his hand and knock firmly, but unfortunately his hand had other ideas. It got as far as folding itself into a fist with knuckles to the ready, and then froze, as if some invisible force field had blossomed into existence to prevent its contact with the duralloy surface.

What was he actually going to say to the boy? He couldn't just blazon on in and demand to know what was going on between them — he would have to kind of build up to it carefully and test out how the ground lay; be strategic, but not so obviously strategic that Anakin would become alert to the fact he was being strategic and go all covert. Damn — he was beginning to sound like he'd been hanging around with Intelligence people too long.

He clenched his fist again and almost managed to make contact with the door before another somewhat unsettling thought occurred to him. What if Anakin started asking him questions? And what sort of questions might he ask? General questions he could probably deal with or at least field with reasonable aplomb, but what should he do if the questions were of a technical nature?

And after all, Anakin was a fairly technically minded individual!

He frowned inwardly at himself. The galaxy had come to a pretty pass if he was going to let a seventeen-year-old kid get the better of him. If the boy did ask questions he would just have to answer them as honestly as he felt appropriate. Having just criticised Luke for being a little bit too airy-fairy sometimes, he couldn't very well compound the situation by being equally vague. He would just have to think of himself as a Han substitute, and frame his answers accordingly — be matter of fact in other words. And if it got too complicated? Well, he would just have to wing it. How difficult was that?

Before he had a chance to answer himself, he rapped his knuckles firmly on the door, and waited.

Hmm, that's odd, he thought.

He knocked again louder, but the door remained stubbornly closed.

He was just about to knock again very loudly when he became uncomfortably aware that he was being watched, and he turned to find Alema Rar studying him curiously.

Lando cleared his throat. "I was looking for Anakin. You wouldn't know where he is would you?"

The girl snorted. "Me? No." The expression behind her eyes shifted slightly into something like a sneer with a tinge of sly cunning. "Maybe you should try Tahiri's room?"

Lando watched her flounce away. It didn't take possession of the Force to read the hint of pent-up anger in her manner, although whether that had anything to do with Anakin and Tahiri was uncertain. Alema seemed to be perpetually on the edge of rage ever since she had been introduced into the community at Eclipse. Lando wondered if Luke's decision to send somebody with such obvious emotional baggage in the strike team was well advised. But there again he wondered about the inclusion of Jacen, too. Was he getting old and losing his nerve, or was Luke becoming desperate?

Neither were questions he wanted to ponder, especially not at that moment when his current circumstances suggested that the former choice seemed more likely to be correct. He gathered his cloak around him and set off down the corridor to Tahiri's cabin; and before he could even begin to worry about what excuse he was going to use to entice Anakin away so he could talk to him, he knocked loudly, and boldly, on the door.

But again he was met by a deafening silence. If they weren't in their rooms, where were they? Surely they weren't practising lightsaber routines at this late hour?

He heard a door swish open to his left, and turned to find Jovan Drark peering at him, glassy eyes half slitted suggesting he had been asleep.

"Something wrong?" the young Rodian rasped.

Lando waved a negative, smiling to add some reassurance. "No problem. Just looking for Anakin. You haven't seen him I suppose?"

Jovan scratched one of his horns, unwittingly looking as though he was trying to wind up his thinking processes. "They were in the mess," he mumbled finally. "But then they left."

"Ah," said Lando, none the wiser. "Er, thanks. And have a good sleep."

"Thanks. Uh, you too."

The door slid closed with a hiss leaving Lando alone again. He stared up and down the corridor, but again all he noticed was the silence. Uncertain, he retraced his steps to Anakin's door, this time knocking a long tattoo that he was certain the boy couldn't fail to hear unless he was either deaf or dead.

A few minutes later, after several variations on a rhythmic theme he lost patience and actuated the unlock mechanism. To his surprise and irritation, the room appeared to be empty, and he was just about to stomp back out into the corridor when he became aware of the gentle hissing patter of water accompanied by a strange thumping noise. He frowned, listened for a little longer, and then he felt the blood rush to his cheeks.

"Why, you little —"

He strode over to the door of the refresher and flung it open.

"Forgot —" Anakin began to ask, and then stopped as if he'd been stunned.

For a split second boy and man stared at each other, eyes wide, and then two things happened. Anakin let out a yelp and grabbed at the towel hanging over the hook, and Lando stepped rapidly backwards, slipped and grabbed wildly at the wall only to find he had grabbed the other end of the towel Anakin was desperately trying to wrap around his waist. In the ensuing tug of war, Lando ended up with the towel leaving Anakin to grab the only thing he could find in easy reach to cover up his embarrassment — the portable voder unit he had placed on the sill. The steady thump of the bass faltered and was then lost in a hiss of static as the device objected to its indecorous treatment.

"What the —!" Anakin stammered. And then the rational gears in his brain appeared to click into action providing him with what must have seemed to be the only logical explanation for Lando's weird behaviour. "What's happened? Have they changed the plan?"

Lando studied the voder, and then acutely aware that Anakin's expression was becoming more than a little uncomfortable, not to mention downright suspicious, he quickly raised his eyes to the boy's face. "Sorry," he mumbled. "I understand now."

Anakin's eyes narrowed appraisingly. "Are you feeling okay, Lando?"

"I'm fine," Lando reassured him breezily. "Just um ... just a little misunderstanding. My apologies. I'll uh," he handed Anakin the towel and waved a hand in the direction of the cabin. "I'll wait out there while you get dressed."

"Um, okay, but my clothes are actually out there," Anakin said, hurriedly wrapping the towel around him as if afraid Lando might try and grab it again. He slipped past him and plucked a tunic top that was lying untidily on top of the backpack sitting near his bunk and quickly slipped it on over his head.

Well that was a brilliant start, thought Lando. So much for discretion. More like a herd of stampeding rancors.

"So, uh," Anakin had pulled back the cover on his bunk and was grabbing at the leg of what turned out to be a pair of black Corellian style pants. He extricated them from the tangled sheet and sat down on the edge of his bed to pull them on — and then glanced around at Lando, still obviously confused. "Is there something you wanted to talk about?"

In the moment it took Anakin to stand, fasten up his pants and turn around, Lando went through several possible introductory statements, none of which sounded the way he would have liked. But with the boy's ice blue, somewhat speculative, gaze on him he knew he couldn't keep standing there prevaricating.

He took a deep breath.

"I um —" he scratched his nose, breathed out, folded his arms and then breathed in again, noting Anakin's look of expectation fading into a bemused frown. "I —" he chewed his lower lip. This is ridiculous, he told himself. You sound like a jammed holovid. Forget about the niceties, just spit it out.

"I've been talking with Tendra," he said quickly before entropy got a hold on him again. "And we're uh-" Come on, come on. Say it. He inhaled, steeled himself and let loose with what amounted to a comparatively voluble and articulate statement of his position. "We're concerned about you and Tahiri."

Anakin's eyebrows shot up and disappeared under the lock of wet hair plastered to his forehead, and he looked offended. "We'll be fine, Lando. And so will the others," he added significantly, as if a little miffed that Lando had forgotten about them.

"No I don't mean that." Lando waved his hands in frustration at the misunderstanding, and then caught the look of wounded surprise on the boy's face. "Well, I don't mean that we aren't worried about you — all of you — but obviously we have complete confidence in-" He stopped abruptly realizing he was not only babbling but running off track on to a potential diversion.

He huffed, steadied his racing thoughts for a moment and then stepped over to Anakin and placed his hands firmly on the boy's upper arms. "I mean you and Tahiri as in ... you and Tahiri."

"Me and Tahiri," Anakin repeated studying Lando's face closely as if searching a map for clues.

Lando studied him back. Was he being obtuse on purpose, he wondered, or was the message really not clear? "You and Tahiri," he tried again and nodded encouragingly, "being ... friends. You know."

Anakin's mouth formed an o. "Friends," he repeated — somewhat unhelpfully, Lando thought.

"Okay," he said, realising he was sounding a little testy but no longer caring. "Not friends. Well friends but more than friends — and all that that means," he finished, almost triumphantly, although really more in relief.

Anakin's expression cleared in a flash of epiphany. "Ah, why didn't you say that in the first place?" He regarded Lando earnestly and a faint smile tweaked at his mouth until it was slightly lopsided. "You don't need to worry about us, Lando. We're fine."

Lando wasn't quite sure where to go from here. Wasn't he supposed to be the confident self-assured one in this conversation? But having his back against the wall, as so often in the past, finally provided the spur he needed, and he latched on to Anakin's last statement, grimly determined to gain the upper hand.

"I'm, uh, sure you both do think you're fine — but you have to admit, Anakin, that you're both still quite young, and, well, I guess I just worry that perhaps neither of you are really prepared for ... " He fumbled for a phrase that would get the point over and yet still allow a certain ambiguity — for somehow now he was face to face with Anakin, he found he was quailing a little at the thought of having to discuss specifics. "Not really prepared for the feelings you might have for each other. Sometimes they can be ... very strong."

"Tell me about it," replied Anakin with a resigned nod. "It just about blows me away sometimes." And he sat down on the edge of his bunk his gaze suggesting his thoughts had drifted to things specifically related to his statement.

Lando went to open his mouth only to find it was already wide open. Of all the responses he had anticipated, that was not one of them. He licked his lips and thought furiously. Where was Mr Smooth when you needed him?

"Well there you are," he said finally, and rather lamely. "Which is why I felt I had to raise the issue — and I hope you appreciate that I'm not trying to take over your father's role in all this. Far from it. I'm just concerned, and I guess I want to check that both you and Tahiri, uh, have been informed about, um ... it."

Anakin regarded Lando curiously, and with a hint of what might have been either wry amusement or amused irritation. "It?" he repeated.

"All right, all right! Sex," he conceded. Damn the boy. Why did he have to be so doggedly mature about it? He wasn't making this easy at all.

"Don't worry, Lando, I certainly have and I'm pretty sure Tahiri has. They don't just teach us how to be Jedi at the Academy, you know."

Lando was reminded of his opinion, that Tendra had expressed for him so eloquently, about the practicality of the Academy's teaching on this matter, but he knew better than to decry it in front of Anakin. "Well, that's good to hear. And, of course, I presume that Han's had some input as well?"

For the first time since their conversation had begun, Anakin looked uncertain. Lando waited for him to speak, but after what felt like at least a minute of silence, in which Anakin's expression kept morphing between a frown and a confused look, he realized he'd either struck a sore point, or worse still, he'd hit a moot point.

"Han has talked to you, hasn't he?" he asked somewhat feebly.

Anakin's confused look and frown merged into an expression of extreme befuddlement. "I'm not really sure," he said.

"Not sure?" Lando blurted out. "What do you mean? How can you not know if someone is talking to you about sex?"

Anakin cocked his head to one side and regarded Lando pensively for a few seconds, as if he was still confounded about the answer to that question himself.

"I dunno really. I think he meant to show me a holovid about it, but, um, he must have picked up the wrong holovid, because we ended up watching a guy giving tips for reconditioning YT1300 sublight engines — which was astral because it helped us solve a surge problem we were having in the throttle motivator of the Falcon at the time. But Dad got so excited about that that he kind of forgot what he was meant to be doing." He paused — his eyes flickering up at Lando's and then swerving away again. "And then we went to Sernpidal."

Lando sighed inwardly. It sounded like a typical Han Solo scenario all right — a comedy of errors followed shortly after by terrible tragedy. What more could he say?

He sighed again, out loud this time, and sat down beside Anakin. "Well," he shrugged finally. "At least the Falcon got something out of it."

Anakin snorted, and then caught Lando's eye. "I do appreciate that fact you care about us," he said earnestly. "But you really don't need to worry. We wouldn't do anything stupid."

"Yeah, but it's not always easy, Anakin. Sometimes, when you're young, emotions get the better of you and it's very hard to hold back, especially for us men." It was while he was waiting for the boy's answer that he realized in a flash of relieved surprise that he no longer felt awkward. In fact he wondered why he'd felt such apprehension in the first place — this was proving to be a breeze.

"We are Jedi, Lando. Self-control is one of the things we have to learn. And anyway you obviously haven't tried talking Tahiri into doing something she doesn't want to do. Stubbornness is an art form with her."

"There's nothing wrong with a stubborn woman." He studied Anakin shrewdly. "What about if she's the one putting the pressure on you?"

Anakin's blue eyes widened a little, but he returned the older man's gaze with an equanimity that even Lando had to admit was impressive. "Well for one I'm bigger than her," he grinned, "and two, our relationship doesn't work like that. We think things out together and most of all we respect each other."

For a moment Lando was speechless. Was this the reticent little boy with the biscuit crumbs on his shirt who had once seemed only at home with a tool kit? When had he been replaced by this urbane young man? This young man, Lando reminded himself, who was about to lead the most crucial mission of the war — certainly of the war to date anyway.

This young Jedi knight with the piercing, earnest gaze.

Suddenly all his concerns acquired a new perspective and he did the only rational thing he could do. He held out his hand, and when Anakin had placed his palm on his, he gripped it firmly. "If you need any advice, Anakin, just remember I'm here," he said.

The faint shadow of the cocky Solo smile appeared on Anakin's lips. "Thanks, Lando, but I think we'll be okay."

Lando chuckled and gave the boy a hearty thump on the shoulder as he rose. My offer still stands," he said good-humouredly. "Now I guess we'd all better get some sleep."

"Yeah," Anakin nodded. "I think you're right."

Lando threw him a wave that served as a semi-salute, and retraced his steps to his stateroom. The more he had to do with Anakin, the more he liked him — and the more he reminded him of Han. There were differences of course — most notably Anakin's Jedi abilities and his sense of duty to the Order — no child was ever a complete replica of its parents after all. But sometimes the similarities just hit you in the face.

And he wondered if he'd had a son — what would he be like? And then he snorted at himself for such a silly, sentimental thought. Maybe he was getting old. Or maybe he was just becoming more aware of mortality than he wanted.

He had reached his door, but paused before he entered, straightening his cloak and shaking away the strange mood that had descended on him. The last thing Tendra needed was a morbid husband. But in spite of this intention he couldn't help thinking, as he activated the door control, that if he had had a son, and that son had been like Anakin, then he would have been a very proud father indeed.

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