The Talk: Part 4
Rating: PG
Iella

This section of The Talk follows on from chapter 14 of Star by Star, the chapter in which Lando provokes the argument amongst the strike team members on the "Lady Luck." This bit is the rewrite of the "missing chapter" story at Wookieehut.com.

I have a thank you message. I'd like to thank VaderLVR for letting me borrow Fuzzy Wuzzy — from her story "Fuzzy" on TFN.

All will become clear as you read ... I hope.

It was late by the time Anakin reached the door of his room, and the cabin deck of the Lady Luck was silent and still both physically and in the Force where he could feel nothing extreme disturbing the peace, just the sense of familiar presences, most of whom seemed at rest. One presence in particular glowed with a distinctive warmth and radiance, and he was not surprised when he opened his door to find a small shape lying in a restful curve on his bunk. He'd known she would have sensed him thinking about her earlier in the evening when it became apparent that his meeting with Lando was going to take longer than expected — would have sensed the ripple of apology in the thought, and the hope that she wouldn't mind if he was late. And he'd also known that Tahiri, being Tahiri, would adopt the most pragmatic solution and simply settle down to wait for him in his room, catching up on a bit of shuteye in the process. For one thing was certain — there was no way either would countenance settling down for the night without spending some time together, just the two of them, cosy and loving in each other's arms. It was their time just to be them — two young people with mutual hopes and dreams and aspirations, some sensible and some stupidly romantic, some viable and some wildly unrealistic — rather than two Jedi knights with all the accompanying baggage that that signified.

In spite of his lingering mood of seriousness due to the nature of his discussion with Lando, he couldn't stop the smile or the sudden sense of weight rising buoyant like a Bespin air-jelly from his shoulders when he saw her. He shrugged off his flight jacket as if that, too, would somehow aid the process of casting his cares aside, and carefully, so as not to disturb her, he settled on the edge of his bed. It wasn't often he had the chance to just appreciate her like this — in repose, in peace — and it hit home quite dramatically how incredibly perfect she was.

Even as a nine year old, the age she'd been when he'd first met her, she was, as he'd heard Tionne once express it, "very appealing" with her wavy blonde hair and bubbly nature. But that had meant little to his eleven-year-old self, his appreciation of her being founded more in their friendship and her enthusiastic involvement in whatever scrape they could manage to get into — not to mention her courage. Now, however, when he caught sight of her in some of the old Academy holopics, he could see that she had always been as she was now — pretty and petite, every part of her in harmony with the rest. And he found it almost impossible to believe that he hadn't seen her then the way he saw her now — as his Tahiri, the girl he loved with all his heart, the girl he knew he wanted with him for the rest of his life. But there again he couldn't recall the moment when he realized that what he felt for her was love rather than just an inexorable attraction: when he'd started thinking "us" instead of "Tahiri and me".

Torn between wanting — no, craving — the contact with her warm body, and yet not wishing to disturb her repose too abruptly, he reached out and brushed his fingers over her toes . . . and felt the familiar flutter like an ionic charge sparking into life somewhere deep in his abdomen and triggering the usual chain reaction. It was, he knew, a kind of addiction: a good one, although at times still terrifying and overpowering, leaving him trembling and weak at the knees. But he also knew he wouldn't give it up for the world. And so, unable to relinquish the touch of her skin on his, he began to massage her toes lightly. The motion was calming and, without really thinking about what he was doing, he gently lifted her foot and was just bending forward with the intention of kissing it when he felt a sudden jolt, as though he'd been caught inside the beam of a spotlight — an emerald spotlight.

Well, two actually.

"Um, hi," he said lamely, a little like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Tahiri blinked down at him, and then sat up and studied her foot and its proximity to his mouth. Her expression morphed into one that was a little ambiguous — it might have been amusement or suspicion, but was possibly a combination of both.

"Anakin, please tell me you're not going to become one of those guys with funny fetishes, because if you are I'd really like to know now."

"Depends what you mean by funny," he said, a little tentative.

"I would call a fascination with my feet funny," she elaborated, withdrawing her foot from his grasp and regarding him primly — too primly. Anakin knew when he was being played, well most of the time anyway. It was kind of fun, and Tahiri was very good at it.

"It's not so much your feet, it's your toes. But don't worry — they were just a temporary fill-in for the real fetish, which isn't funny at all."

Tahiri scrutinized him shrewdly, although he could see a faint gleam in her eyes. "Oh?"

"Yeah," Anakin let his eyes track slowly down from her face to her toes and back. "It's a very normal kind of fetish really," he explained, reaching for her hand and drawing her slowly but firmly off the bunk and round on to his lap. "And it's completely understandable — nothing weird or kinky about it at all." He slid his arms around her and pulled her close. "Let me demonstrate."

"I agree," Tahiri murmured what might have been a few minutes or an eon later. Time was never logical in these matters. "Although I have to say I did notice a little hint of kinkiness here and there. Have you been studying technique?"

"No, that was pure invention — spur of the moment kind of stuff. I'm glad you liked it though." His lips brushed hers as he spoke.

"I did, even with the faint taste of spicy field cress." She dimpled, and kissed him lightly again, more a response to the brush of his lips to which he responded equally softly. Sometimes they would sit nose to nose for ages, basking in the comfortable niche created within their embrace that neither wanted to give up, and always within the whisper of another kiss.

"So how did it go with Lando?" Tahiri asked eventually. "Any last minute stuff we need to know?"

"No. I just wanted to clarify a few things with him ... just things that occurred to me since this morning, and then we did some last minute checks on the power packs and made sure everything was stored in the weapons pods properly." Anakin adjusted his position to compensate for the fact she had pulled away just a little — far enough to still be within his arms, but not close enough to be pressed so tightly against him. He appreciated the subtlety of the move: Tahiri's acknowledgment of the effect she knew she had on him, allied with her unspoken message that she respected him too much to push him, purposely anyway, too close to the boundary of temptation.

Nevertheless he grinned a little sheepishly. "Sorry."

"That's okay. I'm kind of used to it." She paused for a moment, her eyes softening to serious shades. "And anyway, you know you do things to me, too, even if it's not so obvious."

Anakin returned her gaze in kind. There was no denying it. It was like standing in the surf and feeling the tide tugging at them, enticing them out beyond the safety of the shallows into the timeless, rhythmic swell of the ocean. And as time went by the urge to take that final step into the depths was becoming harder and harder to resist — and seeming more and more right.

"When we get back," he promised, "we'll sort it out, okay?"

Tahiri brushed back the lick of hair that insisted on falling over his right eye and nodded slowly. He was reminded how incredibly cute she looked when she was in a pensive mood, how her eyes seemed to be as wide and sun-flecked as the sea and her lips curved into the faintest pink shadow of a pout. Irresistible, in fact.

They tasted nice too, as did the soft skin along her chin, not to mention her neck, and he could just identify the delicate palette of her Chad sea orchid perfume. Like any love token the perfume had a meaning that only the two of them understood — a little indulgence in the language of love and togetherness.

"Hey," he said bumping her forehead with his nose a few minutes later when, temporarily sated, they were snuggled in each other's arms again. "Want to hear something funny? Lando tried to give me 'the talk' last night."

Tahiri snorted. "You're kidding? Lando?"

"Yeah, not long after you left. It was, um, kind of embarrassing. He caught me while I was taking a sanisteam."

Tahiri studied him for a moment, brows raised speculatively. "Caught you?"

There was an infinitesimal pause, like a chrono missing a tick, before he answered. "I was listening to music."

Tahiri managed to keep a straight face. "So what's embarrassing about that? You're both guys."

"It was a bit weird for a minute." Anakin's slight defensiveness was replaced by confusion as he recalled the situation. "I had to grab my voder to ... you know ... cover up, and he kind of kept looking at it with this funny expression on his face ... the voder I mean," he added hastily when he saw Tahiri's lips began to twitch.

"You hid behind that little thing?" she asked wide-eyed, and then unable to hold her mirth in any longer, she exploded into giggles.

"It wasn't funny at the time," he complained, although secretly feeling an ego-boosting surge of pleasure at the implied compliment. "It was spooky."

"So after the male-bonding moment, what did he say?" she asked, and then added mischievously. "Any useful tips?"

Anakin grinned; he liked Tahiri's sly, somewhat earthy humour. "I think he was a bit nervous actually. It took him a while to get to the point."

"Which was?" She was pretty good at keeping a straight face, too. Well, almost keeping a straight face.

"Basically making sure we're being responsible," he replied with a shrug. "And making sure we knew the facts."

"Boy that's old news," she huffed rolling her eyes. "Does he think we're thick or something?"

"Well, you've got to remember Lando doesn't have kids, so he's not really in the loop about stuff like that. But I'm guessing that he just feels responsible for us, especially since Balmorra."

Tahiri nodded. "And maybe because he knows how your dad went kind of awol for a while ... after what happened to Chewie."

"Yeah," Anakin admitted, his expression somber. It was true. Sex was the last thing his father would have wanted to talk with him about — in fact a lot of the time they were lucky if they'd managed a neutral hello.

The two regarded each other in silence for a moment, and then Tahiri leaned forward to plant a kiss on his chin. "You still turned out okay," she said comfortingly.

"So did you," his frown morphed into curiosity. "Who told you about it?"

"Tionne," she replied, "and more recently your mother."

Anakin's dark eyebrows shot up like missiles, and he struggled not to look betrayed. "Mum! When?"

"Not long before we left Eclipse." Tahiri slid off his knees and reached over for the beaker of water she'd filled earlier from the drink dispenser while she was waiting for him. She took a few sips and then settled down beside him, offering it to him so he could take a drink, too.

He regarded her suspiciously. "She didn't say anything personal about me did she?" he asked.

"Depends what you mean by personal. Although hang on, I think she did mention something about a toy Wookiee."

"Oh no!" Anakin covered his eyes despairingly with one hand. "You mean Fuzzy Wuzzy?"

Tahiri's jaw dropped. "You mean you actually had a toy Wookiee? Wow! I was just having you on. I must by psychic." She grinned triumphantly.

"Sometimes," he sighed and shook his head, "having a Force bond with you is a double-bladed saber." He raised the beaker to his lips.

"Don't worry, your mother didn't reveal any of your deep dark secrets. She said that she realized we'd become very close and she just wanted to remind us that she was young once and so she knows how hard it can get." She ducked just in time to avoid being sprayed as Anakin guffawed out his last gulp of water.

"She doesn't know the half of it," he spluttered.

"I don't know — if your father's anything like you she probably does."

"Tahiri!" He looked as if he'd just tasted something concocted by the Night Sisters, on a really bad day. "I don't even want to think about that!"

"Well, you three came from somewhere, you know," she drawled. "What is it with everyone that they can't face the fact their parents had sex?"

"It's not that we can't face it — we just prefer not to focus on it too much. Maybe it's different for you because —" He came to an abrupt halt, grimacing. "Sorry," he added hastily, hoping that he hadn't just ruined what had up until then been a perfect evening with her.

"Because I don't really remember my parents," she finished, but her voice was, surprisingly, soft. Although maybe not so surprising. Lately some of Tahiri's reactions had been radically different to what he expected — or feared. Some things just didn't appear to rile her as much as they once would have.

Sometimes he almost felt as if she was growing up faster than him, and he half suspected that her experiences with the Yuuzhan Vong might be the reason. Either that or it was one of those, much vaunted, girl versus boy things that he'd heard some of the adults murmuring about occasionally, usually after exercises at the academy where the differences in problem-solving strategies had been thrown, often quite dramatically, into focus.

"You could be right," she mused, green eyes distant but showing no telltale polar glints. "I do have memories of them you know, but they're more feeling kind of memories. And I guess I just like to think that they had lots of love and good stuff seeing how they didn't get much time to be together." Her eyes refocused on his. "So yeah, it is different for me."

For the merest instant Anakin felt something cold brush his spine as if somebody had opened the airlock to the frigid vacuum of space and then closed it again almost immediately. But he pushed it aside. Tahiri's comment about her parents contained a message for him, too — that the precious little time they managed to organise being together should be time spent being together, and not being distracted by random puzzles. War made trying to focus on a relationship very difficult, although there again the relationship made dealing with the war easier. He couldn't imagine what kind of mess-up he'd be if he hadn't had Tahiri to help him sort out some of the fallout from Chewbacca's death and the Centrepoint debacle.

He could tell she'd caught the main upshot of his thoughts by the gentle upturn of her lips and the way she was studying him. He felt her familiar reprimand at what she regarded as typical Anakin self-deprecation, but it was tempered with pleasure at his appreciation for her help. Her smile widened. "I told your mother not to worry, and that we'd all been told the facts at the Academy. And she said that was good, but knowing the facts didn't make it any less hard — don't you dare spray me again!"

Anakin held his hands up as if surrendering and swallowed very purposefully.

"Thank you," Tahiri acknowledged his obedience with a smirk. "So I reminded her that we're Jedi and we have been taught about self-control and all that — but most importantly we respect each other and wouldn't do anything stupid."

They regarded each other for a moment, and then Anakin nodded. "Whatever we do, it won't be stupid," he affirmed softly. "What did she say to that?"

"She said that I had her permission to use my lightsaber on you if you got frisky."

"Frisky!" he repeated, and snorted.

"She can be quite violent can't she?"

Anakin gave her a look-who's-talking raise of the eyebrows.

"Follow that thought through, and you're basically suggesting you're the kind of guy who likes girls who are like his mother," she said pointedly.

"Obviously, I hadn't thought it through," he smirked back. "Forgive me." In fact he found Tahiri's ferocious streak more than a little stimulating. He wasn't sure if that was appropriate for a Jedi or not, although he sometimes got the impression that his uncle might have felt the same way about his aunt.

She appeared to consider this for a second or two. "You're forgiven," she said airily. "At least she didn't come out with the 'you're too young' poodoo. So she gets points for that — lots of them."

"Yeah," Anakin agreed. "Unlike Jacen."

Now it was Tahiri's turn to look as though she'd tasted something vile. "Jacen has been talking to you about us?"

Anakin nodded rolling his eyes and then assumed a typical Jacenesque proprietal expression. "I'm concerned about you and Tahiri," he intoned in a frighteningly credible impersonation of his brother. "Don't you think you're a bit young to be so, er, close? I really think you two need to be more discreet."

Tahiri rolled her eyes. "Discreet! It's not like we roll around on the floor of the mess together."

"Now there's an idea," Anakin grinned a little more enthusiastically then he intended, eliciting a faint snort of amusement, or possibly resignation, from Tahiri.

"He's behaving more like an old grandfather every minute," she observed.

"As long as it's not our grandfather, we'll be okay," muttered Anakin darkly.

"He needs a distraction."

"He needs a stun bolt," Anakin growled, and reached over to return the empty beaker to the refreshment unit. "I'm not sure I made the right decision letting him come on this mission."

"You can still send him back."

He nodded, his expression a little grim. "I know."

"It's a pity we can't hitch him up with Alema — it might give them both something to do that doesn't involve annoying the crud out of everyone."

"Yeah," he said, not so much agreeing as giving himself time to phrase the question that her statement provoked. He wondered if she had sensed that he wanted to talk about it. "You, um, have a bit of a problem with Alema?"

She was silent for a moment. "I don't like the way she's always hovering round you, and trying to touch you."

"Neither do I," he shuddered. "It creeps me out."

"You need to say something to her about it. I've got some useful suggestions." Her tone had a sharp crystalline edge like ice. It was strangely thrilling. It reminded him that Tahiri had a lot more Tusken in her than anyone suspected — something he'd realized years ago, one of the many things he loved about her. He pushed the sense of excitation aside and focused on the various approaches he could use to deal with the issue at hand, and settled on openness and honesty. Anything else would probably get him stuck down a dead-end side alley without a blaster.

"I've considered that, but it's a bit awkward at the moment. I need everyone on the same com channel and getting along — well, as much as we can all get along anyway. Alienating her, or anyone, isn't in the best interests of the group."

The durasteel glint he'd noticed in Tahiri's eyes gave way to something between chagrin and awkwardness. She sighed — more of an exhalation really — but remained silent, lips pursed.

"We need to be able to work together," he continued, "and they, and you, have to be willing to take orders from me. It's going to be hard enough without having other issues messing it up."

She studied the small square of bedcover between them, and it wasn't until she raised her eyes to meet his again, and he breathed out with relief, that he realized he must have been holding his breath for a while. "I know." He caught her meaning: serious, apologetic, understanding, at the same time hearing the tightness in her tone, and sensing her pent-up frustration simmering just beyond the reaches of justification. She was as irritated at herself as at Alema.

"I know," she repeated. "I try not to let it get to me, but I know half the reason she does it is to do just that. It's the way she operates — it's like she enjoys bringing out the worst in people so she can then act all surprised and goody goody. Look at the way she was preening herself after Lando praised her attitude earlier on."

"Lando was just being provocative," Anakin said dismissively, "so we'd be forced to think about some of the choices we may have to make."

Tahiri's gaze had flickered away, and when it returned she was frowning. "I think the main reason it annoys me is because it shows she has no respect for us or for our relationship. It's just something to destroy as far as she's concerned." She paused as if suddenly struck by a realisation. "It's the only way she can feel good about herself."

Anakin nodded. "I think you've hit the bolt on the head."

"Now there's an idea!" she quipped, albeit darkly.

He brushed a finger down her cheek, hoping that this meant they'd sorted the problem out, but Tahiri wasn't quite ready to let it go.

"I am territorial," she admitted, unabashed. "It's just the way I am."

There was something deeply stirring about her statement, something not immediately definable, but connected to possession, belonging, willingness to defend a claim. He suddenly felt very warm. "I am too," he said.

Her eyes narrowed, challenging him. "Do you find her attractive?"

He gazed back, and the Force resounded with his love, and a little disappointment at the lack of faith she had in herself. He knew that, although she hung doggedly to her scars, she still tended to feel people regarded her as different — alien — and, by analogy, unattractive.

"Tahiri," he said softly. "What use do I have for the grubby old town speeder bike that anyone can borrow, when I have the classiest, most perfect model on the block?

She gazed up at him, her eyes emerald ice melting into pools. He tilted her chin and bent down until her warm breath tickled his lips. "I'm very, very picky," he murmured.

"Are you being romantic, or do you just enjoy pushing my buttons?" The emerald pools danced as they caught the sunlight.

Anakin's grin was pure Solo. "Definitely both," he managed to say before his mouth captured hers — or was it the other way round? He still found differentiation tricky at times, and he had become accustomed to feeling and seeing from her perspective. It was both a good thing and a bad one — well, maybe not so much bad as problematic. Like now with the waves tugging at him, the siren song of the ocean more powerful than ever because he was feeling Tahiri's desire as well.

Swimming against the tide — he was ... they were ... left breathless.

"I guess we'd better get some sleep," Tahiri murmured into his shoulder.

"Yeah." He buried his nose in her hair. "Mind you, sleep is over-rated," he added a while later, and felt a flutter against his collar bone that suggested she had smiled.

She straightened and reached up to brush her lips against his one last time. "G'night."

"Mmm." The brush became more of an extended sampling. "'Night."

"Wake me when you wake up, okay?" she reminded him as she stood up.

"What if you wake up first?"

She turned before opening the door and grinned. "Then I'll bring you some caf."

"I'll look forward to it then," he grinned back.

He kicked his boots off and lay back on his bed, clasping his hands together behind his head. The day was coming when she wouldn't have to leave. It was knowledge that left him reeling and yet at the same time it made his heart sing. He couldn't wait to wake up beside her and be able to reach out to her, drowsy-eyed and warm and tousled. He couldn't wait — but he knew they had to wait ... a little longer. When this mission was over they'd have time to talk it through and make their decision ... together. Always together. Because together they were strong, but most of all together they were right.

It was the last thought he had before his eyes closed; it was faith in each other and hope for the future. But most of all it was something so precious and pure that he felt humbled. It was love ... our love ...

Us
.

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