Disclaimer: It belongs to the authors of the NJO series, I don't own anything.
It wasn't often that one of the greatest Jedi Knights who ever lived found themselves battling for their life against cobwebs. Sith, yes. Alien invaders, that too. But a dark, spider-infested interior room of a starship? Not likely. Yet, that's exactly what Jacen Solo found himself doing on a brisk, cool morning on Yavin 4. The ship's hatch was open, and the crispy, freshening breeze flowed around the young jedi as he struggled against the forces of dust and murk.
"Whew", Jacen grunted as he finished. "I suppose that's what I get when I take up Jaina's offer to help her out."
He leaned against the hard side wall of the hatch and wiped his face, straightening the loose brown jumpsuit he wore. Already a young man of 20, Jacen was above average height and lean, with a body fit from years of training. His mellow brown eyes swept the forest floor as he took in the sight of lush, dripping greenery and exotic plants of numerous colors.
His gaze wandered from one plant to the next, fixating itself upon each shrub's unique characteristics. One a spiky reddish-green, one smooth and purple, another with petals spiraling in the wind, and yet another with long red hair….
"Hello friend Jacen!"
Jacen whipped his head around so fast he almost cricked his neck.
Tenel Ka stifled a smile as he abruptly shoved the cleaning broom behind his back and ran his hand though his hair in a futile attempt to get the brown tousled strands outs of his face.
"Oh, hey there Tenel Ka!" Then Jacen's eyes glinted mischievously and he stood straight up with his hands at his side and his chin raised. "Uh, I mean, good morning your Majesty, your esteemed Highness, oh fair Princess of the Hapes Clus….oof!" He ended swiftly as the slim, tanned girl drove a fist into his stomach and stood smiling gently at him.
"Is there any time of day when you do not find time for jokes, friend Jacen?" Tenel Ka asked as she strode past him into the wide center room of the ship.
Jacen followed her, trying to conjure an air of injured grievance. "Oh, why doth thy lovely lady striketh me so?" He turned to face Tenel Ka, who was sitting on a soft couch looking up at him. "Does she not enjoy my company, then?"
Tenel Ka rose and glanced into the chocolate melting eyes. Her green scale armor shimmered in the piercing rays of the rising sun, casting thousands of tiny white flecks into every corner of the room. Her coppery red hair glowed in the light, like the bright red of setting suns. She smiled, and for Jacen, her radiant beauty would have struck dumb even the boldest of men. However, he valued his life, and wisely restrained himself from saying so.
Instead, he put his hands lightly on the warrior Princess's shoulders.
"How's your morning so far, Tenel Ka?" She raised up her own hands, and to Jacen's great shock and also pleasure rested them on his own shoulders.
However, her appearing smile vanished, to be replaced by a firm, hard look of intensity.
"Jacen, I fear I bring worrying news." Jacen, who was staring into her beautiful grey eyes, had still not realized the gravity of the look. "Umm, let me guess," he said. "My pet crab has escaped and wreaked havoc upon the entire Jedi Academy by the use of its tiny pincers, a spool of shimmerthread, and the entire toilet paper supply?" he replied.
Tenel Ka, from years of ignoring Jacen's awful puns and jokes, had the foresight to ignore his playful banter.
She lowered his hands from her shoulders and held them in her own soft ones. Jacen's heart skipped a few beats. Ahhhh! She's holding my hand! Am I the luckiest guy in the entire universe, or…" He was cut off by her abrupt message.
"We are at war, my friend. Just this morning, Master Skywalker himself declared a state of emergency. The Yuuzhan Vong have began their conquest of the galaxy. Already, many planets have fallen to their crushing attacks."
Jacen's eyes widened in shock. The Jedi had been monitoring the alien species due to suspicious behavior in the past few months. Hardly anything was known about them.
He followed Tenel Ka as she led him out of the ship back to the Academy. Glancing behind him, Jacen knew that the soft, peaceful world as he knew it was about to change forever.
Luke Skywalker's gaze was unflinchingly hard as looked at the mass of hundreds of students, Knights, Masters, family and friends that had gathered before him on the Academy grounds.
"….We have been called upon to keep the peace once again in this time of distress and pain. The other worlds need us – we can feel their anguish as their lands are ravaged by the Yuuzhan Vong. You already knew their nature when our peaceful diplomatic team that was sent to them returned to us in pieces. They have established a war on the galaxy, a war on peace, a war on truth, a war on other species, and a war on life itself. They will only be content once every single being in the entire cosmos follows their way of life and death and sacrifice."
His wife Mara stood behind him and nodded when he looked at her.
"You, my students and friends have been called upon by the Force to defend the honor of the weak and the oppressed. You are the only hope the galaxy has. You are the lanterns in this time of darkness. You are the beacons of hope, the guiding stars that lead the people to safety amidst confusion and chaos. Rise, my fellow Jedi and family, and take your place as the galaxy's saviors. Rise, and take the mantle of justice and peace. Rise, and defend what you hold most dear!"
His last words were drowned out by a wave of sound as everyone stood and cheered and clapped. Yet, a constricting force in the air tightened chests and caused worry and anxiety amongst the group. Nervous glances and sad looks were exchanged by many. The time to fight was at hand.
The smell of exhaust fuel and motor oil was heavy in the air of the enormous spaceship dock. Loving promises and vows were being exchanged between old friends and family. Starfighters were rising every minute to shoot into the air, headed to battle. Each one carried a loved one upon whose shoulders rested life-long bonds and love.
Leia and Han fought to control their emotions as they bid farewell to their children.
"They're still so young," murmured Leia into her husband's shoulder. "Yeah, but they know what has to be done, and they know that our thoughts will be with them," replied the grim Han.
Jacen stood tall and proud, handsome in his black and grey uniform with long sleeves, combat boots, and raised collar. "Mom, we're going to be fine" he pleaded as he peeled himself out of his mother's last embrace. He turned to his father and mirrored the famous crooked smile.
"I'll make you proud dad."
And suddenly, Leia found that she wasn't the only one having trouble holding back tears.
Han gazed into his son's face as his chest tightened. His breath caught in his throat, and his voice almost cracked as his heart pounded painfully against his ribs. He made no effort to stop the leaking, dripping tears that slid down his face.
"Jasa, you always made me proud. You wouldn't have to do anything, and I would still be the proudest that a man could ever be of his son."
Jacen shifted as Jaina and Anakin, who had already boarded their fighterships, blasted off into the air.
He looked his parents back in their eyes, knowing that this could possibly be the last time he ever saw them. Then, with a cocky smile he rounded the corner to the garage where his fighter was ready for him. And stopped dead in his tracks.
Tenel Ka was waiting for him with his bags in her arms. Cautiously, Jacen approached her and smiled nonchalantly, despite the fact that his heart was ripping out of his ribcage.
The warrior Princess handed him his bags slowly. "Jacen, you know that I have to leave back to Hapes, where I must lead my people."
Jacen looked at her quickly, sensing a strange note in her voice.
"I know, Tenel Ka." "That is where your place is, among the people that you love, where you can lead them."
The young woman stepped closer to him, so that he could smell the scent of her, and her hair whipped his arms in the wind.
"But friend Jacen, we will not be near each other for a while."
Suddenly, time seemed to slow down for Jacen, and his chest burned with pain and inner fire. The wind seemed to freeze and the other sounds of people around them and running engines seemed to be muted. All he could hear was the sound of Tenel Ka breathing softly as she locked eyes with him.
"When will I see you again, Tenel Ka?"
She lowered her eyes hesitantly.
Tenel Ka fidgeted with her hands, silent. A few moments later she raised her beautiful face back up to face him. Oh, if only he knew that I would travel galaxies just to be with him. If only he knew that I had started loving him ever since I kissed him in the river that day, so many years ago.
"I – I hope soon," she replied as her voice came out hoarse and almost cracked. Finally unable to keep up the control she had over her emotions, a single tear leaked out of her eye and rolled down her face, falling onto Jacen's hand at his side.
He gazed at it in wonder, as the wet liquid trickled down his hand. A single sphere of perfection, perfect like the girl in front of him.
Both of them realized at once the love they had come to have for each other, in a rush of emotion and feelings.
And Jacen Solo smiled as he clasped her delicate hands in his own. If there was any one good thing he could see in this war, it was them, both of them, together.
He stepped into Tenel Ka's embrace.
"I love you, princess."
Tenel Ka lifted her head and kissed him softly and tenderly, full of love.
Then he stepped away as the sun flashed behind them, and climbed into the cockpit of his stealth fighter.
"Tenel Ka, I love you more than life itself. Whatever may happen, we will be back together again. I will come back to you."
The young woman from Dathomir sighed as his fighter rose into the air and left. Yes, Jacen, we will be together.
In a palace room of white marble and stone, in the royal court, Luke and Jaina stepped away from the body of the fallen warrior, Anakin Solo.
Han grasped Leia as she almost lost consciousness.
Then abruptly, she grabbed at Luke's robes. "But where's Jacen?"
Her brother lowered his eyes.
Jaina spoke softly in the Hapan room of peace and white and marble.
"He was captured by the Yuuzhan Vong…."
The Queen Mother of Hapes closed her eyes as her mind recalled her last meeting with her love, in the fightership dock on the Academy grounds.
His soft eyes, his brown tousled hair, his lopsided smile. I will come back to you. The last words he had ever spoken to her. She cried out as her heart seemed to crack into two, collapsing into the peaceful world of unconsciousness. The last thing she remembered seeing was Jaina leaping to catch her, the soft brown eyes of his in his sister's eyes.
Far away, light years away, the captured hero opened his eyes slowly. They were almost caked shut with blood and dirt. Jacen drew a ragged, ripped sleeve over his face. It felt like sand under his touch, and every breath he took seemed to plunge burning needles into his sides. His body was bound by a rope of thorns which drew gushing blood from every place the knots dug into his rough skin.
Then the crab armor boot snapped into his cheek, sending him sprawling onto the rigid floor.
The thorned face of the alien drew closer and mouth spoke, sounding like cracked rocks being dragged across chains. Harsh, metallic, brutal.
"Oh, but master Jeedai, we are going to keep you for some time." The laughter filled the room.
Jacen's mind whirled, helpless by the pain and agony and desperation. Isolation. He cast his Force presence around, searching for a familiar presence. None came. He was alone, ALONE!
Then soft words rose unbidden to his mind.
"I – I hope soon."
Her slanted, beautiful face and flaming red hair. Her touch, her scent, her feel.
And Jacen Solo smiled into the face of the brutal warrior in front of him as whips tore open his back, sending shards of spikes deep into his body.
I'm not finished yet, Tenel Ka.
"I will come back to you…."
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