@Ceillean, @Jade_eyes, @Asajj_Kenobi, @darth_treyvah, @SHADOW_MASTER_W A/N: Another long-ish chapter. Let me know if you prefer them to be shorter...I can try to break them up more. As you can tell, I like longer chapters so as to to get into the flow of a chapter, but this is as much about you as it is me. Thanks to everyone reading and reviewing! Chapter 16—Sleeping With the Enemy That evening... Tenel Ka was sitting at one end of the couch in her living room, her feet propped up on an oro wood caf table, reading over Admiral Raeder’s final draft of the Consortium’s formal request to join the Chiss and the Imperial Remnant in Joint-Fleet exercises, Jacen’s feet in her lap. She had a meeting in the morning with her Defence Chiefs to finalize the agreement, and she needed to be sure of what Raeder expected from the Navy, at least in principle. Lying on the couch, using the arm as a pillow, Jacen was reviewing the operation order the Chiss had published for this year’s exercise. Looking up from the report, he exclaimed, “Hey, did you know that the Chiss have a new class of fighter?” Tenel Ka only arched a well-manicured eyebrow as she looked over at him. Sheepishly, he sat up and tossed the report on the caf table. “Ri-ight, you’re the Queen Mother, you know all!” This earned him a wry smirk as Tenel Ka turned back to her paperwork. “Still, I’d like to see what these new AirStraeker IIs can do.” Jacen leaned over and gave her a quick kiss. “Okay, I’m off to bed; I. Am. Beat.” Tenel Ka nodded and glanced at the small stack of tomorrow’s briefing notes laid out on the table--it looked to be about an hour’s worth of reading. Returning her attention to the report in her hand, she replied absently, “Go ahead, I will be back in about ninety minutes or so.” It wasn’t until Jacen had gotten up and started to walk behind the couch to the hallway that she really heard what Jacen had said. Startled, she looked up at the ornate wood chrono that sat on the mantle: 9:15. She whipped her head around to look at her friend, who stopped, clearly puzzled by her reaction. As she looked Jacen over concernedly, “Are you feeling okay?” Cocking his head confusedly, Jacen tried to determine why she was suddenly acting so strange. “Yeah, just tired.” He shook his head; “I’ve been awake for…” he looked at the chrono, scowling as he did the math to convert to Coruscant time, “Twenty…two hours or so.” The red-haired woman nodded as she scrutinized Jacen through their link, trying to remember the last time Jacen admitted to being tired. Maybe she was only imagining it, but Jacen had acted like he was almost afraid of sleep the last few times he had come to visit. He would be awake when she had nestled up against him, and was always up before she awoke the next morning. Narrowing her eyes, “Are you sure?” Confusion still clouded his face, “I’m fine. Really.” Appeased, she finally shrugged in acceptance, “Okay. I will be back in a bit.” Jacen only gave her a strange look as he shook his head and headed down the hall. After brushing his teeth in the ‘fresher, Jacen reentered the Master suite and stopped, looking at her huge bed and remembered Tenel Ka’s scathing remark from his last visit echoing in his head:Do not expect me to drop everything for you simply because you feel ‘lonely.’ Thinking back a few months to the last time he and Tenel Ka had made love, Jacen had to admit that he had pressured her into it. Never again. He had acted like one of the patrons of the ‘club’ were Alema and Numa used to work, and had done it to someone he had loved for ages. Depressed and disgusted by his previous actions, he walked over to a small cabinet in the Queen Mother’s enormous walk-in closet where he kept his ‘over-night’ things, picked out a pair of seldom-used sleep pants, and walked through the ‘fresher into Prince Isolder’s old suite. T_________|_________O O(___)O O The Queen Mother managed to get through Admiral Raeder’s proposal, but found herself reading the same paragraph of tomorrow’s Wildlife Parks Commission notes four times before giving it up as a bad job. She knew that Jacen had already read the brief, so she would have him join her for that meeting. Jacen. Her lips spread into a small smile as she reflected on their day. Today had been…fun. Tenel Ka had not had fun at work in…well, she could not actually remember a time when work had been fun. After their morning workout, she had found herself surreptitiously flirting with Mister Solo every time she had seen him; her Grandmother’s stern voice sounding the entire time, “The Queen Mother does not flirt.” Her smile got a tad larger as she put her briefing flimsies in the basket for her aide to take back to her office; she would be doing more than flirting with Jacen Solo in about ten minutes. Sneaking into her room, a smile still on her lips, she started to get ready for bed. As she undressed in her front room, she briefly considered putting on the skimpy negligee that she had not shown him yet, but decided against it. It will just end up on the floor, anyway. Wearing nothing but a pair of barely-there panties, she opened her bedroom door and quietly stalked her way to the oversize bed, her smile slowly disappearing as her eyes adjusted to the dim glow of the Hapan night filtering through her windows; there was nothing on her bed but overstuffed pillows. Grabbing her left bicep with her right hand to cover her chest with her arm, she felt a feeling of despair start to wash over her. As she continued to stare at her empty bed, her despair turned into rage and she started to seethe; today had been nothing but a cruel joke--Jacen had used her. He wanted to prove that she was still a foolish girl, still hoping to gain his affection; that he could play her like a viola. Fuming, she stomped over to the light switch so that she could find her comlink and call the Palace Guard: she wanted Jacen Solo gone. Seeing the comlink on her dresser, she walked briskly over toward it. Before she could pick up the comlink however, something caught her eye and made her stop. Hanging from the corner of her jewelry box was a well-worn, slightly frayed, necklace. Slowly, treating it as if it would disintegrate in her hand, she picked up the leather-stringed, eggshell necklace and stood mesmerized by the way the light shimmered off the iridescent blue eggshell pieces. Her mood softened as she held Jacen’s first gift to her, realizing that she was reading this wrong--Jacen was never deliberately cruel, not about matters of the heart. ‘That’s not why I come.’ Suddenly, she understood; he felt guilty about the last time they had made love. In truth, she rather liked his aggressiveness that evening, she would have to make sure to tell him that she did not mind when he acted like that. Another small smile crossed her lips as she hung up her most prized possession and headed for Jacen’s most likely ‘hiding’ spot: the ‘Consort’ suite. Jacen was only vaguely aware when Tenel Ka cuddled up against him; however, he became very aware when a very naked Tenel Ka started nibbling on his ear as she whispered, “Has anyone ever told you how sexy you are when you’re sleeping, particularly in the moonlight?” “Once.” He deadpanned, trying to roll over as she yanked off his t-shirt, “I had to challenge her to a duel.” She started to nibble on his ear again, as she breathed, “Why are you in here? And why are you wearing clothes?” “I didn’t want to presume.” He whispered as he moved one hand to her cheek, “I would never play with you, Tenel Ka Djo.” Smiling at the fact that he had picked up her thoughts, even when he was asleep, she started to make her way down his chest. “Do you have any idea what you have done to me today with your mind-meld? Your flirty looks at lunch? Playing footsie at dinner?” Giving Tenel Ka his best seductive smile, “I’m starting to find out,” he whispered, sitting up slightly to kiss her neck. She growled in response and rolled over on top of him, lustily kissing his neck and lips. After a couple of minutes, it became pretty clear that kissing was as far as they were going to get this evening. Sighing, Jacen buried his head in the crook of her neck. “I’m sorry.” Trying very hard not to let her frustration show, Tenel Ka kissed his forehead. It had been quite a while since he had not been affectionate like he was today, and she liked the way it made her feel. It made her feel...sexy…and she had this burning desire to show him just how much she appreciated his subtle flirtations; it had been far too long since they had made love. “It’s okay.” She rolled onto her side so that they were now face-to-face. “Is something wrong?” “No.” He sighed as he ran his fingers down her left side. “I’m just…tired.” Through the Force, she could feel his fatigue and nodded in response, trying to remember the last time he had admitted such a weakness. Sitting up, she grabbed his t-shirt from the foot of the bed and felt Jacen roll over onto his back. Pulling on his t-shirt, she braced herself; if she did not say it now, she may never say it. “I think Allana…” she looked over at Jacen only to find him already fast asleep. Her shoulders slumped, it had taken her all day to find the courage to address this topic, and now she would need to find it again. Nestling against his side, she was rewarded as Jacen let out a contented sigh and unconsciously pulled her closer with his left arm, letting her place her head on his shoulder. Whispering to herself, the Queen finished her sentence “…needs to know.” T_________|_________O O(___)O O A shrill, piercing alarm shattered the early morning silence. Almost as one, two people shot up in bed, each calling a weapon to their hand; Jacen his lightsaber, Tenel Ka a blaster. Their reactions with the Force was most telling; hers bloomed outward to assess any threat, his collapsed in on itself as he used his ‘Vongsense’ to get a feel for the danger. For reasons he could never explain, Jacen had found that his ‘Vongsense’ was more acute when trying to determine the location of short-range threats. Maybe it was their warrior nature or maybe it was because their original home world was so inhospitable, but whatever the reason, using his ability to slip into a ‘Vong-like’ mentality allowed him to track threats far more accurately than the Force did. The fact that it also hid him from other Force users was an added bonus. Unconsciously, Tenel Ka had shifted slightly to hide herself behind Jacen. Not out of any desire to be protected, but for tactical advantage. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Jacen was the better swordsman, and she needed to give him the least amount of area to defend. Additionally, she could fire her blaster at any assailants while Jacen protected them both from incoming fire. All in all, it was a pretty good defensive stance. Fortunately, it was unneeded. The comlink on the nightstand rang again with the same shill tone. They both relaxed, leaning into one another, her breasts pressing into his back. Releasing a deep breath, Jacen deadpanned, “You have got to get a better ringtone.” She kissed his neck and reached for the comlink, answering it. “Yes.” “Sorry Mum.” The voice on the other end replied, sounding chagrined for calling at this time of night. “It’s Captain Pärson from the duty desk. I’ve got a call from Chume’Dan approach control. They’ve got an inbound ship without a landing permit asking for an audience with you.” Tenel Ka could only shake her head; this hadn’t happened in eleven years, and now it had happened twice in three days. “Let me guess, an Ensign Do’ma is on the other line?” “Uhh…yes she is. How did you know?” Rolling her grey eyes, she really meant it as a joke, “Lucky guess. Put her through.” There was an audible ‘click’ as Captain Pärson transferred the air controller through. Shaking her head again, “Kenara, why does this always happen on your shift?” she joked as she watched Jacen get up and walk through the bathroom and into her room. The young ensign answered drily, “Just lucky, I guess. That’s what I get for filling in for someone and working a double shift.” Tenel Ka’s eyes sparkled at the good-natured response. “Anyway Mum, I’ve got the Jade Shadow holding at Sabre intersection--they did not request a ‘landing permit’.” From the ensign’s tone, Tenel Ka surmised that Kenara knew whom the Shadow belonged to, hence the call. She was becoming more impressed with the young Navy ensign. “A fault with the NOTAM system, you think?” Tenel Ka wanted to give the Jedi Masters the benefit of the doubt. She could almost hear Kenara wince, “Unfortunately, no. Coruscant ATC verified receipt of the NOTAM two days ago, and the Shadow is a fast ship.” Tenel Ka could almost hear the awe in the controller’s voice. “They only left Coruscant yesterday, so they should’ve seen the advisory.” The Queen Mother let out a sigh, nodding a ‘thanks’ to Jacen as he returned from her room, handing her a formal-looking nightgown. “Then they just could not be bothered to file.” she said aloud, more to herself than to Kenara. “What are our punitive options?” “Ordinarily, I would not allow them to land; not at this time of night. Our previous issue was…” she paused, almost saying the name of their previous ‘intruder’, but stopped. They were talking on an unsecured line, and the line could be bugged. “…someone asking for you personally, that’s why I came to Commander Vessau. This is just inattention. But, because it’s the Jade Shadow…” “More like blatant disregard.” Tenel Ka corrected. Quickly, she removed Jacen’s t-shirt and slipped on the nightgown. “No, I understand why you called. Can we fine them?” “Uhh…”the queen could hear the lieutenant typing furiously on a keyboard to look up the correct regulation. “Yes, Mum. We can cite them for a willful airspace incursion. One thousand Hapan credits is the maximum fine.” “Do so.” She thought for a second. “Have them land at the city spaceport’s VIP ramp. Please pass to the spaceport official that the landing fees are not waived.” It was customary for the Crown to waive all landing fees for dignitaries visiting Hapes on official business but because Masters Skywalker did not coordinate with her office about an official business meeting, and since they were arriving at 02:45 in the morning, Tenel Ka did not feel the need to be charitable. “Stress to them that they are not landing at the Palace.” She could hear the mirth in Kenara’s voice. She had just given Kenara Do’ma some extra muscle, if she needed it. “Roger. I’ll coordinate with the Chume’Dan ops desk. Sorry to bother you at this hour.” Tenel Ka snorted, “I would rather it be you than Fleet Command.” She heard Kenara’s chuckle. “What time does your shift end, anyway?” She could hear the confusion in the young woman’s voice, “0700, mum.” She allowed a small smile, “Great. I will save you a seat for breakfast.” “Certainly, your majesty. Do’ma out.” The line clicked. “Captain Pärson?” she said, knowing that the Army captain was still on the line. “Mum?” the captain answered immediately. “Can we spare someone to go to the spaceport? I would hate to call protocol at this unholy hour.” “That won’t be a problem.” “Good.” The queen paused, “Tell them not to leave for another twenty minutes. I want to make our guests think that we had to scrounge someone up for driver detail.” Captain Pärson chuckled, “Yes, Mum.” T_________|_________O O(___)O O After a few minutes, the approach controller came back. “Jade Shadow, you are cleared the approach for the Chume’dan spaceport. Be advised, we are levying a thousand-credit fine for not complying with Hapan Air Traffic rules. Fly heading 150, maintain 1000 meters until established on the localizer.” Mara shot her husband an ‘I told you so’ look as he responded to the call. “Chume’dan? We requested vectors for the Trevi spaceport.” The Hapans had named the port at the Palace after one of the galaxy’s more famous fountains, the monstrous Trevi Fountain on Naboo. Luke again reached out with the Force to try to influence the Approach Controller. As before, he found her mind impossible to penetrate, at least at this distance. Kenara Do’ma was starting to get mad. Mr. Skywalker had purposely disregarded Hapan regulations and had the further audacity to request a landing at the Palace? At least Danni Quee had the decency to sound apologetic, and she had failed to request a permit inadvertently. Kenara let her voice rise as she bit out her retort, “Jade Shadow, you are cleared the approach at Chume’dan. Any deviations from that course, and I launch the alert fighters.” She knew that Skywalker could probably outfly everyone in the Hapan fleet, but she would not be buffaloed. Before Luke could reply, Mara touched his arm. “Don’t. This is a message from Tenel Ka. She does not appreciate us coming unannounced at 0245 in the morning.” Luke nodded, letting out a breath. “Of course.” Keying the microphone, “Jade Shadow is heading 150, and maintaining 1000 until established.” He looked over at his wife, “If we had brought the Stealth X’s, this wouldn’t be an issue.” Mara shot him an incredulous look. “So that we could break in to the Fountain Palace?” She shook her head, her red hair swishing behind her. “No way. At best Tenel Ka meets us with lightsaber drawn; worst case, she has us arrested. Either way, we lose. We cannot alienate her.” She paused, thinking. “This is coming dangerously close, as it is. I can already feel her indignation.” T_________|_________O O(___)O O As Tenel Ka thumbed off the comlink, Jacen handed her a cup of freshly brewed caf from the caf-maker in her room. Seeing her nod her thanks, he opined, “They are using a standard police tactic. Raiding a suspect’s house in the early morning hours is the most advantageous time. Most people are asleep, they are disoriented when they wake, and are usually wearing very little. People tend to put up less of a fight under those conditions.” Tenel Ka looked at him warily as she took a sip; she didn’t really want to know why he knew that. Jacen continued, “They’ll probably play ‘good cop-bad cop’.” He saw her look of disbelief and smiled. “I know, it sounds like a holodrama, but just because everyone knows about it doesn’t mean it’s not effective. The oldest tricks are sometimes the best.” He looked at her earnestly, “You’ve had a pretty good relationship with Luke over the years; I would expect him to be the ‘bad cop’.” Sighing, “At least that’s how I’d play it if I were them. Don’t forget, Mara had a career doing this sort of thing.” Again, Tenel Ka saw that he was speaking from experience, and it unnerved her a bit. Still, it was good professional advice. Knowing how they were going to treat her allowed her to prepare for it. On one level, she was impressed at how well both of them were separating their emotions from this. Through their link, she could feel Jacen seething, but he refused to let it get in the way of what needed to be done. For the second time today, she found herself impressed with Jacen Solo. “It could be something else.” She offered, hopefully. Jacen shook his head, “If it were an emergency, somebody would’ve called.” Pulling on his t-shirt, “Nope, this is a shake-down, no doubt about it.” Tenel Ka nodded; it was just an idle hope. “Take Allana to my father’s apartment. I’ll join you there when we’ve finished.” “Sure thing.” He paused on the way to the door, “You know, I have no idea where he even lives!” He winked at her and left before she could reply; Captain Pärson would tell him how to get to Isolder’s flat. The queen smirked as he left, sitting on the bed for a few moments before getting up to make herself ready for the Skywalkers. Behind her, she heard the door open again, and Jacen took a step back into the room, a sleeping Allana in his arms. “By the way, they are going to blame me for what the Senate wants to do.” Tenel Ka nodded absently as he turned and left again. She had surmised as much; sort of a ‘divide and conquer’ routine. She noticed that Jacen left their mental link open, just in case. Before heading down the Throne Room, she made her way into her bedroom closet and grabbed one of her robes. At first, she was confused as to why Jacen chose the formal nightgown that he gave her, but now understood. Her ‘guests’ needed to understand who she was, and the formal nightgown and robe certainly implied status. Putting her lightsaber in one the pockets, she headed out the door; almost running into Captain Pärson as she did so. Nodding formally to the Queen Mother, the shift supervisor quickly got Tenel Ka up to speed as to where her troops were. “Corporal Ruud is escorting Colonel Solo to your father’s apartment, and I’m sending Petty Officer Stenmark to go to pick up our guests.” Tenel Ka nodded as the marched down the hallway. “Thanks Anja. Please have her escort the Skywalkers to the Throne Room when they arrive.” The Army captain nodded. Coming to the stairway that connected her apartment to the Throne Room, Tenel Ka stopped, looking contemplative. Glancing over at the Captain, “One more thing, Anja. I need two guards armed with heavy blasters to come to the Throne Room.” Captain Pärson was taken aback. She knew that the Queen Mother was more than capable of defending herself. The Palace Guard often joked that their job was to carry off the bodies of any assailants after their Queen had diced them up. Cautiously, she asked, “Expecting trouble?” Now that threats to the Queen had become so rare as to be non-existent, the Palace Guard was only a third of what it once was. Captain Pärson needed to know if she should recall additional personnel. She had enough to cover the Queen’s request, but perhaps more were needed. Tenel Ka seemed to know what she was thinking and gave her a small sigh. “No, don’t call in anyone from home. My guests are not happy with what I am about to do. I think they need a visual reminder of who I am.” Her tone saddened, “I am not just that Dathomiri warrior-girl anymore.” Anja nodded as she gave her boss a concerned look. With another half-bow, she left her Queen alone with her thoughts and called in the two additional guards from elsewhere in the Palace. When the two guards she requested had arrived, she positioned one in Anhaje’s office to act as a doorman and the other she told to remain out of sight behind the door connecting the Throne Room to the Grand Ballroom via the hidden set of stairs. After everything was situated, Tenel Ka made a note on her datapad to reward tonight’s shift for all the additional work she asked them to do as she sat down behind her desk to review notes for tomorrow morning’s…she frowned…this morning’s Defence Status Briefing. |O_____(___)_____ As Jacen made his way to Isolder’s apartment, he reflected that he had never seen this section of the Palace. For whatever reason, this wing seemed more…comfortable. Corporal Ruud caught him looking at a painting done in an Alderaanian impressionistic style and nodded. “Prince Isolder had a hand in selecting the décor of this wing. I think that he grew tired of the pretense in the Royal Wing.” Jacen nodded, he could certainly understand that. Ta’a Chume had decorated the Royal Apartment lavishly, and neither Teneniel nor her daughter had bothered to redecorate. When he had asked Tenel Ka about it years ago, she replied that her mother did not wish to fight a battle with her mother-in-law about decorations, and she herself could not justify spending the money when so many Hapans were still rebuilding their lives. Now that the war had been over for a while longer, perhaps he would ask again. Shifting a sleeping Allana to his other arm, he was about to ask his ‘guide’ how long she had been working at the Palace when the corporal came to an abrupt stop. He frowned slightly when she inserted a small probe into what looked like an electrical outlet. Suddenly, to their left, a portion of the wall retracted upward and a door was revealed. “Clever.” Jacen said quietly to himself. Corporal Ruud gave Jacen a shy smile, “This apartment was used by previous Queen Mothers for daytime trysts with whomever caught their fancy; hence, the hidden door.” Giving Jacen a meaningful look, “The current occupant of the throne has not carried on that tradition.” She nodded at the door, “The Prince is expecting you, go on in.” Jacen only shook his head smiling, “Thanks for the tour, you’ve been most informative.” Entering Isolder’s apartment, he looked quickly for the Crown Prince but didn’t see him about. Thinking him to be still asleep, Jacen put Allana in the first bedroom he could find. As she cuddled up with her stuffed tauntaun, Jacen gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and turned to leave the room, almost colliding with Isolder. The older man smiled and bent down to give his granddaughter an affectionate kiss as well. Quietly, the two of them left her room, closing the door. As he led Jacen into the kitchen, Isolder asked over his shoulder, “Caf? Tea?” Jacen shrugged, “I’ll have what you’re having.” “Tea it is, then.” Jacen smiled as he looked around. “Nice place.” He commented, meaning it. Isolder’s apartment wasn’t as large as he expected. A kitchen, breakfast nook, living room, study, two bedrooms and a ‘fresher were all Jacen could see. The walls were painted a light grey color and adorned with several other Impressionist paintings. All told, a pretty nice bachelor pad. Isolder nodded as the water started to boil. “Thanks. I’ve always thought that the official residence to be a bit…much.” Jacen gave him a knowing smile as the Prince continued, “So, what brings you to my humble abode? At…” he looked at the chrono above the stove, “…0300?” Isolder was rather used to Allana being dropped off at weird hours. The Palace ran emergency ‘Royal’ evacuation drills periodically, and his place was the first stop for Allana. From there, he would take her via a tunnel to a hidden hangar where his personal fighter was waiting. However, Jacen Solo had never taken part in evacuation drills before, and he was curious to know what that implied. Jacen offered him a deep sigh as a partial response. “Family trouble.” He answered, finally. Isolder quickly turned to look at his guest, alarm clearly written on his face. Jacen shook his head, “No. Not us. We’re actually doing…better.” Jacen nodded his thanks as his ‘father-in-law’ handed him a cup of tea. Sadly, he admitted, “We are still a ways away from ‘great’, or even ‘fine’, but at least we aren’t on scared to talk to each other anymore.” Isolder smiled at his candor, knowing how difficult the younger man’s admission was. Leaning against the counter, Jacen gave him a thankful half-smile and continued, “My uncle decided to pop in for a visit.” Isolder frowned. That seemed a bit unlike the Luke Skywalker he was familiar with. “At this hour? Do tell.” Snorting, Jacen told him of his conversation that he had with Chief Omas, his talking with his mother, his telling Leia about Tenel Ka’s partial funding of the Order, and of Leia’s meeting with the Jedi Council.” The Crown Prince was rather perplexed. “Skywalker blames you?” Luke was not one to make unsubstantiated claims. Thoughtfully, he asked quietly, “Are you to blame?” Jacen grimaced as he looked away for a second. “To answer the second question: Maybe I am to blame. The truth is sometimes a matter of point of view. I did agree with Omas to press forward with the funding cuts. Politically, it is not worth fighting over the Jedi.” He took a sip of tea. “As to the first: I think that the Order needs to change.” Shaking his head again, he added quietly, “It makes me a handy scapegoat. Rather than answering the Senate critics, the Order would rather go elsewhere for funding.” Isolder hopped up onto the kitchen counter, sitting across from Jacen. “When did you find out that she was funding the Jedi?” Jacen ran his fingers through his hair, “A month ago or so.” He paused before guiltily pressing on. “We were having a fight about…something dumb, and she made a comment about people only calling when they wanted something.” He paused, pain etched on his face. Isolder could only wonder about what Jacen had asked of his daughter. “Anyway, after some prodding, she finally admitted to what she had been doing.” “Did she say how much?” The younger man shook his head slightly. “No; and I asked point blank. She said it wasn’t any of my business. I was told: ‘they are my accounts, and I will spend them as I wish.’” The Prince rolled his eyes at Jacen’s pretty fair impression of Tenel Ka’s voice. “A lot, then.” Nodding, Jacen replied, “That would be my guess.” Isolder scowled, “I am curious as to why your mother wants her to cease funding the Jedi.” At this, Jacen shook his head and allowed a small chuckle. “She hates it when people try to use her friends. You should have seen her.” He looked away, lost in a memory, “The last time I saw my mother that mad was when Tenel Ka, Jaina, and myself snuck out to see a movie.” The blonde prince chuckled quietly; in truth, he had all but forgotten about that incident... T_________|_________O O(___)O O During one of their first breaks at the Academy, Isolder had allowed Tenel Ka to go to Coruscant, over the objections of Teneniel. His wife thought the Solo kids to be a bad influence, but he countered that she needed some friends. “Life at the Palace is lonely enough,” he had argued, “let her enjoy being a teen for a bit.” Although, if he were honest, he would’ve admitted that he was a little worried about sending his daughter to Coruscant. One of the three kids; Jaina, if Isolder had to guess, decided that it would be great fun to go to a midnight movie. In their defense, it was something innocuous: a cartoon about a mermaid, if he recalled properly. And they weren’t even gone that long: three hours, maybe. The problem was that they neglected to tell Han and Leia where they were going. Imagine: the twin children of the Chief-of-State together with the heir to the Hapan Consortium, all sneaking out the house at 11:30 at night, without a care in the world. Prince Isolder never did find out what woke Leia up that night, but he did know that she waited in their living room, sick with worry, until the three of them returned. When she saw that they were unharmed, her worry turned into a tornado of anger, grounding Jaina and Jacen on the spot. Tenel Ka had stoically accepted that to be her fate as well, but Leia had other plans. “I don’t have the authority to ground you.” The Chief-of-State had told his daughter, “So, I’m going to make you call your parents.” When Isolder got the call, his first reaction after Tenel Ka told him what she had done was to tell her to catch the next available flight to Hapes. But the look on his daughter’s face said it all: Leia’s punishment of making her call home was far worse than anything he could have done. Tenel Ka had embarrassed her father in front of the Chief-of-State of the New Republic, and she knew it. His icy look softened, and he gave a thoughtful nod at Leia, who was visible in the background. “You will share in your friends’ punishment.” Sternly, he added, “We will discuss this further when you come home.” Tenel Ka only nodded, relief showing on her face. Oddly, Isolder never worried about his daughter going to stay with the Solos after that. T_________|_________O O(___)O O After a few moments of nearly comfortable silence, Isolder asked, “May I continue our conversation from earlier?” Jacen shrugged; he knew that the Prince meant the conversation they had over breakfast a few weeks back. “Why not. It’s not as if I can go anywhere.” Isolder gave the younger man a wry smile, he knew that Jacen was uncomfortable with this, but being a ‘father-in-law’ gave him certain inquisitional privileges. His look turned serious. “Why do you stay?” A quizzical look crossed over the Jedi’s face. That was not the question he was expecting. Snorting, he replied, “I’ve never been asked that. Most ask why a Queen would be friends with a guy like me.” Isolder’s tone became thoughtful, “Most don’t know how hard it is. At times, I hated being Prince Consort, and I grew up assuming that I might be one.” He gestured at the door, “All these ‘suitors’; they brag that they could best you in a fair fight. They talk about how pathetic you are, not even trying to impress the Queen with your physical prowess; they speak of you meekly spending time with her daughter in the hopes that you can catch a word with the Queen. They all talk as if the only reason she allows you to come here is because she is too polite to tell her childhood friend to leave her alone.” His voice became one of embarrassment; “They all see that she barely acknowledges you when you are here.” Jacen nodded. Many of the Palace staff had told him what the various members of the nobility had been saying about him. Most implored him to challenge some of these cretins to a saber duel and he always replied with something along the lines of, “I know I could kick their butt, you know I could kick their butt, so there is no real need to do so.” His answers had endeared him to the Palace staff; but, truth be told, he desperately wanted to embarrass one of her ‘suitors’. Isolder continued, “To a man, they think that they could do a better job than you are, and they don’t even know that you have the job. They are so fixated on bedding the Queen, they don’t think about what else being the Consort entails.” Jacen cringed, this conversation was turning awkward, and he really didn’t have an escape. “What I’m getting at, Jacen, is that you have impressed me. Any of these other idiots would have run years ago. Yet, you take all of this in stride. It must bother you, all this secrecy, yet you continue to be with her. Why?” Jacen couldn’t help it; he was actually starting to like his ‘father-in-law’. It must be because it was now 03:15 and he was only running on caffeine. Sighing, “I stay because she needs someone outside the Palace to confide in. I stay because she accepts all of my reservations, she understands why I’m always looking for an alternate view of the Force.” He paused, trying to articulate what was being unsaid. “I stay because I love her immensely; more than I ever thought possible. I stay because…” he trailed off. Jacen knew that Isolder knew who Allana’s father was, but he was still reluctant to admit it out loud. This was still Hapes after all. “You stay because of Allana.” Isolder finished, knowing why Jacen was reluctant to admit to being Allana’s father. He wanted to assure the younger man that the infamous ‘palace intrigue’ was a thing of the past, that he would never jeopardize his granddaughter. Jacen nodded, pain showing in his eyes. Isolder asked in a kindly tone, “Does it hurt? Not being able to acknowledge her?” Jacen’s gaze dropped to the floor, “It hurts that she doesn’t know. It bothers me that I’m not…‘daddy’.” Isolder said nothing for a few moments. He was disappointed in his daughter, although he would never admit it. He was unsure of what Jacen Solo was doing on Coruscant, but it was clear that Tenel Ka blew it by not asking him to be Prince Consort years ago. If Isolder could see that, why couldn’t she? Finally, he broke their uneasy silence. “I wish that you would’ve told me.” The GAG Colonel chuckled humorlessly and looked again at the Prince, “Me too. I don’t say this lightly, but I think that your daughter has handled this badly. I think that she has remembered the wrong lesson from your mother in this matter: Tenel Ka remembered the lesson that everyone is out to get her.” A look of disbelief crossed Isolder’s handsome face, “You’ve told no one?” He assumed that either Leia or Jaina knew. He knew how close Jacen was, or had been, to his mother and sister. The younger man only shook his head. Isolder knew what that implied. It meant…“She threatened you?” Jacen let out a deep breath. He would not sell out Tenel Ka; it had been a decision that they had both made. Sure, there was an understanding of what would happen if he didn’t agree, but they both felt that there was a risk to Allana. Isolder held up his hand, forestalling an answer. “I see.” He couldn’t keep his disappointment from his face. Why would Tenel Ka do such a thing? His own daughter, threatening the only man that ever loved her for her; telling Jacen that he had to keep Allana a secret or else she would bar him from seeing his daughter. If it weren’t for the fact that she already getting grilled by Skywalker, he would’ve gone down there and given her a piece of his mind. He and Teneniel did not raise her to be a coward. If she cannot trust her own family, then is there no one left to trust?