I have been sitting on this for ages, waiting for the boards to return, and then I forgot to keep checking on them. But I'm here now. This is completely un-betaed. Hope you enjoy! ----- Dubrillion, 43 ABY Rain sheeted off the hovel’s flat durasteel roof and pooled in the mud at Kyp’s feet. Through a gap between the door and the salvaged construction material that served as a wall, he glimpsed the dim greenish light of a single glowlamp. He sensed her inside, her attention bent to some domestic task, and he thought about knocking on the door. That seemed silly, in part because he could just as easily call out to her through the Force, but mostly because he didn’t think he could knock without bringing down the whole shack. Dubrillion had never quite recovered from the Yuuzhan Vong’s terraforming, as the torrential spring rains testified. Nor had it stabilized economically, as indicated by the shantytowns that had sprouted around Kershais City. On his way up the winding, mud-slick path, Kyp had sensed the occupants of the huts to either side in varying states of desperation and melancholy. This was a place where people went when life had beaten them. This was a place where misery festered and hope was crushed out. And yet this place, of all places, was where Jaina Solo had come when she disappeared. Though her location surprised him, to be sure, it had not been difficult to find. Grand Master Skywalker, anticipating the possibility of her withdrawal from the Order, had a tracer beacon installed on her X-Wing. Kyp doubted that Luke expected it to last long there, and indeed Jaina had found and removed it, as evidenced by the fact that he’d traced the signal directly to this spot and there was no snubfighter in sight. She also made a few adjustments--it had taken Kyp nearly a day to realize the seemingly random signal was actually a repeating pattern, and that when translated from Mon Cal blink code it said, You could have just asked. Her sense of humor, at least, was intact. Brushing her with his Force awareness once more, he tried to gauge her condition. Physically, she appeared to be completely recovered from the injuries she had sustained in her duel with Darth Caedus. That was a relief, but what concerned him more was her emotional state. He couldn’t get a read on her; she was closed to him, and if he tried to press harder he ran the risk that she’d sense him there and-- “Come on in, Durron. Soup’s almost done.” He silently scolded himself for being so open, then thought fast. “You’re cooking?” he called. “Maybe I’d better stay out here.” Her sardonic laugh rang out through the planks and scrap metal, and produced a pang in him. He had missed that sound. He gingerly opened the door and went inside. It was warm, thanks in large part to a little unit she had rigged from a portable ration reheater, and Kyp noted that the shack looked surprisingly sturdy from the inside. Beams and struts interlaced in ingenious ways and bare patches were filled with cobb, and he saw scraps of heat-reflecting foil woven into the ceiling, which was so low his head brushed it if he stood straight. Even in the midst of a downpour, there were no leaks in the roof, though a collector outside brought rainwater in to fill a basin. The hut was smaller than most shipboard staterooms and contained only a nest-like bed against one curving wall, a military storage trunk next to it, a single plasteel table and chair with a datapad and glowlamp, a little refresher unit behind a divider, and the reheater where Jaina crouched. “Not the sort of place one would expect to find a goddess,” Kyp commented in a dry tone. Jaina watched him evenly, stirring a pot on the reheater, then nodded toward the table. “Have a seat.” He shrugged out of his sopping cloak and draped it over the back of the chair, then lowered himself into it; the seat was low and he realized she had shortened the legs from factory norm. He saw the telltale scorched and bubbled traces of a lightsaber where the chair met the plank floor, but she had obviously measured twice: the legs were cut with surgical precision. It added to the impression of scrupulous care Kyp got from the shack as a whole, which complemented a sense of lived-in comfort. Leave it to Jaina Solo to have the coziest place in the refugee camp, kept to military standards of cleanliness. “Uncle Luke sent you,” she stated as she poured the contents of the pot into a small ceramic bowl. “Is this a courtesy visit, or does he want you to bring me back, now that I’ve defected?” He cleared his throat, immediately on the defensive, but also grateful that Jaina could always be relied upon to cut straight to the power cables. “Actually, he called it going rogue.” With the barest hint of a smile, she set the bowl and a spoon on the table before him. “Interesting choice of words.” She crossed to the storage trunk and retrieved a sealed canister, which turned out to contain most of a loaf of dark bread. “I thought the same,” he agreed as she tore off a hunk of bread and offered it to him. “Though it does imply that you stopped being a rogue at some point in the past.” She huffed a laugh and pulled off another piece of bread for herself, then went behind the divider and returned with a yard of white absorbent fabric. She tossed it to Kyp, and he started wringing out his hair with one hand and spooning up the soup with the other. It was thin, with small slices of a vegetable he couldn’t identify, but it tasted wonderful after a hike through the rain. “It’s a courtesy visit,” he said after a few mouthfuls. “Everyone just wants to know you’re okay.” There was silence for the space of several breaths, and he finally glanced over at her. She was gazing at him, her face unreadable. “What are you going to tell them?” she asked softly. “What do you want me to tell them?” he replied. At that she quirked another almost-smile and moved past him to sit cross-legged on the bed after removing her boots. And that, Kyp thought to himself, was where the conversation died. He could not for the life of him think of a sentence that didn’t careen straight over the event horizon of what Jaina had done. Moreover, he could not bring himself to speak of trifles. It felt dishonest. So, for the next several minutes, he ate his soup in silence, until something occurred to him and he fixed Jaina with a suspicious stare. Of course she knew exactly what he was thinking. “No, I didn’t drug it,” she assured him sardonically. “I’m not eating any because I already had supper with a family down the hill earlier this evening. And also because I only have one bowl.” “Making friends?” he asked after swallowing the mouthful he had been warily holding. The thought of her endearing herself to the shantytown’s residents was somewhat comforting. At least she wasn’t alone. “I fixed their water cycler last week. They were just paying me back.” Kyp suspected she had done many such favors for her neighbors. He wondered if they knew who she was, or even that she was a Jedi. Perhaps she was masquerading as an unemployed snubfighter mechanic. He scraped the last bits of soup from the bottom of the bowl. “That was delicious. Really. It didn’t taste like industrial solvent at all.” She made a face at him, then turned to retrieve something from under the patchwork mattress. “Now that you’re done, we can get down to business.” Before he could respond, she tossed the tracer beacon onto the table. “Why did Grand Master Skywalker really send you?” The bantering lightness in her voice was gone. She was as cold as the barrel of a blaster on his temple. “I told you,” he said, treading carefully. “Everyone just wants to know you’re all right.” “You’re a kriffing terrible liar, Durron.” They both knew that wasn’t strictly true. She was the only one who always saw through him, and that had come at the cost of destroying her trust. Still, he felt his ire rise. Something in her tone reminded him sharply of the late lamented Mara Jade Skywalker. He was tempted to tell her so, to marvel at how similar they had turned out to be in all the worst ways, but sensed that this would be unwise, so he held on to that impulse in case the conversation went even further downhill. “Fine,” he bit off at last. “The truth is that your uncle didn’t send me.” Her head jerked back. “He didn’t?” “Nope,” he declared, pleased to have surprised her. “He gave me the sensor signature for this tracer, and his blessing to come after you, but I had already been given my assignment by then. Your father asked me to find you.” At that her expression softened. Just a little, and anyone who didn’t know her well would never have noticed, but he did. “They miss you,” he added quietly. “They don’t understand,” she began, and for an instant he thought her shields would come down and wondered that it should be so easy. But then she caught herself and reasserted her Solo bravado, turning a disinterested gaze on the far wall. “They can comm me anytime.” He recognized this as a point where he needed to back off, so he said, “Okay.” Jaina’s eyes snapped back onto him. “What?” She looked at him incredulously. “Okay?” she echoed. “You’re not going to argue with me? Tell me it’s not the same, that my parents need me close by, especially now? Or maybe it’s the Jedi Order that needs me. Should I come back so Uncle Luke can make me a Master and I can sit on the Council and clean up his messes and get my robes washed on the wrong settings by apprentices?” That torrent of words was exactly what he wanted to hear from her, but her voice hadn’t quite risen enough. If he knew any one thing about Jaina Solo, it was that she would never weep until she spent a while yelling first. He knew just how to make that happen. “Maybe Jag needs you,” he suggested, his voice still low and gentle. It had the opposite effect. Jaina glanced to the floor, her expression rueful. “He has an Empire to run.” “He’d make time for you.” “I don’t want anyone to have to make time for me,” she stated flatly, but there was no bite in her voice. Suddenly she grinned crookedly. “You know what he told me, once?” Silently Kyp wondered if he wanted to know, but he raised an encouraging brow. “He said,” Jaina went on, “he could see his unborn children in my eyes.” Always a romantic, Fel. “Did you tell him that’s not how babies are made?” he asked before he could stop himself. “I told him he’d be sleeping in his own bunk that night,” she said scornfully, and he smirked in appreciation. Then she was serious once more. “I don’t know how long I’ll need to stay here. And I don’t know where I’ll need to go after that. But I know I’m not coming back to Coruscant anytime soon, and nobody is going to change my mind about that. Not you, not Dad, not Jag.” Kyp nodded solemnly. “Fine. But you should know, that comment about apprentices was unnecessarily harsh. Ronto Clan is no good at it, but by the time they’re in Bantha they have a healthy sense of fear and they’re tall enough to operate the laundry droids.” Her smile was guarded. He had yet to actually get a rise out of her, and it was starting to piss him off. “Anyway,” he went on, “I figured you’d say something like that, but your parents aren’t the only ones who need you close by. That’s why I’ve decided to stay here.” The smile disappeared. “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve--” The hovel’s door burst open and a small blur streaked inside, babbling heavily-accented Basic too fast to follow. Whatever it was seized Jaina’s hand and started tugging her toward the door. “Straeli, slow down,” Jaina insisted, and the blur stilled, revealing a juvenile Ryn in an obvious state of distress. Straeli panted, half-crouching from the exertion of running some distance, and finally cried, “Landslide!” By the time Kyp made it to the door, Jaina had her boots back on and grabbed Straeli’s hand again. They took off at a pace Kyp couldn’t match, not because of age or fitness, but rather the fact that he didn’t know this place, and in the dark and the rain he worried about sliding right off an overhang. But it wasn’t hard to figure out where they were going. There was an epicenter of distress in the Force, down and to the east. He picked his way through the camp as fast as he could, and caught his breath when he glimpsed it through the rain. It looked like half the mountain had come down. He mistrusted his sense of scale, but there were easily two dozen huts crushed under what appeared to be a solid slab of stone three meters thick, and a layer of choking mud just for good measure. Refugees who had been spared gathered in twos and threes, clearly dismayed but helpless to act. Kyp reached past them to the heap and discovered, to his astonishment, points of awareness beneath the stone. Not many of them, and they were fading fast, but they were there. “They’re still alive down there,” he shouted, and that was when the panic really began. People started to dig--with whatever tools they had, scraps of metal, their bare hands--and call out to friends and relatives, but he could see their efforts were futile. Anyone lucky enough to have found a hole when the rock fell would have no more than a few minutes’ worth of air. If he could lift it... But he had no time to gather his strength. The survivors all fell silent and gazed over the edge of the slab at the small figure who had climbed up and now moved across it with purpose in her stride. She stopped and looked down, and Kyp felt the intensity of her focus through the Force, and then Jaina dropped to one knee and pressed the shatterpoint. A crack louder than thunder resounded down the hillside. Faults spread over the surface of the slab and a cloud of pulverized stone rose into the air as boulder-size chunks separated and settled. Though their awe was palpable, the refugees wasted no time in chipping away at the smaller sections of stone. Kyp hurried to direct them toward the dimming consciousness he found in the Force. They saved five. It was dawn by the time the last old woman, who had been in a root cellar of all places, was pulled from the muck. Kyp had not paused to catch his breath in all that time, and no sooner had he wondered where Jaina was than she appeared at his side. Her eyes were tired, her clothing coated with mud, her expression drained, but her Force aura was radiant and suffused with power. Kyp was overcome with something he was too exhausted to identify, but when Jaina met his gaze she seemed to recognize it. “Come on,” she said, and they threaded their way back to her hovel. ----- The conclusion will be up later this week. In the meantime, if you'd like a PM of the scene that comes in between the two posts, wink wink nudge nudge, do let me know.