I apologise for not updating this since September. No excuses, just poor time management. At least this is quite a bit chapter (2000 words) to make up for it - hopefully. *~*~* Pet 32 – Guarlara – Laluna – 27 BBY – (10 years and four days) - Part 13 *~*~* Kithera swung her legs over the edge of the balcony, watching as her children played on the cargo floor below. It was a treat for it actually to be almost empty. Normally it was cluttered with cargo, both legal and not. It was also a treat to have the time to sit still and watch after Quin had been born. Kirsh had tasked Heilan with watching the infant to give Kithera a break, and although she’d been reluctant at first, the lack of pressure from not having to constantly worry about her daughter’s health was freeing. Below her, the twins, Kei and Taro, were chasing each other over the few remaining boxes. Eena was sitting near F’kisi, both of them making silly faces anytime the twins came close enough. The two little boys would squeal and then bolt in the opposite direction. Del had disappeared with Nicco a while ago to check on their position and The Lady’s engines. Kithera smiled to herself, listening to the individual instruments that made up the Force signatures of her family. There was a tremble of woodwind and Kithera glanced across to where Kirsh was talking with Zallie. The girl was copying his moves as he gracefully moved his hands, showing her how to manipulate the Force to levitate one of the smaller boxes. Zallie screwed her face up, like she always did when she was trying to do something hard. Kithera watched her daughter hold her hands out. The box trembled and then lifted off the ground. It hovered far above their heads and Zallie turned to Kirsh with an excited smile. The box dropped and Kirsh reached out and grabbed before it smashed on Zallie’s head. Zallie’s smile turned to a frown and she scowled at the box as if it’s fall had been a personal affront. Kithera took a sip of the caff she’d made and shook her head slightly. She and Del told each other frequently that they would take the time to really help Zallie understand her own abilities, and all the benefits that came with them. There just never seemed to be the time between racing after the twins, or fixing dinner, or finding new jobs, or making sure The Lady was running, or any of the other thousands of things that seemed to fill each day. The guilt ate at her. She should have found time to teach her daughter. The older Zallie got, the harder it would become. Sometimes she wished that she’d acquiesced to the Council’s demands and left her daughter at the Temple, but she could never go back. She just hoped that she had made the right decision. Kirsh’s appearance and Zallie’s behaviour on Naboo, had brought into stark relief how dangerous her daughter could easily become without proper guidance. She watched as Kirsh made Zallie do it again. The box vibrated and then rose slowly through the air. Zallie was grinning, but she kept her eyes closed that time. The box tumbled effortlessly at the top of the arc. Kithera winced as Kei and Taro, seeing their sister concentrating and the pirouetting box, scampered over to watch. Kei clambered up onto a box and Taro, always his brother’s shadow, followed. The box wobbled under both their weights as they scrambled higher in order to grab at it. Eena hopped down onto the floor, angrily hissing at both the boys to come away. They ignored her. Kirsh looked up to where Kithera was sitting. He raised an eyebrow as if asking for help. She grinned in reply, extending a hand and uncurling her fingers as the notes of music played. The boys shrieked as they were lifted off the box and deposited back onto the floor. The noise was enough to break Zallie’s concentration. High above her, the box wobbled in its rotation. Kithera frowned as the box dropped and Kirsh caught it again. The boys scrambled over each other to get to the box, and she could see them demanding that it fly again. Kirsh shook his head and waved his hand. There were no familiar low notes of a bass flute, that would signal that her friend was using the Force. Regardless, the boys backed off and went back to where Eena was standing, regarding the big Jedi suspiciously. Kirsh bent down and said something to Zallie that she couldn’t make out, passing her the box. The next minute her daughter was racing up the stairs to her room. She waved at Kithera as she passed. “Did you see me mama?” she asked breathlessly. “I made the box float by myself. Master Aleski wasn’t even helping me.” “I saw,” Kithera said, “you did very well.” Zallie bounced from foot to foot and then took off down the corridor. Kirsh came after her, walking more slowly up the steep and narrow steps from the cargo floor. “She did well,” he said with a small smile. Kithera motioned to the spot on the floor beside her and he sat down. His low bass flute intertwined with her more breathy ones like they always had since they were children. Kithera smiled. It was nice to have her friend back. They didn't speak, but turned their attention back to the cargo floor, where the two younger adults were taking the boys through one of the family’s routines. They had to sneak up on Estra and try and take one of the many biscuits she had stashed in her pockets. If one of the boys were caught, F’kisi would chase him around the room and he would miss his next turn. Most of the time it ended with both boys with mouths full of biscuits laughing hysterically as they hid from F’kisi. “Is this how you teach them to pickpocket?” Kirsh asked as he watched. Kithera didn’t need the Force to feel the curl of disdain from her friend. “It’s how we make sure we can feed ourselves,” she answered, her face heating at his tone. Kirsh might have said that he was okay with the way the Family made their living, back on the tarmac, but it had become increasingly obvious that there were many aspects of her new life that he didn’t like. She looked across at him as she gripped the cup in her lap, using its warmth and solidness as a shield against the unspoken recriminations. “You are a good teacher,” she said trying to change the subject. “Zallie is learning a lot from you.” “She would learn a lot more if she was in the Temple,” Kirsh said and then frowned. Her face was suddenly burning hot, a pricking, angry sensation that she didn’t like. Kithera clenched her jaw and looked away, as the heat spread across her face and down her neck to prickle against the edge of her tunic. There was momentary pressure as Kirsh touched her knee and she glanced back at her friend who was looking at her apologetically. “I didn’t mean to say that aloud.” He said quietly, as if sensing her discomfort. “I’m sorry Kitkit, that wasn’t what I meant to say. I-” “I couldn’t send her there,” Kithera said quietly, cutting off his stumbling apologies. “She’s too old for starters.” “The Temple took in a boy of ten only last year,” Kirsh said. “In fact it was Qui-Gon who argued for it to happen.” “I’m sure if Qui-Gon picked him, then he’s very special. I can’t see the Council allowing that without an argument.” She raised an eyebrow and Kirsh had the good grace to look rather abashed. “From what I heard there was some push back. Yes,” he said, “but he got his way in the end.” “I imagine it only happened because it’s hard to argue with a dead man.” Kithera couldn’t help the edge of bitterness from her voice. Her former lover had been considered a maverick by the Council, which had led to both admiration and censure in equal measure. “I’m sure they’d take Zallie, she is his daughter after all,” Kirsh said quietly. She snorted, but it wasn’t in amusement. Just because Qui-Gon could get away with things, didn’t mean anyone else could. She certainly couldn’t. She could still hear the snap hiss of Mace’s lightsaber as she’d knelt in the Council Chamber on that day. “She’s also mine and I doubt they’d want a child who’d been taught nothing but thievery and deceit.” “I’m sure they would happily take Zallie and the boys and Quin if you let them.” “What if I don’t want to though? What if I like my family as it is. I fought so hard against the Council Kirsh. I fought so hard to keep Zallie, why would I turn around now and give her back?” “Because at the Temple, she and Kei and Taro could get proper training,” Kirsh said with a frown. “You love them Kitkit, you need to do what’s best for them.” She turned on him. Her hands clenched around the mug, until her fingers turned white. His words tore into her, ripping through every insecurity she’d ever held. “I’m best for them. Del and I, and Nicco and Essie and F’kisi. We are best for them.” She could hear her voice getting louder. Kirsh had poked the sore point that kept her awake late at night: the fear that she was doing the wrong thing by her daughter, by all of their children. Kithera looked down to see that Kei and Taro had paused in their game, their faces twisted towards her. Even Estra was staring, her eyes narrowed at the bigger Jedi as if blaming him for any upset. She smiled at the children in fake reassurance that it was all okay and noticed that Kirsh was doing the same. Kei and Taro smiled back and returned to the game. Estra narrowed her eyes slightly before turning back to her brothers. “I’m sorry,” Kirsh’s voice was low and soft. It brought her back to the here and now. “I did not choose my words wisely. I just worry about you.” Kithera shook her head. The emotions dissipated leaving a hard, bitter taste in their wake. She knew nothing he said now was going to mend the ever growing gap between them. “I can’t let my children go somewhere which punishes love of any kind. But I also know that we can’t follow the Jedi path as set out by the Temple. ” Kithera said, trying to keep her voice quiet. She took big, deep breaths trying to quiet her own music. She stared at the contents of her mug. The caff was getting cold, and no longer offered the same reassurance. “The real world does not allow that either.” “The Jedi Order exists in the real world, Kitkit,” Kirsh said. “It doesn’t,” she said quietly. “We, you, I...we were all cloistered and kept. The Jedi spend so much time in their concrete spire in the sky that they don’t see what it’s like for most people in the universe. The Jedi are so wrapped up in politics that they never see that they miss helping the little people. People like us.” The bass flute that was always Kirsh’s music, was now accompanied by the quiet echoes of a timpani. “That’s not fair, Kitkit.” Kirsh said. “Isn’t it?” she asked, glancing at him and then back to the children and their game. “No, it’s not. I do lots of work on the Outer Rim,” Kirsh said defensively. “I see what it’s like out there.” “You do,” she said after a moment or two of silence. “But you don’t really get what it’s like. How many voices have you ignored Kirsh?” She saw the look of affront on his face but continued. Picking words that she knew would hurt. “How many times have you left someone behind. How many times have you ignored the pull of the Force because the Council wanted you too. How many times have you ignored the hurt because you knew attending it would only get yourself into trouble with the Council. How many times have you done that Kirsh? How many times did you put the Order before the will of the Force?” The timpani grew louder, warring with the bass flute for which would be the loudest sound in the melody that he was creating. Her own music met it, joining in a tumultuous melody that vibrated through her. She plowed on. It was as if someone had unplugged the dam, the thoughts and anger from the last several years spilled out. “Kithera-” Kithera’s mouth quirked as she realised he’d dropped her nickname. She had struck a nerve. “And you know what's the worst of all? You get to go back,” she said angrily before Kirsh could go further “You get to go home. Back to the safety and warmth of the Temple. Back to bacta on tap, and Healers and food whenever you need it. A library and teachers. Fresh clothes and warm, safe beds.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his hand clench. He opened his mouth but she kept going. Her heart hammered in her chest, and the noise of the Force around her roiled and grew louder. She faced him, almost spitting. “Yes, it’s hard when you are out on a mission. Yes, Jedi face danger every day. But you have a safe space to return to when it’s done. You don’t worry about your spaceship falling out of the sky, or the next job or how to afford simple things or...or…” She trailed away, her words petered out. Beside her, Kirsh took a deep breath. His timpani faded and slowed. She hated that he could always do that. Find the inner peace and calm where she had none. Kithera's own music filled the space. Her hands clenched and her heart sounded loud in her ears. “Or making the right decision for your children,” Kirsh said. Kithera glared at him, torn between anger and tears. He would never understand because he could never understand. She looked at her friend’s face, calm and gentle as always. Her breath hitched in her throat. How could she expect an Order so insular that it forbade attachment and punished transgressions to help her? Kirsh might do his best, but whatever happened was going to come at a price. She looked down at Kei and Taro, their mouths stuffed with biscuits and felt tears prick at the corner of her eyes. What would saving Quin cost her family? What price would the Jedi demand? She rose unsteadily to her feet. Kirsh still sat, staring at his hands and frowning softly. “Yes,” she said softly, as waves of music and emotion buffeted her. “That if you make the wrong decision, your children might die. That is something a Jedi will never understand.” She turned and walked away. Desperate to leave her words and all of the fears and doubts behind. It didn’t work. She almost came undone when she bumped into Del by the doorway. He looked down at her, but she refused to meet his eyes. “It’s lunch time,” he announced and then glanced at her again. “Rin?” She shook her head as she pushed past him, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. The Force was a never ending cacophony of sound and thought and fear. She finally reached the door of their room. Heilan was sitting meditating on the floor next to Quin’s cradle. She managed to smile at him as he opened his eyes. “Lunch is about to be made.” The words were automatic. She felt empty and alone, even as the music grew louder. Heilan frowned and opened and closed his mouth as if he was going to say something but thought better of it. He nodded to her and made his way out of the room. The moment the door closed behind him, she sunk to the floor and sobbed. In the cradle, Quin opened her eyes and began to wail.