A/N: This story is a spin-off of Origami Fish’s A Destiny Altered over on FF.N. The basic premise of his story is that Anakin doesn’t die above Myrkr, and how it changes everything after that event. Check it out if you’ve got some time, it’s really quite good. Long, but good. His story made me remember why I liked NJO and the ‘new’ Jedi before it got all dorked up. Anyway, I posted this years ago on FF.N, and stumbled across this a few weeks ago as I was rummaging around the computer looking for things to get me in the right frame of mind to start the ‘Long story’ challenge. And because there is always a shortage of J/TK stories… Warrior Queen Tenel Ka made her rounds amongst the military leaders, leading politicians, civilian dignitaries and common soldiers at the becoming-more-raucous-by-the-minute party Lando and Talon were hosting to celebrate the end of the war. Clearly, remaining sober was not on anyone’s list of things to do. After graciously disentangling herself from a clearly inebriated Cal Omas for the third time, Tenel Ka searched around for her best friend, hoping to find a respite from all of the glad-handling and hand-shaking. It was not that she did not appreciate the sentiments coming her way on behalf of the Hapan Armed Forces—she did. Even from her biased point-of-view, the Hapans had accounted themselves quite well on the field of battle; they had helped turn the tide of the war, after all. No, the problem was that many of the revelers at this party had starting calling her the ‘Warrior Queen’ for her actions in the Battle of Yuuzhan’tar; a nickname that she knew that the press was going to have a field-day in using. Shaking her head, the Queen Mother continued to wander aimlessly around the outdoor party, soaking up the ambiance as she tried to distance herself from the large speakers, speakers that seemed to get louder by the minute. As she mingled, she remembered what Han had told Leia once when the Chief-of-State had complained about the volume at a music-themed restaurant one evening long ago: If it’s too loud, you’re too old. Smiling at the memory, she took a long look at the setting and realized that for all of their faults, Calrissian and Karrde really know how to throw a party: the large clearing was overlaid with a parquet floor, they had strung a myriad of lights that were just dim enough to allow the spectacular glow of Yuuzhan’tar’s ‘Rainbow Bridge’ to shine through and had recruited some of the local Ferroans to act as wait staff. At the end she had just vacated, sitting beside the speakers, was a video-music machine that allowed a singer to read the words to a song as they attempted to sing along. Tenel Ka shook her head at the thought; it was only a matter of time before one of the inebriated guests got enough courage to serenade the crowd. Having long ago mastered the art of being able to mingle while casting the impression that she wished to be left alone, Tenel Ka took a sip of her bubbly wine and continued searching the assembled throng for her friend. As she searched, she caught sight of her parents; the two of them standing back-to-back, as if they were unwilling to let the other out of physical range, each engaged in lively discussions with some of the other party-goers. Watching her parents, her mind wandered back to the time when she was a child, roaming around the Palace’s ornate ballroom at one of the numerous ‘official’ functions, trying to stay out of the way. And, just like in those earlier days, her father seemed to know that she was looking at him and cast her a quick look. Smirking his ‘Dad’ smirk, he shot her a wink; the one that always seemed to say: I know kiddo, I’m bored stiff, too. Just another twenty minutes, okay? Taking another sip of her wine to keep from breaking out in a grin, she winked back, just like she used to. Before she broke eye contact, her father’s eyes narrowed mischievously and he nodded his head fractionally in the direction of a grove of trees silhouetted at the top of a small hill not far away. This time, Tenel Ka did not try to hide her smile, warmed by the thought that Father knew who she was looking for. Nodding once in thanks, she started in the direction of the grove. Passing a waiter carrying a tray of drinks, she place her now-empty flute on the tray and deftly grabbed two more, impressing the young Ferroan with her ability to do so with one hand. Giving the waiter a wry smile, she continued to pick her way through the crowd. Once she finally managed to achieve escape velocity from the gravity of the crowd, she increased her pace, her heels clicking on the parquet floor as she did. After the fourth ‘click’, two things occurred to her: First, where did Lando get a parquet floor on Zonoma? Second, climbing even a small hill such as the one in front of her in six-centimeter heels was only asking for a twisted ankle. Shaking her head, Tenel Ka put down her two flutes of wine, kicked off her shoes, and picked up the entire ensemble: two flutes and a pair of elegant heels, all with one hand. If only the waiter could see me now. Not until she reached the summit of this hill was she able to make out her best friend from the other shadows. He was sitting with his back towards at the far edge of the grove watching as Yuuzhan’tar’s sole remaining moon was just starting to rise over the eastern horizon. As she traipsed through the small copse of trees to approach him, the shadow that was Jacen rose wordlessly to his feet and met her as she walked towards him. Saying nothing, he took her shoes and one of the flutes, and led her back to his ‘nest’. Following his lead, she said nothing but shot him an amused look as she followed and sat next to him on a large blanket. The blanket, and the small warmer of finger foods sitting on his right were clear indicators that he expected her to come find him at some point tonight. Finally, after several moments of the two of them just being together, he looked over at her, “I was afraid I was going to have to go rescue you.” The Queen Mother rolled her grey eyes, “You probably should have; I had to sneak away from Omas three times, and my face hurts from all of my ‘amused, yet polite’ smiles.” Somehow, Jacen heard the quotes around the adjectives and snickered quietly as he shook his head, “’Amused, yet polite...’ is that a Ta’a Chume description?” Tenel Ka narrowed her eyes, “You know it is not; Ta’a Chume never smiled.” Her lips rose in small smile at Jacen’s bark of laughter; the sound of his laugh had long been her favorite sound, “No. My mother coined the phrase.” “Ah. Aha.” Jacen deadpanned. Seeing his Queen’s menacing look, he tried, and failed badly, to keep from laughing; his Queen tried, and failed badly, to maintain the look before she, too, started to laugh. The two of them once again fell into a comfortable silence as they simply watched the sky, content to be serenaded by the sound of the loud music and raucous laughter coming from the party two hundred meters down the hill behind them. Only when the music paused between songs did Jacen realize that the almost imperceptible rumble he had heard a couple of times was not part of the bass-beat. Shaking his head, he leaned to his right and lifted the small food warmer closer, placing it between them. “You could have just said you were hungry.” He deadpanned, taking her flute away and placing on the tree stump she was leaning against. Looking slightly embarrassed, she answered with a half-shrug, grabbing a deep-fried ham and cheese quarter-sandwich as she did, “I was unaware that I was; until now I have been too busy ‘mingling’.” After taking a bite of her sandwich, her lovely eyes widened in surprise, “These are really good.” Jacen chuckled playfully as he wiped a bit of melted cheese from her chin and winked, “I can tell.” Ignoring her mock-scowl, he leaned forward and selected a small meat-and-potato pasty from warmer and closed the lid. “How’s your chest, by the way?” He asked, belatedly grimacing at his phraseology. Glancing down to take a quick peak at her rather low-cut bright blue blouse, “Still a 36C.” Tenel Ka replied wryly, her eyes sparkling with delight as Jacen ashamedly hung his head, murmuring something about being ‘…my fault for asking’. “I meant...” His Queen interrupted, “I know. My ribs are fine, just a tad sore.” She could see the concern on his face as Jacen gave her a quick once-over. Satisfied that she was telling the truth, he again leaned forward toward the food warmer to grab another sandwich, seeing as she had finished the first one in about three bites. Nodding her thanks, she playfully bonked him with her shoulder. This one took her four bites to finish, and she went to get another as Jacen only shook his head in disbelief; he still had not eaten half of his pasty. Shrugging in reply, she cast him a serious look, “When do you plan on....” Tenel Ka trailed off, not wanting to finish her sentence. Truth be told, she did not really want Jacen to leave on his ‘voyage of self-discovery’. She knew that it would be selfish to ask him to stay, but she found herself relying on his advice more and more; Jacen was the only one, besides her father, that never had ulterior motives when offering an opinion, only wanting her to make the best decision possible. Furthermore, in the darkest part of her mind that she tried her best to ignore, was the thought that Jacen would never return; of if he did, it would not be back to her. It was this thought, more than any other, that almost had her pleading for him to stay. Almost. If Jacen had picked up on her thoughts, he was not letting it show. Smiling her favorite ‘Jacen smile’, he replied warmly, “Not for a while. I’ve got to get a hold of a ship before I can go anywhere.” Sensing her relief, he allowed a small chuckle; “I will be fully at your beck-and-call for the near future, your Majesty.” “Good.” Came the reply, a small smirk on her face. As the auburn-haired young woman finished her third sandwich she scooted closer to Jacen, reaching for his hand. “If you were Queen Mother and wanted to take a vacation, where would you go?” Jacen narrowed his eyes; if he knew anything about Tenel Ka, it was that she never asked questions hypothetically. Shaking her head at his look, she grimaced and explained further, “Mother thinks that it would be good for us to take a small vacation, spend some time as a family again.” “Makes sense.” Jacen agreed, trying to remember the last family vacation he had been on; it had been ages. He remembered Dad taking himself, Jaina, Anakin and Kyp rocket skiing, but Mom was unable to go because of her Chief-of-State duties. Shaking his head to refocus on the question at hand, he started thinking aloud: “It does create a problem, doesn’t it?” He looked over at her and Tenel Ka could almost see the gears spinning in his head, “It’s not like the three of you can just go hang out on the beach somewhere.” Jacen waved his hand in front of them, miming the marquee above some theatre somewhere, “Imagine the headlines, ‘Queen Mother sunning it up while galaxy rebuilds’. Yeah, that’ll go over well.” Tenel Ka gave him a warm smile; this was why she really did not want Jacen to leave: he understood the political realities better than almost anyone else, he understood that sometimes image was everything. If she could get him to come up with a workable plan, she could probably entice him into coming along, thus guaranteeing another week or so together. Pulling his knees to his chest, Jacen stated to slowly rocked back and forth, “The three of you need to go on a vacation without looking like your going on a...” Suddenly his head jerked up as it hit him and grabbed his Queen’s hand excitedly, “That’s it. Steal Anakin’s idea!” Tenel Ka gave him a quizzical look, “Tattoine?” Her friend frowned and shook his head, “No, not the location; I meant the idea of a ‘working vacation’.” Catching her not-quite-convinced look, he elaborated further, “There are hundreds of worlds...” Jacen started gesturing wildly overhead as he talked, “...millions of municipalities, trillions of beings out there that are now trying to rebuild. We could go somewhere and aid in the rebuilding effort.” The Hapan monarch smiled at his use of ‘we’ and squeezed his hand affectionately, knowing that she had got him on a roll. “What better way to prove to the rest of the galaxy that your Hapes is not what Ta’a Chume’s was? That you are more than just a ‘Warrior Queen’?” Tenel Ka was too stunned by his insight to be offended by his use of her new moniker; she had thought him to not be paying attention when she had confessed her father’s desire to make the Consortium better. “Where do you think we should start?” Casting her a wry look, he had caught her use of ‘we’, Jacen let out a deep breath, “Take your pick, really. I only have first-hand knowledge of Coruscant, but I’ve heard stories about how bad a shape Commenor is in.” The Queen Mother’s eyes narrowed. Wasn’t Danni Quee from Commenor? Letting her voice frost over a touch, “Commenor? Do tell.” Jacen fought the urge to laugh as he retook his best friend’s hand. Even royalty can get jealous, apparently. “You have nothing to worry about.” He smiled as her face softened, “Although, you should get to know her; Danni is the smartest, most caring person I’ve ever met.” Her eyes searched Jacen’s face as his words sunk in. Tenel Ka knew, of course, that Danni was very intelligent--everyone knew that—but for Jacen to say, ‘she’s the most caring person...’? Grimacing slightly, she realized that she could not think of anyone else that Jacen would say that about. Offering Jacen an apologetic smile, it dawned on her that she should have known that there was more to Danni Quee than just a pretty face; if half of the stories she had heard were true, Danni would be an interesting person to get to know. “We will leave for Commenor late tomorrow morning.” Jacen leaned closer, his breath tickling her nose as he whispered, “Yes, your Majesty.” Tenel Ka closed the gap and the two of them forgot all about returning back to the party, content to lie under the stars. _____(___)_____ The next morning— Not bothering to change out of his sleep pants and an old t-shirt, Jacen padded into the kitchen of the small abode that the Solos had been loaned and saw his mother reading from her computer tablet as she sat on the sofa of the living room. “...’Morning, Mom,” he chirped as he started to heat some water in the kettle, adding two tea bags to the water. Leia looked up at her son, giving him a warm smile. “Good morning.” Narrowing her eyes suspiciously, she continued, “You weren’t out very late.” One of the disadvantages of seeing the Hapan Queen Mother, he was starting to realize, was that everyone tended to know where you were and what you were doing. A fact that tended to put the brakes on any ‘extra-curricular’ activities that he and Tenel Ka might want to partake in. Shaking his head, he replied drily, “Nah. There are wa-ay too many Hapans here to even think about keeping her out past ‘curfew’.” As he turned back to the kettle, adding creamer and cinnamon to the tea, he heard Leia’s slight chuckle, “Well, at least one of my kids is still respectable. You’ll notice that Anakin and Jaina made...alternative sleeping arrangements for the night.” Jacen let out a snort of laughter at his mother’s phrasing, nodding once as he poured the tea into two cups. “And for the next few nights, unless I miss my guess.” As Jacen made the short trip from the kitchen to the living area, Leia held her hands over her ears, humming loudly to herself. “I’m not listening, Jacen.” Her oldest son could see the glint of amusement in her warm brown eyes, and he could only shake his head as he handed his mother a cup of tea and got a nod of thanks. “Dad still asleep?” Leia only glared at him over the top of her cup in response. Seeing the look, Jacen visibly grimaced as he sat in the wingback chair sitting diagonally opposite the couch, “Someone should tell him he’s not a smuggler anymore.” His mother rolled her eyes, “I have told him.” She took a sip and muttered, “Impossible man.” Turning her attention back to her son, “Is our favorite Queen going to be able spend some time with you today?” she asked lightly, hoping to hide her since of longing. Ever since he was small, Leia always understood Jacen better than her other two kids. Both Jaina and Anakin took after their father: quick to action, heedless of the consequences. It was a wonder they were both still alive. Mentally banishing that thought, she reflected that Jacen was only one of the three that seemed to want to think things through, content to let others have the attention. More than his siblings, Jacen understood the necessity of solid, well-thought-out policy; he saw the opportunity politics offered to bring people together. Whether it was on the Jedi Council or, as seemed increasingly more likely, the Fountain Palace, Jacen could continue from where she left off. Jacen looked at his mother, guilt evident on his face. In truth, he had hoped to be able to spend some more time with his parents. It seemed like he had not had the opportunity to talk to his mother for more than a couple of minutes here and there ever since the war began. He supposed he should be embarrassed to be such a ‘Mama’s boy’, but the truth was he liked his mother. Leia seemed unflappable in the face of any family ‘emergency’, and always offered solid advice. Suddenly, it occurred to Jacen just how much he missed being able to talk to her. For a brief moment, he thought about backing out of going with the Royal Family on their trip, but decided against it. Something was telling him that it was important for him to accompany Tenel Ka. “Actually...” he paused, trying to find a way to not sound like he was eager to rush off again, “...the Djos asked me to take a short vacation with them.” “Oh.” Leia tried, and only partly succeeded, in keeping the hurt out of her voice. She became perplexed, though, when she thought of what had happened two days prior. “After the look Teneniel gave you a couple of days ago, I would not thought that possible.” Jacen nodded as he hid a smile, “I am not sure she knows yet.” “Ah.” She offered an understanding smile, “The ‘spring-this-on-Mom-when-she-can’t-say-no’ ploy.” Seeing Jacen’s feigned innocence at the comment, she continued drily, “Anakin taught Tenel Ka well.” This time, Jacen tried to hide his laugh behind his teacup as she asked nonchalantly, “Where are you headed?” Shrugging as he finished swallowing his tea Jacen answered, “I suggested Commenor, but I suspect it will be somewhere closer to Hapes.” Leia’s flabbergasted look turned into a smile of pride as it dawned on her what Jacen was getting at. As she looked at her oldest son with motherly affection, she said softly, “You are using this to spotlight the plight of all of the refugees.” Jacen nodded in reply, “And to show how much rebuilding needs to be done.” He leaned forward, “If everyone sees the Hapan Royal Family out helping, maybe it will spur others into getting involved.” For a long moment, Leia said nothing as she regarded her son; her biggest fear was that this war would take Jacen’s empathy away from him, leave him bitter or soulless like had happened to so many other people, Jedi and non-Jedi alike. Somehow, he had found a way to keep it and, for that, she would be eternally grateful. Smiling warmly, she offered a compliment he would be sure to understand, “Bail would be proud of you.” Her son only closed his eyes and nodded once at the comment. His whole family knew how much Leia Organa strived to live up to her father’s ideals. For her to say how proud he would be of her son? Leia noticed that Jacen’s eyes were suspiciously damp when he reopened them, but said nothing. Instead, she asked, “When do you leave?” “Well, if Teneniel is in as bad a shape as Dad...” Jacen trailed off, smiling his father’s trademark half-smirk. Leia hung her head as she laughed, if the former Queen Mother had as much to drink as Han, it would be late morning before either saw the light of day. “Good. I’d like to talk about the ‘new’ Jedi Council, if you are in the mood.” “To talk politics? I’m always in the mood for that!” Jacen replied as he got up and sat next to his mother on the couch. _____(___)_____ After the Rock Dragon cleared the atmosphere of Zonoma, Tenel Ka turned to her left and started to enter their destination into the navicomputer: Obroa-skai. After a quick and not-quite-heated exchange with her parents on their way to the small freighter, both Tenel Ka and Jacen quickly gave in to avoid a rather pointless argument about the relative suffering on Commenor compared to that of Obroa-skai. As they discussed their destination, Jacen had gotten the distinct impression that Teneniel only disagreed because it was his idea. Despite their disagreement with Teneniel, Jacen’s spirits were buoyed by the fact that Tenel Ka had sided with him. As he adjusted the throttles to maintain their current orbit, the young Jedi risked a glance at his best friend sitting in the ‘captain’s’ seat, smiling to himself. Even though they had only seen each other off-and-on for the last couple of years they still made a pretty good team; whether it be arguing the case for going to Commenor, performing the pre-flight on the Rock Dragon, or handling piloting duties. After a few moments, the navigation computer sounded a quiet ‘ping’, indicating that the route was ready. After querying the temporary air traffic control agency, Tenel Ka glanced over to her right. “Fleet control has cleared us to depart.” Jacen smiled again at her serious tone; when they were out on their adventures from the Academy, Zekk often complained about their one-armed friend’s use of her ‘droid-like’ voice when in the cockpit, but Jacen always found it endearing. Regardless of his sister or father’s cavalier attitude, flying was a serious business and Jacen appreciated that Tenel Ka always treated it that way. “Acknowledged. Matching heading now.” Jacen tried to match her professional tone and grinned at his friend as he steered the Dragon to line up with the required heading. As he did, it occurred to Jacen that he could count only about three times where the two of them actually flew her ship. The other two would deny it, of course, but Jaina and Zekk were horrible passengers and tended to sulk unless they were in control. Shaking his head at the memory, Jacen aligned the Dragon with the indicated course and nodded at his pretty pilot, “Hit it.” “Acknowledged.” With a sly grin of her own, Tenel Ka started pushing the hyperspace throttles forward and the Dragon’s engines sounded their characteristic low whine as the stars elongated and disappeared. Not long after they had made the jump to lightspeed, Teneniel unbuckled her restraint and headed aft, Isolder following her out with an apologetic glance at his daughter. Jacen started to comment on her mother’s cold behavior when Tenel Ka leaned to her right and grabbed his arm, her eyes desperate. “Can you start making dinner? Now?” Tenel Ka was keeping her tone low, but even in her whisper he could hear the almost-panic. Why the rush? They had all had a lovely brunch at his parents’ quarters not two hours ago. Concerned that maybe both Djo women had come down with some weird disease, he answered confusedly, “Uh.... sure. What’s the...” His auburn-haired pilot interrupted as she cast a quick look at the door, apparently fearing that it was spying on them, “I heard Mother mention that she was going to make her lentil casserole. You have to pre-empt her before she can get started.” Jacen recoiled. “Lentil...what? That sounds....” Tenel Ka interrupted again, frantically grabbing the front of his shirt, “It is AWFUL. Go. Now!” “Yes ma’am.” With an audible sigh of relief, the Queen Mother pulled him into a deep, seductive kiss. After a few moments, she broke contact, her face flushed. Winking at her best friend, “Thank you.” Jacen said nothing as he nodded absent-mindedly in response, still trying to come to grips with what just happened: Tenel Ka just...flirted. Leaving the cockpit, he took one last look at Tenel Ka who returned his glance with a sultry one. Smiling to himself, Jacen made his way back to the galley, nodding at her parents as he passed them in the crew lounge. Fifteen minutes later, as Jacen was busy browning ground nerf, Isolder joined him in the small galley. When the younger man turned his head, Isolder nodded in the direction of the skillet, “What are you making?” Jacen shrugged nonchalantly, “Some of Chewbacca’s chili. It needs about four hours to simmer, so I figured I’d get started now.” The Crown Prince’s eyes narrowed knowingly, replying in a low tone, “Ah. You know about Teneniel’s lentil casserole.” Jacen shook his head, and replied drily, “Only by reputation.” “It’s best if you keep it that way.” Isolder rejoined quietly, smirking as Jacen coughed to cover his laugh. Returning his tone to normal, “You need any help?” The brown-haired Jedi nodded once, “Sure. Check to see if the food dispenser has a recipe for cornbread.” As Isolder squeezed by Jacen to check, the former Queen Mother strolled into the getting-more-crowded-by-the-minute galley, “What are you two up to?” Without missing a beat, Jacen answered sincerely, “Well Mum, the Corellians have a custom that the owner of the ship never has to cook.” He smiled warmly, “Since this is still technically your ship, I have to do all the cooking for the trip.” Truth be told, Jacen had no idea whether Teneniel’s name was still on the Dragon’s registry or not, but it was the best he could come up with on the fly. The former Queen only stared at him for a long moment, clearly trying to decide if he was telling the truth. Her husband only shrugged when she turned her attention to him, “His father is Corellian; Jacen would know their customs better than I.” Teneniel did not survive the Hapan Court by being easily duped, and she cast her glance back to the eldest Solo boy inwardly smiling at his feigned innocence; he was actually doing quite well in her little test. “Fair enough. I insist on making dessert, however.” Nodding at the food dispenser, “I make a mean cherry cobbler.” Smiling warmly, Jacen replied, “Of course.” After she left, Jacen could hear Isolder exhale loudly before whispering, “Do the Corellians really have that custom?” Jacen shrugged as he glanced over at the older man, “Dad always said so.” He paused as a wry grin appeared, “Although...I’ve long suspected it a ruse to get Anakin, Jaina and I do all of the cooking on the Falcon.” _____(___)_____ Dinner went pleasantly enough, and Jacen could not help but notice that Teneniel was acting less distant towards him, a fact that confused him greatly. It was not that he did not appreciate her increasing friendliness, he did; he just could not figure out what he had done to earn it. Something odd was going on. Later, as the four of them sat around the small table in the crew lounge playing a board game, Teneniel moved her small canine playing piece four spaces and looked across the table at her daughter’s best friend and watched as the young man picked up the dice, “Your mother mentioned that she was going to finish her Jedi training now that the war was over.” Jacen never looked up from the table as he let out a long breath and tossed the die. “Yeah.” “You don’t think she should?” Isolder asked disbelievingly as Jacen moved his top hat piece three spots. The younger man looked up and saw three pairs of eyes looking at him as if he had just announced that he was going to join the Sith. Grimacing, he tried to explain. “I am not sure I see the need.” Seeing Teneniel’s flash of anger, he pressed on before she could interrupt. “When I was a kid, Uncle Luke used to stop by the house now and then and make comments like, ‘Leia, you really need to finish your ‘Jedi’ training.’” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tenel Ka try to hide her smirk at his fair impression of Luke Skywalker. Looking back at Isolder, Jacen continued, “He always said it partly in jest, but we all knew that he meant it.” Unconsciously running his hand through his hair, he looked down at the table, clearly frustrated. “Even at ten, it rubbed me the wrong way. Dad too, come to think of it.” Raising his head, Jacen and looked from Isolder to Teneniel sitting opposite him. “Anyway, here Luke was, telling the CHIEF-OF-STATE that she needed to be more ‘Jedi-like’; implying that she was inferior to him because she couldn’t wield a glowing sword. While she was working her butt off to keep all these little squabbles from becoming BIG squabbles, he was teaching Kyp and Corran and me how to float rocks.” Years of frustration came boiling out; years of watching people like his mother get second billing because they see the need to think. “Uncle Luke gets all of the credit for defeating the Empire, but Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and Mom were the reason he got the chance. Not once has she complained about living in her brother’s shadow, but I would think a little less condescension on his part would have been nice.” Long used to his occasional emotional rants, Tenel Ka reached to her right and grasped his left hand, giving it a warm squeeze as Jacen hung his head again at losing his cool; he desperately wanted to impress Tenel Ka’s parents, and he had just gone on a rant about the head of the Jedi Order, one of the most respected men in the galaxy. Great way to make a lasting impression, Jace. Why not kick their pet feline, too? Isolder leaned forward to pick up the two die, asking quietly, “What do you think the best use of her talents are?” Jacen was slightly confused by his tone; he was expecting a tone of disbelief, or perhaps a slightly pitying one. Instead, the Crown Prince sounded genuinely interested in his opinion. Risking a glance at the Queen seated on his left, he saw her warm smile and her nod of approval; she wanted her parents to hear what he thought. Shrugging slightly, he answered truthfully, “My mother needs to be out there telling the trillions of refugees out here that the Alliance will get them the help they need. Omas needs to use her to get some sort of agreement in place with the Remnant; she needs to be acting as an ‘unofficial’ emissary to the Chiss; maybe tell the Bakurans that their concerns about ‘Alliance meddling’ are warranted and will be looked into.” His tone turned thoughtful as he stared intently at the older couple sitting across from him, “She can make a huge impact, much bigger than most of the rest of us; this is what my mother should be doing, not trying to fill some antiquated view of Jedi.” His dropped his tone to a whisper, “Leia Organa Solo is a Jedi—she has been one for years.” Teneniel looked at the young man who had slumped back on the couch and asked pointedly, “You said antiquated?” Jacen hung his head at airing all of his frustrations in front of his girlfriend’s parents. No sense stopping now, he supposed. In for a penny... “Uncle Luke’s view works for him, it works for my sister, it works for Kyp.” He looked up again, violently shaking his head. “But it doesn’t work for me, it didn’t work for Sannah, and it won’t work for Mom.” He offered a resigned sigh, “The Force is not a one-size-fits-all entity. There are lots of Jedi who need a different view of the Force.” “People like Danni?” Surprised, Jacen looked over at Tenel Ka and laughed tonelessly at her wry smile. “Yeah.” His look turned thoughtful, “Danni has devoted her entire life asking why. We can’t ask her to turn that off; we shouldn’t ask her to turn that off.” Casting a look across the table, he continued, “Her and Sannah, Mom and I; we all need to know why the Force works. Just knowing the how isn’t enough.” The former Queen Mother smiled warmly at his response, “What would you say if I told you that I was starting a Praxeum on Dathomir to explore different aspects of the Force?” “Really?” Teneniel and Jacen both missed the knowing look that Isolder shared with his daughter as the four of them continued to talk about the new ‘Jedi’ school on Dathomir while continuing their game. Hours later, as she tried valiantly to stifle a yawn, Teneniel rose off of the couch shaking her head, “Okay, the old woman has had enough. Jacen, you can have all of my hotels, Tenel Ka gets the maglev lines.” As she got up, she shot Jacen a wink and ruffled his hair as she squeezed by his seat. “Good night.” “Good night.” Jacen replied and started to pack the game away when he saw that Isolder, too, had gotten up to turn in. After the pair had left, he folded the game board and commented warmly, “Well, that was fun.” Not getting the expected reply, he looked over at Tenel Ka and saw that she was staring after her parents, clearly lost in thought. Confusion echoed in his voice as he asked, “Are you okay?” “Yes. Fine.” The young woman on his left answered absentmindedly. Not once in her entire life could Tenel Ka ever remember her mother winking at someone, not even her father. And yet, not thirty seconds ago, Teneniel winked at Jacen. And ruffled his hair. The last time her mother acted that affectionate towards her was...so long ago she could barely remember. And the way she did it was so...unguarded. Shaking her head at the implication, Tenel Ka smiled a small understanding smile; Jacen had managed to win over her mother, and had done it only by speaking his mind. Turning her attention back to Jacen who was still looking curiously at her, she offered a small shrug of apology, “Sorry, I was just...reminiscing.” Seemingly satisfied, Jacen turned his attention back to the table and the two of them finished putting the game away. As her boyfriend put the board game away, Tenel Ka started turning off the lights in the Dragon, leaving only a small light in the galley and one in the crew lounge illuminated. After waiting for Jacen to catch up, she took his hand and leaned her head onto his shoulder as they slowly walked down the corridor. “You were right, that was fun.” After years of war, it was nice to spend a nice quiet evening with her parents, doubly so since they seemed to genuinely approve of her and Jacen. Stopping outside her cabin, Jacen kissed her lightly and pulled back, clearly intending to sleep in the cabin further down the corridor. “Good night, Tiki.” The use of his long-dormant pet name for her made her heart skip a beat—he had not used her nickname since before Myrkr, and she was afraid of what that might imply. _____(___)_____ Six years earlier.... Tenel Ka had gotten Jacen up early to take a run together through the Yavin jungle. A couple of miles in, he had gotten distracted by the lovely view in front of him and tripped on a tree root. Writhing in pain, he yelled out for her to stop. The young warrior girl stopped and, seeing her friend’s anguish, sprinted back to him. Kneeling beside him, Tenel Ka frantically ran her hand down this ankle, clearly afraid that he had broken something. “Friend Jacen, are you injured?” He stopped writhing and grabbed her hand. Looking up she saw the sparkle of mirth in his eyes. “I’m fine. I just needed to rest!” She stood up abruptly and glared at him. Not saying a word, she spun around and started to walk briskly away. Jacen got up quickly. “Tiki, wait!” He started to chase after her, “Stop!“ Sprinting now, his voice raised in panic, “Tiki! Stop!” Tenel Ka stopped and spun back around to face him, her red braids whipping around. “What did you call me?” Jacen stopped, fury clearly evident in her grey eyes. Why does she always think I am making fun of her? Not wanting to infuriate her further, he quietly apologized, “I’m sorry.” Noticing that her eyes softened a little, “When I leave a note explaining where we’ve gone, it’s always something like, ‘TK and I went for run. Back in an hour’.” He took a tentative step closer, looking chagrined. “I just...” Jacen looked down at the ground, embarrassed by the foolish notion that she would actually like the dorky nickname he had used, “...pronounced your initials.” Looking back up guiltily, he shook his head, “I won’t do it again.” Embarrassed by her emotional outburst, the Hapan princess also took a step forward. Not everyone is out to get you. Outside of a staff member’s son ages ago, she had never been close enough to anyone to even have a nickname. With startling clarity, she realized that she had let Jacen Solo get close enough; from him, a nickname would be...nice. Looking into his brown eyes, she said quietly “No, it’s okay.” Jacen smiled at that, the smile that always made her feel special. “Will you not tell anyone?” From him, it was a term of affection. From anyone else, it would imply intimacy that she did not feel. Jacen shook his head, his curly hair waving with the movement. “No. Only when it is just you and I.” _____(___)_____ Grabbing him by the collar, she pulled him into a long kiss. Did he not know how much his nickname meant to her? After breaking contact, she whispered, “There is no way that you can call me that and expect me to sleep alone.” Seeing his smug smile, she belatedly understood that he did know what her reaction would be. A few hours later as he lay staring at the ceiling cuddled up with his best friend, Jacen reflected that there were far worse places to be then in the arms of one of the galaxy’s most beautiful women. Sighing deeply, Jacen reluctantly got out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt over his sleep pants, careful not to make any noise to wake Tenel Ka as he grabbed a couple of holozines from on top of the foot locker. Not that it really mattered—Tenel Ka had long ago mastered the art of being able to sleep through everything short of an orbital bombardment. Hearing a small sigh, the young man turned and shook his head as he watched his Queen roll over; somehow, he did not think Anakin would believe him if he were to mention that the first time he and Tenel Ka slept in the same bed they just slept. With this thought in mind, Jacen worked his way forward to the cockpit, stopping to grab a drink from the fridge. Before settling into ‘his’ copilot’s chair, he turned the chair around so that the back was to the cockpit viewports. After propping his feet up on the engineer seat, he opened his fizzy beverage and started to read. Twenty minutes or so later, the cockpit door opened again. Startled, Jacen sat up and watched as a Teneniel entered the cockpit wrapped in a well-worn pale blue robe and sipping a cup of caf. “Couldn’t sleep either?” she asked. Jacen smiled and shook his head, “Nope.” He paused as the former Queen regally sat at the sensor operator station behind the pilot. “I’ve never been able to sleep very well aboard ship.” Teneniel nodded over her cup, “Me neither.” Her brown eyes sparkled mischievously, “Isolder, however...” Jacen nodded in understanding as he quietly chuckled. For a long moment, the two of them cautiously regarded each other. Finally, before the silence became too awkward, Teneniel asked quietly, “Why did you do it?” They both knew what ‘it’ was: Jacen’s passionate kiss of the Queen Mother two evenings previous, in full view of Force-knows-how-many members of the Hapan Navy. For a fleeting moment, Jacen thought of answering the same way he had when asked by Tahiri later that night: It seemed like a good idea at the time. Mentally shaking his head, he decided not to be as flippant; the mother of his best friend deserved to know that what he did was not solely to stun his mother speechless, although that was an added benefit. After taking he quick drink to think on how to frame his response, Jacen finally answered, “I did it because I wanted everyone to know how much I love and adore your daughter. Most would have thought I was making some over-the-top joke if I had just yelled, ‘I Love You, Tenel Ka.’” His cabin-mate smiled at his response, she knew all to well that most people never took Jacen very seriously. Encouraged by her reaction, Jacen continued, “I kissed her because I have a rough idea of how much she loves me, and I wanted everyone to know that as well. I want everyone to know that I am not afraid of my feelings for her; that I won’t sneak into the Palace in order to see my best friend. I intend on wear my feelings for her on my sleeve. I wanted everyone to know that I am not afraid of the Ruling Council, or the nobility, or the Ni’Korish.” Affecting his best Ganner Rhysode voice, Jacen continued, “‘Bring on your Hapans; one at a time or all in a rush...’” “’...I don’t give a damn.’” Teneniel finished quietly, watching as Jacen nodded slowly, the memory of Ganner still fresh. “And if it doesn’t work out?” Jacen shrugged in reply, “Then it doesn’t work. Look, I know how hard this is going to be, but at least we’ll know that we tried.” Smiling sadly, “I don’t think that I could live with myself if I didn’t at least give it a shot.” “If you feel that strongly, why are you leaving?” Jacen grimaced as he took a long sip of his drink. Finally, he decided on telling Teneniel the same thing he had told her daughter as they sat on their hill watching the stars. Holding up two fingers, “Two reasons: I need to know what I am; what it means to me to be a Jedi.” His brown eyes met hers, “If I am to be the Conscience of the Jedi, I need to understand more about the Force than I do. I cannot advise others if I don’t understand my role, let alone the role of the Force.” As he paused to let that sink in, Teneniel found herself impressed by the young man. After a few moments, she nodded for him to continue. Picking up the cue, “Your daughter has been only a war-time Queen. She needs some time to be able to become a peace-time leader.” Jacen took another drink, more to give him time to articulate what he meant than anything else. “There is enough anti-Jedi sentiment on Hapes as it is. If I were to start showing up now at the Palace, there would be a sizable faction that would start to think that the Jedi are trying to take over Hapes. She needs to be able to show that the Hapan people come first. Only when they know that her first loyalty is to them will they accept us.” When they were lying in bed earlier that evening, Isolder had mentioned to her that he thought Jacen to be a lot like his mother; always able to see beyond the immediate future and concentrate on what really mattered. At the time, Teneniel thought his comments to be wishful thinking, knowing that Isolder still had a bit of a thing for Leia Organa. Perhaps her husband was more right than she cared to admit; perhaps Jacen was the man for their daughter. Perhaps she should have realized that Tenel Ka would not give her heart to just anyone. With a flash of insight, Teneniel hatched upon a plan that would help assuage some of the guilt she felt for dumping the Hapan throne on her daughter. The Ruling Council had never really approved of her and Isolder; Teneniel would be damned if she would allow that same body to treat her daughter and her likely choice of Royal Consort with the same disdain. Allowing a predatory smile, she stared intently at the young man sitting across from her as he started to regard her warily, “If you are willing to play along, we can outflank the Ruling Council.” Jacen was the son of the former Chief-of-State, he knew what Teneniel’s look meant: it meant a political fight. Trying to keep the growing apprehension out of his voice, “Play along...how?” “Relax, all you have to do is be yourself.” Teneniel paused theatrically, “We just need you to be seen being yourself.” This did little to assuage Jacen’s wary look, so the auburn-haired woman continued, “While we’re on Obroa-skai, we simply make sure that you and Tenna are seen together as we...end up doing whatever it is that we’ll do.” Jacen wrinkled his brow in confusion. Tenna? Shaking his head, he let the nickname pass for the moment, “That is not what...” “Yes it is.” The former Queen interrupted. “The whole point of this trip is to be seen helping the galaxy rebuild, to spur others into like action. There is nothing wrong with your plan; in fact, I applaud what you are trying to do. All I am saying is that as long as we are there, we might as well let everyone see the side of Jacen and Tenel Ka that I see: the side that shows just how well the two of you work together.” Jacen still looked unconvinced, so Teneniel went for the soft sell. “Take today as an example; it quickly became apparent to both of you that we were adamant about going to Obroa-skai and that it was a pointless argument. More importantly, you stuck together with you arguments and then graciously let us have our way.” Leaning forward, Teneniel continued, “For dinner, I let it ‘slip’ that I was planning to make lentil casserole, and the two of you found a way to stop me without hurting my feelings.” Taking his hand, she gave it an affectionate squeeze, “Both of you were able to solve these problems without anyone losing face; a rare talent that not everyone has. We need to let Hapes see this.” Jacen nodded, finally understanding why she had been so distant towards him earlier, “So all of today was just a test?” His voice betrayed no emotion, but he could not quite keep the flash of betrayal from his eyes. If Jacen had learned anything from his time with Vergere, it is that life is one big test; he was just hoping that he would not had to pass one from his prospective mother-in-law. Teneniel shook her head, “No, the test was limited to the ‘argument’ and dinner.” Smiling warmly, “Everything else was just me liking to talk policy.” The Jedi nodded once, a look of relief on his face. “Back to the press...” Jacen’s gaze hardened, “...they didn’t do my brother any favors; what makes you think they’ll treat me any better?” Teneniel shook her head, her hair coming undone as she did. “Anakin’s ‘fall from grace’ is just as much his fault as it is theirs.” Seeing Jacen open his mouth to reply, the former queen held up her hand for forestall the coming argument. “Anakin used the press to further his agenda, and he did it well. People loved him. He became the face of the Jedi; the next Kenobi.” Even Teneniel had to admit that she had been impressed with the way Anakin had dealt with the press early on. “He became the hero that we all needed, able to pull off audacious plans that few others would have dared try. And then...” she trailed off. Jacen’s head fell into his hands as he finished, “...Bastion.” Nodding solemnly in agreement, “Bastion. Anakin refused to speak to the press after the disaster, not even to the reporters who were clearly willing to cut him some slack.” Looking up, Jacen felt the need to defend his brother, “Anakin thought they would understand just how badly we all felt, that they would...” he trailed off, realizing belatedly what his friend’s mother was trying to get across. The press was not just going to leave Anakin alone; he had become the voice not just of the Jedi, but also of the Alliance as a whole. Teneniel allowed a sad smile, seeing that Jacen had finally caught on to what she was trying to get across. Her voice soft, “Now you see.” Pausing, she saw Jacen’s forlorn nod, “Anakin thought the story would blow over, but it will not: Bastion is gone. I know it was not his fault, the press know it was not his fault, but the public needed answers, and he gave them none.” Teneniel balled her fists, clearly aggravated by Anakin’s actions over the last few months, “By avoiding the press, Anakin was loudly saying If I can’t win, I am going to take my toys and go home.” Her voice rose as more of her frustration seeped through, “He got everyone to buy into his ‘hero’ mystique and then when things go horribly wrong, he starts to act like the teenager he is. In absence of getting his side of the story, the press created one: Anakin Solo is a quitter.” She paused to let Jacen absorb that thought and her voice became harder, “While Tenna, Jaina, Doran, and millions of others were still out there risking their lives, Anakin Solo quit.” “I was at Bastion; I left for Zonoma, same as him.” Jacen pointed out quietly. “You...” She pointed at him angrily, “...did not sell yourself as the new face of the Jedi. He sold them hope and then appeared to bail when the going got tough.” Taking a deep breath, Teneniel realized that she was taking her frustration with Anakin out on his brother. Softening her tone, “Trust me when I say this, the press will not tolerate hypocrisy.” Jacen smiled wanly, “Anakin probably could have used your advice.” The older woman chuckled humorlessly and rolled her eyes, “Leia would have told him the same thing had he asked.” She leaned forward again to recapture his attention, “I’m not asking you to be larger than life; I am only asking you to let the press see...you. When you are out doing...” Teneniel paused theatrically as she waved out the viewscreen, “...whatever it is that you are going to be doing, talk to the press when they ask. Engage them. Let the galaxy see you for the thoughtful, intelligent, handsome, funny guy that you are.” Squeezing his hand again, she continued, “When we ‘leak’ holos of you and Tenna together as you two meet occasionally over the next few years, Hapes will start to understand just how much you adore their Queen Mother, not for what she is but simply because she is Tenel Ka. They will see how much you both mean to each other. This is how we end-run the Ruling Council.” Jacen nodded thoughtfully, clearly digesting her plan. Would it work? He was never really comfortable with the idea of Jedi talking to the press, but Ganner was able to pull it off with relative success. Unbidden, he started to picture his uncle having a panic attack at the thought that someone was actually going to imitate Ganner Rhysode. Chuckling at the mental image, he nodded at his ‘mother-in-law’, “When do we start?” Patting his knee, Teneniel smiled warmly. “We’ll allow a few questions as soon as we get to Obroa-skai. After that, we’ll plan on making a bigger splash at Tenna’s coronation.” Making a mental note to ask ‘Tenna’ about the origins of her nickname, he and Teneniel continued to discuss her strategy for him appearing occasionally with Tenel Ka at various events, so that they would still look to be a ‘couple’. _____(___)_____ As Jacen quietly slipped back into bed a couple of hours later, Tenel Ka rolled over again and draped her arm across his chest, pulling him closer. Smiling, he leaned over to kiss her forehead, whispering softly, “ ‘Morning, Tenna.” Just as he had hoped, he was rewarded with her grey eyes snapping open. “I’ve had a most enlightening conversation with your mother.” Even in the darkened room, he could see her grimace. Chagrined, Tenel Ka murmured, “Did she mention how I got the name?” “Nope, I kinda figured she was in the mood to ratchet up the embarrassment and let you explain.” “Remind me to thank her tomorrow.” Sensing Jacen’s amusement, Tenel Ka proceeded to explain how Commander Janka Vessau, the Palace’s Naval Attaché for a time, let her son Gadell come to her office after school. Tenel Ka had bumped into the slightly older boy one day and the two had become fast friends, doing their level best to hide from their parents and terrorize the local avians that flew about the Palace Gardens. Either because he could not be bothered to pronounce it, or just because he liked her slightly annoyed look, it took Gadell three years to finally get her name right, insisting on calling her ‘Tenna’ in the meantime. After she finished, Jacen smiled warmly, “That’s nothing to be embarrassed about, it’s a cute story. I got my nickname because Anakin couldn’t pronounce ‘Jacen’, after all.” Tenel Ka shrugged as she started to cuddle up once again to Jacen before stopping. Looking worriedly into his face, she asked, “You didn’t tell Mother about...” Jacen shook his head, and whispered into her hair, “Of course not, Tiki.” Smiling in relief, she started to nibble on his ear as she took off his t-shirt, “Good.” With a low growl, Jacen rolled her on top of him and quickly removed her purple silk camisole, reveling in the feel of her skin against his. Somewhere in the back of his mind was the thought that her parents were only about six meters away across the corridor, but he was beyond caring. He just hoped that the Dragon’s cabins were as soundproof as he remembered. _____(___)_____ A/N: Back when I was stalking J/TK stories both on here and on FF.N, I noticed that quite a few of the posters from years gone by would refer to her as Tiki. To me, it always seemed like a name that Jacen would give her and that it was a name that she would only tolerate from him, so I invented a backstory for it.