Always: Return of the Jedi
by: Trickster_Jaina_Fel



Disclaimer: Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta and George Lucas own all recognizable characters and planets. I'm just borrowing them for a little while and I don't get paid for this. I only own the actual writing (and even that's tentative), Sanar, Devnos, NLY and a few miscellaneous OC's. We all clear on that? Great :)

Summary: Five years after where "Jedi Under Siege" should have taken place, the galaxy is at war. The Empire has risen again, with "Emperor Palpatine" (Brakiss) at its head, and Lord Onyx (once known as Zekk) as his right hand. After the death of her younger brother and her own descent - and ascent - from Darkness, Jaina has given up on Zekk's redemption. When she is kidnapped and enslaved by the Empire, however, she digs into her remaining strength for one last try. Can Light - and buried love - overcome the Dark side? And, if it can, will the price be too great to pay?

Characters: Jaina Solo, Zekk (a.k.a. Lord Onyx), Brakiss, Sanar Klis, Kyp Durron, Jacen Solo, Devnos Klis, Miko Reglia

A/N: praise is wonderful, constructive criticism is even better. Please, please, please tell me what you thought at trickster_jaina_fel@hotmail.com *showers you all with flowers*

http://boards.theforce.net/message.asp?topic=9257025




*        *        *




Part One


The Sith have returned to the Galaxy. Led by the dictates of the Emperor long thought to be dead, they have been sweeping the galaxy in a new Jedi purge. Among the fallen are Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, his nephew Anakin Solo, Corran Horn, Mara Jade Skywalker the former Emperor's Hand, Jedi Knight Streen and Jedi Knight Tionne. With their masters dead or dying and pursued by agents of the Dark lord, the students of Luke Skywalker's Jedi academy have had to learn to fend for themselves. Jaina and Jacen Solo, the eldest members of the academy, lead the children in a now mundane routine. Their only goal is to prepare for the war that will surely come to them. Led by the "Darkest Knight", the Sith sweep across the galaxy, hunting down and destroying the Jedi who dare oppose them, their final goal the Jedi Temple on Yavin 4…




*        *        *




Part Two


"They're here."

Jacen Solo sighed at his sister's flat words and kicked himself for finding it unexpected. This was what they'd been preparing for the past five years. Why should it surprise him it'd finally come to pass? "I know."

She raised an eyebrow at him. " 'I know'? Is that all you're going to say? Get on the comm. and find Tenel Ka. Tell her...tell her to get over here and to bring Lowie."

"Right."

She growled in exasperation when he didn't move. "Well, what are you waiting for? Do it!"

He looked at her for a long moment. "Sure, Jaya." He nodded slowly before grabbing his comlink and doing as his twin told him. He thumbed it on, "Tenel Ka?"

"Yes, friend Jacen?"

For a brief moment, Jacen's eyes closed as he let the sound of her voice wash over him. As soon as we evacuate this place I'm going to have to tell her how I feel, he thought. He looked up to see Jaina gathering what was left of the Jedi students into a huddle.

He sighed again. His sister had changed so much since the Empire began to take over. At nineteen, she was bowed with the responsibilities of keeping the youngest students in control. It wasn't her strong point, but somebody had to lead after he'd taken over the administrative duties.

With effort, he turned his mind back to his task. "The Nightsisters are here."

The warrior woman's tone was grave. "This is a fact."

"Jaina says to come here quickly. Oh, and bring Lowie."

"Of course."

He knew she would end the connection then, and the Force gave him a nudge. "Tenel Ka?" he started, feeling light headed.

"Yes, friend Jacen?"

"Um…" I love you "never mind."

"Of course. I will meet you and friend Jaina in five minutes."

"Right." He heard her comlink click out and he banged his hand on the nearby table. "Coward," he muttered.




*        *        *




Part Three


Aarylia Tisane, the Jedi student that Jaina already considered her apprentice, though it would not be official for a few more years, looked up at Jaina. "What's wrong?" she queried, untouched by the quiet panic that was spreading amongst the other students; she trusted her master and the other adult Jedi to protect her.

Jaina flashed a quick Solo grin at the small red-head and squeezed the eight-year-old's shoulder. "We're evacuating."

Aarylia's face grew sombre as she concentrated, then her aqua eyes widened in surprise. "Evil..." she breathed "…so much Darkness." She looked up at Jaina, wide-eyed. "They are coming, Master."

Jaina glanced around before kneeling. "Yeah, they are, Aarie." She looked down, sighed, looked back up again. "I need you to do something for me, alright? I need you to be strong."

Aarylia's chin shot up in a defiance much like her Master's own. "They will never capture us. Never."

"Well, we'll do our very best to make it so." Jaina gave the girl a last reassuring grin, and then stood when she felt Lowie and Tenel Ka's enter the room. The ginger furred Wookiee walked straight towards her, a question on his lips. Tenel Ka took her time, her athletic, willowy body encased in her lizard hide armour, as was her custom.

"Take the students and evacuate," she ordered her friends crisply, not wasting a second on pleasantries as she turned to face them. "Jacen and I will cover you."

Tenel Ka shook her head once and pursed her lips, her eyes promising retribution. "I shall stay also, friend Jaina. The Nightsisters are traitors of Dathomir and thus my affair."

Jaina's lips thinned in impatience. She had expected this. "No, Tenel Ka. Jacen and I work best as a pair. It would be awkward with you there."

"Jeesh, Jaya," Jacen remarked, trying to lighten the atmosphere as he came up to the group of Jedi Knights. "You're as blunt as a ronto."

His sister's eyes were hard. "We're in the middle of a war, Jacen. This not the time to be subtle."

Her other half shrugged and let it go. He didn't like it, but she did have a point. He shrugged and half-grinned at Tenel Ka. "Okay then, Jay."

Tenel Ka and Jaina glared at each other and Jacen winced at the sight of fiery brandy eyes meeting cool grey. Ever since the Darkest Knight had killed Teneniel Djo, Tenel Ka's mother, Tenel Ka had been bitter and had taken much of that hostility out on Jaina. More and more it seemed Jacen and Lowie were caught in the middle of the equally stubborn and determined young women. Why me? he wondered, rolling his eyes at their posturing.

Suddenly, a black wave of Darkness washed over the Jedi, forcing Jaina and Tenel Ka to snap out of their clash of wills. Tenel Ka gritted her teeth. "Lowbacca and I will take the students to Hapes," she conceded, refusing to look at Jaina, her voice clipped. "May the Force be with you." She gave the Solo twins one last look and walked off.

Jacen watched her go, a sinking feeling settling in the pit of his stomach. For some strange reason, he was certain he was never going to see her again.




*        *        *




Part Four


Jaina's lightsaber whirled as she deflected blaster bolts. She was so deep in the Force that she was only vaguely aware of Jacen fighting beside her.

Finally, she felt the Nightsisters she had sensed earlier coming. As quickly as she could without disoriented herself, she pulled out of the Force enough to be aware of her surroundings. "How much longer until we're good to go?" she shouted over the ping of blaster fire on durasteel and the buzz of the twins' lightsabers.

Jacen paused to deflect several more shots before ducking behind a pillar and looking over to where Lowie and Tenel Ka were loading the Jedi students into the by now greatly-battered Rock Dragon. Tenel Ka, seeing Jacen, yelled, "We leave in twelve minutes, friend Jacen."

Jacen nodded. "If we don't get back by then leave and we'll take the Shadow Chaser!" Tenel Ka nodded and spun on her heel into the ship. Jacen ducked back into the corner where Jaina was. "Twelve minutes, Jaya!"

She gave him a tiny Force-nudge to let him know that she had heard, then lunged at one of the stormtroopers. Neither she nor Jacen needed to be distracted when the Dark warriors from Dathomir came. Sensing her plan, Jacen moved until he could defend Jaina, freeing her to work purely on offense.

Jaina had just taken care of the last stormtrooper when Tamith Kai stepped into the hallway. Jaina set her jaw and narrowed her eyes. The last time she had seen the violet-eyed Nightsister she had also seen her youngest brother, Anakin, cut down with his own lightsaber.

"Tamith Kai." She hoped the frelling daughter of a bantha froze from the ice in her voice.

Tamith Kai's dark wine coloured lips curled into something that vaguely resembled a smile. "Jaina Solo. It will be my pleasure to bring to the Emperor."

"Over my dead body."

The Nightsister shrugged. "That can be arranged. It would be such a pity though; I'm sure the Empire's Darkest Knight would not mind having you. He so fancies dark-haired dancing girls and perhaps with a little training you could join his favourites…" Seeing Jaina flinch, Tamith Kai's smile grew.

Jacen, seeking to protect his sister from even more guilt and heartache-Sith, he hated Zekk for what he had done-stepped forward. "You're going to pay for all the Jedi you've killed, Tamith Kai."

Two more Nightsisters joined Tamith Kai. "We shall see, Jedi. Tell me, how does it feel to know that your religion is dead and that you will soon join it?"

"Are you trying to babble us to death, Tamith Kai?" Jaina asked dryly, recovering from her emotional struggle. "Because it won't work-I'm too used to Jacen's babbling."

Jacen turned a hurt expression on his twin. "What do you mean, you're too used to me babbling for her babbling to have any affect on you? She babbles way more than I do!"

Jaina rolled her eyes. "This isn't the time for us to discuss how much you babble, Wampa brain."

"Wampa brain? What did I do to deserve this treatment? All I've ever done is-"

"Shut up Jacen," Jaina said, her voice as sharp as one of Tenel Ka's throwing blades. "We'll talk about this later."

"Oh, yeah, I know." Jacen flashed her an easy grin. "I was just stalling for time. You want Tamith Kai?"

"Duh." Without waiting for her brother, Jaina lunged forward, blade slashing toward the lead Nightsister's head.

Jacen rolled his eyes and twirled his lightsaber once before following his twin. When they were side-by-side Jacen said casually, "So, did you ever think about maybe waiting for me?"

"Nope," Jaina said just as casually as she dodged a tentative thrust from Tamith Kai's lightsaber. "You're too slow."

"Whatever. You're going to get yourself killed someday, you know that?"

"Hm," was all Jaina managed to say as Tamith Kai's attack became more ruthless and concentrated.

For several moments the twins were quiet, only the five lightsabers and the whine of the Rock Dragon's taking off breaking the silence. Jacen felt his sweat begin to trickle down his back and his arms were tiring quickly. /How much longer, do you think?/ he asked to Jaina.

Jaina blocked a blow to her stomach. /Three, maybe four minutes/

/Think we can hold out that long?/

/Just-/ Jaina threw her leg out and tripped Tamith Kai, then plunged her lightsaber into Tamith Kai's heart and ran to help Jacen. /Piece of sweet cake with frill syrup/

/Nice work Jaya/

/Thank-you. Hey, where's the third one?/

The third Nightsister gave an enraged cry as she felt the death of her fellow warrior and ran out from behind a pillar, right arm and fingers outstretched. Jaina, knowing exactly what that meant, ducked and rolled, coming up to one knee and holding her lightsaber up as protection, should the Nightsister aim the Sith lightning at her.

Jacen, who had been standing beside his twin, was not so lucky. The young man's body soaked up the Dark electricity like a sponge taking in water, causing him to fly against the wall.

Jaina's eyes widened and she froze in shock, but only for a moment. Flying to her feet she raced over to the third Nightsister only to be tackled by the second. She went down with an "oomph."

Jacen writhed in agony as the blue-white lightning flow intensified. The pain was so extreme that he couldn't even scream.

"You fool!" he heard the second Nightsister shout. "You're not supposed to kill him!"

"Let him die," the third Nightsister snarled. "Let his sister feel our pain. The Lord Emperor only needs the girl!"

"He wants them both alive!"

There was a sudden, powerful burst of pain and then only a tingling feeling. To Jacen's horror, the electricity was at the point where it was killing his nerves. /Jaina!/ he shouted through the twin bond.

Jaina slammed the second Nightsister into the wall and raced to her twin's aid. Her kick landed across the third Nightsister's face. The Dark one howled in pain as Jaina continued to take her vengeance out on the woman who tried to kill Jacen.

Jacen looked up and cried a warning, but Jaina turned too late. The stun bolt hit her square in the chest and she fell with a thump. When Jacen attempted to drag his tingling, shaking body toward his other half, a blue stun bolt arced toward him and then everything faded to black.




*        *        *




Part Five


Jaina woke slowly, her body feeling sluggish and unresponsive. She opened her eyes as a surge of adrenaline shot through her body. Nightsisters! The darkness surrounding her was impenetrable to her eyes. She stretched out with the Force, trying to find someone near by. Jacen. She'd know his Force signature anywhere. Her arms ached as she reached out to the side, feeling for him.

A soft moan directed her hand and she rolled over, checking him through the Force for injuries. She fought off the sudden wave of pain he was feeling as consciousness came rushing back. She bit her lip and moved closer to him. "What do you think they'll do to us, Jasa?" she asked softly.

Jacen's whole body twitched as an after-effect of the Dark electricity and he shook his head. "I-I don't know, J-Jaya." He was stuttering, the nerves in his system still not responding to his brain's commands. He felt as if he'd been thrown into an ion storm without a ship.

The two were quiet for a few moments before Jaina whispered, "She said Brakiss wants us alive. What do you suppose she meant by that?"

"I-I don't know."

Jaina's bottom lip trembled as she felt her brother's life force weaken and she snuggled deeper into Jacen's side. He gratefully held her close, forcing his arms to fold about her.

"Jaya?"

"Mm-hm?"

"Promise m-me something?"

Jaina drew back enough to see her brother's face, his features barely visible even up close. "As best I can."

"Be strong, Jaya. Live for me?"

Jaina sat up straight in denial. "Why should I live for you, huh Jacen? You're going to live. You have to. If you don't, it-" she felt the tears begin to stream down her face and she took a shuddering breath. "What's the number one rule of being a Jedi Knight, Jacen? Never die. If you-die," her voice quavered but she pushed on, "it'll totally screw up the escape plan."

Jacen offered a small grin. "Oops. Guess you'll have to use that brilliant mind of yours to find another way out."

She shook her head. "Escape from the Imperial palace, with stormtroopers, Dark Jedi, Brakiss, the Nightsisters and the Darkest Knight without detection, without backup-"

"But you'll have back up," Jacen argued, shocking Jaina into silence. "You'll have Zekk."

Jaina's eyes shuttered. "Zekk's dead, Jacen."

"You didn't always believe that." When his sister didn't say anything he continued. "You used to believe you could turn him back. What if you were right? What if it's your...I don't know...destiny to save him?"

Her lip curled in distaste, memories clawing for attention. "What if it's my destiny to die and rot here for my stupidity?"

Jacen looked surprised. "Your love isn't stupid, Jaina. Love never is. You should have admitted to him that you love him but you're getting your second chance."

Jaina snorted. "Oh, you're the one to talk, aren't you? At least I have the whole too young/Sith vs. Jedi excuse. You and Tenel Ka have been stuck together like glue for the past five years and neither of you will get over your own stubbornness and just admit to each other that you are way past the friendship stage. In fact you never were friends. You know, Jacen, sometimes you're a real idiot."

Jacen was quiet for several minutes. "Jaya?"

"Yeah?"

"Could you tell her?"

"Could I tell her that you're an idiot? Sure; I mean, I don't know why she wouldn't already know but-"

Jacen sighed in exasperation and looked up at the ceiling, palms upward. "What did I do to deserve this?" he moaned.

Jaina smirked. "I don't know, what did you do to deserve me? You've always been such a juvenile delinquent-"

"Oh shut up, you. At least I never put paint in Mom's make-up." The playful banter that had been such a big part of their friendship was a comfort for both of them even as they were well aware of the fact that death was drawing close, eager to bring home one of the Force's darlings.

Once again Jaina leaned against her brother. "I'll tell her you love her, Jasa; I promise."

The next time Jacen spoke his voice was tinged with irony. "You know, I should have known this would happen."

"That what would happen?"

He gestured around the room with a shaky hand. "This. The Force kept trying to get me to tell Tenel Ka that I love her. Guess it's a good thing I carry this around, huh?"

Jaina looked to see what Jacen held in his slightly trembling left hand: a small holodisc. He looked at her, a question in his eyes. "I'll give it to her," she said, hoping it wouldn't be the first time she had to break a promise to him. She took the disc and sighed before looking up with a smirk. "We never could do anything without the other, not even the whole falling-in-love thing."

Jacen raised an eyebrow, a teasing glint in his eyes. "Jaina! You never told me you loved Tenel-"

Jaina rolled her eyes. "Of course I don't lamu head," she replied, pausing to tug Jacen's dark, shaggy curls. "But I'm in love with Zekk - a Sith Lord - and that's just about as bad."

Jacen's laughter rang out in the small prison cell. "Almost, but not quite," he agreed.




*        *        *




Part Six

 

The Darkest Knight watched through narrowed eyes as Commander Depuit came into his quarters and saluted sharply. "Commander," he said softly, voice filled with menace.

The man swallowed visibly. "My Lord, the Emperor commands your presence."

Lord Onyx nodded once. "Of course, commander."

The blond man saluted once more and hurried away as quickly as possible. Depuit was not Force-sensitive, but even he could feel the Darkness of the Sith that radiated from Lord Onyx.

~*~*~

"Jaya?"

"Yeah?"

"They're coming."

"No bantha cheese."

"I'm serious Jaya!"

"So'm I."

"We're going to find out what happens to us next."

"Really? Are you sure they're not coming for a game of Sabacc? Honestly, Jasa, you're getting to be as bad as Threepio."

"I am not as bad as Threepio!"

"Could you say anything more Threepio-ish?"

"Hey!" A bright light pouring in and the appearance of two of the Emperor's Guards in the prison cut off any other retort Jacen might have made, their blood red robes a sharp contrast to the dark room.

Without a word the Guards moved into the room, each taking a Solo twin by the arm and pulling them out effortlessly.

They walked halfway across the Imperial Palace before they were thrown into different sides of a large room. The door was slammed shut when the Guards left. Jaina cast a curious glance around before looking at Jacen. "They need to fire their interior decorator. Everyone knows pastels are in. White is so three months ago," she finished in a mock snobby voice.

Jacen smiled and walked toward her-and right into an energy wall. "Ouch," he muttered.

Jaina looked around again, this time in admiration. "Idiot shields, however," she paused to wink at Jacen, "are very in."

Jacen groaned and shook his head in mock despair. Only Jaina could joke about "idiot shields" in an interrogation chamber, he thought. Only Jaina.




*        *        *




Part Seven

 

Lord Onyx forced himself to study the male Solo twin before the female counterpart. He sneered in disgust. Jacen Solo-messier and more idiotic than he had been five years ago. Or, he corrected generously, perhaps not more so, but rather more obviously so to the Darkest Knight after five years of living among the higher class.

Hungrily, Lord Onyx's gaze left Jacen and found its way to Jaina. The last time he had seen her was eighteen months before, at Mon Calamari, when they had duelled. She had believed she was fighting to defend the Jedi students when his real mission had been to capture her. He had left thinking it impossible for any woman to be more beautiful than she had been that day.

He had also left thinking she was dead.

But it had been a lie-another lie, he thought, seething-from his Master. Lord Onyx's hand clenched in a fist for a moment before he released it and concentrated once more on the young woman that was still unaware of his presence. Her hair was in a loose braid that was swiftly coming undone, first from her duel with the Nightsisters and then her captivity. Her clothes were that of any Jedi Knight-tan pants and tunic, and dark brown robe. Her multi-tool belt-all items well used and still somewhat greasy-hung at an angle, starting at her natural waistline and going to the bottom of her hip where her lightsaber would normally be.

She was far more beautiful than he remembered, he thought, his eyes darkening with desire. And at last she was his.

"I will keep the girl, of course," the Lord Emperor said. When he felt Lord Onyx tense beside him, Brakiss chuckled and let his lustful gaze fall on Jaina. "Such a lovely creature, is she not, Lord Onyx? So much like her mother."

Lord Onyx raged inside, knowing without a doubt that the Emperor had planned this. He also knew that his master would be willing to hand her over to him-for a price. "Yes," Lord Onyx murmured as his mind sped over possibilities of what the Emperor might want in return for Jaina. "Lovely. I do believe, however, that you promised me a Jedi captive. Why not give me her?"

"Hm, perhaps." The Emperor pretended to think about it a moment. "No, Lord Onyx. She is too powerful. She could-and would-escape you too easily."

"She would not escape," Lord Onyx snarled through gritted teeth.

"Perhaps…if she had a Force suppressor…but then she would still be dangerous."

"I'm sure you and your technicians could think of a way to fix that." He turned a cold, fake smile on Brakiss. "Why not use her twin against her?"

"Oh, because," the Emperor said, a malicious smile spreading across his face. "I'm going to re-stimulate his nerves."




*        *        *




Part Eight

 

Jaina jolted out of her bantering mood as Jacen's body began to shake from pain and he screamed into her mind. She jumped to her feet and went up to the wall of energy that separated them, able only to feel his agony and her own while their bond began to fray as death grew closer and closer.

She watched helplessly, banging her hands on the glass, uncaring about the electric shocks that ran through her arms. "JACEN!" his name was torn from her throat as tears streamed down her cheeks. "No, JACEN!" she punched the barrier as his body writhed from the exploding nerve endings, the sensation echoing in her own nerves. Despairingly, she realized his nerves weren't just active; they were being stimulated to the point of death. Her breathing came in short gasps as she slammed her hands, open palmed, against the barrier that separated them. "NO!"

/I love you, Jaya/ Jacen managed to say through the bond as his body went into severe shock.

Tears blurred her vision as blackness began to encroach on the edges. /Jasa…love you too!/ Jaina screamed as she felt the "Jacen-ness" of her brother-his very mind-disappear into the pain, his heart still pumping. There was a loud crack of bones snapping and Jaina dropped to the floor, shocked into pained silence as Jacen-and half of her heart, soul and very being-became one with the Force, disappearing completely. She could never be sure if he heard the last message she'd sent to his mind.

~*~*~ Halfway across the galaxy, Leia Organa Solo gasped as a phantom pain flew over her from the Force. Before she could comprehend who it came from there were two explosions in the Force: the death of a Jedi-no, her very heart and soul screamed, not just any Jedi, her only remaining son, Jacen-and the other of anguish unlike anything she had ever felt, from Jaina.

The baby within her, terrified and in pain, screamed, and Leia's heart with it.

In a desperate act, she severed whatever bond she had with Jaina and strengthened her mental shields. Her husband, Han Solo, turned to her, reading the awful truth in her eyes and opened his arms. And, in the comfort of her also-grieving husband's embrace, and in the comfort of the knowledge that her baby was safe, Leia cried.

~*~*~

The Rock Dragon sped through hyperspace with its precious cargo, Lowie at the helm. Tenel Ka had just unbuckled her crash webbing to go check on the students when a blast of white-hot pain lanced through her soul. Jacen! She went crashing into the wall, stumbling from the sudden, blinding pain. His Force presence blazed brilliantly inside her for a brief, shining moment, before disappearing completely. It felt much like a last caress.

Tenel Ka slid down the wall, shaking with silent sobs she couldn't release. Lowbacca's inquiring whine penetrated her anguish. Jacen is gone. She bowed her head and wiped her eyes, noticing for the first time that her cheeks were streaked with tears. Forcing herself to her feet, she shielded her emotions and buried them. She could feel the confusion of the Jedi children; Jacen's passing had disturbed the Force.

Setting her jaw resolutely, she rose to her feet. She could grieve later; for now she had a responsibility to uphold and a promise to keep. She would get the children safely to Hapes. Offering a silent assurance to Lowie, she resumed walking towards the cargo bay, feeling empty and suddenly so very, very alone.




*        *        *




Part Nine

 

Lord Onyx felt a flicker of regret when the Emperor used the Force to push at Jacen's nerve centre, activating the pain all over again. After all, it couldn't be that Jacen was a fool on purpose.

Then Jaina screamed.

A sharp stab of anguish bled through a Force bond he hadn't known he possessed with her, searing to his soul. Quickly and-though he would deny it-unable to bear the agony in Jaina's scream, Lord Onyx called upon the Force and snapped Jacen's neck. Jaina's screams stopped abruptly, but somehow, the silence was worse - and louder - than her verbal cries.

The Emperor turned to his apprentice, livid. "You dare to interfere?" he demanded.

"You've made your point, Lord Emperor," Lord Onyx replied coldly as he turned back to the viewport, watching as Jaina stared at her brother's empty robes in silent shock. "She could be a powerful ally. Torturing her twin past the point where his mind is no longer there is not the way to earn her allegiance."

The Emperor continued to glare at Lord Onyx. "Do not try my patience any longer, my apprentice, or you will earn my wrath."

"Jaina has never been an individual," Lord Onyx stated flatly, continuing to watch the Solo daughter. "She is a Jedi - one of a cult, if you will, that encourages anonymity - and a Solo/Skywalker…making her a celebrity for her family's sake and not her own. She was also a twin - half of one being. Now she finds her cult rapidly withering, her family dead, far away or on bad terms with her. And her twin is now dead, leaving her with half a heart and soul. At this point she will grab any willing individual from her happier past as an anchor."

Understanding flooded the Emperor's face and the Sith Master released an evil cackle. "And you were her childhood playmate," he finished. "The very one who saved her brother from more pain." The Emperor waved a hand imperiously. "Very well then, Lord Onyx. Turn her, no matter what it takes. From now on, Jaina Solo's life is in your hands."




*        *        *




Part Ten

 

Jaina didn't bother to protest when two Guards dragged her roughly to large, tastefully decorated-if not overly black and white-quarters. It didn't matter. If they planned on killing her she didn't care, she'd be one with the Force and she wouldn't have to face the Sith-spawned war that she had practically started by not realizing Zekk's Force potential.

If they tried to torture her, well, she'd like to see them top Jacen's death.

However, Jaina's protective wall of not-caring nearly broke when she recognized the Force-essence that covered the quarters. The rooms the Guards had thrown her in belonged to Ze-no, she reminded herself for the billionth time in five years, not Zekk-Lord Onyx.

"You're here." The quiet statement startled her and she spun to see Lord Onyx in all his Sithly glory. Jaina's eyes-not quite under her control in the aftermath of Jacen's death-took him in admiringly. He'd grown a foot since the holo he sent her five years before, when he had first begun his training at the Shadow Academy. His dark hair, as long as before but certainly not as unruly or messy, was now tied back neatly at the nape of his neck. His emerald eyes, piercing and as beautiful as she remembered, looked back at her, his gaze, oddly enough, filled with desire, as if she were water on Tatooine.

"Obviously," Jaina snapped, forcing her eyes to stop their admiration of his physique. Not going there Solo. He's a Sith, remember? Her heart stubbornly clung to any excuse she could find for him. Angry with herself, she pressed logic and pain into the mental conversation. Remember Teneniel D'jo? Tenel Ka's mom? Lord Onyx killed her, just like he killed Raynar, Aunt Mara, and thousands of others. I may end up being attracting to…scoundrels, but he's way past that stage.

Lord Onyx's eyebrow leapt up in almost-amusement. "Still have fire in your soul, Jedi Solo?" he asked, breaking into her mental lecture.

Jedi Solo? she wondered, a little hurt that she was no more than a title. Well if he wants to play it that way, fine.

"Merely stating a fact," she said calmly. /Anyone with eyes could see that I'm here, Onyx. You weren't quoting philosophy!/ she sent coldly through the bond she had mysteriously found between them. It was, she decided, a bond she didn't particularly want.

"The Emperor," Jaina sniggered and Lord Onyx gave her an anger-filled glare before continuing, "has found you guilty of treason." He paused as if expecting her to ask about her trial. Jaina, however, knew that there would be no such thing as Brakiss couldn't afford anyone to figure out he wasn't Palpatine and said nothing. "You, Jedi Knight Jaina Solo," Onyx continued, "are henceforth stripped of all rights-human, alien, or otherwise-and have been signed over to me."

Jaina's mind, still sore from Jacen's death, took several seconds to take it all in. When it did her temper flared. "I'd rather die than be the pleasure-slave of a monster like you!" she spat, remembering Tamith Kai's mocking threat.

Lord Onyx ignored the brief flicker of pain he felt at her obvious low opinion of him. Instead, he took several steps forward until there was very little room between. He smiled slightly when he saw her jaw angle defiantly and her body tense, ready to fight if she had to. Reaching out, he ran three fingers down the side of her face to the base of her neck. Impossibly, her body tensed even more, as if she thought he would choke her. He ignored another second of pain at the idea.

"Would you rather be the…property of the Lord Emperor?" he asked menacingly, almost daring her to speak the affirmative. He was pleased to feel pain and even a small amount of fear at the suggestion. So, she knew how Brakiss treated his slaves, did she? "I am your only friend in the Imperial Palace, Jaina Solo," he said softly, but no less coldly. "You would be wise not to anger me."

Jaina's eyes darkened with something he didn't recognize and she sighed and looked down, breaking eye contact. "If this is how you treat your friends, Onyx, I'd hate to see how you treat your enemies."


*        *        *




Part Eleven


The next several hours were tense as Jaina silently recounted evil deed Lord Onyx had ever committed in an effort to keep from saying, thinking or doing something she would regret. She stood, leaning against one wall, her arms crossed defensively in front of her, trying to ignore his presence. She needed to keep her focus.

Lord Onyx lounged across from her in a large chair, a drink in one hand, one leg propped over one of the arms. He allowed his gaze to rake freely over her, lingering on the curve of her neck, the swell of her hips and beyond. She could feel every pass of those green eyes as if he touched her and fought against the urge to find something to cover herself with. Those eyes saw too much and made her feel exposed, vulnerable. Finally, unable to bear his scrutiny, she snapped. "Why do you stare?"

Lord Onyx paused for a moment before replying, then gave her a charming, seductive smile. "Simply admiring the view."

Jaina felt a spark of anger in the mess her emotions were rapidly becoming and grabbed it for all she was worth. "Then would you be so kind," she said through gritted teeth, tilting her jaw imperiously, "as to stop looking at me as if I were a cocoa-caram cake with cream."

"I think you left that stage when you were fifteen," Lord Onyx stated, enjoying the blush that stained her cheeks.

Jaina had never been so embarrassed and disgusted in her life. Zekk would have died before he said something like that! she thought with a flash of pain. The realization forwarded her desire to knock some sense into her own head. How can you love him? a bratty little voice that sounded like her mother asked. He's not the boy you grew up with, which is an improvement and a handicap! "Pervert," she spat.

Lord Onyx dropped his feet to the floor and walked toward her, becoming aware, for the first time, that she was truly uncomfortable with-and perhaps a bit afraid of-his frank admiration of her beauty. An apology began to make its way through his lips before he realized it. When he did, he pursed his lips. I'm a Sith! he thought angrily. There's no reason for me to apologize to her! Swallowing the unspoken apology, he slapped her instead. "I hope, for your sake, that you never feel the need to be so blatantly insulting to me again."

She glared up at him, cheek and ego stinging from the almost unexpected slap. "I'll say what I wish," she fired back.

"Not if you expect to last much longer, you won't." He stared down at her for a moment, letting the threat sink in, then spun on his heel and left, locking the door behind him.


*        *        *




Part Twelve


Jaina's eyes closed at the sound of the door slamming shut and did not open until long after Lord Onyx was on the other side of the Imperial palace. Vaguely, she recognized the spikes of adrenaline and concentration that she was getting off him as the state a Jedi sunk into when they were sparring. Unlike a Jedi, however, she sensed the almost overpowering darkness of a Sith. Not like Jacen, she thought, her eyelids pricking with unshed tears at the memory of her brother. When Jacen had sparred, it was with a pure Light and determination. Many had taken him for a child who didn't know the meaning of being serious and an all-around goofball.

Jaina, however, had known differently.

At the very core, Jacen had been vulnerable, thoughtful, and one of the most compassionate beings Jaina had ever known. Whenever Jaina had been upset, Jacen was there to comfort her and tell some stupid joke to help distract her. When she was scared of the dark as a child, he had stolen a glow rod from the closet for her. When she remained afraid, he stayed nearby all night-every night-until she was able to walk through the dark alone and unafraid. When the twins were kidnapped-a common occurrence throughout their lives-he had always been there, boosting her confidence by simply knowing she would make a successful escape plan.

And now he was gone.

The events of the day catching up with her, she sank to the ground, silent sobs wracking her body until she was shaking like a leaf caught in a Hoth snowstorm.

"I don't blame you for crying. Look at this room! If it was a med-bay it couldn't be more sterile!" The voice, completely unexpected, startled Jaina out of her tears and her head jerked up.

When all she saw was a blur, she rubbed her eyes viciously. Looking up again, she sighed and gave a watery smile to the transparent form before her. Once, his hair had been black and his eyes green. Now, however, he was only blue. "Hey Kyp," she said softly.

Kyp Durron, Jedi Master, gave the last of the Solo kids a smile. "Hey Jay."

They were quiet for a moment, then, "What-what are you doing here?" she sputtered, recovering from her shock.

He gave her a mock hurt look. "Can't a guy pull a ghostie to comfort his honorary little sister?"

Her eyes narrowed. "No."

His blue hands went to his heart, as if her words had struck a chord in his very soul. "You're killing me," the dead Jedi Master cracked.

She snorted and felt a smirk climb up her face. "Alright, alright. So you came to 'comfort' me. You've done that so could you let me go back to my private grief now?

His teasing air vanished abruptly and he became solemn. "No.

She blinked once, then repeated incredulously, " 'No'?"

He sat down on the floor across from her, legs crossed. "You're treading dangerous ground, Jaina. Bury your grief deep or the Emperor and Lord Onyx will exploit it."

"You want me to go the rest of my life without acknowledging my grief?" she demanded.

He shook his head. "There is a time to fight and a time to grieve. As such, you will be fighting for some time before you can grieve. But you will find the time."

"So basically, you want me to be a droid," she stated flatly.

"The Sith will try to turn you," he said seriously. "You're at your most vulnerable stage right now."

"I'm a Jedi. I won't turn."

"Don't let arrogance sneak up on you, Jaina. The Dark Side is easier, and far more seductive than the Light."

She gave him half a grin. "You don't need to tell me all this, Kyp. I was there after Anakin died and I know as well as anyone that the Light is more fulfilling."

His face was grave. "Remember your words, Jay. They can save you."

Rolling her eyes, she nodded. "Anything else?"

He hesitated. "You're not going to want to hear this-"

"When do I ever want to hear you say anything?" she teased.

Kyp's ironic grin echoed her own. "True. But try this once?"

She cocked an eyebrow. "I'm waiting."

"Bury one thing even deeper than your grief, Jay-your love for Zekk."

Her eyes shuttered. "Zekk's gone; why should I have to bury my love for him?"

"If you've accepted the fact that Zekk's gone and he's Lord Onyx now, never to change-and I know you haven't or you would have willed yourself to die, rather than be the slave to a Sith - then let your love die for him as well."

"Let me guess," she said sarcastically, "Onyx would exploit that too?"

"Yes…but not in the way you think. You've seen the way Onyx looks at you. You're not so innocent that you think he won't act on it someday. But it's the Emperor you need to hide your emotions from. He will use them against not only you, but Onyx."

"But if Onyx is - "

"So Dark, why should he care?" he finished for her. He was quiet for a moment. Then, "If he has a weakness, Jay, it's you."

Jaina's spine straightened and her eyes widened in shock. "Then he can be redeemed?" she asked excitedly. "A Sith can't care about someone and not have traces of Light - "

Kyp raised a hand in an effort to still her. "Jaina - Jaina stop." She quieted, but the excited gleam did not leave her eyes. "Yes, you've had reason to cling to hope but even though he's vulnerable, right now you are even more so. Let yourself heal before you chase after Darkness."

She bit her bottom lip as she gave the Jedi Master a pleading look.

"Jaina, I'm serious. Interact with the Sith as little as possible - while you're healing especially."

She flipped her hair over her shoulder and gave him a sour look. "Fine. Whatever. But when you wonder why I don't like to hear from you, remember this conversation."

"Sure, but only if you understand when I tell you I hate talking to you."

Jaina smirked. "Yeah, sure, that's what all my old baby-sitters say," she remarked.

Kyp let out a snicker. "What - do you actually expect people who had to put up with your Force-tantrums to be happy around you?"

"I never had a Force tantrum with you around. You always cut Jacen and me off from the Force when you baby-sat - "

"With my superior Force powers," he said arrogantly.

"With ysalamiri," she corrected with a grin. "So Jacen and I tied a ysalamiri to your back and then locked you in the 'fresher."

"But then Jacen opened the door and let me out because he had to 'go'," he finished.

She groaned. "He always did find a way to spoil my brilliant pranks. Whether it was because he had a weak bladder or-" She stopped mid-sentence as she felt a Dark presence that she recognized with eerie ease. "He's coming back."

Kyp gave her a sympathetic look. "Be strong Jaina, and remember what I told you-it could save you."

"Kyp," she pleaded, for what she didn't know, but he seemed to.

"I'll be around," he promised, "but things will get worse before they get better. May the Force be with you."

"But Kyp-" before she could complete her sentence the door whizzed open and Kyp disappeared, leaving her alone with Lord Onyx.


*        *        *




Part Thirteen


Lord Onyx watched a meditating Jaina out of the corner of his eye as he polished his lightsaber hilt. While they were more guarded, her thoughts and emotions were just as chaotic as when she started. When he had returned from his sparring, the brunette had barely looked at him before entering into a heavy meditation. Her cheeks had been flushed; her eyes pink and puffy from crying, causing him to frown but otherwise dismiss it. Through their bond he could feel her swirling emotions-anger, grief, determination, and an underlying emotion that floated just out of the corner of his eye, taunting him for his lack of understanding.

When he reached out in a mental attempt to better understand the emotion, Jaina's shields, as fiery as her temper, knocked him out of her mind. The action told him better than any words could have that she would guard the emotion fiercely as it was private and important to her. I will have to tell the Lord Emperor of this, he thought before his pride rose up. Jaina is mine, he argued silently but savagely. She is mine to turn, and mine to do with as I wish.

Then why haven't you done anything about it? an obnoxious part of his mind asked. She is your slave-why not do with her as you want? Why not do what you have desired to do for the past four years?

Lord Onyx pushed away the questioning voice unsettled by its questioning. The voice's inquiries were not to be thrown aside so easily, though. Why didn't he take her? Force knew, once he gave her the Force-suppressing drug he would be able to overpower her easily. Yet, for some reason, the very thought of taking her against her will just didn't sit well with him.

He growled deep in his throat and moved so that his eyes were focused solely on the reason of his uncertainty, lightsaber forgotten. It did not take long for him to lose himself in her intoxicating beauty. Nor, he noticed, did it take Jaina long to notice his stare, even in her meditative state from which she had shaken off with a practiced ease.

"Did we not talk about how you stare at me, Onyx?" Jaina asked, the fragile peace she had gathered in meditation leaving her like carbon dioxide in an outward breath.

He cocked a dark brow. "Did we not also talk of how you passed the stage where I could even possibly ignore your beauty when you were fifteen?"

"I am not food, water, heat or air, Onyx, and I would appreciate it if you acted as such," she gritted out, her cheeks getting hotter and hotter each second his gaze roved over her body. He allowed himself to admire her for several more moments, until she was certain she couldn't take it anymore, before his eyes connected with hers. That connection was even more unnerving but somewhat safer-at this point, anyway, when all he could read in her eyes was how uncomfortable she was.

When his green eyes left hers-and her body-indefinitely, Jaina gave a silent sigh of relief. She knew his lustful scrutiny would be back but for now she had been given a reprieve, for which she was grateful even as her eyes began to droop, everything that had happened catching up with her.

Without looking at her, Onyx gestured to a door to the left of his bedchamber. "You will sleep in there. Some clothing, sleep ware and other such items are in the closet."

Swallowing at the thought of being so close to Lord Onyx's bedchamber during the night as she slept, vulnerable, she mumbled a "thank you" and walked to it quickly.

"There is a lock on either side," he added, just as she began to step into the room. "The inside lock, you may use, but keep in mind that while many won't be able to get in when you do so, I will."

Taking in the threat - or was it a warning? After all, Kyp had said she was Onyx's only weakness so maybe he was telling her ahead of time, but wasn't that just as bad? - Jaina walked through the door, letting it whiz shut behind her.

The room, while small compared to the rest of Onyx's quarters, were spacious and tidy - something that wouldn't last long if she got her hands on any kind of machinery - but almost oppressive in the black and blood red decorating. There was a small window off to the left, but Onyx's quarters were on the seventh floor of the Palace, so it would be no use in escaping, even if she could fit through it. The blanket on her cot-a very thin blanket, she noted-was red and the almost transparent sheets were black.

Pulling her by now ratted, messy hair out of its braid, she went to the closet and opened it. Every item was black, with the exception of an occasional red item. As if this place weren't oppressive enough, she thought sourly. No wonder every Force-sensitive in the Imperial Palace became - and stayed - Sith. There was no colour to cheer them up.

"I've said it before, I'll say it again," Jaina muttered. "They need to fire they're interior decorator." She paused, then added to herself, "And their fashion consultant."

Sighing, she plunged a hand into the closet and selected an item at random and changed into it. She barely spared it a glance before settling onto the bed, her posture as relaxed as possible under the circumstances. Lord Onyx's stare had brought her out of her meditation sooner than she'd planned, not that it had been very successful. Taking a deep breath, she sunk into the Force and spread her awareness outward. First, she concentrated on Onyx - who seemed far more anxious and confused than a Sith lord should, she noticed with a spark of almost desperate hope - and then moved on to one of the Emperor's Guards, on the other side of the Palace. She reached out even more and sensed the minds and lives of the billions of beings on Coruscant.

Farther, she reached, looking for the trail a bond left behind. Come on, Mother, just once be there when I need you! She half pleaded, half growled in frustration as her search proved fruitless. Deciding upon another, easier but far more painful way to find her mother, Jaina withdrew into herself, into her very being.

At first, only shallow bonds showed themselves-bonds with a few Jedi students or childhood playmates she had long since left behind. Then her bond with Lusa-shadowed because of the self-inflicted isolation the centurion girl had hidden herself in since Raynar's death. A thousand bonds floated by her, many still screaming in agony from the death of the being on the other end. Others were carefully concealed for the protection of others, should a Dark Jedi get past her shields and prey on her mind. Still others were frayed, but none were the bond she shared with her mother and Jaina's mouth twitched in a frown. Odd, she thought. I'm sure Mother's bond should be here… But it wasn't, and Jaina steeled herself for the inevitable pain she was headed for.

Straightening her spine, Jaina moved past the "middle-man bonds" and to her very core…

…and into a maelstrom, the very definition of chaos swirling around her. Her core was not nearly as pure and full as it had been even a day before - yet another after effect of Jacen's death. The twin relationship had gone beyond a bond, until they were literally one. With Jacen dead… She shut down that thought and turned to see her soul-bonds.

The bond she had shared with Anakin, now cut, streaked around the core of her being, searching - as all dead bonds did - for its other half, still unable even to scream from the agony.

The bonds she had shared with her uncle Luke and aunt Mara were also there, floating, searching for a support to attach themselves to.

Her bond with Kyp - all but one thin strand cut, more painful even than Mara's death, and nearly as painful as Anakin's.

Her bond with her dad, strong, but one-sided as he wasn't Force-sensitive. She stroked it once, revelling in the comfort he always brought her, the understanding he-unlike her mother-had given her as a child, then as an adult.

But her mother wasn't there, and when Jaina tried to find her through Han, she found nothing. Her heart squeezed in the pain of finding another loved one gone. Why hadn't she felt Leia's death? Why-

And then she was distracted by a faint glimmer out of the corner of her perception. Turning, she saw the frayed remnants of a bond. Frayed…she noted, not cut.

Floating over, she studied the wildly grasping threads. They looked like…no, Jaina thought, her mother wouldn't…couldn't have done that…

But she had, Jaina realized in horror.

Jaina jolted out of her heavy meditation, sweating heavily, her heart and soul aching. Tears spilled onto her cheeks and even as she pushed them away they were replaced by new ones. She crawled under the blankets and buried her face into the pillow. Even as she forced herself to sleep her thoughts swirled, only one thought stable…the very one that had hurt more than she could have imagined:

Her mother, Leia Organa Solo, voice of compassion in the one-time New Republic's Senate, Jedi and Rebellion hero, had turned her back on her daughter in her most desperate time of need and cut their bond.

Jaina was truly alone.

~*~*~

I was trapped in an endless circle. But then, could I really call it a circle? I simply spun, around and around, seeing things I never wanted to see again. By day I was the Darkest Knight, by night, during my dreams-my nightmares-I was Zekk. I could not escape it. Around I went, with Jacen, my parents, Peckhum, thousands of unknowns, Jedi, and many others, all of them staring at me, looks of pain on their faces. Their screams - oh Sith, their screams of agony! - echoed in my mind, like the worst musical tune that wouldn't stop repeating itself over and over again.

And then I stopped spinning and the crowd of the beings I had murdered parted. A young woman, dressed in white with her dark hair loose and falling down around her slim shoulders, walked up to me. "Who are you?" she asked, voice soft.

"What do you mean?" I demanded.

"Who are you?" she repeated.

"I am the Darkest Knight," I snapped, "Sith apprentice-Lord Onyx."

The woman looked faintly amused. "So many titles, my friend. Are you sure? Are you so Dark?"

"I am a Sith. I am Darkness."

The woman tilted her head to the side and I found that she reminded me of someone, though I could not think of who. "I know of your uncertainty," she said, her voice a whisper on the wind.

"I have no such uncertainty."

She flashed a grin. "Are you sure?"

"How can I not be?"

The woman's face stilled. "Search for your answers, they will save you."

"And where, exactly, should I start?" I demanded, becoming increasingly irritated with the way the woman could read my very soul.

The woman did not answer, instead she merely looked at me.

My lightsaber rose into my hand. "Answer me!"

Still she did not answer and in a movement born of rage, I ignited my 'saber and held it to her neck. "Tell me before I tire of your insolence," I growled.

Again, she did not answer. Without conscious decision, I swung my lightsaber across her neck. Instead of decapitating her, as it should have, she blazed with a pure Light until I had to advert my eyes to save myself from blindness.

"Who are you?" she whispered as the Light finally lessened.

I looked up. "I-I don't understand."

The woman gave him a sad smile. "Look to your past, my friend. Your answers are there."

"But-"

My questions were cut off as the young woman's perfect face twisted in sudden agony and her mouth opened in a silent scream. Her eyes flew to mine. "Remember who you are," she whispered before she fell to the ground, dead.

"No!" I didn't recall how it happened but I found her in my arms, head tilted back, eyes blank. As I watched her face shimmered and changed…

…into Jaina's features. My scream of pain echoed in my mind and my heart along with the most painful realization of my life:

I had killed Jaina.

The dead that had parted for her now descended on me, murder in their intent and I a willing victim.

But my body-too used to survival-thrashed and ducked from their hands and then Jacen stood before me and-

A Force tendril that felt remarkably like Jaina caressed my mind and a gentle hand smoothed my brow. The idea of being comforted after what I had done was so repulsive I grabbed the person's throat and flew up, pushing the person into the wall and drew my lightsaber…

…only to see Jaina with my hand around her throat. Stunned, I lowered the lightsaber slightly, my breath coming in short bursts at finding out that Jaina's death was only a nightmare.

I struggled desperately for some way to maintain a firm grip on Darkness and not give in to my undeniable desire to pull her into my arms, weep into her hair and rejoice in the fact that none of it had been real. "Solo," I hissed, slipping into the voice of Lord Onyx easily and releasing her throat, regretting the loss of her slender neck against my skin. "What were you doing?"

She took several gasps of air and I wished that she was gasping for breath after the kiss I wanted to give her and not because I had nearly stopped her breath-and life-completely. When she regained control she threw her hair defiantly and glared at me. "If you must know, I felt your distress through the Force. You were having a nightmare and I was trying to calm you."

Slowly, the aftermath of the dream slipped away, leaving me as Lord Onyx once more and not Zekk as I had been. And with the transformation came the knowledge that she had been up and by my side before I felt any distress. "You're lying," I said.

Jaina snorted. "What-you don't believe you can have nightmares?"

"You didn't 'feel my distress through the Force,' Solo. What were you really doing?" When she set her jaw I slapped her, hard. "Do not toy with me, Jedi," I warned her even as her mouth twisted in a grimace of pain, reminding me of my dream and the pain I had experienced.

"Someone once told me," she started hoarsely "that you can see who someone really is in their sleep." She lowered her eyes and rubbed her throat. "I wanted to see who you were."

I took a step back, as Zekk and Lord Onyx battled head-on. Zekk's love and admiration for Jaina fighting fiercely against Onyx's Darkness. Finally, Onyx pushed Zekk down and regained control. "And what, pray tell," I said in a low voice, "were you hoping to find?"

"What do you think?" she asked bluntly.

I felt Dark anger flow through my veins. She had made me what I was today and now she wanted Zekk back? In that moment I hated her nearly as much as Zekk loved her. "You are a fool," I snarled as I turned away.

She watched me closely and I did not have to look back to know that her head was tilted to the side, her brandy eyes a mix of confusion, curiosity and that odd emotion I had sensed from her earlier on in the day. "Perhaps. But you wish to turn me to the Dark Side; is that not just as foolish?"

Desperation to have her by my side filled me and my hate for her vanished. Who was the amazing creature that stood behind me, daring to argue with me? She was so beautiful, if only she would renounce her Jedi ways… "The Dark Side is more powerful than your powerful Light, Jedi. A fact made obvious by the Empire's success in this war."

She surprised me then and asked thoughtfully, "Are you so sure you're winning? The Empire has lost before."

I spun, meeting her gaze and feeling the electricity leap between us. Was the Force always this cruel, that it would make Onyx lust after this Jedi, and Zekk love her? No matter which part of me was in control-Light, Dark or otherwise-I was always filled with the same desperate longing for her. A Jedi, and the very being who had lowered my self-worth to nearly nothing.

"And why," I demanded in response to her question, "would it not?"

"The Empire is a dictatorship," she stated, as if it were all perfectly obvious. She walked over to the long window by my bed and stood there for a moment. "The New Republic is-was," she corrected herself, "a democracy. Perhaps it was not as organized as the Empire but it is for the people and not the leaders." She didn't look at me as she threw the aside the draperies and leaned gently against the wall beside the window, her fingers resting ever so gently on the glass as she looked out into the rain, her hair slipping around her shoulders like shimmersilk.

My breath caught at the very sight of her. Did she know what she did to me? Did she know how beautiful she was? The first time I saw her at her birthday party, upon which I had come crashing through the window, I had known that I would always belong to her. Her mother had stared at me disapprovingly and tried to push me out of the door as Jacen and Anakin had watched, wide-eyed. Jaina, however, had smiled and given me a hand up from the ground, telling me I had arrived just in time for cake. I thought she was a goddess-no, I reminded myself, Zekk thought she was a goddess. She owned Zekk not Onyx.

And Onyx was in control.

Dimly, as I reined in my wayward other self, the one that seemed so captivated with my Jedi slave, I heard Jaina say, "Eventually, the people will rebel. Brakiss-"

If nothing else was able to capture my attention, that slight against my master, my sole supporter and my father figure, did. "You are never to refer to the Lord Emperor in such a degrading way in my presence ever again!"

"Oh, please," she snapped impatiently. "We both know he isn't really the Emperor. He's merely a Dark Jedi hiding behind the reputation of a Sith that died a quarter of a century ago."

That was the problem with Jedi, I thought. They knew far too much. All the more reason to wipe them from the face of the galaxy. No one should know that the whole "Emperor Palpatine has returned from the dead" deal was a ploy. Emperor Brakiss was more than capable to lead the Empire but the beings of the galaxy did not understand this. They wanted Emperor Palpatine and no one else.

So Brakiss gave them Emperor Palpatine.

"He is the Emperor."

"Then why does he feel he needs to claim to be 'Emperor Palpatine' and not 'Emperor Brakiss'?" she demanded, turning to me with fire in her eyes. "He is nothing but a phony."

A rage unlike any I had ever known flew through me and I found my hands around her neck, the pain the dream had caused me momentarily forgotten. "Should you ever feel the need to say such a lie as that again," I hissed. "Then consider how painful I can make your death." I squeezed then, until her body was limp, barely an inch from death and still my rage and hatred was not quenched. Her mouth opened and closed once or twice before her liquid eyes, heavy-lidded with pain, found mine, a desperate pleading that brought me to the present, shaking me to the core as, through the force, I began to feel her heart slowing. My hands dropped immediately, my heart racing as Zekk screamed in pain.

Jaina fell to the ground, gasping convulsively for air. I stood there for a moment, with her at my feet as self-loathing rushed over me. This was what I had wanted? To have her at my feet, defenceless?

NO! Not like this; never like this! Zekk screamed. The power of his objection, his denial, surged through me, almost staggering me in its power. The battle raged between Zekk and Lord Onyx and it was longer and more furious than ever before. It was some time before Onyx won and Zekk was beaten away-but not for long, I knew. Zekk had never reacted so violently before and he was stubborn.

He would have to be crushed, and soon.

"Let that be a lesson to you, Jedi Knight Solo," I warned, my voice ho

*        *        *




Part Fourteen


[Jaina's POV]

I couldn't sleep. After an eternity of restless movement I sat up, pulling back the thin Imperial-issued blanket. Imperial, I thought, my mind hurting. How had my world changed so much? Was it really only five years since I had been part of the New Republic, with two brothers, hope, love, freedom? Perhaps I could survive the whole thing if it weren't for the fact that it was my fault. But it was.

I didn't sense Zekk's Jedi potential and so he felt I didn't think he was worthy. Why was I so blind? I wondered. Of course I had thought him worthy, but my stupidity told me that he knew that. After all, he was my best friend and childhood crush. But I never told him and because of that he found the Second Imperium. Because of my stupidity it was easy for Brakiss to turn my best friend into a monster that showed the New Republic no mercy.

Five years, since he left with them. Five years during which I pleaded the Force to make the whole awful reality simply a nightmare. Five years for the guilt to eat away at me. Guilt for the many, many Jedi he killed-a number that outweighed even that of the Nightsisters' murders. Guilt because he killed Tenel Ka's mother. I should have been able to stop him. I don't know how…but I should have been able to. But I didn't and now the Empire rules, the Jedi are on the run, both of my brothers and far too many friends to count are dead. And now I myself am a prisoner-not only to my guilt, as I was before, but to the very monster I unwittingly helped create.

I stood and walked to where the Darkest Knight slumbered, watching him silently. He looked so deceptively innocent when he slept that it was hard to believe he was the Sith Lord who had destroyed so much of my life. His hair, a single shade lighter than black, fell to his shoulders, not contrasting with his skin as it once had. While before he had been as pale as a cooked egg, now he had a subtle tan that added so much to his physical appearance.

His eyes were closed but I knew their color better than I knew my own name. As a girl I had gotten lost in them often-green, with a darker corona surrounding his emerald irises. They had always enchanted me so, always told me what he was thinking far better than the Force ever could.

Which was why I had been so shocked when Brakiss handed me over to him. His eyes, which had always been sparkling with excitement and friendship in my childhood days, were colder than a Hoth night. I shivered now, just thinking about it. The hatred…and anger…the Darkness in his eyes had been so unlike the ones I once knew.

Uncle Luke told me that when Zekk gave himself over to Darkness, he'd stopped being Zekk and became the Darkest Knight. He told me that I would never see my friend again, that my friendship would not save him.

And my love? I asked him. Will that save him?

Then Uncle Luke had looked at me with the saddest eyes I had ever seen. Your grandmother couldn't save your grandfather, Jaina, he told me.

You did, I said.

Uncle Luke had sighed and I felt his despair through the Force. Jaina, you need to get past him. The odds are very much against you in this.

I'm Corellian, I'd answered brashly, Odds don't mean anything to me.

Uncle Luke had lectured me sternly about how impulsiveness and arrogance-two faults that I often had in abundance, he told me bluntly-were not proper emotions for Jedi. Then he restricted me to the Jedi Academy so that I wouldn't go after Zekk.

That was perhaps the first, and last, argument about Zekk or the Force that I had with my uncle. With my mother, however, it was another matter entirely. She'd never really liked him, he was someone she abided but she thought he was a bad influence on me. When he joined the Shadow Academy she pretended to understand but quickly lost patience my lack of acceptance and me. We argued often, hard and long about first Zekk, then other things. Our relationship-what little we had-deteriorated faster than century-old shimmer-silk left outside in Tatooine.

Slowly, I shook my head out of the fog that surrounded it. It did not do to dwell on the past, something my master, Mara Jade Skywalker, often told me before she too was killed. You cannot change the past, Jaina, she said. And you have already put the present into motion. You can only change the future.

Ze-the Darkest Knight began to subtly toss in his sleep, a frown puckering his brow, his pain evident. Without thinking I reached out to smooth his brow and sent a tendril of Force-comfort to his mind. In an instant he was awake, a snarl on his face. I found myself pushed against the wall forcefully, a hand around my neck, cutting off my air supply and damaging my throat. Only when he drew his lightsaber and held it up to sever my head from my body did he seem to realize it was me.

"Solo," he hissed, releasing me. "What were you doing?

I fought to get my breathing back under control without making it too obvious. Sensing that he wouldn't take kindly to being told that he was having a nightmare, but too ticked off to care, I tossed my hair defiantly and glared up at him. "If you must know, I felt your distress through the Force. You were having a nightmare. I was trying to calm you."

He stared at me for a long moment. "You're lying," he finally said.

"What-you don't believe you can have nightmares?"

"You didn't 'feel my distress through the Force,' Solo. What were you really doing?" I set my jaw and received a slap for my defiance. "Do not toy with me, Jedi."

My cheek stinging, I forced the truth that I had not even admitted to myself to pass my lips. "Someone once told me, that you can see who someone really is in their sleep." Despite my aching throat, I pushed on. "I wanted to see who you were."

He took a step back, his expression reading shock and…alarm? I thought fleetingly of the innocence I had seen while he slept, the hidden pain. Was it still possible after all these years…? After all, I reminded myself, my grandfather returned to the Light after close to a quarter of a century. Who was to say Zekk couldn't come back to me after five years?

"And what, pray tell," he said finally, his voice low and dangerous, "were you hoping to find?"

"What do you think?"

Anger flashed across his face. "You are a fool."

I shrugged and watched him closely as he turned away from me. "Perhaps. But you wish to turn me to the Dark Side; is that not just as foolish?"

His voice became harder than steel and as deadly as a lightsaber. "The Dark Side is more powerful than your pitiful Light, Jedi. A fact made obvious by the Empire winning this war."

"Are you so sure you're winning?" I asked thoughtfully. "The Empire has lost before."

"And why," he demanded, spinning around to meet my gaze, "would it not?"

"The Empire is a dictatorship," I stated as I walked over to the window that went from a foot and a half above the floor to the ceiling. "The New Republic is a democracy. Perhaps it is not as organized as the Empire but it is for the people and not the leaders." I didn't look at him as I pushed aside the curtains-black, like everything else the spacious, tastefully decorated chambers-and leaned gently against the wall beside the window, my fingers resting gently on the glass as I looked out into the rain, my hair slipping around my shoulders. "Eventually, the people will rebel. Brakiss-"

"You are never to refer to the Emperor in such a degrading way in my presence ever again!"

"Oh, please," I snapped, still not looking at him but rolling my eyes in exasperation. "We both know he isn't really the Emperor. He is merely a Dark Jedi hiding behind a Sith that died a quarter of a century ago."

"He is the Emperor."

"Then why does he feel he needs to claim to be 'Emperor Palpatine' and not 'Emperor Brakiss'?" I demanded hotly, finally turning to him. "He is nothing but a phoney."

He had his hand around my bruised throat before I could think. "Should you ever feel the need to say such a lie as that again," he hissed. "Then consider how painful I can make your death."

He continued to squeeze my throat and blackness began to creep around the edges of my vision, my body going limp. I tried to force his name past my lips but couldn't and instead pleaded with him with my eyes. His eyes connected with mine and he released his hold on my neck, letting me fall to the ground, gasping for breath and nearly crying from the pain.

He stood there for a moment with me at his feet, staring down at me. When he finally spoke he said in an oddly hoarse voice, "Let that be a lesson to you, Jedi Knight Solo. I'm a Sith Lord and you mean nothing to me, only the Empire and my Master matter. Do not test my loyalty."

Loyalty or fear? I wondered, but kept my mouth shut. If he tried to choke me once more he wouldn't need to hold on for long before he simply crushed my throat.

The Darkest Knight stomped away and I attempted to regain my composure. I stayed where I was, unable to move and shaking from the encounter. Was there anything left of Zekk under that hateful monster? There had to be, but how could I get through to him? An hour later, my composure was somewhat restored, though I doubted I would be doing much talking, drinking or eating anytime soon. I slowly stood, then glanced out the window at Coruscant.

Coruscant was so large, with billions of beings, the most populated world in the galaxy, making the highest percentage of the galaxy's beings and still not that high. And already the billions were down to perhaps millions.

Because of the Sith.

Because of the Empire.

Because of the Darkest Knight.

Because of me.

A tear slipped down my cheek but I didn't catch it. Instead, I closed my eyes and found my center in the Force. I would need it in the many days, months, perhaps years, that I would be a prisoner to the monster I had helped create.

I crawled into my cot and curled up. Silently, I let the tears come.


*        *        *




Part Fifteen


Jaina closed her eyes. She couldn't be seeing the "outfit" Onyx had sent her. She simply couldn't-not if even a speck of Zekk remained. But when she opened her eyes again, it was still there. Only the lost feeling she had because of the Force suppressor Onyx had injected into her body kept her from screaming, "NOT ON YOUR LIFE" through her bond with him. Sighing, but knowing she needed to save her energy for the harder battles that was sure to come at some point, she changed into the pants and top.

It took her one glance in the mirror to convince her this would be one of the battles she picked.

To say that she would not be able to wear the outfit without showing an uncomfortable amount of skin would be a lie of Death Star proportions. The top, made of shier black material, was border-line explicit. Cut short to show all her midriff and a far amount of skin above it was enough to make Jaina blush, but not so bad that she would risk Onyx's wrath. Not to mention slavery to Brakiss, which Onyx had already threatened her with. There was however, the tightness and squared neckline that Jaina would have worn on her wedding night but not at any other time.

The pants, also black were bearable. Alderaanian satin, and not shier like the top, the pants slung low on her hip and tight before flaring out until it looked as if she were wearing a skirt instead of pants. On her feet-at least, what Onyx had all but ordered her to wear on her feet-were strappy sandals with four-inch heels.

No way, she thought angrily as she changed back into her normal clothes. If Onyx thinks I'm going to so much as dress like one of his pleasure slaves or dancers, he's got another thought coming. ~*~*~ Onyx knew exactly when Jaina saw the outfit; her broadcasted disgust and anger created something similar to a tiny earthquake in their bond, making it hard to miss.

Tiny, that is in the way the remains of Alderaan created a "tiny" asteroid field. He began walking toward his quarters quickly, leaving one of his older trainees in charge.

/I suggest you wear it, Solo/ he sent through their bond.

/No way in any of the nine Corellian hells, Onyx!/ Jaina all but bellowed back. He wondered if she'd actually said it aloud and if she had, why he couldn't hear her.

/The Lord Emperor-/

/Has his own pleasure slaves to look at!/

/If you keep this up you'll join their ranks!/ he retorted. It was an empty threat. While Zekk was around nothing so explicitly dangerous to Jaina's…health would happen without Zekk's protest. Zekk-Onyx had begun to learn-was a vicious adversary when it came to Jaina's well-being. However, empty threat or not, the silence on Jaina's end of the bond told him he had hit a vulnerable spot.

/I'm not going to wear that top, Onyx/ she sent quietly. /I don't care about the pants but I am not going to wear that…"top" without anything underneath it/

/Then I will notify the Emperor of your move to his quarters/ Having already prepared himself, the battle between Onyx and Zekk was brief.

/I won't wear it/ Onyx barely made out the quiet, obviously scared message as he came to the door of his chambers. /I won't/

He walked through the door.




*        *        *




Part Sixteen


Jaina watched as Onyx came in, Dark power emanating from him in waves. She lifted her chin. "I won't wear it. I have more self-respect than that."

Onyx didn't respond verbally, but grabbed her arm and began to drag her out.

Jaina had to swallow twice before she found the ability-and the courage-to speak. "Where are you taking me?" Her bravery was in vain, though, as he did not reply. "Onyx," she tried sharply. "I am not one of your slaves to-"

"Oh, but you are," he corrected, looking down at her, yanking her head up by her hair sharply. "You are mine to do with as I wish. It's time you got off your almighty," he yanked hard, causing her to give a quiet yelp of pain, "hovercar and learned that."

"Onyx." Jaina put as much menace into her voice as she could, whilst being dragged through the halls of the Imperial Palace by a man who alternately lusted after and hated her. "Let me go. I mean it-"

Onyx growled and entered an empty training room, throwing Jaina into the centre of the room and locking the door behind them. "Do you think this is a game, Solo?" he demanded. "Do you think I'm not serious about turning you over to the Emperor?" When Jaina didn't answer, he thrust out a hand and called Darkness to his fingertips, releasing it in a furious jolt of anger and hatred. Zekk roared angrily as Jaina fell to the floor, a whimper of pain escaping her. "Answer me when I ask you something!"

Jaina pulled herself up from the floor, her hair spilling around her shoulders. "I won't turn because of a little Dark lightning, Onyx. If that is your game planned, you've failed."

"Oh, so the righteous little princess has decided to grace me with her words, has she?" Onyx sneered. "You always did think you were better than me-and everyone else, for that matter."

Jaina shook her head. "No, I didn't-on both accusations."

"Won't even admit the truth, now, Solo?"

"I always told Zekk everything I could, Onyx."

Onyx slapped her to the floor. "Watch your words, Solo," he hissed. "I'm the only obstacle between you and your destruction."

"How can you destroy someone who is already dead?" she muttered, thinking of Jacen's death and her mother's betrayal.

"What was that?" Onyx demanded, Zekk rebelling against him once more. Splitting his attention was dangerous, every time he had to concentrate on suppressing Zekk and speaking to her, Zekk seemed to come that much closer to escaping.

//"You're treading dangerous ground, Jaina. Bury your grief deep or the Emperor and Lord Onyx will exploit it."//

"Nothing."

Zekk beaten back once more, Onyx studied her briefly before turning away. "Good." He paused momentarily. "You are to wear the outfit I sent you to the banquet. You will behave accordingly and-"

"No." Jaina lifted her tired body from the floor and stood, eyes clear and hands steady. Seeing Onyx's green, icy eyes flash, she swallowed and repeated, "No."

Onyx felt Darkness fly through his veins. "Very well then." Onyx picked an electro-jabber and started toward Jaina.

Jaina closed her eyes and accepted the consequences of her defiance.




*        *        *




Part Eighteen


He was gone. Finally. My eyes began to open, then closed quickly as they experienced a harsh pain. Sometime during my beating, the Force returned to me and I called on its strength now. This time I managed to open my eyes all the way and I sat up. My body was battered, burnt and bloody, but it could have been worse. True, it couldn't have been worse by much, but there was one thing he could hadn't done: he could have turned me over to Brakiss, but it seemed I was getting away with the beating of my life instead.

I moaned slightly as I dragged myself to the door. Finding it locked, I slumped and looked around. I had been wrong-Zekk really was gone. This revelation brought nearly as much pain as that of my mother's betrayal.

Recap, I thought wearily. I'm being held prisoner in the Imperial Palace, surrounded by Nightsisters, Dark Jedi and other brainwashed Imperials. I'm the slave of my one-time best friend. I'm constantly being threatened by said former best friend with a "job position" as his Master's-a Sith lord-pleasure slave. Jacen and Anakin-along with most of my friends-are dead. My mother wants no more to do with me and not even Dad can save me this time.

//"If you've accepted the fact that Zekk's gone and he's Lord Onyx now, never to change-and I know you haven't or you would have willed yourself to die, rather than be the slave to a Sith-then let your love die for him as well."//

But I had accepted it! After Mon Calamari how could I not? So why couldn't I make myself die, like any other Jedi would have done, rather than become a pawn for the Empire? I swiped a tear that began to trickle down my face. Who was I kidding? I held on because the young girl in me stubbornly clung to the hope that she would have another chance at the love she had lost.

And what had it gotten me? My eyes lifted to the mirrors that covered the opposite wall. "Jaina Solo," I said to my reflection. "You really are pathetic."




*        *        *




Part Nineteen


Onyx had disinfected his hands seven times and still he could not seem to get the feeling of Jaina's blood off him. It had been several hours since he had finished pouring out his wrath on her and still he could feel Jaina's anguish leaking through their bond as he beat her. His mind still throbbed with his own pain from Zekk's protective rage-and now grief-at said beating.

Taking a sip of his wine Onyx sought to ease his discomfiture with the brunette sitting next to him. Dressed in the outfit Onyx had planned on seeing Jaina wear, the dancing girl resembled Jaina so strongly that even Jacen would have looked twice. The differences were slight-the dancer lived to be seductively attractive though it was sure to wither once her peak ended, while Jaina's beauty was natural, pure and-if her mother was any indication-timeless.

Allowing his eyes to wander over the dancer in a way that he had yet to even think of doing with Jaina, he decided that if Jaina insisted on being so damned stubborn, this dancer was the next best choice.

Not that it would help the dancer any.

"See something you like, my Lord?" the dancer-was her name Narai?-purred, leaning closer.

Onyx attempted a smile. "A piece of art that I would be interested in studying, my lady."

An almost wolfish smile spread across her face. "Well, perhaps we shall find a break in this banquet to study this…'piece of art' together," she invited.

"Perhaps," he agreed, trying to push down Zekk and the image of Jaina, not as he had left her-though even bruised there had been a thrilling beauty about her-but as he had always remembered her-whether as Zekk or Onyx. The way he saw he saw her in his dreams-the only worthwhile memory he had of when Zekk was in control. But, he reminded himself, now was not the time to think of Jaina Solo, but to forget her.

There was a powerful ripple throughout the Force as Brakiss, with a powerful holo-mask-made all but real with a Force illusion- that made him appear to be Emperor Palpatine, entered the room, two of his Guards following close behind.

"What is this?" he demanded in a distantly jovial way. "Why is no one dancing? The Rebels will soon be crushed." When no one moved, the Emperor looked to his Darkest Knight and protégé. "Lord Onyx! I see you have a beautiful woman by your side-will you not dance with her?"

Onyx pursed his lips but forced a smile. "Of course, my Lord Emperor," he said, bowing deeply once to his master then, bowing slightly at the waist. "My dear lady, would you do me the honour of this dance?"

Narai-or was it Saran? He never could remember their names-smiled and accepted his offered hand. "The honour would be mine, my Lord," she said, sounding innocent, almost vulnerable, and so much-and so little-like Jaina that Onyx had to notice how false she-and all the women he had known-were. Compared to the brunette he had beaten and locked into the training room... no, there was no comparison. Not a one could measure up.

Onyx smiled and led Saran-or was it Nisan?-to the dance floor, when all he wanted to do was grimace and sink to the floor, mourning over what he might never-and maybe could have had-had with Jaina.




*        *        *




Part Twenty


Sanar was no fool. She knew, even as Lord Onyx pulled her to the middle of the dance floor, as did all of Lord Onyx's dancing girls and pleasure slaves, that Lord Onyx had soft tendencies toward few-if any-beings. Many of his girls steered clear of him for as long as they could in favour of softer, more predictable men.

With Lord Onyx, no one knew quite how they would be treated. Some girls left with him and came back, showered in jewels, looking like queens and with a twinkle in their eye that spoke of a knowing many became desperate to have. Sanar found it a beautiful thing of fate to know that all the girls who came back looked much like her. Others, however, never came back and so the dancing girls and pleasure slaves were torn between fantasizing and being terrified of the day they would be called.

Sanar Klis, however had never been faint of heart.

She had, of course, trembled slightly when she had first seen the Darkest Knight-but then, who did not? His eyes had been so intense, dangerous, that her heart had jumped into her throat and she had fallen captive immediately. At first, he had dismissed her with a glance, but he had doubled back, his eyes widening in surprise before they softened for a split second before his eyes fell behind the almost-mock shields.

That had been four years ago.

It took a year for a Dark Jedi to find her and her Force potential. It took another long year of training, bribery and seduction to be chosen to be one of Lord Onyx's dancers.

And finally, tonight, she would be his. Sanar sighed in expectant bliss as she leaned into her Lord Onyx.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-One


Jaina looked up as someone-make that someones-came into the room. Jaina didn't have to reach out with the Force to know they were Dark. "Well, what have we here?" a voice asked mockingly as the lights flicked on.

Jaina blinked against the bright light to see five Dark Jedi-just under Onyx in rank, judging by their swagger-beginning to move toward her corner of the room. The Force and her senses screaming, Jaina attempted to stand and nearly screeched from the agony. If she hadn't known that her injuries had re-opened as a result of coming out of a healing trance so abruptly before it was finished, she would have thought the Force returning to her was merely a hallucination on her part. Using the Force to boost her strength, Jaina met the leading man's eye defiantly-something that seemed to be getting her in a lot of trouble lately.

One of men, not the one Jaina had engaged in a stare down, reached out to caress her cheek but backed away when Jaina snarled at him. "She wears the robe of a slave," he remarked thoughtfully, his eyes skimming over her curves in a way that made Jaina long for anyone else's-even Onyx's-gaze.

The leader's eyes met Jaina's and she saw not the lustful beast that she would have preferred-it would be easier to accept-but the eyes of an intelligent young man who knew what he wanted.

And how to get it.

"Yes," the leader murmured. "That she does." He paused for a moment before flashing what Jaina guessed was supposed to be a charming smile. "So tell me, my pretty one, who do you belong to?"

She glared up at him, continuing to allow the Force to fill her. "I belong to no man," she stated. Other, of course, than Zekk… she acknowledged silently.

The five Dark men smiled and fear struck the heart of Jaina Solo.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Two


Brakiss pulled his protégé to the side. "Where is your Jaina?" he asked, sarcastically stressing the end.

Onyx's lips thinned and he subtly strengthened his shields to hide his anger and near-hatred toward the man beside him. "The last I saw her she was lying on the floor in room T683 where I left her."

Brakiss sniggered. "I already knew, Lord Onyx."

"My private affairs are my own matter," Onyx gritted out. "You need not concern yourself with them."

"Come now, my young apprentice, when you make yourself this predictable your matters are no longer private."

Onyx gave the Emperor a cold stare. "And what is that supposed to mean?"

The Emperor gave Onyx a superior look. "Whenever your Jaina thwarts you, you bring some willing look-alike, then kill them because they don't 'satisfy' you. You make a fool of the Empire and yourself over a girl. There are times when I believe you are not worthy to be my Darkest Knight."

Lord Onyx tensed, his temper rising. "The apprentice reflects the master, my Lord Emperor."

Brakiss' face darkened in anger. "Remember this, young one: I took you in when no one wanted you, I made you who are today. I have given you everything-and I can take it away." With a last glare, the Emperor left his fuming apprentice on the side of the dance floor.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Three


Jaina chose her moment to fight back carefully. Her body, beaten horrendously as it was, would never be a match for six men. Even if they weren't Dark Jedi, no matter how strongly childhood fairy tales said good always won over evil, she knew her limit. She would only have one chance to use the element of surprise, the only ally she had in her current situation.

When the leader-cut off the head of a snake and it dies, she reminded herself-leaned in, his hands cupping toward her neck, Jaina threw her fist out, allowing it to connect with his jaw, just as Mara had taught her. The added Force-power behind her punch caused the shocked man to fly across the room.

Using every pain-relieving technique she had ever learned and many she had only heard of, Jaina stood-painfully-and walked toward the exit as quickly as she could. She hoped desperately that her daring move would cause the men freeze in shock and let her escape.

No such luck.

One of the men, a redhead, recovered quickly and shot electricity from his fingers into her bloody back, causing her to fall to the ground in agony.

When she managed to force her eyes open once more, the men were moving toward her, their expressions alternating between lustful and furious. She closed her eyes again. Owch, she whimpered silently, just before the kick flying toward her head sent her into quiet oblivion.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Four


There was a cry sent unintentionally through the Force and Onyx pulled away from the, by now, scantily dressed dancer. Narai-or was it Rana?-moaned as his body left its position over hers. "My Lord?" she asked, her voice husky.

As he focused inward, the cry echoed through his mind once more, this time more pained and desperate than before.

It echoed through him a third time, more faintly than the first two times. This time, he recognized the "voice" with a sick jolt. Jaina, Onyx and Zekk gasped at the same time as they felt the only person they both held close cry out.

~*~*~

Sanar watched, dumbfounded, as Onyx pulled his clothes and robe on faster than she had thought possible, nearly tripping over his own feet in his haste. "My Lord?" she repeated worriedly. Had she done something wrong? Had the Emperor summoned him? "What is it?"

He didn't answer as he grabbed his lightsaber from the desk by his bed. He all but ran out the door, leaving Sanar to wonder at Lord Onyx's odd behaviour and at the odd Force ripple she had felt pass through him and the very atmosphere.

~*~*~

Devnos had always known he was the Emperor's favourite. When he'd been discovered four years ago, the Emperor had taken more time training him than the he had with any of the other trainees. So when the Emperor had told Devnos that he would soon be the new Darkest Knight, Devnos began plotting Lord Onyx's death. A terrifying task, for everyone-and Devnos suspected that that everyone included even the Emperor-knew that to have no fear of Onyx was akin to having no fear at all: something that few-if any-could claim as their own reality.

But he pushed his fear aside and returned to the present as he watched Onyx race through the halls in a way unbefitting of the Darkest Knight of the Empire. Who would have thought, he smirked, that Lord Onyx, a Sith apprentice with powers rivaling those of our Master, would have a weakness for such a fragile, if spirited girl? Devnos smiled as he remembered how it had taken only one kick to knock the girl out, stopping her from causing any more trouble. The sound her bones had made when they splintered but didn't break.

He glanced at the holocam screen, zooming the view in on the girl. All Onyx's dancers looked alike, and this one, he could tell, was the girl Onyx had been trying to find in his slaves. Oh, it would be a pleasure to watch Onyx as his precious girl died slowly, painfully, even as he could do nothing to save her, the only thing, Devnos had heard, that Onyx still cared for. If her death didn't destroy the Darkest Knight, nothing would.

The cunning warrior strikes not at the body, but at the heart, he thought maliciously.

Devnos smiled when he felt Onyx approach the training room. A pleasure indeed.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Five


[Onyx/Zekk POV]

I felt Jaina, far too faintly for my liking on the other side of the door. I had raced through the hallways, my mind in a fog. I had, at first, expected Zekk or Onyx to fight against it but for once they seemed unified in their sentiments: Jaina was precious. Anyone who attempted to hurt her would be ripped to shreds.

For the first time in years, I felt Onyx listen to one of Zekk's plans.

But my shock of the millennia came next, as Onyx moved to the side, letting Zekk join him in the "driver's seat," for lack of better term.

I pushed through the door, allowing both Onyx's and Zekk's determined rage boost my power to a new level.

[end of Onyx/Zekk POV]

~*~*~

Devnos watched Onyx enter furiously, black cape swirling and green eyes flashing with a fury beings rarely lived to tell of. If Devnos had been a poetic person, he might have thought Onyx looked like an avenging angel, coming to save his ladylove. He wasn't, however, in any way poetic, and he instead saw reality: a very pissed off Sith, with enough Grey in him to be an enigma to both Dark-siders and Jedi, coming to save the girl that he-probably-loved. Upon reflection, Devnos would have preferred the avenging angel.

Suddenly realizing just how furious Onyx was, Devnos once more became the young boy he had been four years ago-afraid of the Emperor, but terrified of Lord Onyx.

He watched, almost trembling, as Onyx slaughtered the Dark Jedi-all trained as assassins by the very best-one by one. Devnos had seen Onyx fight many times, but never before had he seen the Darkest Knight fight like he was now. Every move was precise and deadly. It was a ruthless, dreadful dance, and Devnos wondered if the sight would ever leave him-or his nightmares.

When Onyx grabbed the last Dark Jedi, he yelled something that Devnos could not understand. The intent, however, was obvious: Onyx planned to interrogate the man. Devnos reached out with the Force and crushed the assassin's windpipe, killing him instantly, before turning and fleeing.

He was thwarted, this time, but he would be back…after he rid himself of his not-so-irrational terror of Lord Onyx.

~*~*~

Zekk/Onyx deactivated his lightsaber and all but ran to Jaina, who was groggily and painfully coming to. Kneeling beside her, he brushed her hair out of her face. She began to say something, then grimaced in pain and he winced at how frail her voice was, feeling another flash of anger as he noticed that her throat was a mottled purple.

Jaina felt a finger rest on her lips and she looked up. "Zekk?" she said, ignoring Onyx/Zekk's attempt to quiet her.

Zekk's heart cracked at the soft emotion in her voice. If only… he shook off his regrets. He would have plenty of time to wallow in guilt, regret and pain in the abyss… now, Jaina was more important. Before he could answer her, however, Onyx began to slowly push Zekk back. Onyx/z began to pick Jaina up, but stopped at her silent screech of pain. When Onyx attempted to relieve her pain, he was blocked. Her Light presence unable to stand the Darkness of Onyx touching her very being so intimately.

Z/Let me help her/Z

Onyx hesitated, then lowered the gates that kept Zekk imprisoned, allowing Zekk to have a small portion of control. O/If you try anything, I'll never let you out again/O

Zekk didn't respond to Onyx's threat, but instead sent Lightside healing to Jaina and gently pulled her into his arms.

The blackness-not of pain but of healing sleep-began to seep into Jaina's mind, lulling her and pushing the galaxy and her troubles away. Vaguely, she felt someone pull her close, lifting her off the ground into a firm but tender embrace. Even in her foggy state, she recognized the person who held her. For a flicker of a second something told her that it couldn't be him because…

But the knowledge floated away as he pulled her even closer for a moment, placing his lips on her crown in a kiss so gentle, so loving, that she trembled. Before drifting away from consciousness and the rightness of this, she snuggled as deeply as she could into Zekk's chest, a small smile on her face.

~*~*~

Feeling Onyx near his quarters, Sanar raised her mental shielding to keep Onyx from knowing of her hurt and confusion. It didn't help, however, because shock was added to her already tumultuous emotions, making it impossible to shield, when she saw Onyx gently nudge the door open, a bloody, beaten girl in his arms. She opened her mouth to ask what was going on and, as if he had sensed it, he sent her a look, as if daring her to even try.

Pushing aside her questions until later, Sanar watched in silence as Onyx-her Lord Onyx-used the Force to open the door to one of the side rooms, the girl still nestled in his arms.

The sheet she had been holding teasingly in front of her fluttered as Sanar fell back onto the bed, hair splayed across the pillow like dark shimmer silk, as her confusion continued to grow. ~*~*~

<Zekk's POV>

I placed Jaina, still in my arms, onto the bed, barely daring to breathe for fear of waking her. However, when I began to slide my hands out from under her, Jaina released a soft whimper of fear-fear of losing me? I wondered-and her hand suddenly held my arm in a death grip.

I paused for a moment. Z/Let me stay? Just a bit longer? /Z

O/You've had longer than I planned to give you already/O

Z/You've had four years of pure control. Can't I have even a little time with her? /Z

I expected to be shot down, but instead, Onyx showed a rare moment of mercy. O/A little longer/O

I would have fallen over in shock or jumped gleefully around the room had it not been for the sleeping angel I held in my arms. Instead, I carried Jaina to the couch, and settled into the cushions comfortably. Half-sitting, half-lying down I positioned Jaina so that she lay between me and the back of the couch, her head resting on my chest.

Free of the abyss-for the moment-and Jaina in my arms, I fell into a peaceful sleep.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Six


Sanar's mind replayed Onyx's entrance once again and she saw the way Onyx had held the girl, as if she were a glass masterpiece. The way Onyx had looked at her, as if she was a perfect sculpture that he wanted to study for the rest of his life.

Even more disturbing was the Force bond that tied Onyx and the other girl together. It had been so strong, Sanar could barely call it simply a "bond"…it was if they shared one soul. The first rays of the morning began to cause her hair to shimmer and Sanar's awareness began to leave the girl and wander to Onyx.

What's taking him so long? she wondered. Sighing, she swung her legs out of the bed. Wrapping one of the sheets around her body, she walked to the door where Onyx had disappeared. Reaching it, she hesitated. Did she really want to know what lay on the other side? Swallowing, she opened the door, her eyes going first to the bed, which was empty. Off to the side was a hover-couch that was angle so that the front was just out of her line of vision.

Sanar braced herself and moved quietly to the couch, making herself look. Her eyes fluttered closed in pain but the image of the girl, draped between the couch and Onyx, eyes closed peacefully, taunted her. Onyx's arms held the girl close, one wrapped protectively, almost possessively, around her waist, the other gently resting on her neck.

Choking on a dry sob, Sanar ran from the room.

~*~*~

[Zekk's POV]

A strangled sound woke me and I reluctantly pried my eyes open. Sensing no one, and not daring to move for some reason that my sleep-hazed my still had yet to inform me of, I sighed before the current circumstances came rushing back to me. I blinked several times in surprise, hardly daring to believe that Onyx had not yet imprisoned me once more. The pliable weight that pressed against my body and the clean, softly feminine scent that reached my nose, however, proved it to be true. In the "dreams" I had in the abyss, smell and physical touch had never been this realistic.

Shifting my head slightly, my eyes found Jaina and-feeling suddenly very glad that I had awoken-my breath caught. The rising sun cast gentle beams of light over Jaina's face, causing her hair to shimmer a thousand different colours.

If she had ever looked more beautiful my mind was too overwhelmed from the sudden love and passion I felt to recall it.

How is it, I wondered, that she can be bruised, bloody, and still cause my pulse to race? The reminder that she was, in fact, hurt, caused me to push away all other thoughts and attempt to move out from under her, only to feel her begin to waken. Her hand-which I only now realized had been lying at the top of my shoulder-slid down to my chest, causing the fabric of my-or was it Onyx's?-shirt to ripple.

As I watched, her eyes fluttered open and she stretched like a pleased Yavin lynx. Her eyes met mine in momentary confusion before recognition flashed. "Zekk," she said, her soft voice and small smile causing my nerves to tingle all over. Unable to speak for fear of what I would admit, I nodded.

A smile spread over her features, just the way I remembered it: bright and with that odd emotion I had never been able to pin, adding a sparkle to her eyes. "You're back?" she asked, hope further brightening her countenance.

I attempted a smile, delighted and disgusted by the way it strained my mouth muscles. "For now." Jaina bit her lip and looked away, but not before I saw the crushing disappointment that darkened her eyes.

I had hurt her again. The realization slammed into my chest, making me want to cry out in pain, but finding that the pain was too deep even for that.

Feeling my distress, Jaina turned back, her expression concerned. "How long?" she asked in an attempt, I supposed, to distract me. I shrugged and we lapsed into silence. Subtly, my nerves began to tingle, acknowledging the soft rubbing of Jaina's fingers on my chest. Bolts of lightning desire pulsed through my blood.

I tensed, fighting my reaction. I had hurt her enough. Pressuring her to feel even friendship toward me would be cruel; to make her feel as if she needed to love me would be sadistic.

Perhaps she caught my thought direction, because Jaina sat up, liquid brown eyes flashing. "We don't have enough time for you to throw a pity party, Zekk. Sithspawn, if we have enough time to talk you can colour me purple."

I stared at her hand, still on my chest, supporting her, resting below the base of my neck. Deciding it could be mistaken for a semi-friendly gesture, I gave it a tug, so that she fell back onto me. I thought I heard her gasp, but dismissed it. "We're talking now," I said quietly.

When I craned my neck to look into her face, her smile was crooked. "This is the first time we've talked face to face in four years and you think this is a worthy conversation topic?"

"You'd be surprised at the kind of gems you can find among the unworthy," I answered, thinking of the difference between her and so many other upper-class beings.

"I know," she said, her voice unexpectedly tender. "After all, I found you, didn't I?" Jaina's gaze met mine and something passed through us, giving, taking, healing, intensifying our connection.

My heart pounding and my mind too fried to think clearly, I cupped my hands around her face, tugging her closer to me. It was only when I realized that her lips, parted slightly, were bare centimetres from mine that I stopped, my mind reeling in horror at my lack of self-control. Desperately reining in my passion, I forced my lips to instead press against her forehead.

"Yes," I said, swallowing. "You did."

When I pulled away, I caught a brief glimpse of hurt and disappointment in her eyes. "You always did insist on considering me a child," she said flatly.

I nearly burst out laughing at the absurdity of her statement. My body, no, my very being, craved her and screamed in agony as I denied it yet again. My desire-no, my need-for her was so extreme that I could barely breathe as it lit my body on fire. My heart ached for her, and yet still she lay, completely unaware of her effect on me, claiming I thought her a child.

"No," I said, giving her a half smile as I stroked her cheek before pulling her as close as I dared. "Never a child, Jaina. Never."




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Seven


Never a child?! Jaina wondered, her thoughts chaotic and confused. What is that supposed to mean? And what had just happened? Zekk had been about to kiss her, of that she was certain-at least, as sure as she could be with her complete and total lack of experience. And yet, at the last moment, he had erected walls around himself and kissed-barely-her forehead.

Well, if she'd had any doubts about her role in his life they were now thoroughly crushed. She wasn't even sure if he remembered that she wasn't his little sister. She was beginning to suspect that if someone told him she was from another family he'd fall over from shock. So much for a second chance, she thought glumly.

Zekk suddenly slid out from under her and she looked up. "Where are you going?" she asked.

Zekk averted his eyes. "You're hurt."

Jaina blinked in surprise, then looked down. She jolted a little when she saw the bloodstains on her clothes and the bruises that covered her skin. Slowly, her regret at Zekk's lack of romantic attention drifted away and pain flooded her senses, causing her to whimper softly. Instantly Zekk's brow furrowed in concern and he knelt next to the couch, his hands taking hers. "Jaya?"

There was something in his voice, something that made her look up, hope sparking in her heart once more. Perhaps she was being foolish but she could swear that his voice was more tender that it would be with anyone else…but of course it was folly. There was nothing other than friendly concern in his emerald eyes and Jaina's heart crashed upon reality once more.

She tore her eyes from him, wishing she had a blanket to hide her beaten body behind. "I'll be fine. Don't worry about it."

Zekk watched her, a frown of concern etched on his face. Ignoring her protests, he stood. "I'm going to get the med-kit."

Jaina's head jerked up, her hand catching his. "No!" When Zekk stared at her as if she were a science experiment gone wrong, she blushed and backtracked. "I mean, it's nothing a healing trance won't fix."

"The healing trance will take less time if you put a bacta pack on some of your wounds. Don't be stupid, Jaina. Your wounds are serious. Now isn't the time for heroics." Jaina looked stunned by his blunt delivery of words, but for once Zekk ignored it. If he allowed himself to stay close to her…if he allowed himself to feel her body pressed against his for another second, he would lose all control, something he couldn't afford.

This time, when Zekk moved toward the door, Jaina didn't protest. He returned in moments, med-kit in hand. Working quickly, he placed the bacta packs and bandages over her numerous wounds, praying that his clinical frame of mind would slip and allow his hands to linger and notice the softness of her skin.

Seeing no more serious injuries, Zekk breathed a sigh of relief.

Jaina frowned. "You mis-" she cut off there. If Zekk had been a med-droid she would have felt more physical warmth in his touch. Scratch the little sister role, she thought darkly. Zekk feels as much for me as he would a person who passed him on the street. She had no desire to have that fact pounded into her head for the third time in a few hours.

"What was that?" Zekk asked curiously as he placed as much distance between himself and his own form of temptation without looking suspicious. It didn't, he noticed despairingly, do much good as his hands could still feel her skin.

Jaina shook her head, shifting so that her back was hidden. "Nothing."

His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What did I miss?"

To her credit, Jaina kept her flustered emotions from her face, but Zekk recognized them well. It was the same expression she wore when Leia had demanded an explanation for Jaina's absence during a political banquet.

"Well, my leg just kind of ached but-"

"Jaina," Zekk said warningly. Both her legs held only bruises and they both knew it.

Jaina's shoulders slumped and Zekk could almost see her weighing the pros and cons of telling the truth. Finally, her eyes met his. "My back is starting to numb." When he only stared at her, she added, "I think my nerves are, ah, kinda in shock…I mean, not permanently but for now but-"

Burying the lump that had found itself lodged in his throat, Zekk forced himself to say something, anything. "I see."

"It's nothing a healing trance won't fix," Jaina was quick to assure him, her eyes darting around the room.

"If you went into a healing trance with your nerves numb you could damage them permanently," Zekk reprimanded, still staring at her. "You'd have scars for sure."

Jaina winced. "Oops."

His breath left him in a whoosh. "You already went into a healing trance?"

Jaina began to fumble for the words to explain. "Before-well, before they, that is, the assassins, came I thought I should-I mean, I wasn't thinking too clearly cuz…well, that doesn't matter but-"

Zekk swallowed. "There should be something you can use to, er, cover your," his breath hitched but he continued, "front with. You should lie on the bed, uh, I guess. Um…I'll be-right back."

Jaina watched, partly amused, mostly surprised, as Zekk all but ran from the room. What had gotten into him? Sighing, she stood and went to the closet. Having Zekk close, touching her and yet not caring, was not something she looked forward to.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Eight


[Zekk's POV]

It had been five minutes since I left the room and I was no closer to grasping some form of control than I had been when I first walked out. To think I could continue to bury my feelings for Jaina as I had been for ten years…to think I could keep my love and desire out of my touch…well, the very idea was absurd.

But I had to, for Jaina's sake.

Swallowing, I started toward the door. I paused a moment when I reached it, putting every exercise of control he-and even Onyx-had ever learned into practice. Force be with me, I pleaded silently.

~*~*~

Jaina knew exactly when Zekk entered the room. It wasn't a matter of using her Force perception, but instead a recognition of the change in the atmosphere. It was in the way her skin began to tingle and even her most delicate hairs raised. Everything-sound, emotion, thought, sight-became unreal, blurry, until all she could be sure of was her love for him.

And, of course, that he didn't feel the same way.

But that didn't matter-at least, not at the moment; she was too worried about how a damaged back might be exploited by the Empire during and-if she survived-after her imprisonment. But she'd ponder it later, Jaina knew. She always did.

At first, Zekk did not approach her and Jaina wondered why, until she felt something close to fear radiating from him. Her confusion increased ten-fold. Twisting around on the bed awkwardly-and painfully, her eyes found him next to the door, studying his feet.

"As much as I'm sure it would make life a lot easier," Jaina said dryly. "I don't think your feet hold the key to the secret truths of the universe, Zekk."

Zekk's head jerked up at the sound of her voice, his reflexes and not his mind controlling the action. For a second Jaina could see past his tight shields he had kept up and into his soul. For a second, she could see the way his eyes took their time taking in her curves and the expanse of her uncovered and shadowed back. For a second, she could have sworn she saw desire and love in his gaze.

Jaina's breath caught, her emotions in turmoil. For the first time in recent memory, and at perhaps the most inconvenient time possible, Jaina was speechless.

Then the second ended, and he found his control, and his expression became guarded again. But, he saw immediately, it was too late.

Jaina knew.




*        *        *




Part Twenty-Nine


Zekk's blood ran cold, freezing in his veins, as his heart stopped beating in fear and panic. His head spun as the silent words in her gaze ran around inside his head. Sheknowssheknowssheknowsshe… "Jay, I can explain," he started, his voice cracking.

Jaina didn't break their eye contact, scared he might run if she did, and anchored the sheet tightly to her body as she began to sit up. She couldn't let him run, not now; not when she finally knew. "Zekk-"

He swallowed the gasp of anguish that tried to escape his lips as Jaina's pain flooded his senses, compliments of their bond. He was beside her in an instant, his words sharp and urgent, almost a command. "Stop moving before you paralyse yourself."

She looked pale as he gently moved her back down on the bed, being careful of her back and making sure she was covered. She didn't fight against him and that, more than anything, told him just how much pain she was in. Any other time she probably would have found it patronizing. "It didn't hurt like that before," she complained weakly.

Kriff! he swore silently, being careful to shield so that she wouldn't catch on to how bad that could be. "Sithspit, Jaina, how do you get yourself into these messes?" he asked in frustration.

Jaina didn't answer, so Zekk opened the med-kit, pulling out bandages, a syringe, and a disinfectant cloth. He didn't give himself time to think before he pulled the blanket she'd covered herself with away from her back.

He stared at her bare back in shock, any control he'd attempted to find, had found, slipping away completely. "Emperor's black bones," he breathed, his pain almost physical, his voice broken. "What did I do to you?"

Jaina began to twist around, probably to tell him it wasn't his fault, but Zekk pressed against her left shoulder as lightly, but firmly, as he could, preventing her from moving further.

Zekk couldn't tear his gaze away from Jaina's ravaged back. A part of him wouldn't allow it, and he couldn't help from looking very closely at the open wounds. His stomach clenched, bile rising in the back of his throat. If she'd been placed on a spiked bed of superheated coals and dragged across it, Zekk doubted he would have noticed a difference. From the ghastly burns that were close to bubbling before Onyx- or was it Zekk? After all they were the one and the same- had stopped, to the half healed knife slashes, Jaina's back was akin to newly turned soil.

"An ugly sight," Jaina remarked, feeling his horror leak through the Force and forcing a hollow laugh. "Am I not?"

Acting on impulse, and with a push from something-the Force?-Zekk leaned in, letting his lips find the curve of her neck. "No," he corrected, his lips brushing her skin as he spoke. "You are always beautiful, my Light."

Before he could realized what was happening, Jaina's hand snaked up and around his neck, keeping him close. Zekk found it hard to breathe as he caught an image from Jaina's mind. An image which revealed to him that the only thing keeping her from turning over and pulling him on top of her, was the pain in her back. This isn't happening.

"Your Light?" she murmured curiously.

Deciding he had nothing to lose as anything he had to be better than the torture of not being able to show her how he felt, he answered truthfully. "Yes." He knelt on the floor so that he was closer, and far more comfortable. Not, he thought darkly, that he deserved it. "Do you remember Mon Calamari?"

He could almost see her eyebrow arching sardonically in his mind. "You mean where I 'died'?"

Zekk tensed at the reminder of the hell he had gone through upon thinking her dead. "Yes," he almost croaked. "Before Mon Cal I couldn't-I was unaware of everything. It was like being asleep. All I knew was shadows…wisps of smoke. A fog, really. After Mon Cal…I guess you triggered something because I…" he sighed in frustration. Why couldn't he find the words to explain what had happened? "I don't know…the best way I can explain it is that I…woke up. There was suddenly a light at the end of the abyss-you."

Jaina was quiet for a long time until Zekk began to worry that she was contemplating the most heart wrenching way she could throw his confession back in his face. Standing, he began to prepare the syringe he had placed to the side.

"I always wondered if it worked," she said finally, so softly that he had to lean in. "I was beginning to think I just made things worse." She paused a long moment, as if wondering if she should continue. Hesitantly, she did so. "Do you remember what I said?"

Zekk shook his head. "No. The first thing I remembered was…" his voice trailed off.

"My 'death,'" Jaina finished wearily. "I was afraid of that. Did you ever check Onyx's mind to see if he knew?"

"Onyx is me, Jay. Everything he knows, I know."

Jaina snorted. "Really? Then who's Mathair?"

Zekk pulled a blank. "I don't know," he admitted.

She hissed as he injected her with the painkiller. "She was Brakiss' mistress and choice assassin for three years. When she began to replace him, Onyx killed her."

Zekk swallowed as the atrocities he had committed were pulled to his attention. Until now he had been able to ignore them, if only until he was sure Jaina was safe. But Jaina's casually spoken reminder had made the guilt flood back, more than even the wounds on her back had.

"Did you search?" Jaina asked, not heeding the roller-coaster his emotions were going through.

"Once. But I couldn't find anything that I didn't already know."

She sighed in relief and bobbed her head into the bed once, causing it to bounce slightly. "I thought maybe I hadn't shielded my message properly."

Wiping her skin with the disinfectant cloth as gently as possible, he asked slowly, "What message?"

Jaina opened her mouth to respond, then snapped it shut before she spoke. Instantly she berated herself for her cowardly behaviour. Why should it be so difficult to tell him? She had said it before-well, ok, so the fact that she had believed he wouldn't be able to pick it up after so long had something to do with her bravery.

But that shouldn't matter! a small voice in her mind argued. Zekk's never laughed at you before-why should he start now?

"Jaina?" Zekk inquired after several long moments of silence. When she didn't answer, his breath hitched and he said urgently, "Jaina, don't fall asleep. You'll-"

His hands fell away as Jaina rolled onto her side and looked at him. She silently gathered all of her courage as she prepared to uncover the secret she'd hidden for nearly a decade. She took a deep breath. "Zekk? I love you."




*        *        *




Part Thirty


The bandages dropped from Zekk's hands and silence reigned. It was loud, if silence could be described as such. Jaina became very aware of the sound of their breathing, of the soft pitter-patter of the rain which had begun to fall, of the sounds of Coruscant traffic.

Finally, Zekk croaked, "What did you say?"

Her heartbeat roared in her ears until Jaina thought she might be deafened. Suddenly wondering if she had read him wrong, she licked her lips and whispered, "I love you."

Zekk's head shook in numb denial. "No. You-you can't."

Jaina swallowed. "Are you so used to putting me in the little sister slot that you can't think of me as anything other than child?"

This time, Zekk did laugh. "I assure you, Jaina, you are not considered a child by me."

"Then stop treating me like one! It's like you see me as some-" her face screwed together a bit as she searched for the word. "Some-thing!"

Zekk's jaw tightened. "Would you prefer I treat you according to the way every part of me demands?" he asked. "You don't seem to understand what you're asking for. I do, however, and I am not going to hurt you-again!"

"You're hurting me now!" she retorted angrily, her yell a sharp contrast to the soft intensity of his voice. "Do you even care? I just spilled the contents of my heart, Zekk. Does that mean nothing?"

Zekk's face crumbled. "You know I love you."

Jaina gave a derisive snort. "Why should I believe you?" Her face hardened. "Words are empty when they are not backed by action."

His heart clenched a moment at her instant disbelief. "How can I prove it to you?" he whispered desperately, painfully as he sank to the floor beside the bed.

Jaina just looked at him.

They remained that way for a long time. Their connection went on for lifetimes, and yet for only the barest fraction of a second. When he finally looked away, he heard Jaina sigh. "Maybe you can't."

The hurt in her voice over his lack of action struck him like a kick to the gut but he ignored it-for the moment, anyway. Instead, he focused on healing her physical wounds until all that could be done was wait.

Jaina, who had been subdued and guarded since her answer to his plea, wrapped the blanket all the way around herself and looked up as he sat on the bed, very close to her. "What's the diagnosis, my dear brother?" she asked, no small amount of bitterness bleeding through her voice.

Perhaps it was the title she gave him. Maybe it was the way she looked then, her hair spilling around her shoulders, a shimmering reddish-brown in the light. Or maybe it was the tightness of her jaw as she defied her pain-physical and most likely emotional as well.

Or maybe it was the way she looked at him; the way her eyes told him she most certainly did not think of him as a brother.

It didn't really matter why his control broke at that moment, not really. All that mattered was that the emotional barriers he had placed between himself and Jaina crumbled and it didn't seem likely that they would repair themselves any time soon.

As he pulled her close and claimed her mouth in a way he never before would have dared, Zekk found a peace-a rightness-that he doubted he deserved.




*        *        *




Part Thirty-One


Her head was spinning. Pleasantly, as she did not in the least mind being kissed by Zekk-he was, quite certainly, free to do so anytime he wanted-but still spinning. One moment he'd been refusing to so much as touch her unless it was to clean or heal her back-which, in Jaina's mind, didn't really count. And then, out of nowhere, he was pressing her into the bed, kissing her with such passion it sent shivers of pleasure down her spine.

She vaguely recalled someone saying that a first kiss was supposed to be short, sweet and terribly awkward. And perhaps Zekk had meant for it to be soft but it only remained as such for a moment. Now…

She opened her mouth to him, her fingers becoming entwined in his hair as she relaxed to his touch. She opened to him as she'd never opened to anyone in her life. She'd wanted this for so long and now, being swept away in the sensations, she found it hard to think and simply stopped. She simply felt.

Much later, Zekk pulled away, until there were bare centimetres between their lips, their breathing ragged. /I love you/ he said through their bond, sending wave upon wave of love straight to her soul.

Jaina responded in kind, until Zekk thought is heart might burst with joy. He felt her smile in his mind. /I know/

Hesitantly, his hand slid along her neck and across her bare shoulder, stopping only when he realized that other, than the blanket, she was unclothed. He jerked away as if he had been burned, images of what his body begged for intensifying dangerously. "Go get dressed," he ordered, avoiding her eyes.

Jaina, trying to come out of the haze Zekk's kiss had thrown her mind into, managed a blurry, "Huh?"

"Go get dressed." There was an urgency in his voice this time that made her mind clear.

She raised an eyebrow, hiding her confusion behind a dry tone. "Then get outta my room-unless you're waiting for some kind of show," she said, giving him a lopsided amused grin. Her smile changed into a frown as Zekk, for the second time that day, nearly ran from the room.

It was only when he was gone that she realized how little she was actually wearing. Her cheeks flooded with colour. Considering the fog her mind had been in, it was a good thing he'd pulled away when he had.

Not, of course, that Zekk would have gone any farther. The kiss they'd shared was something her dreams had been made of for almost half her life. To think he would go farther…she chuckled. Not even she was foolish enough to dream that that day was coming any time soon. Her blush doubled even as the daring thought crossed her mind. Her trail of thought appalled her, even as she recognized the honesty of her desires in it.

What would Princess Leia think? she wondered, one corner of her mouth lifting in a smirk before she remembered her mother's betrayal. She shut it down. She wasn't about to let her mother's abandonment taint her time with Zekk.

She changed quickly, taking care not to further injure her back, then walked into Zekk/Onyx's master room. Zekk was looking out the window, his arms braced against the sides, his head bowed and tension clear throughout his body, as if he was losing an inner battle.

She paused only a moment before moving across the room and slipping her arms around him. Almost instantly the tension she had sensed in him seemed to drain away, as if her touch pushed away whatever demon he had been fighting. "What are you fighting?" she asked, almost to herself, even as she was sure she knew the answer.

Zekk turned in her arms and pulled her closer, his hand resting gently between her shoulder blades. They were quiet for a long moment, their earlier passion giving way to gentleness and comfort in the other's arms. When Zekk finally spoke it was not to answer her question, but to say, with an almost desperate edge, "You know I love you, right?"

Her brandy brown eyes lifted to meet his suddenly stormy green. Sensing the importance of her response to him, she answered as truthfully and reassuringly as she could. "Yes; and you know I love you?"

"You shouldn't."

Jaina shrugged. "Maybe. I haven't listened to logic a lot of my life and I don't really expect to start now."

Zekk chuckled and the sound sent a warm thrill through her veins. "I don't deserve you."

She flashed a Solo grin. "No, but I figure we can work on that later."

His forehead creased. "Later? Why…oh." He grinned as he recognized what she wanted and tipped her head back, slanting his lips across hers. She moaned softly into his mouth and he deepened the kiss.

While their first kiss had been passionate almost desperate in the wake of their discovery this kiss was tender, explorative. Their Force presences merged, solidifying their bond until they were one.

And then it began to change.

~*~*~

<Zekk's POV>

I could feel It-a cold chill running down my spine that penetrated even my kiss with Jaina. It had left for a while…but It was back. It crept up my spine, Dark and menacing. Almost as if she could feel It coming, Jaina's embrace tightened, as if that could keep me with her.

Knowing what I had to do, I pulled away. "You should get some sleep," I told her, my voice more hoarse than I would have liked.

"Zekk-"

Before she could continue, I used my foggy Force skills to send her body a powerful, if awkward, sleep suggestion. Jaina, though a Jedi, couldn't fight against something she wasn't expecting. I caught her just as she began to slump to the floor and carried her to her room and bed. When I was certain she was comfortable I left, locking the door behind me.

By now my breathing was laboured, as if I had fought a war and run several marathons in a short space of time. Slowly, painfully, the chill became a freezing cold that crept up my back and through my shoulder blades, then into my mind. I wanted to scream, but when I opened my mouth nothing came out. Darkness edged my vision. Feeling in my arms, then the rest of my body, began to melt away. My sense of hearing became a distant dream and my own name began to drift away from my memory.

Something-someone?-took control. It fitted Itself into my skin and made it a tool of Darkness. They stole my soul and blackened it with a kind of evil I could barely fathom.

They stole my most precious, passionate emotions and twisted them, then banished those that countered them-tenderness and love to counter lust; patience and mercy to counter hate, anger, impatience.

My soul tried to scream but if a shadow is a lack of substance, how can it make a sound? A shadow cannot hold breath, and thus cannot release it; nor can it possess a voice box, and so is unable to make sound. For what is sound but using such instruments?

Fighting against It was like attempting to move against the strongest current with stones beneath your feet which slide and sink when you push against them. There were no outcroppings in this river-if it could be called as such-for me to grab hold of to anchor myself against the never ending current.

And then I found no more strength in my body and I was pulled under, disappearing through the water, then the loose ground. Falling, until…

I found myself in the abyss once more.

This time, I knew better than to try to scream.

~*~*~

Jaina woke slowly, the foggy remnants of sleep clinging to her, reluctant to let her leave. Instinctively she curled toward something, then stopped when she realized no one was there. Brown eyes blinked open in confusion. Why had she thought there would be someone with her? Perhaps even more important-why had she dared to think she could press against them, possessively, as if she was their beloved?

It came to her in a sudden burst of clarity-Zekk's confession, the kisses, and then…

She jumped-or, rather, flopped-out of the bed only to feel her spine explode in agony. Her knees buckled beneath her as she felt something close to the physical version of the pain she had experienced upon Jacen's death. Somewhere, deep within her muddled brain, she found the strength to keep from screaming but still a whimper managed to escape.

Reaching out with the Force she tried to find Zekk, only to run into a wall of Darkness. As the hopeless misery of her situation sunk in, Jaina remained in a crumpled heap, stunned. Life as Onyx's slave while perfectly healthy was degrading and painful, but almost bearable. Slavery while recovery from a back injury would be…she shuddered at the images and ideas her mind conjured.

When she attempted to stand she found she couldn't. Horror washed over her in tidal waves as she realized she could no longer feel her legs.

Jaina Solo, Jedi Knight and slave to the Darkest Knight of the New Empire, was paralysed.

TBC!




*        *        *