Summary: Jaina and Zekk begin to get to the root of their relationship which results in a public argument and a discussion about Luke Skywalker's matchmaking habits.
Author's Note: this is the (somewhat) more serious sequel of "Friendly Observation" which in turn is a sequel of "By My Side". I suggest you read BMS, but you could probably figure this out if you didn't. You'll have to read "Friendly Observation" if you want to understand this, though.
~Hide by Creed
Call it a wedding reception. Call it a relief to be out of that stuffy chapel. Call it far too easy to slip into not-so-friendly-admiration-of-Jaina. Call it whatever the sith you want, just don't remind me.
"You actually look pretty good in a tux," Jaina remarked, smirking up at me. "Much better than that piece you wore to the diplomatic dinner my mother hosted seven years ago."
"I had almost managed to forget that dinner - thank you so much for bringing it up," I replied, making a face at her as we twirled around the dance floor.
She spun under my arm and back into my arms. She always had been able to execute that move smoothly. "Oh, it wasn't really that bad," she said thoughtfully. "You fared better than my mom expected." She winked.
"Well, I proved her evaluation of me correct."
She frowned. "What do you mean?"
"She thought I was an uneducated street kid."
She rolled her eyes and smiled at me. "Well, she didn't know you like I do."
That could have far too many meanings. I cleared my throat and looked away. "I'm surprised you haven't changed into some regular clothes yet," I said, changing the subject.
She shrugged. "How often do I get to dress up without all my friends laughing at me?" The mischief in her eyes suggested that there was more to her choice. That a big part of it had to do with me.
Blast her. I had a feeling the recon mission that we were going on was going to be inhumanely long.
"Not often, surprisingly enough."
I narrowed my eyes at her. "You're fishing for compliments now."
She made a face at me. "Spoil sport."
"Spoiling your fun is not my intention," I returned, smirking. "I just know you too well. If you want me to compliment you, just say so."
She laughed. "Alright then, how do I look?" Judging by the look on her face, she was expecting me to tease her.
I dipped her and held the position. Our faces were just a few centimetres apart. "You look beautiful."
She blushed to the roots of her hair and for a moment I saw the young pre-war Jaina that had helped me recover from my fall to the Dark side. "The wonders of make-up, huh?" she said, forcing a chuckle.
I rolled my eyes and straightened, pulling her out of the dip as I did so. "Personally, I think I like you better in grease. It brings out your eyes."
She swatted me. "Like it brings out your beautiful I-have-a-fatal-disease skin tone?"
"It's not my fault I haven't been able to get a tan - some of us have to work to achieve perfection."
Her smile would have sent a diabetic to a hospital. "Poor baby. I'm sure Hvari wouldn't mind kissing your ego. Go find her; I hear it works wonders."
The red-headed bridesmaid that had been making eyes at me throughout the wedding and the reception. Gah. "Thank you for the kind advice, but I think I'll just stay on the opposite side of the room - and galaxy, if possible - of her."
"Aw…c'mon, she likes you. I think it's sweet."
"I don't suppose you could tell her I'm taken?"
Her look made me rethink that plea. "I don't have time to be a Jedi and avoid her," I explained.
A corner of her lip twitched and she nodded mock-seriously. "Interesting dating life you have."
"Mm. Not really." She snorted. "I spent more of my adolescence angsting over my crush on you than actually spending time with you, I think. Anja, on the other hand, might have more to say about this topic…"
"Anja? That chick that had it out for your dad and stole the Lightning Rod and nearly killed all of us in the process of getting over her andris addiction?"
"No - yes - well, she was also the girl that you and Jacen drooled after for the better part of a year."
"I can barely even remember her - do you really think I ever felt anything other than platonic towards her?"
"I wouldn't know. I barely saw you for weeks at a time."
"How would you know? Like you said, you barely even remember it."
"Well you're the one to talk - what about Jag?" I raised a playful eyebrow but there was an edge to my voice.
"That was different. Besides, you weren't even around."
"Yeah it was different all right - there was actually something going on between the two of you."
She stepped out of my embrace and put her hands on her hips. "Well at least he stuck around after Anakin's death."
I should have stopped right there. Unfortunately, I have four words to explain the situation: Open mouth, insert foot.
"Of course he did - he didn't have a choice. Did you think I wanted to leave?" I was aware that our voices were escalating, but I ignored the looks we were getting. This conversation had been coming for too long. "I left because I cared too much. I couldn't just watch while you tore yourself apart - what if you had gone all the way, huh? I couldn't have killed you. I wouldn't have been able to go through with what I would have needed to do - "
"So you just ran off - something you're really good at by the way - "
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Oh don't get me started! Everytime things get rough, you take off. When we got in trouble as kids, you hid or ran. And let's not forget how you flitted around the galaxy for a year after the Shadow Academy thing and - "
"I held a lightsaber to your throat, Jaina - do you know how scarring it can be to have to live with the fact that you almost killed the girl you love?!"
We both froze. Jaina stared at me, shell-shocked, and I'm sure I didn't look much better. There were a lot of things I wasn't ready to tell Jaina yet - the jealousy I had to deal with when I saw her with Jag, the nights I spent worrying about her, the holo of her that I had kept in my coat pocket when I was a bounty hunter, which hadn't yet made its way out - but I had meant to tell her eventually.
But not what I had just blurted out. Not why my trip to the dark side bothered me so much. Never that.
"Zekk - " she stopped. Several times she opened her mouth as if to speak, but it closed just as quickly.
I didn't want to hear what she had to say. If I had had the choice, Jaina wouldn't have found out that I loved - and still love - her for quite some time and definitely not until I was under control. I didn't like being vulnerable.
I wanted to escape, but her words kept ringing through my head.
"So you just ran off - something you're really good at by the way - "
I could see in her eyes that she expected me to run again and I wasn't so sure it would be a bad thing for her to be right in this case.
Over Jaina's shoulder I saw Tayra push through the people to see what was going on. The comments of people that had seen Jaina and I came back to me.
//"So, you and my sister are going on one of those recon missions, huh? Why do I have the feeling I should buy a tux before you guys return?"//
// "You and friend Jaina were always so close at the Academy. It is wonderful to see the two of you back together."//
//"Your girlfriend certainly has you wrapped around her finger."//
//"So…are you and Jaina going to be going down the aisle anytime soon, Zekk?"
"We're just friends."
"That's what me and Gryq used to say. Don't worry, you'll get over it."//
Kriff. Had everyone other than Jaina and I seen this coming? And it just had to happen when I was getting comfortable with our friendship again. Blagh. After this mission I'm going for a long vacation far away from every ex-girlfriend I've ever had.
"We - we should go outside," Jaina finally said, breaking into my thoughts. She wouldn't meet my eye.
We exited the reception hall quickly, the wide eyes of the guests following us. When we stepped off the last stair to the outside, we faced each other.
Jaina was the first to speak. Like always.
"Look, Zekk…" she was fidgeting. "I know I - " she stopped again, sighed in frustration.
"I didn't want you to hear that," I blurted out, finally finding my voice.
She looked up at me then, an inscrutable expression on her face. "You didn't." She paused and she seemed to fight something out in her mind. "Of course not." She nodded and her eyes left mine again. "It was the heat of the moment," she continued. "It didn't mean anything."
Her Force presence said that it did. I tried to ignore that. I had uncovered enough; if she wanted something else, she'd have to reveal some of her own secrets.
"Stop peeking into my head, Zekk, and you won't hear things you don't want to know." She sighed. "Okay, so we both agree that what we said back there - it was all overblown and some of it even false."
"Agreed." I paused. "Did you really think I liked Anja?"
She shook her head. "Zekk, Zekk, Zekk. A girl will grab any possible explanation when the guy she has a crush on ignores her. Anja's constant flirting didn't really help matters, of course…"
"Well, if it makes you feel better, she was too reckless."
She snorted. "Riiiiiight…and you're Mr. Always Calm and Plotting Ahead."
"More so than you, anyway. Ever heard of logic and planning ahead?"
She forced a smile. "You're starting to sound like Garik."
I shuffled and looked down. "How is he, anyway?"
"He's married. Got a kid - a little girl." Her face softened. "I was named her godmother."
"Hm. He out of politics yet?"
"Have you turned on the holo-net at all during the war? He was one of the leaders of the Peace Brigade's opposition. He'll probably be the Chief of State a little before Jacen and Tenel Ka get back together."
I raised a sceptic eyebrow, recalling a certain blond scientist. "You say that as if it means something. I thought Jacen and Danni…"
She waved a hand as if dismissing the scientist. "Please. It's just a crush. Tenel Ka was Jace's first love. Even Uncle Luke knows it - he's sending Jacen to Hapes to safeguard Tenel Ka. The war managed to distract a few of the assassins - " I snorted in disbelief "- but they're back in droves now." She looked pensive. "And I thought my family had to stay on their toes."
"Tenel Ka doesn't need a bodyguard."
Jaina shot me a look. "Of course not."
"So why would Master Skywalker - "
"Didn't you hear me say that Uncle Luke is sending Jacen?"
"Yeah, but - oh." I paused, letting that sink in. "Kind of sad."
"That Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, hero of the Rebellion, New Republic and Galactic Federation of Free Alliances is playing matchmaker."
She shrugged. "Uncle Luke has always had a bit of an odd side. Haven't you noticed that all the old couples and friends have ended up on missions togeth - " she stopped, her mouth forming an 'O'.
She snickered and shook her head in amazement. "Well, Uncle Luke really is getting into the matchmaking business."
"What do you mean?"
"No one picks their partners for missions."
"But we did."
I blinked. "Um…"
"And who are the other pairs?"
"Tahiri and Raynar - "
She nodded pensively. "An odd match at first glance, but an interesting one on the second. They've both been held captive by the 'Vong and have lost their other half."
Beginning to catch a glimpse of what she was saying but hardly able to believe it, I continued. "The crew of the Wild Karrde - "
"Actually, all of two of the Wild Karrde are going. The others have…business."
"And the two people are…?"
She smiled, a glint in her eyes. "Talon Karrde and the lovely but ever-so-deadly Shada D'ukal. Spending months together. Alone."
I swallowed. "And Lowie and Raaba."
"I trust I don't need to explain those two."
"And Jacen and Tenel Ka on Hapes," I finished.
Jaina chuckled. "I think Uncle Luke has too much time on his hands." She shook her head and looked up at the reception hall entrance. "Do you want to go back in?"
"I wouldn't mind waiting a little longer," I replied. "You know, let them forget our not-so-private fight."
She shook her head. "It's now or never. If we go in after a while people - that is, my friends who, unfortunately, I will have to see again - will think we were making out or something and I'll never hear the end of it."
"Ah. Point taken. Do you want to stay?"
She shrugged. "It'll be winding down in a little over an hour anyway. I wouldn't mind seeing the embarrassing holo slides, though."
"Alright then - humiliating baby pictures and some more desserts. I can handle that."
She grinned. "Well then, what are we waiting for?" She walked up the stairs but I waited, watching her for a moment. Feeling my eyes on her, she turned around. "What?"
For a moment, things took a dream-like blurriness and her bridesmaid gown turned from lilac to white and a lace veil covered her hair. In the distance I could hear a soft melody. The sun brightened.
I blinked and slid out of the vision - if that was what it was - as easily as I had slipped into it. Jaina was still wearing the bridesmaid dress that showed too much back, and no veil. A few birds chirped, but there was no soft, bell-like melody. The clouds overhead hid the sun.
I cleared my throat, unnerved. I had never been gifted with an ability to see visions - but if that wasn't what I had just seen, what was it? A hallucination?
The urge to flee, to leave the chapel and reception hall for the comfort of my new ship and a strong glass of whisky swelled up in me.
But Jaina was still there, waiting expectantly.
"Do I really run that much?" I asked.
A corner of her mouth lifted. "Well, you didn't this time."
And that's all that matters, her Force presence told me. I nodded and followed her back into the hall.
I hadn't run.