Sides of a Coin|
Summary: A Lady of the Sith recounts how she fell to the Dark side, who she loved, and how, in the end, the two are basically the same thing.
I should have known from the beginning that something was wrong. "Sith do not know love, or even compassion," he told me the first time he met me. But his grin sent electricity soaring through my veins and his eyes smouldered with something that seemed to contradict his words - something that added a "but" to what he said. So, in my naïveté and attraction, I ignored his words.
How could I know, then, that by forgetting his warning I gave him the only key he would ever need to destroy my heart from the inside?
I accepted his offer to train me and received a kiss in return. Now I know how pathetic I was - trading my life and my loyalty for a kiss that he could easily give to any other girl. But I had lost faith in the Jedi, in my family; I had been betrayed by those I tried to save. And this man - a Sith Lord - offered me something more. He presented - I thought - a shot at acceptance, refuge and maybe even - someday - love.
I trained under him for years, striving to be exactly what he wanted me to be. I thrived on even the smallest gesture of affection, lived off his praise. When I caught him watching me, I shivered and worked harder, concentrating on even the most painful task, hoping that he would see my loyalty to him in my effort.
I backed away from a task that he set before me only once. When I was eighteen, he demanded that I destroy Yavin 4 with the recently created second Sun Crusher. I almost went through with it - really, I did, pitiful fool that I was - but I fell back at the last moment.
Yavin 4 had been one of my most cherished childhood homes; not even my eagerness to please my master could make me go through with destroying it.
I had returned to him, eyes downcast, knowing that he would be greatly disappointed. "I will not stand for failure," he had told when I first came to him. "Your only choices are these: perfection or death."
He knew immediately that I had not gone through with it - he could feel it, smell my failure, see my shame. "I couldn't," I whispered inadequately, crumbling under his displeasure.
He didn't respond for hours and I did not dare to so much as flinch, let alone look him in the eye. So I huddled on the stone floor before him, waiting for the blow, for the torture, for the slow death that - I believed - was warranted by my inexcusable failure.
Finally, he grabbed me by the hair and jerked my head up. "You have disappointed me, my sweet rose," he said, his voice twisting the endearment so that it grated on my ears.
I had disappointed him. I wonder now, knowing what I do, if he knew just how painful it was to hear that from him. To listen as the man I loved - yes, loved - denied me even his pride. How could I earn his affection when I was this frail excuse of even an apprentice? I was nothing. I was clumsy, weak, inadequate. Undeserving of his attention, of his tutelage.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, too distraught even to weep. His response was to throw me away from him and leave my presence, not looking back.
Leaving. He was always so good at that.
I didn't leave that hard, cold chamber for three weeks. One servant - a woman about my mother's age, whose maternal side I seemed to bring out - brought me food and wine, but I refused it. She returned several days later, telling me that He commanded I take water. So I did. But that was it.
My bruises yellowed and my knees became used to the stones I knelt on, but the agony in my heart did not abate. He had not even come to see me. Truly, he knew how to punish me in a way befitting my betrayal of his trust.
It was only after I felt Yavin 4 disappear from the Force that he returned. He didn't speak or come near me; he just stared at me, looking for something. I was too hurt to even figure out what he wanted me to be now. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered.
Several days later a man - about a few years older than myself - appeared in the chamber. "My name is Zekk," he told me quietly, almost under his breath, as he helped me to my feet. My knees ached in protest, but I locked them and reached out to the Force for aid. "I am to help you with your training," he added.
I let my head roll back so I could see him properly. "F-for how…" I swallowed, trying to make my parched throat let my voice work. "How…?"
He shook his head. "Save your voice."
I did not see or speak to my master again for four years, but I knew that Zekk saw him often. For the first few months I was listless and paid Zekk little attention. He was patient however, and gradually drew me out of my shell. Slowly, I regained my strength and confidence. More than that, I received friendship from the quiet young man that proved to be a capable and - unlike my master - gentle teacher.
I was initially confused by Zekk; it had been years since I received equal parts criticism and praise from anyone - lifetimes since anyone held me when I dropped from exhaustion. I couldn't remember a time when someone really listened to what I had to say, like Zekk did. I was taken off balance; I didn't know what to make of this kindness.
My training - which, with my master, had been confined to lightsaber duelling, weaponry and Force manipulation - spread into different areas with Zekk as my teacher. I learned the manners of court, steps to dances, how to keep an Intelligence op running. I learned languages and mythology and history.
Still Zekk wasn't satisfied with what "little" I knew. What else did I want to learn? Strategy? He brought the most brilliant Chiss he knew of to train my mind. I wanted to learn how to fly better? Zekk taught me himself and I received the finest ship in the galaxy for my pleasure.
I became used to Zekk's company and took pleasure in seeing his eyes subtly light up when he saw me. Longing for my master began to sink to the back of my mind and, bit by bit, dreams of my master were replaced with those of Zekk. What did my master matter? He didn't care, he hadn't come to see me in years. Zekk cared about me.
And I cared about him.
Sometimes I noticed Zekk's eyes on me, but the way he looked at me was different from how he usually did. His forehead creased, his mouth tightened and his eyes darkened. It always unsettled me and, in an attempt to push it away, I grabbed his hand and gave him a smile. It chased the look away for the moment, but never forever.
If only I had understood what that look meant.
The last time I saw Zekk was on my twenty-second birthday. To my delighted surprise, he suspended all training that day and flew me to Naboo. It was the first time I had been off ship since my failure on Yavin 4 and I revelled in every moment of my freedom. We hiked to a waterfall and swam and dawdled the day away.
At night, we flopped onto the beach and lay side by side, hand in hand, and watched the stars. It was something that I had never had the time - or patience - to do before Zekk came, which made it all the more special.
Late into the night, Zekk broke the comfortable silence that we had slipped into. "Do you ever wonder," he asked "what your life could have been like if you had never accepted your master's offer to train you?"
I sat up to get a better look at him. His expression was pained. "Sometimes." Not really; when I wondered, it was about what would have happened if I hadn't met Zekk.
His thumb smoothed over my knuckles, one, two, three, four, and back again. "I do. I wonder what I would have done, who I would have met…" His hand dropped mine and he rolled onto his side and propped himself up on his elbow. "If I would have been better off." He said the last part so quietly I almost didn't catch it.
"Do you regret it?" I asked, unable to look at him. Do you regret meeting me? I wanted to ask.
He surprised me by pulling me down next to him. My breath caught; his hand caressed my cheek. "When I look at you?" His eyes burned and I moved closer. "No."
Fire shot through my veins, warming me to my very core.
That night claimed my first kiss, and the next, and the next. My heart soared and it was that night that I realized that I loved him. That he loved me.
And not even my master would be able to punish that knowledge out of me.
The next day Zekk and I returned to the ship to find my master waiting for us. Seeing him, I froze, all my old insecurities rushing back. Zekk noticed and squeezed my hand. It gave me strength, but still I resisted stepping out onto the docking bay.
Even then I knew that everything was going to change again.
Zekk saw my master and paused, then pulled me to an enclosed room and into a tight embrace. He kissed me - on my lips, my cheek, my nose. It was as if he was trying to memorize me with his lips and hands. I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back, frightened by what I could feel through the Force.
Zekk was scared - but it was an unnaturally calm panic.
He had accepted something.
His breathing was ragged and his hands trembled as he tilted my head so that I was staring directly into his eyes. "Promise you won't forget me," he whispered urgently.
I faltered and my eyes widened. "Zekk…"
"I promise, but Zekk - "
His breath shuddered, his eyes closed, his forehead met mine. A second later he had distanced himself - from me, from his fear. "You should go." His voice cracked. "He will be angry if you don't."
He silenced my protest with a last kiss, then tore away from me and left.
I tried to follow him, but he had locked the door behind him. I felt the urge to cry, but fought it back. What was going on? What?
"My little rose…" a lilting voice said from behind me. My spine stiffened in memory of emotions that I wanted nothing to do with anymore. My hands clenched in fists. I didn't want my master; I wanted Zekk. Why was this happening?
"But you are not so little anymore," my master's voice continued and against my will I turned to him.
I wanted to scream at him, wanted to rip his eyes out. I was not his! Once, yes, but after Zekk…I would not be my master's rose ever again. Zekk had left because of him.
"Ah, but young Zekk also came because of me, my rose." He reached out to touch my cheek. I jerked away, my jaw tensing.
His Force presence flickered in irritation. "He won't be coming back, my rose. You're all mine again."
"I haven't been yours for years," I spat.
He surprised me with a vicious laugh. "At least he taught you something. I was beginning to think he was a complete waste of time."
My fist flew out and caught him in the chin.
In return his hand made a red mark on my face and he scowled, rubbing his chin. "Well, you'll come around." Seeing my defiance, he added, "You will."
The worst part of it was that I knew he was right.
My training with my master started again, twice as harshly, though perhaps it only seemed that way because of the sudden absence of Zekk's warmth. I re-learned how to pick up my shields faster than I liked. But worse than that was how instinctively I grappled for my master's affection again. Unlike before, I received what I fought for as a child. It didn't matter that the looks, the praise, the momentary caresses were bitter to me and served only to remind me what I was missing - a part of me still belonged to - still loved - my master.
My master insisted that I continue all the lessons I had begun with Zekk, but there was a very different undertone to 'classes' under him that both frightened and excited me. Dances became more sensual. During 'courtly manners' and hand-to-hand combat I had the right to be paranoid of his touch. Flying required him to demonstrate and wrap his arms around my waist to steer from behind me.
At night, I wept. Every day my longing to see Zekk once more - to feel his arms wrap around me, to feel his lips on mine, to hear him whisper that it was alright, that he'd take me far away from my master - grew.
I would have reached out to find Zekk in the Force, would have tried to touch his presence, but my master had forbidden me. "If you even think of it, I'll kill him myself," he threatened.
He always had known just how to keep me in line.
Every day it got worse - the seduction, the power he held over me. I could barely fight with him standing nearby, with his dark eyes seeing too much. I couldn't sleep; I had to put myself in a hibernation trance every night to have the energy to go on.
The tension heightened more and more until, finally, he closed down my quarters. It was almost a relief to hear him tell me that I wouldn't need my own rooms anymore, that I would be staying with him.
At least, I thought, the tension was gone. There was no more subtlety. No more wondering when he was going to act, how it would happen.
It was done.
The dreams began a year after Kyp took me to his bed. At first, I revelled in the images and memories of Zekk. They were the only real comfort I could find in the long days with only my 'master' as company. But as the dreams continued, I began to feel my pent-up anger at Kyp and my love for Zekk bubble forth. Why was I letting this happen? Why was I letting Kyp seduce me? Why?!
When the nightmares began I thought it was only from the built-up tension in my mind. I thought it was the guilt, the anger. I wasn't that naïve for much longer.
I woke up crying almost every night and had to learn how to weep silently, how to wake from a nightmare without moving, or risk being questioned and 'comforted' by my master.
My distaste for Kyp grew; my defiance became more blatant. Oddly, my master took pleasure in hearing me curse him, in feeling my fist break his nose, in the way I pulled away from him more and more each night. I had no such satisfaction. The more I struck out, the more obvious it became to me that I was becoming a complete mess.
No matter what I did, every time I closed my eyes - whether in meditation, sleep, or even a healing trance - I saw the same nightmare. I could never remember what happened - I retained only dizzy images, sounds and smells that never made sense. Trying to recall more only sent me into another crying fit or need to lash out. Servants learned to avoid me lest I take my confusion and anger out on them.
It came to a point where I would have looked for comfort anywhere, even my master's arms, if I thought it would help. But I knew it wouldn't.
Only one thing would.
When I finally reached out to Zekk, despite my master's threats, it had nothing to do with courage. I was at the end of my rope, and felt as if I was only centimetres from insanity. Nor did my avoidance of contacting Zekk have anything to do with fear of Kyp. I hadn't wanted Zekk to feel what a mess I was. He loved me - he was the only one that really did. I couldn't lose him.
But I didn't know what else to do. His arms had been the only haven I could remember, the only one to try protect me from fear or hurt. He was my only hope.
I waited until Kyp left for an afternoon before settling on the ground and stretching out with the Force to find Zekk.
I didn't have to reach far to find the truth.
The rooms had been nice before they were torn apart by my pain-triggered Force vortex.
I hadn't moved from meditation pose since I discovered the truth. The curtains were shredded, the furniture was broken and thrown about the room in chaos and a desk had landed on my legs but I couldn't find the strength to move.
That was how Kyp found me when he came back. Immediately he pulled the desk off me and tried to help me to my feet, but I pulled away, my first movement in a lifetime.
Seeing him eye me cautiously, I felt some of my energy return, some of my pain burn and build into a fire of hate and fury. "Why?" I demanded, rising slowly, my eyes steely.
His face set. "Why what?"
My fists clenched and I stepped forward, bringing us eye-to-eye. For once, I was not the one to feel the pull, but I couldn't find any pleasure in the thought. "Why did you kill him?" I gritted out. "Why?"
He shook his head and laughed, suddenly at ease. "Why do you think?" he returned. "Nothing I could have said or done would ever have made this great a transformation in you, my little one, my sweet rose." Energy began to build inside me, begging to be released, but I held back. I needed answers and - if they were to be found - Zekk had taught me the patience to get them.
"So you just killed him?!"
Kyp would have expanded if there was anything more to hurt me with. I knew it as well as my own name. My hands came up and pressed against his chest as electricity streamed from them. He flew against the wall from the force of it but recovered quickly, eyes flashing. "You can't win, Jaina."
My eyes glinted and my blood turned to ice. "I can't, Kyp," I agreed, stalking toward him. "But you forget just how much hate can tip the scales," I finished before my hands found their way around his neck.
In the end, I didn't kill him. No, that would have been pointless. He had put me through an agony so complete that I doubted I would ever recover. The least I could do was make sure he lived long enough for me to return the favour.
"You have disappointed me," I said instead, echoing the words he had used to shatter my spirit years ago. My lip curled in distaste at his huddled form, then I left.
Yes, I left him - the man that I had loved against my will, the Sith Lord that had betrayed me. I left him the way he had left me a thousand times. I was a child no longer
I was finally what he had wanted me to be: a Dark Lady of the Sith.
But I was also what he feared most: his adversary.
In the end, his seduction had not been rewarded by my undying loyalty. He had left me with Zekk too long. He had splintered my unwilling trust too completely.
"Promise you won't forget me."
I promise, Zekk.