Mikala sighed deeply and settled into the soft warmth of the blankets tucked over her, Sith, what a nightmare. She moved to shift her legs and they wouldn't respond. She could barely move at all. Her eyes snapped open in panic and she quickly looked around. She was back in the room she had been given to stay in at Steele manor. The light outside was just fading as the sun disappeared behind the horizon. On the table beside her sleep couch lay her lightsaber. Sith, that hadn't been a dream, had it?
She closed her eyes again, pushing down her panic. Her whole body ached and her head was throbbing. Her right arm was propped up on a pillow and she realized her back and legs were held tightly in a traction field. Someone had changed her clothing as well. She was in soft, silky, warm pajamas. She sighed deeply, Sandy was going to kill her and she had every right to. She swore softly to herself in Huttese. That had been so stupid. She had dragged them all out of bed. Oh, Sith, her Father had been there and that Jedi, Darien too. She sighed. She could almost remember the feel of his arms around her, warm and strong, but so gentle. Not like Xana-- not like him. His touch had always been rough and demanding. Darien's touch wasn't like that. She caught herself, what was she thinking? He was a Jedi for pity sake! But he was unlike any Jedi she had ever known. He was nothing like what her Grandmother had said Jedi were, but she had found nothing on Zoron was like what her Grandmother had ever said.
Mikala relaxed back onto the pillows behind her head. That had to have been a dream. People didn't just appear out of nowhere to insult you. She huffed angrily. What had she been thinking that she could confront that woman? She couldn't understand let alone control what was inside her. Why in the name of the Force, did she think she could take her on? It was a wonder she hadn't killed her instead of just swatting her away like an irritating insect. How stupid could she be? She sighed. Great way to impress the family there.
She heard a soft purr and turned her head to find herself face to muzzle with that big cat. Her eyes widened in panic. Oh, Sith! She couldn't even move!
Goldie snorted softly and then hopped up on the sleep couch beside her and snuggled in against her, resting a protective paw across her stomach. Mikala tensed, closing her eyes. She held her breath for fear of startling the beast and it attacking her.
The big cat snuggled in against her and rested her heavy head on Mikala's shoulder. Mikala held herself as still as she could. She took a cautious breath, but Goldie didn't seem to take notice. Mikala struggled down the urge to scream and desperately struggled to focus herself on the lessons her Father had been teaching her about controlling panic. She reached out to the Force and used it to calm herself. She carefully opened her eyes. Goldie lay there placidly, breathing deep and evenly, her large golden eyes shut in sleep.
There was a knock on the open door.
Her eyes darted up to see who it was.
"Hello," Darien announced himself. "My I come in?"
Goldie opened an eye for a moment and then closed it again.
"Can you get her off me?" she whispered, looking down at Goldie.
He stepped into the room. "I'm not sure. She gets a bit defensive when one of the family is sick."
He crossed the room and looked at the cat. Goldie continued to sleep.
"I brought you some flowers," he said placing them in vase on the nightstand.
Mikala eyes darted down the paw across her middle then at the flowers.
The cat opened an eye, "purr."
Darien reached down, scratched behind an ear, and picked up the paw, placing it on the bed beside Mikala.
"Please," she whispered. "Get her off me."
The cat put the paw back.
Mikala squeezed her eyes shut her fear starting to slip through her control.
"I think she's protecting you. In her mind any way."
He pulled his com link from his pocket. "Lonnie, would you call Goldie. She's on Mikala's bed and Mikala is uncomfortable."
She took a slow, deep breath. "I've never been around animals much," she told him.
"I've gotten used to Goldie." Darien said.
"I'm trying to," Mikala said.
There was a call in the Force. Goldie's ears perked up. The sound repeated. Goldie rolled off the bed and slipped out the door.
Darien closed it behind her. "I'm not convinced this will keep her out, but it's worth a try. Goldie's accustomed to picking a child to sleep with at night."
Mikala wilted back on the sleep couch in relief. "Thank you," She said, opening her eyes. She looked over at the flowers and smiled. "They're beautiful."
"Thank you. Keiren and I grew them."
She sighed softly. "I should thank you for finding me. I guess I got myself into some trouble with Sandy now."
"Pretty routine trouble I'd say. She's used to restless aggressive patients." He answered.
Mikala grimaced. "I just wanted to see how much I could move."
"Not as much as you thought I'd say."
She smiled a little. "Actually, I did pretty good, but I obviously over did it."
"And Sandy appears to have devised a punishment to fit the crime. That traction field looks very uncomfortable."
She nodded. "It is, but my back doesn't hurt as badly now."
"One of Sandy's most annoying traits is that she's always right about these things."
"I'm finding that out," she said with a smile that softened her features. She glanced over at a chair beside the sleep couch. "Why don't you sit down?"
"Good idea." He moved the chair forward and sat down.
"How long have you been here?" she asked him.
"About four months this time. I was here for a while last year as well."
"You left? Did you escape or something? You said Tal and Polly kidnapped you."
"That was last year in June and no, I didn't escape. I tried once and Sandy sent a driver to pick me up at the bus stop and take me to the Starport."
Mikala gave him a questioning look.
"I think the kidnapping was just to get me here in the first place. After that she wanted me here willingly. I came back on my own. Keiren was waiting at the orbital docking station my starliner came in on, even though I hadn't told them I was coming."
She smiled a little. "Well, I guess I'm glad you're here."
"Thank you. I'm glad you're here too."
A faint blush crept along her pale cheeks. "Really?"
"Why?" she asked and then sighed. "All I've done since I got here is throw everything in an uproar. I hope I didn't do any damage to Kieren's garden."
"No, at least nothing he won't enjoy fixing and you in a strange way have brought a bit of light here yourself." He paused. "I really can't explain it."
She gave him a puzzled look. "Me, light?"
"Not in the conventional meaning. It's more something I feel than something I can see or explain."
She studied him and then smiled shyly, looking away a moment. "I feel more relaxed here than I ever have before."
"Maybe that is it. The Force's actions are always explainable, if we have the wit to do so. Perhaps I'm feeling something you will do in the future."
She looked back at him, her eyes full of questions, but she didn't ask them.
"And you are good company. I find I like talking to you." He added.
She smiled and the paused. "I'm sorry about how I treated you that first day I met you in the garden. I didn't have very high opinion of Jedi then. I've learned a lot of what I thought I knew was wrong."
"Forgiven, if that is needed." He smiled. "I felt that way about Darksiders when I was brought here. And Sandy was the strongest darksider I'd ever met up to then."
She nodded. "Things aren't so black and white here."
"No, they are not." He responded.
She sighed deeply. "There are somethings I regret doing now that I know you and know a little more about what you are."
"Everyone has regrets. You must not let them defeat you."
She gave him a sad smile. "I wish I had known about this place a long ago."
"I wish you had too. Your life would have been much better. I would not wish your childhood on anyone."
"Me either," she said softly. She took a deep breath. "I survived and I'm here now."
"We must make the most of that."
She smiled shyly. "We?" she asked.
"Yes, all of us." He gave her an embarrassed smile.
She smiled warmly. "Of course."
"Sandy says she'll release you in two days." Darien added.
She sighed deeply. "That long?"
"That long." He smiled. "I'm afraid I have no influence on that subject."
She grimaced. "I guess that means I'll have to start listening to Sandy if I want to keep my freedom."
"I'm afraid so. I suspect she's the galaxy's expert herding cats like you me and your siblings."
Mikala laughed. "Now that's an image."
"Yes, it is isn't it."
She chuckled. "Appropriate though. I guess --" she paused her smile turning thoughtful. "I guess we are a handful," she said softly. She looked over at him. "I said 'we'. I've never felt like I belonged anywhere before."
"I hope it makes you fell better. I find the image of a thirteen year old fleeing her mother hard to accept."
Mikala looked away, tears springing to her eyes. "I have no mother," she said softly. She squeezed her eyes closed.
"I see, but you do have a father."
She paused a moment and then nodded.
"Are you feeling any better now?"
She sighed deeply and opened her eyes again. Then she gave him a small smile and nodded. "Yes."
"Is she letting you eat yet?" He asked.
"She was before I snuck out," she said a bit impishly.
"What about now? Maybe I can get you something."
She tried to shift, but the traction field held her still. She sighed in frustration. "Yes, please. I'm starving."
"What would you like?"
She smiled. "I'd like something sweet and fattening, but Sandy's been making sure I only eat things that are 'healthy'."
"I'll see what the bakers are making." He stood to go. "I'll be back in a few moments."
"Can you get me something to drink too?" she asked.
She smiled. "Thank you."
He left the room.
Mikala relaxed back, closing her eyes.
A few minutes later he was back carrying a silver tray. He moved the vase and set the tray on the nightstand. "The bakers have been very busy today. I was able to get you some cookies, tarts and a loaf of some very nice bread. What do you want first?"
Mikala blinked sleepily and smiled. "What kind of tarts?"
"Cherry, lemon and some kind of berry I don't know, but they taste very good. I also brought some fizz."
She chuckled. "I haven't had fizz in years. Can I have try the berry one?"
"Sure. Do you want it whole or shall I cut it?" He picked up the knife.
She tried to shift and then slumped back in defeat. "Better cut it in half or I'll have it all over me. Can you slip a pillow in under my shoulders?"
"Right." Darien cut a tart in half and gave it to her. Then he moved the pillow to support her. "Let me see if I can steal another one." He left for a moment.
He returned with two more pillows. "No one's using the next bedroom over."
She smiled at him. "Why are you being so nice to me?"
"Maybe I'm making up for that other Jedi, who hurt you."
She bit her lip a moment. "I found out she wasn't a Jedi."
"Oh, then what was she? A Sith?" Darien cut himself a slice of bread.
She shook her head. "I don't know what she is. She's on Shardarkour though. Have you ever heard of Sharra N'Aquivar?"
"No, I don't think so." He paused. "I've never been to Shardarkour."
"Thank the stars or the Force or whatever you want you haven't," she said bitterly.
"Yes, I guess your experiences there weren't good. Talasa is there now."
She nodded. "I know. I guess they're checking up on my story."
"And I suspect finding out what Xanatos is doing and how strong his bond with Princess Alderson is." Darien continued.
"Strong enough that she came to see me herself after--" she paused. "After Du'Cruet and I had out falling out."
"I see. I'd say the stakes in your quarrel have risen quite a bit. Both of you have found patrons at the top of the Imperial food chain."
She sighed deeply, setting her tart down. "I hadn't intended to become involved with him at all. We were just business partners, that's all and then--" She shook her head.
"The past is set, it can't be changed." He assured her.
He sat down again. "Are you ready for the other half of the tart?"
She sighed and ate the last bite she was holding and then nodded.
Darien handed her the second piece.
She thanked him and started nibbling at it.
"I imagine your Father wants to know if Du'Cruet is actively seeking for you as well."
She nodded. "I supose."
"Are you feeling better, with that tart inside you?"
She smiled and nodded. "A bit."
"Want another, or maybe some for this bread. I have two kinds of jam for it."
"Bread, please, that looks good."
Darien cut another slice. "Do you want the red jam or the blue? I'm not sure what these flavors are."
Mikala eyed the blue jam cautiously. "I think I'll try the red."
He spread the red jam and handed her a slice. "I went a little light on the jam to keep it under control."
She laughed. "Thank you."
"The food has been excellent," Mikala said. "My appetite hasn't been the greatest for a long time."
"You really should improve it while your here. The food deserves it."
She smiled. "Good company helps."
"It does indeed." He poured two glasses of fizz. "Sandy's tastes are a bit much though. All the glasses I could find were crystal. Seems a bit much for Fizz." He handed her one of the glasses.
She sipped it and closed her eyes, a smile turning the corners of her mouth. "It tastes better in the crystal or it's just better than I remember."
"Hard to say. I sometimes think your step-mother, if I may call her that, has too much money for her good."
"Too much money is better than too little," Mikala commented.
"I suppose so. I've never had either problem."
She sighed. "We didn't have much when I was very small. I lived with my Grandmother and winters got very lean and then Mother would show up and take what few credits Grandmother had. Things were worse when Mother took me to live with her. I had a friend who got me a fake ration disk that helped a little. Mother sold off ours to pay her dealers."
She smiled a little. "Trust me, too much is better than too little."
"I'll take your word for it. My parents have a small farm on Kandar. They grow enough for the family. They also get respect as Kandaric squires. They were like Jedi Padawans in a local order before the Purge."
She looked over at him. "That sounds nice."
"It was. They taught me about farming, and the little they knew of the Force."
"We farmed a little on my Grandmother's homestead."
"But you were on Ord Mandell. Believe me, Kandar is a better place to be a farmer."
She chuckled. "Nearly any place is."
"I suppose so."
"You're Alliance aren't you? How are you doing with all these Imperials around?" she asked him.
"I'm surrounded by Sith, not Imperials. There is a difference."
"But you said it yourself, Father and Sandy are pretty high up on the Imperial food chain."
"True. High enough that they get to ignore the rules altogether when it suites them. You don't think Imperial Security sets foot here without an invitation, do you?"
I don't see that happening," she said. "You'd be in trouble if you set foot off Zoron though, wouldn't you?"
"Outside of this Sector, probably. But Zeilar, Torion, all of Zoron Sector belongs to your family. I doubt there's a cop in the whole sector dumb or brave enough to cross Sandy."
Mikala smiled. "She's pretty formidable."
"And every politician owes his job to her father, one way or another."
She nodded. "Koross. I've met him."
"I've looked into his position." Darien continued. "Koross was a Jedi Master before the Empire and one of the first Jedi to join what later became the Empire, even before Vader. He answers only to Palpatine, not to the bureaucrats on Coruscant."
She sighed. "He is something."
"He is. Tall, with the kind of gray in his hair and beard that's called distinguished. He speaks with a Corellian accent. And he always knows everything that's going on politically in this sector.
"I'm sure Father and Sandy keep him appraised."
"Them and a thousand others."
She nodded. "Father was telling about that."
"Your Father knows a lot. But your step-grandfather was there."
"My Grandmother lived though it. She went into hiding just about the time of the Clone Wars."
"Koross was in the middle of the whole story. So were his former padawans. That gives them the prestige to blow off a general who was a kid then."
She smiled and popped the last bite of bread into her mouth. She shifted to try to reach for her glass of fizz. "They must enjoy that."
"Your family or the generals?"
She laughed. "I doubt the Generals do. What little I've seen of Imperial officers they don't put me in the mind of beings with a very good sense of humor."
"I don't think enjoy is the right word for your family on this issue. They take it so much for granted that it's just the way things were to them." He looked her in the eye. "And that includes the teenagers. I think you may still be underestimating their power."
She sighed. "I sure I am," she said softly. "I've found I'm very good at underestimating a lot of things lately," she said a bit bitterly. "I have picked up on that they're accustomed to power."
"They are. Your brother and sister sometimes get sent to lay down the law to commanders or governors who have displeased Koross."
She closed her eyes and sighed. "I hope I don't get on the wrong side of anybody here," she said softly.
"The Sith are above the Empire. Here you and I are part of that. They treat me as if I was one of them. We'd really have to work at it to overstep our bounds. They assume we're all plotting. They'd worry more if we didn't plot."
She nodded and sipped her drink. She sighed. "I don't know if I'm up to all this 'intrigue'." She saw the glint of something catch her eye on his sleeve and handed him her glass and motioned him closer to him. She picked one of the kids listening devices out the seam on his sleeve and held it out to him. "I see they have you bugged too."
"Yes, always look for Tiri's devices in clothes. She can sew a straight seam in her sleep."
Mikala sighed. "There's a glass dish on the dresser I've been putting them in as I find them."
Darien looked. "I see. I've found that if I ignore them I become boring and they plant fewer, and stop checking the ones they already have."
"Maybe I should do that. It drives me nuts though. I've lived my life trying to draw as little attention to myself as I could and suddenly, here I am."
"You never had siblings before, have you?"
She shook her head. "I've been on my own since I was thirteen. When I was very small it was just me and my Grandmother and then later just my Mother."
"Well, I have a sister. I sit here and watch your siblings in action. Their rivalries are quite fierce. You have been defined as a sister, that makes you part of that. They won't betray you except to each other."
"Also ignoring the little ones is a time honored elder sibling's trick."
She nodded and dropped her eyes. "I used to dream about what it would be like to have a family. All this is just, overwhelming. Now that I am here, it's like I'm in that dream. So much of this doesn't feel real."
"Relax and enjoy it. Have you tried bugging them?"
She shook her head. "I don't have any of my things here and I haven't been focused enough to even try anything like that yet." She sighed deeply. "And I've been stuck in here."
"True, but they've all sweep their rooms for your bugs."
She smiled. "If I ever feel up to it they'll really have to hunt. I've got a few prototypes that don't show up as listening devices."
"Can you keep your aura off them?" He held out his hand and Tiri's bug floated above it. "Take a look. They can all touch one and know who planted it."
She gave him a questioning look. "I don't know."
"They have had quite a little arms race going on here for years." He continued.
The door opened. "I see I can't even trust the Jedi to stay on the straight and narrow." Sandy said as she stepped into the room.
Mikala groaned and tried to hide the glass of fizz.
Darien turned to and gave Sandy a guilty look. "You've been starving the poor girl."
"It's my fault," Mikala said. "I asked him to get me something."
"So I see." Sandy answered. "There's enough sugar here... Well, you've had enough."
"You, take the tray and go corrupt the mobile children." Sandy commanded Darien. "And you, young lady, are going to get some sleep."
Mikala sighed and looked up at Darien. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." He took a look at Sandy, picked up the tray and took a stepped toward the door. "Good-bye."
"Bye," she said, giving him a small smile.
He stepped though the door and disappeared.
Mikala sighed and leaned back into the pillows.
"You know there's a reason for the diet I put you on, don't you."
"Because it's 'good for me,'" she said with a deep sigh.
"And it's right for rebuilding the connections in your back I had to cut to fix it." She shook her head. "Not that you're any different from the rest of the family."
Sandy picked up the scanner and pointed it at Mikala.
"My toes feel all tingly and funny," she told her.
Sandy pointed the scanner at Mikala's back. "There's some swelling there. It's from your work out. Nothing I don't expect."
She sighed. "How long am I going to be stuck in this thing?" she asked, looking down at the traction field generator.
"A couple of days. Then, I'm going to put you in a grav chair for the rest of the week."
"A grav chair?" she sputtered.
"Yes, I don't want you putting too much weight on your back yet."
She sighed deeply. "I just wanted to get outside a little while."
"Outside is one thing. Serious training is quite another." Sandy shifted the pillow to force Mikala to lay down. "Now, you need to sleep, and don't go wandering too far into dreamland this time."
She grimaced. "Yes, ma'am," she said a bit testily.
"Good night." Sandy said as she turned off the light and left the room.
Mikala sighed into the darkness and closed her eyes. As much as she would hate to admit it to Sandy, she was tired. She smiled a little to herself as her thought turned toward Darien and she drifted off to sleep.
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