The Talk: Part 2
Rating: PG

From inside the pristine white corridors of hyperspace it was hard to believe that somewhere out there spun a galaxy in turmoil, a galaxy infected with fear and contaminated by all those ugly acts that fear incites — a galaxy slowly imploding on itself, its centre eaten away like the decay in a rotting tooth. For those at the front line there were times when the temptation to simply throw in the towel and remain ensconced inside this virtual cocoon of peace was overwhelming. But the wish was ever fleeting, and conscience and duty ever the winners ... even if the dream of such selfish bliss remained lingering at the edges of frayed nerves after sleepless nights — a refuge in the form of a vain hope that knew it would never be realized.

But sometimes fantasies, no matter how extreme or out of character they may be, are the only things that keep people sane. And so it was that virtual night on the Lady Luck had become a time for some to impose, for a few hours at least, a semblance of a life they might have been living if not for the war. Closeted within the private world of their rooms, they ate, slept, played games, chatted or simply lay and listened to the whispered thrum of the ship recounting its adventures from the past — adventures from which it had returned, on countless occasions, to fight again.

That was the message Lando chose to hear as he lowered himself into his chair and pulled it up to the small dining table so he could rest his elbows on the edge, and spend a moment enjoying the normality of routine. The table was laid out in a simple setting for two — nothing fussy, just what was required — and in spite of his fatigue he felt his spirits begin to lift at the aroma wafting his way from the two plates sitting inside the portable warmer in the centre of the table.

"Smells good," he murmured, although it came out more as a grunt.

He saw Tendra's dark eyebrows lift and she threw him a look that was more than a little accusatory. "I hope it is. But as it's been sitting here for at least three hours, I'm not guaranteeing anything."

He looked genuinely contrite. "Sorry, my love. It took longer than I thought — there are a lot of details to sort out, and the more we cover, the more we seem to generate."

She nodded and studied his face for a moment, and then pushed back her chair and stood up.

"You're driving yourself too hard, you know," she remonstrated, but the irritation in her tone was offset by the warm grip of her fingers on his shoulders, followed by the circular motion of her thumbs as they sought and soothed away the tightness. He relaxed against the pressure of her hands feeling his head wobbling loosely like a puppet's in tune with the rhythmic pummeling.

"Mmmm," he moaned appreciatively. "Good. More?" he added when he felt the pressure decrease.

In reply her arms slid over his shoulders until they linked in the middle of his chest and her breath tickled his ear. "Maybe later," she said her low voice promisingly husky. "Right now you need to eat and stoke up those energy levels."

He chuckled as she handed him his plate arranged with a blend of vegetables in appetizing colours topped with scampi. "Whose interest are we thinking about there?"

She grinned. "I would call it mutual interests, wouldn't you?" She watched him as he chuckled again and then turned his attention to his meal. "So, other than the fact you created a whole new set of things to worry about, how did it go?"

He chewed thoughtfully, nodding as he did so as if that would speed up the process of mastication. "Overall okay, I guess. One thing about Anakin is he has a good sense for details and he's very thorough, and I'd certainly prefer we discover the weak points in our plan now rather than later — even if it can be frustrating. He's very persistent, especially when he has Tahiri backing him up all the way."

It was Tendra's turn to nod, until she swallowed and was able to speak. "But you can't help liking those two." She picked up one of the long-stemmed glasses sitting beside a carafe of maroon liquid and filled it for him, and then filled one for herself. "I often think about Balmorra, you know."

Lando sipped his wine and sighed. "Ah, good brew." He took another draught, and glanced across at his wife. "Yeah, I have to admit we owe them one for that. If not for them ..." He grimaced.

Tendra nodded solemnly at the words her husband had left unsaid. Their recent trip to Balmorra to purchase insulation material for Eclipse had almost proved fatal when their supplier turned out to be none other than a crazed Peace Brigade supporter. Captured and completely cut off from their friends, they had survived thanks to the efforts of Anakin and Tahiri and a gang of swoopers whom the two had befriended. In spite of the memory still cutting a little too close to the quick, Tendra couldn't stop a fond smile upturning the serious set her features had assumed. Nor could she prevent the snort of amusement.

"They actually fitted in quite well with that gang, you know, although I guess it might have been the attraction of the fast swoops."

Lando chewed his scampi slowly and for so long that Tendra thought he'd come across a bone, especially when she saw the slight frown creasing his brow. But after he had swallowed he continued to look pensive.

"Yeah," he said eventually, and somewhat cryptically.

"Lando, you look as if you've lost a bet and found a half-credit. What's up?"

"I meant to talk to Han about that," he replied, "but I never got round to it."

Tendra tried to make sense out of his statement, but gave up. "Not quite reading you there, old timer."

"The swoopers' compound," he said in a way that implied the words were somehow self-explanatory.

Tendra regarded him for a moment in the hope he would elaborate, but when nothing appeared to be forthcoming she said, "I very much doubt Han would be worried about Anakin working with swoopers. It seems to me to be the kind of thing Han would do himself — in fact he probably did back in those wild days of his youth that neither of you will tell me much about."

Lando's lips were partially hidden behind his glass, but the quirk was still unmistakable. "Some things," he said darkly, "are better left to history."

Tendra shrugged. "Then I guess I'll just have to wait for the holodrama." And she popped a glistening flowerette of yellow starcress into her mouth, and threw him a teasing grin.

Lando snorted, idly swirling the liquid in his glass as if mesmerized by the smooth velvety ripples. Tendra had just begun to wonder if he had by some odd chance managed to hypnotise himself, when he finally spoke.

"I think that's part of the problem — Anakin is a lot like Han. So much so sometimes that it's easy to forget he's only seventeen. But it's not just that — he's also a Jedi with all the weight of what that means on his shoulders, and like it or not that makes a difference to what's expected of him."

Tendra considered his words for a moment, reading between the lines. "You mean he can't get away with the same things that his father might have done?"

"I suppose that's part of it." Lando's eyes drifted up to hers. "He has to be more responsible ... about everything."

Tendra put down her fork and rested her chin on her palm. "Ah," she said, "I think the com channel's clearing. You're talking about Anakin and Tahiri."

Lando grunted an affirmative and rubbed his chin, still pensive. "I'm just not sure how much Anakin told his parents about that little adventure. The fact he and Tahiri were sharing a room at the swoopers' headquarters for instance — I wonder if he mentioned that?"

"Well, to be fair, my love, I don't think either of them were in any shape for any hanky panky. I seem to recall Blue saying that Anakin had a blaster burn the size of a man's fist, and he had fixed him up the best he could and ordered them both to have a rest in there while the gang decided whether they were going to help them or not."

Lando moved his fingers away from his chin and splayed them outwards to reinforce his point. "This is Han's boy we're discussing. It would take more than a few laser holes to render him incapable."

"Hmmm, maybe I don't really want to know the kinds of things you two used to get up to," Tendra said dryly.

Lando's eyebrows shot up defensively. "I have never been anything less than a gentleman," he protested, eliciting a comforting pat on his forearm from his wife.

"I believe you," she said with a certain amused indulgence, which she punctuated with a husky laugh. "And I realise you felt responsible for both of them while they were with us. I just very much doubt anything happened, partly because of the circumstances, and partly because I didn't pick up any signals from either of them later on the way to Eclipse. And I'm sure I would have from Tahiri. I did spend quite a bit of time with her while Anakin was helping you with that problem with the identity router in the navicom."

Lando prodded at his scampi. "I'd like to think I'm able to read Anakin, too, but I'm not so sure. He keeps things pretty close to his chest." He skewered a slice of tender pink flesh with his fork, but rather than raise it to his mouth, he held it poised above his plate as if examining it. "I guess I'm just worried that maybe he's not as well prepared for this little love affair, or whatever you want to call it, as he should be." His dark eyes caught his wife's again. "He and Han haven't exactly been close for the last couple of years because of ... what happened after Chewie died. I don't know if Han's even had a chance to sit down with him and explain the facts of life."

Tendra frowned, as much at the fact that Lando was loading more troubles on to his conscience as at what he'd just said. "Aren't you forgetting Leia in all this? And what about Kam and Tionne? They've been surrogate parents to all those kids — I'm sure they will have given them some good advice."

She watched him as he considered her words, aware only too keenly of the brooding expression that had insinuated its way in over the last few years. She doubted Lando was conscious of it, priding himself as he did for his reputation to remain inscrutable — a necessary survival skill for the successful sabacc player as well as for the cool businessman. But she could see behind the mask — she could read the mounting cost of that studied impassivity on her husband's psyche. She knew that behind the façade of the eternal entrepreneur beat a heart that was loyal ... lay a spirit that was courageous and indomitable. She loved him for that. But most of all she loved him because he cared, truly cared, for his friends and their children. And she wondered yet again, if destiny had allowed it, what it would be like to be discussing such matters about their own little brood.

She sighed. Life was what it was — and there was nothing to be achieved from railing against what was not to be.

Lando's expression morphed into one of doubt. "I don't know about that, my love. Anything taught them at the Jedi Academy would come channeled from Luke, and no offence to Luke but-" he hesitated as if testing a number of possible continuations.

"He tends to get lost in ideals rather than focus on how things look at field level?" Tendra finished for him.

Lando chuckled appreciatively, and raised his glass to her. "Sabacc!"

She tipped her head to one side regarding him speculatively. "Why don't you have a talk to Anakin?" she suggested.

Lando stopped in mid-chew. "Me?"

"Well, it might stop you feeling so anxious, and you never know, you might even teach him something he doesn't know."

Lando's eyebrows shot up in mock indignation. "I sincerely hope so otherwise it will definitely be time to throw in the towel!" He caught her teasing look and chuckled, but then his expression turned serious again. "Maybe I should have a discreet word with him — even just to find out how the ground lies between him and Tahiri." He appeared to consider the idea for a long moment, frowning. "I don't want to upset anyone, though, by looking as though I'm poking my nose in."

"Who's around to upset?" she said with a shrug.

"There is that." He chased the last baby topato across his plate with his fork, until it was cornered against the patterned rim. "Yeah, I think I will do it," he said, suddenly decisive. "You're right. We've got enough to worry about at the moment, and at least this is something that comes vaguely within the realm of the known."

"Good for you," said Tendra raising her fork triumphantly.

"And," he added, sliding his chair back, "there's no better time than the present." He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath.

His wife produced a realistically feline growl. "Go get ‘im, boy!" And then she threw him a mischievous grin to which he responded with a somewhat toothy one of his own, before bending down to savour her proffered kiss.

Tendra watched him grab his favourite cloak from the alcove near the door and arrange it over his shoulder with his usual flair. She was relieved to see the dark expression vanquished from his face — albeit temporarily. The war was taking far too great a toll on them all.

"Don't be too late," she suggested gently, but without much hope.

His eyebrows rose speculatively. "Is that a promise?"

"You bet," she chuckled, blowing him an extra kiss for encouragement.

She remained sitting at the table for quite a while, traveling back in her mind to the time they had met during the Centrepoint crisis — revisiting favourite scenes, shared experiences, things he'd said. Then deciding that she was becoming maudlin, she drained the last of her wine and set about clearing up and preparing for bed. Another night leading to another day — another day further from Eclipse and closer to whatever awaited them.

And she couldn't help thinking, even though she knew there were many who might disagree, that if she were either Anakin or Tahiri she'd probably feel justified in enjoying what warmth and mutual comfort she could ... while there was still a chance to enjoy it.

And the fact she'd had that thought made her shiver.

* * * * *

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