The following story was submitted by StatsGrandma in response to the Father's Day Challenge.
CONVERSATIONS WITH MY CHILDREN
I'm not having the greatest day of my life. I'm trying to teach Jacen how to perform some mechanical tasks on the Falcon, something for which he has zero interest. The problem is, I can't leave him at home alone. His mother's off at Mon Mothma's funeral on Chandrila, and he's been expelled from the Praexium. He attends regular classes during the day, but he's not allowed to be anywhere but school or home. He's trying to kick his glitterstim addiction, and he's struggling mightily with it.
What makes it hard is that even though he's around, he's totally noncommunicative. I get one syllable answers if I'm lucky. Today's no different.
He's about to get an electric shock the way he's connecting some wires, and I hurry over and grab them from him.
"What the hell?" He snaps at me.
"You were about to get a jolt that'd lay you on the ground," I explain simply to him.
"Maybe it'd be better if I did," he says, no energy, no fight left in his voice.
Something in his voice tells me that he needs to talk, but this is the first opportunity that's broken where maybe, just maybe, he'll tell me what this is all about.
"Jacen, c'mere." I set my tools down and we sit down in the Falcon's lounge. He's surly and he resentful looking. I grab two asteria waters and hand one to him. He doesn't do anything but stare at it.
"Whaddya want?" he asks me, mumbling.
"What's going on?"
"You know what's going on. I got kicked outta Praexium, that's what."
"Yeah, I know, and I know why you did, too. That's not what I'm asking. I know you're trying to kick the 'stim -- "
"You think that's not hard?" He looks at me for the first time, his voice a growl.
"No, I've seen how hard it is." I've witnessed it more than once. My first experience in viewing it was when I was a young smuggler.
"You don't understand. You wouldn't," he says, his tone still sulky.
He looks up again. I'm daring him and he knows it.
"I'm not sorry I got kicked outta Praexium."
I can deal with that.
"It seems like everyone wants to be fighters and shit," he continues. "I don't wanna be a Jedi knight. I hate fighting. And it's bad 'cause Jaina beats me at everything. I'm tired of being her stupid brother."
"You're not stupid, so let's get past that. Just because you do stupid things doesn't mean you're stupid. Look at my life." I've never hidden from the kids what I did in my former life.
He doesn't answer that.
"Jacen, dude, you're kind of a mess right now, but the best thing to do is play from your strengths. What do you like to do most?"
His eyes are downcast again. "I like animals. I only feel good when I'm with animals."
This is true; we have an apartment full of his pets, some of which are cuddly, some not. He's always loved animals.
"I can talk to them and they talk to me," Jacen says. "I know what they feel. I can help them when they're hurt and sad. I just can't do it with people."
"Nothing wrong with that. Getting along with other sentients, that's tough."
He looks up at me again. He's kicking the table restlessly, but he's becoming a little more engaged.
"They talk about the Living Force at Praexium, but we don't do very much with it. Everything's about fighting. They say they're peacekeepers but then all we do is learn to fight, that's what it seems like."
He might be exaggerating, but probably only a little. I know where Luke's coming from.
"And..." he looks down again.
"I hate...I hate being away from home." His face turns crimson.
"Nothing to be ashamed of." It's not. I hate being away sometimes, too, which is why I mostly just train pilots these days; ferrying cargo can still be fun from time to time but I'm 50 now and it's not as easy as it used to be. "Listen, do you know why Mom fought for the New Republic?"
"I dunno. That's all she cares about is her job."
I've felt that way at times as well. I won't say it, because I know it's not true, but he's got what he's feeling and he needs to let it out.
"We fought it so we can come home for dinner at night," I tell him simply. And it's true. Leia's reasons are more complex, but we wanted sentients everywhere to have better lives.
"Yeah, well, kind of hard to do when you're stuck on Yavin." His voice is bitter. "Uncle Luke says I'm headed for the Dark Side."
Maybe that's true, but it pisses me off.
"I'm scared 'cause I think he's right. Dad, I just wanna learn the Living Force. I don't wanna be a soldier. Jaina does but I'm not Jaina."
No wonder this kid's struggling. He has no idea how to get what he wants. And comments such as what my brother law made to him are going to be addressed. True or not, frightening this already scared kid of mine is out of bounds.
"And you know what? Anakin doesn't wanna be a Jedi knight, either."
"Anakin thinks he's gonna end up like our grandfather." He spits the last word out as if he's got a foul taste in his mouth. "He doesn't like the Praexium. "He's not, is he?"
"Not if I have anything to say about it. But Anakin's a separate conversation." One I intend to have with my younger son.
"What I really wanna do is care for animals," Jacen says. "I wanna go to veterinary college."
I mull this over. He'd be great at it. But he needs to correct some practical matters. "You'd need to get your grades up," I tell him. "The entrance exams are brutal, and not everyone makes it, so if you're thinking that way, you need to a, get your grades in shape and b, start studying for the entrance exams."
He nods. I think there're tears in his eyes. "You'd be okay with that? Would Mom?"
"Mom and I want you kids to be happy in your lives. That's the best way to guard against the Dark Side."
"Do I have to go back to Praexium?"
"Let me talk to your mom about it." I'm sure Leia will go along with it. "You probably need to be able to discipline the Force a little more, but I will have words with your uncle and aunt."
"Aunt Mara's nicer to me than Uncle Luke. She doesn't say things like I'm gonna end up on the Dark Side."
"Aunt Mara's worked both sides of the fence."
"I didn't know that."
"Now you do. She'd probably tell you if you asked her."
"Remember how we used to do music together? Can we do that again?"
I've definitely missed that. He's the only one of the three that demonstrates any musical interest. He was on his way to becoming a pretty good guitar and keyboard player before he had to leave.
"Maybe. Also, Dad?"
He's blushing a little.
"What is it?"
"I've...I've...I've got this girl at school, we've been walking to classes together and we have the same sections and she's nice. I can talk to her."
Wow. My son has discovered girls. Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. I have to smile. He is, after all, 15.
"I wanna ask her to do stuff like after school, go out to see holoflicks and get kaf and stuff like that."
You also want to fuck her brains out, I say to myself, but that's not the sort of thing you say to your parents.
He's so typically 15, I realize. He's struggling with the questions we all do -- identity, paths to take and not take, sexual attraction, the whole bit. Even the 'stim addiction might be part of it.
"Also, Dad? Those pills I gotta take for the 'stim? I hate 'em. They make me feel awful. And I still get cravings anyway."
Once again, something I'll have to take under advisement. "I'll talk about it with Mom. She'll be home tomorrow night."
Jacen stares down again. I know he's trying to be brave, and it's not easy to be brave when you're so afraid.
I know he's 15, but I slip my arm over his shoulders, and he breaks down. I know he's trying not to cry, but at this point, there's something to be said for it.
"You're never afraid," he says tearfully.
"Oh, I get scared plenty," I assure him.
"But you don't seem scared."
"Brave isn't something you are. It's something you do."
"But how do you do it when you're afraid?"
"Son, that's the only time you can be brave."
It's the week of the month where the Jedi trainees get to come home. I can't wait. I miss my baby girl more than I can say. I miss my son Anakin as well, but he's in the beginners' group, and they come home on a different week. It's really pretty irritating.
"Daddy!" she squeals when she sees me, giving me a hug that crushes my ribs.
"Hey there little princess."
She scoffs and looks at me as if I've lost it.
"Dad, Mom's the princess, not me."
"You're my little princess, whether you like it or not."
We head back to the docking bay to get on the Falcon.
"I'm at the top of my class in fencing!" she announced gleefully. "And I did great on sim training!"
"Now there's a shock," I say to her. She's let go of me, dragging her duffel of dirty laundry behind her.
"Want me to carry that?" I offer.
"Dad, it's clothes. I think I can handle clothes."
Okay, so much for trying to be a gentleman.
"Next month we have tests for fighter pilot training," she tells me. "I'm gonna ace that thing."
I marvel at her and feel a little sad at the same time. My baby girl has turned into a smart, funny, confident and absolutely gorgeous young lady. I'm not sure I can deal with this.
She's so different from her twin brother that if they didn't resemble each other, I'd swear they were from different planets.
"How's Jacen?" she asks me as we start the pre flight check.
"Jacen's okay. It's still rough."
"He's such a wimp."
I glare at her. "Jacen's not a wimp, and you will not call him that," I tell her sternly, and I mean it. She's angered me a little here. "Just because he wants different things out of life doesn't mean he's a wimp."
"He was like the worst at everything. Like he didn't give a flying fuck."
I don't feel like having an argument with her. "Why don't you try talking to your brother when you get home."
"I don't think he wants to talk to me. He hates me."
"And you know that how?"
"Listen, I tried to help him in his courses, but he just tuned me out. I even tried to defend him when Uncle Luke gave him the boot, but he just told me to leave him alone. And I can feel that he hates me."
"You sure your senses are that fine tuned?"
"He's my twin! Of course I feel him!" She snaps at me and rolls her eyes, the way her mom does when she thinks I'm a complete idiot. She finishes the preflight and I go over it with her. She has learned her stuff, no doubt about it.
"So Daddy, can I pilot?" she asks, using the look she always does when she wants her way, and knows that I'm helpless to resist her.
"You can, but the first near death experience and I take over the controls," I warn her.
"Relax. I'll fly nice. I promise."
"Where have I heard that before?" I've let her pilot a few times, and she scares the hell outta me. I hope she's become less reckless. I realize then how ridiculous that sounds, coming from me. But just because I was a space cowboy once doesn't mean she can be one.
She actually does a very nice liftoff, smooth and clean. But once we're trying to escape gravity, she decides that it's time to be a rough rider.
"You keep that up and you'll come out of orbit too fast and you're gonna lose your bearings," I warn her.
"I am not!"
My daughter has always been a spirited kid, but some of that's taking on the form of recklessness. And I need to help her break that. I'm sure her confidence is something admired among her peers. But there's being confident and then there's being idiotically confident. I've had experience with both.
As expected, she comes out of orbit too fast. "Okay, now you need to correct your course," I inform her sharply.
"Of course I need to correct it! Gods, do you take me for a complete moron like my brothers?"
She actually makes the accurate correction needed. I'm tempted to kick her out of the pilot's seat but let's see how she does the rest of the way home.
"How's Anakin?" I ask her.
She gives a look of distaste. "He's not exactly a rocket scientist. Well, okay, he is, he's good at fixing stuff, he's got some ideas for the hyperdrive, but he hates it at Praexium. I told him to stick with it and he won't hate it."
"Do you ever get homesick?" I ask her.
She gives me another withering look. "So what if I do?"
"I just asked if you did."
"Daddy, sometimes you ask the dumbest questions. Of course I miss it at home. I miss my old school friends. But if I'm gonna be the best fighter pilot ever, this is what I gotta do."
I nod and feel pangs of sadness. Her brothers still need Leia and me, but she's pretty much benched me. I know she's tough and I know she's cool. But I'd like to believe she still has a place in her heart for me.
"What's Mom doing?" Jaina asks me. She and Leia have a very complicated mother-daughter relationship. I try to stay away from that because sometimes it goes nova. The one thing I don't need is the fallout.
"Mom's thinking about changing her life some," I answer. I'd rather Leia explain this for herself.
"Oh, she wants to be queen of the galaxy?" Jaina's voice is hard.
"Actually, she's talking about leaving her job."
"You're kidding. Mom not have her job? That's her life. What's she gonna do all the time?"
"Relax, just be with us, get away from the crazy political bullshit."
"Maybe she should have thought of that sooner." The bitterness is there.
"I can't change the past, Jaina, and neither can she. We can only move forward."
"I've gotta make the jump to light speed. Hold on."
"Let me check your coordinates first," I insist, just as I do for my trainees.
"You don't trust me," she says flatly.
"I simply want us to get home in one piece. Listen, young lady, you pass the fighter pilot exam, you could very well get stuck with me as your instructor, so practice listening up starting now." My voice comes out sharper than I'd like.
"You think I don't listen to you?" Jaina retorts. Gods, I hate this. We have limited time together and I hate spending it arguing, but lately, that's the way it's been. "I've listened to you all my life! Why do you think I wanna be a pilot, anyway?"
"I'm not sure anymore," I say, feeling weary with defeat.
"I wanna do it because of you."
"I'm flattered. But don't become a pilot just for me. Do it for yourself because it's what you really wanna do."
"It IS what I want to do."
She makes the jump to light speed, and the ship lurches. She really needs to do a smoother job, but that comes with practice. I try hard not to show that my stomach contents are trying to remain in place.
We're quiet for a while, which suits me fine; once she gets to light speed, things calm down.
"I miss Jacen," she blurts out. "I wish he'd come back to Praexium. I'm sure Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara would let him now."
"I think that should be Jacen's decision."
"What's he gonna do with his life if he doesn't?"
"He has a few ideas."
"He's a Jedi, Daddy! That's something you don't turn your back on!"
"He can use the Force for things other than being a warrior. Let's face it, honey, you've always wanted things a certain way, but that isn't going to work for your brother."
Her face is sad. "I thought we were a team."
"You still can be one. But you're gonna have to meet him part of the way."
"He really embarrassed me, getting hooked on the 'stim."
"I think he's more embarrassed himself. Tell me, do other kids do that at Praexium?"
"The weak ones do."
I'm angered by her answer. "That's a cheap shot. Your arrogance is not attractive, dear daughter."
She glares at me and turns to the task at hand. The girl is focused, I'll give her that. I'm proud of her and what she's done and can do, but compassion seems to be something she hasn't developed. And that disturbs me, because it's like looking in the mirror.
"Shit! We're coming up on a solar storm! That wasn't in the weather charts!" I can see she's a little nervous now. "Maybe you should pilot, Daddy."
"No, I'm going to show you how to work your way through it," I tell her sternly.
Now she looks nervous.
"Go to sublight."
"Don't you wanna get through it as fast as possible?" Her voice shows some tension.
"You do, but sometimes if you slow down, you can get there faster because you have to do fewer course corrections and if you run into a flare, you're not going to burn up in it or be swung around in it."
I watch her maneuver. I want her to figure this out. She could use a little humility.
The next two hours are very tense. She's trying to do everything I tell her, and she's doing okay with it, but she's clearly nervous.
She wants baptism by fire, she's got it. Unfortunately, I'm along for the ride.
Finally, we get past the worst of the storm and we're about to enter Coruscant's orbit. I've stopped giving her instructions for a long time now.
She's trying to ease the Falcon into orbit. It's rough in some places and needs work, but she does it. We're preparing to enter the atmosphere and it's a bumpy ride; it's not simply her skills here. Coruscant's atmosphere tends to be turbulent till past the tropopause.
"Do you wanna land it, Daddy?"
"No. You're doing fine."
She gives her coordinates to ground control, and gets permission to land. Her touch down isn't elegant or smooth, but it does the job. She's got the shakes once she turns off the engines. It's what happens when you're on adrenaline load; when you're done, it catches up with you. I've had it more times than I'd like to admit.
"That was kinda scary," Jaina admits to me. "Not like the sim."
"It's a little different in real life. So, whaddya wanna do, little princess?"
"I was thinking I should maybe talk to Jacen."
I'm finishing lecture class for the day. It's lunchtime and after that, it's sim study time. The sims are wild; some kids even puke after some of the scenarios. Most of the time, they'd never encounter those things, but it's necessary to be prepared.
I'm about to hunt down Wedge for lunch when my comm goes off.
To my shock, it's Anakin.
"Anakin, kiddo, what's up?" I then notice he's got tears running down his face. "Are you okay?" I realize as soon as I've said it that it was totally idiotic question. Of course he's not okay; he's crying and he's called me. I'm a little surprised; Anakin's always been closer to Leia, and she's usually the one that gets the call if he's upset.
"I wanna come home!"
"Is there a reason why?"
"I hate it here."
"Okay. So why do you hate it?"
"I...I just do, okay?" He's really trying not to cry.
"I wanna be with you and Mom! Mom says she's leaving her job and I don't wanna be here anymore."
I ponder this. He just turned 14 and has been at Praexium two months.
"Everyone says my grandpa was an evil Sith and I'm gonna be an evil Sith just like him!"
"Did you talk to Uncle Luke and Aunt Mara?"
"No. They're too busy."
I doubt this; Luke and Mara always have time to talk to their students. I will credit my brother in law with that. Granted, when we didn't send Jacen back after his suspension he was upset, but he acquiesced, provided Jacen attend two weeks' training in the Living Force.
"I'm not like him! I'm not!" Anakin protests. "He was evil! I don't wanna be evil!"
Anakin, evil? He's a very sweet kid, gets along with everyone. He can be mildly competitive, but he leans more towards cooperation.
"Miss your mom, don't you?"
"Yeah. I do. I don't wanna be here! Everybody's so mean. It's like Jaina this and Jaina that and Jacen's a wimp and a screw up and they don't know anything about us at all!"
"Apparently not." I'm sure Luke and Mara do their best to keep things on an even keel, but these are kids, and kids can be amazingly cruel.
"Can you please come get me?" Anakin pleads to me.
"Your week off is next week. I'd like you to stick it out at least for that. When you get here, you and your mom and I can talk more about it." I can understand why he's upset, but I don't get the feeling he's falling apart. Not that I'm Force sensitive or anything, so likely I'm wrong. With Jacen, he was a mess. Anakin's homesick and adjusting to a different way of life. He had a lot of friends at school when he was still here. At the Praexium, the kids are all new to him. And I don't think Luke and Mara would allow him to be bullied.
"I hate it when people call me Darth Vader!"
"Now that, I don't care what you have to do. You're going to pull Aunt Mara or Uncle Luke off to the side and tell them exactly what's going on. Just remember, you're not Darth Vader and you never will be."
Anakin's calmed down some. "What if I don't wanna be a Jedi? Jacen doesn't wanna be a Jedi and you let him come home."
"We had to."
"I know, 'cause he got kicked out." My son is calmer now. He still doesn't like his situation, but I think it can be remedied.
"If your aunt or uncle won't talk with you -- and I'm sure they will -- call me and then I'll make them wish they had."
That gets a laugh out of him. "Do you know how many times a day they say 'a Jedi's strength flows from the Force?" He has a smile on his face now.
"Enough to make you barf?"
He's laughing now. "Yesterday they said it 73 times. I counted. So far today they've said it 44 times."
"I'd be ready to crack open a few heads after that." We share a good laugh. "It's like when I go to dinner parties with your mom that I hate. It's all 'Captain Solo this' and 'Captain Solo that.' I have a name, and I'm only the captain when I'm on my ship. So after I've heard it a few times, I just want to ditch the place."
"Mom says you always wanna bail out of those," Anakin says to me, and now there's no sign of tension and tears. We're both laughing.
"Most of the time, I do. I do it for your mom, though, although she's sick of 'em, too." He's the smiling kid he usually is again. "You gonna be okay?"
"I'm fine. See you next week. I'm gonna be waiting."
"Me too, kiddo, me too."