Vong War Annals – “Devotion” 5.4.2009

            Janet had come away from her meeting with Indy feeling somewhat lighter of heart, held together for a while longer by a friend’s embrace; her mind removed for a time from things she’d rather not think about by discussing business at hand – namely, a galaxy at war. Les, too, seemed less burdened after his private meeting with Tag Rendar. She didn’t press him about what they had discussed, but gathered from what he did tell that Tag had agreed to take him under her wing. Inwardly she breathed a sigh of relief, felt a glimmer of hope in the midst of a fear that gnawed at her incessantly. All she wanted now was to have her son back, for their family to be whole again. It was, she knew, too much to ask – but ask she would.
            Mark and Asya were absent from the apartment, so Janet went to the most likely place she would find them. Walking up to the Stormcrow, she was stabbed by the pang of a memory which shot her with vivid vision into the past, like being wrapped in the folds of time and seeing what once had been: the Stormcrow suddenly replaced by the Raven; a much younger and spry Mark Wyler, noticing her from atop her hull, standing to greet her with a bright smile half concealed by an overgrown moustache, a tool in each hand as he readied the ship for the Katarns’ next mission. Jinx – Jeir, his presence she could feel closing in behind her; Mark waving to both of them, hollering something down to them about the ship being ready to go whenever the squad was aboard.
            The Raven was gone; now Jinx was gone, too – forever lost. These truths remained as the flashback faded from view. How long she had stood there entranced by those ghosts she couldn’t know, but everything went on around her as usual; hangar activity was the same here as anywhere else: the hustle and bustle; mechanics, techs, pilots, crossing paths here and there, to wherever their duty called them. She alone stood unmoving amid all the activity. Loneliness as deep and profound as the dark pool of space descended upon her, surrounding her, filling her, until it was all she could do to keep back the tears. Quickly she bounded across the distance to the Stormcrow, preferring its close embrace to the oppression of the wide open space of the hangar.
            Asya had been left alone in the cockpit, curled up asleep in the pilot seat, Mark’s coat serving as a blanket. His pipe was wrapped in her hand as tightly as she would have clung to a stuffed animal as a child, on a night filled with nightmares. The coat had slipped off a little, so Janet adjusted it around her shoulders and brushed a strand of hair back from her face. She stirred but a little, and smiled in her sleep. There was no mistaking who she favored. You look just like your Dad when you do that, Janet whispered fondly.
            A metallic clank from somewhere back in the ship interrupted her reverie, and she left her sleeping child to find Mark. She needed to see him, to just look at him, ground herself in his presence, his reality; the one piece of that long gone past that still remained. Following the sounds of tinkering, she wound up in the engine room. There she found him at last, sitting on his knees, grimy sleeves pushed up to his elbows, hands blackened with grease working to dismantle something way back in the recesses of an open panel. Crates lay about him: new parts that had arrived before the return of the Stormcrow from Coruscant waited patiently within them for their turn to be installed. Mark worked without a word, not even to himself.
            “They came in finally, I see,” Janet said, announcing her presence. He looked up, acknowledging her, and she was struck by how much he had aged from the time of his contract with the Katarns. His hair and moustache were well on their way to being entirely gray; lines around his eyes and mouth had become furrows. But it was the eyes that told the most. In the brief moment that their eyes met, it grieved her to detect little of that eternal optimism that had kept her going so many times in the past.
            “Yeah,” he said simply, looking away and turning back to his work.
            Emptying one of the empty metal crates of its packing material, she set it on its end and sat on it, watching him. He worked silently, as she had found him, the only sound being the tools, metal on metal, as he worked steadily on. She missed him talking to himself; in fact, it bothered her that he didn‘t. Though she and the kids at times kidded him about the habit, she found it endearing. Besides, considering the fact that he was a man of few words to begin with, sometimes it was the only way to get in on what he was thinking. Now, she could only guess.
            She cleared her throat. “Les stayed back at the apartment, said he needed some quiet, some time to meditate.” She wondered if he even heard her. “Just thought you’d…want to.… You know, you‘ve barely said a word to him since we…returned. He doesn‘t know…what to….” Mark’s grease-slickened hands slipped as he worked a tight bolt. He growled irately and took a rag from his back pocket to wipe his hands on. Normally he ought to be enjoying tinkering with his ship, but he seemed to be treating it now like nothing more than a chore. “I’m sure he would’ve come down if he knew you were working on the ship,” she said apologetically. He cleaned the wrench handle as though he hadn’t heard, and carried on.
            “Asya seems to be doing well. She was sleeping peacefully in the cockpit when I saw her just now. Has she had much to say…lately?” She was about to say ‘while I was gone,’ but that brought up things she’d rather not think about, and she quickly averted her mind to something trivial, like the color and shape of the grease rag Mark had dropped on the floor beside him. He wasn’t listening. Or maybe he was; she couldn’t tell. So she eased into the silence for a long moment, longing to find something with which to fill the dead air, but conversation eluded her.
            “I, um…I’ve just returned from a meeting with Indy. The XO office is open…she offered me the position.” Mark grunted as he struggled with another stubborn bolt. “I accepted the job.” Seems she could have said anything – I’m running away with a Wookie; the Emperor dropped by to invite us to a party; I’m having my eyes harvested for charity…no reaction. His mind was in another world – or so she thought. “Tag had a conversation with Les. She’s going to be his mentor. Les says she’ll be – ”
            The wrench slipped violently off the bolt, slamming Mark’s hand into the hard edges of the Stormcrow’s innards. He sprang to his feet in a fury and hurled the wrench across the engine room.
            “DAMN!” he exploded. “DAMN THAT MAN!”
            His outburst surprised the both of them. At first Janet was horrified to think he’d cursed his own son, but then she realized that was wrong. The words, saved up from across a long stretch of time, never breathed aloud or even consciously thought, seemed to echo throughout the ship long after they’d been spoken. A chill went down her spine as Les’ words – his eyes aflame – came to mind: Dad would want this…yet she had a hard time bringing herself to believe them. Still she stared at him in astonishment, while the anger that had fueled the eruption ebbed from his eyes almost as quickly as it had come.
                        Wincing in pain, he grasped his wounded hand with the other while blood flowed freely to spatter on the toe of his worn-out boots and the metal grating around his feet. Recovering from the shock, Janet sat him down and rushed to find a medkit. While she pressed a clean cloth against the wound to stem the flow of blood, he confessed, “I don’t blame him as much as I blame myself.”
            He shook his head. “Jinx.” He grimaced as she cleaned and applied medication to the wound. “Flighty, self-serving, heavy handed…what was I thinking, asking him to mentor our son? It would’ve been better had he not been trained at all.”
            Janet wrapped his hand around with gauze while Mark stewed in his guilt, misdirected or not. “We did what we thought best at the time,” she told him.
            “He wasn‘t ready to be knighted, I knew it,” he continued. “But I went along with it, thinking he was the Jedi Master, he knew better. Hell, I‘m his father…and what kind of a father am I?” he concluded despondently.
            She brushed the hair from his forehead and looked straight into those eyes of green flecked with gold. “The best.” She smiled, more in love with him than ever before. “There’s none other so devoted to his family. And the kids have never had to wonder what man in all the universe loves them most – they know. And so do I.”
            He tried to smile, but couldn’t. She read his thoughts in the attempt, appraising her the most devoted mother of all time. Tears welled in his eyes. “I’m so sorry, Jan; sorry you had to go through that. I – I never hated the man. Even when….”
            “Shh,” she said, leaving certain wounds of the past unspoken. “I love you, Mark.”
            “I love you too, Jan…always have.”
            She leaned in close and gave him a gentle, lingering kiss on the mouth. “We’d better get some bacta for that hand,” she said, whispering without knowing why.
            He caressed her jaw line with his unwounded hand and studied her face for a long moment; it was as though he, too, were gazing into the past, reliving all that they had been through between the time they first met until now. Running his fingers through her hair, he drew her close for another kiss.


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