After Kaylani had a bit too much to drink at the cantina, Zeva and Kes helped her to bed. The captain excused herself for one last look around the ship, and Zeva lay on her bunk, staring at the ceiling. The one drink Kay had talked her into having had dragged her down more strongly than she’d let on… yet the buzzing in her brain refused to let her sleep.
As Kay’s breathing slowed and deepened, Zeva turned on her side, propping her head up to get a better look at her. Damn it, she was pretty. Beautiful, even. Zeva found it oddly fascinating that it had taken her so long to notice… that such an odd chain of events had led to that realization.
Does it really matter? she thought. I’m a Jedi, and she’s… I can’t. I won’t. That should have been the end of it, but Zeva’s thoughts suddenly turned to someone else who could. A vision of Kay in another woman’s arms filled her with a cold, sickly feeling that seemed to burst into flame… Is this jealousy? Is that what I’m feeling, here?
“Go to sleep, Padawan,” she whispered, trying to capture Master Tulu’s inflection. “This isn’t helping anyone.”
She turned to her other side to face the wall; as she did so, something dug into her side – the little shoe, still crammed into her jacket’s pocket. Oh, no, she thought. I should give this back now.
Getting up and walking proved to be a bit trickier than the Jedi expected. She found Captain Varn in the cockpit, spinning lazy circles in the pilot’s chair. “Captain? I… am I interrupting?”
Kes slowed her spin until she faced the open cockpit door, blinking a few times to clear her vision. “Definitely not, kiddo. Go on, take a seat.” She pointed her foot at the adjacent chair. “This is home; you can go where you want, now.”
Zeva carefully eased herself into the familiarity of the copilot’s seat. “Thanks. I, um… I didn’t want to bother you, but…”
“Nothing to bother. What’s wrong?”
Zeva looked out the canopy window. “Last night, while Kay and I were searching the ship, I found something… and I didn’t tell you.”
Kes tensed. “So we are being watched?”
“No, nothing like that.” She looked back at her captain. “I just… well, Kay said I should just give it to you. And not talk about it.” Kes’s motherly frown faltered, and her eyes went wide, when Zeva pulled the tiny shoe from her pocket and held it out to her.
Kes swallowed slowly, seemed hesitant to touch it. “Where… did you find that?”
“In the cargo hold. Stuffed in one of the empty storage containers. I could… I could feel it.”
Kes bit one knuckle and slowly reached out to take the shoe. She stared at it in silence for a moment, blinking rapidly. “I appreciate it.” She swung the chair around to face the window. “It’s getting late. You should probably go to bed.”
“I… yes, Captain. Of course.” Zeva pulled herself up out of the chair, causing the room to spin around a bit. She got as far as the cockpit door before pausing to turn to the captain to say, “She told me what happened. Kay, I mean.”
Kes sat up straight in her seat, but didn’t turn around. “She did, did she?”
You shouldn’t have brought Kay into this, Zeva told herself. She struggled to think of a way out of it, but could only say, “Yes. She didn’t say much about it. I don’t think she knows much about it. And it’s none of my business, I know, but… I thought you should know. That I know.” Her voice broke a little.
Kes met her with a long silence, finally turning her chair to face the Jedi. “Do you have questions?” she asked, her voice tremulous. “I know I do.”
Zeva nodded and sat back down, fascinated by the gulf of time between when she thought of something to say, and when she actually said it. No question she could think of seemed adequate for such a tragedy. “I… I can’t pretend to know how you feel. I’ve experienced loss, but… never anything like this.”
“It’s… been a few years. There’s no getting over it. Never. But… you go on.”
Zeva nodded. She’d sensed Captain Varn’s strength from the beginning, but had only guessed at how strong she truly was. “But I can tell you that this…” She leaned forward to hold Kes’s hands, which still held the shoe, her touch strong and gentle all at once. “This speaks to me. And not of loss, or sorrow… but of life, and joy. The Force binds all living things together, but there’s more to it than that. It binds us to those whom we’ve lost. To those who will, someday, lose us. I know it comes as little comfort, Captain, but… your family will always be with you. And you, with them. Always.”
Kes swallowed and forced a smile, patting Zeva’s hand. “I appreciate the sentiment, but… hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid. That’s what I always remember – to never be unprepared that way again.”
Zeva nodded and sat up straight again. “Sure. Of course. That’s why I’m here, right? To keep the Destiny safe?” And not to bore your shipmates to tears with a philosophy that couldn’t save your beloved Jedi Order from its own short-sightedness?
The Zabrak’s smile came more naturally now, though laced with sadness. She patted Zeva’s cheek. “I guess so. Just…” She swallowed again. “Just don’t do anything unnecessarily risky.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll wait for your order before I do anything crazy. Captain.”
“That’s my girl.” Kes grinned outright now.
“Please don’t be mad at Kay,” Zeva blurted. “For telling me, I mean.”
The captain shook her head. “It would have come out one way or another. I’d rather have been the one to say something. But… it is what it is.” She shrugged.
“In the end, all she did was confirm what the cargo bay told me.” Zeva glanced down at the shoe, then back up to Kes. “Is that why you don’t go in there?”
Kes rubbed a horn wearily, suddenly looking ten years older. “I dumped ten to fifteen bodies out the airlock that day. There were three left after that. I know I buried them. But sometimes I wonder.”
“Who was it?” Zeva asked, her meaning plain.
Kes shook her head. “That’s what I’d like to know. I was stupid… too shocked to think. I didn’t note down insignias.”
“I’m sorry. Of course not. It must have been… awful.”
The captain looked at Zeva suddenly, not seeing the girl in front of her, her eyes still sharp. “Who opens fire on innocent children?”
Zeva matched Kes’s gaze until she couldn’t bear it. “I don’t know, Captain,” she replied, brushing white hair away from her eyes. Sleepy, drunk, and emotional. If only Master Yoda could see you now. “I looked evil itself right in the eye, once. But I’ve never seen it in the eyes of another living creature.”
Kes tilted her head, clearly not sure what Zeva meant. “If I’d participated in the Wars, I probably would’ve seen worse.”
“But you didn’t.” Zeva waggled a finger, her eyes following it as if she’d never seen it before. “You were just minding your own business… atrocities and people minding their own business shouldn’t mix. Someone who’d murder your family… who could wound you like that. Wound the Force itself like that. It spits on everything I believe in.” Zeva realized that she’d made a fist.
Kes furrowed her brow at the girl. “How many drinks did you have, kid?” When Zeva held up her one waggling finger, Kes rolled her eyes, stood up, and carefully hauled the Jedi to her feet. “I think you’re ready for bed.”
Zeva didn’t disagree with Kes’s assessment, but stopped short of the door again. “Of course, aren’t we just trying to mind our own business, now?”
“Yeah. And there goes the Empire, butting in.” Kes slipped into the corridor before guiding Zeva out.
“Empire. Say what you will about the Republic,” Zeva said on their way around the ring corridor, “but at least people were free to… to mind their own business.”
“You said it, kid.”
Zeva stopped again at the door to the crew quarters. “I’m almost afraid to sleep,” she whispered, afraid that Kay might overhear through the door. “Last night I dreamed about him.”
Kes’s arms tightened around the girl. “Him?”
“The Sith Lord. The man in the black mask.” Best to leave out the part about Kay.
Kes’s expression turned kindly, and she opened the door to guide Zeva into the room. “Don’t worry about him. We won’t let anything happen to you. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Kes lowered Zeva onto her bunk. As her head found the pillow, she felt her boots slide off, and her eyelids fluttered shut. “All right, Master – I mean, Captain. I trust you.”
“Good night, kiddo.” She could hear Kes’s smile in her voice. “Don’t let the space bugs bite.”
“Affirmative. You sleep some, too…” Zeva fell unconscious almost immediately.
- – - – -
She dreamed, but not of the man in the black mask.
- – - – -
Kes went back to the cockpit to cry over the shoe a little.