Li-am residence, Obroa-skai
1 year, 7 months BBY
Warmth. Softness. Peace. Really, Xel could get used to this bed. If only Dad had gotten this thing sooner... His eyes snapped open and darted around. The room was unfamiliar, neither in the Kandosii'tal nor their house on Mandalore. And then the truth dawned on him for the second morning in a row. Strangely enough, he no longer felt like crying. The pain had fallen to a dull ache. It was...tolerable. The boy laid back down, his eyes open as he contemplated the meaning of this. Another ten minutes passed before he shook himself off and rather painfully extracted himself from those comforters.
He really could get used to that bed.
His feet planted on the ground before he realized he was still in his full-body undersuit. His eyes scanned the bedroom and alighted on his armor plates, stacked in a rather haphazard manner instead of his usual neatness, and he concluded that something truly taxing must have happened the day before. You just found out your dad was dead and mother is a Jedi, dummy. Why wouldn't that be exhausting? He shook his head and his thoughts, striding toward the stack and pulling on his flight suit and boots before moving toward the exit.
His eyes widened before closing as his nostrils flared with deep inhalation. What in shab is that? Whatever it was, both his nose and empty stomach were going crazy in anticipation, and he bolted for the stairs immediately. His feet skipped them three at a time, landing him on the ground floor in a matter of seconds and catapulting him toward the source of the smell. He came into sight of the kitchen and stopped in his tracks.
There was his mother, who he hadn't really gotten a good look at last night, shuffling around the spacious room, managing appliances and dishes with pristine skill. He silently approached the entrance, leaning against the doorframe, and nearly jumped out of his skin when the cupboard to his left opened of its own accord, sending a container of something flying toward her waiting hand.
"You know, it's not really possible to sneak up on a Jedi."
He blinked. "I figured." He took a few steps forward, leaning sideways against an unoccupied counter.
She turned to him with one of the warmest smiles he'd ever seen, and he couldn't help but return it. The woman, who had to be pushing forty if not later, had kept her age well. Her five-eleven body had been kept in perfect order, and her dirty blonde hair was done up in a complex series of braids all twisted together into a ponytail. Her eyes, dark brown and narrow, seemed to carry with them years of experience and hardship yet keep the warm qualities that immediately made him want to trust her last night.
He let out a sigh and pushed himself back up onto the counter. "So…what's the game plan for today?"
She turned back to her work, absently waving a hand to command a pan to adjust on the stove. "That, young one, is up to you. I would suggest moving whatever you need from your ship…and maybe the ship itself."
Xel nodded. "Right." He pushed himself off and walked toward the stairs.
He stopped and turned to her.
She fidgeted nervously for a second or two. "I'm…I'm glad you're here."
He smiled softly. "Me too."
He has so many questions. Telia's vibroknife cut straight through the nerf meat, filleting it neatly before tossing the cut onto its waiting pan. She leaned on her hands, putting her weight on the counter and thinking hard. How do I tell him? How do I break the news? Her son was every bit as strong as his father, perhaps not in body, but definitely in will. And in the Force. Though Xel wasn't accessing it, he was still radiating with the same raw power his father had. If cultivated, he would be a powerful practitioner.
"Right then," Xel called before leaping the last four steps to the ground, now fully armored. "I'm off. See you in twenty."
She nodded to him and gave a tight smile. "Be careful."
He smiled back. "Always am."
The moment the door shut behind him, she let out a long breath. Another set of steps reverberated at the top of the stairs, heralding the arrival of a five-eleven boy with brown hair and eyes of the brightest ice blue she'd ever seen.
"As always, you take forever to get out of the 'fresher."
He grinned at her. "What can I say? I like to look my best."
She raised an eyebrow at a rogue cluster of hair that made his whole style look lopsided.
Alen weaved his fingers through his nearly shoulder-length hair, fixing the locks and making himself look presentable. He leaned against an empty counter, arms crossed. "So."
She quirked an eyebrow at him. "So?"
"Is there a reason I felt someone else in this house?"
30 minutes later
Miserable shabuire. Xel strung off a half-dozen Mando'a curse words in his head, only grumbling on the outside as he went through the front door of his new home. The docking authority had given him grief about taking off and parking elsewhere in-atmosphere, insisting the need to clear it with the local Imperial authorities. That is, until Xel dropped a nice stack of credits in his empty palm and told him it was Mandalorian business. Somehow, and he wasn't sure how, that managed to shut him up. As if that wasn't enough, a group of mercs had tried pestered him into joining their crew until he flipped his knife and told them in no uncertain terms to usen'ye.
When he finally found a proper spot to land, he already felt exhausted. What his eyes saw upon coming through the door was potentially just as taxing. The man—the boy standing in front of him turned about, revealing a facial structure eerily similar to Telia's. Xel's eyes widened.
"Xel Caden," Telia said as she strode into the room, "meet your brother, Alen Li-am."
Xel sized him up for a few moments before extending his hand.
"It's good to finally meet you," his brother said.
The other boy's eyes narrowed to slits and looked sideways at Telia, who seemed a little tenser than she had a few moments ago. "Finally?" He looked from one to the other. "How long did he know?"
Telia and Alen exchanged a wary look before she looked down and the latter answered. "Since I was…what was it, eight?"
Xel's eyes went wide, and both Jedi gulped at the flurry of emotions that flowed through him. Xel turned away with purpose, his breathing becoming labored as his hands clenched into fists. He didn't tell me… Tension filled him until Alen bravely put a hand on his shoulder.
Xel scowled. "He didn't tell me…until two months ago."
Both of them let out slight gasps.
"He didn't shabla tell me."
"Well," Alen said softly with a smile, "you know now."
"No sense griping about the past," Xel responded quietly, more to himself than his brother. How many times did Dad tell me that?
Alen smiled wider. "Right." He gave Xel's shoulder a firm pat, striding toward the kitchen, where his brother's stomach reminded him breakfast was waiting.
Xel didn't miss the relieved smile on Telia's face as he passed. A few minutes later, he and the other two were seated around a round table near the fireplace, the silence only interrupted by the intermittent crackling of flames. A long breath left the boy's body as he savored the first piece of nerf steak. "Shab that's good," he breathed out with satisfaction. "Think I finally know who taught Dad how to cook."
"She's always like this," Alen added almost poutingly. "Always with the gourmet cuisine."
"I don't ever hear you complaining," Telia chided.
He gave her a toothy grin, intentionally showing a steak piece stuck between his teeth as she rolled her eyes and Xel chuckled. "I guess I have less appreciation for it now, considering I've been eating it all my life."
"I don't know," Xel cut in, "I'm not sure I could ever get used to eating like this."
"Thought you said Dad cooked like this."
"Yeah, when he actually did cook, which wasn't often."
"Food rations?" Telia asked. "Seriously?"
Xel smiled. "He always told me that any good soldier needs to learn to eat anything. Never know what you're gonna have on the battlefield, after all."
"Ugh, I can remember what he brought in on Tibrin." She gave out a shudder.
Alen laughed with his mouth full, stopping when something unexpectedly lodged in his throat and sputtering several times, half laughing, half choking. Xel couldn't hold himself from laughter even as he smacked Alen's back—hard. The blockage was cleared and Alen gave his brother a thumbs-up as they returned to their meals.
Telia smiled gently, still more than unsettled by Xel's extreme reaction earlier. She gave an involuntary shudder at the memory. Alen may not have felt it, but she did, and with all that anger…his Force aura was more powerful than any she'd felt in a long time, and he wasn't even accessing it. One thing was for sure. This kid needed guidance and training. He needed to learn his Jedi heritage. If he didn't…she didn't even want to think about that possibility.
"So," Xel said when he finally wiped his plate clean, "I'm gonna ask you a bunch of questions, and I'd like them answered immediately."
Telia's lips tightened. "Fair enough. Ask away."
Xel licked his lips, taking a few breaths as he pondered his first query. "Why—?"
"Why were we separated?"
He closed his mouth and nodded slowly.
She sighed and slid her chair next to his, taking her hands in his. "You…and your brother…when you were born, it was the happiest day of my life. Of both our lives." She hesitated. "Okay…first off, it wasn't your father's idea. It was mine."
Xel's eyes widened, but he said nothing.
Telia held his hands tightly. "Believe me, letting the both of you go was the hardest thing I've ever done, but it had to be done. When you were born, your father and I felt your existence in the Force, but it was more than just existence, it was…presence." She glanced up to see his confusion. "You were both heavily Force-sensitive, and we knew it. As you would grow, so would your presence, your signature in the Force."
"So the Empire looks for such signatures," Alen cut in.
"Exactly," his mother confirmed. "We knew that if the Empire ever discovered your existence, they would hunt us to the end of the galaxy."
"So you split us up to reduce concentration."
Xel looked away and was silent a long time. His right fist and teeth clenched. "I understand. Doesn't mean I like it, but I understand." He met her gaze again. "How did the Empire find us then?"
"Whenever you use the Force, your presence is more apparent. Even if you try to hide yourself, using Force-related abilities gives you away."
"But I never even knew I could."
"So, more than likely, it was your father who accidentally tipped them off."
Xel looked down and away until he felt another hand on his shoulder.
"That doesn't mean you won't eventually become strong enough to cast a shadow. You need to learn how to hide yourself in the Force, like we can."
He nodded numbly. "I know." A long silence passed before he locked gazes with her. "So when do we start?"