Zeva’s ballet flats slapped the marble floor as she walked around the perimeter of the Winter Palace, stun baton in hand, scanning for anything that demanded her attention. The opponents she knew about had been subdued – all but one of them killed, to be more accurate – but Master Tulu had always taught her that hidden dangers were bigger threats than any she could see.
She made her way past the fallen sniper, his head at an unnatural angle relative to the rest of his body. She spared a glance for the one at the garden entrance, impaled by the huge sheet of glass that Zeva had shattered with the Force. He was going to kill Kay, Zeva told herself again. I didn’t have a blaster… I didn’t have a choice.
Fear and anger, Padawan. Fear and anger.
She paused as Vigo Shal’mak led her friends out into the winter garden, nodding at Kaylani with a little smile. The garden would have been the perfect place to kiss her; with that song playing, the moment would have been so perfect…
Something clanged under the stage. Zeva readied her weapon once more and circled around the room to peer under the skirt that surrounded the stage, revealing the little girl she’d seen before – the one dancing with the Ithorian. “Hello there,” the Jedi called, her voice calm and gentle. Soothing, as Monda’s had been with the younglings of her clan. “It’s safe, now. You can come out.”
“Are you sure?” The girl was scared, or had been, but she hadn’t cried. Even with the Force as her ally, Zeva doubted she would have been as brave when she’d been that age.
“Yes. What’s your name?”
“Leia. I’m Leia.”
“That’s a lovely name. I’m Zeva Milaska.” The pseudonym was almost second nature to her now. “I think your father is outside looking for you, Leia.”
Leia nodded. “Can I – can I just have one more minute? I… I’m not in any hurry to get back to being a princess.”
“Really?” Zeva folded her baton back into her clutch and crawled under the stage on her hands and knees toward Leia, stopping at a respectful distance to sit cross-legged. “I’ve never known any princesses, Your… Highness?”
“You shouldn’t make fun,” Leia said, scowling.
Zeva raised her palms in protest. “I’m not, I swear.”
“Okay. Still, I get enough of that out there. Please, just call me Leia.”
“All right.” If you just talk to her, maybe you can get her to come out. “So, being a princess is hard?”
Leia nodded. “Everybody wants me to grow up to be so perfect. I have to learn so much, and I have to know the right people, and watch what I say, and never let anybody know how I feel…” She squinted at Zeva. “You know, I don’t know why I’m telling you this.”
“Because it feels good to tell somebody. And, as it happens, I know how you feel.”
“You do?” Leia crawled a little closer.
“Sure. I was raised to… to do a job, too. I wanted to do it… wanted it more than anything. But it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Not at all.”
“Right? All I’m supposed to do is keep my mouth shut and do my duty and find a suitable husband.” Leia’s brown eyes rolled deeply in the dark. “I don’t need one of those.”
“I suppose not. Me, I wasn’t allowed to marry, and I turned out okay.”
“You’re in love, though,” the princess said knowingly.
Zeva stifled a laugh. “Am I?”
“I saw you daaancing with the pretty girl.” Leia’s face lit up with a smile. “You’re in looove with her. Aren’t you?”
“Not that it’s any of your business,” Zeva said in a tone that she hoped came across as playful, “but, yes. Yes, I am.”
“That’s nice. I guess. If you weren’t allowed to get married before, can you get married now?”
“I suppose? Seems a bit quick, though; we just started… courting, I guess you’d call it.”
Leia nodded. “I think the Royal Family of Alderaan would die if I married a girl. Not that I want to do that either. I… Did you? ... No.” She looked into Zeva’s eyes, but just for a moment.
“What? Leia, what is it?”
“I know that you broke the glass that killed that man. I wasn’t looking when it happened, but I still know that you did. Even if I don’t know how.”
“But it doesn’t matter how, because I know why you did it. It’s like…” Her little hands made fists over her heart. “I felt it, you see? Whatever it is that you felt that made you do it, I felt it too.” Her voice fell very quiet: “How did that happen?”
Zeva realized she’d been holding her breath. “It’s complicated,” she finally said. “I… have you experienced these sorts of things before?”
“Sometimes. I told Father about it, once, and he said that I should never tell anyone about it.” She looked into Zeva’s eyes again. “But I know I can tell you, because it happens to you, too.”
“Sometimes.” Zeva put on a smile until Leia shared it, then dropped her voice to a whisper. “I’ll have to tell you all about it, in time, but for now, we have to keep it a secret. You can keep a secret, right?”
Leia nodded. “I know all kinds of gov-ern-ment secrets.” Zeva expected it came out gummint if she didn’t slow down to say it properly.
“Then this will be just between us. Okay?”
“Are you ready?” Zeva asked, and started moving to the edge of the stage before Leia’s hand stopped her.
“You were afraid,” Leia said. “Afraid for… Kay.”
“Yes.” She IS strong with the Force. There’s so much I could teach her if I only could…
“Was it the most afraid you’ve ever been?”
“No.” Master Windu had been the one to tell Zeva, when she’d practically been Leia’s age, that Master Qui-Gon had fallen in battle with a Sith warrior – the Sith, who’d been extinct for a thousand years! Zeva’s hopes of becoming Qui-Gon’s Padawan crumbled. Talk of war with an invisible Sith army came to dominate the Jedi Council. Life as she’d always known it simply ceased.
And, though the Sith warrior was declared to be dead, Zeva saw his burning yellow eyes in every shadow until she became Master Tulu’s Padawan…
“Oh.” Realizing she’d hit a nerve, Leia let go of Zeva and crawled out from under the stage. The Jedi followed her out and into a sudden, squeezing hug. “Thanks, Zeva,” Leia said. “I feel better now.”
“So do I.”