...then I would stand a little stronger as I walk a little taller all the time.
Arctus's definition of home is swiftly becoming much broader in the sense that he knows that home is where the pieces of his heart are, as cheesy and sappy as that sounds. He has a home in Corellia, with four out of (currently) eight pieces of his heart residing there. Then there is one who has found a home in Tinnel IV with the man she truly loves, but there is also Mandalore where her own pieces of her heart live. The remaining three currently reside in the Jedi Temple on Yavin IV, though he knows that they each have a home in Pantora, Shili, and Ralltiir.
Each piece is instrumental with the change that he is undergoing, though he thinks that the “change” is something more along the lines of returning to what he once have been – long before the wrong crowd, the bad decisions, the destructive addiction, and the hatred that suddenly appeared in Dad's eyes broke his spirit. The sixth piece of his heart is the one who has found him and accepted the brokenness in him, and his meeting with her has led to him creating the seventh and eighth pieces of his metaphorical heart. It is also the seventh and eighth who continue to inspire even greater changes from him, who continue to remind him that there is more to the fifth piece of his heart's message for him when she saved his life on Tatooine years ago.
Arctus, however, knows that for him to truly change, he needs to return to his roots. He has so many questions – well, just one to be precise – that he needs answers for, and as much as he wants to avoid the truth he knows that it will not only hurt himself in the long run, but also those he loves more than he can ever love himself. And for him to truly change, he also needs to tell them his truth – the wrong crowd, the bad decisions, the destructive addiction, and the lies.
Mum owes him the truth. In turn, Arctus owes Mum and the triplets his ugly truth. The mess he once was, and even the mess that persists and clings to him like the parasitic leech It is.
Though he knows that he is ready for the long overdue conversation, he also feels very hesitant and deathly afraid. How will he react if Mum confirms that he really isn't Dad's son? How will he react once she tells him how he came to existence? And how will the first four pieces of his heart react once he admits the whole truth he's kept hidden from them for years?
He will not find out if he keeps himself locked in his ship, he tells himself. He will not find out by pacing restlessly in his sleeping quarters, letting apprehension and fear grip him. He will not find out if he heeds the mocking voices that begin to whisper at him insidiously.
Always choose courage. Isn't that what's written on that note he received on the Life Day celebration at the Temple?
He swallows his apprehension, his fear, and puts on a brave face and a brave heart. He needs to do this. He needs to have this discussion. He needs the truth, and he needs to tell the truth in return. Otherwise he'll be stunting his own growth, pausing the changes that are hopefully turning him into a better man.
He needs to do this, or else he'll be denying himself the healing he needs. He will not be a good Jedi if he buckles now. He will not be a good son, a good brother – both to his blood and the ones he has found. He will not be a better person if he runs away.
Arctus takes a deep breath and steps out of his ship, duffel bag containing whatever necessities he's packed slung over one shoulder. He has left notes for Indy, Ruzaan, and Clove, telling them that he will be visiting his family and that he'll be staying for a few days – a week, at most – to catch up. He tells them not to worry, and that he'll be alright. Each note has been slipped into their hands in passing, Arctus's flowing but surprisingly neat handwriting a reassurance that he will soon return. He knows that leaving the Temple without explicit permission is something that is frowned upon, but he will just bear the consequences after. And besides, if the Padawans younger than him can do it, then why can't he? He may be in his thirties, but even the former smuggler can be as petty as the younger generation of Jedi.
This trip is also something that he needs to do and face alone, so there's that. It'll be terribly awkward if he brought Indy, Clove, or Ruzaan with him.
Mum's diner has undergone so many changes while also maintaining the same kind and welcoming atmosphere it possesses. The establishment has expanded, but the second and third floors – the Friers' living spaces – seemingly remain untouched. He can see that there are, predictably, a lot of customers presently – morning rushes are kind of a living hell, but with the diner's expansion comes the hiring of additional employees who greet Arctus as he enters the establishment. None of the new recruits know him, and the old ones are quick to catch Mum's attention and direct her to her firstborn son.
“Arctus Ramiel Friers!” Mum exclaims the moment her gaze alights upon him. “When was the last time you visited, young man–”
The years have been exceedingly kind to her, and though there are more lines upon her face than he's last seen her, she is still so very beautiful. Like an angel, his Gramps used to tell him. White stands out starkly against her brown hair, but the mix of color suits her rather surprisingly. She strides quickly towards him, arms rising for a hug he happily accepts. The Padawan picks her up and spins her once, uncaring of the patrons who become their reunion's impromptu audience.
Mum, however, is quick to flick him on the forehead the moment he sets her down, earning a pained yelp from the former smuggler. She doesn't apologize, and the smug smile she gives him sends him laughing fondly as he rubs the small welt on his forehead. Mum then loops one arm with his and take him to a side room that leads upstairs to their family's living space, and gives him another tight hug before gesturing for him to sit down on the couch.
“You didn't say that you're going home, love!” Mum says as she busies herself in the kitchen, preparing tea and biscuits for Arctus. “You should've sent a message so I could've sent one of your brothers to pick you up at the spaceport– my word, those three have been wondering when you'd show up again!”
“Aww, Mum,” the Padawan says with a smile as he abandons his seat in favor of helping her in the kitchen. “I missed you all, too.”
Dahlia Friers returns her firstborn’s smile, one hand gently cradling Arctus's cheek. She pulls her son down to her level and presses her forehead to his. The former smuggler basks in the warmth and love behind the gesture, and they share a fond laugh when she follows up with a tiny boop to his nose as they separate.
“Speakin' of them rascals, where's the AJ Trio?” he inquires as he carries the tray to the living room. Mum sits down beside him on the couch and pours him a cup of tea which he gratefully accepts. He still doesn't have the heart to tell her that he prefers coffee over tea, but he will not complain. She's a godsdamned magician when it comes to cooking and even something as meagre as preparing tea.
“Ansem and Alden's at work. Armin's on a date with his boyfriend.”
“He and Cillian still going strong, or is this a new boyfriend?”
“Oh, he's still with Cillian, the good lad. I'm not supposed to tell you this yet, but,” Mum's voice lowers into a conspiratorial whisper, a joyous smile tugging the corners of her lips upwards, “Cillian has already proposed. Ansem and Alden were itching to call you and tell you the news, but Armin wants to tell you in person, you know. He and Cillian insist on receiving your blessing.”
Arctus can't contain his joy at the news, and he won't be kidding if he tells her just how much the muscles on his face are hurting from how much he's smiling. They have absolutely no need for his blessing because he's already given it when he's seen how happy Armin is with Cillian. Asking for his blessing is only a formality, and besides he's the oldest male in the family – and it's as if his youngest brother can ask it of an absent father. Hells, all of them have no idea where Dad is or if he's still even alive for that matter. The brothers never heard word nor news from their old man the day he walked out of their lives, nor have they seen even a sliver of his shadow. So as much as Arctus wants to tell both Armin and Cillian that he's already given them his blessing without uttering the words, the former smuggler decides to simply do the honor.
It doesn't take Mum long to ask Arctus about his own love life, and it takes the Padawan an utterly short moment to respond that he has none. Talking about a woman who's already taken will only prompt more questions than answers. So Arctus redirects the conversation back to his brothers. If Mum notices him avoiding the topic, she is kind enough to not pursue it any longer.
He is glad that she isn't asking the reason for his visit. Mum seems content to simply have her eldest home, and the reminder that he'll only be here for a week doesn't wipe away her happiness. Mum's presence is warm and soft, kind and gentle, through the Force. She's sunshine after the rain, pastel pink roses in full bloom. It's the first time he looks at her through the Force and she matches what he sees, and he likes and loves every bit of it.
They spend the next hour talking about the diner, his brothers, the possible venues for Armin's wedding, and life in Corellia. He senses that Mum is toeing along the lines of the reasons for his sudden appearance, but when Arctus lets out a genuine yawn and she sees the exhaustion on his face, she tells him to rest.
“I'll wake you up before lunch,” she tells him kindly as she stands up and begins to put away the cups and saucers. Arctus moves to help but she gently pushes him back down on the couch. “Get some rest, Ramiel. I'll manage. You can go to your room, if you prefer.”
“Okay,” he replies sheepishly, but Mum only waves his slight embarrassment off before giving his cheek a kiss and making her way towards the kitchen. The former smuggler picks up his duffel bag and heads to his room, only stopping for a moment when Mum calls him by his first name.
“Arctus. You know you can ask me anything, right, sweetheart?”
Arctus stares at her, hazel grey eyes widening momentarily before a knowing expression crosses his face. He nods at her, solemn and perceptive. The last time he's tried to pay her and his brothers a visit is after that fateful encounter with Coven at the Snoozing Krayt. He's bewildered, angry, and afraid at the time, and as much as he wanted to go home and demand the truth he held off on the desire to confront Mum at the time. He knows that it wouldn't have ended well given his mental state at the time, but right now he's prepared to know the truth. And he's prepared to admit his lies and mistakes as well.
Everything just boils down to how much ready he is in the end, isn't it?
“I know, Mum,” Arctus replies, mustering a small but sincere smile for her. “I know.”
It's not Mum who wakes him up come lunchtime– Arctus glances at the bedside chrono, then does a double take when he realizes that it's already late afternoon. She must have let him sleep in, knowing how he usually becomes quite grumpy when woken up from a good sleep. Mum must've assumed that he was really exhausted from his travels and thus have let him get as much sleep as he needed.
Someone snickers somewhere from the foot of his bed, and he is quick to snatch one of his pillows and launch it towards the offending bastard who dares disturb his beauty sleep. Arctus hums, satisfied, when he hears the telltale thump of the pillow making impact followed by a startled "oomph!" The resulting snickers turn into one snort, quickly followed by a muffled laugh.
"D'you idiots want a faceful of pillow each, too?" the former smuggler asks two of the triplets who dissolve into even more bouts of laughter when the first to be assaulted throws the offending pillow back at Arctus. He deftly catches it before getting up with a loud groan, his annoyance at being woken melting away at the sight of his younger brothers grinning from ear to ear while they gaze at him.
He isn't surprised to see that the triplets are over the moon because of his presence. Arctus knows that he has become his brothers' father figure ever since Dad walked out of their lives. It is an act he keeps up to this very day, and knowing that the truths he will admit soon may just as well destroy that image they built for him. They deserve to know the real Arctus, though, as much as Mum does. It's the least he can do for them, and it's the first step he knows he has to take if he is to earn their forgiveness and acceptance.
For now, though, he decides to shake off the anxiety that threatens to eat him at the thought of the inevitable conversation and instead basks in the laughter and joy of his younger brothers. It has been quite a while since he's home, after all, and their home gets a little louder and a bit more rambunctious with Arctus present. He lets his brothers pull him out of bed and whisk him off to the living room where they spend the next hours catching up.
He's missed the triplets as much as he missed Mum, staying true to what he has told her earlier when he arrived. They talk as if Arctus haven't been gone for quite a while – there is not a hint of resentment from any of the triplets, just the same elation he felt from Mum when she saw him. Of course the three are quick to lay out plans covering the whole duration of the former smuggler's one-week stay, with Ansem and Alden – unsurprisingly – bickering about one thing after another, though there is no real heat in their actions and words. Their argument only comes to an end when Arctus and Armin burst out laughing at the other two's antics.
The happiness he feels at being reunited with his brothers briefly sends Arctus's thoughts to the family he's found in the Jedi Order. He finds himself fantasizing about the triplets meeting Indy, Ruzaan, and Clove, the thought prompting a fond chuckle out of him which his brothers quickly notice.
In his usual fashion, Alden misinterprets the fond chuckle and smile on Arctus's face for something other than familial. “Ah! Arctus is thinking about his girlfriend! No fair, no fair!” the middle triplet complains childishly. “Ansem's going steady with a girl and Armin's gonna get married–”
“Man, there's not a single bottle of alcohol in sight and yet you spout ridiculous stuff as if you're drunk,” Ansem smoothly interjects at the look of panic from Armin, and Arctus has the decency and tact to act surprised as the youngest of the triplets waves off Alden's slip up.
“Me and Cillian? Getting married?” Armin adds, voice an octave higher as he lets out a nervous giggle. Arctus can see that the youngest triplet looks torn between smacking Alden on the head for spoiling the surprise and further denying the truth. He settles for the latter with an exaggerated, “Naw! That's not true! Don't listen to Alden!”
Alden only lets out a loud guffaw when Arctus takes pity and spills that Mum has already told him before passing out, with Ansem catching him before his head hit the table. Armin grumbles about it at first, though he is quick to assure his brothers that he's not mad at Mum for being unable to keep the surprise any longer.
As if the brothers can really get mad at their Mum, and if they have the anger really doesn't stay long. Dahlia is both blessed and (not really) cursed with four mama's boys who will go to hell and back for her but are also willing to point out her flaws. They're not perfect, just as Mum isn't – and after all, like the brothers always tell each other, “aren't we all?”
"But still," Alden presses on, shooting the eldest Friers brother an intrigued look. "When are we going to meet your girlfriend?"
Face turning red at the thought of a certain Mandalorian, Arctus waved off Alden's question with a nonchalant shrug. He grins, though, as he corrects his brother's assumption of him having a lovelife much like Ansem and Armin. "I don't have a girlfriend, ya dummy. I just remembered my friends." His face lights up, and the triplets share inquisitive looks. "I'm sure you're all gonna like them. They're really, really, really good people."
"You must really like them a lot yourself," observes Ansem, smile turning soft and warm. "You haven't exactly been the friendliest and yet here you are, talking highly about your friends."
By the looks on Alden and Armin's faces, they agree with Ansem's observation. Despite their age way back then they have been aware of what Arctus had been through in the hands of their father, and no matter how hard Arctus shielded them, tried to hide the truth from them, the triplets have always been inquisitive enough to know that Dad seem to– no, Dad hates (or hated, if their old man has already kicked the bucket) his firstborn for reasons they're sure Mum knows.
It is true that out of the four brothers, Arctus possesses the most trust issues when it comes to strangers – more so adults. Arctus doesn't blame Dad for it, instead he blames their gossipmongering neighbors who used to talk smack about Mum when they thought no one was listening. A kid shouldn't be exposed to people like them at such a young age and as such they made quite a mark on Arctus's young mind. Adults are two-faced creatures that are not to be trusted, a thought that Arctus carried well into his own adulthood. Of course he's aware that it isn't applicable to every bloke in the galaxy, but his life as a smuggler only enforced that festering thought.
Silence falls over the four of them, weighing more heavily on Arctus more than the triplets will ever know. The anxiety comes rushing back and before he knows it his hands are already shaking. He misses the look of alarm on each of his brothers' faces, his vision tunneling on his attempts at keeping his hands still. He hears Ansem's steady voice beside him, calling his name. He feels Alden and Armin back off, letting the eldest triplet do what he does best. At one point one of them – Alden or Armin, Arctus has no idea – disappears from the living room, presumably to fetch Mum so she can help Ansem if his methods fail.
Arctus doesn't mean to freak out this early and yet here he is, sitting on the couch with shaking hands and taking one panicked breath after another. For the first time in years he is just beginning to accept the realization that his younger brothers have been – all this time – aware of Dad's feelings towards his eldest son, and he is just beginning to realize that they have always known more than they let on. He lifts his head and looks at Ansem, hazel grey eyes wide. Do they know? About Arctus not being Dad's legitimate son (if that's a fact at all)?
The Padawan retreats into his own mind, waiting for the dreaded mocks and taunts of the Dark Side of the Force. Knuckles knock nervously on the white walls of his thought-room, as if calling the attention of the One he hates the most. Black remains absent against the stark walls, floor, and ceiling and for the first time in a long while Arctus finds himself alone within the confines of his own mind.
No sibilant whispers to taunt him.
No mocking voices to demean him.
No Dark Side to haunt him and remind him that a despicable person like him doesn't deserve the kindness freely given to him.
A pair of small, warm hands close around his own and when Arctus's mind returns to the physical plane, he sees Mum on her knees before him.
He doesn't plan to ask her this early in his visit. He wants to enjoy the first few days with his family without the burden of the question that hangs heavily in his mind. Corellian hells, he hasn't even anticipated that a single, harmless comment from one of his brothers will send him spiraling into a panic attack.
Maybe he shouldn't have come home. Maybe he should have scrapped this whole plan of asking Mum the one question he knows to be an irrational one. He's Dad's son – what the hell is he thinking? He's not some wandering Jedi's kid. Sticking to that latter thought means that Mum hadn't been loyal to Dad once, and that he, Arctus, is the result of that infidelity. Mum loves Dad, he knows she still loves Dad even up to this day so there is absolutely no reason for her to become unfaithful, how dare you, Arctus, to even think that you're not Dad's son you do know what it entails for Mum you fucking, miserable bastard–
"Am I Dad's son?" he finally asks in a small, vulnerable voice, hazel grey eyes wide and imploring as he meets Mum's worried gaze. "Y-You said– You said I can a-ask you anything, so I'm asking. A-Am I...?"
Through blurry vision he sees that tears well up in Mum's eyes, her face crumpling. She looks torn between crying and smiling as she shakes her head, and Arctus feels his heart sink.
Ah, shit. Their bitch neighbors – may their souls rest in peace – were right.
Through the Force he feels no shock nor surprise from his younger brothers. Arctus tears his gaze off of Mum to look up at them, and he doesn't know what to feel when he sees Ansem smiling while wiping his own tears away. Alden is staring at one of the pictures on the mantle, trying his best not to cry by failing. Armin, on the other hand, looks positively devastated.
Mum is still smiling through her tears and shaking her head. Arctus wants to tell her to stop, that he gets it already. Dad has (had?) every right to hate him, that he deserved the beatings and the insults he received as a child. Why is she being cruel now? She can stop smiling and shaking her head, he gets it now, he gets everything now–
"My silly Starshine," says Mum as she lifts her hands to cup Arctus's cheeks, thumbs wiping away his tears. "My dearest Arctus Ramiel... you're just like your Dad, and it's all my fault. I'm sorry, my love. So very, very sorry. I should've told you from the start, but instead I chose to respect your Dad's wishes. I'm so, so, so sorry, sweetheart."
Her fault? Was she talking about the affair with his Jedi father? Is she referring to the bastard who ran after knocking her up, and did said bastard even know she's married? So, the affair is real, then, and Arctus–
"You are your father's son... my husband's. You are Raguel Friers's son, and no one else's. Oh, my dear boy, I am so sorry you have to think otherwise..."