Title: And Have We Done With War At Last? Author: Gabri_Jade Timeframe: New Republic, a few months past the end of The Last Command Characters: Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade Genre: introspection, mild angst, vignette, one-shot, friendship Summary: Some wounds are less visible than others, and some scars are slow to heal. Notes: Title is from the poem Two Fusiliers, by Robert Graves. Many thanks to LadyPadme and ViariSkywalker for their insightful comments and suggestions <3 They sit on the sofa in Luke’s apartment, the lights not exactly low, garish reflections from Coruscant’s never-ending activity shining through the large window and splashing against the walls and ceiling. It has become a common thing for them to spend the evening in each other’s apartments, just talking. Luke isn’t sure exactly when that happened, but neither does he feel inclined to question it, or worse, potentially derail it. Somewhere deep down where he doesn’t dare look too closely, Mara’s company has become so natural, so looked-forward-to, that the thought of scaring her off terrifies him. Not that Mara scares easily, but if she knew just how much he’s come to rely on the time they spend together—well. Just because she doesn’t want to kill him any longer doesn’t mean that she’ll welcome anything beyond the tentative friendship they’ve carefully developed over the last few months. It’s a fragile thing still, and he shies from the possibility of damaging the new rapport. And so most nights they discuss her work (productive, but frustrating), Jedi training (often the same), how fast Jaina and Jacen are growing, whether this year’s rainy season will be wetter than normal, and other such ordinary things. Tonight, somehow, takes a different turn. “Do you ever think about the lives you’ve taken?” Luke stills, the mug of hot chocolate warm and steaming in his hands. Her sense in the Force isn’t accusing, as it once would have been. It’s a genuine question, and as such, teeters dangerously on the edge of all sorts of subjects they’ve touched on only lightly and in passing. It could be progress, a deepening of their relationship, of her trust in him. It could also backfire spectacularly. But for all that, there’s really only one answer to her question. “Yes.” The quiet stretches again, and he steals a sideways glance at her. Those deep, emerald-shining eyes shift from their gaze at the window, with its riotous lines of reflected color from the endless traffic lanes outside, to meet his, and there’s faint amusement in them, backed by something far more serious. “Go ahead and ask,” she says with a sigh. “You know you’re no good at the devious thing.” Straight-out farm boy honesty. “Do you?” “I didn’t used to.” She looks back at the window, her fingers tightening around her own steaming mug. She teased him when he first introduced her to hot chocolate, but he’s noticed that she never turns it down, either. “Now, sometimes.” Her gaze shifts down, to the mug she holds in her lap, her legs curled gracefully beneath her. He remembers that she was a dancer, and wishes, briefly, that he could have seen her perform. But then, he’s seen her duel. He still usually bests her in their sparring sessions, but a lot of that is his greater experience; her grace and determination make it a foregone conclusion that she’ll soon catch up. It doesn’t help that he’s so often distracted just watching her. As he is now. A bad mistake in sparring; a potentially more dangerous one now. He takes a sip of hot chocolate, gathering himself, and says, “The worst is the nightmares.” Her gaze flicks toward him again, recognition in her eyes. He isn’t sure whether she means for him to see that, though, so he pretends he doesn’t. “No,” he amends, “the worst isn’t so much the nightmares as it is waking from them. That moment—” where you jolt awake, gasping, the horror clinging, not just remembering but living it all over again— “Where you expect to see blood on your hands, or a body on the floor,” she finishes softly. “And you’re looking for it, confused—” “And then you realize, but the feeling doesn’t fade. And you don’t want to remember but you’re afraid to try to sleep again—” “And nothing you do makes it fade, you just have to wait it out.” She’s quiet for a long moment, then, even more softly, “You haven’t figured out any tricks to make it fade faster, have you?” He sighs. “No.” She sips her chocolate. “You know,” she says, almost hesitantly, “I used to believe so completely in the rightness of my actions for the Emperor. I used to think—” she pauses, and Luke holds his breath. “It wasn’t just right, it was noble. I had purpose, and dignity, and fought for and upheld something bigger than myself.” “I know,” he says, softly, thinking even as the words escape that he should have bitten them back. She doesn’t seem to notice, eyes on the window again. “Did you believe that, during the war?” He closes his eyes, remembering. The exhilaration and terror of battle; the adrenaline rush so strong that sometimes, afterward, when they’d jumped to hyperspace, he would sit alone in his cockpit feeling dizzy and sick. The empty feeling as you tallied the names of those who didn’t return; the guilt, like a kick to the gut, when you let yourself realize that someone, somewhere, was tallying the names of those you had killed, those who also weren’t coming home. The dogged determination that you had to prevail, for the cause, weighted against the sheer futility of it all that could overwhelm you in the middle of the night. “Yes,” he says. He opens his eyes, and hers are on him again, her head tilted, her coppery hair shining in the muted light. “Do you still?” she asks, her voice quiet. “Oh, Mara,” he sighs, before he’s aware of it. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean the deaths don’t weigh on me. The lives I took and the ones I ordered into battles they didn’t come back from.” “You resigned your position as general only six months after you were promoted to it,” Mara says, unrelenting. He takes a breath. “Because I was tired of killing. I had wanted—you know the Death Star was my first combat mission.” She nods, silent. Takes another sip of her chocolate. “According to our information, there were 1,148,309 people assigned to the Death Star. Not counting any prisoners, or Imperial personnel who were just passing through, or droids. That’s how many people I killed with one shot, Mara. And only two other pilots—and Han and Chewie—survived the battle on our side. I’d hardly gotten off Tatooine before I was drenched in blood.” “The propaganda the Emperor got out of the Death Star’s loss,” Mara murmurs. “I know. I saw it,” Luke says. He hesitates, then decides to forge ahead. “I was stupidly young at Yavin—” “Because you’re so very ancient now,” Mara says, her lips curling up just a bit. Despite the subject at hand, his heart lifts a little at the sight. “Okay, stupidly younger at Yavin, and everything had happened so fast, and I’d just helped rescue a princess, for pity’s sake, and now here I was in a Rebel stronghold, surrounded by noble, selfless freedom fighters, with the battle station that had just destroyed Alderaan bearing down on us, everyone’s lives about to be snuffed out if we didn’t stop it somehow, and these fools were actually handing me an honest-to-gods starfighter, me, with no experience at all in a ship like that, but it’s everything I’ve ever wanted, and here it is. And I can be noble and brave and romantic and daring just like them and fight for a bigger cause, and I’m even going to get to fly with my long-lost best friend as I do it.” Mara, who has already heard the story about Biggs, on another day when he’d been telling her some tale of his childhood and she’d asked if his friend was still on Tatooine, presses her lips together and looks down at her mug again. “And then afterward, we were all so high on adrenaline and relief, and it was such a scramble to evacuate the base, and—” He pauses, remembering. “They gave me a medal, before we evacuated Yavin. Me and Han, for destroying the Death Star. And I was so proud. But a few days later, when we were in a convoy, looking for a new base, I read the reports that the analysts had written. And I saw that number, how many had been on the Death Star when I blew it up. That was the first time I realized—I didn’t just save lives with that shot. I took them. A lot of them. Almost six times as many people as the entire population of my home planet.” It’s not sympathy in her eyes, exactly. But not condemnation, either. Closer to understanding. “What did you do?” Luke snorts. “I threw up. I spent an hour in the ‘fresher, throwing up until there wasn’t anything left in me to throw up, and then dry heaving anyway.” “But you stayed,” she says softly. Still no condemnation. He shrugs. “I had nowhere else to go. And anyway, like I said, I did believe I was doing the right thing.” He takes a sip of hot chocolate. “But I put that medal at the very bottom of my storage crate and didn’t look at it again for years.” He sighs. “And then I got routed into command, and soon I had a squadron of my own, and I wasn’t just killing people in battle, I was ordering them to their deaths. Nineteen,” he adds quietly, “is far too young to be writing condolence letters to the families of people under your command.” The silence stretches for a long time. Luke has almost finished his hot chocolate by the time Mara speaks again. “I was fourteen the first time I killed someone.” She’s looking down at her mug, but her eyes are unfocused and distant. Seeing her memories instead of her surroundings. “It was practice. Because they couldn’t send me out on missions if they weren’t sure I could accomplish my objectives, could they? He was a condemned prisoner. They told me he was a traitor to the Emperor, and I would have the privilege of carrying out the sentence.” Luke winces, and she must sense it despite her unfocused gaze, because she shrugs in her turn. “It was what I was always meant to do. I killed him with a vibroblade. Turns out there’s a lot of blood in a human. I didn’t flinch, though. It never even occurred to me that I should. I was carrying out the Emperor’s justice. It was a tremendous honor.” She looks up. “I killed three more prisoners that year. With a blaster, and a lightsaber, and with my bare hands. And I never flinched. And my instructors analyzed my technique, and if they thought I was less than efficient, then they made me do it again, on a dummy or a droid, until they were satisfied that I’d made the cleanest kill possible.” She sets her mug on the side table and folds her hands in her lap. Her fingers are long and slender, and Luke thinks about her holding a vibroblade at fourteen, about her using it, about the sort of people who could put a deadly weapon into the hand of a child and tell her she was doing something noble by killing. “I was very good,” she says. “I always had been, for as long as I can remember. I suppose if I hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have kept me around. The next year, I started going on official missions. But I never thought about the people I’d killed, not even after the Empire fell. Not until recently.” Luke sets his own mug aside. “It’s hard. Memories like that. I wish I did know how to make them fade. For you and for me.” Mara looks at her folded hands, and he remembers her earlier words, and his stomach drops. Oh, gods, he thinks. It wasn’t a metaphor. She wakes up seeing blood on her hands. She wakes up, thinking she’s fourteen again, seeing blood on her hands. The rage surprises him with its totality, the way it suddenly fills him until he feels like it must be seeping out of every pore. His kills will always outnumber hers, outnumber everyone’s, but he remembers what it was to realize at nineteen that he had taken a life, and he remembers what a difference there was between fourteen and nineteen. He had at least been an adult—a stupidly young one, but an adult, and he had made the choice freely, even if he hadn’t understood the full scope of its consequences. Mara had been only a child, stolen and twisted and brainwashed and used, and taught to be proud of her own exploitation. He almost can’t breathe past the rage. “Don’t do that,” Mara says softly. “You can’t fix it, anyway.” This is the first time that Mara has ever admitted there’s anything about her upbringing and background to fix, and Luke thinks that’s probably progress. He tries hard to focus on the Force, to wash away the anger and replace it with peace. It doesn’t work as well as it usually does. “You,” he says, quietly, deliberately, “are an amazingly strong person, Mara.” Her deep green eyes turn to meet his, slightly wary, but the wariness doesn’t scare him now the way it would have at the beginning of this conversation. Right now, on this subject, they’re on equal ground, and they both know it: soldiers sharing advice on how to survive the weight that will never fully lift from their minds and hearts. “You are. Most people wouldn’t have survived your training, let alone grown into someone as capable and assured as you are. I wouldn’t have.” “But is it a good thing?” she asks, tilting her head again. “Do you really think I can be a Jedi, if I’m the sort of person who can excel at—the sort of things I was taught to excel at?” He reaches out before he thinks, lifting her hands from her lap and holding them tightly. Her eyes widen, but she doesn’t pull away. “I know you can be. And of course it’s a good thing. You’re here, aren’t you? The galaxy would be a lesser place if you weren’t. And my life would be a lot emptier.” “I almost took your life,” she reminds him. He thinks she sounds slightly breathless, but that has to be his imagination. “Multiple times.” Luke smiles at her. “And yet I’m still here.” Mara lifts an eyebrow. “Don’t get cocky.” He laughs, and releases her hands. He doesn’t really want to, but it’s probably better not to push his luck. “Han said that same thing to me, not long after we first met.” “I’m shocked,” Mara says, deadpan. “Completely shocked.” “Uh-huh,” Luke says, and is sure that Mara stifles a smile in response. The conversation turns from there to a comparison of when and how each had learned to fly—combat-adjacent but no longer entirely focused on the subject—which leads to an agreement that they will beg some simulator time from Wedge at the first opportunity. Luke, greatly daring, lays out the stipulation that the loser owes the other one dinner, at which Mara actually laughs and agrees. She leaves for her own apartment not long after, but they are both more cheerful than they should be after such a discussion. Luke remembers a saying of Aunt Beru’s, that a grief shared is a grief halved, and wishes that Aunt Beru was still here for him to tell her how true he’s found her words to be. For him to tell her how much she shaped him and how grateful he is and how often he still thinks of her. For him to introduce Mara to her. It’s not until he’s in bed that he realizes that Mara probably intends to cook him dinner rather than buy it if she loses in the sims, and that’s why she laughed. He remembers the time, a few weeks ago, when she suggested ordering dinner in and he said it was just as easy to cook their own, and how surprisingly bad Mara turned out to be at anything involving food preparation, for a person who is astonishingly talented at everything else. She, he decides, is definitely better at the devious thing than he is. The reflexive grimace at the thought of eating Mara’s cooking fades to a smile, and he lets himself drift toward slumber. He sleeps peacefully, and dreams not of fireballs that had been friends, or of blood on snow or sand, but of green eyes and trust and possible futures.