[Lando] "Well, well, what have we here?" [/Lando] I promised (for better or worse) to make a thread for my short stand-alone fics, longer than drabbles but trying to stay within the limit of 1000 words or less, hence the term "flash fiction." I'm going to stretch that constraint, obviously, but I'll do my best. Unfortunately the tag is a little misleading - not all of these are in the Beyond category. For now, though, I think more of these will take place after the films, so I went ahead and chose that as my tag rather than Saga, since I can't pick both. They'll be a mixture. My initial effort is a Saga post, and for anyone who caught my very first fic here in its own thread, the theme of this ficlet has a lot in common with that one, so I apologize for the redundancy. I thought about not going ahead with this one, but didn't want to erase the dialogue between the characters. Moving along! Title: Casualties of War Timeframe: immediately post-ANH, right after the awards ceremony Characters: Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Genre: introspection Summary: Victory and losses through the lens of time and booze, and the inexplicable bond between undiscovered siblings. Freedom is liberty with a burden, a gift with incalculable cost. That realization is dawning on Luke Skywalker as the feast day grows long and the alcohol in his system is turning his thoughts further from the afterglow of triumph and closer to its ramifications. He's already understood the gravity of the accolade the Alliance has bestowed on him, its highest honor still gratefully draped around his neck. The tragic irony, however, hasn't really hit him until now as the suppressed grief of losses incurred on his inaugural adventure into the rest of his life starts seeping out and mingling with the fact that everyone else his pair of proton torpedoes has affected will be experiencing exactly what he's dealing with. A whole lot of everyones. Part of him wants to kick himself because, obviously, this is what war is all about, stoopa. Knowing an exact number isn't going to make the medal any less heavy from having oceans of blood forged into its gold. But he wants to anyway. Scorched bones and crumpling robes and starfighter novas are all tumbling through his inebriated brain, and the official announcement of a battle station now floating across the Yavin system as mere molecules is going to send the same horror and numb heat that have seared his heart over the past few days lancing through countless other lives across the galaxy. They are still the enemy, but they lived, so many of them, and now they don't. They never talked about this in the briefing, and he knows why. Somehow his roving eyes manage to catch hers from such a long distance across the chamber, and the Princess slowly makes her way toward him, already comprehending. The weariness isn't entirely concealed behind her natural beauty and the tasteful makeup enhancing it, but she keeps it aside well. He doesn't remember taking the medal off, but then it's in his fidgeting hands as she approaches. It's as bright and round as the suns he's escaped, the suns that'll be baked into him forever whether he likes it or not. He almost loses his nerve when he remembers who he's asking this of, but true to himself heedless of sobriety or drunkeness, he blurts out softly, “How many were on board?” Her dark eyes harden, and inside he's shrinking in shame, wondering how he can so hopelessly love someone who makes him feel like such an idiot. It's not the way Camie did it, though. Unexpectedly, her fingers close over his around the medal, and for a few precious, awful moments her façade drops to show unimaginable anguish. “There were nearly two billion on Alderaan.” It's not even vengeful for her to say it, although he can still see a spark of that in her wounded gaze. It had to be done. It had to be somebody's job, and it turned out to be his. There's no glory in death, but there'll be less of it now, and that's why this medal has been struck and hung. He closes his eyes and nods. His head is still spinning, but somehow her hands on his are keeping him anchored. When their foreheads touch, he's not sure who leaned into who first. “I'm sorry,” he whispers, regretting blowing the odor of ale into her face. The words are so pathetic against the monolith of genocide. His dirtball of origin is still orbiting its stars and her paradise is gone. He didn't even get to enjoy it himself. But her arms circle him anyway. And then she breathes into his ear, “They were your world too, Luke.” He jerks back, stunned and confused, wanting to shake his head no but thankfully remembering that sudden movements are a bad idea right now. How does she know? How can she say that? But it's true, in a way. Nothing else on that blasted planet meant anything to him except the ones he didn't appreciate until it was too late, and the other who kept his dreams alive in the skies. In the end, he's too incoherent and overwhelmed to bother to protest. So they just hold each other, two broken halves making a whole.