Arla ran after the retreating ship and yelled out abuse at it as it went.
“Oh bugger it, Fett, I can’t believe he’s just left us here - he’s such an idiot,” she shouted back to him as she strode through the short, charred grass, avoiding the little bits of Slave I as she did.
She frowned down at the pieces of metal and plastic at her feet, and paused to pick a bit up; turning it over in her hands, she wondered how the loss of his ship would affect him, after all, she had the impression he had had it a very long time. She sighed, feeling very glum about the whole affair. She looked to where Fett was kneeling amongst the wreckage, sifting through the detritus in a desultory manner. Shaking her head, she picked up her pace a little and walked back over to him.
“You alright?” she asked, when she came back over to him.
Fett turned and looked up at her, and she felt a small rush of loathing for the helmet he always wore, hiding from her all she wanted to know. She reached out a hand to touch his shoulder, but something in his stance was not quite right, and the movement was stilled before she touched him. She got the impression that he was looking at her very intently, and flinched away from his gaze a little.
“I’ll live,” he said, voice very hard and still, more like the Fett of old, than the man she had seen this day, who had called her his partner, and who had held her - twice.
Feeling unaccountably nervous, she folded her arms protectively.
“I’m sorry about your ship - what do you think happened?” she asked, for want of anything better to say.
Fett took a deep breath, and tried to concentrate on her question.
“Dengar. I’m sure of it. I found this -” he held up a small device, burnt out and exploded almost out of recognition. Almost.
“Oh.” said Arla taking the little object from him, “Oh. It is the same, isn’t it - the same as the ones we used on his ship?”
“Shit - I don’t suppose it could be a coincidence? No, I guess not - who else would do this, except the Mon, she could have, couldn’t she?”
This time he shook his head.
“It takes time to set these - we spent plenty of time with the Chandrilans, but I don’t think that Silva would have had time to get to her ship, get these devices - there were a lot on the ship Arla - and place them on my ship. No, she wants us dead, but at the moment she appears to think we are alive, or she wouldn’t have said the things I think she has. It was Dengar. Thrawn is clever enough to know that he wanted revenge.”
“He wasn’t such a bad hunter - it’s almost a shame. We shouldn’t have to fight our own, really. Compete, yes, but not fight like that.”
Again Fett nodded, then he looked up at her again.
“Arla, what was Luke talking about - what was going on last night?”
“Oh bugger, I was afraid you’d pick up on that,” she muttered, chewing at a nail. Fett continued to look at her, simply waiting.
“Look. It’s really crap, okay? I was lonely last night - you’d been gone so long I didn’t think you were coming back, alright? And there was this awful party - my parents were there, oh, I don’t know - it was stupid, but, well, I ended up, um, having sex with Luke. That’s all.”
Silence. And Fett looked away. Arla wiped a hand across her mouth, feeling slightly sick, knowing he was offended, and that that was that.
Then, amazingly, he began to laugh. Boba Fett threw his head back and laughed. Arla stared at him, dumbfounded.
“Oh,” gasped Fett, “I don’t believe it - that’s great. You slept with Luke? With Luke? Wonderful. God,” he managed to calm himself a little, “God, Arla - why?”
Arla just stared at him as he laughed, her relief beginning to turn to irritation as he continued, now almost bent double with laughter.
She sighed sharply, then said in frosty tones, “well, I’m glad you find it so amusing. It’s nice to see how much you care,” and turned and stalked off into the longer grass behind them.
Fett watched with a sinking heart as Arla stamped off into the undergrowth. He could read the tension and set of her shoulders, even the way her tight plait bounced on her back was indicative of her upset and anger. For a moment, he watched her go, watched as she bent down and picked up a stick without breaking her pace, and started thwacking crossly at the weeds through which she was wading. He groaned slightly to himself, wishing he could run his fingers through his hair, rub his face, do something to express the despair he was beginning to feel at his own stupidity, his innate talent for saying just the wrong thing when it came to her. It had, he reflected, been better when he had said really nothing at all; then, she had just burbled happily at him, accepting his company for what it was. But now, well now it was very different - every time he opened his mouth, something stupid came out and there seemed to be nothing at all he could do about it.
He sighed, and took a last long look at the debris strewn around them. He swallowed, and, unbidden, tears snaked from his eyes. Then he picked himself up and followed after the woman.
They thrashed through the long grass in silence for a few minutes, Fett not quite daring to catch up with her, and Arla stubbornly refused to unbend enough to slow down to let him. And of course, part of her was very afraid as to what would happen if she did slow down, so she just kept walking. Feeling very stupid, but still walking. If only, she thought, he would run and catch me up, or something. That would be almost faintly romantic. That thought nearly made her stop, but she continued, though now with a small smile playing across her face at her own stupidity. As if I wanted romance - as if I ever did. She did want to stop though, and say sorry, or something like it. But what could she do? Arla knew that nothing was ever going to happen while that helmet was still in place. I refuse to be with a faceless man, however much I - well, never mind, if you keep behaving like this, Arla, he’s not going to want you anyway. She sighed at that. What was it about the man that made her act like this, she wondered.
Fett watched her sigh, then hunch her shoulders further in to her chest as she walked on in front of them. She was obviously miserable. Wishing I was miles away, probably, he thought, feeling pretty miserable himself. He stopped, and folded his arms across his chest, stomach suddenly churning. Of course, he thought, with mind-numbing clarity, who would want me? I could be anything, anyone - all she’s seen of me are my hands, that’s the only way she can tell that I’m human, even.
He ran a hand over the helmet that had been his protection, his trademark for twenty years, and felt slightly sick. The metal felt as it always did, if a little warmed by the setting suns’ heat, and he remembered the encounters that accounted for the dents and bumps he could feel even with his gloves on. Slowly he lowered his hand, and shook his head without even realising he was doing it.
I can’t, he thought with rising panic, I can’t do it, I just can’t! More tears leaked from his eyes, making the cloth mask in front of his face damp; he twitched his cheek to get away from the slight tickle that caused, but started walking again.
He only took two steps before he stopped again. He heaved a couple more deep breaths, feeling very stupid.
“This is ridiculous!” he cried.
Arla stopped. For a moment she stood frozen, then she spun around in time to see Fett flop down on the ground, and put his head in his hands. Even from the distance she was at, she could see he was shaking. What the? she thought, and began to walk quickly back in his direction. Then stopped again herself, in tense, frightened anticipation as she saw that Fett was reaching up to his helmet as she had seen him do once before and was doing something with it. Her mouth went dry, and her heart started pounding, but she didn’t seem to be able to move.
Before he could stop himself again, Fett quickly flicked the switches off, but sat for a moment in the blackness, swallowing convulsively as he tried to get his hands to move to go the next step. I can’t, he thought, as all the possible outcomes of this move ran through his head.
Finally, he snapped.
“Enough,.” he said, and ripped the helmet off and flung it away from him.
Arla watched in fascination as it bounced off down the small rise up which they had just walked and rolled into the distance. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears, but couldn’t seem to move her feet.
Fett, who had sat for a moment staring into space after throwing the helmet, put his hands to the cloth mask he had worn under the helmet and had slowly, very slowly, as if the movement hurt him, began to pull that off.
Arla’s body came back to life all in one go, and she stumbled slightly as she ran back to where he was sitting, his head buried in his arms. As she ran, all she could see was a shock of dark hair, she didn’t, couldn’t think of anything as she flung herself in front of him, knees landing in the gap left by his out-stretched, open legs.
Fett shrank away from her a little as he felt her hands touch his, clinging onto the last remnants of what he had been, but she was determined and soon had pulled his arms from his face.
Still holding his wrists, she stared at him.
Fett stared back.
Arla took a shuddering breath and began to take in what she saw. A thin, very pale face. Very pale apart from the small amount of sunburn on his sharp, almost raptorial nose. Sunburn? she thought, then dismissed it.
Her hands reached out, and when he did not flinch away, began to touch at his face, as if she could see it better by feel. Her hands met a slight dusting of dark stubble, barely there, really, and the softer skin above it. They smoothed down momentarily the first few little lines at the corners of his eyes, making him blink away from her a little.
His face was damp with sweat - or tears, perhaps. Further exploration across his cheeks found the telltale salty tight dryness of tear tracks, and she felt tears come in sympathy come to her own eyes.
His hair was very dark, and damp as well, though obviously with sweat this time which was making it curl a little more than it ordinarily did.
It was his eyes that really caught her, however. Everything about him was as ordinary as she had hoped it would be. He was no great god of a man, although he looked younger than his years, thanks to the years spent hiding his face and thus his skin. But his eyes were very - unusual.
She didn’t think that she had ever seen eyes that colour on a human before. It helped too, that the light had just caught them, and they glowed. As eyes, they were, she supposed, averagely large, though with long, almost straight black lashes, and quite, but not very, deep set. But they were, well, almost yellow. Banded around with a slim line of black or dark brown, his eyes were a warm golden colour, like amber. Beautiful, she thought, gazing into them.
Fett gazed back, caught by the gentle tracings of her fingers, already feeling intoxicated.
She was so close, now, that she could smell his breath and feel the heat of his skin next to her. She was aware that he was breathing hard, and little could be seen really of those amber eyes, his pupils were so dilated.
Looking away for a moment, she ran her fingers over his lips, disconcertingly soft in his severe face, but nearly snatched her hand away when he kissed at her fingers as they passed. Suddenly she was aware of her own breathing, and it seemed she could feel her heart beating everywhere in her body. She started slightly as she felt a hand stroking at her hair, and raised her eyes to look into his again.
Fett took his opportunity and reached forward, hardly any way at all, letting his lips brush hesitantly against hers, feeling her hands still in his hair as she responded.
They drew back after that first soft, gentle kiss, and smiled at each other. Fett touched at his own lips, laughed shakily, “my first kiss in twenty years - oh, Arla.”
He closed his lips on hers again.
Arla shook out her hair, putting the hairbrush down carefully so as not to disturb the sleeping man. His expression made her smile as she regarded him, but she drank up his features, even though the light was so bad now that she could really hardly make out but the barest outlines. Sleeping, he looked very relaxed, and happy - as well he might.
She grinned to herself and leaned over to get the lamp that she always kept strapped to her suit. It took a bit of finding as they had abandoned their clothing rather haphazardly and her trousers were hidden under Fett’s breastplate. Tossing that aside, she pulled the light out of the pouch, flipped the switch to activate it and nearly jumped out of her skin at the light touch - no, stroke, to her thigh.
“I love you.” said Fett, smiling and blinking a little at the sudden light from the small light in Arla’s hand. He grinned himself at her expression, one which only lasted though for a moment, before a look of faintly ironic regret crossed her face.
“I wanted,” she said in soft voice, carefully not looking him in the eye, “to be the first to say that. Oh Fett, I love you too.” She reached out and touched his nose with the tip of her finger. “But I thought you were asleep?”
He drew her into his arms again and kissed her.
“No, I wasn’t asleep - I was, I suppose, thinking of my good fortune, and perhaps I did doze a little. It doesn’t matter, does it?”
She shook her head, then shivered.
“No, of course it doesn’t matter,” she sighed, and shivered again, the only parts of her still feeling even vaguely warm those pressed against Fett. Running a hand over his arm, she felt the goosebumps. “You’re cold - so am I. I know that this is all very romantic to sit here in the nude, like this, but we really should be thinking about putting some clothes on.”
“Oh, Arla,” he said, then shivered himself, “you’re right. We should set up some sort of a camp here if we are going to have to spend the night here. I imagine you have a sleeping bag, if not a tent?”
From underneath her under tunic Arla said, “yes - I’ve got one - it’s under my rocket pack, I’ll get it in a minute - if I can find the damned thing. We were, perhaps, a little too enthusiastic.”
Again Fett laughed.
“Oh, come here,” he said, bringing her back into his embrace again.
Sometime later, when it was fully dark, the two of them lay curled up in their sleeping bag - they had connected their two to make one - watching the small fire they had built, talking quietly to each other. Fett, dozing a little, was mainly listening to Arla talk of her adventures as a bounty hunter, and laughing at her sly, sarcastic descriptions of other hunters they both knew. They carefully avoided speaking of Dengar, although both knew plenty of stories concerning him.
Unease pricked at his conscience a little, however, as Arla chattered away. He was aware that she wanted - needed to know about what had happened today, and his connections with the two Chandrilans - not to mention what he had been up to for the last few weeks, and he was very aware also that she was carefully not asking him questions about these things, or about his past at all. Despite her seeming comfort and ease in his arms, he sensed an undercurrent of nervousness, which, he assumed, was making her talk about things that did not really matter.
After what they had experienced in their lovemaking earlier, he knew that he would never quite be able distance himself from her feelings and thoughts. So she must also know he was thinking along these lines, and deal with it. Accordingly, as he thought this, she grew quiet, and held him a little tighter.
“I know what you want to speak about, Arla - no, don’t protest, I can feel it in you now.”
“Well, then, damn these silly powers. Fett, really, we don’t have to talk about it now. It’s late - you must be tired. There will be much to do tomorrow, if that scuzzo Luke picks us up, that is -”
“Yes, and I think we will be answerable to more than just Luke - that is why you should know about me. We acted a little foolishly, considering the circumstances. We were in a battle situation - and I doubt that either of us have ever been involved like that in a battle before. We are - or possibly, were - bounty hunters, not soldiers of fortune, and -”
“But, you said you worked for Thrawn as an officer, didn’t you?”
Fett shifted, gathering her into a more comfortable position.
“Sorry - my arm’s going to sleep - yes, that’s better, hmm? Yes, I was an officer - of a type. Thrawn recognised my talents immediately, and decided to deploy me in a way that suited us both. In a way that my anonymity might be preserved -”
Even though it was dark, and the fire low, Fett felt her hair brush against him as she nodded, and smiled.
“You were a spy, then? As you told Luke Silva would have said,” concluded Arla, as things began to fall into place. “And so were the Mon and Mar, weren’t they? But, I suppose not for Thrawn then - am I right?”
He hugged her tight.
“Of course. They worked for Vader. That’s why it was so funny. I was to spy on Vader’s agents in the Unknown Regions, who were watching Thrawn. And, of course, I was on the run from Vader -” he paused, frowning. “Speaking of Vader, I - well, never mind, um - did Luke say anything about the Jedi, um, after death?”
“What? Boba Fett - are you alright? What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing, nothing - really. Hey! Don’t tickle me!”
“So, it’s that simple, is it?” Arla said to the helpless Fett. “You were Thrawn’s spy - dressed as you always dress; and you knew Vader’s spies - what a cosy little world that must have been. Come on, Fett, tell the truth!”
“Okay! Stop it! Thank you. I didn’t dress in my armour, I had a number of disguises - I still have them, in fact - and never wore the armour. After all, I didn’t want Vader to know where I was. I even wore voice modulators to make myself sound more - well, normal, I suppose. It is quite distinctive, after all.”
“Yes, it is - what happened?”
“Oh, nothing much,” Arla felt him tense up even as he spoke the light words, “someone I trusted too much rammed a spiked rod down my throat as an - imaginative - way of getting rid of me. Fortunately, I was lucky and was saved.”
“Nothing much, eh?” She stroked his cheek, definitely stubbly now, it rasped against her finger-tips, “Oh Fett, I think you must have had one hell of a life - those scars, ninety gods, I was horrified! Some, that long one, for instance, they look really old. I get the feeling that, despite my father’s - attentions - I have had a pretty good life, compared to you. Makes me feel rather stupid for running away -”
“No. To be abused like that is never funny. Especially not when you are a child - and especially, I imagine, when it is your own father that is doing it. At least I was spared that. My family never betrayed me. They never had the chance. I guess they might have done, but I’ll never know.”
They were silent a short time, just holding each other, thoughts elsewhere until Fett was able to speak again. Arla felt a dampness in her hair, and reached out to touch his face, and wipe the tears away, but he caught her hand before it reached him, and kissed her wrist.
“Don’t. Let me cry. I’ve never - told anyone about my life before, never shared what I went through. Let me enjoy it, please.”
She shook her head, smiling.
“You are a strange one, Boba Fett.”
“That’s why you like me.” He faltered, “Arla, I’m so glad - I can’t say - I mean, I’ve been such a fool, I should have -”
“Shh. It’s alright. Just tell me what you need to.”
“Well. I was born on Mandalore thirty five years ago in a tenement building reserved for ex-servicemen. It was a dump. Mandalore had little, I realise now, to help it’s inhabitants after the Clone Wars. And my father had no help, and nor did those who lived in that area, as they had fought in the war. My father was the first owner of my armour - that’s why I wear it. I went back to Mandalore when I was fifteen, just to see if anything was still there. And it all was, abandoned. My mother’s things had no value to them that still existed there, and still do. Her body, at least, wasn’t there - I - I don’t think I could have taken that. I must be like my father, as the armour fits me perfectly now - when I got it, of course, I had to alter it, but now, well - you don’t need to know about my sewing skills right now -”
“Your mother’s body?”
“Um. I’m sorry, I’m not telling this well. Best just to stick to bald facts. I lived on Mandalore until I was seven years old. My father died when I was a baby - he was captured during the Clone Wars and the Jedi - well, they tortured him, I suppose. Luke doesn’t know all about his perfect Jedi. There was a Dark Side before his father - that many thousands of years of power can only mean corruption, but I bet that people in the future only speak of the brief period of Imperial rule that our friends have seemingly ended.”
He took a deep breath, “but, anyway. We had very little. My mother had her God, and I had my mother so we were alright. I knew no better, of course, but she was very unhappy without her husband, I think, and the life she must have known when they were first married when he was a hero in Mandalore. I see that now, obviously I didn’t then. I was just a kid. But, despite they way we muddled through, I shall never know what she really thought.
When I was seven years old my mother was killed and I was stolen away and sold into slavery. That’s why I called my ships Slaves - they, well Slave I, was my first real possession.” he sighed, thinking of the lost ship, “I had it twenty years. Ah well. Anyway, there were bands of people on Mandalore who fervently believed that the Warriors were evil and had brought ruin on the land. Which was in a sense true. Some took their ideas into their own hands, and it was a band of these that raided our enclave. I suppose I was a pretty child. They didn’t kill me, but the type of slavery I was introduced to was - of a type that made me wish I were - not there anymore, even if that young I could have barely comprehended death. I got the scar you mentioned at that time, from my captors, I think they meant originally to kill me. I’m surprised I was ever sold, that marred, but I was.”
“You mean - you were - a pleasure slave - Fett! That’s terrible, oh my, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned anything about me, you must think I am so stupid - but, but - how did you escape?”
“I don’t think you are stupid. You get used to - the abuse - when it is all you have in your world.. I didn’t understand it was wrong, at first, I was too young. I learnt early to hide myself, my feelings, to stop the worst from happening. I’d really rather not talk about it all, if you don’t mind.”
She shook her head, not daring to speak.
“Actually,” he continued, “it was Vader who helped me escape, inadvertently. When I was twelve or thirteen, really getting too old to be a boy slave anymore, I was owned by an Imperial officer, very high up. He let me do things like target practice and flying under supervision. He doted on me, and I let him think I adored him. I loathed the sight of him.
Well, anyway, one day Vader came to his quarters, knowing he had me. I subsequently found out that I was the only pleasure slave, as you put it, who escaped the purge of such things in the Emperor’s new regime. Vader saw I had talent and wanted me for his own purposes. I suppose I must have shown this Force stuff early. I was to be escorted to Coruscant and the Emperor - God alone knows what would have happened to me if I’d actually got there. I dread to think.”
She felt him shiver, and clutch her tighter.
“I wouldn’t here now, that’s for sure. Whatever, it didn’t happen because I managed to smuggle a blaster with me and killed my escort. I was only thirteen, but I stole a ship by using the i.d. of one of my guards and flew off into the star spangled black yonder, as the films say, to find my fortune. That took time. I met some - unpleasant - people, one of whom ruined my throat. But,” he yawned, “that’s another story I think. I’m tired, need sleep now.” He yawned again.
“That’s okay. I’m tired too. And we’ve got a whole lifetime to discover everything about each other, haven’t we?” Arla said that last in a small, shy voice unlike her usual tones, making Fett love her all the more.
He kissed her shoulder, then her forehead, her lips, “yes,” he said, in between kisses, “yes, we have.”
“Good,” she said, mumbling a little with sleepiness, “that’s alright then.”
Fett was surprised, considering all that had been said that night, how soon it was that he felt himself drifting away. And for once he wasn’t afraid of that sleep, knowing that the dreams wouldn’t touch him now, as he had done it, he no longer needed to be masked, even though he had not yet explained to her why it was he had worn the thing. Arla took a little longer to reach sleep, and she lay looking up at the sky, tinged red in the distance from the lights of the distant city, but, eventually she too drifted away into sleep.
While they slept, life in Coruscant continued well into the small hours of the morning. Only the privileged few had been allowed to take to their beds, and of those possibly only Han and Leia slept, having worked out the tensions of the day to a satisfactory conclusion that had left them both exhausted. Mon Mothma sat and studied her reports of damages and casualties with a bitter, unhappy heart. Every now and then, she would sign a document and wearily pass it into her out pile, but mostly, the only movement in her temporary office was the harsh crackle of pages being turned, and the flicker of a computer screen. Occasionally, she yawned.
Luke’s young apprentices all huddled together on one of their rooms, talking excitedly about the next day’s battle into the night, even though only two of them were to take part. Those two were fighting sleepiness elsewhere in the city, even though they both knew they should be asleep. They spoke in whispers about the battle of that day, whispers that were more subdued than their friends, for they had been up there fighting alongside the more experienced pilots. Neither really wanted to go back up again, but they knew they had to. They talked to keep awake, knowing that sleep could only bring nightmares after all they had seen that day.
In his prison cell Admiral Piett tapped away at the keypad in front of him, writing all he could remember of the three ships in orbit above them, and all he could remember, too, of the one who controlled them. He was not a confident typist, and his brow was wrinkled with concentration as he laboriously located the letters in front of him. Sometimes his hands would stray to the bowl of chopped, dried fruit that sat beside him, and sometimes he would pour himself another coffee. When he did that, he would settle back for a moment, close his eyes and, unbidden, a small smile played across his features.
Gold Leader and Red Leader sat, awkwardly, on the steps leading up to the landing pads. The base was in semi-darkness, as the main power generators for this sector had been hit earlier in the day and had not yet been mended. A sickly red glow pervaded the area from the emergency lighting, making the ships docked for the night leer out of the darkness in threatening, eerie shapes. The was the occasional bright shower of sparks from a welding torch which shifted the shadows even more. However, to the two officers seated in the midst of it all, it seemed perfectly normal and far more relaxing than to be out in the command chambers situated around the balcony area of the bay where their commanders were sitting, planning out new strategies to get round the weapons that Thrawn had used on the city earlier.
Both of them knew that they had some big decisions to make before the morning came and the assault started again - or even before. They had been told it should take the Star Destroyers around twelve hours to get back to full working order, and that it was Imperial policy not to attack unless at full strength.
“I don’t why we can’t just attack now,” muttered Yanir Harl, the Red Leader, to his companion.
“It wouldn’t be honourable, Yanir, and besides even after those twelve hours we still won’t be fully ready - we need all the time we can get just to get to basic order!” snapped the Gold Leader, Syok Komi.
“I know, I know, it’s just that, well, oh Komi, I wish they would just die - don’t you?”
“I suppose. Well, not really, I mean - most of those pilots are just like us, aren’t they? It’s sad. I wish -”
“We all ‘wish’ Komi, but . .” Yanir stretched, his neck popping as he did so, then he slouched back down again, “but we are avoiding the issue aren’t we?”
Silence. Someone dropped a large chunk of metal, and the noise echoed around the hanger, as did the swearing of the man who had dropped it. There was some laughter, but that soon died away.
Komi sighed, and twisted her hands.
“Well, yes,” she said.
“I think it should be you.” Yanir’s voice was hard and certain, “Komi, I’m a good pilot, a good fighter, but not a leader - you could be.”
“I’m not Wedge.”
Yanir sighed, and stared at his hands.
Wedge’s death had cast a pall over the entire company, after all, he had survived all the major battles of the Rebellion and in his quiet, unassuming way was a hero to all of them. Had been a hero. Shit, that’s going to take a lot of getting used to, he thought, then looked up at the approaching footsteps. It was Commander Skywalker, looking like death himself, Yanir mused.
“Hi, Commander, you look like hell,” he began.
Luke jumped at that, and turned a pale, drawn face at him, the gaunt, unhappy look accentuated by the red lighting so he looked as if he had gone beyond mortal things. Fey, that’s what his people called it, and that’s how Luke looked. Unaccountably, Yanir felt a shiver run down his back. He dismissed it as foolish, but he remembered stories of how Khalva, the goddess of death and metamorphosis, would mark the faces of those who were ready to die - or, he remembered his mother had stressed, those about to suffer a drastic change as that was all part of her juristriction. Luke looked that way now.
Yanir glanced at Komi, but she was staring at the floor, her hair covering her face. Strange, he thought, how one so bold in battle could be so very shy in real life.
“Have you decided yet?” asked Luke, now his attention was focused on them.
“No,” said Yanir, suppressing a sigh, “not really.”
“Good. I am resigning my commission from tonight, so I need you both to take the commander posts. Goodnight - try and get some sleep before dawn as you will be meeting Ackbar at exactly five thirty this morning.”
“What? Resign? But -?” gasped Yanir, shocked beyond belief - Luke was the biggest hero of them all, and the best pilot too, bar none, well, he just couldn’t resign. It was, well, wrong. Contrary to everything that he had said he believed in.
Yanir felt a chill again, and noted that even Komi had glanced up in shock when Luke had said that, although Luke himself had not noticed, but simply drifted away again.
“Oh shit,” said Komi.
Hitting the light pad on the wall, Luke was relieved to see that the power supplies were holding in his room. Not that he intended to keep the light on for long. With a groan he slumped down onto his bed, and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms. Before he surrendered to his exhaustion he quickly set the wake up call for the next morning. He couldn’t remember when he had been so very tired - before he had access to the Force, he realised, and felt a quick thread of panic run through him with the thought he might have lost it, but a swift check on his powers disproved that theory. But he gasped in pain at the stab of headache that the small effort produced. There was a clack, and a sploosh as the plastic cup he had levitated crashed back down onto the table again, and tipped out its contents on the floor. Luke moaned, clutching at his head, as tears squeezed from his eyes in his pain. The sensation passed as quickly as it had come, and he lay panting on the coverlet and staring at the curved ceiling of his little room.
He looked around at the small array of possessions he had accumulated over the years since he had left Tatooine. A few holo-books, some pictures and nick-naks from worlds he had already forgotten, and even a couple of real paper books, old texts on the Jedi which were on permanent loan now from the library here in Coruscant.
The library had taken quite a bit of damage earlier in the day - he checked his clock, and his mouth quirked into something that resembled a smile as he registered the time - yesterday, and by quite a long way, he noted. I must sleep, he thought. Tomorrow - today - would begin in just a few hours, and he had not slept much the night before either.
Thinking of the night before, he tasted bile in his throat, and choked a little at the burning sensation. In the morning he would have to go and fetch them. Or perhaps, he allowed himself to hope, they would have killed each other by the time he arrived and he would not have to worry anymore. It would serve them right to die, if the Mon’s words were true. Luke would not forget her bloodstained, anguished face, smeared with dirt and tears tracks, when she had emerged shakily from Arla’s little green painted ship, in a hurry. And he could not help but believe what she had said of Fett and Arla, but now he suspected that in fact it was Fett who was in the right, and the woman was manipulating them all in some way he was not aware of yet.
He sat up, as the panic flashed again, making him shiver. If that was true, then he really was losing the Force! He tasted bile again, and ran to his bathroom and gagged fruitlessly into the sink, for a couple of minutes as his thoughts raced out of control, and his heart thudded. In the back of his mind he heard Yoda’s acerbic voice telling that a Jedi always was calm and it was achieved just so - but the more he tried to practice the exercises, the more panicked he became - nothing was working. He gazed with almost mad eyes at his reflection in the mirror. A thin cord of drool hung from his lips, and tears snaked down his flushed cheeks.
What’s happening to me? he thought, as he regained control over his breathing, Obi Wan? Where are you? I need you now, more than ever - I’m just not cut out to be one of those Jedi of old, crusading for justice in the galaxy. Han’s right, I’m just a kid, and I’ll bet he never feels like this. He washed out his mouth, and took a couple of gulps of water before returning to sit on his bed again. Hell, he thought, I’m not even any sort of a teacher if my charges go out and murder. What if the young ones turn to the Dark Side - how can I control - I mean, contain them.
Then a chill shivered down his spine - what if I have gone over to the Dark Side, like my father? he swallowed, and glanced about, feeling suddenly furtive, imagining Obi Wan and Yoda watching him with disapproving eyes from wherever they were now. He rubbed at his forehead again, and sighed. Now, he thought, with a slight edge of wry amusement, now I am getting paranoid, of course I’m not on the Dark Side - how could I be? He lay back with his hands crossed behind his head and stared moodily at the ceiling, trying to fall asleep.
He was not successful. Half an hour passed and his eyes were still very open as the sights of the evening - night - ran through his mind. Flipped now onto his belly, Luke brooded on the problems he had with being, well, a celebrity. On returning from the battle, he had dealt with the Silva incident - or, if he was going to be truthful, he had stood about looking official and let Mon Mothma deal with it all - then, he had gone on patrol and found Boba Fett, Arla and the rather quiet and self-effacing Admiral who was currently residing in a quite luxurious prison cell. Coruscant had a disturbing number of these, well, the word the officer had used was ambassadorial cells, which implied things about the Imperial society in the city he really didn’t want to think about at this precise time.
The Admiral had seemed vaguely amused when he had seen where he was going to be housed, which would have to be questioned, but not, he thought, as his thoughts swam a little with exhaustion, tonight.
After returning to his room, he had been ready to collapse, but, there had been an itinerary waiting for him for the night. Three hours of touring hospitals and shelters shaking hands, smiling, saying the right words and giving out as much benign energy as he could manage without actually collapsing.
It had been foul.
Then, and only then, he had been able to speak to Admiral Ackbar to tender his resignation from the navy. That had also been a wonderful experience, one which he would look back with, well, horror, he decided, horror was the best term for it. Then, he had finally got to go to bed. Not that that had helped, he thought, as I’m no further towards sleeping than I was when I walked in the door.
He turned again, onto his side and came face to face with the objects he had been trying not to see since he had entered the room. His stomach flipped, and tears squeezed out of his eyes as he closed them as fast as he could, and he curled up into a ball. No, he moaned to himself, mustn’t think about it, mustn’t, mustn’t. A incoherent cry escaped his lips as he remembered what else had happened that day, the thing he had been able to forget in the rush of activities he had done since returning from the battle that had stolen his best friend from him.
It had transpired that he was the closest person to Wedge, as he had no family, and he had been given the honour of sorting through his stuff which sat in the boxes near to his bed. There were not many boxes to record his friends life, but it was enough to set the tears flowing. Eventually he cried himself to sleep, where his dreams were haunted by a sense of his lack of control.
He virtually choked as he awoke, the alarm was so unexpected and so loud, and he was so very sound asleep. He lay there for a moment, remembering how to breathe again while taking stock of the coming day. He groaned, and swung his legs out of bed.
“Oh God, I feel awful,” he muttered, his head still throbbing with tiredness even as he brushed his teeth as a token gesture towards some sort of morning routine. He checked the clock, and groaned again on discovering that the alarm had gone off on time and he realised that, in fact, he had had about three short hours of sleep.
He stared at his dishevelled appearance, and said, “and I don’t why I bothered.”
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Luke tried to get his mind to focus on the events of the coming day, but he was still so sleep mussed that he couldn’t even find his toothbrush, even though it was where he had left it the day before. He gazed blearily at the toothpaste as he squeezed it onto the brush, his mind completely blank; some paste dribbled over the side of the brush as he continued to absently squeeze and splatted down into the basin. Luke jumped at the unexpected sound.
“Oh shit.” he muttered, pressing the button to release cold water.
It seemed to take ages to wash, and the shock of water on his face only woke him for a couple of minutes. He even managed to trip over his flightsuit as he struggled into it, and he swore a little bit more, but eventually he was ready. He looked at the clock and sighed. Opening the door, Luke blinked at the bright lights of the empty corridor. The only indication that the power had been on emergency stand-by the night before was a slight hum that grated on his nerves and told him that the power was coming from another outlet, as the system wasn't entirely comfortable with the new source and was complaining.
He groaned a little, as the noise was pitched exactly right to give you a thumping headache after only a couple of minutes exposure to it. This was what it was supposed to do, of course, as that would attract attention to it, and get the error fixed - under normal circumstances - but today that was highly unlikely. The effect of the noise on someone who had had but three or four hours sleep after a very hard day was indescribable. Luke glanced back at his rumpled bed with an almost painful longing, then closed the door and began to plod down the corridor. The humming stopped after a couple of minutes when all the lights went out and the emergency power went back on again. Luke grinned to himself as the automatic message about conserving power began to blare out over the loudspeakers. Not that he supposed that people were going to be sleeping late today, oh no, but it pleased him to think that anyone who had snatched an extra ten minutes over him was now wide awake.
Sure enough, a few minutes after the announcement, people began to trickle blearily into the corridors from their rooms. A few saluted, or greeted Luke as he went by, and were slightly surprised at the lack of reaction they got.
He didn't look up until a familiar and well-loved voice hailed him: "hey! Hey, kid - where're you going?"
Han sounded rather croaky, but otherwise fine despite the fact it was several hours before he would normally begin to wake up. Luke stopped at the sound of his voice and gave his friend a crooked smile.
"Hey, Han. Good morning."
"Hah! You should've heard your sister's comments when the prissy messenger droid came and woke me half an hour ago."
Luke forced his smile to grow wider, feeling slightly irritated by Han's bluff, cheery manner, but still forming the correct response, "all learnt from you, no doubt."
"That's right, kid, just call me the educator."
Luke sighed, and stared at his feet, hoping that even Han would recognise this as a signal that he didn't really want to talk right now. Han frowned, and looked at him closely.
"Yeah. I guess. Look, Han, I -"
"What’you doing today, anyway - are you taking Wedge's place?"
Luke closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"No, Han, I'm not. I resigned my commission last night. And we've got to find out whether what Mon Silva said was true. I'm going to get the bounty hunters from where I left them last night."
"Whoa - slow down. You've resigned your commission? What's going on?"
Luke smiled a little, and shook his head.
"Don't worry about it, Han. Now - I have to go."
Han blinked, and frowned again at his friend, wondering what was wrong with the younger man; some inner prompting advised him not to try and joke the kid out of it, so he just said, "well, kid -"
"Han, please - don't call me 'kid' - I'm twenty four, for God's sake. You wouldn't call Leia a kid, would you?"
Han looked taken aback. In fact he even took an involuntary step backwards at Luke's vehement tone.
"No - Luke - I -"
"Well, don't call me one, then," snapped Luke, aware of the fact he was sounding perilously close to a 'kid' at that moment. Before he could say something really wounding, something that he would regret, he stalked off past his friend without looking back.
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