The turbolift on the exterior of the Senate Office Building glided upwards, its transparent exterior allowing Luke and Leia to survey Coruscant's landscape as they ascended towards the top of the structure. Across the massive city-planet, the skylanes flowed as the sun prepared to dip below the horizon, Lasial's attack all but forgotten from less than two standard weeks before. Lives were returning to the humdrum of normality, and Luke was happy to see it. Until the next crisis, of course.

"How's Ronap?" Leia asked.

"He's awake and talking," Luke replied, keeping his eyes to the planet's curvature. "They need to implant a few cognitive stabilizers into his brain stem before he can start walking again."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"I'm sorry to say it. He's considering leaving the Academy and returning home. I think the experience was too much for him."

"And the others?"

The others…other Jedi. Other victims of Lasial's malice. Luke sighed. "Cilghal and Wurth will be okay. Kirana is already back on assignment, and Corran is planning to head out in a few days after some time with Mirax and the children."

"What about Kyp?"

Despite himself, Luke's expression lifted some. "He's out of the bacta tank but is still having some weakness and coordination issues. Despite all of that, he's insisting on returning to duty while the doctors are insisting he give it a few more weeks. As you can assume, he's not happy and not reluctant in letting them know."

"You could always freeze him in carbonite. That should keep him still for a while."

Luke knew she was trying to usher a smile out of him, but as Luke's neck ached—a harsh reminder of the last few weeks and everything that had unfolded—he didn't have it in him. The artificial skin had bonded well, all the nerves were regrowing—the medics didn't expect it to scar. The fractured humerus in his upper arm had been injected with a marrow cast, setting the bone and only requiring him to wear a thin brace under his shirt to protect the area. All the injuries he'd sustained would heal like they had never happened in the first place.

It would take more than medical marvels to pacify the turmoil in his mind, in his heart.

"What about Tynen?" Leia asked, and he could tell she knew Lasial's now-former Insurgent was on his thoughts.

Luke's shoulders sagged some. "They've removed the implant on the back of his neck. The Beskar arms have been replaced with the L-988 model, similar to my hand. It should prevent further pain and allow him more natural mobility."

"Any word on his mental state?"

"They're still doing executive function tests to determine his neurological diagnosis. That'll take a little longer."

Leia leaned closer to him, a minuscule degree of comfort as if she was deciding if Luke needed support or space. The truth was, after everything that had unfolded, he didn't know what he needed.

Lasial was dead. Her New Alliance was disbanded, many captured by the Empire, with stragglers being discovered rapidly through New Republic channels. Several of her stolen Imperial freighters had been impounded, the crew arrested. Safe houses were being uncovered, her entourage of supporters detained. Two senators had been accused of conspiracy and resigned but had yet to be arrested (and knowing politics, perhaps never would be). Nonetheless, the overall threat was over; it was supposed to be a victory. Nothing felt triumphant, however, not this time.

"I visited Mara this afternoon," Leia spoke up again. "The medics have cleared her to travel off-planet tomorrow."

"I'm happy to hear that," was all Luke offered.

"I was hoping you'd visit her before she left. I'm sure she would appreciate a friend stopping by."

Friend. Was Luke her friend? He had visited many times when Mara had been unconscious in a bacta tank and to witness what had been done to her—her blaster wound, swollen face, and bruised limbs—those were images forever stained on his mind.

After everything that had transpired between their investigation on Thayal to their confrontation with Lasial and Tynen on the Yarway, he wasn't so sure she'd desire his company.


"Master Skywalker, there are too many of them. What are we going to do?"

The words pummeled through Luke's mind, and his eyes became unfocused, the vibrance of the Coruscanti skyline lost to his vision. He felt his arms burning, heard the screams of the children lost under his father's lightsaber. Were they part of the Emperor's attack on the Jedi Temple? Or a rogue band of Younglings and Jedi who managed to escape the initial attack, only for Vader to destroy them later? The images from Tynen's mind had been so vague, Luke didn't know where any of the carnage had happened, just that it had. That was enough.

"Luke, what is it?" Leia pleaded as she came between him and the hazy view of Coruscant. "Please talk to me."

As the turbolift continued travelling upwards, Luke brought his gaze to his sister—the daughter of Darth Vader. Her eyes were soft and compassionate, similar to that of their father right before he perished on the second Death Star. Luke's throat clamped down, the words that had been building upwards getting stuck halfway as he peered at Leia's kind face. No. He couldn't—he just couldn't put this weight on her, the pain of knowing what their father had done. They knew of so many monstrosities already, but to see the horror through one of his victim's eyes…Luke wouldn't wish such a memory on anyone.

Nonetheless, as her face begged for a bread crumb of understanding, Luke reached out and took both her hands in his. He held them as her fingers curled around his own, the last reminder of who he was—where he'd come from—standing before him in a light blue dress.

"Our father caused so much pain," he finally whispered, "so much suffering, and I see the consequence of it within every planet I visit. On every anguished face I encounter, I have to wonder if their pain was caused by him somehow, in some way."

Leia stepped closer. "What is this about? Why are you saying this now?"

"I don't know how to forgive him," Luke said, barely able to get the words out. "Every time I believe I have, I learn of more atrocities. Something new—something I can't imagine he's done and yet he did. Something that's unforgivable to all those afflicted, and yet…" He didn't have the will to say more.

Leia watched him, her hands warming his, and then those dark brown eyes hardened some. "You don't forgive him, Luke."

His jaw dropped. "What?"

"It's not your place," Leia went on. "It's the people our father has harmed—they're the ones who must choose their own path, to decide if our father is worth forgiving. It's not up to you."

Luke remained silent, gaze latched onto Leia's, the back of his neck throbbing from the injury still fresh to his skin. On her words, Luke thought back to the moment when Lasial's voice carried throughout the Yarway, demanding he and the other Jedi surrender, or she'd kill everyone on Ecsilan V. In the last week, New Republic investigators had taken holos of the destruction Lasial had generated, from Coruscant to Alsakan to Ecsilan V, and Luke finally saw up-close the devastation to the people of the small purple moon. Many natives had taken shelter in caves and dense woodlands, but there had been fires and many villages had been wiped off the surface altogether. They didn't know the exact number yet, but it was estimated hundreds of people had died.

Since returning to Coruscant, every Jedi who had participated in the battle had written reports, and it was exactly what Luke had suspected: Cilghal, Wurth, and Ronap had surrendered to save the lives of the civilians Lasial had threatened. Luke had not. He'd made a decision that cost the lives of others. Would the people of Ecsilan V ever forgive him for his atrocities?

"Leia," he searched his sister's eyes, his hands tightening around hers, "I must know—during the battle with Lasial, when I decided not to surrender…did I make the right choice?"

Leia's features softened, and she lifted a hand, resting it on the side of his face. "No," she whispered, and Luke's heart dove into his stomach. "There was no right choice."

Luke opened his mouth, a protest forming but then none surfaced.

The turbolift slowed. Outside, the Coruscanti sun had ducked beneath the horizon, and the vibrant nightlife of the city-planet was rearing up as the artificial lights from buildings and airspeeders graciously replaced the star that had fallen in the distance.

• • •

The turbolift on the exterior of the Senate Office Building opened, and then Luke and Leia were greeted by security. Several officers lined the area as the siblings walked into the entry hallway that led to President Ponc Gavrisom's ceremonial office—the one used for meetings with public and political figures. As Luke and Leia stepped to the receptionist's desk, the young man behind it immediately motioned them to pass. They were expected, after all.

Luke restrained his apprehension, permitting all the hypotheticals roaming in his head to silence. Trying to predict how this would pan out was all but impossible. Nonetheless, with his sister by his side, he couldn't help but feel a heaviness in the air, the hallway leading to Gavrisom's office overstuffed with security officers. Clearly, the incident with Lasial had made an impact.

Luke threw a look at Leia, who grimaced just subtly enough for only him to notice.

Then, the hallway opened and there was President Gavrisom's office, adorned with the royal blue carpet Leia had picked out years ago, the walls a soft white with hints of silver. The familiarity didn't alleviate the uneasiness Luke sensed in his sister, as all those hypotheticals were shaping into reality.

Luke had chosen his path. It was time to pay the toll.

From his office chair, President Gavrisom stood as Luke and Leia approached. Behind him, the window had been swapped with a new one after the Insurgent's assault, another reminder that everything that had occurred was quickly being removed and replaced.

Reaching the front of Gavrisom's desk, Luke and Leia stopped. Through the Force, she sent Luke feelings of goodwill, and he kept his expression impassive, ready for whatever was about to transpire. The president remained quiet, regarding both of them with his angled bird eyes, waiting.

Luke sucked in a breath. "I'm here to surrender myself for disciplinary action for my indiscretions against the New Republic."

From Gavrisom, only a tiny click of his beak. He remained silent as if expecting more, and Luke wondered if he wanted a personal apology for Luke blatantly disobeying his express orders. But no, something else was going on, something elusive brewing within the Calibop.

Then Gavrisom brought his attention to the security officers near the hallway's entrance. "Leave us, please," he requested, and they did as requested. Then, he gestured to the cushioned blue chairs in front of his desk. "If you would…" was all he uttered before reseating himself.

Luke kept his expression even as he and Leia did as they were told, but inside, a knot of uncertainty was coiling around his gut.

As they got settled, Gavrisom rested his hands loosely on his chair's armrests. "Two days from now," he started, "we will be holding a vigil for all the lives lost during Lasial's attack on the New Republic. It will be broadcasted across the galaxy and will include condolences for the civilians who perished on Coruscant, plus any pilot or ground soldier who we lost during the counterassault."

"What about the people of Ecsilan V?" Luke asked.

"New Republic civilians are not familiar with the people of Ecsilan V, and the moon doesn't have holo technology. But we can acknowledge their losses during the ceremony."

Hundreds of villagers had died due to Lasial's attack, and the Ecsilanians would be given a footnote. Luke suppressed the displeasure from showing on his face.

"The day after the vigil," Gavrisom went on, "we will hold another ceremony. And during that event, the New Republic will present our Jedi Master with the highest honor we can bestow to a civilian—the 'New Republic Medal of Prosperity'."

It took a lot to shock a Jedi. This was certainly one of those moments. Luke couldn't restrain the emotions from his face this time, as his eyes widened, his brow creasing, not even certain he had heard things right. From the swell of emotions from Leia, however, he knew it was accurate.

Unmoving in his chair, Gavrisom didn't seem particularly surprised by Luke and Leia's reaction. Was this a response for Luke saving Gavrisom's life? Luke stretched out with the Force—no. There was some gratitude there, but that elusive feeling he had sensed before was only escalating.

At that, Luke frowned. "You want to give me a medal?"

"Yes," Gavrisom replied.


With his beak held high, the President responded, "The New Republic wants to thank its Jedi Master appropriately for his dedication to our sovereignty. For the risks he's taken and sacrifices he's endured. And that all his actions were sanctioned by our government, as he promotes freedom throughout the galaxy."

There it was. Gavrisom wished to erase the reality of what really happened during Admiral Lasial's invasion and Luke's defection. He wanted to pretend that the events didn't play out the way they had.

Luke's frown intensified. "So my joy ride with Gilso Izaa and his mercenaries—"

"Never happened."

"And my rescue of Admiral Pellaeon on his Star Destroyer—"

"You were attempting to save Lasial's assassin. Saving Pellaeon was not the intent."

"Do you honestly believe that will satisfy Borsk Fey'lya and the other senators who read my initial report after Thayal?"

Gavrisom's expression finally cracked, his head lowering so those eyes would square up with Luke's. "Councilor Organa," he said without looking her way, "would you leave us, please?"

"Excuse me?" Leia came back, and even from a side-view, Luke spotted her tense. "You do realize anything you say to my brother will just be repeated to me later."

"Yes," Gavrisom replied, "but what happens in this office today—I want it to be his decision. No one else's."

Leia huffed loudly enough to resonate off the walls, but then Luke turned to her, and the defiance on her features caved. "You can't be serious," she said.

Younger Luke Skywalker—the farm boy from Tatooine—would have felt naked in a room filled with politics, clueless how one indirect action (or inaction) ultimately filtered down to a whirlwind of calamity. He wasn't that boy anymore, so as he held his stare to Leia, she finally resolved herself and stood.

Before she turned to leave, however, Luke reached out a hand and grabbed hers, squeezing gently. She squeezed back, a heartbeat of reassurance before she headed away to the entry hallway and out of sight, that soft blue dress flowing behind her with the long braid down her back.

Luke returned his attention to Gavrisom, and all the warmth in the room faded. "What did you have to give him?" Luke demanded, his tone clipped. Gavrisom knew who Luke was referring to.

"I promised Borsk I'd endorse him whenever he decided to run for Chief of State."

Luke scoffed. "And the other senators who read my report?"

"For most—nothing. They're simply grateful that you were there to save their lives from Lasial's attack and a bit embarrassed by their own inaction regarding your report about the terrorist faction. And besides, they know…they know how important this is."

Luke clenched his jaw. The story Gavrisom was trying to spin was a lie—all of it—but within the Calibop, Luke sensed those elusive emotions bubbling to the surface, and with them, he detected the details. The president was afraid. He was afraid and he was ashamed.

That's when realization came crashing down.

"You knew about the assassin," Luke declared, "long before you read my report."

No shock from Gavrisom, only mild defeat. "Yes," he whispered.

"And Lasial?"

Gavrisom shook his head. "I didn't know about her involvement, no."

"But you knew there was a Force-sensitive assassin targeting the Empire." Luke felt his face flush. "You knew he was out there."

"Yes. I knew."

"How long?"

"Almost a year."

Luke's breaths shortened, his chest heavy. This was why Gavrisom had blocked Luke from the investigation after Lasial's attack on Coruscant. This was why the president had tried to keep all the Jedi out of the loop—to cover his tracks. Luke felt sick.

"He was attacking the Empire," Gavrisom explained, his hands gripping his armrests now. "Weakening it from the inside, destabilizing its government. We've been at war for so long—"

"You never contacted me," Luke said through gritted teeth. "You never told me about the assassin because you knew I would reach out to him. That I might stop him, and you didn't want that. No, he was too good at killing."

"I didn't know how far this would go. I never…"

Gavrisom trailed off, his last words murmurs in the air as Luke slowly stood, his Jedi robes drawn to his sides, an icy resolve in his heart as he glared at the president of the New Republic.

"People are dead." Luke's voice was barely a whisper, but every syllable struck with the intensity of a lightsaber slash. "Over sixty lives lost on Coruscant—hundreds on Ecsilan V. Several of my Jedi were injured—tortured—and one of them died. All because of your complacency."

Gavrisom said nothing; his eyes said it all. The guilt pouring out of him was enough to subdue Luke's anger, at least partially, allowing the Force to once again center him. It couldn't diminish the sensation throughout Luke's body, his very being—like his soul was halfway rotted through.

Yes, the real villain here was Lasial and her legion of followers. It didn't change the fact that now, amongst those tragedies and poor decisions, Gavrisom wanted Luke to play the part of the happy hero. No, this insanity had to end.

"I won't be privy to this," Luke said and gestured a hand to the office window, at the buildings and skylanes beyond. "Tell them the truth. You contact the Senate, hold a hearing, and place me on trial. My fate will be determined by the New Republic, not you."

"Do you think I want that? For our Jedi Master to be put on trial?"

"I won't be the only one, I assure you. Your fate will be determined the same as mine."

Gavrisom remained still in his chair, his body slouched, his face—although alien—appeared haggard and worn. There was sorrow in the president's eyes, and for a second, Luke believed it was for the Calibop himself, knowing this was a career-ender in the best case scenario…but that wasn't it. There wasn't fear flowing through Gavrisom, which is what he should be feeling in that instance. No, the sorrow was far more vast than mere self-preservation.

"You're right," the president finally spoke, voice barely audible. "I made mistakes, Master Skywalker, and then I tried to bury them. And in a perfect galaxy, I'd be punished for my mistakes and justly so. But I didn't do it for myself—believe me, I didn't."

Luke hesitated a second, staring at the president, and in those bird eyes, there was no malice. Just desperation.

"We're so fragile," Gavrisom whispered, "more than we care to admit, even to ourselves. Between countless battles against the Empire and other would-be rulers attempting to shatter the little stability we've gained over the years, the New Republic is held together with little more than wishful thinking." His eyes focused on Luke and they darkened just slightly. "Now, imagine what would happen if people discovered what you did—that the legendary Jedi Master of the New Republic saved the leader of the Imperial Remnant. That he went rogue and aided the Galactic Empire in their attack on Lasial's New Alliance."

It almost sounded like a threat, but as Luke stared at the president, it became apparent what it truly was. A plea.

"I love this government," Gavrisom went on and rotated his chair halfway to peer out his office window. "I remember how the Empire rounded up my people, enslaving so many, and I promised myself that—if I had the opportunity—I'd never allow such evil to spread again. No matter the sacrifices." He turned back to Luke. "I'd give my life to protect the New Republic, Master Skywalker, and I know you'd do the same. But sometimes, even that isn't enough. Is it?"

The pain in the president's words paralyzed Luke in place. A few days before, Luke had been willing to sacrifice everything he was—his life, his freedom, his reputation—to stop Lasial and save her assassin. It wasn't just about them, however. It was about maintaining the balance—within the galaxy, within the Force. To vanquish anything that threatened life and liberty, no matter the cost. Despite all his flaws, Gavrisom had been trying to do the same; he didn't block Luke from the investigation because he wanted to cover his own questionable deeds. He did it to protect the New Republic because, just like Luke, he was willing to sacrifice everything he was to defend what he loved.

No, Gavrisom wasn't threatening Luke.

In that instance, it was Luke who was threatening them all.

Lowering his head, Luke leaned forward, resting his hands on the desk in front of him as if unable to hold himself upright, as the truth bombarded his mind. Gavrisom was right: if people found out what Luke had done—this hero of the Rebel Alliance, the first line of a new Jedi Order—it would reveal to the galaxy that the New Republic wasn't as unified as they had thought, wasn't as pure or as just. That even its heroes could make decisions shrouded in controversy and lacking in confidence of the New Republic's might and morality.

They had to stand together, or they'd fall apart in shreds.

No, Gavrisom wasn't bargaining, threatening, or even rationalizing. He was begging. Begging Luke to skew the truth, to shove selfish righteousness aside in favor of prosperity, to help bind together the delicate pieces that made up the New Republic.

By lying to the galaxy.

"Please…" Gavrisom whispered and again gestured a hand to the seat in front of his desk.

As though his legs were moving apart from his brain, Luke turned and stepped back to his chair. Then he sat back down.

• • •

Within the medical center of the Imperial Palace's lower levels, Luke watched. In front of him, the door was an outdated beige, a singular window constructed into its surface at eye-level. Inside the room, multiple medics and Too-Onebee droids finished up their examinations for the night. At the far end, Tynen sat on a bed installed into the wall, covers cloaking his legs as he gawked at the commotion about him, seeming confused as to what all the fuss was about.

Up and down the beige hallway outside Tynen's room, droids passed, attending to other patients. Everything stank of disinfectant and new plastics, and with all the busy metal feet around him, Luke might not have noticed her approaching. Not without the Force, anyway.

But as Mara Jade walked to his side with a slight limp to her leg, supply bag hanging from a shoulder, Luke offered a mere glimpse in her direction before returning to Tynen. "I heard you're leaving tomorrow," he said.

"Well, you know," she shrugged dramatically enough for Luke to catch through his peripherals, "life doesn't slow down just because you do."

Luke sighed. Wasn't that the truth.

"New Republic security paid me a little visit this afternoon," Mara went on. "I was kindly informed that our adventures the last few weeks have been labeled as 'classified' by President Gavrisom. I take it you also had a similar chat with some not-so-friendly security types?"

"President Gavrisom decided it was in the best interest of the New Republic to keep things quiet." The words felt like acid coming up.

"So I assume you were threatened to be detained, too, if you disagreed with that notion?"

"They're giving me a medal."

Mara snorted. "That sounds fair."

Luke closed his eyes briefly and said nothing.

"It's for the best, I suppose," Mara went on, surprisingly breezy. "Having the beloved Jedi Master of the New Republic save the Imperial Supreme Commander and then aid him in battle would be a jagged pill for some to swallow. Speaking of, I've been wanting to ask—did you know?"

Luke didn't react.

"About Izaa's 'overseers'?" Mara explained. "You didn't seem particularly shocked on the Yarway when that Imperial fleet popped out of nowhere to lend a helping hand."

"I…had a feeling," he replied.

"Me, too. I thought it best not to say anything, either—plausible deniability can be nice safety blanket. But I'm surprised you held your cards so close to the chest, Skywalker—how very 'scoundrel' of you."

"I have my secrets, too, Mara."

Again, the words were almost painful as they escaped his lips, recounting how many times in the last few weeks he'd had to lie, manipulate, and sacrifice, and he still wasn't sure why the Force had led him down this path.

As Luke sensed Mara, however, there was an ease about her, and he finally turned her way. While her face was still a little puffy, the edge of her jaw still red (both from the fractures and the marrow injections), her expression was far lighter than anything on his features, he was certain.

Staring at her, Luke felt a small warmth in his gut. "You look better."

"I feel better. Of course, when everything hurts, that word can be a bit subjective."

"I'm so sorry, Mara."

To his surprise, Mara's face darkened at that. She dropped her bag to the floor and then gestured to Tynen's room. "How is he?"

Luke brought his attention back to the door's window. "The medics have confirmed that his brain didn't develop beyond the age of four. It's even shrunk in some regions due to lack of external stimulation. They're doing surgery in the next few weeks to implant cognitive enhancers to help replace some of the lost neurotransmitters."

"So he can eventually become a Jedi?"

"So he can learn to dress himself." A knot swelled in Luke's throat.

Silence. He maintained his stare into the room, observing as the medics talked to Tynen, the forty-year-old child bobbing his head in compliance as one of the droids retrieved pajamas for bed. A colorful rug blanketed the floor across the room, littered with toys.

"I'm sorry, Luke," Mara said. "I know this didn't turn out the way you wanted."

"No. It didn't."

None of it had. And it was all his father's fault.

"Master Skywalker, there's too many of them. What are we going to do?"

The words erupted through Luke's brain. Sucking in a breath, he shut his eyes, trying to gather his resolve, trying to pacify the agonizing memories from almost forty years before that were as fresh as if they had happened yesterday.

"What is it?" Mara asked.

Luke turned to her, and upon seeing Mara's face clouded with worry, he felt the words clamoring to his mouth. "I…" his lips quivered. "I don't…"

"Come on, spill it. Whatever it is, it's all ri—"

Almost as if propelled on their own, Luke lifted his arms and wrapped them around Mara. She stood there—shocked for a second—before her arms mimicked his, folding around his back. He rested his head to the side of hers, and then one of her hands cupped to the back of his head, her fingers tangled in his hair. Through the Force, he felt her confusion and concern, but more than anything was compassion. A kindness that, ten years before, he didn't believe she was capable of possessing.

They held each other, and then Luke eased away just enough to see her face as he felt Mara's breath warm his neck. Then the words came barreling out of him, "I saw Arica."

Mara's face pinched up. "What?"

Realizing what he'd said, Luke edged away, his hands slipping from Mara's back down to her arms. "On the Yarway. In Lasial's lab, in the wall—"

"Wait." Mara stepped back, her hands falling from him. "She was there?"

"Yes. I'm sorry, I should have said something."

Mara hoisted up both hands, her face angled away, clearly trying to grasp the moment. When she came back to him, any warmth on her expression was gone. "You saw my sister in one of those drawers and you didn't say anything?"

Luke swallowed hard. "I should have, I know—"

"How could you not tell me? I was standing right there, and you didn't think to tell me?"

"I was trying to protect you."

"I don't need you to protect me!" Mara screamed. "That wasn't your call! None of it was your call!"

Luke blinked. "What do you mean?"

"Why do you think I came back for you, Luke? When Lasial and Tynen had you in their clutches—why? Because I made a choice. You made a choice to go after them, and as insane as that was, I was just as insane in mine. But it was still my decision."

Luke licked his lips. "I'm sorry I put you in that position, that you had—"

"Don't you get it? I put myself in that position. I decided to risk my life, and I got hurt because of it." Her eyes hardened. "You don't see that, though—do you? You don't respect me enough to let me take responsibility for myself."

Mara's words struck with blaster-beam intensity. Luke took in every word and he knew that a part of what she had said was right—but not all of it. So as he stared at her, his jaw tightened, his eyes narrowed, and she frowned at him, seeming surprised by his expression.

"I'm just a man, Mara," he whispered. "What else would you have me do? You're my friend—I care about you. It has nothing to do with disrespect."

"You had no right to keep her from me," Mara replied. "To not allow me—"

"I had two seconds to think," Luke cut in. "I made a choice, and perhaps it was the wrong one. But I had no time to weigh that decision."

"That's not fair."

"What would you have done if the roles were reversed? What if Leia had been in one of those bags, and you had mere seconds to decide if I should see her in that state?"

Just the scenario caused Luke's heart to ache, but it got the point across. Mara stood there slack-jawed, obviously attempting a rebuttal that refused to surface.

"Tell me," Luke said, not letting up. "What would you do?"

Mara diverted her gaze. "I—I don't know, Luke."

"That's not good enough. If you're going to berate me, criticize me—judge me for every choice I make—then at least tell me what I could have done differently. What I could have done better."

The hardness on Mara's features didn't budge. Regardless, she said nothing.

"You accuse me of trying to be everything for everyone," Luke went on. "That I can never live up to all their expectations, but when I make a mistake with you," he shook his head, "there is no understanding. There's no mercy. It's all right for me to be just a man…except with you."

Arms crossed, Mara said nothing, her emotions through the Force flipping so quickly, Luke couldn't keep up with them all. Anger, resentment—sadness. There was sorrow there, and it wasn't just about Arica. Mara felt like she was losing something in the here-and-now.

At that, Luke took in a breath. "I'm sorry about your sister—I truly am. I didn't want you to see her that way and I made a knee-jerk decision that I can't take back now. It was a mistake. And you're right—going after me was your choice. But Mara…" he felt all the energy drain out of him, "what do you want from me?"

Something in his words caught her, and Mara turned back to him. For a second, her eyes appeared the same as on the Yarway when she begged him not to go after Lasial. Everything she was on full display, and as they stood there in the Imperial Palace, he could see it, her confusion to his question, as though he should already know the answer.

Then her expression caved. Everything shut down back to those impassive features he recalled when they first met—a woman who could not crack. The hatred she had for him all those years ago was long gone, but the warmth that had built up since then was suddenly lost.

"I don't want anything from you, Luke," she said and meant it. From beside her, she grabbed the strap of her supply bag and hefted the thing up to her shoulder. "You're right," she said, "about all of it. It's not my place to question your judgment—you're the Jedi Master and this was your investigation, not mine."

"Mara—" he started, but she lifted a hand.

"I'm serious. You had to make decisions during this mission that none of us had to make. I don't know what I would have done in your shoes, and it's unfair for me to assume otherwise."

Her words were authentic; Luke had won the argument. Then why did it feel like he was still losing?

"Here," Mara said and then opened her supply bag.

She fished out a small holocube, one several years old…as Luke recognized it, he gasped.

"I was able to salvage it from the rubble in your apartment," Mara explained as she handed over the old Jedi Order holocron. "It had a little wear and tear, but it plays just fine."

Luke accepted the device. Yes, the corners were a bit singed, but the overall mechanisms seemed all right.

"It was the only one I could save," she said. "A gift. For you."

Slowly, Luke lifted his gaze back to her. "Thank you," he whispered.

"You're welcome." Then she reached out a hand and gently grazed it across the side of his face; for a moment, he expected her features to soften back to the kindness they had held when she had first arrived. It didn't happen. Her hand slipped away, and she turned from him.

"See you around, Skywalker," she said as she began to walk back down the corridor. Then, she disappeared into the traffic of medical and utility droids—out of his life once again.

Luke stood silent, gazing at where she had been, now just a hallway with its sterile walls and smells. Gingerly, he dropped his gaze to the holocron and used the Force to press the activation button. In his hand, the holo projected upwards, and he skimmed through several lectures archived in the device until a familiar face flashed by in blue. Stopping the holo, Luke stared at the muted recording, as Jedi Master Yoda stood before a pile of young students, each with a deactivated lightsaber in their grasp.

In the back of the image, mixed in with the other Younglings in a hazy blue, was Tynen.

Feeling a heaviness in his chest, Luke shut down the holo just as the door opened behind him. Along with a few droids, three medics stepped out.

"How is he?" Luke asked as the door slid shut behind the medical personnel.

"He's comfortable," one of the medics explained. "The L-988 arms are bonding well, and the artificial skin on his neck should regrow the dead nerves. Of course, his cognition is severely impaired, but that's to be expected given the damage." He frowned at Luke. "I am concerned about these Force abilities of his. We have noticed some things moving on their own—"

"I plan to stay on Coruscant for the next few weeks," Luke said and folded his arms over his Jedi robes, "to make sure his powers go dormant."

"I think that would be for the best," the medic replied.

With a few courtesy nods, the men and women left down the hall, the droids following. As they curved around a corner, Luke peered back into the room. The lights were dimmed to a twilight glow, and Tynen was lying in bed now, eyes closed, left hand over the covers, his right hand by his face…as he sucked his thumb.

Luke turned around and leaned against the door. His eyes drifted to the corridor's ceiling, the artificial lights burning bright, and he stared—he stared until spots developed in his vision, thinking back over the last several weeks, trying to understand it all, trying to reason what he'd done and why the Force would urge him forward on such a merciless task. Of all the dreams, the memories, and what-if's that had stormclouded through his mind—what did it all mean? What was the Force trying to say?

Luke lowered his head. He blinked the spots away, and then twisted back around to the window, surveying the forty-year-old man with his thumb stuck between his lips. For a second, Tynen appeared to be asleep, but then those big hazel eyes looked up to Luke. The two men watched each other, no words given, and then, almost reluctantly, Luke stretched out with the Force.

The abyss that had been the assassin's mind had been replaced by…warmth. Warmth and calm—the light-side.

Tynen smiled at him. With his thumb still in his mouth, he gave a little wave to Luke with his other four fingers.

Peaceful. Happy.

Taking in the image, a tiny grin played with the edges of Luke's lips. He lifted a hand and gave a gentle wave back. Tynen's smile broadened, a wonderful child's smile. Then, those eyes closed, and the forty-year-old boy nestled into his bed, scooting his blankets to cover his shoulders as one of his toys dropped to the rug by his bedside. Then he began to fall into a sound sleep.

Luke lowered his hand. He watched Tynen for a minute more, all the questions he'd had in his head—all the how's and why's—gone. Maybe they didn't matter. Sometimes there were no answers. Sometimes, things wouldn't turn out the way he would hope, no matter what he did, no matter what sacrifices he was willing to offer. Perhaps to the galaxy, that wouldn't be enough, and maybe one day they'd learn that Luke Skywalker could never live up to their expectations.

After all, the man could never be as perfect as the legend—but the legend could never be as real as the man.

But legends…they were for the past and the future.

The man was for the here and now.

Luke gave one more look to the sleeping forty-year-old boy. Then, he turned, walking down the hallway of the Imperial Palace, his Jedi robes swaying back-and-forth as he went.

End of Novel

If you've enjoyed this story, please take a moment and leave a review. Over the next few months, I will be "updating" this book on FFN, but only to move it back to the top so other readers get a chance to see it. Other than a few grammatical corrections, the book is done.

I think a few people might be disappointed that Luke and Mara didn't "get together" in this chapter, but alas, this book follows with the EU canon, and that doesn't happen until later books. Also, this book is directly behind Timothy Zahn's "Specter of the Past," and in the beginning of that book, Luke and Mara are a bit irritated with each other and haven't seen each other for a while (but there's no explanation why), so I wanted to provide one. Don't worry, they end up together not long after my story.

Thank you all. I hope you enjoyed reading my book as much as I did writing it.

Erin J. David (aka, Niralle)