The Guilt of Survival by Chris Anderson

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by Lucasfilm, Ltd. No money is being made and no infringement is intended.


Slow burn of agony, laser-etched upon his soul, and the longer he lives, the deeper it burns.

Not just any guilt, but the guilt of survivors, the shame and the pain of simply living, of going on, when others no longer do. He cannot reason it away, or drown it- he knows because he has tried. He can do nothing, except bear it. He is weary from carrying it, his invisible burden.

It exhausts him, but he rarely sleeps. When he sleeps, he dreams- and he cannot endure any more dreams. Instead he wanders, late in the ship's night, under the dim lights, aimlessly about the Chimaera. He hardly notices, but he comes close to giving several of his very junior officers heart attacks. Those who pull these unpopular late watch are not at all used to seeing the Imperial Remnant's Supreme Commander drift by, his expression unreadable when it isn't dark and bleak, and they are all afraid that somehow they have displeased him, or that they are about to.

He does not have a reputation for losing his temper, though he has been known to become almost scathingly sarcastic to those who neglect their duties, or don't discharge them as well as they could. He hates sloppy work, and will not tolerate incompetence.

But he knows the difference between inexperienced and incompetent, and when he notices the juniors looking at him with that 'mynock in the landing lights' stare, he takes the time to speak to them, examine their work, give them a nod of approval before he moves on. If there are things they could be doing better, he tells them so quietly, firmly but not unkindly.

So many of them are inexperienced- not just the late watch, but many of the others as well, even the first watch. Five years of war and attrition have taken their toll. That, too, eats at him- every time he turns to an officer or a crewer on the bridge, starting to snap out an order to a man or woman who is no longer standing there.

It's almost beyond him to keep up with the deaths. He does, though. He writes the letters, the letters every military commander throughout history has known and hated with such a special passion. He writes the letters even for those who have no family for them to be sent to, writes them as if for every lost life there is someone waiting. He does it so that he will never forget- so that someone will always remember who they were, that they lived and how they died.

As if every name, every face, were not seared into his memory.

He cannot know them all, but he tries. He tries, and hates himself when he cannot remember a face, or a simple fact. He's made it his business, his penance, really, to know the name of every man and woman who died upon the Chimaera during the war years.

It is impossible, of course. A Star Destroyer carries 36,810, with an additional 9,700 stormtroopers. Who can be expected to recall the names of over 45,000 people?

He tries anyway. Tries, and hates himself all the more for the failures.

But he only allows himself to fall apart in these quiet hours. When the Chimaera goes to battle, he owes the ship and its crew nothing but his best. He is the Grand Admiral then, the commander, steady as he must be to see them through. Then, he must become their rock and their anchor. So long as they believe in him, in his ability to pull them through...

He hears them talk, now and then. They are awed by his years of service to the fleet, awed by his record. They believe that he can survive anything, that he will survive anything.

They believed it so much that on that horrible day, when the Remnant was on the edge of beginning to fall, when the Chimaera's back was broken, so many of them- too many!- sacrificed themselves to pull him out.

If he hadn't been nearly dead at the time, they never would have gotten away with it. He never would have allowed them to make the sacrifice.

It was that sacrifice, finally, that brought him back to himself- that sacrifice, and his desire to be worthy of it. Men and women, strangers, comrades, friends, died so that he could live, and though he would never have asked it of them- would have told them, in fact, that they were not to do any such thing- Though he would never have asked it of them, he will not allow their sacrifice to be in vane. He will honor the sacrifice, though he feels unworthy of it. He will honor the sacrifice, and bear the guilt, because he must.

All of this is suddenly clear to him when he runs into Jaina Solo, wandering the rebuilt Chimaera in a bit of a daze, a grin upon her face and an Imperial Academy ring he thinks must have belonged to Baron Fel upon her hand. He smiles when he recognizes the ring's import, and says, "Congratulations."

He watches her burst into tears, concerned and distressed. What has he done? And then, looking at her face, he understands.

She feels guilty for this moment of happiness, as if she has no right to it when those around her have been so badly hurt. But she, too, has been hurt, and he feels that if anyone deserves such happiness, it is the ones like her, who have suffered so much...

He smiles, and sees the realization come to her.

"Thank you," she whispers, and throws her arms around him. He is surprised- almost stunned, in fact; he cannot recall the last time he was embraced this way. She kisses his cheek then; he feels himself blush, begins to say something, and changes his mind.

He realizes that somehow that brief encounter has been a revelation to Jaina, that he has helped her somehow, set things straight within her mind. But he doesn't think she has any of idea of the ways in which she had helped him.

The guilt of survival will always be with him. He knows that now, but in a way it is alright. Because in the same way he understands that, he understands survival. Understands that it is not the same as simply existing- that it is not the same as what he has been doing. To honor the sacrifices of his crew, to honor those who died for him, he has to do more than exist. He has to live.