Chapter 35…

"I want it known," President Ponc Gavrisom announced to the Senate of the New Republic, the holocams buzzing around him like flies, "that even in the face of adversity, the dividing factors that separate one being from another should never be used as excuses of hate. Of fear, or of distrust. To the Falleen and Scyos—even to the family of the late Senator Retafured—and every human that lost loved ones during this horrible crisis, I hope that this one break of those factors will not lead to others. We are the New Republic…a government for all species. Human and beyond. Thank you."

The applause was not immediate. The final words hung in the air as if all the Senators were awaiting another speech. They gazed at the podium. There, Leia Organa Solo sat beside President Gavrisom. Neither a spark of concern nor fear of disapproval twitched on her expression. Through the air, there was nothing but tension. Through the Force, Leia could sense the other Senators in the room. Outside, the people of Coruscant listened at home through the holo. Worries were there—suspicion and fear. Nonetheless, they were hopeful as well. For the future. It was wishful thinking for a united galaxy.

The applause was not immediate, but it arrived nonetheless. One by one, the Senators stood, raising their hands toward President Gavrisom. He nodded at them in return as they cheered for a galaxy that would gather and heal.

Leia remained quiet, but she gently clapped with the rest, especially toward President Gavrisom. He glanced down at her, and then back at the others. There was a touch of disappointment in his eyes, but the confidence was radiant. Silently, he lifted a hand; the loud applauding halted. He smiled almost bashfully into the crowd. Without a word, Leia stood by his side.

And, with that, President Gavrisom declared, "Through this chaos, all of its horrid destruction and betrayal, several decisions had to be made. Some of them by me personally. And, while my role as Head of the New Republic—as temporary as it was—has been grand, I feel that now is the time to give it back to its rightful owner." He gestured a hand to Leia. "It is on this day that I make my final act as President of the New Republic. By giving back my position to the person I and so many others trust—Leia Organa Solo."

There was no delay in the applause then. Several Senators seemed to clap for mere presentation; Leia felt their reluctance in the Force. Senator Borsk Fey'lya was one of them. Grimacing from his spot in a line of other Senators, he stared down at Leia with an almost rhythmic clap to his fur-covered hands.

Leia ignored him. Silently, she bowed toward the crowd and holocams, and then waved a hand to the public watching her on the holo.


The sun was setting by the time Luke Skywalker and his wife reached Ross' room inside the towers of the Imperial Palace. A datapad in his hands, Luke rapped on the door only once before hearing a pleasant, "Come in," from the other side.

Twisting around to his wife, Luke hinted a grin before entering the room. Mara remained outside for her husband. Luke desired her to come in and join him, but Mara had refused, claiming it wasn't her place. Luke didn't bother to argue.

Stepping into the room, the door closed behind the Jedi Master as he turned his light-hearted expression to the bedside in the far left corner of the room. There, Ross laid; he tilted his head to look at Luke, and a new energy seemed to fill him.

"Oh, Master Skywalker," the computer slicer exclaimed with a rasp to his voice. "You came to visit me?"

Huffing out a laugh, Luke approached the boy's side and positioned himself on the stool by the bed. "I thought a visit was in order. How do you feel?"

Immediately, Ross' warm expression calmed. The tiny glimmer in his eyes faded. Almost reluctantly, he extended his right arm. It was covered with medical devices and tubes. Ross frowned. "They had to take the entire arm on this one. Only a few fingers from the other side. I guess I should feel lucky. They seem real."

"There are worse things," Luke replied, and lifted his own artificial hand into view. Silently, he twiddled his fingers.

The computer slicer's frown lightened slightly, but a somber expression still plagued his face. Luke knew the look well—it was the same one he had seen in his own eyes after his experience with his father at Bespin. Luke had lost his childhood naïveté that day. Ross had lost his on Ttremyrin One. No matter who you were, trauma affected you the same in the eyes of youth.

Nodding his head once at Ross' new mechanical right arm, Luke asked, "Does it hurt?"

Ross' eyes shifted toward his bed. "It aches. The medics said that was normal."

"It's phantom pain. Your mind dealing with the trauma. It'll pass. I promise you."

With that, Ross casually shrugged. "I'll get used to it. My arm and these fingers." He wiggled the partially constructed mechanical pinkie and ring finger.

Luke merely nodded, and then glanced at Ross' bedside. Laying casually on the nightstand was a datapad. Silently, Luke picked it up, and switched on the device.

Ross merely blew out a breath, gently reaching out with his new hand to retrieve the machine from Luke's care. "It's just a letter," he explained, and deactivated the datapad, "to Commander Pace's daughter. To tell her he died bravely."

"I'm sure she'll cherish it."

"I don't think so."

"Why?"

Blinking his eyes, Ross almost carefully explained, "I—I'm the reason he's dead. How can she cherish a letter from me?"

"It wasn't your fault, Ross," Luke replied. "Matic made a choice. He knew the risks, and picked his own way. He preferred that you lived, and would have blamed himself for your death. Just like you're doing now for him." Leaning forward, Luke stared the younger man in the eye. "He had the choices. You didn't. You're at no more fault for his death than me."

Ross was silent after that. Averting his eyes to the wall beside him, he sighed. Luke watched him, wondering through both his eyes and the Force just how long it would take Ross to recover from all the pain.

After another moment, Ross twisted back to the Jedi Master and glanced at the datapad Luke had brought with him. "What's that?" he asked.

"Oh," Luke replied, bringing his own thoughts back to him. He fidgeted with the datapad's corner. "I heard you were writing, and thought I would add a few things myself…if that's all right. For Matic's daughter."

Raising his eyebrows, Ross extended his hand again, and gently took the device. Activating the datapad, he scanned it for a second; he reverted to Luke with a stunned expression. "You wrote this?"

Luke offered a nod. "I realize it isn't much, but it might help his daughter understand better. Considering I was there when he got sick and passed away."

"Yeah," Ross replied. "I'm sure it'll help. Making sense of any of it would help anyone."

Patting Ross once on the back, Luke stood, and walked to the door. "I hope you feel better, Ross," he spoke as the metal slab opened to the hallway. "If nothing more, you've become a hero to billions. Rightfully so, as well."

Luke stayed only long enough to see the tiny gleam of life sparkle in Ross' eyes before making his exit from the room, and back to Mara's side.


The bright lights of Coruscant could be viewed through the high rise of the Imperial Palace like decorations for a holiday. Speeders raced by the skyline all the way to the horizon. Calm—oblivious. The planet never truly had a nighttime. There were far too many things occurring from one hour to another for there to be any rest.

Observing from the large window of his medic's room, Kyp Durron seemed almost mesmerized by the lights. The activity. Silently, he stood in his patient's clothing and ebony Jedi robe. The attire alone could describe the Jedi's disposition. Just waking from the ailments that had plagued him for over a month, it was clear he only felt content within the comfort of his Jedi garments. The robe was actually a gift from Han years before when Kyp was still a boy. Even after all the pain he had endured and caused, the Jedi still donned it with tranquility and pride.

Silently, Luke and Mara Jade Skywalker stood in the center of Kyp's room. Luke didn't have to say anything to already feel the light amount of tension in the air. Neither did Kyp.

Nonetheless, the other Jedi was not one to allow tension to slip away. With his arms crossed in front, Kyp didn't even bother facing to the Jedi Master to talk. "Courageous, Master Skywalker," he proclaimed with almost a sardonic edge, "I've heard nothing for the past day except for your unbelievable entanglements in space. You must be proud."

Luke Skywalker instantly peeked at his wife. He could sense her impulse to retort, to snap the crude touch of Kyp's statement back in his face. Luke didn't need to lift a hand or give her a look for her to know that it was not the time for such things. Through the Force, she felt his presence and emotions, and remained still.

Adjoining his hands in front of him, Luke stepped deeper into the room. "You know that's not the reason, Kyp. I didn't do this for pride."

"Really?" the other Jedi came to look at Luke with a firm gaze. After only two days out of his coma—the new antivirus flowing through his body like the Force—Kyp looked rather healthy. "Then, perhaps you should enlighten me. You didn't put yourself on the front line of this fiasco? With all the other Jedi that could have done the job?"

Sensing Luke's feelings or no, Mara seemed to have taken enough. Hurrying to Luke, Mara placed her hands on her hips, and stared the Jedi down. "How about a nice, 'why, thank you, Master Skywalker…for finding the human virus that ultimately saved my life'? That would be courageous, Kyp…just for you to swallow your pride, and say it."

To Luke's surprise, Jedi Durron merely grinned. "From my understanding, I've been in a healing trance for over four weeks now. Waiting for that human anti-virus, and as stable as anyone could hope for. I would have beaten it myself. Eventually."

"Why you little—" Mara was almost ready to punch him.

"Mara," Luke called out, and shifted his hard expression from Kyp to his wife.

"No, Luke," Mara countered. "This is too ridiculous, even for me. We saved his life, and still, he can't give one ounce of gratitude."

"There's no gratitude to retrieve," Kyp explained, and then motioned his head to Luke. "You're a Jedi. A Master—at that. As far as I'm concerned, you did your sworn duties. If you were expecting more…," he paused, and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Master Skywalker. You won't receive it here."

With that, Mara groaned, and waved a hand dramatically in Kyp's direction. "He's impossible, Luke," she explained. "Let's just go."

However, Luke didn't turn to his wife. Eyes securely locked on the other man across the room, Luke serenely walked to Kyp by the window. Gazing at the other man, Luke spoke, "There is one thing I want to say before I leave, Kyp."

Luke paused. After a second, Kyp cocked a curious eyebrow. "What?"

"I didn't do this to earn your gratitude," Luke declared. "It was something that needed to be done. By me…or someone else." He came in closer to Kyp's face. "But, I didn't come here this evening to demand appreciation. I came to see how you were doing. Nothing more. I'm sorry you took it for something else."

Kyp opened his mouth, the urgency to retort gleaming inside his eyes. Nevertheless, after only a second, the Jedi silently closed his lips and went back to the view from the window of his medic room.

Luke surveyed him for a moment, wondering what ideas were roaming inside the other man's head. Nonetheless, as Mara's presence became more apparent in his mind, Luke merely bowed his head at his former student, and twisted away. Gently accepting Mara's hand, both Skywalkers walked to the door to leave—

"You did well, Master Skywalker," Kyp's voice softly echoed inside the room. "Just as I hope I would have done in that situation."

Mara stopped dead center by the door. She instantly pitched Luke a glance; her mouth was partially ajar.

Luke didn't bother turning around. One hand already touching the door's controls, he merely replied, "Thank you, Kyp." Silently, the door slid open. Luke strode calmly through it, Mara following a moment later into the hallway.

The door shut itself, leaving Mara and Luke quietly alone inside the empty corridor. Huffing out a breath, Mara merely shook her head. Luke spoke nothing. He offered his wife a smile, and started to walk down the hallway with her by his side.

"Well, be thankful, Skywalker," Mara finally said as she entangled his arm with hers. "That was about the closest form of gratitude you're ever going to receive from that one. I was surprised—it actually sounded genuine."

Luke grinned lightly to himself, but didn't look at Mara. "I think it was."

"I doubt it will last."

With that, Luke finally glimpsed at his wife. With her braided red hair, devious and lively emerald eyes, Luke Skywalker merely placed his hand upon hers, and smiled. "It doesn't matter, Mara. As much as I appreciated Kyp's words, I didn't need them. I already have everything I need."

Mara's smirk was full of sarcasm, but she held him tighter nonetheless. "Don't get romantic with me, Skywalker. I don't fall for it."

It was then that Luke Skywalker stopped in the middle of the hallway. Holding to Mara's arm, she was immediately pulled to his front without choice…so close, her breaths dissipated on his chin. He placed a hand on her face; she blushed and her smirk faded into a smile of compassion and modesty. Edging closer to her, he whispered softly into her ear, "Of course you fall for it, Mara. We all do." He moved his lips to her cheek, gently grazing the corner of her mouth. "Even bashful, romantically hopeless farmboys, and tough, former Emperor Hands."

"No," she spoke, her grin growing larger, "you're not hopeless. Not to me."

With that, Luke smiled. "Are you getting romantic with me, Madam Jade? I should warn you, I always fall for it."

There was no hesitation. No subtle doubts. Inside the hallway of the Imperial Palace, Luke tenderly pressed his lips to his wife's.

They held each other there, gently and silently, opening the Force to every emotion…every movement. But, it wasn't as Jedi to Jedi. It wasn't as the legendary Jedi Master or the infamous Emperor's Hand. It was as husband and wife. The simple bonds of livelihood that bring two people together. And, as they kissed, with a bitter sweet flavor of each other's lives, it was clear that bond was the most sacred of all.

End

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