Title: "Faith In Their Hands"
Disclaimer: Not mine. No doubt on that score.
Post-game. The nature of the Dark Side. The consequences of victory.
If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.
--Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
When the battle was over, the Sith defeated, and the Star Forge destroyed, Bastila Shan felt someone standing in front of her. Not through the Force: she was too weary for that: worn and drained from the extending her powers to enfold an entire fleet. No. This was a thing of space and shade and the warmth of another person's body looming within reach of her arm.
She looked up into tired yellow-green eyes, drawn tight at the corners with pain. Blood smudged one sharp-boned cheek, and a lightsaber burn creased a brown, blistered line from her jaw all the way up past her short dark hairline. A plain face, without its usual hawkish intent energy, over scarred grey armour that hid a body held back from collapse by grim determination alone.
"Hey," said the woman whom Bastila had almost grown used to thinking of as Safine Dai, and squatted down on her haunches. "You okay?"
I was tortured by a Lord of the Sith for a week, fell to the Dark Side, betrayed my order, and almost helped destroy the galaxy, only to have my worst enemy save my life. And I'm so tired I don't know if I can stand up.
She opened her mouth to say I'm fine. The words stuck in her throat. Revan - not Safine: Safine would never have looked at her with such terrible compassion, with that dreadful understanding - held out a hand. "Of course you're not. But you're alive. And if we want to stay that way, we need to get the hell out of here before the whole bantha-sodding temple comes down on our heads."
Bastila found that she did, in fact, want to live. And that she could stand after all.
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
-- Dylan Thomas, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion"
"I embraced the Dark Side," she said, later.
The cockpit of the Ebon Hawk was empty save for them, the soft hum of the ship in hyperspace the only sound. The others were sleeping, or meditating, or whatever the hell Mandalorian mercenaries did when they weren't killing people. Revan sat in the pilot's chair - Carth's chair - silent. Next stop Coruscant, and a hero's reward.
They had saved the Republic, after all. All of them.
Bastila didn't fell very much like a hero. Or very much like a Jedi: she could still taste her rage, the terrible rightness of it, the churning power that let her call lightning from her fingers. How everything had seemed so very clear, as though she were riding on the top of a wave so high it let her see all the way around a world.
"I embraced the Dark Side," she said again, when the silence stretched and Safine - Revan - made no reply.
"Did you?" Revan's eyes had been closed. Now they slid open, yellow-green irises almost swallowed by dark pupils in the dim light, and dark eyebrows quirked. "Really?"
"I could feel it." She shuddered. "It felt so... powerful."
Revan said nothing for a long moment. Then, quietly, as if acknowledging something painful: "I've been remembering, you know." She tapped her temple with a forefinger, beside the dark smear of her healing burn. "Ever since the Leviathan. Not everything. Not even most things. But enough. You didn't embrace the Dark Side, Bastila. You were tortured. You broke. Everyone breaks. Your anger - at me, at the Jedi Council - it was justified, Bastila. It might not be very Jedi, but it's very human. And in a way, I'm glad you could let yourself hate me."
"Glad?" Bastila's voice squeaked on her astonishment.
"If you hadn't turned, Malek would have killed you." A wry, rueful twist of Revan's lips. "Permit me, at least, to be glad that you survived."
Bastila hadn't thought of it - hadn't allowed herself to think of it - like that. She was, she admitted, sufficiently selfish that the thought of dying held very little appeal. None at all, in fact. Even after what she had almost done.
A disturbing thought occurred to her. "Do you... Have you remembered why you turned to the Sith?"
The quality of the silence became very, very cold.
Ah. So that's a yes, then.
Then Revan sighed, and the air grew fractionally warmer. "Do you know why most of the Sith become what they are?"
"No," Bastila said, carefully. I know what the Council says. And I know what the Sith say. Why do I get the feeling that Revan is going to say something entirely different?
She was right.
"They're like children." Revan's eyes slid shut again. Her voice was soft, distant, chill in the quiet hum of the cockpit. "It starts with a little flame of resentment - some petty injustice, some slight, imagined or otherwise. They feed it, and it grows, until they're hollow inside and the only thing that can fill their emptiness, however briefly, is the exercise of power. They want to show the galaxy they're bigger, better, badder than anything it can throw at them. When you have nothing else, anger and hate at least make it hurt less to be alone." Almost regretfully: "I think that was how it was for Malak, though I can't be sure. There are too many gaps in my head, and by the time he became my apprentice, we were already at war with the Mandalorians."
The silence stretched. Bastila was beginning to think Revan had said all she intended by the time the other woman spoke again.
"Jedi shouldn't go to war.
"There are some things, you know, to which anger is the only sane response. War is one of them. When you're on your knees in a trench with blasterfire ripping overhead and a boy in the mud beside you with his guts on the outside screaming for his mother, and the rest of his company is looking to you - you, the great Jedi general - to get them out of there and to their objective without getting any more of them killed than you have to and they're your troops and you have to send them out to get killed again and again and again and they trust you not to spend their lives for nothing, even though, war being what it is, sometimes you do - if you're not angry then, you're not sane.
"Attachment is dangerous, the Order says. But a commander who isn't attached to her troops doesn't deserve to lead them.. They go into hell on your orders. And some of them don't come back.
"I remember standing over the body of a girl - a young lieutenant on her first tour - in the middle of a trap that had already killed most of her platoon and compromised our chances of success. A trap we wouldn't have been in if I'd been more ruthless, if I'd ripped information out of Mandalorian heads with the Force instead of doing the civilised thing, the Jedi thing. And I remember thinking, quite clearly, If I have to destroy every last living Mandalorian in the galaxy in order to make sure this war hasn't been for nothing, I will.
"Then I learned of the Star Forge, and realised it wasn't only Mandalorians I might have to destroy."
Bastila felt Safine's - Revan's - emotions faintly through their bond. Grief. Regret. Rueful affection, and an ancient rage, long since burnt to embers. And beneath it, a bottomless, icy sea of grim determination, so very weary. So very deep. No one would have ever called Safine implacable.
With Revan, no other word would fit.
"I fell," Revan said, quietly, "in full knowledge of what I was choosing. I kept my mind, even as I lost my soul. And yes, Bastila, before you ask. If I had to, I would make the same choice again."
So softly Bastila almost thought she imagined hearing it: "In fact, I intend to."
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.
I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
-- Wilfred Owen, "Strange Meeting"
Coruscant at night glittered like the jewel it was named for, all bright, varied lights scintillating in the dark. After the speeches, and the medals, and the parades, Bastila stood on the balcony outside one of the Senate's formal reception chambers, the noise and blaze of celebration loud at her back, and stared at the sky.
You couldn't see the stars from here, of course: Coruscant's dazzle of light was far too extensive for that, and her longing for the vast dark silence of space twisted like glass shards in her throat.
She had yet to face the Council, and admit her fall. And her redemption. Such as it was.
"What have we saved?" Revan slipped through the open doors to the party behind her, passing unnoticed from light to shadow, and came to lean on the balustrade. The formal robes of a Jedi Master hung loose on her lanky form, incongruous. She always looked more natural in armour. Even at their first encounter, on the bridge of a Sith flagship, there had been armour under the robes. Her tone was musing, rueful. "A corrupt Republic, that survives only by stifling growth. A Senate of greedy ancients, blind and grasping. A Jedi Order so terrified of attachment they would rather damn themselves than admit to feeling. All the dying, and for what? In a generation, three at the most, someone else will decide the old order should fall, and we'll just have to do this all over again."
An unutterable, aching weariness in those words. Bastila tilted her head, searching Revan's shadowed profile. "Is that really what you believe?"
"History," Revan said, wry, "provides a compelling argument. But no. Next time, there will be no world-razing Mandalorian battleships, and no Star Forge lying about for any passing Sith to lay their hands on. We accomplished that much, at least."
The emotions trickling through their bond made Bastila's fingers itch. Grief, still. There had been grief there since the Star Forge. (And self-loathing, sharp as a vibroblade in the gut.) Regret. Affection. And underneath, that tired, icy determination; a sense of incompletion, of a duty not yet done.
Oh, Bastila thought, and found she understood. "It isn't over, is it?"
"Ah, Bastila!" Revan laughed, a startlingly open sound. "Haven't you realised yet? It's never over." Yellow-green eyes considered her, abruptly sober. "I'm leaving," Revan said, quietly, and somehow Bastila knew she meant more than just the party, still bright and raucous behind them. "Will you come?"
Now hollow fires burn out to black,
And lights are guttering low:
Square your shoulders, lift your pack,
And leave your friends and go.
-- A.E. Housman, "Now Hollow Fires Burn Out To Black"