Quagmire - Chapter 36
His legs were shaky when Luke finally set them on the deck of Home One again. Tycho Celchu from behind gave him a concerned glance. "Alright there, boss?"
"I'm all right," Luke replied automatically. Tycho's resigned sigh, wise from several years' experience handling his CO, revealed just how little he bought the claim. Still, he let Luke hobble out of the Y-wing by his own effort, just staying close in case it wasn't enough.
Wedge, first of the Rogues to land, was already approaching with a troop cart. "Here we go. I imagine you prefer this to a med slade, even if it's the med bay we're going to."
Luke pulled a face. "I can walk too, you know."
"Here he goes again," moaned Wes, joining in from behind with Hobbie in tow. His voice took a mocking note, mimicking Luke's. "I'm fine, Vader just cut off my hand but I can still fly the X-wing."
"I'm fine" Hobbie echoed, "the wampa just smashed my head but if I put my helmet on no one will notice."
"I'm fine, I just froze my balls off in a snowstorm but if…"
"Thanks," Luke cut Wes off. "I think we all get the idea." He sank down on the troop chart with a tired moan. "Wedge, if you take me away from those two, you're free to take me anywhere."
"Luke! Wedge! Guys!"
They all turned towards the shout, to see Deena racing towards them. Hobbie sucked in air sharply. "Stang!"
The others pointed odd looks at him, but Hobbie only had eyes for Deena. He rushed up, taking her hands into his. "I'm so sorry," he told her. "Really! So sorry, Deena."
Deena's expression wasn't less puzzled than the others. "What for?" Then she paled too, hand ripping from his and going to her mouth. "Oh gods! No! What happened to her?"
"Well, Liberty was…" Hobbie stopped. "Her?" He frowned, flummoxed, glancing to the others for support.
Wedge moaned, wiping his hand over his jaw. "He missed it. Of course he did. I thought we told everyone last night but apparently not…Hobbs! Corin is fine! He was transferred to Independence just before the battle."
Hobbie froze, still holding one of Deena's hands prisoner. "Oh." He stared at the deck, then at Deena again. "Ah. But… that's good. Right?"
Deena's expression had shifted several times already between fright, understanding and bewilderment, and now she wrested her remaining hand free so as to plant both of them indignantly on her hips. "You thought Corin was dead?"
"Well, yeah." Hobbie stammered, blushing. "Not that I think he should be, just no one told me he wasn't."
Deena melted into a smile as warm and gooey as melted wax. "Oh, Hobbs, and you tried to comfort me! That's so sweet!" She kissed him on the cheek. "But fortunately that wasn't necessary." She looked at the others. "Now, tell me she's all right too."
The Rogues looked at her, then at each other. Only Luke, able to read Deena like an open book, stared at his boots. "Who?" Wedge asked.
"Mara, of course! I haven't seen her since yesterday. She's disappeared completely – I've been looking everywhere for her!"
"Red?" Wes wondered. "No idea. I though she was here on Home One!" He looked suddenly worried.
"Well, she was," Deena started to explain, "but then she disappeared. I was hoping she'd left for Endor to join you guys."
"No, haven't seen her." Wedge frowned and Tycho, Wes and Hobbie all started talking over each other as they tried to determine who'd last spotted the subject at hand.
"She's fine," Luke finally broke in. The burgeoning chatter silenced again. Everyone looked at him.
"You've seen her?" Wes demanded, attempting to seem thrilled but sounding much more disappointed that it had been Luke and not him.
"Or is it some Jedi thing – you can sense her or something?" Wedge jumped in.
Luke sighed. The last thing he wanted to talk about was Mara. What the hells was he supposed to say? But he couldn't really keep his friends in the dark either, particularly not Deena. She was fretting hard enough she might go supernova. "Yeah… No. I mean, I've seen her. We… she came to Endor, just like you guessed Deena, and…we met."
"Well, thank the Force! But why didn't she come back with you?" Deena's relief flashed to bewilderment, then shot straight on to sly. "Or are you saying she'll be coming back with somebody else?"
"Er…no." Luke tried to find the right words, but all that would come to mind was how Mara would have snorted at Deena's theory. "No, she's left." When they all continued to stare at him, he elaborated. "Completely. Left us. I mean, the Alliance, that is." Boy, Skywalker, you silver-tongued wonder, you. Lamely he added, "She was never that into the cause anyway." He shrugged.
"Left? Without a word?" Deena looked baffled.
"Because of the battle?" Tycho suggested. "Could it have been too much for her?"
Wedge shook his head obstinately. "Not her. She's made of durasteel, that one."
Luke sighed, and leaned back on the troop cart. "No, it wasn't that."
"Then what?" Wedge insisted.
"It's… well, something personal." Luke sighed again. "Listen, Dee, you deserve to get the story – and when you do, you'll understand." He rubbed his eyes, hoping dearly she would.
"Personal?" Wes started to dig. "Between you and her?
Luke groaned. "Trust me, not like you're thinking." Wes and Hobbie were already deep into an eyebrow-bobbing competition.
He was saved from further humiliation because the Millenium Falcon boosted into the hangar and drowned everything else out, landing as elegantly as any X-wing.
"Oh shavit," Wedge muttered. "The Princess said 'medbay – immediately!'" He shot a guilty glance at Luke. "Can you at least lie down?" Luke, rubbing his temples, glared at him.
"Too late, incoming," stated Tycho, in the same tone he'd have used if referring to four squadrons of TIE fighters. The landing ramp was already dropped and Leia's 1.5 meters swept down so fast even Chewie had trouble keeping up, not to mention Han or Lando. If some beautiful faces could launch a thousand ships, Leia's at the moment could have launched a fleet of Star Destroyers with all cannons firing.
She stormed straight to Luke, arms crossed and scowling. "Luke Skywalker! Exactly which part of 'get to the medbay immediately' didn't you understand?"
Only weeks ago, Luke would have been part terrified, part desperately tried to charm himself out of her line of fire – now the knowledge of what they shared, made both unnecessary. Besides, he was too tired to get upset. "The one that said 'ignore your friends, even if they're in distress,'" he replied dryly. "We had some catching up to do."
Leia's eyebrows arched, taking the concept of royal disapproval to brand-new heights, but she knew when she had to change guns. "Well, if we're changing information, Ihave some for you; Shira Brie has escaped."
"What?" five shocked voices cried out in unison.
"Sad but true," Han confirmed grimly, coming up from behind. "We just got it from Mon herself."
Leia crossed her arms. "And that's not all. According to the holocams, the one who helped her escape was no one else than – Mara Jade." She spun on Luke again. "Now, do you care to tell me what happened between you two?"
Luke shook his head. "It's a long story," he insisted, "and you told me yourself I need to go to the medbay. I think it's about time."
"Listen, brother –"
Luke leaned forward, pointing. "You told me to go there yourself. Before I give any reports, you said. Besides, Mara's gone now."
"If she's a danger to the Alliance…"
"She's not. Not anymore."
"Are you sure?" Lando put it. The hope in his voice wasn't very hard to detect.
"Positive," Luke assured him. "I wouldn't be standing here otherwise." He glanced to Wedge. "Can we hit the road now? I have this increasing ache in my ribs…"
Leia assumed battle stance – one hand planted on her hip and eyes glaring vibroblades – but Han wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Ok – go – but don't dive into bacta just yet, junior. Your sister needs some kind of explanation before you dip."
For a moment Leia looked as if she was about to retort, but when Luke nodded agreement, she too sighed and accepted Han's diplomatic effort. "All right, then. Go. But we'll be there shortly – and then there will be no escape for you."
Tycho scratched his head. "Somebody needs to explain to me this 'brother – sister' thing. You were going on all last night. Some joke on Endor I missed?"
Luke glanced to Leia. He quirked an eyebrow mischievously, and this time Leia had to smile. "All right, bro – get going." She stepped to him and gave him a big kiss on the forehead, brushing his hair out of the way. Then she turned to Tycho. "Now, that story…"
Luke prodded Wedge, who started the troop cart, heading for the med bay. They only got a few meters before Deena came running and jumped onto the chart. "You're kidding, right? You're not really siblings?"
Luke grinned sheepishly. "We are, actually."
"Wow. You have to tell me all about that." Deena breathed deep. "But first; tell me about Mara!"
Luke did his best to keep the story as short as possible without omitting anything vital. Still, when they arrived at the medbay, Deena was staring stubbornly straight ahead. She had, miraculously, listened without interruption almost the whole way, but Deena being Deena, that state of affairs couldn't last forever. "She was tricked!" she insisted. "She might have told the Emperor we were going to Bothawui but that was because Shira made her think it was your mission – and you were her target so she had to! But she wouldn't have sold me out – not on purpose!"
Luke sighed. "Listen, Dee – we don't know that." He shook his head, tired and Mara's self-accusations still livid in his memory. "Hell, she probably doesn't even know herself."
Deena shook her head. "Oh, we do. Some things, you just know."
Wedge snickered. "Listen and learn, Jedi."
Luke whacked the back of his head half-heartedly, but Deena was adamant. "You said yourself she wasn't a danger – and she proved that by sparing your life last night. Well, already before that, she wasn't a danger to the rest of us – only to you. The fire, remember? She saved countless lives there!"
"True – but she was the Emperor's Hand. If he'd commanded her to something, she'd have done it – she said that herself! And she was ashamed, Dee, I'm not making it up..."
"But what was she ashamed of? That she would have sold me out – or that she's not sure she'd obeyed him after all?"
Luke blinked. Deena could be more clear-eyed than anyone in her purehearted logic. And he wanted to believe she was right. Wanted… Yearned was more like it. With a sting he wondered when it had become so important to him. Wondered when Mara had become so important to him...
Wedge helped him off the troop chart and to the bed that was offered to him by a nurse droid. With a quiet moan, Luke leaned back on the pillows. Too-onebee appeared beside his bed, ready to start its examination. For having an immobile face, it nonetheless did a good imitation of a conscientious doctor exasperated by a rash patient who'd landed in the medbay for the umpteenth time.
Wedge patted him on the shoulder. "You slip off to bacta. We'll explain it to Leia. Don't worry."
Luke shook his head. "No, I really should tell her myself. I have to."
"Please, Luke. Dee and me can tell her enough to tide her over. She'll be fine. After all, it's your wellbeing she's thinking of."
Luke had to smile. Leia – his sister… No matter what had happened, what would happen – he had a family now. Friends – and family.
And Mara… She belonged in there too. All these weeks when he had hardly noticed, she had slipped inside his barriers – she felt so natural beside him now that her vanishing from his life didn't feel real. Maybe Deena was right – maybe she had been more what they thought her to be, more even than what she thought herself to be?
He'd have to find out. But that would be when the galaxy started spinning right way up again – right now, every single muscle in his body seemed to hurt and ache. Luke closed his eyes in exhaustion. He would think about this – Mara, Leia, Shira, his father – all of it, tomorrow. He'd had his fill now. He could take nothing more. For the first time in his life he honestly thought he deserved a break - the galaxy would have to wait for him this time. Dimly, he was aware that Wedge and Deena had backed off, leaving him to Too-onebee's competent sensors, but he hardly registered it.
Luke closed his eyes, weary beyond sensation.
And still, somehow, the galaxy seemed a much more wonderful place than before.
Well, folks, that's all for part 1. There's more to come, but while I know exactly what will happen with the big four, I'll need some time to sort out the subplots and, eventually, to write. I also hope to be able to finish some of the viggies that have come to mind mind of late.
I want to thank fabulous frodogenic who's been betaing me continuously for 1½ year now – give her a cheer 'cos I can never thank her enough! This fic would be but a shadow of itself if not for her! Special mention also goes to blank101 for support and first aid and cat's cradle; my technician and chemistry consultant.
When I start to post part 2, I will post a new chapter here, so those of you interested can get the notice. But this far; thank you for the ride! You've been an amazing audience; some of you silent numbers in the stats, many of you voicing yourselves and encouraging me beyond what words can express! Thank you!