Title: Sacrifice

Author:  Jedi Rita

Rating: PG-13

Summary:  Luke commits murder in order to save Mara.  Does this act make him evil?

Warning: I play fast and loose with the EU, so don't yell at me for my copious inaccuracies.  I never intended this story to be for public consumption, and it's not worth going back and making it consistent with canon.  So just laugh whenever someone or something shows up where it shouldn't, and just go along with the flow.

Author's note:  I was inspired to write this story by, of all things, the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pacifist German clergyman who felt that Hitler represented such a great evil that he was willing to sacrifice his pacifist beliefs in order to participate in an assassination plot.  The plot failed, Bonhoeffer was arrested, and he died at Auschwitz in 1944, shortly before the camp was liberated.  I call it "Bonhoeffer's dilemma" – the ethical question of what it means when a person is willing to violate their most deeply held beliefs.  So I put Luke through Bonhoeffer's dilemma.  His situation is in no way meant to be seen as identical to Bonhoeffer's, but I found it intriguing to explore the ethical implications of his choice.  I'm not sure if I actually agree with my own story or not, and will be very interested to hear readers' feedback.  Also, be warned: I did not "cheat" on this ending and give it the one I wanted it to have.  I determined in the beginning to be honest and let what happen to Luke be dictated by the parameters of the story.

This story is dedicated to just a few of the great pacifist leaders of the 20th century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer of Germany, Benigno Aquino of the Philippines, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, all of whom are somehow or another represented in this story.  The United Nations has declared 2001-2010 to be a "Decade to Create a Culture of Nonviolence."  Peace can happen, if we will it.

Disclaimer:  I am just a Jedi Padawan.  I own nothing.  All that I have belongs to my Master George: my money, my action figures, my dreams and fantasies.  In return he gives me wisdom, many lessons in patience and humility, and the best galaxy in the universe to play in.  All hail Master George!

Part One Chapter One: Darkness Descending

The speeder pulled into a dark alley and drew to a stop.

"The compound is two blocks west of here," the driver said to his passenger.

"I know," was the tight reply.  "I studied the maps thoroughly."

The driver gripped the wheel harder, but he didn't look at the other man.  "I'll be back here in exactly 45 minutes, and if you don't show --"

"It won't take me that long.  Meet me in half an hour."

The driver looked at his passenger in disbelief.  He wanted to contradict, that there was no way anyone could get in and out of the compound in that time, let alone accomplish the mission.  But he bit his lip and remained silent.  After all, a Jedi Knight wasn't just anyone, and Luke Skywalker wasn't just any Jedi.  That's why they had wanted him for the job.  "All right, then, half an hour."

But Luke had already raised the door and exited the speeder.  He vanished into the shadows before the driver could wish him luck.

Luke slid noiselessly through the dark streets.  Even though he had never before set foot on Pamylasia, he knew exactly where he was headed.  The slick streets, damp from the evening rain, glistened from the light of the street lamps on the main avenue, but Luke held to the dark walls, blending in.  Even if anyone else had been on the streets at this late hour, they would never have seen the silent Jedi.

Within minutes, Luke reached a high wall.  He paused a moment.  Three meters high and half a meter thick of durastone, topped with an additional meter of invisible laser beams, ready to fry anyone who tried to climb over.  Gauging the distance, Luke sprang like a coil and arched over the wall, sailing between two of the beams with mere centimeters to spare.  Somersaulting, he dropped to his feet, where he again paused, getting his bearings.  He knew where every camera and alarm was, and he quickly plotted his route to the door he'd picked out to give him access to the building.

He raced across the lawn with the assurance and agility of a panther and flattened himself against the door.  It was locked, but with the Force he was easily able to open the latch, and he slipped into the building.

When he reached the first security camera, he attached a small device to it that would freeze a blank frame, enabling him to pass undetected.  It would only last for twenty minutes, but that gave Luke more than enough time.

Two floors up, and toward the south wing.  He disabled cameras as he went, and the few people he met were easily eluded.  It would be a little trickier once he reached his destination.

The minutes ticked steadily away as he finally reached the hall, one leg of an L-shaped corridor.  There were cameras at each end of the hall, and two Noghri stood guard at the door.  Luke deactivated the camera and levitated the other device along the ceiling toward the camera at the far end, slowly, so the Noghri wouldn't detect the movement.

Luke knew from personal experience what efficient and ruthless bodyguards the Noghri made.  They were almost as fast as any Jedi, and their senses were even more acute.  That's why Luke had been picked for the job.  He was the only person who stood a chance against the Noghri.  It was only a chance, but he had to risk it.  There was too much at stake.  Luke remained absolutely still so they wouldn't hear him, even his breathing, and he carefully manipulated the air flow through the hall so it would carry his scent away from the guards.

Slowly, the deactivating device slid along the ceiling.  The Noghri didn't notice.  Once he got the device to the camera, Luke knew his luck wouldn't keep the Noghri from hearing the device attach itself.  If Luke could have attached it by hand, as he had the one at his end of the hall, he could have done it silently.  But even his mastery over the Force was not great enough to allow him the precision to attach the device as quietly as by hand.

A bead of sweat trailed down Luke's forehead from the strain.  With a wry grin, despite his grim situation, Luke realized it wouldn't be long before the Noghri would smell him anyway.  He conjured up the hint of a sound at his end of the hallway, an indeterminate sound, like the buzzing of a fly or the hissing of the wind, just enough to distract the Noghri while he attached the device.  But he had to get the timing right, to freeze the frame before the Noghri moved.

It worked.  They turned in his direction, noses twitching, one moment after he attached the device.  They were distracted from the camera, but now they were on alert.  His time was up.  Gripping his lightsaber, he strode into the hall, full of purpose.

"I'm Luke Skywalker, son of Vader," he greeted them, his voice quiet but strong.

The guards eyes widened slightly, the only hint of their surprise, before they returned his greeting with equanimity.  "Greetings, Lord Vader," they replied in unison.

Luke was so focused, he didn't even wince upon being hailed by that name.  "An assassin has entered the building and is planning an attack.  We must act quickly."  He felt the beginning of suspicion forming in their minds.  Using the Force to add conviction to his gesture, Luke pointed down the hallway from which he had just come.

And for an instant, in violation of all their training and instincts, the attention of both Noghri was directed away from Luke.  In the space of a heartbeat, he slid behind them and ignited his saber, killing them both with one stroke.

With a long sigh, Luke released some of the tension the confrontation had built up.  He regretted killing the Noghri.  They were fierce but honorable.  Nevertheless, despite the loyalty they felt to his family, they would have killed him if they knew what he had come to do.  Luke bowed his head for a moment over the guards.  Then, drawing his concentration like a cloak around him, he opened the door.

It was unlocked.  Of course.  Why lock a door that is guarded by Noghri?  The room was completely dark, but Jedi eyes could see well enough.  He passed through the room as confidently as if it were midday, until he reached the bedroom door.

Sixty seconds, and it would be over.  He could not even allow room for thought.  He must simply act, as his Jedi-honed skills took him through the next minute.

He opened the door and entered the room.  Two meters away was the bed.  He moved to its side and looked down on its sleeping occupants, untroubled by what had just occurred outside in the hall.  On the side of the bed nearest Luke slept a woman, next to her, her husband.

Luke drew a hypodermic out of his tunic and pressed it to the man's neck.  The man jerked slightly at the sting, but the drug took effect immediately.  He would remain unconscious for at least an hour.  Luke turned to the woman, trying not to look at her face, a face he had only seen in newscasts and photos, one he had never seen in person before.  He resolutely tried not to notice how much younger she appeared, her face relaxed in sleep, the careworn wrinkles softened in the night's dark glow.  Instead he noticed her position, lying on her back.  That made it easier.

He placed the blade end of his lightsaber against her heart and thumbed the switch on, then off.  The blade passed through her body and into the bed, betraying no light to any security camera.  It also killed her instantly. 

His task complete, Luke clipped the blade to his belt and left the room, never looking back. 

Chapter Two: Confession

Han Solo and Chewbacca stood on a street corner on Myrmidon, trying to hail a taxi.  After the polluted air of Coruscant, the fresh breeze and mild sun felt good on their faces.  Han wouldn't even have minded walking.  Spacers spent so much time in artificial lighting and recycled air that they appreciated every moment they spent planetside, even while they chafed under the restrictions of gravity.  But Han didn't know where the hospital Luke asked them to meet him at was, and anyway a taxi quickly pulled up next to them.

"Where to?" the driver asked, her face beaming with the tell-tale signs of recognition and hero worship.

Han gritted his teeth.  "Pandar City Hospital," he said, sliding into the cab after Chewie.

The driver sped off, silent for a moment before asking the question she was dying to know the answer to.  "Say, aren't you --?"

"Nope, I just look like him.  Happens all the time."

Doubt flickered across the cabbie's face, reflected in the rear view mirror.  "But doesn't he travel with a --?"

"Yes, but he's a Grenadaian," he answered, jabbing his thumb at Chewbacca.  "They're a lot shorter than Wookiees."

The cabbie's face fell. "Oh, sorry," she apologized, and drove the rest of the trip in silence.

Next to Han, Chewie chortled softly.  As two famous heroes, he and Han had no problem getting taxis.  They almost never had to pay for a meal at a restaurant or for a room in a hotel.  People were often eager to show their gratitude to the heroes by giving them service gratis.  But these benefits came with another kind of price, an adulation that did not rest well on the Corellian's shoulders.  Sometimes it was just easier to pretend it was a case of mistaken identity.

Chewie had another reason to laugh, though.  Han's game with the cabbie was the closest thing to humor he had exhibited in weeks.  Chewie hooted a question at his friend.

"Yeah, I guess so," Solo replied.  "I'll just be glad to see Luke and Mara safe."  He looked out the window at the street scene passing by, his chin resting on his fist.  Luke and Mara had been on a goodwill tour, really more of a vacation.  It was all very ordinary and low-key, when suddenly they disappeared.  They were gone for over a week when finally out of the blue, Luke called Coruscant to say they were all right, and to ask Han to meet them on Myrmidon.  Luke's voice had been calm, but his eyes were dark and haunted.  Clearly their disappearance had not been voluntary, but he refused to say anything about what happened, and he cut off the transmission when Leia pressed him on it.

Leia had wanted very much to come to Myrmidon as well, but she couldn't afford to leave Coruscant right now.  In addition to all the ordinary crises that commanded the Head of State's attention, Dimishaneer Akeeno, president of Pamylasia, had been assassinated.  An assassination might be considered an ordinary crisis as well, but two factors made the situation on Pamylasia stand out.  First was the fact that the murder weapon was almost certainly a lightsaber, giving rise to speculation about an unknown Sith Lord, or even one of the renegade Jedi gypsies, up to some diabolical machination.

Whoever the assassin was, though, they couldn't have picked a more critical target.  Akeeno, known as Dimi to her people, was deeply revered not only on Pamylasia but throughout the galaxy as one of the greatest souls alive.  For decades Pamylasia had been torn by racial and political strife so intense it made the Empire look like a kindergarten.  As a young woman, Akeeno had been active in the struggle against the Barons who ruled Pamylasia with an almost fanatic oppression.  One of the most promising leaders of the resistance, she had been arrested and spent almost 20 years in prison, separated from her husband and people.  She became a symbol, a rallying cry for the resistance.  The dream was that Pamylasia would be free only when Akeeno herself was free.

As galactic disapproval for the Barons' regime grew, one of the Barons eventually realized that change was in order.  He freed Akeeno and ordered free elections to be held, a courageous move that brought  peace to Pamylasia, but ended his own life with an assassin's attack.

Dimi Akeeno, now entering her senior years, emerged from prison with her wisdom and compassion intact.  The woman whom no one except her guards had seen for 20 years turned out to be an even greater leader than revered memory had made of her.  She united the people with her guidance, and when she ran for president in the elections closely monitored by Republican forces, she won by a landslide.  No one had ever dreamed the quagmire of conflict on Pamylasia could be resolved without tremendous bloodshed, but Akeeno had worked a miracle.

Han had met her on two occasions.  Once, when she came to Coruscant to discuss the transition to democracy with Leia, and again when he and Leia attended Akeeno's inauguration.  Han had met many remarkable people in his day, but none had so closely resembled a saint as Akeeno.  In some ways she reminded him of an older Leia, with the same passion and benevolence.  Han didn't much care for politicians, other than the ones in his immediate family, but Akeeno was different.  News of her death had hit him hard, but it had shaken Leia to the very core of her being.  All the galaxy was stunned at Akeeno's loss, and most tragically, Pamylasia threatened to tear apart in violence once more.  The fragile peace Akeeno had woven unraveled without her steady leadership, and everyone feared that the planet would now lose its one chance for a brighter future.

But Han and Chewie had left that behind them on Coruscant.  Their primary concern was to see that Luke and Mara were safe.  If Luke hadn't heard yet about Akeeno, he would also be distressed by the news.  Luke admired her deeply, but there were more immediate concerns to deal with.

They arrived at the hospital and headed to Mara's room.  They found her, lying asleep in her bed, Luke seated near her, his head in his hands as if in grief.  Fear lanced through Han, and he asked, "Is she all right?"

At the sound of his voice, Luke looked up, and his eyes brightened, although he did not smile.  "She'll be fine," he sighed.  "She's been in the bacta tank.  They just took her out about half an hour ago.  She's sleeping now."

Han quietly pulled up a chair next to Luke and sat down, resting his hand on the Jedi's shoulder.  Chewie paced slowly back and forth at the door, as if he still weren't sure that all was well.  Han studied Luke for a minute, as the younger man watched his wife, unwilling to meet Han's gaze.  Luke looked even worse than he had in the last holo communication.  There was an ashen hue to his skin, and lines creased his forehead.  His eyes were flat and lifeless, with none of their usual glitter and shine.  It seemed as if something had stolen Luke's spirit away, and all that was left of him was an empty shell.

Han looked at Mara, noticing for the first time braces on two fingers of her left hand, and a bandage on her right.  Both her feet were in casts.  Other than that, she appeared to be fine.  But if she had required bacta treatment.…

"What happened?" he asked, prompting the answer Luke seemed reluctant to give.

Luke didn't take his gaze from his wife.  "We were kidnapped.  By people who really know how to handle Jedi.  There was nothing I could do.…"  An anxious edge had crept into Luke's voice.  He stopped to collect himself, and when he spoke again, his voice was calm and flat.  "They tortured Mara.  They knew how to do that, too, how to cause her unbearable pain without doing any permanent damage.  At least they kept their word on that."  He stopped again, distracted by something out in the hall.

"What did they want?" Han prompted.

"They wanted me."  Luke glanced out into the hallway, past the door where Chewie now stood in silence, then turned back to Han, looking into his eyes for the first time.  What Han saw there frightened him.  "Han, something terrible has happened, and it's only going to get worse.  Please," he begged, his hands clasping Han's arms as if he couldn't let go.  "Promise me you'll take care of Mara, make sure she's all right."

"Of course, you know I will, but what --"

Han was interrupted by a knock at the door.  A group of people entered, dressed in the distinctively non-descript garb favored by government agents everywhere, probably security agents or police, along with a couple of doctors.  One of the doctors, who had knocked on the door, said, "Jedi Skywalker?  The agents are here to see you.  I'll have them wait in the hall until you're ready."

"No, that's all right," Luke replied, coming to his feet.  "I'll see them now."

Han and Chewie followed him out into the hallway, closing the door behind them.  A window placed in the wall enabled Han to keep an eye on Mara sleeping in the room. 

One of the agents, wearing a drab gray suit, said, "Jedi Skywalker, it is an honor to meet you.  I was told you had information about the murder of Dimishaneer Akeeno."

Startled, Han glanced at Luke, but the Jedi merely nodded.

"I'm sure the authorities on Pamylasia will be happy to hear about it.  They have no ambassador here on Myrmidon, but the government has asked me to work on their behalf.  If you have any information that will help us capture the assassin --"

"I can do more than that.  I can give him to you myself.  He's me."

Luke's words seems to form a bubble around the group standing outside Mara's door, a bubble that admitted no sound and slowed time.  The agent blinked twice before saying, "I beg your pardon, sir?"

Luke's earlier words were spoken calmly, but now the anxiety Han had seen in the room returned.  Still outwardly calm, Luke's whole body tensed, as if from the strain of holding in some terrible storm of emotion.  "I am the one who killed Akeeno."

No one could mistake his words, and yet neither can anyone make sense of them.  The agents looked at each other in confusion.  "Sir, if something has happened --."

"It did," Luke's voice cracked.  "I killed Akeeno.  I freely confess it."  The words poured out of him as his audience stood in disbelieving silence.  "I am the assassin.  I place myself in your custody until I can be sent back to Pamylasia to stand trial for my crime.  I only came here to see that Mara was cared for.  I'm ready to go with you now."  He removed his lightsaber from his belt and held it out to the agent with a trembling hand.

As the agent reached out to take the saber, everyone in the group was suddenly released from their astonished stupor.

"This can't be right.  There's got to be a mistake," one of the doctors was saying.

"He's confessed," the agent replied, falling back on the safety of procedure to get him through this scene.  "I am required to take him into custody."

"We can't arrest Luke Skywalker!" another of the agents protested.  "We'll all be fired!"

Han's hand moved to his blaster, an unconscious gesture which fortunately the agents were too distracted to notice.  "No one's taking Luke anywhere.  He didn't kill anybody."

"Yes, I did," Luke interjected.

"Sir, I don't think you should say anything more without a lawyer present," one of the doctors cautioned.

"I don't need a lawyer," Luke protested, his voice rising.  His whole body now trembled.  "I'm telling you I assassinated Akeeno.  I held my saber to her heart and killed her in her bed while her husband slept next to her. I have to be taken to Pamylasia to stand trial."  His eyes wildly sought the faces of those around him for any hint of understanding.  "Why don't you believe me?  Why don't you arrest me?" he cried.  His voice shook so hard it was almost impossible to understand him.

"Luke --," Han began.

"Sir, you should sit down," one of the doctors advised.

Something inside Luke gave way to the strain, and his legs collapsed beneath him.  He fell to the floor, shaking with sobs.  Instantly Han knelt next to him, his arms around Luke's trembling shoulders.  "That's it," one of the doctors snapped.  "This man needs medical attention; he's not going anywhere.  I'm admitting him immediately."

The head agent appeared relieved.  "I'll have to leave a guard here to make sure he doesn't escape."

"You think he'll try to escape after this?" Han snapped ferociously.

The agent retreated a step, but the doctor said, "Do what you must, but I'm taking him now.  Nurse, help me."

Arms reached down and gently helped Luke into a nearby wheelchair, and he was whisked away, still weeping.  The doctors followed him, along with the head agent, leaving the two others standing uncertainly with Han and Chewie.  The four of them stared at each other in silent shock.

Faintly Han heard someone call Luke's name.  At first he thought it was his own heart crying out in pain.  He turned and glanced through the window to see Mara struggling to sit up in her bed.  Chewie moaned a question to Han, his eyes troubled.

"I don't know," answered Han.  "If she's been unconscious all this time, maybe he never had the chance to tell her."  Chewie hooted another comment, but Han only clenched his jaw.  "Let's see."  He cast a final accusing glare at the remaining agents before returning to Mara's room.

She was still trying to sit up, but she had only managed to prop herself onto her elbows.  Her green eyes were not fully focused.  "Han?" she gasped.

"Take it easy," he cautioned, gently forcing her to lie down again.

She settled uneasily against the pillow.  "I heard Luke a minute ago.  Where he go?"

Han fussed with the blankets, tucking them around his sister-in-law.  "He, uh -- he collapsed in the hall," he said, nodding his head toward the door.  Concern filled Mara's eyes, and he added, "He's all right.  I think it's just the strain.  The doctor took him down the hall to check on him."

She closed her eyes, whether to conceal her fear or to gather her strength, Han was unsure.  Mara had never been very demonstrative, nor was she the kind of person who confided easily in others.  Han liked Mara well enough, but he sometimes had trouble understanding how Luke, who had always been so open with his emotions, could be attracted to someone as reserved and private as Mara.  She'd loosened up a lot since marrying Luke, but then considering how uptight she had always been, that wasn't necessarily saying much.  Han still had trouble knowing how to talk to her sometimes.  He had no idea how to ask her about Luke, and whether she'd been involved.

She opened her eyes and studied her hands, as if realizing for the first time she had been injured.  She tried to flex the fingers of her bandaged right hand, her saber hand, Han noticed, as she winced in pain.  The thought suddenly occurred to him that Luke might have been covering for her, that she might have been the one who assassinated Akeeno.  After all, she had once been trained in that kind of thing.  Hadn't she once intended to assassinate Luke?

"What happened?"  Han asked.  "Luke said you were kidnapped."

"Yeah," Mara said, her throat tight.  "Shot me full of dioxalin.  It distorts your perception of the Force just enough that you can feel it, but you can't control it.  They had ysalamiri, but they didn't want to deaden the Force around me."

"Why not?"

Her eyes clouded.  "They wanted him to feel what they were doing to me.  They tortured me, I don't know for how long.  Never asked me questions or even said a word.  Then they just stopped."  Her face suddenly transformed into that of a small, frightened child, and when she spoke again, her voice was faint and helpless.  "They wanted something from him.  I tried to hold it all in, so he could bear it.  I knew what they were trying to do.  I remember calling out to him not to give in, but when they stopped .…" She closed her eyes again, shaking her head in despair.  "I knew they'd gotten to him."

Han clenched the arms of his chair until his knuckles turned white.  He knew what it was like to be tortured in order to get to Luke.  He also knew how effective such methods were against his friend.  Luke was strong and brave when it came to his own life, but he could never bear the pain of those he loved.

When Mara had somewhat regained control, she continued.  "The only thing I remember is waking up on the Jade Saber, and Luke telling me everything was all right.  But I knew it wasn't.  He wouldn't tell me what happened, but the look in his eyes frightened me, as if he'd given up all hope, even life itself.  I can't bear to think of what they did to him."  Han exchanged a knowing glance with Chewie.  Their eyes met only for an instant, but Mara caught the exchange.  "What?" she demanded.  "You know, don't you?"

Han didn't know how to tell her, but he also knew he had no right to keep it from her.  "It looks like … it appears he may have assassinated the president of Pamylasia."

Mara as eyes widened in shock, "Dimi Akeeno?" she gasped.  "No.  No, he couldn't have.  Kill someone like Akeeno?  He would never do such a thing, even to protect me.  It would violate --."  She stopped, not daring to go on. 

"Look, I don't know," Han agreed.  "He confessed it out there in the hall, but I can't imagine he could ever be capable of something like that.  There must be more to the story, but he collapsed, and they took him away."

"Where?"  Mara cried in anguish.

"They didn't arrest him," Han hastened to assure her, silently adding Not yet.  "He's here in the hospital.  They just wanted to check him out."

"I have to see him!"

"You'll see him soon, don't worry," Han soothed, but he was growing more troubled.  He didn't want to deal with Mara right now.  Her horror at what Luke had done awakened his own shock and disbelief.  His first instinct, as always, had been to protect Luke, to keep him from being arrested.  But now he realized that the greatest threat Luke faced was his own guilt.  How could Luke live with the knowledge that he had killed the saint of Pamylasia?  How could the rest of them live, knowing he had done it?

The emotions in the room threatened to choke Han.  He had to leave.  He stood, shoving the chair away from him.  "Chewie --," he cast about for an excuse.  "Chewie, you stay with Mara.  I'll check on Luke."  And before either Mara or Chewie could reply, he stumbled out of the room.

In the hall, he glanced distractedly around him.  People, everywhere.  He had to get away somewhere where he could think.  He had to call Leia, let her know what had happened.  He wanted to go back to the Falcon, but he didn't want to be that far away from Luke.  He just needed a minute alone.

He approached the nurses' desk.  "Say, you don't happen to have a communications cubicle around here, do you?"

"Certainly, sir.  Down the hall and to the left," replied the attendant.

That's what Han needed.  He could hide out in the cubicle while he worked up the strength to call Leia.  He turned to go, but the attendant called him back.  "Sir?" she asked.  "He didn't really do it, did he?"

Han stared at her, unable to answer.  He became aware that everyone in the hall was watching, the same question on their faces.  The same look of betrayal.

Oh, Luke, Han despaired silently.  What have you done to us all?

Chapter Three:Farewells

Luke stirred against the pillow and opened his eyes with an effort.  His limbs felt heavy, and his thoughts had trouble focusing.  All that was clear in his mind was the one memory that grew larger and larger until it threatened to consume his whole being: standing over that dark bed, looking down at the sleeping Akeeno as he plunged his lightsaber into her heart.  His life ceased to exist after that point.  He closed his eyes again, exhausted by the effort of holding the pain at bay.

But another memory slowly took shape within his mind's eye.  Standing in a darkened docking day, beneath the shadow of the Jade Sabre.  A speeder pulling up, and two figures emerging, carrying Mara on a stretcher.  Mara, delivered safely to him.  Mara, for whom he had given up everything.

He opened his eyes, and focused on a figure nearby.  Han sat, thumbing through a magazine.  Luke shifted against the pillow, and Han looked up.  He didn't smile, but his expression grew tender.  "Good morning," he greeted.

"Morning?"  Luke repeated.

"It's 10:30.  You slept all night and well into today.  You were out like a light."

"Put out, you mean.  They drugged me."  He gingerly pushed himself up into a sitting position.

"Well, you needed it," Han demurred.  "How do you feel?"

Luke massaged his face with his fingertips, trying to rub the sluggishness away.  How to answer such a question?  He started to tell the truth, that he felt lower than a skink in a bantha stampede, but then he realized how that would sound.  A dark future lay before him, so he'd better prepare for it.  "I feel good enough," he answered.

Han frowned, twisting the magazine in his hands.  He knew Luke was trying to protect him, and he didn't like it.  It was his job to protect Luke, especially now.  Twisting the magazine tighter, he said, "I called Leia."

Luke winced.  "What did she say?"

"Well, there's not much she really could say," Han replied, running his hands through his hair.  "She was worried about you.  She said she's going to get the best lawyers in the galaxy."

"I don't need lawyers," Luke said quietly.

A flood of near panic engulfed Han when he heard Luke's tone.  He recognized it as Luke's stubborn "none of that fancy stuff" Tatooene independence.  He always resisted Leia's diplomatic approach to problem-solving, something Han as a Corellian could understand.  But for once he agreed with Leia.  "Listen, junior," he growled, "you're gonna sit tight and keep your mouth shut until those lawyers get here."

Angered, Luke protested, "Why?  I already confessed.  I did it, and I admit it.  What do I need lawyers for?"

"Gods help me!"  Han swore.  He wanted to strangle Luke.  Instead, he gathered all his powers of persuasion and sat down on the bed next to Luke, grabbing the Jedi firmly by the shoulders and forcing him to look at Han.  "Listen to me, Luke.  This is really serious.  You could get the death penalty, for pity's sake!  I know you think you're doing the right thing, but you have got to listen to the lawyers.  Your confession probably won't be admissible, so you need to keep your trap shut."  Luke shook his head to protest, but Han stopped him.  "Please, Luke," he pleaded.  "You have to let the people who love you try to help you.  You can't face this alone."

The argument worked.  Luke nodded wearily.  "But I have to go back to Pamylasia."

Han didn't like it, but he didn't see how it could be avoided at this point.  The agent guarding Luke had already told Han the Pamylasian government had ordered Luke's extradition as soon as he was released from the hospital.  "All right," he reluctantly agreed.  "But you won't say anything, right?  No more confessions?"

"Right.  Now let me get up.  I need to get dressed."


Luke got unsteadily to his feet, leaning on Han.  "I'm discharging myself from the hospital."

"Now?"  Han protested.

"Do really think there'll be a better time?"

Han couldn't think of an excuse, so he reluctantly helped Luke get dressed.  Neither of them spoke, Han's anxiety mounting by the minute, and Luke actually seeking the respite prison would provide from the disapproval of his loved ones, even from his own feelings of guilt.

Once dressed, Luke opened the door and presented himself to his two guards.  "I'm ready to go whenever you are," he announced, to their surprise.  He offered them his lightsaber, but Han protested, "Don't give it up, kid.  I'll take care of it for you."

Luke hesitated, but one of the guards said, "It'll be wanted for evidence."

Han flinched as the guard pocketed the weapon, a symbol of honor now transformed into an emblem of shame, but Luke showed no emotion.

"I want to see my wife again before we go," Luke said.  At least, Han noted, Luke hadn't phrased it in terms of a request.

The agent agreed, "Of course.  We have to call for backup anyway."

"Backup?"  Han protested.  "Do you really think he'll try to make a break for it?"

Starting to resent Han's interference, the agent huffed, "No, but the Sergeant thinks it's necessary, as much for Jedi Skywalker's protection as anything else."

"Protection?"  Han echoed, even as he became aware of how many people had stopped to watch the drama unfolding in the hall.  Suddenly he wanted to be away from all those prying eyes with their expressions of betrayal.  "Let's get this over with," he muttered.

One of the guards went to call for backup, while the other accompanied Han and Luke to Mara's room.  When they reached the window, Luke saw that the blinds had been drawn.  He turned to Han and grasped his wrist.  "Remember, you promised to stay and take care of her," he urged.

Han wanted to protest that Mara was more than capable of taking care of herself, a claim Han didn't think Luke could make for himself.  But he could not refuse Luke's request, spoken with the intensity of a dying wish, a comparison that was far too close for Han's comfort.  "I promise," he agreed.  "And I'll join you as soon as she's up to it."

The ambiguity of Han's statement seemed to trouble Luke, but he nodded, releasing Han's wrist.  Glancing at the guard, he said, "I'd like to see her alone, if I may."


Luke paused, collecting himself for this most painful of farewells.  He was acutely aware of the crowd that had gathered in the hall.  He wanted to scream at them, to drive them away.  But this hospital room was all the privacy he would get.  Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and went in.

Mara was seated in a wheelchair looking out the window, her back to Luke.  Her shoulders stiffened when she sensed his presence, but she didn't turn around.  Chewbacca growled a soft greeting to Luke and reached for the handles of Mara's chair to turn her, but she waved him off.  Turning worried eyes on Luke, Chewie left the room, resting his large hand briefly on Luke's shoulder in comfort as he passed him.

Mara remained silent, and Luke took a hesitant step toward her.  All he could think of to say was, "How are you?"

But Mara refused to answer, and Luke could feel the anger radiating from her.  "How could you do it, Luke?" she accused, her voice low.  "Why?  Trade Akeeno's life for mine?  What kind of an exchange is that?  She was a hero, a leader for the whole galaxy, and I'm just a former Imperial agent gone straight.  What am I compared to her?"

You're my wife, Luke silently replied.

As if she had heard him -- maybe she had -- she shot an angry glance at him over her shoulder.  She fumbled with the wheels of her chair, unable to turn them with her bandaged hands, and Luke quickly moved to where she could face him.

"I am a Jedi!" she spat at him.  "Do you think I don't know the risks, and the responsibilities of that role?  Remember how I once told you I didn't want to be a Jedi because I didn't want to be responsible to everyone who made a claim on me?  You're the one who made me reconsider.  You were there when I made that final commitment.  Do you think I didn't mean it?"

"I know you meant it," Luke answered quietly. 

"So how could you have done it?  It wasn't your decision alone, Skywalker.  Didn't it occur to you that I would willingly give my life to protect Akeeno?"

Luke's heart ached.  This had been his deepest fear.  "Yes," he whispered.

"Then how could you betray my honor?" she cried.

Luke lowered his head, but his heart remained unmoved.  "I couldn't let them kill you.  I couldn't watch you die."

Mara covered her ears with her bandaged hands.  She'd known his answer, but she couldn't bear to hear him say it.  "The Emperor always said your compassion was your greatest weakness.  It made you so predictable.  He was more right than even he knew."  Her eyes turned hard.  "You have condemned me to live a life I know was bought at the price of a life worth ten times as much as mine.  I must live a life I gladly would have given to preserve hers.  How do you expect me to live with that?"

"I'm sorry."  But even as he said it, he knew it wasn't true.  He did not regret his decision.

Mara knew it, too.  "Don't lie to me."

"Then there's nothing more to say."  Luke pushed himself to his feet.

Premonition washed over Mara.  "Where are you going?"

"They're waiting outside to take me back to Pamylasia," was the mild answer.

"No!  You can't leave me like this!"

"I have to."  He began to move toward the doorway.

Fumbling desperately with the wheelchair, Mara cursed, "Damn you, Skywalker, don't you dare leave me.  Don't do this!"

Tears filled Luke's eyes as he resolutely shut his ears to Mara's pleas before his courage gave out.  He stumbled through the door, slamming it shut, but the door was too thin to block out Mara's final anguished cry, "LUKE!"

Unnerved by the screams of rage and grief coming from inside the room, the agent fumbled with a pair of restraining cuffs.

"Powers that be!  Are those really necessary?" Han rebuked, shaken.

"I'm afraid so, sir," the agent stammered.

"Just put them on me and get me out of here!" Luke cried.

The crowd of spectators in the hall, disturbed by Mara's cries, murmured in dismay to see the cuffs snap closed on Luke's wrists.  They were witnessing an outrage.  Luke Skywalker, arrested.  Luke Skywalker, an assassin.  They didn't know whether to stop the arrest, or lynch the Jedi Master themselves.

The guards formed a phalanx surrounding Luke and started to lead him down the hall.  Han wanted to follow, but Luke shouted, "Stay with Mara!"

The crowd pressed closely around the guards, slowing their progress.  Hands reached out toward Luke.  "Bendu, what has happened?" someone cried out, using the old term of respect for the Jedi.

"Clear the way, by order of the police!" the lead agent shouted.  The crowds backed off slightly, but their cries grew louder.  They shouted encouragement, sympathy, questions, while hospital personnel attempted to quiet them.  Then someone yelled, "Murderer!"  A shock wave rippled through the crowd, and they surged against the guards surrounding Luke.  Hisses and moans filled the air, and some of the guards reached for their weapons.

Through his own anguish, Luke could sense the passion of the crowd.  They were on the verge of rioting right in the middle of the hospital, and he could do nothing to stop it.  Never had Luke felt so powerless, not only before his own fate, but also to use his influence for good.  He had committed murder, violating his oath as a Jedi.  What moral right did he now have to exercise leadership?  So he could only watch as the crowd threatened to explode.

"Over there!" one of the agents shouted.  He pointed toward a service elevator where one of the hospital's doctors beckoned them.  They forced their way through the sea of spectators to the proffered escape route.

Inside the elevator, another of the hospital personnel waited to escort them out of the hospital.  He led them through restricted access hallways to a side exit, where he wished them luck.  Luke took a deep breath, blinking in the midday sun, but the respite didn't last long.  The news cameras, waiting by the hospital's main entrance, spotted them as they tried to make it to the speeder.  Reporters hurled questions at Luke as the agents hustled him into the vehicle.

Luke had been mobbed before, certainly, by crowds of well-wishers and hero-worshippers.  He had been chased by reporters and hounded by paparazzi.  But this time it would be different.  No one would ask for his autograph.  No one would hold up a baby for him to touch, or take his hand to kiss it with grateful tears.  Now they would have questions, questions of pain and betrayal, questions of accusation.  Luke owed them answers, but he had no answers to give.

That's why he was so eager to go to prison.  The public could not follow him there.  Prison would be his refuge.