Janet awoke with a start and a gasp. Trembling, she sat up and reached for the lamp, but as the dream that had disturbed her sleep ebbed into reality, she thought better of it. Beside her Mark stirred and resettled on his side, his breathing evidence that his slumber hadn’t been interrupted. She watched him for a while, envying him that everlasting optimism that permitted sleep. Things, she knew, didn’t always turn out, no matter how much time would eventually go by. Cross the galaxy to and fro forever and nothing would ever cloud over the pulling the trigger on one of her oldest and dearest friends, or dispel the memory of the darkness seeded in the eyes of the son she had killed for. Nothing could ever make it better, make it all right. Nevertheless, if she could feel his arms around her, the steady and reassuring pounding within his chest – resting there, she could forget. For just a little while. Reaching out a hand to touch Mark’s shoulder, she almost did, but withdrew before making contact. Tears filled eyes already stinging from lack of sleep. Hadn’t he already been put through enough? The guilt was hers – it was a burden she had taken on herself upon drawing the weapon and ending the Jedi’s life. His life for Les. She had handed her only son a second chance, and yet…oh Jinx….
The only certainty was that there would be no further sleep to be had. Easing from bed, she slipped into a robe and stole from the room. Stopping briefly in the corridor, she laid a hand on Les’ door. All was quiet on the other side, but she couldn’t escape the sense of wrongness she felt coming through it. It was those eyes – the ‘other Les’ she had witnessed, that haunted her, generated that disturbing chill. Surely…surely that was all it was.
It had to be.
Inside his room, sitting on the bed with legs crossed and eyes closed, Les sensed his mother pause briefly at his door before moving on to the living room. His face remained pale, placid, and unmoving, without a hint of the scowl he felt on the inside. She was going to hang this over his head forever. Everyone was. He could see it in her eyes, in all their eyes. I don’t owe anyone anything, the thought echoed through his mind. This is my life, I have to live it. Anger burned from the deep core of his being. No one understands, he grumbled inwardly, knowing even as he thought it that it wasn’t really true; but somehow it made him feel better. He lied to me; hid things from me. Maybe I went about things the wrong way, but do I really regret it completely? He calmed the acceleration of his heart, regained control of his breathing. In the ensuing calm, the thoughts he dared not explore now he fully entertained, laid out in front of him and studied – like the feelings he’d been trained to set aside and deny. Anger. Fear. Even hate. They were natural; they were powerful. And feared. It was a paradox, to live in fear of fear. Was that not dancing with the Dark Side? What secrets did the Dark Side conceal due to those in the Light being afraid to explore it?
He was going to find out. Already he had jumped over the line with both feet and seen what power lay waiting to be tapped into. Hang them all – he was going to find out. But he could not be found out. He would have to be careful; and he could, too – he could handle it, learn it, control it. He’d learned the side of Light, had he not? Why not have a foot on both sides? What power could be attained and wielded by one who knew and grasped both Light and Dark? What, then, would be left to fear? Why not face fear head-on, rather than deny it? Why were the Jedi tying one hand behind their backs? Liars!
In the darkness, in the protective sphere of Force energy he’d formed around him, he contemplated these problems. While, in his parent’s room, Mark, awakened by Janet’s exodus, lay on his back with his hand behind his head, gazing up through the shadows at the featureless ceiling. Heaving a heavy sigh, he labored against the weight in his chest and wondered what to do. It seemed as though Asya had been traded for Janet and Les. Jinx died with the consequences of his actions, and his family was left with the price. A gulf had formed between them and Les, who had returned altered by what had happened, and in a way, it scared him. In an already turbulent time in his life, Mark felt helpless now as the boy struggled with things he couldn’t even name. And that special bond that had always existed between Janet and Les had been severely frayed, though they were trying to go on and pretend things were returning to normal.
But there was no normal, anymore. He was watching his wife go through her own private hell, her burden almost too much for her to bear. He would lift it wholly upon himself if he could, would at least help carry it; yet she somehow found it necessary to protect him from it, and he couldn’t figure out why. Was it because it involved Jinx? He reached up and played with a corner of his mustache. He had to level with the fact that even if she were no longer in love with him, there was part of her that probably still had feelings for him. Did not Mark himself still reserve a place in his heart for his late wife, who perished with Alderaan? Even so, he hadn’t been the one responsible for her death….
His heart physically ached over the pain Janet was going through. Pulling the covers back, he propped himself into a sitting position, and with joints complaining, lowered his feet to the floor. He felt as though something should be done, but he sat there, staring blankly at his slippers, with no idea what. Fiddling with the Raven – that is, the Stormcrow – had always helped him sort things in the past; but even that seemed dry and uninteresting. The ship was flight worthy, what else was there to do? Looking down at work-worn hands that had fixed and invented so many things throughout his lifetime, he found that none of it appealed to him in the least. He was tempted sorely to his pipe for a moment, but no; he’d been smoking more than leisurely lately, and had gained a worrying cough as a result. Should probably cut down on that habit, unhappily. He sat on the edge of utter despair – if not for Asya alive and back from the dead, now sleeping peacefully just a room away. In her was proof that even in the worst of times things could take an unexpected twist and end happily. That was his last shred of hope in a galaxy of darkness, like the last star in the sky. He got up and tied his robe around him.
Opening her door a crack and peeking in, he didn’t panic when he saw her bed was empty; in fact, he expected it. Retrieving her from the floor of her tiny closet, he carried her back to bed, a feat that was becoming more laborious as she was regaining the weight she’d lost during her journey with the Vong. Tucking her in without waking her and smoothing her hair, he stared at her in wonder of the miracle that she should be given back to them alive.
Journeying around in the dark, he felt the hair on the back of his neck inexplicably raise up as he went past the closed door to Les’ room, and he almost stopped to check in on him, too; but thinking of the dark circles formed around his eyes of late, decided not to risk waking him.
Janet was sitting in the little square of light thrown in through the living room window, staring out at the night sky – at least, what was visible of it against the light cast by Shay Memorial. Mark stood in the doorway for a long moment, watching her, all curled up in the corner of the couch, an elbow on the arm rest, head propped in her hand, eyes glittering wanly in the pale light as she gazed at the stars. Leaning against the door frame, he studied the way the light fell on her face. She was still the tough yet notably lovely woman he had first laid eyes on all those years ago. But for a few faint lines around her eyes and mouth, she remained the same. The years had been kind; in fact, the added maturity had brought a regality to her features, while retaining the spark in her eyes that told that nonsense would not be tolerated. The only thing he didn’t like about this picture was the tormented furrowing of her brow, and the fact that he wasn’t by her side to alleviate her distress.
Overhearing a sigh, she turned to find him watching her. Caught, he gave a cough and said just above a whisper, “Why don’t you come on back to bed, try and get some sleep?”
“What time is it? No, never mind – I don’t want to know,” she said, turning back to the window. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll be back in a little while.”
“But I do worry about you,” he ventured, crossing the room. Sitting beside her, he put an arm around her and tried to draw her close.
“I’m all right, really. I’m okay,” she said tensely, leaning away from him as though his efforts weren’t necessary.
“Janet…please,” he pleaded, unable to prevent anguish from entering his voice. Janet was shocked to hear dark despair lurking behind it. With his uttering of those two words, she began to realize then how she was punishing him as well as herself; the solitude to which she had committed herself in the name of shielding him from undeserved agony had walled him miserably on the outside. So focused had she been on the terrible events on Coruscant that she’d lost sight of those who needed her – and that she needed them just as much, if not more. Great. Now she had one more thing to feel bad about.
“I’m sorry, Mark,” she said, duly chastised. Earnest to set things right, she relaxed against him and welcomed his arms around her. Closing her eyes, she eased her arms around him and settled into his embrace, where no words were needed. His heart beat steadily away in his chest that rose and fell as he breathed the scent of her hair. The apartment was enveloped in stillness so complete that they could hear the ticking of the chrono back in Asya’s room. Ships came and went at the spaceport. It seemed after a time that those things were very far away, and it was just Mark and Janet sitting on a sofa on a distant planet far and away from it all. Soothed as if by a spell, she at last fell into a tranquil and easy sleep.
The arm he’d wrapped around her was beginning to tingle. He shook and flexed his hand to keep it from going to sleep, an activity that would probably occupy him for the rest of the night; but so long as she was getting some much-needed sleep he would gladly put up with it. While she further sank against his shoulder, he brushed his lips against her forehead and, keeping his voice low so as not to wake her, told her how much he loved her.