For your amusement, another patent TMcE 'fic that was pulled from TFN!
This presentation was once the mildly infamous 'Reminiscing', straddling two 'Missing Moments' in Balance Point and Conquest, in which Anakin Solo and Mara Jade knock boots. Just for fun, you can compare it with the replacement 'fic, Not My Fault [link goes to TFN message board], and in this case, unlike This Minute Now, the mod who knifed the original 'fic isn't to blame. She was a great help, and became a good friend ...
Mara, the POV character in the first scene of the diptych, can take care of herself; the second scene, however, is supposed to be seen through the very subjective and intensely context-driven thoughts of a kid just above the age of consent, in a situation of severe emotional stress. Unhealthy as it may be, I'm trying to show things from Anakin Solo's point of view.
The first scene takes place (from a certain point of view) between the fourth and seventh lines on page 67 of Balance Point (which appear hear as the first two paragraphs and the last line) looking back mostly at events during the scene-shift on page 65. The second interrupts the regularly-scheduled pagination of Conquest in lines 25-33 on page 37. Again, the first two paragraphs and the last line are from the novel.
Thanks, above all, go to Kathy Tyers and Greg Keyes for writing such great novels as well as humble apologies, because I'm pretty sure neither of them intended it to be read this way....
All our minds are in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the sea of stars ...
"Reminiscing?" Luke asked.
She pulled her vest closer, hoping her sudden shiver was due to the evening chill. Several times, close proximity with the Yuuzhan Vong had seemed to spark relapses of her illness.
But that's not really it at all, is it, Mara? her own voice mocked her.
She didn't answer. She just stared out from the edge of the rooftop, her green eyes glittering like high-carat Émerauds as she watched the long lines of traffic moving across the sunset sky, and the towers of the city standing tall behind them.
She had always liked evenings on Coruscant, the way the radiance seemed to suffuse the air, the bright lights of the city adding their own beauty to the red-gold gleam in the heavens overhead. The beauty of those lights, she reflected, was the beauty of countless lives being lived. Behind the patterns of light on the faces of the skyscrapers and the slow queues of flitters, skimmers and air-trams, it all came down to people - working late, home early, or simply moving from one part of their lives to another.
Above them, the first stars of the night were coming out. Other stars, other suns. Other worlds, with other people. All, in some way or other, a little bit like Coruscant.
But it was no secret that Coruscant was the primary target of the Yuuzhan Vong invasion. They were blind to the beauty of the world-wrapping city, seeing it only as something utterly ugly and abhorrent, something to be crushed to dust beneath the heels of their bio-engineered creatures.
That, she told herself, was why they were fighting them.
But it wasn't that which was eating at her, either.
It was the way her husband had just slipped back into the skimmer, ducking in through the passenger door and swinging himself easily across the seats to the driver's side just like she'd seen him do it a thousand times before. More than once, she'd wondered whether the unselfconscious agility came from his Jedi training, or the fact that he'd lived half his life in cramped cockpit of a snubfighter.
She knew the answer now and it was neither of those things. It was something far simpler. He'd just been born that way.
And she knew that now, because it was the exact same way that his nephew, sixteen-year-old Anakin Solo, had climbed into his own skimmer, twenty minutes earlier.
And twenty minutes before that?
Well, she'd been watching Anakin Solo then, too but it had been hard to see anything 'unselfconscious' or 'agile' in him at that moment in time.
He'd still looked a lot like Luke, though.
She tracked back further through her thoughts, using Force-powered memory-enhancement techniques to trace the train of thought, the chain of events.
Trying to see how she'd gone from there, to there, to there, to here. From the person she'd been an hour earlier to the person she was now.
An hour earlier.
When she'd put her arm around Anakin Solo's shoulders, and guided him gently out of the medi-bay, while the surgeons and droids fought to save the life of the girl bleeding to death on the examination table in front of them.
The Yuuzhan Vong girl they'd caught down on the lower levels. The alien infiltrator who had just slashed open her own throat with the claw implanted in her hand.
She'd seen the grief in his eyes, the horror and despair. She knew she needed to get him out of there. He hadn't really been in any state to disagree. Then, as the doors of the medi-bay swooshed shut behind them and the world fell silent, he had slipped out from under her guiding arm, and they had found themselves facing each other in the corridor.
"It's my fault," he said, looking at the deck. Then he raised his gaze, his eyes filmed with tears. Eyes like Luke's eyes. Eyes that were unable to hide anything. "Again."
"Don't say that," she told him. "There was nothing you could have done."
"Yes I could," he sighed. "I had my lightsaber." He stared at the hilt of his weapon, still held in his hand, and buckled it clumsily to his belt. "I could have stopped her cut off her hand if I had to, but stopped her. Kept her alive. Given her a chance...."
"Anakin," she said, holding up one hand. "Stop."
"It was my fault," she said, swallowing hard, leaning back against the wall, palms of her hands flat against the cool durasteel. She smiled bitterly. "If I hadn't told you to stop ..."
"Um," Anakin said, frowning, and they both fell silent. That was twice, now, that she'd told him to stop. "We'd better wait. There's still a chance I mean, isn't there?"
"Not here," she answered, glancing up the corridor. Through the Force, she could sense a group of humans and aliens approaching the junction up ahead. They were laughing just a little too loudly. Medical people, exobiologists, security it hardly mattered.
It was just someone. Someone who didn't understand. Someone who hadn't been there.
"Okay," Anakin nodded, turning round with a flash of gratitude for having something to do some problem to solve and skimmed one of his IDs quickly across the lock-plate beside the nearest frosted-plast door. It slid open, and she followed him inside. The door slid shut. "Ah. Should we try someplace else?"
"It'll do," she shrugged. The place seemed to be some sort of store for NRI's in-house medical facility. In the faint light filtering through the opaque door, she could see surgical beds and medical computers parked under plast sheets, deactivated cleaning droids and unloved filing cabinets. Looking for somewhere to sit down, she selected the nearest of the bulky storage crates piled roughly round the corner of the room. She paused, brushed the dust off the lid, and sat down properly. "Turn the lights on, will you?"
Anakin nodded, and she watched him walk back to the touch-pad beside the door, saw the soft flicker overhead as the glow-panels switched on. The glimmer was faint, but it was enough to hold back the darkness for a while.
"Thanks," she smiled, as he turned back towards her, and took up his place on the opposite side of the door, leaning against the side of an old Fedukowski superprocessor, arms folded across his chest. He frowned at the slight metallic echo as the housing flexed beneath his weight. He was trying to look like a grown-up. He was trying to look like his father.
She smiled, shook her head.
"Anakin," she began. "What happened ... happened."
"It shouldn't have," he sighed. "I'm meant to be a Jedi. I'm meant to see these things. I do see these things. I should be able to stop them. Chewie, Centerpoint, Dantooine, that girl ..."
"Anakin," she sighed. "On Dantooine, you saved my life."
"Yeah," he muttered. "Maybe. But if I'd just ... I should have known!"
"Shh," she whispered. "Maybe you should just listen to your instincts a little more? Like I said, on Dantooine ... quiet down. And then it'll come."
"My danger sense, right?" he asked. "Is that what you mean that I should trust my feelings? I wish it was that easy. Sometimes ... my feelings tell me that my brother deserves a punch in the nose. Or ... other things. That sort of feeling gets in the way of thinking straight. I know it's not the same thing. Feelings can be odd, I guess ..."
"I guess," she agreed, lifting her shoulders in a friendly shrug. "I don't think I have all the answers ..."
"You just have to feel them out?" he finished for her, grinning. "Right?"
"Right," she nodded, looking at him with a sort of surprised pride. Suddenly, the absurdest thought flashed through her brain, and she laughed slightly cruel, amusement glinting mischievously in her eyes.
He flinched, shoulders stiffening.
She'd just overheard a wayward teenage thought. One he really hadn't wanted her to hear.
She felt a warm tingle inside herself.
She felt flattered.
Slowly, she drew her heels up onto the edge of the crate, knees up under her chin, forearms arms wrapped around her shins. She smiled, tilted her head at a slight angle, and looked at him again.
"Not like that, Anakin," she said, shaking her head in disbelief, acutely aware that he was looking back, fighting back his thoughts. Fighting back hope. His eyes tracked a straight line through the chaos towards her. The room the whole of Coruscant seemed very silent and empty. Something as vast and slow and heavy as the Galaxy itself seemed to slant and slowly tip beneath their shifting weight, tilting and spinning around them both.
In the room next door, a girl lay dying.
He was her nephew. He was sixteen.
At least that explained where the wayward thought had come from, she supposed. As well as underlining why she could never, ever follow up on it.
What are you thinking about, Mara? she asked herself. Why did she need to even need to think about why it was wrong? She was married, damnit. Happily, deliriously married. In love with her husband, everything like that.
That part of her life, at least, was perfect.
I mean ...
Anakin flushed. For a heartbeat, his lip trembled slightly.
What are you afraid of, Jade? It's not like you to be lost for words.
He hesitated, his cheeks burning with embarrassment.
"I'd best get back," he said, scuff-kicking one boot against the other, staring at the deck again. "See how they're doing in there. Maybe another Jedi."
"On you go," she nodded. "I think I'll stay here."
She'd decided that she liked the dark, quiet room, the dusty calm of the ignored, unvisited space.
"Thanks, Aunt Mara," he said, taking two quick, awkward steps towards her. His arms wrapped round her body, and he slumped his chin on her shoulder, staring at the wall behind her. He patted her back. Once, softly, like a heartbeat. "Thanks for ... uh, you know. You're not going to tell anyone about this, are you?"
He eased away, looking at her for reassurance.
In answer, she just looked up, into his eyes.
"No worries," she heard her own voice say, solemn and apologetic, and as gentle as she could be. "But Anakin, you need to learn to watch that sort of thing. Guard your thoughts. For a Jedi, it can be very dangerous ... You have to stop, learn when to stop."
She saw his face twitch and buckle, and suddenly, he was sobbing like a child, his mental barriers collapsing, all the pent-up emotion he'd stored up for the past year and more spilling out in a chaotic tumble grief and anger, frustration, pity, hatred, fear. Emotions he'd forced down into the darkness, kept locked away by sheer strength of will, with only teenage hormones for company and an awful sense that nothing he tried to do seemed to turn out right any more.
She felt her own lip twitch in sympathy.
Don't you start crying, Mara Jade ...
"Come here," she said, holding out her arms for him. Her voice cracked. He was just a kid. He just needed to be held. Needed to hold someone.
So did she.
She started to cry.
He moves like Luke, she realised, as he fell into her arms, and she mussed his hair, letting him sob against the shoulder of her vest. She propped her chin on his own shoulder, looking past him into the darkness, tears rolling slowly down her cheeks.
He shifted his grip on her upper arms and shoulders, raised his head, and tried to smile.
She smiled back.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. So so very sorry ...
She felt a flutter of his breath on her cheek, and flushed red-hot. She looked back at him, through the tears.
"Why?!" he croaked, his eyes burning with light. His lip twitched helplessly, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him again, bringing him back for her own sake as much as his. Like a baby. She thought she'd resigned herself to never having kids of her own.
She sobbed in grief, more lonely and miserable than she'd ever realised.
His lips brushed her own, almost by accident and for a moment, they hesitated.
Only for a moment.
So very sorry ...
After the tears had spent themselves, they broke the kiss, looking nervously at each other.
Trying not to cry, trying not to smile.
"I ... I'm sorry," he said, stumbling backwards a step. "Sith. What ... what did we just do ...?! Why did you let me ...? I'm sorry, Aunt Mara. I, uh ... ah ... I guess this is my fault as well. Aw, heck. I'm sorry." His face crumpled again. "Feelings, huh? Why can't I get any of this right?! Why ...?!"
"No," she answered. "You're doing just fine."
Reaching out for the lapels of his tunic to steady herself, she slid down from her perch bracing herself against the edge of the crate, his hands instinctively going to hold her upper arms for balance. To her own surprise, she pulled him back towards herself as her feet touched the ground, the two of them brought together by the momentum of the moment.
"It's not your fault," she told him. "And not 'Aunt Mara'. Not now. Not here. Not for the next twenty minutes, at least."
She didn't give him any time to object. That would have meant letting her own thoughts catch up with what she was doing.
Besides, her tongue was already half-way down his throat again.
At the time, it had seemed surreal, hallucinatory. Most of it had been embarrassing, and the rest had simply been messy. She remembered snatches of clear, coherent thought totally at odds with the words she was whispering, with what she was doing. Training, instincts, and her danger sense had all kicked in but she'd done nothing to stop it. Just tried to understand. Trying to assemble it all into a clear pattern.
Trying to work out how they had ended up there, and where they were going.
Past, present, future.
All she found were fragments of thought, none of them forming any real pattern.
There were the days on Dantooine, of course, when Anakin had carried her almost literally through the endless thunderstorm with the sickness raging in her system and the Yuuzhan Vong hard on their heels. She realised now that, hazed by the fever and the rain, she'd mistaken him for Luke on more than one occasion, reaching out for comfort, asking him for support in ways he could never answer but which he'd had to deal with as gently and tenderly as he could, or risk losing her completely to the exhaustion and the illness.
There was the phial of 'tears' which Vergere had given her, which were holding the disease at bay now. Perhaps they were affecting her judgement either directly in the Force, or through her unguarded relief at feeling well again. For months, she'd been keeping herself going on little more than the strength of the Force itself, and she'd forced herself to act the part of someone with far more energy and enthusiasm than she'd really felt. She was a good actor she'd even fooled Luke, as much as she ever could but in the rush of emotions as she went into remission a supernova of genuine enthusiasm overlaid on the same black background of underlying exhaustion perhaps she'd let her self-control get a little slack.
Slack, huh, Jade?
There was the sickness itself, and the Yuuzhan Vong invasion, and all the despair and doubt and fear that it seemed to bring with it. Perhaps that was all it was. A slow, seeping sense of her own weakness. Anakin had his own burdens as well, his own secrets guilt over Chewbacca's death, guilt over not firing the Centerpoint weapon at the Yuuzhan Vong fleet, guilt that he couldn't understand or explain.
Guilt over the way his eyes sometimes tracked to her, drawn by an impulse that he couldn't explain, still less control.
They had simply fallen together in the darkness, and reached out to touch each other. Looking for something real to hold onto, they had found themselves mirrored in each other's eyes.
In the room next door, the Yuuzhan Vong girl was fighting for her life or at least, the medical team were fighting to save her. Both of them felt responsible for what had happened to her. Both of them were acutely aware of their own human fallibility at that moment in time.
Or perhaps it was something far less rational and far more simple, a collision of basic biological imperatives that had slipped the leash while they had been distracted by the complex irreducibility of all those other muddled emotions. Something in both of them that had seen its way to fulfilment, and taken its chance.
If what they had shared could be called fulfilment.
What Anakin Solo lacked in experience, he certainly didn't make up for in enthusiasm. He had too much of his father in him the insecurity and the cross-grained stubbornness, as well as the cocky overconfidence. And she wasn't exactly enjoying herself, either. There had been few tender smiles in those few minutes, and less shared laughter. It was, all in all, grimly awkward, and intensely unromantic.
But even when what they were trying to do had come to a tangled, awkward stop for the third time, and they had looked at each other again in mutual embarrassment, it only seemed to enmesh them more in the messy desire to go through with it or at least, they'd ignored the obvious alternative. It didn't seem that stopping now would do anything except leave them with another unresolved problem.
At least, that was the justification that they seemed to have agreed on.
Both of them wanted it. Needed it. Nothing else mattered not even the absurd chance which had dictated the only available choice of partner.
Not even Luke.
Meanwhile, in the room next door, the Yuuzhan Vong girl died. Null in the Force though she was, both of them felt the sudden release of emotion and energy from the medical team wash over them when it happened, something like a little death all in itself.
Perhaps both of them just wanted to die.
Afterwards, they'd simply lain together in silence for a while. It struck her as odd that she was the one curled in the crook of his body, his arms around her. Odd that he was being the protective, parental one, his fingers tickling her belly, his eyes finding absent patterns in the freckles on her shoulder.
They'd not really done much talking. Somehow, she knew they had nothing to say less in common than she'd expected.
In retrospect, it seemed absurd that a woman in her early forties should have expected to have common ground with a boy of sixteen. Except, of course, that wasn't it at all. That hadn't mattered. None of it mattered.
Odd to think that she'd done what she'd done. That they'd done what they'd done. Her and him.
It seemed odd.
But not wrong, not shameful, and definitely not like any sort of betrayal.
Not like it should.
Odd, because it made perfect sense.
Odd, because it made no sense at all.
Odd, because she had never, ever imagined cheating on Luke. And certainly not with his sixteen-year-old nephew.
Certainly not like that.
Not until it just, somehow ... happened.
She wondered if she was lying to herself. But she knew what shock felt like, and denial. At least, she thought she did. Thought she had.
"Don't think about it," she told him at one point. "Nothing happened. It never happened."
"Nothing happened," he repeated. "It never happened."
Powerful though he was in the Force, she was immeasurably more experienced, and with his mind wandering like it was, the mind-trick had been as easy to pull off as the smile she glossed it with. The memory would settle quietly in the back of his mind as it would in hers, simply an acknowledgement of something that had been natural and necessary, leaving them both unworried.
Leaving both of them, somehow, a lot better off than they had been when the door of the storage room slid shut behind them.
At least, that was what she told herself. If there were any dissenting voices inside her, screaming at the madness, berating her for betraying Luke, condemning her for taking advantage of her nephew's innocence and inexperience, she couldn't hear them.
Maybe she was just exhausted, that was all.
But then there was just that odd shiver that she had felt as she watched Luke climb into the skimmer right now, something that she couldn't quite pretend was entirely to do with the cold wind blowing through her.
Eventually, they had unravelled from each other, straightened their clothes, and headed to the 'fresher to tidy up. In her case, that meant five minutes of efficient, professional work, not much different than putting on a disguise for an infiltration mission. In his case, it seemed to involve flicking some tapwater through his hair, and scuffing his boots some more.
While she was towelling her hair dry, Luke had commed to say he was on his way over, and so, she'd seen Anakin back to his skimmer. It hadn't felt particularly awkward. It hadn't felt particularly anything. She'd watched him climb into the cockpit, and answered his parting wave as he lifted off and swung away towards the downtown traffic.
After he'd gone, she'd stood at the edge of the roof for a while, staring out at the city, not really thinking about anything.
Stood almost exactly where she was now, doing pretty much the same thing.
Wondering why she didn't feel any sort of need to try and make sense of it and just where that odd, inexplicable tingle inside her had come from.
She could see Orowood Towers on the horizon. Anakin would be back in the Solos' empty apartment by now, alone. In her mind's eye, she saw him standing in front of the tall windows, thumbs tucked behind his belt, watching the stars come out in the sky. Thinking of his broken family, scattered across the Galaxy. All of them were trying to find their own ways to deal with their problems Han with his whiskey and anger, Leia throwing herself into the politics of the New Republic's burgeoning refugee crises, Jaina in the cockpit of an X-wing, and Jacen turning inwards in a quest for his own answers.
And Anakin, still ashamed by the sense that he couldn't carry his burden alone.
And Chewie was dead.
She suddenly felt very privileged to have Luke. To still have Luke. She doubted that he would every consciously catch on to what had happened least of all if she had any say in the matter but she knew that with the bond they shared, he couldn't not know. He just loved her enough to forgive. In his heart, he had already forgiven her. Forgotten.
She felt humble, almost ashamed but ashamed by the near-perfect happiness of the life she shared with Luke, not for what had happened with Anakin.
What had happened with Anakin would simply remain unsaid and forgotten.
It didn't seem to subtract from their shared life at all.
Her life with Luke.
Reminiscing? he had asked, only a heartbeat earlier.
Through the Force, she felt the light press of his mind behind her a concern for her that he'd learned to control over the years, but which he could never really suppress, even if either of them had wanted him to. A concern that had nothing to do with what she was doing. A concern that just was, as surely and simply and rightly as anything else.
Her husband, she realised, had just asked her a question.
For a moment, she hesitated between a smile and a frown. Neither answer seemed appropriate. Neither emotion really connected with the part of her that had taken control in the storage room, the part of her which had simply done what it had to, without shame or guilt or hesitation.
No, there was a subtext to his question which implied something else, something which had been absent in the clumsy, meaningless twenty minutes of her life she had just shared with Anakin Solo.
Perhaps it was simply something that would simply come with more time to reflect. Nostalgia. But she doubted that. Nostalgia was no more natural in that context than guilt. There was just that odd shiver, that tingle of something inside her that she couldn't explain.
And she knew that she just had to let that work itself out by itself whatever it turned out to be.
Reminiscing? she asked herself.
She thought of Anakin. The worst sex she'd had in years.
"Hardly," she said.
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