A/N: Many thanks to Gabri_Jade for beta'ing. She likes the characterization, but I still think I went a little - out there with it. I hope you like. Inspired by the song "Effigy" by Natalie Merchant. "I'm an effigy, a parody of who I appear to be". That's why I have this title, even though I never actually use the word in here.
Is this who I am?
That’s what I thought. It didn’t arise the way most thoughts do, echoing from your subconscious until it’s really in your head, and you know what you’re thinking. It was sudden, striking, like someone hit me across my psyche with it.
I was walking down a hall, on Coruscant. In the former Imperial Palace, now the seat of the New Republic, which I was reluctantly liaising with for Karrde. Some guard – three weapons, I’d automatically noted, two less than Palpatine required – scanned my eyes, had me sign in, before I entered the more secure region of the Palace. He looked at me tiredly, bored but dedicated. I watched my name be entered into the log, watched as I was approved as a permanent guest (a status reserved for those who have no status, yet are often there), watched as he let me pass through. I was alone, on the way to a meeting with one of the heads of Intelligence. It was early morning.
Karrde was already up, of course. We had gone over how the meeting should go the night before, but he gave me a few other little details he’d thought over after that. He didn’t recap; that would be an insult, and he knew that perfectly well.
It was all very professional.
There I was, walking along a hall newly stripped of plants, with little ones just growing in, and I suddenly realized, I have no personal life.
Of course, I had always known this. It was acceptable to me. Then. But I had chosen to look ahead, not behind, when I was free of Palpatine’s command, when I no longer needed to consider the New Republic a threat. I was leaving my past behind; using the skills of it, of course, but leaving all those indoctrinations and perceptions behind. It was a conscious decision on my part. Palpatine had lied to me and used me. I had never questioned him, as I had been taught to question everything else – whether an informant was telling the truth, whether that Imperial admiral was really loyal – but I realized, with that new knowledge, that all of those things that I held so securely to myself were really nothing. Certainly not indicative of how I should live, of who I should be.
I came to that realization logically. There was, of course, some emotion involved, but it was peripheral. It did not influence me, though I certainly felt it strongly.
So really, it was logic that made me come to my next realization: I have no personal life. Personal life was defined loosely in my mind – it included friendships, people that cared about me, anyone I spent time with beyond the requirements of my job. The fact that ‘personal life’ also included romantic relationships also occurred to me, but I was clearly not ready for that stage yet. Had I, I wondered, been indoctrinated against that, as well? It made sense. As Emperor’s Hand, my loyalty and dedication could not be torn in two directions.
As before, with my decision to leave those aspects of my past behind, emotion was involved.
But it was so much stronger. I hurt. I felt more than anger; I felt anguish. Sorrow that I had not known since Palpatine’s death – and what foolish sorrow that had been.
I kept walking, struggling with myself, trying to get through it step by step, in logical sequence.
I was desiring a deeper relationship with someone, beyond that of acquaintanceship or camaraderie. Certainly a normal response, though rather unexpected in its sudden strength and where it arose. It made sense that I would begin to feel that, having made conscious effort to stay away from old perspectives and beliefs, and starting anew.
Most people have close relationships of some kind. It is normal behavior, not indoctrinated behavior. I felt lingering fears, doubts, skepticisms – getting too close could compromise me. Could hurt me, too, I realized. My initial reaction was to shunt it, ignore it.
But I was leaving that behind. So I couldn’t do that.
Something . . . closer than acquaintanceship.
My hand drifted to my hip, to Skywalker’s lightsaber. To my lightsaber; the one he had given me. He had given indications of more emotion than acquaintanceship, if probably less than that of friends. He had saved my life, and while that was a Jedi reaction, giving me the lightsaber indicated more interest than that. On a teacher/student level? He believed I should be a Jedi, after all. So any furtherance there would merely be on that basis, not friendship.
I paused. Yes, that was logical. But it didn’t feel right.
I stopped walking, uncertainty taking over. Could I trust my instincts? They had always served me well, but were those indoctrinated, too? Or was it not my perhaps faulty instincts, but the Force? I sighed. The Force was a quandary. I had thought of it as a tool, as power, but that’s what Palpatine thought as well. And not what the Jedi believed.
I sighed again. I reached out for the Force, lightly, unsure, but it responded. Unusual; sometimes it didn’t, my grasp of it weak and erratic since Palpatine’s death, even with Skywalker’s training.
I was walking, and I had changed directions. I stopped again, cursing myself for being this way. For being this uncertain. Worry, tension, and fear skittered across my mind, and I firmly shoved them away. I had a meeting to go to, one that I could not skip. Should not skip.
I hesitated again, then started heading for Skywalker’s quarters. Logic be damned; my instincts screamed at me to go where I was meant to go, but I knew with irrational finality that I was going to do this.
Decision made, I quickly made my way across the Palace, to Skywalker’s quarters. I knew where they were as I had memorized the Republic schematic, which included such information. Of course, I wasn’t supposed to have access to any of that, but such was often the case. I had no intention of using it for ill anyway.
The nervousness returned when I stood outside his quarters. I hesitated, as I was about to use the comm. My fingers just grazed it, and I stopped.
I am not giving myself a pep talk, I thought, and hit the buzzer.
A few seconds passed, then, “Who is it?” came through the comm. He sounded sleepy, his voice rough. I suddenly felt a gentle mental touch, one that slipped away almost instantly.
The door opened, and the feeling of regard returned again.
“Stay out of my mind, Skywalker,” I snapped, glaring.
He grimaced. “Sorry.”
I looked him over, briefly. He had on a loose pair of dark pants and a cream-colored tunic, but was barefoot. And his blond hair was messed. Bed hair. Was it that early?
He looked at me curiously, his blue eyes more intense and focused than his touch in the Force. “What is it, Mara?” He seemed calm, apparently sure this wasn’t an emergency.
“I . . .” Suddenly the whole thing seemed stupid. If I thought at all that I could be friends with Skywalker, why had I chosen now? “I wanted to talk.”
He blinked. “Okay,” he said slowly. He stepped to the side. “Come in.”
I did so, feeling awkward. I stopped as soon as the door shut behind me. Skywalker kept moving forward, sitting on the couch, the single furniture in the living space. The bedroom was off to the right, though its door was closed. The walls and floors had been stripped of any decoration, though there were a few mementos on shelves on the walls. X-Wing helmets, a rock, a few holos . . .
Skywalker gestured at the couch he sat on. “Sorry there’s nothing else.”
I stared at him silently.
“Yes?” I finally replied.
“You wanted to talk,” Skywalker said, looking at me closely. His eyebrows lifted. “Have you been struck mute? That’s never been a problem with you before,” he said, with a teasing look.
I looked at him disbelievingly, then snorted. “Very funny, Skywalker.”
He gestured at the couch again.
“So,” I said, attempting to . . . do something. “How does the Republic feel about the smuggler and intelligence groups?” How friendly, Mara.
Skywalker opened his mouth, then closed it. His eyes narrowed.
And he answered me, without questioning why I asked.
Our conversation continued from there. It went from politics and policies to X-wings and brands of weapons. And lightsabers. He even briefly commented on mine. Skywalker was also, I found, knowledgeable in most everything concerning the military or the Republic, and easily admitted when he didn’t know something – unless he still thought he was right. Then he got stubborn. For some reason, this didn’t particularly surprise me. Someone who would rescue a woman who had promised to kill him didn’t strike me as being pliable.
Still, Skywalker shot me studying looks in the short silences, where we both thought, where either he or I would come up with a new, utterly neutral and impersonal topic.
Things continued that way until Skywalker’s comm. beeped. He gave me a slight smile, and then wordlessly went to answer it.
“Yes?” Pause. “Yes, she’s here.” Puzzled. “I’ll tell her.” Bemused. “Yes, you’re welcome.”
He turned to me. “That was NR Security. They were getting concerned, and started to call all your acquaintances. You were supposed to be at a meeting?” he queried, clearly curious as to why I was here, instead of there.
Acquaintances. There was that word again, that so often seemed to be in my thoughts. Was that what Skywalker was?
I had totally forgotten about the meeting. One does not think about meetings when having life changing realizations, or at least when reacting to life changing realizations. “Yes,” I confirmed, helpless in my inability to explain.
He nodded slowly. The puzzlement was gone from his eyes, though he was still looking at me closely.
“I’d better go,” I said finally.
“Okay,” he said agreeably.
I stood, and headed for the door. He stopped with a touch to my arm. I turned to him, to say something, something probably banal, but he shook his head at me.
“If you ever need to just talk, Mara, you can stop by,” he said simply, warmly. “Even if it’s about politics,” he added gently.
I felt the urge to snap at him, deny whatever the hell he was thinking, but I didn’t. Part of it was a realization that was old instinct, to push away and deny weakness, but part of it was simply that I didn’t want to.
“So long as you remember a lightsaber does work in gelatin,” I said stiffly. They did. They worked underwater, and I knew the mechanics, and they would work in gelatin. I wasn’t sure how that had come up originally, something about organic gel and pond monsters from mission Skywalker had . . . But it seemed the appropriate response.
He smiled. “Deal.”
Skywalker didn’t say farewell as I left. He just smiled. I didn’t smile, but I felt like I was, and that seemed to be enough. And then the door shut, and whatever it was, was gone.
Not acquaintanceship, I thought. Friendship.