Author's Note: Thanks to LianaMara and Amidala_Skywalker for beta'ing. :)
He's finally quieted.
We've been quiet for a while now, hoping to escape attention. Lan is hardly breathing next to me, sitting very still in a tight position with his eyes squeezed shut. I don't blame him, and I would almost join him, but I can't keep my eyes off the Jedi. I doubt the Jedi can see Lan or me from where we're sitting, behind this shattered control panel that he blasted with his Force powers; but I also have no doubt that he knows we're here, regardless of whether Lan's eyes are shut or not.
I wonder if the Jedi knows this isn't our idea.
He's standing still, wavering a bit as if he's exhausted.
Did we sign the bill? No, the Senate did. Did we want to hunt Jedi? No, the Chancellor said it was a 'sad necessity'. I guess it's Emperor now, which seems a bit odd for a man claiming to love democracy, but no one really dares to argue with him at this point. Certainly not me. And I know the Jedi don't have a choice; Palpatine picked their side for them.
The Jedi turns to face in my direction, and I stop breathing.
A young man. Definitely an adult – I had been able to tell that before when the Hunter dragged him half-drugged aboard this picket ship – but . . . young. He's younger than me, with power like that. But those eyes, that glow in them, that's not normal. He blinks at me, looking almost ordinary for a moment, then brushes his hand through his brown hair.
He looks puzzled when he finds his hand smeared with blood, and I shudder.
He walks over to Lan and me, and I hear something wet hitting the floor. There's suddenly a smell of urine.
I stand up, while Lan stays still. The Jedi knows I'm here, after all.
"Are you going to finish the job?" the Jedi asks me with an odd calm, like he's the one in danger. Very normal, not loud and screaming like before.
I shake my head. No. I have no intention of touching this guy. I'm a soldier, not a bounty hunter. I'm not going to die for this, and regardless of whether or not he's a twerp, Lan doesn't deserve to, either. Besides which, the Hunter already tried that, and he's spread across the ship right now.
I hope the Jedi senses my honesty.
He nods at me, though I have no idea why. "He's dead?" he asks after a bit, like he's not really sure what's going on.
I stare at him. "What do you think?" I don't gesture at the bloody clumps that remain of the Hunter.
The Jedi glances around anyway. "I didn't mean to," he whispers.
I laugh in disbelief, high and hysterical. "You tore him to pieces without even touching him!" I look around involuntarily, and wince.
The Jedi's face twists into grief. "I know. I know." He jerks up from his slump suddenly. "Do you think it's true, then, that we deserve to be hunted?" he says as he gazes first at what remains of the Hunter, then continues onward to the bodies of the control crew that had tried to flee the bridge and are lying in the hallway.
I clear my throat uncomfortably. What kind of question is that? Why is he asking me? I'm just a communications officer. I serve the Republic. I don't do this sort of thing.
The Jedi stares at me. "I'm sorry."
Apparently I do this, whatever that is, now. "Would you have done this," I ask shakily, "if he hadn't hunted you?"
Slowly, the Jedi shakes his head. "I shouldn't have, still," he says softly, and he begins to play with the tattered edge of his cloak sleeve. "I'm sorry." He glances at me sharply. "I won't – I won't hurt you." He moves back, eyes flickering around desperately. "I'll go. I'll . . . go somewhere. I've got to get away."
I swallow. "I don't think there's anywhere to go, unless you take this ship."
Lan grabs one of my pant legs and jerks, making me jump and briefly hyperventilate. Well, it's true.
The Jedi just looks on blankly.
"Um, I think we've got – we've got to get to the nearest inhabited planet," I begin. I cautiously take a step towards the Jedi.
"What about your – friends?" the Jedi asks, glancing furtively at the hallway.
I don't want to throw up. I don't look. Jason who always beat me at sabacc, Liini who always flirted, Jek who never wanted to argue but always managed to anyway . . . "They'll keep." I gesture at a control panel. "Um, I've got to . . . "
The Jedi steps out of my way, and I get almost within a foot of him as I pass.
"The ship has automated navigation," I explain feebly, pulling up the program with some clumsiness.
"I'm sorry," the Jedi says over my shoulder.
"Stop saying that!" I yelp, and scramble away from him.
He looks absurdly hurt, but it quickly smoothes from his face, leaving something of self-loathing instead. He walks over to the console I just left, and with much more deft movements than mine, programs the navigation in for some planet. I can't see what and can't remember what's nearby.
"Drop your lightsaber!" Lan suddenly squeaks, and I jump, looking at him.
Lan has a blaster in hand, and he's pointing it shakily, if with some determination, at the Jedi. His pants are wet, but his dark eyes are wide and alert. His face is pale, and he's too young to even have a shadow on his chin.
"You fool," I hiss, helpless.
The Jedi responds to this rather mildly. He looks at the blaster, then at Lan.
"Lan, drop it," I order, seeing that the Jedi isn't doing anything for the moment.
Lan shakes his head at me, lower lip trembling. "He killed – killed the Captain, and Liini . . ." Beautiful Liini, who wanted to introduce Lan to the ways of adulthood.
"And us, too, if you keep this up," I snap. I breathe heavily. "Listen. Listen. He was defending himself from the Hunter. He, uh, he won't do that again. He's sorry, you heard him right?"
"I'm sorry," the Jedi says again, obligingly. It appears heartfelt, and I feel sick, because it probably is.
A tear slips down Lan's cheek, and he wipes it away with his free hand.
"He's got a lightsaber," I say softly. "A blaster isn't going to work."
The Jedi glances at me emotionlessly. He seems to be falling into the cool, collected state he was in when killing – just . . . killing. I panic.
"Lan, please," I say. Don't end up dead, too.
The Jedi holds out a hand, and I nearly piss myself. But the blaster is jerked out of Lan's hand and flies to the Jedi's. Lan stumbles back in shock, not falling but coming close, and I nearly fall over myself when the Jedi hands the blaster over to me. I grasp it, not sure what to do with it. I'm not about to use it as a weapon, training be damned.
"Enough people are dead," the Jedi says to me, blue eyes suddenly calm and full of emotion again.
I nod quickly.
"We'll . . . be there soon. Then I can leave," he says. "The planet is close."
I nod again, feeling like acknowledgement of some sort is necessary.
The Jedi's eyes close. "You can contact your superiors then. I'll have a head start."
That seems like an odd thing to say, but I ignore it. I look at Lan, who is leaning against the dented bulkhead. He's shaking, but still seems aware of his surroundings. I wonder if he's going into shock. I wonder if I am. Maybe we all are.
Lan sits with a broken sigh. He pulls his knees up and locks his arms around them, watching the Jedi and I.
I put the blaster on a console table, and abruptly notice little bits of blood are smeared around my fingernails. It arrests my attention for a moment, but the Jedi moves, and I stare at him instead.
He turns to face me. "This," and he almost glances at the hallway, and the blood, but doesn't, "isn't the Jedi way."
"But aren't you a Jedi?" It seems the logical response, if not the wisest.
"Aren't you a soldier, not an executioner?" he responds softly, and I flinch, nervous.
He smiles sadly, but it quickly transforms into an expression of grief and pain. "I am sorry. I am truly sorry." He shakes his head. "I – the Hunter, it was all so fast and I could hardly see . . . There's no explanation," he finishes uncertainly.
I look at him for a moment, my heartbeat slowing in spite of myself. "Neither of us wanted to be here," I mutter, not sure what to say.
"I probably won't get far," the Jedi adds.
I flinch, meeting his even gaze.
"On the planet. It's Imperial now."
I shiver, looking at Lan. "How old are you?" I suddenly ask the Jedi, because I want to know, how this kid younger than me did this. Even as I know the answer won’t help me understand, not really.
"Twenty-two," the Jedi answers, as if it were a normal question.
"Not so old," I say.
"Not so wise," he says softly, closing his eyes.
I look away from Lan, shaking my head. "Don't – kill yourself. Run," I tell him.
His mouth drops open. "What?"
"Run," I insist. "Liini . . . the Cap – they weren't supposed to die. But neither were you," I whisper. "This isn't – this isn't sane. Just run."
His mouth opens and closes, as he clearly grasps for an answer. "I don't deserve forgiveness," he says hoarsely, and I see him cry. I never thought Jedi cried.
"This isn't," I tell him hoarsely, my throat tightening. "Understanding is all I can offer."
He nods jerkily.
"I think we're all . . . victims," I say, and the Jedi nods.
"You're wiser than me," he says, and something settles in his eyes. "Thank you."
I stiffen. "Don't."
"For your wisdom," the Jedi says. "To know a thing is different than to experience it. We're all victims; you're right," he says, looking away blankly, eyes filling with tears again, but not spilling over. "I forgot that. No one . . . no one is my enemy," he whispers, looking at me like I should meet his eyes.
I finally do. And something inside me stops and breaks. Like moments do sometimes. Just like that. I want to cry again, for Cap and Jek and Liini, but at the same time it doesn't seem needed right at this moment.
"The Hunters who come after me, they'll question you and Lan," the Jedi says. "I'll make him forget. Soothe the memories." He's looking at Lan.
Lan is shaking, watching us talking. Like civilized beings.
"You won't be tainted by my words in their eyes," the Jedi finishes.
I nod, finally. I don't say anything more. I don't want to look at the Jedi. Something about him quietly retreats, I can feel it.
I go to Lan, and he cries into my arms, which should feel strange, with this kid I hardly know, but it doesn't.
The Jedi waits. We all wait, actually. And let the tears out.
We really are all victims, here.