I had hoped Jaina would try to meditate, but I doubted she was doing anything of the sort as she stood over Anakin's corpse. Her hands clenched and unclenched convulsively as she fought to hold back tears. From my place in the doorway, I could sense rather than see her struggle against an onslaught of grief.
She reached out to touch Anakin's lifeless face, stroking first his eyelid, then his cheek. Her fingers rested on the corner of his mouth, and I knew she was imagining his smile. She quickly pulled her hand away, balling it into a fist and letting it fall to her side. But that small, blood-caked hand was idle only for a moment; in the next second, Jaina used it to subdue the lone tear running down her cheek.
I wanted to stretch out with the Force and soothe her mind. It had to be a mess - a jungle of rage, confusion and bitter love. But I didn't want her to know I was there, standing in the doorway, watching her battle through darkening thoughts. She was a tough girl, a fighter?and she was beginning to realize that some fights couldn't be won.
How could I help her? I had no idea what to say or do. She was standing over her brother's body; not only had she watched him die, she had watched the Yuuzhan Vong slowly strip his strength away. What was I supposed to tell her? Clich?s don't work in situations like these, but it seems as though every word a person uses to console a grieving friend is a clich?. Perhaps that's because too many friends grieve. There's only so much you can say, after all.
Jaina moved again, placing her fingers back on her brother's face. She traced the outline of his eyes, doubtless imagining the times she hated the way they gleamed antagonistically. Her face softened, and I could tell she was remembering the days when those ice blue eyes were wide with wonder, or thoughtful with the mysterious glow they took far too often. But as soon as she let her guard down, another tear began to fall, only to be stopped immediately by that same stifling hand. All gentle sentiment was wiped away by the gesture, and she seemed to come to the cold realization that the eyelids she stroked would never open, that the eyes she longed to see would never focus again.
Now her feelings came across to me clearly, both in the Force and in her body language. I didn't have to touch her mind to know that she was angry. The way her body stiffened, the defiant tilt of her jaw, told me that Jaina Solo was outraged.
She turned away from Anakin, only to find me watching her. For a moment I thought she would take her anger out on me, but the moment passed and we stood facing each other.
"I thought you were resting," I managed to say.
"I thought you were needed on the bridge," she shot back. Then she gave what was almost a smile. "Anyway, this is the only way I can rest. The Force drew me here. I need to be with?" She bit her lip and looked over her shoulder at what had once been her youngest brother. "I need to be with him." The last words she spoke came out somewhere between a cry and a sob, and I stepped into the room to be closer to her. She was still looking at Anakin, seemingly unaware of my existence.
"He died to make sure we would survive," she murmured hoarsely. "And now I'm so close to throwing life away? There's darkness in me, and I just want to give in to it." Her eyes found the floor and her voice faded to a whisper. "Space, Zekk, it's so much easier to give in."
It was the first time she had admitted her fears about the dark side. I'd been worried before, but she hadn't heeded the warnings I'd given her. I had decided she didn't care or understand what she was doing, but apparently she knew exactly what road she was walking.
"I should've died in his place," Jaina said, her voice a pitiful choke. "He would never fall like this. He would take what he was given and make it better." She whirled around to stare at me with wide, searching brown eyes. "I've heard that pain is like clay?you can make something beautiful from it, or you can sculpt the darkest creatures? It all depends on the artist." She swung her head back toward Anakin. "I've never been much good at making pretty things."
"But you're good at fixing problems," I pointed out softly, hoping my words wouldn't upset her. Upsetting her was hardly my intention. All I wanted to do was help her mold her pain into beauty. I believed she could turn herself around; it was all a matter of whether or not she believed in herself. I resolved to follow her, doing all I could to push her gently onto the right path, until she reached her breaking point.
But I loved her too much to watch her destroy herself. And I loved her too much to destroy her.
"Fixing problems," she repeated, very softly. "I can fix holoprojectors, I can fix hyperdrives, I can make sure a navicomp works, but not this. Not this." Her voice grew louder as she continued. "This is different, okay? This is my brother!" She gestured frantically at the corpse with its pale face and disheveled dark hair. "This is the brother who shot food at me across the table! This is the brother who rigged one of my comlinks to play lullabies all day! This is a part of me! How can it be gone?"
Her cry hit a nerve deep inside me, and suddenly pain flared in my gut. I closed my eyes to fight the tears welling in my throat, unsure of whether what I felt was an outpouring of Jaina's grief or a sudden resurgence of my own. It had been years since I'd mourned my parents' deaths, but now I could vividly remember the loneliness and confusion that followed their passing. I could suddenly recall the fear, the anger that took control as the initial shock of losing them died away. "Anakin's still part of you, Jaina," I whispered, numbed and somewhat humbled by the pain. "He always will be."
"Yeah, I know," Jaina spat sarcastically. Her voice rose to a scream as disbelief and despair waged war across her face. "He lives in my heart and in my memories. I've heard it before, all right? Maybe he is still alive in my heart, but, hmm, that's not helping much now, is it? I can imagine his voice, but I can't hear it! He'll never talk to me again, Zekk! He'll never smile, he'll never laugh, he'll never even open his sithin' eyes!"
Jaina's anger faded as she made a visible effort to control herself. "And Jacen's gone, too," she murmured shakily. "I don't even have him now, because I left him behind. I failed him, too?"
"You didn't fail him," I said in a harsher tone than I had intended to use. My pain had lessened to a dull ache in the back of my head, and I turned my full attention to reasoning with my broken friend. "You did what you had to do. By leaving Jacen behind, you saved the rest of us. And maybe you don't have Jacen, but you have me, and you have Tenel Ka and Lowie, and we're all here for you if you need us."
"Thanks for the support," Jaina snapped, "but nothing's going to replace my brothers."
I flinched. Obviously, she had taken my offer of friendship the wrong way. "I didn't mean we could replace them, I meant we could?" My voice trailed off as I realized how hollow my words sounded.
Jaina began to pace, wringing her hands and stopping every once in awhile to stare at something beyond my head. She was suffering immensely, her physical appearance that of pain incarnate. Cuts and bruises marred her cheeks and forehead; muddy, matted hair fell in her face; where her clothes were torn I could glimpse skin dark with dirt and caked blood. As I watched her boil in torment, I began to wonder what I'd have to do to help her. She was obviously unwilling to be comforted. But maybe confronting her in an alien morgue hadn't been the best idea. Maybe after a good meal, a hot shower and time in a bacta tank, she'd begin to make peace with herself.
At least, that's the deaf-and-dumb optimism I entertained as she walked back and forth in front of me. The more logical corners of my brain were succumbing to the dark conclusion that Jaina was too far gone to be saved.
"Jaina," I tried again. "I wasn't trying to hurt you. I want to help."
Jaina stopped pacing and looked me in the eye. Her jaw was set and her soul was on fire. "That's great, Zekk, but you know what I want? I want the vapin' scarheads to mutilate themselves into the Maw! I want those Force-forsaken freaks to bleed like Anakin did! I want them to cry like I'm crying now!" I could hear her teeth grind together as she advanced on me, as if daring me to defy her. "I will do anything to make sure every Vong moans for mercy under my lightsaber!"
She was slipping away, standing on the threshold of a dark forest she shouldn't be entering. Her motives for defeating the Vong had changed; now, the war was personal, and it had nothing to do with justice or the Jedi cause. I wanted so much to say something that would avert her from anger, but my mind was blank. She was standing close, searching my face, looking for a reason to argue. She desperately wanted to fight, and I was determined not to let her.
"Space you," Jaina finally muttered, shoving her way past me and out of the room. As I turned and watched her trudge away, a realization hit me: this had been the breaking point. I had encouraged her, helped her, nudged her gently in the right direction?and I had lost. I walked over to Anakin's body, staring down at the young man I had studied with at the Jedi praxeum. "She's gone, Anakin," I told the corpse. "She couldn't save you, and I couldn't save her."
Now it was up to her to save herself. And after what I'd just seen, I wasn't altogether sure she could. My faith in Jaina Solo had shattered. She was flying a lane I'd flown before, feeling a pain I knew all too well. And I had no idea how to help her. All that used to be Jaina - the sparkling eyes, the soft skin, the strength laced with sweet, headstrong confidence - had been smothered by her brother's blood. She was stained to the core of her heart, and ahead of her was a dark journey into that shadowed core. I could watch, or I could follow.
Or I could leave her to her fate.
In the core of my own heart, I knew what my decision would be. I looked once more in the direction Jaina had gone, then dropped my head into my hands. Feeling helpless, I cursed her pain, I cursed my fear -
But mostly I cursed myself for caring too much.
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