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Fic: "Faultlines" -- NJO, Mara, Vergere & Luke -- 1/1

Title: Faultlines
Characters: Mara Jade Skywalker, Vergere, Luke Skywalker
Rating: PG-13
Setting: During Destiny's Way (NJO)
Warning: A fair amount of foreshadowing, if that counts; mention of torture
Author's Note: Regarding Vergere's characterisation -- I've stuck with Vergere's characterisation at this approximate stage of the series, so later LotF/FotJ revelations about her alignment don't factor in.

Summary: "How long will you wait before you send your child to fight?" Vergere asked. "How long before he is a soldier too, breaking, broken?"

An empty room had a particular resonance, both in the Force and in physical terms. And when a room that was supposed to be empty lacked that resonance –
In the threshold of the Mon Cal suite assigned to the Skywalkers, Mara reached for her lightsaber. The rooms were large and far too luxurious, with wide windows opening to ocean views and furniture that was elegantly lavish in design. Their selection was either a well-intentioned courtesy or a subtle and clever insult; knowing Fyor Rodan and knowing his feelings toward Luke, Mara was inclined to believe the latter.
In the centre of the open centre room, framed against the wide blue sky that filled the windows, stood a hunched, oddly-proportioned little figure in a plain robe, its attention focused on something it held in a feathered hand.
Eyes narrowing, Mara lowered her hand. “How did you get in here?”
“Master Skywalker,” said Vergere in her strange voice, its mixture of accents melding tone and diction into something impossible to read. “A Master Skywalker. Not the Master Skywalker.”
“If you’re referring to my husband—” Mara saw what the other woman held, and for a very brief second felt the impulse to grab the lightsaber again. “What are you doing?”
“A healthy Skywalker.” Vergere’s eyes were dark. The holo of Ben flickered in her hand. With Tionne, grown more than when Mara had last seen him. There with Leia. There with Mara and Luke, only a few weeks old. Mara had still been recovering then, her face thin and her clothes loose. Her slight smile held all the greedy, overflowing joy of having so much after coming so close to nothing at all – a feeling that was still familiar. 
“Thank you.” In a few steps, Mara had reached her and removed the holo. She swiped her thumb across the control and the image changed to a menu.
“Very like his grandfather. In the eyes. His father, too. Both alike.”
Mara snapped the holoemitter shut. “You don’t know my husband.”
This seemed to amuse Vergere, if Mara was reading her expressions correctly. The woman turned away, cocked her head at the window, at the light, as though looking for something there. “I know him,” she said. “I have cracked open his student and examined the insides. I know Luke Skywalker.”
The holoemitter edges were sharp against Mara’s palm. She loosened her grip. Drew in a breath, quietly, and released it.
“Where is your husband?” Vergere asked. The faint disdainful tone was undisguised.
“Elsewhere,” Mara said. “Attending to Order business.”
“Indeed.” Vergere adjusted her robe. Her feathers shifted, catching the light from the window. It was refracted, glimmering, like the sheen on oil or sunflare through an atmosphere. “His Order. His Order. Indeed it is.”
Mara tucked the holoemitter into her belt. “Are you lost, Vergere?” she asked mildly. “Have you somehow mistakenly found your way into our locked apartment?”
“I have seen its shape – and his – in the forming of the student. And I come to look for myself.” Vergere regarded Mara with dark eyes. Her gaze was inscrutable; not just alien, but old, drenched in unknowable experience.
Mara held the gaze thoughtfully. “Do you, now.”
“His Order. Bring across the flaws of the old, steeped in the mistakes of the new. Perhaps not his fault. Old broken hands were those that played in his making.” Vergere cocked her head at Mara. “The master can always be seen in the student, is that not true?”
Mara narrowed her eyes. “Not always. And the Jedi Order – ”
“ – sends its children to be soldiers again. Tell me. How do you feel about that, one who was Emperor’s Hand?”
Mara became still. She watched Vergere, tracking her motions, the tilt of her head, her angled eyes and the smiling triangle of her lips.
“How long will you wait before you send your child to fight?” Vergere asked. “How long before he is a soldier too, breaking, broken? You – his Order, his orders – encourage attachment, embrace it. Pain is truth. Jedi and Yuuzhan Vong.” She said something else, something in Vong, a phrasing Mara didn’t recognise.
Mara straightened. “Our young fight because there is no choice. The Vong brought this war here, to us. You know that better than anyone.”
“I, yes. I who went with them, I who came back. I who lie.” Vergere chuckled. Her feathers shivered. “But when you survive, what remains?”
“More than when you lose. More than when you die.”
“Yes.” Vergere tilted her head, arched her neck. “Yes.”
The door behind Mara hissed and the presence she had sensed approaching entered –the clink and rustle of tools and weapons on a belt, soft bootfalls, the whisper of a robe on the polished floor.
The feathers on Vergere’s face and neck lifted slightly as she regarded Luke.
“Vergere,” he said. He stopped a metre from Mara and slightly ahead, facing Vergere. Somehow Vergere had ended up on the other side of the wide room, the eyewatering blue of the windows at her back. Luke’s glance took in Mara; wordlessly, they exchanged assessment and stance.
“Master Skywalker,” Vergere said. “I continue to observe your order.”
“It seems to be your particular skill, Vergere. Observing.”
Vergere bowed her head gravely as though Luke had paid her a compliment. “You wield more power than your father ever did, and it will only grow from here.”
Luke stood facing her directly, while Vergere held herself more ambivalently.
“Power?” Luke said mildly. “I have no interest in power.”
“And yet you beget dynasties and hold the rulership of the galaxy in sway.”
Luke frowned. He glanced across at Mara, a question in his expression. Mara looked back at him. “The Jedi Order serves the light side of the Force,” he said, addressing Vergere again. “If you have suggestions on the means of doing so, I welcome them.”
“I offer only lies,” Vergere said, spreading feathered hands. “There is nothing but the lie, Master Jedi. And the light of the Force stands foremost, as we discussed.”
“The light side is a lie only to those who do not serve it,” Luke said.
Vergere blinked slowly. “The Force is a tool to fit definitions, and a weapon, only to those who distort it to be so,” she said in a soft sing-song tone.
Luke’s hand opened and closed. “It is not I who readily admits to the distortion of truth.”
“Yes. It is not you who admits.”
Luke’s fingers moved. Vergere tilted her head. “Only the most attuned can open their eyes enough to see the reality the Force.”  Her dark eyes widened as though in demonstration as she gazed at Luke. “Those like your nephew-apprentice.”
Luke’s hand crept up, fingers playing over the clip attaching lightsaber to belt. Vergere cocked her head, and his hand dropped abruptly. “I’ll say this only once, Vergere. Stay away from my Jedi.”
The thing like a smile touched her face again. She inclined her head. “Young Master Jedi.”
Adjusting her robe, feathers glistening, Vergere glided out. “There is a great deal of Anakin Skywalker in you,” she said as she left. Luke’s shoulders stiffened.
“What was that?” he said after the door had closed.
Mara held up a hand, waited, then crossed and checked the hall outside before returning.
“I don’t know. She was in here when I arrived.”
He turned and dropped into the curved white chair that stood for a sofa, boots over the raised lip, edge of his robe brown against the white floor. He frowned in the direction of the window. “You were quiet.”
Mara watched a cloud in the top corner of the visible sky. “I was thinking.”
He looked at her closely; she wasn’t facing him, but she could feel it. She rubbed her lips, thoughtful, and said reluctantly, “Whatever she said, whatever she’s done – despite everything – I can’t forget that she’s the reason I’m here. She’s the reason we have Ben. Without the tears I’d have succumbed to the spores long before he was conceived. And she had no reason to do that for us. None whatever.”
Luke softened. “I know.”
Mara rubbed her thumb along the edge of the holoemitter she still held. Though trying not to, she was thinking about her childhood, her adolescence – the training, the desensitisation and conditioning, the abrupt and brutal severance of innocence on first kill. Thinking about Jacen and Jaina, the damage in their eyes, the things lost too soon that they would never find again. All the other young Jedi who had entered this war as children. Anakin.
She drew out the holoemitter and snapped it on. Ben in her arms.
She snapped it off. No use speaking of it. The young Jedi fought because necessity demanded they do so. The galaxy was a cruel place, and it weighed heavily enough on Luke as it was. To contemplate asking, what, that her husband not send their son to fight one day? That he not turn their child into a soldier? It couldn’t be considered, because it couldn’t be asked. Couldn’t be done.
When she crossed, he shifted and she sat next to him. “Don’t let her rattle you,” Mara said. “She’s playing games.”
He tilted his head back. “I know.” The soft material of his tunic was bunched up under the edge of his robe. Black tunic, brown robe. His breathing was regular. He smelled like all the things Luke smelled like, with a faint added edge of the salt-sea scent that was everywhere here. “She almost reminds me of Yoda in some ways, except – he sought to teach, not to taunt. If that’s what she’s doing.”
“We may never know.” Mara hooked her boot under Luke’s mirror-shine dress boots. Military polish. “She reminds me of Palpatine. Sometimes.”
She felt Luke’s ease vanish, both in the lines of his body and in the Force. “In a Sith sense?”
“Nothing so simple. In the way she senses weak spots and hones in.” Mara glanced at him without moving her head.
He relaxed slightly. Mara was almost disappointed. “All that Vong torture she’s observed.”
“Mm.” Mara tapped the holoemitter against her leg. “How is Jacen going, do you think?”
“I don’t know. Okay, it seems. Better than I hoped.”
Alive is better than we expected.”
Alive is a gift.”
Mara half-smiled, keying on the holoprojector. They watched it through. When it finished, Luke hugged her. Mara patted his knee.
They sat together while the sun set. As dark slowly began to fall, Luke asked, “So how did investigations fare today?”
“Good.” Mara stretched slightly. “You’ll never believe what Rodan’s been up to…”
Night swallowed the last light in the windows, but was ignored.