Three weeks after the Battle of Naboo and the destruction of Korriban, Baron Soontir Fel's faction of the Empire and the newly formed New Republic signed an official peace treaty on Alderaan.
Both New Republic X-wings and Imperial TIE fighters flew in formation above the elegant white spires of the Royal Palace in Aldera City, blending their formation as a symbol of the truce between their governments.
Luke Skywalker, dressed in tan and brown robes, stood beside the long table set out in the throne room of the palace. Mara Jade stood next to him, dressed similarly, though her robes were a darker brown. Leia Organa Skywalker reflected both her position as a member of the new Jedi Order and as a member of the Royal Family of Alderaan by dressing in white robes, her lightsaber gleaming at her side.
The young Jedi passed his gaze around the long table, looking at the assortment of dignitaries both seated at the table itself and standing behind it. Baron Fel himself sat across from Mon Mothma, his signing instrument ready. The Imperial officer's black-and-red uniform was crisply pressed, with nary a wrinkle to be seen, and his posture was equally stiff and formal.
Using the tremendous tactical advantage of the Eclipse, the surviving elements of Isard's fleet, and the loyalist elements of the Imperial civil war, Baron Fel had quickly taken control of most of the Empire's territory. Sate Pestage and his supporters had burrowed in on Coruscant and other Core planets, and would likely continue to resist for a number of years, but for now, Soontir Fel had taken up the position of Emperor in all but name. His first act as the nominal leader of the Empire was to declare a truce with the Alliance and begin negotiations for a formal treaty, as per Lord Vader's last orders.
He had withdrawn all Imperial troops from Alderaan, which would shortly become the New Republic's capital as the Alliance made the transition from rebellion to government. Thousands of sentients had flocked to Alderaan to witness the historic treaty, and trillions more watched through the HoloNet cameras mounted at various places around the throne room.
At an unobtrusive cue from the news team covering the event, signaling that they were ready, Baron Fel leaned forward and signed the treaty. He turned the document around and extended it to Mon Mothma, who reached out and signed it with her own instrument.
The crowd applauded as Baron Fel and Mon Mothma stood and shook hands, contrasted in her elegant white gown and reserved jewelry, and his crisp uniform and black leather gloves.
Luke himself felt a deep sense of peace. The worst was over, and the greatest threats to peace were gone for now. Finally, the galaxy had a chance to catch its breath and recover - for a few years at least.
Luke barely listened to the ensuing round of speeches from the various gathered dignitaries, his mind on other things. Over the last three weeks, he had been intensively studying the files his father had left behind on the Far Outsiders. The best estimates of the Vanguard Fleet reconnaissance teams put the bulk of the invaders' forces at least twenty years from arriving at the edges of the galaxy, but they had gained a number of foothold bases in the Unknown Regions. Grand Admiral Thrawn's people, the Chiss, had allied themselves with the Empire and the Vanguard Fleet, and were, for now, keeping the Far Outsiders at bay.
But with trillions more of the invaders on the way, they could not hold the line by themselves forever…
As the observers dispersed to prepare for that evening's formal dinner, Luke drifted off to one of the palace gardens to sit and think. He was joined a few minutes later by Mara, who quietly approached to sit next to him on one of the benches.
"So, Skywalker," she said, her tone light and a bit teasing, "are you planning to rebuild the Jedi Order just the way it was?"
Luke looked over at her to see her smiling, green eyes twinkling mischievously. He smiled himself as he sensed her meaning. "There are a few rules I'm not planning to keep," he murmured, leaning closer to her.
"That's good to hear," she replied softly, grinning again as she reached for him.
As they kissed, Luke felt an odd twinge in the Force, and he saw a vision of the future - their future - and of what they would face together. Challenges, children, friends, enemies, allies, dangers, joys, sorrows; all of it swirled into a sort of living mosaic, flowing around them like a river of light.
One image from the flood stood out to Luke momentarily: he saw himself with a small red-haired child perched on his shoulders, pointing up at the stars as they laughed. In his vision, he saw Mara approaching, and she smiled as she joined them, looking up into the pearled velvet blanket that was the sky.
Back in the palace gardens, Luke smiled at Mara as he reached up to gently caress her cheek. "I love you," he said.
She leaned forward to kiss him again. "I love you, too," she said when they parted. The mischievous glint returned to her eyes. "Now, are you going to do it, or do I have to? I saw the vision, too, you know. Might as well make it official."
Luke laughed lightly. "All right then. Mara Jade, will you marry me?"
Mara smiled, reaching over to take his hand. "Of course I will, Skywalker."
"I'm very happy to hear that, Jade Skywalker," he replied, grinning back.
"Jade Skywalker," Mara said mock-thoughtfully. "I like the sound of that."
Luke laughed again, but glanced over as he sensed someone approaching.
"Me, too," said Han Solo, grinning broadly as he walked into the garden with Leia. "Me and Lando had a bet on how long it would take you two kids to make it official. Looks like he owes me fifty credits." He chuckled, reaching out to clap Luke on the shoulder. "Congratulations, junior."
Leia smiled as she reached over to hug her brother. "I'm so happy for you," she said.
"So, Solo," Mara began, but Han held up a hand.
"Why, yes I am," he said with a wink.
Before anyone could say anything else, he turned to Leia and grinned. "So, Leia Naberrie Skywalker Organa, feel like adding one more to the mouthful?"
"Oh, I don't know," Leia said, her dark eyes twinkling, "that might be too many to remember."
Mara laughed, and Luke had to smile himself. Han reached out to put an arm around Leia's shoulders. "I think you can handle it," he said, still grinning.
"Me, too," Leia replied with her own smile. "Yes, Han Solo, I will marry you," she went on. "Maybe I can finally make you a respectable citizen."
"Nah," said Han. "I think you'll end up a scoundrel just like me."
"Maybe," said Leia, reaching up to kiss his cheek.
"Did you ask her yet?" Lando's voice asked in an exaggerated whisper from the doorway. Luke could hear the smile in the gambler's voice.
"Yeah," Han stage-whispered back with a big grin, his arm still around Leia. "She said she liked you better."
"If only," Lando chuckled, emerging from the doorway. Behind him came the droids, Winter, Chewbacca, and Malysa Kolos and her brother.
Chewbacca bellowed a happy greeting, spreading his furry arms wide as if to encompass all of those he considered his honor family. He swept Leia up in a tremendous hug, lifting her completely off the ground as he growled how happy he was for them. She laughed, patting his furry shoulder as he set her back down.
Overhead, fireworks exploded in celebration of the day's events, glowing brightly against the brilliant red-and-orange sunset.
His mother joined them shortly, smiling as they told her the news.
Padmé folded both Luke and Leia into an embrace. "I'm so proud of you both," she said. "I wish you each the best of happiness."
At another gentle twinge in the Force, Luke looked over at the corner of the gardens by the railing that looked out over the sweeping white city and the majestic snow-capped mountains beyond. There, he saw the flickering, transparent forms of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and a tall human man with long brown hair and a beard.
"Master Qui-Gon," said Malysa, moving to stand next to Luke.
"You have both done well," the Jedi Master replied in a deep, rich voice, smiling.
"The road ahead of you is a long one," said Obi-Wan, "but you will see it through. I am proud of you, Luke," he said with a paternal smile.
"May the Force be with you," said Yoda, looking up at them in approval. "Farewell."
As they slowly faded away, Luke looked back at his friends and family and smiled himself.
The future was open before them, and the possibilities were endless.
This is how it feels to be Darth Vader right now:
As your mighty flagship flies on into the unknown, you stand alone in your quarters, gazing into the infinite blackness of space, pondering the darkness within your own soul.
It seems your destiny to always end up alone, you think. The events of your life seem to conspire so that everyone you love goes away in the end.
First, you had to leave your mother behind on Tatooine when you left to join the Jedi. You did not see her again for years, and even then only to have her die in your arms after one final goodbye.
Then you received the incredible gift of Padmé, a woman who seemed to truly understand you for who you are. You were never in your life as happy as in the times you spent with her, but you threw it all away when you let your fear, anger, and hate drag you down into darkness.
You should have listened to her, you think. Before your fall, she had said to you that she was afraid the Republic was drifting away from what it was meant to be, that you might even be on the wrong side. But no, you refused to listen to her.
For decades, you have lied to yourself. You have tried to tell yourself that you had fallen to the Dark Side out of concern for Padmé, that you only listened to Palpatine so that you could find a way to save her, but you know deep inside that you really fell because of your own desire for more power.
You had been endlessly frustrated by the restrictions of the Jedi, and you became convinced that they were holding you back, limiting you from reaching your true potential. Thus, when Palpatine offered you another way out, a way to truly live up to your potential, you gave in to your secret desires, your dreams of greater power and prestige. You let yourself go hurtling into darkness and violence.
And what has it gotten you? An Empire that has rejected you. A wife that rejected you. Children that rejected you. You know you have no one else to blame but yourself.
Your loneliness and pain is no one's fault but your own.
For all your talk of balance within the Force, you have given your emotions entirely too much freedom in influencing your decisions. You are not fit to rule a galaxy, you think. All you are fit to do is destroy; it seems sometimes like destruction is all you are ever able to accomplish.
Well, you think bitterly, you will certainly have plenty of opportunity where you are going. Pain is all the Far Outsiders seem to understand, and you are certainly capable of doling out plenty of that.
You look down at the lightsaber in your hand, the gleaming chrome hilt that belonged to the man you once were. Is there anything left of him still?
Perhaps, you think. Perhaps the darkness has not taken you entirely. Perhaps there is hope for you yet.
As Darth Vader, you are not ready now, but perhaps, in time, Anakin Skywalker can someday return to the ones he loves.
End Part III
Acknowledgments: Major thanks to my original beta readers, Silverwolf05 and Desteni, and to all readers and reviewers.
The story continues in 'One Missed Strike: The New Jedi Order', which you can find in my stories list. Thanks for reading!