The Bride Wore Black

Things could have turned out so differently. If I had followed Skywalker to the throne room in Mount Tantiss- if I had not remained with Calrissian to destroy the cloning chambers- who knows what my future could have become? I thought I was doing my part to eliminate Thrawn's army and stop his plans for a Second Clone War. I believed I was fulfilling the will of the Force.

But now I'm not so sure. My destiny changed on Wayland, bringing about a vicious turn of events that I've tried so long to avoid.

It had to happen. I just wish there could have been a way- any way- to start anew. For both our sakes.

When Skywalker killed C'baoth and that terrifying doppelganger, the voices ceased. The Emperor's last command, branded in my memory and present in my thoughts, faded away. I was free, sane again and never missing that dark stain on my mind. Perhaps C'baoth's death- the death of a truly evil being- purged that remnant of darkness from inside me. It was unexplainable, and I felt relieved. The past had lost its stranglehold on me.

And I began to let my guard down a little- just a little. After all, Skywalker wasn't a bad man. He took a few tentative steps towards friendship, and I followed. Cautiously. This was my former target, after all. It didn't feel right to let Vader's son see past my masks into my true character. I flirted with danger, letting him get ever closer, but still trying to keep a hint of chilliness and reserve.

Changes did occur. He began to insist that I call him Luke- I'd been Mara to him since the beginning, so it wasn't like I was being too casual. I still shot off a quick "Damn you, Skywalker" when I was irritated, but it was simpler to use his first name. And he always wanted to meet me places- the gym for workout, or the Palace for lunch. I couldn't object to those either; he was a patient teacher, and his conversation was usually interesting.

So it progressed, leading to things I would have never imagined. Love? Romance? Marriage? I never thought to refuse him. It'd been over three years since Tantiss, and those times were far behind me. I certainly liked Skywalker, and found we worked well together. No problems, no doubts; the wedding was fixed for two months' time. His sister was a little surprised at first, but after a long chat she was supportive of it. Leia threw herself into the preparations, choosing gowns and decorations like a true princess.

And I was…happy. I don't know how else to explain it. I was nervous about the ceremony, and how his friends would accept me; but past all those fears was a deep serenity and peace. Luke made me complete, made me feel like I was actually needed. Even in the Emperor's service, I'd always been under the impression that I could be easily replaced. In Luke's eyes, I had no equal, no substitute. I was unique.

If only that could have lasted.

~*~**~*~

The stars shine brightly, ivory specks in a vast expanse, but a planet is visible through the viewport. Mottled green and brown, with specks of blue scattered throughout its monotonous vegetation.

I know that world: Endor.

A hooded figure turns to me, glowing eyes intent, its other features shrouded in shadow. Cunning eyes. Powerful eyes.

My Master's eyes.

"My end is near, Mara Jade," he whispers, a sibilant tone that echoes through the throne room. "Observe."

Two figures appear. One, tall and black-cloaked, wields a red blade. His ominous helmet identifies him as Darth Vader. It is almost a death mask, with those glassy depthless eyes. But the other man, while also clad in dark clothing, is different. Smaller, with blond hair and an air of calm. But it is his eyes that attract my gaze, brilliant blue in a pale, calculating face. They seem so innocent, naïve- however, I sense a duplicity behind them, a threatening otherness. I turn to my Master in alarm, and he sighs resignedly.

"Observe, Mara Jade. You have failed me before. You will not disappoint me again."

Skywalker ignites his lightsaber, and strides purposefully towards the Emperor- then swings his blade down, ready to kill. Palpatine uses the Force to bat him away, but Skywalker jumps to his feet and returns. Vader follows. They surround my Master, and I try to run forward, to shoot them and stop their murderous schemes. Something must be wrong, for my blaster is gone and my feet are secured to the flooring.

They have planned this moment well. Treachery, to force me to watch this evil. I struggle hopelessly, but it is no use. I have abandoned my Master again.

They inch closer by the second, Vader approaching from the right while Skywalker comes from the left. The Emperor is desperate, pleading with them to cease this madness. They do not listen to reason. Raising their blades on high, they swing down, green and red light cutting into his skin as I strain against my bonds.

But it is too late. Vader and Skywalker smile in satisfaction as my Master writhes in his chair, groaning out his death pains. Those fading yellow eyes turn to me one last time, entreating, ordering.

"End this."

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER

~*~**~*~

I awoke disoriented, tied down by silken restraints. I twisted free of my sheets, my Master's voice ringing through my mind. The moon glinted outside my window, reflecting cool rays into my chamber as I rose quietly to my feet. It was eerily still, and the air's sharp chill sent goosebumps down my spine. I flailed around for a covering of some kind; my trembling fingers closed onto a cloak.

It was black, like Skywalker's normal clothing. I remember laughing at him, wishing he would wear lighter colors, something that would bring out the clearness of his eyes. He always looked so gloomy and downtrodden, though I knew he was aiming more towards seeming serious than depressed. I thought…

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER

I wrapped the cloak around myself securely, its dark folds obscuring my white sleep shirt. I moved about the room mechanically, grabbing items and objects almost dreamily, abstractedly. A utility belt, snuggly fastened around my waist. Soft, thinly soled slippers, designed for noiseless travel. My blaster, a vibroblade, a knife.

I felt something cool and light in my hand, and stepped into the moonlight. My lightsaber. Skywalker had taken it from his clone and given it to me on the Palace roof, in hopes that I would become his apprentice. When he was trying to hint at something, he was far from discreet. It was amusing, watching him take an elaborate approach when telling me something that I'd guessed from the beginning. That was one of the reasons why I liked him so much; he never had hidden motives. Everything was there for…

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER

But he was a liar, a thief. He claimed to follow the light, but I knew he battled darkness within his soul.

He was a murderer. He would pay for his crimes.

I pulled the hood over my face and stepped into the hall. Light, measured steps; I was trusted by these people, but I could not risk any distractions. The glowpanels glimmered above me, like pale wraiths of terrestrial orbs. They provided enough light for careful movements- gradual paces- so it was fortunate that I was not rushing. I'd waited too long to fulfill my Master's final request; but it didn't matter whether I completed the task in five minutes or fifty.

As long as I succeeded.

I scanned the doors, searching for the correct one. It almost seemed too easy, gaining entrance to Skywalker's lair. I entered the lockcode- the fool had given me the number a few months back- and crept in warily, my eyes noting every detail. A half-empty glass of blue milk rested on a table, surrounded by piles of datacards. Packages lay scattered throughout the anteroom, an unpleasant reminder of the upcoming ceremony. I was to wed my Master's killer in three days time.

But my attention was not drawn to those disgusting gifts, but to the bedroom. Through the open doorway, I could see him, bathed in starlight. His golden hair was ruffled, set off by the stark contrast between its warm hue and the murky darkness of his pillow. His face was relaxed, almost child-like in deep slumber. It was hard to believe that this dreaming man could have been so evil, could have committed such a horrendous deed.

I paused, staring at him, unwilling to act. I couldn't harm him. He'd been so kind to me. Was it his fault if he wished for the impossible? I had too many troubles, too many inner wounds. I loved him- at least, I thought I did- but I didn't deserve him. I had resisted the Emperor's command before, and I could do it still. Leave the room, gather my belongings, and go far away from here. It was so simple, and perhaps I could…

YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER

He was a cold-blooded murderer. He'd destroyed my only chances for a normal life. He would pay.

I walked towards the bed and gripped my lightsaber tightly. A few more feet and I was there, mere inches away from him. I let out a low laugh, gleefully anticipating the end. I would not be defeated this time.

Skywalker's eyes fluttered open, and he blinked slowly, finally focusing on my shadowed face. "Mara?"

My lips quirked into a smile. "Skywalker. Goodbye."

I pulled my weapon from beneath my robe and pressed the button, grinning as the blue blade burned through his chest. His eyes stared piercingly into mine, sapphire jewels drowning in confusion and anguish. Their light slowly faded, as sorrow was replaced by an all-consuming blankness.

As his body disappeared, the cacophony of commands in my mind drifted away.

He was gone.

~*~**~*~

I stood frozen for many minutes, my lightsaber still humming in the silent room, as I puzzled through what I had just done. Skywalker was dead; my Master was obeyed. But at what cost? What was the price of my compliance?

Never again would I hear his familiar voice, with its amusing farmboy twang on certain words. Never again would those beautiful eyes stare into my own, with compassion and insight in their azure depths. I had sacrificed the only one who truly knew me for a brief respite from old horrors.

And I hated myself for it.

I remained there, cemented to the ground by a feeling I couldn't express, a sense of inescapable doom. My blade droned shrilly, and I studied the bed for any last trace of…Luke. But he had vanished, becoming one with the Force; a charred, bloodstained hole in the mattress was all that lingered to remind me of my deed. The fatal scrap of evidence.

Shutting down my lightsaber, I staggered towards the window, but my foot caught against a piece of furniture. I fell forward, collapsing on the ground. Tears rolled down my cheeks like drops of bitter rain, stinging as they trickled down. I had loved him, in my way, and had been willing to pledge my life to him. And now he was gone, killed by my own hand.

Had I really loved him? Was love so weak that anger and hate could cut through its perimeter and destroy my few attachments and ties? Was it lack of affection, or an overall character flaw within me that prevented me from saving him? Leia would've never killed her husband, no matter the inner turmoil she might have been experiencing. I had thought my Master's order had been forgotten long ago, but it had endured, coloring my thinking and poisoning my thoughts even before this day.

If I had truly loved him, I would have known when to let go. He could have helped me triumph over these memories, if I had let him into my deep secrets. But I kept a barrier- smaller than before, but still a wall between us. I had believed that there was love, while still feeling that I could rely on my own strength. That was not love. That was selfishness.

Murderer. I had slain in cold blood. That was worse than anything Luke may have done, worse than any of the fabricated sins I had assigned to him over the years. I was worse than evil; I was alone.

He'd tried years ago to tell me the truth, about the confrontation on the Death Star. But I had dismissed him, claiming his story was false.

I wish I had listened. I wish I could have changed how this ended. Sometimes, I even wish that we had never met, that he could have been spared.

If only I had waited a few days, held back the Emperor's last command, and married him- in our union, could that urging have been erased? I was so close to being Mara Jade Skywalker, so close to happiness and closure.

But things do not always turn out the way we plan. There are times when we do things that seem unacceptable in normal circumstances. Fate moves in mysterious ways.

And mine had been twisted from the start.

I saw my lightsaber lying nearby, its metal hilt shining in the moon's glow. If I reached out my hand, I could be free of this pain, in communion with him I had loved. I had no chance for wedded bliss now, only possible peace in the afterlife.

Lovers in life; in death, what?

I eased my fingers toward it and curled them around the warmth-less cylinder. Thumbing it on, I raised the shimmering blade high and slowly ground it into my own chest.

And I died with the memory of Luke's eyes, dimmed and lifeless. I had paid for my sins.

~*~**~*~

Death was not as I expected. Even as my body slipped away, my awareness endured, and expanded in range and perception. I could feel searing pain pulsing through my veins, spots flicking across my vision- then darkness.

But only temporarily. Light flooded my eyes- intense, penetrating, pure- and I gazed around at familiar surroundings. Luke's room remained, yet something had changed. Not in the arrangement of the furniture, but in my view of the area. I felt no coldness, no sensations whatsoever. I was numb. The moon had receded behind thick cloud cover, veiling the chamber in obscurity, but I could still see as clearly as on a bright noonday. Human senses were gone, but discernment persisted. It was unlike my dreams of the world beyond.

"You didn't have to do it."

I spun, surprised by a soft whisper. Luke stood about three meters away, shining gently with an internal light. He had described Kenobi's ghostly visits before, and I had to admit that he hadn't mixed up any of his observations on unearthly beings. He was clothed in a simple tunic and pants- navy blue, I approvingly noted- but he seemed faded. Muted. His eyes had paled to the lightest of blues, and his hair was a mere mockery of its former golden brilliance. He didn't appear to be angry, just…sad. Disappointed.

"You didn't have to kill yourself," he repeated, stepping closer. "You still had many years before you."

"Years spent in prison," I countered, "if I was that lucky. They wouldn't have left me live."

I raised an arm, and studied it apathetically. I had also changed. For not only did I possess a new form, but a new attitude as well. Resentment had been replaced by a deep, unshakable calm. Before, his words would have spurred me into a fury, bitingly riposting his claims. But now, I felt confused- disorientated- and yet peaceful. No need to hide my imperfections beneath sarcastic jabs. My masks were down, and my heart was open to inspection. It was a strange experience, to finally be free of blocks I'd spent my whole life creating. It was better this way.

He shook his head. "Why did you do it?"

I paused to think, then chose my words carefully. "The…Emperor's command had been present in my mind for years, and I had resisted it before. It was stronger this time, and I started to believe that it was my only chance for peace. I'd been two separate halves for too long. I wanted to be whole again."

Luke moved forward, but I stepped aside, avoiding his stare. I wasn't finished; there was still something lurking at the back of my mind that I needed to voice. "I thought our relationship was weakening me. If I hadn't…fallen in love, I might have been able to defeat that hard-wired order. I'd become too soft, too complacent. There was no one who could help me."

"But you were never alone," Luke murmured. His eyes blazed with passionate fire. "I was there whenever you needed me. All you had to do was ask. I didn't want to break down all your walls, Mara."

"You should have. Maybe then, I wouldn't have-"

"Everyone has a right to privacy," he interrupted. "There had been barriers between us- some built by me, some of your own construction. I tore mine down months ago, and was still waiting for you to take that final step. But it was all up to you. We build personal defenses to protect ourselves from pain, but many times they do just the opposite, hurting us and the ones we love. I could have helped you. No matter what your troubles may have been."

I glanced down at my own glimmering form rather pointedly. "It's too late for second chances. Will you forgive me?"

"I already have, Mara. It's not like I can question my fate; death is permanent. I just wish that…"

He stopped, and looked at me gravely. "I just wish it could have been different."

"There are many unfulfilled wishes floating through the galaxy. We've all contributed our own share throughout our lives. And I guess even afterwards."

Luke smiled, a bittersweet expression. "On Tatooine, Aunt Beru used to say that empires are built on the corpses of millions of broken realities but vanquished by a weightless spirit called hope. We still have hope."

I took his hand in mine and squeezed it firmly. I felt nothing; I was nothing. Why should my problems be greater than those around me? I had been only one lone person in a galaxy of billions. I felt shamed to finally realize this. "I am so sorry. I've always been selfish, in everything. I just want you to know that I did love you."

"In your fashion."

I sighed. There was no bitterness in his eyes, just compassion and that wistful sorrow. "Yes."

The moon reemerged, and in the silver glow Luke's face was kissed with pearly rays. He seemed pensive, regretful; I was to blame. I had never tried hard enough, let go of my reserve long enough to let him truly see within me. We had missed our chance for happiness, but something still remained: hope. Belief that we might find contentment in the journey ahead. Somehow.

Luke broke into my thoughts. "I want to visit Leia, to explain and ease her grief. Will you come with me?"

"Yes. I don't want you to be alone."

He shifted his hand to grip mine more tightly, and then we set out into the night, ethereal victims of a shattered dream.

~*~**~*~

THE END

~*~**~*~