TITLE: "Shadows of Maybe"

SUMMARY: In a world where the Dark Side triumphed years before, the man who would have been Luke Skywalker catches up to the woman who would have been Mara Jade . . .

AUTHOR'S NOTE(S): I tweaked the universe we know and love a bit, and this was the end result. No happy ending here. Two or three parts, I'll post the others once I finish with them. :)

Feedback is adored, cherished, ingested, and turned into happyfic. :-* ;-) (Yes, I know that's bribery. :-P Whatever works.)

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"You're getting better at that."

Though the man -- if he can be called that, Mara reminded herself darkly -- did not say it loudly, his mocking taunt reverberated through the empty hall, echoing and rebounding upon itself a dozen times before the hall was reclaimed by silence once more. Although she could not risk being seen, she did not need to peek to know what he was doing; she could picture him there, at the entrance, scanning the area with a professional air before taking his first steps into the deserted room.

If the hall had been peopled before, the years had taken their toll on what must once have been a beautiful place. Hints of a time long gone littered the floor, and grime and dirt lingered upon what artifacts had been left behind by its inhabitants. The once-sapphire carpets had faded to a dull gray-blue, the once-shining details of its construction long rusted and deadened by time. The once-great architecture, the once-proud columns and pillars, sagged; she considered it a miracle they were standing at all.

Stars -- she was going to die in the Temple. Maybe the universe had a sense of humor after all.

"Better," he continued more softly as he casually surveyed the room, "but not nearly good enough." She picture the grim smile that crossed his face as he strode into the center of the hall. Strange, that such a blessed place would be once again profaned by his repulsive presence. "I know you're in here, Jade. Come out and face me."

She suppressed the shudder she felt at his words, the shudder she always felt when he spoke. Despite herself, she found that her heart was pounding faster now, and she could not hold back a shiver as she crouched lower behind the upended table that served as her hiding place. His presence was enough -- had always been enough -- to make her body betray her; whether it was from fear or something else she had long ago given up on guessing.

Because he was the Dark Lord of the Sith, and he was the most perfect man the Force had ever crafted. Aristocratic features, a chiseled profile that would put the most celebrated sculpture to shame. Short blond hair cut and trimmed and styled to Imperial perfection. Black robes enveloping a slight but powerful frame, capable arms that could wield a lightsaber or snap a neck with equal and frightening ease.

It wasn't fair, that a demon could be so exquisite.

But what had always fascinated her -- despite her struggles, despite her protests, despite knowing better -- had been his eyes. Cold and frigid, they were the color of the ice she had so rarely seen on Tatooine; they were a blue beyond that, even, vivid and pure enough to make the ice seem dull and washed out. But they fit him so becomingly that she had no cause to object -- they were perfection, carved in ice and traced from stone. Arctic flawlessness in all their pristine and inexplicable glory.

He was Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.

He was ice, in all its wintry perfection.

And he was here to kill her, once and for all.

She knew how it would go -- she'd studied his methods before. First the mind games: the taunting, the jeers, the gibes. He would try to lure her out, would try to provoke her anger so he would gain the upper hand. But she would resist; she had taught herself to endure, and she would withstand anything he could throw at her.

"I killed your husband, you know."

Mara went rigid, despite her assurances to herself. He killed him? He. . . Biggs . . . oh Force help me . . .

In retrospect, she should have known. She should have watched the videos, the last few seconds that R2 had been able to transmit back to Alliance headquarters before Biggs was blown out of the sky above Yavin. But she hadn't had the strength; she hadn't been able to even imagine looking at those records, much less examine them and watch for the Dark Lord to come and mercilessly gun down her husband. She should have guessed it was Vader himself who would have shot down the squadron leader and, in hindsight, she probably had known, at some subliminal level.

She could imagine the cruel smirk that would adorning Vader's features now; he was feeling her turmoil. There had always been a connection between the two of them, a bond that no one had been able to explain. Though she had learned how to block him out, mostly, the link had always been more to his benefit than hers; he seemed able to feel things from her, no matter how much she reinforced her shields, but she never sensed anything from him.

Would I want to?

He spoke again. Arms clasped behind his back, he began pacing around the edges of the room, stalking and striding with a feline grace that bespoke of a strength and skill that took years or decades to attain. Here was a man who was powerful, knew it, and used it. "He died honorably, you know; it was a fair fight, an honorable one. He had almost made it, too, almost hit the exhaust shaft of the Death Star; maybe he would have, if I hadn't killed him then."

Oh stars, he's good at this.

He paused to let that sink in before continuing, slightly altering his plan of attack. "That one shot would have killed one million Imperial personnel. That's the crew of the Death Star, the stormtroopers aboard . . . everyone down to the last janitor . . . Does that seem like a lot?" he taunted; she could hear the smile in his voice. "In comparison to how many have the Death Star has affected since then? How many of your treacherous Rebel allies we have simply wiped out?"

He laughed, a low throaty chuckle that brought a tingle down her spine. "Alderaan . . . now that was a beautiful planet. And the backlash . . . simply intoxicating." He stopped again, gauging her reaction from the feelings that were no doubt flooding into his mind. Horror was predominant; following it were disgust, fear, anger . . .

She shuddered. The man was a monster. He spoke of murder, of Bigg's death and the mass destruction of Alderaan so casually; she wondered how many he had had to kill to inure himself so thoroughly to pain and blood and killing. He was a Darksider, one of the best . . . but she would withstand his goading. She could; she had to.

"How's your son?" The question was asked almost casually, a friend asking another about her child.

She froze.

"Ah, don't act so surprised; we knew about him as soon as he was born. The Empire likes to keep tabs on the Force-strong in the galaxy and you, dear, are certainly one of them. Imagine my surprise when I learned who the father was, though -- of all the men in the galaxy, it was one of the ones I'd blown up above the Death Star . . . And what did you name the child? Ben? After Obi-Wan Kenobi, the last of the old Jedi?"

He laughed, a deep, throaty sound that filled up the Temple, echoing back upon Mara's ears a thousand times and again. Oh Force, no, not Ben . . . stars, not Ben . . .

"Kenobi was an old fool," Vader growled, once he stopped laughing. He was pacing faster now, caught up in his own anger and rage at the memories. Mara was too worried to care; she tried to duck lower, totally hide behind the upended table, but his words had ignited a passionate fire within her belly as well, and she cursed her inability to control these emotions as she had been taught.

"He was the last one I killed, the last to die of those who achieved the rank of Jedi Knight. I saved him for last, you see; I wanted him to suffer, to watch those he had known and loved cut down, the Jedi forces being whittled down little by little by the boy he was supposed to save. When I killed him, I made sure he knew every ounce of pain he had inflicted upon my father, every bit of the pain that kept the man who had been Anakin Skywalker alive for three weeks before he succumbed to the burns the lava caused. I tortured him for hours on end, shipped him off to the healers, and started again. In the end, I beheaded him with my lightsaber; it was more than he deserved."

She was breathing harshly now, his words stirring and stoking fires in her heart that she thought had long been extinguished. Old Ben Kenobi had lived on Tatooine for all the years before the Empire -- before Vader had finally taken him away. She remembered him from childhood, the crazy old wizard of the Jundland Wastes, always alone and forlorn, the last of his kind for so many years . . . no one deserved the death Vader had given him.

It was all she could do to stay behind the table. Her hand itched to grasp her lightsaber, to ignite it and cut down this . . . this abomination, this anathema, this blister on the face of the galaxy once and for all . . .

"And yet . . . I wonder about your son. Your Ben. Is he as strong as you are, perhaps? If he is, it might be more profitable to adopt him than to kill him . . . I need an heir, and having a child to be raised to the teachings of the Dark Arts, as I was --"

With an inarticulate cry of rage, the last of the Jedi launched herself at the Dark Lord.

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