markeriv: Hehe. :D Thank you. This should be super-spectacular, then, as I finish the story in this chapter. ;) 'Tis a very long chapter, as well. I'm glad you're enjoying, and I hope you like the finish, too. :)
Igor FH: Natural and flowing – I like that. :D I always strive for a few different things in my writing, and clarity and ... a guess a sort of elegant simplicity are a few of them. :) Thank you:D
Jedi-lover: LOL, you don't need to review it two places. ;) Plus I update at the JC more frequently (though with smaller updates). And wow, thank you!
sidhe-ranma: It kept me guessing, too. :p I hope you like the conclusion. :)
Your Worshipfulness: It's certainly not a simple relationship. ;) Really, that's what this story is about – their relationship. Thank you! I hope you enjoy the conclusion. :)
Audreidi: Thank you. I took my time with the pacing, which makes things quite different, I think. I was glad to get this one done, but I didn't rush it (which I usually do, hehe).
Ceetay: Welcome to the SW fanfic world! Don't worry, the bright lights fade after a little while. :p
It's interesting to me that you don't normally like AU's. There one of the things I love best about fanfiction ... and also the most frequently abused, in the sense of screwing with the characters. ;) I'm glad you enjoy this story anyway. And I can assure you, the rest of the story is only more intense, leading up to the end. I hope you enjoy, and thank you!
jaya: LOL! Sorry. ;) I guess I'll have to do with 'hero of the day'. ;) Thank you. :D
kmacklin: Thank you, and well ... here you go.
Delrious: Sorry it took so long!
markeriv: Hello again. :D And wow! I'm blushing. :D So sorry for not updating, school's been ... interesting ... yeah, that's the word. I hope you enjoy! Thank you!
Well, here we go. The conclusion of Drive You Mild. I hope you all enjoy, and as always, feedback is adored and appreciated hugely. :)
To die fighting is to die free. Should we then cower in the dark for a few more hours of falsely lived life?
Excerpt, quote from The Clone Wars: Vol. II, Bail Organa. Annals of the Empire, Vol. III.
The hologram of Leia flickered, the quality grainy with frequent interruptions. Still, the serenity of his daughter shone through despite the tone of worry to her words.
"Father, the Imperial Intelligence division is growing continually more suspicious of me. I know we have spoken on this before," Leia said ruefully, "but it is still a matter of concern. The pressure isn't easing. I don't know if this new direction in the Empire's interests is because of the new Intelligence director, but this could seriously compromise our situation on Alderaan." She paused, swallowing, and it was left unsaid where that would lead.
"I look forward to seeing you on Coruscant, Father. I believe it's too dangerous to pass information that way any longer, however. Han . . . I think Han can get past the Imperials without being caught. The weapons plans will make their way to you," she said, determination once again coloring her tone. Her voice softened. "I hope to see you soon, Father."
The holo flickered for a moment longer, holding, then died. The tiny device that had somewhat miraculously shown it became inert once more, and Bail sat for a moment, then turned to his friend, also sitting on the couch in Bail's apartment, waiting for his response.
Obi-Wan's expression was grave. "Perhaps it is time for Leia to make her way here," he said reluctantly, folding his hands into his robe. "I can only agree with your assessment – it is becoming too dangerous."
"The added attention Skywalker may be granting her . . ." Bail shook his head. "Leia doesn't know why I'm so worried about that. I finally told her that her birth mother had been briefly involved in the beginnings of the Rebellion in the Senate, but I don't think convincing her to leave Alderaan will be that easy. I'm not even sure she believes my explanation – I wouldn't, in her situation."
Obi-Wan sighed. "There's no reason to think Luke would pay anymore attention to her by now – to be quite honest, if he doesn't know she's Force-sensitive by now, he's not going to, and if he does know, he clearly doesn't care. She's just gotten too close to whatever Luke is attempting to hide."
Bail snorted. "Well, she's not going to back off."
"Perhaps not," Obi-Wan said, with a small smile. "That would not appear to be in her character."
Bail met Obi-Wan's eyes. "I wonder . . . if I should tell her the truth."
"It is your decision, ultimately . . . but I don't see what it would accomplish, other than anguish for your daughter, and perhaps further complications. I would talk to the Council first, as well," Obi-Wan advised.
Bail nodded, the thought of telling Leia the truth being a distant, unsought option in his mind. And yet, if it got her out of the Empire, it might be worth it. She'd be safe with the New Republic as she could not be in the Empire. And at least the deception would be over, whatever the results to their relationship.
"Perhaps you should ask Mara Jade her opinion," Obi-Wan suggested.
Startled, Bail carefully examined Obi-Wan for a moment. "Why do you say that?"
Obi-Wan shrugged. "She knows Luke best, there is no denying that. I tend to think her view of him is more accurate than most, even the Council's, or mine."
Bail nodded at last. "I will consider speaking to her."
"I don't envy your decision, old friend," Obi-Wan said simply, meeting Bail's eyes.
Bail took some comfort in that, and nodded. Yes, he had some thinking to do, indeed.
She spent hours muddling through it, and then more muddling through Imperial politics, which was just as bad as bureaucracy; in fact, the two often interconnected in strange and unusual ways, like the New Republic Senators wanting to increase patrols around space lanes with a lot of farming traffic of ciyanth berries while the Empire had a little fit over the prices, which Mara as consort was supposed to soothe for the sake of the treaty, and then the various logistical issues involved in pleasing the Senators and placating a few Imperial Moffs. Frustrating to say the least. In moments of dark humor, Mara imagined Palpatine and Vader never had this problem; placating and pleasing were not on their list of priorities.
With Luke, she wondered . . . No wonder he skipped between the two, Light and Darkness: bureaucracy, and less bureaucracy.
Mara looked up from her datapad, turning to face the very familiar owner of the voice. Bail Organa stood before her, his presence, as was typical, calm and steady, save for a few subtle ripples of something else that she sensed.
He regarded her with dark eyes for a moment, then continued. "May we speak in private?"
Mara hesitated, curious, then simply nodded. He could want to speak to her on anything, though it most likely wasn't frivolous, as some of the other Senators could sometimes be in their requests. Especially here, so close to the Senate hall itself.
"My office?" Bail suggested, but something about it seemed necessary, like he would press if he had to.
"Shall we?" Mara said with a genuine smile.
Bail returned it, and silently led the way to his office. As with most of what served as the Senate building, it wasn't very austere or impressive, but it served its purpose well enough anyway. When they entered, Bail didn't sit; Mara waited for him to speak.
"I want to ask you something, and you must not ask why," Bail said bluntly.
Mara opened her mouth, then closed it, ready to argue, then realizing . . . well, despite her curiosity, Bail no doubt had his reasons. "Very well."
"Obi-Wan has said you know Skywalker well, better than any of us," Bail began.
Better than any of you know, she thought. "Perhaps so," she agreed cautiously.
"The Empire has been keeping a close watch on my daughter, and increased pressure on her and the other operatives on Alderaan," Bail said. "Do you think Skywalker intends to follow through on the increased threat?"
Mara sighed, and shook her head. "It may not even be Skywalker. I doubt he keeps tabs on everything his counter-Intelligence section does. But he's not shown any greater inclination to go after our people than he has before." She shrugged; that was all she had. She sensed there was something more behind what Bail was asking, but she wasn't sure what, precisely, that something was.
"A not very specific answer to a not very specific question," Bail murmured, slowly sitting on one of the guest seats.
Mara looked down at him for a moment, then sat in the other seat, waiting.
"We know that Skywalker will play a game on many levels to get what he desires," Bail said after a long, drawn out moment. "Would he do the same with a Force-sensitive? Even a Jedi, or a person with the capability of being one?"
It suddenly made sense. "You mean you think he may be after your daughter because she's a Force-sensitive?"
Bail paused, staring at Mara. "Most Jedi don't sense that about her."
Mara met his eyes. She wouldn't have known, save for an overheard conversation and a few files she had no business looking at. "Skywalker doesn't want an apprentice."
Bail exhaled roughly.
"I'm fairly certain of that. And he would see it as a waste of time and effort to have an unwilling one, like Leia Organa," Mara continued. Even if he did know she was his sister.
"That is . . . a relief." And yet, not all worry was dispelled; Mara could sense that.
"But they're still after her," Mara said softly, looking into Bail's eyes and seeing the worry of a father.
"She refuses to leave. She's trying to get to us weapons plans from Kearek on new, advanced ship designs and missiles," Bail said.
"I'm sorry," Mara said, rather uselessly. They could use the information, but Leia Organa's life would be a high cost. The situation wasn't any easy one.
Bail sighed, then seemed to withdraw, becoming once again a collected, composed man, instead of a worried parent. For a moment, Mara felt a sharp ache, remembering her conversation with Luke about fathers and children, that blood connection. Even if Bail and Leia did not technically share that, they still had that connection. She and Adi were very close, but she had a feeling it was not quite the same, somehow. Mara's history as a thief was so different from that of a normal Jedi, and while their relationship had been different for that, Mara had never thought of Adi as a mother.
Her loss, or perhaps the loss of them both.
"Thank you," Bail said at last. "You have – given me some relief," he said with a gentle smile.
Mara just nodded to that, feeling that it had still be inadequate. And yet, as she considered Bail's words further, she wondered – did he fear that the extra attention would lead to the discovery of Leia's true identity? She didn't quite dare ask, but it made sense. Still, what she had told him was true: it was unlikely Luke had any true interest in Leia. "I will leave you to your thoughts," she said finally, rising to her feet.
Bail rose with her, gaze intent, as if seeing something in Mara that was making him think. "May the Force be with you," he said.
"And you," Mara returned.
Several days had passed before Bail spoke with Obi-Wan again, and by then he had come to a decision: not to tell Leia about her brother, and to use every other means to get her to come home. Up to and including getting what Bail referred to as 'that smuggler', Han Solo, to agree to help when he arrived with the new weapon system plans.
Obi-Wan thought it fortunate for Solo that Bail didn't know yet about the wedding.
But Bail was astute, and he'd pick it up soon; Solo wasn't the most ethical of people, but a good deal of it was due to circumstances where Solo had chosen survival, and overall, the young man was probably not a bad choice. Children – well, they would deal with that when the time came.
He had already picked up on something else, something that Obi-Wan had seen as well. Mara – twitched when Leia was mentioned. Almost guiltily.
The Force was indicating that it was time to confront that.
Perhaps it was underhanded, but Obi-Wan felt that after a long day of boring, frustrating work, Mara would be at her most vulnerable. It would be humorous if the situation wasn't so serious. If Mara knew, others might know, and that did not speak well for Leia's precarious situation. As well as the fact that Mara might have had an ethical lapse herself.
As usual, Mara was staying at the Temple while she remained on Ferwyn. It reassured the Council and pleased Adi, and it was probably the most restful place for Mara. Having been there before, Obi-Wan knew where Mara's quarters were, and had no difficulty waiting for her to pass by. Night was falling, leaving deep shadows everywhere, somehow elegant in the starkness of the Temple.
Obi-Wan pulled back his hood, stepping forward out of shadow. "Hello, Mara."
She smiled tentatively, a bit puzzled. She entered her quarters, and stepped aside to let him enter as well.
It was time for him to be less of a considerate, wise Master; that which Mara had always known him as.
"Do you ever think about the Death Star?" Obi-Wan questioned.
"What?" Mara said, blinking.
"Destroying it," Obi-Wan prompted, giving away nothing in his posture or eyes, knowing Mara to be well-attuned to such by now.
She hardly even tensed; yes, she was skilled in hiding. Skywalker had likely taught her that, whether he intended it or not. "Dwelling on past acts achieves nothing."
"And what of better understanding?"
"Understanding of what?" Mara asked warily.
"Consequences," Obi-Wan said, most innocuously.
She met his gaze evenly, folding her arms, her body language no longer tense, but firm and unyielding, not ready for combat but unmovable. "One million, two thousand, four hundred and thirty-two. Not including the droids." She paused. "What of consequences?"
Good, Obi-Wan thought. That she knew that so well, sad as it was, and that she had vision enough to see, react and act. Luke had chosen a consort well. And yet, that very fact also mostly confirmed, to Obi-Wan's mind, that Mara did know. "You know of Leia."
"She is Bail Organa's daughter –" Mara began after a hesitation.
"You know that is not what I am referring to," Obi-Wan interrupted.
Mara halted, closing her eyes.
"How did you discover the identity of her parents?" Obi-Wan asked softly.
"A half-heard conversation," Mara said dryly, "hacking skills, and a rather lacking sense of not knowing what it is to know more than you should." She walked away and sat down on her couch heavily. "The files were wiped not long after, though I did secure them better anyway."
Obi-Wan sighed silently. "It is dangerous that you know. Bail sensed something was wrong, and told me. What if you make that mistake around Luke? For all that I don't believe he would harm her, it is not my decision to make – and certainly not yours."
"I know," Mara said simply, meeting Obi-Wan's eyes. "But Luke, unlike you, has no reason to suspect anything."
"You call him Luke now?" Obi-Wan queried.
Mara chose not to point out that so did he. She merely shrugged, though through the Force she sensed his awareness of her brief spike of something – not quite alarm, but close. "As you told Senator Organa, I probably know him better than anyone in the New Republic, at this point."
"Just be sure," Obi-Wan said softly, "that he does not know you so well – or the information you possess."
"I would never betray the New Republic," Mara snapped.
"I would have said the same of Anakin," he murmured, "but then, he never did see it that way regardless."
Mara exhaled sharply, and did not reply.
And what more was there to say? He had cautioned her, advised her, and the rest was left up to her. The decision was hers, good or ill, and even Obi-Wan did not dare guess which path to choose. Anakin, ultimately, had chosen the wrong path, and yet, he could have been right. What had he seen that Obi-Wan did not? What did Obi-Wan understand that Anakin had not?
How strange, that so much shifted by the decisions of one person. Some called the Force the course of a river, and yet, how one tiny rock could shift the entire path of it remained a mystery if that was so.
"May the Force be with you," Obi-Wan said at last, and it was a benediction of sorts, and a warning as well.
Mara's eyes were dark with certainty. "And with you."
The light of day was giving him a headache.
He supposed it was inevitable. Five months since their last meeting; he was in the middle of a cycle of nightmares again. Still, he would have preferred not to be so unbalanced when he saw her again. It was bad enough how unsettled and unprepared she always found him. It was particularly bad, he thought, when he felt more in control of the Empire than he did a personal relationship . . . which wasn't supposed to personal to begin with. That truly said something, with how unwieldy and unmanageable the Empire could be.
All very cynical.
He was still looking forward to this.
He turned away from the window, pondering having the floor length curtains drawn closed. He wrapped his arms around himself, feeling absurdly cold. Maybe he was getting ill.
Surely it didn't have anything to do with the Republic getting too interested where they shouldn't be yet, Mara coming, Kejal's silent disapproval, and that Moff getting too uppity in dangerous ways.
Luke sighed, and pushed all that out of his mind. He sat on the couch and rested his head in his hands for a long moment, drawing on the Force to calm and strengthen him.
Ah, there it was. Like tightly drawn shimmersilk, that was her presence.
"Tired?" Mara asked, stepping into the room as he raised his head.
He didn't say anything, just watching her for a moment. She wore white again, leaving him to feel lost in the dark in his black. Strange, how the white didn't wash her out, but made her look more alive. "I'm fine," he said finally.
She walked over to him and sat down beside him. He leaned back, content for the moment to let her take charge, curious to see what she would do with it. She didn't speak, instead facing him and lying her head on the back of the couch. A very casual position, very trusting, unready for combat. So odd, when they normally faced each other, watching every movement.
They sat there for a while.
Luke closed his eyes, the quiet soothing.
He was startled by her touch – a gentle hand on the side of his face – and his eyes snapped open. Stupid, he thought, letting yourself relax that much. You can't stop being aware –
"You don't have to be tense every moment," Mara remarked, withdrawing.
He raised an eyebrow, sitting fully up, and said dryly, "You know my situation that well?"
"Simple practicality," Mara said, not offended. "Even Sith have to sleep."
Luke's eyes narrowed, off-put. "I have heard that some Jedi don't."
"But they still rest," Mara corrected, smiling.
"We only have today," Luke pointed out. Such a childish admission, and an unguarded one. Mara traveled constantly, whereas Luke was kept busy even just staying on Coruscant.
Mara paused, considering, green eyes dark. "Okay. Maybe we should go for a walk."
Not really what he felt like doing, but he nodded anyway. He rose to his feet, offered her his hand to help her rise, which she took to his surprise. "Lead the way, my lady," he said, with a demure smile.
She shot him a suspicious glance, but led him out of the room. They walked slowly, casually, though Mara tensed for a split second when she realized they were being followed by Luke's guards. He had always told them to keep a greater distance before, but in this case, he hadn't expected to be leaving the room, so they were following at their normal distance.
"I thought Sith could take of themselves," Mara murmured to him.
Luke focused on her. "The smart ones have good subordinates," he retorted, perfectly aware of the purpose of the jabs.
Mara shrugged innocently. "What about the rule of two?"
"Don't be childish," Luke said mildly.
Mara smiled briefly.
She's up to something, Luke thought, but didn't let that thought show on his face. He should be more guarded, that was all. He nearly stopped, however, when he realized where she was leading them. This was far too specific, if they were going where he thought they were. They moved through the Imperial Gardens, with little conversation, slowly meandering over to the balcony where they had discussed Andar Kel and he had watched Leia Organa, wondering what the Jedi were up to.
Luke had nearly forgotten that the Organas meetings had continued here, in the Imperial Palace.
Mara seemed somehow aware of the direction of his thoughts. "I want to tell you something," she said, her gaze intent on his.
After a pause, Luke dipped his head in acknowledgement and agreement. "Very well."
She led him to the balcony overlooking the gardens. To Luke's surprise, there they were – Bail and Leia Organa. Rumors continued to abound, of course, that Leia Organa had married her paramour, Han Solo, but that was the only thing Luke could think of that could possibly be of interest. Puzzling, and Luke didn't like being puzzled; or led when he wasn't in control, led to something unexpected.
Mara casually leaned against the balcony, gazing down at the Organas talking, their voices too low to be heard. Luke joined her cautiously, checking the angles to make sure they were out of sight from the Organas. Had this been planned with them? Surely not an assassination . . . he could not think of that Mara, and it made no sense, anyway.
"What is it?" Luke asked warily, unsure he even wanted the answer.
Mara glanced at him. "I don't really have any right to do this, but . . . look at Leia," she said.
Cautiously, Luke turned away from her, focusing on the girl. "What about her?"
"Reach out in the Force," Mara requested softly.
"I already know she's Force sensitive," Luke said blandly, hoping that was it, but having a feeling it wasn't.
Mara simply nodded. "I know. The Jedi started suspecting that you knew. I had a conversation with Bail, as well."
Luke turned his attention back to Leia. She was his own age, a beautiful woman, fiery and intelligent. A New Republic agent, as well, though that wasn't quite as dangerous for her since the treaty four years before. The Jedi had hidden her in plain sight – why was still a mystery.
"What does the Force tell you?" Mara asked, again eerily seeming to read his thoughts.
Just how tired am I? Luke thought, reinforcing his shields, and opening himself up to the Force fully, listening to the stillness, not acting, but letting himself be acted upon – led, in the one way he could truly accept. He closed his eyes, exhaling, not doing this halfway, but immersing himself into the Force. Like an ocean, marked by the waves of the living, distant shores with faded images telling of what was to be and has been.
Why had the Jedi been so protective of her? In such a strange manner? Why had Mara twitched at her presence, those years ago?
Rich brown hair, brown eyes as deep as the forest, his father had said – beauty beyond that of an angel of Iego. She was so strong, your mother, an excellent politician, but one who cared, unlike these fools –
Luke stumbled back from the balcony railing, his body suddenly clumsy with tension and fear. "No," he breathed.
Mara reached for him, but he slipped out of her grasp, meeting her gaze angrily.
"How –" he gasped, and damn this lack of control. If he had been more on guard – Force, how could he not have known? "She's my sister, isn't she?" But why ask? The Force confirmed it joyously; it is connection, Luke had told Mara, but apparently he had more than even he knew.
Mara nodded, eyes gentle.
Luke took another step back, definitely out of sight from the two people below, breathing harshly, already beginning to regain control. "My twin," he said softly, finally meeting Mara's eyes.
Mara said nothing, newly tense.
"Why tell me this?" he whispered. "She probably hates me." Hating Mara. His father was gone, and she gave him this, but for what reason? And that Leia Organa would hate him suddenly hurt, as it would not have before; damn Jade. Was this to get him out of control? Always, always she pushed.
Mara approached him, clearly searching for words. Luke grabbed her arm painfully, but she merely met his intense gaze, not even attempting to escape his grip, a total contrast to the violence he wanted to inflict. "I trust you," she said softly.
He let her go, suddenly disinterested, wishing her to be gone. "You shouldn't," he muttered, turning away, walking away. This changed nothing; he had no interest in turning Leia, regardless of whether she was his sister. She was too set against him to ever be useful as an ally, regardless of her relation to him. Which she was probably unaware of, all considering. Whatever emotional reaction Mara was looking for, he would not grant it.
"Do you trust me?" Mara asked, and he tensed anew, wanting to react.
Luke simply stopped. "How?" he said, eyes filling with tears, though none fell. She does this, puts him on guard, and then asks that question? He didn't understand her. There is no safety. I'll never be safe. Always be aware, his father had said, and he'd learned that lesson. Not being aware had led to Palpatine being in control of his training. Had led to Palpatine taking steps to ensure his apprentice, and his apprentice's powerful child, would be no threat to him.
Mara quickly stepped around him, to meet his gaze when he would not meet hers. "You won't hurt her," Mara stated. "You'll protect her now. I know that. That's in you, Luke."
"Have you seen that?" Luke growled, wondering what the Force showed her. He grabbed her shoulders and slammed her against the wall, unworried about anyone seeing them. The guards would keep them away, and they knew well enough to keep their thoughts and what they saw to themselves. Was that the point of this new pain she was forcing on him? To show him – what? Himself?
Mara permitted the roughness for a moment, watching him, then unexpectedly and deftly applied the Force, slipping out of his grasp, though not actually moving otherwise. "You've shown me – you've shown everyone. Your officers don't fear for their lives or their jobs as long as they know they've done their duty well; your citizens don't fear you, but love you."
Luke's arms fell to his sides, and he stared at her blankly, emotions roiling. "Why do you do this to me?"
"Who else will?" she whispered.
"I shouldn't trust you," he said brokenly.
And that was triumph for her, he realized, because that meant he did.
But she only kissed him, no triumph in that at all. Gently, and just so. He closed his eyes, wanting this to last, and wanting nothing more than to collapse and rest. Guards everywhere to keep him safe, but he always had to be aware, he thought. And what did that mean? Who did he trust?
The Force whispered to him of the nature of strength.
He kissed her back. Somewhat tenderly at first, more for himself than her.
They broke it off by silent agreement, and it truly felt like a breaking.
He was tired, but he met her eyes, and he saw her exhaustion, even this close to her, so close he could feel her breath on him. "I trust you now," he said simply. And what a burden, that had been so easily lifted.
She closed her eyes and laughed breathlessly.
She stroked his hair, and he closed his eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked, voice low.
"How can you trust me?" he asked in return, opening his eyes, watching her, reaching out in the Force for her presence, to read her and gain any sense of her he could.
"I see . . . what you do, what the Empire does, but I can't believe you do it for ill," Mara said, the words carried by a quiet breath. "I have always pushed you, and pushed past your manipulations, because I sensed that. You aren't evil," she said with gentle finality.
Luke put his hand to her face, tracing one of her eyebrows with his thumb. "Just tainted by the Dark Side, by my own will?"
"Maybe not by yours," she said, "so much as the life you have lived." She smiled at him. "You asked me – can a being of Darkness be influenced by Light? And if," she continued relentlessly, "that is so, and a Jedi fall to the Dark, can't you find your way to the Light with as much completeness?"
"It takes time to fall," Luke murmured.
"To either," Mara admitted. She didn't look away, silently urging him to meet her eyes, and he finally did. "Fall with me?"
He was already falling.
Attempts to understand the life of Padmé Amidala are fractured at best. Her public life ultimately revealed little of her private life, though that was not thought at the time. She was thought to be open and honest, one of the few truly ethical politicians. The mystery of her relationship with Lord Vader has since shadowed that reputation, and cast new doubt on the last known facts about her life. How could a person with such contrasts in her life have dealt with those contradictions? Did Vader betray her . . . or did she betray him?
Annals of the Empire, Vol. II.
It was strangely enlightening, how comforting an embrace could be. Not for him; for her.
There was something about the warm solidarity of a person, holding onto them, holding them there, that brought a sense of security.
Luke, too, had calmed. He let her go first. He remained tense, but seemed calmer, more composed. He looked around the balcony area, eyes dark.
He looked out over the balcony rail, though from this angle she knew he couldn't see Leia. "This is too public," he said at last.
Mara nodded. "Then what do you suggest?" she said, playing along with his composure. His presence in the Force, while calmer, was definitely still roiled and unsettled.
He met her eyes, holding her gaze for a moment, then started walking away.
The abruptness surprised Mara, but she followed him regardless. He went inside, made the first turn, and opened the first door.
It led to a simple room. Luke stopped, a surprised look on his face, and Mara realized he didn't know where they were going either; he just wanted to get away from that balcony. A bed dominated the room, which was small. The window barely showed a corner of the gardens. It was probably a guest room for minor dignitaries. Luke stared into the room blankly.
"Luke?" Mara said softly. "Are you all right?"
He entered, then turned to face her as she followed him, and quietly shut the door. "I thought you had stopped asking stupid questions," he said at last, with no rancor.
"Stupid questions, or ones that I already know the answer to?" Mara retorted sharply.
He raised an eyebrow just slightly, and Mara sensed approval, as if she was a student who had learned a lesson well.
She on the loveseat set against the small window, leaving plenty of room for him to sit beside her. He did so. "You're not all right," Mara stated.
"I have a sister," Luke said matter-of-factly. "I have a twin sister."
Mara nodded slowly. "Yes, you do."
"Secondary motives," Luke said, staring blankly at nothing.
"My sister. She's gotten into trouble with the Imperial Intelligence, hasn't she?" Luke asked, looking over at Mara.
How did he – "Yes," Mara said after a second.
"Clever," Luke remarked, looking away again. "Tell the truth, and still get what you want."
Mara put her hand to the side of his face, and turned his head to face her. "Stop it."
Luke closed his brilliant blue eyes. "I'm so tired," he admitted softly. He paused, stilling totally for a few seconds. Mara could feel his struggle, his shields slipping to her. He trusted her, and still, there was so much undiscovered between them. He wanted – he wanted to weep. The walls were crumbling before her, and behind them she sensed horrible pain.
"You should rest," Mara said to him.
He sighed, and placed his hand over hers. "I can't."
"Why?" No real pressure behind the question, encouragement, more like.
"I can't," he repeated. He opened his eyes. "Stay another day."
Mara nodded without hesitation.
"I have to go," Luke said, letting her hand go, but she took his hand in a gentle grasp.
"No, you don't," Mara denied. "You want to regain control of yourself."
He smiled at that. "Would you deny me the chance to deal with what you have told me?"
"Not when you put it that way," Mara said wryly.
Luke paused, meeting her eyes. How oddly revealing that could be – and yes, she could see that he needed time. "Thank you."
Deciding now was the time to retreat – and she couldn't help but think of this in battle terms, at times – Mara rose to her feet. Luke remained sitting, but he kept his gaze on her.
She kissed him on the cheek. "I'll be waiting," she said softly.
She didn't want to leave him behind.
And yet, it seemed incidental. No, he was fairly sure it was incidental – not unplanned, certainly, a contributing factor, but hardly the driving one in Mara's decision to tell him about his sister. He had already admitted he trusted her.
Strangely ironic, really.
He had completely lost control of the situation when he began to trust her, and that trust began to guide his actions towards her, when that trust started changing the plan. The idea had to keep her – and therefore, the New Republic – balanced on the edge of a knife about him and the Empire. But Mara had managed to see things both in a more black-and-white and complicated perspective than he had granted her able to, and disaster had resulted.
So to speak. But the ironic part was that he was doing the exact opposite of what he had ever thought he'd do, of any mistake he had thought he would make. That he would begin to trust her, like her, more than like her, had never occurred to him. To truly have her as an ally, not an ally by circumstance, was . . . seeming to be within reach. Frightening all the same, though, for several reasons.
Luke could have anyone he wanted and he knew it. He was also aware that such was meaningless, because he couldn't trust any of them, and by even giving the hold of being in his bed for a few hours, he would lose some degree of control, allow some amount of manipulation.
How – why – was he trusting her on a personal level? And why was he so damn incapable of trusting her on that level, and separating that from everything else?
Kejal was right. He was a fool.
Luke looked up from his desk. He hadn't actually been getting any work done, and Kejal's entrance had him uneasy. More likely than not Kejal would see his distracted state. And if he didn't know the reason for it already, he would very soon; Luke did not commonly keep anything from Kejal, and no lines were in place to do so.
Kejal stopped in front of Luke's massive, buried desk, and looked Luke straight in the eye. "My lord, what have you done?"
Luke sighed. "It's impressive, how you actually say that title convincingly, yet still sound so chastising."
Kejal didn't smile. "I know you well, my lord. Something has happened, and considering the events of the day –" otherwise known as the Mara event, Luke thought, as Kejal continued, "it's not difficult to make a leap in logic."
Luke felt a faint urge to squirm uncomfortably, passing by almost unnoticed. "It was unsettling, as my visits with her tend to be." He deliberately didn't mention Leia Organa, uncommonly feeling that it was none of Kejal's business.
Kejal's eyes narrowed, and his correct posture got even stiffer, that vaguely military bearing becoming even more so. "My lord, please."
"I wonder," Luke said softly, "if I have destroyed everything. I am afraid to look into the future." He met Kejal's eyes. "But I can't bring myself to completely regret it. Or try to undo what I've done." He smiled faintly. "Perhaps I am more like my father than I realized, setting everything aside for . . ." He trailed off, the word too powerful to be spoken yet. Fiery intelligence to match his own, compassion, understanding – way too much understanding . . . He could not forget those green eyes.
"All plans change over time," Kejal said after a moment.
Luke was surprised by the conciliatory note in that remark. "Yes. Of course."
"The key is not having the perfect plan . . . but in having a plan that can be adapted," Kejal continued. "Basic military tactics, my lord, as your father taught you. You have what you need to make a correct decision, you simply need to remember it."
And that – was it a call to return, away from Mara, or a call to reasoning, away from denial of the truth? "I know you disapprove," Luke said quietly.
"I wish you the best, my lord," Kejal said, eyes kind, and there was something strong in that word, 'wish'. Kejal was always grounded in practicality, and yet Luke sensed wistfulness in his affection and frustration.
How amazingly humbling it was to discover all over again that human beings were so complex, and his grasp of the Force clearly not up to the task of dealing with it. "Thank you," Luke said finally.
But Luke still didn't dare look to the future.
She walked alone to meet Luke. Technically, she was supposed to have left today, but she had delayed the departure of the New Republic vessel for another two days. No doubt when she did return there would be questions as to why, but she would deal with that when the time came. And already she was planning to come back to Coruscant in a few weeks. She didn't want to be away.
This deepening of their relationship – and that's what it was, as much as she marveled at it – was exhilarating, exciting, necessary.
She didn't think she could even explain it to herself anymore.
It was intriguing to her, that she didn't have any escort. Not any that she could sense at the edge of her senses, as she always had before, and even more surprising that expression of trust was occurring when she was, for the very first time, entering Luke's wing of the Palace. Luke had waited until it was almost nightfall before contacting her with a simple message. She wondered what he had been up to, what he had been thinking, or if he would even mention it. She suspected not; they were both fond of not mentioning their positions.
Mara adjusted the Jedi robe around her shoulders.
Architecturally, Luke's wing was similar to the rest of the Palace, with the high ceilings and large, spacious halls. There it diverged, because Luke's private wing had an entirely different feel to it. There was no sense of auspicious royalty, nor where was there any sense of being watched, that subtle paranoia that existed as a part of life in Imperial politics. Guards were more visible, but their presence less intrusive regardless.
That sort of contradiction was very Luke, Mara felt.
She didn't have any trouble finding the room he had said to come to. Mauwel had given her directions thoroughly and politely, and Mara in turn had chosen to ignore his careful disapproval, not sure what to make of it.
Mara paused at the door, then entered.
Luke was sitting on a couch that dominated the simple room, but he rose to greet her after her first step, smiling.
"Hello," Luke said, expression watchful but not tense. He paused, she wouldn't quite call it a hesitation, then leaned over and lightly kissed her on the cheek. "Would you like to sit?"
Mara smiled at his carefulness. "Sure." She sat down on the couch, and he sat beside her, angled to face her. Mara took the moment to examine the room more closely. The floor and walls were simple, stained hardwood, and both the couch and single, undecorated rug were white. Deliberate? she wondered, and wondered if even he knew.
A moment of silence, and they hadn't had many of those.
"You look tired," Mara commented. He did look very tired – not obviously so, but even the slightest bit was surprising to see, given Luke's self-control.
His gaze flicked away for a moment, like he was momentarily pondering his response. "I didn't sleep."
"Why not?" Mara asked, surprised.
"I haven't been sleeping well," Luke said with a shrug. "It will pass."
Mara paused, considering whether to push. "But why have you not been sleeping well?"
A definite hesitation on Luke's part, then, "Dreams. They come and go." He cocked his head. "But is that really what we want to talk about?"
"Perhaps not 'we'," Mara murmured, teasing.
Luke hardly reacted – a slight twitch, and that was all. "I contacted my head of Intelligence," he said instead. "About – Leia. She won't be bothered – more than she can handle, anyway."
"Did he ask why?" Mara said, surprised. And intrigued that he was indicating he had no intention of Leia ever figuring out that was he protecting her, much less why.
"I haven't told anyone," Luke admitted. He shrugged. "But then, what would be the point?"
"What do you think the point of me telling you was?" Mara asked without thinking.
Luke looked at her, like he was wondering if she really wanted a response to that. "I don't think I need to answer that," he said at last, tone dry.
Perhaps a silly question, in hindsight. "What do you dream?"
"What do you dream?" Luke retorted.
"Which category of dream?" Mara replied sweetly.
His mouth twitched into a repressed smile. "How did you know I wouldn't hurt her? Organa?" He said it calmly, but with confrontation in his eyes.
"Because . . . I was right about you," she said. "Obi-Wan was right about you, being more than what you present to others. He indicated to me as much. What was it you said about Jedi and blindness?"
"And Kenobi chose not to blind himself?"
"The only question is whether you choose to," Mara said, and he withdrew slightly at that, knowing what she meant. As the Jedi blinded themselves about relationships and the Force, did Luke blind himself in regards to the Dark Side? But Mara continued, seeing the shadows around his eyes, and choosing to react. "You don't have to answer that," she said, a matter-of-fact tone to her words, no pity. "You should sleep."
He watched her, judging her. Always judging, always considering, that kind of examination of motives never ceasing, even though he was so much more relaxed around her now. He didn't reply, and Mara wondered how many had or would say such a thing to him.
"Luke?" Her voice soft.
"It's not as easy as that," Luke said at last.
"There are Jedi techniques to help with sleeping," Mara offered.
His brow creased. "I know. I probably know them."
Mara nodded slowly. Vader had likely known them, and sleep techniques were hardly something that was partial to the Light Side, so perhaps Luke had been taught them. It certainly made sense.
"I could help you," Mara said, knowing he'd probably reject the offer, but making it anyway. Perhaps she could do something. At first look it seemed so trivial, but it really wasn't. His admission to it was important, and the fact he couldn't sleep well was important to her.
He shook his head. "Talk to me."
"About what?" Mara asked, rather startled by the request.
"Anything." His words were honestly said, gaze intent and interested on her.
She had always pushed him about his past, about his behavior . . . Rarely had he gone after her in the same way, though when he did it was always to great effect. She still remembered those conversations, about Jedi and politics and blindness, self-imposed or otherwise.
So she talked about her life as a Jedi. She talked about missions, frustrations and joys. How she loved Adi. Why Adi had never taken on a long-term mission again, and what the Council had to do with it. The war had changed all the Jedi, sometimes making them very different from what even they would have considered acceptable Jedi behavior a decade before.
In a completely different, but no less revealing way, Mara opened up to him.
He asked good questions, too. About this and that, subtly taking a different viewpoint or opening one up to her that she had never before considered.
It was less about battle, this conversation, than give and take; an equal sharing, she learning of him through his questions, and him learning of her through her answers.
At some point, Mara got to her feet to illustrate some point, and began walking around the room as she spoke, loosening her limbs and watching Luke remain seated, lazily watching her as she spoke.
He had relaxed as they had talked. Tension even she hadn't been aware of seeped from him.
Not once had they talked about politics or the Jedi.
"It was really horrible when Adi tried to teach me how to dance," Mara said, smiling at the memory. Luke had been telling her about his etiquette training, and how irritating it had been. His father, he had added, had always avoided him during those hours, a tidbit of information that Mara found highly amusing.
"Why? What happened?" Luke asked, looking at her with open curiosity.
"Here, I'll show you," Mara said, gesturing for him to rise.
After a moment, he did so, moving to stand in front of her.
"She was trying to teach me the Alderaani waltz," Mara explained, "and I was getting the timing all wrong, because the damn thing doesn't follow a proper beat."
Luke nodded ruefully. "Yes, you're supposed to be a moment behind the beat."
Mara held out her hand, and Luke took it as his other hand settled on her waist.
"She tried teaching me at first," Mara continued, starting to move, the movement deliberately clumsy and also making Luke trip over his own feet. "Then she recruited Obi-Wan somehow. I'm sure he wondered what the hell he was doing trying to teach a snotty fourteen year old the Alderaani waltz."
Luke smiled faintly. "I can just imagine," he said. "Father, when he spoke about it all, said Obi-Wan didn't have much rhythm – that he couldn't sing, either."
Mara laughed. Luke was naturally graceful, and even with her in the lead and showing him how badly she had done it, he managed to keep a fairly normal rhythm. After a moment, Mara stopped pretending to be awkward, and they danced to the sound of their breathing. Just off the beat.
She looked into Luke's eyes. "I was so awkward then, in many ways," she murmured. "So angry all the time. Anger was my way of dealing with pain."
Luke's breathing hitched, just barely. "Mine, too."
Choosing not to react, not to create pressure however unintentional, Mara continued quietly. "It was so hard in those years. I was so different. I lost my temper, I yelled at my Master, and I used to think I'd never be a Jedi. That I didn't have it in me, as much as I wanted it." Her voice became so soft as to become inaudible, and she looked away, her focus on the past. "I used to cry myself to sleep, because I felt so weak."
Luke abruptly stopped their silent dance, putting Mara off balance. She held onto him, as he remained steady as a rock. She met his eyes, startled, and he was staring at her, mute with pain. "I know that feels like," he whispered. "I wonder if I can do this. What I'm supposed to do, what the Force guides me to do."
And what is that? Mara wondered, but right now it hardly seemed to matter. "You're not weak," she said, knowing that without a doubt.
His smile was one of self-derision. "I can't even conquer my nightmares."
"Maybe you just need help," Mara said evenly. "Just like I did."
He shook his head. "I can't conquer the past. I can't fix it."
"Then they are one in the same, your nightmares?" Mara asked.
He hesitated, taken aback as if realizing how much he had told her, then he simply nodded. "There are so many things," he said softly.
"You may not be able to conquer them, or fix them, but they are the past," Mara said, remembering her own past. "Starving on the streets, trying to keep myself from being raped – they aren't pleasant memories, but I don't feel pain from them anymore. I accepted – I . . . healed, eventually." And yet, saying that was painful.
"Let me help you," Mara said, her focus now totally on him.
For a moment, Mara thought he would repeat his inarticulate plea, but he didn't.
"Tell me," Mara gently urged, insistent but not harsh.
He took his hand from her waist, and brought it to her face. "Some things are too horrible to tell."
She opened her mouth to ask a question, and he placed his thumb over her lips, silencing her.
"Vader took me too soon," Luke said at last, his words unexpected. "I was strong enough to be a threat, too weak to defend myself."
"Two years," Mara said, remembering the gap between when she knew he had been on Tatooine, and when Luke's existence had been declared after the death of Palpatine.
"My father ending up in that suit was always something Palpatine had appreciated, even though he didn't plan it. He liked to control through pain, and fear," Luke said distantly. "It was two years of hell. Even then, when I was fourteen, we hardly defeated him, as young as I was, as weakened by that suit as my father was. But he refused to wait – Father refused," and his words were skipping over each other, this confession unpracticed and raw. "He died for that. He never recovered from his injuries," Luke whispered. "For my weakness."
Mara shook her head in denial, eager to deny, because it wasn't that. "He died because he loved you. And I imagine he died gladly for it," she said firmly, knowing that at least: Vader had loved his son.
She touched his mind through the Force, opening her own, and she felt something within him just collapse.
He gasped out loud, his pain vivid in the Force, painted in bloody slashes in images from memory as his shields dropped around Mara. He still remained standing, and Mara didn't know how, because she was falling. She felt like she was going to vomit as his confession became mental and full.
He drew back, pained, feeling foolish and lonely – she sensed it quite clearly – and she placed her hands on his shoulders, holding him there.
"Force," she managed. She met his eyes, and of all things, saw concern for her there. "How can you say you're not strong?" Palpatine had not merely been cruel, he had been sick and disgusting, and she loathed him with all her strength. How – how could he have done that to a child? How dark had Vader been, to allow that, then? She hated him, his death not sparing him her anger.
"He didn't," Luke denied, listening to her thoughts, shaking his head, upset and his eyes full of tears. "He tried – " and more images, of fighting, of clean medical bay beds.
"How could he bring you there, away from Tatooine?" Mara questioned, voice hoarse with emotion. They were standing so close to each other now, her eyes were closed and she could feel his breath on her neck. Not quite an embrace, too tense to offer comfort. "Knowing he could not protect you?" Had he known how far his protection would have to extend – had he known that he would even want to?
"Because love is a twisted, complicated thing," Luke breathed into her ear.
Mara felt a tear slip down her cheek. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry for everything you went through."
Luke was gentle in his response. A mental touch on a memory, of when a man had come too close for comfort, and the bruises that took weeks to fade. So am I, was his reply, and she had no idea how her shields had slipped that far. What now? he seemed to say.
She had no words, the emotions she was feeling too intense to describe, his response too frighteningly wonderful to respond to. It was a meeting, a total understanding, a sharing of pain that was somehow being halved and torn apart.
Somehow, their lips met.
Her hand raked through his hair, her other hand was on his back. She could feel his tenseness as his hands went down her shoulders, to the small of her back. But how could this be twisted? There was something so sweet, so wonderful, here. His face was ever so slightly rough, like he needed to shave. He drew a finger up her spine, and she shivered, nearly falling into his arms.
Luke broke off the kiss, then pushing her robe away, he kissed the joining of her shoulder and neck. Mara pulled up his shirt, feeling smooth skin beneath.
He moaned, uncontrolled, and she forced him to kiss her again. She was ineffectually trying to take off his shirt, but he had already thrown aside her Jedi robe, his hands everywhere, stroking her stomach, moving up her bare back beneath her tunic. She wanted to be with him, to melt into him and be as close as possible. His mind was joined with hers.
It surprised them both when Luke slammed into a wall, jerking them away from their kiss. Somehow they had moved from the center of the room.
Mara opened her eyes, looking into Luke's flushed face and suddenly very dark eyes. Desire flourished between them, the Force tingling with it.
"No," Luke groaned, licking his lips, his eyes closing desperately.
"What?" was all Mara managed to say.
He drew his thumb across her lips, sighing, and spoke . . . very softly. "I would not have our love borne of pain."
Mara closed her eyes, exhaling roughly. Breathing. Both of them just breathing. "You're right," she said finally, the words drawn reluctantly. To do this now, with both of them so fresh from pain, desiring comfort, would be . . .
"You're perfect," Luke said to her, all the explanation he wanted to provide.
Mara smiled, and kissed him again, but gently this time, lingering but not pressing. He wanted this out of love, not hurt and desperation for contact, for reassurance and connection.
"Stay with me." It was a request, his voice somehow tender.
Mara nodded wordlessly.
He kissed her again. Gentle, aware of her scars, and his own.
"I won't let you have any nightmares," Mara whispered fiercely.
"How could I?" he said, as if her victory was inevitable.
They drifted away. The walls of the Palace had suddenly become meaningless, blurs of something unimportant. But the look in Luke's eyes, the age on his face, the way he walked, the way he kept looking at their joined hands . . . That was the world. That was entirety.
She wrapped her arms around him in his bed, the silken texture like a caress against her skin. Luke's head on her stomach was a comforting weight, the way he stroked her inner thigh somehow more soothing than erotic.
She was right beside him as his thoughts slowed, and he drifted off to sleep.
No nightmares dared disturb his sleep.
The galaxy was changing, and the consequences were spinning just out of his grasp.
Annals of the Empire, Vol. I.
Luke didn't know a huge amount about his mother. His father had spoken of her little, the topic tender still, though when he did speak of her, he always did so with great respect. An odd thing, but that most of all had always been clear to Luke's young eyes.
Would he now better understand the contradiction inherent in his mother? Who she had loved, who she had lost . . . Who she had hidden. He understood that better now, he thought, and that made him wonder how far he had come since listening to his father's every word. But his father was gone, and he was here.
He knew he was awake, but he didn't really feel awake; it wasn't dawn, he wasn't planning or worrying. He wasn't thinking about much other than the present, letting his thoughts drift, calm and serene. Mara was facing him, her eyes closed, the glint of her red hair spilling over the sheets, the pillows carelessly thrown aside in the night. The light was dim, brushing her features faintly. Shifting with the beginning of restlessness, he realized they were both still fully dressed. But he didn't want to get up, not yet, not while she still slept so close to him, close enough that he could feel the life in her, coursing through her, her every exhale.
It made him think of quiet nights at home, on Tatooine. Knowing he was safe, having nothing to fear, dreaming of adventure and being so ignorant of reality. What bliss that had been, save for the torment he had inflicted on himself through his childish dreams. Perhaps that was what he had dreamed of tonight, with the nightmares held at bay.
Luke gently caressed Mara's face; she didn't wake, trusting even in her sleep. That made Luke smile.
He let himself fall back asleep.
Luke's arm was around her, his other a resting place for his head. He was still asleep, and sleeping dreamlessly, his breathing slow and even. She could barely make out the planes of his face, the curve of his lips. She was aware of slight shifts, vagaries in the still sea of his mind.
Shifting slightly, she carefully brushed his hair back away from his face, not quite even touching his skin. There was something vulnerable in his lack of movement, in how he didn't react to her presence, didn't judge or plan, just slept.
Mara suddenly felt tears in her eyes, totally unexpectedly. Something indefinable rose in her, overpowering, and yet, then it settled, no less strong but quieter. I love you, she thought.
Taking a deep breath, she checked her internal clock. It would be dawn soon, she realized, and more likely than not Luke rose with the dawn.
Considering how deeply he was sleeping, perhaps she should change that for today.
Moving very carefully and slowly, Mara got out of bed, her Jedi clothing suddenly feeling rough against her skin. She looked around the room, all details having escaped her the night before. It was a large room, but nothing was really surprising about it. Most of the colors were soothing tans and blues, reminding her of the desert, for some reason. Something was very stark about it, though she couldn't say what, exactly.
It looked like there was a bedroom, where she was, and then a larger living area just beyond that.
The wooden floor oddly cold – she would think it would be heated – she walked over to the other room, silently opening the door and stepping through.
The presence of Kejal Mauwel in the other room made her start, though she kept silent.
He looked at her, dark eyes intense – not quite displeased, but not quite having the disapproval of the night before, either. He stood by one of the two, elegantly formed couches, a dark statue. The lights were not on.
Mara exhaled slowly, stepping closer to him, but he said nothing, merely watched her.
"I found your robe," he said blandly, voice quiet and unobtrusive.
That, she had not expected. She flushed, remembering how she had lost it, and folded her arms, fingers twisting the loose tunic she wore. Deciding not to reply that, and that it was probably a rhetorical statement anyway, she said softly, "Luke's deeply asleep. I think it would be best not to wake him this morning."
Mauwel cocked his head, but said nothing.
Mara raised an eyebrow, no longer willing to take this silent treatment. "He told me he hasn't been sleeping well because of nightmares."
Mauwel sighed, and something seemed to gentle in his eyes. "Did he tell you what he dreams?"
"I know why he dreams," Mara said after a moment.
Mauwel nodded, taking that in. "They come in cycles," he murmured.
"Ah." She studied him. "Why are you here?" she asked, glancing around the room.
"To watch over him," Kejal said with a slight, uncharacteristic shrug. "And what of you?" he asked sharply.
"Same thing," she replied calmly.
More silence. Mara made her way over to the couch opposite Mauwel's position, and sat down. Kejal did not move. She met his eyes squarely, bluntly, wishing no maneuvering or posturing here. She sensed that Luke was close to Kejal, and that was reason enough to pay attention to this man.
"I fear for him," Mauwel said at last. "Because of you."
Mara pursed her lips. "Don't," was her soft reply. She saw worry in his eyes, the worry of a parent. Too many fears to count, to be expressed, to even be known. How often, she wondered, had he stood here over his charge?
Mauwel shook his head slightly, irony in his eyes. "Why?"
Mara said nothing, remembering Luke's words to her – how he had, that first time, so sharply pointed out her blindness. "You already know why," she said. "Even if you don't believe it."
"You have unraveled everything he has planned for," Mauwel said lowly.
Mara didn't what he was talking about, and was probably not supposed to; she did not know everything that Luke planned. So much of his actions as Emperor were a total mystery to her, even if she understood him now, on a personal level, better than she had ever thought to know anyone. She had seen into his soul, and yet – she did not know everything that he had seen, and so could not say what decisions he had made. "Is that a bad thing?" she said finally.
"Perhaps," was Mauwel's noncommittal reply. He paused. "Perhaps you can undo the damage you have done. If you are willing."
And what did he speak of, Mara wondered. Betrayal? She had promised her Master she would not betray the Republic, and still, as she sat here, she had no intention of doing so. But she did not believe that by trusting Luke she was betraying – perhaps that was what Obi-Wan had meant in his words to her of his lost apprentice.
She could feel Luke steadily now, a constant sort of presence. He was shielding, yes, but she felt she was inside those walls now. And what did Obi-Wan know of Luke? He had fears; she had truth.
"I would not have Luke have any regret," she said at last.
"Then I have done all I can," Mauwel whispered, bowing to her.
He walked out of the room without another word, leaving Mara alone.
It was well after dawn when Luke fully woke up. He looked around his room, feeling confused and disoriented, and he had that groggy feeling of having been sleeping too long. The room was bright with light, and empty except for himself. His mind began to catch up on past events, and it suddenly occurred to him Mara was not present.
Even in sleep, the mind remembers, and Luke traced his memory back to Mara rising from the bed . . . touching him briefly, then leaving to the other room. He had a vague memory of voices as well. Why had he not woken? Even without the nightmares keeping him from entering restful sleep, he should have woken. He should have. He always had to be aware.
Clearly, however, he wasn't.
Feeling grimy, Luke threw back the sheet, rubbing his face. And yet, his body felt undeniably rested, like he did after immersing himself in the Force and finding its strength.
He reached out in the Force, finding Mara. She wasn't far away, and though he sensed she was awake, she didn't respond to his mental touch. After a moment, feeling the peace within her, he realized she was probably meditating. He refined his senses, and after a moment, felt her coming out of the meditation.
And what now?
He had revealed so much to her, his greatest pain and deepest regret. She hadn't turned away. And his duty seemed to become meaningless in the face of her presence. He trusted her, he evidently trusted her enough to continue sleeping even while she woke, but she was still a Jedi. Could she possibly understand? Would she believe him?
Kejal believed him because he had seen much of the Force, even if he never experienced it personally. Then, of course, there was trust between them.
Mara was considerably more difficult; she was trained. But for that very reason she was more aware – often seeing into him with a great deal more accuracy than he would have initially guessed. But she was still a Jedi, with those loyalties, and he did not think she would give them up.
Had he given up his? Could he?
Luke's eyes snapped open when Mara entered the room. She wore her Jedi robe tightly wrapped around her, but was barefoot, he immediately noted uncertainly. She walked over to bed and sat down, smiling at him.
"Morning," she murmured. She cocked her head. "I was cold," she said, shaking one of her voluminous Jedi sleeves.
"Oh," Luke said blankly, blinking.
"How are you?" she asked, moving up beside him on the bed, taking his hand in hers. He stared at their joined hands for a moment.
He was afraid, but he didn't want to say that. He put a sliver of a shield around that tiny feeling, squashing it. "I didn't dream," he said, finally deciding on what to say.
She nodded. "I asked your majordomo, Mauwel, to let you sleep in."
"You spoke to him? What did he say?"
Mara didn't answer for a moment. "Just some things that made me think," she said softly.
"What things?" Luke demanded, tensing up.
Mara smiled at him, easily and with no tension of her own. "I felt like I was being interrogated on my suitability," she teased.
"Oh," Luke said again.
She paused, hesitated.
Then kissed him. Luke returned the kiss with fervor. Smooth give and take, and why did she even hesitate to do this? There was always a certain darkness to their interactions, some bridge, perhaps, not yet fully crossed, but this – was always pure, in that sense.
He kept his eyes closed when she gently disengaged from the kiss, and when she made to move, he brought a hand up to her face and held her there. "Help me," he whispered. "I didn't dream," and that was all the explanation he could give.
He opened his eyes, and saw understanding in her green eyes. To have this . . . to have peace, he would give up what he had been taught. Power had done little for him but destroy him. Perhaps, he thought, it was an equal trade after all. He would not blind himself as the Jedi had done; Mara . . . had lifted the veil.
She gently and silently urged him to lay down, and when he reluctantly did, she curled up against him, the back of her head on his shoulder. He put his arms around her, and she lay her hands on his.
"I have duties," Luke said after a moment, really just a comment. "And your people –"
"I sent them a message this morning," Mara said, stilling. "They were a bit worried," she admitted sheepishly.
Luke nodded slightly against her head. "I wish –" he suddenly started, then stopped.
"You wish what?" Mara asked, not moving, voice quiet.
For foolish things, Luke thought. "I fear to look in the future, for how much you have changed it," he whispered.
At that, Mara twisted her neck to awkwardly look up at him. "And what do you see?"
He sensed curiosity there, and willingness. A Jedi, he thought, but perhaps not one of the Jedi Order. Everything moved so quickly – the Force warped in its urgency, and for all that Luke wanted to lie here and do nothing, he couldn't. As much as Mara wanted it, as much as he wanted it for himself, the Force was demanding his attention. He did not want to look, afraid . . . afraid of giving this up.
Visions of the future were always troublesome, revealing in glimpses those events which created the most consequences, which were inevitable in manner, delayed and diverted or not. When his father had found him, he had realized Luke's latent precognitive ability, though neither he nor Luke could find any way to use it for years. And some things could only be revealed in time, where it appeared even mastery of the Force was meaningless and no one could see.
Luke always saw such gray.
He wondered, in his cynical moments, if Jedi saw it all brightly, covered by the clouds of the Sith.
He wondered if they were blinded by the light.
What am I to do? he asked the Force, and it answered.
He sat up, and Mara quickly had to readjust her position. Her eyes were intent on his, demanding. They could both be quite demanding when they wanted to be, the smoothness of surrender always little-lasting. He had always seen that as a threat, a nature perhaps that the Jedi did not care for, but she nevertheless possessed.
He took a deep breath, looking into her eyes. "I want to show you something."
Vader's love lasted in legend; every year he visited her grave on Naboo. And as the tale went, every year until his death, the flowers at her grave bloomed.
Annals of the Empire, Vol. II.
The Force was alight with the sense of something new.
He had quickly urged her to her feet, and told her to get dressed. Baffled, but willing to be obedient, Mara had left his rooms for her own quarters and quickly gotten dressed. When she returned, driven by curiosity now, Luke had showered and dressed as well, wearing a simple outfit like her. There was an energy about him, an intensity that spoke more of purpose than nervousness.
Without a word, he began to lead her through twisting halls.
He held her hand, though.
Both silent, he led her deeper into the Palace, into areas she had never been permitted. They went underground, and the guards become sparser but more intense in their regard of her. She suspected they would have confronted her, had Luke not been there, clearly leading her. The Force twined around everything, some important point being reached. What did this mean? She remembered her words to Kejal, and her words to Obi-Wan. She'd fallen, she suspected, just not in any way the Jedi had imagined.
Luke felt oddly standoffish to her, not like he didn't want to be close to her, but a different sort of reluctance. As he held her hand, he would rub her skin with his thumb, then stop, as if realizing what he was doing. As if reassuring himself that she was tangible.
"Luke –" she started to say.
One look from him cut her off. Something she couldn't quite read swirled in his eyes, something like fear, excitement, and nervousness mixed together. He did not want her to ask questions.
In these deepest parts of the Palace, she saw signs of the old Senate building, signs of buildings swallowed whole and incorporated into the design. Soon enough, elegance faded to practicality, and wide-open spaces to more military advantageous narrow halls. She studied everything despite their quick pace.
He led to her a room that was more a cavern, the walls white. An unused throne sat in one corner, and in the center of the floor was a geometric design in red. Thin lines on the floor spread out from it, and she sensed it was more than decorative. The whole area had a darkly lush feeling, like there were layers to sink into beyond what she could see.
"Luke . . . What is this?" Mara asked. She stopped just inside the room, then turned to direct her attention to him.
Luke reluctantly let her go of her hand, his touch lingering, then walked to the center of the room, staring at the red design for a moment. She then she felt a brush of the Force, a movement.
The illumination of the room dimmed, hushing the light, and a galaxy spread before her and around her.
It was a hologram of the entire galaxy, clearly recognizable despite its huge size. It spread over most of the room, and she realized that was why it was so empty of anything else. The stars were tiny pinpricks of light suspended in nothing.
She looked at Luke, but he was merely watching her.
Swallowing, feeling a strange trepidation, she looked at the holographic galaxy more closely. She could identify all the various rims – they were in subtly different shades. Strongly overlaid it, twisting outward from the Core Worlds, were star systems in red. That also looked familiar, though it took a moment to realize why: all the systems were in Imperial space.
"It's entirely to scale," Luke said, breaking the silence, but the comment felt somehow useless and inane.
"I don't understand," Mara said, reserved, walking through the hologram, her presence not even causing a ripple. She walked towards the Unknown Regions, finding – the New Republic, her systems in blue. She could almost see where Ferwyn's star would be. "Why are you showing me this?"
"Look closer," Luke requested simply.
Frowning, Mara examined the hologram in more detail, reaching out to the Force to guide her. She took a step forward . . . "The red extends into the Unknown Regions," she said, startled. Lines, only, at the very edges of unexplored space, but oddly the farther in, the more explored the map showed the area to be. She turned to look at Luke, demanding words on her lips.
"Yes," Luke said before she could speak. "Palpatine began exploring the Unknown Regions before he even declared himself Emperor. My father continued the effort, as did I."
Mara paused, considering. He wanted her to arrive at some point, obviously, and wanted her to figure it out for herself. She found herself oddly irritated, that he was treating her like a student. "Then . . . why did you leave us be, when we fled there?" Her gaze was sharp. "You were lying when you said you didn't want to attack us because you weren't familiar with the area."
"I had another reason," Luke allowed, hands clasped together.
"You mean a truthful one," Mara said, raising an eyebrow.
Luke spread his hands slightly. "You are not alone in the Unknown Regions. I asked the Chiss to leave you be, and fortunately you have not intruded on their space – they are very territorial." He sighed. "A very dangerous place, the Unknown Regions."
"Why would you want the Republic to flourish?" Mara demanded, and yet, had it not all led to this? Skywalker's actions were unexplainable, they had always been. The New Republic had accepted the treaty because there was no better option, not because they understood his motives. She had accepted the treaty for that reason. "Don't lie to me," she said darkly. "What is this?"
"Why would I leave the Jedi alone, when I had no reason to do so?" Luke returned, meeting her gaze evenly.
"Why don't you tell me?" Mara snapped.
Luke paused, taking a breath. "That is what I'm doing," he said, something dark and uncertain in his tone.
Mara turned back to the map, wondering what it was that gave Luke that haunted uncertainty. The Force swept over her, taking her breath away. She reached out to touch a star, and to her surprise, text drifted up in the hologram, giving its name and coordinates. She couldn't imagine how difficult such a precise hologram had been to build – she had never seen anything like it. The technology required to be able to extrapolate distances and the slowly changing way the stars related to each other was not something she had been aware of existing.
"Everything I do is for a single purpose," Luke continued after a long moment, and she had a feeling he did not like the silence. "The treaty, the games between my weapon designers and yours."
Mara met his eyes, surprised.
"When I told you about Sefer and that led you to Kearek, that was deliberate," Luke added, no mockery or triumph in his eyes, just simple, calm fact. Calculation – he must thrive on it, she thought, or how could he stand it? "The rest of the conversation," he said dryly, "was not."
A smile briefly touched Mara's lips, and she felt Luke relax slightly. "Tell me," she asked, seeing Luke waiting, trying to see what her reaction to that very revealing information was. Had Luke been playing them all along, in intelligence and counter-intelligence operations? It seemed to be so, and that information would be dearly wanted by the New Republic.
"When I came to the throne those years ago," Luke began, "everything changed. Not just for the Empire, but for me. My father was dead, and I was on my own. My Force abilities had increased, and when I fought the Republic, I saw consequences for my actions more far-reaching than I had realized. The Force gave me a warning."
"Of what kind?"
"Of something to happen, far in the future," Luke said softly. He looked away from her, to the holographic galaxy, expression thoughtful. "It's strange, what I can see and not see. There will be a war, a great war, but I cannot see the enemy. I can see our suffering, our fighting, and yet – they are never there." He stopped. "I know, somehow, that the Jedi will be necessary to win the battle." He shrugged and met her startled gaze. "I do not know why."
"That's why you left us alone," Mara murmured.
"I still don't care for the Jedi," Luke said a shrug, and the remark seemed almost pointed, despite its casual delivery.
Mara chose not to reply to that – or point out the contradiction in her presence, since she had, after all, not ceased to be a Jedi. And he as a Sith . . . well, that had faded long ago, to the end that Luke had chosen light.
"I see not only the future, but the past whenever I try to see through the uncertainty. Whatever is coming, it began long ago, and cannot be stopped," Luke said.
"And why do the Jedi not sense this trouble ahead?" Mara questioned, daring him.
He smiled, painfully, looking almost . . . rejected. "I have already told you why," he whispered. "I am . . . different. Beyond that, I could not say; I do not pretend to be favored by the Force, Mara." He regained control. "What does the Force tell you?"
Mara shook her head – she could not answer. The Force lighted upon her shoulders, her mind, calming her but not yet giving any answers. "But you said everything," she said roughly, "was deliberate." Not this, she didn't think. She could not worry herself over that, but what could tear them apart still remained unsettled. "What then of the treaty? You say there will be a war. Not a war with us?"
Luke seemed to almost flinch at the word 'us', but merely shook his head. "Think," he said patiently, not condescendingly so, but sharp in intent nevertheless. "I've already revealed some of my reasoning to you in our earliest discussions. What is the difference between the Republic and the Empire?"
"There is a basic difference in thought process," Mara said at last.
"And differences – conflicts, variables – bring change."
"Even, say, to the field of developing weapons," Mara said, mouth dry, starting to understand. "You were pushing us, with the knowledge of Kearek. Pushing weapons development, our armies and our ships. Not to fight with you, as we've thought, but to fight this war you've seen." She halted. How desperate he must be, she thought, to play such a dangerous game, where the pieces could fall at any moment.
Luke just nodded, waiting, not looking at her. How careful they were being, here.
"And thus, the treaty," she said quietly. "To keep us both your friend and your enemy." And she could not help but ask, doubt entering her heart even now: "What was I, then?"
"Your purpose," Luke said, his tone revealing nothing, "was to keep the Republic on that edge, of not knowing my intentions. You were never supposed to think I was totally evil, but nor were you supposed to . . . do what you did," he said, meeting her eyes. He stiffened his back visibly, sighing, walls coming up around him at Mara's dismay.
"And the marriage?" she asked flatly. I was never supposed to push. And he was never supposed to react.
"Something the Force led to me to do," Luke admitted, having answered this question before, but answering it again anyway. Perhaps sensing that she knew she was getting the truth finally, and she wanted it all. "I never – the consequences of that were, are, spinning out of my grasp. Perhaps that was the intent of the Force." Rueful, at the last.
"It would never work," Mara said bluntly. All the consequences, all the risks – what he proposed was complex and unwieldy. What did he see, that he thought this possible? "When the war came, how would we get along to fight together? The Empire and the Republic? It would never work with so much distrust, even if we did have better weapons to fight with." Even kept on that balance, which Mara had quite likely disrupted judging from Kejal and Luke's comments, distrust would fracture anything built.
Luke hesitated. "I thought of that," he said. He began walking through the hologram, making his way closer to her and the representation of the New Republic's space. "The actions of the Vaderians weren't planned, but how I dealt with them was, in a sense, part of a larger plan. It's much easier for me to change the Empire to suit the Republic rather than vice versa, and that's what I did. I imagine by now your intelligence department has seen the social changes I've begun implementing."
Mara nodded, having no words to speak. This final thing, this knowledge he was giving her, had impact as everything he had told her last night, but in a totally different way. And these words her spoke to her, words . . . She knew what he would ask at the end, and she did not know her answer. A game of dejarik, and she was the crucial piece; the game piece he was convincing.
"The Empire's fault has been its inability to change, to adapt," Luke said, his tone even and smooth, almost like that of a teacher at the Temple. "That was something began long before my rule, and really, before the founding of the Empire. The roots were set deep in the Old Republic itself. Palpatine was right about one thing – it was stagnating, destroying itself slowly. The people didn't care about anyone but themselves, and so, the majority of the politicians running the Old Republic did not care, either. Naboo was a prime example of that, though it turned out well ultimately." Another pause, and Mara remembered his mother was from Naboo. The world had been touched in the Clone Wars, as many were, but of all the worlds in the Empire, Naboo had ultimately become one of the most cherished, most especially under Vader's reign. But Luke was continuing. "I have been forcing a change in my people, forcing a reaction – as I did with the Vaderians, using them to bring the people closer to me. It is all designed towards that end. I don't anticipate living forever, Mara, and when I die the Empire is going to have to take care of itself."
"So, then, your plans reach beyond this war you have seen?" Mara's voice was soft, her gaze intent as she watched Luke explain.
"Yes," Luke conceded. His eyes showed his passion, odd to sense now – never had she sensed passion from him when he spoke of the Empire, never had he spoken of it as being his. Truly, he had hidden much. But always before there had been a reason for him to hide, and she sensed relief in him, the Force whispering its secrets to her.
Once begun, the unveiling became more rapid. Things were very suddenly starting to make sense to Mara. Disturbingly so. She had a feeling Luke knew it, as well; he waited for her to speak. "You didn't really lie when you said the treaty would never be broken, did you?" She exhaled roughly, putting a hand over her eyes, feeling stupid. "You don't intend to make war with the Republic – you intend on absorbing it into the Empire."
Luke sighed very quietly. "The Republic cannot survive on its own. I see that, even if you do not. It will shatter within twenty years, if not less, of peacetime. It is too divided among itself – no single thing binds you except the desire to escape the Empire, for an abstract sense of freedom the majority do not fully understand to begin with." Biting, that, and bitter. "They are the opposites, Mara – the Republic and the Empire. The Empire has stability, and the Republic has fire."
"So you solve your problem by changing the Empire, to making it possible for the two to unite," Mara said, seeking confirmation, still.
Luke nodded. "If I should fail, I see disaster. The war that I see will not be easy. It will be long and hard fought, and should any part fail, all will fail. The war will drive the New Republic to me, and everything before that will keep it there," he said simply. A long pause, and the Force stilled as if in reaction; the importance of this moment not denied in that respect, at least. "Mara?" he said after a moment, an honest call.
Mara met his eyes, seeing so many things in what should have innocent, blue depths. "I won't say I'm not horrified," she said tactlessly, but he didn't look surprised. "And it has all been a manipulation, hasn't it?"
Luke smiled, pain suddenly in his eyes. "I tried to so hard with you. I couldn't figure you out at all."
"And now I ask for your help," Luke said. And he waited.
Mara turned away, not caring how Luke was feeling right now. What he was asking of her was betrayal. Perhaps kindly betrayal, if what he said was true, but betrayal nevertheless. And . . . she was stalling. It was true; she sensed the truth in his words, the Force confirmed it.
She thought of Luke and his father. Vader had loved Luke. He had never intended to do so, but he had, and love was an emotion the Dark Side rejected absolutely. Could she even have doubt, now, with Luke? He was reaching for her, as she had offered to him. Even now, with this revelation, how had that changed? She saw the goodness inside of Luke that he hid so carefully, keeping it such a secret for the reason of the world he lived in.
"I did not want to look toward the future," Luke whispered, interrupting her train of thought. "I did not do so, until today. Because I couldn't bear it, if I had to lose you for the sake of it."
Mara faced Luke, looking into his eyes. He had lost everything for her.
Was this not ultimately simple? And she felt herself, in her heart, give all that she had up. For the sake of this, for them, and for the future.
Because she wanted it.
The Force was beautiful, expansion, space itself. Born into people, and living in them, feeling their pain and love and anguish. And now – now, was there not destiny? Did it not speak to them both of the rightness of things? She felt it in her blood, calling her, and its path was her path.
This kiss was gentle. For Luke it was not so – he kissed her back roughly, a tremble running through his body. Emotions, jumbled and erratic, into her mind. Her hands in his hair, his body next to hers, and every touch terrifying fire. But sweetness and gentleness, too. His movements were driven, passionate, and she could not help but respond to that. She felt it in his mind, and in sharing it became magnified.
This was the man she had fallen in love with. Someone who had risked everything, who had lived a hard life and survived. Someone who saw her, and was no longer content with just that. She had walked after him, and now he walked after her.
She drew back, gasping, but he said it first: "I love you," he whispered. I never hoped to have this, he thought, and she heard it.
She felt her eyes fill with tears. His forehead was pressed against hers, and she breathed with him. I never dreamed that I could. And all blindness was now stripped away.
And words were meaningless.
Be with me, make me strong. Be with me, make me . . . Be with me.
In the twenty-second year of Emperor Luke Skywalker's rule, the Empire was attacked; the invaders called themselves the Yuuzhan Vong.
Annals of the Empire, Vol. V.