Title: Love to Hate You Author: JadeLotus Rating: PG Category: Romance, Challenge Response Characters: Luke Skywalker, Mara JadeSummary: Change takes more than just one step.

A/N: Response to the SJRS July/August Challenge, "Tentative Changes". Also heavily inspired by the Sondheim song "Being Alive" from Company.


Blue

His eyes are blue. She has stared into those same eyes for years without a thought, but now finds herself comparing them to every blue sky she had every seen. She becomes a scholar, studying the precise movements, the subtle shifts in colour. His eyes burn, and soothe. They darken, heavy clouds forming across their murky depths, only to brighten again, to clear a path to the smiling soul beneath.

She wonders if his eyes were always this blue when he looked at her. In her ignorance, or perhaps her denial, she didn't want to see him. Didn't wish to be appraised like that. Didn't want to accept the changes in his gaze.

She tries to pinpoint to look he gives her, but his gaze is slippery. Yet, somehow, firm at the same time. She thinks it to be worship, or adoration, and perhaps it is, somewhat. His emotions collide and merge, a strange sort of delight filling his glance, coupled with a curious intensity. There is hope in his eyes, free of the darkness, the shadows she had seen in him before.

Finally, she realises, it is the same look he's always given her. It is acceptance.

Unity

Their bond is uncomfortable at first. His thoughts fly unimpeded and uncensored through her mind. Unstoppable.

Her mind stretches painfully to accommodate his presence, every wayward thought, every half-formed idea moving, pulling, scraping to find a place within her cluttered psyche. She mistakes his thoughts for her own, and resents the lack of order, the absence of boundaries.

She banishes him to the other side of the ship, but misses his presence and calls him back within the hour.

They speak no words to one another, but she finds clarity and understanding radiate from him, to pulsate through her. It feels like the blood rushing through her veins, pumping her heart, keeping her alive.

She takes two pills for the headache and endures it.

Adjustments

She moves into his apartment on Coruscant, and brings only one bag. He helps her unpack her life, and it takes only five minutes. A datapad, some holodiscs. Her functional, casual clothes. Her spare blaster. He gently handles the things that make Mara Jade, and treasures them.

Most of her things were on the Fire, she tells him casually. He tenses, and reaches his arms out towards her. He is expecting her to break down again, ready to offer her comfort, but she will not give in again. She has grieved for her ship, and that will be the end of it. There is an awkward silence as he realises this. One day, perhaps, he will not make the same mistakes. He will know instinctively how she will react, and how to accommodate her. But it's too soon, now.

She walks away, examining her new home. She checks for dust on every available surface, her fingers soon covered in dusty grime. He laughs easily, sheepishly admitting to neglect. Mara raises one delicate eyebrow and says nothing, continuing her perusal in silence.

His apartment is filled with holos of his family, his life. She has none to add. Her memories are enough, she tells him. But he makes a space in the middle of the mantle, noticeable only in its vacancy. For their wedding holo, he says.

She chides him for his sentimentality, but accepts his soft kiss.

Heat

His arm is a dead weight across her belly, pining her down. His other one winds around her slim shoulders, a clammy hand tightly clamping around her upper arm. The sweat-dampened skin of his chest pressed against her side, warming her body. Only this time, the heat is stifling. Every pore of his skin pressed to hers magnifies her discomfort, while he continues his blissful sleep. She kicks off the blankets and sheets, and it has no effect, despite the chill in the air.

She feels like a trapped animal, cagey, cornered. Panic descends on her, the swift betrayal of long-learned habits. She is too used to sleeping alone.

A swift jab of her elbow to the soft skin just below his ribcage frees her. He sighs, and is disappointed. She ignores it, and they sleep apart.

She grows cold, and cannot find her rest.

Gifts

She holds his father's lightsaber in her hand. He eyes her keenly, watching her every movement. He sees the tensing of muscles beneath the taut skin of her right shoulder, the movement rippling down her arm as she prepares to strike out at him. Passion burns in her eyes, as she broadcasts her intent.

He brings his own saber up, gracefully, precisely, and blocks her heavy thrust. The blades meet with a satisfying crack, sizzling with intensity. His eyes meet hers in the same way.

Blue to green and green to blue. He sees a twitch at the corner of her mouth that could have been a tremble of frustration, but he knows it is the beginning of a smile. It is the greatest gift he has ever received.

Memories

She remembers hating him. She still hates him sometimes, but it is more frustration, resentment, and she calls it hate. She tells him this to wound him, to cause a pain she knows only she can, and it gives her satisfaction for a while.

What she remembers hating was a phantom, a spectre conjured up by her late Master. He played her perfectly, she knows that now. Planted every idea about him in her mind, gave him all the qualities he knew she would despise. What she would rile against. The very opposite of the truth about him that she came to know. The man she hated for so long never really existed. He has morphed into the man she came to respect, to trust, and eventually, to love.

But she still hates him sometimes, and doesn't know why. She isn't angry when he bests her in lightsaber combat. Fifteen times.

But she burns his dinner, and that makes her hate him.

Facets

He marvels at her voice, each tone the gentle movement of a grand aria. Catalogues her different looks, saving them for when they are needed. Love sings from his heart, and he cannot imagine how he could survive without her.

But then she spends the day alone in the city, without contacting him. He reaches out to her with the Force and finds the way blocked. He is frantic, calling his sister and Talon Karrde, even the Rogues and the few Jedi he knows to be on Coruscant. None of which yield positive results. He reaches out again, and hears her firm, insistent rebuttal. She wants to be left alone.

He is sitting in the dark when she returns, an unopened bottle of Corellian brandy beside him. His eyes are red-rimmed and sore, but there is no evidence of tears, or unhappiness on his impassive face. His eyes are grey, and his face is durasteel.

She tries to make pleasant conversation, tries to allure him with the food she picked up on her way home, but he is impassive. She grows impatient, which soon turns to anger. She wants to wound him, wants to draw out the beast lurking beneath the calm Jedi façade. She cannot stand the way her hides from her, how he covers, swathes his true self.

She accuses him of trying to own her. Of wanting to trap her, keep her hidden. That she will not play the demure Jedi Master's wife. Calls him the son of a Sith. Says that she wished he'd never come to her on Nirauan.

He rises, and there is pure rage in his face. White hot, burning, consuming anger. For a moment, she is frightened, and backs away. He quickly tampers down his emotions, locking them away, to that dark place which lies dormant within him.

He spends the night at his sisters, but returns the next day, and the incident is forgotten.

Family

It is not an easy concept for her. Family is a foreign, unknown entity, and she cannot see the beauty of it. She is wary of Han and his overwhelming support, his vicious displays of affection. The way he sweeps her into a crushing embrace, the sparkle in his eyes as he looks at her and Luke. Although she will not admit it, she is intimidated by Leia's dark, soulful eyes that read her carefully, thoroughly. The gentle kiss on the cheek she gives her, the slight, emotional tear that slides down her cheek.

It is unfamiliar, to be accepted so readily. She had expected caution, or suspicion, for her past to be brought up, for the complications the marriage could cause. But are no comments from Luke's family. And she cannot think of them as her family, not yet.

It is the distance from others that has always kept her safe. A lifetime of learning, of self-imposed solitude is difficult to undo. It is complicated enough to be with Luke, to have been given an instant family is almost too much. She feels almost smothered, and pulls away slightly when Luke goes for her hand.

Leia notices, her quick eyes scrutinising the movement, but says nothing.

Training

He fulfils his promise to train her to knighthood.

She praises his virtue, his persona as the Jedi Master, but it is a mockery of her true feelings. He can sense, now, that it is a front, how her well-chosen, biting words are merely window-dressing to disguise the feelings within.

But he still becomes frustrated at her flippancy, and wonders if she has the discipline to become a true Jedi. He knows she has the resolve and the will, but that she fears to use it. The obedience, the servitude, is uncomfortable for her. It is far too similar to her experiences with Palpatine.

Luke learns to adapt, to acclimatise himself to a different method of teaching. The basic skills she has, it is the focus, the peace, she must understand. He wants to take her to Yavin, but she despises the place and refuses. It has to be about the two of them, she says. It cannot be among the watchful, eager eyes of the other Jedi.

He accepts this, and she responds. She listens to him when he speaks.

Movement

They dance together at the Coruscant social functions they both despise. She relishes the movement, the rhythm of the notes, the cohesion of their bodies. He tolerates it for her sake.

He moves gracefully, and she finds she doesn't mind his touch. His hands and fingers, resting gently on her exposed back, his cheek touching her intimately. She forgets that there are a million eyes on the two of them, and relishes the feel of his arms around her. For the moment, it is just enough, and her arms coil tightly around his neck.

She dances for him again – later – when they are alone.

Matrimony

She sits in his chair, the one she knows he loves, just to get a rise out of him. It works.

They bicker, and she calls him Skywalker. Insults his parentage. He allows his well-checked control to brim over, to spill into her like fire. She regrets her words, but doesn't apologise. She doesn't know how.

It is a game they have always played, but now it was different. The stakes were higher. When there was nothing but an established, wary trust and flimsy friendship between them, it was easier to handle. They would fight and wound each other deeply. But they would seek distance from one another, find a peace, a solitude to let anger and resentment ease away.

There is no distance between them now, not even between their minds. In such close quarters problems can not simply be a sacrifice to time. Their tempers can not cool so easily in their shared heat.

Luke refuses to be the one who apologises first, though his anger usually settles more quickly. He feels the need to teach her what equality means.

His stoic silence invites her in, draws her into orbit around his presence, tempting her to delve into their bond to find the solution. Mara studies his moods, his thoughts. She finds the equilibrium inside of him, and craves it for herself. The word sorry is unfamiliar on her tongue, but she uses it nonetheless.

He learns patience with her. She learns to take the first step.

Familiarity

In the still hours of the night, they stay awake together, whispering secrets to the other's knowing ears. He tells her of Gaeriel, of Callista, even though she doesn't want to hear it.

She tells him of the Emperor, of her life before, even though he already knows everything.

She asks him about redemption, and he speaks of his father. She learns to say the name Anakin.

There is darkness within them both, she realises. She's glimpsed it before. But she is not afraid anymore, because she trusts him now. She asks him to share the darkness with her, to accept his faults as he has so accepted hers. He opens his heart wholly, and she feels his entire being flood her. She feels all that he is, so much more deeply than she ever had before. There is so much light within him, and that darkness he has always feared. It is red and black, to her eyes, twisted, unnatural. Writhing to break free.

She kisses his lips and closes her eyes, stretching out with her soul. She thinks of his blue eyes, the colour of calm. She soothes the demon within him, a soft balm on the terrors that wrack his mind. In doing so, he feels the ghostly fingers of his Force essence stroking her, alleviating her own pain, her own guilts.

They find acceptance in one another, as their bodies meld and souls collide. They are connected, now, two halves of one whole. Strengths purifying each other's weaknesses, fortifying the bond between them. To break it now would be death, but they accept the danger.

She knows they will argue, they will disagree. There will be times when she will curse him, when he will become frustrated with her. But Mara decides that it is worth it, and for the first time, she does not retreat from his tight embrace.

His arms wrap around her, and she feels alive.