I've been working half-heartedly on this story for several years; I think it's finally done, or at least as close to being done as I think it's ever going to get. Many thanks to all my betas over the years, including the FoLCwips ladies and gentleman, KathyB, and Pineapple Bill and CranApple.

The Other Side
Completed February 2006
Rated M for sexual imagery
Luke/Mara, Post-VotF (a honeymoon story)

It was their casual intimacy that surprised her the most. They had spent most of these first two days in bed, discovering this newest realm of their relationship. There had been the obligatory lovemaking— they were newlyweds, after all, and mind-bonded in a way few couples could emulate. But while such activities were frequent and even prolonged, between bouts of passion were long hours of tenderness. She lay in the curve of his body, one of his arms slung over her waist. Her head lay against his chest, her own body pressed close, relishing the feel of skin on satin on skin.

She hadn't expected to feel him so strongly, his thoughts, his sensations, his desires. She hadn't known it was possible. But they were joined now, in every sense of the word, and blessed with a bond only Jedi could share.

He hadn't known what to expect either, he'd warned. Very little practical information had survived the Jedi purges. But he'd wanted to try, to make a commitment that went beyond civil, legal, or even emotional ties. Such emotional connections had been forbidden to the Jedi of old, he'd said, but he was finding his own way now, building a new tradition, and he wanted her at his side as he did. He wanted to bind his spirit to hers, and she'd been half-awed and half-afraid of the prospect.

She could deal with fear. In her mind, marriage was forever. She took those vows seriously. How could a Force-bond make it any more permanent? And wasn't the potential gain far greater than any imaginary loss of freedom? She loved Luke. She had the strength to admit that now, and thus the strength to do something about it.

Awe, though... awe was a different matter.

It was difficult to imagine Luke's love for her. Despite every declaration, every demonstration, every wave of adoration and tenderness roiling through the Force, she couldn't quite accept that his feelings were real. She was the Emperor's Hand. She'd been trained to fight, to kill, to obey. She hadn't been taught to love, or to be loved. She'd learned the former on her own; she knew the emotion that burned inside her now, could put a name to it. She loved Luke, desperately, completely, and without reserve. She couldn't so easily name his. He wanted this so badly, the ultimate commitment. How could she doubt his feelings?

But what was it he wanted? A commitment, or a commitment to her?

At last she'd mentioned it to him, hesitantly, afraid to hurt him with her doubts. He'd looked stricken, horrified, and she shrank back from him in guilt and shame.

"Mara," he said, reaching to stop her retreat, catching her hand. "Mara, come here."

Reluctantly she'd allowed him to gather her close, wrap his arms tight around her and settle her head on his chest. She heard his heart beating, slow and soft within his breast, and he ran his hands slowly through her hair until she relaxed against him.

"Can you feel, Mara, what I'm feeling?" he said at last. "Reach out to touch me."

She obeyed, extending her senses to him. His spirit was calm, a deep well of tenderness. "Do you feel that?" he asked again. "That's love. Not pride, not friendship, not concern, although I feel those, too. Not even lust. It's real. And it's for you.

"I don't want to push you into anything you don't want," he continued, "but I don't want you doubting what I feel. I want to get married, yes, but I want to marry you. I'm going to marry you, if you'll have me. And that's forever."

She'd tipped her head back to seal her lips to his, letting her own spirit reflect her feelings to him. And they'd agreed that the Jedi bond was only a different form of commitment, no more or less lasting than their ceremony of vows. He wanted to be joined to her in all ways; she believed that.

Still, she hadn't known what to expect. Hadn't been prepared. Hadn't realized she'd feel his pleasure as keenly as her own. Hadn't anticipated the rippling awareness of him, every move and touch and cry as he made love to her. Hadn't expected to feel him pressed so deeply inside her and realize his mind had penetrated deeper still. Hadn't expected his climax to shatter her so exquisitely, splintering both their minds and bodies as she reflexively found her own release.

She hadn't known.

She ran a hand slowly down over his chest, feeling the movement of his breathing beneath his ribs as his body cooled. They'd been joined for only two days, but already she was beginning to learn what he smelled like, what his heartbeat sounded like beneath her ear. She hadn't known it could be so easy, so amazingly simple. That everything in the universe could narrow down to this one man and the emotion she felt for him.

She drew a deep breath and released it in a sigh of contentment. She felt him move a little, his hand running through the tangle of red hair spread across his chest. There was such an indescribable emotion in his touch, even now, something that spoke more of affection than passion but stirred her just as deeply, awakening some need to reciprocate with tenderness if not desire. Though their bodies were sated, she thought fancifully, their minds were still making love. Three days ago Mara would have rolled her eyes at such a sentiment, but at this moment she was determined to feel no shame in the over-romantic thought. She would not be ashamed of anything she felt for him.

Their mental intimacy was less frantic, less desperate. Luke's presence in her mind was unexpectedly comforting, a companion rather than an invader, and her sense of him was all-encompassing. She saw the world through him, like a prism, his reactions and emotions as clear to her as her own, and although she could discern his thoughts from hers, she could not tune them out.

They'd been married in a private ceremony two days ago. Until that point she'd rarely spoken of her feelings for him. Saying the words aloud made them more true, left her more vulnerable for having said them. She'd never learned, as the Emperor's Hand, that vulnerability could be a choice, that it could be a desirable trait with a person she trusted, a person who was also intensely vulnerable to her. Luke Skywalker, the Jedi Master, was not a vulnerable man; most of the galaxy revered him, even feared him. And yet his heart lay beating beneath her head, fragile and human and utterly breakable.

Still, it had been a shock to say the words aloud, to hear her own voice as she made her vows to him and accepted his in turn. The words had felt strange and unfamiliar in her mouth, promises to love him above all others, to support him in times of need, to bind her life to his even as the Force bound them on a deeper level. She'd never taken such a vow before. But it had been her voice, shaking but sincere, that had spoken. And later, when they lay together at last, it had been her voice whispering his name in shock and awe. She'd never expected that.

"I love you," she said again, not bothering to lift her head, still fascinated by the newfound tone in her voice, the tenderness and easy affection. She wanted to hear the words aloud, to say the words aloud. "I had no idea..."

She felt a shift in him and knew he was smiling. She tilted her face up to see it and found herself reciprocating without thought. "Neither did I," he agreed. "I can see now why it was forbidden."

Mara frowned, realizing he was teasing her but sensing some deeper meaning below the words. "What do you mean?"

Luke's arms tightened slightly around her. "Well, we haven't done anything else since we were married."

She laughed a little, lowering her head to his chest once more. "We're on our honeymoon, Luke. What did you expect us to get done?"

"That's not what I meant," he replied with a note of amusement in his voice. "It's just that..." He paused, trying to find words. "I didn't know how close we'd be. How... dependent. It's not about making love," he clarified, and despite everything she was amused to feel him blush at the words. "I feel like I need you. And I'd do anything to keep you with me. And that's dangerous."

Mara considered that. "Would you do any less for any of the Jedi? Or anyone innocent? Would you let them die without doing everything in your power to stop it?"

Luke was silent for a long moment. "'If you honor what they fight for, yes,'" he said softly, and she caught the stray memory, his remembered desperation and fear, and Yoda's calm insistence. "No," he admitted. "I don't think I could. But that's not the same thing."

"Why not? What could you do to save me that you wouldn't do for someone else? For Leia, or her children?"

He drew a deep breath. "I don't know, honestly. It just... seems dangerous."

She laughed again, snuggling closer to him. She caught the hand that had been playing through her hair and pressed a kiss to his palm. "You're just borrowing trouble."

"Old habits die hard. When the galaxy isn't facing a crisis, I have to find something to keep me occupied..."

Mara looked up at him with an eyebrow cocked dangerously. "Are you saying you're bored?"

In answer he rolled them until they lay side by side, pulling her close to him. She expected a more intimate touch, a kiss or a caress, but he simply buried his face in her hair. "I have never been more content in my life."

She relaxed against him, drew a deep breath and smiled against his chest. "I should hope not."

After a moment he spoke again. "I do mean it, Mara. I feel... I'm so close to you. I didn't know it would be like that. It scares me, a little, how powerful it is."

"I know," she agreed. "It'll take some getting used to." She took his hand, pressed his fingers warmly between her own. "But I wouldn't change it for anything." Again she felt his smile without seeing it. "The old Jedi didn't know what they were missing."

He laughed. "I guess not." He reached for her then, and she stretched up to receive his kiss. "They were so sure that attachment was dangerous, that passion was a temptation they couldn't afford. They saw the practical side of the Force-- a weapon, a guide, a tool. But apparently the Force has other sides they never saw."

She snuggled closer to him, recognizing in the back of her mind how out of character the movement would have been three days ago. "A romantic side?"

She felt his amusement. "Who'd have guessed? And a private side; I don't want my students sensing everything between us!"

She shuddered. "Certainly not. A softer side."

His hand moved slowly up her back, his fingers trailing along her spine until they curled into the waves of her hair. "Yes..."

She felt the shift in his mood, felt the warmth flood her and wondered briefly if it had come from herself or from him. She gave him a crooked smile, relaxing into that warmth and the depth of emotion welling between them. It was so easy. "A passionate side?"

Luke grinned down at her. "A lovers' side."

She reached up to kiss him again. "Who'd have guessed?"