High Flying, Adored
Chapter Twenty Four
Disclaimer: See Chapter Twenty Three
A.N.: My life has been crazy, guys, sorry for the lack of updates. I also apologize for the fact I seemed to have forgotten to reply to reviews in the last chapter. I humbly beg your pardon.
FREAKSHOW1: Hey, it's a nice cliché.
dyslecksec: Thanks for the constructive criticism, I already answered you with a note.
Lady Murray: Did you mean to say update? Because fishing for reviews on other people's fics is really poor taste.
GreenEyedCatDragon: Oh heck yes they do.
Healing Hands: Yeah, I'm sorry it took six months…
e-anaid: Thank you very much! High praise indeed.
Coral Skipper: Thank you for the compliments! I haven't given up on the story at all, it just unfortunately has to wait in a long, long que…
one of the lost: Tada!
Our destiny calls and we go
And the wild winds of Fortune
Shall carry us onward
Oh wither so ever they blow.
- Man of La Mancha
They did not purposefully avoid each other the last few days before Mara returned to Alderaan. However, Luke was ill and needed rest between work – and he was working much of the time, obsessively correcting all that had gone wrong in Xizor's week and a half of neglectful power. Mara was tired of telling him to rest all the time and was desperately ready to go home. She feared if she stayed around him too often such motherly compunctions as she'd been suffering under lately might compel her to stay, and she did not want that. Instead she was occupied with her own work as Minister of Foreign Affairs and official Envoy of the Republic.
Their parting, therefore, necessarily lacked the affected affection they had displayed before, and was instead simple and real. Luke stood on the platform, took her hand and reminded her of the things he needed her to do while she was away; Mara repeated that he'd told her multiple times already and that she would not forget.
However, after her dry and gruff grumbling, she gave him a small, conservative smile and asked, "Promise to take care of yourself while I'm away?"
Luke sighed, it seemed to reach his eyes, which seemed a deeper blue than they usually did in the dusky morning light. "Yes," he said, "my secretary said he'd remind me."
They were not entirely sure how to part after that and stood there a second more – holding hands – than was perhaps appropriate. But then Luke squeezed her hand and let her go, taking a step back so that she would feel able to leave. "Have a safe trip."
And that was how she left Coruscant for the second time as the wife of Emperor Luke Skywalker.
This time Mara's flight did not land on her home planet until shortly after nightfall, so there was not a crowd waiting for her return. Perhaps they no longer thought it so unusual or glamorous, but she gave that as little thought as possible. Alderaan was simply busy returning back to its normal state, having experienced just as much tumult as larger Coruscant in the past few weeks.
However, the Jedi were there to welcome their child home, even frumpy Master Yoda, who seemed to grow closer and closer to the time when it would be necessary to become one with the Force. Despite her strained relationship with the Jedi Master, Mara felt a twinge of sympathy and sadness, and thought that she would actually miss the wizened old creature.
"Much have you seen," were the first words out of his lips, tapping his gaffer stick slightly on the smooth marble. "Coruscant was busy, hm?"
"It was, Master Yoda," she agreed with a polite bow. "I have longed for the meditative peace of the Temple."
"Hm. Rest will you, come, come." The miniature Jedi processional marched on, in silence – or would have, but Obi-Wan hung back slightly and touched Mara's elbow.
"Things are returned to normal then?"
"As normal as they ever were," she replied, beginning to yawn and covering her mouth with the back of her hand. "The Emperor continues to constantly surprise me."
"Skywalkers have a tendency to do that."
The marching had stopped and so the conversation did as well. Master Yoda gave Mara one more long once-over and said, "Much have you seen, much have you grown. Someday soon shall you make a proper Jedi."
Mara's green eyes blinked with a great deal of surprise and shock. Bowing low, she replied, "I thank you for your kindness, Master Yoda."
"Hm." He continued to look at her a moment and then turned to a companion on his left, announcing, "Rest must I. More shall we all speak tomorrow," and the other Jedi led him off to his quarters.
Just Mara and Kenobi remained in the cool, spacious courtyard, the sound of the fountain the only sound other than the tread of the Jedi, the moonlight providing the only illumination.
"I am sure you must be tired," Kenobi said, looking at the slightly warn Mara Jade. "But would you care to sit with me a little while tonight?" She looked at him. "I confess I have missed your presence."
Mara smiled; it was small and would have been larger, but she was tired, after all. However, she had missed her master as well and nodded sleepily, laying a hand upon his arm to steady herself. "I should like nothing better."
"Except bed, perhaps. I will not keep you up long."
"You needn't worry about me, I can handle being a little tired."
"Alright." He touched her elbow to awaken her slightly and pointed her in the right direction. "Shall we go?"
She curled up in one of the old Jedi Master's simplistic chairs, nothing like the large, over-stuffed ones that decorated the Emperor's rooms on Coruscant. Mara didn't care, though, after so much luxury and complications, she had yearned for the simple and plain, and she enjoyed sitting with her feet tucked beneath her, passing a steaming cup of spiced tea between her hands, warming her palms on the cup. She sighed with contentedness and sleepiness and her old master took a seat across from her with just a glass of water. The next half hour was spent telling him all about her harrowing adventure upon Coruscant, about Xizor and her trickery with the Rogues. At last, however, she came to what had bothered her most for so long, and looked at Obi-Wan from the corners of her green eyes.
"Master Obi-Wan," she hesitated. "There is something else the Emperor told me that I have wanted to ask you about."
Kenobi gave a slight frown – but from thought, not from displeasure, trying to imagine what it might be. "Of course, you may ask anything you like, you always knew that."
"Well, he said…" She hesitated and decided to rephrase it, setting her now empty mug to the side. "He is not a Sith, Master."
The man did not act at all shocked or surprised, sighing slightly, shoulders slumping just a little bit. "I know," he confessed. "He has too much good in him."
"Or not enough. I can't stand overly good people," she muttered, plucking at a hangnail. "They do the most harm in the world."
"What a peculiar thing to say."
"It's just that…if he is not a Lord of the Sith, why have we been saying that for so long? Why were the Jedi even involved in the Galactic War if Lord Vader was the only Sith?"
"Mara," Obi-Wan sighed, not sure why he was surprised that she would bring up a difficult subject. "It has always been the purpose of the Jedi to defend the Republic, you know this."
"That is why we were involved."
"There is more to it than that. I grew up here being told the Skywalkers were all evil Sith when only one was. What was there to fear?"
"It is a complicated issue," he tried to defend, but Mara gave him a relentless look and he gave another heavy sigh. "Look; it seemed logical to believe that Darth Vader would raise his son to be a Lord of the Sith, there had not been evidence to suggest otherwise."
"But you knew he was not."
"I knew, yes, and Senator Amidala and a few other Jedi – but most people did not, Yoda still believes he has it in his heart to turn to the Dark Side."
Mara sat back with arms crossed, grumbling. "I should sooner believe Master Yoda would turn. Or stop being condescending."
She bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Master."
He ignored the apology and continued. "The reason it was proclaimed that Luke was a Lord of the Sith is that the population couldn't understand how he wasn't. They thought it was like a hereditary trait, that it was a requirement for being the Emperor. It became pointless to try and explain otherwise."
"But he can't even use the Force."
Obi-Wan looked at her, surprised. "You figured that out?"
She hesitated. "…He told me," she replied. "How could anyone think him a Sith Lord if he cannot even use the Force?" She thought of a better question. "Why can't he use the Force? I felt it, it is so strong, it cries out to be used!"
"It is true that he cannot use the Force? It is really the truth?"
Obi-Wan did not say anything for a moment and instead asked her, "Do you believe him?"
"I asked you first."
"I don't care, my question is more interesting."
Mara hesitated, conflicted; she did believe Luke, she knew that she did. But to say so in front of her master seemed to imply something…in-described. It seemed to indicate that she were more aligned with Coruscanti politics than she wanted to admit to.
It seemed to indicate she were more aligned with the Emperor and his politics and everything else about him than she wanted to admit to.
"I am still trying to figure that out," she lied, and was rather sure Kenobi knew she lied.
Whether he did or not, he did not react beyond a smile and finally – after a very long moment – whispered, "Yes, it's true."
Mara felt even more stunned than before. "But…why?"
Kenobi gave a large sigh and stood, pacing a little to help him think. "Mara," he tried. "…Well, I wish I could tell you. We all tried to figure that out; it seemed inconceivable that the son of Anakin Skywalker should be unable to use the Force when every prophecy imaginable seemed to indicate otherwise. I wish I could explain it, we all tried to, we all tried different ways to teach him to tap into his power. We just…never could."
"That's it?" she demanded. "You have no other explanation than that?"
"No," he replied. "No, we think it was a…genetic anomaly. That he was a, 'late starter,' if you will."
"That phrase sounds humiliating."
"Well, I don't know how else to put it." He held his chin for a moment, index finger resting on his lower lip as he thought. "The best we could theorize was that there was just some inexplicable genetic defect that ruined Luke's ability to use the Force. Perhaps, had we kept him or his father had waited to train him – perhaps someday he could have used it. But I think it unlikely."
Mara twiddled her thumbs on her lap for a moment, pondering, before looking up at her master again. "Were you disappointed?"
"Hm?" He awoke from his state of deep thought and looked at her as though he'd forgotten she was there. He blinked, though, and smiled at her. "Disappointed? Oh, well…very briefly, at first, yes. Master Yoda and Bail I know were. But…well, it seemed enough that he would live to grow up free, that perhaps we had been wrong and he could take on his father without the Force. But of course, we never got to find out about that."
Mara considered what Luke had said about the Force, about his determination to prove his worth outside of its influence. It seemed now – and strangely so – that that was more noble a course than even being a Jedi, and that had he grown up under the tutelage of the Confederacy and her Jedi disciples, he could have taken on his father without its divine assistance the same way he ran the Empire – by his own goodness and strength.
How terribly poetic. I must be exhausted to think such a thing.
Obi-Wan seemed to agree with this idea, for he looked at her and said, "It's late. You must be tired." Mara would have protested, but yawned instead. "Go to bed. We can of course discuss all these things another time now that you're finally home." She stood to go and Obi-Wan stopped her, leaned towards her as though he were about to do something fatherly like kiss her on the forehead – but he stopped himself and leaned back again. "Rest well. May the Force be with you."
She saw Leia the next day.
"I have a secret for you," she whispered, a slight giggle in her voice. "And you have to promise not to tell."
"I promise," Mara said lightly, transported back to earlier times when she was briefly allowed as a Padawan to indulge in girlish sleepovers and share secrets with Princess Leia. Those moments had grown fewer as she aged, Master Yoda's mistrust of Organa meddling.
But Master Yoda was not ruling her today, and she sat in the corner of the patio garden of the Organa estate, tucked onto a large pillow with cups of sweet tea and plates of native fruits. Leia was the happiest Mara could remember her ever being, looking young and carefree in her world.
"You have to especially promise this time," young Organa repeated.
"What could be so serious?" Mara demanded, growing irritated by such foolishness, and she felt stodgy and prematurely old like Yoda.
Leia hesitated a second, as though pondering how to say it, before simply spitting it out. "I got married," she said, and tea dribbled from Mara's lips as the shock made her temporarily forget how to swallow.
"Leia!" she cried and was instantly shushed as the princess giggled some more. "You got married?" she hissed. Leia nodded strongly, a foreign but happy blush rising to her pale cheeks. In a whisper she asked, "To Captain Solo?"
"Of course to Captain Solo! Who else?"
"Well, I…" Mara felt her mind being pulled back to the dark room of the Imperial Palace just after Skywalker was taken, when Falleen Prince Xizor waxed romantic on his intended proposal…A sickened shudder ran through her and she shoved the memory away, willing herself to soak in the sunlight of the garden. To accomplish this, she put a piece of dried fruit in her mouth and chewed purposefully.
"I'm sorry you couldn't be there," Leia apologized, pulling a ring box from a pocket and showing off her new prize. It looked expensive and when Mara glanced up at her childhood companion, she seemed so proud of it. "It all happened very quickly."
"What do you mean?"
"Everything was so crazy, it was during the coup, and I was so upset and – well, and Han…he just dropped down on one knee, and…"
"He did." Mara had a hard time picturing the scruff captain expressing his passion in his throws of love.
"He was so sweet," Leia sighed, brown eyes glittering. She was somewhere else, Mara could see, and for a moment she resented it. For a moment, she was angry that something had now permanently stepped between them and brought that stage of their youth to an end. Her marriage had been unable to do that.
The feeling was brief and she shook her head, once more interested in Leia's story as the senator continued. "He said, 'Leia, will you marry me?' And I couldn't think of what to say!"
"Other than yes?"
"I didn't want to say yes, you see, at least not right away, he's too used to getting his own way…but I couldn't say anything else."
Mara took a long sip of her tea and examined her old friend over the rim of the cup. "Well, you love him."
"I do." She laughed again, her own drink and food still untouched. "Oh, I shouldn't, but Force how I do."
"And you got married," Mara said, setting the cup aside and fixing Leia with a really meaningful look from her green eyes. They matched the foliage that reached up around them. "Just like that?"
Leia thought about it for a moment, recalling her moment of supreme happiness. "Yeah," she nodded, smile still painfully wide. "Just like that."
It was at that moment that Mara felt a kick in her stomach. She did not know why at the time, thought perhaps it was the sweetness of the tea and did not touch any more of it for the rest of the occasion. At the moment, she gave her sudden pain no more thought than that and listened to Leia as she explained how they planned to let her parents know since secret marriages were never a good idea (her odious half-brother being prime enough example of the results, she was sure Mara would agree); but Jade found herself only half listening. She tried, she tried hard to be as attentive as possible, thinking she was being unkindly jealous, but she never did get quite into the story or became entirely happy.
After Leia she spent the rest of the day in meditation, but the sickened feeling still remained after the pain, and she could not reason out why. She ate very little for dinner in the halls of the Temple and spent yet more time meditating to try and work it out. She thought perhaps she was getting ill or not adjusting to the time properly, and went to bed early, tucking herself carefully in after making sure everything was in order and beyond reproach.
Yet it took ages to fall asleep, and the sickened feeling grew stronger and stronger. When she did finally sleep, she dreamt and it was not restful, envisioning vague shapes and warring shades of color. She was finally jolted out of sleep and out of bed as though an invisible hand had yanked her from her blankets. She stood by the bed not knowing what to do.
It was that kick again, landing strongly in her stomach and chest. She really did feel sick now, but only because she was too aware that she was in perfect health. Her mind knew, the Force told her what the matter was.
"Just like that." She had never done anything, "just like that," in the whole of her life, nothing unscripted or unplanned. In the Temple, her days followed a routine she used to think was purposeful and comforting and she now realized was imprisoning and enabling. On Coruscant, she structured her time around work, around things she knew – but only in order to ignore the deep and empty pit she suddenly realized was within her. As a child she had become a Jedi only because she had never thought there was anything else in life.
There had been, there had been so much more all along and she was only now aware of it. She was upset, angry, cheated out of something – but above all she was sick, and she knew why, she knew why at last. She was sick with loneliness, sick with a need for companionship and understanding; something deeper than the Organas or her Master, something old as time itself, present in her before she was born and reaching all the way back to the beginning of her ancestors.
With great revulsion, she threw her hands out in front of her, trying to throw away an idea. She did not want to make a proper Jedi! It was a fate she needed to escape as quickly as possible! She had worked so long at it because she thought she did want it, but in reality it was from ignorance at there being anything else. The room around her spun and made her illness worse and she ran. Out, to the window, to the door to the balcony that looked out on the calm of the courtyard below, its small fountain gurgling away the same it did every moment in its structured life.
Don't let me be that! She cried to the Force, seeing the fountain going on as it had her entire life on Alderaan. Don't let me be an ornament here!
She shuddered and shook, still ill, arms clasping herself. Her sleeping garments were light, but she knew she was not shivering from the cool night air. She needed something – indistinct and vague, something she could not consciously know because she'd never had it, but the rest of her knew and her being seemed to vibrate in the Force. She tried to stop it, for she could feel other Jedi waking to her disturbed signature, but it continued on without her and she covered her mouth as though to end a scream that wasn't coming.
She needed to find a way to make the intense pain cease and she looked up, into the starry, balmy night. She felt herself calm and relax, and the other Jedi were going back to sleep, hopefully to ask no questions. She noticed that one could actually see the stars here, unlike on Coruscant.
Coruscant. Her chest ached, the way it must feel to have a lightsaber slowly pulled down from the sternum. Quickly, to ease the pain, she counted out the stars, thought hard on the map of the heavens – and picked out the sparkling diamond, center of the galaxy.
Her scarred hands gripped the banister and her will exerted itself. Call me back, she begged the sparkling speck. Call me back. Let it be early – a month, a week, tomorrow, I don't care, but take me to you.
She waited, breathing slowing. In the night air, there was no response, but the Force oh so thinly and gently wrapped around her and whispered to her to return to her bed; she could dream of what she desired there, and somehow the time would pass. And somehow she would find peace of mind there.