A/N: Here it is, folks, the conclusion. Thank you all so much for taking the time to read; you guys have been great!
Reimi took very small steps up the hill, hiding a smile as his small daughter huffed and puffed away. He reached down and tucked her hood more securely around her head, shivering a little in the crisp night wind.
"Are you sure you won't let me carry you?" he asked. The question had a used, patient feel. "Daddy doesn't mind, you know."
"Nope." The succinct reply was just as worn as the question. Finally, they reached the crest of the hill and flopped down unceremoniously, the girl panting hard and the man pretending to.
"That was hard, wasn't it, Daddy?" Rolling onto her stomach, she breathed in the spicy scent of the long red blades and giggled as they tickled her cheeks. " I like it when you take me up here."
"I like it too." His voice was very soft. The child turned her head to study him from behind a curtain of wispy blond ringlets.
"Don't be sad, Daddy," she said anxiously. "It's too pretty up here. Look, the stars are coming out." He looked up then, looked at the blackness staining away the color from the sky, looked at the harsh white needles that punctured it. Then he looked at his daughter, at the thrill in her eyes.
"It's very pretty," he said, even quieter. "What do you love about this hill, Meennala?"
"I love stars," she said without hesitation. A flash of pain swept across the man's face. Those words had been well used, also, by another with golden curls. He passed a hand over his dark eyes.
When he lifted it, they were smiling again.
"I'll tell you what I love," he said. "I love having all my family to myself on top of the world."
"Almost all," she corrected absently. "How many stars are there, anyways?" When he didn't answer, she reached over and tugged his sleeve.
"How many?" The man gazed up again, as if searching for an answer, or a sign.
"Too many to count, Hon," he said at last.
"But you can figure everything out. That's your job." The pain again, and when he spoke, there was an undertone that the girl did not understand.
"Nobody can figure everything out, and not even Daddy can count all the stars. There's just too many." She looked at him then, hard and long, and a very un-childlike look crept into her face. She took his hand.
"That's okay. They're pretty anyways." The man looked startled.
"Yes," he breathed. "You're right, Meenna." He looked up once more, and for the first time that night, his eyes were clear.
"They're pretty anyways."
A gurgling cough pulled Mara out of the dream. She sat up and groped for the cloth. Before her danger sense propelled her from the collapsing house, she had managed to grab several.
Her jaw tightened at the memory of smoke and flames swallowing what had been a rare island of happiness in the galaxy for twenty years. Swallowing a woman who deserved a more honored resting place than rubble and ashes. No, Syunni Taa-Milo didn't deserve any resting place. She deserved to be alive. Mara smiled crookedly at Kade as she dabbed the sticky whiteness away from his throat.
"But you can't cheat death, can you? Death…or destiny. Skywalker doesn't know everything about it. Some things are just meant to…" she trailed off. Kade had ceased to move and was staring directly into her eyes.
For an infinitesimal moment, it was Reimi whose beautiful brown eyes captured her own. It was Reimi whose slack mouth twisted into a caricature of a smile. And as Mara reached out to him with the Force, it was Reimi's bright soul who reached back and flashed her a mischievous, blue-stained grin. It had been Reimi all along, she realized in that instant. He lived. Not in the way he could have, should have, but nevertheless lived.
And it was enough.
The dreams had changed her, like she had known they would. Perhaps…perhaps it was a change for the better.
Suddenly she sensed Skywalker behind her and whirled around. He slumped against the doorframe, face haggard and streaked with sweat and dirt, but there was a light in it that she hadn't seen there for a long time.
"That's what was eating at me, you know," he said quietly. "Leia will come to terms with our heritage; I know she will. But your cavalier attitude toward life was something I was afraid had been ingrained permanently. It was crippling you, Mara." Something suspiciously like a tear glistened on his cheek. Mara was silent for a long time.
"Milo called me that," she said at last.
"Crippled. A crippled bird of prey."
"Did he." Something flashed in Luke's eyes, something she had never seen there before. She was not sure she liked it. He took a step forward.
"Even birds come down to rest once in a while, Mara." Another step. Crazily, her heart began to race.
"Luke," she whispered uncertainly, leaning back into her seat. Suddenly a thought struck her. "Luke," she said again, and a malicious smile began to creep over her face. He stopped, cocking his head.
"Since we're on the topic of crippling…"
L/M shippers, sorry for the lack of mush, but when I thought it over, I came to the conclusion that at this stage in their relationship, they haven't really thought about each other romantically. Sure, it's under the surface. But since she just got over the whole homicidal thing, I didn't think either of them are ready to admit their attraction at this point. Plus, she obviously has to work out some of these issues before they can get together. So think of this fic as a logically necessary stepping stone to something juicier.
As for me, it was something of a self-discovery, a fun way to explore what I really believe about what it means to be alive.
And, of course, to set up my favorite SW mammal as an object of worship. LOL!