Author's Note: Hey everybody! This is it! The last chapter! I want to thank you all for sticking with me throughout it all, and I hope you've enjoyed the story! I'll be concentrating on completing Darker Than Darkness next, and after that I've got several more chaptered fics and one-shots in the works. The Han/Vader relationship seems to have eaten my brain, so I've got a one-shot about that almost ready, and a few more in planning, if you like that aspect of this fic. So keep an eye out! Again, thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!
Five Years Later
She stepped out of her shuttle and stretched, then grinned at the man standing across from her. "Thanks for letting me on board, Admiral," she said. "I realize I'm not exactly everyone's favourite person right now."
Piett shook his head. "Taking up with smugglers? Really, Miss Jade," he replied with an easy smile.
Mara chuckled. "So why did you want me to come on board before heading down to Coruscant? I'm not under arrest, am I?"
"No, you're the one smuggler on our clearance list. You can thank Knight Skywalker for that, by the way."
She nodded. "I will when I see him."
The clatter of boots on the deck drew her attention. "Solo!" she called with a teasing grin as she caught sight of the newcomer. "What's this I hear about you marrying the Imperial Princess?"
Han smirked at her as her approached. "That's all you've heard?"
She narrowed her eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Han's smile grew. "Just that four days, nine hours and thirty-six minutes ago, I became a father."
Mara's jaw dropped.
"And then," he continued, obviously enjoying her shock, "four days, nine hours and thirty-two minutes ago, I became a father again."
"Twins?" Mara managed to squeak.
Han nodded proudly. "Yep. A boy and a girl."
"How did I not hear about this?"
"Well, Luke insisted we sent you a birth announcement, so we did, but you must have missed each other in hyperspace."
"That's the second time in the last five minutes I've heard about what Luke's done for me. Did nobody else miss me enough to think of me in times like this?"
Han hesitated. "Well, to be honest . . . I know we were all getting on better before you left, but . . . well, we weren't entirely sure you would want to know."
Mara nodded slowly. "I guess I didn't exactly express my love for the lot of you, did I?"
Han gave a half-grin. "Not quite."
She squared her shoulders. "Well, I here now, and I can fix that. Where's Leia and those babies? Oh, wait, better question: Why aren't you with Leia and the babies?"
Han turned faintly pink, but answered honestly, "Well, things were getting a little smelly, if you know what I mean."
Startled, Mara just laughed as Han led her to the Millennium Falcon.
"Sorry if there's any Wookiee hair lying around," Han said as they settled into the cockpit. "Chewie usually flies her, but he's on Kashyyyk at the moment."
"Why don't you fly her?" Mara asked curiously.
"I do, sometimes, but --" he flashed her a happy grin "-- I'm a family man now. Got responsibilities. And even back when I didn't, I didn't have the time to devote to her that she deserved. Chewie does. And he likes flying. So he's a good successor."
"Good afternoon, Doctor," Mara greeted Polor as she and Han entered his clinic. "No longer in the service of the Emperor?"
Polor smiled. "He no longer requires my services. He offered to keep me on his payroll, but quite honestly, I was bored."
Mara grinned. "Bet he was happy to hear that."
Polor looked at her. "You know what? He actually was. That was the first time I've really seen him laugh."
"Vader can laugh?" Mara replied dryly.
Polor smiled. "Ah, but he's not Vader anymore. He doesn't even acknowledge the name. He's Anakin Skywalker through and through."
"Yet he still kept the Empire in place," Mara reminded him.
"Somewhat," Polor said thoughtfully. "You'd best ask the Princess about the particulars, though."
"Is she around?" Mara asked. "I actually did come to see her – not that it wasn't good to see you again, or anything."
Polor smiled. "She's here. I believe her husband slipped back to see her."
Mara looked around. Sure enough, Han had disappeared. "Oh. Well, then. Can you point me in the right direction?"
Polor gave her directions, and she soon found the royal couple in one of the rooms, each with a child in their arms.
"Mara!" Leia smiled. "Good to see you again. We weren't sure if you'd ever come back."
"Well, I'm not exactly part of the court anymore," she reminded the Imperial Princess.
Leia frowned. "We would have let you stay."
Mara smiled softly. "Thanks for that. But I just didn't feel comfortable doing so."
Leia gave her a piercing look. "So why are you back?"
Mara hesitated. "I have my reasons."
"Do they include my brother?"
Mara glowered at the other woman, then relaxed and rolled her eyes at Leia's smirk. "No comment," she growled playfully, though she was still a bit off balance at being seen through so easily. "And who are these lovely beings?" She directed her attention at the baby in Leia's arms.
Leia smiled happily. "This is Jaina," she said, holding the infant up for Mara to see. "And Han's got Jacen. Children, say hi to your future aunt."
Mara blushed furiously, and Leia laughed in delight.
"You're evil," she accused. "Now tell me about all these changes to the government Polor hinted at."
Leia frowned slightly in concentration. "Well, we're still an Empire in name, with a hereditary throne,' she began, "but it's more of a figurehead position, now. The only time Daddy steps in is when a decision needs to be made immediately, in times of crisis. All other times, the Senate is in power, and each world has representation – it's basically a mix between the Empire you worked for and the Republic of old."
"And it works?" Mara asked sceptically.
"Quite well, so far," Leia replied, bouncing Jaina a little as she squirmed. "It's a compromise that has bought us peace with the Alliance, and Daddy's been very unbiased when it comes to appointing people. Mon Mothma is the Prime Minister – that's the Chancellor's position, we just renamed it – and Carlist Rieekan is Head Strategist. Of course, he put Piett as a Grand Admiral and displaced most of the ones Palpatine appointed, but – oh, and Jix --" She began to laugh.
"What about Jix?" Mara asked, bewildered.
"He's Head of Imperial Intelligence," Leia said between giggles.
Mara blinked. "We re talking about the same Jix here, right? Wrenga Jixton, your standard immature Corellian --"
"I resent that!" Han objected.
"You resemble that," Leia retorted calmly. "Yes, we're talking the same Jix. Isn't that odd? I would never have pictured Jix as the head of anything --"
"Join the club," Mara cut in, still surprised.
"-- but he's actually really good at it. Chewie's his main agent, with that old clunker of Han's --"
"Hey!" Han objected again.
"-- no one ever suspects a Wookiee; but all the young kids fresh out of school apply for jobs with him, and he works miracles with them. After a few years they go off and get other jobs and do extremely well at whatever it is they choose, but they always rave about what a great time they had with Jix."
"Isn't it dangerous, switching spies around like that?" Mara asked. "So many people knowing all the dirty little secrets of the government?"
Leia nodded. "One of Daddy's initial concerns. But it has worked. Jix has a great sense of character, and everybody he's trained has been trustworthy . . . plus, he doesn't tell them any more than they need to know."
"Still doesn't sound very stable."
Leia shrugged helplessly. "I'm no spy; I don't know exactly what Jix does to them. For all I know, he could be replacing them all with human replica droids. Fact remains, we've had no trouble so far."
"So far," Mara repeated meaningfully.
Leia sighed. "Oh, go take it up with Jix. He's at the Jedi Temple with Daddy."
"I'll do that." Mara turned and strode out the door, passing C-3PO on the way. The golden droid looked from her to his mistress in confusion, not sure how to interpret the knowing smirks Han and Leia directed at Mara's back before handing Leia bottles of formula for the babies.
Han and Leia, however, couldn't have been happier. Mara Jade was back in top gear, and little did she know, Anakin wasn't the only one at the Jedi Temple.
"Now, can you feel that place really far down inside yourself that seems to talk back to you, tells you things to do, or things that are about to happen?"
"I'm hungry," one of the younglings said.
Anakin paused, fighting down a laugh. "Not in your stomach, Keegan," he corrected. It's not really anywhere, but everywhere at the same time. To find it, you have to go inside. Once you find that place inside, you can follow it outside and use it more."
"So that's the Force?" a little Twi'lek girl piped up.
"No, not exactly, but that's what it feels like; that's how you find it. We'll worry about what it actually is sometime later, okay?"
She nodded and scrunched up her face, trying to find her center once again.
Anakin watched then with pride. He had never been good at meditation himself, but at least he could teach it . . . to some degree.
He and Luke had worked hard to bring the Jedi Order back to the galaxy. They had twenty younglings, all who saw their families on a regular basis, some who even lived at home. The group had been split down the middle between the two Skywalker men, and Luke's class was currently in the gymnasium, practicing lightsaber skills, leaving Anakin to teach his class theory until it was their turn.
Anakin wasn't exactly sure where he wanted to take the new Jedi Order. He had offered training to adults, at first, but only three, besides Luke and Leia, had taken him up on it. It was then he knew he had to go back to taking in younglings, though he hated the idea of taking them from their families. But they still got to see and bond with their parents and siblings, so he supposed it was better than it was . . .
"Knock knock," a vaguely familiar voice interrupted his thoughts.
He looked to the door. "Jade?"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Do I know . . . Vader!?"
"Anakin," he corrected her quickly.
"Master Anakin?" one of the younglings asked curiously, one eye cracked open.
"Keep looking, Layla. I'll just be a moment." He silently rose to his feet and went out to join Mara in the hallway.
"My, my, don't you clean up nice, Your Majesty," she commented, only half teasing.
Anakin laughed easily. "Well, thank you, my lady. You're not looking too shabby, yourself. nad cut the majesty crap. i'm only the Emperor when I have to be."
She smiled slightly, a bit uncomfortable talking to Vader like this. Well, he obviously wasn't Vader anymore, but it was still one of the strangest sensations she'd ever encountered.
And when she recalled how he'd been talking to those children, well, that just made the situation even more odd.
"I'm looking for Jix," she said. "Leia was telling me about this rotating-spy thing you guys have got going on, and I'm not sure I like it."
Anakin gave her a piercing look. "Why do you even care?" he pointed out. "You left the Empire five years ago, you haven't been in contact since. Why now?"
She blushed. "I have my reasons."
He eyes her knowingly. "Uh huh, sure you do," he agreed blandly.
She glared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing." He smiled at her. "Jix is in the gymnasium. End of the hall."
"Thanks." She nodded and started down the hall.
Anakin shook his head as he turned back to his class of younglings. Son, he called silently through the Force, you've got a visitor.
Mara pushed open the door to the gymnasium, and was greeted with a sight she hadn't expected – at least, not yet.
She had come back looking for Luke, hoping to maybe be a part of his life again. Her knowledge of Jix's little operation had taken over, as a problem she could fix. She liked fixing things; it was a good coping mechanism for her, and it helped her deal with her anxiety over seeing him again. But when he was thrown into her path without any warning . . .
He turned and met her eyes, and all her feelings of nervousness dissipated into thin air. He moved toward her.
As he drew nearer, she realized just how much he had changed in the last five years. He had gained muscle, his frame had broadened and filled out, though he was still as slim and wiry as ever, and maturity and strength shone from his bright blue eyes. She'd left a boy; she'd returned to a man.
"Mara," he greeted her warmly.
His smile, though – warm, innocent and slightly lopsided – was exactly how she remembered it.
"Why did you come back?"
"I realized that – that without all of Palpatine's sickness and hatred inside of me, I'm able to love. And I realized that – that I love you, Farmboy."
Luke's smile was beautiful as he grabbed her, his lips meeting hers in a passionate rush. After a few moments – or possibly centuries – he pulled away. "Did I hear you tell Dad you were looking for Jix?"
"Was I?" she replied with a smile. "I can't remember."
"That's okay," he said. "You're not taking off like that again; you'll have plenty of time to remember."
"Are you telling me what to do, Skywalker?" she asked with an arched brow.
His look was innocent. "No . . . just forcefully requesting."
She wrinkled her nose at him, then pulled his head down for another kiss.
Across the room, surrounded by younglings and the blue and white astrodroid R2-D2, who was always seen in the company of one Skywalker man or the other these days, Jix smirked.
"What are they doing, Mister Jix?" one four-year-old asked, watching his Master and the redhead.
"Duh!" another replied. "They're trying to eat each other. Grown-up humans do that when they like each other."
"That's weird," a Zabrak child replied.
Jix chuckled. "Don't worry, kids, you'll learn all about it someday, when you learn about the Revolution of the Empire."
"Oh yes. For never was there a family more dysfunctional than this of Skywalkers and Imperials."