They didn't linger long in Anchorhead. It took a day to regather supplies, between the Darklighters' admittedly exhaustive stores and those of local traders. Mara let Luke handle it, trusting to his knowledge of the area and their needs.
It was strange to do that, she found: leaving arrangements in the hands of someone else. But then her years in Karrde's organisation had taught her the value of delegating work. Perhaps she'd never been particularly good at doing so; and perhaps it was different in areas that related more directly to her own wellbeing, where she'd always insisted on absolute autonomy, but this was a major feature of the change in her life and something she would just have to get used to.
Luke, more than anyone, had shown her just how her drive for independence in the last ten years had limited her, restricting progress rather than fostering it. She'd never known how lonely she'd become until he'd prised through her defences there in the caves – or maybe she'd prised through his, she wasn't entirely certain – and their relationship had taken its gradual turn into realms unknown.
It wasn't until she had laid in his hands her complete being, open and exposed and utterly shieldless, and accepted from him the same, that she realised how good such a thing felt. How much she'd wanted it without ever suspecting – allowing herself to suspect – so.
She took a walk around Anchorhead while Luke chased up supplies. It was somewhere between late afternoon and early evening, the second sun creeping to join its twin below the horizon. The shadows of the houses were long, looming over narrow, dusty streets. Children darted through the gloom, dressed in worn clothes, while mothers in colour-leached dresses called after them. Visiting moisture farmers from the fringes of the wastes treaded past in their faded desertwear.
They lived hard lives, these people. The challenges they faced day in and day out were multitude; and they weren't do-or-die challenges of the like Mara was accustomed to facing. These trials stretched over decades and lifetimes. With nothing more to look to than a future for their children little brighter than their own, these people lived and worked and endured… Mara found herself wondering if she could survive that life.
What if Luke had never left here? What if the Jawa transport had missed the two droids wandering in the desert? What if it had visited another moisture farm before the Larses, and sold the astromech there? What if the curious farmboy had never removed the restraining bolt from the odd little droid, what if the stormtroopers had failed to track the droids and never found the farm, what if the princess never sent her tin messengers to the ancient general in the first place? A thousand what-ifs – it could have happened so easily. And Luke would have lived out his days on this wasteland… perhaps taking over his uncle's farm, struggling the endless and gloriously futile battle against the cruelty of the sands until the day he died, dreaming of distant stars and lost splendour until the last breath left him.
It would have killed him early in itself, Mara thought, to have been locked here, chained to the unforgiving dirt. Or perhaps she misjudged him. Perhaps he would have lived to an old age, plumbing the sand for moisture day in and day out, and never suspected his potential for greatness – not fame, which was far less important, but courage of heart and spirit.
Why was it that seemed worse?
And what about her? If she'd been born in this place, if she'd been raised here, the child of some semi-prosperous moisture farmer away on the outskirts somewhere. Her childhood spent running and playing in the dust and sand, full of heat and isolation and boredom, of harsh land and harsher struggles. Marrying, perhaps, the charge of a nearby farmer on the eve of adulthood – a young man with fair hair, even, little more than a boy, with eyes the colour of the sky and hands that danced in the darkness; kind and warm, a little immature, dismissed as a dreamer by his guardians and the townsfolk alike but with ambitions that he whispered for her ears alone, of stars and soaring and worlds far beyond the flat horizons of their planet. Perhaps they could even plan together to escape, one day, when there was money enough. When he was needed less on the farm. After the baby came… When the baby grew… After the next baby … And the dreams would die, slowly, unmourned except in everyday moments. And would love die, also? Or would small joys be enough to counter the slow death of dreams?
It was a sobering thought, and Mara wondered why it resounded so strongly. Adulthood invariably meant the surrendering of dreams; she'd lost many of hers, shred by shred over the years. The valued Hand had been lost to the driven avenger; the avenger had been lost to the businesswoman, who'd been lost to… what? Lover and wife, aide and companion, Jedi Knight? They all fit, in different ways.
She'd lost dreams but discovered others to replace them, retaining fragments along the way. They were more fluid things than most thought…
Still, Mara was uncertain of whether she could survive life here, where existence was so simple and so harsh, and each day was a battle against the elements. It took a certain kind of courage, a special breed of strength – a dogged, stoic type that refused to be cowed.
She saw that strength in Luke, come to think of it. It was that strength that drove him where others would have failed – where others had failed, clearly and completely. It drove him to believe in a father where a monster clearly stood – it drove him to confront an emperor for the soul of a fallen man – it drove him to risk his life, again and again, surrendering so much for the greater good because he felt that someone ought to.
It was even that strength, perhaps, that drove him to trust a woman as she held a blaster to his throat and swore her hatred aloud.
No one, after all, had ever said that brave was the same as sensible…
Mara smiled, and headed back to the Darklighters.
Mara had strange dreams that night, perhaps sparked by her musings on lives unlived. In a grey dream that glistened with bleakness, she was Hand still, in a place where no son's love had saved a father and changed the galaxy. Luke was dead in this world, she was certain, though there was nothing to clearly indicate so. There was only the fathomless conviction of dreams, and an understanding that somehow it was impossible for the universe to be so utterly grey with him still in it.
It was a dream she knew, for she'd had it many nights before, back in the days when her life had consisted solely of vengeance. In it, she was once again Hand to her emperor, her position restored exactly as it had been in the glory days of the Empire. She had a purpose, a role she was proud of, and respect and esteem that she had earned.
It had been a number of years since Mara last had the dream, and she found that the dream had changed – or perhaps it was she who had changed. The greyness was there, now, and it was pervasive, creeping to wrap around her heart. Her once-great purpose brought hollowness rather than pride, and the respect was poorly-hidden mockery. The emptiness made her ache.
In the second dream, she had heeded the command Palpatine had planted in her and killed Luke rather than a clone imitation. He smiled at her as he lay bleeding, and held up a gore-slicked hand. "It's all right, Mara," he told her quietly, and then died.
Mara's own hands were a brilliant red as she looked down at them, her fingers stained with his life. And her own as well: there wasn't any distinction that she could see. She'd been dying since her master died, and she needed Luke Skywalker to free herself to live.
But she'd killed him, hadn't she. She'd killed him.
The greyness swam and choked her.
When Mara woke, it was close to morning. Luke was asleep beside her, his face buried in the pillows. She'd pulled away from his embrace in her sleep, as she was wont to do, and he'd shifted after her, tangling the sheets around them both in the process.
Sighing, Mara disentangled herself and sat up, running her fingers through her tousled hair to little effect. She rose, feeling around in the half-light for her clothes.
When she turned back, Luke was awake, though sleepy-eyed, pushing himself up in the tangled sheets. "Bad dream?" he mumbled.
Mara eyed him. "Maybe."
He ran a hand through his hair – it was getting long, longer than she'd seen him wear for some time, and kept slipping forward over his eyes – and made a sound that could have meant anything.
Mara felt him watching her as she continued to dress. The feeling was strange: unfamiliar, a little uncomfortable, and yet not unpleasant. There was a certain warmth in his sense that was gratifying; a faint, tingling glow that told her he appreciated looking. It was not entirely alien, either, because she'd felt it from him even before their bonding in the caves on Nirauan – though previously it had generally been followed by a hot glimmer of embarrassment and a sudden blankness.
Sometimes she slowed deliberately, enjoying her ability to tweak that steady composure. Now, she just flicked a glance from the edge of her eye. A hint of a smile appeared on his lips; he rubbed his cheek. Then he asked, "What did you dream about?"
Mara tugged her tunic straight and admitted, "You."
"Ah." He mulled a moment, then tentatively inquired, "Bad?"
"In this context, yes." Mara half turned away, her shoulders lowering. "I don't want to talk about it."
"All right." She couldn't control a wince at those words, and almost flinched away when he moved up behind her, putting his hands on her arms. "Mara?"
"I'm fine," she said, stepping away. "Just – I'm fine."
He frowned, standing there half-naked in long loose pants, his hair untidy. "Okay," he said doubtfully. "Well, uh – we should be able to head out today, I think. I've found replacements for the supplies the Tuskens destroyed."
Mara walked around the room, crossing her arms. "Good," she said.
Luke sat on the bed. He was watching her, somewhat blankly. "Yes."
"How's your head feeling?" Mara turned to him.
He half-smiled. "I've got a slight headache, but otherwise I'm fine. I told you I didn't need a healing trance."
Mara shook her head. "I still say you could have used one."
"Weren't you the one lecturing me on overuse of the Force?"
"For trivial things," Mara reminded him. "Concussion isn't trivial."
He grimaced and waved that off as a technicality. "Whatever. I'm fine."
"Mm." Mara had returned to the bed. She sat, and he put an arm around her. She didn't lean into the embrace, but she didn't pull away this time.
"Are you sure that you are?" he asked.
"Of course," she said stiffly. "It was just a dream."
She didn't think he bought her denial, however, and her suspicion was all but confirmed as he gently ran his palm down her spine. "I know," he said quietly.
Oddly enough, she thought he truly did.
They left Anchorhead an hour later, Luke bidding goodbye to the Darklighters and receiving a bundle of packages to pass on to Gavin Darklighter and his wife and children back on Coruscant. The Darklighters refused any other payment.
"They seem to know you fairly well," Mara commented as they drove out of the township. "I didn't think you were that close to Darklighter." She'd only met the Rogue Squadron pilot a few times – a shortish man, she recalled, with dark hair and a neat beard. Quite a lot of his father in him, now she thought of it.
"I don't know Gavin as well as the original members of the squadron," Luke said. "He's Biggs' cousin, so we met a few times as children. He was a lot younger than Biggs and I, though." He glanced at her. "Jula's about as different from his brother as they come. Huff – Biggs' father – made his money exploiting other farmers. He and Biggs never got on, but Biggs' death hit him hard. He never really recovered, from what I heard. I think he died a few years ago."
Luke shook his head, staring out through the windshield. "Hard to believe it's almost twenty years since Biggs died," he murmured to himself. "Doesn't seem that long."
"I suppose being here brings it home," Mara remarked, following his gaze through to the dusty streets Luke had spent his adolescence traipsing.
"Yes," Luke agreed. "It does. And the peace with the Empire… makes you think of all those who never made it this far." He glanced at her, and flashed an odd smile – faint, and sad. "The worst thing is that there are far too many to remember them all. You just remember the ones you knew, and even that fades with time. There were so many of them…" He looked out at the street again. They were nearing the outskirts now, and the houses were far apart and empty. "When I was in command of Rogue Squadron, I knew the name of every pilot who'd died under me. Some were there such a short time that I didn't know their name before they died – but I made sure I learned it. Seemed the least I could do. And it wasn't much."
Mara looked out the side of the speeder as the town dropped away. The vehicle sped up, and the wind began to rip through her hair. She drummed her fingers on the cracked plas-shield of the armrest. The war, for her, meant names as well – but names of those she'd killed, not ones who'd been killed beside her. She would never forget her list of names. It was the very least she could do; and she agreed, it wasn't much. It wasn't much at all.
Luke took a detour to the labyrinthine Beggar's Canyon where he'd raced his friends as a bored teen. Mara could immediately see how it had formed such an apt basis for a career in the fighter ranks: only someone with a pilot's innate instincts or the Force – both, perhaps? – could navigate those twists at high speed. Forget the war years; it was a wonder Luke had survived adolescence.
"Good to know you've retained that cautious nature," Mara remarked sarcastically, staring up at a turn so sharp it must have been almost ninety degrees. "Think of where you might be otherwise."
Standing beside her, Luke smirked. "I can see you taking this course."
"Suggesting a match, Skywalker?"
"I'm not that stupid." Luke held up his hands. "Besides, a couple of old people like us would be out of our element."
Mara snorted. "Speak for yourself."
His lips twitched, but he wisely refrained from comment.
They spent a couple of hours during the hottest part of the day in the canyon, waiting for the heat to siphon off as the suns sank lower. Luke led the way to a deep cave – "Used to be a krayt dragon's home, years ago,"– that he knew of from hours spent exploring the area in his youth, and they sat in the cool to wait out the suns.
"I'm surprised your aunt let you come here to race," Mara commented. "She must have trusted you."
"Uh – not really," Luke said, somewhat sheepishly. "I never told her about the racing. She would have had a fit. Uncle Owen suspected, I think."
"I can understand why you didn't. It must have been incredibly dangerous."
"There were a few crashes, some pretty nasty. We never really considered that someone might get hurt or worse – you always think you're immortal, I think, when you're young."
"I wouldn't know," Mara murmured. She'd seen enough people die by adolescence that death had held no enigma to her – she knew exactly how quickly and ingloriously it could come. She knew exactly the best ways to make it come, for a dozen or more species.
Luke's fingers brushed her shoulder lightly – his left hand, again. Mara bent her head and let him stroke the back of her neck, his fingers light and warm. He didn't say anything, and she appreciated it. There really wasn't anything to say.
"This has been an odd honeymoon," Luke observed softly. "A tour of Tatooine by speeder, with a Tusken attack thrown in for novelty…"
"A sunburn or two…" Mara added.
"Two crashed ships, a reservoir and a shady cantina…"
Mara smiled and leaned her head back. After a few moments, Luke said, his voice suddenly hesitant, "Have you enjoyed it?"
Mara blinked and turned her head. He was looking at her, his eyes pale-blue and filled with something that always set her back – that deep uncertainty, the intense desire to please her. Just like –
"I still have some lingering doubts about why you'd want to marry me. I mean, I know why I love you and want to marry you. It's just that it doesn't seem like you'll be gaining as much from this as I will…"
As though he was so wholly unappealing there was no conceivable reason she would want to marry him. And he'd been deadly serious.
As he was now. How could someone be so wise be so utterly dense? "We're an odd kind of couple, I suppose," Mara told him, with the edge of a smirk in her smile. "Personally, I couldn't stand anything else. So this honeymoon has been perfect."
He smiled back and brushed his fingers over her cheek, but his eyes questioned, Really? She didn't think he entirely believed her. She wasn't sure, in fact, that he'd believed her answer to his other question.
Possibly it hadn't been as reassuring as she'd intended, in truth, but it had been the best she could come up with at the time. The emotional aspect of most relationships had never been her strong point; for a long time they'd escaped her completely – or perhaps it had been she who'd done the escaping. That was something she hoped to remedy, and there was no one in the galaxy she would rather learn from than Luke Skywalker.
In truth, she was still a little perplexed about the honeymoon. It had been nothing like she expected. She wasn't sure what that had been, but this wasn't it. She wasn't about to tell Luke that, though: she smiled at him, saying nothing, and he smiled back.
They finally arrived at the Lars farm as the suns were setting against the purpling sky. The wind was blowing again, hard and cool, tugging at their clothes and twisting through Mara's hair. The farm sat in semidarkness, small and isolated against the backdrop of vast endless desert and sinking suns.
Luke set the speeder down gently on the edge of the homestead. He turned off the engine, and sat staring at the domed building in silence. His face seemed pale in the faint light.
Mara waited for him to move, but he didn't. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
He turned his head and looked at her. "I haven't been back here since I found them," he said, something in his voice, just for a moment, edged and hollow. She saw in his face a glimmer of the boy who'd stumbled back to a burning home and found the charred remains of loved ones, his youth suddenly and abruptly severed—
Luke turned his head back toward the building, and shook it. "It's been so long," he muttered. "I didn't think it would be this difficult."
"We can—" Mara began, but he shook his head again.
"It's all right," he said, "I want to do this." And he swung out of the speeder.
Mara climbed doubtfully out after him. He took her hand, she squeezed his fingers gently, and they set off towards the farm.
It was smaller than Mara had expected, hunched on the sand as though in defence against the immensity of the desert. There was something mind-boggling in the way that the sand stretched, unbroken, to the similarly flat horizon – and beyond. The bleak, harsh beauty of was all but overwhelming. Mara tried to imagine living what it would be like to live here, facing that enormity day in and day out… It was like staring into the stars and seeing eternity, but on a flatter, starker scale.
The farm was indeed in poor condition. It was clear that no one had lived there for some time – sand had seeped its way in to slowly reclaim its former territory, almost covering the domed building and flowing down into the courtyard. Everything looked to be in disrepair, from the building to the machinery near-buried by the sand.
Luke halted alongside the building, Mara stopping just behind him. The sunset was truly spectacular. One of the suns had set, and the other was less than a handspan from the darkened horizon. The sky was streaked with deep reds and golds.
The wind blew up again suddenly from nowhere, whipping Mara's hair around her face. Her tunic flapped. Luke's hair streamed, but he didn't move.
Mara wondered about his aunt and uncle, standing in this place that had been their home and their grave. Luke didn't speak about them often, but when he did, his words told of his affection for them. Perhaps they'd been distant – perhaps the memory of another Skywalker always stood between them and their charge – but they'd given Luke everything and clearly loved him in their way.
They must have been strong people, to live this life that must have been a daily struggle. To meet that immensity eye-to-eye each morning…
"Would they have liked me, do you think?" Mara asked.
"They would have," Luke answered without hesitation, not looking at her. "I'm sure of it."
She wasn't sure why it mattered he say so, but it did, a great deal. They stood together in the light of the setting sun, the wind streaming past them.
Luke crouched after a while. He picked up a handful of sand and lifted it, letting it fall through his fingers. "This place was their life," he said, his voice quiet. "They poured their souls into this ground."
Mara, standing behind him, watched as the sand streamed between his fingers and was caught by the wind, dancing on darkness-tinged air into the deepening twilight.
"I suppose I wanted you to meet them," Luke said.
Mara returned her attention to him. For a long moment she stared at the back of his head. It was a nice gesture, she supposed, wholly Luke, but rather impractical…
It abruptly fell into place. This was Luke. It wasn't a gesture. He really, truly, wanted her to meet the ones who had raised him, here in these bleak wastes, and so he'd brought her here, where she could see the hardness they endured, the farm they created, see how strong and simple and generous they were with the little that they had, because he wanted her to know them, wanted to share what little he had of them left—
Just as he'd brought her to Tatooine, to his homeworld, to see the difficulty and the boredom and the freedom of his childhood, to know his memories, to not only understand what they were, but to take them and live them and share them—
—speeding with his friends through Beggar's Canyon at midday, idling in Anchorhead, dreaming of a father, watching stars at night, sheltering from sandstorms—
He was offering her a gift, she realised. A huge gift, one that couldn't be contained in possessions, that couldn't be valued in credits. He was offering her his childhood, in effect, all the things that had shaped him and that remained a part of him to this day. He was giving her his past, freely and openly, asking nothing in return.
She didn't even know if he was consciously aware of doing so. But it was a profoundly moving gift, to Mara. It couldn't replace the neglect and coldness and pain in her childhood. It couldn't undo the damage those years of misuse had inflicted. It couldn't remove the scars of a child stolen and twisted and exploited.
But it did give her a vast sense of warmth, warmth that spread through her, warmth beyond temperature. That Luke could offer such a thing – that he could know so intimately her heart, and easily and unreservedly lay open everything that was his if it could provide some comfort or reprieve – it staggered Mara all over again to be loved by such a man.
It shouldn't have, really. The generosity, so unassuming and so complete, was profoundly Luke. It seemed he hadn't failed in his ability to surprise her, even bonded as they were. She wondered if he ever would.
Luke had risen, and stood watching the setting sun. He turned his head as she moved up behind him. Mara slipped her fingers into his hand, and he squeezed gently. They watched the last sun set together. Stars began to glimmer overhead.
"Luke?" Mara said into the night silence. He looked at her, and she turned to meet his gaze. "You know there are things you can't fix."
"I know," he said. "I know."
She moved around before him, examining his face. His eyes were deep-blue in the shadows of creeping night. He did know, she saw, but he did what he could nonetheless, because not to try would alien to his very nature…
Mara touched his cheek with her fingertips. "I love you," she said quietly.
The words were still awkward for her, and she didn't say them nearly as often as he did. But he knew, and she did, that they came with absolute truth. His eyes steady on hers, Luke smiled. He lifted his hand to her hair, fingers gentle, and bent to kiss her.
Mara held him close as the night winds blew, and he was perfectly warm.
They spent a further week on Tatooine making their leisurely way back to Mos Eisley, where Solo arrived to pick them in the Millennium Falcon.
"How was the honeymoon?" he asked as they climbed up the ramp.
Luke smiled and said, "Fine."
"What did you think, Mara?" Solo transferred his gaze to her, a few steps behind Luke.
Mara looked at Luke. "Best honeymoon I've ever had," she said. "Not odd at all."
Luke grinned. Han looked perplexed, but then shrugged. "Leia and I had a nice enough time here, I suppose – around all the nearly dying stuff."
Mara flicked Luke a questioning glance and he shook his head slightly, a wordless I'll tell you later. They followed Han into the ship.
Mara sat with Luke as they blasted away from the planet, watching its golden-brown hues diminish as it grew distant. So their honeymoon slipped away, and they returned to their life – not the lives of before, separate, but their new life, joined.
Training, clean-up missions for Karrde, forging future directions for the Jedi – growing and learning and moving ahead together – there were challenges ahead, that much was certain. Changes large and small, unsettling and exhilarating.
Great things loomed for the galaxy… And for Luke and Mara Skywalker.
Mara met Luke's eye, knew he was thinking the same thing, and smiled.
She wouldn't have it any other way.