Title: "Darkened Threads"
Timeframe: AU
Characters: Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade

Warning - this story is dark, and won't be everyone's cup of tea. If you don't like depressing angsty fics, you may want to look elsewhere.

She sat in his private bedchamber, staring at the reflection in the mirror before her. The parts of the room visible there were draped in finest silk from all reaches of the galaxy, a misdirected attempt to please her. It felt strangely empty, for all its opulence. Strangely bare.

Her gaze drifted to her reflected image. Beautiful, she thought, yes; but not a little empty also, perhaps. Maybe that was his fault. His flaw. Collecting things of beauty around himself, only to drain them bare. Rob them of… many things.

Was it cowardice, to make it all his doing? She wished she could. Oh, that would be so much easier. None of the blame on herself; no, a hapless victim only, of a cruel and bitter man. A loveless man – no, not loveless. Other things, yes, but not that.

How pleasant an image, and how very will-effacing.

She tilted her head, and examined herself. Her hair was loose, spilling red and gold over the shoulders of her gown. Many men admired her hair. Many men admired her. She felt their gazes follow her as she walked. None dared act on it, of course.

Her husband had killed for much less important things.

Yes, her hair was right. Her eyes – she shifted her gaze, watching the green irises – they were fine also, pupils large in the soft light. She did wonder, though, when they'd become so flat. She had always been skilled when it came to suppressing emotions. When did it become natural not to feel them at all?

There was a whisper of sound behind her. She made herself still, and continued to watch the room through the image in the glass, not turning.

She chose not to look at him directly, even in reflection. He was a black mark against the fine colours in the room. Cast like that, he could almost be a spectre. A ghost.

Then I must be in hell, she thought, and suppressed a laugh.

He moved closer. A hand, black-gloved, reached over her shoulder. A silver necklace fell against her gown, suspended between gloved fingers; a multihued gem gleamed at the bottom of the necklace's fall.

"Huh," she said softly, and reached to touch the jewel. It was faintly warm. "Back so soon?"

"Did you miss me, my Empress?" His voice was low, and smooth, like a glass of fine Alderaani wine. Or like freshly-spilled blood.

"Hardly," she said. She watched herself half-smile in the mirror, a lip turning upwards. How odd, she thought. "How many whores did you bed this time?"

He laughed. "Mara," he said carelessly, and released the necklace into her still-raised hand.

The silver workings felt cool on her bare palm, in contrast to the warmth of the gem. She lowered her hand, looking at the jewellery. The silver chain coiled, gleaming, against her palm, exquisitely wrought, reflecting edges of soft light. The gem lay amidst the silver, a rainbow of hues catching the light. It reminded her of fire, a little, she thought. Then she shifted it another way in her hand, and the colours became greens and blues, like the oceans of many planets. It would have been expensive. The price of worlds, lying in the palm of her hand. Given as carelessly as some gave – kind words, perhaps, or love.

She placed it around her neck, lowering her chin to fasten the clasp. She resettled her hair and considered her reflection in the mirror. The light played nicely off the gleaming silver, while the gem brought out soft tones in her hair and eyes.

Gloved fingers ran lightly over her shoulders. "It looks even better on you than I imagined," he murmured.

She unclasped the necklace, capturing it in one hand as it slipped, liquid-like, from her throat. "Do you think you can buy me?" she asked.

The gloved hands fell, dropping to frame her arms. He leaned, bringing his mouth to her ear. "My dear," he said, "you're already bought."

The hands applied pressure, as though to turn her. Her muscles tensed. She stood, turned to face him. "Don't presume too much," she warned him.

The look in his eyes – pretty eyes, she thought; so flat, though, so very, very dead – was ugly, but his lips smiled. "I presume what I wish," he said. "I am Emperor."

"So you are," she said. She stepped back, and he stepped forward; pinning her to the wall, his scent of ship interiors and other things, warm and cold and in-between. He kissed her, forcing her head back, his mouth heavy on hers. The back of her head hit the wall. Her arms came up; she pushed against him, using the leverage of the wall. Hard-won experience had taught her to use whatever leverage was available. And so; they stumbled, clumsily, a step and then another, and then they were at the bed, his bed.

She twisted away, and pushed, catching him in a certain position, a certain moment, and he fell, or was forced to sit heavily. She stood over him, her chin raised, breathing hard through parted lips.

"Mara," he said, or whispered. His hand went to her thigh, but she slapped it away.

His eyes darkened; his lips parted, the corners edging upwards. "Mara," he breathed. He slipped his hand inside her gown, ran his gloved palm up her leg over the thin material of her shift, up her side, encircling her waist. He followed his hands upwards, his arms around her, pressing his body to hers, his lips to her throat.

She stood a moment, then put her arms around his shoulders, palms against his shoulder blades. He pulled them down on the bed. They landed with her weight on top, but he rolled, his leg between hers, pressing her into the oversoft bed with his weight. He kissed her. She put her legs around his, and dug her nails into his back, through the fine military-thick material of his tunic.

He grunted against her cheek and pulled back. "No," he said, chidingly.

"Yes," she said, in the same tone.

He kissed her, sinking his gloved fingers into her hair, pressing the breath from her. "Bought," he muttered, "mine."

"Don't buy me," she said, breathless.

He ran his hands under her gown, his touch light, light and hungry and oddly, wrongly warm. "Buy what I like," he whispered.

She pushed his hands away and used her weight to roll so that she was above him, pinning him. Her hair fell around her shoulders, into his face. "Not me."

They were breathing hard, and his tunic was half-open, his hair in disarray. He stared at her, puzzlement briefly replacing hardness in his face. "Why?" he said. "Why fight me?"

"Why?" she whispered back, through her teeth. "Why do you want me to?"

His eyes went dark. He caught her and kissed her, hard, forcing her back. She dug her nails into his tunic again, hard enough to draw blood, but this time, though she felt him arch in response to the pain, he didn't pull back. "Have to do better than that," he breathed against her ear.

When he kissed her again, she caught his lip between her teeth, and bit. She tasted coppery blood. He didn't pull away; she wrapped her arms around him tightly, and tangled her fingers in his hair. When his lips parted from hers, he kissed her cheek, her jaw, her throat. "Empress," he whispered. "Mara. Empress."

There was blood on his lips. She let her hands slide to frame his face, her fingers in his soft hair. He pressed a kiss to her lips. "Tell me no," he whispered, and kissed her again. "Tell me no, and I'll stop."

"No," she whispered, but it was the wrong kind of no. No because he came to this point; No because he asked her, every time; No because she never could do it. Never could say no to him. Not to this.

Not a victim.

He kissed her again, oddly tender despite the taste of blood. "No?" he asked.

She held him, and touched his blood-smeared lips. "No," she said. "Not no. Yes."

He kissed her, hard, and she felt the ragged edge to his lip, her mark on him. His hands touched her body, gloved, and coaxed her from the emptiness he'd fashioned and wrought. For a while she felt glorious and glamorous and alive.

Starved and starving, she would sell her soul for that. She already had.

Not a victim.

He touched her tenderly, so tenderly, and she could have wept.

She sat up later, pulling her gown on in the darkness. He came awake at once. "Where are you going?"

"To my room," she said.

He reached out, touching her with his fingertips. "Stay," he said softly.

She turned at the waist. His face was pale in the gloom. She touched his cheek, and felt the slight roughness of pale stubble. His breath ghosted warmly on her palm.

She closed her eyes, and lay beside him.

He rested his hand on her arm for a while, his head bent to her hair, his body close though not touching. The bed was warm, and she could feel the small movements as he breathed.

His breathing softened to sleep. She lay and listened, wondering what she would do if his breathing stopped. Wondering if he would dream. Some nights he did, and she could tell from his breath, from the way his face shifted. Occasionally he muttered.

He didn't dream tonight. She wondered if he dreamt at all, anymore.

Eventually she slept herself, and dreamt of silences.

Morning came, and with it his retinue, a flurry of servants and aides bringing tidings. Her serving women fetched her robe and accessories, and she dismissed them.

"I want you and Ben moved further in towards the Core," he said abruptly, as she pulled her clothing on, fastening her hair. "As soon as possible."

She stilled. "Why?"

"You will take a sizable retinue," he said, as though she hadn't spoken. "The Court will move along with you. I want a phalanx of Imperial Guards kept with you at all times, and a good portion of ground and air defences."

"The threat from the Rebellion has increased so much? Or… is it this other threat?"

"What have you heard?"

She tilted her head. "Silences, in the Outer Rim. Worlds falling. Ships vanishing."

He eyed her warily, and turned away without answering, fastening the clasps on his tunic. He wore a dark blue one today, close to black.

Space without the stars, she thought.

"You should come with us," she said. "Your place isn't on the front lines."

"My place is where I say it is," he said. He crossed around the bed to her side, extending a hand, to which his black-hilted lightsaber sprang. He clipped it to his belt. "As is yours. My Empress."

She stood, and put her hands on his tunic, gathering a handful of the material and twisting. He allowed her to pull him in, and she kissed him; he kissed back hard. The bite on his lip reopened, spreading the taste of blood through her mouth.

He pulled back, licking the smear of blood from his lower lip. She shifted her hands to his back, pressing her nails into his tunic, over the half-moon indentations she had left beneath. "This discussion is not over," she said.

He gave her an odd, feral smile, a curl of his lips under dark eyes. "I look forward to it."

She watched as he fastened his cloak and strode from the room, retainers sweeping after him outside the doors. He didn't look back, though he did lift a hand over his shoulder as he left, releasing the doors so that they swung shut on the sudden flurry outside. Granting her privacy.

Or closing her in. Keeping her to himself.

She went over and sat at the mirror. The necklace lay there, gleaming forlornly in the weak morning light. Mara lifted it, put it on.

Looking at herself in the mirror, she said, "What a beauty," and smiled.

The green eyes in the mirror filled with tears, but she didn't allow them to fall.