Well, here we are, at the end. You may notice that this chapter resembles the end of ROTJ somewhat, and the epilogue resembles the last scene in Timothy Zahn's novel, The Last Command. This was intentional as I wanted to bring this story as much in line with ROTJ and the post ROTJ canon books. I cannot express my joy at completing this and my absolute heartfelt thanks for everyone who has read this story and especially all those who comment on it. I thank you...
Something welled up deep inside of him, and it took a moment for Palpatine to recognize it. Joy. The euphoric feeling of complete and total victory. Kneeling before him now, just as in his visions, were the past, present and future of the Sith. Skywalker remained on his knees, flanked by his dying Father and future consort, Jade. Only the Alderaanian Princess had the audacity to remain standing, but she would be dealt with later. The sensation of vindication and control which came over him was almost overwhelming. He was drunk on it. They had all played into his hands exactly as he had wanted. Nothing here had happened that he had not planned. There were just a few loose ends to tie up and the elimination of the Rebel Alliance would be complete. Even that fool Piett and the Rebel pirate he brought with him would play a part in this saga. Oh yes...he could sense them. He could feel the treacherous intent in the Admiral's mind the moment he'd boarded the Executor. Vader really should have chosen better...the men on his ship may be loyal to their last breaths, but they betrayed him with their thoughts constantly, unable to shield their minds. Palpatine knew exactly where they were and what they intended, Solo and Piett. He merely needed to finish them off. And they were so close...any moment now he expected their arrival. Then he could test his new apprentice for the first time.
With a final shot, Wedge finished off one of the last of the Emperor's TIE fighters. Sweeping the X-wing back around, he headed toward one of the large transport ships that had arrived with the Alliance fleet. R2 was beeping something about re-joining 3PO, and to be honest, Wedge would be glad to get the droid off his hands for a little while. The rest of the Rebel ships, quite a few less than when they'd started, Wedge thought with chagrin, were similarly heading back toward the transports. While the Emperor had summoned his fleet to keep the men on the Executor under control, it seemed he hadn't banked on the captured Rebels onboard to join forces with Vader's men. The arrival of the Alliance Fleet was a well-timed fortunate break. The Star Destroyers and TIE fighters of the Emperor's personal guard had taken out a number of the Rebels, but the new quasi-alliance had prevailed. It seemed that Palpatine was perhaps banking on using Vader and Luke to his advantage. So far, there were no signs of what was going on in that throne room, but Wedge couldn't dwell on that. Han was there, and he knew his fellow Corellian would take care of things.
Wedge could hear Chewie through his comlink animatedly saying...something. He wasn't sure, and without Han there, he'd never be able to understand the Wookiee. Fortunately, 3PO was translating for him, and he caught part of the conversation as he brought the X-wing in to the landing bay. Chewie wanted to head back to the Executor and go after Han, but Alliance High Command wouldn't hear of it. Any Rebel off that Star Destroyer was staying off. Han was on his own...and Luke and the Princess too. Wedge grimaced under his visor. They'd all just have to wait.
A traitorous Father is better than no Father at all...this thought swirled around and around in Luke's mind, like a twisting sand-storm in one of the canyons on Tatooine. Who was the traitor now? What had he set out to do?...Luke tried to clear his mind. Everything was so very muddled and confused. He could hear Leia's sobs, sense his Father's deep sorrow, the cold resentment coming off of Mara, and the Emperor's malicious joy. They all wanted something from him...and he couldn't hear them all at once...so he blocked them all out. Inhaling deeply, still on his knees before Palpatine, Luke pulled up the barriers of his mind and ceased to listen. He tried to fade out the Force signatures of those around him. Leia, shimmering behind him. His Father, whose Force presence was fading anyway. And Mara, who knelt next to him. Mara who had some part to play in his future. Was it for the all the reasons Palpatine wanted? Was that really his destiny? He'd tasted this Dark power, and was uncertain it was something he could turn away from. Perhaps...perhaps this was what the Force wanted for him. Could it be possible to achieve all the peace and harmony he'd wanted for this galaxy not as a Rebel Commander or a Jedi Knight...but instead as a Sith? And Force, what about Leia? She'd never willingly turn to the Dark Side...what would they do with her? Too many questions tumbling in his mind.
He couldn't breathe. Needing to get air, Luke reached up and pulled the dark fabric of his tunic away from his throat. His fingers became entangled in something. What was that? Palpatine was speaking, spewing some of his dark proclamations and Luke tried to focus, or at least seem as if he were focusing. Pressing the object back against his chest Luke finally realized what it was. The Japor snippet necklace. The same one his Father had given to his Mother...the same one that Luke had been given on Tatooine...the Japor snippet he'd always worn to remember his parents. But not only to honour their memory. It was, he recalled, his way to remind himself of all the choices he could make. A tangible way to tell himself to avoid the mistakes which had killed his Mother and turned his Father to Darkness. And here he was, following in Anakin's footsteps.
But he could change that...his destiny was not written in stone. Luke could turn back...just as his Father had. Maybe they were meant to follow the same path after all. To fall and be redeemed.
Luke let his barriers down slightly, and reached out to his Father. The man was dying before his eyes, and a fathomless despair had overtaken Vader. Luke could understand why. After all they'd gone through together recently, the steps the Dark Lord had taken back toward the Light...now Vader had to watch as his son turned into the very creature he himself had turned away from. The universe indeed had a sick sense of humour. Luke knew what he needed to do. Sending his Father a mental image of the Japor snippet, he slowly nodded. Vader would understand.
And then, Luke felt a slight, gentle touch to his mind. Mara, reaching out to him, that same confusion he felt was also rampant in her. He could feel her uncertainty, the sensation of being used, of being thrown away. She was trying to ascertain the situation...and she seemed to be saying she'd follow him now...her allegiance to Palpatine was over.
Suddenly, Luke sensed a change in the atmosphere...someone...no, strike that, Han was nearby. And Piett too...heading this way...very close now...something was going to happen...anticipation and excitement from them...and then...a rush of energy.
Behind him, Luke could sense Leia's slight shock as a door whooshed open somewhere on the other side of the dais. He was in no position to see, and neither were Mara or Vader, but Leia had the perfect vantage point. Luke didn't need to see them anyway, he knew who'd just burst into the throne room. Now could be the chance they'd been waiting for. He would try to muster his strength again.
But Luke didn't even have the chance to draw his lightsabre. Palpatine was already reacting to the situation. Using the Force, he pulled the blasters out of Piett and Solo's grips. They clattered uselessly to the floor on the far side of the throne room. The sense of rage roiling off Han amused the Emperor, and taunted them from the dais. Solo was speaking to Leia but Luke could not make out the words. He re-formulating a plan.
Slowly circling the outer part of the throne room, the Admiral and the General attempted to make their way to Leia and their strewn weapons. They both knew it was a hopeless endeavour, but it could buy Luke and Vader the time they needed. Not much, but just enough. If they could just keep the Emperor's attention for just a little longer...
Palpatine smiled a slow, evil smile. "Well, my young apprentice. What shall you do with these two traitors? It is time, perhaps, for you to use your new power, and witness for yourself the strength of the Dark Side ."
Keeping his face stoic, Luke shook his head. "No, Master. I believe it is just the opportunity for my consort to prove herself to me." Never looking at Mara, he sent her a message through the Force, praying that only she could sense it. Palpatine, too lost in his dark glee, could never have guessed the connection he'd hoped to force upon them had taken place naturally. She understood. She knew what she could happen. All Mara had to do was make that final choice between her old Master and a new allegiance. The memory of the gardens near the Khayrian temples invaded her mind. She could see herself, a stone edifice, a cold monument to the Empire. Then the blossoms came, covering over her and crumbling that hard facade. Scarlet and white flowers erupting and changing the essence of the statue...the essence of her.
"Jade," Palpatine rasped out, "kill them. Prove to Skywalker that your loyalty is now to him."
She never even blinked as she replied, "As you wish...your Highness," and her lightsabre lit with a snap-hiss. Mara spoke with a calmness and something else, which Luke would later recall as sounding like ironic sincerity. But the tone was lost on the Emperor. He thought only of the legacy he would build.
As Leia's resolve gave out, and she flew toward Han, Mara brought up her lightsabre high. Luke remained kneeling, still too exhausted to move. But next to him, Vader rose. He knew this was the chance he'd been waiting for, the only chance he had left. Igniting his own blade, Vader gathered all his remaining strength and charged Palpatine fully. Expecting this to some degree, the Emperor struck back with more Force-lightning, intending to finish his useless Second-in-Command once and for all.
She attacked from behind, and Palpatine never sensed her. Directing his complete focus on killing Vader, he'd let all thought of Mara drift from his mind. It was easy to do...she was Skywalker's now. He could hold her leash from now on.
Mara brought her lightsabre downward as Vader swung up, and the two blades met in the middle, cutting directly through Palpatine. Sparks flew as they collided, and for a few moments the Emperor and Luke at his feet were both bathed in eerie shades of deep violet and scarlet red. The Force lightning continued only for a split-second more, then ceased as Palpatine spat out a garbled curse, his features frozen in a visage of shock. Mara's squinted her eyes and turned her head away, and Vader stumbled on the stairs and dropped back down next to his son.
And in that instant, Palpatine exploded. The Darkness inside him ripped outward, tearing him open even further and killing him instantly. The billowing ripples of dark energy swept across the room, and Mara was flung backward and down the stairs, tumbling over and over before lying still, unconscious. Across the room, Leia, Han and Piett fared better. Protectively pulling her to him, Han spun Leia around so she faced away from Palpatine. Shielding her from the rushing power, they were buffeted backward, flattening out against the far wall, Piett crouching near them.
When the winds stopped, when the terrible noise ceased and an unnerving silence has settled on the room, Leia was able to look. Nothing was left of Palpatine save his dark robes, puddled on the top of the stairs. Piett had rushed to Mara, who still lay unconscious. But Leia was already by her Father, Luke to one side, she on the other. She could feel the change in her brother...no longer filled with despair, he only radiated concern and love.
Han stood a respectful distance away. This was a private moment, a family thing...and so he didn't intrude. Watching them all together, Han was reminded of what Leia had said when Luke announced he wanted to leave the Alliance and join his Father. You may not be able to choose your family, but you are able to choose to embrace the family you have...never was that better illustrated than now. For the rest of his life, Han would always recall the stark beauty of watching a family once torn apart brought together again by love and redemption. Only the births of his children years later would be able to compare.
It didn't take long...Vader was obviously severely wounded, and death came quickly. Luke and Leia sat a while next to their Father after he'd crossed over, clinging to each other in their shared sadness. Eventually, they regained a measure of composure and stood. Han came over and gathered Leia to him in a comforting embrace. He could only whisper, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," to her, but it was enough. Han watched over the top of Leia's head as Luke went to Piett. They spoke quietly a moment, assessing the red-haired woman unconscious on the floor as they knelt by her side. The Admiral extended his arm in a conciliatory gesture and placed it on Luke's arm. A few more exchanges, a nod from Piett, and Luke slowly scooped up the girl and rose with her in his arms. He spoke to Han for the first time. "We need to get Mara to medical. She's coming with us." Turning back to the body of Vader, he said, "Piett's going to assist me in moving Father to a shuttle...will you help as well, Han? I'd like to get him off the Executor before the rest of the Alliance comes onboard."
Han nodded once, gravely. "Anything you need kid...I'm here for you. I won't leave his side until you get back. No one will get in here, I promise."
Luke was silent as he left the throne room, Mara in his arms, and headed toward the medical bay.
Several standard days later, Han Solo found himself piloting the Millennium Falcon once again to Tatooine. It was only he and Chewie, along with Luke and Leia. As the twin suns set, the Corellian and the Wookiee remained onboard as the children of Vader said their goodbyes. The glow from the burning pyre met the glow of the gathering twilight as their Father's spirit was finally set free. A sense of peace settled over them both as Anakin's remains were consumed by the fire. Leia took a small vial of sand after the pyre had burned down to embers deep in the night. It was, she told Luke, the visual reminder of her Father's redemption. Luke didn't need any...he clutched the Japor snippet around his neck instead, and turned his face up toward the stars.
Five standard months later
The overall skyline hadn't changed that much since last she'd been here. The same endless columns of air traffic streamed overhead. Lights, glowing blue, red, green, yellow...glimmered in the distance. She'd been on this very balcony more than once...in a very different capacity, of course. The breeze that gently lifted her red-gold hair seemed familiar to her, but oddly different, in some way. Everything seemed the same...yet all of it had changed. Her life had changed.
The universe had changed.
Mara stood facing the vibrant and glittering Coruscant horizon. Shifting in her new gown, she thought of the last time she'd been up here dressed this formally. For this event, she'd chosen to shun the mandated court-dress from the past, and gone with a simpler, less extravagant style. Outwardly, she seemed poised and collected. On the inside, her feelings were muddled and ambivalent. It was something Mara had been struggling with since the incident on the Executor. She knew, from her own intuition and through the Force, that the decision she'd made was right. It just was hard to get used to.
Knowing that soon she'd have to make her way back inside for the ceremony, Mara tried to hold on to these few precious moments of quiet and solitude. The organized chaos of the Treaty Signing was overwhelming her right now...as her old life and her new one collided. Too many people...too many faces...from her past and her future, awaited her in the Grand Ballroom. So she'd slipped out, and made her way up here. Not all of the offices and rooms had been taken over by the New Republic yet, and she still had access codes to many of them. Getting in had been easy, despite the locked door.
These past few months had been trying, to say the least. Her past being what it was, many New Republic members had openly voiced their distrust of her. And although the Princess Organa had spoken up for her, despite General Solo's vouch for her...she was still treated warily. Even Skywalker's open admiration and quite confidence in her had not helped with some higher-ranking members of the Rebellion. But, given Luke's recently disclosed lineage, that wasn't a surprise. The Emperor's Hand being endorsed by the son of Vader? It seemed laughable even to her...but she knew better. She understood now that darkness and light could exist in one person...not just one or the other exclusively. And she knew that forgiveness and redemption were possible for everyone. She'd seen that first hand, and she was living it now. So, eventually, Mara would go back down to that Ballroom and answer questions, smile and be calm, stay centered and focused. Ignore all those distrustful people. It was only one night.
She could sense someone coming, a seeking, searching presence. Luke. He was looking for her. So she hadn't slipped away unnoticed. Well, if anyone had missed her in all the noise and confusion of the spectacle downstairs, it would have been Skywalker. While they hadn't seen much of each other in the time since the Executor, there was a new element to their relationship. An understanding, a deep connection. It seemed that she could always sense him, a vague non-tangible link. New, unnerving, unexpected...and very reassuring. It terrified her. It thrilled her. It made her feel complete.
When the door opened behind her she didn't turn to him. Luke stepped up next to her at the stone balustrade, and rested his arms on the deep gray of the railing. Not finding anything interesting in the distance, he turned around and pressed his back against the barrier, palms down on the smooth surface. Luke turned his head so he could see her clearly, and gave Mara an understanding smile. "I've been dying to get away myself, all night. This really isn't my forte either." He smiled again. "I suppose it was a good thing Leia ended up in the Royal Family and I got stuck on Tatooine. She's far better at this whole diplomatic public relations, important function events fiascos than me." Turning to face her, one elbow on the railing, he cocked his head to the side, taking her in. "Although I'm a little surprised that you're not completely at home down there...considering all the functions you must've been to...well, before."
Mara gave him a sidelong look, complete with arched eyebrow. "Yes, but please remember that "before" I wasn't caught in-between two rival factions of government. Don't forget, Skywalker, that half of those people in that ballroom trust me less than they trust a Corellian at a Sabacc table. They won't...they can't forget who I was." With a deep sigh, she closed her eyes, tipping her chip upward. "And I don't blame them."
Luke reached out to her, then re-considered. They still hadn't really had the opportunity to see each other much since the Executor. He could sense the change in their relationship, the subtle deepening of their connection day by day. But they still hadn't spoken about it. So he went with his gut. He gently placed his hand over hers on the balustrade. "Mara...don't let that get to you...in time they'll get to know you like we have. Me and Leia, and Han...we all only have the best things to say about you. And with Piett's support as well, you'll see Mara. They'll all come around." Giving a self-depreciating laugh, he said, "And don't forget, they still don't even completely trust me. And I don't want to sound arrogant, but..."
Mara finished it for him. "But you only destroyed the first Death Star and are a decorated Alliance Commander." She smiled at him sarcastically, "But that doesn't really count for much given who your Father was, does it?"
"No, not really." Luke admitted. He pulled his hand away from her with regret. "We are more alike than you realize, Mara. Even though Leia's my sister, I feel, in some ways, a stronger report with you...on some things at least."
She could sense the slight shift in his mood, and said, "Out with it Farmboy...what's on your mind?"
Luke rolled his eyes at her. "Are you really going to call me that? I do have a first name, you know. I'd even rather have you call me Skywalker than that." She laughed at him outright. He liked the sound.
"Sorry...but it just seems to fit. And everyone else around here calls you Master Skywalker or Commander. Or they just don't address you at all. Way too much bowing and scraping for someone who grew up on a backwater planet. Besides I know that you don't much care for all that deference anyway. So, I'm going to call you Farmboy...because I can." She looked at him seriously then. "And I know I'm the only one you'll let call you that. So...so it makes it more...special."
Luke sobered a moment. "That's true, Mara. Sometimes I think you're the only one who sees me as I really am." He spoke without rancor now. "I'm not ashamed of how I grew up, you know. It helped shape who I am now...I appreciate it. I'm proud of it."
"Well, that's easy for you to say, Skywalker. You're not the one who was raised by the most hated man in the galaxy." Mara said bitterly.
"But I was fathered by the most feared man in the galaxy. My point is that you should be proud of yourself, Mara. Yes, you were trained by the Emperor, but you never lost your sense of goodness. That came out in the end...it saved you." He took her hand again. "It saved me." A beat. They studied each other. "Honour your past, Mara. Learn from it...and embrace your future." He slowly shook his head. "Don't let them get to you. You mean a lot to us...to me."
Mara decided then was a good time to get back to the matter at hand...she wasn't quite ready to delve into that subject right now. She succinctly untwined her fingers from his. "So, Farmboy...what is on your mind?"
Luke gave her a long, quite look. "It's interesting how strong our connection is, don't you think? I'm not sure even Leia would've picked up on what you have."
With a patient sigh, Mara said, "That's nice, Skywalker...would you please just tell me? Or are you enjoying keeping me in suspense?"
Luke answered almost inaudibly, "I'm concerned you're not going to stay, after this treaty is signed. That you're not going to take Leia up on her offer to become a Liaison between the New Republic and what's left of the Empire. That you won't stay to train as a Jedi...with me." Almost a whisper now. "That you're leaving." He finally looked into her eyes. "I'm not sure I could be separated from you, now. Not permanently."
Biting her lip, Mara nodded slowly. "I appreciate that, Luke. More than you know. But I don't think now is the time...to discuss this." She took his hand now, returning his reassuring grip, and gave him an encouraging smile. "But soon...I promise. I haven't made any decisions yet. I'm not sure I'd like being all that far away from you, either." She turned back to the skyline again. "Interesting, isn't it? The city seems the same...but everything has changed." She threw a genuine smile over her shoulder at him. "For the better, I hope."
He beamed back at her. "For the better. But for now...we really should think about sneaking back down for the ceremony. Both of us will be missed soon, and I don't want to start any untoward rumours about us, and you know that's exactly what will happen if we're both discovered missing...together." Fingers still entwined, he pulled her away from the stone balustrade and turned her once around, her deep blue gown flowing gently about her. "But, seeing as you are the expert and the only one I trust myself with on the floor, I was hoping you'd save me at least one dance before the evening is through."
Her laughter bubbled up again. It had been a long time since the balcony had heard that sound. "Sure, Farmboy. Anything to avoid those stuffy diplomats...but we'd better not go back down there together, or those rumours will start." She paused before letting his hand go. "I'll head down first..." Mara turned and walked away, through the ornate stone framework and back into the darkened room.
Watching her walk away, Luke felt the pull of longing...the desire to chase after her. But he knew she was right. They needed to work things out before the media started speculating about them. Besides, he'd be with her shortly anyway.
Recalling everything he'd been through, the events with his illness and his Father, the struggle to bring Vader to the Light, to keep himself from the Darkness...his fall and redemption...Luke inhaled deeply and savoured his memories. He realized things had turned out the way they should have...the will of the Force. The time he'd been able to spend with his Father was priceless, and he would forever cherish it. It now occupied a part of him that had always been empty. While a deep ache would always exist at the loss of his Father, he would attempt to fill it in with the memories of the moments they'd had together. Perhaps someday he'd share them all with Leia as well.
And now...well, now was the dawn of a new era. His childhood on Tatooine seemed like another lifetime ago. Things were changing, and he planned on changing with them. Training new Jedi, assisting the New Republic, resolving things with Mara...the sheer potential possibility of what the future held was exciting. Luke felt an echo of the sensation he'd had when Leia had joined him on the Executor. When it had just been himself , Leia, and their Father. This time it was deeper, more complete. The feeling he'd never had, the one he'd always been searching for.
The sense of coming home.
Once again...thank you for coming on this journey with me. I look forward to writing more stories...if you want me to, that is:)