A/N: Well, hello all. I haven't posted in a while, but I am working on several stories. I just had to focus on one and finish it...now I can work on the others. This is just a sort of vignette...not an involved plotline. I hope you like. Let me know.
A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never overcome them
He went every standard year, on the exact date. The passing time hadn't lessened his pain, diminished his memories, or weakened his resolve. He wasn't one to dwell on what had happened, but it was impossible to escape his legacy. He'd made his peace with the past, embraced his destiny, and tried to move on with his life. Almost. It was what he told himself, in any case...it was what everyone else believed. There was always that undercurrent of sorrow, as if his previous outwardly cheerful personality had been sobered slightly. He wasn't so much depressed as merely more somber. Leia had noticed it before Han, but her bond with Luke had only grown stronger since that day, so she'd felt it almost immediately. He seemed to have grown up, overnight.
Having your Father die in your arms does that to you.
One day, and one night each year, he would honour that. He always went alone. Leia had declined to join him, knowing it was something her brother needed to do himself. Besides, her memories of their Father were quite different from his. He'd accepted that with a sort of relieved grace. He'd rather be alone anyway. His family never asked him about this ritual, never sought a detailed description of exactly what it was he did while away. They simply let him be. "Go on, kid," Han had said on that first anniversary, "the universe will still be here when you get back." He'd patted Luke on the back with understanding affection, no ribbing or wisecracks this time. Luke had appreciated it more than Han could know. He had no desire to be on Coruscant for the revelry surrounding the demise of the Empire. While the rest of the universe was celebrating, he would be keeping a quiet vigil.
This time...this time would be different.
The sleek silver ship left the atmosphere of Coruscant, a glancing streak of light glowing in the dusky stillness of space. The co-ordinates were punched in, the ship's hold stocked, the space lane cleared. Settling back into the co-pilot's seat, Luke Skywalker breathed a sigh...more of nervous expectations than relief.
Next to him, his wife reached out and took his hand, squeezing it gently with quiet reassurance. They'd not even been married a standard year yet, and so Mara had been surprised that Luke had even suggested she come along at all...she fully expected him to go alone. Leia had spoken to her about this event, only once before. And although the Princess had passed on all she knew about his tradition, Mara was acutely aware that she was unprepared for this. Certainly Luke never told anyone about his vigils.
She watched her husband as he tried to relax against the restraints of the seat, poorly feigning serenity (at least with her), and eyes closed in order not to meet her searching ones. Again she was struck by the semblance between Luke and his Father...compared to the one or two holos that a New Republic archivist had managed to find. They'd decided that Leia must take after their Mother...and Luke...well, Luke was Anakin again. Same dark blonde hair, same stubborn jaw, same haunted blue eyes. The familiarity was a point of pride to Luke, Mara knew that. But it also was a physical reminder of just how much alike they were. Luke guarded that resemblance, kept it tight to him and worried over it like a hungry vornskr with a scrap of bone.
Even now, so many years after Yavin and Hoth, after Bespin and Endor...Luke held a deep unbridled fear of turning into his Father. He was forever carrying the burden of his legacy, and that hung over him, weighed him down. It terrified him. Before he found out the truth of what happened to Anakin, Luke's greatest wish was to be like his Father. Learning what he'd really become had pained him deeper than anything else in his life, and that fervent dream to follow in his Father's footsteps became a nightmare. He never would turn to the Dark Side. It was impossible to follow his Father. And yet...it mocked him, his desire. Taunted him with his longing and whispered cruel things in his mind. He still had the opportunity to become what his Father had...he always would, and that blunt truth was what frightened him the most. When he'd seen that holo of Anakin for the first time, Luke had visibly blanched. The rest of the family assumed it was because he must've felt he was peering into a mirror. And that was partly true. Only Mara had realized it was Luke peering into the mirror not of the past, but of the future... of what he could become, the final confirmation that he was indeed his Father's son. And even with Endor behind him, Luke was never very far from his heritage. The Darkness in his past.
So this honouring of his Father was an extremely important event which he performed, each year on the exact date. He was able to remember then, what he'd put out of his mind. And in the silence, he would be grateful to just forget. To let go. But he had to forgive himself first. For who he was. A child of darkness, the son of the evil that was Darth Vader...Sithspawn.
Mara only received a tight smile in return for her caress, and she gently let his hand go. She'd rather hold on. She watched him drown in his legacy. It was, she realized, a heartrending extreme...to be lifted so high by the providence of his family name and to be dragged down by the implied consequences of his parentage. She watched as he damned himself again and again...damned himself for the hand fate had dealt him. As if he could change it. And she wondered, not for the first time, how a man so full of love and forgiveness was unable to turn those qualities back on himself. Had Mara the same capacity for compassion, it would surely have broken the boundaries of her heart.
Mara ran a soothing hand over his forehead as the ship rushed to light speed. He always watched the jump...but not this time. She mused a while in the silence. Turned her thoughts to the man he was today, and what other things she'd accepted besides his proposal. The awe and devotion of a galaxy. To them, he is magical, and mythical. The living embodiment of inner-peace and truth. And strength. She knew he has that strength. He's earned it...in more ways than one. She believed in that strength...Mara had to believe it could pull him through. Luke had made it past more tragedy than one soul should have to endure. Outwardly, he is that pillar of strength, but Mara knew better. She could feel the damage. Inwardly, there was the threat to collapse. The pressure of that grace weighed him down. He was unnervingly, silently broken.
And she wanted to save him.
She took his hand again, running her fingers over the simple eternity ring which adorned his hand. Hers was similarly unpretentious. His skin felt soft under her touch, but it is misleading...Mara realized how frayed his nerves were...how close he was to untwining, breaking like an overused rope. She was glad of this trip...he needed the time away.
Mara settled herself back, taking Luke's cue. He didn't want to talk about it now. She wanted to push forth, stretch out and try to help him heal. But not now. He wasn't ready. With nothing but time on her hands, Mara fretted on the same thoughts, over and over. Seeking solutions and answers in the glimmering star lines as they surged through light speed.
To her eyes, Luke was a contrast in terms. The very visible definition of every counterintuitive phrase ever uttered. He was the most serene tumult. Organized chaos. An exquisite, beautiful disaster.
And she'd started to wonder if they could hold on, or if her world was going to cave in around her. While she'd never doubted their compatibility or the sense from the Force that they were meant to be together, her concerns now were more of him destroying himself. Her most fervent desire was her most self-less...it was forgiveness for him. But his restitution has not arrived just yet.
The star lines sharply returned to focus as they arrived at Endor. The approach in was quite beautiful, though it reminded Mara of her old life. Had Luke thought of what this trip may mean to her? The death of her old Master still infused this place slightly, perhaps now more in memory than anything else. But Mara has washed her hands of those stains from her past...he holds no power over her any longer. She can see Endor for what it is. But not Luke. All that's visible to him are ghosts, and they will follow him from here when he leaves. He will be forever haunted by facts he cannot change. It's not logical, Mara knows. But perhaps Luke's never been the logical one.
She watched him knit his brows together as they approached the Sanctuary Moon, straining forward in his seat to try to reach something which remained unseen to her. She tried not to question him...one of the hardest things for her to do. She wanted to learn...learn what it was he was searching for. Was it truth or wisdom...or proof of his own condemnation? He caught her reflecting on him, and received a guilty smile. Luke returned it in kind. He always believed she deserved more than him, something better. In reality, he was more than she could take. But he was beautiful. Her beautiful disaster.
Together they trudged through the forest paths, heading back toward the spot Luke had chosen all those years ago as his Father's final resting place. It was an easy, comfortable silence, giving both of them the time to think. Luke was tinged with the feelings of remorse, anticipation, sorrow and even guilt. Finally, he said to her simply, "I've never wanted to let you down, Mara. You'll have to forgive me if I slip away...if I seem too distant."
She accepted this with a graceful shrug. He'd speak when he was ready to.
It seemed, to Mara, like any other clearing in any other set of trees. Just gentle grasses and wildflowers surrounded by a ring of hardwoods older than recordable time. But it was obvious to her that this place held special meaning for her husband. He became, if possible, even more somber, and a veil of reverence fell over him. She took his cue and remained quiet in the field, unsure what to do next.
He stood a few moments, lost in his own thoughts, then began to methodically gather up firewood. Mara joined him. They worked in silence for some time, until finally Luke spoke. "I'm glad you're here."
"I'm glad you asked me to come along..." Mara replied smoothly.
He paused in his work, and looked over to her. "Sometimes I wonder...just who am I doing this for? Every year, the same thing. I'm...exhausted, in a way." He gave her a pained smile. "Isn't that strange?"
"No...no Luke, I don't think so. You've been wandering on your own since that day...even with Leia and Han...and me, you still take everything on by yourself. I can see how you'd be tired." She took his hand. "Sometimes you just need to let go, Luke."
"I know...I know. But I didn't just mean that I'm exhausted from...all this," he swept his hand overhead, encompassing the galaxy and everything it represented, "I meant...that I feel guilty about the burden that has been placed on me...that I placed on myself. Coming here every year...keeping vigil. Sometimes I wish..." he broke off, emotion threatening to choke his speech. "I'm not saying I regret anything that happened with my Father, I know I'd do it all over again, and I'd never think twice about that. I just need to know how to move on...and..."
Mara interjected for him, "and how to forgive yourself.."
He cocked her head and considered her. "Forgive myself...yes...I suppose you're right, in a way." Another heavy pause. His mind was whirling with uncertainty. He sighed as he rubbed his hand over his eyes, a general fatigue passing through him. "I'm...I've just been thinking about, well, my Father, obviously. What he went through, what I went through without him, and with him." Luke turned around to face her fully. "Do you worry, Mara? I mean, if we have children, do you worry about what they'll become? Considering the legacy I've been left with...that's a great burden to bear. I'm concerned they'll feel pressured to follow in our footsteps...or worse, that they'll follow in Vader's."
She'd been expecting this conversation. While they'd spoken in the past about the possibility of children, it was never very seriously discussed. Now, with the anniversary of his Father's death, Luke had been pondering it more and more. When he'd been alone, there was only the responsibility of training the children of others to become Jedi. Now, with the prospect of his own, he'd have to be the guardian and guide of very powerful, Force wielding heirs to a great and tragic legacy. And while his Father had overcome the Darkness at the end, he'd also spent half of his life fully immersed in the Dark Side. It was a very daunting prospect for Luke. The sorrow he felt for his Father was deep. And now that very real possibility of someone he loved turning from the Light coloured his every action, always on his mind.
Mara bit her bottom lip while formulating what she wanted to say. This was a complex and layered topic...was there really a correct answer? "Of course I think about it Luke...but I believe it comes down to whether you support nature or nurture."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Which is it?"
She furrowed her eyebrows. "Which is what?"
"Nature or nurture...which do you suppose is responsible for shaping the destiny of a child?" He deposited another armful of firewood on the pyre they were building.
"I guess I'd have to go with a measured mix of each...a balance." She brought up her hands, palms skyward, alternately raising and lowering them opposite each other, as if she were weighing the value of the choices. Raising her right hand, she said, "Jaina and Jacen, and Anakin too, they have the benefit of a loving, safe home. Very nurturing." She lowered the right, bringing up her left hand, "However, they are the grandchildren of Darth Vader...so, who's to say that nature won't win out?"
Luke closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. "Now you see why I worry about this...about them. You and I, and Han and Leia, can give those kids the very best upbringing in the universe, and still not know if that will be enough." He gave a weary laugh. "The Force is strong in my family. I mean, Han's not a Jedi, and still the Solo kids are very Force sensitive." He came over and took her hands in both of his. Then quietly, "It makes me wonder just how much power our children would possess."
Mara pulled one hand away from him, and reached up to stroke his cheek. He was forced to meet her eyes. "I guess we'll just have to take that chance, Luke...if that's what we want." She gave him a soft smile. "Besides, I turned out wonderfully, and my nurturing wasn't exactly what you'd call appropriate."
He smirked at her attempt at humour, eyeing her critically, and said, "Yes. I suppose you turned out alright...despite that...and despite your nature too."
"Watch it, farmboy. I believe the correct response is 'Mara, you are the most amazing woman I've ever met', or the chances of you getting those children you're pining for are slim to none."
He instantly sobered. "I'm sorry. How about this...Mara, you are the most amazing woman who has ever tried to kill me that I actually ended up marrying..." He tried to suppress a grin as she swatted at him. "What'll that get me...twins at least?"
Grinning widely at his humour, she arched an eyebrow at him nonetheless. "Possibly...but only if you promise to stay on your best behaviour."
He straightened up, turning very solemn, and pressed a hand to his chest. "Jedi Master's honour," he pronounced with dignity.
Mara stood grinning at him for a while, then returned to the task at hand. Closer to twilight, Luke pronounced the structure done, and Mara settled herself down a respectable distance away on one of the blankets they'd brought with them from the ship. "What now?" she asked him simply.
He stood from the pyre, wiping his hands on his cloak after he set the last bundle of kindling in its place. Looking up to the sky, Luke appraised the time. The sun had finally set, and they were perched between dusk and night. The sky had turned a velvety violet, and the first glimmers of stars had started to glow in the distance. Endor's other moon was shrouded...a new moon, Mara thought, maybe a good sign.
Luke replied just as easily, "I light it...and then, well, I usually spend the night meditating, thinking about my Father. What happened that night." He lapsed into silence, turning back to her with that troubled look again. He returned to her side and settled next to her on the blanket.
She watched him as many emotions passed over his face, flitting, fleeting ghosts of his past returning to haunt him again. But the reality, she knew, was that they never really left him. Those ghosts merely inhabited the dark recesses of his mind, only showing themselves occasionally, but always a part of him. Mara hoped he'd be able to exorcise them once and for all.
"Luke...I just want to be certain that you are really alright with me coming here with you. I know this is sort of a tradition for you...that you usually come alone." She sounded nothing short of apprehensive. He looked back to her, and saw the care in her green eyes.
Luke took her hand, and brought it up to his lips for a gentle kiss. Engulfing her hand with both of his, he absently touched the promise ring on her finger. "Mara, of course I'm fine with it. You're my wife...I want you here."
She sighed raggedly, still unsure. "I know...you've said that. But from what Leia's told me...I just...I understand if you want privacy. I don't have to stay with you on Endor. I can go back into orbit with the Fire and pick you up whenever you're ready."
Luke smiled wanly, "I appreciate that, Mara, I really do. But I think you should be here." He paused, lost in thought. His blue eyes clouded over with the remembrance of some past event. "I think it'll do us both some good." He kissed her hand again, and she squeezed back. They watched the flames, the only sounds an occasional night-bird and the crackling of the fire. "Besides, it's time for us to start some new traditions...together, as a family."
A family. That was a new concept to Mara. Even having been married to Luke for almost a year, even despite the fact that she'd practically been a part of his extended family for almost ten years, she was still adjusting. It was still an oddity for her to be addressed as "Aunt"; she still got butterflies in her stomach when Luke introduced her as "my wife". But she liked it...stang...she loved it. What an euphoric feeling, to sense that you actually belonged. To be so open, and intrinsically entwined with another soul. And now, Luke was asking her to be a part of a very sacred and special part of his life. A tradition that his own sister wasn't a part of. It was humbling.
Mara snuggled up against her husband, mesmerized by the dancing flames. "If you want to meditate, Luke...I can sit by myself for awhile...or I could join you...whatever you like."
"I think," Luke stated as he pulled her closer to him, "that I'm fine just like this." He settled his chin on the top of her red-gold hair, which burned even more red in the light of the flames. "I just want to sit awhile."
They stayed that way for the better part of the night, the fire slowly burning out. The night-air was filled with the gentle sounds of evening on Endor, and lent itself to the moonless dark which covered the planet. Mara nudged Luke, gesturing with an upward jerk of her chin to the skies overhead. He followed her gaze, catching the sight of falling stars...too many to count...streaking like silver teardrops across the sky. Burning brightly and fast, they echoed the fireflies in the field around Luke and Mara. Without speaking, they both lay back together, still entwined, and put the grass to their backs. The dominating expanse of sky filled their view now, and the light from the fire was a gentle glow.
"Was that a firefly, or a shooting star?" Mara asked quietly.
"A firefly...I think. I really can't be too sure." Luke replied, and Mara could feel a sense of wonder overtake him. Farmboy to the core. He sighed contentedly...his tension melting away somewhat. "I'm...really glad you're here. I know I've already said that, but...this trip feels," he paused to find the right words, "significant somehow. Different. I think it's time for me to move on...to heal." He shifted somewhat, adjusting his grip on her. Mara's head nestled against his shoulder and his kissed her hair gently. "I think you're the catalyst, Mara."
It was a compliment and she took it as such. "How so?"
He was silent for a moment, contemplative. "Ever since I first met you, we've had some kind of connection...not always the friendliest, but at least respectful. But the feeling I'd always felt was...like waves in the sea...crashing over me again and again, each time we met. Eventually, all I was able to do was surrender to it, let them drag me down."
Her voice was dusky and soft against his chest. "It was all part of my master plan..." She laughed lightly.
He kissed her hair again, saying, "I want to be able to re-evaluate who I am, Mara. Live my life as myself and not the son of Vader."
She sat up then, looking down to him, arm across his chest. "You can, Luke, and you will. Just release all of those fears you keep locked inside, the ones you think I don't see... and let everything out."
He reached up with his free hand and stroked her cheek. "I'm trying, love...I really am. I believe tonight is a milestone." He smiled to her sadly. "It's tough, you know? I've been living in the shadow of my Father...with his ghost for so long, it's going to be difficult to leave that behind."
Mara nodded in understanding and settled back onto the blanket. She was silent in the stillness of the night, and for a moment Luke was convinced she'd actually fallen asleep. But Mara was merely thinking.
"Mara?" Luke asked softly.
"Hmmm? Sorry. I was just remembering something."
"Feel like sharing?" he queried. "Or is it something you'd rather not discuss?"
"No...I don't mind. It has to do with you...with this, in a way." She snuggled firmly against him. "Back when I was at court, as the Hand, I had the opportunity to meet..."she sighed deeply, "oh, all sorts of people. And I remember one man vividly. He had power of every imaginable kind...wealth, influence, political...even hints of the Force. You'd think a man like that would fear nothing, but he did. Under his stoic facade lay a terror which gripped him for the last few years of his life."
Luke ran a soothing hand along her back, pulling her closer to him. "What was that?"
"His own death. He'd foreseen it somehow, he said. He was determined to change his fate...and maybe he could have. The future is always in motion, right my love?" Mara asked him, recalling a Jedi teaching. But it was a rhetorical question, and she continued. "He spent almost all of his time trying to discover the whereabouts of a the man who was destined, he said, to kill him. All his time, wealth, all his resources were used in the attempt to find this man. Even I was enlisted by order of the Emperor to search for him and stop the assassination attempt." She raised herself up again to lay on his chest, her eyes meeting his. "Do you know what eventually happened? What the result was from all his obsessive infatuation with something he had no power over to control or change?"
Luke murmured, "I think I can guess..."
She nodded grimly, "You're probably guessing correctly. He was killed anyway, in the end. And that man he went through such trouble to find was there, and was responsible for his death, just as he'd feared, although in a less direct way than he could have imagined."
Luke reached up to touch her face again. "Somehow I think that you're going to tell me that this has more to do with me than just hearing a parable, aren't you?" She silently nodded against his palm. "That story has a very familiar ring to it, Mara."
"It should , Luke. That man was Palpatine, and the object of his obsession was you. Once he'd learnt your name, he was determined to find you and kill you. Even Vader never knew his ultimate plan was to destroy you. They both reacted so differently when they'd first heard your name." She trailed off, eyes glazing over in a memory from so many years ago. She shook her head abruptly, clearing her mind from the cobwebs of the past. "My point, if you haven't figured it out already, is that you can't spend your whole life worrying and obsessing over something that may or may not happen. You have to be willing to take those chances that are offered to you, Luke. Palpatine's vision was skewed. He saw you kill him, not your Father. He focused so much on that vision...and it eventually got him killed. Don't make the same mistakes, Luke. You are not your Father. You are not Palpatine. Somehow you've got to let go of all that worry, of all those what ifs, and just live your life." She smiled down to him. "Do you think I'd even be here if I had spent one iota of time obsessing about what our life together would be like?"
Luke released a ragged breath. "No, I suppose not." He pulled her back down to rest against his shoulder again, wrapping both arms around her and murmuring gently into her hair, "You are a far better and wiser woman than I deserve, Mara. I can't tell you how much that has helped me." She didn't answer, merely listening to him. It was good to have him speak openly with her now. She smiled into the darkness, waiting for him to continue.
"All I can tell you is that...you're helping me more than you could possibly know. You are guiding me through. Whatever you are doing...I...it makes me feel like there is a storm inside of me, a chaos...and yet a peace as well. I know that sounds crazy...but, it's true. I think you're right. I need to stop trying to control the Force, and just surrender to it...give in. Trust it."
Mara spoke softly. "I know it sounds...too easy, Luke. But believe me when I say it won't be...and I know that firsthand. Sometimes I think you can't see the forest for the trees...no pun intended. But I'm here for you...for all of it. Whatever you need." She gave a short laugh. "You're always going to be my beautiful disaster..."
"I'll take that as a compliment...I think." Luke said to her, as he drew her to him for a gentle kiss. A whisper from him, "Thank you..."
The fire had long since died, leaving only the glistening black coals and fragile pale ash in its place. As dawn overtook the clearing, Mara was carefully folding the blanket and readying her pack for the trek back to the ship. Luke stood near the remains of the pyre, staring at the ground, somber yet with a newfound sense of peace. He knelt and sifted the ash through his fingers. The ghosts of his past had been burned out of his mind last night, and the soft grey ash was his tangible touchstone. He turned and joined Mara near the start of the trail, by the edge of the clearing. She threaded her arm around his waist, watching his face as he gave the meadow one last look. She didn't need to ask him, but she did all the same. "So...same time next year?"
He slowly shook his head, turning his back with a sense of finality to the clearing. "No, my love...not next year or the year after that. In fact..." he smiled wanly down to her, just starting to heal, "I don't believe we'll ever need to come back here again."
Together they moved back down the forest trails and toward their future. Taking Mara's hand and entwining their fingers, Luke remarked, "I knew you were going to be good for me the day I met you..."
The last sound the forests of Endor heard from either of them was their laughter rising up through the trees to meet the new dawn.