A/N: Well, here it finally is. I really only have myself to blame for the delay on this one - I had exactly what I wanted to do with it in mind for a long time, but was busy doing other things, getting distracted by other fandoms, and a healthy amount of laziness among other things. It's finally finished, though it took long enough. There are a couple of things I do want to point out before we get to the story.
First, do not hold your breath on a sequel. Besides the fact I am not really much in to Star Wars fics at the moment, I had always intended this to be a standalone - you can use your own imagination to determine what happens in the future. As far as Star Wars fics go, I still have my eternal, ongoing KotOR fic which still sits on the shelf (hope to have the next chapter out in a couple of weeks) and that Owen/Beru meet Mara fic in my head, but when I'll actually get to it is anyone's guess. Other than that, most of the other projects I'm working on are in other fandoms.
Second, for anyone who would like to complain that Mara is OOC in this chapter, yes she is! Please remember that the Mara you know from canon had five years of bitterness to color her character, which this Mara does not. Plus, I changed the character slightly in her attitudes toward relationships, physical and emotional, which I am relatively certain Zahn never intended, or at the very least, he never touched on to my knowledge.
Finally, this has been a great ride, and I'm glad I took the time to do it - I've learned a lot from it and had a blast along the way. On the other hand, as most other writers can attest to, there is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment and knowing it is finally DONE!
Thanks to everyone for their comments and support. Enjoy the epilogue.
Light streamed in through the windows set high in the west wall of the Jedi Temple, illuminating the entrance hall in soft pinks and yellows of the late afternoon Coruscant sun. The sparsely populated yet massive hall gleamed, showing off its polished surfaces in their newly restored glory. Across the length of the chamber, a group of New Republic dignitaries walked, peering up at the majestic arches and splendor of the temple, guided on their tour by one of the older apprentices. Such sights had been common of late, as all wanted to see what had been done to the ancient edifice and more importantly, how the government's tax credits were being used to restore the temple to its former magnificence, and the Jedi to their pre-Palpatine place in the galaxy.
At one end of the hall, Luke Skywalker sat contemplating the work which had been completed, basking in the feeling of contentment and peace his new home imparted. It had been a lot of work – it continued to be a lot of work – but for Luke, it was all worth it. He was fulfilling the promise he had made, both to his masters, but also to his father. The Jedi were rising again in the galaxy and Luke was determined the mistakes of the past would be overcome and put back in the past where they belonged.
As he gazed around, Luke thought back to the previous three and a half years, marveling at the progress which had been made to repair the damage the insane despot had wrought on the galaxy and the Jedi.
The Battle of Endor had been the catalyst and turning point in the war with the Empire. With the Emperor dead and the new Death Star gone, the Empire's vise grip on the galaxy had been loosened. Pressing the advantage, the Alliance, soon to become the New Republic, had launched an all out offensive against the still dangerous Empire, forcing them back on several fronts, ultimately capturing the capital planet of the galaxy in a daring (some would say foolhardy) but brilliantly planned and executed surprise attack some six months after the destruction of the Death Star. While the military operation had indeed been an unparalleled success, even more importantly it reinforced to the galaxy the seriousness of the Alliance's political and military power within the galaxy, prompting systems to defect from the oppressive remains of the Empire to join the newly formed Republic in droves.
From there, the remains of the Empire had become even more fractured, with infighting among the various factions becoming even more commonplace and bitter, prompting several split off groups from the main body of the Empire. Although each in its way proved most problematic – despotic warlords intent on reconstituting the 'glory of the Empire' and backed into a corner, were as dangerous as a starving wild beast, after all – yet in some ways, it had made the New Republic military's job all that much easier, as the smaller enemies could be concentrated on separately and destroyed piecemeal. A fractured and divided enemy was undoubtedly much easier to deal with than an enemy united by a common cause and purpose.
Of course, the post-Palpatine Empire was one which had been left leaderless and bereft of anything resembling a common purpose, other than a sudden pressing and dire struggle to survive as an entity. Then again, even under the Emperor, the only purpose Luke could see in the two decades of oppression was the need to dominate, solely for the purpose of aggrandizing its leader and placing himself above the rest of the galaxy. If there had been some other deep set purpose for Palpatine's government, it had been known only to the man himself – even Mara was unable to shed any light on the motivations of the evil man.
The offensive which had taken Coruscant, and subsequently the rest of the Core Worlds, had finally petered out after another year following the fall of the capital and since then, although the Republic had continued to gain ground against the faltering military of the Empire, the gains were much slower and more measured. Still, it was a remarkable turnaround from the hopeless years of guerilla fighting and rearguard actions which had characterized the last few years of the Alliance.
Glancing around the Jedi Temple once again, Luke was struck by the transformation the old edifice had undergone in the three years since they had taken Coruscant. It had been a chance remark from Mara which had alerted him to the existence of the building and its history, and once Luke had known of it, he had insisted on seeing it immediately, much to his wife's amusement.
Even to this day, Luke still felt a certain level of sardonic amusement at the petty and vindictive nature of the previous ruler of the galaxy. A little investigation and they had learned the temple had been put to use by the Emperor as a high-security prison for the worst of his political enemies. They had found an old holo recording of the Emperor making the announcement of the new use for the building, in which the Emperor had taken a certain childish delight in emphasizing the fact that in his view it was fitting that the 'home of murderers and traitors', should become the new site of incarceration for the worst of the new order's 'malcontents and those who would bring the legitimate galactic government down to the detriment of its people'.
Nearly three years later and after extensive remodeling, the temple had been restored to its former grandeur; its walls once again hummed with the raw power of the Force, which its inhabitants used to help guide the galaxy toward peace and prosperity. There were still some parts of the temple which were under continued construction, but it was now livable and usable as the Jedi headquarters. If only there were enough Jedi to fill its hallowed halls as there had been in the past.
Shrugging aside the thought, Luke tried to focus on what the Jedi had been able to achieve, rather than the things they were not yet able to do, due to the lack of numbers. They were slowly returning to their place of prominence and relevance in the galaxy, due to the efforts of those whom Luke and Mara had been able to identify and persuade to undergo the training of the Jedi. It had been a daunting task – it still was, in fact – but they had been able to achieve so much. And much of it was due to the woman who had been at his side since that fateful day on Tatooine.
As always, the thought of his fiery wife brought a smile to Luke's face, as he contemplated the effect she had had on his life. By himself, he knew he was capable, but together the two of them formed an almost unstoppable force – her pragmatism nicely balancing his idealism. Mara had been his companion, his wife and lover, and to a certain extent, his impetus to continue to work at restoring the Jedi and fulfilling the promise he had made to his masters.
To that very day, Mara's past was a closely guarded secret, known only to himself, as well as Han and Leia – further disclosure was pointless, they had decided, and would only lead to difficulties with a government which was constantly prowling for any and all scapegoats who could be blamed for the years of Imperial rule. To Luke's way of thinking, Mara had been conditioned and programmed to be the person she had been and through it all, she had managed to keep her innate goodness intact and finally break free from the Emperor's casual tyranny. Her penance, if such a term was to be used, was a life of service, rebuilding what had been lost. Luke could think of no greater mission in life.
Although Luke would have preferred to keep her past a secret from everyone but the two of them, Mara had insisted she would not begin a life with him, without disclosing who she really was to his nearest relation. Through Luke's misgivings, she had remained adamant and had made her confession to both Han and Leia, the day Luke had announced their engagement. It had taken Leia a while to come to terms with what she had been told, but after a long and protracted, not to mention tense, conversation, they had ended up crying on each other's shoulder, weeping for the circumstances which had led them to the lives they had lived, but also joyful in their shared love for Luke. The past buried behind them, they had become the closest of friends and confidants, to the extent that it had been Mara who had ultimately convinced Leia to overcome her distaste for her father's life and consent to enter into her Jedi training in earnest. Leia still kept her position on the Senate's inner council, but her focus had been increasingly on her Jedi studies. To say Luke was overjoyed with his sister's acceptance of her Jedi heritage was a gross understatement.
It had been also Mara who, contrary to the prevailing opinion at the time, had insisted the restoration of the Jedi order and the fulfillment of his promises took precedence over all other concerns. She had argued that there were many who could fill the roles of starfighter pilot, commander of Rogue Squadron, and the other duties he had been performing. However, as he was the only one who could rebuild the Jedi, it only made sense for him to withdraw from those other duties and concentrate on his true calling. At first Luke had resisted, but after a heart-to-heart talk with Mara, during which they discussed the situation at the time, political, military and social, she had eventually brought him around to her way of thinking.
It had been difficult – there had been many in the Alliance who saw his resignation of his commission a betrayal, yet he had stood firm, insisting that in the long run, the Republic would benefit more from a newly constituted Jedi order, than from the efforts of two lone Jedi. Politically, Luke had felt the effects of some of the different factions vying for power. Some, Mon Mothma chief among them, remembering the times before the Empire and the effect the Jedi could exert, supported them wholeheartedly, while others could not understand what they could not know, and opposed the funding Luke needed. And then there were the third group, far worse in Luke's opinion, who saw the Jedi as a tool to be controlled. Yet, between all the factions, Luke had been able to secure the funding and support he required and although many had objected, the newly constituted Senate majority had won out, and Luke had turned his attention to his new calling.
Between them, he and Mara had divided the task of building up the order into three general categories: recruiting others to join the Jedi ranks, finding a new home to house themselves and their new recruits, and the creation of a new training regimen. The final task had been the most difficult and was still in progress. Luke's training had been rushed and incomplete, whereas Mara had been trained only in those things her master had deemed essential for her role. Together, they had been able to put their experiences together and come up with a more complete picture. Then Mara had added her physical training – hand-to-hand combat and weapons among other disciplines – and their training and curriculum had begun to take shape. Also, knowing the Jedi's former role as ambassadors and mediators, they had brought in others to teach them these skills. It had taken some time, but now Luke finally felt he was better able to handle the demands of being a Jedi and to contribute to the effort of once again building the Republic up from the ashes of the Empire.
Luke sighed, looking around once again. The training program was still very much a work in progress and there were always more things to be done than time to do them, but all their hard work was starting to pay dividends. Although Luke and Mara still did most of the training between the two of them, others of their more advanced students had started to take on some of those responsibilities, particularly with the newest recruits, allowing them to focus on some of the other tasks which required their attention. Their continued focus on rebuilding the order had been a continuing sore spot in the government; Luke and Mara had decided from the beginning that although the presence of the 'last Jedi' always seemed to be required, whether it be for diplomatic missions or settling disputes, rebuilding took precedence. He had refused many requests for assistance, claiming his schedule would not allow it, and had instead concentrated on his Jedi duties. Now, however, as some of the other recruits had started taking over some of his training load, both he and his wife had been able to take a more active role on the galactic stage. And although it always seemed to be Luke whose assistance was required, they had begun sending out some of the more advanced students in his stead, to allow them to gain some much needed experience, to take some of the load off of their shoulders, but also to force the Senate to get used to the fact that it would not always be Luke who would answer their summons. There was no point in reconstituting the Jedi if Luke himself was to always be the one to accept missions.
Finally, the internal workings of the order had begun to take shape, once again allowing Luke to pass off some of his duties to others. The leadership was still handled by himself and Mara, but Luke looked forward to a time when there would be enough Jedi for him to formally recreate the Jedi council as it had been in the past. They both looked forward to that day with great anticipation.
The sound of footfalls alerted Luke to the presence of another in the entrance hall, and he looked up to see Mara approaching. Smiling widely, Luke gazed at the picture of his wife, taking in her brilliant hair and slim, athletic figure. She had changed so much from the angry, bitter young woman he had first met and had matured into the person she was today. She still carried herself with an air of confidence and almost Han-esque cockiness, but now it was tempered with a peace and contentment – the knowledge she was now accepted, respected and loved for the person she was. He was once again struck with just how lucky he was to have her – her assistance and support had been invaluable
Rising to his feet, he greeted her with a sweet kiss on the lips, before pulling her down to sit next to him on the bench. With a sigh of contentment, she leaned into Luke, putting her head on his shoulder, while reaching across and taking one of his hands in her own.
As they sat on the bench, Luke glanced down at his wife, seeing in her profile, the slight curvature of her lips as she sighed and smiled in contentment. Luke smiled down at her, thinking to himself that he was the only one to whom she would show this side of her personality. To the rest of the galaxy, except perhaps Han and Leia, she presented a calm, cool and business-like demeanor. Luke had more than once heard comments to the effect that it was remarkable he had not died from frostbite due to his marriage with the 'Ice Queen' of the Jedi. Not fazed at all by the comments, Luke was more than happy to be the recipient of her affection – the rest of the galaxy could go hang itself.
Another part of his wife's anatomy drew his attention – the small, only slightly rounded swell of her stomach, which was still only beginning to show after almost five months of pregnancy. When they had last gone to the medical center, Luke had expressed his concern that Mara was still not really showing, but the medidroid assured him it was not unusual for a woman to remain quite slender during the early to middle stages of her first pregnancy. She was certainly nothing like his sister.
The thought of Leia and her state of mind brought a chuckle, once which unfortunately did not go unnoticed by his perceptive wife.
"And what is so funny, Mr. Jedi?" she asked, even though she already had a hint of his thoughts. They had grown so close that their exchange of thoughts was almost automatic; the ability to talk through their bond was second nature and hiding things from each other had become problematic at best.
Luke shrugged. "I was just thinking of Leia. Here you are, barely showing, while Leia is as big as a bantha."
"She is more than three months further along than I am, and she is carrying twins."
"I realize that. But even when she was at your stage, she was still noticeably showing, whereas if I didn't already know you are pregnant, I would never have known. I have it on excellent authority she views you with a certain amount of envy."
"She has had a lot more trouble than I have – for that I can only thank the Force," she replied with a shrug.
At Luke's soft chuckle, she pulled her head off his shoulder, raised her eyebrow and glared at her husband, a challenge glinting in her eyes.
Apparently you find something else amusing, dear husband, she spoke directly in his mind. Do share.
Oh, nothing really, Luke responded in like fashion. It's just that I've had several acquaintances comment on how you have handled this pregnancy and how you seem to have avoided most of the traditional side effects.
It was only the truth – Mara had almost literally glowed with vitality and good humor ever since they had found out she was expecting. It was as though she had finally found herself and was now reveling in her impending motherhood. The fact that she had had no morning sickness, tiredness, or anything else to mar the experience, had certainly not harmed her demeanor.
"Most people seem to think that between you and Leia," he continued, speaking out loud again, "you would be the one to be difficult to live with rather than her. Han's almost ready to go back to his old life smuggling – Leia's been driving him crazy with the moodiness, accusations, and cravings for odd food combinations."
Mara's expression grew stony and she sniffed in disdain. "I'm well aware of the prevailing opinion of my personality, Luke, and it doesn't cause me the slightest concern. And Leia does have an excuse – those twins are taking a lot out of her." She was silent for several moments, tracing patterns in his hand, which she still held between both of hers. "I saw her the other day," she finally said with a laugh. "She looks about ready to burst."
Grinning in response, Luke pulled her back onto his shoulder and settled into the bench. "Yeah, she's tired of it and just wants to get it over with. I heard her tell Han he'd lose his fingers if he ever laid another hand on her."
Laughing openly, Mara nuzzled into Luke's chest. "Well, she was a lot less complimentary when she threatened another part of his anatomy when I was there."
"I guess we can't really compare your situations then," Luke responded cheekily. "We'll just have to wait until you have twins – then we can compare notes."
Mara jabbed him in the ribs painfully, a scowl firmly etched on her face. "Not on your life, Skywalker. One at a time, please."
Luke smiled at her playful tone, grateful they had not yet reached the point of her threatening him with bodily harm to prevent more children. Although they had never talked about their family in terms of number of children, he knew they both wanted more than just this one. Mara's solitary upbringing, devoid of any semblance of a childhood, coupled with his own separation from Leia while growing up, made them both aware of the fact that neither would willingly force this baby to be an only child.
"What happened at the council meeting?" she asked, abruptly changing the subject.
"Oh, the usual – budgets, rivalries, and the latest rumors of a new leader taking control of the Empire's military. I swear we've had everyone but the Dark Lord Revan himself returned, rumored to be taking over leadership of the remnants of the Empire."
"Didn't you know? That particular rumor made the rounds a couple of months ago."
It was Luke's turn to scowl at the cheeky response and poke Mara in the ribs, to which he received a most unsatisfying murmur of protest from his wife. Try as he might, Mara Jade Skywalker did not squeak, no matter how much he tried to make her.
They sat in this attitude for several moments, before Mara, whom Luke sensed was becoming uncomfortable on the hard bench, stood up and dragged Luke to his feet. "Well, this is nice, Luke, but sitting in the entrance hall on a hard bench, is not exactly my idea of comfort, when we could be sitting in our quarters."
"Your wish is my command, milady," Luke responded with exaggerated gallantry.
A slow, sultry smile spread over Mara's face, as she gazed at him happily. "Very nice, husband dear. Keep that up and you may just find a pleasant surprise waiting for you when we get back to our quarters."
In response, Luke cupped his wife's face in his hands and kissed her, a deep, loving kiss, to which she responded by deepening it and circling her arms around his waist, pulling him in tight.
When they parted, Mara gazed at him, tears of emotion shimmering in her eyes. "Have I ever thanked you for loving me? For everything you've done for me?"
"Have I ever thanked you?" Luke challenged in response.
Laughing, Mara took his hand in her own and started dragging him off to their quarters. "I guess we both have a lot to be thankful for."
"Indeed we do, Mara – indeed we do."
As they strode through the halls of their new home, Luke reflected yet again on the twists and turns of life, thankful for the circumstances which had brought them together, while equally thankful he had had the foresight to see her for more than she had appeared.