She awakened slowly, uncharacteristically so and drifted towards consciousness

A Sense of Loss' – Part I

by Aria

Rated – PG

Spoilers – "Vision of the Future' by Timothy Zahn

Please don't post elsewhere without my permission. Thanks!

e-mail: Aria@mindspring.com

Disclaimer: All of these characters belong to George Lucas (kneel, kiss his ring) and to Mr. Zahn. I'm only borrowing their playground and am not making a ducket from my attempt at spicing up their creation's romance a bit. Please don't sue or feel free to do so, but expect very little for your time.

Chapter One

She awakened slowly, uncharacteristically so, and drifted towards consciousness. But not before reaching to her side with her right arm and leg, a sleep induced memory prompting her and moving her limbs for her, a soft smile across her face. Still unopened eyes began to replace the smile with a frown as she reached farther and found nothing, or rather no one, at her side. Her eyes snapped open to reveal the span of her empty cot.

"Luke," she murmured to herself and rolled on to her back covering her face with her hands.

How many times had she done that during the two and half weeks since her departure from Yavin? How many times had she wanted to call out to him during the day when a thought struck her only to find herself alone in the cockpit of her borrowed ship? And how many times had she awakened to find herself searching her bed for him?

"Sithspawn!" Mara Jade whispered through clenched teeth, angry at herself for her lapse in memory, if not for her lapse in judgment.

She had spent a lifetime sleeping alone only to have the familiarity of awakening alone disintegrate after just a few days in his arms and give way to longing. She closed her eyes and let her thoughts drift back to those nights on the floor of the caves which perforated the surface of Nirauan's second planet. She recalled, in vivid detail, the feel of his skin against hers, his light caresses and whispered sweet nothings that only Luke could mutter without sounding insincere. She would have burst out laughing had it been any other man, but this was Luke, and she could feel the truth behind his words.

Her lashes fought to hold back the tears threatening to spill out from behind her closed eyes. A soft sigh escaped her lips as she remembered the searing kisses that closely preceded those moments filled with their lovemaking. Her back arched imperceptibly at the memory before she forced herself out of her reverie with a shake of her head, her fist slamming on the mattress next to her in frustration.

And yet it wasn't the tangible aspect of his presence that she missed the most but rather, the intangible ones. It was the way the space he occupied reverberated through the force. A slow and steady vibration that she felt whenever she was close to him. A unique and comforting frequency that only she could hear. It was, she recalled, what drew her to him and what beckoned her back to himnight after night. Her eyes squeezed tight against the memory of how she had clung to him desperately as she neared climax, caressing his muscled back and arms and ultimately, pressing her fingers against his buttocks as her muscles tightened around him, her voice calling out his name repeatedly. She had become addicted to his identity print on the force while she lay in his arms awaiting sleep. It embraced her and comforted her after their passion melted away and as their bodies cooled, it swayed her sweetly towards sleep like a soft breeze carries a leaf slowly to the ground.

It was the right thing to do, she told herself, once again covering her face with both hands. She had to leave him and get on with her life. A broken promise of marriage was far better than a marriage that wouldn't work. Couldn't work. Perhaps in time they could rebuild their friendship once again. Perhaps in time the memories they had made in the darkness of those caves would bring them both laughter at their foolish attempt to build a romance out of what could have only been described as duress coupled with close proximity.

If so, then why couldn't she get the image of his face out of her head? Why couldn't she forget the look in his eyes as she stepped out of his embrace and onto her waiting ship? He hadn't fought her decision to leave. Hadn't even tried to coax her with pleading words. He had simply let her slip out of his arms and turn to walk away.

*****

Luke Skywalker stood with his arms resting on the railing of his bedroom balcony at Yavin IV. Off in the distant darkness he could barely make out the stream of light streaking across the sky as Mara Jade made her way out of the planet's atmosphere in the ship she had borrowed. Once he could no longer discern the gleam of the ship's exhaust he let his head drop until his chin rested against his chest. Inhaling deeply he fought to retain the calm that now slipped further and further from him. He couldn't concentrate, couldn't muster the strength to tear himself away from the railing either and he knew that sleep would not be possible that night.

"Alone again," he said aloud, trying to shake off the hold he felt tightening around his chest. "Perhaps as it's meant to be."

He thought back to Gaeriel and Callista hoping to find the clues he needed to make sense out of his failed relationships. Once, he had attributed those failures to circumstances over which he had little control. Gaeriel had held a belief against force users which would have made their relationship difficult if not impossible. And anyway, he had been so young then, so very young.

Then there was Callista who had risked and lost her life aboard The Eye of Palpatine thirty years prior in an effort to stop the Empire's tyranny. At last he had felt he'd found the love of his life. She was a Jedi with a link to the past and the ability to understand him, even if she was no longer able to feel anything through force. He had comprehended her desire to leave, even while he fought to quiet his feelings of abandonment. He tried to be supportive during her absence but eventually realized that he needed Callista, force adept or not. His search for her consumed him for a time. It became, quite simply, his sole reason for living. He just didn't feel alive without her.

The passage of time and the continuing needs of a galaxy still in turmoil, had forced him to abandon his search. The galaxy would not wait for him to resolve the matters in his personal life. Weeks and months turned into years and so, slowly, he began to accept the knowledge that Callista would not be coming back to him.

At last and with a great deal of effort, he released his grip on the railing and walked back to sit on the edge of his bed. He removed his boots and holster and let his body fall backwards and onto his mattress. His eyes burned with exhaustion and he rubbed them with his hands, trying to ease their discomfort.

Artoo rolled to stand by the side of the bed and issued a series of mournful bleeps. Luke turned his head to catch a glimpse of the domed head and single eye spying on him worriedly.

"Yes, Artoo," he said softly, "I miss her too."

Sighing he allowed himself the comfort of remembering the feel of her lying in his arms. He had stammered his affection outloud like the farmboy he had been long ago and often times, still considered himself to be. The farmboy that the galaxy dismissed in preference of the war hero and solemn Jedi they adulated and revered. A galaxy that remained forever unaware of the true nature of the man.

He had half expected to hear her laugh at his nervousness and clumsily delivered admission but instead, she had tightened her arms around him and lifted her head to meet his gaze. The expression in her green eyes matched his own and he was flooded with feelings of love and surprise, each battling to overwhelm him. Then he had kissed her and moved to bring her beneath him as he leant over her and deepened the kiss. It was nothing shy of a revelation, an epiphany meant to forever erase the times he had loved and lost and a reward for the man who had always put the needs of the galaxy before his own.

Their lovemaking had been slow and tentative at first, each of them savouring the feel of the other's body and force presence. Their feelings joined together and intertwined creating the sensation of heightened awareness as their bodies became one. And even though he feared his words might come across as empty promises to someone as cynical as Mara, he couldn't help himself from opening his heart and soul to her, whispering his devotion to her between laboured breaths as their passion overtook them.

He had touched her, he knew. In those moments of intimacy, he had felt her guard slacken and then drop altogether to join him in his disclosures. Through the force she had allowed him access into the deep recesses of her mind and he had listened to her secrets and indiscretions and embraced them unconditionally. He loved her and felt that in time, she would admit to loving him with the same depth and devotion.

"Luke, I'm not sure that I know how" she whispered to him as he rained soft kisses across her forehead. An edge to her voice belied the discomfort she was feeling as the passion drained from her body and was replaced by her old insecurities and prejudices against displaying this amount of emotion.

"Mara," he countered softly, stopping her, "just let me love you. Let me prove to you that your thoughts and feelings are safe with me. That you are safe with me."

She had simply nodded her head against his chest and allowed him to envelop her in the force and in the warmth of his love for her.

Throughout the rest of their journey underground, they had sought each other out repeatedly and their lovemaking had become a study in abandonment as their comfort with each other increased. Foolishly, he had interpreted her receptiveness to his overtures and sometimes, her initiation of lovemaking, as evidence of her growing feelings for him. Certainly, he had not misread the emotions she emitted during those brief moments that she lowered her guard and allowed him a peek into her psyche. Or had he?

By mission's end he had blurted out a proposal of marriage and was delighted beyond belief when she had accepted without as much as an attempt at teasing him. He had thanked the stars silently while holding her in his embrace, grateful for having taken a chance at love one more time.

When exactly had her feelings changed? he asked himself as he reached behind him to pull a pillow behind his head. He had not sensed a difference in her feelings during their journey back to Yavin IV. They had both fallen back into the relentless pattern of bantering and teasing that was so typical of their relationship and so, the exact moment of her change of heart had come and gone unnoticed. He cursed his ability to sense minute changes in the force when it dealt with the galaxy at large, while what took place so close to his heart remained undetected.

However, by their second day back at the academy, he had begun to sense her discomfort and fitfulness. They had agreed to keep news of their engagement a secret until they found the time to break the news to his sister and brother-in-law first. He wouldn't realize until much later just how grateful he would be for that decision. He did not want his grief to be compounded by the pitiful stares of his students and counterparts.

He had sensed that it was only a matter of time before Mara would propose a reason for her departure and so, was saved the element of surprise when on their fourth day back she entered his quarters and explained that business with Karrde required her immediate attention. He had promised himself that he would not fight her decision. There would be no use in doing so. This was Mara and going against the grain of her argument would not gain him any ground. Besides, he told himself, all Jedi placed a great deal of stock on a person's free will. If he had not been able to bind her heart with the strength of his love then arguing over the matter would not do so either.

However, his heart felt constrained under the weight of her rejection and his body threatened to resist all reason and give in to the desire to sob uncontrollably. He pulled his pillow from beneath his head, covered his face with it and allowed himself a few moments to grieve audibly, his body convulsing forward as the strength of his torment overtook him.

To be continuted...

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