Luke Skywalker eased further into the seat and let his shoulders roll back a bit, relishing the feel of his X-wing's cockpit

A Sense of Loss' – Conclusion

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.

A Sense of Loss - Conclusion

Luke Skywalker eased further into the seat and let his shoulders roll back a bit, relishing the feel of his X-wing's cockpit. Much to Artoo's chagrin, he had insisted on setting the course to Coruscant himself, and resisted the little droid's many requests to engage the autopilot and offer his master a rest from the controls.

There is no feeling like this in the whole of the universe, he thought to himself, letting his mind drift back to the countless number of hours he had spent flying in the company of Wedge, Wes, and the other Rogue Squadron pilots during the early years of the war. The end of the war had brought about times of peace, punctuated by numerous threats to the Republic that still required his participation, but his participation these days was in the role of a Jedi Knight, and more often than not, took place in the political arena. His days as a member of the Rebellion's rank and file were over now, and he missed them deeply, along with the camaraderie of those seemingly simple days.

Luke had received Leia's message via Corran Horn with a mixture of pleasure and light heartedness that surprised him, given the circumstances. He had spent the last few weeks in a fog, forcing himself to continue his daily routine, but knowing full well that his heart was not in it. The fact that Leia had sensed this was not at all surprising. In all actuality, the only thing surprising was that it had taken his sister this long to tug on his ear, and pull him back to Coruscant, where she would undoubtedly spend an inordinate amount of time trying to pry his latest set of concerns out of him, using any means at her disposal.

Following closely on the heels of her interrogation would be Han's plea for Luke to reconsider. "Before she kills us both, kid," he would say, "and tears Coruscant down around our ears!"

Luke smiled at the memory of his sister's five-foot frame standing squarely in front of him during all those times when she considered his behavior unreasonable. When angered, Leia's determination knew no boundaries, and although there weren't many people in the universe that Luke feared upsetting, his sister was definitely one of them. Nothing Yoda had ever taught him had prepared him for dealing with Leia when she was upset, and he wondered whether anything ever would.

"The Empire is afraid of Luke Skywalker," Wedge had often chided him, "And Luke Skywalker is afraid of his sister!"

"If she were you're sister, you'd be afraid of her too," Luke would reply.

"Hate to tell you, Luke, she's not my sister, and I'm still afraid of her!" Wedge would answer, laughing at the both of them.

She's a force to be reckoned with, Luke mused still smiling, the humor of his dilemma relieving some of the stress of the past few weeks.

A moment later, a not so pleasant thought crept into his mind, and darkened his mood considerably. Even if he could share the developments of his relationship with Mara, he knew that to do so would be to incur his sister's wrath.

Over the years, Mara Jade had gained considerable esteem in the eyes of the New Republic, and had become a trusted ally in their efforts to keep the last remnants of the Empire at bay. But Luke knew that Leia had not forgotten Mara's assertion that he would die at her hands, and would not receive news of a potential relationship between them with open arms. Especially when she learned of Mara's unceremonious rejection, and subsequent departure from Yavin IV.

The memory of her slipping out of his arms, and into the waiting ship threatened to throw him headlong into another agonizing evaluation of all that had transpired between them. Instead, he decided to set his mind on the course ahead of him, and on the simple pleasure of navigating his X-wing through the inky darkness of space.

*******

Han Solo had always marveled at how well his wife kept control of the reigns he and his brother-in-law were tethered to. Regardless of each of their accomplishments, neither he nor Luke could ever successfully stand up to Leia's overprotectiveness, and he knew that today would be no different. She had spent the morning clearing up last minute details, and tying up loose ends so that she could devote the rest of the day to her brother.

The kid doesn't know what he's getting himself into! Han thought to himself as he watched Leia pacing around her desk, data pad in one hand while the other shuffled through files of datacards. If he did, he doubted Luke would have agreed to pay them a visit so readily. Especially without a hint of information as to why his sister needed him.

Han shook his head, and pondered the relationship between his wife and her brother. There had never been any unkind words between them, nor signs of any significant discord in their relationship in all of the years he had known them. Even at times when Leia had been deeply angry with Luke, she had never managed to remain so. For his part, Luke always appeared to accept Leia's well-intentioned prying with a minimal amount of complaint, and with a great deal of patience. Still, there were times when Han felt honor bound to stick up for Luke, and remind his wife that her brother was a grown man, and deserving of his privacy. All to no avail. Leia adored Luke and she knew that her brother was distressed about something, so she was not about to let the matter rest until she found out what it was, and had figured out a way to help him through it.

Had she asked him what he thought the problem could be, he would have been forced to lie, and was therefore, grateful that Leia had assumed he knew nothing more than she did. In reality, Han was pretty certain he understood what was troubling Luke. By simple process of elimination, he was able to ascertain that Luke's worries had something to do with his lovelife.

What else would have the ability to keep Luke from sleeping? He asked himself, as he watched Leia continue to rummage through her desk. Luke's mastery of the Force made him capable of handling most, if not all, types of critical situations. If the matter had been of any political importance, Luke would have enlisted the help of his sister prior to this visit. If the matter had concerned one of his students, Luke would have informed Leia of that fact as well. That only left one possibility, and had his gambling days not already ended, Han would have bet the Falcon that this particular problem had a lot to do with Mara Jade.

Han brought his hand to the bridge of his nose, covering the smirk that tugged at the left corner of his lips. He didn't need the power of the Force to see that Luke and Mara had been circling each other for years and these days, the circles appeared to be getting smaller. Still, he doubted Luke could penetrate Mara's armor and survive the task but he also knew that if anyone could break through her cold exterior, it would have to be Luke. And, he realized Luke had always had a soft spot for lost causes.

He added that to the rumors that he and Mara had spent a lot of time in each other's company after their return to Yavin IV, and the situation was clear. Except to Leia, who would never have been able to conceive of her gentle brother's interest in Mara, for while she trusted the Master Trader with the gathering of information on behalf of the Republic, he was sure she would never trust her with her brother's heart.

As far as Luke was concerned, Han had long ago given up hope of making sense out of his brother-in-law's idiosyncrasies. Luke's thought process had never made any sense to Han, so he simply explained most of it away by reminding himself that Luke was a Jedi and prone to leaps of faith and non-linear thinking. Of course, the fact that Luke always managed to land feet first only served to encourage his lunacy, and only a lunatic would attempt taking Mara Jade on as a love interest.

Han Solo's thoughts were interrupted by the muted, happy shouting of his three children just on the other side of the anteroom's door, indicating their Uncle's arrival. A moment later, the doors hissed open, and Luke appeared carrying Anakin who clung desperately to his neck, and with each of his arms around one of the twins. His flight suit was pulled down to his waist, the sleeves tied in a knot at the front, exposing the black, long sleeved undershirt he wore beneath. Han hadn't seen his brother-in-law for a while, but Luke's appearance was notable for not changing much throughout the years. A boyishness still graced his features but his eyes looked tired and dim.

"Hey, kid!" Han bellowed over his children's screams and laughter as he reached to give Luke a hug. "Its good to see you again!"

Luke kissed his niece and nephew, and managed to pry Anakin from his neck, before greeting his brother-in-law. Once within earshot, Han whispered "This is your last chance to get out of here, kid!"

Luke chuckled and clapped Han's back, then moved to where Leia stood, still attached to her com unit's earpiece and engrossed in conversation.

"Hi, Leia." He whispered into her ear as he wrapped his arms around his sister, and picked her up a couple of inches off the ground before gently setting her back on her feet, and kissing her forehead. Leia tugged on his shirt and brought him down to plant a kiss on his cheek then rolled her eyes with a look of exasperation, and continued her conversation.

"Well, kid," Han shouted over his shoulder as he ushered the kids towards the door, "Have a pleasant chat! We'll be seeing you later for dinner, right?"

Luke took note of Han's quick exit then nodded knowingly and took a seat on the sofa directly in front of Leia's desk while waiting for her conversation to end and the onslaught of questions to begin.

*******

"Luke, do it as a personal favor to me!" Leia insisted before taking another bite of her lunch, well aware of her brother's distaste for social functions and his ability to come up with a thousand excuses not to attend. "You need only stay through the cocktail hour if you wish but at least make an appearance!"

Luke wrinkled his nose and regarded his sister for a moment before realizing that Leia had once again out maneuvered him. She had very astutely refrained from asking him any questions regarding his state of mind, instead, choosing to keep him in good humor so that she could ensure his acceptance of her request to attend the event in question.

In the game of strategy, Luke knew he was outmatched by his twin.

He smiled broadly and fixed his gaze on her face, which remained locked on her plate and perfectly serene. After a few seconds, she could no longer avert his stare and risked a peek at her brother's face. The smile she had been trying so hard to keep in check escaped and they both erupted in laughter.

"You think you have me wrapped around your little finger, don't you? He asked, waving his fork at her, his blue eyes twinkling.

"I don't think it, little brother" she responded setting her chin on her hand, "I do."

"Besides," she continued, turning serious once again. "You'll get a chance to visit with Wedge and Iella! I know they've both been looking forward to seeing you again."

"Oh!" she added, as if struck by the afterthought, "And Mara Jade is expected to attend as well."

"Mara!?" Luke shouted, dropping his fork on his plate with a loud clatter.

Leia jumped in spite of herself at Luke's reaction and speared him with a worried look. Then, before she could formulate a response, she caught a flash of Luke's emotions through the Force and quickly realized that the question and answer session she had planned following their lunch would no longer be necessary. A deep frown creased her forehead. She was now painfully aware of what her brother had been trying so hard to keep from her these past few weeks.

*******

Mara Jade began her landing cycle and eased her ship through Coruscant's atmosphere, awaiting her clearance and platform assignment when she suddenly felt it. A wave of sensation that swept over and through her body, its identity unmistakable.

Luke?! She thought to herself, taking in a sharp breath and releasing it slowly.

A thousand scenarios rushed through her mind all at once. It was not like Luke to grace Coruscant with his presence unless a crisis had required him to be here. And, if she knew Luke like she thought she did, he should still be nursing his wounds in isolation on Yavin IV, away from the prying eyes and well intentions of his family and friends.

Perhaps there are no wounds to nurse! She thought, as she flung her head back and onto the headrest.

Luke Skywalker had scoured the galaxy for years in search of his lost love, Callista. Yet, he had allowed Mara to simply board a ship and fly away from him, with only a half-baked story as an excuse and making no attempts at stopping her.

"While I've been..." she whispered, her anger rising to color her cheeks as thoughts of her troubled sleep flooded her memory.

She allowed the anger to surge through her and take hold, and for the first time in months, felt better for it. It assuaged the uncomfortable feelings of longing and desire that had predominated the last few months and bathed her anew with the strength she recognized and knew how to use.

*******

Leia Organa Solo sat silently in her suite's living quarters, hands resting on her lap, while her brother paced the room, trying to find the words that would give the right amount of weight to the emotions he was feeling. Not that he needed to speak at all, for he knew that his sister was now privy to all of his inner most thoughts.

"I love her, Leia" he finally stated, his eyes cast downward, not looking at his sister. "I know it's not what you want to hear, but its true."

Leia bit back her response and stood to face him, gathering his hands in her own. It pained her to the core to see her brother like this, and she tried to refrain from pointing out to him that while Mara Jade may have been freed from the command that once urged her to kill him, she had not made the strides that would enable her to now love him. Instead, she led Luke to a seat on the sofa next to her and allowed him to bear his heart.

In the end, it was all she could do. Luke's assurances that he had touched Mara's heart and had sensed her affection for him, precluded her from questioning Mara's motives or intentions. Even more shocking, was the revelation that he had proposed marriage and that she had accepted. Whatever the reasons for her temporary lapse, Mara had apparently thought better of it and left Yavin, leaving Luke to spend the past few months in a sleepless haze.

And so, Leia listened sympathetically and offered her brother her unwavering support with the hopes that it would be enough to bring him some comfort and solace, if not the solution he so desperately wanted.

*******

Same party, different night, huh, kid?" Han asked his brother-in-law as he flung his arm around Luke's shoulder and surveyed the room beneath them. Then he took a step back and admired Luke's attire. Leia had insisted Luke wear the dark blue pants and jacket in an effort to diversify his signature all-black wardrobe.

"You're looking rather spiffy tonight!" Han teased; knowing Luke would have preferred being back in a rancor pit than at a gathering of politicians.

Luke glanced down at himself and gave Han a grin. "Leia's idea, not mine!" he answered, knowing full well that Han could see through the charade. His brother-in-law was not force adept, but was possessed of a keen sense and a knowing eye that saw right through people. Himself included.

"Well, we better make our way down there," he sighed, "Before she sends a squad up to get us!"

Leia was already poised at the entrance of the great hall, standing beside Mon Mothma and other Republic dignitaries and greeting guests as they were announced and made their way onto the main room. She wore a formal version of her senatorial gown, which was fashioned from a pearlized fabric that shimmered in the light and left her slender arms and neckline exposed. Her hair had been swept up in a complicated arrangement of braids that set off sparkling drop earrings.

Once down stairs, Luke caught his sister's eye and winked at her from across the room, but kept his distance from the receiving line, not wishing to be pulled into conversations with various and sundry politicians.

Leia glanced at her brother and smiled in return, sensing his discomfort. It had taken all of her energy not to question his sanity, not to mention, his judgment, in his decision to court Mara Jade. She trusted Mara and believed in her claim that her days of service to the Emperor were over. However, she considered that the damage to Mara's personality had become part of her innate character and that the viscous callousness she was known for would spell disaster for someone as emotionally vulnerable as Luke.

If only he didn't always feel everything so strongly! She though. Then again, perhaps it wasn't that he felt so strongly but that the aggregate weight of all of his losses had been too great. And, that he had been unable to share the weight of those losses with anyone.

"Ms. Mara Jade, Master Trader!"

Leia's head snapped in the direction of the entrance as the name was announced in time to see Mara make her way down the long flight of stairs. She wore a sweeping gown of silver-sage fabric, festooned at her waist with a jewel encrusted broach, leaving her back bare. Her skirt was fashioned from flowing pieces of the same material, which swept aside and revealed her legs as she walked.

Leia forced herself not to search the room for Luke and instead, kept her gaze on Mara and waited for her to make her way down the line.

"Welcome, Mara" Leia greeted, extending her hand and taking Mara's firmly.

"Madam Chief of State" Mara responded, her smile revealing nothing of the circumstances regarding her brother. She then proceeded inside and disappeared amongst the heavy crowd of guests.

*******

So avoidance is the strategy of the day? Mara thought to herself as she noted Luke's wide berth while she made her way throughout the room, engaging in the banal exchanges politicians considered polite conversation. Still, whenever within earshot, the sound of his voice made her breath catch in her throat and his presence in the force resonated in her mind, causing her to lose her focus on the conversation at hand.

In an attempt to clear her thoughts, Mara exited the Great Room and proceeded to walk out onto the open balcony, which surrounded the building. Coruscant would never be considered a beautiful planet; its total absence of vegetation gave it a cold and stark appearance. However, in the evening, the lights from its grandiose structures and skyhooks gave it a magical feel against the dark background of night.

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Leia Organa Solo asked, walking slowly to stand next to her and gaze out over the railing.

"To some, I suppose," replied Mara, not bothering to turn around. She knew very well that Leia had not joined her to simply admire the view, and momentarily wondered how Leia intended to broach the subject of her twin brother. Undoubtedly, Luke had already confided in his sister. Even if he hadn't, Mara knew the bond they shared was too strong for the issue to have remained hidden from his sister for very long.

"It's better shared with someone, I think," Leia stated flatly, without a hint of amusement in her voice.

"Given you all the intimate details, has he?" Mara countered, deciding to go on the offensive, "Your brother is a grown man, Leia, and whatever has transpired between us is personal."

"My brother's concerns are my own, Mara," Leia responded, not missing a beat, "You of all people should know that"

"Then again," she added, not giving her a chance to answer, "Not ever having cared for anyone in your life, perhaps you don't!"

"What exactly bothers you the most, Leia?" Mara retorted, foregoing the pretence of civility, "The fact that Luke fell in love with me, or the fact that he didn't ask for your permission first?"

"The fact that you led him to believe that you could care for him when you and I know perfectly well that love is not something you're capable of!" Leia answered, squaring her body to come face to face with the Master Trader.

"Madam Chief of State, I suggest you restrict yourself to discussing matters of which you have some personal knowledge and allow your brother to live his own life." Mara seethed through clenched teeth, "and sleep with whom he wishes!"

Mara's blatant reference to the intimate nature of her dealings with Luke did not go unnoticed by Leia, and she fought to hide the blush she felt rise in her cheeks at the transgression.

"One of these days, Mara Jade," Leia stated icily, carefully measuring each word, "You will have the opportunity to look back on your pathetic and solitary life and you will remember that Luke Skywalker once offered you his love."

"And," she added, her voice tinged with pity, "that you threw it away with both hands." Then, she turned on her heels and made her way back inside.

Shaken, Mara Jade was left alone to contemplate Leia's last words, then slowly turned her attention back to the Coruscant skyline once again.

*******

Throughout the evening, Luke had maintained a sense of Mara's location, while appearing to be engrossed in conversation with various guests. However, her presence was suffocatingly palpable, regardless of her physical distance. Like the pull of a strong magnet, Luke felt himself drawn to Mara and had to concentrate to keep from crossing her path. But now that the reception was shifting into the ballroom, his focus began to fail him and he could hardly keep his heart from pounding erratically in his chest.

Luke walked to his assigned table, which overlooked the ballroom's floor and took a seat next to his sister. Leia smiled reassuringly and gave his hand a gentle squeeze.

"Thanks, sister," he whispered into her ear, grateful for Leia's support in spite of the fact that she was not pleased with the situation. Leia's unwavering affection had gotten him through a lot of the toughest times in his life, and he counted on it to do so once again.

As the dancing began, Mara Jade wasted no time in finding a partner and an opportunity to showcase her skills. Her fluidity on the dance floor made light of her many partners' lack of expertise and she was hardly allowed to sit for the better part of the night.

Leia's anxiety for her brother's feelings increased as she looked on. Luke was betraying no emotion, but she knew that it was only his strength in the force, which kept him at peace. Mara's motives were clear and they did nothing to dispel Leia's already low opinion of her sensibilities. A moment later, Luke's calm demeanor gave way and he stood from his seat and headed towards Mara and her partner.

His sister held her breath as Luke approached the dancing couple, asked to cut in, then possessively wrapped his arm around Mara's waist and brought her in close to him. Han and Leia exchanged worried looks, both releasing the breath they had held. Then, as if reading her mind, Han reached for his wife's hand and led her onto the dance floor.

Though their eyes had not met, Mara could sense Luke's anxiety as he led her slowly, restricting them to a small section of the dance floor. His breath on her cheek caused a shiver to run down her spine and she cursed herself for not being able to conceal the effect. Feeling encouraged, Luke's hand moved tighter around the curve of her back, slightly caressing the bare skin with his fingertips. He brought the hand he held towards his chest, held it in place then kissed the top of her ear and smiled as another shiver made its way through her.

"Skywalker," she whispered through clenched teeth, "I didn't come here to be hit on by you."

"So I noticed," he replied as he pressed her even closer to him, leaving no doubt in any of the guests' mind as to the nature of their relationship. "Why did you come, Mara?"

"Business, Skywalker. Why else?"

"Is that what you call dancing with every male in the room?" he answered jovially, trying to keep the mood light and the direction of the conversation from turning sour.

"If that's what the job requires, yes." she threw back, enjoying the familiarity of the banter she excelled in and the jealousy she suspected he was feeling.

"Tell me then, Mara," he whispered, his voice revealing the heartache he felt, "What type of business were you conducting with me?"

Mara jerked her head away from his and skewered him with an angry glare, her body tensing against his. The flame in her eyes grew in intensity and Luke knew that she was seconds away from losing her temper. Holding her hand so that she could not pull free, he led her smoothly to the end of the ballroom and up the stairs that opened to the entrance foyers. Once free of the crowd, he pulled her into one of the circular conference rooms that made up half of the top floor and closed the door.

His decision to force a confrontation surprised Mara. Then again, the passionate man she had come to know during the last few months bared little resemblance to the reserved Jedi Knight she thought she knew so well.

"Tantrums aren't your style, Skywalker!" She spat, suddenly nervous at their close proximity and the enclosed space surrounding them.

"Neither is giving my heart away to a woman who doesn't appreciate the gesture!" He shot back, his cheeks reddening, their blush meeting at the bridge of his nose as his jaw clenched in anger.

"Actually, that would be your style, Skywalker. Lest you forget Callista?" She threw back defensively.

Luke's eyes turned into slits and his jaw slackened in shock at her response. He felt himself grow hot as anger mixed with pain and riveted him to the floor, unable to utter a sound. All at once Mara felt the impact of her statement and for a single moment, regretted speaking the words that had caused him such pain. Her mouth moved to speak but was stopped short by his words.

"I will remember not to make the same mistake again, Mara." He stated, regaining some of his composure, "Be rest assured!"

His assertion that their time spent together had indeed been a mistake served to stoke the fires that had temporarily dimmed within her. "You didn't think it a mistake when you were professing your love, farmboy!" She shouted, "But since you've now realized it, perhaps you'll see your way clear to letting me rejoin the party!"

Luke moved to block her way, crossing his arms in front of his chest and stopping her in her tracks. As they came face to face, he could sense her mixed emotions. Searching her eyes he heard her take in a breath and hold it in trepidation.

"Feeling something, Mara?" he challenged, not moving his face away from hers.

"Get out of my head, Skywalker!" She screamed, holding her ground and mentally reinforcing the walls that kept him out.

Calmly, he reached out and placed his hands on her shoulders. "I never wanted to be in your head, Mara," He said softly, "I was trying to find a place in your heart."

"By way of my pants?" She countered, cocking her eyebrow up and holding his stare, "That method has been tried by others before, Skywalker! It doesn't work!"

"Worked well enough to keep you from sleeping peacefully lately, Mara!" he responded, letting his anger get the best of him again and bringing his face closer to hers. "Don't think I haven't heard you!"

Mara struggled to loosen his grip, but he held her in place and leaned in to her once again, "And no matter how much time goes by," he whispered hotly, "it will still be my name you call out in the middle of the night!"

Exposed, but refusing to cower, Mara turned her face up to meet his eyes, "You frighten me, Skywalker" she responded in a voice meant to transmit disgust rather than fear, her body shaking with anger. "Now get out of my way!"

"You cut your teeth at the feet of men like Palpatine and Vader, and now you're afraid of me?!" He shouted, releasing her and taking a few steps back, feeling repulsed.

"I didn't love...," she shouted back, turning away from him and clenching her fists before stammering to a stop. Her anger flowed freely now. Anger at herself for revealing too much. Anger at him for creating in her a wash of emotion that she was unable to keep in check and now caused her to tremble like a frightened child. She felt trapped by his ability to see through her and knew that a thousand denials could not conceal what lay behind the walls she had built over the years.

The pain of the vulnerability she was experiencing was too much for her to bear. The truth of his words mixed with those Leia had uttered earlier and seared through her as she recalled the many nights she had awakened searching for him in her bed. In those moments suspended between sleep and consciousness, she would have given anything to feel him next to her, to feel his arms around her and to hear the sound of his voice. The last time she had slumbered peacefully had been in the comfort and warmth of his embrace.

The strength she had mustered to keep her barriers intact dissolved under the weight of his words echoing in her ears. Years of practiced deceit and of solidifying her armour fell away and left her naked before him, revealing every facet of her being. As tears streamed down her face she gave in to an uncontrollable sobbing, but remained turned away from him, unable to meet his gaze.

Moving slowly, Luke walked behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders, turning her around and drawing her into his arms. He didn't speak a word; afraid that to do so would be to launch her into another verbal defense. Instead, he reached out through the force and caressed her mind, softly calming her, the way he had done every night they'd spent together in those darkened caves.

When she finally opened her eyes, Luke had drawn her out onto a private balcony. She hadn't remembered walking outside, nor taking the lift that had brought them this far up. She felt drained and weak from the release of emotion but the soft breeze soothed her and felt cool against her wet lashes. She felt Luke cup her cheek in his hand and bring her lips up to meet his in a kiss. Her body melted against his, the taste of him intoxicatingly powerful.

"I love you with all of my heart, Mara." He whispered, breaking away but not separating himself from her. His breath felt warm against her face and she inched closer, seeking the warmth again. She opened her mouth to speak, but found that she could not do so. Her hands continued to tremble in his and her heart felt as it would break free of its constraints and jump into her mouth.

"Shhh," he whispered, bringing his index finger to his lips as he reached out tentatively with the force and felt for her presence. For the first time in her life, she relaxed into him, allowing him entrance to her thoughts and feelings and receiving his freely. Luke brought his forehead to rest on hers and smiled, never before aware of the strength of her emotions and of the love she had tried to conceal from him. Tears formed in his eyes and pushed past his lashes.

*Better than anything you could have said aloud. * She heard him say.

Mara returned the smile and wrapped her arms around his neck, losing herself in his delicate blue eyes. She cast adrift the last of her pent up emotions and delighted in the feel of having them met and returned with a greater intensity. The vulnerability she had felt and was so frightened of was now replaced by a feeling of love and absolute joy. Sensing her thoughts, Luke gathered her in his arms and swayed her slightly back and forth to the sound of the music emanating from the ballroom below. Mara giggled in his ear and he was mesmerized by the sound he had never heard before.

*******

"Are they both still alive?" Han asked his wife as he led her from the dance floor back to their table, "Or should I send Chewie to look for bodies?"

Leia looked up at her husband and squeezed his hand, releasing the apprehension she had felt all evening long. She could feel her brother's bliss and the warmth that enveloped him and it served to temporarily eclipse her doubts in favor of enjoying her twin's newfound happiness.

"They're fine," she told him, her face brightening with a smile, "they're both fine!"

"Well, your worship!" Han boasted with a lopsided grin, "I told you Luke could take care of himself!"

*******

Luke Skywalker lay on his side, his head resting on his hand, and watched as Mara slept peacefully beside him. Her mass of red hair spilled out over her pillow and her face still glistened from the sweat of their lovemaking. It took all of his restraint not to awaken her with a kiss and with overtures to make love again, so he settled for gazing at her face as she slept.

With the enthusiasm of two children, they had exchanged confessions for hours in between kisses, inducing fits of laughter that reduced them both to tears. Even their shared experiences took on new meaning as each disclosed the emotions they had not dared tell each other at the time.

"Your eyes have always hypnotized me, Master Skywalker," she had whispered, her finger following the outline of his jaw and ending on the cleft of his chin, "They're too blue to ignore."

"And your curves always hypnotized me, Jade." he had countered, pulling her in for a kiss as she lowered her naked body onto his with a shudder.

Luke smiled at the recent memory. If loving her with her barriers firmly in place had been wonderful, loving her without them had been sublime. As he watched her sleep, a frown began to cloud her features and she reached out, her hand flailing, searching for the presence her dreams told her should be there.

"Luke?," she mumbled softly, her voice trembling and on the verge of disappointment.

"I'm here, my love," Luke whispered, taking her hand and pulling her towards him to embrace her against his chest, "I'll always be here."

The End

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