Well folks, this is the final chapter of Goodbye. I started writing this story three years ago, almost to the day, because I had a new notebook and a lot of blank paper begging to be filled up. I was 17 and was supposed to be studying for AP tests. Now, 237 pages later, I'm 20 and trying to finish the semester early so I can leave next week for Europe to spend my next couple months in Germany. But I had to finish this story—not just for me, but for my faithful readers who are waiting. And somehow, despite the insanely busy Darth real-life, it got finished. I'd like to thank and acknowledge The Partner, by John Grisham, The Alliance, by Gerald Lund, Shane (an old cowboy movie I was basically forced to watch, but then gave me tons of ideas), Timothy Zahn for making Mara Jade, and my many readers who took the time to comment and review—thanks a million. You're the reason this story got finished. Enjoy.

Tarado

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They were walking down the half-lit center corridor—the hospital wing's equivalent to night in space. It was a narrow, seldom-used hallway with man-high windows lining one wall, shedding the chalky starlight of empty space onto the dulled transparisteel floor. There were no sounds but their unhurried footfalls.

Mara was walking next to Luke, her hair plaited in a loose, quick braid that was draped over one shoulder. She wore a light-blue ship's tunic that did startling things to the color of her eyes. The loose hair around her face softened her features and made her cheeks look rosier.

Luke was dressed in olive green hospital garb that made his features look grayer than they really were. He was walking with the support of a cane, shuffling stubbornly down the corridor despite the lengthy protestations of a 2-1b droid only an hour before.

They made an interesting pair. He, serious and withdrawn, with little hint in his pale blue eyes of a bright-eyed adolescence that was not so far behind him; she, her features chiseled, emotions hidden by a careful, impenetrable mask—she was both beautiful and deadly, as she had been trained to be since she could walk. Fate had had placed them together as no mere coincidence could. They were both unconsciously more relaxed in each others' presence than in the presence of any others that they knew—Luke's friends and family, and Mara's newly acquired acquaintances—and it seemed strange really, given the circumstances of their meeting, only months before.

It had been seven months since the battle of Endor, but it seemed to Luke like it had been years. Long ones. He was back with the Alliance now, only to feel as if he were thirty years older than the pilots and Rebels he'd once flown with, the friends he'd once shared meals and hard times with, mourning tasteless rations bars and long hours in the sims. He used to long to be older, more seasoned, experienced and less of an awkward, unsophisticated farmboy. If he'd known then the trial of fire that was required of him to achieve such an aspiration—the experience, the painful knowledge that had carried him to be wiser and old beyond his years—he would not have wished it upon anyone.

Mara glanced sidelong at Luke, almost reluctant to break their comfortable silence. "We should get you back to bed," she murmured. "Before the too one-bees track you down and haul you back."

Luke smiled and shook his head wistfully, trying not to lean too heavily on his cane as he shuffled forward. "Not yet. I'm fine—I feel like walking. I need to catch up on the life I have missed for the past seven months."

"You can catch up on things lying down," Mara pointed out.

"I usually end up falling asleep. Right now I feel like walking," he repeated obstinately, staring straight ahead.

Mara rolled her eyes. "Sure, you feel like walking. Right up until the point that you faint cold to the floor and I have to drag you back by your feet."

"It's what I pay you for, Jade," Luke smiled. It was a real smile—one that included his eyes. Mara could not recall ever seeing that smile before today—and this was the second time that evening.

"I don't think I like this job," she scowled.

Luke flashed a grin. His hair, darker than it used to be, was combed neatly, and his colorless features looked less strained than they had in months. "Your other option is to sit by my bedside while I sleep—and please tell me that watching me nap is not that interesting."

Mara made a face, moving her hand toward his elbow to offer her support if needed. "It isn't. But let's face it: there is precious little to do at this little base of yours."

"Glad I rate as a number one attraction," Luke said dryly, coming to a halt and catching his breath. For having walked barely thirty feet, he was surprisingly tired. "You have to have a good reason to join the Rebellion."

"Don't flatter yourself, Skywalker," Mara growled, about to elbow him in the ribs, and then thinking better of it. "There are other reasons for joining the Alliance besides the fact that I have the privilege of wandering with you down a corridor to make sure you don't trip and fall."

He looked innocent, fighting another smile, despite the perspiration standing out on his brow. "Oh, is that why you're here? Not because of my good company?"

"Luke really," Mara began again, half-trying for seriousness this time, and ignoring his only half-rhetorical question. "If I don't get you back to bed, they might arrest me for being an accomplice in your escape from the med-center. The Alliance still doesn't really trust me."

Luke laughed and started walking again. "To the end of the corridor, and then I promise we'll go back."

"I'll get in trouble, Skywalker," Mara repeated behind him.

"If you do, I'll vouch for you," Luke told her.

"Do you think they'll listen to you?" Mara retorted.

Luke turned to face her sagely. "I'm a Jedi—that carries a lot of clout around here."

She arched her eyebrows. Skywalker looked worn and tired despite his declarations of feeling otherwise. He had lost a noticeable amount of weight over the past several months. "Not if he's passed out cold on the floor."

Luke smiled faintly, turning to face the viewport and shifting to rest his elbows against the handrail. "Mara Jade, you worry too much. I've already gotten it from Leia and Han—not to mention Wedge's little comment about how I might disappear if I turn sideways, so don't you—"

"Luke, how many times have I told you to stay out of my mind?" Mara interrupted, coming to stand next to him, giving him an only half-joking glare.

He glanced over at her, a faintly guilty expression on his face. "Well, you were thinking it, weren't you?"

She didn't answer. It had been startling to her that over the past months—and particularly the past week since Luke had started to recover—how their bond through the Force had grown. It was unlike anything she'd ever experienced before and she didn't know quite how she was supposed to react. It was unnerving to hear Luke's thoughts in her mind like they had been spoken words; more unnerving still to realize her thoughts were being conveyed to him in the exact same manner.

Luke looked back to the viewport, perhaps following her train of thought, but deciding not to comment on it. He could argue that it was no different from Emperor knowing her every thought and whim. It was true—she shouldn't be so startled at this invasion of privacy. This felt different though.

"It really is beautiful out there, isn't it?"

Mara followed his gaze. Asteroids drifted serenely—large, dead hunks of rock floating in space. Distantly, particles of light from a cluster of stars glowed like the dying embers of a fire. How long had it been since she had just looked at something and saw it for what it really was? She nodded, looking back at Luke, feeling strangely peaceful in her heart. "It's beautiful."

"I..." Luke began, still watching the view, feeling a wave of somberness wash over him. "It feels as if I've been trapped in a tunnel for so long with nothing but my own horrible future facing me down. And now I feel so..." he trailed off, with a faint shrug.

"Free," Mara finished for him, half-turning to look at him, knowing it was perfectly true. "What you fought for all this time. You finally feel free."

"Yes," Luke nodded.

Mara cut her eyes back to the darkness of space. "There was this dark feeling weighing me down that I never even noticed until it was gone..." she hesitated, glancing at him again. "...when the Emperor died."

She was thinking of their walk through the botanical gardens, of Luke's question that had made her so angry at the time. "I never realized what I was missing."

She met his gaze. His eyes were wistful; peaceful, but sad at the same time. His hand, still holding the rail, moved to cover hers. "I'm glad you found it," he said quietly.

Mara looked into his eyes before he tore his gaze away. "I never thanked you for helping me find it," she said.

"And I never thanked you for helping me," he returned. "What you did for me...for Han and Leia." He glanced away again. "You saved all of our lives."

Mara shook her head. "I wouldn't have had the conscience to do it without you," she reminded him.

Luke's smile faded. "You wouldn't have needed to do it without me," he corrected, suddenly self-reproachful. His gaze went distant, pained. "My delusions of heroism have hurt a lot of people."

"Don't blame yourself," Mara said quietly. "I don't believe it was heroism that compelled you to try to turn your father back to the good side."

He shook his head. "Then it was naivety and stupidity." He looked over at her again, his hand tightening over hers. "What was I thinking?"

Mara bit her lip, seeing regret shining in Luke's eyes. "That you could save him."

"Was it worth the price paid?" he whispered, staring blankly at the handrail.

Mara spread her hands. "He killed the Emperor to save you. He wanted to save you because he realized he loved you." She peered at him. "You can't truly love someone else if you're an agent of the Dark Side." She touched his hand, tightly clenching the rail. It was cold. "You brought him back."

Luke took a deep breath, still staring at nothing. "Leia had a miscarriage. Did she tell you that?"

Mara opened her mouth and closed it again. "I didn't know she was pregnant," she murmured.

"It was a girl."

Mara was silent.

"She wouldn't tell me the cause, but I'm not stupid." He took another deep breath. "The Emperor's Force-lightning isn't something to be toyed with." He clenched his right hand into a fist. "The bottom line is, if it hadn't been for me, Leia's baby would be fine, my sister could be happy instead of grief-stricken at the prospect of being a mother, a little boy named Benjamin Kelson would be living a normal, happy, carefree childhood; his aunt and uncle...." He trailed off helplessly.

Mara sighed, facing him. "Luke, everyone makes mistakes...has private sorrows and regrets. But if it hadn't been for you, Palpatine would probably still be alive, Vader would be wreaking havoc on worlds, and who- knows-how-many thousands of people would be suffering and dying under tyranny every day." She gave him a serious look. "As a Jedi, you had a duty to do something the best way you knew how. And you did it."

"There is no emotion, there is peace," Luke quoted mechanically, his eyes sorrowful. "My mind knows it—sees all the logic...but that doesn't keep my heart from aching."

Mara tried to smile for him. "The Force is meant to bring balance, not comfort."

He smiled wanly in return. "So I'm beginning to learn," he whispered. "But it's a question that will haunt me."

She raised her eyebrows. "Well, while you're busy being haunted by questions, stew over this one: If you hadn't so rudely invaded my life like you did, what would have happened to me? Where would I be now?

She let the question hang in the air. Luke raised his head and took her hand again, his features tightening. His fingers were cold. "I don't know," he whispered, grimacing. "I'd rather not think about it."

"Me either," Mara shook her head.

Luke turned his gaze back to the viewport to watch the drifting asteroids again. "Your friendship has kept me alive these past months," he said quietly. "Even though it was rocky at times. Your presence nearby kept me going. I don't think I even realized it until much later."

"I hated you," Mara whispered, shocked in spite of herself at the truth. The words just seemed to spill out of her mouth without permission. She didn't want to hurt him with her words. Not now. "I just wanted you to be dead—gone and out of my life for good."

She sensed him wince, though his expression gave no indication. "I know."

"But things change—people change. I mean..." she faltered, floundering for the right words. "I know I've changed."

He turned fully to face her, his eyes probing hers, sky-blue and tired. Mara was suddenly aware of how close she was standing to him, of his breath on her cheek. His hand tightened on hers. "We've both changed, Mara."

She arched her eyebrows. "And that's okay," she whispered, for he was suddenly in very close proximity to her, his face now inches from hers. "We can be different people and move on with a future that is not affected by the past."

He nodded, cobalt blue eyes swimming with emotion she couldn't really decipher. "Yes. We can." He could have elaborated—a murmur of promise or some sort of favorable rejoinder. But some things are better left simply unsaid. Instead of speaking, Luke leaned forward and kissed her.

Mara Jade, the former Emperor's Hand and Imperial assassin might have decked someone in her surprise. Startled though she was, she melted into Luke Skywalker's arms and returned the kiss. Her hands flew to his shoulders. He dipped her down, the cane he'd been using to walk, forgotten, the pains of the past and the present momentarily swept away for both of them.

Silhouetted by the silver starlight, the couple lingered in the kiss for a long minute, communicating and understanding through the Force.

When they finally parted, Mara back-stepped, feeling her face warm. The color had returned to Luke's features as well. The grief and pain had gone from his eyes to reveal gentle understanding, the beginnings of peace. Mara vowed in her heart to help him find it again. She would be there for him for as long as he needed her.

Luke flashed a sheepish grin. "That's likely going to be a long time, Jade."

Mara smiled and took his arm in hers, not minding this time that he had just replied to her unspoken thought. "Well, I should hope so." She steered him back the way that they had come. "Let's go, Skywalker—you've done enough for one evening. We should get you back to bed."

He nodded in not-so-reluctant compliance. "I guess the end of the corridor can wait until tomorrow."

They walked back, arm in arm. In the distance, far from the dark, quiet corridor built deep into a hidden asteroid, nestled somewhere in an remote corner of the universe, unknowing and uncaring, the cold, distant stars, and the far-flung planets smiled benevolently down at them.

THE END

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