"I've said it before, and I'll say it again; you Skywalkers are one messed-up family."
Luke Skywalker laughed lightly at Han Solo's statement, shifting slightly in his seat next to the computer console in the Millennium Falcon's main hold. Han was sitting behind the gameboard with Princess Leia, one arm around her shoulders, a characteristic smirk on his face. Leia smiled wryly at his comment.
From where he stood waist-deep in a service panel at the back of the hold, Chewbacca growled his agreement. The Wookiee was repairing one of the temperamental Falcon's systems, which was apparently an ongoing job.
Luke thought to himself that it was unlikely the battered freighter had been in perfect condition since it had left the factory, though it was what gave the starship some of its character. The Falcon just wouldn't be the Falcon if something didn't need fixing or upgrading.
The Falcon was docked in the hangar of Home One, the Alliance flagship, and the small group was gathered here for a short break away from all the bustle of activity outside. The fleet was preparing to move to a new hiding place, and there was little any of them could do to help in this, so they were staying out of the way.
Luke and Leia had just finished telling Han and Chewie the story of what had happened to them on Bespin, and after a few questions, Han had given his predictably irreverent assessment of the situation.
Han drummed his fingers on the table in front of him. "So, you guys are twins, huh? Three years you knew each other, and nobody ever figured it out."
Leia frowned. "My parents knew, but they didn't want to tell me. I don't like it, but I can see why now." She looked over at Luke. "I have to say, I'm happy to know who my real mother was, but I can still hardly believe Vader is…"
He nodded slowly, the fingers of his natural hand playing with the dark brown fabric of his outer robe. He had known almost his entire life that the Emperor was his father, and he still had trouble believing it sometimes.
Leia's statement about their mother provoked a twinge of guilt in Luke; he had still not told anyone else about what Vader had said to him at the end of their duel. He privately didn't dare let himself hope about actually meeting his mother, and he didn't want to give false hope to his sister, either. He was still undecided on whether he believed bringing someone dead back to life with the Force was even possible. Even if it was possible, should it be done anyway? Such a thing was unnatural, and more than a little disturbing to think about, especially if it was Vader doing it.
"So," he said to Leia, partly to distract himself from that line of thought, "have Bail and the others decided what they're going to do with Mara yet?"
She shook her head. "Admiral Ackbar wants to accept her defection, but my fath… Bail Organa and Mon Mothma want to try her for war crimes instead."
"I can kinda see their point," said Han. "Whether she's really switched sides or not, Mara is still responsible for a lot of Rebel deaths. She was feeding Vader information about us for three years. All those people who died at Echo Base might not have if not for her."
Luke sighed, reluctantly agreeing. "They haven't let me in to see her," he said, "but she's feeling pretty depressed right now. I'm afraid she might be willing to just go along with whatever they decide, even if it means execution."
Han looked at him curiously. "If they haven't let you in to see her…" His expression changed to one of realization. "Jedi thing, right?"
Luke smiled despite the situation as he nodded. "Not much they can do to block that." His smile faded, replaced by a serious expression. "She needs all the support she can get right now. Mara has abandoned what was essentially her family. Vader might as well have been her father, and it took a lot for her to decide not to serve him anymore."
Han's expression was also serious as he nodded slowly. "I can't say I'm feeling particularly close to Red right now, myself, but I do see your point."
Luke leaned further back in his chair as he looked around at the rest of the room. The three of them fell quiet for a moment, and Luke took the opportunity to stretch out to see how Mara was doing. He sensed that she was asleep, so he pulled back, noting that she seemed troubled.
He considered going up to check on her, but decided against it. The guards posted outside her quarters had already made it more than plain that they had no intention of allowing him or anyone else inside for any reason without express permission from Admiral Ackbar or Mon Mothma.
Mara Jade walked slowly through the halls of the Sith Temple, dressed in the black and dark gray Sith robes she had worn during her training there. Dozens of similarly dressed students passed her in the dark-colored, dimly lit halls.
Their eyes were all yellow, glowing slightly in the dim lighting, and all of them wore identical expressions of hatred, directed at her. Some could even be described as snarling, their expressions twisted with disgust and contempt.
From the shadows stepped Darth Nova, his face twisted in rage. Force Lightning crackled between his hands in obvious threat as he watched Mara walk down the long hall. As she passed him, he let two long, twisting fingers of the unnatural electricity lance out and smash into the wall directly in front of and behind her, trapping her in a prison of glowing light for the briefest of instants.
"Traitor…" he hissed, his voice reverberating throughout the hall. The dozens of other Sith gathered along the edges echoed it in a hateful murmur.
"Traitor traitor traitor traitor traitor traitor traitor traitor…"
Mara took a deep breath, tried her best to ignore them, and continued on through the hall, her footsteps echoing back down to her from the cavernous ceiling far above, hidden in blackness. The overwhelmingly powerful presence waiting at the end of the hall beckoned grimly, tinged with thorough disappointment.
As Mara looked down at the floor, she realized her long black outer robe had turned to the brown of a Jedi, the rest of her clothing lightened accordingly. The lightsaber at her side was now plated in polished chrome instead of the obsidian black of most Sith weapons.
Mara took pride in this, silently repeating to herself that she was no longer a Sith. She was now a Jedi, dedicated solely to the Light Side of the Force, not the twisted compromise of Darth Vader and his followers.
For a brief moment, Luke Skywalker appeared at the edge of her vision, dressed in his own tan and brown robes. He smiled approvingly, then slowly faded away. Mara drew strength from his familiar, comforting presence.
The shadows at the edges of the hall seemed to deepen as Mara approached the chamber that had once been the Jedi Council room. For more than twenty years, ever since Darth Sidious and his then-apprentice Darth Vader had destroyed the order that had occupied this building for uncounted decades, that room had held only one chair: the Sith Master's throne, from which he dispensed both lessons and judgment.
As Mara slowly ascended the staircase leading up to the throne room, it seemed as if the door grew farther away rather than closer. The stairway seemed to swell, growing taller and taller until Mara felt like an insignificant speck beneath its massive walls. Each step toward the burning dark presence behind the door seemed to take more effort than the one before it, until it felt like she was climbing a mountain instead of just a set of stairs.
Finally, she reached the top, feeling drained and exhausted. The huge gray door slowly split and slid open with a deep, vibrating rumble, revealing a dark, circular room so dim that only vague black shapes were visible, save for a single point of glowing blue light.
Mara mustered her resolve and marched inside, boldly heading right for the huge black shape of the throne and the tall man seated in it. Shadows obscured his face but for his glowing blue eye, giving no hint as to his expression.
"I raised you as if you were my own child," Darth Vader's deep voice said from the shadows of the throne. "This is how you repay me, by turning on me and joining with my enemies?"
Mara hesitated for only an instant. "You did not raise me as a daughter," she replied firmly. "You raised me as a weapon."
"I taught you how to survive," Vader said reproachfully. "Where would you be if not for me? Your parents are long dead."
To the side, one of the huge windows draped in heavy black curtains slowly opened, showing a view into a crowded, noisy spaceport. Mara recognized this as her first memory, seeing herself at three years old wandering through the crowd with her red-gold hair in dirty disarray, her clothes stained and torn. The small child looked fearfully up at the towering people who flowed around her, ignoring the tiny girl as they went about their business.
Mara saw the tall, black-clothed shape of Darth Vader, much younger, move through the crowd, surrounded by a contingent of red-robed Royal Guards. Instead of stopping in front of the small girl huddled against a wall like Mara remembered, the Sith Master moved on through the crowd as if he did not see her.
Shortly afterward, an ugly, unshaven human man in dirty, rumpled clothes spotted the small girl, and his face split into an avaricious grin. "You'll fetch a good price," he said as he darted forward and clamped a hand over the child's mouth, muffling her startled, fearful outcry.
The heavy black curtains dropped over the window, and one on the other side of the throne opened, showing Mara as a slightly older girl dressed in rags, her face covered in bruises and her hair raggedly cut short, glaring hatefully up at a tall, unpleasant-looking Twi'lek dressed in long dark blue robes.
"You'll make a fine slave," the pale-skinned Twi'lek said, grinning hideously. "You just need that spirit of yours good and broken, that's all."
With that, he stepped forward and slapped the girl so hard she was knocked right off her feet and into the grimy stone wall behind her. The Twi'lek continued to beat her as the black curtains slowly fell closed, and Mara winced as the possible version of herself screamed in pain and terror.
Next, another window opened to display Mara at about her present age, standing before the throne of an enormous slug-like Hutt. This version of Mara was almost naked, clad in a pitifully small amount of wispy silk and glittering gold-colored metal, with a collar about her neck attached to a chain that was fastened to the front of the Hutt's throne. This Mara's eyes were dull, her spirit broken, and her face was depressingly expressionless, as if she were merely a shell, uncaring of what happened to her.
The Hutt boomed a command in Huttese, his huge yellow eyes watching hungrily as the slave began to dance, halfheartedly moving through a clumsy pattern not quite matching up to the music. The Hutt grunted in displeasure and gestured to one of his guards, who shot the slave in the neck. The slave's expression did not change at all as she dropped to the floor, dead. Another servant contemptuously shoved the corpse out of the way as the next dancer began her routine.
Mara watched the scene in horror, knowing that it was entirely possible. She wanted to think she would have fought more if she really had been in that situation, but she could see the bruises and scrapes on the corpse's body, accompanied by dozens of long-healed scars only partially obscured by crude makeup. That version of her had been through years and years of horrendous abuse, completely broken by a lifetime of being treated as nothing more than an object.
Mara Jade could think of no worse fate for herself, no more terrifying nightmare course for her life. She shuddered, finally realizing just how close this scene had come to being reality. She remembered the dirty, unkempt man from her real first memories, scurrying away as the huge shape of Lord Vader blocked out the sun overhead.
"I saw what would happen to you if I did not intervene," the shadowed figure on the throne said. "I sensed your potential, knew you could one day become who you are now." The figure paused. "Who you were," he amended caustically.
Mara turned from the black curtains that had fallen over her possible fate, looking up at Vader. "I am glad you found me when you did," she admitted. "But think; is the way you treated me really any different? You raised me as an object, too, a weapon you could use against your enemies. Despite the rest of the illusion, was I ever really more than your slave?"
Darth Vader slowly stood from his throne, his long black cloak flowing down around him, and took one slow step toward Mara. He seemed huge, more than twice her height, and his grim features came into the light, revealing his darkly threatening expression.
Mara suddenly gasped in agony as it seemed that searing hot fire coursed through every fiber of her being, burning all the way down to the bone. She screamed, and the air in her lungs seemed to flow out as a gout of flame.
"If we ever meet again, traitor," Vader's voice said grimly, hammering into her head over the unbearable agony, "this pain will be real."
Mara Jade gasped as she woke, nearly hurling herself out of the bed in her quarters aboard Home One. Her legs tangled in the sheets, and she fell heavily to the carpeted floor, straining for breath and fighting not to scream at the throbbing, burning fire seeming to flow out from the marrow of her bones. Her limbs twisted in pain, contorting uncontrollably. Finally, she screamed, unable to hold it in any longer.
Over the roaring in her ears, Mara heard an urgent voice shouting beyond the doors of her quarters, arguing with another, deeper voice. The door slammed open, and a familiar figure rushed inside.
"Mara?" Luke Skywalker said, his voice filled with concern. "Mara, what is it?"
She was unable to respond, almost unable to breathe over the fire raging within her body. Her hands clawed at the carpet so violently that fibers were ripped loose and lodged in her fingernails. She wanted to cry, to scream, but could make no sound over the pain.
Luke rushed to her side and gathered her into his arms, his eyes meeting hers and looking deep inside. It seemed to Mara as if a cool wave swept over her, washing away the inner fire, as Luke did his best to help her. She clung to him with relief, sobbing uncontrollably.
"It's all right," Luke said soothingly. "It's all right. You're safe now."
Mara buried her face in his chest and let the tears flow. Luke simply sat there with her and held her for as long as she wanted him to, silent and reassuring.
A while later, once she had regained her composure and cleaned herself up, Mara sat on one of the couches in the main room of the quarters to which she was confined, dressed in one of the plain white jumpsuits she had been given to wear while she was a prisoner aboard the Rebel flagship.
Luke sat next to her, and in the other chairs and couches sat Leia, Han, Winter, and Admiral Ackbar, listening as Mara tried to describe what had happened.
She was severely embarrassed that Luke had seen her in such a moment of weakness, but at the same time she was immensely grateful to him for helping her through it. Though she wanted to deny it, Mara was not entirely sure she could have recovered by herself.
"I'm not sure whether it was just a dream or some sort of vision," Mara said, looking out at the others. "Nothing like that has ever happened to me before."
"You were screaming loud enough that they could hear you outside," said Winter. "I was four rooms over and I could hear you like you were standing right next to me."
"You were screaming in the Force, too," Luke said, his face still tinged with concern. "Both Leia and I could feel it."
From her seat next to Han, Leia nodded, her expression faintly disturbed underneath her own concern.
"Could Lord Vader have done this as some kind of punishment for turning against him?" asked Ackbar.
Mara shrugged helplessly. "I have no idea," she replied. "He could have, but I don't know. For all I know, I could have done this to myself. The Force does strange things sometimes."
"Well," said Han, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees, "I definitely heard that scream, and I am positive something like that can't be faked. No offense, Red, but you just ain't that good an actress." He looked over at Admiral Ackbar. "I don't know how much my opinion's worth, but my vote says we skip the trial and treat the defection as real. I'll say that in front of whoever you need me to."
"This has only confirmed my belief," Ackbar agreed. "I only hope the rest of the Alliance leadership can be convinced." Leia and Winter nodded in agreement.
Mara watched from her seat next to Luke, grateful for the show of support. She only hoped it went as well as they all hoped.
Despite the others' efforts, a trial was held to decide whether or not to accept Mara's offer to defect to the Alliance. It was held in the briefing room of Home One, with the prisoner required to remain in cuffs the entire time, four armed guards surrounding her, with a dozen more spread around the outer edge of the chamber. The security was at the insistence of Borsk Fey'lya, a high-ranking Bothan member of the Alliance, who was arguing against her.
Luke had insisted on defending Mara himself, and he stood in front of her, dressed in his usual robes, freshly cleaned and pressed. He had not yet had time to build himself a replacement for the lightsaber he had lost on Bespin, but today he had no need of a Jedi weapon except as a symbol of the order he represented. In that capacity, Mara's lightsaber hung prominently from his belt. Luke considered it another symbol of his support for her, as well.
He watched as the last of the observers settled into their seats in the circular, amphitheater-like room, dominated by the holoprojector in the center. The walls and benches were white, as was the holoprojector, in contrast to the twinkling black star field visible through the long, wide viewports around the top of the chamber.
Borsk Fey'lya had been allowed to speak first, and he took his station next to the projector, his cream-colored fur rippling in the Bothan indication of contempt as he cast a cold glance in Mara Jade's direction. He manipulated a control on the side of the holoprojector, and it flared to life, slowly scrolling through a long list of names written in blue light.
"These are the names of every Rebel confirmed dead during the Battle of Hoth," Fey'lya began. He was silent for a long moment, letting the names trickle up into the upper node of the projector. Luke recognized many of the names, friends he had lost in the terrible battle.
"They are all victims of that woman," Fey'lya continued, pointing a finger at Mara. "Whether or not she took the action herself, there is no question that Mara Jade must be charged with their murder. This Imperial agent is responsible for all of the death and destruction of that day."
Fey'lya walked in a slow circle around the projector, looking up into the audience. "By her own admission, Agent Jade issued a detailed report on the defenses and condition of Echo Base, a report Darth Vader and his Imperial troops made thorough use of to destroy nearly the entire installation." The Bothan stared up at the audience with anger burning in his violet eyes. "Three transports," he thundered. "Three transports made it away from Echo Base out of the dozens that tried to. Because of that woman, Darth Vader slaughtered hundreds of our fellow freedom fighters, dealt the Alliance a heavy blow from which we might never recover."
Fey'lya gestured expansively. "My fellow Rebels, Mara Jade may have single-handedly cost the Alliance the war through her actions. Should we really accept such a person into our ranks? Can anything she does now balance out the hundreds of deaths she has caused, wash away all of the blood staining her hands?"
The Bothan looked out across the audience again. "She has come to us with the intention to join our ranks," he said, injecting a heavy dose of revulsion into his tone. "She claims not to serve the Emperor anymore, but from what I am led to understand, that vile man raised her himself. Can bonds of loyalty that strong really be severed so easily?" Fey'lya rippled his fur in disbelief. "I find that very hard to believe."
He gestured at the list of names still slowly scrolling by. "And if we allow this woman into our ranks, what justice is that for her victims? She claims she is sorry," Fey'lya snapped indignantly. "I ask you, fellow sentients, does sorry bring all these beings back to life? Does her being sorry for being an agent of evil for so long make up for years and years of atrocities?"
Fey'lya paused for a moment to build tension. "The answer is no!" he thundered. "An apology simply isn't good enough. An apology does not make justice for all those slain and all those who must mourn them. To just blithely accept this woman into our fold would not only be foolish, it would be immoral."
"My friends," he said, his voice going quiet but firm, "the only logical and moral choice available to us today is to reject this killer's attempt to escape justice by trying to join with us. Such a murderer cannot be allowed to roam free among us.
"The only choice we can make and still call ourselves civilized beings furthering the cause of freedom from tyranny is to reject this agent of the tyrant. Not only that, we must make her answer for the death she has caused. We claim to be fighting for freedom and justice in this galaxy. Let us begin by bringing this murderer to the justice she so deserves!"
His final salvo fired, Borsk Fey'lya stepped away from the holoprojector to approving murmurs from sections of the audience. Luke let the calming current of the Force flow through him, washing away the rage that threatened to come boiling to the surface at the enflaming words.
Luke adjusted the drape of his loose-fitting outer robe as he got to his feet and quietly walked to the projector. He spent a long moment looking out over the audience, making eye contact with many of those he knew personally and many more he did not.
"I have killed," he began. "Since I joined the cause of this war, I have ended the lives of many, as have almost all of you. I have with my own hands ended the life of dozens of sentient beings. Why?" He gestured up at the audience. "Why have we killed?"
"I will tell you," Luke said, dropping his hands. "We have killed because we thought we were doing what was right. Because we were doing what we thought was right, our own killings were justified because those we killed were in the service of evil. The offer of freedom is open to all. The offer to do what we think is right is open to all. Those who reject it have forfeited their right to life, have they not?"
Luke heard the troubled murmurings of the audience, and he could feel their doubt, disapproval, and guilt through the Force, flowing down at him like a waterfall.
"Well, let me tell you how the Empire sees us," Luke said quietly. "The sentient beings who see themselves as loyal citizens of the Empire see us, the members of the Alliance to Restore the Republic, as terrorists. They see us as dangerous people working to undermine the legal government of the galaxy, to upset the stability and order brought about by their Emperor. So, they hunt us down. They kill us wherever they can. Are they justified in doing this?"
Luke sensed someone in the crowd about to shout an answer back to him, so he continued before he could be interrupted. "Yes," he said, to shock from the audience. "From their point of view, they are."
"From our point of view, we are in the service of good," Luke continued. "From their point of view, we are in the service of evil. Who is right here? The two sides of this war cannot both be right."
He turned to gesture back at Mara. "From her point of view, she was in the service of good. She was serving the man she viewed as her rightful ruler, the man who had the right to decide what was to be done in this galaxy. From her point of view, she was justified in seeing to it that Darth Vader and the Imperial military were able to kill us, those the Empire views as evil."
"I am sure everyone in this room shares the viewpoint that Darth Vader is an evil man," Luke went on. "But Vader himself does not. The Emperor does not see himself as an evil being; he sees himself as an instrument of good. Darth Vader is doing everything he can to bring peace to this galaxy, by any means necessary. From the highest Grand Admiral to the lowest foot soldier, his followers believe they are doing the same thing. For most of her life, Mara Jade believed she was also working in the interests of peace, in the interest of greater good for the galaxy."
"But was she, really?" Luke asked of the audience. "We would all agree that she was not, but why?" He paused for a moment before he gave the answer. "Because of the methods used by the Emperor, his government, and his agents. Those of us who are gathered under the banner of the Alliance are here because we believe every sentient being has the right to live their own lives without fear of oppression by those entrusted to rule them. Is peace gained through fear of brutal punishment really peace at all?"
"It is not," Luke said firmly. "We are here because we know this to be the truth. We are here because we believe order gained from smashing down those who do not obey is no real order at all. We are here because we do not agree with how Darth Vader is ruling this galaxy."
Luke Skywalker paused for several moments to let this sink in. "Let me tell you," he said quietly but firmly, "so is Mara Jade."
"On Bespin," he went on, "she accompanied the crew of the Millennium Falcon there with the intent of seeing to it that they were captured by the Emperor's forces. In part because of her, true, they were. Mara was, at the time, doing what she thought was right. But she realized that what she was doing was not right at all. She watched as Darth Vader, the man responsible for governing trillions of lives, casually and arbitrarily threw one of those lives away."
Luke paused again for a moment. "In that moment, Mara Jade knew for certain that the man she served was no longer worth serving. She knew what had to be done. She made the only logical and moral choice available to her," Luke said, deliberately repeating Fey'lya's earlier words. "She decided to make sure that that life Lord Vader threw away was not thrown away at all. Mara Jade made sure that my friends were not condemned to a fate she knew they did not deserve.
"She acted in the service of what she now knew was good, and risked her own life to save theirs. Mara walked away from the only life she had known because she knew that it was the right thing, the only moral thing, to do.
"How many of us have done the same thing? How many of us have given up the lives we had before to serve what we knew was a righteous cause? How many of us have abandoned what we knew before to do what we knew was right?" Luke swept his gaze over the audience, making as much eye contact as possible again. "There are those here who have done things that you now know are wrong. There are those of you here who were once in service to the government you now work to overthrow, but where are you now?"
"You are right here," Luke said, gesturing boldly at the chamber around them. "You are where you know you can serve the greater good, and now, so is Mara Jade, by her own free will. What right do we have to deny her the chance to redeem herself? Who are we to say who is beyond redemption, unworthy of forgiveness?"
Luke thrust out an arm and pointed at Mara, sitting behind the heavily armed guards at one end of the chamber. "She knows that the course she has now chosen is the right one." He turned his head to meet her eyes across the chamber. "Don't you?"
"Yes, I do," Mara said as she got to her feet. "I know that if Darth Vader continues on his present course of action, his rulership cannot lead this galaxy into the age of peace he says it will. He must be removed, and I will do everything in my power to help the rest of you do this. Whatever you ask of me to prove where my loyalties now truly are, I will do without reservation."
"There you have it," Luke said, gesturing up at the audience. "You have all the evidence you need. You have everything you need to make the only logical and moral choice." He paused for a moment, looking at Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, Admiral Ackbar, and the others. "So make it."
With that, Luke stepped away from the center of the chamber. The audience was silent for a moment, and slowly, several beings began to applaud. Others joined them, and soon nearly the entire audience was applauding or otherwise expressing their approval.
Luke could feel Mara's grateful gaze on him, and he looked back up at her with an affirming smile. He believed in her, loved her, and his own conscience could allow him to do no less than he had done today.
As Luke sat down next to Leia and Han, they both nodded in approval. Han leaned over to whisper to him. "Nice going, kid. I never knew you had it in you."
"I never knew I had it in me, either," Luke admitted just as quietly. "I had no idea of what I was going to say until I started talking."
Han's reply was a knowing smile as he gently clapped Luke's shoulder.
The Alliance leadership adjourned to another chamber to deliberate, leaving the audience to debate on its own. From his seat, Luke could hear a dozen different conversations as a number of people discussed the arguments they'd heard. Some strongly agreed with him, others with Fey'lya, and still others seemed to vacillate, unsure of which argument made more sense to them.
Above and behind him, Mara sat in the center of her wall of guards, who, other than occasionally looking down over the audience, did not move. Luke looked back up at her from time to time in support, but she only occasionally looked back at him, sometimes offering a small smile. The rest of the time, Mara was deep in thought, looking down at her hands or the floor as she herself thought about what had been said.
Finally, the door at the other end of the amphitheater opened, and Mon Mothma walked back in, followed by Bail Organa, Admiral Ackbar, and the others.
The elegant woman approached the central holoprojector and waited until the crowd quieted to begin speaking. She passed a calm, collected glance over the crowd until she finally settled her gaze on Mara, who stood.
"Mara Jade," Mon Mothma began, her voice soft but serious. "You have been the cause of much death. Do you agree that you must answer for this?"
Mara nodded solemnly. "I do."
Luke leaned forward in his seat, waiting to hear the decision.
"As penance for your crimes against the people of the galaxy," Mon Mothma continued, "do you swear to dedicate the remainder of your life to ensuring that every being in this galaxy has the right to enjoy true peace?"
Mara drew herself up straighter, holding her head high. "I swear."
Mon Mothma nodded in approval. "Then it is the decision of this tribunal that you be afforded the chance to perform this penance. You, Mara Jade, by your own decision and that of those of us who lead this movement, are now an official member of the Alliance to Restore the Republic."
At Mon Mothma's gesture, one of Mara's guards turned and unlocked her cuffs. The man put them in a compartment on his belt as he and the other three guards moved away, leaving Mara standing by herself.
Luke was the first to stand up and clap, and he was quickly followed by the rest of the crowd. Even Borsk Fey'lya, a barely restrained scowl on his face, perfunctorily put his hands together twice.
In one of the observation domes of the Rebel flagship, Mara sat facing the expanse of stars, with Luke sitting next to her on the low couch they'd pulled over to face the viewport. Mara had wanted to talk to Luke in private after the decision, and so they had come here.
"I just wanted to let you know how much what you said today means to me," Mara said, looking over at Luke. "I guess…" she paused for a moment, hesitating. "I guess what I want to ask you is, why?"
Luke was silent for a moment, and she could sense him thinking deeply about something. Finally, he looked up at her and reached over to take one of her hands. "Because I love you," he said, looking deep into her eyes. "And because it was the right thing to do. What you did on Bespin…" He paused for a moment, looking down at his hands.
"I've thought I loved you for a long time," he said quietly. "Ever since we met on Alderaan, really. But that wasn't really love, I know." He looked up at her again, deep emotion in his blue eyes. "That was just… an infatuation, really. For three years, I've thought you were the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and I suppose that was where most of my feelings came from." He paused again, searching for the right words.
"But now I know I love you, truly, because now I know just what kind of person you are. Mara, you… you walked away from your family, from your entire life, to do what you thought was right. I know that had to be the hardest thing you've ever done, but you did it anyway. I can't tell you how much I respect that decision. You have proved that you're a good person, willing to sacrifice yourself for someone else, and that's… that's why I love you."
Mara was silent for a moment, moved deeply by his sincere words. More than that, she could feel how he felt through the Force, and to realize that he could feel that way about her even after all she had done to him and his friends moved her beyond words.
She realized that she felt the same way about him; he may have been infatuated with her for the last three years, but over those same three years, she had come to know him, to know just what sort of man Luke Skywalker was. He was what his father was not, the good person Anakin could have been but chose not to be. For the same reasons he had described, the willingness to do anything for someone he cared about, Mara knew she respected and loved Luke the same way he did her.
Mara knew he could sense all this as she thought about it through the Force, so she opened her mind and soul more fully to him as she leaned forward and embraced him in a gentle kiss.
He opened himself to her in return, and for a long, blissful moment as they embraced beneath the stars, Mara felt like she knew Luke as deeply as he knew himself, and he knew her just as deeply. It was almost as if their souls were joined, two halves of a complete whole brought together at last.
Later, gathered in the hold of the Millennium Falcon, Luke, Han, Leia, Winter, and Chewbacca held their own private ceremony welcoming Mara into the Rebellion's ranks. At Han Solo's suggestion, this consisted of drinking a good bottle of Corellian whiskey he kept stashed away for just such an occasion.
It was a relaxed, casual gathering, and consisted mostly of Han telling the others about some of his more daring escapades during his career as a smuggler. Mara learned something she'd never known about Han before during this conversation; he had once been an Imperial officer himself, a top graduate of the academy at Carida, and had been well on his way to a bright career with the Imperial Navy. But, upon seeing the mistreatment of one of the Wookiee workers, Chewbacca, Han had stepped in and stopped it, disobeying a direct order and even striking his commanding officer in the process.
He was summarily drummed out of the Navy, given a dishonorable discharge, and nearly thrown in prison for doing what he thought was right. It was a similar situation to her own, and she felt a new sense of kinship with the roguish Corellian.
Mara Jade had spent the last few years pretending to be friends with these people, but now, she knew, that friendship was real. This group was willing to believe her, willing to welcome her into their family despite what she had done. She knew she would never be able to show them just how much she appreciated this.
She may have abandoned the family she had known for most of her life, but here she had a better one to take its place.
Author's Note: This series of oneshots is a follow-up to 'One Missed Strike, Part II', taking place between that story and the upcoming 'Part III'. It may be a week or two between updates here, since I am also writing another large story besides this one. This collection will contain three more oneshots, as with 'Tales From the Rebellion', and they are:
'Misdirection': As Mara Jade reveals some surprising secret information to the Alliance High Command, Han Solo begins to suspect that there is another Imperial spy within their ranks. Now, he and his friends must race to outwit and uncover the Imperial agent before the Emperor is alerted to their whereabouts...
'Allies of Convenience': Grand Admiral Thrawn is Emperor Skywalker's most trusted officer. But where did he come from, and how did he ascend to the highest military position in the Empire? All this will be revealed through a series of flashbacks as Thrawn and Vader discuss the defection of Mara Jade, and what actions they must now take in light of this.
'Death, Lies, and Treachery': Boba Fett, the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter, always gets his target. He has never failed to deliver on a contract, until now. Someone besides Mara Jade thwarted him at Bespin by shooting down his ship, and Fett intends to put all his skill into finding out who it was. No one crosses Boba Fett and lives to boast about it...
These stories and 'One Missed Strike, Part III' are being written right now. As I said, it may be a couple weeks or more between updates. For now, thanks for reading. Your support of my stories really means a lot to me.