Title: Crossing Paths

Author: Hazel

Genre: drama, AU

Characters: Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker

Timeframe: 0 ABY

Summary: A talk between Rebel!Luke and Imperial!Mara forces Mara to reevaluate her values. Will her future choices influence the future of all around her?

Disclaimer: The Star Wars Universe does not belong to me (unfortunately). I just like to play with it.

Author's notes: The 1st chapter contains SPOILERS for Choices of One – In CoO Luke helps Mara rescue a mother and daughter but they never actually talk.

This story is a what-if they did talk.

~.~.~.~.~

DRAMATIS PERSONAE (so far)

Main Characters:

Chewbacca (Male Wookiee, co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon)
Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker (Male Human, Dark Lord of the Sith)
Han Solo (Male Human, Captain of the Millennium Falcon)
Kylantha (Female Human from Naboo, Queen of Naboo)
Leia Organa (Female Human, Rebel Leader)
Luke Skywalker (Male Human, Rebel Pilot)
Mara Jade (Female Human, Emperor's Hand)
Palpatine/Darth Sidious (Emperor)
Pooja Naberrie (Female Human from Naboo, former Senator)
Rukh Clan Baikh'vair (Male Noghri, Death Commando)
Yoda (Male Jedi Master, species unknown)

Special Appearances:

Bidor Ferrouz (Male Human, Imperial Governor for the Candoras Sector)
Cakhmain Clan Eikh'mir (Male Noghri, Death Commando)
Carlist Rieekan (Male Human from Alderaan, General in the Rebel Alliance)
Cilghal (Female Mon Calamari, Medic)
Dina Durron (Female Human from Deyer)
Jak Durron (Male Human from Deyer)
Jar Jar Binks (Male Gungan from Naboo)
Jeng Droga (Male Human, Emperor's Hand)
Jula Darklighter (Male Human, Moisture Farmer from Tatooine; married to Sylia)
Kyp Durron (Male Human child from Deyer)
Mon Mothma (Female Human from Chandrilla, Commander-in-Chief of the Rebel Alliance)
Obi-Wan 'Ben' Kenobi (Force ghost)
Osgar Downe (Male Human from Naboo, anthropologist)
Panaka (Male Human from Naboo, Moff for the Chommel Sector)
Sylia Darklighter (Female Human, Moisture Farmer from Tatooine; married to Jula)
Zeth Durron (Male Human child from Deyer)


~ Chapter One ~

Mara Jade was lying on one of the bunkers in the Suwantec light freighter she had come to Poln Major on, waiting for LaRone and his buddies to return and trying to get some rest. This was their ship, and Mara did not want to leave without them. Besides, it was not like they had been missing for long; they were probably just laying low somewhere waiting for Vader and his 501st to leave so that they could come back to their ship. She really hoped they hadn't been caught, but she promised herself she'd look into it in the morning.

Her mind wandered off to the events of the day and to one particular new acquaintance that had crossed her path. Mara couldn't believe her mind was lingering on that rebel boy. If her master were to find out, he'd zap her to the edges of the galaxy.

But his earnest blue eyes had carved themselves into Mara's memory as had his words to her.

The rebel - Skywalker was his name - had assisted Mara in rescuing Governor Ferrouz's wife and daughter and had made a point of hanging around Mara at least until the hostages were safely returned home. And, of course, he had wanted to talk.

The conversation had started out innocuous enough.

~x~

- Earlier that day...

Mara was flying the speeder - one of the few that were parked outside the cave - with Skywalker in the passenger seat and Ferrouz's wife and daughter in the backseat. The little girl was nibbling on a ration bar that Skywalker had given her.

"So," he began, and Mara rolled her eyes thinking she really didn't need this. She still wasn't sure how he had gotten her to agree to give him a ride. "You have a lightsaber." It was a statement, not a question.

"So do you." She noted, making sure to imprint her annoyance in her tone.

"And you know how to use it." Again, it wasn't a question.

"And you don't." The edge in Mara's voice was obvious even to the little girl in the back seat.

"I do my best." Skywalker murmured, trying not to be hurt by her acid. She was only stating the obvious. "I had very few lessons, but I practice when I can."

Mara felt a little prick in the base of her stomach and tried to push back the awkward unknown feeling that came with it.

"I'm Luke Skywalker. What's your name?"

Mara immediately recognized the name. It was the same one which Vader had been researching in the Emperor's private library months ago. This still could be a coincidence. How many Luke Skywalker's were there in the galaxy? Mara was so distracted by the possibilities, that she almost gave him her real name.

"M... Jade. You can call me Jade."

"Who trained you?" Skywalker asked, having made a mental note of her hesitation. He knew she was an imperial. But she had to have learned somewhere. Maybe there were Jedi working with the Empire. The notion sounded preposterous, but unless he asked, he would never know.

"My master." She answered, but didn't elaborate.

"Is he a Jedi?"

Mara snorted. "No, the Jedi are gone. They were traitors and deemed too dangerous to live."

"They were not." Luke defended. "They were the guardians of peace and justice in the galaxy."

"They tried to assassinate the Supreme Chancellor. Almost succeeded too."

Luke recalled his old history lessons and the things he had learned since joining the Rebellion. What Jade said was what he had learned growing up, but he now knew better. But he also knew that Jade's imperial connections would make it hard for her to see the truth and there was no point in turning this into a heated argument. But that didn't mean he had to remain silent.

"They were the ones who were betrayed, and by one of their own - Vader."

Mara turned her head towards Luke, momentarily forgetting she was flying a speeder. She didn't need the Force to know that Skywalker believed his words. But her master had told Mara that the Jedi had tried to assassinate him and that Vader had saved his life. Skywalker had obviously bought into all that Rebel propaganda.

"You are wrong," she stated. "They orchestrated a coup to take over the Republic. The Emperor discovered it and stopped them, so they tried to kill him. Vader saved him."

Suddenly, a thought crept into Luke's mind.

"Wait a minute, is Vader your master?" It made sense, Vader was one of the people Luke had seen wielding a lightsaber... then he had killed Ben.

"What? No!"

Jade's tone was borderline insulted and Luke was relieved by it. She was not Darth Vader's apprentice. Of course, that didn't answer the question of who her master was.

"So, who is your master?" He pressed.

"That is none of your business, Rebel!" Mara spat out. "And yes, I know you're a rebel. The only reason I'm not taking you and delivering you to Vader myself is that I'm not here for you. And you did help me back there. As clumsy as your help was, it was still help." She didn't add that her knowledge that Vader was looking for a Luke Skywalker drove a chill down her spine.

The rest of the trip to the Governor's house was spent in silence. Once there, Mara gladly turned in her two charges to a much relieved husband and father. Although she would never admit to it, she felt both glad and sad by the reunion. It stirred up feelings inside of her that she did not feel comfortable with.

Just before escorting his family to their home, Ferrouz made it a point to thank Mara and Luke for their help and - to Mara's surprise - apologize to Luke for everything.

"I'm sorry you and your friends were misled into coming here, Skywalker. As you have guessed by now, the Rebellion is not welcome here at all."

Luke nodded sadly and Ferrouz kept talking.

"But as acknowledgement to your help, I must warn you that Darth Vader and the 501st is landing as we speak and will begin to sweep the city for rebels. You would do well to find a very deep hole and stay there until they leave."

Without any further words, Luke and Mara left the Governor and made their way out of the compound, Mara wondering what she was going to do with her Rebel boy and Luke thinking that maybe his decision to say and see this matter through wouldn't end up being his undoing.

They were walking away from the compound when, all of a sudden, Jade turned and pushed him to the edge of the path. Luke landed square in the middle of a huge thorny bush. He was about to start ranting at her when he heard the rhythmic paces he had already learned to associate with stormtroopers.

Luke ducked deeper into the bushes, ignoring all the thorns that were pricking him. From his hideout, Luke saw a group of half-dozen stormtroopers led by a much more daunting figure - that of Darth Vader himself.

Luke couldn't believe the Dark Lord was standing right in front of him. A side of him wanted to jump up and face Vader head on, make the Dark Lord pay for betraying and killing his father, but another side, the sensible side of Luke, knew that this was not the time for it. If he were to rise from his hiding place and face Vader, he'd be as good as dead. So he sat still and tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.

From her standing position, Mara heard Luke stir and then she felt his presence in the Force dim. She breathed in and carefully schooled her features. She had already decided not to turn him in; after all, if she hadn't turned in the Hand of Judgment, them being deserters, then it wasn't too much of a stretch to not turn in Skywalker who didn't even have a history with imperial military. At least that was her reasoning.

"Lord Vader." Mara greeted the Dark Lord.

"Emperor's Hand - what are you doing here?"

"Just wrapping up my mission." She added coldly and then stepped aside to let the group pass.

While the stormtroopers passed, Vader stood before Mara, studying her. He had a feeling she was hiding something. But then again, when it came to Mara Jade, he always had that feeling. Taking a look around and sensing nothing out of place, Vader moved on without another word.

Mara waited until the Dark Lord was out of sight before letting out the breath she didn't know she was holding. When Luke appeared from behind the bushes, she told him to follow her.

"Emperor's Hand?" He whispered to her after a little while. "The Emperor is your master?"

His voice was a mix of astonishment and disbelief, and Mara found herself not wanting to confirm his suspicions.

Luke found his answer in her silence. He pondered on this piece of information; if the Emperor was Mara's master that meant that he was Force-sensitive. Had he been a Jedi too? Luke had never heard of anything even resembling such rumor. He'd have to ask Leia or Mon Mothma about it.

"Well, anyway, thanks for not turning me in." Luke said, determined to continue talking to his companion. Maybe he could learn more from her.

But instead of waiting for his next question, Mara decided it was time she asked a few. And after they entered their speeder, she did.

"Why is Vader looking for you?"

"Because I'm a rebel?" He replied, not really understanding her question.

"No, it's more than that. Why is he looking for you in particular? What is your relationship?"

"We don't have one," Luke argued. "Except for the fact that he betrayed and murdered my father."

Luke half expected her to be shocked by his disclosure, but she wasn't. Quite the contrary.

"No, that's not it." She mused. "Vader has murdered a lot of people."

Luke was the one who was shocked about Mara's casual tone.

"What else?" She insisted. "There's gotta be more to you than meets the eye."

Luke tried not to take her remark personally, but it still stung him

"I blew up the Death Star." He told her defiantly.

"Wait, you blew up the Death Star." Now Mara was impressed. "Must have been a very lucky shot."

"It wasn't luck, it was the Force."

"Skywalker, you're not that good." She teased before considering his claim. If Luke was the one that blew up the Death Star that would surely ensure his place on top of the Empire's most wanted list. But the problem was that Mara knew for a fact that the Empire had no knowledge of the identity of the pilot who had done it, what was up with that? Did Vader know and had neglected to tell the Emperor? Or was he looking for Skywalker for some other unknown reason?

For a second Mara thought that a sure way to find out was to turn Skywalker over to Vader, but her very self immediately rebelled against the thought. Again.

"Oh, well!" Mara said. "I need to get you out of here quickly. Do you have a ship?"

"I have a Z-95 at the east docking bay." Luke answered.

"Do you have any fake IDs to go with it?"

"I have the one Axlon gave me to land."

"That's not good enough. What about your friends? Ferrouz mentioned a Wookiee?"

"They're probably gone by now. At least I hope they are." Luke had almost forgotten about Leia, Han and Chewie.

"We can't look for them anyway."

"Maybe I should lay low, like Ferrouz said." Luke suggested.

"That's too risky. Do you have any idea what Vader would do if he caught us together?"

Luke didn't answer that. He merely nodded and tried to suppress his guilt. Jade had put herself on the line for him, for no reason.

"Why are you with the Empire?" He found himself asking. Jade didn't seem like a regular imperial to him. She hadn't turned him in and she had helped Ferrouz's family.

"Why wouldn't I be?" She asked, extremely offended. "The Empire is good. It's your Rebel friends that need to have their heads examined. They're the ones wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy."

"We're wreaking havoc? We're not the ones blowing up entire planets and enslaving whole species." Luke exploded.

"The Empire does not enslave, the workers are criminals paying their debt to society. And Alderaan was a rebel base." Mara defended, but her arguments sounded hollow even to her own ears. She had been just as shocked as anyone to hear about Alderaan. As for all the alien workers, she wasn't allowed to give it much thought.

"Your Empire killed my aunt and uncle." Luke added bitterly.

"Vader killed your father. The Empire killed your aunt and uncle. Maybe something's wrong with your family." Mara said, trying to remain calm.

"Nothing was wrong with my family." Luke stated. He was obviously distraught. "We were minding our own business, tending to the farm on Tatooine. Then one day my uncle bought some droids, not having any idea that one of them was carrying stolen information. Next thing I know, the stormtroopers came and killed everybody that had any contact with the droids. They murdered them and burned everything. I'm only alive because I wasn't home"

Luke's story was true, Mara could tell by his eyes, and she felt bad for him. No wonder he had ended up with the rebels.

"I'm sorry," she said. "But there must be an explanation. Maybe your family put up too much of a fight."

"My aunt didn't know how to shoot a weapon and my uncle was a law abiding citizen. He wouldn't have fought them. Neither would the Jawa merchants that sold us the droids, and they all died too." Luke explained. His eyes were now red from holding back tears and the redness and unshed tears only made them look even more blue and tender.

Mara had to force herself to look away and back to the road in front of her.

"I don't know what to say." She murmured.

"You don't have to say anything." Luke replied tiredly.

A few moments later, they were at the docking bay. Leaving the speeder behind, Mara told Luke to take her to his Z-95. Once they got there, she keyed on the navicomputer and introduced some codes into it.

"Ok, when they ask for your ID, identify yourself as Arik Crosser and send them the code I just punched in. If they give you any trouble give them the following verbal code: Mynock-Ossus-Coronet-548. They will grant you passage. And disguise your voice, make yourself sound older. Can you remember that?"

"Mynock-Ossus-Coronet-548. Got it." Luke nodded and entered his cockpit.

"And stay out of my way. I will not be so benevolent if we ever meet again."

"Jade," Luke called as she was turning to leave. "What's your real name?"

Mara hesitated, but relented anyway. "It's Mara. Mara Jade." For the a long time after, Mara would wonder what had come over her to give him her name.

"Mara," he called again, "may the Force be with you."

Mara just nodded and turned away.

~x~

Mara - may the Force be with you.

Luke's last words to her kept resounding in her ears and with each turn continued to bring such peace to her. It was strange that that one sentence had such an effect on her.

May the Force be with you.

Her master had never said those words to her, even though he was the one that taught her about the Force. Why wouldn't he? Something told her that her master and those words really didn't... mix?

If this phrase brought a sense of calm to Mara, the other things they had debated brought a sour taste to her mouth. The destruction of Alderaan and the slavery allegations had revived some of Mara's own lingering doubts.

And what Skywalker had said about his family's death... She had heard whispers of cruelty before. LaRone and his partners had claimed that the cruelty was one of the reasons they had deserted. But was it the Empire's fault that some of its members were rotten. She would have to investigate the matter further and if found cause, take it to the Emperor.

Mara sighed deeply. Skywalker had been gone for four hours now but he was as close to Mara's mind as if he was still looking at her with those baby blue eyes.

Would they ever meet again?

The deepest, most secret part of Mara sincerely hoped so.

~x~x~x~x~

From the inside of his F-95 Headhunter, Luke was also having trouble sleeping. His mind was refusing to stop thinking about the red-headed, green-eyed young woman he had met. They had been together for only a little over an hour but she had made such an impression on him.

She was so beautiful and she was so young. Even though she was the kind of woman that always tried to look older than she was, Luke could tell she was young, probably even younger than him.

How long had she been with the Empire? Luke imagined that that kind of proficiency took years to attain.

And she looked so lonely. She was obviously the kind of person that drove others away, not wanting to get involved.

How Luke wished they could have remained friends. He was sure that, once Jade – Mara – saw evidence of the true nature of the Empire, her reasoning would change dramatically. She seemed to be very smart.

But most of all, Luke wished they could meet again. Despite her threat, he really wanted to see her again.

When he finally fell asleep, he dreamed of her.

- TBC...