CHAPTER 14

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It was almost dark when the Rebel command crew and Imperial stormtroopers finally reached their destination the next day. It was a spacious village situated high in the trees, with huts spread across many different levels. It reminded Han of the stories Chewbacca had told about his homeworld of Kashyyyk. There was, however, one very big—or small, depending on your point of view—difference.

"You have gotto be kidding me!" Han exclaimed when he first saw the Endor natives.

Mara, looking entirely too amused, stepped forward to close Han's mouth, which had fallen open in disbelief. "Sorry, Han. I'm very serious."

"But…but…they're hardly taller than Artoo!" He pointed at the short and fluffy creatures, crowding around his leg. "How are they supposed to help against the Imps?"

"It's simple." Mara carefully detached herself from one of the creatures, then patted its head. Han did a double take. "The Empire doesn't believe them to be a threat. Didn't you learn your lesson in gambling? Never underestimate an underdog."

"She's right," Lando chimed in. "Look where that got me. Lost myself a perfectly good ship."

Han rolled his eyes. "I still think this whole idea is ridiculous."

"It's not," Luke said. "Mara's right. Palpatine doesn't expect us to have any help, so even a tiny advantage could sway a battle in our favor. And, as someone once told me, size matters not."

Han glanced at Mara, who by all appearances was listening attentively to Luke. But he knew better. Yesterday, the two of them had been getting along beautifully. Today was a different story, and they seemed to be walking on eggshells. Han wondered what had happened between them the previous night to make them so awkward, but decided he didn't want to know.

"What do you think?" He turned his attention to Leia, who was trying her best to refuse an offering of a ceremonial dress without offending the small creatures. Why they had a dress that would fit a human woman, Han really didn't want to know.

Leia glanced around. They were quite the sight, Han had to admit—small, furry creatures standing among humans, a huge Wookiee, two droids, and Imperial stormtroopers. She shrugged. "It really can't hurt."

Off in the distance, Chewie howled something. Han smiled. "Yeah, I guess you're right."

Luke furrowed his brow. "What'd he say?"

"He said, 'at least their spears look very pointy.'"

Mara gave Han a pointed look. "See? You wouldn't want to end up on the wrong end of one of those, would you?"

Han threw up his arms. He knew when he was outnumbered. Again. "Fine. I guess short help's better than no help at all, huh Chewie?" The Wookiee roared back in affirmation. "So what are these guys called anyway?" Han removed another creature from where it was hugging his leg.

"Ewoks," Mara said.

"And the Empire doesn't know they exist?" Leia asked.

"Oh, they know." Mara's voice was bitter. "They're just so primitive that the Empire doesn't consider them to be sentient creatures."

Han snorted, watching as several Ewoks crowded around Chewie while the Wookiee demonstrated how to use his crossbow. "I dunno. They seem pretty sentient to me."

But Mara was no longer paying him any attention. "Threepio!" she called.

The golden droid looked up in surprise. He shuffled over to the rest of the group. "Yes, Lieutenant Jade? How can I be of service?"

It grew silent as Mara's old rank settled over the group. Her jaw clenched for a moment and Luke's eyes flashed in pain. Threepio, oblivious to what he'd done, continued gazing expectantly at Mara. But after a few moments everything was back to normal and Mara faced the droid, all business. "Can you understand them?" She gestured to the Ewoks.

"Oh yes, Lieutenant Jade! They're using a very primitive dialect, but I believe I can communicate effectively. As you know, I am fluent in over six million forms of communication—"

"Yes, Threepio, we got it," Han said. "Leia, you're the diplomat. You want to explain our situation to them?"

"Sure." Leia held up the dress and smiled meekly. "They seem to have taken a liking to me, anyway." She nodded at the chief who gestured that they move inside to one of the larger huts.

"I'll go with her," Mara said, hurrying to catch up. She paused when she reached Luke. "You, um, need someone on the other side represented if you want to hammer out a proper agreement." It was a lousy excuse, Han thought, and judging by the way she shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other, she knew it. But Luke merely shrugged and moved aside, allowing her to pass.

Han shook his head in disbelief. The kid could pretend all he wanted that everything was fine, but Han knew better. He just hoped the two of them could get their acts together before whatever battles were to come.

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Not long after that, everything was settled. The Ewoks declared both the Rebels and Imperials as part of the tribe and pledged to help them destroy the shield generator. Leia hoped that there would be no battle, but they would be prepared for any possibility. She didn't want to underestimate Palpatine and Vader. The following morning, the Ewoks would show them a quicker way to the shield generator.

It was almost time for sleep, but instead of going to her designated hut Leia found herself approaching Mara, standing alone at the edge of one of the wooden walkways that traversed the village. "How are you doing?" Leia asked.

Mara turned to her and smiled tersely. "Fine."

"You sure?"

Mara rolled her eyes. "Oh yeah. You're a Skywalker now. Therefore you can't leave me alone until I spill my guts, right?"

Leia shrugged. "You looked like you needed someone to talk to."

"Well I don't," Mara snapped.

Leia raised her arms. "Fine. Whatever you want." She turned and walked away, only getting a few meters before Mara called out to her. When she turned back around, Mara wore an apologetic expression.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you."

"It happens."

"It's just…weird."

Leia let out a short laugh. "That's a good word for it."

"Does Han have to tease us at every opportunity?"

Leia smiled and walked back to the railing. She and Mara stood next to one another, staring out into the forest night. "You've been gone for far too long if you need me to answer that question."

Mara smiled, genuinely this time. "That's very true."

Leia returned the smile. "Don't let him bother you. He's just really glad to see you again. We all are."

Mara nodded, her throat tightening. "It's weird…but nice. Sort of like old times."

Leia regarded her old friend for a moment. "You know, Luke has been miserable for the past fifteen months. Not as much as you, I'd imagine. But he hasn't been the same since…since…"

"Since Palpatine's announcement? That was quite the touch, wasn't it?" Mara made a bitter noise, then shrugged. "It wasn't all bad. I had a pretty plush life in the Palace, I guess. And I have the Chimaera."

Leia could sense Mara's trepidation. "But?"

Mara glanced over at Luke, standing on another level of the village and doing his best not to pay attention to their conversation. "It just wasn't the same."

Leia followed Mara's gaze, letting her eyes fall upon her brother. "You should talk to him, Mara."

Mara snorted. "I think we've done enough talking on this trip."

"Take it from me, Mara." Leia reached out to hold her old friend's arm. "You can never do enough talking. I learned that the hard way. The Force brought you and Luke back together. Don't waste this opportunity." She glanced down at her feet. "It may be your only shot."

Mara raised her eyebrows. "Quoting the will of the Force, huh? That's very Jedi-like."

"I'm not a Jedi," Leia said quickly. "Well, not yet anyway. I dunno, I guess I just don't think I'm as cut out for the Jedi business like Luke is."

"I don't think anyone is," Mara said softly. "He's special. Always has been."

"Yes, he is," Leia agreed.

Mara blinked herself out of her haze. "I think you're wrong, though. You'd be a great Jedi. A Jedi diplomat. The Empire won't know what hit them."

"You could be a Jedi, too." Leia pointed at Mara's saber. "Luke's a great teacher. He's probably going to finish my training when all this is over. I'm sure he'd jump at the opportunity to train you."

"I think it's too late for that." Mara bit her lip and changed the subject. "I'm sorry, you know. About Vader."

Leia shuffled her feet. "It's fine."

"Are you sure?"

Leia shrugged, then glanced up at the Death Star hanging in the darkened sky. "It has to be, right?"

Mara nodded sadly, looking over at Luke again. "Right."

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The Ewoks provided five empty huts in which the group could sleep. They separated naturally—the troopers in two, Lando and Chewie in one, and Han and Leia in another. Leaving Luke and Mara to share the last hut.

As they all separated, Luke told Mara he'd sleep outside, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. But Mara just rolled her eyes and told him not to be ridiculous. That they were grown adults and could handle themselves as such.

Well, at least if things got too weird he could always go bunk with Chewie and Lando. Or the stormtroopers.

The rest of the group settled into their huts for the night. The huts were on various levels, so they had some privacy. Before retiring for the evening Luke found Mara standing by the railing outside the hut, staring out into the trees. Her hands were clenched around the railing and her thoughts were a jumbled mess. He didn't want to alarm her so he approached slowly, clearly broadcasting his sense in the Force.

She turned and offered him a faint smile. "You can go to bed, you know. You don't have to wait up for me."

He smiled back. "I know." But he didn't say anything else, merely stood next to her, their hands only centimeters apart on the railing.

Mara, realizing that she wasn't going to get out of talking with Luke, shrugged her shoulders. "I've been meaning to ask you—what happened to Red?"

"Oh, he's here. We sent him ahead with the rest of the strike team."

"Oh," she said quietly. "I thought maybe he got reassigned to another pilot."

Luke shook his head. "No, I kept him. Starfighter Command never bothered to ask for him back. I think they realized…" He trailed off, his insinuation obvious—they knew he would never give up his only remaining connection to Mara. "He misses you," he added. "Still bickers with Artoo constantly."

Mara grinned. "Good. I taught him well, then."

For a moment, it was just like old times. Then Mara sighed and moved her hand away, just slightly. But it was enough of a reminder. "Why'd you come to Endor, Luke? I thought you'd be leading the fighter attack."

"No," Luke said, disappointed at their lost contact. "I'm not a Rogue anymore."

Mara's eyes widened in shock. "You gave it up?"

Luke nodded. "I have other responsibilities now. I knew that I couldn't focus on the squadron and build it up again, the way it should be."

"Who's Leader? Wedge?"

"Yeah. What, you think I'd transfer power over to Wes?"

Mara chuckled. "Stranger things have happened."

Luke laughed along with her. "Yeah. Like Avy agreeing to date him."

"What?" Mara gasped. "Oh, you're not serious."

"Oh, I am. They're secretive about it, but it's obvious to anyone with the Force. Or a set of working eyes."

Mara shook her head in disbelief. "Wow. I'm glad, though. She deserves it."

"Yes, she does," Luke agreed.

"But even if you're not a Rogue, they could've used your flying skills. Who else in the fleet has blown up a Death Star?"

Luke shrugged. "That's true. But I felt the urge to come here. Now I know why." Mara glanced back at him. Her hand moved slightly over on the railing, until their smallest fingers were nearly touching. Luke moved his hand the rest of the way, so their fingers were intertwined. "Why'd you do it, Mara?"

She tried to pull away but he wouldn't let her. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Please, Mara."

She didn't answer right away. She took time to consider her words, to get them just right. Finally, she said quietly, "It was the right thing to do. Just like you refusing to join Vader."

"So you sacrificed yourself?"

"Would you have done any different?"

Luke sighed heavily. "Sometimes, I wish that I had."

"You didn't have any other choice. You couldn't make the same mistakes he did."

"But you knew what he'd do to you," Luke protested.

Mara sighed. "I thought I did. I was wrong."

Luke furrowed his brow and stepped even closer to her. "Mara?"

For a long moment, the only sounds came from the night creatures that lived in the forest. The air grew thick around them, the Force glowing in the air. Even though she did not want to relive those moments, she spoke softly but clearly. "I thought that he would use me for bait, so you'd come for me instead of the others. After that, I figured he'd keep me on his ship, to entice you further." She paused. "I didn't realize what would happen after that, that he'd turn me over to Palpatine. I thought he'd kill me before doing that. Sometimes, I wish that he had."

"I'm sorry." What else could he say? His own father had done this to her. The father he believed was redeemable.

Mara turned to him with desperate eyes. She clutched his hand and squeezed it. "It's not your fault. He gave you an impossible decision. Knowing what you did about him, and Leia…you made the right choice, Luke. Never doubt it. I'm proud of you."

He blinked and looked away, embarrassed by her words. He should be the one to console her, not the other way around. "Why didn't you come with me on Toprawa?" Luke asked suddenly.

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Mara knew the question was coming. It was one she'd asked herself many times since that day. "I don't know," she replied honestly. "I was convinced that I'd been brainwashed—that if I ever tried to escape, I'd end up killing you and everyone else I ever cared about. So I stayed. Then Palpatine ordered me to kill you. I thought I had no choice but to obey. When I realized that I could disobey him, I froze. I had no idea what to do…but I knew one thing." She glanced up at him with hard, steely eyes. "I wanted Palpatine to die, and I wanted to be the one to be responsible." She snorted. "That's not a very Jedi-like way of thinking, is it?"

"But you're not on the Dark Side, Mara. I know you aren't. I can sense it. You ask about your droid…you care about your friends."

Mara shook her head. "You don't know the things I've done. I convinced myself that I hated you for so long. Perhaps I'm not there yet…but Palpatine sure put me on that path. And I don't know if I can ever get off it."

"You can, Mara. You already have."

"How do you know, Luke?" she asked bitterly.

He placed his hand over hers. "I know because I can feel it. You're not past regrets."

She froze, Vader's words from their last conversation falling over her. The conversation that convinced her to finally do something good in her life, and go to Endor. She couldn't help but smile. "Perhaps."

They were standing side by side now, arms grazing and souls intertwined in the Force. She had missed him so much, even through all her pretend hatred and denial of her feelings. And now he was here, so close yet so far away.

As if sensing her thought, Luke tensed beside her. "Mara, I…"

She looked up at him. "Yes, Luke?"

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Being this close to her again, he couldn't resist. He dipped his head and pressed his lips to hers, soft and gentle but full of emotion. She tilted her head, allowing the kiss to grow deeper. His tongue parted her lips and he moaned softly, overwhelmed by her scent, by her touch, by her taste…

Mara stiffened in his arms. It was a small gesture but more than enough to break him out of his haze, a look of shame crossing his face. "I'm…I'm sorry," he stuttered. "I just…I couldn't…"

Mara nodded and wiped at her lips, unable to respond but projecting her forgiveness through the Force. A memory struck him, of his brash proposal before he left for Dagobah. After her strong reaction, he had sworn that he would never again be so reckless. He had failed once again.

He didn't know what to do or say without making things worse. "I'll…I'll just leave you alone." He glanced at her blank expression one more time before turning around, running his hand across the wooden railing as he slowly walked away.

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Mara blinked at the dark forest night. So much had passed between them. So much had changed. They had changed. It was foolish to believe that they could magically return to what they had once been.

But now, she couldn't bear the sight of him walking away from her. She grew colder by the second. His footsteps echoed across the night and she wanted to run to him, to pull him into her arms and tell him to stop, to never leave her again, to love her…

"I kept your X-wing!" Her blurted out words rang through the night. They had the desired effect and Luke stopped dead in his tracks, his shoulders tensing.

He turned around slowly, a confused expression on his face. "What?"

She took a deep breath, calming herself. He wasn't walking away any longer. "I kept your X-wing," she repeated, more slowly this time. "On the Chimaera."

Luke continued to stare blankly at her. "But…why?"

Mara shook her head, staring up at the planet rotating above them. "I asked myself that question so many times. I was convinced that I hated you. I blamed you for everything. But whenever I imagined your X-wing being dismantled, or someone else flying it…I couldn't stand it. I couldn't let something like that happen. It reminded me of you—of us. So as soon as I got out of the Lusankya, I found out where it was and took it. Vader was angry that he couldn't get any coordinates off it, so it was thrown in cold storage somewhere. I don't think he could bear to see it torn apart, either."

Luke's brow furrowed. "But…what about Palpatine?"

"He thought it was because I hated you," Mara explained. "That's what I told myself, too—that I wanted it to spite you. But it wasn't true." She took a deep breath. "I took it because I loved you." She paused, staring into Luke's deep blue eyes. "I still do."

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His breath hitched in his throat. "Oh, Mara…" He moved toward her but resisted the urge to grab her and pull her into his arms. He didn't want to scare her away again. "You know I never stopped loving you. Never."

Mara nodded, her eyes becoming glassy. "I did, and I hated you even more for that—because if you loved me so much, then why didn't you try to save me on Cloud City? Why did you never come for me afterward? Why did you never try to infiltrate the Chimaera?" She chuckled lightly. "You could have, you know. Our security systems are awful."

Luke could feel his heart thumping against his chest. He wanted to crush Mara to him, to say he was sorry for everything, to make everything right. "Don't." Mara shook her head against his thoughts. "I told you, you shouldn't blame yourself. We both did what we had to do on Bespin. I can't begrudge you that."

"I can."

"Well, don't. I made my choice there. And I would've killed you myself if you surrendered to Vader."

"He wouldn't have killed me. I could have resisted him."

"You don't know that." Mara sighed. "It doesn't matter anymore." She glanced up to the night sky, to the Death Star orbiting above them.

Luke stared at her unabashedly. She looked absolutely beautiful in the soft planet-glow, her hair shimmering in the dim light. He couldn't help himself. "I missed you, Mara. So much."

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His words were so simple, so pure. So Luke. Something snapped inside her and she could feel it in her chest, all her long-denied emotions surging to the surface. She reached out and pulled him to her, not even hesitating. Their hands came up to cup each other's faces as their lips pressed together. They stayed that way for a long time, lips sliding against one another, but Luke managed to pull away from her mouth to breathe hotly against her ear. "Are you sure about this?"

She nodded and pulled his mouth back to her lips. "Make me forget, Luke," she whispered. "Please make me forget…"

Hot tears fell on her cheeks but he kept kissing her, firmly and passionately. How could he possibly say no? They didn't know what tomorrow would bring, and there was no reason to be alone any longer.

Luke gently backed her to their hut, their hands roaming along each other the entire time. Mara's heart was pounding inside her chest but she didn't care. She didn't care about anything other than Luke, and the feel of his strong hands sliding up and down her back, his fingers delving into her hair, his lips gliding against hers. She pulled him inside quickly, not wanting to break apart any longer than necessary.

They undressed slowly, stealing kisses the entire time. When they were bare they just stared at each other, eyes raking over flesh long denied but never forgotten. Overcome with emotion, Mara felt tears sting her eyes and she blinked them away. She was here to forget. The past couldn't hurt her. Nobody could, not anymore, not when she was with Luke.

He pulled her close and kissed away her tears. They didn't speak; no words were necessary. His lips found hers again and she collapsed to the floor, pulling him with her, not even bothering to find the soft mat provided for sleeping. They kissed and touched and caressed, his skin superheated against hers. She threw her head back, lost in the sensation of being with him again. But it was going much too fast and she began to hold back. She wanted this to last forever. She had already let him slip away once. She didn't want to let go of him ever again.

Sensing her thoughts, Luke turned them on their sides, lying face-to-face. She smiled at him then, nipping his lip gently, then lowered her head against his chest as they moved together. She hadn't smiled that way in so long, but it no longer felt foreign upon her face. It felt so right, so incredibly right. They stayed that way for a long time, basking in the glow of the Force that surrounded them.

Time went on and it became too much. Mara's eyes widened in surprise as Luke used the Force to push her onto her back. But instead of protesting she found his lips again, still amazed that he could make her feel so damn good.

Luke's arms were boxed around her head as he hovered over her, kissing her senseless. He made her feel safe this way, protected, even though she did not need it. She had asked him to make her forget, and he would.

She clutched his sweaty back, holding him tighter. Neither of them knew what tomorrow might bring. When Endor's sun rose their lives would change forever, the galaxy along with it. For the better or the worse, she didn't know. But no matter what happened, they would remember this moment for the rest of their lives.

As he pushed her close to the edge, Mara felt Luke's Force sense reach out to hers. She stiffened at first, so reluctant to let someone into her mind again. There were so many horrible memories, so many things she wanted to forget. She had avoided using the Force as much as possible, afraid of slipping even farther away into the darkness.

But this was Luke, and she could resist his mind no more than she could his body. Slowly, tentatively, she accepted his mental caress and opened herself to the Force. He snatched onto her presence and she felt him surrounding her, a light so bright that it was blinding. It was as if a supernova burst inside her as he reached the place in her mind that belonged only to him, the place that had been empty for so long. Their souls and minds joined in the Force…and she forgot.

Both gasping for breath, they could hang over the edge no longer. Together they fell, soaring in glorious flight.

It was a long time before he rolled off her, panting for breath, unshed tears in his eyes. She moved with him, resting her head on his chest, kissing it gently, still not letting him go. When it had grown quiet again, she gave him another kiss and said the only thing she could think of. "I missed you, too."

After all that had passed between them, of all there was to say to one another, it was the only thing that truly mattered.