A/N: I would like to take the time to thank everyone for reading this fic, especially those of you who took the time to comment. I've been working on this fic for about a year now, stopping only periodically to write one-shots and short stories. It's definitely the hardest thing I've ever written. I hope you've enjoyed it. Thank you all so much for reading.
When the flames from the funeral pyre finally subsided, Luke and Leia returned to the Ewok village where the celebration was in full force. They entered the village as one, but Leia soon pulled ahead and ran down the walkway to jump into Han's arms. They hugged and kissed as if they were the only people left in the galaxy. Luke smiled at them, his heart skipping a beat at seeing them so happy together. He glanced around, taking in the rest of the celebration—of Lando and Chewie reenacting scenes from the ground, of the Rogues both cheering their success and mourning the losses of battle. He mourned right along with them, and it was like reliving Dack's death at the Battle of Hoth. Avy had never allowed his death to wreck her; instead she learned to love and live again and, in the end, drew strength from his sacrifice.
He greeted his friends, genuinely elated to see them again. Han clasped his hand, a look of profound gratitude in his eyes, but Luke merely smiled. It hadn't been Luke that assured they returned from the Death Star, it'd been Leia and her ultimate acceptance of Anakin Skywalker's role in her life. Perhaps one day Han would understand; perhaps this was something that Luke and Leia would carry by themselves for eternity.
It was a joyous occasion, a time of renewal and hope. Despite the loss of his father, things were finally starting to feel right. But among all the revelry and merriment, something was missing. None of the Rogues came out and asked him about Mara, although he could sense their desire to do just that. The rumor'd been going around that she returned, and they were all anxious to see her again. So was Luke.
He could sense that she was nearby and honed in on her presence, now permanently etched in his mind. Her thoughts were a jumbled mess—to mourn the dead or celebrate the living, to remember the past or look ahead to the future, to stay with Luke or escape into the galaxy for her first real chance at freedom.
Glancing around the village, deciding that nobody would really miss him, he turned and set out into the night.
He found her standing outside "their" hut, leaning against the railing, staring down at the ground. There was an odd sense about her, both joy and sadness waging war for dominion over her heart. He approached her slowly, not wanting to startle her. "Mara?"
Her head tilted, but didn't turn. "You're back." He could sense the smile in her words.
He nodded and moved forward, drawing next to her against the railing. "Yes." He paused, uncertain how to say his next words. "The Emperor's dead."
"I know," Mara murmured. "I felt it happen." She faced him, green eyes shining brightly against the darkened sky. "I told you you'd beat him."
Luke shook his head. "I didn't kill him. Anakin did."
Her forehead creased. "Oh."
"He came back at the very end," Luke explained, deciding to keep the entire story for Leia and himself. "Saved our lives."
They fell silent. Luke wanted to reach out and take her hand, but something had shifted inside her and he knew she would resist. So he remained close to her, waiting for her next words. "Do you think it would kill me?" she finally asked, her voice barely audible over the distant sounds of the celebration.
Luke cocked a brow. "What do you mean?" Han had told him about Mara's injury, but that it wasn't serious and she would heal in no time. But something in her expression told him she wasn't referring to her blaster wound.
Sure enough, she leaned slightly over the edge of the railing. "The fall," she clarified. Luke's heart froze. "Do you think the fall would kill me?"
He moved closer then, unable to stop himself, ready to reach out for her if necessary. Han had also mentioned that Mara had jumped in front of that blaster fire deliberately, as if she'd wanted to be shot. What was going through her mind? He almost panicked, but calmed himself for her. "I'd never let you fall," he declared.
She let out a mournful sigh. "What if I already have?" He shook his head and closed the final distance between them. He lifted his arm and she glanced at him sharply before he could place his hand on hers. Then her expression softened and she backed away from the railing. "Don't worry. I won't jump. You know I couldn't do it."
He knew that, of course, or she would have been dead a long time ago. Fifteen months, to be exact. But that didn't ebb his concern about her well-being. He said the only thing he could think of. "Anakin said that he was sorry for everything. I know it might not mean much, but I think…I think he wanted me to tell you that. That he regretted what he'd done to us—to you."
Mara laughed softly. "It's funny. He told me he was long past regrets, but that I wasn't. I guess he was wrong about himself...what if he was wrong about me, too?"
"No, he wasn't." Luke's throat tightened and for a moment he had trouble speaking. "You are not like him. Remember what you told me on Toprawa? You said you didn't need to be saved. You were right—you don't."
"I know what the Jedi teach, Luke," Mara said, a touch of bitterness in her voice. "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny." She looked at him then. "My destiny's been dominated by darkness for a very long time."
He remembered her words from the previous night—she didn't know if she could ever get off the path on which Palpatine had placed her. Now that he was dead, it was as if she had no idea how to live her life. Even in the Alliance, her entire life had been dedicated to Palpatine. First serving him dutifully, then devoted to his destruction. And what did she do now?
"Then why did you come here? Why'd you come to Endor?"
"I told you why."
Luke shook his head. "You told me a reason. But it's not the truth."
Mara paused. "Right before I left the Death Star to go to Svivren, Vader told me that I wasn't past regrets. And even though I'd spent my entire life trying not to care at all what he thought about me, then hating him, it struck me hard. Especially knowing what I did about him...for the first time in a long time, I thought that maybe he was right. That I could change. That Palpatine hadn't gotten to me like all the others. So I decided, no matter what happened, I needed to be here. I needed to see it end. To do something good with my life for a change." She looked up at him. "Then you left for the Death Star and I thought, this is it. This is my moment. I'd do whatever it took to make sure Palpatine died."
He sensed her implication even if she didn't say it—once again, she would sacrifice herself. And if that was true, one thing was certain. "You're not a Sith, Mara."
She snorted derisively. "Doesn't matter. It's just a word. Palpatine taught me that." She paused, glancing away into the blackened sky. "I've done terrible things, Luke. My entire life. Things I don't know if I can come back from."
"And I killed over a million people in a single second on the first Death Star," Luke countered.
Mara sighed. "It's not the same, Luke, and you know it."
"It doesn't matter. I still feel guilty. That's what matters."
"I don't know about that."
"Mara, just a few hours ago you jumped in front of a blaster bolt to save Han's life. On Bespin you sacrificed yourself to the Empire so your friends could be safe."
"That doesn't mean anything," she said softly, but she no longer sounded so sure of herself.
He grabbed both her hands then, and turned her toward him. "Listen to me! Your soul is filled with light—I can feel it. Would I love someone who was dark?"
"Maybe. I hear love can be blinding."
"And so can the light."
She didn't respond, not knowing what to say. She was conflicted, unsure of what to do, where to go, so Luke decided to make things easy for her. He held out his arm. "Come with me to the celebration. There are a lot of people who've been waiting a long time to see you."
A bittersweet smile appeared on her face. "I can't face them, Luke. How can I after what I've done?"
"Yes you can, Mara! They miss you. They love you!"
She shook her head and wrapped her arms tightly around her chest. She shifted awkwardly on her feet. "I could go back, you know."
"Everyone's dead. I'm the only one left—the only one the people will support. I could change things."
Luke froze, realizing what she meant. To go back to the Empire. Palpatine and Vader were dead. So was Isard. Mara was right—she was the only one left. His heart clenched. He wanted her to stay with him, but could he really deny her the freedom she'd always desired? "Is that what you want? To go back there?"
"They're not all bad, Luke. If you want a stable government, you can't just expect them to go away. That's what Palpatine did, and it never works."
"I know." He paused for a moment, watching her think. "Is that what you want?" he repeated.
"I don't know." Her head dropped, defeated. "I just want to be me."
He nodded, resisting the urge to pull her into his arms and tell her to stay with him forever. For so long she'd lived her life according to others. It was time for her to take control, to do what she wanted for once in her life. So as much as it hurt him, he would walk away.
But there was still one thing left to say. "I'll be waiting if you change your mind." And with that, he turned to leave.
He almost made it to the walkway before Mara called his name. He stopped walking but didn't turn, waiting to hear her words. He heard soft footsteps behind him, stopping about a meter away. "Luke…does your offer still stand?"
He turned around then. She bit her lip, her green eyes shining hopefully. Luke smiled at her and held out his arm, ready to bring her to the celebration. "No." She shook her head and took another step toward him. Her lip quivered. "I don't mean that offer…I meant the other one…" She trailed off. Luke felt his brow furrow, trying to figure out what she was talking about…
And then it hit him, like a bolt of lightning.
"Listen to me! I don't want to forget that you asked. I'm serious about us too, Luke, but we're still so young, and I'm still so closed-off…I'm just not ready yet."
He'd said it once before and it would never, ever change, for as long as he lived. His throat convulsed as he tried to speak. "Forever."
She took the last step. She was close enough to take his hand, and she did. Her eyes locked onto his. And for Luke, at that moment, it was more than enough. He leaned down and kissed her slowly and tenderly, his arms wrapping around her as if there was no tomorrow.
Eventually he pulled away, and when he did so, she was smiling. He smiled back and took her hand, leading her down the walkway toward the victory celebration.
Mara held Luke's hand tightly as they walked into the Ewok village. Her mind was reeling, the implication of what was about to happen almost overwhelming but she held firm, knowing that she could do this. Luke squeezed her hand, his love and acceptance flowing over their bond in the Force.
Deep down, she had never worried about Luke accepting her. She always knew that he would, no matter what happened between them. That was just the way he was—a shining beacon of light, always full of optimism, never giving up hope.
But the others, her friends…she had lied to them all. They'd been her brothers and sisters, her first real family, her only friends. They had treated her like one of their own, and her return to the Empire had been a cruel act of betrayal on her part.
What would they say now? What would they do? She wanted to believe that she didn't need their acceptance, but that would be a lie. She could live without it, but what kind of life would that be?
When they arrived, her attention was immediately drawn to the Rogues. She could sense their myriad of emotions—relief combined with grief combined with anticipation. Waiting for her. Her throat convulsed and she resisted the urge to run away.
Wes, to no surprise, was the first to spot her. His face brightened as he gestured wildly to the others. "Guys!" he exclaimed, grimacing in pain when Kasan smacked him on the shoulder. "I mean, people—look! It's Mara!"
In unison, the rest of them turned to her. "Mara!" one of them said, she couldn't tell. They were upon her in an instant, slapping her back, smiling at her, acting as if no time at all had passed. As if they were welcoming her home from an extended mission. Tears sprung her eyes but she blinked them away, willing herself to stay composed. She couldn't speak, though, and let them do all the talking.
Among all the revelry, one person was missing, his presence sorely lost. But then she sensed him standing behind her. She stiffened, turned, and there he was—Tycho, the man who had become her brother. He was arm-in-arm with Winter, the woman who'd become one of her closest friends. The woman she'd lived with. Both of them Alderaanians, with every reason to hate her for serving the Empire.
But Tycho spoke no harsh words. He held out his arms and she felt herself being enveloped in warmth and love and acceptance. Tycho squeezed her tight and whispered against her shoulder, "Welcome home, Mara."
And just like that, everything was better.
She broke down then, sobbing unabashedly, not caring who saw or heard. The Rogues surrounded her, offering support and happy words. Luke let them have their way with her for a few moments before approaching the group and gently pulling Mara away. "Okay, okay, now it's my turn," he said in mock annoyance, but smiling openly. Mara turned into his arms and clutched his shoulders, not wanting to let him go. Never wanting to let him go. Because she was finally back where she belonged. She was finally home.
Leia stood off to the side of the village, watching with a smile as Mara was reunited with the Rogues. She blinked away tears in the corners of her eyes, a heavy weight being lifted off her shoulders. For the first time in so long, everything was the way it was supposed to be.
Han squeezed her waist to get her attention. She glanced up and met his curious brown eyes. "You all right?" he asked, his voice sounding choked. He must've seen the tears in her eyes and thought she was on the verge of having another emotional breakdown. After the day they'd all had, she didn't blame him for thinking that. But no, she'd had enough breakdowns for one lifetime. Today she'd put the past behind her—laid it to rest, so to speak—and the future beckoned. It looked bright.
Leia turned away, regarding the scene in front of her. Her twin brother, confident in his place in the Force and embracing the woman he loved. That same woman surrounded by her old friends, having learned to forgive herself and her past. Other friends, rejoicing in their victory and sharing their strength while mourning those that had passed on. Even droids that had once bickered senselessly were finally standing together in harmony.
And Han, the man who had won her heart...he held her close, their bodies flush against one another. He was with her, and he wasn't ever going to leave. He believed in her. But most of all, she believed in herself.
A strange feeling settled over her—pure, unadulterated happiness—and she grinned. "Yeah." She grasped his free hand as tightly as she could and let out a happy sigh. "I'm perfectly fine."
And she was. For almost four years she'd been an orphan, struggling to find her place in the galaxy. Now, surrounded by the people she loved and cared for, celebrating victory over those who'd tried and failed to destroy her life, Leia Organa realized that she was finally at peace.
They all were.
End of Part 3 - The Way of the Force
The Jaded Trilogy has concluded.
Thank you for reading,
Nanci a.k.a. JediMara77