A/N: While writing this chapter the idea came up between myself and DarthObsydian to tie her Guarding the Angel bedtime story together with Fragments as they fit fairly well together. There was a slight timeline issue, but I think I was able to mitigate it decently. If you have not read her story be sure to do so! Not only is it an awesome story, but this chapter makes several references to details in her fic. :) Also this is dedicated to DarthObsydian for all her help and support on this fic. Merry Life Day/Christmas/Yule everyone!
Chapter 12: Life Day
I know he's humouring me, but it makes me appreciate him all the more. Curling into his side I shift so I can watch the snow softly falling out the large transparisteel window. Resting on soft taun taun pelts by the fire I know I am the picture of bliss. The apartment we meet in is neither mine nor his, but a place in-between he maintains for meetings of a more desecrate nature. He'd never allow his own chambers to be decorated in such a fashion. Brightly coloured lights are strung around the room, providing a lovely defuse sort of light along with the fire and candles placed around the room. A large, colourfully decorated tree takes centre stage in the room however. Apparently reading my thoughts Palpatine sighs and shakes his head as he runs an idle hand through my hair.
"I don't know what it id you see in the blasted holiday my dear." he says standing and sitting on the couch which has been draped in furs for comfort. Sitting myself, but not quite willing to give up my comfortable place by the fire yet, I lean against his legs, staring into the fire as I speak.
"The lights… the smells… you have to at least admire it from an aesthetic stand point." I say and he gives a slight laugh.
"Trying to appeal to my love of art?" he asks amused. I shrug and grin.
"Was worth a shot." I say. Leaning my head back I tilt it up to meet his amused gaze. Sighing ruefully he shakes his head at me.
"Perhaps, but my opinion remains unchanged." he says. I pout slightly and he pulls me up and towards him. Shifting myself so I am facing him I settle into his lap.
"Is there nothing I can do to sway your opinion on this matter?" I ask playfully "Someone once said I am quite a skilled negotiator." I say as I nip at his collar bone.
"Later perhaps we can work on your negotiation skills." he says, "But as I am here to celebrate Life Day with you, accursed holiday it is.. I would say your skills in negotiation are already quite successful." Running his hands down my back, he cracks a half smile "Unless you would prefer not to celebrate." he adds. I shake my head at him.
"Not unless you wish to further my negation training right now." I respond grinning. I know he is tired. We both are, still recovering from our fireside passions. As such I know he will not rise to my challenge.
"You win my dear." he says. Sliding me from his lap he grabs his outer robe from where it was discarded, wrapping it loosely around himself as he stands to make his way over to the tree. I follow him curiously, grabbing one of the pelts and wrapping it around myself, the air still chilled by the Coruscant winter away from the roaring fire. Beneath the tree there is a wrapped package. Picking it up he hands it to me. I'm surprised at the weight of it. "Open it my dear." he says. Pulling the paper off I find a book bound in leather of some kind… kyrat dragon hide I realize as I run my fingers over the cover where carefully hand painted falling stars decorate it. A memory nearly forgotten flashes in my mind. One of my first nights on Coruscant.
"You had this made for me… when I was very young." I say, lost in the memory. He nods and smiles.
"So you remember." he says. There is something in his voice that sounds odd but I can't understand it.
"A little. I remember I was scared and you read to me." I admit. Something tugs at my memory as I flip through the book and I touch the Sand Panther tooth that hangs around my neck reflexively. He watches as I try piece together fragments of that day from the shadows of my memory. As I flip through the book the pieces fall into place. I know my eyes have gone wide and my breath catches in my throat as I realize the truth. The truth is my true gift I understand. Not a sugar coated version like he told me before, but the cold harsh truth. He waits silently as I process the facts.
"Do you understand why?" he asks me gently. Blinking back tears I nod. I do understand. The Jedi would have kept me from reaching my potential. I would not have thrived the way I did under them as I do my Master. He cups my cheek in his hand and brushes away my tears as memories come flooding back. I still don't remember their faces… but I remember their cries and pleas. The way my mother screamed when- I shake my head not wanting to think of it. I'd asked in my innocence if the lightning had hurt. Now I was older and wiser and knew from first hand experience it did. I remembered the pain of even mild bursts as he taught me to deflect it. I remembered struggling against him as he took me, not understanding… breaking free and almost getting killed by that kriffing panther. Again he had saved me… and that time I had seen him as he was- my saviour. I understand why he did not offer me the truth before as well. Even now it hurts… but that he has faith in my ability to handle it fills me with pride. I feel his gentle comforting touch on my mind as he pulls me into his arms.
"Thank you Master." I say, barely more than a whisper, my voice choked with tears that I am no longer certain are of pain of loss or joy in his trust in me. My voice falters and I can say no more, but he understands. He always does.
I make certain she is relaxed before I present her with the gift I have. I am unsure how much she truly remembers, or can with the right stimulus. I will soon discover this however. If she remembers, I know it will pain her, though it is my hope it will also further her loyalty. Should this experiment to allow her a more honest answer to her question fail… well there are certainly ways to pull those memories from her mind. It will mean listening to her questions all over again, but it is a small matter. I will do whatever is needed to ensure her perfect loyalty. She is the picture of bliss, resting against me on one of the taun taun fur rugs I acquired for this occasion. She tries again to sway me to her love of Life Day. It amuses me, as does the playful nature about her. Amusement is not however the purpose of tonight. Rising and guiding her to the gaudy decorated tree she is so fond of I withdraw a package wrapped in crimson paper with a sedate black bow, and hand it to her, monitoring her reaction in expression and in a light Force touch on her mind. I observe as her face flashes in remembrance, the reaction mirrored in the Force.
"You had this made for me… when I was very young." she says, her voice distance, lost in memory.
"So you remember." I say. She catches on fast there is something more about the book. Her expression is confused for a moment as she tries to understand my meaning.
"A little. I remember I was scared and you read to me." she says. I wait patiently to see just how far she remembers. I keep my face impassive as I observe her. She is vaguely aware of my studying her, but she ignores it. Her hand goes to the pendant around her neck as she flips through the book, the pieces starting to fall into place. Ah yes, so she does remember. Shock and hurt emanate through the Force from her as she finally connects all the fragments I have offered her through the years. Her eyes go wide and she gives a sharp intake of breath. Keeping my tone soft, my posture one of gentle comfort, I cup her cheek and wipe her tears away.
"Do you understand why?" I ask her. I speak no further. She does not answer immediately, still lost in the memory as I remove a small barrier in her mind that I placed there when I first acquired her to allow her to remember vividly all she needs to about that day. I can clearly feel her pain, but also a degree of resignation and understanding. It was a worthwhile gamble I decide to allow her this. She is still clearly hurting and upset however much she understands. Sending soothing waves through the Force I pull her into my arms as she cries.
"Thank you Master." she whispers against me, before surrendering to tears entirely. Gently I take the book still clutched in her hand and set it aside then guide her back towards the fur draped couch. It is some time before she settles and stops crying, but I know when she does she will not weep for them again. Finally my little angel has found her wings and is ready to fly.
"I regret my gift has upset you so… I am led to understand this is a happy holiday." I say lightly as I stroke her hair soothingly. That brings a faint smile to her lips.
"Forgive me if I have given the wrong impression… it means a lot to me you trust me so much." she says finally regaining her composure and voice.
"I'm glad. I hate to see you unhappy my dear." I tell her. It is true in a sense. I do hate to see her unhappy, just not for the reasons she thinks. When she is unhappy there is always a risk her loyalty may falter. It's why I am always so careful to filter what she sees of the Empire. Her emotions make her both weak and useful. It's all a matter of balance and fine tuning that line. Our Force bond does simplify the matter however. She does not know it, but it allows me to observe her without her even sensing it. I have trained her to shield her mind from most, but not from me. Not entirely.
"Sorry for the waterworks." she mumbles sheepishly, wiping tears and streaked makeup from her cheeks.
"Do not apologize my dear." I say gently. "Come let us speak of more pleasant things." She brightens at that, her mood shifting to a more relaxed playful one again.
"Like perhaps working on my negotiation skills?" she offers teasingly.
"Quite so." I say laughing and pulling her more fully into my arms. "Quite so."
Apparently one thing myself and Mara share in common is a passion for Life Day. Her moreso than me I think. I rarely see Mara so excited, and it's hard to contain my amusement as she runs around fussing over details of the decorations and food. Our apartment, especially the kitchen has been a flurry of activity. Certainly I knew Mara was a good cook and enjoyed entertaining… but her standing in the kitchen baking with an apron is such a… domestic image. It's hard to match it with the image of the fiery former assassin and Emperor's Hand I know and love. "Would you stop standing around thinking and help me with dinner already?" she snaps suddenly, brandishing a rather un-menacing spatula at me.
"I tried love. You told me I was making the sauce wrong and to kriff off in your words." I remind her lightly. She scowls at me. As yes, there's my fiery assassin wife.
"Just check on the roast and give the roasted root veggies a stir. You can manage to do that without kriffing it up right? Your sister and her husband are going to be here soon and we aren't ready yet!" she sighs.
"Yes ma'am" I say, giving her a mock salute.
"Cute Skywalker." she says rolling her eyes at me as she fires yet another dish into the cook unit.
"How many people did you invite Mara?" I ask her.
"Just your sister, Solo, Chewie, the kids, Lando, Tendra, Karrde, Aves, Chin, and Shada- why?" she asks confused.
"Because we look ready to feed the entire Imperial Army." I say, gesturing to the massive spread already on the table and dishes still cooking. "Just relax Mara please!" I plead, stepping over to her and rubbing her shoulders to try settle her. As I do she slumps and rests against the counter.
"I just want it to be perfect." she sighs.
"Why does it matter so much?" I ask her, pulling her into my arms.
"I haven't celebrated Life Day with anyone since my days as Emperor's Hand." she says. That catches me a little off guard.
"Wait, I thought Palpatine hated Life Day. I remember one year holopress reporters asked him for a Life Day greeting and his only comment was bah humbug or something like that." I say and she gives a small laugh against my shoulder.
"He did.. but he would humour me over it because he knew I liked it… no matter how silly he thought the whole affair. He would never decorate his quarters, but he had several apartments for private meetings and he always made sure one of them was decorated perfectly for me. My happiness mattered more to him than his dislike of the holiday." Mara explains.
"That was sweet of him I suppose" I say, trying to keep my emotions in check. The last thing I want is to start a fight with my wife right before Life Day. She understands however that while I don't like it I am making an effort to accept it graciously, and returns the gesture by not commenting on the flicker of annoyance I feel at him still having such meaning in her life. I am slowly coming to accept it however. Shifting from my arms she checks on the various items in the cooker then relaxes.
"Ok we have about thirty minutes to relax before dinner is ready. What do you want to do?" she asks.
"I wanted to give you something while it's just the two of us." I tell her. She gives a mischievous grin and I blush "Not like that Mara!" I blurt out flustered. Regaining my composure after a few deep breaths I guide her over to the tree and pull a small box from beneath it. "I wanted to give this to you while we are alone because… well I'm not sure how you will react." I admit. She regards me curiously, but takes the box and opens it carefully. As she does I see her eyes widen and feel her surprise in the Force.
"A falling star box!" she exclaims. "Where did you find this? It's like the one I had as a child, but the company that made them was destroyed in the war."
"It took a bit of looking." I admit "You like it though? I wasn't sure if it would upset you or not. I mean I know you said the one you had meant a lot and you lost it-" my rambling is cut off by a passionate kiss from my wife.
"I love it farm boy!" she says smiling brightly. "Merry Life Day Luke." Mara says kissing me again.
"Merry Life Day Mara." I echo, pulling her into my arms and holding her close. Silently I thank the Force for bringing us together. Soon the apartment will be full of people and noise, but for the moment I enjoy a quiet moment with my wife and consider having her in my life is the best Life Day gift in the galaxy.