A/N: I finally got a copy of Allegiances and Choices of One. This sorta stemmed from a what if moment I had reading it. Picks up from near the end of Choices of One.
Deciding the fire had died down enough to safely leave, Mara stepped out of the room with Ferrouz's wife and daughter behind her, lest anyone had survived the fire and was suicidal enough to take one last go at her, and slammed straight into someone. In a flash she had her lightsaber ignighted and in a guard position, ready to defend… and paused as the figure in front of her raised his hands in a surrendering motion. "Easy there, I'm on your side!" a voice called out. Blinking through the still heavy smoke Mara recognized a face.
"Skywalker? I thought LaRone ordered you out of here." she said. In a decidedly sheepish looking gesture Skywalker gave an affirmative nod.
"Then why are you still here?" Mara growled at him.
"I was curious." he responded calmly.
"Curiosity killed the nexu Skywalker…" she warned. What kind of crazy moron has LaRone sent to help her anyways? Sighing, Mara decided there wasn't much she could do about Skywalker for the moment without blowing her cover more then it was. She still had no idea exactly who this Skywalker was… but she had a hunch. Mission first though. She would reunite Ferrouz with his family, then deal with the strangely naive help who seemed determined to stick around. If her hunch was right, and he had the slightest idea who she was… and something in his expression said he did… he should have run far, far away. His voice broke her train of thought.
"Shall we get them home?" he asked, nodding towards the women still standing behind Mara and looking somewhat confused at the exchange.
"Yeah, lets go." Mara said, deactivating her lightsaber and clipping it to her belt.
Having safely delivered Ferrouz's family, Mara pulled Skywalker to a quiet ally… then slammed him into the wall. "Ok, Skywalker… what the hell is your game?" she snarled.
"I just wanted to help." he answered, startled by her attack. Surely he could not be that naive could he? Taking a step backwards Mara studied him, both physically and through the Force.. and felt no duplicity at all. He was as innocent as he claimed it seemed.
"What did LaRone tell you about me?" she asked.
"Not much. Just you needed help. Master Axlon mentioned an Imperial Agent who used a lightsaber and was a woman… you're her aren't you?" Mara gave a slight nod in response. She shifted to lean back against the opposite wall and regarded him cooly.
"Skywalker… that wouldn't be Luke Skywalker would it?" she asked and, though Luke said nothing his flinch gave it away. "I see… care to tell me why Lord Vader is so interested in you?" At her words Luke realized he really should of run when he was told to. LaRone was convinced this agent was merciful though so he hoped she might at least hear him out before killing him… or worse yet, turning him over to Vader… who if the sounds in the nearby building were anything to go by was very near. He debated lying, but the Force told him that would only make things worse. He really hadn't thought this one through. Nexu indeed. Taking a deep breath he answered her.
"Probably because I am the one who destroyed the Death Star." Mara gave a disbelieving snort, but then froze. Touching his mind she sensed no deception at all. She was floored. Here was the Empire's number one wanted criminal standing before her, knowing she was an Imperial Agent. She debated that she should just kill him where he stood… but she was so stunned at his audacity she had to ask something first.
"You know I'm an Imperial agent… you know you are a wanted man by the Empire… why did you stay? Only someone suicidal or a kriffing fool would stay." Luke looked down at his feet and shrugged.
"You didn't turn LaRone or any of them in. I hoped-" she cut him off laughing. How could someone this innocent and foolish have managed to become such a threat?
"Hoped what? You''d talk me into joining you and you stupid war mongering friends? I'm trying to restore peace to the galaxy. You really are a kriffing fool Skywalker." she spat. "No, LaRone and his troop may have defected, but they still serve the Empire. You on the other hand are a mass murderer."
"Me? What of the Empire who destroyed Alderaan?" Mara shrugged at that remark.
"Tarkin was a fool. His actions were his own. The Emperor did not sanction the attack at all. He'd been ordered to use the Death Star to destroy military bases. Had he not been killed by you I would of terminated him for his abuses of power." she replied cooly. "You however… how many hard working men and women, just trying to make a living, do you think you killed when you blew up the Death Star?"
"It's a war…" Luke started to say, but it sounded hollow in his own ears. She was right. Many of the people killed in that attack were not soldiers. Mara's hand hovered over her lightsaber.
"So you have nothing to say in your defence really?" Luke shook his head. Mara had been about to activate the lightsaber and strike Skywalker down when she heard her Master's voice.
"Wait my child…. he could be of use to us. Bring him to me."
"Yes my Master" she responded mentally, bowing her head slightly. Skywalker was looking at her confused. Speaking aloud to Luke, Mara extended her hand towards his. "Come on. It seems my Master wishes to meet you." Suddenly leery Luke tried to step back, only to realize he was backed up as far as he could go.
"I don't have a choice in this do I?" he sighed. Mara shook her head no.
"My Master is far more kind and forgiving then your Rebel friends have led you to believe. Hear him out at least. You might be pleasantly surprised. However, you are correct this is not an optional matter. Not so long as you wish to stay alive anyways." Luke slumped dejectedly, but nodded his understanding. He'd seen her fight. There was no way he'd be able to beat her and even if he got lucky… Vader was only a block away, with the entirety of his 501st. He started to panic when he realized she was taking him to Darth Vader. Apparently picking up on his alarm, Mara shrugged. "I don't especially like Lord Vader either. He's somewhat unpredictable… especially with you he's going to feel I've been poaching on his turf. However homicidal as he can be towards me at times I don't think he'll dare defy our Master's orders directly. There isn't much choice in the matter since I came in a Z-75, and that won't fit both of us. " For his part Luke was stunned the woman in in question was discussing Darth Vader as if it were no more interesting then the current smoshball scores. Luke knew enough to know most Imperial officers were terrified of him. That she was so laid back about it… she must be very powerful. He was quickly realizing she was more then just a simple Imperial agent… and he was about to go into the rancor den he saw as they approached the back entrance of the Palace. Pushing him ahead of her, Mara steered him through the door… and the room froze. Luke noticed her resting her hand on her lightsaber as Vader approached them.
"Lord Vader" she nodded. Vader nodded back at her.
"Emperor's Hand" he said cooly. Luke felt sick as his heart dropped hearing her title. If he had any doubts before, he knew exactly who her Master was now. "I see you have captured the Rebel Skywalker." he said cooly. Mara debated questioning how he knew who Luke was, but decided she really didn't want to piss Vader off when he was being civil to her.
"Our Master requests he be brought before him directly and immediately. My own ship will not carry both of us, so I request passage to Coruscant on the Executor." Vader was silent for a minute, before he responded.
"Of course Jade. You may take him there. I will be there as soon as I finish my own mission here."
"Thank you Lord Vader." Mara inclined her head slightly to the Sith lord and Vader retuned the gesture. It would seem the two were more or less equals, Luke considered observing the exchange.
As they walked down the streets to the space port where the Super Star Destroyer waited, Luke decided since he was not about to get out of this he may as well get to know the mysterious agent. "Vader called you Jade… is that your name?" he asked.
"It's my last name. My name is Mara Jade." she said.
"And he called you Emperor's Hand…"
"My official title, though few in the Empire know it. My work is mainly covert."
"And you knew he wished to see me and not kill me because…?" Mara tapped the side of her head.
"We can speak through the Force. Don't you know anything?" she asked. Luke sighed.
"Not really. I only trained with my Master for a very short time before Darth Vader killed him. I'm still learning." Luke sighed, feeling very much like a small child next to Mara's considerable skill in the Force. Mara nodded and continued walking, guiding Skywalker ahead of her. She was pretty sure he knew he'd never escape her alive, but the sooner they were on board the ship she'd feel better. It was easier to control a captive in a confined space then busy streets, and she wasn't positive he wouldn't try a suicidal bolt into the crowd, endangering innocents around him. He seemed resigned to his fate however and didn't fight until they reached the space port where a shout broke the crowd.
"Luke!" a female voice yelled from the other side of the port from near a modified Corellian YT freighter. Skywalker tried to run but Mara was anticipating his move, catching his arm and wrenching it hard, while drop kicking his legs out from under him. As he stumbled forward she caught his arm again and pulled him flush against her, he sleeve blaster now firmly pressed into his side with her free arm.
"Don't try that again." she growled. "You want to live and your friends to I suggest cooperating here. I can order that freighter be shot before it even leaves the ground, and I can kill you before you know what hit you." Luke knew she wasn't bluffing either. Anyone who could order Vader around had enough sway seeing this through was all he could do. Sadly he shook his head at Leia and waved her to leave. He saw her face fall and her start to run after him when Han pulled her back, shaking his head and guiding her onto the freighter. Once they lifted off Jade pushed him forward and onto the loading ramp of the Executor. He no longer resisted as they boarded the massive ship. An officer considered questioning them, but thought the better of it when he saw the lightsaber hanging from Mara's hip. Not wanting to trust anyone but herself to guard the Rebel, Mara guiding him down walkways toward the front of the ship where the dignitaries quarters were. Shoving him into a room she reached out with the force to lock the door behind them. Only then did she start to relax. As she did she felt a familiar presence in her mind.
"My Master?" she responded, kneeling and bowing her head instinctively.
"Keep young Skywalker close to you. Befriend him if you can. Do not allow Lord Vader to be alone with him" came the voice in her mind. Apparently feeling Mara's twinge of curiosity at the idea of befriending the young Rebel, Palpatine clarified "His mind has been warped by his Rebel friends… he will need new friends if he is to reconsider his allegiances. I wish you to sway him to our side."
"Of course my Master. It shall be done."
"Good. I will see you soon my child."
"I look forward to it."
"As do I." Palpatine responded before breaking the connection. Skywalker was staring at her transfixed. When she rose and sat on the bed he questioned her.
"So what are your new orders? Am I to die after all?" Luke asked, not caring much anymore. Perhaps death was preferable to what he would soon face. Mara shook her head.
"He wishes me to ensure your comfort and protect you from Lord Vader." Mara said and Luke was confused. The Emperor didn't trust his own servant? Noting his expression, she confirmed his suspicions. "My Master trusts Lord Vader mostly… but Lord Vader is far to biased when it comes to dealing with Rebels… not to mention his temper. He fears Vader may harm you before he can meet with you." Luke was confused. This was not the Emperor Luke knew at all. Could Mara be right that corruption in the Empire was solely individuals acting out and not from within? Mara for her part was unclipping her lightsaber, removing her wrist blaster, and kicking off her boots and settling on the bed. "We are pretty far out on the Rim. It's going to be a long trip back to Coruscant. I don't know about you but I've hardly slept since I arrived on Poln Major. I'd like to get some rest."
"There's only one bed though." Luke said a little alarmed. Mara for her part just laughed.
"And it's a big one. There's plenty of space for both of us. I don't bite, I promise."
"But… I hardly know you. It wouldn't be proper…" Luke mumbled turning red.
"Skywalker, get your head out of the gutter. I just want to sleep. I can't do that and keep an eye on you unless you are with me and I can feel if you are trying to run away where you will get yourself in trouble with Lord Vader." she explained holding her hand out to him. Luke considered protesting but a yawn cut him off. Perhaps he should sleep after all. Make sure he was awake and alert to whatever he was going into. Kicking off his boots and removing his own lightsaber he took her hand and settled down beside her. She shifted to pull his arm over her and entwined their fingers.
"Uh, I thought you said just sleeping.." Luke started and she laughed.
"I'm just making sure you can't move without waking me Skywalker."
"Oh" came Luke's sheepish response.
"Now if you are done asking questions I'd really like to sleep." she said kicking the blankets over them. In spite of his protests, Luke fell asleep quickly, his last thoughts pondering this could actually be quite romantic… if the lovely agent next to him wouldn't kill him in a heartbeat if he tried to move.
Several hours later they were awoken by none less than Darth Vader himself. Even the Sith Lord was a little startled at the positioning of Skywalker and Jade until he realized both were fully clothed. Jade's hand hovered over her lightsaber ready to fight if needed. Raising his own hand to show he had no intent of attacking he addressed her. "Relax Jade, I only wish to borrow our young Rebel for some questioning. I won't harm him."
"You can question him here then. It is our Master's orders he is not to leave my sight." she responded sharply. Well that explained their positions. Jade wasn't holding his hand for any sentimental reasons… it was to keep control of Skywalker even as she slept. Still the conversation he wished to have with Skywalker was not one he could have in front of the Emperor's Hand. She was far far too loyal to the Emperor and would report to him any suspect conversation. Sighing he turned on his heel to the door.
"I don't work with an audience any more then you do Jade." he said, storming out the door. Only after they heard his boots click down the hall to the cockpit did Mara relax her guard.
"Um thanks" Luke muttered softly and Mara looked at him confused.
"Thats for what?"
"Protecting me from Vader. He's scary." Mara gave a genuine laugh at that comment.
"I'm just doing my job Skywalker."
"Please, call me Luke."
"Ok Luke, are you hungry?" she asked. His stomach rumbled and she laughed again. "I'll take that as an affirmative." Luke for his part was considering just how appealing her laughter was. If only they weren't on opposite sides of a war… She must of caught some of his thoughts because she gave him a confused look for a moment but didn't say anything about it. "Come on, lets go to the mess hall and get something to eat." As they passed a window Luke realized they were well into deep space by now as the lines of hyperspace passed them. Definitely no escaping now. As he regarded the Imperial agent pulling him towards food however, he wasn't quite sure that was a bad thing.
Luke was pleasantly surprised to find a wide range of for choices and none of them ration bars. Selecting some roast nerf he settled into a table with Mara. He noted most of the officers gave her a wide berth. Then again, if he didn't know her somewhat he'd be pretty terrified of a woman who spoke to Vader as an equal. Chewing the meat he decided he was glad he'd not found out from Leia where the Rebellion was heading next. At least he'd not be worried about being forced to give them away. While his views of the Empire were being currently challenged, the Rebels were still his friends. Regarding the Imperial agent sitting across from him he wondered… "Mara do you have any friends?" he asked. She barked a bitter laugh at him.
"Friends? I'm an Imperial spy and assassin. Those don't tend to make for friendships. Either people have no idea what I really am and treat me as a Palace decoration or they fear I might be turned on them."
"What about LaRone, Macross and them?" Luke asked.
"They are allies. It's not the same as friendship." Mara said, pushing down the flicker of concern she felt for the group. She could not afford to care for them. Friendship was a luxury she could not afford… and yet.. her Master wished her to befriend Skywalker. Studying her Luke sighed.
"I suppose not."
"Why do you care anyways?" she asked, baffled at his strange priorities.
"Well.. since I'm stuck with you I thought maybe… well without the Rebellion I don't exactly have friends either." he mumbled sheepishly. Well this was easy. Her Master wanted her to be friends with the young Rebel, ok she would.
"So you're asking your captor to be your friend?" she asked, a bemused expression on her face. Luke laughed.
"I suppose it does sound kinda silly. I still stand by my statement though."
"I'm not really an expert in friendship, but ok, we're stuck together so I suppose getting to know each other and being on friendly terms could be of benefit to us." she said finally.
"Friends?" he asked and she laughed.
"Friends." she confirmed.
Leia was in tears and Han holding her not knowing what to say. Luke was gone. They'd seen the Imperial agent force him onto the Executor where he would no doubt be interrogated then killed. Normally Han would be thrilled to have Leia in his arms… but right now it was a cold victory. They'd warned the kid about the dangers of getting too close to LaRone and his gang. Defectors they might be but they were still loyal Imperials. Han had no doubt they'd helped the agent capture Luke, so he was shocked when his comm beeped and it was LaRone. "What do you want you bastard? Trying to find the rest of us to turn in?" Han growled.
"What the hell are you talking about Solo? We let you go- again" LaRone snapped back.
"You turned Luke over to that Imperial agent." there was silence then cursing on the other end of the comm.
"Solo, we sent him to help Ja- the agent with her rescue mission. We told him to boost out of there as soon as it was over. If he's with her it's because he stayed and waited for her. She was trapped by a fire for a while." Han felt sick.
"Does she know who he is?" he asked the former stormtrooper.
"We never told her. If she does we have nothing to do with that."
"Why are you calling then?" Han asked.
"We wished to thank Luke for his assistance in this… but I see now that's not possible. I'm sorry Solo." LaRone said softly. Han didn't respond, choosing to flip his comm off instead. LaRone would understand. Leia was looking at him sadly.
"Do you think what he said is true… that Luke got himself caught? Maybe even intentionally?" Chewie barked something and Han sighed.
"Yeah, I think he might of. Chewie tells me the agent who caught him wore a lightsaber of her own. I'd bet anything the kid got curious and got caught when he tried to question her." at that Leia started crying again.
"Oh Han.." she whispered "What are we going to do?" For once in his life, Han had no idea.
When they met at the rendezvous point Leia's tears had dried but she still carried a deep air of sadness. While she had grown very close to Han in the past few days since losing Luke, she was still sick with worry. Was he dead? Was he alive? Were they torturing him? He was on Darth Vader's personal flagship with not only Darth Vader but an unknown Imperial agent. She remembered all too well her time spent in Darth Vader's clutches, being tortured for information on the Rebellion. She hoped against hope he was not suffering too badly as they worked to form their new base on the ice world of Hoth. Han came up beside her as she oversaw the construction. "Hey sweetheart, how you holding up?" he asked putting an arm around her. Previously she would never have put up with this, but she was so tired and hurting she leaned into his loose embrace.
"The same. I hate not knowing if he's even alive or dead." Wrapping his other arm around her and drawing the Princess to face him, Han kissed the top of her head. She shifted slightly but did not protest.
"We'll find him Leia. If he's alive, we'll find him. Chewie and I are keeping our ear to the ground with every supply run for news." Han told her, sliding his arms down so they encircled her waist. She glanced up at him and his head started to lower towards her when a cough interrupted them.
"Appologies Captain Solo, Princesss… but I need to provide Captain Solo details about our next supply run." Madine said. Leia shook her head to clear her mind and nodded.
"Of course General. I'll leave you to that." she said walking off wondering what in stars had gotten into her. Had she been about to kiss Han?
Despite the circumstances, Luke was enjoying himself. Mara had taken to teaching him some lightsaber skills and they sparred regularly during the trip, inspire of grumbles from the officers. No one dared challenge her even less now they'd seen her skills. Sometimes Vader would stop and watch the pair, and Luke wondered what he was thinking. Neither him nor even Mara with her considerably more advanced skills in the Force would detect a hint of what the Dark Lord was thinking though. They'd stopped trying to figure it out when one day Vader was in an especially fowl mood and when Mara touched his mind he lashed out at her.
"Out of my head Emperor's Hand." he snarled, ignighting his own lightsaber and swinging it towards her. Luke was even more impressed when she held her ground against him for a minute til he cooled down enough to realize killing the Emperor's Hand would not sit well with his Master. Still he'd warned her as he stalked off "Try that again Jade and I will risk our Master's wrath to end you." Mara didn't flinch though. She simply nodded to the massive Sith Lord.
"As you wish Lord Vader." Luke was utterly in awe of Mara. Perhaps being captured was not so bad. He was learning far more about the Force then he had ever hoped. Though she could have a temper as much as Vader, Mara was a good teacher and he was enjoying training with her. His joy ended though as he realized they were arriving on Imperial Center today. Today he would meet the Emperor and learn what his fate was. If he could barely hold his own against Mara and still lost in the end every time… he had no hope against the Emperor. As the ship put down he was terrified. Picking up on his emotional state Mara shook her head and put an arm around him. "Don't worry so much. The Emperor will not harm you and I will be with you." she told him. Somehow he couldn't bring himself to share her faith. Still this was it. No turning back. He'd had a good run. His only regret would be not being able to tell his friends he loved them one last time. Walking with Mara from the landing pad into Imperial Palace with Darth Vader behind him and the 501st behind Vader he steeled himself to meet whatever fate held for him.
In the throne room Mara and Vader both bowed before the Emperor and Luke followed suit. The 501st had dropped off, but two Imperial guards still watched over the proceedings. The Emperor spoke, addressing the small group kneeling before him.
"So this is the famous Skywalker who has proved so troublesome. Appearances can certainly be deceiving, don't you agree my child?" Mara nodded.
"Yes my Master"
"But of course you know that, my child, as many would underestimate you as well." It was a statement not a question and Mara didn't respond. "As for you young Skywalker… I understand my Hand has been training you. Do you wish to serve along side her?" Luke was stunned. He was sure he was being brought here so the Emperor could kill him himself, but here he was extending a job offer. "I could train you in the Force as well, as I did her. Would you like that young Skywalker?" the Emperor asked. Luke did want to learn about the Force… but joining the Empire would mean fighting against, even killing his friends. Then again if he went back to the Rebellion ever.. he'd be fighting against Mara who was his friend now too. Still if he wanted to stay alive he saw no option.
"Yes your Highness. I would enjoy serving along side Mara."
"Good." the Emperor sighed, pleased with himself. Catching a thought from the boy he enquired "Shall I have separate rooms prepared for you or do you wish to remain with Mara Jade?" Luke looked at Mara but her face was expressionless. Luke had greatly enjoyed their closeness and waking up beside her the past couple weeks on the ship… but that had been all practicality for her. He had no idea her feelings towards him and didn't want to invade her space if she didn't wish him there. On the other hand…
"I would enjoy staying with her, but I feel the choice should be hers." Mara glanced at him slightly out of the corner of her eye, her expression unreadable.
"My child, would you object to staying with our new friend?" the Emperor asked her. Shutting her eyes she knew where her Master was going with this. He hoped for more then just friendship between them to cement Skywalker's ties to the Empire. Skywalker was of course oblivious to this, but if it kept him as an ally….
"I would not object my Master." she answered, careful to keep her voice level and not betray any emotion.
"Good. Then take young Skywalker to your rooms while I debrief with Lord Vader. I will contact you with your new mission soon. You are dismissed." Bowing her head to the Emperor, Mara turned and left, pulling Luke with her.
Once they were out of earshot, Palpatine turned to Darth Vader. "How long have you know?" he asked. Vader was silent for a moment, shielding all his thoughts and emotions.
"I suspected after Yavin, but I only just confirmed it recently."
"So your son is alive after all." Vader nodded. "He doesn't know it yet, but he will be a powerful ally. My Hand already has swayed him much to our side. She understands what it is she needs to do to win him completely." Vader felt a twinge of irritation at how casually his Master manipulated his son and Hand… and that Luke was so blind to the whole thing. He would have to try split the pair up if he hoped to gain Luke's loyalty. Answering his Master, Vader kept his tone neutral against all he felt.
"It would seem so." he responded coolly.
"We will have to handle young Skywalker carefully. You are to stay away from him until his training is complete Lord Vader. Understood?"
"Yes my Master."
"Very good. You are dismissed." With that Vader strode out, determined to get close to the boy no matter what.