ONE YEAR PASSES…
In his quarters at the Jedi Academy, Luke eased out of his meditation trance. Whose voice had that been? A ghost's. Ben? Yoda?
"Luke?" A soft, anxious, very effeminate voice. "I'm over here."
The Jedi Master glanced 'round. There, by his door, was a short-haired young woman, dressed in simple beige clothes and surrounded by the shimmering blue light of a Force-strong spectre.
"Callista?" he whispered, stunned.
The woman smiled at him. "Hello. Did I startle you?"
"I was meditating."
"My apologies." She watched him get to his feet. "Are you well?"
Luke held the ghost's gaze. "I suppose I am."
"They're fine." Luke walked to his table and poured himself a drink of water from the jug he kept there. "Why are you here, Callista? Shouldn't you be appearing to Mara?"
To her credit, she met his gaze, unflinchingly. "I have tried, many times. She won't see me. She cries, or gets angry, or leaves the room, or sometimes just ignores my presence altogether until I leave."
Luke glanced regretfully at his father's old lightsaber. The one Mara had practically thrown back at him as she stalked from his apartment.
"I know you love her, Luke." No bitterness, no jealousy, just a statement of fact. "You always did. And you love her still."
Luke raised a fair eyebrow. There was no use in pretending with this woman – she'd been a Jedi of the Old Republic, long before his birth. "Am I that obvious?"
"Rather, my dear." Callista had joined him at the table. "And I know what it's like to love Mara Jade. She has no real idea what love is, because no-one ever showed her affection when she was growing up. She built a fairytale for herself and I, and it was so utterly addictive."
"Luke, we would never have lasted. I was an old soul with a young woman's face, a face I stole. Mara told me she wanted babies and marriage and a home, but when it came down to it, would she have done? How do you explain our situation to children? 'Firstly, you have two mothers, unlike all the other kids at school, and secondly, one of them is actually a ghost biding her time in another person's skin.'"
"Callista," Luke said gently, trying to smile at the woman, "Leia is putting through legislation to make same-sex marriage a possibility. I mean, they're calling it 'civil partnership', and it's not quite the same thing, but it's a start. And that's mostly because of knowing you and Mara, and seeing that what you had was no less valuable or real than what a male-female relationship has. You made an impact."
"Thank you." She chuckled. "What about body-snatchers who've lost their Force abilities? Do they get the same rights?"
Luke winced. "Well…"
"Luke, I had only a brief time with Mara, but I don't regret anything, before the end. She's damaged, through no fault of her own, but she's a wonderful, sweet woman who just wants to be loved. She thinks about you all the time."
Luke was stunned. "She does?"
"Yes. She misses you, she's as mad about you as you are about her, but she's too stubborn and proud to go through with leaving you a message, through the Force or on your comm – and believe me, I've watched her standing over Karrde's comm unit for nights in a row, willing herself to do it."
Luke's heart leapt. Oh, if that were true! "She's too proud, and I'm too afraid to lose her altogether."
"Take it from someone who knows all too well: life is short. Take what happiness and love you can. You two are going to be so happy together."
"You know that for a fact?"
"Well…" Callista smiled. "Yes. When you join me, and all your lost comrades, in the Force, you'll understand such things. But that won't be for a long time."
Luke's face grew serious. "I wish I could've helped you more, when you were with us. I can't imagine a life without the Force."
"You're a kind man. But I fairly bask in the Force, now. Go to Mara. She's still awake, and thinking of you. Goodbye, Luke Skywalker. Take care of the Jedi Order." And with that, the spectre was gone.
It was the Rogues' annual party, for which they always hired the Senate Hall, always got in some incredibly potent liquor, and always ended up wrecked. Leia was away on some official visit, and as she'd taken Chewbacca and the Solo children with her, Han Solo was a free agent, which apparently meant getting as smashed as the Rogues. Mara and Lando arrived together to find the former General Solo winning a 'chugging' contest against Corran and Wes Janson.
While Lando wandered over to join in the frivolity, Mara searched the room for Luke. They'd been talking every day since he'd contacted her aboard the Wild Karrde, and it both elated and terrified her that they would be seeing one another again tonight. Luke Skywalker, whose responsibilities to the Jedi and his family should have kept him well away from any long-distance relationships. Especially with her.
She spotted him with a group of his younger students. All were in their late teens and early twenties, and all were utterly in awe of them. Although it was the oft-troublesome Kyp Durron who was holding court, gesturing wildly with his hands and making the girls giggle, it was Luke whom they all watched out of the corners of their eyes. He turned 'round, laughing at one of Kyp's stories despite himself, and saw Mara heading in their direction. His smile widened and he broke wordlessly from the group to head to her. The youths watched in surprise as their Master, usually so serious and composed, almost broke into a run to reach Mara. Mara's head filled with the sounds of their mental whispers to each other through their unripe Force bonds:
Yep, body-snatcher's girlfriend.
Ugh, imagine having sex with a ghost-woman, how the heck do you do that?
She's probably crazy.
Well, she was Emperor's Hand.
No way? Her?
The very same. Thinks she's too good to be one of us, as well…
Luke had reached her.
"Mara," he said, squeezing her hands. Then, he hugged her tightly, and the apprentices' whispers racing 'round her head, were stopped dead, and were silenced. "Dear Force, I've missed you. I'm so glad you're well."
"Thank you," she said, enjoying the feeling of his arms around her. Until she'd been with Callista, she had never, ever imagined sharing hugs or any other sort of physical closeness; had never known such contact, so had never desired or missed it. Now, it felt so good to be held.
At around midnight, all the young apprentices – who were actually fine to talk to, though Mara sensed strongly their continuing unease – left. Luke and Mara continued to swap intimacies, gossip about mutual friends, review the latest holo-films, and laugh together, particularly after finally glancing up and spotting Han and Wedge, both very red in the face, laughing obscenely at apparently nothing in particular.
"Apparently, we're the only ones still sober," Mara remarked, grinning as he indicated Lando and Corran munched messily on takeaway food they'd somehow convinced a couple of security guards to order in for them, and the other Rogues and their partners dancing like lunatics to the heavy music the young favoured these days.
She felt Luke's hand on hers, and turned back to see a shy smile on his face. "Then you'll know I'm being completely rational when I ask you something," he said.
"Okay," she replied, warily.
He enfolded his fingers 'round hers, and she squeezed in response to their solid warmth. The gesture obviously emboldened him, because he leaned in closer and lightly kissed her before he spoke again.
"Will you please come and stay with me tonight, Mara? The past is the past. We were both idiots, so let's just begin again." He rubbed his fingers across her palm.
A beautiful smile broke across her face, and she was just about to scream, Yes!, when a slurred voice came from behind them.
"Kid, where da'live?"
Luke glanced behind her, his expression flitting from enraptured, to irritated, to calm and concerned. "Hi, Han. What did you say?"
Han was leaning heavily on Wedge, who looked barely able to stand himself. He pointed his index finger at Luke's face. "Ah said, where da'live? He dun't know." He indicated Wedge, who just laughed and hacked in response. "You're a big bad Jedi, ye know aaaalll."
Luke glanced at Mara, who was clearly as torn as he was between whether to laugh or scream. "Han, I'll take you home. I really don't think you'll make it of your own accord."
That was Luke Skywalker all over: always tender toward other people. Even to grown men who should really know better, and be left to their own devices to live and learn if they didn't already.
Even to a woman he should have regarded with disdain, as a bad friend, an unworthy apprentice, and all in all, a nasty piece of work. And yet, he still loved and desired her. And she wanted him, too, needed him like air. It had taken her far too long to see that.
She got up to follow the men from the Senate Hall.
As it turned out, Luke had had to take all his friends home. Mirax Horn, who'd left the party earlier, agreed to take in Wedge as well as her husband, shoving them on a sofa each. She joked about putting their hands on one another's asses and then waking them up in the morning by 'walking in on them'; Mara had laughed wickedly along with her, remembering how much she liked Mirax. Then, they'd gone to the Solos', where Han stunned the protocol droid C-3PO by attempting to swing-dance with him. They finally got Han into his own bed and Lando into little Jacen Solo's vacated one.
And twenty minutes after that, they'd made it from the Solos' door, along the hall, up in the 'lift, into Luke's apartment, and onto his bed. And they'd kissed, the whole way there. Stopping to take a much-needed breath, Mara turned her face into the pillow, and was suddenly hit by a memory of being face down on this same bed, while Luke, kneeling between her thighs, lay kisses along her back.
Luke watched her, and his fingers took hold of her chin. She smiled at him, almost laughing as she watched the array of emotions on his handsome features: nervousness, sensual thrill, utter pleasure, and boyish abashment.
"You still think about me at night sometimes, don't you?" she murmured, settling back.
His face reddened again, but he held her gaze, leaned in, and began lightly kissing her. "I think you're incredible, Mara," he whispered. "I always have."
Mara reached up one hand to touch his face, and reached the other around herself to start unzipping her black flightsuit. "Then have me," she said, and smiled – anxiously, mischievously, happily.
"Mara…" He put his hand on her arm, stopping her unzipping action.
"What?" she asked, allowing a cold note to creep into her voice. But the adoration in his blue eyes softened her mood again, as he said, "Tell me you want this, always. I don't want you just for tonight."
"Luke", she whispered, "I'm sorry about everything. I'm sorry I acted so badly. You deserve better."
Luke took her hand again. "Please stay with me," he said quietly. As he leaned back in to kiss her again, she pulled him in closer, and had to smile around both their mouths as her other hand travelled under his tunic and found his warm body. As she pulled herself free from her flightsuit, she was struck by his awed expression. He let her be in charge, as he always had done before, and boy, did she enjoy directing their lovemaking.
"Wow," he breathed, as they lay together afterwards.
"Of course." He turned to her. "You're as beautiful as I remembered."
She felt tears sting her eyes; embarrassed, she wiped frantically at them, but they trailed down her face anyway. "How can you forgive me? How can you just… want me? I was so awful to you…"
"You were hurting. It was selfish of me to expect a relationship with you when you'd just lost Callista. I got too caught up in my own feelings. It's me who should be apologising." He kissed her again. "I think we're both ready, now. I know I am." His thumbs caressed the tears on her cheeks away. "Be with me, Mara. Come back to the Order – you know you belong there."
"You make it sound so easy."
"It is. It's as simple as that. We love one another, so let's stop finding excuses not to be together. I never told you how I felt because I thought it was my duty to devote myself only to the Jedi and have no other attachments."
"I was too screwed up then, anyway."
"I know, and I'm so sorry. But Callista loved you, and that softened you, made you a happier person. I wouldn't be here holding you now if you'd never known her. And I'm so grateful for that." He smiled sheepishly. "Does that make sense?"
Mara sighed. "Luke…"
"I love you. I'll give you a happy life, I promise."
"I love you, too, you know I do. And I want to make you proud, and make myself proud, and come back to training, I do." She held up her hands. "But I enjoy working for Karrde, okay? I love my job as much as you love yours."
Luke smiled. "I wouldn't ever ask you to leave."
"You wouldn't, or you wouldn't dare?"
"Both," he replied, chuckling.
That night, Luke and Mara planned their future – how Mara could train in between Karrde's assignments, how they could be together on Coruscant and on Yavin IV, how they could marry someday, how it would all be okay. And, somewhere in the Force, Callista Ming's spirit, free at last, rejoiced in the bliss on her former lover's face as she fell asleep in Luke's arms.