Chapter Ten

After a silence that seemed to last an eternity, Luke laid back onto the bed. For the first time since she had woken, Mara noticed he was only wearing his sleeping pants. She also noticed the ease with which he claimed his side of the bed and for a short moment a fleeting image of his arms around her while she had been unconscious crossed her mind.

Shaking her head slightly as if to clear it, she resumed her sitting position and stared at her hands. She knew that she had hurt him but she also knew that she had to make him understand that she was not the right person for him.

"Skywalker ..." she started and bit her lips. I'd rather face a Vornskr than him, she thought. Turning towards him, she sat cross-legged onto the bed beside him. Luke sensed the turmoil of her thoughts and propping himself up on his elbows he searched her face. He could feel how she struggled to keep her barriers towards him intact but he also knew that it was in vain. With their new bond neither of them could keep the other at bay for long.

"Mara, tell me about the essence," Luke started and met her incredulous look with a levelled gaze out of blue eyes. "The med droid couldn't find any entries in the medical banks..."

Jade snorted at that. "Because the essence is not used for medical purposes," she retorted, her old anger facing up to the surface. She chided herself silently, because deep down she had to admit that she was glad he had diverted the topic of their discussion away from her and her feelings.

"The essence was used by the Emperor to subdue Jedi in imprisonment. It was a way to keep them wondering what the Emperor wanted to do with them, cutting them away from the Force like this. A lot submitted to madness if the essence was taken too long, the side effects being loss of sensibility and sanity," Mara explained quietly and for a short moment their eyes met and Mara could feel the distress coming from Luke even if her Force sense was not fully recovered yet.

"You knew all this and yet you took it?" Luke's voice was deadly calm and only the tick on his jaw indicated how upset he was. Mara tried to ignore him, tried to shut out the feelings she experienced.

"I did," she said and looked down on her hands again. "It is my choice and I don't regret it. It is the only possible choice we ...I could have made."

Luke snorted at that. "Oh so you think you can think for me as well now? Didn't it ever cross your mind once that we could work it out? That there must be something we can do to keep these visions at bay?"

"There is nothing we can do. I tried and it didn't work. I had to protect you..." Mara's voice trailed away and she bit her tongue. She had already said enough, had revealed too much of her real feelings for the Jedi Master.

"Protect me?" Luke almost yelled, his calm Jedi demeanour slipping away rapidly. "Jade, I'm a big boy now, not still some farmboy from a dustball of a planet."

Mara snorted at his words, knowing how naïve Luke must have been back then to be as naïve as he was now. "You may be a Jedi now, but you will always be a delusional, cave dwelling, sand frolicking farmboy like you used to be." Her anger and discomfort at their present situation making her vindictive.

Luke was astounded by her assessment of him. "I'm not delusional and I don't frolic in the sand or in caves." Then he mumbled under his breath. "Except that one time with one girl."

Mara's head snapped up at his words. Frolicking in a cave with a girl on Tatooine? her mind screamed. It can't be him?! It just can't be?!

"What did you say?" she croaked out, momentarily cutting off his angry rant.

"What?" Luke asked. "Great, now you aren't even listening. Just tell me, Jade, why I should bother with you anymore??" he started to get off the bed and before Mara knew what she was doing she reach out a hand and stopped him.

"What was this about a girl in a cave?" she asked breathlessly.

Luke raised his hand dismissively. "Nothing." He shrugged her hand off and stood beside the bed. "I better go home, as I can see I'm not needed here." With that he snatched up his tunic and his boots and while making it towards the door he yanked his clothes onto his well built frame.

"Skywalker..." Mara's voice trailed away. She was at a loss.

"Don't you Skywalker me, Jade. I'm sick of it ... sick of you who is always acting so bantha-headed. Well no more. I'm leaving. If you give me a chance .. give us a chance, then you know where to find me, Mara Jade." He turned abruptly and stumbled as he struggled his boots on, hopping from one foot to the other.

Mara watched him and she would have smiled but the humour escaped her. Here she was watching the only man who had given her a sense of safety and gentleness walk out of her life.

Mara sat quietly in a chair in front of the floor to ceiling window. Since their quarrel the night before, she had not seen Luke and she felt a small pang in her heart and being.

He deserves to be loved as much as he loves, Mara told herself silently and she knew that she could never do so. I can't love, I do not know how, she told the small nagging voice inside her head. A voice that she had heard more and more lately and which was chiding her for all the things she had so foolishly risked.

Mara sighed and closed her eyes for short moments, shutting out the view of the Manarai mountains in the distance. She knew that her down time on Coruscant wasn't healthy for her mental equilibrium, she never had had time before to question her life and the path that lay in front of her. How come you have been so foolish as to let him make love to you? she asked herself and immediately cut down on the thought. I have been a willing participant, it was as much my decision as his. And I want Luke, I want him in a way I never wanted anyone before ... well perhaps, not exactly ... there was still the farmboy ... He had been the very reason why she had been punished by the Emperor. Her farmboy had taken her virginity, something the Emperor had planned on using his own way. Mara could still recall the fury and recklessness with which the Emperor had raged, and for the first time as the Emperor's Hand, young Mara had had doubts about the right and wrong of the Empire, and especially about her Master.

Perhaps back then I should have defected ... The thought that came so easily now, would have scared the Mara back then witless, she knew that. I was too young to see the rights and wrongs of the Emperor, he was like a father, he provided for me and took care of me, Mara's eyes snapped open and she shuddered. The very thought of seeing Palpatine as her father made her sick but back then that was all she had, all that kept her sane in an environment that was hostile and thick with deceit and treason.

She was still too much a product of the Empire and Palpatine, that much she was certain. Even after Luke had helped her to rid herself of his influence, she had still been unwillingly in his clutches. And all because of a night with a farmboy...

The thought that had been tugging at her mind for more than four months appeared again and for the first time she did not shut it out but perused it freely.

What if Luke is the farmboy? But that cannot be true ... I saw the death certificate, he .... his family died in a fire, she thought but try as she might she could not bury the feeling that perhaps she had been mistaken all those years ago when she had returned to Tatooine to look for her farmboy. What was his name again? Lars? she asked herself and slowly rose to her feet.

The sun was rising gently over the spikes and spires of Coruscant and Luke stood on his balcony and was sipping a mug of caf. He had not slept well after he had come home last night and he still felt slightly irritated with Mara. But he knew in her own twisted way of thinking she did the right thing, it was just the way she did it that hurt him more than he was ready to admit.

"I guess we just have to ride it out, Artoo," Luke said and the little astromech at his side gave off a series of beeps and whistles. The young Jedi Master grinned and nodded. "Aye, stubborn she is," imitating his old Master Yoda.

Returning to his living room he put the mug on the small table and checked his holo net messages. No messages from Mara, he mused, but he hadn't really expected anything. She can be as stubborn as a Taun-Taun, he thought again with a grin, his irritation at the beautiful trader quickly dissipating.

As he had taken a shower earlier he went over to this bedroom where he quickly changed into another set of his Jedi Blacks, fastening his lightsaber to his belt. He needed to see her, needed to make sure she didn't take off with her ship to do something stupid ...Like taking the essence again, Luke added silently.

Thus resolved, he made his way over to the med center, glad for once that he wasn't the patient like so many other times.
Luke chuckled to himself. Yes, I have spend too many weeks in that med center, he thought. They know me too well inside out.

Cilghal was angry. For days and weeks on end she and Master Skywalker had battled for the woman's life and now she wanted to sign out on her own volition. She could not let that happen.

"Miss Jade ...Mara, you are in no fit state to sign yourself out. What if you have a stroke again?" Cilghal tried to argue with the woman in front of her for the umpteenth time. She even considered using the Force to make the woman see the wrong of her doing but decided wisely against it.

Mara shook her head in an exasperated manner and stopped the packing of her duffel bag.

"Cilghal, I told you it doesn't work," Mara replied and looked around the room, checking if she had missed any of her personal items. "I'm out of here and if I stroke, then it will happen. But by the Force, I won't stay put in here any longer. Anything is better than locked away by Skywalker's good will."

The Calamari Jedi watched the young human woman. So she wants to escape from Skywalker, now why doesn't that surprise me? she asked herself.

"You know that Luke will hear about it, Mara. Just wait till he arrives here and he can take care of anything you want to be taken care of." The instant she spoke she knew it were exactly and utterly the wrong words. Seeing the red-head pausing in what she was doing she felt the extreme ripple of the Force coming from her and for the first time in weeks, Cilghal was afraid of the Master Trader ... again. There is still a major part of the Emperor's Hand in her, Cilghal mused silently and with a pang of regret.

"I can take care of myself and whatever I want by myself, thank-you-very-much, Cilghal. I don't need the Jedi Master to run my life!" Mara almost yelled before she checked herself when she saw Talon Karrde entering her sick room.

"Now if this isn't Mara Jade as she lives and breathes," Talon said by way of greeting and flashed both women his trademark smile.

"What do you want, Karrde?" Mara growled but the Master Trader ignored her tone and stepped over to Cilghal whom he greeted in the traditional Calamari greeting, touching her webbed hands with his own and putting his forehead against the female Jedi.

"May your waters always be clear, Cilghal," Talon said and the Jedi smiled.

"And may all your endeavours always be prosperous, Master Trader Karrde," Cilghal replied and smiled like a blushing young girl. Mara snorted when she saw the smitten Jedi and turned away.

"So Karrde, what brings us the pleasure of your presence?" Mara spit out.

"I heard you were ill and when I returned to Coruscant I wanted to see what my favourite second in command is up to," Talon said and grinned. "But I'm glad to see you so well, Jade."

"I'm your only second in command so cut the Bantha dropping," Jade said and zipped the bag shut with an angry snap. "Good you are here, I need you to give Skywalker something," she picked up a small case she especially had made for the weapon that was inside.

"Here, Skywalker knows what to do with it," Mara said and took the lightsaber out of its casing. "I don't ..." she wanted to say that she did not need it anymore, but that was not the case, I'm always in need of a good weapon, then she resumed, "I don't want it, and it is better to return it to its original owner. The Jedi will know what to do with it."

"Mara," both Cilghal and Talon gasped in unison and Karrde shook his head.

"You can't do this, Mara. This lightsaber is a sign of your Jedi status, Luke will never speak a word with you if you re-..." His voice trailed away when he saw Mara's set face. "You want to make him so furious that he won't speak with you anymore, is that it?" Talon asked and shook his head. "You are more crazy than I ever thought, Jade. And I don't want to be in your shoes."

"You won't, Talon," Mara replied coldly, and picked up the bag. As she moved towards the door, she passed Cilghal and slipping the bag to the floor, Mara bowed her head slightly in front of the Jedi Calamari.

"Thank you Mistress Cilghal for the help and the kindness," Mara said and after she had picked up her bag again, she bade her good bye to Talon as well and left the room.

Talon looked at the saber and turned it over slowly in his hands. When he looked up he met the sorrowful gaze of the Calamari and both knew that they better prepared themselves for the cold anger of the Jedi Master.

Entering the med center which was located in another wing of the Imperial Palace, Luke Skywalker came across Talon Karrde who looked as if he had been wrangled by a Wampa. The ex-smuggler turned trader was definitely not pleased to see him. Sensing the man's discomfort, Luke's danger sense flared up immediately.

"Where is she?" Skywalker asked exasperated and Talon Karrde shook his head.

"I tried to keep her but you know how she is when she is in one of those moods, there is no stopping her," Karrde replied uneasily and fiddled with a small oblong object. "Luke ... Mara ... she wanted you to have this ..."

The Jedi Master stared at the saber as if he assumed it would turn into a deadly spider. Hesitating, Luke took the lightsaber from Talon's hand and clipped it beside his own onto his belt.

"Did she say where she would go?" he asked Talon and the Trader shook his head.

"No, she just left," he replied but was interrupted by Cilghal who had stepped beside Karrde.

"I sensed she wanted to return to a planet on the outer rim. It must have been important to her and I could read images of vast deserts in her mind," The Calamari said softly and Talon's breath hissed sharply out of his lips.

I wish they wouldn't do this, Talon thought and from the look on Luke's and Cilghal's faces he knew they had picked up on his thoughts.

"Outer rim?" Luke asked coldly and Cilghal nodded. She watched the young Jedi Master with sorrow as he walked over to the receptionist desk. Through the Force she could feel the contained anger of him. When she looked at Talon for a short moment, she could see that the Trader had also picked up on the Master's emotion and they exchanged a worried glance. After a brief exchange of words with space port officials at the receptionist's holonet desk Luke returned.

"She requested take off and put in a flight plan to Tatooine," Luke explained. I should have known it was Tatooine, when Cilghal mentioned vast deserts. But why Tatooine? he asked himself silently and tried the Force to reach out for his friend. *Mara ...* But the call reverberated in the vastness of the Force unheard and he felt the barriers that the beautiful trader had built up around herself.

Sighing, he thanked Cilghal and turned towards the exit when Talon's voice called him back.


Both men held each other's gazes and Skywalker knew the Trader pleaded for their friend's life.

"I will not harm her, Talon, this much I can promise." With this the Jedi Master left the med center and Talon Karrde just hoped that he never drew the wrath of Luke Skywalker on him.

The graves were still untouched, like the time she had visited them before many years ago. Mara stood silently, ignoring the sharp desert winds that ripped at her heavy brown robe. She had found it slightly ironic that the only cloak that would keep the winds of Tatooine at bay were a cloak much like a Jedi robe and wearing it she felt uncomfortable.

Good thing the Jedi Master doesn't see me or he would start his little mantra of me going into training again, Mara sighed and moved around when she heard soft foot steps in the sand behind her.

"I'm sorry I startled you," the woman said and something about her was familiar to Mara.

"I see you are looking at Beru and Owen's graves," the woman pointed out and stood beside Jade. "A pity really, they were nice people, took in their nephew when he was still little..."

"Nephew?" Mara asked in surprise. The names had ring a bell and a deep fear crept up her spine.

"Yes, their nephew is the golden boy of the New Republic now. A shame me and Huff didn't think quicker when they buried them. The men just assumed Wormie was killed in the attack as well. But Huff and I know better, in fact Wormie and our son Biggs were best friends."

"Biggs? Biggs Darklighter?" Mara choked out and the woman nodded.

"Yes, Biggs was my son, he was killed in the attack of the first Death Star. You did know him?" the elderly woman asked hopefully and Mara shook her head no.

"But I know Gavin, he is with the Rogues," Jade replied softly and the face of the woman lit up.

"Yes, he writes from time to time, bless his soul. We are all so proud of him." The woman moved over to another grave. "We put this here, I mean they couldn't find any remains to send back so we just brought this lot, Huff and I."

Mara could sense the deep feeling of loss of the other woman and for a short moment she realised that for a long time she had only seen the Imperial side of the event. She had always thought about the technicians and civilian personnel that had been killed on the Death Stars, but now seeing the woman silently weeping for her dead son, she knew how much the New Republic had paid for the freedom of the galaxy.

For my freedom, Mara added silently. She watched the woman and a thought occurred to her. "You said that their nephew has become the golden boy of the Republic?"

"Why, yes, Wormie ... never thought he would become a pilot, that one. Don't get me wrong, he was the best in the skyhopper races, but I doubted his uncle would ever let him go to the academy. Well, he became a pilot, and from what I hear a good one. He blew up the first Death Star and is now one of those wizards, like Old Kenobi was ... Jedi I think."

Mara gaped at the woman then her hands and likewise her body started shaking. That can't be! her mind screamed and yet deep down in her very being she knew that Wormie must be Skywalker, her farmboy was the Jedi Master all along.

"You all right, young lady?" The elderly woman asked and gently touched Mara's arm. Even in the heat of the twin suns the trader was freezing as if subjected to the cold of Hoth.

"I'm all right, thank you," Mara replied and tried to suppress the shudders. "I just have to return to my ship, that is all."

"The X-Wing that landed near the market place?" The woman asked.

Mara creased her brow and shook her head. "No, my ship is just outside the cemetery, hidden by the dunes over there. You said it was an X-Wing?"

"Aye, thought that Gavin was coming for a visit but it wasn't Gavin, no one I know, all clad in black he was," the woman replied, sending Mara into another shaking fit.

Great, Jedi Blacks ... and of course, only one man wears these! she thought as she felt a familiar signature advancing towards her in the Force.

*Skywalker, what are you doing here?* Mara growled, barely containing her anger.

*Someone send me a message, remember, in form of a lightsaber. When I gave it to you it was for keeping not returning it whenever it strikes your fancy, Jade!* Luke replied as he scrambled over a dune, coming from the direction of the small trading outpost.

Mara could feel anger emanating from him and for a short moment she was reminded of another Skywalker, a Sith Lord who had only once shown her kindness. Shuddering again, Mara drew her barriers tighter around herself. She did not notice the woman bidding her good bye and so Mara Jade waited.
Bracing herself, she waited for the Jedi Master to reach her. It was inevitable that they would meet again, here where everything had started eighteen years ago.

Luke never took his eyes off the lone figure that stood erect in front of his aunt's and uncle's graves. He had visited the funeral site shortly after Endor and returning now, he felt anxiety and anger mixing within himself.

Not trusting his voice or his action he stopped beside her and looked at the graves in front of them. Skywalker waited, he knew Mara had to take the first step to resolve this mystery.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Mara asked in a whisper after a while and Luke turned towards her.

"Tell you what?" Luke shot back.

"That your aunt and uncle were called Lars!" Mara replied and she let out a frustrated sigh. "If I had known ... Gods, I am as dense as a Mynock sometimes. All these similarities, they just struck me in the eye and I didn't get them!"

"Get what Mara? Why is it so important to you that Beru's and Owen's last name was Lars?" Luke asked "And why your sudden departure? Tatooine is not going anywhere, your trip could have waited ..."

Mara shook her head. "No," she replied softly and she tilted her head towards him, putting the hood back over her shoulders. "It has already gone on too long and I don't want another voice in my head, not after the Emperor. It was going on too long and I can't stand it anymore..."

"You can't stand it anymore?" Luke asked, his voice having a definite edge to it. "Why didn't you just tell me? Do you really think I would have kept you on Coruscant? I'm not the Emperor, Mara."

"No, you are not, but do you know what the Emperor did when he found out about that night in the cave-" she bit her lips and turned away.

Somewhere in Luke's mind something clicked into place. "You ... you are the dream girl..." his voice trailed away and he shook his head. "But it was only a dream, nothing more."

"If I had not so hurriedly executed the mind wipe there should have been no lingering traces of what had happened ..." Mara closed her eyes for a moment and suppressed the tears that were welling up. Aye, the farmboy always could reduce me to tears! she thought.

"You wanted to protect me, right? Therefore the mind wipe and not telling me your name. But why, Mara? You didn't know who I was ..."

"Because I didn't want you to get into the clutches of the Emperor, Farmboy. He had sensed you through our bond and I knew he would pick up on the fact that you are a latent Force user. I couldn't let that happen." Jade's voice was small, like that of a small child. Luke stepped closer to her and after a moment's hesitation he wrapped his arms around her small form and hugged her close to himself. Soft ripples of the Force surged through them but both had grown so accustomed to these exchanges that they almost missed them.

"So much burden on your small shoulders even back then, Jade. I'm sorry." Luke whispered near her ear, and put his lips against her cheek. "But you decided not to tell me your name before we ever .. before we made love, why then?"

"Standard Imperial procedure, don't give your name. Back then I was so sure of myself, such a loyal obedient subject to the Emperor ..." Mara struggled slightly then stepped out of his embrace and hugged herself tightly. "When the Emperor found out I had been unfaithful to him, he ... he did what you saw the last time ...after… we ..."

"We made love," Luke helped her and he received a deadly glance out of emerald green eyes.

"He must have felt you with me in the cave. He was furious and I just couldn't defend myself, I didn't know how." Mara closed her eyes tightly, trying to shut out the images that flashed before her mind's eye.

Those images were so deeply ingrained, so much a part of her now, that they were impossible to block. The memories of the Emperor, and what he had done to her younger self were simply there - like her heart-beat. Will Luke become so entwined too? Will I lose myself again in him? she thought and could not come up with an answer. Her mind screamed no, but she knew deep down in her heart, that she could easily fall for the Jedi Master.

"I shouldn't have come here, this place is filled with too many painful memories," she whispered and wanted to turn when Luke's hand came to rest on her shoulder.

"Mara, you cannot ignore the Force. If it wills us to be together then we cannot do anything rather than submit," Luke told her gently, stroking her cheek with his gloved hand.

"I cannot accept that, Luke," Mara whispered and met his blue eyes with a tear filled gaze. "My life has always been commanded by others, by Vader, by the Emperor ... by the code of honour as an Imperial Assassin ... I cannot submit myself ... I can't."

Mara stared at Skywalker as he stood in front of her. All that had transpired between them, now made sense in a very twisted and sick way. She did not feel comfortable with the thought that it all had been preconceived, that both their lives had been so completely guided and submitted by the Force.

I'm my own agent, Mara thought but deep down she knew that only half of it was true. She might be her own agent where her business life was concerned but her love ... she was destined to be with Skywalker, destined to love the one man that made her feel whole and rid the galaxy of all evil with him.

Would the Force just as easily replace me if something happened to me? she asked herself silently. Surely with my life as Emperor's Hand such eventuality could have happened. But deep down she already knew the answer. Looking at Skywalker's own life, his yearning for a family and not getting his due on the love front, told her that he was just as irrevocably connected to her as she was to him. There was only one Mara Jade and only one Luke Skywalker, Emperor's Hand and Farmboy, who had marked each other in the most gentlest, most intimate possible way and had thus acknowledged their fate put upon them by the Force.

Luke suppressed a sigh and watched Mara out of the corner of his eyes. He knew he had to give her time to digest all the information that had been revealed to them but on the other hand he wanted to hold her, kiss her and mark her again like he had so unconsciously done all those years ago when he still had that innocence that she always claimed to love about him.

I want her, he thought but quickly amended the thought by adding. No, I need her. She is my blood, my every heart beat, the air I breathe and the food I need for nourishment. I just hope that some day I will mean as much to her as she means to me.

The thought saddened him, because he feared that she would never feel as deeply for him as he did for her. She might stay with me because of the Force, but will she love me? Skywalker looked up when Mara stirred and for a short moment their eyes locked.

"I better go now," Mara whispered and wiped her eyes awkwardly.

"Mara..." Luke started but soft fingertips on his lips stilled his words. Silently, Mara shook her head no.

"I have to go, Luke. You know that as well as I do. I have to come to terms with everything that was revealed today, I cannot just let myself be subjected by every whim of the Force, I just can't."

She tiptoed, and mirroring their first departure on this very planet, she planted a bittersweet kiss onto his lips, felt his arms tightening around her.

*Mara, I ...*, Luke hesitated to tell what was in his heart. He could feel Mara stiffening in his arms. *I will wait and if you are ready, I'll be there for you!*

Giving him another soft, lingering kiss, Mara stepped away from him.

"Thank you," she simply said and putting the hood of her robe over her head to protect her from the desert wind, she made her way over to her space craft.

Luke Skywalker stood for long moments, watching from the safe distance as the Jade's Fire took off. I will wait for you, Mara Jade! he thought and with a last long look at the small object that was speedily gaining altitude, he turned and walked over to his own craft. They had come full circle and now it was up to them when and where they started their new lives. Together.

To be continued in Collateral Damage

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10

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