Beyond I'll Come With You - L/M VotF AU - NEW Ch. 4b 10/19

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by ThreadSketch, Aug 9, 2014.

Moderators: Briannakin, mavjade
  1. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    ~*~ Preface and Acknowledgments ~*~

    Not so long ago, in a forum not so far away, @Jedi_Lover wrote a fic for mavjade titled Shattered Ties.

    I read this fic.

    Bunnies ensued. [face_plain]

    After much wrestling, angsting, and hand-wringing, I approached Jedi_Lover and spilled my guts about my dilemma, and much to my relief, she was gracious enough to allow me to go forth with my fic. It's presumptuous and rather unprecedented to want to write something in exactly the same vein as another author, and I still feel guilty about it no matter what. So all credit for the idea behind this story goes to Jedi_Lover for crafting it in the first place, and I dedicate it to her in gratitude.

    Years ago, under an old account, I wrote some brief L/M pieces that are now cut short and exist nowhere else, and in addition to them many other drabble-length snippets have come to me and taken up space in random OpenOffice documents and pieces of scratch paper. When my wicked brain decided it wanted to run away with J_L's plot, it also wanted to make this story the place to roll many of these fragments of L/M together, as well as reincorporate bits of the old partially-lost material.

    Because this is meant to be a longer story, I'm including what I typically do for my larger projects and making this a little multimedia. Whenever possible, I will post a link to a musical piece that accompanies the scene or chapter. If you feel that this will be a distraction to your reading, then by all means feel free not to participate in this feature; it's entirely optional. If I am unable to provide a place to listen to it, I'll at least list all the information so that you might go searching for the track yourselves, if you're up to it. (For my purposes, Grooveshark is such a boon.)

    My hope is to post roughly bi-weekly, but I do apologize if I need to take some extra time to make sure a chapter is polished enough; I'll notify if that's the case. Of all my longer works simmering on the stove, this one has the most realistic outlook of completion, as I have the ending cemented and am determined to see this one through.

    What fascinated me about this scenario was the potential to explore what a more ordinary relationship between Luke and Mara might be like - no explosions or invasions or warlords or mystery threats, however fun those may be. Just a lot of talking, a lot of thinking, a lot of snarking, a lot of angsting, and of course, a lot of mushing...eventually. :p

    To help set the tone of the entire story, I chose the piece "Ensemble" by Biggi Hilmars from the album Cinematic Songs to serve as a sort of audio trailer.

    So without further ado, on to the story!
    Last edited by ThreadSketch, Oct 19, 2014 at 9:02 PM
  2. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Title: I'll Come With You
    Timeframe: end of Vision of the Future and onwards, AU
    Characters: Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade, Leia Organa Solo, Han Solo, Talon Karrde, and more
    Genre: Drama/Romance/Introspection
    Summary: When all does not go as planned after Luke and Mara's escape from the cloning chamber in the Hand of Thrawn fortress on Nirauan, they are both forced to reevaluate their priorities and relationship - no easy feat when it's essentially one-sided...

    Disclaimer: All characters and situations are the property, or derived from the property, of George Lucas, Disney, Timothy Zahn and Jedi_Lover. Italicized excerpt at the beginning of this chapter taken from Timothy Zahn's Vision of the Future.

    Multimedia: "Mountains: The Earth's Highest Challenge," by George Felton from the soundtrack album Planet Earth

    Chapter 1


    Okay. See if you can handle this one...”

    Abruptly, Luke snapped awake, half submerged in water, his head and chest resting precariously on a slimy boulder, R2's frantic twittering in his ears. “Okay, right,” he managed, shaking his head to clear it.

    And suddenly stiffened. Mara was gone.

    He shook his head again, digging out his glow rod with numb, half-frozen fingers as he scrabbled around looking for footing. He found it immediately; the water he was in turned out to be only waist high. He fumbled the glow rod out at last and flicked it on.

    He was standing in a pool just off the edge of the last of the underground rivers he and Mara had passed during their trip through the caverns. Five meters to his left, the torrent that had brought them here had vanished, leaving only the river rippling its sedate way along.

    And two meters to his right, bobbing gently in the pool as she floated beside the craggy rock, was Mara. Her eyes closed, her arms and legs limp. As if in death.

    The precise image he'd seen of her in that Jedi vision on Tierfon.

    And then he was at her side, raising her head out of the water, gazing at her face in sudden fear. If the trance hadn't kept her alive – if she'd struck something hard enough to kill her after he'd lost his grip on her –

    Behind him, R2 whistled impatiently. “Right,” Luke agreed, cutting off his sudden panic. All he had to do to bring her out of it was speak the key phrase she'd chosen, the phrase she'd wondered aloud if he could handle. Almost as if she was afraid he couldn't...

    He took a deep breath. “I love you, Mara.”

    There was no response.

    A sickening dread began to clench his gut. Forcing calm into his voice, he repeated himself, a tremor still escaping him as he enunciated each word more clearly. “I love you, Mara.” An almost manic hope that perhaps this was just a fiendish little trick of hers skittered across the back of his mind. Perhaps she had heard him all along and was only pretending, trying to scare the wits out of him for old times' sake. But he knew it wasn't true even as the thought crossed; however brief it was, the disorientation upon emergence from a trance wouldn't have allowed her to pull it off.

    Only the quiet rush of the river answered him. Mara lay still and flaccid, eyes closed and mouth slack, a blue tinge to her lips.

    No.” The denial left him in a moan. “Mara, no. Please.” Echoing slightly off the cavern walls, R2's anxious fluting joined his exclamations and went ignored. Despair made his grasp on the Force as slippery as the sodden rock around him, and he crushed it down until it coalesced into a near-physical pain deep within his chest. He needed his senses now more than ever, to find if–

    Instantly Luke was hefting her up and struggling his way out of the pool toward the nearest surface where he could lay her flat. She was not gone. Not yet. But she was near the edge and fading fast, her heart locked in either v-fib or a faint spasm of pulseless electrical activity. He didn't know if her lungs were waterlogged, but it was irrelevant at the moment. How many minutes had she already been in this state?

    As it had been with the sentinel droids, his entire focus was narrowed to this one desperate task: to revive her, somehow. Fear, fury, and even expectations had to be cast aside as he began vigorous compressions. He could not fight the will of the Force, but he would fight as long as he still had her, even if only by a thread.

    Artoo!” he shouted, splitting his concentration just long enough to seize him in a mental grip and loft him over the water and terrain. “Get your arc welder out. I'm gonna need a charge.” More elaborate ideas were quickly dismissed in favor of the simplest solution. With the extra power packs, R2 likely still carried enough energy to spare at least one, possibly two, jolts strong enough to attempt defibrillation, although the effort would drain it significantly. A monophasic electrical impulse was not ideal, requiring more power and risking serious burns, but there was no other choice. The fact that they were all drenched just made the whole thing that much more dangerous. There were so many factors that he could not control, without having a medpac's auto-defib for diagnostic measurements and adjustments.

    All he could do was listen for the songbirds, to tell him how much and when.

    You ready?” At R2's affirmative chirp and the whir of his arc welder extending, Luke paused compressions for only a moment to gather a fistful of the charred fabric around Mara's shoulder and tear it violently to expose enough bare skin for the tip of the appendage to rest over her heart. The incurable gallantry within him, in a bittersweet way, was relieved that there was no need to fully expose her. Even if she was his wife in all but legality, this was not the way he would have ever wanted to see her, the last of her dignity literally ripped away.

    You need to press down hard, Artoo. Now juice it up, and I'll tell you when to shoot, okay?”

    Beneath his hands he felt something give way with a soft pop, and strangled down sharp regret at having either broken cartilage or bone. It was almost inevitable with crude manual resuscitation.

    Don't you ever not care for someone just because you're afraid they might get hurt in the process. Especially not me. You got that?

    Everyone he'd ever loved he'd hurt, eventually. It was happening again, and indeed, it seemed that it always would. Affliction was closer to him than his own shadow, his own flesh, wanting to smother him until there was no hope of breath or solace left in his body and soul.

    R2 blurted readiness, and Luke plunged into the Force, pleading for that precious guidance. Electrons gathered until...

    Now!” He pushed himself backwards, completely away from Mara and any residual water around her, and the astromech shot current straight into her. He watched her body twitch from the shock. Wheeping urgent queries, R2 leaned back to lift the welder off of her. Luke reached for her neck, but the tension had not cleared from his mind; it hadn't worked. To his horror, he noticed her arms starting to curl up and her fingers gnarling in decorticate posturing, an ominous sign of brain damage.

    Gritting his teeth, he resumed compressions. “Again, Artoo. We have to try again. Same thing.” The droid's reply was blatantly nervous; it certainly wasn't accustomed to delivering what, in any other situation, would be harmful toward a non-hostile organic being. Astromechs weren't medical droids, no matter how heavily modified.

    If it failed a second time, other options were far less viable. His bionic hand wouldn't contain enough power for that kind of discharge, and releasing energy from the few other electronic items they had left would either be inadequate or potentially deadly. Even after years of study, he knew he did not quite have the same deep, fine biological control that an instinctive healer such as Cilghal possessed. His own body was a living battery, but he had never attempted a Force technique for making any use of it that wouldn't involve Sith lightning, not to mention that he stood the chance of killing himself with such a wild endeavor. After everything they'd been through and divulged to one another, Mara would sooner beg to die than see him call upon the darkness as a solution to save her.

    He would have to let her go.

    You've defeated my clone–my worst nightmare–you've slain a mad Dark Jedi, you've braved vornskyrs, you've prevented Thrawn's rebirth, you've spat in the face of death a dozen, a hundred times, my love. Fight back, Mara. Fight back for me.

    Again R2's welder came down on Mara's chest. “Go!” he cried, and held his breath.

    She convulsed a little harder than before. This time R2 rolled backwards, knowing a third try was beyond his capacity. Electrons dispersed haphazardly, depolarizing wayward cells, and for a split second her heart and his world were still.

    Then he felt nerves fire in return, and it might as well have been the ignition of a new star.

    Springing forward, Luke sealed his lips against hers and sighed out his pent-up conviction into her lungs, half the battle won. That's it, Mara. Come on. You're almost there. He breathed for her until he felt her diaphragm hitch, and sour water suddenly shot into his own mouth before he could detach; he rolled her onto her side as she gagged and coughed weakly. Her pulse was rapid and thready at first, but gaining strength. Hot pressure built up behind his eyes and a sob of fervent relief escaped him.

    You did it, Artoo.” There had been many times, Luke mused, when his faithful droid had been worth double its weight in platinum, and this was one more of them. No, truly, R2 had no price.

    Mara was breathing but not regaining consciousness; her eyes remained half-lidded and rolled back in their sockets. Luke refocused his senses on her to try discerning any injuries she might have suffered from their brutal journey through the lake's drainage that had caused the hibernation trance to fail. He shuddered to consider that it was his fault, that he had not done a thorough job in slowing down her functions and she had nearly drowned from his own hasty negligence. He'd been so certain that it was effective when she'd gone to sleep in his arms.

    Across her head, however, he picked up a glaring area of inflammation, and it soon became clear that she had indeed collided with something on the way. It didn't lessen the pangs of guilt. If only he'd managed to hang onto her the entire way...

    He would have needed a greater level of consciousness, enough that he would have run out of oxygen sooner and drowned himself. Or even slammed into the same spot she had, and neither of them would have survived. He could perfectly picture her chiding him once more about uncontrollable factors.

    Mara,” Luke whispered, still afraid but now suffused with hope, “we're getting out of here. Hang on for me.” The words were more for his own encouragement, for he knew she couldn't hear him. He bent and brushed his lips against hers before carefully lifting her again, and set his concentration on healing her concussion and broken ribs as he began to follow the river's path out of the caverns.

    *

    Somewhat daunted, Luke peered out from the now greatly enlarged cavern's mouth at the thin waterfall cascading down into the blackness below. In the dim starlight he was just able to make out a narrow ledge about five meters to the left. Getting R2 across to it would be easy, but the notion of levitating himself while holding Mara made his stomach twist. He was both mentally and physically spent, shivering uncontrollably from mild hypothermia, his arms doubly sore from his fight against the sentinels and now from carrying Mara as well. In addressing only her condition, he was neglecting his own, and that wasn't going to help her in the long run.

    Getting a lid on the cauldron of his anxiety, Luke leaned on the edge of the cave wall and took several deep breaths. He could also float Mara out alone onto the ledge, and then Force-leap his way over to her; there seemed to be enough room for him to land at her feet. Even in her state, letting go of her for a minute would not harm her or make a difference.

    Letting go of her for just a minute let her wind up this way, the bitter thought arose.

    Like a drifting teraca seed, he let it blow past with the rest of his emotional turmoil to briefly center the Force on his own body, to stabilize his core temperature and send renewed strength into his limbs. He needed to keep himself upright and going to ensure that he could get Mara off-planet as soon as possible. Dawn couldn't be far off, and Parck's search parties would be hunting for them. If they discovered the stolen Chiss craft before Luke could reach it, there was no way he could cram the both of them into his X-Wing. His heart clenched at the bleak prospect.

    Behind him R2 beeped, and he replied over his shoulder, “I know, I'm just taking stock. This is bigger than I thought it'd be and there's no footholds here. There's a place to stand just over there, though. I'm gonna send you over first–”

    Jedi Sky Walker?

    Startled, Luke swung his gaze back out into the night. A dozen dark avian shapes fluttered to a landing somewhere above him, and the tone of that voice was very familiar.

    Yes? Is that you, Hunter of Winds?”

    It is I. My son, Child of Winds, informed all nearby nestings of your deeds this night. We have been watching for your return.

    Thank you,” Luke breathed shakily. For all the aid that both the Qom Qae and Qom Jha had given him and Mara, he'd never been so grateful for their appearance as he was now.

    Is Jaded of Mara hurt?

    Yes.” His voice thickened with anguish. “She needs care right away. I appreciate everything you've done for us, but would you be willing to help me get to our ship? Those in the High Tower will also be looking for us soon.”

    Hunter of Winds ruffled his wings in an oddly discomfited manner. Of course. We will carry all of you to your flying machine, as my son and his companions did earlier this night.

    Even with his mind occupied with Mara, Luke didn't miss the mixture of guiltiness and distaste in the older creature's mental texture. In spite of the urgent situation he was in, it was still rather strange to suddenly find the once dismissive Bargainer eager to be generous. But he wasn't exactly in the mood for questioning such things, when the assistance he needed was right before him.

    I'm sorry that the Threateners will have to stay here,” he apologized again, “but as long as you leave them in peace they'll do the same to your people.” Luke didn't even want to begin trying to explain the complex situation.

    You need not worry, Jedi Sky Walker. I have spoken to the Bargainer for this nesting of the Qom Jha. Eater of Fire Creepers has agreed to release you from your promise to help us against the Threateners, provided you leave our world at once.

    And there it was. Heat crept into Luke's cheeks as the reason for Hunter of Winds' abrupt change in character became obvious. “So I guess we've become a liability to you?”

    Child of Winds has said as you did. It is to that end that we wish you to leave. But I give you my regrets that Jaded of Mara has suffered in this conflict. It appears that our earlier assumptions of her were...in haste.

    For what it was worth, the elder Qom Qae seemed gruffly sincere in his last remarks. “Thank you,” Luke murmured again, glancing down at her sleeping face. “You have my gratitude for your trust and your sacrifices as well.”

    Now, let us depart. The night grows old, and you will wish to be gone before the sunrise.

    This time there wouldn't be any jury-rigging a truss for R2. “Artoo, open up as many compartments as you can. They're gonna need to hang on to you somehow.” The droid wiggled a bit and hooted its misgivings, no doubt unenthusiastic about feeling a little violated by sharp talons, but started popping open segments on its chassis.

    The fact that once more he would be forced to leave behind expensive equipment chafed Luke a bit; perhaps at some point in the future a retrieval trip could be risked, but his X-Wing and Mara's Defender would in all likelihood have to remain here for good, rusting away as new permanent fixtures of the landscape. He didn't enjoy affirming his reputation for making Alliance and New Republic materiel disposable. After all these war-torn years and close calls, Han had managed not to lose the Falcon.

    In the midst of that fleeting thought Luke suddenly remembered the second survival pack Karrde had supplied him with, still stashed away in his fighter. As talons began to get a cautious grip on his jacket he spoke up. “My X-Wing has supplies I could use to help Mara. We're in a hurry, but could we stop there first to pick them up?”

    *

    The first pale light of dawn was staining the horizon when Luke had finished securing Mara into one of the pilot's couches in the Chiss ship's aft sleeping quarters. From their current location, Adumar was the closest New Republic ally that would have adequate facilities to tend to Mara's injuries before they would make the long journey back to Coruscant.

    While at the X-Wing, he'd taken a few extra moments to destroy its hyperdrive to deny Parck a last resort for reaching Bastion in the near future. As absurd as it was to picture an Imperial flying off in a New Republic fighter, he knew nothing was beyond the realm of possibility in a dire situation. Of all of them, Baron Fel would have certainly felt at home doing it, he thought darkly.

    Plugged into the ship's small droid alcove, R2 whistled something that sounded more cheerful and pressing than its other exclamations had been of late.

    I know, Artoo, I'm done. We're heading out now, don't worry. I just hope they don't try to come after us.” The last thing he needed right now was another race for their lives.

    R2 only whistled more insistently.

    Something wrong? You spot someone coming?”

    The dingy blue and silver dome swiveled in a no. “Well, just hold your servos, we need to get out of here first.”

    Thankfully their departure turned out to be a quiet, uneventful trip; the hangar's destruction had absorbed enough of the Chiss' attention to leave them an unmonitored escape. Once the star fields around him had flared away into the blur of hyperspace, Luke heaved out a sigh and briefly melted back into the pilot's seat.

    Okay, Artoo, what was it you wanted to tell me?” he mumbled, scrubbing a hand across his face before rising and kneeling beside the droid. There was an odd feeling in the back of his mind about R2's excitement, and he wondered if it had something to do with the reason it had nearly blown a gasket back in the cloning chamber.

    R2's reply scrolled across the alcove's computer display, and surprise made Luke rock back on his heels. “I don't believe it. You...” He shook his head. “Leave it to you to find stuff like this.”

    Now housed within the astromech's memory banks was Thrawn's complete copy of the Caamas Document.

    He needed to get this to Leia immediately, but Mara needed to be seen to first. Luke blew out a long and loud breath of eagerness and frustration. This was a most fortuitous development for the current crisis, but this meant he could not linger on Adumar. He would either need to leave Mara behind for treatment and continue on to meet up with Leia, or request a medical capsule and borrow a faster, more accomodating ship to take Mara with him to Coruscant. If the Adumari were willing, he greatly preferred the latter option.

    He licked and pursed his lips in determination. “All right. We'll get that to Leia as soon as we can. I need to concentrate on Mara for now, though. Wake me a few minutes before we reach Adumar.”

    There wasn't much room to spare for him on the narrow couch, but Luke laid down alongside her and cradled the crown of her head in his left hand. He'd hooked an intravenous cylinder overhead, strapped a breath mask over her face, dressed the burn on her chest, and applied a coldpak to the concussion site. His inverted jacket and the partially emptied gear bag elevated her head on a gentle slope to reduce pressure and maintain a better venous outflow. In her condition he was afraid to place her back in deep hibernation, but slowing her functions somewhat would mitigate the swelling and potential cranial bleeding.

    Awkwardly, he pulled one of the thermal blankets he'd layered over her onto himself as well, then draped his other arm across Mara's waist as he once again set about the task of regenerating her. Thoughts of seeing her rare smile and hearing her say his first name carried him away into the gentle haze of half-sleep and healing currents.
    Last edited by ThreadSketch, Aug 9, 2014
  3. taramidala Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 18, 1999
    star 4
    Ohhh. Oh this one's going to hurt, I think. :( Fabulously evocative, though. Looking forward to it.
  4. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    The pain isn't permanent, that much I can assure you, although there's generous amounts of it on the way. Overall, though, this fic is not meant to be dark. Serious, cerebral, poignant - yes. But also funny, quirky, and quietly meandering.
  5. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    Great beginning, looking forward to more!
  6. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Loving the title and the premise and the promised blend of poignant, quirky, snarky, and mushy. LOL This already has a superb heart-tugging feel. =D= Putting this on 'watch.' @};- [:D]
  7. Demendora Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 9, 2010
    star 2
    I like well-writed angst.Tag me in please!
  8. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Yeah, the title was an easy choice. :) Zahn himself made it a recurring thing between them, and I was basically looking for an excuse to one day write a L/M fic that would let me use it, lol.

    One minor thing I wanted to establish in this chapter was the fact that, because Mara is unconscious, Child of Winds doesn't receive her suggested adult name for him, Friend of Jedi. She's the one who proposed it for him; the idea didn't occur to Luke. It's a very small thing in the scope of events, but it's something that would have meant a lot to the young Qom Qae, and he's now going to miss out on that.

    Thanks to everyone who's come aboard so far, and I hope y'all enjoy the ride!
  9. Jedi_Lover Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 1, 2004
    star 5
    Nice start. I look forward to reading more.
  10. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    [face_blush]

    I literally owe it all to you, lol. Thanks again!
  11. Demendora Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Apr 9, 2010
    star 2
    aaah! Your icon! Sqweee!^_^))
  12. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    Interesting - it's been a while since I've read VOTF so don't remember a lot of the Qom Que subplots, but I did enjoy seeing them here.
  13. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Yeah, this was a retread of Luke and Mara's final scenes on Nirauan from the novel. When they finally come out of the caves and encounter their flying buddies one last time, Mara speaks up to Hunter of Winds and tells him that Child of Winds has gone through a lot with them and deserves to have an adult name, and she suggests "Friend of Jedi."

    This isn't the only thing Luke doesn't think of because of this change in their situation - FF.N author Cassandra Spayke has a post-VotF fic that incorporates Comra, one of Talon Karrde's sector relay bases from Survivor's Quest, as a pit-stop for Luke and Mara on their way back to Coruscant. I also have Luke not realizing that this base is available to him too, and instead automatically thinking of a NR world for him to get help on, because he's too preoccupied with Mara's condition. I figured nobody would really get that kind of a non-reference, lol, but in case anyone would raise the question, that's my explanation for it.
    JadeLotus likes this.
  14. ginchy Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 25, 2005
    star 4
    This is a very interesting beginning and I am excited to see where you take it from here! I'll have my Brave Hat on hold, just in case. ;)
  15. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Hehehehe. :p


    [IMG]
  16. Gemma Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 25, 2013
    star 3
    I like your start and want to come along for the ride. Please tag me in.
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  17. K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Apr 18, 2000
    star 2
    Angst, mush, a dash of danger...I'm in. Looking forward to more!
  18. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    All aboard the Fic Train, whoo-whoo! [face_dancing]

    Instead of jumping ahead immediately, I'm working on adding a little more material to Chapter 1; as easy as it is to just focus on the main characters I'm comfortable with, I don't want to ignore secondary characters who are very significant (to Mara in particular). Reviewing SotP and VotF as research for this fic has reminded me of how well Zahn rounded out his corner of the EU with his ensemble casts.
    K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku likes this.
  19. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    As promised, it's time for an update! Rather than jumping straight ahead to Chapter 2, I decided to pause first and spend a little time showing the interaction between Luke and Talon Karrde. So consider this portion as Chapter 1a.

    Also, it took me a while to find a photo that I thought would make a compelling piece of "cover art" for this fic, so...yeah, LTTP. :p Instead of forcing everyone to scroll back up to the top, I'll just plop it here:


    [IMG]


    Multimedia: Hieroglyphics, by James Newton Howard, Unbreakable



    Message for ya, Capt'.”

    Talon Karrde settled himself into his seat aboard the Wild Karrde's bridge. “Back to business,” he murmured, more to himself than to Chin, the events of the past day draping reality with a surreal air. Not for long, he thought. “Patch it through.”

    With one syllable, a voice that he'd been both hoping and dreading to hear filled the bridge.

    Karrde.”

    Not relaxed, not cordial, not wry, but tight and grave. A vise clamped around his gut. “Skywalker,” he returned in terse greeting.

    From behind them burst out the inordinate elation of C-3PO. “Oh, Master Luke! How wonderful to hear–”

    Before Karrde could even open his mouth to silence the droid, he was surprised to hear Skywalker do it instead. “Threepio,
    it's good to hear from you too, but we'll talk later, okay?”

    Oh–well, yes, indeed, Master Luke. Hopefully soon, sir.”

    We will. Karrde?”

    He was already vacating the seat he'd just taken. “Chin, route it to my quarters.”

    Aye, Capt'.”

    She was in a rocky place, floating in water. And she looked dead.

    If Skywalker's vision had come to pass as he'd construed it, he wanted to break the news to his crew himself, privately.

    When he arrived at his office, it was not the intercom alert that was flashing, but the HoloNet terminal. At nearly full-scale, the Jedi's blue-tinged head and shoulders coalesced above his desk with a clarity that indicated the signal had not traveled far through multiple relays. Haggard, grim, and sporting what appeared to be a couple of weeks' worth of beard stubble, the younger man was a rather sore sight in comparison to when they had last met. Karrde braced himself, images of Mara flickering past his memory. His second-in-command, his most valuable employee, one of his most trusted confidants–

    Mara's alive.”

    The breath he'd been holding almost left him in an audible rush. She wasn't lost. But something resembling the vision had obviously come to pass.

    What's her condition?”

    She's stable for now, but she's had head trauma and a cardiac arrest. We...” His composure briefly faltered. “Our escape route was cut off by rising water and our only way out was an underwater cold-shirting. I put both of us into hibernation trances to give us enough time to make it through, but there was an impact along the way. I managed to resuscitate her and did everything I could to slow down the inflammation and bleeding until I could reach a medcenter. We're on Adumar.”

    Within spitting distance of Nirauan, in navigational terms. But a twitch still pulled at the corner of Karrde's mouth. “I have a relay base about five hours out from Nirauan.”

    Skywalker blinked, his expression going blank for a moment. Then he sighed and frowned at himself, a hand passing over his face and matted hair in frustration or embarrassment. “I–I didn't–”

    It's all right, I don't expect you to know my entire network. You did what you thought was best. We're still in the neighborhood.”

    Surprise ended his self-recrimination. “Where are you?”

    Yaga Minor.”

    The widened blue eyes and shift in incredulity asked the question of and what in the maw of Kessel are you doing there?

    Long story. I'll–“

    A faint, humorless hint of a smile drew up Skywalker's lips. “I have one of my own. We might as well catch up in person, as it looks like I can ask another favor of you. I had to ditch both of our fighters.”

    No need. I'm on my way to Coruscant; I need to have a word with your sister. Not to mention drop off her protocol droid. He's been surprisingly helpful.”

    That, he can be.”

    If your facility has Mara's injuries under control, our medbay should be able to transport her. We have clearance to dock the Jade's Fire right–”

    At this the younger man looked stricken. “That...that won't be necessary,” he interrupted softly. At Karrde's arched brow he added, “It's a loss.”

    Karrde paused and leaned back in his chair. Mara was not going to take that well. At all. If she didn't already know about it. If Skywalker had anything to do with it, woe to the man. If–no, when, he thought firmly–Mara awoke, it would be as if it were ten years ago all over again.

    Then again, that had gone better than expected. Mostly.

    He kept his expression neutral. “I see. Well...yes, we'll talk soon. I should be there within the day, probably less.”

    Thank you, Karrde.”

    No. Thank you, for bringing her back.”

    For this Skywalker had no further response, only a mien of deep sadness as the transmission was cut.

    *

    By the time he saw the Jedi once more, he was clean-shaven but no less weary. He didn't speak much during Mara's transfer, allowing Karrde to be the one to gather the details of her prognosis, and was equally tight-lipped about the exotic vessel that he and Mara had pilfered to make their escape. The most conversation he engaged in was an offer to cover the expenses incurred by Mara's medical care, an offer that Karrde had turned down with a civil but adamant refusal. Mara was his employee and he would see to it that such matters were on his organization's account, regardless of how Skywalker felt about it.

    What was noteworthy of his behavior was his seeming inability to let Mara out of his sight for more than a few minutes at a time. Skywalker, though, did have a penchant for rather disproportinate affection and concern for his allies–even some enemies, at that. Coupled with his obvious guilt that he was somehow at fault for this outcome, it made sense.

    The two men stood at the observation window of the Wild Karrde's medical bay as the CMO and an Emdee droid finished settling Mara into the IC suite. Seeing her so still, lying in an induced coma, was an unnerving echo of her brush with death after ejection from her Headhunter a decade before. Yet another occasion where Skywalker had come to her rescue, when he'd had far less reason to. It wasn't funny, per se, but at least significant, the way life could repeat itself.

    She's strong. She'll get through this.” Karrde spoke to encourage himself as much as the man beside him. When Skywalker failed to reply, he continued, “They said you did a lot of the work for them. Whatever it was, they were able to avoid a craniotomy. A quick trepanation and evacuation was all they needed.”

    Skywalker's voice was low and detached. “She drowned, Karrde. I don't know how long she wasn't breathing.”

    I know. Still, she survived an ion blast. I trust the Imperial Palace medcenter would still have her records.”

    The younger man nodded and gathered himself, reluctantly turning his gaze away from Mara. “At least...there's one bright spot in all this.”

    Which is?”

    We have the full Caamas Document now.”

    Startled, Karrde came around to face him directly. “How did you manage that?”

    Completely by accident. I won't even claim credit, it was Artoo who found it.”

    He allowed himself a slight chuckle in spite of the situation. And here he'd been running around, finally willing to face his worst nightmare, just for the chance of finding the blasted record. Instead, he gotten both far less and far more than he'd bargained for.

    I feel there's a Jedi lecture in all this.”

    How so?”

    I told it you it was a long story. You might want to take a seat.”

    After leading Skywalker to the small waiting room nearby, Karrde brought him up to speed on everything that had unfolded as a result of his journey to locate Car'das. By the time he was finished the Jedi was stunned into numb astonishment.

    When he finally found his voice again, all he could manage to say in a solemn whisper was, “Peace.” As if it were an inscrutable alien word, so far removed from the reality of war that had taken up almost half of his lifetime.

    Everything you ever wanted and never expected to get, isn't it?”

    ...Exactly.” Sipping a deep breath, he rubbed his eyes and kept his hand over them, leaving Karrde to wonder if he was a bit overwhelmed. Or perhaps it was just his exhaustion. It hadn't passed the older man's notice that he'd so far neglected to share his side of events on Nirauan, but it could wait. He clearly needed a break.

    In the midst of standing, Karrde dropped a hand on his shoulder. “Luke.”

    His head snapped up. They'd never been on a first-name basis before.

    Maybe it was time for that to change as well.

    It's a long haul to Coruscant. We have plenty of time to continue this discussion. I suggest you get some rest.”

    He stared back in a daze, then slowly nodded and rose to follow the former smuggler out.
    K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku and Gemma like this.
  20. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host Game Winner
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Superb. I am very glad you added this segment. Great characterizations and reactions from each. =D= =D= The gravity and uncertainty of Mara's prognosis also shines through clearly. [face_nail_biting]
    Gemma likes this.
  21. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Thanks. [face_peace] I'm trying to make this at least somewhat of an ensemble fic instead of just sticking with a straight L/M focus, especially now that I've accidentally come across all of my old fic material (!!!) this past week and seen that I used to be much more comfortable at including a larger cast of characters.

    These two guys aren't exactly buddies and they're never quite meant to have that sort of relationship, but I did want to show that their rapport would get a little more solidarity. Three years later EU-wise Karrde is referring to them as "Luke and Mara." (Well, they're married by then so it kinda had to happen eventually, lol.) I guess the EU sort of glossed over the fact that Mara quit Karrde's organization and he was apparently okay with it (because YAY Shada!, heh), but I read one interesting little fic that portrayed Karrde as a little resentful over the fact that Luke took her away to the Jedi side. I thought that was pretty realistic considering that, honorable as he is, Karrde's primary interests are for his business, period. He's a practical guy. He lost Ghent to the New Republic too, so having to give up two of his best employees had to have hurt.
    Gemma likes this.
  22. ginchy Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 25, 2005
    star 4
    Everything you ever wanted and never expected to get, isn't it?” Well, if that isn't a real kick in the gut. Poor Luke. Poor Mara. I enjoyed Luke's conversation with Karrde, and love the cover art!!
  23. Jedi_Lover Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 1, 2004
    star 5
    Karrde is an information broker...he noticed Luke is being overly clingy around Mara. Nice update!
    Gemma likes this.
  24. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Yeah, sooooo much unintentional double-meaning in that line. :p Of course, Karrde's referring to the unbelievable fact that the Galactic Civil War is finally officially over and how this has to be both crazy and such a relief at the same time - which it is. But yes, Luke has way more than that going on upstairs and Karrde has no idea.

    Glad you like the art - in case anyone wonders, that happens to be Jessica Chastain standing in for Mara. Her ambiguous demeanor in that shot appealed to me, and I also dug the black and white. It's stark and doesn't draw attention to the trope of Mara's red hair or green eyes, even though Jessica is often a redhead. I happened to have a high-res photo of Mark from ROTJ that I thought went well with it, and...voila. It's a picture that's supposed to leave you wondering what's going to happen to them - something not necessarily terrible, but not easy either.
    Gemma likes this.
  25. ThreadSketch Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 22, 2013
    star 3
    Nope, nothing gets by him, lol. But their experience with the Force bond and Luke proposing to her (and Mara actually accepting it) is something he'd never suspect in a million years, heh. He does suspect something happened between them, but not to that extent. He also thinks some of it is due to Luke blaming himself for failing to save Mara from danger, so he's willing to not read too much into his unusual behavior.

    Head!canon Alert: Karrde's never really been around to see Mara's interactions with Luke over the years; he only gets to pick up bits and clues from Mara's remarks or reactions. Judging by how Luke gets a rise out of her all the time that she doesn't get from anyone else, he definitely feels there's some kind of significant relationship between them, but he's never entertained the notion that they'd actually hook up at some point. He understands how complex and troubled Mara is, how vastly different Luke is from her, and despite the old adage that opposites attract, this isn't a great formula for two people to get together. They both have a ton of issues. As perceptive and shrewd as Karrde is, as far as he's concerned, he wouldn't picture them becoming a couple until he sees it actually happen.
    Last edited by ThreadSketch, Aug 23, 2014
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