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Beyond - Legends Black Pawn (Dark L/M during Dark Empire)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by vader_incarnate, Jun 30, 2022.

  1. vader_incarnate

    vader_incarnate Force Ghost star 4

    Jul 29, 2002
    Title: "Black Pawn"
    Author(s): vader_incarnate
    Timeframe: during Dark Empire (10 ABY)
    Characters: Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade
    Genre: Romance, kinda. Philosophy. Missing scene. Longest short story ever.
    Summary: She's here to save him. He's not ready to be saved quite yet.

    Notes: So in Legends, Luke Skywalker totally fell to the dark side in Dark Empire. It happened in one graphic novel and was scarcely spoken of forever after. And for some reason, he also gets a new hand. It has been a source of frustration for me for literally decades - for so long, in fact, that they went and changed the whole canon on me in the meantime.

    Many thanks to ViariSkywalker for helping me pull this together and whip it into a more cohesive whole. :D


    He was standing with his back towards the door when she arrived, facing an enormous window and dramatically silhouetted against it - his black cloak and black clothing providing an intense contrast against the fading light of Byss' setting blue sun.

    Although Byss was not a beautiful planet, its sunset was singularly spectacular, and she felt her own breath catch in her throat at the sight. The blue sun sat on the edge of the horizon, embraced by a golden halo and throwing the day's last rays of brilliant light into the darkening sky. The night was fast approaching, but for this smallest sliver of time, the tiny blue dwarf was still holding it off, and the day's final resplendent beams of light shone through and past the dark.

    Through force of long habit, Mara almost, almost pulled the small blaster from her boot sheath at the sight of his unprotected back, before she sharply reminded herself that she was not here for a kidnapping or assassination. Some habits died hard, though, and she compromised by unclipping her unignited lightsaber hilt from her belt before coming forward.

    It had been a very long time since Mara had embarked on an extraction mission. She hoped she wasn't too out of practice - she checked her belt and patted the data pad inside her shirt, reassuring herself that everything was in place.

    She made no attempt to be silent, but neither did she deliberately try to draw him from the window that commanded his attention. Luke half-turned towards her as she drew near, and she saw the small, wistful smile that danced across his lips. "Sunset has always been my favorite time of day," he said, without explanation or preamble. He sounded as if they had just left each other's company fifteen minutes before. "Even as a boy, I made a point to always watch the suns set. The twin sunset on Tatooine was amazing."

    She could hardly have disagreed more - she'd hated the desert planet of Tatooine, during her tenure there as Jabba's dancing girl Arica, with a fury that rivaled the heat of the planet's twin suns themselves. She had bathed for hours after getting off-planet, and she had still felt like she had sand in her hair for months afterward.

    But she could hardly say that. So she settled for the old non-committal standby: "I see."

    He laughed and turned his head fully towards her, eyes twinkling. For an instant, the golden rays of the sunset glimmered darkly in his right eye, and she suppressed a sudden shiver before the light shifted and both eyes shone blue once more. "Liar," he teased, wagging his finger in mock-accusation. "I am a Jedi, you know. You hate the sunsets like ..." He trailed off, then grinned. "Well, with the fury of the twin suns."

    Mara half-snorted, surprised, despite herself. She inwardly berated her paranoid inner assassin instincts and relaxed a fraction of a fraction, revising her expectations of this extraction mission. She hadn't known what to expect when she had heard that Luke had ostensibly taken his father's place as this new clone Emperor's enforcer, but she had never known Lord Vader, at least, to make a joke. She tucked her lightsaber back into her belt.

    Luke looked very much the same. She had seen the security videos recorded from the Battle of Coruscant before his sudden disappearance, and he seemed almost to be wearing the same clothes. Luke did seem to enjoy a monochromatic wardrobe: he wore lightweight black body armor, with a worn plastisteel breastplate and a padded shirt and pants underneath. Black boots glimmered darkly in the light of the blue sun.

    She shot him a rueful smile. "You caught me," she admitted. "Tatooine is a dirty, Force-forsaken dustball, and if I never see its suns again - whether sunrise, sunset, or from the other side of a telescope - I will die a happy woman."

    "A wretched hive of scum and villainy," he agreed companionably, his smile widening a fraction. He turned back to the window, his eyes on the gold streaked sky and his mind far away. On Tatooine ten years earlier, perhaps, when he'd been a farm boy in fact and not just in jest.

    "It's been a long time since Tatooine," he admitted, as if reading her thoughts. "I used to dream about going back, but eventually I realized that even if I went back, it wouldn't be home anymore."

    She didn't respond. Mara had never had a home, growing up, unless she counted the Imperial Palace on Coruscant, and that had been more a place to keep her equipment and extra clothing than someplace that would inspire the kind of longing that suffused Luke's voice. She had the Wild Karrde now, but she wasn't sure she'd ever think of Karrde's ship with the naked yearning that Luke felt for his dirty, Force-forsaken dustball.

    She stood instead, uncomfortable, and waited for him to finish his contemplation of the sunset, casting her gaze around the room and observing her surroundings as she did so. Mara had looked around as she entered, of course, in the professionally perfunctory manner of an assassin casing a target's living quarters, but she took this opportunity to take a more detailed survey of the room.

    It was, as she had noted upon her entry, richly appointed, and now she noticed a luxury that flirted with the very edge of obscenity. The predominant colors were ruby and black with occasional accents of metallic silver, and though the furnishings held those colors in common, the opulent textures – soft velvets and smooth silks, soft rancor leather and stiff brocade, polished stonework and gleaming wood – had been thrown together haphazardly, without regard for the clashing aesthetics.

    A gleaming obsidian fireplace roared merrily to their left, flanked by two great black leather chairs atop a plush red carpet. If the fire had any effect on the room's temperature, though, she scarcely noticed it in the icy chamber. To their right was a small table made from some polished black wood, again with two chairs drawn up to it, draped with a cloth of ruby embroidered shimmersilk. Atop the table sat a pair of covered silver plates and two sets of stoneware and fine cutlery.

    It was garish. It was opulent. It was not the place one would expect to find a utilitarian moisture farmer turned Jedi.

    Mara reached experimentally towards the Force, delicately tracing Luke's presence. He felt, much as he looked, very much the same as he always had. There was and had always been a serenity to Luke that befit either a Jedi or a statue, and though she would not admit it to anyone but herself, she had always found it somehow comforting. His Force presence was calm, warm, serene: a soothing tonic after the stressful days she had spent on the run on this planet, trying to break into the Imperial stronghold.

    She felt a slight frown creasing her forehead, though, as she probed deeper. It was difficult to describe the feeling, or to quantify it through the Force – but did his presence feel somehow harder than before? Her Force-sense was not like touch or feeling, but as she extended her mental tendrils forward –

    There. There it was. She pushed, and found a sudden solid wall. It hadn't been apparent at first, but now that she found it, she couldn't believe she had missed it before: in contrast to Luke's usually warm Force presence, it was hard, cold, unsettling. She didn't know what to make of it, but she could sense faintly that there was something behind it, behind this door set in place by Luke's iron will: a turmoil and uncertainty that made her shiver.

    "People always tell you that the sun always rises," he mused suddenly, as if sensing her probe and her discomfort. He probably did. "But what the optimists forget, or perhaps what they choose to ignore, is that it always sets, too. That no matter how long or bright the day may seem, at the end of it, the sun sets and the night comes. And though there is beauty in the hope and promise of a bright new day, so too is there beauty in the setting sun and the fading light."

    Mara's frown deepened. That had hardly been comforting. There was an intimacy of experience in that statement that told her that this was no idle philosophical musing. Yet she hesitated. She knew that this was exactly the conversation she had come here to have - whether it hid behind grandiose philosophy and pretty words or if, as she would have preferred it, they stripped the words away and just started talking about the naked truth of what exactly a Jedi Knight was doing in an emperor's stronghold.

    But she found that, despite herself, she wasn't quite ready for this conversation yet. She told herself that it had nothing to do with fear about its outcome and everything to do with being monumentally exhausted after scaling sixteen stories of sheer black rock with little more than a rope and a grappling hook, and she almost believed it.

    She wondered, though, if she had been hasty in sheathing her lightsaber.

    "You know I'm not a philosopher, Farmboy," she said, slowly, finally. "But it seems to me that we're always finding ways to push back the darkness. Ever since the first being in the galaxy lit the first fire. The night might be dark and full of secrets, but no one needs to sit alone in the darkness – unless he chooses to do so."

    "Yes. Of course." A small smile tinted with a faint trace of bitterness, and he glanced again at Byss' setting sun. "Unless he chooses to do so," he repeated, musingly. He absently flexed the fingers of his right hand, and they watched as the last rays of Byss' sun sank below the horizon. A billion lights had sprung into existence below, an impressive assemblage that rivaled the vista of stars in the night sky on less settled worlds.

    Luke shook himself visibly, then gestured towards the little wooden table in invitation, his long black cloak swirling slightly with the movement. "I'm sorry for that. I know you didn't come here for philosophy. You must be hungry. I asked the kitchen staff to prepare dinner for two. If my agents were correct, you haven't seen much in the way of real food for a good week or so."

    Mara blinked, caught wrong-footed. It was the first indication she'd had that he'd been expecting her rescue, and it had again hardly been phrased in the most reassuring way. His ... agents? One wouldn't expect a prisoner to have agents, and even though Leia had told her about his ostensible title as a Sith Apprentice, she hadn't expected him to be quite so well-adjusted to the position.

    "Ration bars can be rather delicious, once you've gotten used to them," she replied as she took her seat at the small table, thoughts racing. There were about a dozen things wrong with his dinner invitation, and she had a hard time sorting out which of them boded worst.

    He grinned, white teeth flashing. "Lying again," he accused, and sat down across from her at the table.

    He had known she had been here, as early as a week ago. How much else did he know, and how much did the clone emperor know? Imperial agents had apparently been watching her carefully enough that they knew she wasn't enjoying the most nutritious daily meals in the galaxy, so they had to know she'd slowly been making her way to the fortress. He had been expecting her to arrive, perhaps even up to the hour, given how hot and fresh the meal that awaited them seemed when he lifted the covers to reveal the steaming contents. How long had he been waiting, preparing for her arrival?

    This was not shaping itself into the easy extraction mission she had been hoping for.

    "I rather expected you to come through the window, when they told me you'd decided to scale the walls," he said, as if in answer to her unspoken thoughts. "Which was one of the many reasons I was watching the sunset when you came through the door." He picked up a silver ladle and spooned generous helpings of some creamy soup into both of their bowls. He picked up a spoon and took a sip, giving her a rueful smile. "Pretty sure this isn't poisoned."

    "That's reassuring," she said dryly before throwing caution to the winds and picking up her own spoon. If this was poisoned after all, at least she wasn't going to have to die hungry.

    The soup was good - very good. Definitely the best thing she had eaten since landing on Byss and going underground, and quite probably the best thing she'd eaten ... well, probably since she'd last been served by the Imperial kitchens. It was a rich and creamy white chowder full of bobbing chunks of root vegetables and tender meat.

    "And I may have come through your window had I known which one was yours. I'll know next time."

    He raised a golden eyebrow. "You're more than welcome to use the door."

    She didn't answer that, asking a question instead: the one, from the myriad flashing through her thoughts, that seemed the most pressing. "You said that your agents had been watching me for a week. Does that mean that the clone emperor knows I'm here, too?"

    He shook his head. "No. I paid them well to keep their silence. And I rather doubt the Emperor would be willing to hear the story of how they found out you were on the planet in the first place."

    It was her turn to raise an eyebrow. "Oh? How was that?"

    He smirked. "You fastened a guard's boots together while he was sleeping on watch and stole his extra uniform."

    She blushed, furious at herself. "He actually reported himself?" she demanded. She was still wearing the hapless man's uniform now, actually, save for the boots, which had lacked proper sheaths for her weapons. The olive jacket was tight across her chest, and she had his belt tightened to the last notch, but it was surprisingly difficult to find clothing, clean or not, as a renegade hiding on an enemy planet.

    Though her caution had evidently been unnecessary if Imperial Intelligence had known she was here all along.

    Luke shrugged, still smirking. Smirking from, she was grouchily sure, the self-satisfaction of catching her so wrong-footed. "I punished him lightly and rewarded him well, as he had expected. There are benefits to ruling through respect rather than outright fear."

    She chose to ignore that, favoring the dinner, instead, with her attention. The main course was Berbersian lobster and a side of Balka greens, and the lobster had been thoughtfully pre-shelled. The kitchens had provided a small pot of rich, creamy butter for dipping, kept warm and liquid over a small flame. Dessert was something sinful and chocolatey in a sauce made from fresh berries.

    "I did very much miss Imperial cooking," she admitted, as she finished the lobster and reached for a fresh fork to start on her dessert. "I'm not much of a cook myself, and most smugglers couldn't tell a fine steak from the southern end of a northbound bantha."

    "No doubt," Luke said in a perfect deadpan, "if I had known the Emperor fed his servants so well, I wouldn't have bothered falling off the Cloud City on Bespin. Would have saved everyone a lot of time."

    She was pretty sure he was joking. "But then you'd probably be as fat as the southern end of a northbound bantha by now. You'd put Jabba to shame."

    "Oh, I don't know. My father seemed to do fine with Imperial cuisine. Maybe I inherited his metabolism."

    "Your father was a lot taller than you," she countered. She chose to leave out the fact that she wasn't entirely sure how Darth Vader would have enjoyed food at all, Imperial cuisine or not. "Though it seems you inherited his fashion sense if nothing else."

    "Well. They say black is slimming, after all."

    Mara sighed, scowling down at her plate once again and pushing her chocolate sinful thing about with her fork. "This is stupid," she declared suddenly.

    Luke blinked, uncomprehending. "Dessert? Or having an entirely black wardrobe?"

    She snorted in spite of herself. "Well, that too," she admitted. "Think of the potential bleach disasters. But no, I mean this whole …" she trailed off, biting her lip and motioning with her fork in a gesture that took in the room: the meal, the table, the fire, the window. "This whole 'I am unquestionably in control of this situation, here, have some dinner as my honored guest' thing. I get it, Luke. I was never very good at the Emperor's lessons, but he trained me, too.

    "You must anticipate the actions of your adversaries and those of your allies. Even those of your friends. It is the only way you can be prepared to take advantage of opportunity and, conversely, to avoid disaster," she quoted from memory. "I was never subtle enough for all that. But I recognize it when I see it. So, good job I suppose. Honestly, I never thought that you'd be any good at it, but I guess control is a Jedi tenet, too. But it's stupid."

    Luke stared at her for several long moments, his fork frozen comically on its way to his lips. Then he threw back his head and laughed: as honest and as unfettered a laugh as she'd ever heard from him. He set down his fork and wiped at his eyes with a sleeve. "Oh, Mara. Can't a man just have a nice dinner and conversation with you, without it needing to be about furtherance of the Sith Arts?"

    "Honestly? No," she answered flatly. "I'm a straightforward person, Luke. Let's skip the subtle verbal sparring and talk about what I came to talk about."

    His smile shrank, but did not disappear. "Fine. Where do you want to begin? Why are you here?"

    Well that was a good question.

    She had felt it when he turned. The galaxy had felt it, anyone with the barest Force sense would have been able to feel it - the rip, the tear, the schism - when the great light of his Force presence suddenly went Dark. So she had come to -

    To what?

    In the end, she chose the simplest answer, and the truest. "Me, Skywalker?" she asked, trying for flippancy. "I'm here to rescue you."

    The rage was total and instantaneous. His face twisted into a snarl, his eyes shuttered, and the room's carefully cultivated aura of casual conversational familiarity shattered like glass. Instead, a stormcloud gathered.

    "Did Leia tell you to say that?" he demanded, voice dripping with acid. Luke slammed a fist on the table, not hard, but hard enough to make the stoneware and glasses jump. "Leia needs to keep her nose out of my business for once and trust me to handle myself."

    Mara frowned but otherwise did not react outwardly. Inwardly, her thoughts skittered and raced about, trying to reconcile the Luke Skywalker she'd expected - Farmboy, Rebel, Jedi - with this reaction. "Leia didn't send me, or tell me to say anything. I came on my own."

    He continued to seethe, and she studied him again. He was shielding from her, his Force presence still seeming calm, at odds with his reaction and his obvious rampant emotions. His color was high, his lips curled into a snarl, his fists bunched. "What the hells is wrong with you, Skywalker?"

    His expression clouded. "Nothing is wrong with me. I've just opened my eyes for the first time in fifteen years." He closed his eyes, fighting for calm, and ran harried hands through his hair, pressing his palms against his temples.

    Mara marveled silently at the sight and quashed a rising sense of unease. Luke Skywalker, struggling to calm himself.

    "Do you have any idea what it's like to be led around by the nose all your life? To have your path dictated to you by scheming old Jedi Masters and the currents of the Force?" he demanded. His voice was rising, quickly approaching a tumultuous crescendo. "For the first time in my life, I'm in control, and I know exactly what I'm doing. I don't need your worry, and I certainly don't need a rescue. I chose to come here, and I will choose when I leave. And that will be after I've obtained the codes to the World Devastators."

    She frowned. "As it happens, I do know what it's like to be led around by my nose all my life."

    He looked up and met her eyes quickly, and he had the grace to look abashed. "Mara, I -"

    She waved her hand dismissively. "It's done. But is that what you're here for? The control codes for the World Devastators?"

    He sank back into his seat, deflated, arms dropping back onto the armrests. He hesitated. "That's what it started as. But I've also learned so much. There's no one else in the galaxy anymore who knows so much about the Force – either side of the Force. Yoda is dead, and Ben Kenobi is gone, but the Emperor has a Jedi holocron. It's the single greatest repository of Jedi teachings remaining. I need it, if I will rebuild the Order."

    She snorted. "So he lured you in with the promises of power and knowledge? I think I've heard this story before."

    He glowered. "That's not what it's like, Mara. I'm completely in control here. He only thinks he has me falling, but I'm not, can't you see? I'm learning from him, and soon I'll have learned enough that I'll be able to defeat him."

    He was pretty obviously not in control, and Mara sat back herself to reconsider. Palpatine, she realized, clearly had his hands in this. He had always been a master of manipulation, and Luke's conflicted state now bore testament to the poisoned whispers that had been pouring into his ears.

    "This is insanity," she said, finally. "How can you possibly believe he doesn't know exactly what you're doing? How can you beat him at deception when he's the one who taught it to you in the first place?"

    "You don't understand the stakes. He resurrected - somehow, Palpatine returned, we learned, and I learned how. He has clones. He has extra clone bodies waiting for transference, if his physical form dies, and who knows how many he has?" He stared at her, pleading and earnest. "I need more time; I can't leave now."

    There had to be a key, something that she was missing. Something that would make him see reason. Leia obviously wasn't the answer; Palpatine had already whispered poison into that relationship, corrupting Luke's perception of it, and set a trap where that key should go. She groped for an alternative. "Think of all the lives lost, if you go too far."

    "Too many lives have been lost already. I've seen so many friends die these last ten years. This could be our only chance to end this once and for all, before even more die."

    She pushed back from the table, decisively. "You're in too deep to think about this clearly. We need to leave as soon as possible - right now."

    "Think clearly?" he snorted. His face darkened. "This is the first time in my life I've ever thought clearly. I'm not leaving, Mara."

    "You are, actually. I was planning for this to be an extraction, but I'm not fundamentally opposed to changing the objective to kidnapping. Remember when you passed me the berry sauce over dinner? There was a contact poison embedded in my glove."

    He smirked, and Mara realized she had miscalculated. "Clever," he admitted. He flexed the fingers of his right hand, looking at them, before glancing back at her face. "Too bad you touched my mechanical hand."

    She blanched. "Wow. I must be getting rusty. I am actively ashamed of myself for missing that."

    Luke grinned. "So no, I'm not leaving," he said, standing. His cloak billowed slightly. "And I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I can't let you leave, either."

    It was Mara's turn to smirk. "Because there's a division of stormtroopers standing outside the door?"

    "Well - yes."

    "Please. I said I was rusty, not incompetent. I set the sleeping gas canisters to go off twelve minutes after I opened that door." She glanced at her wrist chrono and held up her index finger in the galactically recognized gesture for wait just a second. "And the bombs in the lift and stairwell should be going off right about -"

    On cue, her carefully rigged explosives rocked the building, making the glassware on the table chatter.

    Luke looked half amused, half exasperated. "I guess that leaves us at an impasse, then."

    She shrugged. "Seems like it."

    They both stared at each other.

    Luke moved suddenly, and Mara's finely honed and overly violent instincts reacted before the rest of her brain could stop, and she slammed the dinner knife she'd been holding straight into the table.

    In the blink of an eye, Luke's mechanical hand was impaled against the table, her dinner knife buried to the hilt in it and still quivering slightly with the force. His fingers twitched spastically, the durasteel knife having damaged its inner circuits.

    They stared at the knife together for a long moment, Mara very nearly as shocked as Luke. A distant corner of her mind howled a warning as they both slowly lifted their eyes to meet each other's gaze.

    Luke's eyes flashed gold, and as quick as thought, a black aura filled with crackling blue sparks coalesced around him. The energy was volatile and chaotic, a gathering tsunami of rage. Her hand darted down to her saber, bracing for an attack.

    If it was a hand to hand fight, she would have won. She was better trained and unafraid to fight dirty.

    If they fought with lightsabers, it might have been a draw. He was better, but not with his left hand, and Jedi trained in defense.

    But he did neither and -

    And he shot his hand out and clenched his fingers and -

    She felt herself suddenly jerked and lifted by an invisible hand - his invisible hand, and she tried to draw in the breath for a scream but her airway was blocked and she clawed uselessly at her neck where the relentless grip tightened and she kicked and kicked in futility and -

    But Force, he was so strong. Too strong. She had always known he was stronger than her but he'd never shown it like this and his power was different now and she felt the Force within him as a raging tempest, an inexorable tide of fury directed at her and she knew without seeing that his eyes burned gold with it -

    She had seen this happen. She had seen this and heard about it and everyone in the Empire knew but knowing something academically was different than finding herself here with him and the fear was like a living thing itself, overwhelming her mind with terror and panic and impulsively, desperately, she pushed it out towards him -

    - can't breathe can't Force no no no can't breathe not like this please no -

    - not you not you you're not supposed to be like Vader no Luke please -

    And as quickly as it started, she collapsed. She dropped like a rock and gasped at the shock and pain as her hip hit hard against stone, thankful that she could gasp, that she could breathe.

    The conflagration in the Force had been thoroughly doused, revulsion drowning the flame of fury, and when she reached out she felt the dark essence had retreated to the shadows as if chastened.

    And Luke -

    Luke looked at her like she'd kicked him, big blue eyes wide and shocked. "Mara, gods, I'm so sorry -"

    He reached his hand out to her again, eyes full of pain, and she uselessly, instinctively scuttled back away from his reach.

    He froze, and she felt the shame rise in him, pouring off him in wave after wave as he realized what he'd done, what he'd come close to doing, who he'd come close to channeling. His presence burned with it, with disgust and loathing for himself and for his father.

    He dropped his hand.

    Mara took stock. Her throat hurt, her hip ached, and she had pushed herself away nearly into the wall, too far from the exit. She coughed experimentally, hand gingerly going to her throat to feel for bruises or injury. A faint headache was starting to take root in her brain, and she could feel her pulse steadily beating through her temples in a faintly staccato march of pain.

    The Force swirled, a dark vortex, a halo of shadow, but it offered her no guidance.

    Luke's shield, his cold wall, had fallen in those few chaotic seconds, and she could feel his true emotions now, roiling within his Force presence. There was determination, shame, but boiling underneath those was a river of rage. Luke's presence was gargantuan itself, but he'd always made an effort to be smaller, calmer; now, he let his emotions run rampant, and she could sense the underlying anger -

    It was unfamiliar, from Luke. But agonizingly familiar, because she had felt a Force presence like this before, trapped in a broken body and under a layer of durasteel.

    "Ow. This," she said cautiously, "is a distinctly unhealthy way of dealing with your issues. And not just for you, but for everyone around you. And maybe even the whole damned galaxy."

    Luke sighed, and she looked up. He had wrenched the knife out of his useless hand, and he was standing now between her and the door. Sparks flew from the damaged circuitry, and his cloak billowed slightly from his movement.

    His eyes were blue, but they were hard. The shame had transmogrified to anger at himself and his absent father, but he'd pushed those aside for now. What she sensed from him now was determination, cold will. The Vader in him had subsided, but there was still Darkness there, of a different flavor. His own Darkness. "I'm sorry," he said again, "but I'm not leaving. And I can't let you leave, either."

    His good hand floated absently down to his lightsaber hilt.

    She stood up, stretching out her neck tentatively, and mentally switched her mission objective from kidnap to escape. "That's a shame," she admitted, and shifted her feet to a ready position. She kept her hand studiously away from her lightsaber. "I was really thinking this would be easier."

    "I'm not done. You have no idea how much is at stake."

    The room had darkened, and the lights, the fireplace, and even twinkling city lights below and outside the massive window seemed suddenly dimmer. The shadows swirled like a living thing, slinking across the room to coil at his feet, excited and ready.

    She pivoted, circling to the right. He was between her and the door, and he was wary. He knew where she was heading, and he was already crouched, ready for an attack. "Seems to me, Skywalker, like maybe you should cut your losses before you lose the house."

    "I'm willing to pay the price. My life or even my soul, to prevent the Emperor from resurrecting again, from unleashing his World Devastators on the galaxy? That's not a price, that's a bargain."

    "But what about all the people who will have to pay it with you? Leia and Han, their children - once the Emperor is gone, if he's truly gone this time, who will save them from you? You're acting like you're allowing yourself to become a martyr, but you wouldn't; you'd be a tyrant."

    He snarled, and her hand jerked reflexively to her lightsaber. She tore it away, quickly - she didn't want this to escalate to a lightsaber duel. "I would never hurt them. Never."

    Her still aching throat offered a counter argument, and she touched it briefly. "Honestly, Farmboy, you're not inspiring a lot of confidence. You have to realize that the Emperor is manipulating you."

    He smiled faintly. "Of course he is. Treachery is the way of the Sith. But at least he's honest about it. Nothing about the greater good, or a 'certain point of view.'" This last, he spat with an ill-concealed rage that spoke to a long festering wound.

    "The way of the Sith," she repeated sardonically. "Is that where you are with all this then, Skywalker? Has he given you a Sith name yet? Should I be addressing you as Darth Vader the Second, or did you just inherit the job and not the title?"

    His eyes narrowed with annoyance that he did not bother to suppress, but neither did he directly answer her question. "I have no further interest in being a pawn to destiny. Why is it Darkness to want to choose my own path? Why should I suffer to be bent by the will of the Force, rather than bending it to mine?"

    "You're still a pawn. You've just switched colors."

    "But why content myself with being a black pawn, when I could be the black king?"

    A stormcloud was gathering in the room, and in the Force an icy wind stirred. The shadows surged, pregnant with anticipation. Mara suppressed a sudden shiver.

    "Join me," he pleaded. Gold had seeped into the edges of his eyes. "We can overthrow him. He's weaker than he was in his original body, and I've learned so much more about the Force since Endor. Soon, I'll be able to take him on myself, but with you I could do it now, today. We'll take out his clones so he won't have a chance to resurrect, and we can ru-"

    He cut himself off. They both knew what he was going to say.

    He closed his eyes, shaking his head as if to clear it, and when he looked up again she saw that he'd pushed away the Darkness again, for now; his eyes were blue. "We'll return the galaxy to the rule of the Republic," he finished, lamely. "To democracy."

    Mara had been circling, angling closer to the door, and she found herself now facing Luke from the window, silhouetted by the planetary nightfall. "You're selling all of this really well, Skywalker," she quipped. "You're doing a really good job advocating the complete lack of pitfalls in the plan 'we can just pretend to turn to the Dark side, you see, and it won't affect us at all.'"

    Luke shook his head again, sharply, and put a hand to his head. He pinched the bridge of his nose, looking irritated. "It's been harder than I anticipated," he admitted. "But I can't leave now. There's too much at stake; he has too many clones, and he'll just be able to come back again and again if I don't stop him now. And I need your help."

    Luke unclipped his lightsaber. He undid his cloak, and it flared theatrically as it fluttered to the ground. A tiny, impudent corner of her mind wondered if he had summoned the Force to ruffle his cloak for dramatic effect.

    "You already know my answer," she said. She unclipped her lightsaber and readied her stance. She had wanted to avoid this, but it seemed, now, inevitable.

    He ignited his saber with a familiar snap-hiss, and it was green. She hadn't known until that moment what color it would be - how far he had gone to satisfy the Emperor, if he had bled the kyber. But she didn't have time to process that, because he was on her.

    She turned to meet him, and with the press of a button his father's lightsaber sang to life between them.

    The first blows were testing, perfunctory. He swung high on her right, following the movement through and sweeping down. She blocked and danced away, out of reach, but she was instantly and uneasily aware that she had made a severe miscalculation; she was unused to dueling left handed opponents.

    She thought he would be disadvantaged if forced to use his left hand, but he wasn't. His thrusts and parries were agile, precise - he moved with a quick and easy grace that belied his injury, with a skill that revealed long hours of training.

    She had sparred against Luke before and acquitted herself well. But that had been practice, and this was deadly earnest. He hadn't been holding back before, or taking it easy on her, but his blows now were fueled with an unfamiliar rage and aggression she had never encountered from him. He wasn't fighting defensively like a Jedi; he was fighting to win.

    Lightsaber duels could only end in a handful of ways: surrender, incapacitation, maiming, or death. Mara didn't like any of those options.

    "You've practiced," she managed, in the space between blows.

    "Of course I've practiced. It would be irresponsible not to - apparently you can't always depend on using your dominant hand."

    Their sabers clashed together, sparks flying and the acrid smell of ozone in the air. He pressed his advantage, and she blocked, swinging left and catching his blow. The lightsabers locked, and his face was close enough that she could see his expression: sardonic, almost mocking. "You, by contrast, haven't been practicing," he noted.

    "Well spotted," she grunted. "Tell you what. We can take a raincheck on this and pick it up later, at your Jedi Praxeum. I'll let you help me practice. We'll just need to leave together, now. You got dinner, so I'll drive, and you can pay me back for the fuel later."

    He laughed, a discordant sound like crackling ice.

    What had passed before this was window dressing. Manipulation and conversation, philosophy and seduction were Palpatine's favored tactics, not Luke's. Deviousness had never come naturally to him, and his attempts to mirror Sidious' casual conversational seductions were almost laughably obvious.

    But with a lightsaber in his hands, Luke was a master in his element - she could feel him drawing on the Dark power as naturally as breathing, letting his rage and anger fuel his blows, and she realized how thoroughly she had misjudged. With his training and precision, with the strength and fury of the Dark power, this would not end in a draw. She would be lucky to leave unscathed.

    She spun away from an overhead blow that had come in too quickly to block, pivoted and retreated to a marginally safer spot, putting the room's couch between them.

    The Force spiked in warning, but the energy was too chaotic - she didn't know where the danger was coming from. Mara lifted her lightsaber to defend, guarded and guarding, but unsure where to turn. She looked sharply at her opponent.

    He had straightened, lightsaber still in a ready position, but looser, less urgent. He smiled languidly, and his eyes glimmered gold.

    "You don't understand how much power I have now. The power of the Dark side." He stretched his damaged hand towards her, fingers splayed and circuitry sparking, and a wave of Dark power surged at his command - and she was engulfed.

    - and you are engulfed.

    Why had you thought the Dark would be hot, a consuming flame? The passions are, the anger and the hatred that you need to tap into the Dark power, but the power itself isn't - it is a sea of ice, granting you a clarity of vision and glorious purpose you have never before experienced.

    The Darkness finds all the cracks, all the faultlines in your soul and flows directly into your veins: filling, cleansing, scourging. It is like a dam is broken, and you are drowning in it.

    You stumble -

    She stumbled -

    - and it's all you can do to stay upright against the tide. The ocean is deep and vast and limitless, and you can sense neither the bottom nor the shore.

    The Darkness writhes within your blood and in your soul, exhilarating and exultant, and - by the stars above, the hells below, the Force within - it feels so
    good. You had never known that anything could feel so damnably and damningly good.

    Curiously, you look at your hands and see blue lightning spark between your fingertips, and you know you can do anything.

    The ability to destroy a planet, or even an entire system …

    The Dark power leaps -

    - he leapt -

    - to your call, answers with an urgency that makes you gasp: eager and desperate to be unleashed to its full potential. To your full potential.

    Why had you been running from this? From this power that has been calling and screaming and singing for you to pick it up, hovering just beyond reach of your conscious mind? Ben's teachings, Yoda's warnings all seem so far away, so faded, so unimportant when confronted with this new clarity.

    You can hear them, you realize suddenly. Their voices howling a warning, from somewhere beyond the water's edge. You can't make out the words, but you can hear the cadence - Kenobi's horror, Yoda's disappointment, your father's sorrow.

    None of that matters. Nothing matters but the Dark power: channeling it, indulging in it, acquiring more of it.

    You laugh at that realization, wild and free and unburdened by the weight of the chains you have never noticed you carried: honor, duty, morality. None of that matters in the Darkness, and -

    - and she caught his lightsaber on hers, parried quickly and blocked again as he pressed his attack. He had almost gotten her; another fraction of a second, and she would have been down a hand.

    Their lightsabers locked, centimeters from her face, and she panted for breath - at the fury of his attack, the strength of his blows, the vision that he'd shoved upon her. He stood above her, and pressed down with all his weight; it was all she could do to hold him off.

    "You're - cheating -" she managed, from between gritted teeth.

    He smirked, his features illuminated oddly and alternately green and blue on either side of his face. "You stabbed me with a dinner knife," he reminded her. "I think I get to cheat a little."

    "I didn't even know you could do that." Her hands were shaking; whether from weariness or from being so suddenly submerged and yanked from his vision she couldn't tell.

    "Honestly, neither did I - until you pushed your thoughts on me earlier."

    "Great minds," she said, shortly. She didn't have the energy to summon a better conversational rejoinder.

    She pushed hard, and he backed away: not a retreat, but a regrouping. He twirled his lightsaber almost absently as he waited for her next attack.

    Mara took the opportunity to catch her breath, tentatively reaching to the Force to soothe her embattled mind. It answered, a warm and reassuring tonic she dearly needed. This was not going the way she had hoped.

    She hated the Vader in him, and she could sense that he did too, and hated to be reminded of it. But Vader's darkness wasn't the only darkness he harbored, and she could feel Luke's growing inside him, ever stronger.

    The Emperor's dark power was a black hole in reality, sucking and claiming and devouring all light. Vader's was a tar, polluted and clinging and suffocating. But Luke's was a cold black flame, impossible and arresting and suffused with hunger, hunger for …


    Her mind skittered away from that thought. No, not for her, surely. Luke didn't think of her that way, and she sure as all hells didn't think of him that way. Not before, and certainly not now.

    She groped for an alternative explanation and landed on one - even in darkness, it was Luke's nature to crave company. To be alone was antithetical to his nature; he drew friends and found family towards him magnetically, almost supernaturally. He wouldn't want to walk the dark path alone.

    "You're going to burn the galaxy, in your hubris," she said.

    He shrugged. "What would be so wrong about that, to burn it down and rebuild on the ashes. Burn out the corruption. Burn up the rules." His eyes glimmered. "Burn everything, so long as you burn with me."

    Mara realized suddenly that she was afraid. And maybe she had been afraid for a while now, but this was the first moment she realized it, acknowledged it. This Dark version of Luke was dangerous and unpredictable, and she didn't know if or how she was going to be able to escape.

    "Fear is the path to the Dark side, Mara."

    She glowered. "Kriff off, Skywalker. You do not get to lecture about the path to the Dark side right now."

    He grinned, a strangely mischievous expression at odds with the seriousness of the conversation. "Who said it was going to be a lecture? Maybe it was an invitation."

    "I'm not afraid of you, Farmboy," she spat, still waiting for an opening.

    "Liar," he accused mockingly. "But even if you're not afraid of me, you're afraid for me, aren't you, Mara? You're afraid that maybe you made a gruesome mistake coming here, that maybe I'm not so in control of the Darkness as I thought. You're afraid that the Emperor has me wrapped tight around his little finger, so well that I can't even see myself falling. You're afraid that maybe I've fallen a little too far to crawl back to the Light."

    He was right, or close enough to right that it didn't matter, but she let that knowledge wash over her without reaction. She didn't have the time to worry about any of that right now, and it would have to wait.

    She launched forward in a flurry of blows, the blue lightsaber singing to life. She spun forward, dodged a horizontal strike and used the Force to jump - up and up, spinning into a midair somersault to deliver her own overhead strike.

    Luke met her attack, blow for blow and block for block, seemingly indefatigable. He caught her overhead blow with an upper block, swinging back and narrowly missing her wrist. His faintly mocking smirk never left his lips.

    "And if you're not afraid of me yet," he said, and yanked - her lightsaber flew straight to his outstretched hand, "maybe you should be."

    Mara bared her teeth. She reset her feet, raised her fists. "Come at me, Farmboy."

    Luke laughed, a sound devoid of humor. There was an edge there that, if it wasn't precisely madness, was adjacent to it: a lurking presence that was cold and dark and not entirely sane.

    "Join me," he said, again, and his eyes were blue but they were wrong. "And together -"

    He didn't finish his sentence with words, but with images that he pushed upon her, vivid and clear. She quickly backed away and raised her hands to her forehead as if to ward them off but he was too strong and she saw -

    As my apprentice. And she saw herself training with him, learning more about the Force at his side. He'd wanted this before, had wanted her to join him to train at the Praxeum but the nature of the vision was different; she'd be his only student, and the nature of what they studied would be darker.

    As my partner. And she saw herself standing with him back to back, lightsabers ignited and ready as they fought off hordes of enemies. The enemies were in shadow, but she could see that they were all sorts - Red Guards and Inquisitors and stormtroopers but also the soldiers of the Republic.

    As my Empress. And she saw herself on the Imperial throne, and him kneeling before her, not as an apprentice but as a worshiper, and she felt his strong hands on her legs and his lips on her thighs and she gasped because -

    Because that wasn't in the vision, he'd taken advantage of his distraction to close the distance between them, and he'd caught her legs up with his arms somehow even with his useless hand, and her legs instead of kicking him away had wrapped themselves around his waist.

    Their lightsabers had fallen to the ground in the confusion, forgotten and extinguished.

    His hand was against her throat pressing her to the wall, and she could feel the steady rhythm of her heartbeat beneath his fingers - jumpy from exertion and surprise.

    She could push him away. She could kick him.

    She did neither, because she could sense that they dangled on a precipice, and fighting now might send him over the edge - "I'm not leaving yet, and I can't let you leave, either," he'd said. The Sith dealt in absolutes, and the choices before her now were to join with him or be slain by him. She struggled to find a third path.

    She watched as his pupils bloomed, dilating with desire.

    She felt the hand at her neck tighten experimentally, infinitesimally.

    "You cheated again," she whispered, and he was so close - his body pressed so hard against hers that she could feel his heartbeat, his face so close she could see her breath puff against his eyelashes.

    And for an eternally long moment, they waited, still as statues.

    Luke wasn't going to kiss her if she didn't want him to, she realized. He didn't want to cross that line. Even submerged in Darkness, he wanted her permission, her consent.

    Her hands shot out, she grabbed hold of his shoulders, and she crashed her lips against his.

    And then it was like a dam was broken, and she was drowning in him.

    As soon as her lips touched his, he took control. He released her throat and slid his hand up her neck to tangle his fingers through the hair at the base of her skull, using his hold to arc her neck back as he deepened the kiss and slid the fingertips of his other hand over her skin, skimming her clavicles and shoulders and the dip of her throat.

    Why had she thought he'd be cold? Maybe the presence of his newfound power was, but his kiss was fire and his touch was flame. His hands left burning trails along her skin, awakening nerve endings she hadn't even known were asleep. The heat spread through her, moving through her heart to her arms and legs, loosening the joints in her fingers and toes. Spreading further and deeper as a liquid tension pooled inside her.

    She moaned into his mouth, and he released her lips, bringing his mouth instead to her neck, using his hold on her hair to turn her head, kissing and nipping and sucking along the column of her neck and her jawline and the sensitive shell of her ear until she whimpered.

    The heat was like wildfire. Blindingly, searingly hot.

    She was on fire where he touched her, and she could feel the power roiling off him in waves - Dark and chaotic and dangerous. Luke wasn't like this, wouldn't kiss her like this if he were in his right mind, but he both was and wasn't, and the frenzy of his touch drove thought away like a demon to be banished. She fought to hold on.

    Unhurried, he returned to her mouth, his tongue lancing across her lips before retreating, teeth biting lightly against her lips. When she gasped, he took advantage of her open mouth to steal inside, their tongues crashing and dueling as he pushed himself closer still, as if he were trying to meld with her. She gave the smallest groan at the back of her throat, and he growled back.

    It was not a slow, sweet kiss. It was passion and possession and conquest.

    He let go of her hair to slip his hand along the hem of her shirt, grazing the skin of her abdomen before slowly sliding his hand beneath and spreading his fingers across the small of her back, pushing her against his stomach so that she had to arch her back to keep kissing him.

    She brought her hands up from his shoulders, tunneled her fingers through his hair and over his ears. He leaned subtlety into her touch.

    After a long moment and a short eternity, Luke broke the kiss, and she was thankful to come up for air. He looked down at her face, seeking to memorize her, and she knew what he'd see - her hair in tangled disarray, her lips reddened and swollen, her shirt torn at the collar and a line of reddening bite marks marching up her neck. Thoroughly ravished.

    He smirked, his blue eyes tinged with gold and his expression victorious and self satisfied, and she knew she had him.

    Mara locked her hands behind his head and pulled it forward, smashing her forehead against his nose with a sickening crunch of cartilage. He yelped and pulled back, stumbling, and she used the opportunity to untangle her legs and land catlike on the ground.

    She shook her head quickly to clear the stars from her vision that she knew would be coming after that move, and followed up the headbutt by launching a right hook to his left jaw, catching him unprepared and unguarded.

    She followed the turn, whirling counterclockwise with the momentum from the blow, and landed a spinning kick on the side of his head.

    Landing in a crouch, she grabbed his weaker arm and the dangling hand and flipped him up and over her shoulder, and then let go to let him hit the ground with a solid whump.

    And then, as he lay there catching his breath and collecting his thoughts, she whipped out her ankle blaster and stunned him.

    "Sorry, Farmboy. I cheated this time," she quipped, still panting. Her heart was racing from the - stars, from the everything. She was dizzy from the rush of adrenaline. Their duel, his kiss, her victory. It was hard to process that it was over, it was done.

    But she wasn't fundamentally opposed to cheating, and she was better trained and unafraid to fight dirty.

    Mara paused to take stock.

    She was at the top of a tower with the Emperor's unconscious Sith apprentice and a division of sleeping stormtroopers outside the door. Stormtroopers who were going to start waking up soon, with a lot of questions and a lot of blasters. She had already blown the lift and stairwell, and that left few options.

    She'd escaped worse.

    She ran a brisk hand through her tangled mane, finger-combing it into a semblance of order and attempting to corral it into a quick braid.

    Her fingers were trembling too much for the task, and she fought for serenity. Her thoughts refused to cooperate, leaping and bounding and out of control. She tried to herd them into order, compartmentalize them to deal with later, but there was too much, too many. She had never been faced with a storm like this, a tumultuous mixture of dread and lingering desire spiked with fear.

    Mara took a deep breath, held it, expelled it - imbuing the exhale with her riotous emotions and releasing them into the Force. She schooled her fingers to stillness, concentrating on the menial task of her braid. Strands over and under, again and again.

    Luke had taught her how to use the Force like this to calm herself. Before. She didn't want to think about that now, but the thought determinedly wormed its way into her mind before she hurriedly brushed it aside.

    She should kill him. Now, when she had the chance, before he fully grasped the Dark power. He had already shown her why, given her a glimpse into his mindset when he touched the Darkness, and she shivered at the implications.

    She could see it in her mind's eye, Luke's future as a Sith if he succeeded and destroyed the Emperor again. He would be terrible, he would be glorious, he would be worshiped. With his raw power, he would be able to enforce a twisted morality and order on the galaxy with an inexorable fist. His father's strength and his own anger, unfettered by Vader's disabilities or Palpatine's machinations.

    The Republic would fall. The galaxy would kneel. It was written in his future - golden eyes, a shattered soul, the corruption of Dark power thrumming through his veins.

    She should kill him, because she was one of the few who could. His Republic friends wouldn't be able to - because they would lack the ability but also because they would lack the will. How could they even conceive of killing their hero, the hope of Yavin?

    Leia would see the inevitability eventually, Leia would be able to sacrifice her brother for the galaxy, but how long would that take her? But Mara was an assassin; she could compartmentalize. She could put the hope aside.

    But somehow… she couldn't. She didn't want to.

    She seized on that thought, turning it over in her mind, tracing it back to the root. Why? she asked herself. Why don't I want to?

    Because he's Luke Skywalker, and he saved you.

    She blanched. It'd be for the better to do it now, she reasoned. Before he fully turns, before he kills people. It'd be better to spare him that, the corruption of the Dark Side. He'd prefer it that way.

    But he's Luke Skywalker, and he saved you.

    She frowned. If he falls, it'll be too late. I won't be able to kill him. There will be too many protections, too many barriers. I may never have this chance again.

    But -

    "But he's Luke Skywalker, and he saved me," she snapped aloud into the silence, surprising herself. "Yeah, I get that."

    Luke's presence was a sun - nourishing and warm and bright. But the Dark presence sought to extinguish that, freezing out his light and hope until he was like it: the icy surface of a cold, dead star.

    But somewhere deep inside himself, Luke still held out a candle against the Darkness. And though a candle wasn't nearly enough protection against the Dark power, she believed that if anyone could use that meager flame to fight it back, Luke Skywalker could.

    She kicked his boot, petulantly. "I guess hope is contagious."

    Unconscious, his face had relaxed, and he looked calm. He looked asleep, like he slept the sleep of the innocent, nothing revealed of his inner turmoil, of the fight being waged for his soul.

    She sighed. Absently, she stun cuffed him and pushed his recalcitrant hair away from his face, feeling oddly tender. "You're not a bad kisser, Farmboy. But it's reductively sexist to assume I'm going to follow you to the dark side for want of a good kiss, and frankly, I'm disappointed in you."

    She sat back on her haunches, slapped her hands on her thighs decisively, and stood. She needed to get moving, even if she wasn't planning on killing him. Especially if she wasn't planning on killing him.

    Mara walked over to the abandoned lightsabers, picked up her own, gave a few seconds thought to taking his as well before dismissing the idea.

    Mara fidgeted with her belt while clipping her lightsaber, gathering her thoughts. She glanced back to her unconscious Sith and banished the coil of doubt that had lodged as a lump in her throat. She had so much to say, but didn’t know how to say any of it - not that it mattered, because he couldn't hear her - and yet she had to say it anyway.

    This might be her last chance. This might be goodbye.

    "I've sat with my darkness, Luke. I've reflected on it and I know it well, and you're not going to scare me with it, or tell me anything surprising about myself that I don't already know. Maybe you need to do that yourself. And maybe when you're done, you can go ahead and rescue yourself, too."

    She left him alone, to the Darkness he had chosen.

    Last edited: Jun 30, 2022
  2. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002

    A new Elli fic! And L/M! I’m so excited even though you’re probably just going to break my heart. [face_not_talking] I gotta adult, Elli, but I will be back asap :D

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
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  3. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Kessel Run Hostess and Champion star 4 VIP - Game Winner VIP - Game Host

    Aug 9, 2002

    *whispers* You already know I love it, but I'll be back, too :D

    lolollll [face_mischief]
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  4. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    CAN I JUST SAY YUM? Sure 'nuff. =D= This is so perfectly in character for each. He's so quintessentially the cinnamon roll we know and love and yet tainted. :eek: And she's... Mara... [face_love] And I would NOT mind at all if this continued/had a sequel. [face_batting]

    Last edited: Jun 30, 2022
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  5. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    You say this as though I haven't had lines from previous Elli-induced heartbreaks living rent-free in my head for fifteen years :p I welcome the lasting emotional trauma *thousand-yard stare*
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  6. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    Okay, Elli, I had to hold off on this because adulting grrr but also because my OTP fic was half-finished and due today and I knew that if I got a well-written L/M DE dynamic stuck in my head I might not be able to make the deadline on a happy family fic, but now mine is done and posted and I'm blowing off adulting and you'd better prepare yourself, because essay might be too light a word for what I'm about to throw at you. It's your own fault for posting such a long story after all this time :p

    But first of all, welcome back to the Hotel California that is fanfic. I thought I was out once, too :p I told Vi that considering how good your writing was as a teenager, I fully expected greatness from you now, and I was not disappointed. I'm so proud of you both, even if I feel very old that people I first knew as high school students are now both mothers and my gosh, when did all of this happen [face_decrepit]

    On to the fic in a general sense: DE is just all sorts of problematic, you know? Here's the thing: if it had been an official AU from the start, like Infinities or Tales (and don't get me started on why SW canon, either version, doesn't embrace official AUs or a multiverse situation more than it does), it could have worked. But as canon? Let alone as a canon coming right after TTT? Really? We're just going to rehash RotJ, except that this time Luke falls? And, as you say, basically never speak of it again? No, that was never how to handle this scenario. The non-Zahn/Stover/Allston/a few others EU had some problems that they really just didn't seem to think out, and you gotta wonder, if everyone was okay with accepting Luke back after he turned to the dark side and it's a-okay for Kyp Durron to be forgiven and become a Jedi Knight training apprentices a few years after killing how many with the stupid Sun Crusher (and how many super weapons were there, for crying out loud?), then would there really have been a problem if Luke had brought Vader or Palpatine back to Alliance HQ and claimed they were very very sorry, they would be good now? Because come on. And the whole "he didn't really fall, he was just pretending" thing is nonsense. As Mara said in VotF, "Debatable, but it almost doesn't matter. One way or another, you still dabbled in the darkness, and it tainted everything you touched afterward." (Loose quote, I have too much to write here to go check it exactly.) Playing around with the dark side isn't something that washes away with no side effects, like changing your clothes.

    I'm getting myself into a potential endless rant here, so let me move on to another problem with DE: where was Mara? Either as the Emperor's Hand or as a trained Force-sensitive and Luke's friend, she should have been involved somehow.

    You addressed both of these issues, and did it brilliantly. So let me get into the specifics:

    Now that's a summary. And like so much of this fic, it's a turn of phrase that balances on a knife's edge and could go either way. Does "quite yet" offer a hint of hope, or is it merely foreboding? There are no easy answers here, and I love that you embrace that complexity instead of whitewashing it.

    Gorgeous bit of description. I think it was in a YouTube video I watched recently that pointed out what makes SW great storytelling: the essentials of the story are timeless and almost universally relatable, and the SFF aspects are more in the details, and particularly that those details are not made a fuss of, but mentioned or shown almost in passing, so casually that the viewer accepts them as part of everyday life because the characters do. Yes, we all love jumping to hyperspace and lightsabers and aliens and droids everywhere, but the bulk of the saga is focused on the fundamental humanity of the characters and the narrative, and all the rest is carefully placed window dressing to set the scene. This resonates with me as a recognizably SW balancing act, and imo, the best SW stories keep that proportion intact. You do that here: the reader is caught up in Mara's thoughts and concerns and fears and determination, but throughout we get casually mentioned GFFA details like the blue dwarf sunset and Luke's mechanical hand and a blaster stun setting. It's masterfully done.

    I love this because yeah, after a lifetime of that training, and from such a young age? It's probably straight up muscle memory now, that she has to consciously override when needed.

    Now that's a great detail. Subtle, but obvious enough that we shiver with Mara, and then that switch back to exactly what Luke would and should sound like, which makes us question our reaction. Again, so well done.

    Love that "fraction of a fraction." Somewhere along the way, a large chunk of fandom really latched on to the idea of Mara having a temper, when if you look at literally every time Zahn (her creator and therefore the golden standard for her characterization) writes her, she's actually under tight control. Mara was raised by a Sith, worked around and occasionally with Vader, and was a professional spy/undercover agent/assassin as a teenager. You don't survive any of that by flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. This is one of the many details you get just right about Mara throughout, and it is a delight.

    Another bit of almost relaxation for the reader, because now they sound just as they should together, and just as we would want them to be. Look at you laying all these emotional traps :p

    This I like simply because 1) yeah, it's just reality that sometimes the home you're nostalgic for is forever beyond your reach, because it's changed and you've changed and that moment in time is forever lost and I like seeing this acknowledged, and 2) it's just never made any sense to me that Luke would forever think of his childhood home the same way he did as a frustrated teenager feeling obligated to stay in a tiny hometown, chained to a destiny he didn't want, while his friends went off to the one he did and left him behind. It's natural that at the time of ANH he felt that way, but it's every bit as natural that once that as he matured, he'd look back and see the good, too, and appreciate it. I will always enjoy moments that show Luke thinking fondly or nostalgically of Tatooine.

    This is just another great "setting the scene" piece. I love that you point out how the textures clash even though the colors don't. That's a really subtle but vivid detail.

    lolol, ah, Luke

    "Unsettling" is a great choice of word here, and the "iron will" bit is - well, unsettling. Because yes, non-Sith Luke is ridiculously determined, but especially in the overall context of DE and why Mara is here, this implies something beyond a usual character trait.

    On a surface level, absolute truth. On a philosophical level? Hoo boy, the galaxy's in trouble now.

    "She told herself", "she almost believed it", "she wondered, though, if she had been hasty" - just a fantastic little slow burn here of Mara's growing awareness of the danger.

    Dang, Elli, another double-bladed detail you could just cut yourself on. Could be reassuring, could be terrifying. Have I mentioned that I absolutely love stories that aren't afraid of complexity?

    She's so pragmatic, I love it :p And just the consistency of having that show through even in small things, such good characterization.

    Now this is terrifying, because, um, yeah. He's not going to be the same sort of Sith or ruler that Palpatine and Vader were. His version has even more potential for devastation.

    "Pretty sure"...

    I lol'ed, thank you :p I'm not sure why "post-RotJ Luke always wears black" has become a thing on par with "Mara has a fiery temper," but here we are...

    That's right. Another thing that often gets overlooked: Mara wasn't Sith, but she was trained by one. She knows the tactics.

    Gosh, I love this. The sense that Luke possessed both such goodness and such power that his turning would be so obvious, the way you describe how it felt, the way Mara pauses to analyze her own response, the simplicity and the parallel to Luke himself embodied in her answer.

    Just gorgous all the way around, in keeping Luke in character even under these circumstances, in the aesthetics of the description, in the technical proficiency of the writing.

    And this is another bit of perfect characterization, that Mara doesn't so much as flinch even in the face of this. This is the iron control that she possesses and has always been taught to cultivate, as well as the depths of her internal reaction and the way she scrambles to analyze despite her seeming placidity.

    Luke's characterization here, throughout this entire story, inextricably tied to DE's entire premise, is just a tightrope thin as a razor blade. Honestly, a big part of where DE fell short was probably that it was overly simplified. You don't do that. Without ever being so gauche as to state it outright, you show us the ways that this could have been plausible, the areas that a master manipulator such as Palpatine could have found a weakness in and turned to his advantage, the way Luke is still, at this point in time, Luke underneath the growing corruption. To simplify this scenario after the OT is to fatally wound DE's entire premise. We've already seen Luke stand firm against provocation and temptation and come out victorious; what can turn him after both Vader in ESB and Palpatine in RotJ failed, and after five-plus years of his own growth after that?

    This. This can. Luke's own self-sacrificing nature, his impulse to put himself between his friends and danger, Palpatine's subtle poisons, the deficiencies of his training in both the lack of time he had with teachers and the fact that he started as an adult, his own inherent cockiness that could be tipped into hubris if handled right. You show all of that, but you also do so in the middle of the process, where he's not fully gone but he's also at that turning point where he's just about openly embracing the dark but still just barely able to delude himself that he's not, and you keep him recognizably Luke throughout. I mean, dang, Elli. This is masterful.

    Plus Mara's dismissal of that absolutely, incredibly, outstandingly self-absorbed to the point of hostility comment - so perfect *chef kiss*

    what you did here, I see it

    And Mara, knowing Luke and Palpatine both, recognizes the process.

    I literally lol'ed again here, oh my gosh, the perfect characterization for both of them individually as well as the dynamics here, where they're on opposite sides but still more friends than enemies, it's just perfect and I love it so [face_love]

    And again. This feeds my L/M-loving soul even as I know perfectly well you're about to break my heart, because not only are L/M not a thing here, they cannot be and should not be. Such a fantastic dichotomy. Give me all the complexity, Elli

    I love it, I love it, I love it. "finely honed and overly violent instincts" - such a great and accurate turn of phrase. The imagery both of Luke about to pounce her and Mara literally pinning his hand to the table, the technical detail of the damaged circuits and twitching fingers, both of them staring at it in shock. So great. Please, sir, can I have some more?

    Again, beautifully written, but also that knife edge balance of what Luke is and what he was and what he could be in either direction. I adore the "like she'd kicked him" detail, that you shape the readers' sympathies to be with Mara rather than Luke. There's a "poor Luke, he's so good, he's such a sweetheart, he must be protected at all cost" line of thought that can be taken too far, and this is one of those times where no, he gets no sympathy at all. Mara's reaction points out the obscenity of such a thing. His horror and self-loathing is no more than he should feel right now. Can he come back from it? Yeah, we all saw that Vader could. But right here and now? Screw Luke's pain. Mara's the one who just narrowly escaped being violently murdered by his use of the dark side.

    So well done :cool:

    Mara will be damned if she ever lets on to being intimidated by anyone. I love this irreverence and plain speaking even after that narrow escape.

    Oh, the emotional finality of this, and Mara's pragmatism kicking in. Just - it's so good, Elli. So good.

    So is this, the description of the shadows, so good

    Exactly. Self-delusion and hubris.

    I can take or leave the "certain point of view" thing. Some fans see it as manipulative, some see it as a plain statement of fact. I lean toward the latter (I'm sorry, but does anyone think that ANH Luke was ready to hear the unvarnished truth about his father? Or that Ben even had the right to say any such thing while Owen and Beru were still alive?), but I can also see how Luke could have felt resentful over it. It honestly depends on a number of things. But with Palpatine poisoning the well? Yup, this swiftly would become a point of contention.

    Gorgeous, just gorgeous


    This is a great realistic detail, very nicely done

    I don't blame her.

    So irreverent and so in character :cool:

    Beautifully worded!

    Accurate assessment, and I appreciate that you let Mara have realistic flaws and misjudgments here. She was neither perfect nor glaringly wrong in her assessment, just a realistic person who nevertheless made a mistake.

    Beautifully written and also just has the feeling of being super accurate. Like, most people aren't going to openly and willingly embrace outright evil (I hope), but fundamentally good people like Luke still have those cracks that can be exploited. Like his father before him :vader:

    Another agonizing little glimpse of the enemies-but-also-still-friends dynamic happening here, with another lovely visual detail to set the scene, so well done

    You know what I love about this? Mara had her life stolen from her and the whole Emperor's Hand persona thrust upon her specifically because she had a rare talent for telepathy (that the EU immediately and inexplicably forgot about entirely what the heck), so it makes a lot of sense that she could project just like this, with sudden and overwhelming totality. And it makes just as much sense that someone as smart and talented (and used to improvisation after years as a guerilla fighter) as Luke could and would take note of that tactic and throw it right back at her.

    More gorgeous imagery [face_love]

    Here's another beautiful bit of complexity, because Mara is smart and analytical and unsparing to herself, but she's not perfect, and she's still pretty fresh off of a lot of shocking revelations about her life, so this is a super realistic reaction. She's wrong - TTT heavily implies that Luke before DE already did think of her like that, and a dark Luke could and very likely would think of her like that just based on her physical characteristics and his own desire for power - but that's too much, too soon, she can't quite wrap her head around that yet even without Luke being more than half-Sith, so under these circumstances? Of course she shies away. But you have her seize on another genuine truth about Luke. She's not retreating into any unrealistic levels of denial; she actually sizes up his personality very accurately here. Both interpretations are valid ones.

    It could almost be flirting if it wasn't so terrifying.

    This is not an acceptable prelude to any sort of romantic advance, I mean seriously

    Oh, how I love this. There's the very true to life - and thus terrifying - aspect of Mara's "he might kill me if I resist" reflection blended with her usual swift analytical thinking, and a possible way out of the horror that the reader can grab onto even as she does.

    And this. Elli, have I mentioned this story's embrace of complexity yet? :p Because look, this ain't any great virtue on Luke's part here. So he isn't forcing himself on her yet, great, terrific, here's a good behavior award for you, Skywalker. He's almost violently murdered her, he's fought her with a deadly weapon, he's invited/threatened her with the dark side, he did force himself on her mentally and then took advantage of that distraction to put her up against a wall with his hand on her throat and she's afraid he'll kill her if she openly resists. So the hell what if he's waiting for her permission to actually kiss her? And if she had given in now and joined him in the dark, does anyone actually believe he'd keep caring much about her full and willing consent for very long? He doesn't care about it now, she's already not in this position of her own free will.

    Like, just damn, Elli, the tightrope you're walking here, and you succeeded. And you kept Luke in character for this moment in time where he's swinging between who he used to be and who he currently is and who he's more than halfway to being, and you kept Mara in character, and you even kept their chemistry intact while still showing plainly just how horrifying and inappropriate this is, that it is still assault even if Luke pretends otherwise (like he's lying to himself about everything else in this narrative? o_O) - to say this is a masterful accomplishment is underselling it by a large margin. I don't honestly think one in a hundred writers could have managed it. I am so, so impressed.

    Exactly. There is not one single romantic thing about this. Raw chemistry, yeah. Romance? Love? No, a thousand times no. Not even close. This is a corruption of the very concept, just as Luke himself is corrupted.

    I almost clapped, I swear. You go, Mara. I love her so much

    Such a fantastic depiction of how shaken she is, which is really something, considering Mara's established baseline of control and competence.

    And I love that you have Leia's characterization down pat here too. Yes, yes she would be able to do this if she had to. And Mara's right to realize that although Leia could, she could not do so immediately. It would take Leia longer to reach that point, whereas Mara has the experience necessary to take care of the situation right here and now.

    "tracing it back to the root" - so well done, so well described and so accurate. Mara analyzes and assesses and weighs the pros and cons, she doesn't take even her own thoughts and feelings at face value. And you describe the process in an instantly recognizable and relatable way.

    So perfect. What's that quote from the RotS novelization - "a single candle can hold back the darkness"? And Mara's still perfectly, perfectly in character. And you give us that tiny sliver of hope. Maybe it will be enough, maybe it won't. Complexity :cool:


    Still so pragmatic and so perfectly in character and you handled my favorite character so very well in such a complex situation and I'm so happy

    It's so perfect, everything is so perfect, she's so in character, there's such a perfect level of hope but also no letting Luke off the hook here, this is his mess and his choice, he didn't have to do any of this but he did and it's now officially and fairly his responsibility which is so perfect and the mechanics of your writing, the way you structure this to show the reader everything they need to know without info dumping and the last line, omg last lines are so hard and this one is so perfect.

    I could probably live another decade off this story, but I hope you write more before then, Elli, and thank you for writing and posting this, I love it so much [:D]
  7. vader_incarnate

    vader_incarnate Force Ghost star 4

    Jul 29, 2002
    I have a sequel! Two sequels, actually. I meant to write a “picking up the pieces, mutual hurt/comfort” fic for them to sort out the aftermath that took place after the comic series ended, but now I'm pretty deeply into a direct continuation instead. Even though I have no idea where that story is going to end up! I’d say “coming soon!” but I have to go reread the X-Wing novels and the Thrawn trilogy to make sure I’m getting these characterizations right, so probably not actually very soon. [​IMG] I think I'm writing my Karrde too snarky.

    I can almost guarantee they’ve been marching through my head even more insistently. [​IMG]

    It is just so deeply, richly satisfying to have this exceptionally thorough feedback where you just pick up all the threads I'm laying down and unerringly track down the intent of individual words and phrases and I just can’t thank you enough. [​IMG] Except maybe by writing more? [​IMG]

    IT IS. WHY IS IT LIKE THIS. And it has bits and pieces that are accidentally so good - it opens after Luke crashes a stolen Star Destroyer into Coruscant. That’s such an Anakin move - BEFORE RotS even came out??

    If I had a nickel every time a Skywalker crashed a capital ship into Coruscant, I’d have two nickels. Which isn’t a lot but it’s weird that it happened twice.

    I have a persistent headcanon that this incident, which was grossly unexplored in the EU, was one of the most important formative experiences for Luke that saw him on his way to becoming the Jedi Grand Master we see in Legends rather than the broken man that Rey finds in TLJ. If he’d fallen himself, and if he failed so deeply earlier in his life - Ben Solo’s fall wouldn’t have hit him as hard. And I’m trying to find a way to explore that in fic rather than just expounding on it in a lecture while my husband’s eyes glaze over.

    [​IMG] But yeah, while writing this … their dialogue kept getting cute. I had to tamp it down.

    Once again, Luke and Mara just insisted on being really cute together here, and I couldn’t stop them. It’s almost like they notice the fourth wall and can’t help but comment on it.


    I have it headcanon’d that the Skywalker men do this instinctively and unconsciously, because they’re just such ridiculous damn drama queens.

    I am ridiculously glad that you like that part, because honestly it just started out as a narrative device that allowed me to pop in Luke’s perspective in a fic that’s otherwise written from a limited third person POV. And I was really worried I was just ... inventing new Force powers that had no root in the actual universe.

    I BROKE THEM, GABRI, I BROKE THEM. [​IMG] And that was completely deliberate because what else could so inspire Mara's ire in VotF but this, and what else could have happened that took them ten YEARS to recover from?

    But I broke them too hard and I need to fix them and Mara needs closure and Luke needs to apologize somehow, and how do I bring them back from this??

    My inner L/M shipper is yelling at me, because I meant to write “White Knight” where they pick up the pieces, but I’m struggling so much to find the appropriately repentant voice for Luke’s POV, and the right dynamic where there’s still a chance for forgiveness but he has to earn it, and their dialogue keeps veering too humorous for what’s supposed to be a serious conversation.

    And now I’m instead eight pages deep into “Black Knight,” where he’s just about to go off and break them further and have his own man vs. destiny arc that matches his father’s. And Palpatine, who is the only in-universe character to have had a front row seat to the events of RotS is just SO EXCITED, because he knows exactly what happens when Skywalkers try to stop self-fulfilling prophecies. [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] STOP IT, LUKE, STOP.

    The number of fics where this happens!! And 14-yo me probably wrote some of them? But I started this fic seventeen years ago, and it took me seventeen years to find the appropriate voice for Mara, and she is absolutely going to poke at the fourth wall here. She deserves it.
  8. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Kessel Run Hostess and Champion star 4 VIP - Game Winner VIP - Game Host

    Aug 9, 2002
    Yaaaaassss [face_batting]

    (I swear I'm coming back to leave proper feedback, I haven't forgotten!! :oops: [:D])
    Kahara and Gabri_Jade like this.
  9. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fanfic Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    I believe it :p

    [face_blush] It is only fair repayment for the joy of reading this story! And yes, more writing would be lovely, please and thank you [face_batting]

    lolol, Skywalkers

    Yes, I can see this [face_thinking] I also know that feeling; no one in my non-internet life is particularly interested in my many thoughts on SW, either *rueful*

    I know exactly what you mean. They really have a tendency to take over the narrative. I've never found a way to prevent it, only channel it mostly back in the general direction I meant to go :p

    They are

    No, no. You were building on established abilities. We already know Jedi can sense someone else's presence and emotional state and even have some rudimentary telepathic communication. It's true that onscreen, ESB does not definitively establish that Luke, Vader, and Leia were all hearing specific words from each other - it could have been just a very distinct and personal emotional summoning that each of them recognized. But even if that was the case, it was still a measure of telepathic communication. And Zahn established that Mara took that to fully-articulated conversations across the span of the entire galaxy levels. Now, I argue that this was not an ability that every Force-sensitive had, but rather an exceedingly rare talent on Mara's part, because if Palpatine simply wanted to raise a Force-sensitive child to be his personal servant, there were plenty in the Temple. But he didn't take any of them, nor any of the Force-sensitive children who may have been found before Mara - she was born two years after Palpatine became Emperor and vaguely remembers her parents, therefore I suspect that she was in the 2-4yo range when he took her, which would be 4-6 years after the establishment of the Empire. There were surely some young Force-sensitives found and done away with in that time. So what about Mara made Palpatine take her? After all, we're looking at an absolute bare minimum of a decade's investment in her: raising her, teaching her, training her, and she was given the very best of the best in all those areas, because he wanted her to be capable of - well, exactly what she became capable of. But this was an astoundingly expensive thing for Palpatine to undertake, both materially and as regards his own personal time, and it's clear that she was never being raised as a potential replacement or even supplement for Vader. Mara was something different. Why?

    Because Palpatine happened upon a child who had an extremely rare talent, one rare enough that no youngling in the Temple was known to have it, and one that he could use to great advantage if she was trained right. Nothing about Mara's position makes sense otherwise. Yes, Palpatine is a master manipulator and takes joy in treating people as puppets, and probably had a great time warping her into his own personal devoted spy and assassin, but he didn't need her. So yeah, Mara's communication abilities have to be something rare enough for him to call that audible in the field and take on raising her and training her almost from infancy. And all of this completely meshes with everything Zahn wrote about her (iirc, every specific example of telepathic communication in TTT involved her, which could easily indicate that even Luke and Leia couldn't have actual mental conversations without Mara facilitating it) and even everything we saw in the movies and tv shows about the Jedi, as far as I recall. None of them were having perfectly easy conversations with each other from halfway across the galaxy. So if Mara is inherently and specifically a very powerful communicator within the Force, then she could absolutely project just like you have her do here, whether as a matter of training or as an instinctive and desperate survival mechanism. I think you picked up on something very important that literally everyone in the EU, even Zahn himself post-TTT, just dropped for no reason I can discern, and I think it's awesome that you did so.

    Inventing new Force powers that had no basis in the actual universe would be having Jedi "Force-stick" themselves to ship hulls without magboots, or extending a pregnancy an extra month to obscure the identity of the father, or to clear one's face after crying. Can you imagine? Good thing none of the professionals ever got that silly! *lolsob*

    I hear you. Zahn did what he could with the necessary HoT retcons and honestly, I think he succeeded pretty amazingly considering what he had to work with. But yeah, ten years, and they've never even had a conversation about anything DE-related? I get that there was the Callista detour that didn't help matters, but it's still just too much. What you have here is a more personal reason for Mara to be seriously freaked out by him, in a way that could easily take years to resolve. However, I have great faith in you! *hands you super glue*

    As a writer, I sympathize with you tremendously here. As a reader, I'm just really excited to eventually read this :D

    We all wind up in a trope pitfall sooner or later, and this is a prevalent one! But oh, the absolute joy to read that line so directly written and even spoken aloud. It was such a delight :D I look forward to reading more after you finish your reference reading! (Also, Karrde is totally snarky. He's just very urbanely understated about it.)
  10. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Kessel Run Hostess and Champion star 4 VIP - Game Winner VIP - Game Host

    Aug 9, 2002
    So this took way longer to get back to than I'd anticipated, but I didn't want to shortchange you by rushing, so hopefully this makes up for the wait. :p

    [face_laugh] Oh, how I relate to this! Seriously, I leave fandom for just a few years... :p

    Pfft, I barely did anything, this is all your genius, Elli. ;) [:D]

    Byss might not be a beautiful planet, but this description is. Gorgeous writing all the way through. I could see it clearly.

    That sunset is pretty amazing. [face_love] And I love your description of Luke here, wistful and companionable. I could feel you lulling me into a false sense of security. [face_mischief]

    It's just so perfectly them. And this will probably sound silly, but even though it's been ages since I've read a new fic of yours, as soon as I read "a fraction of a fraction" I smiled because it was exactly the sort of unique and unexpected description I remember from your stories and have always loved.

    Omg, stop being so cute, you two. :p


    I love this phrasing here, flirted with the very edge of obscenity.

    This is an excellent description of his mental shielding.

    I have to echo Gabri’s “the galaxy’s in trouble now” because yeah, it’s not just power-hungry despots who can really wreck things, ya know? [face_worried]

    The “intimacy of experience” line really jumped out at me here, like... man, Luke has to have been wrestling with some tough moral and philosophical questions lately to end up where he is, and as someone who never actually read DE, I would be much more interested in seeing what you would do with it. [face_mischief]

    And then, Mara’s preference for skipping the grandiose speechifying and skipping straight to the unvarnished truth is spot-on characterization.

    Lololol he’s so matter-of-fact, I love it

    This still makes me so hungry, brb time for some seafood…

    Lolol she was "pretty sure" [face_laugh]

    Lol, I love the aside about the bleach. And I really love Mara deciding she’s had enough of this little verbal dance and just calling it out for what it is.

    [face_laugh] The fork frozen halfway to his mouth is a great image.

    LOVE the ANH reference!

    I love everything about this. The description of his rage, how quick and consuming it is, how his anger with Leia feels half like Palpatine’s influence and half like typical sibling irritation blown up to Sith levels. So good.

    Yep, that would definitely be an unsettling sight. [face_worried]

    Well that's an armor-piercing response if ever there was one. o_O

    Uh-huh. Sure, Luke. Where have we heard this before… [face_plain]

    (The parallels are a thing of beauty)


    Whispered poison into that relationship is just an excellent and evocative line. Of course Palpatine knows exactly where to strike first.


    His reaction here is perfect. You can still see so much of the bones of their friendship beneath everything else going on here, which is a large part of what makes this whole story work so well.

    Fantastic bit of action here, and I love their shocked reactions to the stabbing. I could feel the air leave the room.

    Chilling, seriously.

    I’m sounding like a broken record, I know, but this is just another excellent bit of description of Luke’s emotions. And of course, you know I love me some Vader references and parallels. [face_mischief]

    I mean, it kinda makes a twisted sort of sense…

    I’m sure Anakin would have said the same thing once. [face_plain]

    Luke literally just got done nearly killing Mara, and yet I fully believe that he believes this to be true. Which just goes to show you how scarily powerful a person’s self-deception can be.

    What a fantastic line, my gosh. *shudders*


    Another perfect bit of Mara characterization. ;)

    Oh, look at that, another excellent and visceral description. [face_love]

    And this is some excellent characterization for both Luke and Palpatine. Plus I love seeing Luke’s proficiency with a blade commented on.

    I could have quoted this entire italicized section, it was just so, so good. One of my favorite things about the RotS novelization is how Stover described the darkness, how Anakin sees Vader as cold, dispassionate, able to do what Anakin is unable to do himself. (And then, of course, the beauty of his later realization that there is no Vader, it’s all him and only him.) And Palpatine’s descriptions of the dark side in that book are very much in line with how you describe it here. That sense of the dark side as something deep and vast and cold and clear is something I’ve delved into a tiny bit in my own fics, and I love seeing what you’ve done with it.

    Chills. [face_hypnotized]

    When you said “moderately racy”, I wondered if you would be going here, and I wasn’t exactly sure how you would broach the subject, and I really enjoyed the way it was just suddenly this thing that Mara stumbled upon without warning. Her reaction and her denial were perfectly in character, especially at this point in time.

    So how many times have I said that your characterizations are perfect? Too many? Oh well. :p This is so quintessentially Luke Skywalker, and I love that it was both an honest reflection on his character as well as a way for Mara to deny the truth of his feelings for her.


    I love that you don’t shy away from how scary dark!Luke is, or the raw power he could command.

    Me, to Mara, when I got to this part:

    I mean, more than she already was, I guess. 8-}

    I love how you framed his desire for an apprentice as an extension of his perfectly normal and non-creepy desire to have her join him at the Praxeum. This is still Luke, even if he’s been twisted. (And since we know he already had feelings for her, it feeds into the escalation of the visions here.)

    I still love how sudden and disorienting this shift is. [face_mischief] [face_hypnotized]

    And see, here I thought his lustful vision was going to be the extent of it, but then he uses it to distract Mara while he does this??? :eek: I was all, LUKE NOOOOO. (And I wondered just how you were going to get us out of this mess, Elli. You sly author. [face_mischief])

    Basically, everything Gabri said. The complexity of the emotions and dynamics between them in this moment cannot be downplayed, and I’m sure any analysis I make is not going to do it justice. Here’s what I see in this moment: I see a Luke who has had genuine feelings for Mara before now, who might have loved her, who might even love her right now… and who is trying with all his might to deny that he has become this twisted and awful thing, the sort of man who would distract a woman and throw her up against a wall with his hand around her throat, after having forced a very sexually suggestive vision upon her. There is nothing loving in what he’s doing here. There’s nothing tender or caring or good. As Mara notes later on, this is possession and conquest. This is assault. Luke doesn’t want to believe that’s what it is. He wants her permission because otherwise he has to face the reality of what he’s doing, which is that he’s already taken her choice away from her. (Join with him or die, right? Not much of a choice there…) Without Mara’s “consent”, Luke has nothing to hide behind. [face_plain]

    Here’s some more complexity for you: I know how screwed up this whole situation is, and yet this was just so beautifully and viscerally written and the chemistry was so good that I kinda didn’t care. I mean, damn.

    (But seriously, kids, dark!Luke is not to be emulated.)

    I appreciated that even though Mara is working this situation to the best of her ability to keep herself alive, there’s still this insane chemistry between them that she recognizes and responds to and has to struggle against so as not to drown in it.

    I love the detail of him leaning into her touch. Even with how dark and dangerous he is right now and how twisted and wrong this is, he’s still Luke underneath it all. The tiny glimpses throughout of what Luke and Mara could have together were painful and excellent, and while it will never make Luke’s actions okay, it does show that there’s still something in him worth reaching, that it’s not too late for him to make the right choices.

    And this is where I got a huge grin on my face and said “Elli, you crafty author, well done.” Because while I had faith in you, I was wondering just how you were going to resolve this, and when I read this line everything clicked into place. Excellent. [face_mischief]

    =D= And that’s how it’s done. I love the action choreography and descriptions all the way through.

    Yep, that’s our Mara. [face_love]

    A great way of showing just how shaken Mara is. The repetition of this line was very effective in conveying her emotional state.

    This so reminded me of Luminescence, in the best way. (Hey, are you still working on that one at all? [face_batting])

    Like Gabri said, perfect Leia characterization, too. And I love that even though Mara knows she should be able to eliminate Luke, she still can’t. She doesn’t want to.

    I love the “oddly tender” detail, but also lolol, you tell him, Mara.

    Great details, once again.

    “Her unconscious Sith” o_O [face_whistling]

    What a great closing paragraph after everything, and a perfect last line. This whole story is fantastic, Elli, and I’m so glad to hear that you have plans for more. It was a true pleasure to read one of your fics again. [face_love] [:D]
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2022
  11. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The (FavoriteTM) Fanfic Mod With the Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004
    I read this last June and was absolutely blown away by your brilliance! Now, more than a year later and my growing familiarity with your stories - and you [face_love] - I am even extra stunned and impressed. So, I'm now going to flail at you just a little. All right, you got me - more than a little. ;)


    I was hooked, just like that. :p


    This was an A1 mental picture, to set the scene with the fading light, the setting sun - the blue setting sun - and Luke silhouetted against it. [face_hypnotized]

    The blue dwarf holding off the night . . . [face_hypnotized] Gosh, Elli, but my feelings are involved just like that. Then, of course, the stunning sci-fi scenery is just a treat to read all on its own.

    They're just so aware of each other! All throughout this story, you say so much with those unspoken cues. =D=

    Very Mara. :p


    "Stay out of my mind, Skywalker." :p

    They're just so cute and precious - which, inevitably, is going to make reading the rest of the fic that much more painful. [face_worried]

    :p [face_laugh]

    . . . yep: That. Much. More. Painful.

    I appreciate this part. Home is more a concept than a reality for both of them at this point - but for Mara especially. She's never known a home, and for where she maybe could have felt at home, and then made a home . . .

    Pain, Elli. Pain.

    This is a great detail that says so much, with the colors matching but the textures clashing. [face_hypnotized] [face_worried]

    And this is exactly how Mara would phrase it. :p

    NOPE [face_worried]

    What an awful thought, but unfortunately intuitive. =((

    And then the light is gone - I swear that I had a shiver when the sun finally set on Byss as much as it did this relatively friendly(?) chat. I loved Mara's words especially though, before Luke had to be all [dark]:luke:[/Luke] [face_mischief]

    So practical, I love it. :Mara:

    Imagining Luke at the head of any dictatorship is absolutely terrifying for this alone. [face_hypnotized] [face_worried]

    ELLLLIIIIIIIII, THE PAIN! They're just so dorky and cute, and I don't wanna find out what happens next. :_|

    . . . except that I do, of course. :p

    Get 'em, Mara. [face_waiting]

    Aaaaand . . . breathe.

    Your Vader is showing, Luke. He's gone further than he can even see for how a good memory - a dear memory of a loved one - is able to make him react so violently in the opposite.

    Mara and me both. =((

    Right? It throws the balance of the universe out of whack!

    As he should. [face_bleh] (A selfish and self-absorbed Luke Skywalker is more than telling, too. [face_plain])


    But again - I echo everything Gabri and Vi said: if Luke Skywalker were to ever fall to the Dark Side, it would be this way. Through the desire to do something good, and perhaps feeling as if it was his duty to walk this dangerous path if it meant "helping" others. Even worse, he could have started out with an arrogance, of sort, thinking that he's resisted the Dark before, and even drawn Darth Vader back from the edge, and so he could do it again. All throughout this piece, I couldn't help but think of Gandalf - and even Galadriel and Elrond - turning down the temptation of the One Ring, with: "I would take it with an intention to do good, but though me it would a power too great and terrible to imagine." [face_plain]


    I see what you did there. [face_mischief]

    Mara's practical that way. :p


    . . . and I really want to read some sort of L/M Mr. and Mrs. Smith AU now. [face_batting]


    Really, though, the juxtaposition between the L/M we know and love and where they are in the context of DE was so, so well done. It was as jarring as a reader as it so clearly was for Mara. The familiar and comfortable is all just slightly off, and that warning buzzing is getting louder and louder with each passing moment.


    . . . and that's where Luke's new hand comes from, right? [face_batting]



    Mara's assessments of their strengths and weaknesses are spot-on, and I love seeing how her brain works when written by an author who understands her character. =D=)


    In control of the Dark Side, my -

    Eugh. He deserves a good kick, at that. As much as I'm glad that there's a bit of Luke in there to react as he absolutely should for almost killing a woman he loves, like father like son friend out of a moment's temper, I appreciate how you were able to show his disgust and horror without "woobyfing" him at the cost of Mara's shock and pain. Right now, there's only one victim here.

    Beautiful, evocative writing. =D=

    I love the detail of Luke usually making an effort to be smaller in the Force - that's something totally IC for him to do, and that he's not, now, says so much about just how far down a dangerous slope he's slipped. But then, that the determination, shame, and rage reminding her of Vader . . .

    *actual goosebumps*

    More great details. [face_hypnotized]

    So said Anakin Skywalker - minutes before Mustafar, even. [face_plain] (You've become the very thing you sought to destroy." :_|)

    I like the detail of her jerking reflexively for her lightsaber, too - she's on edge, and rightfully so, waiting for danger and violence even as she's trying to get through to Luke as he may still yet be inside. :(



    Hello there: delusions of grandeur. It's always a bad sign when Luke starts picking out grandiose names in your fics. o_O





    for now, his eyes were blue =((

    For now. [face_plain]


    Excellent blending of new and old canon. I really do like the idea of bleeding kyber crystals for the Sith. =D=

    Completely understandable. :p

    I admit it, I laughed. :p

    [face_hypnotized] [face_hypnotized] [face_hypnotized]

    Luke reads like a force of nature all throughout this scene, and it's devastating as much as it's painfully accurate. I can see LS!Luke always using as much force as necessary to subdue an opponent, but when those breaks are off, so to speak . . . this is more like what we saw at the end of RotJ before he came back to his senses, but with the added dangerous bonus of years of practice and training. [face_worried]


    Masterful . . . just absolutely masterful. =D=

    You force choked her; I think you get to grovel a little, is what the good sir means to say. [face_bleh]


    Don't mind me; I'm just a little bit in awe once more. [face_hypnotized] =D= [face_love]

    Fair. This would have been a lot for Mara to process anyway - no matter that TTT left Luke and Mara, poised on the brink of something more. If that would have been true, DR aside, then it's almost incomprehensible here, and I can't blame her for protecting herself by shutting down and seeking out an alternative explanation. The brilliant thing, too, as that her alternate explanation is just as true as the more glaring main explanation. This was a masterful bit of characterization, all around. =D=


    Oh, Mara! =(( [:D]

    Yet how can she not be? She's been close to the Dark before, and made subject to those who embraced its ways - that alone is enough for a more than healthy fear and awareness. But this is Luke, who she loves cares deeply for, and that makes the fear all the more sharper and intense.

    :p I don't know how you keep Luke IC through the most OOC of plot arc . . . but you do it, Elli. [face_hypnotized]

    Also, as I find myself saying to the Chaos Twins quite often in Vi's fics:


    Not. How. Flirting. Works.

    If anything, he's cruisin' for a restraining order. [face_waiting]

    Blue but wrong. :_|



    . . . someone's just been messing with the thermostat in here, obviously. :p

    Which is such a tricky thing, because he's just physically and mentally attacked her and threatened her more than once - "consent" has long since flown out the window. But he - that little bit of Luke still left inside - needs that facade.

    It's just so twisty and unhealthy and you write the precarious balance so, so well, Elli. =D=

    That said it all. This is passionate, yes, but very much wholly unromantic. [face_plain]

    But there's that little bit of Luke that makes this sooooo tWisTyyyy!

    1: Yikes, but that's horrific! [face_hypnotized]

    2: Aw yeah, that's our girl. Get 'em. :cool:

    Cheated? Stayed alive after having your mental, physical, and emotional boundaries crossed time and time again? Yep, that better checks out. :p But I appreciate that she has the ability to quip in order to regain some control over the situation and begin to process everything that has happened. Dizzy doesn't even begin to say it, I'm sure! =((

    This is all so incredibly spot-on and powerful writing for being so. I wish I could do it better justice with more insightful feedback than that, but instead all I have for you is: =D= =D= =D=

    She could put hope aside. :_| This was a striking character insight, for both women. [face_plain]


    . . . I feel like Jane Austen could have wrote this - or, at least, would very much approve of Mara's sentiments. [face_mischief]

    *mic drop*

    This was the perfect place to end, both for Mara and the story, and now I am going to skedaddle on over to Black Knight and gobble that one up too.

    Stunning, breathtaking writing, Elli - as always! Thank you so much for sharing this with us! [face_love] =D= [:D]