Title: Professional Pride Timeframe: Immediately after the end of The Last Command Characters: Mara Jade, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker Genre: Drama, Introspection Summary: Mara is shocked to discover who the original owner of her new lightsaber was. After mulling it over, she decides to go on an impromptu late night mission Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Disney. A/N: This was put in my mind by the song ‘Blinded’ by Florence + the Machine, which for some reason makes me think of the state of mind Mara must have been in after realising how badly the Emperor used her. It also comes from realising that (as far as I can tell) there’s nothing in the Thrawn Trilogy to suggest Mara knows the full history of the lightsaber Luke gives her. Professional Pride The negotiations dragged on long into the night, and when they finally ended, Mara couldn’t get out of the meeting room fast enough. Luke had made his escape hours before, it being considered inappropriate for a Jedi to be involved in the detailed aspects of negotiating a deal with a bunch of smugglers. After all, when it came down to it, they were a bunch of criminals and he was supposed to be an upholder of peace and justice in the Galaxy. She was still annoyed he’d escaped so easily though, especially as she was pretty sure he’d planted the idea of her being the Smugglers Alliance liaison in the first place. He should have to suffer through it too, for that. Instead she and Karrde had been left with only Han Solo as a sympathetic voice in the meeting. The hazy legalities of this kind of arrangement with a legitimate government made it all very complicated, and the New Republic officials seemed determined to explore every possible implication of that before coming to an agreement. Longer, more annoying meetings promised to stretch into the days and weeks ahead. The darkness of the corridor outside the room was a relief. “Hey kid, you did good in there.” Han Solo’s hand briefly patted her on the shoulder. Mara tensed slightly at the unaccustomed familiarity, but she shot him a wry smile as the man fell into step with her. “What, because I restrained myself from drawing a gun just to get them to hurry up?” Han chuckled. “You didn’t draw a lightsaber on them either.” His eyes dropped to the new acquisition at her hip. “That’s real restraint. Although at times I rather hoped you would.” “Thanks Solo. I’m not quite the temperamental vornskr some people seem to think I am you know. I know how to keep my head during long negotiations.” “Not sayin’ you are. Just I’ve had to sit through a lot of those kind of meetings in the last few years, and so far Luke’s really let me down on my fantasies of the pen pushers being silenced with a good swipe of a humming blade…” Mara laughed shortly at that. “Yeah, Skywalker’s way too restrained to ever pull something like that.” Han sot her a funny look. “I dunno. He can be pretty unexpected at times. Like that little gift he’s handed you.” He gestured to the saber again, and Mara realised she wasn’t going to avoid his curiosity about it. She pulled it from her belt and hefted it for him to see. “I guess since he has another one, he doesn’t need this one anymore. It was a thoughtful gesture though.” “A thoughtful gesture?” Han cocked his head at her. “Don’t you know whose saber that was?” “What? It was Luke’s, he lost it at Cloud City…” “Yeah, but where did he get a lightsaber from, do you think?” She frowned at the odd expression on his face and shrugged. “I don’t know. His Jedi Master, I guess.” “Yeah, Ben passed it on to him. But originally… It was his father’s, Mara.” Mara stared down at the sabre handle in her hand in shock, the rest of the world shifting away as she focused on the metal of the weapon. Luke’s father… Anakin Skywalker. Darth Vader. Confusion roiled inside her. She hadn’t realised. She’d had no idea of its significance to the past. Luke’s past… and her past. Why would he give this to me? She had thought it a simple gift of peace and friendship, and an unsubtle hint he would like her to train with him. But now… what did it mean? “So you see, it’s a pretty surprising gift,” Han’s voice broke into her thoughts. “The kid’s full of surprises.” He cocked a wry grin at her. “Anyway, this is my turn off. Gotta get back to the wife and family.” His smile seemed somewhat self-satisfied at the thought, and he turned off down the corridor towards the wing the Solo’s lived in, leaving Mara alone with her thoughts in the darkened corridor. Mara dragged her eyes from his receding back and glanced down at the saber again. Full of surprises. Hm. She reattached it to her belt and looked around. The wide corridors of this part of the palace were quiet at this time of night, and the light very low. It drew her back into the past. In day light, with the bustling crowds of officials, politicians and delegations, the place truly belonged to the New Republic now. There was a sense of hope and purpose about these people in this place, something quite different from her memories of Palpatine’s regime. Then sycophants and acolytes had skulked around, whispering in corners. Moffs and Admirals had jostled for favour and power. The New Republic and all their ideals, as flawed as they often were, imbued the place with a whole different sense by daylight. But now those people were all in their beds sleeping and dreaming of their brave new galaxy, and the shadows of the past seemed to seep back in at the corners of her eyes and senses. Mara shook her head. She was imagining it, they were mere memories. The past couldn’t hurt her anymore. Even so, she felt the desperate need for air, the vast halls somehow becoming suffocating in the shadows of memory. Instead of heading towards her guest quarters, she turned on her heel back to the turbolifts, and up towards the roofs. She stepped out onto a different roof than the one she had shared with Skywalker at sunset, but they might as well have been the same. Just one of many, perfect places for someone to watch from, someone to have a clandestine meeting at, someone to lure a target to for a kill… She shook the memory away, shocked by the unexpected twinge of guilt. She couldn’t face that just yet. These memories kept coming back to her, randomly triggered by the littlest of things. The people she had hurt and killed, at his order. Every one she had thought was right and just, at the time. Done in service to her Master, the legitimate ruler of the Galaxy. Who had raised her. Who she had loved and served without question. And now, each time one of these memories surfaced, she would find herself, if she did not guard herself against it, going through what details she could remember of each instance. Trying to work out if that particular one had been right, deserved, or whether it had just been murder. She stepped to the stone railings and looked out at the darkness of the city, punctuated with a multitude of lights in buildings as big as mountains. An endless galaxy of people, all of whom had been objects to Palpatine, to be disposed of on a whim. Her eyes had been opened now, opened by a farmboy, and she couldn’t see, or feel, anything but that multitude of lives. She had been so wilfully blind. But for some reason Luke forgave her for it all, with out even asking the details of her sins. Absent mindedly, she lifted the saber from her belt and turned it over in her hands, thinking of the man who had once held it, and all the evils he had done. Luke insisted Vader had come back to the light at the end. He was so able to forgive his father all his wrongs, but the rest of the Galaxy did not see it that way. If they knew the details of her crimes, in the name of that… that tyrant, the Galaxy would not forgive her either, no matter what Skywalker thought. She lay the metal tube on the balustrade, wondering if she should just push it off, let it fall into the night. Loose the sabre, sever that connection to the past. But given the history of the damned thing, it would probably find it’s way back anyway. Skywalker was so damned certain about her. He was so sure that with her completion of the Emperor’s last command, she was freed and all that was put behind her. Such faith in such a simple act. But she was a killer, brought up and trained to be. How could he know she could really leave that all behind? She couldn't even face up to the truth of it herself yet, couldn’t face the memories. And all those nights spent dreaming of him, dreaming of his painful death. She closed her eyes against the memory of it, somewhere in her core clenching in a strange agony at the thought. All those many, many plans of how she would do it, when she finally caught up with the Jedi. She had planned to make her way towards Coruscant, get on planet, then use her knowledge of the Imperial Palace to get to him and claim him in the night. Only instead, she’d used that knowledge to save his sister and her children. It was funny how things turned out. And of course now, here and now, she was finally in the perfect position of trust, the perfect place, to actually pull the plan off. How ironic. Staring into the night, Mara’s eyelids narrowed thoughtfully. Was she still the killer she’d once been? Did she even still have those skills? Was leaving that life behind truly a choice? Could she have pulled off this last mission? She felt a swelling of professional pride, grasped the lightsaber hilt determinedly, and stalked off to the lift doors. It had not, thus far, been difficult at all. The trust that had been placed in her took her a long way into the part of the Palace where the Solo’s and Skywalker lived. The security clearance she’d been allowed was clearly reasonably high, for a guest. However after she got past the corridors that held meeting spaces and eateries, and into the more residential areas, she found herself challenged by the palace guards. She quickly sweet-talked her way out of it, but more stealthy means were clearly needed from this point on. She slunk into the shadows, distant training in how to sneak around this place returning with no effort. She knew these corridors, the walls and alcoves, statues and drapes, like the insides of her blaster. Sharp eyes and observation kicked in to note where the sentries stood, where they looked, when they would move on. Before they could turn back, she had slipped onwards, further into the residential areas. She needed to go up, but the noise of the turbolifts would attract too much attention and palace guards loitered near the ornate stairway up. The turbolift shaft was framed within four large, ornate columns, nearly as wide as a man each. To reach the one she needed, she would need to slip past one of the guards that felt a little more observant. Recalling Skywalker’s recent lessons, she drew on the Force to create a small noise the other end of the corridor. The sentry dutifully wandered over to investigate. She slipped past. Her fingers swiftly ran over the ornate decorations on the column to find the right spot, and a small opening appeared with a light sigh of escaping air. She slipped inside and drew the hatch quickly shut behind her, then reached out in the darkness for handholds she knew were there. Swiftly she pulled herself up, and in no time let herself out the hollow column two floors up. There were less palace guards on this floor. As she’d noted beforehand, primarily out of habit, the guards mainly aimed to keep people out of the residential higher floors rather than constantly roaming around outside people’s homes. It took no time to slip along the corridor to her destination. She had only been to his apartment once, when an impromptu meeting with Karrde and the Solo’s had taken place there the previous day to work through strategies for pitching the Smugglers Alliance idea to the New Republic hierarchy. She’d idly watched his finger swiftly stabbing in his door code, not intentionally taking it in. Now she focused through the Force again, remembering the simple trick she’d been taught to recall such details from her memory. She was still good at it; it was how she’d been able to reconstruct the route to Wayland. She sifted through the memory, slowing it down in her minds eyes, then let her fingers follow the pattern that his had moved in… and the door slid softly open. Mara stepped silently into Skywalker’s apartment. The darkened lounge seemed very peaceful, but Mara swore to herself and dropped to the floor as she noticed a faint blinking light behind the kitchen counter. She crawled over and pulled herself up to peer over it. Skywalker’s R2 unit. What in the stars did he have his droid in his apartment for? Surely it belonged in a hanger with his X-Wing. Still, he did seem inordinately fond of the thing. Thank the Force, it seemed to be powered down at the moment and hadn’t detected her entrance. She straightened up, and looked round for the bedroom door. The sliding open of doors always made Mara hold her breath. You never knew how loud it might be, and how light a sleeper might be inside. She sidestepped inside, straight into the shadows, so she would not be silhouetted in the doorway should he awake. Mara’s heart beat heavily in her chest, suddenly wondering just how much damage a suddenly wakened Jedi Knight could do. She sidled round the room, keeping to the walls, until she was near the side of his bed, then stepped forward into a crouch right beside it, hand on the saber he had given her just hours before hand. She found herself staring at his sleeping face. He slept rolled on his side, cheek cupped in one hand. His posture brought a memory of Mykr abruptly to mind, the infuriating way he could just fall asleep anywhere, even with a woman sworn to kill him glaring at him. It was the same position. So strangely childlike. His face was peaceful, she was so close she could hear his soft even breath going in and out. The planes of his face were softened by sleep and the low nightsky light coming from the window. He reminded her of the ‘wanted’ images she had first seen of him in files shortly after the destruction of the first Deathstar. She looked down at the lightsaber, his father’s lightsaber. Had his father only used this for good, or had it been part of his fall? It would be so easy to use it now, to fulfil her master’s last command, to take vengeance on this man’s long dead father. Tonight she had found that in truth she still was that woman. She could still worm her way into trust, slip through the place in darkness, use her knowledge to get places others couldn’t, use the Force to fulfil her master’s wishes. The boyish face in front of her shifted, and his eyes flickered slightly open. In some hazy half-dreaming state he smiled at her and muttered “Mara. Come back to bed.” Then he rolled over so she could no longer see his face, and started softly snoring. The shock of it made her nearly drop the saber. The saber she had brought back here to return to him. To show him in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want this gift, this reminder of their dark pasts. She wasn’t ready to face up to that past, let alone carry around a permanent reminder of it with her. To show him how easily she could kill him if she wanted, that he shouldn’t be so easy to trust her. But now she looked at him, and looked at it, and thought of that soft smile, and couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t wake up to a sabre beside him on his pillow tomorrow. She would get up and walk away. Accept his trust. Accept his gift, whatever the hell it meant. It was only as Mara scaled her way back down the inside of the hollow column that she turned her thoughts to exactly what he’d said in his sleep, and nearly slipped and lost her handhold at the realisation. Well, well, she thought in confusion. He really is full of surprises.