Title: Renewal Author: Gabri_Jade Timeframe: New Republic, six months post-TTT Characters: Mara Jade, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Leia Organa Solo, original characters Genre: AU, drama, family Summary: With the Thrawn crisis in the past, the New Republic has stabilized, and so has Mara Jade’s life—until she receives some unexpected news that will change everything. Notes: Many thanks to @ViariSkywalker and @Bel505, who read this in scattered pieces during the writing process and still always believed in it, and who then went above and beyond by beta reading the finished product. Special thanks to Vi for her insight and suggestions on certain characters, which was invaluable to figuring out who they were—even if she did occasionally gloat about turning me to the OC side. ------------------ The sun shone brightly, reflecting off the city’s endless metal and transparisteel in blinding flashes, while the crowd—drawn to power even as they feared it—maintained a subdued, almost sullen silence. Exactly as they should be, in Palpatine’s opinion. Their silence was proof of his authority and power. He held all their lives in the palm of his hand. Not only did he have the greatest military the galaxy had ever seen, but the very Force itself was at his command. He basked in the fear and awe surrounding him as he walked down the cleared path, stormtroopers lining both sides to keep the crowd in line, his Royal Guardsmen a step behind him. Normally he preferred to keep to the Palace, but on the occasions he deemed it worthwhile to make a public show, there was this atmosphere of dread to draw strength from. Dread, and… Palpatine slowed, a small flame of bright awareness catching his attention. He narrowed his focus, and— There. Off to the side, a woman at the edge of the crowd held a small child, a child who glowed within the Force. A child who was staring directly at him. He stopped, the Guardsmen behind him coming to an equally precise halt and waiting as he walked over toward the woman, seeing her eyes widen. “You,” Palpatine said. “What is your child’s name?” The woman looked at the child, confused, then back at Palpatine. “Mara, Your Excellency. Mara Jade.” “Mara,” Palpatine murmured. He extended a single finger toward the child, who drew back, her bright green eyes still staring unblinkingly at him. No. The word formed within his mind, separate from his own will, and Palpatine frowned. He looked more carefully at the child. Yes, he thought, focusing on her through the Force. She pulled further from him, leaning so far back in her mother’s arms that the woman had to resettle her weight to keep her hold on the child, her anxiety clearly growing along with the child’s disrespect. No. Go away. Palpatine smiled. Death was the sentence for all Force-sensitives since the Empire had been established, but exceptions could be made, especially for the useful. And this child was young enough to train, to mold into whatever form would best serve his purpose. “Take her,” Palpatine said, his eyes never leaving the child’s green ones. The woman’s fear spiked deliciously through the Force as she clung to the child, who wrapped her tiny arms like durasteel around her mother’s neck. “No,” she gasped, trying to pull back, but the crowds were too thick. The stormtroopers nearest her drew their blasters as a Guardsman stepped forward, his hands reaching for the child. Beside her, a man took the woman’s arm, trying to put himself between her and the advancing Guardsman. “Your Excellency, I beg you—” Palpatine kept his eyes on the child, who was still staring at him despite holding on to her mother with all her strength. Go away! Go— The Guardsman shoved the man hard enough that he would have fallen if not for the crowd, then pried the child’s arms from her mother as the woman tried frantically to step back while holding on to the child. She was no match for him, of course. In a moment the Guardsman had a firm grip on the child and was pulling her away. For the first time the child’s eyes left Palpatine’s to turn, wide and terrified, back to her mother. She reached back toward the woman, who grabbed futilely for her, her own terror equal to that of the child’s. “Mara—” Satisfied, Palpatine turned away. “Dispose of the family,” he ordered, and resumed his walk forward. Behind him, the child made her first sound since he’d noticed her, letting loose a single long piercing scream that echoed through the plaza. A murmur ran through the nearest section of the crowd, but it was fear, not rebellion. No one here would risk a massacre for the sake of one small child. Palpatine grinned to himself, and continued on his way. ------------- A flash of sunlight reflected blindingly off the windscreen of a passing speeder and Mara flinched, turning away from her contemplation of the traffic outside her office window to return to the datapad before her with a sigh. Six months into her work as liaison for the Smugglers’ Alliance, things were finally beginning to fall into a routine. She’d been right when she’d told Luke that the job wouldn’t be fun—but then, he’d been right too, in saying that he knew she could do it. Usually he managed to keep his gloating on that front to a minimum, but there had been a number of “I told you so”s. The last one had been two months ago, when she’d threatened to cut off his other hand if he said it again. To his credit, he hadn’t said it again, but she recognized the glint in his eyes at points in their conversations where she knew he wanted to say it. Mara stifled a smile as she scanned the final report of the day, already thinking about tonight’s scheduled saber practice. They were almost evenly matched now. Luke had the advantage of experience and much more intensive practice over recent years than she’d had, but she was nothing if not determined, and her lifelong dance training gave her a solid foundation of grace and balance. Luke had won their last match, and she was determined to win this one. Besides, for all their competition, saber practice was just fun. Even Luke was more lighthearted during saber practice than he was during their other training sessions. She worried about him sometimes. The level of dedication he gave to the pursuit of rebuilding the Jedi Order was admirable, but he took things so very seriously. And he’d long since admitted to her the concern he felt about eventually training Jaina and Jacen, about teaching them not only skill in the Force, but wisdom and compassion. And of course, if there was ever going to be a new Jedi Order, it could hardly consist of just their current tiny group. He would have to seek out other Force-sensitives, take on more students. And there was little information left from the old Order—Palpatine had made sure of that—and Luke’s own training had been condensed and abbreviated. It was a heavy responsibility his old teachers had burdened him with. Increasingly, Mara found herself thinking that it was her responsibility, too. Luke worked too hard and willingly gave too much to a galaxy that had already asked enough of him, and she was the only other Force-sensitive they knew of who’d actually received training, albeit hardly through the traditional route. Leia was in training too, but Leia was also part of the core of the New Republic’s government and had infant twins to raise. She wasn’t exactly swimming in free time. No, if someone was to help Luke shoulder this burden—and hopefully try to thwart some of his more self-sacrificing tendencies—it was almost certainly going to be her. There were more days than she would admit to Luke where she felt almost ready to make that commitment. She couldn’t, after all, truly imagine walking away from him and this work now. She had known when she’d taken this job that her future was with the New Republic, and very possibly with the Jedi as well, so the way she’d settled almost comfortably into both really wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was the way she sometimes now suspected that her future would also be with— Her neglected datapad beeped an alert as a new communication came through, and Mara focused on it, her wandering thoughts suddenly cut short. She didn’t recognize the identification code, but that was common enough these days. Any number of people might need to contact her now, for any number of reasons. She opened it and began to read. A paragraph in, she stopped breathing. Halfway through and her heart was pounding so loudly in her ears that she wouldn’t have noticed if a battle alert had sounded. By the time she finished reading, she was already on her feet and heading for the door, her work forgotten. -------------- Mara could sense Luke’s awareness of her approach as she entered the hallway that led to his apartment. First it took the form of a surprised wordless greeting, then curiosity, then concern as he noticed the emotional turmoil she was making no effort to suppress. She reached his door and punched in the lock code, not bothering to wait for him to open it. He was just rising and turning toward the door as it slid open. Mara strode in, thrusting her datapad into his hands. “Look at this.” He did, and Mara found herself unable to stand still. Instead she began to pace around the living room. There were a few minutes of agonizing silence as he read, eyes widening. “Mara,” he breathed. “Do you think it’s true?” Mara paused in her pacing, momentarily furious. “How many Mara Jades do you think Palpatine abducted? Let alone my age with red hair and green eyes?” “Okay, yeah, stupid question,” Luke allowed, sinking down onto the couch and scrolling to the top of the message again. “I guess—I guess I assumed that he’d killed them.” “I assumed that,” Mara said, starting to pace again. “But clearly not.” Luke snagged her wrist as she passed him, and she stopped, tense as a coiled spring. “What are you going to do?” “What can I do?” Mara sank down on the couch beside him and dropped her head into her hands. “They’re my parents; I have to meet them.” She looked up, unsure. She hated feeling unsure. “Don’t I?” “Do you want to?” he asked gently. “If I knew that, would I be asking you?” She snapped the words, then dropped her head in her hands again. “Sorry—I’m sorry.” “Don’t worry about it,” Luke said. He tentatively touched her shoulder. “Mara, tell me what you’re thinking.” Mara glanced up at him again. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “This—” She sat up to gesture toward the datapad he still held. “This never even crossed my mind. Never.” He glanced back at the datapad, scanning the words again. “You have a brother and sister.” “I don’t remember them,” Mara said, sitting back and wrapping her arms around herself. “I don’t remember siblings or any other family at all. Only my parents, and hardly even them. I don’t remember what they look like, or what their voices sound like, or—” She fell silent again, looking off into the distance, her vision unfocused. “I should remember those things, shouldn’t I?” “You were so young,” Luke said soothingly. “Lots of adults don’t remember traumatic events clearly, let alone small children. I imagine you went into survival mode pretty much immediately. You had to focus on what the Emperor expected of you, not on what came before.” Mara looked at him, then closed her eyes, still hugging herself. “I don’t know what to do.” “What does the Force tell you?” “Oh, gods, don’t turn this into a lesson, Luke,” she groaned, slouching down with a sigh. “I’m not,” he said, reaching out to rest his hand on her arm. “I promise I’m not. But we should always seek the guidance of the Force, especially when we don’t know what to do. Have you tried meditating?” She opened her eyes again to glare at him. “I just got that message ten minutes ago, so no, I have not tried meditating.” “Okay, look, a compromise,” he suggested. “No actual meditation if you don’t feel up to it right now. Just—just take a few deep breaths and find your center and listen to the Force for a minute. What’s it telling you?” Mara gave him one last glare, then closed her eyes, her breathing slowing as she reached for control and opened herself to the Force. Beside her, she could feel Luke quiet his own mind and feelings as much as he could, making himself unobtrusive within the swirling eddies of the Force around them, like a stone sitting silent and unnoticed within the currents of a river. She didn’t know how long it was before she opened her eyes again, exhaling slowly. “Sometimes,” she said, “I would actually prefer to sacrifice a measure of peace rather than hear what the Force is telling me.” “Wouldn’t we all,” Luke agreed ruefully. He raised his eyebrows at her. “Does that mean…” “Yes,” she said with a sigh. “I’m supposed to meet them. It was the only path that felt right.” “It’ll be okay, Mara,” he assured her. “Really it will. I’ll be right with you the whole time.” Mara eyed him, so steadfast and ready to help anchor her even against such an unexpected storm as this, and wished she had half his courage. “Tell me, Skywalker. Does the Force ever tell us to do something easy?” “Sometimes,” Luke said, a shoulder lifting in a half-shrug. “Not as often as I’d like, honestly. But sometimes.” He glanced again at the datapad. “They were hoping to come see you next week. Is that too soon? Do you want me to write back and suggest another time?” “No,” she murmured, reaching her hands up to rub her temples. “If I have to do this, let’s get it over with.” “Mara,” Luke said softly. “I know this is—unexpected, but…” He shook his head. “Not many people get a second chance like this, and by Palpatine’s usual logic, they should have been killed when he took you. This isn’t something you have to do. It’s something you get to do.” She doubled over to bury her head in her folded arms, resting on her knees. “You don’t understand,” she said, her voice muffled. “You know what it’s like to be part of a family. I don’t. There was never anyone in my life for any reason other than utilitarian, not until the Empire fell, and hardly ever after that, either. This is going to be a mess.” “It won’t,” Luke insisted. “I’ll help you, I promise. So will Leia. You want to head over there now and tell her? I guarantee she’ll have all sorts of ideas for how to make this easier.” Mara felt her shoulders tense, then she sighed again and tried to relax them. “I guess there’s no way to keep this particular news quiet.” She sat up reluctantly. “Sure, let’s go see what Leia has to say.” ---------- Leia’s enthusiastic reaction was as bad as Luke’s. Worse. And Mara hated herself for even thinking that. Luke and Leia had loved their families, and never fully recovered from their sudden, violent deaths. She knew that. She sympathized, even, in a vague way. Especially since Jaina and Jacen’s near-kidnapping, Mara’s own lost parents had become more real to her. But even so, they were still little more than shadowy impressions buried and almost lost under a morass of memories of her Imperial life and training, not actual people she had known and loved. Luke at least understood her trepidation. Leia was so happy on her behalf that she never noticed any mixed emotions on Mara’s part. “Of course we’ll arrange it all,” she assured Mara, already slipping into that almost frighteningly efficient mindset that had helped sustain a guerrilla war effort, overthrow an empire, and establish an entirely new galactic government. “There are still lots of empty apartments in the Palace. I’ll have the best one assigned to them right away. Take the whole week off work; I’ll talk to Winter and see if she can take your place for a few hours a day to keep the whole thing running in the meantime. They’ll want to spend most of their time with you, naturally, but we should at least make some arrangements to be good hosts—I’ll see about setting aside some tour time at the Galactic Museum, and maybe a box at the ballet or the opera; you can use it if you want and ignore it if you don’t. Hang on, let me go call Winter—” Leia headed for her office, Jacen still balanced on her hip. Luke smiled a little ruefully at Mara. “I told you she’d take care of it. It’s reining her in that’ll be the tricky part. You want me to put her to bed?” This last was directed at Han, in whose arms Jaina was now sound asleep, snoring softly. “Sure, kid,” Han said, handing over his daughter and looking at Mara with far too knowing a look in his eyes. Mara waited until Luke had left the room with Jaina and Han had started to open his mouth, then stood. “I don’t know about you, but I could use some caf. Mind if I go start some?” “Knock yourself out,” Han said, still eyeing her. Without waiting for him to say anything else, Mara went to the kitchen and opened the proper cupboards, setting out the caf and mugs. It was more than generous of Leia to not only take time out of her wildly busy schedule to rearrange so many things, but also to be genuinely happy for this opportunity Mara now had, an opportunity that Mara knew Leia would give almost anything to have for herself. If Leia could conjure up Bail and Breha Organa, she would do it before anyone had time to take a breath. Luke would do exactly the same with Owen and Beru Lars, given the chance. What was wrong with her that right now Mara would give almost anything at all to have never read that message, to never even know that her parents had survived? She started the caf machine and turned, only to see Han leaning against the doorframe. “You okay?” “Sure,” Mara said automatically. She wasn’t about to admit otherwise in the face of Leia’s exuberant reaction. Han, though, saw through her as his Jedi trainee wife hadn’t. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to,” Han said quietly. “No matter what Leia and Luke think. It’s your life.” Mara leaned against the counter, crossing her arms and looking at the floor. Han’s childhood hadn’t been all that far removed from hers, despite the differences between the Imperial Palace and the gutters of Corellia. Both of them had lost their parents at a young enough age that they were nothing more than foggy, unreliable swirls of half-remembered maybe-memories; both of them had grown up in abusive environments—Mara could admit that now about her own childhood; the effects of her training made her deadly as an adult, but no child should have been taught or forced to endure the things she had—and deprived of affection or truly normal interactions. He understood how she felt better even than Luke did, and far better than Leia did. “I know,” Mara said, the words coming out with difficulty. “But—it’s hard to explain.” Han gave her a lopsided smile. “No, it’s not. You feel obligated. Because even if you don’t remember them, you know that they’re desperate to see you now that they know you survived. And because it’s hard to argue with Luke and Leia when they’re this excited about something. Believe me, I get that one. And because deep down, you’re curious. Plus probably some Force thing.” Mara reached up to rub her forehead wearily. “I don’t know how Leia puts up with you, Solo.” He placed a hand on his chest and put on an innocent expression. “It’s my irresistible charm. Not to mention the good looks.” He sobered, and added, “Even with all of that, Mara—if you want to back out at any point, just do it. I get where you’re coming from, but don’t push yourself into a mental breakdown out of obligations to other people.” “I can handle it,” Mara said, then hesitated. “But thanks.” His eyes were still serious, but he gave her another half-smile. “Any time, kid.” Luke interrupted by leaning around Han to peer into the kitchen. “What’s going on?” “Mara’s making us some caf,” Han said, turning to his brother-in-law. “And I was just thinking of starting some dinner. It’s a little early, but you know Leia’s going to be on this subject for a while, and we might as well eat while she plans. How do you feel about sausage and salthia beans? There’s half an air cake left for dessert.” Luke wrinkled his nose. “No ryshcate?” “And what makes you think you rate me throwing together ryshcate on a moment’s notice?” Han asked, rolling his eyes and heading for the conservator. “We’ll have ryshcate when we have Mara’s folks over.” Mara ruthlessly stifled the fear that rose up in her throat at those words, and managed a smile before she turned to pour the caf. This was going to be a very long two weeks.