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Beyond - Legends Renewal (post-TTT, Mara Jade, L/M, OCs)

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by Gabri_Jade, Oct 3, 2021.

  1. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    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. :p


    ------------------


    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.
     
  2. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    MIIIIIIIINE!!! :D

    (also, WOOHOO, IT'S UP!!!) [face_dancing]
     
  3. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    [face_dancing] [face_dancing] BOOYAH!
    To be honest, when I read Bel505's first chapter of Interregnum II, it literally crossed my mind, it'd be too off the chain if Gabri did a L/M story. And lookee! Here it is! =D=

    Gripping first scene with Mara's abduction, what else can you call it? From his POV as well, and her showing early Force attunement and defiance.

    What I ADORE is Luke and Mara's easy confiding and teasing, their spar sessions :D How she admits her future is with the NR, the Jedi and maybe with him, too. LOL

    Her mixed feelings are poignant and realistic. I love Luke and Leia's reactions. They are very much in character. He is supportive and encouraging, Leia exuberant and very focused on the minutiae of arranging things. ;)

    I adore Han's empathy ... he really does get to the crux of Mara's mixed emotions.

    [:D]
     
  4. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    YAAAAAAAAAAS! SO GOOD ALREADY.

    I'm going to be back, but I had to let you know that I flailed and did a happy dance to see this posted. So I at least had to say that first! ;) [face_dancing] [face_love]


    EDIT:

    I'M BACK!

    Isn't this a sad truth? :(

    Everything from Palpatine's POV was just so . . . well, supervillain evil mastermind sounds too Saturday morning cartoon-ish. But, yeah. That. He's a special kind of sick and twisted. [face_plain]

    Mara is already so Mara! That brightness and determination and strength. Telling a Sith Lord to go and get out.

    . . . no matter how awfully you knew this scene was going to go next, of course. =((

    Yep. Awfully. =(( =(( =((

    Another terribly poignant insight.

    From a technical standpoint this was great writing, mirroring Palpatine's setting in the first scene. That blinding light off of metal.

    [face_love] There's that dynamic we all know and love.

    Aw, look at all that flirt- erm, teasing. [face_mischief]

    And speaking of! [face_mischief] [face_whistling] [face_laugh]

    But, in all seriousness, I love that this is something that Luke and Mara can just let go with and enjoy together, as much as it's a skill to develop and learn.

    I really appreciated this insight, and all of Mara's introspection about the new Jedi Order Luke is trying to build. Because it is so much, almost too much for one person to shoulder alone - no matter how Mara would return Luke's belief in her and say that he's equal to the task, to the point of being worried about his self-sacrificing tendencies!

    I also love love LOVE how you write Mara's sense of duty in consideration of her own training. Sometimes it drives me nuts when Mara is portrayed as almost violently dead set against training. She wasn't always consistent in canon, sure, but that always felt like a lack of continuality between authors, at least in my opinion. This just felt wonderfully IC. [face_love]

    Oh does she suspect? [face_batting] [face_batting]

    She has the lock code. [face_batting]

    But, shipping aside, I just loved Luke's awareness, and hers in return. Their bond is already so strong! [face_love]

    So Mara. :p

    Say WHAT? :eek:

    I love that Luke asks her what she is thinking, and lets her be herself when expressing those emotions. Who else has ever has done that for Mara? [face_love]

    Mara! =(( =(( =((

    [face_laugh] :p

    Gorgeous prose! And a more than fitting description of the Force and Mara's perception of Luke in the Force. [face_love] =D=

    Luke, offering to write back for her . . . [face_love]

    This beautiful man. I just can't even!!!

    And at the same time, it's okay that Mara has so many conflicting emotions. Her frame of reference is so very different from Luke's. But even if it's the more difficult path she's choosing - isn't is always? - she's heeding the Force and is opening herself to the possibilities for the future.

    Oh Leia. [:D] Because, if she could do anything to get Bail and Breha back . . .

    Aw! Everything about Han and Mara's conversation was PERFECT! I could have quoted it all. Because they are coming at this from a different angle than Luke and Leia. Their childhoods were so dark and fraught with abuse. Han understands that, and I love how he related with Mara. [face_love]

    Plus there's the whole Force thing going on. [face_laugh]

    Solidarity against the idealism of the Skywalker twins FTW! [face_rofl] [face_love]

    But of course. :p

    I loved how domestic this was!


    This is off to an excellent start, and I can't wait for more! =D=
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2021
  5. mayo_durron_666

    mayo_durron_666 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Nov 26, 2005
    This was so much fun to read! I really liked the start with baby Mara being taken, so gripping and sad. =((
    I like the news of the siblings..! :eek: Can't wait to meet them. :D
    Loved how supportive and helpful Luke and Leia were.
    This was a brilliant scene, I liked Han's frankness with Mara here.
    Look forward to more!
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
  6. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    I'm back! It's so much easier to write a new post than to edit the old one, so here you go. ;) [:D]


    [face_blush] Aw, I was only too happy to help! *so proud of your OC babies*

    Also: *gloats*

    I really love how you established right away that Mara didn't want to go with him. I mean, yes, the EU stated as much, and it's the reaction I'd expect from any child being taken forcibly from their parents, or even just being stared at by some evil creeper, but I still think this was a great call, to highlight that the first mental interaction between Mara and Palpatine is her rejecting him completely. I also liked the phrasing of, the word formed within his mind, separate from his own will.

    This is a great detail to add here, that he would have fallen if the crowd hadn't been so thick. Immediately puts me in the scene without having to describe every facet, which helps maintain the urgency, very nicely done. Also, omg, Mara's mother... talk about a mother's worst nightmare. [face_worried]

    Another perfectly heart-wrenching detail. =((

    What's that you're always saying to me? Oh right, stop making me sad.

    Shhh, just because I love it doesn't make it okay, Gabri.

    LOLOL, these two, they're so adorable.

    [face_love]

    I enjoyed all of Mara's reflecting on her life and how it's changed for the better and how she might be nearly ready to take those next steps in being a Jedi... and of course, the thought that got interrupted there. [face_mischief] Gee, I wonder what she was about to admit to herself... [face_batting]

    :eek:

    (Okay, I knew because I was there when you started writing this, but still! :p)

    I kinda feel like this could be you, coming up with the idea for this story. [face_thinking]

    Lolol, I love this line.

    This is some lovely imagery, and a great metaphor for how Mara perceives this moment in the Force. Plus, eloquently expressed! [face_love]

    I really like this exchange. Luke being gently encouraging and Mara starting to feel untethered and uncertain. You always do so well with showing Mara's vulnerability without sacrificing her characterization.

    Lolol, yep, sounds about right for Leia. o_O

    This is such a mess of emotions for Mara, and for someone who is used to exercising exact control over herself and her emotions, I imagine this particular - and deeply personal - situation would be especially challenging. And then this: what was wrong with her. Even though it's a perfectly normal and understandable and human reaction that she has here, she doesn't realize that because she barely has any context for it. She's measuring herself against Luke and Leia, who loved their families and miss them and would have them back in an instant if they could; so clearly if she doesn't feel the same way, there must be something wrong with her, right? So much trauma, Gabri. =((

    This line was so perfectly Han, and I loved it. (Side-note: It's funny also how, for how different Luke and Leia are, when I read about them through Han's eyes, I can really see their similarities shining through. [face_love])

    This is excellent insight, and I adore it. [face_love] There can never be enough Han and Mara bonding over their screwed-up childhoods. Or just Han and Mara as friends in general.

    lolol I love Han so much.

    OMG I could see this scene. Yep, give me all the Han and Luke banter and feels. [face_love] As always, the characters interactions are spot-on. =D=


    *rubs hands together* This is off to a great start, babe, and I can't wait for the next post! [face_dancing] [face_batting]
     
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2021
  7. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    A great start showing Mara when she was a child and her memories so comparable to Han's.
     
  8. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I was lucky enough to get to read this as it was a work in progress! I'm going to focus on a few things here.

    Let's think about everything this tells us about Luke and Mara.

    The story is set after The Thrawn Trilogy, but obviously before Dark Empire. (Following Dark Empire, Mara's thoughts would have been significantly different than these). What we see here is Mara from the final scene in The Last Command extrapolated forward six months. I hesitate to say she's changed, because this is the Mara we saw then. What has changed is her context. She's spent the last six months on Coruscant, training with Luke, dealing with the Smugglers' Alliance, and spending time—at least some time—with Leia and Han.

    Mara has found a family.

    She's conscious of it too, even if she doesn't use the word, and she knows—she knows—what her place in that family is. She's not even really trying to resist it (like she was in Interregnum, where she was more or less at this same place, but had spent less time with Luke and hadn't consciously dealt with it yet). She's just realized it, is sort of starting to weigh it in her mind, thinking about the implications of it. It honestly feels like Luke has unexpectedly asked her to marry him and she's just thinking through everything that would mean... but of course he hasn't done that, and yet... she's thinking about it anyway.

    And then, of course, her life gets a sudden curveball and all her certainties are suddenly punched in the gut.

    Here's the thing, she has, but she isn't calling it that. If her family had waited another six months and come to see Jedi Mara, in a quiet, unpublicized relationship with Jedi Luke, who's finished dealing with the repercussions and fully thought through and embraced that familial relationship... then this new one might not be so hard. But she hasn't finished working through the meaning of her relationship with Luke, she's only just begun thinking about it... and now she gets a whole new problem on top. It's no wonder poor Mara feels overwhelmed.

    Here's the thing about Han:

    (1) he liked Mara from the start
    (2) he saw Luke's face during the Katana Battle when they thought Mara was dead
    (3) he saw Luke and Mara at Wayland and after

    But also:

    (4) Han is more like Mara than Mara might think, and he knows it.

    He's got an Imperial service record. He doesn't have much of a family (and what he does have is entirely bad). He knows what it means to get dragged, kicking and screaming, into something close to normality (in Han's case, by Wookiees). He's used to keeping people at a distance and the experience of getting close is a difficult one for him. It's funny, but even in the Thrawn Trilogy it always feels like Leia, Han, and Luke all see Mara and they understand different parts of her immediately:

    - Han that she's struggling badly
    - Luke that she's fundamentally a good person whose been twisted around
    - Leia that Mara was literally resisting the Emperor's will, even if she didn't realize it

    We never really got enough Han and Mara or Leia and Mara, but those two relationships are hugely important to Mara. Not as important as Luke, but ... obviously. But especially after six months on Coruscant, probably without her only other friend(s) around (no Karrde, no Aves, no Dankin, no Chin, no Ghent...), these people are important to her, and—whether she knows it or not—they each understand her and care for her.

    Luke and Mara are in a relationship that they don't call a relationship. They both know it. Luke knows it and doesn't push the issue because he knows Mara doesn't understand fully what that means, Mara knows it and doesn't fully understand what it means. Han and Leia both know it too, and they see "Sister-in-Law" and they treat her accordingly.

    So much depth to it, all surrounding Mara and where exactly she is in her healing process.

    (It's such a shame that we don't get any of this in the canon EU, and we really don't get Mara at all until ten years have passed and she's already long since dealt with these issues... except, of course, what Luke means to her, but that got so warped after Dark Empire.)
     
  9. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    @ViariSkywalker
    My speedy whippersnapper :*

    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha
    Mara's had a lot change in her life in the last six months or so. A LOT. This is another huge, unthinkable change, and it's outside the realm of any of her experience. She's really, really off balance now, poor girl. Luke couldn't stop being encouraging if his life depended on it, and Leia is a consummate organizer.

    Well, someone has to keep an eye on this crazy group of Force-sensitive kids, I guess that's Han's lot in life :p

    @Mira_Jade
    :D :D :D

    I feel like Palpatine might truly have been the most successful Sith of all time -- I know there's a lot of GFFA history and now two canons and whatever, but this dude hid in plain sight for decades, played entire civilizations for puppets, engineered a galactic war, overthrew and exterminated the Jedi Order, corrupted their Chosen One to the fate of essentially being his sidekick, and undeniably ruled the galaxy for 20+ years. He seriously accomplished a whole bunch of insane goals, and every one of them was so over the top that it could be characterized as cartoonishly evil. But I think the bottom line with Palpatine is not evil for evil's sake, but true amorality and power at any cost. And that, in my view, is what keeps him a believable threat despite the cartoonish levels of evil. He's not going to go out of his way to pull the wings off flies and kick puppies and torture children, but he sees everything and everyone, from individuals on up to the galaxy as a whole, as his rightful possessions, to do with as he pleases. And what I see as his personal delight and pastime is not "inflict as much pain as possible," but "turn everyone and everything into his puppet."

    Here, for example, he tears apart a family, kidnaps and traumatizes a child hardly out of babyhood, and orders her parents killed, not because he wants to inflict suffering, but because he doesn't care. Mara has the potential to be useful to him personally, therefore she is his to take. Her parents are not useful to him, therefore they are to be disposed of. Not "executed," "disposed of." They are, quite simply, nothing, to be treated as nothing. Mara was a weapon to be shaped and directed in whatever way benefited Palpatine, and the cost inflicted on her was never so much as a blip on the radar. She was a plaything, his puppet. If she'd failed to live up to her presumed usefulness, she would have been disposed of, too. And that's what makes Palpatine terrifying instead of funny: he has absolute power over everyone, and and he cares about no one at all. He probably won't waste his own time making your life miserable, but your only chance of any measure of happiness is to avoid notice altogether, or do exactly what he says, exactly how he says, obsequiously and without fail, forever. And even then he might blow up your entire planet if your queen and viceroy piss him off.

    It's a fine balance, writing Palpatine. I haven't written him a great deal, myself. But when I do, that's what I try to channel: an all-powerful, uncaring, amoral puppet master.

    Little Mara is still Mara [face_love] Toddlers in general rarely seem to have a problem telling people no, and Mara is incredibly strong-willed. Like her integrity that Luke attributed in VotF to the influence of her life before Palpatine's service, I saw that as simply an integral part of who Mara is and has always been. If she hadn't been strong and determined from the very beginning, she never would have survived this trauma and her training.

    And it just makes sense to me that she would have recognized Palpatine's strength in the Force as he recognized hers, because while she may not be Anakin or Luke Skywalker, Mara is extremely strong in the Force. Plus, as I was writing this, I started thinking: How did Palpatine know about her telepathy? Because it just doesn't make sense to invest the sort of resources in her that he does unless he knows about that rare and incredibly useful talent, but there's no reason for him to be looking for it, either. So we got bebeh!Mara telling him to go away. It sealed her fate, but then again, it might have saved her life [face_thinking]

    [face_worried]

    Poor little Mara :(

    More of that absolute power and amorality from our favorite supervillain o_O

    Deliberately done, thank you for noticing :D

    Timothy Zahn is a brilliant writer in many ways, and yet I honestly think that Mara is perhaps his greatest accomplishment, because she's not only such a complex, fully realized, compelling character in her own right, but she's a ridiculously perfect complement for Luke. Just straight down the board, these two play off each other perfectly.

    To be fair, I'm pretty sure that Mara doesn't entirely realize it's flirting just yet. :p

    Luke, on the other hand... [face_mischief]

    [face_whistling]

    I can just imagine that Mara is the first opponent Luke's ever had where he can just go full throttle and not hold anything back and she's still a match for him (okay, yeah, Ben and Yoda would have outmatched him if they'd ever really dueled, but Ben died first and I get the impression that Yoda's teaching was more intellectual than physical demonstrations), whereas Mara's had a lifetime of training specifically to be graceful, both in dance and in combat. Throw in the natural competitiveness on both sides, and yeah, they're going to have the time of their lives with saber practice :p

    It's truly ridiculous. And that was one of the things that I had a problem with in subsequent EU books: there's just no way that Luke found and fully trained enough people for there to be a thriving and formidable Jedi Order in a decade or so. Come on, now. Realistically, even with Mara and Leia's help, it would have taken their full lifetimes to get to such a position. And I feel like in TTT, it's implicit that Luke knows this. You can feel the weight on his shoulders, of everything he feels obligated to accomplish. Mara is relentlessly practical, far more so than Luke, so how much more would she see the difficulties ahead?

    Hoo boy, don't get me started on this subject. Whoops, too late [face_mischief]

    Okay, SO. Frankly, the EU had a problem almost from the first non-Zahn book, which was that most authors wanted to write their own story to the extent of disregarding what came before, rather than building upon it. Which just isn't how a shared universe works. So a lot of problems in the EU stem from out-of-universe issues that simply cannot be resolved well in-universe. Mara's training is one of those things. Zahn retconned a lot of things in VotF, and I'll argue forever that he had to, because so much of what came before sucked. Or, if you'd like the diplomatic wording, continuity suffered because everyone wanted their own ideas and characters to take the spotlight even if that meant ignoring or pushing out existing narratives and characters. But the end result was, imho, a lot of suckage. I mean, seriously, I think it's The New Rebellion where Han actually thinks that Mara had once been an Imperial, and that meant that he would never trust her. Except that he defended her fiercely to NR security and trusted her with his life in TLC. And except that Han trusted all sorts of former Imperials: Wedge, Hobbie, Madine, half the dang Rebellion. Mon Mothma was an Imperial Senator. Leia was. Oh yeah, and HAN ATTENDED CARIDA. Come the heck on, who was watching continuity on these things? I'm sorry, stuff like that sucked, and you cannot make it all mesh in-universe, because it doesn't. Because the people creating the universe in question weren't paying proper attention.

    In-universe, I think that Zahn had the best explanation for Mara avoiding the academy and training and Luke himself: she was beyond spooked by his seeming turn to the dark side in DE. Which, yeah, she'd already spent her entire life obeying the lying and self-serving commands of one Sith Lord, of course she didn't want to get too close to another. And in-universe, she would have felt profoundly betrayed by such a turn on Luke's part. So okay, in-universe, all of that hurt and scared her and she refused to risk her own well-being by getting close to him afterward, even if it meant neglecting her own training.

    Except. All of that only happened because either the EU was neglecting continuity, or they thought they could have their cake and eat it too. Because at the end of TLC, Mara openly acknowledged that her future was with the NR and the Jedi. And turning to the dark side, even just for pretend defeat-from-the-inside funsies, is not something Luke Skywalker would ever have done. Come on now. DE should have been non-canon like Tales, if the story just had to be told. And then afterward, everyone wanted to make up and promote their own characters rather than including someone else's, even when that someone else's character was very clearly designed to play a starring role (and was obviously always going to end up with Luke). So there's the ultimate problem with the EU: at least half of it is out of character or messing up continuity at any given time, because of flaws inherent in its out-of-universe construction.

    And you know what? I'm going to disregard that stuff as much as possible, because it shouldn't have been built that way in the first place. Depending on the story, sometimes I have to take some of it into account, sometimes I focus on what I see as the natural in-universe fallout from the poor out-of-universe construction, and sometimes I veer off into full AU territory early on like this story so that I can skip all of it entirely. But in every case, my characterization goes back to the source material. For the movie characters, that's the movies. For Mara, that's Zahn's work. And Mara as Zahn writes her is practical and dutiful and always does what she believes is the right thing regardless of the personal cost. And Mara in TTT willingly worked with Luke even when she thought she hated him, accepted training from Luke even on Wayland when the last command was still haunting her, and knew and accepted that her future was with the NR and the Jedi. Renewal is six months later; she's had six months without the last command to become friends with Luke and his family, to train with him and Leia, to begin to feel a duty not only to them, but to the potential of the Jedi Order, and to the galaxy as a whole. She has the ability, she has formal training, and if she doesn't step up, her friends are burdened that much more. She's not quite ready to make an open, formal commitment, but she reads the cards clearly and she doesn't shy away from responsibility. Of course she's going to help Luke rebuild the Order. Of course she is.

    I don't know what you could mean [face_whistling]

    She does [face_batting]

    So it turns out that in times of great stress, like, say, a global pandemic, SW is my psychological security blanket. And also I may have started writing a novel-length fanfic I had the idea for a decade ago right before the pandemic started [face_batting] So between these things, I've reread TTT at least three times in the last year and a half, and one of the things that jumps out at me is how strong their connection is almost from the beginning. It wasn't a case of love at first sight, not even from Luke's POV; Mara's not joking when she threatens to kill him on Myrkr, and Luke realizes the genuine danger. And even so, when Mara was hit in the Katana battle at the end of DFR, Luke instantly sensed it. Mara survived only because of that, because Luke knew she'd been hit and could home in on her afterward. So how much stronger would that bond be after six months of open friendship and training together?

    Preliminary niceties are for suckers :p

    Of all the stories I never, ever thought I'd write, Mira. I always pretty firmly believed that Mara's background should stay unknown, right up until this March, when I somehow got this idea. And I've never done OCs before, nor particularly wanted to. Honestly, I'm still a little baffled that I even wanted to write this story, let alone actually managed it. But here it is, and now it's my headcanon.

    That's our Luke, all right [face_love]

    Right? =((

    Thank you! I find it challenging to describe perceptions of the Force, but I did like this one. And corny though it is, Mara definitely does see Luke as a rock, someone who can always be counted on to stay steadfast no matter what. (Which plays into the sense of betrayal she would have felt during/after DE...)

    He's the best, Mira, he's just the best [face_love]

    [face_love] [face_love] [face_love]

    Right? It is entirely understandable that she feels this way. But her only context for family connections is what she sees in the Skywalker/Solo family, and there everyone but Han grew up with parents they loved, and who they still miss. So she doesn't actually realize that her emotions are understandable, she sees them as a flaw. She should be happy; Luke and Leia and Winter would be. But she's not happy, she's scared. So she looks at the people she knows who do understand family, and compares herself, and comes up wanting. Mara being Mara, she will take that difficult path, like you say, because it's the right thing to do. But she's so scared. And she's not used to being scared at all, and obviously she shouldn't be scared about this, everyone else is happy for her, so she thinks she's fundamentally flawed. She just doesn't have the context for anything else yet. :(

    Right? Luke and Leia are so happy for her, because they know what they lost and what Mara is presumably gaining here, and because they're both impossibly generous people.

    Han liked and trusted Mara from the first. He observed that she and Luke seemed to be getting along and worked well together after Myrkr, when Lando expressed distrust of her, Han's response was "I don't care who she used to be, she still shot those Imperials off us," in Mount Tantiss he noticed the effect the place had on her and thought, "Hang in there, kid. Just a little longer, okay?" Plus, Mara is round two of what started with Luke and Leia: another traumatized young person for Han to take under his wing. And he definitely understands the dark parts of Mara's life better than Luke and Leia do.

    Look, he may have acknowledged that it's not a bunch of hokey nonsense, but that doesn't mean he's going to be particularly reverent about it.

    They're kind of a lot, to be fair :p

    Who wouldn't love him :p

    I like writing ordinary life stuff, I really do. (Cue Vi popping up to point out how many times during the writing of this story I wailed that the characters wouldn't stop talking, how could I get anything done when the conversations never ended :p )

    Thank you so much! :D Planning to post on Sunday afternoons, barring any unforeseen obstacles. :D

    @mayo_durron_666
    Thanks so much! I have to admit, I really like Mara's siblings. Of course, I would; I wrote them :p

    Han's always been watching out for the kids, when you come right down to it. Mara's just the latest addition to his flock :p But I do love stories and scenes that show Han and Mara being friends, I never think there's enough of that. So I might as well write some more! :D

    @ViariSkywalker
    I love my OC babies so much that I'm not even going to complain about the gloating :p

    Yeah, Mara's account of how she was taken is vague in TLC, but if you read between the lines, I think it must have been something like this. She says that she knew she would be going with Palpatine, but how likely is it that someone so small would be okay with that? How many children that age are happy to walk away from their parents to go with a stranger? Especially when it's obvious that the parents didn't want her to go? And all the more so if that child is Force-sensitive and is easily picking up the depth of her parents' emotions? The more I looked at it after starting this story, the more convinced I was that Mara's memory of this was vague specifically as a matter of self-defense, that she'd blocked the trauma of it. Plus, once Palpatine dropped all pretenses and embraced the whole Sith Lord Emperor thing, how hard is it, really, to sense the menace and creep factor? With her Force-sensitivity, it must have been overwhelming to poor little Mara. Here's someone who resonates in the Force, like her, but very creepy, and then he focuses on her specifically. And like Mira said, little Mara is still Mara, and she's having none of that. Adult Mara was lied to and groomed for years and years; little Mara saw clearly still.

    It was interesting to try to figure out how to describe experiencing telepathy, let alone unexpected telepathy. Good to know it worked :D

    I'm really glad I got all the terrified parent stuff right, and also felt bad making you read it and confirm that it was. I know you have a high angst tolerance, but still :p

    It's been a long time since I spent any real time around a toddler, so I had to think hard about this scene (and confirm with a mother of four under-tens :p ) to be sure I was getting her right. But I figured that although she's transfixed by Palpatine - maybe the first other Force-sensitive she's ever met - she's clinging fiercely to her mother. As long as her mother is holding her, things might be creepy and a little scary, but she's okay, because she's always safe with her parents. But the moment the guard pulls her away from her mother, all of Mara's focus shifts that way. Now she's genuinely terrified, and desperate to get her mother back. And when you think that she was picking up on her parents' fear at the same time - this poor traumatized baby, Vi :(

    Yeah, I'd feel more guilty about that if I hadn't spent this whole year reading your extreme angst :p Vivisection, Vi. Vivisection.

    They are [face_love]

    It's been a lot of changes in six months, it's a lot to think about. And come to terms with [face_mischief]

    [face_whistling]

    Accurate. Completely accurate.

    I feel like Luke may occasionally be a bit overzealous in the teaching arena :p

    I have my moments. Not many of them, but I do have them :p

    Yay! :D Because of course Mara has vulnerabilities and trauma and uncertainties and fear. Literally everyone does, let alone someone who's lived her life. Just because she's usually good at hiding them doesn't mean they aren't there.

    No one can stop Leia, she's a force of nature :eek:

    Right? I like how you point out that she's used to precise control over herself and her emotions. For all her relative independence once she was officially Hand, surely her life before that was strictly regimented, and she had to have been taught that she must always be in control of - well, pretty much everything. Palpatine wasn't great about accepting failure, and Mara was expected to exercise a great deal of authority. And clearly she succeeded. So yeah, to lose control not only of her situation in such a profound way, but also her own reaction to it, that has to be deeply unsettling for her.

    The "what was wrong with her" is just heartbreaking, but of course she feels like that. Her entire context for "lost family" is either "total mystery" like her and Han, or "would do anything to have them back" like Luke and Leia and Winter. Now her family is back, and she's not elated like Luke and Leia and Winter would be. She's kind of the exact opposite, and wishes she could go back to "total mystery" status. Therefore, failure. Something's wrong with her.

    Seriously, so much trauma, Vi. Everyone in this galaxy needs extensive therapy.

    One of the things I realized while writing this: Han is, and has always been, this group's den mother. He watches out for them all, and he always will. Mara is part of his little flock now, and he has to keep an eye on her. Especially since she doesn't spare herself, and especially since of course Luke and Leia are both going to encourage her to do this thing that's terrifying her. Even if they might be right about that, ultimately it's Mara's prerogative to decide, and Han's going to look out for her and remind her that it's her call. And now I have a whole new appreciation for Han and how he takes care of these crazy kids [face_love]

    I like that, seeing Luke and Leia's similarities through Han's eyes! Especially because I didn't do that on purpose, so I must have gotten his characterization right :p Because yeah, Han's about a decade older than the two of them, and a lot more worldly-wise in a practical way - which is not to denigrate Luke or Leia's experiences; there's no way that Luke didn't learn a great deal living on the edge in a frontier largely dominated by gangsters and with a robust and recent history of slavery, and of course Leia was both working on Coruscant in the Senate and undercover with the Rebellion from a young age. But those are both still very different life experiences from Han's. Han's seen a lot more ugliness up close and personal from a very young age. And I'm getting sidetracked here :p But what I mean to say is that by virtue of his own experience and insight as well as having loved them both for years, of course he'd look to the heart of the matter and see the similarities between the two, rather than the more superficial differences. [face_love]

    Never. We always need more Han and Mara scenes. :cool:

    He's pretty great :cool:

    "Look, you're my brother and I love you and all of that, but do you realize what goes into making ryshcate? You're going to eat leftovers and you're going to like them."

    I love writing these characters, Vi. I love them so much [face_love]

    @earlybird-obi-wan
    Thanks so much!

    @Bel505

    This is a simply delightful analysis, thank you so much for writing it :D

    She haaaas [face_love] It's all still new, she's still figuring it out and hasn't fully articulated it to herself, but she has her very own family now [face_love]

    I just absolutely love this. It's dead on, and in a way I hadn't thought of myself. It is like she's weighing a proposal. And of course Luke hasn't done any such thing, because he knows how much change she's dealing with and he would never pressure her, and is also probably afraid of scaring her off if he says anything before she's ready to hear it. But Mara's always adapted quickly, and she's spent a lot of time with Luke and his family, and she's pretty close to ready.

    Yup :( Even though Mara is still young here, I think it can be easy to forget that she's had her entire world crumble around her multiple times already. At the very least, twice: when Palpatine died, and when she realized that Luke was Vader's son and that Palpatine had lied to her. There's an argument to be made that at least two other times could be added to the tally, her original abduction (even if she's largely blocked it out) and the murder of Gorb and Jorshmin, when she was just starting to be comfortable and feeling as though she might belong somewhere only to have it torn violently away. And we don't really know what else she went through between the fall of the Empire and joining up with Karrde. There's BtEH and a couple of short stories, but added all together, they cover a total of what, maybe a month or two out of almost five years? Maybe? Mara's been through a lot, and she keeps getting back up, determined to rebuild. But I think that this one hits deeper than the others (with perhaps the exception of Palpatine's death), partly because of how much what she currently has means to her, and partly because she knows what this curveball should mean to her, and it doesn't mean that at all. There's so very much hanging in the balance here, and she has no idea how to handle it.

    This is all very true, and also has me thinking about an AU of this AU where her family showed up six months later than this and Mara was more stable and receptive to the possibilities [face_thinking]

    Agreed on all counts. He always liked her, and picked up on the chemistry between her and Luke before either of them did.

    Absolutely. You look at the superficial aspects of their lives, and you'd think there weren't two more different people in the galaxy. But when it comes to fundamentals, they're very much alike in a lot of ways. And Han is a decade-plus older than her and thus able to see this more clearly than she does, and as we've established, he's the den mother of this little family. Someone has to take care of all these stubborn damaged kids, and he's taken on that job.

    I love this so much, and it's so in character for all of them. Han recognizes someone who's struggling because he's been there and seen it happen to so many others, Luke sees her inner worth and integrity because Luke always sees and believes the best of everyone, and Leia notices that Mara's actions are saying something different than her words are and knows that Mara is more trustworthy than she's letting on, because being a good judge of character has been a life and death matter for Leia for years and years, and she's gotten very good at it.

    Agreed, she's probably had very little contact with most of the Wild Karrde's crew at this point save Karrde himself, and most of that was likely via holo. She's unlikely to make a lot of friends among the people she's working with - she doesn't make friends easily to begin with, doesn't have much use for politicians, and is probably working too hard to try to make everyone happy in a very unlikely arrangement. Work, in fact, is probably more stressful than not. Then on the other side of that ledger is Luke, who's kind and understanding and encouraging, and his family, who've welcomed her as one of their own. Luke and Leia and Han (and Winter and Chewie and even the droids) are the bright spot in her life. And while she and Luke are clearly already something special, she would have had any number of reasons to bond with Leia and Han, too, even if she didn't quite admit that was what was happening. I think that she's still very much in the process of realizing how important they are to her, and that she's important to them as well, but it's like being ready to hear what Luke would like to say about their relationship: she's closer to that point than she realizes.

    And as we've discussed, this is exactly what Mara needed to thrive: people who recognize her trauma and make room for it without drawing attention to it, people who grant her understanding and patience because they've been severely damaged by life too and they know what she needs to begin to recover.

    I will be forever grateful that Zahn insisted on being allowed to get Luke and Mara engaged, and I love HoT and the more mature Mara it showcases so very much, and I think he did the best job he could in retconning the nonsense that sidelined Mara and L/M for ten years, and I'm amazed that we got a married Luke and Mara adventure novel plus two Emperor's Hand Mara novels in addition to that. But yes, sigh, the EU completely skipped over almost her entire recovery, and it all had the potential to be so interesting. So much wasted potential.

    And that's where fanfic comes in :p
     
  10. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002


    Chapter Two



    Luke and Leia did in fact handle almost all the details of the upcoming visit over the next week, getting her approval on each decision but then implementing it themselves. Leia arranged not only the promised apartment—which she assured Mara would be a permanent arrangement if she wanted it to be, so that her parents could come visit her regularly without the expense of a hotel, an extreme kindness that simultaneously touched Mara and absolutely terrified her—but also various entertainments to be used or not as Mara chose on the day, as well as an evening for her family to have dinner at the Solo residence, as Han had promised.

    In his turn, Luke volunteered to handle all the communication between her and her family until they arrived. Mara accepted with relief, and then chastised herself for cowardice. Winter had also agreed to take on the liaison position part-time for the week of the visit, and, like Leia and Luke before her, was so sincerely happy for her that Mara began to feel that she was drowning in guilt. Why had this miracle been wasted on her, who couldn’t even remember her own mother’s face, when people like Luke and Leia and Winter had lost so many people they’d loved?

    Mostly, she just tried hard not to think about it at all, and outside of the necessary discussions about arrangements, she almost managed it. Almost.

    After what felt like a lifetime longer than the one she’d actually lived, the day for the visit to begin finally arrived. Mara had assumed that she would have to go to the spaceport to greet them—that was what people did when family visited, wasn’t it?—but Luke called her a few hours before their passenger liner was scheduled to make orbit to say that Winter had volunteered to go meet them and bring them to the Palace.

    “You’ll want some privacy for this,” he said over the holo. “You can’t meet them for the first time in twenty years in the middle of those crowds. Winter’s going to take them to your office and we’ll meet them there. I’ll pick you up at 16:00.”

    Mara spent more than an hour trying on most of the clothes in her closet—what did one wear to meet one’s long-lost and presumed dead parents, anyway?—before settling on a thoroughly unremarkable outfit of a long-sleeved green tunic with black leggings and boots. She spent the rest of the time alternately pacing and staring at HoloNet news feeds without really hearing them.

    By the time her door chimed to signal Luke’s arrival, Mara was so keyed up that she actually startled at the sound. Cursing herself, she went to open the door.

    Luke looked her over and smiled. “You look nice.”

    “Thanks,” Mara said. It was an effort to get even that much out.

    Luke looked at her again, his eyes growing serious, then stepped inside the apartment, letting the door close behind him. “Are you okay?”

    “Of course,” Mara said. Not even close.

    Luke searched her eyes, then took her face in his hands and leaned his forehead against her own. “Breathe,” he murmured, reaching for her through the Force the way he had when first teaching her meditation. His own calm spread over her, and Mara closed her eyes and tried to absorb it.

    Her heartbeat had almost dropped to a normal rate by the time Luke stepped back and let his hands drop to her shoulders. “You’ve got this,” he said, smiling encouragingly at her.

    “Yeah,” Mara said, taking a deep breath. “Sure.”

    Ten minutes later they were at the door to her office. It was a small room, by Palace standards: her desk was at the far end, with cases for datacards, old-fashioned books, and various office necessities lining one wall. And off to the side, in front of the large window, was a conversation area. A couple in early middle age sat at the very edge of the small couch. On the chairs flanking the couch were a young man and woman—younger than her, Mara thought distantly. That would explain why she didn’t remember any siblings. The unease in the room was palpable, blaring through the Force and obvious in body language.

    For a heartbeat, Mara wanted badly to take Luke’s hand, just to be steadied by his constant support. Out of the corner of her eye she saw his fingers twitch, and knew that he’d heard that thought. Before she could give in to the temptation, she lifted her chin and walked toward the strangers, seeing four pairs of eyes turn to her in unison. Shadow agent or no, Mara had been the center of attention countless times in her life, and never felt a flicker of nerves. So why were her knees trembling now?

    The older woman stood slowly, her eyes never leaving Mara’s. Green eyes. The same green eyes that Mara saw in the mirror every day. She had to force herself to inhale.

    “Mara,” the woman breathed. “My baby.” She stepped forward, lifting her hands as if to cup Mara’s face.

    Mara didn’t realize she’d taken a step backward until she saw the woman’s face fall, and she had no idea what to do next.

    Luke came to her side, one hand at the small of her back, the courtly gesture camouflaging the way he propelled her forward until they were at the two remaining empty chairs. “Mistress Jade,” he said, and the otherworldliness of hearing that phrase addressed to someone else set Mara’s heart to pounding even faster. “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to meet Mara’s family. I’m Luke Skywalker, a friend of your daughter’s.”

    “Your daughter’s.” A lifetime’s education in undercover work was all that kept Mara’s expression reasonably steady.

    “Master Skywalker,” the older man said, rising to stand beside his wife as he took Luke’s hand, though the effort it took to pull his gaze from Mara was obvious. “It’s an honor to meet you. We’re grateful beyond words for the help you’ve given Mara. The news reports said you’d saved her life on Wayland.”

    “The reports were somewhat one-sided,” Luke said, smiling easily. “The mission to Wayland was very much a group effort, and whatever help I offered Mara was no more than payment owed. She’d already saved my life at least twice by that time.”

    The young man and woman turned awed stares from Luke to Mara at that, and Mara couldn’t help staring back. The young man had wavy dark blonde hair and green eyes like his mother, while the young woman had her father’s brown eyes but coppery hair very like Mara’s own. She could see herself in all of these strangers, and she sat down before her knees could give way.

    The older woman sank slowly back down as well. The older man took a breath, then continued addressing Luke. “I’m Ronan Jade; this is my wife, Nadira, our son, Nico, and our daughter, Corissa.”

    “It’s good to meet you all,” Luke said, smiling at each of them in turn, then finally seating himself in the chair beside Mara as the older man sat back down beside his wife. He had red hair too, Mara noted, though darker than either her own or Corissa’s. “Is this your first time on Coruscant?”

    Nadira made a choked sound, and Ronan took her hand. “A homecoming, actually,” he said. “This is our homeworld.”

    Oh, Mara thought. She’d never known where she really came from. By the time she was old enough to wonder, she knew enough not to ask. It had never occurred to her to think that she’d truly always been Coruscanti. Was she, she wondered now, supposed to feel something in response to this revelation? All she felt was the thudding of her heart and an increasing sense of disconnect.

    “Though not the Palace District,” Ronan continued. “We were from CoCo Town originally. We left—” He glanced at Mara. “Twenty-two years ago.”

    “After you lost me, you mean,” Mara said evenly.

    Nico glared at her; Corissa raised an eyebrow. Nadira closed her eyes. Ronan took a careful breath before replying. “We didn’t have a choice. After he took you, the Emperor ordered us killed. We barely managed to slip away in the crowd. He knew our name; they could easily have tracked us down. We went back to our apartment long enough to grab some necessities, then caught the first passenger liner offworld.”

    “Mara,” Nadira said. Her eyes were still closed, but now she opened them, and they showed naked fear. “What did he do to you?”

    Mara tilted her head, confused. “Who? The Emperor?”

    She could see Ronan’s hand tighten around Nadira’s. “We never knew why he took you,” he said. “And the news reports said that you’d been in Imperial service during the war, but nothing more.”

    “He—I—” I was an assassin. Did they want to hear that? What else could she say?

    “He took Mara,” Luke said quietly, “because she’s Force-sensitive, and very talented. He trained her to be his personal agent.”

    “Force-sensitive?” For the first time, Nadira switched her gaze from Mara to Luke. “Like a Jedi?”

    “Yes,” Luke answered, and Mara could clearly feel through the Force his pleading with her to not argue the point right now. He needn’t have bothered; she felt no urge to say anything at all. She’d much prefer that he handle this whole conversation, in fact. “The Emperor—was also Force-sensitive, and Mara’s connection was probably obvious to him. She’s extremely strong in the Force.”

    “My grandmother’s brother was a Jedi,” Nadira murmured. “We’d always hoped that the rest of the family would be spared that.”

    Luke frowned. “Spared?”

    “Of course we held the Jedi Order in great respect,” Ronan hastened to assure him. “Nearly everyone did. I even saw Jedi occasionally in my youth. But to have a child that the Jedi wanted—not many had the strength to say no to that request.”

    “What do you mean, ‘a child that the Jedi wanted’?” Mara asked sharply.

    “The Jedi only recruited children,” Nadira said. “It was considered an honor, of course, and you knew the child would be treated well, but—” She choked, then gathered herself. “My grandmother was very young herself when her brother was taken to the Jedi Temple. She said that her mother felt it would have been selfish to refuse, but that she was always sad afterward. We had hoped—of course no one wanted to see the Jedi wiped out, no matter what the Emperor said of them, but after they were gone, we had hoped at least that if any of our children did have those tendencies, no one would know, and they would stay with us.”

    Mara looked at Luke, and saw the horror beneath the calm exterior. So he hadn’t known that, either. She could feel the effort in the Force as he centered himself. “Do you know how the Emperor found her?”

    Nadira closed her eyes again, and Ronan rubbed a hand over his face wearily. “He walked right past us,” Ronan said. “A branch of the Galactic Museum was opening in CoCo Town, and the Emperor came to oversee the ceremony. We didn’t—” He took a deep breath, then continued. “We didn’t even know about any of that. I’d just gotten off work, and we decided to walk to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. We got caught in the crowd gathered for the opening ceremony, and couldn’t get out again. We thought that we’d just wait it out, but—”

    “We got pressed by the crowd and wound up at the front, where the Emperor was walking past,” Nadira took up the story, eyes still closed. “But when he reached us, he stopped and looked right at Mara.” She opened her eyes, and Mara flinched at the pain they held. “He asked us about her, and then he ordered his guard to take her. I tried to hang on to you, Mara. I did.”

    “They pulled you away,” Ronan added. “They all had blasters, of course. And then when they had you, the Emperor told them to dispose of us. I—I didn’t see any way to take you back, Mara. Not with all those armed guards and the Emperor himself. I grabbed your mother and pushed our way through the crowd before the guards turned back to us.”

    “We were off Coruscant within the hour,” Nadira whispered. “But we tried looking for you. We looked for any mentions of someone matching your name and age; we looked for years. We never heard anything before last month.”

    “I was trained to be a shadow agent,” Mara said, her voice sounding strange in her own ears. “Officially, I didn’t exist.”

    “But after the war?” Ronan asked, his voice pleading. “It’s been more than five years.”

    You will kill Luke Skywalker. Ysanne Isard; the cell in the Palace. Phorliss; Gorb; Jorshmin. Varonat; Karrde. “I was in hiding,” she said. “The remaining Imperials who knew who I was wanted to either use me or kill me.”

    “Kill you?” Nadira’s voice was incredulous, with an edge of anger. “Why would anyone want to do that?”

    And suddenly Mara had had enough. These strangers, who had her eyes and hair, who searched her face for a child who no longer existed, who knew nothing of what she’d lived, nothing of her, and yet expected to be confided in and embraced. Parents who left her behind and siblings who stared and judged. She didn’t owe them a dissection of her life.

    “This is a waste of time,” she said, standing abruptly.

    “Mara—” Luke began, but Mara turned sharply before he could say more and stalked from the room.


    -------------


    There was a maelstrom in her mind, a swirling vortex of conflicting thoughts and emotions, and Mara strode through the Palace without considering her destination. By the time she calmed down enough to notice her surroundings, she found herself heading as if by instinct for their suite of training rooms, and decided that was as good a place as any to—

    hide, part of her mind whispered. Think, she told herself firmly. She just needed time to think.

    And possibly punch something.

    She spent a while doing exactly that to the punching bag she’d talked Luke into adding to the workout room, but it didn’t quiet her mind any.

    Instead she went to the smaller relaxation room she and Luke and sometimes Leia used for the extended conversation that usually followed any practice sessions, and just paced.

    Luke entered the room so quietly that Mara didn’t even notice, and thus she literally jumped when she turned swiftly for another circuit of frantic pacing only to be confronted with Luke sitting on the couch in the middle of the room.

    “Don’t do that,” she hissed, pulling her hand away from where she’d normally be wearing a holster. It hadn’t seemed like the right impression to give, to be armed when meeting her parents for the first time. Now she was desperately relieved to be missing the blaster. “Do you have any idea what my reflexes are conditioned to be when someone sneaks up on me?”

    “As a matter of fact, I do,” Luke said, with the ghost of a smile. “But I also knew you were unarmed, so…”

    Mara glared, and returned to pacing. She made three more circuits of the room with Luke watching silently before she could bring herself to ask. “Did they leave?”

    She could feel Luke’s surprise even through her own whirlwind of emotion. “Why would they leave?”

    “I thought I made it pretty clear that I didn’t want this,” Mara said, stopping to stand in the far corner of the room. She wrapped her arms around herself and looked out the picture window that took up the entire wall, avoiding Luke’s gaze.

    “You made it pretty clear that you weren’t ready for this,” Luke said softly. “Not exactly the same thing as not wanting it.”

    Mara closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the cool transparisteel. “You told them to stay.”

    “I told them to give you time,” he admitted. “I didn’t need to tell them to stay, Mara. I don’t think they’re going anywhere unless you specifically tell them to leave.”

    Her gut churned, and for a horrifying heartbeat, Mara thought she might have to make a dash for the refresher. She took a quick deep breath, fighting for control. “I can’t be what they want me to be.”

    “What do they want you to be?”

    Damn him, anyway. “I’m not—” Mara blinked and swallowed hard. “I’m not who I was then. I’m not the little girl they remember.”

    There was a long moment of silence. “If it was me,” Luke finally said, his voice still soft, “and I found the daughter that I had thought was lost forever, I don’t think that I would be so much interested in making her into something as just getting to know who she was. Getting to be part of her life again.”

    “Is that what you wanted with your father?” Mara asked, and immediately regretted it. Vader had left his children a complicated legacy, to put it mildly. It was an unfair thing to ask him, no matter how desperately she wanted to know.

    If Luke noticed her flash of guilt, he didn’t let on. “It was, actually,” he said. “Didn’t work out so well. Doesn’t mean it can’t work out that way for you.” She looked at him at last, and he met her eyes with a smile and held up a bottle. “After some fortification, anyway.”

    Mara recognized the Whyren’s label and rubbed her face fiercely before going to sit beside him. “I might love you for this,” she said, taking the bottle from him.

    His emotions flickered, but his smile didn’t waver. “I thought it might help.”


    “You thought right.” Mara glanced around. “Did you bring glasses?”

    Luke shrugged. “Seemed unnecessary.”

    Mara couldn’t really argue with that. She uncorked the bottle and took a swig, then passed it back to Luke and leaned over, putting her head between her knees. “I can’t do this. I—I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know who those people are. I hardly know who I am.”

    She felt the subtle movements of the couch beneath her as he shifted. “If you can’t,” he said, “truly can’t, then I’ll respect that, Mara. I’m sure they would too. But you should probably give yourself some time to think about it before making a decision that final.”

    Mara groaned, then sat back up. Her hair slid along her shoulders, some still hanging over her forehead. She shoved it back. It was probably an unholy mess now. Why had she worn it loose today, anyway? She almost always pulled it back into a braid or ponytail, efficient and out of the way. But her hair had been shorter when she was smaller, she remembered that. It had barely skimmed her shoulders when she’d first gone with Palpatine. Some inchoate urge when she’d been getting dressed had said to leave it loose today, maybe an attempt to resemble the child her parents had once known. A stupid, useless attempt.

    Luke passed the bottle back to her, and she took another swig, blinking fiercely again. “They had other children.”

    She knew that he’d understand what she couldn’t say. He always did.

    He did this time, too. “Those other children would still have come along if you had been there. They aren’t replacements, Mara.”

    An actual tear slipped past her attempts at control, and she swiped it away angrily. “I wasn’t there. They were. Feels like a replacement to me.”

    “Ask Leia,” Luke said quietly, “which twin she would choose, if she could only have saved one that day Thrawn’s infiltration team broke in. Actually, don’t; she might hit you. Children aren’t gears, to be swapped in and out and replaced when one gets lost. They’re unique individuals. If your brother and sister had replaced you, your parents wouldn’t be here right now. They always remembered you. They never stopped looking. They always hoped.”

    Mara slumped down to lean her head on the back of the couch, looking up at the ceiling. “I asked about them once, when I was little. Where my parents were. I was punished for it.”

    She could sense Luke’s wince as clearly as if she was looking at him. Since Wayland, she’d tried not to mention many details of her youth to him. They all seemed to upset him, however hard he tried to hide it, and that only upset her in turn. Her life had always seemed normal to her. Yes, her position was special, but everything she’d learned and everything she’d gone through to attain it—that was only what would be expected of someone being groomed for such an elite post. It had never occurred to her to be horrified by any of it until Luke was, and she had enough changes in her life to deal with without adding in a reassessment of her whole damn childhood. So much for that.

    “So I didn’t ask again. All I had was that one shadowy image, that they didn’t want me to go. I didn’t think about them often, but when I did—” She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. “I was special. Even if they weren’t there, my parents had wanted me, so I was special to them. And I was special to the Emp- to Palpatine. But my parents moved on. They had other children, they raised a whole other family without me. And at the end, I was nothing at all to Palpatine. He put me through five years of hell for the sake of revenge against Vader, who was already dead. So here I am, my life completely in pieces, trying to figure out some way forward through the mess, and now these strangers want me to somehow—” She laughed bitterly. “I don’t even know what they want.”

    “To have the chance to get to know you,” Luke murmured.

    “Yes, I’m sure that will go over well. Hi, Mom and Dad, guess what I learned after I left you? Two dozen different ways to kill a person without breaking a sweat.”

    “That’s not even close to all that you are.” Luke nudged her and held his hand out, and she passed him the Whyren’s and watched as he took a swig. “You’re smart and strong and talented and determined, and anyone would be lucky even to know you. If you give them a chance, your parents will be tremendously proud of you.”

    “Or they might hate me. I think my brother and sister already do.”

    Luke sighed. “They’re in a position similar to yours. You remember your parents, at least a little, but you never knew your brother and sister at all. They know your parents, but they never knew you. And the way you feel like they’re a replacement for you? I’m betting your brother and sister are suddenly feeling like you’re a replacement for them. The long-lost sister they knew their parents never stopped looking for suddenly reappears, and their parents are so desperate to be reunited with her that it probably feels like they don’t matter much, compared to you. None of that is true, your parents clearly love all of you. But of course you all feel left out right now. You don’t know how to have lives that involve each other.”

    Mara turned all that over in her head. “And what if we never figure that out?”

    “Even some families who do grow up together never figure that out,” Luke said with another sigh. “My friend Biggs, from Tatooine? He and his father never did really understand each other. But then—” He nudged her again. “Leia and I didn’t find each other until we were adults, but we couldn’t get along without each other now. What if you do figure it out, and wind up loving each other?”

    Mara sat up a little straighter and took back the Whyren’s for another sip. “I don’t know how to love anyone. I don’t even know how to have friends.”

    “No?” Luke asked, smiling faintly. “I think I’m insulted.”

    She smiled back at him before she realized it. “Okay, maybe I have one friend. That doesn’t mean—”

    “Well, now Karrde’s insulted. Or would be if I told him you said that. And Leia. And Chewie. And Han and Artoo, even though they’d deny it.”

    “I am not friends with your droid, Skywalker.”

    “He’d say the same thing about you,” Luke pointed out. “I think you’re both in denial.”

    Mara rolled her eyes and passed him the bottle. “You are such a pain in my ass.”

    “Be nice to the person who brought the booze.” Luke took another swig.

    She sighed, and held her hand out for the bottle again. “I’m scared to death, Luke. I’ve never, ever been this scared.”

    He gave her the bottle and eyed her sympathetically. “And since when have you ever let fear stop you?”

    “Today, apparently.” She took another sip.

    “Today was only the first step,” Luke said. “You only stop if you don’t take the next one.”

    Mara wanted to cry; it came out as a slightly damp laugh instead. “Sometimes I could hate you for this constant optimism of yours.”

    “And here I thought you said you might love me,” Luke replied lightly. “Guess I’ll have to keep you well-plied with expensive whiskey to stay on your good side.”

    “Can’t hurt,” Mara said. She corked the bottle carefully and set it on the floor, then inched a little closer to him and leaned sideways to rest her head on his shoulder. There was a moment of hesitation, then he carefully slid an arm around her shoulders and held her a little more closely. “I’m still scared.”

    “I know.” They were so close that his breath ruffled her hair as he spoke, and Mara closed her eyes and let his warmth soothe her.

    “Luke,” she whispered.

    “Hmm?”

    “Thanks. For the Whyren’s, and…just—thanks.”

    His arm tightened around her. “Any time.”

    Her hair moved with his breath again, and Mara decided that she liked the feeling. “They aren’t expecting me to come back right now, are they?”

    “No,” Luke said, very softly. “I called Winter and got her to take them on a tour of the Palace for the rest of the afternoon. Leia’s getting them reservations at some fancy restaurant for dinner, and I invited them to lunch at my place tomorrow. You really should be there for that, but you have some breathing room until then.”

    Mara smiled despite herself, and nestled a little closer. “How do you manage being a comfort and a pain in the ass at the same time, anyway?”

    Luke laughed. “All the best—” She thought his voice caught, but he pressed ahead and she let him, rather than confront that slight hitch in his emotions. “—friendships start that way. So, are you coming by early tomorrow to help me make lunch?”

    “I’m terrible in the kitchen. You know that.”

    Luke’s shoulder moved beneath her as he shrugged. “But you’re good company.”

    It would have been ungrateful to refuse after everything he’d done to help her today—and anyway, she did like the camaraderie of helping Luke prepare meals, even if it did mean learning to chop vegetables or being assigned to endlessly stir a pot of something that couldn’t be allowed to set. “Okay.” She sat quietly for a moment, then added, “I don’t remember him taking me. I remember knowing that I was going with him, but wouldn’t I remember if it was like they say?”

    Luke rested his chin on the top of her head. “You were very young, and knowing Palpatine, he probably threw you into training immediately, one way or another. The things he put you through—you needed intense focus to survive all that. Anything that came before would only have been a distraction, so it’s not surprising if you forgot or suppressed it. Not to mention that he could have used the Force to blur your memories. Seems like the sort of thing he would have done.”

    “I hate him,” Mara whispered.

    “Me too,” Luke said quietly.

    “I thought Jedi weren’t supposed to hate.”

    Luke sighed. “That’s the goal. I’m still working on it.”

    Mara hesitated, then asked, “Did Ben and Yoda really not tell you that the Jedi took children?”

    Leaning against him as she was, she could feel Luke stiffen. “No. They never mentioned anything about that.” A long pause, then: “I think I’m glad they didn’t. I was so instantly and fully committed to becoming a Jedi after Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen died—there just wasn’t anything else left for me. I don’t know if I could have walked away from it. But taking children…”

    She finally sat up and met his eyes. “I didn’t know how wrong what happened to me was until after I met you. My whole childhood, and for years after, I thought it was perfectly fine. Noble, even. I was chosen by a reliable authority figure to uphold a righteous cause. How is that any different from what the Jedi did?”

    Luke winced. “I don’t know.”

    “From what my—from what Ronan and Nadira said, the Jedi didn’t physically pull children away from their parents the way Palpatine did with me, but—” Mara shook her head. “I spoke with the Emperor’s own authority when I was his Hand, Luke. I know very well how someone can leverage that sort of authority and certainty to get what they want, even if someone doesn’t really want to give it. Most people won’t stand up to pressure like that. Isn’t it immoral, then, to use that authority for your own gain? Much less to convince someone to give up their child?”

    Luke leaned over, bracing his elbows on his knees and rubbing his temples. “I think so, yes. I can’t imagine what the Jedi thought about it. No,” he added with a sigh. “That’s not true, is it? Your mother said that everyone knew the children were treated well within the Order, so if the Jedi were using their authority to gain children but then genuinely treated those children well and tried to raise them to uphold their moral code, they must have thought they were doing the right thing, mustn’t they?”

    “But it wasn’t right.”

    “No,” Luke agreed. “It wasn’t.”

    She knew, she knew what his answer would be, yet Mara still quivered deep inside to ask the question. “You wouldn’t do that with the new Order, would you?”

    Still leaning over, Luke turned to look at her, and his eyes were fierce. “Never. Not for anything.”

    Mara breathed a silent sigh of relief, then leaned limply back against the couch and looked at the ceiling again. “I feel like I’ve lived ten lifetimes today.”

    “Did you want to talk about it?” Luke asked. “You can come over to my place, if you want.”

    She thought about it, then shook her head. “I think I need some time alone. I’ll just go back to my apartment for the night.”

    “Do you have actual food there?”

    Mara sat up and tilted her head at him. “Do you think I just never ate before I found you floating in that X-wing? That I just absorb nutrients from the air, or something?”

    “I meant besides ration bars.”

    A snort of laughter escaped her. “Fine, I’ll order something in.”

    Luke smiled. “Better. Want to take the Whyren’s?”

    “Way too tempting,” Mara said with a sigh, and handed him the bottle. “You hang on to it. We can finish it off some other time.”

    “Should I come over and empty your liquor cabinet before I leave you alone?”

    It was a serious offer, and Mara was touched by it. Neither she nor Luke usually took that route to escape their problems, but between his experiences during the war and hers after it, they both knew the strength of the occasional temptation. “No,” she said, standing. “I’ll be good. Promise.”

    He reached over to squeeze her hand briefly, then let go. “10:00 tomorrow, my place?”

    “Yeah,” Mara said. She smiled at him, and meant it. “Thanks again.”

    “You’re welcome,” Luke said softly.

    She was still afraid—the way she took the longest possible way to her apartment, using little-known back passages to be sure of avoiding anyone she knew, was proof enough of that—but she could manage the rest of this visit, Mara thought.

    Probably.
     
  11. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    Splentabulous! So realistic and jumbled are Mara's emotions! She is vulnerable and Luke is so wise and compassionate and they're so on the brink... [face_love] [face_love]

    Superb juxtaposition of the moral question of what the Emperor did and what the Jedi in the Old Order did, with vastly different motives but still the families in question were changed forever. [face_thinking]
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2021
  12. earlybird-obi-wan

    earlybird-obi-wan Chosen One star 6

    Registered:
    Aug 21, 2006
    To see your parents and siblings after such a long time must be quite an emotional experience for her.
    Families ripped apart by the emperor.
    Families seperated by the Jedi
     
  13. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    I can just hear Luke's voice as he's saying this. The hitch, then the rush into the second sentence...

    And Mara, currently cuddling with him... there's a part of her that knows exactly what he was going to say, but it's hovering in her subconscious because letting it reach her conscious mind would be way too much for her to deal with right then.

    I want to reiterate my lamentation that this phase of their relationship never got covered in the novels...
     
  14. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Anything for you, babe. ;) I can handle it. :p

    Yeah, I guess that's fair. [face_whistling]

    There's an AO3 tag right there. :p

    I love this moment. It feels so perfectly Luke, and it also feels so perfectly them. [face_love]

    Excellent detail, that hand twitch. He's always right there, ready to help her and support her in any way she needs, and I just love his heart. Plus, come on, their connection is already so strong.

    =(( Ouch. Right away I could feel Mara’s parents' pain, in every glance and breath and everything said and not said. This whole scene is so well done.

    Yeah, like that. What I was saying about every glance? I could feel the effort it took for her father to look away. :(

    Aw yeah, enter the OCs. [face_mischief] [face_dancing]

    This whole section was very good, for many different reasons, but I'm especially glad to see that much about the old Jedi Order remains a mystery to Luke. One of my great annoyances with the post-NJO EU was that suddenly everyone knew everything about the Jedi, even though Palpatine did his best to wipe them from public memory and distort what information remained. I much prefer that Luke learn things about them like this, from ordinary people who remembered the Jedi, but still weren't intimately acquainted with the people and practices of the Order. It feels more natural, rather than the profic trying to shoehorn in every connection to the PT, just because those movies were completed at that point. I understand the urge to make those connections, and the way you've done it here is definitely my preference.

    You know where I fall on the whole "are the Jedi as equally terrible as Palpatine" issue: it's incredibly complex, and everyone in-universe (and out) is going to have different views. But the important thing to remember in this story is that Mara was a kidnapped child molded by a Force-user to serve his will, and Luke lost his family suddenly and violently and knows the pain of never being able to have them back. Their horror here is as much shaped by their upbringings as it is by a general negative reaction to the thought of families giving up their children to the Jedi and never seeing them again. Whatever the reasons the Jedi adopted and then continued those practices, Luke is building a new Jedi Order. That is in fact what Obi-Wan and Yoda wanted him to do, and they had to have known he would do it differently. They'd already begun to acknowledge the failings of the old ways by the end of RotS, and I like to think they would have ultimately supported Luke's choices, including this one.

    This was the moment where I realized who Mara might have inherited her competence and badassery from. :p [face_mischief]

    Yeah, I imagine that'd be a lot to take in at once. :(

    =((

    Luke! [face_love]

    Look at this wise and compassionate man. [face_love] (Also laughing at his assessment of Leia’s reaction to being asked such a question. :p)

    Yep, that's just all kinds of awful. Of course she thought it was normal; she didn't know any other way. And then even when she starts to realize how screwed up her childhood was, it's not like that automatically erases the feelings she had back then, you know? It's such a mess, and she'll carry those scars forever. =((

    Well, you already know this is a theme I like to explore with a certain trash lord, so it's no surprise that I enjoy reading about it here. ;) But how hard would that be, to find out your life and the one stable connection you had was all a horrific lie? It's understandable that, after Palpatine’s betrayal, she would have a hard time seeing anything less in the fact that her parents "moved on" and had other children. I appreciate that this simultaneously feels like a very logic-based response from Mara while also being a very emotion-based one.

    Yep, that's right, Luke, she needs real world examples, keep being your awesome self.

    lolol

    LOLOL at the faux animosity between Mara and Artoo. I agree with Luke. [face_mischief]

    I do love me some snarky!Luke [face_mischief] (But also he's so smitten, my gooooosh)

    SMITTEN. BOTH OF THESE FOOLS, GAAAH!

    Luke is trying so hard to hold back from doing anything that would make her uncomfortable. He just wants to be there for her, and it's clear already how much he loves her. It's pretty clear, too, how Mara feels about him, even if she isn't ready to fully admit that to herself or put any type of name to it.

    Plus this part of the scene was so soft, and I loved every detail of their movements.

    Even in such a heavy chapter, you always know how to bring the snarky banter, and I love it. This line in particular had me actually laughing out loud. :D
     
  15. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    SMITTEN. BOTH OF THESE FOOLS

    [face_love] [face_dancing] [face_love]
     
  16. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    And Luke's response was perfect too! "You can't just eat ration bars, Mara." Though of course he didn't say it quite so snarkily, because he's Luke.
     
  17. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Registered:
    Jun 29, 2004
    First, I enjoyed reading your replies nearly as much as I enjoyed this update! It's been ages since I've last read some good Mara meta and I have all the happy EU feelings now. [face_love]

    Then: THIS UPDATE!!!

    THESE TWO!!! Because Luke and Leia totally would.

    More than that, though, Mara's entire support system really struck me so vibrantly from the first; because she does have a family here that she's slowly but surely becoming part of - not that she'd put such a name to those bonds yet, exactly. But it's definitely there. [face_love]

    Oh Mara. [:D]

    She holds herself to such an awfully high standard. Of course, she's always been held to that high standard, and she's never had anyone to lean on in return. That option for support and the ability to allow herself to accept that support is yet another enormous, life-altering change that Mara's still adapting to even before you throw a long-lost family into the mix!

    It's always that almost. :p

    You know, that's a fair question!

    This was so heartfelt and touching! [face_love]

    I loved this detail! What a telling moment. [face_love]

    All of your little details about Mara's discomfort read sooooo well!

    And this detail, too! (I'm sorry to quote so much without truly profound insights, but I wanted to point out the parts that jumped out at me!)

    Oh, and this detail! [face_love]

    &
    &
    &
    Well, here I am mass quoting now anyway. :p But, all this to say: you did such an amazing job showing just how . . . well, how much this is for Mara. I mean, this would overwhelm anyone, but for Mara, in particular, she has to feel pinned down and flayed open and completely out of her element. On the opposite side, I appreciate how you showed how overwhelming this is for her family, too. Because it is.

    I really appreciated this outside look on the old Jedi Order's practices when it came to gleaning Force-sensitive children. It's something you can argue in circles as being both good and bad in-universe (ecen though it's still not something I personally like), and I was glad when Luke decided that was definitely not going to be a part of the new Order.

    This also really showed how much Luke doesn't know about the Jedi. His time with Obi-Wan and Yoda was so short, and Palpatine was masterful in erasing them from every record that he could, even if not the public memory. Luke has such a immense task set before him in rebuilding, and the only way to approach it is in these little bits and pieces.

    Again, you did such a good job showing how Mara felt under fire here, almost. Because this is a lot, and it's amazing how long she was able to hang in there, before -

    - fair. Fair. =((

    This is one of those things nothing but time will fix . . . but getting there: whew! Giving this time is going to be no small thing.


    She went there instinctively! [face_love]


    Plus, I loved the hide/think/punch something. :p

    I love the image you conveyed: of Mara's restlessness and Luke being a steady, still presence. Like that calm center in the middle of a cyclone. [face_love]

    Exactly! Good ol' Farmboy wisdom. [face_love]

    I could have carried this quote through Luke's replies about Vader, it was all sooooo gooooooood. I love how Luke compared his experiences with Leia, too. Mara is holding herself to these impossible expectations, again - expectations that she really can't put into words anymore, and all the while she's assuming that everyone else has those expectations too. I love how gently Luke challenged her outlook and offered a different point of view to consider.

    I see what you did there. [face_mischief]

    Mara!! I just want to give her all the hugs. Because, really, isn't that what it all boils down to?? She's gone through so much, so quickly, and she has yet had time to ground herself. Or, at least, she's started the process of putting down new roots and figuring out who she wants to be, but she's still at such a vulnerable place to be dealing with one more variable being thrown at her.

    All the kudos for using inchoate in a story. :p

    And: =((

    =(( =(( =((

    Luke's words here were spot on perfect. (As was imagining Leia's response. :p)

    I know this has been mentioned before, but it bears repeating: l really appreciate that you let Mara acknowledge her abuse as abuse. Because abuse does seem normal when you're in the midst of it, and to have to readjust your thinking and realize that it's not okay - that's hard enough in RL, let alone with the exacerbated circumstances Mara has endured. Of course that, in turn, sparks Luke's anger. (I just love it when he's moved so righteously on her behalf. [face_love])

    Anyway, Mara's healing was such a missed opportunity in the EU - but that's what we have fan fiction for. [face_love]

    . . . yep, everything hurts. What a terrible thought to have to work through. I just want to fix everything for Mara with all the hugs again. =(( Thankfully we can get Luke on that, stat. :p

    =(( =(( =(( More pain here to put with the rest of the pain . . .

    BINGO!

    Luke, you always know just what to say. [face_love]

    [face_rofl] [face_rofl]

    And, all throughout, there's just that ease and comfort and banter because of that ease and comfort. [face_love]

    This was HUGE. How many times has Mara ever been able to admit even a small weakness, let alone such a crippling insecurity as this one? That she does trust him and wants to confide in him . . . it says so much. [face_love]

    . . . YEP, I'M REMEMBERING WHY THESE TWO ARE STILL ONE OF MY OTPS OF OTPS.

    Does she? [face_batting] [face_mischief] [face_whistling] [face_love]

    *cough*romances*/cough* It's okay, we speak pre-ship fluently here. :p


    THIIIIIIIIIIIS.





    Basically, in all my rambling, I was trying to say is that this was an excellent update and I can't wait to read more! =D= [:D]
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
  18. mayo_durron_666

    mayo_durron_666 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Nov 26, 2005
    Woo! That was quite a reunion! :eek: Parents! Siblings!
    I don't blame Mara for walking out, I would have been overwhelmed with it all too.
    I loved Luke's comforting words, he was a great friend just being there for her afterwards, very understanding and thoughtful.
    Yes! Please do, I'd love to read more Han and Mara moments. :)

    This banter was perfect! [face_laugh]

    Looking forward to more. :D
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2021
  19. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Dang it, I missed my cue!

    *pops in to point out how many times Gabri complained that the characters wouldn't stop talking, and I gleefully reminded her how much she loves writing ordinary life stuff and all the dialogue* [face_mischief] [face_whistling] [face_batting]

    :*
     
    Mira_Jade and Gabri_Jade like this.
  20. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha
    Yup, from where Luke and Mara are sitting, it looks very much the same...

    @earlybird-obi-wan
    Very emotional, to be sure!

    @Bel505
    Poor Luke, he's trying so hard not to give anything away and make things harder for her. And I imagine it's harder than ever for him to do that, because he wants so much to comfort her when she's in this sort of distress.

    And, of course, Mara isn't totally oblivious. But while before all of this she was just teetering on the edge of consciously acknowledging what's happening between them and sorting out what she thinks of that, yup, the sudden reappearance of a family she doesn't remember has sent her emotional stress right into the stratosphere, and everything else gets shoved to the subconscious because there's only so much even she can handle at one time.

    Truly. Of course, imagining what certain authors would have made of it is enough to make me count our blessings that we just skipped right over all of it...

    @ViariSkywalker
    brb, retagging all my stories

    Luke is just such a sweetheart, and who else would Mara ever allow to take such liberties? [face_love]

    The absolute essence of Luke, I think, is that he always wants to help and support others. People he personally loves get an extra dose of that [face_love] And right? They're deeply attuned to each other already.

    I am so glad, because these moments of high emotion had to work, or everything else falls apart [face_relieved]But yeah, up to now we've focused on Mara's emotional turmoil, but on the other hand, here's her parents, who lost a child, never even knew if she was alive until very recently, and now they're with her again, something they've wanted desperately for more than two decades but thought they'd never have - and their lost daughter doesn't even recognize them. They're strangers to her, and it's obvious she's not at all comfortable with them. To say that's a stab to the heart is probably a profound understatement.

    =((

    I love them so much, Vi. So much. [face_love]

    I hated that. For example, I love Survivor's Quest, but it always bothers me that suddenly Luke is aware of the old Order's prohibition of committed relationships. That just plain doesn't make sense with everything that came before. We saw that sort of thing over and over again once the PT was on the scene, and I don't know if it originated with the editors or the authors, but I stand by my opinion that it was a mistake. If the EU had started after both the OT and the PT were around, then fine, from the beginning you can have Luke and the Jedi he trains be aware of certain things, but it didn't. When the EU started, Luke didn't know these things because the authors didn't, and that made internal sense because obviously Palpatine had tried his best to erase all information about them, and twist anything that couldn't be entirely wiped out. And Luke had an incredibly abbreviated training by the standards Yoda and Obi-Wan knew, and the purpose of his training was to defeat Vader and Palpatine. There wasn't time for either of them to pass on anything that they didn't feel was absolutely critical. Yes, they knew that Luke was their only hope of continuing the Jedi Order, and they gave him that commission, but again, there was no time for anything nonessential.

    When you blend that in-universe fact with the out-of-universe reality that the early EU authors didn't know anything from the then-non-existent PT, the only logical result is that anything the authors didn't know, A) Yoda and Obi-Wan considered nonessential for Luke's education and that of anyone he subsequently trained, B) the only way Luke can even know about these things is if he found some scraps of information that survived the Purge, either through records the Jedi left or through the testimony of those who had known them, and C) he didn't know any of that before the NJO at the earliest, because his ignorance of such things is very obvious pre-NJO. I kind of hate using SQ as the example here, because y'all know I love Zahn's books something fierce, but that detail annoyed me so much. If Yoda had told Luke about the no commitment thing, then he clearly decided to discard it within his own Order years and years ago when he still trained Leia despite her being in a committed relationship that turned into a marriage with children. Or when Kam and Tionne were married. Or Corran and Mirax. Or when he was with Callista. Or when he and Mara got married. It for sure wouldn't still be bothering him at the time of SQ. What makes much, much more sense is that Yoda and Obi-Wan agreed that either their Order had made a mistake with that prohibition and deliberately didn't pass it on, or that they didn't have time to say everything they wanted to and decided to trust in the Force to guide Luke to include anything they missed that was truly necessary.

    Like, I know the PT was cool in a lot of ways, guys, but we already established years ago that Luke didn't know these things, you can't reverse that now, ask for a PT-era book to write if you want to include it. Or if it was the editors who insisted that authors include such things for marketing, or to try to draw in more PT fans, or whatever, then it was a dumb move and someone should have vetoed it.

    Yes, I have many opinions, would I be a SW fan if I didn't? :p

    I'm entirely sure that Yoda and Obi-Wan would have supported him - or, at the very least, sighed and thought to themselves that if the Force didn't guide Luke to include something they'd held dear, then it must not have been that important after all, oh well.

    But yes, in this story none of the characters are trying to pass any sort of sweeping judgement against the Jedi here. Not even Ronan and Nadira actually condemn the Jedi for the practice, only state the obvious: the families that gave up a child were never the same, and despite their own respect for the Jedi and dismay at seeing them wiped out, they were relieved that they'd never have to face that choice themselves. Luke and Mara, now, they're genuinely horrified at the revelation, because they didn't grow up thinking it was normal, like Ronan and Nadira's generation did, and because both of their lives were shaped and defined by the absence of their own parents, and it seems to them a terrible contradiction that the Jedi would inflict that upon anyone. And all of those views, including those of the Jedi who engaged in the practice, are entirely valid within the context of each person's knowledge and experiences. Such is life.

    She's her father's daughter, all right [face_love]

    Right? As Mira says, it's kind of amazing that she held out as long as she did :(

    He loves her so much, and he's trying so hard not to let on, and he brought her the good whiskey [face_love]

    Luke truly is wise and compassionate beyond his years. That's a huge part of what makes him a good candidate to found and lead a new Jedi Order [face_love] He also knows his sister pretty well :p

    Exactly. Her devotion was genuine, and that can't be changed. Which has to mess her up quite a bit once she realizes that everything she was devoted to was a lie.

    This is an excellent assessment of Mara's reaction, seriously. Logically, all the people who said she was unique and important seem to have lied to her. Emotionally - well, I imagine she's just starting to get past the pain of realizing that all the misery she went through for five years because of that last command was because at the end, Palpatine saw her as disposable (the bigger lie of, oh, her entire life is a much bigger mess that she'll be years unraveling), and now this. Even if she knew, intellectually, that she had siblings, I think that when she walked into the room and faced the emotional reality of that, it had to feel like a slap in the face.

    He's the best, Vi, he's just the best [face_love]

    He's so good at teasing her without actually irritating her [face_love]

    They have to keep up appearances, but everyone knows they secretly like each other :p

    She did say she might love him, Vi! Which brings up the question of whether that wording was entirely innocent on her part or if Mara isn't slipping a little bit too [face_batting]

    [face_batting]

    If he was trying hard not to let on how he felt even before her family showed up, because he was afraid it would be more than she could handle, how much more does he feel that he has to keep everything under wraps now? And yet not only does he want badly to comfort her, but here she is initiating a cuddle, this is a very difficult situation for the poor boy :p But however distressed she might be, is Mara likely to snuggle up with anyone else for comfort? She can't let herself think too much about it, but yeah, she's smitten :p

    Thank you, I'm so glad it worked :D

    It's one of my favorites too :D Luke is a nurturer like Beru, and I imagine Mara gets exasperated by it sometimes :p

    @Bel505
    She doesn't take nearly good enough care of herself, if you ask Luke :p

    @Mira_Jade
    This is good, since I probably wrote more words in the replies than I did in the chapter :p

    She does! Of course, she's never been part of a family before (Karrde's crew is the closest she's come, but she hadn't been with them for very long and she was still dealing with the last command business at the time, and not open to personal connections), so she doesn't entirely recognize it for what it is. But they've taken her in, all right [face_love]

    This is an exceedingly good point. As Emperor's Hand, it would have been considered a failing for her to need anyone's help, outside of the context of her in the role of commanding officer commandeering resources. This is a huge change, to have friends who are happy to offer support, and for her to be able to accept it.

    Yup, no way she managed to not think about it at all. If I were her, I would have been physically sick with nerves the whole week.

    Popped into my head as I was writing the scene :p But also, Mara's been trained to move so easily between different scenarios, and here's one where she's so lost that she doesn't even know what she should wear. She has no idea at all how to handle this situation, the poor girl.

    Leave it to Luke to notice that she's really not okay at all, and find a way to calm her down [face_love]

    Much is made of Luke and Mara's Force bond post-VotF, but honestly? I think they'd have wound up in much the same place if their relationship had developed at a more natural pace. They're extremely compatible, both very strong in the Force, he has extraordinary empathy, and she has a rare gift for telepathic communication. I think that between all of that, they'd have grown into a bond as strong as the one forged at Nirauan, given the chance.

    Thank you! :D

    lol, I do not require profound insights! (I mean, I love them, by all means throw them at me when you have them, but they're not required.) And I love knowing which parts stand out to a reader. :D This line hurt to write, but I can't imagine her mother doing anything else, or Mara reacting any other way =((

    Of course Luke would notice that she needed a push, and of course he'd find a way to do it without letting anyone else know [face_love]

    So much psychological complexity and trauma, Mira! And it's a trauma that's affected every individual differently, which affects how each of them is going to interact with the others. It was a challenge, but so satisfying to feel that I got it right.

    I truly hate it, myself, and completely agree with Luke's take on Jedi having families of their own. But also, I realized as I was thinking about this scene: Mara's parents aren't Force-sensitive, so they wouldn't know why she had been taken. Of course that would be one of the first things they'd want to know, why did he want her? What did he do to her? But unlike Luke, who had to have the Force itself explained to him by Ben, Ronan and Nadira are old enough to remember the Jedi. Since Mara was born two years after the establishment of the Empire, they were probably married just before the Republic fell. They saw the Clone Wars, and they're not only from Coruscant, but from the part where Dex's Diner was, so it likely wasn't all that far from the Temple itself. So when Luke explains that Palpatine took Mara because she's Force-sensitive, they're immediately going to think, "like a Jedi. She's like a Jedi, and she was taken the way the Jedi took children." Which gave me a great opportunity to write exactly what you say, an outside look on the practice, and on two different levels: a perspective from a generation that was familiar with the Jedi, and one from a generation that grew up among ignorance of and propaganda about them. I thought that was fascinating to explore.

    Exactly. We have historical proof that such a thing is possible - I always think of Hatshepsut, and how she was forgotten for almost three thousand years after her legacy was deliberately erased. Palpatine was trying to do the exact same thing, and he was in a position of supreme power, so he probably mostly succeeded. I'm very much in favor of Luke mostly putting together the new Order from bits and pieces of history he found, and from his own convictions and instincts. (Of course, this will be a lot easier in AUs like this where Mara is at his side from the beginning [face_batting] )

    It would be so much to deal with even for someone used to being more emotionally open than Mara. For Mara, it's kind of amazing she didn't have a straight out panic attack over this.

    I did tell Vi and Bel when I started this that I was attempting the impossible :p

    Just as she went to Luke almost before she'd even finished reading the initial communication [face_batting]

    A place where she can hide, think, and punch something all at the same time, how convenient :p

    He always knows what she needs, even if it's just quiet patience until she's ready to talk [face_love]

    He knows her so well [face_love]

    He's just the biggest sweetheart ever, Mira [face_love]

    [face_whistling] [face_batting]

    Exactly. She's immensely strong and resilient to have adapted to as much as she has already, but everyone has a breaking point. This feels very much like such a moment to her =((

    LOL :p

    And she's trying so hard, she really is =((

    Luke is essentially serving as an interpreter here, explaining family to Mara and explaining Mara to her family [face_thinking]

    It would be an extremely difficult mental shift for her to make, and I don't pretend for a moment in this fic that she's completely healed. She most definitely is not. But I always remember the moment in TLC where she realized that Luke was Vader's son and how the last command was a lie meant to use her as revenge against Vader as a touchstone for Mara's characterization: She realized, in the space of a heartbeat, the enormity of the lie, how it turned her whole reality upside down, and she instantly began to consciously fight against it. That tells me that Mara is ruthlessly honest with herself, even in traumatic matters where a lot of people would try to prevaricate or make excuses in order to avoid facing something painful, and she's able to make those readjustments very quickly. Again, it doesn't mean she completes the process that quickly, but she does begin it that quickly. So even though this is only six months post-TLC, between her own honesty and sense of integrity, and conversations she's surely had with Luke and his family (even if they weren't directly about this), and just observing them and other people and mentally reviewing her own life, I think it's realistic for Mara to face up to this truth. It still hurts, she's still angry, she's still dealing with the fallout, but she can see clearly enough to say that it was wrong. And of course Luke, sweetheart that he is, is protective of her and angry on her behalf. He's always protective of everyone, and Mara was hardly more than a baby when her abusive situation began, and he's also quite smitten.

    That still makes me sigh. Zahn created such a nuanced, complex, rewarding character in Mara, with so much amazing development yet to occur when TTT ends. The gift he essentially handed the authors who would follow him - and they just shoved her aside and gave her tiny cameos or tried to shove her out altogether. Shortsighted at best, stupidly egotistical at worst. But then I think, would I want the authors who followed Zahn handling such delicate matters, when they couldn't even get Mara's dang hair color right, or misunderstood her so far as to try to pair her off with Lando? And the answer is no, no I would not.

    So whatever, EU. I pick and choose what I accept from you, and I build my own sandcastle from the best grains I can glean. Canon is what I say it is.

    Like I told Vi, even if she knew that she had siblings, knowing that and seeing them with their parents while she's a stranger on the outside are entirely different things. She can see the resemblance, she can almost certainly feel the kinship through the Force, this isn't abstract anymore. These are her siblings, obviously her younger siblings, and there had to be a tiny voice in her head saying, "Oh. Palpatine said I was special, but he threw me away. My parents didn't want me to go, but they left me behind and had more children, and those children got to grow up in the family that was supposed to have been mine. Everyone who ever claimed to value me was lying." And yup, PAIN.

    Luke would be extremely happy to give her all the hugs, but right now she's only inviting smol cuddles, you must be patient, Mira :p

    She doesn't feel like she can possibly fit back into a normal family now. She left "normal" behind more than twenty years ago. Gosh, I wonder if that will come up again later... [face_whistling]

    So much emotional upheaval on all sides I love it so much there's so much pain to deal with it was so great to write I can't even tell you

    He does [face_love]

    They really are comfortable together [face_love]

    That's right, ALL THE L/M FEELS [face_love] After all, you notice that Mara hasn't admitted anything of the sort to Han or Leia... [face_batting]

    She does [face_batting]

    Literally laughed out loud. Yes, yes we do :p

    I like the Luke Zahn wrote, who was still very human and very aware of it, much more than the stoic super!Jedi Luke most of the other authors seemed to favor.

    Thank you! I can't wait to post more and imagine you reading it :p :D

    @mayo_durron_666
    It really is a lot. Good thing Luke is so steady and comforting [face_love]

    They'll get a little more time together in this story, and you never know what might come in the future :)

    Thank you! :D

    @ViariSkywalker
    Sadly true, every word of it :p
     
  21. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Registered:
    Nov 9, 2002
    Chapter Three




    The sunlight was streaming brightly through Luke’s windows when he opened the door for her late the next morning. “Hi,” he greeted her cheerfully. “Do you want to sauté the kibla greens or chop the sikoroot?”

    Mara frowned. “Is that a trick question?”

    Luke laughed. “Fine, you chop.”

    They spent the next couple of hours prepping and cooking—the latter being mostly Mara watching Luke cook, but she made up for it by setting the table—and Mara felt her nervousness ebb away until she was almost comfortable.

    Until the door chime sounded, of course.

    Luke had just set the platter of plaitfruit in the middle of the table, and he smiled, setting a hand on Mara’s shoulder and squeezing.

    “You’re enjoying this far too much,” Mara muttered. She felt vaguely queasy again, and wondered when and if the feeling would ever wear off.

    “I like them,” Luke said. “I really think you will too, once you get to know them. Why don’t you get the door while I get the ahrisa out of the oven?”

    Mara turned an alarmed gaze on him, but he was already heading back into the kitchen. She narrowed her eyes, then took a deep breath and went to open the door.

    Ronan and Nadira stood before her, practically radiating wary hope. Perhaps a bit more wariness than yesterday, after the way she’d stormed off. Guilt rose within her to mix uneasily with her nervousness, and Mara had to force herself to maintain eye contact. “Hi,” she said tentatively.

    “Mara,” Nadira said, giving her an equally tentative smile. She seemed about to say something else, then stopped. Next to her, Ronan watched the exchange carefully. Behind them, Nico stood with his arms folded, while Corissa was ignoring them all to examine the elaborately carved wooden walls of the hallway.

    “Hi,” Luke called, reentering the room with a large bowl, which he set beside the plaitfruit. “Come on in.”

    Mara stepped aside. Ronan and Nadira entered almost hesitantly, Nico giving Mara an unimpressed look as he followed them. A moment later, Corissa realized she’d been left behind, and stopped trailing her fingers along the swirls of the wall’s bas-relief to follow her family. “The walls smell,” she told Mara. “Smell nice, I mean.”

    “They’re fijisi wood,” Mara said, almost automatically. “It’s naturally fragrant. Carving it like that releases more of the scent.”

    “How do you know these things?” Corissa tilted her head to regard Mara curiously.

    Mara paused—honestly, she couldn’t remember when she’d learned that about fijisi wood. It had just been part of the background information of her life. “I grew up here,” she said, hoping that would be enough of an answer.

    “In the Palace?” Corissa’s eyes widened. The rest of the family turned at that, and once again everyone was looking at Mara. Her stomach felt like it was doing flips, and she hated it. She’d been raised to excel, to speak and act with confidence—she remembered suddenly that she’d been raised that way by the man who’d taken her literally from the arms of these people, and felt even guiltier than before.

    “Yes.” She closed the door, trying hard to think of what to say next.

    “You can set your bag on the couch, if you want,” Luke said from beside the table, where he was dishing up the food. Ronan, Mara noticed for the first time, was indeed carrying a largish crossbody bag. He followed Luke’s suggestion, then joined the rest of them at the table.

    “You can sit wherever you like,” Mara said, with a meaningful glance flicked at Luke. If he thought he was going to maneuver her into sitting between members of her family to force her to talk to them…

    Luke raised an eyebrow, but sent her a wave of reassurance as he pulled a chair out. “Mara?”

    She dutifully sat, Luke sliding the chair toward the table as she did so, then sitting beside her. Mara sighed silently in relief that she wouldn’t be flanked by strangers.

    It is critical that you be able to move through crowds of strangers as though you belong there. Her acting instructor’s stern expression was suddenly as vivid behind her eyes as his voice was in her mind. No matter the world, the city, the occasion, the social stratum. You must always blend in. The moment you stand out as uncomfortable is the moment your vulnerability becomes obvious to your enemies.

    Mara shook her head, inhaling sharply as she tried to banish the memory. Corissa, taking the chair on Mara’s other side, joined Luke in looking at her a little curiously. Mara ignored them both to focus on sipping her water and looking nonchalant.

    “So,” Luke said cheerfully. Mara debated with herself whether he was truly unaware of how uncomfortably the initial silence fell on everyone else, or whether he was just a good enough actor himself to appear so genuinely unconcerned. She was pretty sure both options were plausible. “What was it like growing up here on Coruscant? Because it was a huge culture shock for me when the New Republic government moved here. There are more people living in random neighborhoods here than on my whole homeworld.”

    A lengthy discussion on the differences between Coruscant and Tatooine followed, and Mara observed with affectionate amusement how Luke’s genuine interest sparked return enthusiasm from Ronan and Nadira’s initial tentativeness. Well, mostly Nadira. Despite the constant underlying focus from Nadira that Mara could sense directed at herself, it wasn’t long before she and Luke were chatting away as though they’d known each other forever. She’d seen Luke pull off the same sort of thing with countless beings before this—he had a way of putting people at ease that Mara admired for its sheer innateness; what was conscious work for her, he accomplished as naturally as breathing—and Nadira responded in much the same manner.

    Ronan, on the other hand, followed the conversation closely but much more quietly, interjecting the occasional comment and quick to supply answers when Nadira or Luke asked him anything, but otherwise content to observe rather than talk. Mara could respect that. You learned more by letting others talk at length than you ever did by monopolizing the conversation. Beside him, Nico sat silently. He caught her looking and narrowed his eyes slightly, and Mara looked away.

    They were discussing climate now, and Luke admitted that Tatooine was hot—infernally hot, Mara wanted to add—but declared that the lack of humidity made it more tolerable. Which was just a load of bantha poodoo, as far as Mara was concerned. Yes, she had experienced miserably hot and humid climates before, but Tatooine’s heat was still beyond oppressive. It wasn’t a matter of “tolerable”, it was that if you added humidity to that level of heat, the planet would be uninhabitable rather than merely torturous.

    Her skepticism clearly carried through the Force, because Luke’s gaze slid over toward her, his eyes laughing. She narrowed her own eyes at him, calling to mind her initial shock as she stepped off her ship and set foot on Tatooine for the first time only to be hit by a blast wave of hot, dry air that felt like it was baking her alive, and shoved that visceral memory at him. His amusement grew, and with a sudden twist of apprehension, she realized that he was about to draw her into the conversation. Don’t you dare.

    Caught up in the threat from one side, she completely missed the incoming attack from the other until it landed.

    “Do you ever talk?”

    Mara blinked, and turned toward Corissa, whose amber brown eyes were intent and assessing and entirely focused on her.

    “Corissa!” Nadira almost hissed the word.

    “I think you’ve got another introvert, Mom,” Corissa said, undeterred. “Like Nico.”

    Nico glared at her. “Shut up, Cor.”

    “That’s something you both got from Dad,” Corissa informed Mara. “If Mom and I weren’t around, they’d probably never talk at all.”

    “Corissa,” Ronan said.

    Corissa shrugged elaborately. “Someone has to explain this family to her, and none of you are doing it.”

    Luke laughed. “She’s a lot like you,” he said, actually elbowing Mara. She’d get him for that one. “If, you know, you were an extrovert.”

    “So does she talk, then?” Corissa now addressed herself to Luke.

    “Oh, sure,” Luke assured her. “If she’s got something to say, nothing in the galaxy will stop her. But she’s quiet until you get to know her. And definitely not a small talk sort of person.”

    “Luke, shut up,” Mara muttered.

    “See, just like Nico,” Corissa pronounced smugly. Mara momentarily wanted to throttle her, then wondered suddenly if that was how ordinary people felt about younger siblings. The thought startled her, and she settled a little more firmly into her seat and poked her kibla greens with her fork rather than meet anyone’s eyes.

    Even without looking, though, she could sense Luke’s smile as he easily kept the conversation going without her. “Mara’s the oldest, isn’t she? So how old are you two?”

    “Twenty-two,” Nico answered after a brief pause.

    “Eighteen,” came Corissa’s voice, more brightly.

    “At eighteen I wanted to join the Imperial Academy,” Luke commented, still cheerful. He really was enjoying this. Mara was torn between gratitude for his willingness to play mediator and irritation that she needed such a thing in the first place. She’d managed any number of conversations more fraught than this, with far more dangerous people, when she was still years younger than Corissa. Why was she so useless now? “And by twenty-two I was with the Rebellion. Wound up flying after all, just by a different path than I’d expected. What are you two planning to do?”

    Mara glanced up at that, curiosity piqued despite herself. All she knew so far of Nico and Corissa was that Nico was apparently an introvert and that Corissa decidedly wasn’t. Who were they, these siblings she’d never so much as imagined?

    “I’m enrolled in an engineering academy,” Nico answered. “I’d like to go into starship design, eventually.” He looked over at Mara. “Had to take an emergency leave for this week. Middle of the semester.”

    Was he blaming her for that? Ronan frowned slightly at Nico, who averted his gaze from Mara in response.

    Beside her, Corissa, also looking at Nico, sighed before adding, “And I’m studying the performing arts, with an emphasis on dance.”

    Mara blinked, and Luke looked at her so expectantly that she felt obligated to speak. “I used to dance.”

    “You’re still a good dancer,” Luke said. “You know all the dances at those monthly galas we keep getting dragged to.”

    “Monthly galas?” Nadira asked.

    “Big parties the government throws that are mostly just politics with a more civilized shell,” Luke said, making a face. “My sister usually insists I attend, and Mara actually is a government official now, so it’s kind of a loose requirement for her.”

    Mara shrugged. “They’re not my favorite thing, but the wine’s usually good, anyway. And there is the dancing. I used to—” She hesitated for a moment. How could she begin to explain all that being the Emperor’s Hand had entailed? Did she even want to? “—I was taught dancing when I was younger, but I don’t have much time for it now.”

    “You go to these galas together?” Corissa asked politely, but there was an almost hidden spark of amusement beneath the question.

    “Well,” Mara said, feeling suddenly self-conscious. “We’re usually both there, and we’re usually both bored, so we generally go hide on a balcony or something.”

    Nico snorted under his breath, and Nadira smiled at her. Mara wasn’t at all sure she liked these reactions.

    “Unless Mara’s teaching me to dance, of course,” Luke said, smoothing things over as always. “It’s not something I ever had cause to learn, but nowadays it’s a useful skill, and like I said, Mara’s good at it. You should see her sometime.”

    Ronan smiled. It was a nice smile, Mara thought. “My mother was a dance teacher,” he said. “I can’t hold a rhythm to save my life, but she would be proud to see my girls carrying on the tradition.”

    His mother—that would be her grandmother, Mara thought. It was a silly thing to think. Everyone had grandmothers; it was a simple biological necessity. Just because she hadn’t known her own grandparents didn’t mean she hadn’t had them.

    A grandmother. Who had danced. Who would be proud of her for doing the same.

    Mara had been barely fifteen the first time she’d been assigned to act as a court dancer, she remembered. She had taken it deathly seriously, as she had all of her training. There had never been any childish joy, no flowing pastel-colored skirts set flying with a cheerful twirl, no recitals where parents or grandparents sat proudly in the audience. Instead there had been a costume she recognized in hindsight as far too skimpy for the child she had been, and an audience of haughty Imperial socialites who thought the dancers far beneath their notice, and officers who leered when they thought their wives weren’t looking.

    Then there had been her time at Jabba’s Palace, where light as dim as an eclipse was hazy with dust and where the air smelled of filth and sweat and fear, where she had come within a hair’s breadth of committing cold-blooded murder. There were nights, now, when the memory of Luke’s face in the sights of her blaster jolted her from sleep, drenched in sweat and with bile rising in her throat, when even reaching out through the Force to reassure herself that he was here, alive, in the Palace, wasn’t enough to let her sleep again, and she would lie stiffly in bed until dawn came, waiting for the light of day when reality would be more solid than her memories and she could breathe almost cleanly and go to work and meet Luke after and no longer think about how her hands had almost been stained with his blood.

    The last time she had danced, before Coruscant and the galas she’d initially been reluctant to attend, had been a brief stay on some backwater planet in the Inner Rim, a couple of years before meeting Karrde. She’d been desperate for credits, and there were cantinas at least slightly more respectable than Jabba’s that were hiring dancers. The job had lasted all of a week before she’d broken the arm of the owner’s son for groping her backstage. The entirety of her wages had gone toward passage offworld—she hadn’t even asked the destination, simply bought the cheapest ticket available on the first departing flight, barely an hour afterward, before the owner could find her and call local security down on her—and she’d been left no better off than before.

    Nothing in any of that for anyone to be proud of.

    She tried to smile back at Ronan, felt herself fail miserably, and looked back down at her plate instead.

    “Of course, dancing is far from Mara’s only skill,” Luke added. “She’s proven to be an excellent diplomat and negotiator as liaison for the Smugglers’ Alliance, and I can attest to her own piloting ability.” He smiled at her, then added, “And didn’t you say you’d worked as a hyperdrive mechanic for a while?”

    Their burst of shock flared so clearly through the Force in response that Luke turned his own gaze to Ronan and Nadira at the same time as Mara did. Nico and Corissa both looked at Mara, then at their parents.

    “Did you say—” Ronan swallowed. “Mara, you’re a hyperdrive mechanic?”

    “Not—not now,” Mara said, a little warily. “I have been.”

    Nadira’s green eyes shone as she laid a hand on Ronan’s arm. “That’s what your father does, Mara. We have a small shop back on Contruum. Your father is the head mechanic, and I handle the accounting.”

    “Oh,” was all Mara could think of to say. Absurdly, her mind flashed back to that moment on Wayland when she’d discovered that Luke was Vader’s son, and the feeling that reality itself was shifting around her. She’d already spent so much time over the past six months trying to sort out who she was outside of the role for which Palpatine had so assiduously groomed her; now it seemed that half of who she was had been inherited from her family, rather than originating with herself. What about her was her own?

    A tendril of concern differentiated itself from the other emotion in the room, rising within her perception like a wisp of smoke from a banked fire. I’m fine, she thought at the concern as she poked at her food again, her unsettled stomach rebelling at the idea of actually eating any of it. Which really wasn’t fair. She’d become very fond of ahrisa since Luke had introduced her to it a few months ago. She carefully took a bite of kibla greens, trying to ignore everyone’s eyes on her and hoping she could at least keep the food down if she ate slowly and deliberately enough.

    Luke’s concern didn’t diminish, exactly, but she could sense him pushing it deeper within himself where it would be less distracting to her. He replaced it with a mental caress of encouragement, smiling reassuringly at her even as he addressed himself to the others. “She fits right in, doesn’t she? How long have you had the shop?”

    Again she could sense Ronan and Nadira’s interest focused on her despite the ongoing conversation, but Luke—bless him, how would she ever have done this without him—soon had Ronan deep in discussion about hyperdrive engines and the insides of X-wings and even the vaporators that Luke had grown up fixing, and Mara could breathe a little easier.

    A little. Beside her, Corissa was a vision of courteous attention to the discussion at hand, but her awareness was still clearly attuned to her rather than Luke and Ronan. She was someone to watch, Mara thought. Bright, self-confident, sharply observant. She would have been a formidable opponent, had Mara come across her on any of her previous missions.

    Across the table, Nico was putting on a show of indifference that contrasted sharply with Corissa’s polite attentiveness, but a low-level hostility simmered beneath the surface. And like the interest of the rest of his family, that hostility was directed toward Mara.

    She didn’t know what to make of that. She understood why the others were interested in her, even if that interest made her feel like a specimen under a microscope. She didn’t know why Nico would dislike her so specifically, when they’d never even met. She didn’t like the feeling. At all.

    And since when had she ever cared about being liked or disliked? When had she ever been reduced to awkward silences under anyone’s scrutiny? When had she ever been unable to carry on an ordinary conversation?

    But then, when had there ever been such a personal connection between her and anyone else? She came from these people, had inherited talents and abilities and personality traits and red hair and green eyes and—

    Mara ate her ahrisa without tasting it, deeply uneasy, wondering why it mattered. There had been a time when she knew herself to be alone in the galaxy, save for Palpatine, and she’d been content with that. She’d considered even friendship an unnecessary luxury, never mind family.

    Her thoughts on friendship had been slowly changing over the last year, first with Karrde, then with Luke. They’d crept through and around all the shields she’d built like durasteel around herself, into her mind and heart until one day she was surprised to realize that they were her friends, and not a luxury, but a necessity, a part of herself that would hurt immensely to lose. That acknowledged vulnerability still scared her sometimes, but the imagined pain of their hypothetical loss paled in comparison to what their friendship, so freely offered to one who’d begun by scorning it, added to her life. The warmth, the companionship, the surprisingly fulfilling knowledge that someone cared about her—not just respected her abilities or valued her service, but cared about her. The unexpected way her heart sometimes swelled with affection in return. The way these strange developments had tentatively expanded to begin to include others: Leia, Han, Winter, Chewie. Maybe even Aves and Chin and Lando. And there were more people even than that who she genuinely liked, even if she didn’t consider them friends yet.

    But those people—her friends, and the friends of those friends—had become important to her gradually, through both life-altering experiences like fighting at their side for a cause greater than them all and much more mundane things like conversations over a cup of caf, or sharing a dance.

    These people—her family—had connections to her that she had never had any conscious part in forming. She was fundamentally part of their lives in a way beyond her control, in a way that could never be altered or severed.

    And it terrified her.

    She didn’t love them, the way Luke and his family so obviously and deeply loved each other. She didn’t feel comfortable with them. Luke thought that could change. Luke wanted that to change, wanted her to have what he had. Ronan and Nadira desperately wished for her to somehow return their love; that much was blindingly obvious. But how did that even work? How did you decide to love someone? Did you have a choice in the matter? What if you didn’t love someone you were supposed to love? What if you did?

    The conversation had moved on without her again; Luke was now talking about how the youth of Anchorhead had congregated at Tosche Station. “When we weren’t racing, of course,” he added.

    Nico perked up for the first time. “You raced?”

    “Here we go,” Corissa muttered, quietly enough that Mara doubted any of the others heard it.

    She glanced sideways; Corissa caught the glance, looked pointedly at Nico and Luke with eyebrows raised, returned her gaze to Mara, then rolled her eyes. Mara found herself smothering the reflexive smile that threatened to escape.

    “Landspeeders,” Luke said, pouring himself another glass of water. “Through Beggar’s Canyon, usually. It wasn’t the smartest thing we could have done, to be honest.” He grinned, suddenly and irrepressibly. “It was a lot of fun, though.”

    “I like swoop racing,” Nico said. “Haven’t actually done it myself, though.”

    “For which I am eternally thankful,” Nadira interjected. “Swoops are hardly safe.”

    “An overpowered engine with a seat,” Luke agreed. “But they do make for an exciting race spectacle.”

    “I hear there are some good swoop courses on Coruscant.” Nico cut off a bite of ahrisa with a bit more force than necessary. “Not that we’ll be seeing any.”

    Nadira turned a frown on him, while Ronan looked down at his plate, his lips pressed into a tight line. Mara glanced at Luke, who met her eyes before saying casually, “There’s definitely too much to Coruscant to be seen in a week’s time, but I’m sure you’ll be back for another visit before long, and we could arrange to see a race or two. My brother-in-law could probably rattle off the best courses without stopping to think. But we did assume that you might want to do something beyond the Palace while you were here.”

    “Leia got us all tickets to the ballet tonight,” Mara explained, a little hesitantly. “If you want to go.”

    Corissa held up a hand. “The Coruscant ballet? We have tickets for the Coruscant ballet? Are you kidding me?”

    Again Mara narrowly escaped smiling. “Box seats.”

    “That’s very kind of you,” Ronan said, glancing at Corissa. From his expression, Mara guessed he was torn between trying to hush Corissa and wanting to indulge her in something she wanted this badly. “But we couldn’t accept such an expensive gift.”

    Dad—” Corissa began.

    “We don’t have any clothes for something that formal, anyway,” Nadira said worriedly.

    Luke smiled. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re indebted to Mara; this is a very small thing to provide for her family. And Leia took care of the clothes thing. She arranged to have some tailors bring options to your quarters a few hours before the ballet starts. The clothes are yours to keep, of course.”

    “We accept,” Corissa said, eyes shining.

    Corissa,” Ronan and Nadira said in practiced unison.

    “Who’s Leia?” Nico asked, taking another bite of flatbread.

    “My sister,” Luke said. “Leia Organa Solo.”

    Now Ronan and Nadira turned wide eyes on Luke. “Councilor Leia Organa Solo?” Nadira asked faintly. “The princess of Alderaan?”

    “That’s her,” Luke said, calmly finishing off his chunk of plaitfuit. Rather annoyingly, Mara had never yet seen nerves or anything else diminish his appetite. “Like I said, we’re indebted to Mara. Anyway, Leia loves arranging this sort of thing. It really wasn’t any trouble.”

    Nico eyed Luke with interest. “I thought you said you were from Tatooine. How is the princess of Alderaan your sister?”

    “And how are you indebted to Mara?” Corissa added, tilting her head and examining Mara as though she were a complicated dance move Corissa needed to decipher.

    “We’re twins,” Luke explained, setting down his fork. “Our father was a Jedi Knight; his master hid us away separately when we were born, so we could escape the Purge. We found each other during the war. As for our debt to Mara—”

    “It’s not a big deal,” Mara said hurriedly.

    “Yeah, if she doesn’t think it’s a big deal, that means it is,” Corissa declared. “I definitely need to hear this now.”

    “Corissa,” Ronan hissed under his breath.

    “During Grand Admiral Thrawn’s campaign,” Luke began, “one of his allies was Joruus C’baoth, the clone of a late Jedi Master. You probably read about him in the news reports after Thrawn’s defeat.”

    Ronan and Nadira nodded. Mara wondered briefly which reports they’d read. They clearly knew that Luke had saved her life during the final battle, but a lot of the information about the Wayland mission had been censored by the NR government, and some of the news reports she’d seen had borne little resemblance to the truth. Nico was now watching Luke intently. Corissa was listening to Luke but still watching her. She lifted an eyebrow as she caught Mara’s eye; Mara turned her own gaze determinedly down at her plate.

    “C’baoth was—not entirely sane,” Luke continued, and Mara had to suppress the urge to roll her eyes at his understatement. “He wanted to take my sister’s twins to—well, mold them in his image, essentially. Thrawn sent a commando team into the Palace to kidnap them, and Mara was the one who first saw and identified the commando team, and then was instrumental in stopping the kidnapping attempt. She almost certainly saved the lives not only of the twins, but also of my sister and brother-in-law and my sister’s primary aide. You can see how we’d be more than happy to help Mara and her own family as repayment.”

    Mara could feel everyone’s eyes on her now. She concentrated on keeping her breath even as she halfheartedly rearranged the meal before her with her fork.

    “Mara,” Nadira breathed, and Mara could hear the edge of tears in her voice. She shoved her food around with a little more force, refusing to look up.

    “I’m—very proud of you, Mara,” Ronan said, his voice also thick with emotion.

    Proud. Luke and Leia and Han were all genuinely grateful; Mara knew that. But proud? Had anyone ever said that they were proud of her before? Mara didn’t think so. “Thanks,” she muttered.

    “Not bad,” Nico allowed.

    “It’s a little bit more than that, Nico,” Corissa said, irritation plain in her voice.

    “The point of all of this,” Mara said, still looking at her plate, “is that Leia didn’t mind arranging the ballet thing for you. So you might as well go if you want to.”

    “We’re going,” Corissa said firmly. “We wouldn’t want to offend Councilor Organa Solo, right, Mom? Right, Dad?”

    There was a longish silence—it probably felt longer than it was, Mara knew, but it felt like an eternity to her—then Ronan said, “In that case, we accept. Please be sure to thank the Councilor for us.”

    “Oh, you’ll get the chance to do that yourselves,” Luke said, scooping up the last bite from his plate. “You’re all invited over to her place for dinner tomorrow night.”

    “For dinner—” Nadira was sounding faint again.

    “It’s really not as grand as you’re thinking,” Mara surprised herself by saying, risking a glance upward.

    “It’s really not,” Luke agreed. “Don’t wear your ballet stuff. You’ll almost certainly be asked to hold a baby at some point during the night, and you don’t want spit-up on those clothes.”

    “I—” Nadira looked at Ronan, then back at Luke. “I don’t know what to say. This is generous beyond words, all of it. I hope you don’t think we were expecting anything of the sort.”

    Luke smiled warmly at her. “Of course not. Truly, don’t think anything of it. Mara is very important to us. We were all thrilled to hear from you, and it’s our pleasure to host you this week.”

    Everyone but herself had been thrilled, anyway. Mara didn’t correct his polite lie.

    “And speaking of being a good host,” Luke declared, pushing his chair back. “Since everyone’s done eating, Nico, Corissa, why don’t you come down to the hangar with me? It’s not a swoop course, but I can show you my X-wing, and the Millennium Falcon.”

    Mara glanced across the table at Ronan and Nadira, then at Luke beside her, and her breath caught. They’d planned this, the three of them. Or rather, Luke must have. Yesterday, after she’d stormed out of her office, leaving them together. She should have seen it coming. Skywalker—

    Luke stood, ignoring her mental plea though she knew perfectly well he’d heard her. “Mara, don’t you dare start cleaning up; I’ll take care of it when I get back. There’s caf in the kitchen if you three want it. Mara knows where everything is.”

    Corissa sighed softly as she stood; if her earlier exasperation at the discussion of racing was any indication, the prospect of inspecting ships with Luke and Nico was far from thrilling. Her lack of protest all but confirmed that this was prearranged.

    “Is it true that the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs?” Nico asked with what appeared to be genuine interest as they followed Luke to the door.

    “So Han says,” Luke answered. “I guarantee he’ll be thrilled to tell you all about it—”

    The door shut behind them, cutting off his voice, and Mara was left alone with Ronan and Nadira. Her chest felt so tight with sudden anxiety that it hurt to breathe. The silence sat awkwardly for a stretched-out moment before Mara could bring herself to ask, “Did you want the caf?”

    “That would be nice,” Nadira said, smiling hesitantly at her. “Can I help you get it?”

    After her time working as a serving girl, Mara could have carried three mugs while sleepwalking, but of course there was only one polite answer she could give. “Sure.”

    Nadira followed her to the kitchen, where Mara discovered that Luke had already brewed the caf—confirmation, if she’d needed any, that he’d set her up. In a haze of apprehension—don’t be so stupid, it’s only caf and conversation, nothing to get so worked up about—Mara got the mugs out and poured the caf, then allowed Nadira to take two mugs and followed her back to the living area.

    Ronan was already seated on the couch, opening the bag that he’d brought. He looked up to smile at Nadira as she handed him one mug, then smiled at Mara too, as she seated herself on the chair beside the couch. He took a sip of caf, then set the mug on the side table. “There are some things that we thought you might like.”

    “We didn’t dare take the time to pack much when we left Coruscant,” Nadira told her, setting her own mug down. “But we took some of your favorite things with us. We still thought we could find some way to get you back—” Her voice caught, but she forced a smile and continued. “Or maybe we just couldn’t face the alternative.”

    Ronan reached over to squeeze Nadira’s hand, then took out a small plush bantha and handed it to her. She caressed it lovingly before passing it to Mara, her eyes shining with unshed tears. Mara set her mug down as well, and took the bantha. Jaina and Jacen, as young as they still were, had a small menagerie of plush animals like this. Mara had seen them many times, but didn’t think she’d ever actually held one.

    “That was your favorite toy when you were little,” Nadira said. “You slept with it every night. I worried for years about how you were sleeping without it.”

    “You called it Banta,” Ronan added. “It was as close as you could come to saying ‘bantha’ when we first got it for you.”

    Mara kept her eyes on the little fuzzy bantha on her lap, carefully tracing its horns with a fingertip. She had, in fact, been scolded repeatedly for climbing out of bed when she was small, instead of going right to sleep the way her first nursemaid told her that a child who was properly thankful for the Emperor’s good grace would do. She could no longer remember why it was that she had braved the nursemaid’s wrath. Was she looking for her parents, or this toy? Or was it perhaps as simple as an active small child not being sleepy as early as her guardian thought she should be?

    She didn’t know. She doubted that she ever would.

    “I don’t remember her,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

    The sudden lift in Ronan and Nadira’s emotions made Mara look up. “Maybe you don’t remember everything about her,” Nadira said, smiling more genuinely at her now. “But you always insisted that Banta was a girl.”

    “Oh.” Mara looked back at the toy, at a loss for words. Why had she said “she” instead of “it”? Some long-buried memory, or was she just subconsciously picking up on details in her parents’ thoughts through the Force?

    “You can have her back, if you want her,” Ronan told her, his voice soft.

    What a ridiculous idea, a grown woman holding on to an old toy out of sentimentality. The Emperor would have— No, Mara thought viciously. What Palpatine would have thought or done had no power over her now, and certainly not in regard to the family and life he’d stolen her from. She was her own person now, making her own decisions.

    “You’ve held on to her for so long,” Mara said, her voice steady, betraying nothing of the emotions churning within her. Was that something to be proud of or dismayed by? “Don’t you want to keep her?”

    “We will if you don’t want her,” Nadira said. Her voice wasn’t quite as steady as Mara’s own. “But she’s yours. She always seemed—sad, after you were gone. I suppose that’s a silly notion.”

    As though a bit of fabric and stuffing could be sad. It was just anthropomorphism and projection, a way for Nadira to cope with her own grief. Nevertheless, Mara stroked the little bantha before setting it very gently down beside her on the chair. “I’ll keep her. Thank you.”

    Ronan smiled brightly at her—a rarity, Mara suddenly realized. He’d been mostly solemn before. She wondered if that was just wariness over the bizarre situation they found themselves in, or the introversion Corissa said that she and Nico had inherited from him.

    She was distracted from that line of thought as he pulled a silvery toy starship from the bag and handed it to her. “A Mon Cal star cruiser,” Mara said, turning it over and feeling the smooth lines typical of Mon Calamari shipbuilding.

    “That’s my girl,” Ronan said, his sense overflowing with pride, as though she was still a precocious three-year-old instead of an adult who knew perfectly well what a Mon Cal star cruiser looked like.

    It was kind of a nice feeling, though.

    “No sharp edges on Mon Cal ships,” Nadira said. “And big enough that you couldn’t choke on it.”

    Mara tilted her head, confused. “How would I choke on a toy?”

    Nadira smiled at her, the kind of smile that hid a laugh. “All small children put things in their mouths, Mara. I think it’s a universal thing, regardless of species. You can’t give a toddler a toy small enough to swallow, because they probably will.”

    Her puzzlement must have shown, because Ronan asked, very cautiously, “Did you ever have—friends, when you were a child, Mara? Playmates?”

    She shook her head, her rejection of the concept so ingrained as to be automatic. “My days were pretty full with studies.”

    Nadira’s smile faded, replaced with growing distress. “But surely you at least had toys?”

    “I had a falling-star dome once,” Mara said, her voice sounding distant in her own ears. “I took it apart to see what made the star streaks.”

    “That sounds about right,” Ronan said, starting to smile again. “We used to have to be careful to keep anything mechanical out of your reach. You couldn’t always take them apart at that age, but you tried.”

    “What did you do when I did?” Mara asked, suddenly desperate for the answer.

    Ronan’s forehead furrowed. “What do you mean?”

    “Mara,” Nadira said softly, worry rising behind her eyes. “What happened to you when you took that dome apart?”

    Mara looked back to the star cruiser she still held, following its organic lines with her gaze. “I got into trouble. A lot of trouble.”

    Their fear spiked in the Force, causing a metallic tang to echo in Mara’s mind, like the coppery taste of blood. She shouldn’t have asked that question, she knew she shouldn’t have asked…

    “We—a couple of times you managed to disassemble things you shouldn’t have,” Ronan said, his voice an impressive veneer of calm over the depth of his fear. “But that was our fault, for leaving them down. We didn’t get upset with you, Mara.”

    “We used to joke that you would be a mechanic like your father, with your penchant for taking things apart,” Nadira added. Her veneer of calm wasn’t quite so good, but she kept it from edging into panic, and Mara was grateful. It was hard enough to explain her childhood to Luke, or even to herself sometimes. Trying to explain it to her parents was proving to be practically impossible.

    “You just needed to learn to put them back together again,” Ronan said, old amusement coloring the words despite his worry. An answering amusement rose in Nadira’s sense, as though this was the punchline to their old joke. Maybe it was.

    Nadira reached out to place her hand gently on Mara’s, and Mara went still as a stone beneath the impulse to shake her off. “No one beat me or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking,” she said. Wouldn’t want to damage me before I got old enough to be useful.

    “All right,” Nadira said softly. The fear receded a little, but only a little. Clearly they still suspected that she was hiding terrible things from them, but didn’t want to push her after yesterday’s snapped composure.

    If Luke’s reactions over the past six months when the subject of her childhood had come up were any indication, she was hiding terrible things from them. Why had they never seemed terrible before? Why had she always assumed that her lonely childhood, bereft of family or friends or toys and instead filled with endless lessons on spycraft and combat, was acceptable? Had Palpatine truly warped her to such an extent, or was it some flaw inherent to her? Was she even capable of resuming what others thought of as normality?

    Ronan lifted a bundle of blue and yellow from his bag, distracting Mara before her own panic could truly rise. Nadira took the folded square from him, smiling genuinely again. “My mother made this for you before you were born, Mara.”

    She held it out, and Mara set the star cruiser down to take it from her, setting it on her lap and unfolding it. It was an intricately knitted miniature blanket, with yellow starbursts against a dark blue background. “It’s beautiful.” She looked up. With her lap overflowing with the remnants of her forgotten childhood, somehow the hope in Ronan and Nadira’s eyes didn’t seem quite as daunting. “Is—is she still alive?”

    Nadira smiled, but sadly. “She died when you were two. I’m sorry, Mara.”

    “Oh.” Mara let her eyes drop to the blanket. “What about your father? Or—” She looked up again, focusing on Ronan. “Your parents?”

    “My parents died before you were born,” Ronan said gently. “Your mother’s father died when you were still a baby.”

    “And your father and I are both only children,” Nadira added, just as gently. “Our family was always a small one.”

    Smaller yet after their firstborn was stolen. That had been entirely Palpatine’s doing, so why did Mara now feel guilty over it?

    “But we do have some holos, if you want to see them,” Ronan said, his voice still soft as he pulled an album from the bag.

    Mara's answer came before her thoughts caught up with her, and surprised her even as she spoke the words. “Yes, please.”
     
  22. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Registered:
    Aug 31, 2004
    I love the 'domesticity' of Luke and Mara preparing lunch [face_mischief]

    I adore the personalities you've given Mara's family. =D= Corissa is unabashedly outspoken and extraverted. Nico... perhaps he's feeling a bit of the discomfort Luke mentioned because of feeling like his place in the family has been disrupted.

    Mara's thoughts about friendship and family, and what of herself is truly hers is understandable. In RL we are all mixtures of our family's traits and hobbies, etc. [face_thinking]

    I love how Luke put everyone at ease. I can just BET Mara was past irritated at being set up like that, but the time with Nadira and Ronan went very sweetly with the mementos of childhood.

    A very poignant heart-tugging question about loving or not when it comes to family.

    The situation is very unique, but love and intimacy amongst family is a choice and should become easier over time. [face_thinking]
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2021
  23. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
  24. Bel505

    Bel505 Jedi Grand Master star 2

    Registered:
    Jul 4, 2006
    The number of these lessons that Mara has bouncing around inside her head must be enormous. She was trained to be a chameleon—to be able to dominate a room with a command presence, and to blend in as decoration. She had to be able to be anyone and everyone at any time. It's got to be both confusing and leave her unable to relax often. Luckily, she can relax in Luke's presence—which is hilarious, when you consider the circumstances—but when there are other people around she's going to have this intense pressure to be aware. The same kind of thing nearly killed her with the combination of exhaustion and Vornskr on Myrkr.

    And again. Mara needs to be in control all the time. When she's with other people, she's not in control. With Luke that's okay, because she knows and understands him—even if she thinks he's naive and not a little bit silly—but with other people she is used to being used and using others. That's how she was trained, after all. So she's always looking for ulterior motives, or the catch. Put that on top of her complete absence of familial love post-Palpatine's kidnapping her, and she's got her professional instincts and an absence of personal instincts in this situation.

    All of us learn by observation. At this point, Mara's personal experience with familial love is seeing Jaina and Jacen with the Solos. And that's all.

    It's no wonder she has no idea what to do.

    Banta <3

    This is an opportune moment for a particular comment, but I'll save it for the end of the story. For now, I just need to find a reason for Luke to give Mara a stuffed Bantha in Interregnum...
     
  25. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Force Ghost star 4

    Registered:
    Aug 9, 2002
    Yep, somehow I get the feeling she knew what she was doing... sort of. A little bit. [face_batting] (These crazy kids. :p)

    I literally laughed out loud at this. Poor boy indeed. [face_laugh]

    I so relate to Mara here. In fact, I kinda feel like I've had almost this exact conversation before. [face_thinking] [face_laugh]

    On the one hand, her absolute control and poise have always been a point of pride, a mark of her accomplishment and position and prestige. On the other hand, how much of that is the result of the training she endured, the things Palpatine wanted her to learn to be his perfect little tool? This moment, where she feels frustration at not maintaining her control, at not being calm and centered around these people, her family, and the guilt that she feels because of that... just very well done.

    I like this mini flashback to her training. Definitely seems like something that would pop up now, after having been drilled into her over the years.

    I really like these observations about her parents, and Luke as well. I especially liked what she noticed about Ronan; it's so interesting seeing Mara interact with someone who is like her in so many ways, but who never had any special training, who wasn't part of the Rebellion or any military (as far as we know), who wasn't an intelligence agent or Force adept or soldier. Because obviously by now Mara has met people who are similar to her in personality and competence, but pretty much her entire social and professional circles consist of ex-military or military-adjacent people. Luke and Leia and Han are down-to-earth, but they were still part of the Rebellion, and Han was a smuggler before that. We're used to seeing highly competent people in those circles. But what happens when someone like Mara is raised in an average family and leads an average life? Do we get someone like Ronan? (Or Nico, if we're considering all of the introverts in her family.) Idk, I just think that's really interesting to ponder. [face_thinking]

    "Oh my God, it's like standing on the sun!"

    That never gets old. :p

    [face_laugh]

    I do enjoy Corissa's assessment of the entire family dynamic. :p

    This sassy youngster. :p

    I love that Luke and Corissa so quickly establish a rapport while Mara sits there brooding. [face_mischief]

    On one level this is funny because Mara is realizing something that those of us with siblings have already experienced many times. On another level, this is low-key horrifying when you realize Mara has likely been trained to kill this way. [face_plain]

    GIMME ALL THE FANCY DRESSES, GABRIIIII.

    This girl catches on pretty quick, doesn't she? [face_batting]

    This reflection simultaneously broke my heart and creeped me right out. Leering officers, eugh.

    Oh, Mara. =(( Excellent prose here; I could feel the momentum gathering throughout this whole sentence, echoing Mara's panic and fear, and how she's unable to fully reassure herself until she's actually seen Luke in person. So well done, babe.

    =((

    Good description and comparison here to how her whole world shifted with that Vader reveal. And it makes sense to me that Mara would react this way to learning more about her family. Sometimes it's a comfort to know the ways we're like our parents and siblings, but it can also make you wonder if there's anything special about you. What separates you from anyone else in your family? What makes you unique? For someone who was raised to believe she was special - and who then suddenly realized she wasn't, at least not in Palpatine's eyes - this could actually feel like further proof that she's not unique, at all. And I feel like I basically just repeated everything you wrote in the narrative, but yeah. I liked it. :p

    Mara's reflections on her developing friendships was so well done here. This is exactly how she should have been portrayed post-TTT. [face_love]

    Those are some really weighty and excellent questions, and ones that even people who grew up with their families and led relatively normal childhoods find themselves asking at times. [face_thinking]

    Hmm, someone's got a chip on his shoulder... o_O

    I know I've mentioned it to you before, but Luke's "the clothes thing" always makes me think of Ben's "this dance thing", and omigosh, even though Ben is definitely Mara's son, sometimes he's so like Luke, and I love it. [face_love]

    lolol I love this part. :D

    I will never get tired of reading all the different scenarios in which Luke and/or Leia reveal to people that they are twins. Fanfic is so great. [face_love]

    LOL YEP. [face_laugh]

    As someone who once felt it was her mission in life to rescue all the stuffed animals from all the stores, (and as a mom of four kids who have quite the collection of plush toys) this whole section with Banta and the mention of Jaina and Jacen's menagerie really resonates with me. [face_love] :p

    =(( =(( =((

    She remembers! (Hey, it's something!) I really loved this detail.

    I feel so bad for her having to fight that conditioning, but it also speaks to her resolve that she squashes that insidious whisper and lays a claim to this small part of her former life.

    LOVED THIS. I've definitely projected emotions onto a plush toy or two (or fifty), so this made so much sense to me. And again, I'm glad to see Mara taking back this piece of her childhood. It might not seem like much, but even this small bit of acceptance is an important step toward building a relationship with her family.

    Still one of my favorite lines and favorite parts of this story, right here. I was already connecting with Ronan before this because hello, quiet introvert who clearly loves his family and whose presence is felt even when he doesn't say much - but this right here just slammed me directly in the feels. (And I've teared up every time I read it.)

    Excellent details here, with Mara's reflex to pull away that she intentionally resists. She doesn't want to hurt Nadira, but everything is still so strange and awkward and painful. And then Mara's sardonic thought here was just so sad. And imagine being Nadira and finding out your precious baby was raised without love and treated like the tool she was shaped into? Even though she doesn't have the full picture, what she does know has to hurt deep down in her bones. =((

    And there's the question that I think anyone raised as she was would inevitably face: am I warped because I was made that way, or was I chosen for this because I was already warped? :(

    Atta girl, Mara. You've got to start somewhere. [face_love]