Mara Jade is entirely what people think she is.
She is cold and ruthless, unkind and brash and everything they fought against.
She is - was a smuggler, a traitor, a killer, a liar – Mara Jade was Emperor’s Hand.
(The darkness clouds her senses and the shadows whisper Mara…Mara… Come here. Come home.
And some nights it takes everything for her to shut them out, breatheinbreatheout, you are not that person anymore, remember what you have learned.
And some nights she looks at him, at blonde hair and tan skin, and wants to plunge a dagger right into his beating heart. Killhimkillhimkillhim Mara, it is your destiny.
And some nights he looks at her, infinitely understanding, and puts a comforting arm around her shoulder. He murmurs into her hair and she melts into his embrace the way it feels she was meant to and all is right for that one, fleeting moment.
But they not friends, not lovers, merely acquaintances, Mara breathe.)
Luke seems to have no problem with that and she thinks it’s all a tiny bit ridiculous, because how in the galaxy can one person be so… nice? How can one person be smart enough to escape death at her hand (numerous times, amazingly) yet be so naïve at the same time? She was trying to kill him for ages, Force almighty, he can’t just befriend her and be nice to her and not want to kill her back at least a little – right?
Farmboy is a paradox in more ways than one.
She’s standing in front of her ship in the docking bay, ready to board – Captain Han Solo of the Falcon is currently somewhere inside the engines connecting some wires or something along the lines. Mara doesn’t even want to know. All she wants is for him to hurry the hell up, because Coruscant traffic is horrible as it is, and getting caught in the afternoon rush really isn’t on her to-do list.
(“I told you, Highness, I don’t do foreign ship repairs!”
“Oh, please,” Leia Organa shoots back. “The only reason you don’t is because you think you can’t do it!”
“That’s what you think?” he gives an indignant scoff, glares all the way down at her. Mara suspects that by the age of fifty –how old is he, anyway?– his neck will be permanently bent. “Why can’t someone else do it? Why the hell me? I’m a private citizen!”
“I’m sorry I even asked!” Leia rants on, completely ignoring him. “Of course my nerf-herder of a husband can’t possibly –“
“I’ll show you can’t! Give me that–” he rips the toolbox out of Threepio’s hands and narrows his eyes. “And find Chewie!” He tips his invisible hat and gives her a fabricated smile, the type Mara’s come to associate with Leia getting her way, “Princess.”
He stalks off miserably, muttering under his breath; when the ships innards slowly swallow him and the sound of muffled tinkering fills the room, Leia calls out: “I love you!”
“I know,” is his annoyed reply.
Leia’s tiny grin almost makes her look Not Terrifying. Mara’s never been more bemused in her life.)
“Here,” Leia says to her with her Princess In Charge Voice and shoves holopads into her hands. “Add these to the rest and take them to Karrde. Tell him to get back to me as soon as possible. Please and thank you,” she adds as an afterthought.
“Sure thing, sir,” Mara replies and if her hands weren’t so full, she’d mock salute.
The princess, despite her flaring temper, always manages to amuse her. How someone who’s at least half a foot shorter than any given person in the room can be so bossy, she doesn’t know. It’s an admirable trait, if nothing else – it’s like she was born for the front lines.
Leia inspects her carefully while Mara stores the ‘pads into one of the boxes at the side. “What’re these?” she asks Leia, who only shrugs.
“Intel,” she replies. “Nothing too important, but I wouldn’t deliberately lose them if I were you.”
“You know me,” Mara says. “I never fail.”
(Killhimkillhimkillhim Mara, or be killed.)
“You better not,” Leia threatens playfully, eyes sparkling. “Or else.”
Mara grins. “I’ll do my best. I wouldn’t wanna face the wrath of Leia Organa.”
“Oh yeah,” Leia laughs. “Fear me. Today Jaina told me I was the worst mama ever for not waking her up on time for holotoons.”
“Damn those holotoons,” Mara agrees gravely and nods her head. “But she’ll get around, don’t worry.”
“I know, I know,” Leia swats her hands in the air in a dismissive motion. “They always do.”
“Eight-year-olds seem to have a thing for theatrics,” she continues. “My eight-year-old specifically. Do you know how hard it is to get them to bed? They’re hyperactive, I swear on the Force. It’s like they’re not even human.”
“They’re Force sensitive,” Mara says. “I was like that too when I was younger.”
Leia freezes in the spot, then, just for a moment, because Mara doesn’t speak of her childhood.
She doesn’t comment either.
(Mara is glad that, unlike her husband, Leia does possess some tact.)
“That’s what I get, I guess,” she sighs, albeit fondly. “But they’re little scoundrels, I can’t deny it.”
“With their father being the king of them,” Mara shrugs, “I’m not surprised.”
“What about you?” Leia asks. “Any scoundrels you got your eye on?”
Mara scoffs. “Please,” she says. “As if.”
“Of course,” Leia rolls her eyes. “I forgot. You and Luke have a thing.”
Mara’s head shoots up. “What thing?”
She moves the boxes to the side, leans against the side of the ship.
“You know,” Leia rolls her eyes. “That.”
“No, I don’t actually,” Mara replies. Her collar feels awfully tight against her throat right now. “Do enlighten me.”
“Mara,” Leia groans. She cocks her head to the side, sets her lips into a straight line; the Princess is getting impatient, it seems. “I know all about this ridiculous play-pretend.”
“There is no ‘play-pretend’, Leia,” Mara air-quotes, her voice a bit too shrill for her liking. “We’re friends.”
“I know that,” Leia insists. “It’s just that – look, I know you and I know my brother. And I know when people are being idiots and you two are being idiots right now.”
Mara narrows her eyes, voice icing over. “I suggest you mind your own business.”
“That’s exactly what I mean!” Leia counters. “Every time someone tries to get closer to you, you shut them out! I know what it’s like. I understand, Mara. I understand what it’s like to feel the need to shut everyone else out and –“
She looks around and says quietly, in that gentle soothing voice of hers that makes you want to reveal all of your secrets to her: “It’s not worth it. You’ll end up wasting so many years and denying yourself something that’s so precious to you and it’s just – he’s forgiven you, Mara.”
Mara recoils. Leia’s brown eyes fill with something like pity and maybe even regret. I am sorry my father’s Empire has done this to you, I am sorry you turned out this way. Mara will not be anyone’s charity case.
“Forgiven me for what, exactly?” she snaps, her temper flaring. “What have I done that’s not up to your liking this time –“
“You know what,” Leia glares and her voice could cut through steel. “I can’t believe after all these years, Mara, you still get these episodes. After everything we’ve been through, after all the things that happened, you still don’t –” she growls a little under her breath, clenches her fists. She stays like that for a moment, then she breathes deep through her nose, the Jedi calming techniques Luke’s shown her.
She opens her eyes, brown and brilliant and so knowing Mara wants to look away. “Luke’s forgiven you, we’ve forgiven you, everyone’s forgiven you.”
And then, in a horrifying moment of truth, she says: “Everyone except yourself.”
“Y-you don’t get to say this to me,” Mara splutters, cold dread clawing at her insides. “You don’t get to –“
“Then I want you to stop hurting him,” Leia concludes, perfectly pulled together, the way a senator should be. “Or get over yourself and grow up.”
He deserves better.
“I…“ Mara’s voice dies in her throat. “I can’t do this right now.”
With a thousand thoughts swirling in her head, Mara heads for the exit, turning around so abruptly she must’ve hit Leia in the face with her hair – she needs to go somewhere, anywhere, just away from here.
Luke deserves better than her. Luke deserves someone kind and forgiving and someone that’s just – not her. Luke deserves the entire goddamn galaxy served to him on a silver platter and she can’t give him that.
It doesn’t matter what she wants – not right now, not when the weight of the world is on his bare shoulders. He doesn’t need her; he needs someone stable and nice and lovely and everything she isn’t.
In times like this she hates the Emperor and Vader and the entire goddamn Empire with a passion that burns deep in her bones and makes her sick, because they made her this way; they did this to her.
(Breatheinbreatheout Mara, remember what you have learned.)
These Jedi people and their teachings and wisdoms and – they’ve no idea what it’s like. They have no idea what it’s like to want something as much as she wanted the Emperor’s approval, no idea what it’s like to spend decades upon decades being used as nothing but a replaceable tool, no idea what it’s like to wake up in the morning with years-old blood on their hands and guilt gnawing at their heart and screaming, so much screaming.
(And the darkness still calls to her Mara… Come back. Come home. In moments like these she wonders why she doesn’t.)
The lightsaber clipped to her belt feels exceptionally heavy right now.
The space she’s in is quiet, the buzz of her ships engine far away; looks like a hallway, but she doesn’t know where it leads to. It stretches on and on into darkness and the farther she goes, the darker it gets. It’s a fitting coincidence, she thinks; she ran from Leia and the light into the darkness, as she always does.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” a voice says, faux-scolding. “And shield your thoughts. They’re quite loud.”
She senses something –or someone, rather– behind her, their presence not nearly as dark as she remembers it to be, but still there, lurking. She draws a sharp breath.
“My lord,” she says and shuts her eyes tight. “I heard you did that sometimes.”
There’s an amused edge to his voice.
(Strangely warm, a stark contrast to what she had known.)
“Appear at the most inopportune moments,” she forces herself to turn around and face him.
He gives a friendly chuckle and pulls the sand-colored hood off his head. He’s surprisingly handsome, she realizes, but he doesn’t look that much like Luke; not as much as they said he does anyway.
Luke has soft, sun-bleached hair while the top of this man’s head is adorned by darker messy curls; Luke has gentle, loving eyes while this man’s eyes are clouded and dark, a ‘saber scar dissecting his eyelid and – Luke isn’t as tall either. Luke isn’t built to intimidate, but Vader is.
“Inopportune moment?” Vader questions, his mouth quirking up in a half-smile. “You called on me, Mara.”
Her face remains impassive. “I did no such thing.”
“I’m pretty sure you did,” he replies, leans against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here.”
She clenches her fists, exhales through her nose. “Now is not the time.”
“Is it Luke?”
Her blood runs hot, boils in her veins – “You have no right,” she more or less growls, glaring at him in a futile attempt of intimidation.
He doesn’t react. “Fair enough,” he agrees easily and lifts his hands up in defeat.
They’re both silent after that. Just like that.
(If you had told her two years ago she’d be sitting with Luke Skywalker’s dead father –who happened to be her arch enemy back in her assassin days– in some remote corner hiding from Luke Skywalker’s sister, she would’ve pulled her blaster on you.)
“I don’t like you,” she says, because the silence is too loud. “I hate you, actually. I hate the Emperor, too. And I hate the Empire and I hate everything it stood for and everything it made me do and I hate – loathe myself for doing it.”
“I understand,” he says quietly and she thinks that maybe he does. There’s something in his stormy eyes, certain sincerity – the kind that comes with first-hand experience. His presence is soothing in a way she doesn’t entirely understand; maybe it’s because he’s Vader and has no right to judge but maybe it’s because he’s a ghost and dead and no one can hear her and maybe she’s only imagining him being here after all.
She says: “You did horrible things. You hurt and tortured and killed people and then you and your Empire forced me to do it too and – It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I get to live the rest of my life knowing I did all of that and wanted to do it for a while. I wanted the Emperor’s approval. I wanted to take your place and – and – I don’t even know what I wanted to achieve with that. It’s like I wasn’t thinking. It’s like I wasn’t even me.” Her shoulders curve inwards and she looks down. “I was so power-hungry and brainwashed I forgot I was even a person, you know?”
There is a moment, in the silence, during which she realizes she’s spilling her entire soul out to a virtual stranger she’s never had a civilized encounter with, save the few times they glowered at each other over a dinner table. But she can’t stop now.
“It’s not fair to Luke either,” she blurts and he raises an eyebrow. “Luke deserves so much better. Luke deserves someone who isn’t – me. Luke deserves someone nice and caring and someone who wouldn't try to murder him, because some ugly corpse said so and –“
She kicks a scrap piece of metal at the wall and collapses against it, buries her head in her hands.
“You give really crap advice, you know that, Vader?” she peeks through her fingers and her mouth curves. “You’re just standing there.”
“You have to forgive yourself, Mara,” he says after a while, not reaching out to comfort her in any way. She’s glad. “It’s time to move on.”
She considers his words, lets them sink in. She then says: “Have you?”
His mouth sets into a grim line. “We’re different, Mara. I chose to do what I did.”
“And I didn’t?”
She sounds as defeated as she looks; he shakes his head. “It was kill or be killed, Mara. It’s different now. You’re not that person anymore. They’ve given you a second chance; don’t waste it.”
Don’t waste it.
When she turns her head to look at him, he’s not there anymore.
(“Mara?” Luke shouts, his footsteps growing louder as he nears her. “Are you there?”
She replies shakily: “Y-yeah, I am.”
He halts. “What happened? I heard some voices. Are you okay?”
A slow grin stretches across her face at the sight of him, tousled hair and all. “I’m…surprisingly alright, actually. Don’t worry your pretty little head about me.”
She stands up, dusts herself off, puts on a brave face. She looks at him –I just had a conversation with his father; should I say something?– and decides: “Race you to the docking bay!”
“Wait, wha –”
He laughs when she runs past him and catches up with her way too soon.
“You – cheated,” she pants and he grins at her delightedly, gathering all the light of the galaxy in his eyes.
“Did not,” he sticks his tongue out. “I would never.”
She smirks. “I had no idea they teach you how to run on farms. You’re full of surprises.”
When his eyes fall to her lips and his arm wraps around her waist, he murmurs, so close she can almost taste him: “I guess I am.”
She considers it, considers what would happen if she just kissed him, if she just let it happen but – not right now. Not like this, when her head is spinning and she’s not thinking straight and she has a mission to take care of, damnit, she’ll do this properly or not at all. So she grins and pecks his cheek and pokes his side. He yelps and grabs her hand, keeping her away.
“You’re different,” he quips, inspecting her curiously. “You look the same as you did this morning but – you’re different.”
“Huh,” Mara says and pushes off him. “I guess I am. But hey, so are you!” She glares at him. “Cheating is not the Jedi way. ”
He giggles, and it’s a sound that should not be coming out of the mouth of a man who blew up a sodden Death Star, so she laughs.)
(Her robes are golden yellow and her hair is adorned by lilies and there is sunlight peeking through his hair, and he’s grinning so wide she feels as though all the stars were aligned and she was someone else, someone deserving and maybe she is, now, when he is smiling so. Maybe she is that person now.
His robes are green and the color does not clash with her hair, thank the maker, Threepio’d said – and somewhere in the whitewhite room, the scent of flowers in the air, the words I do resounding so clearly everyone in the galaxy heard them – stands Anakin Skywalker.
He is there, in plain light, and she wonders if anyone else can see him. He smiles at her, and this time she is not taken aback by how different he is to who he used to be, because she understands the darkness and knows what it does to people. She understands what it means to fall and break free of the shadows and your own monsters. Through the Force, she hears a pleased: I see you’ve taken my advice. She returns: Don’t get too cocky now, old man, but she cannot help the grin.
He looks at Jaina and Jacen and Anakin, balancing napkins on their faces and giggling, and to Han and Leia, laughing at their little ones, and then to Luke, ray of sunshine that he is, and then back to her – at last, he lets his gaze rest on her for a long moment and it looks as though the storm in his eyes is clearing, serenity washing over him in the Force. He bows his head in silent gratitude and doesn’t need to speak in order for her to understand.
Her eyes sting against her own will. And like all those years ago, when she lifts her head to look at him, he’s gone.)