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Power Lust: Lust for Revenge

Part 5


Chapter 20: Saving Mara

For the longest of moments, Luke stared, speechless, at the ominous silhouette of his father as he stood at the foot of Mara's bed. The darn monster had set to work with Mara, too! But he was catching him red-handed this time, and he wouldn't let him change her the way he had the others! He wouldn't---- "You! Get away from her!" he exploded as he hurried at his lover's side; he purposefully interposed his presence between the two of them even as his hand hitched for his lightsaber, which he had yet to recover. "Haven't you done enough already? Leave her alone! She's mine!"

"'Yours', son? 'Yours'?" the Dark Lord repeated coldly before he leaned forward to tower over the defiant youth. "She isn't a 'thing' to own," he stated, his voice suddenly filled with cold fury.

"Not mine to own, then, but yours to play with?!" Luke countered with animosity. "Like you did with everyone else?"

Vader reared back to his fully-standing posture. "What nonsense are you talking about?" he rumbled, clenching his hands around his belt as he did so.

Luke instantly saw red and took a step closer to the hulking man. "What 'nonsense'? What about Han? Leia? Kyp? What have you done to them? And what have you already done to Mara, too?"

"Luke," Mara tried to intervene.

"People happen to make choices and change, son, even if this displeases you."

The young Jedi growled lowly in his throat and meant to physically pounce on his tormentor of a father--- when Mara's free hand latched onto his closest arm and jerked him back to her side.

"Luke," she told him firmly. "Look at me."

"No!" he struggled against her hold; she countered his movement by twisting his arm just enough to cut through his strength. "Mara, you don't understand! He's brainwashed everyone, has changed them into people who serve his purpose and now he'll do it with you and I, too! I can't let that--- ah!"

She had pulled a little harder than necessary on his already twisted arm. "Luke, stop! It's madness. Look at me."

In front of him, Vader didn't move at all, much to Luke's damn.

The monster was going to deny everything, damn---- He was suddenly whirled around when Mara let go of his hand and gripped him by the front of his shirt.

"'Look' at me," she ordered him, locking her emerald green eyes with his distraught blue eyes. "Vader didn't do anything to me; 'I' asked him to grant me a moment of his time. As for this morning... It was my doing only, not his." She averted his gaze for a moment.

Luke's anger and hatred fled from him the moment that he saw the regret in her eyes. What? Her doing? But... "Why?" he asked, his voice cracking from all his buried pain.

Mara took a deep breath,... another one, and then sadly looked back up at him. She had yet to release his shirt, but her grip on it had somewhat loosened. "I'm sorry, Luke... I thought that it was the only way to spare you more pain... I... I was wrong..." She took another deep breath to gather her courage. "I wanted to save you from the pain of losing me soon, so... I tried to make you stop loving me." She searched his tear-filled eyes with hers. "I'm sorry, Luke... but even that word is too small a word to truly express how horrible I feel about my even thinking about such a cruel plan... I can see now that I was terribly wrong and that I hurt both you and Jemma worse than I ever have before... Please, forgive me. I love you so much... both of you..."

Luke was speechless. She had tried to make him turn his back to her because she had wanted to save him the pain of her loss? And she loved him still? She even loved Jemma, too? Unable to formulate any coherent thought, Luke gave way to his profound relief and enlaced her into an embrace of reunion.

"Oh, Mara," he half whispered as she held him to her with her free hand and arm. "Don't you know that nothing will ever separate us? I won't let anyone take you from me, I promise." He squeezed his eyes in relief and fresh tears spilled down his cheeks. "I love you so much... Please, don't ever do that again. Just talk to me and we'll always work things out."

She nodded against his chest. "I will... because you'll teach me, right?"

Luke sighed in weariness and relief. "Yes," he half-whispered as he kissed the crown of her head. "Yes, we will work on this together."

Now he understood that he had been wrong about Mara and Vader while Cilghal had been right. Mara had been highly imbalanced by the pregnancy hormones and had taken a rash decision of her own 'free' will; his father had not had anything to do with it at all.

The Dark Lord also seemed to have talked some sense into his lover since she was now apologizing and coming back on her decision since the Mara Luke remembered would have been 'way' too proud to ever do this, at least not after only twelve hours of making the initial decision to ditch him.

He held her closer to him, resting his cheek against her short hair and drawing strength from her loving presence. He hadn't lost her; he hadn't lost her 'yet'. "We'll find a way to save you, Mara. I give you my word on this."

She smiled sadly. "Oh, Luke... I want to be with you and Jemma; I want to be a family with you. So much..." She tilted her head up toward him at that.

Luke met her earnest gaze, and then turned his gaze toward the calm figure of Vader who hadn't moved an iota from his initial position at the foot of her bed. Had his father truly talked with Mara? Had he helped her see the mistake of her initial reaction? Had he also changed his mind about her fate?

It was time to find out what the Dark Lord had in mind for her.

"She's the only person I have left, Father," he said beseechingly to the tall black-clad man. "Please, save her. I can't lose her, too."

His father tilted his helmeted head to the left as he straightened up somewhat. "What do you mean? Leia, Han, and your students are all well and safe."

Luke noticed a trace of animosity in his father's voice, or was it annoyance? He shrugged inwardly as he let go of his close embrace with Mara yet kept her in the crook of his arm. Luke threw a side-glance at her and noticed that she was looking at Vader, her lips pressed thinly together.

Was she trying to understand Vader's reaction? He wondered before he spoke again. "It's true that everyone is alive," he began glumly, "but they are not the people I used to know. They have changed, and I am not sure that I like what they have become. I..." He locked his gaze with his father's. "I thought that you had done something to them... but I was wrong. I'm sorry."

Vader nodded easily. "No offence taken."

"However," Luke added quickly, "I do know for certain that I don't want to become like them. I don't want to be a highness, a lord, or any other aristocratic figure, or even someone I won't recognize as myself after a while. Heck, I'm not even sure that I still want to be a Jedi Master anymore... I'm no master, anyway," he grumbled, humbled by the past year of his life. No, he agreed with himself, he was not a Master Jedi yet because he still had 'much' to learn. Besides, he snorted at himself, he was still too bad tempered to be considered a wise man. "The only thing I'm sure of is that I want to be with Mara and to raise Jemma in a place where we'll be able to lead a simple and quiet life, where my daughter can have a normal life. There won't be anymore struggles for power from either me or Mara, I promise." He exchanged a glance with his lover, and then let go of her to step closer to his still silent father. "Please? Help me save Mara?"

The Dark Lord tilted his head once again. "'Help' you or 'save' her?" He inquired pointedly.

Luke frowned in confusion. "That's the same thing."

"No, son," the Dark Lord minutely shook his head. "If you want me to help you, I'll simply arrange for you to meet with Jade's lawyer while all the documents related to her trial will be made available to you."

"That's not what I mean, Father," Luke growled with returning animosity. Even though he was ready to make peace with his father, the older man simply missed the whole point of his plea. Damn, he swore inwardly, why did Vader have to approach 'everything' in his cryptic/cool-headed way. "Just let her go, please."

Vader visibly stiffened at his plea and dropped his hands from his belt. "Impossible."

Luke understood that the other had fallen back on the defensive and scoffed in disdain at his father's heartless take on this very personal situation. "Since when is anything impossible to 'you'? Besides, you're the emperor. You only have to..."

"To what? bend the law?" Vader offered surly, leaning forward to once again loom over him. "I can't."

Luke sighed in worsening irritation. "Why not? We will behave from now on; we'll stay away from politics, military, Jedi, anything but our personal family. You can still trust me, can't you?"

Vader sighed heavily. "I'd like not to, but unfortunately I do."

Luke frowned at him. "Unfortunately?"

"Yes. Despite everything that happened, I can still trust you. However, whatever your claims are, you too have also changed, my son, and I don't like it in the least."

The young man sneered in derision. "My 'love' changed me, nothing else... but I forget," he went on, his voice taking on a cutting edge as his irritation kept growing by leaps and bounds, "you don't know what love is about, do you, Father? You did say so yourself on many occasions so it's really no wonder that you perceive the changes it brought into me as unnatural."

"Luke..." Mara tried to cut in, but Luke just shook his head.

"No," Vader replied calmly. "My lack of love is not in question here, son. However, your selfish and irresponsible attitudes - which are unnatural for you - 'are' in question, and 'those' I know very well, indeed."

"Selfish and irresponsible attitudes?!" Luke sputtered in indignation. Of all the insults his father had ever thrown at him... "How can I be either of those when I'm only trying to save my 'family'!" He was now really beginning to lose whatever control he had left on his anger, yet he didn't care. He simply couldn't understand how his father could treat him like... like a pure stranger with no connection whatsoever with him.

Or worse, like a damn 'kid'.

"What you're trying to do," said Vader, "is to force my hand into breaking the law without any regard for consequences. You also plan to discard your students for a quiet family life in the same time, and 'that' is selfish and irresponsible."

Luke snorted at his words. "The students will understand and agree with me."

"I'm not so sure about the latest, though I can imagine the former. However," Vader interrupted himself, "this is irrelevant because Jade will face the trial to the end and that's final."

Luke stared at him incredulously. "How can you... So I really mean nothing to you?!"

"It is childish of you to throw a tantrum only because I've refused to grant you your irresponsible whim," stated Vader.

Luke glared daggers at his father. "Stop it! I'm not a child, and don't you dare call my desire to happiness a whim! It's the only thing I've ever asked in my entire life, the only thing I've ever really wanted for myself, yet you'd stand by and do nothing to prevent its abrupt ending?? It would be 'so' easy for you to just grant me my wish..."

"Hence destroy everything I worked for all this years," the Dark Lord stated, some emotion sneaking into his voice at last. "I am not Palpatine, Son. I am not 'the' Law; I am the Law's 'protector'. As such, I can't break it, not for myself, not for anyone."

"But---"

"I agree with him, Luke," Mara's firm voice cut in.

Luke whirled around and stared at her in disbelief.

She looked back, her face hard. "He is right; I must face my trial as would anyone else in my position."

"No, he isn't right!" the Jedi argued with her. "You deserve to live!"

She shook her head in disagreement. "I 'want' to live, but I really don't deserve it because no amount of changing can ever make up for the past. There's too much blood to be forgotten."

The youth snorted angrily at her comment. "Ah, you forget that they managed to forget the blood that 'he' spilled." He pointed a derogatory thumb back at the Dark Lord of the Sith.

"It's not about 'them', Luke," Mara countered before Vader could reply to his son's open provocation. "It's about 'me'! 'I' can't forget it. I can't forgive myself, yet I also want it to be over and done with---

"And it will be once you are free," he retorted earnestly and turned back toward his father. "No one needs to know. Please. You're my father, do it for me..."

The Dark Lord hooked his thumbs back in his belt. "So you openly refuse the responsibilities of being a prince, yet you 'do' claim its privileges." Vader's voice was cold as he watched Luke step closer to him at the new insult. "Like a spoiled child, indeed."

The two of them glared at each other for a moment. Luke was near boiling point, the previous moment of peace doing nothing but fuel his emerging anger and hatred of this man... this Dark Lord of the Sith who dared judged him and control his life anyway he could.

As if to prove him right, Vader shook his head in negation. "No," he stated with finality. "I will not give in to your puerile attitude."

"Then I'll force you!"

Luke's forward movement was lightning fast even without the assistance of the Force, and Vader's lightsaber was suddenly in the Jedi's hands even as the youth jumped back and out of the Dark Lord's reach. He then turned on the weapon and aimed it at the Sith's chest. "Promise me that you'll release her!"

Vader, who remained silent, stepped closer to his child, his gaze locked on Luke's eyes.

A rapturous madness was rising in them, like a storm cloud... an all-too-familiar storm. Even though the Force was blocked from the room, he knew extremely well what was suddenly happening in his son's mind as he had had front-row experiences of it on more than one occasion.

The rush, the feeling of incredible power and freedom as all the restraints seemingly fell down as if they had been burned away by his anger and the true and only Dark Side. The trill of his true personality unwrapping itself...

In such a dangerously intoxicating state, nothing seemed impossible, and nothing was immoral for moral didn't exist anymore.

'Nothing is as important as my own desires,' Luke told himself with firm, one-track minded conviction. "Don't move!" he warned Vader sharply, steadily waving the crimson blade to raise it to his father's throat level. "Or I'll... I'll kill you."

Fire was literally burning into Luke's chest, a cold yet strong fire that whispered unsung promises to him.

Promises he was finally willing to listen to.

'See what you've made of yourself,' Vader silently called to Luke, taking another step in his direction. 'Wake up, Son. I know you can. You must. Or nothing will be important anymore.' He kept his gaze locked on his son's feverish eyes. 'Wake up, my son.'

"I'm not joking!" Luke threatened, taking a step forward and forcing his father to back a step. "I'll strike you down - you're not my father anyway for what father would torment his own son so!"

'Yes,' Luke thought, his arms moving the sword already as he prepared a killing blow, 'what father would hate me so, say such things! He'll die, and no-one will be sorry because he is nothing but a vile murderer. Then, we will run away - myself, Jemma and Mara---'

As he thought of his wife, he shot a brief glance in his back and discovered that she was looking at him, a shocked expression disfiguring her beautiful features.

He refocused on his nemesis and dismissed her horror from his mind. 'She will understand,' he reassured himself. 'I'm doing this for her anyway, and we will be happy, and anyone - anyone - who will try to go against us - I'll kill. Han, Leia, Cilghal - anyone, because love is most important thing, right?'

Yes, he answered himself, his love for her was the most important thing in the universe and anyone who didn't agree with him would die.

They were not worthy of living anyway.

'Right?' his still dubious self inquired to his stronger, rising darker side.

The inner darkness rose his head further and gave him a feral grin---

And Luke physically recoiled with horror from this - his own! - distorted face --- and the reality of his words and actions fell on him like a torrent of cold water.

It was such an unreal scene, Mara reflected with what she had left of a functioning brain. The rest of it was simply frozen still by the sight of a mad-eyed Luke swinging the red blade on the dark form of his father. She watched, both fascinated and horrified beyond words.

She was frozen in the movement she had initiated when Luke had made a move on the Dark Lord, her hand still immobile in mid-reach; she simply wasn't able to even move it because she couldn't believe that was really happening.

Not Luke... he couldn't... wouldn't...

Then, without warning, the red blade suddenly switched off and Luke reeled backward before he dropped the weapon and fell on his knees.

She watched him, still stupefied and more than a little confused, as he slowly looked up at his father, his cheeks glistening with newly-shed tears while his face was a pure, horrible mask of self-directed horror.

Her heart clenched at this, yet she also breathed deeply in relief as she saw that his eyes were once again clear - obviously shocked and horrified to the utmost, but still his own.

He was back to himself, she sighed in relief; he was back to being the gentle-eyed man for whom she had fallen for, more than a year ago...

She sighed again, the tension dissipating from her body and leaving her spent.

Her left hand hurt like hell, she noticed dimly while she kept looking at Luke's face. She dimly reasoned that she might have tugged too strongly on the securely-locked manacle.

"Luke Skywalker," the Sith Lord's voice rumbled, betraying none of the emotions that he might have felt a second before, "meet the Dark Side of Luke Skywalker. Do you like what you saw?"

"..."

"It's also you, my son."

Luke's eyes opened wide in fear. "No! ...don't want!..."

The Dark Lord nodded regally. "Glad to hear it."

"Don't want..." Luke muttered, wrapping his arms around his midsection before he started rocking back and forth.

He was in shock! She realized even as she reflexively lunged to jump off the bed to go to his side--- but was held short by her still cuffed hand. "Ah..." she groaned, and then extended her right arm to try and reach Luke.

She then felt the Dark Lord's gaze focus back on her --- and then a sudden freedom of her left hand as he touched a button at the foot of her bed; he had released her from her cuff!

She barely managed to retain her balance before she rolled from the bed and wrapped Luke in her embrace. Reflexively welcoming her presence around him, her husband closed his eyes and surrendered completely, burying his head in her shoulder as he wept for all his worth.

She silently kissed the top of his head, rocked him a little as he continued to cry in misery and shame. She remained silent to allow him to compose himself at his pace. As she did so, she gazed up at the still silent Vader as he bent down and retrieved his lightsaber from the floor where Luke had dropped it.

Even though he didn't say a word, she understood that he was weary, and very much so. Strange, she mused, he wasn't supposed to have any human weakness, and yet...

And yet she had 'seen' his hurt when Luke had said that she was the only person he had left. At least, she had thought that he had looked hurt, but, of course, there was always the possibility that she was reading too much into his body's expressions.

Still, her... father-in-law - there was just no way around that fact now - was looking at his son with a very unique composure that even his mask seemed to express... was it sadness?

She sighed in resignation for what she had to say next. "Charge this attack on me as well," she said.

"What?" he sounded as if she awakened him from his thoughts.

"The attack. Luke tried to kill you and that's high treason. Put it on me. After all, one more, one less..."

"Don't be ridiculous," said Vader.

"Well, that's the law," she smirked.

"I provoked him," the Sith stated, "and this was the wished outcome. High treason law doesn't apply to practical psychotherapy."

His bitter humor startled her. "Why?" she asked, confused.

He understood her meaning. "I once promised him that I would never let him to to the Dark Side, and he was going there. You saw it."

"Yes," Mara admitted although she wasn't convinced by his reasoning. "But...wasn't it too extreme a medicine?"

"He was too far gone for anything else to work. You don't seem to realize the extent of the danger."

"I 'know' what the Dark Side is like, believe me," she retorted firmly.

Vader nodded. "You do, but your personality is not destroyed by it, nor is mine. We may overstep the borders but we'll never lose ourselves completely. Luke's personality, however, is steeped in the Light. Hence, were he to surrender to the darkness - and it's so easy to do so when it's speaking through your purest emotions..."

Memories of the previous encounter came back to her and she shuddered.

“Yes," he answered, having noticed her reaction. "Luke would have disappeared- and what would have taken his place... I do not know how to qualify."

"A monster," Luke roughly whispered as he partly unfolded himself from her embrace; he looked up at his father. "No other word for it. Would you have killed me if I fallen completely? If I had become it? Would you?"

Vader stilled completely.

"Father?" Luke's gaze was intense and pleading, but, Mara wondered, for which answer was he hoping for?

"Yes," said Vader finally. "I would have. Eventually."

Luke smiled a little. "Thank you."

Mara, for her part, could but stare at the Dark Lord. Was he lying? Would he have really been able to kill his own son?

"I still don't understand how it happened, though," whispered Luke. "I just can't see when I made a mistake."

"When you place your own desires above everything," shrugged Vader. "It's like a written invitation for any monster to come in."

"But how can love..."

"Luke," Mara said firmly, looking into his eyes, "are you sure that it was love you were feeling? You were possessive, overprotective, and even blind to the truth of my reality and desires."

Luke blinked, surprised. "Mara..."

"Either you accept me as I am - guilty of everything I've been accused of - or ... I don't want to see you ever again."

Luke looked at her - dishevelled, harsh and pleading at the same time - so heartbreakingly beautiful. "I don't care if you're guilty or not," he answered earnestly, "I can only love you. I can't judge you."

She smiled and pecked his lips in a chaste kiss of reconciliation. "Now, that's my Luke. I love you too."

"Does your offer to help me still stand, Father?" Luke turned to Vader again. "Or have I..."

"Yes, it still stands and I'll help you. However, the trial will still continue to the end of the judgment."

"Fine with me," Mara replied. "And with you", she looked at Luke intently, warning him not to try anything else on her behalf.

"I still don't like it at all," he said. "But I don't have any other choice, do I?"

"Nope," she smiled, "you don't." She suddenly yawned deeply. "Sorry. Guess it's the after-reaction to all the stress you just put us through."

Luke pecked her cheek in repentance, and then turned back toward his watching father. "Father..., may I..." Luke hesitated.

Vader chuckled and moved to leave. "Yes, you may stay for the night. I'll order another bed to be brought in. However, the guards will remain outside."

"Thank you. We won't do anything stupid."

"The ysalamiri's cage can't be moved and it is in a force-field that can't be turned off from here. There is also another guard posts with cameras in the corridor, not to mention the alarm on the door."

"Honestly, father." Luke glared at him. Truce or not, Vader's patronizing attitude was really pushing his buttons sometimes.

"Well, after all that happened, how can I predict what act you may consider as intelligent?"

"He is right, you know," Mara chuckled in amusement.

"Don't side with him now..." Luke groaned in annoyance, but there was some lightness in his voice.

"Can you really blame me for wanting to protect you from yourself?"

"Mara..."

"I'll schedule your meeting with the lawyer for the evening," Vader interrupted their playful exchange. "That way, you'll have time to look though the case beforehand. Good night."

He was gone without waiting for Luke's answer.


The night was wonderful, one of the happiest of Luke's life. They merely lay next to each other and talked - but he felt as if it had bound them together so tight that they were much more than lovers now, they were family - and he finally really felt like it as well.

When Luke left her in the morning it was without heartbreak or reluctance. He was going to work for her freedom, and was now firmly determined to win his cause.

Thus he spent the day reading what reports his father had provided, barely paying attention to his hunger as he studied the inner workings of Mara's case.

At eighteen hundred, he finally shut the computer down; his eyes hurt, he felt a slight headache behind his frontal lobe, and his inner center felt as cold as a knife's blade.

The case was huge. The details of the word plays and meanings were too elaborate for him, but he had gathered the overall complexity - and for the first time, understood the extension of the consequences of his decision to follow Mara.

It was like looking into a completely foreign world.

Indeed, he felt like an alien as what was the most important to him - feelings and evolution of another's soul - was meaningless in the legal world... in the Imperial world. Here, people thought in terms of financial movements, of economical necessities, of political motivations and human losses by hundreds.

What was to him a movement of love and compassion suddenly became a betrayal.

Hence - in this world - it 'was' true that he had betrayed his father, for he undoubtedly has gone against him... against the ruling Emperor. He had joined the terrorists - and that he himself hadn't acted against the Empire meant nothing because he hadn't tried to stop them. He had taught Mara, true, but even if his influence 'had' changed her, the change itself hadn't influenced much in the end because were it not for Vader, Bespin would have been destroyed.

Logic of this world made him a traitor - and he could but understand the arguments, yet, astonishingly enough, he was completely unable to feel any guilt. He was able to feel guilt for killing Kyp's pet - but not for Balti, which was indirectly also his responsibility.

That level of connectivity just didn't exist in his world.

Now he understood his father's motives better. Han was right; Vader 'did' protect him. Had he been on the trial, he would 'not' have agreed so readily with the interpretations of his words and actions.

Worse, he had discovered that everything that he had said to Mara when they had foolishly thought themselves alone had been registered by Piett and had been twisted by the lawyer - the very same he was about to meet in two hours - and he had emerged from those explanations as a person marked by the past torture, with a 'prisoner syndrome' that explained his attraction to Mara.

The lawyer had also pushed the insult to the utmost, stating that his trauma had been so deep, hence his love for Mara so complete, that she had been able to manipulate him without him registering that had been committing treason.

Of course, Luke conceded, it wasn't exactly a lie, yet the truth was so aptly twisted that even he wouldn't be able to explain the difference anymore.

The lawyer's skills had most assuredly saved him from a place near Mara on the accused’s bench.

As had his absence.

Still, this borderline-truth unnerved him. Had he been present then, all these games would not have worked because he would have denied them with his own version of the facts. Hence, it was undeniable that Vader's action had saved him - yet Luke couldn't forgive him for these stolen months, not even now that he had read the case.

Mara had pleaded guilty on half of the accusations - something that he would have never permitted - and the verdict was all but pronounced.

Time was irrevocably lost... taken from him without even concerting with him about this.

If he possibly could have done something in the earlier stages, it was now too late because the monster castle of the case needed but a finishing brick to be complete. He couldn't see any breach in the accusation either - all that could be said had been used.

She was very apt, indeed, this Deanna Tyr, yet her way of thinking also felt so alien to him that he wasn't sure how he would be able to even talk to her.

Not unlike with Leia sometimes, he suddenly realized. Or this new Han. They just lived in this strange world he hadn't noticed before - yet it was their world.

And - nothing more.

Nothing sinister.

Nothing else.

Luke felt a sudden lightness as an invisible weight of doubt vanished from his soul, and laughed.

They were just 'different'.

Not that he liked the changes better - but at least he could now see them for what they were instead of some horrible manipulation that twisted his friends. It felt as if his family was part-Twi’lek - but now that he knew that their 'alien features' were natural, it would be easier to accept and adapt his perception of it.

He had to speak with Leia, he decided. At the very least, he had to present his excuses again, the right way this time.


He found her in the internal garden of her family's residence.

Leia was sitting on the stone bench that was covered with something white and furry, a datapad propped on her knees. However, instead of watching the screen, she was looking at the perpetual movement of the fountain that sat in front of her.

Luke approached her. "Hi. Winter told me I'd find you here."

"Hi," she turned her head and gave him the shade of a smile. She seemed very tired. "Sit down for a moment?"

"Thanks." Luke lowered himself on the bench, hesitated a second - and covered Leia's hand by his own. "I love you so very much," he said to her curious gaze. "I was a stupid, cruel fool."

"Forgiven, forgotten," Leia smiled. She seemed livelier this time.

"How are you?"

"You mean considering that I look like hell?" she offered. "I know. The children cried all night. Thank the Force for Winter or I wouldn't have been able to sleep at all."

"Then what are you doing here?" he rebuked her gently. "Just go to sleep."

"This speech will not write itself, you know," she sighed. "The journalists' trial closes tomorrow. My presence will be mandatory, as will be my reaction, and that's not the thing I'll leave to improvisation."

"So you know the verdict already?" he blinked, caught off guard by yet another level of intricacy in this 'other' world he was now inhabiting.

"Of course not," she gave him a stern glance. When he hunched his shoulders in silent apology, she gentled. "That's why it's so difficult; I have to write not one but many speeches, with changeable parts... that is so tedious."

"Will it be in the same spirit as those I've read?" He winced despite himself at the thought of having to compose anything like what he had read, let alone an interchangeable speech.

"It's unavoidable," Leia sighed heavily.

She looked so fragile to him right now, completely different from the Ice Princess of the holos. "Why do you need this mask?" he blurted, and then locked his gentle gaze on her confused one. "The mask of Lady Vader?"

"Oh, family tradition, I guess" Leia smiled thinly.

Luke pouted at her reply. "And seriously?"

"I 'am' serious. These 'journalists' presented me as a foolish deluded girl, so my image needed mending. I have to be perceived as a strong figure not to be crossed; it is mandatory in my position, or next year we'll have not one but a dozen conspiracies."

Another world, Luke nodded to himself. Purely political reasons - no wonder that she had been so surprised when he, of all people, had fallen for this mask. He really should have known her better. And what better way than to ask directly?

"Leia..." he began hesitatingly. "I have a strange question. Just... don't be offended, okay?"

"Alright. Shoot away."

Han's word, Luke dimly noticed and smiled inwardly. 'Old' Han's... so did it mean that 'he', too, was still alive in the new Han?

"Do you really think that Han is the same person that you've met?"

"That I fell in love with?" Leia asked and paused. She looked at the water, thinking. "No, he isn't," she finally said. "But I'm not the same person either, and neither are you. And... I didn't fall in love with a smuggler and a hotshot pilot, you know."

"Huh?" blinked Luke.

"I didn't, just as you didn't fall in love with Palpatine's hand and a terrorist. Don't you see? It was with 'Han' that I fell in love, with his soul. And his soul didn't change. If anything, it emerged more clearly."

"Really? But now he is like... an imperial officer!"

"He 'was' an imperial officer before he met Chewie. He was going to be promoted - and he wanted this promotion. He told me himself."

"But he said that he hated the Empire!"

"He did. Like a man betrayed by a woman he loved comes to hate her. He was hating it because its treason to its own ideals hurt him much, and I understand how he felt because I felt the same way."

"'You' did?"

"Didn't you know that I was an imperial idealist at my beginnings in the Senate?" Leia smirked and time seemed to disappear from her tired face for a moment or two as she looked at him as impishly as she used to when they had shared a moment of improper confidences in the Rebellion.

"No..." Luke was staring at her. How little did he know... Was he so self-absorbed in his own drama, and then in his own life, that he just took Leia's love for democracy and Han's anarchism for granted? As something stable and unmovable?

"Well, I was. Sort of a teenager rebellion against Bail's opinions. I guess I'm returning to it again, just in a more cynical version."

"So... Peace and Order?"

"Peace and Order," she agreed with him. "The first we already have - hopefully for long - but the latter..." she sighed. "By the way, I wanted to ask you..."

"Yes?"

"Father said that you want to refuse your status of a prince."

"Yes. Honestly Leia, it's not for me. Not my life, not my 'world'."

She nodded. "I understand. But... please, Luke, don't. I mean - don't refuse your place in the line of throne inheritance, at least not before the kids are of age."

That request surprised him. "Why?"

"I know that it's an incredibly selfish request, but... if something were to happen to me and Han, you could be a regent and keep all this from collapsing on the children's heads..."

Leia, Han - his father - all gone? Impossible. Especially his father, he thought. The Dark Lord was a rock, unchanging, eternal. "Nothing like that will happen, Leia."

"We don't know that, and that's the point. So, just in case, please?"

"But Leia... Me? Regent of the Empire? Are you kidding?"

"You will never be brilliant," she said with a touch of humor. "However, you don't need brilliance, only enough talent to make it all work, and that much you do have. You are excellent in working with people, Luke. You can easily find people for the work you're unable to do, people who will be 'loyal' to you. What happened between you and Jade is proof enough of that."

Luke failed to imagine himself in such a position, but then, maybe she wasn't completely wrong. He surely wouldn't choose such a life on his own, but in this nightmarish situation, only to protect the children - he couldn't say that it wasn't possible. "Okay," he finally agreed. "I won't refuse it, but I sure hope that we'll never come to it."

"And how do 'I' hope... Thank you. Ah, by the way, I have good news for you."

"Yes?"

"Yavin Four has been declared a neutral territory by both instances of the Coalition and the Jedi Academy has been granted a five million international fund. That's fabulous, Luke!"

He could only grin in agreement with her as five millions was truly more than they would need to keep the Academy running for longer than even his own life.

"I knew, you'd like it," she ribbed him, and then grinned mischievously. "See? We 'do' accomplish something useful sometimes, not only 'repress the liberties'."

That comment brought Luke's mind back on its initial track as to why he had come to speak to her in the first place. "Leia...," he paused briefly, "do you ever regret accepting father's proposition?"

Leia thought for a moment. "No. I don't. I expected I would, but... You know, I'm finally given the 'real means' to make my dreams come true. Of course, it will take a lot of time, but... it's 'so' worth it... worth dedicating my life to."

"And what about your other dreams? Of democracy and freedom?"

She shrugged easily. "We'll still have it, in time. For now, the Senate doesn't have a real power, but in due time, the situation will change. Personally, I believe that in some twenty years from now, we'll have a stable constitutional monarchy, which isn't possible at the moment because the old politicians must first leave the scene before any real changes can be implemented. Besides, people must learn to live with freedom and use it... and it's not as obvious as it seemed in my rebellion days. Still, it's not impossible, at least not with the means that are now at our disposal thanks to Father's regency."

Luke nodded, understanding her better. Not that he agreed with everything - but then he couldn't even see the whole picture, nor was he sure that he would understand it even if presented with it. Hence, as far as he was concerned, he was best to leave politics to those who understood them. After all, he thought, neither Leia nor Han never said anything about the way he directed his academy, therefore he should acknowledge their competence in their own field as they did his.

"A credit for your thoughts," Leia said in the silence.

"They are too banal, they're not worth it," Luke smiled, then shrugged as she raised an alderaani-cultured eyebrow at her. "I thought that I really shouldn't judge the matters I don't understand at all."

"Bah, don't worry too much, Luke. 'Everyone' thinks that there's nothing to understand in politics."

"Meaning that 'I' should have known better than to think as I did," he retorted, matter-of-fact. "I mean, considering our rather unique family, I really shouldn't have pretended to grasp the meaning of what you had chosen for yourselves. Now, though, I 'do' know better --- yet I'm about to infringe myself into another matter that I don't understand very well." He shook his head ruefully at that; was he really growing wiser? Or more stupid?

Leia tilted her head at him. "Mara's case?"

"Yeah. It's so huge, and I'm so... well," he blushed slightly, "I 'really' feel stupid when I think about it. I mean, I barely grasp even half of it, the rest being far beyond my humble comprehension..."

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Leia shook her head at him in anything but a rebutting manner, "how lazy of you to not become a brilliant jurist overnight!"

Luke laughed, surprised by the teasing. "Well, put like this..."

"Seriously, Luke, we all have our own fields of expertise, and not excelling in other ones doesn't make us less intelligent than we actually are. Father told me about the conversations you had with him in regards to studying while I was in coma. I agree with him. Being a Jedi doesn't automatically mean that you perfectly know everything in the world, let alone that you should. The lawyer will help you for that; it's her job."

Luke nodded for a moment, contrite. "What is she like?"

"The lawyer?"

He nodded again.

"She thrives on 'impossible cases' and her clients are composed of just about everyone from Mafioso and serial killers to Rebels."

"How many wins?"

"She is still alive and in the top twenty of the richest people on Coruscant, so I let you guess the answer. She is the best, Luke, and she'll be very glad to help you."

"Really?"

"Yes." His sister smirked knowingly at him. "She'll adore to pull a stunt like this in the last session; it's pretty much how she defines 'fun'."


Deanna Tyr was an elfish, fragile-looking woman with big, deer-like eyes. However, her appearance was deceiving as Luke could feel her aura of strength and energy, two characteristics that regular beings felt through her strong and self-assured voice.

Luke didn't need to tax his imagination to see her winning in court.

She silently looked through the speech that he had written in preparation for his testimony, failing to comment in any way. Once she was finished, she set down the readerpad and calmly looked at him.

"So, you want her to be declared mad and not-responsible," she stated, matter-of-fact.

Luke sputtered. "No! I'm just explaining..."

"Mr. Skywalker," she interrupted him with a gentle yet firm shake of her head, "I'm only telling you how it sounds to someone who doesn't know and doesn't 'want' to know anything about this 'Dark Side' business." She took a slow breath. "What you're describing is, plain and simple, a split-personality disorder from which she recovered without any medical assistance, only with your teachings. Believe me, 'no one' will take you seriously."

"Master Tyr," he tried to defend his credibility, "I'm a Jedi, and I know what I'm talking about. The Dark Side's influence is very real."

"It may be," she shrugged, "but the fact is that you are the only expert in the matter and you love her. As such, you can tell anything that suits you."

"Then ask my father; he's 'quite' familiar with the Force and will support my statement."

Deanna smiled. "Lord Vader's title is 'Dark' Lord of the Sith. Does that mean that he is a darksider?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"Then your own argument cancels whatever he has to say. And - by the way - it will not look good if you indirectly accuse His Majesty of madness."

Luke blinked. Oooops, he hadn't thought of that.

"Mr. Skywalker," Deanna began patiently, "I don't hope to win this trial, but," she lifted her right index finger, interrupting his burgeoning protest, "I do intend to save her life. Does this suit you?"

"Can't we have both?"

The petite woman sadly shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Miss Jade pleaded guilty on half of the accusations. We have won some of the remaining ones, but I'm sure that we've lost the 'high treason' and 'mass murder' so the question now is not 'guilty or not', but how she will be punished. And that is where 'you' come in."

Luke frowned, confused. "But on which basis will I claim that she is changed and worth of living if you forbid me to talk about the Force?"

She chuckled. "Mr. Skywalker, you are actually in an ideal position to plead for her life. Jedi Knight, pure soul, captured by her and tortured, but who managed to wake up her ability to love, and thus changed her, and now pleading to save her life. You are just perfect for the job."

"It sounds like a summary of a sitcom," he grimaced, not feeling like a 'pure soul' at all.

"People watch sitcoms, Mr. Skywalker, because they understand them. They will understand love, and forgiveness, and mercy - especially coming from her victim - but they will not grasp the intricacies of your Force. It's that simple."

"And they will believe me, and free her on this basis?"

The law-expert nodded confidently. "It may be the last thing we need to shift the balance."

"Can we win on 'maybes'? Don't you have anything more substantial to offer?"

"That is my work," she retorted in assent. "You just do your job, and we'll win."

"Don't you trust me?"

"I need your candor, your freshness and your spontaneity. To put it more bluntly, Mr. Skywalker, I want you completely ignorant. Your piece will function better that way. Do you understand me?"

"I guess," Luke muttered, feeling a bit put off.

"Excellent. Now. You call miss Jade 'defendant' in your speech. We need something much more intimate, something that will help everyone understand your attachment to her."

Luke's eyes flashed. "Attachment? Then I'll call her my 'wife'. Is that close enough for you?" he inquired with just a hint of animosity in his voice and eyes.

Deanna stared at him and then burst in laughter. "It's absolutely perfect, Mr. Skywalker. Perfect."


Three days later. Coruscant, Republican Representation.

The audience was held in a small meeting hall in the Republican Embassy, in deference to the main victims of Jade's war.

Three of the six judges were Republican; all of them were civilians, which wasn't the case of the imperial judges.

There were no audience and no press allowed in the room; the only non-participatory person admitted in the hall was Vader - in a non-formal status - and he was sitting near three imperial observers.

The Force was blocked by ysalamiris but he could easily read the others' thoughts anyway. They were trying to figure out what they should tell afterwards in their rapport to not anger him, and the very idea amused him somewhat.

As if there was anything 'they' could tell that would make him react in any way whatsoever.

The last session of military court on Piett and Veers had been held the previous day, and he felt as if his emotional reserves were empty.

His once finest officers had been found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death, yet some sentimental part of him still saw them as 'his own'. Therefore, seeing the sentence pronounced by others had felt incredibly wrong, but the worst was yet to come as they would be executed by republicans on Bespin.

On the other hand, without that sacrifice, the current trial wouldn't unfold the way he wished, so he did not dwell on what had had to be done for his son's and granddaughter's sakes.

Today he knew what would happen. Deanna Tyr was an intelligent woman, Luke would play his part, 'he' would help in his own way, and then it would be up to the judges, who were very intelligent and would assuredly understand the hint, if they didn't already.

There was a very little probability that anything would go wrong.

Jade would live - and he wasn't opposed to it anymore.

Of course, she still wasn't his first choice for a daughter-in-law, but then he wouldn't choose Solo either, yet their relationship was turning out to be quite manageable. Hence, if this new situation was anything alike - and it seemed so, as Jade has indeed displayed some hidden depths - it would turn out passably fine.

Besides, if only for his grand-daughter's sake, he was quite ready to tolerate Jade, as the child was well suited for the woman's last name.

He smiled briefly. Strange how appeasing it was to think of his grand-children - the very future personified.

The final speech of the prosecutor finally came to an end.

Jade closed her eyes and nodded before Deanna Tyr stood and began to walk toward the judges.

"Esteemed colleagues, Your honors," she bowed respectfully. "Yesterday, when I was thinking about today's speech, a visitor came to me with a plea of help and I found that anything I can say was just a dead weight when compared to his words and feelings. Your honors, I humbly ask you to hear Luke Skywalker instead of me."

That caused a stir between the judges. The prosecutor, for his part, frowned before he looked at Luke, then at Vader; the Dark Lord noticed how the man carefully kept his face schooled as he turned away from him before he sat very still once again.

'Another intelligent person,' thought Vader approvingly. But the man had still made an erroneous conclusion, assuming too much.

Luke stepped forward and came to the witness stand.

Since Vader had read his speech before the audience - courtesy of Deanna - he only half-listened and mostly watched as Luke went, again, through his heartfelt arguments that were meant to save Jade's life.

His son was a pleasure to see; calm and determined, convinced of his own rightness. Then, the young adult looked at Jade and proudly said the word 'wife'.

'What a difference with the way he saw his father' the Dark Lord dimly thought, and then sharply chastened himself. It was simply unfair of him to want anything more than what he was able to give himself. But still... still.

After two years of 'family' life, he had come to take his son's unquestioned love as granted. Hence, losing it now, of all times, was a deep wound that took time to heal. He didn't expect it would be so...

'Stop it,' he ordered himself. 'You sound like a sentimental old lady.'

Luke's speech came to an end and it was now his turn to intervene in the procedures. He stood up and silence instantly fell over the hearing hall, all eyes turning toward him.

The sudden hope that shone in Luke's eyes made him close his own to not see it.

"Your honors," he bowed a little, "I have a personal request."

"Please, speak, Lord Vader," answered the main judge.

"I request the defendant to be called Mrs. Jade-Skywalker in your verdict."

A small pause marked a time.

"The court will grant your request, Lord Vader."

"Thank you," he sat back down, ignoring Luke's glares of disbelief, which seemed intent on piercing his heart as if they were vibroblades.

He had just given to the judges the last piece of valuable information that he could provide - namely that he officially accepted Luke's marriage and thus wasn't against sparing Jade's life - yet at the same time, was not pressing them for any decision.

After all, any more pressure would have been disastrous, something that his son 'still' failed to understand.

Meanwhile, the judges retired to deliberate. Nobody spoke, and time suddenly seemed suspended for everyone left in the room. Luke and Jade naturally looked at each other as if they were both afraid that they would never see each other again.

Vader, however, believed otherwise and, when the judges returned briefly after leaving their seats, he 'knew' that he was right.

They had returned after a very short yet acceptable time - no more that half an hour has passed - and remained standing.

At the motion of the first judge, Jade stood up, as did Deanna. Jade was almost imperceptibly trembling yet she was doing her best to hide it from Luke, who had also stood up behind her.

"The court has deliberated and reached a unanimous decision. The defendant, Mrs. Jade-Skywalker, is found guilty of high treason of the Empire and mass murder of republican citizens."

Jade nodded and closed her eyes in acceptance while Tyr put her hand on her shoulder. Luke's face was frozen.

"The court has taken into account the testimony of Mr. Skywalker and came to the following verdict." A heavy silence hung over those present in the hall, feeling more pervasive to two of them than to the others. "From this moment onward, the civil person of Mrs. Jade-Skywalker is declared dead. She has no right to elect or run for election, no right to present her opinion to whatever organization in the Coalition, no right to possess any property apart from her own body, no right of presence in the Coalitional space without her husband. She has no right of residence on the Coalitional planets for more than one week per year even with the presence of her husband. Her children, while considered as legitimate, will not have the right to be in the positions of power in the Republic and the present court highly recommends the similar politic to the Empire." The talking judge gave them a moment to digest this information, and then went on: "The non respect of this verdict will make Mrs. Jade-Skywalker a persona non grata in the Coalitional space and anybody will have the right to shoot her on sight. Do you understand the verdict, Mrs. Jade-Skywalker?"

"Yes," Jade managed to half-whisper hoarsely. "Thank you for your trust."

"Don't make us regret it," the judge warned grimly.

"I won't," she promised solemnly.

The judges left the hall without further ado while Luke was suddenly all movement and jumped the barrier so as to hug Jade tightly against himself. The soldiers of the guard gave them their space as Tyr looked at the lovers, a wistful smile playing on her lips.

Vader, for his part, stood calmly and walked down to her. "Good work, Master Tyr."

"Thank you, My Lord. It was a most enriching experience," she grinned.

"I would presume," Vader replied, then reflected that considering her fees, it had, indeed, been enriching in more than one way.

Not far from them, Luke finally broke his hold on Jade and looked directly at Vader, his gaze anything but warm. "We are immediately leaving for Yavin," he declared.

"Very well."

Deanna Tyr and Jade stepped back almost synchronously, giving room for the men to discuss. The two women looked at each other and smiled thinly.

"I've done a lot of thinking, father," Luke went on. "And I understood something. Your 'care' just isn't enough for me. We will always be family, and I'm grateful that you helped me spare Mara's life through your dubious intervention, but for now, I don't want to see you. Don't come to Yavin, don't contact me. When I'll be ready to see you again, I'll re-open contact."

"As you wish. My son."

Without even a nod of acknowledgment, Luke took Mara's hand in his prosthetic one, gave a bow of gratitude to the petite lawyer, and then led his wife away from Vader and out of the Justice Hall.

Vader quietly observed as the guards escorted Luke and Jade out of the room.

"But 'why'?" he heard the shocked Deanna whisper at his elbow. Whatever she had been expecting to witness, it had obviously not been this.

'Because he thought that if I can influence the judges to spare her life, I could also have made them declare her innocent. Because he doesn't see the difference between using the law's holes and bending it to one's will. Because he perceives me as a manipulator and a liar. Because the love is gone and it's fortunate that hate didn't take its place,' Vader thought but didn't say out loud.

Instead he ignored the lawyer and strode out of the hall, and then the building.

He had so much work to do.


To be continued..... 


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