rynne: (deja entendu)
[personal profile] rynne
Here's chapter six, making this fic three-quarters posted!

Title: Feet on the Ground
Author: Rynne
Fandom: Star Wars
Rating: PG-13
Summary: AU. Luke Skywalker has grown up his father's apprentice, and can't imagine anything but serving the Emperor. But after one mission, Luke's illusions begin to shatter, and Luke and his father begin to plan for the future--their future. Primarily a Luke-Vader story, with eventual Luke/Mara.
Author's notes: This is the first sequel to my fic Walking the Sky. I highly suggest you read that before reading this, though the basics are that Vader found Luke on Tatooine when Luke was nine, killing Obi-Wan and another Jedi, and leaving Owen and Beru alive.

This fic is written in its entirety, and is eight chapters long, plus a prologue. The only delay in posting chapters is when I get them back from my betas and make corrections, so I should be updating fairly frequently.

There are characters and concepts from the Star Wars Extended Universe in here, but very few. The biggest one is Mara Jade, who plays a large role, and who will be an important part of the plot, and not just as a love interest. I hope that I've provided enough background on Mara so that those of you who have seen Star Wars but not read any of the EU books would still be able to follow the story, if you want to read it--just think of her as an original character (which she is, though created by Timothy Zahn and not me).

Enormous thanks must go to [livejournal.com profile] krabapple and Trace for betaing. You made this fic much better than it would have been on its own. Thank you!

Prologue | Chapter One | Chapter Two | Chapter Three | Chapter Four | Chapter Five | Chapter Six | Chapter Seven | Chapter Eight



/Father./ The word bloomed into his mind, and Vader felt his son's sure mental touch. /I'm glad you're back./

Though he was piloting the shuttle down, he didn't need complete concentration, and sent, /I am glad to be back, my son./

/Father.../ Luke sounded hesitant. Vader unconsciously sped up. /There is something I need to talk to you about, when you get here,/ Luke said, finally.

That didn't sound good. But Luke didn't feel panicked.... Vader reached out and touched his son's feelings. No, not panicked. Disconcerted, confused, and suspicious, but not panicked or any other flavor of that particular emotion.

/I will be there soon,/ Vader replied, and hoped that his report to the Emperor would not go overlong. His son was making him very curious.


Luke was looking out the window when Vader met him, and didn't turn his head away even though he must have known that Vader was there. Vader joined his son and looked out the window as well, but there was nothing but Imperial City, and, off in the distance, the Manarai Mountains. Nothing either of them hadn't seen before.

"There was something you wanted to tell me?" Vader prompted, laying a hand on Luke's shoulder. Without turning to look at him, Luke nodded.

"The Emperor...might be onto us," he said quietly, and only then turned to face his father. Vader felt his heart skip a beat and hoped Luke was wrong; if Palpatine knew, he would not be happy.

"What makes you think that?" Vader asked, to conceal his reaction.

"Something he said, when I reported to him after my last mission," Luke replied. His eyes were troubled, a sea at storm rather than clear blue skies. "He looked in my mind. I kept my true allegiances hidden, and he didn't find them. Then he said loyalty is rewarded, and that not everyone around him was as loyal as me."

"He could be trying to trick you into admitting something," Vader pointed out.

Luke nodded. "I know," he said. "And I think he's probably just suspicious...there's no way that he could know for sure. We know that we're not being monitored, and we've never discussed the plan where any of his spies could hear us."

"If one of his spies had reported us, the Emperor would not think you loyal," Vader said. "Are you sure that he does?"

"Yes. Or at least, as sure about my loyalty as someone as paranoid as he is can be. He rifled through my thoughts himself, and I didn't make it so easy that he'd suspect something was up. As much as I can, I've got him convinced."

Vader took his hand away, and turned to face Luke completely. "Very good, my son," he said, and Luke smiled, the storm in his eyes abating for the moment. "As for suspecting me," Vader continued, "I wouldn't be surprised if he did. I would actually be more astonished if he completely trusted me. Treachery is the Sith way, after all, and I would not be the first Sith apprentice to plot against his master, even after the Rule of Two was instated."

"You're just the first who's got an apprentice of your own to help you," Luke said wryly, and Vader smiled behind his mask, raising his hand and ruffling Luke's hair in a rare gesture of affection.

"Yes," Vader said, "and I am glad of it. There is no other I would have rule the galaxy with me but you, Son."

Luke looked at him, and Vader saw the warmth and regard in his eyes, and knew that Luke felt the same way. Palpatine was a fool, to have betrayed his old friendship with Vader as he had. If he'd cultivated it even after he'd gained Vader as an apprentice, his grip on the galaxy would be as an iron fist. Instead...

Well, instead there was this, Vader and his son and their plans. And Vader would never make the same mistake Palpatine had.

"All the same," Luke murmured, "I don't think I will be taking an apprentice of my own for a long time. I know now that the Rule of Two is there for a reason, and I would not want an apprentice of mine to betray you, Father."

Pride burst in Vader's heart, and he wanted to ruffle Luke's hair again, but gestures of affection must remain sparse, or they might forget themselves one day and show before Palpatine how much they cared for one another. In this, neither Vader nor Luke was a perfect Sith--he could no more betray his son than he could sprout gills and breathe underwater, and he knew that Luke would never betray him either.

It was an advantage, this trust, and one that Palpatine discounted. Luke would watch Vader's back, and Vader would watch Luke's, and they both would watch Palpatine's, but only waiting for the best opportunity to stick a lightsaber in it.

Look for betrayal, and you will find it, Vader had once told Luke. And it was true. If Palpatine hadn't been so assiduous in looking for betrayal, and instead cultivated loyalty and trust in his closest subordinates, he would not have been betrayed. Vader understood this lesson, even if Palpatine didn't.

"Father," Luke said, bringing Vader's attention back to his son. He looked perfectly composed, apart from his eyes, which were roiling with emotions, so many that Vader couldn't even try to name them all. "Because Palpatine thinks I am loyal, and suspects you, do you think we should change the plan?"

"No," Vader said firmly. "You are the only one who can do this, Luke. Palpatine did us a favor by keeping you in the shadows. People know who I am, but they will not recognize Luke Skywalker. You can go where I cannot, and can be accepted where I would be shunned. You must be the one to make the initial overtures of friendship."

Luke shook his head. "I know that, but..." He seemed to struggle with putting his thoughts to spoken word. "You've been Supreme Commander of the Imperial Navy for as long as there's been one. I've talked to some of the men in my lieutenant guise, and many are more loyal to you than to the Emperor. If you were to be the overt threat, and Palpatine does not look for betrayal from me, then I could be more effective."

"No," Vader said again. "If you were the one left behind as the Emperor's sole apprentice, then he would begin to trust you as little as he does me; it is inevitable. It is much better that I stay with him."

But ah, my son, that is not the only reason, Vader thought, and kept the thought to himself. He just couldn't leave his son alone with the Emperor. Luke, who kept the light inside him alive with his selfless service to his father and sometimes to Palpatine, was less a Sith Lord than Vader was. But Vader was proud that Luke did not let his light interfere with his duties, and did not want his son to change.

The Emperor, unfortunately, likely would. And he would change Luke, probably so much so that when the time came for the Skywalkers to take up their rightful place at the head of the galaxy, he would not recognize his son when he saw him again. Palpatine would not put up with Luke's compassion and his honor, his warmth and his desire for friendship. Palpatine would not care that Luke was a devoted user of the Dark Side as long as any hints of light emotions stayed.

It had taken Vader time, but he'd eventually realized that to eradicate the light in Luke would be to eradicate Luke as well, and that he would not do. He owed it to Padmé, and he owed it to Luke himself. He cared about Luke, and he would not let anyone, much less Palpatine, twist and destroy his son.

In some of his more cynically introspective moments, Vader recognized that by keeping the light in Luke alive, he was making Luke weaker than he would have been if he'd truly embraced the Dark Side, and that this meant his son would have neither the inclination nor the ability to overthrow him. He also recognized that, completely aside from preserving Luke's personality, he would have wanted some light in Luke just for that reason. He never told his son about those thoughts.

Finally Luke, who had gone back to staring out the window, spoke again. "There's more, Father," he said hesitantly. "Not about Palpatine being suspicious of you, but something else he said in my report to him."

"Go on," Vader prompted when Luke paused.

Luke took a deep breath, and let it all out in one long exhale. "Do you know if Palpatine can tamper with my mind?" he asked. "Make me feel things I wouldn't otherwise?"

"Has he threatened to do so?" Vader demanded. He clenched his fists. If you do anything to my son, Palpatine... Unbidden, the memory of his visions arose, Palpatine laughing in the background as Luke died, and Vader felt his anger rising.

Luke blinked. "No," he said. "But I don't think he would say something...he doesn't like to warn people if there's a chance they could thwart him. No, it's just..." He stopped and looked torn, as if he wasn't sure whether to continue or not.

"You can tell me, Son," Vader said, trying to make it easier for him. "You know you can talk to me about anything."

Luke smiled tightly, then the smile faded. "I know, and I appreciate it, but..." He ran his hand through his hair. "I think he might have, because immediately after he said something, I started feeling..." He trailed off and didn't finish the thought.

Vader decided to go back to the source of this vague conversation. "What did he say to you?" he asked, firmly, and looked at Luke as if the look could draw out the answer.

Maybe it could. Luke turned red--Is my son blushing? Vader thought in amusement--and looked down at his feet. Then he mumbled something that sounded like, "Tolme notgay marajay prenat."

Beneath his mask, Vader raised an eyebrow, a reaction he hadn't been able to get rid of even though no one had seen it for the past seventeen years. "Repeat that," he said, "and articulately this time."

Luke's blush deepened. "He told me to not get Mara Jade pregnant," he repeated, enunciating each word slowly and clearly.

That explained the blush. For all that Luke could be very wise for his age, and for all that he had seen and done things grown men would blanch at, his son could be very innocent at times. When Vader had tried explaining sex to his son four years ago, he'd thought the boy would explode from embarrassment, and, in the end, he'd thrust a few datapads at Luke and told him to read them.

"Is there any reason why he would say such a thing?" Vader asked, and though he knew Luke would not be able to see his raised eyebrow, he should be able to hear it in the arch tone Vader adopted briefly. Never mind that even the idea of Luke voluntarily spending time with the Emperor's Hand was ridiculous--not even Luke could be so heedless of his own safety and that of their plans as to befriend a girl who would betray him without a second thought.

"No!" Luke protested loudly, his blush subsiding not at all. "I've never even considered..." And Vader was treated to the novel sight of his son sputtering. He wanted to laugh, but didn't think that would be an appropriate response.

"But you think Palpatine might have planted the idea in your mind and tried to make you think you wanted to," Vader said, taking pity on his poor, innocent, blushing son.

"Right." Luke's blush finally started fading. "And while I don't think there's anything left of him in my mind, I just wanted to make sure that he couldn't do something like that."

"Not without you knowing," Vader told him. "And actually, considering that you are not weak-willed, most likely not at all. He could with untrained Force-sensitives, and even more easily with someone Force-blind, but not someone as well-trained and strong-willed as you."

"Oh." Luke sighed. "Well, that's a relief."

"Indeed." Vader considered his son. "But since we have established that these feelings are not because of Palpatine, would you care to explain?"

The blush came back, full-force. "Not particularly," Luke mumbled, but Vader just looked at him steadily until he gave in. He wasn't fooled. Luke wouldn't have started this conversation if he hadn't wanted to talk about it, no matter his show of reluctance. And too, if Luke truly hadn't wanted to say anything, he would stubbornly keep silent. He was quite good at being stubborn.

"Mara and I are friends," Luke said simply, and surprisingly. "It started not long after that first mission together."

"You mean the one where she was the catalyst that made you understand that the Emperor didn't trust you?" Vader said, pointedly. He would have thought that such an occurrence would make Luke avoid her, not befriend her. That was only the logical thing to do, after all. Then again, his son had never been among the most logical of people, so perhaps this strange infatuation with someone completely loyal to the enemy made sense.

Luke shrugged. "He appears to trust me now, as far as it goes," Luke replied. "Besides, I can't blame her for following orders. It's not her fault. And I can talk to her."

"Surely you do not trust her," Vader said, and hoped it was true. The girl was one of Palpatine's best spies. She'd report everything Luke told her without thinking twice about it. Her master was foremost in her thoughts, and she would never begin a relationship with anyone without Palpatine's orders. Luke was sometimes innocent, but he couldn't be so naïve as to think otherwise.

"Not with everything," Luke said quickly. "I haven't told her anything about our plans...those I'm sure she would go straight to Palpatine with. But..." He looked uncomfortable. "You're gone so often...I got lonely. And I know she has her own missions, but, well, it's nice having a friend. She's about my age, and we've got a lot in common...she's easy to talk to."

With a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, Vader realized it was too late to break his son of the obvious attraction. Is this how Obi-Wan felt when I talked about Padmé, before the assassination attempts? he wondered briefly, before banishing the thought--his old life had no bearing on his current one, except that it had produced the person standing before him.

"It sounds like you are smitten," Vader said, a comment meant to be teasing, and instead resounding in uncomfortable truth. Luke sighed and did not blush.

"I think maybe I am," he said, and Vader could feel the shyness in those words, and the effort it took to say them and acknowledge their veracity.

It was a strange realization, that Luke could be falling in love with a girl, as he himself had once been in love. My son is growing up. Luke was almost a man now, was almost eighteen, just about a year younger than Vader had been when he'd gotten married. How had it happened so quickly? He wasn't the little boy who had clung to Vader's cloak on his first trip into outer space anymore.

And Luke looked like a man now, with a maturity to his face and features that hadn't been there even a year ago. He still wasn't tall, and likely never would be, but he carried himself as if he was, with confidence of body and spirit. It had happened right before Vader's eyes, but he hadn't truly been paying attention. And now he was faced with it, and almost didn't know what to do with the knowledge.

Trust your son, something whispered inside him, something that echoed with his memories of Padmé.

Vader did, and because he did, he found himself saying, "I hope things go well for you, my son." Perhaps he was not giving Mara Jade enough credit for having a mind of her own. Still, she would bear watching. He would support his son, but he would keep watch. There was too much at stake for him not to.

The quiet glow on Luke's face, brought not by embarrassment but by happiness at his father's support, validated Vader's decision. "Thank you, Father," Luke said, still glowing. "I don't know that I'll be doing anything, but I am glad of your approval."

But there was more he had to say, though on a different topic. There were more serious things to speak of than Luke's infant love-life.

"Luke," he said, and something in his voice made the smile vanish off Luke's face as if it had never been. "Luke, you must be careful."

"With Mara?" Confusion warred with alarm on his son's face.

"No, not with her--well, yes with her," Vader corrected himself, a rare occurrence, "but beyond her. While I was away, I had a repeating vision." He didn't want to remember it, didn't want to remember that it had even existed, but Luke must be warned. He couldn't lose his son. "You died, and I believe Palpatine was the cause of your death."

Oh, how hard that had been to say. Death did not belong in the same sentence as a reference to Luke. Luke was his son, and he would not let him go.

Luke paled, but held himself together. "It's not guaranteed," he said softly. "You've told me before that no future's set in stone. It can be changed."

You do not understand, Vader wanted to tell him. But he said, "I have had many visions before." As a child, dreaming of Jedi and marriage and Padmé at the head of an army, visions that had come to pass. And later, the ones of his mother and his wife. "They are unusually accurate."

"The future hasn't happened yet," Luke replied. "You don't know that Palpatine will kill me."

"I do not," Vader agreed, "but we cannot discount the possibility. Be careful around him, Luke. Promise me you will be careful."

"I promise," Luke said, his word given without hesitation. And his son did not give his word lightly; he would keep his promise.

If only that would do any good.

"You may think that Palpatine does not suspect you," Vader continued, "but do not trust in that to keep you safe. He is a master of manipulation, and he always has his own agenda."

Luke touched his arm in reassurance. "Father, I know," he said. "And I'll be careful." His expression became concerned. "You should be, too. You're the one who will be staying with him, after all, and I'll be out of his reach soon enough."

Even as Vader acknowledged the truth of that, it wasn't enough to satisfy him. But then, he didn't think that he could truly count Luke safe until Palpatine was dead.


This could be done. He knew it could. He'd thought about it, and though it would perhaps be difficult to catch hold of something he could not see, there was no real reason why it couldn't work--even if he was, as far as he knew, the first person to try something like this. But though he couldn't see what he was doing, he knew that he didn't really need to.

The Force was with him here, perhaps even more than it was nearly any place else. The Force was with him, and there was something in its whisper that told him he wouldn't fail. Maybe it even wanted him to succeed, and that was why he could feel it so powerfully, here and now.

So he concentrated, and stepped.

Step. Step. Step. He kept his head up and his eyes straight ahead, and kept walking.

This was easy. He never would have thought it could be, but once he'd tried it, there it was. Once he got used to it, he didn't even need to concentrate that hard to keep it going.

I'm really doing this. Exultation bubbled up inside him, and he laughed aloud. It's really working.

And, This is amazing!

Because it was. It was amazing and extraordinary and all the superlatives he could think of, and it was his. Something he had done, that he had not been taught how to do but had figured out on his own. His own.

He'd never felt more free.

"What are you doing?" a familiar voice asked, bringing him back to himself.

Luke turned around and grinned at Mara, grinned, and flung his arms out to encompass the world. "What does it look like?" he replied, and couldn't keep the joy off his face and out of his voice. His experiment was working, and Mara was here, and witnessing it. Nothing but joy existed right now.

Mara's mouth was open as she watched him, and in her eyes flickered a myriad of things--awe, confusion, wonderment, fear. "It looks like I'm dreaming," she said. "Because I can't imagine that someone can do this in real life. Is this a Force-thing? I've never seen the Emperor do it..."

His grin turned impish, especially at the confirmation that not even someone as learned in the Force as Palpatine was had done this before, and for a moment, he wondered at himself for how happy he was. "You're not dreaming," he told her. "Not unless I am, too, and I'm not."

"Are you sure?" She looked doubtful, and still confused and amazed.

"As I ever am," he replied, and walked closer to him. With a strange sort of longing on her face, she looked like she wanted to come out to meet him, but didn't dare.

"You're walking on air," she breathed, as if it only just hit her then what he was doing. "How can you be doing that? Some sort of self-levitation?"

He looked down, a few meters still between him and the grass. This garden, with its set of low walls and screens of trees, had been perfect for his experiment; more so because rarely did anyone come here this early in the morning. But Mara somehow always seemed to find comfort in the same places he did, like this garden and the gym and their library, and so he wasn't surprised to see her. He'd felt her near, anyway, with that awareness of her that he'd cultivated ever since Ord Mantell. Perhaps she had the same awareness of him, despite being barely trained in the Force, and that was how she so often found him.

"No, not self-levitation," he answered, and looked back up at her. "But sort of the same principle. Telekinesis, only instead of lifting or moving something, you keep it from moving. I've stopped the air molecules and bunched them all together to make something almost solid, and it's not that hard to keep them frozen."

"What's the point?" she asked, her eyes still on where he stood, two meters in midair. "Standing on air...you could do the same thing with levitation, couldn't you?"

"Not quite," Luke replied. "This is solid for everyone, not just me. Go on, touch it. You'll see."

Throwing a wary glance at him, she moved forward and reached out. Then, acting on sudden impulse, Luke grabbed her hand instead of letting it touch the frozen air, and pulled her up beside him so that she could feel the air beneath her feet as well. Their faces were only centimeters apart, and she stared at him, her eyes wide in obvious surprise. He was just starting to wonder if he was imagining the red tint to her cheeks when she pulled back and jumped down, leaving him alone in the air once more.

"I still don't understand what the point is," she said, glancing at his feet, standing on nothing. "You can levitate other people, too. Why would they need something like this?"

"Easier," he explained, and shrugged, feeling slightly put out that she couldn't just let go of the analyzing and be happy for him and his discovery. But it was Mara, always trying to understand, and his exasperation vanished into the air beneath his feet. "This way I only have to keep my mind on one thing--creating and holding the path--rather than everything I have to lift. And if necessary, I can levitate the frozen air molecules, and take anyone on the path wherever I want them to go."

There was silence for a moment, then she asked, "How can you find something so small and keep hold of it?"

"Size doesn't matter," he told her. "What matters are your will and your power. As long as I spare some concentration to keep the molecules together, I probably have enough energy to stay up here for hours."

"Would you?" she asked. "Would you stay up there for hours?"

"Why not?" Luke replied. "I'm not needed anywhere right now, and I like it up here. There's a freedom in denying limitations, and I'm reveling in it." He smiled at her, bright and full of the Force, and she didn't return it.

"Why not, indeed," she murmured. "What about limitations that can't be defied?"

"That's no fun," Luke said playfully. Freedom suited him, he decided. His mind was clear and unclouded, and he felt like a little boy on Tatooine again, running nearly wild under the desert suns. It was almost as if the past nine years hadn't happened.

"Fun isn't always the point," she said almost sharply. "Keep your feet on the ground, Skywalker. That'll do you more good."

Surprised, he let himself fall to the ground with a thump, bent knees absorbing the shock of impact. Where did that come from? Some days he thought he was starting to understand her, and then she turned around and was almost a stranger again.

"Talk to me, Mara," he said suddenly. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," she said, and turned away.

"Mara--" He reached out, but she hunched away from him.

"I said nothing's wrong!"

Once, and not even that long ago, he would have let it go with just that. Once, but not now. He couldn't let it go, not when he wanted to know her so much.

And so he asked her. He didn't have to, he knew. Though her shields were getting better, her strength still wasn't equal to his, and he could go in and find out for sure what was bothering her.

He could kiss her, and make sure that she didn't run away. He could hold her in place and do whatever he wanted to her, and she couldn't stop him.

He could do that. He trembled with the possibilities of what his power would let him do--and trembled too because he would not allow himself to do them.

By doing that, he would gain her for the moment and lose her for all time.

"Talk to me, Mara!" he repeated when she said nothing, and stepped close enough to her to lay his hands on her shoulders, though her back was still turned towards him. She stiffened in his grip, but did not move away.

Then she turned, and he found himself not even a foot away from her. "You're not free," she said, so low he almost couldn't hear it. "I'm not free. Where does fun come into our lives?"

Luke listened to her and found she had surprised him again. He hadn't expected her to think of herself as chained; she had always exhibited a fierce gladness at serving her Master, and never gave any indication that she might have wanted something more.

"Why?" he asked, and she seemed to understand him better than he understood her, because she knew what he meant.

"It was you," she said, her eyes catching his, so earnest. "You and your loneliness...I felt it, though you probably didn't even know you were projecting." He hadn't. "And I thought, you were a Sith Lord, with almost my same duties. If you could be feeling unhappy and stifled..." She trailed off.

"Was I really projecting that much?" he asked softly, quietly amazed at how much of his emotions she seemed to have picked up so quickly. How had that happened? He hadn't thought his shields were down...it was strange how often this girl could surprise him, but that was maybe one of the things he liked about her. She seemed to look into him and know him, though he didn't know how.

She nodded, and didn't break her gaze. She seemed to be trying to tell him something, but it was getting lost along the way and he couldn't hear her properly.

"It made me look at myself," she continued then. "At what I was doing, what I was feeling. About how much of my life was mine and how much was Palpatine's." She referred to him informally, using his given name--had she ever done that before? Luke didn't think so. ";I asked myself questions, and didn't like the answers."

Be careful, his father's voice told him, echoing in his ears. He didn't want to be, because this seemed everything that he wanted, his best friend becoming disillusioned with Palpatine, but he couldn't trust it. His father told him to be careful, and Luke had felt that he was afraid, so Luke would listen.

She looked sincere and she felt sincere, but could he trust it? He wanted to, so much, but that was perhaps a point against it, because if this was a plot of Palpatine's, the bait would not be so good if it wasn't sweet.

"And then I got to know you better," Mara murmured. "I'd wanted to, ever since I met you, the first person my age to know exactly who I was. I couldn't let it stop, after Ord Mantell, not without trying."

"I'm glad you did," he whispered, and decided to trust, at least a little. Back in the beginning of this friendship, he'd recognized that life was nothing without risk, and was that not still true even now? "I felt the same, but I wouldn't have taken the first step...I'm second in line for the Imperial throne, and my father told me to always maintain distance and dignity."

A shudder ran through Mara when he mentioned his nearness to the throne, a shudder that Luke only felt because his hands were still on her shoulders. He knew he should move them, but he didn't want to, and she didn't seem to mind.

"If the Emperor and your father were gone, you would be Emperor," she said, very quietly. "Do you ever think about that?"

He shivered, an unconscious echoing of Mara's shudder, and it traveled down his arms to his hands and Mara's shoulders. "I try not to," he told her, with equal quiet. "It's treason. And I don't want my father to die."

She nodded. "I know," she said, and he rather thought she did. "You love him."

A shock, running straight down his spine. Love. What a word to choose--exactly the word that he and his father avoided using. So many implications, and so many that he didn't understand. Love was...love was what? Care and sacrifice and trust and loyalty...could it even be defined as easily as that?

Luke didn't know. He rarely used the word love, because he didn't know what he was describing. But when it came to his father...

"Yes," he said. "I love him."

And he did. He always had, even when "Father" had just been an abstract, a name without a face and personality to match it to. As a child he'd wanted his father, and growing up had found him, and actually found him, the person beneath Darth Vader's mask, and there was so much more to him than the Dark Lord of the Sith.

"I wish..." Mara began, with an aching wistfulness, and did not go on.

But in this Luke understood her, or at least he thought he did. "I wish, too," he said, hands tightening on her shoulders briefly. I wish you had someone who is to you what my father is to me, he thought, finishing the words they'd both left unsaid. Palpatine sure as hell doesn't count.

Then Mara seemed to shake herself, and stepped out of his hold on her shoulders. "Wishes are useless," she said, and a shutter came down in her eyes, so that he couldn't see anything of her anymore, whether he understood what he was seeing or not.

"Not useless," Luke protested, and his arms fell to his sides, as if they didn't know what to do with themselves anymore when they weren't holding Mara near him. "They give us something to aspire to."

"What if we can't reach whatever we're wishing for?" she countered, and shook her head in anticipation of his answer. "Some things are impossible. Some limitations shouldn't be defied."

Are we talking about the same thing? Luke wondered uneasily, watching her as she turned her head away so that she was looking at the edge of the garden. What kind of limitations is she thinking of? Not finding people to call family, surely...something to do with Palpatine?

"That doesn't mean we shouldn't still try," he said. He wanted to reach out again, but he didn't think she would let him hold her so easily this time. She was a rose, was Mara Jade, pricking you without a thought if you didn't know how to handle her. And though there were many things about her that Luke didn't understand, he was learning, and maybe someday soon she wouldn't make him bleed.

Mara turned to look at him again, something hard and sharp in her gaze, and her eyes narrowed. "Keep your feet on the ground," she said once again. "You can't fix everything yourself, you know."

And before he could say anything else, she left, and he knew that she would not answer if he called after her.
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