Summary: Murder, insanity, suicide – now that’s love.
Notes: Many, huge huge thanks to Pallas-Athena for beta'ing. ;) Fault and thanks for the plot bunny goes to vader_incarnate, who offered it up for adoption. This is all your fault!
The black thread was unraveling. He pulled at it, watching the dark fabric bunch up, then let it go. He lay still for a few moments, still curled up on his side, then began to unravel the thread again. There was something soothing in the repetitive, mindless action. He was drifting off to sleep, even as uncomfortable as he was on the bench, using his arm for a pillow.
He wanted to stay in this state. Not asleep – he could never defend himself in his dreams – but not totally awake, just slipping in between into nothingness.
But something changed, and the still waters flinched.
He opened his eyes and slowly sat up. The cell remained empty, and he could hear nothing from the far guard station, but something had shifted. Darkness had curled in on itself, frightened by the burning light.
Yes, the Light burned.
He felt her stop outside his cell, taking a moment to gather her composure.
“Why did you come, Leia?” Luke asked softly, sitting on the bench and staring straight ahead at the blank wall. The cell door slowly opened, creaking, and yes, he finally heard that which the Force had heralded: her presence.
She stepped inside, into his narrow line of vision. Her hair was pulled back harshly, making the normally soft features of her face surprisingly sharp. Her eyes reflected her agony, but appeared black and empty save for that pain in the dim, unfocused light of the cell. She wore white, looking as innocent and pure as she had all those years ago on the Death Star.
He was considerably more marked.
“I had to see you, Luke,” she murmured, sitting beside him on the bench. A gentle hand rested on his cheek, turning him to face her. She gently traced the scar on the side of his head, and he exhaled, relaxing at her touch. “How are you?”
“As well as could be expected.”
“That’s not an answer,” Leia replied with an edge to her tone, her hand dropping.
Luke paused, knowing the reaction his answer would cause. “I’m preparing myself. Sinking into the Force as much as possible. I think that will make it easier.” Matter-of-fact, yet there was a sad, bitter tint to the words that even he was aware of.
“Don’t say that,” Leia said harshly. “This isn’t over, Luke.”
“Yes, it is,” Luke replied, voice hard. Brittle in the way of unbending metal, ready to snap at any moment.
“We’ll fight it –”
“You have fought it,” Luke whispered, staring into his twin’s eyes. He could feel her so strongly now as she focused on him, and her presence was a comfort. He both hoped that she was there, and that she was gone when it happened. “And I thank you for that.”
“Then you fight it!” Leia shouted, and her voice broke. “Get out of here. Escape – they can’t keep you here against your will –” She clenched her fists.
“You don’t mean that. You believe so strongly in the Republic, Leia. Don’t lose that belief,” Luke said quietly. He couldn’t bear to see Leia lose that fiery determination, that honest reaching for a better galaxy. “There is no getting past what I did.” He hesitated. “I’ve often thought of our father, though most especially these past few weeks. If he had lived ... I wish he had survived, Leia, but if he had, he would be in my place now.”
Leia drew back in disbelief. “So you’re saying it’s better that you die? What of the Jedi, rebuilding the Order?”
Luke shook his head. “I think I’ve proved I’m not capable of that. At the very least, who would trust me to do so? Maybe it was never meant to be.” He stopped.
“Don’t say it.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Luke said wryly. “We all choose our fate. This isn’t Father’s fault. It’s mine.”
Leia exhaled roughly. “I’m going to petition for a last minute stay –”
Luke shook his head, but simply said, “I understand.” He gazed at his sister briefly, then embraced her tightly. She shook for a moment. “I love you,” he said into her ear.
“I know,” she replied shakily.
Despite himself, Luke smiled.
“Go. I’ll be fine,” he reassured her.
Leia nodded – but something hasty about the action – then stood up. She kissed Luke on the forehead, then left.
Luke lay back down on the bench, and began picking at the black thread of the blanket. Unraveling it.
It was power like he had never known. Beautiful, terrifying, worthy of worship. It came to him quickly and easily, answering his call. It felt so natural, so perfect. What had he been doing, denying this part of himself? Wasn’t all of the Force worthy to be worshiped, used, embraced?
Oh, it was so beautiful.
He could have anything he wanted with this.
Luke whimpered in his sleep—
What Palpatine demanded was much. In ignorance Luke had knelt before the Emperor, this Sith Master, intending to hold to the Light and yet embrace the Dark. Palpatine had showed him the foolishness of that plan. Again and again he broke Luke, showing him how little he knew of the Force. Again and again he twisted Luke’s perceptions, instilling obedience, if not loyalty ... loyalty could only be freely given. Again and again Luke felt Palpatine laughing in his mind as he killed and killed.
In return, he offered Luke the sweetness of the Dark.
And Luke wanted more.
—close to waking—
But it was not to last. Cloying and thick, it laid over his mind, but it flitted away like mist when Luke examined it. The Darkness could not grant Luke what it did not have. It could not give him life. True life, burning and screaming and powerful.
The Light burned, and Luke screamed.
—and then he woke up screaming.
He had gotten quite a bit of the blanket unraveled. There was a little pile of the black thread now, as the sun rose.
Not that he could see it. This place had been chosen for its security, being the only place they could think of where they had a hope of holding a Jedi prisoner. It was utterly bare, the bench and the rough blanket the only comforts. It was also empty; Luke couldn’t even feel any tiny creatures nesting, burrowing their way in to the prison like they did everywhere else on Coruscant. Nor were there any sentient minds to trick, to twist and control.
But he could feel the dawn in the wakefulness of the Force. Bright, burning light. And, with dawn, came the execution.
Luke Skywalker had been sentenced to die today.
When he sensed her, he knew she wasn’t supposed to be there. Her presence in the Force was fiery, but in a different sense than with Leia. It was harsh and dangerous, too, roiled and uncontrolled. Like chains had been broken, and she was running and running, because she could.
Luke waited by the door for her. When she entered, blaster in hand, he merely stared at her, waiting for an explanation, his own mind unwilling to provide one.
She glared at him. “We’re going, Skywalker.”
“Going where?” Luke asked blankly.
“Somewhere where you won’t be executed,” Mara retorted, rolling her eyes. “Why do you think I broke into a high-security prison with only one prisoner? We don’t have much time.” She gestured for him to leave the cell. “Come on.”
Luke shook his head. “I can’t.”
“Yes, you can,” Mara said with exaggerated patience. She hadn’t moved, hadn’t even moved aside for him to walk by her to leave. She had been expecting this. And so he said nothing. She waited a moment, then continued, “What do you think is going to happen when they come for you? You’re going to die, Skywalker.”
Luke shrugged. “They’ll come to get me, I’ll say goodbye to Leia and Han – and the children – and it will be over. Quickly and painlessly.” Quick like falling ...
“Got it quite practiced in your head, have you?” Mara asked coolly.
His jaw tightening, Luke sat down on the bench. “I’ve accepted this,” he bit out, wondering why, even now, she inspired such anger in him.
She walked so that she was in front of him, facing him squarely. He met her gaze reluctantly, seeing the usual anger and frustration in those green eyes, but ... other things too, less definable. His perception was uncertain, and so he looked away, unwilling to confront those other things.
“You forgave Vader, you can’t forgive yourself?” she asked bitingly, in her tone almost making a mockery of forgiving Vader.
“Anakin,” Luke muttered.
She drew her hand sharply sideways in dismissal. “Whatever. This is stupid, Skywalker. Are you going to just curl up and die?”
“Probably better that way,” Luke said bluntly.
“Does Organa think so?”
“Leia thinks she can still move through the Republic and get me pardoned,” Luke said dryly.
“Apparently she still thinks you’re worth saving,” Mara snapped.
“I was tried and found guilty of treason and murder,” Luke said, looking at her and then looking away again. “Do you know how many I killed, under him? I couldn’t even guess. I didn’t know until the trial.”
Mara exhaled. “I don’t buy this.”
“Why not?” Luke asked, somehow startled.
“There’s something more,” Mara insisted. “I saw you during the trial. You just ... gave up.” Disgust in that. “You were always one for second chances.”
Luke closed his eyes. Second chances ... assumes that I want one. He saw the black thread, still unraveled. Unraveling. Such a small thing, undoing everything.
To his surprise, Mara crouched before him, by her simple presence forcing him to meet her eyes. “You don’t think you’ve let it go.”
“Leave it alone, Mara,” Luke whispered hoarsely.
“You think I don’t know?” Mara asked softly. Gently, in a way Luke had never seen in her. “How, after everything, it’s so easy to reach out for the rage and anger? How good it feels? I still want it, Skywalker. I want it so badly.”
“I’m afraid of giving in,” Luke told her.
“But you’ve always been certain I wouldn’t,” Mara said. “That, with Palpatine’s betrayal of me, I’d never turn back to that life. And I don’t think you ever would, either. You shouldn’t die here, Skywalker.”
Luke shook his head and, to his shame, his eyes filled with tears. “I can’t go,” he breathed. “I did betray the Republic. And they haven’t given me a second chance. I’m guilty.”
“Is this what happens when there is no forgiveness?” Mara’s eyes were full of emotion now, and Luke couldn’t really deny anymore what he saw there. She cared; he mattered. “Is this why you always forgive, Luke?”
He didn’t answer because he didn’t know what to say.
He ran his hands through her red hair, and it was so, so soft. And when he kissed her, it was perfect. Discovering not only how the Light burned, but how it healed ... all over again. She permitted the kiss, more than permitted – responded, reacted, and gave. She ran because she could. She touched because she could.
“You’re not going to escape with me, are you Skywalker?” she murmured into his ear, after he let her go.
He shook his head slightly, wrapping his arms around Mara tightly, breathing in the scent of her hair.
“Damn fool,” she said, and nothing more.
“Stay with me. Until they come.”
And she did.
Mara held the coarse, black blanket to herself, and closed her eyes against the sunlight.
First it had been just talking. That was all.
They had never talked much. Hints, here and there, words that weren’t necessary, but exchanged regardless, and a little sharing because of that. But uncertainty reigned, and they submitted to its will. There was no point to that, then, and so they had talked.
He had confessed to her.
She could feel him now; he was calm. Her hands twisted the black fabric, and its harshness scratched her skin.
He had confessed to her, as if she could give him penance. But who else could understand the bitterly sweet taste of darkness? Who else could know in such intimate detail what serving darkness was? He had wanted forgiveness, not out of innocence but damning knowledge.
Force, Skywalker, is that all? she had thought. Forgiving him for something in which she had not been wronged was quite easy.
He was serene now.
The unraveling of his peace had been undone. The turmoil she had sensed was gone.
Hers was freshly awakened. She sat on the floor, alone and yet constantly reaching out of his presence. She knew he sensed her touch, her worry, her fear, and yes, even her anger.
They had talked, after that kiss, and then he had held her, like it was the most natural thing in the world. It seemed strange to her – that he was going to die and he was holding her. Perhaps it was one of those strange interpersonal relationship things that she just didn’t entirely understand, the little subtleties lost to her when it involved herself, like looking into a murky mirror.
There had been something sweet about it, regardless.
Damn him. She refused to be there to see it. She could feel him clearly enough. She didn’t need to watch, as well. It was so twisted, so elementally wrong, she shuddered all over. This was wrong.
What was that? It seemed – it seemed like ...
It had been tentative. That was the word. Given time, it would have grown stronger.
... It seemed like he was fading away.
Damn him for being so stubborn. He could have escaped. The lingering touches of darkness would have passed in time. Even if not, wasn’t everyone touched by a little bit of darkness? Should she die, then? She refused to accept that. Second chances, Skywalker had been all about second chances ...
Oh Force, it suddenly felt so empty.
She held the blanket he had given her, and opened her eyes, staring blankly into the sunlight coming from the window. Total silence in her apartment. She looked down at the cloth she held, her vision blurring for a moment.
A single thread was coming undone. She plucked it, watching it further unravel. Then she took it in hand, fiercely twisted it and pulled, and the thread broke with a snap.
And then Mara wept.