"I?m leaving you, Luke.?
Mara folded her arms. ?Not like that. You?re being petulant.?
Luke snorted. ??Petulant?? Farmboy doesn?t understand big words like that. They?re too inscrutable.?
?Stop it. It doesn?t change the fact that I?m leaving. You?re just feeling sorry for yourself.?
Luke turned away and clenched his fists. ?I could make you stay if I wanted to.?
?You probably could. But you won?t. That?s not your style. Let me go.?
Mara sat in the armchair, half hidden in the shadows of their bedroom. ?You could turn the lights up. You don?t have to keep it so dark in here.?
?I like the dark.?
?I noticed. Hard habit to break once you?ve had a good taste of it, isn?t it??
He ignored the remark. Luke looked over at her. ?What are you wearing??
Mara smoothed the folds of the shimmersilk evening gown. ?This old thing? Just something I found in the back of the closet.?
?It?s beautiful. I always liked how you looked in that. Like a queen.?
Mara nodded an acknowledgement of the compliment. ?I always liked how the blue matched your eyes,? she replied.
?You wore that to Leia?s banquet two years ago, didn?t you??
?Yes, I did.? She smiled at him. ?Remember the first time you asked me to dance with you??
He returned the smile. ?I was so nervous. I thought you would laugh at me. Stupid country boy. Who?d I think I was, anyway??
She laughed at the memory. ?I thought Lando would spit his drink.?
He smiled and sat down on the arm of the chair. Mara turned her face upward to him. ?I still have to leave, Luke.?
He looked away.
The bedroom was a mess. The bed was stripped, and the room had clearly not been cleaned in a while. The HoloNet unit lay in a wrecked heap, broken beyond repair. Luke dragged a box toward the closet and began to tear clothes off their hangars.
?I like what you?ve done with the place,? said a voice behind him.
?Shut up. I thought you said you were leaving.?
Mara glanced around. ?Where?s the baby??
?He?s at Han and Leia?s place. They said they?d take him for a little while.? He maneuvered the box closer to the closet and began to stuff crumpled clothing into it.
?When?s the last time you shaved? Or ate?? she asked softly. There was no answer.
Mara examined the destroyed device on the floor. ?What happened to the HoloNet?? she asked.
Luke savagely shoved a blouse into the box. ?It fell.?
Mara raised an eyebrow. ?I think it was pushed.?
He found a pair of her boots and threw them into the box as well. ?Some reporter said it was about time I started looking for a replacement for you.? He spat the words. ?A replacement. Like you?re some engine part.?
?So you broke the unit. Did you feel better afterwards??
?I broke it. No, I didn?t feel better. But it shut her up.?
He grabbed another garment and began to shove it into the box. He froze as he realized what he was holding. The light blue shimmersilk draped across his arm.
He sat down heavily, clutching the dress. ?Oh, Mara.? Sobs consumed him. ?Mara.?
She reached out instinctively to touch his shoulder, then stopped.
?I like what you?re done with the place,? she remarked.
The apartment was cleaned up, with items neatly stacked and placed in their proper locations. Food had been restocked, and the rooms were bright. Soft music played in the background.
?Well, that was mostly Iella and Wedge. They helped pick up.?
?That was kind of them. Do thank them for me. I was beginning to notice a smell.? She walked over to the nightstand and gestured toward a medicine bottle. ?Are you taking these??
?You have these for a reason. It?s not weakness to take them, you know. They?ll help you.?
Luke picked at the front of his shirt. ?Han came over one night about a week ago. I had found a couple bottles of brandy we had put away. I was so staggering drunk that he had to help me find the bed. I think I slept for two days.?
He looked up. Mara was frowning. ?Be careful about self-medicating,? she said.
Luke shrugged. ?Anyway, I?m pretty sure that it was Wedge and Iella who cleaned up. Maybe Leia. No, I remember Wedge checking to see if I was still breathing.?
Mara smiled sympathetically. ?That?s the trick, isn?t it? Just keep breathing. Get up, get dressed, breathe, remember to eat something, go to bed.?
?Sometimes I can?t breathe at all,? he whispered. ?My chest constricts, my heart pounds, and I think I?m going to suffocate.?
?It?s a panic attack. That?s why you have the pills.?
?Hmm.? He sat down and stared vacantly. ?Talon called yesterday to see how things were. All those years you were working for him and you could have been with me.?
Mara smiled ruefully. ?It seems to me that every time we were together back then, you were trying to recruit me.?
?Yes and no,? he admitted. ?Part of me just liked having you around.?
?Well, you know how I was back then. If you warned me about stirring up a nest of angry gundarks, I would have insisted that they made excellent pets.? Mara moved closer to face him. ?Let them help, Luke. They care about you. You have good friends.?
We have good friends.?
She sighed and looked away.
Luke gestured to the empty closet. ?I gave the clothes to Mirax. She?ll find someone who can use them. I gave Tionne the black necklace and earrings that she gave you at your engagement party.?
Mara smiled. ?I always suspected that she liked that set more than I did.?
Luke looked her in the eyes. ?I?m keeping your ring.?
?I want to show you something Ben did today,? Luke said.
Mara came over to the counter. Luke picked up a piece of colored flimsy. ?He drew a picture of you.?
Mara smiled. ?It?s lovely. A stunning likeness.? She tilted her head and looked at Luke appraisingly. ?You know, he gets his good looks and intelligence from me, but that artistic talent is pure Skywalker.?
Luke nodded in agreement. ?Absolutely. Look how dramatically the arms come out of your head. And notice the detail: five fingers, two on the left hand and three on the right.?
?I especially like the way that one eye is three times larger than the other,? Mara laughed.
?He even drew your red hair. That?s how I knew it was you,? Luke commented.
?Maybe that was the only color he could find. Maybe this is actually a picture of Cilghal.?
Luke put it down on the counter. ?No, this is you.?
Mara stood beside him, looking at the child?s drawing. ?He must have really liked drawing the hair. It goes right down to my knees.? She glanced at Luke. ?Those are knees, aren?t they?? She smiled. ?You boys. I get it. You love me for my hair.?
Luke turned to her. ?I love you for so much, Mara.? He reached for her.
She backed away. ?Don?t.?
Luke awoke to feel her presence in the dark room. He rolled over and reached out to her side of the bed. ?Mara??
Her voice came from across the room. ?I?m here.?
?Why? Why are you back??
Silence. ?I?m not sure.?
?Please come to bed. It?s late. It?s cold here without you in bed with me.?
He heard her shift position in the room. ?It would be colder if I were in there with you.? She continued after a pause. ?I can?t come into bed with you, Luke. I want you to remember the way it was when we were first married. Not when I was sick. And not this way.?
?I can?t discriminate between memories. They?re all part of the same picture.? He whispered into the darkness. ?Mara? Why are you still here??
Her voice in the darkness answered. ?Maybe I don?t really want to leave, either.?
?Dad! Watch me! Watch me!? Ben chased delightedly after a brightly colored flying insect. Luke sat nearby, absently pulling at the grass while keeping an eye on his son.
?I?m watching!? Luke called.
?He?s getting big,? Mara said from behind him. She lowered herself onto the grass next to him.
?Yeah. He?s into everything. If I was anything like that, then I don?t know how my aunt and uncle put up with me.? Luke smiled. ?His hair is getting redder. It?s starting to look like yours.?
Mara smiled, too. They sat in silence together.
Luke pulled his leg up and wrapped his arms around it. His smile faded. ?Some days I wish I could have gone with you.?
?I know it?s hard,? she said, ?but this is my journey to take. You?ll have your own journey some day. And I?m not alone; I have some good people here with me.?
Luke turned and smiled. ?Anybody I know??
?Oh, yes. And a few people you don?t. Qui-Gon, for example. You?d like him. He?s got the same dry sense of humor you have.?
?Really. He?s the one who figured out how to do this, penetrate the plane. He says you do it exceptionally well. I think he?s jealous.? Mara watched her son swerve after the insect.
?Of course he?s jealous. I had you,? Luke replied.
?You said ?had.?? Mara bowed her head. She looked at him again and reached gently for his face. Luke felt a sudden coldness against his skin. ?When it?s your turn, I?ll be waiting,? she said softly. ?It?s time. I have to leave now.?
?I love you,? she whispered.
?I always loved you, Mara. I always will.?
The wind blew his hair back as a sudden breeze swept across the field. Ben looked up from his game. Then the breeze settled along the meadow and drifted away.
Original cover by obaona. HTML formatting copyright 2006 TheForce.Net LLC.