"He's a child," Luke said softly, but in spite of the mildness of his tone, Mara glanced up in surprise at her husband. Something new and stern echoed in those quietly spoken words.
"He's a Jedi," Mara corrected. "The same rules don't apply." She moved to where Luke was standing on their balcony and slipped her arms around his slim waist.
"Maybe the same rules should apply," Luke murmured. The tension in his muscles did not abate, even when she rested her head against his broad back. Beneath her cheek, she could feel the subtle beat of his heart - steady and reassuringly familiar.
Mara remained silent for a moment, uncertain what to say, unsure even of his mood. For once, his shields were up and locked firmly in place. That was troubling, because Luke was usually as readable as a data pad, at least to her. For a brief moment, she considered storming his defenses and getting to the heart of the matter through sheer determination. Then she dismissed that notion and knew that Luke's current mood would require compassion and subtlety, which had never been particular strong points of hers.
Unable to find the right words to begin, she simply walked around until she was facing him. Reaching up, she caressed the side of his face, letting her fingers linger at his jaw line. That jaw bulged and bunched with tension, but she did not remark on it. There was no need.
"You're a good father, Luke Skywalker," she said suddenly and watched as his eyes widened and shot to hers. "But this is something that requires you to be a good Jedi Master, not just a caring father."
"Why can't I be both?" Luke asked, his gaze troubled as he shifted uneasily on his feet. "I need to be both of those people. I am both."
"Yes," Mara agreed. "You are." Smiling, she placed a tender kiss on his lips. "I'm not asking you to give up being his father."
"In a way...you are," Luke said, turning away and moving toward the railing, where he leaned heavily, his shoulders slumped. "And I can't. I've tried, but...I can't." He shook his head. "I don't want to separate those two parts of myself, even if I could."
She brushed back the hair from his face. "You've trained him well, Luke. He's a gifted Jedi." Mara smiled crookedly. "That's no surprise, but I just thought I'd remind you. He comes from a very powerful line of Force users."
Usually that would have been enough to make Luke grin and dissipate the tension. Not today however. Luke merely stared back at her, wary and uncertain, wanting to believe her, but unable to give his complete trust in the words she had spoken.
"Yes, we Skywalkers can certainly use the Force," Luke whispered bitterly. "We can help destroy a galaxy in one generation."
"And you saved it in the same amount of time," she reminded him. The Force seethed with Luke's uncertainty, but at least his shields were down. She moved in close and simply held him quietly. At last, she felt some of the terrible rigidness seep from his muscles, his anger and worry giving way in the face of her tender compassion.
His arms embraced her and she sighed contentedly. This was her Luke. He leaned his head against hers, his lips close to her ear. "What if I've forgotten to teach him something?" he asked anxiously.
"Then I've remembered to do it," Mara assured him. "I've trained our boy too, you know." She laughed softly. "Are you trying to tell me that between the Jedi Grandmaster and a former Emperor's Hand, we might have forgotten some vital bit of our own son's training?" He fell silent for a moment and she waited for the tension to return to his body. It did not. Mara lifted his chin and turned his face until their eyes met. "What's going on, Skywalker?"
His words, when he finally spoke, were shattering in their simplicity. "I don't want to send my son into battle." Luke pulled away and laughed bitterly. "Funny, isn't it?"
"After all these years, I finally understand my Uncle Owen," Luke said, shaking his head. "He just wanted to keep me safe, that was all." He sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. "And I fought him at every turn." He looked at her. "I can only imagine how much that worried him...terrified him, especially knowing what he knew..."
"Your uncle loved you," Mara said. "He understood."
"I'm sure he did," Luke replied. "I understand what Ben wants too. I've felt it." He turned away, the muscles in his back flexing with restlessness. "And now it's my turn to sit back and watch...to wait and see if all the hours I've spent preparing him for his role as a Jedi will keep him safe."
"He'll be okay," she promised, but Luke's anxiety had begun to infect her as well. Ben was their miracle, their bright shining light.
The galaxy was a large and dangerous place - especially for a Jedi.
"Maybe my uncle had it right," Luke said. "Maybe it would have been better for me to live out my years on the farm."
"And then the Emperor would have killed your sister and countless others," Mara pointed out softly. "Our destinies aren't always comfortable...or safe."
Luke turned and held out a hand. She put her hand in his.
They fit perfectly.
They always had.
"And I wouldn't have met you," he whispered. "That would have been the greatest tragedy of all."
She fit her body close to his, her muscles and curves snuggling up against the hard planes of his body. "We've trained him well," Mara said. "We can't protect him forever, even though we want to...."
"I know," he answered quietly. "The thought of something happening to him-"
Her kiss stopped the flow of words.
"He's like his father," she murmured. "He'll never be happy playing it safe. We have to let him be who he is, even when it hurts."
Luke laughed and kissed her. "Since when did you get to be so smart?" he asked, tilting his head.
"Since forever," she replied with a grin.
Original cover by Gina. HTML formatting copyright 2009 TheForce.Net LLC.