The night breezes of Yavin 4 were blowing briskly and carried the warnings of coming rain. Luke stood on the landing platform as a small ship made its descent. He recognized the craft, but wondered why it was here. A few moments later a lone figure emerged and walked towards him.
Immediately Luke noticed the sense of concern about her. "What brings you here, Mara?"
Mara's expression was puzzled. "Well you do, of course."
He was a bit surprised by that response. "What do you mean?"
"I mean I got your message."
"Yes. The message you sent asking me to come here and see you." She could tell by the expression on Luke's face that he had no idea what she was talking about. "You did send me a message, didn't you?"
Luke shook his head. "No. But as long as you're here, why don't you tell me about it." He turned towards one of the main temples and motioned for her to follow.
Mara suddenly felt suspicious. "Wait a minute. This doesn't make any sense. If you didn't send me the message, then who did?"
"Mara, I don't know any more about this than you do. But it's late and is very likely to start pouring down rain any minute. I don't particularly want to stand out here on the landing platform to discuss it."
Mara remained hesitant for a couple of seconds, then silently walked towards the temple.
Luke led Mara to a small, quiet room. She recognized it as the communications center for the Academy. Luke sat at one of the tables and Mara took a seat across from him.
"So what is all this about a message from me?" he began.
Mara shrugged. "A couple days ago I received a standard communication. All it said was that you wanted me to come to Yavin 4 because you had to talk with me about something."
"Could you determine from where it was sent? Did it come from Yavin, or maybe Coruscant?"
Mara shook her head. "No, but I assumed it came from here since it supposedly came from you." She studied Luke's expression for a moment. "Do you think somebody's up to something?"
Luke sighed. "Probably. But nothing you should be concerned about."
She gave him a questioning look.
"It's most likely just one of my students or friends - who knows, maybe even Leia or Han. Probably thought they'd send you to check up on me."
"Why in the blazing stars would someone do that?" Mara asked, although she had already guessed the answer.
"Because they are needlessly worried about me."
He didn't need to add any explanation as to why. Mara knew that he had taken Callista's leaving pretty hard. But now that she saw him it was painfully visible that he was worse off than she had originally supposed.
"Maybe their worries aren't so needless. In case you haven't noticed, Skywalker, you look like hell."
Luke shot her a hard glance. But it soon faded, giving way to a slight smile. "You always did know how to be straightforward with me. Listen, I'm just sorry you had to make this trip on account of nothing."
Mara risked a sly smile. "And you once told me that my coming to Yavin 4 was never unnecessary."
Luke held her gaze across the table, uncertain just how to take her remark. "Well, as long as you're here you might as well take a rest. I know you spend most of your life on that ship of yours, and it's already late and raining. I'm sure we can find a spare room for you."
Mara's first instinct was to say no. But, although she never would have told Luke, she had just flown halfway across the galaxy with almost no sleep in order to get here. "Okay. But I'll need to head out again first thing in the morning."
Mara stood at the window, staring out at the rain soaked forests. She had managed to get hardly any sleep in the past few hours. 'I knew I shouldn't have stayed. This always happens,' she thought to herself. But Mara knew that even if she hadn't stayed on Yavin she still would have been up half the night worrying about him. After driving herself half crazy tossing and turning in bed, she had finally gotten up and dressed again. Turning from the window, Mara walked towards the door. 'Why do I have the feeling I'm going to regret this?' she asked herself as she headed down the hallway.
Mara had no idea how long she simply stood there, in the empty hall outside Luke's door. She had also lost count of how many times she'd argued with herself to forget the whole thing and go back to her own room. Finally, one side of her argument won out. She knocked.
After a silent moment, Mara knocked again. Still no response. But she knew Luke wasn't asleep. And she was determined now to see this through. Slowly, she opened the door. Luke was sitting on the floor, leaning against the bed and staring absently at nothing in particular on the floor.
"You know most people take it as a message to leave when there's no response to a knock at the door," he said matter-of-factly without even looking up to acknowledge Mara's presence.
"Yes, I know," Mara replied in the same tone, closing the door behind her. She walked over and purposely sat down beside him. "And you know that I'm not most people."
Luke made no response, either verbally, physically, or with his sense in the Force. Already Mara felt as if she were beating her head against a wall.
"Skywalker, I'm not going to fancy step around this. I don't know who sent me that message, and at this point I don't care. But one thing is obvious - someone is worried about you and I think they have valid reason to be. You've got to come to grips with this."
Slowly, Luke turned to look at her. The pain Mara saw in his eyes cut to her heart. "I appreciate your concern, but frankly you have no idea whatsoever about my feelings in this situation."
Mara wasn't going to let him off the hook that easily. "Well, maybe I don't understand exactly how you feel, but you can't tell me I haven't been sensing your pain ever since I came out of hyperspace outside Yavin. And someone doesn't even need to have the Force to take one look at you and see how miserable you are."
Luke returned his gaze to the unspecific spot of floor. "I can take care of myself."
"Oh, I'm sure you can. Point is, you don't want to anymore." Mara's tone was firm, almost bordering on harshness. She knew that she was going to have to be tough to get through this.
"Still, it's not anything for you to worry about."
Mara slammed her fist against the floor and swore. She shifted her sitting position so that now she was facing Luke, and could look him square in the eye. "Listen Skywalker, I *am* worried about you, and I'm not just going to sit by while you destroy yourself. Yes, Callista is gone. And the chances are pretty good that she's not coming back. You've got to realize that and get on with your life."
This time Luke didn't look away, but met the fire in Mara's eyes with a blaze of his own. "Do you think I don't already know that?" Although his voice was calm, just above a whisper, Mara felt his words slam into her like a punch in the gut. "Do you think I don't realize that Callista left because she didn't love me enough to stick it through when things got tough?"
Mara could only stare back at him. She'd never seen Luke quite like this before. He was obviously upset. She could sense the fury of emotions his presence sent through the Force. Yet from outward appearances he was calm. Too calm. And the look in his eyes was colder than ice.
A tense moment of silence passed.
Luke laid his head back against the bed. When he spoke again his voice was still quiet, but without the unnatural calm of before. "I'm sorry, Mara. I shouldn't be taking this out on you." Angrily, he released a ragged sigh. "I'm just so tired of fighting this. It seems like I've tried everything I can think of, but I just can't seem to get over her. I don't understand it - I never had this much trouble getting over other people I've lost in my life."
"Yes, but how many of those did you lose through death rather than just having them walk out on you?" Mara asked.
Luke's stare drifted towards the floor again. "Actually, I never thought of it like that before."
Mara reached out to touch his hand. "You've got to let her go, Luke."
The harshness was gone from Mara's voice now, and as Luke met her gaze he noticed it was also gone from her eyes.
"And you've got to stop trying to cope with this all alone," she continued. "When was the last time you had a visit with your sister, for instance?" Luke merely shrugged in reply. "That's what I thought. You don't have to stay cooped up here, sulking all by yourself. You have family and friends who care about you too much to let you go through this alone."
Luke looked deep into her eyes. "And would you put yourself in that group?"
Mara swallowed hard. It was a question he had every right to ask, and she knew it. "I know that we haven't always been the closest of friends, Luke. But yes, I do care about you."
Luke squeezed Mara's hand gently. "There was a time when you and I were close."
Alarms began to go off inside Mara's head. 'Watch it,' she thought. 'This could get real uncomfortable real quick!' She pulled her hand away and cast her glance aside. "Yes, but that was a long time ago."
Luke sighed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't try to bring up the past again. It's just that..."
"It's just that what?" Mara asked, simultaneously reprimanding herself. 'Oh, that's playing it real safe, Mara!'
"It's just that sometimes I wonder about what might have happened. I mean, haven't you ever thought about what might have happened if you'd stayed on working with the New Republic and smugglers' alliance?"
The conversation was definitely running too close for comfort now. Yet despite the warnings in her own mind, Mara still could not deny a response. "I suppose I did, once or twice." She added to herself, 'once or twice every day since the day I left.'
"And did you ever have regrets?"
Mara's curiosity was beginning to overtake her caution. "What are you getting at?"
Luke looked away, guiltily. "I know my timing with this is really lousy. Everything I want to say right now is going to sound like simple clich's."
For a moment, Mara didn't answer and the silence hung heavy in the air. Finally, her voice warm, she gave a reply. "I'll decide that for myself after I've heard you out." Luke turned his eyes back toward her and somehow she managed not to look away. 'I hope I'm not going to regret this...'
"There was a time, shortly after all that happened on Wayland, when you and I began to develop a genuine friendship. You can't deny that we seemed to share... I don't know - a special bond or something. I could talk to you, share things with you. I never have been able to fully explain it. Sometimes I think it was because maybe we both had the Force. And even after you stopped working for the New Republic, and went out on your own, we still seemed to maintain some type of friendship." He paused, as if considering his next words very carefully. "I've never experienced any other type relationship even remotely similar... except once."
"And when was that?" she asked.
"With Callista. At least, during the time before she lost her Force ability."
Mara let the implications of his words sink slowly through her screaming head. A part of her kept sending the warnings, telling her it wasn't too late to pull back. But another part, a stronger part, seemed frozen in place. As if she were waiting on the edge of a silent void to hear the words she had secretly always longed to hear. Luke reached out to take her hand, and this time Mara did not pull away.
"There have been times when I would have given almost anything just to be with you, to be able to talk to you again or just share your company. You seemed to understand me at times when no one else could, and I came to miss that. I came to miss you. I was once able to deal with that. To find rational explanations, or to just pass it off as my own imagination." His eyes seemed to bore to the core of her being, and Mara sat motionless, transfixed. "I don't think I'm going to be able to do that anymore. Or, perhaps more importantly, I don't think I want to do that anymore."
Mara was dumbfounded. She wanted to say something, to make some type of reply, but her mind was racing somewhere near the border of lightspeed and it felt as if her heart rate wasn't far behind. She closed her eyes in concentration, fighting for control. Then, somewhere on the periphery of her sense, she noticed something. Luke had just attempted to reach out to her, through the Force. And reflexively her sense had begun to throw up the barriers. The barriers she had developed years ago out of necessity, and which she had always used to hide her true feelings from Luke. It was in that moment that the idea came to her. What better response could she give than to finally remove those barriers. Taking a slow, deep breath, Mara compelled herself to relax, and open herself completely through the Force.
Luke wasn't certain what reaction he'd expected, but it hadn't been this. Mara's expression had been dazed but unreadable before she had closed her eyes. Even before realizing it, Luke had instinctively reached out to her. Only to slam into a solid wall. He recognized the reaction. It was the same one he'd always gotten whenever he'd tried to get too close to Mara or her feelings. He had been just about to pull away again when he noticed the change. The barrier to Mara's sense was suddenly gone. Tentatively, he reached out again.
Mara caught the change in Luke's expression just as she opened her eyes again. She could feel his presence, but rather than pushing it way like so many times before, she was embracing it. Luke opened his mouth as if to speak, but Mara shook her head and spoke to him through the Force. 'Hope this didn't come as too much of a shock.'
'No, but... I guess I just don't understand.' Mara heard Luke's voice answer in her mind.
'What's to understand? You aren't the only one who's been hiding emotions, you know.'
'But why didn't you ever say anything before?' he asked.
'You want the exhaustive list? It's pretty long - we could be here all night.'
Luke recognized the playful sarcasm in Mara's voice, and he smiled. 'Doesn't matter anyway, I suppose.' He reached up to lovingly touch her face. 'You know, I always did think you were beautiful.'
Mara leaned forward and placed a warm kiss lightly on his lips. For an instant, the thought went through her mind that perhaps Luke would pull away. That perhaps this was too much, too soon for him. But then she felt his arms sliding around her waist, pulling her close to him. She kissed Luke again, and this time found it was returned with a passion which before now she would not have imagined him capable of. The last thing that went through Mara's mind was that if she ever found out who had sent that message, she owed him or her one tremendous expression of personal thanks.