Rating: R
Thrawn McEwok

Stark simplicity.

She is alone, squatting on a bare dirt floor, in a dark, empty room with walls of undressed stone. There are no windows.

In front of her, there is an open doorway.

There is no door, not even a curtain drawn across the opening. Just a view out into the night. She can feel the chill kiss of the darkness on her face, blissful after the heat of the day. In the shadows beyond the door, she can just make out the shape of the courtyard.

In the heights of the sky, a billion bright stars sparkle. The night is ice-cold, and in the still air, the starlight is as sharp and pure as diamond.

A grim smile twists on her parched lips, as she savours the irony of a prison cell with an open door, with a view right across the Galaxy.

How far away is the farthest star she can see from here? Ten thousand years?

She sighs, and glances at the fetter around her forearm. It seems like such a simple thing, to hold a Jedi Master captive. The sound of the chain as she lifts her wrist is a mere whisper. It weighs a little, but not much.

The chain is the only furnishing in the empty cell. It disappears beneath the dirt floor, somewhere towards the back wall.

She has spent hours digging in the arid dirt, trying to find where it ends. Her fingers are torn and filthy now, her body robed in dust and sweat.

She sighs again, then frowns, and shakes her head. She uses her left hand to push her matted hair back out of her face, and shifts her feet beneath her, finding a more comfortable stance.

She looks out of her doorway again.

She has been here for nine days, she thinks.

The days are blazing hot, too bright. This world's fierce sun bestrides a vast, empty sky, and the exhausted planet lies helpless beneath its baleful glare, trembling with heat-haze, like a prostrate slave.

In the daylight, the black architecture of the courtyard gleams, as if the stone itself is drenched in sweat. Occasionally, dark-cloaked figures detach themselves from the doorways, and move quickly across the open space — as if they are living shadows, held together by will alone; as if too long in the light might destroy them.

She can understand how the shadows feel. Her cell faces south, and the heat and light lance in through the open door. She shrinks back, seeking what little comfort she can find in the corners, in the dry, dusty brown places where there is some relief from the light's bright, searching gaze.

She is, she supposes, becoming a shadow herself.

In the light, the only comfort is that the cool stone walls of her prison retain the memory of darkness. Without food or water, she lapses into delirium during the daylight hours, an anguished Force-trance.

When night comes, she creeps slowly back across the floor.

At night, the gathered heat of the day imbues the cell with lingering warmth. Outside, the freezing cold would kill her in an hour.

She is safe here. She waits. She can endure this — for as long as her captors want her to.

At night, she tries to gather herself together, like a threadbare cloak around her naked shoulders. Her memories are fragmented, with broken edges that do not fit together, still sharp to the touch.

Her body has been broken too, scarred by the memory of wounds, bound back together by a will and power that is not her own.

Sometimes, she tries to organize her recent memories, but it is the dark man in the throne that she remembers most.

Perhaps all that was a dream, and this is all there is. It is certainly all she will ever need.

A stark stone cell, four walls and a bare dirt floor. Cold, dirty, lean and hungry. Just a shackle round her wrist, to keep her in her place.

She would almost prefer it if there was nothing else, she thinks.

Then she looks up at the stars, and remembers her son, and she wants to scream.

* * * * *

She blinks.

A man is standing in the doorway, a silhouette. He is broad-shouldered beneath his cloak, tall and powerful.

He reminds her of her son, full grown. She shudders.

Then he steps through the doorway, and pulls back the hood of his cloak.

She gasps, and stares at him, in disbelief.

"Master Skywalker," he says, with an ironic nod.

"Anakin," she breathes. Her voice is a painful rasp like a broken dagger, drawn from a rusty scabbard and held in a shaking grip. It would be a thing of deadly fury, if it wasn't so broken.

"That name," he says, and paces round behind her. "No longer has any meaning."

His gloved fingers trace a line around her shoulder, then his hands clasp either side of her neck.

She feels an uneasy, queasy tingle, lower down, and lifts and turns her head to stare up at him.

"No," she says, eyes wide. In answer, his hands slide up around her neck, fingers pressing against her larynx. There's a snapping sound in her throat, and she spasms in pain.

She gasps, mute and hurt, and he pushes her to the floor. It's only the start.

Anakin doesn't need to explain. She understands that he's breaking her will, moving from pain to pain with a methodical self-control and purpose. It's something that she taught him when he was an Apprentice.

That doesn't make it any easier; it doesn't make him any less effective.

He doesn't ask her any questions, but then again, she never expected him to.

When they're finished, he stands over her, and she simply crawls on the ground at his feet, like a supplicant.

She lifts her face again and stares up at him, moving her fingers to her mute throat, her eyes looking for some sort of explanation.

He's done a good job, but she's not sure why.

He grins faintly — an unexpectedly appropriate answer — and gestures with the Force. The fetter falls away.

She rises to a crouch, but he gestures for her to stay. She obeys, then pauses, frowns, and watches, as he turns and leaves — a shadow slipping back into the night.

She settles back on the floor, and stares out the door again. She could step outside now, but she doubts that her captors would let her leave the courtyard.

And what then? She sees herself sprawled on the naked sand. Trying to earn her passage off-world in the back alleys of a barbaric spaceport. Trapped on some other backwater world. Caught by the new Galactic dictatorship, beheaded by the man who wants her dead.

She sees Luke, unable to help. She sees Ben, driven to darkness.

Where else is there to go?

Eventually, she picks up the shackle, and locks it back around her wrist.

* * * * *

He has stayed longer tonight.

This time, when he has finished and released her fetter, he gestures for her to follow him.

She blinks, and frowns, then nods and follows — rubbing her forearm as she falls in step behind him. No conscious thoughts disturb her mind, and in the Force, she is open to him, but silent.

It is the first time in three weeks that she has left the cell.

The path leads along the side of the courtyard, then upstairs, into the gallery overlooking the open space from the first floor.

The sky is midnight blue. Sunrise is coming.

They enter a room, much larger than her cell, but just as empty. There are windows here.

He turns, and looks at her, and she shivers beneath his gaze. She sees him through his own eyes.

She feels naked, but the tattoos he has inscribed across her skin tingle.

They tell her story, a narrative that emphasises her origins as a Sith assassin, her repeated betrayals of the Jedi, her lack of trust for her husband; the unfinished edges of the pattern point forward to her completion here on Korriban, when she becomes fully part of One Sith.

Her eyes burn red-gold, in a face masked by black tattoos.

She looks back at the Master who was once Anakin Solo, and feels nothing except a coldness in her guts.

The woman he is looking at is a nameless slave of the new Sith Order. She trembles inwardly at that admission, but holds her poise.

He gestures towards a heap of robes and armour in the corner, with a flicker of command in his look.

She nods, and moves over, and begins to put her new clothes on.

Mara Jade Skywalker is dead. Perhaps she died with Palpatine.

She supposes she'll be given a name of her own later, once her training is complete.

* * * * *

As he watches her dress, he's starting to wonder if he's made a mistake.

She moves beautifully, like a flame - a supple, curved shape that never keeps still; always balanced around its centre.

She's tugging on the leathers, tightening the straps around her body, sheathing herself in the dark garb of a Sith like it's a second skin.

He watches her carefully, like a Master studying his apprentice. He doesn't want to give away any hint of his disquiet, or the fact that she's surprised him once again.

She broke.

His frown deepens slightly. This isn't what he wanted at all.

He wanted to save her from Jacen, of course, and in that he's succeeded. But now he remembers how his lip twisted at the irony - saving her from one Sith by enslaving her to One Sith.

A typical Anakin Solo plan.

His lip curls up at one side, before he can suppress it. For a moment, it almost seems funny. He wants to shake his head, look away from her - ignore her, even, as she finishes fastening her armour around her body.

He's never been a good Sith - even now, he's no more a real Sith than a real Jedi. His eyes gleam with an energy that doesn't really match with either of their ways of looking at the universe.

A kid in dark clothes from the dressing-up box.

He'd expected her to be the same, or better — to be Mara Jade Skywalker, too smart and capable to be so easily defined.

He watches her now — lean, deadly, almost inhuman — and he wonders what she is, instead.

Reluctantly, he concedes that he might have overestimated her.

He watches as she turns round towards him, fully-dressed. The Sith clothes trim and tailor her body — lean, strong, narrow-waisted; they hide the tattoos that he used to redefine her identity. There's just the savage mask, wrought on her face like an iron brand, with red-gold flames burning in her eyes.

Mara's flame has flickered behind the mask in a way he didn't expect — burned him too, perhaps.

In One Sith, every individual finds their own place, fulfils their inner strength. She has responded to that idea in a way he didn't anticipate.

He has a bad feeling that the woman who used to be Mara Jade Skywalker is going to be in charge of him, pretty soon.

He shivers slightly at that thought. She smirks, as if she knows already.

Then her expression hardens, and her lip twists into a savage smile.

"I'm still Ben's mother, Anakin," she reminds him. "He's the reason I'm doing this."

He stares at her, and she laughs darkly, as she dons her cloak, and pulls the cowl forward to hide her face.

She turns to leave, and beckons him to follow.

As he follows her out the door, though, he begins to wonder if what she just showed him was an act. Perhaps he's just revealed far more to her than he should have.

"I don't care," she answers, without looking round. "I am who, and what, I am. Okay?"

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