A Tangled Web

 

 

By JadesHand

 

Disclaimer: The major characters belong to George “the King” Lucas and Timothy Zahn.  I’m only borrowing them for a little while.  I’m not making a dime out of this, only having some fun and sharing it with a few friends.

 

Time:  A few months after The Last Command, by Timothy Zahn, Chief of State among the Star Wars professional writers.

 

Summary: Mara Jade is asked once again to help Luke Skywalker, but this time the situation is very different from the usual mission.

 

Overall rating:  NC-17  Do not read unless you are 17 or older.

 

I dedicated this story to two close friends who aided and abetted me in this.  For Ki G. and Michele W.  Gracias, pals.

 

Feedback: jadeshand@hotmail.com

 

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Chapter One

 

Han Solo yawned, ran his fingers through his thick, dark brown hair, and leaned back in the comfortable rocking chair.   It was late and he knew he should return to bed, but the lightning and its subsequent thunder were keeping him up.  He, Leia and the twins had arrived on Yavin IV the evening before to pay a short visit to his brother-in-law, Jedi Knight, Luke Skywalker. Then they would be heading on to the resort for a week, where they would enjoy their first real vacation since he and Leia had been married.  The galaxy seemed at peace for the first time in many years.  With the death of Grand Admiral Thrawn, the remnants of the Empire had retreated to lick their wounds. For once, it appeared that the almost constant bickering among the New Republic contingents was at a lull.

 

In fact, everything seemed to be downright soporific now.  Even the uproar of the press over the events at Wayland had died down.  He, Leia and Luke were used to the mob scenes that could form whenever they ventured out in public.  It had been a regular occurrence for them since the early days of the Rebellion. 

 

But he had really enjoyed watching Mara Jade try to deal with all the attention.  Han chuckled softly.  The ex-Emperor’s Hand had spent her life moving in the shadows, as unobtrusively as possible. But now, she was a major public figure, a heroine of the galaxy. Her life had changed forever when it became known that it was she who had killed the evil Jedi clone, Joruus C’baoth, saving all their lives in the process.

 

The press had been relentless and had hounded her every move.  Han rocked gently in his chair as he remembered, his small smile widening.  Even he couldn’t believe the ferocity with which the holo-reporters had gone after her, and indeed Luke, too.  Both were young, single, attractive people, making them choice pickings for a press whose methods could only, at the best times, be described as questionable.  What it couldn’t prove, it seemed satisfied to invent.

 

Even something as innocent as attending the theater with him and Leia, became a horrible mistake. They agonized through the subsequent headlines on the evening holo-news: “Jedi Couple In Love”, and “Luke Skywalker Takes Lover”.  Luke and Mara had gotten to the point where they avoided each other like the plague whenever out in public.

 

Han laughed aloud, then quickly smothered it so as not to disturb the other occupant of the room.  He supposed the crowning point had been when Mara had returned late one evening to her Coruscant apartment, only to find that a rather resourceful holo-reporter had bribed his way in.  She had found him going through her personal datacards and rifling through the drawers and closets in her bedroom.  Han leaned forward, his hand over his mouth and his shoulders shaking.  He had decided afterwards that Mara had shown remarkable restraint, at least for her.  When the medics had arrived to remove the guy, he was suffering from only a broken leg, a rupture spleen and a dislocated jaw.  Nothing some time in the bacta tank wouldn’t cure!

 

But the consequences of that particular incident had convinced Mara that Coruscant wasn’t the place for her, and she had lit out from the planet like a mynock with its tail feathers on fire.  Han supposed she was off somewhere with Talon Karrde’s Smugglers’ organization.  Luke wasn’t long after her, retreating from Coruscant to Yavin IV and hiding out in the peaceful seclusion of the old Massassi temple buildings there.  For several years, Luke had spoken of starting an academy and scouring the galaxy for other potential Jedi.  His dream was to build a school where Jedi could live and train, and hopefully after awhile, the Jedi would once again be the defenders of peace and justice for the galaxy. Luke was just beginning to get the school started.  In fact, as far as Han knew, the people here with Luke weren’t even Jedi. They were just employees and potential employees to help Luke run his new academy.

 

He glanced over at the bed as a streak of lightning lit the room, followed by a tremendous boom of thunder.  His wife moved and then sat up.

 

“Han?”  Leia queried, peering around the darkened room.

 

“I’m here,” he replied softly.  “Go back to sleep.  It’s just a storm.”

 

He wasn’t surprised when Leia got up from the bed and approached his chair.  She knew as well as he did that sleeping through an electrical storm on Yavin was virtually impossible.

 

He grinned up at her and then pulled her onto his lap.  She nestled closer, touched his face with her fingers and then sighed.  “I hope all the noise doesn’t wake the babies.  Sometimes, this place can be quite depressing.”

 

Han squeezed her.  “Yeah, it sure seems to rain a lot here, doesn’t it?”

 

They sat for a while longer, watching the steady fall of the rain against the window.  Another streak of the planet’s incredible lightning lit the courtyard area outside their room like the sun at high noon.

 

Han frowned and narrowed his eyes.  A figure was leaving the building across from theirs, hurrying through the rain, splashing water from the puddles as she ran.  She sprinted across the courtyard and into another building that was housing the new, potential employees who were arriving almost daily to become a part of Luke’s Jedi Academy workforce.

 

Leia sat straight up in his lap.  “Did you see that?”

 

“Yeah,” Han muttered, not liking where his thoughts were taking him.

 

He felt his wife looking down at him.  “That was a girl.”

 

Han shrugged, moving a little in the chair.  “She was definitely female,” he noted, smiling a little.  “When a person doesn't have many clothes on and is wet, it’s rather easy to tell.”

 

Leia looked out the window again at the building across the courtyard, the one from which the woman had fled.  “That’s the communication center.  There is only one person who has rooms in that building...Luke.”

 

Han grimaced.  He knew where his wife was headed. “Now, Leia, it’s none of our business,” he warned. He was attempting to keep Leia calm, although he had to admit that he was surprised at Luke.  This wasn’t like him at all.  However, Han supposed he could understand it.  Living on an isolated planet such as Yavin IV,with its depressing climate would probably make a man do a lot of things he wouldn’t normally do.

 

“None of our business?”  Leia questioned, getting up from his lap.  “Of course, it’s our business.  Luke can’t be . . . he wouldn’t . . .” She couldn’t finish the sentence.  She was amazed, shocked, and a slow anger was beginning to build in her.

 

“Leia,” Han warned again, taking her arm in his hand.

 

Leia shook it off.  “I’m going over there.”  She headed for the closet and started pulling out some clothes.

 

Han got up from his chair.  “Leia, he’s a grown man, twenty-eight years old, for Hoth’s sake.  If he’s having a little fling, it’s none of our business.”  He walked to the wall and pressed one of the glow panels, creating a soft, delicate light in the room.

 

His wife looked up from the bed, where she was putting on her boots. “You can’t be serious, Han,” she retorted.  She yanked hard on her left boot.  “That girl was an potential employee.  She couldn’t be very old.”  She stood up, walked to the closet and pulled out some rain gear.  She stared hard at Han, her lips pressed in one straight line.  “Luke can’t be carrying on with his female employees, Han.  Think of the scandal if it got out to the press.”  She shuddered at the very thought.  “It would be the end of his academy before it even started.”  She walked to the door of their room and pulled it open.  “Besides,” she said, “you know, as well as I do, that it’s just plain wrong.”

 

****************

 

As Leia walked down the temple corridor towards Luke’s rooms, she was surprised to see a light pouring out from under the door.  She had not expected him to be awake.

 

She hesitated before the door, dreading the next few moments, but finally squared her shoulders and sent out a tendril of the Force.  *Luke?*

 

Behind the door, Luke whirled around in surprise.  Leia!  Leia was outside.  What in Kessel was she doing here?  And why hadn’t he felt her presence before now?  He rubbed the spreading red spot on his cheek and grimaced.  He supposed he had been too preoccupied to notice.

 

He hurried to the door, slapped the release panel and watched the door ease up.  “Leia, what . . . It’s 0300, what are you doing up at this hour?”  He motioned for her to come in.

 

She came in without looking at him.  Her gaze swept around the room as if she were looking for something.  Whatever it was, she didn’t seem to find it.

 

She turned to look at her brother. “We have to talk,” she said grimly.

 

At her tone, Luke sighed heavily and waved for her to take a chair as he moved toward another one.  He sank into it, enjoying the feel as the chair conformed to his shape.  He looked over at his sister, knowing that whatever she had come to talk about, it wasn’t going to be an exchange of pleasantries.  He sighed again.  He had already dealt with his share of angry women for the night.

 

“What is it, Leia?” he asked, leaning back in his chair.

 

Leia started to speak and then frowned, looking at him closely.  “What’s wrong with your cheek?”

 

A faint pinkish tint tinged one of his cheeks, contrasting sharply with the fiery red on the other side of his face.  He put his hand to his face, covering the spot. “Nothing.  There’s nothing wrong.”

 

Leia’s brown eyes narrowed and it was obvious she didn’t believe him, but she let the matter slide.  At least, for now.

 

It was her turn to squirm in her chair a little.  As he watched the conflicting emotions warring in her face, he was surprised that she was having some difficulty in starting the conversation.

 

“Luke,” she began hesitantly.  “I know it is not a sister’s place to interfere,” she paused, and then finished with a rush, “in her brother’s love-life, but I really felt that I should speak to you about this.”

 

Luke’s eyebrows disappeared under the sandy-brown locks that fell across his forehead and he eyed his sister warily.  What was she talking about?  And what had brought it on?  Love-life?  He snorted silently.  He only wished he had one.

 

He leaned forward in his chair, closing the distance between them a little.  “I don’t understand, Leia,” he said softly.

 

His sister looked away from his earnest face for a moment and then said, “Han and I were awakened by the thunder.  We were sitting in that marvelous rocking chair you gave us when . . . when . . .”

 

Suddenly Luke understood and he sat back in his chair again with a flop.  “You saw Meika leaving here, didn’t you?” he asked a bit harshly.

 

Leia nodded unhappily.

 

Luke pushed the loose hair back from his forehand.  “Leia, it’s not what you think.  I . . . “ he began only to have her cut him off.

 

“Luke, you know I wouldn’t believe you had done anything...wrong,

but...”

 

“You can’t discredit the evidence of your own eyes,” he finished for her.

 

Leia looked down and then peered at him from under her eyelashes.  He didn’t seem to be angry, but it was obvious he was trying to figure out just exactly what to tell her.  She glanced about the room again, noticing for the first time the robe thrown carelessly across a desk.  The robe was a deep yellow, a color she had never seen her brother wear and one she knew he would never choose.  It had to belong to...what had he said her name was...Meika?

 

She sighed inwardly.  Who was this Meika?  And what was she to Luke?  Did he care for her?

 

Her brother cleared his throat and she looked back at him.  “You know, now that I think about this, I’m really glad you’re here,” he said softly, looking at her a bit quizzically.  “I have been at my wits end on just how to handle this.”

 

“Handle what, Luke?”  Leia asked.

 

“I don’t know,” he started, getting up from his chair and walking over to her.  “I don’t know exactly how to tell you or even explain.  It’s been the strangest thing.”

 

Leia looked up at her brother.  “Maybe you ought to just tell me,” she encouraged him.

 

Luke walked away from her and stood for a moment with his back to her, then he turned.  She was surprised to see that he was having a hard time trying not to laugh.

 

She raised a regal eyebrow.  “Luke,” she warned, in her best princess voice.

 

“All right, all right,” he laughed and sank back down in his chair.  “I guess there is no easy way to do this, but I’m going to sound like such a stuck-up, conceited . . .”

 

“Nerfherder,” she finished for him succinctly.

 

He grinned at her, looking much younger than his twenty-eight years.  “Exactly.”

 

“Leia,” he started and then seemed to peer off in space for a moment.  “Do you remember when we all – you, me, Han, Mara and the others returned from Wayland?”

 

“Yes,” Leia said quietly.

 

“Do you remember how the press was, how I could hardly go anywhere without being mobbed?”

 

“Yes, it was difficult for you, and Mara too, for that matter,” Leia nodded.

 

That seemed to give Luke pause for a moment.  “I wonder,” he whispered. “I wonder if she's having the same problem.”

 

Leia frowned,  “What problem, Luke?” she insisted.

 

Luke sighed and looked back at her. “Women, Leia, women everywhere!”

He paused again and then murmured, “I suppose for her it would have been men, though.  I wish I could talk to her.  Maybe that is why she left Coruscant in such a hurry.”

 

Leia was now totally confused.  Women?  Someone leaving Coruscant?  What in stars was he talking about?  “Luke,” she began.

 

But he waved her off.  “Leia, every since we returned from Wayland, the women . . . the women won’t leave me alone.”  He waved his hand again. “Everywhere I go, they seemed to be there . . . chasing me, following me.”  He looked up at her.  “Leia, you should see some of the datacards I’ve received.  Hundreds. . .thousands of them . . . all wanting to marry me or . . . or sleep with me,”  he whispered.

 

Leia’s eyebrows lifted.

 

He didn’t seem to notice.  “And they have even sent me holovids.  And the women in them . . .they’re . . . they’re naked, Leia.”  He looked up at her, his eyes wide with shock.

 

Leia looked down quickly, pressing her lips tightly together.  Oh my stars, she thought.  Her dear brother was probably the greatest hero in the history of the galaxy but sometimes, sometimes he was such an innocent.  She took a deep breath, stifling the laughter that wanted to well out of her.

 

“Luke, I’m sorry.  I had no idea you were going through this,” she said.

 

“Yeah, well . . . it’s not exactly something you bring up in everyday conversation with your sister,” Luke said, ruefully.

 

Leia smiled gently, but then frowned.  “But what happened tonight, Luke?  What was all that about?”

 

Luke sighed heavily.  “Unfortunately, I think that’s even a bigger problem.”

 

Leia waited, but he didn’t continue.  Finally, she asked,  “This girl, does she mean something to you?”

 

Luke turned a horrified face to her.  “No! No, not at all.”  He glanced over at the robe on the desk.  “She is just one of those I’ve been telling you about.”

 

“So you sent her away,” Leia asked.

 

He nodded numbly.

 

“Then you did the right thing, Luke,” she said comfortingly.  “You shouldn’t worry anymore about it.”

 

“I wouldn’t,” he commented, a little bitterly, “if she were anybody but who she is.”

 

Suddenly, Leia had a very bad feeling.  She frowned again, trying to remember the name he had told her.  “Meika?”

 

Luke nodded again.  “Yeah, Meika Daiashuut.”

 

“Daiashuut?”  Leia repeated, a feeling of dread washing over her.  “General Daiashuut’s daughter?”

 

Luke confirmed her worst suspicions.

 

Leia leaned back in her chair, her eyes closing.  General Dongrono Daiashuut, one of the New Republic’s more capable military leaders, was a hero of the Battle of Endor.  But he was also a very difficult man, demanding and receiving respect and obedience from just about everyone he can into contact with.  Leia had told Han many times that she’d rather deal with Fey’lya, the argumentative Bothan Senator, than work with Daiashuut, with his harsh, obstinate and exacting manner.

 

“Tell me what happened,” she asked softly, watching Luke.

 

He shrugged and got up from his chair again.  “She knocked on the door and I let her in.  I should have never done that, Leia.”

 

Leia nodded, but there wasn’t anything they could do about it now.

 

He took a deep breath.  “Well, she came in and she had that yellow robe on.”  He waved his hand in the general direction of the desk.  “She started telling me immediately how much she . . . liked . . .eh . . .loved me,” Luke was having some difficulty relaying this information and wouldn't even look at Leia.  He was clearly embarrassed by the whole situation. 

 

“What did you tell her?”  Leia asked.

 

Luke sighed.  “I told her I was very flattered, but that I didn’t have . . . those sort of feelings for her.”

 

“That’s good,” Leia encouraged.

 

Luke shook his head in exasperation. “It didn’t make any difference to her.  The next thing I knew she took off her robe and threw it on the desk.  Leia, she didn’t have anything on but . . .”

 

“I know, I saw her, remember?”  Leia cut him off, the memory of the girl’s soaking wet lacy nightshift clear in her mind.

 

Luke nodded dully.  “She threw herself in my arms, telling me if I would just...,” he squirmed uncomfortably, “just take her to bed, she would prove how much she loved me.”

 

Leia rolled her eyes.  Was the girl insane?  Obviously, she had been watching too many of the daytime holodramas.  “What happened then?”

 

“I pushed her away and told her nothing like that could ever happened.”

 

Leia leaned her head on her hand, watching her brother carefully.  “And?”

 

“She didn’t believe me,” Luke whispered.  “She grabbed me by the hair, pulled me down and kissed me. . .I mean, really kissed me.”

 

He paused for a moment, as if remembering the scene.  “I pushed her away again. . .a bit roughly, I suppose, because she almost fell.  I told her that there would be none of that and that she needed to return to her room, immediately.”

 

He looked over at Leia.  “She started crying then, sobbing that she couldn’t understand why I couldn’t love her when she loved me so much.  That if I would only give her a chance, she knew I would love her.”

 

Luke shook his head sorrowfully.  “I didn’t want to hurt her, Leia. She’s just a kid.  Sixteen years old.”

 

Leia groaned audibly and then asked,  “So what did you tell her?”

 

Luke suddenly looked very uncomfortable, afraid almost.  Leia frowned at him.  “Well?”

 

He sighed.  “I suppose I was a coward.  I told her I couldn’t love her because I was already in love with someone else.”

 

“Oh, Luke,” Leia whispered.

 

He nodded sadly.  “She immediately jumped on that and said, ‘You have a girlfriend? Then where is she?’”

 

Luke looked uncomfortable again, but he continued, “I told her that she was away on business.  That she was a great fighter, but very jealous and...that she had a horrible temper, and that if she found out that she...Meika...had been in my room, then she would probably kill Meika and me both.”

 

A puzzled light appeared in Luke’s eyes.  “You know what she said then?”

 

Leia shook her head, a little weakly, knowing what was coming next.

 

‘She said, "So the news reports are true.  Mara Jade is your girlfriend.’”

 

Luke’s eyes widened.  “I couldn’t believe she came up with that.  I never said a word, not one word, about Mara.”

 

Leia closed her eyes in exasperation.  Men!  They could be the greatest of heroes, but were incredibly stupid about women.  Any woman with any sense would have recognized that description of Mara from a galaxy away.  “What did you say?”

 

“I didn’t get a chance to say anything,” Luke said wonderingly.  “She came over to me again, kissed me on the cheek and said that she was sorry.  If she had known for sure that Mara was my girlfriend, she would never have come to my room.”  Luke cleared his throat, rather roughly. “She said Mara was her hero, and that someday she wanted to be just like her.”

 

Leia leaned back in her chair.  “And?” she asked.

 

“She stepped away from me and then slapped me as hard as she could.”  Luke rubbed his cheek in memory.  “She said if she found out I was lying to her that she would make things very difficult for me...that she would tell her father a completely different story about what happened in this room and that she would make very sure that the Coruscant press heard all about it.  She walked to the door and then looked at me over her shoulder.  She said that Mara was the only girl she would give me up to, and that I better be telling her the truth.  Then she left.”

 

“Charming little thing, isn’t she?”  Leia commented dryly.

 

Luke scratched his head and asked,  “What do you think I should do?” 

 

His sister looked at him pityingly.  “I think you and Mara Jade had better become a couple and very soon.”

 

 

Chapter Two

 

The Corellian YT-2400 landed gracefully onto Yavin IV’s spaceport.  Luke ran a hand through his dark blond hair, pushing it back away from his forehand, and walked towards the small ship.  It might look like a classic freighter, but this particular model was well armed directly from the factory.  And Mara Jade had souped-up the engines and added the most sophisticated weaponry available for a ship of its size, making it one of the most desired ships in Talon Karrde’s arsenal. It could more than handle any space battle it might run into.

 

The departing ramp settled to the ground with a slight bump and Luke walked to the bottom of it, waiting for Mara to descend.  He waited and waited, until it became obvious that she wasn’t coming out of the ship.

 

So, she meant for them to meet inside.  Luke walked slowly up the ramp, wondering just exactly what he was going to say to her.  He sent out a tendril of the Force, but couldn’t seem to sense her presence anywhere.  He knew she had to be somewhere on board, but he also knew she wasn’t going to be very happy.  How Leia had ever persuaded her to come to Yavin in the first place was beyond him.  His sister’s diplomatic skills consistently left him in awe.

 

Mara wasn’t at the top of the ramp, so he headed for the starboard-mounted cockpit, usually her favorite place on any ship.  He stuck his head through the arch of the doorway and called softly, “Mara?”

 

Afterwards, all he could remember was a sudden, sharp pain along his jaw and absolute surprise that the deck of the cockpit seemed to be rushing towards him before everything went completely dark.

 

When he awakened, the coolness of the deck floor was a comfort against the stinging pain in his jaw.  He rolled over onto his back and sat up carefully. A thousand Ewoks were celebrating with forest drums in his head.  He closed his eyes and sought the comfort of the Force, drawing away some of the pain.  In a moment, he felt much better and opened his eyes.

 

Black combat boots stood in a spread stance before him.  His eyes traveled up a pair of shapely legs, a trim and fit torso, and then to a face, startlingly beautiful and surrounded by a cloud of red-gold hair, a tight braid hanging across one shoulder.  Glittering green eyes were narrowed to tiny slits.

 

“Hello, Mara.  Nice way to greet a guy,” Luke told her, rubbing his jaw; grateful to realize it wasn’t broken or dislocated.  At least he had made out better than the holo-reporter in her apartment.

 

The braid flounced over to her back.  “I should have killed you when I had the chance,” she snarled.

 

Luke pulled himself from the floor, found one of the cockpit chairs not far behind him, and dropped himself in it.  “Yeah, well, I thought you just tried.”

 

“There is no try, only do or do not, remember?”  Mara quoted one of his favorite Yoda sayings.

 

Luke grinned.  She had him there.  “You must be getting pretty good at shielding.  I didn’t feel you at all when I came on the ship,” he pointed out.

 

Mara took another of the chairs, the farthest away from him, he noted.

“I didn’t want you to know where I was.”

 

“And that was an excellent right hook. You’ll have to teach it to me sometimes,” he continued ruefully, rubbing his jaw again.

 

“You know you deserved it.”  Mara watched him carefully, then shook her head.  “Just how did you get yourself in this little mess, Skywalker?”

 

Luke sighed and then said hopefully,  “I thought Leia told you all about it.”

 

Mara nodded.  “She did.  I want to hear it from you.”

 

Luke thought that she probably deserved that much.  In fact, he was pretty much shocked that she was even here.  He would never have believed she would come.  He winced mentally as he visualized the meeting between her and Leia.  He knew he was going to owe her big time when it was all over.

 

So he told her about it, miserably.

 

She listened without comment, just watching the emotions flicker across his face as he talked.  When Leia had contacted her and asked her to come to Coruscant for a meeting with her, she hadn’t known in the least what she was getting herself into. She became lost in her own thoughts as the memory of their conversation played back in her mind.

 

After waving her to a chair, Leia hadn’t hemmed and hawed about it, but had come directly to the point.  “Mara, I need your help with my brother.”

 

“Again?”  Mara had replied, a little humor in her voice.

 

Despite herself, Leia smiled.  Although she didn’t know Mara very well, she liked and respected her.  In many ways, they were two of a kind, strong-willed, determined, and fiercely loyal.

 

“I should tell you that you are probably not going to like this...at all,”  Leia said and then told her what had happened on Yavin IV.

 

A long stretch of silence had occurred after Leia finished her story.

 

Mara had stared out of the large transparisteel window in Leia’s ministerial office.  Leia suspected she wasn’t really seeing anything though.

 

At one point, Mara murmured, “Imbecile” to herself.

 

Leia turned away quickly so Mara wouldn’t see her smile and pretended she had found something very interesting on one of the datapads on her desk.

 

The silence lengthened until Leia began to worry a little, but she refrained from saying anything.

 

Finally, Mara sighed and stood.  “There’s really nothing I can do here, Leia,” she said and walked towards the door.

 

Leia let her hand almost reach the door panel before she commented, “There is something you can do, Mara, and you know you should do it.”

 

Mara turned around lazily and looked at Leia.  “I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, you know,” she told her nonchalantly, too nonchalantly.

 

Leia smiled sweetly, not letting Mara’s tone bother her, and said with infinite patience, “He’s your friend, Mara.”

 

Mara stiffened and came away from the door.  “Not that kind of friend,” she hissed.  She looked over to the window again at the lights of the city just beginning to twinkle as evening begin to fall over Coruscant.  Absentmindedly, she fingered the lightsaber hanging from her belt.

 

“That’s a low blow, Princess,” she finally accused, the use of the royal title sounding remarkably like an insult.

 

“Of course,” Leia had countered, inordinately please with herself.

 

Coming back to the present, Mara sighed. Now she was here on Yavin IV. She didn't really understand how she had ever allowed herself to be talked into this...this stupid plan.  But, hopefully, it wouldn’t take more than a day or two, and she could be on her way.

 

“Well, I couldn’t just break her jaw and leg, and leave her there, you know,” Luke finished his story teasingly and watched for her reaction.

 

“Why not?” she countered coolly, not giving him any satisfaction.  She lifted an eyebrow.  “I suppose the girl is still here?”

 

“Yes,” Luke replied, wondering why she asked.

 

Mara sighed again.  She supposed it would have been too much to ask for the girl to have had any sort of conscience and gotten herself off of Yavin IV as quickly as possible. 

 

She leaned back in her chair.  “You know, Skywalker, I’ve told you before that you’re pretty pathetic when it comes to being devious.  Just how do you think you’re going to carry this off?”

 

Luke shot her a crooked grin.  “Carry what off?”

 

“Don’t start that with me,” she snorted.  “You know what I’m talking about.”

 

Luke was teasing her, but he knew she had a point.  “I guess I haven’t really thought about it,” he confessed.

 

“Figures,” Mara snapped.  She got up from her chair and walked over to him.  “Stand up,” she ordered.

 

Luke did as she asked, and found that they were only centimeters apart.  In fact, he didn’t think he had been quite so close to her before, at least, in this type of situation.

 

She was only a few centimeters shorter than him, but was all wiry power and tensile strength.  He was close enough to her to smell her scent, delicate and pleasant, reminding him of some of the flowers in the jungle on Yavin.

 

She startled him by reaching up and grabbing both of his ears.  When she pulled him over and pressed her mouth against his, to say that he was shocked, astonished, would be a major understatement.  He just stood there, until her warm, full lips hit his senses, which immediately went into systematic overload.

 

His hands hurriedly went to her waist, intent on pulling her closer, and he opened his mouth against hers.

 

She pushed him away so roughly that he fell back into the chair he had just vacated. “That’s enough, flyboy,” she growled.

 

She turned and disappeared down the corridor toward the sleeping quarters of the YT. Luke was left in the chair, his mouth slightly open and breathing a little heavier than usual.  He blinked.  Did that really happen or did he dream it?

 

She was back in a short time, carrying a large bag and an extra battery for her holdout blaster.  She snapped the battery into a small case on her utility belt and dropped the bag in front of Luke.

 

“Here, you carry this.  It wouldn’t look right if I did,” she told him, walking over to the console of the YT.

 

Faint laughter floated up through the open door of the ramp.  “Looks like our welcoming party has just arrived,” she acknowledged. She shut down the computer on the YT and prepared it for storage.  She turned to Luke, “So, who can I expect out there?”

 

Luke shrugged.  “There aren’t many.  There’s Dayvids, he’s a building engineer.  Big guy, dark.  He has several workers with him, Nikos, Joquin, and Kern.  There’s Noimi, she’s the communication controller and she also does most of the cooking around here.  Makos is her aide.  Noimi is a nice woman, you’ll like her. Then there are the young students who are applying for various positions in the temple.”

 

“How many of them are there?”  Mara asked.

 

“Eight,” Luke replied, standing and picking up her bag.

 

“How many females in that group?” Mara walked over to him, watching him closely.

 

“Three,” he answered, frowning.  He looked up, consideringly. “No...maybe there are four.”  He shook his head.  “I can’t remember, three or four.”

 

For the first time since she arrived, she laughed aloud.  “You can’t remember how many females there are?  That clears you of being guilty of any hanky-panky with the hired help then, doesn’t it, Skywalker.”

 

He grinned rather sheepishly at her.

 

She looked towards the ramp and took a deep breath, “Well, I suppose we had better begin this little charade.”

 

He reached out and touched her hand.  “I’m going to owe you, Mara.”

 

A sardonic twinkle lit Mara’s eyes.  “You’re damn right, Skywalker, and you better believe I’m going to collect on it, too.”

 

“I’m sure you are,” he laughed.

 

They turned toward the ramp.  “Wait,” Mara stopped him.  “Carry the bag in your right hand.”  She moved to his left side and slid her arm around his waist.  “Okay, flyboy, put a smile on your face and don’t take it off until we reach your quarters.”

 

Chapter Three

 

As they walked down the ramp, Luke was very conscious of how close together they were.  He glanced over at her and noticed for the first time the delicate creaminess of her skin, and the elegant line of her neck.  The smile she had ordered him to wear turned into a slight smirk.  Her neck, he realized, was just long enough from shoulder to head for his face to fit perfectly.

 

He felt first a slight mental pressure and then her words thundered in his head.  *Don’t even think about it, flyboy.  You’re not going to get that close.*

 

He chuckled, slid his arm along her shoulders and pulled her against his side, knowing it would annoy her.  *You know, Jade, sometimes you’re just no fun at all,* he shot back to her.

 

It was easier than either of them had expected.  Everyone whom Luke had mentioned was waiting for them when they reached the bottom of the ramp.  There were visitors to Yavin IV on a regular basis, and it had become a custom for everyone to come out and greet the visitors or, in this case, visitor.

 

*Stang, it’s hot,* he heard in his head.  *How do you stand this dripping wet heat?*

 

*I like it,* he replied. *It’s quite different from Tatooine.*

    

Noimi came forward, wiping her hands on a large, white apron, and interrupted their mental conversation.  She appeared younger than her sixty standard years and she looked first at Luke and then at Mara, her face warm and friendly.

 

Luke put down Mara’s bag and pulled her over in front of him, his hands resting on her shoulders.  “Hello, everyone.  I want you to meet Mara...Mara Jade...my...” Suddenly, he stopped, unsure of what to say.

 

*Girlfriend, you idiot,* blasted in his head, and he finished quickly, “My girlfriend.”

 

Noimi smiled in delight and offered her hand to Mara, albeit rather tentatively.  Apparently, Mara’s reputation had followed her all the way to Yavin.  Noimi seemed relieved when Mara shook her hand warmly.  “Oh, Miss Jade, we have heard so much about you.  I mean, the holovid...” she stopped, a little embarrassed and then said in a rush, “We are so glad you have come to Yavin IV.  It is such a pleasure to meet you.”

 

While Noimi and Mara talked, Luke let his eyes wander lazily over the rest of the group.  When Dayvids realized Luke was looking at him, he winked, clearly approving of Mara.  His workers apparently agreed with Dayvids since they couldn’t seem to take their eyes off of her.

 

Finally, Luke looked over at the younger group who were standing off to the side, whispering and giggling among themselves.  He caught Meika’s eyes and she gave him a huge smile. She was obviously thrilled that Mara was actually on Yavin, and apparently had forgotten that there had ever been any trouble between them.

 

Noimi had taken over the introductions, and she was bringing each person forward to greet Mara.  When it was Meika’s turn, Luke’s hands stiffened slightly on Mara’s shoulders.

 

*Is she the one?*  Mara asked dryly in his mind.

 

*Yes.*

 

Mara smiled and greeted Meika cordially, but her eyes held the other girl’s very intently.  Then Mara reached up and squeezed one of Luke’s hands on her shoulder.  It was a possessive gesture, and everyone who saw it recognized it as such.

 

Meika’s smile wavered a bit and she looked up at Luke, who kept his face carefully bland.  He knew she was wondering if he had told Mara about the incident in his room.

 

Meika quickly excused herself and returned back to the safety of the group, eyeing Luke and Mara over the shoulders of two of the male students.

 

*I think you scared her,* Luke said, dropping his hands from her shoulders and taking one of hers.

 

Mara chuckled, *Good, a little fear is a healthy thing.*

 

Despite himself, Luke had to laugh aloud.  He choked it off quickly when he noticed everyone looking at him a little strangely.  Obviously, no one had said anything in the least funny.

 

“You are just in time for dinner, Miss Jade.  We’d love for you to join us,” Noimi told Mara.

 

“That’s very kind of you, Noimi, but it’s been a long trip.  I’m really rather tired,” Mara said calmly. “I wonder if you could send our dinner to us in Luke’s rooms.”

 

A few eyebrows rose in the group, but Noimi replied, “Of course, Miss Jade, it’s no problem at all.  We hope to see more of you tomorrow, then?”

 

Mara smiled, “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

*Okay, Flyboy, lead me to your mansion,* Mara whispered in Luke’s mind.

 

Luke had been standing quietly, smiling to himself.  Mara had called him ‘Luke’.  It wasn’t often she used his given name and it always pleased him when she did.

 

“Goodnight, everyone,” he told the group and tugged on Mara’s hand, turning her towards the communication center.  He picked up Mara’s bag with his other hand to a chorus of ‘goodnights’ and they walked away.

 

It didn’t take them long to reach Luke’s building.  Mara was surprised to see that it wasn’t the usual residential area. 

 

“What’s this?”  She asked, looking around at the rows of computers and commlink stations.  “You live in the communication center?”

 

“Yes,” Luke replied, pressing his palm against the door panel to his rooms.  The door eased open without a sound.  “I was happy to find this suite at the back of the building.  It suited me perfectly.”  He smiled a bit sheepishly.  “You know, I’m not one for a crowd.”

 

It was true, Mara thought.  Both she and Luke were very similar in that regard, loners who had depended only on themselves for most of their lives.  People, especially in groups, made them uneasy.  Maybe, she thought, that’s why they felt so comfortable with one another.

 

They entered into a small living area filled with a couch and two chairs, a computer/commlink station and a desk.  Off to the left was a very small kitchen area, obviously not meant for any serious cooking or serving.  A door to the right of the living area led to a small bedroom with a double bed, a chest and a storage box.  At the end of bedroom was the door to the refresher.

 

“Not bad, Skywalker,” Mara commented after the small tour.  “It’s not anything to send to the ‘House and Home’ holozines, but it’s looks neat and comfortable.  I like it.”

 

Luke dropped her bag on the bed and smiled.  Mara was surprised when he looked at her almost shyly.  “I think it’s the first real home I’ve had in years.  Coruscant’s okay, but I’ve never really felt it was home.”

 

A sarcastic retort died on Mara’s lips and she just mumbled, “Yeah, I know what you mean.”  Coruscant had been her home for most of her life, but that had been when it was under the control of the Empire.  It was different now, not necessarily worse. In fact, its newfound sense of freedom had impressed Mara.  Its citizens walked about with happy, satisfied faces, going about their lives with a joy she had not sensed from them when the city was under the thumb of Palpatine.  Yet, she hadn’t really felt comfortable there and only kept an apartment in the old Imperial Palace for business purposes.

 

“Why did you put that there?”  She asked, motioning with her hand towards her bag.

 

Luke looked at the bag on the bed and frowned.  “Because this is where you’re going to sleep.”

 

Mara pursed her lips and then said sharply.  “Look, Skywalker, I agreed to do you a favor, but not that big of one.”

 

At first, Luke didn’t understand what she meant, but when realization came, so did a faint tinge of pink to his cheeks.  “I was planning on sleeping on the couch, Mara,” he told her wryly, the humor in the situation finally getting to him.

 

She shot him a dirty look.  “I can sleep on the couch just as well as you, Skywalker.”

 

His lips twitched.  “I don’t know, Mara.  Both of us on the couch would be a tight fit, I think, but if that’s what you want to do...”

 

“You know I didn’t mean that,” she snapped, cutting him off and walking out of the bedroom.

 

He followed her, laughing quietly.  He didn’t often get one over on Mara, and it was so much fun when she did rise to the bait.

 

There was a soft knock on the outside door panel.  Mara scowled,  “Who do you think that is?”

 

Luke reached out with the Force and received a bit of a shock.  “It’s Meika.”

 

Mara’s eyebrows lifted.  “The girl’s got nerve, I’ll give her that.”

 

Luke was thinking.  “I’ll bet Noimi sent her with our dinner.  She helps in the kitchen most of the time.”

 

Mara grinned meanly.  “The General’s daughter works in the kitchen?”

 

Luke nodded, appreciating the irony with her.

 

“Quick,” Mara said suddenly.  “Take off your tunic and give it to me.”

 

Luke frowned, “But, Mara, I don’t have an undershirt on.”

 

“Just give it to me, flyboy, and go answer the door.  Invite little Miss Meika in, please.”  She held out her hand for his tunic.

 

Luke shrugged, undid his belt with the lightsaber attached, dropped it on the couch, and pulled the garment off.  She took it and disappeared into the bedroom.

 

He ran a hand unconsciously through his hair, mussing it completely.  He had no idea he looked like a small boy, tousled from sleep.

 

Another soft knock sounded and he went to the door, pressing the door panel.

 

Meika’s mouth fell slightly open as she took in his appearance.  Her eyes traveled up and down his body, stopping on his firm, muscled chest and the budging biceps on his arms.

 

“Your dinner, sir,” she all but squeaked.

 

Apparently, they were back to formality between them which, when he thought about it, was probably for the best.

 

“Come in,” he said politely, waving her into the room. 

 

She came in tentatively, and he realized she was probably expecting Mara to be in the room.

 

“I’ll take those into the kitchen,” he said, reaching for the metal dinner trays.

 

“Luke, sweetheart, who is it?”  A soft, husky voice he barely recognized drifted from the bedroom.

 

“It’s Meika,” Luke called.  “She’s brought us our dinner.”

 

“Oh, good, I’m starving,” Mara said, stepping into the doorway of the bedroom.

 

Luke almost dropped the dinner trays. It was all he could do to keep from gasping.

 

Mara leaned lazily against the doorframe, smiling slightly.  She was wearing nothing but Luke’s tunic, and she had let down her hair from its long braid.  It fell in a glorious red-gold cloud about her beautiful face and shoulders.

 

But Luke couldn’t keep his eyes off her long, shapely legs.  He had seen them many times, encased in her skin-tight combat pants, but never had he seem them the way they looked now.  When she moved slightly, her quadriceps tightened in her thighs, and he startled himself by having to suck in a breath. 

 

Mara pushed away from the door and walked into the room with her lean, catlike grace.  “It smells wonderful, doesn’t it, dear?”

 

Luke thought he said something in agreement with her, but he wasn’t sure.  His mind was a chaotic mess.  He watched her warily as she approached him.

 

His heart went into his throat when she slid one of her long, elegant hands down his bare chest.  Did she have any idea that she had left a scorching trail of fire, he wondered uneasily. 

 

Then she turned, smiling sweetly, “Hello...ah...it’s Meika, isn’t it?”  She gave a marvelous impression of being pleased with herself for remembering the name.

 

“Goo...good evening, Miss Jade,” Meika stammered, unable to take her eyes off Mara.  Luke sympathized; he couldn’t stop looking at her either.

 

“Luke, why don’t you take our dinner into the kitchen?”  Mara ordered languidly and watched him disappear with the trays.  She smiled again, “Meika, would you like to stay for dinner?  I’m sure we have enough.”

 

“Oh, no! I mean, no, Miss Jade, I need to get back and help in the kitchen,” the girl explained in a rush. “I just wanted to let Jedi Skywalker know that I have received a message from my father.”

 

Luke walked back into the living area. “Oh?  Does he want you back at Coruscant already?” he teased her gently.

 

“Oh, no, he just wanted to let me know that he’s arriving here tomorrow.  He said he was thinking about taking a week’s holiday.  My mother has told him how peaceful and beautiful everything is on Yavin IV.”

 

Meika wondered briefly why the other two occupants in the room seemed to have suffered a severe shock. But she was already unnerved by apparently interrupting them in an intimate moment, and all she could think about was getting out of there.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, fleeing through the open door.

 

After a long moment, Mara spat out, “Sithspawn!” 

 

Luke didn’t know what to say.  The arrival of General Dongrono Diaishuut was an unmitigated disaster.  Both he and Mara had thought she would only stay a day or so and then fly out on one of her many business trips.  No one but the small group on Yavin would have ever had to know about her visit.

 

Now, one of the most important dignitaries on Coruscant was about to descend on them. More than likely, he would be bringing his entourage of hanger-ons and loyalists with him.

 

Luke felt awful. “I’m sorry, Mara, I had no idea.”

 

“Yeah, right,” she snarled and then stalked into the bedroom.  She was back in only a few moments, her combat pants back on.  Luke noted, though, that she had left off her boots.

 

“Let’s eat,” she said, marching towards the kitchen.  “Then we can decide what in Hoth we’re going to do.”

 

It wasn’t a comfortable meal, although quite tasty.  Even Mara mumbled something about the stew being delicious, but mostly, she ate in determined silence.

 

Luke had tried to talk with her, but she only snapped, “Later.” And they had fallen into an uneasy silence.

 

Luke sat, absentmindedly spooning the stew into his mouth, thinking of one possibility after another of just how they could get out of the mess they were in.  None of his ideas, once he thought them through, would work.

 

He was startled when Mara pushed her chair back, gathered up her dishes and took them to the electronic washer in the corner.

 

He sighed.  “It will be best if you just leave in the morning.”

 

Mara turned from the washer, its slight hum barely making any noise in the tiny room.  “How do you figure that, flyboy?” she asked sarcastically.

 

Luke stood up, gathered his own dishes and joined her at the washer.  Placing the dishes over hers, he glanced at her and said. “You know Diaishuut will have holo-reporters with him.  He doesn’t go anywhere without them.  I suppose they feed that incredible ego of his.  You know as well as I do the uproar they will create if they find you here with me.”

 

Her emerald eyes flashed.  “Better me than that sixteen year old tart who just left.”

 

Luke felt immensely guilty.  “But, Mara, it’s too much to ask.  If you leave in the morning before they get here, none of them will ever know you were here.”

 

Mara laughed, incredulously.  “You know, Skywalker, just when I’ve decided that farmboy innocence of yours is just a ploy, you come up with something like that.”  She waved her hand in the direction of the other buildings.  “Do you honestly believe that little group of yours out there won’t let on that I was here?”

 

“They won’t say anything if I ask them not to,” Luke mumbled, not sure if he believed it or not.

 

Mara rolled her eyes.  “Oh, please.  Maybe the others won’t, but you can bet Artoo that little Miss Meika will.  She wouldn’t pass up the chance of being the center of attention with a bunch of holo-reporters. She’s not her father’s daughter for nothing.”  Mara frowned, looking around.  “By the way, where is Artoo?”

 

“He’s on Coruscant, having some of his circuits upgraded.  I’m supposed to pick him up at the end of the week,” Luke told her, still deep in thought on a possible way out of their problem.

 

“Hmmm, so you’re going to leave Yavin at the end of the week?”  Mara pushed her mass of hair away from her face.  “I suppose we’ll just have to stick it out until then.  It’s only four days.”

 

Luke looked at her in astonishment.  “But Mara...”

 

She cut him off.  “The only other solution is that I take my vibroblade and sneak in that dormitory...” Her tone was grim, but Luke knew she was joking...he hoped.

 

In spite of himself, he grinned.  “You know we can’t do that.”

 

“Who said anything about you coming along.  You would just be in the way,” she retorted, smugly satisfied.

 

“You realize what it’s going to be like, with Diaishuut and a bunch of holo-reporters,” he warned her softly.

 

“Of course I do,” she snapped, pushing away from the counter and heading out of the kitchen.  “I don't really want to think about it, but we'll do what we have to.” 

 

She stopped in the living area.  “I suppose in a few weeks, we can stage a big quarrel and break up,” she mused, then snorted rudely.  “That ought to sell a few holovids for that sorry bunch we call a media.”

 

“But, Mara, I don’t want to quarrel with you,” Luke whined.

 

She looked at him quickly, then saw his lips twitched.  “Don’t fool with me, Skywalker,” she warned.

 

“I would never have that much courage,” he told her truthfully.

 

She flounced her gorgeous hair back over her shoulder.  “Well, I’m going to bed.  It’s going to be a horrible enough day tomorrow and I need some rest.” She headed for the bedroom.

 

“Mara,” Luke called after her.

 

She stopped and turned her head to look at him over her shoulder.

 

“Thank you,” he said softly.

 

She blinked, taken off her guard for a moment, and turned to go in the bedroom.  “Yeah, well you're welcome, farmboy, just don’t get use to it.”

 

Chapter Four

 

The new morning dawned as usual on the fourth moon of the gas giant, Yavin, hot, damp and sticky.  The humidity was so thick that the windows in Luke’s small suite of rooms were fogged over and running with tiny rivulets of water.

 

Mara rubbed determinedly at one of the windows in the small bedroom, trying to clear a portion so she could see out.  When she finally did, she wasn’t pleased.  Dew clung so heavily to the enormous trees around the old Massassi Temple that it fell from the leaves with the same impact as rain.

 

“Stang,” she muttered.  “How can anyone live in this sauna?”

 

During the early days of the war, the Rebel Alliance had had one of its major military bases on Yavin IV.  Governor Tarkin, in his bid for personal power and recognition, had let his eagerness to destroy the Rebel base override his common sense and had gotten the first Death Star destroyed, along with himself and thousands of the Empire’s best troops.

 

Emperor Palpatine had not been pleased. 

 

A sardonic smile lifted the corners of her mouth.  She wondered what old Palpy would think if he could see her now.  The Emperor’s Hand, his most trusted agent, disheveled and groggy from spending the night in the bed of the man who had destroyed his Death Star.  It would almost be worth it...no, what was she thinking; nothing would be worth having that monster alive again.

 

She pulled her sleeping shift away from her chest, grimacing as it clung to her breasts.  Even with the computerized climate control of the room, the encroaching humidity invaded everywhere.  She knew perfectly well why the Rebels had stationed their base on the fourth moon.  No one else in the galaxy, at least anyone in his right mind, would want to be any closer than a lightyear to it.

 

She went into the refresher and set the small shower going.  Pulling the shift over her head, she stepped in, gasping a bit at the coolness of the water.  She spent a few moments soaking her hair and then stepped back, searching for where Skywalker kept his shampoo. A small shelf high in the corner rewarded her, and she poured a little of the liquid in her hand.  As she was about to spread it in her hair, she stopped, the scent of it filling her nose.  Skywalker! Sithspit!  She leaned against the side of the shower, pressing her face against the cool tile, the shampoo still in her hand.  She remembered the night before when she had leaned back against him, his hands resting on her shoulders as they had greeted his staff.  He had smelled of the shampoo then, and she had been so conscious of his hands, as he had moved them gently about her shoulders.  And now here she stood, in his shower, thoughts of what he was like when he was in there filling her mind.  Mara licked her wet lips, letting her imagination take flight.

 

Stop it!  Just stop it right now!  As if she would ever see him like that anyway!  She pushed away from the wall of the shower and determinedly began to wash her hair.  She didn’t often lecture herself, but Skywalker seemed to cause her to do it more and more of late.  He was forever invading her thoughts, and she spent a lot of what she considered her precious time, trying to toss him out of them.

 

A short while later, she eased open the door to the bedroom and peered out cautiously.  The couch was empty except for some rumbled bed linens, and there was a faint whistling noise coming from the kitchen.  Apparently, Farmboy was already up and at it.

 

She left the bedroom and wandered into the kitchen.

 

“Good, you’re up.”  Luke gave her a crooked grin.  He placed a plate on the small table, heavy with scrambled eggs and toast.  “Want some tea?” He asked, getting some cups down from the tall cabinet. 

 

“Do you have any milk?” Mara asked, trying not to meet his eyes.  Her thoughts from her shower were still a little too fresh in her mind.  “I like it with breakfast, and then tea afterwards, if that’s okay.”

 

“Sounds good.”  He opened the refrigeration unit and took out a large bottle. 

 

Mara was seasoning her food, and only noticed that he had the milk ready when he placed it by her plate.  She glanced at it cursorily, then did a double take.

 

“What is that?”  She asked in astonishment, pointing a finger at the glass on the table.

 

He blinked.  “It’s milk.”

 

“Skywalker,” she said, enunciating her words carefully.  “That can’t be milk, it’s blue.”

 

Luke chuckled.  “It’s milk from an Ionuie, a farm animal from Tatooine.  It becomes that color when a nutrient rich mixture is added to it.  I grew up drinking it.  Taste it, I’ll bet you like it.”  His voice was nonchalant, but he watched her carefully.  The blue milk wasn’t for everyone, and he didn’t know what her reaction would be.  The first time Han had tried it; he spit it halfway across the room.

 

Mara was looking at the milk as if it might bite, but then she shrugged and took a sip.

 

She held the milk in her mouth for a moment while Luke watched her with some trepidation.  Then she swallowed and quipped, “Well, I don’t think you’ll find it in the best restaurants, Farmboy, but it’s okay.”

 

Luke was extremely pleased but just a little surprised that it had meant so much to him that she liked it.  He got his own plate and sat across the table from her.

 

They ate their meal in a comfortable silence.  Mara seemed deep in thought, but Luke kept stealing little glances at her.  She had left her hair down, and it hung in long, elegant curls around the sides of her face and down her back.  It wasn’t as long as Leia’s, but he liked it, especially how the light coming in through the windows picked out the gold highlights in that sea of honey-tinted red.

 

It wasn’t the first time he had noticed that her hair did that.  When they were in the forest on Myrkr, the sun would break through the heavy trees at times and light up her hair with pure strips of gold.  He had been fascinated by it and couldn’t take his eyes off her whenever they past through a clearing. 

 

“Why did you leave Coruscant without telling me?” Luke blurted out suddenly, surprising them both.

 

Mara froze him with a glare.  “I didn’t know I needed to report my whereabouts to you,” she retorted sarcastically.

 

Luke leaned back in his chair.  “You don’t.  But it would have been nice. I just thought...well...that we...that you and I...”

 

Mara’s emerald eyes glittered in the early morning light.  “You know, Farmboy, that’s your problem, you think too much.”

 

Luke sighed.  Would he ever understand this woman?  He had thought they were becoming quite close on Coruscant, spending time with each other and learning about one another.  A day didn’t pass when they didn’t see each other.  He had used every excuse he could think of to be with her. He told her that she needed to brief him on all that she knew of the Imperial Palace, then told her that he needed to continue training her in the ways of the Force.  Before long she was spending most of the day in his apartment or he in hers.  And they were friends, real friends.  He had been happy, really happy for the first time in years. Each day he woke with the happy thought that he would see her again, be with her again.  And then she had just up and left, without even a word, leaving him to find out from his sister that she was gone.

 

“I don’t think what I was thinking was wrong, Mara,” he said softly.

 

“It wouldn’t be the first time you were wrong about something, would it, Farmboy?”  She snapped, got up from her chair and stomped out of the room.

 

Luke took a deep breath and then let it out slowly.  Breaking through those barriers of Mara’s was incredibly hard work.  Just when it seemed he was making headway, something occurred that caused her to slam up the walls again.

 

Luke wasn’t even sure why he bothered to try.  Their relationship, if one could call it that, was the biggest puzzle in his life.  Most people would have given up on her long ago.  Her abrasive personality usually alienated people very quickly, and although he knew Mara was sometimes sorry for the things she said and did, it was very difficult for her to make amends.  Her life under Palpatine’s rule had never prepared her for dealing with other people's feelings or to worry about how her actions might affect them.

 

Yet, Luke had gotten glimpses of what lay beneath all that toughness.  Those barriers that she had erected were strong and hard, but for him, they were transparisteel windows covered in pieces of gauze.  He might not always be able to break through them, but he sporadically got to see what lay behind.

 

He knew she had a great heart and that when she made up her mind to be a friend, it was for life.  He trusted her explicitly. In fact, except for his sister and brother-in-law, there probably wasn’t another person in the galaxy whom he trusted as well.

 

He followed her into the living area.  She was at his computer/commlink station, obviously sending out some messages.  He grimaced; feeling guilty that his rather ridiculous problem had dragged her away from what he knew was a flourishing business.

 

She finished her last message and turned to him.  “So, what’s the agenda for today, Skywalker?”

 

Luke knew she was deflecting any attempt to continue their conversation from the kitchen, and he decided to follow her lead. “The transports from Coruscant usually come in during mid-afternoon, so we really don’t have to worry about the General and his crew until then,” he told her.  “What would you like to do?”

 

Mara took a deep breath, considering.  “I’m not too excited about staying around here, being peered at by all your little buddies.”  She looked up at him. “Are you up for some climbing?”

 

Luke lifted his eyebrows. “Climbing?”  The nearest mountain range was several hundred kilometers to the west.  “I suppose we could take a speeder over to the Mastanna Mountains.”

 

“No, that would take too much time to go all away out there,” Mara disagreed.  “I was thinking more about the Great Temple.”

 

“You want to climb the Great Temple?”  Luke asked, astonished.  “But, Mara, there’s a stairway up the side.”

 

“It only goes about three quarters up and just to a viewing platform,” Mara argued.  “I’ve been wondering what the view was from the real top, the rounded one.”  She cocked her head to the side and peered at him. “Too much exercise for you, Jedi?”

 

He knew most people considered the viewing platform to be the top, but he decided to play along.  “Are you challenging me, Emperor’s Hand?”  Luke answered with a wry grin.

 

She made a face at his use of her former title, but said smartly, “Of course.”

 

“Then let’s do it,” he said simply.

 

It didn’t take them long to dress and then head out to Mara’s YT-2400.  Luke had only some rudimentary climbing gear and he wasn’t surprised to learn that Mara was fully stocked with the most up-to-date equipment. One of the first things he had learned about her was that she was always prepared.  The Emperor had been a complete bastard, but Luke had to give him one thing: he trained his people well.

 

It seemed as if they ran into every person in the compound on their way to the YT’s hanger.  They were always greeted cordially and warmly, but the curiosity towards them was almost palpable.  Even Noimi had given them an uncomfortably thorough once over when they passed her in the hallway.

 

“What’s with everyone around here, Skywalker?”  Mara growled after they were safely by the compound’s communication officer.  “Do I have dirt on my nose or something?”

 

Luke shrugged, watching as Noimi disappeared around a corner.  “No, you don’t have any dirt.  Maybe it’s me, do I have food in my teeth?”  He bared his teeth at her.

 

“No, of course not, don’t be silly,” she groused, laughing a little at him, but annoyed that everyone viewed them with such interest.  She had never been comfortable with the notoriety she had gained since that business at Wayland, and all this staring by Skywalker’s crew was reminding her too much of it.

 

They had reached the YT-2400 and Mara keyed in the entry code.  Luke followed her up the ramp and down a short hallway.  She punched a panel near a bulkhead and walked though a door into what looked to be sleeping quarters.

 

Suddenly, she remembered he was behind her.  “No, you stay out there.  I’ll bring the stuff,” she ordered, pushing him back out into the hallway.

 

Luke was surprised when she shut the door in his face, but not before he had caught a good glimpse of the room.  It wasn’t like any sleeping quarters he had ever seen on any other YT.  It had been carefully decorated, the color scheme in ocean green and white.  The walls were covered in artwork, depicting many different styles.  But one painting caught his attention more than the others.  He could have sworn it was a delicate watercolor of the desert dunes of Tatooine.  Now, why on earth would she have that in her sleeping quarters?

 

The door opened, startling him.

 

“Here,” Mara called, and threw a large backpack at him.  He caught it as she walked out of the room.  She already had her climbing gear on, a heavy rope hanging across one shoulder, strong metal snaps and rings attached to a heavy utility belt.  “All the stuff you need is in the pack.  You can put it on when we get there.”

 

She walked past him, pulling on some tight, leather gloves. “I want to start from the ground up, not the stairway.  After all, that would be cheating, wouldn’t it, if we only climbed a quarter?”  She shot him a crafty grin across her shoulder.

 

He followed after her.  “Mara, the temple’s very high.  It’ll take us all morning to make the climb if we start from the ground.”

 

Mara waited for him to catch up.  As they walked down the ramp out of the YT-2400, she commented, “I suppose we could start at the top of the stairway if you feel you’re getting too old for this type of thing.”

 

“Too old?” he sputtered, jumping off the end of the ramp as she had already started the closing code.  “Who are you calling old, woman, I’m not even thirty yet.”

 

“You’re still more than a year older than me,” she insisted, grinning at him.  “How am I supposed to know?  Maybe you are slowing down.”

 

“Slowing down?” he repeated, aghast.  “Listen, you get your little butt over to that temple.  And stay away from the stairway! I’ll show you who’s old!”

 

Mara laughed and started jogging in the direction of the old structure, tossing her red-gold braid over her shoulder.

 

He quickly ran after her, catching up with her as they neared the far wall of the giant sanctuary, glad that they had found their old camaraderie again.

 

Mara glanced over at him and he gave her a lopsided grin, his big blue eyes twinkling.  She almost stumbled.  Stang it, she hated it when he did that.  It always caused the funniest feeling in the pit of her stomach, as if a giant hand had reached in and twisted her insides.  Lately, that feeling had been happening more and more often whenever she was with him.  And Mara was determined not to explore the reasons why.  She wouldn’t admit it in a billion light-years, but it was one of the reasons that she had left Coruscant in such a hurry.  It wouldn’t do at all, no not at all, for her to get attached to Skywalker in any way.

 

 

 

Chapter Five

 

Three hours later, they were about thirty meters from the top of the old temple.  It hadn’t been an easy climb, but at least the sides of the temple had not been completely smooth nor altogether straight up, offering them good, if not excellent, hand and footholds.  They each took turns taking the lead.  Luke went up first about twenty meters, then Mara, connected to him via the climbing line, would work her way up to him, then go about twenty meters more.  She would ground herself and wait for him to climb up to her, then pass her for the next twenty meters.  It was tedious, hard work and the top was a welcome sight, especially since they had agreed not to use the Force during the climb, but depend only on their own physical abilities.

 

Mara wiped the constant steam of sweat from her face, watching as Luke climbed the twenty meters up to her.  She could feel the fatigue in her calves and quads, in fact, her left leg was trembling a bit, but she knew she had enough stamina left to make it to the top.

 

Luke finally reached her level and pulled himself up next to her.  He was breathing heavily and staring up at the top.  He wiped his face on his shoulder.  “Next time you suggest something like this,” he muttered, turning his head to look at her, “remind me to say no.”

 

She laughed softly, handing him her small towel.  “Too much for you, Jedi?”

 

He pursed his lips.  “I shouldn’t have let you talk me into not using the Force during the climb.  Maybe I wouldn’t feel like I’ve been caught in a Dewback stampede.”  He wiped his arms with her towel and handed it back to her.

 

“Well, I’m sure you could have just levitated us to the top,” Mara commented caustically.  “But what good would that have done us?”

 

“I would probably still be able to walk when we get back to the ground,” Luke shot back,  “of which there is some doubt right now.” 

 

“Quit complaining, Skywalker, and go the next twenty meters. If you don’t get moving, we’ll be hanging here on the side of this temple for the rest of the day.”  Mara started feeding some line out to him.

 

He sighed and glanced back up to the top.  It looked fairly easy the rest of the way, and it was a good thing.  He hadn’t been joking when he had told her that there was some doubt whether he would walk when they were through.  The muscles in his legs were protesting vehemently, and he knew he was going to be stiff and sore.

 

He gathered the extra line and glanced over at her.  They were very close, their sides pressed up against one another.  For the first time, he noticed the lines of tiredness around her eyes.  He looked down and smiled.  So...she was feeling it, too, but he knew she would die before she admitted it.

 

He took a deep breath and started his climb.  There was a great spot almost exactly twenty meters up.  Then there were only ten more.  The thought gave him a surge of energy and he pulled himself up the difficult temple side.

 

Mara watched him climb, feeding him more line as he needed it. 

 

He actually made the twenty meters faster than any they had done before, and it was her turn before she hardly realized it.

 

He tugged on the rope and called down, “Ready?”

 

“Yep, coming right up,” she answered, checking out the various hand and footholds.  No wonder he had made it up so fast, this was the easiest section of the climb so far.

 

When she reached him, she didn’t stop but continued on past him, the lure of the top almost seductive.  Only a minute or so later, she reached it, pulling herself over, easing off her small backpack and flopping on her back, breathing heavily.

 

The climbing line around her jerked a couple of times, and Skywalker’s voice floated over the edge to her.  “You ready for me yet?”

 

Mara took a deep breath, trying to calm the heavy beating of her heart.  “Give me a second,” she called.

 

Luke waited a bit impatiently.  He was an anxious as she had been to reach the top, but it was only a short time before he felt the line grow taut. 

 

“Okay, Skywalker, come on!”  Mara peered over the side at him and then moved back a bit, bracing her feet against the slight curve of the top of the temple.

 

Luke started up, moving quickly.  The top was a siren, calling him.  That was probably the reason why he wasn’t as careful as he normally was.  He was only five meters from the top when he missed a hold.  When his foot slipped, it forced his hands from their rests and suddenly he was swinging freely against the rough side of the temple.

 

The first Mara knew of Luke’s impending fall was her own sudden slide towards the edge of the top.  “Luke!”  She cried, trying desperately to stop her own descent and the slip of the rope around her waist.  Finally, her feet caught against the edge of the temple’s crest and she braced herself, the muscles in her arms and legs tightening and screaming for release.

 

A short distance below, Luke crashed against the side of the temple, scraping the skin off his right arm.  Desperately, he reached for a hold, either by hand or foot, as the tight rope at his waist seemed about to cut him in half.  He banged once more, hard, against the rocky side of the temple, and was about to grab a very promising handhold when he was jerked violently upwards.

 

He was going so fast when he came over the temple’s edge that he barreled straight into Mara and flattened her against the temple roof floor.

 

“Whoosh!” the air left Mara’s lungs and she lay stunned, with Luke’s body covering her.

 

For long moments, neither said anything.  Both struggled to get their breaths, and Luke was concerned with the burning pain in his arm.  Then something occurred to him and he looked down at Mara.  “I thought you said we weren’t going to use the Force,” he said pointedly, his chest heaving.

 

Mara drew in a long breath, held it for a moment, savoring the new oxygen flooding into her system, and then let it out in a rush.  “I thought you were falling...I thought the rope was breaking.”

 

Luke nodded, thinking she must have felt that last hit against the temple wall and believed their lifeline was snapping.  “I was about to gain control again when you pulled me up.”  He looked at her consideringly.  “That was some pretty impressive use of the Force, Miss Jade.  I don’t think I have ever seen you exhibit that much strength or control.”

 

She looked away, swallowing audibly.  He was too close, lying completely over her with one of his legs pressing tightly between hers.  “Adrenaline, probably,” she murmured, trying to answer his comment, but then she squirmed under him, unable to handle her body’s reactions to him anymore.  “So, do you think you could get off me?  You’re heavy.”

 

Luke blinked.  It wasn’t that he hadn’t known that he was lying on top of her; it was just that he hadn’t been aware of how it felt until her words.  He marveled that she could feel both hard and soft at the same time.  She was in such great shape, her body firm and sinewy, but her feminine parts screamed out to him, yielding and pliant.

 

He bit his bottom lip, noticing that she had turned her head away and wouldn’t look at him.  He moved to slide off her when he changed his mind.  Leaning down, he shocked both of them by gently kissing her on the cheek.  “Thanks, Mara,” he whispered before rolling off to the side.

 

They both lay on their backs, staring up at the Yavin sky, lost in their individual thoughts.  Then Mara sat up suddenly, her hand going to her cheek.  Quickly, she jerked it down again, turned her back to Luke and started to gather in the loose rope lying about them.

 

Skywalker had kissed her.  She knew it wasn’t a big deal, a simple kiss on the cheek, really just a symbol of affection between two friends.  But that was the problem...they were friends, as much as two people like them could be friends. But, they had never, ever been affectionate before, and she wasn’t at all sure how she felt about it.  Trouble was, she didn’t have that much experience with men.  Oh, she knew people believed that wasn’t the case, and she let them.  It wasn’t anybody’s business but her own anyway.  But the truth was that she was well into her mid-twenties and had never had a serious relationship.  The Emperor wouldn’t permit it when she was younger, telling her that she didn’t need those sorts of distractions if she were planning to be his Hand, and that he simply would not permit it.  After his death, in the years that she had wandered about the galaxy, the kind of men she ran into weren’t conducive to the type of relationship she had in mind. More than once she had to dissuade them rather harshly from trying for more than she was willing to give.  It wasn’t until she joined Karrde’s organization that things seemed to calm down for her.  It probably would be considered hilarious in some quarters to say that some smugglers were gentlemen, but they were. After a few tentative advances on the part of several of Karrde’s men, which had been firmly, but politely rejected by her, life had settled down pretty much the way she had wanted it.  And then she met Skywalker...

 

She stood up, shaking the rather disturbing thoughts away, and determinedly began to curl the rope around and around her elbow and fist until she had a tidy circle.  She glanced down at Luke and saw that he had sat up.  He was inspecting the deep, bleeding cuts on his right arm.

 

“You’re hurt, Skywalker,” she hissed, squatting down beside him.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

He wiped some of the blood from his arm.  “It’s nothing, really. Just a few scratches.  I thought it might have messed up some of the electronics in my hand, but everything seems to working okay.”  He turned his hand over and back again, moving the fingers back and forth.

 

Mara was digging in the small backpack she had carried up the side of the temple.  After only a few moments, she had spread out a series of bandages, bacta patches, and tape.  “Let me look at it,” she ordered, pulling his hand towards her.  After inspecting the injury carefully, she took a soft, cloth bandage and pressed it hard against the scratches.  “I don’t think I’ll have to stitch anything, but we have to get the bleeding stopped before I can bandage it.”  She removed the soaked bandage and pressed another against his arm.

 

He watched her as she work, deciding not to remind her that he could go in a short healing trance and the scratches would soon disappear.  He was more interested in just looking at her.  The gas giant Yavin was high in the noon sky, the light so dazzling it caused eyes, even those covered with sunshades, to squint against its glaring brightness.  But Luke appreciated it because it once again brought out the brilliant highlights in Mara’s honey-tinged red hair.  Those radiant streaks continually fascinated Luke, and he feared they were becoming an obsession for him.  More than once in the time that he had known her, he had caught himself staring at that sea of gold and red. He had first noticed it in the sun-dappled clearings in the forest on Myrkr then again in Wayland when they had trudged their way to the Emperor’s storehouse.  He loved the way she wore her hair in one long braid that hung almost to her waist, and he longed to take that braid and let it flow through his fingers.  He smiled a bit sadly, thinking that if he ever tried that, he’d probably lose another hand!

 

“There...better?” Mara asked, giving the light bandage on his arm a pat.  She sat back on her haunches and looked at him.  She frowned at the strange look on his face, especially when his head leaned slowly to the side, his eyes wandering all over her face.

 

She cleared her throat.  “I said, is that better?”

 

“What?”  Luke asked, suddenly realizing she was talking to him.

 

Mara pursed her lips.  “I asked you if your arm is all right?  Where were you? Endor?”

 

Luke shook his head, feeling uncomfortable.  It wouldn’t do for Mara to realize what he was thinking about her.  He felt along the bandage, noticing the perfect job Mara had done on it.  “It’s great,” he said.  “Nice work.  Sorry, I guess I was lost in thought.”

 

Isn’t that the truth, Mara thought, gathering up her first aid equipment and placing it in her pack.  Whatever he had been thinking about, it had been quite intense, causing him to literally forget where he was.

 

She glanced at him, but he was busy picking up his own equipment.  She stood up then, looking around them for the first time.  They had been on the crest of the temple for some time now, yet neither had taken the time to look at the view, their reason for climbing the temple in the first place.

 

Mara walked across the curved roof to the other side, looking out over the largest jungle she had ever seen.  It was immense, so thick that from this height, it looked like an enormous olive green carpet covering the entire surface of the moon.

 

“Great burning comets,” she breathed.

 

Luke came up beside her.  “It’s really something, isn’t it?”

 

Mara nodded her head.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it.”

She glanced over at him and asked,  “How far into the interior have you explored?”

 

Luke moved a small, but painful rock out from under his foot and handed her a water bottle.  “I haven’t been very far.  Over towards the south, maybe several kilometers in distance, are some more ruined temples.  There’s a small lake, too.”  He waved his hand towards the northeast.  “I haven’t been that way at all, but I found some old Alliance datacards from when they were here during the Rebellion.  They reported that a small exploration party had gone in a hundred or so kilometers into the interior.  They met a couple of different tribes of humanoids, primitive and a bit barbaric.  It was the Alliance’s decision to leave them alone.”

 

Mara took a long drink from the bottle and then handed it back to Luke. She walked closer to the edge of the temple roof, fished around in her pack and brought out a small pair of macrobinoculars.  She swept the area with the binoculars, but couldn’t penetrate the solid jungle. “You haven’t had any contact with them since you’ve been here?” 

 

“Nope. Couldn’t even tell you what they look like.”  He squinted in the harsh noon light.  “Mara, can I borrow those binoculars for a moment,” he asked.

 

She handed them over without a word.

 

He put them to his face and peered at a small speck of light on the horizon.  “Looks like the transport from Coruscant has arrived.”

 

“Where?”  Mara asked, putting her hand over her eyes to shield them from the glare.

 

Luke gave her the binoculars.  “To the north, near the mountain range.”

 

Mara saw it.  “What are they...about two hours out?”

 

Luke nodded, considering. “Yes, probably that, give or take a few minutes.”

 

Mara rubbed her hand along the bottom of her jaw, wiping away some sweat.  “I suppose we should get back then.”

 

Luke frowned ferociously.  He didn’t want to go back.  “Why don’t we just stay here?” he growled.

 

Mara laughed.  “Afraid, Jedi?”

 

“Of course not,” he snapped, fingering the bandage on his arm. “It’s just, in the best of times, I can’t stand the man.”  Luke thought about the many different times the General had disgusted him.  The man was crude and offensive, and Luke struggled to control his temper when around him. 

 

Luke gathered the remaining equipment and then glanced over at Mara.  “How well do you know Daiashuut?”

 

“I’ve never met him,” she replied, attaching the lead rope to the rings on her waist. “I hear he is a capable general, but that his personality is a bit suspect.”

 

Now, there’s an understatement if I ever heard one, Luke thought.  He made a quick decision.  “Look, Mara, the man is capable of saying anything.  You need to be careful around him.”

 

Mara looked up at him in surprise.  “I can take care of myself, Skywalker.”

 

He smiled, “I know you can.  He’s an obnoxious guy, though.  He can say some appalling things.  More than once, Leia has threatened to tear his tongue out with her bare hands.”

 

Mara laughed, envisioning that particular image in her mind.  “Don’t worry, Skywalker, I won’t let him bother me.”

 

Luke stared out at the transport in the distance, a bit surprised at the strong feelings swirling in him.  He knew she was more than capable of taking care of herself, but he felt a strange and powerful urge to protect her.  If the General were to say something he shouldn’t to Mara, Luke was a little afraid of just what he might do about it.

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Luke talked Mara in to staying on top of the Great Temple for awhile longer, and they enjoyed the view and conversed quietly.  Luke showed Mara a few more Force skills and made her practice her levitation.  At one point, she even had him hovering a meter or so in the air until she set him gently back on the surface. 

 

When they finally began to descend from the Great Temple, they repelled only to the top of the stairway.  They secured their climbing gear, then walked the rest of the way.  That choice surprised Luke somewhat, but Mara insisted, telling him there wasn’t any use in straining his arm anymore.

 

As they came around the corner of the Temple on their way back to Luke’s quarters, he grabbed her hand, pulling her back into the shadows.  “What is it?”  She asked, trying to peer around him.

 

The General and his party were just entering the long barracks building, led by Noimi and a few of the young workers.  Noimi was obviously showing them to their rooms for the night.

 

“Let’s wait until they go inside,” Luke murmured, holding her close against him as he leaned back against the wall, out of sight of the group.  “I don’t want to talk to them now.”

 

“Good idea,” Mara agreed. “We need to clean up before we see them.”  She stood on her tiptoes, craning her neck, trying to see past his shoulder.  “I can’t believe he brought that many people with him.  What did he think this place was, a holiday resort?”

 

“How many did he bring?”  Luke asked, dread washing over him.  He hated entertaining people, especially large groups.

 

“Looks like twenty, maybe twenty-five,” Mara told him, pulling away from him and walking around the corner, heading for the communication center.  Luke followed after her.  “I can’t be sure, because they’re all in the building now, but it looked as if there were at least that many,” she continued.

 

When they reached his suite of rooms, they found several messages awaiting them.  One from Noimi put a huge damper on Luke’s evening.  She had planned a welcoming reception for the General and his people for that night.  She was sure Luke and Mara would be able to attend, etc., etc., etc.

 

“We’re not going,” Luke said firmly, dropping his climbing equipment on the floor near the door.

 

Mara looked at him in astonishment.  “You have to go, Skywalker.  He’s your guest.”

 

“I didn’t invite him here,” he snapped.  “I don’t want to go, and I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Mara drew herself up to her full height.  “Well, we are going to talk about it, buddy boy,” she began, determined not to let him make such a social blunder.

 

And then, to the amazement of them both, they quarreled...like a couple of petulant children.  Luke stomped around the apartment, sputtering and snarling.  He didn’t want to go, he didn’t have to go, and he wasn’t going!  He was a grown man; he could make his own decisions.  Mara followed him, trying to coax him one moment and yelling at the top of her lungs the next. Through it all she tried to reason with him.  Didn’t he realize that the General was the father of one of his workers, Luke was ex-military and the General was a higher-ranking officer?  When that attempt at persuasion failed, she tried another.  What would it do to his school if he snubbed the general?  He had to go to the reception, there wasn’t any way he could avoid it.  The argument went on and on for some time, with Mara using all the persuasive techniques she could muster. Finally exhaustion overtook them both and they just gave up.

 

“I’m going to take a shower,” Mara snarled, stomping towards the bedroom.  She fired one final salvo before disappearing through the door.  “You’re probably already clean, after wallowing around in all that self-pity!”

 

“I am NOT feeling sorry for myself!”  Luke shouted after her, thoroughly annoyed.  Mara could make him angrier in a flash than other people could in hours.  He plopped down on the couch with a loud thump and took a deep breath, trying to calm down.  Anger was of the Darkside, he told himself, taking another deep breath.  But what really infuriated him was that he knew she was right, but while they had argued he hadn’t wanted to give her the satisfaction of admitting it.  He knew they were going to have to go to the party, whether he liked it or not.

 

When Mara exited the shower, he was waiting for her.  When he reluctantly admitted that she was right and they did have to go to the party, she only looked at him, one eyebrow raised slightly.  To his relief, she refrained from the sarcastic retort he expected and instead went into action, telling him they needed to spend some time getting ready for the reception.  She would make sure that they made the proper impression.  Her mind already swirling with plans, she sent him to the refresher and told him to leave his hair wet when he came out.  He was puzzled by it, but did what she asked.

 

When he came from the shower, he was wearing only an old and comfortable pair of pants.  He had a towel slung over one bare shoulder, and his hair was still slightly dripping from the shower.

 

As soon as she saw him, she motioned for him to take a seat in a straight-back chair that she had placed in the center of his living area.  She was wearing a pair of exercise pants and a loose-fitting white cotton shirt that had no collar.

 

When he sat in the chair, she whipped out a pair of vibro-scissors from somewhere and began to run her fingers through his wet hair.

 

“What are you doing?” he asked, eyeing the vibro-scissors with some trepidation.

 

“I’m going to give you a trim,” she said, taking a long comb and pushing it through his hair, combing his hair straight back from his forehead, thinking how it felt like fine golden silk.  She glanced down at him for a second and marveled at how young he looked.  It was probably how he looked when he destroyed the first Death Star, she mused.

 

“But Mara, I like my hair the way it is,” he protested, raising his hand to his head.

 

She batted it down.  “Don’t worry, Skywalker, I’m not going to do anything radical. It’s just getting a little bit too long and scruffy looking.  It doesn’t look neat and tidy anymore.  It won’t take long to shape it a little.”

 

Luke started to argue the scruffy looking comment when he looked up at her out of the corner of his eye.  She was standing a little to his side and intent on his hair, running the comb through it from front to back.  The intensity of her gaze warmed him, and he was inordinately pleased.  It surprised him that she had been looking at him enough to notice that he needed a haircut.  There were times when he thought she didn’t even know what he looked like.

 

He decided to relax and enjoy it.  He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, liking the feel of the comb through his damp hair.  He wasn’t even concerned when he heard the snipping sound of the scissors.

 

She went around to his back, pushed his head forward and snipped off a little of the long hair near the nape of his neck.  Then, she moved to his other side, trimming along his sideburns some, all the time moving her hand through his hair, smoothing and shaping.  It was so soothing and restful that he was almost asleep when she stepped around in front of him and slipped her long, slender legs in between his as she moved even closer to him.  She ran her fingers through his bangs again, pushing them back from his forehead.

 

Luke stiffened, his eyes flying open.  Her arms were on each side of his head and their bodies were as close as they had been when she had suddenly kissed him the day she had arrived in her freighter.  He began to breathe shallowly between his slightly parted lips as she said softly, “Hold still.  I need to trim the top a little.”

 

She was fresh from the shower and her lovely scent filled his nostrils, warm, comforting, intoxicating.  He took a long, deep breath, drawing it in and savoring it, her sheer seductiveness almost overwhelming him.  Emperor’s bones!  How long had it been since a woman had been this close to him, and such a woman!

 

And then she leaned forward.   

 

Luke stifled a groan, all at once feeling as weak as a newborn vornskr.  Her loose cotton shirt was almost transparent at this distance, and it was obvious that Mara had neglected to put on any of her underwear yet.  Her firm, well-shaped breasts swayed gently in the thin shirt, scant centimeters from his face.

 

When she reached across to cut a particularly long section of his hair, her breasts moved with her, the tiny, pink nipples staring him straight in the eye.

 

Heroically, he fought a powerful urge to lean forward and take one of those nipples, shirt and all, inside his eager mouth.  Although he fought the urge, he lost the other battle he was raging.  There wasn’t a thing he could do about it, no matter how Force-strong an individual he was.  His loins burst into a frenzied fire, blazing uncontrollably, and inside his old pants, his manhood went as hard as a block of ferrocrete.  He jerked the towel off his shoulder and into his lap, grimacing horribly.

 

“Stop fidgeting,” Mara ordered, clipping away.  “I’m almost through.”

 

Luke took a long breath, then released it slowly, feeling it shuddering its way through his dry, parched lips.  She was going to kill him after all.  She had just decided on a different method.  A low moan escaped him.  He couldn’t stop it.

 

Mara frowned and put her hand on his bare shoulder.  Then she jerked it away.  His skin was so warm, so flushed.  She looked down and then wished she hadn’t.

His face was a centimeter away from the front of her shirt and for the first time, she could feel his quick, hot breath, flowing right through the thin fabric onto her...

 

She stepped back quickly, her mouth falling slightly open as her face filled with color, and they stared at one another.  There wasn’t any use in either one of them denying anything; it was perfectly obvious what had just occurred.

 

Luke looked at her helplessly.  “I’m sorry...” he began, but she cut him off. “No...no, I...” she didn’t finish, but turned quickly and all but ran into the bedroom.

 

She was back in a nanosecond, walking quickly across the living area.  “You probably need...” she started,  “I mean, you need to wash your hair again since I cut it.  The refresher...it’s...it’s empty,” she finished in a rush and disappeared in the kitchen.

 

Luke looked down and then laughed weakly.  He thought he had just witnessed an all-time first.  Mara was disconcerted.  The Mara Jade, Ms. Self-Possession herself, was flustered.  He was glad he had been there to see it.

 

He stood awkwardly, holding the towel in front of his waist and walked stiffly into the bedroom, heading for the very cold water of the shower.

 

In the kitchen, Mara sat at the small table, her head cupped in her hands.  She was breathing heavily, her mouth open, the sound extraordinarily loud in the little room.  She sat up, looked down at herself, and slowly pulled her shirt away from her chest.  She swallowed, staring at her breasts as if she had never seen them before.  The pink tips were hard as nails, straining forward, and aching...aching for someone to touch them.  Mara released her shirt and dropped her head back into her hands.  Oh gods, she moaned silently, castigating herself because she knew exactly who she wanted to touch them.  And what if he had?  What would he have done, she wondered, if she had fallen into his arms like a starving bantha?

 

But she had just stood there, like some awestruck teenager, running her fingers over and over through his hair as if she couldn’t get enough of the feel of it.  Mara groaned again.  This was getting out of hand, she told herself fiercely, completely out of hand.  She needed to get out of there...and quickly...before something happened that they both would regret.  But you can’t leave now, a little voice argued with her.  He needs you more than ever with the general arriving to cause who knew what kind of trouble. She breathed a heavy sigh and worked hard to reclaim the trademark Jade composure that had so totally fled.

 

Across the suite, in the shower, the cold water wasn’t doing any good.  Luke rubbed his hot face against the cold tiles but his overheated body was insistent.  Slowly, his hand moved across his thigh.  Damn it, Mara, he thought, I’m sorry.  His hand gripped and then began moving as images from the evening formed in his mind.  Those beautiful, tantalizing breasts swayed and bounced on the back of his eyelids.  Only this time, his mouth closed on one of them, his hands moving behind her back to press her tightly into him.  His tongue laved over the tiny tip, wetting it, soaking it, worshipping it.  He felt her hands stroke through his hair again and he moved to her other breast, pulling the tip in and sucking fiercely.

 

A harsh groan burst out of Luke and his body convulsed, once, twice and then again, emptying his desire against the side of the shower.  A Jedi knows no passion, his old master’s voice echoed faintly in his head.  “Shut up, Yoda,” he moaned against the shower wall.  “You never met Mara Jade.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

When Luke came out of the shower a few minutes later, some of his clothes were already lying on the bed.  He walked over, a little surprised, yet pleased at that same time.  Mara had taken the time to rummaged through his closet and set out his clothes for him.  A pair of black formal trousers lay nestled against a silky white dress shirt with four lines of delicate loinae lace running down its front.  Near it laid a jacket he had forgotten he owned.  It was dark gray and short-waisted with two longer tails in the back.  Thin, red piping circled the end of the sleeves and around the high stiff collar.  He had bought the jacket on a whim and had worn it only once many years before at one of the ceremonial events after the Alliance had defeated the Empire.  He sighed, feeling a bit uncomfortable with the formality.  After all, he was just a farmboy from a dustbowl planet, and deep down, that’s all he would ever be.

 

He glanced at the door to the living area knowing that Mara was there, waiting for him to dress before she could have her turn in the bedroom.  He pulled on his clothes quickly, then took just a bit more time to comb his flaxen hair before the big mirror in the refresher.  Mara had actually done a great job on it, as good as any barber he had been to.  It might still be a bit long on the top, but...well...that was understandable.  He had spent almost all his time in the shower wondering what in Hoth they were going to say to one another. But the more he thought about it, the more he decided that knowing Mara, the details of what had happened in the living area would never be a topic of conversation between them.  That wouldn’t keep him from thinking about it, though.  Something had happened between them that was affecting him greatly, and he was unsure if it had affected her at all.  But he was too honest a person not to admit that his feelings for Mara had been steadily growing over the past few months.  He had been attracted to her from the very first, even when she had stared at him with all that hate in her eyes and a blaster pointed at his heart when they had been in the forest on Myrkr.  Yet, he had sensed even then that there was something special about her.  They had a certain affinity between them that he had never experienced before with anyone.  The closest he could compare it to was his link with Leia.  But Leia was his sister, and his feelings for Mara were anything but brotherly.

 

When Luke opened the door of the bedroom and walked out into the living area, he was shocked to realize that Mara wasn’t there.  He hurried into the kitchen, knowing even as he did so that he wouldn’t find her.  As he moved back into the living area, panic began to boil inside the pit of his stomach.  Surely, she couldn’t have left.  But he knew in his heart that she was very capable of doing just that. 

 

With a sinking feeling, he caught sight of a blinking light on his comlink station and he knew it was a message from her.  He walked slowly over, dreading it the whole way, and keyed in the code.

 

“Skywalker,” Mara’s voice filled the room.  “I’ve gone over to the YT for my clothes.  I’ll dress on the ship.  When you’re ready, why don’t you come by and we’ll leave from there.”

 

The relief he felt as her words sunk in, stunned him so much he had to sit down.  The fact that he could feel such a sense of despair, such desolation over the idea that she could have left again without even a word was a revelation in itself.  His crystal blue eyes were wide, yet he saw nothing but the secrets in his heart.  Loving Mara Jade had not been something he had set out to do, nor anything he had ever planned on.  But it existed now, as deep and as abiding as anything he had ever felt or would ever feel again.

 

Luke put his elbows on the comlink desk, rested his head in the palms of his hands and stared at the beige carpet of the living area.  He didn’t suppose that anything was ever going to be easy for him in his life.  Nothing so far had been, so why had he thought that falling in love with someone would be simple, uncomplicated, and straightforward.

 

He leaned back in the chair.  If by sheer luck he were able to convince Mara to share his life, living with her would not always be easy.  More than likely, it would be a daily challenge that would push him to his limits. They were both too stubborn, too quick-tempered, and too full of angst and regret for past mistakes.  But if this was to be his fate, he knew he would embrace it with all his being.  He loved her, he literally adored her, and there wasn’t any use in denying it any longer.

 

When Luke got to the small freighter, he found that she had left down the entry ramp, and he walked on, calling her name.  She answered him from her sleeping quarters, so he turned and entered the room by its open door, briefly appreciating its warm softness and art décor. 

 

He stopped abruptly when he saw her sitting at a tiny vanity across the small room.  Their eyes caught in the large mirror behind it and a thousand things were revealed in that glance, although unspoken either by mouth or through the Force.

 

Luke moved farther into the room until he was beside her, and she stood to meet him.  “You look beautiful, Mara,” he said softly, meaning every word and fighting the desire to touch her.  Her hair had been unbraided and pulled up onto her head in long, elegant curls that caressed the back of her neck and the sides of her face.  Small, sparkling pieces of glitter were sprinkled randomly throughout her hair and warred with the glorious natural radiance in which they nested. 

 

She was wearing a long, emerald green gown, form-fitting with one long slit that rose to the thigh on her right leg.  The neckline plunged, exposing enough cleavage to cause Luke to swallow abruptly, memories of those breasts swaying in front of his eyes all too new.

 

She smiled shyly up at him.  “You’re look rather handsome yourself, Farmboy.”  And then her eyes dropped and she stepped away from him, his nearness a little too intoxicating. 

 

“Luke, I...” she started, but he stopped her, raising his fingers to her lips.  “Mara, I know we have many things that we need to discuss, but I want us to have all the time we need...not have a party or reception hanging over us when we do.  Let’s get this reception over tonight and then we’ll talk.”

 

Mara searched his face with her eyes and even tentatively reached out with the Force to touch him mind, trying to assess his emotions, but then she stopped, worried that he would resent her probing.

 

She was so confused, and a bit frightened at what had occurred between them and frightened where it all might be leading.  She had so little experience in what one could call a real relationship.  And for them, there were so many problems, so many complications...but he was right.  Now wasn’t the time to discuss it.

 

She smiled.  “Well, let’s go and impress the guests, Farmboy.”

 

“After you, my fair lady,” he replied, taking her hand and sliding it though his arm.  They walked out of the freighter and headed for the Great Temple.

 

***************************

 

The party was in full swing with they entered the Great Hall.  With all that had happened in the evening, they were more than fashionable late, but it probably couldn’t have worked out better if they had tried to arrange it.  They stood in the center of the huge double doors to the giant room. Their appearance created such a sensation that the entire reception came to a grinding standstill while every eye in the place focused on them.

 

“Told you we would knock them dead,” Mara murmured, pressing a little closer to him.  After all, these people had to think that Luke Skywalker was her man, and maybe, maybe just for this evening, she’d actually let herself believe it a little too.

 

Luke squeezed her hand on his arm, smiling and nodding to each person as they walked into the great hall.  People were whispering and pointing at them as they made their way across the huge room.  Luke was uncomfortable as always at being the center of attention, but then saw someone who made him sigh with relief.  “Look,” he whispered.  “There’s Noimi.”  Then his voice changed noticeably, “and that’s the general and his wife with her.”

 

Mara couldn’t believe her eyes.  “That’s the general?”  She asked in utter astonishment.  The small human male next to Noimi, the older woman who served as Luke’s joint communication officer/cook, had to be a centimeter or two shorter than Mara.  He was so corpulent the buttons of his dress uniform were strained to their maximum extent.

 

*Size matters not,* Luke murmured in her head, steering her in that direction.

*Watch yourself.*

 

*What do you think he’s going to do, Skywalker, jump me in front of everybody,*  Mara retorted with a chuckle.

 

Noimi’s smile almost split her face when she saw them.  “Jedi Skywalker and Miss Jade, we are so glad you were able to make it.”  Luke flinched a little at the slight admonishment in her voice, feeling guilty that he had left everything to her.

 

“I’m sorry, Noimi, we were a little detained,” Luke smiled, taking her hand and holding it gently, not wanting her to be upset with him. 

 

Apparently, he succeeded because Noimi’s smile widened even further and then she turned to the man beside her.  “Have you met the General yet, Luke?”

 

Luke glanced at Diaishuut and said, a bit coolly, “Yes, I have and how are you, General?”  He couldn’t bring himself to welcome the man, but he was doing his best to be polite.  But the general hardly noticed at him; his eyes were firmly fixated on Mara.  Luke cleared his throat, “May I introduce my very good friend, Mara Jade.”

 

The general’s eyes roamed all over Mara, as if he was mentally undressing her, one piece of clothing at a time.

 

*See what I mean,* Luke snapped in Mara’s mind.  *The man’s a Hutt in disguise.*

 

*I’m beginning to get the idea,* Mara answered, her face trying not to mirror her distaste as the general took her hand.  *You’re right,*  she laughed. *But I think he looks much more like Bubo!*

 

Luke did his best to smother his laughter at Mara’s referral to the bug-eyed, frog-like creature who had been a spy for Jabba the Hutt.

 

“I must say, Skywalker, you certainly know how to surround yourself with beautiful women,” the general smirked.  “First, that gorgeous sister of yours and now this beauty.”  The general tried to pull Mara closer, but she resisted, politely removing her hand from his.  Very pointedly, she moved it, so that her two hands linked over Luke’s arm.

 

“How nice of you, General Diaishuut,” she said sweetly and gazed up at Luke adoringly, acting for all she was worth.

 

Noimi entered the conversation again.  “I’m sure you would like to meet the general’s wife.”  She turned to the woman next to her.  “Mrs. Diaishuut, may I present Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade.”

 

Mara blinked her eyes, her expression revealing her surprise.  The woman was at least five centimeters taller than Luke and as thin as a durasteel railing.  Her face reflected a haughty, superior attitude and the pinched nose of a very unhappy person.

 

*Luke,*  Mara whispered in astonishment in his mind. *Can you believe they’re married?*

 

After some cursory words of greeting, the general’s wife ignored them.

 

“Well, if it isn’t Mara Jade herself and in the company of the hero, Luke Skywalker, no less,” a voice interrupted them.  “Now, who would have ever believed that?”

 

They turned to see a humanoid male, with long dark strands of coarse hair and enormous brown and gold eyes.  Mara all but gasped,  “P’faaru!”

 

*Who’s that?*  Luke asked in her mind, wondering at her startled expression.

 

*He’s the reporter who was in my apartment,*  Mara explained in astonishment.  *The one I found going through my things.*

 

*This just keeps getting more and more interesting, doesn’t it?*  Luke replied, looking the holo-reporter over.

 

P’faaru grinned, showing some large fine-pointed blue teeth.  “Surprised to see me, Jade?  A few days in the bacta tank had me as good as new, no thanks to you.”

 

“I wouldn’t have hurt you, P’faaru, if you hadn’t been sneaking around in my apartment in the dead of night,” Mara replied tartly. 

 

To her surprise, the holo-reporter nodded.  “Yes, I suppose I deserved everything I got.  I shouldn’t have done that.”  He looked over at Luke and grinned.  “It appears as if I had just waited a little while I would have gotten my story anyway.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean,” Mara questioned warily.

 

“Well, just look at you two,” the humanoid answered smugly.  “After all that denying and renouncing on Coruscant, I come to this backward jungle of a planet and find you playing house.”  He grinned unabashedly at them.  “Lucky I decided to come on this little trip with the dear old general, isn’t it?”

 

“Look...,” Luke said, taking a step towards him.

 

“No, Luke,” Mara said, warning him.  She slipped away from Luke and took the holo-reporter’s arm.  “Why don’t we dance, P’faaru, and we’ll talk about it.”

 

The humanoid’s toothy grin got larger.  “Sounds like a good plan to me, Jade.  Just promise you won’t hurt me,” he teased, half-serious.

 

Mara laughed.  “I never make promises I can’t keep, P’faaru.”

 

The holo-reporter put his big head back and barked out a string of hoots and squeals, obviously his species’ version of laughter.  “There is never a dull moment with you, Jade, is there?  But you know, I think I’ll take my chances. One would have to be a fool to pass up the chance to dance with you.”  He offered her a long, thin arm and off they went to the crowded dance floor.

 

Luke watched them leave with disgust.  He had wanted the first dance with Mara.

 

“Quite a woman you got there, Skywalker,” a voice intruded on his thoughts.

“I bet she keeps you plenty busy in bed, doesn’t she?”

 

Luke turned to find Diaishuut beside him. “Tell me, General, do you have to practice being crude or does it just come naturally?”

 

Diaishuut smiled nastily.  “Watch out, Jedi boy, don’t forget who you’re talking to.”

 

Luke scratched his ear and looked the general directly in the eye.  “Oh, I don’t think I’d be able to forget that.”

 

“You think you’re quite something, don’t you, boy, you and that smart-mouth sister of yours, but one of these days, you’re going to get exactly what you deserve,” Diaishuut spit out viciously.

 

Luke frowned, a bit puzzled by Diaishuut’s obviously intense dislike, but not wanting things to develop into a confrontation, he only said, “I’m sure we’ll all get what we deserve in the end, General.  Now, if you will excuse me, Noimi promised me a dance.”

 

Chapter 8

 

Mara was surprised at the skill of the holo-reporter who twirled her around the dance floor so expertly.  He was tall and lanky, and Mara’s head barely reached his chest, but they moved together very well and she was enjoying herself.  It had been a long time since she had danced with anyone so talented.

 

The humanoid dipped her low over his arm and then spun her a few times as they glided across the floor, skillfully avoiding the other dancers.  “So, Jade, what do you have to tell me?”

 

Mara put on her most innocent face. “Nothing, P’faaru, nothing at all.”

 

“You're fracturing both my hearts, Jade,” P’faaru grinned, capably swinging her around again.  “You know the news is going to break eventually, so why not give me an exclusive.  Then you won’t have to deal with the rest of that pack of Ewok sniffers over there.”  He nodded over her head to where a mixed group of humans and aliens had gathered in the corner.

 

“All of those people are holo-reporters?”  Mara gasped, sizing up the group.  There had to be more than a dozen.

 

“Yes, the illustrious general requested a full allotment from most of the New Republic press corp,” P’faaru told her.  He glanced down at her, lifting one of his very bushy eyebrows.  “Do you suppose he thought we might find a good story here?”

 

“I have no idea what the general was thinking, P’faaru,” Mara said darkly, some of her enjoyment in the dance fading away. “As far as I know, the general had no idea I was here.  Besides, with his ego, I would think he wouldn’t want to share the limelight.”

 

“I tend to agree with you, my dear,” P’faaru concurred. He glanced over at the general who was staring angrily at Luke Skywalker as he danced somewhat awkwardly with his communication officer.  “The general definitely wants more than his fair share of attention.”  P’faaru did a rather complicated dance sequence that Mara followed perfectly.  He grinned down at her, appreciating their dance and complimenting her about it.  “Well done, Jade.”  Then his smile faded as he seemed to come to a quick decision.  “You know, Mara, if I were you, I’d stay away from the general...you and Skywalker would do well to avoid him.”

 

Mara looked up at him in surprise.  “Why do you say that?”

 

P’faaru sighed.  “It’s nothing I can put my finger on, but all the way here from Coruscant, he kept making...well, I suppose you would characterize them as mildly derogatory remarks.”

 

Mara couldn’t keep the astonishment from her face.  “About Luke and me?  Why would he...he hardly knows us.”

 

“He did mention you both a few times,” P’faaru said, his brow wrinkled with concentration.  “But I had the feeling it was more about the Jedi order than you two in particular.”

 

Mara glanced over at the rotund figure of the general.  “That’s very interesting, P’faaru.  I’m glad you told me.”

 

“Enough to consider you might owe me something?” P’faaru grinned.

 

“Owe you something?”  Mara repeated cautiously.

 

Giving a huge, exaggerated sigh, P’faaru intoned, “A story, Jade, a story.  Surely you haven’t forgotten!”

 

Mara laughed out loud.  “You never give up, do you?”

 

“Of course not, my dear.  I wouldn’t get very far in my profession if I did!”

P’faaru laughed with her.

 

Suddenly, the music ended and they found themselves standing near one of the huge bay doors that led out to one of the many balconies that surrounded the Great Hall.

 

“I’ll tell you what, P’faaru, when and if there is a story, I’ll make sure you get an exclusive on it,” Mara offered, deciding that she rather liked him after all.  Just for a moment, she felt a twinge of guilt over hurting him so badly when she had found him in her apartment on Coruscant.

 

P’faaru studied her for quite a long moment, then said, “I’m going to have to settle for that, aren’t I?”

 

Mara nodded, smiling at him gently.

 

He sighed, then lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it with his large lips.  “Thank you, my dear, for a lovely dance.  Perhaps we can share another again sometime?”

 

“I’d like that, P’faaru,” Mara told him, meaning it literally.  “Now, I think I’ll go out on the balcony for some nice, fresh air and a few moments to myself.”

 

P’faaru nodded and left her to join some of his colleagues across the room.

 

Mara wandered out on the balcony.

 

**********

 

For once, in the hot, humid climate of Yavin IV, a breeze was blowing.  It felt wonderful against Mara’s skin, which was slightly damp from the exertion of dancing.

 

She walked to the edge of the balcony, which wasn’t really all that high, no more than fifteen or twenty meters from the ground, and leaned against the duracrete railing.  The wind lifted her curls back from her face and she closed her eyes, enjoying it.

 

The night was loud and electric with the jungle sounds of Yavin IV.  It teemed with life as the nocturnal creatures went about their usual concerns.

 

Mara leaned a little farther out over the railing, peering into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of some of Yavin’s more exotic organisms.

 

“I find it all just too interesting, you know.” The unfamiliar voice intruded on Mara’s solitude and she wasn’t happy about it, as she was enjoying her few moments alone.  She was even more unhappy when she turned and found the little general standing only a short distance away.

 

She leaned her back against the railing, and asked with a sigh, “And what do you find so interesting, General Diaishuut?”

 

He walked a little closer.  “You Jedi, of course.  You have such intriguing talents.  What were you doing now, conversing with the mass of tropical animals below?”

 

Mara frowned slightly, puzzled about where this conversation was leading.  “I can’t talk with animals, General.”  She waved her hand at the jungle.  “I was just appreciating life at its fullest.”

 

He joined her at the railing.  “So you can’t talk with them, but you can make them do things if you want, right?  Things against their will.  You can even make sentient beings do things you wished them to do, whether they want to or not.  Isn’t that true?”

 

Mara moved away a little along the railing, turned, and peered down into the well of darkness below.  “Some Jedi have the power to suggest things, I suppose,” she murmured, not willing to admit much.

 

“Suggest!”  the general exclaimed scornfully.  “You seriously don’t expect me to believe that it’s as simple as that!”

 

There was an uncomfortable few moments of silence between them, with the cries and calls of the Yavin nightlife the only sounds.

 

Finally, the general slid his short, plump body along the railing until he was next to Mara again.  He had a peculiar expression when he turned to her, his eyes wandering over her face and body.  “So, Miss Jade, how long have you and Skywalker been an item?  For some time now?  I suppose, when one thinks about it, it was only a matter of time.”

 

“Time, General?”  Mara asked quizzically.

 

“Of course. Jedi have always gravitated toward one another for relationships.  What history we have left of them speaks of those strong, binding associations.”

 

“You make it sound like a business deal, General,” Mara returned smartly.

 

He turned so his side was to the railing and he could see Mara’s face.  “Business deal?  Far from it, I’m sure.”  He leaned a little closer to her and Mara fought not to move away.  There was something not right about the general, something that caused her danger sense to flare ever so slightly, even though he had done his best to keep from giving her that impression.  Mara watched him warily, though she tried hard not to show it.

 

“I expect that the Jedi turn to each other because of what they can share in the bedroom, don’t you think, my dear?” the general continued, watching her closely.

 

Mara’s green eyes narrowed.  “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about, General.”

 

“Oh, come now, Miss Jade.  First the Emperor’s plaything and now Skywalker’s.” The general pushed himself away from the railing, his hands rushing forward and gripping Mara about her waist. “You probably know every erotic Jedi trick in the book.”

 

Mara couldn’t believe her ears.  “General,” she warned, a vision of removing his hands, not from her body, but his, dancing in her mind.

 

He interrupted her in a breathy rush.  “Skywalker’s just a boy though, so he probably can’t teach you very much.”  The General tightened his grasp and pulled Mara toward him.  “I’m sure you do all the teaching with him, but with Palpatine...” The general’s hot, excited breath scorched Mara’s cheek.  “Listen, Jade, why don’t you show me the things you learned from the Emperor?  I'm sure I could really make it worth your while.”

 

That did it.  Mara had been warring with herself on just how to handle this delicate, little situation with the general.  After all, it was only a few hours ago that she had shouted and yelled like a crazed mynock because Luke hadn’t wanted to come to the welcoming reception.  So it certainly wouldn’t do for her to break the General’s pudgy little neck for him, would it?  And what sort of scandal would it cause for Luke’s Jedi school?  But that last remark from the tubby general was too much and Mara found the inner battle taking a decidedly sharp shift. So, with a little push from the Force, she threw him out over the balcony to let him hang in mid-air, like a trussed up dinko, above the huge, jungle trees of Yavin.

 

*Luke!* she shouted through the Force. *Get out here!*

 

Standing and talking with a group of minor officers who had accompanied the general on his trip to Yavin, Luke was smiling and in mid-sentence when his head suddenly jerked up and his eyes glazed over.  *What’s wrong?* he sent as he started quickly towards the balcony, leaving the group of men to watch after him in puzzlement.

 

*Just get out here.  We’ve got a problem!*

 

Luke tried not to appear as if he was running across the dance floor, but he did move as rapidly as possible towards the balcony.  He came to an abrupt halt after he passed through the big, heavy bay doors. 

 

Mara was standing near the railing, her right arm extended from her body and shaking visibly.  A trickle of sweat rolled down the side of her face.  “I can’t hold him much longer, although it might be a good idea if I just let him fall,” she said, her voice betraying the strain she was under.

 

“Who are you talking about?”  Luke asked as he walked towards her.  That’s when he saw him.  “Emperor’s bones, Mara, what are you doing?” he gasped, as the general’s floating body slowly began to drift downward.

 

“Skywalker, get me down from here,” the general snarled. His arms and legs were flailing about, making him look remarkably like an insect stuck through with a pin.

 

“You had better take him and quickly,” Mara gasped.  “If he keeps moving around like that, I’m going to drop him.”

 

Luke extended his arm and the general suddenly ascended a meter or so into the air.  “What did he do?” Luke asked Mara, ignoring the sputtering and stammering general who was cursing them in what seemed to be several different languages.

 

Mara’s trembling arm dropped and she sagged against the balcony railing.  Using that much Force always left her a bit weak, and she took a moment to regain her composure.  Wiping the sweat from her cheek with her hand, she said simply, “He made me mad.”

 

Luke shot the general a dirty look and quickly let him fall a meter or two to just above the treetops.  “Skywalkerrrr!” the portly Diaishuut screamed, before his sudden stop choked his cry off.

 

Luke flinched at the noise the general was making and was glad that the music was so loud coming through the bay doors.  As he watched the general, anger suddenly cruised through him. He looked back at Mara and snarled, “Did he touch you?”  If that nasty little man had had the nerve to...

 

“No, no, not really,” Mara told him quickly, staring curiously at him.  “He never had the chance.  It was more what he said than anything else.”

 

Just for a moment, Luke took his gaze from the general and looked at Mara.  “Come here,” he ordered.

 

Mara lifted an eyebrow at his tone, but decided now wasn’t the time to argue over it.  She moved over until she was slightly in front of him.

 

He looked her directly in the eye.  “Did he touch you?” he asked again. 

 

Puzzled, Mara shook her head.  “He put his hands on my waist, but that wasn’t really anything.  It was just that he made some rather inappropriate remarks.  I didn’t let him get any farther than that.”  She waved her hand towards the jungle.  “I put him out there before he had a chance.”

 

Luke nodded, transferring his attention back to the general.  Very slowly, he lifted the general until he was even with the balcony again, and Luke brought him gently over the railing and deposited him onto the floor about five meters from where he and Mara were standing.

 

The general was furious, his puffy face red and blotchy with anger.  “You...you Jedi freaks,” he growled viciously.  “So help me, I will see the end of all of you.  The Emperor was right when he rid the galaxy of your kind.  You’re nothing but a monstrosity, an accident of nature, and you should have been put to sleep when you were born.  Both of you...and that sister of yours, too!”  He glared at them, straightened out his uniform and stomped through the doors into the ballroom.

 

He left behind one stunned and one not-so-surprised Jedi.

 

“You know,” Mara said wonderingly.  “I have heard of it, but I think it’s really the first time I’ve ever encountered it.”

 

“What’s that?”  Luke asked softly, acutely aware of how close she was standing.  He took her hand and pulled her to him.  He didn’t want to think about the general.  The man had done so many despicable things in the past, that nothing concerning him surprised Luke anymore.

 

Mara looked up at him in astonishment as his arm went around her waist.  “Pre...Prejudice,” she stammered, spellbound by the intense look in his eyes.  “Prejudice towards the Jedi,” she finished with a rush.

 

“Don’t worry about it.  Most people aren’t like him,” Luke whispered as his head bent towards her.  “Did he hurt you?” he breathed, his lips only a fraction away from hers.

 

She shook her head slightly, as mesmerized as a womprat in the headlights of a landspeeder.  “No,” she whispered so softly he didn’t even hear it.  Her lips opened slightly when his hungry mouth closed over them, and all coherent thought vanished in a cloud of vaporized smoke.

 

He pulled her tightly against him; his mouth crushing hers, as if something he had been holding inside had finally been released.  He squeezed her so firmly it was almost painful, but she didn’t complain.  She laid her hands against his chest and then wandered them slowly up until they passed over his strong shoulders and around to his back, pulling him even closer.

 

She had been kissed before, mainly experiments in intellectual curiosity on her part, but nothing in her life had ever prepared her for kissing this Jedi. His emotions flooded into her, her barriers slapped down before she had even thought of raising them...burning desire, intense longing, seething need and something so powerful her mind flinched from it.

 

She pushed away from him, gasping, “Luke?” 

 

But he didn’t give her a chance to say anything else.  “Shhh...” he whispered, his hand going to the back of her head, pulling her to him again and holding her steady as he covered her mouth once more with his.  And suddenly, the self-confident, self-assured, always-in-control Mara Jade vanished somewhere over the balcony railing, disappearing into the Yavin jungle below. Left behind was a quivering, shaking woman who opened her mouth and welcomed the tongue of the man she knew instinctively was meant to be her lover.

 

 

Chapter 9

 

 

The kiss seemed to last forever and when it ended, they were gasping for breath and clinging to one another.  The extent of the emotion between them had taken them both by surprise.  And finally, albeit reluctantly, Mara pulled away.

 

They stared intently at one another, at a loss for what to say.  Mara eventually moved to the balcony railing again, apparently finding something terribly interesting in the jungle below.

 

Luke moved up beside her.  “Mara,” he said softly, and put his hand on her shoulder, turning her towards him.  “That...that was incredible.”

 

A slight pink colored Mara’s cheeks.  “Well, that’s all well and good, Farmboy, but I don’t think that was part of the agreement, was it?”  she said, stepping away from his hand.  The kiss had touched her like no other she had ever experienced, but it also frightened her.  Just what was she getting herself into?  And was she ready for what a kiss like that could lead to?

 

Luke watched her move away, and then followed her.  “If we are to convince everyone we’re a couple, Mara, then I suppose we have to kiss occasionally,” he rationalized; knowing the kiss they shared had nothing to do with their little charade of pretending to be a couple.  If he had his way, kissing and a lot more would be all they would spend their time doing.  Something about Mara moved him more than any other woman he had ever been close to, and if it were left up to him, their friendship would deepen into a much more meaningful relationship. 

 

She laughed.  “I know we have to kiss, but it should be when and where people can see us, right?  Well Luke,” she waved her hand around the vacant balcony, “there‘s no one around but us, and kissing...kissing like that when we are alone was not part of the bargain.”

 

“Mara, you can’t tell me you weren’t touched by that kiss,” Luke argued softly, stepping closer to her.  “You can’t tell me you didn’t feel something, too.  Forget the bargain...I think it’s time we talk about us.”

 

“Us?”  She turned to look up at him in astonishment.  Yet there was something else Luke could see deep in her eyes, something she couldn’t quite hide...hope, expectation, wistfulness?  He smiled gently, placing his hands on the sides of her face.  “Yes, us.”

 

Behind them, careening through the open bay doors, came a group of the young people who served as workers on the academy construction site.  Laughing too loudly, too exuberantly, and bouncing crazily off one another, they failed to notice Luke and Mara until the one in the lead stopped abruptly, causing the others to bump into him.

 

“Oh, sorry, Mr. Skywalker,” Teco, the oldest boy in the group, said. “We didn’t mean to interrupt.” He waved his hand at the others, urging them to be quiet.  Quickly, they complied, but their curiosity was almost palpable in the heavy night air.

 

Mara turned away and Luke stepped in front of her, hiding her from their concerted gaze.  “It’s alright, Teco, we were just going in for a dance, weren’t we, my love?”  He took Mara’s hand and gently pulled her towards the doors.

 

As they entered the Great Hall, the reception was at its height, dancers zigzagging about the floor to loud music and laughter.  At their entrance, most of the eyes in the place centered on them again.

 

Mara sighed heavily.  “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being so...stared at.  First all those kids, and now this.”

 

“Just ignore it.  After awhile, you don’t even notice anymore,” Luke told her, sweeping her suddenly onto the dance floor.

 

Mara struggled for a moment, trying to match his steps, then fell perfectly into rhythm with him.  “You know, Skywalker,” she said sternly, “you’re suppose to ask a woman to dance, not just drag her into the middle of the floor.”

 

He grinned down at her, turning her expertly. 

 

She lifted an eyebrow.  “Not bad, Farmboy.  Where did you learn to dance like this?”

 

The music was one of those songs that wasn’t particularly slow, nor particularly fast, a simple and uncomplicated rhythm that was easy to follow.  “Leia thought I should have a few lessons after she saw me attempting to dance at one of the government receptions she forced me to attend,” Luke told her, humming a little with the music.

 

“I would never have believed it after seeing you dance with Noimi earlier,” Mara joked, enjoying the feel of his arms around her again.

 

“I suspect it’s the change in partners that makes all the difference,” Luke countered, pulling her closer.

 

To their mutual regret, the song ended, and Mara stepped out of his arms, turning to walk off the dance floor, but Luke took her hand and pulled her back to him. “Wait...one more, please?  I’ve been waiting all night to dance with you, Mara.” 

 

His eyes were mischievous, teasing, and Mara smiled in spite of herself.  “Alright, but after this, I think we should go.  It’s getting late, and we’ve probably made enough of an impression on this group.”

 

To their surprise, the lights dimmed and a slow, romantic melody started.  Mara’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you?” she accused.

 

Luke laughed aloud.  “Now, Mara, how could I have done anything about the music?”  He pulled her into his arms, sliding his hands around her waist and nestling her against his chest.  “Come on, put your arms around my neck and let’s dance.”

 

Mara wasn’t totally convinced, but she complied, easing her hands around him to clasp them together at his nape. 

 

He smiled down at her, his big blue eyes caressing her, and Mara took a long, deep breath.  She was a bit surprised at Luke, not quite believing that the Farmboy she thought she knew would be so good at the somewhat intimate banter couples exchanged.  Yet, she was pleased too, appreciating his confidence and strength.

 

She laid her head on his shoulder, listening to the husky voice of the female singer.

 

 

 

‘In a way I know my heart is waking up

 

As all the walls come tumblin’ down

 

Closer than I’ve ever felt before and I know and you know

 

There’s no need for words right now...’

 

 

 

Mara wasn’t surprised when she felt Luke’s head turn and nuzzle against her hair.  The song was slow and romantic, and their bodies moved easily together.  She closed her eyes as Luke turned her gently.  They were hardly dancing, just swaying really.  She sighed and opened her eyes, then stiffened abruptly.  Not far away, along the wall, stood General Diaishuut.  It didn’t take any Jedi power to sense the anger and hatred emitting from him.

 

“What is it?”  Luke whispered, not understanding why she had gone so rigid.

 

“The general,” she whispered back, turning her face into Luke’s neck.  “I don’t think he’s very happy with us.”

 

“Where is he?” Luke sighed.  Was that man going to continually try to ruin their evening?

 

“Over against the wall,” Mara mumbled and Luke turned her until her back faced the wall.  The look the two men exchanged was not pleasant and Luke had a feeling it wouldn’t be the last time they would have to deal with the general.  But then Luke casually danced on, effectively ignoring the general, and moving them away until they were far across the room.

 

“Forget him,” Luke murmured, caressing her hair with his lips.  “Let’s just dance and forget him...forget them all.”  He hugged her tighter to him and Mara locked her arms around his neck, pressing her body against his.  They were virtually in an embrace, the dancing almost forgotten as they were caught up once more in the slow, dreamy song.

 

 

‘Cause I can feel you breathe, it’s washing over me

 

Suddenly I’m melting into you

 

There’s nothing left to prove, baby, all we need is just to be

 

Caught up in the touch, the slow and steady rush

 

And baby, isn’t that the way that love’s supposed to be

 

I can feel you breathe

 

Just breathe

 

I can feel the magic floating in the air

 

Being with you gets me that way...’

 

 

 

“Mara,” Luke whispered, rubbing his face against her hair, squeezing her against him.  They weren’t moving anymore, just holding tightly to one another.  He wanted to kiss her so badly, it was an ache deep in his gut.  “Mara,” he whispered again, hoping she would lift her face to him.  Never had anyone felt so good in his arms, so light, like a feather. 

 

Mara tilted her head back, her heart pounding in her chest, and the blue and green of their eyes blazed into one another.  “Mara,” he breathed and their mouths came together as if pulled by magnets.  The kiss was wonderful, and they had just begun to enjoy it, savoring the taste of each other, when a flurry of bright, dazzling lights burst upon them.

 

They tore their mouths apart, blinking in the sudden brilliant explosions, and then froze.  Somewhere, somehow, in the middle of that slow and seductive song, they had levitated right off the dance floor!  They were at least two meters in the air, staring in startled surprise at the group of laughing, excited people below them.  Holo-reporters lifted their holo-cameras above their heads for better shots and the flashes went off in their faces again.

 

“Luke, put us down,” Mara gasped quickly, her cheeks as red as her hair.

 

Slowly, they descended and Mara glanced at Luke, only to find him fighting hard to keep from laughing.  “Don’t you dare,” she warned him.

 

They touched the floor and the first person Mara saw was P’faaru, his holo-cameraman clicking away beside him.  The big humanoid touched his large fingers to his lips and blew her a kiss.  “Thanks, Jade,” she heard him say over the laughter.

 

She glared at him, a pleasant vision of him floating in bacta again entering her mind, but then the humor of the situation got to her and she stifled a laugh.  It was their own fault; they couldn’t blame anyone else.  She grabbed Luke’s hand and tugged him along with her.  “Come on, let’s get out of here before any more disasters happen!”

 

Luke couldn’t hold it in anymore and he burst into laughter, causing her to join him.  Giggling together like a couple of naughty kids, they ran lightly through the big open doors of the Great Hall and disappeared into the night.

 

************************

 

Neither of them could have explained how they made it back to Luke’s apartment.  They had some vague and foggy memories of somehow slipping away from the reception and twirling each other around in some amorous dance as they made their way across the courtyard only to stop in the shadows of the buildings to kiss and cuddle and giggle.  Finally, they were at his door.  As soon as it opened, Luke pushed Mara through it and then against the wall of the living area, devouring her mouth as if it were his only lifeline to existence.

 

He groaned hoarsely, his body so inflamed it was painful.  He tore his mouth from hers and buried his face in her neck, grimacing as if in agony.  He had to regain some measure of control or soon he would find himself dragging her into the bedroom by her gorgeous hair.  He closed his eyes and concentrated on several Jedi calming techniques, finally feeling a sense of relaxation.

 

Her hand nestled at the nape of his neck and she turned her head, her lips caressing his cheek.  “Luke?”  Mara whispered huskily, her voice heavy from all the ardent kissing.

 

He smiled against her neck.  He loved the way she said his name, and he struggled to resist the impulse to pull and suck at the tender skin beneath his mouth.  He moved his head until his forehead rested against hers.

 

“Luke?” she asked again, rubbing her face against his, around and around, sensuously, like a Corellian sand panther might its mate.  Never in her life had she felt so close to anyone, so intimate, so tied, as if they were two halves of a whole.  She was intoxicated by it, so drunk with the feeling that she was physically reeling, clinging to him to simply stay on her feet.  She just wanted to be with him, exist in him, as close as two beings could possible be.

 

“It’s all right,” he murmured against her lips, their breaths mingling.  Suddenly, he slid an arm behind her knees and lifted her against his chest. A few steps across the room, and he sat on the couch, holding her in his lap.

 

Her arms snaked their way around his neck again, and she sighed heavily, her head on his shoulder.  “What are we doing, Luke?”

 

“Still dancing?” he offered teasingly, and rubbed his cheek against hers.

 

She put her hand against his head and turned him, so that her mouth brushed softly against his.  She smiled against his lips.  “You know, Skywalker, I did a stint as a professional dancer.  I don’t remember training for this particular dance.”

 

He pulled away to look at her.  The overhead lights sparkled like diamonds in the emerald depths of her eyes.  “You don’t?”  he asked wonderingly.

 

“No,” she whispered, her voice a warm caress.  She pulled herself even closer to him.  “But I’m willing to learn.  Would you be my teacher?”

 

“Mara?”  Luke was having a hard time getting his breath. He couldn’t believe what she was telling him, at least what he thought she was telling him.  “Mara,” he started again.  “Do you...I mean...you’ve never...?”

 

He felt her smile against his neck.  “That’s right, Farmboy.  You’re going to be my first.”

 

He held her away from him, his blue eyes searching her face.  “Mara,” was all he could say, his emotions an enormously confused jumble.

 

She leaned her head to the side, watching him.  Finally, she pushed a strand of his sandy hair back from his damp forehead.  “Are you surprised?” she asked softly.

 

“A little,” Luke admitted.  Afraid she would misunderstand, he hastily started again “I mean...”

 

“You mean that I have been knocking about the dregs of the galaxy with a bunch of smugglers for years so I must have...”

 

It was his turn to cut her off.  “No, I didn’t mean that.”  He laughed slightly.  “If there were ever a woman who could take care of herself...” his voice trailed off.  He flushed slightly.  “I just thought...you know...”

 

She laid her head back on his shoulder.  “You thought what?”

 

He sighed and then mumbled uncomfortably.  “Well...Talon Karrde is an attractive man.”

 

Mara sat up in his lap, her eyes wide and disbelieving.  “You actually believed I was sleeping with Karrde?”  she asked, incredulously.

 

Luke hugged her to him again.  “Gods, Mara, any man in the galaxy would give anything to sleep with you...Talon Karrde included.”

 

Mara suddenly giggled, rubbing her face against his.  “Well, he did try once...”

 

Luke pulled back a little and looked at her.

 

She laughed, her hand sliding over his shoulder and tugging him to her again. “I quickly dissuaded him of that idea.”

 

Luke slid down on the couch, pulling her on top of him.  They kissed, soft, delicate little touches of their lips, their tongues gently playing with one another.  “You didn’t hurt him very badly, did you?”  Luke finally asked, his darkened blue eyes dancing with mischief.

 

Mara tenderly caught his bottom lip with her teeth, and then laughed softly,  “Not really.  After all, he is my boss.”

 

Luke ran his fingers through her hair, and his smile slowly faded.  “Mara,” he began seriously.  “It might have been better if you had...slept with him.”  He broke off when she frowned heavily.  “No...it’s just that, he’s probably a very experienced man and...”

 

Mara quickly moved off of him and sat up on the couch.  She glared down at Luke.  “You think he would be a better lover than you?”

 

Luke flushed a dark red and sat up beside her.  “I’ve slept with women before, Mara, but I’m not...that experienced.”  He looked at her and said earnestly, “I’m afraid I’ll hurt you.”

 

Mara’s mouth fell slightly open in astonishment as his words registered, and then she smiled gently.  “You still don’t get it, do you, Farmboy?”  She put her hands on each side of his face.  “Don’t you understand, Luke?  I’ve never wanted anyone else.  But I want you,” she whispered softly.  “I want you as much as you want me.”  Her eyes widened as a thought occurred to her.  “You do want me, don’t you?” she asked, suddenly uncertain.

 

His arms went around her and crushed her to him.  “Oh, gods, Mara, you’ll never know how much!”

 

“Then, show me...Farmboy,” she whispered in his ear.  “Just show me.”

 

***********************

 

For a long time the only sounds in the living area were the soft, moist, open-mouthed kisses of lovers intermingled with occasional gentle sighs and moans.  Suddenly, it was no longer enough for either of them and almost as one they stood and walked to the bedroom, arms wrapped tightly around one another.

 

It was delicious torture to slowly undress each other, hands lingering over all their intimate places as clothing piled on the floor.  At last they were nude and they stood next to the bed, just holding one another tightly.

 

Luke rubbed his cheek against Mara’s hair, pressing her against him.  “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, his hands beginning to roam over the planes of her back.

 

Mara tilted her head back to look at him.   “I want to be,” she said softly, “for you.”

 

He caught her mouth, kissing her with all the pent-up emotion in him.  He took her shoulders and gently laid her on the bed, climbing in beside her quickly.

 

She turned on her side to greet him and her eyes wandered over his body.  “You have an amazing body yourself, Skywalker,” she teased.

 

He took her hands and put them on his chest.  “You think so?” he asked.

 

She nodded, her hands softly moving along his shoulders and side, and then sliding along his abdomen.  “Yes,” she breathed.  “So muscular, so hard, so perfect.”

 

He leaned over and kissed her again, plunging his tongue between her slightly parted lips, ravishing her warmth.  She responded quickly, opening her mouth so that her tongue could duel with his.  The hands roaming over him were setting him on fire and he fought himself for control.  Slowly, he thought, we must go slowly.  Reluctantly, he tore his mouth from hers and buried his face in her neck, taking deep calming breaths.  Finally, he gently laid her on her back and rose up on his elbow to look at her.  The eyes peering at him through half-opened lids had turned a glowing, deep green like the enormous oceans on Mon Calamari.  He began to drown in them, mesmerized by her extent of her passion.

 

He slid his body against hers, and put his lips to one of her breasts, gently kissing the soft, delicate skin.  He pulled the creamy flesh into his mouth, licking and wetting it, consciously avoiding the hardening tip on the top.

 

Mara’s hands gripped his shoulders, as she was consumed by the feelings he was arousing in her.  She threw her head back on the pillow, squeezing her eyes shut.  She focused her concentration on each and every new sensation he was causing.

 

Luke took her nipple into his mouth, pulling gently on it with his lips.  A harsh moan erupted out of Mara, but he was so lost, he barely heard her.  Her breast was so tender, so soft, its tip a light rose against her velvet skin.  He pulled more of it into his mouth, rolled his tongue around and around it, then sucked fiercely. 

 

Mara arched beneath him, her nails digging into his shoulders.  “Oh gods,” she groaned.

 

His fingers slid down her side, across her abdomen and buried themselves in the curly forest they found there.

 

Immediately, Mara closed her legs, squeezing his hand between them, embarrassed by the warm wetness he would find there.

 

“No...no,” he whispered hoarsely.  “Don’t hide yourself from me...not ever.  You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

He kissed her again, over and over, his lips playing with hers, and slowly, she opened her legs, allowing him access.

 

Luke rose up for a moment, took one of her hands and placed it on his manhood.  “Touch me,” he rasped.  “Touch me please.”

 

Mara’s hand slowly closed about it, and he expelled a shuddering sigh.

 

He’s so smooth, she thought as his skin moved under her fingers, so warm, so hard.  Although she didn’t have much experience with men, she instinctively felt that he was larger than most.  Her thumb rubbed across the tip, spreading the fluid she found there.  He shuddered, gasping out his pleasure, and it both surprised and pleased her.

 

Luke collapsed back onto her, gasping harshly and trapping her hand between them.  Gently, she let go of him, and then he slid down her body, planting warm, moist kisses across her chest and stomach.  His hands moved to her thighs and gently separated her legs.  He slid between them, kissing first along the inner thigh of one leg and then the other, moving slowly upwards. 

 

Mara began to squirm on the bed, the powerful, intense feelings driving her wild.  When his mouth touched her inner core, she bolted almost upright, her fingers digging into his hair, her toes curling under her feet.  She was already so sensitized that when his tongue caressed her, she exploded, her climax taking her completely by surprise.  She cried out, her body convulsing and her legs wrapping tightly around his head, holding him in place.

 

She fell back on the bed, weak and defenseless.  Her body felt fluid, as if all her bones had dissolved.

 

Luke moved back up her body, his own screaming for release.  He pressed his mouth against her damp cheek.

 

“I’m dead,” she whispered weakly.

 

He grinned, his lips moving along her cheekbone.  “Not yet,” he said softly. “Don’t die yet.”

 

He settled himself between her legs and eased carefully into her, slowly, giving her time to adjust.  He growled deep in his throat, grimacing with the effort not to plunge and plunder.  He heard her gasp and her arms went around his waist, hugging him closely to her.

 

“It may hurt, Mara,” he warned regretfully, pressing his face against hers, trying to comfort her.

 

“It’s all right,” she whispered, lifting her head and burying her face in his shoulder.  “I want you.”

 

He pushed and she moaned.  “I’m sorry,” he gasped hoarsely.  “I can’t stop...I just can’t.”  And he moved forward again, slowly easing further into her.

 

Her eyes opened and she gritted her teeth.  It stung, but it wasn’t too bad.  Slowly, she drew her knees toward her chest, opening herself, and he thrust in again, crying out her name as he did so.

 

This time the pain was quick, sharp, tearing and she arched off the bed, her fingernails digging into his back.  Stang it, she thought.  She had done every athletic endeavor offered by Imperial Intelligence, trained in every form of hand-to-hand combat, rode every four-legged beast in the galaxy that a saddle could be thrown over and her damn hymen had still been intact.  It wasn’t fair.

 

Luke turned his mouth into her neck and caressed the soft skin with his tongue. He held himself totally still to allow her body time to get use to him. It tore at him to be causing her pain. His lips still pressed against her neck, and he whispered.  "Are you okay?”

 

She lay back, pulling him with her.  "It’s alright, Luke," she moaned. "I want this."  She braced herself in anticipation of his next movement.  He’s not even all the way in yet, she thought, taking a deep breath as she felt his hips move again.  He would have to be big, she thought ruefully.

 

He thrust quickly this time, another hoarse groan escaping him, and Mara felt him slide high and hard into her, until his hips bumped against hers.  Then he collapsed on her, his body covering her completely.

 

They lay perfectly still, the only sound in the room, their harsh, ragged breathing.  Finally, Luke rose onto his elbows and looked down at her.  Gently, he brushed the damp hair away from her forehead.  He laid his cheek against hers and whispered again, “There...there now...are you okay?”

 

Mara nodded slightly in response, feeling as stuffed as a jubba bird during Freedom Day celebrations.

 

He pressed soft, warm kisses along her face and ran his tongue along the line of her jaw.  “Beautiful, lovely Mara...my Mara,” he breathed in her ear and caressed the tiny crevasses and hills he found there.

 

Still, he didn’t move.

 

Mara closed her eyes, savoring the gentle caresses; chill bumps feathering across her skin.  Who in the galaxy would have thought that an ear could be so sensitive?  Slowly, she relaxed and lowered her slender legs, sliding them along his hips and pulling him to her.

 

“Luke...make love to me,” she gasped, her hands roaming over his shoulders and back, feeling the strength in his hard, corded muscles.

 

And he did.

 

He moved gently at first, then more quickly, his breathing sounding harsh in her ear.  Memories flooded through her:  Luke in the forest on Myrkr, pulling Artoo behind him on a travois; Luke on Wayland, gently teaching her to levitate tiny stones; and Luke, throwing his body in front of hers to protect her from the Force lightning of the mad clone, Joruus C’baoth.  She gripped him tightly, feeling him thrusting inside her, steadily, rhythmically, time and time again.  And she welcomed it, relished it, her breathing becoming as harsh and labored as his, her hips rising up to meet him.

 

Suddenly, the Force seemed to crystallize around them, a bright, shining, glorious light, surrounding them, enveloping them, encompassing them.  They flowed into one another, like twin rivers merging into a great ocean, and they became truly one.  Luke was Mara and Mara was Luke, one luminous, glowing, incandescent being.

 

With a cry, Luke erupted deep within her and Mara convulsed, her inner muscles gripping him tightly, squeezing him, forcing their fluids to unify as completely as their souls.

 

Chapter 10

 

Sometime later, Mara awoke in the darkened bedroom.  She was lying on her back, a heavy weight across her stomach and legs.  She took a deep breath, let it out slowly and felt along her stomach.  She wasn’t surprised when she encountered a muscular arm lying there, and she was sure it was one of Luke’s strong legs across her own too.  She turned her head to the right.  There was just enough light in the room to see that his face was pressed against her shoulder and he was deeply asleep.

 

What had happened between them was beyond anything she had ever expected.  The sex had been great.  Even with her lack of experience, she knew that it had been exceptional.  But what had occurred within the Force was what was literally astounding.  Never in her life had she come close to experiencing anything like it, and she had a very good idea that she now understood what General Diaishuut had been talking about when he mentioned that Jedi formed relationships because of what they could experience in the bedroom.  She frowned, thinking of Leia.  She wondered if Leia knew what she had missed by not forging a commitment with another Jedi.  Leia and Han had one of the best marriages Mara had ever seen, but even in their greatest moments they couldn’t have experienced what she and Luke had shared tonight.

 

Mara turned her head to the right again and very gently, pressed a soft kiss against Luke’s forehead, so lightly that her lips barely touched him.  Then as slowly as she could, she eased out from under his arm and leg, pausing when he mumbled in his sleep.  She moved again when he only turned onto his back, dropping into his deep asleep again with the sheet twisted around his waist.

 

She sat up on the side of the bed, grimacing a little at the soreness in some muscles she rarely used.  Finally, she stood and made her way to the refresher, closing the door behind her before activating the light.  She turned on the water in the sink and cupped some of its coolness onto her face.  Then she looked up into the mirror.  She smiled a bit wryly.  What was she expecting?  That she would look differently?  She laughed at herself, then decided that a nice hot shower would help ease some of the tenderness between her thighs.

 

The shower was luxurious and she reveled in it, letting the hot water flow over her for a long time.  After drying herself, she wrapped a big white towel around her and ventured back into the bedroom, trying to be as quiet as possible.  She felt wonderful, invigorated by the shower.

 

She almost shrieked aloud when Luke suddenly appeared out of the darkness of the bedroom.  “Luke!”  She paused, trying to get her breath.  “I thought you were still asleep.”

 

He came closer.  “Mara, are you all right?”  He pulled her into his arms and she went willingly, rubbing her face gently against his naked shoulder.  He pressed his cheek to her damp hair.  “Are you...hurting, Mara?”

 

He sounded so worried, so guilty, that Mara smiled into his shoulder.  She toyed with the thought of making him suffer just a little, but decided against it.  She pulled back to look into his face.  “I’m fine, Luke.  It’s nothing...really,” she assured him.

 

“Are you sure?” he asked anxiously, his blond hair gleaming in the light coming through the open door of the refresher.  “I could put you in a healing trance for awhile.”

 

“No,” Mara laughed.  “No healing trances.”  She kissed him gently on his chin.  “I don’t want to waste the time...I want to make love again.”

 

“You do?” he asked in astonishment, his blue eyes widening.

 

She rubbed her head against him again, moving her cheek against his, around and around.  He loved it when she did that.  It was cat-like, feline, and reminded him so much of the graceful way she moved and walked.

 

“Don't you want to?” she asked, her voice almost a purr.  He wasn’t certain, but he thought he could feel her smile against his face.

 

“Of course, I do,” he assured her in a rush, pulling her tightly against him.

“But I don’t...I mean...you’re...”

 

She let out a breath and stepped away from him.  “Luke,” she explained patiently.  “I’m probably going to be a little sore in the morning anyway, so what does it matter if we make love again?  And I would like to.”  She flashed him a slightly impish grin, then her expression turned serious again.  She started to walk away.  “But if you don’t want to...” she said, sighing regretfully.

 

He snatched her back in his arms, crushing her lips with his.  “You’re just a great big tease,” he finally groaned into her mouth.

 

“And you love it,” she countered, her lips playing gently with his.

 

“Always,” he muttered.  “I’ll always love it...just as I will always love you.”

 

Mara pulled back slightly, incredulity filling her face.  “You love me?” she asked in a shaky voice.

 

In the dim light of the room, Luke was astonished to see Mara’s lovely emerald eyes fill with moisture, and then one lone tear meandered slowly down her cheek.  He pulled her back into his arms, holding her tightly, a sudden fear gripping him.  “Don’t cry, Mara.  It’s alright.”  He took a deep breath, trying to still the sense of panic rising in him.  “It’s alright if you don’t love me, I have enough love for both of us.”

 

She tilted her head to look at him.  “It’s not that, Luke,” she said seriously.  “It’s just...I’ve never had anyone tell me they loved me before.”

 

Luke felt as if a giant hand had reached in and squeezed his heart.  He pressed his face against her hair.  "You have now, Mara, and from now on you always will...I love you.  I adore you."  Luke felt like crying with her, his mind visioning her lonely life as the Emperor's Hand and of her childhood...  He swallowed, images of a forlorn, red-haired little girl wandering the great halls of the Imperial Palace with not a single person showing her the slightest amount of affection or compassion.  Everyone was too afraid of that miserable excuse for a human being, Palpatine, Luke thought, too afraid to offer a child the slightest comfort.

 

I'll make it up to her, he vowed silently.  I'll show her what life can be like when it’s filled with love and laughter and joy.  I'll make sure those memories of Palpatine and the Empire fade away from her like old ink on aged parchment.

 

He smothered her mouth again, tasting the tears on her lips.  "I love you, Mara, I always will."

 

"But Luke," she whispered, her damp eyes shining in the dim light.  "I don't want to hurt you...don't you see, I don't know how to love...I've never...I'm not sure..."

 

"It's alright," he soothed her.  "Don't worry about it, we’ll learn together."

 

"I don't deserve you," she suddenly cried, a sob breaking out of her.

 

"Yes, you do," he argued, pushing her damp hair away from her face.  "Mara, listen to me, you are a good person; you're a wonderful person."

 

She shook her head violently, her hair flying back into her face.  "You don't understand.  I have such guilt...I've done so many..."

 

"No, Mara," he stopped her, pulling her back in his arms and pressing her damp face against his warm chest.  "That's all in the past.  You can't do anything about those things now, you can only move forward, and try and do your best from now on.  That's all any of us can do."

 

She sobbed in his arms, her tears wetting his shoulder.  Her grief and sorrow finally, after all this time, pouring out of her, and he held her close.  He let his emotions flow into her: his love, his respect, and his admiration.  She whimpered and cried, clinging to him tightly about the waist. They stood that way for some time with Luke gently rocking Mara in his arms, comforting her, just being there for her.

 

"I'm so glad I found you," he finally whispered softly into her ear, caressing it with his lips as he felt her tears begin to lessen.  "Without you, I would not be complete."

 

He heard what sounded like one last strangled sob and then she pulled away slightly.  She looked at him and laughed weakly.  "Luke, we really are going to have to get this straight," she said, her voice mockingly stern.  "You didn't find me...I found you."

 

They laughed together.  Luke knew Mara was turning the conversation away from its serious tone with her caustic wit and he decided to let her.  He had a deep suspicion that from now on, he would let her do anything she wanted. Her fingers spread across his chest, wandering over the smooth muscled flesh, as if she were trying to memorize him.  “The day you found me was the luckiest of my life,” Luke murmured, pulling her back into his arms and nuzzling against her hair.

 

One of her hands drifted down between them and encircled him, squeezing and pulling gently.

 

His breath expelled from him in a loud gasp and he laughed against her temple.  “You know, for a virgin, you sure learn fast.”

 

“Virgin?”  she retorted crisply, caressing him gently.  “Who’s a virgin?  I don’t see any virgins around here.”  She squeezed him softly again, feeling him hardening beneath her fingers.

 

He took a long shuddering breath and then pulled her head around, capturing her mouth with his.  The kiss was long and ardent, and told them both more than a thousand words would have.  They enjoyed it immensely, and spent some time lost in it, their tongues filling each other’s mouth. 

 

Mara finally moaned, arching against him, pressing her lower half against his.  “Love me, Luke, love me, please.”

 

“I do,” he whispered, his heart swelling until it felt as if it might burst.  He slid his hands behind her, below her buttocks, and picked her up against him.  Instinctively, her legs lifted and encircled him, her arms going around his strong shoulders.  He stood in the dimly lit room, holding her tightly, loving her with all his being.  Their mouths devoured each other again, and they moaned in unison, a passion so fiery it sparked and flickered like electricity between them.

 

“The bed,” Luke mumbled, kissing her fiercely, then he turned and stumbled towards the rumpled bed. 

 

“Yes,” she answered hoarsely, her hands on his cheeks, her tongue thrusting madly into his mouth.

 

Somehow they made it without falling and when they reached the bed, Luke turned and fell onto his back, carrying Mara down with him.  They fell with such force, they bounced and the bed groaned under them.  Luke flipped Mara over, not giving her the chance to undo her legs from his hips, and he entered her swiftly, quickly, sliding easily into her.

 

Her eyes flew open and she looked up at him.  “That’s better,” she whispered. “Much better.”  And she lifted her hips, pushing him as deeply into her as she could.

 

Luke arched above her, and Mara thought him beautiful, glorious, a naked god with his skin gleaming and his blond hair shining like silk in the faint light.  He thrust into her over and over again, the muscles in his chest and shoulders rippling, and she threw back her head, overcome by sheer sensation.  A strange and brilliant light was forming around them, like lightning flickering out of distance storm clouds.  It flashed over them, around them, into them.

 

“Luke!” she screamed hoarsely, her back arching completely off the bed and faintly, as if from far away, she heard him cry out, and then they both collapsed, making the bed groan under their combined weight again.

 

Finally, gasping for breath, Luke eased off her and fell onto his back.  They both lay still, staring at the ceiling, their harsh breathing the only sound.

 

“Did you see those flashes of lightning?” Mara asked weakly, her chest heaving from her exertion.

 

Luke nodded, then realized that she probably couldn’t see him in the dim light.  “Yes,” he gasped, still trying to catch his breath.

 

“What was it?”

 

“The Force,” Luke told her, moving to his side and pulling her over to him.  He kissed her gently, quickly on her lips.

 

She smiled and snuggled closer, enjoying the feel of his skin against hers. “We’re going to have to be careful where we make love,” she teased, tracing the scar on his cheek with her finger.  “We could start fires.”

 

He laughed aloud, hugging her to him.  “I don’t know about that, but if there’s a power shortage, we may be in big demand!”

 

They giggled like children, but their hands roamed over each other, exploring, learning.  Luke cupped her breasts in his palms and then rubbed their tips with his thumbs.  Mara gasped and put her hands over his, then gently, slowly removed them.  “That’s enough, big boy, enough for tonight, at least,” she told him, reaching over to kiss him on the nose.

 

He pretended to pout and ran his hand caressingly down her leg. “Are you sure?” he asked plaintively.

 

“I’m sure if I want to be able to walk in the morning,” she said briskly.

 

Instantly, he was contrite, pulling back to look at her with his big, blue eyes.  She laughed and kissed him quickly.  “I’m teasing, Luke.”  He didn’t look convinced.  “Really,” she said, trying to reassure him.  She could have kicked herself for saying it, knowing he was now upset.  “It’s alright, love, really...I’m fine.”

 

Something flickered deep in his eyes and she frowned, “What is it?”

 

He pulled her to him and kissed her so deeply she was gasping for breath when he let her go.  “What was that about?” she asked, sucking in much needed air.

 

“You called me ‘love’,” he answered, his blue eyes twinkling in the dim light.

 

He turned over again onto his back, pulling her with him.

 

She nestled onto his chest, as surprised as he was at her endearment.  A warm, glorious feeling filled her and she nuzzled against him like a child.  “Well, don’t get used to it, Farmboy.  You may have to continue to make love like that just to hear it.”

 

“I think I can arrange that,” he murmured, kissing her hair, and then yawning hugely.

 

They settled down to sleep.

 

 

Chapter 11

 

 

His farmboy’s inner chrono woke Luke first so he eased out from Mara’s light grasp and left her lying draped across the middle of the bed.  He sat on the edge for a while, watching her as she slept and trying to absorb everything that had happened between them.

 

He pushed a stray strand of red-gold hair back from her face and tucked it gently behind her ear.  She mumbled softly in her sleep and he froze, afraid that he had awakened her.  But after moving a little, she settled down to sleep again.

 

He couldn’t get enough of just watching her, knowing what she had come to mean to him.  He knew he had always been attracted to her.  What man wouldn’t be?  He also knew that in recent weeks, he had developed much stronger and deeper feelings for her.  But until they had made love, he had not known the extent of those feelings. 

 

He lay down beside her, careful not to awaken her, again watching her face as she slept.  Her lips were slightly parted and he could hear the gentle intake and outtake of her breathing.  He drew in a long breath and released it slowly, timing it with hers.  That’s what she was to him, he thought, the very breath in his body.  As this realization struck, the depth of his feelings overtook him.  He was suddenly afraid that he was so in love with her that he wouldn’t be able to breath unless she breathed with him, wouldn’t be able to laugh unless she laughed too, wouldn’t be able to see unless she saw too. 

 

With his heartbeat picking up its pace, Luke’s blue eyes continued to wander all over her face.  It was true.  She had become everything to him.  Probably no one else would ever understand, ever comprehend, but he knew, he understood completely that she was his life, his reason for being.  And it didn’t matter if no one else understood.  Only she...she was the only one who had to understand, that had to believe he felt that way for her and her alone.

 

Luke leaned over and gently kissed her temple.  “I love you, Mara,” he whispered, his voice a tender caress.  The words seemed inadequate, deficient for what he felt, but they would have to do.  She didn’t awaken, but a slight smile drifted across her lips, and her head rolled back a little.  He wanted to kiss her beautiful mouth, but he didn’t.

 

He sighed and eased carefully off the bed, then headed into the refresher.   It wasn’t long before he was out again and moving towards the living area.  He stopped momentarily to pull the blanket a little higher up her body, and then went out of the room.

 

He was placing some breakfast bread in the tiny oven to heat when the comm- unit went off in the living area.  He hurried to stop its beeping before it could disturb Mara. 

 

An eyebrow lifted in surprise when he saw whom the caller was, but he took the time to close the bedroom door before he answered.  Why was Leia calling at such an early hour?  It wasn’t like her unless something was wrong.  With that thought in mind, he flipped the switch,  “Good morning, Leia.  What has you up so early?”

 

Leia frowned in confusion.  “It’s not that early on Coruscant, Luke, mid-morning to be exact.”  She looked at her brother carefully, her eyes dancing a little with amusement.  “I was wondering if you had seen today’s holonews yet?”

 

Luke shook his head. “No, I only got up a little while ago.  Haven’t even turned the holovid on.”

 

Leia rubbed a finger across her mouth.  “Perhaps you had better watch it, brother.  Especially since you seem to be the big news this morning.”

 

“Me?” Luke asked in surprise.  “Why am I in the news?”

 

Leia lost her battle with her smile.  “From the looks of it, you and Mara put on quite a show for General Diaishuut and his group last night.”

 

Luke had a sudden sinking feeling deep in the pit of his stomach.  He had completely forgotten about the mass of holo-reporters and cameramen who had been at the reception the night before.  He sighed, “So, we are all over the news?”

 

“Lead story on every network,” Leia informed him.  She had spent over an hour that morning watching the different broadcasts, and she still was having trouble coming to terms with those photos of her brother and Mara Jade.  All her life, she had been trained to scrutinize and to observe and from those observations, to draw conclusions.  It was one of the skills that made her such an effective politician.  And her instincts were telling her that the photos contained a realism that she had not been expecting.  Their laughing faces, the way they held each other as they danced, and that kiss!  Leia made sure she kept a carefully neutral face for her brother’s benefit, but her mind was reeling.  That kiss was the type that lovers exchange, and the reports had said that while kissing, the pair had actually levitated right off the floor, apparently without realizing it!  

 

Han appeared behind Leia’s shoulder.  “Here, hon, want some caf?”  He placed a steaming cup beside the comm-unit and grinned at the holo-image of his brother-in-law.  “Hey there, kid!”

 

Luke smiled.  “Good morning, Han.”

 

Han put his hand on his wife’s shoulder.  “Interesting photos this morning, Luke.”

 

Luke shrugged.  “So Leia’s been telling me.”

 

“You haven’t seen them yet?”

 

Luke shook his head.  “No, I was just making breakfast.”

 

Han grinned.  “Well, when you do see them, it’s going to be a real treat for you.  I have to hand it to you and Mara Jade...never knew either one of you had that much acting ability.  You’ve both have been holding out on us about all your...eh...hidden talents.”

 

“Han,” Leia warned softly. 

 

Han laughed and patted his wife’s shoulder.  “Well, have fun, kid.  Sure looks like you are anyway.”

 

Leia turned in her chair and glared up at Han.  He laughed again, patted her on the cheek and said, “All right, all right, I’m leaving.”  He glanced at the holo-image.  “See ya, kid.”

 

“Bye, Han.”

 

Leia turned back to face the holo-image of her brother.  He was smiling a little sheepishly at her.  She shook her head.  “Don’t mind Han, Luke, you know how he is.”

 

Luke chuckled.  “I know.”

 

“So...where is Mara?”  Leia asked and took a long sip of her caf.

 

Involuntarily, Luke glanced to his left, in the direction of his bedroom.  “Still asleep,” he mumbled, quickly looking back at his twin.

 

The implication of her brother's slight head movement caused the caf to go down the wrong way, and Leia started to choke.

 

Luke frowned.  “Leia, are you all right?”

The coughing continued, although Leia waved her hand at her brother and managed to gasp, “No...I’m okay...just give me a minute.”

 

After a moment, the coughing stopped and Leia looked up at her brother, her eyes watering from the effort of getting the caf clear of her lungs.  “Mara is asleep?  She’s staying with you?”  she croaked hoarsely.

 

Luke nodded resignedly.  “Yes, Leia, she’s here.  We wouldn’t look like much of a couple if she stayed in another room, would we?”

 

There was some logic to that, Leia decided, but those photos and that kiss...

“Luke...” she began, watching her brother closely.  She wanted to reach out to him with the Force, but was afraid he would be angry at her probing.

 

Her brother looked at her calmly.  “Don’t ask, Leia.”

 

Leia blinked in surprise.  Apparently, her brother was telling her as politely as he could to mind her own business.  She opened her mouth.

 

“Leia...,” her brother warned gently, tilting his head a little in her direction for emphasis.

 

Leia sat back in her chair, her eyebrows raised.

 

A little smile played about her brother’s mouth, but all he said was, “How are the babies?”

 

Leia cleared her throat again.  “Fine.  Growing like a couple of Wookiees and eating like a pair of them too.”  So her brother didn’t want to talk about Mara Jade who just happened to be sleeping in his bed at the moment. Mmmm...very interesting.  Well, she would be a good sister and mind her own business, at least for now.  But that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to keep a very close eye on her brother and his...eh...friend.

 

They talked a little while longer about the twins.  Leia was about to sign off when she remembered why she had called in the first place.  “Oh Luke, droid maintenance left a message at my office yesterday.  Artoo’s upgrades are all complete and you can pick him up any time.”

 

Luke’s brows knitted.  “Why did they call you instead of me?”

 

“Said they couldn’t reach you at your apartment and my office number was the back-up one listed on your file.”

 

“I told them I was going to be on Yavin.”  Luke sighed.  He missed Artoo and wanted to have him back as soon as possible. He had taken particular trouble to make sure the maintenance people knew he was on Yavin IV, but it looked as if that had been a wasted effort.  Well there wasn’t any use in getting annoyed over it.  It wouldn’t do any good.  “I’ll call them and tell them I’ll be there in a day or so and collect him.”

 

Leia nodded and they signed off.  After her brother’s image disappeared, she sat a little longer at the comm-console.

 

Han wandered back in the room.  “Luke gone?”

 

Leia nodded, still staring at the commlink view screen.

 

“What’s the matter?”  Han asked, coming over and seating in a chair near her.

 

Leia shook her head.  “Nothing...it’s just...” and her voice trailed off.

 

“Well?”  Han encouraged.

 

“It’s nothing...” she started and then looked at her husband.  “Mara is there with him.”

 

Han frowned.  “Of course she’s there with him.  You sent her.”

 

Leia laughed ruefully.  “I did, didn’t I?  But, I mean, she’s there with him.”

 

Han lifted an eyebrow.  “You mean, in his apartment?”

 

Leia nodded.

 

“In his bed?”

 

Leia nodded again, pursing her lips.

 

“With him in it too?”  Han persisted.

 

“Han...,” Leia warned him with a glare.

 

A sly look came on Han’s face and he leaned back in his chair, propping his feet up on the arm of hers.  “Well...well,” he said smugly.  “I’m not surprised.”

 

Leia frowned at her husband.  “What do you mean, you’re not surprised?”

 

Han put his hands behind his head.  “I was with them on Wayland, remember, on that long trek to Mount Tantiss.  They were really eyeing each other even then, sitting off alone together.  To tell you the truth, I’m a little surprised they’ve waited as long as they have.”

 

Leia snorted impolitely.  “You don’t know that for a fact.  You’re guessing.  They’re just friends...good friends.”  Leia was determinedly putting out of her mind her earlier suspicions.

 

Han laughed at his wife.  “You just don’t want to face the fact that your brother is finding a life of his own.”

 

Leia glared at him and then asked sarcastically.  “What is that supposed to mean, General Solo?”

 

Han dropped his feet to the floor, stood, and pulled his wife up in his arms.  “It means, my beloved wife, that Luke Skywalker’s sister may not be the most important woman in his life anymore.”

 

Leia rested her cheek against his broad chest.  “I know, Han.  And I’ll be happy for him if you’re right.”  She rubbed her face against his shirt.  “I just don’t know if I would have chosen Mara for him, but it’s really not my place to choose.” 

 

“You don’t like Mara?”  Han asked, pulling back to look at her.

 

Leia shook her head. “No, it’s not that.  I like Mara quite a bit.  It’s just that...well, she was the Emperor’s Hand and Luke is definitely a hero of the New Republic.  I know the press insinuated some things about them right after Wayland, but no one really believed any of it.  And when Mara left Coruscant, all that talk died down anyway.   But if you’re right about Luke and Mara now, there are a lot of people, very powerful people, who aren’t going to be happy with such a relationship.”

 

Han whistled softly.  “I hadn’t thought about that.  You’re right, it could get messy.”

Leia stepped away from him.  “But there is no use in us jumping to any conclusions.  There may not be anything to this at all.  Mara is probably just doing the favor I asked of her.”

 

Han tried to hide a smirk, remembering the photos in the morning holonews, and thought that that was some favor if Mara was climbing in Luke’s bed with him.  But who knew, Leia might be right.  It would be best just to wait and see what was going on between Luke and Mara, if there was anything going on at all.

 

*******************************

 

Across the courtyard on Yavin IV, General Dongrono Daiashuut sat in his suite of rooms, brooding.  The events of the night before weighed heavily on him and anger danced like lightning along his nerve endings.  That little red-haired witch!

 

He hadn’t been that interested in coming to Yavin IV.  But his daughter’s glowing reports on the planet and young Skywalker had peaked his interest, so he had talked his wife into paying their only child a visit.  He had been very curious about Luke Skywalker.  The boy had a reputation for bravery, yet at the same time, gave the impression that he was shy and a bit gullible. 

 

The general twisted his mouth.  Part of the reason for the trip had been to reconnaissance Skywalker himself...if he could have gained enough control over the young Jedi to influence his actions, then the general knew his own position and power would have increased dramatically.  And that was what he wanted more than anything else.  Someday, he intended to control the New Republic, as he firmly believed he was meant to.  No one was going to stop him, no one.

 

What he had not been expecting was for young Skywalker to be so self-reliant and to have that Imperial harlot with him!  Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand...a fissure of anger ripped through Diaishuut again, the memory of the night before stinging like an aching canker.  If he did nothing else, he would see to the end of that witch...and if Skywalker insisted on being with her, then he would go down right along with her.  The New Republic didn’t need Jedi.  If people read history closely enough, they would see that the Jedi caused more problems than they did solutions.  And they were freaks, mutants...the galaxy would be better off without them.

 

The memory of floating helplessly in the air above a jungle filled with who knew what kind of vicious animals flowed over him again, and the general’s teeth gritted until the noise attracted the attention of his wife across the room.

 

Hawah Diaishuut glanced at her husband and sighed.  She knew he was pouting over the events of the evening before and she didn’t have any sympathy for him.  They had been married for over twenty standard years and she had no more illusions about her husband.  It hadn’t been a love match in the first place, as her family had arranged the marriage for her when she was in her early twenties.  In the first few years, she had been hurt by her husband’s wandering eye, but as the years passed, she no longer cared about his philandering and his many affairs.  She has searched out her own comforts and left him to his life.  Any respect she had held for him, as a man, had died long ago.  She wasn’t actually sure of what had transpired on the balcony last evening, but she had seen her husband follow the Jade woman, and had also noticed Skywalker’s rather hurried walk to join them.  It had been not long after that that her husband had reappeared, red in the face and obviously shaken.

 

Hawah Diaishuut smiled to herself.  She rather wished she had seen what had happened out on the balcony.  Apparently whatever Dongro had tried, the Jedi woman had taken exception to, and the results had not been to Dongro’s liking.

 

She glanced at her husband’s angry face.  Obviously, he was still seething over whatever the Jedi had done, and if she knew him like she thought she did, he was plotting some sort of revenge.  A vague sense that she ought to warn him passed over her, but she quickly dismissed it.  If her husband wanted to go up against the Jedi then she would just let him.  He needed a good lesson.

 

Chapter 12

 

Mara’s eyes blinked open and she flinched from the sunlight streaming in through the window.  Groaning, she turned over onto her stomach and buried her face in the pillow.  She lay there a moment, waking up slowly, surprised that she had slept to such a late hour.  She took in a deep breath, inhaling the masculine scent of Luke that permeated the pillow.  She rubbed her face against it and smiled, memories of the night before flowing through her mind.  Finally, she sighed, turned her head to the side and opened her eyes again. 

 

She was facing a small table near the bed and Luke had placed a couple of holo-photos on it.   They were both of Leia and her family, and one was particular nice.  Han Solo was standing with his arm around the princess and each of them held one of their twin babies.  They looked so happy and contented.

 

Mara frowned slightly.  Something was nudging at the back of her mind as she looked at the photo, but she dismissed it and rolled over onto her back.  Yawning, she sat up.  A tiny twinge in her legs again reminded her of the previous night’s activities, and she looked around, wondering where Luke was.

 

A soft sound from the living area answered her query and she smiled. Apparently, their activities had not changed the farmboy’s habit of getting up a dawn.  She smiled at the thought as she left the bed and headed into the refresher.

 

A short while later, dressed in a loose shirt and exercise pants, she entered the living room to the tantalizing aroma of breakfast cooking in the kitchen.  Her stomach growled in appreciation, and Mara realized that she was very hungry.  All that exercise, she thought ruefully.

 

“Something smells wonderful, Farmboy,” she said as she strolled into the tiny kitchen area.

 

Her heart leapt when Luke looked up from where he was preparing some food on the cooking unit, his sparkling blue eyes lighting up at the mere sight of her.

 

Somehow they met in the middle of the kitchen, the food forgotten, as they moved quickly into each other’s arms.  Their lips met and it was as if they were trying to devour one another. It was a marvelous kiss, hungry and excited, as if they hadn’t seen each other for hours...days...weeks.

 

“Mmmmm...good morning, beautiful,” Luke mumbled, teasing her lips with his.  “Breakfast may smell good...but not as good as you.”

 

Mara laughed softly, her arms moving up his chest and around his shoulders.

Her tongue delicately touched his.  “I’ll bet it doesn’t taste as good as you do, either.”

 

Luke gently cupped her face with his hands and kissed her deeply, letting his emotions flow into her.  *I love you, Mara,* he sent her, opening his heart to her across their bond.

 

*I know,*  she sent back, opening her mouth for him and pressing her body against his.  They became lost in the emotions that flowed between them, absorbed in the feel of each other and their incredible bond in the Force, which was beginning to flicker about them.

 

Luke backed Mara up against the wall and buried his face in her neck, kissing and sucking at the delicate skin under her chin.  She lifted her head, giving him better access. Closing her eyes and relishing the movements of his mouth, she drew in a deep breath.  As she lost herself in his caress, the realization that she had never expected that she could be so happy, shimmered across her mind.

 

Suddenly, she sensed a subtle change about her.  Her nose crinkled and she sniffed, then sniffed again.  *Luke,* she sent, her eyes flying open.

 

*Mmmmm...?* he answered, his mouth too busy to form the words.

 

“There’s smoke in the kitchen and something’s burning!”  Mara gasped aloud, pushing him away.  “On the cooking unit, Luke, look!”  Mara pointed a finger at the pan on the unit where flames were shooting towards the ceiling.

 

Luke whirled around, taking in the situation at a glance.  Closing his eyes, he lifted his arm and the flames danced for a moment longer and then died quickly, leaving a smoldering burnt mess in the bottom of the pan.

 

Mara coughed, blinking her eyes in the smoke.  “What was that?”

 

“Breakfast,” Luke said succinctly, walking to the cooking unit and then taking the pan to the sink and dropping it in.  He flipped the switch for the water and watched the last of the smoldering ash die out.

 

He turned and smiled at her sheepishly.  “What’s that old saying about living on love?”

 

Mara lifted an eyebrow.  “I don’t know about you, Skywalker, but I do know I need food!”  She walked over to him, slid her arms around his waist, and nuzzled against his face. “As cute as you are, buddy boy, I still need my breakfast.  I had a rather energetic night, you know.  That’s why I slept so late!”

 

Luke burst out laughing and hugged her tightly.  “So much for romance!” he teased.  “Okay, I’ll make you some hot chocolate to tide you over and then cook you a big, marvelous breakfast.”

 

“Hot chocolate?”  Mara asked, pulling back a little.  “What’s that?”

 

A huge smile split Luke’s face.  “You’ve never had hot chocolate?  You’re in for a treat, woman.”  He started pulling out more pans from a cabinet.

 

“Well, I’ll leave you to it, then,” Mara said, watching him bustle about.  “I think I’ll go into the living area and watch the morning holonews.”  She turned and headed out of the kitchen.

 

Luke looked up quickly.  “Mara!”

 

She turned, lifting an eyebrow in query.

 

Luke’s mouth opened and then he shut it again.  Finally, he said, “Ah...nothing.  I’ll be in there in a moment.”  It might be best just to let her see it all for herself, he thought.

 

Mara nodded and then disappeared into the living area.  It wasn’t long before he heard music coming from the holovid.  Luke looked up at the ceiling, “Ben...if you are around somewhere, I think I’m going to need some help here in the next few minutes.”  Then he shook his head, laughing a little at himself, and went about preparing the hot chocolate.

 

*********************

 

Mara flopped down on the couch and pointed the remote control at the holovid.  Instantly, it sprang to life, only to have its screen fill with one advertisement after another.  Mara sighed.  It was always the same.

 

She propped her feet up on the small table in front of the couch and leaned back, closing her eyes for a minute as she absentmindedly listened to the holovid.

 

“And now, for today’s top story!  Can we assume that the long suspected love affair between Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker and smuggling queen, Mara Jade, is in fact an actuality?  We take you now to Lado P’faaru on Yavin IV for more on this developing story.”

 

Mara’s eyes flew open and she sat straight up, her feet dropping off the table.

 

To her disbelief, the holovid screen was now filled with scenes from the reception held for the general the night before.  She and Luke were slowly dancing as the camera zoomed in on their faces.  She couldn’t believe it.

They looked so...so in love.

 

“Skywalker!”  Mara yelled.

 

Luke came out of the kitchen carrying two steaming mugs of liquid.  “What?” he asked, in a concerned tone.  “What is it?”

 

“You had better sit down and watch this,” Mara said, patting at the place beside her on the couch.

 

Luke placed the two mugs on the small table and joined her on the couch.  He looked up to see the holo-reporter who had danced with Mara the night before.

 

“Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, renowned hero of the rebellion against the Empire, has obviously found his soul-mate in Mara Jade, the young ex-Imperial who joined him in fighting against the forces of her former leader, the late Emperor Palpatine.  The young couple has been spending some quality time together here on Yavin IV where Skywalker is implementing plans to start a training school for young Jedi.  Yesterday evening they attended a reception held for General Dongrono Diaishuut.”

 

The camera switched to Luke and Mara kissing passionately as they slowly floated into the air.  Mara’s mouth fell open and she muttered, “Sithspit!”  She turned to Luke, who was taking a sip from his mug of hot chocolate.  Shock flowed through her as she noticed that he was watching the holovid with no apparent concern.

 

“Did you see that?” she demanded, infuriated that he wasn’t as outraged as she was.

 

Luke took another sip of his chocolate and shrugged.  “Leia told me about it when she called this morning.”

 

“Leia called?”

 

He nodded and placed his mug back on the table.  “Yes, she did, earlier. You were still asleep.”

 

Mara’s spitted him with a glare.  “You mean you knew that was going to be on the holovid and you didn’t tell me.”

 

He shrugged again.  “I didn’t think it was that big a deal.”  He was hoping, probably in vain, that if he remained calm then maybe she would too.

 

Mara stood and put her hands on her shapely hips.  “Luke Skywalker,” she said softly, too softly, then she whirled on her heels and disappeared into the bedroom.

 

Luke sank back on the couch, sighing.  It looked as if his beautiful, wonderful morning had just taken a turn for the worse.  He glared at the smiling face of P’faaru on the holovid, putting all the blame directly on the poor alien’s head, whether it needed to be there or not.

 

He had absolutely no warning when a pillow slammed down with considerable force onto his head.  He took a moment to appreciate how good Mara was getting at shielding as he hadn’t realized that she had even reentered the living area.  Then he jumped up from the couch and spun around.

 

Mara stood behind the couch in a combat stance, the pillow raised high as a weapon.  “So, Farmboy, you think you are going to keep secrets from me, do you?  Well, you had better do some rethinking.”  She started advancing around the couch.

 

Luke grinned and started around the other way. “Oh, is that so, my love?” he teased, picking up the pace as she came after him.  The pillow barely missed him as she took a wild swing.  “So what are you going to do, beat me to death with that pillow?”

 

She surprised him by doing a Force leap over the couch, landing as lightly as a cat in front of him.  “I think a few bruises in strategic places might be called for,” she snapped, but Luke could see the twinkle deep in her emerald eyes.

 

She lunged at him, but he was quicker, ducking under her swing and grabbing her by the waist with both hands.

 

“Hey!” she yelled as she felt herself lifted off her feet, and the next thing she knew she was thrown over his shoulder like a sack of darsen grain.  He took off running around the room with Mara bouncing on his shoulder.

 

Mara was trying desperately to hit him again with the pillow and was annoyed when it caught on the edge of the desk as they quickly went by.  The pillow ripped and then virtually exploded, flinging bits of stuffing all over them and the room.

 

Luke continued to run, but now they were both laughing hysterically.  Mara clung to Luke, a bit afraid that he was laughing so much he might drop her.

 

He circled the room again and as he near the entry, the door chime sounded.  Luke, without thinking, reached out and slapped the door panel.

 

“Luke, no!” Mara screeched, but it was too late.  The door eased open without a sound and Noimi stood there, blinking in surprise, on the other side.

 

Luke skidded to a stop with Mara lurching awkwardly on his shoulder.  “Noimi,” he gasped.

 

The older woman bit her lip and said, “Luke.”  Upside down, Mara was trying to peer at her from around Luke’s shoulder, so Noimi added, “Miss Jade.”

 

Mara’s face flamed with color and she hissed, “Luke, put me down.”

 

Carefully, Luke pulled her down from his shoulder and set her on the floor.  “Noimi, sorry,” he said.  “We were...” he trailed off, not sure exactly how to explain what they were doing.

 

Mara brushed some fluff from the pillow off her nose and said hello to Noimi. Her face was still pink, both from exertion and embarrassment.  “Excuse me, please,” she said softly and hurried off to the bedroom.

 

Luke glanced back at Noimi who had lost her battle with her blossoming smile.  He grinned ruefully.  “I’m sorry, Noimi, did you need something?”

 

Noimi laughed lightly.  “I just wanted to tell you that General Diaishuut has decided to cut his vacation short.  He said something has come up on Coruscant that he needs to handle.”  Noimi looked down and then back up, her eyes twinkling.  “He wanted me to tell you that he regrets having to leave so soon.”

 

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Luke laughed.  Obviously, his staff had picked up on the fact that Luke and the general weren’t the best of friends.

 

“He plans to take today’s transport,” Noimi told him.

 

Luke nodded.  “I’ll make a point on being there to see him off.”

 

Noimi chuckled and nodded.  “Then I’ll see you later.”  She turned and walked down the corridor, her smile widening.  It certainly was good to see the young Jedi so happy.  Noimi had been worried some about him because he seemed such a serious and solemn young man, so intent on making his school a viable operation.  The scene she had just witnessed allowed her to put those fears to rest.  Obviously, Mara Jade was very good for him.  Noimi laughed out loud, remembering the young woman’s horrified face.  She wondered if Mara even realized that she was quickly becoming the envy of most of the women in the galaxy!

 

***************************

 

When Luke entered the bedroom a few moments later, Mara was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the holo-photos of Leia and her family.  Instantly, Luke felt a wave of strong emotion from her and he frowned in puzzlement. 

 

“Mara, what is it?”

 

Mara turned to look at him, and he was shocked to see that her face was pale.

“Luke...” she said, her voice hardly above a whisper.

 

He hurried to her and sat down next to her on the bed.  “Mara, is something wrong?  Are you okay?”

 

She pointed at the holo-photos.  “The babies, Luke, the babies.”

 

Luke was having difficulty following her train of thought, but he agreed,  “Yes, they’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

 

Mara slowly nodded her head.  “They are.  I wonder if our baby will be as beautiful.”

 

Luke looked at her quickly and she met his gaze, her green eyes huge in her pale face.  “Luke,” she whispered, her voice breaking a little.  “We...we didn’t use protection.”  She got up from the bed and started pacing about the room.  “I forgot...I never thought...” she muttered.

 

Luke took a deep breath, the implications of what she was saying thundering in his brain.  “You’re not on...,”  he started.  “I mean...”

 

Mara stopped her pacing to glare at him. “I was a virgin, remember?  Why would I be on prevention meds?”

 

“I just thought...,” he stopped, figuring it was safer not to finish that remark.  He scratched his cheek, got up from the bed and went over to her.  “I should have remembered.  It was as much my responsibility as yours.”  He took one of her hands in both of his.  “It doesn’t matter, Mara, if you...if you’re pregnant, then we’ll just get married.”

 

“Married?” she echoed, as if he were suggesting some strange custom of which she had never heard.  She glanced away from him and muttered, “I don’t want to get married.”

 

Luke was surprised by how much the little remark hurt, but he hid it, saying nonchalantly, “Why not?  It would solve the...problem.”

 

“Problem?”

 

Luke nodded, wondering if she realized she was beginning to sound like one of the chinchi birds on Garqi who were famous for repeating everything they heard.

 

He pushed a strand of hair off her forehead.  “Mara, would it be so bad to be married to me?”

 

She looked at him quickly, sensing the hurt he was feeling behind the words.  She eased into his arms and hugged him. “Luke...no...that’s not it.  Anyone would be proud to be married to you...me, included.  But Luke...it’s me, remember, the Emperor’s Hand...his personal assassin.”

 

He slid his arms around her waist.  “Mara, I don’t care about your past.  I never have.  I love you, and I want to marry you...whether you’re pregnant or not.”

 

She pulled back to look at him and then said softly,  “Are you asking me to marry you?”

 

He nodded quickly.  “Yes.”

 

She was dumbfounded.  “Luke,” she whispered.  For a moment, she couldn’t think, her mind bombarded with conflicting emotions.

 

Luke took her face in his hands.  “Mara, I truly believe we belong together. I love you more than my own life.”

 

His words literally frightened her.  Just for a moment, his serious and earnest face swam before her eyes and she felt faint.  Love...there was that word again, that four-letter word that she knew absolutely nothing about.  She knew she had some kind of feelings for Luke, that she was very attached to him, but was it love...the sort of love he was talking about?  She just didn’t know.

 

She closed her eyes and leaned against him.  Why?  Why hadn’t there been anyone in her life...just one person when she was growing up who could have explained, who could have taught her what love was and how it worked.

 

Luke’s arms went around her and he pulled her to him, hugging her tightly.  She knew that through the Force he could feel the confusion inside her, and he wanted to be there for her, to comfort her.  It was so like him to do that.

 

Tears flooded into her eyes, and she wiped at them angrily.  She knew she would rather cut off her own hand than hurt him, but that was just it...if she couldn’t love him in the same way that he said he loved her, then it wouldn’t be fair to him.  In the long run, she would end up hurting him more.  And if anyone deserved to be unconditionally loved...then it was Luke, the finest person she had ever known.

 

She pulled back to look at him.  He gently removed a tear from her cheek with his thumb.  “Luke,” she whispered.  “Can you give me some time?”  She felt his disappointment like a burning shaft through her heart, and she watched him try to hide it.

 

He smiled a bit stiffly.  “Sure, Mara, if that‘s what you want.”

 

She hugged him fiercely.  “Oh, Luke please, try to understand.  This doesn’t have a thing to do with you...it’s me.  I’m the crazy one.  It’s just...my life...”

 

“Mara,” Luke interrupted.  “Love, you never give yourself enough credit.  Forget the past, we can build a future together.”

 

“I know,” she whispered against his chest.  “It’s...oh, Luke...”

 

She felt him sigh and one of his hands caressed the back of her head.  “Alright, Mara, we’ll wait...whatever you want.”  He pulled back to look at her. “What if...what if there’s a baby, Mara?” he asked tentatively.

 

It was her turn to sigh.  “We’ll just have to face that when or if it happens.”  She stepped out of his arms and moved away a little.  “I probably need to go to Coruscant as soon as possible.  You don’t have a medical droid here on Yavin, do you?”

 

He shook his head.  “No, it’s on our list of things to get in the near future.”

 

“Luke,” Mara said, turning to look at him.  “If I’m not pregnant, I want to...I mean, I’m going to ask the droid for prevention meds.”

 

Luke looked at her quickly, and she smiled.  “I may not always know exactly what to do...but I do know this.  I want to be with you, Farmboy.  I want to make love with you.”

 

He crossed over to her quickly and she went back into his arms willingly.  She rubbed her face against his.  “Let’s just continue this way for awhile...then we’ll see,” she whispered.

 

He nodded and kissed her deeply.

 

 

Chapter 13

 

Coruscant - a few days later.

 

Mara stood in the corridor outside the women’s wing of the medical center located in the old Imperial Palace, letting the relief wash over her.  She wasn’t pregnant, thank the Force.  Although if she had known exactly what a pregnancy examination involved...Mara shut down those thoughts immediately, grimacing at the memory of being examined by the medical droid.  Talk about a total loss of dignity!  But there was no baby and that was what was important.  After a moment of just relishing the fact, she turned and walked down the corridor, stuffing the small packet of prevention meds into her pocket.  After a long discussion with the medical droid, she had chosen while she was in the office a prevention medication that began taking effect immediately.  As long as she took the medication faithfully, there would be no chance of pregnancy but if she missed even one day...

 

While her hand was in the pocket of her jacket, it brushed against her mobile commlink and she thought about calling Luke, but decided against it.  She knew he was probably as anxious for the news as she had been, but she wanted to tell him in person.

 

Luke had wanted to come to the medical center with her, but she hadn’t let him.  There was too much chance of someone seeing them there together and starting another rift of rumors.  Mara scoffed silently...rumors that might be too close to actuality for comfort!  She could just see the headlines now – “Jedi Couple Expecting Baby?” with an extra large photo of her and Luke in the women and children’s wing.  She shuddered and glanced around, half expecting to see P’faaru lurking in the corner.

 

She and Luke had only arrived on Coruscant earlier that morning.  When he had told her that Artoo was ready to be collected after his upgrades, she had suggested that he come with her to Coruscant on the YT-2400.  There was plenty of room and he wouldn’t have to wait for the transport from Coruscant that arrived on Yavin in the late afternoon.  After a few words with Noimi, they had left the planet posthaste.  Once on Coruscant, after a hurried discussion of the best way to avoid the press, they had parted and gone their separate ways, she to the medical center and Luke to droid maintenance.

 

As she turned a corner in the corridor, Mara heard a noise.  Looking up quickly, she caught a glimpse of a figure disappearing around the far corner. She frowned and her danger sense suddenly tingled at the back of her mind.  She stopped abruptly, her right hand reaching for the tiny hold-out blaster she kept in a sleeve holster on her left arm.  Reaching out with the Force, she tried to sense the other’s presence, but curiously encountered a complete void of emotion.  Mara eased over to the wall and continued down the corridor, her hold-out blaster held ready in front of her.  When she reached the end of the corridor, she stopped and then cautiously put her head around the corner.  Quick as a flash, the figure appearing to be a male human disappeared around the last turn.  Mara hurried after him, her danger sense blossoming into full awareness.  As she turned the corner, she caught another brief glance of him as a turbolift door slowly closed in front of him.   He lifted a blaster pistol and aimed at her, but she threw herself against the wall and out of his sight.  He didn’t fire and the turbolift closed, taking him down to ground level.

 

Mara stepped away from the wall, her mind frothing with possibilities.  Had she really been his target or had she just scared him when she had chased him, her hold-out blaster held in front of her?  Why would anyone be coming after her with a blaster?  Could she have done anything recently to anyone that would make someone want to kill her?  And that man...she was positive she had never seen him before.  Yet, she trusted her danger sense implicitly.  It had never been wrong before.

 

Mara was still musing it over in her mind as she stepped into another turbolift and punched the number for Luke’s suite on the residential floors. As the lift rose, Luke’s voice entered her mind.

 

*Mara, are you all right?*  he asked anxiously.

 

Mara sighed, knowing he must have picked up on her heightened emotions in the corridor.  *I’m fine, Luke.  It was nothing.*

 

*I thought I sensed some anxiety from you,*  he said.  *It wasn’t anything from the doctor, was it?*

 

Mara leaned against the side of the turbolift.  *No, it wasn’t.  Have you got Artoo yet?*

 

*Yes, we’re just leaving droid maintenance now,* Luke answered.

 

*Are you coming straight home?*  Mara asked.

 

*Mmmm...should be there in about half an hour.*

 

*Good,*  Mara said.  *I’ll meet you then, and I’ll tell you everything.*

 

*Okay,* Luke agreed.

 

The turbolift door opened and Mara stepped out.  Quickly, she moved down the hallway, knowing that Luke’s floor was also the home to several influential members of the military.  She wasn’t interested in being seen going into Luke’s apartment.  She had had enough of other people’s speculation into her private life to last her a lifetime.

 

To her relief, she met no one and was able to key in the entry code to Luke’s door and eased into his living area with no problems.  She had been in Luke’s apartment many times over the past several months and was quite familiar with it, at least the front rooms.  His place was more than twice as large as hers, which was located several floors below his.  His apartment definitely befitted the status that Luke held in the New Republic.  Too bad he didn’t know how to furnish it, Mara groused silently to herself.  The oversize living area had a couple of deep, overstuffed chairs and a large couch built in two sections in one area of the room.  A large entertainment center dominated the opposite wall with one of the biggest holovids screens that Mara had ever seen.  But those were the only furnishings and there was enough space left to hold a game of sling ball.  However, Luke had filled the corners with numerous big, green plants, adding a fresh and bright aura to the living area.  It was the one thing she truly liked about his apartment.

 

Mara walked through the big room and headed into the kitchen.  It was enormous compared to the one on Yavin IV.  A person could create a formal dinner for more than a dozen guests in a kitchen of such size.  Mara grinned, knowing she wouldn’t know one end from another when it came to formal cooking.  For herself and maybe another person or two, she could turn out a decent meal, but extravagant dinner parties were beyond her.

 

She rummaged around in the cupboards and the refrigeration unit, looking for anything that would be quick and easy to fix.  Luke would be hungry when he arrived.  If there was one thing she had learned, that man was always hungry.  Mara had been astounded by the amounts of food he could consume, especially since on many days she was satisfied with just light snacks or ration bars.

 

A little later Luke and Artoo opened the front door to the delicious aroma of cooking food seeping out from the kitchen.  “Mmmmmm...,”  Luke said, heading in that direction with Artoo trundling behind.

 

Mara was standing at the cooking unit in the kitchen when they entered, and she said, “Dinner will be ready in a moment.”

 

Luke laughed, knowing she has sensed him before he even came through the front door.  He walked up behind her and patted her on the rear.  “Mmmmm...good,” he mumbled, resting his chin on her shoulder.

 

Mara snorted as she turned the grilling Dewback steaks.  “Are you talking about my butt or dinner?”

 

Luke grinned and kissed her on the cheek.  “You think you’re going to get me on that one, don’t you?”

 

“It wouldn’t be the first time, Skywalker,” she retorted.

 

He ran a hand caressingly down her sleek rump. “Well, my love, your butt wins hands down...every time.”  He took her head and turned her face to him, then kissed her, lingering over her lips.

 

They kissed for a while and then she took her mouth away.  “That’s enough, Farmboy.  I don’t want to burn the food like a certain other cook I know!” But she said it gently, her own heart beating a little quicker than normal.  She took the steaks and placed them on a large warming platter.

 

A series of peeps and chirps sounded from Artoo who was waiting patiently in the doorway of the kitchen.

 

Mara grinned and waved a spatula at him.  “Well, hello Squirt!  It’s good to see you!”

 

What suspiciously sounded like a groan erupted from Artoo and then a gurgle of greeting.  Mara laughed, knowing he disliked her nickname for him, but really didn’t hold it against her.  He trundled over to them and twittered and chirruped for several seconds.

 

Mara looked at Luke.  “What was all that about?”

 

Luke shook his head.  Through the years, he had become quite adept at deciphering Artoo’s electronic language, but that little spiel had been too much even for him.  He leaned over to view Artoo’s small screen.  Suddenly, he choked off a laugh and looked up at Mara.

 

She cocked an eyebrow.  “Well?”

 

*You’re not going to believe this,*  Luke sent into her mind.

 

*What do you mean?*  Mara asked.

 

Luke patted Artoo on his domed head.  *He wants to know if we are mating now...like Han and Leia.*

 

“What?!”  Mara exclaimed out loud, looking at Artoo as if he had suddenly grown horns.  Her cheeks filled with color and she sent to Luke, *Where did he get that from?*

 

*Well, he saw us kissing, but it probably comes from Threepio.  He’s always been very fascinated by all...eh...human customs,*  Luke answered, his eyes dancing.

 

*Somebody should put a muzzle on Mr. Goldenrod,*  Mara snapped, annoyed that she could be embarrassed by a droid.  *Quit laughing.  What are we going to tell him?*

 

Luke laughed aloud, amused by her discomfort.  *I love you, Mara.*

 

She sniffed audibly, but her eyes softened.  *Well...yeah...alright, but you didn’t answer my question, Farmboy.*

 

*I think we should tell him the truth,*  Luke said.  *And then tell him not to speak about it to anyone, especially Threepio.*

 

*You think we should tell him...that we’re sleeping together?*  Mara asked in astonishment.

 

*He does live here, Mara,*  Luke explained patiently.  *He’s going to notice.*

 

Mara shot Artoo a look.  *Well, he may not know it now, but he’s going to be powering down a lot!”

 

Luke couldn’t help it; he burst out laughing. 

 

It was his turn to receive the look and Mara said aloud.  “Well, you take him into the living area and explain it to him.  I don’t want any part of it.  Besides, I have to set the table.”

 

Luke nodded, but teased her gently, “Coward.”

 

Mara waved the spatula at him. “Out, I said, out!”

 

********************

 

When they were almost through with dinner, Luke said quietly, “You haven’t told me how it went today at the med center.”

 

Mara swallowed her mouthful of salad, and they looked at each other for a long moment across the small table in the kitchen.  Mara sighed,  “Well, Farmboy, I have good news, I suppose.  You’re not going to be father after all.  At least, not anytime soon.”

 

She received a brief flash of emotion from him before he quickly dampened it.  Disappointment?  Sorrow?  She reached across the table and took his hand.  “Luke...” she began.

 

He shook his head and squeezed her hand.  “No, it’s alright, Mara.”  He smiled gently.  “But you know I wouldn’t have been upset if you had been pregnant.”

 

Mara got up from her chair and went to him.  He pulled her into his lap and she hugged him fiercely.  They stayed that way for a quite awhile.

 

Finally, Luke kissed her hair and said, “You want to tell me now why you were feeling so anxious when you were at the clinic?”

 

Mara sat up in his lap and sighed.  “Oh that, I had almost forgotten about it.  When I was coming out of the clinic and walking down the hall, I noticed someone lurking about and my danger sense started tingling.”

 

Luke craned his head to look into her face.  She shrugged.  “I saw a man not far down the hall, so I followed after him after taking out my hold-out blaster.  When I caught up to him as he entered the turbolift, he pointed his blaster at me.  When I thought about it later, I can't be sure if he had his blaster out already or pulled it after he saw me with mine.”

 

Luke shook his head.  “Your danger sense has never steered you wrong before.”

 

“I know...but it’s just odd.  Although I felt danger, I couldn’t sense any of the man’s thoughts or intentions.  It was just strange.”

 

Luke stared off into space for a moment and then murmured,  “Yes, it is...very strange.”

 

After straightening up the kitchen, they went into the living area and sat on the huge couch.  Luke suggested turning on the holovid to watch the evening news, but Mara shook her head.  She reminded him that they would probably be the top news story since they had arrived together on Coruscant that morning.  Surely, the information had gotten to the press by now, and she really didn’t want to hear it.

 

Luke grinned and turned on some music instead.  They listened for a while and talked quietly.  Luke sat with his back to the arm of the couch with Mara nestled between his legs, the back of her head resting on his shoulder.  Occasionally they would kiss softly, but mostly just sat, content to listen to the music and just be with one another.

 

Finally, Luke asked, “When do you think we should tell Han and Leia?”

 

“Tell them what?”  Mara mumbled, half dozing in his arms.

 

“About us,” Luke answered, nuzzling against her hair.

 

Mara’s eyes flew open and she stared at an enormous green plant against the wall across the room as she pondered his words.  “Do we have to tell them?”  she finally asked.

 

Luke pulled back his head to look at her.  “Why shouldn’t we?”

 

Mara shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I just thought maybe we’d keep it to ourselves for a little while.”  She turned in his arms to face him.  “It’s just so new. I think we need to get used to it ourselves before we start letting other people know.”

 

Luke ran a finger down her cheek.  “I don’t know if I can keep it from them, especially my sister.”

 

“Oh, come on Luke, I know you’ve kept things from Leia before, even if she does sense your thoughts!”  Mara scoffed.

 

“Of course,” Luke said, smiling.  “But I just think she’ll probably notice when I drool every time I see you.”

 

Mara looked at him a moment and then rolled her eyes.  “Oh, please.”  She shook her head at him and then laid her cheek on his shoulder.  He took the opportunity to capture her mouth with his.

 

The kiss lasted a long time and was very passionate.  They were both gasping for air when it ended.  “See what I mean,” Luke teased gently.

 

Mara squirmed a bit in his arms. “We don’t have to do that in front of them, you know.”

 

“I have a Force-sensitive twin sister, Mara.  Don’t you think she'll be able to pick up on our emotions occasionally no matter how hard we try to hide them?”  Luke argued.  “It would be best just to tell her and Han and be honest about it.”

 

Mara sighed.  “I suppose you’re right.  Hopefully we won’t have to see them for a few days.  I still would like for us to have some time just to ourselves.”

 

Luke drew in a long breath, looking guilty.

 

Mara tilted her head slightly towards him.  “What?” she asked ominously.

 

“Well, I talked with Leia earlier today on the commlink.”

 

“And?”

 

“She wanted me to come for dinner tonight, but I told her that it wasn’t a good time.  So, she asked about tomorrow night and I agreed.”

 

“So?”  Mara said off-handedly.  “You’re going to dinner at your sister’s.  What’s the big deal?”

 

“I asked her if I could bring you with me and she said of course.”

 

“Luuke,” Mara extended his name in a groan.  “You could have ask me first, you know.”

 

Luke looked a little shamefaced and then took the wind out of her sails by saying, “I just didn’t want to spend a whole evening without you near me.”

 

Mara watched him for a moment and then whispered softly, “You’re sweet, Farmboy.” 

 

He pulled her close.  “I love you, Mara.  So much.  I want to be with you every second of every day.”

 

She rubbed her face against his.  “That could get a little awkward at times, don’t you think?”

 

“It would be worth it,” he muttered against her lips and then kissed her deeply again. 

 

Soon they were sprawled across the couch, one kiss leading to another and then another.  As the kisses deepened, their hands were beginning to roam over one another.

 

Luke undid the belt around Mara’s tunic and let it fall from her.  He slipped a hand under the tunic and began to gently caress one of her breasts.  She moaned softly and pressed closer to him, one hand around his back, the other against his face.

 

Luke pulled her further down onto the couch, then took her tunic and pulled it over her head.  She helped him, dropping the clothing on the floor and then insisted he remove his too. 

 

When they pressed their partially clothed bodies against each other, they both groaned. Luke held her tightly, one hand at the back of her head, the other easing under her bra.

 

“Mara, my love,” he whispered and then gently detached the clip on the bra.  After helping her out of it, he tossed it over the back of the couch and then buried his face between her breasts.  She pressed his head to her and one of her slender legs wrapped around his. 

 

When his mouth covered the tip of one of her breasts, a sharp, loud moan erupted from her and she squirmed beneath him.  Her fingers buried themselves in his hair and she began to breathe a little quicker.

 

Luke hardly heard her.  He pulled the little tip into his mouth and gently suckled, his eyes closing like a child.  They lay there for some time; Luke moving from one breast to the other while Mara gently caressed his hair.

 

When his hand attempted to slide under her waistband though, she stopped him.  “Luke.”

 

He sighed heavily and then rolled over onto his back, pulling her on top of him.  “Okay, okay,” he muttered, taking a deep, calming breath.  “I know.”

 

She rested her chin on his muscled chest.  “And what do you know, Farmboy?”

 

“I know we can’t,” he mumbled, distracted by her fingers, which was gently pulling on one of the tiny hard nubs on his chest.

 

“Can’t what?” she asked softly, and he looked at her, noticing for the first time the darkened green of her passion-filled eyes.

 

“We can’t make love,” he whispered, memories of those days on her freighter on the way to Coruscant fresh in his mind.  Without the prevention meds, they couldn’t take the chance, and it had been sheer agony, having her around that close and keeping his hands off her.

 

“Ahhh...but you forget, Farmboy,” she whispered teasingly, her tongue taking the place of her fingers.  “I saw the medical droid this morning.”

 

Luke blinked, and then without saying a word, sat up, dumping Mara off of him and onto the couch.  She looked at him in astonishment.  He grinned, got to his feet, and picked her up off the couch.  He headed for the bedroom.

 

Over his shoulder, Mara looked about the room.  “Skywalker, where’s Artoo?  I don’t want the little Squirt to be watching anything here.”

 

“Is that why you stopped me on the couch?”  Luke asked, and then didn’t wait for her reply.  “He’s at his recharging station, powered down for the night,” Luke chuckled and then laughed out loud when Mara snorted indelicately, “Well, it’s a good thing.  I don’t want to have to deal with any more questions about mating.”

 

When they reached the bedroom, Luke sat on the side of the bed, holding Mara in his lap.  Mara was glancing around the room.  “Sithspit!”  she suddenly cursed.

 

“What?” Luke asked, slightly alarmed.

 

Mara pointed at the huge transparisteel windows that took up one whole wall of the bedroom.  Just at the moment, although not a sound could be heard, a transport bus-speeder filled with what appeared to be a bunch of partygoers sailed by.  She couldn’t believe it.  “How can you sleep in here with all that traffic?  And I’ll tell you right now, buddy boy, we are not making love where half of Coruscant can see us!”

 

Luke pulled her face back around and placed a gentle kiss on her outraged mouth. “Mara, it’s reflective transparisteel on the outside.  We can see out, but no one can see in.”

 

She looked at him quickly and then said abashedly, “Oh.”

 

He lay back on the huge bed, pulling her with him.  They nestled together and then Luke kissed her again.  It was a soft, tender kiss, more a gentle playing with one another’s lips than a deep passionate one.  They enjoyed it very much and their emotions begin to flow into one another, along with an almost mutual understanding that there was no reason to hurry. 

 

Their first joining had been a bit of a struggle for them both and their second, a hurried rush of passion.  But not this time.   They had plenty of time, all night if they wished, to explore, to investigate, to become comfortable with one another as never before, and they didn’t want to waste the opportunity.

 

After they shed their remaining clothes, their hands and mouths roamed over each other, learning, discovering, gaining knowledge and skill.  When Luke finally deepened their kisses, slipping his tongue between Mara’s lips, she was already limp and a bit weak with desire.  Her body tingled in all the places that Luke had touched, kissed and caressed.

 

Her mouth opened wider and her tongue met his joyfully.  She groaned into his mouth, pulling him closer. “Luke, I...I...” she moaned.  Gods, why couldn’t she just say it?  Why couldn’t she tell him she loved him?  It had to be love.  She hadn’t a clue what love really was, but surely, this...this had to be it.  No man had ever touched her like Luke and she didn’t mean just physically.  This man touched her soul, her essence.

 

“Luke...” she started again in a hoarse whisper, but his mouth cut her off, filling her own with his tongue.  His hands began to move with more purpose, more intent and all coherent thought fled from Mara’s mind.

 

He moved her gently underneath him, settling himself between her thighs, and she was ready for him, lifting her hips.  He looked down at her with those beautiful blue eyes and let his emotions flow into her, mesmerizing her even as he gently, easily entered her body.

 

She arched underneath him, taking him in as deeply as she could, and the last of her barriers dropped, letting all her feelings, her emotions, even her confusion flood into him.

 

His arms slid tightly around her, holding her against him, even as he began to thrust, slowly, steadily.  “I know, Mara, I know...,” he groaned against her cheek.

 

She had no idea what he knew, she didn’t know herself what she felt...but she did know that she craved him and their bond, that strange and wonderful connection they shared, craved it like an addict did a drug.

 

His thrusts became quicker, harder and she lifted herself to him, encouraging him for more.  And the light...the brilliant, amazing light was beginning again, flashing around them and into them and she held him, held on for dear life as they fused together, body and soul.

 

Her mouth opened and she cried out his name, in sheer, unadulterated joy.

 

 

Chapter 14

 

The next morning.

 

Captain Maat Parrin entered General Drogrono Diaishuut’s elaborate and highly decorative office suite.  He glanced around, amazed again that the general could get so much...stuff...in one office.  And in Parrin’s opinion, the place was just too ostentatious and pretentious, altogether a realistic representation of the general himself.

 

Parrin nodded to the attractive young female who sat behind the desk in the reception area.  “General Diaishuut wanted to see me, I believe,” he told her.  She nodded, her eyes openly traveling his trim figure, encased tightly in his neat and crisp officer’s uniform.

 

Parrin’s lips tightened perceptibly.  How like the general to have such a forward young woman as his military receptionist.  The general’s penchant for women was well-known and viewed for the most part as scandalous behavior for a man in his position. The problem was that he was so firmly entrenched in the hierarchy of the military that nothing was ever done about it.

 

The receptionist got up from her desk, smiled invitingly and told him that she would inform the general that he was there.  She waved toward the chairs in the small reception area and asked him to take a seat.  She then disappeared into the inner sanctum of the office.

 

Parrin sat down and waited.  A quarter of an hour later, he glanced at his chrono for the umpteenth time, annoyance beginning to seep into him.   The general was apparently up to his old tricks again...he loved to keep his subordinate officers waiting around on him.  It probably gave him some sick sense of power.  And with that willing young tart in there with him...

 

A door opened and the receptionist came out, smoothing her hair back into place.  Parrin tried to keep the distaste off his face, but he wasn’t very successful.

 

“The general will see you now,” the girl cooed, her eyes traveling over him again.

 

Parrin ignored her and walked into the big office of his commanding officer.

Diaishuut was sitting behind his oversized desk, a thin cigarra held in one of his pudgy hands.

 

“Ah...Parrin.  Just the man I wanted to see,” the general said, propping his feet up on his desk.  He took a long pull on his cigarra and then blew the smoke in Parrin’s direction.

 

Parrin’s lips tightened, but he didn’t say anything.  He lived for the day that his tenure with the general would be finished.  If only he could get that promotion.  He drew in a silent breath.  His promotion depended on the overweight blob of guts sitting behind the desk, and he knew it.  One wrong move that upset the general and his dream of being a major would go right down the tubes.

 

“Well?  Did you carry out my orders?”  the general demanded, suddenly swinging his feet to the floor and slamming his hand on the desk.

 

Parrin didn’t even react.  He was used to the general’s silly little tricks of intimidation.  When he had been first assigned as his aide-de-camp, the general had terrified him.  That is, until he realized just what a small man he was, small in stature and small in spirit.

 

“Yes, sir.  The droid reported back from the medical center yesterday.”

 

“And?  Listen, Parrin, you had better have carried this out carefully.  I didn’t pay a small fortune to get a human replica droid for this scheme to not work.  Well, did he see Jade?”

 

“He did, although he made no contact with her.  He said she pulled a blaster and came after him in a corridor at the medical center.  He barely got away.”

 

Some of the ruddy color in the general’s face faded.  “How the Hoth would she have known there was any danger?” he demanded hoarsely.  “Damn Jedi!  Parrin, you had better not bungle this or I’ll have you stationed on a planet in the farthest corner of the Outer Rim.  Do you understand me?”

 

“Yes, general,” Parrin replied stiffly.

 

The general sat back in his chair, his mind racing.  “Did you say the medical center?” 

 

“Yes, sir.”

 

“What was she doing there?”

 

“The HRD said she was examined by one of the medical droids and given some sort of medications.  He wasn’t able to obtain information on what kind.”

 

The general frowned.  “What kind of medical droid did she see?”

 

“A gynecologist, sir.”

 

The general chuckled nastily.  “A female doctor?  Maybe Skywalker’s been giving her too much of a workout.”  He rubbed his chin.  “Where did she go after that?”

 

“Skywalker’s apartment.”

 

Diaishuut’s lips tightened.  “Was he waiting for her?”

 

“No, he came later.”

 

“And?”

 

“They haven’t left the apartment since then, sir.”

 

“Of course not,” the general snarled.  “Too busy with one another, I’m sure.”  His small eyes narrowed, “Did they see anyone else?”

 

“No, sir.  Skywalker had his R2 droid with him when he came back to the apartment, but no one else has been there.”

 

“Not even his sister?”

 

“No, sir.”

 

“Hmmmmm...  Alright, Parrin, you’re dismissed, but I want to see you here at 0800 sharp tomorrow.  And bring that droid with you.  I want to talk to him myself.”

 

Parrin came to attention and saluted the general smartly.  The man behind the desk waved his hand impatiently and began to shuffle though some datacards.

 

Parrin turned on his heels and left.

 

*********************************

 

Later, that evening.

 

 

As Luke rode the turbolift down to Mara’s floor in the old Imperial Palace, he was thinking over how he was going to tell Han and Leia about the new relationship that he and Mara shared.  He knew that both of them still had some reservations about Mara and her past as the Emperor’s Hand, but he also knew that once they understood the extent of the feelings between him and Mara that they would be happy for him, for them both.

 

Mara lived in a more modest section of the Imperial Palace than he did, and it seemed to teem with people compared to the relative silence of his own.  As he exited the turbolift, a small group of three or four children raced down the hallway and passed him on both sides, heading in the direction of a large transparisteel window at the end of the corridor.  One of the children, an older boy, skidded to a stop and glanced back over his shoulder.  His pale eyes widened and then he turned and ran after the other children, calling for them to stop.

 

Luke sighed.  Obviously the child had recognized him and was alerting his friends.  He hurried over to Mara’s door.  *Mara?*  he sent to her.

 

*Come on in, the door’s open,*  she told him.  He pressed the entry panel and the door slid open without a sound.  He walked in and caught sight of Mara at her commlink center.  A tiny transparent figure of Talon Karrde wavered over a small hologram projector.

 

“Yes, I understand,” Mara was telling him.  “No, it’s no problem.  I’ll take care of it.”

 

Karrde said something that Luke didn’t catch, and Mara said, nodding, “Yeah, alright.  Then I’ll say goodbye for now.”  Mara pushed a button on the unit and the hologram of Karrde disappeared. 

 

Luke walked over to her and kissed her on the top of her head.  He slid his hands down her arms and nuzzled under her ear. 

 

Mara sighed, tilting her head back to give him access to her throat.  “Mmmmm...you had better quit that or we won’t make it to your sister’s for dinner.”

 

Luke started undoing the buttons on the front of her full, oversized shirt.  She slapped his hands away.  “Stop it, Luke.  I’ve already taken a shower and dressed and I’m not doing all that over again.”

 

He put his hands on her waist and pulled her to him.  They rested against each other for a moment.  “If it were anybody but my sister...” he mumbled into her hair.

 

She snorted.  “Well, it is your sister, and this was all your idea, so we may as well go and get it over with.”  She sighed heavily.  “Just what are you going to tell them?”

 

“About what?”  he muttered, nuzzling under her hair.  “Nice scent, what is it?”

 

“Nlorna,” she replied, mentioning the fragrant flower used in many different perfumes.  “And don’t try to change the subject.”

 

“Do you mean what am I going to tell them about us?”  he asked.

 

“Come on, Skywalker, you know what I’m talking about.”

 

He chuckled.  “I’m going to tell them I’m madly in love with you and can’t wait to drag you into bed every chance I get.”

 

Mara pushed him away.  “Stop it, Luke.  I’m serious.”

 

“Alright, alright,” he said. “Mara, you know I love and adore you, that I want to marry you.”

 

“Are you going to tell them all that?” Mara exclaimed, horrified.

 

Luke frowned and took her hand. “Why not?  It’s the truth.”

 

“I know, Luke,” Mara sighed. “I just...I just don’t think we should tell them that you...that we...have that serious a...” her voice trailed off.

 

“Mara,” Luke said, running a finger lovingly down her cheek.  “I’m not ashamed of our relationship.  It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

 

Mara closed her eyes and leaned against him.  “I’m not either, Luke.  Our relationship is very important to me, too.  I just want to savor it without too many people knowing, at least for now.”

 

“Then what do you think we should tell them?”  Luke asked, willing to compromise.  “As I said before, I don’t think we can hide it from them.”

 

“Well, let’s just say we have decided to date for awhile and let it go at that,” Mara whispered, rubbing her face against his.  “That way, we can gradually work our way into telling them everything.”

 

Luke nodded. “Alright.”

 

Mara kissed him gently on the lips.  “And let’s wait to tell them until after dinner.  I don’t want to give Leia too much time to ask questions or Han too much time to smirk!”

 

Luke laughed out loud and hugged her tightly.  “Alright, Mara, we’ll do it your way.”

 

 

 

Meanwhile in the Solo apartment:

 

“So you don’t think I should ask them any questions?”  Leia said, putting some final touches on a huge roasted Uln that had been prepared by the kitchen droid.  The bird was one of Luke’s favorite meals, and she had spent most of the afternoon preparing it.

 

“No,” Han replied, laying the dinner wine on ice to chill.  “I think we should let them tell us in their own way.  They’ll get around to it when they’re ready.”

 

Leia let out a huge sigh.  “But I want to know nowww...  All right. I know, I’m nosy, but he’s my brother and I want him to be happy.”

 

Han laughed.  “Have you sensed any unhappiness from him lately?”

 

Leia shook her head. “No...actually quite the opposite.  He seems more contented and relaxed than I’ve seen him in a long time.”

 

Han walked over to her and tried to steal a taste of the Uln.  She shooed him away, but he still managed to get a small piece. Popping it into his mouth, he said, “Then leave them be, Leia.  They’ll let us know when it’s time.”

 

Not long after that, the door chime sounded and Han opened the door to see a smiling Luke and, to his surprise, a somewhat nervous Mara Jade.  He waved for them to come in. “Right on time, guys,” he said and then called in the direction of the kitchen. “Leia, they’re here.”

 

Han wasn’t surprised to see Artoo trundle in behind them.  Usually when Luke paid a visit, he brought Artoo with him so the droid could spend some time with his old friend Threepio.  Han smiled when he saw the droid immediately head for the small chamber off the living area where Threepio spent the majority of his time when the family didn’t need him.

 

Han led Luke and Mara into the lounge and headed over to the small bar in the corner.  “What will you kids have?  We have just enough time for a short one before dinner.”

 

Luke grinned at the expression on Mara’s face.  He knew what she was thinking; it had probably been years since she had been referred to as a ‘kid’, if she had ever been.

 

“I’ll have a small Corellian whiskey,” Luke told Han, taking Mara’s hand and pulling her over to the big couch in the center of the room.

 

“A glass of wine for me, Solo,” Mara said, sitting down on the couch and pulling her hand away from Luke’s.  *Remember?*  she sent to him.  *No public displays of affection.  We’re not telling them until after dinner.*

 

*All right,*  Luke groused, resisting the urge to cup her face with his hands and cover that pouting mouth with his.  His intent showed clearly on his face and she frowned heavily at him.  *Don’t even think about it,*  she warned, glaring green blades at him.

 

“Alderaanian?” Han suddenly said, causing Mara to jump slightly.  She looked up, startled to see him standing directly in front of them.  She swallowed and said, “I’m sorry?”

 

Han cleared his throat, watching the two of them.  Obviously, they had been deep in conversation.  He hadn’t lived around Jedi for most of the past ten years and not know when they were having one of those infernal mind conversations.   “I asked if Alderaanian wine would do?”  he repeated to Mara.

 

She looked a bit flustered, but answered him calmly enough.  “Of course, Solo, that would be perfect.”  She took the glass of wine from him, took a small sip and leaned back against the couch.

 

Han dropped into a cushy chair across from the couch.  “Well, what have you two been up to lately?”

 

The wine glass jerked in Mara’s hand and spilled some of its contents on her full, loose shirt.  “Sithspit,” she cursed, wiping at her shirt with her hand.

 

“Here, let me,” Luke said, leaning closer and pressing a small cloth napkin Han had given him with his whiskey against the damp spot.  Unfortunately, the spot was right over Mara’s left breast and at Luke’s touch, they instantly became aware of one another.  They looked intently at each other and the air virtually sizzled between them.

 

Across from them, Han’s eyebrows lifted and he didn’t even attempt to hide the huge grin that widened his mouth.  He stood, waiting for them to notice him.  He waited in vain, so he cleared his throat again.

 

They looked up, startled, and Luke quickly removed his hand from the front of Mara’s blouse.

 

Han said, “I think I’ll go check on Leia and dinner.  You two make yourselves at home.”  He didn’t hide the teasing tone in his voice and was pleased to see the color flood into Mara Jade’s cheeks.  Han had never seen her so nervous or so...shy?  It wasn’t a word he normally associated with her.

 

He sauntered out of the living area into the dining room where Leia was giving final instructions to a serving droid.  He came up behind her, slid his arms around her waist and nuzzled the back of her neck.

 

“Whoa,” Leia laughed, turning in his arms.  “What’s that about, Captain Solo?”

 

“Just copying the mood your dear brother seems to be spreading all over the place,” Han teased, capturing her lips for a long, passionate kiss.

 

When they parted, Leia looked up at him in astonishment.  “You mean Luke and Mara are...”

 

Han threw back his head and laughed. “No, at least they weren’t when I left them in the living room, but it’s obvious they can barely keep their hands off one another.”

 

Leia’s dark brown eyes grew large.  “Then it’s true?  You think they are lovers?”

 

“If I were to go by my instincts, I would say a whopping big yes, but I still think we had better let them tell us in their own good time,” Han said, hugging his wife to him again.

 

Leia sighed.  “I’m glad, Han.  I’m so happy for Luke...and Mara too.  They will be very good for one another.”

 

“Yeah, I think so too,” Han replied.  “I can already see a change in Mara.”

 

“You can?”  Leia asked.

 

“Yep.  She doesn’t seem as abrasive as she used to be.  Looks like Luke may have mellowed her a little.”

 

Leia burst out laughing.  “I wouldn’t bet any credits on that!  She’s probably just that way with him!”  She stepped out of her husband’s arms.  “Well, go and get them, dinner’s ready, and I can’t wait to see the happy pair!”

 

When Luke and Mara entered the dining room, Leia rushed over to them, grabbing her brother and hugging him tightly. “Luke!  It’s so good to see you!”  She stepped back and gave him a big smile.

 

He grinned and dropped a kiss on her cheek.  “It’s good to see you too, sis.”

 

Leia turned and took Mara’s hand.  “I’m so glad you could join us for dinner, Mara.  It’s always wonderful to have you here.”

 

Mara smiled and squeezed Leia’s hand.  “Thank you, Leia.”

 

Leia looked from Luke to Mara and back again.  Her eyes were dancing with laughter, but she didn’t say anything more, just motioned for them to take their seats at the table.

 

They ate their meal, bantering lightly among themselves, not even realizing how much a family they all seemed.

 

Finally, Luke asked, “Where are the babies?”

 

Leia laughed.  “Asleep, Luke.  The Noghri are with them.  It’s long past their bedtime anyway.”  She laughed again.  “You’re going to have to get more familiar with the routines of babies, I suspect.”  She shot a glance at Mara who determinedly kept her attention on her meal, not rising to any bait Leia might be throwing out.

 

Luke asked another question.  “You said the Noghri are with them?  Where’s Winter?”

 

It was Han who laughed then.  “Oh, she’s out with her new boyfriend.”

 

“Han,” Leia warned.  “You know she said they were just friends.”

 

“Yeah, I know,” Han said, his tongue firmly in his cheek.  “But you didn’t see how he looked at her when he came to pick her up.   Like she was his favorite dessert or something.”

 

“Who are we talking about?”  Mara asked.  She hadn’t known that Winter was dating anyone.

 

“I don’t know if you know him, Mara,” Leia said.  “But Luke does.  He’s one of his old Rogue Squadron buddies.”

 

“Really?”  Luke asked.  “Who?”

 

“Tycho,” Han told him, laughing.  “Tycho Celchu.”

 

“You’re joking,” Luke said.  Then he nodded his head.   “I suppose when you think of it, it’s a logical choice.  After all, they are both Alderaanian.”

 

“That doesn’t make any difference,” Han laughed, glancing at his wife.

 

Leia nodded. “And Winter says they are just friends, although they have been spending a lot of time together.”

 

There was a pause in the conversation and Luke glanced at his sister, who was watching him with a slight smile on her lips.

 

*Well, brother?*  she asked in his mind and then stifled a giggle when she saw Mara’s head come up.  Obviously, Mara had caught the thought too.

 

Luke sighed. *Not now, Leia.*

 

Leia decided not to tease them anymore, so she asked aloud.  “So, Mara, how long are you going to be on Coruscant?”

 

“Actually, I’m going to have to leave tomorrow,” Mara said, taking a bite of her Uln.  “By the way, Leia, this is delicious.”

 

No one seemed to notice Luke, who was looking as if he had been suddenly slapped in the face.

 

“What do you mean, you’re leaving tomorrow?”  he asked, his face hardening into a scowl as he turned to Mara.

 

Mara blinked in surprise at him.  “Yes, in the morning.  Karrde called earlier and said he needed me to take care of some business for him.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”  Luke demanded harshly.

 

Mara’s mouth pressed into a tight line, showing her annoyance at his tone.  “You didn’t ask.”

 

They both had forgotten the other two people who were watching them with wide eyes.

 

“What does he want you to do and where are you going?”  Luke was relentless.

 

Mara sighed heavily.  “Luke, it’s my job.  I have to work, you know that.”

 

Luke put his napkin on the table with a little more force than was necessary. “Mara, answer my questions,” he demanded again, not even attempting to control his rising temper.  How dare she not tell him!

 

“Uh...kids...uh, maybe...,” Han started.

 

They both shot him a dirty look, so he subsided, glancing at Leia who raised her eyebrows.

 

Luke turned back to Mara.  “Where are you going?”

 

Mara tossed her red-gold braid over her shoulder.  “The Corporate Sector.”

 

“The Corporate Sector?”  Luke repeated, in shock.  “It’s full of thieves, cut-throats and...”  He trailed off, thinking better of his last thought.

 

“Smugglers?”  Mara finished for him icily.  She stood up from the table, glaring down at him.

 

Luke stood with her.  “It’s too dangerous, Mara.  You’re not going.  I forbid it,” he growled, glaring at her in return.

 

Leia gasped in shock, but neither of them paid her the slightest attention.

 

“You...FORBID...it?!”  Mara repeated unbelievably, looking at Luke as if she thought he had gone insane.  She took a long, deep breath, as if preparing herself.  And before the other two stunned occupants at the table, the usually calm and confident Luke and Mara dissolved into a screaming match worthy of any two spoiled children wrestling over a favorite toy.

 

It continued for some moments as Leia and Han watched, their eyes bulging from their sockets.

 

Finally, Mara snarled.  “I will do what I want, when I want and where I want, Skywalker, and don’t you ever forget it!”  She stomped towards the dining room door.

 

Luke followed her, raised his arm and force-whirled her around to face him.  “Don’t you dare leave.  We have to talk this out.”

 

Enraged that he would use the Force on her, Mara opened her mouth to blast him again when Artoo trundled into the room, squealing and beeping at the top of his electronic power.  He rolled over to them, never letting up on his constant chatter.

 

Mara looked at him in astonishment.  “What the...?”

 

Luke scowled horribly.  “Artoo, what do you want?”

 

Artoo went into a long bout of rapid beeps and hoots, his grappling arm waving in the air. 

 

Threepio came through the door.  “Master Luke, I tried to stop him, but you know how he is when...”

 

“Hush, Threepio,” Leia said from the table.  She couldn’t believe her eyes.  It looked for all the world like Artoo was scolding Luke and Mara.

 

Luke and Mara both leaned over to read Artoo’s small screen.

 

Suddenly, Mara straightened up and said defensively,  “He started it, Squirt, blame him.”  Then she glared at Luke, whirled on her heels and disappeared through the door.  A few moments later, they heard the front door open and close.

 

There was a moment of quiet in the dining room, and then Artoo started beeping and chattering again.  Luke sighed, staring angrily in the direction of Mara’s departure.  “No, Artoo, it’s okay, you don’t understand.”

 

A high-pitched squeal erupted from Artoo, clearly another scold, and then he, too, turned abruptly and disappeared through the door from which he had come.  Threepio followed him. “See there, Artoo, I told you it wasn’t a good idea to interrupt...”

 

More loud squealing from Artoo cut Threepio off.

 

Luke started towards the front door.

 

“Luke?” Leia called, rising from the table.

 

Luke turned, glared at her a moment, mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “Women” under his breath, then left the room.  A moment later they heard the front door open and close again.

 

Leia looked at Han in astonishment, but all he did was lean back in his chair and down the rest of his glass of wine.

 

“Han,” she demanded.  “What in the galaxy was that all about?”

 

Han laughed, got up from the table and strolled over to Leia.  He slung his arm about her shoulders.  “You know, sweetheart, I think we just witnessed their first lovers’ quarrel.  I haven’t seen a couple fight that passionately since...well...since you and I!”

 

They looked at one another for a moment and then both burst out laughing, hugging each other tightly.

 

When their laughter finally subsided, Han pulled back at looked at his wife.  His eyes shone with mischief as he glanced back towards the door. "If our history is an example, it looks like life is going to be much more interesting for your brother and Mara Jade in the weeks to come."

 

 

 

Chapter 15

 

Luke stood in front of Mara’s apartment door, fluctuating between still seething and controlling the fear that was rising within him.  How could she be so unreasonable?  Didn’t she realize how much he loved her?  He would never want to see her placed in danger of any kind.  If something happened to her, he didn’t know if he could go on living.

 

He sighed heavily, knowing the next few moments weren’t going to be easy.  *Mara?*

 

*Go away,*  she answered quickly.  He knew she had sensed his presence even before he reached the door.

 

*Open the door, Mara.  We need to talk,*  he told her, trying to be as patient and reasonable as he could.

 

*Why doesn’t the big, powerful Jedi just blow it down with his mind!*  she snarled sarcastically.

 

Luke leaned his forehead against the door.  *Mara, I’m sorry about that...I acted before I thought.  I know I shouldn’t have used the Force like that.*

 

She didn’t say anything, and he could feel her anger, her barely contained fury.

 

*Mara, please...  If you are going away tomorrow, are you really not going to let me in?  At least, to say goodbye?”

 

There was a long, difficult moment of silence.

 

Luke waited, his forehead still pressed against the door.  “Mara, please...” he mumbled under his breath.  What if she did leave in the morning without seeing him, without giving either of them the chance to talk it out?  They would be right back to square one in their relationship.  He straightened and ran a hand over the tight, tense muscles in the back of his neck.

 

The door eased open.

 

They stood there for some time, just staring at one another, and then Mara slowly moved aside, motioning with her hand for him to come in.

 

He walked into her small living area and took a seat on the couch.  Mara followed, but sat down in a chair across from him.  He felt a stab of hurt that she didn’t sit beside him, but he tried not to show it.

 

“Mara, look, I’m sorry,” he started, then shook his head.  “I didn’t mean to yell at you like that.”

 

At first he didn’t think she was even going to acknowledge his apology, but she finally said,  “Then why did you, Luke?  You know as well as I do that I have a job with responsibilities and that I can be called away at anytime to do it.  You have seen me leave Coruscant before when Karrde needed me elsewhere.”

 

He nodded.  “I know, Mara.  This time...well, it’s different.”

 

“How’s it different?  Because we’ve slept together?  I can’t and I won’t give up my job just to be your mistress, Luke.”

 

He worked to hide the hurt from the comment and looked at her sharply.  “I would never ask you to do that, Mara.”

 

“Then why the big scene tonight...in front of your sister and Solo?”  Mara demanded.  She looked away from him, faint color coming in her cheeks.  “Gods, Luke, that was so embarrassing.”  She wasn’t the type of woman who cried easily, but Skywalker had reduced her to tears more often in the last few days than she had been in her entire life.  She was determined not to cry this time, though a knot in her throat the size of a Hutt threatened to choke her.

 

Luke watched her for a moment and then tried a tentative probe, risking that it might make her even angrier.  But she had her barriers up strong and tight; there was no way he was getting into her mind.

 

He sighed and stood up, walking over to her chair.  She watched him warily as he neared, but didn’t say anything.  When he reached her, he didn’t give her time to object.  He just pulled her up into his arms, covering her mouth with his just as she opened it to say something.

 

He kissed her with all the pent-up emotions he had been feeling all evening, with all that he had ever felt for her, the love, the desire, the need.  But now, along with it, came the sudden fear for her, the anxiety that consumed him when she wasn’t near him.  He opened his heart and his mind, pounding against her barriers until with a gasp into his mouth, she let him in.

 

“Damn you, Luke Skywalker,” she cried hoarsely, clinging to him, as his emotions poured like an avalanche into her mind.

 

He pulled her over to the couch and they collapsed onto it, holding each other tightly.

 

“I love you, Mara,” he whispered.  “I know I was wrong this evening.”  He swallowed. “I know I’m going to have to apologize to Leia and Han.”  He wasn’t looking forward to it.  There was no way his sister and brother-in-law didn’t understand the relationship between him and Mara now, and they would be full of questions that Mara had not wanted him to answer...at least, not now.  All in all, he had pretty much failed her the whole evening.

 

He turned her face to him, determined to make her understand.  “Mara, look, I know that I can’t hold you to me like that; I can’t keep you a prisoner.  But I wanted you to know...to understand why I reacted that way.  I’ve never loved anyone...anyone at all in my life like I love you.  You mean everything to me.  And you’ll just have to understand that sometimes...I’m going to be afraid for you, that I will want to protect you.”

 

“Luke,” she said gently, one hand going to his cheek.  “I’m not a child to be protected.  I’m Mara Jade, the Emperor’s Hand.  I’ve had more training in how to take care of myself than most people would receive in ten lifetimes.  You don’t have to worry about me.”

 

“Yes, I do,” he groaned, pulling her onto his lap.  “You’re my other half, without you I’m not whole, I’m empty.  If something should happen to you, Mara, I...” 

 

She put her fingers against his lips.  “Shhh..,” she whispered softly.  “Nothing’s going to hap...”

 

But he didn’t give her a chance to say anymore, covering her mouth with a kiss so desperate that when they finally broke apart, they were both gasping for air.

 

Mara leaned weakly against him, a tiny worry tickling the edge of her mind.  Why this sudden, irrational fear for her safety?  It wasn’t like Luke.  Sure, he could be overprotective at times, but he also understood and respected how capable she was.  It didn’t make any sense for him to have acted the way he did. 

 

Luke pressed his forehead against hers.  “I will never hold you back, Mara.  I know you have a life to lead, the same as I do.  I just want to be a part of yours, always.”

 

“You will, Luke,” Mara reassured him, kissing him gently on the nose.  How could she stay angry with him?  He smothered her anger with a love that she could hardly believe, much less understand.  But deep down, somewhere in her core, she knew that what they shared was very, very special and she would never, ever, be able to live without it.

 

Luke leaned back against the arm of the couch, pulling her with him.  They snuggled together.  “Promise?” he whispered against her cheek.  “Promise I’ll always be in your life?”

 

“I promise,” she answered, just as softly.  She felt him relax then and she did too, laying her head on his shoulder. 

 

 

Later that night:

 

General Diaishuut keyed in the code to his office and the heavily enforced door slid open.  He motioned for the tall, slender man with him to enter the room first.  After glancing in both directions down the hallway to make sure no one had noticed them, Diaishuut followed the man into the office. 

 

He walked into the larger, more elaborate room that served as his personal office and turned to the man who had followed him in.

 

“Well?”

 

The slender man stood rigidly at attention, but he wasn’t wearing any type of military uniform.  “Captain Parrin said I was to meet with you in the morning.”

 

“I changed my mind,” the general told him.  “That’s why I called you in tonight.  I’ve made a decision about Parrin, and I’m going to need you to take care of it.”

 

The man nodded his head towards the general. 

 

Diaishuut’s eyes wandered up and down the slim figure.  He sighed.  “Amazing, simply amazing.  Were you made by Massad Thrumble?”  The general was referring to the director of the enormous Droid Research Facility that had been one of the late Emperor Palpatine’s favorite projects.  The construction of human replica droids had been a high priority at the height of the Empire, but the cost was extremely high and in the end, only a few of the HRD’s had been made.

 

The one standing across from the general slowly nodded his head in answer to the general’s question.

 

Diaishuut grunted and walked to his desk.  He dropped into the heavily cushioned chair behind it.  “It was sheer luck I found you.  If I didn’t have some information on Chertec, I would not have come close to affording what one of you droids cost.”  He leaned back in his chair, propping his feet on the desk, a favored position.  Because of his movement, he missed the slight sneer that flickered across the HRD’s face.

 

Chertec, an underground crime lord, who worked his business dealings between the slimier side of Coruscant and the Hutts, had been reluctant to release his HRD to the general.  In the end, he had had no choice.  Diaishuut’s network of intelligence had enough on Chertec to send him to Kessel for life.

 

“What do they call you?”  the general asked.

 

“Erdar,” the HRD replied.

 

“I’m assuming that your additional programming has been performed and there were no malfunctions.”

 

“Everything worked perfectly.  My functions are all operational.”

 

The general stood up and walked over to the droid.  “So...you’re the only one in existence now that the first one, Guri, had herself reprogrammed.”  The general walked around the droid, looking him over carefully.  “The perfect assassin...powerful, intelligent, and without one iota of conscience...how utterly convenient.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Erdar replied.

 

Diaishuut walked back to his desk and leaned against it.  “You understand what you are to do.”

 

Erdar nodded.  “I will eliminate the Jedi woman, Mara Jade.”

 

“When are you planning on doing this?”

 

“Tomorrow.”

 

“Ahhh...very good,” the general smirked, rubbing his hands together.  ”That will be perfect too.  It will be good to be rid of another Jedi.  They are more trouble than they are worth.”  The general looked sharply at the droid.  “You understand what you are to do if Luke Skywalker is with her.”

 

“I will kill them both,” Erdar said, his cold, emotionless eyes watching the general.

 

The general was pleased.  “There is one more task I have for you and you must do it tonight.”  The general turned to his desk and took a datacard from it.  He handed it to the droid.  “This is the address of Captain Parrin. Go there and eliminate him.”

 

The droid took the card, but seemed to hesitate.

 

“What is it?” the general asked.

 

“Captain Parrin is your aide-de-camp, General.  He is the one who gave me my instructions concerning the Jedi woman.”

 

Diaishuut nodded briskly.  “True, but do you recall what I said about you a few moments ago.”

 

“I recall everything, General Diaishuut.  I have perfect memory.”

 

The general was amused.  “Yes, you do and perfect skills with the added plus of absolutely no remorse.  You see, Erdar, that is the problem with Captain Parrin.  He has a conscience and someday that conscience will get the best of him, and we certainly don’t want that to happen, now do we?”

 

The HRD stood motionless.

 

“Eliminate him,” the general said harshly.  “Tonight.”

 

 

A few blocks away.

 

“No, I’m alright, Asnee,” Maat Parrin assured his sister for the third time.  Her gentle face still contained a worried frown, and Maat adjusted a quality button on his comm unit, bringing her face into sharper focus. 

 

“I’ve been worried about you, Maat,” she said. “You have been so preoccupied.  Do you realize you missed your niece’s birthday last week?”

 

Parrin closed his eyes.  Oh gods, he had totally forgotten.  “I’m sorry, Asnee.  General Diaishuut has really been putting me through my paces the past couple of weeks.  I’ll make it up to Mari, I promise.”

 

His sister sighed.  “It’s not that, Maat.  She’s already forgiven you.”  Her frown deepened.  “When do you think you are going to get that promotion?  I...I don’t like Diaishuut, Maat, he’s not a very good person.”

 

It was Parrin’s turn to sigh.  “I know, Asnee.  It can’t be much longer, and if I do get the promotion, I’m fairly certain that I will be assigned somewhere else.  Believe me, you can’t want that more than I do.”  He paused a moment and then continued.  “Asnee, listen...eh...I’m sending you a datacard.  It contains some information that I want you to deliver to Alliance Headquarters...if something should happen to me.”

 

His sister’s eyes widened. “What does that mean, Maat?  Do you think you are in danger?  What’s going on?”

 

“No, Asnee, no.  Now, don’t get upset.  It’s strictly a precaution.”

 

“I don’t like this, Maat.  I don’t like it at all,” his sister insisted.

 

“Asnee, I need you to do this for me,” Parrin said.  “Please?”

 

Asnee looked intently at her younger brother.  “Maat, you know I’d do anything for you, but I’m so worried about you.  The general...”

 

“I’ll be fine, Asnee,” Maat cut her off.  “And soon, this will be all over.  I’ll get my promotion and then life will be good.  I promise.”

 

His sister watched him for a moment.  During the past few years that Maat had worked for General Dongrono Diaishuut, he had asked her several times to keep datacards of information for him, yet this time seemed different.  The tired lines around his eyes had deepened and suddenly her younger brother looked older than his age.

 

“Maat,” she began.  “Please be careful.  If there is anything more I can do...”

 

“You’ll do it,” he finished for her again, smiling at her.  “Thanks, Asnee.  I’ll see you over the weekend, alright?”

 

She nodded.  “I’ll hold you to that, Maat.”

 

He signed off, then leaned his head back against his chair.  He just hoped he wasn’t in a prison cell along with the general by the time the weekend rolled around.

 

 

The next morning.

 

Something tickled Mara Jade’s nose and she wrinkled it, trying to get rid of whatever was pestering her.  It didn’t help, so with a soft groan, she forced her eyes open. 

 

The early morning light was easing into her small bedroom through the one transparisteel window that the room contained.  Mara blinked against the light and suddenly became conscious that she was laying on something quite warm and it was gently rising and falling.

 

She smiled and gently rubbed her face against the warm surface.  Then she pressed an open-mouthed kiss to it.

 

“You can do that all morning if you want,” a slightly husky male voice whispered.  “I won’t mind.”

 

Her smile grew feral, and she nipped his skin with her teeth.

 

“Owww, Mara,” Luke protested, rubbing the spot.

 

She sat up in the bed, stretching.  “That’s what you get for tickling me with those skinny, little hairs on your chest,” she informed him.

 

She was taken totally by surprise when his hands gripped her shoulders and flung her back down on the bed.  He covered her body with his.

 

She lifted an eyebrow.  “And just what do you think you’re doing, buddy boy?”

 

He grinned. “Revenge, my sweet.”

 

“I thought Jedi didn’t do revenge.”

 

He mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like, “Only on other Jedi”, before his mouth covered hers.

 

Mara ran her fingers into his hair and pulled him closer.  If this was his idea of revenge, she might have to figure out a whole list of ways to get him to seek payback.

 

They lay on the bed for some time, just enjoying the kissing and the soft caressing, but both knew they couldn’t take it any further.  Mara’s ship was scheduled for departure in just over an hour.

 

Finally, Luke pulled back and lay on his side next to her.  “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said gently.

 

“And I you,” Mara replied just as softly, smoothing back the loose hair from his forehead.

 

“I could go with you,” he offered, watching her closely.

 

Mara turned on her side to face him. “I would love that, Luke, but do you really think it’s a good idea?  I wouldn’t get any work done if you were with me.  You’re too much of a distraction.”

 

Luke laughed, nuzzling against her face.  “I’ve been called many things in my life before now, but never a distraction.”

 

Mara sighed and sat up.  “Well, you are for me.  Besides, if I go by myself, I’ll get finished sooner and will be back here before you know it.”  She stood and looked down at him on the bed.

 

He lifted his eyebrows suggestively.  “You sure you don’t want me to go with you?” he asked again, teasingly.

 

Mara smiled, her eyes running over him appreciatively.  “I can’t lie, Farmboy, that’s a very tempting offer, but I don’t think so...not this time anyway.”

 

She turned and walked towards the refresher.  Luke heaved a big sigh, watching her, and said, “Have I told you I adore your backside, Miss Jade?”

 

Mara wiggled her hips and smiled at him over her shoulder. “It’s all yours, Farmboy, all yours.”

 

An hour later, they left Mara’s apartment and headed for the spaceport.

 

“Luke, you don’t have to go to the hanger with me,” Mara told him.

 

“Hush, Mara, you know I want to,” Luke replied, taking her hand as they rode the turbolift down.  The realization that she might be gone for weeks was settling in on him with a thud.  Their relationship was so new; her leaving scared him.  Would she feel the same when she returned?

 

Mara stepped in front of him. “Yes,” she whispered. “I will.”

 

He looked at her quickly and then chuckled softly.  “I can’t hide anything from you anymore, can I?”

 

She leaned up and kissed him softly on the lips.  “No, Farmboy, not after what we’ve shared.”

 

He pulled her into his arms and hugged her tightly.  “I love you, Mara.”

 

She smiled against his cheek.  “I know.”

 

The turbolift doors opened and they pulled apart quickly.  There was a group waiting on the lift, but Luke and Mara ignored them, walking out hand in hand.  For once, Mara didn’t care who know about them and their relationship.  In fact, she squeezed his hand and pulled him a little closer to her.  He smiled down at her, pleased that she didn’t seem concerned that people could see.

 

They made a very attractive couple and more than one pair of eyes followed them as they walked out onto the moving walkways that would take them to the speeder cabs.

 

The trip to the spaceport was made in almost total silence as they sat in the back of the cab, their hands clasped tightly together.  Their emotions flowed between them, their hearts and minds opened completely.  There was no need for words.

 

When they reached the huge outer building of the spaceport, they walked in and turned down the long corridor that led to the numerous hangers.  The corridor looked endless, but for them both it ended much too quickly.

 

Mara stopped a few meters away from the door that led to the hanger that housed the YT-2400.  “Don’t go with me in there, Luke,” she whispered, tugging on his hand to make him stop.

 

He turned to her, a worried frown creasing his brow.  “Why not, Mara?  I want to.”

 

She shook her head, tears gathering in her eyes.  “I don’t...” she got out around the lump in her throat.  “I don’t want to see you standing there when my ship leaves.  I don’t want to see myself leaving you.”

 

“Oh, Mara,” he said softly and pulled her in his arms.  They stood in the corridor for a long time, just holding one another, oblivious of the passersby who stared at them curiously.

 

Finally, Mara pulled away, her hand slowly falling away from Luke’s.  They stared at one another a moment more and then she turned to walk toward the door.

 

She was an emotional mess.  Perhaps that was why her danger sense, for the first time in her life, failed to warn her in time.  But as she pressed the panel to open the door and it began to ease open, the danger sense flared, screaming into her mind, at the very same time she heard Luke cry out.

 

She turned quickly to see him charging towards her, yelling her name.  In sheer astonishment, she saw him leap towards her, flying through the air. 

 

Just as his feet caught her in the chest, flinging her through the door and into the hanger, an explosion ripped through the doorframe, shattering it into pieces.

 

Mara hit the floor of the hanger with a thud, jarring the breath out of her, but she backflipped quickly, landing on her feet, and activating her lightsaber in her hand.  She was barely in time to deflect the blaster bolt that sizzled by her head, singeing some of her hair.  Not far away, she saw a slender man crouched beside one of the repulsor lifts of the YT, firing shot after shot from his E-11 blaster rifle.  Mara blocked them with her lightsaber and then Force-leapt towards the man, twisting and turning in the air to avoid his shots.  She landed gracefully beside him.  Lifting her hand, she called the blaster out of his hand and flung it across the hanger.  It fell to the floor, clattering on the hard surface.  Then Mara raised her lightsaber and cleaved him into two pieces, slicing through his shoulder to his hip.   She stood in astonishment as the corpse fell over, wires and computer chips sparking and flaring.

 

“A droid,” she whispered in disgust, outrage ripping through her.  “A HRD assassin.”

 

She stared at him a moment, noticing the remote control device on the ground beside him.  Obviously, he had set off the explosion as soon as he saw her coming into the hanger.

 

Then she turned quickly, remembering, her emerald eyes searching frantically.

 

Her heart stopped in her chest when she saw Luke lying in a crumbled heap near what was left of the door that led into the corridor.

 

Mara started a stumbling run towards him as suddenly there seemed to be people all around her, yelling and crying out.  But she didn’t hear any of them.  All she could see was Luke, bleeding and broken on the floor.

 

She dropped to her knees beside him, horrified at the bloody mass that was the back of his head. “Oh no...oh gods, no.”

 

 

Chapter 16

 

Four of the Noghri bodyguards forced their way through the crowd at the front entrance of the medical wing of the old Imperial Palace.  Leia and Han followed closely behind them.  Usually, only one bodyguard accompanied them, but the events of the past few days had caused them to tighten security considerably.  Han’s arm was firmly around Leia, but he didn’t think she was even aware of it.  Although she seemed to still be in a bit of shock, her years of political training allowed her to automatically acknowledging the words of sympathy and encouragement that some in the crowd called out to her.

 

They made their way into the huge hospital wing and walked the long hallways until they reached the intensive care unit.  A large transparisteel window allowed them to see into the room where Luke laid, various wires and tubes connected to him.

 

“Well, at least he’s out of the bacta tank,” Han said, leaning against the railing next to the window.  The Noghri had taken up positions at each end of the hallway, and he knew that they would not be disturbed by any of the well wishers they had passed through.

 

“Two days, Han,” Leia said quietly.  “It’s been two days.”

 

Han nodded, watching Luke through the glass.  It all seemed unreal somehow.  The assassination attempt, Luke in a coma, it just didn’t seem as if things like that could happen to them, not anymore anyway.  Sure, during the war, but now...now, it just wasn’t fair. 

 

“If only he would come out of it,” Leia said, her voice trembling. “I know he could heal himself.”

 

Han sighed and put his arm around her again.  “Sweetheart, this is Luke, remember?  He’s going to be alright.”

 

Leia glanced up at him and then looked back into the room.  “Tell Mara that.”

 

Han looked at the other figure in the room with Luke.  She sat in a small, rather uncomfortable looking, straight-back chair that had been drawn as closely to the bed as possible.  Mara Jade held Luke’s hand as she sat slumped in the chair, her eyes closed.

 

“Madame Minister of State?”  a voice said beside them and they turned to see the hospital’s Director of Surgery.

 

“Doctor Nairi,” Leia said politely, extending her hand.  “How is Luke?”

 

The female Twi’lek, one of the New Republic’s best surgeons, took Leia’s hand and squeezed it.  “About the same, I’m sorry to say.  His wounds are almost healed.  Another hour or so in the bacta tank...” the doctor’s voice trailed off.  Then she took a deep breath.  “We just can’t seem to get him out of the coma.  The head wound was severe, and it could take some time before he becomes conscious again.”

 

If ever, Leia thought the doctor had been about to say before she stopped herself. 

 

“There is the possibility of some neural reconstructive surgery,” the doctor continued.  “But I would rather wait a few more days and see if your brother can come out of this on his own.”

 

Leia nodded, taking in a long breath.  Whatever was best for Luke was what she wanted.  She glanced back into the room.  “How long has Miss Jade been here today?”

 

The doctor sighed and stroked one of her head tentacles.  “She’s never left, Madame Minister of State.”

 

Leia’s eyes widened.  “You mean she’s been here the whole time?”

 

Nairi nodded. “Yes, and she’s very tired.  She hasn’t slept at all.  We’ve tried to talk her into going home to get some sleep, but she refuses.  Perhaps you...?” the doctor asked, tilting her head towards Leia.

 

“Me?” Leia asked in astonishment.  Obviously, the doctor didn’t know Mara Jade very well.  If she wanted to stay, she’d stay.  There was no force in the universe that could make her leave if she didn’t want to.  Then Leia sighed, knowing Mara must be on the verge of collapse from exhaustion.  “I’ll try.”

 

“Thank you, Madame Minister of State,” the Twi’lek said.  She was then was interrupted by a nurse who whispered something to her.  Doctor Nairi nodded and then turned to Leia and Han.  “If you’ll excuse me, something has come up I need to attend to.”

 

“Of course, Doctor.”

 

Leia turned to Han.  “Let’s go in then.”

 

Han shook his head.  “Why don’t you go alone?  You may have more luck with Mara if I’m not in there crowding up the room.”

 

Leia considered what her husband had said.  She really didn’t want to leave him, but knew he was right. “Alright.  I’ll let you know when to come in.”

 

He nodded and Leia made her way into the room.  Mara sat in the chair, her hand loosely gripping Luke’s and her eyes closed.

 

When Leia’s hand touched her shoulder, Mara jumped, and Leia realized that she must have been dozing in the chair.

 

“I’m sorry, Mara, I didn’t mean to wake you,” Leia said softly.  She couldn’t remember a time when Mara looked worse.  Her hair was a curly, unkempt mess about her head and lines of weariness deepened the corners of her mouth.  Her eyes were slitted with tiredness and straining against the light.

 

“Leia,” she said quickly, straightening in the chair.  “I’m glad you’re here.  I think we should try again.”

 

Leia nodded.  “Yes, I do too, but Mara, you’re exhausted.  Perhaps we should wait until you have rested...”

 

“No!”  Mara cut her off viciously.  “I don’t need any rest.  I’m all right.  It’s Luke we have to worry about.”  She stood from the chair and laced her fingers through Luke’s.  “Come on.”

 

Leia moved to the other side of the bed, knowing there wasn’t any use in arguing with Mara.  She bent over her brother, looking at him closely.  A huge lump formed in the bottom of her throat and she swallowed around it with difficulty.  He looked so vulnerable, so young.  He reminded her of the first time she had seen him, when he had taken off that stormtrooper’s helmet, declaring he was Luke Skywalker and he was there to rescue her.  She laid her hand on Luke’s forehead, careful not to disturb the mass of bandages around his head.  *Luke?*  she sent to him. *Luke, hear me.* she pleaded, not even aware that subconsciously she had chosen the same words he had used so many years before when he had clung desperately to the weather vane on the bottom of Cloud City.  It had been Leia he had called to then, just as now she was calling to him, to come back to her, to come back to them all.

 

A bitter disappointment swept over Leia when she received no response from her twin.  His mind seemed an empty void.  He looked young, his body strong and tough, but she could sense his light in the Force was dim and muted, diffused like a street lamp in fog.

 

A strange sound made her look up and she was horrified when she saw Mara.  The smuggler, the ex-Emperor’s Hand and trained assassin, stood with tears running like rivers down her face.  She was fighting desperately for control, her body visibly shaking. 

 

Leia reached across the bed to her.  “Mara!”

 

Mara made the strange little sound deep in her throat again.  Like an animal in pain, Leia thought, as Mara took her hand, gripping it tightly.

 

“We have to help him, Leia,” Mara gasped, struggling to get the words out. “We have to find a way.”

 

“I know,” Leia reassured her.  “And we will, Mara, we will.”  She squeezed Mara’s hand. “Come on, let’s try again.”  Leia wasn’t sure if it would work. They had tried to reach him several times during the last couple of days, and it had not brought Luke to consciousness.  But Mara was right, they had to keep trying.  

 

She laced her fingers through Mara’s and took Luke’s other hand.  Both women closed their eyes and took long, deep breaths.  Then, together, they stretched out to the Force. 

 

Outside the room, at the big window, Han watched in amazement.  Both women seemed to shimmer, a brilliant, shining light coalescing around them.  It enveloped them and the man lying between them on the bed, flowing in a huge gleaming circle around them.

 

Then suddenly, Mara’s head snapped back onto her shoulders and she arched her body.  Han knew she was putting all the effort she had into calling forth the Force.  Even from where he stood, he could see Leia grimace with pain as Mara viciously squeezed her hand.

 

And the light around them grew brighter, more intense, and a surge of hope tore through Han.  “Come on,” he whispered, his throat closing in excitement.  “Come on, do it this time.”

 

But then Mara let out a cry, staggered on her feet and collapsed across the foot of Luke’s bed, almost pulling Leia down with her.

 

“Mara!”  Leia cried, then glanced quickly at her brother.  There was no change.  He lay as he had before, still and motionless.  They had failed.   They had been unable to reach him once again.

 

She moved to Mara who lay on the end of the bed, gasping for air, her eyes tightly closed.  Leia put a hand to Mara’s forehead.  “I told you that you were on the verge of collapse,” she scolded. “You need to rest.  I’ll stay with Luke.  Go home and get some sleep.”

 

“No,” Mara growled, her green eyes flying open.  “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Leia rolled her eyes.  Of all the stubborn...  She looked up, caught Han’s attention and motioned for him to come in.

 

When he had reached them, Leia tried again. “Mara, Han’s here, too.  We’ll stay with Luke.  If there is any change, we’ll let you know immediately.”

 

“No,” Mara said again. “I’m not leaving him.  You don’t understand.”  She struggled off the bed and would have fallen flat on her face if Han hadn’t caught her.

 

“Oh, for the love of...” Leia started.  “Put her in the chair, Han.”

 

Han sat Mara in the straight back chair and stood back to look at her.  “If she’s going to stay here, we need someplace she can lie down.  She can barely sit up now.”

 

Leia agreed.  “Why don’t you go and see if they will move a cot in here?  I don’t think we’re going to get her out of this room, even if I take my lightsaber to her.”

 

Han nodded and disappeared out the door.

 

“You don’t understand,” Mara mumbled again, her head lolling back on her shoulders.

 

Leia sighed and pushed some of the unkempt flame-colored hair out of Mara’s face.  “What don’t I understand?”

 

“I never told him I loved him, Leia,” Mara said in a tortured whisper, looking up at her.

 

Leia almost flinched at the agony she saw in the emerald eyes.

 

“I tried,” Mara continued, so softly Leia had to strain to hear her.  “I tried so hard, but I could never say it.”  She closed her eyes against the remembered pain.  “I thought I didn’t know what love was, that I wouldn’t be fair to him if I told him I loved him and it turned out I didn’t.”

 

Leia knelt beside Mara’s chair. “But you know you love him now?”

 

Mara looked at the still figure on the bed.  “I think I always have...from the first moment I saw him.”

 

“But you said you wanted to kill him,” Leia reminded her.

 

A faint smile flickered across Mara’s lips.  “You told me yourself once that you didn’t think I meant it.  You were right.”

 

Leia smiled and then stood.  “He knows, Mara. I’m sure of it.”

 

Mara looked up at her quickly.  “How do you know?”

 

“I’ve seen you two together.  There’s always been something there...something unique.  He has to know how you feel.”

 

“But I want to tell him.  Don’t you understand, Leia?  He deserves that much.  I want him to hear me say it,” Mara bit out forcefully, leaning back in the chair.  The effort to talk seemed almost too much for.  Weariness weighed on her like tons of duracrete. 

 

“He will,” Leia reassured her.

 

The door to the room opened and Han came in, followed by two droids carrying a portable cot and an extra chair.  They set the cot up in a corner of the room, put the chair next to Luke’s bed, and then left.  Han walked over to Leia and Mara.

 

“Now, I want you to lie down, Mara, and try to sleep,” Leia said.  She held her hand up when Mara opened her mouth to protest.  “No, I don’t want to hear it.  You’re going to lie down.  You aren’t going to be able to tell Luke anything if you’re passed out from exhaustion, Mara.  And you know I’m right.”

 

Mara glanced over at the cot and sighed deeply.  “I suppose I could lie down for a little while, but...”

 

“No buts,” Leia ordered, taking Mara’s hand and pulling her up in a standing position.  She motioned for Han to help her and he took Mara’s other arm.  Between them, they got her to the cot and made her lie down.  “We will stay here with Luke, and if there is the least change, we’ll wake you immediately.”

She pulled a thin blanket up to Mara’s chin.  “Now, sleep.”

 

“Yes, Madame Minister of State,” Mara mumbled drowsily, her eyes closing.  In seconds, she was deeply asleep.

 

“Well, I’ll be a bantha’s dinner,” Han muttered disbelievingly.  “Look at that.  She must have been asleep on her feet.”

 

“She was,” Leia said grimly.  “And when we drew on the Force to reach Luke, it was the last straw.  Whatever strength she had left she used up then.”

 

Han glanced at Luke.  “I guess their relationship is a lot more serious than they let on.”

 

Leia took in a deep breath.  “Obviously, it is,” she agreed.  “But it’s not going to do either one of them any good if Mara ends up in a hospital bed too.”

 

Han walked over to Luke’s bed, looking down at his brother-in-law.  How many times had he seen Luke a similar condition?  It didn’t warrant thinking about, but the kid had always come out of them before.  “There’s no change?” he asked Leia.

 

She sighed heavily.  “No, not yet.  But I know he’s going to pull out of this.”

 

Han looked at her.  “Jedi hunch?”

 

Leia shook her head.  “No, sister hunch.”

 

Han nodded and then turned to face her.  “I got a call on my commlink from Wedge while I was arranging for the cot.”

 

Leia looked at him quickly. “And?”

 

“You remember that young captain they found yesterday...the one who was murdered in his apartment?”

 

“Yes, that was terrible,” Leia said. 

 

“Turns out he was aide-de-camp to General Diaishuut,” Han told her.

 

A horrible feeling of dread swept over Leia and she sat down abruptly in the chair next to Luke’s bed.  “Diaishuut?” she repeated.  “What is it, Han?  What are you trying to tell me?”

 

Han felt a renewal of the anger that had surged through him at Wedge’s call.  “That young captain’s sister paid Wedge a visit this morning.  She gave him a datacard her brother had left with her.”  He put his hand on Leia’s shoulder.  “It was the general, sweetheart.  He arranged everything...the HRD, the assassination attempt, everything.”

 

Leia gasped, reeling with shock.  “Han, I can’t believe it.  But why?  Why would he do such a thing?”

 

Han shook his head.  “Apparently, he was after Mara more than Luke.  Maybe she can tell us more when she awakens, because the general certainly isn’t saying anything.”

 

“They’ve arrested him?”

 

Han nodded.  “Yes, earlier this morning.  Of course, he’s denying everything.”

 

“I can imagine that he is,” Leia mused, recalling her dealings with General Diaishuut.  He was one of the most insufferable men she had ever met, egotistical and overbearing, but she would never have guessed him capable of such an action as trying to assassinate Mara Jade.

 

Leia glanced over to the sleeping Mara.  What in the galaxy had Mara done to the general?  “He’s going to be put on trial?”  she asked Han.

 

Han nodded.  “As soon as everything can be arranged, but you know as well as I do that could be months from now.  But the datacard given to Wedge was very thorough.  Apparently, that young captain was a smart guy.  He’s got the general nailed.”

 

Leia’s lips compressed into a hard, tight line.  “Too bad he didn’t live to see it.”

 

**************

 

The Next Morning

 

Mara stretched, easing the tight muscles in her back.  That narrow, uncomfortable cot could have served as a torture implement on its own, and she had been so tired that she must not have moved at all during the night.  She was stiff and sore, but it wasn’t the first time in her life that she had been in such a state.

 

She was in the chair again, close to the bed, but Luke hadn’t moved.  It had been over an hour since Leia and Han had left.  They had wanted to go home and spend an hour or so with their babies before they returned to the hospital, and Leia had looked really tired.  Mara had told her to get some rest before she came back. 

 

Leia had shot her a quizzical look and then laughed weakly.  “Of course, Mara, anything you say.”

 

The door behind Mara opened and a nursing droid came in.  She checked on the tubes and wires connected to Luke and keyed in some information on a small datapad. 

 

“How is he?”  Mara asked.

 

The droid looked at her.  “The same, Miss Jade.  We can only be grateful there is no deterioration.”

 

Mara swallowed abruptly and mumbled something like “Of course.”

 

The droid put the datapad into her pocket.  “Can I get you anything?  Caf?  Tea?”

 

Mara looked up.  “You wouldn’t happen to have hot chocolate, would you?”

 

The droid inclined her head.  “As a matter of fact, we do.  I’ll bring you a cup.”  Then she left.

 

Mara reached over and took Luke’s hand, rubbing across the top of it with her thumb.  “No deterioration, eh, buddy boy?  There had better not be.”  It was a weak attempt at a joke, and she bit her bottom lip, feeling the lump forming in her throat again.  She pulled his hand to her lips and pressed a kiss against it.  “Luke, please, don’t do this,” she whispered.  “Come back to me.”  She closed her stinging eyes and rested her face against his hand.  She remembered the argument they had had and how they had talked it out afterwards in her apartment.  Luke’s sudden fear that something might happen to her had puzzled her deeply, but now she thought he had had some subconscious warning, a Jedi hunch maybe, that he hadn’t understood.  But he had been wrong all along.  He shouldn’t have been concerned about her; he should have been worried about himself.

 

She was still sitting with his hand pressed to her face when the nursing droid returned with a large mug of hot chocolate a short time later.  Mara thanked her and then took a sip of the warm liquid as the droid left the room.  Its smooth creaminess was like a tonic and she could feel it easing quickly through her veins.

 

Mara leaned back in the chair, her eyes wandering to take in the view from the large window in the room.  She got up and went over, looking outside the hospital for the first time in days.  She stiffened abruptly and her mouth fell open.  Below her, on several tiers of the street levels, were large groups of people, human and alien both.  They were ordinary people, some in uniforms that identified them as technicians and workers of all kinds.  There were even some dressed in the standard clothes of businessmen and women.  They stood silently for the most part, watching the hospital and the people coming in and out of it.  It was if they were waiting, she thought frowning, but for what?  And then it dawned on her...they were there for Luke.  Luke Skywalker, the great hero of the New Republic, and those people down there were worried, worried about him, because Luke Skywalker might be dying.

 

Mara turned from the window quickly, the hot chocolate sloshing in the mug.  She fought against the sudden rise of tears again.

 

Mara, she told herself.  Pull yourself together.  How are you going to help Luke if you can’t even get control of yourself?  She closed her eyes tightly, narrowing her focus onto her own inner strength.

 

“Wanna share some of that chocolate?” a weak, raspy sounding voice asked.

 

Mara looked up quickly to see Luke smiling weakly at her from the bed.  The hot chocolate dropped from her suddenly nerveless fingers, shattering into numerous pieces on the floor.  She didn’t even notice as she raced across the room to the bed. “Luke,” she cried hoarsely, grabbing his hand.  “Oh, Luke.”

 

He tried to pull her down onto the bed with him, but he was too weak.  So Mara gathered him in her arms and hugged him fiercely, tears spurting out of her eyes.  The relief was overwhelming, and just for a moment she was dizzy from the pure joy of it.

 

Luke kissed her on her cheek and whispered, “Mara,” as if just saying her name was all he’d ever need.

 

She pulled back to look at him and he smiled gently at her.  He lifted a shaking hand and wiped some of the tears off her face. 

 

“Oh gods, Luke,” she whispered and they just held each other, their minds and hearts opening to one another.  She could feel him growing in the Force now, his essence flickering and growing brighter.  He was weak, very weak, but he was going to be all right.  He was going to be all right.

 

She held him desperately, pressing kisses along his cheek and forehead. He tried to return them, but she stopped him.  “No...no, just lie there.  Don’t do anything.  Let me hold you.  I just want to hold you,” she whispered against his lips.

 

He struggled as disjointed memories flooded into his mind and asked in a breathy whisper,  “Mara, are you all right?  Were you hurt?”

 

Mara lifted her head.  “I’m fine, Luke, perfect.  You pushed me out of the way.  I didn’t even get a scratch.”  Her voice choked.  “You took the whole blunt of the explosion yourself.”

 

He nodded slowly, the events coming back to him.  He put his hand to the back of her head, pulling her face down to his and nuzzling against her. “Don’t cry,” he said softly.  “There’s no need to worry now.  We’re okay...we’re okay.”

 

For some time, they stayed that way and then finally, a weak little chuckle escaped Luke.  Mara pulled back to look at him.  “What’s so funny?” she asked in disbelief.

 

He pointed to the shattered mug on the floor, “Looks like you made a big mess over there,” he teased gently, his blue eyes caressing her.

 

She choked back another sob that rose in her throat.  Here he was, worried about a broken cup when he almost... Mara shook her head; she couldn’t even think it.  She pressed her mouth to his forehead.  “You’re the one that’s been the big mess,” she told him.

 

He coughed, trying to clear a throat that hadn’t operated properly in days, and then asked,  “Been a lot of trouble, have I?”

 

“I’m just going to tell you one thing, Jedi.  If you ever do this something like this to me again, I’ll kill you myself.”

 

Luke laughed out loud and then groaned, grabbing the bandage on his head. 

 

“Are you in pain?” Mara cried in alarm, turning to go for the doctor, but Luke grabbed her hand and tugged her back to him. 

 

“Only when you make me laugh,” he teased, feeling his strength returning with every minute.  His eyes wandered over her face, as if he was memorizing her all over again.  “You know, Miss Jade,” he whispered softly.  “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you cared.”

 

Mara’s heart stopped and then she leaned over him again, caressing his face with her hand.  “You always were a pretty perceptive Jedi, Mr. Skywalker,” she whispered just as softly.

 

Luke’s eyes widened.  “And just what does that mean?”

 

She pressed her mouth to his, kissing him long and hard.  When she pulled back, they stared at each other for what seemed an eternity, and then she said, her voice as tender as a caress, “It means...it means I love you, Farmboy.”  And it wasn’t hard to say, she thought, it wasn’t hard at all.

 

Luke’s eyes closed for just a second, as if he were savoring the moment.  It briefly crossed his mind that he ought to make her suffer just a little, but he was too tired to even consider it.   He looked up at her and traced her cheek with his finger.  “I know,” he said gently.

 

Mara’s mouth fell open and she stood, her hands going to her hips.  “You knew?”  She paused, looking at nothing in particular and muttered to herself,  “Leia said you would know.”

 

Luke’s smug face caught her attention again and her eyes narrowed.  “Just how did you know, buddy boy?”

 

Luke smiled, fighting the urge to laugh because he knew it would hurt.  He reached up and pulled Mara back down to him.  With her face only centimeters from his, he whispered, “Mara, no one could make love with as much emotion as we do without both people...

 

“being in love,” she finished for him.

 

He nodded gently and Mara sighed.  Of course, he was right. When she thought about it, it was completely obvious.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she asked softly, rubbing her face against his.

 

“Mara, I knew that you had to work your way through this in your own way,” he told her.  “I just wanted to be there for you when you did.”

 

Mara closed her eyes for a moment.  He had to be the most wonderful man in the galaxy.  When she opened her eyes again, he was watching her calmly.  She pressed a gentle kiss to his lips.  “I love you, Luke Skywalker.”

 

His beautiful eyes lit with a burning blue fire.  “And I love you, Mara Jade.”

 

She laid her cheek against his.  It was the first time ever that she had told someone that she loved him.  She had a feeling she would be saying it every day for the rest of her life.

 

 

Two Days Later

 

“You know, Skywalker,” Talon Karrde drawled, his voice laced with humor.  “I’ve seen men go to some impressive lengths to keep a woman with them, but trying to get yourself blown to bits has to be the top of the list.”

 

He walked to the door, patting Mara on the shoulder as he passed her.  “Next time, just give me a call.  I’m sure I can arrange for her to have a few extra days off.”  He gave a short bark of teasing laughter and left through the door.

 

Mara and Luke looked at one another, then Mara sighed. “I don’t suppose we’ll live this down for a very long time.”

 

Luke refrained from reminding her that he had wanted to tell everyone about their relationship and suggested instead, trying to suppress the smile playing about his lips, “We could always run away together and hide.”

 

Mara snorted.  “You’re not going anywhere but someplace where you can sit and do nothing.  You need rest and a lot of it.”

 

Luke rubbed his lips to hide his grin.  He knew he was almost back to full strength, but it was obvious the woman in his life was going to make sure he didn’t overdo it.

 

“So what do you suggest?” he asked her, as seriously as he could.

 

“You could go back to Yavin and recuperate there,” Mara told Luke, her emerald eyes wandering over him.  He was sitting up in his hospital bed and he looked wonderful.  After two days in a self-induced healing trance, most of the bruising around his head was gone.  He wasn’t even wearing the bandage anymore, and the doctors were talking of releasing him the next day.

 

“It’s quiet there, and you could rest,” Mara continued.  She was sitting in the straight-back chair next to his bed, one of her hands clasped in his.

 

“No, I don’t think so,” Luke said.  Mara looked puzzled and he hastened to explain.  “Oh, I know I could rest there, Mara, and we could continue with the construction of the school.   But I’ve been thinking...that I want to put the Academy on hold for a while.”

 

“Really?”  Mara asked, surprised.  It was the first he had said anything about it to her.

 

Luke smiled at her surprise.  “Yes, I think I’ll leave the construction crews there, they can finish their work.  But, I’ve been thinking that first I want to go out into the galaxy, to the various systems and look for potential Jedi.  Maybe I’ll start the school for real in...oh...I don’t know, a year or so.”

 

Mara nodded, liking the idea.  She had been thinking that Luke was going a little too fast with the school, pushing too hard.  Something of that magnitude should be taken gradually, each step worked out carefully before being taken.

 

“Mara,” Luke said softly.

 

She looked up. “Mmmm?”

 

“I want you to go with me...I want you to marry me, and then we’ll go out into the galaxy and find the new Jedi, together.”

 

Mara stared at him for a moment and then licked suddenly dry lips.  A year, maybe two, traveling throughout the galaxy that she loved so much, traveling with this man who meant absolutely everything to her...it was the closest thing to paradise she had ever heard.

 

“I think I’d like that, Luke.  I think I’d like to marry you...very much.”  She stood and leaned over him.  They shared a wonderful kiss, opening their mouths and their feelings to one another.  When it ended, she didn’t move away, but pressed her cheek against his forehead and whispered softly,  “And yes...oh yes, my love, I’ll come with you.”

 

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

One year later.

 

“Well, that should do it, brother mine,” Leia said, smiling broadly at her twin.  They were in her enormous office complex on the top level of the old Imperial Palace.  All around them, visible through the huge transparisteel windows, Coruscant lay like a great sea of technology, yet at the same time, bursting with life and hope, a hope for a future promised by the New Republic.

 

Luke released his thumb from the data-recorder and heard its small whirl as it stamped his signature to the official document.  He looked up at his sister.  ”I need to thank you for all your help in this, Leia.”

 

“It’s not necessary, Luke.  Believe me, the government will certainly reap the benefits of this as well as anyone else.  Having additional Jedi to work for peace and justice in the galaxy is something everyone can appreciate.”

 

“But Leia,” he insisted ruefully.  “I never expected the government to help with the financing of the Academy.  I always thought we would have to depend on private contributions.”

 

“Luke,” she replied patiently.  “It’s just a grant.  It doesn’t obligate you to the government, you know.”

 

Luke smiled at his sister.  She could always read him like an opened datapad.  “How are you doing?”  he asked, changing the subject.

 

Leia patted her bulging stomach.  “It won’t be long now, and the galaxy will have another Solo whether they want one or not!”

 

Luke laughed.  “I’m sure they’re all very happy for you and Han.”

 

Leia eyed him.  “And when can my children expect a little cousin, brother dear?”

 

Luke lifted an eyebrow and grinned at her.  “Don’t rush me.”  He laughed again.  “Actually, Mara and I have discussed it, and we’ve decided to wait a while.  We got married in such a hurry, we’d like a little time to ourselves.”

 

Leia snorted indelicately.  “You’ve been all over the galaxy by yourselves for over a year, don’t you think that’s time enough?”

 

One glimpse of the look her brother stabbed her with and she heaved a sigh, raising her hand and showing him her palm.  “Alright, I know, I know...it’s your life.”  She grinned.  “Where is Mara anyway?”

 

“Home,” Luke answered and then closed his eyes.   He reached out to the Force and sought the familiar presence of his beloved wife.  “She’s in the kitchen,” he told Leia, and then chuckled. “She and Artoo are cooking.”

 

“Artoo is cooking?”  Leia asked in astonishment.

 

“I don’t know how much help he’s being, but he’s gotten very attached to Mara. He spends as much time with her as he can.”

 

Leia blinked, envisioning the scene in the kitchen. “Well, I’ll be a...,” she trailed off, sounding suspiciously like Han.

 

She struggled to get out of her chair, and Luke came around the desk to help her.  Together, they managed to get her on her own feet.  Leia glanced at Luke as they walked around the desk and she cracked, “I’m beginning to think Mara has the right idea.”

 

“You know, I think she’s secretly looking forward to being pregnant,” Luke assured her.  “But in the future,” he added quickly.

 

Leia laughed out loud and then turned serious.  “I suppose you heard the results of the trial?”

 

Luke nodded solemnly.  “I do feel sorry for Mrs. Diaishuut and Meika, though.  It must be really hard for them.”

 

Leia agreed with him.  “Yes, it’s a horrible shame, but, Luke, I think they’ll be fine.  I talked to Hawah a few days ago and she told me that she and Meika were returning to her home system.  They’ll live with her family.  You knew she came from a very prominent family there, didn’t you?”

 

“Yes, I heard.  I’m happy that they’re going to be okay.  Meika was a good girl, and in a strange sort of way, Mara and I owe her a lot.”

 

Leia thought that over for a moment.  “Yes, I suppose you’re right.  If it hadn’t been for her, you and Mara would never have spent all that time together.”  She put her hand on her brother’s arm.

 

Luke looked down at her.  “That’s another thing I need to thank my sister for.”

 

Leia raised an eyebrow in question.

 

“If you hadn’t talked Mara into coming to Yavin...” Luke let his voice trailed off.

 

“Ahh...” Leia said.  “Bribed her is more like it, but I’m happy the way things turned out.” 

 

She could see he was still concerned and she put her han