Moment of Decision

By:  Rhea Jediknight (jediknight@mail2master.com)

 and

 Ash Darklighter (ashontatooine@btopenworld.com)

Rating: R

Disclaimer : We make no claim on the Star Wars copyright.  We have not nor ever will make any money from the sale of this story.  This is written with the intent to support the fan base and not in an effort to make money.  This work is based on characters and situations that are owned by George Lucas and Lucasfilms Ltd and Timothy Zahn. 

Summary: This is a story focusing primarily on how Luke and Mara might find that there is something more than friendship between them when there are no evil Sith lords to battle, no Death Stars to destroy, or even a droid to reprogram.   Just Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade and their relationship. 

Part One

The red haired woman sat in quiet contemplation. The meditation garden established at the Yavin Jedi complex was beautiful and peaceful. It wasn't a formal garden in the accepted sense of the word but the layout had been designed balancing both colour, and scent while maintaining a certain wildness. Mara Jade sat cross legged on the soft grass with her eyes closed and yet she could still see the riotous colours mixing with the heady scent of ghaala lilies and wild roses. She didn't need an increased ability and openness to the Force to know who was behind the garden's particular design. Mara had learned much during her months at the Academy. The Jedi instructors had reluctantly agreed to provide her with private instruction and it was no coincidence that she had arranged this tutelage while Skywalker was involved in a particularly long assignment at the behest of the New Republic. The garden served to remind her of something or someone she was going to have to face soon enough.

The Force flowed around her, enveloping her like a warm light.  Life was plentiful and she could sense every living thing around her.  Her focus shifted from the numerous Jedi students all going about their respected tasks, to swing high into the air with the flocks of birds catching a warm updraft.  Mara's sense moved into the ground until she could feel the grubs burrowing deep within the dirt.  Herbivores munched on leaves peacefully deep in the forest of Yavin IV and predators slept waiting for the fall of night to capture their quarry.  Mara revelled in the sensation of oneness in the Force she had achieved.  He had been right all along – she was meant to be here.  A flicker of something different brought her focus past the clouds overhead and into the airless void above the atmosphere.  A new presence emerged from hyperspace – one whose trained power resonated through the area.  There was only one man in the entire galaxy that had that kind of power.  It was only a moment before Mara's Force sense touched on the pilot of a small ship – his signature call in the Force drawing her irresistibly nearer.  Her eyes snapped open – startlingly green in her beautiful face.

Luke Skywalker.

'Sith!' Mara quickly retreated hoping he might not have discerned her gentle brush against his sense.  But she didn't hold out much hope.  She was both annoyed that he had returned earlier than anticipated and strangely pleased that she would get a chance to visit with the Jedi Master.  She was somewhat self conscious that Skywalker would discover that she had been training in his absence.

*Mara?*

She felt Luke's surprise and then his tentative inquiry.  She muttered another curse under her breath.  You didn't brush against Luke's presence and not have him notice it.  She was going to have to speak to him.  Resigned to her fate, she gave a little smile.

*Hey, Farmboy.* Her mental voice was warmer than if she had said the same words aloud.

*You're on Yavin…*

*"Stating the obvious, Skywalker*" she sent to him dryly.

*Have you been planetside long? Making some deliveries I suppose.  It's good I got out of this New Republic thing a little early or I would have missed you.*

Mara scowled.  That had been the general idea.  *I've been here a while,* she admitted.  She felt his shock ripple through their bond.

*A while* he echoed.  *Oh! Not making deliveries…You've been training?* He could feel her enhanced presence in the Force.  It was richer, deeper – a warm well of living colour.

Mara hesitated.  *I thought you would be pleased?*

*How long have you been here?* he repeated his earlier question.

*Long enough, about three months.* she answered noting that he hadn't answered her question. 

*So you arrived on Yavin a week after I left.  Mara*" the voice in her head rose up on her name.

*I thought you weren't due for another few weeks?* she said trying to postpone the recriminations that were bound to come.

*Avoiding me, Jade?*

She could feel Luke retreating from her as his voice cooled.  'Avoiding me, Jade.' The old Mara would have snapped an angry retort but the recent time spent on Yavin had changed her.  *Why don't we have this conversation in person?*she suggested calmly, although she felt oddly nervous inside.

*Good idea, Meet you in an hour?*

Mara sent her agreement and then raised her barriers. She opened her eyes It was going to be a long night.  On the surface Luke would be pleased that she was attempting to continue her Jedi studies but deep down she knew he had wanted to train her himself.

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Luke was tired from the long journey back in the cramped cockpit of his x-wing and the even longer assignment he had just completed.  At least this time, he wasn't being shipped home in a solution of bacta.  The mission had been tiring as he had helped restore order to a war ravaged world.  The politicians had bickered while Luke had helped the people start their long road to recovery.  It had been a successful endeavour.  He stretched his stiff legs as he emerged from his ship.  Artoo whistled something to him as he was lowered to the ground.  He waved in the droid's general direction.

"I'm fine, Artoo.  Nothing a good stretch and a hot shower can't fix.  I'll see you get a complete diagnostic and the droid version of a rub down."

Artoo warbled a varying array of electronic sounds that sounded remarkably like a chuckle.

The thought of meeting Mara brought a reluctant smile to his face.  He had been mildly surprised to sense her presence the moment he had emerged from hyperspace.  And he had been pleased as well.  He had missed feeling her shining presence in the Force, missed the easy banter and heated arguments.  No one else ever made him feel as truly aware and alive.  He made his way quickly to his room – although the stray thought continued to worm through his mind.  Had Mara been avoiding him and if so why? She had known he was away and according to Tionne had arrived soon after."  He got the feeling that if his mission had taken the full amount of time originally anticipated; Mara would not have been here when he returned.

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It was a warm evening on the jungle planet.  Nightfall on Yavin was a slow event as the sky changed gradually from blue to black, with the sun adding a mix of colours to rival Luke's meditation garden.  Mara sensed Luke waiting for her in the Academy gym.  It wasn't surprising that after being in the cockpit of his x-wing for so long, he would want to work out the stiffness from his body. 

Luke began a gentle warming routine stretching each muscle in turn.  The moves flowed together almost like a dance.  There was order in the bends and twists his supple body performed.  Biceps, triceps and deltoids worked beneath his tanned skin.  Mara stood watching, a guiltily fascinated spectator, for a moment and marvelled at his balance.  The control and poise of the Jedi Master rivalled the lithest and most graceful of gymnasts.

Luke opened his eyes and caught Mara watching him.  "Hello," he said calmly as he lowered his leg and flexed his bare feet with enjoyment.  "It's good to get the kinks out."

Mara nodded, feeling a little awkward.  "I know the feeling, although it's a long time since I've travelled in something as small as your x-wing."

It was dinnertime so they had the room to themselves.  Luke sat on the practise mat wearing a sleeveless shirt that showed off his well muscled arms and made it difficult for Mara to look at him without getting flustered.  She was not used to being unable to control her reactions to things or to people, and it was one of the main reasons that she generally avoided prolonged contact with this particular man.  Lately she'd been thinking about him far too often for her peace of mind.

Mara smoothed an imaginary wrinkle from her short sleeved green jumpsuit that stopped just below her knees.  She looked ready for a workout session, her feet clad in sturdy exercise shoes and with her lightsaber clipped to her belt.  Her hair was tied back at the nape of her neck, red-gold curls coming loose at the edges.  The style was tough and ready for work, yet feminine at the same time. 

As she approached him, something in the Force whispered faintly and the Jedi Master's face changed.  Mara tried to read his expression and found that she could not.

Luke stood up, igniting his green lightsaber and extended it to meet Mara's blue blade.

"This is an odd way to say hello." Mara commented.

"Is it?" he murmured softly, his face giving away nothing.  "I already said hello."

They exchanged a few casual blows.  Thrust and parry – strike and counter-strike.

"I'm not so sure that you did," replied Mara carefully.

"I've been meditating for week in the cockpit of my x-wing and I didn't foresee you being here to greet me in my dreams and visions. That was a real surprise."

"The Force is always in motion," Mara quoted wryly.

"I know – but…"

Mara laughed shortly, "I'm surprised you're even sane after a week's worth of meditation.  It might have fried your brain, farmboy." She swung her saber ready to begin the work out in earnest. "Let's see if all that meditation paid off."

Luke lifted a hand to stay her movements. She wanted to avoid the discussion.  He knew her too well.  "Before you do." He paused, staring at the green humming blade of his saber and then lifted his eyes to Mara's. Something which made her uneasy flickered in their depths. "Can you answer me something?"

Mara frowned. "You can ask," she said, her voice cautious. He always asked her questions she felt uncomfortable in answering. 

"I was speaking to some of the other teachers and I wondered…"

"Wondered what?"

"Why you came to Yavin specifically when you knew I'd be away on a long-term assignment?"

She flushed. 'Damn the man.' He hit the Death Star thermal exhaust port with his questions every single time. "It wasn't that I was trying to avoid you… well I was but…" She shrugged lightly. "You've been on my case for so long that…"

"You didn't want to give me all the satisfaction," Luke's eyes were sharp. "You were avoiding me? Mara I thought we were friends."

"Yes… No. Sith! I mean."  The guilt that she'd hurt him a little niggled inside her and she reacted in the way she always had when it came to Luke Skywalker. Mara regarded him for a moment and then smiled.  She lunged at him with her lightsaber, twisting as she began fighting in earnest.

Luke blinked in shock, blocking her saber, feeling a kind of feral glee emanating from Mara.

They continued to exchange blows in an intricate dance until they were both breathless. With their blades locked they were at an impasse.

Luke's damp hair clung to his brow, his blue eyes glittered with some unnamed emotion. His lips turned upward in a smile which didn't quite reach his eyes, and said. "You've learned much."

Mara pushed a wayward red-gold curl out of her eyes and replied, "I'm just getting warmed up."

They broke apart and Mara flipped over the Jedi but he turned to catch her next assault. Their blades moved at a furious pace, slashing and connecting with a deafening crackle. Mara felt as if she was gaining the upper hand and began to pummel him with her lightsaber. A small and distant part of her mind began to worry that perhaps they were going too far. They were not sparring with practice sabers, and the fact that neither of them had been injured so far was largely due to the skill of the two combatants. Mara backed Luke into a corner beside a small table and a pair of chairs. She raised her blue blade and Luke leaned back to avoid her next strike. The Jedi caught his foot on a chair leg and with an almost comical expression of surprise, he fell heavily backwards.

The worry that had been lurking in the recesses of her mind flared to life. Mara rushed forwards waves of concern emanated from her. What if he fell wrong with his lightsaber still ignited?

"Luke!"

A hand grabbed her ankle and twisted. She toppled forward. Surprise and quickly suppressed anger filled her as Mara barely managed to throw her weapon aside before she toppled toward the prone man. She'd just fallen into one of the oldest traps listed in the survival data manual. Immediately recognizing the danger, Luke's green blade disappeared with a compressed hiss as he shut down his saber.

When the red haired woman landed heavily on the Jedi's chest, they were both momentarily winded. Mara raised her head and saw that their noses almost touched. They were covered in a fine sheen of sweat and their breathing was laboured. If not for the fact that they were both fully clothed and were currently lying on the floor of the Academy's gym, it would be easy to believe that they had just been in the throes of passion. 'Now where had that thought come from?' she wondered. Mara's heart increased its tempo, because now the sinful thought had entered her head the idea was refusing to leave. She could see a vein throb in the side of Luke's neck and her eyes fastened on it. She watched as a bead of sweat slowly traced the line of his neck and Mara had an incredible urge to do the same with her tongue.

Neither of them seemed capable of movement. Their eyes locked and something indefinable seemed to pass between them. The air grew heavy with tension and Luke's arms tightened around her. His eyes dilated making them appear a deeper, more vibrant shade of blue. Her mouth grew dry and her tongue flicked out to moisten her lips. Luke's eyes were immediately drawn to the small movement and she felt a ripple of heat coming from him through the Force. She struggled vainly to hide the incredible desire that made it almost impossible for her to draw breath. At that moment, Mara wanted more than anything in the world to abandon all caution, all reason and kiss Luke Skywalker senseless.

Luke was stunned by Mara's beauty. He had never been so close to her and he was loath to let her go. Her quick temper and devoted loyalty spoke of a passionate nature, but with her in his arms, albeit accidentally, the Jedi wished that he could be the focus of her desire. He could feel every contour of her shapely body as it pressed against his own and he was having a hard time controlling his own body's behaviour. He was so caught up in his own emotions; he found it difficult to perceive Mara's. For a moment it looked as if her head was tipping toward his, as if she intended to kiss him – as if that would ever happen. He caught his breath, not daring to move, for fear of losing this moment.

The sound of a door opening broke the spell and Mara jerked herself upright and away from the Jedi Master but almost fell over again when her ankle gave out.

"Aahh!" she gave a short cry of pain.

Luke steadied her as he rose to his knees. "You're hurt."

"It's nothing." She was immediately on the defensive. To admit to pain was a weakness.

His eyebrows drew together for a moment and he grabbed her leg. Mara was not fully able to form a coherent thought as the pain sunk in. Luke ran his hand over her exposed ankle and detected a slight swelling.

"It is not 'nothing'. It might be a sprain." He rotated her ankle gently and noted her wince at the slightest movement. "You felt that, Mara and don't argue."

"I wasn't arguing," she bit back and then let out another small cry as Luke's fingers probed further. Mara gritted her teeth. Her stomach was fluttering uncontrollably and she was sure that even if her ankle wasn't sprained she would be unable to walk without betraying how unsteady she felt. Part of her wondered what had affected her the most. Her injury or the touch of the Jedi Master?

"Here, let me help." Luke started gently rubbing her calf, sending healing properties to her through the Force. She wanted to pull her leg away, stop him somehow, but she seemed to have become paralyzed. She felt waves of desire course through her at the innocent contact. Why wouldn't this man stop touching her? Wanting to sink into his sensuous touch she tried to muster a shield of anger. Mara closed her eyes for a moment. She couldn't do that. One of the tasks her Jedi teachers impressed upon her was to refrain from letting her temper get the better of her. With a sigh she used the Force to slow her heartbeat and ease into a calmer frame of mind. His warm hands gently kneaded her muscles and she sighed again almost imperceptibly. He placed his hands underneath her knees and lifted her across to a chair, kneeling at her feet.

"I could have walked, Skywalker," she protested.

"I'm sorry, Mara. I didn't mean to twist so hard. I think you have sprained it." His hands returned to her leg but this time they had taken on a more caressing quality as he stroked her smooth limb.

She opened her eyes. "Hey, all's fair in love and war." Now why the hell did she just say that?

Luke glanced up and seemed to only then register how close he was to her. 'What was this thing between them, love or war?' Their eyes locked again. Mara couldn't look away. His eyes were fascinating; changing colours with the Jedi Master's shifting moods. An embarrassed grin spread across Luke's face. She was beautiful. He opened his mouth to reply when an amused voice intruded. "I'm sorry. Am I interrupting a marriage proposal?"

They both froze and turned to face the speaker. It was Kyp Durron.

Mara scowled. The one Jedi in the place she could do without. He'd stolen her ship, once long ago and had left her stranded on Yavin. Oh, she'd almost forgiven him long ago but his cocky manner continued to annoy her. Sometimes she felt that he didn't respect Luke enough and the darkly amused expression on his face made her want to lash out. "Don't be ridiculous," she bit out between clenched teeth.

Luke stood up slowly and turned away. Mara could feel him closing barriers in his mind against her and Kyp. Something she'd said had disturbed him or perhaps Kyp's comment had instead. She wondered what they had looked like to the younger man. She had been sitting on the chair, Luke kneeling at her feet with his hands stroking up and down her leg. Her face flamed and she held on to her fraying temper with difficulty.

"Luke?" the younger man said.

He turned to face Kyp, his face a blank mask, keeping his feelings well hidden from his friend and former student. "Mara fell during our sparring practise. I think she's damaged a ligament or something. I think we should get one of the healers to look at it."

Mara turned and said dismissively, "It's just a sprained ankle. It'll heal quickly enough." She turned toward Skywalker and said, "If you don't mind I think I'll turn in now."

She called her lightsaber to her hand and clipped it back onto her belt. Getting slowly to her feet, she gritted her teeth as the pain continued to shoot up her leg and began to hobble across the floor. She heard Skywalker swear softly under his breath and the next thing she knew she was scooped back up into his arms.

She tried to pull out of his arms, furious at the nerve and embarrassed at the audience. "Skywalker!"

"No arguments, Jade. I'm responsible for your injury. If you won't go to a healer, the least I can do is see you back to your room. You should probably stay off your ankle for a few hours. At least try some self-healing." Luke gave a wry grin. "Consider it part of your training."

Kyp snorted derisively and Mara's green eyes lasered him in place.

"I can walk. Put me down, Skywalker." Her voice rose irritably. Sith, now she sounded like one of those helpless female half-wits depicted in the afternoon holodramas.

She turned her head, just in time to see Kyp give them a sardonic grin as he exited the gym to enter the adjoining changing room. Mara's mouth opened then closed.

"At the rate you were hobbling I don't think you wouldn't have reached your room until tomorrow night. I might have had to send out a search party with rations." He settled her more securely against his chest.

"Luke!" Mara almost wailed. She didn't like the way she was feeling.

The Jedi Master gazed down at the woman in his arms. He knew she hated depending on anyone - apart from herself, but he was sensing something else from her and couldn't work out exactly what that was. "Mara… Are you afraid?" Luke whispered, his tone filled with challenge.

She bristled and then relaxed, reigning in her turbulent emotions. He was going to carry her to her room whether she liked it or not. She placed her arms around the Jedi's neck, keeping her head turned away from his all too shrewd blue gaze. She maintained an aloof expression on her face, but could not restrain her heart from leaping in her breast.

Luke could sense her embarrassment at her helplessness and said, "I'll try to avoid the others and if anyone should be embarrassed it's me. While you were worried about my well being, I was busy twisting your ankle. I didn't know when to call it quits."

Mara turned her gaze from the floor to meet his eyes, "Stop punishing yourself. We were fighting and it's just a sprain. It could have been a lot worse. If I hadn't begun to doubt our ability to avoid injury, my concentration wouldn't have flagged and I would have won that round." The last statement was said with pride in her voice. She starred into the Jedi's eyes daring him to contradict her.

He nodded somewhat reluctantly. "I concede the victory, Mara, this time. But in a real saber fight, you cannot gift your opponent a victory because you were worried that you might hurt him. As it was, I took advantage of your lack of concentration."

"Yeah, sure," Mara griped.

"Just wait till our next encounter." Luke's eyes danced.

"Sure." Mara smiled, her mood lightening.

Luke made their trip to her room a kind of game. He hid around corners as students passed and dashed down deserted corridors all the time blathering on about 'Luke Skywalker to the rescue'. Mara maintained a barrier around them that effectively masked their passage. By the time they arrived at Mara's room, they were both unable to keep a straight face.

"We made it. That was harder than sneaking round the first Death Star."

"Well at least no one was out to shoot you this time."

Luke chuckled. "Makes a change."

She snorted. "Luke Skywalker to the rescue!"

"I was returning the fair damsel in distress…" he paused at the look on Mara's face. "Okay, okay so she wasn't in that much distress and could have coped on her own." He stopped, his blue eyes bright in his suddenly expressive face. "Do you know how much that ruins a good story?"

"I don't do the passive maiden thing very well," she muttered.

"Well try it for the next few minutes until I get you safe into your castle."

"My Jedi cell is hardly a castle…" she interrupted him.

"Jade, Jade," he made a disapproving face. "You have no imagination." He settled her against his firm chest and grinned down at her. "Here we are. I have returned the princess to her chamber. All safe and sound."

Mara felt suddenly awkward when Luke opened the door and carried her into her room. Most of the quarters in the Jedi temple were small and sparsely furnished. Mara's was no exception. He set her gently on a plain black couch. He hesitated in backing away and seemed to realize that there was no longer the need for him to be so close. He wondered at his reluctance. 'I'm just worried about her and feeling responsible that's all.' He stood up abruptly and said, "I'll ask the medic for something for your foot and maybe this would be a good opportunity to practice those Jedi healing techniques we mentioned earlier."

"Always a teacher, aren't you, Skywalker."

He seemed preoccupied and did not respond to her verbal dart.

"Hey, farmboy! Have you got sand in your ears or something?"

"Huh?" Luke shook his head. "Sorry – just thinking. Do you want me to get you anything before I leave?" His presence seemed to fill the room.

"No - it's just a sprain; I'm not an invalid."

Luke nodded but did not answer; he was staring at a stack of drawings that were scattered on the nearby table. Mara sat up abruptly and tried to pull them away but Luke snatched them before she could reach them.

"You drew these, Mara?"

The top one was a revealing self portrait. Mara was standing on a wind swept beach. Her hair was flying back in the breeze, a bleak expression on her face. Luke felt his throat close sensing the loneliness of the drawing. He understood the emotion but had never thought that the trader did. He should have known. They were very alike he and Mara.

"This is excellent, Mara. I didn't know that you drew."

"It's just something I recently picked up. It's supposed to be good therapy. I'm not very good…"

"I would disagree. You have a good eye for detail."

He leafed through a couple more of the drawings until one caught his attention. The next picture filled him with an unexpected, inexplicable jealousy that he quickly shielded from the ever observant Mara. It was an image of Talon Karrde seated across a dining table. He had a familiar half smile on his face that had Luke wondering if there was more to her relationship with her boss then she had ever verbalized. The dinner certainly appeared to be an intimate occasion, although it was also possible that Karrde normally dined with his staff, alone in his quarters. Luke suddenly wanted to know what her relationship with Talon Karrde was. 'Force', he thought. 'This was Mara his… friend.'

Stang! He quickly shuffled the picture under the self portrait to reveal the next in the stack. He was jealous. He wanted to be the one Mara was drawing – the one Mara was smiling at. He rubbed a clammy hand across his forehead. He had no rights to feel anything as far as she was concerned. As if she would consider him in a romantic light. He wasn't in the market for a relationship – they all ended up badly. Luke had finally decided that he was meant to give his life to the Force – he was to travel his path alone. But if he could have had a choice of a life companion, Mara would be high on his list. Stang! She'd be the only one on his list. He stared at the next picture without seeing it. He was lucky he had a good many things to be thankful for - including family and friends like Mara. If he sometimes dreamed of something more was that so wrong? He was only human.

"Luke?"

Her voice intruded on his introspection.

"Just considering one or two things," he murmured and focused his gaze on the drawing in his hand. He was instantly captivated. It was an image of himself. He appeared happy, dressed in a flight suit, with his hand resting on the dome of his R2 unit. He recognized it as the time he had last seen Mara. Warmth filled him as he drank in the faint emotional imprint lingering on the picture. The Jedi could feel Mara's rueful affection for him and there was something imbued in each line and shadow that seemed filled with . . . yearning. He filed this thought away for later reflection. Something shimmered at the edge of his mind. There was something important to be deduced from this. "I didn't think I looked that handsome," he joked to cover the awkward silence that was threatening to develop.

Mara had stood up, despite her injured ankle and took the picture from him. She placed it with the others in a metal folder on the table. She didn't say anything and Luke felt at a sudden loss for words as well. After a long silence he said, "You shouldn't hide your talent."

"Perhaps I'm more talented than I suspected. If I managed to make you handsome…"

"You've hurt my feelings," Luke tried to appear put upon.

Mara raised a sardonic eyebrow and finished removing the rest of her work from his gaze. "Stop pouting, Skywalker. It doesn't work on me. It may on your legions of lady admirers…"

"But you've never been one of those, eh, Jade?"

Luke understood that it wasn't so much that she was unsure of her artistic ability as she was unwilling to reveal so much about herself to the casual observer. If there was anything that he knew about Mara Jade, was that she valued her privacy highly.

"I'll go see about. . . ."

"Yes, do that." Mara interrupted wanting to be alone to sort out her muddled mind.

Luke nodded as he palmed open her door. He hesitated in the opening. "Oh, and Mara…"

"What?"

"The fair princess in her castle?"

"What about her?" Mara muttered irritably.

The Jedi Master looked at Mara over his shoulder. "She was very fair indeed." He turned away before she could see the effort it cost him to make such a comment and left quickly before she reacted.

Once she was sure he had gone, Mara took out the picture of Luke again. She wondered what he saw when he viewed the image she had created of him. What had he thought of her for creating it? She had strong feelings for the Jedi Master – she always had from the very first moment that they had met. She'd hated him for so long… her fingers closed on the drawing as if she was about to tear it up. But as her gaze rested on the smiling image of the Jedi Master, she returned it to the folder unharmed.

'She was very fair indeed.'

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