Save the Best Till Last
By Ash Darklighter
Disclaimer: The characters and situations in the fic are the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. The Song 'Save the Best till Last was written by Waldman, Lind and Galdstone and recorded by Vanessa Williams. I'm not normally a person who writes songfics. To be truthful I don't often like them, but this one just seemed to fit Mara and Luke. With apologies to Zahn. This is set somewhere around the end of 'Vision of the Future' but Mara and Luke have not revealed 'all' yet. This story is for Mona. Totally and utterly for Mona. Without her I would have only two badly written tales partly completed. My beta reader and my friend. She is one of the best.
Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes round the moon
I see the passion in your eyes
Sometimes it's all a big surprise.
The Signing of the Peace Treaty between the Empire and the New Republic
The ceremony was going to plan. Leia Organa Solo stood, poised and beautiful, with her husband and other assembled dignitaries in graceful serried rows in the largest chamber on board the Imperial flagship, the Chimaera – actually one of the docking bays. Surrounded by various ships, shuttles, Luke's x-wing and even the Millennium Falcon, history was unfolding before her. Leia brushed a tear surreptitiously from her eye.
Leia glanced up into the loving hazel gaze of her husband. "Of course."
Han gave her his warm, lop-sided grin. "Too many to mention."
"It's something I never thought I'd live to see." Leia leaned a little into Han's side.
She nodded. "Peace."
"Where's the kid?" Han tried to peer across the sea of dress uniforms. "I can't see him among all these generals. He should be here. It's not like him to be late for a ceremony. He likes them."
"Luke?" Leia reached out for her brother's shining warmth. "He's on his way. He got delayed by one of the Generals." She smiled at the thought of having her brother with them at such a special time, her lips curving sweetly. Luke wasn't with them – his family - often enough and she vowed that would change.
"He'll miss the important bit of this shindig if he doesn't hurry."
"I know." Leia frowned a little.
A small polite ripple of applause was the signal for President Ponc Gavrisom of the New Republic to move to the dais on the small platform that had been erected at the far end of the room and start his speech. Han shuffled his feet. He liked 'old puffers' as he called him with his usual irreverent disregard for the dignity of the government's leader but the Calibop never did know when to stop talking.
Han tugged at the stiff collar on his own dress uniform. "You can send Luke a message. He can take his time. Old puffers will go on for hours."
"Han!" Leia hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
"Maybe, but don't call the President 'Old puffers.'"
"Sorry," Han muttered unrepentantly, not sorry in the least.
"I may be wrong about this," Leia whispered, "but I don't think Luke really cares whether he's at the ceremony or not."
"Luke not care about peace! Sweetheart…" Han protested.
Leia sighed. "He cares about peace – I just don't think he cares whether he's at the ceremony or not." She slipped her hand through the crook of Han's arm. "Ever since he came back from Niruan with Mara in the strange ship he won't tell me anything about, he's been..."
"Something like that," Leia answered.
"Mara Jade can do that to you. The kid was probably worn out watching his own back," he joked.
"Luke and Mara have progressed way beyond that stage and don't forget, he went out there to rescue her," Leia rebuked softly.
"He was obviously successful."
"Yes, but he won't tell me very much about what happened out there. He says he has to talk things over with Mara first."
"What could they have to talk about?" Han's voice began to rise until he caught his wife's eye. "Sorry," he whispered. "Forgot where I was. Karrde hustled her off world pretty quick after Luke brought her back."
"Yes, he was worried about her."
"So was Luke."
"Karrde's here for the ceremony but I didn't see Mara. I don't think she returned with him."
Han was sure about this piece of information having spoken to Talon Karrde before the peace ceremony had started. "She didn't. Talon wanted her checked over by one of his own medics and they insisted she stay on base for another couple of days. She had a nasty bump on the head and some type of wound on her shoulder, although apparently it had healed."
"I didn't think a bump on the head would stop Mara," Leia commented, monitoring the progress of the president's speech.
"Maybe not but she's apparently on Hijarna. I think that's where Karrde's current base of operations is."
"One of them – he has so many. Luke and Mara both looked exhausted."
"You get the kid checked out?"
Leia's mouth straightened. "Of course. He wasn't too happy about it but in the end he submitted without too much of a fuss."
"You make it sound worse than a full senate session."
"He had a few scrapes but other than that… just tired."
Han gave a small smile. For Luke to be 'just tired' was almost a miracle. "Makes a change for us not to be putting pieces of him into the bacta tank."
Leia nodded. "Yes. I worry so much about him. He can be so lonely sometimes and so careless of his own safety. He's not invincible." She joined in a round of applause.
Han pulled a face. "What are we clapping for?"
"Gavrisom's finished his speech…"
Leia gave him the look that only a wife could give her husband. "Karrde is moving onto the platform to talk about the joint information venture he's establishing."
"That's a great idea." Han began to fidget. "So where's Luke? I thought you said he was coming?"
"I still don't see him but I can feel his presence close to me. Wait!" She turned quickly and glanced behind her. "He's over there, by that pillar, near the side entrance right at the back."
"He managed to sneak in and missed the president's speech too." Han's voice was darkly admiring.
Luke stood against the pillar dressed in his customary black Jedi ensemble, his lightsaber at his waist, ostensibly watching what was going on but Leia knew that his mind was elsewhere. He looked good. His hair had darkened over the years after being away from the glare of Tatooine's twin suns but his eyes had lost none of their ability to mesmerise an onlooker by their vivid blue brightness. Leia focused her attention on the speaker and discovered that Karrde had finished his part in the ceremony and it was Admiral Pellaeon who stood stiffly at the podium.
"Leia… Han." Talon Karrde stood beside them.
"Nice speech, Talon," Han said sardonically. "You've joined the ranks of the respectable."
"Thanks… I think," Karrde replied dryly.
"Mara's not with you?" Leia enquired.
"No, she wanted to come but the medic wanted to keep an eye on her for a few days more. She's at my base on Hijarna. I fully expect her to arrive here as soon as she's cleared for flying. I half expect her to disobey him and to see her walking in here at any moment. Although I'm not sure how she feels about a peace treaty with the Empire."
"Still, she was part of that Empire," Han murmured. "It must be hard for her to see the Empire and the Republic negotiating peace."
"But that Empire betrayed her," Karrde said quietly. "You don't get over that quickly. Well, Mara doesn't. The Emperor's deceit cut Mara deeply and she was determined to somehow redeem herself, yet it's difficult to embrace something you were brainwashed into hating from childhood."
"Exactly," Han said. "Mara has never been totally at ease or accepted on either side apart from you and…"
"Luke," Karrde finished. "The one person who had the least reason to trust her."
"She did announce loudly to any one that would listen several times that she was going to kill him."
Karrde chuckled. "He never believed her, did he?" He scanned the crowd. "I don't see Luke."
"He's behind us. He was running late. Between you and me…" Han leant conspiratorially towards the smuggler. "I don't think he wanted to stand through these sith-awful speeches."
"Including mine?" Karrde arched an eyebrow.
"Yours was short," Han said with feeling."
"Is Luke okay? Mara's been a little… strange."
Leia caught the question. "Yes… a little abstracted but unharmed. He wouldn't tell us very much at all. Said he and Mara had to discuss how much information they could divulge. I told him there was time for that later. We had to force him in to the medicentre…" She smiled. "Nothing new there and he was treated for numerous cuts and bruises and exhaustion. Confined to quarters for a couple of days…"
"You should be the one up there," Han interrupted, jerking his head to where Gavrisom and Pellaeon were signing the treaty.
"I agree," said Karrde.
"Gavrisom is the President of the New Republic. It's okay," Leia said, her eyes bright as the whole hall turned its complete attention to the ceremony. Peace – it was really going to happen.
"He may be, but you are its heart," Karrde stated solemnly. "You, Han, Luke and all those that fought for this treaty."
Leia's mouth trembled. "That's a rare compliment, Talon. One I will cherish."
Han pulled Leia close, his eyes shut, and for a moment Karrde felt excluded from the comfort these two amazing people were drawing from the other.
Luke's tired legs wobbled a bit as he subsided gratefully against the pillar, one well-shod foot crossed in front of the other in a casual pose. 'Peace', he thought. Such a little word, so full of shining hope and something they'd all thought was unobtainable. Yet, here they were and this thing they all craved was suddenly in their grasp. Peace between Empire and Republic, peace between Skywalker and Jade, love between Luke and Mara.
A word that was even more wonderful. Again one that he thought would never be his in the truest sense – the love between man and woman. Mara Jade was his destiny.
A wry little smile played at the edge of his mouth. Force, he wanted to be with her – to see her and hold her in his arms. Part of him couldn't believe that his new found happiness was real. His first impulse had been to blurt out their news but Mara had shaken her head.
They'd both reluctantly agreed that now was not the time. The peace treaty was on everyone's lips and so they had decided to wait. Part of him was enjoying keeping this warm secret to himself but there was also the need to shout that Mara loved him from the highest spire on the tallest building on Coruscant. Then they'd been immediately separated by their respective 'families' and forcibly removed to be checked over medically.
'It's only for a couple of weeks, my love,' Mara had told him.
'We've been apart for ten years. I want us to be together now,' he had protested, all the while knowing that she was right.
'Patience,' Mara had soothed. 'Let's just enjoy knowing.'
Luke had been resigned. 'The knowing part is wonderful, Jade. It's the not being able to hold you part that I'm going to miss.'
'When this circus is over, Skywalker. Wait until then.'
The news of the peace had surprised them both – something they had thought almost impossible. Luke had feared that he would return from Niruan into the middle of a full scale war with more death and bloodshed.
He didn't want to be here, he thought, staring around him at the main landing bay of the Chimaera. But as the head of the Jedi Order it was his duty. The Imperials had done well and had smartened it up for the occasion but Luke's mind was not on the ceremony. He wondered what Mara was doing and was she thinking about him.
Hijarna – Karrde's Base
Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes round the moon
Mara stared out the viewport in her suite at the heavy fall of snow. This was unusual. The planet of Hijarna should be enjoying the heat of its short warm-weather cycle but nothing in her life had been usual lately. And she didn't have a normal type of existence. What was merely routine for her was completely out of the ordinary for other people.
Snow! Mara snorted with disgust. The freak weather conditions on Hijarna had prevented her from joining Luke at the peace ceremony on the Chimaera, currently in orbit around Coruscant. She'd been forced to remain at Karrde's luxury fortress hideout as all flights off planet had been postponed for two more days. Normally that wouldn't have stopped her but she had wanted to obey some rules for once. Now she wondered why.
She felt unsettled, different. Excited one minute, fearful the next. She was exhibiting all the classic symptoms of a woman in love. Mara wasn't sure if she really liked the feeling. She gave a shrug and slumped onto the window seat. She was in love with Luke Skywalker and that was it. She still felt as if the natural order of things had somehow gone haywire. Yet, Mara knew she wouldn't change anything. Strike that, she thought. She would be off this hole and back on Coruscant with the man she loved.
Long ago Karrde had discovered an abandoned fortress on Hijarna, a planet scarred from a battle over and done with thousands of years before. The fortress made of an impenetrable black stone had been crumbling away until Karrde had discovered it, restored it and turned it into a luxury residence for himself and his employees. It was completely secluded – very few knew of this place. Hijarna had little to recommend it to the usual type of visitor. Karrde's wealth had provided every material comfort but this far away from Coruscant there was no way of controlling the weather. Nevertheless, the snow falling heavily from the thick grey sky was bizarre.
Mara pulled her legs onto the seat, drawing her knees close into her chest and wrapping her arms around them. She'd kept many secrets in her life but this one was the most precious.
I see the passion in your eyes
Sometimes it's all a big surprise
'Luke,' she thought. The way he'd begun to look at her every time they'd met and the way it had made her feel. She'd tried to ignore the changes in them both. This madness would pass in time. When they had worked and fought together to stay alive on Niruan, the feelings she'd desperately tried to ignore had come bursting forth. They'd emerged from Thrawn's fortress and had faced each other in the cave. At first she'd thought it was a trick of the light and then that it was wishful thinking. Mara was seeing exactly what she wanted to see and none of it was real. She'd been wrong – it was very real.
Luke's blue eyes had told her the truth. He couldn't lie to her. It wasn't in his nature to lie. He could, as most Jedi Masters could, look at the truth from a 'certain point of view', but he wouldn't deceive her. His eyes had darkened with evident passion as he told her that he loved her. Mara knew that her eyes told him the same thing. She'd been in love with him for years but had only begun to put a name to her own emotions within the last couple of years.
Her first reaction had been one of total shock. Part of her, deep down, still thought of Luke Skywalker as the enemy despite her unwitting attraction for him. She wanted what she could not have. When had hate turned to love, attraction turned to desire? Mara couldn't tell when exactly things had changed. She only knew that they had. She loved him and had done so for a long time.
'Cause there was a time when all I did was wish
You'd tell me this was love
It's not the way I hoped or how I planned
But somehow it's enough
Mara admitted to herself that in her chequered career she'd again done the unthinkable. She'd fallen in love with Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, hero of the Rebellion, all-round good guy and the galaxy's greatest idealist. Luke was a man full of warmth and light and she was dark from a past she had no wish to dwell upon. Luke had insisted time and time again that she was a good person, that she'd been deceived by others. She had served the Emperor truly with her whole heart. There had been nothing self-seeking about her devotion to her duty. She deserved to be free and happy he had stated with certainty. Mara had stared at him and for the first time in her life had felt the tingle of fear that loving such a man would bring. This was no ordinary emotion.
She'd spent months in denial even going as far to reject Luke utterly. He was wonderful but his friendship was not enough any more. Their friendship became strained; she'd turned him away with harsh words. She wished he'd braved her scorn but Luke let her be until she was ready to come back to him.
It was then he'd met Callista.
How could she measure up to such a man? Though she was his equal in many ways, a part of Mara still felt tainted by her Imperial past.
Then Callista had left Luke and Mara had picked up the pieces. It had taken them years to get to where they were now but when they'd both realised they felt the same way, the conclusion had been instantaneous.
It had taken a fight for their lives against the sentinel droids guarding the sleeping clone of Grand-Admiral Thrawn – the water pouring in from the overflowing lake to make them face up to their true feelings. Death was imminent and Luke had gazed into her eyes and asked Mara to marry him. He hadn't given her any flowery phrases. There were no romantic gestures and wild declarations of passionate love - just a simple, "Mara, will you marry me?"
She could have made him wait but it didn't seem right – not with him. They'd connected so deeply in their bid to stay alive that all these things were redundant. "Yes," she said. She remembered quibbling about whether they made it out alive or not. Luke didn't care. She would marry him or she would not. Whatever their fate was to be, they would suffer or enjoy it together. Yes, somehow it had been enough.
Death had been so certain; she had known that he loved her at the end. What a waste of all those years when they could have been together. Mara had felt the passing regret for what might have been and had bowed her head to accept the inevitable.
Luke had not. Her acceptance of his proposal had spurred him on to seek a solution to their desperate plight and miraculously it had worked. They had emerged into the shallow waters of the cave. Luke brought Mara out of her trance with the words, "I love you." He'd helped her to her feet and they'd exchanged their first real kiss.
They'd both been soaked to the skin but, strangely, neither of them felt the cold. Luke's hands had crept up to cup her soft cheek, bringing her soft lips to his. It had been a kiss of sweetness and promise – a promise of their future.
And now we're standing face to face
Isn't this world a crazy place
Just when I thought our chance had passed
You go and save the best till last
Luke lifted his head and smiled at her. "Mara, I love you. I meant what I said back in Thrawn's chamber. Marry me?"
It wasn't a dream. "Of course I will. I love you."
Mara wrapped her arms around her knees. Just thinking about that first kiss made the shivers run through her body. It had been an innocent kiss really, unlike the ones he'd given her later. All that time they'd wasted. Had she driven him into Callista's arms by not giving him a chance? Mara couldn't have answered that question back then and didn't know if she could now.
As time had passed she had let him back into her life, regaining their friendship with an added something indefinable. Luke knew that he could go to Mara about anything and although they had never had a physical relationship, they didn't touch or hug, Mara had let him cleanse himself of Callista's betrayal as he'd broken down in her arms.
Mara's apartment, Coruscant. Two years before the Peace Treaty
All of the nights you came to me
When some silly girl had set you free
You wondered how you'd see it through
I wondered what was wrong with you
The chime on the door sounded loudly waking her from a peaceful sleep. Mara blinked open sleepy green eyes wondering why bells were ringing.
The sound went on and on and on and it wasn't until a wave of pain slammed into her through the Force that Mara guessed what was happening and who the culprit was. He was leaning on her door chime.
"Sith, Skywalker," she moaned as she dragged herself out of bed and fumbled for her thick, dark red robe. "Don't you have a normal chrono like everyone else?" She pushed her hair from out of her eyes and padded barefoot to the door. "Okay, okay, I'm coming. Skywalker," she grumbled. "You'll wake up half the palace."
She pressed her door release and it slid aside revealing the dripping wet figure of the Jedi Master. "Luke!" she gasped his first name. "It's raining?"
"No, I threw myself into the ornamental pond out there to test the water temperature," he bit out sardonically through chattering teeth. "Of course it's raining, Jade."
Mara could only gaze in disbelief at the sight he presented. His unusually darkened hair was plastered against his forehead in untidy clumps. "What ornamental pond?" she queried bemusedly.
Luke shivered. "Let me in. I'm freezing. I got caught in the storm."
"Environmental controls on Golan out again," Mara murmured. "That's the second time this year. The natives will be restless if it happens again. What possessed you to be out so late?"
"Couldn't sleep," he muttered. "Thought a walk might help."
"A walk! Skywalker! Only a raving madman would consider a walk in the middle of a storm but then you've never been noted for your rational thinking – not by me anyway."
"Oh! Get inside." She peered out into the deserted corridor, hoping that it would be deserted this late at night, and then hustled the Jedi inside. "You're shivering," Mara noted and pushed him into the lounge. "I suggest you go and have a hot shower. Leia will not be happy if you get another chill. She won't let you out of the medicentre for a week."
"Throw them outside once you're undressed and I'll shove them in the dryer. Your robe is in its usual place.
"What would people think if they knew I kept a robe here?"
Mara's chin lifted stiffly. "They wouldn't think anything because it's none of their business. It's all totally innocent. You've crashed out so many times on my sofa that I thought you needed a robe. Mine doesn't suit you."
"Mara, I…" Luke hesitated.
"'Fresher," she ordered. "Now!"
"Yes, Captain Jade." Luke saluted, a strange expression momentarily crossing his face and disappeared into the 'fresher. Mara waited for a moment and then tapped quietly on the door. A bare, tanned arm emerged along with a cloud of steam, clutching the wet clothes.
"Thanks," Mara said. "Hope they don't shrink."
"Use the Force." Luke's reply was muffled as the door slid closed.
"Don't tempt me, farmboy," Mara stated to the fresher door.
Luke emerged ten minutes later swathed in the vivid blue robe Mara had bought for him and sank down on her overstuffed sofa with a sigh.
"Drink this." Mara hid her concern over his appearance, pointing to a steaming mug of hot chocolate on a table in front of him. Even though he had showered, his face still had a pale, pinched look about it. Mara resisted the urge to take him by the blue lapels of his robe and shake sense into him.
'She's not worth it.' Mara wanted to rage. 'She left you and she's not coming back.' Instead she grabbed her own mug of hot caf and brought it to her lips. But Luke had known part of what she was thinking.
"She's not coming back." He unknowingly echoed her exact thoughts. "She left me and she's not coming back… ever." He lifted his head; his stricken blue eyes stared directly into Mara's compassionate gaze. "I couldn't accept it before and it's been six years; yet I always hoped. But I woke up several weeks ago and finally I knew I was fooling myself, hurting my family and friends by pushing them away and clinging to the dream of something I was never going to have."
"So you jumped into your x-wing and flew to Coruscant."
"I needed to see my family and I needed to see you. They give me love and stability. You are my sanity, Mara. The friend who will tell me the truth I don't necessarily want to hear."
"Anytime, farmboy," Mara quipped lightly to cover her suddenly speeding pulse.
"I still hoped…" Luke's voice broke. He put down his mug and rubbed a shaking hand in front of his eyes. "I'm such a fool but… Force, it's so hard to go on alone."
Mara moved closer and awkwardly placed her arms around him. He didn't shy away from her as she'd thought but leaned in closer, his head falling onto her breast. "It will get better," she said. "Listen to me, Skywalker," Mara said firmly. "You're not a fool and you're not alone. Never forget that, Luke. We've all been worried about you. Just let it all go. The first part of the healing process is always the hardest…"
Luke shuddered in her arms, giving way finally to the despair he carried in his heart and soul.
Inside, Mara was furious. Callista had walked out on the love that Luke had offered her. She wanted the Force. Part of Mara found it hard to understand because she'd never looked for, or expected, that kind of love – but if she had, she would have liked to have fallen in love with someone like Luke. Love was a precious gift.
The epithets flew through her mind. Silly, cruel, thoughtless… The list echoed around her head. Callista had never been able to give Luke the support he'd needed – she'd not wanted to hear about his plans for the Yavin Academy. She had craved contact with the Jedi but could only touch the darkside. In her realisation of what she had lost, Callista had turned to finding a way to regain that power at any cost The distance between Luke and his lover had increased as Callista obsessed about regaining her powers as Luke tried to hold their relationship together.
Even when he'd been with Callista he hadn't gone to the former Jedi for counsel. He had still turned to Mara and yet again, when he needed her, it was Mara he had gone to with his troubles. As his relationship with Callista had deteriorated, his bond with Mara had gained in strength.
"Where's Callista?" Mara remembered asking once.
"In the Imperial library." Luke's voice was oddly dismissive as if it didn't matter.
Luke had shaken his head, the strain evident on his face. Mara wanted to take away that look and had asked him about the Yavin Academy.
'Cause how could you give your love to someone else
And share your dreams with me
Luke shrugged, his face brightening and had leant forward, his hands outlining his plans in mid air. "Eventually, Mara, there will be enough Jedi. They will be a force to reckoned with in the galaxy but only for good. I don't want to teach forever… It's not that I don't like it – I do - but there's no one else to do it so it has to be me. I was trained to be a warrior knight, trained to defeat the Emperor…"
"Someone had to, Luke." Mara stretched out her hand and placed it on his arm. "But I thought you loved passing on your knowledge?"
"I did… I do. A Jedi shouldn't crave adventure."
"But you want to be out there… helping."
Luke had given a relieved smile. "Yeah. After all these years I still want to be out there doing something positive."
"But you are. By training the next generation of Jedi you are ensuring that the Jedi Order will have a future."
Luke's shoulders drooped. "I suppose so."
"I understand," Mara reached out and gave his hand a squeeze.
Mara nodded. "Of course I do."
Luke's smile threatened to outshine Tatooine's twin suns. "I knew you would."
Mara remembered how they had talked late into the night. Callista had not been mentioned again and with hindsight Mara could see that the relationship was not going to go much further. A small part of her felt sorry for the woman but it was a very small part.
Callista wanted the Force and then Luke Skywalker but ultimately the Force took precedence in her eyes. Luke just wanted someone to love him. He didn't care if she had the Force or not. Did Callista really care about Luke? Did she see who and what he really was? Mara didn't think so. She didn't think that Callista saw his strengths and his failings. Did she truly understand Luke's burning desire to see that justice was done whatever the cost to his own well-being and his over-generous loving heart. Mara didn't think so and in the end had been proven right.
Callista had left the life she could have had with Luke and for years he had searched for her until it finally dawned she wasn't coming back. He'd soldiered on, retreating into himself until ultimately, on a visit to Coruscant he'd visited Mara and finally let go of the control he surrounded himself with and had come apart in her arms. Part of Mara was glad and then she'd felt mean. Luke was hurting but this reaction was cathartic, not destructive. He had to get on with his healing and not keep the hurt bottled up inside.
Sometimes the very thing you're looking for
Is the one thing you can't see
Mara couldn't believe that she'd been so blind. When she'd convinced herself that she didn't need love like other beings did, she'd been fooling herself. She'd been looking at her one chance of love for a very long time without realising it. The man she'd hated and wanted to kill was the only man she could ever love. It all made sense: her anger at Callista, how hurt and jealous she had felt when Luke showed interest in another woman. Thank the Force she'd finally come to her right mind and admitted that she loved him.
Mara peered out into the white, inhospitable landscape. Maybe the snow wasn't as heavy and the wind less wild? Was that the outline of a tree she could see? Maybe she could just go to her ship and get the hell off this rock and take her chances in the storm. She wanted to see him. She wanted to feel his arms around her and taste his kiss. Her mouth curved into a dreamy smile, her green eyes smokily wistful. Luke needed her as much as she needed him.
Karrde had bundled her off Coruscant as soon as the New Republic medics had given her the once over and then transferred her to the Wild Karrde and checked her over there as well until Karrde was sure she would suffer no ill effects from her sojourn on Niruan. Mara knew she was fine as soon as Luke's arms had surrounded her properly and she would not be fine again until she saw him. His fate had been similar to hers. The medics on Coruscant, at his sister's behest, had subjected the Jedi Master to a battery of tests.
"As soon as I'm finished here I'll come to you," Luke had promised, his blue eyes solemn. The peace treaty negotiations had kept him busy as soon as he'd escaped from the medicentre. Mara would have been at the signing on the Chimaera with Karrde if the weather hadn't been so peculiar. She was getting soft. A little bit of snow wouldn't have kept her from flying before.
"That's it," Mara announced to her empty suite. "Enough sitting around here, waiting for the sky to clear. Coruscant, here I come." Uncurling herself from her position on the window seat, Mara reached for the bag she'd so recently unpacked and began to pull items from her cupboards, thrusting them haphazardly inside the carryall.
Peace Treaty Signing – Imperial Flagship Chimaera
Luke shifted his booted feet with relief as the holocameras took their historical record of the proceedings. President Gavrisom and Admiral Pellaeon stood stiffly shaking hands. That would be the image the galaxy would see for years to come. It had finally happened – the treaty had been signed and now the ceremony was over. He glanced down at his best black Jedi tunic and picked an imaginary bit of fluff from his sleeve. With any luck he could make his escape. They didn't need the Jedi Master at the post-signing celebrations, did they?
"Luke, coming to join us?" Leia approached him, her arms outstretched.
"Leia," he said with a grin and wrapped his arms around her in a brief hug. "Where's that old scoundrel you hang around with?"
"He's over there, with Karrde." Leia pointed towards a crush of people.
Luke wanted to search for a shining head of red-gold curls but he knew she wasn't here. He would have felt her presence through the Force if she had been. He could see the top of Han's head and as the crowd of beings shifted he caught sight of Talon Karrde smoothing his moustache, his pale blue eyes scanning the assembled personnel for useful contacts. Why hadn't Mara come with him? She was all right, wasn't she?
"Mara didn't come with him?" Luke queried casually.
Leia shook her head. "No."
"She is okay?"
"I think so. Karrde didn't say very much," Leia said unconcernedly. "I'm sure she's fine. The New Republic medics were happy enough to let her go."
"But she could have had a relapse," Luke argued. "I'd better go talk to him…"
Leia blinked, placing her hand on his arm to stay his flight. "You both walked out of that weird ship you arrived in. Walked," she stressed. "This is somewhat unusual for you since you are normally carried out and dunked in bacta."
"Karrde would have said," Luke muttered lamely.
"Han!" But Luke's eyes were trained on the figure behind his brother-in-law.
"Luke's very concerned about Mara not being here," Leia commented.
"She's fine," Karrde said.
Han noticed Luke give a huge sigh of relief. "You were that worried about her? What did happen on Niruan?" He gave Luke a shrewd once over. There were more things here than a mysterious mission. He would almost bet the Falcon on it.
"Can't really say. Not until I talk it over with Mara," Luke mumbled. "There are issues…"
"You're being very secretive," Han said with a grin.
"We will tell you. It's just…"
"How you came back in one of those weird ships last seen flying away in the opposite direction broadcasting Grand Admiral Thrawn's name?" Karrde enquired. "You have to discuss that and why there's no sign of the Jade's Fire and why Mara goes stiff as carbonite every time you mention her ship?"
Luke swallowed. Karrde was too sharp. "I can't say anything more but, yes, Thrawn, or rather his people, were involved."
Leia frowned. "You need to let us know if there is anything that could jettison the treaty."
Luke held his hands up stopping his sister's words, hoping that it was true. "There isn't."
Leia smiled. "We'd better go; the dinner will be starting soon. I think you will be placed with us as usual, Luke."
"Dinner! Eh… Leia, I really have to go…"
"Go!" Han repeated. "Go where?"
"I have an errand to… er… see to." Luke stammered, his eyes moving to examine the polished grey decking below his feet, anything to avoid looking at his sister or her husband. He darted his head forward and kissed his sister on her cheek and then turned on his polished black heel and quickly headed off to the temporary quarters he'd been assigned, like all the most important guests, on the Imperial flagship.
"Luke!" Leia's voice rose as she followed him to the nearest turbolift. "Luke"
The Jedi Master kept walking, his heart and mind set on other things. He had to see her, see if she still felt the same. The longer that they were apart… perhaps she would change her mind. How someone so beautiful could love him was a miracle and one he didn't want to let slip from his fingers.
Han and Leia caught up with him as he pulled his flight suit from the wardrobe and picked up the bag he hadn't bothered to unpack.
"What's all this about, Kid?" Han asked, confused at the unexpected turn of events.
"Talk some sense into him, Han," Leia exclaimed. "He's hardly spent any time here at all. He should be at the celebration banquet…"
"No one will notice that I've gone," Luke predicted, dropping his carryall to pull on his flight suit.
"I think they will," Leia argued.
"I was quite visible enough at the ceremony," Luke maintained stoutly. "They'll think that the Jedi Master is quietly contemplating his naval somewhere in the true manner of the Force blessed."
"Ouch," muttered Han.
"Luke," Leia said reproachfully. "You arrived late and stood at the back."
"I was there and I was seen to be there. Peace is a wonderful thing and I'm not making light of the importance of this. It's what we've been fighting for all our adult lives. It's just that I can't…" Luke turned away, his shoulders tense. He gave a great sigh. "I'm not off to do some crazy fool stunt." He picked up the bag again and slung it over his shoulder. "I have something to do. I'll be in touch."
He clapped Han on the shoulder and kissed his sister's cheek once more. "I'll be in touch," he repeated softly.
They followed him into the corridor and watched as his compact frame headed away from them once again.
"He seems so alone," Leia murmured to Han.
Luke stopped and frowned and then his comlink chirruped but it was if someone had given him extra height. He stared at the tiny object which had found its way into his hand, then turned back and looked at Leia and Han and the expression on his face changed from determination, to uncertainty, amazement and finally delight.
"Yes!" He punched the air and took off down the corridor at a run, stopped, sprinted back up to where the Solos stood mouths agape, picked Leia off her feet, twirled her around and then disappeared back down the corridor.
"Well!" Han said scratching his head in disbelief. "What was that all about?"
"I haven't any idea. He didn't answer his comlink."
She was here. Mara was close. His comlink sounded again.
"Where are you farmboy?"
"On my way to you," he answered.
"I'm at the Westport."
Luke grinned; he could hear the warmth in her voice. "I'm almost there. Wait for me?"
Luke switched to another channel on his comlink as he made purposefully for the hangar bay housing his x-wing. "Artoo, fire her up. We've got someone to meet."
The droid tootled a question.
"Yes, it's Mara. She left Hijarna two days ago."
Artoo gave a disapproving whistle.
"A couple of quick nav jumps and she can join one of the hyperspace routes, which cuts down on flight time. The Fire is a fast ship…" Luke paused in sudden remembrance of Mara's distress as she had cried in his arms while the Jade's Fire had gone to its fiery end. Mara's ship, her representation of freedom had gone. "Karrde will have provided her with a fast ship. He won't let his people risk their lives in something dangerous. She will have a top of the range pilot droid to help her. Since when have you become so concerned about my fiancée… my fiancée," he repeated, wonder colouring his voice.
Artoo gave a little electronic chuckle and popped the hatch on his master's ship. The x-wing was all ready to go. Mara Jade made Master Luke happy and for that, Artoo would provide all the extra power his circuits could spare.
"Thanks, Artoo," Luke said as he slipped into the cockpit and within a matter of a few moments they were away.
She was waiting for him as his landed his x-wing in a near-perfect touchdown. They didn't rush into each others arms. It was too public for that. But as Mara's eyes met Luke's across several feet of duracrete, the air between them seemed to crackle with awareness and something warm in the Force.
"Still love me?" Luke managed to say through suddenly dry lips, his heart hammering loudly inside his chest.
A mocking smile curved her red lips. "What do you think, Skywalker?"
"I think you do… I… I hope you do."
"I do," she whispered, the smile gone.
"Artoo, seal the ship," Luke muttered into his comlink and took a step towards the woman who had been so much a part of his life for the past ten years in so many different ways.
Mara held out her hand. "Come on, Luke."
With his heart lightening he ran towards her and their hands met. At her touch a shiver ran up his spine – a small sexual charge of electricity. His gaze focused on her inviting lips. "I want to kiss you so much," he breathed.
"I want that too," she said in a voice so low as to be almost unheard but Luke had heard it and leaned closer until their lips touched. Then the fire overtook them and for a moment they were lost in the feel and taste of one another until reality intruded and they stepped apart reluctantly.
"I love you, Luke."
"I know. Come on… let's get out of here before I do something to embarrass us both."
"That would be telling but it involves going down on my knees in this very public place and begging you to make love to me… and then marry me."
"In that order, farmboy?"
"In any order. I don't care which as long as you do it," he replied, the expression on his face almost pained.
"In that case…" she let her voice tail off, her green eyes glinting with mischievous intent. "Later to the first and yes to the second."
And now we're standing face to face
Isn't this world a crazy place
Just when I thought our chance had passed
You go and save the best till last
The Dining Room on board the Imperial flagship the Chimaera
The dinner had ended and the thankfully short but entertaining speeches had too. Leia couldn't help but look at the empty place her brother was to have taken and wonder what he was up to and where he was.
"Excuse me," Karrde murmured as he returned to his seat.
"Problem?" asked Han.
"No, that was Mara."
"Mara," Leia sat up a little straighter. "She's coming here?"
"She's on her way. I should have known that she couldn't remain where the medics told her to."
"Reminds me of someone else we know," Han said with a grin as he pointed to Luke's empty place.
"Yes," drawled Karrde thoughtfully. "It does."
"What are you implying?" asked Leia.
"Not sure but…" Karrde hesitated. "Shall we adjourn to the ballroom? I believe the dancing is about to start."
"I can't remember seeing you dance, Talon." Leia's eyes gleamed.
"I do on occasions when…" He gave a little cough. "Business demands it."
Han laughed and slapped the smuggling chief on the back. "Enough said. I should understand. After all, Her Highnessness does enough politicking disguised as the very same activity."
Leia could feel her brother's presence as soon as she entered the room assigned for the ball. That her brother had returned was a surprise but something about him felt different. "Luke's here," she said quietly to Han.
"He's come back?"
"I can feel him close but he feels different… I…"
Han stopped and Leia felt the tug on her arm. "Mara's with him."
"Mara! That's good because he was worried about her."
"Look over there, Leia. I think he was more than worried."
Leia peered into the subdued lighting on the dance floor and picked out her brother dancing with Mara Jade. The trader looked particularly beautiful in a long, one shouldered black evening gown, her glorious red-gold hair in a sophisticated upswept style. She laughed at something her partner said, her emerald green eyes sparkling like durindfire gems, his hand holding her close as if she was a precious thing.
Leia's breath caught in her throat. "Han," she whispered. "Look at them."
"I can see them."
Luke, still dressed in his best Jedi tunic, stared down into Mara's face as if he was memorising every aspect. He appeared like a man besotted with the woman he held so tenderly in his arms. They looked like lovers. As the song ended, Leia could have sworn that Luke's lips had brushed carefully over Mara's.
As the lights rose, the Jedi turned, still keeping their arms about one another and walked over to where Leia and Han stood with Karrde.
Luke's face lit up at the sight of his family and after a quick glance at Mara, Han noted, the Jedi Master took a deep, careful breath.
"Leia, Han… Karrde…" Luke hesitated.
Mara gripped Luke's hand and gave him a reassuring nod but there was an air of tense excitement glittering in her eyes. "It's okay," she murmured. "Go ahead. We have to tell them sometime."
"Mara and I have something to tell you… We're getting married." He pulled Mara into his arms, resting his forehead against hers.
Han looked at Leia, amazement warring with satisfaction. Leia looked back at Han, her face a picture of total surprise.
Karrde looked at both of them in turn. His face was harder to read but there was no real change in his pale blue eyes. He nodded to himself as if he'd had something he'd been wondering about for a long time confirmed. The emotion radiating from the couple was almost palpable. Luke and Mara, on the other hand, had eyes for no one but each other.
Leia's mouth opened and closed as she looked to Han for guidance. She prided herself at being able to cope with the unexpected but this was different. "You're what?" she said.
Luke's hand moved up and gently caressed Mara's soft cheek. "I love her and we're getting married."
Mara's hand moved up to cover Luke's. "I love him, too," she whispered, wonder in her face, her green eyes never leaving Luke's steadfast blue ones.
"Then congratulations, Kid," Han grinned. "About time."
"That's just what I was going to say," Talon Karrde commented.
Leia stared at the Jedi couple and then closed her eyes seeking out their entwined presences in the Force. A smile crept over her face and her eyes opened to smile warmly at her brother and his fiancée. "It feels right, Luke. Be happy."
Luke broke away from Mara's hypnotic stare and faced his family. "You approve?"
"Would it matter if I didn't?" Leia asked dryly.
"Well, no but…"
"It means the galaxy to us both, that you approve, Leia," Mara said softly. "Skywalker here says he would marry me anyway but we would rather do it with your blessing. I've never had a family and Luke lost so many of his. We would not want to alienate the family we have." Mara glanced at Karrde indicating that she meant him also.
Leia held out her arms and first Luke and then, more hesitantly, Mara moved in to be embraced. "It's wonderful news. It makes the peace even more special."
Han held out his arm and Leia returned to him, her eyes filling with tears. "Hey, your worshipfulness."
"Nerf," Leia sniffed.
Luke chuckled and then turned to Mara. "Dance with me?"
"Of course," she murmured, her eyes bright.
She moved into his arms as the music slowed and they were lost in one another's love.
Sometimes the snow comes down in June
Sometimes the sun goes round the moon
Just when I thought our chance had passed
You go and save the best till last.