By Ash Darklighter
Disclaimer - The characters and situations used in this story are the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. My thanks to Jackie, Mona and Molly. This story would not have happened without them.
Coruscant's late afternoon sun blinked through a dusty ornate window as Leia walked quietly along the silent hall. The door she wanted was along the far end. How like her brother to arrive on Coruscant without telling her. She'd woken up yesterday morning and his presence had been with her - warm and comforting. Leia smiled happily to herself. She was so used to being apart from Luke that she appreciated him so much more when he was near. She hadn't conceived how much she missed him, and she did miss him very much. She brushed her hand over the smooth surface of a carved curlicue. It came away thick with dust. 'He's been away from us for too long,' she whispered to herself.
Leia raised her hand to the door announcer then grinned wickedly. She would really surprise him. He was there, she could feel it, but not expecting her - yet. She'd half expected him to arrived unexpectedly on their doorstep yesterday, but the evening had gone and most of today too and still Luke had not arrived. Well, if the Noghri wouldn't come to Wayland, Wayland must go to the Noghri. He must realise that she'd felt his arrival?
Leia keyed in the code and the door slid silently aside. Artoo sat nestled in an alcove plugged into a computer terminal and Leia blinked in surprise. There was no brother to scold for not giving her notice of his return to Coruscant - no brother to hug her warmly and tell her how much he'd missed her. Only Luke's faithful little droid emitting a two octave electronic beep which sounded suspiciously like a gurgle of laughter.
Leia focused sternly on the little droid. "Where is he?" She could feel his presence. It was so close to her. "He's in here somewhere. I can feel it." She turned and focused carefully on her brother's shining presence in the Force. "Luke Skywalker, are you trying out your tricks on me or have you switched off for a while?"
Artoo spun his domed head and gave forth, using the entire gamut of his range.
"I understand." She smiled suddenly eager to see her brother again. "He's downstairs."
She moved towards the wooden stairs Luke had installed in his apartment, but hesitated when Artoo began shrieking frantically and rocking on his legs.
"Hey Artoo, it's okay. I'll find him or he'll find me. We'll sense each other soon. I knew he was here as soon as his ship landed, so why he's not here to greet me now I do not know." She stretched out again with her fledgling Jedi powers and felt the unruffled mind close by and the other more restless one even closer at hand. It felt oddly familiar too. A barrier closed against her subtle probing. The other mind belonged to a Jedi and it wasn't Luke.
Startled from her calm, Leia headed purposefully for her brother's receiving room, her blaster firmly grasped in her small hand only to find a woman she knew, or knew as much as she allowed you to, sitting in Luke's window seat. Luke's rather impersonal apartment had in its favour a rather impressive view over parts of Coruscant heading towards the Manarai Mountains. The huge transparisteel window dominated the room and framed within it sat Mara Jade.
Leia's hand relaxed and the blaster hung limply by her side. Mara was staring out the window, her arm resting on one knee, one leg dangling idly over the edge of the seat. The picture was one of serene beauty. But as Leia had sensed earlier Mara's mind was not at peace; her mind was restless and troubled.
"Mara!" she uttered surprised. Why was Mara Jade in Luke's apartment? Mara and Luke had an uneasy friendship - that much was clear. Luke had trusted the woman years ago even when all the signs had said 'don't'. Was there something going on between them? It wasn't a pairing she had ever considered for her brother. Han would approve - she knew that much. He liked Mara. She said what she thought and if anyone complained - tough. Han considered that Luke had gone into neutral mode and any personality was being swallowed by the Jedi Master. Mara Jade and Luke – nah. But then again, the more Leia thought about it, the more she believed that they could be spectacular together, and she did so want him to be happy… mmmm…. this could be interesting. It could be dangerous, but it could be exciting too. However Leia guessed that she was possibly involving herself in a work of fiction by entertaining thoughts of her brother and Mara.
Mara swivelled her head and regarded the other woman warily from brilliant green eyes. "Hello, Leia."
"Mara. Are you okay? You seem…?"
Mara turned her head away and continued to stare out of the window. "I guess so," she replied softly. There was an awkward silence.
'Distant,' thought Leia. "I've not seen you on Coruscant for a long time, Mara." She moved closer to the younger woman.
"No, I've been avoiding it."
"I've been avoiding it too."
Mara's lips firmed a little and she stared at her hands, saying nothing.
"Well, you're here, so you're not avoiding him any more."
"I'm not avoiding Skywalker," she gritted tensely.
There was a flash of something in Mara's eyes as she glared at Leia for a brief instant and Leia felt as if someone had knocked the wind out of her. She decided not to pursue the issue. "Speaking of Luke. Where is he?"
Mara indicated out the window with her red-gold head. "He's downstairs. Out on the balcony. I don't think he's aware of our presences yet."
"He does know you're here?"
"No." Mara grinned maliciously. "I'm working on my cloaking technique. I should have a little while longer."
Leia peered over Mara's shoulder. Luke Skywalker, clad in grey pants and a vivid blue shirt was dissecting a piece of electronic equipment on his downstairs balcony.
"Why are you working on your shielding?" Leia asked, looking curiously at Mara.
The woman shrugged. "It never hurts to improve on your arsenal."
"You could be right about that," Leia mused, reflecting on her own interrupted training.
"Trust me, I am." Mara turned back to study the Jedi. "What do you think of that?" She changed tack abruptly.
"That." Mara indicated the figure of the Jedi Master.
"I don't think I've seen that shirt before," his sister announced thoughtfully.
"You're familiar with the contents of his wardrobe?" Mara questioned derisively. "Forget I even thought to question that. You probably bought most of his wardrobe apart from his desert work clothes."
Leia opened her mouth to dispute that and then realised the trader was indeed correct, but Mara waved her hand dismissively. "I bet he still has the clothes you picked him up in from Tatooine, still with the sand on them. The rest of his collection comes from the Jedi School of black, black and black." She gave the absorbed man another quick glance and then turned back to Leia. "Are you sure it's your brother down there and not some clone? That's not black he's wearing."
"No, I'm not sure - not in that colour, but a simple probe should confirm his identity."
"Or you could use the Force and move his tools. See how long it would be before he lost his patience. He's not long on patience."
"I could! What about you?" Leia exclaimed.
"Forget that, he's your brother."
"He doesn't know I'm here."
"You move his equipment and he will. I'm not tampering with his tools. It was your idea to fiddle around with his equipment." Leia immediately went bright red as she thought about what she'd said - how it could be taken - and her jaw just dropped. "I… I…."
Mara's head turned sharply and the credit dropped as some of Leia's thoughts leaked through her barriers and reached Mara. Green eyes narrowed with deadly accuracy in the direction of the former Chief of State. Leia stood absolutely mortified at her gaffe until she realised that Mara Jade had gone chalk white, followed by a gradual flush, which swept over her creamy skin. "I'll forget you said that Senator." However there was deadly menace in her soft tone of voice. There was an awkward silence until Mara turned back to the window and peered down with half-closed eyes at whatever Luke was taking apart. "Whatever he's doing - it looks dead." The sun's dying rays caught her hastily woven plait and turned it into a rope of fire. Leia stared, arrested at the colour and wondered again why Mara was here in Luke's apartment.
"What's wrong, Mara?"
'Bantha bollocks! This is 'his' sister. I should have known.'
"Nothing." But both of them knew she lied.
Leia turned slowly, eager to see her brother, but unwilling to leave Mara in the strange mood she was in and made her way to the top of the stairs. Just as she was about to leave, Mara looked up, a troubled look etched on her face.
"Leia," she said hesitantly. "When did you know that Luke was 'special'?"
Leia's brown eyes widened just for an instant. This wasn't the Mara Jade she was used to seeing, confident and assured. This woman was vulnerable and scared.
"Forget I asked," Mara muttered quickly and plucked edgily at the hem of her tunic
"No - it's okay." Leia soothed in the tone she used when one of the children was ailing. She returned to the room and seated herself in a large, shapeless, overstuffed couch. "He saved my life. Of course he was special."
"No not that…"
"That's when I knew. He opened the door to my cell and told me he was there to rescue me. That's when I knew – from the very first moment I met him."
"Did you ever go on one of the Death Stars?"
Mara grimaced. "Yes, several times. I didn't like them much. It seemed so wrong… but you are more than aware of that fact. I don't have to tell an Alderaanian."
"I was in the detention block, not the Royal Guest Suite. Luke and Han walked into the detention block and waltzed me out of my cell. Han complained a lot and loudly, but he sure had courage. If Luke hadn't dared him, I wouldn't be here today. Told Han I might be worth a small fortune if they rescued me."
Mara's face sported a small smile. "Men."
"Anyone else would not have been so impulsive, so restless, so…"
"So… Luke. Straight off the farm, open, bright with this naiveté about him. I swear half of Tatooine was still caked to his boots. I only learned later that he'd been rendered homeless just as I had. He'd seen the remains of his family lying burning outside the only home he'd ever known. He was alone in a big galaxy, but yet he kept going."
"You'd seen Alderaan…"
"Yes - it gave us a link. They made me watch."
"You had nothing to do with it. Did you feel the death of Alderaan, Mara?"
The trader looked surprised. It wasn't something she'd been asked before. "I suppose I did. I was fifteen, but my Force skills were weak, unpredictable. I could hear the Emperor from anywhere, but couldn't manipulate the Force to any great extent. I was allowed to do little tricks, that sort of thing. I felt things which didn't happen, saw visions in my head that didn't take place. But yes, I felt the death of Alderaan. I didn't know what it was, not for several weeks. I'd been relaxing in the Imperial Palace gym and was on my way back to my suite of rooms when I woke up on the floor of the corridor. I'd fainted. When I knew why…." Mara shivered. "It was the first time the Emperor had done something I thought was wrong."
She opened her hands in an unconscious gesture of pleading. "It was so quick. I heard the voices, the anguish and then nothing. There was a strange stillness about the Force, but my Master was exultant and almost seemed renewed by a youthful vigour which was crazy because of his great age. Imagine my shock when I discovered he was actually younger than he appeared. He always appeared so aged, but after Alderaan it was strange. He discarded his walking stick; he seemed to walk taller. I didn't realise he was feeding off the death of an entire world. Not for years afterwards."
"The dark side of the Force eats at you from the inside."
Leia gazed down at her brother's fair head. He'd lit outdoor lights and continued to work away in the gathering gloom. She was desperate to see him, but something inside her urged her to keep Mara talking a bit longer. Volubility was never part of the former Emperor's hands' makeup. She may never talk so freely again.
"He's still taking that thing apart," Mara declared in disgust. "It'll never work again."
"It'll work," Leia chuckled softly to herself as she used one of Han's favourite sayings. "It'll work."
"You think?" Mara raised a derisive eyebrow. She hesitated. "I heard all the stories about the Death Star and Yavin. I made it my business to know all about it, but I've never heard it from Luke or you…."
"You want it from my perspective?"
"Only if you're willing?" Mara had stiffened, oddly tense.
"I'll tell you, but I really want to speak to my brother first. Why don't we arrange a time? We could do a lightsaber practice and then lunch. I could clear my schedule if you really want to know?"
"Forget it, Leia, I'm being selfish."
Leia frowned. Something was up with the girl.
"Artoo!" The voice came floating up the stair. "Artoo!"
"No, Artoo," Leia whispered. "Stay here."
"Artoo!!" The little droid's name stretched to about four syllables. "Artoo Detoo. I need you down here."
Clattering feet belted up the spiral staircase and a tousled head emerged. "Leia!" He gave a shout and his face lit up. "Leia!" He dropped whatever he was holding and it landed on the floor with a heavy thud. He grabbed his diminutive sister and whirled her off her feet.
"Put me down, you big… womprat!" Leia exclaimed laughing. "I'm getting dizzy. Luke Skywalker, put me down this instant," she demanded.
Luke swung her to a gentle stop, holding her face between his hands, before drawing her into an embrace. "It's so good to see you. How I've missed you." He buried his head into her shoulder, and they stayed that way, drawing the familiar comfort from the other.
Leia felt tears in her eyes. "It's good to have you home, Luke. It's so good to have you home."
Mara witnessed the brother and sister reunion with an unaccustomed lump in her throat. Why had she never thought about the love between Luke and Leia before? Was it because she'd never really believed in such an emotion? Quietly, feeling out of place, she edged off the window seat and began to make her way to the door. She heard Leia say. "Why didn't you let us know you were coming?"
"I wanted it to be a surprise," he offered hopefully.
"Since when have you been a betting woman, Leia Organa Solo?"
"Don't try and change the subject, laser brains. You didn't want a fuss. I bet the Coruscant transport control didn't even guess you were using that fake transponder code Han picked up for you. What would that do to your reputation, flyboy, if it got out?"
Mara had been moving stealthily towards the door, but she'd forgotten about Artoo who stopped her in her tracks with a shrill squeal, and she jumped. Luke whirled around, his hand going automatically to where his saber usually hung. But it was lying at the top of the stairs and he saw Mara hovering just as the last ray of Coruscant's sun streamed through the window and caught her in a pool of shimmering hues. His hands dropped to his sides and he stepped away from Leia. Luke felt his mouth go dry. Had Mara Jade always been this beautiful? His face began to show utter delight, then changed as he tried to appear casual.
"Mara," he said, his voice coming out sounding husky and unused. To the woman standing across from him, it also sounded incredibly seductive.
The green-eyed woman gulped. He stood there and the expression in his eyes fascinated her. There was something different about him. She rubbed clammy hands over her tunic. "Luke," she husked quietly in return.
Leia felt like the poor man in a high stakes sabacc game - suddenly ignored.
"Long time no see, Jade."
"You too, Skywalker."
"I… like your hair like that."
Leia stifled the grin that was threatening to ruin the moment. Mara's hair did not look particularly stunning. It was amazing when you saw it loose about her shoulders or done in a intricate fashionable style. But Mara had scraped it off her face and hastily plaited it.
"You can't." Mara muttered flatly. "It's a mess."
"Skywalker! You've been stuck on Yavin for too long with the brown robed ones. Hardly makes you an expert on hair."
"I like it. I know what I like."
"Oh for sith's sake!" Mara raised her eyes to the ceiling.
Leia heaved a loud sigh in exasperation. "This is ridiculous. You two sound like actors in the holodrama I tried and failed to watch last week because it was so bad. I didn't think anyone could possibly be as obtuse as those actors were but I was wrong. When are you going to just be Luke and Mara?"
The two Jedi twitched and turned vague looks in her direction, before returning to gaze on the other's face. "Are you staying for something to eat, Mara?" Luke asked, ignoring his sister.
"No… no, I have things to do for Karrde. I'll see you tomorrow… Luke."
An expression of amazement swept across his face. She'd called him Luke again. It didn't happen very often and when it did, it was as if he'd been given something very special. Mara Jade was special. He grinned and allowed his blue eyes to travel over her face and hair.
Mara blushed slightly. The way Luke's eyes were travelling over her - he'd never done that before. She felt exposed with all her secrets plain to see. The Jedi Master's gaze lingered on her soft cheek before spearing her in place with a direct glance from the famous blue eyes.
"When tomorrow," he persisted.
"I don't know," she snapped suddenly, fed up with her own inability to think straight while Skywalker was turning her into someone with the thinking power of a dull Gamorrean.
"It's a date," he muttered in satisfaction.
"No, it certainly is not." She pinned both brother and sister with a fierce green look. Leia shook her head at her brother's folly. It was obvious to anyone but them what was going on. Her gentle brother and Mara Jade? She winced a little. Luke could be the calmest, mildest person imaginable, but somewhere there might still be lurking a Tatooine farmer with a hot head and little patience. Mara Jade would need patience. Hell, if Luke were interested in Mara Jade, the whole galaxy would need patience. She shook her head. Patience and very good defences.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning, Mara, for a saber practise."
Mara nodded and with a final direct stare at the Jedi Master she disappeared through the door. Once it closed and Mara's presence could be felt retreating away from them, Leia turned to Luke and asked dryly, "Want to tell me what that was about?"
Her brother gave her a confused look. "What?"
"Never mind. You're coming home with me. Han's cooking supper and the children are dying to see you. They've been sending me Force messages for the past half hour."
"Sounds good to me."
"By the way. What were you trying to fix out there?"
Luke held out his hand and the item he'd dropped in his rush to greet his sister flew into his grasp and on to his belt. He tapped the cylinder hanging from there. "My lightsaber. It fried itself yesterday. I'd been trying an experiment with cortusis ore, you know the stuff lightsabers can't get through. It kept cutting out so I upped the power. Forgot to turn it back down." He shrugged a little sheepishly. "So when I tried to do my usual lightsaber drill - sabacc, as they say."
"Oh Luke - is it fixed?"
"More or less."
"Why don't I like the sound of that?"
"You sound like my husband and even though we've been married a long time, I still don't trust him when he says that."
Luke shook his head in mock disapproval. "What a thing to say about my friend."
"I say it because it's true. You sure you're my brother and not a clone?"
"You wound me." He placed his hand across his heart and tried to appear soulfully wronged.
"I take it all back. You would do very well in that holodrama. You're as big a nerf steak as all the other actors were."
"Now you're being nasty. I'm sure if I'd wanted to I could have made a very good holo-actor. I would make a good villain." He posed with an overdone evil smirk on his face as he leered at the unknowing general populace. "What…?"
Leia laughed at him and took his arm as she led him out of the apartment. It was good to have him here. He'd been away from them for far too long. However, she had some work to do on Mara Jade tomorrow. It was becoming obvious to Leia that Mara had somehow, somewhere along the way, developed an attachment towards Luke, and it was equally apparent that he reciprocated the emotion. The problem to be solved was not simple - how to get them to even consider doing anything about it. It was a monumental task just in itself.
"What are you thinking about?" Luke probed casually.
"Nothing." His sister replied as she hid her grin. "Nothing at all."