AN: This was written as a surprise birthday present for EmilieDarklighter. Love ya, sweetie! May the upcoming year be bright and full of splendid things for you! And yes, Mara's escapade is partially based on my own cooking disasters.

Ugly Day

I woke up before sunrise to begin my preparations. Well, actually, that's not the best term for the painful, gradual process required for me to rejoin the humdrum world of daily life. I rolled off the bed, hit the stone floor with a jolt, clutched for invisible blankets, smacked my elbow against something hard and sharp, and crawled to the refresher in an attempt to regain my senses.
I hate Yavin IV.

A splash of chilled water against my face restored my dignity and my normal thought pattern. Today was Luke's birthday, and I was going to do the impossible: I was going to bake a cake.

When I first told Leia of my ingenious scheme, she had looked at me rather pityingly. "But Mara, perhaps it would be best if you allow Tionne to make it. The last time you tried to make a frosted bunt-"

"The fire wasn't that large. I just mixed up the wrong temperatures."

"You also couldn't tell the difference between flour and sugar-"

"That was two months ago. I'm much better now."

Leia had given me another odd look, but I told her to go find some disputing systems to mediate and leave me alone. I hated how everyone portrayed my culinary abilities in such a poor light. So I had a few problems cooking. Yes, I tended to burn rolls and blacken casseroles, but my food was still edible - most of the time. At least, that's what Luke told me.

This time, I was certain that my cake would be a success. This was my chance to prove to the Jedi Academy - no, the entire universe - that Mara Jade Skywalker wasn't a walking fire hazard. Kyp Durron would rue the day he compared my food to flavorless duracrete.

I wrapped an old mauve robe around my slightly skimpy sleep shirt, pulled on a pair of knee-high boots, then crept past Luke. He was still dreaming happily, snuggled beneath the covers like the little boy he was at heart. Although he did hog the bed sheets, which annoyed me to no end, particularly on the rare chilly night. I brushed a loose lock of hair off his forehead and tiptoed outside.
The halls were eerily quiet, and I tried to stifle my footsteps until I reached the kitchen. Then I realized it was hard to be secretive with beeping timers and whirring mixers. Making a cake couldn't be accomplished with the same finesse as an assassination attempt. There was no avoiding the noise and clatter of the whole affair.

I'd picked out an elaborate recipe yesterday for a yummy three-layered Corellian chocolate crème dessert that the Horns had sent me. It didn't seem too complicated, and when everyone saw the final result, they would fall to their knees in reverence. I wouldn't be she-who-must-be-barred-from-merely-entering-the-cafeteria. No, I would be Mara the esteemed chef, Mara the creator of renowned confections. Damnation to all who thought I could only kill, fight, and insult.

Preheat oven to 300º. Actually, I was guessing at the temperature, for I couldn't exactly tell what the correct number was. Mirax's handwriting has never been clear.

I glanced at the slip of scribepaper for the first ingredients. Eight eggs. But a frenzied search of the refrigeration unit revealed that we only had six eggs. Hmm…that wouldn't be too much of a problem. A little extra milk should work perfectly.

Cinnamon fluid? I couldn't find any. Perhaps vegetable oil instead? Same viscosity, although the tastes weren't quite the same. Once it baked, though, the flavor should burn away. I thought. Tionne's instructions are occasionally vague, but I recall that in rum cake the alcohol doesn't stay in the fluffy stuff. That should also eliminate the tang, right?

I spread the icing over the layers before popping them in the oven. I was running low on time, and it made more sense to combine steps rather than do everything separately. I set the timer for what seemed to be a good interval and turned around - only to discover that I had an audience.

Valin Horn sat in the doorway, studying me with attentive hazel eyes. I prepared to snap at him frustratingly but held my tongue. He was only a little kid, and Mirax's child at that. "Do you want something?"

He shook his head. "Mara, what're you doing?"

I straightened my bathrobe and tried to smile. "Making Master Skywalker a surprise. Will you promise to keep it a secret?"

"Yes. Can I eat the batter?"

"No. No. Didn't your parents ever tell you how unhealthy that is? Raw eggs contain more bacteria than an Invisec bar."

Valin frowned. "But you dipped your finger in the bowl a few minutes ago-"

"I don't think you're totally awake yet. Why don't you go back to bed?"

I sniffed the air tentatively. Something smelled … odd. I glanced at the oven, saw nothing alarming, and turned back towards the door.

"Mara, I'm not tired. And I saw you-"

The scent of burning grain increased. I dismissed it as part of my overactive imagination and started pushing Valin back into the hall. "Take a nap before breakfast. Have you taken your temperature? Fevers can make people fib."

"I would never lie! Daddy says honesty is a virtue, although Grandpa Booster likes to contradict him … smoke, Mara!"


He pointed towards the far corner, where my precious dessert was cooking. "There's smoke!"

I spun to see thick, dark fumes pouring out from under the oven door. And then I swore long and hard. I forgot about the seven-year-old apprentice and the bad example I must have been setting, and gave my emotions free range. It probably wasn't the best thing, but I was really angry. I knew something was bound to go wrong with this plan - a happy, anticipated day was quickly morphing into a damned ugly day. Maybe the cake would be salvageable.

I pulled it from the oven with heavy-duty mitts and regarded it disappointedly. My plump light brown beauty was a shriveled blackened mess. It looked like a mound of volcanic ash. I popped a tiny piece into my mouth and nearly gagged at the acrid taste. I was a failure.

I almost cried.

Almost. I choked back my tears and began to curse vehemently, sentencing my unfortunate creation to an eternity in Palpatine's presence. I heard Valin run out of the room, and I dropped my head in despair. Leia was right; I couldn't cook, couldn't even follow simple instructions. What kind of wife was I?

Warm arms circled my waist from behind, and Luke leaned his chin against my shoulder. "What's this?"

I bit my lip fiercely. "Your - birthday - cake."

He was silent for a few seconds. "So that's what you were being so mysterious about. Why didn't you get Tionne to help you?"

"I wanted to do something just for you. Something that would make you proud of me."

He pulled me closer. "Mara, you don't have to try to please me."

"But I can't even cook!"

"I don't want a chef. I want you."

I pulled free and pointed at my disaster. "What should I do with it? Not even fungi could consume that."

Luke's mouth twitched into a smile. He leaned forward. "Toss it. Tionne might think it's a science experiment gone awry. I'm sorry I couldn't eat it, though. I'm sure it would have been wonderful."

As I met his waiting lips, I couldn't help laughing at myself. I'd been wrong in one thing: this wasn't such an ugly day after all.