Timeframe: Two years post-NJO
Summary: Everyday life is not always a bed of roses in the Skywalker household.
Disclaimer: Everything Star Wars belongs to George Lucas. Except for the plot of this piece of fluff. Fans of a certain popular sit-com will recognize it immediately, and know that it belongs to CBS.
Many thanks to GreatOne for looking this over for me, and adding her own special touches.
"I can't believe those blasted Kallans were so hard-headed," Mara said with a growl as she impatiently waited for the front door to cycle open. "I wasn't sure we'd ever get them to cooperate. Why can't the GFFA get someone else to mediate these petty disputes?"
"Face it, we're too good at what we do." Following his wife into their apartment's entryway, Luke let the heavy travel bag he was carrying slip to the floor. "I thought we'd never get away from there. I'm exhausted."
"It does feel good to be home." Mara let out a tired sigh. "It will be even better when we get Ben."
"He's going to be sound asleep by now." Luke glanced at his wrist chrono. "Han and Leia are probably sound asleep by now."
"Right," Mara agreed. "Let's get him in the morning."
Luke wearily started to pick up their satchel, but Mara waved her hand dismissively. "Leave it." She wrapped an arm around Luke's waist, directing him toward their bedroom. "I just want to fall into my own bed, with my husband."
"I believe I can oblige," Luke murmured, letting her lead him down the hallway.
They were both asleep as soon as their heads hit their pillows.
"Mommy! Daddy!" Ben squealed, launching himself into his parents' embrace. "I missed you!"
"We missed you, too, sweetheart," Mara cooed, hugging her four-year-old son tightly. "Daddy and I couldn't stop thinking about you."
Luke reached out to smooth back his son's unruly red-gold locks. "Your mother was mostly worried about what you were learning from your uncle Han."
"Hey, I can't help it the kid needs someone to show him how to be normal," Han protested, ignoring Mara's scowl over the top of Ben's head.
"Did you bring me a present, Daddy?" Ben asked, turning his bright blue eyes to his father.
Luke grinned widely. "Of course I did. Something I know you'll like."
"What is it?" Ben squirmed out of Mara's arms and began patting at Luke's voluminous pockets.
"It's a surprise, and no, I didn't bring it with me," Luke said, laughing as he grabbed at Ben's wandering hands.
"He spoils him terribly," Mara commented to Han and Leia as she rose. "Brings him something from every world we visit."
"What better way for Ben to learn about other cultures?" Luke defended. "Since you won't let him come along on any of our trips."
"He's too young," Mara countered. "And it's too dangerous."
"The last few places we've been weren't dangerous," Luke returned.
"They were potentially dangerous," Mara maintained. "They-"
"Hey, hey," Han interrupted. "I think you two had better take somebody home before he yanks a hand off." He nodded toward Ben, who was furiously tugging Luke toward the door.
"I think you're right." Luke laughed, picking up Ben's small bag of clothes and toys. "Thanks for keeping him."
"Anytime," Leia said. "You know we love having him."
"Don't forget that I have to meet with Ambassador Krol this morning," Luke commented as he keyed in their door code. "I'm not looking forward to it."
"I don't envy you." Mara released Ben's hand, and the youngster raced into the Skywalker home, coming to a skidding halt at the large travel bag still resting at the far end of the apartment's entry hall.
"Is my surprise in here, Daddy?" Ben asked, already digging into the bag. "That why the bag's out here?"
"Uh, sure, Ben," Luke said, frowning at the forgotten satchel. He glanced at Mara, then wondered why she was pointedly ignoring him. Kneeling down, Luke pulled a neatly wrapped package from the satchel's bottom. "Here you go."
Ben ripped the covering off his latest present, whooping with joy at the sight of a new model starship.
"Part of Kalla's culture?" Mara said dryly, strolling further into the room.
"It's a prototype of their latest ship." Luke looked again at his and Mara's open travel bag, wincingas he felt a twinge of guilt that he was leaving her with the chore of unpacking their clothes. "Listen, I hate it, but I'm really running late for that meeting."
"Then go." Mara smiled at Ben, who was 'flying' his new toy between the couch and a chair. "We'll be fine."
"All right." Luke gave Mara a grateful smile, then called out, "Bye, Ben. I've got to leave for just a little while."
Ben stopped long enough to eye his father. "But you just got home, Daddy."
"I know, kiddo. Sorry. I'll be home in a couple hours, then we can play the rest of the day."
"'kay, Daddy." Ben resumed his mock flight across the room.
Luke leaned in and gave Mara a quick kiss. "Sorry about leaving you with everything. I'll hurry back as quickly as I can."
"Come, Ben. Let's put your things away." Mara picked up Ben's small bag.
"Ka-pow-ee!" Ben launched his new ship into a pile of pillows on the couch, then followed his mother to his bedroom.
"Are we gonna do you and Daddy's bag next?" Ben asked, obediently taking the pair of socks that Mara handed him.
"No, I think we'll leave that for Daddy to do," Mara replied, sorting through the remainder of clothes.
"Because..." Mara paused. Because if it weren't for me, nothing would ever be put away properly. Because he conveniently always has a meeting to attend when there's work to be done. "Because I'm not your father's housekeeper, and because he's the one who left it in the hallway."
"Oh." Ben scrunched up his face, peering up at his mother. "Can I go play now?"
"Yes, you may."
As Mara returned to the main living area, she barely spared a glance at the piece of luggage gracing her entryway.
Three hours later:
As the front door slid open, Luke automatically bent down, arms open to catch the whirlwind named Ben Skywalker.
"Daddy!" Ben shouted, running around his parents' satchel and wrapping his chubby arms around Luke's neck. "I like my new ship, Daddy. It's fun. But one wing broked off."
"It did? Well, I'm sure we can fix it." As he walked into the apartment, Luke looked down at the bag. "Um, did you keep your mom busy all morning, Ben?"
"Nope, I enner... endertain..."
"Yep. Ennertained myself." Ben smiled proudly. "Mommy said I was a good boy, so she could work at her 'puter."
"That's good," Luke said, gazing around the empty family lounge, then glancing back at the satchel. It must've been awfully important work if she didn't have time to put our clothes away. Mara's usually fastidious about everything being put in its proper place. "Where is your mom?"
"I'm making your lunch," Mara said, stepping out of the kitchen. "It will be ready in a few minutes," she continued before returning to her work.
"Okay." Luke looked down at the upturned face of his son. "Let's take a look at that broken wing."
Father and son took the toy to Luke's office, laying the pieces out on his spacious worktable. "So mom was pretty busy all morning?" Luke asked, applying glue to the edge of the broken wing.
"I dunno." Ben shrugged, leaning closer from his nearby chair. "She didn't act busy." He reached out and poked the glued-together pieces, causing them to break apart.
"Ben..." Luke shook his head, picking up the parts once more. At Ben's distressed look, his tone softened. "It's okay. But you have to let the glue dry before touching it." Luke busied himself reattaching the plastique wing. "So, did mom put away your clothes from your overnight bag?"
"Uh-huh. I helped, too. I put my leftover clothes in my drawer."
Luke tightened the cap on the glue container, setting it back in his box of supplies. So it's only our bag that she's ignoring? "Did mom say anything about the bag in the hallway?"
"Yep." Ben twisted his neck to one side, visibly restraining himself from reaching out and touching the tempting toy.
Luke waited, hoping Ben would continue. Finally he asked, "And what did she say?"
This was why his hair was getting grayer by the day. "About the travel bag in the hall."
"She said it was your job."
Ben gave his father an exaggerated sigh. "Mommy said you left it there, so you were gonna put it away."
Why would she expect me…? Am I in trouble for something I don't even know about? Luke's line of questioning ended abruptly when Mara appeared in the doorway.
"Lunch is ready," she announced. "You boys get your new toy repaired?"
"Daddy fixed it!" Ben bounced down from his seat. "But we gotta let it get hard."
"The glue has to dry," Luke translated, studyinghis wife's expression to see if she was angry. There was no evidence to indicate she was, so Luke triedout a littlejoke as a test."Too bad a bottle of glue isn't enough whenever my X-wing needs repairing."
"Sweetheart, we'd have to buy it by the barrel," Mara said dryly, following Ben to the kitchen.
Luke smiled, then stepped into the nearby refresher to wash his hands. Okay, so she didn't sound mad. He paused, frowning, when he noticed Mara's hairbrush lying on the counter. The same brush that he knew she brought on their recent trip. The same brush that had been packed in their travel bag. She got that out, but she couldn't be bothered to put the rest of our things away? The longer Luke stood there thinking about it, the more miffed he was starting to become. Well, two could play this game.
Ben carried the conversation during lunch, jabbering about helping Uncle Han work on the Falcon. The two adults indulgently pretended interest, delighting in the excitement and enthusiasm of their precious son.
After Luke helped clear the table, he excused himself to begin compiling their report on the previous day's mission. Mara watched hopefully as Luke headed toward the satchel, narrowing her eyes when he rummaged through the bag, withdrew several data pads, then settled in on the couch. Unbelievable.
Artoo-Detoo quietly rolled toward the neglected piece of luggage lying in the middle of the entryway.
"Artoo!" Mara barked, pointing one finger at the blue and white astromech. "Don't you dare touch that!"
Stopping in his tracks, Artoo's dome swiveled from Mara to the bag, then back to Mara. Deciding that tidying up the apartment wasn't worth his mistress's wrath, the little droid rolled back to his usual post, watching over Master BenThere were times when Artoo thought perhaps his protocol friend Threepio was correct – droids were just not meant to understand sentients.
Skirting the travel satchel with newly acquired ease, Mara opened her front door to receive her sister-in-law.
"Hi, Leia!" she greeted, giving the smaller woman a quick hug.
"Hi, Mara." Leia smiled warmly, until her gaze swept downward. "Don't tell me you and Luke have to go on another trip?"
"No, nothing planned."
"But…" Leia's brow wrinkled in confusion at the sight of the bulging satchel on the floor.
"That's from our last trip," Mara said with a shrug.
"You're kidding. That was a week ago."
"I know." Mara led the way into the apartment. "Want some caf?"
"Mara…" Leia wasn't born yesterday, and she could tell there was more to this than met the eye."What's going on?" she asked, following Mara into the kitchen.
Mara shook her head. "You think I can be stubborn? You should see your nerf of a brother in action." She poured them each a mug of caf as they sat down. "The night we came in late from Kalla, I told him to leave it sit," Mara said, waving in the direction of the satchel. "I didn't mean forever!"
Trouble in paradise? Leia raised her mug to her lips, hoping it would hide the grin threatening to escape. "You don't want to move it yourself?"
"It's the principle of the thing. Yes, I could put it away, but why should I? Is his arm broken?" Hot liquid nearly sloshed over the side as Mara set her cup down hard. "He acts completely oblivious to it, even when he practically tripped over it coming home last night. Would've served him right."
"You poor thing," Leia sympathized. It was almost refreshing at times to see that she and Han weren't the only couple who had petty quarrels. "You're right. It never hurt a man to help out around the house."
"At least he had enough sense not to think the phrase 'woman's work,'" Mara ranted. "Not while in my presence, anyway."
"Humph." Leia patted Mara's hand. "Consider yourself lucky. Han actually said it aloud." She smiled wryly. "Once."
"Hey, Luke!" Han ambled over to where Luke was crouched next to his X-wing's landing strut, installing a new repulsor. "I heard about the satchel war going on at your place."
Luke frowned a moment, until realization set in. "Oh, right. Leia came over to see Mara yesterday, didn't she?" He should have guessed the subject would come up, since the blasted bag was still lying right in the middle of their entryway. But did his sister have to go and tell Han about every little fight he and Mara had? It's not like he ever interfered in their marriage, Luke thought indignantly.
"Yes, she did." Han clamped one hand onto Luke's shoulder. "And I have to tell you, kid, I have never been more proud of you."
"Proud?" What's there to be proud of? That I'm acting like a stubborn bantha?
Han nodded, grinning widely. "Most men would never have the guts to defy their wives like you are. Especially a wife who used to be an assassin."
Luke started to put down his hydrospanner, suddenly feeling a bit ill. He hadn't thought about it in those terms. "Maybe I'd better go home and move it right now."
"Oh, no, you don't." Han pushed Luke back down when he began to rise. "You have an opportunity to strike a blow for the rights of husbands everywhere in the galaxy."
"I'm sure they'll all come to my funeral," Luke muttered, feeling more worried by the minute.
Han shook his head. "It sounded to me like it's as much her job as yours."
"Well…." Maybe that was true, but coming from Han it made Luke start wondering.
"I've told you over and over, you give in way too easily." Han leveled a stare at his younger friend. "Has Mara been nagging you about it?"
"No. She hasn't said a word."
"Silent treatment, huh?"
"Not really. She mentions every other subject in the galaxy." Luke bit his lower lip, thinking over the past few days. "It's like she's pretending the bag doesn't exist." He looked up at Han as exasperation gave way. "She's been home everyday. I just don't see any reason why she can't put it away."
Han nodded enthusiastically, obviously pleased Luke was finally seeing things his way. "Exactly."
"I mean, I carried it all the way from the ship. Just because I set it down when we got home…" Luke waved his tool through the air in a show of righteous indignation. "She told me to leave it there."
Han's smile got wider as Luke got more and more agitated. Artoo-Detoo toodled in agreement from his socket atop the ship.
"Do you know she even told Ben it was my job?"
"And then she had the nerve to snicker when I nearly fell over it the other night." Luke's whole face crinkled in irritation."I do plenty of chores around the house. Sure, I could do one more, but why should I?"
"Why indeed?"Han continued to goad.
"It's a matter of principle," Luke declared, tossing the hydrospanner into his tool bag with a loud bang.
"And if ever there was a man of principles, it's you, kid."
"Uncle Han!" A small red-headed blur sprang into Han's arms. "Whatcha doin' here?"
"Came to borrow your dad's ring-clamper. Is he here?" Han glanced around as he entered the Skywalker apartment, then grinned as he spotted the object of controversy. He really didn't think Luke would hold out this long. Facing down Palpatine was one thing; engaging in a battle of wills with Mara Jade Skywalker required a whole other level of courage, or insanity. His admiration for Luke had risen quite a bit in the past few days.
"Nope." Ben skipped ahead into the apartment. "Wanna see the new ship Daddy brought me?"
"Maybe later, kiddo." Han squinted around the toy-strewn lounge. "Where's your mom?"
"She's talkin' on the comm," Ben drawled as he headed toward the kitchen.
"She lets you answer the door by yourself?" Han asked, following close behind.
"Only if I can see in my head who's there."
Han shook his head. His nephew was going to be as strong in the Force as his parents. "So what are you up to?"
"I'm 'spose to be eatin' my lunch," Ben said, making a face. "But I don't like it." He reluctantly climbed onto his tall stool at the table. "Mom said I hafta sit here till it's all gone," Ben lamented, the side of his head leaning against his palm, his short legs swinging back and forth. He forlornly poked his fork at the mound of stewed gwouch on his plate.
A pang of sadness ebbed through Han as he remembered how Anakin used to sit at the table for hours, refusing to swallow even one bite of the same bitter food staple. Childhood was too precious to waste on such nonsense.
"Tell you what, kid." Han began spooning the offensive food into a disposable cloth. "I'll take care of this for you." He gave Ben a sly wink. "It can be our secret."
Ben eyed him uncertainly. "I dunno…."
"C'mon, Ben. You know your uncle Han wouldn't get you in trouble."
Ben's skepticism clearly increased, and Han started to wonder what stories Luke and Mara had been telling the kid about his good old uncle. Whatever they were saying, the poor child was obviously being brainwashed. Of course, since they were already spreading tall tales about him, it wouldn't hurt to show the kid a few tricks...
"If your mom asks, tell her I stole 'em."
This satisfied Ben. He hopped down and gave Han a tight hug. "You're the best, Uncle Han."
"So are you, kid." Han looked around the neat kitchen. Now, to get rid of the evidence… Disposal's too noisy. Somewhere Mara wouldn't look… Han wasn't about to eat the disgusting glob himself, no matter how nutritious it was. Sometime he would have to discuss the importance of getting a pet for Ben, for just such occasions.
Inspiration didn't take long to strike. Afterall, it was his specialty.
"Now, you whistle if your mom is coming," Han whispered. He looked down when he felt a tug on his pant leg.
"I don't know how to whistle."
"Just say my name."
Ben nodded, and Han fought not to chuckle at the boy's serious expression. Crossing to the entryway, Han lifted the flap on Mara and Luke's travel bag and quickly stuffed the cloth-wrapped wad onto the bottom. Ben's eyes widened, but he magically transformed into a picture of innocence when Mara's footsteps sounded down the hallway.
"Hello, Han," Mara said smoothly, her eyes scanning the room. "What brings you by?"
"I was hoping to borrow a ring-clamper from that no-good husband of yours."
"I see." Mara coolly raised one red-gold eyebrow, telling Han that she was highly suspicious of his excuse for visiting. "It's probably on the Shadow. Ben, is your plate clean?"
"Yes, mommy." Ben hopped from a chair to the couch to another chair.
"And you put your dishes into the cleaner?"
Ben stopped mid-step. "Oops." He leapt from his perch, nearly reaching the kitchen doorway in one bound.
"Great kid you got there," Han commented. "Wish I had a tenth of his energy."
"Only a tenth?" Mara smiled with motherly pride.
"I don't think my old ticker could take more than that!" Han laughed, placing one hand over his heart.
Mara's laugh was light and musical, and Han was reminded, not for the first time, of why Luke loved this multi-faceted woman so much.
"Luke will be home soon, if you'd like to wait," she offered.
"Nah. Just tell him I stopped by." Han turned toward the door.
"Sure. Oh, and Han?"
Mara smirked in amusement. "Watch your step on the way out."
Han looked up as Leia strode into their apartment. "I thought you were spending the afternoon at Mara's?"
"I was." Leia laid down her cloak. "But I couldn't take a whole afternoon. Han, we've got to do something. The odor…"
"That travel bag." Leia shivered slightly. "I thought we were the two most stubborn people in the galaxy. I don't know how Mara kept from gagging. She had every window open, and was spraying some kind of fragrance in the air when I arrived. She made a joke about it being Luke's dirty socks. But it didn't smell like any joke to me."
Han groaned inwardly. Stewed gwouch smelled bad enough when it was fresh. Hopefully they'd just toss out the whole bag without inspecting it too closely.
"Skywalker, what are you doing?"
Mara stood back, arms crossed, glaring at Luke as he searched one-handed through the offensive travel bag. His other hand was covering his nose.
"I have to meet with Cilghal and the new Macabalean ambassador in two hours," he muttered in a nasal voice, "and I need to run my dress robes through the cleaner."
"Better the incinerator," Mara retorted, taking a step back as she got a fresh whiff of the satchel.
Luke attempted to stifle a cough as he pulled out his cloak. "That's it. I give up." He stood up, holding onto one of the bag's handles. "I will be the bigger person, and clean this up."
Mara's emerald eyes flared. "Hold on there." She stalked closer. "You should've been the one to put it away in the first place. You're not going to play the martyr here."
"Why is this my fault?" Luke's voice rose a notch. "You're home more than me."
Mara grabbed the opposite handle. "You're on dangerous ground, farmboy." She held fast as Luke tried to gain control of the satchel. "You think this is my chore? Then let go."
"I said I'd do it."
"And I said let go." Mara tightened her grip.
The next few minutes were as if in slow motion. In the recess of his mind, Luke heard the front door annunciator chime. Mara gave a hard jerk, distracting him from identifying the visiting presence. Determined to end this insane tug of war, Luke yanked back equally hard. Ben ran behind him, reaching up to open the door. The handles on the case finally yielded, ripping on both sides and causing the bag to fly upward. Garments flew through the air just as the door slid open. Out of the corner of his eye, Luke saw two figures standing in the doorway, but he was too busy sliding in his stocking feet on the polished floor to register who they were. No less graceful, Mara fell backward with a soft thud.
"Hiya, Master Cilghal!" Ben's youthful voice greeted the Jedi healer who'd delivered him.
Luke's face reddened as he turned toward the entryway and recognized the other visitor – the very ambassador he was supposed to be meeting later that morning. He tried not to think about the scene of two normally composed Jedi Masters, sprawled amidst a littering of smelly dirty clothes.
"Oh, my." The Macabalean ambassador held one delicate six-fingered hand to her mouth.
"Who are you?" Ben asked.
The ambassador looked down at the small human child, his face smeared with a sticky food residue.
"Ben," Cilghal interjected, "this is Madam Ho'nan." She turned to her companion. "Our greeter is Ben Skywalker, son of the masters Skywalker." Cilghal swiveled one protruding eye into the apartment, no doubt hoping that the scene before her was some elaborate Jedi illusion. Sniffing the air, she raised one flippered hand to her nasal cavities. Alas, it was all too real.
"I thought you were going to the embassy to meet them," Mara whispered as she scrambled to her feet.
"I thought so, too." Luke straightened, kicking a pile of scattered garments to one side. And if the situation wasn't embarrassing enough, he noticed that the well-worn lounge pants he was wearing had a ragged hole in one knee.
"I am so sorry for this intrusion, Masters," the ambassador said in a trilling voice. "My schedule changed without warning, forcing me to leave sooner than I planned, and I thought perhaps…" She gave an apologetic smile. "But perhaps not."
"It is we who must apologize, Madam Ho'nan," Luke returned. "We're … uh … having a minor domestic emergency." He tried to ignore the way Mara was suddenly eyeing a mysterious grayish lump on the floor. "Could I meet with you at your ship before take-off?"
"I'm afraid I leave in one hour."
"I can be there in half an hour," Luke promised. He exhaled in relief when the ambassador agreed, and the door closed behind her and Cilghal.
"I haven't been this humiliated in ages," he muttered. "I hope the ambassador doesn't like to gossip, or we're never going to live this down."
Mara didn't reply. She was squatting close to the floor, using a slipper to poke at a pile of rotting mush. "Stewed gwouch," she growled. "No wonder it smelled like a womprat died inside that bag." Her accusatory gaze found Ben, who was watching from behind a chair. "Ben Skywalker!"
"I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" Ben's squeal followed him on his mad dash to his bedroom. Mara strode determinedly after him, and Luke immediately followed. He knew his wife would never hurt their son, but no one was immune from one of her infamous tongue-lashings.
It didn't take long to extract the story of the despised gwouch from Ben.
It was nearly two days later, however, before Han was able to track down the source of the putrid smell wafting through the Millennnium Falcon.