?anglgrl107: Hahahaha. It's about 3:30 my time. I don't know what that translates into for your time. And then of course, there's that half-day delay before what I post shows up here. :(
Amanda: The book I based this on? I was trying to be original. Unless you mean Zahn's "Heir to the Empire" trilogy, where they first meet. I definitely recommend those.
GreatOne: I'm guessing you mean Write Some New Stuff! Not everyone can knock out great stories every week like you. Maybe some plot bunnies will bite while I'm lounging on the beach next week. Thanks, dear. :)
crazytook: Glad you liked the cell scene. It was fun having Han and Leia try to guess what's going on with Luke and his new friend. And thanks for all the faithful reviewing!
Mara look-a-like: Thanks. There'll be a couple weeks delay before the next book starts. Vacation time.
randomidiot: You know, are they gonna stop fighting at any point? As in "Make Love, Not War"? I thought you didn't want any love scenes? ;) Also, I don't mean to whine or anything, but could you put a warning on chapters with...adult scenes? Hmm, sorry about that. This is rated T, which I hoped was fairly accurate. If it's any consolation, you're past the worst parts. This last chapter is pretty tame, and I'll try to put a note at the top of any chapters in Book Two that I think are a little more 'adult.'
Many, many thanks to everyone who has replied at any point in the story, and thanks in advance to all who post a review for this ending chapter. Hope you enjoy it.
Book Two will be posted (as a separate story) in about two weeks, maybe less. If you activate that Author Alert button, you should catch it okay.
A Journey of Discovery -- Book One: Pendulum
The battle over Imperial City raged on for hours, with the Rebel ships gradually outgunning the scattering Imperials. Soon, Han received orders to meet with Ackbar's flagship at the pre-arranged rendezvous point, leaving the squadrons of X-wings and Y-wings to take care of the mopping-up action.
As the Falcon made the jump to hyperspace, Han and Lando unbuckled and moved to the central lounge just as Leia and Luke were entering from opposite directions.
"We made it!" Leia exclaimed gleefully, hugging Luke quickly before crossing to Han's side.
"We should reach Bilbringi by midday tomorrow," Han informed the others, wrapping his arm around Leia's slim shoulders.
Lando was paying no attention, however. "Isn't anyone going to introduce me?" he lamented, eyeing the green-eyed brunette now leaning casually against a bulkhead.
Luke cleared his throat. "Lando, this is Mara Jade, a ..."
But Lando was barely listening as he quickly crossed the lounge to take the lady's hand. "I am General Lando Calrissian, my dear. Charmed to make your acquaintance."
Everyone in the room rolled their eyes, including Mara as she pulled her hand back before Lando could kiss it.
"I am pleased to meet you as well," Threepio piped up. "I am See-Threepio, Human Cyborg Relations ..."
But Mara's eyes were fixed on the doorway to the cockpit, now filled by an enormous shaggy Wookiee who was roaring into the room.
"Chewie says hello, too," Han translated. "Well, we've all had a busy day. Maybe we need to get some rest." He turned to the Jedi standing near him. "Luke, I guess your bunk is gonna look pretty good. Miss Jade, I'm afraid we don't have a spare cabin, but you're welcome to crash here in the lounge."
Luke looked around the room – Han, Chewie, Lando, Leia. "Wait a minute, the Falcon only has four cabins. How can mine be empty?"
The others exchanged nervous glances. Finally Leia spoke up quietly. "I'm staying in Han's cabin, Luke."
Luke held her gaze a few moments, but without the accusatory stare that Leia had feared. "Oh. I see." He gave Leia a small smile, then turned to his companion.
"Mara, you can sleep in my bunk." At the sound of snickers, he hurriedly added, "I mean, I'll stay out here."
"Sure, kid, whatever," Han said with a laugh. "I'll take the first watch. Chewie, you wanna relieve me in three hours?"
Chewbacca roared his agreement.
"Okay, then, I'll see the rest of you in the morning." With a wink to Leia, Han turned and strode into the cockpit.
Lando and Chewie bade their goodnights and left the lounge. Leia laid a hand lightly on Luke's arm and kissed his cheek. "Thank you for understanding," she whispered. "It's so good to have you back."
"It's good to be back," Luke returned, smiling at Leia as she left also. Looking at Mara, he tilted his head down the corridor. "I'll show you which cabin you can use."
"Sure," she replied, following him. They reached a tiny cabin near the end of the corridor.
"Here we are," Luke announced, waving her into the small cubicle first.
Mara glanced around the cabin in silence.
"Do you need anything?" Luke asked. Mara looked down at her ragged clothes.
"Umm. I don't suppose you have something I could sleep in?"
"Uh, let me see." Luke pulled open a compartment built into the wall. Reaching in, he pulled out a well-worn knit shirt. "Will this do? If not, I'm sure Leia would have something you could borrow."
"No, no. This is fine," she assured him, taking the garment.
Luke stood there, rubbing the back of his neck and trying to avoid her emerald gaze. "I ... guess ... I'll see you in the morning then," he murmured. As he began to leave, he heard a small voice behind him.
"They don't trust me."
Luke turned back around and met her level gaze. "They don't know you," he said quietly.
"Humph. And when they do know me," Mara retorted, "you actually think, then they'll trust me? You're more naïve than I imagined, Skywalker."
Luke reached out, took her hand, and led her over to the bunk. He perched himself on the edge of the mattress, and waited until she did the same.
"Mara, I know this won't be easy for us."
"What do you mean, 'us'? I'm the one they'll toss in a prison cell and then throw away the key."
"I won't let that happen."
"What makes you think you can prevent it? And why would you try? I'm the enemy." She fixed him with a challenging stare.
Luke took both her hands in his, holding them tightly.
"Look, we escaped the palace, and survived underground, because we stuck together. You helped me." He gazed into her eyes. "I'm not about to abandon you now."
"Skywalker, be reasonable. You're a commander in the Alliance. You're a Jedi Knight. You can't let yourself be dragged down by someone like me."
"Mara, I ..." Out of the corner of his eye, Luke caught sight of Chewie lumbering slowly past the door. Without moving from his seat, he triggered the door control, causing the cabin door to slide shut.
"Things will be all right, you'll see," Luke continued. "They'll be so much going on when we get back to Imperial City, no one will even notice you."
"You make a girl feel so special, Skywalker," she said, a hint of teasing in her dry tone.
"That's not what I meant," he fumbled.
She waved off his feeble attempt to explain himself. "Don't worry, I can blend in with the best of them." Mara pulled away from him, moving to pace across the room. "I no longer have anything tying me down to Imperial Center," she continued, musing aloud. "Maybe I'll hop a transport, and see the galaxy from a new perspective."
"Oh," Luke muttered, more than a little dejected at the thought of her leaving so soon. He rose also, picking out some clean clothes for himself. "Guess I'll let you get some sleep. You're welcome to use anything you find in here."
"Thanks," she murmured.
Luke. Call me Luke. Please, call me Luke. He held his breath waiting for her to finish.
Thanks to his Jedi control, not a muscle twitched, except for the tightening of his heart.
You could kiss me goodnight, Mara thought hopefully, gazing at his impassive face. Just a peck on the cheek. Just a hug ...
Luke turned and walked out the door.
"What you doin' back out here so soon, pal?" Han commented as Chewie entered the cockpit.
/Forgot I wanted to realign the sensors. Lando's been fiddling with them again./
"Hummph," Han muttered, once more thanking the gods he was back in charge of his beloved ship.
/The cub is quite fond of his new friend, Chewie continued, bringing up the subject of their newest passenger.
"Yeah, well, he's too trusting," Han muttered, as he idly fine-tuned the deflector shields. "What do we know about her, anyway? Practically nothing."
/Perhaps Luke knows more than he's letting on./
"He is getting pretty good at keeping secrets from the rest of us, ain't he?" Han said, scowling. "Too good. I have this gut feeling he's hiding something again."
At Chewie's low questioning growl, Han added, "Yeah, a bad feeling."
/Maybe he brought her along because he finds her attractive./
"When has Luke ever been swayed by a pretty face?"
/You wouldn't be here now, practically engaged, if he hadn't been inclined to rescue a certain pretty face./
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
Luke came out of his cabin and settled in on the acceleration couch in the lounge. As exhausted as he was, though, sleep was determined to evade him. So much had happened in the last few weeks, he had trouble believing it was all real. He had found his father, and lost his father. The galaxy had lost a tyrant, but Luke had no doubt others would vie to take his place.
He had found a new friend, Luke continued reflecting, but could very well soon lose her, too. He had found a sister, while she had found a soulmate in his best friend. Now that was an alliance he had seen coming ages ago. And apparently, his sister was ahead of him in the 'being intimate with someone' department. Wearily, Luke turned on his side. Stang, he could be an uncle before he even had a chance to ... No, Mara was right. He'd had his chance, and blew it. He had his doubts that she'd ever give him another.
Luke cut short his self-imposed feelings of regret when Han wandered through the lounge, supposedly on his way to get some caf from the galley.
"Uhm-mmm," Luke murmured groggily.
"Thought maybe you'd stay with your lady friend tonight," Han drawled, trying to fish for information on just what kind of involvement Luke had with this 'Jade.' "None of us would mind."
Luke was silent a moment, then his voice drifted through the dark shadows of the lounge. "No, that ... wouldn't be proper."
Wouldn't be 'proper'?' thought Han. He's starting to sound like Goldenrod.
"Uh," Han continued, never one to be deterred. "Is she going to be staying with us?"
"I don't know."
Han waited as he heard Luke shift around on the creaky leather couch.
"Maybe not," Luke finally went on, since Han was obviously not going to leave without more of an answer. "She said something about taking a transport to tour the galaxy."
"Yeah, I guess dancers don't get out to see much."
Luke winced inwardly, but kept silent this time. He made a pretense of yawning loudly.
"Hmmm. Well, guess you're pretty tired," Han went on, finally deciding to let up on the kid. "You better get some rest."
"Yeah, goodnight, Han."
A couple hours later, Han wearily slipped into the narrow bunk with Leia. "I should have gotten me a bed warmer ages ago," he teased as she snuggled up close to him.
"Nerf herder," she muttered sleepily. "I'm so glad Luke is back safe with us."
"Yeah. But since when do Jedi Knights act like protocol droids?"
"I was kidding him that he ought to bunk with his lady friend, but he told me it 'wouldn't be proper.'"
"He said that?"
"Word for word. Best Threepio imitation I've heard in awhile."
Leia was silent a moment. "Do you think ...?" she began.
"Think what?" Han yawned.
"Maybe Luke doesn't consider our sharing this cabin as 'proper,' either. I thought I caught a sense of understanding from him, but perhaps I misread him."
"Who knows what goes through his mind?" Han kissed Leia lightly. "Let's get some sleep. You can quiz him in the morning."
The next morning, Leia was fixing herself a cup of caf in the galley when Mara Jade startled her. The woman hadn't made a sound.
"Would you like some?" Leia offered, recovering her poise. The woman's emerald-eyed stare slightly unnerved her.
"Yes, please." So the aloof princess is Skywalker's twin sister.
"Did you sleep well?" Leia asked politely.
"I eventually fell asleep." Mara accepted the steaming caf from Leia's outstretched hand. "It felt strange, not having Luke curled up next to me." There, let her chew on that for awhile.
It was a good thing Leia hadn't picked up her own cup yet. No doubt it would have hit the floor, as her lower jaw did.
"The shower did help relax me," Mara went on, "though it can't compare to the baths he and I shared. Your brother has quite the physique under all those boring black clothes, you know."
"I ..., I ..." Leia stuttered, "didn't know." Rarely did anyone leave Leia Organa speechless. She raised one hand to her mouth in consternation when she realized Luke was standing in the doorway.
"What in blazes are you telling her?" he demanded of Jade, his eyes burning with fury.
"Nothing that isn't true." Mara met his stare coolly. "Or do you want them to believe you're always the sanctimonious Jedi, up on some pedestal above the rest of us?"
Luke grabbed her arm roughly. "You don't need to broadcast our personal affairs!"
Leia sidled over to Han, who had entered moments before. "Whoa!" he whispered to her. "Am I missing a show in here?"
"It was only one affair, Jedi," Mara said, laughing haughtily. "And I wouldn't count on it being repeated."
"I wouldn't either," he bit out, dragging her out of the galley by the arm. Luke pulled her down the corridor to his cabin, passing a wide-eyed Lando on the way.
Lando entered the galley and proceeded to the caf dispenser. "What was that all about?" he quizzed Han and Leia, gesturing behind him.
"Lover's spat, I'd say." Han grinned, then turned to Leia. "I didn't know the kid had it in him."
Luke smacked the door control shut, then turned to face his companion. "Have you lost your senses!" he seethed. "Why would you say things like that to my sister?"
"Embarrassed to have anybody know what you've done with an Imperial concubine?" she taunted.
"We haven't done anything!" he shouted.
"Besides, I figured I was doing you a favor." Mara settled herself on the edge of the bunk.
Luke ran a hand through his tousled hair, making him look that much more appealing, in Mara's opinion. An opinion she kept buried beneath a cool exterior.
"And just where in your deluded brain would you come up with that idea?"
"I saw the pleading look your sister was giving you last night, when she admitted to shacking up with Solo. She was scared to death you wouldn't approve." Mara shrugged casually. "I was just trying to make her feel better."
"That's ridiculous." Luke paced back and forth. "She knows I wouldn't judge her."
"Does she?" Mara arched an eyebrow.
"She's my sister. I think I know her better than you do."
"You didn't even know she was your sister until, what, a month ago?" Mara stood and faced Luke. "Listen, Skywalker, women worry about what people think of them, especially people they care for."
"And do you worry what I think of you?"
Mara swallowed hard, then turned aside quickly. "This isn't about us."
"No, I guess there is no 'us,' is there?" Luke gave her a disappointed stare, then looked down at his feet in resignation.
"I'm sorry, Skywalker," Mara said quietly. "I'll apologize to her, and tell her the truth."
Luke kept his head bent down, but shifted his azure gaze up to meet hers. Suddenly a little smile wormed its way onto his face. "Nah, let them think what they want. It might be kind of a nice change, to have a playboy reputation for awhile."
Mara's expression turned into a contented smirk as she purred seductively, "Whatever pleasures you, Jedi."
A week later, Commander Luke Skywalker was back on Coruscant, gazing up at what was left of the once-magnificent Imperial Palace, Mara Jade standing at his side. The full upper third of the building was virtually gone, destroyed by the barrage of proton torpedoes. What remained of the former site of the Emperor's domination displayed little resemblance to its past elegance.
"My suite was on the ninety-fifth floor," Mara commented with strained complacence. "It's completely gone now. What few possessions I owned were in there ... Kaythree ... all gone."
Luke remained silent, not wishing to intrude on her reminiscing.
Mara cocked an eyebrow toward him. "Your suite, on the other hand, should still be there. It was twenty levels below mine. We should go take a look."
Luke shrugged self-consciously. "Oh, I don't know. It's not really necessary."
"You don't always have to do only what is necessary, Skywalker." She nodded with her head toward the walkway that led to the entrance, her face devoid of any smug satisfaction as she wondered if this was such a good idea or not.
The pair entered the lobby and approached the makeshift guard station.
"Commander Skywalker, sir," the harried lieutenant said, saluting.
"Good morning, Lieutenant." Luke smiled warmly. "We'd like to visit some of the upper levels."
"You would have access, of course, sir, but I'm afraid your companion would not. Only officers and approved repair crews are allowed above this level."
"I'll take responsibility," Luke assured the officer. When the latter still hesitated, he added in an even controlled voice. "She is approved to enter."
"Uh, yes," the lieutenant replied slowly. "She's approved to enter." The man blinked, then continued. "The structure is only stable enough to walk through up to the seventy-eighth floor, sir."
"That will be far enough. Thank you." Luke smiled again as he and Mara started to walk away.
"Oh, and Commander," the lieutenant called after them, "the turbolifts aren't operating."
"I'm sure we can find the stairs," Luke sent back.
"Abusing your power, Jedi?" Mara said with a smirk.
"You know me better than that." Luke grinned as they entered the stairwell. "I figured these commander's stripes should be good for something."
"Uh-huh. Sure, whatever you say." Mara slid one hand along the dusty railing as they ascended, old memories beginning to assault her. No, maybe this wasn't the best idea she'd ever had.
Even they were beginning to tire when Luke and Mara finally reached the seventy-fifth floor. Mara set off toward the site of Luke's incarceration, while he trailed slowly behind. "Well, c'mon," she groused as he looked up and down the corridor.
"I've only actually entered and exited once, you know," he explained as he attempted to get his bearings. "And only via the turbolift."
"Turbolift shaft upon exiting," she corrected wryly. "Don't worry, I know the way."
They soon reached the door, now jammed open about ten centimeters. The controls proved useless, they quickly realized.
"Okay, so we go for the brute strength method." Luke frowned as he wrapped his hands around the edge of the heavy door and braced one foot against the jamb. A few minutes later the stubborn door slid aside enough to allow them entrance.
"Guess you could have just sliced it open with your lightsaber," Mara suggested too late.
"No need to ruin a perfectly good door," Luke responded, before stopping to survey the destruction that lay before them.
"Don't think it would have mattered much," Mara murmured. Furniture lay toppled, music and reader disks were scattered where they'd fallen, expensive art pieces were now only broken pieces of porcelain. A heavy coating of dust from the ceiling covered everything, disturbed only by the strong winds that whipped through the uneven hole in the transparisteel window.
Luke stepped into the room carefully, almost reverently. Mara paused, glancing briefly at the desolation, then moved on through the suite. As she wandered into the bedroom, Luke bent and retrieved a particular music disk from the pile on the floor, slipping it into his pocket as memories of a night of dancing lessons surfaced in his mind. When he joined Mara in the next room, he found her just standing, mutely staring at the shards of jagged transparisteel that covered the now-torn silk bedcoverings. He didn't disturb her, but instead turned hesitantly toward the refresher door.
When Mara eventually took notice of Luke's passing behind her, she also forced leaden steps into the scene of their former sanctuary. He was leaning against a wall, lips compressed tightly. She followed his gaze to the once-elegant marble tub, and the large crack that now punctuated its side and bottom. They stood in silence together a few moments, until Mara finally took a deep breath and spoke.
"Guess there's some profound symbolic meaning here," she wisecracked.
Luke chuckled in a low voice. "Maybe only that we weren't meant for the life of marble whirlpools and silken furnishings." He pushed away from the wall and guided her back out to the common room. They wandered over to the window and gazed out at the still majestic view of the vast city.
"Have you come to a decision about our offer yet?" Luke ventured.
"Supply Distribution Coordinator for Rogue Squadron? I don't know, Skywalker." Mara watched as the Central Gathering Hall's giant beam swept across the sky, marking the hour, oblivious to the drastic change in government. "I suppose it would be better than being shipped to Hesperidium with the rest of Palpatine's dancers and concubines."
"And you could spend more time with me," Luke added, a thread of relief weaving its way through him.
"Are you trying to talk me out of it now?" She jabbed him playfully, eliciting a grin from Luke before he turned back to observing the distant lights, falling into silence once more.
"So what else is on your mind?" She waited while he formulated a reply. Rarely anymore could they not read each other's emotions like an uncoded datacard.
Luke bit his bottom lip, then spoke quietly, still looking out the cracked window. "I have a present for you, a thank-you gift for helping me out of this place."
She waited as he finally turned toward her, reaching one hand into his jacket and pulling out a lightsaber. Her eyes grew wide as she recognized the old Jedi weapon.
"But that was your father's," she protested. "He told you to keep it. You can't give it away."
"He also told us to take care of each other," Luke reminded her. "Knowing us, I figure the best way, perhaps the only way, of doing that is by making sure you have a reliable weapon so you can take care of both me and yourself."
She frowned at his roundabout logic, so typical of the man she'd come to know and admire.
"Besides," Luke continued, "I've got my own saber." He fingered the instrument hanging from his belt, which he'd crafted himself in Ben's old home. "This one would just end up lying on some shelf, gathering dust." He shot her a pleading look. "You could consider it a loan until you build your own."
She slowly took the weapon as he held it out to her. "Who says I'm going to ever build one?" she said with a snort. "I'm not going to become one of your Jedi."
"I don't see anyone else lining up for the privilege," he retorted, a small smile playing about his lips as she stroked the smooth cylinder. "No strings attached. Just hold on to it for me. Who knows, I may need you to rescue me again someday."
Mara clutched the lightsaber tightly, then clipped it to her own belt. "I should be the one giving you a present. You saved me in a way that I could never reciprocate."
"We don't need to keep score," Luke murmured, hesitantly wrapping one arm around her shoulders and breathing a sigh of relief when she didn't shrug him off. "That's what friends are for."
Mara nodded in silent reply, and leaned in a little closer to him, her once-again red-gold hair spilling over his shoulder.
Luke shut his eyes, savoring this moment. His relationship with Mara was like a pendulum, going from worlds apart to so near he could taste her kisses and feel her in his arms, then swinging back out so distant that they could barely see each other.
They may not be ready for a romantic alliance just yet, but someday ... someday he was going to grab her when she was at her closest, hold her tight, and never let her swing out away from him again.
To be continued in Book II: Pledge