This story was a suggested plot bunny of Jedi-2B, and I went ahead and made her suggestion much, much more evil than her original intentions! But she's been very forgiving of my liberties, and VERY helpful as I've been writing this. Many of the conversations, scenes, or plot points are directly from her. So even though my screen name is listed as 'author', she can take fifty percent of the blame... err credit that goes with this story.
Luke snuggled closer to his wife, reluctant to wake up. He kept his eyes closed tight, listening to the hum of the ship's engine, and felt the gentle vibration of the hyperdrive through the mattress. The Jedi felt his wife stir in his arms. His wife... Somehow, even after spending the past several weeks on their honeymoon, it still seemed impossible that he was married. Married. A husband. Contentment coursed through his entire being. He no longer had to feel he was missing his 'other half', and he no longer had to damp down the rush of jealousy he experienced whenever he watched his sister interacting with her family. He had Mara now. Maybe, someday, they could expand the Skywalker family with a little one of their own. A thrilling, exciting notion flickered through Luke's mind. Maybe they could even start working on that right now... He reached for his wife, only to discover she was pushing him away. The loss of her warmth made him open his eyes, just as she turned on the cabin lights.
"Not now, Luke," Mara mumbled, sitting up on the edge of the bed and rubbing the still-sleepy expression from her face.
"Why?" he asked before he could stop himself. Inside, he cringed slightly, realizing he sounded like a petulant child. If he wanted to become a father, he'd have to work on that particular tone of voice.
Mara arched her eyebrow, trying to keep her expression somber, despite her inner amusement. "Because," she said sternly. "We're scheduled to come out of hyperspace in less than thirty minutes. So unless you trust Artoo to land my new ship in heavy Coruscant space traffic - which I can assure you isn't going to happen - we'd better get up."
"Our honeymoon was too short," Luke said with a sigh.
"It can't be helped," Mara replied with a laugh. "The galaxy needs you."
Reluctantly, Luke flung off the covers, shivering slightly in the cooler cabin air. Then a vague warning sense coursed through his body, and he shut his eyes as he tried to concentrate and focus on the Force.
"What's the matter?" Mara prodded, her voice becoming concerned.
Images flitted through the Jedi's mind. Bright lights, confusion, embarrassment...anger. The faces of Wedge, Iella, Corran, and Mirax mingled with Mara, Leia and Han. And they all seemed upset. Unfortunately, that was the extent of the Force-vision. Luke looked up at his wife. "I... I'm not sure."
"Are we in danger?"
"No," Luke replied quickly. That there was no danger seemed quite clear. But why would so many people he knew be so upset?
"Then what?" Mara asked as she got dressed.
The vision was gone, and although the warning tingle remained, Luke felt confident when he told Mara, "It was nothing. Don't worry about it."
Four hours later...
Leia threw her arms around Luke's neck, hugging him tightly. "Welcome home, brother!"
A second later, Han gave him a hard slap on his back. "Guess you're off the galaxy's most eligible bachelor's list, huh?"
"I think that happened a few weeks back, Solo," Mara shot back.
Han grinned at his sister-in-law. "Sometimes these rushed marriages don't survive the honeymoon, though."
"Rushed?" Luke spluttered out, before realizing Han was teasing.
"Once a farmboy, always a farmboy," Mara said with a sigh as Han and Leia laughed at Luke's expense.
"Are you hungry?" Leia questioned. "I'm making dinner, and there's plenty."
"You're making it?" Luke asked. "I just got finished with two weeks of Mara's cooking... don't you think I deserve - "
"Don't go there, Skywalker," Mara interrupted, her green eyes narrowing. "Unless you want to experience our first married fight."
"And learn the joys of sleeping on the sofa," Han added.
Leia put her hands on her hips. "So the men don't like our cooking? Is that what I'm getting here?" She looked at Mara, getting a wicked grin on her face. "Then I think they need to take us out to eat. Some place very nice."
"I hear the 'Starlayne Dinner Club' is excellent," Mara suggested.
"I hear it costs a small fortune," Luke put in, his warning sense feeling a sudden rebirth.
"That's a great idea," Leia told Mara. "I've wanted to eat there for months already, but nerf-herder here keeps complaining that it has a dress code." As a thought occurred to her, Leia's face lit up. "And you won't believe this, but just last week I received a coupon for the 'Starlayne.' Buy three meals, and you get the fourth free."
"Maybe it's not even a real coupon," Luke said thoughtfully. "It could be forged, you know."
"Forged?" Mara asked. "Who would bother forging coupons?"
"People will forge anything if they think they can get away with it," Han replied.
"You ought to know," Mara shot back.
"If they're sending out coupons, they're probably desperate for business," Han pointed out. "Besides, what kind of idiotic place makes you put on formal clothes to eat? Let's take the kids and go get a bantha-burger at the 'Space Rocket.' They don't care what you wear, and I have coupons for them, too. A free forty-five ounce fizzy drink with every Big Burp Burger."
Leia held up her hand to stop the argument. "Threepio will feed the children the dinner I made so it won't go to waste. You go get dressed up, flyboy. We're going out tonight and celebrating Luke and Mara's homecoming."
Glaring at Luke, Han muttered, "This is all your fault." Then his face got hopeful. "Maybe they won't have any tables available."
"Your wife's the President, Solo," Mara pointed out, rolling her eyes. "I doubt reservations will be a problem."
Han stomped off to the bedroom, defeated.
"Go home and get ready," Leia told her brother. "I'll make the reservations, and we'll pick you up in a couple of hours."
Mara grabbed Luke's arm, pulling him out of the room, and ignoring his protest, "I have a bad feeling about this..."
Two hours later...
The Offices of Baron Lando Calrissian, Director of The Coruscant Philanthropic Aid Society. That's what the fancy scrollwork on the outer doorway bragged, anyway. Wedge Antilles pushed the gold button, listening as strands of a famous five-hundred year-old opera filled the wide, carpeted corridor. His wife, Iella, shook her head in awe or disgust - Wedge couldn't quite tell which.
"Lando likes things first-class," Wedge commented into the silence, shifting in his suit. Lando had insisted they come 'dressed in their finest.'
"Why does he want to see us?" she asked for what seemed to Wedge like the hundredth time.
"He didn't say," Wedge replied for what seemed like the hundredth and one time.
The door parted silently, and a shiny silver droid stood before them. "Welcome, General and Mrs. Antilles," the droid said formally. "I am C-4A2, Baron Calrissian's personal assistant. Please follow me." The droid waved his hand inside the huge main lobby. "The Baron is expecting you."
Wedge shrugged at his wife, then took her hand as they followed the droid past the lobby and down another long hallway. At the end of this hall was another dark terrelwood door with gold lettering stating - "Baron Lando Calrissian." The droid pressed a button, and Lando's voice came over a small speaker mounted outside the door. "Yes?"
"General and Mrs. Antilles have arrived," the droid informed his master.
There was silence for a few seconds before the door slid open, and Lando appeared, throwing his arms around Iella in a huge hug. "You look more beautiful each time I see you." He gave a wide grin at Wedge. "How did you get so lucky, you scowl-dog, to win the hand of such a refined beauty?"
"What do you want, Lando?" Wedge asked suspiciously.
Lando gave an affronted look. "Who, me?" He smiled back at Iella. "I'd just like to take my two friends out to dinner at the 'Starlayne Club,' that's all."
"The Starlayne?" Iella asked, impressed. "That's the hottest restaurant on Coruscant right now."
"Beautiful and brilliant," Lando gushed, nodding in approval. "So you'll come with me?"
"Isn't it extremely expensive?" Wedge questioned, warning bells madly ringing in his brain. Sometimes you didn't have to be Force-sensitive to know when something seemed wrong... terribly, terribly wrong.
Lando waved his hand dismissively. "Cost is no object. I'm part owner of the place, anyway."
"We'd love to go!" Iella said enthusiastically.
"And we'll be paying later, I'm sure," Wedge mumbled under his breath as he followed Calrissian and Iella toward the private landing dock.
The Starlayne Dinner Club
Just as Mara predicted, Leia had no problems getting reservations. When the two couples arrived, they were quickly escorted by the establishment's Bith host to a secluded, and strangely large, table overlooking the sparkling lights of the endless city.
Han opened the electronic menu, wincing slightly at the flashing, scrolling words that extolled the many offerings. "Eight hundred credits for one bottle of wine!" Han gasped. "Are they insane?"
"Look," Luke pointed out dryly. "Here's a more reasonable one... only five hundred credits. And you get a hint of citrus in the aroma, too."
"I wonder why it's so much cheaper, then," Han commented. "The eight hundred bottle doesn't come with a hint of citrus. Maybe citrus is a bad thing."
"Do you think they'd let us keep the bottle?" Luke wondered, trying not to laugh.
"For that much money, I want a vacation home overlooking the vineyard." Han squinted at the menu again. "How about we stick all the food on one check, and then order three salads? That way we can use the coupon for the expensive items, and we'll only have to pay for the lettuce." He pointed at the scrolling menu. "Look, one stupid salad costs twenty-five credits all by itself!"
"I don't think that's the intent of the coupon, Solo," Mara said. "It's probably very clear that you have to purchase three meals, not three salads."
"You don't know that," Han argued back, then looked at Leia. "Let me see that coupon."
"No," Leia hissed, pushing the coupon out of Han's reach. "You're not embarrassing me in front of the waiter."
"They haven't put down any water yet," Luke mumbled. "We could still go get those free fizzies with a Big Burp."
"And it'll only cost us twelve credits, tops," Han said, nodding. "A giant-sized bucket of tuber fries included."
"They call them Hyperspace Curls," Luke remarked wistfully. "I love those Hyperspace Curls... I think they're addictive."
"Yeah," Han agreed. "You practically need three hands to hold the Big Burp. This place probably serves up a nerf steak the size of my thumb, then sticks a weed on the side of it to fill up the plate."
"Are you two planning on complaining the entire meal?" Leia asked testily.
"As a matter of fact," Han replied, tugging at his tight collar. "Yes."
"One hundred and fifty credits for stuffed Nabooian bog-fungus appetizer?" Luke asked as he continued reading the flashy menu. "They'd have to pay me a hundred fifty credits to eat bog-fungus... I don't care what they stuff it with."
While Han snorted in laughter, Mara glared at her new husband. "Keep it up, and it'll be stuffed with a Jedi."
Leaning forward, Han whispered at Luke, "Better lay off the griping, kid. Your wife owns a lightsaber."
"So do I," Leia said threateningly toward her husband.
"Fine," Han muttered. "I'll stop complaining. But don't think for a second I'm takin' a loan out on the Falcon to pay for this meal."
"I doubt your ship is worth that much, Solo," a deep voice laughed from behind Han's shoulder.
Han twisted around in surprise. "Lando?"
The Baron Calrissian grinned broadly as he shook Luke's hand. "Welcome back, Luke... and the ever beautiful Mara Jade." He bent over, taking Mara's hand and kissing it gallantly. "You do know how heartbroken I am, now that Skywalker has stolen the most stunning creature in the galaxy right out from under my nose."
"Yes, Lando," Mara responded. "I can see you look completely devastated."
Lando put his hand up to his heart. "I am... truly." Then he looked over at Leia. "The esteemed President visiting my establishment. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what this type of publicity will do for 'The Starlayne.' I was just telling my dinner guests, Wedge and Iella, that this place is performing beyond my wild - "
"Wait a second," Han interrupted, sparing a sideways glare at Leia. "You own this place?"
"I didn't know that," Leia said a bit defensively, as she glared back at Han.
"Only a share of it... fifty-five percent, I believe."
"Wedge and Iella are here?" Luke questioned.
"And you're treatin' them?" Han added, somewhat indignantly.
"We just arrived," Lando explained. "I had no idea you were coming tonight." He eyed the expansive table. "In fact, I'd love to treat you, as well. Now that I'm paying for your meal, you won't be needing that coupon..." He started to reach for the small flimsy, but wasn't quite fast enough.
Han lunged forward, nearly knocking over his wine glass, and managed to snatch the coupon up before Lando could retrieve it. "No... we can save it for next time." He paused, then added, "Not that we're ever comin' here again."
The Baron gave Han a strained smile. "Of course. Feel free to use it next time. You wouldn't mind if the four of us joined you, would you?" Without waiting for a reply, he turned and headed toward the entrance.
"I knew that coupon was fake," Luke mused, pleased he was right.
"Lando's lying," Mara mumbled just loud enough to be heard.
"Lando? Lie?" Han said, feigning disbelief. "I'm shocked you would say such a thing, Mara. Shocked."
"Mara's right," Luke put in, his warning sense kicking up several notches. "Lando knew we would be here tonight. He probably sent us that phony coupon just to get us to come."
"That's not so odd he'd know we were coming. If he really is one of the owners, he could've had the maitre-d' alert him when any of us made a reservation," Leia commented. "But why is he acting like he wasn't expecting us?"
"Who cares," Han replied. "As long as he's payin', I can put up with whatever con job he's trying. Let's order the eight hundred credit bottle of wine, and the stuffed bog-fungus." He gazed at the menu for a few more seconds. "This broiled skrob appetizer looks mighty tempting, too. Especially at ninety-five credits."
"Well, it'll be good to see Wedge again," Luke said, trying to see the bright side of the situation. "And Iella is very sweet. I just can't help but worry that this meal isn't really going to be free."
"When it comes to Lando Calrissian, everything he does has some angle," Mara said.
The four looked over as Wedge, Iella, Lando and his fiancee, Tendra, made their way over to the table. Several waiters scurried over and rearranged the chairs and settings. Suddenly, the large table was no longer quite so roomy.
"Order whatever you like," Lando said, snapping his fingers and whispering to the Bith server. "Price is no object."
"That's what the man keeps saying," Wedge grumbled. "Free...free...free.."
"Isn't this nice?" Iella asked, smiling brightly, her eyes betraying a bit of worry. "We weren't expecting to see you here. But it sure is nice... anyway."
"It seems to be gettin' better and better," Han agreed with a straight face.