"I cannot believe this!" Mara Jade swore as she tried to raise up high enough to see over the empty fuel canisters that acted as a temporary barrier against the barrage of weapon's fire aimed directly at her. Pain sliced through her left leg as she fell back down to the floor, unable to get a shot off.
"Give it up, Jade," called the leader of the pirates as he signaled for a cease fire for the moment. "You ain't going no where and we want that cargo."
Mara grunted as she tried to pivot into a better position where she might have a better chance of defending herself. "Well, now that's going to be a problem Creel, 'cause the forks on Garqi are waiting for their fancy champagne and I'm not one to disappoint a client." Mara sniffed in disdain. She'd met Creel once or twice before, but he'd never gotten her at a disadvantage – until now.
Several of the men laughed out loud at her response, reloading their weapons during the interlude. "Come in now, girlie, you know the only way out of here is through us and all we want is the cargo. So just give us your codes and we'll take what we want and be on our way real peaceful like."
Mara snorted. "The last guy who called me girlie is now singing lead soprano in the all-male choir on Kessel." She braced herself against the wall of the hangar, trying to push up to get a better look at her assailants. Must be about seven of them, she thought. "And there's no way I'm giving you access to my ship."
"We don't want your ship, Jade, just the cargo." More laughter followed. "Of course we may just take her for a spin but I promise, my word as a gentleman, I'll bring it right back."
Mara raised her blaster and focused in on one of the shorter thugs who was slightly exposed. "You haven't been a gentleman since your momma wiped your—"
Quickly she fired a shot hitting "Shorty" square in the chest, he fell face down, dropping his weapon to the ground. The pirates fired back in response hitting the canisters and the wall behind her. The noise was deafening and Mara knew she would not be able to hold out for much longer. Glancing at her leg, she was sure it was broken limiting her movement or chance of escape.
The weapon's fire stopped. "Now why'd you have to go and do something like that, Jade? He was the best mechanic I could afford. I'm afraid I'm going to have to stop being so nice now."
"Good," called Mara, "I'm tired of all this civility anyway." She could see her ship behind the pirates, but knew there was no way to get to it except through them. "I guess you'll just have to shoot me and be on your way."
"Naw, we don't want ya' dead…we just want your ship and the contents. Now be a good little girl and give us the codes." More weapon fire followed as the pirates edged closer to where Mara was sequestered.
She laughed to herself and shook her head not believing that after all she'd been through her entire life, that this was the way she was going out – outsmarted by a bunch of no-brain pirates. Balancing on her good leg, she decided to at least take as many with her as she could.
"This is my last warning, Jade. Now come on out and we'll treat you as fairly as we can, us being pirates and all. Give us the codes and we'll let ya' live otherwise we'll have to shoot you pretty bad."
"Now that's no way to treat a lady," said a familiar voice.
Mara couldn't believe her ears. Edging up over the top of the canisters, she peered up to see none other than Luke Skywalker standing behind her captors with his arms folded across his chest. No one had ever looked so good and yet…she was sure she would never hear the end of his admonishments about how she should be more careful. He would certainly lecture her once more about coming to Yavin and training with him.
The leader smiled. "Now look, pal, we don't want any trouble. We're just trying to do a little business here, so if you'll leave the hangar everything will be just fine."
Luke moved a little closer his arms down by his side and his lightsaber hanging from his belt. "Nothing would make me happier, but we have one little problem. That's my friend you've got hold up over there and I just can't leave her…or allow you to take her ship."
The pirates began laughing as Creel shook his head. "And tell me just who is going to stop us? You? All by yourself? 'Cause Jade over there ain't gonna be any help at all. Are you girlie?" called the pirate over his shoulder.
"I have every thing under control, Skywalker!" yelled Mara, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice.
"See?" said the pirate. "So you just turn around and we might just let you live."
Luke smiled as he continued to approach the pirates. "Like I said earlier I can't do that."
A tall, thin pirate with only one eye approached the leader and whispered something in his ear.
"What?" growled Creel. "Sky—who?"
Luke remained about ten meters away from the group allowing the one-eyed gentleman his moment with the leader.
"I don't care who he is…he ain't interfering with this here heist!" snarled the pirate. Looking Luke up and down a bit he cleared his throat and continued. "Now I'll let you go if you go right now, otherwise, we'll have to hurt you."
Luke shook his head. "Oh, I don't think so." Before another word was spoken Luke gestured with his hand gathering the Force to him and pushed the one-eyed pirate against the wall of the hangar sending him crashing unconscious to the ground. The pirates stood gaping for a moment and then began to fire wildly at their new foe.
Flipping up and over their line of fire, Luke activated his lightsaber with its familiar Snap-hiss, and sliced the two closest pirates' right hands off with the blasters still attached. Screaming in pain, they fell to the ground cradling their arms to their bodies.
The remaining outlaws stared at their fellow crew members in shock, but kept their weapons trained on the newcomer.
Luke with his lightsaber still activated, remained in a defensive posture. "Now, I think we can all see where this is going. Just put down your weapons and I'll let you get back to your ship."
Several of the pirates began to mumble. "Shut up!" yelled Creel. "We ain't leaving till we get what we came after. Jaun…Ket…you two, pick up your weapons."
The two injured men looked at their leader a moment in disbelief, but then moved toward their blasters—severed hands still attached.
Luke motioned with his wrist drawing the weapons to him with the Force. Catching the first blaster he shook it a bit, flicking the severed hand up into the air. He tucked the blaster quickly into his belt and caught the severed hand tossing it back to its original owner. "Here," Luke deadpanned, "let me give you a—"
"Skywalker!" groaned Mara from behind the canisters. "I may just shoot you myself."
The second weapon had landed near his foot. He levitated the blaster and flicked the remaining hand back to the 2nd pirate who was still groaning in agony. "I expect you'll want this back friend," said Luke, tucking the other blaster into his belt.
Both pirates, pale from shock, but now with their re-acquired hands scurried away towards their ship leaving the rest of the crew to fend for themselves.
Mara watched in consternation as Luke seemed to have the entire situation under control. Leave it to Skywalker to turn up at the wrong place at the wrong time, she thought, I'll never live this down. I almost wish Creel had killed me…
"You're slowly running out of options, friend. How about you take me up on my offer and leave while you still have all your body parts attached," said Luke, carefully advancing toward the remaining four pirates.
Creel snorted as he aimed his blaster at Luke. "You're forgetting, it's still four against one, pal. And there ain't nobody keeping me from getting what I came for." He gestured toward two of the remaining crew members. "Criven, Maer…take him out."
Two of the largest remaining men rushed quickly toward Luke, firing as they approached. With little effort Luke deflected the bolts from the two men's weapons. Mara heard screams and looked up to see the two large men kneeling…their severed hands on the ground, weapons attached.
"You've got to be kidding me!" screamed Creel waving his blaster at his two associates as they whimpered like bantha cubs. "You let one little….nobody take you down?"
The two men mewed pitifully as they picked up their blasters, removed their hands and then dropped the weapons back to the ground. Staggering, they carried their indisposed hands back toward their ship never once looking back.
"He's not exactly nobody, Creel," shouted Mara. "He's a Jedi Master—"
"—I don't care who the guy is…he's a dead man now!" Creel pulled out a fragmentation grenade and depressed the trigger, lobbing it directly at Luke. "So long, Jedi."
Luke easily caught the detonator with the Force and pushed it about ten meters out the nearest window. A loud explosion sounded outside the hangar along with various squealing animals.
"Give up yet, Creel?" taunted Mara as she watched his face flush crimson.
The leader looked over at the last crewmember still in possession of his hand and gestured toward Luke. The pirate quickly shook his head. Walking over to his unconscious one-eyed comrade, he lifted him up and over his shoulder. "You ain't paying us enough for this. And if you had any sense you'd quit while you still had all your body parts—right where they belong."
"I'd listen to him if I were you," said Luke watching the last pirate board the ship.
"Well, nobody ever said I had to listen to a stinking two-credit excuse for a pirate now, did they?" Feigning a lurch to the right, Creel pulled out a vibroblade from inside his long coat and swung at Luke. Dodging just out of the blade's reach, Luke countered with an overhead blow throwing his opponent off balance.
But Creel was not easily defeated and pulled out a small blaster from his sleeve. Firing, he came at Luke like a mad man. Dodging both the vibroblade and deflecting the blaster bolts, Luke backed away while trying to keep his balance amidst the littered floor of the hanger.
"It doesn't have to end like this," grunted Luke backing up towards a corner. "Stop this….now!"
"Not until you're dead!" cried Creel pushing Luke back further.
At that moment it seemed as if Luke realized he could no longer put off the inevitable. Pivoting to the right he lunged forward until he was beside the pirate and swung his saber in a large arc – cutting Creel across the chest. The pirate leader fell to the ground lifeless.
Mara, completely exhausted, sat against the wall straining to hear any sound coming from the other side of the hangar. Taking a breath she called out. "Skywalker?"
"Yes?" he answered leaning over the canisters. "Are you all right, Mara?"
Startled she answered testily, "Do I look all right?" Mara stared up into those big, blue eyes of his and cursed.
Luke grinned and retracted his saber attaching it to his belt. "Here let me help you up." Carefully, as not to hurt her, he lifted Mara into his arms and began to carry her back to her ship.
"You don't have to carry me, I can make it with just a…"
"Come on, Mara. You're hurt, possibly very badly and I am going to carry you to your ship. So just relax and let me help you."
Mara frowned as she allowed Luke to hold her. Well, her leg did really hurt and it was more than likely broken after all. She just wished it didn't feel so good to be in his arms. His heart sure was beating loudly—or was that hers? "I don't need anyone's help," she mumbled. "I do just fine all by myself."
"Yes, I can see that," he said smiling wryly.
Luke reached the ramp to the Jade's Fire and held Mara as she punched in the codes needed to gain access. The door opened and he quickly carried her in. "Let's just get you to the med bay, do you have a Two-Onebee?"
"No, but I have a GH-7. It's behind you in the cargo holds. Just put me on the table and I'll let it do a diagnostic," ordered Mara.
Luke deposited Mara on the examining table as gently as he could. Finding the medical droid in the cargo hold, he quickly activated the GH-7.
"How may I be of service, sir?" asked the droid.
"Miss Jade needs a medical diagnostic," said Luke, trying to help Mara remove her jacket.
"I can get it!" she snapped. "Just go wait outside for Sith's sake."
"You know Mara, there's nothing wrong with accepting a little help every now and then," said Luke clearly exasperated.
"Listen Skywalker, I didn't ask for your help and I don't need your help. I had everything under control until you came along and—"
"—saved you life," finished Luke, taking her jacket and tossing it on the nearby counter. "Protest all you want, but you were in trouble."
Mara lay prone on the table, refusing to meet Luke's eyes. The GH-7 started examining her and was now focused on her left leg. "I get into trouble all the time and I get out of trouble all the—" Mara gasped and sat back up.
"What? What's wrong?" Luke asked, bracing her arm to help her stay up.
The medical droid turned toward Luke. "Miss Jade has a broken femur and will need surgery to repair the bone. I can provide a temporary splint, but she must be taken to a medical facility for surgery as soon as possible."
"Surgery? Blast!" cried Mara collapsing back onto the examining table. "I've got this cargo to deliver and I'm late as it is."
"Can you get a message to Karrde?" asked Luke, concern on his face.
She hated it when he looked at her like that. It always made her feel strange inside. "Yes…I can, I just don't want to." She sighed closing her eyes for a moment. "Get me the comm. will you?"
Luke clenched his jaw tightly. Crossing the room he found the portable comm. unit and brought it over to Mara. After several minutes of hushed conversation she shut it off with an exaggerated snap. "Fine! We'll go to the med center then."
Luke raised an eyebrow as he crossed his arms over his chest. "Tell me the plan."
"Talon suggested that you bunk your ship with me and then he'll meet us at Dantooine since there's no decent medical facility here. He seemed to think that you'll be able to get the Fire there along with the cargo. He'll transfer the cargo and have the delivery finished while I get my leg taken care of."
"Good plan," said Luke walking toward the door. "I'll be glad to help."
"It's not my plan, Skywalker. Just remember that…I'm not the one asking for your assistance," Mara growled. "Where are you going?"
Luke cast a look over his shoulder. "To move my x-wing into your hangar deck, will you be okay while I'm gone?"
"I thought so," said Luke shaking his head.
An hour later they made the jump to lightspeed.
Mara in a temporary splint, sat sulking on the lounger as Luke made dinner. He's been so quiet since the jump, she thought, probably rehearsing his speech about how I should've listened to him and started that blasted Jedi training.
Luke reached up to the top shelf and brought down two bowls along with a couple of spoons.
"You're mighty handy in the kitchen there, Skywalker," Mara taunted. "You'd make someone the perfect little wife."
"Luke," he said softly.
"You're mighty handy in the kitchen there, Luke," he mimicked, ladling soup into the bowls. "Why can't you just call me by my first name, Mara?" He tossed the serving spoon into the sink with a loud clunk.
"Maybe I don't want to," she mumbled, watching him under hooded eyes.
Luke placed the bowl on a tray and carefully brought it over to the lounger.
"Here, stop being a pain and eat."
Mara raised an eyebrow. "Well, seems like somebody is a mite touchy all of a sudden." She raised the spoon to her mouth and sampled the broth, her eyes never leaving his face. "And I thought Jedi were so calm and serene all the time. My mistake."
Luke's face flushed as he turned around and sat down at the small table nearby, his back toward her. He ate his soup in silence while Mara watched him from behind.
Shaking her head, she took another spoonful. "This is good….Luke."
He continued to eat, seeming to ignore her.
"Fine then, you don't want to talk – we won't talk." She angled her head to get a look at him, but still couldn't see his face. "Nope—we'll just sit here eating and not talking….that's exactly what we'll do. Far be it from me to interrupt the musings of a Jedi Master."
Luke abruptly got up from the table dropping his spoon in the bowl. Taking a breath he whirled around until he was inches from her face. "All I've ever tried to do is be your friend, Mara. Why is that so hard for you to accept?"
"Have I ever asked for your friendship? Not once have I ever said anything about the two of us having any kind of relationship!" cried Mara, setting the tray on the side table.
Luke brought himself up straight as if he'd been slapped. "And why is that, Mara? What are you afraid of?"
Sputtering, she tried to get up off the lounger only to realize the splint wouldn't allow her to. "I AM AFRAID OF NOTHING!" Flipping the tray with one hand, she sent the entire contents crashing to the floor.
Very slowly Luke descended until he was kneeling down in front of her. His soft blue eyes were even with hers, as he whispered, "Oh, I think you are afraid."
Mara sat mesmerized by the intensity on his handsome face and then suddenly remembered to breath. "What? Just what am I so afraid of?"
He moved in closer. "I think you are absolutely terrified of what there might be between us."
Mara lifted her chin in defiance. "Between us? Don't be ridiculous, L-Luke."
"You feel it, don't you? This pull between you and me." He reached over and gently tucked a loose curl behind her ear. His fingers lingering near her cheek.
She shook her head, knowing that her words were a lie. "No, there's nothing there at all."
"You do everything you can to keep a barrier there because you're so afraid that you might actually feel something for me," Luke whispered, his lips now inches from her own.
"Stop…stop it, Luke. I don't want…I don't want this," she said trembling, her eyes fluttering to a close.
"Too late." He kissed her. Softly, gently until she felt she would die from the sweetness. Her traitorous lips responded to his caresses of their own accord as he filled her with longing. Then all too soon, it ended.
Turning her head, she tried to gather herself. "What do you want from me?" she asked hoarsely.
"I thought I just answered that question," said Luke, standing. "Maybe you need to ask yourself the same thing."
Luke brought the Jade's Fire into dock without incident. Talon Karrde was standing by with a crew ready to transfer the cargo to his shuttle. With a wave toward Mara's employer, Luke turned off the engines and unbelted from the pilot's seat.
Mara, reclining on the lounger, sat up and prepared to exit. Avoiding his eyes, she took Luke's offered hand and allowed herself to be carried toward the exit ramp. "This isn't over Mara," Luke whispered. "Above all you should at least be honest with yourself."
Mara bit her bottom lip, as she briefly met his eyes. Looking away she saw Karrde approaching with a med team, closely followed by his cargo crew.
"Ah, Mara…how's the leg?" asked Karrde signaling to his men to begin the cargo transfer.
"Hurts," she grimaced, still allowing Luke to cradle her in his arms.
The med tech approached with a hover chair and glanced at Luke. "Will you be filling out the information for your wife?" asked the tech.
"I'm not his wife!" spat Mara, glancing briefly at Luke's chin. "Let's just get this whole thing over with, shall we?"
Luke nodded, then gently lowered her into the chair and stepped back.
"Of course ma'am, sorry for the confusion," said the tech meekly, wheeling her down the ramp.
Karrde walked closely behind Mara with Luke at his side. "Thank you, Luke for all your help," said Karrde offering his hand. "I know Mara would never say so, but I suspect she owes you her life."
Luke shook hands with Karrde and smiled. "I'm glad I could be of assistance."
Karrde looked closely at Mara as they reached the landing area and then back to Luke. "Is everything all right?"
"No, it's not," said Luke and walked away, leaving Mara to face any further questions by herself.
She had had worse hangovers, she just couldn't remember when. As she slowly came to, the first thing she noticed was that she was in a nice, clean bed and not in a sleazy cantina somewhere. What had she gotten herself into?
As her vision cleared, she realized she was in a private med room and apparently recovering from—a broken leg! Mara sat up quickly and felt the planet slip off its axis. Laying down slowly she took a deep breath and tried to remember what the Sith had happened. Then the door opened.
"Mara," said Talon Karrde, smiling. "Glad to see you awake…finally."
Mara coughed. "Tell me the worst is over."
"It is. Surgery over, emergency over. You had a little reaction to some kind of anesthesia, but that was taken care of, too." He moved over to the chair beside her bed. "You've been in the bacta tank for three days. Ugh, I hate that stuff, but they say it makes all the difference. How are you feeling?"
"Worse than when I came in," she grumbled, rubbing her forehead. Things were starting to make sense again. There was the confrontation with Creel…she fell and broke her leg…then Skywalker showed up. Looking around the room she noticed he was no where to be found. "Did the cargo get to Garqi all right?"
"Yes, thanks to your friend," said Karrde raising an eyebrow.
"Well, he's not really a friend." Mara reached for the container of water and began to drink greedily. Refusing to meet his eyes, she swallowed and lay back down. "So…where is Skywalker, anyway?"
"Hard to say. He stayed for a few days, hardly left your side actually. But this morning he got a call from someone and was out of here in a hurry." Karrde gestured towards a lovely flower arrangement by the window. "He left those for you. Very nice, quite pricey …especially on a Jedi Master's budget."
Karrde laughed getting to his feet. "All I'm saying is that for someone who's not a friend, he sure does act like one." He continued chuckling as he left the room.
Mara looked over at the flowers. Alderaniian roses… her favorite and very hard to acquire. How did he know? Doesn't matter. This whole incident will soon be forgotten and she can get back to her work schedule and life as usual. Mara glanced at the roses again and sighed.
There was absolutely no way she was getting involved with someone like Luke Skywalker, no matter how good a kisser he was—or how good-looking either, in that naive farm boy kind of way. Well, he did have lovely eyes and those nice broad shoulders. She rolled over and closed her eyes breathing in the fragrant scent of the flowers and smiled. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to have just one friend.