Summary: A homework assignment for Jaina and Jacen has humorous results.
Disclaimer: All things Star Wars belong to Mr. Lucas. 'Nuff said.
Takes place shortly after The Corellian Trilogy. Many thanks to Gabri_Jade for betaing. ________________________________________________________________
YOUR BESTEST FRIEND
"Mom, can we ask you a question?"
Leia looked up from her document-strewn desk to see her two firstborn offspring fidgeting in the doorway to her office. "What is it, sweethearts?"
"Who's your bestest friend?" Jaina said.
"Best friend," Leia automatically corrected.
"Best friend," Jaina repeated, swatting at Jacen as he nudged her further into the room.
"Our homework today is to do a report on best friends," Jacen explained.
"I see." Leia smiled, motioning the pair closer. "Well, I guess it would be your father."
"No!" both twins cried, causing Leia to frown in surprise.
"It's gotta be somebody you're not related to," Jaina said. "Teacher said to try to get people that's your best friend not just 'cause they're your relatives."
"So you can't say Uncle Luke, either," Jacen put in. "We weren't even allowed to put each other."
Leia made an exaggerated pretense of giving the matter deep consideration. "Well, in that case, I guess it would be Winter."
"Yeah," Jaina said with obvious relief, punching the name into the small datapad she was clutching.
"C'mon, let's go ask Dad," Jacen said, already heading for the doorway.
"Thanks, Mom," Jaina added, following her brother.
* * * * * * * * * *
"You have to ask?" Han laughed at the young faces before him. "If it's not your mother, then it's—"
"C-h-e-w-i-e," Jaina spelled out loud as she entered the name.
"You'd better put 'Chewbacca,' to make it all official-like," Han directed, eliciting a loud sigh from Jaina as she hit 'delete' and started over.
"Who should we ask next?" Jacen said, looking expectantly at his sister.
"Well, you could go ask Chewie," Han suggested. "He's workin' on the Falcon. And I wanna know if the furball doesn't answer me."
"Okay, Dad." Jaina waved her good-bye and headed for the palace docking bay.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Awrahgah!" Chewbacca waved his hydrospanner in the air.
"That means Dad," Jacen said to his sister.
"I know," Jaina replied with a hint of exasperation as she punched in the Wookiee's answer.
Chewie's shaggy head nodded vigorously, confirming the twins' conjecture.
"Hey, Chewie, is Uncle Luke down here?" Jaina asked. "We need more people to ask."
Chewbacca gestured toward the other end of the enormous bay, and the two investigators took off running. Jaina skidded to a halt, though, halfway across the bay, dragging Jacen with her. "Hey, look, Jace! Isn't that the Jade's Fire?" Without waiting for an answer, Jaina shifted direction and headed for the gleaming ship.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Wow," Jaina breathed, staring up at the tongues of fire painted on the vessel's hull. She jumped a half meter when a cold voice sounded from the open hatch.
"What are you two doing down here all by yourselves?" Mara Jade glanced around the perimeter, certain she would see Solo nosing around her ship.
"We're doin' a report," Jacen answered, his youthful eyes fixated more on Mara than on the Fire.
"On my ship?" Mara said, her forehead creasing in a frown. She'd met the Solo twins and their younger brother during the recent incident at Corellia, and they'd seemed intelligent enough, as children went.
"No, on friends," Jaina said, shaking herself out of her stupor. She glanced at Jacen, and he nodded in encouragement. "Miss Jade, who's your best friend?"
Even with her years of undercover training, Mara couldn't completely mask her surprise. That was the last question she'd been expecting. "I don't have any friends," she replied as she walked down the hatchway ramp. She ignored the inner voice that told her how pathetic that answer sounded.
"Everybody's got friends," Jaina dared to argue. "Who's your bestest one?"
Jacen gave his sister a chastising kick, and Jaina amended her statement to "Who's your best friend?"
"I don't have one best friend," Mara reiterated. "I have co-workers and acquaintances."
Jaina sighed dramatically and looked to her brother for help.
"Pull up that list of questions that Teacher gave us," Jacen suggested.
"Okay." Jaina scanned through several files on her datapad, while Mara congratulated herself on demonstrating enough patience not to send the brats scattering.
"Here we go," Jaina announced. "These are questions that are supposed to help you figure out who your best friend is."
Mara rolled her eyes.
"Whose o- ... op- ..." Jaina stuttered over the unfamiliar word. Jacen looked over her shoulder at the screen and shrugged his shoulders.
Shaking her head, Mara snatched the pad out of the girl's hand and read it aloud. "Whose opinion do you value above all others?" A name immediately popped into Mara's head, and she squelched the impulse to blurt it out. "I value only my own opinion," she said instead.
Both twins frowned in disbelief.
"Read the next one," Jaina said.
"Who do you like to spend time with, even if you're not doing anything important?" Blazing stars, who made up these questions? The quality of teachers must have plummeted from the strict tutors she'd had growing up in the palace. Mara's thoughts unwilling turned to earlier that morning. She'd been upgrading her shields when he wandered into her ship uninvited, asking to borrow a tool. They'd ended up sitting in the hold talking for two hours, without talking about anything important. Amazingly, he'd not even brought up her Jedi training.
"You didn't answer the question," Jacen said, shaking Mara from her reverie.
"I don't have an answer," Mara retorted. "I like to be left alone," she said, glaring pointedly at the youngsters.
Jacen and Jaina were not fazed. Jaina reached out and took back her datapad, slowing reciting the next query. "Who do you trust most to keep all your secrets?"
Blast you, Skywalker, Mara mentally cursed the absent Jedi. I can't keep you out of my head even when you're nowhere around. "It's a secret, and I certainly don't trust either of you to keep it," Mara said.
"All right," Jaina griped, and Mara could picture the same look of resigned exasperation on the face of the girl's uncle. "There's one more question — If you were stranded on a deserted planet with only one person, who would you want that person to be?"
Oh, for the love of—! "That's enough," Mara declared, making a shooing motion with her hand. "No more questions. Go bother someone else."
"Just put down Uncle Luke as her best friend," Jacen instructed his sister.
"Hold on!" Mara grabbed the shoulders of the pair and whirled them to face her. "What makes you think he's my friend?"
"'Cause you were looking down to where his X-wing is for every question," Jacen replied, giving Mara a Han Solo-esque lopsided grin. He turned to follow Jaina as she started across the bay.
"Where are you going?" Mara asked suddenly.
"You told us to leave," Jaina replied matter-of-factly, looking up with the big brown eyes she'd inherited from her mother.
"Have you asked your uncle Luke all these ridiculous questions?" Mara ventured, almost afraid to hear the answer.
"That's where we're going now," Jacen said.
"Listen." Mara took a breath, not believing she was about to ask this. "After you get his answer, stop back by here and tell me what he said." She glared at the children as menacingly as she could. "And don't you dare tell him that I want to know."
"Yes, Miss Jade." The twins nodded in agreement, then took off quickly, their squealing laughter echoing through the vaulted bay.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Uncle Luke! Uncle Luke!" Jacen and Jaina called out as they reached their uncle, elbow-deep in the fuselage of his fighter. "We gotta ask you something."
"Hey, kids!" Luke greeted them, wiping his hands on a marginally clean rag. "What do you need to know?"
"Who's your best friend?"
"It's a school assignment. And you can't say Mom or Dad," Jaina clarified. "It's gotta be somebody you aren't related to."
Luke looked back and forth at his niece and nephew, wondering what kind of assignment this could possibly be. "Well, I've got lots of friends."
"But who's your best friend?" Jacen said.
"I don't know. It's hard to pick. I have several best friends. There's Wedge, and Chewie, and Lando, and some of the other Jedi, and—"
"See," Jaina groused to her brother. "This is why we need the word bestest."
Luke narrowed his eyes at them. "Is there some kind of criteria I'm supposed to go by here?"
"Gee, Uncle Luke," Jacen whined. "I didn't think we'd have to do the questions with you."
"Better read 'em, Jaina," Jacen said.
Jaina held her datapad up once more. "Whose op- ... opin-"
"Opinion," Jacen supplied, exasperation coloring his voice. "Didn't you listen to Miss Jade? She told you it was 'opinion.'"
"Yeah, yeah." Jaina started again. "Whose opinion—"
"Wait a second," Luke interrupted. "You've been talking to Mara? You asked her this same thing?"
"Uh, yes," Jacen said warily.
Luke grinned, making himself comfortable on the floor and motioning for the twins to join him. "Who did she say was her best friend?"
Jacen and Jaina exchanged questioning glances. "She didn't say we couldn't tell him that," Jaina reasoned quietly to her brother.
"She really didn't give an answer," Jacen returned.
"Yeah, but she didn't say no when you guessed," Jaina countered.
"So who is Mara's best friend?" Luke repeated. He wondered why the answer mattered to him at all.
"Sounded like it was you, Uncle Luke," Jaina said. "As much as we could get out of her."
Luke's grin got a little wider, and he dismissed the feeling of relief that swept through him as he nodded toward Jaina's datapad. "And what are all these questions you've got to determine this?"
Jaina recited all the questions, one right after another. Luke was lost in thought as he pictured the one person who fit every description.
"There are even more ways to describe a best friend, if you need additional material for your report."
The twins gave him a skeptical look, as if fearing this would turn into a long-winded school lesson.
"Like what?" Jacen finally said.
"Well, your best friend is someone who knows how you feel, without your having to say anything. She, or he, is someone whom you've shared experiences with. Someone who will laugh or cringe with you at the mere mention of a word or name, because she knows exactly what you're remembering about it. She's someone that you know forgives you, though she may not show it outwardly, when you annoy her without meaning to. She—"
"We really need to be getting back home," Jaina interrupted. "Is it okay if we just put down Miss Jade's name for you?"
"Uh, yes." Luke smiled weakly. "If you really can use only one name, hers would be okay."
"Good," Jacen said with obvious relief. The twins rose quickly and gave their uncle a friendly hug before scampering off the way they'd come.
* * * * * * * * * *
"This is so romantic," Jaina said with a giggle as she and Jacen made their way back toward the Jade's Fire.
"Why?" Jacen asked.
Jaina shook her head. Boys could be so dense. "Because Uncle Luke is Mara's best friend, and Mara is Uncle Luke's best friend."
"So? That doesn't mean anything."
"Yes, it does. It means they like each other."
"Of course they like each other," Jacen drawled. "It doesn't mean they're going to get married or anything."
"Maybe they will. Who knows?" Jaina grinned as a new thought occurred to her. "Maybe if she becomes our aunt, she'll let me fly her ship."
* * * * * * * * * *
Late that same afternoon, Mara looked up from the data terminal on the Fire and glared at her uninvited visitor — the same visitor who hadn't strayed far from her thoughts ever since Jaina and Jacen had dutifully reported their latest homework assignment finding.
"Do you break into just anyone's ship, or am I supposed to feel privileged?"
"You left the hatch open," Luke replied, not sounding the least bit repentant. "And is there something wrong with a person wanting to spend time with a friend?" Luke continued, emphasizing the last word just enough to cause Mara to raise a questioning eyebrow, but not enough to prove any ulterior inference.
"Depends on what he wants," she muttered, refocusing on her screen.
"Well, I thought I'd see if you needed any help, since I distracted you from your work this morning." Luke boldly perched himself on a nearby stool.
"You did not— I would never allow you to distract me," Mara retorted. She instantly regretted her sharp tone when she glanced up and saw the deflated look on his face.
"No, I suppose you wouldn't," Luke murmured.
"But I am planning on checking the calibrations on the power flux connectors tomorrow morning. If you're going to be around, you could give me a hand," Mara said evenly. Never mind that she could do that particular chore blindfolded. Maybe he could hand her tools or something. If he behaved himself.
"Sure, I'm free." Luke flashed Mara a smile that could've lit up half of Coruscant, in her opinion. An opinion she kept carefully hidden.
"You want something to drink?" Mara asked, since it was obvious the farmboy had no intention of leaving soon.
"Yes, thanks." There was that totally disarming smile again. "Cold water would be fine."
Mara busied herself getting them each a bottle of water from her small cooler while Luke's gaze flickered around her well-ordered work station.
"So what are you working on? Some mysterious project for Talon?," Luke asked, grinning innocently as he accepted the bottle from Mara and took a long swig.
"None of your business," Mara returned sharply, reaching over to switch off her screen, even though she knew perfectly well he hadn't been spying on her work.
"Ah, Mara, what's a few secrets among friends?"
That did it. Mara narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him. This can't be a coincidence. Blast those Solo brats!
"Don't you have someplace to be?" she said, wanting him gone, and yet disappointed when he rose to leave.
"Yeah, guess I do. Oh, by the way..." Luke paused at the edge of the doorway. His blue eyes held a teasing glint, which in Mara's experience could only mean trouble. "I was just wondering..." he whispered in a conspiratorial tone. "Is there any deserted planet in particular on which you'd like to be stranded with me?"
Not even Jedi-enhanced speed could save Luke from the water bottle that came flying his direction.