The Ship – Chapter 33
By Ash Darklighter
Disclaimer: The characters and situations used in this story are the property of Lucasfilm Ltd. I am making no credits from this, Imperial or Republican. My thanks to the girls as always for advice and corrections – they know who they are. Especially at the end of another of my mammoth undertakings.
"When did they leave?"
"Yesterday, you old furry fool," Lek grumbled irritably. "You were there."
"Just checking, old man." Malyre rested his head on his hands for a moment. He raised his head, wrinkling his nose as he did so. "Things seem very quiet around here."
Lek stared around the tapcaf at his security droid who was in the middle of breaking up a rather violent fight between two members of a species he'd never seen before in all his years knocking around the rim planets. They both came equipped with claws and very sharp teeth. The trail of devastation they'd left in their wake was impressive. "Yes," he said calmly, taking a sip of his draf. The larger of the beings let out a huge roar and managed to decapitate the security droid and knock his opponent unconscious. "It does seem… dull."
Malyre gave a deep sigh and stood up. "'Scuse me," he muttered and headed into the fray. With a couple of swift moves he had the remaining being by the throat, a feral grin on his face. "Call security," he instructed languidly.
"They're on their way."
The tapcaf door burst open and Forrell danced in on his little stubby legs followed by half a dozen enormous security guards. In a matter of minutes the place was cleared and the remaining patrons returned to whatever they'd been doing before the fight began. A cleaning droid clucked as it began to tidy up the mess.
Malyre wandered back to his table sheathing his claws and yawned. "As I said - it's quiet around here. Almost boring."
"Was that wise?" Lek asked.
"You are not a youngster."
"I handled it, didn't I? It was nothing."
"What if they'd flattened you?" asked Forrell, waving his squad of security men away with a deft little snap of his wrist.
"I was sick of the noise and you were taking your time coming."
Forrell bristled at the implied insult. "I had to go through procedure and we were very quick."
Lek nodded. "You were, Forrell. It's just that 'action Selonian' here, wanted to clean-up himself. He's sees himself as a…"
"Agent for the preservation of the Jedi order," the voice was ironic.
"Hey, young one!" Malyre exclaimed as Barancz came up to the table. "Did you see me handle those Fareesians? I was bored and that security force you're thinking of joining was taking its time."
Forrell scowled. "He still forgets how old he is. He was lucky this time. They were youngsters."
"I would agree with that," Lek added.
"I sorted it," Malyre insisted and took a sip of his draf. "And they were fully grown."
"Yes, I guess you did 'handle it' and you were lucky this time." Barancz's grey eyes warmed. "They were adults, granted, but they grow at least another foot." He'd spent so much time looking out for one old man he had found it frighteningly easy to do the same with the odd trio who had adopted him as their new friend. "If you're bored I have a small proposition for you."
Three oldsters looked at each other. Lek took a long slow swig of his draf, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when he'd finished. "Okay, we're listening."
The door hissed shut behind Ghent, and Leia turned swiftly round to face her brother. "Okay, hotshot, spill it."
"You've been hanging around with Han for far too long," Luke observed with a grin.
"What?" Leia asked.
"I heard you."
Luke thought he'd better explain before he got into more trouble with his strong-willed sister. "I only meant that the diplomatic language instilled in a member of the Royal House of Alderaan has vanished."
Leia arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow and waited for her brother to continue.
"Where did you learn to speak such excellent Corellian slang?"
His sister tapped her foot, her arms crossed, waiting for Luke to cave in. "I'm waiting, smart…" she muttered.
"On what?" Luke countered evenly, but with a twinkle in his blue eyes.
"I saw all those little messages passing between you and Mara. You wanted to say something but she didn't want you to say it."
"So you think that I would immediately tell you?"
Luke frowned. "Yeah, but some things between Mara and me remain exactly that."
"Between Mara and me." He smiled infuriatingly. She might work it out eventually, but he wasn't going to wrap everything into a little gift and hand it to her. He loved his sister dearly but he was marrying Mara and she had to learn to back off. Now was a good time to start or he didn't need to be a Jedi Master to foresee difficult times ahead.
"Leia…" he responded, his blue eyes cooling. "I love you but there are things I cannot tell you. If Mara agrees then I will divulge the matter, but not until then. I'm going to marry her as soon as she agrees to set a date and no one… the New Republic, an uprising of the sith or even a wampa stampede… is going to stop me."
Leia smiled at him. "You're quite a man, Luke Skywalker. I hope Mara Jade appreciates what she's got."
"I do." Mara stood behind the pair of them. "Most of the time I'm ready to throttle him but now and again I think of something that makes me want to keep him around."
Luke walked towards her and held out his hand, love shining in his eyes for anyone to take notice of.
Mara's face lost its cool expression and the reserve in her green eyes melted away. "I trust him," she said reaching for him and letting her fingers clasp his. "Leia…" She hesitated for a moment and then ploughed on. "It's difficult for me to let go of my hostility and my anger. They have kept me alive over the years. I'll never become what sentient beings call 'sweet natured'."
Leia smiled. "Luke loves you the way you are. Never forget that."
"I won't and… I love him too."
"Hey," Han's voice called from the lounge. "I thought it was only Ghent who was leaving. You three going with him?"
Leia turned and glared at her husband who was now leaning against the door, his arms folded and an annoying smirk on his face. "Ghent has been accompanied by Threepio and Artoo…"
"Great!" Han exclaimed. "Peace."
Luke whispered something to Mara and sped along the corridor to his room.
"Where's he going?" Han asked as he poured drinks for all of them.
"He's gone to collect a few more things we brought back from Zathoq."
"More things?" echoed Leia.
"I was most impressed with the journal and the data cards" remarked Winter. "The other objects…"
"Are worth waiting for." Mara returned lightly.
The door to the lounge slid open and Luke entered carrying a small holdall. "These pieces are fragile," he said as he carefully laid them out upon a small table.
"These are perfume jars." Mara picked one up and held it up to the light. "Look at the decorative features inlaid or etched within the glass itself. I'm not exactly sure how this finish was achieved."
"I remember something like this in your adoptive mother's quarters, Leia," Winter said with surprise. "Not exactly the same but probably from a similar source. I believe such things are very rare."
"These are beautiful," Leia murmured slowly. "I think I remember…"
A woman's hands, soft and elegant, reached for the stopper. 'Here, little one, just a touch and you will smell beautiful…'
Leia blinked and was back in her own lounge and in her own time. Her eyes lit up. "I saw something. It was long ago and I was still a child."
"A vision?" Mara asked.
Leia shook her head. "No,"" she whispered, a bittersweet expression crossing her face. "I think it was a memory."
Luke gave her a sympathetic grin. "Now you know how I felt. I kept seeing little flashes of someone else's past. My own was never that interesting. I know that you had the unsettling experience of going into sympathetic labour over Naboo. That is a little extreme even for us and you're welcome to that one but we've discovered many times that some occurrences can leave an emotional bloodstain in the Force."
"It happened to me at Endor, too," Leia said, with a sideways glance at Mara. "It was where the Emperor died."
"Perhaps one of your strengths in the Force is the ability to pick up emotional resonances," Han commented wisely.
"Seems that way," Leia answered. "That's at least twice it has happened.
"You usually can tell when Luke is in trouble," Han added.
Mara rolled her eyes. "That doesn't take any great skill. Just assume the worst and with Skywalker that will be the right thing to do."
"Hey!" Luke protested. "I resent that."
Mara chuckled. "Got you there, farmboy."
"Very funny, Jade." He turned to his sister. "Perhaps that is what makes you such a good diplomat. You are more sensitive to the way people's feelings transmit through the Force."
For a moment there was silence. Each member of the group was busy with their own thoughts until Winter motioned towards the bag at Mara's feet. "Is that all or are there more treasures for us to see?"
Mara turned her head to face Luke. "Well?"
"These are perhaps not so spectacular, but infinitely more precious," Luke murmured as he carefully untied the drawstring around a soft leather pouch. First came a small grey stone.
"It's a stone!" Han observed stupidly.
"This was among Obi-Wan Kenobi's most treasured possessions." Luke whispered, awe colouring his voice.
"He left it on Zathoq?" queried Winter.
Mara shook her head. "He gave it away to someone for safekeeping."
"You going to tell us who?" Han raised an eyebrow enquiringly.
Luke and Mara stared at each other for a moment and then shook their heads simultaneously. "No, but it was among Ric Olie's things when he died. His adopted son gave it to us along with the data cards bearing our names."
"We can show you," Mara said quietly and brought out the holo frame. With another glance at Luke, she unwrapped it from a cloth she'd placed around it to keep it safe. "This was found on the ship itself, imbedded in an old mattress."
Leia leant forward. "A holo frame?"
Luke moistened suddenly dry lips. "Yes," he murmured.
"There are pictures stored within." Mara took a deep breath, nerves fluttering in her stomach.
Luke, sensing her anxiety, placed a comforting hand on hers, squeezed gently and nodded encouragingly.
Mara's lips widened in a tremulous smile and she turned the device on. The first picture was the one of Obi-Wan and Farae and it was passed around the company in total silence. Han was the first to speak. "She's very like you. It's uncanny," he pronounced slowly.
"It's a big galaxy," Mara said shortly. "Lot of people in it. There's bound to be one or two with similar combinations of hair and eye colour."
"There's more," Luke said and twisted the hidden switch in the frame. The holo of their parents appeared.
"Is that who I think it is?" Han asked quietly.
Luke nodded. "Anakin Skywalker and Padme Naberrie Amidala of Naboo, we think, on their wedding day. We have no actual proof but…" he shrugged lightly. "There is the matter of a family likeness."
At first, none of them noticed the small child standing at the door dressed in a pair of fluffy blue pyjamas, but his signature in the Force soon registered with his mother.
"Anakin!" Leia exclaimed, rising to go to her youngest son. "You should be sleeping. Go back to bed."
"I can't sleep. Can I see?" He slipped past his mother and stopped in front of the articles laid out on the table.
"I suppose so." Leia's voice was grudging. "Watch that you don't break anything."
Anakin surveyed the items on the table with an intense look of concentration on his face and then immediately went for the small seemingly insignificant river stone. Feeling it pulse in his hand, he exclaimed, "Wow!"
Luke grinned. "You felt it?"
"Uncle Luke…" His blue eyes were wide. "That is amazing… It's just a stone but it throbs. Like it's talking to me."
Luke chuckled. "You can feel it pulse in your hand because it conducts the Force." He stared at Han and the three women but they were all looking at the pictures in the holo frame. He lowered his voice. "It makes things seem clearer somehow. I saw things that had happened long ago."
"Like in a dream?" Anakin whispered.
Luke grinned. "I think so."
His nephew picked up the stone and squeezed his eyes shut. After a moment he opened them, his face mirroring his disappointment. "I couldn't see any pictures."
"They don't always come when you want them to."
"That's a Force thing, right Uncle Luke?"
Luke chuckled. "Right. The Force will tell you things when you're calm and at peace. You have to listen very carefully and you cannot try too hard."
The child nodded gravely. "I understand but it's hard when you want something so much."
Luke ruffled the child's hair. "You have to relax and let things happen."
Mara felt a pang deep in her heart as she saw Luke with his nephew and to cover the feeling emptied the leather pouch of the last of its contents. "Luke would like you to keep this," Mara told Leia, gesturing towards the pendant. "We think that your father carved it for your mother. It's a japor snippet." Again in her mind she heard the childish voice. 'It will bring you good fortune.'
Leia picked up the small object and traced it gently with a finger tip. "Thank you. I have nothing in my possession that belonged to my mother…"
Han smiled warmly at the communication between Leia and Mara. He could tell that Mara was making an effort to interact with Luke's family. As for Leia, she was only glad that Mara had fallen in love with her brother and Luke wouldn't have to be alone any more. His attention wandered from the women and fell upon the items residing on the table. He leant forward trying to make out exactly what some of the items were as they had fallen out of the leather pouch and coiled untidily together.
"Hair!" Han said incredulously, interrupting Leia's thoughts of the beautiful woman she barely remembered. "This pilot kept a stone and pieces of braided hair?"
His attention caught by Han's exclamation, Luke tilted his head to one side. "People keep locks of hair as a sentimental gesture, Han. You have a lock of Leia's, I suspect."
Han flushed. "I do not…" He flushed as Luke stared at him with a small smile on his face. "Okay, okay… I do. So it's not so weird…"
"Han!" Leia's voice rose.
"Just a small piece. I cut it off when you were sleeping, once. You never noticed." He crossed over and brushed a gentle hand over his wife's head. "I love your hair, you know that," he whispered in her ear for her to hear alone.
"Oh, Han…" A tear trembled on the tip of an eyelash and fell down her cheek. The Corellian enfolded her in his arms and kissed away the tiny drop of moisture.
Anakin turned to Luke and Mara with disgust. "Why do they have to do that – the kissing thing? Mine do it more than most. I never see my friends' parents doing that."
Luke stifled a smile. "They're in love," he said.
"You and Mara don't do that."
"Give us time," Luke promised with a wink at his fiancée. "You'll want to do it too, one day."
Mara made a face at Luke. "We'll try not to be that bad," she said with a wicked grin.
Anakin shuddered. "Promise?"
"Promise," Mara echoed and smiled at the look of disappointment on the Jedi Master's face.
Anakin's attention shifted to the two pieces of braided hair his father was now ignoring, all his consideration concentrated on his wife. "Who do they belong to?"
Mara pointed to the lighter of the two braids. "Your uncle says that one was your grandfather's. It's almost the same colour as his own hair."
"So grandfather must have looked like Uncle Luke. And the other?"
Luke's voice betrayed continued pain. "That braid belonged to my first teacher - Obi-Wan Kenobi." He shrugged. "We think that long ago Jedi learners grew their hair like this and when they became knights, these were cut off."
"Do I have to do that?" Appalled fascination coloured the child's voice.
Luke shook his head. "No, not if you don't want to."
"I don't want to." He grinned with relief.
"Then you don't have to."
Mara curved into Luke's side. "Apparently your uncle is head of the Jedi order." She glanced at Luke as if she couldn't quite believe it and nodded at Anakin as he giggled. "So if he says you don't have to, then you don't." She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "He has his uses, believe it or not. I think he would have looked quite nice with a braid."
"He would have looked silly…"
Han interrupted the conversation. "Anakin Solo…"
"I know, I know… bed time." Anakin held up the two braids and inspected them. "This one is redder than the other. Grandfather's is just like yours, uncle…"
Han interrupted his son. "You've spun it out for long enough and you do have school tomorrow."
The child rolled his eyes in a manner so reminiscent of his father that the rest of the company just laughed.
Anakin wished the adults goodnight and as he placed the braids back on the table an odd look crossed his face. At the same time, Winter also rose to leave. Leia ushered her out of the door as Han picked up Anakin and placed him high on his shoulders. The door hissed shut leaving Luke and Mara alone.
"You didn't say anything," Mara said quietly.
"You didn't want me to. I still think Farae and Obi-Wan are your parents but we have no real proof."
"I need proof," Mara said, a pained expression on her face. "I don't need to know who my parents are, but I don't want to hope when I could be wrong."
"I know, my love." He tipped up her chin with his finger and kissed her warmly. She was soft and trusting, her lips parting beneath his.
Suddenly the door hissed open and Anakin ran back into the room followed by a bellow from his irate father. Reluctantly, the lovers ceased their kiss.
"Mara!" he exclaimed picking up something from the table. "This is yours…" and he pressed something into her hand. "It is… This belongs to you."
"Anakin… this belonged to…" Mara gave Luke a helpless glance from her brilliant green eyes and, caught in the snare of his blue ones, they lingered.
"It's yours. The Force told me." His nephew tugged on Mara's sleeve distracting her away from Luke.
"Anakin!" Han's voice could be heard down the hall.
"I really better go. Dad sounds kinda cross." The child gave Luke and Mara a shrewd stare. "You are as bad as the parents. Better go or I'm in trouble – stiff as carbonite trouble." He grinned and dashed out of the room leaving a bewildered Luke and Mara alone again.
He watched Anakin as he raced from the room, his shoulders beginning to shake. Luke began to laugh helplessly. "'Stiff as carbonite trouble!'" He choked and coughed as Mara pounded him on the back.
"Skywalker, are you sure that child is your sister's?" Mara muttered as she stared down at what the child had pressed into her hand. It closed reflexively, almost protectively, around the item held there.
"Yes, quite sure… Why?"
"Because he acts like you do," she mumbled distractedly.
"I'm not like that."
Mara closed her eyes briefly. "I think you're worse, if that's possible?"
"You can be really funny sometimes, Jade. I didn't appreciate the depth to which your humour could sink."
"It has to descend to meet yours," she quipped.
"Ouch!" he exclaimed turning to her. Mara's facial expression still held shock and a little awe. "What did he give you?"
Mara opened her hand and revealed its precious contents. "Luke… he gave me this."
In her hand was Obi-Wan Kenobi's padawan braid.
Coruscant Spaceport – several days later
"How do we get in contact with Luke and Mara?" Forrell trotted along the walkway, staring with unabashed interest at the sights of the city planet's spaceport.
"We could ask," Malyre said.
"Oh, yeah, sure." Lek snorted. "How about I go up to the first guy I see and say, 'Excuse me, please. I want to see Luke Skywalker. How do I get in touch with him?'"
"That's a good idea," Malyre beamed.
"Remember, Malyre. Our Luke is 'the Luke Skywalker.'" Forrell brushed an imaginary wrinkle from his immaculate, if a little ornate, uniform.
"I know." The Selonian wrinkled his nose disdainfully. "It could work. People know him."
"Yes, but he's the Jedi Master," Lek said his voice beginning to rise.
Forrell nodded wisely. "Ah, yes. He will be surrounded by security."
Malyre grunted, his smile fading. "He wasn't on Zathoq. He came on his own."
"That was Zathoq; this is Coruscant and on this world – he's important," said Forrell firmly.
"What are you three arguing about now?"
The oldsters turned around and looked at the speaker. Barancz ran a hand through his unruly black curls and narrowed his gaze on the trio. "When I told you I wanted to see some of the galaxy I didn't expect immediately." He looked bemused as if he couldn't believe the change his life had taken.
"It's as good a time as any," Forrell offered.
"Luke said we could come and visit him on Coruscant," Malyre said.
"Yes, but maybe he was just saying it," Barancz muttered a little desperately.
Lek sighed. "I would like to see Merah." He slipped back into using the name he'd always known Mara by. "I grew fond of the girl."
"She was rather fond of Luke," Malyre chipped in.
"She's in love with him," the old spacer said sadly. "But I don't know if she'll ever tell him that. She needs to be with someone, not flying the galaxy alone."
Something dimmed in the Selonian's gaze – a remembrance of past sorrows. "We'll tell him," Malyre decided.
"We will not," Forrell snapped.
"Why can't we tell him?" asked Malyre. "Lek is right. Luke would be good for Mara and vice-versa."
"Because it's none of our business," Forrell snapped.
"We could make it our business," the Selonian argued.
"We can't," Lek murmured. "Forrell is right. It is none of our concern."
"When has that stopped you before?" asked Malyre.
Barancz lifted weary grey eyes into the sky above, noting idly that the traffic was non-stop. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. See a bit of the galaxy and take the three oldsters for company. Now he was beginning to have his doubts.
Malyre lifted a careless shoulder. "When do we see Luke?"
Barancz frowned. "I don't know. I'm not even sure if he's on this planet."
"He was heading to Coruscant. Mara told us that was where she was going. She wanted him looked over by a doctor who knows his medical history and then they were going to see his family."
"His sister is high up in the government," Forrell said. "We have no chance… Malyre… Malyre…" He looked around hurriedly. "Where's he gone?"
Barancz whirled around scanning in every direction until he spotted the Selonian's lanky form heading towards a docking bay containing an x-wing.
The man checking over his x-wing lifted his head at the sound of the unfamiliar voice.
"You're not Luke," the voice continued accusingly.
Wedge Antilles pushed a grubby hand through his dark hair and turned around. A six foot plus Selonian stood glaring at him.
"No, I'm not Luke." The Corellian pilot's dark eyes stared at the alien bemusedly. "Luke who?"
The alien gave an exasperated sigh. "We came all the way to see him and how do we find him?"
"I… eh…" Wedge stammered. "Find…?"
"Luke Skywalker. Who else would I be looking for?"
'Tourists!' Wedge thought. 'Somehow they recognised me and think that I can introduce them to the hero of the Rebellion. Well, they're going to be disappointed. I can't remember the last time Luke was even on planet.'
Suddenly three figures came up behind the lanky creature. "We're very sorry, sir," Lek apologised. "He's old and doesn't know what he's doing."
"I do too," Malyre argued. "Standing around won't help us find Luke. I'm the only one with enough brains to stop gawking around them like a bunch of outer-rim tourists."
"You're searching for Luke Skywalker," Wedge couldn't resist checking, hiding his smile with difficulty. "The Jedi Master? That Luke Skywalker?"
"And Mara," added the shortest, roundest man Wedge had seen in years.
Wedge straightened. "Luke and Mara?" he questioned casually, although the casualness was deceptive. Rogue Leader had gone to red alert without blinking. 'Okay, it wasn't the first time someone had connected the pair of them. The newsnets had been speculating about their relationship for years. Wouldn't we all like to know what's going on.'
"Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade," Forrell said brightly.
"We met them on Zathoq and Luke said if we ever wanted to visit we would be most welcome. So here we are and we don't know how to get in contact with him… I don't suppose you know him do you?"
Wedge blinked. "I… ah…"
"He could be in the medicentre as he was in quite a mess by the time those thugs were finished with him. He wasn't ready to be out of the Zathoq medicentre and Mara wasn't happy with him, but he limped out of there. If she could have tied him down she would have. Probably collapsed on the flight home. He certainly looked terrible." Forrell burbled cheerfully on.
"Of course, he knows Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade, you dimwit," Lek roared. "They're famous."
"I…" Wedge wondered if he was ever going to get a word in instead of stammering like a half-wit for an hour.
"He might not. He could be from off-planet," Forrell replied indignantly.
"He has an x-wing. Luke flies an x-wing," Malyre stated as if that tidied things up. "They're in love with one another but will never admit it."
Wedge blinked again. These… people had lost him. 'Who was in love with whom?'
Barancz closed his eyes and groaned.
"You don't tell that sort of things to strangers," Lek cautioned his old friend. "Just because he has an x-wing doesn't mean that he is personally acquainted with Luke Skywalker.
"He has a kind face," said Malyre.
"There are vibro-shiv murderers who have kind faces," Forrell interrupted. "I work in security and I know this for a fact."
"Excuse me a moment," Wedge murmured, finding his voice at long last. "I'll see what I can do. I can't promise anything."
Wedge returned to the cockpit of his ship and activated the com control, his shoulders shaking with suppressed mirth. "Han, old friend. This is Wedge."
"Wedge? What can I do for you?"
"Where's Luke? Is he, by any chance, on Coruscant?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"So he is on planet. You've been keeping that very quiet."
There was a stunned silence on the other end of the com. "Well… He is… actually. Just arrived a couple of days ago. We're trying to keep it away from the holo-reporters."
"You succeeded. How bad was he hurt? Is he in the medicentre?" Wedge grinned to himself as he heard Han's startled intake of breath. This was interesting.
"He wouldn't go."
"Sounds like Luke."
"What's all this about? You're remarkably well-informed about something no-one is supposed to know anything about."
"I've just been accosted…" Wedge peered out of his cockpit. "By four very strange beings… no, make that three strange beings and one rather embarrassed looking human."
"It could be the guys that helped Luke and Mara on Zathoq," Han mused aloud.
"Zathoq," Wedge repeated reassured, his suspicions confirmed. "They did mention Zathoq."
"Luke's just returned from there."
"What in the name of Nal Hutta was he doing in that hell-hole?"
"It's a Jedi Force thing."
"Oh. Tell Luke he has visitors."
"Luke and Mara, you mean?"
"Funny you should mention that, Solo. Mara has been put into the equation also. Is there something going on between Luke and Mara?" There was a choking sound on the other end of the link. Wedge really wished he could have been privy to the expression on Han's face.
"They're both staying with us," was all that the other Corellian would say.
Wedge gave a dry chuckle. "Both of them! You're talking about Luke and Mara in the same building for more than a day? You're braver than I thought."
"Call yourself a Corellian?" Han retorted.
Wedge laughed again. "I think there are four individuals who would like to see him. If they've come from Zathoq, they've come rather a long way."
"Hold on a minute, Wedge. Luke's just in the next room. He'll be able to confirm the identity of these people."
"Wedge!" Luke's voice came over the comlink. "Han tells me there is a… group from Zathoq looking for me. I'm glad you found them. Force knows what they might have got up to otherwise."
"I didn't find them, boss. They found me. Luck?"
"There's no such thing as 'luck'," Luke quoted Obi-Wan's maxim with a smile on his face. "I'm at Leia's…. if you wouldn't mind…?"
"Escorting them there?"
"You got it."
"And they are?"
"I would guess at Lek, Forrell – as round as he is tall - and Malyre. He's the Selonian…"
"There is a Selonian," Wedge uttered, surprised.
"And the embarrassed human… that would be Barancz. About our age with dark curly hair and a worried expression. Even more so if he's been with the oldsters for a while. They are unique."
"The descriptions match perfectly. Luke… what have you been up to?"
"Oh, the usual."
"That's why Han thinks you should be in bacta." Wedge heard Luke give a derisive snort. "Okay, Wedge out."
The Corellian pilot slid from the x-wing and faced the dubious looking quartet. "You're unbelievably lucky, guys. It just so happens I'm an old friend of Luke Skywalker's from way back. I was… just er… corroborating your story. Turns out Luke is on planet and would like to see you. I'm to take you to him."
"Hold on a minute. How do we know you're on the level?" Lek challenged suspiciously, bushy eyebrows bristling. "You could arrest us and we would disappear never to be seen or heard from again."
"That's easy to prove," Wedge answered carefully. "My name and rank is General Wedge Antilles of the New Republic." He held out his identification chip. Forrell examined it thoroughly.
"This is for real, guys," he announced. "I can recognise a forgery instantly. Being in security you know."
"Wedge smiled cordially. "I take it I have the pleasure of escorting Lek, Forrell, Malyre and Barancz."
Malyre bared his toothy fangs. "You do, young man, you do."
Barancz's mouth dropped open. The old guys were taking it in their stride but he knew how incredibly fortunate they had been. You didn't just land on a planet like Coruscant and suddenly find the person you were looking for. Bewildered, he followed the dark haired pilot. He'd even known their names.
"Do you know where we are?" whispered Forrell loudly.
Barancz shook his head, too overawed by the sheer size and scale of the buildings, the amount of traffic and how many people must live here.
"This is the Imperial Palace."
"Are they arresting us?" Barancz asked.
"Goodness me, no," uttered Forrell.
"Another security check?"
"Luke is important."
Wedge grinned as he overheard the comment. "Actually the security is really for his sister and her family. We are heading for her residence."
"She lives in this building?" Barancz questioned cautiously.
Wedge nodded and held out his identification chip for inspection by the grey suited guard. "We're expected. Luke and Mara know that you're coming."
"They do?" Malyre grinned.
"They're looking forward to seeing you. This way," Wedge ushered his party towards a sleek looking turbolift.
"I can't believe they all just got on a ship and came to Coruscant," Mara said.
"It's the sort of thing they would do, sweetheart," Luke murmured.
"But they haven't been off Zathoq in years. Barancz has never even left the system and they come all the way here."
Luke pulled her close and kissed her lips gently. "They can come to our wedding. If you'll still marry me?"
"Do I have to do that?" Mara teased, a twinkle lighting her green eyes.
Luke began to nuzzle the soft skin on her graceful neck. "Oh, yes. Otherwise I'll have to resort to Corellian tactics."
Mara pulled away from her fiancé. "Corellian tactics," she echoed.
"Yeah. Kidnapping and Dathomir."
Mara still looked blank.
"Han and Leia," he explained with a warm, throaty chuckle.
Mara's insides turned to fire at the warmth in his voice. "Your idiot brother-in-law kidnapped your sister?"
"It worked." Luke began to kiss her again.
"Less of the 'idiot'", a voice shouted from outside the room.
"Leave them be, Han," Leia's voice replied faintly.
Mara pulled away from Luke. "He's still listening at doors. I told you there's no privacy in this establishment."
Luke's blue eyes darkened almost to navy. "So you admit to wanting… no, needing," he stressed, "…a little privacy?"
"I want to be alone with you," Mara confessed, almost surprised at herself.
"That can be arranged," he whispered low in his throat.
"I don't want to be interrupted by droids, children or Corellian smugglers."
"When will you marry me?" Luke pressed.
The door opened and Leia peered cautiously around the frame. "Am I interrupting anything?" A twinkle graced her expressive brown eyes.
"Yes!" Luke snapped.
"No," Mara murmured, flushing a little under the amused gaze of the other woman. 'Or sisters either,' she added to her list.
"You are about to have guests."
Luke's irritation vanished. "The old ones are here already?"
"It helps to be me." Leia brushed a non-existent wrinkle from her deep blue robe.
"She's speaking the truth." Han stood behind his wife, his tone dry.
The door chime sounded and they could hear Threepio, returned to the household, shuffle his way to answer it. "If you would come this way, good sirs. General Antilles, might I say what a pleasure it is to see you again?"
"Thank you, Threepio."
Luke grinned at Mara. "Come on," he said, heading towards Leia's reception room.
"Guys!" he shouted and strode forward, his hand outstretched, clasping Barancz, Forrell, Malyre and finally Lek by the hand.
The two men regarded each other solemnly. "Your debt has been repaid," Luke said quietly.
Lek stood unsure of what to do and then he pulled Luke into a back slapping embrace. "You're looking well, young one, and I've never considered it to be a debt. I got the best of the bargain."
"Where is she?" Malyre asked.
"I'm here," Mara replied as she walked into the room and suffered being hugged by Forrell, Malyre and finally Lek. Barancz stood a little stiffly to one side until Mara held out her hand. The younger man shook her hand and then sat down on one of Leia's plush sofas.
"I can't believe you're here," Luke said.
"We just decided to come and so we did." Forrell was matter-of-fact about flying from one end of the galaxy to the other.
"You're looking better, Luke," Lek observed.
"He couldn't have looked much worse," Mara chipped in. "He deserved to suffer."
"Mara!" Luke's eyes widened.
"You left the medicentre too early."
"I did not."
"See, Malyre, there is no way these two would ever admit they were in love with one another," Forrell announced loudly.
"They might if we told them it was clearer than transparisteel viewports to everyone around them."
Barancz rubbed his forehead. His head was starting to ache.
Mara and Luke turned to each other and blinked. 'We've been found out, Jade.' Luke sent to her.
'You're telling me,' she answered.
Lek cleared his throat. "I know we've just arrived but these two could never keep their mouths shut."
Mara glared at the oddly assorted quartet. "You're saying that Luke and I are in love with one another?"
"Mara…" Luke began.
"Why on Coruscant do you think that I could be in… love with him?" She wrinkled her straight little nose disdainfully in the direction of the Jedi Master.
"He matters to you," Lek said simply. "No one else ever has in all the years I've known you."
The fire in her eyes died immediately and a strange expression crossed her beautiful face.
"You cried when he was hurt," Lek continued.
"She did, eh?" said Luke.
"Skywalker!" Mara warned.
"Merah, girl. You trust no one and yet you trust him? That tells me quite a lot." Malyre's face was quizzical. "Give him a chance. You're too young and pretty to fly the galaxy alone."
"I can look after myself," Mara answered.
"Of course you can, but we're not so sure about Luke. We think he needs you to look after him," Forrell added.
"Hey!" Luke protested, but a smile crossed his face.
He walked towards Mara and held out his hands and with a warm smile she took them in her own. "You're not far wrong, guys," he confessed softly. "I'm in love with her and she's even admitted that she loves me back. I'm trying to get her to marry me… Well," Luke shrugged his shoulders lightly. "She did agree to marry me on the journey back from Zathoq. It's just that… I'd like to get married now – as soon as we can."
Barancz jumped to his feet. "What are you waiting for, Mara?"
Lek turned and stared at his younger friend in astonishment.
Barancz gave a nervous half-smile. "Just trying to help."
Malyre winked at Luke. "He's more like us than he thinks he is."
Mara grinned as Luke pulled her close by his side. "I'm waiting for farmboy here to get well," she murmured.
"I'm fine," Luke almost howled. "Mara!"
Lek took a step forward and stood in front of the couple. "Please, for your own sakes. Be together and be happy. The people you were investigating…"
Mara's eyes glistened with unexpected tears. "They didn't get the chance to be happy. They were happy for a short while and then it was taken away from them."
Luke placed a finger under her chin and tipped her face up to meet his warm, steadfast gaze. "Don't let that happen to us, Mara Jade."
"Obi-Wan never got to grow old with Farae. My mother lost her husband, her children and her life. Ric Olie spent half his life waiting, hoping or dreading for something or someone to come. We'll never know the whole truth about what happened. Those files were too corrupted – even Ghent admits they are useless."
The door slid open and Han Solo stood with a tray of refreshments in his hands. "Drinks anyone?"
Luke gave Mara a hunted look and suddenly pulled her out of the door almost sending his sister flying. Only her Jedi reflexes saved her and the plate of snacks she was carrying from disaster.
"'Scuse us a moment," he muttered.
"Skywalker!" Mara protested.
The door hissed shut leaving the bewildered company standing like Hutts in a shoe store.
"What was that about?" asked Forrell.
Han shrugged. "Not a clue. Luke is a Jedi," he said as if that answered everything. "I'm his brother-in-law, Han Solo and this is my wife, Leia."
Malyre bowed formally. "Councillor," he intoned.
"We owe you our thanks," Leia said. "I don't know how my brother does it, but he finds friends in many places."
"He is a true gentleman, Councillor," Lek offered.
Leia smiled, her dark eyes warm. "I know."
The door opened once again and triumphantly Luke dragged a flushed Mara Jade in after him. "She said yes. She really said yes," he crowed. "We're getting married and we're doing it now."
"Luke!" Leia stepped forward, dismayed. "But there's no time to plan a ceremony…"
"Even better," Mara muttered. "If I have to marry him, the less fuss the better."
"I love her and I'm not taking the chance that she'll change her mind." Luke stuck out his chin with determination.
"I won't change my mind," Mara snapped.
"I won't let you."
"I'd like to see you try…"
"No problem." Luke grinned.
"Oh yes?" Mara's green eyes met Luke's defiantly in challenge.
"Yes." The Jedi Master pulled Mara into his arms and kissed her firmly – kissed her until she was red, breathless and shaking.
"Uh, kids," Han muttered. "You have company."
Luke and Mara separated to find Jacen and Anakin looking at them with something akin to disgust and Jaina, with fascination.
"Finally they're seeing sense," Malyre crowed triumphantly.
Lek gave a tired smile. "It's the right thing to do."
"Yes." Luke blushed but held his ground. "I want to get married now."
"I'm not marrying you in… those." Mara pointed at Luke's well worn Jedi uniform of black tunic and pants.
"It's an old one, Jade and it's comfortable against my skin."
"If you'd gone to the medi-centre those abrasions would have been healed by now."
"I am healed."
"Well, I'm still not marrying you in those."
Leia summed up the situation and stepped in. Organising was one of her strengths. "Shall we set a date for two days away? Karrde is on planet, Mara. Most of the Rogues are on Coruscant, Luke, and one or two of the Jedi are, too. That gives us time to do things right."
Luke held up his hand. "Leia…"
"If you have to get married in a hurry, I want it to be a decent affair and not a rushed ceremony in some grubby little office as if I didn't approve of the pair of you getting married. I won't have that."
Mara frowned but gave a grudging nod. Something told her that to give in gracefully would be the best option; otherwise, Leia could and would make their marriage a full state occasion.
"Luke?" Leia asked.
"Your best uniform, brother," Leia told him. "And Mara…"
Mara screwed up her face. It was clear she wasn't going to get off without some sacrifice on her part.
"You and I are going shopping."
Leia battled on. She hadn't fought against the Empire for years for nothing. Ten minutes later and all the family had tasks.
Mara sat in the lounge feeling almost forgotten as Leia, Winter, Mirax Horn and Iella Antilles rushed around with piles of lacy fripperies, flowers and data pads. She'd been dragged from shop to shop in a whirlwind tour of Leia's favourite designers. Clothes had been pulled on and off her until she no longer saw what she was wearing.
"Enough!" Mara protested.
"One more and then I'm going home. I'll get married in my leather suit if I have to."
Leia capitulated unwillingly. Mara's eyes boded ill for anyone crossing her on this. "What about this?" she said.
Mara shook her head. "No. It's not what I want." She closed her eyes and moved in a trance to a rack at the back of the shop.
"Mistress," the shop proprietor said quickly. "These are not my own designs. This is a collection of antique clothes."
Mara's eyes snapped open. "This," she said. "I'm wearing this."
"It may not fit you," Leia said, her eyes taking in the soft fabric encased in its protective sheath.
"It will," Mara whispered. "I know it will. It's perfect."
That had been yesterday and with the wedding set for the following day, the madness in the Solo apartment had almost reached Mara's breaking point. "Can I do… anything?" Mara asked.
Winter paused in her assignment and shook her perfectly coiffed white head. "Just sit and rest. Tomorrow will be a long day."
Mara nodded. "Where's Luke?"
"Han took him to his apartment to check over his clothes. They will stay there tonight."
Mara's shoulders slumped. So not even farmboy to take out her frustration on. 'Who are you fooling?' she asked herself. 'You just want to see him.'
Luke sat on his balcony and watched the Coruscant traffic move past. The noise coming from inside his apartment made him smile but didn't make him want to join in. Han, the old guys, Wedge, Corran and Talon Karrde were indulging in a sort of party for Luke but the bridegroom was the only one not taking part.
"I'm out here," he called.
"What's wrong, son?" Lek limped slowly out to join him and handed the Jedi a glass of port from Chandrila.
"Nothing." Luke smiled at the old man and took a sip of the rich drink. "Hey!" he gave a silent little whistle. "This is quality stuff. Where did Han procure this? Or maybe Talon brought it with him?"
"General Solo found it in your cupboard, Luke."
"It's in my cupboard? Luke gave a wry grin. "I might have guessed. I don't drink much. Although…" he took another appreciative sip. "If I'd realised this was there. I might have started on this a long time ago."
"Don't drink too much of it," Lek advised patting Luke on his black clad shoulder. "Mara wants you at your best tomorrow."
"Come inside and join us."
The noise in Luke's lounge had reached deafening proportions. "I will but I think I'll just sit out here for a while longer. I'm enjoying the peace."
Lek grinned and wandered slowly back inside where he was met with ringing cries. Luke wondered if most of them knew he was there. He was never one to be the life and soul of the party but most of his friends would swear that he was its heart.
He leant on the balcony rail and stared out into the sky. Coruscant's sun was just beginning its slow descent and the evening was still bright but beginning to take on the change between light and dark.
A graceful silver vessel flew past him heading out towards the horizon. It couldn't be – could it…? It wasn't, but for a moment Luke could have sworn that he'd seen the ghost of his mother's silver ship flying proudly the way it should have. His eyes followed the elegant ship until it vanished. The ship… finding it had brought him Mara. He had to see her. He couldn't wait until the following day. He had to know that she wanted this as much as he did.
Keeping an eye on the party in his main reception room, Luke entered the apartment from the balcony door into his bedchamber. He picked up his Jedi cloak where it lay abandoned on his bed and crept out into his hallway, bypassing the raucous revelry. He hoped Han wasn't too drunk because Leia would kill him otherwise.
Mara sighed as the ladies fussed around her. They meant well but she just wasn't used to all this female bonding. All of these ladies weren't people you tangled with lightly. They could look after themselves but as far as Mara was concerned, they all seemed to have lost rational thought. She got to her feet and wandered along the hallway to her room and examined her wedding dress as it hung against the wardrobe. The dress would fall to her feet and form a train behind her. The lace it was made from was old and soft, almost a creamy yellow in colour, long wide sleeves came to a point at her middle finger and a soft cap would cover her hair. It was uncanny but it could almost have been the same as… Mara froze. The holo picture was still in the lounge. She closed the door to her room and sped back along the hallway. Just as she was about to enter the lounge again, the main door opened quietly and a figure entered making almost no sound.
"Luke!" Mara whispered, her senses immediately singing into joyous life.
"Get your cloak," he murmured softly.
"Do they really need you?"
Mara's eyes began to shine. "No," she answered and grabbed her cloak.
With a conspiratorial smile the lovers slipped from the Solos' suite and headed to the roof of the Imperial Palace. The sun was low in the darkening sky and lights had sprung up across the continual city. Only the dark shadow of the Manarai Mountains contained no dots of brilliant colour.
"I love you," Luke said as he kissed her gently.
Mara curved herself into his side and leant her head on his shoulder. "I know and I love you too but what's the matter?"
Luke opened and shut his mouth unable to formulate what he was thinking into something coherent.
"Skywalker I've known you for too long and too well not to know when that torturous mind of yours has something nagging inside it."
"I just hope you really want this," he said slowly, moving away from her side, his fists clenched over the railing, knuckles white. "I want to know that I'm not pressuring you into something you don't want or are not ready for. I want this so much that my insides are twisting themselves into knots. I worry that I could have done anything you weren't happy about."
Mara's eyes widened. He really had to learn to trust them both. Part of this was her fault. She'd held him at bay for so long that he was uncertain of this rapid change in their situation. It wasn't rapid at all. They'd had ten years to learn to love one another. They were lucky to have had the luxury of time. "Luke…" She crossed to him and placed her hands over his. "Relax. I'm not going anywhere and tomorrow I'll marry you because I love you. I want this… so much." Mara lifted her hand and turned Luke's handsome face towards her. His blue eyes were shadowed with remembered pain. "We have so much to look forward to, farmboy."
Luke gave a deep sigh and some of the tension left his body. "Thanks." His hand caught at hers and he brought it to his lips kissing it. A little shiver ran through her. "I wonder if Han and the boys have even noticed I'm missing."
"That bad?" Mara grinned.
"It was pretty loud. A whole herd of banthas could have rumbled past them and I don't think they would have noticed."
"The women were up to their necks in frills. Not really my thing."
"No, I suppose not." Luke's mouth quirked into the little smile she loved. "I never get tired of the sunsets. Wherever I am I always try to see them."
"You're strange at times, Skywalker," Mara said smiling.
"I see your hair colour in the sky every time I see another sunset. It is so beautiful. You are so beautiful."
He wrapped his arms tightly about her and brought her in close to his body. Mara could feel every hard sinew and she pressed herself against him, moaning softly. Luke dipped his head and covered her mouth with his. This kiss started sweet but soon developed into something passionate. They didn't speak for some time, just the sighs of lovers. Their communication was by touch and sense alone.
"Hey, Wedge!" Han called. "Have you seen Luke?"
Wedge Antilles pulled himself from the corner of Luke's comfiest chair and searched the apartment. "He's not here," the Corellian pilot said in amazement. "He's skipped the party and gone elsewhere."
There was a beep from Luke's communications centre. "Han!" Leia's face appeared on the screen. "Can I speak to Luke?"
Han shuffled his feet. "Well… eh… He's not here."
"Do you know where he is?"
Han shook his head. "Nope. What's this all about?"
"Mara's skipped off somewhere."
Han grinned at his wife. "They'll be together somewhere."
"I thought so." Leia was not amused. "They're getting married tomorrow."
"Stating the obvious, sweetheart."
"I just didn't want to think Mara might have got cold feet."
"Yeah, but somehow I don't think so. She really loves him."
"Yes, she does."
"I'll try his comlink."
Han switched on his com and called Luke's frequency. "Hey, buddy."
Luke fumbled for his comlink. 'Sith! Where was it?' With a sigh of relief he located it and cleared his throat before speaking. "Han! You still sober? I can hardly believe it."
"I'll forget you said that. You'd better back be here and return the bride to my wife's tender care or there's no way Leia will let you two marry tomorrow."
Up on the palace roof, lying on their Jedi cloaks, Luke dropped a kiss on Mara's forehead and trailed a gentle finger down the naked flesh he held in his arms. Her breath caught as his fingers toyed with a rosy taunting nipple.
"The sun has almost set, my love."
Mara sat up reluctantly and pulled on her clothes. Luke did the same.
"That was Han," Luke explained adjusting his belt with his lightsaber at his waist.
"I thought it was probably one of them. Took them a while to notice we'd gone."
"It did, didn't it?" Luke picked up Mara cloak and placed it around her shoulders. "Come on, I'll walk you back down."
Mara nodded and held out her hand. "Come on, farmboy."
Coruscant – 6 months after the separation of the Skywalker twins
The Grand Corridor in the newly renamed Imperial Palace on Imperial Centre was busy at that time of the day. Bright morning sunshine poured through the shaped and coloured panes of glass set high in the vaulted ceiling. Beautiful Ch'hala trees lining the walkway added splashes of ever changing colour as it rippled up and down the slender trunks.
Lady Sabé of Naboo carefully picked her way through the throng of people but did not marvel at the spectacular beauty of the Grand Corridor. She hadn't wanted to come to Coruscant, but Padme was on Alderaan with her daughter and there was no one else that Queen Jamillia trusted to take Padme's place as senator. 'An empty position,' thought the graceful woman. The senate had become something controlled by Supreme Chancellor or Emperor Palpatine as he had recently styled himself. There was nothing that anyone could do.
A small hooded and robed figure slipped from behind one of the many emerging statues to the new Emperor. "Lady Sabé."
"Yes, Farae. I am surprised to see you here on Coruscant."
"M'Lady sent me with a message, but I had another more pressing reason and you are the only one who can advise me. I do not want to burden M'Lady with this. I had to see and speak with you on a private and personal matter."
A sunbeam caught Farae's face under her hood. Sabé noted that her face was pinched and pale.
"You are not well or something has upset you," the senior handmaiden pronounced, peering at her younger companion's face.
Farae bit her lip and looked about her. "Is this area monitored?"
Sabé nodded gracefully. "Of course."
"The gardens then."
Sabé led the way, a frown marring her usually calm features. Something was very wrong with Farae. She'd been worried about her when her youthful colleague had fallen for the young Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. Since he'd left her, Farae had slipped into a depressed state even though she'd known all along that there was no future for them.
"I have a sound disrupter. It will stop our conversation from being intercepted. Even outdoors one cannot be too careful."
Farae nodded. "Thank you," she whispered and sank down upon an ornamental stone bench.
"What's wrong, Farae?"
"The situation on Naboo has reached critical. Since the death of Boss Nass, the relations between the human and Gungan populations have deteriorated rapidly. Investigators think that the situation is being stirred up as fighting has broken out on several occasions."
"I suspect the Emperor," Sabé admitted. "His new servant, Darth Vader, strides around as if he owns everything. Lord Vader has it in for Naboo and for M'Lady in particular." The new senator sighed. "We should have expected that."
"We have new problems. A mysterious virus is threatening the planet. As yet no cure has been found. M'Lady is threatening to return to Naboo. The Viceroy and Vicereine want her to stay where she's safe."
"She will want to be with her people."
Farae pushed down her hood angrily, her red-gold hair shining brightly in the sun's glow. "What about her ch…"
"Ssh!" Sabé peered around her. "Do not mention such things." She stared critically at Farae. "I thought the Jedi were supposed to have…"
"Removed my memories? Yes, they were. For some reason mine have returned."
"Force!" breathed Sabé worriedly.
"I remember there were children and I know they were split up and sent away. Leia is on Alderaan with Dormé and Luke has gone…" she trembled. "With Obi-Wan."
"Oh, Farae." Sabé's arm crept around the young handmaiden's shoulders and was shocked to feel through her cloak how thin Farae's frame was.
"Jedi children," she whispered. "Only hope."
"You said you had something else to tell me?" Sabé pressed gently.
Farae stared at the ground. "I should have said something long ago but I could not." She took a shuddering breath. "I too… am with child."
Sabé swallowed past the lump which had appeared in her throat. "But you swore to serve…"
"I did not mean it to happen," Farae cried, her green eyes frightened.
Farae nodded, her lips trembling and opened her cloak to reveal a body that was no longer reed-slim. "Another Jedi child."
"Why didn't you tell us sooner?"
"At first I didn't know and once I realised… I thought you might take it away."
"I would never…"
"This baby is in danger too. I don't know if it is a Force sensitive child, but considering who her father is…"
"It's a girl?"
"I think so. Don't ask me why I'm so sure but I am. I don't want her to go away from me. I don't want to have to let her go." Farae buried her head in her hands. "Obi-Wan would want to know he is to be a father but I cannot tell him."
"No," Sabé agreed softly. "You cannot."
"He could not take Luke himself… Two Force users in one house. A beacon to the Jedi hunters. Vader is picking the Jedi apart - knight by knight. He has placed Padme's son with a childless couple and remains nearby to watch and protect him. He never told me where it was and I did not ask. The temptation to go and be with him would be far too great. It is somewhere in the Outer Rim on the edge of Wild Space but that's all I know."
"It's enough," Sabé muttered tartly. "You cannot give birth on Coruscant. We are all watched so carefully."
"Because of M'lady?"
"Of course. Though the spies might not be so aware of your identity as a handmaiden to the former Queen of Naboo."
"Because Queen Jamillia assigned me to M'lady's service late."
"M'Lady continues to defy the Emperor and speak out," Sabé confided. "She won't hide what she feels."
"The other handmaidens say that is why Naboo is being punished."
Sabé's face hardened. "Perhaps."
"What am I to do?" Farae's eyes begged her companion for an answer. "If my baby has the power of the Force, Vader will come and take her away and kill her. I do not want to let her go. I do not want to lose her. She is all I have of Obi-Wan." Farae began rocking back and fore on the bench, her hands clutching her stomach protectively.
Sabé closed her eyes. This wasn't a situation she'd prepared for. "We'll think of something."
Luke and Mara wandered slowly back to Leia's apartment. "How do you feel about tomorrow?" he asked.
"I feel many things," she answered carefully. "There is hope for us, for our future, but somewhere I feel sadness. Not about us, but for the people who brought us together…"
"Our pasts?" Luke queried with understanding. "My parents, the Jedi." He pressed a little. "Your parents?"
"Whoever my parents were," she said dryly. "I feel sad that they cannot see us today."
"Maybe they can," Luke countered and pulled her close, once again for another series of soft kisses.
Mara pulled away a little. "Maybe they can," she echoed and lifted her wrist, glancing at her chrono. "Skywalker! Have you seen the time?"
"No," Luke said.
The Solo apartment door flew open.
"Mara Jade - inside. Luke Skywalker - goodnight." Leia stood frowning, her arms crossed. "Where have you been?"
"Oh… around," her brother replied vaguely, his blue eyes full of laughter and hidden secrets.
"Well goodbye. You need to go to your apartment and Mara needs to go to her bed."
"Leia!" Luke whined.
Mara laughed and kissed him sweetly. "Go, Skywalker. I'll see you tomorrow."
Just as he walked away Mara seemed to see another figure alongside him. The figure turned and Mara's hand flew to her lips. She couldn't be sure but it looked like the picture of a young Obi-Wan Kenobi. The image stopped and the vision's hand reached out to Mara, yearning in his gaze, then he turned to face the departing figure of Luke and shimmered away into the air.
The wedding of Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade was a private, intensely moving ceremony witnessed only by family and their closest friends. Leia stood flanked by Han and her children - all the love and hope she felt for her brother and his wife-to-be shining in her eyes. Talon Karrde smiled genially at his former second-in-command, beautiful in her cream lace gown. Malyre grinned a toothy smile and nudged Forrell, whose gold braid trimmed uniform threatened to outshine everyone there. Although nothing could outshine the bride. She was radiant.
She'd appeared on Lek's arm and Luke's jaw had dropped. It wasn't possible. It couldn't be. Mara was dressed in an almost identical gown to the one his mother was wearing in the holo. The cream cap covered her red-gold hair which hung down over her shoulders almost to her waist.
"You look beautiful," Luke murmured. "I can't believe you wore a dress like that. I knew you'd look wonderful whatever you wore."
"It was chance," Mara whispered. "You look very smart, farmboy. I could even fall in love with you all over again."
"You could, eh?" Luke smoothed his hand over his Jedi styled tunic, but at his neck Mara could see a hint of vivid blue, just the colour of his eyes.
All their barriers had gone and the love flowed between the Jedi Master and his bride like the unbroken thread of the Force itself. As the ceremony progressed Luke gave thanks that he had a chance to be with his loved ones.
'I love you,' he sent to Mara.
Her green eyes sparkled into his. 'I know and I love you. What made us take so long?'
'Stubbornness… I don't know. Spare a thought for my parents and yours.'
'Now, remember it's not entirely certain,' Mara told him.
'I know,' Luke's head descended and his lips met hers to the cheers of family and closest friends. So they didn't know everything, so the files were corrupted, the tragedy long past that they and their families had gone through to get to this point couldn't be rewritten. They had each other and they had their love. Trust in the Force.
"My Emperor!" The black masked and cloaked figure knelt in his holographic image of homage before his master.
"Rise, Lord Vader and report."
"We have captured a shuttle heading for the Sluis Van sector."
"Any particular reason?"
"There was a strong Force presence on board."
"Indeed. It is a strange direction in which to be heading… or perhaps not. The Outer Rim has long harboured our enemies." The Emperor rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Another Jedi captured. Excellent, Lord Vader."
Vader's modulated voice changed slightly. "Yes," he said slowly. "That's what I thought. The presence was certainly strong enough."
"We crippled the vessel and then drew it into our docking bay via a tractor beam. Unfortunately the occupant was fatally injured during this procedure."
"You have not told me everything, Lord Vader," divined Palpatine.
"The occupant was a pregnant woman. The shock brought on a premature labour and she died giving birth."
"Which of the Jedi was it? Who did we destroy?" Palpatine cackled malevolently.
"There were no Jedi on board." Vader said slowly, his harsh mechanical breathing steady. "The Force strong presence belonged to the child."
Palpatine's wizened face brightened. "A child!" He then turned towards the holographic image of his faithful servant. "A child – how could you confuse…?"
"The Force runs very strong in this one." Vader's image moved from the spot in front of the holoprojector and returned carrying a small wrapped bundle. All that was visible was a tuft of reddish hair. Vader's massive black gloved hand was almost tender as he smoothed the hair against the baby's head. "Will I have it killed?" He waited, the perfect picture of obedience.
The baby yawned and opened her eyes. They were bright green.
Palpatine thought for a moment. "No," he said.
My thanks as always to my lovely beta reader Mona, to Niqella, Michele and the girls on the lists for encouragement and support.