I'd almost forgotten how hot it is here.
Luke Skywalker unhurriedly trudged up the path to the B'Omarr monastery and his encounter with Jabba the Hutt. His slow, rolling gait was the standard for those raised on the desolate desert planet of Tatooine. At midday, walking too fast would lead to heat exhaustion while the rolling gait helped the young man keep his footing in the shifting sands. Shallow breaths were a necessity else he could seriously damage his lungs.
Almost forgotten, he sarcastically jibed to himself.
Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the droids were counting on him and this dependency made him nervous. In theory, Lando was also counting on him to pull off his end of the plan, but Luke didn't think too highly of the former owner and operator of the Bespin Tibanna gas mine. On one level, Luke was aware that Vader had given Lando an offer that wasn't to be refused. Well, it couldn't be refused without courting a protracted and painful death. On the other hand, there was no way to avoid the fact that Lando had sold Chewie, Han and Leia to the Empire.
Sighing, Luke knew that Master Yoda would be barking his shins and knuckles with that damn gimer stick should he hear Luke's misgivings.
Tell you, the Force will, should this man be trustworthy. Place your future in the hands of an idiot, trusting your own opinion you are.
Wincing at the glare off a discarded piece of trash, Luke ducked his head inside the heavy cloak he was wearing. The built in cooling pads helped keep his body heat down and the encompassing cloth kept the fierce suns' rays off his head.
Taking a slow breath, Luke sunk into the Force. A beneficial side effect of those brutal runs that Yoda had made him do was that he was able to sink into the flow of the Force while in motion. In fact, he found it easier to commune with the Force while in motion than when he was at rest; a fact that annoyed the small green Jedi Master to no end.
Luke's spirit was in turmoil, primarily dominated by the eternal enemy of the Jedi.
Fear that he would fail them all. Han was his best friend. His brother, really. Chewie and Leia…even the prissy Threepio and mischievous Artoo were his family. Now that Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru were gone they were all he had left…
Pausing in his trek, Luke turned to the southwest. He couldn't see it, but about five hundred kilometers away lay the sand filled ruins of his childhood home…and the graves of those who'd raised him as their own. Slaughtered by the Empire as if they were cattle. With a small sigh, Luke turned back to the path.
Most likely, all of his friends inside the monastery were helpless or powerless in the face of the thug that controlled this sector of the galaxy. They needed him to free them. There was no margin for error. 'Good enough' wasn't.
Fear that he'd never find love. It was obvious that Leia loved Han. Truth be told, his crush on the diminutive brunette had faded over the past months leaving him strangely rootless. Han loved Leia. Chewie had Malla back on Kashyyyk.
All his life, he'd been looking for something. Uncle Owen had always chastised him for looking to the stars. Yoda had accused him of looking to the next horizon for adventure. Neither of them had been right. Well, not entirely right. It hadn't been until the previous week that Luke realized that he hadn't been looking for adventure or excitement. As he cleaned Obi-Wan's former home, Luke realized that he'd been looking outward to fix something that was missing within. He still had no idea what he was missing or how he was broken, just that there was an ache within that needed soothing.
The Force had been a true balm to his soul as had his new family, but something was missing. The ache was still there. Yoda had preached that all a Jedi needed was the Force. In service to and communing with the Force, a Jedi found peace, contentment and purpose. Luke had progressed far in his short months with the caustic Grand Master of the Jedi, but was still far from true serenity. Was it a spouse?
Yoda had discussed the danger of attachment. How attachment was an opportunity for a Jedi to begin the slide to the Dark Side of the Force.
One night, he'd been resting in Yoda's kitchen as the diminutive being had been fixing dinner when he'd asked a question that Yoda had blatantly dodged.
"Master, did you ever wed?"
Yoda's startled expression had surprised the novice Jedi in his turn. Yoda's serenity and steadiness had never been upset – until then.
"No," he'd replied before resuming the preparation of the food. Luke hadn't pursued the topic. It was obvious that Yoda wasn't telling the entire truth. Love lost, he'd thought at the time. The idea that Yoda had lost his love to violence, disease or tragedy seemed right to the romantic young Skywalker. The idea of forsaking a spouse in order to prevent the prospect that a Jedi may be exposed to a possible temptation of the Dark Side of the Force seemed ridiculous.
Shaking his head, he shoved the thoughts aside. Nothing so mundane as a wife. Now, however, isn't the time to ponder these issues.
Fear about his father. Fear that…No. That fear he wouldn't face. It was too much too soon and possibly another lie of the Empire. Sith Lords weren't known for their forthrightness and sense of fair play.
Letting go his fears for his friends - family really- Luke thrust the outcome of the operation out to the Universe. The Force would see him through to the best end. The best end, no matter who lived or died.
If honor what they fight for – yes.
Yoda's words took on a whole new meaning since the disaster at Bespin.
Shaking off the dread that had been surfacing since his 'chat' with Darth Vader, Luke refocused on the present. Yoda would be happy about his focus on the present.
Leia had missed the transmission time this morning, so he was proceeding on with the plan. If she'd been successful in liberating Han the previous night, she was to transmit, "Bail, Bilbringi, Owen, Skyhopper." There had been no such transmission. He'd packed the little that remained from Obi-Wan's old house on the edge of the Western Dune Sea into the Falcon before riding the little sand speeder to the edge of the ancient monastery that the Hutts had appropriated for their uses once the Empire had asserted dominance on Tatooine.
Letting go his conscious self, Luke felt the Force flow through him. As a breeze fills a canyon or water a riverbed, the Son of Skywalker opened himself to the Force. Serene and Energized, Calm yet Alert, Dispassionate but filled with Love for his family, the novice Jedi made the final turn on the winding path to his destination.
Ahead there was a bright spot in the Force. Focusing, Luke saw that it was really two spots. One, he recognized as Leia. She was a warm pulse that always reminded him of home. Near her was another. A very powerful being standing out like a beacon in the Force. Hard but not cold. She? Yes, definitely a female. She felt nothing like any other being he'd sensed. Yoda was a contained sun; bright and powerful. Vader was a freezing rain; painful and dangerous. This new woman was powerful, very much so. The strength of her presence was between Vader and Leia, but far closer to the Sith Lord than to the Princess of Alderaan in terms of the ripples in the Force that her presence caused.
Shaking his head, he mused on the sensation. She definitely wasn't a Sith. There wasn't that oppressive hatred and despair like that which leaked out of Vader. Despite the pain and anger that radiated off the masked Sith Lord, Luke thought he could still feel the good in the man who claimed to be Anakin Skywalker, but it was buried under layers of hatred, fear, suspicion and greed. This newcomer appeared to be essentially a good person but there was something wrong with her Force signature.
His guard up, Luke pushed his musing to the side as the gate opened to admit him to the lair of Jabba the Hutt.
They called her Arica, but Mara Jade had been known by many names across the galaxy in service to her Master. For this mission, she was the quiet human in the dancing chorus called Arica.
Her green eyes were always watchful yet her mouth was always closed. She never spoke unless spoken to and then limited herself to direct answers that didn't invite further discussion.
She'd been there for the last three months. Her hiring had been swift; her skill and beauty had been undisputed. No one wondered why the woman was dancing for a thug like The Hutt on the Outer Rim when she could be in the Core as a dancer or even courtesan to a high ranking official. Most of the people who accompanied Jabba were idiots and morons of the first rank. They were thieves and scum. Beings like that weren't hounded to apply to the graduate program at the Coruscant Centre of Astrophysics. Very quickly, she was accepted as a member of Jabba's 'Court' with a minimum of questions.
After the first few days, which were full of practices, fitting for costume and the like, Mara's life settled into a routine. Dance. Fend off perverts. Dance. Fend off perverts. Eat. Fend off perverts. Dance. Fend off perverts. Sleep. Wake up, repeat. It was a miracle that she'd not killed anyone yet.
The break in the mind numbing routine had first come when the diminutive bounty hunter arrived with Chewbacca the Wookie in tow. There was something wrong with the fact that the famous Wookie had been subdued by such a diminutive being – Boussh it claimed to be. True, size was no indicator of power, but still, something was off about the situation. Her hunches, which had invariably proven to be valid, were screaming at her that this was all wrong.
That night, when that idiot Twi'lek Fortuna had motioned to the dancers to stay up but out of the way, she'd been relieved. Obviously, The Hutt knew something was off with the situation, as well. Her mission was Skywalker and she couldn't lose her cover before the man arrived. That little holovid from the farmboy's astromech had warned her that her target was on the way. She'd let the vile worm deal with the situation with the bounty hunter while she waited for Skywalker.
When the bounty hunter turned out to be the infamous Princess Leia Organa, Mara had scowled to herself. Her Master wanted this one at his feet. The scowl intensified when The Hutt indulged his perversities by forcing the regal and dignified Princess to become his favorite slave girl.
Deep in her gut, Mara hated to see the turncoat Princess forced to such an indignity. True, she was a traitor, but a quick death was her due, not the degradations The Hutt and his cronies were inflicting on her. She had to acknowledge the bravery of the young woman who ignored the catcalls of the mob. The wandering hands were met with slaps and one time, she'd bitten a finger off a bold Rodian who wanted to see what was under the loincloth the beautiful woman had been forced to wear. The crowd had roared with laughter, Mara along with them. She even gave a small nod of admiration. She'd have done the same thing in Organa's situation.
A jab of pain lanced through her head, jumping from temple to temple. Fortunately, the dancers were resting; otherwise, Mara was sure that she'd have fallen. Even sitting down, she slumped forward as the crippling pain racked her head for an interminably long moment before it was gone as soon as it arrived.
Blinking the tears of pain from her eyes, Mara glared about the room. No one was watching her. There was none of the casual alertness that signified someone was observing the results of an attack.
Then what the kriffing hell was that?
The Emperor's presence in her mind was a warm spot that she could always feel. When he'd established the link to her via the Force, it had hurt. A lot. Now, the nearly constant presence in her mind was a reassuring and even comforting feeling. When her Master would deign to communicate to her, the sense of pride and purpose that flowed from their ethereal Force connection was nearly overwhelming.
This feeling was nothing like that. It was as if someone or something was reaching deep within her mind to tear out a veritable plant by the roots.
Another wave of crippling pain washed over Mara. The pain was so intense and present that she could do no more than sit there shuddering. Slowly, the pain built to a crescendo. Ripshawing across her mind, the pain was in turns cutting and tearing. Either way, it was agony.
Someone was shaking her shoulder, but the undercover Hand of the Emperor couldn't reply. There was no sound, no feeling and no thought. Only pain.
Back and forth, the pain built to the deafening climax. With a violent snapping sensation, the pain peaked. Her head thrown back in a soundless scream, Mara Jade passed out.
After gaining entrance to the monastery, it was a simple matter to bypass the guards. Simple creatures, he used the Force to give them a false sense of choking as he walked by them without stopping. The Twi'lek adjutant of Jabba - Bib Fortuna if Luke remembered aright – was very easy to bend to his will.
Striding into Jabba's 'Throne Room', he quickly found Leia. Her life force shone like a small star. There was trouble, though. The other powerful Force sensitive person was in crippling pain. Unfortunately, the crime lord in front of him was drawing all of his attention. So much so that Luke didn't notice the Force begin to swirl about him. Had he been paying attention, he'd have noticed the similarities between what was happening and the beginnings of a sand tornado. Visually, they were very similar. It would have also scared the holy hell out of him.
The Twi'lek announced him to the sleeping Jabba. The Hutt wasn't pleased. Luke had to stifle a laugh at Jabba's palpable fear that eked out of him in the Force. Despite his bravado, the old Hutt knew the capabilities of Jedi and wasn't enthralled with the idea of a new Jedi in the heart of his 'Palace'.
"You will release Captain Solo and the Wookie to me," Luke commanded, lacing his words with the strongest Force compulsion he could muster. To be honest, he really didn't expect it to work.
Sighing, he began to step forward, but something didn't feel right. Risking a glance at his feet, Luke saw a rectangular door cut in the floor. The rank reek that was seeping up from the grates behind him gave a little clue that Luke probably didn't want to jump down this garbage chute. The last time he'd done it had worked out alright. Somehow he felt that a Dionoga and moving walls would be considered a little low key this time.
Giving Jabba a sarcastic scowl, Luke deliberately took a step back, away from the trapdoor.
"Really?" Amusement rippled through the Force from the giant worm.
The pain from the woman across the room, though, was becoming intolerable. As the pressure began to push on his mind, he glanced around the room. In the corner was a young woman holding her head as she writhed in agony.
Identifying the source of the suffering, Luke had to tear himself away. The woman was a beacon in the night; calling to him. Her presence in the Force was screaming to him to pay attention to her, focus on her. He could nearly see the Force swirling about her. Unfortunately, he didn't have time to center on her. Jabba was roaring something that Luke caught only a few words. The rush of thugs and bodyguards made the words clear. "Kill him," or sentiments in that vein.
"Artoo!" Luke bellowed as he jumped high above the first volley of blaster bolts. Not knowing where his trusty astromech droid was hidden, the nascent Jedi closed his eyes, reaching out with the Force. Ignoring the burning furnace that was the suffering woman in the corner, he found his lightsaber.
A special connection between a Jedi and his lightsaber there is.
A rush of wind and the handle was in his hands. Spinning to his left as he descended, Luke brought the handle up as he thumbed the control switch. The familiar snap-hiss of his sabre was a comforting sound. Relaxing into the Force, he let the all-knowing power guide and control him. Willing himself to be a servant of All That Was, he trusted the Force to protect all those he loved.
Leia loved Luke. Not as a lover loves, mind, more like a brother. Not that she had a brother, but she was a smart woman and could interpolate her emotions.
After she rescued him in the weather vanes of Cloud City, Leia had humored his claims of being a Jedi Knight. True, he built a new lightsaber, but he'd had one before Bespin. Just owning a lightsaber didn't make a person a Jedi. By his own admission, he wasn't a Jedi while on Hoth and beforehand. A few months training with a vague 'Jedi Master' didn't make one a Jedi Knight, that was for sure. Luke was a great guy, but this Jedi 'thing' was a bit much.
Chewbacca, though, had immediately believed Luke's claim. To her knowledge, Chewie wasn't the least bit Force sensitive. The Wookie never explained his unswerving belief and support of Luke, but it made an impression on Leia. Not enough to convince her, though.
As she scrambled for the little cover that existed on the front of Jabba's 'throne', Leia became a true believer that her 'little brother' was a Jedi Knight. Over a dozen beings were firing on Luke with repeating blaster rifles. The green of Luke's lightsaber flashed and spun like a living being deflecting each bolt with a precision, power and grace that was awe inspiring. It moved faster and faster until it appeared to be a green dome overtop her friend.
The gangsters were falling like leaves in a storm. Some of the blaster bolts were reflected back at the shooters, some at Jabba (he'd taken seven bolts to the face and appeared to be dead), and others at security droids. Leia didn't know it as she cowered behind the smoking corpse of an armored bounty hunter, but the chain that tethered her to Jabba had been shattered by the first deflected shot.
She frowned as the green blade began to move across the room. Luke, where are you going? In the semi dark room that was filling with smoke, she couldn't see her friend. Following the march of the lightsaber, she saw him move to where the dancers had been resting. Finally, he stopped, standing overtop a writhing woman.
Ignoring it for the moment, Leia looked about to see only two men left who were firing at Luke. Both of them were laying down a covering fire as they edged toward the exits.
With a snarl, Leia scooped up a fallen blaster. Both of these men had been generous in heaping indignities on her over the last day so the bloodlust to destroy them was pounding in her temples. At the last minute, sanity superimposed itself on her mind. Instead of shooting them in the back, she changed the firing setting from 'kill' to 'stun'. Two blue blaster bolts later, the men were on the ground.
There was an eerie silence punctuated by the scrabbling of non-combatants as they fled the monastery. Across the room, she heard Luke mutter, "You'll be alright."
"Luke?" she called.
"Yeah. You alright?" he asked.
He appeared through the smoke and fire, cradling a young redheaded woman in his arms. Stopping a few feet from Leia, his eyebrows shot to his forehead. Looking Leia over from top to bottom, she saw him swallow a smile. "Nice outfit."
Jabbing her hand on an unclothed hip, she retorted, "Nice girlfriend there. You like 'em unconscious?"
He barked a laugh before his stopping. His expression drawing in, he swayed on his feet. "No…," he muttered in reply to her jibe. "She needs to come with us…." Leia was alarmed when he stumbled forward, nearly dropping the lithe woman.
"Luke!" she shrieked as he crumpled under the weight of his charge.
Running over to them, she checked over the unconscious pair. Both were breathing with good vital signs. Neither had any wounds. "Great," she muttered. "How am I going to carry them?"
Looking about, the diminutive Princess of Alderaan shouted, "Artoo! I need you here!" Two minutes later, the collar about her neck had been removed. Two minutes after that, she was running down to the dungeons to find Han and Chewbacca.
Where the hell are you Calrissian?
"A Jedi Knight? Luke?" Han had exclaimed. "I'm out of it for a bit and everyone comes down with delusions of grandeur." He couldn't see very well, but the familiar smell and coarse fur of his oldest friend was very comforting.
I have been very worried about you, my friend.
He was weak as a kitten, but would never admit it out loud. Relaxing, he let Chewie hold him in a friendly embrace. "I'm alright, buddy. I'm alright."
Sleep came quickly after that.
Han, wake up, Chewie urged as he shook his friend.
"Hunh? Whazzup?" the Corellian smuggler muttered. One doesn't bounce back from a deep freeze in carbonite after a quick nap.
There are weapons being fired above. Many blasters are being fired at a high rate of fire.
Han could just make out Chewie's face, so he saw the feral grin. And a lightsaber is deflecting them all. Many have died.
Solo couldn't help his amused chuckle, "You bloodthirsty furball. Looks like Junior is doing all right, then?"
Now the happy grin became an unhappy frown. He is a Jedi Knight. I told you this. The Jedi can do many things, Chewie growled.
Sighing in disbelief, Han murmured, "Whatever you say, Chewie," to keep the peace. The only Jedi Han'd ever known had been old man Kenobi. He'd not been too impressive.
The firing has stopped.
Now it was Han's turn to frown. Standing, he stretched a bit. He could see well enough to scrap with a surprised opponent, but not much beyond that. "You're going to have to take any visitors we have." Shaking his head, Solo added, "I'm not much use."
Chewie held up a hand as he cocked his head. Someone approaches.
A few seconds later, Chewie wurfled his chuckling Wookie laugh. Scooting to the back of the cell, he took a seat.
Still half blind, Solo exclaimed, "What the hell are you doing? I can't see too good, remember?"
Chewbacca ignored him, leaning back on the wall.
"Han! Chewie!" came the call from the passageway outside.
"Leia! We're here!" he shoved a hand out the small grate so that she could have a reference for his voice.
Half turning to his co-pilot, Solo growled, "You're lucky that it's her."
Snorting the Wookie closed his eyes.
Han sighed in relief when he felt her hands grasp his. "Thank God," he murmured. In a louder voice, he added, "Let me get my hands out, first."
Two seconds later the door was open. A heartbeat after that, she was in his arms, kissing him.
They were back in the demolished Throne Room. Han squinted, hoping that it would help him see better. Leia rolled her eyes.
"Everyone except Luke and this dancer is dead. Not much to see."
She watched the former smuggler purse his lips before glancing about. "Luke said that she needed to come with us?" he asked in an undertone as he arranged Luke's limbs in a more comfortable pose.
Nodding, Leia replied, "He did. Normally, I'd be dubious, but after the display he put on, I'm more inclined to believe his claims to being a Jedi."
Han nodded silently as he moved to the redheaded dancer. "You said Lando was here with you?"
She smirked at his emphasis on the man's name. "He was supposed to be our inside man."
"For all the good it did you."
"Hmm. I saw him when I brought Chewie in, but not since." Leia shrugged. She and Luke were of the same mind; they didn't trust Lando any further than they could throw him. One armed. Underwater. It seemed that her love was of the same opinion. They'd have to watch Han around his 'old friend'. Lando could very well have a fatal altercation with a Blas-Tech when no one else was around.
She'd been surprised by Luke's attitude, though. He'd had always been the idealistic member of their little family. Since leaving Bespin, the blond from Tatooine had a harder edge about him. Han would call it growing up. Leia wasn't sure what she called it.
"Can you carry the Kid, Chewie? I think I can get this girl. She's pretty skinny."
Leia couldn't help the smile that bloomed on her face. That was Han. In the middle of a savaged crime lord's den, he was getting down to business in the most nonchalant and irreverent manner possible. Scoundrel. "What's your plan to get us out of here, your Worshipfulness?"
The crooked grin made her blood race. Savoring the derogatory term she'd longed to hear for so many months, Leia jerked her chin to the left. "This way. Follow me. There's some steps so watch out. I'll give you a hand."
Chewbacca carried his friend with a tenderness that always shocked people. For all his size and apparent ferocity, the Wookie was capable of a gentleness of being and action that belied his animalistic appearance. Under his other arm, he unceremoniously hauled Artoo down the stairs, not too much gentleness there. An entire flight above them, the complaining Threepio laboriously made his way down the uneven steps.
The scent that he caught as he descended the stairs behind Han, challenged his peaceable attitude, though.
Before he could speak, the whine of repulsorlifts made themselves known. Chewie's growling mutter caused Han to stop his descent. "Leia, you got a gun?" Han asked as he shifted the redheaded female in his arms.
"Yes. Stand to one side."
Han and Chewbacca moved to the side of the stairwell, allowing the petite rebel leader to scamper down the stairs, her blaster up and searching for targets. At the bottom of the stairs, they waited. Gently, so as to cause no noise, Chewbacca set Artoo on the ground. With his free arm, he drew his bowcaster, ready for trouble. After a long minute, the repulsorlift whine resolved itself to a small skiff driven by a smiling Lando Calrissian.
"Greetings, all. I thought I'd appropriate some transport for us." He frowned at the immobile Luke and their unnamed female addition.
Chewbacca's snarl, And where were you during the fighting, Coward Who Smiles?, prompted the weary Han to interrupt.
"Not now, Chewie. When we're out of here."
Nodding at the wisdom of the statement, the great Wookie gently lay the Jedi on the skiff before turning to Han. Relieving the struggling man of his burden, he placed the female next to Luke before hurrying up the steps. Leia helped Han aboard the skiff after he ignored Lando's proffered assistance. The recently defrosted smuggler was fading fast.
"Oh my! Chewbacca, do be careful!"
Ignoring the protests of the golden droid, Chewie wondered if he could alter Threepio's programming so that he wouldn't be so annoying. Probably not.
After placing Threepio next to the warbling Artoo, Chewie shouldered Lando to the side, taking over the flight controls of the skiff. He caught Leia's eye as they headed out of the underground parking area. Her nod of approval as she tended to the now unconscious Han reinforced his belief.
Tapping the control panel, the co-pilot of the Millennium Falcon entered the location of that ship into the skiff's navigational computer. The onboard computer quickly returned the calculations. Twenty two minutes and they'd be back on the ship. Maybe fifteen minutes after that, they'd be burning ions, heading for space.
"Aw, why'd you change?"
With a grin, Leia turned to Han, "That outfit was fine on a planet with two suns. In space I think I'd be a bit chilly."
Han mock pouted, so she closed the difference between them. Rising up to her tiptoes, she whispered in his ear, "I did save it, though. If you're very good, I might wear it later."
He laughed aloud. Her expression became sad as she asked, "How are you feeling?"
Shrugging, he replied, "Tired. Bit wobbly, but overall I'm Ok. It was good to take a shower. I felt like I was covered in grime there for a while." Nodding to the bunkroom that Luke customarily occupied, he added, "Chewie and me got Luke and Red in his room. It's the only one with a spare bunk."
Leia nodded, frowning at the door. "All the medscans show that they're both fine, but…"
"But they won't wake up," Han finished in a concerned undertone.
She wasn't surprised at Han's worry. He looked to Luke as the little brother that he never had and though he was loath to admit it, truly cared about the X-Wing pilot.
"And what about your friend?" she snarked.
Han's eyes narrowed, "Lando volunteered to stay in the hold for the duration of the flight."
Her eyebrows rising in surprise, Leia replied, "Really."
Han shrugged as he turned away. Picking up a spanner, he began to adjust a coolant valve to the sublight engine. "It was that or be blown out the airlock once we hit vacuum."
She nodded in agreement. The Alliance had an ongoing problem with penetration agents from the Empire, as well as, opportunistic individuals who free-lanced in attempts to gather information that they could sell to Palpatine's intelligence agencies for a quick score of cash. Leia wasn't the most trusting of individuals when it came to possible traitors. She had far too much negative experience to be otherwise.
"Chewie piloting?" she asked innocently.
Without looking at her, Leia's dark haired paramour replied, "Nah, he and the professor are working on the environmental systems." He paused, grunting as he tightened a nut. "We'll be at Arkanis in a few hours. If the Kid isn't awake by then, we'll mag-clip his X-Wing to the hull to take it with us." With a mock glare, he whined, "I have no idea what you did to my ship, but I'm not liking it."
With wide eyes, she asked, "You don't like the hydroponic bays of wildflowers that I put in your bunk? I thought it would give the room some atmosphere."
Pulling back, she laughed aloud at the expression of stunned surprise on Han's face.
Tugging him by the collar, she got his face within kissing distance. Leia loved kissing Han. Now that she'd finally admitted the truth of her feelings, and Han'd done the same, she felt free to love this man.
His arms snaked around her, pulling her close. Her groan seemed to spur him on. Tangling her fingers into his hair, caused him to groan in turn.
Making a decision, she pulled away. Nearly breathless, she regarded him through lust addled eyes. "How big is your bunk?"
Nodding, he took her meaning, "Big enough," he breathed as he tugged her down the passageway. "And there better not be any flowers in there."
Slowly, Luke titubated to consciousness. The many other times that he'd been rendered insensible via traumatic injury, his whole body hurt. Usually, the pain radiated out from the point of contact (unfortunately, that was invariably his head) wherein the traumatic injury occurred.
This time, though, there was no traumatic injury. There was no pain. That being said, everything was different. He was no longer just Luke Skywalker. Now, he was half of a being that comprised Luke Skywalker and Mara Jade. He knew exactly where Mara was. He knew her name. He knew every single killing she performed. He knew the regularity of her menstrual cycle. He knew her favorite food and her least favorite type of music. He knew everything about her .
Sinking into the Force, he felt the connection between them. Where he felt connected to Leia and Han it was a tendril of thought or feeling. This connection to Mara was river of power. He could see the connection when he closed his eyes. If he concentrated hard enough, he could see exactly what she was thinking.
Right now she was still unconscious, absorbing all the facts of his life and experiences.
Rubbing his face, the young man from Tatooine sighed. Dropping his hand over the bunk, it found its way to Mara's left shoulder. There was a jolt in the Force when he made contact with her. It was similar to a mild electric shock, but lacking the pain. In truth, it was somewhat pleasant. When her hand moved to cover his, Luke's entire being warmed.
He could tell that she was starting to wake. It was as if he was granted a front row seat to all her thoughts and feelings. A bubbling excitement began to well up inside him. This is what I've been looking for all my life. This is what makes me complete. Not only her, but this…bond? connection? that I have with Mara.
A thought occurred to the blond haired fighter pilot. If he could tell everything about her, then she, most likely, could tell everything about him. Groaning, he rubbed his face again with his free hand. The idea that she'd be privy to the types of thoughts that'd flitted across his mind as he carried her over to Leia was mortifying.
His first thought, Damn, she's beautiful, wasn't too bad. It was complimentary in fact.
The subsequent, Great tits, wasn't so much.
The follow on, Wonder if her ass is as good? would most likely get him shot.
Fortunately for him, his inner stupid had been interrupted by Leia and her slave girl outfit followed by an involuntary Force bonding that had rendered the both Luke and Mara unconscious.
Her presence in the Force was becoming more distinct as she began to wake. Ignoring his embarrassment, Luke rolled out of his bunk, dropping to the deck next to her bunk. Blindly reaching up, he turned on the overhead lights, dimming them to a low setting. He'd not had a good look at her at Jabba's nest. His first glimpse through the smoke and gloom had been…favorable, but he'd not been able to really see her.
This close to her, Luke nearly stopped breathing. Her natural beauty was breathtaking, but combining that with their connection in the Force made his head swim. He was her as she was him. The flow of emotion, sensation and spirit between them was amazing to him. Luke sat there, savoring her presence and their communing.
Her eyes fluttered and he could sense a dull pain from her, almost like a hangover.
"Luke?" she asked in a whisper before opening her eyes.
"Yeah. I'm here Mara."
"What happened to us?" she continued without opening her eyes.
He shook his head before realizing she couldn't see him. A wry grin twisted her lips as he did so he replied in his mind, Something in the Force. A bond or connection of some kind.
You didn't initiate this?
No. But I don't regret it.
Her eyes opened and Luke did stop breathing.
Her green dove into his blue while his blue consumed her green. Slowly, Mara Jade's hand reached out, caressed Luke Skywalker's cheek before she closed her eyes again.
Nodding again, he replied, "Very."
Luke was a fairly open person. On more than one occasion, Han had accused him of wearing his heart on his sleeve. Mara, though, was the exact opposite. He could feel her apprehension and fear warring with her knowledge and acceptance of what the Force had given them. She knew he'd never purposefully hurt her. Never take advantage of her. Already he felt a regard, affection and emerging love for the redhead assassin and she knew it. Wondrous for Luke, was that she returned the sentiment.
At the same time, she'd grown up in Palpatine's court. Sometimes dancer, sometimes assassin, she was always expected to conform to her master's expectation of herself. Never was she allowed to be Mara. She was the clay that was formed to her Master's desire, the tool shaped to fit it's work.
Squeezing her hand, Luke tried to project all his feelings of respect, affection and protectiveness that he felt for her. Words were nice, but lies were as easy as water running downhill. His hope was that in showing her what he felt, who he was and what he expected from her she'd know and be able to trust him.
Sinking into the Force, Luke opened himself fully to his Other Half. In turn, he felt her open to him. It was a free flow between them of feeling, experience and memory that took his breath away. His commitment to her was immediate, intense and present. It overrode all other duties, all pledges and relationships. As if from far away, he felt her squeeze his hand in response to him. I believe you, rang in his head from her.
Closing down himself, lest he be lost in the bond, Luke exhaled heavily. Instead of being tired as he expected, he felt energized. Opening his eyes, he saw Mara watching him. This time, their locked gaze wasn't so intense. She was looking at him, studying his features.
"Dagobah?" she asked.
Completely understanding her meaning, he replied, "Yeah. Master Yoda should know what's going on or at least be able to help us understand."
They sat there in silence before he saw her lips curl again. Feeling the mischievousness rise in her, he groaned. Here it comes.
"So, you think I have nice tits?"
"Mara, come on. I didn't know you…"
"But you think I'm beautiful," she teased.
He paused, the seriousness of his opinion of her overtaking her playful mood. She must've felt his shift, for she opened her eyes. Focusing on him, he was nearly breathless again with the intensity of Mara's direct gaze.
"You are beyond beautiful."
Her smirk fell away, to be replaced by an expression that matched his mood, "You're everything," she whispered.
Moving to her, he couldn't help himself. It was what he needed – what she needed him – to do. Before his lips covered her willing mouth, he agreed, "You're everything."
"Where's the goddam caf?" Han grumbled. Rooting through the shelves, he tossed aside the lemon wafers that Leia was so fond of nibbling. Shoving to the side the freeze dried nerf strips that Chewie munched, he muttered, "We better have some caf on this ship, or they're all going to be dropped into a nebula the hard way."
His hand bumped the aluminum canister, prompting Han to exclaim, "There you are."
Fiddling with the brewer and his special spoon, he heard a rustling behind him. He'd left Leia dozing in their bunk. Our bunk? He wondered to himself. When did it become Our bunk? The wondering was useless. I'd give her the Falcon if she asked, he admitted to himself.
Over his shoulder, he asked, "You want some caf, sweetheart?"
There was a snort followed by Luke replying in a sugary falsetto, "I'd love some sugarplum, but I don't swing that way."
Turning about, Han's wide grin ignored the jibe, "Hey Kid! How're you feeling?" Nodding at the redheaded beauty just behind Luke, he clapped his good friend on the shoulder.
"I'm fine, Han," Luke told him with a wide smile. The smile faded a bit, "How're you?"
Shrugging, Han avoided the topic. "I'm alright." To the redhead, he greeted, "I'm Han Solo, this is my ship, the Millennium Falcon."
She nodded to him. With a small smile, she replied, "Mara Jade. Thanks for the ride out of there."
Waving it off, Han turned back to the caf maker. "No problem." Half turning, he caught Luke's eye. With a seriousness he didn't muster often, Han told his little brother, "Thanks, Luke. Thanks for coming for me."
Luke's grin softened to a genuine smile. "Anytime."
Turning back to the caf maker to break the emotional moment, Han asked, "You guys want some caf?"
"Please," Jade replied as she smiled to Luke when he held out her chair. Han's brows furrowed when Luke dug through the cabinets before placing the Arcturian honey in front of her while she shook her head and smiled at him
"Yeah, thanks." Luke waited until Han poured three cups before asking, "Could you wake Leia? I'll get Chewie. We need to talk about something." Han noticed the look that Luke and the beautiful redhead exchanged as he spoke while she stirred the honey into her drink.
"Sure," he replied, watching them for a moment. "I assume this has to do with you two being unconscious for a long time and now are best of friends?"
Taking another sip of his caf, he stood. Heading to his bunk where his sleeping lover lay, Han called back, "Make another pot of caf. I gotta feeling that we'll need it."
Leia frowned. "Let me get this straight. You," she pointed to the young woman with the red-gold hair that the Princess of Alderaan would kill for, "Are or used to be the primary assassin for the Emperor. You grew up at his knee, were fanatically devoted to him to the point where you could hear his voice anywhere in the galaxy."
Turning back to Luke, she continued, "But now, because of some weird Force arc welding, you two are effectively two parts of the same person – literally."
Luke nodded, "That's pretty much it."
She turned to Han, her disbelief written plainly on her face. Leia fully expected to find the same thing on her lover's face, but was surprised to see Han leaning back in his chair, a contemplative expression on his face. Not finding support there, she turned to Chewbacca. It took her a long time to get used to Wookie body language, but eventually, she clued in to their mannerisms. If Chewie was angry, not only would he bare his teeth while snarling, his fur would ripple and stand out straight. When sad, he'd slump and his fur would noticeably lose its shimmer. His sarcastic disbelief was usually expressed with narrowed eyes and pursed lips while he rhythmically stroked the fur on his arms.
Right now, he regarded Luke with calm acceptance.
A bit confused now, Leia turned back to Luke and Mara, "Why am I the only one having a hard time believing this?"
At her side, Han sighed. Sitting up, he leaned on the table, his elbows propped as he grumbled, "I'm not saying that I believe it's all that Junior here says, but at the same time, we've seen some really weird shit since we've started flying together. I'm not saying I believe it's a big happy Force marriage but at the same time, we've seen weirder."
The one time smuggler grinned widely as he sat back in his chair. "Point in fact; Junior over there got the luckiest hit of the millennia a few years back. That's still unbelievable."
There was snickering around the table. Leia was pleased to see Mara smiling as she poked Luke in the side. He blushed bashfully, grinning at all of them in turn. Maybe there is something to what he's saying.
But she needed to ask.
"To be clear," Leia turned to Mara, "Are you abandoning the Empire and the Emperor? Will you join the Alliance or at least be neutral?"
Mara's face paled as the room quieted. Leia could tell this was a moment of import to Mara. Carefully watching the Force bound woman across the table, the only other woman in the universe who could call Luke family waited with fabricated calm. Unfortunately for the moment, she also happened to be a high profile leader of the Rebel Alliance and, as such, had responsibilities to fulfill. Mara gulped a breath, closed her eyes for a moment before replying, "Yes. I forsake the Emperor and the Empire. I'll join your cause."
Before Leia could blink, Luke's hand covered Mara's. As the small, short nailed hand was covered in Luke's work roughened grip, Leia noticed a visible tremble in the other woman's hand. Mara could be a superb actress, but Leia had a good feeling about the other woman. Nodding to herself, Leia stared hard at Mara.
"I believe you."
Han grunted, "Great, another woman on the ship." Turning to Leia, Han pointed a finger at her, "No flowers. No potpourri. No pretty…things in the Falcon." He glared at Mara, "Got it?"
"Why you…," the incensed Leia began.
"Perfectly clear, Solo," Mara interrupted, her eyes narrow. "But what about your artistic expressions in origami and stained glass? Do they stay in Luke and my bunk or are you going to move them to the hold?"
Everyone froze. Chewie, Leia and Luke all swiveled their disbelieving gazes to Han at the same time. Solo sputtered, "What? There's nothing like that…"
The silence filled the room before Han stormed out of the dining area for the cockpit.
The chuckling from Luke caused Leia to break from her stunned silence. Han? An artist?
Seeing Luke choking back mirth as a few tears squirted out of his eyes, Leia turned to Mara. The dancing amusement in the other woman's eyes caused the brunette to smile. "Oh my. I'm going to like you," Leia breathed as the four of them burst into raucous laughter.
When everyone settled, Leia took a deep drink of her cooling caf. Swallowing, she asked, "So, how does this work?" At Luke's puzzled expression, she elaborated, "This sharing of memories and all?"
Mara nodded, "Well, I've never flown an X-Wing before, but now I know how. The mechanics of it all; shield controls, hyperspace navcomp entry procedures and so on. That being said, I'd be rather clumsy the first ten minutes or so in the seat before smoothing out." She shrugged, "It's not so hard, but experience is important."
Luke grunted softly, "Thirty minutes."
Mara smiled shark-like, "We'll have to take some time in the simulators, Farmboy. One on one."
"Any time, Jade. Any time," Luke jibed as he smiled and sipped his caf.
Leia smiled along with him. She'd never seen Luke so relaxed. Even when he was milling about in the Rogue Squadron ready room with his pilots, there'd always been a sense of detachment and 'apartness' from the others. At the time, she'd thought that the other pilots hadn't been as free with Luke because of his status as the 'Hero of Yavin' or the other inane monikers the news outlets had hung on him.
Apparently not. She watched, amused, as Luke and Mara traded friendly barbs at each other about their flying prowess. It seemed that this apartness was more about Luke feeling a part of the group as opposed to the group feeling that he was one of them.
Mara played with the zip pull on the old pair of coveralls of Luke's that she'd appropriated. She guffawed at some comment of Chewie's about Luke's flying ability. Luke was far from being tall, but the redheaded former Imperial servant still swam in the oily, patched coveralls. And she seemed right at home there.
Leia could only smile. Looks like the family has grown by one.
Mara waved her hands underneath the sonic hand washer in the 'fresher. One nice thing about these old YT's, they have a decent sized 'fresher.
Everyone seemed nice enough, but it was all a bit overwhelming. A soft smile stole over her features, twisting her mouth into a heretofore unfamiliar expression. Luke. It was more of a feeling than a thought. Getting back to business, she looked herself over in the mirror. Running her fingers through her hair, she began to deftly plait it into a thick queue. Usually a solitary creature, Mara had excused herself to the solitude of the 'fresher a few minutes ago. Luke is always with me, but this gives me the illusion of privacy.
She felt his frown of concern through their bond. Sending him a reassuring caress through the Force, she whispered in his mind, I don't regret it. Never.
Sighing, she leaned her head forward until her forehead leaned on the 'fresher door. Are you alright? he asked.
"That was hard," she replied aloud. Her emotions had been ripshawing all over the place. Joy, despair, sadness, happiness, playfulness and lethargy.
The door slid open, revealing Luke standing there, concern on his features. "Come on, let's go to our bunk."
Trying to lighten the mood and possibly avoid the discussion that was pending, Mara teased, "Trying to grope me again, Farmboy?"
Luke smiled rakishly, reminding Mara that he was an X-Wing fighter pilot, "Don't tell me that you didn't enjoy it."
"Didn't say I didn't," she teased back at him.
Luke grabbed two collapsible chairs out of a storage closet. Elbowing the control panel, he preceded her into their bunk. "Could you turn on the lights?" he asked over his shoulder.
Taking a steadying breath, she thumbed on the lights. She could feel Luke. His goodness, his concern and his…affection? love? for her. Remembering the touching moment earlier where he'd opened himself completely to her, he'd demonstrated that he'd never hurt her. Nodding to herself, she watched with amusement as Luke proceeded to curse up a storm as he tried to unfold the chairs.
She could feel his frustration and embarrassment while dealing with the recalcitrant chairs. There was a closeness and familiarity between them that far exceeded anything she'd ever experienced with any other person – even the Emperor with his grafted Force presence in her mind.
While a part of her mind mused on the arcane aspects of her relationship with Luke Skywalker, her eyes were focused on the man's posterior. She liked what she saw. Sex with him is going to be fantastic, she thought to herself.
A wave of amusement and arousal swept over her from Luke. Pausing in is efforts to expand the blasted chairs, he looked up to her, a cocked eyebrow the unspoken challenge.
Narrowing her eyes at him, she hissed, "Not tonight, Farmboy."
"Tomorrow?" he asked innocently, setting the first chair to the side as he reached for the second.
Ignoring him, she grabbed the assembled chair, flouncing down in it as hard as she dared.
His deep chuckle wormed its way through her defenses. Her frown softened into a small smile. Turning the chair backwards, he straddled it, facing her. "So, tell me," he prompted.
The smile faded from Mara's face. Leaning back in the chair, she propped her stocking feet on the upper bunk. Holding on to his presence in her mind, Mara softly began, "I never, ever considered forsaking the Emperor. Yet, not fifteen minutes ago I renounced him, betrayed him and joined the Rebellion."
Luke silently sat on his chair, watching her. With her mind, she sent him a wave of gratitude for his respectful attention.
"I knew it was the only way forward. Everything I learned from your memories, all the atrocities, the…,' she staggered to a stop. "All those people and so many of your friends who suffered at the hand of the Empire. One or two could be written off as an aberration of a sadistic and corrupt local governor," she spat with real venom. "But the methodical, consistent persecution and institutionalized perversity revealed a systemic brutality…that could only come from the highest levels of the Empire. In the end, the man who I revered as Father, Mentor and Godhead has to be responsible.
"Knowing all that didn't make it any easier, though," she commented in a detached way.
Even if the Emperor had been a model of right thinking and liberal action, there was no possibility of Mara ever working in opposition to Luke. He was so fully committed, fully involved in the Rebellion that she felt that she had no other choice than join him. The counterargument for him to join the Empire was moot in light of the Empire's evil.
In the end, though, betrayal is personal. Both to the betrayed and the betrayer. While the stories of suffering by anonymous persons might touch one's heart and cause the devotee to doubt or question their devotion, the actions of a nameless Imperial Agent perpetrated against a nameless resident of a nameless planet rarely cause full scale rebellion. Betrayal is personal.
"He lied to me." She whispered.
Now Luke did rise. Silently, he stood, moving to her side. Sinking to his knees next to her, he took Mara into his arms. Holding her close, he sent wave after wave of reassurance and respect for her decision.
'He told me that he was being of service to the galaxy – that I was being of service to the galaxy. That he and, by extension, I were helping people. That we were noble and just and right. That I was being of service to the man who brought peace and prosperity to the galaxy every time I killed someone for him…" she trailed off.
"He told me that I was the daughter he never could have…"
Therein lay the utter betrayal for Mara. That he never loved her. "He used me, Luke." Her green eyes blazed as her face twisted in despair and loathing, "Was I just a tool? A fool to do his will? Was it fun for him to watch me beg for affection and recognition from him?"
In her pain and fury, she lashed out, pummeling Luke's arms and back as he held her close. To his credit, he didn't flinch, nor did he let her go. After a few blows, she subsided. Now the sobs began.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled. His only reply was to hold her closer to him.
After sinking into his embrace both physically and emotionally, Mara's practical side reasserted itself. Giving him a squeeze, she sat up. He took the cue, returning to his seat.
"Enough of this maudlin shit," she murmured. Scrubbing her scalp with her fingernails, she exhaled loudly. "Moving on. Dagobah."
Luke nodded and she was awash again with gratitude for him. She could feel that he wanted to push her, make her share her pain. At the same time, Mara could feel him pushing his own wants and desires to the side for her sake. "Your X-Wing and my shuttle are out. My shuttle is too recognizable and sharing your fighter, while kinky, it isn't big enough for the two of us."
He snorted in amusement before offering, "I've quite a bit saved up. I don't think I've spent a paycheck in the last four or five years. I can buy us a small ship."
She nodded. "If we move fast, I can transfer a bit out of the ready accounts the Emperor had set up for me." His silent question prompted her to add, "A few million credits."
"Well," Luke stammered. "That's a bit more than I have."
She smiled. "Anyway, we should be able to get a decent ship on Arkanis. Head to see Yoda from there."
They both nodded, mentally reviewing the amenities they desired in a personal vessel. After a few moments, neither knew where the thoughts originated, just that they were communally considering the issue. Heavy shields. Turbolasers. Bunkerage for two round trips of the galaxy. Really big bed.
Eventually, they whittled down a list. Unbidden, Luke rolled into his bunk, scooting all the way to the bulkhead. Mara wiggled in next to him. Sighing as he wrapped his arm about her and pulled her close, she closed her eyes for a few hours of real sleep. It'd been an emotionally exhausting day.
The vague smile still curled the edges of Han Solo's mouth. He knew the redhead was playing with him, but for Luke's sake, he played the fool so she could feel…well, feel like part of the crowd.
Fiddling with the door control to the cockpit, he grunted at the mild shock he got from the exposed wire. The shuffling of feet behind him clued him in to a new presence. "I don't think that I'll assume that it's Leia this time."
Luke replied, "That would be a good thing. Once is funny. Twice is a very disturbing pattern of addressing me with terms of endearment."
Han stood, brushing his hands on his slacks, "Come on in and have a seat."
Thumbing the control for the door, they slid into the cockpit. Luke sank into the co-pilot's chair while Han stretched before taking his customary seat. "When are you going to tell Leia?"
Solo narrowed his eyes, "Tell her what, exactly?"
Luke rolled his eyes in response, "Tell her that you feel like you've been rancor-rolled. That you need a good week in bed."
The rakish grin on Han's face caused Luke to shudder, "I'd love a week in bed, just with…."
Holding up his hand, Luke interrupted, "Too much information! Don't finish that statement!" Sobering for a moment, he observed, "She's going to be furious if you don't tell her."
Solo shrugged as his eyes swept across the instrument panel.
"Han," Luke began in a serious tone. Sobered by his friend's tone, the spacer paid close attention.
"You need to get checked out. You were frozen in carbonite for six months. Who knows what happened to you?"
This wasn't a conversation that the dark haired smuggler wanted to pursue. Shrugging, he temporized, "I'm a bit fuzzy, but I'll be alright." Flashing his rakish smile, he added, "Don't worry about me."
Luke watched his friend for a bit before nodding in submission. A grin flashed across Luke's face that was contagious. "What?" Han asked.
Schooling his features, Luke scowled as much as he could muster while fighting off laughter. "Now that you and Leia are together, I want you to know that if you break her heart, I'll have to cut off your legs with my lightsaber."
Han blinked, taking the threat seriously, but only for a second. Catching up with Luke's humor, he laughed along with the younger man. "And what about the delectable Miss Jade? Who speaks for her, Kid?"
Nodding, Luke admitted, "I believe that Miss Jade speaks for herself in all matters. Don't you?"
Laughing to himself, Han agreed, "She's a spitfire, that's for sure."
They were silent, contemplating the changes that had occurred in such a short time. For Han, it seemed as if it had all happened overnight. "You know," Han drawled, "You still owe me fifteen thousand."
Luke smiled. It was an old joke of theirs. "But you never got us to Alderaan," he objected.
Han finished the joke, "Not my fault the planet wasn't where it was supposed to be."
The smile on Han's face faded. One idea jumped to a related thread redirecting his train of thought. Sobering, he asked, "You ever think about how hard it must've been for Leia after the Death Star blew up her planet? You know, everything you've ever known, your whole identity shattered in an instant." He shook his head, "I can't even imagine."
Looking up, he wondered why Luke's face was so pale.
"Leia, you got a minute?"
The brunette looked up from the flimsi she was reading to see Luke standing in front of her. "Where's Mara?" she asked.
He nodded toward the sleeping area, "She's still out. Earlier took a lot out of her." Sliding into a chair opposite his friend, he skipped the small talk, "She and I need to make a detour on the way back. We'll be a bit, but to be honest, I don't know how long we'll be delayed. Either way, short or long, you'll need to prepare the Alliance leaders about her."
Leia nodded. "I've been wondering about different ideas. What do you think?"
Sighing, he sat back in his chair. "I defer to you, but I think a small set of the leadership gets the full story. Tell them about her background, our status and the fact that the only Jedi Knight in the galaxy has full faith and confidence in Mara Jade's reliability."
She regarded him for a long moment. Luke could sense a calmness that usually pervaded Leia's sense, but there was also a strong feeling of pride in her. Pride in Luke. Unprompted, she offered, "I'm proud to be your friend, Luke Skywalker. You're a good man."
Smiling he reached across the table, giving her hand a squeeze.
Returning his grip, she agreed, "I was thinking Mon Mothma, Admiral Ackbar and General Cracken." Luke winced at the last. "I know that Cracken will want to pump her full of drugs and interrogate her for weeks, but if Mara would volunteer to answer any question he had on the condition that it wasn't an interrogation, I think he'd back off."
Luke scowled, "Especially if we threaten to walk away if he gets too overbearing."
Her eyebrows shot up. "You'd leave the Alliance?" she whispered.
Leaning forward, Luke looked deep into his good friend's eyes, "You've got to understand this, Leia. Mara is my first priority in the universe. Over everything."
She nodded slowly, digesting the far reaching consequences of the statement. Given the serious expression on his face, it was evident that Luke had thought about it as well. "Got it. I'll impress that on all three. You know that Ackbar loves you. Mon Mothma will be loath to lose you. Together, they and I will reign in Cracken's enthusiasm."
She paused before asking, "You'll be going to see your Jedi Master?"
He nodded. "Although Mara and I are very happy with the way things have turned out, we both would like some answers about what happened." His face hardened, "Will this fade? Will we lose ourselves in each other as the lines between Luke and Mara become blurry? Can the Emperor exploit our connection? He forced himself on her when she was younger," he shivered in disgust, "I haven't sensed any evil in her, but he's crafty." In a faraway voice, he whispered, "How do I ensure that we never lose this? That I never lose her."
Avoiding the more desperate plea, Leia commented, "She doesn't feel evil at all. Definitely has some rough edges," she laughed, "But not evil."
They sat there for a minute, before Luke grinned, "So…Han?"
She blushed, "Yeah. What of it?"
He laughed, showing his teeth, "No problem at all." Leaning across the table, he grinned, "I did have a chat with him, though. Told him that it was my responsibility as your big brother that if he broke your heart, I'd break his legs."
Laughing delightedly, she reached across the table to chuck him in the shoulder, "I'm the older one!"
He returned the smile, watching her laugh for a minute before he told her, "I'm really glad for you two."
Leia smiled as she looked at the table, "There will be hard parts, but I think we can make it work."
Standing, he muttered, "I'm going to try to get some sleep. We're going to buy a ship on Arkanis. Han said he'd help me get Artoo into the X-Wing so that he can pilot it back to the Alliance."
"'Night," she offered as he walked out.
Stopping, Luke turned back, "Thank you for your support, Leia. It means a lot to me that you're accepting…," he searched for words before finally adding, "All this."
She nodded with a half-smile. After he gave her a small wave, Luke turned back to his bunk. Once again, but this time it was barely a whisper, Leia wished him, "Good night." After a long minute of contemplation, she rose. Heading to the cockpit, she looked for her dark haired lover.
Annoyed, Mara delicately tried to dig some sand out of her ear after leaving the bank. It was impossible. Wanting desperately to forgo any sense of delicacy, Mara growled as she stalked to the upper end ship dealer she and Luke had collectively selected as she waited in line at the bank.
It'd been a bit odd, at first. Seeing through Luke's eyes and carrying on a conversation with him while her body was stood in the Arkanis Sector Branch of the Galactic Bank of Muunilinst was disconcerting. Usually, banking was conducted remotely, but the amounts that she wanted to remove from her clandestine Imperial Intelligence account required her presence. Therefore, he went ship dealer hunting while she headed to the bank.
After being shown in to the Bank Officer's office, she curtly told the Bothan on the other side of the desk, "I want to remove the balance of account 174-4151-0804 in Caamasi script." Since the firebombing destruction of Caamas, the galaxy had unofficially recognized their now defunct currency as universally accepted. In fact, it was accepted on more worlds than the official Imperial Credit.
I wonder if the Alderaanian Daktari will be the same some day?
The Bank Officer had very politely tried to dissuade her from her course of action, his fur rippling this way and that. Reaching out with the Force in an unpracticed way, she sensed panic from the being. Either he's under orders not to release Caamasi script or it will clear out this branch. Either way, Mara didn't much care about the bank's issues. "I want the money in a plain carrying case and I want it in five minutes. If that isn't possible, I shall transfer all the money to Muunilinst, withdrawing it there."
Softening the blow, Mara added, "Of course, with my arrival unannounced beforehand, I expect that the bank shall agree to a two percent processing fee." Seeing the hint of greed in the Bothan's eye, she added with a knowing look, "I'm sure that you can arrange that."
Events moved more expeditiously after that.
During her training, Mara's instructors would routinely inflict small injuries on her right before a mission. The usual routine was the insertion of small needles in to a finger. The point was to inure her to physical distraction so as to carry out her assignment, regardless of the surroundings.
Physical pain had never been a problem. Itching, though, had always been intolerable. Right now, the seeming four pounds of Tatooine sand that had hitchhiked from that horrid planet was threatening to drive her mad.
The Bothan bank officer had provided her with the correct sum of money in the requisite nondescript bag. She'd nonchalantly turned down his offer of a bodyguard escort to her ship. Mara was, most likely, the person least likely to be robbed on the entire planet. Well, either her or Luke, but she didn't make much distinction between the two of them.
Glancing about, Mara saw no one watching. Sighing with relief, she jabbed a finger into her ear. After a long moment of relief, she moved on.
Rounding the corner of the bank, she saw the ship dealer in the distance. Splitting her concentration, she reviewed the ship that Luke had tentatively picked out. She had to smile. Instead of a single turbolaser turret, it had three and a small proton torpedo port.
Don't you think that four firespray nozzles is a bit much? she thought toward Luke with grin.
No, he replied without humor.
Men. Always worried about their guns. Searching through his memories, she saw the specs for the shields. Nodding to herself, she sent him, Looks good. What's its name?
The Skywalker Love Shack?
She snorted in amused derision. No.
He was quiet for a moment before he told her, Why don't you name it after you've seen her?
"I'll be there in ten," she murmured.
Walking straight into the sales manager's office, she sat next to Luke. "Thirty thousand? Caamasi?" Mara asked without preamble.
The Duros sales manager nodded. Ten minutes later, they headed out of the office, a datapad in hand with the registration of the ship to Luke and Mara Skywalker.
Once outside, she scooped his hand in hers. "Since we're married, we need to play the part," she whispered. Her tight grip on his hand belied her words, though.
She knew he could feel the anger, fear and mistrust that must have been rolling off her in waves. With the duplicity of the Emperor made clear, Mara was wary of blindly trusting anyone.
Once again, Luke laid himself bare to her.
The intensity of the experience brought her up standing. Mara blinked twice before turning to her bond mate – for that was what Luke was to her now. His eyes were so blue, so clear and so open that she wondered why she ever doubted. He'd never hurt her on purpose. Never betray her. Never.
If there was anyone in the galaxy that she would ever consider wedding, it was the man whose hand she held tightly.
Slowly, she reached up to his face. Caressing his cheek for a minute, she saw him lid his eyes. Stars, Mara… she heard from him as his arousal surrounded them both. With slow deliberation, Mara wrapped her fingers into his hair, pulling him to her.
The kiss was passionate, wanting, needing and loving all in one. Heat boiled up in her belly, the desire raw and wanton. Breaking off the kiss, she found herself slightly dizzy with desire. Opening her eyes, Mara smiled to see him flush with the same desire she felt. Need written plainly on his face, he pulled her flush to him, renewing the kiss.
Time stilled. Thought merged. Emotion whirled.
When Mara pulled away, she was panting. Nipping his lips, she whispered, "Let's get on our ship."
Chewbacca wasn't pleased. He'd never liked Lando Calrissian much and his opinion hadn't improved with time or exposure.
I left the Alliance with him so as to try to rescue you. He did nothing to recommend himself to me or atone for his betrayal. Han nodded at Chewbacca. The Wookie could tell that his friend was adding this data point into the Sabacc pot.
He watched Han as his friend watched Lando in turn. They were in a loose semicircle about the dark skinned con man, discussing what to do with him. The great Wookie's first idea had been to launch him out of the Falcon's sewage ejection port, but Han had pointed out that Lando was too big. Chewbacca grunted in recognition, That tells you much, my friend. Leia had been silent the entire time, glaring blaster bolts at the man.
Han nodded. After glancing at the Princess, the smuggler told his one-time friend, "You're free to go here. The only reason you're walking away instead of having your corpse dropped into space is because you did help a bit in my rescue."
Lando glared at Han, "A bit? That's not how I remember it. I do believe I worked undercover at Jabba's for a month trying to get you out."
"And you sold us to Vader before that. I believe that still leaves you in the credit column toward us," Leia interrupted. Chewbacca regarded her with surprise. Usually, the Princess was the soul of tact and politeness, but not today. Not that Chewie disagreed with her. The only reason Lando still had his arms attached to his body was because Chewie knew that Han'd make him clean up the mess he made.
Lando's expression softened before he nodded glumly. "Got it. I'll be off." Gathering up his small dunnage, he paused at the main hatchway, "By the way, who was the redhead with Luke?"
Chewie roared while Han drew his blaster. Leveling it at Lando, the man snarled, "Someone you want to forget about, if you know what's good for you."
Lando's eyebrows rose in polite surprise, "Then I shall. Good day, all." With a nod of his head at Leia he was gone.
"That was fun," Han mumbled as he punched the control, raising the ramp.
"Do you trust him?" Leia asked as they headed to the cockpit.
No, Chewbacca answered for them all.
"Me neither, Chewie," Solo grumbled. After a moment, he announced, "The Kid 'n Red can take care of themselves." Glancing at the data terminal, he grunted, "The droid has Luke's X-Wing in hyperspace already. We better get movin'." Turning to Leia he scowled, "You'll need to send a message to Controller Command that Luke's ship is comin' in unmanned."
Chewbacca waited until Han shuffled past them, heading aft for some pre-flight prep. Leia's huff of exasperation confirmed his hunch. Reaching out, he gently grasped her arm. Come with me? he asked politely.
Silently, she followed him into the galley. Sitting her down at the table, he closed the door behind them. Leia's raised eyebrows caused him to chuckle. Han is upset. While he and Lando were not the best of friends, they were friends of a kind. Han feels betrayed by a man he considered – at one time – to be his friend.
She nodded in understanding. "I'll let him be, then." Chewie nodded in agreement.
That would probably be best.
"Chewie," she began tentatively. "Why are you so accepting of Luke and Mara…well, everything about Luke, really? His claim of being a Jedi, the connection with Mara…all of it. Why?"
He sat back, remembering all those years ago on Kashyyyk. The clone warriors and the Jedi, how they fought back the Separatists. At the end, there was the horrifying betrayal by the clones of the Jedi. And the one lone Jedi that he knew that had escaped what became known as The Great Jedi Purge.
Luke had spoken in a daze after Bespin. Chewbacca wasn't sure if the young Jedi remembered his ramblings after the fever spiked because of his maiming. The noble Wookie did recognize one name amidst all the disconnected muttering: Yoda.
Pausing to consider, Chewbacca began at the beginning. You know that my race is very long lived. At two hundred standard years old, I am still in the adolescence of my kind. I have seen much in my life, nonetheless.
Leia nodded appreciatively, but stayed silent and attentive.
In the closing days of the Clone Wars, the Separatist forces invaded Kashyyyk in an attempt to gain a foothold in the Mytaranor sector. It was suspected that they wanted to use our sector of space as a base for an invasion into the Core. The Clone forces under the Grand Master of the Jedi stood strong, repelling the massive invasion army. We fought side by side with the gallant clones, under the command of Yoda.
She was silent, enthralled with the telling of his story, but Chewbacca didn't see any of it. His eyes were full of the scene of not so long ago.
A very powerful and wise Jedi, he was. The victory was ours when all became ashes in our mouths. Without warning, the clones turned on their masters, overpowering them and slaughtering the Jedi where they stood. As the Jedi were cut down across the galaxy, I could tell that Yoda felt and suffered with every death. Shaking and shuddering he was. Tears streamed down his face as I carried him to his shuttle. His eyes cleared for a moment as I lay him down. "Leave me now, Chewbacca of the Wookies. Needed, you are, along a different path. You will see the Jedi rise again. You must help he who is to come."
The mists of the past cleared, revealing a stunned Leia Organa. Her mouth gaping open, she muttered, "Yoda?"
His tale complete, Chewbacca merely nodded. It wasn't his part to tell of Luke's inadvertent admission.
"That's Luke's Master and he was talking about Luke," she murmured to herself. "Han said that when he found Luke on Hoth, he was muttering about Ben Kenobi, Yoda and…" she furrowed her eyebrows as she tried to remember, "A planet that I've never heard of before."
I think it best that we should not speculate further about the identity or whereabouts of Luke's Master. There is a reason that he or she has been hidden from the Emperor and Darth Vader for over twenty years.
She stared at Chewbacca for a long minute, looking rather mutinous. Finally, she nodded again. "Of course, you're correct." Distracted, Leia fidgeted for a minute before glancing at the Wookie.
"Chewie, when did you get so smart?" she asked cheekily.
Chewbacca wurfled his laugh in response.
"Oh my stars," Mara groaned as she sank back on the pillow of the oversized bunk. Luke collapsed next to her, breathing heavily from his exertions. Her eyes hooded, she blindly reached for him, placing soft kisses across his sweaty shoulders and up his neck. Already, the desire was surging again.
"Love," Luke murmured, "I'm spent. I can't go again until I eat and sleep for a bit."
Smiling wickedly, she whispered, "What would you like me to fix you for dinner while you sleep?"
He laughed outright. "You forget that I know how tired you are as well."
Curling into his side, she settled into the physical and emotional warmth of her lover. While a Force user for most of her life, she'd never been instructed in the methods of communing with the Living Force. Her constant contact with Luke via their Force bond was shoving the skills and abilities down her throat. Right now, in the emptiness of hyperspace, she and he had opened themselves completely to the other. She'd thought that their eventual lovemaking would be excellent because they were both strongly attracted to each other. The idea of Force enhanced sex had never entered her mind.
Now she knew better. Force enhanced sex was phenomenal.
They lay there, limbs entwined and bodies cooling. She felt his hand caress her breast while she hooked her leg about his waist. Enfolded in the warm flow of the Force, they were one.
Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou Iloveyou
There was no beginning or ending. He was she as she was he. One would think that this melding would lead to a loss of identity. Counter intuitively, this flow back and forth between each other through the Force seemed to strengthen not only their love for each other, but their sense of identity.
A hint of worry crept into her mind as she thought about their destination. At her side, Luke wrapped his arm over her shoulders, cradling her just below her bosom. "It'll be fine," he murmured.
Rolling her eyes, she tried not to get annoyed, finding it wasn't that difficult. "Next time, let me tell you first, Farmboy."
Poking him, she gave it up as a lost cause. "Neither of us knows what's going on with us." Turning in his embrace to face him, she added, "I love this connection. I love…" she trailed off, afraid to say it.
Luke said it for her, "I love you, too."
Her kiss was soft and languid.
"Like you said to Leia, I don't want us to lose…," she looked deep into his eyes, into his soul, "Us."
When he sighed, she felt his resolution stiffening, "While I respect and even love Master Yoda, I'll never consent to losing you and us for any reason."
The conviction, affection and defiance that automatically flowed from her lover caused her confidence to surge and swell. Nodding, she changed the topic. While she believed Luke, the mere thought of losing what they had terrified her. She'd always been alone as a child and into her adulthood. She'd had acquaintances, but never anyone whom she could honestly say that she loved. Luke was the first and - for now - the only person in the galaxy that she loved.
"I need to practice. Using the Force, I mean," Mara observed. "Knowing what you've done is good and all, but I still need to learn how to meditate and consciously reach out while opening myself to the Force." At one time, she would've felt like a fool saying all this. Now, it was merely a statement of fact. She knew that she was a powerful Force sensitive. Being with Luke, spearheading the rise of the Jedi, she needed to be prepared.
Was it fate? Was the Force intelligent? A Being instead of just an energy field?
Doesn't matter, she thought to herself. It is what it is.
"Sleep first," he muttered through her hair.
Mara smiled sleepily as she burrowed into his arms. All her life, she'd had someplace to be, someone to kill, some skill to learn. Now, she had to be held by the man she'd fallen in love with by the Will of the Force. Reveling in the feeling of togetherness, Mara Jade Skywalker drifted off to sleep.
"Home One, this is Millennium Falcon requesting permission to proceed on approach for docking."
"Millennium Falcon, this is Home One, proceed on approach vector three niner Charlie, minimum sublight thrust for mag coupling at midships port four-two."
"Four-two, roger," Han replied in a bored tone. "You might want to get dressed," he observed in a more interested tone. Fortunately for his manly parts, he said it after he turned off the comm.
In the co-pilot's seat, Leia plucked at her robe with an expression of mock astonishment. "What's wrong with this?"
Rolling his eyes, Han replied, "Do you really want Wes Janson and Wedge Antilles seeing you like that?"
Bending over, Leia kissed him on the cheek. "Love you," she whispered before slipping back to their bunk to change. The Corellian smuggler had long ago admitted that he was in love with the young woman who was also a leader in the Rebel Alliance. And a Princess. And a former Senator. And wealthy beyond his imaginings. And gorgeous. And… Sighing, he glared at Home One as he expertly maneuvered his light freighter into docking position.
Out of habit, he flicked the switch on the internal comm, "Standby the dorsal mag lock…now." The Falcon shuddered for a short second as the YT-1300 took position under the Mon Calamari Star Cruiser. The grumbled call from the comm confirmed his assumption. First the Passenger Shield indicator flipped from red to green, followed by the atmosphere generator. Chewie's rumbled cry told him that his friend had visually confirmed a good alignment between the Falcon's dorsal hatch and port four-two.
"Damn," he whispered. Every once in a while, he actually doubted himself. On the whole, Han was firmly convinced that he was right most of the time, but right about now, he wondered.
"She deserves better than me," he whispered aloud to the empty cockpit.
Fully formed, a plan to leave her behind sprang to his mind. She would go across to the Star Cruiser alone, Han claiming a vital malfunction that needed to be repaired immediately. After an hour, she'd be fully involved in a debriefing – maybe even laying the groundwork for the whole Mara-Luke thing – and he would silently slip away into the vast darkness of the galaxy.
Staring at the cruiser overhead he knew he could never do it.
"Love you, your worshipfulness," he muttered almost angrily. "I hate feeling worthless." Tossing a rag into the corner, he stomped out of the cockpit right into the large, hairy chest of his best friend in the galaxy.
Chewie stood there, watching him with that damn inscrutable expression of his that he wore when he was being wise. "What?" Han demanded. It was easier to cut to the chase with Chewie.
I can never repay you for what you've done for me and mine. I am sworn to protect you, Han. Even if I have to protect you from yourself.
Annoyed, Han demanded, "What the hell are you talking about?"
Chewbacca's sober expression calmed the one time smuggler. You love her. You are worthy if she says you are worthy.
Sighing, Han nodded. He always forgot how sensitive Chewie's ears were. Gently clapping his friend on the arm, he replied, "You're right, as usual. Thanks buddy."
Come. We shall escort your lady to her meeting. I have no doubt that war council will want your opinion about something you know nothing about.
Han laughed. "You're just sore about that time on Malakex where that Governor actually believed me when I spun that story that I was a Financial Advisor to the Emperor. Don't know why you're mad. We walked with fifty thousand from that little deal."
The Wookie merely rolled his eyes as he turned about to head to the hatch where they would meet the newly coiffed and changed Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan.
"You have a fantastic ass."
Mara paused in her stretching, looking between her legs to see Luke positioned directly behind her. "Glad you like it. Now I'm going to kick yours."
He smiled, "Challenge accepted."
After waking, they choked down a meal of dehydrated rations. "Food on Dagobah is…different," Luke told her. "I'm very glad that we have salt in our stores."
Mara combed through Luke's memories of his time in training with Yoda. Wrinkling her nose, she asked, "Snakes? You really ate snakes?"
Shuddering, Luke replied, "And bugs." After a moment, he picked up a new thread, "About your question from earlier." At her interested expression, he added, "Practicing using the Force. I was thinking that we could begin the same way I did."
She rolled her eyes, "In case you didn't notice, we only have one lightsaber here, Farmboy."
Shrugging, he countered, "So we spar."
Cocking an eyebrow, she asked, "Hand to hand?"
Luke nodded as he took another bite.
"You are so on," she crowed while grinning wickedly.
After he finished admiring her posterior, she stood to stretch her arms. Pushing aside the arousal that began to heat her belly, Mara frowned when Luke rummaged in the toolkit locker. "What're you doing?"
"Ah, here we go," he muttered. Turning to her, he held up a clean rag.
"What do you intend to do with that?" she bit out.
"It'll be your blindfold."
His amused expression slid from Luke's face. "Look, the thing that was hardest for me in learning to use the Force was the two way nature of the relationship. I have to surrender my conscious self in order to let the Force flow through me – to be a servant of the Force. At the same time the Force will respond to my needs and desires – where I harness the Force.
"You're an excellent fighter. You've been trained by the best. Combining your superior training with your natural ability, you're in the top one percent of the galaxy at hand to hand and bladed fighting."
Mara couldn't help but preen a little at his flattering words. He was right. She was good – damn good even.
"And all this is why it's imperative that you fight with a blindfold if you want to be able to consciously access the Force. You have to let go of your extensive training and experience. This will allow the Force to guide and direct your movements. It's going to be extremely hard considering your personality and training. However, if you can do it when sparring, I think that it'll be easy when doing anything else."
Intellectually, she knew that what Luke was telling her made perfect sense, but a part of her still rebelled at the idea. She was a damn good fighter and could probably take him, even with him using the Force. The idea that she needed to forsake all that made her superior to a significant portion of the galaxy was distasteful.
Like fog in the morning, she heard Yoda's voice calling to her from Luke's memories. Comes from fear, does pride. Very dangerous for a Jedi. Puts oneself ahead of the Force, pride does. Puts oneself ahead of everything. Never a servant, can a Jedi be when full of pride.
Scowling, Mara took the blindfold from Luke before tying it over her eyes.
Shaking her limbs, she relaxed. In the back of her mind, she heard Luke coach her. Begin with the opening kata of the Mistryl. Relax into the motion…reach out with your feelings.
Instinctively, she bent her knees into a half crouch. Hundreds of repetitions of this kata allowed her to walk through it without conscious thought, so ingrained into her muscle memory it was. Her hands flat and palms out, she began the 'Slow Dance of Death'. Let go of thought. Feel your body. Feel…
She did. Letting her mind go blank, Mara felt her body move; felt herself move through the room. Suddenly, it was there. Power. Serenity. Wisdom. Energy. Love.
All around her, penetrating, surrounding and inhabiting her, she felt she existed with and in the Force. It was as if the lights had been thrown on full intensity in a dark room where she'd lived her entire life.
Completely taken off guard, Mara yelped, standing up straight and losing the tenuous contact with this…existence. Tearing her blindfold from her head, she found Luke right in front of her. He was smiling.
"Let's try it again."
This time, she placed the blindfold on without complaint.
"Ah, welcome back Princess," Mon Mothma greeted as she rose from the conference table. Looking over Leia's shoulder, she added, "And Captain Solo. It's horrible what happened to you, but I think I can speak for all of us," she turned to look at the members of Alliance High Command in the room, "that we're glad to see you among us again."
Leia smothered a smile at Han's uncomfortable, "Thanks."
Mon Mothma wrapped a delicate arm about Leia's shoulders as she turned back to the table, "You're just in time. An opportunity of unprecedented fortuity has been presented to us. We've just begun to look at how we're to going to exploit the situation."
Usually Mon Mothma was a model of restrained decorum. Leia was intrigued by her near gushing excitement. Unfortunately, things turned for the worse.
The white haired man at the table interrupted, "You may go, Solo. Take your Wookie with you."
Airen Cracken was a good man. He'd fought for the Alliance cause on his own and eventually as the head of Alliance Intelligence. He also hated smugglers. Cracken never passed up a chance to insult, rile or generally be rude to Han. Leia sighed to herself. She'd never checked Airen before when he took a chunk out of Han. Maybe she should've. Of course, Han wasn't completely innocent in the entire affair.
"Shut up, Cracken," Solo replied with venom. The entire room froze. Slowly turning back to her lover, Leia saw an expression on his face that was very rarely present.
Han Solo was Angry. Really, really Angry.
"Really," the older man drawled. "Why don't you and your criminal ways leave the real soldiers and warriors to our business? I don't think you're needed here."
His right hand on the butt of his Blas-Tech, Han pointed with his left, "No one asked for your opinion." Leaning forward on the table toward the red faced Head of Alliance Intelligence, the former smuggler added, "I've earned the right to be at this table."
Now the shocked silence became sober. No one could dispute Han's credentials. Rescue of Princess Leia from the Detention Level of the most secure facility in the Empire. Successful attack on the Death Star leading to its destruction. Facing torture at the hands of Darth Vader. Various infiltrations and reconnaissance missions. Han was as much a Hero of the Rebellion as Luke or Leia.
"And the next time you refer to Chewbacca as an animal, I'll kill you myself."
The Princess could instantly tell that Han was deadly serious and not just ranting. He only referred to his Wookie best friend by his full name when he was being formal (not often) or irate (even less often).
"Why you…," Cracken began.
"General." Mon Mothma interrupted icily. "I do believe that you owe Captain Solo an apology for your abominably rude behavior."
Out of the corner of her eye, Leia saw Chewie place a restraining hand on Han's shoulder. With that supposedly in hand, she turned blazing eyes on the outspoken General, "Airen, you're completely out of line."
He cocked his head in a mocking imitation of contemplation, "I wonder why you're taking up for him now? Hmmm."
Leia's eyes widened in shock and mortification at Cracken's implication. It was evident that he knew about her affections for the dark haired Corellian, but coming so soon after sleeping with Han, it seemed that Cracken was hinting at Leia's newfound intimacy with her lover. Her mouth dropping open in surprise, she could only watch what happened in response to the insinuation.
Han shook off Chewie's hand before diving over the conference table. Before Leia could blink, the dark haired hero of the Rebellion was pummeling the older man. Later, she'd wonder how tightly the Wookie'd been holding the smuggler. It probably wasn't a very tight grip.
The shouts of outrage and general mayhem mixed with Han's grunts of exertions and Cracken's cries. By the time Chewie reached over the table, Han's hands were bloody. The cuts and lacerations on General's face appeared to be the source of that blood.
"Captain Solo!" Mon Mothma shouted. Her flaring nostrils and furrowed brow showed her fury. Glaring at Leia, she gestured at the exit before turning on the moaning Head of Intelligence. As Leia and Chewie dragged Han from the room, she heard Mon Mothma light into the older man. "And you! Acting like a pre-pubescent child! I've seen Dugs act with more composure and maturity than you!"
"You sure know how to make friends," Leia chided her lover as she and Chewbacca hustled him from the room.
Left. Right. Spin. Kick. Jump. Turn. Block. Block. Punch.
Luke and Mara were a blur of arms, legs and movement. Once Mara had become more comfortable in maintaining her concentration on the Force while in motion, she'd shucked off the blindfold.
"Come on, lover. Let's play."
His grin in return had made her contemplate forgoing their sparring session in favor of a different kind of physical encounter with the blue eyed Jedi across from her.
They'd both donned blindfolds, "I can always use the practice," he'd offered.
She'd begun with a leg sweep that he'd leapt over. He turned his leap into a flip, bringing his foot down hard where she'd been a moment before. The urging of the Force inspiring her to roll to the right. Springing to her feet, she whipped a vicious roundhouse kick at his head that Luke ducked under. Before she could finish the move, he punched his arm up, catching her thigh.
Mara growled. Luke settled into a defensive stance.
For the last ten minutes, they'd been going all out.
Luke had a small cut in his left brow that trickled blood down his cheek, while Mara's right thigh was aching from four solid strikes. Both their forearms were sore from blocking innumerable blows.
The Force felt thick about her. Swimming though mud was a good analogy. Deciding to go for an endgame maneuver, Mara used the Force to leap over Luke. In mid-air, she twisted, bringing her joined fists straight down with bone crushing force.
Luke dodged, but wasn't fast enough. Her hands glanced off his head. It was still enough to put him down, though. As Mara landed with a deftness she'd not been able to muster two weeks before, Luke crumpled to the deck, unconscious.
There was a momentary sense of satisfaction and triumph for Mara before she realized who she'd just incapacitated so violently. Eyes wide, she shot to his side, "Luke! Are you alright?" When he didn't reply, she called out over their bond, LUKE!
He groaned, which immediately set her mind at rest. If he was well enough to groan, he was going to be fine. Sitting back on her haunches, Mara pulled him so that his head lay in her lap. Stroking his hair out of his face, she murmured, "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, Farmboy."
"Uhhh, no kidding," he moaned. As he blinked up at her, she couldn't help smiling.
Sorry about that. Love you.
No worries. Love you too, he whispered back in his mind.
"Next topic," he began. Grimacing a bit, he continued, "Force healing trances and how to place someone else in one."
A few hours later, they woke to the one hour hyperspace alarm. One hour until Dagobah. Stretching, Mara was pleasantly surprised that her leg felt fine. Flexing her thigh, she muttered, "Hm."
"Yeah, I was surprised the first time, too," Luke commented from their bunk. Sitting up, he propped himself on his elbows, "I'd been half buried under a falling tree when Yoda taught me. Internal injuries and broken ribs, the whole bit. I was out for four days, but when I woke up, I was as good as new."
Mara frowned. Sorting through Luke's memories brought up the event, but she didn't like him being hurt like that. "You need to be careful. It's not just you any longer."
He smiled at her. She could feel his pleased feelings like warmth in her chest, causing her to return his smile. The carefree happiness was replaced with a more carnal feeling. Grinning at her lasciviously, he asked, "Do you think that the 'fresher can hold two?"
Throwing her head back, she laughed aloud. Feeling desire roil in her, Mara replied, "I don't know, but I'm anxious to find out."
1. I own nothing.
2. Recommendation for this chapter is Spirit of the Shifting Sands by Ash Darklighter. If you've not read it, it's an incredible L/M and H/L story. Make the time to read it.
3. I don't know if I'll get around to finishing this, but I'm about halfway through chapter 2 and stalled. I'm posting this to either kill the thought or invigorate me. Thanks to any and all who take the time to review.