Disclaimer: The characters and situations of 'Star Wars' depicted in this story are legal property of George Lucas, Lucasfilm Ltd. and Timothy Zahn, and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement intended.

Summary - After Luke Skywalker has been picked up by Mara and Talon Karrde as his X-Wing was dead, drifting in space, Luke finds out what it means to be hated. But something about the beautiful red head who is out for his blood reminds him of a long-forgotten dream.

between a rock
and a hard place


Chapter One - Stranded

She had felt the tug of the Force. It was strong and almost unbearable. When she had dropped the Wilde Karrde out of hyperspace, she knew why the Force had called out to her so strongly. With a feral smile she watched the floating X-Wing, dead in space, and for a moment she could feel a rush of almost overwhelming joy bubbling up inside her.

"It is time, Master," she whispered and ignored the questioningly look from Talon Karrde, smuggler and trader.

"Jade, what's wrong?" he asked but Mara only gave a shrug. "How did you know that the X-Wing will be out here?" Rushing over to the consoles he let his scanners run over the seemingly dead and disabled space craft. "One lifeform, alive and an R2 unit, looks like an X-Wing from the Rogue Squadron..."

"Then let's find out," Mara Jade said. Her long copper-red hair was swept back sternly into a tight braid that brushed her back every time she moved.

The man was unconscious but even in that repose, Talon Karrde recognized the man immediately. He was a smuggler and trader after all so he had made it his business to keep tabs on the NRI and its more prominent figures, and the brother of the current head of state, Leia Organa-Solo, was one of these prominent figures. After his crew had brought the X-Wing onboard and stored it into one of the bigger store rooms of the Wild Karrde, Talon watched the young man being brought into the med-bay. He rubbed his hand over his beard as he waited for the diagnosis.

"He seems to be sleeping, but my guess is, he is in some sort of Jedi state," Aves said after he had examined the unconscious young man.

"Any guess when he will wake up?" Karrde asked gruffly. Having the Jedi Master on board was one thing, picking him up in an area of space where the Wild Karrde had officially no business to be was another. He had told his technicians to speed up work on the X-Wing and was about to order Aves to put the Jedi Master back into his X-Wing and be rid of it, when he noticed Mara Jade, his second in command, stepping forward towards the stretcher where Luke Skywalker, hero of the Republic, lay.

Mara Jade stared down at the man and for a moment she could not find any similiarities with the man in the file she had studied for so long. This man was wearing one of the standard issue pilot suits and his hair was longer than in the holos in the file. He looked almost innocent in his sleep. With a shuddering breath, she turned away, battling the sudden urge to touch the stubbled cheek and sweep back the blonde locks that had fallen into Skywalker's face.

"Mara?" Talon asked, wanting to know how in the Maker's name she had known where Skywalker was.

Jade turned slowly, bracing herself for the interrogation that was sure to follow. Ever since she had joined Karrde's smugglers five years back, she had been careful to hide her Force powers and she didn't want to start divulging information now.

"I don't know, Karrde," she said, schooling her features to the cool mask that Karrde and his men knew to perfection. "It was just a hunch," she shrugged. "Don't those Jedi have special powers? Perhaps he called out to us."

"He called out to you, Jade," Talon commented calmly, his voice smooth, as he quirked an eyebrow at the red head.

"Don't be ridiculous, Karrde, how could he call out to me...." The laugh sounded more panicky than derisive. "He is just one of those Jedi."

Talon bit his tongue on the retort he was about to give. He had kept a close eye on Jade ever since she had joined the Smuggler's Alliance and he knew that she had powers normal humans did not. Oh sure, she made an effort to hide them, but over the years there were too many incidents like the one with Skywalker now, that had him thinking. And hearing about the wonders and feats Skywalker and his Jedi had been doing in services for the NRI, he suspected where Mara Jade's abilities were coming from.

"Well, the Chief of state will be generous when we present her brother to her ..." Talon said smoothly. "We just have to cut short on our business on Myrkr."

"Why?" Mara asked and eyed Talon calmly. "If he doesn't know where he is nor where we are heading, no one will be the wiser. We need this run. Especially as we have the storerooms full of Ottegian brandy that is illegal in the Core worlds," Jade hesitated for a moment, sparing the unconscious Jedi a glance before she turned back towards Talon Karrde. "I'm sorry I dropped us out of hyperspace, it would have been better to leave him be..."

A chill ran down Talon's back. Although he did not have any scruples killing when faced with his own death, what Mara Jade was implying now, chilled him to the bone. "Mara, do you suggest we leave him to die in his craft?"

Mara could feel the uneasiness coming from Talon in waves and she chided herself silently. Even for a hardened smuggler like Talon Karrde had to thank the NRI for a lot of things, and Skywalker especially as he was the downfall of the Emperor.

The Emperor, Mara thought and briefly closed her eyes. My Master, my surrogate father ... Skywalker killed him and he will pay!

Shaking herself she smiled at Talon, a smile that was not reaching her eyes. "But Karrde, you don't want to imply I want to leave a highly decorated hero of the New Republic stranded and dead in space, do you?"

"No, of course not," Karrde replied carefully. "So what do you have in mind?"

Tapping a slender finger against her lips, Mara strolled over where Skywalker slept and rounded the medibed. "We will complete the run and I will babysit the Jedi on planet. I don't think it will be difficult to make him believe he crash-landed on Myrkr. I will trek with him to Hylliard City and from there we can officially rescue him."

"And how will you explain to him your presence?" Talon asked, silently congratulating her for thinking so quick on her feet. "We better prepare a small rescue pod. But it will be a tight fit with you, Skywalker and his R2 unit."

She watched him from afar, her blaster always trained on him. For two days now they had been making their way through the ancient forests on Myrkr and up until now, she had controlled her anger and suppressed the urge to kill him. Convincing the Jedi that he had crash landed on planet had been easy. She could have laughed about the gullibility of the man. After she had stirred the rescue pod onto a clearing on Myrkr, about a week's trek to Hylliard City, she had set the rescue pod aflame, scattering debris in a convenient wide angle. When Skywalker had woken up, it had been easy, too easy, to tell him that he had crash landed, and that she had been on a Vornskr hunt when she saw the crash.

He had been so gullible, that the coolly hidden anger came to the surface. Thus her trained blaster on him for the last two days.

He killed my life, he killed my Master, Mara Jade told herself silently. I should do it swiftly and rid myself of the urge.

Standing up with determination lining her face, she checked her blaster and walked over to where Luke Skywalker was sitting on a fallen tree stump, meticulously wiping away caked mud and leaves off his small astromech unit. Mara frowned when she reached him, his turned back telling her and everyone to see that he was unsuspecting and trusting of her.

I have never shot a man in the back, she thought as she stepped over the tree stump then stopped, face to face with Skywalker. His face rising, he watched her out of blue eyes and for a moment Mara felt a stab of recognition run through her. She had seen these eyes before, but where she was not sure.

Raising her small blaster, holding it only a few inches away from his chest, Mara shook off her troubling thoughts. Time to die!

"Why do you want to kill me?" his gentle voice cutting through her resolve like it was non-existent.

"You killed my Master!" Mara spat out and stilled her quivering hand. Blue eyes bored into her and although she knew that here on Myrkr the Force had no power, she felt strangely spellbound by this man she was about to kill.

*Kill Luke Skywalker!* she could still hear the last words of her late Master and with this she steadied the blaster with her other hand.

Luke watched the woman who had not only saved him in the last 48 standard hours but had also threatened him repeatedly. He sensed her inner struggle, even without the Force. They stared at each other until Mara tore her gaze away.

"Why did you save me only to kill me?" he asked softly and green eyes bored into his blue ones when her head snapped up.

"You killed my Master!" Mara answered in a rush, then bit her lips.

Skywalker rubbed his neck in thought. He had felt her Force signature when she had approached in the smuggling craft, but he could not recall any dark side stirrings within her and the Sith Masters he had battled recently did not have apprentices. Well not those who were alive, Luke added silently.

"Your Master?" Skywalker asked. "I don't think I have met you or your master..."

Something tugged at his mind and coming short to reach out with the Force he was reminded of the Ysalamiri that shielded this planet effectively from the Force.

Something about her reminded him of someone else, someone so elusive he only could see her in his dreams, and even then it was just a specter. Suddenly he remembered something, a redheaded woman, clad in the skimpy dress of a dancer at Jabba's Palace.

"You were one of the dancers of Jabba's?" he asked and ignored the snort from the redhead. "I saw you! I wanted to help you escape but you aimed a blaster at me all of a sudden..." His voice trailed away when she pointed the very blaster to his head.

"Do you honestly think Jabba was my Master? He was an assignment and if that Princess of yours had not killed him it would have been my incentive to dispose of that fat slug myself."

Incentive? Dispose? Luke mulled over in his mind. These are words used by the military, commando style.

"But if it wasn't Jabba ... who is your master?" Luke asked and stilled all movement, even calming his breathing as he waited for her either to pull the trigger or explain it to him, or both.

"I was the Emperor's Hand. You killed him like so many others!" Mara's voice shook considerably and she hated herself for that.

"You are responsible for destroying my life completely, Master Skywalker!" She rose the blaster a notch and aimed.

*Kill Luke Skywalker!* the voice boomed inside her head - urging her on and yet she could not pull the trigger that rested against the skin of her index finger. She could not.

Mara Jade's arm fell to her side, pointing the deadly blaster to the ground. Two pairs of eyes bore into each other and with a groan that resembled almost a sob, Mara slumped down on the ground.

*Kill Luke Skywalker!* the voice inside her head taunted her still but she could not kill this man in cold blood. She just couldn't ... not anymore.

Luke watched her. He had heard about the various hands of the Emperor, assassins and personal servers to Palpatine. His father had been one of them and had he not been careful, he himself would have ended up as the Hand of Palpatine.

He knew it was outright foolish to show pity or compassion for this woman when she was still armed, but Luke shrugged off the sense of danger surging through him and he bent forward, still on his knees, bracing his hands against the ground to keep from tumbling over. Mara reacted immediately and with the blaster resting against the taut flesh of his stomach, she levelled her gaze at him.

"I did not kill Palpatine," Luke said softly, talking to her as if he would with a scared animal or child. The snort coming from Mara Jade told him she didn't believe him.

Sighing, Luke sat back and rubbed his eyes wearily.

"Why don't you ask me some questions and I tell you what I know about the death of the Emperor?" he challenged her and met her incredulous green stare with a steady blue one of his own.

"So you don't deny being there when the Emperor died?"

"I don't deny it. But I was too dazed as to remember much clearly," Luke replied and looked up to meet her intent gaze. "The Emperor almost killed me with Force lightning ..."

Involuntarily, Mara shuddered. Her own scars itched at the memory of how she had received her first Force whipping. It had been after her first mission, when she had met her farmboy, the only man she had ever felt close to. Shaking her head, Jade tried to free her mind of the memories and concentrated on the man before her.

"So you were on the Death Star when Palpatine died?" she choked out.

"Yes, I had given myself up to buy the Rebellion more time on Endor. Vader ... he was there to present me to the Emperor. They engaged in a fight when Palpatine tortured me with the Force ..."

Mara almost gaped at him. Vader had protected the Jedi? she asked herself silently.

"You want to make me believe that Darth Vader, loyal subject to Palpatine, actually saved your life by attacking my Master?"

"He knew that with killing me, the light side of the Force would be closed upon him forever. He still had a lot of good in him," Luke answered, careful to hide the dark secret why the dark Lord had protected him -- his son.

Mara jumped to her feet and shook her head, then turned abruptly, blaster aimed at his head again.

"Try again, Jedi!" she growled. "Darth Vader did nothing without considering his own gain!"

Luke ducked his head, even without the Force the viciousness that this woman felt was almost palpable. He watched her, musing over his options.

What will happen if she knows the truth about my parentage? he asked himself. Will she kill me despite or because of Darth Vader being my father?

"Darth Vader ... he ...," Luke bit his lip and squinted against the glaring sun that had come through the thick foliage of the trees above. "Anakin Skywalker was my father."

Mara's eyebrow raised another notch. "So?" she asked, her hands on her hips. "So your father was a Jedi ... he was probably killed by Lord Vader."

Luke breathed a sigh of relief. If he would stick to the tale Ben had told him the first time they had met, he could tell her the truth without telling her the truth ... in a sense.

"Yes," he said and ducked his head, only to have his chin yanked up again by a small yet strong hand.

"I'm not buying it, Jedi. If Lord Vader had killed your father why would he spare the son? You were a rebel, I have seen your file, Vader would have achieved even more power if he had killed you."

"Vader ...," Luke said and swallowed. "Vader was Anakin Skywalker before he turned to the dark side..."

As if she had burned herself, Mara Jade let go of Skywalker's chin and stood up. She could not - would not - believe it. How can a dark powerful lord like Vader have a child? The Emperor must have known ...

"You are lying," Mara spat out and rose the blaster in her hand again. "The Emperor would have known and killed you before you had a chance to reach adulthood."

"How do you know, Jade?" Luke snapped back, his patience with the woman slowly running out. He had told her his best-guarded secret and yet she was not believing him. "Were you so impartial to the Emperor's secrets that you know all?"

Mara was taken aback slightly with the ferociousness the Jedi was speaking.

"I was the Emperor's Hand, I was only told on a need to know basis," Mara bit out and swore under her breath. "Sithspit!" Whirling around she sheathed the blaster and rubbed her neck wearily.

"So the great Emperor's Hand was a grunt after all," Luke commented and rose to his feet when he saw Mara reacting. Like the vornskr on this planet, she was fast as she attacked him.

While he could parry her first blow, the velocity of her attack made him stumble backwards and he hit the ground with an audible thud.

For several minutes they fought, the hitting blows as well as chokeholds and grunts followed by worried beeps from Luke's astromech unit. After a vicious blow directed at his head, Skywalker captured one hand of his attacker and he twisted her around. Jerking reflexively, Mara rolled onto her back, following her arm as it threatened to be dislocated.

Luke had followed her movement and was now straddling her, one hand securely behind her back and the other above her head, both entangled in a mock embrace.

"It's enough," Luke panted as he bent down to look into her face. "I don't know why you react like you do or why you want to kill me, but I have enough of this. Either kill me or don't, but I won't abide to your every whim of your sick twisted mind."

"Let go of me!" Mara growled and indeed, Luke loosened his grip on her only to find out that it was a mistake. Mara freed her hand and with the help of her agile legs, she threw Skywalker off her. She readied herself to shoot him, when she noticed a movement to her right.

Her reflexes taking over, she fired two shots in quick succession and the growl of a vornskr was heard when the two beasts dropped dead onto the ground behind Skywalker.

Luke stared at her, then turned and stared at the two dead animals and swallowed hard.

Standing over him, she glared at his dumbfounded expression. "If you ever touch me again, Jedi, you will loose a hand or two! And you will be glad afterwards if I had killed you as swiftly as those two!"

Mara Jade did not see the pained expression as Luke rubbed his artificial hand while she stalked away to her backpack. Luke grimaced as she gave the sign to break their camp and he reluctantly followed her with Artoo.

The heat of the sun that had risen unmercifully to its zenith as noon approached, turned the air beneath the thick foliage of jungle trees into a stifling almost impenetrable wall of humidity. Skywalker stumbled over tree roots, pulling Artoo's travois behind him and he cursed under his breath ever so often, when the travois was caught up by a protruding root. He felt sweaty and tired and Jade's blaster poking into his ribs had left a sore spot just above his kidneys on his back.

For the umpteenth time he asked himself why he had helped her getting out of the crashed craft. He should have known that she was dangerous, lethal even, considering how she had expertly shot two Vornskrs earlier.

He had to admit he was in awe. Her cool professionalism as well as her determination impressed him and her beauty ... he had never seen hair that colour, let alone such eyes ... had he? Ever since he had first opened his eyes after she and Talon Karrde had picked him up in his disabled X-Wing, something in the back of his mind had nagged him, wanted him to remind him of something, but every time he tried to retrieve it, he came up with a blank.

He was relieved when she called a halt and he slumped tiredly into the soft grass on the bank of a lake. Luke heard Artoo whistle softly and he tiredly crouched over his astromech, reassuring him softly that everything was all right.

"We rest here," the voice was tired, so much he could tell. When Luke looked up he saw firm, muscular legs in tight combat trousers standing over him and he had to squint his eyes to discern her face. Up till now she had used her surroundings to her advantage, always approaching him with the sun in her back, so that he always had to squint when he looked at her, blinding him efficiently.

"Can I take a bath?" Luke asked and looked over to the waves that softly lapped at the small embankment and suppressed a yearning sigh.

"What and let you swim across the lake so you can escape?" Mara Jade snapped and shook her head, her golden-red mane dancing with thousands of lights. "I don't fall for such a ruse, Jedi."

Luke sighed and shook his head while he tiredly rubbed his eyes. Without the Force to sustain him even he had to admit he had limits.

"You could do with a bath as well, Jade. You and I stink, and I don't want to exit this life already stinking like a dead carcass."

He watched as the woman in front of him seemed to muse over his suggestion. With an efficiency and grace that sought its rival, she slid her blaster into the holster on her wrist and pulled a coil of synthrope from her backpack.

"Take off your boots and jacket!" she ordered and Artoo let out a warning whistle.

"It is okay, Artoo, don't worry," Luke assured his artificial friend more out of custom than any real conviction while he loosened the bindings that held the astromech to the travois.

"Get to your feet and strip, Jedi," Mara Jade growled, she was getting more annoyed by the minute. The man was weird, looking after his astromech like it was a real being. "If you don't get a move on I will use your tin here as a target for my shooting exercise." She indicated Artoo with a curt nod of her head.

The agitated whistles from the astromech almost sounded like whines and Mara smirked at that. Taking out her vibroblade, she cut off a fair amount of the synthrope and watched as Skywalker took off his boots and then his jacket.

Pointing at the top he was wearing, she let the rope snap. "That too, or do you always wash in a tank top?"

Sighing, Luke hooked his thumbs into the hem of this tank top and pulled it over his head. It was a good feeling to get rid of the sweaty garment and feeling the cool breeze on his skin.

"Hands!" He heard his captor snap and he held them out to her. He watched as she efficiently and tightly bound his hands together, leaving a good length of rope. She wrapped the end around her left wrist, then started to take off her boots as well. Luke blushed when he noticed her stripping down to her underwear and he was surprised to see a pair of tight military issued underpants covering her shapely behind.

Tugging at the rope she dragged him towards the lake and all Luke could do was to follow behind, trying not to stare too openly at the woman whose swaying hips captured his whole attention.

Despite his own discomfort, he was mesmerized by her slender figure. She had a dancer's slim body, she was even smaller in size than he was without the boots. He was so engrossed with musing over her backside, he gasped when she gave the rope a sharp snag and he crashed into the lake, head first.

When he came up for air, sputtering and trying to get the water out of his eyes, she had already advanced into the lake further and squirted cleanser into her hand. When Luke came back to his feet she tossed the bottle towards him and he fumbled to catch it.

With tied hands, it was a struggle to wash and most of the cleanser dripped off into the water instead of meeting his skin. Sighing he tried to cup water with his hands but failed miserably. When he looked up, he met Mara Jade's incredulous stare.

"What ...?" Luke asked and struggled against the synthrope, but managed only to almost drop the cleanser bottle into the water.

"Jedi ..." Mara cursed and shook her head. "I begin to understand why Palpatine purged you."

With a sigh that bordered on a growl, Mara dragged him over to some overhanging trees and rocks and after she had made sure that his arms were securely locked in place above his head, she climbed up on a protruding rock and took the bottle out of his hands.

Deftly squirting cleanser into the palm of her hand, she worked up a lather. Luke backed away from her when her lathered up hands almost came in contact with his bare chest.

"What are you doing?" he asked with a catch in his voice.

"What does it look like, Jedi?" Mara asked and frowned at him. "As you had mentioned before, you stink and with your hands tied you can't wash yourself. So either I'll drag you a few times under water with the possibility that you might drown or you let me wash you...It's up to you."

Comfort and cleanliness won out over decency and shyness and so Luke stepped closer to her, decreasing the gap between their bodies.

Luke shivered beneath her touch as she started to wash him with efficient and determined strokes but he could not suppress a groan when her hands, surprisingly soft hands he had to admit, roamed over the expanse of his chest, the movement almost a caress. His head slumped forward and he gritted his teeth, willing himself to ignore the feelings she unwittingly aroused in him.

Luke's body had been unloved territory for a long time. If he was honest with himself, it had been ever since he had met his dream girl. Shuddering, Skywalker squeezed his eyes shut but as hard as he tried, he could not block Jade's hands that moved over his skin. When she tiptoed to wash his arms in determined strokes, he inhaled sharply as the soft damp fabric of her t-shirt teased his nose. Inhaling softly, he was almost intoxicated by the heady odour of cleanser and musk.

Oh Gods, Luke thought as he willed himself to ignore the odour that was exciting parts in his body he was sure a Jedi had no use for. When something soft brushed over his nose and part of his cheek again, his eyes snapped open and all he could see were soft breasts swaying freely beneath the material of Jade's shirt. Tantalizing, beckoning him.

It would be easy just to open my mouth and draw her nipple in between my lips, the thought came unwanted but the rush of passion surging through him, made him twitch, resulting in driving the synthrope deeper into the skin of his wrists.

Mara who had been unawares of how enticing a sight she offered to the Jedi, strained again to reach his outstretched arms. "Hold still," she snapped. "For a Jedi you don't have any patience, that's for sure."

From deep within his chest, a strangled sound rose to his lips as Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, lost the battle with his control and when he buried his face between the cleft of her breasts, he inhaled deeply.

That Mara was surprised was the understatement of the standard year. Here she was washing the recalcitrant Jedi and the next moment he had buried his face between her breasts. The sensations he was eliciting in her, his breath through the fabric caressing her skin, made her dizzy. She stared at the Jedi, for the first time really seeing him, the well-toned muscles, the strong expanse of his chest, the flat stomach.

During her training as Emperor's Hand she had been taught in the Arts as well, she had seen the sculptures of male and female perfection, but here it was flesh and blood, and she had touched the warm skin, had unconsciously revelled in the touch ...

"Sithspawn!" Mara growled and kicked his legs from under Skywalker's body.

"Argh!" The Jedi Master groaned as his weight was only supported by his arms and the pain that shot down from his arms to his spine was excruciating. Panting, he squeezed his eyes shut as he struggled to regain his footing. When the pain subsided he glared up at Mara.

"What was that for?" Luke demanded and drew in deep swallows of breath.

"What that was for?" Mara spat back and crossed her arms over her chest. "You Son of a Sith tried to come on to me!" With these words she whirled around and made her way through the water towards the beach.

Luke stared after her and when she stepped out of the water, his mind registered that she had not cut him off the tree.

"Hey, Jade, didn't you forget something ... like cutting the Jedi off the tree?" he hollered after her.

Mara who had taken a small towel from her backpack turned around and green eyes shot laser bolts at the Jedi.

"Try again, Skywalker," she yelled back. "How about cooling off the Jedi. A Jedi knows no passion!"

Despite the warmth, Luke shivered. Mara Jade had kept him in the water for more than an hour before she had come and cut him down. During that time any lusty feelings for his beautiful captor had dwindled for sure and he was grateful to massage his aching arms while he sat at the small campfire that Mara had prepared.

He eyed her carefully, trying to gauge what she was feeling and thinking but without the Force, he had to rely on his knowledge of human nature and he knew it was limited at best. Luke knew he should not let himself be deceived by her looks, she was deadly, he knew it, but something in the back of his mind told him that he was safe. Despite the fact that she professed to kill him, her behaviour so far had been caustic but she yet had to pull the trigger.

Or snap my neck, he added thoughtfully and rubbed the strained muscles on his neck and shoulders. He watched her over the fire with guarded lids.

She had thrown two ration bars into his lap, and then she had settled down a few feet away from him, and cradled her blaster in the crook of her arm. The noise of the wild things in the jungle increased as nighttime approached, and Jade tried to concentrate on the different noises and sounds.

Luke watched her closely, but when she had not stirred for a little while, he quietly pulled his jacket on.

"I'm not sleeping Jedi, so if I were you, I wouldn't even think of escaping!" Her voice was overly loud and Luke flinched in surprise.

"It was worth a try," he muttered underneath his breath and settled back onto the small sleeping pallet, Jade had given him.

Silence settled once more over the two of them, but sleep eluded Luke. After he had tossed and turned on the bumpy pallet, he stared up into the sky.

"In need of a bedtime story, Jedi?" the taunting voice of Mara Jade sounded eerie in the dark of night.

Luke sighed and sat up. "Do you never sleep?" he asked and turned towards the direction her voice had come from. He flinched when he all of a sudden felt the butt of the blaster poking into his ribs from behind.

"I don't need sleep, Jedi," Mara's voice breathed near his ear and involuntarily Luke shuddered.

He turned towards the voice only to be met by strong hands that shoved him down.

"Go to sleep, Skywalker, you'll need it. Tomorrow we'll trek through some dense undergrowth and you'll need all your strength to pull that tin dome of yours through it!"

Mara Jade watched with squinted eyes the sleeping form of Skywalker. After he had settled down at last, she had soon felt him falling asleep, his change in breathing telling her he was fast approaching a deep slumber.

Tiredly, Jade brushed over her eyes and tried to wipe away some of the sleep that threatened to overcome her. When she heard a soft sound, a whimper coming from the Jedi, she slowly crawled over to the sleeping man. What she saw surprised her. Even in the soft glow of the dying embers, she could make out the body lines of the young man clearly as he lay on his back, one hand tucked underneath his tousled head and the other ...

Mara frowned and cursed beneath her breath. Skywalker's left hand lay in the shadows but it was clearly lying on his crotch, slowly moving over the increasing bulge in the tan trousers.

"I'll be Kesseled," Mara whispered and sat back. After the incident in the lake earlier, she had tried to ignore the emotions that had shuddered her body before her mind had kicked in again but now watching the Jedi Master in such a vulnerable and yet excited state, she wondered what it would feel like if her hand would give him pleasure.

"Sith!" Mara exclaimed, this time louder and she quickly rushed back to her former position. The Jedi Master is a only human after all, she thought, her eyes being riveted again and again to the enticing form of the sleeping man. She could hear a soft moan and she closed her eyes to block out the images, but to no avail. Her mind conjured up images in accord to the soft muffled moans. Against Mara's will, her body responded to the powerful sexual tension that had built up.

Mara shifted uncomfortably when she could feel her breasts growing heavy, lust pooling between her thighs. Another groan coming from the Jedi Master as he fondled himself, made Mara shiver.

Who is it he is imagining? Mara thought as her hands clenched around her blaster, willing the strong, yearning passion to subside.

On the other side of the fire, Luke Skywalker revelled in the throes of his dream, his frantic mind conjuring up the dream images his hand so unwittingly created.

The kiss was slow and passionate, and Luke's hands found their way along her slender body. He could feel her shivering, her breath catching in the back of her throat as she arched into his touch. His hands cupped her breasts, caressing, kneading them, weighing them in his hands like precious jewels.

Luke Skywalker was back in the cave ... back in his dream that had haunted him most of his late teens and way into the time of his Rebel days. He was with his dream girl again, soft creamy skin beneath his callused hands, skin that was vibrant with sexual tension.

The girl stirred under his gentle caresses, bringing herself closer to him. Skin meeting skin, clinging hotly. Luke started to kiss her neck, hearing her breathing change in his ear, as he found her pulse point. The catch in her throat as she breathed, fanning his ear and temple as he kissed his way around her earlobe, sounded incredibly sexy, the soft whimpering making his blood roar through his veins. His mind was racing, but he tried to control himself, tried to control the inevitable, as her soft body moved and lowered herself completely down onto his own, covering him from head to toe.

Red-golden curls tumbled over creamy white skin onto his chest, keeping him prisoner as it enshrouded both his face and that of the girl. But his dream had changed, somewhere in the back of his mind, his dream girl had gotten a face .. a face that he had only recently encountered. Green eyes, glazed over with passion, bored into him as the girl bent her head and kissed him. Luke arms came up, burying his hands in the glorious mass of her hair and he knew the inevitable was coming.

Luke groaned out loud, his hand now rubbing furiously at this pants, still deeply asleep he groaned when touching was not enough anymore. Mara heard him, listened to him, his moans beckoning her to him, making her blood boil. Without conscious thought, Mara had scrambled over to him again, checking that he was still sleeping, then she tentatively reached out a hand.

"Jade," Luke whispered, his voice husky and Mara froze. Her hand, only inches away from his own erratic hand, hovered over the fly of his pants. "Jade ..."

Mara Jade was shocked but every time the Jedi Master breathed her name a ripple of passion surged through her body, made her breast ache and her lower abdomen clench in response.

For a moment or two, Mara stared down into the contorted face of the Jedi Master, passion warring with sleep in his expression. She was so engrossed in her contemplation that she almost missed the movement beneath her hand. Skywalker's hips had surged up in response to his own ministrations and she came in contact with his hand and the fly of his pants, feeling the bulge straining against the material.

Gasping she tried to extract her hand only to have it grasped by Luke's right.

"Yes, Jade ..." Luke whispered as he pressed her hand against his crotch while his left hand had found her thigh and travelled up and down the inner side.

Hot passion shot through her, beginning from where Skywalker rubbed her thigh straight to her feminine core and Mara bit her lip. Easing gently away from him, she disentangled herself from him and backed away. Her breath was coming out in shallow panting and she had worked up a sweat that had drenched her hair and a few curls clung damply against her forehead.

With shock she realized what she had almost done. Cursing, she made sure to put as much distance between herself and the still dreaming Jedi as she could without letting her guard down or him out of her sight.

It would be a long night.

Mara felt tired as she crouched at the lakeside and washed her face and arms with the cool water. She had not slept the whole night, just like the night before and she could feel her concentration failing her as well as the fatigue playing tricks on her.

When the sun had started to rise she had checked on Skywalker. He had lain on his stomach, using his arms as a cushion and she wondered if she had just imagined the Jedi in the throes of passion the night before. There was no indication that he had been dreaming and enacting the dream with his hands. Luke Skywalker's dream induced body had begun to make her think about things she had no business thinking about. Especially with him of all people, and she felt irritated that her own body would so easily betray her.

He is my enemy, she told herself sternly. He killed thousands of innocent lives and would have killed the Emperor if Vader hadn't taken over that part. He has to die! And yet her palm still burned from the fire that had seemed to radiate from his body, from the very intimate part where she had touched the Jedi.

Shrugging these thoughts away, she shed her tunic and started to wash. Mara revelled in the coolness of the water as she stoutly splashed her face and neck with it, shuddering momentarily as the cold hit her nerve endings.

Perhaps I should dowse Skywalker in the water, she mused to herself and had to grin. Would serve him right, after all no one dreams of me and lives an easy life.

She heard soft stirrings behind her back and while she remained squatting at the edge of the lake, she slowly retrieved her hold out blaster from its holster and removed the safety. Even without the Force to guide her, she could sense Skywalker walking up behind though she was not sure about his intentions.

"Good morning," Skywalker said cheerfully as he squatted beside her and took a deep swallow from the water he cupped in his hands. Mara watched him from narrowed eyes, then slowly she sent the safety shut on her blaster with the tip of her finger.

"What is so good of this morning while we are still stuck on this Sithforsaken planet?" she growled, picking up her tunic while she stood up in one swift motion.

"Every morning is a good morning where I won't wake up with a knife stuck between my ribs or a blaster held against my head," Luke retorted and groaned when his head was painfully yanked backwards.

Mara had grabbed him by his hair and yanked him on his back, the blaster only inches away from his face. "Well then, let's even out the odds that this is NOT a good morning!" she growled.

Skywalker swallowed audibly as he stared down the nuzzle of her little hold out blaster. The cold fire that sparkled and twisted in her green eyes made sure that he kept as still as he could. He didn't doubt for one minute that Mara Jade was capable of pulling the trigger.

*Kill him!! Kill him, my Hand! the voice of the late Emperor boomed in her head and for a moment she felt dizzy. Steadying her hand, Mara squeezed her eyes shut but to no avail. The voice started to become louder and louder.


Mara flinched, and tried to focus on the man in front of her but the pain inside her head grew stronger and with a suppressed yelp, she released Skywalker and fell back. Clutching her head, she gritted her teeth.

Luke stared at her for a moment, before his shaken limbs moved into action. Squatting down beside her, he captured her hands and drew her into his lap. With a frown he watched her not sure, what to make of it. Without the Force he was as helpless as any normal human being faced with a seizure.

"Ssssshhhhh," Luke said while he caressed her temples in long strokes. "Mara, tell me what is wrong?"

The young woman in his arms shook her head with effort, before groaning out again, clutching her head.

"Can't!" she bit out, squeezing her eyes shut.

*KILL HIM!!! KILL HIM!!! KILL HIM!!!* the sound of the late Emperor's voice still boomed inside her head and she tried desperately to grope for the blaster that had fallen to the ground earlier.

"I need to finish my mission, I need to ... need to..." Mara whispered on and on.

Luke bent further down, straining his hearing while he tried to calm her down with more caresses on her face. Brushing stray strands off her forehead, he caught her gaze with his eyes.

"What do you need to finish, Mara?" he asked softly. "What is your mission?"

"Killing Luke Skywalker ..."

Luke swallowed hard and for a moment he just stared at her.

"Mara ...." he whispered but the woman was unconscious and Luke picked her up into his arms. He wondered briefly how small and delicate she felt in his arms as he carried her back to their small camp. Settling her on his own bed roll, he stretched her out, then covered her with his jacket.

Caressing her pale cheek softly, he watched the woman. "What did the Emperor do to you that you still suffer?" he asked softly before he stood up and walked over where her hold out blaster lay forgotten in the grass.

The explosion ripped the barge in two and Mara fell down into the sand that was hot to the touch. A skiff fled above her, shedding a momentarily shadow. Then the scene changed and Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand found herself in the Emperor's throne room, on her knees, two dark figures towering over her.

"My Master," the young girl whispered not daring to look up. Staring at the intricate marble floor of the throne room, she could see the Emperor coming to a halt in front of her and for a moment she felt a wave of anger washing over her, sickening her to the deepest roots of her existence.

"You failed me, Mara Jade," the voice was hard and wheezing. "You failed me where I thought you would not!"

"I'm sorry, Master but Jabba ..." Mara's voice was cut off as the Emperor raised a hand and her breathing became laboured. Struggling frantically at her throat, the woman's body was whipped upward by invisible hands and her feet kicked the air desperately.

*Master ..* she sent him but the bond between Palpatine and her was cut off. Struggling to get as much air into her starving lungs as possible, she looked pleadingly at her Master and the Dark Sith Lord that was standing silently beside him, but to no avail.

With a flick of his hand the invisible hands slammed Mara into a nearby marble column, the impact so fierce that Mara heard the sickening snap of breaking bones before a wave of pain blinded her consciousness.

Mara's eyes snapped open and she bent over to clutch her throat while gasping whole mouthfuls of air and forcing them down into her lungs. Unconsciously her hand went to her left side where once three of her ribs had been broken. Groaning, she calmed herself until a voice broke the silence of the forest surrounding her.

"Do you feel better?" Luke Skywalker's voice was clear and when Mara's eyes snapped up, immediately locking onto the intense blue of his own eyes, she made a grab for her wrist holster, but it was empty.

"I needed it to fend off the Vornskr," Luke commented and held up the small hold out blaster.

Mara's face shuttered. 'Stupid', she thought and closed her eyes. With a shudder, she felt someone shifting beside her and she prepared herself. 'I've failed my master again, and now I have to pay the price.' Silently expecting and accepting that Skywalker would kill her now, after she had so conveniently gushed all her secrets to him.

Green eyes fluttered open in surprise when she felt cool dampness caressing her forehead and cheek. Skywalker was squatting in front of her, his eyes serious and never leaving her face while he wiped the sweat off her face with a piece of cloth.

"What ... why?" Mara felt lost for words and she stared at the man in front of her.

"Tell me how you got into the services of the Emperor," Luke demanded softly, never leaving his eyes off her face, as she started to comprehend his question.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked, her voice small and vulnerable. "Why don't you kill me ... I'm your enemy ... I will kill you at the next chance I get."

Luke was taken aback by her admonition and he rocked back onto his heels. For a moment their eyes met and he could see the determination in her eyes. Then he dropped the damp cloth and shoved the hold out blaster into her hands.

"All right," he breathed. "Then do it, finish your mission so you can once and for all continue your life ..."

Mara stared at him disconcertingly, then at the blaster in her hand. Her finger curled around the small weapon, her mind trying to grasp the consequences Skywalker's decision had put upon her. Looking up she was met by an inquisitive stare out of blue, intense eyes.

Jade was not able to tear her gaze from him, it hit her to her deepest roots as this man she had hated so long, stared at her openly but passively, waiting for her to reach her decision.

'I cannot do it', Mara thought, even though she still could feel the lingering reverberations of the Emperor's last command inside her mind, every fiber knew that she had to execute the command but she could not. Something broke inside her, something that had kept her in thrall for a long time, perhaps since the first day of her existence. Staring into the blue eyes of her nemesis she knew she would never be able to kill this human being.

The trek back to Hyllyard City took them an additional three days. Mara Jade kept her distance, trying to ignore the presence of the Jedi and his droid. During the last past days, she had several seizures, and her nightmares were haunting her stronger than ever before.

Luke had eyed her closely, watching her every move and somehow their positions had been reversed. He had taken watch during the night while Mara Jade was sleeping fitfully.

He stumbled to a halt when Mara stopped all of a sudden and with a groan, he slumped to the ground, rubbing his neck tiredly. Artoo was whistling dejectively and he patted the little domed droid on the travois.

"It's okay, Artoo, just getting a rest," Luke breathed and looked up when a flask of water was thrown into his lap.

"Thanks, Jade," he said but didn't get a reply from the redhead. Staring ahead, she ignored the man sitting at her feet.

After a long swig from the bottle, Skywalker shook his head and got lithely to his feet, handing the bottle back to the woman.

"You know, if you want to kill me by ignoring me, you are quite succeeding," he snapped impatiently, the last two days getting the better of him.

Jade rose an eyebrow but still did not respond, and Luke had enough. Grabbing her by her shoulder, he whirled her around t face him.

"Mara, what is wrong?" he asked, catching her gaze with his own.

"Let go of me, Jedi," Mara snarled and tried to shrug of his hands that had clamped down on her shoulders.

"Not until you have answered some of my questions, Jade," Luke snapped back, increasing his hold on her. "Why did you rescue me? If you had such an urge to kill me you had been better off keeping me in limbo in deep space."

Mara Jade stared at him, then shrugged his hands off her shoulders and stepped further away from him. "I don't think that is any of your business, Jedi," she snapped angrily. "What is it to you? It isn't as if we are going to best friends ever. As soon as we get off this planet, I'll send you on your way and that's that!"

At that time both didn't know that this was not what would happen. The long story of Mara Jade and Luke Skywalker only had just begun.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6