Chapter Two - Truce

Three years later - Wayland

Another jungle, Jade thought as she stepped over a fallen tree heavy with lichen and twines. The heat was almost unbearable and for a moment the young woman asked herself why by the Emperor's black bones had she accompanied them on this mission.

Because the Jedi hadn't given her much choice, she added silently. She had been incarcerated in her own quarters, held in custody by the security droids, with no way to go. Damn Thrawn.
Damn Skywalker, she added.

Even after three years, Mara Jade had not the faintest idea how she ended up uneasy friends with the Jedi Master. When they had reached Hyllyard City, she had silently handed him over to Karrde, who then had followed the set up they had talked about, the Jedi Master never knowing they had been there for securing their smuggled goods. But what had surprised her even more was the fact that about two months after the events on Myrkr Talon Karrde had announced that he was going straight in his business. Okay, so there was still a little smuggling on the side, but Talon Karrde had turned from Master Smuggler to Master Trader and the Smuggler Alliance had slowly been converted to an official and above bar Trading Association. It had not only surprised Mara Jade, it had had her gaping that so many hardened smuggler had followed Karrde's example.

It had been another year before Mara Jade had recovered from the shock somewhat before she had the sense of asking Talon why this change had come about. When she heard he had been in deep conversation with the Jedi Master on their flight back to Coruscant and said Jedi had made him think, the old hatred had almost overwhelmed her. Just another example where Skywalker was responsible for ending her life as she knew it.

Karrde had been adamant that his second in command would set up close tabs with the government, and Jade had groaned and moaned about the prospect to deal with pompous governmental officials only to be surprise once more when she had found herself face to face with Madame Chief of State Leia Organa-Solo. The two contrary women had founded a tentative friendship, based on respect for each other as well as for the fact that both were Force sensitive. Mara could still recollect the scene, when Leia Organa-Solo had extended her hand towards Mara and after reluctantly taking it, the small exchange of the Force had taken both aback.

"Now I know why Luke likes you," Leia had commented with a sheepish smile after they had seated herself and Mara had frowned in confusion.

"I think you are mistaken, Madame Chief of State, I want to kill him," Jade had answered and now after three years she felt still as foolish and confused as she had then, when Leia had started to laugh. It had taken her about half a standard hour to convince Organa-Solo that she really meant it. Though how she got invited to several private family dinners with the Solos and the Jedi Master afterwards was beyond her. It seemed that the more she professed to want to kill Skywalker, the more she was thrust into his company, even going so far as setting out on missions for the New Republic together.

With a mental shake, Jade tried to clear her thoughts. She knew she had to be on alert, but try as she might thoughts about the Jedi Master came back invading her mind. Whatever her friendship with the Solos and Skywalkers might mean to her, and she was determined that it didn't mean anything, she knew it was about coming to an end. The New Republic wouldn't want their top heroes co-mingling with the likes of her. Thrawn and his cronies had made damn sure about that. With a shrug, she composed herself. What did it matter to her that they knew she had been the Emperor's Hand? If she happened to return from this mission, the NRI would not stop to put her to jurisdiction. She would end up on Kessel at best, if not strapped to a table with a droid injecting some deadly liquids into her system. The nearer she got to Mount Tantiss, the more restless she grew, her danger sense flaring up constantly. That and the fact that her nightmares had returned in full force, made her edgy. More than once since their trek to Wayland she had awakened at nights only to find Skywalker sitting beside her and holding her. It was embarrassing, it was humiliating. It made her feel safe.

With an uncustomary sigh, Mara stopped in her tracks and tossing her heavy braid back over her shoulder, turned to watch the men in her wake advancing. The three men following her through the jungle were so different and yet alike, that she always wondered how she got hooked up to them. Talon Karrde and Han Solo were alike enough, both smugglers turned traders turned respected citizens of the New Republic while Luke Skywalker was the odd man out. Jedi Master, hero of the New Republic, Force wielder. And yet, she felt like the outsider as she watched the three men conversing easily with each other as they made their way towards her, their voices not loud enough to disturb the wild life around them.

"Hey Jade, slowing down on our behalf?" Han Solo asked as he sauntered up towards her. His usual cocky gait seemed stiff and Jade was not surprised about this. The future of the galaxy lay here, and they had to avoid another clone war, thus their trek through this sithforsaken jungle.

"Speak only for yourself, General," she answered without the usual heat in her voice. Her eyes involuntarily seeking Skywalker's. "Anything?" she asked him.

"Nothing out of the usual, wild life ... lower life forms," he answered her and Mara nodded.

"Then let's keep it this way," Jade answered and was about to turn away from the Jedi Master when a strong callused hand kept her in place.

"Mara," Luke said, retracting his hand at the glare out of green eyes, the colour of the lush leaves of the jungle. "If you would link with me, perhaps we can maximize ..."

Luke tried not to flinch away from the cool distant look. Usually he met any challenge head on, but where Mara Jade was concerned, his survival instinct was stronger than any recklessness he normally displayed. He was still surprised that she had actually agreed to accompany him and the others. She could have refused, even though she was held by NRS.

"Don't be ridiculous, Farmboy," Jade retorted. "I don't want to link with you nor do I know what you are talking about." Turning away, Mara Jade swallowed hard. She could not - would not - link with the Jedi. It was already hard enough to battle her Master's voice inside of her, how hard would it be for her to blot out that of the Jedi Master...

*Mara,* he reached out to her and to his surprise he could feel her through the Force. Her presence was even brighter and stronger than his twin sister's, and although her presence was raw and uneducated, the deep root in the light side overwhelmed him.

"What ...?" Mara swayed a little before she drew up her barriers. With nausea rising in her throat, Jade turned towards him. "Skywalker, don't ever do that again." With that she stalked stiffly away, leaving a confused Jedi Master behind.

Han who had watched the exchanged, walked up to his brother in law. "So what was that about?" he asked, putting an arm around Luke's shoulders. "Is she on a killing spree again?"

"No, Han," Luke shrugged and watched the man beside him. Han Solo was older than him but normally his features displayed a youthfulness and exuberance that was now sadly lacking. Since the news of his wife's and children's would-be kidnapping, Han Solo looked his age and more worry lines had left deep clefts in the man's face.

"She is a force wielder, " Luke began but was interrupted by his brother in law.

"She is a Jedi with all that mumbo-jumbo?"

"Yes, but she is not a Jedi, not yet ..." Luke replied. "The Emperor only gave her minimal training in the Force, but she has potential, great potential."

"Great potential? And the Emperor took care of her training?" Han asked with an raised eyebrow. "By the stars, Luke, she is bad news then. She is probably so deep into the dark side, she is ..."

"She is a lightsider, I feel it ... I saw it," Luke interrupted. "The Emperor knew how much potential she has, but he never trained her to become a Force wielder like my father. My guess is that she actually hates it, she uses the Force, but only if it is absolutely necessary," watching the rigid back of the redhead, he continued. "She is scared, Han, scared and angry, because the Emperor denied her her heritage and she is angry that I might be the only one to help her."

Han followed Luke's gaze. If he had not taken a liking to the red headed smuggler and trader, he would have told Luke to forget it. But he had watched Mara Jade both in dealings with other traders, as Karrde's second in command and at his own home, interacting with the twins as well as Leia. The woman might not want to know it, but she needed a family, a safe place where she could just be herself and not constantly on guard. And perhaps she needed Luke, and Luke her.

If the appearance of the Noghri had been any surprise to the small band of men and woman, neither showed it. With Threepio's constant whining and Artoo's mishaps with the caustic vines, nothing could surprise them much anymore. Mara watched the furry creatures with wary eyes. She knew the Emperor had enslaved them and their struggle for freedom had been hard and had come with a lot of bloodshed. The Noghri had all the reason to mistrust humans, and especially her in particular. Checking her blaster, Mara sat apart from the others. If they wanted to put their safety into the hands of the Noghri, it was their business, she was not as stupid.

"Companion of the son of Vader," Ekhrikhor said, and Mara watched the Noghri leader with a wary eye and a finger on the trigger of her blaster.

"My name is Mara Jade," she said brusquely. "What is it that you want?"

"My apologies, Lady Jade," the Noghri bowed slightly and Mara's hair stood up at the nape. The reverence, the title, it was too much of what she had lost and what she had always loathed.

"Just Jade, Noghri, I don't need titles," Mara snapped and caught the twinkle in the Noghri's eye.

"You have come a long way, Hand ... Jade," Ekhrikhor commented and held up one of his pawlike hands. "I wish not to cause you discomfort. We will be securing the camp so there is no need for you to go without sleep."

At first, Mara wanted to tell him to bugger off, but after a few seconds hesitation she nodded. If there were Imperials at Mt. Tantiss, she needed to be ready and alert and not sleepy and wary. With a nod she stood up, towering over the small Noghri and with stiff strides she went over to the small camp fire and the men gathered around.

Solo watched her advance and he had to admit that she was a stunning figure. Small, with the grace of a dancer, a man could be easily deceived, deceived to think she was harmless and not that she was in fact a deadly weapon. "Jade," he greeted her and patted the log where he was sitting on. "Had enough of the little furry warriors?"

"Don't let them hear that you mock them, Solo, or you could quickly be demoted to dead husband of the Lady Vader," Jade retorted as she stood, her legs firmly planted and took in the scenery of the campfire. On the other side of the fire, Karrde had taken down his sleep pallet and was obviously sleeping already. With a frown she noticed that he actually snored.

"Sit down Mara," Luke Skywalker, who had been squatting beside Artoo, had come over and plopped down on his sleeping pallet near her feet. "The Noghri will take the night watch ... we are near ..."

"Yes, we are near," Mara replied. She had noticed that with Solo occupying the log and Karrde's and Skywalker's sleeping pallets so close-by, the only place to sit was either half on Solo's lap on the log or on the ground, beside Skywalker. "I best get some sleep."

"Why don't you join us for a while, Jade?" Luke asked, eyeing her curiously. He had felt her reluctance through the Force, and he was curious as to what was the source of it.

"No, Farmboy, if we face the cloning chamber and the Imperials tomorrow, I need my beauty sleep." With this, she turned and stalked off towards her back pack. Setting up her sleeping pallet, she rolled herself into a cloak. She could still hear the whispered conversation between Skywalker and Solo, but soon she was fast asleep.

"Not very sociable, is she?" Han asked and gave Luke a nudge. The young Jedi jerked and tearing his gaze off Jade's prone figure in the darkness, he looked at his brother in law.

"I guess she never learned how to deal with friends," Luke replied and gave a non-committed shrug.

Han gazed up at the wistful tone of Luke's voice, and knowing the kid, he knew something was on Luke's mind. "Did she ever tell you anything about her time with the Emperor?"

Skywalker shrugged and bit his lip. "Not much, and from what I gathered, it wasn't all roses." With another swift gaze upon the woman, Luke stoked the fire with a small tree branch. "What I can tell is that she never had friends, no one to be responsible of or someone who cared enough to get to know her. .. She ..." Luke looked up into his friend's face. "She is unique, and seeing her adjusting, making friends, is something miraculous."

"You care about her." It was a statement rather than an inquiry.

"Yes, I care about her. I want to see her happy, and not dragged down with memories of the Emperor. She was still a child when Palpatine got a hold of her. She never had the chance, Leia or I had. I wish I ..." Luke blushed and looked down on his hands.

"You wish you could have saved her," Solo finished and gave Luke a pat on his shoulder. "Kid, you cannot save all of the galaxy. You have to be content that you know each other now, and that you can help her now, even though she wants to kill you."

"Well that is also that," Luke gave a sheepish grin, then turned again to watch the sleeping woman for several Standard seconds. "I don't think she really wants to kill me. She had plenty of opportunity on Myrkr, and then later on our missions as well. She has an admirable will and strength and any weaker personality would have fulfilled the last command of the Emperor. But not Mara. She doesn't want to kill me, but the urge was planted in her subconscious ..."

"You seem to know a lot about her, Luke ..."

"Yeah, well, she wants to kill me .. I needed to get to the bottom of it, right?" Luke said with a sheepish grin. "I wish she would let me share with her through the Force, maybe I could unlock that blasted command..." Luke fell silent and frowned all of a sudden. The urge to share with her through the Force had grown over the last couple of days. He shared a Force bond with his sister and he revelled in it, as weak as it was, but speaking about Mara, actually contemplating about a Force bond with this strong willed woman, it was both surprising and exciting. The mere thought of having a bond with her in the Force ... he shook his head, it was more than he would have ever thought was possible to share with anyone not his sister.

Mara Jade was walking through the cold marble halls of the Imperial Palace. The guards here were all clad in deep red, the colours of the Imperial Honour Guard. She smirked at that thought. Honour Guard was just a nicer word for the Emperor's own killers. Stormtrooper were ruthless, but the Honour Guard ... sometimes Jade believed that they had been cloned from the Emperor himself or of one of his first apprentices. From the whispered rumours she had picked up over the years throughout the palace, she had heard about the black and red tattooed Sith lord, the first Sith in a thousand years to challenge the Jedi and succeed. The young girl shuddered as she passed the trees in the great hall and waited while one of the Honour Guards opened the double doors to the throne room.

"Ah ... my Hand," the voice of the Emperor boomed across the length of the room while Mara Jade got to her knees slowly.

"Master, you asked for me?"

"Yes, yes," the Emperor impatiently waved his arm at her, dismissing the reverence she displayed towards him. "I have a new command for you."

Even after so many years in the Emperor's services these words made her shiver in anticipation. A command, a mission meant she could leave the confines of the Imperial Palace. She walked over slowly, surprised to find not one of the usual Imperial lackeys hovering in the background, not even Vader was around.

Holding out a datacube, the Emperor eyed the young Hand. Years ago he had ceased to think of her as his ... she was a means to his power, nothing more and he could not remember the exact time where the small, frightened child who was by blood his grand child had ceased to exist and in its stead the Emperor's Hand, one of his Hands, had come.

"After you have reviewed all data on this cube, I want you to give me an evaluation on how to handle this situation," Palpatine demanded and Mara Jade perused the data, quickly skimming over the words. When she saw the first holos, something inside her did a slow turn but she dismissed it with being pre-mission jitters. She could almost not believe the information stated in the data cube. Atrocity upon atrocity had been committed, innocents had been maimed, killed and abused all in the name of one man.

It took her a while till she reached the end of the file, but she had no doubt in her mind and heart that Luke Skywalker, commander of the Rebel Alliance, had to die.

"I want you to acquaint yourself with all the data, then you will find this man and kill him."

"Yes, my lord," Jade whispered, a shiver of cold anticipation running down her spine.

"KILL LUKE SKYWALKER!" the voice of the Emperor boomed inside her head as the scene changed. Whisperings, just beyond her range of hearing could be heard, a strong pull, something dark, evil and lethal just at the perimeter of her vision.

"Kill him," the voices seemed to say, but strangely enough the timbre of the voice had changed, this one was smoother than the one of the Emperor. It was softer and unknown to her.

"Kill him, Mara Jade and dominate the galaxy with me ..." the voices seemed to chant and Mara shuddered. Cold, it was so cold ... and the booming inside her head increased, making her nauseous.


"NO!" She seemed to struggle against invisible hands.

"Jade, you will dominate the galaxy with me, we will bring true meaning to the Jedi!"

"NO!" All Mara could do was trying to block out the voices, chanting and leaving a buzzing inside her head but the more she tried to block it out the more she felt its dark brooding presence.

"Mara," another voice, softer, rooted in the light side whispered.

"No, leave me alone, I will not have another master .... I'll die first before I will be enslaved again!"

"Shhhhhh, Mara, you are having a nightmare," the soothing voice coaxed. "He cannot reach you anymore, he is dead."

Jade struggled, her consciousness still deeply rooted in her nightmare, but somehow somewhere inside her, she tried to wake up, willing herself to follow the one voice now.

Gulping air into her lungs as if she just surfaced from troubling waters, Mara Jade reared up on her sleeping pallet, straight into the arms of the Jedi Master.

"Sssshhh, it's over Mara, it was just a bad dream," Luke's voice was a mere whisper, soft and raw at the same time, but to the young woman it was almost a caress. His words seemed to slide over her, into her, soothing, calming.

Skywalker had woken up earlier, troubled by strange confusing images. It wasn't a nightmare in the usual sense, only glimpses of scenes but when he had felt the dark side presence, his mind had woken him up, already alert. Seeing Mara Jade writhing underneath her cloak, listening to her soft, tearful whimpers, he had immediately scrambled up to her side.

Now her arms were clasped around his neck, her face burrowed into his shoulder and for a short, swift moment the woman in his arms did not resemble the hardened killer, but a frightened young girl. Something pulled at Luke deep inside of him, a flash of recognition shot through him but before he could grasp the memory it was gone just as sudden as it had come.

"Ssssshhh, it's alright, Mara, you are safe," Luke whispered again and awkwardly stroked her tangled hair as well as her shivering shoulders. With soothing, long strokes his hands moved over her small back, his fingers soothing as they moved over her sleep warm body.

Mara still shivered, but not so much from the nightmare that had haunted her, but from the strong arms that held her close to a solid, and she had to admit, well-sculptured chest. Her deeply ingrained training wanted her to move back, out of his arms, but the frightened part of her, the part that the Emperor had never been able to reach and extinguish completely, held fast to the Jedi. After a while, they moved, and as if he had done it for years, Luke eased her down on her sleeping pallet again, with him lying on his side to face her. His hands still roamed over her face and shoulders, soothing her as much as it calmed him. The images he had picked up from her had disturbed him too, especially the booming voice that had left his head buzzing and with a headache.

"Want to talk about it?" Luke asked after a while, and Mara who had been staring at him weary eyed, closed her eyes. For a moment, the silence stretched between them and Luke contemplated of going back to his own sleep pallet, when Mara's arms slipped off his shoulders. Slowly he disentangled himself from her and, sitting up, looked down into her face surprised when she took his hands.

"Thank you," she whispered, and drawing in a shuddering breath, she continued, "I .. I'm sorry but I'd rather not talk about what happened…"

Luke nodded, trying to hide the stab of rejection that ran through him. Even after so many years, so many missions, she did not trust him. Perhaps she would never trust him, he thought despondently.

"You are welcome, Jade," he said gruffly, and tried to pry his hands off her, but Mara kept his strong hands in her equally strong but delicate hands as she sat up again.

"I'll show you," Jade whispered, licking her lips nervously. She had never offered this before, and the few times that the Emperor had shared the Force with her, it had been painful and had left her frightened and scared. She hoped that it was different with Skywalker.

Luke stared at her for a long standard minute or two before his brain grasped the meaning of her words. She wanted to show him through the Force? She wanted to share with him … With effort he exhaled and captured her gaze with his own.

"Are you sure, Jade? I know how uncomfortable you are with the Force .. I .. I don't want to…" he broke off and heaved a heavy sigh. "I don't want .. don't want to remind you of the Emperor," it came out in a rush and Mara had to smile despite herself.

How could I have ever thought he was like the Emperor? she thought and then whispered, "Yes, Luke, I'm sure."

Luke nodded solemnly. Breathing in deeply he tried to create an image of Mara in his mind's eye, just like he did with Leia every time he wanted to contact her when he was on Coruscant. But before his mind could have conjured up any thought of Mara, he already felt her. Through the Force he could feel her like a bright light, brighter, stronger than his sister. It pulsated, dimmed then flashed again as if Mara was not sure how to keep control on her Force presence. And even though Luke could feel that her presence, her Force sense, was still raw and unshaped, he had no doubt that Mara was an equal to him in the Force.

*Steady, Mara,* he sent her through the Force and saw her Force sense not only dimming in the Force but she also flinched away physically in front of his eyes.

"I'm sorry, Jade," he said loudly, trying to think of a way to make this easier for her.

"It's alright, Skywalker, just .. give me a second," Mara replied, and bit her lower lip. It was unnerving, it was frightening, and the first reaction she had was to flee, but with steadying breaths she calmed herself. This is Skywalker, she tried to assure herself. He isn't the Emperor.

*I'm ready,* she sent him and caught the small, proud smile on Skywalker's face. Taking another steadying breath, Mara opened up her mind more and even though she flinched when she felt Skywalker's Force sense, it mingled easily with her own. Gripping his hands hard, she let him in, even if it made her uneasy.

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