Chapter Three - Disarming Friendship

Mara gasped. The intrusion was almost complete, weaker than it had ever been with the Emperor but somehow more intimate and tentative than she had ever experienced. Where the Emperor had demanded and taken, Skywalker asked and waited, but the bond was strong. She could feel him, he was part of her; his soothing presence calmed and aroused her at the same time. She felt powerful and yet weakened and one emotion was very dominant in her. Skywalker would never hurt her, not when their bond was so instantaneous, strong and so frighteningly right.

A cold shiver she could not suppress ran down her spine, something whispered softly at the edge of her perception, something she was not ready for, perhaps never would be. Breathing in deeply, Mara focused her thoughts back to Skywalker, his light in the Force was pulsing with such a vibrancy that it would have blinded her in the real world. Tentatively she guided him towards the memory of the nightmare she had, feeling the apprehension emanating from Skywalker.

A fleeting sensation crossed Luke's mind, even though Mara had shut off her mind and memory to his probing, there was a short instant where he saw a small child, a child he knew. But the moment had come and gone before his own memory had been triggered fully. The images of Mara's nightmare pressed in further and blotted out anything else.

The Jedi did not show any dismay even though the images he saw through Mara's eyes disturbed him deeply. He felt the maliciousness and dark sidedness of the bodiless voice, but he was amazed Mara Jade had resisted and continued to do so even though her mind, albeit guarded, showed panic and fear. Her deep roots in the light side of the Force enthralled him and while they shared the bond in the Force, unknowingly to both of them, the soft tendrils of both their Force senses entwined hesitatingly, never to be completely severed.

It seemed like eternity when they finished the Force sharing and both stared at each other for long moments afterwards when both had their mind to themselves again.

"Mara " Luke's voice was rough and held a trace of admiration, awe and something else in it that made the young woman shiver. Something had happened, this had not been a simple sharing of the Force. A cold shiver ran down her spine. With a shake of her head she tore her gaze from Skywalker.

"We better get some sleep," she returned gruffly and Luke knew he was dismissed. He still felt disturbed by the booming voice of her memory but also by the easy establishment of their Force bond. Never had he felt this way, and for a short instant he had thought it was the same for Mara, but her cold somewhat detached reply had told him nothing. Yet, the yearning deep inside his soul lingered, the bond had not only soothed him but had also shown him that his soul was starving without such a bond. But could Mara Jade be that person to fill in the void?

"Yes, you are right, Jade," he replied just as gruffly and with another long look at the woman, he returned to his own sleeping pallet.

The next morning, their trek continued through the forest and after another day and night they had reached Mount Tantiss while Luke had suspiciously kept his distance to her. Only when they made plans on how to get into the cloning facility, Skywalker acknowledged her presence and every time his eyes met her for a short second before flitting away again, she felt something deep inside her respond. She didn't know what to think of it, but with the mission so close at hand, she tried to blot it out.

The small band of friends together with their furry companions managed to get into the old Imperial cloning facility, even though Mara Jade had a bad feeling about it. A part of her nightmare she had kept away from Skywalker, a vital part that was imminent to the outcome of their mission made her uneasy and a foreboding feeling crept into her bones...

The circular runway about the cloning chamber did not offer a lot of cover for them but on former missions Mara had to do with even less, so she confidently crept along the walk way, using the shadowed spaces as much as possible.

The Force lightning hit Mara full force and for a moment all she could do was submit to the excruciating pain that shot through her entire being. Only for a moment she had let her mind go astray and now she had to pay for it. Going down onto her knees, she gripped the lightsaber more tightly in her hands.

"Mara!" Luke's shout reverberated off the walls of the cloning facility and added to the ringing in her ears. With effort her head jerked up and started almost blindly into the direction the Jedi's cry was coming from but her knees buckled again.

"Mara!" Luke panted as he came to a stop beside her and dragged her off to the right behind a load of crates when Force lightning hit them again. "Are you alright?"

She shook her head, wincing when she felt her mind going dizzy. "I'm okay," she whispered, her hands going to her ears and when they came away, her fingertips were covered in blood.

"You are not okay," Luke said, rasing his own hand to cup her face. "You need ..."

"Nothing!" Mara bit in and came shakily to her feet. "We need to advance, that is the only way!"

They both stared at each other and then after what seemed like eternity, Luke gave a slightly perceptible nod.

Coruscant - former Imperial Garden - several days after the events on Wayland

Han Solo watched the couple who sat at some distance from the small band of ex-smugglers and NR generals that had seated on the soft grass of the Imperial garden. He felt good, calm even after the events on Wayland and it seemed that all had come out unscathed. A few dips in the bacta tank for himself and Jade, as well as Talon and they had all be as good as new.

He had been surprised when the mysterious Mara Jade had stated to join them. Ever since Luke had turned up with Talon Karrde and Mara Jade a couple of years back, telling him they had rescued him, he had wondered how the young Jedi had tried to befriend the young woman who most clearly showed an open hostility towards him.

Shaking his head, Solo turned back to Karrde who had followed his gaze.

"She dropped us right out of hyperspace to get to him," Talon commented, recalling the events three years prior, and stroked his beard thoughtfully. "I would have thought she would have killed him, she must have some good opportunities to dispose of him on Myrkr but when she turned up with him, I was more than surprised."

"Do you think she still has the urge to kill him?" Solo asked. "I mean a genuine urge, we both know that normally people want to throttle Luke often."

Both men chuckled at that and turned their gaze towards the young couple again. It was a tranquil sight. Luke was sitting beside Mara, apparently one hand around her back and their heads were close. They conversed softly, or Luke was talking to her while Mara nodded once in a while. Both had their right arms outstretched and a small stone, not bigger than a man's fist was levitated in front of them.

"Well, she doesn't have it now," Talon commented softly, his eyes brimming with laughter. "In fact if I didn't know she was Mara Jade, my second in command, I'd say she is pretty comfortable in Skywalker's presence."

Han nodded to that. Watching the two in front of him, he had to admit those two looked good together. The ex-smuggler grinned at that.

Yeah they looked damn well together, he told himself silently and shot Talon another amused look. Both men watched the couple who was obviously arguing - again.

Luke was telling Mara something and the young woman frowned, the stone in front of them wavered before gravity took hold of it and it crashed to the ground.

"Oh come on, Mara," Luke's voice could be heard. "I know you can hold on longer than this."

Mara flashed him an annoyed glance out of green depth. "Skywalker, why don't you go and get yourself killed?"

"What so I'd deprive you of that pleasure?" Luke asked in mock shock, and fell back onto his back, when Mara nudged him none too gently into his ribs. Standing up she glared down at the chuckling Jedi.

"I really should kill you, then at least I don't have any nagging voices inside my head anymore!"

"Awww, Mara, you wound me," Luke replied and took her proffered hand gladly as she helped to pull him up.

"As if, Farmboy," Mara said and they shared a grin. In the last three years they had come a long way, ever since she had reached the decision that she could not kill Luke Skywalker, they had become like two planets caught in each other's gravity, pulling close but never colliding. She still felt uncomfortable with the fact that in order to get rid of the last command she had to kill the clone, but then again, she knew that Luuke Skywalker would have killed them all, given the chance.

"The offer still stands, Mara Jade," Luke replied ominously and both looked at each other and knew what he was referring at. Mara nodded slightly before she turned towards the rest of their friends, while Luke watched her stiff back. With a sigh, he rubbed his neck and slumped back to the ground, Indian fashion.

Watching Mara Jade, his mind was transported back to their trek through the forests on Myrkr. That he had been surprised that she did not raise the blaster and shot him on the spot was the understatement of the year. He had thought she would do it, but to both their surprises she had not. Something had changed then, and although they had never been close friends they had been propelling closer and closer and when he had ask her to accompany him to Wayland, he knew she would consent.

For a moment he closed his eyes shut, before opening and immediately latching them onto Jade again. He still didn't know what to make of her.

I just wish she would open up more, he thought, closely shielding his thoughts from her as the bond that had come to pass when they had left Wayland was becoming stronger and stronger.

Even on Myrkr without the Force he had known they were connected but in the last two years it had felt as if they had grown closer and closer, the tendrils of the Force binding them together. Not that he minded. In fact, he thrived on this bond, he had come to depend on it. Perhaps more than he wanted to admit and he knew that he wanted to show Mara that he accepted and cherished the bond, even though she thought of it as an annoyance.

Ever since the throne room on Mt Tantriss, when C'Baoth had challenged him and Mara to destroy him, a thought had continuously nagged in the back of his mind. Mara was powerful in the Force, perhaps equal to him and after Wayland she would be more readily accepting of becoming a Jedi.

Well Skywalker, there is only one way to find out, he thought and slipped away from his friends at the gathered picnic.

He had felt her standing on the roof so his steps brought him up there. Hefting the cylinder in his hand he approached her slowly, marveling at the beauty of her hair as it was set ablaze by the fiery sunset.

She had sensed him, he could tell from the way she shifted minutely from one foot to the other. Her battle stance as he had come to call it. Chuckling silently, he stood beside her, looking like her out onto the vast cityscape.

"I thought you were back at the picnic, stuffing your already empty stomach with more delicacies," Mara commented without turning towards him.

"Naw, Mara, I had enough," Luke chuckled and turned his head to watch her profile. Somewhere deep in his soul he felt a twinge as he watched her. The nose strong yet delicate, perting slightly upwards at its tip, full lush lips that could wound with words as much as they could bring happiness with a smile. Long eyelashes that guarded green depth that only sometimes showed her soul.

"Stop gawking, Skywalker," Mara commented softly and Luke blushed.

"Sorry," he shrugged and tore his gaze away from her profile and back to the tall buildings and towers that lay beneath them.

The silence between them stretched and Mara felt as if Luke was perusing her even without looking at her. Whipping around, she leant against the railing, facing him.

"So, Skywalker, what do you want?" she challenged him and noticed the small blush that flushed the Jedi's face. She watched him silently when he started to fidget around, noticing for the first time the silver handle in his hand. A shiver ran through her when she recognized Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber, the very weapon that had cut off Luke's hand and from which C'Baoth had made Luke's clone.

"Mara..." Luke started and stepped closer to her. "I would like to give you something ... something that means much to me ..."

"Skywalker, don't do this," Mara whispered. "It is your father's saber ..."

"I know, that is why you should carry it ..." he replied and held it up with two hands, presenting it to her. "Mara, you have come a long way, both as the former Emperor's Hand as well as on your path to becoming a Jedi. Please accept this saber until you will built your own when you have become a Jedi Knight yourself."

Mara stared at Skywalker, then at the saber. "I can't ... this is not right," she whispered, then turned her face away.

Luke was certain he could detect a glittering in her eyes that looked suspiciously like tears.

"Mara, it is right. It is the most right thing I have ever done. Please Mara, take it. It is yours," the young Jedi said.

Drawing in a shaky breath, Mara reached out her hand, hesitating to touch the handle. Taking it, she weighed it in her hand, then stepping back, she ignited the blade towards the darkening sky. Luke watched her, grinning to himself when he saw that the blue blade cast her face in an eerie light, making her features even more beautiful than they already were.

"I shouldn't, Luke," Mara said and killed the blade. "I am not a Jedi, nor do I have plans on ever becoming one. It's not right to keep it." She held out the saber towards.

For a short moment, Skywalker felt a pang in his heart. Her words 'I am not a Jedi' tore at him. Trying to get a grip on his emotions, he shook his head and forced a smile on his face.

"I thought you'd never pass up on a good weapon, Jade," he forced out between numb lips. Mara looked up and curved her lips into a small smile.

"You know me too well, Jedi," she replied, then nodded. "I thank you, Luke, I feel honoured to accept this gift."

Luke grinned and made a move forward as if to hug her but she held up a stopping hand.

"Now don't get all mushy on me, Farmboy," Mara demanded with a grin and together they turned towards the cityscape and its glowing lights.

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