Chapter Four - Body Snatcher

Yavin orbit - three and a half years after Mount Tantiss

Luke grinned when he saw the repulsors of the Jade's Fire preparing to land and as soon as the sleek craft had settled on the landing pad, he left Callista's side and rushed forward.

He felt excited. It had been far too long that he had seen Mara, since the events on the Eye. He had been badly beaten up and when he had come out of the healing trance, he had learned that Mara had already left. It had hurt at that time, not too sure why he had felt so strongly about Mara when he had met and taken Callista from the Eye.

But he genuinely looked forward to seeing her. He had missed their little banter, especially their mind ribbing and their bond .... Ah, their bond, he thought. It still did not sit well with him that he had no such bond with the woman he loved, but he was glad that even for a little time he could thrive on the bond with Mara.

Mara Jade walked down the ramp and squinted in the glaring sun. She had spotted the body snatcher and Skywalker and for a moment a wave of regret washed over her.

"Mara," Luke waved and came up to her. "Glad you could make it."

The woman smirked at the evident excitement and joy that was reverberating from the Jedi through the Force.

"Yeah, well, the twins contacted me three times in the last forty eight standard hours to remind me. You cannot resist Force strong children."

"Yes, Jaina and Jacen asked about their Aunt Mara twice today," Luke ribbed her and smiled when he felt Mara's mental groan at the title.

"They are waiting. Come on," Luke urged her and looked around for her trademark black carryall. All he could spot where three nicely wrapped up presents, obviously for the twins and Anakin. "Where is your gear?"

"It's still on the Fire, I'll get it later." Mara replied and shrugged. They walked side by side towards the woman waiting for them. Mara watched Callista and even though the woman in front of her could not touch the Force, Mara was certain to feel her emotions as they were tinged with jealousy, fear of loss.

Or are they my own? Mara queried herself silently. Perhaps she herself felt jealous though she did not know where that should be coming from.

"Welcome to Yavin, Master Trader Jade," Callista greeted Mara and extended her hand. Jade, not too comfortable with touching even her closest friends at the best of times, ignored the hand of greeting and nodded.

"Callista," Jade said and shot the woman in front of her a scrutinizing look. She had known Cray Mingla only for a short time but to see her now, gave her a start. Outwardly, she looked like Mingla but there was something about the woman - the essence of what had been Cray was missing, and Mara wasn't too sure she liked what she felt.

Luke felt the troubled emotions coming from Mara and he frowned slightly. There was a mixture of suspicion and care about her but without probing deeper, he could not discern which.

They walked towards the temple, an icy silence between his lover and his best friend and for the first time since he had embraced the idea of celebrating the twins' birthdays with all of his family and friends, he was not too sure if this idea was so brilliant.

I have to watch Mara, I don't want to unleash whatever is bugging her on Callista, the Jedi reminded himself as they proceeded into the quarters of the fledgling Jedi Academy.

Mara looked around the small guest room that Callista had shown her to, after Skywalker had been called away.

Small but it will suffice, Mara thought to herself as she dropped the presents onto the small bunk bed. More comfortable than the Fire.

"I guess you are used to more lavish and comfortable quarters, Captain Jade," Callista's melodious voice came clearly from the open door. "But the Jedi Master works hard to make the Academy a success."

Mara flinched at how reverent she spoke of Skywalker.

"The Jedi Master?" Mara asked and turned towards the woman. "I thought you and Farmboy were close. Isn't it strange that you refer to him as the Jedi Master instead of something more intimate like Luke?"

Callista twisted her hands into the soft folds of her dress under the scrutinizing look of Mara Jade.

"Well, yes, of course I call him Luke when we are alone, but he is also the Jedi Master, and he should be met with respect," the blonde woman's voice trailed away when she heard the snort coming from the red head.

"The only respect, Skywalker is likely to get from me is when he goes out on some fool-hardy mission and comes back unscathed ... then ... and only then he will gain my respect," Mara said and watched as the woman opposite her regained some of her composure.

"Why are you here?" Callista blurted out and Mara was sure, if Callista could have touched the Force, she would have felt her rising agitation. "I mean you don't even seem to like Luke, why do you visit here?"

"Jacen and Jaina's birthday, remember?" Mara asked and unbuttoned her jacket, without bothering to take it off completely.

"Oh," Callista watched the woman while biting her lips.

"Is there anything else? I really would like to meet the Solo terrors now," Mara said but Callista did not budge and was effectively blocking the doorway.

"So you do not refute to not liking the Jedi Master?"

Mara stopped dead in her tracks. What kind of a question is that ? Mara asked herself.

"I don't understand what you are saying, Callista..."

"I mean you claimed to kill the Jedi Master for a long time ... and you do not seem to have any good wishes for him, so I wonder how those rumours about you and my Jedi Master would come about? It is said that you and my ... the Jedi Master were thought to be an item..."

Jade tried to suppress the sudden rush of anger that surged through her. Is that what people see when they talk about me and Skywalker? An item?

"I don't know what you are talking about, Callista, and what you and your Jedi Master are up to is none of my business. If you want to know if Skywalker and I had ever had any intimate relationship then ask straight out ... if you can face the truth!"

"So it is true then?" Callista gasped, her grey eyes huge in her small round face. "You love the Jedi Master ..."

"What?" Mara had expected anything but this. "Listen Callista, I don't know where you got this idea from but I can assure you that Farmboy and I had never any nor will there be any romantic entanglement. If it were, then be rest assured you wouldn't be standing here and we wouldn't have this conversation. Just thinking about it ..." Mara paused and shook her head. "...that's ridiculous. And now if you'll excuse me, I want to see Jaina and Jacen ..." Mara brushed past Callista.

The woman slumped against the doorjamb and closed her eyes briefly. She had expected this conversation to turn out worse. Especially since she had thought that Mara Jade might be leaving if she just had asked one too many questions. For the last three days since Luke had learned about Mara's coming it had been Mara this and Mara that.

Callista had been curious and for the last day or two she had grown suspicious of the red head she remembered to have met only briefly after the Eye. With the coming of Han Solo and his family, her doubts had increased. Solo had shown openly how much he respected Mara, perhaps even admired her in more than an innocent sense.

The Ex-Jedi had to admit that Mara Jade's looks suggested some open sensuality, the way she wore all that glorious hair carelessly in a braid, red-gold hair that set off perfect skin and green eyes, as deep and brilliant as some of the most precious gems from Coruscant, she certainly was a beauty.

Callista sighed and returned to where she suspected Luke Skywalker to be. She was determined to make Skywalker into the best Jedi Master in history, so she was adamant to remove Mara Jade and some of his dubious friends.

"Aunt Mara!" Anakin Solo yelled the moment Mara Jade entered the big family room where the Solos were waiting for Skywalker.

Mara smirked at the title but nevertheless bent her head and graced the small child who was about four standard years now with a small but genuine smile.

"Hello Anakin," she said and grinned when Jacen and Jaina had come up. "Jacen, Jaina."

"Captain Jade, it is so great you could come," Jacen said and stood in a little military stance in front of Jade. His twin sister didn't have such qualms, and threw her arms around Mara's waist.

"Mommy said that if it is okay with you, you might take me on a spin in the Fire. Please say it is okay, I won't touch anything, promise."

Mara patted the child's head awkwardly. "Sure, if your mother said it was okay, it's okay with me," Mara said and met Han's laughing eyes over the head of his daughter.

"She got you there, Jade," he said and came over. "Glad you could make it."

"It is good to see those Jedi kids of yours, Solo," Mara grinned and nodded towards Leia who had joined her husband and children. "Senator."

"Jade," Leia hid her smile while she bent down to pick up Anakin. Senator Organa-Solo had been wary of the ex-smuggler but she had grown to like the bristly woman, especially since she had seen how gentle she was around her children, and her twins and Anakin adored her.

"Auntie Mara," Anakin yelled and held up his arms out to Mara. Leia, who thought it was hilarious when she saw Mara's sour expression, dumped her youngest son into the arms of the unsuspecting woman.

Snuggling into the arms of Jade, Anakin rested his forehead against Mara's temple. "It is good you feel normal," Anakin whispered and heaved a big sigh for one so little.

"What do you mean, Anakin?" Mara asked and met the blue eyes of the child.

"That yellow haired woman ... she ... I can't feel her at all. It frightens me," Anakin whispered and slung his chubby arms around Mara's neck. "Jacen and Jaina too though they won't admit it."

Mara could feel the inexperienced probe coming from the child and for once she did not raise her barriers against a Skywalker, but sent reassuring thoughts towards the little boy.

"Some people cannot use the Force like you and your brother and sister do, Anakin," Mara said gently, her voice husky as it was not accustomed to the soft tones. "Your dad is not a Force user, remember?"

"But I can feel him, with this yellow haired woman ..." the little boy shrugged and hid his face in the crook of her neck. She answered the soft probe with a mental caress of her own, making the young boy smile and eliciting a new hug from him. Mara was too shell-shocked as to show her usual bristly demeanor and hugged the child back.

"Her name's Callista," Mara chided softly and Anakin nodded.

"Callista is just not there ... and it is dark and cold ... nothing. Dad is warm and safe. Just like mom. You are safe, even if I can't feel much .. but then again I can't feel much from Uncle Luke as well. Is it because you are Jedi and have to reign in your Force sense?"

"Anakin, I'm not a Jedi," Mara said, despite the familiar feeling of the lightsaber handle that was dangling from her belt and pressing against her side.

Green eyes met blue and for a moment Mara was reminded of a younger version of Luke Skywalker.

"You are Jedi," Anakin whispered and chuckled. "I can feel it."

Mara stared at the young boy in her arms and the fear of old crept back to the surface of her consciousness, which she tried to suppress.

"I'm not Jedi, Anakin," she whispered softly but bright blue eyes looked seriously at her.

"Uncle Luke is right, you are too stubborn for your own good," the little boy chuckled and hid his face behind chubby hands. "But don't tell Uncle Luke I said that. I don't think he knows I can sometimes read his thoughts."

"You do what?" Mara inquired mock sternly and had to hide her grin.

Anakin had the grace to look down at his hands, a few unruly bangs falling into his eyes, it seemed he was almost the spitting image of his uncle.

"Sometimes I can feel what people think," he admitted in a low voice. "But I don't want to ... It is only with people I like and am close to."

Just like his uncle, Mara thought, carefully hiding her thoughts.

"Well it is very rude to listen in on other people's thought, Anakin, remember that," Mara chided softly and was rewarded with a brilliant smile of the youngest Solo, displaying the charm he had inherited from his father.

Leia had watched the exchange of her youngest child with the Trader and she was amazed that Anakin had taken such a close bond to the woman. The child was usually quite reserved but he had taken a liking to Mara immediately. Thinking back, she remembered a scene from four years back, when she had been on Wayland and the mad clone of C'baoth had threatened her and her unborn child. Mara had saved her and Anakin's life, perhaps the child knew that.

"What are you thinking about, my love?" Han Solo slung an arm around his wife's slender waist and watched their children fawning over Mara.

"I just thought how much attuned Mara and Anakin seem to be. It is as if Anakin knows he has Mara to thank for being alive ..." Leia's whispered voice trailed away and she closed her eyes against the unexpected pain that washed over her.

"Shhhhhh," Han made and hugged her close. "We have a lot to be thankful for."

"Yes, we have," Leia replied.

It was at this moment that Luke entered, his brown Jedi robe swirling around him as he got down on his knees to embrace Jacen and Jaina.

"Hey, guys," he said after standing up and keeping both twins safe in his arms. He grinned when he saw Mara having Anakin in her arms.

"Why Mara, never knew you can look so maternal," he teased her and chuckled when he heard her snort.

"Skywalker, watch it, I don't want to maim you in front of the kids," Mara growled. Anakin hugged her closer, almost choking her, then turned to the Jedi Master.

"Auntie Mara will have children one day, Uncle Luke, and they will be related to us," he said sternly and both adults gaped at him. Jacen and Jaina chuckled then teased their little brother.

"So Anakin when is the marriage due?"

"Kids stop it," Han barged in and took Anakin away from Mara as well as hooked Jacen beneath his arm. Both boys squealed, the revelation and teasing quite forgotten when their father tickled them both.

"Kids," Han grinned good-naturedly and winked.

Mara was still shaken and Luke, who had put Jaina down on the ground so she could join the fun of her two brothers and their father, stepped closer to Mara.

"You know children just babble, Mara ... and the future ..."

"Is always in motion, yeah Skywalker, I know that," Mara cut him off. Unconsciously, she wiped her hands at her thighs, trying to get rid of the sweat that had gathered there. "Well Skywalker, if what Anakin said is true, we might be related some day ... so will that make me your Niece Mara one day?"

Luke flashed her a grin, shaking his head, and he opened his mouth for a retort when a slender arm encircled his waist and drew him away from Mara.

"What is my Jedi Master up to?" Callista asked, pressing herself full length at the side of Skywalker.

Mara smirked when she heard the title and quirked an eyebrow at Luke.

"Callista," Skywalker swallowed and tried to disentangle himself from the woman but did not quite succeed. An irrational surge of annoyance swept through him that Callista had disturbed the comfortable banter between himself and Mara Jade.

*My Jedi Master?* Mara inquired and sent Luke a mental ribbing. *I now know why I will never come here to train, because you'll never be hearing that from me.*

*Mara ...* Skywalker sent her warningly, but Mara just laughed out loud.

"Forget it, Farmboy," she said off-handedly and walked over to where Leia and Han were witnessing the whole scene.

Dinner was a strange affair and all but Luke and Callista seemed to think so. The former Jedi was fawning all over Skywalker while she was endlessly chatting about the changes they wanted to make on Yavin.

Mara listened to all of this with a raised eyebrow because some concepts where definitely not to Luke's liking, so much she picked up through their bond. When she tried to inquire silently, Luke almost rebuked her, his barriers so tightly up that she gasped, drawing blank stares from the other's around the table.

Excusing herself after the dinner, Mara made her way out of the temple slowly. Behind her lay a tiring trade run and she needed to get away from the glowering looks the former Jedi shot her way now and then. She had settled herself on one of the huge terraced sidewalls of the temple when she felt three inquisitive Force senses seeking her out.

"Aunt Mara?" Jaina Solo's voice was loud in the dusk of the Yavin day and Mara uncloaked her presence enough for the three Solo children to look up and after spotting her, scrambling up the few meters onto the wall.

"Can we take a ride in the Fire?" Jaina asked breathlessly, after she had seated herself on the step beneath Mara's.

"Have you asked your mother?" Mara shot back, knowing that Leia had her objections.

"She said it was okay, she knows you won't let anything happen to us," Jacen piped in, his brown eyes huge in his small face.

"Well, tomorrow then, we will take the Fire for a short spin."

The children whooped in pleasure, but their cheers died soon, giving way to a sentiment of gloom.

"I don't like her," Anakin said and ducked his head under Mara's arm and hugged her close.

"Don't say that, Anakin," Mara chided softly, trying to get over her momentary panic. She shifted uncomfortably, but then squeezed the young boy's shoulder quickly.

"But Ani is right, she gives me the creeps," Jacen piped in. "I don't know why but she is like a huge void, nothing. I don't know what Uncle Luke sees in her ..."

For a moment Mara stared at the young boy then shook her head.

"You should give her a chance, Jacen, after all she will be your real Aunt soon..." Mara said and was surprised to feel a twinge of sadness welling up inside.

Falling silent again, they stared into the falling dusk until someone came up the steps. Mara was surprised to see Leia, as she sat down and pulled Jaina into her lap.

"Your daddy is looking all over the place," she said to no one in particular but it was clear she wanted the children inside. With a sigh and some softly spoken requests to stay up a bit longer, she sent her children firmly to bed, promising them that tomorrow they could all go on a ride with the Fire, if they would behave.

Both women were silent after the children had said good night to Mara, and the trader was starting to get restless.

"You know, I never told you this, but I want to thank you for what you did back on Wayland," Leia said softly, so Mara had to strain her ears.

"You needed help, I was there," Mara shrugged her shoulders and stretched out her legs while she propped herself up on her elbows on the step behind her.

Leia fumbled with the hem of her sleeves, but she should have known that thanking Mara Jade was not an easy feat.

"Well yes, but you took the full blow of that Force lightning..." Leia commented, shuddering at the thought.

"If I hadn't we wouldn't be having this conversation, Leia," Mara replied harshly but stopped and sat up. "I know what Force lightning can do to your body, I didn't want you to get hurt, okay?"

"Okay," Leia admonished and turned to watch the woman beside her. "Thank you, Mara."

Mara shrugged and grinned. "Another good deed to redeem myself for the NRI." With that she got up and sauntering down the terraced stones, she left a confused Princess behind.

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