Chapter Eleven - Incendiary

The extensive use of the Force had weakened Mara to no end, but the last exchange between her and Luke left her with a soft glowing, warm feeling deep inside. Some of the pain in her legs and lower abdomen had left and for a moment, Mara drew inside herself and caressed the small glimmer of the Force that radiated from deep within her womb.

Stretching experimentally, she slipped off the medical bunk and searched the room for a possible weapon. But as much as she searched, she had to realise that someone had the piece of mind to remove all the things that she could have used as a possible weapon, she did not find anything.

Cautiously, she moved over to the door but found it locked. Brushing over the controls, Mara reached out with the Force and for the umpteenth time she silently taunted Tovar for being so careless as to forget to place Ysalamiri around her.

Sweat beads built on her forehead as she concentrated, feeling her way through to the controls behind the deck plate and finding the opening device. With a soft whooshing sound the door slid open and Mara, gasping, slumped against the wall.

Luke moved relentlessly forward, Wedge and Talon by his side, their blasters drawn. At first, Luke had only deflected any incoming shots with his lightsaber, but after a while, when the aggression they had met had culminated, he had drawn his blaster as well. Aves had come up with special com links that kept their hands free and while Luke had trouble adjusting the headpieces, his friend Wedge had taken it in stride. Hiding behind durasteel boards, Antilles switched on his com link to check in on the others.

"Hey, Solo, you there?" Antilles grinned when he heard Han's gruff reply and both the Jedi Master and the general had to chuckle.

"Don't startle me like that, Antilles," Han's voice wavered through their headpieces. "We have encountered slight resistance, but other than that, we came up with zilch. We found the detention cell though. Nasty piece."

"Did Horn pick anything up?" Luke asked knowing that Corran was with Han and Chewie while Leia was accompanying Shada and Aves.

"Nope, only that Mara was still alive when she stayed there."

"Understood," was the clipped reply and the Jedi and the General moved on. Ever since the friends had entered the secret part of the base, Luke's mind raced. Immediately, the klaxons had alerted the pirates and Tovar and he desperately hoped that Mara was still alive and well somewhere.

"We will find her," Wedge's voice was near his ear as both men crouched behind a bend of the corridor.

Luke nodded in reply and looked over his shoulder. His friend was giving him an assuring smile. Ever since he had told him and the others that Mara was pregnant, they had hovered over him as if they were afraid that he would do something stupid.

Like turning to the dark side if I don't find Mara, Luke told himself silently and even though his soul was deeply emerged in the light side of the Force, he knew that a blow like this, not only losing the woman he loved but also their child would easily turn him to the dark side, either consciously or unconsciously.

Luke leant forward and searched the corridors beyond the bend with the Force. Nothing, he thought and for a moment he squeezed his eyes shut. All of a sudden he felt a flicker, a soft mingling with his Force sense and his eyes opened in surprise.

"Mara!" he exclaimed and Wedge, who had been hunkering behind the Jedi Master, jerked involuntarily.

"Have you found her?" the general asked.

Skywalker nodded. "Three corridors from here, two levels down. She is in pain."

"Then let's go and get her," Antilles said and after he had given Mara's position to the rest of the rescuers, he and Luke hurriedly made their way down.

Tovar watched the frightened woman in front of him. He had never thought he would detect fear in Mara Jade's eyes, but if he was correct, the uneasy flicker in her emerald eyes was just that - Mara Jade, Ex-Emperor's Hand felt fear.

"Going somewhere, my dear?" Tovar asked and stepped further into the room.

"If you don't mind, I'm leaving, Tovar," Mara croaked out and tried to straighten up but the pain in her stomach and lower regions increased. Suppressing a groan, Jade clutched her abdomen and slumped against the wall. "Please, by the stars, let me go!"

Mara Jade felt hands lifting her up and through her haze she immediately felt that those hands did not support her but continued roaming over her body. Drawing the Force around her, she straightened herself, dulling the pain as she fed on the Force.

"I can't let you go, Mara, you know that. I want you to be my wife, the mother of my children. You have a fire in you that will incite the whole galaxy. Our children will have my cleverness and your Jedi abilities. We will create the biggest smuggling organisation this site of the galaxy..." Tovar breathed into her ear as his hands travelled down her arms and over her hips, up over her breasts.

Bile rose in Jade's throat but she bravely swallowed it and squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, she tried to ignore those hands. Tovar grunted above her as his actions grew bolder and Mara was too sore and hurting to ward him off.

Tovar grinned when he noticed the quiet submission of his prisoner and lowered his head to her neck, biting the tender flesh, sucking on it while his hands gripped her breasts painfully hard.

Through the fog of pain, Mara heard fabric tearing and she realised that if she did not act immediately, Tovar would get what he wanted and with a last effort, she drew more Force around and into herself. Then her whole body burst into activity.

Shoving him away she tried to reach the door, but her head was yanked painfully as Tovar got hold of her braid. With a groan Jade found herself lying prostrate on the floor, dazed momentarily as the back of her head had connected painfully with the cold steelplates.

"No!" she cried out when she felt Tovar's weight on her body, and with a last surge of energy she rolled away from him, jumping to her feet shakily.

I'm Mara Jade, Emperor's Hand! she urged herself. And no one takes the Hand against her will! With a sharp jab of her arm she twisted Tovar's arm around his neck and away from him.

"If you ever touch me again, Tovar, you'll pay for it. Now MOVE!" Mara shoved the taller man in front of her, trying to keep her grip on him. But for a slight moment she let her concentration slip when another wave of nausea and dizziness overcame her and Tovar, sensing her slip, regained the upper hand again.

"Now, now, Mara, is this a way to treat your future husband?" he asked and grinned before raising his hand and his fist came crashing down into her face. Mara had expected the blow but nevertheless her head jerked back and she stumbled. She tried to keep her vision clear, but the red haze was almost too overwhelming. Readying herself into a fighting stance she attacked, only to be slammed into the jamb of the door.

"You want it rough, Jade, you can have rough. I bet Skywalker never saw that side of yours!" Tovar growled and dragged her out of the room and down the corridor.

Keeping a tight grip on his unwilling woman, Tovar pulled her along the hallway, stopping only when reaching the intersection in front of his private quarters and seeing a Jedi Master quickly advancing towards him.

Mara groaned when she was jerked to a halt and when she looked up through the red haze of pain that clouded her mind, all she could see was Skywalker, clad in black, lightsaber ignited at the ready.

"Luke ..." she managed to croak out only to be yanked back by her hair.

"You better keep quiet, Jade," Tovar hissed. "Do you think I went to such length to get my hands on you just to hand you over to the Jedi? You escaped me twice, but not a third time."

"What do you mean twice?" Mara asked breathlessly.

"On Coruscant and on Techim ... but you escaped twice."

Mara's mind reeled. Techim? she thought. On Techim I retrieved the Jedi artefacts when I .... It all came crashing down on her then. The time when she had tried to sever the bond with Luke when she was using the Ysalamiri essence. She had come back to Coruscant badly injured and she had almost lost her arm.

"You son of a stinking witch!" Mara growled and tried to yank free from his grasp but she only managed to cause Tovar to lose a small blaster, her blaster.

Digging the handle of the un-ignited Tal-tch'iym blade painfully into her ribs, Tovar straightened and turned towards the advancing Jedi Master. "Looking for someone in particular, Jedi Master?" he snarled and held Mara in a chokehold, effectively shielding his body with her own.

"Let go of her, Tovar," Luke answered calmly. Ever since he had encountered the couple, a sense of calm had come over him. He could feel the Force sizzling like a living being in and around him and when he was only a few feet away, he stopped.

Far behind Mara and Tovar he saw Leia and Shada advancing on them so Luke sent his sister a warning. This was between Tovar and himself.

"And why should I do that, Skywalker?" Tovar replied, hugging Mara closer to himself. "She doesn't want to come with you, Jedi, she stays with me!"

Never leaving his eyes from Mara's face, Luke shook his head and slowly lowered his gloved hand with the saber. With a sizzle the blade of light died out and Luke relaxed into a more non-menacing stance.

"I'd rather hear that from Mara," Skywalker said confidently. "In fact you can't have her, she's mine, Tovar, thanks to you."

Tovar narrowed his eyes, and sneered at Luke.

"Not likely. She's all mine ... likes her men rough and ready, does this one ... very rough." As he spoke, Tovar dug the butt of his weapon harder into Mara's ribs, causing her to feel more nauseous by the minute.

Luke watched the man, seemingly not bothered by his bluster or his actions. This only served to drive Tovar further into his edgy anger.

"What? Not one of your smart retorts, Jedi?" Tovar snapped and laughed loudly. "Well, Jedi, go out of the way, she's my woman and she stays mine!"

"I don't think so," Luke said calmly and his lightsaber ignited with the customary snap-hiss.

"You are stupid, Jedi Master," Tovar grinned and moved Mara to his side while he ignited the Tal-tch'iym blade.

Both men advanced slowly, but Mara knew Luke did not stand a chance against the blade. She had barely avoided the thing when Tovar had sparred with her all those months back and although the immediate threat of the Ysalamiri was removed, she felt too weak to help him through the intricate moves to avoid the twisting Tal-tch'iym blade.

Tearing her eyes off Luke, she inched closer to Tovar, flexing her muscles in her hands as she drew on the Force. Luke, who had still his eyes trained on her felt her determination through their Force bond. Before he was able to stop her, he watched in horror as Mara gripped Tovar's arm that was holding the blade and twisted him around.

"Mara! NO!" Luke Skywalker forced himself into a run but it was too late. Helplessly, he watched as the vicious blade twisted and turned at the uncoordinated struggle both opponents had engaged in.

Mara's determination to stop Tovar gave her more strength and temporarily forgetting her pain she wrenched the blade out of the man's grip but not before its blade of light connected painfully with her midsection. Swallowing the cry of pain that rose almost unstoppable in her throat, she stumbled backwards, never realising that she could soften her fall.

Mara Jade stared into the nuzzle of the blaster after her fall and despite her cramping stomach and lower abdomen she reached out with the Force to protect her child. Instantly, she became aware that something was wrong and when her mind got past the rush of adrenaline that had been released into her system she knew that the wound from the blade had hurt her and the child, very badly.

She shook her head and pulled herself into a more upright position. When she pushed herself into a half crouch, her fingers touched cold metal, and closing around the form she realised that it was her pocket blaster that Tovar had lost earlier.

Willing her fingers to close on the small weapon, Jade ignored the increasing pain in her gut region and readied herself to attack. Slowly, she raised the small blaster and aimed it point blank on Tovar's chest.

"You had better run, Tovar," Mara bit out but the insanity in the man's eyes told her that all words were lost on him. When he tried to make another move on her, she just pulled the trigger and the world exploded around her.

Forcing great mouthfuls into his lungs, Luke had crossed the distance between himself and Mara in record time. Crouching down beside the slumped form of his lover, he tried to assess the damage she had taken from Tovar's attack. Ever since he had seen the blaster fire of both Mara's blaster and Han's who had been rushing into the corridor from the far side, he had feared the worst.

Mara's face was deathly pale and she was haemorrhaging badly. Blood, dark and sticky, was pooling and already coagulating beneath her. Luke's gore slicked hands slipped over her body as he grasped her into his arms.

"Mara ...," he whispered. "Mara, don't leave me!"

"Luke," her voice was but a whisper. "I'm so cold ..."

"Hush, my love, don't speak," Skywalker answered as he cradled her into his arms, heartbeat against heartbeat.

When Luke sent out a tendril of the Force towards her, he could feel almost physically how weak she was and how quickly life was fading away from her.

He felt two other Force presences nearby and when he looked up he saw the concerned faces of his sister and Corran Horn who had reached the couple and were now squatting beside him.

"Luke," Leia said softly and touched his shoulder. "We need to get her to a med center."

*She won't make it to a med center, Leia,* he sent her and broke the connection when he felt Mara reaching out to him. Focusing his Force sense solely on her, he opened up to her weak touch, giving her as much strength as possible.

Corran had guessed more than he had sense Luke's doing so he stood up and placed his hands on Leia's shoulders.

"He knows what's best to do, Your Highness. Let's clear this mess a bit and call Cilghal." Horn said gruffly and managed to draw Leia to her feet. When the others arrived, staring expressionlessly at Luke and Mara, he ushered them away.

Mara had opened her eyes as soon as she had felt Luke's arms around her and now staring up into the intense blue, she felt strangely light-headed. She could feel him opening up to her and she basked in his warm Force presence, even as she realised that her own was quickly diminishing.

*I never told you ...* her voice was soft and almost inaudible in Luke's mind.

*Never told me what, Mara?* Luke sent her and caressed her cheek with a bloodied hand.

*I ... love you, ... you stubborn ... Jedi,* Mara drew in a painful deep breath, her complete body heaving and shaking in his arms.

"No, Mara, stay with me ... I love you too!" Luke blurted out and cradled her even closer than humanly possible. "I need you, Mara, I can't just lose you now that we both know what we mean to each other."

The young woman smiled at that and with effort she raised one hand slowly and first stroked his brow and then his cheek and slowly travelling down to his lips, just like she had done in the vision Luke had experienced only days ago.

"I'll never leave you, Luke ... I'll be with you .... always," another painful shiver wrecked her body. "I'm so ... cold ..." she whispered, her bloodless, deadly white lips trembling.

The Jedi Master knew he had to react, he had to do something before life completely had left Mara. Hugging, her to himself, he groped his mind for a way to stop the bleeding. At his first quick check, when Mara had reached out for him had told him clearly what kind of bleeding she had. He knew that saving the life they had created together was impossible but he had to save Mara.

And there was only one option.

She'll grill me if she finds out, Luke thought, carefully shielding these thoughts from her. She never trusted me enough to let me enter her mind guarded, let alone unguarded. But I have no choice ... I cannot, must not, loose her!

Sighing, he gently cupped her face, forcing her to look into his face.

"I want you to do something for me, Mara, and it is important, okay?"

He felt her nodding her head and for a moment his resolve faltered. "I will put you into a hibernation trance. I dare not put you into a healing trance, because it takes up too much of your own Force strength as well. You have to trust me, Mara, I will heal you but you have to let me in..."

Mara's mind was revolted by what Luke was suggesting. Should I really let Luke get into my head without me there to keep him at bay? But deep down inside her she knew that it was vital to let him just do that and so, after a moment's consideration, she nodded her consent.

"I trust ... you," Mara whispered almost inaudibly, but meaning every word of it. With great effort she raised her head and put her lips against his, then with a sigh she closed her eyes.

"I love you, Luke," she whispered again softly.

"NO!" Luke's voice was pain-filled as her head rolled back and her body went limp in his arms.

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