Chapter Two

Mara was seething. After she had made her exit, she had hurriedly dressed and thrown her clothes into one of her duffel bags she had stored with Skywalker. Now she was determinedly striding down the corridor, and was berating herself for what she had almost let herself into.

"Damn you, Skywalker. Damn you and your urges," she muttered under her breath, in her mind swearing like a Corellian pirate. "I should have killed you long ago ..." She quickly cut down on that thought and for a second closed her eyes. Sure, as if you haven't tried, Mara Jade. You are a failure! Muttering she resumed her walking and almost ran head-on into the Solos. Her training with the Emperor kept her from yelling in frustration as she noticed Leia and Han and their mildly amused looks.

"Han, Leia," Mara muttered and made room in the corridor to let them pass.

"You are leaving so soon, Mara?" Leia asked, grinning. The muttering of the young woman had been heard from one end of the corridor to the next.

Mara's head snapped up, eyeing both the Senator and her husband closely. "Yes, no ...," she sighed in frustration and shook her head as if to clear it. "I'm staying on the Fire," she added and she knew it sounded pathetic. Damn you Skywalker, you have turned me into a blithering idiot! Mara groaned, unaware she was sending it through the Force.

Leia chuckled. "What did he do this time to get on your bad side, Mara?" she asked, both women well knowing who HE was. Mara's eyes took on a deadly stare.

"Tell HIM," she spat out, "Tell that brother of yours to stay away from me," she fell flat, well aware that she was making a fool of herself on her own accord now.

Han raised an eyebrow. Now what had the kid done this time? he asked himself, his curiosity piqued.

"You sound like a prim Corellian matron, Jade," he chuckled ignoring the death-glare of the smuggler. "You sound as if the kid made a pass at you ..." Seeing the colour draining from her face he stopped. Bantha Bollocks! Han thought, He did??

With a snort Mara squeezed herself between the two of them and almost ran the short distance to the turbolift. Ignoring the stares of two very bewildered people.

"Han?" Leia asked, not sure if she had interpreted the smuggler's reaction correctly.

"Your guess is as good as mine, love," Han said, still staring at the now closed lift doors. "I've never seen Mara this ... this ..." he stopped himself, groping in his mind for a suitable word. Leia nodded.

"Flustered and haggard," Leia continued for her husband. "I've seen her mad and angry at Luke but never like this. And her Force signature ... it was so strange, it was as if ..." she shook her head. "Surely Luke didn't make a pass at her, do you think?"

Han watched his wife and shrugged his shoulders. "Mara obviously thinks so judging from her reaction, Your Highnessness," he grinned at that. "Well well, what da'ya know," he drawled. "The kid's loosening up and of all people he has to chose Mara."

Leia snorted and ribbed her husband. "That is not funny, Han. If he really made a pass at Mara, he definitely needs his mind examined. She wanted to kill him, for maker's sake!"

"And you rather wanted to kiss a Wookie than me, Princess," Han retorted which gained him another shove as they advanced towards Luke Skywalker's apartment.

"Nerf-herder!" Leia spat but smiled, instantly reminded of their quarrels earlier in their relationship.

Luke was still standing on the balcony, lost in thoughts. Replaying the events of the day, he had to admit that he had screwed up big time. Why had he acted on his instincts rather than be his normally cool self?

Okay, I have been feeling lonely but that shouldn't excuse the fact that I almost forced myself upon Mara, of all people. She doesn't deserve that and if she doesn't want to have anything to do with me anymore I have myself to blame. Skywalker you are an all and all fool!

He sighed and checked his chrono on the far wall of his living-quarters. He knew he had to get a move on if he wanted to be on time for the little do as Mara had commented earlier.

Mara, I could kick myself for doing that stupid stunt. What had gotten into me?? Luke closed his eyes again, instantly reliving that one kiss they had shared only minutes ago. But this time he let the memories wash over him, not suppressing them in any way he could still taste her on his lips, lingering in the feeling of her body pressed closely against his chest.

*Damn you Skywalker! Shield yourself against the Force. Any Force sensitive will know what you did if you keep this up!* Mara's voice was strong and Luke was startled for a moment. In the past they had shared force calls with each other, but they had never been able to converse with such distance between them, not when both of them were conscious. The Fire was on the other end of the city.

*How?* Luke asked and Mara snorted.

*You tell me, you are the all-powerful Jedi Master,* Mara retorted within the Force. *I can tell you one thing though, Skywalker. If this doesn't stop, you will pay for it. I had enough of one particular voice in my head, I don't need another one.*

Luke agreed silently and drew his barriers up, shutting out Mara and shielding himself from any other Force sensitive for the while.

Unbeknownst to Luke and Mara one particular Force sensitive person had witnessed their exchange and Leia drew in a shuddering breath. The images from Luke had left no doubt as of what had happened between the two.

Han looked concerned at his wife. "Leia?"

"One thing is for sure, Han, we are in for a tumultuous time," Leia breathed, shaking her head to get rid of the powerful sexual urges she had received. "May the gods help us all if Mara and Luke ever do more than just kiss ..." she said mysteriously and hid her shock when the door in front of them opened and Luke appeared in the door way.

He looked surprised and hurt, when he saw them and Han couldn't stop before he quipped: "Expected someone else, kid? Mara perhaps?"

Luke's facial colour changed from white to beet red and his breath caught in his throat.

"What?" he asked with a definite catch in his voice.

"Mara just stormed past us, so I assumed... ouch," Han yelped and rubbed his side.

"What this Corellian oaf meant was, Mara just left. She was in a hurry," Leia said and pushed her brother back into his quarters. "Now, Luke, you still haven't changed. We will be late for the reception."

Mara Jade groaned and tried to get into a more comfortable position on the bed. For the umpteenth time she cursed herself for giving up that comfortable bed in Luke's quarters. It was only a kiss, she tried to convince herself, but every time she closed her eyes, she was reminded that this kiss had been more. And the dream she had had just a minute ago hadn't helped either. Checking the chrono, Mara noticed she had only slept for three hours before she had woken due to her bumpy bunk and the nightmare.

She wasn't quite sure if she could call it a nightmare. In it she had not stopped Luke from kissing her, the encounter getting more detailed in her dream and Mara could still feel his touch on her naked skin, could feel her lips taunting his, she imagined him above her as he made love to her passionately...

In frustration, Mara shook her head and muttered. It's all your fault, Skywalker! she cursed and hit her pillow once, twice, then a third time. "If it weren't for you, I could sleep in that comfortable bed of yours and ..." she cut herself short. What am I doing here??? Of course it is the Jedi's bed in the spare room, but not HIS bed, the woman groaned and buried her head in her hands.

At least that Force-bond is gone. I don't want to have the Jedi Master gallivanting all over my mind! Despite that, Mara knew that she could not lie to herself. During the rest of the day and night Skywalker had been on her mind constantly, trying the last shreds of patience and if she was honest, she had enjoyed the dream. She had even enjoyed the kiss in his apartment, having longed for something like this to happen.

But I should have been the instigator, she thought and she instantly knew that this was the very thing that was bugging her. Skywalker had caught her by surprise. For once, she had been the one cornered, not him. This is sick, Mara. Do you always have to have the upper hand? Just for once you could have relented, Mara sighed and rubbed her back. Yeah and I would have a more comfortable mattress to sleep on!

Karrde had been on the receiving end of one of Mara moods for the last half hour and, frankly, the smuggler had enough.

"I know you for quite some time now, Mara, but I had enough. Resolve whatever is bugging you," Karrde growled and for a moment Mara wanted to retort with a snide remark. But Karrde was right. For the last ten minutes she had snapped at her old friend and employer, directing all her pent-up frustration at him.

Mara looked away, her face definitely having a haunted look. Karrde watched her for a moment, then sighed.

"Fess' up, Jade. What's wrong? Has this Jedi Master of yours gotten himself into another pile of Wampa shit?"

Mara's head snapped back to the holo-image. "Skywalker can jump into a Sarlacc pit and I won't care!" she snapped before she caught herself. Noticing the smirk on Karrde's face, she exhaled softly and shook her head.

"Karrde," she started, then shut her mouth with an audible click when her teeth connected. "Skywalker is not MY Jedi Master, he can do whatever he likes," she stopped again. Well not everything he likes, Mara added silently. Hesitating, Mara started her confession to Karrde, omitting the more graphic content of her dreams and the incident on Luke's balcony which really had started to get her into the mess she was currently in. After she had ended her tale, both were silent for a long time.

"I'll be damned," Karrde commented after a while. "I've always suspected you had deeper feelings for Skywalker than you let on."

"What do you mean?" Mara growled.

"Now come, Mara, think about it. You were send out to kill him and you couldn't. Bantha droppings, you even became friends, close friends and you two have come a long way in the last eight odd years. You have saved each other's lives more than anyone cared to count." Karrde knew he was walking on thin ice, so he tried to word the following carefully. "Mara, I think you and Skywalker should have a long talk. Perhaps you should move on... you know ... ummm explore other ways of your relationship," the smuggler gave her a sheepish grin.

If Mara had ever been prone to gaping, she would have started at this instant. Is Karrde really proposing what I think he is? Mara asked herself but from the slightly reddish blush on the man's face she knew she was right.

"Talon Karrde, you must be out of your twisted mind!" Mara flashed him a deadly stare out of cold emerald eyes.

"Come on, Mara, either that or get drunk in a cantina and a have a good time. You should relieve that tension you're feeling. If the Jedi Master is not available, then look for someone else. I know more than one man who'd be more than willing."

"Like who?" Mara almost choked.

"Like ...ummm Lando," Karrde retorted with a grin and despite herself Mara had to laugh.

"I'm not that desperate, thank you very much," Mara said but her voice was ringing with laughter. She sobered all of a sudden, when she saw Karrde's serious expression.

"What?" she asked.

"You're afraid, aren't you? You're afraid that you could care too much for him, but I think you're already past that. If he was just a friend as you claim," and here Karrde gave her a hard, scrutinizing look. "You would bed him and leave him. I've seen you do it before, but Skywalker is special to you, and you are running scared."

Mara stared at her friend and swallowed hard. When did Karrde get so much insight into my character? she asked herself. When did I allow myself to show pieces of myself to others? Mara cast her eyes down, staring at her hands and biting her lips.

Mara quickly bid her goodbye to Karrde and went over to her small bunk room. Slumping her shoulders, she sat down on her small bed and buried her face in her hands. She thought back to the numerous times she had teased the Jedi Knight, had even taunted him with her open sexuality and for the first time Mara realized why she had done it.

Teasing Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, had been safe, she thought. Or so I thought. Damn you Skywalker, why do you have to turn from the comfortably predictable Jedi to the love-hungry farmboy?

The last two days had been hell.
Luke Skywalker felt as if the whole galaxy was against him. Not only that Leia was breathing down his neck and probing and prodding about what happened to him and Mara the other night, no, of all people Han had let slip the little tidbit as well and now his friends from Rogue Squadron were ribbing him.

Luke groaned. It had been a bad idea for a night's out with the boys, he thought and stared into his half-filled glass of strong Corellian Whiskey. Unlike the other times with his friends, he was disgustingly sober and he even considered using the Force to get him comfortably inebriated but he decided against it. Watching Wedge and Wes as they both tried to retell their adventures on Hoth, he noticed Han had refilled his glass.

"You know, kid, you and Mara will bring me a fair share," Han Solo hiccupped. Luke frowned at his friend and brother in law.

"What do you mean?" Luke swallowed hard when Han winked at him.

"I staked a bet with Lando," Han nodded over to his friend who was drowning an evil smelling concoction. "He said even Mara Jade's beautiful body couldn't bring the Jedi Master to forget his monk-like life and fall in love with her. I on the other hand," and here Han touched his chest in a melodramatic way, "I said, that it is only a question of time that the two of you get together, albeit for a short while."

Luke groaned at that and cursed himself instantly that he had not used the Force to get him into a stupor. I can't take this anymore, he thought and shook his head. Why is everyone all of a sudden so eager to get me and Mara together? Unless ... unless Leia has picked up on our Force-bonding.

He slumped his head, letting go of his barrier for a second and immediately images of the day when Mara left flooded his mind. Didn't Han comment on meeting her? Jedi, you are stupid! he berated himself. Leia had probably felt their conversation, had tuned in to the disturbing images he had shortly before he had opened the door for them.

If Mara finds out I'm definitely dead!

What Luke Skywalker didn't know was that Mara was finding out this very minute. Leia, on her quest to get her brother out of his self-acclaimed monk-like life, had invited Mara over. She knew that the ex-smuggler would be suspicious so she had invited her over on the pretense to discuss the treaty with the Briem with her.

Now both women sat comfortably in the living area and Leia, scarcely hiding her impatience, listened to Mara's account on what exactly had happened during her negotiations with the Briem. When Mara had ended, fully aware that the woman opposite her, had been fidgeting all the time, Leia jumped up and went over to the bar.

"Splendid," she said, using one of her expressions she solely used for her day to day dealings with the Senate. "Mara, care for a drink?"

For a moment, Mara was confused and her danger sense flared up. She had expected that Leia would compliment her out of the apartment again, not get invited by her.

"Water, Leia. But I don't want to keep you. Surely you have things to do," Mara said, silently chiding herself for the uncertainty in her voice.

"Oh you aren't keeping me, in fact I'm glad we have a chance to talk, Mara Jade." Leia replied and walked over to the trader with two glasses in her hands. "With all the things going on with the Briem and the Senate I never seem to have time to just kick back and relax." Leia commented and after having handed Mara her water, she languorously leant back in her chair again and sipped on her wine.

Mara was certain that the Princess was up to something, she didn't need her danger sense doing flip-flops to know this. Carefully, she put the glass onto a small table near her seat and eyed the woman opposite her wearily, her body screaming in its own language to bolt out of the room.

Leia felt the other woman's discomfort and for a moment she really revelled in this feeling, before she caught herself. Deviousness is of the dark side, she reminded herself and shuddered. Focusing her mind back on the woman in front of her, Leia smiled.

"So, Mara, tell me what you have been up to in the last day or two?"

The delicate hairs in the small of her neck raised and Mara had a hard time not to jump to her feet and race out of the apartment. Her danger sense flared up and involuntarily she shuddered at the sugary tone of the Senator.

"I've been around on business for Karrde," Mara said with a dry throat. "I probably will be off in a day or two to the rim worlds." Forcing herself to reach out a not too steady hand for her glass of water, Mara tried to remain as calm and uninterested on the outside as she was fidgety and upset on the inside.

"I thought you were staying at Luke's," Leia commented, sending out tendrils of the Force towards the Trader. She could feel the momentary insecurity and Leia's curiosity piqued and she went in for the kill. "I thought you and Luke would get along better now, and I'm slightly upset at how you stormed off the other day ..."

"You are?" Mara asked and shut her mouth with an audible click. Great, she really has me here on a swing, Mara thought and tried to come up with a suitable explanation. "You know how excruciating your brother can be, Leia. It is always Jedi Lecture this and Jedi lecture that. Besides, I had to stay aboard the Fire for any incoming calls from Karrde."

"I see," Leia commented and it was obvious to Mara that she didn't. "I hope you don't mind me asking, Mara Jade, but what exactly is your relationship with my brother?"

Mara sputtered the water she was drinking all over the carpet. With an incredulous look she put the glass down and wiped her hands on her flight suit. Leia was watching her with a predatory smile and waited.

*I hope you don't mind me asking, Mara Jade, but what exactly is your relationship with my brother?*

Luke sputtered his whiskey all over Wedge who was sitting opposite him when he heard the firm voice coming to him from the Force. Oh Sithspit, Leia, NO! Luke groaned and opened his mind more freely to the Force. He could feel his sister, her signature real bright while Mara's was diffused as if she was trying to shield herself from him as well as from his sister.

Wedge Antilles wiped his face with the Azure blue handkerchief Lando had handed him and shot his friend a pained look.

"Hey, boss, thanks. But couldn't you find another way to show your disgust with the whiskey?" Wedge asked with a grin and watched as Luke sheepishly cocked his head, still sputtering.

"Sorry, Wedge, must have caught the wrong pipe," he coughed again, busying himself with wiping up the remains of his whiskey on the table.

*Leia!* he sent out warningly, but sickeningly he felt the grim determination of his sister as she questioned Mara even more. He also had felt Mara's actions mirroring his own, suppressing a grin he tried to touch Mara, sending her an image of his own demise.
Giving in to the knowledge that he was not able to prevent anything, and convincing him that he really deserved all what was happening, Luke Skywalker ordered another round for his friends, determined to get drunk - fast and hard.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10