Chapter Three

"Wh ... what?" Mara Jade managed to get out while she was still coughing.

"I think I asked you a very valid question, didn't I?" Leia said, her eyes squinted slightly as she leant forward. "You reacted as if Luke had jumped you .. I don't quite believe that."

Mara swallowed hard, frantically searching her mind. She can be as relentless as Palpatine was, Mara thought and caught herself avoiding the other woman's eyes. Damn you Skywalker and your Jedi family! The trader gritted her teeth, then let out a shaky breath.

"If you excuse me, I really have to go." Mara managed to say with a firm voice and stood up.

Leia eyed her and chuckled. I had expected another rant like the last time, or even outright furious denial. Interesting that it isn't either, Leia said to herself and followed Mara to the main door. "You know, Mara, you really amaze me in situations like this. We both know that something happened, something important, especially where my brother is concerned, and you can remain so calm and aloof," she grinned when Mara frowned.

"Leia, I'm not the right person to divulge in," Mara hissed through clenched teeth, trying to get herself under control.

"No?" Leia cocked her head and little by little, she moved forward so that Mara had to back into the room again, away from the door. Without a doubt Mara now knew why even the great Jedi Master was afraid of his twin.

"Colour me dumb, Mara. I thought you, beside Luke, were the only other person to divulge in if I want to discuss the love life of my brother. You are living with him whenever you two are on Coruscant, so the only explanation is that you two are an item. People already have started to comment on this fact and I want to know..."

Lovelife? Living with him? Mara almost screamed. With a firm step forward, she came face to face with Leia.

"Count yourself lucky, your Highness," Mara spat the word out. "That I'll chose to ignore your comment. I don't know anything about your brother's love life and you shouldn't be interested either. As for the living together, we share the apartment but certainly not his bed. You can trade this little bit of information with all the rumormongers you seem to confide in." The Trader took another step forward and in the Force, she could sense Leia recoiling away from her.

Good, that will teach her a lesson! Mara thought triumphantly, but she had not counted on the resilience of the twin. Leia could be as stubborn as her brother, even more so when pushed.

"Mara Jade, I'm impressed and somewhat disappointed. I expected you would rant with outright denial to have any relationship with my brother," Leia said and chuckled. "So what is the deal, Mara? What did Luke do that resulted in the cool, dangerous Ex-Assassin turned Master Trader to escape his apartment?"

Mara was tempted to strike out at her. Anger overwhelmed her, choking her. The woman turned rigidly and tried to fill her lungs with air.

"Why is everyone trying to tie the knot on Luke and me?" she asked in a somewhat weary voice. "We are friends and have worked long and hard to become that way. Nothing ... happened. It was a misunderstanding, a banter gone too far ..."

Leia had watched the woman and the waves of sincerity and unguarded vulnerability coming from her through the Force almost overwhelmed the Senator.

"I'm sorry, Mara. I didn't want to push you. You know how protective I am where Luke's concerned," Leia said sheepishly, putting a hesitant hand on the other woman's shoulder, only to have it shrugged away determinedly.

"Don't!" Mara whirled around and faced Leia. "I appreciate your concern, and if I were in your shoes, I would probably act the same, but we both don't know what goes on in that Jedi mind of his." She drew in a shuddering breath, hating herself for displaying her own weakness so openly. "I better go now. Give my wishes to Han and the kids," she added and quickly departed.

Once outside she quickly sought out a darkened corner and slumped down against the wall. Sliding down, she drew her knees up to her chest and buried her head in her hands, asking herself how she got into this mess.

This has to stop, she told herself firmly but nevertheless she felt that whatever it was had only just started.

Han watched the men at the table with guarded lids but one man in particular had his full attention. Ever since the little accident with the Corellian Whiskey, Han had noticed that Luke Skywalker was trying to get himself out of his mind drunk. I've never seen this kid so determined to drink himself into a stupor, the Corellian thought to himself and tried to keep track of the booze, Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master, had already acquired.

"That's your 15th glass, Kid, don't you think that's enough?" Han asked, when Luke drowned another one of the whiskey.

Luke tried to focus on his friend, but his vision was blurred and all he could see were two very concerned Han Solos looking at him from afar.

"You ... shaid ... said I should relax," Luke slurred and saluted Han with his now empty glass. "I'm just doing what I'm told. As always!"

Han's eyes lit up. "As always? When did you ever do what you were told, kid?" He asked, laughter in his voice.

Luke joined him and grinned. "Yeah, I guess," he said, thinking about his determination of going after Han and Leia when he had stayed with Yoda on Dagobah. Dagobah, he mused. Maybe it isn't such a bad idea to get my mind laundered out on that particular planet. The Force is strong there and I could meditate without any annoying thoughts. He shrugged and riveted his mind back to what Han was saying.

"... you know, have 'em and leave 'em. That's all I ever did," Han commented and grinned into his whiskey. Before Luke could ask what his friend was talking about Wedge joined in.

"Yeah General Solo, that's why you hooked up with a Princess. Take 'em and leave 'em, my ass!" Wedge grinned and refilled their glasses with more Whiskey.

Luke listened to the good-natured banter of the two married men, then silently and unnoticed by both of them slipped away. When he exited the bar, cold air hit him and he noticed that he had more to drink than was good for him.

Good thing I only live around the corner, he told himself silently and staggered into the general direction of his apartments.

After what seemed like hours, Mara stood up, shivering at the sudden cold. With a groan she stretched, then walked over to the lift. Impatiently, she waited for it to arrive. Her talk with Leia had disturbed her to no end. How dare she question my feelings towards Luke? Mara asked herself furiously. It is none of her business! I should have told her ... Now why didn't I tell her to mind her own business? The young woman frowned at that.

Her head snapped up when the door to the lift opened with an audible hiss. Inside, slumped against the far wall, Luke Skywalker was grinning like a mad Wampa at her.

"Hi, Mar.. Mara," he hiccupped and waved a hand at her. Mara snorted when she smelled the whiskey, the whole lift was reeking with the strong smell of the liquor. Sighing, she stepped in, and tried to haul the Jedi Master to his feet.

"Skywalker, what have you been up to? You stink!" she growled and punched in the level for his apartment.

Luke grinned and leant heavily on her shoulder, trying to focus on her face which bobbed up and down in his vision. "Yeah, Mara, ni-ice to see you too," he said and put a loud smacking kiss onto her cheek. He tried to anyway, but due to his drunken state he missed his intended target and the kiss landed on the side of her throat. He nuzzled his nose in her hair and sighed contently.

"You smell nice, Mar .. Mara," he said and giggled when Mara snorted.

Trust me to have a drunken, giggly Jedi Master on my hands, she thought and tried to ignore the wandering hands of the Jedi Master in question, smacking at his hands while trying to keep him in an upright position.

"Luke!" she squeaked when his right hand had snaked around her waist and was drawing her closer to him.

"I really like you, Mara, I really do," Luke breathed near her ear and giggled like a girl when he felt Mara shivering beneath him. "You smell so nice," he repeated, more seriously.

"As you said before, Skywalker," Mara rolled her eyes. Patience is a Jedi's virtue! she told herself and tried to shift his increasing body weight slightly. "Come on, Skywalker, this is your level," she said, ready to push him out of the turbo lift when she turned her head to look at the more than slightly inebriated Jedi Master. His blue eyes were unusually cloudy but the boyish grin that was playing on his lips was absolutely irresistible. Mara groaned and looked ahead only to find Luke's lips on the side of her neck.

"Skywalker," she pressed through clenched teeth as a familiar feeling raged through her body, slowly pooling in the area of her lower abdomen and between her legs.

"So ... soft," Luke's voice was a mere whisper as he nibbled on the sensitive spot of her pulse. Mara almost jumped out of her skin and tried to jerk her head out of his reach, only to succeed in hitting it against the wall of the lift.

When had Luke managed to push me into the corner? Mara asked herself, while her mind grew all mushy from the sensation coursing through her body.

"Skywalker," she whispered, trying to ignore the longing that his body, his hands and his kisses evoked in her. For a moment she brushed her lips likewise over his cheek, to nuzzle and lick tentatively around his earlobe. They both groaned. "Luke," she breathed, "This is not the time," she pushed him gently away. For a moment their eyes met, and all desire that she was feeling was immediately quenched by the vacant look in the Jedi Master's eyes.

Hauling him out of the lift, she carefully made her way towards his apartment. Shifting the recalcitrant and very drunk Jedi Master against her shoulder, she punched in his access code and almost shoved him into his quarters. It was hard to disentangle Luke from her frame as she pulled him towards his bedroom.

"You have to go to bed," Mara said, when Luke tried to kiss her again, tightening his arms around her.

"Mara, stay with me," he pleaded. "I'll be a good boy, I be-behave." He breathed and to Mara he really looked like an innocent boy, if she had not been so well aware of his evident arousal poking against her hip. He had cupped her face with his hands and was resting his forehead against her brow. "Please Mara ..."

Ignoring his plea, Mara let out an exaggerated sigh. They had reached the edge of the bed, but with the impetus of Luke as he tried to kiss her again, they were both propelled onto the bed.

"Luke, for Sith's sake!" Mara cursed when she found herself pinned down beneath the Jedi Master who was sprawled across her, a steel hard grip on her. She tried to push him off, but any tries on her part only resulted in Luke holding her tighter. Mara considered using the Force to propel him off her, but she was afraid that she would hurt him in his inebriated state. With a sigh, she wiggled a bit underneath him, to make herself more comfortable and noticed that the drunken Jedi was finally asleep.

"Don't try anything, farmboy or you'll be sorry," she muttered as she closed her eyes. She probed the Force, but soon discovered Luke Skywalker was sleeping, deeply. I don't want to be in his shoes tomorrow, Mara thought to herself and smiled wickedly. His head will kill him, if I won't, she chuckled to herself at that, but her eyes flew open when she heard the next murmured words.

"I love you..." Luke mumbled in his sleep and shifted slightly as he rested his head in the crook of Mara's neck.

Mara held her breath, then let it out softly. Dreaming of Callista, are you, Skywalker? she taunted herself silently and suppressed a groan. Willing her tensed muscles to relax, she felt an unfamiliar stinging behind her closed eyelids. But despite her unforgiving feelings for Skywalker that he had brought her into this situation, she hugged him closer to herself as she drifted off to sleep.

Soft light streaked through the wide transparisteel windows, flooding the bed with a swirling array of gold and white glory. Despite the pounding headache, Luke Skywalker was acutely aware of two objects poking into his ribs and while shifting carefully, he tried to get them out of the way. Fumbling with one hand, he became aware of three things at once: one, he was fully clothed. Good, so I didn't get myself into trouble last night, he soothed himself. Two, he was lying on top of another person. This is bad. And three, his free hand was lovingly caressing the swell of the other person's breast and red-golden curls were teasing his face. Only one person had hair like that - Mara Jade.

I'm dead! Luke suppressed a groan and, snatching his hand away from her covered breast, his head snapped up. Now he groaned out loudly, his head spinning and the headache increasing. Carefully as not to wake the woman beneath him, he tried to ease himself off her only to realize their limbs had become tangled during their sleep. His right arm had encircled her and was trapped beneath her prone body, while her arms were securely locked around his neck. Their legs were intimately entangled, his own one thrown over one of hers and resting comfortably between her thighs.

Squinting against the light, fighting off the needling pain which it created in his brain, Luke watched her peaceful face. It amazed him that she looked so young and innocent, her relaxed face not giving away all the awful things she had to go through in her life. Softly, he raised his hand and gently brushed stray locks out of her face, marvelling at the softness of her skin.

He froze suddenly when her brow creased for a second then a soft sigh escaped her lips and unconsciously, she rubbed her cheek against his calloused hand. Luke was glad it was his left hand, still too embarrassed to use his artificial one, even after so many years. Gently he reached out again, caressing the side of her face, then travelling upwards towards her nose.

What? Are those freckles I see? he asked himself and chuckled silently. Carefully as not to wake her, Skywalker let himself being submerged into the peaceful moment with his best friend. He revelled in the touch, the soft warm skin beneath his fingertips and his eyes drank in every curve of her beautiful face. Luke had only once been up so close to Mara but, three days ago, he had not been in such a calm state to peruse her so openly.

After a while, he grew bolder, caressing not only her face, but left feather-like touches down on her throat, her neck and part of her shoulders. He had dreamt about this and yet he marvelled at the novelty of the whole situation. He grinned to himself when he started to count her freckles, tiny flecks of gold on her fair skin, and he made a mental note to tease her about them.

That thought sobered him up completely. How come we're in my bed, together though fully clothed? he asked himself and frowned. He only had a fuzzy recollection of the night before. What he could remember was that Mara had hauled him out of the lift, and that she had scolded him but everything after that was a total blank to him.

Prying her hands off around his neck, he eased himself carefully off her, only to realize he didn't want to break the contact with her. Opening both their belts with the Force, he disposed of the heavy belts and the sabers attached to them. He shifted a little until he felt comfortable again and nuzzled his nose in the crook of her neck.

She'll grill me no matter what, so I can at least make it worthwhile. With that thought he let himself drift back to a light sleep, brushing his lips over her temple and feeling content and relaxed for the first time in days.

Mara's eyelids fluttered. She had the most extra-ordinary dream. It was gentle, soft and warm and she felt so safe in these arms - Luke's arms. She knew that, for the past weeks she had dreamt about him and she was certain that this time was no difference. Deep down, she had to admit, did she enjoy the dreams and only there she let her guards down to give in to the attraction she felt for the Jedi Master. Sighing, she turned into the embrace, unconsciously seeking the lips that nuzzled at her earlobe only to jerk away when she felt the now familiar Force exchange surging in and between their bodies.

"What the ...?" Luke mumbled and bolted upright only to bump his head into Mara's.

"Skywalker! What are you doing in my bed?" Mara yelled and scrambled to the edge of the bed.

"I could ask you the same, Jade!" Luke grumbled and tried to disentangle his legs from hers but he could not do so without getting into her personal space.

Mara watched him, then took in her surroundings. Yes, he is right, I'm in his bed, she thought and moved to get out of the bed. They both scrambled, bumping their heads again, facing each other on their knees. Mara wanted to retort but the words flew out of her mind, when she saw the sheepish look on Luke's face. His hair was all mussed up and he looked incredibly sexy.

Think about something else! she told herself sternly, but something tingled through her, her stomach fluttering. Embarrassed, her gaze self-consciously riveted back onto the covering.

Present - one standard day from Coruscant

Mara woke up with a start when the astromech droid gave off an alarming beep. The woman groaned and tried to shake herself off her reverie. Dismissing the events that had brought her here, she tried to stand, but slumped back into the pilot's seat.

With blurry eyes, she reached over to the controls, checking them. She felt as if her whole body was on fire, sweat beading on her forehead and upper lip. With a groan she stood up and made her way to the fresher and ran water into the small basin while cooling her face and neck with water. Her left shoulder was throbbing again and her complete arm was bluish and swollen.

Great, just what I need, Mara thought and leant heavily against the door to her bunk room. Trying to rip open the cover of the bacta pack, she winced when pain shot through her arm and into her shoulder and back.

Biting her lips, she leant back against the fresher stall and let the pain surge through her body. When it subsided, she cautiously slipped the light robe off her arm and shoulder and replaced the old bacta pack with the new one. Using her fingers and teeth, she tucked it in place, then slumped against the wall again, exhausted.

I have to get to a med unit soon, she thought and slowly, all too painfully, she made her way back to the cockpit of her craft. Feeling that the influence of the Ysalamiri essence was wearing off, she quickly tried to grab the injector lying a few feet away from her on the stand-by console but she tripped and bumped into the bulkhead when she swayed. With a cry Mara Jade fell to her knees, and, clutching her shoulder, her agony wavered through the Force.

Luke was sitting in the Solo's comfortable living quarters when he felt the painful cry surging through the Force. The young Jedi froze for a moment before he quickly scrambled to his feet and made his way to the balcony with its open doors.

"Mara!" he said loudly and searched the skies above Coruscant. Leia and Han, who had been sitting and chatting with Luke for the past hour or so, exchanged a puzzled look with each other before they joined Luke on the balcony.

"Luke, what is it?" Leia asked and put a soothing hand on his arm. Luke ripped his gaze off the sky and looked down on his twin sister.

"I felt her. She is in great pain." he replied and tried to suppress the agony and pain reverberating in the Force. "She will be here soon, I can ..." he broke off. Stretching out to the Force he searched it for the brilliant light that was once Mara Jade. Luke was appalled when he found only a shadow of her former strength. Slowly, he tried to grasp the weak threads that once had formed Mara Jade only to feel a sense of loss and pain coming from her.

*Mara, let me help you,* he sent to her, but he felt only a soft, almost ungraspable flicker where Mara had been. Closing his eyes, he set forth, shivering under the repercussion of her pain, letting it flow freely, unrestricted through him as he reached her.

*MARA!* Luke's voice reverberated in her mind and for a moment Mara Jade was tempted to let herself be enveloped into the warm grasp of the Jedi Master.

"Luke," she whispered softly, his name both a curse and a benediction on her lips. Her eyes snapped open and with great effort, she hauled herself into a crouching position. She slowly made it over to the console, the injector lying within reach of her hand. Slamming down barrier after barrier to Luke Skywalker in her mind, she reached forward.

"No more, Skywalker. I won't have another voice telling me what to do ..." She snatched the injector from the console top and almost viciously she slammed it against the side of her neck. Within seconds the Ysalamiri raged through her illness stricken body and her mind shut down, its link severed to the Force once more.

Luke slumped against the banister of the balcony, when his link to Mara was severed so abruptly. He felt himself cradled in someone's arm, and through the numbed stillness of his mind, he could feel the tendrils sent forth from his sister.

"Sith, Mara, what have you done?" he forced out of dried-up lips and shuddered.

"Luke?" Leia asked. *Is everything alright?*

Luke shook his head then straightened. "It is Mara, she ... she was there .. but now it seems as if she is dead," he breathed softly, trying to understand what he just had witnessed.

I could feel her determination. It was as if she willed the bond to be broken, he thought and shivered. Mara, what have we done?

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