Chapter Six
Present Day - Coruscant

Luke Skywalker jerked awake when his commlink beeped mercilessly. Groaning and running nimble fingers through his hair, he noticed that he had fallen asleep. Reliving the events in a dream were as mind-shattering as the actual events that had led up to his current turmoil and for a moment he felt disorientated. Reaching over to his commlink, he croaked out a rough "Skywalker".

"Luke, you sound awful," his sister's voice wavered towards him and Skywalker winced.

"You woke me up, Leia," Luke said, and rubbed sleep out of his eyes. "Any news on the Fire?"

"Yes, that's why I contacted you. Spaceport authorities told me she requested her usual booth and a med-droid..." Leia's voice trailed away while she waited for her twin's reaction.

"A med-droid?" There was a definite catch in his voice. "Why ..." he stopped and tried to concentrate on the Force, but Mara's imprint was nowhere to be found. "I'll get over there and see for myself."

"No need, Mara Jade already requested a meeting with me, she has retrieved the Jedi artifacts. She is due to meet me in half an hour in my office," Leia answered. Luke frowned at that. He remembered clearly that Mara Jade had told his sister that she would been back in two to three standard weeks, but she had been gone for ten. And why does she need a med-droid unless ..., he thought before realization hit him.

"Leia, if Mara turns up, don't let her go. Offer her what ever comes to mind, food, drink, whatever!" Skywalker almost shouted before he switched off the comm and rushed towards the refresher.

Leia Organa Solo stared at the commlink in her hand and frowned. Why would the information of a med-droid get her brother into such a state? she thought and then she blushed. Of course, if Mara had been away for ten weeks without proper medical attention and with what had happened between her and Luke-, she quickly abandoned this trail of thought and shook her head. "Surely, Mara is not that stupid as not to take precautions, is she?" she whispered to herself.

"Who would take precautions?" Han asked from behind her and watched in amusement when his wife whirled around at the sound of his voice.

"No one, I was just thinking out loud." She gave him a shaky smile. "I better get going, an impromptu meeting has come up."

Han shook his head at his wife and followed her over to the door. "I should have known, always, busy, busy, busy ..." he taunted good-naturedly.

"And yet you love me, smugglerboy," Leia grinned and blew him a goodbye kiss.

Leia made it in time to her office and she had several minutes to spare before one of the guards led Mara Jade into her office. Leia watched the younger woman as she approached, searching the slim figure for any early signs of pregnancy. The Trader looked wan and tired, dark circles beneath her eyes giving her a haunted look.

"Mara," Leia nodded and motioned her to take a seat but Mara Jade shook her head.

"I won't stay long, Senator. I just wanted to give you these," Mara Jade took utmost care not to move her left shoulder and arm overly much as she placed a container onto the impressive desk in front of her. Displaying a nonchalance, she didn't really feel, she flipped open the carrier and she shoved the container towards Luke's sister.

While Leia examined its contents, Mara's features changed for a second. Instead of her usual cool and somewhat haughty pose, her shoulders slumped slightly and a wave of pain showed openly on her face. Leaning slightly onto the desk in front of her, she propped herself carefully against it.

The Senator was so caught up in the contents of the carrier that she only felt something was wrong when the heavy desk started to tremble ever so slightly. Her head snapped up and saw in time that Mara Jade was shivering extensively. Reaching out to the Force Leia found nothing - no trace of the Trader.

"Mara, what happened to you?" she asked in shock and came around the desk, the artifacts forgotten for the moment.

Your brother, Mara wanted to snap but she quickly cut down on the retort. "I need to get to the medcenter," she said through clenched teeth and wiped off droplets of sweat which had gathered on her upper lip. Pushing away from the desk, she whirled around and staggered.

"Let me get a med droid. You're in no fit state to walk around the city like this, Mara," Leia replied and put her arms around the other woman's shoulder. Mara flinched and jackknifed when Leia's hand came to rest on her wounded shoulder. Catching her breath, she stilled her racing heart as she squatted on the floor, one hand keeping her steady.

"Just let me out of here, Leia. I do not need your concern ..." she breathed and tried to pull up enough strength to rise to her feet. Nausea and pain washed over her and all she could do was to ride it out. Something warm trickled down her left arm and when she carefully examined her hand, she saw that a trickle of blood was already dripping off her fingers.

"Quit playing the tough Ex-Imp, Mara," Leia said and hauled her to her feet. "You sit down and I'll get on the comm. Luke will be here any minute and he can put you into a healing trance ..."

"Luke?" Mara gasped and clenched her hands to fists. "I thought he was on Yavin?"

"He was but he came back about a week ago, ever since you left he has been moping around on Coruscant and Yavin and even his pupils complained that he was short-tempered and impatient with them." Leia retorted and tried to push the trader into a chair nearby.

"I need to get out of here, Leia," Mara said weakly and stumbled towards the door, but the door opened before she could reach it and Luke Skywalker walked in. His hair was still wet from the shower he must have taken and he tried to calm his breath that racked his body after he had taken the distance between his apartment and Leia's office in a run. Mara felt as if her heart was clenched by an iron fist, her brain screaming at her for ever leaving him, when she felt nausea rushing to her head and blackness engulfing her.

"Mara," he breathed when both came face to face with each other so suddenly. Before he could utter another word, he caught Mara Jade into his arms as she fell forward, unconscious.

The lamps in the med center cast an eerie, white, antiseptic light onto the couple as they waited outside the room in which Mara Jade lay still unconscious, guarded by a med droid and Luke Skywalker, Jedi Master. Leia watched through the small window in the door as Mara was examined by the droid, while her brother stood by the bedside, his arms crossed over his chest, like a silent guardian. Leia had just ended her review of what had happened this morning and she felt her husband chuckle into her hair, as he hugged her close to him.

"Han!" Leia scolded and hit his shoulder playfully. "This is serious."

"Oh come on, Leia, the meds said that she is alright, and now after that operation on her arm and shoulder, she just needs a lot of rest," Han replied and grinned. "And, wife of mine, you have to admit, Mara knows how to make an entrance!"
He chuckled again and despite herself, Leia joined him. She had to admit the first meeting between her brother and Mara Jade could not have been staged better in a good holovid movie. It had been dramatic and romantic at the same time, watching as her brother had scooped up Mara into his arms and then rushed her to the med center. She sighed and turned to watch her brother through the window. With an unmoving face, Luke listened to the explanations of the med droid, then frowned when the droid handed him something that looked like an injector.

Leia frowned and turned when the droid opened the door and joined them. "How is she?"

"Madame Senator, General Solo," the droid, a Fourpio unit, nodded his head reverently by way of greeting. "Mistress Jade has been sedated, it will take a while until the abuse of her arm and shoulder will be completely healed, but I'm positive that she will recover in good time. She is extremely lucky, that we were able to save the bone and tissue on her shoulder otherwise we would have been forced to replace it with an artificial one."

Leia and Han both shuddered at that. It was enough that Luke had lost his right hand after his confrontation with Vader, but to lose a complete shoulder and arm was something totally different.

"When can we see her?" Leia asked indicating Luke with her head who was still standing at the foot of Mara Jade's bed.

"Mistress Jade is very weak. She has to heal in her own time as it seems she is under the influence of a drug. Master Skywalker tried to put her into a healing trance to help speeding up her recovery but had to abort. We need to cleanse her body of the drug first."

"Drug?" Leia asked and felt her husband's hands tighten on her shoulders.

"Affirmative, it is some unknown drugs we couldn't locate in the medical databanks, I'm afraid."

"Thank you, Fourpio," Leia said and nodded her thanks. Watching the still figure of her brother through the glass of the door, Leia's hands joined those of her husbands. "Why would she use such a drug? Was she forced to use it?"

"Leia, you can ask her these questions when she comes around. Let's not give in to speculations," Han replied and drew his wife into an embrace. "Mara is in the best care now, Luke will inform us if her condition changes." To that Leia nodded and after telling her brother through the Force that they would be at home, she followed her husband out of the medcenter.

When Luke had felt the soft brush of his sister through the force, he felt a sense of relief washing over him. Ever since he had seen Mara, he had held his mind and the barriers to the Force in a steely grip, trying to block out the emotions that were threatening to overcome his mind. Heaving a soft sigh, he willed his stiff body to walk over to the bed, and extending his left hand, he brushed softly over Mara's face. Her skin was cold to his touch and yet her hair was plastered to her forehead.

He pulled a chair beside the bed and dropped into it, watching the sleeping woman in front of him. He tried to sort out his feelings on what he heard from the doctor. At first he had not known how to broach the subject of a pregnancy, but when the droid had discussed the examinations they had executed, he had briefly seen the chart. Mara Jade was not pregnant. He had felt relief and regret at the same time. One half of him wanted it to be true, that they both had created a new life while the other half had told him that it was for the better.

Sighing softly he reached over and took her right hand in his left, caressing her softly. After a while Skywalker needed more than just touching her hand. His eyes roamed over her body, drinking in the knowledge that she was save and alive - albeit just barely. She looked thinner than ten weeks ago and her skin was even paler than before, having lost its creamy brilliance.

His gaze fell upon the injector he had put onto a nearby table earlier. He picked it up again and felt it with the Force. The liquid was swirling in the cylinder and he could feel the void it was creating in the Force. He didn't know how but somehow he could feel what it was and what it was doing to her. Some remnants of her thoughts and emotions still clung to the metallic device and when he concentrated on the injector rather than the essence contained within, Luke sensed an overwhelming sensation of loss and desperation. Shuddering, he placed the injector back and brushed some locks out of Mara's face.

"Oh Mara, why?" he asked softly, knowing full well that he could not touch her through the Force. For the first time since they had met in Leia's office, Luke Skywalker allowed himself to be submerged in the emotions riveting through his body, sending his mind into a turmoil and he wept for all the things this woman had lost and for all the things he had obviously done to push her even further away from him.

It was a soft almost indiscernible movement but Luke could feel that Mara's hand was twitching between his fingers. Looking up he saw that her eyes were rapidly moving beneath closed tight lids. Allowing himself to be surrounded by the Force, Luke stretched out to her and he could feel her signature as a soft flicker within the Force. Exhaling softly, relief washed over him and he smiled. Bending over her, he kissed her temple gently, then set out to the task of nurturing the flicker, helping her to grow stronger and fighting the effects of the drug. With every breath that they took, with every minute that ticked by, Luke knew that it was only a matter of time when Mara would be fully healed. Standing up, he did what seemed to be the only possible thing to do to let her know that she was not alone, to ground her in the here and now. He climbed into the bed beside her and cradled her into his strong arms and for the first time in ten weeks, Mara Jade dreamt peacefully while Luke thought back to the celebration where he irrevocable lost his heart to the woman who lay beside him.

Ten weeks earlier - The Briem treaty celebration
Soft laughter and music could be heard from afar and Mara Jade strained her ears to discern any particular words and sounds but she was still too far out in the corridor to tell who was talking with whom unless she used her Force sense. The trader still wasn't convinced that this was a good idea, she had been virtually bullied into coming here and she felt out of place. Brushing nervously over the velvety texture of her dress, she stepped further towards the light and the music.

"Master Trader Jade," one of the Briem cried out joyously, when he noticed her entering the room. The man came rushing forward and grabbing her hand, pumped it several times up and down. "I was just saying that you were the special guest of the evening."

Mara plastered a forced smile onto her face and allowed the man to lead her over to the other group of Briem and NR officials. Too late she saw that Luke was among them and as the Briem official introduced her to his friends, she found herself smiling into Luke's face.

"Mistress Jade and I know each other," Luke commented and yet he took her hand and kissed it gallantly. *You look lovely, Mara,* he sent to her and his blue eyes twinkled mischievously as he took in her appearance with an appreciative eye.

*Dito, Farmboy, though couldn't you just lay off on those Jedi Blacks?* Mara quirked an eyebrow at him. Luke laughed and put his other hand onto his chest in a dramatic pose.

*Why, Mara Jade, did you just tell me I'm looking good in my despicable Jedi Blacks?* he teased and Mara snorted very unladylike.

*In your dreams, Farmboy*. Unnoticed by them the Briem delegation was staring at them and Han who had a hunch at what those two were up to again, came forward and tried to usher the officials away.

"I hate it when you two do that," he commented after he had disentangled the bewildered Briem officials from the couple and moved them towards his wife and some other dignitaries.

"What?" Luke asked and his head snapped up.

"Your Jedi talk, it weirds me out!" Han grinned at the dumbfounded faces of his two friends. "And you certainly gave the Briems something to talk about."

Luke's face reddened while Mara smirked at that.

"Well, I think we could have given them even more to talk about if I had said all the things to Skywalker aloud," she snapped and with a graceful turn on her heel she left the two men.

"You know kid, that woman is one exceptional lady, if not for her sharp tongue," Han commented as both watched Mara from afar.

Luke had recovered from her taunt and flashed his friend a quick smile. "Don't let Leia hear that, Han, otherwise you'll end up on the couch again and you know that your old bones don't take that lightly."

"And from what I hear you should be careful with your hide, I've heard redheads are quite something when you make'em mad." Han's grin faltered when he saw the frown on Luke's face. "Sorry, forget that I said that." he murmured and retreated.

Luke sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. Great, now I get advice from Han, he thought and tried to suppress a chuckle. I should really be more careful, if Leia and Han know about me and Mara, it is only a matter of time before others pick up on that. Sighing, he turned towards the tables when someone announced that dinner was served. Luke hated these things and he was looking forward to the more informal part of the evening.

Leia had seen the little exchange between Luke and Mara earlier and when she had asked Han about it, her husband had only grunted something about damn Jedi. Shrugging, Leia set out to the next step of her plan, now that Mara Jade had arrived. Asking the attendees to the tables she took careful note that Mara and Luke were seated side by side, but both had been assigned Briem table companions to avoid rising suspicion.

Most of the Briem dignitaries were quite interested in the tales of the Jedi Master and during the main course and the dessert, Luke had to answer quite a lot of questions.

"I heard that Mistress Jade here was intent on killing you, is that correct?" One of the Briem asked and Luke could feel Mara tensing beside him.

"That is correct, Master Tovar. Though Mara Jade was acting on orders of the late Emperor," Luke said carefully and looked sideways at Mara's sour face.

"It must have been quite an experience for you," Tovar said and smiled. "Of course, I myself would not mind if pursued by such a beautiful woman as you are, Mistress Jade," he said smoothly and it was evident the Briem was smitten by her.

"Even if I were to point a blaster to your head?" Mara asked, a feral smile curving her lips. Another Briem gasped, this time a female, and she put a hand to her heart.

"Surely you didn't?" she asked in a gasp.

"Yes, she did. In fact she cocked a blaster at me the whole time we were at Myrkr," Luke responded with glee and grinned at Mara's discomfort. He really enjoyed getting back at Mara for once.

"Well you deserved it at that time, Jedi," Mara snorted and sipped at her drink. "And it wasn't the whole time."

Luke looked at her. "Oh really? The way I remember it, I had that blaster of you trained on me every minute of every day."

*I did, even when you were sleeping. But that is of no interest to them*, Mara replied through the Force while she listened to another question directed at her by Tovar.

*And I'm sure you were taking careful need in watching me sleep, Mara,* Luke chuckled silently.

"So you and Mistress Jade have been on many missions together?" The female Briem asked and leant forward toward Luke.

"Well, together wouldn't be the right imperative, more like I had to rescue him," Mara barged in and felt Luke's gasp beside her. "The Jedi Master has this little problem you know," she leant over the table confidentially. "He seeks trouble and then it is Mara Jade to the rescue."

"Oh come on, Mara, it's not as bad as that. I have gotten out of some pretty nasty situations without your help as well," Luke replied, forgetting for the moment to play the austere Jedi Master.

"Oh really?" Mara asked in return this time and quirked an eyebrow at him. *Since when did you get out of situations when I wasn't there to rescue your butt, Farmboy?*

*Mara!* Luke sent her through the Force and turned back to the Briem. "Mara and I have been teaming up on quite a few occasions."

"Two Jedi teaming up must be an awesome sight," a younger Briem, who had listened quietly to their conversation, commented. "I have seen Mistress Jade showing the use of a light saber and I must say it was impressive. We Briem use similar weapons, though they are more ceremonial than have any great value in battle."

"Perhaps you two could show us your skills with these weapons some time during our stay?" Maleera, the female Briem, asked.

"I think we can manage that, don't you, Mara?" Luke asked amicably and Mara nodded.

"Yes, we could set a time tomorrow morning," Jade acquiesced. "Although, Skywalker, I don't want to disgrace the Jedi Master by wiping the floor with you."

"You won't, Mara, believe me," Luke said and smiled at her. "But perhaps you don't want to be beaten by me."

Mara snorted at that and, turning fully, pointed a finger at him. "In your dreams, Skywalker. I'll remind you when I visit you tomorrow at the med center!" she snarled and the Briem took a collective breath.

"You sure, you two are friends?" the younger Briem asked when he had found his voice again, giving the two a momentary pause. Both only nodded in response. Tovar laughed out loudly and patted Mara's hand.

"I have every confidence that Mistress Mara will be victorious," Tovar said and eyed Mara. The way he had pronounced the word mistress made Mara cringe and only with utmost patience she managed to retrieve her hand from his without hitting the man. "And I would like spar with you sometime as well, perhaps after the fight with Jedi Master Skywalker," he grinned.

"If I have time, Master Tovar," Mara managed to choke out and plastered a smile on her lips. She could sense exactly what this man had in mind when he happened to be alone with her and she was definitely not interested.

*Gods, he's trying to come onto you.*, she heard Luke's voice through the Force and she snorted at that.

*Skywalker, what is that supposed to mean?* Mara's eyes flashed and her head turned sharply towards Skywalker. He gave her an incredulous look.

*You are not the only Force-sensitive here, remember? I felt it too.* Luke snapped and gripped his glass so hard that his knuckles turned white. *If he keeps it up I'll be happy to show him my lightsaber*. For a moment Mara stared at Skywalker with a stunned expression then she tried to concentrate on Tovar, who was chatting incessantly, but could not hide her amused smile.

They chatted more with the Briem but were disturbed by the announcer that the dance was about to start. Tovar smiled when he heard about the dancing and stood up. "Mistress Mara, care to dance?" he asked and extended a hand towards her. Luke could feel her hesitation at the offer.

"I'm sorry but she has already agreed to honour me with this dance," Luke said smoothly and took Mara's hand into his own. "Shall we?" he asked her and helped her to her feet.

"There was no need to do that, Skywalker," Mara muttered as he led her to the dance floor. "I would have dealt with him myself."

"And done what? Knocked him off his feet in front of everyone?" Luke asked and chuckled at the mental image he sent her with her standing over the stunned Tovar who was trying to get on his feet again like a Tatooineain Desert Beetle.

Leia had kept a close eye on her brother and more than once she had had the urge to clout him over the head when it seemed that he was making fun of Mara Jade. But then again she had the same urge to do likewise with Mara Jade as well.

Those two can never talk amiably, she thought in a huff and shook her head. When she saw that Luke was leading Mara to the dance floor she exhaled softly and nudged Han who was in deep conversation with another trader.

"At least they haven't killed each other yet," Han commented and Leia looked at him.

"So you noticed it too?"

"That they were ribbing each other? Yes, it is nothing new but that they were at it like an old married couple in front of strangers surprised me a bit," Han grinned when his wife gasped. "It was your idea to invite her at our table, dear, so we better face the consequences if one or both of them gets hurt."

"Oh Han!" Leia chuckled at that. "Surely they wouldn't? I mean I haven't noticed any weapons on them..."

"Since when does Mara Jade need a weapon? Her tongue is as sharp and deadly enough as it is."

Luke had led Mara over to the dance floor which was slowly filling up. Most couples were giving them a wide berth as if not to intrude on the privacy of the Jedi Master, others were outright staring at him and his companion. Mara who had noticed it, tried to draw Luke off the dance floor.

"People are staring at us, I think they disapprove of your choice for a dance partner," she said through clenched teeth, knowing full well why they disapproved.

"Oh come Mara, when does this ever stop you from doing anything?" Luke retorted and pulled her towards him as the music started.

It was a traditional piece which Mara had heard often when she had attended the official balls of the Emperor. Dismissing her doubts, she quickly let herself being consumed by the music and she had to admit that Luke, despite lacking the skill of some professional dancers she had the opportunity to dance with in the past, was not that bad.

Luke felt a grin spreading over his face when Mara closed her eyes and allowed him to lead her over the dance floor with ease to the tunes of the music. She looked beautiful in the green velvet dress which showed off some cleavage but was otherwise quite chaste apart from the fact that it fitted her like a second skin. Carefully drawing her nearer, he swayed to the music and kept her close in his arms.

*Skywalker, not that tight,* Mara warned him through the Force and moved slightly away from him.

*Why not, Jade, or are you embarrassed to be seen with the Jedi Knight?* he taunted and saw Mara shaking her head.

"But people talk, can't you hear it?" she whispered and Luke stretched out with the Force. Some dignitaries to their left were conversing in hushed voices but their intention was clear. They did not like the way the Jedi Master held on to the former Emperor's Hand. Mara could feel Luke's firm grip tensing around her waist and she moved him further away from the dignitaries.

Slowly, she tried to disengage herself from his embrace but Luke held on to her. Staring into each other's eyes, they warred a silent battle, the music forgotten.

*Let me go, Skywalker!* Mara demanded through the Force and tried to pry her hand out of Luke's fingers.

*No I won't, Mara. Not because some Wampa dropping brained officials think, it won't befit the Jedi Master to dance with an ex-assassin,* Luke replied and strengthened his grasp on her, even drawing her closer so that she was neatly molded to his chest.

*Luke, don't be so pig-headed, this is not a challenge of any kind like you play with your old squadron or Han,* Mara reminded him, clearly embarrassed by the whole situation.

"Do you think it is a challenge to dance with you?" Luke whispered near her ear and for a moment Mara's eyes closed.

"No," she whispered. "But you have to think of your reputation. You are the Jedi Master, hero of the New Republic. People wag their tongues at an opportunity like this..."

"Why do you care, Mara?" Luke asked and fixed her with a blue-fire stare. Mara shuddered and shook her head.

Why should I care indeed, she thought and tried to turn her face away from him but Luke's left hand had vacated her waist and was cupping her face gently now.

"Do you care?" Luke asked hoarsely and caressed her cheek. "Because, frankly, Mara, I couldn't care less about my reputation where you are concerned," and with this he bent his head and his lips met her mouth with deadly accuracy. They both gasped when bolts of pure energy exchanged between their bodies, only increasing the passion that had ignited between them when their lips met.

Mara groaned and clung to the front of Luke tunic to steady herself as his tongue invaded her mouth, re-acquainting itself with all the places he had explored a couple of days ago. As if from afar she heard gasps coming from the other dancers but all she could think of was the man who held her tightly in his arms and kissed her senseless. She could still feel the Force surging through and around them, creating an impressive light show around the couple but she did not care at all.

Leia had heard the gasps coming from the dance floor and when she turned her gaze towards it her mouth fell open. In the middle of the dance floor she saw her brother and Mara Jade kissing each other as if their life depended on it and Force bolts were vibrating around them brightly. She couldn't have been more surprised if a Wampa had suddenly appeared in their midst.

"Now what do you think of that?" Han whispered beside her and barely could contain his laughter. "Not exactly what you had in mind, Leia, uh?"

Slowly, Leia was able to recover her senses and with barely contained effort she turned towards her husband. "Make them stop, Han. This .. this ... it is as if they are ... you know, doing it in public," she gasped and Han lost his battle. Laughing out loud he pecked his wife's nose.

"They are still fully closed, wife of mine, but I know what you mean. Judging from the intensity of the light they won't be much longer." He smirked at that and nudging Karrde who was just as mesmerized as everyone else by the spectacle before him, Han made his way over to the dance floor.

Luke's whole being was basking in the sensations coursing through his body while kissing and holding Mara close to himself. Part of his mind was telling him that he was making a spectacle out of himself but the larger part of him who just felt was driving him on. Turning his head slightly to have a better angle of kissing her, he opened his eyes for a moment and he could see the energy surrounding them. He was about to ask Mara if he was hallucinating when he felt a slight tap on his shoulder.

Whirling around but unable to end the kiss, he stared straight into the eyes of his best friend Han Solo with Talon Karrde and Wedge Antilles hard on his heels.

"Enjoying yourself, kid?" Han asked, his whole body shaking with contained laughter. Reluctantly, Luke let go of Mara and she hid her burning face when she came back to her senses.

"Han!" Skywalker gasped, his voice having a definite catch. Taking in his surroundings, he could see that all eyes were fixed on him and Mara. *Oh-uh*, he thought. *Now I'm really in deep Gungan doodoo.*

*I think we are both in it up to our necks, Skywalker*, Mara sent him through the Force. She disentangled herself from Luke and straightened, her legs supporting her non too steadily.

"You two better keep your distances, Kid, before Leia strokes out on us," Han commented and saw with pleasure that Mara Jade seemed as affected to the kiss as his brother in law was. Both were staring wide-eyed at him and their faces showed the same silly expression.

Ignoring the audience they had, Luke grasped Mara's hand and excused himself. Heading towards the door, he hurriedly ushered her out. The three men watched their hurried exit and Wedge whistled.

"So I take it they are skipping the informal part of the party, huh?" Wedge asked to no-one in particular and saw Karrde retrieving a pouch of credits and handing it over to Han. "You two knew about this and didn't let me in?" He asked in mock hurt.

"Spur of the moment bet, Wedge," Han said and pocketed the pouch. "And if you'd known we wouldn't have had the pleasure of that stupid face of yours. That was priceless."

Mara didn't know where Luke took her until they stopped in front of his apartment. She was only barely aware that he ushered her into the living room.

"We need to talk, Mara," he told her and although Mara was trying to still the turmoil in her head, she jerked her hand away from him.

"Oh so you call it talking now?" she snapped and turned away towards the open balcony doors. Luke sighed and rubbed his neck absentmindedly while he could feel the seething turmoil coming towards him from her through the Force.

Great, just what I need, he thought and he left her and went to the kitchen. He took his time fixing them both a drink as he heard Mara's voice through the open doors. She was muttering beneath her breath but still loud enough to hear her with Force-enhanced senses. She cursed him, herself and then him again, though perhaps not in this particular order. When he felt she had calmed down he heaved a sigh of relief. Taking the two glasses with him, he joined Mara on the balcony, where she stood framed against the lights of the city and the stars above. She looked more beautiful to him than ever and she reminded him of one of those wraith-like entities who had been all the rage in popular love-songs for a time.

I should lay off the booze, otherwise I get all mushy and cheesy, he thought and chuckled silently to himself. Reaching Mara he put her glass down in front of her on the railing.

*You should certainly lay off the booze, Luke*, Mara sent him through the Force and moved to pick up the glass. *Considering what happened the last time you got sloshed.*

"You think so?" Luke asked. "I think it was very pleasurable ..." his voice trailed away and he looked over the blinking lights of the city.

"Pleasurable?" Mara asked, quirking an eyebrow at him. "Well, I wouldn't call getting poked into the ribs by a light saber or two pleasurable, Farmboy."

Luke watched her for a moment, then grinned at her. "Actually that's not what I had in mind, Mara. I found it very pleasurable to wake up with you and ... ummm... other things we did that morning." He could hear her sharp intake of breath and he watched as she resolutely put down her glass.

"Skywalker, what happened back then and what happened tonight ... it was ... madness. That wasn't us!" she said and leant against the banister of the balcony with her back.

"Awww, Mara," Luke mocked in a wailing tone and reached over to caress her cheek. "I thought we had left that particular conversation behind?"

"I got ... we got distracted, Skywalker, and it shouldn't have happened. This is all so surreal and when you come to think of it, it is so much out of character for the both of us that we should consider forgetting all about it," Mara replied and a wisp of cold air sent her shivering. She wrapped her arms protectively around herself and watched Luke from guarded lids. "It is for the best, Luke. Look at what we have achieved. I wanted to kill you and yet we have become friends ..."

Luke shook his head and leant his elbows on to the railing beside her. "Have you been talking to Leia? Because it sure sounds like my sister speaking," he sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

*Mara, I feel very strongly for you and from your reaction on that day and tonight I know you have strong feelings for me as well*, he told her through the Force and he felt her shiver at his words.

"Luke ...," his name fell softly from her lips and Skywalker had to fight the urge to plunder these very lips again with his mouth. "For once, Leia and I agree. We ... you and I aren't compatible ... The Emperor's Hand and the Jedi Master, do you know what kind of a uproar it causes? You have seen it for yourself at the celebration."

*Let me make love to you, Mara,* Luke surprised them both by uttering the very words. For years he had not thought that he could ever bring himself to utter these words, but here he was, standing with his best friend on his balcony in a somewhat romantic setting, asking her to sleep with him.

Luke waited and when he did not hear any taunting words from Mara, he dared to turn his head her way. What he saw shook him to his deepest roots. In front of him there stood Mara Jade, Ex-Assassin, Smuggler and Trader, and she wept.

"Mara," he whispered as he pulled her into his arms, the woman clung to him like a lifeline as she sobbed silently. "Shhh, it is alright, my sweet."

Mara closed her eyes and inhaled a shuddering breath, taking in his scent which had become so familiar to her over the years. Why did he have to use these words? she asked herself silently. Why did he have to say making love instead of just sleeping together or sex? I could have brushed it away, I could have brushed him away but no, he had to chose the L word! Mara Jade wiped her eyes angrily and let go of Luke.

But try as she might, she could not come up with a smart retort or a banter. "I'd better go," she said softly and Luke let out a breath.

"I never thought you were a coward, Jade," he suddenly said to her retreating back. Mara spun around and watched him out of deadly green eyes.

"That was a low blow, Skywalker, even for you!" Mara spat out but tried to calm herself. Her body still lingered in the warmth of the kiss they had shared at the reception and she was well aware of how close Luke's body was. "Good bye, Skywalker!" She turned but Luke's voice held her back.

"Mara, I'm sorry, I didn't mean ..." He stopped and turned towards the city lights again, the beauty of it escaping his mind.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Farmboy," he heard Mara say and his head jerked around.

*Don't look at me like a Tusken Raider seeing his first snow, Skywalker!* Mara taunted him. *We wanted to spar, remember? The Briem wanted to see your skill .... and I don't mean the skill of making a fool out of yourself*. With that she left him and Luke could hear the soft hiss of his front door closing behind her. Sighing he turned back to the skyline of the city before him, but when Artoo let off a series of soft beeps and twirls, Luke grinned to himself.

"Yeah I know, Artoo, she could have killed me for that comment, but she didn't," he answered his astromech and chuckled. "Must be love!" And for the first time Skywalker felt at ease with that thought.

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