Chapter Eight

Han Solo was surprised to see his wife home so early and the second he saw her coming in he knew that she was in one of those moods. Either some fellow Senator had been disagreeing with her or her brother dear had dared to misbehave. If it was a bet, Han would take the latter.

"I don't believe it!" Leia murmured with an exasperated sigh and shot her husband a credulous look. "Here I was trying to find out what is going on between the two and they are sleeping together," when she noticed her husband's silly grin on his face she snorted. "In the gym hall...I knew something was up .... By the makers, that has to stop! What if they had been caught?"

"Leia, you always wanted the kid to have a girl-friend of his own so calm yourself down!" Han interjected and suffered another stern look from his princess. "Look Leia, those two are perfect for each other, let them vent off their emotions and eventually they will fall into a routine, just like we did ..."

"What do you mean fall into a routine?" Leia snapped and Han berated himself silently. Bad choice of words, buddy.

"What I mean is, you will sooner or later announce their marriage," Han cut off when he saw the deadly look on Leia's face. "What?"

"Marriage? Are you mad, you Corellian oaf? If those two marry, Luke's work is null and void. People will shun him, I told him as much and he knows of the consequences of being married to the Emperor's Hand."

"EX Emperor's Hand, Leia. The NR will accept her. By the makers, Leia, they accepted Talon and me, don't you think they will accept Mara as well?" Han asked and rubbed his wife's shoulders absent-mindedly. "Besides, Luke deserves happiness, and if he finds it in the arms of Mara Jade, then so be it. He suffered too much already at the hands of other women..."

Leia bit her lip. "That's what I'm afraid of, Han, my love." She shivered and turned towards one of the huge windows. "Mara is the first Force-strong woman in his life, if she leaves him like the others, I don't think he will ever recover."

"Well I doubt, that she will leave him, my love. She and Luke are just like two sides of one medal, they cannot be separated, even if they wanted. Their bond through the Force is even stronger than yours to Luke. I think this is only stops when one of them is dead."

Leia stared at her husband and desperately hoped that her husband was wrong.

After Leia had left them standing in front of the lifts, Luke had ushered Mara into one of them and in awkward silence had ridden up to Skywalker's apartment. Now that the rush of adrenaline and passion was over, they both felt subdued and especially Mara was feeling nervous.

What does Skywalker expect of me? she asked herself silently. Does he think we'll continue this in his bed? Mara felt tired and more than one muscle was hurting her. I'm getting old, she chided herself.I should work out more. Immediately, she remembered from which kind of work out the sore muscles came from and hiding a blush from Skywalker, she waited in the small hall after the Jedi Master had led her into his apartment.

"Care for a shower?" Luke asked when he reached Mara. He too felt somewhat nervous and wasn't quite sure how Mara would react. When she nodded he said: "I put out a new shirt for you." and went to the bedroom.

Thankful that he wasn't pushing her into anything, Mara made her way slowly over to the refresher and started to undo her boots. When she had finished undressing, she was surprised that Skywalker had not tried to take the shower with her so far and when she stepped underneath the soft warm spray of the shower, she let out a long breath. Her arm muscles cried out in protest when she tried to raise her arms over her head in order to wash her hair. Groaning loudly she almost missed the soft thud of the door to the bedroom.

"I've gotten you a fresh top to wear. It will do till you return to the Fire," Luke said and put the black shirt onto the counter beside the shower. He had stripped off his tank top and tunic and was only wearing his black trousers.

The glass walls of the stall did little to conceal the woman beneath the running faucet and without hesitation the young Jedi let his gaze travel over the small but firm frame of his best-friend turned lover. Their eyes met and Luke immediately felt her predicament.

"You need any help?" his voice having a definite catch to it and Mara could feel the slight ripple of anxiety coming from him through the Force. Not trusting her voice to answer she only slightly nodded her head and watched as Luke stripped out of his pants and joined her beneath the running water. Mara was surprised to see no bashful hesitation in this move and silently she reminded herself that Luke was indeed not the monk-like Jedi everyone thought of him.

Luke chuckled and Mara quirked an eyebrow at him. He raised his hands and laughed. "I know, I know, I'll stay out of your head, Mara," he said and gently kneaded her shoulders and collarbones.

"You know, I can't understand why people think you are like a monk, must be the Jedi blacks," Mara said and grinned devilishly. "I bet you had a fair share of women between Wedge, Han and yourself."

Luke shook his head and grinned. "I bet you had more," the second he said it, he knew it had been wrong. He could see her visibly blanching. "I'm sorry, Mara ... I ... was out of line."

"No, it is alright. Everyone seems to think that, so why not you as well. After all, I was a dancer at Jabba's palace and the Emperor's hand," she said dismissively and a stab of jealousy ran through Luke.

"How many?" he asked all of a sudden, his voice having a deadly ring to it.

"What?" Mara asked and yelped when Luke's hands dug into the tender flesh of her shoulders.

"Tell me how many there were? How many before me?" Skywalker pressed through gritted teeth and Mara could feel the determination coming from him. Jerking away from him, she was seething with hurt and anger.

"I don't think it is any of your business, Skywalker," she answered him haughtily but when she saw the fierce anger emanating from his eyes, she was reminded of another Skywalker. Shuddering and ignoring the strain on her muscles, Mara readied herself to push Luke out of her way if she had to.

"Mara ..." Luke's voice reverberated through the small refresher unit.

"How many did you have? Skywalker, would you tell me which number I have in all the long line of women in your bed if I told you?" Mara countered and immediately regretted it when she saw Luke nodding. Bending her head slightly, she bit her lower lip. "Three, not counting you," she said in a low voice and Luke had to use his heightened Jedi senses to actually understand her.

Three? And I'm the fourth? he asked himself. I have been a fool not to trust her and virtually accuse her of sleeping around.

"Mara, I'm sorry," Luke whispered and embraced her tentatively. "I'm a fool." Mara felt his sincerity through his bond and if she was honest to herself, she knew with her reputation as the Ex-Emperor's Hand and ex-smuggler, people had a preconceived image of her. Slowly, she raised her arms to his waist and hugged him back.

"So," Mara asked and raised her head to meet his gaze. "Which number do I have on your list? Shall I prepare myself for a two digit number?" She had intended it to be a joke, but the question came out much harsher.

Luke shook his head and his gaze darted away from her for a moment. Mara held her breath while he seemed to make up his mind.

"Five," he replied, then shrugged his shoulders. "Well actually four that I remember, the first ... I took a hit on my head and all is a bit fuzzy. I can only remember bits and pieces, fair skin, lips, green eyes, emotions and sand... So, yeah five, you included."

Trust Luke to have a dreamgirl, Mara thought and grinned but something about his description tugged at her mind. He couldn't, could he? she asked herself and tried to conjure up the image of her farmboy, but try as she might, she couldn't. She discarded the thought and chided herself for being so foolish. I saw his death certificate, along with his parents'. He is dead.

"Turn around," Luke's whispered words yanked her out of her reverie and entranced, Mara let him guide her facing the wall. She shivered when she felt his hands in her hair, massaging the cleaner deeply into her scalp and working up an abundant lather. Mara swayed slightly, enjoying the massage he was giving her and for a moment she thanked all his former lovers who had initiated him in doing such a lowly task as washing a woman's hair with such great skill.

After he had cleaned and rinsed her hair, leaving Mara like putty in his hands, he continued to massage her. His strong hands moving over the skin of her shoulders and back with strokes and kneads that soothed and calmed rather than aroused. Mara could feel herself being enveloped in his presence and for the second time this day she let it happen, she let her guards somewhat down and leant into the embrace. She felt safe and warm and her mind came to a soothing rest. All she could do was breathe and feel and from their connection in the Force it was all Luke wanted from her and so she complied.

Unbeknownst to Mara, Luke had used a Jedi relaxation technique on her as he had felt the strung-tight tension reigning her body and mind. Now as he felt her deep slow breathing and the soft way she leant into his chest with her back, he slowly put his arms around her and nuzzled his face in the crook of her neck.

"Let's get you to bed, Mara," he whispered and he heard an indistinct muffled sound coming over her lips. Shutting off the water he quickly but lovingly towelled her off. Grinning to himself, he bent slightly and put one hand beneath her knees, hoisting her up into his arms. Mara rested her head on his shoulder and watched him from heavy lidded eyes. Her whole body felt heavy and relaxed and she didn't care where Luke brought her. When he laid her down on his bed she sighed contentedly and snuggled into his bed linens.

Luke laughed softly as he watched Mara. He couldn't recall when he had seen her so relaxed - ever. Her tough attitude was gone and in its stead was a little girl that was too tired to strike up a conversation and once and for all trusted the person opposite her. Sitting down beside her, Luke started to rub her back, taking as much comfort from the touch himself as he was giving her. He listened to Mara sighing contentedly again and shifted slightly so he was sitting cross-legged beside the beautiful woman who was occupying his bed.

"Luke?" Mara's voice sounded distant and small but sent a ripple of pleasure down his spine nevertheless as she used his first name only on occasion. "Thank you."

Luke smiled at that and bent over her, putting a soft kiss on her cheek. "And thank you, Mara," he whispered hoarsely. Straightening up again, he watched her as she slept, keeping watch over her like a Knight over his lady. Luke had to chuckle over that comparison but he liked the idea. Soon the events of the morning caught up with him as well and when he snuggled close to Mara the last conscious thought he had was that of the warm body of the woman he loved tightly wrapped in his arms.

The sun had reached its peak and was now slowly descending over the horizon of Coruscant when Mara slowly awoke. She felt safe and secure in a soft cocoon of strong arms. Turning her head slightly to the left, she could see Luke's body spooned to her back and for a moment she cherished the feeling of comfort. Carefully, she touched his arm, he had slung over her waist and tried to pry it off her, resulting in Luke's squeezing her more tightly against his frame.

*Just a moment longer, Jade,* she felt his voice in her mind and silently she conceded. Closing her eyes, she turned around to face him. Blue eyes met hers sleepily and she could not resist to reach out and touch his stubbled cheek lightly. Like a Corellian kitten, Luke rubbed his face against her soft palm. His throat emitting purring sounds while Mara laughed.

*I never knew Tatooine has its own feline kind,* Mara sent him through their Force bond, and Luke chuckled.

"Oh we have," he rasped and looked up. Mara shivered when she felt his gaze on her, like a caress. "It's the rare Tatooine Tomcat," he dead-panned. They both laughed at that and Mara had never felt so carefree and easy in her life. The Farmboy definitely had a relaxing effect on her.

Luke grinned as he watched Mara laughing. She looked so beautiful when she let go of all the pretence that was instilled in her for so long. Now she was only a woman, a woman who was now relaxing with her lover. Heeding the urge to kiss her, he bent over and gave her a soft kiss on her lips.

Mara enjoyed the kiss, letting the heavy feeling of passion flow freely through her body and soul, but a tiny voice inside her head was nagging her. Don't give in to him, he is Jedi. She frowned at that. I'm Jedi as well so it shouldn't bother me, she thought but there was still some feeling of premonition creeping in the back of her mind.

Luke had felt her troubled emotions and with a tendril of the Force he send her reassuring thoughts. He had dreamt so long for this to happen that he didn't want to jeopardise it in any way. Skywalker wondered at that. Selfishness is of the dark side, he reminded himself but he shrugged off the sentiment. For once I want to be selfish. I have been gallivanting all over the galaxy to save it from the Sith lords, and I don't think it is too selfish to wish for some sort of happiness. He grinned at that and kissed Mara more deeply.

The woman beneath him moaned and Luke knew she was more than ready to pursue the new aspect of their relationship. He gently pried himself off her and sat up. Meeting Mara's surprised gaze he winked at her and reached out for her arms. Hauling her into a sitting position he draped her shapely legs over his thighs and drew her closer. They kissed and teased each other slowly, their earlier quarrel forgotten.

"Luke!" Mara cried out in surprise when Skywalker drew her onto his lap. She grinned when she felt his hard manhood rubbing against her belly and leant forward to kiss him. Gentle hands moved around her hips, caressing and rubbing the soft skin. All of a sudden Mara felt herself being lifted and inch by inch by inch she was impaled by Luke's hardness.

*I didn't know you had that in you,* she chuckled and looked him straight in the eyes.

*And I never thought you'd ever have a Jedi Master in you!* Luke retorted and laughed at Mara's dumbfounded expression. *What? No taunts for me? Did I best you, the great Mara Jade?*

"You are impossible, Skywalker," Mara whispered and enjoyed the slow, deep and mesmerising upward thrusts Luke administered.

"No, Mara, just happy to be with you," Luke replied seriously, as he moved slowly and deeply inside of her. Mara sighed softly and gazed deeply into his sky-blue eyes. She straightened and felt the sensation of having him inside her increasing. Kissing him softly she started to move likewise, meeting his upward thrust with gyrating hips of her own.

Their lovemaking was slow, belying the fact that they both hungered for each other and desperately desired their release. They needed each other, needed to reassure each other that this was real and not another Force-induced dream. Luke kissed her softly on her closed eyelids and shifted slightly, one arm encircling her waist while his other hand came up around her back and clamped down on her shoulder, increasing the friction between their bodies.

Mara sighed and kissed him, trying to suppress the urge to move quicker and harder against him.

"Open your eyes," Luke demanded hoarsely, and Mara complied with a questioning look. "I want to see you when you come, Mara. Come for me," he whispered and their eyes locked.

Mara moved slightly against him, then she felt his mind opening to her and she let herself being wrapped up in him. Careful not to break eye contact, they moved in unison, thrusting and gliding, pushing and gyrating until Mara thought she could not bear it anymore. All she could see was Luke's intent gaze, fixing her to the spot, searching the deepest secrets of her soul, but she was not afraid. His hot look increased her passion, it let the desire she felt for him surge freely through her as she gazed deeply into her lover's eyes. The Force seemed to overwhelm her, as both neared their release. She felt Luke becoming one with herself and she felt Luke's sensation as he likewise became one with her. They were one being, one breath, one heart beat.

Luke had felt the change in their lovemaking and he bent slightly forward to kiss Mara. That simple kiss brought her over the brink of passion and as she came Luke could feel all the sensation coursing through her body, surprising and arousing him even more at the same time. He felt the shudder of his release as he came inside her, feeling his own release as well as the powerful reaction of Mara. Their foreheads rested against each other and hands which had been roaming over their heated skin joined and their fingers intertwined. The Force was surrounding them, coursing in light blue flashes around them, feeding the bond that strengthened as well as deepening it.

Feeling each other's emotions they also could sense each other's thoughts like they had never felt before. There were no barriers between them and Mara could feel all the hurt, anger but also joy that Luke only sometimes let come to the surface.

*Luke? What is happening?* Mara asked, suddenly a deeply rooted fear coming to the surface of her consciousness.

*I don't know,* Luke's voice echoed in her mind and in an instant Mara knew he was experiencing the same sensations for the first time. *I have heard about Force mind melts before but I never thought it was possible.* His voice inside her head trailed away and he could sense a change in Mara's mind, her equilibrium was all of a sudden darkened by something fiendish and dark.

Something inside her uncurled, some deeply rooted memory unfolded and she had the dreading feeling that she had experienced this kind of mind melt before. Flashes of a twisted face appeared before her mind's eye and she gasped. The presence she felt was dark and menacing. She shuddered involuntarily and loosing her focus on the kiss and the last throes of Luke's lovemaking, she lost contact with the mouth that had explored the soft hollow of her own. The presence came nearer engulfing her, and a wheezing voice reverberated through the room, through her whole being, shattering the warm feeling of love and tenderness she had felt only moments before. She was not able to see Luke's face anymore as it had changed and twisted to that of Palpatine.

*Sith whore, Mara Jade, you are mine!* The Emperor's voice raged through her, beating down on her body and consciousness blow after blow. *You will never leave me, not for riches, nor man or the light side, you are mine always!* Intense pain lunged at her, filling up every sense and fibre of her being.

Invisible hands clutched her flesh, maimed and punished. The passion she had felt only moments ago was driven away and substituted by the searing pain of hatred and anger. Unsettling images of the Emperor bending over a far younger Mara Jade, invading her personal space, invading her spirit and body with his mind and flashes of the dark side of the Force raked through her body, tore at the vulnerable fabric of her mind, ripped away the barriers that she had learned to establish while in the presence of others, leaving her open for destruction. Mara cried out when memories of an incident came back to her with overwhelming power, unable to stop these images she made Luke an unwitting spectator.

"NOO!" Mara gasped and she flung herself off Luke, trying to cut the bond that was between them, but to no avail.

Mara writhed in pain as she remembered the Force bolts that had engulfed her body once. Even now after so many years she could still feel the pain racing through every fibre of her body, clenching the muscles of her limbs and threatening to stop the erratic beating of her heart.

*You are a whore, Mara Jade. My Whore!* the voice of the Emperor reverberated through her brain and she cried out in agony. The bolts had now entered her body, the evil presence of the late Emperor not only engulfed her but touched her innermost as well, brandishing the woman's body with his ill touch.

The dull pain following the images of the past left the couple panting Luke felt sullied and dirty and yet the bigger part of his soul felt great pity and compassion for the woman who had come to mean so much to him. He reached out to her with the Force, the same Force that the Emperor had used and twisted to hurt her and when he saw her flinch, he closed his eyes for a moment.

Luke had shared her vision and the Force exchange flung him back onto the bed. There he lay panting, the previous lovemaking and mind melt leaving him drained. He shivered under the images that he had witnessed and for a moment anger and disgust rose to the surface of his mind.

"What the ..." he cut down on the expletive and turned around to look at Mara where she lay on the floor. She, too, was panting heavily but he could sense rather than hear the sobs that were raking her body. Dragging himself off the bed he knelt quickly beside her. "Mara, what happened?"

The young woman jerked away from him. "Don't touch me, don't!" she said with a shivering voice and tried to control the fear she had.

*Mara, my love, what happened? Let me help you* Luke sent forth, trying to reassure her, but her glare and the barriers she tried to build around her let him hesitate.

*Mara, don't be stupid, you can't erect barriers against ...* Luke was interrupted by Mara, who shrieked: "Get out of my head, Jedi. I don't need another master!"

Mara scrambled to her feet and yanking her clothes back on, she tried to get out of the bedroom. Luke grabbed her arm and they both became one. Visions of the Emperor engulfed them both, almost overwhelming both of the Jedi.

*Mara!* Luke sent her through the Force, but the Trader ignored his pleading tone.

"Don't, please," she pleaded wearily as she edged away from him. "I can't... can't let it happen ever again. One voice telling me what to do is enough to last a lifetime, I don't want to be manipulated ever again."

Luke rubbed his hands raggedly over his face, trying to comprehend what had happened to them. "Mara, you know I would never -" he was cut short when Mara's lightsaber flew into her hand and was ignited instantly.

"Stay away from me, Skywalker, if you know what is good for you!" Mara demanded hoarsely and edged away from him. The blade sizzled angrily when she backed towards the door.

Present Time - Coruscant med center

Luke woke up with a start and for the first few seconds he didn't know where he was or what he was doing lying on a med center bed. Then the recent events came back to him. Looking down on the woman who was sleeping cradled in his arms, he squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Trying to make sense why the Force had sent him these dreams. He was not proud of having let her go after their last love making. He knew he should have prevented her from leaving and should have investigated the vision he had shared with Mara. Instead he had been so frightened at what he had seen, he had let her take off in the Fire. Now ten weeks later, she was back again, wounded and not one with the Force and still he was needing the same answers to his questions.

Sending forth a tendril of the Force towards Mara, he felt her Force signature slowly strengthening. Closing his eyes for a moment, he leant his forehead against Mara's and concentrated on the still weak light in the Force, nurturing it.

Little by little Luke became aware of the dream images that were haunting Mara, and opening himself up more, he let them flow freely through his mind. Images of her mission to retrieve the Jedi artifacts entered his mind and soon he was engulfed by them. He could feel Mara trying to keep them at bay unconsciously but with their bond that was beginning to strengthen again after it had been severed so abruptly ten weeks prior, she could not - would not succeed.

Skywalker braced himself for the onslaught of images, the pain and fear she had felt when she left him after their last love-making. He could feel the desperation with which she tried to banish the images of Palpatine out of her mind, but she couldn't. Luke sighed softly and tried to soothe the pain deep inside her, but he knew that in order to heal her from past wounds both mental and physical, she had to participate freely. He just hoped she would give him the chance to do so.

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