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 Hand of Fate - L/M [WIP Chap 15 of ??] 
Jade_Max


Joined: 03 Nov 2008
Posts: 20
Location: Canada
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Disclaimer: It's George's sandbox; I'm simply destroying the sandcastles.

Title: Hand of Fate
Author: Jade_Max
Timeframe: Post "The Last Command" AU
Characters: Luke, Mara - OT characters
Summary: Mara and Luke establish their Force Bond completely by accident during the (slightly altered) events on Wayland while destroying th evil clone Luuke. Struggling with the knowledge and the sudden bond between them, things take a messy turn when the court system - looking for a scape goat and cause to garner public approval - arrest the former "Hand" on charges ranging from murder to treason... and Luke Skywalker is their star witness.
Notes: Adopted from the Plot Bunny Thread's Plot Bunny Hutch. Big thank you to Jedi_Lover at theforce.net boards for a plot bunny that's been eating at me since I first read it - it's going to be fun!
Notes 2: I think this is my second or third ever L/M story - and my first long shot - and I admit to still being uncomfortable writing both characters. Any and all constructive character criticism is welcome (In thread, or in PM) - thank you in advance!

Teh Bunny
What if Mara and Luke established their Force Bond (you know the one they experienced in VOTF) at the end of TLC? So now Mara knows all of Luke’s thoughts and memories and Luke now knows all of Mara’s memories and her most guarded secrets.

If it got out that Jedi master Luke Skywalker was now privy to all the secrets of a former Imperial assassin do you think the New Republic leadership would have subpoenaed Luke to testify before a grand jury investigating Mara’s crimes as an Imperial Assassin?

What would make this a cool little fanfic is if the EU has the same rules as courts in the USA. Meaning spouses cannot be compelled to testify against one another.

So Luke, in an effort to protect Mara from the courts that are trying railroad her, volunteers to marry her so he would not be compelled to testify. I can just see it now...Romance, Angst and maybe more.

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Re-posted by request from Hand of Fate over at theforce.net boards. I'll try and update daily until this is caught up to the same part as where I'm at over on the other board. "Extra" scenes will be posted on this board in the adult section for such scenes Wink .

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Hand of Fate

Chapter 1

Force Bonded.

To Mara Jade.

Luke Skywalker rubbed his forehead with two fingers, trying to think quietly and receiving nothing but a headache for his troubles. The information screen in front of him, a fragment from the Imperial records about Jedi and their obscure powers, flickered in and out and was no comfort.

Forced Bonded.

How had it happened? How could it have happened? How had they let it happen?

He opened blood-shot eyes to stare at the screen once more, trying to wrap his mind around the concept. According to the records, Force Bonds had been exceedingly rare, even in the Old Republic, and established between two Jedi deliberately. In the notes he'd found, it indicated that Force Bonds took years of mutual trust to build because of their intrusive and all consuming nature.

As he knew.

They'd arrived at the Emperor's store house of Wayland, entered Mount Tantiss and been confronted by a clone of Luke himself. Luke had fought the clone, but Mara - the woman who'd promised to kill him - had watched his back. He'd stretched out without thinking to allow her access to his resources to help bolster her own defenses. She'd taken willingly and completely, unknowingly forging the last link in a Force Bond by her acceptance.

Without that link, they'd likely not have won. She'd helped him clear the buzzing from his mind and to focus beyond it, and he'd boosted her own innate powers to deal with the Jorus C'baoth. Her physical skills had needed no help; he'd simply lent her the discipline to make full use of her Force abilities.

They'd come out of the fight grateful to be alive, their thoughts a mirror of each other and, because of their connection in battle, they'd ignored it. It wasn't until they were back on the Wild Karrde and Mara's inner turmoil from the fight had seeped into his chest as if it were his own, that had Luke realized that something had fundamentally shifted between he and the fiery red-head.

Mara had tried to brush him off, telling him it was nothing and that she was fine, but Luke had cornered her - a reckless and dangerous move he could now admit - in one of the Wild Karrde's main hallways. They'd fought, fiercely, both verbally and physically, and it had only brought home one thing; a connection had been forged between them that allowed them to now read each other's thoughts and feelings.

Memories had popped into Luke's mind of Mara's missions, her actions, deceptions, lies; the blank spot of her past before being taken by Emperor. He'd seen the knowledge of his own past reflected in her eyes. He didn't just know her past though, he knew her. Thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and desires.

Saying that Mara hadn't been happy was an understatement.

He could feel, even now and with several system between them, the confusion she could no longer hide. Confusion that was laced with resentment and anger because of what had happened between them. Mara's innermost thought now came to him in dreams, sometimes when awake, as she fought the pull of the tie they'd forged. She'd learned to shield some of them, but only as a temporary solution, and Luke had promised to investigate to see what it would take to either remove it or block it.

Yet, even as he was searching, her felt... wrong doing so. The Force had brought them together to face the Thrawn threat, and left them irrevocably linked - according to his reading thus far - and had done so for a reason he didn't yet understand.

Mara's displeasure with his thoughts was evident; she was avoiding him. And had been since her decision to accept the Smuggler Alliance's offer to be a liaison between them and the New Republic. She hadn't returned to Coruscant since and Luke knew it was so she didn't have to deal with him.

Their only conscious contact was, by her design, written. She'd left him a single note saying she expected him to find a way to fix their predicament. Nothing else. No goodbye, no signature, just those words. Knowing how much she valued her independence, and the price she'd paid to achieve it, Luke had ignored his own instincts to deny her and set about doing as she'd asked.

Mara's notes continued to arrive, simple instructions that sometimes held codes or file names she thought might help. She referenced obscure books of data disks, got him access - with Ghent's help - to the Emperor's personal files and recovered data thought by others to be irretrievable. Not that it had helped. The data was corrupted, patchy and missing key phrases.

For over a month, it he'd gotten no closer to keeping his promise.

"Master Luke?"

Luke didn't look up from his quest. "Yes, Threepio?"

"There's another message for you, sir."

"Is it from Mara?"

"No sir; it's from the Coruscant Defense and Legal Department."

That caught his attention and he swung around to look at Threepio questioningly. "The Legal Department? What did they want?"

"The message says they have some questions about your report from Wayland that wanted to clarify. Shall I route the message to your station?"

"Patch it through."

Threepio disappeared and Luke keys in the sequence, the message flickering to life shortly thereafter.

A small, pudgy fellow dressed in a severe suit that only emphasized his chubbiness looked solemnly into the recording device. "Greetings, Jedi Skywalker. I am Skyes of the Coruscant Defense and Legal Department. Our office has some items they need clarified about your mission report to Wayland and your collaboration with one Mara Jade. Please drop by our office at your earliest convenience; sooner is better."

The image clicked off and Luke leaned back in his chair thoughtfully, the Force urging him to caution. Something had sent alarm bells ringing through his mind and he couldn't imagine what. Mara's touch, though distant, was also concerned. He could tell it was an almost automatic response as the touch changed to one of disgust - with herself. Shaking his head, he pushed out of his chair, focusing instead on the strange message.

Mara's presence faded to the background, as if to give him privacy, though the sensation was still intrusive enough he was completely aware of it. A part of him was uncomfortable knowing that she could read him as easily as he could read her, but another part - the larger part - was relieved he couldn't pretend with her. He could simply be. It was a refreshing change for the man everyone expected to be the "perfect" Jedi.

Luke pushed the thoughts away. His mind was drifting off topic, a sure sign that he needed some sleep. He rose, stretching to get the kinks out of his back, and shut down the console he'd been using. The strange message was still in his thoughts but sleep was more pressing. Until he could think it through with a mind not fogged from too little sleep, it would have to wait and so could Skyes.

Sleep beckoned, like the call of a siren, and this time Luke didn't resist.


Last edited by Jade_Max on Thu Jan 01, 2009 9:24 am; edited 2 times in total
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 2

Mara Jade placed her drink on the scarred bar top with a clink, her carefully neutral expression betraying nothing. "You never did know when to back off, Aves."

The tall, thin man, she addressed - Talon Karrde's right hand man - shrugged and shifted on his bar stool. "They're just rumors."

"Unfounded." Mara told him with an arched eyebrow. "You shouldn't believe everything you hear."

Aves picked up his own drink and took a sip. "After everything I've read - that Ghent could get his hands on - they're not that unfounded."

Mara shrugged, twisting the glass once in the circle of condensation, her gaze never leaving his. "Ghent needs to learn when not to get involved."

"This is a freebie, courtesy of Talon," he pulled a datacard from his sleeve with a practiced movement and dropped it to the counter. She made no move towards it as he slid it several inches away from him towards her.

Mara felt Skywalker's attention focus on something regarding her for just a moment, feeling a surge of apprehension and worry. Without conscious thought, she was worried and then, alternatively, annoyed. Skywalker, though a backwater planet farm boy, was a grown man and could take care of himself. She could feel Skywalker's mind at the back of hers as she consciously pulled away. Skywalker believed the link was a message from the Force. Mara didn't think so; she saw it as another method of servitude, a way of being held hostage and was one she needed to break - fast.

She should have killed him when she’d had the chance.

Her mind snapped back to the present to see Aves looking at her strangely. She blanked her face and covered the momentary lapse by taking a sip of her drink. "What's on it?" She nodded to the data disk.

"Stories, mostly. Eye witness accounts. Memories and facts. What Ghent was able to lift from the Emperor's personal files on you before giving the access codes to Skywalker."

Mara palmed the disk and slid it into a thigh pocket without verifying its contents. Karrde's group had no reason to lie to her. If Aves said that's what was on it, then that's what was on it. She'd destroy it later. "Thanks. I'll owe you one."

"On the house; you're buying."

"Two employers, two paycheques." Her eyes sparkled. "You should come work for me instead of Karrde."

Aves shrugged noncommittally, but Mara had made the offer in jest. She knew Aves was loyal to Karrde, but he wanted nothing more than to strike out on his own as a Captain. He would eventually, just not yet. He downed the last of his drink and stood. "I have to get going. See you around, Mara."

She lifted her hand in farewell before turning back to the bar. Several of the patrons regarded her curiously, but swiftly went back to their drinks. One was pretending to pay no attention to her, but she could sense his interest. Her lips thinned. Her image had been plastered all over the Holonet before she'd put a stop to it for 72 hours after their return from Wayland. Someone had leaked a story to the Galactic Press about the battle to rid the Galaxy of another Emperor-like dictator, a Hero story, and supplied her name as the Heroine.

Damn Skywalker and his meddling ways anyway. She knew he'd been the one to talk to them, a way to exonerate her in the eyes of the public, but it had made her life hell. And she knew he knew that she knew. The Force-cursed link between them made it impossible for her to hide anything from him. He knew intimate details about her past.

Leaving her parents. Her first days with the Emperor. Her initiation as one of his Hands. Black listed missions; her first - she shied away from the thoughts, mentally blocking herself from Luke before he caught on to her resentment and tried to sooth her.

She disliked the invasion of her privacy, the violation of her freedom - but at the same time reveled in the similarly intimate details she knew about Luke. Details she would have bet no one knew, not even his twin. It was a powerful, and humbling, experience. And humiliating, knowing his thoughts and knowing he knew her thoughts on the matter.

She might not understand what had happened, but it was simply unacceptable for things to remain as they were. She had no desire to be someone's shoulder to cry on. She had no intention of being able to feel Skywalker's every emotional and physical bump and scrape for the rest of her life. No. He had to figure out what he'd done to connect them and then undo it. Nothing else was acceptable

Finishing her drink, she dropped a credit chip on the bar top and departed. She initially didn't pay any notice to the alien following her, there were always people following her now a days, as she headed back for her lodgings. She'd gone barely a block before the insistence in the back of her mind caught her attention. Her lips thinned just a moment before the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. The blaster in her sleeve dropped into her hand with a flick of her wrist, though she gave no outward appearance of having noticed the tail. She continued her walk, stretching her pace a little to see who sped up.

No one. She ducked around a corner and stopped, placing her back to the wall, the hold out blaster sitting comfortably in her hand. She took a deep breath and reached reluctantly for the Force. It came at her call, sliding through her veins like heady wine and stretched her senses around the corner.

The skill honing she'd done on Wayland paid off.

The dozen or so individuals in the street came into brilliant focus as individual entities, each a different, distinct pattern between them. Two she dismissed outright, focusing her attention on the other ten. No panic.

She silently cursed her own carelessness. Everyone on the planet likely knew where she was staying, she'd made no secret of it, so why would her tail panic? All they had to do was pick her up again when she returned. She felt several of the individuals coming her way and leaned against the wall, pulling off one half-boot as if to shake out a rock.

Waiting, making a show of examining her footwear for anyone who happened to notice her, Mara kept a covert eye on the people who rounded the corner. There. The fourth one's presence spiked the moment it laid eyes on her. She didn't so much as twitch, waiting for the operative to go by. No outward movements, no signs that she was his prey. She almost smiled; he was good.

Slipping her boot back on, she carried on her way, stepping up her pace until she was a half-step behind the tail. At the next turn, she grabbed the collar of his coat in one hand and propelled him into the wall of a convenient alleyway over one foot. He stumbled, starting to fall head first, but her grip on the coat checked the movement. The man was pressed firmly into the wall as Mara's blaster slipped into her left hand and she wedged it into the small of his back.

"Move and you're dead."

The man froze.

Mara glanced about to ensure no one seemed to notice them before focusing on the individual who'd been tailing her. "Why are you following me?"

"Orders."

"From whom?"

He didn't respond, struggling in her grasp a little, and she dub the blaster nose into his ribs.

"I don't like to repeat myself, but since you're a new acquaintance I'll make an exception. Who are your orders from?"

"NRI."

Mara's grip slackened for a heart beat. New Republic Intelligence? Why? What could they possibly gain from trailing her; she practically worked for them for Force sakes! She focused her attention once more but that half second was enough for the operative to twist free and plant his shoulder into her chest, sending her stumbling backwards.

The blaster went off, the bolt ricocheting twice before the operative let out a string of curses and fled.

Mara caught herself seconds before she would have hit the ground, rolling with the impact and keeping her feet - but barely. She swore silently as the operative disappeared into the flow of traffic and holstered her blaster. She was getting soft; a move like that wouldn't have caught her off guard before this whole job between the Republic and the Smuggler's Alliance.

However, her tail's cover was now blown and she'd gotten a good look and sense of him. Confident he wouldn't be following her anymore; she stepped from the alleyway back into the general populace of the world and headed for her hotel.

A nice hot shower with real water was calling her name and after the alley encounter, she only hoped once would be enough to feel clean.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 3

Mara stepped from the shower with a sigh, toweling her hair dry. She felt immensely better now that she'd had a chance to relax a little. But she couldn't completely relax; not with the NRI tailing her.

She frowned at her reflection in the steam covered glass.

What did they want anyway? Why follow her of all people - and why now?

Her gaze tracked to where she'd hung her clothes before her shower and she stepped closer, reaching into the thigh pocket where she'd left the disk Aves had given her. It was smooth against her fingers, cool to the touch as she withdrew it.

Discreet, it held no label, no indication as to the damaging information held within. She gripped it between two fingers, holding the disk up to the light. It was almost full too; she was going to have to have a chat with Ghent about putting his nose where it didn't belong. He should have just erased the information at the source.

But then, he wouldn't have been Ghent if he had.

Shaking away the thought, she gripped the disk in both hands and, with a bunch and pull of her muscles, snapped it in half. Once halved, she snapped it again into quarters, making the data virtually irretrievable. The pieces went onto the counter top as she hung her towel and pulled on a fresh jump suit.

Once dressed, she collected the pieces once more and retrieved a small contain from her bag. Opening the lid revealed a piece of electromagnetic material inside the heavily shielded compartment. She rarely traveled anywhere without it; one never knew when permanent erasure of information would be necessary.

She slid the pieces of the broken disk inside and snapped the lid closed. Exposure would erase the information permanently. She had just finished putting the case away when a knock sounded at her door. Her head came up with a snap, reflexes kicking in, and she spun from the open duffle to the nearest wall.

Listening, her head cocked, the knock came again. Feeling like a paranoid fool, she stepped to the portal, but on one side, and checked to see who her visitor was.

The hallway was empty.

She frowned, reaching reluctantly to the Force and stretching her senses into the hallway. No one. No sentient beings at any rate, but the nagging suspicion that something wasn't right didn't pass and she pulled her blaster from the table by the door where she'd dropped it upon her return.

Palming the door, she halted it a third of the way open and carefully checked the surroundings. Still nothing. She turned to the other hallway, and the glint of something on the ground caught her eye; a holo recorder. Carefully sliding her hand out, ready to yank it back at a moment's notice.

Nothing stopped or hindered her retrieval of the device as she slid the door shut.

She turned it over in her hand for a moment before placing it on the table and hitting the play button.

A distinguished figure appeared, the hologram someone she'd have recognized anywhere; Airen Cracken, the new head of NRI. First she'd accosted their agent, and now the head of the NRI was sending her messages - it was a bad sign.

The hologram appeared to be waiting for just a few moments before the recording kicked in.

"Greetings, Mara Jade. It's come to my attention that you're aware of our surveillance of you and I commend your talents for counter-intelligence. Under different circumstances, you would have made a star operative in my organization. Alas, that is not why I am contacting you." The image flickered as the hologram shifted position. "This is a message to alert you that you are more than under surveillance; you're under a full scale investigation. One that is almost complete. I can't say why, but your cooperation would go a long way towards proclaiming your innocence."

Her cooperation. Cooperation for what? She frowned. She'd never liked Cracken's riddles or half truths even before he'd become the head of NRI.

The hologram paused, and straightened. "As I know you have a strong sense of survival, I expect you to return to Coruscant immediately. If you don't, there is every possibility you could be tried in absentee and found guilty. As I'm certain neither you nor I wish it, I have made arrangements for you to be on the first transport out and in my office before the sun rises tomorrow morning. I'll see you then; Cracken out."

Mara stared at where the image had been for a few moments, anxiety churning in her gut. Luke's comforting presence reached out to sooth her - an automatic reaction that was as unconscious as breathing - and she was sorely tempted for a briefest of moments to let him. Instead she pulled back, blocking him out and began to pace.

The head of the NRI had sent her an official summons, and while she didn't technically work for the New Republic, she couldn't afford to sour her relationship at this point in a very touchy negotiation with the Smuggler's Alliance. She could choose to stay and finish the deal, possibly ending up tried and sentenced in absentee for whatever cock-eyed charge the NRI had cooked up; or she could go and look after her own skin to ensure she'd be able to broker more deals with the Smuggler's Alliance.

It was really no choice at all as she proceeded to repack her duffle. Five minutes later she was headed out the door and signing out of her hotel. She'd taken the time for a single call, in which she left a message for Talon Karrde explaining her sudden disappearance and the necessity of clearing her name before continuing as their liaison to the New Republic. That finished, and certain Karrde would understand, she embarked on the high speed transport headed for Coruscant .

~*~*~

Luke woke with a start, his heart racing as he stared at the ceiling and fought against the feelings of dread and frustration that permeated his body. His stomach was in knots and a cold sweat had broken out across his body as he fought his way free of the mental cobwebs and identified the source. The emotions weren't his.

Mara.

He closed his eyes, fighting against the intensity of her shielded emotions. They were all the more volatile for her not giving them their head. Frustration and anxiety were prominent, though he didn't know much - beyond a crazy Jedi Master clone - who would make her nervous. Knowing her as intimately as he did, he knew she feared little. She was terrified of commitment, terrified of losing herself to a single individual and in many ways felt she had by establishing this bond with him.

It was why she'd run.

He pushed the thoughts away, trying to touch Mara's consciousness, trying to get some kind of reading from her as to where she was or what was making her so anxious, but she was shielded against it. He pushed off the bed, his bare feet encountering the cool flooring and focusing his mind elsewhere for a few moments - but not for long. He padded to the bedroom window on silent feet and braced one arm against the wall as he stared out into the ever-traffic that was Coruscant.

What could have caused Mara to react as she did? No individual person, that much he knew. No group of people scared her; not even the Empire she'd served had been capable of instilling fear in her. She'd been above the law, weaving in and out of gray areas, fulfilling a purpose, a function she knew only as service to the man she'd loved more like a father than a Master.

But he'd been her Master, none-the-less. Parts of Mara hadn't yet gotten beyond the Emperor's betrayal. His desire to use her to punish Vader, even after he was dead. She was hurt, confused and frustrated with the New Republic. A republic she saw as a pale ghost of what the Empire in all it's glory had been.

He sighed, shaking his head as he turned away from the window. Being inside Mara's mind was like sending yourself into a negative G spin without a safety harness and trying to pull out.

It wasn't going to happen.

Scooping his robe from the end of his bed, he headed back into his kitchenette and flipped on the holo news as he turned to make his caf. He was only listening with half an ear when her name caught his attention linked to his. And not in the fashion he expected.

"In other news, the infamous Smuggler's alliance contact, Mara Jade, was arrested today on counts of sedition, treason, theft and murder. It is rumored that the Galactic Hero and Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker has intimate knowledge of her crimes and will be subpoenaed to testify against her at her trial. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the Force, that which gives the Jedi his powers, has granted the Hero the ability to know this criminal's most intimate secrets. Mara Jade, formerly an aid and personal assassin of the late Emperor-"

Luke flipped the holo news off and sat down heavily at the island, staring - but not seeing - the holoprojector.

Mara had been arrested and charged with crimes again the New Republic. Crimes she'd committed while in the service to the Emperor, acting on his orders and seeking his approval. Crimes that had no bearing on her current character or career choice. Yet, even as he thought it, he knew everything abut Mara's past history - long and short term - would be aired like dirty laundry to a galaxy that had nothing better to do than to persecute a woman who had risked her life to save it.

A galaxy that liked nothing better than to see a hero fall.

He snapped back to reality when his comlink buzzed and called it to him with a thought. "Skywalker."

"Lily Star of the Coruscant Post, sir-"

He flipped the comlink off only to have it beep again. He activated it. "Skywalker."

"Vix Madden of the Galactic-"

He switched it off, dropping it to the table as if he'd been burned. Reporters. The comlink beeped a third time and didn't touch it. Pushing away from the table he moved to his comm station and keyed up a screening program. Everything from numbers he knew nothing about, or had never called his, would be filtered directly to messages. Anything coming in from his family or friends would be sent through. The comlink mercifully fell silent as he activated it.

He called it back to the comm station and almost jumped when it buzzed again. He answered it hesitantly. "Skywalker."

"Luke?"

"Leia!" He was unable to keep the relief from his voice. "Tell me you didn't see that."

"I did. Is it true? Did you get subpoenaed to testify against Mara?"

"You know as much as I do right now," Luke told her honestly, getting up and pacing as he spoke on the comlink. "I have a message from the legal department asking me to come down to speak with them. It must be what this is about."

"What are you going to do?"

Luke hand a hand through his hair, absently noting that he needed a hair cut - and wondering why he'd notice now of all times. "I don't know yet. I don't even know if the report is true!" Yet, even as he said it, he knew it was the truth; the New Republic had arrested Mara and was showing her no mercy in an effort to sway more systems to their cause. He felt sick thinking about it. "Where are you?"

"We're at home; the twins are being fussy today."

Luke smiled at the motherly pride in his sister's voice. "I'm sure they're bigger than when I was last there too."

"Yesterday?" Her tease was gentle. "What do we do about Mara?"

"I'm going to contact this Skyes person at the defense bureau and see what he says. If we're lucky, this is all a big misunderstanding."

Leia was silent for a few moments. "Skyes, you said?"

"That's what he said; do you know him?"

Leia's voice changed slightly, taking on a more cautiously concerned tone. "Be careful, Luke. He's the same slimy hutt who tried to make me the star witness against Han when they wanted to charge him with aiding and abetting the enemy."

Luke stared at the comlink in surprise. "Someone tried to have Han charged - when was this?"

"Shortly after we were married." Leia's tone was dry. "Fortunately, the old regulations still stand for trials and a wife can't be compelled to testify against her husband. Without me, he had to give up his case."

"I bet Han loved it."

Her laughter was audible through the line. "He does love a good irony. Be careful, Luke. Skyes is a slippery fish."

"I will. I'll stop by after I see him to let you know how it went."

"I'll see you then. Don't worry about calling ahead; we'll be here."

Luke smiled to himself as Leia cut the transmission and he replaced the comlink by the comm panel. He rubbed his chin, thinking about Leia's off handed comment about being unable to testify. The smile died as Mara's anger burst through her carefully shielded self, ricocheting through him like a blaster bolt. He reached for the wall to support himself, the fury she was feeling finding an outlet through their Force Bond.

"Master Luke? Master Luke? Are you alright, sir?"

"Fine Threepio." He fought back the wave of anger; Mara must have just been told why she was in custody. He pushed away from the wall. "Doesn't Leia need you or something?"

"You requested I assist in your search, Master Luke. Do you no longer require my services?"

Assist in his research. Right. Not that the droid had been any help since he was limited to domestic and political functions. Still, he cooked better than Luke himself did. "I think Leia might like you back to resume your functions. I'm sure Artoo can manage to sift through those records on his own. I appreciate your help, but there's not much you can do right now."

"If you insist."

Luke turned back towards his room as Threepio headed for the front door. He needed to shower, change and get down to that office before Mara lost her patience for real and began un-cooperating with the authorities. When that to happened, all hell was going to break loose.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 4

"I came peacefully, I've cooperated with you in every way and you expect me to what?"

The NRI agent paced back and forth in front of Mara, his hands folded behind his back. "We expect you to remain on Coruscant for the remainder of our investigation. Until such time as we ascertain the depth of your crimes, you must be available to answer our questions."

"You don't honestly think that I'm going to help you."

"It would be in your own best interest to cooperate with us."

She crossed her arms over her chest, her expression closed. "It would be in my best interest to use my contacts and ditch your ungrateful butts before you try to make your charges stick."

"Running would be construed as an-"

"An affirmation of guilt." Mara settled back in the chair. "This job must be pretty dull if you're into repetitions already; you've said it twice."

"I simply wish that you do not misconstrue anything I am saying, Miss Jade."

She snorted softly. "I don't think anyone could misconstrue what you're saying. I've had enough of this farce. Should I call my litigator or am I free to go?"

"I can't hold you seeing as how you've already made bail."

Mara pushed up from the table and strode from the room, her boot heels ringing on the deck plating. Formality indeed! The NRI was investigating her - her! - the woman who'd saved all their precious New Republic butts only weeks ago. And now this. Arrested and charged with crimes she'd committed years before this fledgling government had taken control. Bureaucracy wasn't winning any awards in her books and neither were its hounds, the NRI.

Airen Cracken had given her the courtesy of five measly minutes in which he’d explains succinctly that she was under investigations for the crimes she’d committed against the Alliance and New Republic members before its official inception. He’d outlined the charges, including treason and murder, and slid a list of names towards her that she recognized from the NRI’s “unsolved” database.

So much for the pardon she'd been issued; apparently it meant nothing when one had been the personal aide to the Emperor.

She’s asked only one question - where they were getting their information.

Cracken hadn’t said, but he’d implied that their source was someone of high standing with inside information everyone would eat up for the chance to see her hang. That had left only one option since everyone who knew about her time as an assassin was either dead or missing - or should have been dead.

Luke Skywalker. The man was more trouble than he was worth.

She stalked out of the station house, her displeasure evident in every stride, only to come up short as she saw a familiar black-suited figure heading her way at a jog. It was a figure she'd have stopped to look at anywhere else in the galaxy but Coruscant. His blonde hair was still shaggy and in need of a cut but it only added to his innocent charm rather than make him look unkempt. Damn the man for looking so good when she felt so low.

"What do you want, Skywalker?"

He stopped several paces away, the intensity in his blue eyes catching her off guard. "I'd like to help you."

"Don't you think you've done enough? Telling them that you know my secrets; that you know the names of all the officials I assassinated during my time as a Hand? I don't want your help."

"I didn't tell them anything."

"Sure." But she wasn't sure of anything; she could feel he was telling the truth. "You're the only one who knows - who else could it be?"

"Anyone who was on Wayland or the Wild Karrde. Anyone who saw us when we landed, any number of support staff, a droid, a listening device, a-"

"Enough." She held up her hand. "I get it."

“I'm just trying to help.”

“You’ve helped enough.” She cast a dark look back at the station. "And I'm confined to the planet if I want any hope of clearing my name."

Luke cast a look around and then back to her. He could sense the interest they were generating and was positive he'd been followed by several media personnel. "Mara, could we go some place and talk?"

Mara could sense his nervousness, the way he was shielding something from her - obviously he'd made some progress in how to hide his emotions, thoughts and feelings. But not much - she was still getting a very strong sense of apprehension. "Some place without listening devices and droids?"

"Good luck; I was thinking my place... or maybe this little cafe I discovered called Dex's Diner."

"I've had enough of being a spectacle, thanks. Your place, Skywalker. Let's just do this quick, alright? The last thing I need is to be seen collaborating with the Prosecutors star witness."

"I came as soon as I realized you were here; I missed my appointment with him this morning." His smile was faint. "I haven't agreed to testify against you - and I won't."

"You won't have a choice." Mara fell into step beside him. "If they subpoena you and you'll be compelled to or risk contempt of court. Not testifying is an option they don't normally give."

A twinkle appeared in Luke's blue eyes. "Litigators are notoriously weak willed; I think I can work something out."

"The Force doesn't solve everything, farm boy." She shoved him by the shoulder to get him to move faster. "In some cases it only complicates things."

He cast a look at her as she stepped unerringly towards where his speeder was parked.. "I didn't create this thing between us on my own you know. Everything I've found indicates Force Bonds are created mutually; they can't be forced on another person."

"You honestly think I want to know about your exploits in Rogue Squadron? Or your crush on Fixer's girlfriend?" She stopped beside his speeder, climbing behind the controls before he could comment. Luke already had the activation codes in hand for her to take by the time he slid in beside her. "I hate to break it to you, Skywalker, but I've never had the urge to know you had a crush on your sister, or that she kissed you as a way to make Han jealous. Some of us prefer having one screwed up personality, not two."

Luke buckled himself in as Mara sent them careening out into the hover lanes. "I didn't ask for this either, Mara. That doesn't mean it’s all bad."

"Can you honestly tell me you like having the memory of my first kill and the way it made me feel on your conscience?"

Silence stretched between them. She knew he couldn't answer that one in the affirmative - not honestly - which is why she'd deliberately chosen that example. She snorted softly, sending the speeder down several levels before evening out again. "I didn't think so."

The rest of the short ride passed in silence until Mara slid the speeder into the space reserved for Luke. The repulsors wound down and were promptly replaced by hovering data droids and the flashing of lights as they took holo footage remotely for the holo reports. Luke waved his hand, irritated at the intrusion, sending the bots careening over the side of the building.

It gave Mara a chance to duck into the turbolift before they reappeared. The next wave of Luke's hand sent them into the side of the building and caused sparks as several shorted out. He took his own opportunity to join her and let the door close. "Vultures."

Her lips twisted. "I guess I hadn't thought that they'd be hounding you too."

"Leia says they're a fact of life when you're in the public eye. I've never gotten used to it."

"Do you think you ever will?"

His eyes darkened. "I hope not. I think if I did, it would mean that a part of me believes I deserve their attention and I know I don't. I may be the first of a new generation of Jedi, but that doesn't mean I believe any and everyone has a right to barge in on my life."

Mara chuckled, the first light-hearted sound he'd heard in a while. "Here, here. Now you know how I feel with this whole messy court business."

The turbolift opened on Luke's floor and he placed his hand on the door, holding it for Mara as she stepped out. It was an unconscious gesture, one Mara had never noticed before, and one she only noticed now because he wasn't thinking about it. Interesting.

"So what was it you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Just a second." Luke strode past her and palmed open his door after entering his security code. Artoo beeped a welcome from where he was still plugged into the wall jack, file after file, scrolling by as he continued Luke's search. Luke waved Mara in before stepping in behind her and closing the door. He locked it, something he'd taken to doing since the last news story about Mara's upcoming trial had be aired and named him as the star witness against her.

"Sorry, I just don't trust the hallways; those reporters can be pretty tenacious." He nodded to the couch. "Can I get you a drink?"

"Caf. Unless you've got something with a little kick to it."

"This early in the day?"

"Early?" Mara glanced at the chrono to find it wasn't even eleven yet. She smiled crookedly. "Caf's fine."

"Caf it is - unless you want juice. I found this stuff called Jawa juice; care to try it with me?"

"What's one more surprise after the last few?" She followed him into the kitchenette, watching as he rummaged through the cupboards for a couple of glasses before turning to the chiller. She couldn't help but trace the long, muscled line of his legs as he bent forward to grab the juice from the back of the container.

"I can hear that, Mara."

She arched an eyebrow at him when he shot her a look. "A woman's allowed to observe if nothing else."

Luke straightened, a container in hand, and poured two glasses of the thick, apricot colored liquid. "That's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about."

"Oh?" She accepted the glass, twisting it this way and that as the viscous liquid seemed to latch onto the inside. "Which part?"

"The nothing else part." Luke took a quick swallow without really tasting the juice. "I think I know how to save you from execution as a traitor."

"I'm all ears, Skywalker."

He waited for a heartbeat as she lifted the glass to her lips and then; "Marry me."
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 5

The drink paused a fraction of a heartbeat away from sliding into her mouth and Mara tipped it back into the glass. "Marry you - right." She laughed; she couldn't help it. "I don't think so, Skywalker."

He was quiet, watching her, his weight braced on the one arm he had on the countertop, the other hand holding the barely touched glass of juice. "Why not?"

"You're not serious."

Blue eyes held hers and she felt him lift the temporary shield he'd placed between him and their bond. He was serious. Deadly serious. She recoiled from the intensity of that look, but managed not to show it physically. Her glass started to slip through her fingers and she tightened her grip before replacing it carefully on the counter without having tasted a drop. "You are serious. Come on, Skywalker, marriage? Isn't that a little extreme?"

"They're going to subpoena me, Mara. They'll force me to testify against you - which they can't do only if we're married. I consider you a friend, I find you as attractive as you find me and we already know each other's little quirks - you know I sing in the shower, I know you like to paint your toenails before going on assignment. The added bonus to this situation is that it would keep you alive."

"But in chains." She shook her head, hardly believing a part of her was even considering his off hand proposal. "I'm not the marrying kind, Luke. I'd be a horrible wife."

"We don't have to be a real married couple; just until this whole mess blows over."

"When? In twenty years? Thirty? How long does it take for the taint that was the Emperor to be forgotten?" Serious green irises met blue. "They'll never forget this. You know it as well as I do. If, and I stress if, I even considered your proposal, it would be for life."

His lips kicked into a small smile. "Is it your freedom or mine you're so worried about?"

Mara pushed away from the counter. "It wouldn't work."

Luke finally placed his own glass beside hers and straightened with her. He searched her face for something. "It would only fail if we wanted it to. I wouldn't ask you to change for me Mara; if you did, you wouldn't be you."

"And the Smuggler's Alliance?"

"If you've no objections to my continued search for more potential Jedi, I have no qualms about you continuing your work. In fact, I'd insist."

"Already sick of me?"

"Never." He smiled, easing the seriousness of the observation. "Though we would have to spend the mandatory Coruscant honeymoon period before either of us could return to our jobs."

"Mandatory honeymoon period?" She choked on her laugh. "You're not serious."

He shrugged. "I read it somewhere. I'm sure we can talk our way out of it somehow."

"And if we can't - if it really is some kind of law?"

"Then we comply and try not to kill each other before the end of it. I don't know about you, but dying once by your hand is enough."

"Ha!" She snorted. "That wasn't even you."

"He looked like me."

"But lacked the farm boy charm," she grinned. "Don't tell me the noble Jedi Master is holding a grudge."

He grinned back. "Occasionally. I'm not perfect."

"No, you just like people to think you are."

"Do you honestly believe that?"

Her smirk told him she did. Luke picked up her glass, offering it once more. "So can I take that as a yes to my proposal?"

"You do realize there's a few things we have to get straight before I even consider saying yes, right?"

"Like the possibility of execution being less painful than life with me?"

"Ha ha." She accepted the drink. "I was thinking of our sleeping arrangements."

Luke blinked in surprise.

She almost laughed. "Is your couch comfortable?"

"Do you plan on camping out there?"

"You're the gentleman; you tell me - unless you want to live at my place."

"I've never seen your place."

"Then it would be a gamble, wouldn't it?" Her eyes gleamed with challenge. "Do you gamble, Jedi Skywalker?"

"Only with my life, never my accommodations. Besides, I doubt your place is set up for droids."

"I consider it a blessing."

Artoo bleated something from another room that sounded distinctly unflattering.

Mara chose to ignore him in favor of the more interesting bundle of indecision and consideration in front of her. "What'll it be, Luke? Your place or mine?"

"Mine, but I'm not sleeping on the couch."

"The floor is just as good."

He grinned boyishly, saluting her with his drink. "Then you can have my guest room; the mattress hasn't been mounted on the frame yet."

---------

Mara stayed for another hour, setting her terms for their upcoming relationship. It didn't help that she was sending conflicting signals. Luke was reading her indecision beneath her decisive behavior; could feel how uncomfortable she was with this idea, and yet - having been presented the alternatives - he was apparently the lesser of two evils.

A part of him was flattered, but the rest of him was uncertain of her intentions - and his own. He didn't know why, but the idea of being married - and to Mara of all people - didn't terrify him as he'd thought it would. He hadn't been too sure of his plan before talking to Mara, and was even more uncertain of it now, but it felt right.

It wasn't until Mara finally left though, with the promise to meet him that afternoon to take their vows, which Luke finally breathed easier. She'd made her decision, one she would have to come to terms with, but one she felt she could live with. Of course, the sooner they committed the deed, the easier it would be to deal with.

Luke flipped on his comm after taking several moments to calm himself with a Jedi technique. His insides were jumpy and he was nervous as a school boy to take his upcoming vows - even if they were simply to save Mara's life. The comm line opened and he punched the frequency for Han and Leia's apartments.

Han's appeared and broke into a grin when he saw who was calling. "Luke! How ya doing' kid?"

"Great, Han. Is Leia there with you?"

"She says hello; she's resting on the couch with Jaina and Jacen."

"So she can hear me?"

Han nodded, his lips tilting downwards. "Something on your mind?"

"I'd like something from you both."

"Nothing expensive is it?"

"No, not expensive."

Han waited expectantly.

So Luke obliged and dropped his bomb shell. "I'd like you both to come to my wedding."
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 6

"Wedding?" Leia elbowed her way into Luke's apartment less than ten minutes later. She was twin-less and Han-less; which meant he was in big trouble. "Since when are you engaged?"

"Nice to see you too, Leia."

She waved it away, rounding on him. "I would have hoped you would have told at least me about a fiancée. Who is it?"

"You know her."

"I know a lot of people and few meet your high qualifications for female companionship, little brother."

"Hey! We don't know if you're older or not."

"I act older; that's enough." Leia sank down into one of the chairs in his living room. "Luke, I just don't want you rushing into something you'll regret later. No matter who she is, I'm sure she's a wonderful person, but-"

"It's Mara."

Silence descended as Leia stared at him, her perfectly cultured manners preventing her from showing much beyond initial shock. But she did open her mouth twice before being able to voice her thoughts. "Pardon?"

"I said; it's Mara."

"Mara. As in Mara Jade? The ex-Imperial assassin who tried to kill you?"

"Do you know anyone else named Mara?"

"Luke!"

"Leia!" He mimicked her hurt expression. "I know what I'm doing."

"Isn't this kind of sudden?"

"A little." Luke's concession was accompanied with an uncomfortable shrug. "But if we don't do this now, I'll be forced into a situation I'm not comfortable with; I'll be putting one of my friends - my best friend - on the execution block."

"So marrying her is the logical course of action. Naturally." Leia's dry observation was accompanied with a venomous shake of her head. "There has to be another way, something that won't get you tied to someone like her."

Luke blinked. "Someone like her?" He eyed his sister carefully at the unexpected attack. "What do you mean?"

"Well, she's not exactly the most discreet person when it comes to her affairs."

"They're all show."

"Oh?"

Luke waved away her expectant expression. "Don't ask how I know, just forget it. Next objection?"

"She's not really your type."

"And just what is my type, Leia? Even you have to admit I've had lousy luck with women."

She colored. "I didn't know you were my brother!"

"I know." He smiled to take the edge off. "But I wasn't talking about you."

"Oh." She settled back in her chair. "It's not that you have a type, alright, it's just... I can't see Mara making you happy."

"Why not?"

"You're too contrary. You argue all the time, she still holds a bit of a grudge, she's focused on her career and I can't see her all that keen on starting a family."

"And I am?" Luke shook his head. "I know all of that, Leia. Trust me; I'm not jumping into this to martyr myself for Mara."

"I don't know... you do love to play the hero."

He grimaced. "Fine. I like to play the hero and save the girl; but that's not the reason here." He blushed and corrected himself. "The only reason, I mean."

Leia's brown eyes - so different from his own and yet not - were soft and compassionate as she regarded him. "It's this Force bond thing, isn't it?"

"Mostly. I can't explain it, but this decision feels like the right one. I know it's not going to be a conventional marriage, but just being with her is enough. Even if we do fight all the time, we manage to find common ground somehow."

Leia laughed softly. "I suppose you do. You did manage to stay alive through her campaign to kill you."

"There, see? She knows I'm useful and Mara never throws away a good resource."

They shared a laugh before Leia rose to her feet. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

"Not really, but it's not the wrong thing, so that's something."

Leia still didn't look convinced, but she knew her brother well enough to know Luke wasn't going to be talked out of this particular decision. Something in his gaze and posture was warning her not to pry and she heeded that warning - reluctantly. Once he and Mara were married, maybe then Luke would open up to her about why it was so important to have her support in this.

They spoke for a few minutes more before she finally got up to go, confirming the time and place of the wedding before taking her leave. Luke saw her out, standing by the door as she turned to go.

"And Leia?"

"Yes?"

He smiled faintly. "Tell Han when the justice asks if anyone has any reason why Mara and I shouldn't be married he's not allowed to speak up."

----------

What had she been thinking?

Mara rubbed her forehead as she sank into the lone chair in her sparse apartment's living room. The lights were still off, giving it a gloomy quality she appreciated, and one that suited her mood perfectly.

It had been what? A moment of weakness? Fear for her life? Insanity possibly that had encouraged her to consider, and then accept, Skywalker's proposal? Her lips twisted. All of that and more probably. She'd hadn't slept since the NRI had picked her up at her last stay over, whisking her back to Coruscant in a force absent bubble and keeping her awake with inane questions.

It wasn't until they'd landed, booked her and informed her what her bail would be - and she'd paid it - that she had finally been informed of the specifics of the charges against her. Charges brought by some of the very people who's lives she'd help save.

That was gratitude for ya.

She hadn't expected a medal - though Luke had seemed hell bent on getting her one - nor a thank you, but she had expected the common courtesy of ignoring her past in favor of services rendered. That had apparently been too much to ask. But to marry Skywalker to escape it? Was she really that desperate without exploring her options?

The answer, sadly, was more complicated and would take more time to consider than she had; and more simple than some. She knew without a doubt that this was the only option that would not only prevent Skywalker from testifying against her, but also prevent confirmation of her actions; she'd been careful to leave no witnesses.

Pushing to her feet, she headed for her bedroom. If she was going to go through with this, she intended to look the part. Dread settled like a stone in the pit of her stomach as she opened her closet.

Nothing in the next twelve hours was going to be easy.

----------

Mr Skyes was not going to be happy.

The thought was almost ridiculous considering the circumstances but Luke found it oddly entertaining that he'd be thwarting the rude little man with no less than the words "I do."

Skyes had tracked him down to discuss options for his testimony and been less than thrilled when Luke had told him in no uncertain terms that there'd have to be a subpoena served before he'd even think about cooperating. Skyes had blustered, tried threatening and cajoling, but Luke had remained firm; he wouldn't help put Mara Jade on the execution block. Luke had taken great pleasure of throwing the man out of his apartment with a warning to never return or be charged with trespassing.

It had been little comfort.

It had also left Luke barely more than an hour to get his things together and down to the Justice's office where he was supposed to meet Mara. He'd dressed for the role, wearing his black Jedi best and going so far as to polish his boots to a military shine. There'd been no time for a hair cut, but he'd tamed it into a semblance of order. Only to find she wasn't there when he arrived.

Luke rubbed his hands on his slacks apprehensively, unable to stop the nervous reaction as he paced back and forth in the ante chamber to the Justice's office. Tilting his wrist, he glanced at his chrono and felt his stomach knot uncomfortably.

Mara was having second thoughts

He knew it, could feel it, even as he could feel her arguing with herself about the matter. He turned towards the Justice's office, thinking to obtain the special license without her presence, when the door behind him slid open. He stopped, feeling Mara's presence and smiled in relief as he turned to meet her.

A soft sound of the air escaping between his teeth made her eyebrows rise in challenge, daring him to say anything.

Emerald green fabric two shades darker than her eyes pooled from a single knot on one shoulder and slid like water down across her breasts only to dip into the curves of her waist and then flare out around her hips. The vision she presented was one he hadn't been prepared for, and completely side-tracked his thought process. He had the strangest urge to reach out and unknot the shoulder to see if the dress would fall from her body the same way it-

"I can hear that, Skywalker."

Heat flooded his cheeks, causing the tips of his ears to burn. "A man can look, if nothing else.” He threw her words from earlier that day back at her lightly. “You look fantastic."

"Afraid I wouldn't show?"

"A little." His lips kicked into something of a half-smile. "I know you're having second thoughts about this."

"So are you; but you're here." She tapped one finger lightly on his chest. "I still think there has to be another way around this."

"Not one I've thought of. Mister Skyes has made it very clear he intends to see you punished for your crimes with my help - one way or another."

Mara cocked her head at him, a devilish light springing to light. "I could always go back to my original plan."

"Oh?"

"I could kill you."

"That... would solve one problem - except then you'd be on trial for my murder."

"One instead of several, and multiple counts of various other charges - which are all punishable by death. I think I could handle that."

"Liar." He grinned. "You like me a too much for that now. Besides, why do any time at all when you can have the same freedoms you currently entertain without the hassle of a trial. Skyes doesn't have anything concrete against you without me."

"Which is why I've considered this." She took a deep breath, appearing to brace herself. "What's the plan?"

"We need a special license first. The Justice who issues it can also do the ceremony - if he or she is amiable."

"If?"

Luke shrugged, slightly embarrassed. "With the publicity your upcoming trial's been getting, we might have to convince him we're not doing this to simply save your life."

"There's a better reason?"

"Love, for one."

Mara and Luke turned as one to find Leia and Han watching them. Han had a closed look on his face where Leia's was all tolerance. "But I suppose love isn't a reason either of you considered."

Mara snorted. "Love. This is hardly about love; this is a business transaction - a means to an end that we both would rather avoid."

"Is it, Mara?" Leia's smile was slightly secretive. "Is it really?"

"Of course it is. I wouldn't be doing this if I had another option."

"You could always plead guilty," Han told her glibly. "In return for taking the death penalty off the table."

"Thanks, I think I'll pass."

Han looked from one to the other, and Luke wondered if he saw his own objections being reflected in Mara. Objections he'd long thrown away thank to Leia's love. "You wanted an option; I gave you one. After all, they're both punishments, right?"

"Stuff it, Solo. What're you two doing here - no wait," Mara slanted a look at Luke. "He asked you here."

Luke stepped in before Leia or Han could answer. "We'll need witnesses and I'd rather they were family."

"And if the Justice doesn't agree to do the ceremony, General Solo there can always oblige us." The look Mara turned towards Han was pure malevolent malice. "Providing he wants to save his brother-in-law from becoming a fugitive."

Leia placed a restraining hand on Han's arm. "I'm sure that won't be necessary."

The secretary for the Justice popped its robotic head inside. "The honorable Justice Maddux will see you now."

Doors opened on the opposite end of the hallway and Mara, tilting her head proudly, took the first bold step ahead of everyone. If she was going to shackle herself to Skywalker for life, she would do it on her terms; with dignity. Luke caught up, Han and Leia falling into step behind them as they entered the Justice's main office.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 7

"Absolutely not." Justice Maddux planted his meaty palms on the desk top, glowering from under heavy eyebrows at the group before him. "It would be unethical to join the accused and the prosecutor’s star witness in any kind of legal ceremony at this juncture in the proceedings. Completely out of the question."

Luke's tone turned persuasive and Mara could feel him drawing on the Force to add weight to his words. "Your honor, we understand it looks a little suspicious, but you can't honestly expect me to testify against my fiancée. We were only waiting for her to return from her last deal with the Smuggler's Alliance before making our intentions official. Surely you've heard we're bonded."

"A rumor to that effect has been going around." The Justice stroked his salt and pepper beard with one hand. "What exactly is this bond?"

Mara, to Luke's surprise, pressured him silently to let her answer and he did. Mara had needed to be an accomplished actress in her role as Emperor's Hand, and that training suddenly came to the forefront as naturally as breathing. None of her misgivings showed, none of her nervousness. Her tone turned silky and sultry, almost as if she were speaking to a lover rather than a hostile judge.

"Justice Maddux, a Force Bond is unlike anything you could have possibly experienced. It's a literal sharing of two minds, hearts and souls," the smile she turned on the justice was charming and completely disarming - and appeared to be working. "The joining is so intense that the fragments Luke's found about other cases indicate it's perfectly natural for people who deliberately form these kinds of Bonds to be married. In fact, it's almost impossible to be in a relationship with anyone else."

"Harrumph." Justice Maddux settled back in his chair, contemplating the young couple, and Luke mentally crossed his fingers, sending a feeling of thanks towards Mara.

She didn't acknowledge it - and he hadn't expected her too - but she did shift in her chair a little. He barely managed not to jump when her fingers splayed possessively across his knee. She didn't look at him even as they stroked firmly and completely unbidden images of what else she could do with those strong, capable hands popped into his mind. Thoughts he had no business thinking despite the fact they were technically getting married. He shifted in his chair uncomfortably; well aware that Mara knew that he knew she was doing it deliberately to unnerve him.

Temptress.

Mara continued, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. "Are you married, Justice Maddux?

"For thirty years, young lady." The Justice looked from one to the other. "I trust this union will last as long."

"Oh, Force Bonds are quite irreversible. Luke's stuck with me for life."

The Justice laughed, thoroughly delighted with her observations and response and seeming unaware of the fact she was speaking of her own view on their upcoming nuptials and her fears regarding the Force Bond. If Luke hadn't been bonded to her, he never would have guessed at the storm boiling beneath her open and seemingly honest exterior. His admiration for her grew even as it put him on his guard; she could manipulate with the best. He had better watch his step with her or he'd find himself manipulated despite himself. She squeezed his knee once more, a sense of caution accompanying it.

The Justice turned to Han and Leia, a smile on his face. "Senator Leia Organa-Solo, I understand Luke Skywalker is your brother."

Leia smiled, suddenly the diplomat as she rose to return the Justice's firm hand shake with her own. "The pleasure is mine, Justice Maddux. You come very highly recommended in all departments."

He waved away the compliment. "I just do my job, Senator. And this is your husband?"

"Han Solo." Han made no move to offer his hand. "I'm just here so they don't kill each other."

Leia kicked him with her heel.

The Justice looked from Luke to Mara and then back to Han. "Kill each other, you say? Am I to understand they've not an ideal courtship?"

"Who does?" Han slumped down in his chair. "They didn't meet on any worse terms than Leia and I, so they've got a chance." He grinned roguishly.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Luke returned, casting a dark look at his brother-in-law. "I understand there are a couple of newlywed marital laws we'll need to adhere to, Justice Maddux. Could you expand on those for us?"

"Your first wife, Mister Skywalker?"

"As a matter of fact, she is," he smiled at her with a wink, "and the only one I'll ever need."

The Justice chuckled as Mara's fingers bit into Luke's thigh again; a warning and not a caress. "Well said, son. Now, there are two newlywed marital laws that every couple has to adhere to. The first is the honeymoon law."

Han sat up straighter, leaning forward to listen and got another kick from Leia for his interest.

Justice Maddux continued. "It's the one couples like the best from the two and benefits celebrities like yourselves the most." He paused, riffling through the flimsies on his desk before pulling one out and sliding it across the desk for them to look at. "The law states that minimal contact with the outside world for a period of two to eight weeks depending on the length of the courtship. The purpose is to give the newlyweds a chance to get to know one another intimately and work out their differences. Most marriages will end after this period if they're not going to work. An annulment can be obtained based on irreparable differences within one week after the session’s completion."

"Not to sound ignorant, but is there a specific place this occurs?"

"The home you've prepared together; after this time you can choose to take a honeymoon off planet at a location of your choice." The Justice looked from one to the other and, seeing no other questions, continued. "During the time period in which you are in your honeymoon phase, family is the only permissible contact as it is a proven support base. If you have no family, we will need a list of your closest friends in lieu."

Mara had paled under her tan. Luke slid his hand over top hers where her fingers were digging in painfully and cutting off the blood flow. He carefully and discreetly pried them off, but kept her hand in his. She didn't seem to notice as she crushed his fingers between hers. Her emotions were raging, going from incredulity to anger and back, careening like an out of control sky plane.

Flimsies slid off the desk as Justice Maddux rummaged for another and then placed it once again in front of them. "The second law is the assets control law. This is actually tied back to the first one. We will need your current employer as they will continue to pay you a partial salary for the duration of your honeymoon phase. They are obligated to keep your position open should you wish to return at the end of the phase - unless of course there are mitigating circumstances."

Children

The word hurtled through Luke's mind like a bullet train, driven by terror and the fear of failure. He felt it like a physical thing and it rocked him back in his chair noticeably, drawing the Justice's gaze. It had been Mara's reaction, not his, but she sat there calmly - if a touch pale - as if they were discussing the weather.

"Mister Skywalker, are you alright?"

He coughed, trying to clear the lump from his throat and wrap his mind around the revelation, managing a weak smile. "We haven't discussed those - what did you call them? - mitigating circumstances, sir. We were intending to enjoy ourselves without them."

"Most couples your age do, Mister Skywalker, however, sometimes accidents happen."

Not if he could help it - and if Mara had her way, there would be no way for accidents to happen. Better that way - bringing a child into the sham marriage they were going to have would be unspeakably cruel. It wasn't something he thought he could do even if he'd been given the option.

"I understand that, sir. Was that all we needed to be aware of?"

The Justice checked his flimsies and then nodded. "That's all. Was there anything else you needed from me?"

"Just one thing, Justice." Mara's smile was charming but Luke could detect the barest hint of brittle behind it. She was keeping her composure, but only barely. "Our marriage license."

"Of course." Justice Maddux opened one drawer they couldn't see and pulled out another flimsi, this one mounted on a print recognition board. He ensured it was securely attached and then offered it to them. "You'll need a few minutes to fill it in; my waiting room is available to you. Just let my assistant know whenever you’re ready and we'll perform the ceremony."

And just like that they were dismissed like errant school children.

Luke collected the license form and, using Mara's hand to pull her to her feet, led the way out of the room back into the waiting room. The doors to the Justice's room closed and Luke felt a sudden spike before all hell broke loose.

"Two to eight weeks?" Mara's words were low, dangerous, and Luke could feel the murderous intent behind those words. "Just what are we going to do for two to eight weeks, Skywalker?"

"Most newlyweds don't have a problem with filling that kind of timeframe." Han told them with a roguish grin and a wink at Leia. "I know we figured it out."

"Han-"

Mara jumped on the statement, rounding on Han as her eyes blazed green fire. "I'm sure you did with your base born education combined with your perfect honeymoon. You're forgetting that this isn't going to be a typical marriage. I will not be sleeping with Skywalker!"

"Why not?"

"Luke!"

He ignored his sister, the challenge having slipped out completely by accident, but unwilling to back down now that it was in the open.

Leia looked from Luke to Mara and then pulled Han away. "I think they need a minute alone."

"But it's just getting interesting."

"Now, nerfherder."

"Good luck, kid."

Mara lunged at Luke as the door shut behind Han and Leia.

Luke saw it coming, turning into her body accepting the blow only to roll with it. They went down, Mara's fingers sliding around his neck even as he pushed them around and the flimsi that was their license flying from his hand. She compensated, throwing her weight back the other way, her eyes narrowed to slits. Luke threw himself into her roll, forcing her to divide her attention between maintaining her grip or position.

Mara chose position, shifting her hands to his shoulders and then pinned them as she wrapped her legs around his. In a lighting quick movement he was immobilized, her fingers digging into the tendons of his wrists as they were slammed against the ground by his head. Pinned, he stared up at her - waiting for the storm he knew would follow..

She glared at him, seething. "I can't believe you talked me into this, Skywalker. I've half a mind to walk out of here right now and take my chances with that court!"

"I'd rather you didn't."

"I don't give a kriff what you want; it's my neck they're trying to stretch!"

"Are you upset because of the conditions placed on new marriages, or are you upset because you have to spend that time with me?"

"I won't sleep with you."

"No one asked you too." He smiled boyishly, flexing his fingers as he felt them start to tingle. "I'm just curious as to why not."

He'd have been dead if looks could kill; but underneath all her anger and frustration, there was a fear driving her. One he didn't understand despite the insights into her emotional state. She had somehow, in that turmoil, managed to shield the base of it from him. Her glare lost a fraction of its edge, but not enough to reassure him he was out of the woods yet.

"I believe the right question is; why would I?" Her eyes glittered dangerously. "Need I remind you that this is a marriage of convenience and nothing more?"

"I'm convenient."

She let out a bark of harsh laughter. "You're going to be underfoot, Skywalker. This whole deal was supposed to ensure we maintained our independence remember?"

"What are you mad at me for? I don't make the laws."

"This was your lame idea, Skywalker."

"We managed not to kill each other on Myrkr or Wayland and we were on each of those for as long as the trial period." His smile turned charming despite his prone position and being unable to feel his hands. "And that was before you even liked me."

Her glare lost a fraction of its edge and her grip eased a touch - enough for him to flex his fingers - but it was the signals he was reading from the inside that had him enthralled. Mara was terrified. Not just scared, but terrified of... something to do with this honeymoon period. He cocked his head at her. "What, scared I might learn all of your deep, dark secrets?"

"You already know them, farm boy." Her response was dry. "Most of them anyway."

"So what's the problem? It's not like we're adolescents with out of control hormones."

She grinned, and chuckled softly, but her grip finally eased completely and she sat back on his thighs. "You wouldn't know it by your train of thought."

"Or yours." His tease was light. "We are adults though, Mara. If nothing else, maybe this enforced time together will give us the chance to work on your Force skills - and discover more about this Force Bond."

"What, we don't know enough?" Her smile had disappeared, but he could sense a ease of the fear that had gripped her a moment ago. "Do you really think being cooped up at your place for a whole month, maybe two, with no one else is a good idea?"

"Can you cook?"

She blinked. "I make a mean cup of caf."

"Good, then that can be your job in the morning."

"Can you cook?"

"Nope." His cheerful delivery of that flaw did little to reassure her. "But I'm learning. Threepio is a surprisingly good teacher."

"I'm not having that golden pain in the-"

"No droids." His assurance was quick. She nodded, relaxing a fraction more. Luke stayed where he was, shifting only to slide his hands under his head to avoid the sudden impulse to touch her. He didn't want to scare her any more than this already had. "You know, this could be fun."

"Fun. My ideas of fun don't include being locked in an apartment with you for any length of time, Skywalker."

A flash of something, a contradiction in her mind and the image that accompanied it made him grin. "Liar. I heard that."

She didn't even have the grace to blush. "I never said it was long."

Luke burst out laughing, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Shows what you know. Any other objections?"

Mara looked at him somberly for a long minute, opening her mouth to respond then the sudden sound of the door opening brought their heads around. Justice Maddux poked his head in and stopped in surprise. A grin spread across his rotund face as he eyed their position with a knowing grin. "I thought I'd check to see if you were finished with that paperwork but I see you're eager to move onto the next logical step."

Mara stayed where she was, finding a charming smile for the Justice. "What can I say - we're a very physical couple."

The Justice's eyes twinkled merrily. "Most young couples are young lady, however, my waiting room is not the place. You'll have plenty of time to enjoy yourselves without the threat of interruption once your vows have been spoken."

His unspoken command was heeded by both, though Mara didn't change her position - she simply smiled apologetically. "We'll just be a minute, Justice Maddux."

"Yes, you'll need time to freshen up." His chuckle echoed through the room as he closed the door to his office behind him.

"He didn't honestly think we were... that we..." Luke glanced from the door and back to Mara. Her shoulders were shaking, her eyes dancing merrily as she struggled not to laugh. She was nodding, confirming his fear. Luke blushed. "In his waiting room?"

"Something tells me it's not that uncommon of an occurrence, Skywalker." Mara finally moved, rising to her feet with one of those graceful, fluidic movements that so entranced him, and offered him her hand. He accepted, locking his fingers around her wrist as she did to his, and was easily pulled to his feet. "At least he'll have no other objections to this union."

Luke wasn't certain he wanted it quite that way, but anything to help them achieve their goal couldn't be a bad thing. They took several minutes to straighten their rumpled appearance before retrieving the datapad from where it had fallen, skimming through the legal part. Leia and Han rejoined them, Luke having silently called his sister to let her know that the boiling point had passed. Han and Leia witnessed Luke and Mara pressing their thumbs to the spaces indicated for the marriage license to become official.

They didn't look at each other, but a shared feeling of relief seemed to come over both Luke and Mara as the document was made official. As if it were a vindication for their choice and proof that it was a step in the right direction. It was no surprise to Luke when Mara's relief was followed quickly by confusion and irritation. She didn't understand, and neither did he, why this felt so right. Luke had accepted it and embraced it; Mara was fighting it, believing that nothing came free and he could almost hear her asking herself what this feeling would cost her.

Luke slid his hand under Mara's elbow as they turned towards the doors of the Justice's room once more and her free hand unexpectedly slid over to cover his. There was no caress in her fingers, but a simple warning he heeded. She might have agreed to become his wife, and was willingly walking into this mess, but she wasn't about to be man handled.

Secretly, Luke believed she could use a good man handling.

"I heard that."

"Good; then it won't be a surprise when it happens."

She pinched his fingers and pasted a smile on her face as the doors opened to the Justice's chamber.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 8

Justice Maddux was waiting, that knowing look in his eye as they entered and he waved them towards where he stood. He accepted the marriage license with one hand, scanning it briefly as Han and Leia took up positions off to the side. Luke and Mara stood directly in front of him and waited. The Justice, confident that everything was in order with the document, pocketed it before looking at the couple waiting to be married.

"I see from your license you've been together for just under six months. Despite this Force Bond, I will have to insist on the full period for the H clause, paragraph one."

Mara and Luke exchanged looks - his was almost apologetic, hers was loaded with hidden ire. They nodded their assent, neither daring to speak for fear they would ruin the charade. Being stuck together for eight weeks without anyone but his family allowed to visit - or whomever Mara would list as her closest friends - was going to prove interesting.

The Justice's gaze went from one to the other, pausing briefly as if to ascertain that they were indeed willing before he nodded to Han and Leia. They returned the silent nod before the Justice, confident his charges were indeed aware of what they were entering, dared begin the ceremony. But, just to be sure, he put it into words.

"Marriage is not a commitment to be entered into lightly. It is fraught with ups and downs, good times and bad, joys and sorrows. Understanding and supportive partners who are willing to communicate are essential to maintaining a healthy relationship. No matter however else you might be bonded, nothing can replace the need for a frank discussion."

Luke and Mara shared a look. Frank discussion between them was usually fraught with physical peril.

The Justice continued. "Marriage is a joining of two hearts, bodies, minds and souls under the law. Captain Solo, are you carrying the tokens?"

Luke flushed, fumbling in his pocket. "I forgot to give them to him."

The Justice didn't comment as Luke extracted two plain gold bands from his pocket. The rings were placed in the Justice's outstretched hand. "These tokens are circles, symbolic of the commitment you are making to each other. It has no beginning and no end, no room for blame or doubt to creep in; a perfect band of unity. Knowing that this commitment is of the most serious, do either of you have reason why you shouldn't be married?"

Luke shook his head. Mara smiled, tilting hers. "None, Justice."

"Very well. Did you wish to do customized vows?"

"I believe we're saving that for our renewal of vows," Mara told him coquettishly. "In ten years."

The Justice's smile was all approval. "Excellent. Do you, Luke Skywalker, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded Wife? To cherish, honor and obey, to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health for as long as you both shall live?"

"I do."

"Do you Mara Jade, take this man to be your lawfully wedded Husband? To cherish, honor and obey, to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health for as long as you both shall live?"

"I do."

"Then repeat after me." The Justice held out his hand to Luke with the rings in the center.

Luke took the smaller of the two and turned to Mara. Her hand was limp in his and slightly clammy. He squeezed her fingers reassuringly, doing his best to tramp down his own nervousness to help her cope with her own.

"With this ring, I thee wed."

Luke dutifully repeated the words, carefully sliding the ring onto Mara's finger. His hands were steady, something he hadn't expected, and a sense of calm and peace came over him as the words left his lips. He didn't know exactly why, but by taking that step, by pledging himself to Mara and by having her pledged to him, everything suddenly felt balanced. Mara then reversed their grips and, following the Justice's prompting, repeated the same line. Luke wrapped her hands in his at the end of it, their eyes locking above their joined hands. The look she shot him was pure murder, thinly veiled. She was going to kill him for being calm about this whole thing - or so she kept thinking.

Mara was in turmoil inside, her emotions radically swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other as the Justice said a few more words and then the words she'd known were coming, but hadn't relished reverberated in her ears.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride, Master Skywalker."

Luke projected an apologetic thought her way. He stepped closer, his head dipping fractionally towards hers. Mara tilted her head reflexively, her eyes closing as she resigned herself to the necessity.

Luke's lips brushed hers in a chaste kiss and, unexpectedly, sparks exploded between them. His lips never left, holding the light contact, but she felt the surge of sudden desire that blindsided him even as it pooled in the pit of her stomach. The pressure increased, his arms sliding about her waist even as she unconsciously clung to him, drinking in the rolling sensations that threatened to take over.

Someone coughed, bringing her back to reality a mere heartbeat before her hands would have plunged into Luke's shaggy hair, and her eyes flew open with a snap. Their lips parted with an audible smack as Luke tore himself away. He didn't completely let her go, keeping one arm about her waist as he averted his eyes and attempted to calm the raging storm between them.

It was difficult as Mara knew he wasn't just fighting against his own emotions, he was fighting against hers as well. She'd been unshielded and taken by surprise - they both had been - and those sensations had cascaded to the other. She was perversely grateful he wasn't letting her go; she needed the support as much as he did.

"Well, passion isn't necessary to a good marriage," Justice Maddux was saying with a grin, "but it always makes things more interesting. Long life to you, Mister and Missus Skywalker, don't let us keep you from beginning your honeymoon."

"Is that it?"

The Justice grinned. "That's it. Your witnesses will have to sign your marriage contract at the end of your honeymoon period once the decision is made to maintain your marriage. I don't foresee a problem with this one; you two seem to be very well matched. A few sparks never hurt anyone."

Han coughed, sounding suspiciously like a laugh, before apologizing for the interruption. Luke turned his attention to the Justice. "Would you mind if we signed that form now, Justice Maddux? This isn't a decision that will change at the end of this honeymoon period."

"Then there's nothing to worry about is there?" The Justice arched his eyebrows at Luke as if to say 'Forget it'.

Luke acquiesced far more gracefully than Mara would have given him credit for before. He nodded, with a tilt of his lips, as he accepted the barb. There was no flash of anger, no resentment that clouded his acceptance of that fact; simply determination to get through the next Eight weeks.

Eight weeks. The words echoed through her mind like a death sentence. It was as terrifying as the idea was thrilling. Them - alone. What were they going to do for eight weeks? It wasn't like she was going to play the dutiful wife or Jedi apprentice. No way was she going to spend eight weeks of what was supposed to be a honeymoon getting lectured on the intricacies of the Force. As far as she was concerned the blasted Force Bond that had landed her in this mess was as far as she wanted to go.

Eight weeks alone with Skywalker and his family for company - and maybe occasionally Karrde or Aves.

And that caused whole other kind of problem. Karrde was going to laugh - well maybe not laugh, but get a good silent kick out of the situation she'd landed herself in. She'd probably have to soothe his feathers as to why he hadn't been able to come to the wedding and why, if she wasn't working, he'd be obligated to pay her. Of course, as soon as he heard why, he'd likely enjoy every minute of her self-imposed confinement. He was twisted that way - or maybe it was simply his twisted sense of humor.

Despite how long she'd worked for him, she still didn't know.

"Karrde won't object."

"Stay out of my head, Skywalker."

Luke arched his eyebrows, as if to remind her that she was a Skywalker now too, "Then don't think so loud. Are you ready?"

Mara glanced towards where the Justice was watching them and nodded, plastering a smile on her face. "Now that’s a loaded question after that kiss. I see you put your time in Rogue squadron to good use.”

She felt more than saw the barb hit the mark, and fought against the urge to be repentant. He deserved it and whatever other grief she caused him in the next eight weeks. “Tell me again why we couldn’t get married on a different planet? Like, say, Tatooine?”

His smile was more of a grimace as he ushered them out of the Justice’s office, hoping the man hadn’t heard her soft words. They were out of the waiting room and in the hallway before he was at ease enough to reply. “Even if Cracken would have released you for it, there’s a chance that a Tatooine ceremony wouldn’t have held up here on Coruscant. This way we have it official, at the highest peak of Government, and even if Skyes tries to have this marriage nullified, we have the documentation to prevent it.”

“And if he tries to have it voided on the fact we haven’t consummate our vows?”

Luke blinked, stopping dead in his tracks, and Mara felt his shock and surprise as clearly as if it were her own.

“You didn’t think about that part, did you?”

He blushed, looking hastily away, and she caught the thought he tried to stifle.

Mara arched her eyebrows. “What do you mean you’ve thought about it too much?”

He didn’t respond, not consciously, and the images that sprang immediately to his mind were ones she knew he didn’t want her to see. She crossed her arms over her chest, shocked at one explicit scene she never would have thought him capable of. “Impure thoughts, Master Jedi? Rogue Squadron must have had a field day corrupting you.”

The heat in his cheeks was telling.

“Anything else I should know about before I slide into your speeder outside and you take me home to ravish me?”

“I’d never do anything you didn’t want me to, Mara.”

She jerked as if he’d slapped her, those soft, composed words having an impact no amount of shouting or denial could have. He meant them. Meant every word of it. Despite his overactive imagination - and she knew it was overactive because she didn’t think him capable of half the positions she’d seen - he wouldn’t lay a finger on her unless she gave him leave to. It was heady knowledge indeed to know that she had a certain kind of power over him.

Eight weeks alone was suddenly looking less like tedium, and more like fun; for her, not Skywalker.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 9

Luke paused before his apartment door and glanced at the new Mrs. Skywalker. He cleared his throat. "Will I be permanently injured if we do this traditionally?"

"If you're thinking about carrying me over the threshold Skywalker, forget it."

"Not even for the audience?"

"Because of that audience! The last thing I need is to play some helpless female for all the holonet to see. I'd be laughed out of negotiation rooms across the galaxy!"

"Oh." He palmed the door open, ignoring the holocams that watched obviously not having considered the ramifications of that particular action before he'd asked. They'd agreed that the more publicity they received when it came to exhibiting their new relationship the better. It would prevent Skyes from attempting to sink them. Not that it would stop him completely, but it would give them ammunition for later. "Home sweet home."

Mara stepped inside with her bag and dropped it inside the door as it closed behind them. She felt the ridiculous urge to run at that moment as the walls seemed to squeeze inwards, pushing what little oxygen there was out. It was ridiculous, the urge, for she knew logically that things were as they always had been. That nothing had technically changed between them except their legal state - and even that was in question if they couldn't make it seem plausible for the courts.

Plausible. Right.

Luke crossed the living room towards the hallway. "I'll show you the spare room, Mara."

She left her bag where it was, figuring she'd come back for it in a minute - once Skywalker wasn't standing in her room - and followed him through his home. Their home, she corrected silently. This was where she and Luke would be spending a good deal of their next two months.

The thought almost made her scream.

"It won't be all bad," Luke assured her, reacting to her unspoken fears as he flicked on the lights to his spare room and stepped inside.

"Define all, Skywalker." Mara practically growled the words as she stopped in the doorway to his spare room.

The mattress was on the floor, just like he'd said it would be, the box for the bed frame leaning half-way out of the closet. Fresh sheets and towels were stacked on a small dresser and there was a night table beside the bed which looked a little ridiculous with the bed sitting on the floor.

Luke turned to face her with an elaborate wave, his tone teasing. "Your new accommodations, Mrs. Skywalker. Unless you should decide my bunk is more appealing."

She smirked, crossing her arms over her chest as she leaned against the door jamb. "It would serve you right if I claimed your room."

"Ha!" He grinned. "I'm still the only Jedi Master in this house. You might claim it, but you wouldn't keep it for long."

"Wanna bet?"

"I never bet - I told you that."

"Right." Her tone was dry. "I forgot that the former Rogue pilot has been reformed."

His grin turned positively impish. "I believe the word is refined. Would you like a hand setting up the stand for the bed?"

She glanced at the box sticking out of the closet. From what she could see, the stand was one of those which was almost a solid state with several places for drawers underneath. That explained the mattress in the middle of the tiny room. She surprised both of them by nodding her head. "This may come as a shock to you, farmboy, but I've never put together a mattress stand."

"I had Han help me with mine," his admission was easy. "I suppose we could always read the instructions."

"You read instructions?"

Luke arched his eyebrows at her. "What's wrong with that?"

"Men never read the instructions."

"Most men never had my Uncle Owen for a teacher," he returned, pulling the box from the closet. "Uncle Owen insisted I read the manuals for ever piece of equipment we had on the moisture farm. Admittedly most things were bought from the Jawas and didn't come with manuals."

"Why?" Mara moved the mattress out of the way, standing it on its end as Luke slid the box out onto the floor and laid it flat.

Luke shrugged, opening the packaging and staring to pull out the long slats of material that would form the base for her bed. "He insisted that a man didn't have anything to prove by admitting he didn't know something - or in looking it up to find the answer. It was probably a good thing he got me to read those manuals. I loved to tinker and more often than not they saved my hide when I made some catastrophic mistake."

"You?"

"I was young once."

"It wasn't that long ago."

Luke sobered, stopping in mid pull, his right hand clenching into an unconscious fist. His right hand - his mechanical hand. "It was long enough," he finally told her honestly. "I don't remember what it was like to be that carefree youth anymore."

"Liar." Even as she said the word, she put no accusation into it. It was softer, more like an admonition. "You do so. Only you wish you could go back to being that carefree kid."

"Sometimes." His admission was reluctant. "At least until I remember what it cost me to bring me to where I am today. That youth would never have been able to deal with what I've dealt with."

"Ah," She poked him in the shoulder as she knelt beside him to help pull the frame from the box. "Then how do you explain the fact that you're not dead? And don't tell me because of the Force."

"Han would say luck."

"Jedi don't believe in luck."

"Neither do Sith." He shot her a pointed look. "The Emperor certainly didn't."

Mara let it pass, much to her own surprise, and shrugged. "Smugglers believe in luck. I believe in skill. You had to have some to encounter the trials you faced and emerge successful. Luck, as Karrde would say, likely lent a hand, but wouldn't have accounted for all of it. Even the luckiest person can't get by without some skill."

Luke was silent for a long moment, organizing the larger slats of material against the wall and the smaller ones near the closet. Mara continued to empty the box as she waited for his reply, wondering if she'd surprised him. His shields were up again and she found it surprisingly frustrating. A part of her really relished being able to literally read him like a book.

"You're right, I guess." He crouched beside her, helping her pull one of the longest slats out and placing it on the ground. "I never considered it from that point of view."

"That point of view?" She almost snorted at the line. "Now you sound like those old training holos of the Emperor's."

Luke smiled faintly. "It was one of Obi-Wan Kenobi's favorite sayings. He told me that Vader had betrayed and murdered my father. It wasn't until I learned the truth - that Vader was my father - that I had to consider Obi-Wan's viewpoint. From what I know, Anakin Skywalker was Obi-Wan's apprentice and betrayed the Jedi. I don't know how or why, but he did. So what Obi-Wan told me was true - from his point of view."

Mara listened as much to what he was saying as what he wasn't saying. Luke's acceptance of his father and what he had been, what he'd become and his supposed redemption, were clear. Yet there was still some of a lost little boy inside him clamoring to know about his parents. With his father's death, he'd lost the only person who'd been able to answer the pressing questions about his parents. And while Luke accepted it, she could sense - she knew - a part of him was reluctant to do so. She shifted, lifting one of the slats and finally pulling the datarod with the instructions out of the box. Her skirt rustled as she moved, echoing in the sudden silence in the room.

Mara felt Luke's eyes upon her once more and placed the slat with the others. "Maybe you should change before we continue, Mara."

"Now?" She arched an eyebrow at him, looking pointedly down at where the fabric of her skirt had been creased and dirtied by her crouch on the floor. She didn't really mind as she had no intention of wearing the dress again. If she ruined it, all the better. "I think it's a little late for that Skywalker."

Luke pushed to his feet, "Nothing a good cleaning won't fix. I'm going to change - the 'fresher's the next door over if you'd like to use it."

Mara watched, amused, as Luke made a discreet escape. And an escape it was. He'd been blathering on about his father and Obi-Wan, topics she was fairly certain - though not positive with his shielding - that he spoke of to no one. Why he'd chosen their first day as a married couple - while putting together her bed frame for Force sakes - to talk about it was beyond her.

She suspected he was trying to get her to think more like a Jedi. Or maybe he was simply trying to get her mind off the fact that he was still envisioning what it would be like to undo the knotted fabric at her shoulder to see exactly what was underneath. She chuckled, shaking her head as she strode from the room.

A change of clothing suddenly seemed like a good idea.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 10

Mara's bed frame came together slowly over the course of the afternoon and she found out, quite by accident, that Luke had a decidedly wicked sense of humor. She wasn’t certain if the discovery delighted her or worried her - he wasn’t supposed to be able to make her laugh. The revelation soured her mood and left her irritable.

Luke seemed to pick up on the fact and had silently continued to assist her with the frame. It was dinner time by the time they finished and, as one, slid the mattress onto the finished product.

Mara's gaze was drawn to Luke as he wiped his forearm across his brow. "That's certainly a good way to work up an appetite."

Their gazes met and locked and his lips curved in a wicked smile. "Why Mara, I do believe you're right."

"I don't know what you're talking about - I didn't say anything."

His expression turned unexpectedly innocent. "Then you weren't thinking about how many better ways there are to work up an appetite?"

Damn him. She really was going to kill him before the end of this ridiculous honeymoon period.

"No? Then it must have been one of my stray unreformed thoughts."

"Stuff it, Skywalker."

"Might as well stop calling me that, Skywalker."

Her gaze narrowed. "Don't ever call me that"

"You don't like our last name?"

"Your last name belonged to a man who spent the better part of his adult life terrorizing innocent people and executing them for pleasure."

Luke's smile vanished and he flinched at the unexpected attack. "I know he was a monster, Mara. I know that better than most. I can't forgive him for his actions, but I can accept that something happened to change him into a person willing to commit those atrocities. Regardless, he was my father."

"Just because he was your father doesn't make him right."

"Doesn't make him wrong either." Luke straightened and turned to the dresser, opening the top drawer to pull out a new package of sheets and blankets. He tore one corner before ripping off the top and dropping the load, package-free, on the bed. "Vader was a monster, but Anakin Skywalker had been a good man."

"How would you know?" Mara picked out the fitted sheet and began to unfold it. It was crisp in her hands and slightly rough against her skin. Maybe she would steal his bed after all - for the first couple of nights. "I thought you never knew your father."

"I didn't. I just... know."

She snorted, snapping the sheet out and trying not to notice that he caught it to help her. Luke moved the other sheets off the bed with his free hand before assisting her with fitting the sheet over the mattress. "More Jedi stuff, huh?"

"Can you honestly tell me you've never listened when the Force has given you an impression of someone? That you haven't actively used it to discover their nature?"

Frowning, she smoothed the sheet over the mattress before hooking the second corner over the base. Luke was mimicking her movements and in moments the sheet was set. "Some of us have other skills to determine someone's intentions."

"Like the Emperor telling you about them?"

That stung. She shot him a scathing look. "Before you killed him, yes!"

"Anakin killed him - not me."

"You mean Vader."

Luke shrugged, pulling the next sheet from the pile and unfolding it a bit before snapping it open. Mara's eyebrows rose behind the billow of white - his movements were almost expert, as if he'd done this a lot. She caught the sheet, helping him align it.

"I mean Anakin. Vader was gone by then and my father, my real father had reasserted himself. At least mentally. Anakin saved me from the Emperor at the cost of his own life. Vader never would have."

"Doesn't that bother you?"

Luke glanced up from where he'd crouched to slip the sheet under the mattress. "Which part?"

"Knowing that Vader and Anakin were essentially two different people but were born in the same mind?"

"You make it sounds like a mental defect."

"Isn't it?"

Luke shook his head, straightening as she crouched to do her side. "There's light and dark in all of us. That my father succumbed to one only to return to the other speaks of strength, not weakness."

"Yet he slipped into darkness to begin with. If he'd been stronger, don't you think he'd have avoided the darkness all together."

Luke made a face. "You know more about him than I do, Mara. What do you think?"

Mara finished tucking in the sheet at the corner and rose slowly back to her feet. "I think we should find another topic."

He felt crestfallen, as if she'd just stolen candy from a child, but his expression gave away nothing. It suddenly occurred to her that she knew more about Luke's father than he did. She was his only link to a past he didn't know and one he had no hope of retrieving. She understood all too well the yearning to know more about one's past and being unable to find even the slightest smidgen of information - and Force knew she'd tried.

Luke threw the light blanket on the bed and snapped it open, drawing her thoughts back to the present as she caught the sheet reflexively. "Mara?"

"Hm?"

Luke tugged on the sheet, gaining her full attention. "I understand if you don't want to talk about him."

"Vader meant nothing to me, Luke," her reply was honest. "He was just another of the Emperor's underlings, a powerful one, but an underling none the less."

"But you knew about him."

"I know about them all." She tugged the sheet back and helped him position it on the bed. Despite her desire not to talk about the subject, she felt a completely contrary desire to help Luke understand. To help him know who and what his father had been. Even if he'd been a cold-blooded killer. "I had to. Not because I was interested, but because it was my job to know their strengths... and their weaknesses. Vader had none."

"Not one?"

"Nothing." Mara caught one of the pillows Luke threw her way and then the pillow case. "Until you came along."

"I find that hard to believe."

She caught Luke flexing his mechanical hand again; a nervous habit he'd developed when speaking of things unpleasant. She knew because he only did it when his thoughts turned to matters he didn't fully understand - or want to understand. She smiled faintly. "Most people did. He was obsessed, Luke. With you. Obsession is a flaw, one that can be exploited and manipulated. I knew about his offer for you to join him, to overthrow the Emperor." Her voice hitched and she took a breath to steady herself before continuing, her tone even once more. "I knew because it was my job to know."

"And you told the Emperor."

"It was my job."

There was silence in the room for long minutes as they finished putting the pillows, now in their pillow cases - on the bed and folding the heavy quilt at the foot of it. Luke sank down onto the end, disregarding the mess he was making of the tidy folds and leaned his elbows on his knees, staring at his boots. "I don't blame you for that, Mara."

"I'm not looking for your forgiveness, Skywalker." She crossed her arms over her chest, watching him from her position beside the bed. "I'm telling you because you need to understand why I know what I had to know. It was my job to protect the Emperor from his underlings. My job." She slapped one palm against her breast bone. "And I failed."

Luke lifted his head to look at her and she knew in that instant he'd seen to the core of her words, to the meaning behind them. "Are you really any worse off with me than you were with him, Mara?"

Their gazes locked as her breath caught in her throat. Was she? With Luke she had freedom - or would once this interminable incarceration was over with. She could choose to come and go whenever she wished. Wouldn't have to obtain permission, or be given orders. She wouldn't be constantly on guard for her life, or primed for her next assignment. She'd have the chance to relax, without having to schedule time for it.

Was that what she wanted?

Mara knew the look she threw his way was almost as confused as she felt, but she couldn't explain it - didn't want to explain it, and instead did something she wasn't used to doing.

She walked away.
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Jade_Max


Joined: 03 Nov 2008
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Chapter 11

Mara skirted the small kitchenette and passed into the sitting area where she paced to the balcony access. She paused, looking outside into the skylanes through the privacy blinds and her grim face tightened into marked displeasure.

Their apartment was being watched. Not just watched, but monitored with remote sensors and she could just make out the small flitterbys that were darting from window to window, trying to gain a glimpse of them. Holo-reporters were not known for their scruples and for the first time she wondered if there really was privacy in the apartment. Would their arguments and discussions be a part of the evening news? Would they be exposed as the frauds they were, mere pretenders with no more genuine feeling for one another than strangers who met at a tap café?

With a sigh, she unconsciously braced her feet apart and she stared beyond the privacy blinds, beyond the hovering vultures and into the traffic and mess of Coruscant's skylanes. If they were going to be exposed, she supposed it was better to happen now rather than later. Now, at least, she was in no danger of actually liking Sky- in liking Luke.

She grimaced.

He was right, damn him. She couldn't very well continue to call him Skywalker. Well, she could but it was technically her last name now too. And she didn't know how she felt about that.

Mara was not a woman who lied to herself and, despite her understanding and genuine affection for the man who had been her Master, she knew Palpatine was just as guilty - probably more so - as Vader when it came to the suffering in the galaxy. Vader had been merely a pawn. She hadn't lied to Luke about that - Palpatine had controlled Vader with an iron fist and Vader had never objected. But Vader's orders had come from her Master. The galaxy's subjugation had been started by his hands. Not that he had ever seen it that way, and it was not that it had ever been taught that way.

Luke had helped her to understand that the Emperor hadn't always been right. Luke had helped her to see the Emperor through his eyes. Not just at Wayland where she'd finally understood why he saw things the way he did, but in their time before that. While she'd been trying to kill him, trying her best to hate him for everything he'd taken away from her, a part of her had begun to doubt what she'd had.

The flinch that crossed her features was unconscious and unnoticed as she stared blankly into the sky. She didn't see the sky lanes, or the buildings stretching beyond the ranger of her vision. She didn't see the clouds, or the hovering holo-recorders. She saw glittering shimmer silks, the Emperor's court, Galas, meetings, discussions, tactical sessions and training rooms. She saw her quarters, imperial credits and faces - so many faces - of people long dead. Some she had killed, some who had simply disappeared, as if they'd faded away with the Emperor.

An ache started in the center of her chest and blossomed outward until it seemed to encompass her whole body. It wasn't the ache she expected. She knew she was still susceptible to bouts of anger and resentment for what she'd lost, but she'd never really grieved for it. How could she when the signs all around her indicated that most beings had fared far worse than she under the Emperor's rule? How could she genuinely miss the regime that had been responsible for millions upon millions of deaths? How could she have missed what the Emperor's rule was doing to the galaxy? Had she really been that blind?

The ache slowed and finally stalled, the warmth of acceptance and understanding - unquestionable compassion - flooding her. Luke's mental touch. His presence was light and soothing, but hesitant. As if he didn't know if she'd accept it after their last words. She didn't resist the mental touch, but neither did she encourage it. Luke, seeming to take it as acceptance when she didn't withdraw, intensified the feeling.

Her doubts eased as did her self-recriminations. They weren't gone, but Luke's touch helped her push them away, folding them back into her unconscious mind as she simply basked in the warmth of his mental touch. It wasn't much of a surprise when that mental warmth was echoed in the slide of his arms around her waist and the heat of his body at her back.

The fragile truce continued in silence Luke rested his chin on her shoulder and followed her gaze outside the window. Neither was willing to break the silence, and Mara found herself leaning back against him a little, taking comfort in the feel of him against her body. His arms tightened unconsciously, securing her just that little bit closer, drawing her just that much nearer, as he took as much comfort from her presence as he gave. It was a revelation that Luke seemed to need comforting as much as she.

Mara could still feel the echoes of their argument between them, a slight tension that hadn't dissipated or eased, but had instead shifted. It didn't stop them from seeking out the human contact that made dealing with the sharp emotions easier, but it also didn't shy from the fact the very person they sought was the cause. She didn't dwell on it, and chose to ignore it.

Until Luke spoke.

"Are you really any worse off with me than you were with him, Mara?"

The fragile bond between them shattered and Mara turned, taking a step away and out of his arms. The loss of it hit her harder than she expected, a wave of denial sweeping through her even as she pinned him with a disgusted look. She didn't know if the emotion was hers or his and she wasn't willing to take that moment to figure it out. "You just can't leave it be, can you?"

"You've never been one to run from a fight, Mara."

"And you're not usually so pushy."

Luke's azure gaze was direct, and Mara fought against the emotions she could see in his eyes and could feel seeping from behind his barriers. The answer to his question meant a lot to him, more than she'd suspected, and more than she'd been previously been able to understand. Luke wanted to believe, needed to believe, he wasn't her captor. That she didn't think of him as her jailer, or Master. If the pain in his eyes hadn't been so raw, she might have laughed.

Whatever he saw in her eyes made his jaw tighten, and he nodded once, as if she'd answered his question. She blinked as he turned on his heel and stalked towards the kitchenette, the sound of cupboards and the cooling unit opening and closing and then bottles and utensils hitting the counter.

What had he seen?

Mara turned back to the window, but her peace had been shattered. She felt restless and guilty, as if she'd been responsible for Luke's sudden mood shift. And hadn't she been? Hadn't he turned away after seeing whatever it was he'd seen in her eyes and face? Hadn't he shut down after supposedly finding his answer? Only she didn't know what answer he'd found because she didn't have one for him.

"Are you really any worse off with me than you were with him, Mara?"

The question reverberated through her mind, demanding an answer - an honest answer.

Mara was nothing if not honest with herself, and behind the privacy of her mental shields she reluctantly admitted that she didn't consider the circumstances even remotely similar. Sure, both Luke and the Emperor were Force users, but where the Emperor ruled through fear, Luke sought understanding. The Emperor had rewarded her for good behavior; giving her anything she asked when she pleased him - only to take it away when she failed. Luke, she knew without a doubt, would never do something so petty. The Emperor had treated her like a daughter, disciplining her as he'd seen fit. Luke... Luke saw her as a woman. An independent, desirable woman and one he considered his equal.

Would he believe her if she told him? Did she dare tell him?

A slight smile curved her lips. She could at least answer his question even if she'd never reveal that kind of thinking to him willingly. The mental shield she'd built between her thoughts and his was shaky at best and so she buried the thoughts and revelations deep within her subconscious, using a technique the Emperor had forbade her to use with him. A technique she'd used often before, but one that didn't last long with the bond between her and Luke. But it would do for the moment.

Mara crossed to the kitchenette and stopped in the doorway, leaning against the jamb as she watched Luke.

His back was to her, but she knew that he knew she was there. Without sparing her a look, Luke was making something on the main heating unit and giving it his full attention. She took the opportunity, as she had before, to study him. The domestic scene didn't diminish his masculine appeal in the slightest and a part of her found him all the more appealing in it.

Luke pointedly ignored her, hurt radiating from him like a cloud. Whatever he'd seen in her expression had done this. She'd done this. She had the power to hurt him where he'd promised to strive for the very opposite. She held her tongue for a few minutes more as he continued to work on whatever was on the cooking unit until she couldn't stand the silence any longer.

"You're very good at that."

"Thanks." He flipped whatever it was he had in the pan as she watched. "Threepio's been giving me cooking lessons."

"So the gold menace is good for something after all."

"You do him a disservice."

Mara wasn't about to turn down an opening like that. "I did you one too."

He looked up in surprise, but she continued before he had the opportunity to speak.

"You've asked me twice now if my circumstances are much changed between my time as a Hand and this time with you."

"You don't have to go on, Mara." Luke's voice was quiet as he poked at the creation on the stove. "I practically bullied you into this marriage; I can't blame you for thinking of it like another gilded cage."

She laughed; she couldn't help it, and Luke's head came around sharply. "You didn't force me into anything, farm boy. Much as I'm sure you'd like to believe you could, I never would have married you for a threat - not one from you anyhow."

His lips twitched. "I don't know if I should be grateful or insulted."

"Would it help if I told you I don't consider myself worse off than when I was with the Emperor?"

"It might." He nodded to the seats at the island.

Mara seated herself, nodding her thanks as he poured her a fresh cup of caf. She took a sip before cradling the mug between her hands. "Then you might also like to know that a cage is still a cage, no matter the color, make or substance of the bars."

"You were hardly caged."

"No?" She took another sip of her caf. "Do you remember what it felt like to be on your aunt and uncle's moisture farm?"

His lips twitched as he turned around to face her once more, a glass of blue milk in hand. "It's hard to forget."

"Did you ever feel trapped? Like there was no escape no matter what you did?"

"All the time."

"Isn't that, by definition, a prison?"

"I... hadn't thought of it that way."

"Not many people have." Mara met his gaze frankly. "My place was no better. I'm starting to think that being able to hear the Emperor's voice anywhere in the galaxy was a control mechanism. Not unlike the way a Hutt leashes his slaves."

"You weren't his slave, Mara."

"Wasn't I?"

The silence between them was charged. Mara arched an eyebrow at him, her lips twisting into a dark, humorous smile. "You know better than that, Luke. You felt trapped by your responsibilities - by your perceived obligations. Once your aunt and uncle died, there was nothing keeping you there."

"The same could be said for you."

"You stayed out of love-"

"Mara."

"You could let me finish."

He chuckled softly. "You were going to say that my reasons for staying were different from you own. I don't think they were. You felt trapped because of the same reasons I did. Once that reason was gone, there was nothing keeping you there either."

"You had the choice to stay, Luke. You could have rebuilt, become what your uncle wanted you to become."

"You know me better than that."

"Do you honestly think I could have stayed once the Emperor died?" Mara shook her head, her hands cradling the cup of caf. "The galaxy was going through another upheaval, one that fractured the remnants of the Empire and drove them apart."

"You could have stayed and become Empress."

Mara snorted. "I didn't want the headaches that went with the job description. Tyrant doesn't really suit me."

"Oh, I don’t know." Luke's eyes twinkled. "You do a good impression of one."

"And you do a lousy impression of a chef." She nodded towards the cooker. "I think it's burning."

Luke jumped away from the island and spun. Sure enough whatever he was cooking was starting to scorch and he whipped it off the burner with one hand before dropping it onto a hot plate. He scrambled for something to get it out of the pan and Mara managed not to laugh at the comical site. The calm, serene Jedi Master panicked by a piece of food.

It wasn't until Luke scraped it from the dish and separated it into two portions on separate plates did she realize that this was likely their dinner. The thought was sobering even as she was unwillingly touched by the gesture. The plate was deposited in front of her.

"I'm not much of a cook, but it should be edible."

Mara accepted the fork he offered and smiled, accepting the peace offering for what it was. "I can't cook to save my life, so you're one up on me. Thanks. I'm starving."

Luke simply shrugged as he settled himself across from her and collected a fork of his own.

They ate in silence and while not the best meal either of them had ever had, the slightly scorched stir fry was a sweeter dish than some. It was the beginning of a truce that was far deeper than words. A silent apology and an acceptance of that apology. It was a tactful way of telling her that Luke had no intention to pry before she was ready and it showed a sweet side of him that, despite his frustrations, would never be hidden from her.

It was a pity she was going to have to kill him before this was over; he wasn't such a bad guy.
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Jade_Max


Joined: 03 Nov 2008
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Location: Canada
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Chapter 12

The following evening, Mara was teaching Luke to play Pazzak when the door buzzer sounded. They shared a look, ascertaining that neither knew of the sudden intruder - an intruder that shouldn't have arrived for another five days according to their “week’s isolation” which was a mandatory part of their honeymoon phase. Luke pushed to his feet and headed for the door as Mara settled back in her chair, stretching her arms across the back of the sofa.

Luke cast her a grin, enjoying the way she seemed to lounge effortlessly and still look like the most dangerous and desirable woman he'd ever met. She quirked an eyebrow at him, letting him know she'd "heard" his remark. He didn't so much as blink as he turned to the comm. unit and hit the buzzer acceptance panel. "Skywalker Residence."

"Master Skywalker, we have an individual here who has received special dispensation to visit you and your wife. Will you see him?"

Luke glanced back at Mara who shrugged in response, indicating she was in the dark as much as he. "Who is it?"

The droid on the other end paused, a humming sound crossing over the speakers before the mechanical voice returned. "A judicial advocate, Master Skywalker."

"Send him up." He released the system. "Justice Maddux, do you think?"

"Hardly. He'd know better than to intrude on this little bonding period. Know anyone who would benefit from it?"

Luke's smile vanished. "We both do."

"Skyes?"

He nodded grimly. "Skyes. I should have confirmed his name."

"We had to deal with him sooner or later."

Luke looked away.

Things were tense enough in their home with their fragile bond of trust. He wasn't about to explain to Mara that he'd hoped to have more time to strengthen it and develop something more between them. The thought was carefully shielded, but he could tell he hadn't been completely successful in hiding it from her when expression closed. She leaned forward and collected the cards, putting them away neatly as Luke straightened the front entry.

He turned around as he heard the sound of fabric sliding along fabric and the rasp of a zipper. His eyes widened as Mara was adjusting her clothing to make it look like it had been hastily pulled on. A wicked thought formed in her mind and she stepped towards him purposefully. They had mere minutes before Skyes would appear and Luke stood absolutely still as Mara's hands worked their magic on his appearance - and his body. In short order he was rumpled, his clothing slightly askew and his face flushed - though the flush was more to her proximity than anything.

The gleam he caught in her eye as she winked at him and then darted down the hallway towards his room intrigued him. The sounds coming from their bedrooms made his brow knit with sudden worry, and he stepped towards it to offer his assistance. Halfway across the room, there was a knock on their front door and he turned, torn between wanting to help Mara and knowing this was an interview they couldn't avoid. It was also, likely, the first of several they'd have to endure.

The knock sounded again as the noises coming from his bedroom ceased and Mara stuck her head out to look at him. "Are you going to answer that, or should I?"

"I'll get it." Luke turned reluctantly back towards the door and the irritable expression on his face when he opened it wasn't feigned. "You'd better have a good reason for being here, Skyes" he told the short man standing before his door. "And make it quick."

The pudgy judicial servant frowned, his brow puckering in displeasure as he stared at the obviously rumpled Jedi. "Did I come at a bad time, Master Skywalker?"

"As of matter of fact you did."

"Then why-ever did you invite me up?"

Luke's expression didn't change. "We thought you were someone else. What do you want?"

Skyes sighed, his beady little eyes glittering with malice even as his tone was solicitous. "If you'll invite me in..."

Luke planted his hand across the doorway, preventing entry. "I told you the last time that you're not welcome here. We have no desire to have you in our apartment and I'll have security throw you out if you insist."

"Oh, but I must." The little man reached into a satchel at his side and pulled out a piece of flimsi. "You see, I have a court order to inspect the premises. Your farce of a marriage to Mara Jade is at an end, Master Skywalker."

"Farce?" Luke spluttered the word, disbelief etching his every word. He'd never known he was such a convincing actor. "Let me see that."

Skyes did so, handing over the flimsi with a flourish, his face twisted into a nasty little smile. He waited patiently as Luke read through the document. At least until a manicured hand slid over Luke's shoulder and then around, another slim, well-toned arm sliding around Luke's waist. It was all Luke could do to deport himself nonchalantly as she pressed firmly into his back.

"Is there a problem, Luke?"

He slid his left hand over Mara's where it lay low on his belly, barely containing the shiver of pleasure that echoed through his system both with her husky words and her touch. He continued to read the document - or appear to read the document - as he answered her in what he hoped was an absent tone. "Mr. Skyes seems to think ours isn't a real marriage."

"Hmmm, you don't say."

"This is apparently a warrant to search." Luke kept her hand caught in his as he extended the document towards her. The casual brush of her lips against his cheek as she accepted the flimsi made his heart lurch.

She slanted him a smoldering look that had him forgetting they had an audience and wanting to tempt fate by doing something rash. Her gaze slid away, deliberately to Skyes before dropping to the flimsi. Her look had the desired effect and Luke jerked his attention back to Skyes. The little man was watching them dispassionately, yet Luke to almost see the frustration and disbelief in his eyes. Skyes, or so it seemed, didn't know if he should be crediting the scene or believing it was set up for his benefit.

Mara scanned the document quickly and then extended it to Skyes. The sleeve of Luke's dressing robe covered her fingers as it slid down her arm.

Skyes waved the document away. "That copy is yours, Miss Jade."

Mara's lips thinned for a fraction of a second before she laughed huskily. "It's Mrs. Skywalker now, Mr. Skyes, and it's going to be that way for a long, long time."

"Indeed. May I come in now?"

Mara pulled Luke back into the apartment by the arm around his waist and motioned for Skyes to join them. Luke turned, sliding his arm around her waist to find she was dressed in nothing more than his robe. The expanse of creamy flesh exposed through the deep V of the neckline down to where the sash was belted about her waist was an immediate draw. Almost as much as the feel of his robe on her - with nothing between it and her soft skin. He groaned softly, unable to help himself as she pressed closer, her hand sliding in a caress up one bicep. It only made matters worse that Mara knew what she was doing to him - and doing it deliberately.

"Are you ill, Master Skywalker?"

"Just do what you're here to do and leave, would you?"

"Impatient to rejoin your charade?"

"Impatient to be alone with my wife, you fool." Luke's exasperation wasn't feigned. "We're newlyweds; don't you have any idea what that means or what you interrupted?"

"Certainly, for most married couples." Skyes was looking at the slightly tossed living room, the disarray on the couch and floor around it. He poked his head into the kitchenette and then headed for the hallway towards their rooms.

Luke stiffened, but Mara caught him before he made to move forward, the strength in her grip at odds with the supple, pliant nature of her posture against him. Their eyes met and her voice sounded clearly in his mind as she spoke to him directly - the first time he could ever recall her initiating that kind of contact. It was a contact more intimate in some ways than what they were feigning.

Trust me.

The urge to kiss he was strong in that moment, and his gaze dropped to her lips. She turned her head away, resting it on his shoulder as her fingers played idly with the hair at the nape of his neck. His voice was hushed. "Mara...you're killing me."

"You'll get over it."

His chuckle came out sounding closer to a groan. "Keep that up and you're going to be helping me get over it."

Are you trying to blow our cover, Skywalker? Or are you just that dense?

Not dense, came his silent reply. He leaned down, his breath feathering across her cheek. "Being driven to distraction."

Her shiver was enough to encourage him that she wasn't as unaffected by his nearness as she seemed.

Skyes reappeared. "Your guest room is lovely, Master Skywalker. Are you expecting company?"

Mara replied before Luke could. "Why would you think that, Mr. Skyes?"

"The bed is made." His eyes gleamed as he awaited her response.

Mara's laugh was throaty and deep, a husky sound that curled Luke's toes as much as the coy look she tossed his way. "Of course the bed is made. Carpet is so rough on the skin."

"Carpet?"

"You've obviously never been married, Mr. Skyes." The words were laced with so much sympathy and dismay, Luke tightened his grip on her as she continued. "And if you have, I have to assume it was to someone with whom there is no chemistry."

"You made the bed because of chemistry?"

Mara pressed closer, sliding her leg up the outside of Luke's and hooking her foot - her bare foot - up above his calf muscle. The flash of exposed leg from thigh to ankle made Skye's eyes widen. She nipped at the strong line of Luke's jaw as she spoke softly. "Chemistry, Mr. Skyes, explodes in the most... inconvenient of places. It's always best to be prepared."

Luke would have laughed at the expression on Skye's face if he hadn't been sharing the same reaction. Mara's attentions were heady, like potent wine, and his head was starting to spin with the effort to keep it on straight. He knew she was pretending, playing the part for their audience, yet a part of him wondered if she could have been convincing without feeling something for him. She was close, so close he could have turned his head and captured her lips with his and the urge to do so was powerful. So powerful he wondered how he resisted.

Except that he'd made her a promise and for all her play acting, for all the signals she was giving him, it was a ruse. Mara had not asked anything of him - except to trust her. And so he waited in agony as she put on the display for Skyes. Yet, he was unable to control himself completely. He let himself touch her, his hands stroking her back and hips through the robe, teasing the ends of her hair and exploring the curve of her jaw. He did it without thinking, the kiss that followed his fingers making her sigh softly.

Skyes cleared his throat, drawing both of their attentions as Mara's eyes fluttered closed upon the feel of Luke's lips on her skin. They snapped open again with Skye's rude interruption. The fat little man was growing more and more displeased as the moments passed and visibly so. He finally snapped one last question. "How do you explain the presence of your wife's wardrobe in the guest room's armoire, Master Skywalker."

Mara laughed softly, answering so Luke didn't have to. Honestly, he wasn't sure if he'd have been able to form a coherent sentence in reply. Mara's attention was rattling his wits. "Did you look into Luke's wardrobe? I haven't had the chance to clean it out yet."

Skyes looked from one to the other, as if not believing the sight before him and finally stomped back towards the door, displeasure and anger obvious in every posture. "You've won this round, Skywalker, but I'll see Jade hang yet! Just you wait, I'll-"

Luke sent the little man sprawling through the door with a none to gentle Force push and the door slid shut on his ravings.

The silence that ensued was golden.

Mara's leg slipped lower and away, her grip on him easing. Luke's didn't as he kept her close. It lasted for several moments before the sound of Skye's displeased footsteps could be heard walking away. Only then did he slowly loosen his grip, exhaling shakily as he did. Mara's hands fell away, sliding in a semi-caress down his arms and chest, her finger tips lingering at the nape of his neck.

"Mara..."

Their gazes locked, each catching their breath as they waited almost expectantly. Luke searched her eyes for some sign, some encouragement. It was there, the silent desire that had fueled her performance, but under it he could see wariness. Trepidation. Mistrust.

It nearly killed him, but Luke stepped back. He exhaled shakily, looking away. "You... you're incredible."

"Thanks."

Luke nodded and then turned; leaving her standing in the middle of their living room dressed only in his robe, he made his way to the 'fresher. He needed a shower, a cold shower. Something to remind him that while he and Mara might be married, they were far from the happy couple Skyes and the world assumed them to be. They hadn't even been married for a week and already he was questioning his promise to let her call the shots.

Back in the living room, Mara watched Luke walk away, the turmoil he felt mixing with her own until she didn't know where his disappointment ended and hers began. He hadn't kissed her. She'd been hoping to provoke him into doing so and in a way she had - he'd trailed that soft caress along her jaw. Her finger tips followed it of their own accord before she caught herself and yanked her hand away angrily.

She would not moon over Skywalker like some teenage kid. She'd done what had been necessary to convince the little slime ball he had no cause to question their vows. She wasn't disappointed Luke hadn't taken up her silent challenge and she wasn't going to think about it. Wrapping those thoughts into a neat little package in her mind, she put them away and headed for Luke's room as the sound of the 'fresher drifted to her. And she would positively, absolutely not think about him standing naked under a stream of real water.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 13

Luke rubbed one hand over the back of his neck warily as he eased back from the research screen. It had been just a week since his wedding to Mara and things had gone steadily downhill since their special interview with Skyes.

First of all, she was a worse cook than he was - and he wasn't much of one - which meant if they wanted to eat it fell to him. He rose too early for her liking, went to bed too soon, was tidy to a fault - but never threw anything away. He spent too much time in meditation or practicing his calming techniques. Mara on the other hand, slept late, was never civil until at least two cups of caf, kept only the bare minimum of what was practical and would rather have gone hungry than even glance at the cooker. She spent her days prowling restlessly, reading or doing her workout routine.

And now Mara wasn't speaking with him.

He sighed, closing his eyes as he leaned his head back against the head rest. Nothing he did was good enough.

Trying to engage her in a game of sabbacc or dejarik had been met with cool distain. His offer to increase her knowledge of her innate Force skills had been snubbed. He'd offered to clear his -their - living room and make room for a training space for her, and been rebuffed - she preferred the small space in her room. He'd even offered to order in for something edible and received a hard stare for his troubles.

And, to top it off, not only was she ignoring him, she was being blatantly provocative, the mixed signals making his head swim. Fortunately - or unfortunately - their time together had resulted in each of them becoming more capable in the strength of their personal shields. And it was beyond frustrating; in more ways than one!

For once Luke wished he wasn't such a nice guy.

If he wasn't, he'd have been over beside her on the love seat in a heartbeat, taking her holo novel away to replace it with lingering kisses on her finger tips and wrists. She had lovely, capable hands that itched to be caressed. He'd work his way up slowly, tasting the softness of her skin - a softness he knew well for they'd been unable to avoid bumping into each other and touching one another in his small apartment. His fantasy continued for another moment as he could see himself easing Mara back against the cushions so he could claim her lips in a kiss - a kiss like the one they'd shared after taking their vows. His cheeks warmed at the thought and he quickly shook it away, looking anywhere but at her.

Who was he kidding?

Mara would likely turn the tables quicker than he could blink and he'd at the very least end up on the floor for his troubles, if not in the emergency ward. The thought made him smile, if only slightly as he ruefully let the fantasy go and pulled on the Force to get a hold of himself once more. Fantasies about Mara were becoming a startlingly common occurrence and one that left him distinctly uncomfortable and unbalanced. Mostly because they centered around the behavior he still couldn't explain.

Behavior he got the distinct impression wasn’t as such of an act as she wanted him to believe.

The comm line beeped, dragging him from his thoughts and back to reality. He caught Mara's look of surprise, their gazes locking as she arched one eyebrow in silent query. He shrugged. He didn't know who it was anymore than she did. They'd been left in relative peace by friends and family and Luke hadn't had the desire to take the filter off their comm line. If he did, he knew they'd be in for a round of calls from holo-reporters. A flick of his wrist activated the comm and the smiling face that greeted them was one that Luke hadn't expected to see quite so soon. Mara shot to her feet and came over quickly, a smile on her lips.

"Talon!"

"Mara." Talon Karrde regarded her and Luke seriously, first one, and then the other, his dark eyes twinkling with mirth. "I received your message."

Luke glanced at Mara in silent query and just about jumped out of his chair as she draped her arms around his neck and rested her chin on the top of his head. Her fingers began to idly trace some kind of design just below his collar bone as they casually slid lower. It was the first time since the Skye’s interview that she’d touched him willingly and wasn't the least bit surprised by his strong reaction to it. He’d missed having her touch him - he only wished she would do it without an audience.

"Did you now? Justice Maddux assured me that you would have no problems adhering to local law, being the law abiding citizen that you are."

Mara's hands were now splayed across Luke's pectorals and it was all he could do to act as if it were nothing unnatural. He leaned back against her, feeling the wave of approval she sent his way even as he relished the feeling. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he felt he was falling off an unknown precipice and he didn’t care as long as Mara didn’t pull back. Not yet. He wanted to savor this situation for a few moments longer despite the fact it was a pleasurable sort of torture and no matter what he did, it would end the moment Karrde ended the call.

Talon arched his eyebrows in surprise. "I'm paying you for nothing."

"I wouldn't say nothing."

Luke choked on an almost hysterical laugh, fighting to keep a straight face. Nothing? Nothing? That’s exactly what Karrde was paying her for at the moment. It wasn’t like she was doing anything to earn that wage - except drive him to distraction. This, he supposed, was a full time job. He had to look away from Karrde's expression and coughed to regain his composure. It worked for all of five seconds before Mara loosened her grip and purred, "Can I get you a glass of... water, Luke?"

He shook his head, struggling with it. The last thing he wanted to do was pull away and yet he knew he had to if he wasn’t going to spoil the charade. Reluctantly, Luke pulled himself out of the chair - and her tantalizing, torturing grip - and backed away, out of view before covering his mouth with his hand. He struggled to laugh silently without looking or sounding as hysterical as he felt.

This whole scene, this whole mess, was ludicrous! Putting on a show for Talon Karrde of all people! She'd been blatantly taunting him; deliberately touching him during the holo call in a fashion that she'd known would drive him mad. Having her hands on him - in any kind of fashion - was his most common and persistent fantasy. One he'd been unable to shield from her and she'd deliberately done it to test him. And he’d failed her test miserably. The second she’d touched him he’d been lost.

Mara slid into the chair he'd vacated, turning her full attention to her boss. "What have you got for me?"

"Nothing." The way Karrde said the word, there was little doubt he'd said it with relish.

"What do you mean, nothing?"

"Exactly that, my dear." Talon leaned back in his chair, regarding her shrewdly. "I had Ghent pull me the files on this obscure honeymoon custom you mentioned in your letter. The reading is... fascinating. Have you had the chance to peruse the document?"

Luke watched, with both the Force and his eyes, as Mara's supposedly good mood evaporated. Karrde couldn't have missed it - she made no attempt to hide it - yet the smuggler continued as if she wasn't disturbed by the whole thing.

"If you haven't Mara, my dear, you should. I have to admit I was rather disappointed not to be called to attend your wedding. Your decision to place me on your limited list of... family did much to restore my good humor."

"Talon..."

"Ah ah," He leaned forward, obviously enjoying her discomfort. "I wouldn't dream of intruding on newlyweds for long. I simply wished to inform you that we will be on planet at the end of the month and we shall speak more than."

"But-"

"Married life agrees with you, Mara. Be in touch."

Luke coughed as the transmission was terminated, attempting - in vain - to hide his amusement. Karrde had been nettling Mara deliberately, doing his mildest best to push her buttons. And succeeding. He wondered if he should be taking lessons from the man - at least he got results. Not to mention it made him feel more charitable towards her after her deliberate caresses.

Mara cast him a scathing look. "I take it you enjoyed that."

"I could learn a thing or two from your boss."

Pushing to her feet, Mara stalked towards him, displeasure evident in every line of her harsh posture. "He could take lessons from you too, Skywalker. I can't believe I let you talk me into this!"

"Would you rather be facing execution in a damp cell?"

"Anything is better than spending my days with an affable, ever pleasant, always cheerful Jedi Master who wouldn't know tension if it kicked him in the head!"

Luke blinked. She wasn't raging at him, but the carefully controlled way in which she stated her displeasure was more unnerving than any fit of rage she might have indulged in - barring Sith lightning. He didn't think a week was enough time to push her that far. Despite the fact she was angry with him, he almost laughed in her face. Didn't know tension? The tension was damn near killing him!

"You're the one who'd been ignoring me since Skyes was here."

"You're insufferable."

"And you're being contrary." He kept his cool - that Jedi training was good for something - but was unable to help himself from admiring the way her eyes blazed. "Why are you really angry, Mara? Is it because Karrde was needling you or is it something else?"

"You haven't seen angry, farmboy. I'm irritated. I'm frustrated. There's a difference."

Their gazes locked and Luke did something he hadn't intended to. He reached for her, the fingers of his left hand sliding around the corded muscles of her wrists just above clenched fists. She didn't move beyond his touch, and the barriers between them cracked, the Force bond between them pulsing like something alive as skin touched skin. His head reeled as emotions, desires and frustrations swept through him. He was dimly aware of Mara's hand uncurling under her wrist only to turn until she clasped his arm as he held hers.

And they clung together for a few moments until the emotional whirlwind ebbed and they were once again in control. Unfortunately, each was now fully aware of the other and thoughts and feelings had been exchanged. Luke absently stroked his thumb over the soft skin of her wrist, barely aware of the way it made her shiver. He was tuned inward, focused on what he'd learned. On what she'd been trying to hide from him. His words were quiet, almost caressing when he finally spoke once more.

"Does it really bother you that much to be stuck with me, Mara? Am I such bad company?"

"If I wanted a life sentence, I'd be turning myself into Skyes."

"Then why haven't you if you think we're so unsuited?"

"You know."

Luke's lips curved into a soft smile, his voice dropping. "That was some kiss, wasn't it?"

"A fluke," but she didn't sound like she believed it and he knew she didn't believe it.

"There's only one way to find out."

The air fairly crackled between them and Mara's fingers convulsed around his wrist. Luke waited, watching her even as she watched him, feeling the fight occurring in her head. Mara was tempted, very tempted, to taste a repeat of their kiss in the Justice's office. They both were. But Luke had made her a promise and he intended to keep it. He wouldn't make the first move - he refused to do anything to hurt her. And some sixth sense - maybe simply his insight into Mara's mind - warned him that to move too quickly was to lose her.

He didn't dare.

In the short week they'd been together, despite her moodiness, they'd fallen into a routine. Something that agreed with them both despite the close quarters and as every day became patterned, he could feel Mara's agitation growing. She didn't know why they were comfortable, didn't understand exactly what was happening and she was fighting it every step of the way.

Mara jerked her wrist away, folding her hands behind her back as the contact, both physical and mental, broke. It was only then that Luke realized she was shaking - and so was he. She took a deep, calming breath and then let it out, struggling to regain her control even as Luke watched her do it. It was amazing really. Mara could go from a bundle of nerves to a steady handed ex-assassin in a matter of moments. She arched one eyebrow as if to challenge him and then turned smartly on her heel and returned to her holo-novel.

Luke let out a long breath, feeling as if something had pulled the starch out of him as he sank into the easy chair across from her. Getting used to feeling Mara's emotions wasn't easy and he had a feeling it wasn't going to get any easier for a long, long time.

"Mara, we need to talk about this."

"Define 'this', farmboy."

She was baiting him again. Luke refused to rise to the challenge and instead leaned back in his chair, watching her. He said nothing, simply sat and regarded her - and allowed her to view herself through his eyes. He let his thoughts flow freely to her, including the confusion he was feeling at her mixed signals. Her withdrawn countenance versus the wanton he'd held in his arms during Skye's visit - and just now speaking with Karrde.

Mara's lips quirked. "What do you mean you want to invite Skyes over?"

"If it means having you that close to me again, I'd have him over in a heartbeat."

Mara laughed, looking up from her novel to meet his appreciative look. "All you have to do is ask, Luke."

"I made you a promise."

"Well, so you did."

"I won't break it."

"Even if it kills you?"

Luke smiled faintly. "I'm hoping you'll take pity on me before that happens."

Her smile turned impish. "Don't hold your breath. I'm going to turn in for the night; good night."

"Good night." Luke watched her walk away, admitting the graceful sway of her body, the lithe, economical movements that were as much a part of her as her red-gold hair or the supple muscles that lined trim limbs. Her body suit did nothing to hide her curves from view and everything to enhance them. He was little trouble picturing the way her skin would look as the fabric was peeled away, down- he looked away with a strangled groan.

Self-torture normally wasn’t his thing, yet with Mara, it was becoming more and more common place. He sighed, running his hands through his hair and gripping tightly before letting go of the frustration, releasing it to the Force and pushing to his feet. It was past bedtime and while sleeping, at least, he got somewhere with her. But first, another trip to the cold shower or he'd never be able to sleep.

He could only hope the next seven weeks weren't going to be more of the same.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 14

He was doing it on purpose; she was sure of it.

Mara watched covertly, pretending to be immersed in yet another holo-novel as Luke sat in the middle of their living room, his expression one of peace, his body relaxed in its meditative state. How he could find the focus to meditate at a time like this was beyond her. The man was infuriating.

Though, she grudgingly admitted, he was something else to look at. Clothed, Luke was a mystery that only hinted at the powerfully compact frame beneath. She could and did admire the musculature his clothing occasionally outlined, drinking in the sight like a starving woman chained just out of a reach of a magnificent feast. The fleeting glimpses of what she could have if she desired - but refused herself - simply because she wished to see how far she could push him before he cracked was unnerving at the best of times.

Something about his calm acceptance of their fate, the way he seemed utterly content with their circumstances - disregarding the fantasies she occasionally glimpsed - ate at her. It didn't seem fair that Luke seemed so totally unaffected by her nearness that the blasted man was capable of locating any kind of inner balance, let alone enough to meditate!

The fact he chose to meditate in the center of their living room in nothing but a pair of black shorts only added insult to injury. She was supposed to be making him squirm yet all he had to do was take off his shirt and she couldn't tear her eyes away. To say nothing of the almost primal urge to grab him, throw him over her shoulder and haul him away to one of those beds that hadn’t seen the kind of action she only dreamed of. Just the thought - the idea - of touching all that naked, well-toned flesh was enough to drive her to distraction.

Disgusted with herself, Mara turned her attention back to her holo-novel.

It lasted for all of thirty seconds before a fraction of movement caught her gaze. Luke had inhaled. His back was to her, the sheen of perspiration across his skin a tantalizing forerunner to what he would look like in the throes of passion. She almost groaned, only barely stopping herself, but was unable to tear her gaze away as the movement caught her attention once more. She watched as a single droplet of sweat slid slowly from the tips of his damp hair, down over the first vertebrae of his spine - seemingly reluctant to continue on its journey downwards as it hovered in the dip of his neck.

The urge to bend forward, to taste his skin engulfed her and Mara found she was already starting to push herself off the sofa before she realized what she intended. She dropped back to the sofa and turned away, lifting her feet to the cushions and ducking her head so her hair fell forward. The red-gold curtain cleverly obstructed her view of all that tanned and toned muscle and she resolutely turned her attention back to the holo-novel, determined to actually complete one - and know what it was about.

Bending her knees, Mara settled the novel on them and leaned back to get comfortable. Her hair shifted, giving her that tantalizing glimpse of skin once more. She closed her eyes to block out the sight, taking a deep breath to steady herself and find her own focus, only to find there wasn't much to be had - not with her eyes closed.

She'd found over the last week that living with Skywalker was detrimental to her quiescent midnight state. She rose late and in a foul temper from lack of sleep. She spent the better part of the night tossing and turning, trying to block out the memory of the most stirring kiss she'd ever received - and alleviate the ache in the pit of her stomach which inevitably accompanied the memory. When she was able to sleep, she found no solace in her dreams.

Luke was waiting for her. Always waiting for her. He put her first, catering to her needs as he set about alleviating that ache in ways only he could. He lived his fantasies in her dreams, kissing and touching her in ways she'd never admit to wanting while conscious, but seemed only natural in him.

Needless to say she was not the most pleasant of person when she woke to find it but a dream - and always an unfulfilled one at that. She woke alone, inevitably cursing his name and punching the extra pillow on her bed as if he'd feel it. He wouldn't - for Luke would inevitably be the same bright, cheery individual he always was, without any traces of the heightened awareness between them.

Until she touched him.

A shudder raced through her. Touching Luke was a whole other form of torture. He didn't react to her the way her other lovers had. He didn't grope, he didn't make the first move. He didn't attack her like she was dinner a day too late. He waited, he held back, let her explore and do as she pleased. He held onto his insufferable control - yet even as she thought it, she knew it was a lie. He wasn't holding on because he wanted to. He'd practically admitted it the other night when Karrde had called.

No, Luke was waiting for her to give him a sign that she trusted him.

She sighed, tilting her head back against the couch, confident Luke wouldn't see her as he was too deeply absorbed in his meditation. It was the one opportunity she'd had to let her guard down for days and she didn't waste it. Rolling her shoulders with a mental 'ear' out for Luke, she willed herself to breathe deeply and relax.

It wasn't easy.

Her body initially resisted the mental urgings, tensing as if in protest. She overcame it by carefully, consciously controlling her breathing until she settled into a familiar rhythm. Starting with her toes, she flexed them and then, muscle by muscle, forced her body to unwind. It was a ritual she'd performed many times and one she took solace in, allowing her mental shields to relax - confident Luke was too deep in his meditation to notice. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, she shifted her attention from her body to her mind.

Mentally using the same process, she forced herself to look at where she was and what she was doing. At the emotional upheaval she'd been experiencing; at the cause of that imbalance. She examined her actions, her goals, casting away those that were no longer possible with the ruthlessness of an impartial droid doing spring cleaning.

Mara was not one to live in the past and, like it or not, she was now a married woman. Despite Luke's assurances they could continue on as they had been, she knew it wasn't true. This... attraction between them was too volatile. To explosive. To disappear back into her old life would be impossible. Changes would need to be made; arrangements she'd once enjoyed - canceled. Despite the fact that their marriage was a sham, Mara had entered into it willingly and fully knowledgeable. She wouldn't dishonor herself or Luke by fooling around with other men. While she had no qualms about going after what she wanted, it didn't include breaking her word.

And she'd given him her word.

With each layer, each choice made, her mind seemed to ease, her sub-consciousness slowly gaining ground as it shifted perspective and gradually eased into the space for normal thought. Relaxed, in a stated of semi-meditation, Mara was barely conscious of the fact she lay on the couch scarcely a body length from Luke's naked back.

Somehow, in the midst of stripping away the uncertainties and indecision, things shifted into something else...

Feather soft.

She stretched languidly as the touch came again, brushing gently across her shoulders and down over her collar bone. The touch disappeared only to brush back, like the wings of some giant avian, this time over the soft skin of her exposed ankles. It made her gasp, the trail of touch sliding down over the instep of one foot in a strangely erotic way before flitting away again.

The feel of those appendages, indistinct yet familiar, started the slow burning in the pit of her stomach. She braced herself as the touch returned, flitting this time over the skin on the inside of her wrists, a caress of intent; a promise of more. She stretched unconsciously with it as it made to move away again, silently bemoaning the loss of the sensation even as the burning began to spread lethargy through her limbs.

There was no way to reach for it, to grasp such a thing. It was like being caressed by a ghost or specter, only this one fired her blood in a way she'd never before experienced. It teased, it tantalized, touching her in ways she'd never dreamed of and seeming to know it was what she wanted - what she needed. It wooed, seducing her with nothing but the barest of impressions, everywhere and nowhere at once.

It was nothing more than an impression; no sensation but touch. A touch surrounded by darkness and silence, one that could be neither denied nor ignored. It was a touch of promise, of portent. A touch of desire and intent.

The touch shifted, morphing into something more and she
knew she gasped even if she couldn't hear herself. The touch was still feather soft, but moist - like a pair of lips feathering across the soft skin of her wrist. Her hands clenched, her nails digging into her palms as the touch vanished as if it'd never been. She willed it back, silently demanding it return to ease the ever burning coil of heat in the pit of her stomach.

A fleeting feeling returned, this time brushing across the inside of her forearm only to flit away. Back and forth the phantom caress continued, working its way up one arm. The shiver that gripped her when it settled low on her collar bone ignited the burning within her to full force. The sudden tangible feel of flesh on flesh as a hand, a real hand, settled on her bare shoulder threatened to-


"Mara!"

Her eyes flew open, the feeling of lips against her skin vanishing as if it'd never been even as her body protested the sudden loss. She ached and it ignited her temper immediately as her defenses snapped back into existence.

"What?"

Luke recoiled from her sudden attack, the concern in his blue eyes turning to hurt for a brief moment before vanishing beneath wariness even as his hands dropped away from her.

Wonderful. Now she'd madehim wary. "Did you need something Skywalker?"

"You were dreaming."

She pushed herself up on her elbows, the holo-novel dropping to the floor from her lap as she looked at him archly. This was entirely his fault. "I do that from time to time."

"You were shaking, Mara."

"I'm fine."

Their gazes locked and she could feel Luke stretching out to her, trying to ascertain the honesty in that statement. She wasn't about to tell him that she was struggling to sit still at that moment. Nor was she ready to admit that it had been his touch that had permeated her dream and threatened to send her spiraling out of control in its last moments.

"I've explained this already," she knew she sounded short and irritated, but well - she was.

He exhaled, shifting, and she exhaled in a silent echo of relief as he moved even further away and finally stood. Her eyes dropped from his, unconsciously tracing downwards as time seemed to slow with his movements. It gave her ample time to drink in the sight of his glistening chest, the way the beads of sweat seemed to conform to his contours and traced deliciously slow pathways across lean muscles. His defined pectorals, down over the not quite as defined stomach muscles, down to his trim waist and-

Time resumed as his shorts came into view and Mara looked beyond him, forcing herself - through sheer will power - to not clench her fists or jaw in frustration. The urge to grab that scrap of black cloth and tear it from him was almost overpowering in the wake of her dream.

"I'm going to hit the shower." Luke was searching her features - she knew because she could feel it as if he’d touched her - like he was branding her with his gaze. "Are you sure-"

"I'm fine, Skywalker." She practically snapped the words, pushing to her feet to face him as she did. "Enjoy yourself."

Mara didn't wait to hear his reply, and honestly wouldn't have, as she strode from the living room towards the guest room where she'd set up shop. She didn't hear him follow her as she stepped into the corridor, didn't notice as he stopped to watch her enter her room and closed the door behind her. She didn't see the smile that crossed his features, nor the slightly rueful shake of his head as he headed for the showers.

Mara didn't realize in those moments that Luke finally understood. He understood because he'd elicited the reaction he'd been hoping for when their meditative focus had joined. He understood because his fantasies joined him even then and this time she'd been there - for real - to join him. Luke understood it was only a matter of time before those fantasies became reality - by his design or hers was irrelevant. When the time came, it would be mutual.

Yet, despite this, the game would continue until a stress point was reached. Mara knew this instinctively as she threw herself into a vigorous exercise routine to purge the excess energy from her system. Until that fracture point was reached, until either she or Luke gave into whatever was growing between them, the tension between them would continue to grow.

That she wasn't willing to give in, or at the very least alleviate it, worried her. She didn't dare examine why too closely even as the muted sound of the shower running penetrated the closed door. She didn't dare examine it because she was afraid of what she would find and, in a moment of weakness, what Luke would see.
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Jade_Max


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Chapter 15

It was another five days of give and take, verbal thrust and parry before Luke finally snapped. They were barely into the third week of their marriage and going nowhere fast, at least as far as Luke was concerned. Mara, on the other hand, was sending more confusing signals than ever. It was one of these that finally forced his hand.

It had started off the same as any other morning.

Mara had been hunched over her second cup of caf, her eyes not quite open, her hair falling softly about her shoulders in a tangle of red - and she'd been complaining about omelets for breakfast once more. Complaining, despite the fact that she always asked for seconds, and watching him with blatantly assessing eyes. He no longer needed to hear her thoughts when she looked at him like that - he could remember what she'd been thinking and the direction it had always taken. Even without encouragement from him.

It was the same direction his thoughts always went and involved shimmer silks, supportive mattresses or the couch or the shower he was so intimately acquainted with of late - and not a single spoken word or scrap of clothing. He was aching, a familiar and common sensation since Skye's visit, only now it took little more than a look at her to make him want her.

It did nothing for his normally placid disposition.

Breakfast had been bad enough, but when Luke had attempted to meditate afterwards he'd been met with disastrous results. His mind wouldn't clear, the memory of Mara's green eyes glittering at him over the rim of her caf refusing to disperse. When he'd finally found some semblance of internal balance by accepting that he would simply have to try and meditate with the internal diversion, she'd come sweeping into the room like an avenging goddess. And the first words out of her mouth were, of course;

"Can't you at least be dressed while you meditate?"

It was another common argument since he'd toyed with her in his meditative state, one that he'd refused to back down on and found a perverse sense of pleasure knowing he was throwing Mara's equilibrium off by meditating in nothing more than his shorts. It did his ego good to know he was affecting her as much as she was him.

This time, instead of ignoring her as had become his habit, he fought back.

"If it bothers you so much, why do you keep watching me?"

"I don't watch you!"

"Liar!" He fairly snapped the word, his expression tight as he leapt to his feet. "I can hear what you're thinking, remember? I know what you're thinking about - especially when I meditate. It's nothing if not distracting."

"Then maybe you should meditate in your room, rather than in the living room. Other people live her too, you know."

"I offered - you said it didn't matter." His eyes glittered dangerously, a hint Mara didn't take as she met him toe to toe and squared off with him. "Make up your mind."

"Wear a bloody shirt and it won't bother me so much!"

"I'll wear a shirt to meditate when you put something over that thing you call clothing."

"What's wrong with my clothes?"

"Nothing - except their skin tight, revealing and far too tempting by half."

"Then maybe you should walk around with a blindfold on. Force forbid I be comfortable while I'm cooped up in here with you!"

"You're doing this deliberately." He made the accusation sharply, the rightness of it allowing his tongue free reign. "You're trying to make me break my promise. Why, Mara? What did I ever do to you to deserve this? All I wanted to do was keep you safe!"

"I don't want to be kept safe!" She almost yelled the words at him. "I like a little danger, a little uncertainty. It keeps life interesting and makes it worth living."

"There's the door," he swept a wide gesture towards it behind him. "I did this for you and all you've done is complain since getting here."

"Fine." Mara swept passed him, heading for the door. "Anything's better than this - I'll take my chances with Skyes and you on the stand!"

"Like hell you will!"

Mara rounded on him just as he lunged for her. They collided, Luke tackling her and rolling as he did. They hit the ground hard, tumbling for several feet before slamming into the wall sideways. Luke was tilted towards it, absorbing the blow with his body even as it propelled him backwards a ways. The ending result was Mara lying beneath him, her chest heaving as her eyes spat green fire.

She twisted, attempting to throw him off, and Luke reacted without thinking. His legs twined with hers, preventing an unmanning action on her part, even as his hands locked around her wrists and pinned them to the ground beside her head. The result - one he hadn't anticipated in his frustration - was to bring their bodies flush together. Hip to chest, they were suddenly aligned intimately and the knowledge flared in Mara's eyes as he watched.

Knowledge - and hunger.

Desire.

Luke regarded her for one long moment and then his head came down - the most natural action he'd ever felt - and only barely managed to stop a fraction away from her lips. Their eyes remained locked together and when he spoke, his words were soft, his anger ebbing as he struggled for control. "I'd rather rot in the cell beside you than testify for Skyes, Mara. At least then I know you'd be alive."

"Why?"

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Why not?"

"You picked a strange time for a conversation, Skywalker."

"Luke. Call me Luke, Mara"

She inhaled sharply as his lips inadvertently brushed hers, sparks igniting in her blood and shimmering through her system like star dust. "Why would you risk it... Luke?"

His smile was reflected in his eyes. "I have no reason not to. I believe in you, I know you. No matter what you've done in the past, you don't deser-"

She tilted her head forward even as his came down, their lips meeting in mutual accord as they gave into the circumstance. Their lips locked, sliding together in a hungry dance of fevered need that - in that moment - they no longer tried to hide or deny. Lips opened - hers or his didn't matter - as their tongues met and dueled.

The barriers between them crumbled in that instant and Mara felt Luke's response in a fashion she'd never before dreamed possible. She could feel her skin under his finger tips. The pleasure he derived from their intimate position - and his desire for more. His primal instincts, baser reactions to her every touch and taste, spoke to her in a fashion she hadn't before experienced.

It was one thing to know, and another to know.

Invigorating.

Empowering.

Liberating.

Luke’s grip on her wrists eased, his fingers sliding upwards to twine with hers for barely a moment, grazing the soft skin on the inside of her wrists just as she'd dreamed. His fingers were calloused, rough against her flesh, and ignited the smoldering flames in her gut. Mara tore her hands from his thrusting them into his hair as she pressed into him hungrily, her mouth as demanding as his as if she intended to devour him.

Luke gave as good as he got, rolling with her momentum so she lay atop him - sprawled across his naked chest.

They parted, chests heaving, gasping for breath as tension crackled, knowledge of each other and their desires shimmering like a heat wave between them. Tension was thick and growing thicker by the moment as awareness lanced from her eyes to his. Luke lifted one hand from where his had fallen to her waist and brushed shaky fingers across her cheek, hooking her hair behind her ear.

Mara sucked in a sharp breath, her question as to why Luke would have rather been cell ridden with her than testify against her answered in that gentle caress. It was in his eyes, his touch - his kiss.

And it terrified her.

Luke sensed the shift in her, felt the shift in her as she suddenly shut down like an light pulled from the plug. Mara scrambled to her feet, stepping on him in the process, before backing away, her expression wary. He searched her face, her Force presence, her eyes for the clue as to the sudden change in her demeanor. He was still reeling from the potency of her kiss and couldn't make sense of the signals. "Mara?"

"I'm not worth it, Luke."

He blinked, the underlying pain in her voice having the same effect as a cold shower and sobering him quickly. He pushed to his elbows, something telling him that being on his feet in that moment would have sent her running.

And Mara didn't run - from anything.

"Not worth... what exactly?"

"It... it..." she stressed the word as if it would mean something. "I'll only hurt you."

His brow furrowed. "What is it, exactly?"

"You know," her words were shaky. "That... what you feel for me. It won't work - I'm not worth it."

"What I feel for you?" He echoed her, surprised. He didn't even really knew what he felt for her - beyond this all consuming physical and mental attraction - so how could she? "I respect you; I admire you. Marriages have been built on less."

"Is that what you think you feel?" Her words were slightly shrill even to her own ears. "You can't possibly be that blind Skywalker!"

"I don't know what I feel, Mara." His words were honest, low and even in an attempt to sooth her.

"No?"

"No." Conviction laced his words and almost, almost convinced her.

"Then what do you know?"

"I know I want you, but that has little to do with how I feel about you."

Mara's fingers flexed, clenching and unclenching, but she remained silent - tense - and wary. Waiting to hear what he'd say.

Luke continued, his gaze steady, as he slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. "I know that you have the heart of a warrior, that you've been hurt before and that you've been betrayed. I know you don't trust easily because of those betrayals and that you're disinclined to trust me - even thought you do. I know you have quite a few quirks, all of which I find absolutely charming and enchanting. I know how you like your caf, the occasional bubble bath and that you want stability more than you want chaos.”

He slowly rose to his feet, his motions calculated to raise no alarm. He kept his hands visible, his movements almost languid. He didn't want to alarm her, but he needed to touch her - if she'd let him. "I know there isn't a single woman of my acquaintance with your passion or dedication - I know that there isn't a single woman I'd rather be married to."

She shifted her weight as he took a step and then another towards her, but she didn't back away, didn't back down. Her expression was still guarded and pained, but there was something beneath it that gave him courage. He took a last step, bringing them closer together and lifting a single hand to her face. He brushed the back of his index finger over the smooth curve of her cheek. "And I know there's no one else I'd rather spend the rest of my life with."

"I'm not good for you."

"No?"

"No."

"Your words lack conviction, Mrs. Skywalker." His tease was light, as soft as his touch on her face. "And let me be the judge of what and who's good for me. I wouldn't have asked you to marry me if I didn't think you were good for me."

"This can only end in heartbreak, Luke. You should let me go."

"Never." He smiled faintly. "Whatever's between us, Mara, isn't something that can be ignored."

"Or severed."

"I can't be that awful to spend time with."

"Sometimes."

Luke laughed and forced himself to step back. He felt as if he'd just passed some kind of test and he wasn't willing to push her further despite the almost urgent need to feel her lips against his again. His hand fell away reluctantly when all he really wanted to do was slide it into the silk of her hair and run it freely through his fingers and spread it across his che- he firmly clamped that thought away for another time and place.

"That 'sometimes', Mara, goes for both of us."

Giving her an out, Luke followed his statement with a slight smile and retreated, heading for the Master bedroom and the shower. Mara needed space and time and he was determined to give her those. It didn't help she'd raised some interesting questions as to his depth of feeling for her, nor did it help she suspected the depth of that feeling. He suspected he cared about her more than he'd said, but he didn't know yet. He didn't-

"Farmboy!"

He stopped, just shy of the doorway to the Master bedroom, not turning.

"Stop thinking and just change."

Sheepishly aware that he hadn't been shielding his thoughts, he threw up the mental shield and stepped into his room. Yet, even as he closed the door, he knew he'd much rather have Mara on this side of it than the other - and none of the shielded thoughts that followed were topics for polite company.
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