Temperature Series

Summary not available.

The Temperature Series

by obaona

(cover art)

Author's Note: Gabri and Jedi-2B beta'ed various stories in this series. Your help was invaluable. Thank you. :)

Front

 

Mara woke from a dream of C’baoth killing Skywalker with Force-lightning, the Jedi’s face cast in blue as the lightning crawled over his body and he screamed in agony. She stood by, smiling, laughing, doing nothing, totally oblivious to the darkness reaching for her as well . . .

She sat up, the chill air of Wayland hitting her with sudden force as her bedroll fell away. It was surprisingly cold, considering that it was temperate during the day. Probably a cold front moving in, if she remembered the climate correctly. She had, as was her habit, gotten all the information she could find on Wayland, even using the Falcon’s sensors to gauge the weather. She sighed, and then breathed deeply as she pushed her hair away from her face, little sweaty strands sticking to her skin.

“Mara? Are you all right?” She saw Skywalker, little more than a dark figure, rise from his bedroll.

“What, do you have some kind of extra ability to sense whenever I’m bothered by something, Skywalker?” Mara snapped, keeping her voice low. How did he do that?

“I was lightly dozing,” Skywalker explained quietly, probably so their talk wouldn’t wake the others. He stood and walked over to her. Mara pulled her legs up so he wouldn’t have to sit on the cold ground, and he settled down in front of her. “Are you all right?” Skywalker asked again, nothing but concern in his voice.

“I just had a dream.” YOU WILL KILL LUKE SKYWALKER. “That’s all,” Mara said dismissively, shivering slightly. She glanced around, taking stock of her surroundings out of habit, unable to see the Noghri standing guard, but sensing that they were there.

“Are you sure it wasn’t C’baoth?” he asked, not really doubting her word, but asking for extra confirmation. He didn’t appear cold, she observed with some irritation.

Mara tried to look into his eyes, but in the darkness all she could see was a faint glint of blue from time to time. “Pretty sure. Didn’t have that feeling from before, when he contacted me.”

She could see him nod. “I didn’t sense anything like that, either, and I probably would have, given I did last time,” he said. “Are you sure you’re all right, though? Dreams can be powerful. I can help you sleep.”

Mara raised her eyebrow, though she knew Skywalker probably couldn’t see such a fine detail in the darkness. Unless he was using the Force, which was possible. “Wave your magic wand to put me to sleep, Skywalker? I can sleep whenever I want – it’s a useful skill in my line of work.”

Skywalker, as usual, didn’t show the slightest sign he was bothered by her acidic reply. “You also used to be able to go five days without sleep,” he pointed out, reminding her of her problems staying awake on Myrkr to watch him.

She sighed.

“Your powers were evidently in some way connected to Palpatine,” he added. “And I have a feeling we’re going to need all the rest we can get for tomorrow.”

He had a point, Mara admitted to herself. C’baoth was here. They were going to face him, one way or another. She would die rather than kneel before him, but being fully rested would certainly increase her chances of getting out free or dead. But it grated at her that Skywalker was, of course, the person to point that out. “I can manage,” she said coldly.

“Mara . . .”

“Don’t you ever have powerful dreams, Skywalker?” Mara asked, distracting him adroitly. She didn’t want to talk about her stupid dreams, or how much they bothered her. Especially not after just learning who Skywalker was – Vader’s son, for Force sake – and that her hatred had never been for her reasons. Not really. Her blindness to what she should have seen and the disturbing dreams were not a weakness she was prepared to face yet.

He seemed taken aback, from what she could sense in the Force and his body language. “Yes, of course.”

“So what do you do, then? No one to wave the magic wand for you,” she said, folding her arms. Her eyes were slowly adjusting to the darkness, and she used the Force to bolster that. She could just barely see the look on his face.

He smiled slightly, sadly, and her curiosity was piqued. “I know techniques to help me sleep without interruption. Besides, Jedi rarely dream.” He paused. “Really, all I would be doing is putting those same techniques to use on you.”

Real devious attempt to turn the conversation, farm boy, Mara thought. She wasn’t going to be so easily dissuaded from this line of conversation, now that her curiosity was in full swing. “What do you dream, then, if a Jedi is so different from a normal person?”

“Jedi aren’t that different,” Skywalker amended. “I dream . . . various things,” he evaded.

Mara didn’t have to say anything. She let her silence speak for her. Skywalker was smart enough to realize that if she could see such vague answers, she would want to get to the real answer behind them.

Skywalker gave in. “Sometimes of the future. Sometimes of the past,” he said softly. Again, a sad look crossed his face. “Ben came to me, not long ago, to say goodbye.”

Obi-Wan Kenobi, likely – his mentor. He guided his student even beyond death? Mara repressed a shiver, finding that notion creepy rather than reassuring. “Don’t you ever dream anything normal?”

Skywalker shrugged. “I have nightmares, if that’s what you mean.”

“What kind?” Mara asked, outrageously curious now and even willing to admit it to herself.

Skywalker gave her a look of strained patience. She could even sense it.

Mara lifted her chin. “Well?”

Another long, measuring look, and a silence full of Skywalker’s considering, before he acquiesced. “I have a reoccurring one, where Vader didn’t turn from the Dark Side, and he comes back to kidnap Leia’s twins and use them. And I’m helpless to do anything. Weak and worthless.” It was all said, those vulnerable words, with a tinge of sad fact.

“I’m sorry,” Mara said immediately, impulsively, and regretting it almost right away, wincing. The sadness she heard in his words came totally unexpected – Skywalker had always been so calm, so accepting and controlled even when he knew he was in a dangerous situation, or near death. Even without the Force and her threatening to kill him – and meaning it – he had possessed that serenity. And now she wondered why he could be so accepting of the possibility of his own death, how willing he was to sacrifice his life for others. Maybe it was more than Jedi idealism – or something less.

It was hard to picture Skywalker as truly suicidal, but maybe he didn’t realize it. Didn’t realize himself having that tendency. In fact, she was fairly sure he didn’t. That was a weakness. A weakness she could – and she stopped that thought right there. She didn’t want to think that, or think that way. She closed her eyes briefly, and told herself, Always present a cold front.

Skywalker shrugged slightly. “Everyone has nightmares,” he murmured in dismissal of his own fears and problems.

“Not like that,” Mara retorted matter-of-factly, slipping in her resolution already.

He cocked his head. “Nor like yours, either, I would imagine.”

Mara narrowed her eyes. He had caught feelings and impressions from her before – had he caught a hint of her dream? “And after you have such a nightmare . . . do you sleep?” she asked.

Skywalker shifted uncomfortably. “Everyone needs help sometimes.”

I’ll take that as a no, Mara thought. “Yeah, maybe. Sometimes.”

“So do you want me to help you sleep?” Skywalker pressed, evidently not liking the turn the conversation was taking.

Mara shook her head, then reconsidered. “Only if you sleep more than a slight doze,” she bargained. The cold front she had attempted to put up was gone as if it had never been.

Skywalker looked rather surprised. “If I let you help me sleep?”

Mara shrugged. “Like it or not, Skywalker, we’re going to have to depend on each other out there. C’baoth wants both of us, and neither of us wants that,” she rationalized.

Skywalker nodded slightly in acknowledgement of her reasoning. “Okay,” he said, with only a slight reluctance. “I’ll have to be close to you, especially if I’m going to show you how to do the same to me,” he added cautiously.

“So move your bedroll,” Mara said, undisturbed and uncaring of how it would look in the morning.

He rose in answer, moving his bedroll closer to hers, then lay down. They were about three feet apart, and he became little more than a dark figure on the ground once again. Mara lay down, curling up in her bedroll tightly, and attempted to concentrate, touching the Force.

Skywalker touched her mind with perfect gentleness, giving suggestions of sleep while keeping his own mind open to her own suggestions. Oddly, despite being so close to Skywalker, the voice that haunted her and told her to kill him did not arise. She felt Skywalker drift off into deeper sleep, even as she herself went into a deep state of sleep.

They slept that night close enough to touch, but never touching, as the cold front passed over them.

 

 

 

 

the Ice

 

As the Emperor’s Hand, I went to dances and balls on many occasions – on missions. Not for fun, or play, or because I enjoyed the status-you-either-got-it-or-you-don’t aspect, but because that was my job. So when Karrde said it would be only polite for me to attend the ball thrown in honor of Grand Admiral Thrawn’s defeat – which was the result of a lot of luck, in my opinion – I had to agree. For my job as the new ‘liaison’ between smugglers and the New Republic.

As such, I had dressed tastefully but sedately. No fashion gaffes, but nothing noticeable. I wanted to be unnoticeable . . . perhaps I could make contacts, and that was a good part of the reason for being here, but anyone who wanted to find me didn’t need a sparkly, attention-getting dress to do it.

As a result, I was surprised when Skywalker came over to me with that look in his eyes. The blue of his irises looked darker than normal, and he gave me a slightly goofy smile. I resisted the urge to look down at my dark green dress to see if I’d spilled on myself one of those non-alcoholic drinks I had sipped earlier.

“Hi, Mara,” he said, stepping to my side. I deliberately looked out at the dance floor, listening to the slow music.

“Hello, Skywalker,” I said offhandedly. Buzz off.

“Enjoying yourself?” he asked politely.

I looked at him. “No,” I said flatly.

“Neither am I, really,” Skywalker admitted. “Leia dragged me along. Even picked out my clothes,” he added, pulling at his navy tunic. Personally, I thought it brought out the colors of his eyes.

“Letting your sister pick out your clothes? That’s just embarrassing, Skywalker,” I said, giving him a disgusted look. Privately, I was amused. At least she had better taste than he did, with those black clothes he always wore. Besides, black reminded me of unpleasant memories.

Force, another man’s clothing is reminding me of the past, I thought. I closed my eyes and sighed.

“Mara?” Luke said more softly, touching my bare arm. The touch was nearly electric.

I tensed but refused to do something so childish as jerk my arm away. “I’m fine,” I said automatically, sure of what would be the next thing out of his mouth. And the thing after that? Probably ‘Are you sure?’ Like I was just prevaricating when I said it the first time.

As such, his next words were entirely unexpected. “Dance with me?” he asked.

My eyes flew open and I looked at him in astonishment.

“I’m not that bad, Leia says,” Skywalker said defensively. He smiled, a grin of pure daring and mischief. I have to say this for Skywalker, when he goes after something, he goes after it with everything he has. He raised an eyebrow at me.

I watched the silent, knowing dare in his eyes for a moment more, and then said, “Fine. Let’s go.” Without letting him reply, I grabbed his arm and walked out to the dance floor.

He allowed it, and when I stopped, satisfied with our position on the polished floor, he instantly stepped in to take my hand and put his other hand on my waist. He smiled at me as I put my hand on his shoulder and studied him.

“Can you really dance, Skywalker?” I asked.

He nodded. “Shall we see?”

He tightened his grip on me slightly as I let him lead, and we began to dance. It was a slow one, requiring only grace and some knowledge of the few repetitive steps it had. In fact, he was a fair dancer. He was graceful, very light on his feet – probably because of his Jedi training, as that required physical dexterity and yes, even grace – and was very aware of where I was in relation to where he was.

“Are you always this tense when you dance?” he murmured, almost timidly – sure of my ready wrath, no doubt.

“I am not tense,” I retorted. And made a conscious effort to relax. It was silly, really, to be tense at all. I couldn’t help it if Skywalker made me . . . twitchy. And he always did, for some reason. It wasn’t that he had been involved in killing Palpatine – I was realistic enough to accept that Palpatine had deceived me. It was something else. Something to do with that look he got in his eyes. I liked having the advantage of not ever being truly seen. It keeps you unpredictable . . . and often ensures your survival.

“Oh?” he replied softly, doing that thing with his eyes. I stared back at him defiantly, totally unwilling to give into my urge to look away. It was disconcerting, while being so close to him – his eyes were so intensely blue, and when he looked at you, he looked at you. Not at his perceptions of you, but really you. His hand on my back stroked me ever so slightly, and I jerked involuntarily

“I am not tense,” I repeated, sure if I said it enough times it would be true.

A faint twinge of sadness entered his eyes. “Does my presence disturb you that much?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Skywalker,” I said harshly, and yanked out of his grip, uncaring of how it appeared. His remark, so confident in its truthfulness, stung. I was not disturbed by anything. I picked up my skirts – the dreadfully impractical things – and left the dance floor with as much dignity as I could muster. I ignored the stares and murmurs that followed me, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see Skywalker following me.

I left the actual ballroom, and went outside into the courtyard. Greenery seemed to be showered everywhere, with ancient stone peeking out. This building remained from the days of the Old Republic. I sighed deeply, pausing.

Then a glint of something still – that didn’t seem like it should be still – caught my eye. I stepped forward, beyond the terraces, deeper into the courtyard. Where once there had been a small - well, small in the sense you could see the other side - lake that the rest of the courtyard was centered around, there was . . .

“They froze it,” Luke’s voice came behind me. “A display of . . . I don’t know, ingenuity, keeping the thing cold in the middle of summer.”

“I know what ice is,” I snapped.

“I know,” he replied calmly. “I thought you might be curious as to why it was that way.”

I didn’t look away from the lake, frozen into stillness. It was icy blue. The same shade as Luke’s eyes.

“It’s a pointless thing to do,” I finally said into the silence, which felt uncomfortable to me. “Doing – this,” I said, waving my hand in the direction of the lake. “It had little birds drinking from it before, and little fish underneath.” I felt absurdly sad, and breathed out angrily. Angry at myself for being so foolish.

Luke spoke quietly. “It’s natural to grieve for the past. To do so at least sometimes.”

Surprisingly, I felt no anger at his piercing words. I sighed. “It’s still a waste of time.” Luke said nothing, and after a moment, suspicion arose in my mind. “How did you know that was what I was thinking?” I looked at him, and he was looking down.

“I wasn’t trying to sense anything on purpose –“ Skywalker began.

“Skywalker! How many times have I told you to keep out of my mind?”

“You were practically broadcasting!” he protested.

“Sithspawn,” I cursed, pushing my hand through my hair before remember it was up, and touching it would ruin it.

Luke gave me a look of unrelenting dry amusement.

“Oh,” I said, feeling absurd again. How did I always manage to make a fool of myself around Skywalker? Crashing into a jungle with him, letting him influence my decisions – something foolish at least to me – and other events. Sithspawn. As in, Luke, the son of Vader, the ‘spawn’ of a Sith.

“If it makes you feel any better, I used to use that curse word, when I still cursed at all,” Luke added, flashing me a smile.

I had to laugh at myself, feeling slightly better. I wondered for a moment why he stopped cursing, then realized it probably had to do with the fact that he was a Jedi, and had to be all gentlemanly.

“You know,” I said suddenly, as the thought arose unexpectedly out of nowhere, “I bet that ice would hold my weight.”

“Mara?” He sounded confused.

I hiked my skirts up to my knees, and stepped out onto the ice, feeling a sense of reckless giddiness. To the seventh hell with all my careful posturing, the training to be so careful ingrained in me – I wanted to feel, and I wanted to do something that was just me, no survival training involved. I had to step up, over a stone rising, which was there to keep people from falling into the water so easily. My shoes, more slippers, really – normally carefully hidden under my skirts, of course – would probably work well on the ice. I had to have sensible shoes.

“Mara, I don’t think that’s safe,” Luke said, sounding concerned. I looked back at him. He was right up against the stone ledge, hands loose at his sides. He eyed the ice.

“Nonsense,” I replied flippantly. “Isn’t this a display of ingenuity or whatever?” I raised my chin. “Scared?”

His lips firmed. “Mara . . .”

“Nah, you’re too sensible,” I retorted against the admonishing look on his face. He shook his head, giving a little laugh.

“Seriously, Mara.”

“Get up here,” I ordered.

He opened his mouth to speak.

I raised my hand. “That better be a yes.”

He gave me one last, firmly admonishing look, and then he stepped up, moving onto the ice carefully. “Say,” he asked casually, “do you know how deep this lake is?”

I grabbed his wrist and pulled. “Mara!” he said, his grip tightening instinctively as I unbalanced him. He nearly fell, but instead slid across the ice, its surface likely smoother than it could ever be in nature. I repressed a giggle, instead letting it blossom into a full laugh. Keeping a firm grip on Luke’s wrist, I moved myself forward, deliberately trying to slide. The air near the ice was very cool, making my legs cold.

Luke wobbled. “Mara, you must have been a terror as a child,” he gasped out, clearly not thinking.

I didn’t mind. Well, only slightly. “I’m making up for lost time . . . isn’t that what people like me are supposed to do? Rediscover their childhoods?” I asked him, raising an eyebrow.

That shut him up. Temporarily.

I kept sliding, starting to get the hang of it, while dragging Luke behind me. Since he wasn’t in control, simply following me through my grip on his wrist and his own precarious balance, he was having more difficulty. I had to admit, seeing him so ungraceful was fun. I repressed another giggle.

“Mara . . .”

“Losing your balance?”

“Mara, I’m doubting the Republic’s ingenuity right now,” he said seriously.

“What?” I said, not really comprehending. Then I heard a sharp crack come from beneath me.

I looked past my skirts, held loosely in one hand, to the ice. A huge crack had appeared right beneath me. Luke was also quite close to it. We both stared at it, then each other, than back at it again.

“Sithspawn,” I breathed, and the ice broke.

In less than a second, we were immersed in freezing water. The shock of the cold made me freeze for a split second, and then I was fighting to get to the surface. Fortunately, it wasn’t cold enough to freeze over immediately, as I had been warned in training could happen. I reached the surface gasping. I looked around for Luke, frantic and full of fear for a moment, and then he broke through to the surface. I had a sudden worry of whether he could swim.

“We need to get to dry land,” Luke said after a moment of just inhaling crisp air, spitting out water and paddling. “It’s not far, thankfully.”

I nodded, feeling more foolish than before – foolish enough I didn’t comment on his obvious conclusion. What was I thinking, taking such a stupid risk? “Stupid skirt,” I muttered. “Why do these things have to be so heavy?”

Luke looked at me. “Do you think you should rip it off?” He looked around, seeing the same thing as me – the ice clearly wasn’t as strong as I had thought. It had cracked for several meters, leaving us nothing to climb onto to get out of the lake for a while.

“I can’t rip it off and swim at the same time,” I said, knowing the dress was already ruined. “I’d sink like a rock.”

“Then let me,” Luke said, and swam over to me. He took a deep breath, then let himself sink, grabbing my skirts.

I spared a thought for the sheer ridiculousness of this situation, then concentrated on keeping afloat. Luke didn’t take long. He surfaced quickly, me feeling much lighter.

We swam for solid ice, and after reaching it, managed with some difficulty to lift ourselves up to it. I thanked the Force repeatedly when it didn’t break, and we were able to skid over to dry land, sputtering and shivering all the while. A little crowd had developed. Luke had only torn off the outer layers of my skirts, so fortunately it was less embarrassing than it could have been.

Solo and Organa were there, as well as a few security guards.

“The security guards alerted us to what was happening,” Leia managed, with a good degree of self-control. Solo just stood there and chortled.

I looked over at Luke, and he was . . . blushing? Surely I was kidding myself. However, I could feel my own face warm. “It was an accident,” I said heatedly.

Solo chuckled. “I’d wonder about you, if you did that on purpose,” he responded flippantly. I gave him my best I’m-going-kill-you glare, and he looked slightly disconcerted.

The security guards, looking admirably stony-faced, handed blankets to Luke and me. Though that made me wonder what they had seen in their days of looking after the famous and stupid. In the meantime, Organa assured us that she had a few rooms handy where we could dry off and warm up.

Luke thanked her. Leia gave him a look I can only describe as sisterly concern and admonishment.

To my surprise, Luke came over to me and put his arm around my shoulders, squeezing lightly. I gave him a dubious look, and he smiled. From a distance, out of hearing, Organa and Solo looked on curiously.

Luke said to me in a half whisper, “At least you aren’t tense anymore.” And I realized I had relaxed into his grip. Had gotten comfortable in Luke Skywalker’s arms. Which just couldn’t happen, because that’s the way it was. You didn’t let people see you. But I still wasn’t tensing up, and Luke was still grinning.

Naturally I slapped him.

 

 

 

 

The Incident

“Are you cold, Skywalker?” Mara asked me, a suspiciously surprised look in her eyes.

“A bit chilled,” I admitted, dropping into the copilot’s seat. We were in one of Karrde’s ships, a small freighter converted for other uses, much like the Millennium Falcon. She sat in the pilot’s seat, her posture relaxed, but her gaze alert. She looked infinitely casual in her dark green outfit with her red hair pulled back loosely and her hands loose in her lap.

I, on the other hand, was something of a mess. Leia had asked me to look into something Karrde had reported to her – for a certain fee, of course – and Karrde decided to send Mara along with me. It would probably be bad for the brother of one of his main intelligence buyers to be killed. I think he’s realized what a good team we make, in between the spouts of murderous hatred and bickering. Well, not murderous hatred anymore.

I had managed to confirm what Leia had suspected – that certain members of the Senate were trying to claim areas of space the Republic had no business claiming . . . among them Honoghr, the Noghri homeworld. They had wanted the territory to be Republic for business purposes, and weren’t shy about using unorthodox methods of persuasion. I managed to deal with their lackeys, but Leia would have to deal with the Senators themselves. I silently wished for the Force to be with her. But while the mission was successful, it wasn’t the easiest of trips, and I had come out a bit worse for wear, with bruises, scratches, and ripped clothing. Mara came off easier.

“I tend to get cold easily,” I added, in dismissal. I leaned back in the copilot’s chair, wanting only to relax for a bit.

Mara shot me a sharp look with those green eyes of hers. “Do you, Skywalker? Space is cold. And fighter pilots spend a lot of time in it.”

I laughed. “I must admit climate was something I never considered when I was dreaming of career options.”

Mara turned away and muttered something under her breath. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to hear it, but it sounded something like ‘dreamy farmboys’. I wasn’t surprised. Mara was ever practical, so of course something like space being cold would occur to her. I had only thought of adventure.

Although, perhaps Mara would have been the same, had her childhood not been what it was. She had had little chance for dreaming, her focus only on survival, and on doing her duty. I wondered, sometimes, what kind of person she would have become, had she been given the opportunity for a normal childhood. But you can only move forward. Mara was who she was, and she seemed content to accept her life and her past as it was. I could do nothing less than respect that.

Mara gave me another sharp look. “You’re shivering, Skywalker. Why don’t you put on something warmer?”

I resisted the urge to blurt out my first thought: You sound so caring! “I will, in a minute. I just want to relax first.” I emphasized my point by slouching in my seat.

A few more minutes of silence passed. I was starting to become sleepy, watching the blurred star lines pass by in the odd aura of hyperspace. Some people found the shifting appearance of hyperspace soothing, some nauseating – I found it sleep-inducing. Or maybe I was just tired.

I was surprised when Mara shot to her feet with a curse. I quickly took a more alert scan of our surroundings and found nothing out of the ordinary. She left the cockpit without a word, and I sat, blinking.

She came back and threw a thick, folded blanket in my face. “For Force sake, Skywalker, stop shivering,” she ordered, and plopped back down in her seat.

I looked at the blanket in mute surprise for a few moments, and then unfolded it carefully and swung it around my shoulders. She had gotten me a blanket. Mara Jade . . . had gotten me a blanket.

It was my fault I was cold, and Mara never suffered fools gladly. Normally, she would have been perfectly happy with letting me freeze if I was too stupid to do anything about it. And I was only shivering. Instead she had gotten me a blanket. Why? Because I wouldn’t? But that was ridiculous – I was perfectly capable of getting up and getting the blanket myself. Because . . . I was tired, I didn’t want to move, and – she cared.

She had gotten me a blanket.

There were several more minutes of comfortable silence as I pondered the meaning of the blanket. It was just such a thoughtful thing to do. It was a simple nicety, but Mara just didn’t do those. She had gone out of her way to make me more comfortable. It mattered to her – to pragmatic, sometimes callous Mara Jade.

I knew I respected Mara – admired her, even. She had admirable qualities – her loyalty, her determination . . . of course, along with these came the less desirable qualities, but such is life. Since the death of Thrawn, I had taken every opportunity I could to get to know her better. I cared about her. I had cared about her almost since I had first met her, when she revealed her past as the Emperor’s Hand to me. I had seen a woman raised to be a killer, who had instead turned into something more. And as I learned what that something more was, I grew to not only respect her . . . but to like her.

I didn’t really know what she thought of me – she’s not outgoing that way. I was fairly certain she respected – even admired? – certain things about me, and was rather disgusted with the others.

But she had gotten me a blanket.

“Well, Skywalker, have a grown I second head?” Mara’s voice interrupted my deep musings sharply.

“Hmm?” I said, and then realized I had been looking at her intently as I had tried to discover what lay beneath those pretty green eyes and that intense, often present glare. “Sorry. Just thinking.”

Mara gave me a dubious look.

I stood up, and readjusted the blanket around my shoulders, holding together with one hand. Mara swung her chair around to face me. “Thanks for the blanket, Mara. I think I’ll get some rest. Tell me when it’s my shift.”

Mara nodded, the glint of suspicion in her eyes fading with my matter-of-fact tone. “I will.”

Impulse can seize the most strong-minded people. Han would say it’s what makes life interesting. Leia would say it’s also what causes a lot of trouble. I would say it could cause me a lot of trouble.

I leaned over and kissed Mara on the cheek very lightly. It was just the breath of a touch, but I felt the softness and warmth of her skin for that brief moment.

As I drew away, I saw her hand in midair, ready to slap.

I’m sure she noted my glance as she let her hand drop. Her eyes were wider than usual, and her mouth slightly parted – as if to speak? She paused, took a moment to compose herself . . .

“Thank you, Mara,” I said firmly, forestalling any demands for explanations. I had no idea where the impulse to give her that kiss had come from. From a desire to let her know that I cared? That I, too, would give her a blanket if she needed it?

Mara nodded, the sharp alertness already returning, and the shock fading. I was sure she was ready to interrogate me anyway, but she said nothing.

I turned away and left the cockpit through the hatch. I paused outside it for the merest moment, and looked back. She was still sitting in the same position, but one hand was touching her cheek, the one I had kissed. It almost looked as if she was just casually putting her elbow on the arm of the seat and leaning her face into her hand. Almost.

Her eyes met mine. “Don’t push your luck, Skywalker.”

I scrambled guiltily away. But I was grinning as I walked down the short corridor towards the few sleeping quarters the relatively small ship possessed.

Not only did I get a blanket . . . I didn’t get slapped.

 

The Cold is Quiet

The cold is quiet, the quiet is cold.

It doesn’t quite make sense that way, Luke thought, dazed and slow, but still functioning. Snow muffled all noise. It was an amazing soundproofing material. Nothing echoed, not like stone. Stone – yes, that echoed, in huge caverns and high canyons.

All considering, he felt it odd that snow was white. White was such a pure color; the color his sister wore.

It felt inappropriate that white could kill. Black killed. Not white.

Well, that was odd. What was that crunching noise? Luke opened his eyes with great effort, his lids refusing to cooperate at first, willing to bow against the pressure of the frozen water that had wet his eyes.

Something startlingly red waved within his view.

Now, what was red? Not black or white, certainly. Not killing, not not supposed to be killing.

Red.

He was being dragged. There was other noise now, too indistinct and himself too uncaring to filter it out, hear each individual noise. A voice, perhaps, cursing, speaking something. It was merely a muted roar, rather comforting in a steady way.

The red waved into view again. Then something pricked him, sharp, and it hurt, though he knew abstractedly he should be numb.

“Luke. Luke, wake up. You have to help me out here. I don’t have medical supplies, and I don’t know how to put you into a trance. Do you understand me?”

The red speaks.

Luke blinks. “Mara?” he slurred. Force, that felt – thick. He closed his eyes at the difficulty. There was a sharp slap, a sting against his cheek, and he opened them again.

Gray and red. The red moved; the gray surrounded him.

“Luke, don’t you dare pass out on me.”

And green.

“Luke . . . Luke!” A pause, a new breath – “Force, I’m sorry,” and it was hard to distinguish that noise, against all that muted roar, but he did. “You’re not leaving,” and harsh again.

“Colors,” Luke says, knowing somehow that colors are important to all of this.

“Luke – I need you to put yourself in a healing trance. I can help you. But you have to start this,” Mara insisted. Her voice was clearer now, smooth and sibilant.

Mara – gray, red, green. “Help.” He needed to do this. He did. The cold was quiet, and quiet was cold, and he knew at least he could avoid the latter. “Be here.”

But he had left. Before. Anger and no forgiveness leaves quiet. And no red. Just white. And black.

“I will, I will,” Mara assured him, and her touch is gentle. Swift and smooth, firm and soft, it should be no more than a transfer of power if one considered the Force to be only that, but it was so much more, and people were more, and this could be like nothing else.

“I’m sorry for hurting you,” Mara whispers. “Sleep. Just wake up.”

Luke doesn’t nod, he smiles. “Slapp’d me.”

Another pause, and the green shimmers. Red and gray and green – “It always gets your attention,” she says.

Her touch is more powerful now.

All is quiet, but not cold.


---------


You can't do this to me. I'm stumbling through hip-deep snow, trying to find you. Dammit, Skywalker! Didn't you learn anything from Hoth? Crashing without supplies into a winter horror-land will get you killed. How much time do you have left? How long can you stay in a trance and survive? You had better be waving that magic wand of yours, Skywalker, or I'll kill you myself.

You probably would have liked to see me when Leia told me about your distress call. The pirates you were going after, the ones with the Jedi holocrons, had caught you, but you'd managed to escape, she told me. She told me where you were, and she didn't even have to ask – of course I'll save your ass again, Skywalker. Trying to do everything on your own, be the all-powerful Jedi Master, that's you, and you went by yourself.

Did the NRI even offer you help, or did they not bother, knowing you'd turn it down?

You damn fool.

I plotted the course your ship probably would have taken. By the time I got there, all the pirate ships were gone – I guess they figured if you'd survive the crash, the cold would kill you. I bet they didn't plan on your distress call reaching anyone.

I couldn't find your ship outright. The snow is too encompassing. You might be buried, for all I could tell up in orbit. I had to get down and search more closely to the estimated crash site. That's where I am now, you know.

I hope this heat sensor works. And that you're warm enough to be picked up on it.

I sense something. You're close.

Your sense in the Force has always been a deep well of power, but I can barely feel it now. What an idiot you are, Skywalker.

Why didn't you ask for my help? I knew those pirates. I knew their method of operation, I knew their leader (and a real piece of Hutt slime he is). I could have helped you. All you had to do was ask. We've fought often enough before; what was it this time, Skywalker? Why did you stay away? You didn't even reply when I tried to contact you, to apologize. Or half-apologize; I'll admit I don’t really apologize often.

Damn it, Skywalker.

I'm getting closer. I'm almost right next to you – oh, Force. There you are.

I'm sorry. Force, are you all right? I'm so sorry. Your eyes – they look frozen shut. You're so cold, I'm touching your face and I can't feel any warmth, but I can feel you in the Force. I need to get you back to the ship. You're still in danger. You need to be warm. Even Jedi can only do so much, Luke.

I'm dragging you and cursing at you. You damn fool. You need to wake up. I fumble for a shot of adrenaline. I need you awake. I jab into you, anywhere, it doesn't matter where, and I'm telling you to wake up. Luke. Luke, wake up. You have to help me out here. I don’t have medical supplies, and I don’t know how to put you into a trance. Do you understand me?

Your eyes are opening. I don't even know how you got them open. Your eyelashes are white with snow and frozen water.

You say my name, Mara, and your voice is slurring so badly. I slap you. Wake up, dammit. I need you aware. Luke, don't you dare pass out on me.

Luke . . . Luke! Force, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for that stupid argument we had. I didn't mean to hurt you so badly. It wasn't your fault. None of it was your fault. You fell, yes, but all the troubles of those around you are not your fault. I don't care what the old troll told you about the dark side. I can't imagine anyone has ever resisted as strongly as you. You remember our argument? You said the dark side influences, and I asked you – what about you and your family? How much had they been touched by your fall? I asked that because I was angry and afraid you would ask me how much it had influenced me. And because the answer is a lot more than I ever should have let myself.

Leia said you had become withdrawn recently. Not cold, you could never be cold, but she worried, she said to me, and she didn't know why you were being that way. Did I drive you to this? To this damn cold place?

You're not leaving. Not now. I can feel you fading, but I'm not going to let you go. I touch you in the Force, and you're weak, and I just try to give you all I've got. You're dying, and I can't let you die. You mutter something about colors, and I wonder how badly you're hallucinating, and if I can reach you.

Luke – I need you to put yourself in a healing trance. I can help you. But you have to start this. I can't do this alone. We're in my ship now, can you see? I'm blasting the heat. But it's not enough. I'm stripping you, and I can see that a blaster bolt scraped your shoulder. And you're still so cold; the heat isn't warming you fast enough.

Help? Of course I'll help. I can feel you, you're becoming more aware of me, you know who I am now, I think. Be here? I will, I will. I'm here.

I can feel you touching the Force now, just faintly, and I touch it with you, trying to boost whatever it is you're doing. It's like you're spinning a web around and inside yourself, binding yourself together in healing. You're relaxing.

I'm sorry for hurting you. Sleep. Just wake up.

And you smile, and tell me that I slapped you, all slurred, but your blue eyes are looking at me.

I can feel my eyes filling with tears, and I'm glad you're not going to remember this. It always gets your attention. That's why I slap you, you damn fool.

Your eyes close. You're warming up. I'm here now. Idiot farmboy. I'm never going to let you do something this stupid again.

 

 

 

 

Was Cold

 

The quiet thrum of the small vessel’s hyperdrive was lulling. I repressed a yawn as I left the cockpit, to check Mara in the back. The ship was divided into two sections – the cockpit and the small sleeping area. We were taking turns in who was in which one, often letting shifts pass without a word, comforting in the lack of privacy the arrangements afforded.

Mara, with her ever-present good instincts, had happened upon me while I was in a situation . . . less than desirable. I had stumbled upon some smuggling factions – ones that smuggled slaves, unlike the information and weapons that Karrde and his associates did. Once I was aware of it, I could hardly let it pass by. Perhaps I should have gotten back-up, as Mara had – suggested, but there was little time. I succeeded in breaking apart the faction, but not without some trouble. That’s when Mara came along. I would have likely survived if she hadn’t, but I would have been in much worse shape.

It turned out Mara had also heard of the smuggling faction and their recent activity near Yavin IV, and once she heard I was nearby, she headed off in that direction as soon as she could. Karrde let her – not without some private amusement, I’m sure. Kept private for his own sake. He knew Mara’s temper as well as I did – perhaps better, as he saw her more often than I.

Regardless, the situation turned out well enough, I mused, ducking under the cockpit hatch and into the small sleep room. Mara had been forced to take this smaller ship rather than the bigger one she used in her work for Karrde. As I had lost my ship – a Y Wing – she offered to drop me off on Yavin IV, where I had my X-Wing.

I shivered in the slightly chilly air as I struggled to let my irritation with the faulty heater pass into the Force. It wouldn’t do, after all, to get so irritated I got angry, and so angry I touched the Dark . . . over a faulty heater, no less.

I smiled as I saw Mara curled up on the single bunk, the simple affection I felt simply coming out that way. Her red hair was spread over the pillow, but the blanket was pulled up to her chin, and her face was pressed down into them. I wasn’t the only person that was cold, apparently.

I crept forward as silently as I could, aware that the slightest noise would wake Mara, and wanting the moment to last longer. She looked calmer when she slept, less tense. Not really peaceful, such a term didn’t apply to her – accepting, maybe – but the cautious attitude seemed to slip when she rested.

Avoiding the low-hanging cabinets, I took another step forward and knelt beside her. She slept on, the only noise she made her slow breathing.

I reached forward with my hand, almost touching her, than reluctantly stopped. Even with such a simple touch, I wouldn’t take advantage of her trust to sleep in my presence. I seemed to feel the weight of time as I remembered, years ago, her giving me a blanket simply because I was cold. That was the first time I ever saw the gently caring part of Mara, that so rarely made an appearance. I had seen flits over it over the years, since then, and remembered each and every one distinctly and clearly. Most of all, perhaps, in that time when I had been so emotionally vulnerable, as I hadn’t been for years – when Callista left me. That was probably the first time Mara had ever seen me in that context . . . and I wondered what she had thought.

Maybe I should let her sleep for a bit longer, I thought. I can stay awake, and she looks deeply asleep.

I turned away, and was startled when I felt her grab my wrist. I tensed instinctively in reaction to the unexpected motion, but it was over by the time I had taken another breath.

Her green eyes blinked at me sleepily. “My shift?”

I nodded. “You looked cold. Maybe we should search in the back again for some more blankets.”

“Stupid heater,” she muttered, sitting up and pushing her hair away, even though it wasn’t really in her face. For some reason, she paused and looked at me again in the middle of her wake-up-fully ritual. We had both found ones to get us up and going in the past three days, any sleep we got leaving us feeling groggy in the small area and less than desirable conditions. She blinked again, and said, “What is it?”

“Nothing,” I said, surprised. “I was just thinking about letting you sleep longer, is all.”

“Oh,” she said, looking vaguely disappointed. She swung her legs over the side of the bunk, and I squashed into the back of the ship to let her rise. She did so, and made to go for the cockpit.

I sat on the bed, still warm from her body-heat.

“Cold?” Mara asked from above me. I looked up at her, and saw her grin. Was she, too, remembering that trip and the blanket?

“Are you?” I asked with a teasing smile. Then I picked up the blanket from the bed and chivalrously offered it to her.

She laughed. I loved her laugh, so simple and uncompromising, honest in it’s amusement. She took it, after a moment, a thoughtful look in her eyes. Swung it around her shoulders.

And leaned down and gave me a gentle kiss on the cheek. Like the kiss I had given her, all that time ago, it was a gentle brush of lips against skin.

I must have looked surprised, because her mouth quirked into another little grin, and she said, wryly, “Thanks.” Then she made to leave.

But I couldn’t bring myself to leave it like that, leave it like I had – like she had – those years ago. What had that brought us? At the time, I had thought the both of us too unsure of anything – our pasts, our futures – to even consider a thing, but . . .

We were both younger then.

I grabbed her wrist. “No,” I said softly.

Emotions flitted across her face, too fast for me to register them properly. I couldn’t rise, she was in the way, so I pulled her down to me. She came slowly, in uncertain jerks. Then a sweet smile blossomed across her face, and instead of sitting beside me, she knelt over me, putting one leg on either side of me, and pushed me against the wall.

I let go of her wrist and put my arms around her waist, seizing the moment. She paused, her hands uncertainly curling in the air, then settled them on my shoulders. From that vantage point, I had to look up at her, and I did.

Neither of us said anything. The instant felt fragile, about to break at any wrong turn.

I tightened my grip on her waist, as if I could pull her head down to mine by doing so. She responded, bringing her face closer to mine. Her hair seemed to drape around us, shutting out our miserable surroundings, and leaving us in the perfection of the moment. I could feel her warm breath.

When her lips touched mine, all awkwardness, all worries, and all thoughts of the future fled from my mind. I immediately, without thought, dove in for more, wanting more. She responded as aggressively as I knew she would, her instinct to drive ahead, to push, guiding her in this as it did so many things.

We broke apart, at the same time and as naturally as it was mutual consent, breathing too hard to continue. I let my head lay on her collarbone, and she put her chin on the top of my head, stirring my hair with her rapid breaths. I kissed her neck, gently, tasting the perspiration.

She drew back before I could react, and slapped me.

It was a gentle slap, and I knew it wouldn’t even bruise, but nonetheless, I looked up at her with utter surprise. “What was that for?” I said, my voice sounding faint even to myself.

Sounding just as breathy, she replied, “It’s the principle of the thing. You kissed me.”

“You didn’t slap me before,” I argued.

“And look where it’s gotten us,” she replied, humor in her flushed face.

“Exactly,” I replied with a smile, and kissed her again. It felt like a full circle, us going back to the first inkling either of us had of the feelings of the other, except this time, older and more scarred, we had moved ahead, and it seemed the most natural thing in the world, as if both of us had been waiting for it.

Not only did I get a kiss . . . but I knew I had gotten Mara, as well.

 

 

 

If You Can’t the Heat

 

“It’s a sauna, Mara, not a death chamber,” I said, leaning back against the hard, stone wall with my eyes shut. The heat sank into my bones, and I sighed as my muscles relaxed. I had hated the heat on Tatooine, but it admittedly did have its advantages.

Her voice floated over to me magically, coming from nowhere and everywhere, in the empty, large sauna. “Shut up, Skywalker.”

I opened my eyes, and looked up at her. She cautiously took a few more steps closer to me, glancing around warily with narrowed green eyes. She seemed to view everywhere as a possible place of attack. Well, considering I didn’t know if there were any secret passages in the Imperial Palace’s sauna, there very well could be. I wondered why she was so skittish, though. Not to mention, we had agreed to see each tomorrow as both of us had a busy day.

I looked her over, noting that she looked impeccable in her green pants and tunic, except for the fact that the humid heat was beginning to make her hair frizz and curl. The heat was pressing against my skin, and I could feel myself sweating, but you wouldn’t think Mara was experiencing the same conditions by looking at her.

“What is it?” I asked. “It must be important, if you came in here.” I raised my eyebrows. “You know, women aren’t really supposed to be in here,” I added cautiously.

She gave me a testy look, taking a tentative step forward, and then taking another, longer one when she noticed how tentative the first had been. “What are you doing in here?”

“I came here to relax,” I replied calmly, sure she would get to her point sometime. “After sparring with Leia, and practicing some on my own.”

“Oh.”

She looked, I thought, rather flummoxed. As if she had been hit with something she hadn’t expected. “Mara . . .”

She nodded. “Yes. Right. Well, I was wondering something. About a possible . . . problem,” she said vaguely, looking at me, then looking away, and then looking back again. Her eyes were flitting everywhere.

Mara being vague about her problems? It had to be personal. “Something wrong? Are you okay?” I leaned forward, and got up.

“Uh . . .” She shook her head. “I’m fine. Um . . .” Looking away again.

I finally got it. “Perhaps I should go get dressed first,” I suggested.

She nodded. “That’d be good,” she replied, narrowing her eyes, and then walking away – and shooting me the occasional backward glance full of interest. “It’s too hot in here,” she muttered.

Then it really hit me. I, of course, hadn’t even thought about it, but we were a man and a woman. And dating. Viewing each other in that way was only natural. I hadn’t thought about the fact that I was sweaty and wearing only a towel, though I certainly would have if our positions were reversed. And that gave me all kinds of other thoughts.

It was oddly encouraging, too, since our relationship after that kiss in the cold – with us both on the bunk – had pretty much stalled with Mara’s nervousness. We spent time together, and we both enjoyed it, but we didn’t discuss anything beyond two weeks in the future. And when or whether to tell Leia and Han. That we both wanted a relationship, neither of us questioned. How to have one, well, that was another matter. And . . . Mara, nearly stumbling over her words at the sight of me? It was too much to pass up.

So I followed her as she made her way out of the sauna. “Can’t stand the heat, then?” I asked, teasing.

She whirled. “I’m not from Tatooine, farmboy,” she said tartly, eyes flashing. She would make you pay for even an insinuation of weakness, and this was more than that.

I drew my finger down condensation on the wall. “Don’t have this at home,” I replied with a smile.

She looked from the wall to me. “Don’t test me, Skywalker.”

“I like testing you, Jade. I get interesting results.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Oh? And what kind of results would that be?”

“Oh . . . well . . .” I leaned forward, grasping her wrist, and kissed her cheek.

Her eyes narrowed, her cheeks flushed, and her eyes sparkled with remembrance. She tried to yank her wrist out of my grip. I resisted, and pulled it to my cheek. “Stop teasing me, Skywalker,” she snapped, face tense, and then relaxed as I let her hand fall to my shoulder.

“I love you, you know,” I whispered as I took a step closer, close enough to feel the fabric of her shirt against my skin. She jerked. I had never told her that before. I thought of the past few weeks, her skittishness then, too. “Now, tell me what’s bothering you.”

She exhaled roughly, twitching in my grip, and then fully relaxing. “Just . . . I heard a rumor about us,” she admitted.

“What kind of rumor?” I asked curiously, feeling a shard of worry rise up in me.

“About us.” A slight shrug. She sighed as her hand slid across the skin of my back. Well, ‘about us’ could only mean one thing.

“What are you so afraid of?” I tried to look into her eyes, but their intensity was muted as she kept looking away. “This is really worrying you, isn’t it? You just stormed in here –”

She drew her head back, to look into my eyes, and I absently noted that her bright green eyes were speckled with forest green. “How far do we want this relationship to go? Just dating?” A significant pause, and her hands dropped from my back to my waist, running up my stomach. I shivered. “Marriage?”

“All the way,” I replied instantly, no thought required.

“If we can,” she instantly added, then stopped. “Well, I knew that for myself,” she replied with a little grin, “but I didn’t know you wanted to. Not for sure. And now – with it getting out – well.” She shook her head. “I just . . . it’s stupid, you know? I keep doing this to myself.” I didn’t answer, sure – for once – that she didn’t want an answer.

She put her other arm around my shoulders. “I feel like this is decision time,” she whispered.

“My decision is long made,” I replied, tracing the curve of her ear.

She gave a cross between a sigh and a snort. “Naturally,” she muttered, rolling her eyes.

I shrugged slightly, smiling down at her, taking tendrils of her rapidly curling hair into my fingers. “It’ll be interesting.”

Mara closed her eyes, a smile touching her lips, then opened them again, looking fully into my eyes. “Can you imagine when Leia finds out? I know she hardly thinks I’m appropriate material.” She moved in closer, and it took only a slight movement for her to kiss my neck. I shuddered, unable to think of a response. “Or the Empire. Or anyone, for that matter, my Jedi Master.”

“I can take the heat,” I said, finally remembering my ability to speak. She hadn’t said she wanted to take it as far as I did, but I let it pass. If she was letting me say it, she was, at the very least, amenable to the idea. I smiled, and she looked up at me inquisitively.

“I guess I can, too, then,” she said, hardly more than a breath to her words. “After all, if you can . . .” she whispered with a twinkle in her eye.

“So that’s it, then?” I replied just as softly, more seriously.

“Hmm,” she said, wrinkling her nose and then smoothing it out with a full smile.

She started to release me, but I wasn’t about to let it go at that. Taking a fistful of hair, I kissed her roughly, and I felt her nails rake my back in response. “Mine,” I said, very softly. I’m not letting this go without a fierce fight, and don’t you forget it, I thought. Her eyes flashed for a moment, and I wondered if she had indeed heard my thought – our bond was deepening by the day.

She raised her eyebrow, just one, and there wasn’t a hint of anger in her eyes. Just something like joy and something else suspiciously like naughtiness. “Just so you remember . . . that this is mine,” she said, and was out of my grip in an instant – with my towel.

She ran away, laughing. She went a few meters, then stopped, holding it up and grinning mischievously. Her face was flushed, but I could see her determination to tease me as I had teased her. I could feel myself going red, and resisted the urge to fidget, or . . . whatever.

“I’m not arguing,” I said, smiling calmly, while I tried to think of suitable means of revenge. “Can I have it back now?”

She looked me up and down with a critical eye, something besides laughter dancing in her eyes. “I’ll think about it . . . my farmboy.”

“Mara!”

 

 

 

 

Up

 

Luke slept, Mara thought, with the deep sleep of the good and innocent. Of course, looking at things realistically, Luke didn’t always sleep well, and he was certainly not innocent. Naïve, optimistic to an amazing degree, and good-hearted? Yes, no question. But he had seen terrors that she had glimpsed only in passing, and had never truly seen, with the eyes of a conscience. And he wasn’t a perfect man, by a long shot – she knew that well, and was well-acquainted with his faults. But they seemed so different from hers, like he didn’t have faults in the things that really mattered, according to the common wisdom of the universe – surviving, knowing when not to trust someone . . . And he had done things that weren’t good, that could not be the cause of listening to his conscience.

Yet, he often slept deeply.

Mara looked at him, from her vantage point sitting beside him in bed. He was asleep, of course, the dark blue shadows of night highlighting portions of his face, the faint light caressing his brow, his lips, his jaw. He breathed in slow, even breaths.

She sat beside him, in her nightgown, thinking. Shivers sped through her body, largely unnoticed in the thrall of her musings. Deep thought concerning herself wasn’t something Mara engaged in very often. It wasn’t smart to think too much about yourself – doubt and fears would often creep in. Mara had always found it easiest not to think ‘deep’ thoughts. Don’t think about who your target is. Don’t think about his family. Just think about how his brand new security system could be circumvented.

It was the way she was trained, and the way she patterned her behavior most of her life.

Luke didn’t think of things in such a way. She was sure it would be completely unnatural of him to do so, and she sometimes wondered, briefly, if that was a fault of hers that she did think of things in such a way. It wasn’t something she dwelled on, though Luke could always tell if she thought of her past, and could usually guess what she was thinking – or pull it out of the Force like a magician, waving his magic wand like she had so often accused him.

He would look at her intently, earnestly, and tell her . . . things. How she amazed him because of her ability to look beyond her past, the way she had been trained to think. How she had submerged those parts of herself to survive. How much he loved her. And always, lost in those blue eyes that seemed as depthless as a sea, she would find herself believing it. Luke gave her faith so easily, the endless hope he seemed to have in life filling him and overflowing into her.

Still, she sometimes doubted.

Even in this – this beautiful thing, their marriage. He would be away, doing something else, it didn’t matter. There would be distance, for a brief time, and her faith, so weak on its own, would fail her.

She didn’t admit to him how she feared one day she would be cut off from his warmth, that one day she would go back to the cold life she had been living, and now that she knew what warmth really was, it would be just endless suffering for her. She feared, privately and only at times she had to herself, that she would mess this up. Luke had seemed to fall in love with her so easily.

She had mused, a few times, that love, if that was what this was, meant surrender. In loving Luke, if that was truly what she was doing, she surrendered; to the feeling, to the emotion, to the force of it. It was a struggle to let go every time, even though it was becoming easier and easer, as if love could be practiced.

But she still feared the cold. She feared, even, that if she experienced too much of this wonderful warmth, that if this miracle of love passed, she wouldn’t be able to survive anymore. Survival had been a trait of Mara Jade’s from the beginning, and to lose that ability was . . . incomprehensible.

Mara’s life had always been a set of distances. All that varied was how far the distances were; they were always there. There were no distances from Luke . . . oh, short ones, yes, separations borne from work or other matters, but he remained in her mind. Not that he was a constant telepathic or empathic presence, but that he had left a mark on her life, her mind, so much that all those things that made up Luke were intertwined with her, with the way she thought and what she believed.

Palpatine had never much cared about Mara’s entanglements, as long as she did her duty and wasn’t compromised. He never even demanded she sleep with targets – whether they were for assassination or spying – nor did he demand any kind of emotion from her. He wanted her loyalty, and he got it through his various ways, but devotion was unimportant to him beyond how it could be used; that she had been devoted in some ways had mattered to him little, whatever she thought at the time.

As a result, Mara had often tried to discard emotion entirely, except when it suited specific purposes. The idea of enjoying an emotion was alien to her. There was always some degree of satisfaction with a job well done, but little else. Her brief flings had more to do with curiosity or using than any desire to become close to someone else. And it had seemed that with each touch that others claimed to be of such importance, and that she considered to be so little, she grew all the more cynical and unaffected .

Is it any wonder, Mara thought, that I fear I can love?

She feared that she did not love Luke. Not truly. Not in the fashion of old tales or long-married couples. This marriage was new . . . weeks old, a newborn, and she feared it would not turn out well.

“Mara,” a soft voice murmured. Luke shifted and stretched, light playing across his features as he turned in bed and changed from sleep to wakefulness.

Mara started slightly, looking down at him, her hair sliding across her bare shoulders and her muscles giving a twinge as they moved after such a long period of stillness. She realized her face wasn’t visible in the darkness, the faint light coming from behind her and coming over her shoulders, so he couldn’t see the expression on her face.

His hand reached out and stroked her arm. “You’re cold,” he said. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” she said quickly.

“You know,” Luke said dryly, “your saying that is kind of like you expecting me not to answer a rhetorical question.”

Mara gave a thin, dry laugh. Luke often had that problem, and she had teased him mercilessly about it. “It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not,” Luke quickly returned. He raised himself with his elbow, and took the blanket to pull it more securely around Mara. “Come on, get under the covers. Your skin is freezing, even if you aren’t feeling it now.”

Moving stiffly, Mara did something she rarely did – she obeyed, and lay awkwardly, letting Luke pull the blanket up. He was right; as soon as the blanket covered her, she felt the warmth, and it felt good. She had been cold.

Luke shifted so he was closer to her, and put his arms around her. “Now, what’s wrong?” he said softly, almost a whisper.

Mara sighed. “I was just thinking. Bad habit of mine,” she whispered back.

“Thinking isn’t a bad habit,” Luke replied, sounding almost amused.

“I was just . . . doubting, I guess,” Mara said quietly, the words coming out of her naturally, it somehow being the right thing to tell Luke everything, even when . . . it was this, and it might hurt him.

“Doubting what?”

Mara hesitated, then decided for a spurt of blunt honesty. Luke, despite her teasing, took her bluntness and lack of tact better than most anyone she had ever met, carefully considering her words despite the way she said it. She turned to her side, so she was facing him instead of lying on her back. “That I love you. That I can love.”

Luke became very quiet. Not that the absence of his speaking was quiet – but he grew still, and his breathing faint. His expression never changed, that calm, thoughtful look remaining. Mara’s heart, conversely, sped up.

“How do you feel about me, Mara?” he finally asked, softly.

“I –“ Mara began, confused, then hesitated and stopped. Was he expecting her to say she loved him? What meaning would that have?

Luke silently stroked her arm, encouraging her to go on.

“I don’t know,” she said at last. The words felt pulled from her by Luke’s request, nearly impossible for her to resist. In another way, she felt as if she had to speak the words, to really understand them herself. “You’re . . . important. You’re important because . . . you’re you, not because of what you are to me. It doesn’t have to do with me at all, but I want you to be safe, and happy, I guess. And that you want me to be happy, that you . . . love me, just makes it all the more real.”

Luke smiled. “What do you think you just described?” He kept stroking her arm.

“Love?” she said hesitantly, feeling absurdly vulnerable in saying the word.

“I love you, Mara,” he said, giving her that intent look she knew so well. “Faults and good parts and all of it.” He seemed so confident . . . and wouldn’t he know this? And she trusted him with so many things, she could not help but trust him with this.

Mara smiled, somewhat tearfully, her eyes shining and her throat tight with the force and importance of her own words, and Luke’s simple affirmation. Faith of her own, in Luke’s love, seemed to grow. She did love him. And he loved her.

“Don’t doubt you can love,” he continued softly. “I think it’s our gift, that we are given the ability to love. It’s up to us what to do with it, of course. Love, I think, even as you define it, can change ourselves, even as it can change the person we love. I’m so much happier, Mara. And I love you. I love you, and I’m glad I love you,” he whispered, almost fiercely.

“I love you, too,” Mara whispered. She narrowed the space between them, and rested her head against his chest.

He caressed her arm and her hair, then her neck, just touching every part of her in slow, gentle movements. He seemed to transmit his caring for her with each touch. And as their mutual touches grew more urgent, and the night passed on, Mara felt the fears melt away. He loved to feel her skin, just as she loved his touch upon her skin. Every moment of contact was important, given, truly experienced, and for the first time she understood consciously – as she had understood subconsciously, in the little ways Luke would massage her neck after a long day – why people gave this such weight.

Because she could do this, she could love, and she was loving Luke.

The cold of the past was fading and gone – it was only getting warmer.

 

 

 

 

It Too Hot

“This is entirely your fault.”

“It is not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Is – “ It suddenly struck me how little like a Jedi Master I sounded . . . in fact, my tone and words had more in common with my young nephews or niece. “Mara,” I sighed, finally.

She sighed in return.

“I didn’t make it hot,” I said, and turned to look over at her.

We were lying in our bedroom, the guest bedroom on the ship. Mara’s ship, the Jade’s Fire, had gotten, of all things, a faulty heat distributor. That basically meant we had to shut the engines down, or things would destabilize and the insides of the vessel would probably melt from uneven and uncontrolled heat distribution. We had sat frozen for hours before help, in the form of a group of scholarly Yekne, had arrived.

We hadn’t been worried about getting help – we were in one of the major space lanes as we traveled back to Coruscant to visit my sister. It was just uncomfortable to be sitting in the miserable cold. The portable heaters weren’t strong enough to make much of a noticeable difference, so when the Yekne came and offered us a lift, we accepted.

Of course, the thing about the Yekne is that while they are a very hospitable species known for their curiosity and knowledge, they also prefer – need – much higher temperatures than the average human does.

“It’s hot,” Mara said again, throwing her arms over her head, letting them lie on top of her hair. She had thrown it up, as well, above her head as we lay down on the bed.

“It’s not that bad,” I said soothingly.

She sat up abruptly, and leaned over me dangerously, her pretty green eyes glittering with something less than sweet, but all Mara Jade. “Says Tatooine farmboy.”

I grinned. “I’ve been living in space for years, though. It’s not that bad. No worse than Tattooine, certainly, and you’ve been there.”

She let herself fall back to the bed, and pushed her hair up again, off her neck. “Wasn’t this supposed to be our honeymoon?”

“No, we already had that,” I pointed out.

“I thought the honeymoon was the whole first year,” she replied, snickering. “Didn’t Corran say that after the first year, the honeymoon is over and all the ‘real’ relationship problems begin?”

“We’re having a relationship problem?”

“Don’t make me use my holdout blaster.”

“You wouldn’t have to use that to knock me dead,” I said, grinning mischievously.

She groaned. “Skywalker, that was so corny. That was . . . Lando-speak.”

“Now I’m insulted.”

She looked at me, and her expression abruptly softened. I blinked, somewhat surprised by the sudden loving warmth in her face. She held out her hand, which I took cautiously. “Darling,” she said carefully, and I snorted in surprise at the endearment, “see if you can get the Yekne to change the heating just for this room?”

“They already said they couldn’t,” I replied, soothingly, caressing her arm.

She slapped my hand.

“I thought we were over the slapping part,” I said lightly.

She squinted at me. “Not if I keep feeling this hot.” She smiled to show she wasn’t entirely serious about how miserable she was, but I could sense the annoyance lying underneath the attempt at calm.

I held up my hands. “Fine, fine.” I got up and made for the door. Just before leaving the room, I glanced back at Mara. She was looking at me curiously from under her eyelashes, her legs still hanging over the side of the bed from where she had thrown herself over it, much as I had. The first half hour of pure heat had been bliss, after the cold of Jade’s Fire. After that, well . . .

I left my very bemused wife in search of – something. The Force said I would find something. At least, I thought it did. I would know when I found it, I was sure.

Rather than talk to the captain, who was already being very hospitable, I wandered around the ship. The Yekne had been most pleased and honored to meet two Jedi, and more pleased to meet Luke Skywalker and his new wife, and I was fairly sure they wouldn’t mind.

“Master Skywalker.”

I turned. The Yekne’s second in command was behind me. I had dimly sensed his approach, while I was lost in my thoughts. His thin body, covered lightly in iridescent purple scales, was held nervously. I smiled at him, trying to be as calm and soothing as possible.

“Yes?”

He bowed. “Do your accommodations agree with you? It is my understanding that humans find our normal room temperature to be uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable, but nothing we can’t manage,” I assured him. “We know the design of the ship does not allow for regional climate control.”

He bowed his head. “May I make a suggestion?”

“Of course.”

“We, like humans, often like things of varying extreme temperatures . . . perhaps such would be of use to compensate you for the heat?”

I looked at him thoughtfully, then nodded and agreed. He showed me what he meant, and I had to smile. I thanked him.

By the time I got back to Mara, I was grinning. I stepped inside the medium-sized room, made for most any species – and little used, if I understood the captain correctly, as they did not often have visitors. Mara was lying on the bed as I had left her. A little bit of her bare belly was showing, while her arms were still thrown over her head.

I approached silently, noting her slow, steady breathing – not languid enough for sleep, just enough that she was relaxed. I debated with myself for a few moments over the advisability of carrying out my plans.

Then I shoved a handful of ice up her shirt.

She screeched and was up on her feet in a second, her hair wild and eyes fierce as the ice tumbled away.

I burst out laughing. She stared at me, stunned speechless.

“Cold now?” I finally managed to ask.

Her mouth opened and closed, and then firmed. She went after me the way she did everything – intensely driven and nearly unstoppable in her determination. We scrambled for control of the bag of ice, with little chips finding their ways into our clothes here and there. I laughed until my sides hurt as we wrestled.

“You’re so dead, Skywalker!”

I could only laugh in response.

Finally, using some trick I didn’t know – something to do with nerve points and very fast hands – she wrested the bag from me fully, turned it upside down, and poured the contents on my head. All the while giving me a grin of total satisfaction.

Half melted ice.

I felt as though I had dived into a cold sea, after the sheer pressing heat of the air in the cabin. I couldn’t control my gasp. Satisfied at last, Mara stopped, giggling – she did giggle, sometimes, and it was always a sight I treasured – and we sat on the floor, panting for air from both exertion and laughter.

“That was evil,” Mara said at last.

“It was perfect,” I argued.

She looked at me. “Putting ice up my shirt? Very Jedi of you.”

“So is revenge,” I retorted, gesturing at my wet hair and clothing.

She snorted, and paused, folding her arms. “You deserved it.”

“Maybe.” I smirked at her. “You asked for it. In a manner of speaking.” And I started to shiver. Even as hot as it was, the wet clothing was clinging to my skin and chilling me already. It was amazing how easy it was to get hypothermia – I had learned that after spending a few months on Hoth.

“Cold?” she asked with an upturned eyebrow.

I smiled, having an idea of what was coming. “Yes, I am.”

She rose, grabbed my wrist, and pulled me to the bed, even pushing me onto it with a hand on my chest. Then she took the bottom of my shirt, and made to pull it up, smirking at me. “It’s about to get hotter.”

 

 

 

 

the Flame

I woke up to a disorientating sense of coldness. The blankets were wrapped around me, and I shouldn’t have been cold. I realized after a second it was because I didn’t have a familiar warmth next to me. I had been woken by the fact that Mara was gone from our bed. I sighed and rubbed my face, feeling a dull ache in my chest. Then I threw back the blankets and sheets and got out of bed, shivering as my bare feet hit the chilled, hard floor.

It was quite dark, with very little light filtering through from outside – not to mention the small house wasn’t in a well-lit city anyway. We were on vacation, away from everything, after having just been married. Lando had graciously offered this place on a beautiful planet in the middle of nowhere – a house he had never used – for our use.

I left the bedroom, trusting the Force to tell me where to go. I headed for the living room, which was . . . a little less dark, anyway. Large, floor length windows covered one wall, and the shades were open. I could see the stars outside, and their quiet light created shadows on Mara’s face.

She was still in her nightclothes, a pair of loose pants and one of my shirts, curled up on the couch opposite the fireplace. She was staring straight ahead, ignoring me, and I felt another shiver of coldness, not the cause of the temperature in the room that time. I knew she was aware of my presence.

Trying not to startle her out of her thoughts, regardless, I walked over to her quietly and knelt by her side on the wooden floor, feeling cold without her but unwilling to get into another fight by bothering her. I waited a few moments, studying her face. She didn’t look distressed, really, more like sadly thoughtful.

I finally broke the silence. “I didn’t mean to fight with you,” I murmured, resting my hand on her leg. She was warm.

She put her hand over mine. “I know,” she whispered.

“Or pressure you,” I added, then paused. “Or keep you up.”

That got more of her attention. She cocked her head and looked at me, a slow smile spreading across her face. “You keep me up lots, Skywalker,” she said with an upturned eyebrow.

I smiled back, relieved, and squeezed her thigh, moving to sit up next to her, and putting my arm around her shoulders. She resisted for a second, something I expected, and then relaxed, laying her head against me – something I also expected. I rubbed her shoulder with my hand, and she sighed. I could practically feel her warmth seeping into me.

“I just feel . . .” she began. “Almost like I shouldn’t be your wife if I’m not a Jedi,” she finished abruptly, squirming – though not out of my grip – and looking away.

“What?” I cried out. “No – Mara –”

She patted my leg, the one closest to her. “Oh, I know you’re not saying that, or thinking it in any way . . . but that’s almost what it feels like. I mean, the Jedi Order is important. I know that . . . and shouldn’t your wife be there to help you, support you?”

“And you wonder if you can if you’re not a Jedi?” I shook my head. “You’re you, Mara. That’s all I need.”

“So romantic, farmboy,” she murmured, looking up at me with a smile. The dim light cast everything in shades of blue, and she looked otherworldly beautiful with soft shadows accenting every curve of her face. I smiled down at her, resisting the urge to kiss those lips.

Instead, I carefully considered what to say. “The reason I keep bringing it up has nothing to do with me – I simply believe it’s what’s right for you. I know you want it, I know it’s what you’re meant to be – I can feel it, Mara. And so can you.”

She sighed. “Maybe I’m having performance anxiety,” she said with a small laugh. “I tried to light the fire in the fireplace using those survival skills I was taught, and I couldn’t even manage it. I was just sitting here and thinking what a great show of skill that was.”

I looked at the cold, old-fashioned fireplace. There was ash on the bottom, so it had been lit at some point, perhaps even before Lando bought the place, but nonetheless. Mara could have just turned up the heat, of course, but no doubt not being able to light the fireplace had been grating. Though why she would go to the fireplace first was a mystery. A challenge, perhaps. “But you could still blow it to smithereens, I’m sure, given a comlink or some such.” I grinned.

She laughed, sitting up straight and causing my arm to fall from her shoulders, and hit my arm. “Very funny, Skywalker.”

I grinned back at her. “I just think it would make you happy,” I said softly, knowing she would know that I was talking about her being a Jedi, not her failure to start a fire. “Content. I’m secure in my path – at least in that respect,” I added wryly.

She nodded. “I know. I just – I doubt myself,” she said, so quietly I could barely hear her. “If I can really do it. And if I can’t . . . what does that mean? Not just for you, but for the Jedi, our children . . .”

I blinked. “Children?”

“Or child,” Mara added, glancing at me with an amused look on her face. “Surely you’ve thought about it.”

“Well . . . a little. It rather scares me. My family doesn’t have the best track record,” I said, thinking of Vader.

“But then there’s Han and Leia, and their kids,” Mara reminded sharply.

I nodded my head in acknowledgement. “That’s true.”

Mara turned away, the thoughtful look returning. Half of her face was thrown in shadow, and behind her all I could see were the stars, little points of twinkling light in black. She hugged her arms around herself, and bit her lip. I waited, sure there was something going on beneath that messed red hair.

Finally, she turned to look at me, relaxing, some internal battle won. “Well, then. Care to start training me, Skywalker? What do you say?” She smiled, the curve of her lips turning upwards mischievously.

I took a deep breath, looking around at the sparely furnished room, nearly alien in the darkness. “I say . . . let’s get that fire going.” I stood up, and held out my hand to her.

She paused before taking it, looking up at me. It was with perfect seriousness that she placed her hand in mine, entwining her fingers with my own. And I sensed that in taking my hand, she had accepted my help – more than that of rising to her feet. Still holding her one hand, I pulled her close to me with the other, and kissed her gently.

The next hour was not spent in bed – it was spent going through Lando’s cupboards, lamenting his surprising lack of organization in stocking the place. Mara suggested we resort to using a blaster, or even a lightsaber, to get the fire started, but we both dismissed it as giving up too soon. We could get that fire started the old-fashioned way with old tools. Someone had decided to build the thing in the house; there must be a way of starting it. Not to mention fire starting without advanced technology had been done for thousands of generations with no problem. We were determined that we would do it.

There was exploring of weird containers, laughing, and comments along the lines of, “I never knew Lando liked this!” and “I think we should put that back where we found it.” Wondering again who exactly had stocked the place. And getting closer through the laughing and frustration, the distance of the fight fading away. We went cold in the meantime, running around the house with the occasional curse directed at the fireplace.

But we managed to rekindle the flame.

 

 

Mara the Burninator

“Hey,” Luke said, ducking into Leia and Han’s apartment, “you’re the one who first mentioned having children.”

Any reply I could have given would have been lost in Luke’s hurry to get out of reach from my wrath, so I restrained myself with an effort and followed him inside. Luke had, for some Force-forsaken reason, decided to visit Leia and Han. Well, more accurately, visit them and the kids. He told me the kids had been asking to see Luke and his wife (which would be me, of course), and naturally he said we would without asking me first. Luke and I had been married for about a year, but I had resisted having anything to do with Leia’s children. The fact that when Luke and I visited, they were always gone for some reason – luck or the Force – also had something to do with it.

I came in right behind Skywalker. The apartment looked about the same as the last time I was there, a few months before – smooth elegant architectural lines, not many spots that could hide potential attackers, and plush but mutely colored furniture. Leia and Han were not in sight.

“Where are they?” I asked Luke, stepping so I was standing beside him.

Luke looked at me expectantly.

“Oh, right,” I said, rolling my eyes and stretching out with the Force. Luke never failed to take an opportunity to teach. He had been training me since we married. I felt, though, that at that point we were also finally learning Jedi skills from each other. Luke was open to my ideas, knowing that he himself was no true expert – not that there was anyone left alive who was. I could feel five presences in the apartment – all in the same general area. Three of them were . . . excited. I blinked when they suddenly came closer, and focused on my more immediate surroundings.

“Uncle Luke!” came multiple cries of joy. Luke knelt, grinning, and hugged his niece and nephews. Jaina and Jacen hugged him first, both at the same time, their little brown heads contrasting against Luke’s blond hair. Anakin, the youngest, got to embrace his uncle last, and he did so with great fervor.

I stayed back nervously, resisting the urge to fidget.

Han and Leia followed their kids almost immediately, and watched with amusement as their children greeted their uncle enthusiastically. Leia, I noted almost immediately, was wearing a version of her Senatorial gown – it was a pale green dress loosely gathered at her waist with a low neck. Han wasn’t so formally attired, but I still sensed that something was off.

“Mara, welcome,” Leia said, coming over to greet me. Han followed her, and gave me a casual hand wave.

“Hi,” I said, attempting to smile. I had gotten to know Leia a great deal better when preparing for the wedding, but I still didn’t feel entirely comfortable with her, and wasn’t quite sure what she thought of Luke and me. Luke had told me it would take time.

“Listen,” Leia began, “I’m really sorry about this, but an emergency came up with the Senate. Could you and Luke watch the kids for a few hours?” Her brown eyes were worried, attentive.

“I get to be backup,” Han added, grinning. I narrowed my eyes at him, sure he was aware of my discomfort with children. He shrugged. “Politically speaking, of course.” He brushed away an imaginary speck of lint.

I glanced at Luke, who looked back at me calmly with no hints of how to reply on his face. “Of course, we’d love to,” I said, smiling.

The worry in Leia’s brown eyes abruptly melted away. “Thank you. I’d ask Winter, but it came up really suddenly . . .” She looked at the children. “Be good,” she said sternly, but with a warm smile. And with that, she and Han – who had surprisingly and oddly spoken little more than a few words – left.

As soon as the door shut – with an almost dooming note, I thought – Jaina grabbed Luke’s hand and said, “Uncle Luke, can I show you something? It’s a secret!”

“May I,” Luke corrected calmly. “And yes, what is it?”

Jaina grinned with uneven teeth, at her young age quite clearly possessing a lot of energy. Jacen nodded excitedly behind her. Luke looked at them with amusement, and then looked at me, mouthing silently, Be right back.

I nodded, and Luke let Jaina and Jacen succeed in dragging him to one of the back rooms, a small amused smile on his face all the while. I noted absently he seemed good with kids.

I looked down when I felt someone tug on my leg. Anakin was staring up at me from beneath a mop of brown hair, and disturbing blue eyes.

“Yes?” I said formally.

“Are you my Aunt Mara?” Anakin asked, eyes wide and his little mouth a flat line.

“Well, yes,” I said, nodding, feeling odd looking down at someone so much shorter. I knew him, of course, having seen him when he was too young to remember, along with Luke’s holos of him as he grew older. Luke had been trying to get me to go on family gatherings before the two of us even were involved, and I wondered briefly if he was courting me even then . . .

His lower lip trembled, and strangely, his grip on the fabric of my pants tightened. “Are you going to burn me?”

“What?” I said, surprised. “No! Of course not.” What in the Force . . . ? Feeling awkward, confused, and cursing Luke for leaving me alone in such a new situation for me, I finally knelt, bringing the young boy more at eye level with me. Anakin would probably feel less intimidated. I was pretty sure, anyway.

He sniffed and rubbed his nose. “But Jaina and Jacen said you were the Burninator.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Oh, did they? And what is a Burninator?”

He shrugged one small shoulder. “They said it’s a scary person. And that even though you’re all good now, you’re still scary and I should be scared,” he said in a rush, making me blink in confusion.

Ah! I thought, the realization hitting quite suddenly after a moment of further puzzlement. I had never experienced this, but I knew what it was – the older siblings teasing the younger. Though I wondered where Jaina and Jacen got the bright idea that I was scary. They weren’t born when I was really scary, after all . . .

“Well, I’m not,” I said at last, knowing I should try to reassure the boy. “I’m a good person. Do you think your uncle would marry someone scary?”

Anakin brightened. “No,” he agreed.

“Well, then,” I said, grinning.

“So you’re not Mara the Burninator?” Anakin asked, seeking confirmation.

“Absolutely not,” I affirmed.

Anakin sniffed one more time, the fear fading from his eyes, then threw himself at me, his arms held out. My arms came up to hold him, as if it were perfectly natural, and I thought maybe I did have some distant, dormant mothering instinct. His small body felt so warm and real, it was startling. I was holding a little sentient being. A boy. I have no experience with children, myself included, I thought.

“Jaina and Jacen are mean,” Anakin proclaimed, just after letting his firm grip on me loosen.

I nodded, with a little shrug. “Well, sometimes older siblings do that.”

His eyes were wide. “A lot?”

“Well . . .” I really had no idea. “Don’t worry about it,” I said, ruffling his hair, as I had seen Luke do to Jacen. He grinned at me, showing a gap in his teeth. I paused, wondering. “Hey . . . Why the Burninator?” I asked, curiosity getting hold of me.

Anakin shrugged. “They said they heard that you would burn Uncle Luke real bad.” He scrunched up his face. I had to repress a wince at the simple words that expressed years of public opinion. “Mom said it was meta-meta . . . said it wasn’t true, but . . .” He looked confused. “And bad guys always have nator at the end of their names,” he said wisely.

“She was right – it’s not true,” I said, letting the later confusing comment go. Maybe something to do with holoshows? “And it was mean of your brother and sister to lie like that.” I paused, thinking of how scared Anakin had been, and what Jacen and Jaina must have been thinking to say such a thing to the boy. What do children do to other children that tease them? “What do you say we get a little revenge?” I asked lightly, smiling, a plan quickly blossoming in my mind.

Anakin thought seriously, getting a look on his face very similar to one that Luke got quite often. I had a sudden absurd image of Vader getting the same look on his face, and had to repress it. “Uncle Luke says revenge is of the dark side,” he managed at last.

I waved my hand breezily in dismissal. “Not this kind, trust me.” I grinned at him, and he slowly grinned back.

I sat on the floor, and told him of my plan – and the little part he would play. And as I explained it to him, and he listened with intensity, I realized how much I was enjoying myself – enjoying talking to Anakin, and I felt a sudden rush of affection. The way he looked, the way he talked and acted – I could see shades of his parents in him, and something uniquely his own, in those bright blue eyes. It made me wonder what a child of mine and Luke’s would be like.

When Luke returned a few minutes later with his niece and nephew, both Anakin and I were sitting on the couch, calmly talking about his latest attempt to hotwire a house-cleaning droid. Luke gave me an inquiring look, and I knew he sensed something was up, but he didn’t say anything. Jaina and Jacen continued on obliviously, jumping on the couch after I vacated it, and talking to Anakin about how they showed Uncle Luke their ‘secret’, which turned out to be a snake of some kind Jacen had convinced to enter the apartment.

As I passed Luke to get to the kitchen, I winked.

He raised his eyebrow, and his eyes followed me, but instead of following me himself, he leaned up against the wall, watching the children chatter with half his attention.

It took me only a moment to find what I needed. I knew Leia would have it, even if she didn’t use it – it was a cooking tool, and one rarely used because there were easier, if less dramatic, ways of doing what it was used for. It didn’t take me long to find the jar of hot powder, either.

I could feel Luke’s eyes on my back when I walked into the back of the apartment, where the bedrooms were. I took the powder, and carefully placed a small amount on the panel that would open the door to Han and Leia’s bedroom. It would only sting lightly, but in the heat of the moment . . . well, that was another matter. Then I put it back where it belonged in the kitchen, giving Anakin a small wink as I passed through the living room, my other tool hidden by my body and my hand.

Luke’s intense curiosity was almost palpable to me, and it increased even further when I left the kitchen and walked up to the kids, frowning and trying to look as blatantly scary as possible.

Anakin sniffled at me, and said, “Mara the Burninator!” And screeched, just like I told him to.

“That’s right,” I claimed, and raised my tool. It was a culinary device, a small torch used to set fire to certain food items before eating – a delicacy. It was very small, small enough it could almost be held in the palm of my hand.

I activated it, and a small flame spurt out. Jaina and Jacen shrieked in terror, heightened by Anakin’s faked terror, and jumped off of the couch, running. Not to Luke, as I had suspected they wouldn’t, but instinctively to their parents – except they weren’t home, so naturally they would run into the bedroom. Anakin stayed put as his older siblings, certain that the stories they had told were actually true – no doubt a scary prospect for a child – ran for what seemed the safest place to be.

I watched in satisfaction as they ran down the hall into the back, no doubt putting their little mischievous hands on the door panel to their parents’ bedroom . . .

Another shriek.

“Mara!” Luke said, having reached my side in the few moments chaos had erupted, and curiously taking the small torch out of my hand. “What is going on?”

Anakin giggled. “We got them good!” he said, and slipped off the couch, coming over to me.

“So we did,” I said wisely, and held out my hand. Anakin solemnly shook it.

“Mara . . .” Luke said, looking at me with wide eyes.

I patted his arm. “I’ll explain later,” I said. “You better go and calm the twins down before they start rubbing that hot spice into their eyes. I didn’t put much on the door panel, but you never know . . .” I shrugged, deciding to give Luke some idea of what had happened, while leaving the details for later. “I burn people, according to the twins and their tales to young Anakin here. Seemed appropriate.”

Giving me an astonished half-laugh, Luke shook his head and went down the hall, calling Jaina and Jacen’s names in a soothing manner, and sending chastising thoughts at me all the while.

Anakin and I exchanged another grin.

Mara the Burninator, indeed.

 

 

 

 

It’s the Heat, It’s the Humidity

 

I made my way through thorny bushes and thick hedges with a rather unamused attitude. I was quite certain Luke could hear me – not only because of the racket I was making just trying to get to him, but the steady stream of curses coming out of my mouth. Why did he insist on sulking in such remote, hard-to-reach locations on a place like Yavin IV? You would think being next to the middle of nowhere in the galaxy would be enough, but apparently not.

Not for Skywalker.

I grumbled as another thorn managed to find its way into my flesh. I yanked away the long branch, and kept going, ignoring the blood running down my arm. It’d heal. Normally I would be able to move in a forest soundlessly, totally unnoticed, but this time . . . well, this wasn’t a forest, it was a jungle, and one that was not entirely suitable for the human form. It was so thick that there was no way I could move through it silently. And it didn’t matter if I was heard, anyway, even if it did sting my sensibilities a little bit.

After all, Luke would know I was coming regardless if I made any noise or not. While he had muted our bond – how much we could sense each other – it was still more than strong enough for him to sense my nearness. His presence made ripples in the Force, no matter how much he attempted to still the waters.

The air was hot and humid, further proving its point to me that it was a jungle, not a forest. Vines were everywhere, and I had to duck and weave to get around them. My clothing stuck to my body, and I was regretting wearing a shirt with no sleeves

Little light filtered through with all the dense greenery about, and I had to watch carefully where I put my feet because of thick roots and some nasty low-lying creatures. “What is with Skywalker and remote locations?” I muttered, and dealt with a thorn that had managed to snag my hair, despite it being pulled into a braid.

When I finally found him, I realized quickly why he had chosen this spot. It was a little clearing with a small spring of clear water bubbling in the middle. I could just barely see the sky when I looked up – a big improvement – and it was sunnier there.

Luke was lying down on a boulder near the middle of a small pool fed by the spring, staring up, the sunlight falling down on him. His hands were casually thrown over his head, and I could see just a hint of his stomach showing with his shirt pulled up the way it was. He was barefoot – Force knew how he had managed to get here that way – and wore an old, tight pair of combat pants. Very tight, I noted appreciatively.

I stepped into the small clearing and said loudly, “Heat bothering you?” I gestured at the sparkling water that surrounded him.

Luke jerked and sat straight up. I looked at him, thinking that surely he wasn’t surprised I was here. I touched our bond, and – no, he was surprised. I had a distracted farmboy on my hands, it would seem.

He relaxed when he saw it was me, and relaxed further when he felt my mental touch. He slowly lay back down, and said with a small grin, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” He paused and added, “Heat I’m used to. I’m a farmboy, as you love to keep reminding me.”

“Ah, right,” I said, raising an eyebrow. “A desert farmboy.” I walked to him and paused at the water, trying to see if there was anything lurking in its depths. There didn’t seem to be, but the native flora and fauna of Yavin could be sneaky.

“It’s fine,” Luke assured me, glancing my way, a flash of blue.

“Hmm.” I took off my boots and left them by the water, then stepped in and waded over to Luke. It wasn’t at all deep, not even coming up to my ankles. Once I reached the boulder, Luke scrambled to the side to make room for me and I climbed up. The rock wasn’t hot, as the sunlight wasn’t direct, but it was warm. “So,” I said casually, “it’s the humidity?”

Luke eyed me but said nothing, returning to his original position of his legs nearly dangling over the side of the boulder and his arms thrown over his head, soaking in the heat.

“Curious, that humidity can make a person so depressed,” I remarked. Luke was being abnormally silent, not just refusing to talk, but his presence in the Force was the same way. I was worried about him. I had sensed this approaching, though I still didn’t know what ‘this’ was, really. In the year we had been together, I discovered, however, that what I thought I knew about Luke wasn’t everything. Oh, his basic nature was obvious – but there were so many small surprises in knowing him.

“Yes, curious,” Luke said in an uninviting tone.

Luke ignored that from me often enough, with good reason, so I returned the favor. “If it’s the humidity, then why pick a place for the Jedi Temple that is so humid so much of the time?”

“I wasn’t looking at humidity levels,” Luke muttered, gazing away at the little patch of sky again.

“I'd think that someone with your experiences in the coldness of space would learn to pay attention to such things,” I said with a teasing grin, and poked his ribs. Hard.

He yelped, and half sat up. “Mara . . .” He narrowed his eyes.

“We really should alert someone about this humidity problem,” I continued. “Sounds very serious. Your sister is highly placed in the government – you should tell her about the depressing effects of humidity –“

“Mara!” he said again, but his eyes danced with laughter.

“Come now,” I said, running my finger down his chest, starting at the skin near his neck and moving all the way down to the next patch of skin, “you know I only discuss the weather with you.” I paused, thinking of how ridiculous I sounded, then went on anyway. “Think you can return the favor?”

Luke sighed, smiling slightly. I could tell he didn’t want to talk about it. For all his openness, in some things he was utterly reserved. I waited patiently, adjusting my position on the boulder so I would be more comfortable. He paused, then sat up entirely, facing me. His blue eyes appeared darker from this position, his head lowered. The smile faded.

“Luke,” I said softly. “I trust you. Trust me.”

“I’ve always trusted you, Mara.” He grinned lopsidedly. “Even when you were debating with yourself whether to kill me.”

I laughed lightly, remembering those days. I had thought him a crazy Jedi; come to think of it, that aspect hadn’t really changed . . .

“It’s not that,” Luke said. “I’ve just never really spoken to anyone about this before.”

“Depending on what ‘it’ is, I wonder if I should be relieved,” I murmured, raising an eyebrow even though he wasn’t looking at me to see it.

“Do you know what today is?” he asked softly.

I didn’t have to think about it. Very few would. This day was long remembered by me for different reasons than most, however. “The day the second Death Star was destroyed, and the Emperor killed. The battle of Endor.” Of course – it had to do with that day. But I didn’t say anything more, sensing it was more of a rhetorical question, and waited.

He nodded. “Most celebrate it as the day the Rebellion became a legitimate government – some even as the day our cause was won. It was a major battle.” He looked away, and a small frown appeared in his face, a bit of a wrinkle between his eyes and those lips not quite turned down. “But it’s not that to us, is it?” He appeared to finally notice the blood on my arm, and gently swiped it off with his thumb, still not meeting my eyes.

I shook my head. “No,” I said softly. “I try not to think about it much. I just get angry, which is bad, as you keep reminding everyone in sight.” I sighed, and added with a wry note, “I get angry for different reasons then I used to, though.”

He smiled slightly in response.

“Thanks to you,” I added. I leaned forward, and lightly kissed him on the lips. He responded a little, kissing me back and even following me a bit as I drew back. I brought my hand to the side of his face, and he turned his head to kiss my palm. “It’s Vader, isn’t it?” I asked quietly.

“Anakin,” Luke instantly corrected. “But yes. Today is the day –”

“He died,” I murmured. “You grieve for him?”

“You find it odd?” he responded, raising an eyebrow. When I didn’t reply – unsure of what to say – he continued, “Leia finds it odd, I think. She feels I shouldn’t grieve.”

I was surprised at that, and I let it show.

“I understand it,” Luke said softly. “She doesn’t grieve. I envy her, in a way – she’s so . . . practical. Matter-of-fact. Like you, in some ways. She sees how things were and are, and I guess . . . I guess I see what could have been.” He shook his head, drawing away from me and looking down at the water. It was rippling slightly, distorting what would have been a mirror of the jungle around us. “She knows he saved my life, and she’s accepted that he was her father, but to her he will always be an evil monster.”

I nodded, keeping silent, just listening as he had done so many times for me.

“And I know all that, but . . . it’s not that simple, to me.” He snorted. “You knew him more than I did, but I still grieve over his death.”

I shook my head at that, knowing I had told myself I would stay silent and listen, but I couldn’t keep quiet. “No, Luke. I saw a mask. You saw who he really was.”

Luke looked at me in surprise.

“Or who he was meant to be,” I said with extra emphasis. “And for that, we got what – only the death of the Emperor? Not to mention he saved your life. You saw what could be . . . and for that, well.” I shrugged. “I see Leia’s point, but – to grieve for him is natural for you, like it is not for her.” I tried to look into his eyes, but he wouldn’t look directly at me. “There’s nothing wrong with it,” I insisted with a gentleness I didn’t know I had. But Luke needed it, and that was enough for me. “Don’t change,” I finished softly. “You saw in me what I could not see in myself, just like you did with Vader.”

For once, Luke didn’t correct me on Vader’s name. He looked thoughtful, saying nothing more.

I took his hand and sat closer to him. His body exuded heat. I could tell even in that kind of weather. But, this was Luke, not just anyone. Natural enough I should pay special attention. I put my hand on the nape of his neck, feeling for tenseness, and found none. He leaned into my touch, and I smiled. His hand stroked my arm where I had gotten cut by a thorn. When I looked down, there was nothing but smooth skin there.

His mind felt still, not at all chaotic as I would have expected, given that I knew he was thinking. It was as if he could focus his mind until he held only one thought, and it could not be lost in a confusion of others. I kept my mental presence steady with his, letting him know that I was there – open to him, more importantly.

And I lazily watched the jungle. Little animals with bright colors hopped from branch to branch, and as Luke and I remained still and silent on the boulder, some came forward for a drink of water, lightly pecking it and then moving away, hardly seeming to drink at all. Their tiny feet made little impression on the moist soil.

With everything slowed down in such a way, Luke and I gradually found our way into each other’s arms. My head was on his chest – I could feel him breathing – and his arms were wrapped around me. My hands were on his hip and back, and I couldn’t stop myself from caressing his warm skin. The utter stillness of Luke’s mind faded, and gradually his shields dropped as well. I truly sensed for the first time his sadness as he opened up to me, sharing the emotion.

His mind met mine gently, and I could feel him exploring for my own emotions on the significance of the day. I had no doubt he sensed my lingering anger, but he didn’t comment or even react, just moved on, soothing me. His simple presence calmed me. Palpatine was in the past, and I didn’t grieve anymore for that life because I didn’t regret it being gone.

“How is it,” I said softly, “that you calm me when I came here for you?”

Luke laughed quietly, his body shaking. “Having you here is enough.”

“For me, too,” I said. I tilted my head back so that I could kiss him, and his hand dropped to my lower back to support me. “So, the humidity isn’t bothering you anymore?” I said, letting a smile spread across my face.

“Ah, well,” Luke said, starting to smile. “It’s still here, but I can deal with it now. With you.”

I lay my head against his chest again, feeling him inhale and exhale. “We’re being sappily romantic,” I whispered.

“I know,” Luke whispered back.

I looked up again, eyeing him, trying to judge his expression. He was still far more skilled than I with using our bond – probably all the practice he got in before I gave him actual permission – and I couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“I won’t tell anyone,” Luke added with a hint of mischief, knowing perfectly well that wasn’t what I was thinking, but taking the opportunity to tease me. “We’re the only ones here, anyway.”

“Only with you, hmm?” I said, nearly inaudible even to myself.

I could sense his smile, and he held me tighter as I relaxed further into his grip. “Of course,” he said calmly.

I didn’t slap him for his cockiness, but I was tempted.

 

 

 

 

 

Heat

 

“It’s the heat wave, kid,” Han said wisely, clapping Luke on the shoulder. Luke turned away from the vista of buildings – though on Coruscant, ‘building’ didn’t seem a grand enough word. Leia and Han’s apartment had a truly fantastic view from the living room. Of course, there were small, airborne droids patrolling the area and an energy field as security measures, but they were largely invisible.

“What do you mean?” Luke asked, startled.

“Well, it’s kind of obvious,” Han confided. “Mara is hanging all over you like a limpet –”

“Han,” Luke said repressively.

“And you’ve got that classic-Skywalker-troubled look,” Han finished. “So, take it from a me – it’s the heat wave.”

“You?” Luke muttered, briefly raising an eyebrow. He turned away to look through the window again. Everything was cast in a maroon color by the low-lying sun. It wasn’t quite a sunset yet, but it was nearing it – and sunset was hardly easy to define on a planet with such an unusual horizon. “And what does a heat wave have to do with anything?”

“Makes women crazy, kid.”

Luke shot him a dark look.

Han didn’t respond to the look. He snapped his fingers in an exaggerated gesture of remembrance. “Oh, right – Leia sent me over here to tell you that dinner is almost ready.”

Luke nodded. “Thanks.” Once again, he turned to look outside. Thankfully, Han took the hint this time and left, presumably to join his wife in the kitchen. Not that he would do much of any importance – Han was not known for his cooking abilities. Neither was Leia, for that matter, but that’s what Threepio was for.

Mara had been acting oddly lately. He flushed as he remembered some of the ways she was acting oddly – even Han had noticed. Limpet. He sighed. Besides that, which he didn’t really mind, there were the other things. They concerned him more. Luke knew his wife very well, and this was all very new to him. Mara just didn’t –

“Luke,” came Leia’s voice. A hand gently touched his shoulder.

“Hey, Leia,” Luke said with a smile. He kissed her lightly on the cheek. She had been in the kitchen when Luke and Mara had arrived for dinner, so they actually hadn’t seen each other in a few weeks. “How are you doing? The kids?”

“All fine,” Leia said, smiling and patting Luke’s arm. As usual, she was dressed elegantly but simply, this time in a pale green dress similar in design to her Senatorial white dress. “And you?”

“Good,” Luke said, and he meant it. Nothing exciting – in other words, no crises – had occurred. The Jedi Temple – bringing the Jedi Order back – was going well. Mara was here, and with the children. Jaina and Jacen were still a little nervous around her, but they knew Mara the Burninator had merely been a prank that had turned on them. Anakin loved her, and looked up to his aunt the most of any of the children. They had a special connection, ever since that night – Mara was his confidant, and Mara took great joy in simply being with the boy.

“I’m glad,” Leia said simply. “I noticed Mara is a bit . . .” She paused, clearing searching for the right word.

“Out-going?” Luke suggested. Emotional probably wouldn’t be too tactful.

“Yes,” Leia said with a relieved smile. “That’s rather unusual for her.”

For a moment, Luke wondered what she would have said had she seen the smoldering kiss Mara had given him before they went into the apartment. Evidently Han had, and had his own opinions on the matter. Luke supposed he shouldn’t be surprised – families poked into each other’s business constantly, from everything he knew.

“I think she’s antsy to get off Coruscant,” Luke said hesitantly, not really willing to lie.

“Hmm?” Leia said with an inquisitive and yet commanding expression.

Luke knew better than to argue with that look on his sister’s face. “She’s been acting a bit odd. Even Han noticed.”

“Oh?”

Luke instinctively glanced in the direction of the children’s rooms. “She’s been having mood swings, eating like crazy, and –“ He shrugged, cutting himself off. “I don’t understand it.”

Leia gave him a look of amused caution. “You don’t, do you? And Mara?”

“Does she, you mean?” Luke asked, blinking. “I . . . I don’t think so. I don’t think she’s really thinking about it.”

Leia nodded, and put her hand on his arm again, squeezing lightly. He looked into her eyes, but his sister – the diplomat, the one who always knew what to say – looked like she was at a loss for words. “I think you and Mara should carefully examine . . . examine . . .”

“Leia, is this supposed to smoke like this?” Han called, peeking out from the kitchen. All Luke could see was his head and part of his shoulder.

Leia whirled, alarmed for her carefully prepared food. “What?” She quickly rushed over and disappeared into the kitchen. Han shrugged at Luke, and disappeared as well.

Wondering what Leia had been planning to say, Luke sighed. He and Mara had been married for two years now, and while Mara continued to surprise and entrance him, this was unexpected purely because it was unexplainable. That Mara had sides of her personality most did not see was known very well by Luke. She was reserved – whether because of personality or upbringing, he didn’t know – but now that reserved nature seemed to be falling away, and then coming back at random moments, and Luke was at a loss to explain it.

But any thoughts of that were pushed out of Luke’s mind when Mara entered the living room, from the hallway that led to the children’s rooms. She was dressed in a slightly formal, but feminine, tunic and pants that were a dark green. Even darker than her eyes – it served to make her eyes appear brighter, and the green contrasted beautifully with her unbound red hair. Luke smiled at the sight of her and relaxed.

She came over to him silently and kissed him deeply, lingering. “Hello,” she whispered, smiling serenely. She looked radiant, and for a second – or a little longer – Luke wanted nothing more than to get lost in her eyes.

Mara put her arms around his waist and pinched his butt.

“Mara!”

Mara grinned. “After dinner,” she promised smokily.

“Okay,” Luke managed.

“Luke? Mara? Dinner is ready,” Leia called from the dining room.

Mara smiled.

“Thanks,” Luke said. With a glance at Mara, he took her hand and they went to the dining room. Unlike the light tones in the living room and entrance area, the dining room was decorated in darker colors of navy and green. The kids scrambled into their seats, Leia sat down sedately, and Han plopped into his chair. Mara and Luke settled in last, sitting next to each other. He noted that Mara noted with displeasure that they were seated with their backs to the entrance. Old habits die hard. It wasn’t really formal – it was just family. They tried to do this at least every few months, as a handle on their often hectic lives.

As the food was passed – some kind of delicious green pasta, Luke discovered – they talked about current events and told stories. The children continually begged for stories of adventure, but more often than not Han would only tell humorous ones, though occasionally he would start off on a story of mischief – always quickly turning to another at a stern look in Leia’s brown eyes.

Eventually, the talk turned to the Jedi.

“It’s going well,” Luke said. “I’m rather relieved, really. It’s a lot harder than I expected in some ways – and we had our share of disasters.” He was downcast for a moment, but at Mara’s nudge he shrugged and shot her a grateful look. “Mara’s with me, though.”

Mara smiled slightly, starting to act more like her normal self. At least temporarily. “I have to keep you out of trouble,” she said sharply with a smile to soften the words. “You seem to find it everywhere.”

“I do not,” Luke protested. “It finds me.”

She waved her fork at him. “So what, trouble has heat-seeking capabilities like missiles now?”

“Why heat?” Anakin popped up.

Mara blinked.

“Why would it seek heat? I mean, wouldn’t it have to seek Uncle Luke –“

Mara scrambled at the onslaught of a child’s logic. “Well, it’s not like your uncle doesn’t have any heat . . .”

“Mara!” Luke said, blushing.

Anakin looked confused.

“The heat that any living being has,” Mara added, shooting Luke a quelling look, but a smirk was growing on her face.

“So,” Leia said brightly, with her own quelling glance directed at Anakin’s questioning face, “what about the weather?”

With plummeting hope, Luke watched Han enter the conversation.

“Ah, yes, the weather. The heat wave,” Han said knowingly, glancing at Luke. “Odd thing for Coruscant. The air conditioner for this building failed the other day.”

“Yes,” Leia said, ignorantly – and unwisely – grabbing onto the topic. “It took them hours to fix it, and it was miserable in here in the meantime.”

Han stabbed his pasta with his fork. “I’m sure Mara knows all about the heat wave,” he said casually. “I mean, what with the fact that heat waves affecting –”

“Han,” Luke grated.

The children watched with confused interest.

Mara raised an eyebrow, easily guessing what Han had intended to say when Luke interrupted. “I have been feeling out of sorts,” she admitted, eyes narrowing. “And you may have noticed, but it has nothing to do with the heat wave. Something to do with the Force, perhaps.”

Luke breathed a sigh of relief.

“In a manner of speaking,” Leia muttered into her plate, apparently unable to keep silent.

Mara honed in on that immediately. “What do you mean by that?” she asked, her tone making it clear she wanted an answer. She leaned forward, and her whole body language changed subtly, becoming more aggressive.

“Leia?” Luke asked, just as confused.

“I think Han is right,” Leia stated, causing both Luke and Mara to be taken aback. “Jedi – or maybe it’s just you two, I don’t know – can be oblivious to what is right in front of them.”

“Leia . . . ?” Mara said, more concerned in her confusion than angry. She looked at Luke, who looked back at her with similar emotions.

Leia went on, looking at Han this time. “Moodiness, changed eating habits . . .” She raised an eyebrow, and a look of comprehension passed over her husband’s face. Jaina and Jacen remained silent and confused. But they apparently realized that to remind their parents of their presence would ruin the spectacle taking place in front of them. Anakin kept his eyes steady on Mara.

Luke went over Leia’s words in his mind, then looked at Mara. Examine, Leia had said earlier. He reached out for the Force and felt Mara do the same. It wasn’t difficult to turn to face each other – they were sitting right next to each other, and their bond was as deep and steady as ever.

With a gentle nudge, the Force directed their attention to Mara in particular. And for what seemed like the first time, Luke truly saw his wife through the Force – he saw the change in her, and through his eyes, she also saw it in herself. The presence in the Force was tinged with both Luke and Mara’s presence, and yet was unique.

“I’m pregnant,” Mara breathed, looking into Luke’s blue eyes as if she would never break her gaze away.

“Finally!” Han crowed in the background, with Leia quickly hushing him.

Mara’s mind was racing, and so was Luke’s. When . . . ? It hardly mattered, though for a moment Luke thought inanely that Han was incorrect – there hadn’t been a heat wave on Yavin IV. Just the two of them, and that had apparently been enough.

There was a babble in the background, but it hardly mattered as a single moment between them stretched into something far longer, in their minds and in the Force.

Mara was with child. They were going to have a family. They were going to be more than husband and wife, but also mother and father. It was both terrifying and exhilarating.

Luke rose from the table, and held out his hand. Mara took it, as silent as he, and they walked out of the room. He sensed a frisson of fear in her at his silence, but he also sensed the trust – and surprisingly, the patience that both so rarely had. Luke didn’t even know why he did it, but it felt right.

Han and Leia followed to the large entrance of the dining room, but went no further, talking with each other and the children, hushing and also watching. Luke and Mara ignored it.

Luke embraced Mara. Her arms went around his neck, her body curved to meet his. He could smell her, feel her – both physically and mentally – and he could sense her joy, confusion, and fear. Neither had often dreamed of having a family, though they would sometimes ache, separately, when they saw one. There was something different, truly special about it, and both had easily sensed that fact.

“Thank you,” Luke whispered into Mara’s ear, speaking at last. “Thank you.”

Her body shook against his, and it was laughter, despite the tears falling down her cheeks. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

Han’s voice cracked like a whip through the silence of the moment. “So, was it the heat wave that –”

“Han!” From the corner of Luke’s eye, he saw Leia slap Han’s arm.

“What does that mean, Dad?” Jacen asked inquisitively, walking out of the dining room with his brother and sister to see what was going on. Jaina was grinning at Mara, and Anakin was still rather confused by it all.

Luke looked over, and smiled at the flash of realization on Han’s face that was going to have to explain that comment to his young son.

“We were so clueless,” Mara said softly, smiling at Luke, meeting his eyes again as he met hers.

“The heat wave must have muddled our heads,” Luke murmured.

Mara didn’t answer, just smiled again, putting her head on Luke’s shoulder.

And despite the confused babble of words – Han attempting to explain his comment to Jacen in any other way but the truth, Leia and Jaina talking about babies, and Anakin tugging on Mara’s pant leg asking for explanation – Luke felt serene. He sensed the same thing in Mara. And their child was a bright light in the Force, easily seen now that Luke recognized it.

“So much from just a slap?” Mara asked softly, referring to all the times she had slapped him, all the things that came from those telling moments of attraction, friendship and irritation. Luke could virtually hear her doubts and concerns, her fears and worries – but all of it overlaid so heavily with joy.

It was a rhetorical question, but Luke chose to answer it anyway. “And the lack of a slap.”


 

[finis]

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