Beyond Chasing Dreams (L/M, post-NJO, repost) A/N 9/28

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction- Before, Saga, and Beyond' started by JadeLotus, Aug 13, 2014.

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  1. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    Jedi Temple, Coruscant. 32 ABY.


    Despite the stifling humidity of the artificial jungle, Mara felt decidedly cold. Her blood seemed to freeze in her veins, locking her joints and preventing any movement. Her mind roiled as the reality of the situation hit her.

    Callista Ming, next to her son, chatting amiably away. It might as well have been a Sith Lord sitting in the grass with him. Although Mara couldn't exactly rule that out. A white-hot anger burned within her - something she had not felt in many years. It spurned her into movement, and Mara lunged towards Ben, crossing the distance and sweeping her arms around him protectively. Studiously, she ignored Callista. She wasn't sure what would happen if she allowed her anger to take hold.

    So she focused on her son, twisting him in her arms to face her. "Don't you ever do that again," she said firmly, holding tightly onto his shoulders. "You can't run away like that Ben, it's dangerous, you understand?"

    Ben's face became solemn and his eyes filled with moisture. Mara was not often that forceful with him, nor did he usually see her so upset. No doubt he could feel her anguish through the Force, as well.

    "I'm sorry," he sniffed, bringing the sleeve of his tunic to wipe his nose.

    "It's okay, Ben." Mara hugged him again, sending him her comfort through their bond. "You have to remember to stay where I can see you." She placed a loving kiss to his puffy cheek.

    As abruptly as it always did, Ben's mood changed to from contrition to excitement as a grin formed on his face. "I found a friend, Mama," he cried jubilantly, wriggling out of her embrace.

    Mara turned her attention to the woman kneeling close to them, reconciling the Callista of her memory to the image before her. There was no trace of Cray Mingla left - her features consumed completely by Callista's sharp angles and rigid expression. Her malt hair, free of grey, had grown out of the cropped style she had sported when Mara had known her, the slight waves framing her face and neck. The grey eyes seemed deeper, the angles of her face more severe and uncompromising, and yes - there were even hints of wrinkles around her eyes and mouth.

    But she had aged well, Mara thought with resentment.

    She felt an equal heavy scrutiny from Callista's stormy gaze. Her eyes narrowed slightly as the woman began to work things over in her mind, glancing from Mara to Ben and then back again. Mara felt a smug satisfaction come over her as she realised it was possible Callista was unaware of her marriage to Luke. Chad was pretty far out in the Rim, she recalled... if that was where she had been all this time. It was enjoyable, to watch Callista begin to shrink within herself as she connected the pieces. The fact that Ben had called her 'Mama'... that he looked so much like Luke.

    She gloried in her companion's discomfort as Callista bit her lower lip and prepared to speak.

    "Mara Jade," Callista said finally, her voice remarkably steady. "It took me a moment to recognise you."

    Mara once again felt her slippery gaze wander over her, and she tugged Ben's hand, urging him to sit back into her lap. Where he would be safe, she thought, not to kindly. "Well, a few things have changed since you left, Callista." Her voice was cold, dismissive. It was like slipping back into a familiar glove.

    "So I see," Callista replied, glancing quickly at Ben.

    Mara hugged him protectively, as the small boy turned his inquisitive gaze upwards. "Do you know 'Lista, Mama?"

    "I'm an old... friend of your father's, Ben," Callista cut in before Mara could say anything, for which she received a venomous glare. A fact Ben did not fail to notice.

    "But not yours?" he asked Mara, his small lower lip stuck out in confusion.

    Callista's eyes widened at Ben's intuitiveness, but Mara simply sighed. She released her son and patted him lightly on his back. "Why don't you go play over near the Flandorian flowers, Ben," she suggested lightly. "Just don't go near the lake." He happily ran towards the sweet blooming flower bed, the discomfort between the two women forgotten.

    "He's very beautiful," Callista murmured, her gaze, too, following the small Skywalker.

    Mara sighed heavily. With her son gone, she dropped all pretense of civility. "Cut the bantha crap, Callista. Why are you here?" The hard edge lingered dangerously in her tone.

    A soft, artificial breeze drifted by them and Callista closed her eyes, breathing in deeply. "It's so peaceful, here. It almost reminds me of Yavin."

    "You know what I meant. I don't really care why you decided to take a stroll through the woods. Why are you here, on Coruscant." Mara's hackles raised as Callista continued to ignore her.

    "This was always my favourite part of the Jedi Temple. I'm glad they rebuilt it." Her eyes opened as she took in her surroundings. "The wildlife is a bit different from what I remember."

    Mara fought the urge to pull out her blaster. Kiff, she thought those days were long behind her. Struggling to regain her composure, Mara decided to play along. She would get her answers soon enough, one way or the other.

    "It's the Vong influence," she said curtly. "The trouble with peace is that you have to make concessions." She glanced at the surrounding foliage. "In this case, it means some truly hideous plant life."

    "I suppose so," Callista's tone was soft. "So many things have changed."

    "I take it you didn't know of my marriage to Luke, then?" Mara stared the woman down, delighting in the wince she saw at the mention of her husband's name.

    Callista returned her gaze, but could not hold it. "I admit, I have been considerably... secluded for many years. And in my haste to return, I did not, perhaps, do the research I should have."

    Mara snorted in a fashion she knew was unbecoming, but that had never bothered her. "Bet it was a shock," she said, smiling slightly.

    Shifting uncomfortably, Callista gaze flittered around her. "It was not something... I was expecting," she finally said.

    "The fact that Luke was married?" Mara pressed her advantage. "Or that he was married to me?" There was a warning in her voice.

    "Perhaps both." Callista's gaze fixed on her. "I seem to recall you saying once that wanting to kill someone was not a great basis for a long term relationship."

    "People change," Mara shot back, meeting her eyes defiantly.

    "Perhaps."

    Mara bristled at the words. "You don't know me, Callista. With any luck, you never will." She sighed harshly. "As for Luke, you expected him to wait for you? Pine away like some pathetic brush-mouse?"

    "I thought, maybe... " Callista cleared her throat. Her voice became soft, as if speaking to herself. "Perhaps that was the reason I didn't try to find out anything about him, other than where he was. If I'd known... I might not have returned."

    "Which brings us back to why exactly you did return." Mara's patience was running thin.

    "I... " Callista abruptly cut herself off. "Where is Luke?" she asked.

    "Why?"

    "I wish to see him."

    Mara clenched her fists, forcing herself not to reach out and strike the woman. "That doesn't mean I will let you."

    She saw Callista's cheek twitch in - what? A repressed anger? She was so difficult to read, without the Force. "I should not need your permission," she said in a barely contained voice.

    "Why? Because you think you have some... lover's claim on him?" Mara spat out the words. They tasted so vile on her tongue. To think of Luke and Callista as lovers still hurt as much as it had all of those years ago. Except the pain was far more intense, now. Mara felt territorial, she felt... possessive. There was no way she was letting this woman near her husband. Her family.

    Remarkably, Mara found the strength to calm herself, to reach that level on inner peace that Luke had shown her. She spoke again, this time in a soft and level, if no less dangerous voice.

    "Luke and I are married, Callista," she began. "We're happy. Go crawl back under whatever rock you came from and leave us alone."

    Defiance burned in Callista's eyes. "I shouldn't have expected anything more from you, Mara Jade," her lilting voice became coarse. "But I am not someone you can get rid of," her lips curved into a sardonic smile. "No matter how good you may have been at that in the past."

    Although the impulse was to reach for her lightsaber, Mara fought the urge. She stood up and stared Callista down. "Stay away from my family," she hissed, before turning to leave.

    Callista's hand darted out to catch her, fingers curling around her arm, biting into her skin. Her grip was strong, and she held fast though Mara tried to free herself. She began to call on the Force for a release when she heard Callista's desperate voice.

    "Please... Mara!" she called anxiously.

    Everything inside Mara was screaming to throw the leech off her, to grab Ben and leave. But there was - something - in Callista's eyes, in her frantic face that made her pause. Mara cared less for the woman than she cared for the Coruscant street grime that clung to her boots. But she felt her anger begin to ebb, and she wondered why.

    Mara gently, but forcefully, pried Callista's fingers off her arm, and the woman collapsed onto her knees, dejected. Mara crossed her arms. It really was a pathetic sight, but strangely, she felt no joy seeing it.

    "Well?" she asked coolly. Breathing heavily, Callista looked up questioningly. Mara rolled her eyes. "I'm listening. And you are going to tell me why you are here. I know you haven't found the Force again, I can feel it."

    Callista drew herself into a standing position. The woman had some height on Mara, but that did not deter her. She knew height and build had very little to do with intimidation. She looked to Callista expectantly.

    "No, I haven't found the Force, and I have managed to resist the Dark Side... " Callista appeared to be choosing her words carefully. "But what I have to say is for Luke alone."

    "This is not a negotiation," Mara snapped. Her patience was ready to break, and she began to walk away, but again Callista grabbed her arm. Mara shook it off easily.

    "Mara... " Callista called again, and Mara stopped. As much as she wanted to walk away, she was innately curious. "Mara," Callista was facing her again, and appeared to check herself. "I suppose... I should address you as Madame Skywalker," she managed to force out.

    A sardonic thought crossed Mara's mind. "Actually," she began, as nonchalantly as she could. "I'm a Jedi Master now." She watched in glee as Callista's brow creased, and her lips twitch painfully.

    "Master Skywalker, then," Callista managed not to choke on the words. "I know we were never exactly friendly with each other... or even civil," she admitted.

    Yes, Mara thought. Because I saw you for trouble long before anyone else did.

    "But, please," Callista lowered her head slightly, in a sign of defeat. "I need to see Luke."

    "He's off-planet at the moment," Mara admitted, watching as fury blazed in Callista's eyes.

    "You... you," she spluttered out. "You let me... "

    "Oh, shut up." If there was one thing Mara despised it was blubbering. "When he returns I'll tell him you're here," the words spilled out of Mara's mouth without her realising. She had been fully prepared the tell Callista to get off planet or she would personally see to it that she was never heard from again. Instead, she had all but promised an audience with Luke. Since when did she feel sympathy for Callista Ming, who didn't deserve to come within a system's length of her husband? Mara sighed. There was no going back now. "I'll tell him, and if he wants to see you, I'll allow it."

    "Really?" Callista looked as surprised as she felt.

    "Yes." Mara rubbed her brow in frustration. Being around Callista was taxing her. "Here's my comm frequency," she recited it. "Transfer the details on where you're staying."

    Callista looked at her suspiciously. "How can I trust you?"

    An irritability she couldn't ignore flushed over Mara. "I'm a Jedi. It's in the job description." She turned her irate gaze towards her. "Now get out of my sight."

    Probably realising that it was as far as she was going to get, Callista nodded curtly. Glancing to where Ben was picking flower petals and throwing them into the air, she called to him. "Goodbye, Ben. It was nice talking to you."

    The small boy bounded over to the two women. "You leaving, 'Lista?" he pouted.

    Callista nodded, smiling broadly at the child. "Maybe I'll see you again, soon."

    Mara raised her eyebrows. Not if she could help it!

    Ben held out one of the brightly coloured blossoms, which Callista accepted gracefully. A look of wistfulness crossed her face as she smiled. "Thank you." She turned to Mara and gave a slight bow of respect. "Master Skywalker." She nodded in response, watching Callista closely until she was out of sight.

    Mara felt her equilibrium return. She closed her eyes, feeling unexpectedly exhausted. It wasn't long, however, before she felt an impatient tugging on her leg. Mara reopened her eyes, to see Ben holding out the remaining flower in his hand.

    "I picked the best one for you, Mama."

    Sinking to her knees, Mara pulled Ben into a tight embrace. Suddenly, she was thankful for everything she had.
  2. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Taking a line from ginchy:

    Have I mentioned I love this? Really, really? Because I do!!!!!

    Off the chain female confrontation there =D= =D= Mara is stellar and I just love her to bits! [face_love]

    Her beautifully rough and protective edges :* :*

    Ben's giving his mommy the 'best blossom' awww. :D
    K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku likes this.
  3. Jedi_Lover Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 1, 2004
    star 5
    I think I would have shot her when she said she doesn't need Mara's permission to see Luke. True, it is a free galaxy, but married men who wish to stay married usually don't meet up with exes if it irritates their spouse.

    I probably wouldn't have even talked to her. I would have grabbed up Ben and admonished him for talking to strangers and left.
    Gemma and Nyota's Heart like this.
  4. taramidala Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 18, 1999
    star 4
    Mara definitely let her off easy there. WEAK! :p
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  5. Gemma Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Dec 25, 2013
    star 3
    I think Mara let Callista off easy because Ben was there. I loved it when Ben gave her the flower.
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  6. Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Feb 25, 2010
    star 5
    I think Mara - and all of us - would have preferred that.

    I just love Mara's no bantha-shavit attitude towards Callista. And I love that Ben saved the prettiest blossom for Mara, so freaking adorable!
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  7. JediMaster_Jen Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 3, 2002
    star 4
    Callista's audacity at asking Mara if she could trust her had my eyes bugging out of my head. :eek:

    Loved Ben picking the prettiest flower for his mama. Very sweet. :)

    Well done. =D=
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  8. ginchy Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 25, 2005
    star 4
    Oh, that Callista. But, hey. Who can blame her. I'd want to see Luke, too. :p I love this conversation between the two women, but I love Ben at the end--saving the best flower for his Momma. [face_love] [face_love] @};- [face_love] [face_love]

    Have I mentioned how extremely happy I am that this fic is back????? Just checking. ;) ^:)^
    Last edited by ginchy, Aug 17, 2014
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  9. divapilot Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 30, 2005
    star 4
    I think I kinda remember this. But either way, I love it. So vividly written!
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  10. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    @Nyota's Heart - Thank you! [:D] I generally dislike women being pitted against one another, especially over a man, but for these two I think it makes sense and hopefully is not too catfighty.

    @Jedi_Lover - Yeah, Callista was being pretty unreasonable there, but in her defence I think she was pretty shocked to learn about Mara being married to Luke and having a child with him.

    @taramidala - [face_laugh] You know when I first wrote this I was actually concerned that Mara was being too aggressive.

    @Gemma - True - Mara wouldn't want to make a scene in front of Ben, especially when he thought he'd found a new friend.

    @Briannakin - Mara would definitely prefer a lightsaber battle to a chat with any of Luke's old girlfriends!

    @JediMaster_Jen - Callista is a bit audacious - although from her point of view, they have a past and she has every right to see him.

    @ginchy - I bet Callista regretted leaving Luke. I mean, it's LUKE! :p One does not simply break up with Luke Skywalker.

    @divapilot - Thanks! It is an old fic, indeed.

    I'm glad everyone liked Ben giving Mara the prettiest flower @};- He loves his Mama.
    Last edited by JadeLotus, Aug 18, 2014
  11. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    Jedi Praxeum, Yavin IV. 12 ABY.


    She'd just stopped by to deliver a message. What Mara couldn't figure out - and what was beginning to annoy her greatly - was why everyone was looking at her so strangely. True enough, her own training was incomplete, but that was no reason for the Jedi and their trainees to treat her like some Force-pariah. She was not the one who had lost the ability to touch the Force, after all.

    Which was one of the reasons she had regretted letting Skywalker talk her into staying longer at his Sith-forsaken academy. Although it had given her a small amount of satisfaction seeing Callista eating alone, detached from the other students. She did not lookmas though she belonged there.

    Mara had met Callista - briefly - when she came to the rescue on the Eye of Palpatine, but Mara had spent much of the trip back to Coruscant avoiding her - and Luke, for that matter.

    Mara didn't know what had possessed her to sit beside the woman. She certainly didn't have any real desire to speak with her. Although she had come to see Skywalker as an... ally, she supposed, that feeling did not extend to whomever he chose to bed. It wasn't as if she had any particular interest in Skywalker's personal life, anyway.

    Maybe it was simply that she preferred to suffer a few minutes with Callista than be stuck with the throng of Skywalker's starry-eyed acolytes. The lesser of two evils, she surmised. But there had been that small, niggling uncertainty around Callista's presence. Mara hated not knowing where she stood. It was unnecessary, perhaps, but she needed Callista to know her - even if only to know that she meant nothing to her.

    'So, you're Skywalker's new lady?'

    The delivery had been perfect - a balanced mix of scorn and apathy. As if Callista was simply the latest in a long line of Luke's lovers. Of course, Mara knew that not to be the truth, and chances were Callista did too. But the words had accomplished their purpose. Mara had her place, and now Callista knew it. That was until...

    'I've also heard hints you may have been interested in Luke yourself at one time.'

    It hadn't just been the stew that had caused the bitter, ugly feeling in Mara's mouth. It hurt even worse, now. To have Callista think that she was... interested... in Skywalker... it was the most ridiculous thing she'd ever heard. Anger burned within Mara as she stalked resolutely toward her ship. The nerve that woman had, insinuating there may have been more between her and Luke than... well, mild distaste and resigned acceptance. He saw her as no more than a potential student. She saw him as... well, the truth was, Mara wasn't exactly sure how she saw him anymore. Perhaps that was what made Callista's words so much harder to shake off.

    Skywalker was... Skywalker. The insufferable, self-righteous Farmboy turned Jedi Master. She certainly didn't count him among her friends. His ill-timed lectures on the Force and off-centre sense of humour irritated her more than anything else. But... he had helped her overcome the Emperor's zealous control over her mind. He'd shown her kindness and acceptance when she'd done nothing to deserve it. He had always been there when she'd needed him, even if it was just someone to... be with. Someone who didn't see her as the former-Emperor's Hand, or the successful trader. Skywalker always seemed to look past that. The feeling was comforting. And she couldn't deny that he'd taught her a great deal about the Force.

    But then he said something, did something, that made her hate him all over again.

    "Mara!"

    She heard the call from the other side of the hanger, clear and crisp across the distance. Mara squared her shoulders and kept walking, a bit more briskly. But it only took a few seconds for him to cross the space and snag her elbow, causing her to stop. Mara snuck a look at him, but did not turn around. He must have run to reach her but, insufferably, he showed no signs of it. No sweat on his brow, no irregular breathing to indicate he'd just sprinted across the jungle.

    Mara cleared her throat. "Skywalker."

    Probably realising she wasn't about to face him head on, Luke twisted on his feet until he was standing in front of her. There was a small, accommodating smile on his face. "You promised me a few hours, Jade," he said, with a hint of a reprimand in his tone.

    "Once again, Skywalker, you misappropriate my words." She looked at his confused, narrowing eyes and sighed dramatically. "I said I would grab a quick meal and then get out of here. I've done that."

    "Yes, well... " Luke folded his arms defiantly. "I had hoped that meal would be eaten in my presence."

    "Ah, but you didn't stipulate that in your demands." Mara felt the beginnings of a smile work their way onto her face.

    Luke grinned in return. "I'll make sure to ask Leia to teach me some proper negotiation skills, then."

    "That might help." Mara felt her resolve to leave fade away, her smile broadening at the mischievous look on his face. "I'll be expecting a better opponent next time."

    "So there will be a next time?" Luke leaned in slightly towards her, a glint of hope in his eye. "You know it means a lot to me when you come here. I realise... that it's not your favourite place to be."

    "Well, I told you Skywalker, there are times I do look forward to seeing you." Mara mirrored his action, leaning in close to him. "Don't do anything to dissuade my opinion and... in all probability, there may be a next time."

    Luke's smile softened. "Good." His voice was almost a whisper. They were standing so close that Mara could feel his gentle breathe as he spoke, could feel the warmth radiate off his body. With anyone else, she may have pulled away, kept herself distant. But with Skywalker it almost felt right.

    They stood that way for several moments, until Mara noticed the almost imperceptible darkening of his eyes. He blinked, as if waking from a dream, and coughed uncomfortably. Obviously he hadn't realised how close their bodies had been to one another, and he stepped back quickly, almost tripping in his haste to distance himself.

    "I mean... uh... good." He stumbled over the words, eyes darting everywhere except her face. "It's good to see you continuing your training. And it gives you a chance to get to know Callista."

    Mara felt the contented smile slip from her face. Carefully, she replaced it with impassiveness. Callista. The gravity of the situation she found herself in suddenly hit her. The hanger was empty, but if anyone had seen her and Skywalker, standing so close to one another... especially that weasel Kyp Durron, they would have delighted in running off to tell Callista about it. Probably adding in a few sordid details.

    No one else would understand. What had passed between them in those few moments had nothing to do with attraction. For Sith's sake, Skywalker was the last person in the galaxy she would be interested in. It had been about comfort and acceptance. A silent understanding, for Mara, at least. And perhaps an unspoken promise of friendship, something more than the way they had been dancing around each other for the past few years.

    But Luke had jumped away from her, as if they had been doing something wrong. Something unfaithful. That was what turned Mara's melancholy to anger. She glared at him. A chance to know Callista? She knew enough.

    "What have you been telling her?" Mara demanded.

    "What?" Luke seemed to have recovered from his shock and glared back at her, his hackles clearly raised by her sharp tone.

    "Callista. What did you say to her about me?" Mara folded her arms protectively across her chest. "About you and me?"

    Luke closed his eyes briefly, and Mara felt him probing at her through the Force. She brutally shoved him away from her mind.

    "Mara, I don't know what you're talking about." He opened his eyes, and she saw genuine confusion in them.

    "She seems to be under the impression that I am... interested in you," she growled out the words ruthlessly.

    "Interested?" Luke furrowed his brow. "How, as a Jedi? She knows that you no longer wish to kill me."

    Don't be so sure about that, she mused. At any other time, she might find his naiveté amusing, but dark emotions burned within her. "Interested in the way you are interested in her, Skywalker."

    "Oh." Comprehension dawned on Luke's face, followed by panic, and finally, disbelief. "That's ridiculous, Mara."

    "I know that. Only a fool would be interested in you, Skywalker." She ignored the wince her comment brought to his already tense face. "What I want to know is how she came to that conclusion."

    Luke's hand came up to scratch his neck in contemplation. He was calm, despite her harsh words and angered disposition.

    "It couldn't have been anything I said to her, Mara. I've only told her that you are my friend, about your potential as a Jedi."

    "And about the Emperor? I'm sure she was delighted to hear about that." Mara's tone broke slightly.

    "No!" Luke looked horrified. "What you've told me in confidence, Mara, about your past life... I would never betray you like that." His eyes pleaded with her to believe him.

    "Then, how... "

    "Come on, Mara," he took a tentative step towards her. "You know those hologossipers. They've been rumours about us all over the press for years."

    Mara felt the first wave of calm permeate her. What he was saying made sense. The holopress had started writing about them after Wayland, including her less than savory past. Whenever there was a lack of excitement in the galaxy, they seemed to recycle the story, complete with new and often doctored images of them together. She'd learnt to ignore it.

    "Or maybe it was Han," Luke continued, stepping ever closer to her an touching her and touching her upper arm lightly. "You know how he likes to stir people up."

    Mara nodded, once, signalling her acceptance. Her anger drained away as quickly as it had appeared, though some of the bitter resentment remained, sequestered in that hidden place of her heart.

    "I don't care what people think of me, Skywalker," she told him, her tone noticeably softer. "I just... "

    Luke smiled softly at her, and ran his hand up her arm to rest on her shoulder. "I know, Mara." He stared intently into her eyes and squeezed her shoulder lightly. "I know."

    But their peace was short-lived, as Luke's gaze flittered to the mouth of the hanger, and his smile broadened. Mara turned to see the quickly approaching form of Callista, and she shirked away from Luke's gentle touch. She glanced towards her ship, but Skywalker's body effectively cut off her escape route. She would have to face the woman again.

    Callista reached them quickly, and it pleased Mara to note that she was slightly out of breath. Without so much as a glance at her, Callista thrust herself into Luke's arms, a coquettish smile on her face.

    "The students were wondering where the Master was," she said, her voice falsely playful.

    "I'm sure he's around somewhere," Luke smiled, bringing an arm around her. It was enough to make Mara feel ill. She began to move, hoping to slip by them unnoticed, but Callista's sharp eyes halted her.

    "Leaving so soon, Mara Jade?" she asked, moving closer to Luke's side. Staking her claim, Mara deduced.

    "I have more important places to be," Mara said stiffly.

    A twisted smile crossed Callista's face. "Like in the company of Lando Calrissian?" There was an undercurrent of a sneer to her voice.

    "Callista," Luke warned softly. "Mara's private life is her own." But Mara noticed him flinch at the mention of Lando's name. She was intrigued by the obvious disproval of the rumours about her and Calrissian. Mara wondered why he hadn't asked her about them. Well, Mara wasn't going to do anything to dissuade his opinion, although she'd told Callista the truth.

    "He’s certainly more entertaining company than the lot you have here," she shot back, giving Luke the benefit of a long, distasteful look.

    "I suppose it would be hard for someone like you to understand," Callista said with mock sympathy.

    "Someone like me?" Mara raised an amused eyebrow.

    "Your Imperial ties are hardly a secret in the New Republic," Callista added. "I suppose a place like this, so strong with the Force you seem to have abandoned - it would bother you to be here."

    "Callista!" Luke admonished her again, before Mara could respond. He turned towards her, silently pleading with Mara not to snap back at his lover, to remind her of her own painful loss in the Force and the pain that’s he was likely projection onto Mara.

    Mara tried to make herself believe that she simply didn't care. She forced a smirk onto her face. "Well, I may have been wrong about you being entertaining, Callista." She nodded to Luke. "Skywalker. I'm afraid that the next time we were talking about may be later rather than sooner." With that, she turned and stalked resolutely towards her ship, leaving the couple behind.

    No, she wouldn't be coming to Yavin anytime soon, not while Callista was still around. She never wanted to be on the same planet as that woman again.


    ****************************************

    Luke watched sadly as the small ship disappeared into the atmosphere. Mara Jade's visits always seemed too brief. He lamented her reluctance to train fully as a Jedi with him, but a far more acute pain was brought by the loss of her presence itself. Once he was able to get past her durasteel mask, the core of Mara Jade was brilliance itself, pulsating with life, light and the Force. He just wished she would open herself up more to him, but occasions where she allowed her mask to slip were few and far between. But Luke promised himself that, eventually, he would make it past all of her barriers.

    Callista wiggled slightly in his arms, seemingly bored with his silent contemplation. "I don't understand why you spend so much energy on her, Luke," she said finally, turning her cloudy grey eyes towards him.

    Luke sighed. It was difficult for the outsider to understand his relationship with Mara. There was trust, loyalty and camaraderie. Yes, even friendship, but it was tempered with resistance, antagonism and perhaps even a little fear. Luke knew that she feared the power he could wield if he chose to, and what he could become. Maybe that was what caused her to pull away from him so violently, to reject the connection they could have. He wasn't quite sure of the connection they'd just experienced himself. He wasn't exactly sure what had made him pull away so forcefully. Or why she had become so angry.

    Mara Jade was not an easy woman to understand, or care for. Callista, on the other hand, made it very easy. She allowed his affection and love, returning it openly. He pulled her close, and kissed her cropped hair. "It's hard to explain, Callista. Mara and I have been through a lot together." He turned his gaze back towards the sky.

    "And we haven't?" Callista's tone was indignant.

    Running his free hand through his hair, Luke sighed again. "It's just different with Mara."

    "Because she served the Emperor?"

    Luke whipped his gaze down towards his lover.

    "People talk around this Academy, Luke," she answered his unspoken question. "I know all about her."

    "Then you understand why it's so difficult for her," Luke hoped that she would begin to see things his way and accept Mara the way he had.

    "It should be difficult for her, Luke," Callista turned in his arm and brought both of her hands to cup his face. "You're good. You have the purest spirit I've ever known, full of kindness and compassion. It seems such a waste to spend it on her."

    Reluctantly, Luke pulled back from Callista's firm hold. "I don't see any kind of compassion as a waste," he said firmly.

    "She killed people, Luke," Callista insisted.

    "So have I." Luke regarded her, his eyes softening. "Many more than I am comfortable with."

    "That was different, Luke. You were on the right side," Callista took a step towards him, stretching her arms out again.

    "And who decides what's right, Callista? The Jedi, the Sith?" He eyes her coolly. "Mara has been a friend to me for a long time. She's a good person. I know if you'd look past your prejudices, you'd see that." Luke gently stepped towards her, surprised to see sudden tears in her eyes. What was it exactly that had caused this friction between the two women? Mara had reacted to Callista just as violently.

    "I'm sorry Luke," Callista finally spoke, turning a teary gaze towards him. "I forget how different you are from other people." She smiled softly at him. "I love you for that." Her hands wandered up his chest, coming to rest on his shoulders. "The important thing is to focus on me finding the Force again," she continued. "Nothing else matters."

    Gently kissing her forehead, Luke pulled her into a loose embrace. She clung to him tightly, burrowing her head into the soft cloth of his cloak. Luke brought his arms to rest lightly on her back, suddenly troubled. Quietly holding her, Luke pondered the ramifications of this change between them, their altered sense of peace.

    He loved Callista. Then why did he feel such uneasiness in his heart?
  12. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Ooh, and LOL on Mara's reflecting on how 'irritating' Luke can be - uh-huh. (And attractive etc.) [face_mischief]

    Loved the L/M scene. Very nice with the undercurrents.

    You can feel the 'almost-thereness' of their feelings. Friendship on the brink of yay! [face_love]

    L/C -- :eek: Very IC for this time and place, but I also know what has shattered their peace -- Mara ... I think he's been a little bit more or less in love with her since hey maybe Myrkr [face_laugh] but for various reasons hasn't gotten wise to that yet. [face_thinking]

    =D=
  13. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    @Nyota's Heart - Mara's deep in the river of De Nile, here :p I think Luke had feelings for Mara at the end of TTT, but never acted on them and they just fell by the wayside and he told himself it was just friendship. At this point, he very clearly did love Callista, but he still cared about Mara a great deal

    _____



    Skywalker Apartment, Coruscant 32 ABY.



    The woman in the mirror stared back at her, judging, criticising. It was not the face that Mara Jade remembered. All of her significant features were still there, the red hair, the green eyes, the athletic build and strong face with high cheekbones and an angular jaw. But they all were slightly altered, slightly off-centre from the woman she had been. There were a few more grey strands among the red masses of her hair. Her eyes, too, had darkened slightly, and for the first time, she saw how much of her age she carried there. A few, small wrinkles creased her mouth when she smiled, marking the otherwise taut skin. Years of continued exercise and activity meant she had maintained her trim, fit figure, which kept her satisfied enough. But there was the small excess of skin around her belly, where it had stretched during her pregnancy to accommodate her son. No amount of lightsaber practice had seemed sufficient to get rid of that. Leia had told her with sympathy that she may never lose it. Not at her age.

    It wasn't that Mara thought of herself as old, in the same way she didn't think of Luke or Leia as old. Han perhaps. He had a few good years on the lot of them. True, Luke's hair had become streaked with distinguished veins of grey, and he always complained playfully that he was going to end up looking like Ben Kenobi in a few years, but he wasn't old. Not in the way he held himself, free from any slump or slouch that indicated deteriorating muscles or a defeated, resigned attitude. His cerulean eyes still burned with the youthful, reckless passion she had seen when they had first met. In Mara's heart and mind, they were both as young as they had ever been.

    Which was different from maturity, she supposed. Mara wondered at the woman she had become, and knew that the changes she had undergone were much deeper than the physical. She wondered what had made her pause at the mirror, she wondered how it was possible that she had come this far, to be a wife, a mother, a Jedi Master. All the years had passed by in mere moments, to her mind.

    Ben was in his room, quietly sitting by himself, thinking. He did that so much, and Mara couldn't deny that it unsettled her. He wasn't playing with his toys, or watching a holovid. He was just sitting. Luke had said it was nothing to worry about. He had spent much of his solitary childhood the same way, he had told her. Mara thought differently. As a boy, Luke didn't have a lot of other choices. He didn't have many toys, or other children to play with. Ben did. And he chose to sit in contemplation, unwilling to be disturbed or distracted. Then other times, he would be alive, bounding around with excess energy. His actions in Tionne's office had been a prime example - when they'd finally made it there.


    "Ben," Mara called wearily, "Put that down, it's fragile." Ben had only clutched the intricate figurine closer, studying the detailed carvings on the base.

    "That's alright, Mara," Tionne had cut in gently. "I'm sure he won't break it."

    Mara snorted. "History disagrees with you." She had long ago learnt to keep anything breakable from Ben's reach. He had quick reflexes, but all too often he was distracted by something else and forgot about the treasure in his hands. And the particular one in Ben's hands happened to be an irreplaceable Rindaon artifact. Mara walked swiftly across the room and gently plucked the figurine from Ben's grasp, putting it on a shelf out of his reach. His lower lip quivered for a moment, and Mara could already see the tears forming in his eyes. She knew the warning signs for a full-blown tantrum, and quickly searched for something to occupy him with.

    From within the fold of her robe, Mara produced a small puzzle box that Luke had made before he'd left. The small wooden slabs slid around the base, and if pushed correctly, would form an image based on the intricate carvings. She'd meant to give it to Ben earlier, but it had slipped her mind. Grateful for its presence, Mara thrust it at the whimpering child. Immediately his eyes lit up and his previous mood was forgotten. Relief flooded through Mara as she showed Ben how to work it, and he plonked himself on the floor murmuring quietly to himself.

    Mara returned to her seat at Tionne's desk, and the Jedi smiled gently at her. "Thank the Force for small blessings?"

    Mara nodded vigorously. "Now, what were you saying about the Academy?" She was eager to get the meeting over with before Ben figured out the puzzle box.

    Straightening in her chair, Tionne resumed her professional tone. "Chief of State Omas is pressuring us to train as many potential Jedi to Knighthood as we are able. Unfortunately, his ideas on possible and ours are somewhat different."

    Mara nodded again. "He wants as many 'servants' of the government out there as there were during the days of the Old Republic."

    "Precisely." Tionne picked up her datapad. "I have told him that is an impossible task. Studying the figures available to me, there are simply not enough fully trained Jedi or Masters among us who are willing or able to take on apprentices."

    "I know that Jaina isn't exactly keen," Mara added. "And we have agreed that one on one training is essential."

    "Something the Chief of State does not fully appreciate," Tionne grimaced.

    "I assume he wants some sort of pompous en masse promotion for all the apprentices, whether they're ready or not?" Mara felt a sense of foreboding fill her.

    "Something like that." The expression of Tionne's face was no more optimistic. "Unfortunately, I'm afraid he may only listen to Master Skywalker."

    "Luke does seem to be the only one who can talk sense into him," Mara agreed.

    "Have you heard from him on Kuat?" Tionne inquired. "I have not received any communication on the status of his mission."

    "We haven't either." Mara's mouth twitched. It was unlike Luke to go so long without contacting her. She knew if anything had happened to him, she would have felt it, but she worried more these days. She preferred to have her family all on the same planet. "I'm sure this can wait until he returns, though."

    "I wanted to keep you informed, regardless." Tionne's sharp eyes roamed over her, and Mara could tell she had sensed the change in her mood. "Are you alright, Mara? You seem... unsettled."

    Mara wanted to tell her - tell anyone about Callista's appearance, to unload her troubles and seek advice, but she decided against it. It wouldn't be fair to Luke.

    "I'm fine," she answered Tionne. "Just... fine."


    But she wasn't fine. Mara was agitated, cagey. The woman in the mirror stared back at her skeptically. The rational part of her mind to her it was ridiculous to be insecure, to be so anxious about Callista's reappearance. Even if she had come back hoping to rekindle a relationship with Luke, Mara shouldn't feel the need to worry about anything. If there was anything she could ever be sure of, it was Luke's love for her. But there was that small, niggling voice that refused to be silenced.

    They hadn't really spoken about Callista after they'd been married. She'd never asked, and Luke certainly hadn't been forthcoming with information. For Mara she had never been an issue, she had been dead to both of them. However having her on Coruscant, very much alive and well, and asking to see Luke... it disturbed Mara more than she cared to admit.

    The insistent beeping of her comm unit forced Mara out of her introspection. A faint tingling went up her spine...she knew it had to be Luke.

    *************************

    Callista walked blindly through the streets of Coruscant, pulling her cloak firmly around her shivering body. Night had fallen, but the never-ending stream of neon lights from the buildings lit her way. She ignored the world around her, rushing through the crowds and through the back streets to the apartment she had rented.

    She couldn't deny it. While her reason for returning to Coruscant had more to do with the Jedi than Luke Skywalker, she had hoped that, after all these years... That he, perhaps, was as lonely as she was. That he could forgive her for leaving him so callously, so abruptly and, maybe... start again.

    That seemed an impossible dream, now. Married, with a child. Callista couldn't help but lament over the fact that she was not the wife he cherished, who he had pledged to spend his life with. Callista had felt ice grip her heart when she'd seen Ben.

    "Scuse me."

    Callista had been enjoying the peace of the gardens when a small boy, running too quickly for his own good, saved himself before he crashed into her leg. She smiled at his politeness, and he turned his gaze upwards, craning his neck to see her properly. She was shocked by the colour, the depth of his eyes, and more important the familiarity of them.

    The child's face creased as he grinned, which only strengthened her suspicions. She'd known only one other person who could smile so endearingly.

    "Hello," she greeted the child warmly. "Aren't you a little young to be here by yourself?" A quick scan of the surrounding area did not reveal any other presence.

    A small flash of guilt crossed the child's face briefly, before being smothered by a self-assured grin. "I know how to stay out of trouble."

    "Oh?" Callista dropped carefully to her knees, so that she was eye-level with the boy.

    "Yep," Ben raised his chin defiantly. "I can tell things about people."

    Callista felt her eyebrow raise. "How so?"

    "I can feel things," he said simply, as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.

    "And how do I feel?" Callista asked him cautiously. She knew how her lack of the Force affected others, and she didn't want to frighten he child.

    The child narrowed his eyes at her, and scrunched up his lower lip, concentrating. "You feel funny," he admitted finally.

    "Like nothing?" Callista asked him sadly.

    "No." The boy's eyes peered into hers again. "You feel like a cloudy day. When the sun is hiding."

    Callista felt something twinge in her heart, but it was not as painful as she had felt before. It was something she had not felt in a long time. Acceptance, perhaps. Human contact - understanding, rather than ignorance.

    "My name is Callista," she said, smiling sweetly at him.

    She received another broad grin. "I'm Ben Skywalker."

    So easily, he could have been her own child. With hair that glinted a golden malt rather than red in the sun. It hurt her deeply to remember that she had so flippantly thrown away that possibility. She and Luke had spoken of marriage, in those blissful days on Yavin IV. And children.

    She'd been so naive then, so consumed by her own, ludicrous quest to find the Force again. It had not occurred to her that she may be missing out on something, that she was letting opportunity pass her by. She'd been obsessed, devoted to the one thing that she believed would bring her happiness again, but had only brought about her gradual decomposition. The destruction of her life.

    For years she had followed the Force, but it had led her astray. That, or her own hopeless dreams. Her Master had once told her that one could not view life through the window of a cockpit, staring ahead into hyperspace. If she focussed too heavily on her eventual goal, her destination, she would pass by too many important things. She would not be able to see what was happening around her, behind her.

    The advice came back to her, after another fruitless quest. She had followed some flimsy lead, a scrap of obtuse Jedi lore, and once again it had ended in failure. By then she knew she would not find the answers, but continued on. She knew that something would die inside of her if she gave up, if she accepted defeat. Callista wondered if that was what she was choking on now. Capitulation to that higher Force, that fate she had always claimed to serve.

    It tasted so bitter.

    Knowing that she could have had a child by Luke Skywalker, had a dozen children by him. She had been too selfish, then, too hungry for the Force, for the life of a Jedi, to marry the man she'd loved so deeply. To tell him that they could not risk having a child together, for fear of him being without the Force as she was. She'd been too blinded, too fixated out the cockpit window, to realise that he'd never cared about that. That love, not the Force, was paramount to him. It hurt Callista to live now, knowing she would never be that love to him again. Knowing that the role had been coveted and achieved by another.

    She had never hated Mara Jade, although it might have appeared differently. She had envied her terribly. It seemed ludicrous, to be so insecure about the woman, when Luke had pledged his unconditional love to Callista. It was the connection between them, the bond in the Force that even a child could have realised, that hurt Callista the most. That a former Imperial assassin, the very people she had, in her other life, died fighting against, could have such a union with Luke. One that Callista herself could never have again.

    Her pain had turned to jealously, twisted into some unnatural resentment. Something that had not lessened over the years. Callista would not allow herself to become angry - she could never permit such danger within herself - but the pain, the throbbing ache within her would always be there. The part that told her Mara Jade was simply not worthy of a man such as Luke, not good enough to bear his child. Not worthy for that child to look at her with such love, such adoration...

    The chill in the air seeped into her skin as Callista reached her rented apartment, a dingy, dirty excuse for a living space. It didn't even have a window to view the stars from. She was alone, save for the vicious sounds of brawling from the neighbouring clubs. Of the smell of cleaning fluid that didn't actually seem to sterilise anything at all.

    In the darkness, Callista Ming wept for her lost hope.

    ***************************

    "Luke?" Mara drank in the holographic presence of her husband, eagerly tracing every line, every contour of his face and body the static image presented. He grinned at her adorably as her voice carried over the voice between them. Even though he was light-years away, too far to properly touch her with the Force without exertion, she still felt a glow fill her. A fortifying of the Luke-place in the back of her mind.

    "Mara," he said, his smile fading into an apologetic crease. "I'm sorry I haven't contacted you sooner."

    Mara grunted, her pleasure at seeing him twisting into a strange satisfaction at seeing him suffer, just a little. He'd left her hanging, so to speak. "More important things to do, Farmboy?" She asked with the appropriate amount of smarm in her tone.

    Her husband's grin returned. "Well, Han did make a point to mention all of the good drinking spots in this system... "

    "All high class establishments, I’m sure," Mara said curtly, the beginnings of a smile tugging at the side of her mouth.

    "Jealous?" Luke said in an exaggerated drawl.

    "Of you, Farmboy? Never." Mara smiled smugly at him as Luke chuckled amiably. It was these pleasant, playful moments that almost made Mara wish she wasn't married to the galaxy's most influential Jedi Master. That they spend these moments together, rather than through a tentative communications system. That she could feel his laugh, feel his breath against her ear, feel the movements in his chest as it constricted and relaxed. Pushing the thought aside, Mara's concentration refocused on Luke. Inter-stellar communications were not cheap.

    "How goes the mission then?" A businesslike tone flooded her voice.

    "Quite well," Luke answered placidly. "There are a surprising amount of Force-sensitives here, mostly around Ben's age or a bit younger."

    "We can thank the end of the war for that," Mara added. "Not only is there the massive rise in the birth rate, people are more willing to admit to their potential in the Force."

    "Or their children's." Luke nodded back at her. "We have found many promising students, and most with enthusiastic families."

    Mara felt her smile become slightly sardonic. "And dare I ask how Master Durron is faring?"

    "You know Kyp." Luke smiled. "Out to prove himself, as always. He's become quite a hero to some of the locals."

    "He didn't pull that flashy, obnoxious, walking-on-fire trick, did he?" Mara smirked.

    "Funny. He's actually shown quite a bit of promise in his teaching. I'll think he'll be prepared to take on another apprentice, soon."

    "Speaking of which," Mara began, remembering her earlier conversation with Tionne. "Omas seems to have taken an interest in the way the new Academy will be run. Apparently, we won't be churning them out fast enough." Mara felt a twinge of acrimony run through her.

    Luke sighed, running his hand wearily across his face in newfound frustration. "Just one of many problems awaiting me when I return?"

    "Unless you're planning on retirement," Mara answered dryly.

    "That doesn't seem too likely." Luke conceded. "Can I say hello to Ben?"

    Mara cast a glance to the closed door of Ben's bedroom. "I don't think now's a good time," she said reluctantly. It would be disappointing for Luke not to be able to see his son. "He's in one of his 'thinking' moods."

    "I understand," a wave of sadness passed over Luke's face. "I don't want to disturb him. I'll be home in a few days."

    "Good," Mara said resolutely. Their separation had been long enough.

    "Ah," a mischievous twinkle formed in Luke's eye. "Does Mara Jade actually admit to missing me? To perhaps, needing me?"

    "Just hurry home, you nerf."

    Luke smiled sweetly. "I love you."

    The communication ended, and Mara couldn't help but feel slightly bereft. It then occurred to her that she'd not mentioned Callista to him at all.
    Gemma and K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku like this.
  14. ginchy Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 25, 2005
    star 4
    I love Mara's caginess here, how she's not quite sure how to feel. I love her contemplating her age, because truly nothing makes you feel your age as much as a rambunctious child! She's protective of her family and feels off-balance and you've shown that so well. As for Callista, I think you've also shown a side to her that I never would have thought about (there's another piece to that upcoming but I won't mention it for the spoilers). Of course, I don't spend much time thinking about Callista. :p But with having a new life, wasting her time chasing after the Force does seem to be foolhardy, when the Force has given her a second chance at life. I guess the title doesn't only pertain to Luke and Mara, then. Just perfect. [face_love]
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  15. Jedi_Lover Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Nov 1, 2004
    star 5
    I dislike Callista intensely. I guess you have a way to make characters come alive on paper because all I want to do is make Callista dead while reading this fic. Ack!

    Nice update!
    Last edited by Jedi_Lover, Aug 20, 2014
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  16. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    How I loved Mara's musings on Callista and her later talk with Luke, so full of teasing and warmth. :D

    The Callista scene - well written. You get into her head very well, which is quite an accomplishment for a Mara fan. LOL ;)

    =D=
  17. Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Feb 25, 2010
    star 5
    Ah! I got behind. Wonderful chapters! I LOVE that last conversation between Mara and Luke! It captures their marriage perfectly!
    Gemma and Nyota's Heart like this.
  18. JediMaster_Jen Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 3, 2002
    star 4
    I very much dislike Callista, but you do write her character very well. Love the Luke and Mara scenes. Very well done. =D=
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  19. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    Ha - you remember well! :p Even though I generally dislike Callista, I kind of feel sorry for her because what happened to her is a bit messed up. Yeah it was creepy the way she took over Cray's body and she was totally wrong for Luke but she wasn't evil and I wanted to get into her head a bit.

    [face_laugh] I don't hate her, but her fixation on needing the Force to be with Luke was an annoying character trait - she did come across as a bit of a snob, at least in Darksaber.

    Thanks! :D I think this time is a very comfortable point in their marriage. Like I said, I don't hate Callista, I just think she had very bad judgement and didn't really understand or appreciate Luke.

    Thank you! I do enjoy writing some husband-wife banter :D

    Thank you! I've only ever written Callista for this fic and she's more of a catalyst for Luke and Mara to work out their own issues, but I do think she got dealt a bit of a raw deal. To be honest I wonder why they didn't just kill her off rather than have her disappear and leave things unresolved.
  20. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    Calrissian Apartment, Kessel Station. 12 ABY



    The decor was pleasing, she had to admit. Kessel Station had originally been an Imperial facility, but surprisingly, Lando had managed to disguise that fact rather well. The style of the apartment was flashy and ostentatious and not at all to her particular tastes. But certainly to Lando's, and using a fairly objective eye, Mara rather approved of Calrissian's accommodations.

    "I still find it hard to believe you're actually living here," Mara called out to him.

    A resonating chuckle came from the other room. "Well, my dear, someone has to keep an eye on our little investment," Lando said as he appeared in the doorway, two half-full glasses in his hand. "Your dedication to the Smuggler's Alliance is admirable, but I fear one of us has to be on the front lines." He handed her one of the beverages which she quickly identified as Corellian whiskey.

    "Why do our meetings always start off with you attempting to liquor me up?" Mara eyed the amber liquid skeptically.

    Lando cocked a dark eyebrow and took a seat on the chaise opposite her. "You would impugn my honour in such a way, Jade?"

    "Yes."

    He laughed heartily and leaned back into his seat. "That's what I like about you, Jade. Sharp as a bantha tusk."

    Mara ignored the comment, and threw back her whiskey, enjoying the way it burned her throat. She'd been feeling so numb, lately.

    Lando gave her an amused look and took a tentative sip of his own. "So, here for business, Jade?" He cocked a smile at her. "Or pleasure?"

    Mara scowled at him. "The only pleasure I could have with you, Calrissian, involves a blaster, a dark alley and no witnesses."

    An insufferable cackling was her only answer. Mara imagined Lando had started drinking before she arrived. She sighed, and pressed her shoulders back against her high-backed chair. It was going to be one of those nights.

    "Come'on, Jade," Lando drawled, raising his glass towards her. "I've been talking business all day."

    "I'm not one for pleasantries, Calrissian, you know that," she said sharply.

    "It was one of the first things I noticed about you, Mara." He sipped casually at his drink. "No preamble, just straight to the bare, naked truth," he tilted a suggestive eyebrow at her. "I like that in a woman."

    Mara rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to get anything out of you tonight, am I?"

    "Depends what you want."

    Mara gave him a harsh look, and raised abruptly to her feet. There was a time when she would have left the apartment without a word. But as much as she riled against it, Mara found that she had grown used to Lando's affectionate innuendo. She tolerated it, because she knew he would never take it further than words, not if she didn't encourage it. A part of her actually enjoyed sharpening his wits against his playful insinuations.

    Mara found herself heading towards Lando's kitchen, or more specifically, to the counter on which a mostly-full bottle of Corellian whiskey rested. She found herself pouring another healthy glass of the potent drink. After a moment's contemplation, she picked up the bottle itself, bringing it back into Lando's living room. Sexual overtones aside, she didn't intently dislike his company. And tonight, perhaps - she needed to be with someone who didn't expect anything from her.

    As she re-entered the room, Mara almost smiled at the slightly shocked look to his face. But he quickly smothered it with a charming grin. She placed the whiskey on the glass table in front of him, but remained standing.

    "Challenging me to a drinking competition, Jade?" Lando said teasingly.

    "Hardly," she quipped. "As much as I'd like to see you cowering in defeat... " she added as an afterthought.

    "My dear, a gentlemen never cowers," Lando puffed out his chest and raised his glass in a salute.

    "So you wouldn't have a problem with it, then?" She smothered a smile and turned towards the room-length transparisteel window behind her. It certainly was the crowing jewel of the apartment. It added such ambience, the stars glistening over the smoky, mine-marred planet.

    "If I didn't know better, Mara," Lando continued, and she could hear the comfortable teasing in his voice. "I would say all of this blatant hostility was masking an undeniable attraction on your part."

    Mara merely grunted, taking another sip of the strong alcohol.

    "So how is Luke?"

    Mara stiffened at the name, and the sudden change in topic. What had made him bring up Skywalker? Slowly, she turned back to face Lando.

    "What?" she asked, deliberately keeping her emotions in check.

    "Word is that you've seen him recently."

    Mara folded her arms across her chest, gazing at him skeptically. "And whose word would that be?"

    Lando said nothing, and smiled secretively into his drink.

    "I see." She pursed her lips. "I suppose I can round down the list of suspects to that good-for-nothing Solo."

    "I saw him on Coruscant last week, in fact." Lando swirled his drink nonchalantly.

    "Then why didn't you ask him how Skywalker is?" Mara wasn't sure if she liked where this conversation seemed to be headed.

    "I did." Lando smiled smugly. "Han said he'd only just left, with a certain ravishing beauty in tow."

    "If you dare say 'the blonde with the legs'... " Mara growled.

    "Not to worry my dear," he looked up at her sweetly. "You know I only have eyes for you."

    "I'm sure."

    Lando leaned forward casually to refill his glass. "Han did happen to mention Luke saying you'd paid him a visit on Yavin."

    "Hardly a newsworthy event," Mara commented.

    "Yes, but from what I hear, things were not exactly... harmonious... between the two of you."

    "Is nothing is sacred over Sabacc?" Mara shook her head in frustration. "Smugglers are the galaxy's worst gossip-mongers."

    "Including yourself in that broad analysis, Jade?" Lando smirked at her.

    Mara clenched her fists and turned away from him again. "What happens between me and Skywalker is none of your business," she said coolly.

    "I think you're jealous."

    Mara whirled around to face him again, emotions reeling from the accusation. "What?" A familiar anger started the bubble within her.

    "Jealous, Jade," Lando sat passively, as if his words were not having the slightest effect on her.

    "I've heard some ludicrous things come out of that mouth of yours, Calrissian," She kept her voice even. "But you've outdone yourself."

    Lando kept grinning inanely at her. "Come'on, Mara. Everyone knows that you are partial to Luke's company."

    "Perhaps everyone needs to pay a little bit more attention," Mara snapped. "And stop listening to holo-gossipers."

    "I'm not saying you're in love with him, Jade," Lando shrugged his shoulders. "But I've seen the two of you together. In your own little world," he waved his hands for emphasis. "For years, now, Luke's been hanging off your every word, grateful for any scrap of attention you give him. I'm his friend too, Mara," he reminded her. "I know these things about him." He gave her a knowledgeable nod of his head.

    "Then all of a sudden, Callista shows up... and he doesn't seem to have as much time for you anymore," Lando continued. "You feel slighted that he's not begging you for attention. After Leia, you were the most important woman in his life, and now you've been replaced." He smirked. "And you're jealous."

    Slowly, the irritation inside Mara had been building to anger at Lando's words. It flared white-hot and bubbled over.

    "I am not... jealous of that," she struggled to find the words "... ignorant, self-obsessed, Force-devoid... body snatcher!" She spat out the words like fire and they tasted acidic on her tongue.

    But Lando simply leaned his head back, and a hearty laugh escaped his lips. Mara crossed her arms, embarrassment flooding her as Lando continued to chortle.

    "Body snatcher," he chuckled to himself, shaking his head. "You're one of a kind, Jade."

    Mara sighed, allowing herself to sink into the couch near, not quite beside Lando. "I'm glad I've provided you with an evening's entertainment," she muttered, reaching forward to pour herself another drink. She threw it back quickly, and coughed at the sensation it caused in her throat.

    "But am I right?" Lando eyed her eagerly.

    Mara ignored him, staring at the way the light reflected off the crystal glass as she moved it between her hands. There had been an undercurrent of truth to Lando's words that Mara just couldn't admit to herself. She wasn't jealous - jealously was such a disfigured word, and not nearly enough to describe how she felt. In fact, if Mara was honest with herself, she wasn't sure if she even could describe how she felt.

    "Come on, Jade. Truth time," he continued to goad her.

    "I find it hard to believe you've come up with this by yourself, Calrissian," she eventually managed to say, her voice cold. "This theory of yours has the distinct impression of Solo on it."

    Lando shrugged his shoulders and grinned wickedly. "I confess, Han did start me thinking about it. He's always had this insane hunch about the two of you."

    Mara clenched her fists. So it had been Han that had given Callista the impression about her and Luke. Briefly, she imagined what would be the quickest and easiest way to dispatch him.

    "But I did some fine tweaking myself," Lando continued proudly. "Based on observation of your fair person."

    Mara felt horribly exposed. She crossed her arms over herself protectively. She didn't know how to convince everyone of the truth, partly because she didn't know what the truth was.

    "You have to admire Luke's taste," Lando continued to speak heedlessly. "Although, from what I hear, Callista does seem a little... blank".

    "I thought you would have liked the simpering, silent type of woman," Mara found her voice, her tone grating, stumbling over the spiteful words.

    "I'm a gambler, Mara," he reminded her. "I love a challenge."

    Mara found herself turning her gaze towards the man next to her. She studied him, perhaps for the first time since they'd known each other. There was no denying that he was a handsome man. His thick crop of dark hair framed a clean-cut, rounded face, and his sensuous eyes had the ability to captivate most women. A winning smile blazed beneath his stylishly cropped moustache, perfectly straight teeth gleaming. He had the outward confidence and striking looks of a holo-star. He was attractive, that fact Mara had always known. It was just that she had never considered it relevant to anything before.

    "Personally," Lando continued, unaware of her close examination. "I can't see how Luke could notice anyone but you. Cray was a looker, that's for sure, but my dear, you have something else." He patted her leg affectionately. Mara found that she had no desire to forcibly remove the appendage.

    It would be so easy - just to press her lips to his, to forget about everything and everyone... especially Luke Skywalker. She'd done it more times than she could count in the past. When she'd been drifting from one job, one system to another in those unsure days before she's joined Karrde's organisation. Hopelessly empty from the loss of her Emperor, trying desperately to fill the void with anything she could. Men had bought her drinks willingly, and back then, she had let them. Consumed everything they had to offer - their companionship, mixed in with a haze of alcohol and self-loathing.

    It had never been enough to fill her, to heal the holes in her heart. But it had often been pleasant, even if it was only for a few brief hours. She'd been able to free herself of the past, of her memories, of the drudgery of her life. It wouldn't be any different, now.

    The treacherous thoughts within Mara had propelled her forward, closer to Lando, and she rested her hand gently on his, still on her leg. He'd stopped speaking by that point, the last compliment caught in his throat.

    Mara looked into his eyes, and noticed just how dark they were. So unlike -

    She banished the thought from her mind. That was the whole purpose of the exercise.

    "Mara... " he said softly, warily, perhaps, as he caught her intention. She leaned in closer, saying nothing. In the past, it had never been about words. It had been about instinct, about need.

    But she caught the look in his eyes, as other his hand came up to rest on her arm. His grip was firm. Halting. The suddenness of her regret flooded her, as she understood fully what she'd been about to do. Mara realised that she could never do that to herself, or to Lando. Despite appearances to the contrary, he was a good man. He had his honour, and his pride. He'd been a good friend to her, although she was loathe to admit it. She couldn't use him in this way, and he wasn't about to let her. Mara felt her insides curl around themselves and she withdrew, embarrassed.

    When Lando finally spoke, his voice was soft, and more serious than she'd ever heard it. "Despite what you may think, Mara, not everything is sport to me." He didn't look at her, his face staring stoically at the starline through the window.

    Turning away from him, Mara berated herself. She couldn't believe she had let herself slip like that. That person - she was in her past. Gone, or so Mara thought.

    "Don't think that I don't want you, Mara." His voice was steady as she coiled away from him. "You'll never know how much I... " Lando sighed softly. "But I can't be a substitute for anyone."

    She blocked his voice out, not wanting to hear his words. That made them real. Mara reached a shaking hand forward, to find comfort and inhibition in the whiskey bottle, forgotten on the table. Her slim fingers clutched the crystal neck forcefully, to halt the trembling. It was only then that she realised the bottle was empty.
    K'Tai qel Letta-Tanku likes this.
  21. Nyota's Heart Combos & Paragraphs Host

    Game Host
    Member Since:
    Aug 31, 2004
    star 6
    Superb superb =D= =D=

    First Lando's/Han's theorizing - which hit right on the mark about Mara's importance for Luke before and how she resents being 'replaced.'

    Insightful bit where Mara almost slipped back into prior patterns of 'getting along' before she joined up with Karrde.

    Really impressed by Lando's resolve not to be a 'substitute'. He even saw that much, i.e., as a genuine motive, even though Mara was probably oblivious to the fact.

    :D

    I love these back-glimpses and perfect setting-the-stage for Luke and Mara together. It really shows the process. :)
  22. JadeLotus Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Mar 27, 2005
    star 4
    @Nyota's Heart - Thank you! [face_blush] I can see Han and Lando getting drunk and playing sabacc and gossiping about all their friends! I think on some level Lando did have genuine feelings for Mara, and he was Luke's friend as well so wasn't going to get in the middle of that situation.
  23. ginchy Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 25, 2005
    star 4
    Well, you know I love our boy Lando. [face_love] I like how he tells her that he won't be a substitute and she is just not ready to deal with those thoughts. I've always loved Lando, and never really thought he and Mara could handle hanging out much together, but I always enjoy how you write them (unless you're writing the "L" in L/M as "LANDO" like you pulled on us once!!!!! :p ) I love this update and this story only keeps getting better, and better. [face_love] [face_love]
    Nyota's Heart likes this.
  24. Briannakin Grand Moff Darth Fanfic Manager

    Manager
    Member Since:
    Feb 25, 2010
    star 5
    I, strangly, really like Lando and I think you captured him very well here. He's spot on with Mara.
  25. JediMaster_Jen Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Jun 3, 2002
    star 4
    Loved the Mara/Lando exchanges. Well done. =D=
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