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.