Thank you everyone for reading and your words of encouragement. I've been recovering from surgery and have just not gotten back into writing. Special thanks to Falcon, divapilot, ginchy lee, furrylittlebantha, Nyota's Heart, Kahara, aleja2, taramidala, and Jedi_Lover for posting reviews. You guys rock! ***** Chapter # 40 Mara dropped to her knees, her head in her hands. Luke rushed to her side and whipped out another water flask. Holding it to her lips, he helped her to drink, whispering soft words of comfort. This was a side of Mara he’d never seen before. Even when she first came to them on Tatooine, she’d never radiated such hopelessness. Had to be the concussion. He settled her onto the grass and then took a drink himself. “How’s your head?” She looked up at him, her eyes squinting. “Hurts like the seventh bowel of Borreli.” “That bad…” Luke capped the flask and reached a hand out pulling Mara to her feet. “We’ve got to get someplace where I can put you into a healing trance.” He reached into his pack and pulled out a hypospray. “This will help a little, but we can’t afford to put you totally under.” Mara nodded, bearing her arm. “We can go to our apartment about 2 ½ clicks southeast of here.” Luke pressed the spray against her arm until it hissed. Stuffing the hypo back into his pack, he began to strip off his orange flight suit revealing a black shirt and shorts. He retrieved his weapon belt, looping it around his waist and reattaching his lightsaber. “Imperial guards will be searching, how secure is the building?” “We leased under false names and made sure it couldn’t be traced back to our current aliases. ‘Course it’s only a matter of time before they start a residence search. We might have a few hours.” “A few is all we need.” He wrapped his arm around Mara’s waist and used the Force to help her forward. “Which way to the nearest easily accessed land vehicle?” Mara smiled, pointing in the direction of the city’s refuse collection facility. They hobbled away from the wreckage site for about twenty standard minutes through the woods before coming to a huge parking lot. Luke waved his free hand, opening a rather battered speeder that was in serious need of a paint job. He settled Mara into the passenger side and then hopped into the driver’s seat. “Hope the owner is on late shift tonight.” Mara winced as they pulled out onto a smallish paved lane and then merged onto the highway. “Get off on exit 18.” She leaned back against the head rest and sighed. “Don’t go to sleep on me, now.” He stole glances at her puckered brow and wondered how bad a concussion it was. Her face was so pale, setting off the dark smudges under her eyes. She certainly had changed over the year. Her hair was longer. He remembered how she liked to keep it pretty short since she’d be in a flight helmet so often. There was a prominence to her cheekbones that wasn’t there before. “Mara?” “I heard you.” They managed to make it to the apartment complex undetected, where they stashed the stolen speeder and hobbled up a flight of stairs to the second floor. Mara pulled a key card from a zippered pocket in her pants and gained entrance through the door. She ducked into a doorway and then appeared with a pair of pants and shirt. “These might be a little big.” Luke released his belt and shoved his legs into the pants, pulling the zipper up. The cuff puddled onto the floor. He folded the hem up two times and then proceeded to do the same with the shirt. He heard the sound of a faucet turning on and off and then a laugh. Luke looked up to see Mara leaning against the door jam. At least she was smiling. “Guess your lieutenant was a tad taller than me?” “A tad.” Luke watched as her face crumpled. He closed the short distance to her and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. “You. Healing trance. Now.” “I’d really like to get rid of this coat of dust and debris first.” He hesitated and then nodded. Luke guided her to the fresher, helping her stand as she stripped down, averting his gaze. He couldn’t help but notice something hanging around her neck. Some kind of ring? Mara steeped into the shower and pulled the sliding door shut. “You’ll be okay?” “Mm-hmm,” she muttered. Luke stood leaned against the wall of the fresher, taking in the two toothbrushes sitting in a glass near the sink. “I’m right here is you need me.” “Don’t hover.” He smiled. “Not sure if you’ve ever accused me of that before.” Reaching out with the Force, he sensed her relaxing under the hot water. He took a moment to wet a washcloth at the sink and run it over his face and neck. Most of his dust had been on his flight suit. Still if felt good to clean up. He heard Mara turn off the water so he grabbed a towel from the bar, flicking it over the top of the shower. “Other one, please.” He paused and then noticed another towel hanging on a hook. “Oh…sorry.” He grabbed the other towel as she slid the door open, offering the first towel back to him. A hint of suspicion began to bloom about the nature of her relationship with the lieutenant. He shook his head, as the implications became clear. Obviously, they were in more than just a casual relationship. Her utter devastation should have been his first clue. The jewelry suspended around her neck served to cement his premise. He surmised that there was only one bedroom when she had returned with Ryland’s clothing. Sort of thing happened all the time. Two team members, working close together begin to develop feelings of intimacy. He’d heard stories about pilots dating and becoming inseparable. Absolutely normal. So just why did that thought cause his stomach to clench? Mara stepped out to the shower wrapped in her towel and paused. “Okay,” Luke asked. She nodded and slipped out the door, across to the sleeping quarters and closed the door. He waited, shoving his hands into his pockets. A minute later, clad in her sleeping attire, she opened the door and gestured to him. “Ready?” “Yes.” Mara padded to the bed and crawled under the sheets. “Trigger word—same as always?” Mara smiled. “Don’t let me sleep too long.” Luke nodded, taking her hand in his. He placed his other hand on her forehead, watching her eyes flutter to a close. He breathed into her ear and watched her chest rise and fall as her breathing began to slow. XXXXX Shimmering sunset … Mara’s eye flashed open at the sound of her trigger word. Shimmering sunset. It was the word her father had used to describe her hair. She had little memory of him, couldn’t even remember his face, but she did remember the feelings attached to his characterization of her red-gold tresses. “Gotta go, Mara!” She bolted upright. “How long was I out?” “Couple hours—not long enough, but I sensed the imps a few seconds ago.” Mara bolted to the closet as Luke raced out the door. She threw on her clothing, buckling her utility belt and began to braid her hair as she exited the room. She paused, noticing Luke and her own pack by the door. “Got everything?” “We’ll find out,” said Luke. He shouldered his pack, securing his lightsaber to his belt. “Thought you might need this.” He handed her own lightsaber to her and twisted the door knob. “Ready?” Taking a deep breath, she fastened her saber and nodded. “Which direction?” “Imperial ground forces are going door to door at the east end of the complex. What’s the best way out of here?” Mara took one last look around the room and swallowed. “Follow me.” They flew out the room closing the door behind them. Mara led them up several flights of stairs and out onto the rooftop. Instinctively, they both crouched to the ground and then scampered to the edge. Mara felt herself gasping and reached out with the Force. Her grasp felt muddled, but better than before. She calmed her breathing and then rose to peek over the half-wall. “See them?” She frowned and shook her head, settling back onto the roof. “You okay?” Mara felt Luke’s hand on her back. “Better…just not 100%.” “We’ve got to get to a ship.” She nodded. “Good news or bad news?” “I’ve always been a good news kind of guy.” “We have a ship docked.” “Bad news?” “It’s in the next city.” “Whose lamebrain idea was it to—” “Ryland’s.” Luke grimaced. “Sorry. Sure he had his reasons.” Mara sighed, moving her pack to a more comfortable position. “Moot point now.” “How far is it?” “Fifteen clicks north.” She flinched as Luke swore in Huttese. Yeah, she had been opposed to the idea of storing their ship that far, but Ryland insisted—and had pulled rank. “Too dangerous to take the stolen car. Let’s get down and see to commandeering another vehicle.” “This way.” Mara led him to an outer fire escape ladder and began to climb down. “Faster, must go faster.” She looked over her shoulder and saw a squad of imps circling around their building. Drawing on the Force, she placed her feet on the outside of the frame and plunged toward the earth. Luke was close behind her, jumping from the ladder a couple meters from the ground and landing before her. He reached up, catching her as she slipped from the ladder’s end. “Thanks.” “YOU TWO—FREEZE!” Mara stiffened, turning to see four imperials ten meters away with their weapons trained on them. “Echuta…” Luke flicked his lightsaber on and rushed the four men. They fired rapidly at the approaching Jedi, but couldn’t make it past his deflecting saber. At a meter in, Luke pushed them into the building’s wall with the Force. They fell to the ground unconscious. “Let’s go!” Luke shouted. Mara realized she had stood watching the entire encounter, offering no help at all. She sped past the pile of useless men, catching up with Luke. “Sorry…I froze. Not sure—” “Not 100% remember?” They ran past the building and ducked behind a restaurant and into an alley way. “No excuse,” said Mara, panting. “We need a vehicle.” They followed the alley down away from the residential area and spilled out onto a deserted road. “Where are we?” Mara tapped Luke on the shoulder and pointed toward another wooded area. “Tasen Forest. We can go north this way and have some cover.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Faster if we nab a land speeder.” “And risk running into more Imperials?” “I don’t like it.” “You don’t have to like it, sandboy. You just have to trust my decision making process.” He pierced her with an icy blue stare. “I’m not the one recovering from a concussion.” “I have home field advantage.” Luke growled, attaching his lightsaber to his belt. “Fine. But this better not get us killed.” He took Mara’s hand, leading her into the woods. Mara felt the corners of her mouth pull upwards. She just wondered which of the two of them he was most worried about getting killed. ...to be continued.