A L/M One-Shot. Takes place in the Legends Universe during Heir to The Empire. This is the answer to: OTP Challenge #12: The Landscape of Love I got: Forest My most warm thanks to @WarmNyota_SweetAyesha for proofreading this story "If It Takes Years" by Jâd Sphera (Jade Sphera). ‘Damn it!’ If he hadn’t been that clumsy he would not be in this predicament. He’d been clumsy and stupid. Too used to the Force for his own good! He should retrain himself to do stuff without relying on his Jedi powers. This would have not happened to him ten years back, when he had to rely more on his bare human instincts and abilities than on anything else. He’d been such a green Force user back then and still had gotten by all right. But today, the all mighty Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker had put himself into a real good mess. Unarmed, walking through a thick forest plagued by Force blocking creatures, surrounded by aggressive predators that wanted to have a piece of him at every step of the way, while pulling the dead weight of R2-D2 on a makeshift travois, and guarded by an extremely hostile guard – who clearly hated his guts, was not the ending he’d had in mind to his attempted escape. The extra weight of his droid was getting hard on his back and arms… He felt tired, hungry and his unwanted escort looked like she would not make it any easier on him. And if he was not careful, after desisting on her first try, she would very likely be willing to put a blaster bolt in his head at any given moment if she decided that her loyalty to her boss didn’t run that deep or that the stormtroopers surrounding them did not represent a threat to her survival anymore. Either way he would be dead. Although he tried to remain calm and unconcerned, and looked it – an attitude that was clearly driving his companion crazy, Luke Skywalker was worried, deeply and completely worried. His custodian did look like someone who knew what she was doing. The woman was a highly trained type of person; she was an excellent shot and surprisingly, she knew how to use a lightsaber! From all weapons! She’d confiscated his faithful weapon and had shown to be skilful enough with it when she provided the tree branches to build the travois. Maybe she’d even use the green blade on him if she felt like it. She’d also wanted to leave Artoo behind, in pieces! Of all choices. Good thing that he’d been eloquent enough to have her desist on that idea. The way she looked at him was what unsettled him the most. Those hard, green eyes, there was so much hatred in those eyes of hers. What had he done to her? He would remember her if he had done something… No doubt about that. He had asked her, but she had not given him a straight answer. She was giving him so little that it was difficult to put anything in his mind together. Three days to the edge of the forest, she’d said… and it had been two already. He wondered if he’d live one more day... He would! He ought to! Stripped from his Jedi powers, thanks to all those Force-blocking Ysalamiri that plagued the planet, he was blind to any sort of extra sensorial input. If he had access to his powers, perhaps he could probe into her emotions, into her thoughts a bit further, just subtle enough to get a grasp of her true intentions, of what was really going on… But that was not a possibility and he’d have to do with whatever his gut told him, with what he could read on her body language, on her behaviour. This Mara Jade was full of mysteries. The thick canopy of trees above their heads made it hard to figure out the time of the day or how many hours had passed. The light had started to dim, though, and probably night-time was just around the corner. If he could find a way to sneak out in the cover of the night… but then again, Jade would be expecting that. “We stop here!” she commanded, signalling to him where he could drop the travois and let the droid be. Luke noticed that her husky voice held a deep sense of power and pride that effortlessly commanded respect, there was no way to not obey. The spot was a small clearing, with a patch of clear sky above their heads. They could use it to send up the sonde balloon with an antenna to rely an encrypted message to his X-Wing’s nav-computer. This had been one of the brightest ideas he’d had in a long time, to offer Jade to use Artoo and the link it had to his fighter’s computer to call for help; an idea that had saved his life and had bought him some time. Of course he knew that she knew this, so he had to be careful. He helped Jade to set up the sonde balloon and let it float above their heads. The gadget would relay a new message and pick up anything that might come in. There was a bit of daylight, but soon it would be completely dark and those hungry wild predators would start their hunting rounds. And without a weapon, no one would survive an hour in this forest. “It’ll be dark shortly,” she announced, her awareness on her surroundings, listening, “We’ll spend the night here, let’s set up camp.” Luke nodded and finished with the sonde. The Jedi felt relieved for the break. His arms were stiff and his muscles ached, and his prosthetic hand was uncharacteristically numb after losing one of its power cells; good thing one was enough to keep it working. Setting up camp was really simple since they did not have much on them. The small work lamp in the survival kit set at its lowest level to avoid any detection from air or orbit, was good enough to give them some visibility. Jade had said that travelling at night would be a lot more dangerous than doing it during the day, she clearly knew the terrain better than him, so Luke had had no objections; and even if he had, there was not much he could have done about it. The camping spot was next to a small spring which was a most welcomed source of fresh water. Stumbling a bit, Luke walked towards the narrow streak of water that ran a couple of meters away from where they had stopped, and kneeled on the soft edge. Pure, crystalline water ran in that spring; using the palm of his hand, he drank up to his heart’s content. It’d been a full day’s trek and he felt exhausted. Reaching out to his utility belt, he unhooked the small canteen Jade had provided, filling it up with clean, clear water. Having satiated his thirst, it was time to get cleaned up a little. His skin itched with grime and sweat of two days. The Jedi used both of his hands to cup some fresh water and pour it on his face and neck, rubbing his nape with the cool liquid. It felt so good! Not minding the presence of his captor, he unapologetically stripped his chest, taking off the sweaty, sleeveless undershirt he wore underneath his flight suit in one move; he rubbed his arms first with the clean water, and then washed some of the dirtiness off the rest of his body. Sitting underneath a tall tree, her back against the thick trunk, Mara Jade guarded the Jedi, blaster ready in her hand, and watched him get cleaned up in the nearby spring. He didn’t seem to want to make a run for it… Well, clearly he knew better than trying something as stupid as trying to get away from her. Why hadn’t she killed him already? She’d had so many chances! What was stopping her from doing it? This Jedi deserved to die, there was no doubt about it. But this situation they found themselves in maybe called for keeping him alive for a little longer… At least until she knew she could get out of this without his help. Karrde must be going crazy wondering about their whereabouts, besides he’d been very vehement about keeping the Jedi alive, so in a way it was her duty to keep her boss’s assets unspoiled. But with Imperials on their tail, there was no way to know how this was going to play out; those troops were way better supplied and equipped from what she and one Jedi without the Force would ever be. So she had to be smart. It was true that the idea of sending out that encrypted help message had been a clever one… and something she’d have not been able to do without the Jedi’s help, she had to admit. The revered hero of the Galaxy, the shining symbol of hope and good, the golden boy of the Jedi with a bright future ahead of him… She clenched her teeth with anger, the man was a fake and he was just plain irritating! Just look at him now! Getting cleaned up and refreshed as if he were in a vacation camping site! Mara shook her head trying to disperse her profound anger, and decided to think about things that would be actually useful. While her mind wandered on the practical options for her survival, her gaze did so on the half-stripped Jedi before her. The upper part of his orange flight suit slid down to his hip, just clinging to the curve of his rear end, leaving his full torso exposed. Her eyes followed the sharp lines of his chest, his flat stomach… He had strong, well-defined arms, and the muscles on his back flowed with suppleness… His shoulders were wide and his waist small… And that thick blond mane of unruly blond hair, the bright blue eyes, the strong chin… In person, the Jedi was quite a looker… and had been irritably nice to her all this time. Maybe if he wasn’t who he was she might even like him. ‘What?! STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!’ She ordered herself when noticing what she was doing. She was so out of line here! Sleep deprivation was already playing tricks on her mind. That murderous Farmboy would never, ever, be someone she’d like! It was completely dark by the time Luke sat down in their austere camp, taking his place at a distance next to her. His orange flight suit fully back on and zipped up to his neck to keep him from feeling the cooling of the night, his undershirt hanging on a branch to dry. Feeling utterly displeased and furious about her own mind slip, Mara reached out for her own canteen and opened it, to find out that just a few drops of water were left in it. “Here,” he offered her his canteen, “Give me yours, I’ll fill it up in the spring.” The Jedi stood before her, his hand holding out the other flask. He knew she had strained her ankle during their air crash, and she could use the rest. Reluctantly she extended the empty container to him and took the filled up one, grabbing it a bit to brusquely. Luke gave a small snort; he walked to the spring and came back in no time. Taking a spot across from her, he sat back down prepared to wait the night out. Without any warning, she tossed a ration bar at him, right to his face… He caught the packet right before it hit him square on the nose. Good thing his reflexes were very good, Force or not. A blue glare was all he gave her, he ripped the wrapping and started eating. Both ate in absolute silence, chewing on the rather bland but nutritious slick bar. Soon their rations were finished, and there was not much left to do, but to keep alert and wait for daylight. Feeling sure that the Jedi would not jump on her, Mara removed the pearly grey cowl she wore, revealing her golden red hair in a thick braid that hung behind her back, a few loose strands framing her delicate features. Using one hand – her other busy holding her blaster, she reached inside one of the bags, retrieving a small cloth. With the same hand she opened her canteen and poured some of the fresh liquid on the cloth, getting it soaked. Carefully, slowly, she passed the soft cloth over her face and neck, then her shoulders and arms… It felt good to be able to get rid of some of the grime. The Jedi watched her in silence. It was true that she did not want to talk to him and he’d kept quiet for most of their trail, but her not wanting him to talk didn’t mean that he could not look… and he was looking. When in the whole moons of Endor one could have ever imagined that such nastiness could be embodied by such a beautiful creature? He didn’t mean to be a creep, but she was just too stunning to be left unnoticed. Yes, he had to admit it, despite her evident dislike of him, and the embedded bitterness and hardness in her features, she was very pretty. After his long-ago disastrous fling with Shira Brie, he had come to the conclusion that he did not like red heads and would never, ever, lay eyes on one again; but now he was seriously reconsidering his long past resolution. Mara Jade was a woman of striking beauty. Jade had a nice figure too. A body hardened and strengthened through the rigours of disciplined training. Yet, she had a woman’s body; an elegantly poised silhouette, that moved with the accuracy and grace of a dancer. Yes, she was beautiful and he could tell he felt attracted to her… What was there not to like? But there was so much hatred in those fiery green eyes of hers. Mara Jade hated him, that was so evident… And yet she had kept at shooting predatorial vornskns off him, she had supplied him with a travois for his droid, given him drinking water and food for the last two days. She hadn’t been really that nasty. “What are you looking at?” she warningly shot when noticing the Jedi’s gaze on her. “Nothing,” he just said, veering his gaze somewhere else. The sounds in the forest had changed noticeably, changing as the habits of its inhabitants changed too with the change of day to night. Unable to resist his urge of being nice and sociable, Luke tried to make some conversation, “What’s the name of this place again?” He asked in a casual tone. “Myrkr,” her voice sharp, “And you better keep it in that tiny brain of yours this one time, because I won’t tell you again!” she growled. And just like that, she’d just called him stupid. A few seconds ago he was even considering that he might like her a little, but now… What was wrong with this woman? All right, time to stop the niceness. “You sure look too capable for being one who gets caught up in a mess like this… What happened?” he challenged. “You happened,” she accused. “Me?” The nerve of this woman. “You could just let me go; you know.” She chuckled, “Keep wishing away.” “Look, it’s obvious that neither of us wants to be here,” he stated, trying his best to renegotiate the whole deal, “Why don’t we just call it a night and each take their own way in the morning?” “You think you can survive this forest?” She challenged him. “You have no idea where you are, you don’t know the terrain… All you have is the name of a planet!” She mocked. “I’ve survived worse,” he just shrugged. “No, you haven’t,” she threatened. And she was dead serious, like if she were the most dangerous thing the Jedi would ever face. Luke took the hint, and decided to step down a notch. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he was at it again, “How long have you been working for Karrde?” “None of your business,” was her blunt answer. This woman was really impossible. “Come on! It’s not like I’ll use that against you!” “All right, I’ll indulge your acute intellect Farmboy,” her voice dripping with sarcasm and disdain. Luke didn’t like her tone, but at least he’d got her talking. Mara Jade told him a bit on how she started working for Talon Karrde, leaving out all the specifics of course. When she was not guarding herself too much, Luke noticed she seemed to gleam when telling some parts of her story, it was obvious that she was grateful and felt deep loyalty towards her employer. So, perhaps she was a kind of an all right person after all. After sitting for too long on the same position, Mara’s body felt stiff. Trying to shift the weight of her body, she pushed herself a bit too hard with her sore ankle, the surge of pain making her wince involuntarily. The Jedi noticed she was in pain. “I can make a support bandage if you let me,” he offered. She just glared at him. Luke glared back, she was being just stubborn and he could really help. Soon Mara realized that it was all nonsense, if the Jedi could help her ease the pain from her much sore ankle, why not let him? She gestured at him with the head, inviting him to come near, but kept her blaster near and ready. The Jedi stood up and took the few steps that separated them. Kneeling next to her, he set himself to work. Instinctively, Mara recoiled when feeling him close, like if having him this close represented a real danger, but soon she relaxed. His body language didn’t denote any threat, and if he tried anything, she’d be fast enough to stop it. Carefully he took her boot off, then removed her insulation stocking, exposing creamy skin up to her calf and a very swollen looking ankle. He probed with a soft touch of his fingers. Mara winced in pain but supressed any sound. “It doesn’t look too bad,” he assessed, “but it is very swollen.” He reached out for the small med kit and retrieved what he needed. “If I had access to the Force, I could put you in a healing trance and you’d be as good as new in the morning.” Her eyes were hard on him. Couldn’t he just be quiet? He really was a very annoying, chatty little thing. As he worked on the bandage he kept looking back at her, offering a small comforting smile every time he did so. His blue eyes sparkling with the dim artificial light of the work lamp. She studied his features, her eyes grazing his face. Now that she could see him this close, she must admit the Jedi really was a very handsome man. His eyes looked so bright and full of light. Those lips of his looked so… tempting. Something fluttered in her chest, her pulse was racing… and it was not the adrenaline of danger, she knew. There was something in the air and she could feel it. Was this physical attraction she felt? Of course it was! Who did she want to fool! But how could this be? She'd felt physical attraction towards a man before... but this was more than just that. It felt like some sort of synergy, some sort of… connection. “There!” He admired his handiwork. Luke had done dozens of bandages before, growing up in a desert planet where medical help was very far away and hard to find, made you very skilful at first aid. “This should ease the pain and provide support for walking. It’ll help you feel more stable.” But Mara didn’t say anything, she was enthralled with the Jedi’s features, with his closeness. Luke stopped talking and looked back at her, noticing the intensity of her gaze on him. Those green eyes showed dilated pupils that looked back right into his soul. For the first time since he’d met her, she looked relaxed, with a certain softness on her features… Having her this near only made her look so impossibly beautiful. There was something magnetic building up between them, he could feel it! Hesitantly, he reached out and took one small leaf off her red hair and she didn’t pull away. The touch of her fingertips grazing the sides of his arm felt electrifying… He looked down to her half open lips, her rosy mouth clearly sending out an invitation. His face came near hers, his lips one tiny space away from hers, but then stopped, he was unsure… Was he reading her signals right? The sexual tension between them was very evident, thick and palpable as if it were something that could be touched. Neither of them moved, they were in some sort of standstill, as if reconsidering, but too invested already to pull back. Without any warning, she placed one hand on the back of his neck and pulled him towards her, kissing him fully on the mouth. At first Luke panicked, not really sure of what was really happening… Had she finally decided to kill him? But then, he relaxed when realizing it was just a kiss… A hungry, deep kiss he immediately answered to. He took her mouth in his… Those lips of hers tasted so sweet, her breath was intoxicating! He dared to venture and place his hands on her cheeks, caressing the soft skin of her face with his thumbs, feeling loose strands of her hair on his fingertips. Not minding her sore ankle, without breaking their kiss Mara kneeled and pushed him back, making him sit… She climbed on his lap, straddling him between her legs, as she continued to kiss him with hunger, digging her fingers in his blond hair. She could not believe how hooked she felt, his lips were like a drug… and she wanted more of it! Their breaths met with urgency, adjusting at the feel of each other’s lips, of each other’s want… He held her from the waist, his hands going up and down her back, her close-fitting black bodysuit giving him no room to really do much more. It was clear that this could exponentially escalate into something more than just a series of passionate kisses… And this was not the time, nor the place for intimacy... He knew it, and she knew it. She was the one to break their kiss. They remained still, both short breathed, recovering… That had been an intense exchange. He remained closed eyed for a moment, as if taking everything in… When he opened his eyes he met a green gaze that stared back at him, still severe, but lacking some of the previous hardness. “All right, now that we’ve gotten this out of the way… Go to sleep!” she ordered. Then, she stood up and walked away as if nothing had happened. Her hurt ankle clearly showing a better support after his intervention. ‘Out of the way?! What?...’ Luke opened his mouth to say something… “Shut up!” she turned around and ordered, “I swear that if you utter one word I will shoot you!” she threatened. Luke closed his mouth. Baffled at what had just happened, slowly he also stood up, looking back at her as he did so. She was busy putting her boot back on and settling herself in her preferred spot against the trunk of the same tree she’d previously picked. When she finished settling down, she looked up and gave him a disgruntled look, that felt more like an attempt to hide what she was truly feeling than anything else. Soon a smug look and a smirk appeared on the Jedi’s face. Despite herself, she did like him. When noticing him smirk, Mara gave him an appalled look and looked away quickly. This Jedi was absolutely annoying! Moments later they were settled in their respective spots, in the same layout they had used for the duration of their stay in that unfriendly forest. She against the trunk of a tree, weapon in her hand, watching over him; he five meters across from her laying on his side, facing his beautiful custodian, his faithful droid next to him. The small work lamp the only thing between them. What had just happened? Luke mused as he tried to get a little sleep as he’d been ordered. While he wondered about it, he saw her set herself up to wait out the night, saw her check her blaster and other equipment, saw her toss some more of those stimpills in her mouth so she would not fall asleep… There was a lot more to her than what met the eye, and he was resolute to find out. As he drifted into sleep, Luke Skywalker vowed to himself that he’d make Mara Jade fall for him, even if it took him one, five… or ten years. This was a woman absolutely worth the time. The End.