Title: Play your Hand Timeframe: Beyond (immediately after the The Last Command) Genre: romance Canonicity: Legends AU.(The end is AU, the rest is not incompatible with Legends canon I guess) Type: short Characters: Luke/Mara, with supporting interference from Han, Leia, Karrde and a few other Legends characters Summary: Immediately after The Last Command, Mara sets to work trying to put together an agreement between the Smugglers Alliance and the New Republic. Luke, meanwhile, is getting a bit ahead of himself in terms of exactly what Mara has committed to… Other information: this story is already completed and I shall be posting it a bit of a time over the next few weeks. A/N: I felt in the mood to try and write a L/M romance. This story covers well trod ground and probably doesn’t add very much original – there are many stories that have been written pushing them together during this era. But it’s one of my favourite L/M subgenres, which is why I wanted to try my hand at it myself. I have to add in an apologetic tone that I have little experience writing romance and I don’t think I’m very good at it, so sorry in advance for the hackneyed plot devices and cheesy romantic scenes! The section in italics at the start is, of course, quoted from the Last Command and copyright to that and of course the entire setting and all the characters belongs to Timothy Zahn, Lucasfilm and the Mouse. Play your Hand “What’s this?” Mara asked, frowning. “It’s my old lightsaber,” Luke told her quietly. “The one I lost at Cloud City, and nearly got killed with at Wayland.” He held it out. “I’d like you to have it.” She looked at him, startled. “Me? Why?” He shrugged self-consciously. “Lots of reasons. Because you earned it. Because you’re on your way to becoming a Jedi and you’ll need it. Mostly, though, because I want you to have it.” Slowly, almost reluctantly, she took the weapon. “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” He touched her hand again. “I’ll be in the conference room with the others. Come on down when you’re decided.” Luke let his hand drop from where it rested on hers and turned to walk away slowly across the Palace roof. He kept his emotions under control, hoping Mara wouldn’t pick up on how nervous he was about her response. He didn’t expect any immediate answer, knowing the worst thing he could possibly do with the woman was try to push her into something before she wanted it. But still, the conversation had gone well. She seemed to be genuinely considering the Smugglers Alliance liaison role. If she accepted that, that would mean she would be based from Coruscant for the foreseeable future, and so she could continue training with him. She had even seemed to accept the idea of becoming a Jedi when he gave her his old lightsaber – at least, she hadn’t outright rejected the suggestion. He felt his heart lift slightly. She had accepted his gift. And not used it to dismember him in any way. Their past was now behind them, and they could start afresh. Something like friendship seemed to be growing between them, and the friendship of someone like her, a Force sensitive who was one of the few people in the Galaxy who understood what a burden that truly was, was something that gave him joy. Now the Thrawn threat was dealt with, maybe there would be peace enough to start his real life’s work. And maybe, just maybe, he’d found someone to help him do it. As he rested his hand on the door tab, sliding the door open, he felt filled with a sense of peace and hope for the first time in a long time. “Hang on a minute,” came Mara’s voice from behind him. “I’ll come with you.” He turned to her and a broad smile spread across his face, feeling from her that this was a yes, an acceptance. He held the door open as she walked to join him, and as they headed down the stairwell, rejoiced inside that it was time to get on with the future. *** The door slid open and Mara stepped into the Organa-Solo apartment, only to stop short at the scene of chaos that met her. Baby related items appeared to be scattered absolutely everywhere for no reason she could discern, and their golden protocol droid was wandering forlornly round the apartment trying to pick up stray socks and cuddly toys. A large dining table in the middle of the shared area was spread with datapads and layers of flimsiplast sheets with Han Solo and the aide Winter going through them. From an adjoining kitchen came smells and sounds of cooking and Mara glanced into it to see Leia Organa-Solo attempting to cook some form of elaborate greasy breakfast. ‘Attempting’ was a generous term as the amount of mess and smoke being created in the process suggested this was not one of the politician’s strong points. Mara wondered why she was bothering when a droid could do it much more efficiently. From the lounge area at the other end of the apartment came a gurgling sound and Mara glanced over, only to step back in alarm to see a small baby apparently hovering of it’s own accord above the loungers, giggling happily. Solo’s attention was drawn by the noise as well. “I really wish you wouldn’t do that kid,” he drawled, but didn’t exactly sound concerned. He looked up at Mara, apparently just noticing her entrance. “Oh hi Mara, come on in. Just in time for a traditional Corellian breakfast. Take a seat.” The baby abruptly dropped out of the air, but no scream of injury ensued and instead Luke’s head appeared from behind the concealment of the loungers. “Hi Mara,” he smiled up at her. He was now holding the infant in his arms, the child seeming quite content. “What are you doing here?” she asked, confused. “Oh, he’s just gonna look after the kids while we work. Otherwise it’ll be constant distractions. Ignore him,” Solo told her. Leia bustled in balancing several plates covered in greasy bits of meat and starch based products. “Have you eaten yet, Mara? I hope you don’t mind us breakfasting while we talk? Eating while working seems to be the only way to fit everything in at the moment.” “You ever had a traditional Corellian breakfast, Mara?” Han asked. “It’s the best in the galaxy!” “Can’t say I have,” she answered cautiously, setting her satchel down on the table and taking a seat. “One of these will keep you going for the rest of the day. Proper smugglers fare this is.” Leia placed a plate in front of her and Mara examined it carefully. There was some form of egg with a gooey blue yolk, some singed root vegetables, and meat in at least three different forms, all extremely, if not over, done. It didn’t look appetizing exactly, but the smell of it did make her stomach rumble. She tucked into the food, grateful for the cover for how disconcerted she felt. The Organa-Solo’s had invited her over for a breakfast meeting to discuss the on-going negotiations between the Smugglers Alliance and the New Republic officials. Thrashing out a workable deal was proving challenging to say the least, and since agreeing to take on the liaison role, the brunt of it was falling on her. Despite the faith of all parties in her abilities, political negotiations were entirely out of her experience and skill set, and every day it seemed like either the brazen profiteering of the smuggler chiefs or the distrust of crooks of the government officials were going to scupper the whole thing. Word of the problems had apparently got back to Leia, who had called Mara into her political office the previous day for a quick chat. The quick chat had turned into a plan of action, and this morning was the convening of Leia’s ‘action group’ of specialists: Han Solo, former smuggler and Rebel General; Winter Retrac, former intel gatherer and experienced political aide; and of course Leia Organa-Solo herself, with all her years of political acumen and most importantly, experience of dealing with difficult smugglers (well, one in particular, but she insisted that was more than enough). As they ate, Solo started straight into how he thought they should address the problems, and soon Leia and Winter joined him with counterpoints and insights into the people Mara was dealing with. “Why do you care so much?” She found herself interjecting at one point. “It seems to matter a lot to you that we make this work.” Solo chuckled. “It’ll save me a lot of trouble, kid, that’s why. Before this crisis, the New Republic had me wandering round the galaxy trying to talk the fringe types into working with us. That’s how we fell into Karrde’s lap, if you recall. Now the babies are here, I’d much rather stay home with them, y’know? So if we can get this to work…” “I won’t need to babysit so much,” Winter put in. “Which would be a relief, as it’s really not my forte.” Leia laughed. “You don’t do so badly.” “I’d rather leave the men to do it. They seem to enjoy it more.” Mara glanced to where Luke was still lying on the floor entertaining the twin babies. It was a strange sight that didn’t jibe with the Jedi image everyone seemed to have of him. But then, Luke was a confusing mix of traits at the best of times. Doting uncle shouldn’t be such a surprise, really. She dragged her attention back to the table. “So, what do you think we should do about Mazzic’s demands?” she asked. The conversation re-focused, and Mara found that she enjoyed the no-nonsense, problem solving approach they took. It was easy to forget now that it was peacetime that these were all former soldiers, veterans of a long war. But some attitudes die hard. Eventually all the food was either eaten or had gone cold and congealed in the grease on the plates. Strategies were devised and plans of action made. Mara glanced at her crono and saw she only had fifteen minutes to the first negotiation session of the day, but now she felt more prepped than for days and felt confident there was a way through the previously intransient problems. She thanked the Organa-Solo’s and got up to leave. The rest of them also got up, Winter and Leia also realizing they needed to get off to their own meetings, and Han starting to clear away the mess from breakfast with help from C-3PO. Across the room, Luke also got up and gently laid the twins one at a time in their shared crib. “Wait up a moment, Mara,” he called from across the room. She paused at the door. “Do you have any space in your schedule for some training today?” he asked mildly. With the hectic pace of negotiations over the last few days, the habitual daily session they had fallen into since Wayland had fallen by the wayside. She frowned. “I don’t know,” she said regretfully. A little downtime would be welcome right now, but the talks were stretching long into the night. She faintly wondered when she’s started seeing the time with Luke as ‘downtime’. “Nothing at all?” he asked mildly, sounding a little disappointed. “Well…” she pursed her lips. “I do have gym time scheduled in still. That’s non-negotiable. But if we can make the session today some lightsaber practice, I guess that counts as gym time?” His eyes flicked down to his – no her – lightsaber at her belt and then smiled back up at her. She could sense how pleased he was. “That sounds like a plan. Comm me when you get out.” She nodded, and palmed the door key.