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Title: The Ship
Author: Ash Darklighter
Summary: Strange visions from the past team Luke and Mara together as they attempt to unravel a long forgotten mystery.

Usual disclaimers apply. The world belongs to Lucas and I’m only playing with his creations. Many thanks to the girls for usual
checking of plot and grammar.

 

Timeline – about 8-10 years after Heir to the Empire.

 

 

Mara Jade stared at the familiar ship in the docking bay - an X-wing on Zathoq? Of all the out of the way places to find one of
those. Her lip curled cynically as she pulled the ugly hat over her bright, red-gold hair. The cap might have been green once, or
even brown, but had abandoned all pretence of colour or shape. The nearest thing it resembled was an overturned bucket with
a limp brim. She pushed a couple of pins into the hat, keeping it in place. No use advertising one of her most noticeable assets,
not in a lawless place like this. Zathoq gave a lot of the cesspits in the galaxy a good name. “An X-wing,” she muttered irritably
as the connotations associated with that type of ship flooded her mind.

 

The planet belonged to a ring system surrounding a red star, which meant one had to do some very fancy flying to land. This
resulted in only the best pilots trying their luck and a few made it in but didn’t make it out. A lot of the scum of the universe
could be found heading towards Zathoq pitching to make a fortune or managing to lose one. It was a smuggler’s paradise – if
you knew where it was - which was why she was here.

 

Mara wandered slowly towards the spacer’s tapcaf. Over the years she’d gotten friendly with the old guy who ran the place.
He served food of varying standards depending on his sobriety and what or who they had for a chef. On Zathoq, you needed
to be well stocked with rations. Woe betide the person who had to survive on the local food for long.

 

“Merah!” the gruff voice shouted gleefully. “Over here.”

 

“Lek.” She gave the old humanoid a half wave.

 

“It’s been several rotations since we saw you last.”

 

“Too long. This is a good place to make a credit.”

 

“And you always make a credit don’t you, young one?”

 

“Of course.” Mara’s voice was composed.

 

“What’ll you have? It’s on the house since I’ve not seen you for so long.”

 

“Just a mug of stim tea.”

 

“We have the draf on special…” He waved a tankard of cloudy, greenish liquid.

 

Mara shuddered; there were unidentifiable things floating in it. “I think I’ll pass. I’ve never been that fond of draf. Is it supposed
to be that colour?”

 

“We can grill you a decent vak steak, if you’re really hungry?”

 

Mara tried not to gag openly at the thought. If there was one thing she disliked more than draf it was vak steak. “Nah,” she
muttered casually. “I’ve already eaten.”

 

The ancient Selonian next to Lek gave an amused toothy smile. “That is perhaps a good idea. Stick to ration bars. There’s a
new chef and I’m not sure which part of the galaxy he’s running from.”

 

Mara grinned, her teeth white and perfect against her carefully dirtied face. “I’ve been coming here too long, Malyre. I know
what my stomach can handle.”

 

“You still working as a mechanic for that smuggler chief?”

 

“Yeah, but I’ve been promoted.” She said proudly. “I get to do some of the runs on my own now. He’s a fair boss. I’ve
worked for worse.”

 

“Haven’t we all.” Lek’s grin was dry.

 

“That’s why I’m here. Basic run… drop and pick-up.”

 

“Good.” Lek gave her a gap-toothed smile. She was an enigma this one. She’d been coming here for at least ten years. If he’d
been younger he might have found her pretty under the grime. Some of the guys weren’t so particular about the women they
involved themselves with, but Merah… she was different. A few of them had tried to go a little too far and it had gotten ugly.
Not for Merah, but for the guys who’d tried. She was a young woman and on her own – many would say she was easy game -
and periodically, one of the fools would try to suggest forcibly that she partake in activities of a sexual nature. She’d gained a
reputation for being feisty, not someone you tangled with lightly. He’d seen her take down men twice her size with ease. Even
the rougher elements treated her with respect – some of the damage she’d caused had been expensive to fix. Last guy that had
tried had ended up in the medicentre for weeks.

 

No one tangled with Merah.

 

That was the only name she ever gave and it suited her. Lek considered her a real mystery woman but he liked her. Mysteries
were commonplace in this sector of the universe – most beings were running or hiding from something out here. The rest of
them were making a killing from that very fact. Merah was all right - she knew her engines and she’d even fixed his bucket of
bolts once.

 

“You here for the sale?”

 

“Sale?” Her voice was blank. “What sale?”

 

Lek sat forward. He’d sparked her interest, he could tell. Those strange green eyes of hers had flashed. You could hide a
pretty face under a lot of things and he knew she would be pretty if she made the effort, but she couldn’t disguise those
curiously vivid eyes and they were fine – a little too knowing, as if she’d seen too much, but fine nonetheless.

 

“You’ve been coming here for how long?”

 

“Nearly ten years, give or take…”

 

“And you’ve never heard of the sale?”

 

“Should I?”

 

Lek leaned back in his seat and chuckled, a rich, infectious sound. Malyre chortled with him in little puffs of sound, his furry
features amused.

 

“She’s never heard of the sale.”

 

Mara bristled. “Nah, I’m here to drop and collect, that’s all. That’s what I usually do. I don’t hang around listening to idle
gossip.”

 

Lek raised his eyebrows. “Can you stay an extra few days?”

 

“I’d have to check with the boss, but I suppose that could be arranged.”

 

Malyre filled a clay pipe and puffed slowly. “It’s worth the wait.”

 

“It is, eh? The sale is that good?” Mara received her stim tea and sipped at the hot fragrant liquid carefully. No use making all
that effort to avoid the food and then burning her tongue. “Is that why I saw an ‘X’-wing in the spaceport tonight?”

 

“An ‘X’-wing.” Lek echoed. “Not seen one of those round these parts for quite a while.

 

“Good little space vessels,” Malyre chipped in thoughtfully between puffs of his pipe. “Never flown one, but reports are good.”

 

“You fancy flying in one of those, Merah?” Lek asked with a smile.

 

“I’ve had a shot,” she answered. “They’re a bit small for the kind of work I do.”

 

“Fast, though.” Malyre mumbled.

 

“Shields too. Manoeuvrable in a pinch…” Lek added.

 

Mara sighed. “Guys, I don’t want to buy an ‘X’ wing – no cargo space. I wondered if you’d seen its pilot?”

 

“Oh, its pilot.” Lek thought hard and glanced at Malyre. “Did you see the guy that came in with the ‘X’-wing?”

 

“How do you know it was a guy?” Mara asked.

 

“We talked about it before you showed up,” Malyre added rolling his eyes at her. “It’s not often you see those ships here.
Pressed into service in the war, they were.”

 

“That’s long over,” Mara snapped a little sharply. “And the designers defected to the rebellion with the plans and prototypes.
The resulting ship was more than able to counteract the TIE fighters.”

 

Lek guffawed. “You sure know a lot about them. If you want to buy an ‘X’-wing, I’m sure it can be arranged.”

 

“I told you, I don’t want to buy an ‘X’-wing. I’d just like a look at the engine.”

 

“Maybe its not the engine but the pilot that she likes,” Malyre insinuated slyly.

 

Instantly Mara was out of her seat with Malyre’s tunic bunched in one fist dragging him from his seat at the table. She’d meant
to ignore the teasing she got from the old ones but something about the last comment struck a little too close.

 

“It was a joke… Jedi’s bones, Merah,” The Selonian gasped.

 

“Let him go, girl. You’re overreacting,” Lek cautioned and watched as Mara bit off a curse.

 

“I like to see how things work.” Mara sniffed with disgust as she dropped heavily back into her seat and scratched a persistent
itch that was annoying her under her hat. She was on a simple drop and pick-up for Karrde, but the talk of a ship sale caught at
her imagination. The Jade’s Fire was in space-dock getting a refit, but she liked to look at other space-faring vessels. She
wasn’t interested in buying but she loved to attend these things. She had a departure slot early tomorrow morning, but it
wouldn’t be a problem to contact Karrde and delay her return by a day or so. Mara wondered if the ‘X’-wing belonged to a
certain Jedi of her acquaintance, but it was so far from Yavin or Coruscant that she knew it couldn’t possibly be Luke, since
the Jedi Master rarely moved far from either these days. A little worm of disappointment wriggled through her belly and she
made the decision to contact him when she returned to civilisation.

 

There was an easy way of discovering if it was Luke, but something in her hesitated. All she had to do was stretch out with the
Force and she would touch the shining light that indicated his presence anywhere. He drew them all towards his warmth
whether they were Jedi or pilots in Rogue Squadron and she was no exception. He had that rare commodity - true charisma. If
she did reach out for him, the way she wanted to, Luke would know she was here. She needed to have her guard up when
dealing with him. He had a way of crawling through her defences with ease and she wasn’t sure if she liked that. Still, she had to
admit she missed him. She missed his annoying habit of interfering in her life. She missed the way his face crinkled up when he
smiled. Mara shuddered. Sith! She was thinking of Luke in ways she never had before – not in nearly ten years of
acquaintance. This man she’d wanted to kill, who’d become one of her few really close friends.

 

Still, she wondered who was flying the X-wing. One of Rogue Squadron perhaps, or maybe someone who just loved flying the
trusty little ships? Nonetheless, the symbol of many a New Republic victory had made her think about Skywalker. She had to
admit that he did cross her mind more frequently than she would have liked. Rather strange since she no longer held the
all-encompassing desire to vape him, but then she hadn’t seen him for a few months. Maybe when she did the urge would
return.

 

“Merah?” Lek’s voice intruded on her thoughts. “You were a couple of systems away there, girl.”

 

“Sorry,” she apologised lightly. “Guess I’m tired. It was a long flight getting here and that approach into port never gets any
easier.”

 

“Forrell!” Lek bellowed, making Mara jump. “Forrell, my friend.”

 

A rotund bearded man in a bright blue ship suit waddled over to the booth. “Lek, my friend.” His face was as fat as his body
and a little black goatee quivered comically right on the edge of his chin.

 

Mara decided he must be barely half her height, but could easily be the same in width. A hint of over-sweet cologne attacked
her nostrils.

 

Lek beamed. “Forrell, this is my young friend, Merah.”

 

The strange little man bowed and sketched her a salute, his hand making several elaborate circles in the air. “Delighted.”

 

“Merah is a hyperdrive mechanic for one of the core systems most successful smugglers.”

 

“Talented and beautiful.”

 

Mara snorted. Anyone who could see what she looked like, with her hair under the ugliest headgear she could find and grime
and grease smeared liberally over her face, was either very astute or a Jedi. This little man was neither – just smarmy.

 

“I’m very good at what I do.” Mara didn’t consider her statement boastful because it was true. She was good at what she did.

 

“Merah… Forrell works for spaceport security.”

 

Mara blinked in surprise. She had been taught that appearances could be deceptive but…

 

Forrell laughed. “Always good to have friends in high places, eh Lek?”

 

“We were curious about the ‘X’-wing.”

 

“The ‘X’-wing. I can understand that. Not a common sight in these parts now. At the height of the war against the Empire -
then it was a different story. I haven’t seen one of these for years. Good little ships.”

 

“Did you see the pilot?” Mara asked, her curiosity getting the better of her.

 

“Yeah, it was a human… youngish guy…”

 

Mara grimaced. That told her nothing. It could be anyone.

 

“Said he was here for the sale. Not unexpected. Lot of folk here for the sale. I wouldn’t wander about too late tonight. Real
unsavoury types about. He didn’t seem to be one of them, but you never can tell.”

 

“I can handle them.”

 

“Sure you can, lady. This guy was a bit different – a farmer, I think he said he was.”

 

Mara’s heart sank. A farmer – so she had hoped it was Luke. Then something occurred to her. “Did he say what kind of
farmer?”

 

“I think he did, but it escapes me for the moment. As I said, he was out of the ordinary.”

 

“How?” Mara furrowed her brow quizzically.

 

“It was the funniest thing. He went off to inspect the ships for sale but as he went this little R2 droid followed him, beeping away
like a chattering bird. This guy talked to the droid all the while like it was a real person.”

 

Mara’s heart did somersaults in her chest. Every X-wing pilot chatted to their droids, but none of them with the same kind of
patience and fondness as Luke did with Artoo. To Luke, the little droid was flesh and blood – they’d been through so much
together over the years. It was Luke – there was no doubt now in her mind. He was here on Zathoq. She could resist no longer
and stretched out tentatively with the Force and, sure enough, the power drew her irresistibly towards him. ‘Luke…’

 

‘Mara?’ the surprised voice in her mind was immediate and she jumped. She didn’t think their connection was that swift… or
that strong.

 

“I remember. It wasn’t any kind of farmer I’d heard of. He said he was a moisture farmer.” Forrell droned on in the
background. “You ever heard of that?”

 

“Luke…” she muttered. This had to be the strangest coincidence she’d experienced in years. She only came to Zathoq once or
twice a year and she was willing to bet that Luke had never been here in his life.

 

The door to the tapcaf opened and Mara, now opened to the power of the Force, stared as a nondescript human in the typical
tan robes of the desert dweller wandered casually inside. ‘Nondescript,’ she grimaced. ‘How could any one miss him?’ she
wondered. He was that distinctive. She knew he’d found her by the way his blue eyes narrowed and he began to move through
the crowded tables.

 

‘Mara!’

 

‘Call me Merah, while we’re here.’

 

‘Jade…’ he shook his head at her. ‘What are you doing here?’

 

‘Business and don’t refer to me as Jade.’

 

‘Yes Ma’am.’

 

‘Just see that you don’t.’

 

“Do you know him, Merah?” Lek remarked.

 

“Strange as it may seem… yes I do.” Her eyes clung to his figure as he weaved his way through the cramped tables, diverting
the other diners’ attention away from himself with the Force. “Didn’t expect to see him here.”

 

“It’s a small galaxy.”

 

“That it is,” her voice was dry. “Too small.”

 

“Forgive an old man his curiosity, but is he a friend of yours, this… farmer?”

 

“You could say that, for want of a better expression.”

 

Malyre put down his little pipe. “Friend is a good word in any language.”

 

Forrell nodded, agreeing with the Selonian. “He’s coming this way.”

 

“How do you know him?” asked Lek.

 

“It’s a long story.”

 

Lek laughed. “I’m an old man, I like long stories.”

 

“Merah.” He dipped his head in greeting, his eyes solemn but watchful.

 

‘Do I call you Luke?’ she asked and he nodded. “This is Luke,” she introduced quietly. “He’s an old friend of mine. We’ve
worked together on odd occasions.”

 

She introduced the others, watching as Luke pulled out an empty stool and squeezed in beside her.

 

“We were discussing your ship. You don’t often see these out here now.”

 

“My ‘X’-wing?” Luke couldn’t help his grin of pride. He still remembered the day he’d been given it. “I flew during the war and
when I resigned my commission I was allowed to keep my ship. They’re great to fly.”

 

“And you’re a farmer?” Lek asked sceptically. Something about the young man didn’t ring true. He was a little too
self-possessed for a farmer. But Merah, on the other hand, had certainly reacted to the idea of an X-wing flying farmer. She’d
known who it was. So perhaps Lek’s normally astute assessment of the young man was off-centre for once. He’d seen all
types of sentients pass through the doors of the tapcaf over the years.

 

Luke smiled evenly. “Among other things… yes. My crop is somewhat different these days, but I used to work on a desert
world. My harvest was water.”

 

Mara shifted a little uncomfortably. Luke was acting at his most Jedi-like. But he wasn’t using a Force or a physical disguise.
Even out here he could be recognised and then where would she be? Probably pulling his well shaped rear out of some trouble
or other. “I need to check on my ship,” she announced abruptly.

 

Luke immediately stood up. “I’ll escort you back. There are some rough-looking types around.”

 

“I can look after myself.” She glared at him. Force spare her from over chivalrous Jedi masters.

 

Luke’s face twisted into a wry smile, his brown-gloved hand moving to hide it. “I know you can… maybe you can protect me
then?”

 

“Wouldn’t be the first time, flyboy.”

 

Luke grinned. “She’s saved my skin more than a few times. Always shows up when I need her – it’s uncanny.”

 

Lek chuckled at the banter between the two. “He has you there, Merah.”

 

Mara scowled, but reluctantly followed Luke from the tapcaf.

 

“I sense a history there,” Malyre remarked.

 

Forrell laughed. “They’re both young… you don’t need history, just nature.”

 

Malyre chortled into his mug. “Nature… it has a lot to answer for.”

 

Lek tilted his shaggy head to one side and thought deeply. “Old friends… yes I think they are. There’s an ease of long standing
between them but also some tension I suspect.” He smiled shrewdly. “Nature right enough.”

 

“You sound like a holotherapist.” Forrell’s round body shook with mirth.

 

“I own this place. I hear a lot of stories… some strange and some… interesting, and you don’t get to my age and not have any
opinions on matters. But this is the first time that a wandering spacer, or farmer, or whatever he is has ever put Merah on edge.
That is unusual.”

 

 

Luke and Mara wandered slowly towards her ship, neither of them saying a word until the battered hull of the Valiant Vornskr
came into view.

 

“Nice,” Luke murmured.

 

“It’s a wreck… on the outside. Karrde’s idea. ”

 

“But totally state-of-the-art on the inside. He looks after his people, Mara.”

 

“Of course.”

 

“You’re very special to him.”

 

“He’d manage without me. I’m not indispensable.”

 

“No one is.”

 

“Not even the Jedi Master?”

 

“Not even him. He’s a very minor player in the great scheme of things.”

 

“I think you’re wrong there, Skywalker.”

 

“A change of opinion?”

 

“No.”

 

“Oh.”

 

They stood awkwardly for a moment. Luke shifted from one foot to the other trying to think of a way to keep her with him. In
the end, he couldn’t. “I’ll say goodnight, Mara.”

 

“Goodnight… Luke. Where are you staying?”

 

“Tonight?” he questioned. “I’m sleeping in my ‘X’-wing.”

 

“Sleeping in it? For Sith’s sake, Skywalker.”

 

“There’s nothing left in town and I don’t want to be too far from my ship. It’s nothing I haven’t done before.”

 

Mara made an instant decision she hoped she wouldn’t regret. “There’s plenty of room in the V-V.”

 

“What!” Luke’s mouth fell open with surprise.

 

“I’ve got the space and you look tired enough without spending the night sleeping in your ship.”

 

“I’ve done it before. I can put myself in a hibernation trance.”

 

“Sure you can. But hey, it’s up to you.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“I wouldn’t have offered otherwise.” Mara hoped this wasn’t a lie.

 

“Can I bring Artoo?”

 

Mara rolled her eyes. What was it with this man and his droids? “Sure, then you can tell me why you’re so far from home
leaving all the little Jedi back on Yavin.”

 

Luke chuckled and she could see for the first time that he was tired. He was whiter than a wampa’s pelt tired.

 

“Go get the droid, Skywalker.”

 

“Yes, Ma’am.” He tiredly gave her a sloppy military salute and ran off towards the little craft he’d flown ever since he’d left his
desert home world.

 

Mara keyed in her access code and waited for the entrance ramp to lower. The V-V was not the Jade’s Fire. It lacked
everything in comparison with her own beautiful ship – it lacked the speed, the firepower, even the aesthetic qualities which
made it stand out from other vessels, but that was why she was flying the Vornskr. It didn’t attract attention and on Zathoq that
was a good thing.

 

“That’s it Artoo – this one.”

 

She could hear Luke’s voice patiently urging the squat little droid up the ramp and into her ship. She almost smiled, it sounded
so comfortingly familiar.

 

“Yes, we know the Captain and yes, Artoo, I trust her.”

 

Mara’s almost-smile faded as something in Luke’s voice made her feel uncomfortable.

 

The droid whistled something indignant and she could hear Luke’s footsteps approaching the crew area. His head peered
around the door frame and he gazed at her, a smile on his face. Artoo rolled through the door, caught sight of Mara, swivelled
his domed head in his Master’s direction and moaned.

 

“No, Artoo.” Luke chuckled, never taking his eyes from Mara. “No forests.”

 

Artoo beeped a pithy comment and then rolled off to investigate, leaving the two humans to stare at each other. Mara gradually
relaxed and spread out one hand. “Welcome…”

 

A piercing electronic wail interrupted and Mara stiffened, mouthed some profanity and sprinted off to find the source of Artoo’s
distress.  For a moment Luke tensed but no more sounds came from the droid and he relaxed.

 

Luke wandered slowly into the open area, his scruffy grey carryall over his shoulders. The Valiant Vornskr was a working
ship right enough. But because she was Mara’s ship the area was in meticulous order. Luke gave a cursory glance at the
workstation with each data pad laid out precisely, each tool secured in racks fastened against sometimes turbulent space flight.
That was something they both had in common. Luke had never had enough possessions to scatter too widely and Mara came
from a system that thrived on sterile order.

 

Luke absently noted the pile of audio discs clipped into a small holder attached firmly to the wall. She liked to dance - he knew
that. “Mara likes the Coruscant Symphony,” he murmured. He remembered a concert in the acoustic perfection of the Imperial
State Hall. He’d gone with Leia because Han hated such things and had been astounded at how the melodies had spun
themselves over and over inside his head. He’d shrugged off Han’s comments with a light quip and he wouldn’t have admitted
to the rest of Rogue Squadron how he’d saved up his meagre pay and bought a cheap sound system. It still worked and he’d
invested in a fair amount of recordings over the years. He’d thought Mara would have just liked music with a strong beat but
the amount of purely orchestral discs there were, surprised him. He should know better than to underestimate Mara.

 

“Artoo!” the voice was terse. “After all these years can’t you tell the difference between a power outlet and a computer
terminal?”

 

There was some agitated whistling.

 

“Okay… okay. I’m as bad as he is. I’m talking to you like you were sentient.”

 

The droid made a derogatory noise.

 

“Artoo, that was just, plain rude. Where did you learn language like that? Do you want to go back and stay in the ‘X’-wing on
your own?”

 

Luke heard muffled swearing and decided he’d better find out what was happening before Mara did irreparable damage to his
faithful droid.

 

She was standing there, her hands on her hips, glaring at the little machine. “He’s as bad as you are,” she muttered without
looking at him.

 

“I know the difference between a computer terminal and a power outlet,” he replied meekly.

 

Artoo snickered in a melodic cascade of beeps and toots.

 

Mara peered at Luke, green eyes dark in the half-lit technical station. Her hair was crammed under the ugliest hat he’d ever
seen. Something in the Jedi Master sparked into life and dared him to walk forward and whisk the hat swiftly from her head.

 

“Hey!” Mara yelled clutching at untidy, unravelling braids. “Nerf-brain! What did you do that for?”

 

Luke grinned and waved his hands a little. Mara was too busy trying to pin back her hair to notice; a few more pins magically
slid out of their own accord. The result was spectacular. The more she tried to rescue her pins, the more they slid from her
fingers and her hair fell about her in shining waves.

 

Luke stopped laughing. It wasn’t funny any more. He shuffled a little and searched for the pins on the floor. “Here.” He handed
her a pile of pins along with the offending hat, his expression guilty. “I didn’t realise it had grown so long.”

 

“What?” Mara asked irritably pushing the waist length mass behind her.

 

“Your hair…” He cleared his suddenly choked throat. “I haven’t seen you wear it down for ages. It’s beautiful… so why’d you
wear that horrible hat?”

 

“Why do you wear black, black, and that awful robe?”

 

“I like it and feel comfortable in it?”

 

“Wrong answer, Jedi boy.”

 

“I’m not wearing black now, but that hat…”

 

“You’ve never been to Zathoq before, Skywalker – have you?”

 

“No.”

 

“I have. Over the years I have had to fight for my maidenly virtue.”

 

The expression in Luke’s blue eyes intensified and Mara felt a little uncomfortable.

 

“Your virtue – is it intact?” His voice deepened, his eyes intent on her. ‘Ah, Skywalker… wrong thing to say.’

 

Mara moved swiftly and before Luke knew it, he was on his back, pinned to the ground and unable to move. “What do you
think?” she asked threateningly.

 

“Sorry I asked. Will you get off me?”

 

“Why?” Her voice was mischievous; her eyes gleamed green in her grease-streaked face, her hair shimmering around them
both like a curtain, containing them both in their own secret world. The tension became heavy with unspoken desires.

 

“I might think you liked it.” Luke couldn’t move. If he’d wanted to he could have, but the feel of her strong legs straddling him,
pinning him to the ground, made him think things he’d no business thinking about. “But I take the point and won’t question your
virtue again.”

 

Mara gave him a threatening glare, paused, her hands tightening on his shoulders and climbed off him.

 

“No man would be that brave… or is it stupid?” Luke slowly got to his feet. “It’s obviously a sensitive subject.”

 

Mara balled her hands into fists and swung round aggressively. “Skywalker!” If this ship were flying you’d just have been
pushed out the airlock. Remind me why you’re in my ship, again.” She tilted her head to the side and waited impatiently.

 

He began to laugh and it was so infectious to see him loosen up like this. His eyes gleamed and the sound came from deep
inside him. Mara just had to join in. She’d gone from anger to mirth in nanoseconds. Only Luke could do this to her. They’d
fallen into their old routine of stab and retreat with alarming swiftness. Mara gave herself a mental shove but it was in vain. It felt
so comfortable to be with him, even to be arguing with him. They’d done it ever since they had met. Why should she expect
things to be any different this time?

 

“I’ve missed you.” His voice deepened with warmth.

 

“Yeah,” she sobered up. “Come on I’ll give you the grand tour and then show you where you can sleep. I warn you - it’s with
me.” Mara turned and led the way expecting Luke to be behind her, but all she felt was shock and his mental shields closing up
tight.

 

“With you?” he croaked.

 

Mara halted, her face flaming at the mental picture she suddenly saw in her mind’s eye. “When Hoth melts,” she bit out. “We’re
in here, Skywalker.”

 

Luke peered into the narrow sleeping alcove furnished with four bunks, two above and two below. One of the top bunks
contained some blankets. There was only room for one person standing at a time. “I thought you would have been in the
Captain’s quarters?”

 

“None on this vessel. All the extra space is used for carrying cargo. Zathoq is so far out of the way, that it isn’t worth coming
unless you can take away the maximum amount of stuff. I can rough it if I have to - this is not a luxury cruise.”

 

She moved to a small locker and pulled out a couple of Bantha hair blankets and a soft plump pillow. “Here, it’s better than
sleeping cramped in that fighter of yours.”

 

Luke smiled warmly at her. “Thanks, Jade. I appreciate it.” He dumped his carryall on the lower of the bunks and pulled off the
tan cloak he was wearing.

 

Mara stared at him in shock, his presence almost stifling in the close confines of the alcove. He wasn’t in his usual black
ensemble. Her eyes travelled over polished brown leather boots, into which were tucked tight-fitting cream pants. A cream
undershirt and a dark brown jacket covered his muscular chest. The whole thing was finished by a brown tooled leather belt
which hugged his flat stomach and the low slung thigh holster, containing a very powerful looking blaster, drew her unwilling
attention to what she was desperately trying to ignore.

 

“Where’s your saber?” She ran her tongue over her dry lips. He dressed down rather nicely.

 

“Artoo has it. I didn’t want to advertise Jedi this far out on the Rim.”

 

“You might as well have earlier. They didn’t think you were a farmer.”

 

“I was a farmer.”

 

“You haven’t been one for a long time now.”

 

“The same could be said about you.”

 

“About me?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“I’ve never been a farmer.” Mara frowned, amazed at the depths of stupidity the Jedi Master could sink to at times.

 

“Of course not…” Luke huffed for a moment in exasperation. “You’re not an Imperial assassin any longer are you?”

 

“That’s different.”

 

Luke’s eyes caught hers and held them. “I don’t think so, Jade.”

 

Mara wrinkled her nose at him in disgust and marched out of the oppressive atmosphere of the tiny alcove into the larger room.
It contained a small cooking unit, a tiny table and a couple of chairs. “You hungry?” she snapped.

 

“I’m always hungry,” Luke replied calmly.

 

“That’s what I figured.” She peered into the contents of a locker. “We have ration bars… or nothing.”

 

“Luke pulled a small preservation flask from his carryall. “I have bread and some cheese.”

 

“You do?” Mara’s eyes lit up, good mood restored, she snatched the container from him. She activated the controls of the
cooking unit swiftly and threw stim tea capsules into mugs of boiling water. “This will be like a feast. You can stay here any
time, farmboy.”

 

“So I am a farmer after all,” Luke hooted in triumph.

 

Mara shook her head, already tearing at the soft bread with anxious hands. “Take my advice, Skywalker. Don’t eat at Lek’s
tapcaf unless you’re starving to death and if you do, that still might be the final result

 

“That bad, huh?” He snatched at a piece of the rapidly disappearing loaf. “I might have to if you don’t leave me some of that
bread. Hey…”

 

She grinned evilly at him as she popped another morsel into her mouth. “Here you go.”

 

“Thanks.”

 

They ate the simple meal quietly and as Mara cleared up Luke wandered into the sleeping alcove and began to remove his
jacket and shirt. Mara stopped what she was doing and covertly watched as a bare tanned back appeared, muscles rippling as
he moved. Luke sighed wearily, pulled his boots off and climbed into the lower bunk.

 

Leaving only the security lights on, Mara divested herself of her overtunic and boots, and climbed up into the top bunk. She
wasn’t stripping down any further.

 

Luke closed his eyes and reached for the place in the Force that helped him sleep, but sleep was an elusive master. He couldn’t
see Mara but he could hear her soft breathing, the rustling she made as she pulled the blankets over her slim body. He moved
onto his side and gripped the soft pillow with a violence that was quite undeserved. He shifted again and the bunk creaked.
There must be something to be said for sleeping in his own ship instead of so close to Mara Jade. If he stretched out his arm he
might be able to touch her. Luke opened his eyes and peered up at the upper bunk on the opposite side to his own, but all he
could see was the edge of her blankets. He rolled on to his back and determinedly shut his eyes again. He was a Jedi Master -
he could sleep.

 

Mara heard Luke’s restless movements as he tried to seek sleep. She couldn’t see him, but she could imagine what he looked
like - his muscular chest bare, his hair tousled like that of a small boy. When they’d stood close together she’d breathed in his
natural spicy male scent with a hint of the cleaning solution she knew he favoured, and something in her blood had reacted.
Luke didn’t like the over-chemical colognes of Forrell or the expensive male perfumes preferred by Lando. You would never
have to suffer the stale-sweat aroma of Lek with Luke. Her eyes stared at the ceiling as she willed herself into slumber, but she
was wide awake. Focusing through the darkness, she tried to sense how many welded rivets went into the ceiling but a deep
sigh from Luke made her lose count.

 

“Skywalker,” her voice sounded unnaturally loud in the darkness. “Can’t you stay at peace?” She heard the bunk creak as he
moved.

 

“Sorry, Mara. I’m so tired that I can’t sleep.”

 

“Aren’t you the typical man?” she groused at him. “You can’t sleep so no one else can either.”

 

“That’s not fair.”

 

“You’re keeping me awake.”

 

Luke peered up at the bunk in the dark, but he still couldn’t see her. “I wasn’t the one who started talking.”

 

“Every time you move that bunk groans and then you sigh and then you move.”

 

“Well, you’re breathing.” His tone was aggrieved.

 

Mara blinked. Of course she was breathing. “Skywalker!” Her voice rose in pitch. “That was one of the most inane comments
I’ve heard you make for a long time, and I’ve heard you make quite a few.”

 

“It’s distracting!” he roared. “I’m going back to the X-wing. This was a bad idea.” She could hear him scrabble about in the
pitch black for what she assumed were his boots.

 

Mara sat up trying not to bump her head on the ceiling. Adding concussion to confusion was not good. “Whoa, Jedi boy. It’s
not wise to run around Zathoq spaceport at this time of night. Calm down… I’m sorry.”

 

Luke stopped trying to find his footwear and paused. “Okay…” She could hear the suspicion in his voice.

 

“Lie down and get some rest.”

 

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

 

Mara squashed her pillow into a more comfortable shape and placed her head back down on it. “Why are you here, Luke?”

 

The Jedi sighed. He could listen to her voice all night if she’d call him Luke in that way a few more times – her voice low and
sensuous. She’d kill him if she thought that she sounded like that. The arguments they enjoyed were so much a part of this
strange relationship they shared. The arguments and the camaraderie. Mara made him feel like a real human being and not a
demigod.

 

“Luke, are you with me?”

 

Her voice intruded sharply into his thoughts. Luke lifted his shoulder and shrugged. “I’m not sure, but I had this dream and…”

 

“Not another one of those. They invariably end in disaster.”

 

“Tell me about it.” He flopped back against his pillow and took a deep breath. “I’d never even heard of Zathoq before, but I
saw this yard full of ships. Old ones, new ones, ships that would never leave the ground again and then I felt this prompting to
be there. It was a sale, there were lots, and I saw myself and Artoo searching for something.”

 

“Searching for what?” Mara could feel Luke’s bewilderment through the Force.

 

“I don’t know what I was seeking. I worked backward through the vision and saw myself flying through the ring system. It was
so unusual I tried to trace it. Artoo and I spent hours in the Old Imperial library until I came up with half a dozen planets.”

 

“How did you know it was the right one?”

 

“Research, mainly. Half a dozen planets with that kind of ring system. Only five of them orbited a red star and then only three of
them had big ship sales coming up so soon.”

 

“So you narrowed it down, farmboy.”

 

Luke felt a rush of warmth at her approval. “I suppose I did and then I used my gut instinct and the Force seemed to indicate it
was this one. I read voraciously anything I could find on Zathoq and the more I read, the more I knew I was in the right place.
This is a ship sale held once every five years. Something here is calling me. There was one other thing…” His voice drifted off
tiredly. She could feel the fatigue finally hitting him.

 

Mara nodded to herself. She accepted the Force promptings. Mara wriggled into the warmth of her blanket, her eyes beginning
to feel heavy. “What was that?”

 

“You… you were here too,” he murmured sleepily. “It’s the right place.”

 

He muttered something more and Mara strained, as a wave of tiredness swept over her, to catch his final words.

 

“It’s always the right place if you are here.”

 

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