Mara Jade noticed patterns.
Such as: The first time Han Solo called her to arrange a meeting, then sent Luke Skywalker in his place, she could chalk up to a legitimate excuse. The man had newborn twins and a nursing wife to take care of, not to mention his work for the New Republic. Perhaps, as his message through Luke claimed, he was just swamped.
And it wasn’t a complete hardship to spend time with Luke. For all that her feelings toward him were extremely complicated still, Mara was warming up to Skywalker. He might have been the face of her nightmares for years, but without the Emperor’s command in her head, she was learning to move past that and see him for who he was.
The real Skywalker was brave, nearly idiotically so, and smarter than he looked, and, if she was feeling very honest with herself, not bad to look at.
So she told herself to relax and enjoy it when Skywalker was the one who met her instead of Solo. They did their business (information for other information, and a few hundred credits), had dinner, talked some about the Force, and went their separate ways.
Then it happened again.
The second time, Mara and Skywalker ended up in far too small a room hiding from an unexpected group of Imperial troopers that had stumbled across the cantina they were meeting in. Mara plastered herself against Skywalker’s distractingly well muscled back and cursed Solo mentally in five languages. Then a sixth for good measure.
She would have been just annoyed if Solo had made the rendezvous and been the one she had to hide with, but at least if it were Solo she wouldn’t be tormented by finding out how good Skywalker’s hair smelled.
Mara’s legs were cramped by the time they could emerge, and she slapped away Skywalker’s hand when he reached toward her.
“I can feel how sore you are,” Skywalker said, drawing his hand back, but not putting it down. “I can help.”
“You can help by telling your brother-in-law to come to his own meetings,” she snarled, and threw the datapad at his head. Jedi reflexes helped him catch it, so the gesture was less satisfying than Mara had hoped, but she did feel a little better.
Turning on her heel, she stomped off.
Twice was stretching the bounds of coincidence a little far, but Mara tried not to be suspicious when Solo contacted her a third time. But she noticed patterns, as she said.
“Are you actually going to show up?” she asked.
Solo looked startled by her bluntness, then gave her what Mara recognized as a practiced charming grin. “Of course. What do you take me for?”
“How much time do you have?” she asked, and Solo laughed as he broke the connection.
Despite his assurances, Mara wasn’t that surprised to see a familiar profile waiting at the bar of the hotel Solo had directed her to. She growled, startling a purple woman passing her, and stalked with ill-grace toward Skywalker.
“Don’t tell me,” she said, climbing up onto the stool next to him. “Solo’s Wookiee has Naboo flu, so he sent you instead.”
Skywalker blinked those ridiculously long lashes at her, then smiled. Mara told herself sternly that it wasn’t a welcoming or inviting sight.
“I’m not sure,” he said, one shoulder lifting in half a shrug. “Han told me I needed to be here, but didn’t say why.”
Stars, Solo wasn’t even bothering to try to be subtle anymore. Mara rolled her eyes and gestured the bartender over, ordering the most expensive drink she could think of.
Skywalker winced at the price, but didn’t hesitate before he handed over his credit chip. “What did Han tell you?”
“He said he had a lead on a part I’ve been in the market for,” Mara said, and sipped her drink when it was placed in front of her. The small revenge made it taste so much sweeter. “Did he mention to you where he’d found a crystal jump drive for a modified skyhopper?”
Skywalker shook his head. “Not a word. Like I said, he just asked me to be here. Said it was important.” Color filled Skywalker’s cheeks, and Mara wondered what he was thinking of. Luke Skywalker surely wasn’t blushing over her.
Mara shook away the fanciful thought, and reminded herself sternly that she wasn’t interested in Skywalker anyway, so it didn’t matter if he was blushing over her or not.
“Waste of my time, then,” she said, and sipped more of her drink. “Tell Solo to bother someone else in the Smuggler’s Alliance if he’s going to keep playing games. I have better things to do with my life.”
Skywalker was looking at her in that way Mara hated, like he could see inside of her head. Mara focused, imagining shields in the Force surrounding her thoughts, and had the satisfaction of watching Skywalker wince.
“I’ll tell him,” Skywalker said. Mara nodded and polished off her drink.
She stood to go, and Skywalker slid off his stool to join her. “Can I at least buy you a meal? I don’t know how long you’ve been traveling, but we can probably find you something better than ships’ rations.”
“I’m fine,” Mara said, though she was tempted by the idea of fresh food she didn’t have to cook herself. But she had spent enough time in Skywalker’s company over the last few weeks. Any more, and tongues would start wagging. “Thanks for the offer.”
Skywalker nodded, and Mara let herself have one quick once over glance, taking in his trim figure in the form fitting black Jedi robes he favored. She gave him an insincere half smile, and turned on her heel to go.
“Till next time,” he said to her back, and Mara let her smile grow into something a little more real as she walked off.
Three days later, Solo contacted her again.
Mara crossed her arms over her chest. “Why don’t you cut out all the dramatics and tell me what you really want from me, Solo,” she challenged, before he could say a word.
Solo blustered for a few minutes, but Mara had faced down Moffs, Grand Admirals, and C’boath in her life. He wasn’t really up to their level, though Mara was sure his fast-talking ways had served him in good stead when he was a smuggler.
“Fine,” he sighed, when he realized she wasn’t going to bite at any of his distractions. “How much do you know about Corellian society?”
She shrugged, mind racing to bring up what she knew.
“Some,” Mara hedged.
Solo grinned at her. “So let me tell you about sedoretu.”
And then he proceeded to talk for half an hour. At the end of it, Mara was seriously wondering what was wrong with Corellians in general, and this particular Corellian in specific.
“Let me see if I understand,” she said. “You want me to marry you, your wife, and Luke Skywalker.”
“Essentially,” Solo said easily.
“But since you and I were born in the morning, we’re the same moiety, and we don’t do anything sexual. And Luke and Leia are the same moiety, and don’t do anything either.”
Solo nodded. “You got it so far.”
“But you expect me to have sex with both your wife and Skywalker?” If Mara’s voice was getting a little high during this latest question, she didn’t really think she could be blamed for it.
Solo nodded again. “That’s the idea. Well, if you want to. And you wouldn’t be sleeping with them both at the same time anyway.”
“Not the issue, Solo,” Mara gritted out, jaw clenched.
She’d spent years keeping herself to herself, cutting ties when she had to, staying low and safe and quiet. And now Solo wanted her to throw it all away so he could have his perfect Corellian sedoretu?
Not bloody likely, Mara thought, and reached for the button to turn off the communicator.
“Wait!” Solo said, holding his hands up pleadingly. “You’re right, yes, I should have been honest from the start. But just think about it. You’d be a good fit for us, you aren’t cowed by Luke or intimidated by Leia, and you won’t put up with any of their nonsense. You’d have a home, somewhere you’d always belong. And I’ve seen how you look at Luke, it wouldn’t be a hardship for you.”
“Goodbye, Solo,” Mara said. “Call someone else if you need a smuggler next time.”
She hit the off button with more force than necessary, and leaned back in her chair with a sigh.
What kind of an idiot did Solo think she was, anyway? Just because she might admire Leia Organa Solo just a little, and yes, she might also find Luke Skywalker far more attractive than she wanted to didn’t mean she wanted to marry them.
Mara pushed away from her desk and went to find something, anything else to think about.
But the idea kept popping up at odd moments to pester her, much to Mara’s annoyance. The trouble was, Solo had something like a point.
She would fit in well with the rest of that crazy group, even if it was the worst idea she’d heard in a long time.
And she kept thinking about it. Even during firefights.
After she nearly got herself killed because she couldn’t stop thinking about Solo’s explanation, Mara went to see Karrde.
Talon listened to her attentively, his fingers steepled together, and didn’t say anything until Mara had run out of words. He pressed his forefingers to his lips and considered her for a long moment.
Mara fought not to fidget. It was a weird feeling, knowing Talon Karrde had her back and she trusted him to.
It had been a very long time since Mara had let herself trust anyone.
“I think you’re overthinking this,” Talon said finally. “It’s a simple proposition, you just have to decide if you want it or not.”
Which was easy for him to say, Mara thought, but not so easy for her to do.
“I was hoping for some real advice,” she said.
Talon put his hands on the arms of his chair and leaned toward her.
“Stop lying to yourself, Mara,” he said, his gentle tone at odds with his blunt words. “Be honest about what you want, and I think you’ll find this isn’t nearly as hard a decision as you seem to think it is.”
Mara gave him a narrow eyed look, one of her better ones, but Talon only laughed. Stars save her from friends, Mara thought, and went back to her room.
There was one other option, she considered, as she paced around the confines of her sitting room. There was always the Force.
Feeling somewhat awkward, Mara lowered herself into a cross-legged position and closed her eyes, focusing on her breathing to center herself.
Though she hadn’t intended to, Mara had accepted a few lessons in the Force from Skywalker, but she hadn’t progressed very far. She was a busy woman, after all.
Now, she stretched out her mind, letting the Force wash over her and through her. What do I do? she thought, and opened herself to guidance.
The vision was sharp and immediate.
Mara found herself in a room she recognized from the night she’d saved Organa Solo’s life and children. Organa Solo - Leia - she corrected herself, was sitting on a soft looking sofa, her daughter in her lap. The child was a toddler now, a mop of brown curls falling into wide brown eyes as her mother read to her.
The girl and Leia both looked up, with nearly matching smiles as Mara approached.
“Mara!” cried the child in delight, sliding down from Leia’s lap to hurtle toward Mara. She hit Mara at knee level and wrapped her arms tight around Mara’a legs. “Mama said you were coming tonight, but you usually come so late, I never see you! How was your trip?”
“Fine,” Mara found herself saying, her eyes pricking with sudden hot tears. The little girl was so genuinely happy to see her it made something tighten in Mara’s chest. “But you still have to go to bed on time.”
“I will!” said the little girl - Jaina - Mara remembered finally. Her name was Jaina. “But you have to help Mama read me a story.”
So Mara found herself sitting side by side with Leia, Jaina spread across both their laps, as they took turned reading a page each to finish Jaina’s story.
After the girl and her twin brother had been tucked in, Leia took Mara’s hand and led her out of the room.
“You got home early,” she said, and drew Mara closer, resting her forehead against Mara’s. “Did everything go all right?”
“Just like the plan,” Mara said, and kissed Leia. The feel of Leia’s soft mouth against hers was so real Mara forget none of it was really happening. She pressed tighter against Leia, her small soft breasts rubbing against Mara’s slightly larger ones.
To her dismay, the moment began to stretch and fold in on itself, and Mara was wrenched away from Leia, only to find herself instead facing down Luke, each of them holding a lit lightsaber before them.
“Ready, Mara?” Luke asked, and she didn’t bother to nod before she attacked. He parried, sparks flying from the crossed beams of light, and Mara laughed from the joy of it. She swung her saber in a crescent attack, and Luke parried with a jab that nearly reached her arm before she dodged.
“Trying to kill me already, Skywalker?” she said, and Luke gave her a fierce grin. They circled one another for a moment before she leapt at him, hacking inelegantly at his defenses.
As usual, he was prepared for that. “You know the forms,” he chided her gently. “Why do you always go back to this?”
“It’s fun,” Mara said, and managed to slice his sleeve. “First touch,” she gloated, and stepped back..
Luke frowned at his shirt, then at her. “I still say you ought to try to be more disciplined with your saber work,” he said, switching his saber off. “But very well, you won. What do you want to do for dinner tonight?”
Mara switched off her saber and fastened it to her belt, reaching to grab Luke’s tunic and drag him down to her.
“I can think of a few things,” she said, and kissed him fiercely.
The Force drew her away again just as Luke opened his mouth to her questing tongue, and Mara dug her nails into her palms in frustration.
“I see,” she hissed, but the Force wasn’t done with her yet.
The swirling darkness lifted to show an older Han Solo frowning down at a data pad. Silver threaded his brown hair, and lines gave his handsome face more character.
“I don’t understand how you keep finding so much trouble,” he said, but his eyes danced as he glanced up at her. “This is a young person’s game, Mara. We have four children, maybe we should admit we’re getting old.”
“Never,” Mara said, and held her hand out for the pad. It floated across the meter between them, and Mara glanced down at a list that seemed half familiar. “But if you’re feeling your age, old man-”
“Hush your mouth,” Han said, and came to his feet with only slightly less alacrity than he had as a younger man. “You know I’m with you, whatever you’re planning. Let me just give Chewie a call.”
A fierce grin remained on Mara’s face as her eyes opened, the Force releasing her back into her proper time and space. She pressed her hands together, and regarded her empty fingers, remembering the triple ring she’d seen on one in her visions.
“Well, if I must,” she muttered, and stood up to stretch.
But just because it was her destiny didn’t mean she wasn’t going to make them work for it. Mara smiled at the sunset outside her window and went to make a call.