There were fifteen minutes left.
Mara turned away from the chrono and pulled her other boot on, then stood and stomped her foot just to make sure it was on securely. Satisfied, she picked up her jacket from the bed and shrugged it on. It was still very new, an anniversary present from Luke, and she took an extra moment to caress a sleeve, pleased with its soft suppleness. She turned to pick up her carryall, then briefly examined her reflection in the mirror over the dresser. Her attire was simple - a creamy blouse, black trousers, and the new jacket, with boots the same rich shade of brown - but they were all quality items that she wouldn't have disdained even back in her Emperor's Hand days, and the overall effect conveyed the level of casual competence she preferred.
The bedroom door slid open at her approach, and Mara absently trailed her fingers along the paneled walls as she walked down the hall, enjoying the smooth feel of the wood against her fingertips and the scent of fine leather that rose around her as the jacket moved with her. Pausing at the end of the hallway, she looked around the main conversation area, fixing the setting firmly in her mind: the subtly brocaded sofa, the slightly tattered leather chair Luke refused to let her refinish, the handful of cherished holos and mementos on the shelves over the holovid, the large transparisteel window with Coruscant's seemingly chaotic traffic patterns beyond. Never before had she found such comfort in simply knowing that a place was home, a place that was comfortable and comforting, where she could let her guard down more than she ever had.
Amused at herself, Mara shook her head. You're getting domestic. Old age is next if you don't watch it. Besides, she'd be back in a couple of weeks. At least she could trust her husband to keep the place reasonably neat in her absence. Other tasks, though . . .
"Luke?" she called toward the kitchen. "I'm leaving."
A sneeze was her answer, and Mara smiled ruefully. She couldn't quite shake the feeling of guilt over leaving when he was ill - but then, she couldn't quite shake the sense of relief over the same circumstance. He could be such a baby when he was sick.
Luke stepped into the kitchen doorway, clutching a steaming mug, and eyed her. "You look nice."
"Thank you," Mara said. "Don't forget to water the plants this time, would you? 'A Jedi has respect for all living things' would carry a lot more weight if I didn't know the speaker had a tendency to let the ferns die just because he forgot they were there."
Her husband made a sound that she thought was meant to be a snort, but halfway through it turned into another sneeze, one that caused him to slosh the hot chocolate over the rim of the mug and onto his hand. He managed a fairly intelligible Huttese word not fit for polite company before he sneezed again, sloshing more steaming liquid over the rim. He quickly disappeared into the kitchen again, reemerging a moment later without the mug and mopping his hand with a small towel. "I still don't see why you have to go on this mission," he said.
"Someone had to," Mara said patiently.
"It didn't have to be you," Luke muttered. "It didn't have to be a Jedi at all. It's simple security to Monor II, of all places. The Senesi are no more likely to cause any problems than Ithorians would be. Asking a Jedi to be a diplomat's bodyguard is overkill."
"Don't be such a snob," Mara chided. "It's good visibility for the Jedi. There still aren't all that many of us around, and after the Purge, plenty of people forgot about us altogether. It's good to remind them that we still exist."
"No one's going to even know you're a Jedi with what you're wearing," Luke said with some peevishness. He dropped the now damp towel onto their brand new greel wood dining table, and Mara briefly closed her eyes in supplication to whatever deities were out there that he'd remember to take it off before it stained the finish.
"You're right," she said. "The glowing sword and levitating objects would never give that away."
Luke made a face at her. "Don't patronize me."
"Then don't be so ridiculous," she returned. "Look, I'm going to be late. I have to go."
He sneezed again, then said, "I'll walk you to the transport."
Exasperated, Mara tilted her head at him. "You should be in bed. I can manage a walk to the hangar."
"Did I say you couldn't?" Luke asked, exasperation of his own clear in his voice despite the congestion. "I just want to walk my wife to her transport."
Mara huffed out a breath. "Fine. Just don't sneeze on anyone on the way."
He sent her a dirty look, but vouchsafed no other answer. He followed her into their apartment building's main hallway, locking the door behind them.
They walked in companionable silence until they reached the hangar's entrance. Mara scanned the ships and people until she caught sight of the diplomat she'd been assigned to. He was on the fringes of a larger group, still assembling, by the looks of it, but nearly complete. "There they are," she said, a not-quite sadness washing over her. She turned back to look at Luke, and saw the same feeling reflected in his eyes.
"I'll miss you," he said quietly.
"We've been apart before, for far longer than this," she pointed out, though she took little enough comfort in the thought herself.
"Kind of the point," he said with a sigh.
Mara blinked back a sudden, suspicious dampness in her eyes. "I know. But it's only for two weeks. A quick, simple mission - there and back; not even any real work involved. I'll be home before you know it."
Luke snorted again, managing it without any sneezes or coughs complicating matters this time. "And then," she continued, twitching a smile at him, "we can get to work on that project we discussed."
He pulled his gaze away from her convoy to meet her eyes, smiling softly at her. "There's that," he agreed.
He leaned toward her, but Mara held up a hand and took a step back before he came close. "Oh, no you don't. The last thing I need is to get sick at the beginning of this trip. What good is a bodyguard who can't stop sneezing?"
Luke pulled back, making another face. "Seriously, Mara. You take the practicality thing too far sometimes. Have I mentioned that?"
"Once or twice," Mara conceded. She glanced over at her group, which was looking considerably more cohesive than a few moments ago. "I have to go."
"Be careful," Luke said, then sneezed again. Mara nearly laughed at the disgusted look on his face.
"I'm always careful," she said. She hesitated, knowing she had to walk away, yet hating the reality of it. "The plants?"
"Need water; right."
"And remember to check on the Sabre. Don't just leave her in dry dock all that time."
"And take care of Jaina."
"I will," Luke said. "She and the boys will be fine taking lessons together for a couple of weeks."
"Yes," Mara said, still reluctant.
"Go," he said softly. "I'll take care of everything."
Mara held his gaze for another long moment, then nodded and turned and walked to the convoy, greeting the others with only a little preoccupation. The boarding began, and as Mara took her place in the line, she glanced back.
Luke was still standing where she'd left him, watching her. Catching her gaze, he smiled. The Luke-place in the back of her mind flooded with warmth, and Mara smiled back, reassured. Silently, she touched her fingertips to her lips, then blew him a kiss. His smile widened - then he sneezed again, and looked even more disgusted than before. Mara grinned.
An hour into the flight, finally satisfied that everyone was settled and the rest of the party's security was as good as she could wish for, Mara sank into her own seat with a sigh. It was only two weeks. Then she'd be home again, and she and Luke could settle into family life at long last.
She reached into her carryall and pulled out her datapad. She'd loaded it with a datacard on Monor II before she'd left; there was little enough to learn about such a mundane place, but it never hurt to be prepared. She switched the datapad on -
- and saw a row of tiny baby dresses, with descriptions and prices beneath each picture. Mara blinked, then scrolled down, then down again, then rapidly down through the mystery datacard's contents. It was all baby clothes, and cribs, and tiny sheets and blankets and pillows - a catalog from Coruscant's premiere baby supplies store.
At the very bottom was a note:
Some preparation for that upcoming project we've been putting off. Hopefully the twins thing has run its course for my family and we can ease into parenthood with just one - but you might want to pick out enough possibilities for two just in case.
P.S. No, I didn't lose your Monor II datacard. It's in the bag's inside pocket.
A smile crept across Mara's face; furtively, she glanced around to make sure no one was looking her way. No one was, and she looked back down at the datacard, touching a gentle fingertip to the screen where Luke's words shimmered. She scrolled back up to the top and looked at the first page of tiny clothes, again touching the screen gently. Who'd ever have believed that there would come a time when she'd be enthralled by such a thing?
She reached into her bag, coming up with the proper datacard - then stopped just short of ejecting the card full of baby items. She glanced around again and confirmed that everyone in this cabin was either napping or deep in conversation or their own reading, then looked back down at the two datacards; then she carefully replaced the Monor II card within her bag. There was time enough to prepare for that.
Leaning back in the padded seat, Mara curled her legs beneath her and scrolled to the next page of miniature dresses and tunics and pants. Maybe - just maybe - before the year was out, she would be able to actually place an order.
Just two more weeks, and she and Luke could get back to the life they'd hoped for since their wedding day. All these years of waiting and hoping and planning, but now they were nearly there.
Only two more weeks.
Original cover by rhonderoo. HTML formatting copyright 2008 TheForce.Net LLC.