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KREIA: At times he will list off engine sequences, memorize the hyperspace routes on the other side of the galaxy, count the ticking in the power couplings even though they are fixed. At other times he will imagine certain base lusts, certain indignities...


ATTON: After that, I couldn't stop feeling things. Before—guilt, lust, impatience—it'd been orchestrated to get close. Now it all just kept tumbling out.


SOMEBODY: Lord, what fools these mortals be!


Meetra knew it for a dream, but it was the logic of dreaming that, in the moment, this didn't matter. The passageways and compartments of her flagship were real as life, the faces of her officers clearer than in her waking memories. The mood in the officers' mess was of anticipation, tension suppressed but still jangling against the edges of her Force sense like the ringing of clear high bells. In less than twelve standard hours they would meet the Mandalorian fleet over Malachor V.

Part of Meetra's mind already knew how it would all end: the desperate maneuvering, fire and vacuum, Revan and the reinforcements delayed out-system, the Republic forces scrambling for advantage against the turning tide of battle. And the final decision, irrevocable as all choices were in deadly combat, though with consequences beyond any she had taken before or since.

She knew those consequences intimately, but knew also after all these years—hundreds of nights, maybe thousands, of waking in the same cold sweat—that she couldn't make a different choice this time, even if she wanted to. That, too, was the logic of the dream. She could only ride it to its inevitable end, and right now, that meant sharing this last meal with her staff.

Her memories of too many of their names and faces were faded by now, but in her recurring dreams they always came back sharp and vivid, Force auras bright with nervous life. As her ensign stacked the empty meal trays into the recyler and the daily ration of liquor went around (meager, by this stage of the war, but indispensable), she let herself relax into the flow of it. She'd learned after so many years, so many nightmares, that the only way out of this was through. Might as well enjoy the few almost-happy parts as they swirled by at dream-speed.

She found herself leaning over a side table opposite her second officer, studying a hand of pazaak. He was up by one set and looked pleased, a smirk playing on his freckled face. The part of her that knew this was a dream groped for his name, but couldn't find it. She could remember how he'd died, though, choking blood from his throat around a jagged plasteel shard from an exploded grav-generator panel. His freckles had stood out very dark against his pale skin as his blood pooled above him in zero-gee. She'd see it again before she woke tonight.

He grinned, raised his eyebrows, impatient for her next play.

She looked down and saw she held a +2/-2, the only bright spot in an otherwise mediocre side-deck hand. He stands at eighteen, I'm at fifteen, deal a three and I'll play the +2, deal a seven and I'll switch the face to play the -2, less than three but more than one I'll have to hit again... numbers and probabilities skittered through her head. Wasn't this supposed to be a map of the Malachor system, not a card game?

She won the set with nineteen, and on the next drew a three on the first deal, five on the second. No negative cards in hand. If it's a six play the +6 and stand... She didn't remember this part of the dream at all, and it unsettled her a little. She'd barely known how to play pazaak in those days, hadn't begun to get any better at it until years afterward. But in a moment her fighter squadron leaders were sweeping her off for another toast and the feeling of dream-familiarity settled over her again, along with the old knot of dread in the pit of her stomach. Under the nervous, elated voices, she heard a faulty power coupling ticking faintly somewhere behind a bulkhead, reminding her that tomorrow—soon—this fragile man-made egg that held them all safe would crack open along with a hundred others, all spilling smoke and vacuum and lives.

As her officers trailed out of the room on their way to well-deserved berths, Meetra stood, hip cocked against the edge of a table, and watched them all go with the best benign smile she could muster.

"Now go rest well, people. You've earned it." They'd all been only too willing to follow her to the ends of worlds; tomorrow many of them would do exactly that. A final friendly word was the least she owed their ghosts, again. The very, very least.

The door hissed closed, shutting out their fading chatter, and she waited, braced for the dream to sweep her along in its path again. It would be mostly horrors ahead from now on. She sighed, shoulders slumping a little.

And then gasped a shocked breath as a warm hand suddenly pressed firmly against her belly, a warm body leaned close against her back.

"Wh—" she half-choked, and tried to see who it was, what was happening. But in the logic of dreams it seemed she couldn't turn her head and look behind herself any more than she could delay her assault on Malachor, wait for Revan to fight free of the Mandalorian ambush she hadn't learned of until much later.

Still, unlike the usual pitiless current of this dream—of her own history—this sudden touch felt safe, somehow. Even if it maybe shouldn't.

"I thought we'd never get a minute alone," a voice she couldn't quite identify murmured roughly in her ear.

His hand slid upward. The fasteners of her uniform jacket parted with improbable ease as his fingertips pressed between them, his palm burning now against the skin between her breasts, his fingers brushing her nipple, his lips on her neck.

He was warm, so warm. In the late days of the war fuel had been short, and the whole fleet had run ship's climate control slightly below standard tolerances to conserve power. Her memories, her dreams of that time were all threaded through with the same persistent chill. But his hot breath at her ear dispelled the cold instantly, and as teeth grazed her earlobe she felt an answering heat building in her belly.

"I know you want this too, General," he breathed against the back of her neck with a soft urgency that matched the sudden pounding of her own pulse. Her title sat light in his mouth as though it were not the deadly weight her dreams always made of it, but rather some private joke between them. His other hand was sliding southward now, down past her navel...

Driven by an unfamiliar surge of desire, she reached behind herself, fumbling roughly at clothing she couldn't see, feeling his heat and his urgent hardness low against her back as together they pulled and shoved away the confining fabric between them.

It was all dream-logic, so she came fast, too fast, the details vague. One instant she was bent forward with his fingers wound tight in her hair, back arching, hands tensed on a scarred plasteel table in the officers' mess of a ship destroyed ten years since, her own voice a soft moan in her ears and the compartment rocking in her vision in a way it most certainly never had in life. The next instant, her body shook and whiteness burst around her from the inside out. As the high faded to colored snow at the edges of her vision, she woke in her bunk on the Ebon Hawk, sweaty and reverberating and... yes, soaking wet, with a slippery sensation between her thighs.

Empty, too, in a very particular down there sense she hadn't felt in a long time.

Well. That was... strange. And it beat the hell out of the way that dream usually ended.

She felt obscurely guilty, though. The recurring dream, with its remembered horrors and reminders of lost joys, had always seemed like a just punishment for her trespasses. Or a psychic grave marker for her dead, maybe. What could have suddenly transformed it into something so, so ... oh. Hugging her knees to her chest, Meetra frowned slightly.

Reflexively, she reached out. Her reawakened Force sense brushed lightly against each of the living beings on the ship: Mira sleeping, Mical sleeping in his cabin, Mandalore too; Bao in some hidden dream of his own; Visas in the deep meditation that seemed to pass for sleep with her half the time; Kreia... despite their bond, a blank Meetra's mind slid frictionlessly off, at almost any hour of the day. As ever, Kreia would be known only when she chose to be. But at present she seemed... well, dormant, anyway. Silent.

And in the ship's cockpit, a bright waking presence Meetra didn't even need to extend her senses to feel. Counting pazaak cards.

In the dark, she felt her face heat up. That can't be it. Can it? She stretched, twisted around on her bunk, tried to return to sleep—or failing that, at least a light meditative trance. Without much success. Deep, careful breathing scarcely made a dent in her level of physical arousal, and anyway now that she was fully awake there were other biological factors in play. Her full bladder pinged at her, providing at least a partial distraction from the messages coming in from other parts.

A few more hours of hyperspace before you face the Council on Dantooine, the people who exiled you and maybe now need your help to save the Republic... and you can't sleep because a dream made you too horny? Stars, you really are an ex-Jedi. The corner of her mouth pulled up ruefully. In the dark—savoring the return of her sixth sense, still so recently re-opened to her—she reached unerringly for a soft robe to cover her light sleeping shirt, found an elastic tie and twisted her hair roughly away from her face. She padded barefoot down the darkened passageways of the Ebon Hawk to the head.

A minute or two later, running her hands under the cleanser, she stretched out her senses again. Yes, there was exactly one other person awake and active on the ship. two-twenty-four degrees. Tatooine to Ithor, forty-eight-point-two parsecs, heading one-twenty by...

Well, she certainly wasn't getting back to sleep.

Her bare feet were so soft on the cool metal decking that even Atton's assassin's instincts didn't detect her until she was actually inside the cockpit, a meter or two behind the pilot's chair. Practically on top of him. Then he half-jumped out of his seat, ducking for cover, his hand going not to the new lightsaber but to the familiar blaster holstered just behind it.

She grinned and flicked a finger at the weapon. "Not your best choice at close quarters."

"You might be surprised," he growled, and she could see in his shoulders how he forced himself to relax. Slouching back into his seat, he spun the pilot's chair around toward her as far as it would go while she slid the cockpit door closed behind herself. She and Atton were the two lightest sleepers on the Hawk, she was pretty sure—well, aside from Kreia, maybe—and a quiet conversation up here was unlikely to disturb anyone, but such close-quarters courtesies quickly became second nature on board a small ship.

She leaned an elbow on the back of the copilot's seat, facing him but still standing. "We know each other pretty well by now, I'd say," she said lightly. "You think you could still surprise me?"

"You've never stopped surprising me, Surik." His lips quirked. Atton nearly always seemed to Meetra to be half-smiling, but rarely with real ease—it was all part of his don't-look-at-me, I'm-nothing-special routine. In this case, though, she thought she detected some genuine softness. Or maybe that was her lack of sleep talking. "Does it have to be all one-sided? Can't the apprentice ever surprise the master?" The line of his mouth grew a little flatter, tenser. "Or, uh, whatever it is we are."

Draw five, that makes sixteen, play the plus-three...

"Not quite that." She realized suddenly that her robe was hanging open, exposing a considerable length of spacer-pale leg below her loose sleeping shirt, and twitched it closed self-consciously. "Can't remember my masters ever chatting with me in their pajamas, for one thing."

"Hey, nothing I haven't seen before, remember?" he said with a smug lift to his lips, reminding her again of how infuriatingly he'd behaved when they'd first met on Peragus. A lot of that had been the act too, of course. She'd never known anyone else who worked so hard at being underestimated. "To be honest, I've kind of missed the view since."

She frowned, though she was pretty sure it wasn't convincing. "Now you are being predictable." Her rising flush, at least, she could control, ex-Jedi or no. She thought her voice didn't come out more than usually rough, either. Still, she realized, her physical state was not settling down as quickly as she'd expected. She needed to compensate, still her mind—resolve this little odd little training problem, if such it was, without creating too much awkwardness between them.

"What are you doing up, anyway?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Checking on me? If I were planning to re-route this tour bus to some resort planet, I promise you I'd have done it already. Weeks ago." He rubbed his chin. "Though come to think of it, that actually sounds like a pretty good idea. Want to reconsider?"

"What, Dxun wasn't enough of a holiday for you?" she countered. "Fresh air, historic sites, natural scenery?" She slipped around the side of his chair and, after a quick glance to confirm the manual piloting systems were inactive, helped herself to a casual perch on the center control console, taking better care to keep herself covered this time.

That surprised a non-smirk smile out of him. "...exotic wildlife? No thanks. I prefer to take my vacations someplace where people bring me drinks on demand. Maybe with a pool or something." Then his gaze on her sharpened, and she felt his Force perception, strong but still rudimentary, doing the same. "You didn't answer my question, though."

"I had to use the head," she said with a half-shrug. "I should ask you the same. I'm not the one up and fully dressed in the middle of the sleep shift. We're still on auto until we come out of the jump at Dantooine, aren't we, flyboy?"

"Couldn't sleep," he said shortly, crossing his arms over his smoothly-muscled chest. Shutting down again. "Maybe it's the thought of all those Jedi in one place, just waiting for us. Puts my teeth on edge." His hazel eyes slid away from hers, studying the toes of his boots.

"There's half a dozen Jedi on this ship alone, now. Including you," she pointed out, lips twitching.

"Not the same thing. Not at all, believe me. But listen, if you actually are checking up on me..." she heard a hesitation where others might have missed it, and then he looked up at her again, his expression still clouded, though a little clearer. "I'm fine. You don't need to worry, I'll have your back the same as always. You of all people know I can keep a low profile."

Eight and twelve showing, flip the face of the +6/-6 card...

"Mm. About that..." She hesitated, running a hand through her hair to tuck back a few strands fallen loose from their rough knot.

"What?" He gave her another sharp look. "Have you been crawling around in my head again? It's not like I really expected anything different, you know. I can handle it." Though in fact she sensed a sudden flicker of hurt, quickly buried under the relentless tattoo of pazaak figures.

"No, I said I wouldn't—" Unexpectedly, she couldn't resist the impulse to defend herself, or maybe to reassure him. "I know how much that bothers you. I swear I haven't done it since... since the first time." Even when she'd wanted to. Instead she'd had to practice reading him without, well, reading him. "But, listen, Rand—Atton—" she shook her head, and a rueful laugh escaped her. "Do you have any idea how loud you're getting?"

"Huh? What are you talking about?" He sat up straighter, confused and reflexively defensive. Still smarting at the mere suspicion that she might have violated his thoughts again, she guessed, even though she'd denied it. "Quiet was my job, Surik. I don't see any of the others out here complaining about the noise, do you? You'd never even have known I was up right now if it wasn't for nature's call—or whatever your real reason is for sneaking around the ship in the dark."

"Hey, easy." Half-hesitant, she leaned forward and put a hand on his knee, gave it a little shake to snap him out of it. Even through the heavy fabric of his combat trousers he was warm, and her hand almost twitched away in surprised response before she could stop it. "Not that. I mean your, uh, your pazaak habit."

She felt his muscles relax a little under her hand, but he gave her a blank look.

Meetra took a deep breath. "I should have guessed this might happen, but it's so rare for someone with your background to start training this late," she began carefully. "I think... I think, as you become more open to the Force, you're not just shielding yourself anymore. You're projecting."

There was a little flinch of resistance at that, felt through her palm as well as through the Force. The few times they'd spoken of his odd mental disciplines before, it had always seemed to her that he feared even acknowledging their real purpose out loud, as if doing so might undercut their effectiveness. She met his gaze carefully, willing him with her eyes to stay with her on this. "I can hear you even when I'm not trying, right now. Just bits and pieces," she added quickly as his eyes widened. "And I, um, actually found myself playing pazaak in the middle of a dream a little while ago. Someplace I promise you no pazaak should be."

She started to straighten up, lift her hand away from his knee, but he captured it instead, closing his own fingers around hers. "Hey, I have that pazaak dream sometimes too. The big score. Always a good one." His voice was light, deflecting, but with a roughness around the edges she couldn't quite place.

"This one was supposed to be a nightmare." Her lips quirked ruefully, and she felt his warm fingers tighten around her cool ones in instinctive reassurance. "So I guess I can't really hold it against you. But I don't know if Mira would be so understanding if you went blundering into her dreams. Let alone poor Mical, or Bao-dur."

His hand twitched, and his face—that familiar face she could sometimes read like a book now, even without touching his thoughts—shuttered before her eyes as his mind worked through the implications.

"Oh. Shit. You're not just talking about pazaak, are you." His expression fell further, and a muscle in his jaw jumped spasmodically. "Shit. Kreia."


"Shhh, softly." She squeezed his hand, shifted her weight on her perch to place her free left hand on his shoulder with a pressure she hoped was reassuring. "Calm. Center your consciousness. Try to let it go. Or you really will wake the others." Her hand slipped closer to his collar, and she stroked the tight muscles of his neck with her thumb. "If it helps, it was probably just me. The two of us have... well, more of a connection between us, we're used to sensing each other. Could be because you've been training with me longest." Teachers aren't supposed to have favorite padawans, Surik. Ex-Jedi, indeed. She felt him relax a little, then tense again, and almost—maybe?—tremble slightly under her touch on his skin. "If you keep it up at this rate it'll be everyone soon enough, though."

"I didn't—I never—" Avoiding her eyes, he cleared his throat and rubbed his knee with his free hand. "It's just another head game, doesn't mean anything, you know. It was one thing when it was only messing with the old witch." He grimaced. "Seriously, that's no more than she deserved for trying to worm in where she wasn't wanted. And any other Sith or Jedi who didn't like it could damn well keep out, so most of 'em did. But—" She felt the muscles of his throat jump as he swallowed.

In a lower, rougher voice, he went on, "... never wanted you to see me that way. Kind of," he swallowed again, "ugly. And," his voice began rising again, "I swear to you, Surik, I never, never meant to force that shit on you. If I'd known, I wouldn't—I'd never—and while you were sleeping, no less. I'm sorry. I don't know what else to say." He looked up, moving as if to shrug her hands away, and Meetra was struck by the sadness in his eyes. He seemed like a man who was sure he'd just broken something irreplaceable, and something about it hit her right in the gut, hard. "You must think I'm scum. I guess you're not all that wrong."

"Enough." She didn't let him shrug away, instead cupping his cheek with her left hand and sliding her right hand up to press his shoulder through his heavy jacket. His face was just barely rough with stubble, a universe of warmth and texture beneath her fingertips. "No harm. I promise. You just need to learn a little more control. Although," she bit back a wolfish grin into something more restrained, "you might tell me one thing."

Hesitantly, watching her with an expression rather as if she were the last rebreather left during an atmosphere failure and he wasn't quite sure if she'd been charged up or not, he nodded against her palm.

"Was that actually supposed to be me, in your head?"

His eyes widened, and her Force sense was filled with a wild chatter of hyperspace coordinates before he tamped down—very quickly this time, clever flyboy!—and left her only a near-indecipherable jumble of physical reactions to read him by. Which was really confession enough. "Uh. Well, um."

"The uniform too? 'General,' really?"

"Hey," and he shifted up and back in his chair, dislodging her hands, seeming to recover a bit of his balance even as a hot flush touched his ears and the soft skin above his shirt collar, "I served too, remember? I'll have you know that's, uh, a pretty common one among enlisted guys. And girls."

"Huh. So you always wanted to fuck an officer?" She rubbed a hand across her mouth, surprised to feel her face relaxing into what felt like its most natural smile in weeks. Years, maybe.

"I—" He raised an eyebrow, seeming startled by her blunt choice of words. "Back then, maybe, sure. Not later." Something dark crossed his face, and his body hunched inward a little. "Definitely not later."

"And now?" she pressed.

"Uh..." he looked aside, half avoiding and half seeking her gaze. "Not... not exactly."

Hyperspace coordinates rattled in her mind's ears, then vanished all at once as he clawed back the accidental Force projection again. The unsettled energy recoiled harder this time, and for a breath his shields flickered, cracked just barely open.

Now, you fool. Coward. You'll never have a better moment—the bittersweet taste of his thoughts brushed against the edge of her senses before he slammed shut again.

Meetra blinked, and found herself staring into Atton's eyes in mutual startlement. "Oh," he said in a small voice.

"Oh," she breathed back, knocked off her own balance.

"I fucked up, didn't I?" He winced, flinched away from her.

"On the contrary." Meetra drew a deep breath, felt a fluttering high in her belly. "Never a better moment, huh?"

She leaned across, reaching for him again, winding her fingers into the stiff leather of his jacket collar to pull him in closer. She rested her forehead against his. He smelled of clean sweat and warm human and, just a little, of spent tibanna fumes, the incense of war.

She could feel his eyelashes brush her cheek as he blinked, and all her careful, logical thinking about what she could and could not allow for herself, things she might and might not hope, seemed very remote all of a sudden.

"Meetra, I—" Atton moved restlessly, his hands coming half-up to ward her off or draw her in.

"Sh." She pressed her lips to his.

He hesitated for a heartbeat, paralyzed with—surprise? Pleasure? Fear? Resolutely refusing to reach into his thoughts uninvited, she could only wonder.

In the next heartbeat he kissed her back, urgently, leaning into her and drinking her lips with his own. His tongue slipped past her teeth to touch the tip of hers, and she drew a sharp breath, feeling an electric thrill as if she'd touched a live wire. 'Hooked up a power coupling,' huh? And why the hell not? A laugh bubbled up in the back of her throat.

He broke away, barely. "What, is this a joke to you?" he muttered into her cheek, but she shook her head quickly, just enough movement for him to feel.

"No. No, never that." Her head felt light, her body oddly weightless except where her hands and cheek touched him, anchoring her. He was as warm as in her dream.

"I've, um. You know, I've thought about this. Kind of a lot," he said, carefully tilting his head back to look into her eyes. Hyperspace coordinates whispered at her senses again. His eyes were more blue-green than gray just now, catching color from the console lights around them.

"Really." Watching his face, her lips quirked. Her fingers brushed his cheek, her thumb tracing the corner of his mouth.

"Are you sure you—" he began, but then she kissed him again, on the corner of his lips where her thumb had played a moment before, and his reserve snapped. His arms snaked around her before she knew it, one hand slipping to her waist and the other behind her shoulders; with that quick, graceful Echani strength he usually hid so well, he pulled her weight sideways into his lap.

Her combat reflexes tried to tell her to fight his hold, but she brushed instinct aside and leaned in instead, glimpsing his face at odd angles through her eyelashes as they explored one another with quick, almost desperate thoroughness, lips first, then tongues. Time seemed to stretch between them, a warm, wet eternity. With a very, very small fragment of her mind, she noticed that the chatter of coordinates and sequences and pazaak sums faded entirely out of her senses as his body relaxed against hers—he was still shielding, perhaps, but not projecting, not now. Other things to think about, she thought to herself with a smug inner smile.

Then she set her teeth feather-lightly into his lower lip for an instant and he groaned against her mouth, trailed hot kisses away down the line of her jaw. "How am I supposed to know this isn't just a crazy dream?" he said in a hoarse, almost plaintive undertone, breath hot against her ear.

She traced light fingertips down the side of his neck from earlobe to collar, catching her breath. "I haven't had... well, anyone, in a long time," she confessed, lips twisting wryly. "A long time. Not even a dream-lover. I'll be awkward as hell. Then you'll know it's real life." Her hand moved to fiddle with the top button of his shirt, and she realized belatedly that she must be nervous after all—she could feel something like battle adrenaline washing up over her.

He twined his free hand into the rough twist of her hair—the other arm still wrapped her waist—and pressed the bitter smile from her mouth with his lips, pulling her firmly against him. "You, awkward? That'd be something new," he breathed, with an expression she took for amusement. "Might be a good thing at least one of us has, uh, a plan of action, then."

"Since we're fraternizing?" she murmured back, heart pounding. His hand in her hair was bringing the dream back in flashes of somatic memory, making it hard to think clearly. Through her own thinner clothing, she felt the seams and fasteners of his jacket pressed uncomfortably against her breasts and flank. She released her grip on its collar and slipped her hands beneath it, pressed them flat against his chest with fingers spread.

She could feel his heartbeat through her palms, and she realized she'd already been sensing it through the Force; now it seemed to fill her whole body. She slid her hands up slowly, nudging the heavy leather away and off his shoulders. He took a shaky breath at her slow touch, and she breathed in response as she felt his chest move under her hands.

"Right, fraternizing. Couldn't remember the word." Soft and ragged with desire, his voice was a far cry from its usual guarded, bantering tone. He released her to shrug his coat off and let it slip to the cockpit floor as she continued to run her palms over his chest, feeling the strong, flat muscles under his shirt. His arms wrapped around her again. "Think we're even now, though. You may be the General, but I'm the ship's pilot, and this is my turf."

"I'm not a g—" but he pulled her in again, hard, crushing her against him, and she forgot what she'd meant to say. She wriggled just enough slack to get one knee across his legs, straddling him in the—fortunately capacious—pilot's chair so she could lean into him fully, belly to belly, her breasts pressing against his chest. Between kisses, she felt their breaths moving not quite in sync, became aware too that her shirt had bunched up around her legs and left not much at all between herself and the sturdy fabric of his trousers.

Oh, and she could also feel something else stirring under her thigh—but then his hands on her hips pressed her upward again, up onto her knees, and his mouth trailed hot kisses down her neck. She felt his tongue trace the point of her collarbone and she had to steady herself with a hand on the back of the chair, swallowing a gasp, as he tugged the loose collar of her shirt open and cupped her breast in one tentative hand. "Oh," she whispered as his mouth explored the sensitive undersides of her breasts, "oh," as the fingers of his right hand twisted lightly at a nipple, while the other hand supported her back from behind. Quietly, though, quietly. She hoped.

She buried the fingers of her free hand in his dark hair and tried to breathe steadily while he mapped her breasts with his hands and tongue, though it wasn't easy. He was a very thorough cartographer, seeming to chart her responses and mark each one for further exploration. The sweet pinch of teeth on her nipple made her twitch and whimper involuntarily, and she caught him looking up at her with sudden, heart-tearing concern. She shook her head and tried to answer, but couldn't gather her scattered wits into a sentence, could only pant at him, "No—go on—"

Emboldened, he slid her robe back off her shoulders. She let it drop away of its own weight and reached for his collar button just as he went for the hem of her shirt; their arms crossed, impeding one another, half tangling. He laughed breathlessly and held his hands away in a gesture of surrender. "All right, a little awkward, maybe," he allowed hoarsely. "But," her fingers, slipping free the first button, felt his throat move as he swallowed at her touch on his bare skin, "um, ladies first."

She settled her weight down on his legs again and leaned into her work, marking each opened button with a press of her lips, savoring his warmth, breathing the scent of him. All just pheromones, Mira would say, probably. Which was just one small part of why she had no intention of gossiping to Mira about this.

As she kissed her way lower, finding the trail of dark fuzz below his navel, she felt his diaphragm jump under her hands and he hastily steered her back upward with a gentle hand under her chin, freeing the last shirt buttons himself. "Whoa. That's, ah, another playbook."

"I wasn't—" Arrested, she felt the self-consciousness that had suddenly come over her fall just as suddenly away, and she raised her eyebrows. "Wait, so you've got more than one...?"

His hands tickled her thighs as he felt for the hem of her shirt, his eyes on her face. "Maybe."

"Well—" the word almost shaded into a hiss as the back of his hand brushed against her inner hip, bunching her shirt upward. "You're the pilot. This time." She swallowed a helpless, silly laugh. Then the shirt came up over her head—she lifted her arms—and he let it fall away as she was fully exposed at last, his warm hands roaming over her body an almost shocking contrast to the mild ship's atmosphere.

The soft fabric tangled briefly around her elbows as it slid away behind her, and she battled down a moment's panic response at the feeling of restraint. At first she thought he wouldn't notice, busy as he was with that move that had made her jump a little while ago—and was even now starting a hot feeling in her belly again—but then she realized his hands had stilled, and he was holding her tightly, looking up at her. "Hey. Everything all right?"

"Fine." Flushing, she shook her hand free of the last centimeters of sleeve, tossing the offending garment across the arm of the copilot's chair. "Don't like feeling tied up, that's all." She leaned in again, meaning to stop further questions with her tongue.

"Ah, that's too bad," he muttered, muffled against her mouth. "How do you feel about tying—" but she bit down on his lip again, harder this time, and the rest of the question dissolved into a groan. He stroked her flanks, her back, her legs, and she reciprocated everywhere she could reach. The Hawk's atmosphere was warmer than that of a battleship in fuel conservation mode, but Meetra had the same sense as in the dream that her body was somehow colder than his, that touching him was bringing warmth back to life in herself. His strong shoulders, his soft flanks, his nipples which seemed to her delight to be nearly as sensitive as her own... she raised an eyebrow as her fingers found a small but deep shrapnel scar she hadn't known about, hiding in the light fuzz of dark hair across his chest. A question for later.

She soon realized his touch was more purposeful than hers, his fingers rubbing little circles down her belly and up her inner thighs, moving deliberately toward the secret place between her legs. She drew in a sharp breath as his fingertips brushed her most sensitive spot, found her already slippery-wet against his hand. He smiled into her shoulder as he began to explore, one finger just probing the lips of her opening and then retreating to tickle that sensitive spot again. She felt herself going weak through her belly and had to brace an arm on the chair back again as he massaged with his thumb, surprising a soft groan from her.

Biting her lip and running a hand through his dark hair, she leaned her head back and let him kiss down her neck toward her breasts while his hand worked away beneath. One fingertip slipped just barely inside her, then two, and she felt her inner muscles convulse, tightening around him at once. A dream was one thing, but this was real, an intensity of sensation she'd long since forgotten.

His fingers began to move, and she tried to steady her breathing, failed entirely. Colors with no names were starting to gather at the edges of her vision, bursting like sparks from a badly tuned lightsaber blade. She scrambled to set a stronger block around her Force aura, afraid that, out of practice as she was—in every relevant sense—in a minute she might be blazing bright and loud enough to wake the other Force sensitives on board.

The mental discipline pulsed, wavered, but held, even as she felt the too-wary defenses of her body give way. She tightened her fingers in his hair, ground herself against his hand, bucking helplessly as his fingers curled and stroked someplace inside her that sent an electric charge through her belly.

"You said—been a while—" he panted from between her breasts. "Don't want to hurt—never—" but in answer she found herself fumbling at the fastening of his trousers, though his teeth grazing her nipple made it even harder to focus, hard to control her limbs.

"You're—hh—not helping, Rand," she gasped at him.

He grinned wickedly up at her, and there must be at least one or two Echani moves she still hadn't seen, because in a moment she was belly-down on the main console, panting—not unpleasantly—and counting her racing heartbeats as the little hard buttons of the ship's manual controls pressed against her belly and breasts.

She heard the soft thumps of a pair of boots hitting the floor—gently, for stealth's sake—and propped herself on one elbow to look backward and watch him disrobe the rest of the way, as she hadn't been able to do in her dream. Naked humanoids were so funny-looking by any reasonable aesthetic standard, and yet as far as her eyes were concerned he was beautiful in the glow of the nav monitors: strong, well-proportioned, with passion vibrating in every line of his body. More obviously in some parts than others, to be sure. His expression as he looked at her surely mirrored her own, tinged with something almost... worshipful? It made her a little shy, and she looked down at her hands for a moment as he stepped close again. He pressed up behind her, hot and eager. A hand brushed her back, trailed along her flank, touched her tangled hair.

"This is how it was, I think. In my dream." She glanced over her shoulder for his reaction, but couldn't help wriggling her hips against his, which maybe spoiled the effect a little. His cock slipped between her legs, and she moved herself toward him, feeling her outer lips slide wetly along his hard length. His eyes had gone half-lidded, his face suffused. If she tried to read him right now, would it be pazaak cards again, or some fantasy of herself layered over the real thing? And at this point, did she really care?

"So is this..." she hesitated, looked down again as his hands tightened on her hips, the tip of his cock now pressed just so against the opening of her, making her body vibrate so that she could hardly catch a full breath, "—is it the way you imagined?"

Instead of answering he pushed himself inside her—slowly, so slowly, just a little on the first stroke, a little more on the second and third. There was a twinge, so quick she barely noticed it, and then she felt herself pulse around him and white flashes seemed to burst in her vision. She heard herself moan softly, heard an answering deep breath from him. He slid his full length into her at last, gently, and her hips bucked against him, her body demanding more force, more pressure. She slipped one hand back and pulled him harder to her, fingernails scoring lightly down his hip and digging into his buttock.

He responded in kind, pushing fiercely into her now, groaning a little on the first stroke. "Oh, believe me—" and then he lost his speech and only moved, thrusting in and out with pent-up urgency that woke more echoes in the center of her. He panted behind her as her internal muscles gripped him harder, and her peripheral sense of his body through the Force told her he must be only barely holding on to his control.

"Believe me," he tried again, getting a little more air, "nothing like I imagined. You're always better than I can imagine you. Always surprising—" He ground into her again, deeper, leaning his weight over her, and she pressed up and back, felt his mouth mark her shoulder, felt her body rock with his. He felt so good moving inside her, even as the nav keyboard bruised her palms and a drop of sweat ran down her breast to fall on the console.

As the fire mounted within her she turned her head and tried to kiss him, could only manage to graze his hair with her cheek. He seemed to realize what she was after and stepped back to give her just enough room to turn; she whimpered a little at the sudden feeling of emptiness when he pulled out and away, but then twisted around toward him, pulling his head down with her hands, unexpectedly glad they were almost of a height.

"Yeah," he muttered after a moment, coming up for air. "You're right. Face to face, huh?" His eyes were a bright, clear gray now; his hand toyed with her breast, teasing the nipple, as she angled her hips against the edge of the console so he could slide into her again.

She drew a sharp breath as he entered, the sensation no less intense than the first time, and wrapped her legs around his hips convulsively, rocking into him. "Mm," she panted in inarticulate agreement, nipping at his jawline and then claiming his mouth once more, her arms pulling him to her for all she was worth. As they rocked together, his hand slid down between them and his thumb began to draw practiced circles in the right place again; the extra stimulation sent her over some internal cliff's-edge almost instantly. And then, somehow, another one. She felt herself falling, a safe and weightless falling, floating on pulsing waves of white light.

Only just in time, she realized that some of the buzz in her senses was her Force block, fraying at the edges. Shit! Out of practice indeed. Hastily, roughly, she shoved it back into place even as she panted for breath and her muscles moved in wild ripples of their own accord. She opened her eyes just in time to surprise a peculiar, bemused look on Atton's face. Yeah, sometimes I need to learn a little more control too.

In another moment the fierce waves washing through her body passed to his, and he began to thrust harder and faster against her, his face tensing, his hands tightening on her buttocks. She sensed him about to come, and the ripple of tension and heat deep and tight inside her set her off again too, sent her scrambling to make sure her block held even as her body bucked and shook and she felt him spill himself into her, gasping something that might have been her name while she groaned into his hair. She held him to her, finding the strength of her arms again, riding the aftershocks until they both slid trembling to the cockpit floor.

He buried his face in the curve between her shoulder and neck, and she draped a boneless arm around him, breathing shakily. Only the side of the console at her back held her anywhere near upright. The cool of the decking beneath her felt good now, easing the heat of their bodies.

After a while he said, in something more like his normal voice, "That miniature trash compactor of yours is going to be pissed when he finds out what we did on his nav console."

"Clean rags in the hatch under the copilot's chair. And no console logs while the Hawk's on autopilot. He never has to know," she said smoothly. He snorted against her shoulder, tickling her with his breath.

"You're a born criminal, Surik. You were wasted on the Jedi."

"Thank you?"

With a wry half-laugh, he shifted to sprawl on the floor, pillowing his head on her bare thighs. "It's a compliment."

She shook her head and just watched him, slowly reaching tentative fingertips to brush a sweat-soaked strand of dark hair back from his brow.

When her fingers had combed through his hair in silence a few more times, he cleared his throat and said in a very different, much lower voice, "You know... everything I've ever loved, I've destroyed. Or else it tried to destroy me." His eyes sought hers, hoping for understanding, maybe afraid she'd understand too well.

For an instant the air chilled around her, the sounds of a warship filled her ears. The hollow rumble of capital ship engines, officers' chatter... the plink of pazaak cards flipping? The corner of her mouth pulled up in spite of herself.

"Yeah. Me too." She twisted a strand of his hair between her fingers, leaned over him with eyes wide open. "Want to try anyway?"

He answered silently, pulling her down toward him, and they sealed their fools' bargain without words.