Luke watched his X-Wing with its precious cargo vanish with the usual flicker of pseudomotion. He turned his gaze from the Skipray's viewport to the back of Mara's head in the pilot's seat. She wasn't trying to hide her internal trepidation or determination from him. "They'll be fine. Artoo will go straight home."
"It's different, leaving her behind safe on a planet." Mara activated the hyperspace drive, and the stars began to streak outside the viewport. "Damn Aves for not riding herd harder."
"What happened? How did the Grand Admiral capture Karrde?" The nav section he sat at didn't need any input, so he swung the seat out to face the viewport.
Her attention was riveted to the pilot control panels, but her self-reproach flared. "Thrawn caught me, made me think we had a bargain, but he put a homing beacon aboard my ship. I led them right to his hideout."
He nodded as he projected his sympathy and filed away that the Grand Admiral's name was Thrawn. "They pulled that same trick on us too. That's how they found the Yavin base. But it looked like you betrayed the boss and they took it out on Lucinda."
"Oh, don't let her off the hook." She rubbed her face before unlatching the restraints and turning the seat to face him. "She shoved her way into a fight to defend my honor and they pulled out vibroblades."
"It's never too young to fight for what's right." Luke didn't let her glare dissuade that conviction. "But Uncle Owen kept me grounded on the farm with chores from breakfast to bedtime after I pulled a stupid stunt."
"It didn't break you of stupid stunts. How in the galaxy did you end up in C'baoth's clutches?"
His face warmed with embarrassment at how easily he'd been taken in by C'baoth's act and dropped his gaze to the deck. But the Jedi Master's emotional instabilities were genuine, and they extended far enough for C'baoth to qualify as ill. "There have been rumors circulating of a Jedi Master surviving the Purge and the Empire. And he spoke to me during a skirmish over Nkllon against a Star Destroyer."
Luke shivered. I will teach her such power as you can't imagine, C'baoth had said about Leia and her babies. The words had differed from those Vader had spoken to Luke in their last duel, but the darkness behind them had been identical. But Luke had helped his father from that dark path. Was it conceit to think he could do the same for C'baoth? That there was a chance to save him? He glanced up at Mara. Her earlier glare had softened. "How did—?"
"Thrawn threatened to send me to his mad Jedi Master if I didn't enlist. He said C'baoth was helping in exchange for Jedi to mold and that he already had you." Mara shifted in her seat. "After that, I just sliced the where he had you out of their computer system."
That was pretty damning evidence. Maybe not up to New Republic judicial standards, but Intelligence would mark C'baoth's allegiance as Imperial, provided they found Mara's testimony trustworthy. But they didn't know her like he did, depending on each other, intimate with each other, and connecting through the Force. "And you found me and C'baoth did his best to kill you." Artoo had shared what he had observed after they had recorded the message to Winter.
Her lips pursed a bit—how he wanted to kiss those lips—before she consolidated her resolve. "Your chasing after Jedi heritage is a weakness your enemies are exploiting. And all it does is get you into trouble. Isn't that how Grakkus captured you in the first place?"
She risked herself and her daughter to save him, so she deserved an honest answer. Granted, she needed his help, but he was a Jedi. His help belongs to all those in need. "There's so much I don't know," he admitted.
Mara swung her hands in frustration. "I know why you do it, Farmboy!" She got out of her seat and then teetered, undecided whether to leave the cockpit or continue with her point. "You need more backup than your astromech. At least start bringing backup."
That made practical sense, and Mara had always dealt with practicalities. She would be perfect for this hypothetical backup, unfazed by any opponents and gifted in the Force. And they could entertain each other traveling between sites he wanted to study. He jerked his eyes away from her rounded hips. Not that looking at the floor kept his mind from thinking about gripping those hips as she rode him again. She isn't volunteering for that! He told himself fiercely.
"Backup is probably a good idea," he managed to say.
She took a deep breath. "Let it go," she advised. "C'baoth isn't worth your mental anguish."
"I wasn't thinking about C'baoth," Luke admitted as he stood up. "I was thinking about us." He gestured between their bodies in the Skipray cockpit as if that would draw her closer. "It's an old habit." And one he had no desire to break himself of, if he was brutally honest.
"Old habit?" Her eyebrows lifted over her brilliant green eyes.
His cheeks grew hot. But if he was foolish enough to follow a mentally ill Jedi Master for two weeks, he might as well be foolish enough to crash everything with this woman. "After getting away from Grakkus, I thought about us." Especially in his cold, lonely bunk on Hoth. "I had a fantasy that if I had dared to kiss you in that cell, you would have escaped with me, stayed with me."
A blush bloomed across her cheeks. "It was a favorable impression." She met his gaze. "I thought about you too, over the years."
He dared and stepped closer. "Would you have escaped with me if I had?"
"There's no way to know that. We were two different people then."
He steeled himself against the blow. He knew that; he knew it nine years ago. Why did he keep thinking his luck would change?
Mara closed the gap between them and set her hands on his chest. His circular thoughts screeched to a halt. "But a kiss isn't unwelcome now," she said.
He reached up with his left hand and cupped her cheek before pressing his lips against hers. Her lips parted under his. She was sweeter than his imagination had built up over the years. Her hands moved up to his shoulders. He curled his right arm around her back, pulling her close. How she fit against him sent a rush of lust through him that hardened his cock.
She gasped as their mouths separated, but her hands gripped his shoulders. Her eyes smoldered under her lashes. "Don't stop." She slid her arm around his shoulders, pressing tighter against him.
He answered her with another kiss, opening his mouth to her questing tongue. His left hand moved to the back of her head under her braid. He wished her hair was loose to wrap around his fingers. Their mouths parted to gasp for breath, but he didn't wait to fill his lungs again before tilting her head back and pressing kisses along her jaw to her ear.
Her gasps were more than just breathing, but not fully formed words either. Her lust seeped from behind her formidable mental shields and rubbed against his, much like their bodies were. A deep primal urge demanded to strip her, to kriff her, to make her scream with delight.
He rebuked that urge. It had to be her choice. It always had to be her choice, because of the one time it hadn't been. His lips closed around her earlobe and her fingernails dug into his back along with her breathy moan.
He released her earlobe. "How much do you want, Mara, pateesa, how far do you want to go? Because I want to take you to the bunk and show you how much I remember of what you taught me."
She pulled back, but didn't let go of him. "I have no idea how much of that is accurate any more. My body's not the same one you remember, Luke. Not after having a baby."
His heart gave a leap at the confirmation that there had been no one else since Lucinda's father abandoned them. All the more reason to treat them right, to court her well as Aunt Beru would admonished him. He pulled his right arm back so she could retreat if she wanted to and wiggled the fingers on his prosthetic hand. "Mine's not the same either."
She huffed a slight laugh as she wrapped her arms around his neck again. She kissed him softly. "Let's go explore."
He wrapped his arms around her again as he returned the kiss. They had to break apart to leave the cockpit and pass through the corridor and main cabin to get to the bunk room in the Skipray's rear. The small cabin had four bunks set one above the other with a matching pair across an aisle.
Mara unfastened her belt with the blaster still in the holster and dropped it on the bottom bunk to the left. Then she had his belt in her hands. She kissed away his question before he even got it out. "I want you again." She set his belt and lightsaber down next to her blaster. "So please don't dither."
He unwrapped his sash from around his waist and then looped it around her and pulled her back against him again. She slipped his tabard off his shoulders.
"Whatever you desire." He dropped the sash and ran his hands down her back as he kissed her again. Her buttocks were still more muscle than fat, but squeezed delightfully.
Her fingers found the fasteners of his tunic and made quick work of them while his lips explored her neck again. They hadn't undressed each other before; it hadn't seemed fair when the only clothing Mara had was his flight jacket. But if she wanted to now, he was more than willing.
He slid his hands around her hips and up her stomach. Her breasts filled his hands more than he remembered, even with the clothing barrier. She moaned with his squeeze and he grazed her collarbone with his teeth and made her moan longer.
He grinned. "That spot still works." He licked it.
Mara tilted her head back as her fingers dug into his shoulders. "That wasn't one I had worried about."
He kissed that spot before finding the front fastener of her flight suit and slid it open. She only wore a supportive basic underneath. Creamy skin shivered as his callused hands brushed over it, slipping the flight suit off her shoulders and down her arms.
"So beautiful." He kissed the freckles covering her left shoulder.
She fisted his undertunic in her hands, trying to pull it free. "Too many layers."
"I would've worn less if I knew you were coming." He reluctantly pulled his hands from her to shed his tunic and undertunic.
She unfastened his trousers while his arms were occupied. "Forgive me for not comming ahead?" Her fingers left his waistband to glide over his stomach.
Luke gasped as he dropped his tunics on the deck plates. "Of course. With this outcome."
She toed off her boots. "I hope that holds true moving forward." Pensiveness tainted the lust surrounding them. She had no reason to fear him or his reactions. He wanted to comfort her.
She shimmied the flight suit off her hips. Wearing only her basics, the sight made his loosened trousers uncomfortable again. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her again. Now that he could, he would never tire of it. She relaxed into it.
His fingers brushed against the raised scar outlining her spine, and she tensed again. He found the fasteners to her supportive basic and pulled back enough to look at her face. "Is this okay?" He caressed the fabric.
There was something there that made her uncomfortable; he could see it in the way her eyes hardened. She tensed in his arms, but it was her determined stance. What had he done to set that off?
"Yes," she whispered, "Yes, it's okay."
It wasn't convincing, but he took the permission and unclasped the supportive basic. She flinched when he brushed the scar again. Maybe it was still sensitive.
The basic slipped down to the floor. Her breasts had always mesmerized him, but they showed the most change from having a baby. They were larger—as he had already noticed—and the nipples were longer from suckling her child. She was still the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.
"Beautiful," he murmured.
Mara blinked at him, her determined stance softening. He brushed his fingers around and under them. Her pupils dilated again as her nipples hardened. He bent and nuzzled them as he squeezed them. Her hands wrapped around his head as she moaned again. She tugged him down to the bunk on top of her.
He moved up to kiss her as he propped over her. "You okay?" he asked when they broke apart. She was flat on her back now.
"Yes." Mara slid her hands down his arms. "More."
"Yes." He kissed his way down her body, lavishing attention on her nipples, swirling his tongue into her belly button, peeling her bottom basics off as he reached her groin. She spread her legs for him. He delved between her red-gold curls with his tongue.
Her hands grabbed his head when he ran his tongue over her clit. Her cries strengthened his resolve to pleasure her completely and thoroughly. He would set himself apart from all her other lovers by always putting her pleasure first.
She wailed as her orgasm rolled through her. Her leg shook free of his gentle grip and wrapped around him. "Luke." She drew out his name as she panted.
His cock recognized that sound with a throb. "Sorry. I still have my trousers on." He used the Force to pull off his boots because she tightened her leg around him and prevented his standing up straight.
"You used to be faster at stripping." Mara smirked at him.
He freed himself from his trousers and basics and left them on the deck plating. "It's mean to point out how sand-pitted I am."
Her answer was to wrap her arms around his neck as he crawled over her, leveraged herself up to kiss him, and broke it off as he slipped into her wet heat. His satisfied moan mingled with hers and was worth the wait. Her hips snapped up to meet his. They merged into an eager rhythm that was far less clumsy now than his memories always chastised him for. He held back, savoring the feel of her, moving how she had enjoyed before and was pleasing her now.
Her orgasm contracted her walls around his cock, and she arched back with a cry. He thrust into her one more time before his orgasm over took him. Her name stayed on his lips as he collapsed against the bunk's wall before his trembling arms gave out and landed him on top of her.
He reached to pull her to his chest as he shifted to his back, intending to follow up with more kisses. But Mara flinched and tensed in his arms and before his hands rubbed her back again. He froze not to hurt her.
Self-recrimination and shame hit him before sliding behind her mental shields.
He went still and lifted his hands to not trap her. He washed the Force over him, giving him energy in place of after-great sex lethargy. "Mara?"
She didn't flee the bunk, which he expected her to do. Instead, she twisted and burrowed her face into his chest. "Ask and get it over with."
He wrapped his arms around her trembling body. "Mara, what happened to your back?"
She shuddered as she inhaled. "I never told you who my Master was, the one who abandoned me to Grakkus. You never asked, and I never told you."
"I assumed it was another Hutt." They had been on Nar Shaddaa and there were lots of Hutts, so it was a logical conclusion, but it made little sense with how she didn't understand Huttese.
"I know you did, and I never corrected that assumption. It was Emperor Palpatine." She didn't move against him.
He rubbed her shoulders, careful not to touch the scar. "I thought they enslaved you for a long time. Was I wrong?"
She embraced him, squeezing hard. "You were not wrong about what it really was." She eased her grip as if she shouldn't touch him. "He took me from my family when I was very young—three or four—my parents are nothing more than shadows now. He took me to the Imperial Palace, trained me, and made me his Hand."
Luke continued rubbing her skin. She hadn't relaxed yet at all. "What kind of position was that?"
"I was his spy and assassin. Vader was his public fist, and I worked in the shadows alone. I could hear his call across the galaxy."
"With the Force."
"Yes. I didn't lie to you about how Grakkus ended up with me, just on who sent me there for one of the Hutt's treasures."
Luke winced. "Was it something I did that made you not trust me then?"
"No!" She jolted up to look at his face. "No, it wasn't anything you did. You were kind. I had no idea what to do with your kindness, but that wasn't your fault." She braced herself to stroke his cheek. "And it wasn't your fault I was too stupid to trust a Rebel pilot."
"Stupid? Never." She was just as smart as Leia, and both were smarter than him.
Her gaze slanted away from his face. "Afraid that the only human in that argau'ra would throw me back to Grakkus for my connection to his enemy."
His heart plummeted to hear that. "I wouldn't have done that. Please believe me."
Her green eyes brimmed with regret. Her legs shifted so she could crawl away.
Luke wrapped his arms around her, heedless of her scar, and hauled her back to him as he sat up. She didn't fight the grapple. "Do you think it matters now? That dead Sith dotkohu didn't send you to kill me."
"He didn't know you were there."
"So he doesn't come between us now." He shifted one hand to the back of her head and pulled her into a kiss.
She froze against him and his brain screamed that he had gone too far with the bruising kiss he continued. But her lips melted against his and her arms wrapped around his neck. He tilted his head, finding the perfect spot to tangle their tongues. She straddled his thigh without ending the kiss or breaking the embrace.
Luke shifted both of them so he could prop his back against the bunk's head curve. She moved only to settle against him comfortably. He let go of her head and settled his arms around her curvy hips in a loose embrace.
She didn't jerk away when the kiss ended, but she pulled back enough to look at him. "You really don't care."
"You said it earlier, we aren't those two people now. And now is so much better than then."
She raised an eyebrow skeptically. "You do remember what we are flying into, right?"
He grinned. "Yes. Still better than a gladiatorial match with Kongo the Disembowler."
She smiled finally, and it lit up her whole freckled face before she leaned against him and hid it against his neck. He let her and enjoyed the feel of her relaxed and at peace. "Now you know why I said that." She tightened her arms around him. "I wasn't ready to join your cause when we escaped. By the time I saw the truth, I had to take care of Lucinda."
He remembered what she had said about being on an Imperial bounty list and the child's terror of stormtroopers. "Palpatine tried to get you back." He wanted to wrap his arms tighter, but fear of hurting her stopped him.
She sighed. "He called to me after I gave birth to her. Told me to bring my baby to the Palace. I knew he would turn her into me, a tool to drop once she couldn't spy or kill, and I couldn't let him. I told him no. And he tried to kill me with the Force."
His blood chilled at her matter-of-fact words. She had survived; she was here in his arms and mostly on his lap. He kissed the top of her head. "I had no idea you could do that with the Force."
"It's nothing you would want to do." Mara stroked his neck and carded her fingers through his hair. "And I doubt it was anything the Jedi considered a tenet."
"Probably not. What happened?"
"I don't remember that part. I shoved him out of my head, broke our connection somehow?" She shrugged without lifting her head. "Luckily, we were still in the medcenter, so they made sure I didn't die from the effects to my body and smuggled us out before the stormtroopers arrived."
"Leaving you with a scar down your back." It could have been worse, so much worse. "Does it hurt still?"
"No, of course not. Why do you ask that?" She lifted her head to look at him.
His eyebrows knitted together. "You keep reacting every time I touch it."
She blinked. "It's not pain." She focused on his face and a smirk emerged on hers. "Found something new."
A good something new? Cautiously, he laid his left hand over it in the small of her back. She shivered again and her eyelids slid down. He drifted his fingers over the raised skin. The edges fanned out with jagged lines following nerve paths. It must have been excruciating during the attack.
But now her shivers were culminating in her rubbing herself against his thigh as his hand moved up her back. Her arms tightened around his neck. "Any complaints, pateesa?"
She hummed, a pleased sound akin to purring, and she continued humming while she kissed him.