Mara gritted her teeth and curled her fists together instead of punching the screen. They had made it, liberated Karrde from his ten-day Imperial incarceration, and Thrawn had figured it out faster than should be possible, the paranoid, red-eyed calyarnr. This computer console was just as unresponsive as the one in the droid storage room. It made a flat substitute for the face she wanted to punch. Thrawn wasn't winning this encounter. She had too much on the line, and two of them were in the Millennium Falcon prepping it for takeoff.
The wide door across the room slid open. She saw white in a mass and ducked. She crept to the side of the computer console as the marching boots entered the vehicle deep storage. Her blaster eased out of her holster as she shifted silently for a count.
Eight stormtroopers headed straight to the Falcon.
Their formation was at ease. They weren't expecting a fire fight. That would only last until she started shooting.
Mara. Luke's voice filled her head. He didn't push in any further to see things from her vantage point. Wait until I give the word before you attack.
Plan? was all she could return to him. That part of her mind felt rusty from disuse. She eased back under her limited cover.
The stormtroopers were under the ship now and beginning to fan out. Four of them were climbing up the entry ramp. One of them would turn in her direction any second now.
She gritted her teeth and raised her blaster. What the hell was Luke waiting for? She trained her blaster on the one turning toward her.
She fired at the one she had singled out, dropping him to lift plate. She heard the lightsaber swing in the hatchway. Then the four stormtroopers on the ramp fell backwards, arms and legs akimbo as they tumbled and slid down.
She took advantage of the distraction to shoot one of the squad, obviously gaping at them under his helmet. He crumpled in a heap.
Luke's green lightsaber illuminated him jumping off the side of the entry ramp. The two stormtroopers still on their feet pivoted and spat blaster fire at him. Her angle on them was awful. She shifted out of her cover and targeted the one still shooting at Luke. Her blast dropped that one. Then the Falcon was in her sights instead of the space underneath it.
She jerked her blaster up to the ceiling. She could hear the lightsaber, Luke's shout, and blaster fire. Then the blaster fire went silent one by one. She scanned the hangar bay. No other threats emerged.
"Mara!" Luke called.
"Yeah, what?" she shouted back as she approached the rim of the lift. The Falcon had descended five meters already and wasn't stopping. "What's Karrde doing?"
"I guess we're leaving," Luke said. "Jump—I'll catch you."
Mara puckered her lips, but she leaped. An invisible grip caught her and her body slowed and she landed on the entry ramp. The grip let go of her and she charged up the entry ramp. The cockpit corridor wasn't far from the hatchway or that long at the pace Mara moved at.
She was at the door before the lift dropped much further. "Move, Boss. I'm flying."
Karrde looked over his shoulder. "I'm fine for this. Thank you for asking."
"I'm not asking. Strap in at navigation." Mara glared and hopefully that covered her fear that the older man would make her physically haul him from the pilot's seat.
He only huffed as he stood and pivoted to the seat behind the one he had been in. "I'm commiserating with Lucinda's position."
Mara didn't answer as she settled into the pilot's seat and familiarized herself with the control panel. Luke entered the cockpit, and he felt like a sun was blazing against her back. "Strap in," she called over her shoulder and nodded at the copilot's seat.
He settled in and began throwing switches. "What happened with the computer?"
"I couldn't get in." Their lift hadn't dropped enough to let the Falcon out yet. Her hand rested on the throttle. "Though it wouldn't have mattered if I had. That squad had plenty of time to comm for help. Unless you though to jam their comlinks," she added over her shoulder.
"Come now, Mara," Karrde chided. "Of course I jammed their comlinks. Unfortunately, they likely had orders to report once they were in position, so it doesn't buy us much time."
Luke frowned out the viewport at the wide vehicle corridor deck. "Is that our way out? I thought this lift would take us straight down to the hangar bays."
"It doesn't connect directly to the hangar bays," Mara answered. "That lighted hole in the corridor deck ahead is our way down."
"I do love how you know your way around a capital ship." Karrde waved the datapad they had liberated from the tech between. "We'll see if this can operate that lift."
"Do it now!" Mara snapped. Another lift plate moved down toward the lighted opening. It it stopped there, blocking their way—
Karrde muttered something derogatory under his breath.
Mara threw back the throttle. Damn, she had always figured Han Solo was more braggart than threat, but he wasn't bragging about his ship. Its speed was fact. It leaped forward, clearing the edge of their lift before she expected the thrust to kick in. She braced her body against that thrust. The repulsorlift plates on the deck underneath them strobed with the Falcon's repulsors, sending the ship perilously near the corridor walls. She corrected the yaw as she increased the speed.
The plate continued descending at a steady pace. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Luke brace himself against the co-pilot console. She surged the ship forward.
Metal scraped and screeched against the top, but they shot out through the gap. They dropped into a vast room and Mara rolled the Falcon, now free of competing repulsorlift fields and clearing the vertical lift plate guides.
Straight ahead was the wide hangar entry port and the black of deep space.
A half dozen blaster bolts flashed at them, nothing powerful enough to get through the ship's shields nor anything properly aimed at a weak spot. They shot above the various ships docked in the bay. Mara ignored the near miss that flashed against the cockpit canopy.
The atmosphere barrier gave the ship a jolt, but it didn't halt their dive out of the entry port toward the planet below. She pulled up to skim the underside of the Star Destroyer.
Luke slipped off his restraints. "We're going to have company. I'll get in the quad laser."
Karrde exchanged places with him. "Nav computer is calculating."
"Go to the dorsal one. I'll make them attack that direction," Mara called after Luke. Turbolaser blast jolted the ship as his running footsteps moved down the ship's corridors. She scowled at the deflector shield's readings. "Solo should put some effort in boosting the shields now." She headed to the Star Destroyer's portside edge.
"He'll be fine." Karrde said in a soothing tone, like she was a nervous client.
The Falcon curved over the portside edge and she swung aft, skimming the freighter over the smooth portion of the Star Destroyer's upper hull.
"I've strengthened the shields on the dorsal side. What's your plan to protect the ventral as we escape planetary gravity?" Karrde asked.
They had reached the aft of the Chimera and she swooped down—the Falcon answered to the slightest touch—to skim the upper edge of the exhaust from the massive sublight drive nozzles. Now Mara increased the speed with nothing between them and deep space at this angle.
"Interesting tactic," Karrde said as the incoming alerts pinged at them. He slipped on the intercom headset. "Skywalker? They're almost here. You ready?"
Mara snagged hers from its dangling off the console perch and pulled it on in time to hear Luke's steady voice. "I'm ready." Then it was nothing but the sounds of the firing controls.
She didn't say anything to interrupt his concentration. The exhaust trail would thin out right when they reached the edge of the gravity well. The Falcon rocked as the TIE fighters exploded above them, but she kept them steady. An alarm of something in the power system blared at them, but she ignored it.
The nav computer sent the coordinates to the hyperdrive controls, and she threw the levers back. The sublight engines cut back as the hyperdrive hum surrounded the ship. The sky flared with starlines and then mottled. She sighed as she leaned back in the pilot's seat. They were safe now as long as the ship—shavit. She focused on the console again. "We took some damage around the starboard power converter pack."
"We can manage without it," Luke said over the intercom. "Han's got the entire ship so cross-wired that it'll fly with half the systems out. But I'll look on my way back and make sure nothing's on fire."
He turned off his intercom before she could question him about fire. She pulled off her headset and glanced at the atmosphere readouts. The oxygen levels were stable, so no fire.
Karrde set his own headset aside. "Homing beacon in the Etherway?"
Mara turned the pilot's chair, so she had a direct gaze at Karrde. "Yes. I got caught and went on the offensive. I bargained with the Katana fleet. Thrawn promised me eight days to get you to agree, and I thought he would be honorable." She looked away from Karrde's sabacc-blank face. "I was wrong."
"Your former position with the Empire was higher than I imagined."
She gave Karrde a tidbit. After all, Luke knew about the Emperor's Hand business and didn't care. "I was at the secret ceremony for Thrawn when he got his Grand Admiral whites."
That earned her a pair of raised eyebrows. "Definitely higher, considering just how classified that promotion was." Then he reached over and squeezed her shoulder. "We'll make the blue-skinned bashard pay for not honoring his deal."
Luke took no pains in being silent as he walked up the cockpit corridor. "Nothing to worry about with the starboard power converter pack. Where are we headed?"
"Coruscant," Karrde answered. "You live there, and we need to go there to follow through on the promise I made to you earlier."
Mara didn't let her leaping heart—she had thought for sure Karrde would head to a base first and it would be that much longer before seeing Lucinda again—distract her from a promise she knew nothing about. Karrde had promised something in the garbage compactor?
Luke didn't hide his thoughtful expression. "You mean that bit about the New Republic standing to gain from your rescue?"
"That's the one," Karrde assured him. "As I recall Solo's sales pitch to me back on Myrkr, your people need transport ships. Correct?"
"Badly in need of them," Luke agreed. "You have some stashed away?"
"Not exactly stashed away, but it won't be too hard to put my hands on them. What do you think the New Republic would say to approximately two hundred pre-Clone Wars vintage Dreadnaught-class heavy cruisers?"
Luke's mouth fell open and Mara felt his astonishment and Karrde's better concealed delight over surprising a Jedi. "You don't mean… the Dark Force?" Luke asked.
"The one and only," Karrde answered. "I realize you are unable to negotiate on behalf of the New Republic—"
Luke's smile was more like his brother-in-law's smirk. "As soon as we land, I'll get you a meeting with the Inner Council."
Karrde smiled. "I can't ask for anything more. No, that's not true. A bunk to sleep in."
"What about food?" Mara asked. Karrde looked in decent shape, so the Imperials must not have started with interrogation droid treatment yet.
"A shower, some sleep, and then food." His brown eyes twinkled at her. "I don't need mothering, Mara. I'll eat after a few hours of proper sleep."
Luke stepped out of the older man's way. "The bunk room is the third interior hatch past the main hold." Karrde gave thanks without breaking stride as he left the cockpit. Luke sat down in the seat behind the co-pilot's. "I don't believe it. The Katana fleet?"
Everything they had just gone through to free Karrde, and that was the part Luke found unbelievable. Mirth bubbled through her. Must be a reaction to a successful mission. She launched herself at Luke and straddled his lap. He didn't stop her climbing onto him, nor the deep kiss she gave him.
He pulled her even closer and tried to tangle his hand in her braided hair. It was plaited too tightly for him to work his fingers through, so he settled for massaging her neck tendons with his long fingers as they kissed.
They needed to rid themselves of the flight suits and their clothes underneath the camouflage, but Luke was more concerned than aroused at the moment. She ended the kiss and pulled back to give him space to speak, but remained perched on his lap.
His hand slid down to her shoulder and his other hand rest in the small of her back, so he didn't want that much space between them. "Are you okay with the New Republic getting the Dark Force?"
"We don't have the personnel to run one vintage Dreadnaught even if we kept it slave-circuited." But that wasn't what he was trying to ask, protecting her by not saying whatever worried him. "Do you think I preferred to see it in the Remnant's hands?"
"You bargained with it."
"To save everyone who works for Karrde from Imperial bounties. It's what the red-eyed freak is really after."
Luke frowned hard at her rather mild insult. "Blue skin, red eyes?"
Mara blinked. "You haven't seen Thrawn. He's not human. Nobody knows what species he is."
"And he still made Grand Admiral." Luke sounded admiring. "In secret. Too bad it wasn't enough to sway him to our side." His hand stroked up her neck. "Is it the alien thing or the double cross?"
"The double cross." Mara breathed deep to recover from that snappish tone. Luke continued to stroke her skin. "I know the Empire I served was nothing but lies; I found that out years ago. But some inside the Empire are honorable. I thought Thrawn was one of them. I was wrong."
Luke's hand rubbing her neck slid forward to caress her cheek. "I'm sorry you had to discover it like this."
She shrugged as she leaned into his hand. "It could have had a higher cost, but it didn't. Now enough about that. Do we need to keep a watch in the cockpit?"
"No, you can hear the alarms throughout the ship."
"So where do you bunk?"
He winced. "In the room I sent Karrde to."
She snorted. "Doesn't this bucket have other bunks where we can have some privacy?"
"No, no, we can't do that." His hands dropped to her hips. "Because I want that too, but we can't do that in my sister's bunk or in Chewie's."
"Wookiee sense of smell, well that makes sense. But what's wrong with where your sister sleeps?" It was probably large enough considering how tall Solo was.
He winced again, but this one looked more pained. "I don't want to know what Han and Leia do in there."
"Luke." She was not whining his name, and she pressed her forehead to his.
He kissed her lightly on the lips. "I have an idea. Wait here."
She climbed off his lap and let him leave the cockpit. She double checked the console and everything looked safe enough to leave it on course. And it didn't take Luke that long to return for her, it just felt like forever to her adrenalized and aroused nerves. He had taken the time to strip out of his TIE fighter pilot flight suit before he stepped back into the cockpit doorway and held out his hand to her. She took it without hesitation.
He turned away from the main hold. She remained silent as they reached the engineering bay. Everything sounded normal from the hyperdrive engines. The hatch in the starboard wall opened into the third cargo hold. And Luke had gathered every loose blanket and pillow in the ship and made a pallet on the deck plate.
"Does this work?" He asked in a soft voice.
Mara's smile spread into a grin as she unzipped the flight suit and toed off her boots. "I think this is the best idea I have seen you have."
"Really?" He pulled his tunic and undertunic off in one move before holding up his left hand and twisting his long fingers suggestively. "I thought that was my best idea."
"Your best technique," she corrected. He laughed. She joined in it, and their lust and joy over a successful mission combined to keep them both giggling until Luke's naked body was beneath hers and she was concentrating on changing his giggles to moans.
The nine years had changed him as much as it had changed her. His body was still lean, but his muscles had grown more defined through lightsaber dueling. Her fingers traced their outlines over his chest and abs. His long fingers were still the same, ignoring the seam attaching the prosthetic hand to his arm, and they gripped her hips as she smeared her slick along his erection.
"Mara." He moaned her name in a way that made her vagina clench. His hips bucked against her, but he stilled them so quickly. His eyes were nearly black with a rim of blue left to show their color. "Please, Mara."
Making him a shattered mess wasn't the goal now, or possibly ever. That he still wanted her with her ugly past was a desire she was too greedy for to jeopardize with a power trip. She raised up and guided his cock into her vagina. He stretched her in all the right ways and she moaned in appreciation. She lowered down, savoring it.
"Mara," he answered her moans. He eased his grip on her hips and locked his own against the blankets. He ran his hands up her sides, dancing his fingers over her ribs. "Okay?"
"Yes." She smiled at his need for reassurance of her pleasure. She loved him for that. "Better than okay."
She didn't give him a chance to respond before she bent down to his chest. White scar lines ran in fractured patterns like lightning tattooed to his tanned skin. He was lucky—they were all lucky—the electrical discharge accident hadn't killed him. She licked the closest scar and tasted his salty sweat as she followed it across his pectoral to his nipple.
He jolted his hips and stilled them just as quickly. But she needed that friction. She rose from his chest and began the rocking lift of her hips. Luke's right hand slid up to squeeze her breast. His left found her clit. He remembered the right way to stroke her to wind her up.
Her channel tightened around him as her orgasm caught her. Her head fell back as her entire body tightened with the pleasure. She cried out, and that was fine. They had shut the door.
Luke surged up, wrapped his arms around, and caught her against his body. She returned to her mind and languidly held onto his broader shoulders as he rolled her onto her back on the pallet.
She locked her legs around his hips, pulling him deeper. He tucked his arms under her back, cradling her closer while his hips snapped.
Mara tightened her grip on him and latched her mouth onto his. He was so close, the way his body tightened and the way his rhythm faltered hadn't changed either. His grip dug into her flesh as his cock jerked inside her. His surge of pleasure washed over her in the Force, combining with the pressure on her sensitive folds, created another wave of pleasure through her.
He kissed her before rolling to his back beside her. There was room for both of them to stretch out, which was a first for all the times they had kriffed. She didn't let him roll out of reach as she followed him and snaked her arm over his torso.
So greedy, but she had to soak up enough of him to last the rest of her life because this will end. As soon as she told him the truth, he would walk away, and she'd be lucky if he didn't drag Lucinda away with him.
"What's wrong?" Luke asked as he brushed some stray red strands back to the rest of her hair.
"It's not good enough." His eyelids drooped, but he waved at the cargo hold. "Not romantic."
She slid over him, bumping his once-broken nose with her own. "It's fine. We're fine. One day, we will have sex in a bed for the sheer novelty of it."
"I have a bed." His arms wrapped around her. "You have a standing offer to join me in my bed."
She had to smile at that. "Standing?"
"You know what I mean." He harrumphed under his breath as she kissed him. His hands slid down to cup her ass. "Oh, I bet standing sex or against the wall would work better now. I can hold you with the Force." He nuzzled her.
"We're not testing that in here." Mara settled her head against his shoulder. A loose blanket draped over them both. She splayed a hand over his chest. His steady heartbeat didn't soothe her apprehension.
"I'm not insisting," he said through his yawn.
She'd like to blame his Jedi training, but Luke had always figured out her moods. "I'd like to go out for dinner once we're done with debriefs and meetings. Just the two of us."
She felt his happiness buoy her like she was floating in water. "I'd love to do that." A yawn interrupted him. "That'll make the debriefs more tolerable."
"Hopefully," she answered as he drifted asleep. She would finish confessing to him, and then they would figure out how to go forward without input from the forceful personalities that surrounded them. He'd want what was best for Lucinda, no matter how he ended up feeling about Mara.