The wind smelled like ashes and dried blood.
"How can people do this to themselves?" he asked, though not to anyone in particular. He knelt on the ground, carefully avoiding burnt bodies that brought back too many memories, and picked up a child's doll.
"You were in the Rebellion," she pointed out from behind him. "Surely you understand why. The planet's government was oppressive, therefore civil war."
"The Rebellion made me understand why preventing civil war is important," he said, getting to his feet. He sighed, and looked down at the doll he still held. "I hate being too late."
The headlines of the paper Leia sent him brought home all the reasons why Luke never liked sludgenews.
LANDO CALRISSIAN AND MARA JADE? ran across the top, big and bold; beneath it was a picture of Mara and Lando strolling arm-in-arm through a casino.
Luke had absolutely nothing against his friends finding happiness together, but...Mara and Lando? He would have thought that she'd kill him sooner than kiss him, even if Leia had confirmed the article's relative truthfulness.
This couldn't be it. There had to be more. And there had to be a real reason he didn't like the idea.
That was him? That was the Jedi Skywalker her Master found so threatening? She snorted--if he even truly was a Jedi, not just claiming the title to sound impressive. But no, if there hadn't been some truth to the claim, her Master wouldn't think him a threat.
But he couldn't be that much of a threat--he didn't even realize that he was standing on a trap door, for crying out loud!
And why she should be sent, when it was normally Lord Vader who disposed of Jedi...
But no matter. She'd do the job, and then go home.
I hate having so many things inside me that aren't me...
Not the baby, of course. Sometimes...sometimes I want to keep him here, safe away from all the dangers of the world outside.
But there're dangers inside me, too. I haven't told Luke, but I'm feeling sick again, and the tears are almost gone. And if the illness returns, what it might do to my baby...
I want to see him born, at least. To see his eyes...I'm sure they'll be blue, like Luke's, when he's older.
Whatever happens with my illness, I will bring my son into the world.
He likes dancing with her.
He's graceful enough, but still she growls and calls him hopeless. He doesn't mind, because she dances with him still, and he likes having her in his arms.
Leia taught him the basics, but Mara taught him more, after they were married. "To make sure my husband doesn't disgrace me," she'd said, but she'd smiled, and so he'd been amused.
The music surrounds them, but he pays only enough attention to stay with the beat. All the rest of it is on the feel of her so close to him.
He likes dancing with her.
When he frustrates her, she yells at him.
She can't kill him, unlike whatever annoyed her years ago in Palpatine's Empire. She can't glare him into silence, like she does her coworkers when they cross the line. Physical fights rarely help, because however much satisfaction she gets whenever she throws him in hand-to-hand, her frustration is back every time his lightsaber hovers above her throat.
So she ends up yelling, and he lets her yell, and listens.
He's not afraid of her. He never was. She's not sure what to think about that, which frustrates her again--so she yells.
He dreamed of the cave.
That was not unusual. It happened most often before Endor, before he'd made his peace with his father, but he still sometimes dreamed of his face inside his father's mask.
But this was a different dream, from the second time he visited the cave. At first it molded itself to his memory, and he heard again his warning to Jabba, saw his salute to Artoo--
--saw that slender, unknown hand holding his lightsaber. He woke again with the woman's laughter ringing in his ears.
Who is she...? he wondered, before going back to sleep.
"Do you ever miss Tatooine?"
He looked at her, and was silent for a moment. "Sometimes," he answered finally. "I rarely liked it while I was living there--I always felt stifled despite all the open land, and it was so barren, with no grass or trees...but it was home for a long time."
"I hated it, when I went there," she told him. "Sand got everywhere."
He laughed. "It does that," he agreed. "But it's not so bad, when you get used to it."
She gave him a twisted half-smile. "Many things aren't," she said, and closed her eyes.
She loves his smile. For many years she thought him solemn, but then she let herself know him, and fell in love with his smile.
He flashes it--bright, content, eager for the day--at her when they first wake up. She sees it many times as the hours pass; he smiles whenever he sees her, and so sincerely each time. She's amazed and flattered that someone could be that happy to see her.
Smiles from him often provoke ones from her, and she'd never smiled so much before she married him. The change is enough to love him for.
Sometimes he dreams the vision he had of her, floating as if dead in a pool of water. Whenever it appears, he wakes, and looks over at her and watches her sleep for a moment, just to watch her.
Once he dreamed that she didn't wake when he said I love you, that she just floated away from him and he couldn't bring her back. He'd slept the rest of that night with his arm around her waist, her body safely close to his, where he could hear her steady breathing and be reassured that she's alive and with him.
Ben is screaming. For all his tiny size, he must have the biggest set of lungs in the galaxy, because I don't think I've ever heard anything so loud.
But it doesn't matter. He's wet and his face is scrunched up and he's absolutely wailing, but he's alive and in my arms, and no matter how tired I am, I'm going to stay awake because I want to look at my baby boy.
Luke is besotted, I can tell that already. He puts a finger out, lightly touches Ben's cheek, and Ben quiets down.
He knows how loved he is.
"When's our ETA, my love?" he asked, poking his head into the cockpit. "Leia wants to know."
When she turned around in her seat, he saw she had a funny look on her face. "What?" he asked, when he noticed, walking over to her.
"I've never been called by an endearment before," she told him, still with that funny look. "It's...strange."
"If it bothers you--" he began, but she put a finger on his lips and smiled at him.
"Strange doesn't necessarily mean bad," she said, removing her finger, then kissing him softly, lingeringly. "I kind of like it."
A loud wail pierced the night, and Mara's hand was already snatching her lightsaber from beneath her pillow when her brain made the abrupt transition from asleep to awake. Sheepishly, she let go of the lightsaber, and opened her eyes to see Luke looking at her with amusement.
"I'll go," he said, when Mara yawned. "It's my turn." And he was already up and shrugging into a robe before Mara could protest that it was actually her turn.
Then he leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. "Go back to sleep," he said, smiling. "I'll take care of him."
He'd never thought about how utterly reliant on the Force he'd become until it was taken away.
The woods were lovely, dark and deep, but he felt disconnected from them, unable to touch the essence of the lives of all that lived here.
And he felt disconnected from the woman trudging behind him, who he knew was glaring at him because she'd not done anything else the entire time he'd known her. Perhaps that was a good thing; he'd bet that the heat of her hatred in the Force could cook him alive if they'd both had access to it.
She's tired of having her sleep interrupted by those blasted dreams. They haunt her, refusing to dissipate even in the light of day. She's getting so frustrated with them that she's almost ready to go to Yavin and ask Skywalker if there's any Force technique in dealing with unwanted dreams.
She doesn't, though. She doesn't want to see him, not right now--
An image flashes through her mind--skin, lips, teeth, and blue. "Get out of my head," she hisses to someone who's not there; but she knows all too well it's not his doing that she dreams of him.
Is it so strange that I want her to be a Jedi?
It's not that I don't care about everyone at the Academy--I do. But sometimes I wonder just how I, when my life's work is to restore the Jedi Order, managed to have no one close to me to share that life with?
Han can't, but he's happy that way. Leia won't, but I understand how busy she is.
But Mara...is it selfish to want as good a friend as Mara, one also strong in the Force, to share one of the most important things in my life?
Rarely had she felt truly secure. Assassin's training wasn't quite conducive to feelings of safety, and she always checked corners for shadows like what she had once been.
She felt secure in her skills, in her abilities to defend herself and others, but it wasn't the same thing. Secure in that she had the skills, yes, but secure in that she wouldn't need them...
He changed that, though, as he changed so many other things. He made it his job to watch her back, as she'd always watched his. She hadn't expected it, but with him near, she felt safe.
Resentment is of the Dark Side, Luke reminded himself, yet again. One more week until she's back. You can survive until then.
Still he couldn't completely get rid of the childish urge to call Karrde and tell him that he'd had Mara for more than ten years and now it was Luke's turn. They were still newlyweds and he wanted her, now that he finally had her.
But Mara herself said that she needed to disengage from Karrde's organization personally, that she at least owed him that. So Luke would be patient.
Well, as patient as he could get, anyway.
"Have you ever thought about children?"
Turning to look at him, she raised an eyebrow. "Only to figure that I'll probably never have them. I'd make a horrible mother. Why?"
"You wouldn't be that bad," he protested.
She snorted. "I don't know the first thing about children."
"But you feel things deeply," he replied, touching her hand momentarily. "You'd love them with everything you are. Everything else can come from there."
"It's a moot point, anyway, since I doubt I'll ever get married, let alone have kids. No point in wondering."
She sighed, and a moment later he echoed it.
He tries not to let fear overtake him, but somehow it's harder than it should be.
She picks at her food, and he watches her thin despite his efforts to make her eat. He feels her lie awake beside him at night, and nothing he does can stop her insomnia for long. She feels dizzy, and she won't accept the energy he offers.
She's sick, and he can't help her. His uselessness terrifies him as little else does; that, and the idea of a looming future without her.
He loves her, and she loves him. He can't lose her now.
Patience. Patience. Patience was a virtue.
Meditation would probably be a good idea. Disperse negative feelings in the Force, not let them distract him. He was supposed to be on watch. Mara would--
Involuntarily, he glanced at her prone form, his gaze automatically finding the hole in her shirt over her shoulder. But the charric burn was almost healed; it would soon be time to wake her up. She still slept peacefully.
He wondered if she normally looked like that when sleeping, shadows softening her face, her mouth slightly parted--
He wrenched his thoughts away and told himself again, Patience.
She drifted in the Force. Dimly she knew that her body was healing itself, that she'd taken a nasty shot to the shoulder, and that Chiss weapons were painful.
She felt like she was about to wake up, her mind stretching in preparation. Stretching out--and she brushed against someone familiar, a miniature sun right in front of her.
She brushed against him again. He was very warm. It felt nice.
Thought was difficult, but thought was unnecessary. He brushed against her too, sending an impression of not yet.
She let herself drift back into the flow of the Force.
"Why not just run the supplies?" Karrde sounded all too reasonable, damn him.
"I've got other things to do."
He raised an eyebrow. "Like avoiding Luke Skywalker?"
"I'm not avoiding anyone!" she snapped. "Like I said, I have other things to do."
"He'd like to see you."
"I don't care," she said gruffly. "I don't want to see him."
"You know," he mused, "I never would have thought you one to run away from a fight, Mara."
Her eyes narrowed. "I don't run away," she growled. "Load the damn supplies."
Glaring at him, she spun on her heel and left.
"Come on, Ben," she said encouragingly. "It might be disgusting, but it's good for you."
Luke stifled a chuckle, across the table. "That's probably not helpful," he remarked.
She waved a hand, the one that wasn't holding the spoon. "He can't understand, anyway. I'm just talking nonsense to him."
"You'd be surprised what children pick up." He looked amused. "Though we should just count our blessings that we don't have to deal with two at once."
Mara looked at her son, who was stubbornly keeping his mouth closed. "Maybe you're right," she said, finally. "Your turn to feed him, then."
His lips trailed fire along her skin.
Would she have ever imagined this? She had so assiduously kept herself from picturing it, sure that it would do no good and would only serve to hurt her in a constant reminder of what she could not have.
But this was better than imagination. There were no imagined hands here, the fingers wonderfully there, buried in her hair. The lips were very much his, kissing their way to her mouth. There was honesty in everything about him, the way he touched her, kissed her.