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Star Wars: Unexpected Consequences

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda


Lucinda lay on the trimmed grass between the main building and the base's storage sheds, and she pointed her macrobinoculars at the darkening sky. They were a present Mommy had bought with her first bonus working for Captain Karrde. Lucinda wasn't an official lookout—they manned the sensors inside—but it was fun to watch the ships take off and arrive. All the ships were on base, so that wasn't her current aim. She fine-tuned the scopes to see the visible stars before sunset. Then she'd have a visual for when she pretend-piloted off-planet. She had no reason to hurry. Mommy had a meeting with Captain Karrde. If Lucinda slowed down getting to supper in the mess, she'd get a later bedtime. Since no one was hurrying her up, maybe she could look at everything on the landing pads after she got her stars image. No one on crew cared as long as she didn't mess with any current jobs—including equipment and workers—to get the bulk cruisers or the Corellian Corvette back into space.

The unmarked path circled to the right from the two barrack buildings, past the cluster of four sheds before reaching the maintenance hangar, and then turning up to the main house. The buildings protected the path and the empty lawn from the canopy of trees surrounding the base. Myrkr was just as tree-covered as Varonat, but the animals were meaner and the people nicer. She couldn't stay outside after sunset; wild vornskrs wandered into the base and Mommy had made it clear that getting eaten by one was not acceptable.

The screen cleared the blue haze and showed the inky blackness of space with points of light blazing so far away. She shifted her fingers on the controls, careful not to jostle the macrobinoculars and lose the image. Something moved into the scope, blocking the stars and the black sky. The macrobinoculars shifted, trying to adjust the change in focus.

"Blast it!" Lucinda growled and shifted her eyes off the scope. That was safe to use, unlike some words spacers had used that probably expressed Lucinda's frustration better. But Mommy had already made clear if she used those words, there would be extra homework explaining the origins of those words and how they spread across the galaxy and what they meant in the other languages Lucinda was learning. And after finishing that, Luci would scrub the base with a toothbrush. She looked up at the purpling sky. It looked like ship glare up there, but all of Captain Karrde's ships were on base. She adjusted the macrobinoculars again before aiming them at the suspicious shape. The scopes focused on a long triangular shaped ship in orbit above.

THEY FOUND US! screamed over and over in her head, and she rolled to her feet. Her macrobinoculars banged against her chest as the strap around her neck stopped it from falling. She did what Mommy always did and clenched her teeth tight together to keep the fear on the inside. She knew what to do: get their things and run as fast as they could ahead of the stormtroopers and bounty hunters who were always chasing them. Who would never stop chasing them. Ice felt like it was squeezing her chest, but she pivoted and ran across the trimmed grass into the longer personnel barracks building.

She pelted down the hallway of identical doors to the door at the end of the hall. Her and Mommy's rooms were behind that door, facing each other like all the other rooms. Captain Karrde had the across-the-hall door added to give them more privacy. It slid open when Lucinda hit the controls.

Mommy wasn't there, but her packed travel bag was in her wardrobe. Lucinda grabbed it and ran to her room. Her travel bag wasn't as packed and ready to go. She grabbed clothes from the drawers in her wardrobe and stuffed them inside it by the fistful. Then she slid the datapad and her art projects off the desk and into the bag. The datacards holding all her lessons and stories and games went into the travel bag's front pocket. That would have to do. There was no time to erase that they had lived here. Mommy had fussed about never doing that step before they had to run, but Lucinda didn't know why they should do it.

She hoisted a bag on each shoulder and kept a grip on the shorter handles as she ran out of the barracks. The yard between all the buildings was still empty. Where was Mommy? Mommy was so good at coming exactly when Lucinda needed her, but ever since they moved to Myrkr, she had slowed down. But Lucinda was a big girl now. She could prepare their escape, so all Mommy had to do was pilot. She tore across the grass and ignored the macrobinoculars banging against her chest. They were tough; they could take it. Just like her and Mommy.

She ran to Landing Pad 1, which had a Skipray Blastboat sitting next to the maintenance hangar building. The unlocked main airlock opened into a tiny passageway between the cockpit and the main cabin. The main cabin was twice the size of the passageway, and fold-able benches lined the exterior walls. She paused, looking for the stowage compartments. A few crates were magnetically clamped to the metal floor of the main cabin. The last door led to the bunk room for the crew. Stowage compartments must be in there. She would stuff the travel bags in there and go get Mommy.

Her bag slipped from her grip and shoulder and hit the floor as she crossed the cabin. Her stuff flew from the still opened fasteners. "Blast it!" There was no time for delays! She grabbed her clothes and stuffed them back into the travel bag. Her foot kicked her datapad. It skidded across the cabin to under one of the fold-able benches. "Blast it!"

She dropped both bags on the floor to crawl after it. She couldn't leave it loose. If it broke banging around during flight, who knew when Mommy could buy a new one? It had skidded to a stop under the bench down for sitting against the exterior wall. She stuck her head and shoulders under it to reach it. Her fingers clamped on its narrow bulk and she felt vibrations in the deck plate.

"What hai you doing?" A male's voice, instead of Mommy's, said inside the cabin. Lucinda scrambled back and peered up. Chin looked down at her with his hands on his hips.

Behind him, Dankin rolled his eyes as he raised his wrist comlink to his mouth. "Jade, your kid was playing in the Skipray. Chin's bringing her in." He nodded at Chin. "I'll get it warmed up."

"I wasn't playing!" Lucinda scrambled to her feet as Chin grabbed both travel bags in one hand.

"Best be saving it, young one." His other hand pressed her back between her shoulders and steered her to the door and main airlock. "I got no authority over you. That be your mother and the Captain, in that order. Give it to them."

Mommy strode across the lawn toward the landing pad. She took the travel bags from Chin. "Get going," she told him before looking down at Lucinda. "Your room, young lady."

"But there's—" Lucinda pointed at the sky.


There was no arguing with that tone of voice. Mommy must not know the Imperials were here on Myrkr. Lucinda clenched her fists and trotted as fast as she could without running back to the personnel barracks.

Mommy followed her into her bedroom, setting down Lucinda's still-open travel bag on the bed. "Explain yourself, so I can go explain what happened to Captain Karrde."

"The Imperials found us!" Lucinda couldn't help yelping as she pointed at the ceiling and the sky beyond. "There's a Star Destroyer up there, and I was trying to get everything ready so we could escape!"

Mommy's stern face softened. "Luci, no. The Emperor is dead, and the Imperials left don't want us. They want something out of the forest, not us."

She had forgotten about the Emperor's death in her panic, but it happened when she was only three years old. She set her datapad on her desk. "It's been good here, but this is when it goes wrong."

"You are too young to be so cynical, young lady. I think the Jade luck has finally turned up a better sabacc hand than mere survival." Mommy pulled Lucinda against her in a loose hug. Lucinda returned it by squeezing Mommy's waist. "I'm proud of your initiative, but you're grounded for the rest of the night. Maybe longer, depending on how mad Captain Karrde is. I'll send someone with your supper while I go back to our meeting and tell him you weren't stealing a Skipray."

"We would've brought it back." Lucinda let her go.

Mommy smoothed Lucinda's braided hair, a matching red-gold shade with hers. "I'll stress that." She left Lucinda's bedroom, but turned at the door. "But you stay out of all the ships unless we're flying."

"Yes, ma'am."

Mommy nodded and left. Lucinda flopped back on her bed with a tremendous sigh. Her stomach growled now that the danger was past. Her travel bag slid off the bed and landed on the floor with a soft thud. With a groan, she rolled over and looked at her clothes and flimsi strewn on the floor now. "Blast it."


The wake-up code from Artoo yanked Luke out of his dreamless sleep. It was too soon to come out of hibernation; that much made sense. "Okay, Artoo, I'm awake." He could use a cup of caf. His fingers hit the visor of his flight helmet as he reached to rub his eyes. "Is anything wrong?" Everything around him was dark.

Artoo stopped trilling and gave an anxious-sounding warble instead. Luke's blurry eyes realized he was in the X-wing's cockpit with all the systems shut down except power for Artoo and minimal life support for himself. The Imperial Star Destroyer Chimera had almost captured them, and the risky maneuver he had done to escape the tractor beam had broken the hyperdrive units and fried the subspace radio, leaving them stranded in deep space. Artoo was supposed to be winding a new subspace radio antenna while he conserved resources in Jedi hibernation. He twisted to look back at the droid.

He twitched in surprise. Another ship was bearing down on them, a mid-sized, slightly dilapidated-looking Corellian bulk freighter.

Adrenaline surge replaced his need for caf as he spun back around. He flipped the power switches for the shortcut powering sequence. That took nearly fifteen minutes from a cold start to any serious possibility of flight. Force willing, the intruder was friendly. Still, best not to look defenseless.

He turned the X-wing to face the approaching ship with the emergency maneuvering jets. The scopes and sensors returned information as they powered on and confirmed what he saw out the viewport. Not the class of ship the Imperials typically used, nor was their code coming up on the transponder. He didn't see any Imperial markings on its hull. So what was he facing, smuggler or outright pirate?

Artoo warbled his calculations on how fast the bulk freighter had slowed.

"Yes, I noticed that, too," Luke said. "But a normal bulk freighter might be capable of pulling that kind of deceleration if it was empty. Why don't you do a quick analysis of the sensor readings? See if you can spot any weapons emplacements."

The droid beeped affirmatively, and Luke gave the other instruments a scan. Primary laser cannon capacitors were at half charge now, even though he was down to three working cannons now. Main sublight drive was halfway through its preflight sequence.

Comm signal flashed that he was being hailed. He flipped on the receiver. "—need assistance?" A female voice asked. "Repeating: unidentified starfighter, this is the freighter Wild Karrde. Do you need assistance?"

"Wild Karrde, this is New Republic X-wing AA-589," Luke told her. "Yes, I could use some help."

"Acknowledged, X-wing. What seems to be the problem?"

"Hyperdrive." Luke watched the ship as it continued its approach. Its pilot had responded to his rotation with a sidling drift so the Wild Karrde was no longer in line with the X-wing's lasers. Probably just being cautious in case he was bait for an ambush, unless they were lining him up with a hidden armament. "I've lost both motivators," he continued. "Cracked shield cases, probably some other problems, too. I don't suppose you'd be carrying any spares?"

"Not for a ship that size." She paused for a noticeable moment. "I'm instructed to tell you that if you'd care to come aboard, we can offer you passage to our destination system."

What choice did he have? Still, he stretched out with the Force to measure the emotions behind the words. He didn't detect any deceit. "Sounds good," he said. "Any chance you could take my ship too?"

Her cool tone went dry. "I doubt you could afford our shipping rates. I'll check with the captain, but don't get your hopes up. We'd have to take it in tow, anyway—our holds are full at the moment."

Luke's lips twitched with that information. A fully loaded bulk freighter couldn't have managed the deceleration profile Artoo had recorded earlier. He still wasn't detecting deception from her. Maybe their drive system had undergone a massive upgrade, but the only ones who'd want to spend that kind of credit were smugglers, pirates, or someone who needed a disguised warship.

And the New Republic had no disguised warships.

The other pilot spoke. "If you'll hold your present position, X-wing, we'll move up close enough to throw a force cylinder out to you. Unless you'd rather suit up and spacewalk across."

"The cylinder sounds fastest," Luke said. He decided to keep her talking; maybe she would give him a clue as to what the other ship was. "I don't suppose either of us has any reason to hang around this place. How did you wind up out here, anyway?"

"We can handle a limited amount of baggage," she continued. "I imagine you'll want to bring your astromech droid along, too."

"Yes, I will," he answered.

"All right, stand by. The captain says the transport fee will be five thousand."

"Understood," Luke said as he unstrapped his restraints. He put the seals for his helmet and gloves into his flight suit's chest pockets under his flak vest. Accidents could always happen, even though a force cylinder to travel between ships was relatively foolproof. But shutting it down halfway through would be the simplest way for the Wild Karrde's crew to pick up a free X-wing. He paused in his preparations to strain his senses toward the larger ship. There was something wrong with the crew; something he could feel but couldn't target lock.

Artoo warbled his observation anxiously.

"No, she didn't answer the question," Luke agreed. "But I can't think of any legitimate reason for them to be out this far. Can you?"

The droid moaned. The translation came up on the scope. "No, and we are attractive to pirates."

"Agreed. But refusing the offer doesn't buy us anything at all. We'll just have to stay alert." He pulled out his blaster from the other side pouch, checked its power level, and slid it into the holster on his flight suit belt. His comlink went into another pocket, probably unnecessary until he reached Wild Karrde's destination and needed to arrange transportation back to Coruscant. An emergency survival pack attached to his belt behind his back, awkward in the cramped quarters. Last, he pulled out his lightsaber and fastened it to his belt.

"Okay, X-wing, we've got the cylinder established," the Wild Karrde's spokesperson said. "Whenever you're ready."

The Wild Karrde had rolled so the small docking bay on its port side was above him, its outer door gaping invitingly. According to the X-wing's instruments, there was a corridor of air between the two ships, and he took a deep breath. "Here we go, Artoo," he said before popping the canopy.

A puff of air brushed against his lower exposed face as the air pressures equalized. With a gentle push, he eased up and out and gripped the edge of the canopy to turn around. Artoo had ejected from his socket and was using his directional jets to move toward Luke, making unhappy noises about the whole situation.

"I've got you, Artoo." Luke reached out with the Force and pulled the droid toward him. He looked up before bending his knees and pushed off.

He reached the airlock inside a half second ahead of Artoo, grabbed the straps fastened to the walls, and brought them both to a smooth halt with the Force. The outer lock door slid shut while they were still moving. Gravity came back, easy enough for him to adjust his stance to it, and a moment later the inner door slid open.

A young man dressed in a casual coverall of an unfamiliar cut waited for them. "Welcome aboard the Wild Karrde," he said with a nod. "If you'll follow me, the captain would like to see you." Without waiting for a reply, he turned and opened an internal door heading fore.

"Come on, Artoo," Luke said softly as he followed their guide into a small corridor through repulsorlift generators to a turbolift nestled between them. They rode up multiple decks, but the crewer blocked sight of the control panel.

Luke reached out with the Force for a quick survey. There were four others aboard, aside from their guide, all of them in the forward sections. Behind him, the aft sections were oddly dark. He shook his head, but the strange sensation remained in place. A potential aftereffect of the long hibernation. Han and Chewie had both independently opined that depending on the hibernation trances to get through long hyperspace jumps wasn't good for him and he should upgrade to a larger ship, one with an actual bunk. Maybe they had a point. Something to check on later. He was certain there were no crew members or droids unaccounted for.

The turbolift stopped, and the guide led them into a corridor heading aft towards the oddly dark section. He stopped at a door starboard of the turbolift. The door slid open as the guide stepped aside. "Captain Karrde will see you now." He waved toward the opening.

"Thank you." Luke nodded to him. With Artoo bumping against his legs, he stepped inside an office of sorts. What looked like sophisticated communications and encrypt equipment took up most of its wall space, and a massive desk/console combination filled the center with narrow paths to get around it.

Seated behind it, watching Luke's entrance, was a slender man with short gray hair streaked with dark brown that it had been earlier in his life. The middle-aged man's skin visible around his gray goatee was an olive shade, darker than Luke's tan. "Good evening," he said in a modulated voice. "I'm Talon Karrde." His brown eyes flicked up and down Luke. "And you, I presume, are General Luke Skywalker."

How in the worlds had he known that? Luke had only used his X-wing designation. "Private citizen Skywalker," he said, keeping his voice just as calm. "I resigned my Alliance commission nearly four years ago."

The corners of Karrde's mouth twitched to almost a smile. "I stand corrected. I must say, you've certainly found a good place to get away from it all."

Luke answered the unasked how did you end up here question. "I had some help choosing it. A small run-in with an Imperial Star Destroyer about half a light-year away."

"Ah," Karrde said, with no surprise that Luke could see or sense. "Yes, the Empire is still active in this part of the galaxy. Growing more so, too, particularly of late." He tilted his head to the side, but his gaze did not leave Luke's face. "Though I presume you've already noticed that. Incidentally, it looks like we'll be able to take your ship in tow, after all. I'm having the cables rigged now."

"Thank you." The skin on the back of his neck was prickling from Karrde's lack of a reaction. A Star Destroyer in the area caused reactions, especially to anyone operating in the Fringe. Unless Karrde worked the Fringe for the Imperials. That would come clear soon enough. "Allow me to thank you for the rescue," he continued. "Artoo and I are lucky you happened along."

"And Artoo is—? Oh, your astromech droid." His brown eyes flicked down to look at the droid before returning to Luke's face. "You must be a formidable warrior indeed, Skywalker. Escaping from an Imperial Star Destroyer is no mean trick. Though I imagine a man like yourself is accustomed to giving the Imperials trouble."

"I don't see much front-line action anymore," Luke told him. It was true, and if it lowered the crew's expectations, all the better. "You haven't told me how you came to be out here, Captain. Or how you knew who I was."

Karrde's thin mouth twitched into a half-smile or a smirk. "With a lightsaber attached to your belt?" That wry tone made it a smirk. "Come now. You were either Luke Skywalker, Jedi, or else someone with a taste for antiques and an insufferably high opinion of his swordsmanship." His appraising gaze swept over Luke again. "You're not what I expected, somehow. Though I suppose that's not all that surprising—the vast majority of Jedi lore has been so twisted by myth and ignorance, to get a clear picture is almost impossible."

Now the prickling cascaded up to ring a warning bell in Luke's mind. "You almost sound as if you were expecting to find me here," he said as he shifted into a combat stance and let his senses reach out. All five of the crew he had sensed earlier were still in the forward part of the ship. Only Karrde was close enough to pose any kind of immediate threat.

"As a matter of fact, we were," Karrde agreed. "Though I can't actually take any of the credit for that. It was one of my associates, Mara Jade, who led us here." His head tilted, encouraging a response from Luke. "She's on the bridge at the moment."

Luke felt his stomach bottom out like he had pushed his skyhopper out of a dive a little too hard. It couldn't be the Mara he had known; the galaxy was too kriffing big to ever cross paths with her again. No matter how desperately he wanted to, no matter how deeply he always would. At least his Mara wasn't part of a trap created by Imperials or this Talon Karrde. He had never told Han or Wedge her name, even though both had teased him about his search. There was no way this smuggler or pirate learned about her in Luke's past.

So Karrde's associate, coincidentally named Mara, was potentially Force sensitive enough to sense his presence from light-years away. Luke had to know. Keeping his overall awareness alert, he focused a part of his mind on the Wild Karrde's bridge. The young woman he had spoken to over the comms sat at the helm. An older man ran a calculation through the nav computer at the station beside the pilot. And sitting behind them was a luminous presence, her Force abilities contained behind rigid mental shields.

A presence he knew, he remembered instinctively, even though they had met before he had training with Yoda to recognize the Force in others. His heart beat harder as he realized that there was a loftier reason he had so imprinted on this woman than the carnality he had assumed. A mix of both, perhaps? Flashes of memory, strengthened by years of reminiscing, joined the turmoil. Burying his nose in red-gold hair as they squeezed together on the narrow cot, her brilliant green eyes cutting through the shadows and through him, his lips on her neck following her directions and brushing against the slave collar around her neck.

"Yes, that's her," Karrde said with a practiced nonchalance. "She hides her talents exceedingly well—though not, I suppose, from a Jedi. It took me several months of careful observation to establish it was more than luck."

Luke pulled away from Mara to focus on the ship's captain before him. "You're very observant about your associate." His tone rose with a slight challenge.

"I have to be in order to take care of my people."

Luke's memory of Mara's slaving collar collided with Karrde's possessive turn of phrase. "Is she your employee or property?"

The older man's mouth flattened. "I don't deal in slaves, Skywalker. I compensate everyone in my organization well for the tasks they accomplish for me." He shrugged. "You grew up on a Hutt-controlled world. I have always found their way of doing business more of a cautionary tale of how not to do it." He got to his feet. "I suppose then, there's nothing more for us to talk about for the moment… and let me say in advance that I'm very sorry it has to be this way."

Luke's hand darted for his lightsaber. He had barely moved when the shock of a stun blast hit him in the back. There were Jedi methods to prevent unconsciousness, but they all took a second of preparation that it was too late for now. He felt himself falling, heard Artoo's frantic trilling moving further away, and wondered how in the galaxy Karrde had done this to him.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Metallic hands shoved Luke into a barely illuminated, pourstone constructed room. This wasn't the ship he had just been on. A door mechanism slid shut with a heavy thud. He spun around and faced a cell door.

A muscular humanoid male crossed his red-skinned arms over his bare chest as his pale eyes gleamed from the shadows of the white-hood that covered his head and neck. The Gamemaster's voice came through the bars covering the cell doorway. "{Don't think you can ignore Grakkus' orders, Skywalker. We will test her and punish her if you don't comply.}"

Luke's face heated as he banged his fist against the bars. "{Leave her alone!}" The Gamemaster ignored his outburst and continued down the dark dungeon hall. Luke huffed out his frustration. He didn't need to lose his temper. The poor slave girl behind him will expect him to take his anger out on her. He didn't want her to be afraid of him. He leaned against the bars with a sigh. Just four weeks ago, he had saved nearly the entire Rebellion by blowing up the Death Star, and now a Hutt with a Jedi fetish had trapped him on Nar Shaddaa.

"What's going on? I don't speak Huttese."

He whirled around to face the slave girl imprisoned with him. How could she be living on Nar Shaddaa without knowing Huttese? Everything said in Grakkus' throne room had been in Huttese, except for the one question he had asked her in Basic. His fastened yellow flight jacket swallowed her lithe frame, and it only covered her from shoulders to upper thighs. The slaving collar around her neck was visible through the opening in the jacket's collar. He also saw how bruised her pale legs were. Her knees were almost black.

The corners of her mouth still had angry red marks from the too-tight gag, and her frown accentuated them. What reason did she have to trust him? The only male in the throne room who had put clothing on her seemed inadequate now.

"Please tell me you know more Basic." Worry tightened her wary green eyes.

"Sorry. I know Basic and Huttese. I thought you knew—" His face heated again. "Grakkus agreed you can stay here with me and no one else will touch you if we keep having sex."

She swallowed hard. "And the consequences if we do not?"

"Damn the consequences." His hands curled into fists, but he kept his arms welded to his sides. "If you don't want me touching you again, I won't. And I won't let them hurt you." Her eyebrows raised as she snorted. "I won't," he repeated because he was just that stubborn. Grakkus had no idea how stubborn he could be.

Her eyebrows lowered again as she grew thoughtful. "That seems a poor choice. Wouldn't they lower their guard if we cooperate?"

"Not around me they haven't," Luke muttered.

She sat down on the cot with her legs tight together like she was wearing a skirt. "Do you plan on sharing me with anyone else?"

"No! The whole point is so no one else touches you." He hated this scenario. He had expected a beautiful girl who liked him back, and magic between the two of them for his entire life. Not this mess that he'd rather not remind her of.

She went there with her next question. "Will he, Grakkus, drag us in front of everyone to perform again?"

"I don't think so," Luke answered. He turned away and the throne room surrounded him again. Two MagnaGuards flanked him with a metal hand from each wrapped around his upper arms as they escorted him to Grakkus. The Hutt on six pairs of cybernetic legs loomed over the Nikto, Klatooinians, and the Gamemaster present in this large room that Luke hadn't been in before. "{Good, my little Jedi is here. Bring out my new slave.}" His chuckle reminded Luke of Jabba's recording that was played to the moisture farmers for their tributes.

Two MagnaGuards pulled a human woman through another doorway. She was throwing herself back, trying to break the droids' hold on her wrists and arms. They lifted her bare feet off the floor. Her bare legs dangled in the air under the tunic she was wearing. She kicked, aiming to hit the droid's knee joint, but missed. Luke winced, sympathetic that she hadn't broken her toes. They reached the larger group, and the droids stepped further apart and dangled her above the floor from their hands around her wrists.

"{I want to inspect the teeny thief. Finish striping her,}" Grakkus ordered. A green-scaled Nikto unsheathed a vibroknife. "{Carefully! No more bleeding.}" The Nikto nodded as he headed to the girl and droids.

No more bleeding? Luke asked himself in dismay. What had they done to this girl?

A savage snarl from her drew his attention back. They had forced a plasticene bit between her jaws, and the loop that went around her head was so tight it gouged into her cheeks. She thrashed in the air, trying to swing her legs at the Nikto.

The Nikto went around the droids to her back while the droids grabbed her thighs with their free metal hands. She snarled again as they forced her still. The Nikto grabbed her tunic and slashed the material. It parted at the shoulders and down the sleeves and fluttered to the floor. Her basics soon followed.

Her pale skin was the same shade, untouched by any suns from head to her toes. Luke's face heated as he realized the curls at the juncture of her legs were darker than her red-gold braid. The slaving collar around her slender neck gleamed in the light. Luke turned his gaze away to spare her some privacy as the crowd began hooting what they wanted to do to her.

Luke's gaze met Grakkus' who was watching him. "{I'm not like Jabba.}" He waved his three-fingered hand toward the slave girl. "{She is human like you. Do you find her attractive?}"

"{Since when does my opinion count?}" Luke asked sarcastically.

"{I want to gift her to you.}" Grakkus sounded serious. "{You have been cooperative, little Jedi. I would reward that. She attempted to steal from me, so I will punish her. If you do not find her attractive, all my employees can have her instead.}" The Hutt's gaze moved to the rowdy males. "{They seem to find her attractive.}"

Luke's stomach clenched and rolled at the same time. Rape by him or rape by all of them; Grakkus was thorough in his punishments. Luke glanced back at her shivering in the MagnaGuards hold. "{She's attractive.}"

"{Release the little Jedi.}" The MagnaGuards beside Luke followed Grakkus' orders and opened the binders on Luke's wrists. "{Go on, enjoy her.}"

The wrongness slowed his steps across the throne room and echoed in his head louder than the jeers from the audience. Her head jerked as she watched him and looked back at Grakkus, the audience, and the battle droids holding her up. As he got closer, he realized her skin had a variation of tone. Circles of dusty rose surrounded the peaked nipples of her pert breasts. Freckles covered her arms and upper body like the stars over the Choatt Salt Flats. Bruises bloomed on her skin too, and livid red marks branded her arms where she had been grabbed and held.

And she was beautiful, far too beautiful to be interested in him. His cock throbbed harder the closer he got. But every lesson Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru had taught him on how to court a woman was shrieking in his mind. This wasn't right, none of this was right, but Grakkus' thugs would hurt her worse than she already was. They were looking forward to it, judging by what they were yelling at him now. He would ask. He would give back as much control over her life as he could.

Her chest heaved as she breathed hard around the plasticene in her mouth. Luke jerked his gaze up, and the green of her eyes caught him. They reminded him of his first glimpse of Yavin 4 as the Falcon had descended to the Rebel base there. They also reminded him of a spooked eopie. She stared at him, not even trying to glance at the others in the throne room.

"{I don't want to hurt you.}" He murmured in Huttese, trying to not attract attention to his rebellious attempt here. "{They do want to hurt you.}"

A sound of bafflement made it past the gag as those vivid green eyes pinched in confusion. She had at least given up on thrashing, but something that had lit her fight was dimming in her eyes.

Luke shifted to block her from view as much as he could and switched to Basic. "Grakkus said it's me kriffing you or all of them. Are you okay with me?"

Understanding filled her face, and she nodded hard once. He swallowed hard but freed his cock from his brown pants. The MagnaGuards held her about even with his height so this should work. This alignment reminded him of a skin holovid they had studied at Tosche Station before Cammie found out about it and incinerated the datacard. He put his hand on her side, feeling her ribs as he slid his hand down to her hip. He had to look down to make sure everything lined up, pushed his cock into her slit, and froze with how different that felt from his hand wrapped around it.

The slave girl grunted with his thrust and he jerked his eyes back up to her face. Her eyebrows had a puzzled tilt to them now. She rolled her hips against his. He lost his wonder at just how she had done that in his need to thrust into her. His left hand seized her other hip before he rocked back and forward again.

She moaned with her inhale but nodded when he looked at her again. He moved again, sliding easier into her wet heat. He wanted to make sure he didn't hurt her, but his body overruled his mental desires to chase the sensation tightening his muscles and balls.

His orgasm shook him completely as it shot into her. He tightened his hold on her as he recovered. Now he heard the yelling again, pointing out she wasn't satisfied at all and it was their turns. He pulled out of her, snatched the remains of her tunic off the floor, and cleaned first her and then himself before fastening his trouser closed again.

Her vivid green eyes blinked down at him, and her puzzled eyebrows were back. He couldn't ask her what was wrong with that gag in her mouth. She glanced behind him and the anger flared again in them. He whirled around.

The Nikto had his vibroknife sheathed as he approached. "{Out of the way, little human,}" he said in Huttese. "{I'll show you how to rut a female.}"

Luke balled up his fists. "{Stay away from her. Grakkus, you said it was me or them!}"

"{Grakkus said that.}" The Hutt stepped forward in a quick staccato of his cybernetic legs. "{Have you tamed the teeny thief? I won't have her hurting you, little Jedi. Release her.}"

The MagnaGuards loosened their hands around the slave girl before Luke could spin around and catch her. She wasn't ready for it and her legs crumpled under her, but she stopped herself from face planting by bracing with her arms.

Luke choked off the insult he wanted into a growl and stripped off his yellow flight jacket. He draped the jacket over her shoulders. She jerked her head around to look at him, her eyes pinching with pain. He nodded at her as she shifted to grab his jacket.

"{Well, little Jedi, you have tamed her.}" There was an unhappy grumble from the other males that stopped immediately with a look from Grakkus. "{What do you want for your gift?}"

He swallowed down the retort over owning beings. He had to work with the slavery system to protect her. "{I want her to stay with me. I don't trust your employees to leave her alone.}" He glared at the closest Nikto. The green-scaled face scowled back at him.

"{If she stays with you, little Jedi, you must kriff her every day. I will not have my gift unused.}" Grakkus wagged a finger at him.

Luke curled his fists again. "{Fine, I will.}"

"{Good, no one else will touch her. This is the will of Grakkus. Gamemaster, escort them both to the little Jedi's cell.}" The MagnaGuards moved. The two closest grabbed the slave girl's arms again and pulled her to her feet. Luke whirled around to see after she gave a startled cry through her gag.

He was back in the cell, and she was sitting primly on the cot. "I'm sorry," he apologized for the throne room. "I didn't see any other way to stop them from hurting you." He considered the bruise across her right cheekbone, the other bruises down her legs, and the abrasions around her wrists and ankles. "Hurting you more."

"It was the safer choice," she answered softly. "The odds were against us fighting in there. And they're still against us here, so we better comply until we can make better odds."

"We're going to keep having sex?" he asked. "It's your choice."

She nodded jerkily, bouncing her red-gold braid against the jacket's back.

He said the next in a rush before he lost his nerve. "Okay, I don't know what I'm doing, and I know I'm the last man a woman like you would pick." He stared at the stone floor. "I don't know how to make it good for you. I don't want to hurt you. You're hurt enough."

"I've had worse," she said with another scoff. "Wait, that was your first time?" Her horrified tone drew his gaze back up. Sympathy replaced horror in her expression. "We can make it so much better."

She agreed out of pity. He glanced away as his cheeks burned. He was the last man this beautiful woman would choose, someone who had never had sex before. Whatever she told him to do, he would. Anything to give her pleasure.

The food slot cover shoved open with a bang. The tray slid through onto the counter attached to the door wall. He turned to the offering: two bowls of gruel. They weren't planning on starving them on shortened rations. "Are you hungry?" he asked.

"Are they going to drug us?" Her wary worry was back and making him feel like he hadn't been worried enough about his predicament.

"They haven't drugged me yet. Don't give them any ideas." She held out her battered hands, and he passed a bowl and spoon to her. He sat on the floor with his bowl. "It's bland, but they don't have any harissa or tabil here."

She looked up from her bowl. "I don't know either of those things." The bruise had vanished from her face.

"They're seasoning blends my aunt used to cook with." Something was wrong. They hadn't talked about Grakkus' sorry cuisine that first night.

"Kaae jeedai?" The bruise was back on her cheek as she looked at him. "Is that your name?"

"My name is Luke. Kaae Jeedai means little Jedi, Grakkus' joke." He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"You're a Jedi?" She hid her fear quickly under polite interest, but he saw it now. Was that why she hadn't fled with him?

But now all his mouth formed were the same words he had said nine years ago. "I'm not a Jedi, but I need to be. Vader killed the man who was going to teach me. I thought I could hire someone here to smuggle me to the old Jedi Temple in Imperial City and look for more information there, but Grakkus caught me instead. He took my father's lightsaber, Ben's journals, has me training for something, and now this." He stopped upon seeing her open mouth. "What?"

"That has to be the most convoluted way of turning yourself in that I've ever heard," she finally said. "The Emperor turned the Jedi Temple into his palace."

"I didn't know." Grakkus' interest in him had probably saved him from certain death. He still didn't like the Hutt any better knowing that. "I thought I could search it before my leave was up, so I didn't clear it with High Command." Leia would have told him how stupid he was if he had. "What's your name? And why did Grakkus call you a thief?"

"My name is Mara." She looked into her bowl of gruel and stirred it. "My master wanted something out of Grakkus' collection, so he sent me here to retrieve it." She glared at the bowl. "I stupidly missed the secondary alarm. And then the guards nabbed me." Her grin was feral under the bruise. "They'll remember how I hit them though."

"But your master will get you out of here."

The bruise had vanished from her bleak face again. "No, he left me here. Said I deserved whatever punishment Grakkus thought of for my failure."

Luke's stomach churned. And what Grakkus had thought up was to have the guards rape her if Luke refused. "My friends are looking for me. We'll get out once they get here."

"I hope you're right about your friends' loyalty." Mara turned her head away, looking at the barred doorway. She always looked that bleak when she thought of her former master's betrayal.

Would sex help? Maybe what she had taught him that wasn't good enough for the medical test. But she enjoyed it. He set aside his bowl and crawled to the cot in front of her legs. He kissed her healed knee before looking up at her.

Her green eyes met his gaze. "What are you up to?"

"Distracting you. Do you want me to stop?"

"No," she answered. The unfastened jacket revealed a line of pale skin from her navel up to her collarbone.

He gently parted her thighs and kissed the inside of her left knee then her right.

"It takes more than that to distract me."

"It's a process." His next kiss moved up her inner left thigh.

"I don't think you thought this through."

He left his mouth on her right thigh while he put his hands around her hips. He pulled her forward to the edge of the cot and his tongue licked the rest of her thigh. He leaned back to look at her.

She pushed the unfastened jacket off her shoulders. "I like it when you prove me wrong," she panted.

He grinned at her before giving his retort, which was to run his tongue over the juncture of her thighs. Her fingers combed into his hair and rested on the back of his head as he continued to lick her folds. But there was a metallic aftertaste he hadn't tasted before, and he felt dizzy with stunner lag and something else. Had Grakkus drugged him? Why? He was doing everything the Hutt wanted.

Mara's face swam in and out of focus above him. He reached for it. He would kiss her this time, making up for all the times he talked himself out of kissing her before. "How much did you give him?" She snapped at someone outside his focus.

Something was wrong. Someone had drugged him. He knew how to deal with being drugged now, but the technique he had learned from the Chu'unthor records wasn't working. He struggled to sit up.

Mara turned back to him and pressed him back down on a bunk. "It's all right, Luke. I'm here. Just sleep it off."

His hand found her arm and wrapped around it. She was here. He didn't squeeze; he didn't want to hurt her.

She smoothed his hair back, like Aunt Beru did when he was sick. "Sleep, Luke. I'm here."

That sounded like a good idea. His eyes closed, and he drifted down into darkness beyond his memories.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Luke blinked at a ceiling he didn't recognize. Sunlight streamed over his face, and the breeze was balmy, damp, and filled with unfamiliar odors. His back was flat on a bed rather than a ship bunk, and his mouth was parched. He remembered being stunned and, judging by how badly he wanted a shower, someone had kept him under with sedatives. His head was clear now, so he lifted it.

He was lying on a bed in a small but furnished room. Directly across the room from the foot of the bed was an open window, and beyond the transparent material was a forest edge fifty meters away from this building and a yellowish-orange sun hovered over the green trees. The furniture didn't look like those used in prison cells.

"Finally awake, are you?" A familiar woman's voice said from the side.

Luke jerked his head toward the voice. His first startled thought was that he had missed sensing her; and his second told him he was ridiculous, and the voice must have come from an intercom or comlink.

Mara sat in a high-backed chair, her arms draped over the arms. A compact but deadly looking blaster lay in her lap. The nine years had changed her, but not much. She was still slender, but her breasts and hips had grown curvier in a way Luke found very appealing. Her red-gold hair gleamed as it curled around her shoulders, and her brilliant green eyes still bore straight through him and took his breath away.

But he couldn't sense her in the Force at all.

"Karrde thought you'd appreciate a friendly face," she continued.

"A friendly armed face." He swallowed and wished for some water.

She only looked amused at his sarcasm. "Work with me, Skywalker. You are a prisoner."

"That much is obvious." He reached out further. His adrenaline surged as he realized he couldn't sense people, droids, or even the forest outside. "How did you do this?" It was like going blind.

"That's not my secret to tell. If Karrde doesn't…." She shrugged. "Let's see how his debrief goes. I can't jeopardize my job with the appearance of divided loyalty."

Luke swung his legs over the side of the bed. He still wore his flight suit, minus the flak vest and the suit system controls. The protests from his muscles from having lay still for so long were not as bad as they could have been, and he didn't appear to have any cramps. The effort still made him breathe harder. "Thank you for finding me, but you could have left me there," he said while trying not to wheeze. "That would have avoided questions of compromises."

Her green eyes hardened. "Do you believe that I would leave you to certain death? Do you think so little of me?"

Luke grimaced as he leaned his forearms on his thighs and curled his back. What he had said reeked with ingratitude. "I'm sorry. I'm just so very finished with being imprisoned, being chased for capture, and having my loved ones threatened to get to me. These last few months…." His voice trailed away as he shook his head. He looked at her, memorizing her features to last for another nine years if need be. "This is worth seeing you again," he said with a smile.

She blinked as her head drew back. "You—" She cut herself off with a headshake. "That's not the drawback I would have assumed you'd have for becoming an all-important Jedi Knight. Other than that, is it everything you had thought it would be?"

"It's nothing like I thought it'd be." He chuckled. "But that's true about everyone's life. I don't regret becoming a Jedi, though."

"I'm glad you got what you wanted. If you're up for it, Karrde wants to see you."

He remembered the previous conversation with Karrde and straightened his back. "Blast it. I told Karrde about your enslavement. I didn't name Grakkus, but I asked if Karrde considered you his property."

"How did Karrde even have time to push that button?"

His face heated. "Sorry if you were hiding how you took back your freedom."

She shrugged. "I hadn't told him, no. But there are plenty of people working for him who ran into trouble with the Hutts. He probably won't care about that, not when you're offering a much more tantalizing mystery."

"Is that a hint on how to play this?"

"Just be yourself." Mara chuckled as she stood, moving her blaster to her hand. His lightsaber was clipped to her belt. She glanced down at it when she caught his expression. "I was not letting anyone else on board the Wild Karrde hold on to it. They'd cut off their own heads or breach the hull. Besides, it's yours, isn't it? Not your father's." Luke nodded, and her expression softened as she glanced away. "I thought so. It felt like you."

He patted down his pockets as he headed for the room's door. They had removed all the equipment he had stashed, including his comlink. He hadn't expected to find it. "Do you have my comlink?"

"Not on me, Farmboy. How does the New Republic train guards?"

He shrugged because that wasn't why he brought it up. "Copy down my comcode. You can comm me instead of bumping into each other in deep space."

"I'll keep that in mind." She fell in behind him in the long hallway with identical doors spaced at regular intervals along its length, looking like she was marching him at blaster point. It reminded him of barracks. They exited that building into a large grassy clearing surrounded by forest. The gentle breeze rustled the grass and the leaves, and he didn't find it humid after stopping on Dagobah again.

Mara directed him onto a path worn through the short grass that wound its way between all the buildings in the clearing. They headed toward a large, high-roofed building closest to the pair of barracks they were leaving. Four small buildings were grouped together across the clearing from the largest building. They looked like storehouses.

A servicing hangar and over a dozen starships clustered around it filled the other end of the clearing. Two bulk cruisers like the Wild Karrde and several smaller craft; whatever Karrde's business was, it was profitable. Luke saw the nose of his X-Wing tucked away behind one of the bulk cruisers and under the tree canopy and hidden from the clear sky. Should he ask Mara what had happened to Artoo? No, it was better to ask Karrde and hear what answer Karrde would give him.

They reached the large central building and Mara brushed against him to slap the door annunciator. "He's in the great room. Straight ahead." Luke continued down the hallway, gratified that its length gave him time to compose himself again. He wasn't a raw adolescent grateful for any attention from a woman. They passed a pair of medium-sized dining and recreation rooms to reach a large door at the end of the hallway that slid open as they reached it.

Luke stopped in the doorway and stared. The spacious room ahead of him was larger than Han and Leia's quarters back at the Imperial Palace. A web of carved rafters held up a translucent ceiling that filtered in dappled sunlight. Dark brown wood that composed the walls had been whittled down to hand-wide strands that covered light sources as a rigid mesh holding a deep blue glow. Chairs, couches, and large cushions were arranged in well-separated conversation circles with other luxuries scattered about: a small sculpture here and an unrecognizable alien artifact there.

But Luke missed the relaxed, almost informal attitude of the space by focusing his full attention on the tree growing through the center of the room. Ch'hala trees lined the Grand Corridor of the Imperial Palace, but this one was a meter in diameter at the base and grew from a section of plain dirt floor through the translucent ceiling and beyond. Sunlight penetrated the leaves dancing in the breeze to reach the room below. Thick limbs started about two meters from the ground and stretched their way across the room, some of them nearly brushing against the walls. The saplings grown indoors didn't compare.

"Ah, Skywalker," a voice called from in front of him. It took effort, but Luke shifted his gaze downward to find Karrde sitting in a chair at the base of the tree. Two long-legged quadrupeds crouched flanking the chair, and their muzzles pointed in Luke's direction. "Come and join me."

Luke started toward him. The animals continued staring at him as he got closer.

Karrde didn't pay them much attention. "Welcome back to the land of the living," he said as Luke closed in. He picked up a metal pitcher from the low table next to the chair and poured a red liquid into a pair of cups. "I must apologize for having kept you asleep all this time. But I'm sure you appreciate the special problems involved in making sure a Jedi stays where you've put him."

"Of course," Luke said. The animals hadn't blinked yet and continued staring with predatory intensity. "Though if you'd just asked nicely," he added, "you might have found me willing to cooperate."

Karrde's smile flickered on his lips. "Perhaps. Perhaps not." He gestured to the chair across from him. "Please sit down."

Luke moved to circle around the chair. The animal in front of the table rose on its brown haunches, making a strange choked purr. Luke froze. He wasn't familiar with these predators, but recognized carnivorous teeth in their snouts and claws on their feet.

"Easy, Sturm," Karrde admonished, looking down at the animal. "This man is our guest."

Lots of beings kept carnivores as pets, Luke reminded himself. The quadrupeds would remember their symbiotic relationship with Karrde and back down.

Sturm's pointed ears flattened against his skull and he bared more of its teeth.

"I don't think it believes you." Luke remained still to not trigger any attacks. Without the Force, he couldn't calm the animals or make them ignore him.

The second animal made the same sound as the first had.

"Perhaps not." Karrde wrapped a hand on each of the animal's collars that were obscured by the darker brown mane of fur covering their necks and shoulders. He glanced around the room. "Chin!" he called. "Come and take them out, will you?"

"Sure." A middle-aged man with a Froffli-style haircut hurried over from the other two men in one of the conversation circles. "Come on, fellows." He grunted as he gripped the collars and led the animals away. "What hai we go for a walk, hee?"

"My apologies, Skywalker," Karrde said with a frown as he watched his pets leave. Mara stepped past Luke and took up a position next to her employer. Karrde frowned at her with thoughtful eyes. "They're usually better behaved than that with guests. Now, please sit down."

Luke sat and accepted the cup Karrde offered him. Mara had holstered her blaster on her left forearm, as accessible as it would have been in her hand.

"It's just a mild stimulant." Karrde nodded to the cup in Luke's hand. "Something to help you wake up." He took a drink from his own cup and returned it to the low table.

Luke sipped, and it tasted all right, a chilled herbal tea not as strong as caf. Besides, if Karrde wanted to drug him, he wouldn't have to use such subterfuge. And it was refreshing down his throat. "Would you mind telling me where my droid is?"

"Oh, he's perfectly all right," Karrde answered. "I have him in one of my equipment sheds for safekeeping."

"I'd like to see him, if I may."

"That can be arranged. But later." Karrde leaned back in his seat. "Perhaps after we've figured out just what we're going to do with you."

"What are the options?" Luke glanced up at Mara, but her face was sabacc-blank. "Maybe I can add another to the list."

"The Imperials want you or we can remove you from galactic equations." Karrde picked up his cup for another sip. "And you're presumably more enthusiastic about the third option that we send you back home."

"With due compensation," Luke said. "Say double whatever the Empire would offer?"

"You're very generous with other people's money," Karrde said in a tone that could match Leia's driest delivery. "The problem, unfortunately, doesn't arise from money, but from politics. Our operations extend rather deeply into both Imperial and Republic space. If the Empire discovered we'd released you back to the Republic, they would be immensely displeased with us."

"And vice versa, if you turned me over to the Empire," Luke pointed out.

"True," Karrde said. "Except that given the damage to your X-wing's subspace radio, the Republic plausibly has no idea what happened to you. The Empire, regrettably, does."

"And it's not what they would offer," Mara interjected. "It's what they have offered. Thirty thousand."

Luke pursed his lips. "They put out a bounty that large that quickly."

"You could be the difference between solvency and failure for numerous marginal operators," Karrde said. "There are feasibly dozens of ships out there, ignoring schedules and prior commitments to hunt for you." His smile was predatory, considering them. "Operators who haven't given even a moment of consideration to how they would hold on to a Jedi even if they caught one."

"Your method seems to work pretty well." Luke swallowed more of his drink. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to tell me how you've managed it."

Karrde smirked. "Secrets of that magnitude are worth a great deal of money. Have you any secrets of equal value to trade?"

"Probably not. But, again, I'm sure the New Republic would pay market value."

Karrde sipped from his drink again, watching Luke over the rim of his cup. "I'll make you a deal." He put the cup back on the table beside him. "You tell me why the Empire is suddenly so interested in you, and I'll tell you why your Jedi powers aren't working."

"Why don't you ask the Imperials?"

Karrde smiled. "Thank you, but no. I'd just as soon not have them wonder at my sudden interest. Particularly after we pleaded prior commitments when the request came in for us to help hunt you down."

Luke frowned at him. "You weren't hunting for me?"

"No, we weren't." Karrde's smile slipped into a smirk again. "One of those little ironies that make life so interesting. We were returning from a cargo pickup when Mara dropped us out of hyperspace on the spur of the moment to do a nav reading. And after she had reminded me of all our good reasons to remain neutral too."

Luke kept his face as stoic as possible, ignoring how his heart sank. He never enjoyed thinking of how he was a public figure now, but he couldn't deny he had been findable for years. She hadn't wanted to find him. They were allies of the circumstances while both prisoners of Grakkus; and she might not wish him death or ill, but she hadn't wanted to see him again. He couldn't blame her for that, considering everything. She took her freedom, and he was not hypocritical enough to deny her free choices. Just a heart-rending wish that they had been different choices. Her expression was just as stoic. "How fortunate for you," Luke said to Karrde.

"Perhaps," Karrde said. "The net result, though, was to put us in the middle of the exact situation I'd hoped to avoid."

Luke held out his hands with the palms up. "Then let me go and pretend none of this happened. I give you my word I'll keep your part in it quiet."

"The Empire would find out." Karrde shook his head. "Their new commander is extremely good at piecing bits of information together. No, I think your best hope right now is for us to find a compromise. Some way we can let you go while still giving the Imperials what they want." He cocked his head. "Which leads us back to my original question."

"And from there, back to my original answer," Luke said. "I don't know what the Empire wants with me." He hesitated, but Leia should be out of Imperial reach with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk. Maybe Karrde's operations had a detail of the why they hadn't been able to guess. "I can tell you, though, that it's not just me. There have been two attempts on my sister Leia, too."

"Killing attempts?"

Luke cast his mind back for the details. "I don't think so. The one I was present for felt more like a kidnapping."

Mara's stoic expression cracked as she bit on her lower lip before asking. "And she is pregnant, or is that something the HoloNet made up to talk about?"

He wasn't sure why that was important, but he answered truthfully. "She is expecting twins."

Mara didn't comment on his answer but looked at Karrde. His eyes unfocused as he thought, and his voice dropped to a murmur. "Interesting. Leia Organa Solo, who is in training to be a Jedi like her brother and is expecting the next generation of Jedi. That could explain… certain recent Imperial actions."

After a few moments, it was obvious that Karrde wasn't offering that explanation. "You spoke of a compromise," Luke reminded him.

Karrde brought his thoughts back to the room. "Yes, I did. It has occurred to me that your privileged position in the New Republic might be what the Empire was interested in—that they wanted information on the inner workings of the Provisional Council. In such a case, we might have been able to work out a deal whereby you went free while your R2 droid went to the Imperials for debriefing."

Luke's stomach tightened. "It wouldn't do them any good," he said as calmly as he could manage. The idea of Artoo being sold into Imperial slavery made him sick and angry. "Artoo has never been to any of the Council meetings."

"But he has a great deal of knowledge of you personally," Karrde said. "And of your sister, her husband, and various other highly placed members of the New Republic." He shrugged. "It's a moot question now. That the focus is exclusively on the New Republic's Jedi and potential Jedi means they're not after information. Where did these two attacks take place?"

"The first was on Bimmisaari, the second on Bpfassh."

Karrde nodded. "We've got a contact on Bpfassh; perhaps we can get him to do some backtracking on the Imperials. Until then, I'm afraid you must remain here as our guest."

That sounded like a dismissal. "Let me just point out one other thing before I go," Luke said. "No matter what happens to me or Leia, the Empire is still doomed. There are more planets in the New Republic now than there are under Imperial rule, and that number increases daily. We'll win eventually, if only by sheer weight of numbers."

"I understand that was the Emperor's own argument when discussing your Rebellion," Karrde countered. "Still, that is the crux of the dilemma, isn't it? While the Empire will wreak swift retribution on me if I don't give you over to them, the New Republic looks more likely to win out in the long run. At any rate, I thank you for your time, Skywalker. I hope we can decide without too much of a delay."

"Don't hurry on my account," Luke said. "This seems a pleasant enough world to spend a few days on."

"Don't believe it for a moment." Karrde's brown eyes grew sharp as he gave his warning. "My two pet vornskrs have an abundance of relatives out in the forest. Relatives who haven't had the benefits of modern domestication."

"I understand." Luke considered the odds. They were about a meter smaller than womp rats, and if he could leave Karrde's base and get clear of the strange interference blocking his access to the Force, there had to be other settlements.

"And don't count on your Jedi skills to protect you, either," Karrde added in a bored tone. "You'll be just as helpless in the forest. Assumably more so." He looked up at the tree towering above him. "There are considerably more ysalamiri out there than there are here."

"Ysalamiri?" Luke looked past the leaves as well and noticed the slender, gray-brown creature hanging onto the tree limb over Karrde's head. "What is it?"

"The reason you're staying where we put you," Karrde said. "They seem to have the unusual ability to push back the Force—to create bubbles, so to speak, where the Force doesn't exist."

"I've never heard of them," Luke said. Was it true at all? Neither Yoda nor Ben had ever mentioned the possibility of such a thing. He grimaced inwardly, thinking of everything else they didn't mention to him.

"Not very many have. And in the past, most of those who did had a vested interest in keeping it that way. The Jedi of the Old Republic avoided the planet, for obvious reasons, which was why a fair number of smuggling groups back then had their bases here. After the Emperor destroyed the Jedi, most of the groups pulled up and left, preferring to be closer to their potential markets. Now that the Jedi are rising again—" he nodded at Luke "—perhaps some of them will return. Though I dare say the general populace would doubtless not appreciate that."

Luke gazed around the tree. Several other ysalamiri wrapped around and across various limbs and branches. "What makes you think it's the ysalamiri and not something else that's responsible for this blocking in the Force?"

"Partly local legend," Karrde said. "Mainly, how you're standing here talking with me now. How else could a man with a stun weapon and a nervous mind have walked right up behind a Jedi without being noticed?"

Luke's gaze returned to Karrde. "You had ysalamiri about the Wild Karrde."

"Correct. Purely by chance. Well—" Karrde looked up at Mara. "Perhaps not entirely by chance."

Luke glanced at the animal above Karrde's head again. "How far does this bubbling extend?"

"I'm not sure anyone knows." Karrde poured more of the red drink into his cup. "Legend says that individual ysalamiri have bubbles from one to ten meters in radius, but that groups of them have larger ones. Reinforcement, I gather. Perhaps you'll do us the courtesy of participating in a few experiments regarding them before you leave."

"Perhaps," Luke said. "Though that probably depends on which direction I'm heading."

"It probably will," Karrde agreed. "I imagine you'd like to get cleaned up—you've been living in that flight suit for several days now. Did you bring any changes of clothing with you?"

"There's a case in the cargo compartment of my X-wing," Luke said. "Thank you for bringing it along."

"I try never to waste anything that may someday prove useful," Karrde said. "I'll have your things sent over as soon as my associates have determined that there are no hidden weapons or other equipment among them." He smiled slightly. "I doubt that a Jedi would bother with such things, but I believe in being thorough. Good evening, Skywalker."

Mara pulled her tiny blaster out again. "Let's go." She gestured with it.

Luke stood. "Let me offer you one other option. If you decide you'd rather pretend none of this ever happened, you could just return Artoo and me to where you found us. I'd be willing to take my chances with the other searchers."

"Including the Imperials?" Karrde asked.

"Including the Imperials." Luke nodded.

Karrde continued to smile. "You might be surprised. But I'll keep the option in mind."

The sun had dropped behind the trees and the sky was almost purple above as Mara escorted him back to the second barrack building. "Did I miss dinner?" He asked as they walked down the corridor toward his room.

"I'll bring you something." Mara's voice sounded like she was thinking of something else.

"Thank you." Luke took a deep breath. Maybe mercenary concerns would work if nothing else would. "Whoever is running the Imperial Remnant now is a sand churl."

"A what?" They entered his room, and he turned around. She slid her blaster into the forearm holster again.

"My price has gone down. The Imperials offered 60,000 for me right after the Battle of Yavin."

She looked confused. "Is this a Rebel—sorry New Republic bragging competition?"

"No." Han had won that years ago with the price Jabba had put on his head. "I'm telling you, that's a sure amount. I'm good for it, if you don't believe the New Republic is. It's classified how I am good for it, but I am." Davik Oligard would lecture him on how paying his own ransom was not sound fiscal policy with the Vader estate, but he couldn't do that if Luke didn't get out of this mess. "If you have any sway left with your boss, I'm good for it."

"I honestly don't know what Karrde's answer will be." Her green eyes flashed with exasperation as they shifted away from him. "You better get comfortable because more likely than not, he'll keep you until he learns why the Imperials have a sudden interest in Force users." She looked at him before her gaze skited away again. "Frankly, I've got a vested interest in that answer myself. If they just want to wipe out the Jedi again, why bother with kidnapping?"

"It suggests something to you," he said softly.

Her mouth twisted. "They have a way to exploit them, a way they are so damned confident of they'll risk going after the most famous potential Force users in the galaxy before they're even born."

Luke wasn't sure what made him shiver: her matter-of-fact assessment of the situation, the night breeze from the still open window, or her haunted, bleak expression that reminded him of times they had spoken of betrayal before. "I told no one about you," he said.

"I'm sure they have other sources of information besides who you know, Luke." She brusquely crossed the room, closed the window, and activated a sensor on the sill. "Didn't the Old Republic have a blood test?"

"They did, but I'm having a hard time finding information on the details. What it tested for to measure Force potential, how they administered it." He shrugged, not that she turned to see it. "Whatever Palpatine had done to the Jedi records makes the archivists cry over data loss."

Her fingers pressed down hard on the windowsill before she jerked her hands back. "Occasionally, I don't think you killed him hard enough." She turned to face him and continued speaking before Luke could explain—yet again—he had killed no one in the second Death Star's throne room. "The window doesn't lock, but it has an alarm. The wild vornskrs come close to the base. I don't recommend taking a chance with them. It took two solid months of daily work with Karrde's tame pair before they stopped stalking me, and I still don't trust them."

"I'll pass on meeting more of the local wildlife. Thanks for the warning."

She waved at a door in the wall behind her seat. "There are toiletries in the 'fresher if you need them. I'll go see about a meal tray and your things." She didn't wait for his response, and the lock on the main door engaged after it slid shut behind her.

The silence of the building was deafening.

He peered out the window. Lights were on in some windows of the neighboring barracks building. He couldn't see any more lights from the building he was in. He supposed that made sense; Karrde didn't want most of his associates knowing about this than necessary, no matter what he decided to do.

He sat down on the bed, acknowledging the fear clambering inside him. There is no emotion, there is peace. He released the fear into the Force. He'd find a way out of this predicament and give Mara the distance she wanted from him.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda recounted all the datacards on her desk. It was the same as the last three times she counted; one was missing. And it was the lessons on the Clone Wars history of Naboo that she had ignored doing while Mommy was working off planet. But she was back now. And Mommy was going to do a progress check on Luci's lessons as soon as she finished with the fancy dinner Captain Karrde was holding for base guests.

Luci glanced at her still covered meal tray. The missing datacard churned her stomach and made her not hungry at all. Luci had opened the datacard. She remembered how it started with the battle between the Trade Federation and Naboo to explain something that happened when the Clone Wars started ten years later. She would know what that was if she had done the lessons. When was the last time she had opened it?

She flopped into her desk chair and thought hard. Mommy had been gone for two months, so it had been a while. The last time she had worked on it was before the Star Destroyer had shown up to collect ysalamiri, when she had panicked and packed up her things to run. She jerked up and grabbed her datapad. It had fallen out of her bag in the Skipray. The datacard must have fallen out too. And she missed picking it up while Chin hauled her out of the ship.

Mommy had told her to stay out of the Skiprays and she had. But Mommy would be madder that Lucinda hadn't finished her lessons. Luci doing them on her own was proof that she was a big girl who could take care of her responsibilities.

But now, Mommy was busy with the fancy dinner. Luci could get the datacard out of the Skipray and be back in her room working on her lessons before that ended. Then Mommy would only have questions of why Luci was behind, and because she hadn't done them was the honest answer.

And Mommy would ground Luci until Luci was back on schedule, which wouldn't be fun but was less awful than the alternative.

She left the datapad on her desk as she left the room. Nobody was outside as she dashed across the clearing, and the Skipray she wanted was docked on Landing Pad 1 again. The main hatch was down, so she scrambled over the main wings on the body of the ship. It was a lot easier to do without the bags this time. No datacard in the tiny passageway between the cockpit, so she went into the main cabin and scowled.

Someone had magnetically clamped the crates to new positions in the cabin. If they had put one of them on her datacard, damage or data corruption would make it useless. Mommy would have to waste credits on a replacement.

She didn't see a datacard on the cleared deck plate in this cabin. Maybe it had ended up where the datapad had: under the fold-able bench. They had stacked four boxes in front of those benches, but not flush against the hull. She peered behind the boxes.

The seats were lifted against the hull. A datacard was on the floor up against the wall. Lucinda dropped to her hands and knees and crawled to it. She wrapped her hand around it, wanting to cheer out loud, but didn't. Somebody might hear her and tell Mommy.

Boots stepped onto the entry ramp.

Lucinda jerked her head to check, but the crates hid her. She didn't dare come out now. Everybody who worked for Captain Karrde would tell on her to save themselves from Mommy.

She heard his low grunting, like he was straining to do something but trying not to make a lot of noise. She stayed frozen but mentally screamed, Get your check done and go! at him. But he didn't leave as something heavy and metallic landed on the deck plate.

An electronic twitter sounded in the passageway. "So how about no more complaints when I grab you with the Force?" The male voice was low. The hinged hatchway hissed as it closed. "Cockpit is this way." The boot steps headed forward, followed by a much quieter whir.

Luci crawled to the edge of the crates hiding her and craned her neck until she saw the closed hatchway. He was taking off?!

Mommy was going to KILL her.

No, that would be over too quick. Mommy was going to do something worse. Luci's imagination failed with coming up with a suitable something. She had to get out of here before takeoff because Mommy's anger might be less if Luci didn't actually leave planet.

She crept onto her feet, grateful for her soft-soled boots that made her feet quieter than the male's boots. Then she moved sideways in the main cabin until she pressed against the opposite hull with a view into the cockpit. A blond human male dressed in black was wrapping the seat restraints around a barrel-shaped astromech droid wedged between two of the three seats at the Skipray's tech/weapons station.

Her heart pounded. She didn't recognize the man. Mommy always introduced her to Captain Karrde's new hires. She dashed to the wall between the main cabin's door and the autochef unit, out of sight of the cockpit pressed up against it.

Mommy had been super busy since Wild Karrde docked a few days ago, so it's possible she forgot to introduce a new crew member. But Captain Karrde didn't need any astromech droids for any of his ships. The maintenance tech had told her all about that.

So where did they come from, Hyllyard City? And what were they doing, stealing the Skipray? She slid the datacard into a thigh pocket on her trousers.

"Looks like everything's already on standby." The man said, not so worried about his volume now after he shut the hatch. "There's an outlet right there—give everything a quick check while I strap in. With a little luck, maybe we can be out of here before anyone even knows we're gone." The droid beeped in response.

He was stealing the Skipray! Lucinda's mouth dropped open. The engines were already rumbling, triggering Mommy's rule about always being strapped in when the ship's sublights were running. But he was stealing the Skipray! And he didn't know she was here. She closed her mouth as she thought. If she was sneaky and made sure the thief didn't know she was here, she could sneak to the comm and tell the base where it was after they landed. But where to hide?

She dashed to the folded bench behind the magnetic crates. There was just enough room to lower the seat between the hull and the crates, keeping her hidden, and she could strap in, even though she had to sit cross-legged to squeeze her legs behind the crate. She pulled the restraints around her body.

She finished tightening the straps just in time to feel the Skipray shift forward and her body slid a little to the left. The thief wasn't wasting any time.

"I think we're in trouble." The man called back to his droid.

Was it normal to talk to a droid so much when the droid doesn't speak Basic? Mommy couldn't ever afford a droid until this job, but they didn't need one. Lucinda gripped the restraints tighter as the sublight drive roared. The thief-pilot was going fast, but it didn't feel like the Skipray was going higher. Something scraped against the bottom and the droid squealed so loud she heard it.


Maybe the droid was the brain of this stealing the Skipray operation, and that's why the man kept talking to it.

The droid trilled.

"Hang on!"

Oh, Lucinda did not like the sound of that shout. The Skipray rolled hard and her stomach flipped as the roll became a spin that didn't stop. She heard the cockpit canopy shatter and felt the Skipray slam into trees. She shrieked as she covered her head with her arms. The crash balloons popped out of the restraints and covered more of her. The droid answered her scream with an electronic scream of its own.

Luke didn't hurt as he staggered back to consciousness. This was one of his better crashes, considering the splintered trees outside the fighter's twisted canopy. The fighter must be equipped with an emergency acceleration compensator along with the restraints and crash balloons. Its nose had plowed into the ground and now the aft section was higher.

He and Artoo couldn't linger here. The fighter chasing him probably had reinforcements coming from Karrde's base or worse, the Star Destroyer in orbit above the planet. Leaving had been the best option; company for dinner, yeah right. He brushed the leaves and twigs away from himself and the instrument panels in front of him. The scopes were dead.

Artoo moaned behind him.

"You okay, Artoo?" He unlatched his restraints and leveraged himself out of the seat.

Artoo warbled at him. {Passenger. Can't scan status.}

"Hang on, I'm coming." Luke climbed up the slanted floor. It could have been a worse incline if they had come straight down to the ground on the ship's nose.

The droid's scomp link had broken off cleanly, and Luke made sure the remains retracted properly. And a few dents; but Artoo wasn't fussing about them. {Passenger. Can't scan status. Check on passenger.}

"What are you talking about?" Luke untangled the seat restraints from around the droid. Then he heard it, a choked off sob that could never be mistaken for metal giving way from stress.

Artoo magnetically latched onto the deck plate and swiveled his dome to aim the photoreceptor at the cockpit door.

Luke climbed into the passageway and into the main cabin of the small ship. The sob choked off again, but this time it sounded like a hand slapped over a mouth. But he didn't see anybody, just magnetic crates still stacked together next to the hull. A hull wall that undoubtedly had benches that folded up out of the way like the other side.

He crossed the cabin to look between the crates and the hull. The seat was down, and a little girl about seven or eight was curled on it, hiding her face against her knees. Her shimmering red-gold hair was plaited in two braids curving above her ears with the braids falling onto her shoulders. And he only knew one woman with that shade of red; he had run after enough of the wrong ones to know the difference now. His aching heart thudded. He hadn't sensed this child at all, couldn't sense her now. Was she hurt? He knelt next to the bench. "Are you hurt?"

Her head snapped back, and blue eyes reddened from crying glared at him. "Why should I tell you anything?! You stole from Captain Karrde. This was his Skipray, and you wrecked it 'cause you're a terrible pilot!"

"That move works better in an X-wing," he conceded. Her tear-soaked face was red from the yelling, and her neck and arms moved effortlessly. "But if you're hurt, you need to tell me so we can use the medpac before you move a lot and make it worse."

Artoo twittered. {Torso contusions. No internal structures or systems damage.} The scan done, the droid turned and rolled into the passageway with the main hatch.

The little girl blinked at him. "It hurts where the restraints caught me like I hit it real hard, but I can walk."

"Can you undo the restraints?"

She scowled. "I shouldn't listen to you. If you're willing to steal, you'll do worse things to me."

Artoo whistled in squeamish-sounding awe before elaborating. {Other ship crashed worse than we did. Slipstream pull down, in all probability.}

"One problem at a time, Artoo." He called over his shoulder.

Curiosity crept across her suspicious face. "How do you know what the droid is saying?"

"I know Binary. I can't speak it; human throats can't make all the same sounds."

"Nobody told me I could learn it."

"Artoo taught me. Let's all find somewhere safe to go and I'll help you learn some. My name is Luke."

"It's safer to stay with the Skipray. Everybody on base said that."

"That's true if the Imperial Star Destroyer in orbit didn't see us go down." He hoped these smugglers were raising her with a healthy sense of fear of them, along with a suspicion of strangers.

Her blue eyes widened as she struggled to breathe. "They came back?"

"I'd show you the scopes, but the crash took them out."

She stared at him, and Luke wished he could soothe her fears of him through the Force. Her hands shook as she unlatched the restraints and swung her legs out to the side of the seat. Luke stood and stepped back to give her room. She skidded a little and then scowled up at him like he had caused it on purpose. "Just because I don't like stormtroopers doesn't mean I like you."

"Fair enough. Do you know where the safety supplies are stored?"

"In a compartment above the main hatch." She went through the doorway first and stared at Artoo. "You look familiar."

Before droid or man could respond, a female yelled from outside. "Sithspit, Skywalker, if that stunt didn't kill you, I might finish the job!"

If Luke had any doubts over her lineage, the child's reaction confirmed it. She shrank back from the hatch with a muttered "Blast it."

He smoothed out his twitching lips that wanted to smile before scooping her up in his right arm. She squeaked and grabbed his shoulder. "We both have to face this music, kid." The crash had sheered away the wing he had pushed Artoo over to get the droid to the hatch, leaving a clear path to the ground not too far below.

Luke swung out of the hatch and dropped to the ground. The little girl squeaked again as she fisted his tabard for support. He straightened his knees and looked directly into the holdout blaster's barrel. He shifted his focus to the icy face behind it.

The little girl perched on his arm trembled. "Mommy?"

Mara's glittering green eyes focused on Luke. "Aren't you the perfect Jedi Knight now?" Cold venom laced her words. "Already stealing children. Put her down."

That old Imperial lie kindled his anger, but he kept it contained for the child's sake. "I didn't steal her; she stowed away!" He wasn't sure how successful he was at containing it. He set her on her feet before turning back to the fighter.

Artoo beeped worriedly and had latched onto the outer hull of the ship, but now couldn't detach without falling flat on the ground.

Mara didn't shoot him in the back as he helped Artoo get his treads on the ground. "Lucinda Padmé Jade, why aren't you in your room working on your lessons?"

With Artoo stabilized on the forest floor, Luke turned around to watch the family dynamic. Mara had tucked her blaster in its forearm holster and planted her hands on her hips. His lightsaber was hanging from her belt again. She hadn't worn it when she had moved him from the barracks to the shed.

Lucinda fidgeted, much like Luke remembered doing when Uncle Owen or Aunt Beru had that tone. She drew a datacard out of her trouser pocket. "It got left on the Skipray last time and I thought I could get it without interrupting the special supper and then he stole the Skipray!" She pointed to Luke. "Why aren't you yelling at him?"

"His turn is next. Now is about you and how you were supposed to stay out of the ships and do your lessons while I was off planet. How many did you finish if you just now missed this datacard?"

Luke turned back to the Skipray and climbed inside. Mara had a child, a family, and that knowledge was eating his insides like acid. It shouldn't. Hadn't one of the first things he had said to her in Grakkus' cell been that he knew a luminous woman like her would never pick a man like him? And she hadn't. She hadn't escaped with him, and she had found someone else who she loved and trusted enough to have a child with. Hopefully, the Jade fellow who managed that knew how lucky he was.

He found the release for the compartment and pulled out a metal case. He didn't recognize the company logo, but the equipment inside was a standard survival kit. No blaster. The conversation outside moved off lessons and punishments to injuries and a mediscan. Mara had finished running the medisensor over Lucinda by the time he jumped down with the survival kit.

"You must wait until we're back at the base for any bacta salve," Mara said as she closed a matching survival kit.

"I hope we're not walking the entire way back," Luke said to goad a reaction out of her.

She stood, and her hands went to her hips again. "I should make you walk back just for this." She waved her hand to take in the clearing created by the two crashed fighters.

Luke almost retorted that he wouldn't have even attempted a drop-kick Koiogran turn if she hadn't been right up his thrusters, but the whine of a repulsorlift grew louder.

Lucinda frowned. "That's not one of Captain Karrde's ships."

Mara's expression pinched with determination. "It's not. Into the trees, all of you, move!"

The little girl sprang into the forest edge at Mara's command, and Artoo scooted after her. Luke plunged through the scant bushes and dodged around the trees, carrying the survival kit from his fighter. Mara was right on his heels, so close the tip of her redrawn blaster brushed against his back. About twenty meters in, he bent to help Artoo over a wide tree root. "Far enough," Mara ordered. "Hide the droid and hit the dirt."

The tree trunk was wide enough to screen Artoo's body. Lucinda stretched out on the ground behind the root, her head turned to her mother and her hand clamped over her mouth. Luke flattened himself next to her and looked back at what had alarmed them so.

A Lambda shuttle rotated in the air above the wrecked fighters.

Mara crouched over her child to press against Luke and whisper into his ear. "You give us away and I will shoot you." Then she withdrew, lay on Lucinda's other side, and wrapped her free arm over the trembling child.

They watched the shuttle settle on the torn-up ground between the ruined fighters. The ramp dropped before it finished moving and disgorged stormtroopers. White armored figures split into three groups and two searched the fighters. The rest walked around the edge of the clearing with portable sensors.

All the while, Mara kept her blaster ready to fire and made no move to alert the stormtroopers. But Karrde had planned to turn Luke over to the Imperials?

After a few minutes that felt so much longer, the Skipray searchers emerged and held a meeting at the shuttle's ramp. All the perimeter searchers returned, and the detail boarded. The shuttle's ramp sealed and lifted into the sky.

Luke waited until he could no longer hear the repulsorlifts before moving. Mara might be pissed that he stranded them here and that saving him had divided her with her boss, but she didn't want to see him in Imperial custody. "Well—"

"Quiet," Mara muttered. "They'll have left a sensor behind, just in case someone comes back. Grab some distance." She seized her survival kit and headed further away from the clearing. Lucinda scrambled off the ground, chased after her mother, and seized Mara's left wrist above the case.

Luke grabbed his survival kit and encouraged Artoo out from behind the tree. The woman was favoring her right leg but set a quick pace. Artoo kept just as quiet as the organics, and at least the pair in the lead made a path around the larger roots.

Between fifty and sixty meters from the crash site, Lucinda tugged on her mother's arm. Mara stopped and looked down at her. "We're far enough now. Sit down."

Lucinda plopped on the ground with a boneless ease. It tempted Luke to react the same way, but he decided it was better to kneel in front of his survival kit and dig out a ration bar. There were twenty-four packed inside, enough to last a crew of four three days eating twice a day. He pulled out three.

Mara had opened her survival kit but had only removed a small flat case that she now had on her lap. She was frowning down at it and tapping keys inside it. Must be some kind of micro-console. "Food, Mara?"

"I ate," she answered without looking up.

"I didn't." Lucinda wilted a bit as Mara looked at her. "I was going to eat after I got back to my room."

"Catch." Luke tossed Lucinda a ration bar and then stowed the extra back in the kit before eating his.

The little girl wasn't so eager to tear into hers. "You said they weren't chasing us anymore."

"They weren't, otherwise, they would have ventured into the forest." Mara's attention focused back to the micro-console. "The incoming shuttles must have seen us go down and sent a detail to investigate. Karrde's going to spin them a sugar story about what happened, and we can't walk into their arms until we know what that story is."

Lucinda nodded and opened her ration bar. Luke frowned as he swallowed his last bite. "Stormtroopers have chased you?"

"You think you're the only one to have ever been on an Imperial most wanted list?" Mara snapped before the micro-console beeped. "We've got a three-day hike to the edge of the forest at Hyllyard City." She closed the micro-console and packed it into her survival kit.

That was an abrupt subject change. Did Lucinda's father cause their Imperial trouble? "That doesn't sound so bad," Luke offered.

"Three days on foot avoiding vornskrs and making sure the Imperials didn't leave any watchers in the sky." Her voice was as dry as the Western Dune Sea. "Your droid can't keep up."

It wasn't fair to pick on Artoo when it was likely her little girl couldn't keep up either, but Luke avoided that comparison. "Artoo has traversed forests before just fine."

{Endor was okay,} Artoo whistled. {It was dry. Dagobah.} He added a blat sound. {Stop going to Dagobah, Luke.}

Mara shook her head. "It knows too much about this whole situation. If the Imperials get their hands on it, Karrde is a dead man. They won't find out anything if it's in pieces."

Both Luke and Lucinda looked at Mara in disbelief while Artoo moaned. "How can he teach me Binary if you take him apart?" Lucinda asked.

"Who said anything about you learning Binary?"

"Not an option, Mara," Luke said. "Besides, he's your best bet to get a message to Karrde, assuming you have some way of transmitting a comm signal in that survival kit."

Mara's expression was suspicious. "There's a sonde balloon included that can take the antenna high enough, past most of the forest damping. But it's non-directional, which means the Imperials will listen in."

"Forest damping?" Lucinda asked as she brushed a ration bar crumb off her cleft chin.

"The vegetation here limits sensor ranges down to practically zero," Mara said.

"Artoo can encrypt it so that no one else will get anything out of it," Luke said.

"Wonderful." Mara smirked. "Except for one minor detail: if the encryption is that good, how is Karrde supposed to decrypt it?"

"He won't have to. The computer in my X-wing will do it for him."

"That's impossible. You can't do a counterpart encrypt between an astromech droid and a ship computer, Skywalker."

"Why not? Artoo's the only droid who's worked with that computer in over five years, with close to three thousand hours of flight time. He's bound to have molded it to his own personality by now. In fact, I know he has—the ground crew has to run diagnostics through him to make any sense out of them."

Lucinda crumpled her ration bar wrapper into her trousers pocket. "You don't wipe his memories? I thought military ships had to."

"I like Artoo the way he is," Luke said. "The X-wing is my personal ship and we're not part of any military unit, so that rule doesn't apply. And he and the X-wing work better together this way."

"How much better?" Mara asked.

Maintenance had run that test just a few months ago, but so much had happened in between. "I don't remember the exact number. It was something like thirty percent faster than a baseline astromech/X-wing interface. Or closer to thirty-five."

Mara stared hard at Artoo. "That's counterpart-level speed, all right. The Imperials could still crack it, though."

"Eventually. But it would take some specialized equipment to do it. And you said we'd be out of here in three days."

Her gaze moved back to Luke. "Your ship's sitting all alone out in the forest. How are you going to get the message back to Karrde?"

"Someone will check on the ship, sooner or later. All we have to do is dump the message into storage and leave some kind of signal flashing that it's there. You have people who know how to pull a dump, don't you?"

"Any idiot knows how to pull a dump. But all your answers don't change that it will take forever for your droid to get across this terrain."

Luke spotted a tree with two low branches just the right size, moved and knelt in front of Mara. She didn't draw back from the sudden closeness. His desire to close the gap with a kiss nearly flattened him. He knocked that desire back with how that wasn't right; he had hurt her, and she had moved on. Ignored the pins and needles in his prosthetic hand, he unclipped his lightsaber from her belt.

She quirked an eyebrow, but otherwise didn't stop him as he stood up. Lucinda turned a very puzzled face between him and her mother, though. Luke tried to ignore that as he ignited the lightsaber and trimmed, shortened, and cut the branches from the tree. He clipped it back to his belt before reaching down for the branches.

Now Lucinda's expression was an open mouth of astonishment. Mara meanwhile had dug a coil of high tension wire out of her survival kit and tossed it to him. She glanced upward at the darkening sky. "Come on, get busy with a travois. We must find a clearing to put the sonde balloon up, and I want to get that done before nightfall."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

It wasn't much further before they crossed one of the small clearings that dotted the forest and sent the encrypted message to Karrde. Mara insisted they push on further before stopping at a large tree bole and underneath its canopy as the last bit of dark blue faded from the gaps between the foliage, leaving blackness above them. "We'll make camp here."

She eased down and pulled out the survival kit's worklight and set it to its lowest setting. Now that they had answered the most pressing survival needs, she had time to pay attention to her throbbing ankle and the two people she hadn't expected to become traveling companions. She had hoped to get a spare moment to confess to Skywalker, but now she was second guessing that. His family were all targeted by Thrawn.

Lucinda took the make camp announcement as time to talk. She closed in on Luke. "You're Luke Skywalker. Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker."

He opened his survival kit. "I am."

"You blew up the Death Star."

"The first one I did." He pulled the thermal blanket from the kit.

"You killed Jabba the Hutt."

Mara wondered where this hero worship came from. She hadn't passed on any Luke Skywalker stories to Lucinda, and she had made sure the history lessons were accurate for the events and not holodrama stories. She pulled a glow rod out from her survival kit, so it would be out and ready.

He flattened the blanket next to the tree. "No, I fought all his guards and bounty hunters which gave my sister the chance to kill him."

Lucinda grinned. "Dankin is telling it wrong!"

So it's Dankin's fault, Mara thought ruefully.

"You're Luke Skywalker," Lucinda's voice got serious. "What are you doing on Myrkr?"

And I haven't taught her how to not give information away.

"Ask your mother."

Mara cocked her head as she glared at him. She couldn't believe he just said that.

He ignored her glare as he held out his hand. "Let's treat your leg."

"It's fine," she insisted.

"It's not, and you should not hike for three days on a damaged limb."

Becoming a Jedi had improved his confidence, Mara observed, but she wasn't sure if she approved of that right now. "It's just my ankle and you can't do Jedi magic to it, not on Myrkr."

"I was going to do Rebel-trained medpac on it. You have a problem with that?"

She grabbed his hand, and he leveraged her up and then set her on the thermal blanket. He shifted her survival kit with the lit worklight to her feet. He lifted her right leg and pushed the survival kit under to use as a footrest.

Lucinda waited until both adults settled. "Mommy, why is Luke Skywalker here?"

Mara glared at Luke again, but he ignored it as he untied her boot. She set the glow rod in her lap and drew her blaster out of the forearm holster. "You need to watch for vornskrs." She held out the blaster.

Luci took it and turned to face the dark forest with excellent form. She had practiced that, at least while Mara was away. Luke's expression was sabacc-blank, so he was hiding how he felt. "You think an eight-year-old is too young to know how to shoot."

His eyebrows raised at her snappish tone. "Has someone critiqued your parenting? I was shooting a Czerka 6-2Aug2 hunting rifle when I was her age."

She was expecting critique and argument about what she had done for nine years. And her fear of losing Lucinda still hadn't recovered from learning what Thrawn was up to only to get revved up by seeing her childhood lessons in action followed by stormtroopers who would add the Jades to Thrawn's collection of Force sensitives. And it all could've been avoided had Luke just waited in the shed! Luke peeled off her sock, and Mara sucked in her breath from the throbbing and swelling.

Lucinda looked over her shoulder. "You had a slugthrower when you were a kid? Why?"

"Watch the forest," Mara reminded her.

Luci huffed, but she turned her head back. The droid rocked into place to Mara's right and rotated a sensor dish extended from its dome, so they covered both sides of the camp.

Luke dug for the medpac out of his survival kit. "Blasters are expensive on worlds with harsh climates, which Tatooine qualifies. Slugthrowers take less maintenance, and you can make slugs if you want to take the time." He found the medisensor and aimed it at her ankle. "Second-degree sprain. I think you hurt it worse with the running."

"Well, I wasn't slowly sauntering away from stormtroopers," Mara said.

His gaze shifted back to the medpac. "You should have just turned me in."

Her back straightened right off the tree bole, but his grip on her leg kept that from jerking off the improvised footrest. "You idiot! I was trying to keep them from learning we had you, which you didn't help at all."

He found the flexible tape and began winding it around her ankle and foot to immobilize it. He did it correctly, and she couldn't find fault. "They came to dinner," he said without looking up.

"No, they were uninvited. We had another set of guests that Karrde figured didn't need to know about you. And since we haven't heard any orbital bombardment, Karrde got them out of Imperial sight." She took a deep breath against the throbbing in her ankle. "For the last time, I don't want to see you in Imperial hands. Especially now that they have ysalamiri. And if Karrde decided in their favor, I was planning on telling you that and equipping you to help your escape."

He looked up at her face, the lingering suspicion clearing from his blue eyes. Her heart turned over in her chest. Nine years, nine years, she should not still have a weakness for those blue eyes after nine years!

Mara's other weakness scuffed her foot against a root. "Why are the Imperials after him? Is it just 'cause you're New Republic or is it something else?" Lucinda didn't turn around with her questions this time.

Mara leaned back against the bole with a sigh. "The Imperials have a new bounty out on him since he broke his hyperdrive getting away from them. We found him on the Wild Karrde's last flight."

"You found me." Luke concentrated on winding the flexible tape around her foot. "Karrde gave you all the credit for that."

Mara didn't want to get into a philosophical debate over what the Force was doing by leading her to him after nine years, so she spoke of her lingering outrage. "Why didn't you just stay put?"

He sighed. "I am sorry for all this. I was trying to get you out of divided loyalties."

He did it for her? She shook her head; of course he did. "Only you could cause this much trouble doing someone a favor, Luke."

"Lucinda's father," he nodded at the little girl without looking at Mara, "must be panicking back at the base."

Oh damn. She wasn't ready for this conversation. Not in front of Lucinda, not to put them both on the spot without any reflection on it. "He's not—"

Lucinda interrupted. "He doesn't care about me. He left Mommy knocked up."

"Who told you that?!" Mara demanded, looking at Lucinda's back. She suspected Karrde had some theories he was using this whole situation to find answers for, but if he was questioning her daughter behind her back, he would rue it.

Luci's shoulders jerked up to her ears. "Ghent," she answered, sounding sorry to get the young man in trouble.

That was less troubling. Mara sighed. "Do not get biographical details of your life from Ghent; he wasn't there. We didn't meet him until you were three and I had to give you the job of keeping him fed because he only looked up from his consoles when he was getting shot at." She looked at Luke, who was pretending fascination with her ankle. "Her father doesn't work for Karrde."

Luke met her eyes with his own. "And didn't keep in touch."

She didn't want him to feel bad about that. She smiled. "You may have missed it, but there was a war going on."

"Still going on." Luke's shoulders slumped as he finished wrapping her ankle and put the flexible tape away.

"Wait, he was running away from the base." Lucinda's voice grew puzzled as she faced the forest. "You found him, but he was running away. You were trying to keep him here?"

"Captain Karrde was keeping Jedi Skywalker here." Mara kept her voice calm. Lucinda was about to go shrill over this, which was probably something else to blame Luke for. "I was trying to keep the Imperials from finding him."

Lucinda whirled around to face the adults and remembered to aim the blaster at the ground. "But Captain Karrde can't just keep people! It's wrong!"

And there it was. Luke smothered his laugh as he set a medical cold pack over her bandaged ankle. Well, if Karrde hadn't had a hellacious time with this venture of who will pay more for a Jedi yet, the Jades would finish that off. "Luci-love, when we get back to the base, I'll make sure that you can tell Captain Karrde keeping people is wrong and you can explain that in great detail."

Lucinda considered that. "Will you lose your job? I'll do it, but you like this job."

"After this fiasco, I'm sure Captain Karrde has learned his lesson." Mara held her hand out for the blaster. She was looking at a suspicious shadow behind Luke.

The droid's dome rotated a few degrees, and it gave a quiet gurgle. "I think Artoo's picked up something." Luke twisted to face the darkness.

"No kidding," Mara said. She aimed the glow rod's beam over Luke's shoulder.

A vornskr stood in the circle of light, its front claws dug into the ground, its whip tail pointed back and waving slowly up and down. It ignored the light as it stepped forward, its attention focused on Luke.

The beast stepped forward twice before the blaster bolt drilled neatly through its head. It collapsed to the ground, its tail giving one last twitch before doing likewise.

"Be faster on the trigger next time, Lucinda," Mara corrected. She played the glow rod over the area, but there were no more suspicious shadows.

"Sorry, I thought the light might scare it off."

"We know better now," Luke said. "Thank you." He nodded at her before he dug into the medpac again.

Lucinda grinned as she skipped to Mara's side and handed back to the holdout blaster. Mara drew her down to sit next to her. Luci yawned and pulled Mara's arm around her.

"Are Karrde's pet vornskrs a different species?" Luke asked. "Or did he have their tails removed?"

Mara blinked at him, impressed at his Jedi calm. Most men staring down a vornskr's gullet wouldn't have noticed a detail like that. "The latter," she told him. "They use those tails as whips—painful alone, but there's a mild poison in them too. At first it was just that Karrde didn't want his people walking around with whip welts all over them; he found out later that removing the tails also kills a lot of their normal hunting aggression."

"They seemed domestic," he said. "Even friendly."

"They were friendly to you?" Lucinda exclaimed. "They keep trying to eat me."

"They weren't that friendly," Mara admitted. "They do better around people who aren't Force sensitive. Karrde's thought about offering them for sale as guard animals. Never gotten around to exploring the potential market."

"Well, you can tell him I'd be glad to serve as a reference." Luke said. "Having looked a vornskr square in the teeth, I can tell you it's not something the average intruder would like to do twice." He moved to Mara's right side and poured some tablets into the palm of his right hand. "Pain killers." He held them out to her.

She shook her head. "Those will blunt my reaction time."

Exasperation finally crossed his face. "I can shoot the vornskrs tonight. You have to rest that ankle."

She glared at him but half-heartedly and then took his hand and licked the three tablets from the palm. That contact jolted him from his Jedi stoicism and a flush spread over his face. He looked away, abashed. There was a glimpse of the younger man she had known within the Jedi. She passed the holdout blaster to him.

He walked around to settle on the left and pressed his back against the tree. Lucinda yawned again between them and snuggled closer to Mara.

"Myrkr," he said. "Reminds me of Endor. A forest always sounds so busy at night."

"Oh, it's busy, all right," Mara said. "A lot of the animals here are nocturnal. Including the vornskrs."

"Strange," he murmured. "Karrde's pets seemed wide enough awake in late afternoon."

She wanted to rest her head on his shoulder. Luckily, the space between them prevented it. "They take small naps around the clock. So do the wild ones. I call them nocturnal because they do most of their hunting at night."

He mulled that over for a moment. "Maybe we ought to travel at night," he suggested. "They'll be hunting us either way—at least then we'd be awake and alert while they were on the prowl."

Mara shook her head. "It'd be more trouble than it's worth. We need to see the terrain if we're going to avoid running into dead ends. Besides, small clearings are as numerous as the trees in this forest."

"Through which a glow rod beam would be visible to an orbiting ship. Okay, we'll travel by day. Good night, Mara."

Her arm tightened around Lucinda as she closed her eyes. "Good night, Luke."

Lucinda was more than ready to make camp after so much walking, all day walking since the sun came up. But Mommy had looked at the sun and decided they could push on further. She didn't dare bring up stopping again, but it was getting so hard to walk faster. She had to because Jedi Skywalker was pulling the travois with Artoo behind her. It would be impolite to slow him down and just stupid to get run over because she didn't get out of the way. But it was getting hard to keep up with Mommy. It didn't look like she was stopping for them, ever.

Her shoulders fell seeing how far ahead Mommy was. She missed her room, chiefly her bed back at the base. The base was no longer so boring, and she no longer wished Mommy would let her go into the forest. She quickened her feet, even if they didn't want to go faster, and they scuffed against the roots and clumps of grass. Sunlight and shadows from the sun sinking in the trees to the right spotted the ground. She wasn't getting closer to Mommy, but she had gotten further ahead of Jedi Skywalker.

Mommy knew Jedi Skywalker. She was giving Lucinda reminders to be polite and call him by his surname and title, but she called him by just his first name a lot. And Mommy didn't do that with anyone else. She always used their surnames.

And since Lucinda didn't remember him at all, it must have been before she was born. She had remembered Ghent when Captain Karrde introduced her and Mommy to the rest of his associates, and the slicer had been so surprised, "But you were so little then!" She remembered a lot more than people thought she would—running from stormtroopers, the crummy jobs that Mommy hated, the bounty hunter who hadn't put her down when Mommy told him to—so she was certain she would remember Jedi Skywalker too. When Mommy met him must have been before Lucinda was born or when she was a tiny baby. No, before, because Jedi Skywalker hadn't known her name. He would have used it when she yelled at him back in the Skipray.

Mommy hated talking about before. She said nothing about Lucinda's father, and just a few details about her own childhood. Mommy was from Coruscant and loved going to the opera there. She had had dancing lessons with all her other classes and practiced them by teaching Lucinda. Luci wanted to move that pretty, but she felt tied down by gravity while Mommy soared like an avian.

But there hadn't been a hint of Mommy in any of the holodramas she had watched covering the adventures of Luke Skywalker. Mommy had told her that the holodramas took what happened and made it bigger and more exciting. Aves had said the same thing to Chin and Ghent after they had finished Luke Skywalker and the Citadel of Ktath'atn, that there was no way it could be true. And Jedi Skywalker already told her how Dankin was telling Jabba's death wrong. He would tell her the other things the holodramas got wrong.

Her right foot kicked through what she thought was just a clump of grass and plowed through a clump of dirt instead. Dirt clung to her boot and tiny insects crawled out of it. "Ugh!" She jumped away from the mound and stomped her feet. The dirt fell away, but the red bugs were still on her. "Ugh!"

"Lucinda?" Jedi Skywalker stopped before he reached the remains of the dirt nest.

"Solenopsis biters, be careful." She bent over and brushed the tiny segmented bodies off her boot and trousers. Luckily, she had tucked her trousers into her boots, so they didn't find any skin to bite on her legs. And her hands were moving too fast for them to bite there. She stomped again and was sure they were all off her now.

Artoo squealed. Lucinda jerked her head up to look at the droid. Jedi Skywalker dropped the handles of the travois and grabbed her off the ground. She was against his chest before she could cry out. There was a solid thump on the ground behind her. The cackle/purr cry was louder than the snap-hiss of the lightsaber. Her hands tightened on Jedi Skywalker, but she looked over her shoulder, anyway.

The vornskr crouched in the spot she had been in, and the green glow of the lightsaber made its yellow eyes glow more. Jedi Skywalker had the blade extended from his left hand between them and the predator. It didn't seem to care and continued staring at them without blinking.

"This is why everyone at the base said stay with the crashed ship on Myrkr," she whispered.

"I'm sure they weren't thinking of stormtroopers when they told you that." Jedi Skywalker tightened his grip on her, but otherwise didn't move.

The vornskr tightened its crouch to spring, but the blaster bolt hit it and it crumpled to the ground instead.

"What were you waiting for?" Mommy said as she stomped closer.

Jedi Skywalker shut off the lightsaber. "I haven't practiced left-handed dueling that much, specifically not while holding a child." He set Lucinda on the ground and stepped closer to the vornskr's body, making sure the blaster bolt killed it.

"I'm fine," Lucinda blurted, so Mommy wouldn't look so worried. And it was true, if she ignored how hard her heart was still beating.

Mommy stopped stomping, but her lips pressed together. They finally parted to say, "Whoever trained you in lightsaber should have made sure you were ambidextrous."

Jedi Skywalker smirked at Mommy. "That's something for me to work on." He wouldn't think that was funny if he watched Mommy at the target range.

"Can we take a rest?" Lucinda asked Mommy. "Please?"

Mommy didn't tell her not to whine but looked at the angle of the sun instead. "We have to go while we can. I'll carry you."

"You can't," Jedi Skywalker said.

Mommy's eyes narrowed. He should know how Mommy didn't like anyone telling her she can't do anything.

"Not with your ankle the way it is," he continued before turning to Lucinda. "Do you trust me enough to ride my back while I pull the travois?"

She did trust him, now that they weren't flying. "I can do that." She hadn't ridden Mommy's back for years, but Mommy wasn't objecting, so Lucinda climbed onto Jedi Skywalker's back, squeezing his waist with her legs and holding onto his shoulders.

Mommy rested her hand on Lucinda's back, looking wistful as Jedi Skywalker stood up. The expression she didn't see often on Mommy's face disappeared as she lifted the travois handles to Jedi Skywalker's hands. "You have it?"

"Lead the way." He followed behind Mommy, and it seemed like they were going faster than she could. She watched the tree branches they walked under but didn't see any vornskrs waiting up there. "You okay?" He asked over his shoulder.

"I'm okay," Luci answered. "Is your sister really a princess?"

"Yes, she is. Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan."

"How come you're not a prince?"

"Because a royal family didn't adopt me. Our aunt and uncle raised me."

She adjusted her grip on his shoulders. "They didn't want both of you?"

Jedi Skywalker sighed. "I don't think they were given a choice. The remainder of the Jedi Order was trying to keep us safe from the Emperor, so they separated us."

That was sad, and they didn't meet again until they had grown up. That had been in her New Republic lesson. Better to move onto something not sad. "Is she going to be a Jedi too?"

"One day. Right now, she's busy with her duties as Minister of State."

He didn't sound like he was tired of her asking questions. It was easy to tell when she annoyed adults. "So, what happened in the Citadel of Ktath'atn?"

"The what?"

She was sure that she said it the same way the actors had on the holodrama. "The Citadel of Ktath'atn; we saw a holodrama about it."

Mommy was close enough to hear, and she whirled around. "What holodrama did you watch?"

Lucinda sighed. "Luke Skywalker and the Citadel of Ktath'atn. Aves, Chin, and Ghent all made sure it was age appropriate."

Jedi Skywalker chuckled. "Had to explain that a few times to the smugglers?"

"Captain Karrde did," Luci explained. "He said they were all responsible for me turning out as well as Mirax Terrik."

"Well, that's a goal."

Mommy frowned. "You know Mirax?"

"We have friends in common, but I haven't met her yet." He aimed the next over his shoulder to Lucinda. "But your mother is right. Some holodramas with my name on them are not nice stories for kids, and you shouldn't watch them." He sighed as they started moving again.

"Have you watched them?" Mommy asked, and it sounded like she was trying not to laugh.

"I try not to," he said. "After seeing how much they improved upon what happened on the first Death Star in the first one, I don't want to. And I doubly don't want to see the ones they outright made up because events haven't been declassified yet. But some of my friends think it's funny to pass the ale and see my reactions while watching them."

"That doesn't sound very nice," Lucinda said.

"They're trying to build my immunity by exposure," he said. "Krayt dragons don't breathe fire if you've seen Luke Skywalker and the Dragons of Tatooine."

If Mommy was in one of the holodramas, it was probably one Lucinda couldn't watch. She let go of finding that out right now. "But they make holodramas out of things that happened to you?"

"What's been declassified for them to use, yes."

"Did they change the names about the Citadel? Or did they change the stuff that happened there? Because Aves didn't believe that could happen, and I want to tell him what really happened. Did psychic bugs try to take over your brain?"

"Is there a species of psychic bugs?"

Mommy shrugged. "I haven't met any."

"I haven't had any bugs try to take over my brain, so they probably made that part up. But I haven't seen that one, so I don't know what they are basing it on."

"Oh. Do you want me to tell you about it then?"

"Sure, why not? Maybe I'll win the next Rogues drinking while viewing game."

Lucinda didn't understand how knowing about the holodrama would help win drinking ale or how they had made that a game, but she ignored the weirdness from adults and tell the holodrama. "Okay, you went to a cantina all alone, and the non-humans in the cantina didn't like humans and started fighting you. A human female, Aphra, helped you in the fight because she wanted your help."

"Introducing the love interest early, I see," Mommy said.

"No, another girl kissed Aphra later, not Jedi Skywalker. Only you weren't a Jedi yet, you kept repeating that over and over again. Not that anyone else listened. They kept calling you Jedi."

"Before the Battle of Hoth then?" Jedi Skywalker glanced back at her as best he could.

"I guess so. They talked about the Battle of Yavin. Anyway, Aphra had an ancient crystal with a dead Jedi recorded in it."

"A crystal, not a holocron?"

Lucinda blinked. "I thought you said you didn't see it? Aphra said the crystal was weird because it wasn't a holocron."

"Holocrons are what the Jedi used to record themselves for other Jedi," he explained. "I haven't found many; I think the Empire destroyed them in the Purge. So, the writer of this holodrama gets points for getting terminology right. What did Aphra want for the crystal?"

"She wanted to play it and see what it said about a thousand years ago. But you couldn't turn it on. Her next idea was to take it to the Queen of the Ktath'atn and get her to activate the crystal. She talked you into going."

"Upgrading from a Princess to a Queen," Mommy said. "You get around in the holodramas."

"Something that has endlessly amused my friends, who know it isn't true."

"So, the Queen holds a party once a year to grant somebody their request if they impress her with a unique gift." Lucinda took a deep breath. "Aphra got you to dress up and gave you to the Queen at the party."

Mommy barked out a laugh.

"They went there in a children's holodrama?" Jedi Skywalker sounded dismayed.

"Went where? The Queen told you to come to breakfast after you shoved someone with the Force."

"Not slavery?"

"No, she wanted to make you and Aphra part of her hive."

Mommy laughed again. "Of course, she did."

"That's not a good thing, Mommy. The Queen sucked energy from members of her hive to battle a Jedi. She wanted to eat Jedi Skywalker!"

Mommy tried to stifle her snickers but didn't do a good job.

Lucinda ignored her mother's rude behavior over the story the woman was not taking seriously at all and continued. "They put the psychic bugs on the breakfast table, so you and Aphra would get infected and the bugs would have your bodies. You ran and fought and got out and that's when the Princess, Han Solo, and Aphra's old girlfriend showed up to rescue you. Only that doesn't work, and everybody ends up running and fighting the rest of the hive."

Jedi Skywalker shook his head. "I'm sad to say that bit sounds accurate for many rescue missions."

"So, it really happened?"

"I don't think so, but how does it end?"

"Han Solo got taken over by a bug and started fighting against all of you. The Queen caught Aphra, but the Queen decided that she delivered a Jedi and activated the crystal for her. Then you got infected, but the bug in you decided it wanted to be king of the hive and got into a psychic battle with the Queen. Aphra decided not to run away and got the working crystal near you so the Jedi inside could tell you how to win. Only he wasn't a Jedi and he wanted all your power and the power of the hive, so you didn't listen to him. You detached from the psychic bug all on your own. The Queen killed it but was shocked when you didn't die and you slashed her with your lightsaber." Lucinda frowned, remembering a detail about that. "They got your lightsaber wrong. It had a blue blade."

"They got that right if they set the holodrama close to the Battle of Yavin. I was using my father's lightsaber then, and it had a blue blade. This one I built and the kyber crystal inside turned it green."

"Oh. Well, without the Queen, the hive fell apart, and people started waking up. Han got the psychic bug taken out of his head and you told Aphra that nothing worthwhile is easy and people who think there's a shortcut to getting what they want are deluded."

"Ah, there it is. The ever-redeeming moral to make up for the ridiculousness of the rest of it," Mommy said.

Artoo whistled and beeped from the travois behind her. They hadn't started Binary lessons yet, so she didn't know what he said.

"Artoo wants to know what he and Threepio were doing in this holodrama." Jedi Skywalker asked.

"They weren't in it. Aphra had some bad droids with her. It left out Chewbacca too for a Wookiee bounty hunter."

Artoo screeched. Mommy whirled around with her blaster drawn. Lucinda cringed against Jedi Skywalker's back. Jedi Skywalker sighed. "How about you save that volume for the vornskrs, Artoo? Sorry, he's just upset that they wrote him and Threepio out."

Mommy glared, but only shook her head and turned back around.

"I'm sorry you weren't in the holodrama," Lucinda said over her shoulder.

Artoo beeped at her.

"He knows it's not your fault," Jedi Skywalker said. "Don't worry about it. When Artoo and Threepio have some time together, they'll send a comm to the executives in charge of the holodrama about everything they got wrong with droid representation."

Artoo beeped again, but his tone sounded embarrassed to Lucinda.

Jedi Skywalker let out a ragged sigh. "Of course, I know about those. You two use my comm console to send them. Though I appreciate you erasing the data, so it doesn't look like I sent them."

Artoo whistled at him.

Jedi Skywalker sighed again, but this one sounded more like Mommy's when she thought something was funny but trying to hide that. "It sounds like a good holodrama, Lucinda, but nothing like that has ever happened to me. I'm afraid they made all of it up."

Lucinda pouted. She had wanted it to be a real adventure, and she wanted to know what adventure he had met Mommy on, but she couldn't just ask. Mommy wouldn't tell her and wouldn't let Jedi Skywalker tell her either. "Are you okay with them just making up stories about you?"

"Most of the time, it's embarrassing. I'm not the dashing hero they put in those stories; I'm just Luke. Wars don't make one great."

"And I guess having holodramas with your name on them don't make you great either."

"True." It sounded like Jedi Skywalker was smiling. "Do you want to start on Binary now?"

"Yes!" She hadn't forgotten her curiosity about Mommy, but it could wait.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

The holographic image of a golden-skinned protocol droid vanished, and the astromech's projector winked out. Mara scowled as she shut down the communicator, setting the antenna spool to wind the balloon back down for the third time. Talon Karrde was the best boss she had ever worked for—including the man who had raised her and then threatened her and her child. But Karrde was taking liberties to figure out if his theories were correct. She had known she had stroked Karrde's curiosity with her provisions for Lucinda should anything happen to her, by how she argued to stay out of the Skywalker mess, and by how she had acted on the Wild Karrde when Dankin almost poisoned Luke with sedatives. But this plan was going too far. She repacked the deflated balloon and detached the wires from the astromech droid.

"Mommy?" Lucinda pushed off the tree that Luke was sleeping against. That didn't appear to wake him. "Are we going to use that plan?"

"It's a good idea," Luke murmured.

She looked at his still closed eyes. "Faking sleep?"

"Not faking," he answered sleepily. "Drifting in and out. It's still a good idea."

She snorted. "I don't think your farm boy honesty can maintain a cover that long. We'll try going a couple kilometers north instead, circling out and back to Hyllyard City from the plains." She glanced at her chrono, then up through the trees. Dark clouds had moved in over the past few minutes, covering the blue sky that had been there when they had stopped. Not rain clouds, but dense enough to cut into the available daylight of their second day of hiking.

They had made good time, and today's hike had fatigued her along with the watch she had kept last night. "We might as well save that for tomorrow," she said as she stood. Her right ankle was feeling healed, but she watched how much weight she put on it. "You want to get—oh, never mind," she interrupted herself. If his breathing was anything to go by, he had drifted off again. So much for letting him sleep all night after packing Lucinda on his back during the first day. She didn't know what made him so tired, but he had been almost dropping the travois all day today.

Which left putting camp together up to her and Lucinda. "Luci, get the thermal blankets out of the other survival kit." The little girl nodded and pulled the kit from the tree bole. Mara turned back to where she had dropped her survival kit.

The droid's electronic shriek made her spin back around, her hand clawing for her blaster, eyes flicking around for the danger—

A massive weight slammed full onto her shoulders and back, raking hot needles into and over her skin and throwing her face-first to the ground. As Lucinda screamed, Mara wished desperately that her daughter wasn't witnessing this.

Four points on her back radiated pain as the weight shifted and compressed her chest against the ground. Sweltering breath blasted against her head and ear. She couldn't cover her vulnerable neck with her arms.

A shivering, booming, inhuman howl filled the entire clearing and reverberated back from the distant hills. The vornskr lifted its head away from her neck but didn't move off her back. The howl repeated, but the animal crouched on top of her and let out a loud crackle-purr.

A snap-hiss of a lightsaber answered that.

The feet on her back didn't shift their position, but the weight shifted again and something whistled through the air. But it ended against the lightsaber's hum as it moved through the air. And the vornskr screamed.

It leaped backward off her back, and the claws dug in during the movement. Mara gritted her teeth against the cry of pain in her throat. It didn't pause as it leaped into the air, and she heard the lightsaber move through the air again. A meaty weight landed on her back again.

Luke shut off the lightsaber and returned it to his belt. The vornskr's front half and its whip-like tail rested at his feet, and its hindquarters were on Mara's still body. Lucinda heaved before she screamed again, "Mommy!"

"Lucinda, get the medpac out of my survival kit." He ordered as he moved and knelt beside Mara's right side. Her face was turned in this direction.

Lucinda jerkily nodded and left the thermal blanket at her feet as she turned to the survival kit.

He pushed the vornskr body off of Mara. Blood welled from the four torn spots on her shirt and obscured just how many slashes were on her body. He ignored the smell of the char caused by the lightsaber and the blood from Mara and how his heart pounded that he couldn't lose her, not when he had found her again and checked her unblemished neck for a pulse.

"I'm with you." Mara said with a stronger wheeze as she replenished the air in her lungs. The green eye he saw blinked as she tried to look at him.

Luke's left fingers brushed against her cheek. The pounding of his heart eased as he sighed. "Good. Is it hard to breathe?"

"It didn't get my lungs," she answered.

He hadn't been sure that the vornskr's claws had not dug further into her back when it crouched on top of her, but that sounded hopeful. Lucinda breathed hard enough for all three of them as she carried the medpac to Luke. Her blue eyes welled with tears as they looked down at Mara. He took the medpac. "Thank you. Now we need the Water JugFilter."

That broke her attention from Mara's wounds. "Right." She dashed across the clearing to the survival kit.

He leaned back and looked at Mara's damaged shirt. "I'll try to save your tunic, Mara."

"I'm not that attached to it," she said in a stronger voice.

He tugged the hem out from under her belt, double-checked the grip on the material in his numb right hand, and ripped it apart. The rend zigzagged from hole to hole, lifting fabric bits and threads from the bloody wounds gaping on her back. The rip ended at the collar.

Lucinda ran back with the water canteen and gasped at the four bloody spots. He took the canteen from her. "Lucinda, I need your help."

She jerked to focus on his face. "Do I need to guard?" She curled up her shaking hands into fists.

"I need you to open things from the medpac." He pressed the canteen against his chest with his right forearm and opened it with his left. "My right hand has gone numb. I don't want to lose the medicine your mother needs."

"Okay." She collapsed in front of the medpac beside Luke and opened it. Her wide blue eyes focused on him. "What first?"

"The gauze pack." He poured the water over Mara's back, rinsing the blood and anything left in the wounds away.

Mara clenched her teeth and breathed through them as her entire body tightened against the pain.

He took the gauze wad and wiped the excess water away. "Open the bacta salve next." The bloody spots reduced to six gashes with three down each of her shoulder blades and four punctures in her low back. "I don't see any bone, but they're bleeding freely." Raised scar tissue marked Mara's spine down the length of her back. He had never seen that result from any weapons or medical procedures. This wasn't the time to ask about it.

Lucinda tapped his arm as she passed open the bacta salve tube. He dolloped the salve into the bleeding wounds and smeared it into them with a quick swipe of his left hand.

Mara hissed but said nothing.

"Mommy?" Lucinda focused on her again.

"It stings a little."

"Open the largest bacta bandage," Luke said. Lucinda twisted back to the medpac and dug into the supplies. She ripped into the packaging before passing the self-adhesive bandage to him. It was a little smaller than the width of Luke's hand, and it covered the wound, not needing a second one. He made sure it sealed against her skin before moving to the next one.

Mara shook as he continued to bandage the wounds. He pressed the last bandage over the puncture wounds on her pelvic bone. "Lucinda, spread a thermal blanket under the tree." She jumped up to do that. Luke slipped his right arm under Mara's stomach between her shirt and skin pressing up to her breasts. The vornskr had missed her supportive basic. He held her against her chest as he used his left hand to strip the remains of the filthy tunic from her.

Mara pressed a hand against a necklace she had hidden under her tunic. It looked like a small datacard in a case that dangled from a metal chain. Assured it was still there, she gripped his arm as he lifted her to her feet. Her breathing went ragged and her shaking grew harder. "I'm going to use all the words I tell Luci not to use."

"Deep breaths." He leveraged most of her weight as they crossed the clearing. Lucinda skipped back from the blanket. He twisted Mara in his arms before lowering her to sit on it. Her shaking wasn't stopping, so he unlatched his belt and let it drop to the ground before unwrapping his sash and tabard and draping it around her back and shoulders. He crossed the front pieces over her chest and fastened the sash high around her ribs so it wouldn't put pressure on her wounds.

Her wide green eyes stared at him, and her pale face looked so surprised by his actions. He remembered that expression back in Grakkus' cell. Was the galaxy still being so unkind to her for her to be off-balanced by his care? "Lucinda, get the other blanket."

Lucinda dashed back to Mara's survival kit and dashed back with the folded blanket. Her cleft chin wobbled as she looked at her mother. He unfurled the blanket and wrapped it around Mara before resting his left hand on Lucinda's shoulder. "It's okay."

"It's not okay! I hate this forest!" The little girl's shout left her with tears in her eyes. "It keeps trying to kill us."

He rubbed her back. "You just need to see more forests. They're not all like this one. Most of the ones I've been in don't have creatures that hunt with the Force."

"I thought you were from a desert?" She sniffled.

"Tatooine is a desert, yes, but I've been to a few different planets since then. This planet is a lot like Endor, only the trees are shorter here." She looked up at the canopy that was only twenty meters over their heads. He chuckled. "The trees on Endor are as tall as buildings on Coruscant. The Ewoks build their villages in them with bridges and ropes between the trees."

Mara opened the blanket. "I'm all right, Luci. Come here." Lucinda dove for her mother's arms.

Luke felt his smile widen. The fear had eased from Lucinda's face, and Mara looked surer of herself as she pressed a kiss on top of her daughter's head. He refastened his belt around his waist, turned to the mess left by treating Mara, and picked up the supplies, bringing the other survival kit within easy reach of the blanket.

Mara's tunic needed a wash before anything else, and he hefted the Water JugFilter. It would be best to have both full before it was dark. He hung its strap on his shoulder and draped Mara's tunic over his right arm. "I'll go back to the last stream we crossed and fill this up."

Mara nodded, saying nothing. Artoo beeped worriedly as he rolled over to Luke.

Luke patted his dome. "I won't take long. Watch over them, please." The droid reluctantly agreed and rolled across the clearing to stop at Mara's feet. Luke gave the group a reassuring wave before stepping onto the path they had made.

The stream was only thirty meters back; without the travois, it took him only a few minutes to reach it. He hung the tattered tunic on a nearby branch before kneeling on the muddy bank and filling the water canteen. He closed it up and waited for the indicator light to show that the filter had decontaminated the water.

Maybe he should have hugged Lucinda; she had needed one after seeing her mother injured like that. No, he was a stranger to the child, and it was best to let her take the lead with how she wanted to interact with him. And he had a lot to make up for after crashing the kid.

The water canteen's light changed to green, and he poured the contents over Mara's tunic, rinsing off the mud and blood. It wasn't her favorite garment, but she needed protection from the elements. He refilled the canteen and checked over the rinse job. The worst of the grime was off, so he worked his numb right hand to take a fistful and then he wrung the water out of the tunic.

By the time he got back to their camp, Lucinda was digging through the survival kit for the worklight. Artoo whistled, happily announcing Luke's presence and well-being. The little girl looked up with a relieved grin. "You're okay!"

He spread the tunic over a branch to continue drying. "I think the vornskrs have this forest divided into territory. It takes a while before another attacks us." He gave Artoo a reassuring pat before he sat down on Mara's left.

Lucinda shook her head as she set the light out and on a low setting. "I should've gone with you to help. Your hand's hurt."

"What happened to your hand?" Mara hitched the blanket around her shoulders so she could seize his right hand. The fingers didn't respond to her pressure. "Did you injure it in the crash?"

"No." He felt his face heat under her concerned gaze. She was worried; she cared. "I took one of the power cells out to power the door release on the shed."

"It's prosthetic?!" She pulled it against her and pushed up the sleeve of his tunic until the access hatch in the synthskin was visible. She traced the line of it, and he wished there was more power to energize the synthetic nerves so he could feel her finger. "Did… did you lose it in Grakkus' arena?"

"No, it was later, much later than that."

Lucinda stood on Mara's other side so she could look down at it. "Did you lose your real hand in a crash?"

"No, a lightsaber duel. My opponent thought taking my hand was the quickest way to end it."

Mara's fingers curled around his hand. "Vader took your hand." She sounded angry about it.

"He didn't take my life."

"Did it hurt?" Lucinda asked with a gruesome relish.

"When it happened? Yes, it hurt a lot."

"Does it hurt now?"

Luke sighed. "It's numb and it won't do what I want it to do unless I manipulate the fingers into position. That's not triggering pain; it's just annoying because it doesn't usually act like that." Once the remaining power cell completely drained, he would get the aches and itches on skin and muscles that were no longer there. He hoped by that time they'd reach civilization with a medcenter.

Lucinda said nothing, but she opened a ration bar wrapper and handed it to him. Mara realized she was still stroking his unresponsive hand and released it.

"Thank you," he told Lucinda as she handed a ration bar to her mother and sat down.

"You're welcome." She bit into hers and wrinkled her nose at the taste. "I'd like to go see the Ewok village trees."

Mara shook her head. "I don't know if we can do that."

"Why not?" Luke asked. "Karrde doesn't give you vacations?"

"He does, but I've heard things about those Ewoks."

"Don't worry about that. I'm a member of the Bright Tree tribe. They'll be nice to my friends."

"You'll take us?" Lucinda grinned. "Really?"

"We have to wait until the current Imperial mess calms down, but I'll take you and your mother to Endor." He stopped himself from promising to take them anywhere in the galaxy they wanted to see.

But Lucinda plopped down next to her mother with a pleased smile.

Luke stared off into the night shadows of the forest beyond the worklight's reach. Mara's holdout blaster waited on the ground next to his hip, and his left hand rested on top of it. The Jade family slumbered on his right. This long day and Mara's close call with the vornskr had drained him, but he wasn't about to fall asleep when they were counting on his protection.

He wanted to protect them both. Well, he had wanted to protect Mara the second he had seen her nine years ago. What surprised him was how quickly Lucinda had found that same spot. Like mother, like daughter, he supposed. The last time he had dealt with children that age was Biggs' younger sisters and cousins back on Tatooine. He guessed he was doing all right, despite the rough start.

Mara twisted against him, burrowing for warmth. He wrapped his arm around her, accounting for her wounds and leaving the length of it draped against her arm. She sighed in her sleep and snuggled closer.

Luke froze as she settled on him. He had no right to touch her! Yet he wanted to so immensely, he embraced her without thinking it through. She hadn't looked for him. Keeping him safe from the Imperials was not the same as falling into bed with him again. No one forced their kriffing now. He would always let her choose. She had other priorities now, and she would not choose him.

He lifted his right arm to repositioned it off her. Mara shifted again, getting as close as she could with Lucinda's head weighing down her leg. He froze again.

Her hand found his thigh and now he wasn't breathing along with not moving. "Don't you want to know where I am?"

Her sleepy voice took him back years and how they had slept pressed together on the narrow cell cot. He had asked permission then to put his arms around her and had logicked it with "So I know where you are and that they haven't yanked you out of here while we sleep." She had agreed then, and now the memory of it wasn't so bad?

It didn't match with her earlier standoffishness, but they had a common enemy with this forest again. And as it often happened around this woman, he opened his mouth and the truth fell out. "I wanted to know where you were so bad; my squad started making jokes about my thing for red-haired women."

She craned her neck to look at him better, and the muffled "what?" was a little less sleepy.

He could warm her with how heated his face was growing. "Every time we were in a population center, I kept looking at red-haired women. Hoping that she might be you, free and safe. They never were, and it got noticeable after a while."

"That's flattering. I didn't think I had made that kind of impression. Or any impression at all."

"I can't describe what kind of impression you made." He resettled his arm behind her, careful not to touch her wounded back. "Why do you think different?"

"You became a Jedi." She realized her hand was on his thigh. She drew it back, and he missed the touch.

"What does that have to do with us?"

"You took vows."

Not really. He had had more to promise when he took the Rebel Alliance's officer commission. Master Yoda and Ben, neither of them had required him saying more than his intention to be a Jedi. What he had told the Emperor 'I am a Jedi like my father before me' had the ring of a vow and cemented the covenant he had made with the Force, but his last blow to the Sith Lord who had held his father's chains wasn't what Mara was talking about. It slammed into his tired brain. "Wait, the celibacy thing?"

She stiffened against him. "I know how much becoming a Jedi meant to you, Luke. The last thing I want is to ruin that for you."

He sighed and lightly thunked his head on the tree bole behind them. "I will have to get with Leia's staff and plan a campaign. 'Everything You Think You Know About the Jedi Is Wrong.' That could be the title."

"But the Jedi Order?"

"Were not celibate. From what history I've found so far that survived the Purge, Jedi were getting married during the Great Sith War. I think they stopped getting married later, maybe when that blood test became standard tech, so they didn't need members of the Order reproducing to have new Force users to train. The Force is strong in families." He paused, not sure how she would take it. "The Force is strong with you."

Her huff of air was amused. "First time telling someone that?"

"Third. That bad?"

"You need more practice." Her head leaned against him again and he welcomed it. "I already knew, knew back when we met."

"You didn't say anything?"

"Grakkus was training you for a gladiatorial death match. I did not want to get thrown into that too. And I wasn't ready to join your crusade." Her right hand snaked out from under the thermal blanket wrapped around her shoulders and brushed against her daughter's hair. "You're right about the families. Luci has the Force too."

No wonder she had been so worried about the Imperials targeting children. He wanted to promise to keep her safe, keep them both safe, but his actions had put them in danger from them. He didn't say anything.

She restarted the conversation. "You found some history that survived the Purge?"

"Some. Unfortunately, the history lessons are only current up to about three hundred and forty years before the Battle of Yavin. That's when the ship that had the records crashed. What the blood test tested for wasn't in them, and they cover nothing running up to the Clone Wars." Luke sighed. "We don't have the test and I don't want to tell anyone what they can or can't do with their personal relationships and the New Republic needs more Jedi than just me, so I can't limit membership based on marriage status that the old Order could. The Jedi are going back to an older way doing things." He leaned his head against the tree bole again. "But I need to find a history tutor and make sure I'm not jumping over a Sarlacc pit when I explain it."

"You're planning on getting married? The HoloNet has been strikingly silent on that."

He swallowed. "I'm not opposed to it, but there's no one I'm serious with." He hoped she'd put her hand back on him again. "No one at all, actually."

"Well, it's a good thing they haven't missed such a newsworthy item." She teased, but she didn't put her hand back on him. "They didn't miss your sister's wedding."

"Leia's the one who brought the celibacy thing to my attention, at least how the Core remembers the Jedi. Her pre-wedding jitters came out in a sob fit out of the sand dunes how she couldn't be a Jedi with me because she needed to marry Han and how horrible it was that she was abandoning me." He chuckled. "It took longer to figure out what the problem was. It turned out all right."

"I guess she's happy with being pregnant too."

He twisted his neck, but still couldn't see her expression well to make out why there was a pensive note in her voice now. "She hated morning sickness, but her and Han want to be parents. She would probably love talking about pregnancy with you. I'm not much help when it comes to what a Force user can feel during one and what should happen throughout."

"Don't know if I'm the best person for reassuring pregnancy stories. I spent the entire time cycling through anger, fear, ineptitude, and woeful inadequacy." He felt her scowl vibrate through her body pressed against his. "I was raised to be the best at everything, but the skills I was trained in—" She shook her head and changed what she was saying with a brisk tone of voice. "Luckily, there are plenty of resources to study on how to be a good parent."

"Maybe you could recommend some titles for me." The now persistent worry rose again in his mind when his thoughts turned toward Leia's twins. Ben's voice echoed in his memories. I thought that I could instruct him just as well as Yoda. I was wrong. Responsibility bore down on him, trying its best to flatten him to the ground.

"Why do you want that?" Her low voice asked sharply. "They're your sister's children."

"And I will have to train them some day."

"You're worried about when to start and want clues from human childhood development?"

He shook his head. "I'm worried about being able to do it at all."

She shrugged, her shoulder rubbing against his side. "What's to do? You teach them how to hear minds and move objects and use lightsabers. You did that with your sister, didn't you?"

"Yes," he agreed. "But that was when I thought that was all there was to it. It's just the beginning. They're going to be strong in the Force, and with that strength comes responsibility. How do I teach them that? How do I teach them wisdom and compassion and how not to abuse their power?"

She sighed, and he felt her body move with it. "How does anyone teach anyone else that stuff? Mostly by example, I suppose."

He thought about it and nodded reluctantly. "I suppose so."

She twisted her upper body more and Luke stifled his impulse to tell her to be careful of her back. She pressed her cheek against his chest. "You're not the only influence on these children-to-be. But you are the kindest person I have ever known, Luke. They will learn that from you. Now put your arm around me again. I'm cold and you can't be comfortable."

"I don't want to hurt you." He blurted, ignoring the uncomfortable twist in his right arm. At least his hand and part of his forearm was completely numb.

"You never have." She adjusted the thermal blanket over her shoulders before resting her right arm across his lap. "Even under orders, you made my pleasure a priority. You were the first partner ever to do that."

He draped his arm over her shoulders again, careful not to pull her braided hair and of her wounds. She didn't shrug it off. Being a considerate lover hadn't enticed her to stay with him. "How did you get out?"

"Hmm? From Grakkus' palace? All the guards left to watch your fight and it turns out I could pick the cell door lock." She relaxed against him. "The 501st were inside already and trying to converge on the arena, so I went to Grakkus' collection room. That's where he had parked your X-wing and astromech."

Luke looked over her head to Artoo, who had never said anything about seeing Mara in the collection room. Artoo made a soft blat and then whistled, {You never asked how the journals ended up in the cockpit.}

"Is that the same droid?" Mara asked. "It's confirming my story?"

"Same droid, yes. And I didn't ask him about his confinement, which I should have."

"I remembered you wanting the journals of your old Master, so I put them in the cockpit and told your droid Vader was coming to destroy the stuff. I grabbed the artifact my former Master wanted and took the Delta-7B Aethersprite out of there."

{Don't think I didn't offer her a ride,} Artoo beeped. {Not my fault she didn't read the translation screen.}

He thought back to what he could remember of that storage room and the ship covered with a tarp. "It didn't have the hyperdrive ring."

"No, but it got me to the other side of Nar Shaddaa and I bartered passage off planet with it." She flexed her hand resting near his hip. "I only had to punch one calyarnr for them to all know that my body was off limits. And I told them they should junk it because Vader would send somebody looking for it."

"And you took the other artifact with you?"

"One of the holocrons. I traded it to the Gungans on Naboo for safe passage for me and Luci. They haven't given it to you?"

"No, but I haven't had any dealings with Naboo yet," he said. Mara yawned instead of answering. "Go back to sleep. You need the rest." She didn't respond as her breathing slowed, and he went back to watching the shadows surrounding them.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Since Luke insisted on repairing her tunic with flex tape before they set off and double checking her bandages despite how much Mara told him she felt fine, the third day since they crashed started off slowly. The bacta salve was working, and they had nothing stronger in the medpacs. Their best plan was to get out of the forest as fast as possible. Still, she was more comfortable back in her tunic, instead of trying to fashion a new one out of the thermal blanket, and Luke's tabard wrapped around her hid the patched holes. Lucinda had kept staring at them.

Her hands kept finding the rough woven fabric of the tabard as they walked, rubbing it between her fingers whenever she let her thoughts drift back to Luke. He hadn't forgotten about her in his quest to become a Jedi. His mentors hadn't demanded a return of the old Jedi structure in exchange for teaching Luke. He had missed her; he had looked for her while his destiny was pushing him in other directions. It was gratifying to hear that the pleasure had been mutual and memorable.

It all gave her hope that she and Lucinda wouldn't disrupt his life too severely. Because they were a disruption, but she'd rather have Luke on their side against the public, New Republic government, and his family when the truth was out. She didn't want to hurt either of them with the truth.

They had made good time despite how tired Luke must be, and she figured if they kept this rate up, they would reach Hyllyard City by the afternoon. Provided nothing hindered their progress.

A distinct noise wafted occasionally through the forest around local noon, a whining drone that sounded mechanical, but Mara couldn't identify it. But there was more than one. They continued walking for another hour before Luke heard enough to identify them.

Speeder bikes. And Karrde did not have any speeders bikes here at Myrkr.

"You're sure that's a military model?" Mara muttered as the whine/drone rose and fell twice more before fading again into the distance. They were so close to the end of the forest, about two more hours of hiking, and they'd be out and looking at Hyllyard City.

"I'm sure," he said. "I nearly ran one of them into a tree on Endor."

"Why did you do that?" Lucinda asked.

"I was chasing after an Imperial scout to keep him from reporting us to their base and our steering vanes got stuck together. I had to jump off."

Mara ignored them as she turned to the south and listened.

"So, he got back to the base?"

"No, he turned around to shoot me down. I chopped off his steering vanes, and he spiraled into a tree. It was quick death." He pressed a finger to his lips in the universal sign for silence.

Luci clamped her lips together.

The distant speeder bikes moved again. "Sounds like they're off to the south too." She turned to the north. "North… I don't hear anything from that direction."

"Neither do I," Luke said after he listened. "I wonder… Artoo, can you make up an audio map for us?"

There was an acknowledging beep from the droid tied to the travois leaning against a tree bole. A moment later, the droid rotated the holoprojector to aim at the ground and a two-color map appeared, hovering a few centimeters over the matted leaves underfoot.

"I was right." Mara pointed to the dots in the stylized landscape of the map. "A few units ahead of us, the rest to the south. Nothing at all north."

"Last night, you wanted to go north." Luke looked up from the map. "You want to take the obvious trap now?"

"Trap?" Lucinda bent closer to the map. "But Artoo hears nothing there?"

"Just because we can't hear them doesn't mean they aren't there." Mara squatted next to the map, intent on giving Lucinda a lesson while she was receptive to it. "It's the oldest tactical trick in the book. If the perimeter looks impossible to crack, the quarry goes to ground and waits for a better opportunity. You don't want him to do that, so you give him what looks like a feasible way through." She ran a finger through the quiet section on the map. "Here, they get a bonus. If we swing north to avoid the obvious speeder bikes, it's instant proof that we've got something to hide from them."

Luke grimaced. "Not that they really need any proof."

Mara shrugged and stood up again. "Some officers are more legal-minded than others."

"Can we sneak around those two?" Lucinda poked at the glowing dots representing speeder bikes between them and the edge of the forest.

"They're going to ring us," Luke said. "Move units around to the north and south, and eventually behind us."

"If they haven't done so already," Mara said. "No reason we would have heard them. They don't know how fast we're moving, so they'll have made it a big circle. Probably using a wide ring of Chariot assault vehicles or hoverscouts with a group of speeder bikes working around each focal point. It's the standard stormtrooper format for a web."

Luke gazed at her with a thoughtful expression. "You've made a study of Imperial tactics."

Her breath caught in her throat as she teetered, waiting for his denouncement of what Palpatine had raised her to become, what she had gleefully achieved and dedicated herself to until Palpatine had cast her out. And stumbled upon a better path after meeting Luke, but who knew if he'd see it that way.

"So how do we break out?" he asked.

Mara hissed between her teeth as her lungs worked again. "We don't. Not without a lot more equipment and resources than we have."

The faint whine/drone came again from somewhere ahead of them, rising and then fading as it passed by in the distance.

"The circle's not there yet." Lucinda pointed at the second weakest spot on the map, the speeder bikes between them and the edge of the forest. "Let's make them crash and run for it!"

"Can your droid jam their comms?" Mara asked.

Luke shook his head. "Not with the broadcasting equipment we have. We might as well head straight into their arms. And bluff for the sabacc pot." He only raised his eyebrows when she scowled. "You have a better idea?"

She sighed the scowl away. "Not really. I suppose you want to do the role-switch thing Karrde suggested."

"He's probably already seeded the idea with the Imperials, so let's go with it."

"Point." Mara unstrapped the forearm holster from her arm.

Lucinda stood up and wiped her hands on her trousers. "Who should I be? The brat, crying baby, lost pilot, or teharaor ta'hetke?"

Luke held out his left arm for Mara to strap the holster onto it for him and looked at Luci in confusion. Mara decided. "Crying baby, if they try asking you questions, all you do is cry and cling to whoever has hold of you." She cinched the strap around Luke's broader forearm. "You should carry her; that'll help."

"Stay with you and Jedi Skywalker and don't let them separate us?" Lucinda stomped her feet. "I can do that, Mommy."

"I know."

Luke tested releasing and catching the blaster in his working hand with a frown. "I hope they won't expect a demonstration of that." He stopped messing with the holster as he approached the droid on the travois. "Artoo?"

The droid turned off the map projection and one of the trapezoidal sections at the top of his upper dome slid open to reveal a deep storage compartment beneath it. Lucinda approached to watch Luke drop the lightsaber in. "What's that?"

"It used to be Artoo's flare launcher. We found a better use for it. I'll call for it if I need it," he told the droid.

"Don't count on being very good with it," Mara warned. He had been careful with it, considering his deteriorating hand and lack of the Force. "The ysalamiri effect extends several kilometers past the edge of the forest. No warnings from the Force anywhere near Hyllyard City."

"I understand," Luke nodded. "I guess we're ready to go then."

"Not quite," Mara said. Two days' worth of stubble and the grime of hiking did not make a disguise. "There's still that face of yours."

Luke cocked an eyebrow. "I don't think Artoo's got anywhere to hide that."

"Funny. I had something else in mind." She glanced around, finding the bush she wanted in a stand a few meters away. Getting those tests done on the native plants to find out which were edible had a bonus benefit of everyone on base learning to avoid this one. Reaching it, she pulled the end of her tunic sleeve down to cover her hand and picked a few of the leaves. "Pull up your sleeve and hold out your arm," she ordered as she returned with them.

He uncovered his right arm, getting the sleeve past his elbow. Luci's eyes widened. "Isn't that—?"

"Yes, so you stay away from those bushes." Mara brushed his forearm above the metal band that marked where his prosthetic attached with the tip of one leaf. "Now. Let's see if this works."

"What is it supposed to—aah!" The last of Luke's air came out in an explosive burst. The skin on his arm turned dark and puffy, sprinkled with tiny pustules.

"Perfect," Mara said. "You're allergic as anything to them." He gritted his teeth harder. "Oh relax," she told him, "the pain will stop in a few seconds."

"Oh, thanks," Luke gritted back. He took a deep breath. "Right. Now, what about this—mmm!—this blasted itch?"

"That'll hang on a little longer." She gestured at his arm. "But never mind that. What do you think?"

He looked down at it. "Looks disgusting."

"Sure does. You want to do it yourself, or you want me to do it for you?"

He gritted his teeth again before saying, "I can do it."

And he did, carefully but quickly. "I hope I didn't get it too close to my eyes." He said between clenched teeth as he threw the used leaves into the forest. Both his hands curled into fists. "It'd be handy to see the rest of the afternoon."

"I think you'll be all right." Mara studied the result. The ring of puffiness started at his eye sockets. "The rest of your face is horrendous, though. You won't look like whatever images they have, that's for sure."

"Glad to hear it." He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He reopened them with a sigh. "How long will I look like this?"

"The puffiness should start going down in a few hours. It won't be completely gone until tomorrow."

"Good enough. We ready, then?"

"As ready as we'll ever be." She turned back to the droid, sliding the travois handles off the tree, and started walking to get the travois clear. She paused and watched Lucinda climb back on Luke's back. "Let's go."

They made good time. Mara was grateful for how Luke made her prop her leg up for the first two nights, otherwise her ankle would slow them down now. The whine/drone of the speeder bikes rose and fell in the distance ahead of them, when suddenly they were there.

Two biker scouts in the gleaming white armor that covered less of the black body glove than normal stormtrooper armor swooped up to them and braked to a halt almost before her ears had registered the sound of their approach. Which meant a quick ride, with target position already known.

"Halt!" one scout called unnecessarily as they hovered there, both swivel blaster cannons trained and ready. "Identify yourselves, in the name of the Empire."

Mara hoped the Rebel Alliance had given Luke some acting lessons to temper his earnest forthrightness.

"Boy, am I glad you showed up." Luke's voice quivered with relief. "You don't happen to have some transport handy, do you? We're about walked off our feet."

Mara glared over her shoulder at him, flinging all the scorn she had ever had over everything at him. "Does it look like they have transportation for us? Or do you think they're going to hand one of those speeder bikes to you? Cause you are not putting my daughter on anything that dangerous."

"Dangerous? You want to talk about dangerous? You crashed with her!" Luke ignored the scouts and focused on Mara's angry face.

"Because you're that bad of a pilot! Right on my thrusters trying to force us down." She released one of the travois' handles to gesture and then grabbed it again as it rocked.

"Of course, I was trying to force you down, you stole from Karrde and me! Taking our kid after everything I've done to provide for you both."

Lucinda made a wordless whine and hid her face behind Luke's neck.

He sounded hurt by the scenario that was so close to the truth of the matter. Would he yell like that once he knew? Mara took a deep breath to yell about how lousy his provision had been, but the scout took the chance to interrupt. "Identify yourself."

Luke looked at the pair of them. "My name's Jade. I work for Karrde and I got his item back." He leaned to keep Lucinda on his back and waved at the droid on the travois. He straightened back up. "I don't suppose he sent some transport, did he? My wife is sorry she took it."

"Not as sorry as you'll be for keeping me on this forsaken planet! Wonderful opportunities, go lick a Hutt."

"Working for Karrde—"

The scouts looked at each other, then at the family in front of them, and then back at each other.

"And you dragged our daughter here with no decent schools and no other children!"

"You'll come with us," the scout ordered before Luke could come up with something to yell in defense of settling his family here. "Our officer wants to talk to you. You—woman—put the droid down and move away from it."

Mara rolled her eyes but complied with dramatic heaving. "I can't believe you took a bounty for your own family."

"I did not take a bounty on you!" Luke snapped back as the second scout maneuvered his speeder bike to a position in front of Artoo's travois. "But I expect Karrde to pay a recovery fee for the droid. You guys are my witnesses that I had it back before you showed up. Karrde weasels out of these fees too often; he's not going to weasel out of this one."

"You're a bounty hunter?" the scout asked, an obvious note of disdain in his voice.

"That's right," Luke said with professional dignity in his voice. "It's honest work, takes care of my family."

It was surreal to hear such a blatant lie coming from the same lips that had yelled the truth at their guards until one of them slugged Luke for it. Mara decided to help him out before the scout asked about what collections Luke had done for Karrde. "No talking about business in front of Luci!"

Luke rolled his eyes behind the puffy swelling of his cheeks. "It's perfectly all right for you to steal her and the droid right in front of her, but I can't talk about what I do."

"I didn't steal her. We were going to see Mother."

"Without telling me!"

The second scout had dismounted and fastened the handles of the travois to the rear of his speeder bike. Remounting, he headed off at about the speed of a brisk walk. "You follow him," the first scout ordered, swinging around to take up the rear. "Drop your blaster on the ground first, Jade."

Luke complied, and they set off. The first scout put down just long enough to scoop up the abandoned blaster and then followed. Mara kept up her aura of fury. Supposedly fury directed at her hapless husband, but in reality aimed at Thrawn as more military might joined the party. More speeder bikes swept in from both sides, falling into close formation on either side of Luke and Mara or else joining up with the guards to both front and rear. As they neared the forest's edge, fully armored stormtroopers appeared too, moving in with blaster rifles held ready across their chest to take up positions around the three prisoners. As they did so, the scouts began drifting away, ranging farther out to form a kind of moving screen.

The red-eyed bishwag could have just stayed in Wild Space, and they wouldn't be dealing with this mess now. She wouldn't have to watch her daughter grow more rigid with fear and not be able to comfort her. Luke was trying as he let go of Lucinda's leg to pat her arm. But he didn't know why she was so afraid.

About an hour later, when they stepped out from under the forest canopy, their escort numbered ten biker scouts and twenty stormtroopers. Paranoid, red-eyed bishwag, Mara added in her mind because she refused to believe that Talon Karrde gave the game away that amateurishly back at the base. All of this was unnecessary for one man, even if he was a Jedi.

Three more people were waiting for them in the fifty-meter strip of open land and the nearest structure of Hyllyard City: two more stormtroopers and a hard-faced man wearing a major's insignia on his dusty brown Imperial uniform. "About time," the latter muttered loud enough to hear as the stormtroopers nudged Mara and Luke carrying Lucinda in his direction. "Who are they?"

"The male says his name is Jade," a stormtrooper in front reported in that filtered voice they all seemed to have. "Bounty hunter; works for Karrde. He claims the females are his wife and child."

"His wife." The major looked at Mara. "Karrde said a thief was being pursued. Mentioned nothing about it being a family affair. Or perhaps the child stole the merchandise." He leaned into Lucinda's face. Mara curled her fists to not yank him away from her daughter. "What is your name?"

Lucinda screwed her face up and tears welled up in her eyes. "Luci Jade" came out in sobs and she shoved her face against Luke's neck and shoulder. The sobs continued.

"Back off, you scared her," Luke told the major. He jostled a bit to bounce her. "Ah now, calm down, Luci. Daddy will get you a pittin if you're a good girl."

Lucinda didn't say anything but sniffled as loudly and long as she could.

"All you do is spoil her!" Mara crossed her arms over her chest. She hadn't expected it to hurt so much to hear Luke use that word.

The major turned to Mara. "What's your name?"

"Senni Kiffu," Mara said, her voice surly.

"Senni Jade," Luke corrected and sounded so heartbroken.

Mara jerked around to glare at him. "I'm going back to Mother! And I'm taking Luci with me!"

Lucinda whined like another sob was about to start any second now.

"And taking merchandise from your husband-to-be-not's employer?" The major looked at her and then at Artoo—still tied to his travois and dragged behind the speeder bike.

"I'm not a thief. I didn't know it was in the Skipray when I borrowed it."

The major ignored that as he focused on the scout. "Get the droid off your bike. The ground's flat enough here, and I want you on the perimeter. Put it with the prisoners. Cuff them, too—they're hardly likely to fall over tree roots out here."

"Wait a minute," Luke objected as a stormtrooper stepped toward him and Lucinda. "You're not cuffing us."

The major raised his eyebrows. "You got a problem with that, bounty hunter?" he asked, his voice challenging.

"Yeah, I got a problem with it," Luke shot back. "This is just a big misunderstanding. Call Karrde so he can pick us up and get his droid back, and me and Senni can talk things out."

"You both will have ample time to work out your differences while in our custody. So wait until you're in a detention cell to begin. Put your daughter down. She can walk the rest of the way."

Luke grimaced, but let Lucinda slide off his back. She cringed against his side.

The major frowned at Luke's face. "What in the Empire happened to you, anyway?"

Mara froze inside. This is the place to trip up inexperienced liars in their cover stories.

"Ran into some kind of bush in there." Luke jerked his head back at the forest while a stormtrooper cuffed his hands in front of him. "It itched like blazes for a while."

The major smiled thinly. "How very inconvenient for you. How fortunate that we have a qualified medic back at HQ. He should be able to bring that swelling down in no time."

The stormtrooper approached Lucinda with a set of restraints, who stared up at him, and wrapped her arms around Luke's hips. Her grip was unyielding enough to transfer her tremors to the man.

Luke glared at the stormtrooper and the major. "Can you stop scaring my kid? What can she do to all of you?"

The major held Luke's gaze a moment longer before waving the stormtrooper away from Lucinda. That stormtrooper moved away, and Mara wished she could have told Luke well done. She and Lucinda had practiced restraint lock picking, if the Imperial attention ever left them.

The major shifted his attention to the stormtrooper leader. "You disarmed him."

The stormtrooper gestured, and the first of the biker scouts swooped close to hand Mara's blaster to the major. "Interesting weapon," the major murmured, turning it over in his hands before sliding it into his belt. From overhead came a soft hum, and Mara glanced up to see a Chariot LAV settle into place. "Ah," the major said, glancing up at it. "All right, Commander. Let's go."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Mommy had brought Lucinda once to Hyllyard City when they first moved to Myrkr. Hyllyard City had its small houses and commercial buildings crammed together with narrow streets running between them. They had stashed travel supplies, and Mommy had made sure Lucinda could withdraw credits from the local bank if they got separated. They had flown here in an airspeeder.

Now, they were nowhere close to those places. Lucinda tried to keep her heart from pounding by breathing hard. The stormtroopers surrounded them. Mommy always said to never get caught by stormtroopers. They couldn't fight because Mommy and Jedi Skywalker both wore restraints around their wrists. And the black lenses were always watching them.

The stormtroopers herded them around the perimeter of the town, aiming for one of the wider avenues that radiated from the town square in the center of town. Lucinda saw glimpses of the open area between the buildings as they walked. She was glad Jedi Skywalker carried her for so long in the forest; otherwise, she'd be too tired to keep up with all the adults. She stayed next to his legs. She was sure she could jump on his back if they needed to run.

The leading stormtroopers had just reached the target street when, in perfect coordination, the stormtroopers changed formation. Those in the inner circle pulled in closer to Mommy, Jedi Skywalker, and Lucinda while those in the outer circle moved farther away, the entire crowd coming to a halt and gesturing to their prisoners to do the same. Lucinda's skin prickled at the silent display. How could they do that without saying a word? Maybe their helmets had comms only for each other?

She looked up at Mommy, who stared at the Imperials with narrowed eyes. Lucinda made sure she was between her adults and touched Mommy's leg. Mommy glanced down and offered her most reassuring smile. It would be a lot more reassuring if Mommy had a blaster in her hands right now.

Lucinda tried to smile back to show she wasn't scared, but it felt more like a grimace. But something was happening in the street ahead. Four scruffy-looking men hustled around the corner leading a fifth man in the center of their square straight to the Imperial mass. The fifth man's hands were restrained behind his back. The new group had barely emerged from the street when four stormtroopers intercepted them. A short and inaudible conversation ensued, which concluded with the civilians handing their blasters over to the stormtroopers with obvious reluctance.

Escorted now by the Imperials, they continued toward everyone else. Lucinda's eyes opened wide, and she glanced up at Mommy. Mommy looked confused at Chin, Thatch, Gyyll, and Dralin marching a stranger as their prisoner to the Imperials. So, Lucinda looked back at the group with her forehead creased in confusion too.

The stranger didn't work for Karrde, but he looked familiar. He hadn't bothered to shave, but he didn't have a full beard yet.

The stormtroopers opened their ranks to let the newcomers through. "What do you want?" The major demanded as they stopped in front of him.

"Name's Chin." He kept his gaze locked on the major's face. "We caught this ratch snooping around the forest—maybe looking for your prisoners there. Figured you might want to talk with him, hee?"

"Uncommonly generous of you." The major said sarcastically while he looked the stranger over in a quick glance. "You come to this conclusion all by yourself?"

Chin drew himself up against that sarcasm. "Just because I don't live in a big flashy city doesn't mean I'm stupid. What hai—you think we don't know what it means when Imperial stormtroopers set up a temporary garrison?"

"You'd best just hope that the garrison is temporary." The major glanced at the stormtrooper beside him and jerked his head toward the new prisoner. "Check him for weapons."

"We already—" Chin stopped when the major looked at him.

The frisking took only a minute and came up empty. "Put him in the pocket with the others," the major ordered. "All right, Chin, you and your friends can go. If he turns out to be worth anything, I'll see you get a piece."

"Uncommonly generous of you," Chin repeated with an expression just short of a sneer. "Can we have our blasters back now?"

The major's expression hardened. "You can pick them up later at our headquarters. Hyllyard Hotel, straight across the square—but I'm sure a sophisticated citizen like yourself already knows where it is."

Chin glared at the major for a moment, but glanced at the stormtroopers clustered around. Without a word he turned, and he and his three companions strode back toward the city.

Lucinda swallowed hard and looked up at Mommy. Why was Chin and the others leaving them with the Imperials? Mommy stared after them.

"Move out," the major ordered, and they started up again. Lucinda jogged to stay beside Jedi Skywalker.

The stranger fell into step on Jedi Skywalker's other side. "Well," he muttered. "Together again, huh?"

Jedi Skywalker smiled as best he could with his puffy and blistered face. "Wouldn't miss it," he muttered back.

Oh, that was a call sign! Mommy and Lucinda had used those before. The stranger was from the New Republic, but that didn't explain what Chin and the others were doing.

"Your friends there seem in a hurry to get away." Jedi Skywalker commented in the same low voice. The stormtroopers didn't appear to be listening in as the group walked.

"Probably don't want to miss the party," the stranger told him. "A little something they threw together to celebrate my capture."

Lucinda stared ahead and tried to puzzle that one out. It sounded like the worst reason to have a party.

"Shame we weren't invited." Jedi Skywalker didn't sound sorry, not like he had back in the forest. He sounded suspicious. Lucinda looked up at him, but he was looking at the taller stranger.

"Real shame," the stranger agreed with a face that didn't match how amused his low voice sounded. "You never know, though."

Their entire group had turned onto the avenue now, moving toward the center of town. She could see something gray and rounded ahead of them over the stormtroopers' heads. Oh, the archway; people had told her and Mommy to go see it when they had come to the city before. They hadn't had the time then.

Were Jedi Skywalker and the New Republic stranger talking in more code? Lucinda scowled before remembering she needed to look sad and scared. Jedi Skywalker should have taught her and Mommy code while they were in the forest. She looked up at him, but his gaze flickered from the archway to the stormtroopers.

She looked back at the archway. The people of Hyllyard City had been proud of it, and other places she and Mommy had lived had had nothing like it she remembered. Its upper part was composed of different types of fitted stone and flared outward like a mushroom top. The lower part curved in and downward, to end in a pair of meter-square supporting pillars on each side. It rose a good ten meters into the sky with about five meters between the pillars. The town square was empty ground about fifteen meters between the arch and the buildings.

She couldn't see what was so special about that arch, so she looked at the stormtroopers. The ones in the lead marched out of the narrow avenue and each lifted his blaster rifle a little higher and shifted away from the others. Something was wrong and her stomach clenched around that.

"Is Threepio here?" Jedi Skywalker asked the New Republic stranger in a more urgent mutter.

Lucinda looked up and saw the stranger frown. "He's with Lando, yeah."

Jedi Skywalker nodded and looked back over his right shoulder. Then he shifted away from Lucinda and behind the stranger. And the next thing Lucinda knew, Artoo squealed as he fell flat with a crash.

Jedi Skywalker crouched down beside him and struggled with his manacled hands to lift the droid. Lucinda darted back to help. He only had one working hand, even if they didn't want the Imperials to know about it.

Artoo let out a loud warble right in the human man's ear by how he winced. Luci felt it ringing in her ears and she hadn't been that close. She shook her head and reached out to help lift the droid.

A hand closed around her arm and jerked her to the side. It squeezed so hard she didn't have to pretend tears as she cried out. Stormtroopers were picking up Artoo and Jedi Skywalker as the major jerked her between him and Jedi Skywalker.

The major scowled, and Jedi Skywalker matched it. He lifted his bound arms and dropped the circle of them over Lucinda's head, pulling her back to him. The major let her arm go and demanded. "What was that?"

"He fell over," Jedi Skywalker told him. "I think he tripped—"

"I meant that transmission," the major cut him off. "What did he say?"

"He was probably telling me off for tripping him," Jedi Skywalker shot back. "How should I know what he said?"

The major glared at him. Lucinda glanced at Mommy. Her face was white with fury. When she looked like that, somebody got hit. The major deserved it, but Mommy was wearing the restraints. She wouldn't be able to hit the major as hard as he deserved.

The major turned to the stormtrooper at his side. "Move out, Commander. Stay alert." He turned and headed back to the front of the group.

"You okay, Luci?" Jedi Skywalker lifted his arms from around her. She nodded at him, glanced over at Mommy, and kept nodding.

Mommy dropped her chin once to acknowledge that information before turning and walking behind the stormtroopers.

The New Republic stranger aligned with Jedi Skywalker and Lucinda again. "I hope," he murmured, "you know what you're doing."

Jedi Skywalker took a deep breath as his gaze went straight ahead again. "So do I," he murmured back.

Lucinda followed his gaze. It was back on the arch. If they ever got away from the stormtroopers, she was going to ask what was so special about it. The stormtroopers were taking them straight to it. Jedi Skywalker kept staring at it. She didn't want to give the plan away, if there was a plan, and her stomach would feel a lot better if Jedi Skywalker and his friend sounded surer of themselves.

Nothing happened as they crossed the empty plaza. The stormtroopers in the lead passed under the arch and the major was only a few steps away from it when four of the stormtroopers surrounding their group blew up.

Yellow-white fire lit up the landscape, hurting her eyes with how bright it was. The multiple detonations made a thunderclap that knocked her to her knees. She screamed and covered her ears, but she still heard blaster fire ignite behind them.

Strong arms scooped her up against his chest—cloth-covered, not armored. Lucinda grabbed hold of Jedi Skywalker, and now the sounds of the battle battered her ears: the blaster fire from behind them and from the stormtroopers hugging the stone pillars, speeder bikes whined louder around them. Stormtroopers grabbed Jedi Skywalker under his arms. She glanced up and saw the Chariot assault vehicle turning around to face the unseen attackers.

The stormtroopers dumped them in the narrow gap between the two pillars holding up the north side of the arch. Mommy was already there, and she surged up to keep Lucinda and Jedi Skywalker from landing on the ground. Lucinda grabbed onto her mother as the woman pulled back. Two more stormtroopers tossed the New Republic stranger into the space with them. Four of them stood over them, using the pillars for cover as they returned fire. Lucinda looked back over the town square.

Artoo was still out there! Red blaster bolts flew past his barrel-shaped body as he rolled toward the arch as fast as his little wheels could carry him.

"I think we're in trouble," the New Republic stranger said under the sounds of all the blasters. "Not to mention Lando and the others."

"It's not over yet." Jedi Skywalker knelt on the stone ground, looking at the battle. "Just stick close. How are you at causing distractions?"

"Terrific," the stranger answered. He brought his hands out from behind his back, the chain and manacles he had been wearing now hung loose from his left wrist. "Trick cuffs," he grunted. He pulled a strip of metal from the open cuff and used that to poke at Jedi Skywalker's restraints. "I hope this thing—ah."

Lucinda spun in Mommy's lap and pressed the buttons like they had practiced. The restraints eased open around Mommy's wrists.

"Good job." Mommy kissed her forehead as she also wormed out from under Lucinda's weight.

"You ready for your distraction?" The stranger took the loose end of his chain in his free hand.

"Hang on a minute." Jedi Skywalker looked up. Lucinda craned her neck back. Most of the speeder bikes had flown under the arch and hovered close to the top stone. Their laser cannons spat fire toward the surrounding houses. In front of them and below their line of fire, the Chariot had turned parallel to the arch and was coming down.

Mommy crawled forward and grabbed Jedi Skywalker's arm. He turned his head to her. "Whatever you're going to do, do it!" Mommy hissed. "If that Chariot gets down, you'll never get them out from cover."

He nodded. "I know. I'm counting on it."

The Chariot settled to the ground in front of the arch. Jedi Skywalker moved his feet under him. "All right, Han. Go."

The stranger named Han nodded and surged to his feet. He came up in the middle of the four stormtroopers standing over them. He bellowed and swung his shackles across the faceplate of the nearest guard, then threw the looped chain around the neck of the next stormtrooper and pulled away from the pillars.

The other two stormtroopers leaped on him and took the entire group down in a tangle. Lucinda scooted back on her butt so they didn't land on her.

Jedi Skywalker stood up and leaned around the pillar, looking at the droid hurrying across the empty square. He held out his left hand. "Artoo!—now!"

The silver metal of his lightsaber hilt reflected sunlight as it dropped into his outstretched hand.

The sound of the battle fell away as Lucinda's mouth dropped. She had seen him catch the lightsaber like that before. The green lightsaber blade extended out with a snap-hiss.

The stormtrooper guards had subdued Han's crazy attack and were getting back on their feet. Jedi Skywalker took them all down with a single sweep of the blazing green lightsaber. "Get behind me," he snapped and stepped into the gap between the northern pillars.

It had been one of her too-real dreams. The kind that Lucinda hadn't had since Mommy and she had moved to Myrkr. A blue, cloudless sky had had two suns beating down on a sea of yellow sand. The man in black stood on a skinny platform instead of the skiff and addressed a larger repulsorlift vehicle that she had never seen before.

But Artoo had been on the top of that vehicle, and he had fired the lightsaber. So, the man in black who dropped off the end of the platform above the hole filled with teeth and tentacles only to grab it and flipped back into the skiff and caught the lightsaber once he landed there must be Jedi Skywalker.

The stormtroopers between Jedi Skywalker and the southern pillars realized something had changed and turned to face the Jedi, aiming their blasters at him.

Jedi Skywalker ignored them as he turned and slashed his lightsaber up and across. Cleaving one of the northern stone pillars in half.

There was a loud crack, and the whole arch shivered. His next stroke cut through the second pillar on this side. Stone on stone grinding noises drowned out the blasters as the two pillars began sliding apart.

Mommy grabbed her as she scrambled away from the arch. Han grabbed them both and pushed them along. Lucinda ran as best she could, hunched over and staring back at the arch. The stormtroopers and the major were all staring up at the stone. The major's eyes and mouth widened in horror.

Jedi Skywalker did something to his lightsaber's hilt and hurled it at the southern pillars. The green blade stayed lit and sliced through one pillar and nicked the other. Jedi Skywalker dived out as the stones' grinding shifted to a loud roar.

Mommy and Han both rolled onto their backs to stare at the stones crashing down on top of the Imperials. Lucinda scrambled onto her feet. She saw Artoo had come to a stop well away from the mass of stones and the crumpled nose of the Chariot assault vehicle.

Jedi Skywalker stood up and retrieved his lightsaber from the edge of the mess. He turned it off and hung it on his belt before walking toward them.

"That was effective." Han stood up and dusted his trousers. "I'm going to find Lando." He looked over Jedi Skywalker, making sure he was okay before he skirted around the former archway, heading to the buildings that saw both sides of the square—the street where they came into the town square and the arch.

Mommy sat on the ground until Jedi Skywalker reached them. She had a satisfied smile on her face now. "And here I was thinking this was all over kill for just one man." She accepted his hand and his help up off the ground. They stood there looking at each other and didn't let go of their hands while airspeeders came over the buildings to land in the town square.

Lucinda huffed and hugged Mommy from the side since they weren't looking at her. The tabard and Mommy's tunic were both sticky under her hand. "Mommy! You're bleeding again!"

That broke the adults apart. Jedi Skywalker twisted around to examine Mommy's back for himself. Mommy huffed. "They came open, but it's not so bad."

"Does Hyllyard City have a medcenter?" Jedi Skywalker lifted the hem of Mommy's tunic and the black tabard to see the bottom bandages for himself. "Otherwise, we need to see what supplies your coworkers left in the Imperial garrison."

"Why do you think they'd steal them?" Lucinda asked.

"Mara, Skywalker." Captain Karrde climbed out of the nearest airspeeder. Aves jogged across the town square towards their group.

Jedi Skywalker let go of Mommy's tunic and turned to face Captain Karrde. "Mara got injured by a vornskr."

"I'm fine," Mommy insisted.

"You're bleeding," Lucinda told her. She folded her arms over her chest. Bleeding was not fine; that was Mommy's own rule.

"Well, let's keep you fine," Captain Karrde said. He gestured back at the airspeeder he had arrived in. "Dankin can take you and Lucinda back to the base first."

"I'm going to find Han and Lando." Jedi Skywalker backed away from the group.

Mommy huffed, but only said, "Come on, Lucinda," and she herded Lucinda to the airspeeder. Lucinda went along so Mommy would have her back fixed sooner, but she glanced back at Jedi Skywalker petting Artoo and heading toward the building Aves had left.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

The forest that took so long to cross on foot was taking no time to fly over in the airspeeder. Lucinda stared out of the viewport at the trees that blurred into one green mass below.

"Did Skywalker survive?" Dankin asked over his shoulder from the pilot's seat.

"Do you think I murdered him out in the forest?" Mommy shot back.

"None of us, Jade, but Solo was sure worried about it. Insisted on being right in the middle of the Boss' plan."

Lucinda twisted in her seat away from the viewport to face the adults as the names clicked together. "Han Solo? That was General Han Solo?"

"It wasn't a good time for introductions, but yes, that was Captain Han Solo. He resigned his commission about the same time he got married," Mommy explained.

"Oh." And he had come to Myrkr to bring Jedi Skywalker back home to the New Republic. He couldn't go! She hadn't gotten a chance to ask her questions yet!

The airspeeder landed in front of the barracks building. "Go shower," Mommy ordered as they got out.

Lucinda frowned. "You need medical."

"I am going—under my own power—to medical. You need to get clean." Mommy pointed to the barracks.

Lucinda huffed as she headed to the barracks door. She wanted to be clean, but she wanted Mommy to not be bleeding and she wanted to not miss Jedi Skywalker before he left. She turned at the door and saw Mommy heading across the lawn to the main building. Behind the maintenance hangar, people were setting up towing cables between an X-Wing and a Corellian Engineering Corporation YT-1300 light freighter. Since she had to move fast now, she ran down the hall to her quarters, undoing her braids as she moved.

She scrubbed everywhere with cleanser—because there was no point fighting with Mommy about what clean means—but she didn't stay in the dryer cycle long. She wrung her red-gold hair with her hands until her body was dry enough, then jumped out. She pulled on a clean jumpsuit and her spare boots before she ran back up the barracks hallway and paused at the door outside.

More airspeeders were bringing people back to the base. Everyone shooting at the Imperials in Hyllyard City must work for Captain Karrde. The entire base converged on the maintenance hangar and the ships docked around it. Captain Solo directed the people with the towing cables. She didn't see Mommy, so now was probably her only chance. She ran across the lawn.

Lucinda charged up the saucer-shaped freighter's entry ramp with her wet hair slapping against her back. "Jedi Skywalker!" She headed right in the tube-like corridor. "Jedi Skywalker!" She ended up in a hold she had seen in holodramas. At least the dejarik table with a circular bench around it and the engineering station that she ended up between were familiar. The galley station on the other side of the hold was new. It hit her and she skidded to a stop on the deck plate. This was the ship that escaped the first Death Star and did something famous with the Kessel Run; not that she could remember what that was. "Astral, I'm on the Millennium Falcon." Her voice dropped to a near whisper, and she felt dizzy.

Another man's raised voice echoed from the corridor on the other side of this hold. "I'm fine, Luke. Take Threepio with you!" She didn't recognize his voice.

Jedi Skywalker emerged from that same corridor, still wearing his hike-stained clothes and the puffy welts on his face. "Oh no, your mother finally stopped yelling at me about kidnapping you. You're not stowing in here to start that again."

"I'm not stowing. I just wanted to ask you some questions alone."

He herded her back into the corridor. "You can ask me on the entry ramp, in full sight of everyone."

Lucinda huffed but went along with it. The question was important, and Mommy had pulled a blaster on him. She turned around when she was on the entry ramp.

He sat cross-legged in the doorway where she'd have to climb over him to get back inside. "What's so important to ask me you skipped the dryer cycle?" He smiled at her still-wet hair.

She glanced around, but Mommy was out of sight and everybody else was by the maintenance hangar. "You knew Mommy before I was born."

His smile shifted to a frown. "I think you should ask your mother for the details about that."

"I don't need the details!" She glanced around again, but her raised voice had gained no attention. She knew the difference between classified secrets and Mommy secrets, and what she wanted was the latter. "I just want to know who my father is, if you met them both before I was born."

He winced. "I'm sorry, Luci. It was just your mother and me on that… adventure. She must have met your father after we took our separate escapes." Lucinda's shoulders drooped. "She hasn't told you about him?" he asked.

"She never talks about before I was born." Lucinda huffed again before explaining more. "Just a few things, never about her family or my father, like her entire life started when I was born. And I know that's not how it works." She crossed her arms over her chest and squeezed them tight.

"Children are a new life and change everything. Your mother possibly didn't like her life before you, and that's why she doesn't talk about it. I'm sure, in time, she'll tell you about it."


He nodded. "And if I come across badly in your mother's story, just remember I was young and stupid at the time." He grinned and Lucinda giggled.

"Why did I dream about you?" she asked once that stopped being funny.

"Our minds work out things that have stimulated them in dreams." He shrugged. "The past few days have been very stimulating."

"No, it was when I was little. And it wasn't like those dreams. It was hot and bright and I could feel the wind blowing sand on me. And I saw Artoo shoot your lightsaber to you and you caught it and you were fighting above a pit of teeth and tentacles." His serious expression made her hands mash together, and she squeezed her fingers. "I didn't know it was you, not until the fight in Hyllyard City."

Jedi Skywalker reached out and rested his left hand, his real hand, on top of hers. That stopped the squeezing. His hand swallowed both of hers, but it was warm and callused. His smile was as gentle as his touch. "It's alright, Luci. Maybe the Force didn't want you to be afraid of me when we met."

Her hands didn't twitch, but her stomach sank instead. "Mommy says to hide the Force because bad people will take me for it."

His smile slipped into sadness. "One day, things will be safe enough so you won't have to hide. And maybe you'll learn from me." His blue eyes warmed again. "But that's far enough into the future not to worry about, okay?"

That was what Mommy said any time Lucinda thought about what she would be when she grew up, but no one had ever told her being a Jedi was on the list. "Okay," she finally said.

He patted her hands and pulled back. "I don't think you have to worry about those dreams. Just treat them like you treat the other dreams."

"Right." Lucinda nodded her head. "I will." She let go of her hands and put them behind her back. "Can I see the Falcon now?" She smiled in that way that usually got what she wanted from adults, everybody but Mommy.

He chuckled, and she decided he had a friendly laugh, one that shared the joke with you rather than make you the joke. "You do that very well, but I already told you I don't want your mother mad at me."

"Why would I get mad?"

Lucinda spun around as Jedi Skywalker jumped to his feet and came further down the ramp.

Mommy stopped at the bottom of the entry ramp. She was clean and dry, wearing fresh clothes, and carrying Jedi Skywalker's tabard. She made a dismayed noise. "Luci, did you even try to get dry?"

"I got mostly dry." Lucinda pushed her hair back off her shoulder. It slapped against her shoulder blade. "Are you fixed now?" She frowned up at her mother.

"Yes, I'm no longer bleeding. Can you go get dry and start packing?"

Lucinda's hands mashed together again. "Did you lose this job?" She hadn't yelled at Captain Karrde about keeping people. Did Captain Karrde end Mommy's employment because they crashed the Skiprays?

Mommy shook her head. "No, I still have a job. We're abandoning this base for another one. You've got time to pack everything and neatly."

That was a first. Lucinda couldn't remember having time to pack before fleeing a planet. But she and Mommy had never had anyone drop a megagram of stone on the stormtroopers chasing them before either. "So this is goodbye?"

"Until we meet again." Jedi Skywalker held out his hand. Lucinda shook it, feeling very grown up. "May the Force be with you."

"May the Force be with you too!" She headed down the entry ramp and looked up at Mommy, who waved for her to continue walking away. So Mommy wanted to talk to Jedi Skywalker alone. Well, she didn't think Jedi Skywalker would tattle about asking about her father. She trudged across the clipped grass toward the barracks. A new base to explore. That would be fun. Hopefully, the next planet won't have anything that liked to eat her and Mommy like vornskrs. She should mention that to Captain Karrde, on the ship, when he's not so busy.

Luke stepped off the entry ramp. Mara was an arms-length away, watching over her shoulder as Lucinda walked back to the barracks. She had cleaned up and now looked like she hadn't just spent three days in the wilderness. He wished he had had time to clean up after the skirmish and getting Lando back to the Falcon. Or that his face was less grotesque right now. Hell of a last impression to make, especially after their time in the forest had given him hope that she wouldn't mind seeing him again.

Mara turned her head back to Luke. Her loose red-gold hair gleamed in the sunlight as it settled back into place around her shoulders. "What was so important that she rushed to see you?"

Lucinda had gone to a lot of trouble to not ask about her father in front of Mara. She had to know about her daughter's curiosity, so she had her reasons for not telling. He had no right to judge Mara's decision, and an echo of personal pain was not a reason. Besides, he couldn't explain that mess, not with most of it classified. And he didn't want to piss Mara off about her parenting. Someone had, given how she had reacted over her daughter's blaster skills. She'd never want to see him again if he pissed her off. Lucinda had the right idea.

"She had a Force vision," he said. Mara's face whitened under her freckles and her green eyes bulged. Maybe that wasn't the safer topic. "The skirmish—"

"She saw that?" Mara interrupted. Her hands curled into tight fists. "How is that possible on Myrkr?"

Luke shook his head. "No, the skirmish reminded her of it. She said she had dreamed it years ago, and it sounded like what me and Artoo did with the lightsaber above the Great Pit of Carkoon when we rescued Han. I told her the Force wanted her to not fear me when we met."

"You believe that?" Mara's eyes stopped bulging and narrowed at him, worriedly rather than angrily.

"The future is always in motion, and what Force visions I have had were more metaphorical than showing me actual events. The time I got actual events…." He couldn't flex his right hand like he normally did when he thought about Cloud City, so he rubbed the seam between his prosthetic and his real arm through the cloth of his sleeve. "It didn't go according to the conclusions I had drawn. The only other one who spoke of visions to me, well, I don't think the Battle of Endor went how the Emperor foresaw it either."

Mara took a shaky breath. "So, don't draw conclusions about one-off Force visions?"

Luke gave her a lopsided smile. "If you can help it. I told Lucinda to treat them like her other dreams since she worried more about disobeying your hide the Force directive."

"You don't approve of hiding."

"Training is better."

Mara crossed her arms over her chest. "And you're ready to take Lucinda as your padawan."

Now Luke felt his eyes bug out at her. "Padawan? Lucinda? Before you?"


He took a deep breath. "An entire generation, our generation, lost access to what they can do. I want to give that heritage back to those who want it. And the New Republic needs Jedi Knights, adults ready for what the Force has in store for them. Eventually, the students will get younger, but I'm not stealing Lucinda from you. Not now, not ever."

Mara scowled. "If you had actually gotten away in that Skipray, you would've turned around as soon as you found her and brought her back? A Force Sensitive child?"

"Yes," Luke answered and then added honestly, "as soon as I had scrambled back-up, I would have brought her straight back to you."

Mara's scowl cracked as she chuckled. "I can't blame you for wanting back-up."

"Good. So, you could be a Jedi too, if you want." Luke saw Han moving next to the ship docked beside the Falcon. His brother-in-law crossed his arms but didn't come closer to the scene at the entry ramp. "Luci said this was a good job you have with Karrde, but you both have the option. And there's time for Luci to decide what she wants. You have my comcode? It's the best way to contact me; I always check the messages." His ears burned at the speed his words were gathering.

"I have your comcode." She smiled and her cheeks pinked. "I'll think about the training, Luke. For both of us."

"Great!" He grinned, even though his puffy and numb cheeks didn't want to stretch. It probably looked goofier than usual.

"Here." She held out his tabard. "I don't want to hold you up. Solo got the rest of your things already."

The pale skin of her hand called out to him. Did he dare? It always worked for Lando. He reached for the tabard and bent, pressing a kiss against her knuckles.

She gasped as she released the material. He looked up while still bent over her hand. Her face was flushed, and she was breathing just as hard as he was. He wanted to make her breathe hard by touching her in other places, but that would be inappropriate without her permission and right now with the audience. He let her pull her hand back as he straightened with his tabard in his own grip. "May the Force be with you, Mara," he said softly.

It took her a moment to speak. "And with you, Luke," she said just as softly. She spun away and headed to the maintenance hangar.

Her swaying stride drew his gaze, but he saw Han's loose arms stance of shock out of the corner of his eye. Luke pretended to have not seen it as he turned and headed up the entry ramp. They had the entire flight to Coruscant for Han's comments.

Luke checked on Lando—who had turned his face to the wall of the medbunk and pretended to be asleep already—and the droids before heading to the cockpit, timing it with the ship lift off. "Any problems with the tow cables?" he asked as he slid into the copilot's seat.

"Not so far," Han said as he leaned forward and looked all around them as the Falcon cleared the trees. "The extra weight's not bothering us. We should be all right."

"Good. You expecting company?"

"You never know." Han gave the sky one last look before settling back into his seat and gunning the repulsorlifts. "Karrde said there were still a couple of Chariots and a few speeder bikes unaccounted for. One of them might have figured that a last-ditch suicide run was better than having to go back to the Grand Admiral and report."

Luke stared at him. But Han's hands remained wrapped tight around the controls. "Grand Admiral?" he asked.

Han's lips twisted into an angry sneer. "Yeah. That's who seems to be running the show now for the Empire."

A chill like the night air on Tatooine ran up Luke's back, prickling his skin along the way. "I thought we had accounted for all the Grand Admirals."

He remembered what Mara had told him after he had told her and Karrde the attacks were like kidnappings. They have a way to exploit them, a way they are so damned confident of they'll risk going after the most famous potential Force users in the galaxy before they're even born. A Grand Admiral hunting Leia and the twins, and who would hunt Mara and Lucinda as soon as the Imperials learned about them. Why? None of the other warlords had been interested in Force users.

"Me too," Han said to Luke's last aloud comment. "We must have missed one."

Luke felt a surge of awareness and strength fill him before Han finished speaking. As if he were waking from a deep sleep or stepping from a dark room into the light. The Force was again with him.

He breathed deeply and flicked his eyes across the control board for the altimeter. Just over twelve kilometers. Karrde had been right; the ysalamiri reinforced one another. Luke didn't wish the smuggler any ill will after all this, but he had no desire to inform Karrde of that answer either.

"I don't suppose you got a name." His voice had gone soft as he closed his eyes and the sensation worked its way through him.

"Karrde wouldn't give it to me." Han frowned curiously at Luke. "Maybe we can bargain the use of that Star Cruiser he wants for it. You okay?"

"I'm fine." Luke spoke more normally to ease Han's worries. "I just—it's like being able to see again after having been blind."

Han snorted. "Yeah, I know how that is."

"I guess you would." Luke opened his eyes and looked at him. "I didn't get a chance to say this earlier, but thanks for coming after me."

Han waved it aside. "No charge. And I didn't get a chance to say it earlier—" he glanced at Luke again with a smug smirk. "—but even looking like something the proom dragged in, you add the only red-heads on the planet to your collection."

He knew it was coming, but it still spiked his irritation. "I love how everybody says that like I have had a legion of them when there has only ever been the one." His ears burned when he realized what he had admitted. So much for telling no one about Mara.

Han twisted to the other side of the cockpit and reached for the nav computer's controls. "There's no shame in having a type, Luke. But you said a long time ago not to count Shira Brie."

"Brie has never counted; she was an Imperial spy. And she has fallen to the Dark Side. Remember, she likes to be called Lumiya now."

"All that time in the forest made you cranky. You were not this cranky on Dathomir after Teneniel turned you down."

"That's not what happened."

"And you had a thing for red-haired women long before Brie infiltrated or Teneniel…." Han's voice trailed away as he spun back around to look at Luke again.

Luke stared straight out the viewport. The forest looked rather pleasant from this high up.

"Wait, that was her?!" Han exclaimed. "Mara Jade? Where did you meet her? When?"

He had to give Han some kind of answer or Han would start coming up with theories. "I met her after the Battle of Yavin."

"Oh, on one of your teach yourself how to be a Jedi without any help trips?"

Luke nodded, hoping that Han would leave it at that. He had done too much thinking of Grakkus' enslavement of them both this week. He'd rather think of Mara now, curvier and blushing from just a kiss on her hand. A kiss he had given her.

Han turned back to his piloting. The Falcon cleared the atmosphere and sped for deep space. "So the kid's father is long gone?" Luke pursed his lips, but Han continued, "Don't get huffy. You're not about to pull out the courtier stops on a married woman." He chuckled. "Too bad Lando missed that."

Luke's ears had begun to cool but now they heated again. "Lucinda said a Ghent told her that her father abandoned Mara when she was pregnant. Did you meet him?"

"Karrde's slicer, still pretty green, but he knew gossip about me and Chewie that Lando didn't even know. So he might have picked up on that and would be unaware enough to not tell the poor kid." Han glanced at him with a smirk. "What, being an uncle is not enough now? Ready to try your hand at fatherhood?"

"I'd like a chance to take Mara out first," Luke said. He remembered her words again, that she worried that she and her daughter would be kidnapped by the Imperials too. Seeing her again would probably depend on ending that threat.

A light flashed on the control board announcing that the Falcon was far enough from Myrkr's gravity well for the hyperdrive to function. Han nodded at it. "Course's already programmed in; let's get out of here." He wrapped his hand around the central levers and pulled. The stars shifted into starlines through the viewport.

"Where are we going?" Luke asked as he watched the starlines fade into the mottled hyperspace sky. "Coruscant?"

"A little side trip first," Han answered. "I want to swing by Sluis Van shipyards, see if we can get Lando, you, and your X-wing fixed up."

Luke glanced at his brother-in-law's scheming expression. "And maybe find a Star Cruiser to borrow for Karrde?"

Han scowled slightly, annoyed that his tell had been spotted. "Maybe. I mean, Ackbar's got a bunch of stripped-down warships ferrying stuff to the Sluis sector already. No reason why we can't borrow one of them for a couple of days, is there?"

"Probably not." Luke sighed. "Especially if we do get the name of a Grand Admiral out of it." He leaned back in the co-pilot's seat. "Maybe if we had their identity, we would have the reason why behind the kidnapping attempts."

Han's presence went grim. "The Minister of State and her babies gives them leverage over the New Republic."

Luke shook his head. "Both Karrde and Mara focused on the Imperials wanting Force users. Mara's especially frightened of her own daughter getting caught too." He remembered the fear and anger in her green eyes when she threatened to shoot him with the stormtroopers meters away searching the wrecks. "If it was just leverage over the New Republic, they'd be going after the families of all Inner Council members."

"And nobody but us have been threatened." Han clenched his teeth like he was chewing on the idea. He turned his seat to face Luke. "Say the fake Falcon on Bpfassh worked, and they now have Leia and the twins. Leia's not going to agree to help them, so that leaves them with two babies that have to grow and train. Right?"

Luke turned the co-pilot's seat to face him. "Right."

"So who's going to train them without you, without Leia?"

The answer was already in Han's suspicious mind, but Luke said it in the cockpit. "A Force user that has fallen to the Dark Side. Someone's looking for an apprentice, probably made a deal with the Imperials as soon as the HoloNet broke the news Leia was pregnant."

"Shavit." Han's face whitened. "Leia suggested they might have a Dark Jedi on Bpfassh, right before our gray friends showed up with blasters. That could be how the Imperials are coordinating their attacks without any transmissions was her theory."

"Leia didn't mention that to me back on Nkllon."

Han rubbed his fingers over his lips. "I forgot about it too. Funny how a Star Destroyer's arrival just makes you forget." He shook his head. "Did Mara have any ideas on who has teamed up with the mysterious Grand Admiral?"

Luke shook his head. "She never said. She would have, if she knew."

"You're sure of that?" Luke nodded. "Anything from the Force?" Han blinked with an expression that he couldn't believe he asked that.

Luke didn't rub it in. "No, but I haven't meditated on the idea. Maybe it is Lumiya. She could have decided kidnapping is the only way she can be a mom."

"Nobody has seen her since the Nagai-Tof War. What about the guy behind Lord Shadowspawn?"

"I think the meltmassif surge/feedback killed him, but his ship was lost in hyperspace." Luke shivered. He had barely defeated both of them on his own. "Maybe we shouldn't bother with Sluis Van, then. We can head to Coruscant and start some intelligence searches. Lando's hurting, but he's not in any danger."

Han shook his head. "No, I want to get him taken care of —and you too, buddy, how's your hand?" He glanced down at Luke's right.

Luke sighed and looked down at it too. "It's completely numb now and I can't move it."

"When we hit Coruscant, we're going to hit it running. So enjoy Sluis Van while you can. It'll probably be the last peace and quiet we'll get for a while."

Luke didn't sigh. It would give him time to meditate on the next step to take. If Coruscant was as bad as Han felt it was, he probably wouldn't have time once they reached it. But he couldn't stay on Coruscant long. If those who used the Dark Side of the Force were attacking again, he needed help. He had to find the voice who spoke to him during the battle at Nkllon and get his help. That meant chasing down the C'baoth rumor as soon as possible. "The more things change; the more they stay the same. But a break sounds nice." He stood up. "I'm going to get cleaned up."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda missed Myrkr. More accurately, she missed the calm and happy atmosphere of the crew when they had been on Myrkr three weeks ago. She thought the next base would get that way on Rishi, but they had to abandon it in twenty-four hours. She didn't even know the name of the planet they were on now, but she knew that everyone that worked for Captain Karrde were on the Imperial bounty list.

Lucinda had left her and Mommy's bunk room, expecting to have the recreation room to herself at this time of the day. She hadn't thought of the crew—three or four ships' worth of people all at this base—needing to hide, too. Most of them had crowded into the recreation room that doubled as the mess because it connected with the kitchen. And none of them were interested in watching a holodrama. She pressed against the wall beside the open doorway to the hall and listened as hard as she could to the angry rumble inside the room.

"It don't make sense." Lachton's voice got above the rumble. "Karrde's been givin' her plump assignments since she joined up."

"I saw it happen!" Something banged down on a table. Lucinda jumped, but Wadewarn continued yelling. "She got the drop on the Boss and left with the bucketheads without a blaster bolt being fired."

Lucinda curled her hands into fists. Something happened to Captain Karrde? But who were bucketheads?

"Nobody's calling you a liar, Wadewarn." Lucinda didn't recognize that woman's voice. "Funny she picked the Imperials after the way she cozied up to Skywalker, though."

Cozied up to Skywalker? Were they talking about Mommy? Lucinda's eyebrows tightened over her eyes. But Mommy would never pick the Imperials. They wanted to split the Jades apart and she would never see Mommy again.

"She's a scheming schutta, that redhead ciken. The Imperials found her price. Maybe it's running this organization."

Lucinda's entire body felt like it was on fire. She knew those words were horrible things to call any woman. Wadewarn was not saying them about Mommy!

She charged into the large recreation room. Most everybody in there clustered around the tables near the kitchen end. Wadewarn stood at the first table with his back to the hall doorway. She gathered speed and slammed into the larger man. "You nerf herder! Don't you call my mother that!"

Wadewarn staggered but caught himself against the table.

Luci stepped back out of reach but with her fists up, like Mommy taught her.

"You little shavit!" Wadewarn spun around, glaring at her with her darkening red face. Laughter cascaded through the group and his neck tendons corded.

"You big shavit! Don't you call my mother that!" She repeated.

His lips opened in a sneer. "Your mother is a ciken. Where's your father?"

"It's not you, so I don't care!"

Laughter from the others answered that before Wadewarn responded. His face was so red it was almost black, like a storm cloud.

Lucinda was so intent on watching Wadewarn's next move, she didn't realize someone was behind her until meaty hands closed around both her biceps, pressing her arms against her sides. "Let's teach Jade a lesson 'bout betrayal." Lachton said above Lucinda's head. "This brat is the only thing she cares about." He shook Lucinda hard. "Maybe not, since she left her behind."

Her stomach dropped away from her body with the angry and excited sneer on Wadewarn's face. She had to get away from him, but the crowd had shifted around the table and the fight, and they blocked the hall doorway. She better get behind Lachton and go out through the kitchen.

Wadewarn pulled a long vibroknife from its sheath on his belt. Blast it, Mommy would definitely say she should have grabbed the weapon when she shoved him. "Let's see if your mother still loves you without a nose."

"Wadewarn, don't." Someone clustered around the sofas said.

He spun around to face them. "You aiming to be Jade's second in command?" He snarled the question like a wounded vornskr. And she had heard one when Jedi Skywalker cut off its tail.

Lucinda raised her knee as high as she could, nearly touching her chin, and stomped her heel down on Lachton's foot.

Lachton howled as he jerked up his foot. Lucinda wrenched her arms free of his limp grip and dove under the table as Wadewarn whirled around.

He dropped to his knees and reached for her, but she was already out of reach unless he crawled. Too many legs between the edge of the table and the kitchen doorway, but there were fewer people standing in front of the next table over. She scrambled across the floor on all fours.

She looked back, and Wadewarn was climbing onto his feet. "Stop that traitorous schutta's whelp!" Nobody intercepted her as she reached the next large round table and she jumped and rolled on top of it. She stood up in a fighting stance in the center, but it would only seat ten people around it. Wadewarn's long arms could reach her unless she was astral at dodging.

He plowed into the table with his gut, but the sturdy metal didn't budge. His snarl was inarticulate as he swept his vibroknife toward her.

Luci backed away from its reach, mindful of the table's edge behind her. She glanced up. Mommy always said going up was the best option 'cause people didn't look up. But there wasn't anything she could grab within jumping reach.

"I'm going to take you apart!" Wadewarn started moving around the table and Luci matched his circling action. "Gonna show your ciken mother what happens to traitors!"

She heard the cackle/purr through Wadewarn's yelling, Lachton's encouraging hoots, and the rest of the crowd's noise. It hadn't been a month yet since those sounds meant vornskrs wanting to eat her, Mommy, and Jedi Skywalker in the forest, but she didn't think she would ever forget that sound. She took her eyes off Wadewarn and looked at the hallway door.

Chin stood there, only noticed by the ones closest to the opening, holding two tail-less vornskrs by their straining collars and leads. "Sturm, catch him." He dropped one lead.

The brown animal surged toward Lucinda's table. She screamed as the fangs and the claws leapt into the air.

But Sturm didn't land on her like the wild one had landed on Mommy. His mouth closed around Wadewarn's raised arm with the vibroknife and with an easy pull had the man on his back on the floor.

Wadewarn's screams weren't angry now. They were sharp with pain. She could hear the pain in his voice and hadn't known that was possible. Everyone else in the room had fallen silent except for Drang, who cackle/purred enough for both vornskrs.

Chin's calm voice was louder than Wadewarn's screams. "What hai is going on in here, hee?"

"The traitor's brat attacked Wadewarn and me," Lachton answered. "No good, just like her mother."

"So that is why you attack a child with a vibroblade, hee?" Chin's floppy hair didn't look so silly now with how his eyes were glaring at Lachton. His gaze swept over the rest of the room. The others glanced away. Chin harrumphed under his breath and walked closer to Lachton. Drang got louder as he sized up the human. "That's not the crew the Boss runs."

"We ain't got a Boss cause of Jade!" Someone else in the crowd yelled. Lucinda curled her fists tighter.

"Good news!" Ghent ran into the recreation room, but didn't clear the doorway, smacking his shoulder hard. "Ow! The Imperial bounties are gone; thought you'd all want to know…." His voice trailed away as he took in the quiet except for Wadewarn's now whimpering on the floor. "What's going on?"

Chin glanced at him before looking back at Lachton. "Aves has gone to find out what hai happened to the Boss. Lucinda, go back to the console room with Ghent till I be getting you."

Lucinda slid off the table as far from Sturm and Wadewarn as she could get. The vornskr's yellow eyes were closed like he was savoring the taste of Wadewarn's arm.

Nobody grabbed her as she crossed the room. She took Ghent's hand. He continued looking confused, but led her out of the recreation room and back up the hallway to a smaller room crammed with consoles. Two chairs—one a conform-seat and the other smaller and harder—barely fit in what floor space was available.

She climbed into the smaller and harder chair and sat with her legs pulled up to her chest. She hugged them tight to keep them there. The datacard necklace pulled on her neck. So it was still safe, like Mommy asked her to keep it.

Ghent chewed on his bottom lip as the door slid shut behind him. "What happened?" he asked.

"Wadewarn said bad things about Mommy."

The young man sat down in his conform-seat and ran a hand through his blue hair as he sighed. "Smugglers aren't polite society."

"I know. This was different. They were all mad at her and called her traitor and wanted to cut off my nose."

Ghent swallowed hard. "Not a joke that went wrong?"

Luci rolled her eyes. "What's funny about pulling out a vibroknife?"

That stumped him. He turned the chair to face the closest console screen and stared at that for a minute. Lucinda hugged her legs. He stood quickly and pulled a small box down off a shelf above the screens. It was labeled encoding components, but when he lifted the lid, it was full of brightly packaged candy. He plucked out two of the individually wrapped pieces and held the blue one in front of her nose.

"Mommy doesn't like it when I eat candy in between meals. It's a rule."

Ghent smirked. "Huh. She told me it was a rule to eat candy after you got away from someone trying to kill you. You earned it."

She let go with only one of her hands, holding it out for the offering. Ghent dropped the candy onto her curled palm and turned back to put the box back on the shelf. He sat down and focused on the console screens.

In the quiet, she slowly peeled the wrapper off the candy. The morsel of chocolate melted and coated her tongue. Ghent chomped his piece and swallowed, but she pressed her chocolate against the roof of her mouth to savor it longer. Before too long, she swallowed the remains. Now she could ask. "You said the Imperial bounties were gone? For everybody?"

Ghent jerked his head to look at her. "Oh, yes." He picked up a datapad that was plugged into the console. "They're all gone for the people the Imperials knew worked for Karrde. They didn't know about you and me."

But the Imperials had known about Mommy; she had explained that when they left Rishi. "Did the Grand Admiral die?"

Ghent blinked. "I haven't seen any news that he has. Why?"

She had to explain this carefully. Mommy had told her they couldn't let anyone know about the Emperor hunting them; it would give away the Force if other people knew that. "The bounties went away on me and Mommy after the man who made them died."

"There were bounties on you?"

"Before we met you."

He blinked again. "Captain Karrde probably worked out a deal. We'll know more when Aves gets back." He nodded and focused on the screen again.

Lucinda tightened her arms around her legs again and rested her chin on her knees. She'd feel much better about the situation if the Grand Admiral who found them on Myrkr was dead.

The door slid open, and both she and Ghent turned toward it. Chin's grim expression softened when he saw them. "You need any patching, young one?"

"No," Luci answered.

"You come help me in the kitchen while we wait for Aves to get back." Chin held out his hand. "It's all right. Sturm and Drang and Wadewarn are all in their rooms."

She uncurled and took his hand. They entered the kitchen through the hallway door, not the doorway to the recreation room. Someone was playing a holodrama now, but with the volume too low to hear from the kitchen. And they didn't turn up the volume after Chin started banging pots and pans. She fetched the ingredients Chin wanted and waited until he was chopping a peeled root vegetable to ask. "Chin, why is everybody mad at Mommy?"

The older man sighed as he set the cooking knife down. "It be adult problems. Nothing you need to worry about." He slid the cut pieces into a pot on the stove. "Get the Brekka beets."

She turned to the pantry with a huff. Mommy needed to tell Chin that Lucinda could handle all kinds of adult problems. The Jades never had any other adults they could trust. She brought the red, round roots back to Chin.

"There you are." Aves leaned against the kitchen door frame, keeping the door to the hallway open.

"Here we be," Chin answered as he cut the stems off the gourds. "You got my message?"

"Yeah. Cook that fast because we need to evacuate again." Chin muttered something Lucinda couldn't make out. Aves sighed. "It keeps us safe, Chin. But I got one more thing to do before we tell everybody to pack. Come on, Lucinda. Let's get your stuff."

She paused, wondering if this was a trap to hurt her. "Why?"

"I'm taking you to your mother. It's not safe for you here."

Mommy had left her here with the datacard necklace and everybody else because it wasn't safe to go with her and pick up the Etherway on Abregado-rae. "Mommy's back?" she asked.

"We have to meet her in a little while and get the Etherway back." Aves rubbed his face. "You need to see her, especially after this."

"Okay." Mommy at least would tell her what was going on and give her clear instructions.

Aves took her up the stairs to her and Mommy's bunk and waited in the door until she repacked her lessons into her go bag that was still full of her clothes. They walked to the closest landing pit, where the three Skiprays were docked.

Dankin met them there, carrying a ysalamiri and its wearable nutrient frame. "Here it is. I already put the tech scanner and the blasters in the hold. What's going on?"

Aves shook his head. "Head back to the base. I've got an announcement to make when I get back."

Dankin looked suspicious, but left the landing pit without arguing. Aves picked up the ysalamiri and headed into one of the new Skiprays. Lucinda's heart sank a little at that—the Skipray was now her least favorite ship to fly in—but she said nothing about that when Aves let her sit up in the cockpit. He stashed the half-meter long lizard in the main cabin while she strapped in and then swung into the pilot's seat.

They flew out of the city, but didn't climb the atmosphere. Were they meeting Mommy in the next city over? She twisted the navigation station's seat and craned her neck to look out the viewport. Aves brought the Skipray down toward a clear bit of land about the size of the largest landing pit Lucinda had seen that was ringed by trees. Water surrounded the trees, but she bounced when she spied the modified Corellian Engineering Corporation Action V transport resting in the clearing. Mommy stood on the entry ramp of the other ship, waiting while Aves brought the Skipray down beside the larger ship.

She waited to undo her straps until the Skipray settled on its landing struts and went into standby mode. Then she bounded down the entry ramp way ahead of Aves. He had rotated so the entry ramps opened between the ships. Mommy almost went into guard stance when she saw Luci but she didn't signal or say stop so Lucinda ran up to her and hugged her tight. "Mommy!"

She pressed her hands into Lucinda's back. "I'm glad to see you, Luci." But her tone and her surprise didn't match her words. Lucinda let her go as she looked up. "Aves, why did you—?"

Aves clomped down the Skipray's entry ramp, packing the tech scanner. "She can't stay with us. Some of the men were going to maim her if not kill her, and Chin was the only one who stopped it. She ain't safe."

"She's not safe with me either. I'm going up against Imperials!" Mommy's hands curled into fists.

Lucinda felt her stomach sink. Everything was all bad, and she made it worse by fighting with Wadewarn. What had happened to Captain Karrde?

"Not my problem, Mara." Aves looked sorry and tired at the same time. "And I don't want her shoved out an airlock while my back is turned. Good luck getting the boss back." He shifted the tech scanner in his arms and passed them going up into the Etherway.

Lucinda looked up at Mommy and made her eyes huge. "I'll be good and help, Mommy. I promise."

Mommy sighed. "Stow my bag in the Skipray." She passed the duffel to Lucinda.

Luci ran up the entry ramp and into the stowage compartments in the bunk room. She heard Mommy's lighter steps into the ship and up to the cockpit as the main hatch closed. She made sure the compartments holding her and Mommy's bags were closed tight and headed back to her seat at the navigation station. Mommy was in the pilot's seat, double checking all the settings and sensors. Luci stretched but reached the control panel without kneeling in the seat. "What to put into the nav computer?"


She keyed it in carefully before buckling her safety restraints. Mommy finished her checks and buckled hers on. Soon the Skipray lifted off the ground and climbed through atmosphere. The nav computer finished its calculations, so Luci sent them to the pilot's control panel with the push of a button. Nobody hailed them and no other ships intercepted them either, and soon the stars shifted to lines and then to mottled space.

Mommy unfastened her restraints with a sigh. She changed seats to the technical station next to Lucinda. "What happened back at the base?" She turned the seats, so they faced each other.

Lucinda slowly unfastened her safety restraints, so she didn't have to look at Mommy. "Wadewarn and Lachton were mad at you and calling you names. I tried to make them stop and then they pulled out a vibroknife to cut off my nose."

Mommy took a deep breath and spoke like she was trying not to scream. "You got in a fight with vibroblades?"

"He didn't have it out when I shoved him." Luci curled more into her seat. "And I got out of the hold and up on a table 'cause I couldn't get out the door. Then Chin made Sturm bite Wadewarn, and I stayed with Ghent and him until Aves brought me to you." She risked looking up. Mommy's face pinched with worry, but not icy. "Something happened to Captain Karrde, and they were scared and mad. But Chin and Aves wouldn't tell me what happened."

"Did you get hurt?"

"Nope, but I think I broke Lachton's foot like you taught me how."

"Good, but I don't need you to fight to defend my honor." Luci scowled because the Jade girls had to stick together and nobody else fought for Mommy and if Mommy made it a rule how was Luci supposed to watch her back? But Mommy continued, "They're all mad at me because it looks like I gave Captain Karrde up for the Imperial bounty."

Lucinda gasped. "But you would never?" Imperials had chased them for Lucinda's entire life. Why would Mommy ever help them? She wouldn't.

"No, I didn't and I wouldn't. Unfortunately, I got picked up by the Imperials and I thought the Grand Admiral would honor a deal that would get the bounties off of everyone." Mommy glared at the navigation computer.

"He didn't?"

"He put a homing beacon on the Etherway and then sent an assault team to capture Captain Karrde when he met the ship. It's my fault he is caught and I have to get him out."

"So the Imperials have Captain Karrde on Jomark?"

Mommy shook her head. "No, I think the Imperials have trapped Jedi Skywalker there. I need his help to get Captain Karrde free."

Getting Captain Karrde free already seemed easier with Jedi Skywalker's help, or at least not as hopeless. But he was caught too? "Do we have to rescue everybody from the Imperials?"

Mommy chuckled, leaned in, and hugged Lucinda tight. "It looks that way. But if the New Republic has lost anyone else, they'll have to pay a finder's fee for them."

She squeezed her mother back, so glad to finally have answers. "But not for Jedi Skywalker?"

"No. He has a free pass for rescues." She kissed Lucinda's hair before letting her go. "Let's fix some food and rest before we reach Jomark."

Mara grinned in the shadowed artifact room. More warehouse than curated display space with two starfighters stored in the cavernous room along with stacks of crates against the walls, but the remains of large statues and smaller items sitting on display pedestals like the one she was crouched before with her hands in its circuits made an attempt at showing off the illicit treasures. She snipped the last wire to power the security alarm. The slug was a fool to trust this model of display pedestal. Coruscant museums stopped using them centuries ago. But then this same slug thought he could collect illegal Jedi artifacts without her Master or Lord Vader ever discovering it.

She stood up and looked down at the prize her Master wanted before Vader slashed his way through everything in this room. It was a dodecahedron, large enough to fit in her hand. Untarnished silver filigree connected the translucent blue panels together, forming the object. It glowed with its own internal power unchanged from the one lamp illuminating the room. It didn't look dangerous, but her Master had warned her more than once to not activate it.

She pressed the control pad and the transparent case from the top of the display pedestal raised into the air. She picked up the artifact. It weighed nothing in her hand. She smirked and lowered the case back onto the pedestal. Let the stupid slug wonder what had happened to it the next time he wandered back in here. It fit perfectly into the padded bag her Master had instructed her to get. She sealed the bag and strapped it against her body. She had to climb up to reach the airspeeder for her getaway, and it couldn't be in the way.

Satisfied with how everything had gone, she turned from the display pedestal and stepped toward the crates that formed her ladder up to the ventilation shafts. One silent step, a second silent step, and then a seam in the floor glowed blue. A force field shot up in front of her face. She spun around, but the force field continued around her and the display pedestal. She lost sight of how high it went as the lights in the ceiling above a model solar system clicked on. The shadows disappeared as feet ran toward her location.

She looked down at the floor. The tools she had on her wouldn't give her access to the force field generator under her feet. Her Master could with his power. She closed her eyes as she reached into the bond that connected them across the galaxy. Master.

He stirred against her mind, like a roiling storm that hadn't unleashed its fury. Have you succeeded, my Hand? Do you have the holocron?

I have it, Master! But there are complications. She opened her eyes to show him the force field, and the organic alien and droid guards assembling beyond it. That was a larger gathering of muscle than she had expected.

His voice, unheard by the guards, sighed with disappointment. The sound cracked the floor under her feet. I had such high hopes for you, Mara, but I'm afraid you failed me.

The floor splintered underneath her, and she was falling into a blackness that matched despair. He had not called her Mara since he named her his Hand. No, Master, I just need—

I will not divert any competent Hands from their missions to a rescue of an also-ran.

His harsh voice full of finality sent her flailing into free fall. "But I am your Hand?" she whispered against the crushing weight on her chest.

He heard that whisper. No Hand of mine would ever be so feckless to be captured by a slimy piece of worm-ridden filth. You deserve whatever punishment the slug thinks up for this defeat. The rumbling storm pulled out of reach and the withdrawal buffeted into a tailspin.

Metal clicked on the floor, twelve clacks in a rolling beat against the floor. She felt the vibrations through her feet back on the solid floor.

She glared at her enemies surrounding her. None of the eyes staring back at her were human, but the organic ones leered back. She didn't have to smile and simper back here in Hutt Space, so she snarled. Not that they heard her through the force field.

Grakkus loomed over his security force. Hutts weren't typically that tall. His wide mouth parted in laughter. His shoulders and head shook with it. The leers on the Nikto and Klatooinians faces grew stronger.

Mara curled her fists. She'd knock those expressions right off of their faces. She slid her right foot back as she settled into a guard stance and loosened her fingers.

The force field dropped back into the floor and two Nikto crossed over that threshold with hands outstretched. She seized the closest leverage point and tossed the male over her. He landed on his coworkers and droids as she dropped and kicked the second Nikto. He fell back, and no one was in line to catch him. She scrambled over him, kicking back as she broke free. Her heel hit his head.

Grakkus' laughter bounced off the crates and statues. "Kaa, bu kaae ukaueth ah dokoi! Doppomka uen chace. Mwa Jeedai hatkocanh uoh kouwoleue pacmonean."

She ran toward the X-Wing. It was closer and wasn't trapped by crates like the covered Delta-7B against the wall. If she could get up inside it and its systems still worked, this fight would be over. She'd aim the weapons at the laughing slug on cybernetic legs and see how fast he could run.

Someone slammed into her back. She tucked and caught herself on her hands and knees. She rammed her elbow back into the Klatooinian's head. His arms slacked around her and she rolled out of his hold and back onto her feet.

The battle droids with the electrostaffs had moved around the organics and blocked her from the X-Wing. How the hell did Grakkus get his hands on this many MagnaGuards? But they made no move toward her, so she reluctantly turned her back to them as she faced her organic opponents.

A green-scaled Nikto ran ahead of the group. Mara braced her feet and smashed her fist into his face. His small facial horns scratched her knuckles and fingers, but he went down. The Klatooinian scrambled onto his hands and knees before she kicked him in the head again. The next rushing Klatooinian blocked her punch, so she slammed her knee into his torso. He flailed his arms with his yelp but backhanded the right side of her face.

The blow knocked her back, but not off her feet. Grakkus roared with anger now. "Whao uba sewapka mwa catabola, Jee hatkocanh uey uba bamohh! Koose uen nei ateema."

She had no idea what the Hutt had yelled, but the males rushed her in mass. She punched with both hands and kicked. The ones she struck fell back, but not down. The others crowded closer. A Klatooinian slid behind her, wrapped his arms around hers, and his hand landed on her breast and squeezed.

Er haran nayc. This di'kut will pay for groping her like that. She curled her neck down and grabbed his thumb with her teeth.

He screamed and jerked his hand off her breast, but he moved it up. She clamped her teeth tighter as he sawed his digit between them, and she ignored the blood filling her mouth.

Other hands grabbed her arms, pulled her hair, and tugged at her jaw. But they weren't having any luck prying her mouth open.

The Klatooinian shrieked as she bit down and danced behind her back. His rhythm was awful.

Grakkus moved forward to look at the development in the melee. Two MagnaGuards screened his oddly muscular bulk from the crowd. "Tagwa, mwa kaae Jeedai hatkocanh uoh wa yae bacaka tah. Sianatianeu uen."

One of his MagnaGuards raised its metallic hand with a blaster. She saw the blue circles of the stun blast as it came at her. The scene faded to black, but her mind was not stunned.

So she was dreaming. That eased the old bitterness over her failure to free herself from that fight. Now she knew how this dream would go, fake darkness heralding Luke's arrival and his presence dismissing the sting of fear and failure with his unexpected kindness. She would never regret her defeat because it had led to Luke and an eager gentleness that she had only experienced with him.

His hands on her skin, hands that never groped or hit. She missed his touch so much she would accept the phantom substitute of her dreams.

So of course, her body slammed down onto a medbed and a pressure gripped her lower abdomen. She instinctively pushed and pushed, but it wasn't right. She hadn't been flat on her back when she had Lucinda; Naboo used birthing stools. But the baby was coming, she couldn't stop it. Medical droids surrounded the medbed.

Droids she recognized. No.

She jerked her arm to push the closest one away, but a restraint was wrapped around her wrist that kept it locked against the medbed's railing.

Not this. Not again.

She had to push, and she felt her baby's body slide free of her body. The midwife droid had the infant who let out a healthy wail that matched her bright potential in the Force. Mara's daughter, so bright in the Force, just like her father.

Mara struggled against the restraints. She had no freedom to reach the midwife droid at the foot of the medbed. "Please." She begged as she strained her hands toward the pair. "Please let me have my baby."

The droid turned and rolled to the side of the room filled with pleased coldness, a banked rage mixed with glee anticipating more power. Darkness that swamped the actual physical space of the medical suite, but didn't obscure the gnarled figure waiting. How had she spent her entire childhood in the presence of that darkness and had never questioned it?

"She's my baby, please give me my baby." Mara sobbed despite herself. Tears wouldn't do a damn bit of good; she had to fight for them both.

But the droid and Palpatine ignored her. She could only see his thin lips smiling under his hood as he looked down at the wailing infant. "A Skywalker under my control from the beginning."

"NO!" Mara screamed. But pain was crawling up her left arm. She jerked to look at the intravenous drip, now cloudy with a poison. "NO!" She forced herself upright with all of her strength.

And the seat restraints for the pilot station caught her before she slammed into the control panel.

She sat gasping for breath and tried to make sense of why that warning was back. Footsteps ran into the cockpit, up to her seat. "Mommy?" Lucinda's cheek had an indent from the bunk. Her wide blue eyes looked out the viewport and then back up at Mara. "What's wrong?"

Mara ignored how her flight suit stuck to her sweaty skin and found a smile for her daughter. "Everything's fine. I just had a bad dream."

Lucinda didn't look reassured. "A Force dream?"

"No." Mara was gut sure of that. Palpatine was dead, and she and Luke never got their clothes off around each other on Myrkr. "Just a normal bad dream."

"Do you need a hug?"

Mara leaned to the side of the seat as far as the restraints would let her and wrapped her arms around Lucinda. Luci snaked her arms around Mara and through the restraints to return the squeeze. The proximity alert pinged for attention.

Mara let her go and leaned back. "Go strap in. We're there."

Lucinda nodded and skipped back to the navigation station. Mara listened to the clicks as her daughter fastened the seat restraints. The tone of the proximity alert changed, thirty seconds remaining. Mara cupped the hyperdrive levers in her hand and watched the indicator reach zero before gently pushing the levers back. Mottling blue shifted to starlines and then to black of space with a dark sphere of a planet ahead.

They had arrived at Jomark.

She tapped the comm, keying the code she had already programmed during their flight. On this planet, Thrawn's people were still using the standard Imperial guidance transponders they had taught her as a child. The Skipray's displays flashed the location, an island forming the center of a ring-shaped lake just past the sunset line. She triggered the transponder once more, but the location didn't change. She keyed in the sublight drive and started down into the atmosphere. Trying to forget that last image of a gleeful Emperor's face….

The wailing of the ship's alarm jerked her awake. "What?" she barked aloud. Lucinda didn't answer her question or say anything about the alarm. Mara's sleep-sticky eyes flicked across the console for the source of the trouble.

The Skipray had rolled half over onto its side. The computer screamed with the stress of keeping the ship from spinning out of the sky. Inexplicably, she was already deep inside the lower atmosphere, well past the point where she should have switched to repulsorlifts.

Clenching her teeth, she switched over and scanned the map as she leveled the ship. She had only been out of it for a minute or two, but at their current speed even a few seconds could be fatal for her and her daughter. Who was being remarkably quiet over the alarm and the bad flying. Who had just woken up from a full eight hours of sleep. Who loved observing takeoffs and landings from the cockpit.

Mara dug her knuckles into her eyes, fighting against the fatigue pulling at her and feeling sweat break out again on her forehead. Flying while half asleep, her old instructor had often warned her, was the quickest if messiest way to end your life. And it would be her own damn fault.

Or was it?

She confirmed that there were no mountains in the path and keyed on the autopilot. She unstrapped from the seat and swiveled it around.

Lucinda was strapped into the navigation station's seat and her head hung to her chest in deep sleep.

Something wasn't right with both of them being this exhausted at the same time. She remembered Palpatine sitting on his throne. She was around Lucinda's age and so bored by the meeting as the subordinate droned on and on as she waited at attention against the wall. Then her former master caught her eye with a flash of a smile before he spoke. She couldn't recall what he had said, but she remembered how the Force shifted in the room. And then the subordinate was snoring.

She left the cockpit, fighting the urge to give into the fatigue with every step. The ysalamiri and portable nutrient framework that Aves had given her was in the main cabin. A meter or so from the little animal, the fatigue vanished. Now no longer feeling as if she had just finished a four-day battle, she carried the ysalamiri frame into the cockpit. She strapped it into the gunnery station seat beside Lucinda.

Lucinda raised her head. "Mommy? What's going on?"

"Somebody doesn't want us to see Jedi Skywalker." Mara climbed back into the pilot's seat. "They don't know we have a ysalamiri."

The rim of the mountains surrounding the lake was visible on the electropulse scanner as she turned off the autopilot program. The infrared scanner had picked up an inhabited structure on the far side of the lake on an island rising from the water. Probably where Skywalker and this mad Jedi Master were staying. The sensors picked up a smaller than the Skipray mass of spaceship-grade metal just outside the building, but no weapon emplacements or defense shields either on the crater rim or on the island.

Maybe C'baoth thought his sleepy-time trick was enough protection and didn't need to hide turbolasers. Mara hunched over the control board, alert for his next move as she steered the Skipray over the rim and across the lake.

They were nearly at the midpoint of the crater when the attack came, a sudden impact on the Skipray's underside that kicked the entire craft a few centimeters.

"What was that?" Lucinda demanded.

Another impact hit the ventral fin and yawned the ship hard to starboard. Mara corrected with a growl. "There's nothing on the sensors." The ship rang with another impact. "It's rocks. He's throwing rocks at us!" And the sensors were blind to them.

"Who?" Lucinda demanded. "Jedi Skywalker?"

"No, the Force user keeping him here." The fourth impact knocked out the repulsorlifts, sending the Skipray falling out of the sky.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda shrieked.

"That calyarnr," Mara snarled as she shifted the Skipray into glide mode. They lost no more altitude, so she keyed up a contour scan of the cliff face beneath the rim building. She had to find a landing spot within reach of the rim. The dark island below would put her out of reach of the rim without the repulsorlifts. C'baoth lobbing rocks at them made landing next to the building impossible.

Or she could fire up the main drive and pull for space, and find a new job because she couldn't free Karrde with Lucinda in tow. She gritted her teeth. No defeat. Karrde and Luke deserved better from her.

She studied the contour scan during this lull in the rock storm. The Jedi Master was probably waiting to see if she'd crash without further effort on his part. Maybe she could convince him that he destroyed them without actually wrecking the ship. All she needed was…

About a third of the way down the cliff face of the island was a roughly hemispherical concavity where erosion had eaten away a layer of softer rock from the harder material surrounding it. The remaining ledge was relatively flat, and the whole thing was large enough to hold the Skipray.

"Luci, tighten your seat restraints and pay attention. I'm going to do an airstilting maneuver to land us without the repulsorlifts. It is an absolute last-ditch alternative to crashing."

"Not crashing is good." Her daughter said shakily.

Shavit, Mara hated doing this to Lucinda right after she just went down in a crash a few weeks ago. They were out of options, though. She flipped the ship nose up and eased on the main sublight drive.

The glare of the drive trail illuminated the approaching side of the rim mountains, making the shadows dance across the rocks. The Skipray jerked up and forward. Mara brought the nose further back off vertical to stabilize it. It threatened to overbalance, but she eased it back. It twitched almost too far in the other direction, but she steadied it. Mara felt the sweat beading on her forehead as she kept the unwieldy ship balanced with no help from the Force.

Lucinda sucked in her breath and held it.

Mara split her attention between the approach scope, the airspeed indicator, and the throttle and brought the ship in. The drive trail hit the cliff face when the Skipray was ten meters short of the ledge and ignited the rock. Flames sheathed the ship and obscured the viewport with blue, purple, green, yellow, red, and bright white fire.

The hull warning siren blared as the heat grew. Mara ignored it as she narrowed her eyes to the glare to see the cliff face ahead. Five meters away now; she extended the landing struts. Another warning siren alarmed as the temperature inside the cabin rose.

The Skipray's ventral fin scraped against the edge of the ledge with a screech and reverberations through the hull. Mara cut the drive and braced herself. Her stomach flung forward as gravity yanked the ship tail-first onto the ledge. Now Mara held her breath as it balanced. The ship changed its mind and toppled forward and slammed down hard onto its landing skids.

Mara shoved the sweat out of her eyes, breathed, and keyed for a status report.

Lucinda sucked in air like she was a puncture in a vacuum seal. "That's better than a crash!"

"Yes, we're both fine and we have working engines, hyperdrive, life-support, and hull integrity." She put the systems on standby before turning her seat around to face the rest of the cockpit.

"I never want to do that again." Her daughter still heaved for air.

"I hope you don't have to."

"Never want to ride in a Skipray again either."

Mara ignored that; Lucinda would get over the frights, eventually. She got out of her seat and unclasped the datacard necklace from around her neck. "I want you to stay in the ship until I or Jedi Skywalker come for you." She fastened the necklace around Lucinda's neck.

Luci tucked it inside her jumpsuit before she undid her restraints. "Do you think Jedi Skywalker's okay? He didn't stop the rocks."

Now that they were safe from the danger of falling out of the sky, her undefined worry snapped to attention with Lucinda's question. Had they come all the way to find Luke unable to help? Thrawn had called C'baoth mad. What did that make him capable of doing besides cooperating with the Imperials? Her daughter didn't need to share her fears. "Maybe he did. We haven't been hit since the last one." She freed the nutrient frame from the seat and hefted it and its lizard into the main cabin.

Lucinda followed her, still looking worried. Mara handed her the nutrient frame as she turned on the dorsal hatch behind the laser turret. "He could comm us, but he hasn't."

What reassurance did Lucinda want about this? "Luci-love, you have no idea what all he has faced and survived. He is fine. And in the slimmest chance that he is not, the Imperials will face my wrath. Okay?"

The young girl looked determined with that. "Okay."

"Put the nutrient frame on the hatch lift when I send it back down." Mara stepped on the circular plate and pressed the control button with her foot. The repulsorlift engaged and lifted her up through the aperture in the hull. She stepped off the repulsorlift plate and tapped the control back down. It opened again, and she looked up.

Oh shavit! Instead of being ten to fifteen meters beneath the top of the crag, the Skipray was almost fifty meters under it. She pulled a glow rod from her belt pack and aimed the beam of light across the rock face. The climb was possible, difficult with the top-heavy weight of the nutrient frame, and she didn't want to think about how fatigued she would be at the top.

The hatch sealed shut with the repulsorlift plate and the nutrient frame that the ysalamiri clung to waited on it. Mara attached the glow rod to the shoulder of her flight suit right by her neck, shrugged the frame onto her shoulders and back, and reached for her first set of handholds.

She had ascended maybe two meters when the rock centimeters away from her nose blazed with light.

Her grip loosened, and she slid back down to the Skipray's roof, scraping her arms and legs, but she landed in a crouch and pulled her blaster out. She snapped off a quick shot that took out the leftmost of the twin lights blazing at her despite how she had to squint. The other shut off, leaving her in darkness and with purple blob afterimages and the whine of an engaged repulsorlift.

Above that noise came a faint warble of Binary.

There was a chance that the droid belonged to C'baoth or was an Imperial loaner to the mad Jedi Master, but the freedom to takeoff whenever it felt like it seemed more like something Luke would allow. "Hey!" she called out to not draw attention from the rim. "You—droid. Are you Luke's astromech unit? If you are, you know who I am. We met on Myrkr, remember?"

The indignant tone of its reply made her want to rebuke it from ever using that Binary around her daughter. So she and the droid weren't friends. Fine, that didn't matter.

"Yes, well, skip all that. Your master's in trouble. I came to warn him."

Another electronic warble she couldn't translate, but the sarcasm made it even louder in the night air.

"It's true," Mara insisted. Her vision was recovering from the dazzling lights. The dark shape of the X-Wing hovered about five meters away, and the droid was aiming its two starboard laser cannons at her. It was taking Myrkr way too hard. "I need to talk to Luke right away," she added. "Before that Jedi Master up there figures out I'm still alive and tries to rectify the situation."

The droid didn't respond. She had expected more sarcasm. Perhaps it had witnessed the brief battle between the Skipray and C'baoth's flying boulders.

"Yes, that was him trying to kill me and Lucinda." She straightened her body and holstered her blaster. "Nice and quiet, so that your master wouldn't notice anything and ask awkward questions."

The droid beeped a question.

Mara guessed at what it was questioning. "I came here because I need Luke's help. Imperials captured Karrde, and I can't get him out by myself. Karrde, in case you've forgotten, was the one who helped your friends set up the ambush against those stormtroopers to let you leave Myrkr. You owe him."

The droid snorted.

"Fine," Mara snapped. "Don't do it for Karrde and don't do it for me. Take me up there because otherwise your precious master won't know until it's too late that his new teacher, C'baoth, is working for the Empire. And I'm not leaving him here for them to scoop up."

The droid was silent. Then the X-Wing turned, so the lasers were no longer aimed at her and sidled alongside the Skipray. That argument apparently convinced the droid. Now how was she going to fit in that cockpit with the ysalamiri frame strapped to her shoulders?

The X-Wing lifted higher and then stopped not too far above the Skipray. The landing skid under the nose cone extended down over the Skipray's hull.

"You must be joking." Mara glared at the thin metal pistons. It was a long drop to the lake below.

The droid didn't respond.

Mara heaved a sigh and climbed aboard. She and the frame both fit underneath. "Okay," she called out when she was secure. "Let's go. And watch out for flying rocks."

The X-Wing drifted away before moving upward. Mara braced herself against unexpected wind gusts or flying rocks, but they reached the top of the craggy island without either. The ship settled on the ground, and Mara saw the shadowy figure of a cloaked man standing silently beside the fence surrounding the house, a stonework building lodged between two of the larger crags.

"You must be C'baoth." Mara let go of the landing skid and got a grip on her blaster as she stepped out from under the starfighter. "You always greet your visitors this way?"

The figure didn't speak. Mara took another step toward him, fighting down her building unease. The Emperor had looked like that so often; the hood pulled forward so no one could easily see his face. He had looked like that when he had taken her from her home. He had looked like that when he gloated over her baby. That one was just a nightmare, she reminded herself.

"I have no visitors except lackeys from Grand Admiral Thrawn," the figure said, shattering the remembrance. He sounded nothing like Palpatine. "All others are, by definition, intruders."

"What makes you think I'm not with the Empire?" Mara shot back. "In case it escaped your notice, I was following the Imperial beacon on that island down there when you knocked me out of the sky."

The starlight didn't give much to see by, but C'baoth tilted his head and she saw a glimpse of a smile. "And what precisely does that prove? Merely that others can play with the Grand Admiral's little toys."

"Can others get hold of the Grand Admiral's ysalamiri too?" She waved her left hand at the frame on her back while her right hovered over her blaster. "Enough of this. The Grand Admiral—"

"The Grand Admiral is your enemy," C'baoth snarled. He dropped the hood back and the slight breeze tugged his long gray hair and beard. "Don't insult me with childish denials, Mara Jade. I saw it it all in your mind as you approached. Did you really believe you could take my Jedi away from me?"

Mara controlled her muscles and skin from exposing the shudder she felt. She heard the unstable edge of madness in his voice, but more alarming was the icy steel behind his voice and the ruthless confidence in his supreme power emanating from him.

It was like being in the Emperor's presence again.

"I need Skywalker's help." She forced her voice to remain calm. "All I need to do is borrow him for a little while."

"And then you'll return him?" C'baoth asked sardonically. His pale face was wrinkled, but nothing like the deformities Palpatine had hidden under his robe.

She clenched her teeth against the urge to tell him hell no, she wouldn't bring Luke back to anyone who claimed him like a possession. Work with his delusion as much as she was able. "I'll have his help, C'baoth. Whether you like it or not."

That was probably not the wisest tacit. Oh well, she had promised Luci to hurt the Imperials if they hurt Luke.

The smile was back, as ephemeral as a ghost. "Oh no, Mara Jade," he breathed. "You are mistaken. Do you truly believe that because you stand in the middle of an empty space in the Force that I am powerless against you?"

"There's also this." Mara pulled her blaster from its holster and aimed it at his chest.

C'baoth didn't move, but malice surged in the air between them. "No one points a weapon at me with impunity," the Jedi Master said with quiet menace. "You will pay dearly for this."

"I'll take my chances." Mara stepped back until the frame pressed against the X-Wing's starboard S-foils. Above and to her left, she heard the astromech droid chirping to itself. "You want to stand aside and let me pass? Or do we do this the hard way?"

C'baoth's head tilted as he gazed at her. "I could destroy you." The menace had vanished from his voice now, leaving something almost conversational in its place. "Right there where you stand, before you even knew the attack was coming. But I won't. Not now. I've felt your presence over the years, Mara Jade, you and your daughter. And now I've seen you in my meditations. Someday you will come to me, of your own free will."

"I'll take my chances on that one, too," Mara said.

"You don't believe me." C'baoth said with another ghostly smile. "But you shall. The future is fixed, my young would-be Jedi, as is your destiny. Someday you will kneel before me. I have foreseen it."

"I wouldn't trust Jedi foreseeing all that much if I were you," Mara retorted. She risked a glance past him at the darkened building and wondered what C'baoth would do if she shouted Luke's name. "The Emperor did a lot of that, too. It didn't help him much in the end."

"Perhaps I am wiser than the Emperor was," C'baoth said. "I can give you a galaxy that would be safe for your daughter. I can give her strength to defeat any foe. Is that not—" He broke off and turned his head. "I told you to go to your chambers," he said in a louder voice.

"Yes, you did," a familiar voice acknowledged. A new figure emerged from the shadows at the front of the house and moved across the courtyard.


"Then why are you here?" C'baoth asked.

"I felt a disturbance in the Force." The younger man passed through the gate and came more fully into the dim starlight. His face had a great sabacc expression floating above his body in black, but his eyes fixed on Mara. "As if a battle were taking place nearby. Hello, Mara."

"Luke." Her mouth went dry. He was moving under his own power, and she had almost reached the conclusion that he wouldn't be. Now all she had to do was convince him she was more trustworthy than a Jedi Master. "Look—Luke—"

"I came here of my own free will," he said with a quirk to his lips. "Master C'baoth didn't kidnap me."

Mara had almost forgotten the blaster she had pointed at C'baoth and didn't trust him enough to put it away. "I need your help. Karrde's in trouble with the Empire."

"I see." Skywalker looked at C'baoth. "What happened here, Master C'baoth?"

"What does it matter?" the other countered. "She came here with that creature strapped to her back, obviously intending harm. Would you rather I had not stopped her?"

"Luke—" she began.

He stopped her with an upraised hand, his eyes still on C'baoth. "Did she attack you?" he asked. "Or threaten you in any way?"

Mara looked back at C'baoth and felt her breath freeze in her lungs. The haughty confidence vanished from the Jedi Master's face, leaving something cold and deadly in its place. Directed not at her, but at Luke.

Luke wouldn't need convincing of C'baoth's treachery, she realized. Somehow, he already knew.

"What does it matter what her precise actions were?" C'baoth demanded, his voice colder even than his face. "What matters is that she is a living example of the danger all Jedi face from a galaxy that hates and fears us."

"No, Master C'baoth," Luke said gently. "You must understand that the means are no less important than the ends. A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack."

C'baoth snorted. "A platitude for the simpleminded. Or for those with insufficient wisdom to make their own decisions. I am beyond such things, Jedi Skywalker. As you will be someday. If you remain."

Luke shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "I can't." He turned away and walked toward Mara.

"Then you turn your back on the galaxy," C'baoth said, his voice now earnest. "Only with our guidance and strength can they ever hope to achieve real maturity. You know that as well as I do."

Luke stopped walking and turned partially to look at C'baoth again. "But you just said they hate us. How can we teach people who don't want our guidance?"

"We can heal the galaxy, Luke," C'baoth implored. "Together, you and I can do it. Without us, there is no hope. None at all."

"Maybe he can do it without you," Mara said loud enough to interrupt the verbal spell. She remembered that snoring courtier in Palpatine's office, and Luke looked like he was about to slump into slumber at any second.

Just like she had on the approach to Jomark….

Stepping away from the X-Wing, she approached Luke. C'baoth made a slight movement, as if he were to wave her away. She hefted her blaster, and he seemed to abandon the idea.

She kept her gaze on C'baoth but saw when the Force-empty zone around her ysalamiri touched Luke from the corner of her eye. He inhaled, shoulders straightening from a slump he probably hadn't even noticed they had, and nodded as if he understood something unexplained. "Is this how you would heal the galaxy, Master C'baoth?" he asked. "By coercion and deceit?"

C'baoth threw back his head and laughed. It was the last reaction Mara expected from him, and the sheer surprise of it froze her.

A small rock came out of nowhere to strike her gun hand. The blaster spun off into the darkness as her hand flared with pain and then went numb. "Watch out!" she cried out to Luke as she dropped into a crouch and scrabbled around for her weapon. A second stone whistled past her ear.

There was a snap-hiss beside her, and the green-white glow of Luke's lightsaber bathed the terrain. "Get behind the ship," he ordered her. "I'll hold him off." He took a long step forward out of the ysalamiri's influence. The lightsaber flashed sideways, and she heard the double crunch as its brilliant blade intercepted two more incoming rocks.

C'baoth continued laughing, raised his hand, and sent a flash of blue lightning toward them.

Luke caught the bolt on his lightsaber. For an instant, a blue-white coronal discharge surrounded the green of the blade. A second lightning bold shot past him to vanish at the edge of the empty zone around Mara; a third again wrapped itself around the lightsaber blade.

Mara's fumbling hand brushed against her blaster. Scooping it up, she swung it toward C'baoth—

A brilliant flash of laser fire whited out the scene in front of her.

She had forgotten about the droid sitting up there in the X-Wing. C'baoth must have forgotten about him too.

"Luke?" She blinked at the purple haze floating in front of her eyes and wrinkled her nose at the tingling smell of ozone. "Where are you?"

"Over here by C'baoth," he answered. "He's still alive."

"We can fix that." She picked her way across the streaming rut the X-Wing's laser cannon had gouged in the ground and headed to the two men.

The old man was lying on his back unconscious but breathing evenly with Skywalker kneeling over him. "Not even singed," she murmured without thinking about it. "Impressive."

"Artoo wasn't shooting to kill." Luke slid his fingertips across the old man's face. "It was probably the sonic shock that got him."

"That, or getting knocked off his feet by the shock wave." Mara lined her blaster up on the still figure. "Get out of the way. I'll finish it."

Luke looked up at her. "We're not killing him. Not like this."

"Would you rather wait until he's conscious again and can fight back?"

"There's no need to kill him at all," Luke insisted. "We can be off Jomark long before he wakes up."

She stiffened. C'baoth wanted her and Luci, and that only had one answer in their lives. "You don't leave an enemy at your back. Not of you like living."

"He doesn't have to be an enemy, Mara." Why was his earnestness so irritating? "He's ill," Luke continued. "Maybe he can be cured."

Mara's lip twisted. She didn't want to hurt him with this. "You didn't hear the way he was talking before you showed up." She took a deep breath. "He's insane, all right; but he sounded just like the Emperor and Vader used to."

He looked up at her with thoughtful eyes, and she saw a muscle twitch in his cheek. "Vader was deep in the dark side, too. He broke that hold and came back to the Light. Maybe C'baoth can do the same."

"I wouldn't bet on it. He's already working with Thrawn." Mara holstered her blaster, recognizing his obstinate look. "Just watch your back, please. If you're wrong."

"I will." He looked down at C'baoth once more, then back up at her. "You said Karrde was in trouble."

"Yes," Mara nodded. "Thrawn has taken him. I need your help to get him out."

She braced herself for the inevitable bargaining, but Luke nodded and stood. "Okay. That's your ship down the cliff?"

"Vaunted Jedi powers of foresight?" Mara ignored how her stomach churned over that. What C'baoth had seen would not come to pass; she'd never kneel to the likes of him.

"I looked before coming outside." He offered her one of his abashed smiles before heading to his ship.

Mara unfastened the nutrient frame and left it next to C'baoth. Hopefully, he'd freak out when he woke up and couldn't feel the Force. The retractable ladder up to the cockpit finished extending to the ground and Luke clambered up it. She followed him, prepared to hang onto the ladder this time instead of the landing strut.

He looked down at her from his seat. "I've got you. Let go of the ladder."

She frowned at him, but shifted her balance to her feet. The Force shifted around her, feeling like a sling as she lifted into the air. Her eyes widened as she drew even with the cockpit. Luke's arms guided her inside and onto his lap. She draped her calves outside the cockpit and leaned against his chest.

Luke hesitated before loosely wrapping his arms around her. "Sorry. I should have asked."

"It's all right." Her head swum with the realization that he was unimpaired and on her side. She had to concentrate on the next stage of the mission and the next obstacle. But she wasn't alone now, and that felt like she had drained an entire bottle of Whyren's.

"Take us down, Artoo." His right hand rested on her thigh. "Are you all right?"

The X-Wing lifted into the air without closing the cockpit hatch. Time to pull it together and concentrate on making things right with Karrde. "I have a plan to get aboard the Chimera again; I had it before I left. According to their flight schedule, they're going to be taking on supplies in the Wistril system four days from now. If we push it, we should get there a few hours ahead of them. We'll ditch the Skipray, take charge of one of the supply shuttles, and just go on up with the rest of them. But I don't know what to do with Lucinda."

"You brought her with you?"

"I didn't have a choice. Some of Karrde's people tried to hurt her to get back at me. We can't leave her here."

His thumb stroked her thigh as he thought. "Winter," he announced. Mara lifted her head from his shoulder to look at him better. "We can leave her with Winter on Coruscant. She's the only one I think is still on Coruscant."


"Winter Retrac, she is Leia's Doncella. Lucinda will be safe with her."

The lights on the control console reflected in his eyes. "We won't make it to the Chimera in time if we detour to Coruscant."

"Artoo can fly her back in the X-Wing, unless your plan needs one."

She grappled with the least outrageous part of that sentence first. "No, we don't need an X-Wing to get aboard the Chimera. But she can't fly an X-Wing. She can't even fly a skyhopper yet!"

"Artoo will handle the flying. He'll get her to Coruscant." Luke's hand shifted to support Mara's back. "If you're worried about that long in hyperspace making her bored, I can put her into the same trance I use for hyperspace jumps. She'll sleep the whole trip away."

Mara couldn't say anything. Her baby, alone in the cold dark of space in a fragile starfighter that Luke had disabled once? But they could not take her with them to steal an Imperial shuttle.

Luke winced with her distress. "I trust Artoo with my life. He'll get Lucinda safely to Winter. I wouldn't knowingly send her into danger."

"I know," Mara whispered back. "And I know we don't have a choice."

The droid beeped at them as the X-Wing hovered in the air. They were hovering next to the Skipray.

"I'll put you on your ship and record a message to Winter while you get Lucinda." Luke made it sound like an offer, so she nodded. She floated up like gravity no longer had a hold on her. She flexed her legs down for the Skipray's hull as she reached it. Her boots touched the surface, and the Force pulled back, letting gravity pull on her again.

She glanced back at the X-Wing after she activated the hatch. Luke was climbing on the retractable ladder and concentrating on the droid behind the cockpit. Then the repulsorlift platform lowered her into the main cabin.

Luci had a blaster aimed at her as the hatch telescoped closed. Mara grinned. "Good girl."

She dropped her arms and then barreled into Mara for a hug. "You're back!" She squeezed Mara around the waist. "Where's Jedi Skywalker?"

"He's getting his X-Wing ready." Mara took a deep breath. "You must take it and his droid back to Coruscant. Let's get your bag."

Lucinda jerked back. "Mommy, no! You were supposed—" She stopped that train of thought as Mara marched back to the cabin. "I can help, Mommy," she insisted. "I can."

Mara scooped up the datapad and cards that rested on Lucinda's bunk along with an already-worn jumpsuit and stuffed them into Lucinda's duffel bag. "Luci-love, I know you want to. But we're going to impersonate Imperials, and you are not tall enough yet." Mara sighed at her daughter's impressive pout. "You'll be helping to get his X-Wing to Coruscant. We can't leave it here."

"But you said I can't fly yet!"

"The droid will have the stick, but it still counts as flying. You'll get to brag about it to everyone when we get back to base with Captain Karrde."

"Okay," Lucinda said, making each syllable sullen.

Mara fastened Lucinda's bag closed and grabbed her bag. "Jedi Skywalker has a friend that will take care of you, Winter Retrac, so you be on your best behavior." Lucinda nodded reluctantly. "You keep the datacard necklace safe."

Her daughter pressed a hand to her chest where the necklace rested under the jumpsuit. Now her blue eyes opened wide with a trace of fear. "Mommy?"

"I'll be back to take it again, don't worry. But don't lose it either."

"I won't," Lucinda said somberly. Mara wrapped her arm around Lucinda's shoulders and pulled the child against her. Lucinda walked with the leaning contact to the hatch panel and didn't let go as they rode it up to the hull.

Luke had moved the nose of the X-Wing over the Skipray while she was inside. He dropped off the ladder with a smile. "Hello, Lucinda. Artoo's ready to fly with you. He has the message for Doncella Retrac, so you just need to tell the maintenance workers you need to see her."

"Doncella Winter Retrac," Lucinda said slowly. "I'll remember."

Mara knelt and hugged her. "It's an adventure. We'll do something fun on Coruscant when I get there."

"Yes, be careful, Mommy." Lucinda let her go and headed to Luke.

"I'll be right behind you." He boosted her up to the ladder.

I have her with the Force. His voice said in Mara's mind. I won't let her fall.

Lucinda clambered into the cockpit with no mishaps. Luke kept up a steady stream of reassurances as he helped her strap in. "Did your mom tell you about the trance?"


"I do it all the time while traveling through hyperspace. You'll sleep, no bad dreams, and wake up in the hangar bay at Coruscant."

Lucinda flailed. "But I'll miss it!"

"Miss what? Hyperspace?"

"No, the approach. I haven't been to Coruscant." She sounded dismayed.

"Oh, I enjoy watching a new planet approach too." Luke looked down at Mara. "Your call, Mara."

She reached the bags up to him and made sure her stern voice carried into the open cockpit. "You can't touch any of the controls. Coruscant has so much space traffic; you don't want to mess up the flight path and get others hurt."

"I won't touch anything. I promise!" Luke leaned further in and put both bags in the footwell. "Artoo will do all the piloting," Lucinda added.

"Okay, then." He set the flight helmet on her head and tightened the chin strap. "Play the wake up chord, Artoo."

"I heard it."

"Good, remember it." His voice took a difference cadence and Mara felt the Force stirring around them. "Relax in the seat. Artoo will play that chord when it's time to wake up so you can see the approach to Coruscant." He leaned back and headed down the ladder. "Seal up, Artoo," he said normally.

The droid beeped at them, and the cockpit hatch lowered over the seat.

He dropped off the ladder, and it retracted into the starfighter. "Keep her safe."

The droid whistled affirmatively before the X-Wing lifted away.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

There was music in her ears, forcing her to wake up. Lucinda opened her eyes. "Mommy?" Her mouth was dry.

The music chord went silent before Artoo beeped Binary at her. She recognized {not} but not the rest of what he said.

The cockpit controls surrounded her, blinking lights in the dark that she was strapped to a seat in. She was in Jedi Skywalker's X-Wing, flying to Coruscant. The blue clouds of hyperspace were still outside the viewport hatch, but she shouldn't touch anything. She promised Mommy. "Artoo, is something wrong?"

The droid beeped at her through the comm speakers in the helmet she wore. But a small screen to the right of the primary display monitor changed, flashing words across it. "Nothing wrong. You wanted to see the approach. Leaving hyperspace in 5, 4, 3…."

Lucinda tore her eyes up from the countdown to the viewport in front of her. The blue clouds of hyperspace shifted to starlines and then stilled to star points. A planet glowing orange with brighter orange designs wrapped around it hung in front of the snub-fighter.

Artoo whistled at her. "Welcome to Coruscant."

"Coruscant," Lucinda repeated. Tears stung her eyes. "Mommy grew up here. She was going to bring me when it was safe and we could afford it."

"You will be safe here. Luke will bring your mother here after the mission."

"Thanks, Artoo." It wasn't the droid's fault the Empire ruined everything. She stared at the planet as it grew bigger. The lines made circles that flared and flashed in a pattern she didn't understand. And the glow didn't look right either. "That's not planet-shine, is it?"

Artoo gave a happy chirp. "Very good, young one. That's the city."

Lucinda craned against the straps to get a better view. "Astral," she said breathlessly. "It covers the whole hemisphere?"

"The entire planet," Artoo corrected.

That… that didn't seem possible. But most planets didn't make their own glow either. She said nothing as they joined the other ships appearing out of hyperspace and soaring to the planet. Just as many were leaving, and Lucinda grabbed the straps over her chest so she didn't accidentally hit the stick.

There was even more traffic in the darkened atmosphere while Artoo took them out of the spaceship lines to the spaceport and threaded the X-Wing through lines of all kinds of airspeeders. The airspeeders created a grid around and above the buildings.

She didn't see anything that looked like ground. Granted, they were on the night-side of the planet, but the darker canyons they flew over had lights on all the way down she could see. So the canyons were spaces between enormous buildings. Artoo veered away from the canyons and the traffic thinned slightly as they headed to a massive trapezoidal block. Spotlights illuminated the long white banners stretched in multiple places down the walls. The blue Starbird of the New Republic in a black circle was in the center of each banner. Five smooth spires rose from the base to touch the sky. A landing pad jutted out over a duracrete canyon, but they flew past it.

"Artoo? Where are we going?"

"Imperial Palace." The screen didn't translate the linguolabial electronic noise Artoo made next. But the following beeps got words. "They need to rename it. It was the Jedi Temple before the Emperor."

"Jedi Skywalker lives there?" It was getting bigger as they flew closer. Lucinda had never seen a building this big. Capital ships could land on its roof and still have space!

"We all do. Everyone connected with the New Republic hierarchy."

She didn't know what the last word meant, but Artoo was banking the X-Wing around to the right side of the building. The ship lined up with a long window near the top of the building that she realized was a landing bay as they got closer. Ships docking inside buildings and it wasn't a spaceport! Mommy had told her about the opera, but not about ships docking in buildings.

She winced as they flew into the bright lights. They coasted down on repulsorlifts now; she recognized the whine. They settled on the landing struts and Artoo popped the hatched before powering down the ship. She unlatched the restraints. How was she going to climb down?

Something metal banged against the hull, making Lucinda jump. "Up and at 'em, Skywalker!" A female voice called out. "You are getting lazy, letting Artoo bring you all the way in." She laughed as her head popped over the ship's side. The Rodian tilted her head as her antenna focused on Lucinda. Her skin shifted to a darker green. She wore a technician's gray jumpsuit with the New Republic Starbird stitched above her name tag.

"Hello." Lucinda said, because Mommy had wanted her to be good and being polite was being good.

"Hello. How did you get in this X-Wing?" Her snout wrinkled.

"Jedi Skywalker put me in it. I'm supposed to see Doncella Winter Retrac. Artoo has a message for her."

Artoo whistled {yes} to the strange Rodian. A yellow crane was attaching to his dome and lifting him out of the droid socket.

"Oooookaaaay." She stretched it out with full of not joyful surprise. "Let's get you out of there. You can wait in the break room."

"Okay," Lucinda chirped back. Grown-ups liked it when you agreed with them. The Rodian helped her out of the helmet and over the X-Wing's side. The yellow ladder had a platform to stand on at the top, which gave them both room to get down. Lucinda took her bag back once they reached the floor, letting the technician carry Mommy's heavier one. This hangar wasn't as busy as one of Captain Karrde's, but she knew how to stay out of the way of the techs working on the ships.

The Rodian led them on a twisty path around the ships—mostly A-Wings and X-Wings—docked in this hangar that ended in a small room with a couple of flimsy tables and chairs to match. Two vending machines holding food and drinks were against the wall. She nodded her green head at the room. "You'll be safe here. Out on the floor is dangerous."

"I know. I'll stay here for Doncella Retrac." Lucinda set her bag down in a chair.

"Do you want something to eat or drink?"

She wasn't hungry, but something to drink would be nice. She headed to the tall display on the machine and pointed to a juice Mommy let her have. "That one."

Artoo rolled up beside the machine and extended his scope arm into a port. The tech laughed. "Artoo has the credit accounts. He'll get you what you need. I'll go comm Doncella Retrac and catalog what repairs Skywalker's ship needs this time." She waved as she left the room.

Lucinda retrieved the juice bulb from the vending machine. "You two break the X-Wing a lot?"

Artoo whistled {yes} and then added something more that her lessons hadn't covered yet.

She opened her drink with a sigh. "I guess this is when the adventure gets boring."

{Yes,} Artoo answered. He followed Luci back to the table and added a translation program to her datapad for Binary when she pulled it out to work on her lessons. Mommy had made it so very clear that she had to work on lessons every day no matter what, she wasn't willing to lapse again. And there wasn't anything else to do in this break room.

Artoo got excited about her Naboo history lesson. "I flew in the Battle of Naboo!" ran on the second screen set up on her datapad. "First time I flew with Anakin." The words appeared on the screen along with Artoo's happy beeps and whistles.

"Anakin." Lucinda did a quick search. One Anakin Skywalker blew up the droid control ship, and that stopped the droid army on the planet. "Anakin Skywalker, is he related to Jedi Skywalker?"

"Anakin was Luke's father."

"Wow, really?"

The door opened before Artoo responded. The woman stepping inside was not a technician of any sort. Her white hair was gathered into braids that fell to her shoulders before looping back up to her head. But her face was smooth and not wrinkled like other humans Lucinda had seen with hair that white. Her blue robe looked made of a very expensive material and she walked like Mommy did when Mommy wanted every eye in the room staring at her.

"Hello." Her voice was melodic, almost like she could sing her words. "I am Winter Retrac, Doncella to Princess Leia Organa Solo of Alderaan."

Lucinda turned off her datapad and slid out of her chair. "Hello, I'm Lucinda Padmé Jade. Um, Artoo has a message for you."

Artoo beeped and aimed his projector at the table. The blue-tinted image of Jedi Skywalker appeared, looking like he was hanging onto the X-Wing's retractable ladder. "Hi, Winter. I have to go help Lucinda's mother rescue someone for Imperial custody. There's no one else who can watch Lucinda. Artoo will help. And I'll make it up to you. Use my influence on that restaurant you want to go to. Thank you." The blue hologram vanished.

Doncella Retrac said something in a language Lucinda didn't know, but liked the sound of how it rolled the reshes. She also said it with a smile on her face and a slow shake of her head. "Are those your belongings, Miss Jade?"

"Yes, ma'am." She stuffed her datapad into her duffel bag and pulled it off the chair along with Mommy's bag. "I'm ready."

Doncella Retrac took Mommy's heavier one and escorted her along the back wall of the hangar bay to a turbolift lobby. There were ten turbolifts to wait for. Artoo rolled into the turbolift with them, and Doncella Retrac had to press a lot of buttons to set their destination.

Lucinda tried not to stare at the lady they had sent her to. She was beautiful. Jedi Skywalker was lucky to have a beautiful girlfriend to take to restaurants. Luci guessed she was wrong about how he might feel about Mommy. And after Mommy said he deserved free rescues too. Did Mommy know?

Doncella Retrac looked down at her and smiled. "Do not worry, child. Jedi Skywalker will take care of your mother."

"I know. He took care of us on Myrkr." And it was a fairer fight with Imperials instead of vornskrs. "Did he tell you about that?"

"He and Han told the Princess and I what happened, but not many details." Her sigh was light. "We haven't had time for details."

That didn't sound good. Mommy always said to pay attention to the details. "Shouldn't he tell you the details? You're important to him?"

She shook her head. "He can trust me, and is the brother of my princess, but we are only friends." She smiled. "He would have sent you to Princess Leia if she was currently on Coruscant."

Lucinda's face scrunched up as she thought. "But he's going to take you to a restaurant?"

She laughed softly. "No, child, he offered to use his fame so I can take my boyfriend when Tycho is on leave."

"Oh!" So Luci didn't have to worry about Jedi Skywalker tricking Mommy or Mommy hurting him. She better talk about something else or she'd worry about them against the Imperials. "What are you? What does 'Doncella' mean?"

She nodded. "Your name is Naboo, correct?"

"Yes, ma'am. I was born on Naboo. Mommy and I didn't stay long."

"Are you familiar with the hand-beings of the monarch of Naboo?"

Lucinda nodded. "I'm learning about how the handmaidens protected Queen Amidala in the Battle of Naboo."

"They protected her and she confided in them, her only advisors her own age. When Princess Leia was very young, Queen Breha and Viceroy Bail decided she needed a handmaiden to confide in and to protect her. My parents had just died, so they named me Doncella of Princess Leia and raised me with her."

"Astral!" Lucinda grinned. "Did you ever change places?"

"When we were your age, yes. As we got older and Princess Leia became a galactic luminary, it become harder to fool people."

That made sense. Even Lucinda knew Princess Leia has brown hair.

The turbolift stopped smoothly, and the doors slid open. "This way." The lobby they stepped into only had the one turbolift and a large door covered in wood. Lucinda studied it while Doncella Retrac put in the keycode. Two different colors of wood made a mosaic of a mountain. Captain Karrde would like a door like this. Then she remembered he was captured by the Imperials, and Mommy and Jedi Skywalker were headed into danger to save him.

The wood covered door slid open, and they headed into a small hallway that led to a living room as big as the tree room back on Myrkr but with fewer sofas and chairs. The wall across the room was transparent, probably floor to ceiling transparisteel, that showed the continuously moving traffic and colorful lights of the local night.

"Guest rooms are this way." Doncella Retrac turned to the right, leading them past a kitchen on the right and the seating areas on the left. They turned between two columns and now a long dining table was on the left before the pathway became a hallway. It dead-ended with another hallway. Doncella Retrac pointed to the left. "My room is there. You will stay in the guest room next to it." She turned to the right and opened the first door they reached along the room side of the hall.

It was the largest bedroom Lucinda had ever had all by herself, and she felt tiny and alone. Mommy and she had shared bedrooms this big before, but Mommy wasn't here now. Doncella Retrac stood aside so Lucinda could explore the room, but there didn't seem to be any surprises with the bed big enough for two people, a 'fresher, a closet, and a desk. She set her bag down in the chair for the desk.

"Chewbacca's rooms are at the other end of the hallway." Doncella Retrac said as she set Mommy's bag down inside the closet and moved back to the doorway. "He is away, along with Princess Leia and Captain Solo, so you do not have to worry about disturbing anyone else."

"They live here too?" Lucinda looked at the viewscreen that covered the wall across from the door. It was showing the city outside the Palace, like the transparisteel wall did in the living room.

"Yes, but they are on missions right now."

That made this whole place seem a little less lonely, but it seemed rude to say that.

Doncella Retrac frowned slightly. "You slept in hyperspace."

It was local night. "Oh, it's your bedtime! I'll go to bed." She didn't feel sleepy yet, but it wasn't right to demand Doncella Retrac to stay awake when it wasn't her shift.

"Are you hungry?"


The woman had a concerned expression on her face. Artoo beeped something reassuringly and rolled into the room until he was next to Lucinda. Doncella Retrac's expression cleared. "Are you going to stay with her, Artoo?"

Artoo beeped {Yes.}

"That's fine. The viewscreen is set on window mode, but Artoo can find you something off the HoloNet to watch if you like. If you need anything, just signal on my door's keypad."

"Yes, ma'am. Good night." Lucinda waited until the bedroom door slid shut behind the woman, then checked the closet, the 'fresher, under the bed, and under the desk. Nothing looked suspicious or dangerous, even though Mommy hadn't taught her what all the suspicious things looked like, so she unpacked her sleep gown and changed in the 'fresher.

Artoo had her datapad in his grasper arm when she came back out. "You got something to tell me?" She took it back.

"Do you want a holodrama?" was displayed on the screen.

"Do you know if Mommy is a character on any of the ones with Jedi Skywalker?"

Artoo beeped sadly. "Mara Jade is not listed on any character list."

"I guess it's still classified." She climbed onto the soft mattress, bounced as well as she could, and settled against the pillows. "How do you change window mode? You can make it show other directions from this building?"

"I can or I can pull images from the database of planets. Sometimes Luke likes to see something different."

"Does he have a favorite?"

The viewscreen changed to a forest, only the trees were massive compared to the ones of Myrkr. Her nose wrinkled. "Too soon for trees, Artoo."

The droid beeped rapidly. Jedi Skywalker had said that was Artoo's laugh. The viewscreen changed to a bright image. Two orange suns sank lower in a purpling sky over flat sands that stretched from edge to edge of the viewscreen. She stared at it, puzzled, until Artoo whistled and the text changed on the datapad. "It's Tatooine, a view from where Luke grew up."

It looked boring, but she guessed Jedi Skywalker missed it. She had never stayed long enough anywhere to miss a planet. "You can go back to Coruscant." The viewscreen changed back to the first image that had been on when they had entered the bedroom. "Mommy said she grew up on Coruscant, but she had to leave when she was seventeen. And that her favorite thing to do was go to the opera." Her throat tightened, making it harder to talk. "She told me that when we watched one on the HoloNet, so I'd know what it was." Her face grew hot as her eyes burned. "I don't even know what building was Mommy's."

The tears squeezed out of her eyes. "She was supposed to bring me here when it was safe." She flung herself face first into the pillow so it would catch her sobs.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

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.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

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.

Mara, now.

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.

"Nothing's wrong."

"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.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda finished the last question of the quiz on her datapad and submitted it for grading, then looked up at the office. She and Artoo had followed Doncella Retrac here for the six days they had been on Coruscant while the older woman did her duties and Luci worked on her lessons. But the comm Doncella Retrac was taking now sounded different.

"Yes, please deliver all the glyphosate-derivative to Hangar Bay 618. Payment will be finalized once I have accepted the delivery. Thank you." Both Lucinda and Artoo looked across the room as Doncella Retrac stood up from the comm console. "Are you finished with your lesson?"

"I just finished that one." It wasn't time to eat yet.

"We have to accept a delivery and see it off to its destination."

Lucinda stashed her datapad into her belt pouch and followed the older woman out of Princess Leia's office. She knew how deliveries worked at the Myrkr base. They headed down the Grand Corridor of the Imperial Palace. Lucinda loved the Corridor. So many species she had never seen in person before concentrating on their own business, and the ch'hala trees' purplish-green trunks rippled in shades of red as the sounds hit them. She had never seen any other trees do that, and they were too slender to hide predators in their branches.

Unfortunately, Doncella Retrac never wanted to linger in the Grand Corridor, and today was no different. Lucinda kept a firm grip on the white-haired woman's hand while Artoo followed them. And she held in her curiosity until all three of them were alone in a turbolift. "Are we doing a business deal?"

"No, it is a goodwill gesture. A planet needs this chemical to correct damage done to its cropland." Doncella Retrac frowned. "They will need so much more to repair their entire planet."

Lucinda glanced at Artoo, but he added nothing to what Doncella Retrac had said. Mommy would know what to ask or say in order to work a deal for Karrde's group. But neither she nor Captain Karrde were here. Luci squashed her worry that it was taking too long into a tighter ball inside her stomach. Mommy always outsmarted the Imperials, and Jedi Skywalker dropped a megagram of stone on them. They would be fine and they would get Captain Karrde out.

Hangar Bay 618 was smaller than the one Artoo had flown the X-Wing into. Only enough room for a small freighter, but the delivery cargo airspeeder inside it now made the space feel cavernous. Lucinda waited near the doorway with Artoo after Doncella Retrac let go of her hand. The woman strode forward to speak with the human male driver of the airspeeder. Their conversation didn't take long. Doncella Retrac returned to the doorway and a binary loadlifter carried a pallet of cannisters all as tall as Lucinda off the airspeeder. It put the pallet down next to the wall and clanked back into its droid station.

The airspeeder had just left the hangar when a Loronar "Out System" Scout Vessel slid into the hangar bay on repulsorlift. Lucinda frowned. That ship didn't have much cargo space. Good thing Doncella Retrac didn't find more of the chemical. They wouldn't have a way to bring it to the planet.

The entry ramp descended as soon as the ship docked and powered down. A tall Wookiee emerged first, nearly bent in half to get out of the ship. Doncella Retrac smiled with relief and headed toward him. A much smaller human woman came out next, along with a gray-skinned being whose species Lucinda didn't recognize at all, but he was even shorter than the woman. The new woman's brown hair was braided around her head and her stomach extended in front of her far enough so Lucinda couldn't hug her around her waist.

Artoo beeped excitedly and rolled forward when a gold-plated protocol droid left the ship. Lucinda jogged after the astromech. He hadn't left her side the entire time on Coruscant.

The protocol droid noticed them, bypassed the cluster of adults, and raised an arm in a wave. "Oh Artoo, you would not believe the adventure we had. I thought the Empire was sure to capture us at least three separate times." The humanoid head turned to take in the otherwise empty hangar bay. "Oh, is Master Luke otherwise occupied and couldn't meet us?"

Artoo whistled sadly in response as he stopped next to the taller droid. He was worried too? Lucinda wanted to hug herself, but wasn't sure if it was safe to show her worry.

"Not back yet?" The protocol droid's head tilted again and his eye-placed photoreceptors found Lucinda. "Oh hello, I am C-3PO, human-cyborg relations."

"Hello, I'm Lucinda Padmé Jade." Lucinda nodded.

"Trader Jade's daughter from Myrkr?"

"Yes," Lucinda answered before they had to move away from the ship so the loadlifter could put the cannisters in it.

Artoo gave Threepio a more detailed explanation in Binary while they moved back to the wall by the doorway.

"By the Maker, that sounds exceedingly dangerous. I know Master Luke is capable, but it makes me feel better when you are both together to take care of each other."

A wave of misery hit her. Artoo could have helped Mommy and Jedi Skywalker if she hadn't needed to come to Coruscant. Though if she had been big enough to fly the X-Wing, she would be big enough to help them. She looked down at the durasteel-lined floor.

The adults—all but the gray-skinned one Lucinda didn't know; he went into the ship—joined her and the droids. "May I present Lucinda Padmé Jade," Doncella Retrac stood beside her and put a gentle hand on her back. Lucinda blinked up at the other human woman and the Wookiee. "Lucinda, this is Leia Organa Solo, Princess of Alderaan and Minister of State of the New Republic, and Chewbacca the Wookiee."

Her eyes widened with her suddenly hammering heart. Mommy had never told her how to greet royalty! And she hadn't done it right when meeting Jedi Skywalker, even though nobody had fussed at her about it since stormtroopers were chasing them. Her mind scampered after examples. Captain Karrde bowed to his clients; she had seen that before.

She folded her top half over in the Princess' direction. "Greetings!"

"Hello, Lucinda." Her voice was kind despite sounding amused. It didn't hide the trace of weariness under it. "I thought I'd be meeting you and your mother together when Luke decided to introduce you."

Lucinda straightened and tried not to frown or cry. "They aren't back yet."

Princess Leia frowned. "But I felt…." Her voice trailed away as she closed her brown eyes. She looked like she was concentrating, but on what Lucinda couldn't tell. She smiled and opened her eyes. "Luke is back, and he says he got the Falcon out of hock."

Lucinda's heart leaped to her chin while Chewbacca growled something. Jedi Skywalker was back!

"I don't know what he meant, Chewie. He had to comm someone before explaining."

"Are Mommy and Captain Karrde with him?" Lucinda demanded. It was probably rude, but she couldn't talk to Mommy without comms. That was a neat trick. Maybe she should be a Jedi and learn it. "Are they okay?"

But the Princess only smiled and offered her hand. "Let's go find out."

They all got into another turbolift and headed across the building. The Princess looked at Doncella Retrac. "He said he needs a meeting with the Inner Council."

The white-haired woman pulled out her own comm. "Well, it has been a while since we summoned an emergency meeting."

"Much longer for one summoned for Luke's benefit. I wonder what he has been up too. He was supposed to be with Han investigating New Cov," the Princess said.

"He got caught by Imperials on Jomark. Mommy and me had to get him there." Lucinda frowned. "They never did explain the rocks."

The grown-ups were all looking down at her. Artoo warbled at them. "Artoo says," Threepio said in Basic for him, "that Master Luke and he separated from Captain Solo and Baron Calrissian, leaving New Cov under Imperial fire. Since there was no way to assist Captain Solo's mission, they traveled to Jomark and stayed with Jedi Master C'baoth for two weeks. Master Luke was already concerned about Master C'baoth's mental stability, and the Jedi Master attacked when Master Luke said he was leaving with Trader Jade."

The Princess winced and pressed a hand against her extended belly. "Poor Luke. I know that wasn't the outcome he was searching for."

Chewbacca growled softly, mindful that Doncella Retrac was still on her comm.

"I'm fine, Chewie. They're fine, kicking a little. I just hate that the Imperials have made a trap out of searching for Jedi knowledge. Is nothing sacred?"

Chewbacca threw his head back and barked at the ceiling of the turbolift.

"Yes, I'm hysterical, wanting the Imperials to have ethical standards." Her smirk became a smile as the turbolift doors slid open.

This hangar bay was the same size as the one they had just left, but Lucinda had a feeling that this was where the Falcon lived on Coruscant. Jedi Skywalker was standing under the freighter's forward mandibles, speaking into his comm unit. He waved at the group and gestured to the device.

The entry ramp was extended and three more adults waited at its bottom. Lucinda recognized the technician's coverall uniform on the human male she didn't know, but he was talking to a woman with red-gold hair braided down a black tunic belted tightly around her waist. Luci ran forward. "Mommy!"

Mommy abandoned her conversation, knelt on the floor, and caught Lucinda in a tight hug. "I thought I'd have to hunt you down." Mommy squeezed Luci tight, and Luci matched it. "Have you been good?" Mommy asked.

"Yes." Lucinda let Mommy go to take a good look at her. No bruises or cuts were on her face. "Did you blow up all the Imperials?"

"It wasn't that kind of mission, but we were successful." Mommy stood up, and Lucinda finally noticed the third adult at the entry ramp.

"Hi Captain Karrde. The Imperials didn't hurt you, did they?"

He smiled at her. "I'm fine, Lucinda, thanks to the timely intervention from your mother. Who else is here with you?"

"Artoo and I had to fly Jedi Skywalker's X-Wing here." She waved a hand at the droids still lingering behind with Doncella Retrac. "He woke me up to see the approach, and Doncella Retrac has been watching us, but she's been too busy to do anything fun. But we can do something fun now that you're here." Lucinda looked at Mommy. "There are a lot of opera theaters on Coruscant. Artoo's been helping me look."

Mommy frowned, and her green eyes were sad. "We're going to have meetings with the New Republic, so we'll have to see about that."

Lucinda didn't pout or point out that Mommy had promised something fun. Mommy had told her about operas; it should have been an easy yes. But Chewbacca was talking to the technician as they headed up the entry ramp. Mommy was turning, so Lucinda turned too.

Jedi Skywalker was off his comm, hugged Princess Leia, and kissed her forehead. Luci wondered if she had a brother, should she kiss him like that? Or would he kiss her? Mommy hadn't gotten Lucinda a sibling, and that was probably the Imperials' fault too. Jedi Skywalker brought Princess Leia over to their group. "Leia, this is Captain Talon Karrde and Mara Jade."

Princess Leia nodded as Captain Karrde bowed slightly at her. "Pleased to meet you, Captain Karrde. My brother says you have something to offer the New Republic?"

"Some information on the Grand Admiral currently consolidating the Imperial Remnant and the location of the Katana Fleet."

Lucinda frowned, trying to remember if she had ever heard of a fleet named that. The Princess let surprise ripple across her face. "No wonder you're such a wanted man, Captain. That is valuable information. We are convening a meeting of the Inner Council as soon as possible."

"I got a three-bedroom guest suite for you," Jedi Skywalker said. "So you can get cleaned up before the meeting starts."

"Thank you, Luke." Mommy glanced at Captain Karrde and Lucinda. "I guess we can head there now."

"Our stuff is up in Princess Leia's quarters," Lucinda blurted.

The Princess smiled. "We will have it delivered to you."

"Your Highness," Doncella Retrac called out as she hustled toward them, holding out her comm. "It's Captain Solo."

"The turbolifts are this way." Jedi Skywalker led them across the hangar bay to the door, back into the rest of the Imperial Palace. Lucinda caught Mommy's hand and held onto it. Artoo whistled at him as they passed. "I'm fine, Artoo. Go catch up with Threepio."

"Bye, Artoo." Lucinda waved with her free hand.

He whistled {goodbye} at her as they left the hangar bay.

Jedi Skywalker smiled at her. "Kept Artoo out of trouble?"

"He stayed with me the whole time. I think he was lonely."

"Probably. He doesn't like missing the action."

She squeezed Mommy's hand as they waited for a turbolift. "Did you need him?" She glanced between both Mommy and Jedi Skywalker's faces.

He shook his head. "No, but don't let him know that. Artoo thinks he's necessary for every mission."

"Don't worry about it," Mommy said.

A turbolift arrived and Jedi Skywalker inputed the destination as they got in. "No one else is here on Coruscant?" Captain Karrde asked.

"Aves fell back to another location with everyone else after the Imperials captured you," Mommy answered.

Lucinda scowled. "They wouldn't help. They said Mommy turned Imperial and Wadewarn called her terrible names and pulled a vibroknife out when I hit him for it."

"A vibroknife?" Captain Karrde sounded surprised and a little angry.

"I know I should have disarmed him first—" Lucinda started. All the adults were looking at her.

"No, first you should not have got into a fight over me," Mommy interrupted. Luci let go of her hand, crossed her arms, and glared at the turbolift floor. "Aves couldn't guarantee her safety after that."

"Aves wasn't even there! I broke Lachton's foot and Chin stopped it."

"Chin stopped it," Captain Karrde repeated.

"Technically Sturm stopped it, but Chin told him to get Wadewarn."

Captain Karrde's mustache twitched as he looked at Mommy. "I should have insisted on a debrief."

"You were resting," Mommy said.

"And you were enjoying yourself."

Jedi Skywalker turned to face Captain Karrde, and Lucinda felt the atmosphere drop and it hurt her ears. "Do you have a problem with that?" he asked in a tone of voice Luci hadn't heard from him before.

Captain Karrde just looked at Jedi Skywalker. "Mara's personal life is her own affair." He sighed and turned to Mommy. "I'm afraid I haven't been fulfilling my employment contract to you, Mara."

Mommy shook her head. "You can't herd a bunch of nerf-noggin smugglers from Imperial detainment."

The atmosphere equalized in the turbolift, but Luci was confused. She was part of Mommy's contract?

"The very least I can do is not hire trigger-happy idiots who attack a child." Captain Karrde looked angry. "It will not happen again, Mara."

"I know because Luci will stop starting fights."

That wasn't fair; Lachton and Wadewarn started it. But the turbolift came to a stop on their floor before Lucinda could protest. A uniformed security official met their group in the turbolift. She rattled off a keycode and other details of what they could access in this section that Lucinda couldn't keep up with as she led them down the corridor to their quarters.

Captain Karrde went in first, and Mommy let go of Lucinda's hand so she could stay by the main door. Lucinda touched the wood covered wall on her left as she gazed over the open room. The main door opened into the dining section. A table with eight chairs sat between the kitchen and the main door.

The sitting area was between the wall and the dining section. A computer console was set up against the wall beside a large viewscreen mounted on the wall so the seats could watch the HoloNet. The kitchen had an eating counter with stools in line with the larger table. The counter ran to the kitchen wall that made a hallway that crossed a second hallway going across the quarters. The door across that hallway and in line with the main door was a bedroom. Jedi Skywalker said these quarters had three bedrooms.

She turned around from peering down the hallway. Jedi Skywalker stood in the main doorway with his entire attention focused on Mommy. He was smiling as he said something too quietly for Lucinda to hear. She started toward them, but Captain Karrde called her name.

He sat at the console and had it up on a catalog of outfits. Lucinda stepped up beside him. "Yes, sir?"

"What did Wadewarn and Lachton call your mother?"

"I'm not allowed to say those words. Mommy will give me extra lessons and make me scrub the base with a toothbrush."

"Ah, those words." He made a couple of selections before turning to the next group. "You and your mother will not see them again. You have my word."

Luci nodded gravely. "Thank you." She didn't want that vibroknife anywhere close to Mommy's back.

The console beeped that a message was arriving. Captain Karrde opened the text comm file. "Ah, etiquette directions for the New Republic's Inner Council from Minister Organa Solo. Two hours away, that should give everyone a chance to clean up. Thoughtful." He turned back to the clothes and selected another outfit. "Did you like the Princess?"

"I just met her before you landed. She seemed nice. She can talk to her brother without comms."

"I bet that comes in handy." He leaned back to look at Mommy. Jedi Skywalker had left and the main door was shut, but Mommy hadn't moved far from it. "Do you need anything special for tonight, Mara?"

Mommy straightened off the wall covered in carved wood. "Do you need me in the meeting with you?"

"No, I do not. But you and Skywalker made plans for later."

"What?" Lucinda demanded.

"I can buy my own clothes and Luke knows I don't have the wardrobe right now for anything fancy." She plucked her black tunic sleeve that Lucinda just realized was rolled to not cover her hands. Then Mommy pointed down the hallway alongside the kitchen. "You take the room on the left. It's—"

Luci hit the limit of her capacity for unfairness. "You're not going to the opera with me to be with him!"

Captain Karrde ended his shopping session and got up from the console's seat. "Deliveries are coming; I'll be getting ready for the meeting." He disappeared around the end of the eating counter.

Mommy sat down on the couch and signaled for Lucinda to approach, so Lucinda did slowly. But Mommy didn't yell or make an angry face. She took both Luci's hands in her own. "What's wrong? I thought you liked Jedi Skywalker."

"I do like him." And she did. He hadn't fussed about her fighting. "But he's been with you the whole time and you promised something fun and you like the opera but there were too many choices and Artoo couldn't help narrow them."

Mommy pulled her into a hug. "I haven't forgotten what I promised. I'm surprised you picked an opera, but we will do that soon. But this with Jedi Skywalker? It's business, for your future."

Lucinda pulled back. "My future? Are you making another contract?"

"Probably nothing that formal." Mommy ran her hand over Lucinda's braided hair. Doncella Retrac had helped her make the loops this morning. "There's nothing to worry about the contract with Captain Karrde. It just stipulates to keep you safe and what happens if I die on the job."

"Mommy!" Lucinda jerked back.

"I'm being careful. I don't want to die on the job." She kissed Lucinda's forehead. "Okay?"

"You better be very careful." Lucinda pulled the datacard necklace out from under her tunic, slipped it over her head, and put it on Mommy.

Mommy tucked it under the black tunic. "As careful as I can be. Now tell me all about your adventures here."

Mara set the bedroom viewscreen to a view of the Manarai Mountains from the Imperial Palace. She was finally back here, with her daughter. She had spent so much of Lucinda's life making sure they never ended up on Coruscant; it was a little disconcerting being in the place where her life had essentially begun and to know they were both safe from her life not ending here. She turned from the fabricated view to double check her outfit in the mirror above the bureau. In her defense, the odds-makers of the galaxy never put anything down on the Rebellion winning against the superior numbers of the Empire.

This clean, white tunic fit and had sleeves loose and long enough for her forearm holster. She hadn't bothered putting the holster on without a blaster for it. She figured she could get a replacement in the Imperial Palace, but she didn't want to get Luke in trouble after everything he had done for them.

The smile curled her lips, but no one was here to see it. She turned to the bed and picked up the borrowed black tunic, and remembered just a few hours before how he had touched her arm and had stopped her when the others entered their guest quarters. He had looked so serious as he had asked. "Did I overstep?"

"No, it's fine." She met his seriousness with a smile. "I should have told Karrde, but it's better this way. If those two lose their jobs, it's not because I asked for it."

His hand stroked down her forearm until he reached her hand, and he paused then to hold it. "The last thing I want is to make things more difficult for you and Lucinda."

"You haven't." Mara squeezed his fingers. "And that's the last thing I want to do to you, as well."

"Good intentions all around." His sunny smile broke through his serious expression. "I have to get ready for the Inner Council. Dinner tonight, just the two of us?"


Luke's arm stretched out as he refused to let her go while he stepped back until he had to. Their hands finally unlatched and Mara had stepped back to let the main door slide close. She had leaned against the Fijisi wood wall and let that delicate, childhood scent re-associate itself with how she felt about Luke now.

She shook herself from the memory. This garment will get returned to Luke once it was cleaned. She put it in the worn clothing receptacle and frowned at her reflection. She added a black vest, fastened around her torso and smoothed down to her black trousers. Well, now she looked Corellian, which was fine. Let them guess where she was from.

The main door opened. "Mara?" Karrde called out. "Where is your mother?"

"In the back," Lucinda answered as Mara walked up the hallway.

He had moved to the console by the time she reached the main room, and one look at his face was all she needed. "Luci, we must talk business. Take your lessons to the bedroom and shut the door."

"Yes, ma'am." She gathered her datapad and datacards and left without argument.

Mara waited until she saw the door slide shut before she moved closer to Karrde. "What's gone wrong?"

"I'm not entirely sure." He stopped typing and pulled a datacard from the console's copy slot. "That Bothan on the Council put up a surprising amount of resistance to our offer. He basically forced Mon Mothma to hold off on any serious retrieval mission until the location's been checked out. He's getting a ship set up now for a morning flight."

Mara frowned. "A double-cross?"

"Possibly, but I can't see any point to it." Karrde shook his head as he encoded another datacard. "Thrawn already has Hoffner. He'll get to the fleet soon enough. No, I think it's more likely Fey'lya's playing internal politics here, perhaps connected to his campaign against Admiral Ackbar. But I'd rather not take any chances."

"I've heard stories about internal Bothan politics."

"I need you to leave tonight for the Trogan system." He handed her the datacard. "Best guess is that's where Aves will have holed up. Make contact and tell him I want everything we have that can both fly and fight to rendezvous with me at the Katana fleet as soon as possible." He grimaced. "My apologies for ruining your evening plans."

She took the datacard as her heart sank. "I may have trouble persuading Aves to trust me."

"I don't think so," Karrde said. "The Imperials will have reinstated the hunt for our group by now. That alone should convince him I've escaped. There's also a special recognition code on that datacard that he'll know, a code the Grand Admiral couldn't possibly extracted from me this quickly."

"I hope he doesn't have a higher opinion of Imperial interrogation methods than you do." Mara slid the datacard into her belt pouch. "Anything else?"

"No—yes," he corrected himself. "Tell Ghent I'd like him to come to Coruscant instead of going to the Katana fleet. I'll meet him here after all this is over."

"Ghent? Why?"

"I want to see what an expert slicer can do with that suspicious lump in Ackbar's bank account. Skywalker mentioned a theory that the break-in and deposit happened simultaneously, but he said that so far no one's be able to prove it. I'm betting Ghent can do so."

Did she want to know when they had spoken of that? It didn't matter. "I thought this involvement in New Republic politics was supposed to be a one-shot deal."

"It is," Karrde assured her. "I don't want to leave an ambitious Bothan at my back when we leave."

"Point," she conceded with a twist to her lips. It wasn't judicious with how the Bothans viewed politics. "You have a ship for me to use?"

The main door to their quarters chimed. "I will in a minute." Karrde circled around the dining table and opened the door.

Minister Organa Solo dressed in a pale blue robe with a wide gold collar stepped inside. "You wanted to see me?"

"Yes," Karrde waved at Mara. "I need Mara to go on an errand for me. She'll need a fast, long-range ship."

Organa Solo's brown eyes swept towards Mara. "I can get her one. Will a reconnaissance Y-wing do, Mara?"

"I can fly one," Mara answered.

"I'll comm the spaceport and make arrangements." She looked back at Karrde. "Anything else?"

"Yes," Karrde said. "I want to know if you can throw together a tech team and get it into space tonight."

"Councilor Fey'lya's already sending a team," she reminded him.

"I know that. I want yours to get there first."

She studied him a moment. "How big a team do you want?"

"Nothing too elaborate," Karrde said. "A small transport or freighter, perhaps a starfighter squadron if you can find one that doesn't mind risking official wrath. The point is to keep Fey'lya's presumably handpicked crew from being the only ones there. Can you do it?"

"I think so," she answered. "Fey'lya has built up a lot of support in the military, but there are enough people who would rather have Admiral Ackbar back in charge."

"Here are the coordinates." Karrde handed her the second datacard. "The sooner you can get the team moving, the better."

"It'll be gone in two hours," Organa Solo promised.

"I also need a good nanny service on Coruscant," Mara interjected. Karrde turned to her. "You are not taking Lucinda to the Katana fleet, no matter how historical it is." The Force pressed heavily whenever she considered the lost fleet. No, her daughter wasn't going within clicks of it.

"Oh, we'd be glad to watch her again." Organa Solo offered.

"I don't want to impose."

"It's no imposition." Organa Solo insisted, and Mara wondered just how much Luke had told his sister about them. "And it would be better for her to be with people she knows."

"That's true. Thank you. Let me get her." The Force warmed with this decision. She headed back to the bedroom she had picked for her and Luci, the one with a straight shot to the main door. "Bad news, Luci-love. Captain Karrde needs me to run an errand. Minister Organa Solo offered for you to stay with her until I get back."

Lucinda gathered her datapad and lesson datacards off the desk while she stood up with a frown. "I can't stay with Captain Karrde? I'll be good."

"He's going to the Katana fleet tomorrow." Mara opened the wardrobe and began repacking Lucinda's bag. "Do you not want to go to the Organa Solo's?"

"I'll go. I just have a bad feeling."

Mara looked at her daughter as she set Lucinda's duffel on the bed. But Lucinda's frown wasn't her disappointed pout. "About what?"

"About you leaving." Luci's grip on her datapad tightened. "I know it's your job, but be careful. Stay away from Wadewarn and Lachton."

"They won't get the drop on me." She tucked a flight suit into her duffel bag to change into once she reached the base. She draped its strap over her shoulder before unclasping the datacard necklace around her neck and clasping it around Lucinda's. "Let's stow those." She moved the lesson datacards into Lucinda's bag while Luci put her datapad into her belt pouch. "I want you to be good, mind your manners, and keep alert." Mara reminded her.

The datacard necklace was tucked under Lucinda's tunic when she hugged Mara's chest. "I will, Mommy."

Hugs and kisses exchanged and bags in hand, they returned to the main room and a perplexed Karrde brandishing a credit chip. Organa Solo looked amused.

Karrde turned to Mara. "He—Skywalker paid the transportation fee."

Mara contained her snort because of course Luke had. What was surprising was him not gifting the whole discussed ransom to the group. "He didn't ask me if we still considered it outstanding."

Karrde turned back to Organa Solo. "Do you have any laws about not taking advantage of him?"

"I haven't had to draft any. Come on, Mara, Lucinda, let's get Mara a ship."

The promised Y-Wing and its astromech were waiting once they reached Spaceport Control for the Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, there was an over an hour long wait in the takeoff queue. So she hugged Lucinda one more time, thanked Organa Solo for her help, shooed them away, and checked over the entire ship before pulling out her personal comm. Luke answered so quickly, she felt guilty over putting comming him off for so long. "I have to cancel tonight," she said.

"And I thought it would be me canceling first. Leia just sent me a text comm asking for a favor."

"Karrde has an errand for me off-planet." Her free hand tugged on the hem of her black vest. Should she tell him the truth on an open comm channel in the heart of the Imperial Palace? All her training screamed that was courting information leakage. Delta Source was still getting information out of the Palace to Thrawn, and she wouldn't be here to protect her daughter. No, she couldn't tell him, not until they were together in person and alone. "He apologized for ruining my plans," she said instead.

"That's only polite for making you work right now. How soon do you have to leave?"

"I'm waiting for my takeoff slot now."


She wanted to make him feel better about this setback. "Well, you absolutely confounded him by paying the transportation fee. Count that as a win."

Luke chuckled. "Did he expect me to get a reputation of not paying my debts? Oh, does he need help with Lucinda? Or is she going with you?"

"Your sister volunteered to keep her again. Karrde feels bad about the attack and would probably take her pet shopping behind my back if left alone with her."

"That reminds me, I owe her a pittin."

"No pet shopping with you either." Luke chuckled at her snap. "If you want to be helpful," she started.

"What do you need?"

"Check on Lucinda if you can. She had a bad feeling about me leaving. She warned me about Wadewarn and Lachton, so she might just be keyed up over that. But you could figure out if it is not."

"Okay, I will. How do you feel about leaving?"

"Resigned disappointment."

She heard his inhale over the comm. "We'll go dining as soon as you get back, no matter what time. Wake me up or join me."

"You just want me to break into your bedroom." She felt his blush through the comm.

"I do now," he exclaimed. "I have to go. May the Force be with you, Mara."

"And with you, Luke." She closed the comm and headed to the cockpit. The sooner they dealt the Katana fleet with, the sooner she could get her personal life straight.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda was back in the bedroom she had stayed in before. This time she hadn't unpacked her bag. Mommy would be back in a couple of days, and Luci didn't want to wait to pack when that happened. The whole quarters were much busier with people this time. Princess Leia had wanted to introduce Luci, but she had to answer a comm as soon as they reached these rooms. Lucinda had acted like she would on a base and retreated to her room to be out of the way. Being good didn't stop her from feeling small and unwanted.

The door annunciator chimed.

She couldn't think of any reason why anyone would want her, but talking was better than not finding anything worth watching on the HoloNet. She opened the door.

"Hello, Lucinda." Jedi Skywalker smiled down at her. "Can we come in?"

"Okay." She was a little confused about the 'we', but Artoo rolled in behind him and beeped hello at her. "Hello, Jedi Skywalker; hello, Artoo."

Jedi Skywalker pulled out the chair at the desk and straddled it, resting his chest against the back. Just like most of Captain Karrde's spacers would do. Luci relaxed. If it was bad news, he wouldn't sit like that.

"We survived Imperials together, so you can just call me Luke."

"No. Mommy wants me to be polite, and that means proper titles." She climbed up on the bed edge that faced the chair. "And she always knows when I haven't been."

"I don't want to get you in trouble. What about Jedi Luke?"

That was fewer syllables to say. "Okay."

"So I figured nobody has told you what is going on, and you probably have questions."

"It's not classified?"

"Don't go telling the HoloNet about it. The politicians like to write up statements for that. You're not a reporter in disguise, are you?"

Lucinda giggled at his comically suspicious face. "No."

"Didn't think so." Jedi Luke crossed his arms over the top of the chair. "Captain Karrde is selling the location of the Katana fleet to the New Republic. Han and I will have to go scout it out before Captain Karrde and the Councilors get there."

"What's the Katana fleet?"

"A task force of two hundred Dreadnaught-class heavy cruisers launched by the Old Republic, but the crew picked up a hive virus that drove them insane as they got sick. The ships were all linked, so when one ship went to hyperspace, they all went to hyperspace in 955. And no one ever saw them again." He tilted his head. "Your lessons don't have any Galactic history in them?"

"Not that far back. Well, History of Naboo went that far back, but it had nothing to do with a lost fleet." Jedi Luke had that look most adults got when Naboo came up. "I was born there," Lucinda explained.

"Your mother just told me you two were there. She didn't say it was your birth planet."

Her stomach was cramping and sinking at the same time. She hated that feeling. "Mommy promised to take me back for my next birthday if she's still working for Captain Karrde. I wish she hadn't had to work now."

"Me too." He heaved a sigh. "But that's the price of being really good at what we do."

Lucinda wrinkled her nose. "How soon do you have to go?"

"As soon as we get all the stuff ready to go." He shifted and put his hand on Artoo's dome. "Do you mind keeping Artoo company while I'm gone? Threepio has duties to help Leia most hours of the day, but I'm sure he can help both of you with Binary lessons when he's done."

"I don't mind," Lucinda said as she looked at Artoo. "Do you want to stay with me?"

{Yes,} he beeped. Then he followed it by a warble she didn't know.

"He says your history lessons have gotten up to the Clone Wars and he can help with those." Jedi Luke patted the droid and withdrew his hand. "It makes sense to learn your birth planet's history first. Tatooine didn't have much history for us to learn, so we moved onto Galactic pretty quickly."

She blinked. "But you made history?"

"I had lessons and classes before I left Tatooine. And more after."

"It never ends." She groaned.

He grinned behind his hand like she couldn't see that. But the door slid open before she could say anything about him laughing at her. Captain Solo stopped at the end of the closet. He was smooth-shaven now, but he looked tired and tried to not look grumpy when he saw them. "The food's here, Kid."

Lucinda frowned. Nobody called her kid. But Jedi Luke stood up. "Good, I'm starving. You didn't get a chance to meet Lucinda on Myrkr, did you?"

"Nah, sure didn't. Han Solo, little Jade." He held out his hand.

She shook it. "Lucinda Padmé Jade." She wasn't sure if she should stay in her rooms while the grown-ups had a meal meeting, but Jedi Luke took her hand and guided her along with him and Han through the hallway back to the dining room set across from the kitchen. It was his right hand, she realized, and nothing seemed wrong with it now.

"I'm volunteering, Leia, before I get dragooned into helping regardless." Lucinda thought the voice sounded familiar, but the speaker was a well-dressed man with dark skin who she didn't recognize when they reached the dining room table. "Besides," he continued, "you need someone around with some experiencing finding the unfindable."

"We've all heard the Mindharp story." Captain Solo said as he headed around the table, avoiding the side where Doncella Retrac and Threepio was putting food dishes onto the table. "You don't have to go over it again." He stopped at the chair Princess Leia sat in and kissed her cheek quickly.

Lucinda didn't know the Mindharp story, but this seemed like one of those times to keep alert.

The stranger stayed at the head of the table on the other side of Doncella Retrac. He shook his head. "You never did appreciate history."

"Luke's the scholar around here." Captain Solo waved at them as he sat down at the head of the table. "And we should probably not talk classified business around the supper table."

The stranger blinked down at Lucinda as Doncella Retrac sat down. "Oh hello, Lando Calrissian." He held out his hand.

"Lucinda Padmé Jade," she shook his hand. Nobody back at the base was going to believe that she had supper with all the heroes of the Battle of Endor. They should have helped Mommy rescue Captain Karrde.

"Oh, Mara Jade's child," General Calrissian said. "You look a lot like your mother."

"Yes, sir." He wasn't the first to make that comment. It was hard to miss their matching red-gold hair.

Jedi Luke helped her into the chair next to Doncella Retrac. "I told Lucinda about the Katana fleet."

"Luke." Princess Leia said it just like Mommy would if Lucinda had done something mildly wrong.

"She needs to know why we're leaving." He said as he rounded the table to sit between his sister and Chewbacca the Wookiee. "She won't spill it."

She was being trusted with something classified. Maybe if she did a good job with this one, Jedi Luke would tell Mommy could trust Luci with more. She held her head high. "I can keep a secret."

"Of course you can." Captain Solo helped a spoonful of mashed purple tubers onto the Princess' plate and then his own. "But it still puts you in danger from Delta Source." He passed the bowl of tubers to General Calrissian.

"Delta Source?" Doncella Retrac took the bowl from General Calrissian and put some tubers on Luci's plate and her own. Oh good, Luci liked those mashed.

"That's what the Imperials are calling the oh so accurate leak from here according to Garm Bel Iblis." General Calrissian added a spoonful of wilted greens to his plate.

The unfamiliar name startled the Princess as her brown eyes widened and she glanced at both General Calrissian and her husband. "Garm is still alive? That's who you found on New Cov?"

"His group is using it as a contact port," Captain Solo said. "And they also don't have a reason to lie about what the Imperials are doing. So let's name the damn leak Delta Source too." He stabbed the roasted bird portion before passing the larger serving dish.

Chewbacca's long arm taking a dish from Doncella Retrac obscured Lucinda's view of the rest of the table for a moment. She looked at Jedi Luke when the arm moved out of the way. He thought she could handle the truth. "The New Republic has a two-timer?"

"It looks that way," General Calrissian said before Jedi Luke answered.

Captain Solo peered puzzled at her. "How do you know what a two-timer is?"

"Smugglers tell stories," Luci explained. She liked this roasted bird; Doncella Retrac had gotten it for supper before everybody got back. She turned her plate so she could cut it easier.

"And who is telling you smuggler stories behind your mother's back?" Jedi Luke asked with a smirk.


Captain Solo gave a snort. "He would."

Lucinda frowned. "Ghent only talks about two things: his slicing projects and smugglers. I can follow the smuggler stories, and he makes sure they're age appropriate." Ghent's innocence established, she moved back to the important part. "Why would someone in the New Republic want to two-time to the Empire?"

"We won't know that until we find out who it is," Doncella Retrac said.

"It really shouldn't be that hard." General Calrissian gestured with his drink glass. "I know you've been busy, Luke, but can't you use the Force to find a traitor?"

"I hope you're not suggesting I park myself in the Grand Corridor and read everyone's mind who passes by, because the ethical violations alone—"

"Just tell him 'that's not how the Force works,' Kid. Easier to remember."

Why did Captain Solo called Jedi Luke 'kid?' It wasn't respectful. But she left that alone to point out the flaw in the plan. "The two-timer wouldn't be there." She could feel the eyes of everyone at the table focus on her. Had she done something wrong pointing out the problem? Mommy always wanted her to notice problems.

"Why wouldn't the two-timer be there, Lucinda?" Jedi Luke looked curious.

"Because you're a Jedi; everybody knows you're a Jedi. They wouldn't want you to notice what they're doing."

"So they would save it for when you aren't on planet." Princess Leia looked across the table to Doncella Retrac.

"I do not believe that avenue has been investigated yet." Doncella Retrac glanced at Jedi Luke. "Can you give me a copy of your recent schedule and I'll start looking for patterns while you're away?"

"Sure, I'll tell Artoo to get you one before we go. That's a fantastic observation, Lucinda. Thank you."

That praise set off an inner glow that lasted throughout the supper, the males leaving, and her bedtime. Everything was quiet the next day. Lucinda finished her lessons and Artoo was helping her find an accurate documentary holodrama about the Clone Wars while they waited for Threepio to finish sorting the Princess' messages for better Binary lessons. Luci wanted to watch something on the Katana fleet, but Artoo had a point that it was still classified.

Artoo was still rejecting options when Princess Leia returned from today's meeting with the Inner Council. Doncella Retrac glided through the parlor space to meet her at the foyer. "If Han and I decide to have any more children, tell me to take a sabbatical for the next pregnancy." The Princess sounded frustrated and irritated, like a crew's prank just made more work for the people in charge.

Doncella Retrac tilted her head. "I will tell you, but I have no expectations that you will stop working." The Princess glared at her. "What happened?" Doncella Retrac asked.

"I'll tell you while we pack." The women disappeared into the master bedroom on the other side of the parlor from the HoloNet viewscreen. The door slid shut so Luci couldn't hear what they were talking about.

She looked at Artoo, who had stopped cycling through the holodrama choices. "Should I go pack too?"

He made the screen translate his warble. {Wait and find out. But no one else is scheduled to leave.}

"Schedules change." Mommy had thought she was going out to dinner to discuss business with Jedi Luke just last night.

The women emerged from the master bedroom, and Doncella Retrac was carrying a traveling duffel bag. Lucinda stood, dreading where she would end up now. "Should I go pack?"

The Princess smiled, but the reassurance didn't spread over her entire face. "No, you're staying here with Winter. I have to go with Captain Karrde to the Katana fleet, but he wanted to see you before we go."

"Okay." Maybe Captain Karrde had gotten a message from Mommy. She circled the furniture to take the Princess' outstretched hand.

Artoo detached himself from the HoloNet and rolled toward them. "Winter and Lucinda will be right back, Artoo," Princess Leia said. "You don't have to come."

The astromech made an emphatic blat that Lucinda had learned was a negative, but wasn't sure on the exact translation.

"Fine, have it your way."

The droid said nothing as the turbolift carried them to another docking pad, rather than an enclosed hangar bay. A group of Bothans stood away from the doorway, talking to each other in what sounded like their native language. Captain Karrde waited where he could watch the doorway, the Bothans, and the shuttle's entry ramp. Lucinda frowned at the orbital shuttle. "You're leaving the system in that?" It didn't have any laser cannons.

"No, we're traveling on the Quenfis. It's an EF76 Nebulon-B escort frigate in orbit. The shuttle just gets us on board," the Princess explained.

A capital ship sounded like a safer deal. Her stomach was starting on that falling cramp. She ignored it as Captain Karrde approached them. "Minister Organa Solo, Lucinda, is everything all right?" His shrewd blue eyes focused down on Luci.

"Worried about Mommy, I guess."

"Ah, she'll be back soon. Meanwhile, I have a job for you."

Lucinda frowned. "I thought I was too young to work for you."

Captain Karrde smirked. "This you already have experience in." He held out a datacard. "Ghent is coming here in a few days. These are his instructions. Make sure he gets them and shove food and water into him regularly while he works on them."

Lucinda smirked. She did know how to take care of Ghent. But she didn't take the card. "How much is it worth to you?"

Princess Leia smothered a laugh, but Captain Karrde beamed. "Very good. I called it a job. What's your starting bid?"

"A skyhopper!"

"So your mother can make me eat it, no. What about a personal piloting simulator?"

"Only if it's a model that can hold multiple programs for different ships. Because I'm going to master them quick."


She took the datacard from Captain Karrde and slipped it into her belt pouch.

A member of the New Republic military came up to their group. Lucinda supposed she should learn what uniforms meant what ranks if Captain Karrde was going to keep doing business with the New Republic. "Minister Organa Solo, Captain Karrde, we're ready for you to board." She took the duffel bag that Doncella Retrac passed to her.

"We'll be back soon, Lucinda." Princess Leia let go of her hand.

"I'll stick with Doncella Retrac." She took that woman's hand as they headed to the entry ramp where one of the Bothans was glaring at the pair of them. "He doesn't look friendly."

"We are aligned with the wrong people for Councilor Fey'lya to be friendly with us," Doncella Retrac said. "Let's go back to our quarters and I'll put in an alert for when this Ghent arrives."

Ghent arrived the next day in the Y-Wing Mommy had left in, but Mommy hadn't flown him back. Lucinda squeezed her disappointment into a tiny ball inside her chest and introduced Ghent to Doncella Retrac.

He took the datacard Captain Karrde had left with her and slid it into a datapad. "Mara said to tell you she's sorry, but she had to go with everybody else. She's coming as soon as that mission's over."

"I hope Captain Karrde is paying her extra for it." Lucinda tried not to scowl. Artoo beeped in sympathy and gave her a bump.

Ghent looked up from the file. "Okay, the Boss says you can acquire what I need, Doncella Retrac? He wants me to poke at a suspicious credit transfer to an Admiral Ackbar?"

Doncella Retrac's eyebrows climbed higher on her forehead. "And why does he want you to do that?"

"Says here that Jedi Skywalker commissioned it." Ghent waved the datapad slightly before looking down at Lucinda. "Jedi Skywalker knows who I am?"

Lucinda shrugged. "We talked about you on Myrkr. Mommy may have told him more when they rescued Captain Karrde."

Ghent looked rather dazed as he processed that. Doncella Retrac waved toward the turbolift corridor. "Let's find you a secure terminal to work on and access to the files in question." Lucinda grabbed Ghent's bag for him as their group left the hangar bay.

They ended up setting Ghent up in one of the other rooms in Princess Leia's office, where other visitors wouldn't distract him. The room and the equipment made Ghent happy, so she didn't bother pointing out how Ghent wouldn't notice any visitors. Besides, she had other details to set down. "When did you last eat, Ghent?"

He tapped on the terminal's keys to pull up an operating schematic and index. "I ate in hyperspace, a ration bar that tasted like pourstone."

"They aren't supposed to taste like that. Did you check the date on it?"

"I was researching something." He tucked some of his blue hair behind his ear as he leaned closer to the screen.

Lucinda scowled at his lack of attention. Mommy was right, one day that was going to get him blasted. "Captain Karrde made it my job to feed you. Doncella Retrac and I are eating again in four hours and you will eat then. Unless you'll be hungry earlier?"

"Four hours is fine, Luci. Now go, unless you want to know how to break apart a financial file." He waved a hand at her without looking from the screen that now filled with glowing letters that didn't form words.

"I have my own lessons. I don't need more." She stopped at the door and waved to Doncella Retrac to come out too.

The older woman followed her out, but looked over her shoulder as the door slid shut. "Does he know what he's doing?"

"With consoles and droids, yes." Lucinda headed to her seat next to Artoo. "I don't know about anything else. He'll fix the problem."

"I see," she answered.

Lucinda wasn't sure if Doncella Retrac really saw, but she had her own lessons and Artoo was rocking to get back to the Clone Wars. The astromech was on his two legs, tilting from side to side next to their table. She hurried to the chair.

Doncella Retrac was good at not laughing at Ghent, nor at Lucinda when she had to push his chair with him in it away from the console to get him to supper. Though the older woman found something she had to do in the outer corridor after supper in the suite still ready for Captain Karrde and Mommy to come back when Lucinda had to yell at the older man to go to bed.

"Really, Luci, I'm close! Imperial Intelligence hasn't changed their tactics in thirty years. It's insulting how obvious it is."

"Good, it'll be the same after you sleep and then you won't drool on your keyboard."

Ghent's face reddened. "There were extenuating circumstances when that happened!"

"I don't know what that means, but I saw you do it and I'm trying to make sure you don't do it in front of the New Republic!"

Artoo's electronic laugh started when Ghent stomped down the hall to the bedroom that no one had claimed. Doncella Retrac opened the main door to see him leave, coughed before calling out, "Good night, Master Ghent," and ushered Lucinda out of the quarters.

She wasn't wrong. The next morning Ghent solved the problem and Doncella Retrac called into the Princess' office a lot of strange people for Ghent to point out what he called 'the Imperial noseprints' all over the programming he had sliced. He did it patiently and only got overly technical with the woman who asked technical questions.

One human male in a military uniform lingered in the office lobby while the rest of the group marched out. "Excellent work, Targeter. I'll be sure to tell Admiral Ackbar how you cleared him."

Doncella Retrac dipped her chin. "Having the Admiral reinstated is thanks enough, Colonel. Have a good day." The white-haired woman looked thoughtful as quiet took over the office again. She turned and entered the room Ghent was using. Lucinda slid off her seat and followed.

"Master Ghent, what can you do with a pulse transmitters operating with cross-frequency, split-phase transmissions making it impossible to locate?"

Ghent's blue eyes blinked. "If you want it located, that's a tech problem. I'm no good with those. Are the transmissions encrypted?"

"They are."

"Then what I can do is slice into the transmissions and get the encrypt code. Eventually. Can't promise how long it'll take me. Slicing is a lot more complicated than people realize."

Doncella Retrac looked pleased and expectant. Luci jumped in with her suspicions. "Is this a second job for Ghent?"

"Yes, a secret job to stop our two-timer."

"He still has to get paid." Lucinda crossed her arms over her chest. Ghent had already turned back to the console and probably was looking for the pulse transmitter without a deal.

"Of course." Doncella Retrac nodded. "I'm prepared to extend the rates Captain Karrde negotiated for this new job."

"That's acceptable. Now my fee to continue minding him—"

Ghent snorted. "You can stop that fussing at any time."

"No, I can't. You'd starve. How about an X-Wing piloting program for my new stimulator?"

"I believe we have a deal, Miss Jade." They shook hands while Ghent groaned.

The week dragged by and she asked Artoo how far did they all have to go to get to the Katana fleet? Artoo told her it was still classified, and he didn't know. Ghent moved out of the Princess' office and worked from his quarters, so she and Doncella Retrac had to go there to make sure he at least ate. She was pretty sure he wasn't sleeping. Threepio was a big help with learning more Binary words and said she was learning quicker than Jedi Luke. They all fell into a routine and she was making steady progress in all her lessons. Would that make Mommy happy enough to pick an opera to go see? Luci hoped so. That list was too long for her to pick from.

She hadn't fallen asleep yet one night when Artoo detached his scomp link from the HoloNet and rolled out of her bedroom. Artoo hadn't left her except for the few hours Mommy had been on planet. She slid out of bed and followed.

Threepio's voice carried down the hall even though it wasn't amplified. "We weren't given any directives to alerting anyone, Artoo. It's rarely helpful to interrupt organics' sleep cycles. They get cross and take it out on us."

{Agreed, but she—} Artoo continued trilling, but Lucinda didn't recognize the rest.

"Yes, I have observed the same despite not ignoring my duties. But the child rearing sub-routine says the progeny need more rest than the adults."

Artoo whistled.

"Princess Leia is expecting twins. How will they cope with two if we don't upload a child rearing sub-routine? You should allocate some resources to one. Master Luke intends to be helpful and will need the advice of the sub-routine."

Artoo beeped questioningly.

"He has said he never had much experience with small children on Tatooine. You should pay attention to these things."

Artoo gave a blat.

"Yes, you have done well without a sub-routine, except for this snapped spring idea. Master Luke nor Princess Leia did not leave instructions to meet them upon their return."

Lucinda found the pair of droids in the dimly lit office. "Someone's back?"

Threepio jerked he turned to the door. "Oh Miss Lucinda, you should be asleep."

"But I'm not. Did the Quenfis make it back?"

Artoo whistled, and Threepio translated. "No, Liberty has arrived with the Wild Karrde and Artoo found both Master Luke and Trader Jade listed on the passenger manifest."

"Mommy's back! I'll go change."

"Oh dear, this is precisely what I worried about. We were not given instructions to wake you or meet them."

"But I always meet Mommy's ships. We won't get in trouble." She hurried back to her bedroom, tugged on her jumpsuit and boots, and slipped the datacard necklace over her head. She tucked it under her jumpsuit as she paused at the office door. "Come on, I want to see Mommy."

Artoo beeped agreeably and rolled to the door. Threepio shuffled after him. "Now, Miss Lucinda, if anyone official says you must go back to bed, please don't argue."

"I won't argue." She considered that her list of authorities probably didn't match Threepio's. Mommy was back on planet and she was back in charge.

Artoo guided the turbolift with his scomp link while Threepio worried. "I have a bad feeling about this. Are you sure Master Luke doesn't have orders to report somewhere else first?"

{No,} Artoo beeped.

The turbolift lobby they ended up in was busy as beings and droids left and arrived in the hangar bay. Lucinda moved inside, careful not to get in the way of personnel with the atmosphere shuttles. The man in black came into focus as he exited a shuttle. "There's Jedi Luke!" She ran, dodging around the taller people, and not caring if the droids kept up.

She didn't see Mommy with him, but he'd know where she was. "Jedi Luke!" He turned toward her, but she wrapped her arms around him, like on Myrkr.

Only a smaller hangar bay open to the black void of space replaced the busy one. She had a view down on the Wild Karrde's entry ramp from midway up the bulk freighter's height. Not quite on top of the freighter.

Humans and Mon Calamari rushed toward the ramp, pushing a bed on a repulsorlift and other equipment Lucinda didn't recognize. Something bulky was being pushed down the ramp. It reminded her of a snub-fighter's cockpit. Aves pushed it beside the strange bed before opening it.

It was a cockpit with a person still inside. The people with the repulsorlift bed reached into the cockpit and lifted the pilot out and onto the bed. One pulled off the flight helmet and tossed it over his shoulder.

And Lucinda saw hair the same color as her own.

"Mommy?" No one answered her. Another stranger got a breathing mask on Mommy's too pale face. Mommy was limp in the bed, not helping at all. Her stomach flipped like they were crashing again.

"Mommy!" No one turned or looked up as they attached more tubes and wires to her mother, so she screamed again. "Mommy!"

The repulsorlift bed was being pushed away from her, toward the door out of the hangar bay to the rest of the ship while Aves watched the group leave. She heard Jedi's Luke's voice coming from far away. "Comm Winter, tell her Lucinda's with me. We're going in here."

She wasn't going anywhere until Mommy answered her. "Mommy!"

The group of humans and Mon Calamari pushed the bed and all the equipment out all at once. Nobody looked up at her at all. Her throat tightened, clogging with the tears bursting from her. Why didn't anyone hear her? Why didn't anyone answer? "Mommy!"

Artoo whistled. "It's the Force," Jedi Luke said. "Come back, Luci. Follow my voice. It's alright."

The other hangar bay disappeared as she blinked her wet eyes. She was sitting on a cushioned seat. Her nose had gone stuffy, and she breathed through her mouth.

Jedi Luke knelt in front of her seat. His blue eyes were ringed with red like he had been crying too. "Lucinda," he said softly. "It's okay."

"They took Mommy away." Her voice sounded deep and scratchy. "Something was wrong and Mommy didn't move and Aves just let them take her. And nobody answered me!"

"You saw the medics take Mara?" Jedi Luke looked troubled.

"Those were medics?" Lucinda stared at him. He was telling the truth. "What happened to Mommy?" she whispered.

"General, sorry, Jedi Skywalker?" A Twi'lek male stopped behind Artoo in an aisle between rows of seats. They were on board one of the atmosphere shuttles.

"We'll be done in a moment." Jedi Luke and Artoo looked at him until he nodded and left. Then they both looked at her again. Jedi Luke rested his hand on the seat cushion next to her leg. "The Imperials attacked us at the Katana fleet."

Lucinda's heart pounded. "The Imperials?"

"Yes. Your mother was flying a Headhunter in the fight. She ejected in the lifepod, but an ion blast hit it and damaged her life support."

She grabbed the datacard necklace through her jumpsuit. "Is she—?"

Jedi Luke shook his head. "No, Luci. She's hurt bad and went straight to Liberty's medcenter, but she's still alive."

Lucinda sucked in a deeper breath and nodded to show that she heard. She loosened her fingers from the datacard. Mommy wasn't dead. She didn't need to look at the datacard.

He clasped her hand once it let go of her jumpsuit. "I'm sorry the Force showed that to you. It was probably scary."

She nodded. She couldn't forget Mommy lying so still.

He looked so sorry. "Do you want a hug?" he asked.

She launched herself at his neck and buried her wet face against his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her with just the right amount of squeeze. It was a wonderful hug. "Is Mommy on the ship still? Can I see her?"

"They took her to the medical wing of the Imperial Palace first thing, but we can go see her." He patted her back. "We'll go right now."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

They had dimmed the lights in the lobbies of the medical wing with how late local night was growing, but the patient halls were still brightly lit to care for the wounded. Luke had no idea how many the skirmish caused beyond the one he worried about. He was beyond screaming how unfair the universe was—that went hoarse when he had to put the remains of his father on a funeral pyre—but he still ached when his loved ones were pained. Something that had settled as a thing when Leia acknowledged their family connection when she was shot on Endor. But losing this potential connection with Mara would hurt more than that had.

Lucinda's grip on his hand tightened as they rounded a corner and ended up in a recovery anteroom. Talon Karrde was already there with Winter and a young man with shaggy blue hair who Luke didn't recognize. They all had frowns on their faces upon seeing Lucinda.

Luke squeezed her hand back and continued forward. "Can we see Mara?"

"Through the window," Winter answered. "They are not allowing visitors just yet."

"Okay." He ushered Lucinda to an observational window with a bench she stood on to see the recovery room inside. Mara lay on the medical bed closest to the window. They had attached sensors to her skin, but it was already a pinker color than the last time he had seen her in Liberty's hangar bay. The breathing tube snaked through her mouth and inflated her chest in a steady rhythm. A white plasticene skullcap covered her red-gold hair with more sensor probes bristling over it. Her hair was on the pillow under her head, so the medics hadn't needed to shave her head.

Lucinda pressed both her hands against the clari-crystalline.

"Jedi Skywalker?" Karrde gestured for him to join the smuggler chief on the other side of the anteroom.

Luke patted Lucinda's back. Threepio and Artoo moved closer to support the little girl. Not that she noticed. He crossed the room, but Karrde spoke first. "You brought her down here to see her mother like this?"

Karrde kept his demeanor calm, but Luke could feel how the man's empathy made him seethe. He wanted Lucinda protected from this. Luke sighed and kept his voice low. "Lucinda already saw the worst when Mara came out of the ejector seat."

"You showed her that?" Karrde's eyes flashed.

Luke remained calm. "She is strong in the Force and worried about her mother. She slipped right past my shields." Shattered them, really. That hadn't happened in years, since Leia recognized her own potential and reached out to him while in pain. Lucinda's desire for her mother was just as strong.

Karrde huffed. "The Force showed her, but you didn't downplay what happened."

Luke bit back his instinctive snap to speak firmly. "I won't lie to anyone about their family." He could accept the desperate need to protect him for the lies he endured, but he would never follow that example. The truth was a better path.

"Well, you will have plenty of time to test that resolve. Per Mara's employment contract, if she was incapacitated, I was to deliver Lucinda into your care."

Luke blinked. "Me?" He winced as the reason blossomed in his mind. He felt humbled that Mara trusted him with her precious daughter. He made a better impression on Myrkr than he thought. "The only Force user who won't exploit her daughter."

Karrde was studying him, but before the smuggler chief said anything, the medic entered the anteroom. "Mara Jade's responsible party?" They all hurried to the human woman, though Winter and the droids hung further back. Lucinda jumped off the bench and grabbed Luke's hand. The medic blinked at them. "You're all with Mara Jade, Jedi Skywalker?"

"I'm responsible for her," Luke answered. "Captain Talon Karrde is her employer and Lucinda is her daughter." She waved at the medic and leaned against Luke's leg.

"Well then. Trader Jade suffered oxygen deprivation when the life support failed. She has responded well to the bacta treatment on board Liberty, but she will need some neural reconstruction. We're keeping her on a ventilator until that process is completed. We'll start that tomorrow morning."

"What side effects are we looking at?" Karrde asked.

"Short term amnesia once she wakes up. We have to induce a coma for the neural reconstruction and then we allow the patient to resume breathing and to wake up on their own from the coma. It typically takes a month."

"How well does it hold up?" Luke asked. "Will she need ongoing treatment?" If she did, he would make sure she got it. Whatever she needed.

"Most of our patients need no further treatments. I wouldn't encourage seeking any more head trauma, but this won't impede her life afterward. Any further questions? Okay, visiting hours start at 1100 hours tomorrow. We should finish with the procedure by then." The medic left them and returned to the recovery room.

Lucinda released his hand and looked up at Karrde. "What's going to happen now? Are we making a base here on Coruscant?" Fear made her voice tiny.

Karrde shook his head. "No, I have to go resume business with the others. Ghent will stay here and work on his new project while Mara recovers." He glanced at Luke. "Lucinda worked out a deal with Doncella Retrac to keep an eye on Ghent while he works."

Lucinda looked at the recovery room door. "Do I stay here with Mommy?"

"That is Jedi Skywalker's department now, per your mother's contract."

Her wide blue eyes turned to Luke. They were so bloodshot from her tears while in the vision. He knelt down to be level with her. "Your mother wanted me to take care of you if anything happened to her. And I will. You can stay in my quarters or you can stay with Winter if that makes you more comfortable."

"Mommy's back in charge once she wakes up?"

Luke nodded. "Of course she is."

She looked up at Karrde. "Mommy still has her job?"

"Of course she does. This was just bad luck, Lucinda." Karrde dug into a belt pouch and pulled out a datacard. "Hopefully that will make the month more bearable. I'll send your payment care of Jedi Skywalker. But I have to go now."

Lucinda took the datacard. "Clear skies, Captain Karrde."

"I'll see you in a month. Clear skies."

"May the Force be with you," Luke said. The smuggler chief nodded and strode into the corridor.

Lucinda touched his arm. "I'll stay with you. That's what Mommy wanted."

"Okay." Luke gave her a reassuring smile. "We'll go in a few minutes so we can rest before visiting hours tomorrow."

"I'll send her things down with Threepio," Winter offered.

"Thanks, Winter." He stood up as she and Threepio left. The young man with blue hair—Ghent?—was poking at a terminal that was part of the anteroom's furniture. "What do you have to do with Ghent?"

Lucinda had turned back to the window and Mara lying in the bed beyond it. "I have to make sure he eats and sleeps. He forgets while he's in a project."

"Okay." That would give her something else to think about besides Mara's health.

Artoo whistled softly. {It is now two hours past the recharging time Doncella Retrac scheduled.}

"I know it's local late, Artoo. Come on, Lucinda. We'll come back tomorrow."

She took hold of his hand, but looked over her shoulder with a wave of sadness strong enough to set off his own. He wished he had reached Mara quicker and her recovery time less. They didn't deserve this. But Mara would be all right; a month was nothing to wait after nine years, and she would be healthy and whole again.

She spied Ghent as they reached the anteroom door to the corridor. "Go to bed, Ghent."

"I will." He crawled under the desk. "You go on ahead."

Lucinda huffed and turned to yell.

"It's all right," Luke said. "The medic will throw him out before he hurts anything." She didn't yell, and they headed to the nearest turbolifts.

She said nothing on the ride up and over to his floor. Luke had no idea how to even start a conversation with her. Let her start it, unless a question came up.

Touring his quarters came up first. "Let me show you around," he said awkwardly as he keyed open the door and they stepped into the foyer with three openings. "The bedrooms are this way." He took her down the right hallway, pointing out the guest refresher, her bedroom, and his at the end of the hall. Then they backtracked and crossed the foyer into the kitchen. "Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

She shook her head.

He led her into the dining area of the parlor, but there was nothing to explain about the table and four chairs around it. The transparisteel wall was dark with the other buildings' lights gleaming in patterns, and the stream of steady air traffic added a variety of colored lights. The comm console was in the corner between the transparisteel wall and the HoloNet viewscreen wall, and he pointed out both of them to her as she came around the gray sofa.

Her gaze drifted from the fireplace to the wall of framed holoimages he had hung. She relaxed. "It's normal sized. Your quarters, I mean."

"I don't need the room Han and Leia do."

"I was afraid I'd break something up there."

Luke smiled. "Me too. Just sit down and don't move."

Lucinda flashed an awkward smile at that, but it vanished when the comm console chimed.

Who would be comming him at this hour? He reached the console at the same time Threepio entered the quarters and stopped at the end of the foyer. "Ah, Miss Lucinda, Master Luke, I have her belongings."

"Thanks, Threepio," Luke said. "Why don't you get Luci set up in the guest room while I answer this comm?" They trooped down the foyer and hall and Luke concentrated on the comm from Lieutenant Colonel Lazarus Armand. The name was unfamiliar to him. "Jedi Skywalker," he answered.

"Yes, sir. I am Lieutenant Colonel Lazarus Armand with New Republic Intelligence Service. I'm reviewing your debrief from on board the Katana during the battle."

"You have questions already?" And Luke had no desire to go to Intelligence section of the Imperial Palace and answer this man's questions all night.

"A few," Armand admitted. "And a potential deployment for you if things align."

"No deployment. I am unavailable for a month at least."

"But Jedi Skywalker, you… you discovered what the military is facing! How can you turn down deployment?"

There was movement in the foyer, but he couldn't see into it from the console. "I have other responsibilities for the next thirty-five days. I'll be happy to answer your questions tomorrow in person after I check on a friend in the medical wing." He shouldn't have to remind someone in Intelligence about Delta Source.

"Very well." Armand had gone stiff. "Can we see you before visiting hours begin? 0900?"

"That'll be fine. Goodnight." Luke turned to the rest of his living room.

Lucinda fidgeting in the foyer and she felt like a tiny ball of dismay and shrinking self worth. "I can go back if you have to work."

His heart squeezed to hear the waver in her voice. You can depend on me just as much as you depend on your mother, little one. "That's not my job. I will help them from here, but I'm staying here with you. Okay?"

She wasn't convinced, but nodded anyway. She held out a datacard. "I can't make it work on my datapad."

He got up and looked at the datacard. "Oh, it's one for a holoimage frame."

"I don't have one of those." Her lower lip trembled.

"This is what Captain Karrde gave you?" Luke asked. She nodded. "You can borrow one tonight and we'll get you one tomorrow." He handed the datacard back to Lucinda and went to his wall of holoimages. "I don't think the Rogues will mind you borrowing their frame." He turned it off and pulled the frame from the wall.

"You have lots of holoimages."

"Friends and family." Her face fell again, and he scrambled to say something to take her mind from her only family being in the medical wing and the only other people she knew in the galaxy leaving her here. "You've met most of them. It's nice to have a safe place to display them."

"You had to move a lot?"

"At least a dozen times in the last ten years. It's hard to keep track." Luke set the datacard with the Rogues' holoimage on the mantle next to the shaman staff from the Bright Tree Tribe. "You and your mother have moved that much too, huh?."

"Yeah. We don't have a lot of pretty things." She stared at the fulgurite sculpture of the Stone Needle that Leia and Han had gifted him after their trip to Tatooine. He had it set on a pedestal next to the console.

Luke bit back the want to give them both pretty things. He handed her the now empty frame. "Here you go."

She gingerly took the frame and slipped the datacard into the slot. The screen powered on and the image pushed out as it flickered to life. Mara and Lucinda's faces were together, pressing their cheeks together as they grinned at the holorecorder. Their eyes had the same wariness, despite the differences in color.

"Mommy." Luci's voice choked as her grip tightened on the frame.

The building against the green trees in the background looked familiar. "Was that taken on Myrkr?" he asked.

She nodded. "Captain Karrde insisted when we moved there."

Luke felt suspicious over why the smuggler chief wanted an image of them both, but was grateful he had given a copy to Lucinda. "Let's go put it in your room, okay?"

Lucinda nodded and went first to the guest bedroom next to his. He realized now that it wasn't colorful for a child with the beige walls and carpeted floor and gray furniture. Maybe Lucinda would want colored bed linens?

Threepio was putting her clothes in the wardrobe across the refresher in the short hallway into the bedroom while Artoo supervised from next to the bed. "Oh, Master Luke." The taller droid gestured as he turned. "We were trying to help. All her clothing is now in here."

She didn't have many. Maybe he could buy her more? Or would that hurt Mara's pride? He patted Threepio's shoulder joint. "Thank you, Threepio, it's fine. Leia and Han will be back soon, and I'm sure Leia will need your help." He slipped past Threepio into the bedroom.

"Very good, Master Luke. Have a good night."

"You too, Threepio." The taller droid shuffled out, and Luke stopped at the bedside table. "We can put the holoimage here so you can see it from the bed."

Lucinda brought the frame over and adjusted it on the small table. Artoo whistled softly. {It's past her recharge time, Luke.}

"He said recharge." Lucinda turned to them. "That means bedtime."

"Very good. You two have kept up with the Binary lessons."

"Yes, I like learning it. Do we have to stop now? Do you have another job for Artoo?"

"No, you and Artoo can keep working on Binary along with your other lessons." Lucinda made a face. "You can take tomorrow off from lessons," he offered, "but only that. Don't want your mother waking up mad at both of us."

"Okay. I better get ready for bed again."

"Fine. Do you need a snack or anything?"

She shook her head. "I ate supper with Doncella Retrac so I'm not hungry."

"All right. Good night." Luke left the bedroom, second guessing if he was putting her to bed right. It wasn't the routine he had when he was her age, but he wasn't Aunt Beru either. Lucinda was hiding her feelings and he couldn't blame her. Surrounded by strangers and her mother having serious medical issues, hiding was all the child had.

And tomorrow they had to find out what Intelligence wanted before seeing Mara in Medical again. He shook his head with a sigh. Better head to bed too.

He changed into his sleep clothes and crawled into his bed with his mind still whirling on how Mara trusted him with her daughter. He had to prove worthy of that trust. Both of them deserved that.

How to do that with Lucinda's care sent his mind into another whirlwind. Just when he decided to meditate in order to get any sleep, a wave of fear and sadness flattened him. He gasped for air. It hit all his earlier fears of loss, of losing Mara to the Force after finding her again.

His bedroom door slid open. Artoo rolled in, beeping. {Luke, she's leaking again. I wanted her to stop leaking. Ahsoka never leaked this much. Luke, please.}

Luke was already rolling out of his bed. "It's all right, Artoo. I'm coming." He followed the astromech into Lucinda's room. The little girl hugged her pillow to bury her face into it and curled up to hide her wracking sobs.

His aching heart couldn't take it. He scooped her up to his lap, leaving the pillow behind, and hugged her close. Her hands twisted in his sleep shirt as she sobbed against his chest. The words of an ancient lullaby that Aunt Beru sung came back to his voice, and he crooned them as he rocked her.

Artoo rocked on his legs to relieve his tension. Luke sang the lullaby again. Lucinda's sobs quieted. She pulled back and wiped her nose on her nightgown sleeve. Luke stroked her still plaited hair. She was still wearing a necklace, but he didn't bring that up. "What are you afraid of, Luci?"

"Mommy's gonna forget me."

"Forget you?"

"The medic said amnesah. I know what that is. You hurt your head and forget about everybody."

Luke winced. The holodrama industry had a lot to answer for. She had been stewing about this since the medic said amnesia and held her tears back this long. No wonder she broke down sobbing. "I think we both need hot chocolate."

He scooped Lucinda up and carried her into the kitchen. She didn't protest when he set her on the counter and washed her face without argument with the damp cloth he gave her. He waited until she finished and the drinks were heating before he spoke. "I don't think that's the amnesia the medic was talking about, but we'll ask her when we go tomorrow."

Lucinda blew her nose into the damp cloth. "But they called you to work tomorrow."

"I have to go answer questions tomorrow. And if it goes too long, Intelligence will see how hard it is to keep a Jedi locked up." He grinned at her and exchanged the cloth for a mug of hot chocolate. "We will go see the medic and your mother tomorrow and every day after that."

"Okay." She looked dubiously into the mug. "What's this?"

"Hot chocolate." Luke took the cloth to the worn clothing receptacle and came back for his mug.

Her wide, bloodshot eyes stared at him as he came back into the kitchen. "You can drink it too?"

"Yeah, slowly. Don't burn your tongue."

She sipped it, watching how he drank it. "It's good. I like chocolate."

"Oh, I like chocolate too. Lando introduced me to this drink." She sipped again, rather than comment on that. Luke let her have the silence. All too soon they had finished both mugs. He put them into the cleaning unit and swung her off the counter. "Let's try going to bed again."

This time Luke pulled the covers over her as she sat in her bed. "Here, let's take that—" He grasped the clasped ends of the necklace, and the magnetic ends came loose.

"No!" She grabbed his hands as he pulled the encased datacard from around her neck. "Can't look at it!" Tears welled in her eyes again. "I'm supposed to when Mommy's dead. But she's not dead!"

"No, Mara's not dead. We won't look." He used the Force to tug open the bedside table's drawer. "I didn't want it to get tangled in your hair, that's all." He dropped the necklace inside the drawer and pushed it closed. "You can put it back on tomorrow, okay?"

"Okay." She sniffled.

He wrapped his arms around her. "We're gonna get through this." She hugged him back. "Now let's try to get some sleep attempt two." She lay back on the pillow and he pulled the covers up to her shoulders. "Good night, Luci."

"Good night, Jedi Luke."

Artoo stayed with her as he left for his own bedroom. But he didn't drift off to sleep until he felt with the Force Lucinda fall asleep completely.

Lucinda didn't want to get up when they had to and when the sun was hitting the transparisteel wall. She had gotten used to the viewscreen not doing that. She hustled because Jedi Luke had an appointment and she didn't want to make him late. Mommy always said lateness was the worst rudeness.

They stopped in a quick-fry restaurant for breakfast. Just how many restaurants did the Imperial Palace have? Doncella Retrac had taken her to lunch at a different restaurant.

"Sorry about this." Jedi Luke slid into the booth seat across the table from her. "Artoo will order groceries and I'll be able to cook. Do you have allergies, anything you can't eat?"

"Nothing has made me sick yet. Can you cook?" She bit her lip. Chin had gotten so huffy when she had asked him that. Grown ups didn't like that question.

Jedi Luke chuckled. "Yes, I can cook. My tajine is almost as good as Aunt Beru's. I've found some new spices that work in lablabi." She had never heard of those and felt her face scrunch up with the confusion. "That's back home cooking. I'll make some asida and ojja tomorrow, but I've picked up a few other meals since leaving Tatooine. Is there something you like special?"

Lucinda didn't want to be a bother to anyone. "I like anything that's not burned."

"Smugglers can't cook?"

"Mommy can't." That was disloyal because there was so much Mommy was good at.

"I'll have to cook for your mother when she wakes up. Order what you want."

She blinked at all the choices and the credits listed out next to them. "How much do we have? I don't want to spend too much and then you can't eat."


"I know Mommy didn't eat sometimes, so I had more food when I was a little, but I can do math now and I am a big girl. I can eat less if we need to."

"Order as much as you want, Lucinda. I have more than enough credits. You don't have to worry about that with me."

His subdued voice made her look up. His face was serious and a little sad. She hurriedly pushed in the order of a breakfast plate that had everything she liked on it. "I made you sad."

Jedi Luke took a deep breath. "It's all right. I just wish I could have helped you and your mother have an easier life then. One with no worries about food and safe from the Empire."

Luci thought about how Mommy was sick now because of fighting Imperials. No place in the galaxy was safe from them.

"Things are better for you both now?" he asked.

She nodded. "Captain Karrde is the best boss Mommy has had. She said so. And nobody on base had to worry about food or supplies to do their jobs."

"Good. That's good." A droid rolled up to their booth and slid their plates in front of them. "Eat up we have a busy day." Jedi Luke picked up his fork and dug into his meal.

After they ate, they went to a section in the interior of the Imperial Palace that had a lot more military uniform gentlebeings moving around, even more than the offices Doncella Retrac had taken her to. They ended up in an office waiting room and she had to wait there while a droid receptionist let Jedi Luke in the locked door.

Lucinda sat in a cushioned chair and pulled out her datapad. She would not work on a lesson, but she wanted to check on something Artoo had said about the Clone Wars. The Grand Army of the Republic had ten Systems Armies that were each led by a High Jedi General. They broke a Systems Army into two Sector Armies, each led by a Senior Jedi General. A Sector Army was made up of four corps that were each led by a marshal commander and a Jedi General.

She stopped reading at that point, even though the list of smaller army units kept going. Artoo was right. The old Jedi became Generals during the Clone Wars, and Artoo could name a lot of them in the Third Systems Army. The droid claimed those were the ones he could remember best.

She pulled up Jedi Luke's biographical HoloNet entry. The New Republic made him a general after the Battle of Endor and a skirmish at a planet called Bakura that happened right after it. And he stayed a General until after a Battle of Mindor when he resigned the commission and left the military. That was four years ago. She frowned. He was only a general for almost two years; he'd go back in the military at that rank. She was pretty sure that's how it worked. And everybody kept calling him General Skywalker, even if he didn't like it.

She turned off her datapad. The New Republic wanted a Jedi General to go against Grand Admiral Thrawn.

And he wouldn't go because he was taking care of her.

She didn't want him to go. Mommy had left and now she may wake up and not be her Mommy. She felt safe with him, safer than with Captain Karrde, Chin, and Aves. But she was a big girl; she could do the icky and what she didn't want to do if it was necessary. Mommy accepted nothing less. And staying with Doncella Retrac wasn't that bad. She had showed her a different braid style, wrapping a thin plait around the top of her head and letting the rest of her hair hang free. She could go back.

The locked door slid open and Jedi Luke stepped out with another human male in uniform. His dark hair was graying around his ears and his eyes narrowed when he saw her. "There are services—" he started loud enough to reach across the waiting room.

"No." Jedi Luke interrupted. "You have a month and then I will help you. Let the analysts find the best planets to search and get the flight techs working on a way I won't wreck my X-Wing getting caught in a tractor beam."

"Yes, sir," the military man said like he was in pain.

"As soon as her mother's out of medical, I'll be available." Jedi Luke crossed the room and held out his hand. "Come on, Lucinda, we have an appointment in medical."

She slid off the chair and took his outstretched hand. They left the waiting room and Jedi Luke seemed calm about telling them no. She bit her lip. How to tell him she could go to someone else? She had no idea how to start.

They stepped into a turbolift, and Jedi Luke put in the directions. He looked down at her. "You weren't too bored, I hope."

"I looked up something Artoo told me. The old Jedi were generals in the Clone Wars."

"That's right. I don't think it was good for the Order, but I need to do some more research on what happened at the end of the Clone Wars."

"Artoo doesn't like my lessons. He says they sound Imperial."

Jedi Luke frowned. "Maybe I should look at them. Is that what you're worried about, studying Imperial propaganda?"

She didn't know what that meant, but shook her head. She wasn't worried about her lessons. "They want you to be a Jedi General again. You don't have to stay here for me. I can go stay with Doncella Retrac."

He knelt down, so he was eye-level with her. "Because Jedi were generals in the Clone Wars? You think that's what Intelligence wants?"

"You were a general and everybody keeps calling you one. They probably need a Jedi General against a Grand Admiral."

"That's very clever how you put that together."

She took a deep breath. "Getting Grand Admiral Thrawn is more important. He hurt Mommy and Captain Karrde. Mommy will understand after we explain." She added that in case he worried about Mommy pulling a blaster on him again.

"He's not more important than you." Jedi Luke rested his left hand on her shoulder. "A Jedi can't get so caught up in matters of galactic importance that it interferes with his concern for individual people."

That sounded nice, "But there's a war."

"Wars don't make one great. A Jedi is meant to fight, only to protect and defend, and waging a war quickly becomes not that. That's why I don't think being generals was good for the old Jedi Order. But that's not the problem right now. They don't want me to be a general again."

"They don't? But they want to deploy you?"

"For a scouting mission. For what is probably classified right now. But they have nothing ready for the mission. So we have time to wait. And if they get ready before your mother wakes up, we can talk to Leia and Winter about you staying with them. You're not going to strangers on my watch."

She didn't want to go to strangers either. Strangers might not understand she had to take care of Ghent and see Mommy. "Okay."

"Is it okay? We had a rough night, but if you'd feel better staying with Winter?"

"I want to stay with you! I don't want to go, but," she took a deep breath and let her gaze fall to the floor. "But I can do what's necessary."

"No matter how scary it is. You are very brave." He squeezed her shoulder until she looked back up. "I will tell you if you need to, okay? As long as it's not classified."

She nodded, relief making her chest feel light. "I don't want to be a bother."

"You're not. Don't worry about that." He patted her shoulder as he stood back up. Not too soon, because the turbolift slowed and opened its door, letting on more humans and Bothans Lucinda hadn't seen before. She caught Jedi Luke's hand and moved closer to him.

The turbolift's next stop was in the medical wing, and everybody got off. But they didn't follow her and Jedi Luke to Mommy's room.

Ghent had planted himself at the terminal in the waiting room and didn't look around as they entered. She shook her head. "Ghent, did you sleep at all?"

"Yes, Luci. And I didn't drool on the keyboard." He craned his head closer to the screen. "It's been a quiet night and day, if you need to know that."

She couldn't imagine why anyone would make a medical place noisy, but Ghent never looked at anything like everyone else did. The door to the recovery room slid open, and the medic from last night strode out. Her insides quaked again.

Jedi Luke put his hand on her back as they headed to the medic. The medic beamed. "Jedi Skywalker, Miss Jade, Trader Jade responded well to the neural reconstruction. She's off the ventilator and breathing well on her own. You can visit her. She probably won't respond, but hearing voices of loved ones helps the neural pathways."

"That's good, but we have a question." Jedi Luke looked down at Lucinda, so the medic did too.

Time to be brave again, even though she wanted to run. "Is Mommy going to know me when she wakes up?"

The medic frowned. Jedi Luke spoke up, "Mara's amnesia."

"Oh! That'll be short term. She won't remember the battle, maybe even as far as getting to it. But she's going to remember your entire life, sweetie."

The want to run exploded like a flash-bang. Jedi Luke and Captain Karrde could tell Mommy how the battle went. "Really?"

"Really," the medic repeated. "I'll let you visit now."

Lucinda darted to Ghent instead of the recovery room door. "Did you hear that? Mommy's going to remember me!"

He stuck his finger in the ear she had just yelled in and wiggled it. "I didn't know it was a question."

"Get off the console and go eat."

He frowned. "I was here all night if Mara needed something." His stomach growled.

Luci shook her head. "Me and Jedi Luke are here now. Go eat."

"You're so worried about me eating, I'm surprised you didn't pack me a lunch." But he pushed away from terminal while typing a code into it at the same time. Once he was satisfied with what it was doing, he turned away and headed to the waiting room corridor.

Lucinda watched him go. Otherwise, he might sneak back to the terminal. Then she turned back to the rest of the waiting room and the recovery room door. Jedi Luke was gone. He must have gone inside already. She headed to the door and stopped.

Jedi Luke was at Mommy's bedside. She wasn't wearing the cap on her head now, and his right hand petted her red-gold hair as his lips moved. Luci was too far away to hear what he said. He lifted Mommy's hand from the bed, kissed it, and set it back down. What did that mean?

He looked up and waved her to Mommy's bed. "Finished with Ghent?" he asked as she climbed into the chair on the other side of the bed.

"I sent him to go eat, and he actually left. I hope he finds some food. What do we need to do?" Did she need to kiss Mommy too?

"Just talk to her. Tell her what's going on."

"Hi, Mommy. I'm staying with Jedi Luke, oops, Skywalker." Her eyes opened wide. The medic said Mommy could hear them.

Jedi Luke bit back a grin. "It's okay, Mara. I gave her permission to call me that."

"Captain Karrde had to go back to working with everybody else. Ghent is here. He finished the first job, something dealing with an Ackbar, and Doncella Retrac hired him for a different one. I made sure he got paid for it. Captain Karrde's supposed to give me a personal piloting simulator for taking care of Ghent, and Doncella Retrac is paying me in a simulation program." Should she tell Mommy she asked for an X-Wing one? Better not push it.

"You asked for a simulator?" Jedi Luke asked.

"I started off with a skyhopper. Captain Karrde said no to that."

He chuckled. "She's an excellent negotiator, Mara."

She kept talking, telling Mommy about hot chocolate and her lessons, and Jedi Luke offered his comments.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Luke left his bedroom and headed down the hallway in his quarters. It had been a much better night last night than the first one, and he had risen at his normal time earlier than most in this section of the Imperial Palace. He didn't stop at Lucinda's door. No need to wake her up yet before breakfast was ready. And there were no pressing appointments today either. They had time to start the day calmly.

He turned in the foyer, crossed the parlor, and sat cross-legged on the floor of his living room. The planet was turning into Coruscant Prime's rays and he watched the beams of light move across the buildings and never-ceasing traffic through the transparisteel wall. A new day was here. He pivoted from the view and resettled on the carpeted floor facing the rest of the room. He closed his eyes, exhaled, and drifted into the brightness of the Force, feeling the web of life that surrounded Coruscant that its population of trillions created.

Personal alarms were going off in adjacent quarters and people were enthusiastically or grudgingly starting their days. Luke inhaled and released that recognition with the exhale. Lucinda's sudden wakeful state drew his thoughts. Artoo had not woke her, nor had she set the alarm in the bedroom. Perhaps she was a natural early riser like he was. He would have to adjust his morning schedule for her needs.

He exhaled that thought away too. The Force filled him like a star.

"Jedi Luke?" The carpet muffled Lucinda's soft footfalls. It did nothing to block the whir of Artoo's treads and servos as the droid followed her. "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Meditating. It's good for mental health for everyone, but for people like us, it deepens our connection to the Force." He felt her waver, curiosity warring with her desire not to intrude. "You can join me if you'd like." He offered to end her indecision.

Her nightgown rustled as she sat on the floor. "What do I do besides close my eyes?"

He smiled at her acquiescence. She had no fear of anything new. "Breathe in slowly and reach out with your feelings."

Her breathing needed work to slow down, but her inner self was groping outward. He brushed against her glow. Hello, Lucinda.

She gasped out loud. "I heard you! Without my ears! That's the Force?"

"You can do it with the Force." He opened his eyes. Lucinda hadn't jumped up off the floor, but she leaned forward and had grabbed her nightgown in both her fists. "You're excited."

"Is that how you and Princess Leia talk without comms?" He nodded to answer her rushed question. "Can I learn how to do it?"

He considered her enthusiasm. The desire to learn made teaching easier, but he didn't want Mara to wake up and accuse him of making her daughter a Jedi behind her back. Ben hadn't introduced the Force to him with mental skills. Master Yoda had expanded his knowledge there, but with even more emphasis on lightsaber skills and fighting. He looked at the eager, blue eyes staring at him. No, she didn't need to be a warrior and lose that innocence first.

"Why do you want to know?" he asked.

Lucinda's face scrunched as she thought hard. "It seems useful. There's been times I couldn't talk to Mommy and she couldn't talk to me because bounty hunters were too close." His heart double pounded at her nonchalant reasoning. She shouldn't know about bounty hunters by personal experience already. "We could have used it," she continued. "And Mommy says its best to learn things that are useful. Is it hard to learn? Do I need to be older? Lots of things have to wait until I'm older." She pouted.

"It takes practice, but I don't think you need to be older." He would give them this skill that would help protect Lucinda, he decided. But his stomach rumbled and reminded him of the time. "We'll start after breakfast and getting dressed."

She rolled to her feet and ran to her room so fast she left Artoo behind.

The droid made a sound like a human unvoiced linguolabial trill.

"She's fine, Artoo. She's not leaving the quarters." Luke rolled to his feet and headed into the kitchen. He had promised some asida and ojja today.

The sweet porridge was a delight; Lucinda all but licked her bowl clean. They spent an hour on reaching out to the Force and letting it flow through her and not progressing as fast as she thought she should built up frustration. Luke sent out a belated apology to Master Yoda in the Force for his own impatience when at the beginning and sent Lucinda to get her educational lessons.

Working on those didn't improve her mood. He never appreciated the core curriculum when he was her age either. But she was almost finished with her math and science sections, and he put in an order for the next ones in the series before they left to go see Mara. She was more subdued today and didn't tell her mother about the Force lessons. He didn't bring it up either, and they left after Ghent came back from his meal.

Lucinda said nothing on the way back, and Luke was at a loss as to why she was sulking today. He keyed open his quarters' main door and a heavy and familiar snore greeted them in the foyer. Alarm replaced her sulks as she saw the human male sprawled on the sofa. "He broke in!" she said in an excited whisper.

"No, he has the key code," Luke said at a normal level. He stopped at the end of the sofa. "That's not your bunk, Antilles."

Wedge blinked and yawned. "Damn, I'm still on Ando time." He stretched his arms above his head. "No caf? It should be obvious I need a caf. I'm pretty sure the Force is screaming it."

"After introductions." Luke turned. Lucinda hovered in the foyer opening, ready to run for it. "Lucinda, this is Wing Commander Wedge Antilles of the Rogue Squadron. Wedge, this is Lucinda Jade."

Wedge waved. "Hello. I met your mother on Abregado-rae." He raised his eyebrow in Luke's direction. "I tried to be a good wingman, told her she was just the type for a guy I knew. Wanna know what she said?"

Luke was certain it was fit for children's ears since Wedge started this and not Wes Janson, but he didn't get a chance to answer before Luci bounded up to the arm of the sofa. "Yes!"

"She said and I quote: 'Skywalker's squad is still making jokes about his thing for red-haired women.' I'm kind of impressed you told her about that first thing. Solo gave a different impression of what you were facing in the forest. Couldn't have been all that bad."

"I wanted to catch her up on my life that wasn't in the spotlight," Luke said.

Lucinda scowled. "It was that bad. A wild vornskr tried to eat Mommy before Jedi Luke cut it in half. And Captain Karrde has two if you want to test your luck. Sturm probably likes how humans taste now." She crossed her arms.

Wedge looked abashed. "Sorry, I guess it was that bad." Lucinda didn't appear appeased, so he said. "So hiking on Myrkr for fun is right out. How's your Mom now?"

Lucinda's face twisted between sadness and discontent. "In the medcenter in a coma for a month!" She ran from the living room and into her bedroom.

Wedge turned to Luke with his forehead creasing in confusion. Luke sighed as he headed to the kitchen. "Mara got hit at the Katana fleet."

"Oh, shavit, that's why she with you? The little one?" He leaned against the serving counter. "And I brought it up."

"Lucinda's been upset most of the day, so don't worry about that. How about the rest of the Squad? Did our mission get you guys in trouble?"

"No more than usual." Wedge accepted the mug of fresh brewed caf and drank. "What engagement with the Imperials didn't wave away, Ackbar disappeared. Though he told me that the next time the Jedi has a favor to put him in the loop."

"It was Leia's favor; I was just a messenger."

"I told him, but Winter got him reinstated and she works for Leia." He shrugged eloquently and took another long swallow.

Luke gave him a matching shrug and lumped it with all the rest from Ackbar ever since Luke resigned his commission. Ackbar was at least less grumpy with him than the Mon Calamari was with Han or Lando.

Wedge lowered the mug and studied Luke as if he were a battle formation. "You had to catch her up about your life and you're keeping her daughter."

"She trusted me with her daughter."

"Still. That's faster than you have ever gotten with a woman."

Luke crossed his arms over his chest. Not that it would stop Wedge or make him pause long enough to have second thoughts, but Luke was not blurting it out to two Corellians.

Wedge smirked, but it dissolved into a chastising smile. "We would have helped you look for her, you womp-rat hunter. Why didn't you tell us?"

Luke let his arms drop. "It was a Force-slim chance that I'd ever run into her again."

"And we're where now, oh exalted Jedi?" Wedge saluted him with the mug. "But seriously, is Jade going to be okay?" Luke nodded. "Well, good luck with whatever it's going to be," Wedge added.

"Thanks." Luke might have added more, but his comm console chimed and he jogged over to see who was on it. "Ah, it's Winter."

Wedge drained the last of the caf. "Remember to loop Ackbar in. I'll see you later."

"Bye, Wedge." Luke waited until the outer door slid shut again before answering the comm. "Hello, Winter."

"Hello, Luke. I'm hoping it's not too much of an imposition, but Tycho has a week's leave and I want to take him to Restaurant Galatina."

"I can comm them and let you know the details."

"Tonight would be best. Leia wants to have you and Lucinda over for a family meal. Especially since everything seems to be quiet enough to have one."

"We better take it while we can. Tell her we'll be there."

"Thank you."

The comm to Restaurant Galatina didn't take long. They were disappointed to not get him for supper, but were more than happy to accommodate friends of Jedi Skywalker and a current member of the Rogue Squadron too. Maybe Mara would be interested in having their delayed dinner there after she woke up. He text commed the details to Winter and then headed to Lucinda's bedroom.

Artoo blocked the tiny hallway into the main bedroom and let out a furious Binary scolding. {It is wrong to break promises, Luke. You know better than that! You are going to make her leak again.}

Luke looked at Lucinda sitting on the bed and she looked equally confused about Artoo's tirade. "What promises have been broken?" he asked.

Her confusion cleared, but not the disappointment. "Not Jedi Luke, Artoo. Mommy." And then, with an air of ignoring that, she changed the subject. "Am I in trouble for being rude to your friend?"

"No, you're not in trouble, but it would be nice if you apologized for it the next time you see Wedge." Artoo rolled out of the way. Luke patted the droid's dome as he moved to the armchair. "What did Mara promise you?" To not get hurt? To not die? But those promises didn't mesh with the pragmatic woman, who gave her child a final message to hang around her neck until she had to read it.

Lucinda sighed and rubbed her hand on the bedspread she sat on. "She promised we'd do something fun when she got to Coruscant. It's her home planet. She was supposed to show it to me when it was safe. And me and Artoo looked up all these operas 'cause she has liked operas since she was a little girl and I couldn't pick one 'cause I don't know what's a good one and then she had to leave and now she can't."

That explained the mood. "You did nothing fun with Winter?"

"Winter had to work!" She looked horrified. "If people don't work, they don't have credits for food."

"That's true. We have some time to waste before going to Leia and Han's for supper, so Artoo, can you search on family activities we can do on Coruscant?"

"No opera," Lucinda blurted. "I want to save that for Mommy."

{I will}, Artoo whistled and rolled out the door.

Luke stood up. "Do you even like opera?"

She shrugged as she scooted off the bed. "I don't know. Mommy thinks I need the full experience to appreciate it. That's what she said after we were watching The Kallea Cycle with Captain Karrde and I fell asleep." She peered up at him. "Don't you have to work?"

"A Jedi's work is not set in a daily schedule, at least not when it's just me. If people need mediation, that usually needs scheduling. Sometimes the Inner Council asks me to go meet gentlebeings who want to meet heroes of the New Republic. What Nern Resh Isk wants is a scouting mission, so that's more open-ended to what I find out there. And sometimes the Force drops something on me to do."

"Like me." Her gaze hit the floor.

"No, not like you. Your mother trusted me with you and that is a precious responsibility." Her gaze came back up, still looking a little uncertain. "The Force dropping something on me, well, the last one was me waiting in a cantina on New Cov before a Barabel shot his former business partner and the rest of the place."

"You had to fight a Barabel!"

"No, he would only accept judgment from the Jedi over who was getting cheated." Luke tapped his chest. "But the Force made sure everybody was there to insure best outcome: me the Barabel respected, Lando to translate, and Ferrier to exchange the credits."

"Oh. But isn't that just luck?"

"Master Obi-Wan said there was no such thing as luck. Now we better see what Artoo has found before he decides what we're doing for us."

That made her giggle, and they headed back to the parlor. Artoo whirled his scomp link in the console's port and had his number one choice on the viewscreen. "A swoop race at the Imperial Arena. We need to change that name." Luke looked at Lucinda. "Do you like swoop races?"

"On the HoloNet, since Mommy stopped being a come-up flector for the ones on Caprioril. If I had to go to the arena, I had to stay in the concession stands with the droids and never could see the races."

"Well, time to change that."

{I rented the airspeeder first}, Artoo beeped. {Tickets bought.} He detached from the console.

"You're coming too?"

{Yes. To keep you both out of trouble.} He rolled to the outer door.

It was a beautiful day for flying, even in Coruscant's heavily controlled skylanes. Lucinda pressed her face against the viewshield to take it all in. He needed to take her to outdoor places or play areas regularly. She had been here for four weeks already, shadowing Winter and working on lessons. He was lucky she hadn't had a tantrum over nothing fun.

The tickets Artoo had bought took them to the level of the enclosed balconies. Luke's eyes widened—not as much as Lucinda's—seeing the droid server behind a small bar counter and the plush seats lined up to see the whole arena through the transparisteel wall. He could hear Uncle Owen berating about wasting money. But he didn't breathe out a word of it when he heard the whispered "astral" from Lucinda.

"Welcome to Imperial Arena, gentlebeings." The droid gestured at the mixing tubes against the wall behind it. "Your tickets include the full beverage and edibles package. Would you like to see a menu?"

"Luci, are you hungry?"

She touched the transparent barrier between the room and the arena space and holoimages of the details of the upcoming race displayed. She and Artoo both jerked back. "Astral!"

Luke ordered two non-alcoholic, carbonated drinks and brought them to the plush conform-seats. The seats had built-in glass holders that kept the contents chilled.

She turned to him, pointing to the information. "The track is a binary nebula and they have teams flying it today." She climbed into the seat next to his, and the information transferred to a smaller holoprojector in the armrest.

"How are they racing? Separate time trials or pack racing?" He leaned over the see her display.

"Pack racing, but they have to do three circuits. And all the pilots are being tracked individually."

"The team members pool their points to rank their team against the other teams." Luke leaned back and relaxed. This was a good idea.

The door behind them slid open. "Welcome to the Imperial Arena!" They both twisted in their seats to see a young human woman whose hair was a mass of tight, purple curls. She bounced her steps like gravity had weakened as she came down to them. "Hello, my name is Nomi and I am your souvenir consultant." A tiny repulsorlift platform trailed in her wake. Tunics and jackets in all colors hung from it like a portable wardrobe. Hand-held holoprojectors rested on the top of the platform, spinning different team logos in color holoimages. She bent over to be eye level with Lucinda, and her eyes sparkled in her dark-skinned face. "First time at the Arena? First swoop race?"

Lucinda nodded at both questions.

Nomi grinned. "You have to get something to remember this special trip. What do you fancy? Clothes, light show, jewelry?" Lucinda's face scrunched with hesitation. Nomi shifted her head toward Luke, and her grin didn't falter. "Come on, Dad. She needs something."

Lucinda twisted in her seat to look up at him, but he didn't bother correcting Nomi's assumption. She deserved something nice, and without setting off the Jade pride. "You don't have a jacket," he said after consulting his memory of her wardrobe with so few clothes in it.

"I grew out of my last one."

Nomi's grin widened before she straightened and turned to the clothes. "We have lovely jackets that can take a beating and still look good. All the flyboys on the circuit wear them. What's your favorite team, love?"

"I don't have one," Lucinda admitted. "Does Naboo have a team?"

Nomi shook her head with a brief frown. "They're starting to make pretty ships again, so somebody should tell them to join the circuit."

Lucinda's face fell. Luke said, "Coruscant has a team."

"Sure do!" Nomi pulled a small pale yellow jacket from the mass of clothing. "The Coruscanti Hawk-bats. They aren't doing too great this year, but they have the best logo." She flipped the jacket so they could see the back and stretched out the arms. A stylized hawk-bat head seen from above was in a raised patch in the mid-back. The purple color on the head rose up the back like its neck and then spread over the shoulders and down the sleeves like the animal's wings.

Lucinda's mouth fell open. "Oh, that's pretty."

Nomi grinned harder and flipped it around. "Come on, try it on." Lucinda jumped up and put her arms in the purple sleeves. "This one's a bit big, gives her some growing room."

Lucinda fastened it closed and looked up at him, biting her lower lip. The torso was a little baggy, and the sleeves hung to her knuckles. Luke smiled. "It looks good. Do you like it?"

"It feels like Mommy's old jacket." She stroked the stiff sleeve material. "Not the same colors, though. I like it." She looked up again. "You need something."

Luke shook his head. "I think sports is like politics; it's best if I don't take sides."

Lucinda's lips squeezed together as her determination ratcheted upwards. She whirled to face Nomi. "You said you have jewelry. Necklaces?"

Nomi reached a button on the repulsorlift platform and a drawer slid out of the side underneath the holoprojectors. She held it so both Lucinda and Luke could see the contents. Pendents of the logos that rotated above rested on a fuzzy surface along with their chains.

The krayt dragon head in profile made from a white and silver enamel caught his eye. "Tatooine has a swoop team?" he asked.

Nomi peered down at the logos. "Oh, the Outer Rim Krayts. I think half their team is from Tatooine, so they picked the logo."

"You can wear it under your tunic so nobody knows," Lucinda said brightly.

It was easier to buy it than argue with the girl, and she kept the jacket on. Nomi took the payment and headed to the next box. Luke slipped the chain over his head. The pendent was about four centimeters wide. He could tuck it under his tunic when they left. Last thing he needed was to get sports questions lobbed at him during an interview. But he was curious and turned on his seat's display to see the team players.

Lucinda fidgeted with the hem of the jacket. Her nervousness wasn't finding much of an outlet with that. Surely, she wasn't second guessing the jacket. Maybe he should tell her about his military pension so she would stop worrying about money. He took a swallow of his drink.

"Are you in love with Mommy?" she blurted out.

Jedi reflexes saved him from spitting his drink into the atmosphere. And managed to swallow it down the right way. He put the glass down and looked at her. "You shouldn't ask that."

Her lips squeezed together, and her eyebrows drew down over her blue eyes. She was determined to fight over this. "Why not? She's my mother."

"Because that should be said between the beings experiencing it first before explaining things to family." Her eyebrows shifted with her confusion. Luke tried again. "The first one to hear that declaration should be Mara, not you."

"Oh." That deflated the fight out of her, but she tugged on the jacket's hem again. "Are you going to send me away like Sephi said?"

"Who is Sephi and why did she say that?" Luke felt his eyebrows draw together. Had someone in Intelligence reached out to Lucinda?

"Someone who worked with Mom when she worked in the tavern. She said Mommy would find somebody, and they'd send me away to have Mommy all to themselves." She didn't look up.

"Sephi wanted to hurt you." Luke didn't get derailed into why and tried to keep his distaste for her attack out of his voice. "Your mother pulled a blaster on me when she thought I kidnapped you, remember? Nobody will send you away. And if that someone was mean enough to try that behind your mother's back, I hope they have a bacta tank handy."

She giggled, but didn't look up.

"Trust your mother. If something that big is going on, she won't keep you in the dark about it for long."

"Okay." She nodded and looked up at him again. "I do trust Mommy."

"Good." He wasn't sure if he should add more to that, but the speakers announcing the beginning of the race grabbed her attention. Excitement bubbled out of her as she bounced out of the seat and went up to the transparisteel boundary. Time to let go of the seriousness for entertainment.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Han opened the quarters' door into the turbolift foyer. "What is this?" He waved a hand at Lucinda's jacket. "You went to a swoop race without me?"

"It was a last-minute thing." Luke answered as they headed past the kitchen to the dining room. Artoo rolled away from them, probably to look for Threepio.

Han peered at the logo pendent on Luke's chest that he had brought back out in the turbolift. "And you got nothing for the Corellian Slice Hounds? They're in the lead."

Lucinda, worried again, peered up at Han. "Coruscant is Mara's home planet," Luke said.

Han grunted. "They still need better pilots this year."

Leia came out of the hallway that led to her study. Everything about her torso had expanded, and she swayed as she walked. Her dismay over the logo leaked away from her shields. Luke, impartiality so important for public perception.

That was good from her, a full sentence instead of just emotional connotations. I didn't wear it out in public, but Lucinda wouldn't take the jacket if I didn't get something too. He hugged her and kissed her cheek. "How are you feeling?" he asked out loud.

"More tired than I thought possible. I fell asleep in the outreach meeting today." She returned the hug before turning him toward the dining room table that was already set with food and dishes.

Luke frowned. "Why are you in meetings? Shouldn't your sabbatical have started already?"

She sighed and Han's expression darkened over Lucinda's head. "Mon asked for me to continue. We took traveling off the agenda at least." She shot Luke a look, one he remembered well from the Rebellion days, her I-expect-more-from-you look. "There is so much to do and a limited pool of people we can trust."

He pulled the chair out at the end of the table for Leia. "I'm aware of just how small that list is."

Han helped Lucinda take off her jacket and hang it on the back of her chair. "And getting smaller with Lando on his way back to Nkllon."

Lucinda glanced around the room. "Don't we need to wait for Chewbacca?"

"Nah." Han pushed Lucinda's chair in for her. "He's working on the Falcon. I set him up with his favorite takeout. And he's none too happy with Luke over the dorsal damage."

Luke smirked as he finished adjusting Leia's chair for her and headed to his seat next to Lucinda's. "I'd like to see how you two would fare in a corridor of repulsorlift plates and beating a descending lift plate."

Han gave him a friendly bump as they passed each other. "I'm just happy to have you and the Falcon back in one piece. But you know how Chewie is." He settled into his chair on Leia's right.

Lucinda's face pinched with worry again as she looked up at Luke.

"Don't worry about it, Little Jade." Han picked up a serving dish of orange vegetables. "Chewie just likes the excuse to be grumpy until the Falcon is back in perfect running order. He likes Luke too much to tear his arms off."

"Perfect running order?" Leia raised her eyebrow.

Han turned to his wife with an exaggerated pout.

"Now, Leia." Luke interjected as he picked up the platter of sliced roasted nerf and helped some to Lucinda's plate. "We wouldn't want the flights to get boring, would we?"

He got a flash that she was annoyed with him over something, but she hid it with a warm smile at Han. "Never. Does Chewie have enough for repairs or are you two scrounging for parts?"

"No scrounging; we bought top of the line." He took the meat platter from Luke and served Leia and his plates.

Lucinda got her own roll from the breadbasket. "Mommy didn't know how the Imperials got the Falcon, but she said you wouldn't leave it." She glanced up at Luke.

"Of course not. We had to liberate a ship since we couldn't get back to the shuttle we arrived on." Luke glanced at Leia before cutting into his nerf slices. "Chewie told us that your mission led you to orbiting it around Endor. He didn't want to tell us much else, but he told us that. You must have just missed Thrawn's arrival in system."

"And he still managed to be right on our heels despite that." Leia picked up her water glass. Her annoyance was flaring again, but she flattened it with dutiful concern before speaking. "You should go see the Noghri on Honoghr. Let them know we both care about the fate of their people and planet."

He swallowed. "Wasn't planning on going off planet until Mara is out of the medcenter, but you know I'll do my part for New Republic member recruitment."

"It's more…" A memory slipped from Leia. One of the short aliens from Bimmisaari with steel-gray skin, large dark eyes, and protruding jaws stared up, and the nostril folds flattened. "You are the Lady Vader. The Mal'ary'ush." "Personal," she finished out loud.

Personal covered so much when it came to their father's atrocities. And a whole species that referred to her as that was bound to irritate her. "What happened to them?"

"A Clone War battle in orbit led to environmental disaster when the ships' wreckage landed on Honoghr. The Empire promised them aid in return for their service and then altered one of the native plants to continuously poison their soil and kept the decon droids at the slowest pace. They have lost four generations of their sons fighting for the Empire." No, Luke had been wrong thinking that was the source of Leia's ire. She was incensed over their exploitation and protective of them.

Lucinda swallowed before speaking. "Are they going to join the New Republic now?"

Leia smiled at her. "I hope they do, but it's more important that they are freed from the Empire so they can make the choice."

Lucinda nodded and wrapped her mouth around her forkful of vegetable.

Han looked across the table with a serious expression. "Just how long is Jade supposed to be in the medcenter?"

"The medic said she'll be in a coma after neural reconstruction for about a month." Luke kept his tone even and calm to not upset Lucinda. "The procedure went well, and we're going to see her every day."

"The medic says it helps Mommy make neural pathways to hear us." Lucinda reached for her water glass with both hands.

Han hummed. "We never had anyone need that during the war, so it's new medical ground for us."

"It's good news that your mother is doing well." Leia added, since it seemed to escape Han's notice to reassure the little girl. "But I thought only family was allowed to visit."

Han lit up with glee as he chewed.

Luke pointed at him. "Han." He directed his gaze down to Lucinda quickly before meeting Han's gaze again.

Han continued to grin as he swallowed. "You lost Jade for nine years. Did you take steps to make sure it didn't happen again? Tatooine traditions—"

"Don't apply here," Luke blurted. "Mara got hurt helping us. That was enough to make me responsible for her care. But she entrusted Lucinda to my care."

"Why?" Lucinda glanced up at him and then back to her plate. She poked at her nerf with her fork. "Mommy said you have a free pass for rescues, but why would she trust you with me?"

"Something we're all curious about, little Jade."

Leia smacked Han's arm.

Luke put aside his curiosity over his free rescues. "Your mother told you that you had to hide your Force sensitivity because bad people will take you for it." She nodded. "We are all the same here, and we keep each other safe from those bad people."

Leia tilted her head like she wanted to smack his arm, and he was out of reach. And her irritation was flaring internally again. "Luke, she's a child."

"And she shot a vornskr off me already. She has a good start in protecting herself and others."

Lucinda beamed at him.

Han snorted at Leia's expression. "Tatooine child rearing."

Lucinda shook her head. "We never been there. But I'm not letting some bounty hunter or stormtrooper hurt me or Mommy."

"Or smugglers," Luke added.

She sighed heavily. "I will lift the vibroknife next time."

"Vibroknife?" Leia asked.

"Wadewarn had a vibroknife. I should have disarmed him before hitting him."

Luke shook his head. "That's not what you did wrong in that fight."

"I have to defend Mommy." Her eyebrows were drawing down to match her severe tone.

"You hit first. That makes you the aggressor. Words hurt, but they aren't lethal."

Lucinda puzzled on that one. "But Wadewarn pulled out his vibroknife to cut off my nose?"

"And then made himself open for whatever you had to do to protect yourself. But you put yourself in danger by starting it. You should wait for them to make the first wrong move. It's hard, I know." He popped a piece of his roll into his mouth.

"He's finally getting better at it." Han added dryly. Lucinda covered her mouth with her hand as she giggled. "I met a Wadewarn. Does Karrde know about all this?"

Lucinda dropped her hand and nodded. "He told me that me and Mommy won't see them again. He keeps his word."

"You won't have to worry about any of that here at the Palace. The Security Force keeps people safe." Leia said firmly. "And hopefully Luke isn't wasting his time by taking you target blasting."

The little girl twisted in her seat to look up at Luke. "There's a range here? I need to practice. I haven't practiced in forever."

But Luke looked at his sister's frustrated face. He didn't beat against her shields, but 'wasting time' was a judgment he wanted to bristle against. "What else am I supposed to be doing now, Leia? You don't have any time for lessons. And Mara entrusted me with caring for Lucinda."

"You cannot let personal concerns overrule the concerns of the many." Leia crumpled her napkin in her fist. "Everything we fought for is in danger and you're gallivanting at swoop races."

Lucinda slumped in her seat. "I wanted to go," she said on the verge of tears.

"Of course you did," Han said. "And everybody deserves time off and to do something fun. Even you, sweetheart." He pointed his finger at Leia quickly before leaning over the table to be closer to Lucinda. "She says work is relaxing. I clearly need to take her to more swoop races."

Luke kept his mouth shut and hoped his glare got across how much that crossed the line. Unfortunately, Leia could match him glare for glare, so it rarely worked.

Her frustration didn't diminish, though she felt apologetic for upsetting the little girl. "That's not what I meant. The whole New Republic needs what you can do, Luke. We can take care of Lucinda. We'd be happy to do it again."

He folded his arms over his chest as he leaned back in his chair. "Intelligence tattled on me all the way to you?"

"General Airen Cracken asked me to ask you to reconsider their request."

Han set his silverware onto his plate. "Sweetheart, I thought other politicos going to you about any of us was off the table. That was your decision. I don't see why a potential second Clone Wars should mean you are the one to make the Jedi do what they want."

Lucinda's blue eyes widened as she looked up at the adults from her seat. "A second Clone Wars!" She slapped her hand across her mouth.

"I kept it classified this time." Luke patted Lucinda's shoulder, so she'd know she wasn't in trouble.

Han snorted as he leaned further back in his chair. "It's all over the Palace now. I think it was one of Fey'lya's handpicked people, but I was told not to make a fuss since nothing was getting out to the HoloNet."

Ackbar. Leia told Luke mentally.

Luke nodded. The Admiral was being gracious in his reinstatement.

Lucinda's gaze darted to each of their faces before she took a deep breath. "Do these clones need a Jedi General?"

Both Leia and Han startled at that. "Luke, you aren't re-enlisting, are you?" Han asked.

"No." Luke shook his head. "Grand Admiral Thrawn is making clones. I'm not working for him."

"He wouldn't honor the deal. He didn't honor the deal Mommy made." She pushed her plate further away as she slumped down.

"Yeah, that Imperial Navy trait gets worse the higher up the ranks you go." Han stabbed the last bit of nerf on his plate. "And he's the last Grand Admiral standing, so I guess it's up to us to take him down a notch."

"Which is going to take all of us." Leia was combining her diplomatic appeal voice with her command forcefulness. And her frustration was leaking past her shields. "Doing what we do best. And I'm not issuing orders for Luke. But I think they have a point that he is the best one suited to hunt for the clones. He sensed them. The needs of the many require—"

"You to sacrifice your health, wellbeing, and the health of your babies," Luke snapped back. "A Jedi can't get so caught up in matters of galactic importance that it interferes with his concern for individual people."

"Do not claim some Jedi high ground in ignoring that everything we fought for is endangered, Luke!"

Han scraped his chair back as he stood up. "And this is why civilized beings don't talk about politics or religion over dinner." He moved round the table and pulled Lucinda's chair from the table. "Come check out the nursery so you can help Luke pick his presents out, little Jade. He didn't have many toys growing up so he'll need the help."

Lucinda slid out of her seat and took Han's extended hand. She looked back over her shoulder with a worried look as they crossed the parlor to the master bedroom suite.

Leia waited until they had entered the other room before letting her second volley loose. "I'm not ignoring my responsibilities to indulge a child's fantasy in order to impress her mother with some strange ideas of childcare!"

"Leave Lucinda out of this! She has nothing to do with Intelligence not being ready to send me on that mission, which isn't even logistically supported yet. Did Cracken bother explaining that all they have is how I sensed the clones? The mission doesn't exist other than me jumping in my X-Wing, flying into Imperial space, and the Force will show me where the clones are. No support, no backup, no intel. You want to give that mission your stamp of approval?"

She had the grace to let some abashment show through her indignation. "No, they gave me another impression of why you turned it down."

"I did not. I told them they had a month to get the logistics together and instead of starting that, they ran a complaint all the way to you." He shook his head. "I should tell them no, just out of spite, but a Jedi has to above such things. And the New Republic is in jeopardy."

"I'm sorry for not shutting it down like I promised I would." Leia still had a seething mass of resentment and frustration, but she was trying to calm it. "But target practice and swoop races?" She spread her hands. "Luke, you can't just play with her."

"I accept your apology. Now can you accept I know what to do with an older child? You're assuming without all the data again, probably because I am an easier target than who you are really upset with."

Leia's nostrils flared as that bolt hit. "What data am I missing?"

"Artoo confirmed that all Lucinda has done since we sent her here was work on her lessons, shadow Winter, and yell at Ghent to eat and sleep. And she didn't bother asking for anything fun because Winter had to work and Mara promised her something fun when she got here. Instead of a trip to the opera, Lucinda got her mother in the medcenter and everyone else she knows leaving her here with us."

"Opera?" Leia's eyebrows raised. "Lucinda strikes me as liking that as much as you and Han do."

Luke shrugged. "Apparently, Mara likes opera. Lucinda doesn't want to go to the opera with me, but the poor kid deserved something fun after what happened to her mother and then, Intelligence sending her into a tailspin that I'm needed on the front lines again yesterday. So we all decided on a swoop race. I'm not planning on making it a daily thing. Target practice depends on what we can schedule with the range since that's part of her lessons I didn't know about."

"Part of her curriculum?" Leia asked dryly.

"She shot a vornskr off me already. And you should see how her mother handles a blaster." A grin he didn't want to hide spread over his face as he remembered just how deftly Mara had dropped their foes.

His sister's lingering frustration evaporated as she smirked at him. "You aren't protesting that you don't want to impress one Mara Jade when she wakes up."

"Of course I want to impress her, she entrusted me with her daughter." The awe of that trust made his heart swell again. "You and Han make fun, but entrusting your children to anyone else on Tatooine is a sacred honor. You have proved you wouldn't sell them into slavery."

"Luke, Mara Jade is bound to know that slavery is illegal in the New Republic."

He shrugged again. "She thought I was kidnapping Lucinda to be my padawan when we were on Myrkr. My taking care of Lucinda isn't training, and I hope Mara sees that when she wakes up."

"She will." Leia had let go of her frustration, and now familial warmth exuded from her. "But don't forget that Han and I are here and can help."

"I haven't forgotten. If Intelligence actually turns that sandmine into a mission before Mara wakes up, Lucinda will have to stay with you."

"She is welcome." Leia leaned back in her seat, resting her hands on the swell of her belly. "Free rescues?"

"Well, they didn't charge me anything for getting me off Jomark."

"She didn't, did she?" Leia smirked and her glee was unrepentant. "And just how did you spend all the time between Jomark and the Chimera?"

His face reddened before he could bury the reaction.

Her smirk became triumphant. "Chewie had a lot of complaints about how the Falcon's cargo hold smells after so much mating."

"I cleaned it!"

Leia laughed, peals ringing out of her in such a way that proved she needed to. He didn't protest her amusement at his expense. Her mood was now buoyant in a way that it hadn't been when they arrived. His ego could take the hit. She pulled herself back together. "Oh, Luke. You have been waiting for her all these years, haven't you?"

"Nobody else has compared. And I hope she sticks around after the crisis have wrapped up." He stood and braced himself to help Leia pull out of her chair.

"I'm sure she will."

Han was stepping across the living area as loudly as he could. "You two settled?"

"It's safe to come out," Leia said. "My mood swing is over."

"Yeah, they've got it all sorted, little Jade."

Lucinda's worried face peered out from behind Han's long legs.

Luke smiled at her before wrapping his arms around Leia in a tight hug. "You aren't the only one to keep the New Republic together, okay? And if you can't tell Mon Mothma no, at least delegate to your trusted staff? We both know none of them are Delta Source."

"I will." A wide yawn interrupted her. "I will," she repeated.

He washed the invigorating Force over her, lifting her fatigue away. She lifted her head and blinked her surprise at him. "Clear some time in your schedule and we'll practice that one so you aren't falling asleep in meetings anymore." She nodded. "Maybe not tomorrow," he added as he turned to grab Lucinda's jacket. "We have to go see what the maintenance pool can do with one of Intelligence's disposables."

Han frowned. "They better work a miracle before you trust your hide to one of those. Chewie and me will make you go buy a ship first."

"You can afford a ship of your own?" Lucinda caught his hand as he headed them to the main door.

"I can, but I don't need a bigger ship."

"Yes, you do," Han called after them.

"Good night," Luke called back. He waited until they were in the turbolift, before starting his apology. "I'm sorry you got surprised by that."

"Captain Solo explained it. He said you both want to do the right thing, but sometimes you don't agree on how to do it. And if you are both on the same trajectory, the Imperials should jump to hyperspace to get out of your way."

"That's pretty accurate. I'm glad Han explained."

"He was grumpy at Intelligence too. Said they needed to stop counting on you to save the day. Oh, we left Artoo!"

"He'll come home when he's finished with Threepio. He has clearance to get around in this section."

She nodded and looked thoughtful. "So what kind of ship are you going to buy when you need one?"

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Sleep was over and Mara had the distinct want to stretch out her muscles after such a refreshing night. But she had long ago trained herself out of that reaction. She opened her eyes, looked around the softly lit room, and recognized its familiarity. The biomonitors, the folded room dividers, and other multiposition beds scattered around the one she was lying in made this space a medical area. It wasn't one of Karrde's facilities. This equipment and layout were Imperial for a recovery room.

She didn't sense anyone nearby, but a sensor would alert someone soon enough. Silently, she rolled out of the bed into a crouch on the floor. No pains in her joints, no tugs in her muscles, no dizziness; she was apparently cured of whatever landed her in a medcenter. Someone had left a robe and bedshoes on the end of the bed, so she slipped them on and padded to the door. Dredging up old memories and skills she had never let atrophy, she prepared herself mentally to silence or disable whatever was waiting out there. She hit the door release and as it slid open; she leaped through the partial opening into the recovery anteroom—

And stopped herself as the galaxy tilted off balance.

"Oh hi, Mara." Ghent glanced up from the computer terminal he hunched over before returning his attention to it. "How are you feeling?"

"Not too bad," Mara said as she shifted through her hazy memories. Ghent—one of Karrde's employees and possibly the best slicer in the galaxy—hadn't she sent Ghent to Coruscant? Yes, she had. Karrde had needed him there, and she traveled with the others to the Katana fleet.

That was disturbingly blank. But since Ghent was sitting at a terminal, that meant they weren't prisoners, unless their captor was abysmally stupid to let a slicer get within spitting distance of a terminal. Might as well ask Ghent what was going on and hope he actually paid attention. "Where are we?"

"The old Imperial Palace on Coruscant." Ghent looked up from the screen with a frown. "Medical wing. They had to do some reconstruction of your neural pathways. You don't remember getting hurt? Do you remember me?"

"Yes, Ghent, I remember you, but no, I don't remember getting hurt." The Imperial Palace, her old home, denied to her forever when the Emperor had discarded her and she had sided with her child over her old Master. Lucinda, where was Lucinda? She took a step back to lean against the doorjamb, knees feeling weak as her panic slammed against her. Her eyes closed to remember better. She had left Lucinda with Minister Organa Solo. Luke's sister had offered. Lucinda was safe.

"I see you're awake," an unknown voice said. Mara opened her eyes. A middle-aged woman in a duty medic's tunic marched briskly across the room toward her from a far door, and an Emdee droid trailed in her wake. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine." Mara took a careful breath, fighting back her desire to scream for what happened to her. Her sabacc face must have slipped because the medic stopped short, a professional frown on her face; Ghent, his precious computers momentarily forgotten, had a puzzled look on his. "Sorry," Mara muttered. "I guess I'm still a little disorientated."

"Understandable," the medic nodded. "You've been lying in that bed for a month."

"A month?" Mara stared at her.

"Well, most of a month," the medic corrected herself. "You also spent some time in a bacta tank. Don't worry—short-term memory problems are common during neural reconstructions, but they nearly always clear up after some reminders."

"I understand," Mara said mechanically. She'd lost an entire month here. What had happened in that time?

"Let me contact your responsible party so we can get you moved upstairs to a guest suite," the medic offered. She pulled out a comlink and thumbed it on.

Mara stepped past her as the medic began talking into it. "What's been happening with the war during the last month?" she asked him.

"Oh, the Empire's been making the usual trouble." Ghent waved toward the sky. "They've got the folks here pretty stirred up, anyway. Ackbar and Madine and the rest have been running around like crazy. Trying to push 'em back or cut 'em off—something like that."

He focused back on the screen again; and that was about all she would get out of him about current events. Aside from a fascination with smuggler folklore, the only thing that mattered to Ghent was slicing computers.

She frowned, belatedly remembering why Karrde had ordered Ghent here. "Wait, Ackbar's back in command? You mean you've cleared him already?"

"That suspicious bank deposit thing Councilor Fey'lya made such a fuss over was a complete fraud—the guys who did that electronic break-in at the bank planted it in his account at the same time. Probably Imperial Intelligence—it had their noseprints all over the programming. Oh, I proved that two days after I got here."

"I imagine they were pleased. So why are you still here?"

Ghent's head drew back from the screen. "Oh, I got a second job. There's this neat encrypt code someone nearby is using to send information to the Empire. General Bel Iblis says the Imperials call it Delta Source, and that it's sending them stuff right out of the Palace."

"And he asked you to slice it for them." Mara nodded and twisted her lips. "I don't suppose he offered to pay you or anything?"

"Doncella Retrac handled those details with Lucinda." He shrugged and focused on the screen again.

The medic replaced her comlink in her belt. "Your guide will be here momentarily," she told Mara.

"Thank you." Mara resisted the urge to tell the other that she knew the Imperial Palace better in her sleep than any guide they had could do in broad daylight. If she stayed polite, she had a greater chance at talking the New Republic out of a ship and getting her, Lucinda, and Ghent out of their war.

The large entryway on the other side of the recovery anteroom echoed with fast running feet. Her daughter tore around the corner. "MOMMY! MOMMY!"

Mara took a few steps toward her before falling to her knees on the carpet floor and catching her in a fierce hug. "Luci-love." Tears gathered in her eyes over the strength in her daughter's grip. The surge of Lucinda's relief overwhelmed her rusty Force sense. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I worried you."

"The medic said you'd have amnesah, but you know me. You know me." Lucinda's voice wavered as she squeezed tighter.

Mara found Lucinda's cheek and kissed it. "I'll never forget you, Luci-love."

Lucinda returned the kiss with gusto. Mara closed her eyes and sent her own love out. Another Force user approached, radiating happiness. Mara opened her eyes, prepared to thank Organa Solo for her care, and those words died in her mouth when she saw Luke grinning down at them.

"Welcome back," he said with bright eyes. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm glad to be back on my feet." She let go of Lucinda and climbed back on them. She looked back at the medic. "Do I have a follow up schedule?"

"All your scans have come back perfect. If you experience any strange symptoms, come back for a checkup. Things like dizziness, coordination issues, recall problems."

"Got it," Mara said. "Thank you."

Lucinda grabbed Mara's hand and twisted around to look back. "You coming, Ghent?"

"You go on ahead." Ghent gazed at the terminal display. "I want to sit on this run for a while."

"Fine," Luci huffed. "You have to move back upstairs with it now. So I'll be back to disconnect you later." She turned back to Mara and Luke. "One hour before bedtime?"

Luke grinned. "Better aim for two hours in case the whole terminal has to go with him."

Mara looked back at Ghent, then Luke, and then her daughter's serious face. "Is Ghent really working or just amusing himself?"

"He is working. I negotiated the same price Captain Karrde got for Ghent fixing the Ackbar thing." Her eyes widened in uncertainty. "Did I do that right?"

"It's a safe bet to go with the price the boss got if the other party will pay it," Mara said. Lucinda relaxed and beamed.

"Come on." Luke ushered them toward the doorway. "Let's get your mother upstairs."

Lucinda nodded and grabbed his hand too. Mara's heart gave an anxious pang that she stuffed behind her mental shields. Luke didn't seem to notice as he led the way to the turbolift. She had left Lucinda with his sister. Why did he have her? He knows. She never took the chance to tell him. And now he was going to swing the might of the New Republic into taking his child away from her.

"Did Ghent tell you it's been a month?" Lucinda drew Mara's attention to her when they got into the turbolift.

"The medic did. I didn't get much out of Ghent."

"You missed so much! Princess Leia had twins. Jacen and Jaina, and I got to hold them. They're so tiny. Was I that tiny as a baby?"

"You were almost three kilograms as a baby, and you didn't feel tiny."

"Jacen and Jaina are about two point five." Luke programmed the turbolift for their destination and turned to her. "You probably have questions. How much do you remember?"

She didn't blurt out 'leaving Lucinda with your sister.' He had likely taken on helping with Lucinda just to lower the burden of a family with two newborns to deal with. "I remember sending Ghent to Coruscant, to here, and heading to the coordinates with the others. Karrde was wary of a Bothan double cross and wanted assurances."

He blinked. "So that's why Leia wanted more eyes out there. We got an exploration team together and asked the Rogues to come play. Had just found the Katana when the Quenfis showed up with Fey'lya, Karrde, and Leia on board. Fey'lya was dead-set on arresting all of us, but the Empire showed up, followed by your people, and it was a fight."

His words brought an internal image to her mind. She felt her Z-95 lurch and the hissing that announced the failure of cabin integrity. Her hands forced her crippled snub-fighter to crash into the Star Destroyer's hangar entry port. She ejected and remembered the agonized squeal and violent crackle from the lifepod's electronics. She had ejected into the path of the Dreadnaught's ion beam bombardment.

Luke's warm hand wrapped around her arm, pulling her back to the present. "You remember?"

"Yes." She looked up at his serious face as Lucinda hugged her around the waist. "You found me."

His smile waned as he let her go. "I didn't have Chewbacca throwing me into the Falcon this time."

"Did it hurt, Mommy?" Lucinda did not stop her squeeze. "When you got hit?"

Luke winced at the look Mara gave him. "Lucinda had a vision about what happened to you. I explained what she saw."

She nodded. "It didn't hurt, but it's not something I want to do again." No, she never wanted to feel the strange, light-headed vagueness as she drifted off to sleep in the darkness surrounded by wreckage. "I'm sorry that I worried you. I didn't want that."

Lucinda rolled her eyes as she held on. "You worry about me when I get hurt, Mommy. Of course I have to worry about you. I saw Aves getting the lifepod to the medics, but nobody heard me yelling. It wasn't scary after Jedi Luke told me you were in the medcenter." She clamped her jaw shut after that informality, looking guilty.

"I told her to call me that," Luke blurted.

Mara patted her daughter's back. "Okay, if he likes it." But why had he gone with that nickname rather than Father? Was it possible that Luke did not know still? "Who was in the Dreadnaughts on our side against the Star Destroyers?"

"Garm Bel Iblis and his people."

"I thought he was dead." Mara blinked.

"Han and Lando found his group and invited them to join the New Republic. I think they have. I haven't followed Fleet news this past month."

Lucinda let go of Mara to look up at him worriedly.

Luke smiled down at her. "Not your fault. Intelligence has been enough of a pain in the neck. The Fleet doesn't need to think I want back in the hot seat."

Lucinda nodded and caught sight of Mara's confused expression. "Intelligence wanted to send him on a mission with no preparation."

"I hope they know better now."

"I think a few levels understand the need to slow down and do the work." The turbolift doors slid open and Luke led the way down a residential corridor. "Ghent was supposed to stay in the same suite you had before, but I think he has been sleeping at that terminal in the medcenter."

Lucinda huffed. "He said he was keeping an eye on you, but I don't know how when he never takes his eyes off the screen."

Mara smiled. "He meant well. Maybe we have gotten him up to comming when he hears something."

A golden protocol droid holding Lucinda's duffel bag waited at the door. "Ah Master Luke, here are Miss Lucinda's belongings. Artoo went to the hangar bay to supervise the ships for your upcoming mission."

"Thanks, Threepio." Luke took the bag from the droid as he moved to key open the same suite they had before, a month ago. Or maybe it never stopped being theirs?

"Greetings, Trader Jade. I am glad to see you functional once again."

"Thank you," Mara answered.

Luke was entirely too amused over her meeting the droid. "I don't think we'll need anything else, Threepio." He said as he held the door open.

"Bye, Threepio. Tell Artoo goodbye for me if I don't see him," Lucinda said.

Threepio gestured. "Of course, Miss Lucinda. He will miss you, as will I." He shuffled down the corridor.

"I think Karrde left you some things in your room." Luke said as they entered the parlor of the suite. "You can change while we handle supper."

Lucinda ran into the kitchen and pulled open the conservator. She moaned dramatically. "We didn't stock this one. You can't cook."

Mara blinked. "You can cook?"

"Yes, I can, but we can order delivery. What would you like?"

"Ithorian, please!" Lucinda shouted from the kitchen.

Mara shrugged. "That sounds fine to me." Truth be told, she didn't have much of an appetite. He nodded and headed to the terminal. "You cook?" Mara questioned again.

"Why are you Jades so surprised by that?"

"I thought your complaining about Grakkus' prisoner fare was because of your lack of imprisonment, not because it was an insult to your palette."

"It was an insult to every species' palette. Go change."

She headed into the room she had claimed a month ago. Karrde had left behind an assortment of clothing: a semi-formal gown (an option if Luke still wanted to take her out); two outfits of tunics, trousers, and jackets that could blend in with the populations on the streets of a hundred worlds; and four practical jumpsuits that she wore aboard ship. She dressed in a fresh set of basics and a jumpsuit.

A data card waited on the wardrobe dresser that must be from Karrde. She slipped it into a pocket and examined what else he left in the wardrobe. Her duffel bag was in the bottom, still packed with items she could never replace. She touched the yellow sleeve at the bottom of the bag. Should she bring it out now? No, better to wait, don't pull emotional manipulation into what they needed to talk about if they got a chance to get out of earshot of Lucinda.

She headed back up the hall and stopped at the end of the hallway. Lucinda was setting dishes at the three seats on the table end furthest away from the main door. Someone had taught her how to set a table; a nice, normal, family chore that Mara had never been given and certainly had never given Luci a home for them to learn it together. Her heart felt like Vader was Force choking it. Luke or his sister had given Luci a home while Mara lingered in sleep.

The hall 'fresher door slid open behind her. "Mara?" Luke murmured as he stepped up to her. "What's wrong?"

Luci walked into the kitchen and came back with three drink bulbs.

"I didn't teach her that." She admitted and then shook her head. "I'm being stupid."

"It's a chore I had when I was her age."

"I'm being stupid. She should know this. I should have…." And that was equally stupid. Mara knew what an elegant table looked like, but she had no idea how to make those arrangements. She and Luci didn't even own flatware.

Luke's voice shifted from unsure if he had done something wrong to more confident. "She adores what she has learned from you. We have to tell you about target practice." The main door annunciator chimed, and he shifted past her to answer it.

Lucinda beamed as Mara approached the table. "You sit here, Mommy." She pulled the chair at the head of the table. "So we're both sitting next to you."

"Oh, I'm popular tonight." Mara sat in the chosen seat. She could indulge this flight of fancy from her daughter.

"We both missed you. We went to see you every day in the medcenter."

Luke carried the food packages to the table. "The medic said it was good for you to hear our voices."

It had happened. Lucinda had had a vision of what had happened to Mara. Maybe seeing she was getting healing every day was better for her daughter. She would ask Luke later, out of Luci's presence. "I hope you didn't use those trips as an excuse not to do your lessons."

"I did my lessons! Jedi Luke made me." She handed her plate to Luke's outstretched hand. Luke served the savory vegetables and noodles mixture to the plate before handing it back. Lucinda continued, "I finished Science Three and Math Three and started Four on both of them. And I kept up with Mando'a, Bocce, and Binary. Threepio helped and said I should probably study Olys Corellisi next because smugglers like to use it for code words."

Mara accepted her plate from Luke that had a much smaller portion of the meal heaped on it. "We'll see about that when it's time to add a new language in. What about History of Naboo?"

Lucinda twirled her noodles onto her fork. "Does it count if I learned stuff that wasn't in the lesson?"

"You still have to learn the stuff in the lesson to pass the tests. That's how we know you learned it. Where did you stop?"

Luke had a reproachful expression aimed over the table at Lucinda. "You told me you were working on all your lessons."

"I was! I reached the Clone Wars and Artoo had stories about what he did then flying with your father. And the first one happened on Naboo, a Separatist was making a bioweapon there, and they sent Anakin Skywalker to stop him. Those stories weren't in the lessons or were just a tiny bit. Artoo said they had to be declassified by now."

"Artoo flew with my father?" He threw a puzzled expression at Mara, like she would know why his eccentric astromech would say something like that.

"He said he was waiting for you to ask because if you speak up like Threepio does, you end up getting memory wiped. And then they started fighting and Threepio wouldn't translate any Binary from that." She put the noodle ball into her mouth.

"That was for the best." Luke set his served plate down. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"You were busy with setting up the target practice contest."

Mara swallowed her first bite of the savory noodles. The taste exploded on her tongue in a good way, rather than painful, and she finished chewing before she realized it. "Contest?"

"I won!" Lucinda's face lit up with glee.

"Good, but why was it a contest?"

"It didn't start that way." Luke drank and continued the story after he swallowed. "The target range keeps a score tally, and Lucinda's results got added to mine. So I had some military and Palace security people asking why my blaster skills had improved so drastically."

"And then they didn't believe him when he said he wasn't using the Force to help me blast."

"Right, so it evolved into a contest with Han supervising Lucinda while I was meeting with the ship techs on the other side of the Palace."

"And I won!" Lucinda slurped her noodles down.

"I understand the Internal Security forces are now drilling to improve their scores." Luke's blue eyes twinkled.

"Captain Solo offered to have me teaching them, but I said I was still learning and that wouldn't be proper. You should teach them, Mommy!"

Lucinda's happiness warmed Mara and made her fears shrivel. "I already have a job with Captain Karrde, remember?"

"He said you still have it. I asked."

"Captain Karrde is a good employer. Not like the other employers you remember," Mara said. Lucinda nodded and shoved a green stalk into her mouth. Mara took another bite. Both Luke and Lucinda had a busy day and weren't lingering over their servings. Mara appreciated the flavor of the meal, but didn't have much of an appetite for it. She let them nearly clean their plates before asking her next question. "So what else did you do?"

"The ship techs let me help take apart a Ghtroc class 720 freighter." Luci said before she finished her drink bulb. "Oh, and we went swimming. There's a lake inside the building here!"

"We stayed in the shallows," Luke said. "We also went to a few museum exhibits."

"And a swoop race!" Lucinda slid out of her chair and ran over to the sofa her duffel bag was resting on. She dug into it while walking back to the table. "I got a jacket for the Coruscanti Hawk-bats!" She pulled out a pale-yellow jacket and flipped it around to show Mara the hawk-bat head logo and the purple contours of the animal on the back. "Do you like it? Is it too spot-able?"

She wanted to keep it. Mara's deteriorated Force skills could recognize that from her daughter. And Luke was riveted on her decision, too. Had he bought it for Lucinda? Mara smiled and bopped her daughter's nose. "It's fine for Coruscant, and the rest of their swoop circuit."

Lucinda grinned and slung the jacket over one shoulder. "I'll go unpack while you talk about grown-up stuff." Then she darted down the hall with her duffel.

Luke grinned as his gaze followed her disappearance. "That's a pretty good dodge out of having to clean up. Much better than anything she's tried before."

"In that case, and because she set up, we can let her slide." Mara picked up her plate and utensils, and carried them into the kitchen. "I didn't expect you to be so involved with her." Not without learning the truth, she thought behind the tightest mental shield she had.

"Really?" Dishes rattled at the table while Luke collected them. "Accepting custody of children is a sacred practice on Tatooine. I would not let you down when you trusted me that much."

Mara paused at the cleaning unit. "Custody? Karrde invoked that? That was supposed to be triggered if I died."

Luke set the other plates on the counter. "I'm grateful it wasn't." She turned to face his husky voice, and he was right there, moving closer, catching some of her loose hair and tucking it behind her ear. "You remember us?"

He was too close and not close enough. "Yes," she whispered, and then his mouth sealed to hers. Her body melted against his as her greedy mouth took all the affection and lust he had for her now. So greedy, but she wanted it all because it wouldn't last.

His arm snaked around her waist, pulling her closer while his other hand entwined in her hair and coaxed her head into a different tilt. Her fingers traced the cords of his neck as her arms settled on his shoulders.

So much longing and lust was uprooting her feet. He had missed her that much? It didn't seem possible. But if he kept kissing her like this, she would need to drag him to the room that Karrde wasn't using and satisfy them both.

The bleating annoyance of a comm signaled.

Luke threw his head back with a groan. "I have—" He panted and tried again. "I have to answer that."

Mara let him go, and he strode out to the parlor before answering his comm unit. She turned back to the cleaning unit, but had to unfasten her jumpsuit away from her neck to help cool her heated body. He had wanted to kiss her back in the cell Grakkus had put them both in; he had admitted that. If he had, she would have lost her head and followed him to the ends of the galaxy and back. Biting down on her swollen lip on how not bad that sounded right now, she turned her attention to the dishes.

She almost had everything on the counter inside the cleaning unit when she heard "Fierfek," muttered heartily, but attempting to be quiet about it from Luke. "Fierfek, fierfek." She had never gotten a clear translation of that Huttese from anyone, but when Luke muttered that word like that it was never good news. She stood in the doorway out of the kitchen and into the shared parlor dining room.

Luke turned to her with a disappointed expression. "The mission is green lit and they want me in the air now. I better be happy they let me have a meal."

Mara felt her heart plummet. "The mission Luci mentioned?"

"Yeah, don't worry. It's finally mapped out and supported now. But I have to go. I don't know if Ghent told you, but Thrawn beat us to the Katana fleet."

Mara shook her head.

Luke sighed. "They had moved nearly a hundred and eighty of the Dreadnaughts by the time we arrived. And I'm probably the best chance at finding their source of new crewers and soldiers before it gets worse."

A deep sense of unfairness over how she almost died for naught combined with the burden of knowledge. "How bad is it now?" she asked.

"In the past five days, we've lost control of four sectors, and thirteen more are on the edge. The biggest loss was the food production facilities at Ukio. Still haven't figured out how they took it with its defenses intact."

That settled her mind, at least. She couldn't send him out into space distracted by personal things. Her heart weighed heavily with the decision. "Well, we'll be here until Ghent finishes his job unless Karrde wants to pull us out early. And the sooner you go, the sooner you can come back."

An emotional struggle crossed his face and his shoulders fell as he heaved a sigh. "There's no way to ease into it, so I better just say it." He squared his shoulders and looked back up with a fervent gleam in his blue eyes. "Mara, I want to court you." Utter confusion must have spread across her face because he winced. "Blast it, I should have asked Threepio what Coruscant calls it."

"Calls what?" slipped out of her mouth before her brain could stop it.

He caught her hands and pressed them against his chest. His heart was pounding as hard as hers was right now. "Mara, I care for you. I have since we met. I just want a chance to prove I can be the partner you deserve. Please consider taking that chance on me."

The adoration on his face hurt. "But Lucinda," she whispered.

He lowered his forehead against hers. "Mara, don't be afraid of that. I know you are package deal." He gently squeezed her hands. "And I would never do anything to separate you and Lucinda." He pulled back enough to look into her eyes. "I think she'll give me a good report for the past month."

His comm unit sounded off again, sparing her a direct reply to that declaration.

He groaned through gritted teeth as he let her go to silence it. "I'm not trying to pressure you for a decision. Take as long as you need to decide."

"We'll talk as soon as you get back." Over how this offer would be rescinded, but he wouldn't have the fate of the entire New Republic on his shoulders.

"Great!" His grin was blinding until his comm chimed again. He silenced it again before digging into his pocket. "Here before I forget." He handed her a credit chip.

"Luke, no."

"Lucinda wants you to take her to the opera. I know how much that costs; Leia dragged me and Han before. I don't know if you have enough to pay for everything, so take it, please. Buy a couple of pretty dresses, get your hair done, eat out, do everything. I'm good for it. She wants it badly, Mara."

She closed her hand around it. "All right, Luke. May the Force be with you."

"And with you too." He leaned in and gave her a quick peck on the lips before his comm chimed again. This one he answered as he whirled to the main door. "Now you're starting, Artoo? I'm on my way." Mara heard the droid's suspicious blat through the comm speaker. "Yes, I am!" And the door slid shut on the rest of their conversation, plunging the quarters into deep silence.

What in all the Corellian hells had she missed in a month? Why had Karrde invoked the custody clause of her employment contract without tell Luke he was Lucinda's father? Vader take him! Karrde had the perfect opportunity to satisfy his own curiosity and did not take it. That was so unexpected; the galaxy must have started spinning backwards.

She shook her head, not that it helped clear anything, and concentrated on clearing the unconsumed food from the table. They would probably need to shove it into Ghent when they moved him back upstairs. Only after the dishes were in the cleaning unit and the conservator closed, she took calming breaths and headed to her and Luci's room.

Lucinda's red-gold head was bent over a new personal piloting simulator as she sat at the room's desk. Mara bit her lip. How much had Luke spent on Lucinda in only a month? She sighed and approached. "Where did that come from?"

She paused the program to twist in the chair and look at Mara. "It was my fee for taking care of Ghent while he fixed the Ackbar thing."

"So Captain Karrde gave it to you, not Luke?"

"Yes. And Doncella Retrac is getting me another program for taking care of Ghent while he's on this job."

Mara moved to the bed and sat down. "Well, that's some good negotiating."

Lucinda grinned, just like Luke. How had he not seen it? Then she thought about how Mara had asked. "Jedi Luke left already?"

"They called him up for his mission."

"They wanted to send him off right after you got hurt. He wouldn't go because he had to take care of me for you. And because it wasn't ready."

"Well, it's ready now. He'll be fine. He was sorry he couldn't say goodbye." Luke had been thinking of Lucinda and her opera request when he rushed out the door.

"I would have made it quick." Lucinda pouted. "I don't think I like Intelligence. And nobody trusts their ships."

"I'm sorry, Luci-love. Did you like staying with him?"

She nodded. "He missed you too. Made it easier when I felt sad. Ghent was into the computers and everybody else left with Captain Karrde." She tilted her head like Mara did as she considered what she was thinking of. "So we have a place to go when you lose this job. Jedi Luke would help us."

Mara's lips twisted. "When I lose this job? I thought you said I still have this job."

"Captain Karrde did say that." Her daughter shrugged. "They never last, Mommy. Because of me or Imperials or bounty hunters or they turn nasty. Shouldn't we make plans for it now?"

"You let me worry about the plans." Mara told her, trying to ignore the familiar ache in her chest. All she had wanted was a normal childhood for Lucinda; what she had never had with constant training and expectations. It was looking more and more likely that she had failed at that. "You enjoyed living with Luke. Did Captain Karrde say why you needed to stay with Luke?"

"He said it was in your contract. I also figured it kept me and Ghent away from any Imperials chasing them." Her blue eyes narrowed in confusion. "Did Captain Karrde lie to Jedi Luke?"

"No, it is in my contract," Mara said. "I guess I just expected to be sick at base and everybody would be there. But you're right, this kept us safe from Imperials." She stood up and patted Lucinda's head. "You go back to your game before we have to go collect Ghent."

"Okay! I have a timer set up already." She twisted back to the simulator and resumed the program. Mara left the room to see what was on the data card Karrde had left for her.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Mara had forgotten in the years away from Imperial Palace how much she loathed waiting here. It had been seven days since Luke left on his mission, and Karrde had returned none of her messages. She hoped that telling Lucinda she still had a job hadn't been a ploy to keep tears out of her daughter's blue eyes. Mara tried not to stalk around the quarters, but her entire body wanted action.

She checked on Lucinda. Her sleeping daughter had rolled to the center of the bed, cocooning in the sheet and blanket. If Mara ever felt sleepy before dawn approached, she might be better off taking the empty bedroom no matter how she hated the sight lines from its door.

She headed back out to the main room of the quarters, shortening her steps so she was not pacing. Ghent looked up from the terminal in the corner. "Do you want on the HoloNet? It won't bother me."

"No, thank you." Mindless entertainment wouldn't solve her itchy restlessness. "Lucinda's asleep. I'm going for a walk. Burn off some energy. Comm me if she wakes up or you need anything."

"Okay," he agreed as he turned back to the console screen.

Mara checked she had her personal comm and the small blaster hidden in a forearm holster up her sleeve before heading out. She was still conflicted about the blaster. When she had lived and trained here, each residential floor of the Imperial Palace had an extensive library of data cards for occupants to borrow. Each of those libraries had a multicard set entitled The Complete History of Corvis Minor. No one would ever want to read the unexceptional history of Corvis Minor, so no one would ever be surprised by how the box actually held a dissembled holdout blaster. She had found the blaster with an charged power pack exactly where she had been told she would on this floor, which made her feel better about her fighting chances against Thrawn's war or Bothan reprisals but the New Republic missed all those power packs in their sweeps. Was she obliged to point them out? Or at least tell Luke about a weapons stash that might help his family?

It wasn't a dilemma she would figure out tonight either, so she settled for striding as soundlessly as she could through their residential floor. The corridor ended where the massive staircases up to the restricted residential floors met the turbolift lobby. The two security guards standing at attention there didn't impede her progress in front of them to the lounge opposite the library, a seating area with large windows looking out at Coruscant. A pleasant spot to wait for anyone before boarding a turbolift or using the decorative staircase that led up to the permanent residential floors above. She passed the security force guard stationed at the desk officer's duty station, but he didn't bother to look up when she didn't turn to go to the public comm station at the end of the adjacent room.

They had shut the primary lights inside the lounge off, leaving pools of light from the lamps set next to the chairs. But Mara ignored those opulent chairs to tuck herself in a shadowed corner of the window to gaze at the stream of lights of Coruscant's constant air traffic without her ghostly reflection disturbing the view. This window faced the Entertainment District. The Galaxies Opera House lit up as a beacon caught her eye. She needed to take Lucinda to a performance, and she needed to stop her pride from giving reluctance at using Luke's credits. There was a possibility that he will regret giving the payment to her once he knew what she was hiding. But then he paid Karrde's transport fee, so how could she gauge his reaction?

She pressed her forehead against the glass. Enough dithering, she told herself. She would buy tickets to something tomorrow, they would go out and get proper gowns, and she would also make sure their seats were in a box for when Lucinda fell asleep. She glanced down at her chronometer—half an hour past midnight. So she would do that today after getting some sleep. She sighed, pushed away from the window, and froze before her feet turned her around.

Deep in the back of her mind, the quiet alarm bell sent reverberations through her entire being. Somewhere nearby, there was danger.

The tiny blaster slid into her hand as she listened hard for a hint of what was happening. Footsteps, multiple, strode into the larger area. She stepped further into the shadows and dropped behind the closest chair while keeping a firm gaze on the entrance.

Another Palace security guard rounded the corner closest to the desk officer station. He raised his sidearm blaster and fired simultaneously with two other blasters. The body dropped onto the desktop.

Shavit still echoed in her mind when four more "guards" carried two limp bodies to the secluded station and public comm station. She recognized the bodies as the guards she had just passed at the stairs. She also acknowledged that anyone wandering back to their suite on this floor wasn't likely to head to the public comms at this time of night. Eight silent human males grouped in a bent diamond formation and moved with purpose to the stairs.

Imperial Intelligence had infiltrated the former Imperial Palace.

She clenched her teeth tighter. They had stationed Intelligence in the rooftop tower above in her childhood. They may have put in their own secret passages along with the ones Palpatine had shown her. What else had the New Republic missed when they moved in? She shook her head as she eased toward the doorway. What the hell were they after tonight? She pulled up the floor layout from memory. Who would be the target tonight? She didn't know who in the New Republic hierarchy lived where. Clearing the first corner that separated the desk officer's station from the lounge, she didn't see a rear guard left behind here where the stairs started or what she could see of the stairs.

She took a deep breath and scurried to the next wall. Now she could see more of the stairs and no masquerading Imperials in sight. She readied her blaster and headed up the stairs to the presentation landing. No blasts greeted her, so she continued up the carpeted stairs to peer up the stairwell. The Imperials would leave a rear guard somewhere on the stairs.

She was so focused on finding them; she didn't sense anyone moving behind her. So the quiet click of a blaster safety behind her stiffened her body. "All right, Jade," an unfamiliar voice said quietly. "Nice and easy. It's all over."

Mara raised her hands as she turned. That pacified enemies at one's back and kept them ignorant that she had the high ground and didn't need a blaster to attack. She didn't know the older, pale-skinned man holding the blaster on her. He was losing gray hair at his forehead and growing it longer in the back, but his stance with the blaster was military. She recognized the dark-skinned man backing up the stranger. "Calrissian! There are Imperials in the Palace, dressed as Security. Eight of them killed the guards here and headed up."

"Interesting." The older man eyed her suspiciously. "Where were you going?"

"I thought it might be a good idea to find out where they ended up before going for help." Mara's sarcasm was quick. "It used to be standard practice to disrupt the comms first."

He stopped pointing his blaster at her and stepped up to gaze up the stairwell. "What are they after up there? The Provisional Council are all at the Sarkan reception tonight."

Calrissian's brown eyes widened. "They're after Leia's twins."

Mara felt her insides lurch and now she uttered, "Shavit. You're right. Thrawn's promised them to that lunatic C'baoth. That has to be it."

"Where's your room, Calrissian?" the older man asked, much like a military commander trying to be diplomatic.

Calrissian pointed to the hallway running east from the staircase. "Two doors down."

"Get your blaster. You and Jade head up, maybe try to warn Leia and Solo if you can get ahead of the Imperials. I'll go downstairs and scare up some reinforcements." He headed down the stairs to the turbolifts.

"Be careful—they may have left an intercept down there," Mara warned.

"They'll certainly have one on the way up," he countered. A turbolift was waiting on this floor and he stepped into it. "Watch yourselves." The turbolift dropped away.

"I'll be right back." Calrissian didn't run down the rest of the stairs, but vaulted over the handrail to the corridor that led into the residential hallway.

"Just hurry it up," she called after him. Luke wasn't here to help his family, so it was up to her. Could she still reach out like she did once to Palpatine? Luke had touched her briefly on the Chimera. She opened her Force sense. Lucinda's strong gleam pulled at her even while she slept, but Mara reached up, looking for another as strong as Luke's. There it was, muted by sleep above Mara's current position. She concentrated on her words. Leia Organa Solo. Leia Organa Solo. Wake up. You're in danger. Wake up. Leia Organa Solo, wake up—

The fragile connection between them severed as the other woman woke up. Mara sucked in breaths, feeling the mental exertion. If they all survived tonight and Luke wasn't too furious with her after they got to talk, maybe she should ask him to see if Palpatine had damaged her Force abilities when he tried to kill her. It didn't use to be so hard.

Calrissian stopped next to her on the stairs. "Ready?"

"Let's go."

The climb up the stairs was quiet and measured. They reached the floor under the elite suites where the main staircase ended and the elite quarters had a gymnasium, library, and ballroom space. The more compact stairwell continued upward on the opposite side of the turbolift shafts. A sound drifted to them from a floor above that might have been a blaster bolt. The next one left a few seconds later left no doubt. "Uh oh," Calrissian muttered as they stopped on the landing and hugged the stairwell wall. "That's trouble."

Another blast echoed down the far staircase. "Sounds like a heavy blaster." Mara listened hard. "They must not have been able to get the door open quietly."

"Or else they only want the twins." Calrissian heaved away from the landing corner they had paused at. "Come on."

Mara grabbed his arm with her free hand. "This is the perfect spot for the rear guard, and I don't feel like stopping a blaster bolt."

She ignored his impatient mutter because an inhale soon followed. "You're right—there's someone behind the right turbolift shaft, guarding the other stairwell."

"Means there'll be one on the left side too. Probably inside that stairwell." Another blaster bolt echoed down. "And we got two making a crossfire gauntlet just a few meters out from this stairwell." They had rigged the lights so they could both sulk in the shadows. Intelligence operatives couldn't stop doing that, Mara thought with a sneer. But the banquet room had a decorative half wall, and she spied the end of the blaster poking over it. The library doors were wide open for someone to blast through.

"I see them," Calrissian said. "This won't be easy." He looked back over his shoulder at the route they had traveled. "Come on, Bel Iblis, get up here."

So that was who the older man was. It hadn't been a good time to insist on introductions. "He'd better hurry," Mara said as she watched the four Imperials and trying to remember this section's layout. She didn't think there wasn't a secret turbolift access on this floor. Another blast echoed. "Organa Solo's door will not last long."

"Not nearly as long as that rear guard can hold us off." Calrissian hissed between his teeth. "Wait a minute. Stay here—I've got an idea."

"Where are you going?"

"Main hangar. Chewie was down there earlier, working on the Falcon. If he's still there, we can go up the outside of the Palace and get them out."

Mara fell back from the stairwell's opening to stare at him. "How? Those are transparisteel windows up there—you blast through them and you'll kill everyone inside."

Calrissian gave her a sly smile as he looked back. "Won't have to. Leia's got a lightsaber. Keep these guys busy, okay?" He sprinted down the stairs and disappeared.

She turned her attention back to the Imperials ahead. Had they spotted her and Calrissian sulking here? Likely. Because the guy behind the right side turbolift had shifted too far out to bait her. Fine. If he wanted to be a target, she felt like pulling the trigger. She switched her blaster to her left hand, braced her wrist against the corner, took careful aim….

A blast from the banquet half-wall spattered off the wall above her blaster. Hot stone fragments scattered across her hand. "Shavit!" she snarled as she snatched her hand back and brushed the splinters away. They wanted to be cute? Nobody else had liked it when she turned cute back on them. She got a fresh grip on her blaster and eased forward again.

The danger tingle went off in her mind. She dropped to one knee. A pair of blaster bolts flashed into the stone wall right where her head had been. She threw herself to the floor and looked around to track those blasts. A human-sized section of the wall had pulled back, and two more disguised Imperials were emerging into the stairwell. So there was a secret passage entrance on this floor. She rolled to face them and blasted twice.

The bolts went wide off the mark, but made them duck. And that gave her time to switch to a two-handed grip, and line up her next blast. She targeted the rightmost assailant and fired twice again.

He jerked as the bolts hit and collapsed to the floor. But his cadaverous spasm continued to pull the trigger on his blaster and his partner had to dodge from the bolts hitting the ceiling.

Mara's aim followed him, but before she blasted again, the air over her head filled with blaster bolts. The Imperial dropped into a sprawl next to his partner and didn't move.

She twisted around. A half-dozen security guards were now hurrying up the last steps to her position with their weapons at the ready. Bel Iblis was behind them. "You all right?" he called out.

"I'm fine." She grunted as she rolled back. Just in time for the Imperials in the larger room to open fire at that position. She got to her feet and ducked away from the stone chips flying from the wall and floor. She reached Bel Iblis' side. "Calrissian's gone down to the hangar."

"Yes, we passed him on the way up." He pulled her further back from the security guards, who scurried around them to return fire. "What happened here?" He gestured at the pair of Imperials on the floor.

"Couple of latecomers to the party. Probably on their way back from the comm section. Their friends blocking the stairs up tried to keep my attention while they sneaked up on me. Just about worked, too."

"I'm glad it didn't." Bel Iblis said before shifting his attention over her shoulder. "Lieutenant?"

"Not going to be easy, sir," the guard commander called over the noise. "We've got an E-Web repeating blaster on its way up from the armory. Until then, about all we can do is keep them busy and hope they do something stupid."

Bel Iblis nodded slowly and his face compressed, his lips forming a tight line, a hint of strain around his eyes. "We can't wait." His voice was firm against the strain on his face. "The group upstairs will have Solo's door open well before that. We must take them now."

The guard commander almost saluted out of reflex. "Understood, sir. Right, men, you heard the General. Let's find ourselves some cover and get to it."

Mara took a step closer to Bel Iblis. "They'll never do it in time," she murmured.

"I know that. But the more we can take out now, the fewer we'll have to deal with when the rest of them come downstairs." His gaze shifted over her shoulder again. "When," he added softly, "they have hostages."

Bel Iblis or Calrissian would order the air space closed off around the Palace, so the Imperials couldn't escape from the roof. And Thrawn was enough of a bastard to march innocent babies through, knowing his enemies won't dare take a bolt with the children of two of their heroes in harm's way. She didn't even feel up to taking that shot, and she had done it before when that stupid bounty hunter had grabbed Lucinda. Mara's fingers tightened on her blaster and her gaze went to the still open private passage door. "What floor are the Solos on?"

Bel Iblis turned his attention back to her. "Why do you—"

"I know you don't trust me, but we don't have time for this! I can get to them. What floor?"

The older man told her and Mara leaped over the dead bodies into the private passage. It ran along the stairwell with steps down to another landing before turning east. There was one of the small, silent turbolift at the end ahead. She sprinted for it, but the rustle of clothing warned her she wasn't alone. She didn't look back until she reached the turbolift door and punched her old Emperor's Hand code onto the pad. Bel Iblis was frowning even harder, but the turbolift door opened for her. Palpatine had never stripped her code from the systems here either? She hadn't questioned it much on the Chimera, just had used it for as long as they were able. Same thing now.

She keyed in the Solos' floor under Bel Iblis' curious glare. "How did you know this was here?" he asked.

"I used to live here." The turbolift eased to a stop, and the door slid open into the floor's hidden chamber. Bel Iblis let her out first. The chambers in the elite floors had two exits depending on the location of the hallways of the quarters. This one had northern and southern doors. The blaster fire inside was louder from the southern secret door. Mara stretched out with her other senses. Organa Solo was to the east. She opened the southern door into a hallway of bedroom doors. The blaster fire echoing from the eastern end of the hallway gained an explosive crash. Another security door had failed. The blaster fire doubled as the defenders now shot back.

Mara threw her arm out, blocking Bel Iblis from moving forward once they reached the part of the hall where the blaster bolts were landing. Leia Organa Solo, she called out silently again. Was that the other woman's curiosity or Mara's own? She hoped Organa Solo could hear her. It's Mara. We're coming up behind them. Surrender! You hear me? Surrender and stall them!

Organa Solo's voice shouted, barely audible over the blaster fire. "Stop! Stop shooting! We surrender!"

The blaster fire stopped. Mara dropped her arm and surged forward. Three Imperials stood and knelt in a vestibule at the eastern end of the hall. All their blasters trained into the doorway and they were letting their prone comrade get up before moving inside. Mara and Bel Iblis fired at the same time.

The two standing Imperials dropped to the ground. The one kneeling on the floor fell as he spun around; Mara quicker on the trigger than he. The fourth was on his feet, but a shot from inside the room sent him spinning. Bel Iblis fired on him again before he strode ahead of Mara. "Solo?" He looked down the intersecting hallway. "Any injuries?"

Mara followed him, intending to clear that hallway while Bel Iblis dealt with the others, when a scream filled her head.


She staggered back from the clarity of it. "Lucinda?" She focused the Force on the connection she had always had with her daughter. Luci?

Breaking in! Ghent can't comm you! Lock breaker, he's scrambling to stop it. Mommy, hurry!

"Jade!" Bel Iblis barked at her.

"They're after my daughter!" She pushed off the wall and sprinted back to the secret entrance.

"Take Calrissian's exit! We don't know how many are in the Palace!" The old man was with her again, jumping into the small turbolift in sync with her. Mara punched in the floor code and the southwest shaft's entrance code. He waited until the turbolift was dropping. "You have the Force, like the Jedi."

"You're on the wrong lift if you have a problem with that, Senator." Her fingers flexed on her blaster, but she kept it pointed at the floor C'baoth knew about Lucinda, had tried to sway Mara with a promise of a galaxy safe for her daughter. Either he told Thrawn or Delta Source found out, so grab one more Force sensitive on this mission. She locked down her own fears, but Lucinda's were still bouncing along their connection: fear of being taken, indignation over lack of a blaster, a fierce longing for Mara and Luke to be here.

Bel Iblis cleared his throat. "What are we facing down there?"

"Soon to be dead men," Mara said grimly. "She can't see details. They are fighting to keep the door locked." He nodded, checking his own blaster.

The turbolift door slid open and Mara hit the corridor at a run. She turned into a dead-end intersection and Bel Iblis had reached her before that secret passage entrance slid open into the end of the residential hallway south of this floor's library. Mara paused long enough to listen: muttered cursing louder than the whirring of an electronic lock breaker. They eased to the corner of the hallway.

Two disguised Imperials at the door of Mara's quarters. Her blast dropped the one bent over the lock breaker on the door. Bel Iblis took down the one who was guarding the entrance of the residential hallway.

She checked they were both out of the fight before wrenching the lock breaker off the door. Bel Iblis passed her, clearing the rest of the hallway. She calmed herself and reached out to her daughter. Lucinda? Mommy stopped them. Ghent can open the door.

The minutes crawled by, but finally the door slid open and Ghent balanced precariously with one of the dining table chairs held over his head. Relief broke across his worried face. "Mara!"

"I told you!" Lucinda pushed him aside to get the door. "Mommy!"

Mara grabbed her and shouldered her way into the quarters. "I'm here. Don't look."

Lucinda wrapped her arms around her mother, pressed her face against Mara's tunic, and burst into sobs. Ghent scrambled back, but almost swung the chair when Bel Iblis appeared in the doorway.

"Stand down, Ghent. He's an ally." Mara's adrenaline carried Lucinda to the sofa, and she sat with her daughter on her lap. She managed not to trip over the wires Ghent had run from the console terminal to the door controls. "Either of you hurt?"

Lucinda rolled her head against Mara as she shook it. "They didn't get in." Ghent grabbed some of his blue hair and yanked it. "I heard the lock breaker. Nobody who's supposed to be here would need one of those. And then Luci woke up screaming 'stay out.' I started randomizing the keycode."

Lucinda gulped down air around a hard sniffle as her tears eased off. "I heard the twins and blasters. Nobody good would blast around babies. And I tried to comm first." She twisted to look up at Mara's face. "It just squealed. And I asked Jedi Luke to teach me to use the Force to talk without comms, and he did. Don't be mad."

Mara tightened her hug, reeling Lucinda to her chest. "I'm not mad. You were so smart to ask for that." And she was so thankful to Luke for taking Lucinda seriously and teaching her. "You learned very well."

Lucinda sagged against Mara's body.

She kissed the top of Lucinda's head before looking up at Ghent. "Get whatever you're working on that cannot fall into Imperial hands." He held up a data card. She managed to not laugh, which was more adrenaline crash than anything amusing, but she smiled. "Good, you are finally learning." She looked over at Bel Iblis. "Fall back now? Do we have a safe location?"

"They should have one set up by now." Bel Iblis shifted to look out the doorway. "Let's move while the way is clear."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda stared down at her datapad, but she wasn't reading any of the lesson she had opened on the screen. After Palace Security had decided all the Imperials had been blasted or caught, they moved her and Mommy onto a new floor and into a two-bedroom quarters like Jedi Luke's but this one had viewscreens instead of windows. They moved Ghent into a separate suite in the same residential hall. She had slept in the bigger bedroom with Mommy when they finally got a chance to sleep. Ghent had checked in with a comm around lunchtime when they had all woken up. Mommy had asked that Lucinda not fall behind on lessons, so Lucinda had set up at the desk in the smaller bedroom to do them, but she couldn't concentrate on it. She should ask for a day off from lessons and they could watch a holodrama instead. Surviving an Imperial kidnapping needed time off like Mommy going to a medcenter did.

She slid out of the chair with that good idea, headed out of the bedroom, and froze in the hallway to the bedroom. Mommy was in the suite's foyer letting a bulky man wearing a Palace Security uniform into their quarters. "Colonel Jak Bremen, Director of Security for the New Republic Council. I'm afraid I have questions about what happened this morning and about you, Trader Jade."

"I am glad to help any way I can." The adults walked into the parlor without looking down the hall. Lucinda crept closer to the foyer so she could hear and see a little. Mommy continued talking as she gestured to the sofa. "After all, the Imperials targeted my daughter, my coworker, and myself as well."

The sofa squeaked as Colonel Bremen sat down. Lucinda pulled her head back and pressed her back against the wall. "According to the other witnesses' statements, you were adamant that your daughter was the target."

"Grand Admiral Thrawn promised C'baoth Force users, but I'm sure he told his operatives that the adults are expendable. My daughter is a more tempting target than the infants, old enough to not need a nanny droid."

"And just how do you know what the Grand Admiral promised?" His gruff voice sounded suspicious.

"He captured me because he wanted Captain Talon Karrde, placed a homing beacon on my ship, and let me go with a promise to actually pay for the Katana fleet. I led them straight to my boss, and they took us prisoner. Only Thrawn thought breaking a deal was an enlistment bonus. When I disagreed with that, he offered me a command position or to be a gift to his mad Jedi C'baoth like Jedi Skywalker already was. After he thought he had me cowed, it was easy to slip away and go get Jedi Skywalker." There was a long pause, before Mommy added in a softer voice. "The children wouldn't be able to see C'baoth's danger or his darkness."

Lucinda frowned. C'baoth must have been the one throwing rocks at their ship when they went to Jomark.

Colonel Bremen cleared his throat a bit. "That falls under Jedi Skywalker's purview. You were injured at the Katana fleet skirmish and spent a month in the Imperial Palace medcenter. Your first time staying at the Imperial Palace?"

"No," Mommy said. "As I told General Bel Iblis, I used to live here."

Lucinda's eyes widened. Mommy had lived here when she lived on Coruscant? How was that possible?

"How long ago?"

"Nine years ago, getting close to ten."

"While Emperor Palpatine was in residence." Colonel Bremen sounded like the name of the dead Emperor made his mouth hurt.

Mommy answered his statement like it was a question. "Yes, he was. I didn't return until Jedi Skywalker bought me and Captain Karrde on the thirty-third day of the sixth month this year."

"Were you born here?"

"I list Coruscant as my birth planet for simplicity's sake. I grew up here from age three or four. But my record was scrubbed, so I have no idea where the Emperor collected me from."

"Collected?" Colonel Bremen asked sharply. It confused Lucinda, too. Collected was what bounty hunters did.

"Jedi Skywalker didn't update my records within the New Republic?"

He made a funny noise, and it tempted Lucinda to look around the corner to see his face. She didn't though. "We have to verify your answers with Jedi Skywalker once he returns," he said.

Lucinda wished he was back. The Imperials wouldn't have dared sneak in if he was here.

"Of course." Mommy sounded very thoughtful. "What is your question, Colonel? Do you want my entire biography? I don't see how that helps you plug the secret entrance Imperial Intelligence exploited."

"Secret passages that were never recorded in any plans we found for the Imperial Palace." Colonel Bremen's gruff voice grew thicker.

"They wouldn't be secret if they were on the plans."

"But you knew about them."

"And I used them to blast Imperial agents before they achieved their objectives." Mommy was a hero, Lucinda thought, growing angry. Why was this Colonel sounding so suspicious? Mommy continued. "I'm surprised that my access codes were never stripped from those secret passages. You are welcome to them for your security measures."

"Thank you for your cooperation. Of course, that cooperation is perfectly designed to position you as an Imperial asset inside our trust."

Mommy sounded amused. "And the invading Imperial operatives warned you of my treachery during interrogation?"

Lucinda couldn't take it anymore. She stormed through the foyer and into the parlor. "You take that back! You take it back right now!" The Colonel on the sofa startled as he twisted to face her. "Mommy would never work with the Imperials!"

"Lucinda!" Mommy said in her you're-in-trouble tone, but Lucinda would not let this stupid man get away with telling lies.

"Thrawn hurt her and Captain Karrde. And the Imperials hunted us! Mommy would never help them!"

Colonel Bremen's face turned a deep red and his features set in a frown as hard as durasteel. "Your mother was raised here, possesses access codes that an Imperial agent would find useful, has knowledge of secret passages built by the Emperor, and was positively identified as the Emperor's Hand. Now that name," he spat, "the New Republic has extensive files about the crimes accomplished by that Imperial threat: murders and sabotage." He turned to Mommy and grimaced, but continued. "Are you going to deny that you served Palpatine in that role?"

Lucinda looked up at her mother's face: white with fury and pain. "How dare you bring that up with my daughter right here," Mommy said icily. "Whatever you believe of me and my past, she's obviously not an Imperial of any stripe." Colonel Bremen sputtered, but Mommy raised her hand and he stopped. "I need to see Minister Organa Solo at her earliest convenience. After I have seen her, I will give you all the details of the Emperor's Hand you can stand."

Colonel Bremen opened his mouth, but glanced at Lucinda before speaking. He closed it, nodded, and stood up. "I will submit your request, Trader Jade. I also have to restrict your access to only these quarters, enforced by a G-2RD guard droid. Thank you for your cooperation with the investigation." He walked to the door. Lucinda scowled at his back as she watched to make sure he left.

"Spying, Lucinda Padmé Jade?"

Lucinda turned slowly to face her mother. She sank down into the armchair that faced the foyer doorway. The fury was leaving her face, replaced by exhaustion, but the pain never moved.

Luci scuffed her foot against the carpet on the floor. "I didn't mean to. But he is telling lies about you!"

"The Imperials are telling lies about me. But it makes sense to Colonel Bremen because he doesn't know the complete story. And neither do you."

Lucinda froze. "Mommy?" Her mother never lied to her. She always said they never had time for that.

Mommy shook her head. "I thought this story could wait until you were older. You have asked about our family and I never answered. I don't remember my parents. Emperor Palpatine took me from them when I was about three or four years old."

Lucinda's blue eyes widened. That was how old she had been when they met Ghent, and she remembered him. Why couldn't Mommy remember?

"Palpatine brought me here, assigned me to tutors and trainers, and when he decided I was old enough, he made me an Emperor's Hand. I was fifteen-years-old."

"You murdered people?" Lucinda felt her chin tremble. "Because he told you to?"

Her green eyes were very sad. "Yes. I killed two men on his orders. I don't know if it makes you feel better that they were evil men hurting people."

Mommy had killed more bounty hunters and Imperials chasing them than that, but Lucinda didn't feel much comfort in that comparison. "But the Emperor was more evil!"

"I didn't know he was evil then. I thought he loved me and he only wanted good for the entire galaxy, but all these traitors were against him. I was raised with these lies. I was seventeen years old when I realized what love really is."

Lucinda clenched her fists. Her father; it must be her father who showed Mommy how wrong the Empire was before he left them. She didn't want to know who he was anymore. Jedi Luke had held her and sang to her while she cried. Did he know this about Mommy? Would he still love them when he knew? "How?" she started and couldn't think of what to put with it to ask how they could tell Jedi Luke.

But Mommy thought she was asking a different question. "You showed me what genuine love is."


"You were so bright in the Force and so helpless and innocent. And how much I wanted you to have a good life where you didn't have to spy or kill on orders overwhelmed me. That is love, wanting better for someone else, wanting to protect them from everything bad. I didn't want you to have the childhood I had. And the Emperor had already proved he had no loyalty to me, so I couldn't trust him with you. He would kill me to have the chance to mold you into a good Imperial. So I told him no, he couldn't have you and he tried to kill me, and he put us on his bounty list when that didn't work. And we've been running from the Imperials ever since."

Mommy almost died when Lucinda was just a baby? She ran forward, wrapped her arms tight, and squeezed. Mommy lifted Luci up to her lap and returned the hug. "It's all right, Luci-love. Keeping you safe was worth it. And everything I do is to keep you safe."

Lucinda snuggled against her mother. "How are we going to tell Jedi Luke?"

"He knows." Mommy kissed Luci's hair. "We talked about it. Apparently he didn't think Colonel Bremen needed to know."

That worry trying to settle into her stomach popped like bad wiring. But how the Colonel treated Mommy wasn't fair. "He's locking you up in here!"

Mommy chuckled. "Luci-love, there are much worse places to be locked up in. All that droid is for is to make sure I don't hide before answering all the Colonel's questions."

"Are you going to answer them?"

The door barely held back an angry Wookiee roar, and they both looked through the foyer at the sound. Mommy slid Lucinda off her lap and stood up as the main door slid open. Princess Leia walked into the quarters. Lucinda looked past her to see the guard droid close the door in front of Chewbacca's unhappy face.

"Hello, Mara, Lucinda," Princess Leia stopped in the foyer doorway. "How are you two?"

"What's wrong with Chewie?" Lucinda blurted out.

Princess Leia glanced over her shoulder at the door. "Someone in Security decided you shouldn't have more than one guest at a time unless it was one of them. Chewie had to stay outside, and he wasn't thrilled about it."

"He doesn't trust me either?" Mommy asked.

"Oh, it's not personal. He's still pretty upset that he nearly lost all of us to that kidnap squad. Wookiees take these life-debts of theirs seriously. He probably trusts you more than he trusts anyone in the Palace."

"Chewie should go yell at Colonel Bremen. He's locking Mommy up in here." Lucinda crossed her arms at the unfairness of it all.

Princess Leia looked sorry. "I know. We argued against it, but Security wants a full check and that takes time. I'm afraid I don't have any influence to use."

"That's not the favor I need," Mommy said. "I will answer all of Bremen's questions, but not with Lucinda here. Can you take her and protect her with your children?"

"Mommy! I won't spy!"

Mommy patted her shoulder. "I'm more worried about Bremen's questions. You don't need to know all about Imperial atrocities. If Luke was back from his mission, I would ask him."

"It's no trouble to have Lucinda stay with us while this is all sorted. I'd rather have you cleared of suspicion before Luke returns from his clone hunt."

Lucinda scowled at the floor. "I can protect myself if I had a blaster."

"Clones?" Mommy asked sharply. "What clones?"

Princess Leia frowned. "You don't know?"

Lucinda looked back up. "Jedi Luke didn't tell you his mission was hunting Thrawn's clones?"

"He might have gotten around to it if they hadn't called him out five minutes after we finished eating." Mommy looked at Princess Leia for an answer.

"The Empire has found some Spaarti cloning cylinders somewhere. They've been turning out huge numbers of clones to fight against us. It has been the principal topic of conversation in the Palace for a month."

"Mommy was in the medcenter," Lucinda reminded her.

"That's right—I'd forgotten." Princess Leia looked puzzled at Mommy's far-away expression. "Mara, are you all right?"

"I think I know where Thrawn's Spaarti cylinders are."

Princess Leia's brown eyes widened. "Where?"

Mommy's voice sounded like she wasn't in the same room with them, even though her body hadn't left. "The Emperor had a private storehouse. It was beneath a mountain on a world he called Wayland—I don't know if it even had an official name. It was where he kept all of his private mementos and souvenirs and odd bits of technology he thought might be useful someday. One of the artificial caverns held a complete cloning facility he had appropriated from one of the Clone Masters."

"How complete was it?"

"Very." Mommy shivered and seemed to return to herself. "It had a full nutrient delivery system in place, plus a flash-teaching setup for personality imprinting and tech training on the clones while they developed."

"How many cylinders were there?"

Mommy shook her head. "I don't know for sure. It was arranged in concentric tiers, sort of like a sport arena, and it filled the whole cavern."

Princess Leia looked very serious. "Were there a thousand cylinders? Two thousand? Ten?"

"At least twenty thousand," Mommy told her. "Maybe more."

"Twenty thousand," Princess Leia repeated. Her serious face had grown harder. "And he can turn out a clone from each one every twenty days."

Lucinda shivered now. The Grand Admiral could make enough clones to crew one of the Katana fleet Dreadnaughts in less than a month.

Mommy's mouth fell open "Twenty days? That's impossible."

"I know. Thrawn's doing it, anyway. Do you know Wayland's coordinates?"

Mommy shook her head. "I was only there once, when I was Lucinda's age. But I could find it if I had access to charts and a nav computer."

Princess Leia nodded as she gazed at Mommy's face. Lucinda felt like a wind was racing past a cockpit. "I'll see what I can do about getting you access to one. You aren't to tell anyone what you've just told me. Anyone. Thrawn is still getting information out of the Palace, and this is worth killing for."

Lucinda grabbed Mommy's left hand. "I understand," Mommy said. She looked down at her. "And you know nothing, right, Lucinda?"

"I won't tell. You be careful."

Mommy knelt on the floor, pulled off the datacard necklace, and put it around Lucinda's neck. "I'll be careful. You be good and keep that safe." Mommy hugged her tight. "Now go get your stuff," she said as she let Lucinda go.

Lucinda went to the bigger bedroom and grabbed her still-packed duffel bag. Princess Leia was speaking to Mommy as she returned. "We will keep her safe, Mara. You don't have to worry about that."

"I trust you. You're Luke's family." Mommy smiled, but it was a little brittle when she watched Lucinda taking the Princess' hand. "Tell Colonel Bremen I'm ready when he is."

The door slid open before them, and they stepped out into the residential hallway. Colonel Bremen was waiting with his hands clasped behind his back and staring straight ahead, trying to look like he was ignoring the Wookiee looming within arm's reach. Chewbacca looked like he was studying the best way to take him apart. The human male was sweatier than he had been interrogating Mommy, so he knew he was under someone's goodwill. Probably the Princess'.

Chewbacca's attention refocused on them as they exited the suite, and his shoulders relaxed. "Lucinda is going to be staying with us, Chewbacca, until Mara's cleared." Princess Leia explained.

The Wookiee nodded and rumbled {Hello} at Lucinda, which was the only Shyriiwook Lucinda had picked up so far. He had a longer statement for Princess Leia.

She nodded. "Yes, we'll get Lucinda settled before my meeting. Colonel Bremen, Mara said she was ready to resume at your convenience."

"Thank you, your Highness." He didn't enter the suite right then though, and the spherical droid with three arms floated next to the door as they left the vicinity.

Inside the turbolift, Princess Leia punched the code for Jedi Luke's floor. "Am I going back to my room at Jedi Luke's?" Lucinda asked. It wasn't really her room, but they had both gotten in the habit of calling it hers. Jedi Luke had even offered to let her change the colors in it if she wanted.

"No, Luke isn't back yet. But we moved in all around him," Princess Leia said. "It's better for meals if you bunk with us."

Chewie barked something followed by a chuffing.

"If Luke hates it, he can go bunk with the Rogues. But at least this option meant we didn't have to pack his things too." Princess Leia took a deep breath, looked down at Lucinda, and asked in a less snappy way. "Lucinda, did Luke let you go to the library on this floor alone?"

"If he couldn't go with me, me and Artoo would go."

She looked pensive. "Threepio can't take you right now. He can't shoot. You'll have to go with an adult."

"I can shoot if I had a blaster."

"This is the Core, not the Fringe. You don't have to be armed every second of the day."

Lucinda looked at the bowcaster in Chewbacca's hands and the blaster strapped to the Princess' right thigh. It wasn't polite to point out when adults were treating her like a baby. Maybe she should ask for one that she could hide under her sleeve like Mommy did the next time she had to take care of Ghent. "I still have to check on Ghent during the day."

"We'll help you do that. And to go see your mother every day too."

The turbolift stopped in the lobby of Jedi Luke's floor. Four Palace Security officials now guarded the stairs where there had been none before. They headed to the residential hallway east of the stairs. It now had a door blocking the whole hallway from the lobby. Princess Leia keyed in the code, and it slid up instead of sideways. They stopped at the first door on the right. Jedi Luke's quarters were further down and around the corner of the hallway.

"Chewie is staying in that suite when he actually goes to bed." Princess Leia waved a hand at the first door on the left while she keyed open the smaller door. It slid open normally, and they walked into the three-bedroom suite just like the one she had been staying in with Mommy and Ghent before the attack. "Lucinda needs to borrow the extra bedroom for a while."

Doncella Retrac spun gracefully from the terminal in the parlor's corner. Captain Solo looked up from the repulsorlift bassinet in front of the sofa. "You're welcome to it, Little Jade," he said. "But what happened? Did they arrest Mara Jade?"

"No," Princess Leia said with a quick look at Lucinda. "Mara hasn't been arrested."

"Colonel Bremen wants to ask about stuff I shouldn't hear about." Lucinda was full of impatience with all the adults. "Where do I bunk?"

"I'll show you." Doncella Retrac crossed the room and headed down the hall to the bedrooms. She pointed to the door on the right. "Princess Leia and Han are in that room with the twins. I'm here in the middle, so you'll be here on this end." She opened the door on the left end of the hallway behind the kitchen where Mommy had put Ghent on the other floor.

Lucinda tossed her bag on the bed big enough for two people. She didn't think there were smaller beds in the entire Palace.

"Do you need anything right now?"

Lucinda shook her head. "Unless I have to do lessons."

Doncella Retrac smiled. "I think you can go back to them tomorrow. The Princess and I have to go to her meeting, but you and Captain Solo can take care of the twins."

"Okay." She trailed after Doncella Retrac back into the main room.

Captain Solo patted the sofa next to him. "Come on, Little Jade. Help me find something on the HoloNet the twins can listen to while Mommy goes to work."

Lucinda headed that way while the other adults headed to the door and called out goodbyes. Captain Solo had been a smuggler; he knew how necessary a blaster was.

As if he read her mind, he asked as she sat down. "Is there something you want, little Jade?"

"Do not get her a blaster, Han!" Princess Leia called back before the door slid shut.

Lucinda slumped. "Never mind. I don't want to get you in trouble."

"Well, I appreciate that."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Luke finished delivering his report on his backtrack from the planet Berchest to Poderis in the Orus sector. Lieutenant Colonel Lazarus Armand wasn't alone in this Intelligence Office; Colonel Bremen of Palace Security was glowering in the corner behind the desk but out of the way. Both men were radiating annoyance if not outright displeasure. What set that off? He got the intel and started their backtrack and missed out on trouble in the Palace if hangar bay gossip was to be believed. "I ran into Talon Karrde on Berchest. He still wants to be neutral, but is willing to sell us information on the Empire's movements. You can set up a line of credit for that?"

Armand bristled. "His idea or yours?"

Luke blinked. "Mine, actually. But what difference does that make?"

"It makes an extraordinary amount of difference if the Imperials and a bunch of pirates have compromised you through your lover." Colonel Bremen barely managed to not shout that at the top of his lungs.

"Sir, please. I'm not done with the current mission." Armand looked back at Luke once Bremen settled back against the wall. "You were due in three days ago. What delayed you?"

"My X-wing's primary power cells got damaged getting away from the Star Destroyer at Poderis. After I landed to get replacements, I had to wait two days for an Imperial Strike Cruiser to leave." He was not about to mention Honoghr to these men. He trusted their loyalty to the New Republic, but the Imperials had set a trap for a Jedi on Poderis. So Delta Source had found out about his mission, too. But the oblique mention of Mara worried him. Had something happened to her or Lucinda during this trouble at the Palace? He hadn't reached out to check on them or Leia and the twins when he landed.

"That clears that up. Now for Colonel Bremen's business."

The Director of Palace Security hardly gave Armand time to push his chair back before the bulky man leaned on his hands over the desk. "I want the full story of just how you met Mara Jade along with everything you know about her, and not that work of evasion you gave when you vouched for her staying here." I will catch that schutta in a lie yet! was screamed by the man's mind.

Luke bristled at being called a liar just because no one needed to know details of their personal lives. He resisted the urge to pull what Mara told him from Bremen's mind, no matter how easily the man projected at him. "I met Mara Jade when Grakkus the Hutt took me prisoner in Fourth Month of Year 1000. He caught her trying to steal from him and enslaved her. Grakkus forced us to stay together for about a month before Princess Leia, Captain Solo, and Chewbacca rescued me from Grakkus' gladiatorial game and the 501st raid. And yes, we had sexual relations during that time."

Bremen settled in the chair Armand pushed toward the desk. "She told you she was a slave?"

Luke worked to keep his face radiating a Jedi calm. "Colonel, I grew up on Tatooine and interacted with all levels of slaves in daily life. Helped some regain their freedom. There is a type of slave, usually raised in slavery from birth and treated above the rest of the slaves, given privileges the others do not have, a most prized possession of the master, trusted to the point where they think they are free and loved by the master. On Tatooine, we call them 'blind to their chains' for they don't realize they have them until their master brutalizes them in a way that would not happen if they were loved and free." Luke leaned forward to emphasize. "Mara Jade's master sent her to steal from Grakkus collection and abandoned her when she failed. She found her chains when Grakkus grabbed them and controlled her with them. It devastated her that her master didn't return her loyalty and love. You can't fake that, and she had no reason to."

"She was an Imperial agent, trained to take on alternate identities, and forced to share imprisonment with the Hero of the Battle of Yavin. Of course, she would take on a role that would make her sympathetic." Bremen crossed his arms.

"She lied by omission," Luke admitted. "I figured her master was another Hutt on Nar Shaddaa and she didn't reveal my assumption was wrong, but she wasn't lying about how wretched she felt. And Grakkus was threatening her compliance with all the other males in his employ. She had no reason to trust that I wouldn't betray her either." No reason because Grakkus had used him to hurt her first, even though she didn't hold it against him then or now.

"But you left her behind. More suspicious of her then?"

Luke narrowed his eyes. "I had every intention of running back into the chaos and getting her out of the cell. Chewbacca didn't understand what I was trying to do, so he picked me up and threw me onto the Falcon. And when Chewie decides you are moving somewhere else, you are moved."

Bremen had to adjust his collar at that. It felt like he had had a recent run in with Chewie. Luke hoped he got a chance to ask about that. "And you had no contact with her until Fifth Month of this year."

"That's when she found me with a dead hyperspace drive in deep space, yes. Talon Karrde gave her the credit of deciding to take a sensor reading right on top of me."

Bremen narrowed his eyes. "She's a Force user."

"The Force didn't want me to die in space." Luke spread his hands. "She has had training, but she hasn't continued her practice. We haven't discussed why, but I imagine she was trying to keep anyone from exploiting her again or her daughter for it."

"The Emperor trained her and you don't have a problem with that!"

"Intentions mean everything with all actions you take," Luke responded gravely. "Acting out of anger, fear, aggression, malice leads to the Dark, leads to evil. Just because Palpatine taught her telepathy, doesn't make Mara Jade evil."

Bremen's face reddened. "She never defected."

"She never joined the Alliance," Luke corrected. "But I think having to go on the run from stormtroopers and bounty hunters with an infant because you told Palpatine 'no, you can't have her' is a defection from the Empire."

"You know Emperor Palpatine taught Mara Jade?" Armand interrupted. He now stood back where Bremen had during the cloning tracking debrief part of this discussion. "Is that something to Force told you, Jedi Skywalker? Can you sense that, like you sensed the clones?"

"No," Luke admitted, because he loathed to let rumors of what feats he was capable of grow unchecked. "I could sense Vader and the Emperor's evil, but they weren't trying to hide it. Mara doesn't feel like that at all."

Bremen consulted a datapad pulled from his pouch. "So you reunited at Talon Karrde's base, met her daughter, and ended up helping the smugglers wipe out an Imperial garrison."

Luke decided that was a close-enough correct order. "Grand Admiral Thrawn suspected Karrde's people of helping me and cut us off from the base. We had to hike back to civilization through the forest. That's when I learned they had both had bounties on their heads. Stormtroopers terrified Lucinda before they even shot anything yet."

"And I suppose that is when Jade spilled her story of her woeful past to you."

Luke bristled but took pains to not snap back. "Not then, no. Her eight-year-old daughter was present. Or do you want to tack on being a poor parent and destroying her daughter's innocence into your investigation too?"

Bremen glanced away from Luke's face. "Mara Jade is not being accused of being a poor parent."

"So we're—" persecuting sprang to mind first but with a mind to Leia's diplomacy lessons Luke said, "investigating anyone with an Imperial past." He crossed his arms over his chest.

Bremen hardened again at that. "She is accused of being complicit in an Imperial attack upon this Palace, upon your own family."

Luke flashed back to the vision he had had on Honoghr: Leia and Han protecting Winter and their babies from blaster fire. He reached out, just enough to confirm Leia, Jacen, Jaina, Lucinda, and Mara were alive and well in the Palace. He met Bremen's gimlet stare with one of his own. "She is not."

"Insight from the Force?" the Colonel barely sneered.

"Insight from the woman." Luke breathed deeply after that snap. "The first thing she correlated the kidnapping attempts upon Leia and myself were to how she was taken from her family as a small child, so Palpatine could control her powers. She would not be party to that happening to anyone's children, much less her own. And she saved me from an Imperial trap from the Force user helping them."

"Convenient that," Bremen snapped back. "Thrawn uses her to betray her boss, she gets the information from Thrawn to find you, rescues you, so you can aid her rescue of her boss, and we are so grateful for her assistance, we let her run loose in the Palace on your say so!"

"It sounds like you have already decided."

Bremen reared back. "Are you accusing me of bias, Jedi Skywalker?"

"C'baoth tried to kill her and her daughter on their approach to Jomark, Thrawn knew who Mara was nine years ago. He shut down the Chimera's central computer to prevent us from using her access codes in order to escape. She was injured fighting against the Empire at the Katana fleet. Are you willing to concede that it is equally possible that Delta Source found out she was here, and Thrawn instructed his agents to give her a Jawa polish so we wouldn't trust anything she said or did?"

Bremen blinked a little, trying to parse the meaning of a Jawa polish. He shook his head. "I'd be willing to give more credence to the second theory if you two hadn't conspired to keep her past a secret."

"There was no conspiracy."

"And just when did you learn that she was an Emperor's Hand?"

"En route to the Chimera after leaving Jomark."

"So you knew and elected to tell no one, and then there is an attack while you are away." Colonel Bremen shook his head again. "That was a horrible lack of judgment, Jedi Skywalker. If you had fully disclosed this when asking for clearance two months ago, we would have facts to back up your insight that she is not an Imperial agent. As it is right now, I am denying you access to Jade until the investigation is complete."

Luke's head jerked back. "She is entitled to visitors!"

"Yes, she is and she can have them. Just not you. Not in person, not over the comms, not in your heads like she did with Minister Organa Solo. If you believe her innocence, it shouldn't be too much of a sacrifice."

Luke wrestled his longing and lust back under control. "I will abide by your security decision, as long as you don't feed her some shavit that I have denounced her as a traitor to the New Republic. Because she isn't and she won't ever be." He stood up. "Anything further, gentlemen?" He waited for the head shakes before turning on his heel and striding out of the office.

He took the long way to Leia's office. This time of day, she was probably there or in a meeting and he needed to cool off some more before dealing with anyone else. He also needed to know what happened in the Imperial attack. He didn't run into anyone whose gossip he would trust as his feelings settled, mainly to disappointment. He had gotten through two lonely weeks waiting for their reunion and now her answer would probably be 'it's not you but your allies.' He turned the corner into the Grand Corridor in this section of the Palace and spied a determined Han Solo bearing down on Colonel Bremen, who radiated irritation like a malfunctioning power cell. "Colonel Bremen," Han said as he fell in step beside the heftier man. "I want to talk to you a minute."

Bremen did not stop, and he didn't hide his irritation in his glance either. "If it's about Mara Jade, Solo, I don't want to hear it."

"She's still under house arrest," Han said anyway. "I want to know why."

"Maybe it has something to do with that Imperial attack two nights ago." Bremen's sarcasm was thicker now than he had let it get when questioning Luke. "You suppose?"

"Could be." Han batted at one of the ch'hala branches that was stretching too far from the trunk, setting off an explosion of red beneath the tree's transparent outer bark where it connected. "I guess it all depends on how much we're listening to Imperial rumor these days."

That stopped Bremen's tracks, and he spun to face Han. "Look, Solo, what do you want from me?" He snapped loud enough to set off a flush of pale red on the tree Han had touched and drawing the attention of a group of diplomats across the corridor. "Look at the facts. Jade knew about the secret back door and the passages—she admits that outright. She was there on the scene before any alert was sounding—she admits that, too."

"Well, so were Lando and General Bel Iblis," Han said, his voice warming with indignation. "You haven't got them locked up."

"The situations are hardly similar, are they?" Bremen shot back. "Calrissian and Bel Iblis have histories with the New Republic, and people here who vouch for them. Jade has neither."

"Leia and I vouch for her." And it made Luke feel good to hear Han say that. "Isn't that good enough?" Han asked. "Or are you just mad at her for doing your job for you?"

Bremen's face went much redder than it had for Luke, nearly matching the ch'hala tree. "So she helped shoot some alleged Imperial agents. That proves absolutely nothing. With a Grand Admiral pulling the strings out there, the entire raid could have been nothing more than an elaborate scheme to convince us she's on our side. Well, I'm sorry, but we're not buying today. She gets the full treatment: record search, background search, acquaintance correlation, and a couple of question/answer sessions with our interrogators."

"Terrific," Han snorted. "If she's not on our side now, that'll put her there for sure."

Bremen drew himself up to his full height. "We're not doing this to be popular, Solo. We're doing this to protect New Republic lives—yours and your children's among them, if you recall. I presume Minister Organa Solo will be at Chief Councilor Mothma's briefing; if she has any complaints or suggestions, she can present them there. Until then, I don't want to hear anything about Jade from anyone. Especially you. Is that clear, Captain Solo?"

"Yeah, sure," Han answered with a sigh.

"Good." Bremen continued on his way down the corridor with Han glowering at his back.

Luke moved up the Han's side. "You do have a way with people, don't you?"

Han turned toward him in mild surprise. "Luke! When did you get back?"

He looked at his chrono with a twist of his lips. "A couple of hours now. Debrief and interrogation." He gestured in the direction Bremen had gone. "I warmed him up for you."

"Standing up for your girl." Han smirked. "Did they tell you what you missed?"

Luke shook his head.

"Imperial raid is most likely despite the good Colonel's doubts about that. The squad sneaked in through a secret passage system the Emperor installed when he moved in, jammed the comms, and made straight for the babies and Lucinda. Mara was awake and stumbled onto it with Bel Iblis and Lando. She woke Leia up with the Force and took the secret passages up and shot the Imperials off our backs with Bel Iblis. Then Lucinda called to her mother for help with the Force and they got down there to stop them from getting her. She was here when we needed her, and Bremen has locked her up."

Luke grimaced. "And I wasn't."

"That wasn't what I meant."

"I know," Luke assured him. "But I still should have been here."

Han shrugged. "You can't always be here to protect Leia. That's what she's got me for."

Luke threw him a wry smile. "Right. I must have forgotten."

They started ambling down the Grand Corridor. Han continued with what Luke had missed. "The Imperials pointed their fingers at Jade helping them, Bremen put her under house arrest, and Leia brought Lucinda to our temporary rooms." He looked abashed. "We, um, moved next to you."

Luke tilted his head. "How? None of the suites in my section were large enough."

"Chewie is in the one-bedroom across the hallway technically. He hasn't let us out of his sight since the attack. The big fuzzball even sleeps outside our door at night."

"Must give you a safe feeling."

"Yeah. The kids'll probably grow up allergic to Wookiee hair. Their cribs are in our bedroom in the three-bedroom suite, Winter has one, and Little Jade got the other." Han shook his head. "She's not coming out of it much. Says she's working on lessons. But I think she's locking herself up since her mother is or she doesn't feel safe without a blaster of her own."

Luke frowned. "You didn't get her one? After almost getting snatched?"

"Leia overruled it. Can't destroy a child's innocence by making her a killer even in self-defense."

"Core worlders." Luke rolled his eyes.

Han shrugged. "We didn't fight a war for our kids to keep fighting it."

Luke nodded. He didn't want to arm Lucinda either, but if she wasn't sleeping at night because she didn't have access to protection of a weapon she knew how to use it; couldn't have that either.

Han clapped his hand on his shoulder. "Now you're all caught up, go see Jade. She could use the cheering up."

"I can't. Bremen barred me because I didn't share the Emperor's Hand stuff when I learned about it."

"Wait, it's true?"

"Palpatine fired her when she couldn't steal from Grakkus." Luke's shoulders moved with his sigh. "That dead dotkohu doesn't matter to me, but I must be the only one. Despite how most of us have things in our backgrounds we wouldn't want people talking about."

"Somehow, I don't think Bremen and his Security hotshots are going to see it that way." Han grimaced. "Go on, cheer up little Jade, and rest. I'll bring Leia up after her meeting. She's been sitting on something waiting for you to get back. What kept you? Your last message said you'd be back three days ago."

"That was before I got stuck on—" Luke broke off, eying the people beginning to wander through the Grand Corridor. "I'll tell you later, you and Leia both. I'll go check on Lucinda." They parted and Luke headed to the closest turbolifts.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Lucinda sighed and returned to the beginning of the text. She wasn't making progress on this science lesson. Mommy hadn't fussed on their last visit, but she would start by tomorrow.

The door annunciator chimed.

"I'm working on lessons!" she yelled at the closed door. It wasn't supper time yet.

Oh, I don't want to interrupt lessons, Jedi Luke's voice said in her mind.

"Jedi Luke?" She spun out of her desk chair and ran to the door. It slid open, and he was there in the bedroom hall. "Jedi Luke!" She flung herself at him. He caught her in his arms, letting her fall into the hug. Everything for the past two days welled up, and she sobbed.

He scooped her up, carried her back into her room, and they sat on the bed with her on his lap. He rubbed her back with a crooning sound, but waited with his words until her tears slowed. "Do you wanna tell me about it?" He petted her loose hair.

Lucinda sniffled down her last tears. "Imperials attacked to get me and the twins. I woke up hearing them cry and blaster fire."

"That was scary."

She nodded against his chest. "Ghent didn't know what I was talking about, but he kept changing the door code so they couldn't break in. I called Mommy, and she shot them, and she wasn't mad about using the Force."

"Why would she be mad?" Jedi Luke shifted so he could see her tilted face. "Luci, you didn't tell her about the Force training after I left?"

She shook her head.

"Oh Luci, but she wasn't mad."

That reminded her of the part of all this that made her mad. "Mommy saved the twins too! And the Colonel arrested her because the Emperor lied to her when she was a little girl!"

"She told you about that."

"She didn't want to. Colonel Bremen brought it up while I was there."

"Of course he did." Jedi Luke pressed his lips together.

"Are you mad at Mommy?" Mommy had said he wasn't, but that was before he got back.

"No, I'm not mad at your mother. I'm disappointed in Colonel Bremen's professionalism. He shouldn't have interrogated Mara with you there."

Lucinda crossed her arms over her chest. "He shouldn't believe lying Imperials."

Jedi Luke sighed. "He has to investigate everyone. Doesn't make it better."

"But you're back!" She leaned back to look at his face. "You can tell him Mommy is a good person and he can let her out."

He winced. "I already tried. Colonel Bremen got mad I hadn't told your mother's secrets. So now I can't go see her until he finishes the investigation."

"That's not fair." Lucinda slumped against him.

"That's Thrawn's greatest weapon, making us not trust each other."

"I'll tell Mommy you're back on my next visit."

"Thank you. I appreciate that."

"Am I going back to my room in your quarters now that you're back?"

"I don't think you should." Jedi Luke's voice sounded funny. She peered up at his face as he blinked and came back to himself. "I think Leia has a mission for me, but this should make sleeping here feel safer." He passed her a box.

He didn't have to get her a present. Mommy never had credits to do the holodrama thing of bringing presents from a work trip. But she didn't want to hurt his feelings, so she opened it. A BlasTech DL-44 heavy blaster pistol nestled inside on cushions and had six power packs tucked into side compartments. She had practiced on this model in the target range here in the Palace and at Captain Karrde's base. Captain Solo had one, and he had been wearing it ever since she moved in with them this time.

But Jedi Luke just got back; he didn't know. She looked up, worried. "Princess Leia doesn't want me to have a blaster."

"Truth is, I don't want you to need a blaster either. It means we failed at making Coruscant safe for you. But you know what you're doing with that model, and you know it's a last resort."

She nodded. "Only shoot when the Imperials are here to take me and the twins." She lifted the blaster and examined it like Mommy taught her. It had scuffs from use, so it wasn't new. The power packs were fully charged and the scope still targeted.

"That's right, last resort. Hopefully, they won't come back and you won't have to use my old service blaster."

Oh, this was a special gift. It had a story. She carefully put it back in the box. "I'll take good care of it."

Jedi Luke smiled. "Of course you will. Come on, let's get food ready for when Leia and Han get back and give us the latest intel."

She nodded and slid the box under her second pillow before taking his hand and leaving her bedroom. The main door annunciator sounded as they entered the main room.

"I got it, Winter," Jedi Luke said back into the hall as one twin cried.

Lucinda fell back, so he went to the door with room to fight back if needed. But it was General Calrissian with a food delivery droid. "Luke! When did you get back?" The dark-skinned man enveloped Jedi Luke in a hug.

"Today. Why are you on Coruscant?" Jedi Luke let him and the food packages inside.

"Oh, you hadn't heard. Thrawn took out Nomad City and all our stockpiles. Bel Iblis arrived in time to get my people to Qat Chrystac before we had to worry about the dawn line, and I came here to make a case for help yanking it into orbit to make repairs." His face hardened with anger. "I don't think I'm going to get it in time."

"I'm sorry. It was a technological marvel." Jedi Luke directed the delivery droid at the table.

"How is a city a marvel?" Lucinda asked. She moved out of the droid's way.

General Calrissian ignored his anger as he looked down at her. "We built Nomad City out of a Dreadnaught Cruiser and forty AT-ATs to walk across Nkllon's surface in the planetary shadow."

"Astral, I wish I could see it."

His smile was sad. "I wish you could have too." Then he waved at the food the droid was setting on the long table. "I figured everybody was too swamped today to think of food and that Leia's console is less locked down than mine is."

"Leia, Han, and Chewie are still at Leia's meeting, so knock yourself out."

General Calrissian settled at the computer console while Jedi Luke and Lucinda got dishes out to eat the meal for everyone. Then he went over the progress she had made on her lessons since he left. He wasn't disappointed in how she had stalled over the past few days and helped her figure out a tricky math problem.

"Why didn't you ask for help?"

Lucinda shrugged. "Everybody's been busy with work meetings or taking care of the twins."

"You're never a bother, Lucinda." Jedi Luke told her. "So ask for help when you need it, okay?"

She agreed because they were all being nice to her and Mommy, and it got dropped as everyone came back from the day. Artoo came up and greeted her first while Jedi Luke was getting a hug from his sister, and then he rolled off with Threepio. Doncella Retrac came out with the twins in the floating bassinet and everybody got a plate of food. Princess Leia kept the meal conversation on updating Jedi Luke of the military battles he had missed, but nothing about Mommy or whatever had a strumming energy through her body. She wasn't fooling Jedi Luke, though. He kept glancing at her throughout the meal.

Princess Leia waited until they finished the meal and everyone was cleaning up to touch Jedi Luke's arm. "Can you scan around the suites? Make sure we don't have any eavesdroppers? Droid or being. I had Lieutenant Page come in personally and do a counterintelligence sweep before we moved in. Everything must be secure."

He nodded. "Be glad to. Come on, Luci." Confused, she took his hand. He winked down at her. "We're going to get a holobook from the library for the guards."

"Oh!" She could provide cover. "I can't be lost pilot here, so should I be the brat, crying baby, or teharaor ta'hetke?"

"What's the last one?" He turned down the hall toward his quarters, but not to the library yet.

"Sweetly innocent." Lucinda opened her eyes very wide. "Oh! I'm not supposed to be here? I didn't know!"

Jedi Luke laughed. "That one comes in handy, I bet, but we'll see. You may not need to say anything to the guards." He turned down the hallway away from his door. She frowned. There were nothing but blank walls between the two suites. He headed to the end of the hall and ran his hand over the wall. "Ah." He tucked his hand into a decorative molding Lucinda couldn't reach, and part of the wall slid open like a door. "That'll be useful, I think. Wait here."

She waited in the hole in the wall while he walked down the smaller passageway toward the three-bedroom suite. This must be one of the secret passages Mommy knew about. It was well lit, but not as decorated as the not-secret hallways. He held his hand out toward the wall but not touching it as he walked the length, then returned.

"Nothing back there." He took hold of her hand again and the wall slid back in place. "Let's go find you something in the library."

No one was waiting at the new door that blocked off this entire section of the floor. Four guards were stationed at the staircase, but they didn't bother them as they headed into the empty library. She got a set of data cards on Naboo fairy tales while Jedi Luke looked for listening devices or people or droids. Nothing looked out of the ordinary to her. They crossed the turbolift lobby and peeked into the lounge. The only people in there were the pair of guards just outside the public comm station, and Jedi Luke greeted them by name.

They headed back into the three-bedroom suite. Captain Solo and Princess Leia had moved to sitting together on a sofa and holding hands. Chewbacca had shoved an armchair between them and the door and sat with his bow-caster resting on his knees. General Calrissian was back on the console, scowling at what he had up on the screen. Threepio and Artoo were together on the other side of the dining table. Doncella Retrac sat in the other armchair closest to the viewscreen and had the twins' bassinet next to her.

And they all looked up when they came in.

"Well?" Captain Solo asked as Jedi Luke led her to the other sofa that faced Captain Solo and Princess Leia.

"We did a complete circle around our section," Jedi Luke said as he sat down. "No droids anywhere nearby, and the only beings are the stationed guards, and they're all veterans since Hoth."

"Great," Han said as he looked at his wife. "Now can we find out what this is all about?"

"Yes." Princess Leia straightened her shoulders. "Mara Jade thinks she knows where the Empire's cloning facility is."

Everyone jerked their heads to look at the Princess and then stilled. Captain Solo glanced at Lando before asking, "Where?"

"On a planet the Emperor called Wayland," Princess Leia said. "A code, apparently—it's not on any list I can find."

"What was it, one of the old clone master facilities?" Jedi Luke asked.

"Mara said it was the Emperor's storehouse. I got the impression that it was a combination trophy room and equipment dump."

"A private rat's nest," Captain Solo said. "Sounds like him. Where is it?"

"She doesn't have coordinates to hand us," Princess Leia said. "She was only there once. But she thinks she can find it again."

"Why hasn't she said something about it before now?" General Calrissian straightened away from the console and crossed his arms over his chest.

Princess Leia shrugged. "She didn't know about the clones until I said something. She was undergoing neural regeneration, remember, when everyone here was discussing it."

"I didn't mention it to her before I had to go." Jedi Luke looked at Lucinda. "You didn't tell your mother?"

"I thought you told her and she didn't ask me about it."

"It's still hard to believe she could just miss the whole thing," General Calrissian insisted.

"Hard, but not impossible," Princess Leia said. "None of the general-distribution reports she had access to have ever mentioned the clones. And she hasn't exactly been what you'd call sociable around the Palace."

"The timing here's still pretty convenient," General Calrissian said. "One might say suspiciously convenient. Here she was, with free run of the Palace. Then she gets fingered by an Imperial commando leader and locked up—and suddenly she's dangling Wayland in front of us and wanted us to break her out."

Lucinda scowled at him. "You sound like Colonel Bremen. Mommy wouldn't work with the Grand Admiral ever!"

"Who said anything about breaking her out?" Princess Leia asked, horrified at the very idea.

"Isn't that what she's offering?" Lando asked. "To take us to Wayland if we get her out?"

"She didn't bargain for anything!" Lucinda wasn't quite yelling, but she was going to have to. "But you should let her go if she gives you the coordinates."

"That's true, she didn't ask for anything," Princess Leia said. "And all I'm offering is to smuggle in a nav computer to her to get Wayland's location. Only I haven't figured out a good excuse on how to do that."

"Afraid that won't do it, sweetheart." Captain Solo shook his head. "The coordinates would be a start, but a planet's a pretty big place to hide a storehouse in."

"Especially one the Emperor didn't want found," Jedi Luke said.

"It's under a mountain," Lucinda told him.

"Lando's right. We'll have to take her with us."

Everyone looked at Jedi Luke now, so Lucinda didn't bounce with the yay of getting Mommy out of lockdown. General Calrissian voiced the surprise and suspicion on other faces. "You don't mean you're buying this whole thing? We all know you want her to be innocent, Luke."

"She is innocent," Jedi Luke's voice dropped as he grew more serious. "And the longer we delay over Thrawn's gambit, the more clones the Empire's going to have to throw at us."

"What about the backtrack you started?" Doncella Retrac asked. "The one through the Poderis system and Orus sector?"

"That'll take time," Jedi Luke said. "This'll get us there a lot faster."

"If she's telling the truth," General Calrissian said darkly. "If she isn't, you're off on a dead-end chase."

"Mommy doesn't lie!" Lucinda started to slide off the sofa and confront him, but Jedi Luke pulled her back to her seat. "She doesn't! Wadewarn and Lachton believed Thrawn's lies last time and nobody would help her rescue Captain Karrde but you!"

"That's a point," Captain Solo said. "Jomark ended up being a trap to get you and that C'baoth character together. This could be another trap."

Lucinda balled up her fists. "He threw rocks at us and tried to make us crash! Mommy doesn't work for people who try to kill us."

Jedi Luke rubbed her back. "It's not a trap. At least, not on Mara's part."

"I agree," Princess Leia said. "Mara's not aligned with the Empire currently."

Captain Solo shifted in his seat to stare at his wife, shot a frown at Jedi Luke, and then looked back at Princess Leia. "Let me guess," he growled. "This is one of those crazy Jedi things, right?"

"Partly," she agreed. "But it's mostly just simple tactical logic. I don't think Thrawn would have tried so hard to convince us that Mara was a party to that kidnapping attempt unless he wanted us to disbelieve anything she might have told us about Wayland."

Lucinda nodded. "That's how he set Mommy up before. Made it seem like she sold out Captain Karrde."

"So you're assuming Thrawn figured the attempt would fail," General Calrissian said.

A muscle tightened in Princess Leia's cheek. "I assume Thrawn prepares for all contingencies."

"If Mara's willing to take me to Wayland, I'm going." Jedi Luke said firmly. "I'm not asking any of you to go along. All I want is your help getting Mon Mothma to release her. And your blessings."

Lucinda bounced and grabbed his arm. "I'll go with you and Mommy."

Jedi Luke smiled at her. "Has Ghent finished his job while I was gone?"

"No." She sighed. "I have to stay here and take care of him?"

"I'm sure that will be your mother's answer."

Lucinda flopped back and looked at the other adults in the room. Were they gonna be like Intelligence and send Mommy, Jedi Luke and Artoo all by themselves? Captain Solo stared at the floor, but he held Princess Leia's hand in between his. General Calrissian said nothing as he stroked his mustache. Chewbacca rumbled under his breath, and his fingers petted his bow-caster. Artoo's soft chirps carried through the room. One twin—Jacen probably—moaned a little in his sleep, and Winter rubbed his back.

"We can't talk to Mon Mothma about it." Captain Solo raised his head. "She'll go through channels, and by the time anyone's ready to do anything, half the Palace will know about it. Including Delta Source. If Thrawn wants to shut Mara up for good, he'll have all the time he needs to do it."

Lucinda's eyes opened wide. Jedi Luke's arm wrapped around her in a leaning hug. Don't worry, his voice told her mind. We won't leave your mother a sitting mynock here for Thrawn to hurt.

"What's the alternative?" Princess Leia looked suspiciously at her husband.

"What Lando already said. We break her out."

The Princess jerked her head to look at Jedi Luke. "Han! We can't do that."

"Sure we can. Chewie and me had to pop a guy out of an Imperial hotbox once, and it worked just fine."

Chewbacca growled something.

"It did too." Captain Solo looked over Princess Leia's head at the Wookiee. "It wasn't our fault they picked him up again a week later."

"That's not what I meant." The Princess said in an you-missed-the-point tone. "You're talking about a highly illegal action. Bordering on treason."

Captain Solo patted her knee. "The whole Rebellion was a highly illegal action bordering on treason, sweetheart. When the rules don't work, you break 'em."

The Princess took a deep breath, but let it out slowly instead of screaming. "You're right. When do we do it?"

"We—that is, you—don't do it. It's going to be Luke and me. You and Chewie are staying here where it's safe and keeping Colonel Bremen off our exhaust."

Chewbacca rumbled something, but broke off mid-sentence.

Jedi Luke and his sister were staring at each other. "You don't need to come, Han," Jedi Luke said. "Mara and I can do it alone."

"What, two of you are going to take out a whole cloning complex by yourselves?" Captain Solo snorted.

"Mommy said it's as big as a sports arena." Lucinda peered up at him. "You're going to need lots of bombs for twenty thousand cylinders."

"We will pack those." He looked toward Captain Solo. "As long as Delta Source is active there aren't too many other people we know we can trust. And the ones we can, like Rogue Squadron, are on active defense duty." He waved his other hand to take in the room. "We're pretty much it."

"So we're it," Captain Solo said. "We'll still have a lot better chance with three than with two."

The grown-ups fell silent again. Lucinda wondered if they were speaking mind to mind. Jedi Luke spoke first. "Sure, we'll make it a party of three."

"Might as well make it a party of four." General Calrissian sighed as he dropped his arms. "The way things are going with my Nomad City petition, it doesn't look like I'm going to have much else to do. It's be nice to pay them back a little for that."

"Sounds good to me, pal." Captain Solo nodded. "Welcome aboard." He turned to Chewbacca. "Okay, Chewie. Now what's your problem?"

The Wookiee fidgeted in his armchair with a slight rumble under his breath.

"What is it, Chewie?" Jedi Luke asked.

Chewbacca heaved his shoulders and let out whatever was bothering in a long growl punctuated with barks.

"Well, we'd like to have you along too," Captain Solo told him. "But someone's got to stay here and take care of Leia. Unless you think Palace Security's up to the job."

Chewie snarled his opinion of Palace Security, and Lucinda didn't know what it was precisely, but she nodded along with the ferocity of it.

"Right," Captain Solo agreed. "That's why you're staying."

Lucinda looked up at Jedi Luke, who was frowning thoughtfully. Princess Leia straightened with a sparkle in her eyes. "I have an idea." Everyone looked at her. "The Noghri can guard us here while Chewie goes with you."

Chewbacca barked a "{yes!}" along with nodding his head.

Lucinda tried to remember who the Noghri are. It sounded familiar.

"You're kidding." Captain Solo reared his head back at the suggestion. "This is a joke, right?" His stunned face was growing angry. "Yeah—it's a joke. 'Cause if you think I'm going to leave Leia and the twins—"

Princess Leia took his hand again. "It's the only way, Han. Chewie's going to be miserable any other way."

"Chewie's been miserable before. He'll get over it. Come on, Luke—tell her."

Jedi Luke shook his head. "Sorry, Han. I think it's a good idea. I ended up on Honoghr to get replacement power cells for the X-wing, but a Strike Cruiser pulled in after I arrived. They were ready to storm it upon my word if I wanted to leave earlier." Princess Leia's eyes widened. "I didn't approve the attack, and waited until the cruiser left," he continued. "They want to help make up their perceived debt to the Skywalker family with an added burden of hunting us out of ignorance. Leia showing up the Empire's dirty tricks has made it more important to them."

Oh, now Lucinda remembered. Their world was dying because the Empire poisoned it.

Captain Solo looked around the room again. "Lando? Winter? Come on, one of you say something."

"Don't look at me, Han." General Calrissian held up his hands. "I'm out of this part of the discussion."

"As for me, I trust Princess Leia's judgment," Doncella Retrac said. "If she believes we'll be safe. I'm willing to accept that."

"You've got a few days to get used to the idea while they get here," Princess Leia said as she squeezed Captain Solo's hand.

"Maybe not," Jedi Luke said. "I had a vision while on Honoghr. It sounds like the kidnapping attack matches it. I wouldn't endanger them to leave early, even if I should have been here, but they gave me comm codes should all not be well when I got here."

Princess Leia tilted her head. "Luke, did you bring them as backup?"

"No, I didn't bring them."

General Solo had a fed-up expression on his face. "What? They followed you home to make sure you got here?"

Jedi Luke shrugged. "Followed me, yes. And I think it's because they want to help. I trust them, Han. I guess it's one of those crazy Jedi things."

"Very funny." Captain Solo stood up and walked to the bassinet, looking down at the sleeping twins.

Chewbacca called out something lowly.

"Yeah, pal," Captain Solo said before turning around. "They're on guard duty. Get 'em on board. Come on, Lando, let's scrounge up some explosives without setting off alarm bells."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Luke paused in his bedroom, looking up from his travel kit. He had everything he could need for an expedition, but felt a nagging sensation in the Force that he was forgetting something he needed. He scanned the room again. His gaze landed on the pendant from the swoop race resting on the desk against the far wall. He walked over and picked the krayt dragon head in profile made from white and silver enamel.

The nagging sensation soothed away. He frowned, not seeing a use for this, but slipped it over his head and tucked under his tunic. He closed his bag and headed out of his quarters.

Chewbacca and the droids were waiting in the greater hallway with the rest of the personal luggage. The Wookiee took the bag from Luke. "{They should be here now. I'll be back after loading the Falcon.}"

"I'll go bring them up." Luke waited until they had left and the new door slid down again before opening the secret passageway and heading down the nearest secret turbolift. He unsealed the secret entrance Palace Security had sealed. A mass of ten Jawas milled into the secret passage with him.

"Kher'ary'ush?" the Noghri in the lead asked. "Son of Vader?"

"That's me, Luke Skywalker." He held out his hand like he had on Honoghr. He was sniffed and passed muster. "I will take you up to my sister."

They moved so silently behind him, if Luke didn't have the Force, he wouldn't realize they were there. Han and Leia were waiting for them in the main room of their new suite. Han's sabacc face strained to stay neutral as the Noghri dropped the hoods covering their gray-scaled heads.

"We greet you, Lady Vader," the leader said in a gravelly voice before dropping to the floor and spreading his arms out to his sides. The other nine did the same without crowding the narrow suite entryway. That display made Han's eye twitch, but the Noghri were all looking at the floor. The leader spoke down to the floor. "I am Cakhmaim, warrior of the clan Eikh'mir. I lead the honor guard of the Mal'ary'ush. To your service and protection we commit ourselves and our lives."

"You may rise," Leia said with a regal tone. Luke glanced at his sister and Han was looking at her too. Her stance reminded him of the Yavin medal ceremony. "As the Mal'ary'ush, I accept your service," she continued.

The Noghri silently got to their feet. "My lieutenant, Mobvekhar clan Hakh'khar," Cakhmaim said, indicating the Noghri to his right. "He will lead the second watch."

Leia gestured at Han. "My husband, Han Solo."

Cakhmaim faced Han. "We greet you. The Noghri honor the consort of the Lady Vader."

Luke winced internally as Han directed a startled look at Leia. His brother-in-law was prickly over that title, used by so many aristocrats of the Core to imply his marriage to Leia was beneath her.

"Thanks," Han growled. "Nice meeting you, too."

"And you, Khabarakh." Leia held out her hand to another of the Noghri. "It's good to see you again. I trust the Maitrakh of your family is well?"

"She is very well, my lady." The Noghri stepped forward from the group to take her hand. "She sends her greetings, as well as a renewed promise of her service."

Behind the Noghri, the door slid open and Chewbacca slipped inside. Han's face relaxed slightly as he looked up at him. "Any trouble?"

"{No. The droids are inside and instructed not to touch anything.}" Chewbacca's gaze searched the group of gray-skinned aliens until he found Khabarakh. He moved to that Noghri's side and rumbled a greeting. Khabarakh greeted him in turn.

"Which others will be under our protection, Lady Vader?" Cakhmaim asked.

"My Doncella, Winter Retrac, my twins, and Lucinda Jade. Thrawn tried to take her too in the same attack on us. Come; I'll show you." She turned to guide the Noghri to Winter and the twin's bassinet at the other end of the main room. Luke, Lucinda went to sleep in her room. Can you get her up?

I will. He looked up at Han as Cakhmaim and Mobvekhar followed Leia, and Chewbacca and Khabarakh headed out the suite door, probably to Chewbacca's suite across the hallway. Han soothed his face like he was playing sabacc. "You still don't like this, do you?" Luke asked.

"Not really, no." Han watched Chewbacca and Khabarakh leave. "But I don't seem to have a lot of choices."

Luke shrugged. "You and Chewie could stay here. Lando, Mara, and I could go to Wayland by ourselves."

"Or you could take the Noghri with you," Han suggested dryly. "At least out there, you wouldn't have to worry about anyone seeing them."

"No one will see us here," a gravelly voice mewed at Han's other side.

Han jerked, hand dropping to his blaster as he spun around. "You always sneak up on people like that?" He demanded to the Noghri standing there.

The Noghri bowed his head. "Forgive me, consort of the Lady Vader. I meant no offense."

"They're proficient hunters," Luke murmured at his brother-in-law.

"Yeah, I'd heard that." Han turned back to face Luke, exposing his indecision. "Look, Luke—"

"They're all right, Han. Really, they are. I'm going to get Lucinda now." Luke slipped into the bedroom hallway and opened the bedroom door on the left. "Lucinda?"

The little girl rolled up on the bed and rubbed her eyes. "Jedi Luke?"

"Yes, it's me. Come meet the Noghri before we have to go." He turned the lights up slightly to help her eyes adjust to the brightness in the main room.

She slid off the bed and combed through her loose hair with her fingers. "I can't go with you to see Mommy?"

"I'm sorry, Luci. We don't have time." He wished they did. Her whole spirit drooped with that answer. "Do you need the necklace?" One of the Noghri could go with them and collect that for her.

She shook her head. "No, Mommy gave that to me when she sent me with Princess Leia." She turned to a bedside table and pulled the datacard necklace out of its drawer. "I just always told her bye when she left Karrde's base to work."

"I hope you always get to tell her bye after we get back from this mission." He called her brush from the open 'fresher door with the Force and got her red-gold hair presentable while she put on the necklace and tucked it under her jumpsuit.

"Me too." Lucinda covered her mouth as she yawned.

He sent the brush back to the 'fresher and took her hand. "Come meet them and then head back to bed." She nodded as she yawned again.

They headed back out into the main room. The Noghri were still studying everything in the room and peering down at the twins in pairs. Chewbacca and Khabarakh had returned and stood close to Han, who was monitoring the examinations of the twins.

Lucinda stopped moving forward and pressed against Luke's leg as they reached the hallway corner with the kitchen counter. Cakhmaim spotted them and came forward. "Kher'ary'ush, is the other child under our protection?"

"Yes, this is Lucinda Jade." Luke coaxed her to in front of him. "Luci, this is Cakhmaim. He's in charge of the Noghri guards."

"Hello," she said as she held out her hand palm up like Leia had told her to. Good, she remembered that without prompting.

Cakhmaim bent and pressed Lucinda's palm to his snout. Luke rested his hands on Lucinda's shoulders to keep her from jumping away. The Noghri inhaled her scent deeply, then glanced up and bowed again as he let Lucinda's hand go. "We are honored to protect your firstdaughter, Kher'ary'ush, while you strike at the Empire."

The shock of everyone in the room slammed into Luke, merging with his own shock, like a whirlwind sucking up the loose sand to scour you with.

Winter's melodious voice rose over the shriek. "Firstdaughter? But that's what they called Jaina?"

Leia had said they count descent with numerals instead of layering greats to the relationship.

"Cakhmaim, are you sure?" Leia asked.

The Noghri murmured in their own language, impossible to comprehend. "Yes, Mal'ary'ush," Cakhmaim said in Basic, "I am sure."

The Force was thrumming along with the revelation. The bond he had felt grow with Lucinda over the month slotted into recognition and in its proper place like the one that had erupted at Cloud City. Oh Force, he was falling again without his feet leaving the floor.

"I do not understand what is wrong." Cakhmaim looked at all the humans.

Lando entered the suite, alerted that something was wrong by his own observational skills. "What's going on?"

"Shavit, she has Luke's eyes," Han said. "They ain't wrong."

Lucinda's blue eyes looked up at him, brimming with tears as her cleft chin wobbled.

"Mal'ary'ush? Why the deception?"

"We didn't know. Her mother didn't tell us," Leia answered in a dazed voice.

"Her father doesn't work for Karrde." Luke couldn't breathe through that blow. He had been right there, right there, and Mara had lied to him. With the kind of lie he hated the most, the truth seen through a piece of clear fulgurite distorting it just enough.

Lucinda twisted and bolted back down the hall.

"Move, Luke," the voice sounded like Uncle Owen's gruff tone, "she needs you."

"Luci!" He held her bedroom door open with the Force until he passed through it. She had thrown herself half on the bed, clutching the blanket in two fists. "Luci."

She whirled around, pulling most of the blanket off the bed, as righteous fury spilled even more tears. "I asked you and you LIED!" She breathed through another sob. "I asked you!"

"Luci." He took a shuddering breath to hold in his own tears. He dropped to sit cross-legged on the floor. "I didn't know. I would have told you if I had known."

"Would you?!" Her fists battered against the blanket wrapped around her legs. "I'm just a little kid. Why should I be told about grown-up things like leaving us before I was even here!"

"Because everyone lied to me about my father. My aunt and uncle told me he won his freedom, became a navigator on a freighter, and died in a space accident. That isn't what happened after he won his freedom at all. I wouldn't lie to anyone about that."

Lucinda's face twisted with her tears. "Why should I believe you? You left us to the bounty hunters and the stormtroopers!"

He flinched. "Yes, I did. Not out of malice, but I wasn't there when you and your mother needed me. I know that hurts."

"Why?" she wailed. "Why weren't you there? You didn't want me then, and now you do?"

Because I hurt your mother and she didn't trust me, so she ran the other way, he thought bitterly. But that fact didn't need to burden Lucinda when others were hurting her. "Is that what people who worked with your mother said? I wasn't with you because I didn't want you?" She nodded with head jerks. "I didn't know about you. I was fighting the Empire and looking for your mother. I didn't know."

Her lower lip trembled now that she wasn't screaming. "So Mommy lied to you too. And Mommy doesn't lie." She shook her head hard. "We don't have time for lies! The Empire wants to hurt us for the Force!"

"Yes, it does, but I will not let them have my daughter. I will not let them have you."

Lucinda stared at him, still heaving from her outbursts, then launched herself at him. Luke caught her and the blanket and cradled her to his chest. He wrapped her in love through the Force, keeping his pain as far from her as he could, and kissed her as she cried.

The tears finally eased. "Father." Her blotched face scrunched with displeasure. "Daddy?"

"Daddy is fine. And you have an aunt and an uncle and an entire squadron of fighter pilots who will give you a call sign."

She let out a watery laugh. "You all want me?"

"You are family. We want you. We love you."

"Do you want Mommy?" She pulled back to study his face.

Such a simple question, loaded with so much now. What was wrong with him that everyone he loved so dearly lied to him? Nine years spent pining after Mara; no, that want wasn't ever going to go away. "That's a long talk that me and Mara need to have."

"Because she lied." Lucinda looked away. "I'm mad at her. She's not supposed to lie to me or you."

He could agree with that sentiment, but it wasn't fair to Mara. Nor to the ghosts of Owen and Beru Lars he carried in his heart. "Your mother loves you very much, Lucinda. And the Empire, when you were just a baby, would very much want to have the daughter of Luke Skywalker. To say nothing of any Hutts in Clan Desilijic. Everything your mother has done was to keep you safe from those enemies."

"But she lied to you!"

"And we're going to have a long talk about that on the way to Wayland and back again. And figure out what's best for you now." He soothed a tendril of her red-gold hair behind her ear. "Don't worry about that."

She grabbed the datacard necklace under her jumpsuit and tugged its chain. "But you might not come back?"

"We are going to try our hardest to come back to you." He tucked his hand under his tunic and pulled the Outer Rim Krayts pendent off. He slipped it over her head. "We will both be back to get those back from you." He kissed her forehead.

She touched the enameled krayt dragon head before launching forward again and wrapped her arms tight around her neck. "You better!"

He called upon the Force and added a suggestion to his words. "We love you. Just shoot Imperials. Listen to Aunt Leia, Winter, and the Noghri. Sleep now and face tomorrow bravely." He kissed her head, catching her hair.

Lucinda's squeeze lessened as she yawned. She slumped against him, and Luke held her against his shoulder as he stood up. Her eyes stayed closed while he tucked her into the bed. He eased the pendent and necklace off before he pulled the blanket over her. The strange jewelry went back into the bedside table drawer so she would find them in the morning.

He got slammed with a surge of indignation in the bedroom hallway. The voices weren't loud, but they were insistent. So trying not to wake children and infants equaled the same frenzied whispering and low voices as trying to avoid capture from Imperial patrols. Good thing they already had practice at that.

Winter slipped out of Han and Leia's bedroom. "Luke, how is she?"

"Asleep now, hopefully she'll sleep through the rest of the night. She's pretty angry at Mara." He matched Winter's low tone.

"As angry as you are?"

He relaxed his fisted hands with a sigh. "I'm sure anger is in there somewhere, but it's more than just that. Take care of Lucinda."

"Of course, for her sake as well as yours."

They walked down the hallway together. Lando, leaning against the Fijisi covered wall, spotted them first. Concerned appraisal filled his features as he took in Luke. The first expression he remembered Lando ever giving him during their desperate run from Cloud City. Luke nodded in acknowledgment, and appreciation of his friend keeping his emotions in check. His family at the other end of the main room was doing a much worse job of that.

Han and Leia were in their fighting stance that everyone stationed at Echo Base would recognize Han's fury curving his spine over Leia's shorter frame but her stance steel and not budging as she glared up at him. But their expressions were different, along with their interior emotions. Leia's sympathy for Luke and Lucinda's pain was there, exposed on her face. But within was a steady analytical fear: twenty thousand clones every twenty days; twenty thousand every twenty days.

"Han, be reasonable," she said in a clear, but hushed voice. "We have to continue this mission."

"You want reasonable, sweetheart? We can't trust that schutta's intel if she was willing to lie about having Luke's kid." He reared back to cross his arms over his chest. His protectiveness was flaring, even if he was only expressing it as anger.

Luke felt his own protectiveness rise, undeterred by the ripping of his heart. He deserved what he got, after all. He crossed the room. "Don't call Mara that."

Han turned his obstinate expression and pointing a finger at Luke. "You are not going to defend her after what she did to you."

"I'm not defending her. But she is Lucinda's mother, so don't call her that."

"Fine. I will watch my language. Are we comming a medic up here for proof of paternity?"

Leia had an equally confused face as Luke did, but she spoke first. "What do we need proof of paternity for?"

"Legal's not going to accept the Noghri smell test as proof! No offense," Han added at the nearest Noghri watching the discussion.

Luke shook his head. And Han's pointing finger came back up. "No saying no on this, Luke. We've been watching you this whole past month with that little girl. Hell, since you met her on Myrkr."

"And let Delta Source find out that Luke Skywalker has a daughter so hurry on another kidnapping? Or just send all the clones they have produced straight to Coruscant?" Luke shook his head again. "We have to go to Wayland and put a stop to Thrawn's advantage before a new Clone War overwhelms the New Republic."

"It's another trap, Luke. It has to be. Why else not mention it at all?"

She needed to hurt me back; she was buying safety with her body because that is what always happens to us, and it was all too overwhelming painful, and despite what Leia said about never looking at the bigger picture, it was far easier to set aside the painful shards of his heart right now and do just that. "It's not a trap on Mara's part. She's not aligned with the Empire, hasn't been since Palpatine tried to kill her. And she had the perfect prize to get back in his good graces."

"Now's not the time for one of your there's good in 'em speeches, Luke." Han's sharp gaze fell on Luke's prosthetic right hand.

"Will you believe that she loves her daughter and doesn't want her engulfed in another Clone War?" Leia asked intently. "She's the only one who knows the way to Wayland."

"Convenient that," Han snapped before sighing. "Fine, mission on. But if there are no cloning cylinders and just a bunch of stormtroopers aiming rifles at us, you will hear my 'I told you so' all the way back here."

Luke nodded. "We'll meet you at the Falcon. Lando?"

"I'm ready." He straightened off the wall and headed to the main door.

Another Noghri peeled off from their group and bowed slightly at Luke. "Kher'ary'ush, I am Khojor clan Hakh'khar. I shall reseal the entrance after you leave."

"Thank you, Khojor." They headed out and into the secret passage through the door Luke had found earlier.

Lando waited until they headed down in the secret turbolift. "If you can't face her yet, I can get Jade instead."

Luke took a deep breath. "Thanks, but I can put the mission first. She can too."

Lando's eyebrow raised skeptically in answer to that.

Mara snapped awake without jerking and slid her hand to the spot under the mattress where she typically hid a blaster. Empty because they had confiscated her blaster. The noise had sounded like the start of an alarm from the G-2RD droid outside the suite that had suddenly cut off.

Anyone authorized to see her wouldn't set off the guard droid.

She slid out of the bed and let her eyes rove over the darkened bedroom. What did she have that could work as a potential weapon? Her hand landed on the datapad she had been reading before going to sleep. The master bedroom had a hallway around the corner to its door to the hallway to the other bedroom and foyer. She reached the corner at the same time the lock clicked open and the door slid open. She hurled the device at the dark figure silhouetted in the doorway.

The figure held up a hand, and the datapad skidded to a halt in midair. "It's all right, Mara," a familiar voice said quietly. "It's just me, Luke."

"You're back?" She stretched out with her mind to double check. It was Luke, but he had his essence wrapped up tighter than a body glove. He usually emoted more than that. Maybe the mission had gone badly. "Well, thank you for switching up the breaking into the bedroom fantasy. It might be a while before I can surprise you."

He turned the hallway light to its lowest setting and his face went stony when he saw her starting to pull her sleep tunic off. "I'm not here for that!"

Mara froze. That response was not Luke.

He sighed as he forced himself to relax. "I'm here to get you out. You've got to get dressed, get a travel bag together."

"I do, huh? Mind telling me where we're going?"

"We're going to Wayland." His tension returned as he frowned. "You told Leia you could find it."

Twenty thousand clones in twenty days—how was that possible?—was bound to send even Luke to the edge. "I can find it. Do I have time to see Lucinda?"

Even her rusty Force abilities felt the agitation her daughter's name quaked through him. He pulled everything behind a rigid mental shield. "She's asleep. We have to leave tonight before Delta Source finds out what we're up to."

"Luke, is she all right?" The way he was acting was suspicious.

He forced himself to relax again. "She knows what's going on. We got extra guards for Leia and the twins. Nothing will touch them. She was ready to come help blow up the facility, but she's still taking care of Ghent."

No matter how off he was acting, he wouldn't lie to her about Lucinda's well-being. "All right. I'll get dressed." She opened the walk-in closet that had deposited her clothing in.

"I'll wait outside." He stepped out the bedroom door before she could ask him to stay. She swept the area with the Force as she pulled on a jumpsuit. Luke had come alone. That's odd. She expected Colonel Bremen to be here to issue threats to put her on her best behavior. Maybe her tales of what she had done as the Emperor's Hand spooked him more than he had let on.

She stuffed everything in the duffel bag, including the dress. It might come in handy. She found Luke waiting in the foyer. They stepped out of the suite together. The G-2RD droid was a surprise. She had expected to find it scattered in pieces from the way its electronic shriek had stopped. Instead, it stood intact beside the door, quivering with mechanical rage or frustration.

"We put a retraining bolt on it," Luke answered her unspoken question.

She found the flat device attached to the droid's side. "I didn't think you could restrain a guard droid."

"It's not easy, but Han and Chewie knew a way to do it." Luke said as they headed deeper down the hallway, away from the turbolift lobby. He opened the hidden doorway into the secret passage. "They thought this would make the prison break a little less conspicuous."

Mara threw a startled glance at his profile as they followed the twisted passage to the secret turbolift in the corner. Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight, hero of the Rebellion, pillar of law and justice… had just defied the entire New Republic establishment, from Mon Mothma on down, to get her out.

Was that why he was acting so strangely? That his personal sense of right and wrong had divided him from the side he had chosen? She didn't ask as they headed down.

They emerged on the Grand Corridor level of the Palace, but in the southwest section that had been converted to private hangars for ships and airspeeders to dock as well as passenger traffic to load and disembark. She had never needed to use this exit when she had departed the Palace before. The Emperor had sanctioned those missions. Either they were taking these lengths to avoid Delta Source or Luke had gone rogue.

A short, cloaked figure was waiting at the doorway into the hangar. "Kher'ary'ush," a gravelly voice mewed. "Your companion waits with the airspeeder."

Mara wanted to freeze, but Luke was continuing forward. "Thank you, Khojor," he said to the Noghri. He was having a friendly conversation with a Death Commando. "I would wish you happy hunting, but I hope no one comes after my family while we are gone."

"Indeed, Kher'ary'ush, worry not. They are all safe in our hands."

"May the Force be with you." The doorway slid open, and they were outside in the hangar bay, sliding into the open doors of the airspeeder docked right in front of the door.

Calrissian glanced back to make sure they were secure and took off without a word.

Mara twisted in the rear seat, but the doorway had vanished into the stonework. "Luke, you got Death Commandos to guard your sister and the children?"

"Their reputation precedes them?" He asked in a clipped tone, sounding a lot like his sister when she had to give a speech of some injustice back in the Imperial Senate days.

"There was a team or two in the Palace when I was growing up. They worshiped Vader, and then their assignment changed soon after the Emperor named me his Hand." She hadn't seen them since then.

Luke had that stony look on his face again. "Did you know the Empire poisoned their homeworld to coerce servitude for survival from them?"

"No." She shook her head. "But that makes sense of certain jokes I heard about them around the Palace. How the deadly little lizards were too stupid to know we tricked them." His profile shifted to furious, and she shook her head again. "I didn't know what they meant."

"Leia discovered the poisoning and exposed it, so they have transferred their loyalty to her. They gave me sanctuary on the strength of it. Lucinda and the others are safe."

Mara had nothing to say to that, and a heavy silence descended under the canopy of the airspeeder.

Calrissian brought the airspeeder down on what appeared to be an old private landing pad, hovering between buildings on the outskirts of the Palace District. The Millennium Falcon was already there, a nervous and impatient Chewbacca waiting for them at the open hatchway. The Wookiee gave a low growl as she passed. What? Was he upset about the scratches on the dorsal from escaping the Chimera?

"About time," Solo snapped as Mara followed Luke into the cockpit. They were barely aboard and he already had the freighter in the air. What the hell about this mission had them all this nervous? "Okay, Jade. Where do we go?"

"Set course for Obroa-skai. That was the last stop before Wayland on that trip. I should have the rest of it plotted out by the time we get there."

"You better." Solo reached around to key the nav computer. "Strap in—we'll be making the jump to lightspeed as soon as we're clear."

She slid into the passenger seat behind him as Luke sat in the other one. She scanned the nav computer set up, no surprises to it that she remembered from the last trip in this ship. "What kind of assault force are we taking?" she asked as she strapped in.

"You're looking at it," Solo grunted. "You, me, Luke, Lando, and Chewie."

"I see." Mara swallowed hard. The New Republic hadn't sanctioned this. The five of them against whatever defenses Thrawn would have set up to protect his most vital military base. "You sure we're not being unsporting about it?"

"We didn't have a lot more than this at Yavin," Solo said. "Or at Endor."

Endor, where Luke and Vader put an end to the Emperor. She glanced at Luke, but he focused on the instruments beside his seat. Still, lack of any numbers and official support could explain the mood everyone was in, except it didn't feel right in her gut.

Behind them, the cockpit door slid open and Chewbacca lumbered into the cockpit. "Everything all set back there?" Solo asked him.

The Wookiee rumbled something that sounded positive. "Good. Run a quick check on the alluvial dampers—they were sparking red a while back."

Another rumble, and the Wookiee slid into the copilot's seat and began going over the instruments.

"Okay, Chewie, get ready. Here we go…." Solo pulled back on the hyperdrive levers. The stars flared into the starlines and then morphed into the blue of hyperspace in the viewport.

No sense putting off her trick. It might help settle them all to have a fixed position in space for the end of the journey. She turned to the nav computer and pulled up a star chart for the Paonnid Sector. This skill she had used whenever presented with a choice of where to go next in the desperate days of running. She focused on the points of light in the star chart and the lines representing hyperspace lanes. She was floating between them and her memories. It was barely in the Outer Rim. The Emperor had laughed about that. She floated north, away from the Vaathkree Trade Corridor into the Ojoster Sector. There, a system on the edge where the Outer Rim, Expansion Region, and the Inner Rim all converged. She dove into the system to hover over a green and blue world. Yes, the jolt of recognition sung at her. She had seen this planet through the viewport of a Lambda shuttle. She marked it and pulled back.

Her body shuddered as she breathed deeply. A muscular hand latched onto her shoulder. She blinked down at it. Luke's hand helping to steady her, not digging into her flesh.

"Shavit," Solo muttered behind her. "Do you do that?"

"I have before, once or twice," Luke answered. "You back with us, Mara?"

She nodded, and he withdrew his touch like snatching his hand away. He didn't have to do that. Her eyes watered, but she ignored it. "There's Wayland. I don't think it has a dedicated hyperspace lane to it."

Solo leaned over her shoulder for a look at the coordinates on the star chart. "Came to you that quick?"

"I have had a lot of practice with the technique," she snapped back. What the hell was up with his attitude? This was what they wanted, the Emperor's storehouse with his cloning cylinders. She glanced over her other shoulder at Luke, but he was focusing on some other instrument panel. Her stomach twisted. All this situation needed was for her danger alert to tug on her hair.

Solo made a sarcastic hum and reached to the controls. "I'm sending the coordinates back to the main engineering console. Luke, get Artoo to interface with it and double check this route." He pressed a sequence of buttons.

"All right, Han." Without a word to Mara, Luke turned and left the cockpit.

What the? Luke had been more communicative when she had a blaster pointed in his face. Solo had turned back to the piloting controls, so she undid her seat restraints and followed Luke.

Calrissian sat at the dejarik table, scowling at his datapad. Luke glanced up at her arrival and then looked back down at the astromech, giving its dome a pat as it connected to the console. "Thanks, Artoo," he said. He turned away from her and started walking toward the corridor entrance across the main hold.

Her feet followed of their own accord. "Luke, we were supposed to talk when you got back?"

He froze at that, his entire body rigid as durasteel. Now you want to talk! Not at Myrkr or Jomark or the Chimera or Coru—He cut off his mental tirade as he turned his stone-carved face toward her. But his eyes were a turbulent ocean.

"Lucinda's yours," she blurted out. And like she had always feared, the icy anger on his face didn't crack.

"The Noghri already busted your Namana cream pie scam." Solo stopped behind her, giving the Wookiee enough room to enter the main hold too. Great, the whole scenario she wanted to avoid, everyone putting pressure on her and Luke now on this claustrophobic ship.

Luke's stony face broke. "Han, please—"

"No, I'm not staying out of this, Luke. Last time, you just lost a hand. You are not losing your kid because of a lying Imperial."

Mara clenched her fists but kept her arms down at her sides. "How many times do I have to tell you people I am not an Imperial? The Emperor tried to kill me to get Lucinda, but that doesn't seem to be good enough. Nor does shooting Imperials about to kill your ass!"

Solo's glared hardened. "You're not arguing about the lying part."

"And you're not anyone I need to atone myself to." She didn't put her back to the taller human nor the Wookiee, but focused on Luke's pained face. "I couldn't tell you before—"

"Because that would have ruined the whole scheme," Solo interrupted. "Ole Sheev-hole wasn't getting Luke any other way, so send you in to lie and seduce him that way! For that alone, Luke should take Lucinda."

"Seduce me?" Luke asked, confused.

But Mara was too furious to pay attention to that. "Take my daughter! You just try it, Solo! Bring all the publicity, all the legal ramifications of your precious New Republic. How well have they protected your precious babes? They didn't." Her voice hardened and grew colder. "What experience do you really have at running? Without a Wookiee protecting your back? Dodging stormtroopers, killing bounty hunters, feeding a growing child with no credits; three years' experience." She pointed to her chest. "Five years trying to claw out protection and normalcy for her in the aftermath of your war!"

Solo spluttered. "You raped Luke and took Lucinda from him!"

"I don't know what you read in the Emperor's Hands file, but I have raped no one! So you can stop saying that."

"She didn't, Han, I did."

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

She whirled to Luke and everyone present echoed her "WHAT?" in the main hold, including an electronic beep and a Wookiee growl. His stony face had shattered to devastation and guilt leeched from behind his mental shields. He blamed himself for Grakkus' stupid orders? "Don't you dare!" She stomped closer to him. "Don't you dare call it that or call yourself that; Grakkus had a blaster to both our heads!"

He focused on only her with a face full of pain and confusion. "Then why didn't you tell me I was a father on Myrkr?"

Her anger flared up again because no matter how much time had passed and how much he had matured, he was still a di'kut farm boy. "Because you just told us Thrawn was trying to kidnap every Force user and sensitive that the entire galaxy knows about to hand over to that madman C'baoth! I thought after Palpatine was dead, no one would chase Lucinda ever again!"

She heaved in air as she tried to gather her thoughts on the rest of his idiocy, when a prissy modulated voice spoke up. "By the Maker," Threepio said from his seat at the dejarik table, "Miss Lucinda is Master Luke's progeny? When did this happen?"

"From her birthday and subtract two hundred eighty days from it," Calrissian said dryly.

Mara glared at the urbane man. So easy to be caviler about two hundred eighty days when it isn't your body changing to shelter a child inside it and being subjected to continuous broken sleep thanks to the same nightmare message given every night. Hirlyi ge'niyrer had no right to steal her child that she had fought to bring into this galaxy and fought to keep safe in it too. At least the bounty hunters had the honesty to steal her daughter for the cash, and not out of a need to punish Mara for whatever Imperial sins she had.

Before she could put her rage into words—inefficient weapons that they were—a callused hand wrapped around her left wrist and tugged her away. She twisted her head to see who she needed to strike with her hand once she wrenched it free.

Luke gently pulled her into the corridor.

She let him. She had more to say on his di'kutla notions of their relationship and she was ready to tell him all about that by the time they entered the crew bunk room and the door slid shut behind them. She stormed up at him, the way that was unexpected by anyone taller than she. "How dare you call us rape; how dare you! You gave me the choice, Luke. The only one who ever did. And I chose you!"

He stepped back and clenched his fists by his sides as he faced her. "You lied to me just like Ben and Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Worse, you made me lie to Lucinda! I never wanted to lie to my children or Leia's."

His vehemence made her blink. "What?"

"She asked me if I knew her father back on Myrkr because you hadn't told her anything!"

Oh, she should have guessed that was what made Luci skip the dryer cycle when they made it back to base. "She was with us. How could we discuss it with her right there? What if you didn't want her?"

"Not want her?!" His anger flared, but he didn't gesture wildly but stilled even more than should be humanly possible.

"Jedi don't have families," she snapped back. "And it didn't even occur to you that Lucinda was your daughter despite being the right age and named after you!"

"I know you named her after me, but I thought it was because you liked me better than her winbekhia father. Instead, I am the winbekhia father who abandoned you."

Her rage that he saw himself like that iced her over again. "There was a war on! It didn't matter how badly I wanted to find you; no Rebel contact would have taken me with a baby on my hip to you! You were fighting and ended up doing more to keep her safe than I did." She would be fair. He and Vader killed the Emperor and the bounties on her and Lucinda's heads died with him, and stormtroopers had bigger issues to deal with.

"You didn't try to find me after Endor. And I was in the public eye by then."

She snorted and crossed her arms. "Do you have any idea how much it costs to travel in the galaxy when you cannot hop in your decommissioned X-wing they let you keep after resigning or ask a friend with their own ship to give you a lift? If you can even find a passenger liner heading into contested space? The only tickets I could afford headed further out. I saved Karrde's life on Varonat in the Outer Rim, and he hired me at wages I could start saving for a trip to Coruscant. But that was only twelve months ago, and I bet you don't know what hotels on Coruscant cost either."

His eyebrows lowered as he considered what she had said.

She squeezed her arms against her ribs as if that would keep her heart in one piece. "Maybe it was just as well that I couldn't get to you considering you seem hell-bent on considering our daughter the product of rape." Precious Lucinda, the best of them both, reduced to the detritus of a crime.

His eyebrows climbed up again. "You never told me. Myrkr," he dismissed the planet with a wave of his hand. "We both had misconceptions to clear up there. But you said nothing on the way to the Chimera or back to Coruscant and Lucinda wasn't with us."

"I kriffed you then too. Do you think I would if I thought you raped me?"

He winced. "And you flinched with guilt every time, Mara. What was I supposed to think?"

She thought she had hidden that better. "Because it was all on borrowed time. Once the paternity got out, the entire New Republic would mobilize to save the glorious hero Luke Skywalker's baby from the evil Emperor's Hand." She tossed her head toward the door, indicating the rest of the strike team that probably had the forms already filed with the right data pushers. She couldn't move her arms, that was all that was holding her upright. "They'd rather believe that red-eyed calyarnr than me. I wanted to hold this—" she jerked her chin to the deck plate. "This off for as long as I could. We were heading onto a mission that might kill us on the Chimera. And after on Coruscant? I was going to tell you during our canceled dinner. I couldn't tell you when you were running out to go on another mission. So here we are and now I told you too late. I have no idea how the Noghri found out. The Emperor never sent them hunting for us."

Luke made a scoffing noise of mingled dismay and amusement. "Too bad Palpatine didn't. A lot of truths may have come to light earlier."

Her scoff was entirely disbelieving. "I realize you trust them, but—"

He cut her off with a brusque gesture.

She squeezed her jaw shut on Death Commandos; they didn't get that name from playing with their targets. He moved around her to the comm panel next to the door. A comm panel with a lit active indicator. A different chill bore through Mara now.

He pressed the speaker button. "Chewie?"

There was a suspicious pause before the Wookiee rumbled over the comm.

"Please keep Han off the comms and give us some privacy or I will have to break the system and that's a bad idea as we fly into Imperial territory."

The Wookiee laughed, and the comm clicked off. Its lights all powered off.

Mara clenched her fists without moving her arms that were doing nothing against the icy panic pounding her heart. "Why make him stop now? Don't you want more juicy details for the custody case you have already won?"

"Han doesn't speak for me, no matter how much he thinks he should." Luke turned from the wall and she didn't recognize his expression. It wasn't angry, but he couldn't have let go of his anger that quickly. "Let's start over," he said.

She stared at him, confusion wrinkling her forehead. It wasn't possible to start over.

He sighed and dropped to the floor, crossing his legs as he did so. "I'm Lucinda's father. You weren't worried about that when Grakkus had us."

She didn't know where he was going with this, but she owed him the truth. "I had a fertility blocker, but I woke up from getting stunned without the trousers I had been wearing, and since I got pregnant, it's safe to assume Grakkus had it removed."

"Mot bpuoiaee." He shook his head. "That's why they kept testing you, and as soon as Grakkus was sure a pregnancy took, I had to go fight the Disembowler."

"I didn't know." She loosened her fists to grip her arms tighter and ignored the Huttese she didn't understand. "I didn't figure it out until morning sickness started weeks after escaping. Even though the damn nightmare was waking me up every night."

"Nightmare?" His blue eyes sharpened. "You were having nightmares in the cell too."

She sighed. There were no seats in this bunk room but the floor, which is why Luke had sat there. And her training screamed that was too vulnerable of a position to get into. So she remained on her feet. "The same nightmare. I couldn't tell you then because you would have found out about my relationship with the Emperor."

He nodded. "Can you tell me now?"

"I'm flat on my back giving birth, restrained to the medbed, attended to by droids. A midwife droid caught the baby and ignores my pleas to see the baby as it carried the baby to the Emperor. He ignored me too as he said, 'A Skywalker under my control from the beginning.' I couldn't get my arms and legs free from the restraints to get her away from him. And then I felt the cold poison pushing into my vein from the intravenous drip, and that was when I would wake up." She shuddered and rubbed her left arm where the droid had inserted it in the dream.

"You had that every night?"

It was relieving to hear horror in his voice. "Every night until Lucinda was born without variation."

"I can understand why you were so concerned about Lucinda's dreams." He looked up, puzzled. "But why didn't you tell me about it? My name mentioned every night?"

That made her drop her arms to plant her hands on her hips. "Say Skywalker in Huttese."

"Veaua kohcha, oh!"

"Oh," she repeated sarcastically. "I didn't find out your complete name in Basic until I saw your Imperial wanted notice."

"After you made your own escape."

"Yes." Her arms fell slack to her sides. "I made my way to Naboo. The Emperor never had much to do with his home planet, but I knew it was civilized and green. I thought you'd appreciate that for her birth planet."

"Lucinda showed me holos of Naboo. It's a beautiful planet." He looked up at her, letting worry crease his face. "It wasn't so bad having her there? Not like your vision?"

"Nothing like my vision," she assured him. "I had a human medic, Naboo uses birthing stools, the Emperor wasn't in the room with me."

Luke looked down at the deck plate. "And I wasn't either. I would have been if I could."

"But you couldn't." She leaned against the wall. "I wasn't going to keep her. I wanted her to have a normal childhood, and I didn't have the slightest idea how to do that. But the Emperor called to me."

"And you wouldn't give him Lucinda."

She shook her head.

"And he tried to kill you."

She nodded again. "He didn't mention you, but I'm sure he had already figured it out by then. Probably thought his frail grandfather routine was enough to get me to comply. It had in the past," she added bitterly.

"He tried that on me too. Right before he ordered the Death Star to fire on our ships."

She nodded, not surprised in the least. It was an old favorite guise of his all her life in the Palace. "I'm a little fuzzy on details after his attack. I must have told them stormtroopers were coming, but the first thing I can remember is waking up in the Gungans' underwater city and three days had passed. My medic had come with us, and she had some connection with the Gungans. She insisted on Lucinda being named according to Naboo's Name Day tradition; Amidala was a relation too. And adopting our baby out wouldn't keep her safe, and I could. So I named her Lucinda Padmé and didn't give her your surname."

Luke waved that aside. "Names are more choice than people realize. But I'm glad you had help when I couldn't help you."

"Please don't blame yourself. We've been over that."

"I'm not blaming either of us. But if things had been different, I would have been with you both." He rocked up to his feet. "Do you believe me?"

The smile blossomed unbidden to her face. "I know you would have been."

"So being with me wasn't out of obligation or guilt?"

"Selfish pleasure. I would have gotten your trousers off if you had just stayed put on Myrkr."

He still saw himself as not desirable at all with how fast confusion hit him. "You wanted? Then? After everything I?"

"Luke, you always asked. Even that first time on display. Force knows what Grakkus would have done had I told you no, and you stopped. And you would have stopped. You're the only one who ever gave me a choice." She stared at the deck plates. "When it all crashed, you wouldn't be with me, so why not take what I wanted while you were willing? I never thought you would still want me after you became a Jedi and I didn't want to ruin your dream."

He crossed the deck plate and stopped in front of her. "You and Lucinda have ruined nothing, and I'm not stealing her from you." His left hand caught hers. "Mara, I want you both, a family."

That unexpected blow sent her reeling through space. She gripped his hand, trying to reorient. "You still do?"

He nodded, and there was heat in his blue eyes that made her own cheeks burn.

"I… I didn't know which of my secrets would drive you away." The possibility that he wouldn't care had never occurred to her.

"I'm not a fan of lying by omission or flat wrong words, but," he steeled himself. "You don't have a monopoly on secrets. You both need to know it even if it still classified." He took a deep breath. "Anakin Skywalker, my father, fell to the Dark Side. He became Darth Vader."

That explained so much. And how much hell did Luke get from his allies over it? That was unnecessarily cruel; Vader didn't raise him. "So that's why you both ganged up on the Emperor. But how did you pry the Empire out of Vader's hands?"

His eyebrows bunched in confusion. "He died, but what do you think happened on the second Death Star?"

She squeezed his hand reassuringly. "The Emperor sent me a vision of you two striking him down with your lightsabers. I figured he was trying to guilt me into being his avenger. I told him, 'you deserve it, you calyarnr,' and booted him out of my head again. Don't feel bad about that; he earned decapitation by lightsaber! But Vader let the Rebellion take over, let Thrawn take over? That never made sense."

He blinked while his eyebrows remained bunched. "That's… that's not what happened at all." He gathered his thoughts. "I knew there was good in my father. Ben and Master Yoda were convinced I had to kill him. Leia told me to run, like she has ever run from a confrontation in her life. I turned myself into the Imperial patrol on Endor to keep him from finding our strike team. He took me to Palpatine."

She didn't know how to comfort him. Did he even want another touch along with her holding his hand? He wasn't letting go of her hand. "Did you expect something different, Luke?"

"Hoped for my father to run away with me, yes. I lost control of my anger twice in that throne room. The Death Star and the Imperial Navy was picking off our fleet, Palpatine kept gloating how Leia and Han would die on Endor, I snatched up my lightsaber and I tried to strike down Palpatine. Father protected him and we were dueling." He sighed. "I regained control and stopped only to lose it again when Father threatened Leia." He squeezed her hand. "I came to my senses after I cut off his hand."

"Oh Luke," came out of her mouth involuntarily.

"Palpatine came down off his throne, goading me to fall and kill my father. I threw my lightsaber aside and told him I was a Jedi like my father before me." Her eyes widened, remembering what Palpatine would do to those who displeased him. He nodded, confirming it. "Hit me with lightning generated by the Force."

Her left hand flattened on his chest over the scars she had seen and felt. "Electrical discharge accident?"

"It's all still classified, so I have to tack on 'accident' to explain the scars. It wasn't; he did it on purpose. When the barrage ended, I saw my father lifting Palpatine over his head. He threw his former master down a shaft surrounding the turbolift. That killed Palpatine, but the lightning bolts damaged my father's life support suit and he died. But he saved me and died in the Light."

She tightened her grip on his hand because now he would try to pull away.

He swallowed hard. "I understand if you'd rather—"

"Of course, you would understand. You still don't believe you have any personal appeal." She spoke briskly because there was no chance this revelation would destroy her desire for him. "We both have lessons to not pass on to Leia's children or Lucinda. But that doesn't mean I never want to be with you again. You may have second thoughts if you knew how much I want to see the Emperor tossed like a doll—"

Luke's right hand wrapped around the back of her head as his mouth fell on hers.

Chapter Text

Title image showing Luke, Mara, and Lucinda

Mara deepened the kiss as she slid her hand up his chest and over his shoulder. She lowered her mental shields so he could feel just how much she wanted this with him right now and forever.

Luke dropped his own shield. And I thought I should apologize. His desire for her sent a tremor through her legs. He let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her waist. I'm not in the habit of cutting off what anyone is saying, but no second thoughts. I will never stop wanting you, Mara.

She was so out of practice with speaking mind to mind like this. Same. Only you. She wrapped her other arm around him and dug her fingers into his back.

He liked that and tightened his grip around her before moving his mouth over her jaw and down her throat. He supported her weight with his arms, so she drew her leg around his. She found a little friction against his thigh and ground her groin down on it.

Luke bit and sucked where her shoulder met her neck. Sparks slid under her skin so she moaned with it. His thigh rose, so she straddled it. His hands dropped to her ass and squeezed.

She worked her fingers up his shoulders and neck. They carded into his hair that draped over the collar of his tunic. She tugged her handful. His grip around her tightened as his head reared back. She darted her lips forward, kissing down until she reached the notch in his collar.

He set her down on the edge of a bunk and pulled back. She let her hands fall away. His blue eyes focused on her face as he undid his weapons belt and let it fall to the floor.

She raked her gaze up and down his form as he unfastened his tunic. "I love watching you strip. Always have."

His hands stilled as his face reddened. "Do you want a show?"

She unfastened her jumpsuit and peeled it off her upper body. Saying what she wanted made her needy, made her vulnerable. But she promised to tell him the truth about everything. "I… I want touch. Your touch."

Luke dropped his tunic on the floor and shed his undertunic before moving closer to the bunk. His fingers tracing her ribs shouldn't send shivers through her, but they did. He leaned in closer. "I missed your touch too."

She ran her hands up his arms and over his chest. He had tremors to match her shivers. His nipples pebbled under her fingers and she pinched them the way he liked.

He scraped his teeth against her jawbone before kissing his way to her ear. "It is often I don't want to do anything but touch you."

His hand flat on her lower back seared her.

She pulled him closer for a hard kiss. He returned it as he slid his hands and arms around her back. She wrapped her legs around his waist. The ridges created by his belt rubbed against her legs. She broke off the kiss and looked down. "How do we keep forgetting trousers?"

He chuckled as he leaned his forehead against hers. "You forgot more than that." His hand slid up her back to her supportive basic.

"I didn't forget; I want you to take it off me." She pulled his face in for another kiss before he could ask to follow through.

He sank into the kiss and ran both his hands up her back to the supportive basic. His tongue slipped into her mouth while he unfastened the garment and slid it off her shoulders.

She lifted her hands to slide it off her arms, but he shifted and ran his hands down her back instead.

He continued down, tucking his hands into the rucked fabric of her jumpsuit and past the waistband of her basics. She floated now as his callused hands cupped her ass and moved her clothing as he slid his hands down the back of her thighs.

He was floating her with the Force while he undressed her, and she was dripping with desire over it. She pulled back from the kiss. "Take them off me."

Luke's swollen lips smirked at her. He seized fistfuls of fabric and pulled; his thumbs' knuckles running down her legs.

She tried to make an appreciative murmur, but it shifted into a moan. She dropped the supportive basic to the deck plates before it could get in the way.

He tugged off her boots and her clothes, then wrapped his hands around her ankles before running his hands up her legs. His palms stroked against her inner calves, then her inner thighs.

His head was in reach again, and she combed her fingers into his thick hair. He shifted to press against her fingers. His lips touched her inner knee, then kissed her inner thigh.


He inched his lips along her thigh.

She tugged on his hair. "Luke, please. All of you, Luke. I need."

Her weight pressed down on the bunk cushions as his face peered up. Blue rimmed the black of his eyes. "Lay back, pateesa." He dropped a kiss on her hip bone before he moved back and unfastened his trousers.

She lay back along the bunk as soon as he retreated from her legs. She didn't want to give her overheated skin a chance to harden into the shell she maintained for everyone else. But Luke was back before that happened, sliding his warm skin against her body. He stopped moving up at her breasts and enveloped her right nipple in his mouth. She arched into that touch and opened her legs to cradle his hips.

He scraped his teeth against her nipple and chuckled at how her hips bucked against him.

"Don't… please don't… tease!" Mara gasped out. His cock pressed against her, tantalizingly close to where she needed it. How could he not know she was ready, so ready? Damn, why wasn't she on top? There wasn't enough room to put him exactly where she wanted him, not without spilling them both out of the bunk, but she still made a grab at him.

His mouth popped off her breast as he grabbed her hands and came up even with her face. "No teasing. I'm not. I never." He took a deep breath and nuzzled her. "I always want it good for you." He kissed along her jaw to her neck. "I didn't think you'd want me after you knew."

"You said…." She remembered the word, even if she wasn't sure of its exact meaning. "The dead dotkohu don't come between us." His teeth scraped her pulse point, and she regretted choosing that one for Vader. He was Luke's father, despite all his shabuir at the galaxy at large. And he wouldn't like—

"I know what my father was." He whispered. "Don't worry. They don't come between us." He lifted his head and looked down at her. "Never come between us." He squeezed her hands.

"Never," she agreed. "Please, Luke," she was reaching the point of begging and she arched against him.

He braced up on his left arm, sliding it under her to hold her more, and finally pushed himself inside her. Her rapturous moan was matched by Luke's, "Mara." He pulled her closer.

She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and her right leg around his thigh. His thrusts hit her pleasure center the way she taught him. But she felt pressure on her clit and his fingers were under her back. Had he figured out how to add the Force to kriffing? Her orgasm spiraled through her and took that question with it.

Luke's thrusts stuttered as his own orgasm shot into her. He lowered her back on the bunk cushions and brushed her hair back as he looked down at her. "Wore you out?" He smiled.

She felt boneless with the aftershocks of pleasure, and she pried her eyelids up while she smiled at him. "Everything has, but I enjoy you." She couldn't stifle her yawn.

"Go ahead and sleep, pateesa." He shifted off her and pulled a blanket out, but she drifted away before he unfurled it.

Luke pressed a soft kiss against Mara's forehead before he slipped out of the bunk. She shifted in her sleep as he covered her with the blanket, but didn't wake. He pulled on his trousers and undertunic. Han kept the Falcon warm enough, or Luke had finally acclimatized to the coldness of space, but he didn't need more layers now. He left the crew bunk, heading toward the main hold.

Chewbacca had the door to his bunk locked open and called Luke back as the human passed. Luke stepped into the doorway. Chewie put aside whatever mechanical thing he was working on. "{You both said Grakkus. That is when you met her?}"

"Grakkus imprisoned both of us together." Luke felt his face heat, but it was obvious what had happened between him and Mara. "For almost a month."

"{Mara Jade is why you wanted to go back into the Palace, not the Jedi artifacts.}"

"I wanted to make sure Mara got out, but I would have tried to grab as many artifacts as I could." Luke could still remember all the activated holocrons floating and speaking when Grakkus had forced him to do something with the Force. The 501st probably made sure they were all destroyed.

"{I am sorry, Luke, to keep you from your mate. I didn't mean to do that.}"

"It's all right. It has all worked out now."

Chewie cocked his head. "{Han is sulking in the cockpit. He's worried your mate's affections are not true.}"

"But you're not?"

The Wookiee shook his head. "{She is fierce for her cub and willing to fight you when you're wrong.}" He picked up a small spanner and pointed it at Luke. "{You need that. Too many will not challenge your beliefs or actions because of history and reverence. She is willing to keep you pruned.}"

Luke frowned. "What have I been wrong about?" He asked, half expecting to hear C'baoth in Shyriiwook.

"{You are often very wrong in how you see yourself, Luke. Go talk to Han now so his trigger finger won't be itchy.}"

Luke continued through the main hold. Lando had snagged the bunk above the dejarik table and had some kind of audio device plugged into his ears. Han had thrust himself into the pilot's seat, and Luke could feel his scowl even though he aimed it out the viewport. He dropped into the co-pilot's seat and twisted it to face Han.

Han only moved his head to look at Luke. "I don't know where to begin with you, Kid. She's forgiven after a really good kriffin'?"

"I forgave her before that part, actually. You all came to the wrong conclusion over Lucinda's conception."

"We weren't the only ones. What the hells; you're saying rape and she's blaming Grakkus."

Luke looked down at the control panels between the seats. "Mot bpuoiaee." Han had spent enough time on Tatooine to know what that was, and he sat up straighter. "It wasn't Palpatine's bright idea; it was Grakkus'."

"You were his prisoner, not his slave."

"There was no difference!" Luke's bitterness made his voice sharper. "I was just another part of his collection, the first freeborn Skywalker forced to do tricks in hopes of learning something and making it through another day until I could get out. And when Grakkus had the opportunity to get a Force user from birth, he manipulated everything so it would happen."

Some instrument ticked in the cockpit's silence before Han spoke. "So he threatened you both… no. He threatened Jade, that'd be enough to make you comply."

"I gave the choice to Mara, every time. If she hadn't wanted to comply, I wouldn't have." Luke flexed his hands. "And that was enough for her. That and kindness." He supposed he followed Aunt Beru's instructions on how to properly woo a partner. "Anyway, Palpatine had nothing to do with anything."

"I read her debrief about meeting you. She edited out getting pregnant by you. What else did she leave out?" Han crossed his arms over his chest.

"The New Republic can stay out of my private life. But Palpatine sent her there for an artifact not to get close to me."

"You've been lied to before, Luke."

"I know. But she's not lying about this. Or about Palpatine; it matches up with what she dared tell an avowed Rebel about her old Master. And she's not working with Thrawn." He looked up at Han's still suspicious face. "So, be nice? For my sake."

"Nice is asking for a lot."

"Civil at least. I know Leia's been working on getting you up to civil."

Han's lips twisted. "I won't shoot her in the back or leave her on this Wayland if we actually get there. But I'm keeping an eye on her."

Luke sighed, suspecting this was the best he was going to get but had to keep pushing. "If she had wanted back in the Imperial good graces, all she had to do was give Lucinda to Palpatine. Between how he treated her and Force warnings, she ran the other way. That's as good as enlisting with us."

"She shouldn't have kept a kid from you, Luke."

Luke stood up to get out of range of the raw sympathy on Han's face. "I believe she was working up her courage to tell me. She's been afraid of losing Lucinda for nine years." He headed to the cockpit door.

"And you're not a winbekhia father." Han twisted to ensnare Luke. "Everybody who has seen you with Lucinda knows that."

He winced before he could stop himself. "The war was raging. Mara's right about that."


"Stupid stuff from when I was a kid. How I wouldn't be like my father and not be there for my children."

"You are nothing like your father." Han countered hotly.

Luke supposed he was right in the ways that truly mattered, like falling to the Dark Side and becoming a homicidal monster. But that wasn't easing the aching bruise on his heart. "I missed Lucinda's birth. I wasn't there to hold her or help Mara when Palpatine tried to kill her. That was a Skywalker tradition I was promising myself I would break. So when you feel inadequate at the whole fatherhood thing, Han, remember you were there for Leia and your babies."

Han's protective anger melted into sympathy, but Luke couldn't focus on that right now. It wasn't fair to Mara or Lucinda. "Get some rest while we can," Luke said before Han mentioned anything else and left the cockpit.

Mara had flattened herself against the wall of the bunk while he was gone. He chuckled as he stripped again. "That can't be comfortable."

"Hoping you'd come back," she said in a soft, slurred with sleep voice.

"I just had to talk to Han." He lay down on his back in the space she had left, then drew her and the blanket over him.

She started to arrange herself against him before freezing. "Why? He decided throwing me out the airlock was easier than a custody battle in the New Republic courts?"

"He's not throwing you out the airlock." Luke tightened his arms around her, pulling her closer. "And there will not be a court custody battle. I want Lucinda's documentation changed, so I am listed as her father, but I'm not taking her from you. Please stop being afraid of that."

Her head settled against his chest. "It's hard. I was trained to look for the worst potential outcomes and to circumvent them. And that has kept us alive all this time."

He adjusted the blanket over them both. "Focus it on Thrawn, will you?" He rubbed her back. "If anyone tries to make a political sandstorm out of you and our daughter, they will find out just how fast they can go pound sand. I've got your back, okay?"

"Okay, Luke." Her arm snaked around to embrace him in return.