MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Yup, now that I'm on break and well rested, I'm going to try and get back on track with my fanfictions. Jedi Jesi Jiin and I have actually finished this entire series by now, so all we have to do is move everything over to word documents and then edit...editing galore...uhg...so much editing...

This chapter took a while because we were missing some segments and we had to revise half of the chapter, plus I was extremely busy/caught up in other stories. Hopefully I can get back on track though. Hopefully this story updates regularly now, even when the rest aren't updating regularly.

So, you're welcome, here's the next chapter, and please Review! WE LOVE REVIEWS!

Enjoy!


The next morning, Luke felt more refreshed than he had since Fayet Kelen had let them stay at the best hotel on Pasher. it seemed a mutual decision to gather in his room for breakfast with all five of them—counting Artoo—crammed into his room. They'd pulled the two chairs from the small kitchenette table into the same room as his bed so that they could all have a seat—some on chairs and some on his bed.

The five of them talked about the employees at Nessin's business, and settled on two that could prove difficult for them: a man named Migg Birkhit, and another Kupohan named Ruuf Waluuk.

Drusil had set up a program to deflect outgoing transmissions to her datapad for inspection in case there were any spies out to sell them to the Empire for the 'goodly sum' Nessin had told them they were now worth.

However, Nakari cursed when Drusil informed them that Migg had managed to contact someone using a third-party source.

"We can't stay then," she told her companions.

"We have nowhere else to go," Luke pointed out. "And leaving now before we get repairs would only raise even more suspicion. it would be better and simpler if Migg Birkhit wasn't around to be questioned when the Empire comes looking for him."

"So you're saying we should make him disappear?" Nakari asked. Luke shifted uncomfortably.

"Temporarily, not permanently. Maybe a couple of days tied up in a hotel room. He can be Azzur's problem after that."

"And if the Empire's already found him?"

"We may have to resort to permanent disappearing if that's the case—but only because he'll probably be shooting at us along with Imperial troops."

Drusil shook her head. "I doubt a single unconfirmed message would mobilize troops. More likely it will mobilize an investigator or a lazy electronic request for more information. I will intercept any messages sent to Migg and Ruuf, of course, but I cannot control his personal interactions."

"That gives us a project for the day, I guess," Nakari said. "Can't do anything without the replacement engine and we'd have to hide out in our rooms instead. Actually, Drusil, that's probably what you should do in any case. any Givin seen on the street right now might draw more curiosity than we want."

"I have no objections," Drusil replied. "I need to monitor communications in any case. But what will you do?"

"We'll go looking for Migg Birkhit," Luke supplied easily.

Nakari frowned. "Look where?"

"His house first," Luke said easily. "I bet Drusil already has his address. Failing that, we'll check the local cantinas."

Anakin sucked in a sharp breath. "No!" he said before he could stop himself and Nakari jumped, taken aback.

Anakin grimaced, but managed a more reserved, second sentence. "Or at least, you're not going in alone...again."

Luke suddenly grew somber, shifting uncomfortably under a rush of unwelcome memories. "No...not alone," Luke agreed quietly, casting his eyes elsewhere and avoiding the inquisitive gazes of the others around him.

Nakari frowned deeply, seeing the sudden tension between Anakin and Luke, but it wasn't anger she was seeing...

No, it seemed more like whenever someone brought up Luke's brand...

Nakari gasped, her hands flying to her mouth and ignoring Drusil's befuddled head-tilt.

"Luke is that how..." Nakari hesitated, trying not to be too much more obvious in front of the Givin. "It happened?"

Luke hesitantly met her gaze. "In a nutshell, yes," he told her quietly.

Nakari needed to hear no more, able to connect enough of the dots to guess the rest.

Drusil appeared to compute that a comment from her regarding human behavior would not be welcome, and remained blessedly silent.

Anakin stood. "Drusil will remain in her room, Luke and Nakari will form one team, and I'll fly solo."

"Nakari and I can go check out his house, and if he's not there we'll join you searching through the cantinas," Luke told Anakin evenly, already burying his memories far below.

Anakin nodded. "All right. Drusil, lock yourself in your room and don't open for anyone except us, and even then only with a passphrase."

Drusil's face lit up and she gave them a formula with a wide, expectant grin: (p+l) (a+n) = pa+pn+la+ln.

Anakin snickered lightly and left the room shaking his head and Drusil grinned at his retreating form before looking to Luke and Nakari expectantly.

When all she got were blank stares from the other two, her face drooped. "Don't you get it? I foiled your plan!" She sighed when there was still no response, retreating to her room. ''I miss my husband. "

Once in the hall Nakari snorted a laugh. "I get it now. It's a basic algebra thing. You have to picture it written down in High Galactic instead of listening to it. She must think we're unforgivably slow."

Luke chuckled slightly. "At least we have plenty of other redeeming qualities."

Nakari flashed him a smile. "What, like our culinary skills?"

Luke snorted. "Oh no, definitely not that. C'mon, we should get going. It might take a while to find Migg."


Anakin stepped into the first cantina in search of either Miggs or information on him. He sat at the bar for a time as he surveyed the room, but he didn't see his quarry. When he inquired of the bartender they had nothing for him, so he paid and moved on.


Nakari frowned at the slum they were in, and that frown deepened when they laid eyes on the box—literally a box of a structure—that Miggs called home.

"Wow," she murmured to Luke. "I guess a ship mechanic doesn't make much here."

"Maybe not, but it shouldn't be this bad," Luke noted. "He might have gambling debts or a checkered past."

As Luke spoke he moved forward, feeling eyes on them as they pressed the visitor's chime. The console politely informed them that the room was unoccupied.

"Well, that was a waste of time," Nakari commented.

"Well we know he's not missing work due to illness. Had to eliminate that as a possibility." He turned around, meeting the stares of several other hooded figures in the area. "And he'll be told someone is looking for him if he comes back," he added in an even tone, knowing perfectly well the Kupohans on the other side could hear him even though he hadn't raised his voice. Luke tenderly took Nakari's hand in his grasp and led her away, standing about her protectively. That didn't mean he thought her incapable; he just wanted to keep her from any possible danger if he could do anything about it.

Nakari smiled to herself when Luke took her hand and walked a half-step ahead and before her to shield her. She realized then that what she'd said to Anakin about needing a verbal declaration of Luke's love; while it would be nice to hear, it wasn't essential.

At least not in moments like this.

Because it was moments like this when she knew...and he didn't have to make any grandiose gesture or the like. She'd told Anakin it was Luke's mannerisms that had essentially won her heart, and the little things he did—like the tiny heart design in her cup, or him taking her hand and walking like he was now, just to avoid the mere possibility that she was endangered—that let her know he loved her.

Even if he didn't realize it himself.

Nakari felt her own love for him grow even more profound, and she wondered how much deeper it could go.


Anakin was on his third cantina and sick of the smoke and horrid music. He'd be glad when the day was over and he could breathe the cleaner air of the hotel.

While he was inside, he felt a brief touch of Luke's mind against his, and Anakin assured him he had things well in hand, and then received the same from his son.


Nakari's thoughts were interrupted when they arrived outside one of two dusty cantinas and Luke paused, his face scrunched just so as if he was lost in thought. He tugged her away with a nod of his head.

"Aren't we going to check the cantina?" Nakari asked, confused.

"Anakin's already in that one," Luke explained. "I feel him in there."

"Oh." Nakari nodded, not bothering to second-guess him.

She looked up toward the second bar, and made a face when they entered the stale atmosphere. They surveyed the area and then talked to the workers, but Miggs wasn't there. However, they were told that Miggs preferred a place further down the street, so it wasn't a total dud.

Nakari was all too glad to leave the establishment, and she was about to voice this on their way out the door when she spied a Kupohan in the grey-green Nessin Courier uniform walk out of the door of the alleged 'favorite' spot.

"Luke!" Nakari hissed, tugging on his arm. "There!"

The Kupohan spied them and, since they were two humans standing out like sore thumbs in a natives-area, it wasn't hard for him to connect the pieces. He took off in a flash, and Nakari gave chase without hesitation, her battle-field instincts kicking in.

Luke was rather impressed when within five steps Nakari easily outran Luke-then again, she was taller and had a longer stride, so she overpowered the Kupohan in no time. She pulled out her blaster and stunned him before he could turn down the next alley, licking her finger and making an imaginary tally mark in the air. Luke let out a small sigh of relief, reaching out to his Father in assurance as a sign that Luke and Nakari had cornered Miggs. Luke caught up to Nakari just as she was putting a comment to her actions.

"Chalk up on Imperial snitch for me. He won't be talking to anyone, now."

Luke smiled at her. "Good job. Shall we take him out to the street, pretend he's a drunk friend coming out of the cantina, and get a droid taxi back to the hotel?"

"Yeah, sounds good."

The two of them hoisted Birkhit between them, Nakari on the left and Luke on the right, an arm draped over each of their shoulders as they let his feet drag behind.

A chirp sounded from up ahead—Artoo. Luke looked up and saw the little droid wheeling along to catch up to him, though his gaze quickly fell on the figure walking with a purpose in front of him. It was a Gotal with sienna skin and yellow eyes, thick brows supporting the electromagnetic sensitive horns on his head. Gotal horns made them excellent hunters and dangerous in confrontations as they tended to sense through electromagnetic fields what one was planning on doing before they did it. Han had also told Luke that they tended to sympathize with the Empire.

"Excuse me," he said. "That's my friend you have there. I was just about to meet him when he ran down this alley."

Luke frowned as Nakari spoke. This wasn't going to go well.

Nakari offered a smooth smile. "He's our friend too." She patted Migg's back. "Poor fellow, he had one too many drinks and ran back here to be sick. We're just taking him home."

"He's not unconscious from drinking, woman, he's been stunned," the Gotal sneered. "Hand him over; now."

Nakari was fearless. "Not a chance, friend. He still needs to be taken home, so if you'll excuse us, we'll just be going." She paused thoughtfully. "Unless you'd like to come along?"

The Gotal sniffed disdainfully. "No, thanks. What I want is for you to let him go and tell me where your Givin friend is."

Nakari rolled her eyes, huffing in exasperation. "What are you talking about?"

She used the action of lifting Migg's arm in the pretense of obeying the Gotal to draw her blaster from where it sat between her body and that of their unconscious victim.

Luke's senses in the Force tingled, and his arm snapped out just as fast as the Gotal's leg, intercepting the kick aimed at Nakari's midsection before it could land. He didn't even pause, sliding right into a full on attack driven purely on instinct as he sent a punch into the Gotal's stomach that sent the horned being a few steps back, allowing Luke to place himself between the Gotal and Nakari, who was regaining her balance at the shock of Luke no longer being on the other side. The being was quick to replant and lash out again, aiming the kick at Luke's face, who leaned to the side to avoid the blow before going after the Gotal's midriff with his fists. The Gotal was expecting the attack this time, and soon the Gotal and Luke were locked in a blindingly fast brawl with the Gotal depending on his predicting horns and Luke relying on his guidance in the Force and his father's training.


Anakin felt Luke's spike of emotion and then his acute focus as he dropped into battle-mode. Near him, Nakari's shock radiated clear as a bell, but she wasn't afraid per-se.

Anakin swore and threw a credit-chip onto the counter before he left the cantina, searching out Luke's presence and following it to the end of the street he was on.


Nakari stumbled when, with the sudden lack of support on the right, and she nearly fell to the ground atop their unconscious 'friend'. She just managed to catch her balance, but her full attention was riveted to Luke and his astounding hand-to-hand abilities she hadn't realized he had.

Nakari also saw that while Luke had the Force, the Gotal was naturally stronger. However, what the Gotal didn't know was that the duet in the alley had a little silver-and-blue friend. One who was on his way and ready to help.

Luke was doing rather well on his own, though one of the Gotal's powerful kicks did slip past his defenses, and the being's foot connected hard with Luke's mouth. He immediately tasted blood, and the relapses threatened to rear their ugly head again, but Luke plunged deep into the Force to hold the relapse at bay long enough to finish this fight. His back connected with the wall, as the kick had sent him careening. The Gotal tried to impale Luke with his horns, but Luke rolled out of the way, ducking out of the range of another kick and spitting out a mouthful of blood. Luke tried for a few more punches, each one successfully blocked before Luke inexplicably backed away, hands dropping to his side. The Gotal was obviously confused, though he didn't get much longer to figure out what Luke was doing before Artoo wheeled up behind him and delivered a powerful shock amplified by the Gotal's extra sensitivity to electricity. He collapsed twitching on the ground before he was carried off to oblivion. Luke didn't much care. He sank to the ground, trembling and sucking in breaths while spitting out blood as he violently fought back the memories all over again, trying to remain in reality instead of slipping into the torture of his all too real memories—sensations included.

Nakari had sucked in a breath when Luke got kicked with great force in the mouth. It wasn't until Artoo shocked the Gotal that she realized she was still holding that breath.

But that all faded when Luke dropped to the ground, breathing much heavier than he should have been, the fight notwithstanding. But it was his trembling and squeezed eyes that sent off warning bells in her mind.

Nakari dropped Miggs like the deadweight he was and dropped down next to Luke, trying to grab his hand and get his attention, but he didn't seem to realize she was there.

"Luke!" Nakari felt more than helpless: she didn't know his full story, so she didn't know what moment of his interrogation he was reliving exactly.


Anakin picked up his pace yet again when he felt a flash of pain from Luke, followed not long after by a wave of despair and choked-off panic. But despite Luke's efforts, it was clear he was struggling not to relapse.

Anakin barreled into the alley and plowed right past Artoo and the unconscious Gotal on the ground. He dropped to his knees, skidding to a halt before Luke while Nakari looked to him with a mixture of desperation and determination.

"Luke!" Anakin called sharply, taking the young man's hands despite Luke's attempts to jerk them back, his mouth dripping blood. "Luke, it's not real, it's over!"

Anakin didn't like the way Luke was breathing, and he touched Luke's mind with the Force. But then a thought occurred to him, and Anakin took Nakari's trembling hands in his and guided them to Luke's face, his limbs still over hers.

"Luke, focus on Nakari...block out all except her," Anakin said softly, forcing Luke to hear him. He also touched his son again in the Force, urging him in the same way.

Luke...focus on Nakari...only her...she's right here...feel her...

When that didn't garner an immediate response, Anakin decided to play a trump card of his own.

"Nakari, do you trust me?" Anakin asked seriously.

"Yes," she answered without hesitation.

"Relax your mind, let me in, and I will help you speak to him in his head," Anakin urged her.

Nakari blinked. "What? With the Force? But...I…I can't, I'm not..."

"You can if I help you." Anakin cut her off with gentle firmness. "Trust me."

Nakari took one look at Luke and nodded. "Do it."

Anakin wasted no time: he stretched out to Nakari and guided her into Luke's mind, allowing her presence to piggy-back on his.


Nakari felt a pressure in her mind but didn't fight it, knowing it was Anakin. When he took her to Luke in the Force, Nakari gasped at the sensation. She couldn't feel the Force per-se, but she could see Luke.

She heard a voice in her mind, and recognized it as Anakin. Speak to him, Nakari.

Trusting Anakin, Nakari obeyed, using both her thoughts and voice to be sure.

"Luke?"

Luke jerked in shock when he heard Nakari's voice inside of his head, confusion rippling through him mixed in with the pain. He hurt all over, blood filled his airways, amd it felt like his mind had gone numb from pain. Scourge was there again, his meaty fist pummeling his gut repeatedly. His cracked ribs...feeling like his ribs were being ripped out of his chest with the drug…

But why...why had he heard...

Nakari? he asked in a bare whisper.

Nakari barely heard him, and she cried his name louder, desperate to get his attention.

"LUKE!"

Luke's attention shifted further from the pain, centering on Nakari. Nakari, Luke repeated a little louder, reaching out to her desperately in his mind. It was like stretching out his hand so it could breach the surface and grab onto one of the only things offering him a way out of the water's depths. It was a proffered hand he was willing to take without hesitation.

Nakari sucked in a breath when Luke again responded, but this time she felt him reaching for her. Nakari did her best to meet him halfway, and she managed to retain enough physical awareness to remove her hands from his face and wrap him into a protective embrace, hugging his head to her heart.

"I'm here Luke...I'm here...take what you need...I won't let you go...I promise..." she told him.

Luke followed Nakari's voice ,allowing it to lead him from the painful memories and back to reality. When he gained enough awareness to feel her arms encircling him, Luke responded in kind, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her hair to anchor himself to reality. He breathed in her scent, his trembling gradually receding.

Nakari breathed a shaky sigh of relief when, almost desperately, Luke's arms encircled her in return. She felt his face turn into her curls, and Nakari closed her eyes.

The pressure from Anakin's Force probe gently left her and she was also returned fully to the physical realm.

"You're safe, Luke," Nakari murmured so only he could hear. "I'm here, I'm never letting you go..." she took a deep breath and spoke from her innermost core. "I love you."

Luke, who had just spat the blood in his mouth to the ground, felt a flash of panic at her statement. Luke had grown up in a home where his Uncle Owen had shown that he loved someone with little acts—that was how Luke had learned, and it was difficult for him to put strong feelings to words. Owen had shown him that you don't tell someone you love them—you show them. Those little words were so much more terrifyingly out there when she said them out loud, and he felt pressured to respond in kind for a few moments. However, he figured his current state gave him some leeway, so he buried deeper into Nakari and hid his face from the world, clutching her a little tighter to himself. A small sob somewhere between joy at Nakari's statement and the pain of what had just happened escaped him, but Luke had it back under control the next moment, feeling his trembling come to a gradual end.

Nakari swallowed with difficulty when Luke tensed at her words, and she wasn't entirely certain he realized he had done so.

Then he buried his face deeper against her, and Nakari remembered her talk with Anakin.

"Luke, I don't expect anything in return," she told him whisper-soft, though there was a dab of moisture in her eyes. She resolutely willed it away: now was not the time, and she refused to guilt-trip Luke into a declaration of love that he might not be ready for.

"I'm here, like I said." She kissed his head. "Take your time."

Luke closed his eyes, a small sigh of bliss escaping him when she kissed his head. He relaxed at her words, but resolutely decided that he needed to sort out his feelings too, and give her a reply—soon.

Luke allowed himself to linger just a little longer in Nakari's embrace, just to be sure that he really did have control again before he pulled away, taking steadying breaths.

"We need to get out of here...before we attract any more unwanted attention," he said quietly.

Anakin nodded. "I've got the Gotal, you two grab Miggs. We will take different routes to avoid suspicion."

"Agreed," Luke said with a nod, getting to his feet with Hakari. He spat out another mouthful of blood, checking to make sure there was none lingering on his lips or anywhere else. He moved like what happened mere moments ago hadn't happened at all, like it was already forgotten.

That wasn't the case.

Once he was sure he'd dispelled the blood, he leaned over and gave Nakari a lingering kiss on the cheek, followed by the soft spoken words of thank you in her ear before he pulled away.

Nakari smiled warmly at him in response and then helped him take up Miggs, with Artoo following, while Anakin went another way out of the alley with the heavier Gotal in tow.


They made good time back to the hotel, where, after some deliberation, they decided to stash Miggs in Luke's room, which had two beds.

Anakin arrived shortly after they had Miggs secured, and they likewise tied the Gotal up.

That left Luke without a place to sleep, and so Nakari turned to him.

"My room has plenty of space if you want."

Luke nodded, perfectly comfortable with the thought as he'd already shared a room with Nakari by now. "That would be nice. I'll take constant teasing over Imperial propaganda and insults any time," he said with a small smile.

Nakari smirked. "Good to hear."

Anakin turned to Artoo. "You'll be on sentry duty, Artoo."

Artoo bleeped an acknowledgement, and just then the Gotal and Miggs woke.

Miggs seemed disgruntled, but it was the Gotal who spoke.

"You've made a huge mistake. Go now and I'll personally put in a good word for you."

Nakari snorted. "Thanks, but no."

"You don't understand, I am an agent of the New Order." He gave them a pointed look. "And when I don't report in, the Empire will come looking for me."

"I don't think you're that important," Nakari said dismissively. "We know every agent in the ISB on this area, and we don't recall seeing a Gotal on that list."

The Gotal sneered. "You're ignorant fools."

Nakari feigned a bored expression. "And your name would be?"

"Barrisk Favvin."

Nakari turned to Luke. "Would you mind verifying this guy against our list please?"

Luke slowly stood up, playing along with the illusion of lists. "Of course. I'll be back in a moment," he said slowly, leaving the room to approach Drusil's room. He knocked softly. "I foiled your plan."

She let him in almost immediately. "Luke Skywalker. Your face is contused. Did you not capture Miggs Birkhit?"

"We did. We also have a Gotal in my room who claims to be an ISB agent who was trying to meet up with Miggs. his name is Barrisk Favvin. Any way to figure out if he's an informant?"

"Let me see," drusil said, pulling out and tapping away at her datapad. "He is. Sent to investigate Miggs Birkhit's claims, which means they did see his message after all. His orders are to report as soon as possible."

"So he's not supposed to report on a schedule?"

"I'm in his personal files and looking at the orders from his superior. There is nothing about a schedule here."

"That's perfect. We can hold him here and the Empire won't pursue it. But keep monitoring that account. If you get any queries on his progress, tell the Empire that Birkhit is unavailable and you will report as soon as you have solid information one way or the other."

"Should we not simply say that Birkhit's information is faulty?"

"No, because then they will reassign Barrisk, and we want them to think he's occupied for a few days. We are just delaying them, so we tell them Favvin is following leads or confirming suspicions, but nothing specific."

"Understood."

With that, Luke returned to the room and filled Nakari and Anakin in on what Drusil and Luke had just talked about.

Nakari looked to Luke as he came in. "Well?"

"He's not on a schedule. We can hold him here for a few day," Luke said.

"So you are the fugitives!" the Gotal said. "Where's the Givin?"

"Elsewhere." Nakari gave Artoo a pat. "This is your sentry. He won't hesitate to deliver another electrical charge if need be. Keep quiet, behave, and your basic needs will be met."

The Gotal growled and Nakari gave him a sweet smile. "Don't complain. You have a soft bed, food, and free holovision. Try to move from your beds and this droid will knock you out. If you need to use the refresher, let the droid know and he will contact us. And if that's not exciting enough of a day, I can make things more interesting with a beating. All you have to do is ask."

With that, Nakari followed her companions outside the room.

"You were way too happy to make that offer," Luke noted after they left the room.

Nakari shot him a playful grin. "Well, someone took all my fun away earlier."

Luke ran a hand over his mouth to hide his smile. "I can't help it if you were to slow to react," he said teasingly. "And Favvin would have got you right in the midriff if I hadn't intercepted, most likely leaving me trapped under Miggs after you had let go of Miggs and thrown me off balance," Luke added pointedly.

Nakari grimaced, reaching a gentle finger toward his jaw. "Speaking of, how's your mouth? That had to have hurt."

Luke shrugged, enjoying Nakari's touch. "I'll be fine. I've had worse, and I've already stopped bleeding."

Nakari's eyes flickered toward his neck, and she understood to a degree his I've had worse declaration.

"Well, that's good then." She noticed then that Anakin was heading for his room.

"I'm going to run through some katas and just relax," Anakin called to them. "As much as I love ships, it'll be nice to enjoy not being in the Jewel for a few days."

"I agree with you there," Luke called, gaze flickering back to Nakari. "I guess that means we are confined to your room," he told her.

Nakari huffed a theatrical sigh, her eyes twinkling. "I guess if we have to..."

Luke laughed. "Oh, come on, I'm not that bad of company," Luke said. "At least not as bad as you," he teased with a wag of his eyebrows.

Nakari lifted a challenging eyebrow. "Shall we put that to the test? We have the rest of the day to kill."

Luke opened the door for Nakari, stepping aside to let her in. "Yes, let's."

Nakari gave him a winning smile, trailing a finger up his arm as she entered the room. "I look forward to it."

A small smile slipped across his face in time with her trailing finger, and Luke stepped inside, shutting the door behind him. He was eagerly awaiting an entire day alone with Nakari

Nakari sat on the couch in the room, ready to be off her feet. She tilted her head back with a contented sigh once her shoes were off.

"Stars that feels better," she murmured.

Looking at Luke, she lifted a questioning brow. "Would you like to watch a holo?" She patted the cushion next to her with a warm smile.

Luke chuckled at her exclamation, though he kicked his own boots off and took up a position beside her, arm opening to invite her to snuggle against him. "Sure, why not? It's one way to pass the time."

Nakari eagerly snuggled against his warm side, and sighed happily. They chose a holofilm and watched it in a companionable silence for some time before Nakari moved a hand to cover that of Luke's that ran indistinct patterns on her arm.

"You know, this is my favorite place to be." Her voice was soft and honest.

Luke cocked an eyebrow. "Hiding from the Empire like the vermin they say we are in a questionable hotel with two hostages in the other room?" he asked, knowing perfectly well that wasn't what she meant. He just liked to mess with her and hopefully see her smile.

Nakari mock-glared at him and swatted his chest. "Tying them up was your idea, if I recall."

But she smiled just for him and reached up to run a delicate finger over his soft mouth. "I'm happy here, right now."

Luke sighed softly under her gentle touch, gaze holding hers from under strands of untamable runaway hairs. His hand that had been tracing patterns along her arm rose a little higher to tenderly brush some curls from her neck before he resumed his gentle tracing patterns along her neck. "I think we both agree there," he murmured against her finger.

Nakari smiled again and lowered her hand, resting her head against his shoulder while her feet curled up underneath her body. She refocused on the holovid and tried not to be distracted by Luke's continuing gentle touch.

Luke continued to watch Nakari instead of the holo. He'd been lost in thought this entire time, not really following what they were watching. Instead, his mind worked over each of his feelings: he was determined to decide what was going on inside his heart. Once that was done, his only worry would be getting the words out.

And he thought his musings might finally be coming to their conclusion.

Nakari stretched against Luke once the holo finished and she reached for the remote, shutting off the screen.

She then checked the chrono and looked to find Luke eyeing her.

"What?" she inquired, feeling her cheek. "Do I have dirt on my face?"

Despite the fact he'd been caught, he didn't panic. He remained calm, taking the opportunity to tease her once again. "I'm trying to decide if it's a spec of dirt, a freckle, or a mole," he said, unable to stop the grin he was fighting back from twitching the corners of his mouth upwards.

Nakari gasped sitting up straight and socking his closest arm.

"You mean thing!" she railed with an indignant burst of laughter.

Luke laughed and ducked for cover, arms over his head to protect himself. "All right, I give, I give!" he cried, a grin splitting his features from ear to ear.

Nakari's mouth twisted into a mischievous grin. "I don't think you've been adequately punished for that comment."

Without waiting for him to blink—and praying she was faster than his Jedi senses—Nakari pounced. She leapt up and to his side, using deft fingers to find his ticklish sides.

Luke knew what she was going to do a second before she did, and he immediately moved on the defense. He did, however, make it fair and slowed his reaction, allowing Nakari's fingers to penetrate his defenses. He gave a yelp of laughter, which was quickly developing into a hysterical fit. He responded in kind, fingers searching for Nakari's ticklish spot in retaliation instead of fighting her off.

Nakari spied his hands trying to sneak her way, and though she released him from her attack, she was not swift enough to prevent his retaliatory tickling.

She shrieked as his fingers reached her underarms and upper torso, lifting her hands to catch his limbs and push back. However, even without the Force, the man was stronger than her and she ended up tumbling onto her back with Luke pressing his advantage.

Luke, while not about to be undone, was careful not to hurt Nakari, pressing his advantage wherever he found it with firm but gentle attacks, picking apart her advance with his own attacks. Luke laughed. "Aha! I think the tides have turned!" he called triumphantly over her gleeful shrieks.

Nakari was having trouble breathing she was laughing so hard.

"Luke, stop!" she cried breathily. "I...I surrender!"

He didn't immediately stop, no doubt enjoying getting her riled up, and she squirmed in an effort to get away.

"Luke!"

He had half a mind to keep tickling her, but her half-laughed plea for help melted his resolve and he gradually slowed and then ended his attack, chuckling as he leaned forward to give her a kiss on the cheek. "I win," he announced, rearing back to sit on his haunches a safe distance away from her fingers in case she decided to seek revenge.

Nakari finished laughing, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.

"Oh my..." she breathed. "I haven't laughed like that since..." She paused to consider, then a huge grin lit up her face and she wagged her eyebrows at Luke. "Since someone experienced glandular excitement."

Luke groaned, rolling onto the balls of his feet as he stood up. "Did you have to bring that up again? What was I supposed to think? If I told you I was recovering from glandular excitement, what would be the first thing in your mind, honestly?"

Nakari fought against a bout of new laughter, but failed horribly.

"You're so much fun to tease!" she chortled.

Luke sighed, though he was smiling as he wrapped his arms around her midriff, securing her in place. "You are going to drive me to insanity at this rate," he chuckled, placing a few kisses along the base of her jaw and along her neck, inhaling the scent of her hair.

Nakari wasn't done yet, and she spoke around his ministrations, somehow maintaining a level head when her body was quivering. "I can do one better: you could scare off our thugs in your room with your nerf steaks."

Luke reared back, arching a challenging eyebrow. "Oh, and your vegetables are much better? Those might kill them on sight!" he replied with a grin, unrepentant.

Nakari gasped as though an epiphany had just struck. "Well, if we need to dispose of them, we know how! I can see the autopsy report now: cause of death appears to be shock from a ruined piece of once-beautiful meat and soggy vegetables!"

Luke laughed, pulling Nakari back towards him. "Our own obituaries might read that if we're not careful; I assume we're ordering room service considering our cooking skills are non-existent?"

Nakari nodded, reaching for the comm station without breaking from his embrace. "Of course; I want to live past tonight."

She tapped a button and a menu appeared. "Do you know what you want?"

"After our recent meals of protein sludge or risking our cooking? Anything. Maybe something with the local pahzik meat in it. Who knows, it might be better than nerf," Luke replied, resting his chin on her shoulder as he spoke.

Nakari nodded and ordered pahzik ribs and vegetables with a side order of bread and butter and juba juice.

"Now all we have to do is wait." She turned her face more toward Luke. "What would you like to do now?"

"Well, I'm sorry to say this, but I think I left my stuff in the other room. I still need to shift my meager belongings over to this room," Luke admitted, gently nuzzling her cheek with his nose.

Nakari sighed softly then pulled gently away. "I'll get the table cleared and ready for the food."

Luke caught her before she could completely escape his grasp, pulling her back towards him to give her a quick kiss on the lips. "It won't take long. I'll be back in time to help," Luke told her with a small smile and a wink.

Nakari smiled after him and set to work. However, part way through her preparations, she caught herself humming.

Feeling in the mood for some relaxing music, she went to the holo display and selected some music to start.

Satisfied, Nakari cleared her extra gadgets off the table and searched for a tablecloth of some sort. Unable to find one, she resorted to an extra sheet, folding it up to fit the table.

Luke, meanwhile, returned to his room, giving Artoo an affectionate hello and ignoring the two captives as he gathered up his meager belongings into a sack and toted his things back to Nakari's room. He was slightly surprised to find she had put music on, though he smiled at her when he heard her humming, tucking his things away in the corner and lingering to listen to her while she remained oblivious to his presence.

Nakari finally got the makeshift tablecloth in place and turned...and promptly jumped a foot to see a form by the door. She let out a startled shriek before she recognized Luke, and she promptly sagged against the wall, her heart still pounding.

"Stars, Luke, don't sneak up on me like that!"

Luke blushed, putting a gentle hand on Nakari's wrist and arm to calm her down. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you; I just knew if I announced my presence you'd stop humming, and I was rather enjoying listening to you."

Nakari blushed, looking down. "Well, my mother used to sing to me when I got sad or lonely. She'd sit with me and sing softly to soothe me." She shrugged, still self-consciously, and not meeting his eyes. "I like music, it's very relaxing and it says many things words alone just...can't. Does that make any sense?"

Luke nodded. "That makes sense. Almost like what Anakin and I have in the cockpit of a starship. Though I find when I don't have words I just fall back on...showing," Luke said, trying not to think of their current issue with Luke not being able to say how he felt for Nakari.

Their moment was interrupted by a knock at the door, and Nakari checked through the peep-hole to see it was their dinner before she opened the door.

"Good evening, Miss," a droid greeted. "Your order is ready for you."

"Thank you." Nakari grabbed the cart and began to wheel it in, but the droid spoke once more. "Do you require anything else?"

"No, we're fine, thanks," Nakari said and then shut the door, turning to Luke. "Ready to eat?"

Luke rubbed his hands together theatrically. "Real food...yes!" He laughed at himself, helping Nakari transfer the food to their table. "I'm really looking forward to this meal."

Nakari laughed openly and then sat down opposite him and together they dug in. Halfway through one rib, Nakari moaned happily.

"This...is delicious!"

Luke struggled not to snort. "I agree with you, but don't say it like that—it doesn't sound right," Luke said with a laugh, reaching for some of the juice.

Nakari realized how she must have sounded and blushed. "Right...sorry."

Luke continued to snicker. "You're fine, just...it begged to be pointed out," he told her as he poured himself a drink, taking the liberty of filling Nakari's glass as well.

They continued their meal and Nakari filled the silence with occasional small-talk, while Luke mostly listened. She then started to tell him about the time she'd snuck into her father's lab when she was young and him catching her trying to dye one of his lab-animals bright green to see if it would make new green animals when it had babies, as her young self had put it.

"You should have seen my father's face." Nakari smiled in a way she hadn't in a long time, not truly realizing it. "He looked like he wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. He then sat me down and explained in a very simple manner that biology didn't work quite that way..."

Nakari looked up at this point and trailed off when she realized Luke was just...staring at her. After checking her face with her napkin for excess sauce, Nakari leaned forward and snapped a finger near his face.

"Hey..."

Luke had been simply transfixed by how charming her smile was, unable to look away and unable to bring himself back to reality. He simply stared, captivated, her words going right over his head. Her first attempt to literally snap him out of it didn't go so well, though the second one...

"Hey." Snap. "Hey." Snap.

"What?" Luke asked, blinking in surprise. His mind had completely forgotten to remind him not to stare.

Nakari lifted an amused brow. "If you're looking for your food, its right there in front of you."

Luke blushed a deep red, realizing he'd been caught in the act as he cast his gaze back down to his food, pretending to find something captivating in their depths. "Sorry," He murmured, embarrassed. He cleared his throat. "I wonder if the Jedi have any tricks to keep them from feeling awkward."

Nakari reached across the table and laid a hand over his. "Luke you don't have to be embarrassed. I trust you, and..." She gave him a somewhat shy smile. "I actually am rather flattered that you keep eyeing me."

She shrugged self-consciously. "It makes me feel pretty when you look at me."

Luke looked at her, puzzled. "Why wouldn't you feel pretty? You're absolutely gorgeous!" As soon as the last words left his lips, he realized what he'd said and his eyes widened slightly in surprise at himself before his blush materialized once again. However, he didn't tear his gaze from Nakari's, or pull his hand away. He didn't want her to think he'd lied, because it had been the honest truth.

Nakari blinked in surprise at his outburst, and yet she felt a warmth spread all along her body.

Smiling softly at him, Nakari spoke. "Thank you. I didn't say I never feel pretty, just that I've not had many...let's just say honest suitors tell me."

Luke frowned a little, turning her hand over in his own so he could raise the back of her hand to his lips. "Well...you are; don't let anyone tell you differently," Luke told her softly, gaze never wavering from her eyes.

Nakari's smile widened.

"You are so good to me," she murmured earnestly. "Thank you."

"And..." Luke stumbled over his words for a moment, pausing from what he'd been about to say before he settled for a safer statement. "And you're good for me..."

Nakari felt a flicker of...something go through her when Luke corrected himself. What had he been about to say, she wondered.

But she shook it off, knowing that Luke just wasn't the best at voicing his feelings.

Nakari gave him another playful smile, trying to lighten the mood once more.

"Well, I try..."

Luke smiled once again. "You're doing a pretty good job, keep it up," he commented. He allowed himself a few bites of his meal before he continued. "You've definitely kept this entire mission interesting."

Nakari laughed. "Well, me and Anakin at any rate. Someone has to help me rib you."

Luke snorted. "Well, usually when we're back with the fleet it's Anakin and my friend Han Solo, though Han's...preoccupied at the moment and hasn't been with the Alliance for a while now. I think Anakin's glad to have a partner in crime again."

Nakari heard the not-so-happy note in Luke's tone when he mentioned Solo, but then he shrugged it off before she could comment, so she let it drop.

They ate a moment longer in companionable silence before Luke took his final bite.

Clearing his throat, Luke cleared his spot at the table as he stood up. "I'm going to go get cleaned up before it gets late," he told her, moving to clean his dishes off as he spoke. It didn't take him long—he was done in a few moments and already headed for his sack by the door, moving it next to the couch where he knew he was going to be sleeping in the one bed bedroom. He fished out clothes without looking, making his way to the refresher. "I'll be out in a few," he told Nakari.

"I'll get into my sleep clothes too then," Nakari said to his retreating back.

She waited until he had the water running then took her socks off and swiftly changed into a loose tank-top and soft blue sleep pants, sighing at the homey feel of wearing her pajamas.

She also combed her hair out and then put her gear away.

Once finished she looked around for something to occupy herself with and realized that the background music was still playing.

On a whim, Nakari moved to the open space near the small dining area before the bedroom and began to dance to the music as she had done when she was a child. She lifted her arms appropriately and closed her eyes, losing herself totally in the moment.


Luke stepped into the shower, simply standing under the steaming hot jets for a while, letting the water run over his build and sooth his taunt muscles. He tilted his face up, letting the streams pepper his face and soak his hair before he finally got around to cleaning off. Once he was sure he was clean he stepped out, toweling off and reaching for his clothes. He paused, grimacing when he realized he'd only grabbed his trousers, but nothing to cover his torso. He'd meant to be bare footed, but he hadn't meant to be bare chested. glancing in the mirror and toweling his hair as dry as he could get it, Luke stepped out of the refresher in pursuit of a shirt. He was surprised when, for the second time that night, he walked in on Nakari. However, this time she wasn't humming—she was dancing. He smiled slightly when he saw her swaying with her hands just above her head, eyes closed. He could have slipped past her easily and retrieved his shirt, but he was too busy watching her, perfectly aware this time that he was staring. Finally, after much debate, Luke stepped forward, taking up a spot beside her and gently pulling her towards him when she swayed in his direction. He was gentle and slow, so as not to alarm her as he'd done when he'd watched her hum.

Nakari was momentarily startled out of her dream-like state when she heard a step beside her and then gentle hands pulled her towards Luke.

Nakari blinked in surprise, but didn't protest, stepping close while holding his gaze. She then waited for him to lead.

Luke gave Nakari a small half smile, taking her hand in his own as he pulled her towards him. He didn't really know how to dance—what use did a farmboy have knowing how to ballroom dance? However, he could definitely improvise. All he really had to do was step here, step there, lead her along, and not step on her feet.

His other free hand falling to the small of Nakari's back, Luke led her in a small, made up dance, taking first a step forward, then back, to the left, back...

He kept up with a randomized pattern until he fell into a comfortable pattern, leading her through a dance he'd only just now improvised. He was just happy to feel her pressed against him, to see her gaze up at him with that look in her eyes...he was certain there was a similar light in his own eyes, gazing at her beautiful form...

When she'd first realized Luke was shirtless, Nakari had been amazed at how good he looked...and that was just from a peripheral view. Her full attention was on Luke's face, his eyes holding her a willing captive.

Nakari swallowed at the look Luke was giving her now, and she smiled warmly at his unique dance. She took a step nearer to him, wanting to be closer.

She kept his gaze until she took a chance and, closing her eyes and stepping closer yet, Nakari laid her head on his shoulder.

When Nakari stepped closer, Luke changed his unique dance again, changing to a gentle sway in place so that she could comfortably rest her head against his shoulder. He leaned his head into her curls, breathing her in like he loved to do.

Nakari smiled warmly and remained like that for some time. She loved how warm and soft, yet firm Luke was, and his bare chest only added to his appeal in that moment.

Nakari shifted her head, bringing one hand from about his neck to rest against his skin near her face. The fingers of that hand idly began tracing patterns, but in one spot just next to her nose she ran across something startlingly familiar.

Luke tensed on instinct, surprised. He'd actually...forgotten that the Jedi Order brand was burned into his chest. He did remember that Nakari had yet to even hear about this brand. He held almost perfectly still, trembling as her fingers traced the lines of the brand the medic had said would never go away. He waited in tense anticipation to see what else she would do and what she would say.

Nakari pulled her face back once her roaming fingers had finished their initial inspection, and confirmed visually her find. She hadn't missed Luke tense, nor did she not notice him trembling. Indeed, she knew he was awaiting her reaction.

Nakari eyed the second, much more prominent brand. It was far deeper and had obviously been meant to be permanent. Nakari was surprised, shocked...but hardly disgusted. She felt a pang of sympathy for him: this one had to have been a longer-lasting branding to have created such a mark.

But she didn't recognize this design.

Nakari again ran tender fingers across the mark.

"What does this one mean?" she murmured curiously.

"It's..." Luke cleared his throat when his voice cracked, speaking again in a much steadier tone. "It's the symbol of the Jedi. The Jedi Order Insignia," Luke explained quietly, feeling her fingers brush along the design.

Nakari lifted a brow. "Really?"

She shifted her gaze from one brand to the other, making a new connection now that she knew if his second mark.

"Imperial Jedi?" she whispered. "Wow, they were really trying to make a statement, weren't they?"

Realizing her comment with a grimace when Luke tensed further, Nakari touched his face tenderly.

"I think, personally, that you should be proud of this one."

Luke sighed, turning into Nakari's hand and closing his eyes. "I have mixed feelings about it..." he murmured. It was conflicting; being marked a Jedi he could have coped with, but an Imperial Jedi...

Nakari continued. "The Imperial one may be hard to live with, but you don't have to let it drag you down. As for this one,'' she caressed his brand again, taking her hand from his cheek. " Don't think of it as a brand of shame. Think of it as like a tattoo, something to be proud of. After all, aren't you studying to be a Jedi?"

Nakari bit her lip. "I say let the Imperials play their sick games. Because when you prove them wrong, it will be you who comes out on top."

Luke held her gaze, enjoying the sensation of her fingers on his mark. "I'm not ashamed of the Jedi symbol...it's the overall meaning that bothers me. I can't help but think of all the problems it will cause and already has caused. People tend to just see the Imperial mark and not look any further."

Nakari lifted a pointed brow. ''Only because that's all they can see, Luke. I mean, unless you plan to start going around shirtless." She wagged an eyebrow to try cheering him up some. "Mind you, I would find that quite appealing."

A soft laugh escaped Luke, the somber mood lifting slightly. "I don't think I'd find that very enjoyable. Especially on some winter planet."

Nakari was glad she could lift his spirits. Wagging her eyebrows again, Nakari ran a finger down the center of his chest.

"I'd help keep you warm..." she murmured before, as she had done with the one on his neck, Nakari dipped her head and placed a delicate, but loving kiss on his Jedi brand.

Luke's breathing pitched deeper, shallower, and he shivered under her touch, eyes fluttering shut as a soft moan escaped him from the sensation of her lips against his bare chest. His grip on her tightened slightly, and he bent down to bury his face in her curls again and deeply inhale her scent, holding her closer to his form with his arms encircling her lithe frame.

Nakari kissed his brand again and then hugged him in return.

"You are such a beautiful person, Luke," she told him with firm softness. "Don't ever let anyone tell you otherwise."

He felt warmth flush through him at her words, almost exactly what he had told her at dinner. His heart swelled from the raw emotion he felt in that moment, hand lifting to twine into her curls while the other pressed her closer by the small of her back. Unable to contain what he was feeling in that moment, Luke started to trace the lines of her jaw and throat with his lips, needing her to see what he felt right now.

"You certainly help me to see that," Luke told her in a gentle murmur against her skin, speaking between kisses.

Nakari's breathing became shallow and shaky at his ministrations, and her heart swelled to unbelievable heights.

"Luke..." she breathed, her frame tensing with pleasure and the relaxing even as she quivered.

"I'll stop if you want me to," he told her honestly, still tracing the lines along her throat. "You just have to tell me..."

His hand splayed at the small of her back, his breathing coming a little faster as well, his heart pounding in his ears. He was still being careful not to cross any lines, not sure where said lines were and partially waiting for Nakari's permission.

Nakari sucked in a breath. "S-stop?" she said shakily. "Force no! Luke, I want you...to kiss me! I never feel so loved and...amazing as when you kiss me!"

She pulled back, removing only her top-layer shirt, revealing her tank-top underneath. "But only kissing..." She amended when she saw the light of desire in his gaze, something that mirrored her own. "Because if I give too much of a green light, I may not be able to stop myself."

Luke rested his forehead gently against hers. "I respect that."

His lips worked their way back to Nakari's, coming up and capturing Nakari's lips with his own while pulling her as close as he dared, a fire igniting inside of him. He made a small, subconscious effort to shield the two of them to save Anakin embarrassment should the older Skywalker still be awake. However, almost all of Luke's attention was on showing Nakari how he felt in that moment: all the passion he'd felt for her throughout the trip while still keeping within their bounds.

When Luke pulled her close, Nakari gave ground willingly, accepting his kiss and returning it eagerly. She reached up and ran fingers through his blond hair, and then the same hand dropped to his bare back and began to trace lines up and down.

His back was well-muscled without being showy, and it exemplified his personality perfectly. Nakari reveled in the hard planes of his back.

Then, wanting more, she opened her mouth to invite him in.

Luke, shaking slightly from pure pleasure at her touch, took her silent invite eagerly, hand burrowing deeper into her hair and gently tilting her head at a better angle as he let his tongue trace the outline of her lips, venturing forth to enjoy Nakari's taste at its fullest as he explored completely uncharted territory. He groaned despite himself, wanting to drown in the sensations he felt now with Nakari. His hand, splayed against bare skin as he pulled her flush against him. A soft rumble rose in his chest, and he felt their rising emotions gaining strength at a dizzying rate.

When Luke tickled her lips with his tongue and then delved deeper, Nakari felt her breath hitch with utter delight, and her hands drew him tightly to her body. She started breathing heavier, and then turned Luke toward the bed, beginning to press against him.

Luke opened his eyes just long enough to take in the sight of the bed where Nakari had turned him to, slightly surprised at the direction things were quickly headed for. He didn't linger on the thoughts for long, however, as Nakari broke away for a moment.

They remained standing for a few seconds, not daring to lie down in the heat of the moment. However, soon their lips met again, and Nakari felt more of her control slip.

As for Luke, he fell right back to immersing himself in Nakari, his breathing becoming rather ragged as their moment progressed. Not entirely sure he was in complete control, Luke gently lowered them onto the bed, hovering over Nakari as he pressed his lips hungrily to her own, his tongue still exploring her mouth as his hand started to roam along her leg.

He adjusted their position the best he could without breaking away, lying Nakari's head comfortably against the pillows and allowing that same hand to now trail down her throat with a feather soft touch.

When he realized what he was doing Luke paused, pulling back to hover over her, knowing that being together on a bed brought into play a new flood of lines. If she wanted him closer, he'd come closer, but for now he had to continue playing by ear.

Nakari was in total bliss, and her nerves were on fire where Luke toyed with her skin as he had. But now that he'd stopped she had time to think and leaned back into the pillows.

Their eyes met for a time before, slowly and carefully, Luke lowered his face to hers, placing his mouth over her own once more.

Nakari smiled against his lips and took hold of the hand that had been playing with her skin. She twined their fingers gently, an intimate gesture that wasn't out of bounds at all.

With a surge of victorious triumph, Luke smiled now amidst their kisses. He wrapped his other arm behind Nakari and pulled her closer while their fingers twined together. Then, in a moment of stronger desire, Luke rolled them over so Nakari lay partially atop him. He stretched in a silent invite for her to begin her own ministrations as he allowed his lips to travel a little more.

When Luke had turned them over, Nakari felt her entire body warm up. And then he'd stretched invitingly, and Nakari recognized his desire for her to touch him.

And she did. She used a feather-light touch and trailed fingers all along his breastbone, following the contours of his chest and then running a slow, sensual line from the base of his throat to his torso's center.

There she stopped, firmly heeding his request to not venture into currently off-limits territory. Then Luke broke from the kiss to start caressing her skin with his mouth.

Nakari moaned as Luke's lips traced the outer edge of her shoulder, then followed the strap of her tank-top a centimeter, then trailed seductively across her collarbone.

Her breathing was so unsteady with pleasure that she had to lean into him for support, resting her face in the crook of his shoulder. She was careful to arch her back some so he could continue to love her.

Then she simply let him keep trailing a sweet line of fire up her throat, then back down, where he hovered at the hollow, flicking his tongue every now and then.

Unable to bear it in complete silence any longer, Nakari breathed out one husky word.

"Luke..."

Luke trembled against her touch, matching several of Nakari's sighs with his own. He ran his hands all along her back, with respect to her own private areas he was sure were just as off limits as his own.

Unaware of what he was doing, Luke abruptly pulled her tight against his body as she whispered his name, tasting the skin of her collar, the base of her neck, her throat, just under her jaw, along her jaw...

"Nakari..." he murmured breathlessly.

Nakari heard her name slip from his lips in just such a way, and she swore to herself then and there that she would never give her heart and body to anyone else.

Whether they took their relationship to the next level—and oh, how she would say yes in a heartbeat if he asked her—or not, she was his, and his alone.

Nakari threw her head back... and then realized what was happening.

"No..." Nakari murmured, gently putting her free hand between their hearts and pushing Luke back some so they could regain their bearings.

Willing to oblige, but unwilling to keep his desire to tell her how he saw her, Luke kept that space between them and made a subconscious effort to slow down as he caressed her face and neck with gentle kisses.

"So beautiful," he murmured, his breath tickling her skin as he spoke between kisses. "I can't explain...how you make me feel..."

Nakari couldn't help it—she began to silently weep in the purest form of joy at his words, uttered as they were from him. For this man who couldn't seem to find voice for his feelings had just told her she was the most beautiful person in his eyes.

And he had meant it.

Nakari pulled herself to him in a tight hug, bringing her lips to kiss right over his heart before she began whispering to him.

"No one…has ever...truthfully told me...such a thing..." Her lips traveled up his chest as she spoke, and finally she came up to his ear. "You...you make me feel...so beautiful...so wanted..."

Her entire body trembled as she struggled to convey her heart to him: her loneliness.

"I've...I have always been seen as a prize to be won, because of who I am...and what the suitors can gain..." She nibbled his ear delicately. "But with you..."

She couldn't finish the thought, and she pulled away to return stomach-down to the sheets.

Luke, unable to see her so vulnerable and feeling alone, turned her over tenderly.

"They're wrong," he assured her as he threaded fingers through her hair again, kissing her once more on the lips. "You're not a prize. You're so much more...so much..."

He trailed a finger down her side, his lips shifting to her forehead.

"I don't think there's anything in the galaxy more valuable," he finally whispered against her skin, an epiphany of his own falling over him as he murmured the words.

Nakari smiled weakly. "My life has been rather lonely. As much as my father loves me, he focuses more on his work...and my sometimes abrasive front..." she squeezed her eyes shut against her internal pain. "It's a cover...for the lonely little girl still hiding within."

Nakari loved his ministrations as she spoke, running delicate fingers through his hair in turn.

Luke pulled himself up more so that they were eye to eye, holding her gaze and searching her eyes intently. "You don't have to be lonely anymore..." he whispered, running his fingers through her hair and simultaneously stroking her cheek with his thumb. "I promise..."

He pulled her flush against his chest in a tender embrace, his one hand continuing to stroke her curls and cheek as he held her close. Luke's eyelids fluttered shut, and he savored their closeness for a few moments.

Nakari touched his face to get his attention. "Do you really promise? You won't...won't leave me?" Her voice was small, and she was openly vulnerable to him then.

Luke pulled back and met her gaze with just as much vulnerability so she could see just how much he meant what he was saying, covering her hand with his own. "I mean it with everything I am in this very moment. I promise you, Nakari Kelen, I won't leave you."

Nakari couldn't stop the short, breathy laugh that slipped from her lips, drawing him as tightly to her as possible. Then, when she could hold it in no longer, she spoke softly into his ear.

"Luke...I love you. I am yours...I will give my heart to no other...I love you!"

She paused, then spoke in a gentler tone. "And I don't expect a declaration from you if you're not ready. I promised never to judge you. I meant it." She kissed his lips in the most loving way she knew how, running the backs of her fingers over his cheek and lips when she pulled back. "I just need you to know how I feel."

"Thank you...but you should know that you have all of me too." As he spoke, Luke was deep within Nakari's embrace, as she was deep within Luke's.

They shared a few more loving kisses before, pulling back, Nakari again caressed his face, her eyes pleading. "Hold me?" she implored, needful. "Just hold me to you?"

Luke brushed his lips across her cheek, giving a gentle kiss to her ear and allowing himself to tenderly and slowly kiss her earlobe before he answered.

"Of course..." he replied, shifting her in his arms so that as he rolled onto his back she found herself lying across his chest, and holding her tight to his body. He shifted the covers around them, stroking her arm lovingly.

Nakari snuggled as close to him as she could, closing her eyes and savoring the feeling of him holding her so. "I haven't felt this safe since I was a little girl," she told him without opening her eyes. "I could lie here forever and be happy."

Luke pressed a gentle kiss to her forehead. "All you have to do is ask. I love holding you..." he murmured, his eyes sliding closed as well as he held her.

Nakari gave a soft chuckle. "Careful with that promise...we may never leave this bed."

Luke smiled, gently nuzzling Nakari's cheek. "That doesn't sound like a threat. I'd actually enjoy that."