Title: Odd Kind of Honeymoon
Setting: Post-Vision of the Future/Union
Characters: Luke Skywalker, Mara Jade Skywalker, others
Author Note: Originally posted about 12 months ago on another site under a different username. There will be four parts in total.
"This is an odd kind of honeymoon, Skywalker…"
Mara Jade – newly and somewhat jarringly, Mara Jade Skywalker – gathered writhing tendrils of hair behind her with one hand as she narrowed her eyes at the parched landscape spread below, burning under the light of double suns. A mass of sand-coloured buildings and narrow streets struggled to distinguish themselves from the desert, wavering in the thick heat.
"I did promise solitude." Her new husband's voice was as dry as the desert spanning before them.
Mara surveyed the bleak vista of Mos Espa and surrounds. "I'd say you've delivered." She turned.
Luke stood a little behind her, calm in the off-white desert clothes he'd donned like a native – because he was a native, she supposed. It was easy to forget that.
He tilted his head as she looked at him, faint amusement flickering somewhere in his eyes. "I knew you wouldn't want to be coddled, so Coruscant's luxury resorts were out. Sustained inactivity doesn't particularly suit either of us, so the Mid Rim relaxation destinations were out as well. Doesn't leave a broad range of choice…"
He advanced, stopping before her. The same wind that tugged at her hair was riffling his gently, making the sand dance around their legs and setting his tunic flapping.
There was a slight anxiety in his eyes as well, somewhere past or within the amusement. Mara noted it a little awkwardly, knowing it held the weight of how dearly he wanted to please her. "Those places aren't too private either," she remarked. "Wouldn't take much for someone to recognise us, and then—"
Luke's lips quirked. "We'd have to spend our entire honeymoon in our room."
Mara flicked him a look from beneath her eyelashes. "I was going to say it would be like the restrained circus that was our wedding all over again."
"Mm." He sobered and looked off over Mos Espa. "Well, that's when I thought of this. It's been years since I've been back – over five, I think – and you'd said you didn't see much while you were here. Plus it would have to be one of the most secluded places the galaxy has on offer."
"I suppose that's true." The wind caught Mara's hair again as she turned back towards Mos Espa, and it twisted and danced in the hot air.
"Besides," Luke murmured, in a tone of voice she was still getting used to, "I had to surprise my wife. She's not an easy woman to surprise, you know." He slid his arms around her waist.
Mara allowed herself to relax into the embrace. Luke's warmth was welcoming, despite the heat of the suns above and sand below. "I rather pride myself on it," she admitted.
"I know," Luke whispered. He wound his fingers through her hair, then gently unwound them, his reluctance plain. "We should keep moving, I suppose. This heat's not healthy."
"I don't see why Solo – Han – couldn't have docked in Mos Espa itself," Mara grumbled as they trekked down the bluff in the direction of the straggling town. "Or doesn't it have docking facilities?"
"It does," Luke's footsteps crunched behind her on the packed sand, falling in time with hers. "I'm not sure why he couldn't, actually. Said something about an old score that wasn't settled, and then clammed up on me. He claims the walk will do us good."
"Typical." Mara snorted. "I can just imagine the reaction if someone were to suggest he take a cross-desert trek."
"It's not too far, really," Luke said philosophically. "We should be there before nightfall."
"And then we decide on a place to sleep, I suppose."
"Hm." Mara turned to face him, crossing her arms and quirking an eyebrow. "Just sleep, Master Jedi? Or did you have something else in mind?"
She'd expected a blush, but he merely lifted an eyebrow in response and smiled, an odd kind of smile that did strange things to her stomach. "We'll come up with something, Mrs Skywalker."
Caught off-guard, she allowed her own smile to soften. Luke stepped close and raised his fingers to her lips, resting them there a moment.
Mara met his gaze and whispered, "A game of sabacc?"
He narrowed his eyes slightly. "Not quite what I was thinking."
He smiled, shook his head, and ran his fingers over her cheek and along her jaw. Then he brought his mouth to her ear. "It's not nice to tease."
Mara gave him a sardonic look. "I'm not sure I do 'nice'."
Luke laughed in response, and took her hand – but didn't argue. "Come on. We'd best get in before it gets dark."
They arrived at the outskirts of the city at midset – the period of day between the setting of the first sun and the setting of the second, Luke informed her. Mos Espa was an odd town, sprawling and untidy and anonymous with its sandstone huts and narrow streets. It felt like a transitory place, unremarkable in a strained way, as though hiding through its ordinariness from the savagery of Tatooine's desolate terrain.
The inhabitants all wore similar clothing to Luke – loose desert garb, plainly cut, with uncomplicated designs and little colour. Mara had chosen to don plain shorts and a loose tunic, not Tatooine-standard but simple enough. Still, she felt covert scrutiny as they walked, perhaps for the unusual garb, perhaps for her loose hair, shining red in the light of the dying suns. Most of the humans she saw were dark-haired, or with a similar dull sandy blonde colouring to Luke. A few had flaxen-coloured hair, either naturally or bleached by the suns, but none shared the vividness of her shading. Colours seemed unnatural in this monochromatic world.
She felt a little self-conscious, and it made her set her shoulders and raise her chin as she walked; otherwise she allowed the feeling no leeway. Luke, as far as she could tell, failed to notice the stares: he walked along, composed and alert as always – but there was a slight distance to his eyes that she noted curiously.
He halted after a while, and turned to her. "There's something very odd about this place," he said quietly. "Can you feel it?"
Mara glanced at a low hut nearby, and Luke said, "I don't mean them. These are the old slave quarters, Mara, this part of the city. There's a lot of poverty here. People are wary of strangers. It's the same on the outskirts of Mos Eisley."
He had noticed the scrutiny. Mara frowned. "What am I supposed to be looking for, then?"
"The Force," Luke said. "There's something strange here. Can you feel it?"
She narrowed her eyes. "No teaching on our honeymoon, remember, Skywalker?"
"Oh, all right." Mara closed her eyes somewhat testily, and reached into the Force. Luke buzzed impatiently beside her, strength and restrained power in tones of brown and gold, and Tatooine extended away before her senses, parched and ancient…
Mara sensed a vague wrongness – a feeling deep and old, pain and powerlessness and fear, lives and generations of exploitation. It crept down around her spine, vague as it was, and weaved coldness through her stomach. She snapped her eyes open. "I don't feel anything," she said. "Just the effect of decades of treating people like chattel."
There was disappointment in Luke's eyes. "Nothing more?"
"Like what?" She felt cold still from that numb powerlessness, and he wanted more?
"I'm not sure. Just something – something familiar, almost."
Mara looked at him closely. He was staring at nothing, a faintly perplexed frown on his face. "Ah," she said delicately, as realisation struck. "This is the town Leia said your father grew up in, isn't it?"
"I told her, actually. But yes, it is."
"Hm." Mara mulled for a moment, trying to find the best way to put her next suggestion.
"I'm not imagining it," he said before she could speak; he did so a trifle defensively. "There's something around here, Mara. At least… I think there is."
"All right," Mara said. His indecision didn't prompt her trust, as much as she wanted to believe him; uncertainty wasn't, after all, Luke's natural state. "Maybe it'll come to you."
He flicked her a look that said he'd caught more of her thoughts than she intended. The bond they shared had as many drawbacks as strengths, sometimes. But he only said, "Maybe." He shifted the bag on his shoulder and glanced at the sky. "We'd better find somewhere to stay, anyhow. It's getting dark, and Tatooine nights are cold."
The house they eventually found was small, virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the sandy street. "Are you sure this is the right place?" Mara asked doubtfully.
Luke shrugged. "We can only ask and find out." He reached and touched a small chime just inside the door recess.
Mara shifted her feet beside him. The second sun was setting, and the shadows on the street were long. She could still feel silent eyes watching her from the shadowed homes nearby, and the miasma of old pain lingered in the Force, setting her on edge. Luke didn't seem particularly bothered by either.
Her hand was on his arm; she tightened her grip unconsciously, and he glanced at her. She was about to suggest they find somewhere else when the door slid open.
An older woman stood there, silver-peppered hair tied up with a cloth, dressed in the plain clothes most women on Tatooine seemed to wear. She frowned at them.
Mara waited for Luke to speak, but he didn't. Flicking him a glance of annoyance, she said to the woman, "We're looking for a place to board for the night, but I don't think we have the right address."
The woman's face cleared. "Oh, of course. Please come in. I do offer accommodation to visitors – we don't get many at this part of the year, though." She stepped aside.
Luke, apparently having shaken himself out of his brief daze, stepped in through the door, and Mara followed.
The house showed obvious signs of wear, but was meticulously cleaned and cared for. Mara wondered how long that slow period had truly lasted. Luke complimented the woman on a rug, making some comment about the intricacy of the weave, and the woman beamed with pride. Obviously it was her own work. How Luke had managed to hone in on that so quickly, Mara had no idea.
Their room was small, but comfortable. The woman left them to settle, telling them that a meal would be served in an hour. Mara collapsed onto the bed. Luke stared after the woman for a moment, then shook his head and sat on the edge of the bed.
"Something wrong?" Mara nudged his leg gently with her knee.
He half turned, then sighed and lay back beside her. "She reminded me of Aunt Beru for a moment," he murmured to the ceiling.
"Oh." There wasn't a lot to say to that; Mara could think of nothing. She shifted closer, resting her head near Luke's. He smelled like desert and sun and sweat; the wind had mussed his hair, and his skin was warm to her touch. She ran her fingers over his jaw, then leaned to place a lingering kiss on his stubbled cheek.
He glanced at her, and his eyes softened. He lifted his hand to her hair, running his fingers through its tangled length. He murmured, "Dinner—"
"—is in an hour."
Luke said, "Ah," and drew her close.
Dinner was a simple meal – some kind of stringy meat, and a few limp vegetables. Mara poked at it somewhat dubiously, noting that Luke ate readily – and with the same relish he would a plate of Adygonian cuttlefish. That he wasn't particularly picky (discerning, even, said an honest voice at the back of her mind) when it came to food was a source of some relief to her, given he would probably be expected to eat her cooking at some stage in their marriage. If he could eat this meal happily, surely he wouldn't find hers unpalatable?
Since when did she care what anyone, Luke Skywalker included, thought of her cooking? Mara scowled and stabbed a piece of meat. Their being married didn't mean she had to suddenly require his approval in every walk of life.
"It's bantha meat," Luke said. "Practically a staple food here."
"Mm," said Mara unenthusiastically.
He flicked her an odd look that made her wonder how much of her thoughts or mood he'd picked up on, but made no comment. Mara asked what he had in mind for the following day, he replied that he had no plans in particular, and the meal carried on.
They sat for a while outside, and Luke told her of evenings spent watching the clear stars as a child, solo journeys undertaken in the mind around a galaxy that lay open and welcoming against the dull monotony of life in the dunes. There was still something of the old magic in his voice as he spoke, after so many years, and Mara found herself thinking of her own childhood as she gazed upward. The stars had held no wonder for her; they were only cold conduits to other places, to harder tests and bleaker duties. Just balls of fire burning with distant light. No magic there.
Luke didn't look at her, sitting by her side with his eyes on the stars; but he did reach and take her hand, squeezing her fingers tightly. She thought he was wondering whether to say something, whether to ask, but she liked their shared silence, and just shook her head. He took the hint and said nothing, though she could feel him wondering.
He would just have to wonder, because there were times she didn't feel like telling; he would have to learn to live with it. That habit of wanting to fix everything would have to go. Some things just weren't fixable. He would only drive them both insane trying.
The house seemed shadowed and silent as they went back inside. Most Tatooine homes were built at least partially underground, Mara gathered, in an attempt to stave off the heat from the suns. Luke had been right about Tatooine being cold at night – the temperature had plummeted with the setting of the suns, and though the sandy walls retained some of the day's heat, there was a definite chill in the air. Luke's hand seemed very warm in Mara's, comfortingly so in the quiet of the house. She'd noticed that his body heat was always a little higher than that of others – but there was no logical reason, and Mara wondered if it only seemed so to her. Perhaps Luke emanated the sense through the Force without realising he did so, and she somehow discerned it unconsciously.
However she rationalized it, Mara just liked the fact that his hands were always warm. She couldn't quite figure out why, and that frustrated her, but it was there and undeniable.
Luke suddenly halted in the shadows of the hall, breaking Mara from her thoughts. She was startled to see a figure had appeared in one of the doorways: a small figure in the gloom, hunched and shapeless and bundled. It moved forward at a shuffling pace, and Mara saw the figure was an old woman – very old, by her lined, leathered face and unfocused eyes. Her hair was silver and white, like the snows of Hoth caught in sunlight. Her hunched figure indicated a lifetime of toil and hardship, and the darkness of her skin said she had spent many years in the cruelty of Tatooine's suns. Another former slave, perhaps, or a street vendor struggling in the paltry markets.
The woman seemed to be staring at Luke, her dark eyes shiny and opalescent. She could be blind, Mara thought, but the intentness of that gaze seemed to belie that. "Storm's coming," the woman said. "Storm's coming again."
Luke frowned, then stepped forward. "Are you well?"
"Ah," said the woman, a sound like a sigh. "They're always coming. I saw them all, once. Such a nice child…" She stared at Luke, and Luke stared back at her. "Such a nice boy," the old woman said again, sadly this time. "They don't ever lose their chains, slaves. Not in their hearts. Especially child slaves."
Luke took another step forward. There was a waking intentness in his eyes; a strange kind of abstraction shadowing his features. It was an edge he didn't often show, that sudden glimpsed intensity. Mara had only seen it a few times, and it always startled her.
Then the woman who'd greeted them at the door appeared from down the hall. "Mother," she said chidingly, taking the older woman's arm. "Leave these people alone." She directed her next words somewhere between Luke, still staring at the old woman, and Mara, standing just behind him. "I'm sorry. She spent many years working in the suns, and gets very confused. Pay no heed."
Luke continued to stare at the old woman, who was staring at him – or though him, Mara still wasn't sure. He opened his mouth, narrowing his eyes slightly. He didn't speak for a moment, then demanded, "What was she saying about slaves?"
"Just nonsense," the younger woman said, somewhat apprehensively. Luke's expression was a little daunting – perhaps she feared losing her business. "Pay no heed."
She turned and began to speak softly to the old woman, then led her back into the room. Luke stared after them, a slow frown creasing his forehead.
Mara put a hand on his chest to forestall his moving to follow the women. "Luke," she said softly in warning.
He turned to her. "She was talking about my father," he said desperately. "It had to be him. Did you hear what she said?"
"She's old, Luke. And confused. Her words could have meant anything."
He frowned and turned back to the door. "I suppose," he murmured after a few moments; but then he shook his head, whether to clear it or in denial, Mara wasn't certain. "Doesn't matter." He met her eye and smiled, that still-alien smile that was becoming intimately familiar, furtive and warm. He leaned and placed a kiss by her ear, running the fingers of his right hand through her loose hair.
"Doesn't it?" Mara tilted her head, caught a little off-guard by his sudden shift.
"No." He brushed her lips with his own. "It doesn't."
Mara decided not to argue.
They explored more of Mos Espa the next day, traipsing down dusty streets and between sandstone houses. They visited the old podracing arena, and Mara watched while Luke paced up and down the sandy track, then clambered up the rundown stands high enough to see a portion of the old circuit dwindling away to the horizon. He lifted his hand before his eyes, following the fading course with a finger, then whistled lowly. "To have raced this…" he murmured to himself. "What a thrill."
The hot wind had blown his hair into disarray. Standing watching him, Mara was certain that although she'd never known the rash and reckless farmboy he'd once been, there was more than an edge of that boy present in the gleam of her husband's eyes.
She was also very glad that the only podracers still in existence on Tatooine were in parts and on junker's scrapheaps, and that it had been so since he was very young. She doubted very much that a young Luke Skywalker could have resisted the twin lure of danger and thrill any more than his father apparently once had. And podracing was a killer of a sport by anyone's standards.
He caught her eye; the smile he showed her was bright, and a little embarrassed. She shook her head at him, returned his rueful smile, and lifted her hand. He took her fingers and they clambered back down the abandoned stands together.
Mara almost fancied she could feel the echo of frenzied exultation around them in the empty arena, of bloodlust and greed and adrenalin. And, quieter but more pressing, somewhere beneath, the cold and painful terror of lovers and mothers and wives.
She breathed out, and the feeling dispersed into the hot air.
The day wore on. By nightfall, they'd found one of the older sections of the former slave district in the city's outskirts. They spent an hour wandering through the crumbling houses; Luke didn't say anything, but Mara knew he was looking for something.
Eventually he stopped outside one domed hovel. The suns had set and the stars were beginning to prick in the darkening sky. Mara was cold and hungry, but said nothing as Luke wordlessly ducked inside. She followed.
The house was in poor condition; one of the walls was partially caved in, and sand piled everywhere. There'd been a revolt, apparently, at some stage in the last thirty years – or an Imperial attack, the reports varied – and this section of housing had taken much damage. This particular house appeared to be one of the hardest hit.
Luke wandered about for some time. Mara ran her fingers over the smoothened walls and wondered at the pain that must have been experienced here: not acute pain – not torment, not anguish – but pain of the spirit, pain of hardship and poverty and unending sacrifice. She could feel it still – had felt it ever since they'd come here – but suddenly it seemed to press on her and chill her.
Luke bent on the threshold to another, smaller room. He seemed to dig around in the sand for a while, then drew out a piece of metal which he examined. "Almost reminds me…" he muttered, his brow creasing, but he didn't finish the sentence, instead shaking his head and standing. He crossed and showed her the piece of metal, apparently an old part from some kind of servomotor – perhaps a droid servomotor. "There are more, I think," he said, looking toward the room with a frown. "Old parts and the like. Nothing more."
"Mm," Mara murmured, turning the piece over and then handing it back. Luke had given her his cloak; she shifted it around her shoulders as she watched him go back to stand in the middle of the empty room, his eyes distant and a frown on his face.
They ended up on a roof section, looking down over the sanded street. The stars shone brightly and coldly down over them. Luke had descended the worn stairs and was crouched at the bottom, looking over the bare street. Mara leaned against the wall at the top, watching him. The wind was blowing again – blowing cold now, straight off the desert from the harsh, wild feel of it. Mara unwound her hair, letting it twist in the wind.
They stayed that way for a time, Mara standing in silence as Luke crouched. She felt a vague, undefined sadness drift off him, but it was unclear and she was tired – and probably sunburnt besides, given how tender her face and neck felt. After a while, Luke sighed and opened his hand, turning it as though to release something. "I don't know," he murmured, and rose. Mara sensed that he'd reached some decision – no. It wasn't quite that. More as though he was acknowledging something he'd already known but didn't want to accept. She watched as he climbed the stairs, stopping halfway up to look at her. His eyes seemed bluer than usual in the moonlight. She was expecting some kind of explanation, but he surprised her by asking, his voice quiet: "Are you all right?"
Mara almost pulled a face – so much for hiding her discomfort. Something in his expression said that he'd known all along, but had chosen not to push. Or perhaps she was imagining that. Mara shook her head and told him, "I don't know. It's not – I don't like what I sense here."
It was impossible to explain. How could she tell him how close the old pain of this place came to memories and emotions she kept in a dark corner of herself, hidden and repressed? She'd never been a slave, but she'd felt a slave's loss, a slave's shame, a slave's anger. She'd had a master and she'd been a token in his schemes.
She couldn't explain that, and never would be able to. Not even to him.
But – as he looked up at her, as his eyes softened with compassion and empathy and hardened somewhere with a glitter of defensive anger – she knew she didn't have to.
"We'll leave for Mos Eisley in the morning," he said.
Surprised, Mara said, "You're done here already?"
He sighed and turned from her, looking across the dark city. "There's nothing for me here, really," he said, and she heard the dull sorrow in his voice. "There never has been. That died fifteen years ago, and it isn't coming back." Down by his side, his prosthetic hand clenched once, then opened.
Mara agreed, though she wouldn't have said so as bluntly. As she watched him lower his chin to watch the stars, it dawned on her that she wasn't the only one with unfixable problems. Luke's hunger for connection with his father, born of a child's loneliness and abandonment in the dunes and sharpened through twin fires of betrayal and love, was clearly such an issue, and it was one he would likely never stop trying to resolve nor ever satisfactorily fulfil.
She wondered if he realised that, and searched on anyway; or if the search was mostly unconscious, something he'd long ago stopped noticing.
He turned his head slightly toward her, lifting his hand. "Come stand with me."
She walked down, and he put his arms around her gently, careful of her sunburn. She leaned her head back against his shoulder somewhat tentatively; the movement still felt strange. "The stars really are beautiful, aren't they?" Luke murmured after a while.
Mara looked at them, burning suns of distant fire given magic through the power and generosity of his belief. "Yes," she said thoughtfully. "They are."
She wasn't sure he caught her meaning, but she thought he did, and that was enough.
Mara slept restively that night, her dreams full of shadows and distress, dark shapes that loomed but refused to take shape or definition. She turned in her sleep, seeking to push off the edges of the dream—
She burst out of it suddenly, waking bewildered in unfamiliar darkness. A heavy, warm weight pressed at her side, and, shreds of dream-panic still holding her, she tensed and twisted, thrusting backward. An elbow connected – the weight jerked – there was a muffled grunt, followed by a muffled thump as the weight fell off the narrow bed.
As Luke fell out of bed. Mara bit her lip.
A few sleepy and surprisingly inventive curses drifted from the darkness below, followed by a "What the …?" He didn't sound pleased.
"Are you all right?" She wasn't game to lean over and meet his eye.
"What was that for?" He sat up – she could just see him, a shape that must have been his head. "Did you just elbow me?"
"Um. No reason. You startled me, that was all."
She could make out his expression now as he sat on the edge of the bed. He showed her a slightly incredulous look, muttered something she didn't quite make out, then said, "Ouch. You don't half pull your punches, do you?"
She bit her lip again. "I'm sorry?"
"This is going to bruise."
This was the man who'd been attacked by a wampa, frozen, had a hand amputated, been electrocuted half to death, been infected with carnivorous parasites, had a gangrenous leg wound, been put in a coma by an ancient Sith spirit, broken his ankle, had the skin of his back burnt off, and had more concussions than she could count? Complaining about a mere blow to the stomach? Mara crossed her arms.
Luke snorted. "You should see your face."
Mara glared at him. "I don't see what's so funny."
He shifted closer, a dark shape in the darkness. "You elbowed me, dear."
She could feel his amusement clearly now, and realised belatedly he'd been teasing. It didn't particularly improve her mood. "Don't call me dear."
He brought his mouth close to her ear. "What shall I call you then?" His fingers were warm on her bare back, sending paradoxical shivers down her spine. "Captain Jade?"
She turned to him, resting her hand on his stomach and leaning close. "But isn't your stomach so sore?" she purred. "We wouldn't want to aggravate the injury, now."
He growled at her and Mara laughed in surprise, then let him smother her with warmth.
They left Mos Espa early the next morning, before even the first sun had crept over the horizon. Luke flicked her a glance as he pulled his tunic on, for there was indeed a purpling mark over his abdomen.
"Does it hurt?" Mara winced and reached to touch his skin tentatively; it was warm against her fingers despite the chill of the pre-dawn air.
"It would be more than an understatement to say I've had worse," Luke said wryly.
"Mm. I suppose."
"It's fine, Mara."
It wasn't fine. That fight or flight mechanism on waking ran deep; it was as much a part of her as her name, and had saved her life more times that she could count. It had been trained into her from an age so early she could barely remember being without it. Teaching herself not to react adversely to a continued presence sharing her bed was not proving easy.
And she'd hurt Luke as a result. Accidentally, of course – but pain caused by accident was still pain caused. What about next time? What if it was the kind of hurt that didn't heal so quickly or so easily? She was unused to guarding herself from causing pain, and marriage created a unique position of being able to hurt in the extreme closeness it evoked.
That frightened her more than she would admit. She knew that eventually there would be some hurt; it was unrealistic to expect otherwise, and their long history had proven that they excelled at hurting one another. The thought of his ability to cause her pain made Mara uncomfortable, as it always had – probably as it had long before she'd even been aware of it; and a new facet, that of her own power to bring him hurt, brought comparable measures of disquiet in the expectation it seemed to place on her.
"Mara." Luke's voice broke her thoughts. She looked at him and found he was watching her, an odd uneasiness in his eyes. "What's wrong?"
She shook her head – it was too hard to explain. Or she just didn't want to. She didn't meet his gaze. "Nothing."
He looked at her another moment, then said, "Ah – all right." He half-turned and began to fasten the clasps of his tunic, then turned back. "Mara, really, you understand I'm not bothered. I was only joking last night."
"I know. Don't worry about it, all right?"
Maybe he sensed she didn't want to talk about it – or perhaps he just read it in her eyes. Whichever it was, Luke said nothing more. He finished dressing before she'd even started, and went to settle with their landlady. The amount of money he took didn't seem a lot to Mara, but when she queried it, he said it was the standard rate the woman had quoted him, plus a small amount more.
"A very small amount," Mara said, a little surprised. Luke had never struck her as a particularly thrifty sort of person.
"It's not small to her," Luke said. "Any more would be an insult."
"An insult?" Mara echoed.
"She'd think we were giving her money out of pity," he explained. "People don't accept charity on Tatooine. My aunt was the same. When times were hard, meat was a rarity on the dinner table. But my aunt would rather have starved than accept charity."
Luke gave her a long look, backed with something she didn't understand. "Wouldn't you be the same?"
Mara shook her head. "Impractical. I wouldn't like it, but I'd rather survive than go hungry."
"Hm. That's true." Luke eyed her a moment, closely, then shook his head and said, "When you don't have much else to your name – and women like my aunt didn't, and don't – I suppose pride is important to you. Everything else can be taken away, but you can guard that to your last breath. And they do."
"I see." Mara fell silent. She was gaining a clearer understanding of what Luke had come from, seeing Tatooine firsthand – of just how bleak and harsh and bright his upbringing had truly been, and how it had shaped what he became.
She was surprised at how much there was still to know about him. Before they married, before even Nirauan, she had thought she knew Luke Skywalker down to the last foible. Then there'd been their slow journey closer as they trekked through the caves, and then their moment of joining in the fire of battle, and for an instant she had known him, utterly and absolutely – and had come to realise just how limited her previous understanding had been. She was still realising that. She wondered if he felt the same way.
They left after that. Despite the early hour and lack of light, the city teemed with activity. Luke purchased a hardy-looking landspeeder for their trip after much tapping of parts in the engine and muttered conference with the dealer; to Mara's surprise, he didn't even glance at the newer models to one end of the yard. "Durability is what we want," he said when she asked. "Sleek is nice, but… impractical."
"Ah." Mara wondered if she should be concerned.
Luke purchased supplies and enough water to last the three-day cross-desert span to Mos Eisley. Mara let him barter, having none of his ingrained knowledge on what they would need in the desert. She'd done some research, back when she'd first visited Tatooine, but that was a long time ago and she'd been focused on other things.
With supplies and water, and a transport, they headed out into the desert. The first sun was close to rising, its light touching the empty horizon as they sped along. Luke drove, the wind blowing his hair back from his face. He drove like a fighter pilot: acceleration and exhilaration, alarming and precise. Han, apparently, was the same. Leia had admitted privately to Mara that she avoided flying with either of them when she could; but then Leia had never been a pilot and flew only when she had to. Mara fell somewhere between the two extremes. Flying didn't give her the level of exhilaration Luke would never admit it gave him, but she did appreciate the joy of speed and precision, and so had no problems with the way he flew. She piloted her airspeeder in much the same way – and that was something she didn't intend to give up doing, so he would have to get used to the passenger seat at least some of the time when they returned to Coruscant.
They covered a lot of ground in their first day in the desert. The movement of sand passing was unexpectedly lulling: Mara found her eyelids growing heavy as she watched it blur past. Luke had suggested she cover her head and shoulders to protect her skin from the bite of the suns, and Mara grudgingly accepted the wisdom of the notion. It wasn't fair, she thought irritably, that Luke's skin could tan where hers just burnt.
They stopped for a while in the middle of the day, when the heat of the suns was at its most severe, stretching their legs in the shadows of a rock outcropping. In mid-afternoon they set off again, travelling a way after the suns sank in a spectacularly colourful sunset. They made camp under the stars, Luke starting a small fire from their supplies.
"Are you sure about that?" Mara asked dubiously, watching him. "It's going to be visible for kilometres around on terrain like this."
Luke glanced up at her, his features soft in the flickering firelight. "There's no one to see it," he said simply.
"What about Sand People?"
Luke shook his head. "We're still close enough to the city that Raiders shouldn't be a problem. When we get deeper into the Wastes, we'll have to be careful."
"Hm." Mara peered into the darkness a moment more, then shrugged and seated herself in the sand by the fire. Its warmth was welcome against the chill of the night winds rising off the desert, once she let herself relax enough to appreciate it.
They ate, then sat together in silence. The fire crackled softly, tiny embers flying up to join the clear stars in the dark sky above. The smell of smoke drifted and danced with the hard, cold scent of the night, pale as it twisted into darkness.
After a time, Luke shifted closer. Mara wordlessly leaned against him, and he put his arms around her. He smelled of sun and sand, dry and warm; his woven tunic was soft against her cheek.
Mara closed her eyes, and eventually let herself sleep.
The following days passed quickly. They travelled mostly by morning and afternoon, avoiding the searing heat of midday where they could. Luke gave up his fires as they travelled further into the desert, and Mara noted subtle signs around dawn and dusk: he watched shadows carefully, and his hands grew more still, making each movement precise. He was wary; she was warier, scanning for movement amongst the dunes.
He must have noticed her sudden caution, because he assured her the Raiders were rare in this part of the desert – apparently they preferred the rocky Jundland Wastes on the other side of Anchorhead.
"So why are you watching shadows?" she asked narrowly.
He cleared his throat, and didn't attempt to reassure her again.
Speeding under the double suns on the third day of their journey, Mara glimpsed a bulky shape far away on the horizon, wavering with heat and distance. Pulling herself higher in the seat, she narrowed her eyes. Sometimes the eyes rebelled against the sameness of the landscape by throwing up odd shapes and images, but this one showed no sign of flickering to nothing. A rock outcropping? No, the shape wasn't right. Too angular.
The metal edge of the windshield was hot against her stomach through the fabric of her tunic as she leaned forward. The wind riffled hot and dry through her drawn-back hair. "Luke?" she asked. "You know what that is?"
"Hm?" Luke, staring somewhere off ahead, blinked and followed the line of her finger. "Probably an old wreck. There are a few out here."
"Wreck? A landspeeder, you mean?" What an ugly way to die.
He shook his head. "Spaceship. In the old days, before the Empire, battles between pirates and rival smugglers would often spill into the atmosphere. The loser ended up part of the landscape, so to speak. You come across them every so often." Despite his matter-of-fact tone, he was eyeing the distant wreck with barely-concealed interest.
Mara bent and rummaged through the scattered belongings at her feet for the macrobinoculars, raising them to examine the shape. "It is a ship," she confirmed. "Crashed hard, from the look of it."
"We might as well take a look. In fact, it's probably a good idea."
Something in his tone woke alarm bells; Mara lowered the macrobinoculars to check his expression. There wasn't much there. "Problem?"
"Maybe. I think a storm's brewing."
"Oh?" Mara glanced around and saw only flat sand and endless sky. "And you know this how…?"
"That faint haze over the horizon," Luke explained. "And there's a certain smell. Kind of sharp and dry."
Mara couldn't smell anything, and had to squint to catch the haze he referred to. But then she hadn't been raised on featureless plains where sandstorms were sudden and often deadly. "If you say so."
"I do." He quirked an eyebrow. "If I'm wrong, at least we've got an interesting detour."
"Ah yes. A rusting old wreck."
"I know you're secretly intrigued."
Mara sighed. There wasn't much she could say to that. "Sometimes you're insufferable."
She flicked him a glance, and he smiled. Mara narrowed her eyes at the horizon. It was all right, she consoled herself. Her payback could wait…
So they lay staring at the underside of a rusting ancient spaceship as sand-laden winds howled past a mere few metres away. The storm was so furious that it seemed like night: the light of the suns was blotted so thoroughly it was as though they didn't exist.
"What kind of ship was it, I wonder? And did any of the crew survive the crash?" Mara startled herself, speaking the random musings aloud. The hiss of sand over sand was eerie; it sounded as though it had no end.
Luke shifted a little closer at her side, his voice soft. "You think it's haunted? They always used to say the desert ate the souls of those it took."
Mara scowled in the semi-darkness. That sounded like a line. "If you're trying to get me to snuggle, you're going about it the wrong way."
"I can try." He leaned closer yet and slid his hand under her loose tunic, brushing his fingers across her stomach and raising goosebumps on her skin.
"My," Mara purred. "I never knew flying sand would bring out the romantic in you, farmboy."
Luke laughed quietly, his body warm against hers through the softness of their clothes. "You bring out the romantic in me," he murmured into her ear.
Mara snorted gently. "Like that's hard to do." But she lifted her hands and wound them through his hair, looking into his eyes that were the colour of a sky she currently couldn't see. He kissed her lips softly, and they lay together in the semi-dark.
The storm passed after what seemed like hours; according to Luke it had actually been short as sandstorms came, lasting roughly an hour and a half. Shaking off the sand in her clothes, sand that seeped everywhere and that she felt with increasing certainty she would never fully get rid of, Mara told him in no uncertain terms that he was lucky it hadn't lasted that long.
Unfazed, Luke caught her around the waist, mumbling something into her hair about how they would have managed to occupy themselves. She lifted an eyebrow at him, and he smirked and wandered off around the wreck. Shaking her head, Mara followed.
The once-spaceship was solidly buried in the dunes, over half submerged beneath the sand. The gangly make suggested it was originally pre-Empire, probably from somewhere in the glory days of the Republic, hundreds of years before Mara's birth or Luke's. It was a monster of a ship, as the older ones usually were; even mostly buried in the sand, it still towered over them as they explored, casting a long, deep shadow.
They returned to the landspeeder, tucked safely in the sheltered section that had been their harbour from the storm. Luke slowed and put a hand on the rusted metal of the ship. Looking up, he said soberly, "They're not far wrong in saying that the desert eats such trespassers. Another fifty years, and the dunes will have swallowed this completely."
It wasn't a statement that asked or required a response. Mara crossed her arms and watched as Luke trailed his fingers down the roughness of the once-smooth metal, crouching to run the rust-stained sand at the base through his fingers. "It'll all become sand, eventually," he murmured. "Wear down other trespassers. Full circle."
The sand trickled between his fingers and flew away in a spray of brown, caught in the remnant breeze and the glow of the now-dying suns.
Lying beside him late that night, Mara watched the cold light of the moons wash over the desert. Luke's slow breathing tickled the hair at the back of her neck, but she wasn't inclined to move. Luke tended to sleep easily and quickly, though lightly; Mara, usually, could fall asleep quickly as well. Some nights it was difficult. Sometimes she went for months without being able to sleep properly, never for a solid reason – at least, never one that deigned to raise itself from the restive murk of her unconscious.
She wondered if that would remain the same, now that she was married, or whether the inexplicable sleeplessness would pass now there was someone she trusted to watch her back while she slept.
In any case, she was awake tonight. She shifted slightly, and Luke in turn stirred but did not wake. His fingers brushed the skin of her stomach as he moved; his right hand, the bionic one he was always slightly hesitant to touch her with. It was only ever a miniscule faltering, and she suspected he was completely unaware of it. Most of the time he seemed to forget that the hand was in fact a skilfully crafted machine – or perhaps he only gave that impression. Mara wasn't sure whether it was possible to forget such a thing, whether it was possible for him to look at the hand and not be reminded of the loss it represented. It was the kind of thing that had to be experienced to understood.
It was strange, she reflected, staring at the clear sky, how distance from the Jedi and the New Republic seemed to free Luke. Not that he was trapped by those things, as such. But they definitely weighed on his shoulders while he was there.
It would be nice if they could take off around the galaxy with a mobile school for Jedi, as they'd cheerfully discussed doing not long ago. But Mara could see the lines in the sand as well as Luke could, and that wasn't the way the Jedi were heading. That wasn't the way the galaxy was heading.
And there was that odd, perplexing vision she'd seen on the Chimaera… Their future, joys and pains – and a strange edge, a hint of something coming, of some darkness or threat facing the galaxy. Whatever that danger was, she was sure that Luke would be at the forefront. The will of the Force was increasingly pushing him into the role of leader, a role he'd never sought but could and had surely earned.
Like anything, he played the role with all his heart, and gave it everything. It concerned Mara, and always had, how deeply he gave. She feared one day he'd give too much to a galaxy that took all and returned too little. Hopefully she'd be able to tamper those self-martyring tendencies somewhat now that they were married. Surely Luke had proven with blood and pain that he was not his father, and more than repaid whatever imagined debt he might owe the galaxy?
Little wonder he sometimes felt burdened, Mara thought. Little wonder he guarded himself as he did. She far preferred the Luke Skywalker she'd rediscovered at Nirauan, infuriating and illogical in all his uncertainty and ego, to the carefully composed stranger who'd greeted her at the academy on her passing visits in the years previous.
More than once, it had occurred to her to wonder whether they would have ever made it to the point they were at now had he not come for her on Nirauan. Had they not had opportunity to snarl and hurt and kick down the barriers they'd built, together and apart, over the years. Would Luke have swallowed his pride and asked for help to overcome his problems with the Force and with his past errors in judgement? Would he have considered coming to her if so? Would she have overcome her own confused melding of stubbornness, conceit, and apprehension to approach him herself, rather than watching him fumble through his self-created mire at a distance?
She suspected not, but it was impossible to say. Time spent thinking about might-have-beens and might-not-have-beens was clearly time wasted, in any case, as tempting or as disquieting as those thoughts might be.
Mara turned, under the cold moons of the Tatooine sky, into the warmth of her husband's embrace. He stirred, mumbled something, and shifted closer. Mara watched a dust-eddy dance on a silvered rise beyond his shoulder. It dispersed to the wind, and she closed her eyes. When she slept, she dreamt disturbing dreams of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Luke against a galaxy of stars that winked out one by one in a tide that crept ever closer; but the first light of the suns pierced the dreams in the morning, and they vanished as quickly as the dust eddy had fallen away the night before.
Rubbing her eyes as Luke teased her – he seemed never to have lost his farmer's internal clock and had no problem rising at horrendously early hours, to her disgust – Mara banished the shreds of the dream from her thoughts, and they set off for Mos Eisley.