Zekk was up with the first light the following morning, the weak sunshine that filtered into the cave waking him from an uneasy slumber
After the events of the previous evening, his discussion with Jaina and subsequent dip in the snow bank, he's found that cold, chill pants were a wonderful deterrent to her advances. She'd tried to get him to remove them, but he'd refused and so she'd cracked open the last of their heat-sticks and informed him in no uncertain terms he was to sit as close to it as possible and dry out. He'd done as he was told until she'd removed his shirt, replaced her own and handed his to him. . He'd put his shirt on reluctantly, aware that Jaina's scent clung to it, only to remove it when she curled back up under the overhang, alone.
He'd waited, listening to each breath, each noise she made, his body tight with unquenched desire. He hadn't dared move until he heard her breathing even out, felt her presence slip into slumber. He'd placed the newly activated heat-stick in the placed of the one that was currently dying, ensuring she would stay warm, and went to check the others. He found two were dead, the third about two-thirds gone, and set about ensuring he captured the heat of the last stick well.
Now, the sun peeking over the nearby mountain tops, he'd found himself as close to the entrance as he could get without being uncomfortably freezing, letting the chill dampen his desire. Even asleep and with ten feet between them, the cold biting unpleasantly into his bare skin, he wanted her.
Damn her, he thought savagely. She knew what she was doing, why couldn't she just let it drop? He stared out into the white wilderness, wishing the sun would rise faster, become stronger, to free them from their weather imposed prison. His thoughts were uneasy. He knew why Jaina had done what she had. He knew why she goaded him, taunted him; teased him to the brink.
He knew why she wasn't afraid of his reaction.
He sighed, rubbing a hand over his chin and noting the first hints of the stubble he had such trouble growing. His lips twisted in a self-depreciating smile. He would never be able to grow facial hair like some he knew.
"A credit for your thoughts."
He stiffened. He hadn't heard her move, and his senses were particularly attuned to her and her movements; or so he'd thought. He slanted a look at her, his expression carefully neutral. "You're up early."
Jaina shivered, rubbing her bare arms as she stood just outside the direct entrance. Her bare feet dug into the sand, reaching for the warmth of insulation. Her query had been soft, concerned; she'd seen the strain on his face and felt suddenly guilty for being the cause. "You're up late." She countered with a hesitant smile.
She had sand on her cheek, grains in her hair and dotting her clothing. She looked beautiful to him, but then, he didn't think she would ever not be. "I couldn't sleep."
She arched her eyebrows, rubbing her arms harder, trying to keep the chill out. "Couldn't sleep, or couldn't sleep with me?"
"One and the same." He looked back out across the pristine white landscape. "We should be able to get out of here today if the sun keeps gaining strength. I heard the suddenness of the weather changes is one of this planet's more alluring features."
"For honeymooning couples maybe." Her response was testy. "For non-couples it's just a pain."
Zekk moved away, towards her, and reached out to take her shoulders. With a gentle shove he turned her, facing her back towards the center of their small cave and blocking the chill wind with his body. "Non-couples, huh?"
She nodded, more than willing to cross to where the overhang was and settled herself in front of it. She turned to find Zekk had stopped after his first steps, just barely out of the wind. "What else would you call us?"
"After last night? I don't know anymore."
Jaina pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. "What would you like to call us?"
Zekk smiled faintly. "Are you sure you want to know?"
Jaina cocked her head at him, resting her chin on her knees. "I wouldn't have asked if I didn't. I mean, am I just a fling?"
"A fling?" He gawked at her, completely taken aback. "Never, you could never be a fling."
A small, satisfied smile curled her lips. "I'm glad."
"Is that what you see this as, Jay?"
She shrugged. "I don't know what to see this as. I dreamt of you, you know."
He stiffened abruptly. "I don't want to hear this."
"Why not? Afraid I'll jump you?"
"Terrified." He acknowledged with a slight smile.
Jaina laughed softly, reaching one hand down to play with the sand and running it thoughtfully through her fingers. "I saw you and me ten years from now."
"Just listen, would you?"
He shut up, uneasy at the thought of her dream, but knowing they'd be no peace if she didn't say what she needed to.
Satisfied she'd obtained his cooperation, she continued. "I saw us in a cave, much like this one, having a discussion like... like yesterday." She colored slightly, but forged ahead. "Only you were still pulling back. You were still completely beyond my reach, even though you're merely feet away. Does that make sense?"
He shrugged. "It depends on how you view it."
She cocked her head at him. "Why are you trying to keep me away? I want what's between us as much as you do; I'm starting to think more. Much more. What's holding you back?"
Zekk watched her guardedly, but the temptress of the day before had been replaced with a serious, hurt young woman. Despite himself, he answered her. "I don't deserve you."
Her eyes widened in surprise. "You what?"
He shrugged, sighing as he leaned back against the cave wall. "You're too good for me Jay. Surely you can see that."
"I hope you're joking."
"Think about it."
She did; at least he thought she did. She appeared to be, her expression serious as she watched him. "I don't follow your line of thinking, vent crawler; mind enlightening me?"
He smiled faintly. "I think you just answered your own question."
She blinked and then stared at him in disbelief. "Because of your past as a street kid?"
"That's part of it." He saw confusion in her gaze and knew she didn't understand. So he continued for her. "I grew up in a rough landscape, Jaina; it helped forge and mould me into the man you see today. I've known hunger, suffering and war. I've enforced all three and delighted in it. I've killed people without a second thought to ensure my own survival. I've walked past those weaker than myself without so much as a glance because to do so, to care, would have cost me more than I had to give."
"B-but..." Her knees dropped and she sat cross-legged, staring at him shocked. "You've moved beyond all that."
"Have I?" He watched her carefully. "Have I really?"
"Of course you have!"
"Then why was my last mission's cover to become what I once was? Do you know how easy it was? How easy it is to slip into old habits, to assume that mask of unfeeling, despite their disuse?"
"You're a scavenger and a survivor; those aren't skills to be ashamed of."
"I never said I was ashamed."
"Then what-?" She stopped. "Are you trying to protect me?"
"You haven't seen the ugly world of society's underbelly, Jaina. You haven't seen the deliberate cruelty; been forced to inflict it for your own survival. I never want you to know that."
"You could have said no."
He smiled faintly. "And who would they have sent in my place? You? Jacen? Maybe Tenel Ka? I'm the only one suited to do the dirty work and Master Skywalker knows it."
"Aunt Mara could-"
He shook his head, and she bit her tongue. "Mara's too well known. Despite her talents she has too many contacts - and she's made more than a few enemies. Especially here."
"And you think that because you remember how to blend in to an environment that you don't 'deserve' me?"
He shrugged. "Sludge is still sludge even if you put it in a fancy glass."
She wrinkled her nose. "I think you're just scared."
"Believe what you want, Jaina."
She pushed to her feet and stalked towards him, deliberately choosing her words as she planted her feet. "Sludge can be purified given the proper treatment, Zekk. You've been through darkness, walked paths few can understand, and come out better for it. You've grown beyond the circumstances in which you lived to become something and someone better. You can't tell me a part of you isn't yearning to go back, despite the guards, to help some of the poor retches you must have seen."
His eyes narrowed. "Who are you trying to convince?"
She stopped in front of him shivering; one heat-stick didn't do much to their small cave. "You. Because if you could see the way I see you, you'd never believe you didn't deserve me. I'm no angel you know."
His expression softened, and he reached out, gently brushing a few grains of sand from her cheek. "And if you saw the way I see you, you'd know that you are."
"Shows what you know." Her smile was gentle as her hand caught his, keeping it close. "You shouldn't be so hard on yourself, Zekk. It belittles what you've been through to become what you are."
"I sometimes wonder." His voice had dropped to a whisper. "What am I, Jaina? What do you see when you look at me?"
Her hear constricted at his tone. She stepped closer, sliding her arms about his waist. He stiffened but didn't pull away as her head came to rest on his chest. "I see strength. Strength of character, conviction and purpose. I see honor; both personal and professional. And I see pain. The pain of failure, of having fallen; the pain of knowing one's own faults."
"I told you I wasn't good enough for you." He spoke into her hair, softly kissing the crown of her head.
She laughed softly. "I also see the man who wouldn't hurt me, who fought me to a standstill and refused to allow me to come to harm - even as my enemy. You're the man I gave my heart to that day; do you remember?"
"How could I forget?" His voice was choked. "I still don't think I deserve you."
She lifted her head and found herself looking into emerald eyes that swum with tears. She shifted her grip, framing his face with her hands and stared into the eyes that had the power to unnerve her and calm her like nothing else. "Well I think I deserve you, Zekk. I love you; can't you see I'm crazy about you?"
"That's why I can't Jay."
"You don't love me?"
"I love you too much."
A small smile spread across her face. She tilted her head to him, pushing to tip-toe, and pulled his head down.
He could have pulled away, could have moved beyond her touch, but he chose not to. Her words had disarmed him, humbled him. They weren't petty words spoken by a spoiled princess, or even the words of a friend trying to comfort. They were the words, the look, of a young woman who had found what she was searching for. And she appeared to be searching for him.
Her lips brushed his, her fingers tangling in his hair, pulling him down further, searching for contact. She kissed him sweetly, her lips hot and demanding as she begged for a response, a sign that he truly felt for her what she did for him. He sighed, softly, against her lips, his embrace tightening as her mouth opened under his, arching wantonly into his grasp as he accepted her unspoken request.
One of her hands slid down, to the top button of his shirt below the collar and deliberately opened it. She challenged him, her fingers electrifying on his skin as she slid them inside his shirt and proceeded to pop the buttons one after another.
Rational thought fled, leaving behind the acceptance and demand of her kiss; her intentions. Leaving behind the sweetness of the moment. A moment he knew instantly that would change their lives forever.
This time he didn't pull away.
They were rescued that evening by Tenel Ka and Jacen flying the Rock Dragon in a low search pattern. Jacen took one look at his glowing sister as she boarded the ship and the tender look that crossed between her and Zekk and knew immediately what had transpired below.
And, for once, he held his peace.