Mistress / Apprentice Rating: PG
Thrawn McEwok

Her Apprentice is waiting for her as she strides back out of her cabin. He's leaning against the bulkhead beside the airlock, with his arms folded casually across his chest.

At the sight of her, a grin slants across his face, and he lifts an eyebrow. He tenses, then pauses — allowing himself a moment to look her up and down, before he pushes off the wall, and stands up straight.

"My Mistress," he says, nodding in formal greeting. It's pitch-perfect, and disarmingly sincere — but she knows that he could slip back into insolence in a heartbeat.

"Less of that, Apprentice," she answers, with a click of her tongue and a smile of her own — an odd balance of chastisement and indulgence. She stops in front of him, plants her fists on her hips, and looks him up and down.

She laughs silently as she feels the question forming in his mind.

"Uh-uh," she says, shaking her head. "I have good reasons for wearing this — not least the fact that you still need to practice your self-discipline." She grins affectionately at him. "But you're my Apprentice, so it's part of my job to bring you up to my standards, and keep you there. And that means making sure you look the part." She claps a hand on his shoulder, and looks him in the eye. "Unless you want to accuse me of being less than purely professional in my appraisal, that is ...?"

She arches an eyebrow at him, and he stalls, tongue-tied — giving her a moment longer to complete her inspection, her gaze flickering from his toecaps to his eyes, and back again.

Wear black, she'd suggested to him. Look for tailored, layered stuff. And as much leather as you can find.

"You've done well," she concedes, eventually.

In fact, he suits the look almost too well — black boots, loose black breeches tied tight at the knee, and a dark leather surcoat belted over a broad-shouldered tunic. The sombre colour-scheme is offset only by the steely glint of the lightsaber at his hip, and the matching gleam in his ice-blue eyes.

And for once, this mission gives him the opportunity to strike his favourite hero pose without her reining him in — head held high, shoulders square, thumbs tucked behind his belt.

She frowns at him. Perhaps this isn't really a good idea, considering the precedent in his family — and the keen glint in his eye, something that she suspects has nothing to do with his Skywalker heritage; something capricious and Corellian, something she can't fully control.

"Hide that smile," she orders him.

"I'm trying," he laughs, indicating her sleeveless black bodyglove. "Is that really all you're wearing?" He looks her up and down again, eyes lingering on her bare feet, then flicking up to meet her gaze. "I'd have thought you'd want a couple more hidden holsters ..."

"This used to be standard issue for Imperial agents," she says, stepping smartly past him and keying the access code into the console beside the airlock hatch. "Male and female. The rest of my equipment is aboard the Scimitar."

His only response to that is a silent shiver — she can almost taste it in the Force, and a part of her is tempted to squeeze a little more of the same savour out of him. But she just smiles, and wraps a reassuring arm around his shoulders as the double hatch rolls open.

The hatches locks open, and they stare together into utter blackness.

"You're not afraid of the dark, are you?" she asks.

She doesn't let him collect an answer — slipping away from him, and stepping through into the other ship. The bare metal deck is icy beneath her feet, and she tenses as she feels the security beams sweep over her — but the Scimitar knows her like Artoo knows Luke, and after the slightest moment of cautious hesitation, lights flicker alive along the corridor.

"We're not even meant to be here, are we," Anakin whispers, sounding nervous as he follows her through. It's a curious sensation — he's wearing cold-steel fortitude in the Force, but his voice betrays his feelings.

She ponders for a moment, and decides that that's a good thing, a sign that his heart is still in the right place.

"M-mistress?" he prompts.

"Your Uncle doesn't know about this," she concedes, cautiously. "There are a lot of things he doesn't know about."

"Yeah," he answers, subdued. "But this ship ..."

"Is mine, Solo," she answers, turning and sealing the hatch. There's a thunk as the docking collar disengages from Jade Shadow, echoing through the hull, and she realises that they've crossed a line — separated from the New Republic and the rest of the Jedi Order, until they return to this deep-space rendezvous point, and transfer back across.

She turns around to see her Apprentice looking at her, a dubious expression on his face.

She flashes him a reassuring smile.

"Aunt Mara ..."

"You'll be fine," she promises. "And it's Mistress, remember. Now be a good Apprentice, and head up to the flight deck to check over our ship's systems."

She grins, and quirks her eyebrows as he hesitates.

"Yes, Mistress," he acknowledges. "As you wish."

"Better. Flight deck is that-a-way." She jerks a thumb, then turns in the opposite direction.

"Where are you going?" he asks — and just for a moment, he sounds very young.

But so does Luke, sometimes.

"To get the rest of my equipment," she says, shaking her head, slapping him on the butt as she walks past. "Now get going — Apprentice."

He goes, quickening his pace as she gives him a parting mental nudge — and a few strides later, he's slipped away: out of sight, almost out of mind. The quiet contact of their low-level bond lingers, though, and she's still exerting the light grip she tends to keep on him in the Force these days.

She smiles in satisfaction, and steps into the Scimitar's only sleeping-cabin.

The stateroom is sparse and bright, bare steel walls and pure white sheets gleaming beneath the glare of the lights. There are a few little design quirks about the workdesk terminal which betray the age of the equipment, but there's a style to Imperial décor that never really grows old, and everything has been kept neat and fresh by the 'droids.

It's like she's never been away.

She wonders whether this little trip into Imperial space offers an opportunity to refine and educate her Apprentice a little — in ways she never could in any more orthodox Jedi context.

Her smile flexes like a steel trap. She doubts her husband would approve.

She stalks across the chequered canvas flooring, and slides open the mirrored door of the tall storage cabinet — suppressing a shiver as the mirror-skinned woman inside winks knowingly back at her.

The old armour is exactly as she left it — and as she runs her gaze over the precisely-curved plates of polished durasteel, it still feels disconcertingly like looking at her own reflection.

She already knows that it will still fit her perfectly.

You wanted this, she tells herself. But then she frowns, reminding herself that she's entirely entitled to her ambivalence.

Tentatively, she reaches out and picks up one of the gauntlets. It feels cold and smooth, inviting.

Of course it does. The entechment circuits inside carry an echo of her own presence in the Force.

It's no different than a lightsaber, she tells herself — but then again, she always preferred using Luke's old lightsaber to her own. Perhaps that's why she insisted Anakin carry it, instead of his own blade.

She dresses carefully, working from the ground up — sliding the steel-toed boots on first, then fastening the mirrored greaves around her shins. She plucks a towel from the incongruous box tucked in at the back of the cabinet, and uses it to wipe away her fingerprints.

Putting on the armour quickly becomes automatic, instinctive — each plate tightening in place with a precise, mechanical inevitability.

Finally, she settles the helmet on her head, and reaches for the mask. She feels it settle against her face, the seal tightening around her eyes.

She takes a breath, and then another, getting used to the dry taste from the filters, the vice-like lock of the helmet around her head. She blinks. Her eyes feel dry, the skin around them taut.

She plucks the cloak from the rail, wrapping it around her. Then, finally, she lifts her weapon from its lacquered stand, and hooks the hilt in place at her hip.

She closes the door, and studies her reflection in the flawless surface: sleek and smooth and armour-sheathed, looking more like a 'droid than a human being. Only her eyes seem human — and there's a hard sparkle to them that she hadn't seen in a long time.

She appraises her reflection — taking in the way she stands, the darkness of the cloak contrasts with the brilliance of the armour, the way her lightwhip sits against her waist. She places around the room, slipping into a different way of moving, allowing the armour to define her a little.

A little.

She glances back one last time at the mirror. Then she turns, and leaves.

On the flight-deck, Anakin is in the sunken pilot's seat at the front, surrounded by a multicoloured nebula of status lights and glowing screens.

"Everything seems okay," he says, looking back over his shoulder as she walks in. Then he tenses, and his eyes run her slowly up and down. There's a different sort of appreciation in his look now, something cold and icy, like her armour.

She shivers.

She suddenly feels very guilty — guilty for the Jedi she's manipulated into becoming her Apprentice. She doesn't want him to get too comfortable wearing all that black leather, she realises. She doesn't want him to get trapped inside it, like his grandfather did, figuratively as well as literally.

Now is not the time for him to find his way through your guard.

"Just remember," she warns aloud. "You're a Jedi Knight." She smooths one gauntleted hand down the haft of the weapon at her hip. "If you really want to be my Sith Apprentice, you get a taste of this, rather than the sharp edge of my tongue."

She's surprised by how blunt the vocoder makes the threat sound. Anakin's eyes widen, and he blanches a little, before nodding slowly.

"I understand," he agrees, turning round — the good Jedi again. "But if I did fall to the dark side, I can't think of anyone else whose Sith Apprentice I'd rather be." Then he pauses, and looks back at her, and winks. "My Mistress ..."

"Good," she says. "Good, my young Apprentice."

Behind her mask, her lips curl into a predatory smile, and she settles into the high-backed chair behind him.

She likes this angle, she decides. Looking down on him.

"Set course for Yaga Minor, Lord Martel," she orders. "We're going hunting."

Anakin glances back up at her, his eyes locking with hers — simmering with anticipation and eagerness, even as his eyebrows lift in question.

Behind the mask, she lick her lips, and in the Force, she indicates that he's allowed to answer.

"Yes, Lady Lumiya," he agrees. "It'll be a pleasure ..."

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